With the NHL being such a topsy-turvy and competitive league it’s probably a smart idea not to make any bold playoff predictions for the fear of looking stupid. But here goes anyway. We’re going to make a dozen predictions for the 2017/18 postseason as it’s about to face off.
Let’s face it, in general the playoffs are quite unpredictable as upsets are pretty common. However, the President’s Trophy winners for being the top team in the league are often taken out early on. It’s not an easy task since half of this year’s 16 playoff teams didn’t make the postseason a year ago and some of this year’s preseason favorites will be golfing instead.
Vegas, Colorado and New Jersey were longshots to reach the dance, but here they are while Chicago, St. Louis, the Rangers and Montreal are absent. There’s a basic madness to the NHL playoffs, but we’ve gone out on a limb to make our predictions. We’ve more or less gone with our instinct here instead of bogging you down with an endless stream of statistics. Just remember, when it comes to the playoffs you should expect the unexpected.
12. Toronto Avenges Epic Failure Of 2012/13
There’s no question the Toronto Maple Leafs had the Boston Bruins by the nads back in the 2012/13 playoffs and let them off the hook by collapsing with a 4-1 third-period lead. You can blame it on bad goaltending and/or brutal coaching, but it was a meltdown of historical proportions. The Leafs should have had that series wrapped up and if we fast forward to 2017/18 we find Toronto with a much better team with more depth, solid coaching and goaltending, speed, youth and a flair for scoring goals. They may be relatively weak in their own end, considering the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask just doesn’t seem to be the same goaltender he was five years ago, the Leafs will have no one to blame but themselves if they don’t win the first round.
11. Vegas Golden Knights Ousted In First Round
Unfortunately, the Vegas Golden Knights’ fairytale season will likely come to an end in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. There’s no doubt Vegas has been the feelgood story of the season and will likely go down in history as the most successful expansion team ever in pro sports. But all good things must come to an end. The Knights’ hopes lie with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury since he has the most experience of all the 16 playoff starters at 115 postseason contests. They’ll also need Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson to be at their absolute best, but the squad simply lacks playoff experience. The Kings boast Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter etc. Heck, we can even throw whipping boy Dion Phaneuf in there. In addition, the Knights struggled with LA this season compared to the way they handled most other teams.
10. Flyers Drop Penguins In First Round
The Pittsburgh Penguins are attempting to become the first NHL team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since 1980 to 1983 when the New York Islanders pulled off the feat by winning four in a row. The Penguins won’t three-peat as champions this year and might not even make it past the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Of course, the stars and moon must align perfectly or whatever for the Flyers to pull off the upset, but the keys will be keeping Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin in check. They also have to stay out of the penalty box, get unbelievable goaltending from Brian Elliot as well as solid performances from leading scorer Claude Giroux and their youngsters. It’s a gargantuan task, but the heated rivalry will spur the Flyers to victory.
9. Alexander Ovechkin Gets Fed Up With Losing
Poor Alexander Ovechkin. The ace Russian sniper led the league in goals for the seventh time in his career with 49 this season and carried the Washington Capitals to the playoffs, but he’s not going to hoist the Stanley Cup this year either. In fact, the Caps may not even make it out of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Washington struggled compared to previous years when it comes to metrics and they’re facing a skillful team which boasts two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky in net, who ranked tops in the league with his plus-32.76 goals saved above average stat. Washington struggles possession-wise and goaltender Braden Holtby isn’t the obvious number one anymore as Philipp Grubauer will get the nod against Columbus. It looks like Ovechkin might finally think about accepting a trade to increase his chances of winning a Stanley Cup.
8. 2017/18 Sets Record For Overtime Games
With the NHL being so competitive these days, perhaps thanks in part to the salary cap, fans are going to see plenty of close games in the playoffs. Last season saw the league set a new record for overtime contests in a single round of the postseason with 18 in the opening series alone. This included five of six games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals as well as four overtime games in one night. In total, 27 playoff games went into overtime last season with the shortest lasting just 45 seconds and the longest reaching 31 minutes and 53 seconds. It seems the players were in a hurry to get to the bar last spring as just five of the 27 games went into a second overtime period. With so much parity, look for even more extra time this year.
7. Brad Marchand Gets Suspended
We have the Leafs taking the Bruins out in the first round, so this prediction needs to happen pretty quickly or the Bruins need to get past Toronto. But with the way Brad Marchand has been pushing the envelope with his style of play there’s a good bet he’s going to be hit with a suspension during the 2017/18 playoffs. It might be for just one game or it could be longer, but he’s going to do something stupid and Brad Marchand-like to be hit with a ban. He avoided a suspension and was only fined $5,000 for his cross-check on Andrew MacDonald of the Philadelphia Flyers back on April 1st. Reports say Marchand has had to forfeit a total of $877, 522.61 in salary during his career due to being suspended a total of six times for 19 games and fined another four times.
6. Top Two Seeds Eliminated By Second Round
We have the Tampa Bay Lightning as top seed in the Eastern Conference, courtesy of the Florida Panthers beating Boston in the final game of the season. And over in the West the Nashville Predators finished with the best record. Now the Predators should take the first round against the Colorado Avalanche, but will then likely face the Winnipeg Jets, who should get past the Minnesota Wild in the first round. This sets up a Nashville vs Winnipeg showdown in the second round and that’s all she wrote for the Preds, last year’s finalists. As far as Tampa goes, they’re going to have a hard time against the New Jersey Devils in the first round and will then have to face Toronto or Boston and that’ll be the end of the line.
5. Jonathan Quick Posts Lowest GAA
We’re going with the LA Kings to knock off Vegas in the first round and Nashville to be eliminated by the second round. This means the biggest challenge to LA in the West is likely to be the Winnipeg Jets and their high-flying offense. But two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick has the experience and a knack for standing on his head in the playoffs, especially when the chips are down. Quick bounced back with one of his best career seasons and shared the Jennings Trophy with his teammates for the fewest goals against. He posted five shutouts this season in 64 games along with a ninth-ranked 33 wins, a 92.1 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average. Combine this with the best penalty-killing unit at 85 per cent, look for Quick and the Kings to lead the league in goals-against average in the playoffs even though they don’t win the cup.
4. Toronto Snaps 50-Year Final Drought
The Maple Leafs don’t really have any glaring weakness at the moment, but their defense obviously isn’t their strong point. But with the current mix of youth and veterans to go along with solid goaltending and scoring they can reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1967. They won’t have an easy road since they’ll have to oust Boston in the first round and then get past either Tampa or New Jersey. But it’s definitely doable. They could meet either Washington, Columbus, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia in the Conference Final, but we have the Flyers taking care of the Penguins early on. This year’s Leafs team has a good shot at beating either of the other squads, including Pittsburgh if need be, to make it to the Final. The key will be the scoring goals via Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk in the notoriously low-scoring playoffs.
3. Mitch Marner Leads Playoff Scoring
With the Maple Leafs making it to the Stanley Cup Final, we’ve got baby-faced winger Mitch Marner leading the scoring parade. Marner came into his own this season and led the club with 22 goals and a shared team-high 47 assists for 69 points in 82 outings. He’s not a threat to lead the league in regular-season scoring, but since the Leafs are going to play a minimum of 16 games in the playoffs he’s got a bit of an edge. Marner’s not a big goalscorer, but like Kyle Wellwood before him, he’s a nifty playmaker and considering the other scoring threats on the team Marner simply needs to feed them the puck and take advantage of his power play time. Marner has the ability to score and probably passes too often. But if he gets a little more selfish in the playoffs he should top the scoring list.
2. Winnipeg Jets Win Stanley Cup
We see the Winnipeg Jets ousting Minnesota in the first round and sneaking past Nashville in the second. We believe they’ll have to face the LA Kings somewhere along the line for their stiffest test. If the Kings fail to live up to our prediction the Jets will have to worry about Anaheim, San Jose or Vegas. Either way, they have the talent to take care of them and reach the Final, likely against Toronto. The Jets having the slight edge in goaltending and arguably scoring as each team netted 277 goals with the Jets allowing 218 to Toronto’s 232. One area Winnipeg is stronger is on the blue line even though Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly each racked up 52 points for the Leafs. The Jets need to rely on Patrik Laine for scoring and Connor Hellebuyck for saves, but can pull it off if they stay healthy and out of the penalty box.
1. Connor Hellebucyk Wins Conn Smythe Trophy
Since the Winnipeg Jets will hoist the Stanley Cup several weeks from now the most likely candidate to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy will be 24-year-old goaltender Connor Hellebucyk. If Mitch Marner leads the scoring race there likely won’t be a Jet with the offensive numbers to be named playoff MVP. Hellebucyk’s definitely going to have to beat Minnesota and then likely edge Pekka Rinne in a goaltender’s duel against Nashville in the second round. He may have to do the same against Jonathan Quick of LA or John Gibson of Anaheim. Hellebucyk has the tools as he shared the league lead with 44 wins this season to set a record for an American-born goalie. He posted a 2.36 GAA, along with a 92.4 save percentage with six shutouts in 67 games. At 6-feet-4-inches tall, Hellebucyk covers a lot of net and will be rewarded for it.