Peering into our Crystal Ball: Four NHL Predictions
By George Potter, Staff Writer
The NHL offseason is finally coming to a close and opening night for the 2021-22 season is right around the corner. Is there a better time to make some bold predictions? This season is going to be very exciting to watch, and it’ll be interesting to see how the return to the pre-pandemic divisions and the debut of the new team on the block, the Seattle Kraken, will shake things up. Here’s what I think might be happening this season.
The Florida Panthers will have a chance to contend in the Stanley Cup
Last year, the Florida Panthers made their first playoff appearance since 2016. Rookie goaltender Spencer Knight gave great performances in his first couple of games and his first-ever start. Despite losing in the first round against the Tampa Bay Lightning, this team has a lot of potential this upcoming season.
It will be exciting to see what Knight and goaltender Sergei Bobvrosky could accomplish as they could be the top two starters this season.
Florida’s defense has also shown that top point scoring defenseman Aaron Ekblad is not the only player to rely on. Defenseman Mackenzie Weeger showed his skills and work ethic when he scored 36 points in 54 games last season.
The Panthers were also able to get their hands on Sam Bennet at the trade deadline last year, who was able to score 15 points in 10 games. The club was able to sign him to a contract extension, and I think we’ll see this former fourth overall pick for the Calgary Flames finally get the chance to excel in a full season.
The Panthers also picked up Sabres forward Sam Reinhart in exchange for prospect goaltender Devon Levi this offseason. Reinhart has shown his chops as a goalscorer by scoring 25 goals and 40 points last year, despite all of the losing Buffalo endured last season.
The Panthers seem to have strong offensive depth that will be fun to watch. They also signed veteran star forward Joe Thornton to a one year deal which will give him a good chance to contend in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Seattle Kraken will make a playoff spot
Don’t expect the Kraken to make a Stanley Cup run in their first season like the Vegas Golden Knights did back in 2018 but this team has made a good impression this offseason. No matter what happens, this will be a season to remember for sports fans in the emerald city.
The team was able to pick up some good leaders that have playoff experience like Islanders forward Jordan Eberle, Flames defenseman Mark Girodarno, St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn, and Lightning forward Yannick Gourde during the expansion draft.
Kraken General Manager Ron Francis also made some stunning moves during free agency. He signed Colorado Avalanche goaltender and Vezina finalist Phillip Graubauer and St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz.
Thanks to the savvy moves Seattle made in their first-ever offseason, the Kraken can probably compete against some of the teams in their division and conference well enough to carve out a playoff spot for themselves.
Sean Monahan or Johnny Gaudreau could depart from Calgary before the Trade Deadline
We all know the Flames need to make some changes. The shortened 2020-21 season looked a little too familiar to Calgary fans accustomed to mediocrity, and they’re getting worried about what the team’s future could hold.
There’s a lot of reason to be concerned about management, and it seems like the fan-favourite idea of the Flames trading for Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel won’t happen. But the frustrated Flames fans dying to see the organization make a splash might not need to wait too much longer.
Trade rumours about star Flames forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are still very much alive. Monahan seems to be catching more attention than Johnny Hockey; the Montreal Canadiens are rumoured to have reached out to Calgary about Monahan’s availability before trading for Christian Dvorak.
It would not be a surprise if one of them leaves Calgary by the trade deadline but it’s still very much up in the air. How much longer they’ll be calling YYC their home depends on their performance, and if they continue to underachieve, expect them to be on their way out.
Jack Eichel to Vegas
The burning questions surrounding Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel and his next destination have been on the minds of hockey fans and analysts alike. Will he end up with the Flames, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, the New York Rangers, or another team? What might that deal actually look like?
Eichel’s agents say there have been talks with the Sabres on moving him. That’s pretty understandable. The team looked good on paper but ended last season with a 15-34-7 record. It’s no coincidence that other players on the Sabres offense have been leaving Buffalo for playoff contenders.
But Eichel’s health will be a huge concern for any General Manager who still wants to make a deal for him. Eichel and his agents are demanding an artificial disk replacement procedure, something that the Sabres won’t allow Eichel to have.
Despite the risks, a potential deal between the Sabres and the Golden Knights has been turning the rumour mill. Vegas would receive Eichel and give up forward Payton Krebs, forward Reilly Smith, defenseman Nic Hauge and a first round pick.
A move like this wouldn’t be a surprise since Vegas made moves to get players like forward Max Pacioretty, forward Mark Stone, and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.
Whether or not Vegas still wants Eichel is a huge question mark. The league’s interest in him likely hinges on his injury situation. If the Golden Knights are able to get their hands on a healthy Eichel, they could have one the best offenses that the league has ever seen in its 100-year history.