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15 Bold Predictions For The Upcoming 2014-15 NHL Season

Sean Hartnett

Sean Hartnett has covered the New York Rangers and the NHL for WFAN.com since 2011. He has covered two Stanley Cup Finals. Sean now contributes to XNSports’ NHL and general sports coverage. He devotes far too much of his free time watching Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns. Sean can be reached via Twitter @HartnettHockey.
Corey Perry
Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. DUCKS WILL FLY TOGETHER AND WIN THE PRESIDENTS TROPHY

The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are everyone’s favorite to finish with the highest points total in 2014-15.

There’s another Californian team that might be better prepared to win the Presidents Trophy. The Ducks made a big splash by acquiring rugged center Ryan Kesler in a one-sided trade with the Canucks.

Kesler’s presence makes the Ducks more explosive on the power play and nastier. The Ducks were already a very irritating team to play against before the Kesler deal. Kesler is one of the league’s best at getting under the skin of opponents. The 30-year-old is a perennial Selke Trophy candidate and an adept face-off expert. He’s going to help Anaheim in a multitude of ways.

Dany Heatley’s career could be reignited in the O.C. He’s likely to begin the season on the left-wing of center Ryan Getzlaf and will have a chance to benefit from playing alongside Getzlaf and scoring winger Corey Perry.

Young goaltender John Gibson looks the part and proved to be cool under pressure during the playoffs. He could steal the no. 1 job away from Frederik Andersen during training camp.

2. BRUINS WILL TAKE A BIG STEP BACK

Losing veteran winger Jarome Iginla is really going to hurt the B’s. The salary cap tends to be cruel to contenders. In an ideal world, it would have been a no-brainer to keep Iginla in the black and gold.

The reality of the salary cap forced the Bruins to let go of a 30-goal scorer who was crucial to their cause. It’s going to be hard for Boston to replace Iginla’s production, skill and physicality.

There is also a chance that towering captain Zdeno Chara suffers an injury-hit season. The 6-foot-9 powerhouse defenseman’s body has taken a ton of punishment throughout his distinguished career. Chara is as durable as it gets and has rarely missed a game. The question is how much longer he can steer clear of a long-term injury.

The Big, Bad Bruins will not repeat as Atlantic Division champions.

3. TAVARES WILL ENJOY HIS BEST STATISTICAL SEASON, BUT ISLES WILL MISS PLAYOFFS

Last season, Islanders captain John Tavares missed 23 games most due to a knee injury suffered at the Sochi Olympics. The 23-year-old center boasts off the charts hand-eye coordination and feasts in high-traffic areas.

Pretty soon, Tavares will break the 100-point plateau. That might not come in 2014-15, but he’s very close to realizing his full offensive potential.

His best point total came in 2011-12, when Tavares recorded 81 points in 80 games. He will probably crack 90 points in the upcoming season.

The presence of offseason acquisitions Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will certainly give the Isles an offensive boost. It’s their ability to surrender goals that is worrying.

Since 2007-08, the Isles have been among the leakiest of defenses. The acquisition of capable netminder Jaroslav Halak will solidify the Isles, but it will be up to kids like Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart will have to step in and deliver right away.

General manager Garth Snow rightfully earned praise for luring Kulemin and Grabovski to Long Island, but the Isles are in desperate need of another body or two on defense. Snow will need to figure out a way to plug blue-line holes as the season goes on.

4. NEAL IS IN FOR A RUDE AWAKENING IN THE MUSIC CITY

James Neal was traded for a reason. Multiple writers covering the Penguins have described Neal as an arrogant and surly character and overall bad teammate.

It says a lot about Neal’s character when the Penguins willingly dealt him to the Nashville Predators without receiving a talent of equality quality, instead gaining role players Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

Neal has a lot of growing up to do. He needs to fall into line, curb his tendency to take undisciplined penalties and pull in the same direction with his new Predators teammates.

In Nashville, Neal won’t have the Evgeni Malkin drawing in defenders and feeding him. His production could take a big step back.

5. NEW BLACKHAWK BRAD RICHARDS WILL RECORD 50 ASSISTS

This summer, the Blackhawks signed veteran center Brad Richards to a one-year, $2 million contract. The 34-year-old has never been a swift skater.  He certainly lost a step during his three-year stint in New York.

Despite Richards’ decreasing athleticism, he still possesses a good pair of hands and has outstanding on-ice vision. He’ll be rejuvenated in his new home at United Center.

It’s likely that Richards will be centering a line with Patrick Kane on his right wing. Expect Richards to rack up high assist totals in Chi-Town. A 50-assist campaign is a solid possibility. Additionally, a 70-point season isn’t out of the question for Richards. He scored 20 goals and collected 31 assists last season for 51 points in his final season with the Rangers.

6. BRASSARD WILL BREAK OUT ON BROADWAY

Some have questioned the logic in the Rangers rewarding center Derick Brassard with a five-year, $25 million contract. After all, Brassard has never been a 50-point scorer.

That will change in 2014-15. Brassard has a strong chance of becoming a 60-point man.

Brassard’s game is trending upward and he appears capable of fulfilling the potential that made him a top-six pick in 2006. The 26-year-old works extremely hard on and off the ice. He also is regarded by teammates a very cerebral player and a student of the game.

A potential line of Kreider-Brassard-Zuccarello could cause havoc for opponents due to their athleticism, instincts and natural ability.

7. DROUIN WILL WIN THE CALDER TROPHY

In all likelihood, 19-year-old winger Jonathan Drouin will start the season in Tampa Bay.

Drouin has “sick mitts” and a whole ton of natural ability. He is now ready to handle the physicality of the NHL. Drouin has added muscle to his once wiry frame – and is now close to 200 lbs.

The Lightning are solid down the middle. All-world center Steven Stamkos is backed by Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula and the newly-acquired Brian Boyle. No matter which center Drouin is paired with, he’ll be in good hands.

Tampa Bay is stocked full of exciting, young talent spread across their lineup. Drouin might be the crown jewel. He will be a highlight machine and put a charge into Amalie Arena. He’ll beat out Calgary Flames youngster Johnny Gaudreau for the Calder.

8. FLYERS’ BRUTAL BLUE-LINERS WILL COST THEM A PLAYOFF BERTH

The Flyers will send their fans into fits of rage in 2014-15. They’ll score a ton of goals and get burned like crazy on defense.

Unfortunately for the Flyers, the status of stabilizing veteran Kimmo Timonen is uncertain due to the defenseman being diagnosed with multiple blood clots.

There isn’t a legitimate true top pairing defenseman on the Flyers’ roster. Andrew MacDonald on a first pairing… yikes! The addition of error-prone defenseman Michael Del Zotto won’t keep the dam from bursting open.

You have to feel for starting goaltender Steve Mason. He’s going to be a busy man between the pipes.

All of this places tremendous pressure on captain Claude Giroux to better a sensational 2013-14 campaign. Giroux collected 86 points in 82 games last season. Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Giroux are all outstanding. They’re going to have to score a ton of goals to get Philly into the playoffs.

9. AVS WILL SQUEEZE INTO PLAYOFFS, BUT ARE EQUIPPED FOR PLAYOFF RUN

It’s going to be an interesting season in Denver. The Avs lost star center Paul Stastny to free agency, but were able to pick up two experienced vets in Jarome Iginla and Danny Briere.

What’s concerning about the Avalanche is their horrendous possession numbers last season and their collection of shaky blue-liners. Losing Stastny will weaken Colorado even more in this department. Expect the Avs to find themselves in a dogfight for one of the final playoff seeds during the final stretch of the regular season. They won’t come anywhere near last season’s 116-point campaign.

Strangely, the Avs could be one of those teams that gets into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth and goes on a surprise run. The Avs are loaded with talent – Landeskog, MacKinnon, Duchene, O’Reilly… adding two surefire playoff performers in Iginla and Briere to the mix could result in the Avs being a sneaky-good playoff team.

10. FATHER TIME WILL FINALLY CATCH JAGR

Last season, Jaromir Jagr produced an incredible 67-point season at the advanced age of 42. Jagr will turn 43 in February.

The celebrated Czech has deceived Father Time because of his superhuman work ethic. He’s an inspiration and role model to every player inside the Devils’ dressing room.

It pains me to say this. Jagr will fall down to earth this season. Like Teemu Selanne before him, we’d all like to see Jagr play at a high level forever. Selanne’s production dropped off last season. It was sad seeing Selanne healthy scratched for one game during the opening round of last year’s playoffs.

The thing with Jagr, is that he’s so hard to count out. His tremendous physical strength and instincts has allowed him to stay ahead of the curve. Eventually, time will catch up to the great no. 68.

11. LEHTONEN WILL FINALLY GET HIS RESPECT

Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is the Rodney Dangerfield of NHL goalies. He never gets respect.

Lehtonen was downright awful during the playoffs. He looked both physically and mentally fatigued. The presence of newly-signed backup Anders Lindback will take some of the load off Lehtonen’s shoulders.

When Lehtonen is healthy, he’s probably one of the best under-the-radar goalies in the league deserving of overdue praise.

Jack Campbell remains Dallas’ no. 1 goalie of the future, but Lehtonen has the chance to have a very good year in “Big D.” He might even go on to work his way into the Vezina Trophy conversation.

12. LUNDQVIST WILL RETURN TO VEZINA TROPHY FORM

Speaking of the Vezina Trophy, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has an excellent chance of collecting the award at season’s end. Lundqvist previously won the award following the 2011-12 season.

“King Henrik” got off to a brutal start last season. The usually all-world netminder seemed distracted by contract negotiations that dragged into the regular season.

Lundqvist finally agreed to a seven-year contract extension in December. Once December turned to January, Lundqvist turned his season around.

Check out Lundqvist’s splits after December:

January: 8-3-1, 1.91 GAA, .938 SV%.

February: 2-0-0, 1.92 GAA, .930 SV%

March: 8-5-1, 2.44 GAA, .917 SV%

April: 3-1-1, 1.57 GAA, .949 SV%

Then Lundqvist proceeded to stand on his head throughout the playoffs. When the Rangers had their backs against the wall, Lundqvist delivered his supreme best to keep the Blueshirts alive.

Expect Lundqvist to outshine all rival netminders from October through April. He’s that talented and that motivated to perhaps have the greatest season of his career after coming tantalizingly close to drinking from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

13. POULIOT WILL COOL OFF IN EDMONTON

Last season with the Rangers, wildly inconsistent winger Benoit Pouliot finally found game-to-game consistency. Paired on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, Pouliot became a very useful Ranger and was a possession monster.

The trio had exceptional chemistry. Pouliot agreed to a five-year, $20 million contract with the desperate Edmonton Oilers. No one would blame Pouliot for taking the money. It was an easy decision, but not the best move for his career.

Pouliot was in a perfect situation in Manhattan. He wasn’t under pressure in New York as Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and a collection stars around the Rangers’ dressing room shared the spotlight.

Now, he’s going to have to be a key figure and a go-to guy in Edmonton. Pouliot will be expected to score goals, create energy and physicality for the Oilers. That’s asking a lot from a player who’s spent the past six seasons on six different teams.

14. ELLIOTT WILL REMAIN BLUES’ NO. 1 GOALIE

A popular opinion among hockey analysts is that Jake Allen will steal away the number one job from experienced netminder Brian Elliott. Not so fast my friend…

Over the past three years, Elliott is 55-24-7 with a sparkling 1.86 GAA And .927 save percentage. That 1.86 goals-against average is the best in the NHL over the past three years.

Elliott’s 16 shutouts recorded during this span only trails Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick, who has recorded 17 shutouts. Amazingly, Elliott has only one less shutout when compared to Quick despite playing 62 fewer games in the past three seasons.

15. SIDNEY CROSBY WILL BREAK HIS CAREER-HIGH POINTS RECORD

New Penguins head coach Mike Johnston favors an up-tempo style. Johnston might be able to get even more out of Hart Trophy-winning captain Sidney Crosby.

That’s a scary thing for opponents around the Metropolitan Division. Crosby is going to be super-motivated after the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Johnston’s philosophies will improve the Penguins’ puck possession and offensive zone time. Crosby could break his career-best of 120 points set in the 2006-07 season.