2014-15 NHL Predictions

This 2014-15 NHL season preview deals with everyone’s favorite pass-time: predictions.

As we approach the start of training camp, there are still several questions for many of the NHL’s teams.

Who will the Blackhawks trade to get under the salary cap? Will the Bruins also shed more salary? What about the restricted free agents who remained unsigned like Nino Niederreiter and Torey Krug?

Despite the uncertainty, I’m taking a stab at making NHL predictions on everything from point totals to award winners.

We’ll start with the standings, which will inevitably make some fans happy, and others question whether or not I’m writing this from a padded room somewhere.

Here goes.

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Hart Trophy: Alex Ovechkin
Runners-up: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos

Norris Trophy: Ryan Suter
Runners-up: Shea Weber, Victor Hedman

Vezina Trophy: Carey Price
Runners-up: Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick

Calder Trophy: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Runners-up: Jonathan Drouin, John Gibson

Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Runners-up: Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane

Rocket Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin
Runners-up: Steven Stamkos, Logan Couture

Jack Adams Award: Barry Trotz
Runners-up: Todd McLellan, Darryl Sutter

A few things stand out here.

  • I think Barry Trotz will successfully get the most out of a talented team in Washington. That’ll mean a more motivated core, renewed regular season success and a strong playoff run.
  • Rumors of the Red Wings’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. They’ll come back strong this season, getting strong contributions from their young forwards.
  • The Central division will be the NHL’s “group of death”.
  • While the LA Kings will have a bit of a slow start due to some fatigue from their Stanley Cup celebrations and long season last year, they’ll find their footing just in time to provide a very good title defense in the post-season.
  • This year will include a very tight race for the Calder Trophy. The three candidates mentioned above could all not only win the award, but take a step towards NHL stardom.
  • The San Jose Sharks meanwhile will bounce back one more time from their latest collapse and have a strong season but falter once again in the playoffs, leading to the kinds of major organizational changes that everyone expected this past summer.

Playoff Picture

Conference quarter-finals

Penguins-Blue Jackets
In a rematch of last year’s series, we’ll see a very different Sidney Crosby against the Jackets this time around. He’ll lead the Penguins to a convincing series win, involving very tight games. Pens in five.

Canadiens-Red Wings
In an original six match-up, the Canadiens will enter the post-season with very high expectations. I believe that the current Red Wings core and head coach Mike Babcock have one more run left in them, and the Canadiens will become their first victim as Pavel Datsyuk dominates at both ends like only he can. Red Wings in seven.

The Boston Bruins’ window as an elite team is closer to being closed than open, while the young, revamped Lightning are only beginning to come into their own. Tampa Bay will give Boston fits on the powerplay and the lack of a true game-breaking goal scorer will hurt the Bruins. Lightning in 6.

Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists will find it very difficult to match-up with the Capitals as they have depth and quality throughout the lineup. This will definitely be a series where coaching will make a huge difference, and I have more confidence in Trotz than in Vigneault. Capitals in six.

Coming off a very difficult regular season that saw them just squeak into the playoffs, the Avalanche will face a stiff challenge off the bat in the Ducks. While the Avs can certainly out-skate Anaheim, the Ducks’ experience and size will have an effect as the series goes along. Their depth up front will also expose the Avs’ defense, which remains a question mark beyond the top pairing. Ducks in six.

This series will not be unlike both teams’ first round match-ups in 2013-14. The Blackhawks will have a slow start to the series as the Stars’ big guns Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn earn a road split. Once the Hawks get going, their superior depth and defensive game should be enough to close out the series fairly early. Blackhawks in five.

The Blues and Wild are both teams who have had disappointing ends to their seasons in recent years. Expectations for both are high as they spent more money this summer to get over the hump and challenge for a Western Conference Final birth. In what will be the closest first round series, the Blues’ will simply have too much depth throughout the lineup for the Wild to handle. Blues in seven.

The Sharks will enter this series with tons of pressure and with a huge chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately for them, that load will be too much to bear as they completely collapse from the get-go and the Kings take the series easily. Kings in four.

Conference Semi-finals

The Crosby-Ovechkin rivalry is finally renewed in this one, as each player carries his team. With the additions of the former Penguins to their defense corps and a more experienced head coach, the Capitals will finally beat out the Penguins and reach the Conference Finals. Capitals in seven.

Red Wings-Lightning
Another interesting match-up in the Eastern Conference, as Steve Yzerman’s Lightning take on his old team and his mentor, GM Ken Holland. While the Lightning’s youth and goaltending will provide a stiff challenge, Datsyuk once again shines as he holds Steven Stamkos without a goal for the first three games as the Wings jump out to a 3-0 lead. The deficit is simply too great for Tampa to overcome. Red Wings in six.

For the second consecutive series, the Kings will face a team they beat last season, and for the second consecutive series, they’ll find a way to beat them again. While Ryan Kesler plays some of the best hockey he’s ever played, Jonathan Quick out-duels the young John Gibson and the Kings find themselves advancing to their fourth consecutive Western Conference Final. Kings in seven

Yet another re-match from last year. The Blues will come into this series with much more speed and skill than last year and that’ll mean a stiffer test for the Blackhawks. The issue for the Blues this time will be match-ups, as they struggle to cover both the Toews/Hossa and Richards/Kane combinations. Blackhawks in seven.

Conference Finals

Capitals-Red Wings
While everyone expects this one to be relatively high-scoring, it turns out to be a very defensive series, with both teams playing it a little too safe. That results in a series decided by the grinders and unexpected heroes, a series Washington is better equipped to win. Braden Holtby and Jimmy Howard both star, but Holtby is just a little better when it matters most. Capitals in six.

Get used to seeing these two meet in the West. This will be their third straight meeting in the Western Final and is also the tie-breaker, with each team having beaten the other. Last year, Chicago struggled with LA’s depth down the middle and Corey Crawford simply wasn’t as good as he needed to be. This year, the Blackhawks are deeper at center, and Crawford will bounce back in a big way. Brandon Saad will also put on another clinic as he did last season. Blackhawks in six.

Stanley Cup Final

One team has a chance at their third Stanley Cup in six years, the other is hungry for their first ever taste. This will be the fastest-skating Stanley Cup Final in history, as both teams play an up-tempo game but neither gives up a ton of quality chances.

The Capitals will shock most of the hockey world and win game one in Chicago, with Ovechkin absolutely dominating the match-up against Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.

Joel Quenneville, as he so often has in the past, relies on his big guns in games two and three, giving the shutdown job to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. They successfully hold Ovechkin in check for two games and take a 2-1 series lead.

Game four is a back-and-forth affair with both goaltenders having tough nights. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Patrick Kane display outstanding skill as they both score two goals, but the difference is Brandon Saad in double-overtime as the Blackhawks pull out a nail-biter.

Traditionally very good in games 4-7, most people prepare to hand the Blackhawks the Stanley Cup in game five, expecting the Capitals to fold. This is where the playoff experience of Troy Brouwer and Brooks Orpik comes in as they physically punish the Blackhawks from the opening faceoff, putting them on their heels. They never quite recover and the Caps return home with a chance to force a game seven.

Game six once again is a shocker, as the Capitals continue to be very physical and throw the skilled Hawks off their game. Braden Holtby plays outstanding, making several highlight-reel saves, leading Washington to a do-or-die win, forcing a deciding game in the Windy City.

Game seven. This is typically where the players who are paid the big bucks earn their money (or not). Alex Ovechkin fights through tough checking and a very sharp Corey Crawford to show that he’s able to raise his game to the next level when his team needs him to. Having said that, there are few players, perhaps in history who provide more to their team at crunch time than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Down by one going into the third, Quenneville decides to re-unite Sharp, Toews and Kane and they do not disappoint as they score three unanswered goals.

The Blackhawks go on to win their third Stanley Cup in six years, and Corey Crawford earns the Conn Smythe Trophy he probably should have won in 2013.