A new NHL season presents a clean slate, and a clean slate presents ample opportunity for hot takes. Of course, hot takes come in all varieties and temperatures, some bolder and spicier than others. Luckily, we've gone ahead and prepared a 12-pack of predictions for you ahead of the 2019-2020 NHL season, with those takes ranging all the way from mild to extra hot.
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- The Los Angeles Kings are one of the deadline's biggest sellers: I'm projecting the Kings to finish as the Western Conference's worst team again this season and it could be something of a bottoming out. They have some pieces that would make a lot of sense to move at the deadline, the most obvious being Tyler Toffoli, who is on an expiring deal. But if the Kings really want to offload pieces and start stockpiling future assets, it'd make a lot of sense to trade Ilya Kovalchuk, Alec Martinez and possibly more.
- Cale Makar is the league's best rookie but doesn't win the Calder: If you've watched any college hockey over the past couple of years, you'll know Cale Makar is the real deal. Hell, if you watched the Avalanche in the playoffs last year, you'll know he's the real deal. Heading into his first full season in Colorado, Makar is set to hold a big spot on the blue line -- especially following the departure of Tyson Barrie. He'll be great for the Avs in his rookie campaign but will lose out on the Calder to a young forward with sexier offensive numbers.
- Zdeno Chara retires after this season: Chara is 42 years old and last year we saw him start to actually look his age at points. He signed a one-year, team-friendly deal to stay with the Bruins this season but it may be a last hurrah. Boston's back end is clearly being taken over by the likes of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, and Chara will walk away from the game after grinding out one final run this year.
- Nathan MacKinnon wins the Hart trophy: At this point, Connor McDavid might be the only center I'd put ahead of Nathan MacKinnon in terms of explosive ability. The Avs' leader up front has taken a step into the elite category in the past couple of years, playing on one of the league's most dynamic and dangerous lines. Now, with the Avalanche as real contenders in the West, I look for MacKinnon to find that extra gear, breaking the century mark for the first time in his career and be named league MVP.
- The Maple Leafs finally win a playoff series: As an unapologetic Bruins fan, it pains me to say it, but this might be the year. With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, a full season of a seemingly revitalized William Nylander and a (somewhat) less troublesome defensive group, the Leafs once again look very dangerous. It should be a dogfight and it seems inevitable that the Leafs and Bruins will meet in the first round of the playoffs again this year, but I think Toronto finishes ahead of Boston and secures home ice... and that could make all the difference.
- The Blues will finish in a Wild Card position: While I expect both Stanley Cup finalists to regress a bit this year, I think the fall could be steeper for the Blues considering some of the question marks surrounding the club. They came out of the gate slow last season and, while I don't expect them be in last place in January again, it's hard to imagine them replicating the absolutely dominant second half had last spring. Jordan Binnington was the catalyst in that turnaround, but it's important to remember we're dealing with a relatively small sample size for a guy who took a while to break out of the AHL. St. Louis still has a very solid roster, but I think they finish behind Nashville, Colorado and Dallas in the Central.
- Auston Matthews hits the 50-goal mark... but doesn't win the Rocket Richard: Matthews has produced at around a 45-goal pace in each of the past two seasons but has struggled to stay healthy. With another year of experience and a highly talented roster around him, Matthews finally showcases what he's fully capable of in a 82-game slate (or close to it) and puts up 50 goals for Toronto. However, he just narrowly loses the Rocket Richard to David Pastrnak, who emerged as one of the game's elite scorers before getting hurt last season.
- The Hurricanes win the Metro: Some seem to believe that the Hurricanes' success last year was a fluke of sorts. I think they've turned a corner under the leadership of Rod Brind'Amour. They have a very talented group of forwards led by Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. They're going to get a full season of Nino Niederreiter, who flourished in Carolina. Andrei Svechnikov is primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. They added Ryan Dzingel this offseason. Most importantly, they've got a very good back end and dominate possession. If they get decent goaltending, they can top a Metro division that looks solid but not spectacular.
- The Winnipeg Jets miss the playoffs & Paul Maurice gets canned: After being considered a Western Conference favorite and falling short in the past couple of years, the Jets enter the year coming off a pretty brutal offseason. They managed to re-sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to maintain some explosiveness up front, but their defense took major hits on the blue line with the departures of Dustin Byfuglien (potential retirement), Jacob Trouba (trade), Tyler Myers (UFA) and Ben Chiarot (UFA)... and they haven't really replaced many of those guys. It feels like they're primed to suffer a major slide and, if that's the case, Maurice may end up being thrown under the bus.
- This will be David Krejci's final season with the Bruins: David Krejci is coming off a career year centering the Bruins' second line and was instrumental in helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final, and he'll play a major role up front once again this season...but it could be his last in Boston. Krejci is heading towards his mid-30s and has one year remaining on his contract after this season. The Bruins will look to move him in favor of extending Charlie Coyle (who will replace Krejci as 2C) next summer.
- Connor McDavid asks the Oilers for a trade after this season: Three years ago it seemed like the Oilers were on their way to being a legitimate Western Conference threat with the incredible Connor McDavid leading the charge. But Edmonton management committed to steadily stripping away support from McDavid and wasting years of his prime, and the outlook remains pretty bleak this season. Peter Chiarelli has been replaced by Ken Holland, who needs more time to undo the damage done to the Oilers' roster, but it's apparent McDavid has been growing frustrated with the lack of progress in Edmonton. Another highly productive season gone to waste could push him over the edge and request a trade, if not only to light an urgent fire under the front office.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup: Okay, maybe it's not the hottest of takes considering they were historically good last year and are betting favorites to win the Cup this year, but... you know. They're clearly still good enough to do it and I've picked them for three straight years. I'm pot-committed at this point.