Updated: Jan 10, 2019
With the quarter mark of the season officially passing on Wednesday night, Brant Dubeau and I decided to take a look around the NHL and give our takes on what we’ve seen so far. We gave our picks for all of the major awards, and added a few of our own to make it a little more interesting. Both of us were given two picks for each, just to give us a bit of a fair chance. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Prediction for Art Ross
This is the clear choice and the easy answer, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. McDavid has the ability to skate at a speed that literally no one else can, and somehow is able to think the game and stickhandle and create plays even faster. While his teammates aren’t the strongest supporting cast, he still gets to dish the puck to Leon Draisatl and Ryan Nugent Hopkins, very capable NHL players. McDavid is far and away the most skilled player in the NHL today, and as such, it will be no surprise if he wins the Art Ross again.
Darkhorse choice, albeit probably a little bit bold. However, Mitch Marner may be the most creative passer in the NHL, and his position on the most dangerous powerplay in hockey might just allow him to post an absurd amount of points this year. Dishing the puck to John Tavares at even strength, as well as on the powerplay, along with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Morgan Rielly, and potentially William Nylander will provide Marner with extensive opportunities for points. He is currently over a point per game, and is only going to continue to develop and build confidence. Again, a bold choice, but could easily sneak his way up the leaderboards with powerplay success.
Okay, hear me out. Connor McDavid may be the best player in the NHL (sorry Sid, breaks my heart too), but the team around him is God awful, and unless Draisaitl holds up all year long, McDavid will have nothing to pass to. Meanwhile, Rantanen and Nate MacKinnon are a force to be reckoned with this year. Both players are firing on all cylinders, with Mackinnon picking up right where he left off last season. There’s a chance that Rantanens pace slows down a little bit; but, when your centreman is a hart trophy caliber player, then you’re going to get a ton of looks.
Basically read the above paragraph, but MacKinnon has a little more of a reputation in order to actually contend for this one. He looks like a man on a mission this season, after being snubbed of the hart trophy by the writers association last season (damn eastern conference bias.) The one man wrecking crew is being helped out a ton by having linemates like Rantanen and the resurging Gabriel Landeskog. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if MacKinnon holds off McDavid in the end.
Prediction for Maurice Richard
Pastrnak might be on the best line in hockey, and his offensive skill is still severely underrated. His ability to find open lanes to shoot as well as find the quiet spots to receive backdoor passes and one-timers on the powerplay. He currently leads the league in goals, despite Boston slowing down as a team. I see him easily cracking 50 this year, and that always provides a good chance to take home the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Ovechkin has won SEVEN Rocket Richards, so predicting him for this season is a safe bet. Washington is struggling to regain their success from last year, and keeps putting their lines in a blender, but any time that your centreman is either Niklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov you are bound to put up a high number of goals. Not to mention the fact that over a decade later nobody has yet to neutralize his one-timer threat on the powerplay
I get it, this is a very Leafs fan answer… but did you see what this kid was doing before he got hurt? Pretty much everything he touched was going in the net. I think not having Nylander beside him is the best thing that ever happened to Auston, simply because he’s shooting the puck a hell of a lot more than when he was with him. Who’s to say Thews won’t hit you with the four a couple times this year and gain ground on Pasta?
Not really a surprise pick with this one. Pasta is on fire this year, leading the NHL by two goals at the moment with zero signs of slowing down. I guess being on the best line in the NHL will do that for you.
Prediction for Norris
Brent Burns is an absolute animal. He is putting up a huge point total again this year, and the fact that he plays on the powerplay with Erik Karlsson, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Logan Couture doesn’t hurt either. If he leads the league in points this year, and San Jose does some damage, I see this year being Burns’ first Norris. They always seem willing to give the Norris to a new guy each year, and maybe this will be the year that he finally gets the credit he deserves on the SJ blueline.
An absolutely torrid scoring pace to begin the year has Leaf fans drooling over the young d-man. He has been breaking the puck out and joining the rush better than ever before, and with the offensive firepower of the Leafs, plus the fact he’s their most used d-man, he will have plenty of opportunity to prove himself for the Norris this year. (Something nobody expected heading into the year).
Rielly has been on an absolute tear this season. His defence has been impeccable despite being paired with the aging Ron Hainsey; but realistically, the defenceman with the most points typically wins this award, and that's exactly where Rielly is headed. With a career high nine goals already, Rielly seems to be on an entirely different level.
Giordano is quietly having himself a pretty good season on the resurging Calgary Flames. With 20 points through 22 games, and one of the leaders of team that could sneak into the playoffs this season, he may just find himself in the conversation by the end of the year.
Prediction for Vezina
Rinne has been as hot as they come to start the year, and has carried Nashville to several wins they didn’t deserve. If he keeps putting up these numbers, Nashville will be poised to make a deep run and Rinne will take home some personal hardware.
Jones has been strong for SJ all year, and has decent numbers. I always like watching him in net, but often leave feeling he could’ve played better or made an extra save. He seems to be doing so this year, and it will be interesting to see how high he can elevate his game without any injuries this season.
In my least likely pick of the piece, I think Freddie can put up Vezina like numbers for the rest of the season with Toronto's defence in front of him; but somehow, Freddie will get overlooked by the writers association.
John Gibson is literally putting the Ducks on his back, and dragging them into the playoff picture. With seven players still currently out with injuries, it's a miracle that the Ducks are even competing. While he's facing more shots than any other goalie in the league, Gibson looks poised to hold down the fort all season long.
Prediction for Hart
McDavid is the best player in the league, but that’s not what this is for. The Hart is for
the most valuable, and I honestly think that without McDavid the Oilers would be the worst team in the league. He is putting the whole team on his back and willing them to wins so far this year. If Edmonton someone moves up a couple of places and makes the playoffs it will be solely because of him, and thus he is the most valuable, not just the best.
The best offensive player on the best line in hockey. A good enough reason to be considered for the Hart? I think so. Especially with all the injuries and goalie controversy Boston has been facing, he is carrying them offensively through some tough times right now.
Before I even give my picks, I want to clarify that this award is awarded to the player deemed to be the most valuable to his team; and while McDavid is the most outstanding player in the league every year (The Ted Lindsay Award exists for a reason), it’s hard to determine how much value he adds to a bottom of the barrel team. With that being said...
I already mentioned it in his Vezina section, but Gibson is single handedly willing this Anaheim Ducks team into a playoff spot. If the Ducks manage to hold on to that
spot, and Gibson keeps kicking and screaming his way there, then there’s no doubt in my mind that he is the most valuable player to his team in the NHL.
I’ve said it time and time again, Nate Mac was robbed of this trophy last year by Taylor Hall. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that if he was playing for a bigger market eastern conference team, then he would’ve walked away with this award. The snub did, however, bring a little more attention to just how incredible MacKinnon is. I think with this new found attention, and the fact that he is a one man wrecking crew, he should have no problem competing for the Hart trophy again.
Prediction for Calder
Pettersson deserves this no question. The kid is electric and is on a very good scoring pace despite being undersized and probably far from being as good as he will be. Hands down winner so far.
I do love me some Miro Heiskanen though. A very cerebral and high IQ d-man with the offensive skill to match. His speed keeps him in plays defensively even when he makes a bad read. Hiis ability to quickly move the puck up to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn should bring him a lot of points for a lot of years to come.
I don’t need two for this one. If you could guarantee me that he’ll be healthy for the whole season, then I’d hand him the award today.
Wayne Gretzky Award (most assists)
Most creative passer in the league hands down. Makes plays out of nothing. Dishes the puck to ELITE scores John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander; which is a decent recipe for primary assist success.
The best hands in the league and crazy vision. He’d probably win this award if he got to play with the natural goal scores listed above, yet he stills creates so many chances for his teammates that he’ll be close to Marner. Lethal on the powerplay and in overtime which always helps point totals.
Both of my picks are playing with a cheat code of a linemate, and it gives them a much easier ride to winning this one. Mitch’s cheat code is named John Tavares, who seems to be playing at his peak right now, looking as good as he ever has in the past. What gives Marner a bit of an edge is the fact that he plays on an absolute wagon of a powerplay. Once Auston Matthews comes back from injury, he has so many available options to feed the puck to.
Same reasoning as Marner, but Rantanen’s cheat code happens to be a potential Hart trophy candidate in Nathan MacKinnon. Mix that in with the fact that he is also playing with Gabriel Landeskog, and that they are relied on a lot for Colorado, and you can expect Rantanen to put up a ton of assists.
Most Surprising Team So Far
New York Islanders
How they are doing this… i don’t know. Mat Barzal is unreal, Thomas Greiss has been lights out, and I guess Barry Trotz is a damn good coach. The fact that they sit four points out in the Metro is absurd, as almost everyone wrote them off after losing John Tavares to free agency.
New York Rangers
Everyone thought the Rangers were going to blow it up and that Hank Lundqvist was getting washed up. They’ve had a strong start to the year though, and had some tough decisions to make up front with the success of both some older guys and some youngsters, along with big contracts coming up such as Kevin Hayes’.
I know the Sabres were supposed to be better... but this much better? Currently, sitting third place in the Atlantic division, only three points out of first, the Sabres are looking poised to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11. With the addition of Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Dahlin and Carter Hutton, along with the resurgence of Jason Pominville, the Sabres are looking like a deep team, capable of competing all year long.
Who would’ve ever imagined this? The Canucks came into this season with some of the most astoundingly bad offseason moves a team could make. Tim Schaller, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Darren Archibald… Not one beneficial move. But look at them now. Sitting third in their division without the help of sophomore all star Brock Boeser for the past couple weeks. It’s incredible how much of an impact Elias Pettersson has made on that team.
Most Underwhelming Team So Far
St. Louis Blues
A stacked offensive with some elite defenders, and nothing to show for it. Ryan O’Rielly has been great, Tarasenko as well, but St. Louis can’t seem to keep the puck out of their net and in turn find themselves near the bottom of the league despite having Stanley Cup aspirations again this year.
3rd last in the NHL after 3 Stanley Cups. The wheels have fallen off for the Penguins early on here, but I would expect them to turn it around. GM Jim Rutherford isn’t afraid to shake things up, and I’m sure Pittsburgh will turn around their disappointing start.
The Penguins have come into the past few seasons as either the Stanley Cup favourites, or at least a top competitor, and this season was no exception; but wow, have they ever been horrible. They were so bad, that as of last week, they were sitting in second last in the NHL. They’re are having issues scoring, keeping pucks out of their net, and even have been included in reports stating they have serious chemistry issues. The Penguins better figure something out, and quick, or else they may miss the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season.
Vegas Golden Knights
It’s funny to think that a team in their sophomore season could be considered underwhelming, but here we are. Following a season where the Knights reached the Stanley Cup final, they made some huge offseason adds, including Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. Unfortunately for the the team, they’ve dealt with their fair share of injuries, including a long term injury to Stastny himself. On top of that, Pacioretty hasn’t been close to the player that they had hoped he’d be. There’s always a chance that they start getting a few bounces their way and turn it around… but it’s going to take a whole lot.
Most Surprising Player So Far
Has been constantly finding the back of the net to start the year. Was labelled as a bit of a bust after never really finding his scoring in his first few NHL years, but now has picked up his game and looks great to start the year. A natural goal scorer getting passes from Jumbo Joe Thornton is fun to watch.
Chabot has somehow stepped in and immediately filled the blueline points lost with Erik Karlsson when he was traded from the Senators. Obviously he isn’t on EK65’s level but he has been dynamic offensivley and has such a good hockey IQ that he is producing points nightly. Nobody expected him to have this big of an impact right away, even with his strong World Juniors showing 2 years ago.
Crazy what a change of scenery can do for a player. Domi looks almost like the player he was in junior, racking up 11 goals and 15 assists through 22 games in his first season with the Canadiens, Domi is contributing to the hot start in Montreal. Maybe, it’s the new team, maybe it’s the new position, but Domi has definitely figured something out.
Thomas Chabot showed what he can do in the 2016-17 World Juniors tournament. He dazzled the entire time, en route to winning the defenceman of the tournament award. As good as he was there, no one expected him to be as good as he has been so far in the NHL. It’s gonna be real tough for him to continue this start given the fact that he plays on the Sens, but what he’s done so far is impressive.
Most Underwhelming Player So Far
The recent 4th overall pick has been a huge disappointment so far, and has been sent down to the minors recently. The offensive dynamo from Finland’s World Junior team a few years back seems to have lost his scoring touch, and Columbus fans are now thrilled they reached to take Pierre-Luc Dubois over Puljujarvi.
Burst onto the scene last year with Boston and was expected to big things offensively with a bigger opportunity this year. Hasn’t figured his game out this year though, and has seen a big decrease in minutes as a result.
What a strange start it’s been for Laine. Until Monday, the 20 year old had just as many goals in his two games in Finland (four), as he did in his 16 games in North America (four.) I’m not really sure what the issue is for Laine, but he has had a terrible time trying to find the back of the net. Not a great sign for a guy who makes his money off of his Ovechkin-like one timer.
Max Pacioretty was talked up as one of the biggest offseason acquisitions in the NHL this year. He has not lived up to that hype in the slightest though, notching only six goals (two of which coming on Wednesday night) and two assists through the teams first 19 games. Personally, I thought that Pacioretty would decline, given that he is no longer counted on to carry an offence; however, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted that he’d be this bad.
Player Most Likely to Breakout
Matt Barzal might be the fastest player with the puck besides Connor McDavid. His legs are tree trunks and he flies around the ice with ease, dancing around defenceman. Sometimes he hangs onto the puck too long trying to find the perfect play, and he has struggled a little defensively being matched up against the opponent’s top lines this year. But there is so so so much natural skill and hockey IQ here that he is bound to be a perennial Art Ross contender.
Has had a few successful seasons in LA now, but hasn’t done ANYTHING yet this year. Hopefully when the team figures out their new identity under the new coaching staff he will fit his role a little better and start putting up the points he is capable of. He has looked decent this year, but can’t seem to get anything to go in.
Laine is too good to be this bad right? Normally scoring at a 0.51 goals per game rate, it should be no trouble for Laine to continue his overseas success here in North America. If Tuesday’s hat trick is a sign of things to come, then Laine is about to get real hot, real quick.
Things seem to be on the way up for Erik Karlsson. After a real rocky start, that saw him with no goals for the first month of the season, Karlsson has five points in his last four games, nearly doubling his point total. He was able to net his first goal of the season on Saturday, hopefully opening the floodgates for the rest of the season to reignite the former two time Norris trophy winner.
Player Most Likely to Regress
Max Domi was a winger traded to Montreal to be a centre, for a winger who they wanted to be a centre. He had just 9 goals last year and 9 the year before, yet has posted 11 through 22 games this season. This pace surely can’t continue, as he is scoring at a pace unlike any season before, even in Junior.
Love his game, he’s been an unbelievable surprise, but this can’t continue. Especially on an Ottawa team that is outperforming themselves right now. Eventually he is going to hit a slump or come down to earth a little. It’s bound to happen to the rookie d-man.
A lot of the Islanders surprising start is based on the stellar play from both of their goaltenders. Greiss has raised his save percentage from a dismal .892 to an above average .925 while lowering his goals against average from 3.82 to 2.49, more than one goal per game. These numbers are unheard of from Greiss in recent years, especially with the D core of the New York Islanders. It’s highly unlikely that he continues to produce the way that he is right now.
It was just over a week ago that I was saying what a waste of money David Krejci is. His numbers this year have kinda demolished that claim; however, I highly doubt he keeps this pace up. With 16 points through his first 20 games, he's on pace for numbers we haven’t seen from him since 2013-14. It won’t be long before he comes back to reality.
Coach on The Hot Seat
Mike Yeo was my first choice but since he got the boot, Carlyle is the guy now. How this guy still coaches in the NHL is impressive and crazy at the same time. If Anaheim keeps slipping he’ll be out the door soon. They are giving up 500 shots a night, which is alright when John Gibson is playing like this, but his systems and team play just don’t fit today’s game anymore, and it is clear when watching the Ducks in action.
So both of the coaches I had picked for this award were already fired, so it’s only a matter of time for this one too. Sullivan has done a fantastic job in the past for the Pittsburgh Penguins in his three seasons there, but the team has struggled mightily this year. Given Jim Rutherford’s moves in the past, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if Sullivan is blamed for the slow start and let go. Here’s hoping he isn’t fired before you’ve read this article.
Player Most Likely to Cash in This Offseason
Payyyydayyyyy. He is almost the John Tavares of next year. Normal hockey fans don’t give him the credit he deserves, but don’t forget when he out performed his linemate Patrick Kane a few years ago. This guy hates Columbus as a city and will absolutely cash in due to his outrageous skill and puck-handling abilities.
I’ve already touched on him enough in this article. He is about to cash in after putting up huge numbers and being the catalyst on the best powerplay in hockey.
Kap finds himself in a great spot right now. With William Nylander still holding out, the first line wing position is wide open for Kasperi Kapanen. He’s getting the minutes he needs in order to produce, and he’s doing just that. The sophomore is on pace to score 35 goals in an RFA year. To give him an even better chance, he may be getting Auston Matthews back sometime soon.
Karlsson doesn’t even have to produce this season in order to be swimming in money after this year. The two time Norris trophy winner is going to make bank based off of his name alone. If he can manage to turn around the tough start that he’s had, then that number is only going to keep on going up.
Player Most Likely to Be Traded
Despite the Senators winning some games, the organization is still a tire fire and Duchene being at the end of his contract likely means he’ll get shipped out of town when they come back down to earth a little in the standings. A great player, but his off ice reputation lately haunts him and the whole Uber fiasco didn’t help his chances of staying in Ottawa.
The Kings need a big shakeup, but without moving Doughty or Carter or Kopitar they don’t have many options. Martinez may be their best bet, as he is on a reasonable contract and is a modern puck moving defenseman that just about every team would be glad to have. Certainly they wouldn’t give him up for super cheap, but he is an aging commodity that they need to capitalize value on sooner rather than later.
The Kings are bad, the Kings are old, and the Kings need to do something quick. What’s the easiest way to do that? Blow it up and start over. Jake Muzzin, who carries a cap hit of $4 million, has been a premier defender in this league, and is a perfect place to start if you’re trying to start a rebuild. The issue that may arise, is that the Kings just resigned Drew Doughty to an eight year extension that kicks in next season. It’s really tough to start a rebuild in the first year of that deal.
The Detroit Red Wings have a whole lot of issues on the ice, but have even more issues in their cap room. There’s no way that they can give Gus Nyquist the raise he deserves in the offseason, and in order to get any sort of value for him, they need to move him at the deadline. The rumour last season was that they were not interested in moving him, but I feel like they won’t have any other choice come trade deadline day this year.
Dark Horse Team in The East
The Sabres are on fireeee right now. 7 straight wins, Eichel looks like a man on a mission, Skinner can’t stop scoring, and even Jason Pominville has turned back the clock to get in on the scoring. Their goaltending is suspect but their offense is dynamic and they have some good d-men including Rasmus Dahlin. I feel they are better than the Senators and Canadiens, they can battle with Florida, and if Boston doesn’t bounce back from all these injuries, Buffalo could sneak into the playoffs from the Atlantic dvision.
It breaks my heart… but the Canadiens might actually be good this year. The team is definitely playing above their expectations right now, but they’re doing it all while their starting goalie, Carey Price, is struggling as hard as he ever has before. If he can manage to figure it out and return to form, then he could carry (no pun intended) the Habs fairly deep into the playoffs.
Dark Horse Team in The West
Coyotes are young, fast, and fun. They outshoot teams like crazy, and their defensive corps includes Ekman-Larsson, Chychrun, Goligoski, Hjalmarsson, and Demers which is outstandings. Clayton Keller is a machine, and with some more solid goaltending from Antii Raanta, who has shown he is capable, they might just make the post season.
Last season, with a similar roster, the Coyotes managed to put together one of the best second halves in the league. They would’ve sat in a much better position had they not had one of the worst starts in NHL history. This season, the team is off to a much better start, sitting only six points back of the division lead with two games in hand. If they can manage to get a healthy Antii Raanta back in the net, and get as hot as they were last year, then they could manage to ride that streak right through to the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Final Prediction
Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs
Currently each first in their respective divisions, they both look unstoppable at times and have lots of good young pieces that would make this a very reasonable but exciting ECF. Columbus could make a push at the trade deadline, and the Leafs will be even better when they get Matthews and maybe Nylander back.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Boston Bruins
If the standings play out perfectly, then there’s a strong chance that this could be a really fun Eastern conference final. The Leafs look like a juggernaut this year, winning games without superstar centre Auston Matthews. I think this might be the year they win a few playoff rounds and find themselves in the Eastern Conference final. The Bruins, meanwhile, seem to consistently find themselves in the playoffs year after year. Once they get there, they have the perfect team to grind their way through playoff styled hockey.
Western Conference Final Prediction
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets
The 2 best in the West without question, in my eyes. Both teams are deep not only upfront but on D as well, with 2 of the best D cores in the league. Not to mention, Rinne and or Hellebuyck can steal a series at any time. This would be an amazing series to watch.
Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators
I’m riding this Arizona Coyotes train pretty hard this season. I think they have a roster built to grind their way through a few playoff series. Also, if Raanta can manage to stay healthy, then he has the potential to single handedly carry the team as far as they can go. The Preds, meanwhile, consistently find themselves deep into the playoffs, and I don’t see this year being an exception. Their achilles heel in the past has been the playoff success of starting goaltender Pekka Rinne. This year, with the emergence of Jusse Sarros, I think they may have found the answer to that problem.
Cup Final Prediction
Nashville Predators vs Columbus Blue Jackets
With slow starts from fellow metro powerhouses Washington and Pittsburgh, maybe this is the year CBJ can get over the hump. I love Jones and Werenski on the back end, they play a smart yet effective system under coach Torts, and if they feel that either Panarin or Bobrovsky or both are leaving to free agency, they made trade away some futures in order to make an extra push this season. Nashville returns to cup because they are such a force to be reckoned with in the West. I see them outlasting Winnipeg again, much in part due to how Rinne has played this year and the depth on their blue line.
Nashville Predators vs Boston Bruins
The Leafs and Coyotes dream runs are going to come to an end before the Stanley Cup finals. I don’t think the Leafs have the size to match up against the Boston Bruins, as shown earlier this year; and, the Coyotes are just not good enough to take on the tremendous depth of the Nashville Predators. It may be a boring pick, but it’s tough to deny the success of either team in the past.