Blues Rants Team: Early Season Predictions

Jordan Binnington (50) makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point (21). The Blues went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2019, while the Tampa Bay Lightning are the odds-on favorites to win in 2020. (Photo courtesy: Chris O’Meara, AP Photo)

Opening Day of the NHL. It’s like early Christmas for hockey fans.

Free agency came and went, trades were made, RFAs signed, and the 23-man rosters of all 31 NHL teams were finally announced in anticipation of the 2019-20 season. The first week of October couldn’t come sooner for hockey fans, with the drama surrounding the RFAs, the quiet months of July and August, and the preseason anticipation of who makes it out of training camp and into opening night. Like every season, a few teams made big waves this summer in lieu of a regular-season cut short, or a playoff run coming to a bitter end. Also, like every season, analysts and fans alike share their way-too-early season predictions, with about a 99% chance of being completely wrong (because it’s the NHL where rosters and standings barely seem to matter sometimes) and a 1% chance of being completely right.

That being said, the Blues Rants team took the task of giving their thoughts on who will come out on top come April of next year. Maybe because of the playoff runs the teams had, maybe because of the offseason moves, or, in the Blues case last year, almost dumb luck. The team shared their guesses on the winners of all four divisions, who are in or out of the playoffs, and who could be crowned the Stanley Cup Champions of 2020.

CHRIS MORAN – WRITER/EDITOR

“The Blues are coming off their first Stanley Cup championship with most of their roster still intact (somewhat of a rarity nowadays) and traded for another right-handed defenseman in Justin Faulk, who had 24 assists and 35 points with Carolina last season. Now, with Binnington in between the pipes and Craig Berube at the helm for the whole season, I don’t see a reason they shouldn’t replicate the second half of their season for a full year and take the Central.

“Tampa Bay only continues to hold a monstrous roster. Say what you will about their postseason, they re-signed Brayden Point to a steal of a contract and added cup champion Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk just for kicks. There’s no reason they aren’t as dominant as they were in the Atlantic Division (and the entire league) last season.

“Washington has proven since their cup win in 2018 that they’re not nearly finished. Ovechkin is still Ovechkin at 34, Holtby is still a top 15 goaltender, and the core around them only seems to be getting better. If the team can stay healthy come postseason, watch out for the Capitals.

“Calgary ran into a Colorado team that they weren’t prepared for last season, despite being having the best record in the West last season. The Flames may have swapped Milan Lucic for James Neal, but Neal has the potential for a bounceback year. Goaltending will be the question mark with Rittich and Talbot, but the Matthew Tkachuk contract was a win-win for both sides. The rest of their core, including Johnny Hockey and Norris winner Mark Giordano, should be able to handle the rest.

“For the playoff picture, I don’t see the Pens making it this year. Their cap is a mess, and Phil Kessel’s departure from the team will definitely affect depth scoring whether they like it or not. The other team out of the picture in the East is Columbus – as valiant as the effort was, they practically lost all their pieces on the all-in gamble from last season. Hot take, maybe, but I see the Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers taking their place for the two wild card seeds.

“As for the West, I don’t see any change: Blues, Avalanche, Stars, Jets, Predators, Knights, Sharks, and Flames. How they stack up into a bracket, however, could be a very different story. In my opinion, the Bolts learn from their mistakes of last postseason and take down the reigning champs in the Cup Final.”

TYSON PLUMLEE – WRITER

“Dallas landed some big fish in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry in the offseason, with Andrej Sekera for good measure. The leadership on that squad is better than probably any other roster in the league, which is perfect for their talented youth like Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell. Put Vezina candidate Ben Bishop in the cage and you have a Central division team that should be pretty dominant.

“The Lightning virtually got better on paper in the offseason (which with their organization seems improbable) and they’ll be out for blood once the postseason starts. Tampa Bay’s the safest bet not only to take the Atlantic but likely the President’s Trophy, not mention the superstar talent like Kucherov, Point, Stamkos, and Vasileskiy.

“Washington’s success has been really understated in the last six to seven seasons, despite winning the Cup in 2018. Players like Oshie, Backstrom, Holtby and (of course) Ovechkin only seem to get better with age, and their group shows no signs of stalling after the disappointing exit last year.

“The Knights have a full year of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Full stop. The line of Pacioretty, Stastny, and Stone was beyond lethal in the first round, but the controversy surrounding that game 7 is only going to make them hungrier. It’s only their third year in the league, but the Knights are likely in an even better position than their first two years to bring the cup to Vegas.

“The Islanders took a big hit in losing Robin Lehner, and are still probably licking their wounds losing Tavares. That goaltending duo practically earned their playoff spot last year, so I think repeating that success won’t be enough. In their place, I think Florida gets into that spot. They replace Luongo with Bobrovsky and still made some solid moves for depth guys like Noel Acciari and Anton Stralman. My hot take – the Oilers finally get McDavid into postseason contention in the West. However, Colorado is going to be a beast this year, and I think they have the power take out Tampa in the Final.”

TIM HIRSCH – PUBLISHER/LEAD EDITOR

“After a heartbreaking loss in 2OT to the eventual cup champions, Dallas isn’t going to be satisfied with anything less than a Finals appearance. If Ben Bishop should continue to stupefy in net and “Captain America” can play like he’s capable, this team’s veteran depth plus aspiring youth could easily give them the division and more.

“Vegas is astoundingly staying consistent despite this being their third season in the NHL. They were bounced thanks to a bad call last postseason, but with Mark Stone and Cody Glass proving to be a bonafide star draft pick, the Knights could definitely pull off another deep run as they did in their inaugural season.

“Tampa Bay – need I say more? The Lightning only continues to dominate as they add Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon, with Luke Schenn just for insurance. Dan Girardi’s retirement may play a factor, but the Bolts superstar talent is just overflowing – especially with Brayden Point signing a ludicrously cheap contract.

“Washington is proving again that age is just a number. The Great 8 is 34, Oshie is 33, and their youngest prospect in Jakub Vrana is 23. Yet, for all of their seemingly ageless players, they are a spectacular team through and through and should be able to take the Metropolitan division for the 5th year straight.

“Columbus, Pittsburgh and the Isles have a rapidly closing window of making the playoffs this season. Columbus’ all-in fell short, the Islanders lost half of their goaltending duo and Pittsburgh’s roster moves have been all over the place this offseason. In my opinion, Florida, New Jersey, and Montreal manage to squeak their way into those three slots this postseason. On the other side, Colorado is only getting better and should give Dallas, St. Louis, and the rest of their division a good run for their money. In my mind, though, Tampa doesn’t fall flat like last season. They’ve learned from their mistakes and are my pick to take the Cup.”

PHILLIP MILLER – EDITOR/WRITER

“St. Louis may have kept their Cup-winning roster intact, but Colorado made some great moves this offseason. With all of their cap room and the best top line in hockey, the Avs should be a safe bet to take the Central Division, with the Blues and Stars not far behind.

“To bet against Tampa Bay this season would be like betting on the Blues midway through last season – practically ludicrous. They signed Brayden Point – a scorer equivalent to Marner – for incredibly cheap and landed depth players like Maroon and Shattenkirk for money under the couch cushion. They should be a safe bet for the Atlantic winners again, and probably the President’s Trophy as well.

“The Golden Knights were a shock to the league in their first year, and little suggests that would change this year. The Mark Stone acquisition was huge, and it proved as such in the playoffs when he was alongside Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny. With their first real draft pick in Cody Glass showing real promise, the Knights won’t be receiving the short end of the NHL rulebook if they can help it.

“As much as I think the Hurricanes will look to repeat their postseason success, the loss of Justin Williams and Curtis McElhinney cannot be ignored. The Capitals have proven too solid from the top down – from the Great 8 to Backstrom, Eller, and Vrana. Washington’s early exit last season was an unfortunate one and we all know they want to taste victory again.

“Columbus and New York are facing trouble. Columbus lost practically everything; the Isles lost Robin Lehner. Pittsburgh is in hot water with the salary cap and the loss of Phil Kessel, but they might just get back in if Murray and Geno return to form. Personally, I think the Rangers and the Panthers take their place. The Panthers have solid goaltending in Bobrovsky, and the Rangers have Kaako, Panarin, and Trouba as big adds to their roster.

“As for the West, the Jets took a big tumble. They re-signed Laine and Connor, but Byfuglien’s sudden absence and the departure of Myers and Trouba, they’ve virtually lost their entire right side. This doesn’t even include the loss of Lemieux, Hayes, and Tanev. The top hitters in the Central only got heavier this offseason (especially Colorado), so the Jets will be right on the edge with – my pick for their replacement – the Arizona Coyotes.

“As for a champion, hot take – I think something broke in the psyche of the Lightning after that sweep, giving the Final spot to the Capitals. With my pick for the West, I think this is the year the Avalanche takes it all the way.”

WRAPUP

The offseason provided us plenty of speculation for the upcoming season, and the predictions for the winners and losers are obviously too early to call. Regardless of who comes out on top, it should be another exciting season for the NHL. It’s a great day for hockey.

For more local Blues stories, recaps, insights and more, visit Bluesrants.com!

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