Well, the NHL season started again! Last season many bets and arguments were lost, as the season turned out to be highly unpredictable. To see such upsets and surprises in a sport with such a high level of parity, special things have to have happened.
The most obvious peculiarity were the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The team that was brand new, and got to choose a player from each team to build their roster, was looking like an absolute joke in the draft. Consensus was that the general manager could have picked a much better team instead of the supposedly borderline AHL caliber plugs he chose.
Little did we know that for example William Karlsson, the man of 6 goals in the previous season, would explode to 43 goals in 2017-2018. Instead of being the expected punching bag, Las Vegas steamrolled their way all the way up to the Stanley Cup finals.
The other major upset was that it was actually the Washington Capitals that were able to stop Las Vegas. Caps had been one of the premier teams for about a decade, but had become a type of a laughing stock due to always failing at the same time of the season; never progressing past the 2nd round of the playoffs. This time, in the widely considered twilight of their eliteness, Caps won it all with old man Ovechkin winning regular season goal scoring.
These examples were all something that nobody was really expecting. Could 2018-2019 have similar surprises, or will the favorites rule? We decided to do a quick check-up on who the favorites for different trophies are, and who our choices for the black horses are!
SEASON TROPHY PREDICTIONS
Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Nashville, Toronto, San Jose
Florida Panthers have been heavily resting on the shoulders of Alexander Barkov, who is only getting better every year. The core is more or less intact now, and the team was showing some extreme talent sporadically last season. Now with the added firepower of Mike Hoffman, the Panthers might actually gel it all together for a successful run all the way to the playoffs. We doubt the player material is wide enough for a proper Cup run, but the Panthers can win anybody when they’re on a roll.
Dallas Stars we feel have been underperforming for years now. After all, they have one of the scariest first lines in hockey, as well as a sublime defenseman in John Klingberg. It could be that the support cast has been too far behind for a successful run so far however, as well as the goalie situation was like from a horror movie even last season, when Kari Lehtonen was still manning the posts way too often. The major change compared to latest seasons is that Dallas finally has a solid overall defense – especially the addition of one of the Calder favorites, Miro Heiskanen, will show a drastic difference.
Carolina Hurricanes are the team that everybody expects to succeed every damn season. So far they have never reached those expectations. Thus, predicting a good season for them seems like beating a dead horse, and a surefire way to embarrass oneself – fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This year however so much has changed, that the team simply can’t be as mediocre. With the new gritty players, coach, and GM, the trajectory will either be straight to the bottom, or they will be fighting for the cup in a couple of seasons. We like to believe that the team finally will perform as intended, as two of their key weaknesses have been fixed now. Carolina used to be soft as butter, but that problem has been recognized and the team will definitely try its best to be an unstoppable force this season. Offensive depth is still a question mark, but the future is definitely bright with newcomer Andrei Svechnikov and future Hart-candidate Sebastian Aho.
Mostly Connor McDavid. He’s too good.
Literally anybody else is a black horse for this. There are only two reasons why McDavid would not win this: Either he’s injured for half the season, or Edmonton misses the playoffs again. In case that happens, a good pick might be Auston Matthews or Nikita Kucherov. Sidney Crosby is also always present, and after having a “disappointing” season (only 89 points!) he might have gotten ruled out by bettors. Crosby however has had a longer summer break than ever now, and maybe that will show as at least one more season as the league’s best player.
If you are looking for a bet with extremely high odds and thus a low chance to succeed, you could also think about Carey Price and hope he has a bounceback season! Alternatively, Antti Raanta might lead the Arizona Coyotes to the playoffs, and would definitely be considered a Hart candidate at that point, albeit playing in Arizona instead of a bigger hockey market will always show itself as underappreciation.
This is boring, Connor McDavid.
Pretty much the same logic applies here as for the Hart; unfortunately in NHL the most important thing to spectators and fans is scoring. This means that Art Ross and Hart often go hand in hand. Kucherov, Tavares, MacKinnon and Malkin would be safe-ish choices for this. If you want to go off the board, Mark Scheifele is probably going to once again be better than he was the previous season – he seems to never stop developing. Elias Pettersson is suggested to be the best Swedish player ever, and who knows, maybe he will have a Gretzky-level impact on the game straight from his first season. It would be a terrible idea to place money on that bet, but we believe he is capable of great things especially when he gets some experience.
Hedman, Karlsson, Doughty, Burns
This award is a reputational award. That means it usually is the same guys in the voting leaderboards. Karlsson and Burns being on the same team now will eat votes from each other. Hedman just won, and voters may be looking for a non-repeating winner. Doughty is always good but his latest Norris win was basically due to his reputation, not the season in question. All this leads to Seth Jones being our favorite for Norris overall. As other options, Dougie Hamilton is in the limelight because of the big trade he was in, so if he does well, the hype will definitely follow. Klingberg might break the bank in defenseman scoring now that he can share other duties with budding superstar Miro Heiskanen.
Vasilevskiy, Bobrovsky, Holtby, Hellebuyck
Price could be actually here, because nobody is really expecting him to win based on recent performances. He however has an almost cult-level backing behind him, and if he will return to his former form, a Vezina is guaranteed. Two extremely good candidates are Gibson from Anaheim and Raanta from Arizona. Gibson was at times dominant even last season, but was flying under the radar. If he continues the same way, he will definitely be a finalist for this award. Raanta on the other hand simply was the best goalie of 2018. He was injured for most of 2017, but when healthy, he took over games completely. Arizona however is a weak team, and a goalie can only do so much. It basically means that if they do get into the playoffs, it will be because of Raanta – both Hart and Vezina votes will be coming his way. Most likely though Arizona will not get anywhere. If this happens, nobody will pay attention to Raanta even if he plays better than ever, so a Vezina candidacy relies on Arizona’s playoff chances.
Who is it really? This year is so different compared to the previous two. Last year Barzal simply took over already in the beginning of the season, and there were not that many highly touted rookies. There certainly was a sort of a Calder hangover after seeing what happened the season before with Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews toying with competition. The favorites at the moment seem to be Rasmus Dahlin, the hyped best defenseman of this generation, Elias Pettersson, Andrei Svechnikov, and Casey Mittelstadt.
Two out of those four favorites we actually do not believe in at all. Rasmus Dahlin has the handicap of being a defenseman, and in a terrible team – his stats most likely will not look good even if he is a generational talent. He does however have the hype behind him to raise his stock. Casey Mittelstadt plays in the same dumpster fire team, and might not even spend too much time in the big leagues – some experts are saying that he is physically not ready yet. Elias Pettersson seems like the real deal, and it will take mountains of hard work and good fortune for anybody to pass him.
Two black horses in this race happen to be Finnish: Miro Heiskanen of Dallas and Jesper Kotkaniemi of Montreal. Kotkaniemi was almost considered a bust even before he had played one game, but so far he has surprised everybody by being pretty much Montreal’s best player. The problem with him is that we don’t know yet whether he will spend the whole season up – even if he would be the team’s best player – or be sent down to gain some endurance and strength. He is physically very raw, and might not have what it takes to survive the 82 game season.
Miro Heiskanen has the same being-a-defenseman handicap as Dahlin, but he does not have the same level of hype. This of course is bad for his Calder winning odds, but on the other hand from what we have seen from him so far in this early season is simple dominance. He is at least this generation’s best Finnish defenseman – maybe the best one ever – and that might carry all the way to being comparable to Dahlin. Being a year older than Dahlin has the benefit that his first NHL season might actually be a lot more impressive.
Kopitar, Couturier, Bergeron
This is another reputational awards (see Norris), and the same guys will be the favorites here every year. Not to claim that its unfair in this case, because the 3 favorites are simply amazing in 2-way game. Reputation however means that its extremely difficult to break into the finalist group for this award. We feel that there are two main options who could be the black horses: Alexander Barkov of Florida and Auston Matthews of Toronto.
Matthews has already gotten votes in probably all of the awards during both his seasons in NHL, and we have to admit that he is a sublime player. With the current situation of Toronto with Tavares, it could be that Matthews will want to start dominating defense and leave scoring points to others, and with his skillset that definitely is possible. Barkov on the other hand belongs in the same group as the favorite 3, but plays in an underwhelming market, and an underwhelming team. It might not be this year yet, but as Kopitar and Bergeron are getting older, Barkov will definitely inherit the mantle of the best defensive forward in the league for the next decade.
Laine, Ovechkin, Matthews
Not really sure whether to have McDavid as a favorite or a black horse. He will definitely be able to win this award if he so chooses, and the odds might actually be all over the place. Similar to Crosby’s early career, people might think that the mold of a playmaker instead of a goalscorer is set in stone, but we saw with Crosby that he wanted to learn how to score goals later on also.
Matthews might not be on the top list on many betting sites for some reason – perhaps his rookie season was hyped so much that it came crashing down for no apparent reason. So far hes has done nothing but show his potential as being the league’s second best player after McDavid – even though we hate to admit it as we are not fans! There doesn’t seem to be that many options for the Rocket without actually seeing extremely freaky seasons. After all, William Karlsson had those 43 goals last season, and it came completely out of nowhere.
That’s it! Other trophies we will not touch, as frankly, they are not that interesting. Only the winner is remembered, so a conference title doesn’t really matter if the same team loses in the Cup finals. Assessing the Jack Adams odds might be interesting, but often it seems that the best coach is a surprise every season – the main criterion seems to be that one’s team needs to improve drastically and surprisingly from the previous season. GM of the year is another one that’s difficult to predict. Who will make the best trades? Whose team will surprise in such a way that it can’t all be attributed to the coach?
Whatever happens, we are excited that the season is here again. So many questions about the future storylines, and we want answers! Will Toronto finally get over their decades long hump, or will it provide more laughs how they simply still can’t get it all together? Will Montreal gut their team even more? How many days until the next Ottawa Senators incident? Will this season’s rookies actually include best-ever talent in Dahlin, Pettersson, Heiskanen, Svechnikov?