With the start of the 2013 NHL season suddenly right around the corner, it is time to make some unfounded predictions that, in the long run, will either make us look like prescient geniuses or complete fools. Or, maybe we will just play it safe and make some conservative predictions that have a high probability of coming true. Either way, here we go.
Marcello De Feo
1. Luke Schenn will accumulate 200 hits and win over fans
Last season, Luke Schenn accumulated 270 hits over 79 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which was good enough to lead the league in that category while ranking dead last among Maple Leaf defensemen in time on ice per game. In Philadelphia, Schenn will be called upon to play a bigger role and more minutes. He will be encouraged to hit and be the crease-clearing presence the Flyers need. So, despite the shortened season, he will manage to break the 200 hit mark and lead the league once again and win over Flyer fans in the process.
2. The Rangers will miss the playoffs
As the old adage goes, the most talented team isn’t always the best team. New York has an incredible goalie, solid young defenders, and an All-Star caliber first line. However, it remains to be seen whether Rick Nash ever becomes an elite player and it is unlikely that Marian Gaborik plays a second consecutive full season for the first time in his career. If injury-prone Gaborik suffers a serious setback during this shortened schedule, he could miss a significant percentage of the season and leave the Rangers’ offense lacking in a power-packed Atlantic Division.
3. The Flyers make a big splash at the trade deadline
For the first time in what seems like ages, the Flyers will make a big trade at the deadline — and not in the “got lucky with Ville Leino,” or “overpaid for Cup-winning talent in Kris Versteeg” kind of way. Paul Holmgren will make a deal at the deadline aimed to help the team in the long run instead of adding a playoff rental. (Super premature prediction: With so many free agents to re-sign in Winnipeg, Holmgren may target right-handed, restricted free agent to be, Zach Bogosian.)
1. Another big year for Matt Read
Read and Schenn are two Flyers that fans will definitely need to keep their eyes on this season. As a 60 year old rookie, Read put up 24 goals in 79 games. Can Read keep that production up? The Swedes certainly think so, after he put up 24 points in 20 games playing with Södertälje.
2. Ilya Bryzgalov freaks out on the Philly media
Yeah, I know I’m totally going out on a limb here. With a condensed schedule and Bryz playing constantly, the Philadelphia media is going to be all over him every night. I imagine that pressure isn’t going to sit well with everyone’s favorite Cosmonaut. We might be in store for a truly epic rant.
3. Claude Giroux will win the Hart Trophy
Like Eric Lindros before him, Claude Giroux is going to dominate this shortened NHL season and take home the Hart Trophy. Our magical ginger is going to dangle all over the place and make opposing defenders feel like they’re back in peewee hockey.
1. Stamkos = Bondra
Washington Capitals winger Peter Bondra led the NHL in total goals for the 1995 season with 34 on a club that averaged well under three-per-game, and also led the league in goals-per-game with a gaudy 0.723 average (34 in 47 games, which projected to 61 in an 84-game slate). Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos netted a league-best 60 last year, and I’m calling for him to score 40 if he plays all 48 games this season. The Bolts play it a little faster and looser than most, so it is absolutely within reach.
2. Columbus will not finish last in either the Central Division or Western Conference
The “dead weight” is cleared, there is no more speculation on whether Rick Nash is leaving. He’s gone. Everyone else on the Jackets can just get down to playing hockey and see what happens with no expectations and nobody in the lower bowl of Nationwide Center howling for Scott Howson’s head through post-game texts. They will find it very liberating. Some other team will sink with the weight of pressure to perform. Not saying they will be playoff contenders, but they will not be DFL.
3. Giving Claude Giroux the captaincy will invite some kind of misfortune
Go all the way back to Dave Poulin, and you see that every other player to have been named team captain in Flyers history since then has endured one form or another of unfortunate circumstance either with the “C” or leading to the removal of the “C.” We can’t afford our franchise player to endure the slings and arrows. If there is no long-term solution, no captaincy is an option. And a better one than Claude meeting with an unexpected gardening accident.
1. The Flyers will have a top 10 penalty kill.
Last year the Flyers finished 17th in the league in penalty kill percentage. In this lockout shortened season, I predict a top 10 unit. While the loss of Matt Carle will hurt—he was a great shot blocker—I think a full season of Nicklas Grossmann, and adding Luke Schenn makes for a strong group of defenseman while down a man. This, to go with a returning group of strong penalty killing forwards in Sean Couturier, Max Talbot, Claude Giroux, and Matt Read among others.
2. Claude Giroux will be a top 15 faceoff man.
Giroux has improved in the faceoff dot every year in the league. He’s gone from 47.2 to 49.5 to 50 to 53.7 percent; all while taking more draws every year (he started as a winger after all). He even showed noticeable improvement throughout the course of last season alone. I think this year (although a small sample size could hurt), he makes the jump to one of the better faceoff men in the league.
3. Max Talbot does not top 5 goals on the season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Talbot, and think he’s a very valuable member of this team; but I predict he does not top 5 goals this season. I was very torn between choosing Talbot or Wayne Simmonds because both shattered their career highs in goals scored last season. I think it is highly unlikely (shocker) that they both reach those numbers again (or at least that pace over a 48 game season). Talbot’s 19 goals in 81 games last season would be just over 11 goals in a 48 games season. Because I’d rather make risky predictions than easy ones, I opted for 5. Although, considering he only put up 8 in 82 games for Pittsburgh the year prior…maybe this really isn’t a stretch anyway.
1. Briere Bounces Back
After a lackluster season last time around, Breezy will return to form – once his wrist heals up, that is. He did well overseas, and he’s Mr. Clutch. It’s bound to happen. And while plenty of people will suggest that the Flyers buy out his contract, he’ll remain with the team, because he’s too much of a factor both on the ice and in the locker room as one of the team’s leaders.
2. Sophomores Succeed
Schenn, Read, and Couturier will continue to flourish and be big factors on this squad. All three kept busy and performed well during the lockout – Schenn and Couturier with the Phantoms (33 points in 33 games for Schenn, and 28 points in 31 games for Coots) and Read over in Sweden (24 points in 20 games) – and will carry that momentum over to the big time.
3. Jagr Returns
Jagr will be ours. Oh yes, he will be ours. (Bonus points if you get the reference.) Giroux will jump for joy, the ladies will swoon, and Jaromir’s groin will probably disintegrate. But hopefully not until after the season ends.