Hockey is unpredictable. It's one of the biggest reasons we love the sport. It's also one of the biggest reasons that preseason predictions often age like milk in the hot sun. Even the most passionate and knowledgeable hockey fans can often find themselves in the crosshairs of a cold takes watchdog.
Last year, I crushed some of my bold preseason predictions, came VERY close to nailing some others, and completely whiffed on others like a steering wheel that flies out the window while you're driving.
I've got more predictions ready for this upcoming season -- one that's likely going to be even more unpredictable and chaotic than the norm. Some takes are very bold, others less so. But none of them are guaranteed to be correct, and I look forward to hearing from you (and @OldTakesExposed on Twitter) when this beautiful, stupid sport gets the best of me yet again starting on Wednesday night.
Taylor Hall signs a midseason extension with the Sabres
A lot of people were stunned when Hall signed with the Sabres this offseason, especially since he kept emphasizing that he wants to win (historically, Buffalo has not been great at winning!) But Hall taking a one-year bet on himself in Buffalo makes sense, considering he's getting top line minutes alongside an elite center (Jack Eichel) and playing for a coach he's got history with in Ralph Krueger.
I don't see the Sabres making a serious playoff push this season, but I think Hall will find success and feel comfortable in Buffalo, and that'll lead to him signing a big-money deal to stay there for the long haul.
Auston Matthews leads the league in goals
This isn't a super bold prediction because Matthews finished one goal off the lead and tied Alex Ovechkin in even-strength goals (35) last season. That being said, I think Matthews has a career year in a shortened season and becomes one of very few players to even sniff 40 goals.
Jeremy Colliton is the first coach fired
The Blackhawks are entering this season as arguably the worst team in the league, and there's a high probability that things get ugly quick. Considering they just gave GM Stan Bowman a promotion, the Blackhawks are going to need a fall guy when that happens. Fair or not, Colliton will become that guy.
Elias Pettersson wins Hart
The safe bet for Hart this year is probably a guy like Connor McDavid (duh) or Nathan MacKinnon (a perennial nominee who plays on one of the league's best teams), but Pettersson is a very sensible dark horse. The 22-year-old took a big step forward in improving his all-around game last season and finished as nearly a point-per-game player on a young Canucks squad.
If things go to plan, Vancouver and Pettersson should continue to get better this year. There's a good chance that EP40 takes a clear leap into the category of elite, undeniable superstars as a dynamic offensive force who has an impact in all three zones.
Canadiens win the North
The Maple Leafs are the favorites to win the exciting new North Division (aka the all-Canada division) and that makes sense on paper. Toronto has a stacked group on offense and added some establish veteran help (Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, T.J. Brodie) to the roster this offseason.
Behind the Leafs, the Oilers have the second-best odds to win the North. But trust the Leafs and Oilers -- two flawed teams, especially on the back end -- at your own risk.
Instead, I'm going to go with a surprise winner: Montreal. The Canadiens saw a couple of their young stars (namely NIck Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi) have a big impact down the stretch last year, and they added offensive help with guys like Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. With the addition of Jake Allen, they can also take some pressure off the overworked Carey Price, who can bring this team to another level if he returns to Vezina-caliber form between the pipes. They're also coached by one of the league's most respected bench bosses in Claude Julien. The Habs could be ready to compete for real this year.
A Rangers rookie wins Calder
But it's not top overall pick Alexis LaFreniere. With Henrik Lundqvist no longer in between the pipes, Igor Shesterkin (or Shestyorkin, depending on which continent you're reading this in) is set to take over as the No. 1 goalie in New York in his first full season.
In 12 games last year, Shesterkin posted a .932 save percentage behind a defense that wasn't great. He's one of the most hyped goalie prospects in the league for good reason, and he'll have more of an impact in his first year than any other player in the league. Don't be surprised if the Rangers continue their forward momentum and make a push for a playoff spot this year. Shesterkin will be a big reason why.
Patrik Laine gets traded midseason
There have been plenty of trade rumors around Laine recently, and smoke often leads to fire. The Jets once again have a strong group of top-six forwards but not enough talent on their blue line. Laine has fallen out of favor a bit and, as he heads toward RFA, the team could be compelled to pull the trigger on an expendable (yet very talented) young piece in order to address need on the back end. If the Jets aren't promising contenders this year, don't be surprised if Laine finishes the season elsewhere.