5 Things You Won’t Be Expecting This NHL Season
NHL training camps have finally opened and soon another hockey season will be upon us. Each season brings renewed optimism, as every team begins the season with a 0-0-0 record and an equal opportunity to win hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. We go into every hockey season with expectations, ideas of what we think is likely to happen. There will be some great hockey games played, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will be among the league leaders in scoring, the Maple Leafs will lose, the Flyers goaltending will be below average, and the Coyotes will go up for sale. However, there are also many things that happen in an 82 game season that we don’t expect. Many were surprised to see the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks qualify for the playoffs last season. Many others never expected to see Jakub Voracek, Nick Foligno, and Jiri Hudler among the top ten scorers in the league. The only way to foresee these events before they happen is to expect the unexpected. Here’s a look at five things you won’t expect this NHL season:
Phil Kessel Leads the Penguins in …. Assists
When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs, many began proclaiming that the sniping winger will score fifty goals this season, now that he’ll be playing alongside the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, rather than having to drag Tyler Bozak around the ice. What hasn’t been mentioned much is that Kessel is an underrated playmaker. He can score goals with the best of them, but he can also create scoring chances for his teammates equally well, if not better. Kessel has never reached the 40 goal plateau, although he’s come close with a pair of 37 goal seasons, but he has posted 40 or more assists twice, including a career high 45 during the 2010-11 season. During his last four seasons in Toronto, Kessel averaged 39 assists per season. Phil Kessel may very well score 40 goals for the first time playing in Pittsburgh, but it’s also possible that his assist numbers could be the stat that gets a real boost and help Sidney Crosby reach the 50 goal mark once again.
The Chicago Blackhawks Miss the Playoffs
The defending champions have won the Stanley Cup three times in the last six years and heading into the 2015-16 season they are the Vegas favorites to win once again. However, this isn’t the same Blackhawks team that hoisted the trophy in June. Due to salary cap constraints, partly because of the disastrous Bryan Bickell contract, the Blackhawks traded away Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, and Kris Versteeg along with a few others. The players they received in return could very well turn out to be adequate replacements, but that remains to be seen and it may take some time for the Blackhawks players to get accustomed to their new teammates. We also have no idea what affect the accusations facing Patrick Kane will have. All in all, it could be a long season in Chicago.
Someone Other than Connor McDavid Wins the Calder Trophy
Connor McDavid is likely going to be a star in the NHL. He’s a once in a generation type of player. Some people have said that McDavid could be better than Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos suggested that he’s already better than Stamkos. That’s high praise from one of the game’s top players. Now the onus is on McDavid to prove it. The transition from junior to the NHL isn’t always an easy one, Stamkos himself struggled in his rookie year. McDavid may need an adjustment period and other rookies who already have some pro hockey experience under their belts, like Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, and Willy Nylander, may have the inside track this season.
The Winnipeg Jets Finish First in the Western Conference
The Jets made the playoffs last season for the first time since the move to Winnipeg, after strong performances from Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien among others. They also parted ways with Evander Kane midway through the season. Regardless of whether or not you believe that was the right move, the fact that the team will no longer have to deal with the media questioning his presence on a daily basis should be a relief for the team. The Jets are a young team on the rise and they could take a huge step forward this season. Mark Scheifele will continue improve and with Nik Ehlers ready to make the jump and Alex Burmistrov ready to return to the NHL, the Jets offense should be more potent than ever. Throw in an emerging Jacob Trouba and a healthy Tobias Enstrom and the Winnipeg Jets could be ready to own the West.
The San Jose Sharks Win the Stanley Cup
It seems that every year the San Jose Sharks go into the Stanley Cup playoffs with great expectations, only to disappoint. So when the team failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in ten years in 2014-15 many thought that would finally be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Instead the Sharks chose not to blow up the core, but to make several small additions, including signing Joel Ward and Paul Martin, and trading for Martin Jones to replace Antti Niemi. However, the team’s biggest addition may end up being the one behind the bench. If Peter DeBoer’s track record had shown us anything, it’s that when he joins a new team filled with veteran players, he finds a way to bring out the best in them. In DeBoer’s first season in Florida in 2008-09 the Panthers recorded their second highest point total in franchise history, although they missed the playoffs. In his first season in New Jersey, DeBoer took the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final when many believe they had no business being there. If Peter DeBoer can replicate his past success in San Jose, the Sharks could finally bring home hockey’s ultimate prize in 2016.