NHL 2019-20 predictions: our writers call the winners, losers and also-rans

Will Canada end the country’s title drought? Which player will dominate the league? Our NHL writers on what’s coming up this season

One thing to watch out for this season …

Following some fairly disastrous calls (or non-calls) in the 2019 playoffs, the NHL altered both video review and the coach’s challenge. Refs will now be able to review major (non-fighting) or match penalties, and judge whether they should be reduced to a minor infraction. And this year, coaches can ask for a review of a goal they think resulted from a play that should have been whistled dead. There’s nothing necessarily controversial about either of these changes – for now. But give it a few months. CH

The Devils traded for one of the most recognizable players in the league and it wasn’t their biggest move of the offseason. PK Subban arrived to anchor the New Jersey defense, but center Jack Hughes, maybe the most hyped American prospect ever, is driving the excitement in Newark. Hughes, the top overall pick of the 2019 draft and six months from his 19th birthday, is a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy and expected to score around 60 points in his first NHL season. GB

The NHL has introduced a new face-off rule. Attacking teams can choose which side of the ice play will be restarted in the offensive zone in four situations: after an icing, at the start of a power play, on a shot from outside the red line frozen by the goalie and when a defensive skater unintentionally dislodges the net. In previous seasons, the face-off location was a judgment call made by officials after the play was blown dead. One of the league’s best face-off men, LA’s Anze Kopitar, said being able to choose face-off location is going “to be big.” Centers usually have a stronger side when it comes to winning face-offs. CR

After the St Louis Blues broke their Stanley Cup drought, which of the following teams are likely to end their title-less streaks? Toronto (51 seasons), Buffalo and Vancouver (both 48), Philadelphia (43)?

The most obvious answer here is Toronto, given the Leafs were the only team on this list to make the playoffs last season. But Toronto’s curse means that the next team to break their drought will inevitably be the team that’s closest to Toronto without actually being Toronto. So, an early congrats to the Buffalo Sabres. CH

It’s Toronto and it’s not particularly close. Buffalo and Vancouver are fairly safe bets to miss the playoffs and the Flyers were one of the 2018-19 season’s biggest disappointments. The Leafs have two of the game’s elite young forwards (center Auston Matthews and right wing Mitch Marner are 22) and a franchise center in John Tavares. Their firepower is remarkable. GB

Toronto, of course. The Leafs are investing more than $40m on their top four forwards this season, so they better have something to show for it. The Leafs weren’t happy with their third straight opening-round playoff exit, so they made changes. They traded the undisciplined Nazem Kadri to Colorado and picked up a good defenseman in Tyson Barrie. The young core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly are maturing at the same time and John Tavares is coming off a career-high 47-goal season. CR

One bold prediction …

Johnny Gaudreau is a player to watch this season
Johnny Gaudreau is a player to watch this season. Photograph: Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports

What if (and hear me out) having made the James Neal-for-Milan Lucic trade with divisional rivals, the Calgary Flames – a trade that, on paper, was essentially a washout – the Edmonton Oilers end up with a player who does next to nothing for them (Neal) and have to watch as the one they gave up (Lucic) finds renewed purpose and hope with his new squad, and does everything for the other team the Oilers hoped he might do for them? I know, I know. Impossible. CH

Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau eclipses 100 points for the first time in his career, finishes top-three in Hart Trophy voting and leads the Flames to their first Stanley Cup final appearance since 2003-2004. The legend of “Johnny Hockey” entrenches itself in the United States and his nickname becomes ingrained in the American sports lexicon, leading to widespread endorsements and marketing opportunities. GB

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner is going to win the scoring championship. The contract pressure has been lifted and he can feel secure he will be a Leaf at least for the next six years. He is going into his second season with John Tavares as his center and they’ve been magic together. Marner finished 11th in scoring last season, and he’s only going to get better. He’s the closest thing to Patrick Kane as there is in the league (apart from Kane himself, of course). Kane was 27 when he won the scoring title in 2015-16. Marner is only 22, but he is more advanced than Kane was at his age. CR

Your Hart Trophy winner is ...

Look, I know there are good choices out there. Plenty of options. Bunch of players who contribute. Guys who make a huge difference. Sure. Fine. But if you try to tell me that anyone right now is more of an asset to their team than Connor McDavid is to the Edmonton Oilers, I’m sorry but you’re just wrong. CH

Nathan Mackinnon, Colorado Avalanche. MacKinnon finished behind Connor McDavid after the 2017-18 season and sixth in last year’s voting. The 24-year-old’s evolution from hyped prospect into elite offensive talent is complete, and he’ll outlast McDavid in a heated race. GB

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who remains the best player on the planet. Last season, McDavid became just the fifth player in NHL history to figure in on more than half his team’s goals. That’s a good measure of how valuable he is. CR

Metropolitan Division playoff teams

Capitals, Devils, Penguins. CH

Hurricanes, Capitals, Penguins GB

Capitals, Islanders, Devils. CR

Atlantic Division playoff teams

Bruins, Leafs, Lightning. CH

Bruins, Maple Leafs, Lightning GB

Leafs, Lightning, Bruins. CR

Central Division playoff teams

Avalanche, Blues, Jets. CH

Blues, Predators, Stars GB

Blues, Jets, Predators. CR

Pacific Division playoff teams

Flames, Sharks, Golden Knights. CH

Flames, Sharks, Golden Knights. GB

Flames, Golden Knights, Sharks. CR

Eastern conference wildcard teams

Rangers, Panthers. CH

Devils, Panthers. GB

Canadiens, Rangers. CR

Western conference wildcard teams

Coyotes, Stars. CH

Avalanche, Jets. GB

Coyotes, Oilers. CR

Eastern Conference finals

Tampa Bay Lightning over New Jersey Devils. CH

Toronto Maple Leafs over Carolina Hurricanes. GB

Toronto Maple Leafs over the New York Rangers. CR

Western Conference finals

St Louis Blues over Colorado Avalanche. CH

Calgary Flames over San Jose Sharks. GB

Calgary Flames over the St Louis Blues. CR

The Stanley Cup final winners will be...

A title repeat for the Blues is not out of the question
A title repeat for the Blues is not out of the question. Photograph: Michael Dwyer/AP

St Louis Blues 4-2 Tampa Bay Lightning. If we learned anything from the 2019 playoffs, it’s that whatever predictions we make – at the very end of the regular season, let alone before it even begins – will be wrong. I’m not actually convinced the Blues can repeat, and I’m equally unsure the Lightning can make the Cup Final. But a matchup between the team that was supposed to win in 2019, and the one nobody thought could ever, ever win in 2019 feels like cosmic justice. That said, if it comes to this, I still hope the Lightning choke. CH

Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Calgary Flames. O Canada! Not only does a Canadian team play in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2011, the nation is guaranteed its first championship since 1993. After surviving a seven-game showdown against the loaded Lightning, the Leafs finally overcome the cosmic forces inhibiting them for over 50 years behind native son John Tavares to defeat the Flames. GB

Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3 Calgary Flames. Toronto’s defense has been their achilles heel, so they upgraded the blueline with Cody Ceci and acquired puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie and a third-line center in Alexander Kerfoot. Meanwhile, Calgary will be on fire with Matthew Tkachuk, who signed a three-year extension prior to the season. Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan are as solid a core as there is in the league. CR


Colin Horgan, Gabriel Baumgaertner and Curtis Rush

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