It’s that time of year where every publication and website attempts to predict the future. There will be bold predictions of Stanley Cup winners based on off-season moves, residual talent, and a handful of preseason games in which coaches were more concerned with evaluating play than actually winning the games.
Writers of all sorts will project winners for scoring races and post-season trophies. They will tell you who is going to be the best rookie or best goaltender. Some will use stats, others will consult 200 hockey men to come up with their predictions.
Why should we be any different? Just like last season we are going to lay out a few predictions, not something so basic as who is going to win the division or who is going to get named the rookie of the year [I hope it’s the newest member of the Calgary Flames, Jaromir Jagr — Acha], but things of a more random nature. The good news - at the end of the season (hopefully sometime in June) we will take a look back to see how we did.
Will Nikita Kucherov score forty or more goals this year?
Nope. He’s still going to have a great year, but he won’t quite hit the 40 goal mark. The reason: a healthy Steven Stamkos is going to infringe on some of his powerplay tallies. Out of the 40 goals the Russian scored last season, 17 of them came with the man advantage. Of those 17 power play goals only two were scored on the powerplay before Stamkos’s injury (both in the same game against the Islanders). In that same amount of time the Lightning captain had three powerplay goals of his own, with Kucherov assisting on two of the three.
There will be times when they’re both on the same power play unit and times when they’re on different lines because we all know there isn’t a combination that Jon Cooper isn’t willing to change. No matter how they’re matched up, more power play opportunities for Stamkos means less goals for Kucherov.
On the flip side there will most likely be an uptick on the number of assists he picks up.
My prediction - Kucherov ends up with 35 goals and 90 points.
Will Mikhail Sergachev play in more than 40 games?
The official trade that ended the Jonathan Drouin era in Tampa was Drouin and a conditional sixth-round pick to Montreal for Sergachev and a conditional second-round draft pick. The condition on the second-round pick centers around the number of games the young Russian plays. If he gets to 40 games (including the playoffs) then the picks disappear.
Based on the way Sergachev has played in the preseason, he deserves his spot on the opening day roster. Yes, he has made a few rookie mistakes, but most 19 year-olds playing in the NHL are going to do that. The coaching staff is definitely taking a long look at their prized prospect. He has appeared in all six preseason games (the only player on the roster to do so) and logged an average of over 20 minutes per game.
All three of Sergachev’s points came in one game, but even when he isn’t scoring he is still making an impression. While the Lightning have a lot of people that are labeled as defensemen in their system, they don’t have a lot with his talent level.
Sergachev’s training camp performance bears an eerie resemblance to the one Brayden Point put up last year. For the second season in a row, the Lightning will break camp with a teenage rookie on their roster. As usual, the organization is cagey about their intentions for their prized defensive prospect,
"It could be nine games, 10 games, 40 games, there's no rush," Mr. Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week, “We haven't decided our lineup for opening night. We'll decide that in a week."
My prediction - Sergachev appears in 70 games this season. There will be a mid-season slump where he is a healthy scratch, but will bounce back and help the team down the stretch.
Does Vladislav Namestnikov end the season with the Lightning?
Last season was supposed to be Namestnikov’s breakout season. The young Russian was coming off an 80-game season in which he scored 14 goals and added 21 assists while spending a lot of his time on the third and fourth lines. He was looked at as part of the secondary scoring that would take advantage of other teams having to focus on Stamkos, Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
Things looked pretty good early on. He found a chemistry playing on the wing with Stamkos and Kucherov. Then the captain had to go and get hurt. Namestnikov didn’t have a horrible season, but he also didn’t take the next step statistically. He bounced around in the lineup and ended with only 28 points. He started the summer as the most likely player to be taken by Vegas in the expansion draft.
Despite the lack of traditional stats, he was a valuable player for a team that struggled all season long. As Loserpoints pointed out in one of our best posts over the summer, Namestnikov excels at taking the puck from one zone to another. It’s really hard (but not impossible) for a team to score if the puck isn’t in the offensive zone. Namestnikov gets the puck to areas where his teammates can generate offense.
It’s a big season for Namestnikov because he is a restricted free agent, and a good season could mean a pretty nice raise over his current $1.975 million payday. With a crop of young forwards behind him, he could also find himself on the trading block if he doesn’t perform. A young, controllable (if soon to be expensive) forward with NHL experience could be an enticing trade chip should Mr. Yzerman feel the need to boost his blue line.
Namestnikov’s preseason, like most of the team, was kind of meh. He’s still penciled in to be on a line with Stamkos and Kucherov, but will need to perform to keep his spot on that line.
My prediction: despite a season full of trade speculation (including a bizarre Namestnikov for John Carlson rumor at the deadline), the Russian Bieber finally breaks through and earns his spot on the Nikita Stamkov line. Steve Yzerman then signs him to the mandatory 7 year $4.5 AAV million contract on July 1st.
Who ends up with more points - The Forgotten One, The New One or The Tall One
The glaring question mark for the Lightning this season will be (as it has been for the past couple of seasons) the defense. Once the depth chart gets past the Super Swedes, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman [I call them the Argonauth. - Acha], things continue to be a little questionable.
Due to violating a team rule, Jake Dotchin played in only one preseason game. Sergachev is a young unknown quantity. Braydon Coburn is consistently Braydon Coburn. Since it appears the team will start the season with 8 blueliners on the roster, that leaves three players to fill out the last two spots on game days (assuming Coach Cooper rolls with an 11/7 lineup).
Those three players are Slater Koekkoek (The Forgotten One), Dan Girardi (The New One) and Andrej Sustr (The Giraffe). If the Lightning keep Sergachev on the roster, then in all likelihood one of those three players is going to be a healthy scratch.
Girardi, as the only one of the three that plays the majority of the time on the right side, will most likely get many of the early starts. Also, since he was brought in for veteran leadership, there is a good chance that Coach Cooper will do everything in his power to keep him in the line-up no matter what his on-ice production looks like.
Offense is not his forte. Girardi has only topped 30 points once in his career, back in 2010-11, and has seen his point production decrease over the last three years from 22 in 2014-15 to 16 last year. Make no mistake, he is here to block shots and add some sort of structure to the defensive zone. Anything he provides on offense will be seen as a bonus.
Sustr appears to be a taller version of Girardi. Sixty-four percent of his shifts started in the defensive zone last season. Offensively he added 14 points but it took him 1,212 minutes to get to that total, which is somewhat impressive. Only Stralman and Hedman were on the ice more often than Sustr last season. If he’s on the ice that much this season, he almost has to add more offense.
Possibly cutting into his ice time would be Slater Koekkoek. The former first-round pick was also supposed to have a breakout season in 2016-17. He had put his time in at Syracuse and excelled when pressed into service during the postseason. His puck-carrying skills would add a dimension to the team that was severely lacking outside of Hedman. Yet he only ended up appearing in 29 games, and in only six of those games did he play more than 15 minutes. For some reason his AHL play (54 points in 180 games) hasn’t translated to the NHL (5 points in 41 games).
In order to contribute, Koekkoek needs the freedom to generate offense. The drawback to giving a player that freedom is that it can lead to turnovers and turnovers aren’t appreciated in the new “grittier” Lightning world. If he can find a way to adjust his style of play, he should have enough natural talent to lead this group in scoring. He just needs the opportunity.
My prediction: Girardi leads the way with 20 points. He simply ends up getting more ice time than the other two to win the scoring race.
Bonus league wide predictions:
Stanley Cup WInner
No idea, but it’s not the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Vegas Golden Knights.
Moment when someone writes a “Vegas Might Sneak Into the Playoffs” post
November 18th. At some point early in the season, the Golden Knights will win two or three games in a row, and people will start to think the team isn’t bad. They will then go on a 17 game winless streak.
Sidney Crosby outscores Connor McDavid
McDavid is going to be the best player in the league for a long time (hush up Toronto fans), but I think Sid has one more Art Ross Trophy in him. Also, he’s a competitive son of a gun and hearing all of the talk about of McDavid stealing his crown as the top player is going to motivate him to about 110 points this season.
The Lightning return to the playoffs
A healthy Stamkos leads the team back to the promised land. There are some struggles somewhere around January or February, because we all know that this team doesn’t do anything the easy way. In the end, they finish first in the Atlantic and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals again.
Here’s to what we know will happen, what we think we know will happen, the things we can’t imagine will happen and everything in between. We’ve survived the off season (and what a long off season it was) so the hard part is behind us.
Go forth and enjoy some hockey, folks.