By: Dylan Webb, Sports Editor
Approximately three months and 42 games ago, in an NHL Hockey-themed Peak Sports Mailbag, I undertook a full slate of NHL playoff predictions. As the All-Star break rapidly approaches, signalling the approximate midpoint of the NHL season, it feels like the right time to revisit and, potentially, refresh my predictions.
Early in the season, I predicted that the Tampa Bay Lightning would win the Atlantic division and that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins would finish second and third, in that order. So far, unsurprisingly, all three of these teams are at the top of their division. The only change I’ll make to these predictions is the order of finish, as it appears Boston has found a new level of dominance and will likely cruise to a division title. My original predictions also had the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens fighting to the end for a wild card spot. I’ll swap out Montreal, due to a litany of injuries, for the Buffalo Sabres, and keep everything else the same.
For the Metropolitan, I originally predicted that the Washington Capitals would win the division again, while the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers would round out the top three. This prediction is proving to be partially accurate, with the exception of the continued success of the New York Islanders. At this point, it’s pretty easy to guess that the Islanders will hold on to a top three spot in the division given their outstanding defensive structure, while the Rangers’ rebuild takes a little longer than I would’ve thought. The lack of respect I showed for the Barry Trotz-coached Islanders is easily one of my most embarrassing mis-predictions from the pre-season, as the team continues to win with an approach that can definitely translate to the playoffs. I originally had the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes all missing the playoffs, and this is definitely another one of my glaring errors. The Hurricanes should be a lock for a wild card spot, while injuries will eventually drag the Columbus Blue Jackets out of the race. I’m not sure what to make of the Flyers at this point, but I’m going to stick to my guns and lock in my prediction that they miss the playoffs.
For the Western Conference, I had the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, and Colorado Avalanche all making the playoffs from the Central Division and finishing in that order. Looking back, it appears extremely likely that I’ll be correct on three of four of my Central Division picks, and the order of finish, with the only glaring error being the complete unravelling of the Nashville Predators. I also seriously underestimated the Winnipeg Jets, predicting that they would “crash down to the basement of the Central due to their inadequate defensive pairings.” Instead, they’ve continued to win, and currently occupy a wild card spot. However, while the Jets certainly appear to be safe from a last place finish in the Central, I’m still convinced they will eventually fall out of the playoff picture.
Last but not least, I predicted that the Vegas Golden Knights would run away with the Pacific Division title, and I’m definitely sticking with this one. While the Coyotes are surging, partially from acquiring Taylor Hall, injuries to both of their goaltenders are going to catch up to them really soon. The rest of the Pacific is murkier than ever, with the weakness and parity within the division reducing playoff predictions to pure guesswork. I originally had the Calgary Flames finishing second, and I’ll stick with that despite their lacklustre performance in the first half. Despite key injuries between the pipes, the Coyotes look too strong defensively to completely fall off, so I’ll have them finishing third. This leaves the Canucks and the Oilers to battle with the Jets for the two wild card spots, and I’m going to hang on to my Canucks playoff dreams by predicting both Vancouver and Edmonton for the final two playoff berths.
While I’ll save a full playoff bracket prediction for later in the season, I definitely have to supplement this revisiting of pre-season predictions with a couple picks for the Stanley Cup Finals. While the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals are really hard to pass on when making midseason picks for the championship, I don’t think they’ll make it all the way this year.
Instead, I have to go with the Boston Bruins, once again, representing the Eastern Conference, while the Colorado Avalanche will return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2001 as the Western Conference representative. In an epic battle between two of the best top lines to ever play the game, the Avalanche will prevail in a seventh game to claim Lord Stanley’s mug and send the Bruins home with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths for the second straight season.