Happy Hockey New Year. After 309 days, NHL regular-season hockey is back.
It’s that time again, just a little later than usual, for my annual opportunity to look like a moron. There were hits, but plenty of misses, in last year’s picks. (Definitely didn’t see that pandemic coming, either.)
In hindsight, we were probably a year early in selecting the Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup. They might have if not for losing both goaltenders in the playoffs last August.
The key is to go bold or go home. We’re not going to waste your time with the obvious.
We’re doing it a little differently this year, not requiring one selection for each team, but we’re back with 31 bold (or boneheaded) predictions for the 2020-21 NHL season:
1. The Montreal Canadiens will stand atop Canada as Kings of the North (Division) on May 8. This dynamic and creative team won’t be pushed around any longer, with some added heft in Josh Anderson and quality depth pieces throughout GM Marc Bergevin’s lineup.
2. Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes will capture the Norris Trophy in his sophomore season, becoming the youngest winner of the award since Erik Karlsson in 2011-12. Hughes, 21, processes the game at an exceptional level and has the skill and experience to take another step this season.
3. Patrik Laine WILL be traded before the April 12 TradeCentre deadline. Feels like much will be determined by Laine’s start to a pressure-packed season. Keep an eye on two potential destinations: Columbus (Pierre-Luc Dubois?) and Carolina (Brett Pesce/Vincent Trocheck?).
4. Laine’s trade will be one of just three of consequence between Canadian and American clubs this season. With current quarantine restrictions in place in an already shortened season, the threshold for a player’s impact will have to be high in order to justify him being unavailable to his new team for a number of games.
5. The Detroit Red Wings won’t have to look very far for the No. 1-overall pick after winning the Draft Lottery. They’ll select 6-foot-5 defenceman Owen Power from just up the road in Ann Arbor at the Univ. of Michigan, redemption for dropping from one to four in the Alexis Lafreniere lottery.
6. TSN Edge™ best long shot bet this season: Sidney Crosby at 25-to-1 (+2500) to win the Hart Trophy. Because it’s not bold to pick Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon.
7. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford will take home the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award. Pittsburgh has improved significantly, now armed with their best defence corps in mobility and depth in years, as Rutherford has tried to do everything possible to extend the window for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to win.
8. Carey Price will capture his second Vezina Trophy, reverting to the all-world level form that we last saw from him in 2016-17 – the last time he was a Vezina finalist. With Shea Weber, Ben Chiarot and now Joel Edmundson, Price is better insulated in Montreal than he has been in years.
9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will become the No. 1 target on TSN’s Top Free Agent list for 2021. There is no question fan (and team) favourite RNH wants to remain in Edmonton. But to this point, negotiations have gone in fits and starts, and the Oilers have made it clear they have no plans to go north of $7 million per year on a long-term extension.
10. Auston Matthews’ goal total in 2020-21: 40 goals. (That’s a 59-goal pace in an 82-game season and enough for the Rocket Richard.) This is his year, his moment to take another step and help carry the Maple Leafs to another level.
11. Zach Bogosian will be the Maple Leafs’ best value signing of the off-season, not Mikko Lehtonen, Wayne Simmonds or Joe Thornton. Bogosian ($1 million) was brought in to be a pure shutdown defenceman, a critical role with Toronto’s style of play.
12. That’s the number, twelve, that Alex Ovechkin’s new salary cap hit starts with next season on an extension in Washington. Sources say his initial pre-pandemic ask was $12.5 million. His current 13-year, $124 million deal will go down as one of the best contracts in pro sports history for both team and player.
13. There will be no head coaches fired in 2020-21, marking just the second all-safe season in the NHL’s expansion era (since 1967). The last was 2017-18. Now, more than half of the coaches (16) are either in their first or second season with their team – and none of the other 15 begin the campaign on the hot seat.
14. The Seattle Kraken will hire Gerard Gallant as the first coach in franchise history. No one knows better how to bring together a collection of expansion cast-offs, turning the Golden Misfits into the Golden Knights and nearly leading Vegas to the Stanley Cup in 2018.
15. Brent Burns will be the biggest name exposed in the 2021 Expansion Draft. But the Kraken’s best pickup will come from either Carolina’s blueline or one of the Lightning’s salary cap casualties left exposed.
16. Playoff teams: Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto (North); Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Tampa Bay (Central); N.Y. Islanders, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington (East); Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis, Vegas (West).
17. The Boston Bruins will fail to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16. It’s a transition year for the Bruins, and someone has to fall short in the East. Boston said goodbye to Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, plus David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand aren’t 100 per cent to start. Then there is the possible residual effect from Tuukka Rask’s departure last playoffs.
18. Based on goal total alone, the Winnipeg Jets will have the highest–scoring top–six forward group in Canada: Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny.
19. Another Jets prediction: Rookie defencemen Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg will quickly overtake Derek Forbort and Nathan Beaulieu in Paul Maurice’s lineup. And Winnipeg will be much better for it.
20. Philadelphia Flyers forward Nolan Patrick will be the NHL’s comeback player of the year. Patrick, 22, last played in the NHL on April 4, 2019 – a span of nearly two full calendar years – and missed the entirety of last season with a migraine disorder. The 2017 No. 2 pick will bounce back with a 50-point pace season as an impact player in Philly.
21. The Edmonton Oilers will make a trade for a goaltender before the deadline. We believe GM Ken Holland sniffed around for one last deadline – and didn’t land his man in free agency, opting to bring back Mike Smith with Mikko Koskinen. There will be options available as teams jockey for Expansion Draft positioning.
22. One of the pillars of the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup championships, Duncan Keith, politely asks out of Chicago after a difficult season to chase the prize elsewhere. Keith, 37, only knows how to win. He will have two seasons left at $5.5 million.
23. Patrick Marleau retires after breaking Gordie Howe’s record for career games played of 1,767 regular season NHL contests. Marleau, 41, needs 45 games to do it. Along the way this season, he’ll pass Ron Francis (1,731), Jaromir Jagr (1,733), and Mark Messier (1,756).
24. NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr will begin to implement an exit strategy. Fehr turns 73 in July and after guiding the NHLPA through two gruelling CBA negotiations, it’s a natural time to transition power after securing the players’ appearance in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
(For the record, Fehr’s counterpart in NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who turns 69 in June, recently said: “I’ll work as long as the owners have me.”)
25. Josh Norris will lead the Ottawa Senators in scoring. The reigning AHL Rookie of the Year will take a serious run at the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year on a line with Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson.
26. Difficult Contract Talks Department: Rod Brind’Amour will have tense moments trying to earn market value among head coaches in Carolina. Owner Tom Dundon has drawn the line previously, saying goodbye to precious assets both on the ice and off, for talent that does not want to fit within his reimagined (lower) pay scale. Brind’Amour is one of five head coaches on expiring deals this season, including Jeff Blashill, Travis Green, Rick Tocchet and John Tortorella.
27. The NHL will consider a dual class 2021-22 Draft for prospects, expanding the number of rounds and picks available for teams. With major junior seasons in jeopardy, including next season might be the only way to give teams a fair opportunity to evaluate prospects after COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on scouting.
28. Calgary Flames blueliner Juuso Valimaki will become a stealth Calder Trophy candidate. Valimaki, 22, was ready to jump into the Flames’ top four last season but sustained a difficult knee injury. He barely meets the qualifications for the Calder, but he’s more than just a rookie – he’s one of the linchpins to Calgary’s season.
29. Discussion on adding advertisements to jerseys will be tabled. There just isn’t enough revenue yet for the NHL to grab there to make that jump worthwhile.
30. Minnesota’s Dean Evason will win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year. It’s the next step in a coaching journey two decades in the making that has touched just about every level, from WHL head coach to longtime NHL assistant, to AHL head coach, now with the interim tag removed for the playoff-bound Wild.
31. The Washington Capitals will hoist the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. There are no holes on this retooled Caps roster. They’ve hired a Stanley Cup caliber coach in Peter Laviolette, ooze leadership with Zdeno Chara, and a 56-game season is just the ticket for a team whose core might be getting a little long in the tooth.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli
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The Canadian Press
Canadian international Mark-Anthony Kaye has been elected to the Major League Soccer Players Association executive board. The 26-year-old Los Angeles FC midfielder, along with Jalil Anibaba (Nashville SC) and Victor Ulloa (Inter Miami CF), was elected to a three-year term. The executive board serves as the decision- and policy-making body of the Players Association with its members serving as the MLSPA’s chief officers. “The leadership and hard work of our executive board members, both past and present, has made the MLSPA into what it is today,” MLSPA executive director Bob Foose said in a statement. “I want to congratulate our newest board members, and those who are returning, and thank them for their commitment to serving their fellow players and continuing to grow and improve the MLSPA.” Foose thanked departing board members Jeff Larentowicz and Luis Robles. Other current members of the executive board are Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution), Ethan Finlay (Minnesota United), Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids), Eric Miller (Nashville) and Patrick Mullins (Toronto FC). The MLS and MLSPA are currently at loggerheads over the league’s decision to trigger a “force majeure” clause in the collective bargaining agreement to reopen negotiations on the CBA signed in January 2019. The league has said it lost nearly US$1 billion last season due to the global pandemic. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15. 2021 The Canadian Press
Laine 'pissed' to miss Gordie Howe hat trick – TSN
Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine had a productive opening game of the season, scoring the overtime winner as part of a three-point night in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.
Laine, however, was not happy to wind up with only a minor penalty for roughing after dropping the gloves with Matthew Tkachuk as part of a skirmish late in the second period.
“I was pissed off because that would have been a Gordie Howe hat trick,” Laine said after the win. “That one time when I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing.”
Laine went after Noah Hanifin after the Flames defenceman cross-checked Jets forward Kyle Connor behind the Calgary net, with Tkachuk jumping in soon after.
Hanifin received a minor penalty for cross-checking on the play, while Laine and Tkachuk both picked up roughing minors. Laine has never been assessed a fighting major.
“It gets the team fired up,” Jets forward Nik Ehlers said of Laine’s actions. “I’ve maybe been a little bit in his head in the last week, saying he hasn’t fought yet and when is it going to happen? I think he took that a little personal. He stood up for his teammate. It fires the guys up. Patty’s a big boy, and he went in there today and showed that. It’s exciting, it gets the boys going, it always does. And he got himself buzzing, too. It’s exciting for us.”
The Jets won’t face the Flames again until Feb. 1, when they will play the first of four consecutive games against Calgary – three of which will be on home ice.
Laine winner caps sparkling performance as Jets extinguish Flames in overtime – CBC.ca
Patrik Laine let his play on the ice speak volumes Thursday night with a three-point performance that should squash questions about his committment to the Winnipeg Jets.
“Hopefully I can just build off that game,” Laine said after the victory. “There’s a lot of things I need to look at. The three points isn’t going to tell the whole truth of the game. But it’s a good start.”
His big night comes after Laine’s agent made comments during the off-season suggesting that both the powerful forward and the Jets could benefit from his being traded. Laine ducked questions on the subject as training camp opened.
WATCH | Laine’s 3-point night helps Jets beat Flames:
His commitment to the team seemed clear Thursday as Laine not only lit up the scoreboard, but stood up for his teammate.
With less than a minute to go in the second period, Calgary’s Noah Hanifin cross-checked Laine’s linemate Kyle Connor into the boards.
Laine responded by going after Hanifin and a scuffle ensued, with Laine and Flames left-winger Matthew Tkachuk exchanging blows.
“That’s just the type of guy he is. He’ll go to battle for his teammates,” Connor said. “He’s a pretty selfless guy and I think you can see that. I have his back out there and vice versa. He’s just an all-around great teammate, I’d say.”
Hanifin was called for cross-checking, and Laine and Tkachuk were each sent to the box for roughing.
It was somewhat of a disappointing result for Laine, who rarely drops the gloves and was hoping he’d register a Gordie Howe hat trick — a goal, an assist and a fight.
“The one time I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing,” he said.
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The tussle helped ignite a Winnipeg (1-0-0) side that was tepid at times on Thursday.
Calgary (0-0-1) dominated play through much of the first period, starting just 4:28 in when Tkachuk scored on the second shot of the game with a deflection in front of the Jets’ net.
Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm added goals before the end of the first frame, and the Flames held a 3-1 lead heading into the break.
During the intermission, Jets coach Paul Maurice went into the locker room and told his group to relax. His words changed the way the group played heading into the second period, said Paul Stastny.
“Sometimes when you’re kind of thinking too much, your feet are in quicksand, you’re looking around too much. Everyone was kind of hoping for things to happen,” he said. “The first game of the season it always kind of happens like that. I think it’s just nerves, in a sense.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo breaks down 9 NHL talking points:
Thirty-four seconds into the second period, Nikolaj Ehlers took a shot from the slot and, while Jacob Markstrom made the stop, he couldn’t control the rebound. The puck squirted out to Mark Schiefele who popped it in from the side of the net to make it 3-2.
Connor’s power-play goal evened the score at 3-3, and Laine buried the winner 1:18 into overtime, streaking from deep in his own end all the way past the Calgary blue line. He fanned on his first shot but quickly recovered and beat Markstrom on his second attempt.
Laine has worked harder in training camp than any other time during his career in Winnipeg, and is bigger, stronger and more mature than ever before, Maurice said.
“He’s a very driven young man. He wants to be great. And sometimes you have to learn how that unfolds,” the coach said. “What he got tonight he earned. He didn’t get lucky, he didn’t have a bunch of bounces go for him. He just worked and worked.”
Markstrom was making his debut for Calgary after signing a six-year, $36-million US deal in free agency and stopped 30-of-34 shots Thursday.
Connor Hellebuyck, the NHL’s reigning Vezina winner, had 23 saves for Winnipeg.
The game was a rematch of last year’s playoff series where the Flames dispatched with the Jets in four games in the qualifying round.
It was also the first of nine meetings between the two clubs in the pandemic-condensed 56-game season.
The Flames will host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, and the Jets are set to visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo ranks the all-Canadian division:
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