Being third up for these prediction posts means I won't have anything particularly new or interesting to say, but it should really come as no surprise that those facts aren't going to stop me from spewing them out. Without any further ado...
- Leading Goal Scorer: For variety's sake, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Marian Hossa returns to form after his first full offseason since the Roosevelt administration (Teddy, not that goldbrickin' FDR), and just like Ice Cube, is going to grab a nice, cold 40. That's right.
- Leading Point Scorer - No real shocker here, as the SCH hive mind is in full effect. Fuck You Mode Kaner comes out to play, and gets his point total all the way up to 97 (33G, 64A), because the 100-point mark is the only thing he hasn't yet dry humped in this town.
- Plus/Minus Leader - After playing last season with what could most generously be described as "active disinterest" in his own zone, Patrick Sharp returns to for with the two-way play we've all come to expect out of the Hawks' longest tenured forward, whether he's on the wing or in the middle. His +26 will be aided by a jump back up to 7 shorthanded goals, reclaiming a spot he once held as one of the biggest shorthanded threats in the league.
PIM Leader: No dissension here. Car Bomb in a walk.
- Power Play - It's going to look horrifying, and we'll still wonder how in the name of fuck this team can't figure out to have its point men criss-cross on a 5-on-3 to set up a one timer, but the power play will still be ranked 3rd at 22.4% in spite of itself. This will be aided the below the rings guile of Andrew Brunette on the first unit, and by a competent second unit featuring the healthy misters Bolland and Hossa (of course now they'll both be out with back spasms until January because I went ahead and printed this).
Penalty Kill - One of the ugliest spots from last year will return to form with a 89% kill rating, good for 7th in the league, with Sean O'Donnell willingly sacrificing his body, and Michael Frolik showing a heretofore underutilized aptitude for the PK. However, based on the weapons featured on the kill (Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland, Frolik), the Hawks will be first in net goals against (PPG allowed - SHG for), leaving opposing blue liners dousing their drawers league wide when a skittering puck lands at their feet at the point.
- Corey Crawford's Stat Line - Fels stole my thunder on this one, but look for his save percentage to dip, right along with his GAA just by virtue of facing fewer shots a game with a revamped blue line in front of him. The line: 61 GP, 39W-14L-8OT, 2.15 GAA, .910 SV, 23.5 shots against a night.
- Breakout Player - At this point it's almost just to further antagonize all of the inexplicable hate directed at Steve Montador, but I do sincerely think he's poised for an even bigger year than his career year in Buffalo last year. He has a statistical track record showing his capabilities, and he's accumulated those numbers while playing top 4 minutes, and rarely seeing the ice on the advantage. With the Hawks, he'll face lesser competition on the third pair (unless Leddy shits it, which is still up for discussion), and will get a shot as a trigger man on the second unit. All the hand wringing and gnashing of teeth will be a distant memory by Christmas.
- Biggest Disappointment - I've got to admit, the whole "Optimus Grind" thing was initially meant kind of derisively. I don't care how hard it looks like he's trying when he does something good, Ben Smith has several limitations, many of which are defensive in nature. Q clearly loves the shit out of him, and it will spare him from the press box for a while, but not entirely, as Juan Pierre/Darin Erstad/Mark Kotsay/Name-any-Ozzie-teacher's-pet-on-skates will find himself watching or worse yet, at The Rock before all is said and done.
- Random Coaching change prediction: Patience and expectations are heading in opposite directions in LA, and with the start in Europe and Doughnuts late to arrive, all signs are pointing to a tough start for the Kings, which could spell a whacking of Terry Murray and his "Oh, I dunno, just fly down the wing and fire the puck as soon as you cross the blue line, who really gives a shit?" system. With his ouster, look for the Kings to turn to someone with pedigree who's still floating (for lack of a better term) out there, Ken Hitchcock. Say what you will about Hitch (and holy fuck do we ever), but he gets wins, and his zero-fun, not-even-pretending-not to-be-a-trap-like-Nashville-trap would work horrifyingly well with the roster Dean Lombardi has put together. Hitch arrives, and the Kings go on a run.
Ridiculous Trade Prediction - Mikhail Grabovski becomes a Hawk.
- Central Division
- Hawks 104 pts
- Scum 103 pts
- Nashville 96 pts
- St Louis 94 pts
- Jackets 86 pts
Despite Scum being old and weird and tinky, and despite Nashville still holding the operation together with three stars and not much else, the Central is going to be a meat grinder once again, with the division still being up for grabs that final Sunday at the Joe, with an OT goal from Michael Frolik giving the Hawks the division title outright. While St. Louis has a lot of pieces that are going to be colossal pains in the dick if they ever get sober and get their heads out of their asses, the corpses of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott aren't enough to get them into the playoffs, and just barely miss. And even if Jeff Carter and purported wiener tucker Rick Nash mesh well on a line together (Spoiler Alert: they won't), that d-corps isn't going to keep anything away from Steve Mason, who's still swimming in his crease.
- Western Conference
- San Jose
So we're all in agreement that pretty much everyone is going to feed off the garbage that is the Northwest division, right? Good. Glad that's over. As stated above, a mid-to-late season tear gets the Kings home ice in round one, but can't quite get them past the Sharks. The Predators and Coyotes occupy the two bottom spots because no one can ever reasonably count out Dave Tippett or Barry Trotz at this point. And it's with that that the Predators sneak up and bite San Jose in the dick in the first round, signaling Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan's ousters, th the Hawks and Kings meeting in the second round, setting up Hawks/Nucks IV for the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl (second only in its importance to a first round win in BC). Strap in, motherfuckers.
- Eastern Conference - Philly is going to be the most entertaining shit show east of the Mississippi, followed not that far behind by Buffalo. Washington is going to be undone by their coach once again, as well as numerous forwards who are allergic to April. Boston will run out of gas. I still think Dwayne Roloson sucks. Toronto is finally going to sneak back into the playoffs this year on the back of Masterton nominee Matthew Lombardi, and the Jets are going to go from an awful team to a profitably awful team. But depending on The Kid's return, the most complete outfit top to bottom is still the Pens, and we now know that Dan Bylsma can make not only chicken salad, but chicken kiev, chicken cordon bleu, and coq au vin out of chicken shit based on what he had to work with last year. The Pens come out of the east after a bloodbath of an ECF with the Flyers.
Stanley Cup Final, or "Gary's Got A Boner" - You know how we always complain that we've never seen Toews face off against Sid at the NHL level? For the second year in a row I'm predicting that those complaints are going to finally cease, and we'll probably all regret having made them in the first place over seven agonizing games, and then a game 7 overtime. I dare not speculate its outcome.