The Sportz Nutt’s 5 Takes On The NHL Season

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The quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup began over the weekend as hockey got rolling. New to this season is another franchise, some player movement and some changes to the uniforms. The Pittsburgh Penguins were revealed as the odds on favorites to win it all this year, but who else has a significant shot? Here are my bold and not so bold predictions for this year’s NHL season (the beginning of the season has no bearing on what I’m about to say):

1) Toronto will make the Eastern Conference Finals

The Leafs have forever been a team on the verge of making the playoffs with a mediocre team, then playing a round and then faltering. Then they hired an incredible coach in Mike Babcock, a great GM in Lou Lamoriello and President in Brendan Shanahan, and did the rebuild right. They traded any and all assets for draft picks, did their homework at the draft, and brought in an incredible amount of young talent. Now they have players such as Austin Matthews, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner and Morgan Reilly. Their only real weakness is in net as I don’t fully believe in Frederik Anderson as a true number one through a season and playoffs, but, from where they were to where they are, the Leafs are on a fast track road to success.

2) Las Vegas will make the playoffs

In an unprecedented move, the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights will shock the world and make the playoffs. Yes I said it, and not just here, I said it back when I saw the list of players available for pickup in the expansion draft……damnit I should have put it on social media somewhere. That being said, here’s why: there is just way too much talent for this team to not succeed. Marc Andre Fleury is a goalie who has won the Cup three times, and is not your prototypical expansion goalie. James Neal is a bonafide goal scorer. David Perron knows how to put the puck in the net. Cody Eakin has shown glimpses of offensive brilliance. This doesn’t take into account the talent they have in line for their future either, but that matters not for this prediction. I say they make the playoffs and shock the world.

3) Edmonton becomes an elite team

The Ducks barely got by the Oilers in last year’s playoffs, perhaps proving that experience beats youth, but, this season, the Oilers come back with a vengeance. They did lose more than they gained, but they do have enough depth and talent to sustain last year’s level of excellence. Connor McDavid seems ready to ascend into the upper echelon of elite playmaking in the NHL; Leon Draisaitl emerged in last year’s playoffs and seems ready to be on the top line; a solid 6-man defense looks poised to protect the net; Cam Talbot has proven that he can succeed all season long. I look for the Oilers to win the Pacific Division and go far into the playoffs.

4) Carolina surprises everyone but me

Carolina has struggled for the past 8 years, and that’s putting it lightly. Always watching the playoffs from the outside, they started a rebuild years ago and have been waiting for things to come together. Either with a lack of goaltending or a lack of scoring, something was always missing. This year, I think it all starts to come together. First off, they signed Scott Darling, who will take over as the #1 goalie and supplant the Hurricanes with some consistency. Secondly, they got some veteran and Cup winning experienced players to help out in Jeff Skinner, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marcus Kruger. Third, another year together with this group means another year of growth, communication and learning. I think this is the year we see an upswing in production from Carolina an see sneak peaks of what they’re really capable of. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the lower echelon of the Eastern Conference.

5) Tampa Bay will win the Stanley Cup

I really want to pick Nashville, but I do believe in the Stanely Cup hangover and think they will be tired this season. I want to pick Pittsburgh, but for the sake of something different, I’ll take the field. Anyone who watched hockey last season knows that Tampa struggled with injuries to much of their team, including one of the league’s most dynamic players in Steve Stamkos. Now that they are all healthy, the sky is the limit for them. With playmakers like Kucherov, Hedman, Johnson and Callahan, the Yzerman run Lightning are on the fast track back to the Cup. On top of all that, they have one of the futre’s best goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Life is good in Tampa Bay.

And there you have it.