With a new NHL season upon us this coming week, we thought it would be a great time to sit down with the editors of Hockeyland Canada to get their predictions for the upcoming year in hockey. It was a fascinating discussion, the excerpts of which you will see below. The editors themselves ask you, the loyal reader!, to not judge them to harshly, and remember that the season is long, and that lots can happen! With that, here are their “fearless” predictions:
Who is your pick for Stanley Cup Champion in 2013/14?
Ahmad Scientist: I will take the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Kesler is finally healthy and ready to anchor the second line. Bobby Lou is focused as ever to prove he is an elite net minder and will be helped by more blocked shots thanks to new head coach John Tortorella’s system. Most importantly, the Canucks have big, young, offensive players like Kassian, Shinkaruk, and Tanev to complement their core. How the coach handles the Sedin brothers will be a key to their championship aspirations.
RK, Esq.: The Boston Bruins. Adding the underrated skill of Eriksson, combined with the toughness and scoring of Iginla will help make up what they were missing at crunch time last year.
Jaideep: Hard to argue against the Chicago Blackhawks. They did lose some key pieces in David Bolland and Michael Frolik, but I really like how some of their young players, like Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad broke out last season. They are immensely difficult to play against, with excellent defensive forwards in Toews, Hossa and Sharp. Corey Crawford was incredible last season and in the playoffs. I think he will live up to that contract he received, and I do not see any significant weakness to this team.
Who do you think will lose in the Stanley Cup finals?
Ahmad Scientist: The Toronto Maple Leafs. After being on the brink of eliminating the eventual Eastern Conference champions, the Leafs improved in key areas in the offseason. The additions of David Clarkson, Mayson Raymond, and especially Dave Bolland improve the depth, character, and grit of the forward group. Jonathan Bernier is an improvement over James Reimer, and has less propensity to collapse like Reimer. The continued maturation of the young D core and new arrivals give the Leafs solid depth. An all Canadian west coast versus east coast final would be interesting.
RK, Esq.: Definitely the Chicago Blackhawks. Bringing back much of the same core as their championship team last year. The questions remains though what type of effect the mid-season Olympics will have on them as all of their top players (Hossa, Kane, Toews, Keith and perhaps Patrick Sharp) are expected to play in the games.
Jaideep: I think the Penguins are due for a resurgence this year. They did not add any significant free agent pieces, other than Rob Scuderi, and in fact lost Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow. However, I think that this will finally be the season that Sidney Crosby elevates his game to the next level, and helps his team overcome whatever short comings Marc Andre Fleury may have. Though he has put up points in each of the last two previous playoffs, upon watching the series against the Flyers and the Bruins where the Pens lost, I got the sense that Crosby could have been better. I think we’ll see a better Crosby and Malkin concurrently in the playoffs this season. Who knows, maybe the Pens pick up a more steady goaltender for the playoff drive, considering that Tomas Vokoun’s prothrombotic situation remains up in the air (Tim Thomas as a deadline pick up anyone?)
After Sidney Crosby got injured, Alexander Ovechkin stepped in and won the Hart Trophy last season. Who is your pick to win it this year?
Ahmad Scientist: It’s pretty easy for me… Sidney Crosby. The Croz must be in the proverbial “best shape of his career” given the injury free offseason. We have seen what he can do already, but a huge year from Crosby will solidify his position as not only the game’s best player, but one of the best players of all time. Expect Crosby to go crazy just for the sheer joy of being able to go out and play the game he loves, the game Hockeyland Canada loves.
RK, Esq.: This one is easy for me too… Sidney Crosby. If this man is healthy through the season, this will be a runaway. There is no question he is the best player in the game, and to my surprise he did not win the Hart last year even having played three-quarters of the games as the rest. It tells you his greatness when he can make Chris Kunitz a point-per-game player.
Jaideep: I’ll make it an unanimous sweep. Had Sidney been healthy at the end of the season for the Penguins last year, he would have been the run away Hart Trophy winner. What I admire most about Crosby is that he is a critique of his own game, and truly works on the elements that he views as shortcomings. We have seen that previously in regards to his defensive work, his faceoff game, and his goal scoring ability. Each of those were worked on, and improved the following season. It is hard to doubt the guy. Alexander Ovechkin having three Hart Trophies must sear deep for him too.
Okay, so the Hart seems unanimous. What about the Art Ross Trophy?
Ahmad Scientist: Sidney Crosby for me. His PPG is insanely great, and a 130 point season from Sidney would be great for the game. Maybe the increased space behind the net, aka Gretzky’s office, will help Crosby get a little bit closer to Wayne’s point stratosphere.
RK, Esq.: Obviously Crosby, for the above stated reasons.
Jaideep: Yeah, there is not much doubt.
Alright, so what about the goal scoring title, the Rocket Richard Trophy. Who do you have winning it?
Ahmad Scientist: Bobby Ryan. As pure a goal scorer as there is in the NHL, he will finally have a premier setup man give him his full and undivided attention in Jason Spezza. Throw in Erik Karlsson making life easier and you’ll see a 50 goal year from the man with two first names.
RK, Esq.: It has to be Steven Stamkos. Perhaps the best pure goal scorer in the game, Stamkos has an undeniable chemistry with Marty St. Louis creates an explosive duo every time they are on the ice. Add in another slick passer in Jonathan Drouin and its not inconceivable he could hit 60 goals this year.
Jaideep: I’ll take Alexander Ovechkin. He won the goal scoring crown last year, and appears to be in good physical shape this preseason. He will obviously be extremely motivated with the Olympics being in his home country, and the fact that the critics continue to not give him the respect he deserves. A motivated Ovechkin is right there with Crosby, as one of the best players in the game, and there is ample reason for him to play to his expected level again this year.
Last year Sergei Bobrovsky shocked the hockey world, and won the Vezina Trophy? Is a repeat possible? Who do you see winning the top netminder award?
Ahmad Scientist: Roberto Luongo. Mr. Roberto will want to avoid his typical slow start to keep the naysayers from coming out in full force early. Instead, he will come out the gates hot and will continue his regular high standard into the Olympics and playoffs. Luongo will get a heavy workload and return to elite status with his best season yet.
RK, Esq.: Henrik Lundqvist. Contract years generally spells big seasons. Already a multiple-time finalist and previous winner of this award, King Henrik is regarded as arguably the best goalie in the league. He will continue to show why this year under the lights of Broadway.
Jaideep: I’ll take Tuuka Rask. His season last season was a revelation to me, and it appears that Rask is always amongst the league leaders for save percentage (0.929 last year). He has a formidable team in front of him, and I think technically he is definitely amongst the top 5 netminders in the game. He’ll accumulate wins, the Bruins will be a top team, and Rask’s numbers at the end of the season will be Vezina worthy.
Another surprise award winner last season was PK Subban, especially after he missed the start of the season as a result of a contract dispute. Can he repeat?
Ahmad Scientist: No, I think Erik Karlsson will win the Norris. The game’s best defenseman was just getting started when Matt Cooke used his skate blade as a weapon. Fully recovered from the viscous injury, the smoothest skating D man in the league will lead in points and log huge minutes in the nation’s capital.
RK, Esq.: Shea Weber will win the Norris this year. When people see the effect he has on Seth Jones this season I think they will quickly remember how great Weber is after an off-year last season. A first Norris is definitely in the realm if the Preds make the playoffs this season after retooling their forward crop this summer.I think the prolonged holdout may hurt Alex Pietrangelo in getting up to speed otherwise I would have picked him as my early contender.
Jaideep: I’ll pick Karlsson as well. Prior to the Cooke incident and achilles injury, Karlsson picked up where he had left off from the 2011/12 season, playing nearly 30 minutes a night, and contributing at both ends of the ice. He is a prodigious talent for sure. Even when he came back for the playoffs, and he was not 100% healthy, he was a force. I genuinely think he is the best defenseman in the game. I don’t think that Subban will drop off however. In my opinion, his commitment to improve his game rivals that of Sidney Crosby, but Karlsson has a slight edge.
There seems to be a good rookie crop this year, and there was some debate about who would be drafted first overall. Who will take the Calder?
Ahmad Scientist: Nathan Mackinnon. First overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Patrick Roy will play his prized pick on the third line at first. He will fill in admirably there and make a jump to the top 6 before the season is out. Rewarded for playing an all around game, Mackinnon will get a chance to line up with some dynamic offensive talent.
RK, Esq.: Valeri Nichushkin. Did you see the pre-season goal he scored driving to the net against the Avs? That to me spells a combination of power, speed, size and skill that could lead to another player in the Malkin mold. I think a lot of teams will regret passing him over in the draft.
Jaideep: Seth Jones. It is hard for a defenseman to win a Calder Trophy, since all too often it is the eye-popping stats which get Calder consideration. But I think with Jones, playing with Shea Weber will mean that we’ll be impressed with his maturity, his use of his size, and the quality of his defensive ability for his age, and that will be Calder worthy for many voters.
This is an Olympic year, with the league shutting down in February to send it’s players to Sochi. Who do you think will win it?
Ahmad Scientist: Oh Canada! Its said time and again, Team Canada is the most elite hockey team in the world with an ability to roster upwards of three competitive teams. Lead by Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, the Canadians have everything you need to win.
RK, Esq.: Sweden. In my mind, the team to beat. Best goalie in the tournament, and a deep group of talented and gritty forwards. Perhaps the only weakness is defense depth, but I think on the big-ice surface they squeak it out in Sochi.
Jaideep: I’ll take the surprise pick, and choose the Americans. What sets the Americans apart for me is their depth in goal (Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, and that’s not to even mention Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard and possibly Tim Thomas) which is always a major deciding factor in a short tournament, their overall skill level which has translated to gold medals at youth levels, and the engine with which their players seem to play with in international competitions (I think of guys like Parise, Kane, Dustin Brown and Callahan, who are wrecking balls that work hard on every shift). They gave Canada such trouble four years ago (thoroughly beating them in one game), and I think this team will be even better.
Is there an NHL team out there that you think will surprise everyone and make the playoffs this year?
Ahmad Scientist: Yeah, I think that would be the Dallas Stars. With two elite level players in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, the Stars will surprise people this season. The added depth down the middle will be big, and veteran Sergei Gonchar will shore up the powerplay. Rookie Valeri Nichushkin will play a big part in the playoff run.
RK, Esq.: I think the Columbus Blue Jackets will surprise. The biggest question for them is if their Vezina Trophy goaltender Agent Bobrovsky can repeat his performance last year. Otherwise they have a deep group of talented defensemen, and a very underrated crop of forwards led by Marian Gaborik. Once Nathan Horton returns, he provides another brute scoring forwarded who has built up a playoff repertoire over the past few seasons in Boston.
Jaideep: I think Patrick Roy taking over the Colorado Avalanche will give them a different look this year. They are young, and inexperienced in nearly every position, but they are extremely talented, and I think Varlamov is the type of netminder that can win games when the team plays poorly. A few years ago, the Avs overacheived and made the playoffs during Duchene’s first season. Part of that run was due to Craig Anderson and his elite netminder. I think Roy will give them a boost for this year.
Alright, well thanks guys for your time. Is there one storyline that you anticipate we’ll be following quite closely this year?
Ahmad Scientist: As Jaideep mentioned above, I think it will be Patrick Roy’s inaugural season as head coach in the National Hockey League. Notorious for winning championships in his rookie years, first he won the Cup with the Habs as a rookie netminder, then the Memorial Cup as a rookie junior head coach. What will Patrick Roy do as first time head coach of the Colorado Avalanche?
RK, Esq.: The New Rules on Equipment. Will the smaller goalie equipment lead to a greater number of goals? Will the goalies embrace the new restrictions? Will the league enforce those who are slow to adopt? Combined with the additional room this year behind the net, we may see an increase in scoring not seen since the mid-90s.
Jaideep: I think this will be the year that the advanced stats community will make major inroads in areas of hockey reporting, and how actual NHL people view talent. This phenomenon has been bubbling in recent years, and I think the dam will eventually break this year. Maybe we’ll see the Oakland Athletics win the World Series, and that will start a generalized talk about analytics in professional sports at the end of October. There is increased evidence that these statistics tell a good story of what’s happening on the ice, and there is good correlation between positive stats and success on the ice. Certainly over the last year, we heard more hockey media referring to things like zone-starts and quality of opposition. We also heard a San Jose Sharks scout acknowledge that analytics play a role in their scouting (links to a conversation on the Pipeline Show, between Guy Flaming and Sharks scout Brian Gross). This will be the new forefront in hockey analysis, and 2013/14 will be the groundbreaking year.
Thanks again guys! I hope we all bookmark this page, and come back in June to see how you all did! Good luck and enjoy the upcoming hockey season!