Bold predictions for the second half of the 2015-16 NHL season
We’ll admit it: The ol’ crystal ball can be a bit fickle. Before this season started, that all-seeing orb revealed that Columbus coach Todd Richards would run away with the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He ended up being the first bench boss on the unemployment line. But it also told us that there would be three defensemen—Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg—among the NHL’s top 25 scorers. One more point from Klingberg, who sits in 26th, and that bold call will be right on the nose.
So, can the magical mystical sphere do any better in predicting the key events of the second half of the season? Let’s dust it off and find out.
• For the first time in history, American-born players will finish 1-2 in the NHL scoring race. Patrick Kane will be the runaway Art Ross Trophy winner, but it will be second-year man Johnny Gaudreau who tears it up in the second half to finish as the respectable runner-up. Sidney Crosby will rebound from his career-worst start and finish third.
• Invigorated by the approach of new coach Mike Sullivan, Crosby’s Penguins will be the hottest team of the NHL’s second half.
• Joe Pavelski of the Sharks will edge out Kane to become the first American to ever claim the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer.
• John Scott will be recalled by the Canadiens and do for them what he did for the underdog Pacific Division All-Stars. He’ll score two goals down the stretch but more importantly his presence will galvanize the room, empowering the Habs to play a smarter, bolder style of hockey that will earn them an Eastern Conference wild card berth.
• Montreal will be the only Canadian team to make the cut.
• Jaromir Jagr will score at least five goals to pass Brett Hull for third on the all-time list, and at least 16 points to drop Gordie Howe into fourth on the all-time scoring list.
• Both Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby will track down Martin Brodeur’s single-season wins record (48) but in the end it will be Crawford who gets his name in the record books first with No. 49. He’ll also lead the league in save percentage and shutouts, finally putting an end to the “Yeah, but is he elite?” question.
• Finally healthy for the first time this season, it will be the Blues, not the Stars, who go toe-to-toe with the Blackhawks for Central Division supremacy. The return of Jaden Schwartz will revive an offense that has stagnated in the bottom third of the league. The goaltending tandem of Jake Allen and Brian Elliott will claim the Jennings Trophy.
• Jakub Voracek of the Flyers will salvage his season with some spectacular play on the back nine. He’ll finish the season with 20-plus goals, despite coming out of the All-Star break with just eight.
• Detroit’s Dylan Larkin will build on his exceptional performance during All-Star Weekend to seal his claim on the Calder Trophy, but it will be Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, not Connor McDavid, who rides a highlight-filled second half to become the runner-up for the rookie recognition.
• McDavid will do just fine, though, averaging a point per game to torment Edmonton fans with thoughts of what might have been had he not broken his collarbone.
• The Oilers will keep their powder dry at the deadline, preferring to hold on to assets like Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins until the off-season when they can make a serious bid to acquire Travis Hamonic from the Islanders.
• Hurricanes GM Ron Francis will take the long view, moving center Eric Staal before the deadline even though it will cost his team a shot at a wild card berth.
• The Bruins will miss the playoffs again, victims of an underperforming bottom-six and the return to earth of a power play that masked their five-on-five deficiencies earlier in the season.
• The Panthers will be big players at the deadline, moving picks (but not significant prospects) to add a scoring winger and a depth defender. That will be more than enough to power them to their first playoff berth since 2012.
• Desperate to kickstart their flagging offense, the Wild will land Jonathan Drouin in a pre-deadline trade. It won't help. They'll still miss the playoffs.
• The Jets will re-sign Dustin Byfuglien and then trade captain Andrew Ladd to Anaheim, where he’ll ignite a new-look top line and power the Ducks to a second-place finish in the Pacific.
• The Maple Leafs will spend the second half of the season getting sand kicked in their faces by the rest of the NHL. They’ll make a league-high five deals before the deadline, gutting their roster and ensuring a 30th-place finish. Winger Connor Brown will make a strong impression in a limited audition.
The numbers game
• As the stretch drive begins, 24 of the league’s 30 teams are within five points of a playoff berth. Only 21 points separate the 16 clubs that are currently holding spots. Last season, the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs were within only 16 points of each other at this point, the narrowest gap in the NHL’s 16-team postseason era. The last time there was a smaller gap (in any playoff format) was during the pre-expansion season of 1964-65, when four of the Original Six total teams qualified for the postseason. They were separated by 13 points.
• Of the 171 games that have gone to overtime so far this season, 109 were decided in the new three-on-three extra period (63.7%). Last season, in the 4-on-4 OT format, 84 of 186 games had been settled in the extra period (45.2%) by this point in the schedule.
• Of the 150 coach’s challenges thus far, 112 calls have been upheld, 38 were overturned, with 92 issued for goaltender interference (76 upheld,16 overturned) and 58 for offside (36 upheld 22 overturned).
• Former Olympian Cassie Campbell scored a 93. Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden scraped by with a 60. How will you do on the annual Hockey Day quiz? (I got a 93 after I missed a real obvious one.)
• It’s the ending only Hollywood could write: After his unlikely All-Star Game success, we might get a John Scott movie.
• It’s been a year since Alex Ovechkin’s bizarre All-Star fantasy draft performance led to the donation of a car to charity. Here’s a look at how that simple act impacted this organization.
• All that down time with the broken ribs led John Tortorella to an unusual admission: He screwed up a player.
• Do traded players ever think about how the guy they got traded for is doing?
• It’s official: This year’s NHL All-Star Game was a record-smasher.
• You won’t believe how much someone paid for Jack Eichel’s first NHL jersey.