Next week some time I’ll be doing my predictions for the Eastern and Western Conference final standings, and undoubtedly nailing 100% of my predictions as I usually do. Like last year, when I had Ottawa finishing last in the East, and the Islanders finishing ahead of the Rangers and Devils. (The picks weren’t all that bad, though those two were admittedly awful. I had Florida in playoffs at least! Check ‘em out if you like: East, 2012. West, 2012. )

Anyway, it’s not time for that yet. What it is time for, is some “prop”-style prognostication. Here are a handful of things I see happening this year, and why.

Tyler Seguin challenges Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard

In the early days of Tyler Seguin in the NHL, you could see the potential. He wasn’t quite strong enough, wasn’t quite fast enough, and didn’t quite shoot it hard enough…but it was pretty clearly there. Then we saw him explode in a playoff game with speed we hadn’t seen before. We saw him start scoring on the strength of his shot. But mostly, we saw that he was going to be a guy who met his (high) expectations.

Last year, during only his sophomore season, he led the bruins in points, coming a single frustrating goal of cracking Plateau 30, and was only a few points shy of 70. This season, his third one, it seemed he was poised for a holy-shit-lookout type year.

But as you know, the whole lockout thing happened. Boo. So he took his talents to Switzerland to stay in shape, and looked absolutely terrifying, even when stacked up against his fellow NHLers that made the trip to play in the National League A.

At one point after the 20-game mark he was averaging a goal a game, eventually leaving the league after 29 games having scored 25 goals. It’s his time, and the confidence gained from pouring them in over in Switzerland will only do him good.

Steven Stamkos is the best goal-scorer in the NHL, but I think he’s got company. I see these two going neck and neck, and Seguin surpassing his goal total from last season.

Victor Hedman emerges as an elite d-man

Victor Hedman was drafted number two overall in 2009 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, one spot behind John Tavares, and one spot ahead of Matt Duchene. He’s been a reliable force for the Bolts on the backend, never scoring less than 20 points in any of his three seasons there, and logging big minutes for the team, including in situations when it matters.

After putting up a quick 20 points in 26 games in the KHL this season, I think we’re about to see Hedman blossom. He’s an absolute monster back there at 6’6″ 230 pounds, and most defensemen, particularly the larger ones, usually take some time to develop. I’d say year four is a good time for us to see his status as an elite defenseman emerge.

Another “love for young NHL d-men” note I should add: I think Phoenix Coyotes defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson is going to reveal himself to be damn near in Erik Karlsson’s category this season. He had 32 points in the NHL last season, and he’s well over a point-per-game clip in the AHL this year, tallying 28 points in 20 games.

The defending Eastern Conference champion Devils will miss playoffs

If we’re all being honest with each other, and we should be, the Devils over-achieved last season. Take that 6th place team, then figure: they lose their captain, 30+ goal-scorer Zach Parise. They lose Alexei Ponikarovsky (not a killer or anything, but some depth scoring). They lose assistant coach Adam Oates, then their other assistant coach Larry Robinson. Patrick Elias maxed-the-fuck out last season with nearly 80 points, finishing in the top-10 in NHL scoring. We’re not seeing a repeat of that. He’s a year older, as is Martin Brodeur, who I’d say probably an average starter right now (*he writes so people don’t yell at him for thinking less*). Ilya Kovalchuk is coming back, or maybe not, but probably, but… still. Odd situation there.

I don’t think they’re going to be a trainwreck or anything, they’ve still got talent on the roster, but taking all those factors and having your off-season highlights being “re-signed some d-men, added Bobby Butler” to me puts them at risk for missing playoffs given that they’re playing in one hell of a tough division.

The St. Louis Blues are going to come out of the gates like gangbusters 

It’s not that I think the Blues are the best thing since sliced bread or anything, but there’s no denying they’re a good club. They were great last year (2nd in the Western Conference, 49-22-11), and most of their talent is young, so the extra year of age just means they’re poised to be better. Their roster is basically staying the same as last season, something very few teams can say, so they’re not going to need the same adjustment period as some other teams. Combine that with Ken Hitchcock’s ability to prepare his teams (and they know what he expects from day one), and the addition of a player I’m quite impressed with, Vladimir Tarasenko, and I think they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Combine all that with the fact that their division looks pretty powder soft and teams are playing a ton of divisional games, and they should be licking their chops. Nashville will be worse: lost Suter, gained…Scott Hannan, I guess? Lost back-up Anders Lindback, added…Chris Mason? Detroit could be worse – they lost Nick Lidstrom, after all. Their D is Sus. Pect. Columbus is still Columbus, at least for the time being. And Chicago will be good as always, but I’m not sure they’re in the Blues’ class when you stack up Corey Crawford and Ray Emery vs. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot.

There will be way, way less coaches fired this year

Last season was an absolute blood bath for coaches in the NHL. The following teams replaced their coach during, or after the 2011-2012 season started:

Los Angeles
St. Louis

That’s ten teams that switched horses in the middle of the ’11-’12 ride (one-third of the league), and…

New Jersey

…all hired new coaches to start the 2011-12 season. As in, 16 of the 30 current NHL coaches don’t have a game more than one season tenure with their teams.

The point here, is NHL teams have been going through coaches like underwear. This season however, the lockout will provide excuses, excuses, excuses.  ”Camp was too short to get our team ready.” … “Our guys weren’t in great shape to start the year.” … “We didn’t click early on and in a shortened season, it was too late.” … “A shortened season caused our team to pile up the injuries.”

With all the new faces and the million excuses available to coaches this season, and I’d be surprised if we see the axe fall even half as often as we did last season.

Comments (18)

  1. Hate to be that jerk, but the Elitserien is Sweden. Switzerland is National League A.

  2. Good job jumping on the official Scott Burnside The-Devils-Will-Miss-The-Playoffs Bandwagon. That one’s been around for about 25 years now and has only been right twice. So at least the payoff should be high.

    • For many of those 25 years they had the talent to back a playoff run. Two seasons ago they were the worst team in hockey for the first half of the year. I congratulate them on their good season last year but you have to imagine they are due to regress. Too many teams are either better through trades, UFA, or player growth but the Devils subtracted and are aging. They may hang on another year if all goes right but they have rebuild written all over them. The worst thing they can do is pretend this team has a run left in them and then they are the Calgary Flames for the next decade.

      • Yeah, teams in their division got so much better. Philly got their goaltending situation sorted, and Penguins have 3 great centers in Malkin, Crosby, and Staal. Oh. Wait….

        We have young guys like Henrique (finalist for some trophy called the Calder last year) and Larsson (3rd overall pick, made the really rough transition into the NHL last year, will benefit from the short season, as he got ground down over the stretch, I think). Right there, we have some base for the future.

        Then there’s the reason for us making the playoffs all these years: Excellent Management. That didn’t change.

  3. Ah, JB, as an expert on all things New Jersey, I think you’re ill advised to pick against the Devils. I mean, cmon, you picked them to finish 13th last year, and we all see how that worked out…

    Right, so we lost Parise, sure, that hurts. And yes, we are a year older, and it wont be easy, but there’s more going for us. We have our young guys like Henrique and Larsson maturing a bit. Yeah, we lost Robinson and Oates behind the bench, but the replacements – Dave Barr, who was on the staff last year, and some guy named Stevens, who is kind of a legend, I think softens that blow. And really, when was the last time a team struggled because there are new assistant coaches?

    But sure, bet against NJ again… We’ll see…

  4. ” and Brian Elliot.”

    #1 case for regression this year. He’d already started in the playoffs.

  5. I agree with quite a bit of the above. Of course, your prediction about NJD above might..might I say…carry a bit more weight if you didn’t pick the Islanders to beat..well..almsot anybody last year. Yikes that one was ripe.

  6. It’s Patrik Elias dude

  7. I thought you would Block comments for profanity, but as clearly Stated above:
    ” Patrick Elias maxed-the-fuck out last season with nearly 80 points ”
    Way to keep it Fresh.

  8. I hate to jump on the negative but you really think Seguin will challenge Stamkos this year.? Ok, this isn’t laughable (like Greg Wyshinski’s pick of Ovechkin being the #2 fantasy player last year) but I will disagree here.

    Eberle (34),Simmonds (28), Hornqvist (27), Clarkson (30), and Ryder (35) all had better Goals / 60minutes ratios with similar ice time. (Had to look that up).

    I would put Seguin in the Top 15-20 range this year. Sure enough, behind Kessel!

    • “Greg Wyshinski’s pick of Ovechkin being the #2 fantasy player last year)”

      Sorry, that was Sean Leahy.

    • The previous year’s stats would be handy if the kid wasn’t 19/20 that year.

      • True, he was young, but so was Hall, who was on pace for 36 with the (now more talented) Oilers, until his ankle injury.

        I’m a Flames fan, but his jersey flapping like a flag behind him on the rush sure is purdy to watch.

        I see that Seguin had a hot start last year with 11 goals in 6 weeks, but over half of them were against Scrivens, Gustavsson and Enroth. It would have been a different story with say, Luongo and Miller in net, I think.

        Still not convinced, it will be an interesting season :)

      • Problem with Seguin is he doesn’t really have anybody playing St Louis for his Stamkos. And even though he has the ability Julien might not even give him the closest thing to MSL on the roster. But we’ll see. I certainly think he may well be around 30 goals this season.

  9. Like Eberle for Richard Trophy

  10. leafs gonna finish 1-2-3 in scoring, simple as that suckazzzz

  11. Wow its been about 10+ years since the Blues were targeted as a perennial contender.. I have to agree with you jb, the Devils only have Zajac and kovy doesn’t even want to come back!? How do you think that locker room us going to change when the captain even bailed on the team for his millions…?

    Look for Oshie/Backes duo to stream roll the west this year!

  12. ur all smelly whores and go get girl friends

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