30 bold predictions for the NHL season
Hockey is back. And since this hockey writer has a penchant for public humiliation, here are 30 bold (or boneheaded) predictions for the 2013 season:
1. The Flyers will finish fifth in the Eastern Conference for the second year in a row. They actually will finish with the fourth-most points, but since the NHL seeds division winners first, they will be bumped back behind the Northeast and Southeast champs.
2. Under the guidance of Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis will advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1970. Last year's Central Division winners have a point to prove.
3. The Flyers will actually beat the Rangers this season, for their first win in at least eight tries, since Feb. 20, 2011. New York will have the last laugh, though, as the deeeeep Rangers will win their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
4. Name to remember: Minnesota's Mikael Granlund, who will win the Calder Trophy as top rookie, with the benefit of a Ryan Suter- and Zach Parise-led power play.
5. Claude Giroux will be a Hart Trophy finalist for league MVP in his fifth NHL season. He should have been one last year (93 points, finished fourth), since Steven Stamkos' 60 goals mean little without a playoff appearance.
6. The Kings will unfurl their first Stanley Cup banner on Saturday afternoon, but that's where the party ends. Both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who didn't play in Europe, will have a cold start in Los Angeles.
7. Montreal will finish dead last in the NHL, only three seasons removed from a conference finals berth - especially if they can't re-sign P.K. Subban. Even without any stars, Columbus will beat out the Canadiens for 29th as a scrappy, young team. New Montreal GM Marc Bergevin will orchestrate a quick turnaround for 2013-14.
8. Speaking of Canada, the Vancouver Canucks will be that country's only representative in the playoffs this spring. This would mark Toronto's ninth straight year watching the postseason.
9. Luke Schenn will become a fan favorite in Philadelphia. Aided by the presence of his brother, Brayden, who is his best friend, Schenn will be rejuvenated as part of a one-two combo with Braydon Coburn as the Flyers' top defense pair of the future.
10. Look out for Carolina. The Hurricanes will be a tough draw, with $60 million man Jordan Staal and contract-hungry Alex Semin adding much needed firepower. Break out the barbecue for more warm-weather hockey tailgates!
11. Once he's healthy, a rejuvenated Danny Briere will bounce back from a disappointing regular season last year, when he posted his lowest point total since 2002-03. Briere will collect more than 20 goals in 45 games.
12. Kimmo Timonen will exhaust every ounce of effort into the Flyers' shortened season, but will be continually hampered by nagging injuries. This will be Timonen's last NHL season.
13. Opponents will keep better tabs on Ottawa's Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, who collected a ridiculous 78 points last year.
14. Without captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit will be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. The Central (Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Columbus) may give the Atlantic a run for the money as the league's toughest division.
15. A record number of head coaches will be fired during the shortened season, since patience won't be high for struggling teams looking to retain fans - especially in smaller markets hardest hit by the lockout.
16. Max Talbot, who posted a career-high 19 goals, will experience a drop-off in offensive production.
17. The Eastern Conference's playoff picture won't completely shake out until the final day of the regular season. Eighth to 12th will be separated by a total of three points in this jumbled season.
18. Martin Brodeur extends his own NHL record on Saturday, making his 18th straight Opening Night start in net with the same team. But Brodeur should have retired after New Jersey's Cup dreams were dashed last June, as the Devils don't qualify for postseason play this year.
19. The Southeast Division - once termed the "South-least" by this unimaginative scribe - will send three teams (Washington, Florida and Carolina) to the playoffs. For only the second time in their 19-year franchise history, the Panthers, defending division champs, will make back-to-back playoff appearances.
20. Old friend Jaromir Jagr, 40, will help break a 5-year playoff drought in Dallas with fellow old head Ray Whitney.
21. After playing out the last season of his contract, Flyers forward Jody Shelley will be given a job in some team's front office - either here or in Columbus. Shelley, 36, has an incredible personality and has a unique insight into the game.
22. San Jose will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003. It's time for a rebuild at the Shark Tank, where the Stanley Cup window is closing quicker than most newspapers.
23. Hard-nosed forward Wayne Simmonds will post 23 goals in a shortened campaign, upping his output rate from 28 goals in his first full season with the Flyers.
24. With young stars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Justin Schultz, the Edmonton Oilers will be one of the most fun teams to watch. They'll fall just short of a playoff spot, though, after a superb start.
25. Winnipeg will post the NHL's best home record in the shortened season, but one of the league's worst road records. Tough to make the playoffs that way.
26. Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, scheduled to play 38 of 48 games, will nearly single-handedly keep Lindy Ruff as the longest-tenured coach in pro sports by helping the Sabres get back in the playoffs.
27. Scott Hartnell and Giroux will be separated as linemates at some point during the season, as Peter Laviolette looks for a shake-up to stop a losing skid.
28. James van Riemsdyk will struggle under the microscope in Toronto. JVR already has missed time in training camp with a bruised foot after taking a shot in practice.
29. With 81 points, Sidney Crosby will nab his second scoring title while teaming up with a healthy Evgeni Malkin on a lethal Penguins power play. Pittsburgh will finish second in the Atlantic behind New York and just a point or two ahead of the Flyers.
30. First-round pick Scott Laughton, 18, will stick with the Flyers past his five-game tryout, impressing the coaching staff with his unique blend of skating, defensively responsibility and physicality. Laughton can fill multiple roles in the lineup, coupling with Zac Rinaldo to lessen the need for a true enforcer.