I’m sure there are some things I’m good at in this world, but predicting the future in regards to sporting outcomes is apparently not one of them. There’s a reason that the Westgate sportsbook in Las Vegas is about to add the JustinG. Outdoor Beer Garden and Gambling Spa. I’m just not very good at prognostication. However, unlike other folks who distance themselves from their bad predictions, I will take full ownership of the many ways I’ve led you astray during the 2018-19 NHL season.
Way back in October I jotted down some predictions as to how the season would unfold. There was some optimism, a little pessimism, and a small dash of rational thought. Now with the season officially over, lets see how I did:
Nikita Kucherov will not reach the 100 point mark this season.
I’m not sure if our favorite moody Russian winger read this and used it for motivation, but man did he make me look bad. Not only did he reach the century mark, he blew by it in February. In just 62 games he tallied 100 points, becoming the fastest player to reach that mark since 1996-97. He finished with 128 points, setting career highs in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, shooting percentage, and ice time.
It was a record for Russian/Soviet born players in the NHL. Not since Mario Lemiuex’s bad back and fantastic mullet roamed the ice in 1995-96 has a player scored so many points. In this day and age of goaltending, Kucherov’s totals are just as impressive as the gaudy totals Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky put up against the stumbling netminders of their time.
Everytime we think we’ve seen the peak of Kucherov’s talent, he does something else to impress us. I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does as an encore next season.
Slater Koekkoek - more points then healthy scratches
He played in nine games for the Tampa Bay Lightning and had one point. There is no need to look up how many times he was scratched to know that this one is also incorrect. The good news for me is that I’ll never have to use the phrase “this is the year Slater Koekkoek breaks out for the Lightning” again.
Back in October, I had the following hope:
With Andrej Sustr in Anaheim and Jake Dotchin in limbo, he’s no longer in competition for playing time as the seventh defenseman. Having survived the purge, perhaps he can focus on adapting his style of play to what Coach Jon Cooper is looking for out of his defenders.
Even with those two players gone, he still wasn’t in competition as the seventh defenseman. Once Erik Cernak was recalled and passed him on the depth chart, Koekkoek’s future was sealed with the Lightning. A January trade to the Chicago Blackhawks did afford him a bit more playing time and he posted much better per game numbers in his 22 appearances for them. He never quite lived up to his potential in Tampa Bay and hopefully he finds his footing in Chicago.
Over/Under on Syracuse Crunch players getting called up this season - 3.5
It took a couple of late season injures to blueliners, but I hit the over on this one. Four players (Erik Cernak, Eddie Pasquale, Jan Rutta and Cameron Gaunce) played significant minutes in Syracuse and also saw the ice in Tampa Bay. I didn’t even have to count the weird Mathieu Joseph paper transactions or Connor Ingram’s time on the bench to make the over. Woo hoo!
Cernak was obviously the most important call up of the season as he plugged a hole on the right side with is play. His play, and the late call up of Rutta, wasn’t enough to overcome the beating the Lightning’s blueline took at the end of the season and they struggled in the playoffs, but it was good enough that Julien BriseBois didn’t have to waste any assets in acquiring defensive help at the deadline. He was able to save a few bullets to help make moves this summer.
The Lightning were able to stay relatively healthy upfront as nine forwards appeared in 75 games or more. Joseph and Anthony Cirelli proved that they belonged in the NHL and that left little opportunity for some of their former Crunch linemates to see playing time in Tampa Bay. Even with the injury issues for Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan, there just wasn’t enough ice time to justify wasting one of their other prospects seasons by having them ride the bench in Tampa Bay as opposed to playing every night in Syracuse.
The end result
I went 1-for-3 in predictions regarding the Lightning. That might get me to the Hall of Fame in baseball, but it would have me dressed up as in a third-rate Iron Man suit and begging for tips in Las Vegas.
Let’s move on to the carnage that was my random NHL predictions.
Sidney Crosby is no longer the best player in hockey
While he is nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy as one of the “most valuable to his team,” it would take the yinziest of yinzers to say Sid the Kid was the best player in the league this season. Yes, he had a good season (his first 100 point season since 2013-14), but he did it in a year when five other players also hit the century mark and Nikita Kucherov was scoring at a rate not seen in twenty years.
Of course, I can’t gloat too much about this since I anointed Connor McDavid as the Art Ross winner and, while he finished second to Kucherov in points, he was still 11 behind the Russian. Considering the cast of characters McDavid had to play with, that’s a pretty impressive feat, but not impressive enough to dethrone the scoring champ.
Not only did Kucherov have the greatest offensive season in Lightning history, he had the greatest offensive season of the Salary Cap Era. As the years wind on (and if the Lightning win a Stanley Cup with this core of players), I think that is what will be remembered most about this season - not the first round exit in the playoffs.
Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc Edouard Vlasic outscore the Ottawa Senators top line
Somehow I came up with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Bobby Ryan as the Senators top line. I’m not sure how I came up with that combination, but I do remember doing at least five minutes worth or research. So, how did they do point wise?
Matt Duchene - 58
Ryan Dzingel - 44
Bobby Ryan - 42
Not bad considering Duchene and Dzingel were traded at the deadline. They totaled 185 games played in a Senators’ sweater so their per game points boiled down to a 0.78 PPG.
The Sharks trio put up the following numbers:
Erik Karlsson - 45
Brent Burns - 83
Marc Edouard Vlasic - 25
They did end up with more points (yea!), but it took them 207 games to get there, which knocks them down to .74 PPG. While Burns had his usual outstanding year, Karlsson was slowed bit by a groin strain that plagued him for most of February and March and cost him some points.
Despite the turbulence in Ottawa, those three players had pretty good seasons. Offense wasn’t an issue for the Senators as they finished in the middle of the pack in regards to goals scored. The 301 goals they surrendered, however...now that was a problem.
The Lightning finish third in the Atlantic
I thought I had a nice, pragmatic look at the division in October:
“Before you light the torches, I think it’s going to be a brutal fight to the top of the Atlantic this season. The division is top heavy with Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston head and shoulders above the rest of the teams. Still, with the exception of Ottawa...the other teams in the division all improved or at least stayed the same.”
At least I got the top three teams right and for about a month Buffalo was making me look good. Unfortunately, they cratered, Detroit didn’t really improve, Florida remained the most average team in the NHL, and Montreal was all over the map.
At least Ottawa came through as being terrible.
The Lightning, on the other hand, went through the Atlantic Division like the wrath of God. They went 3-1 against the Bruins, Canadiens, Sabres, and Leafs while sweeping the Red Wings and Panthers - a combined 20-4 record against their Atlantic siblings. That was good enough to wrap up the division by the middle of March. Boston tied with the Calgary Flames for the second most points in the NHL with 107 and still finished 21 points behind the Lightning.
“No need to go out on a limb. I’m going to go with San Jose and Toronto.”
Seriously, who is the editor that let this stuff get published? Just for the record, not only did I predict these two teams to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, a quick trip to Vegas led to me putting a few bucks on the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup and then after Round Two I threw another few bucks on the Hurricanes to win the Cup. I am so very not good at this. Don’t ever take my advice on gambling...ever.
Well, that’s how I did this year. How did your predictions go this season? Feel free to leave your best (or worst) prediction in the comments below.