Biggest surprise team
Mike Coppinger: New Jersey Devils. They don’t have a top scorer, but an elite goaltender and up-and-coming defense corps should carry them in the fight for the No8 seed.
DJ Gallo: Philadelphia Flyers. Unlike most seasons, the Flyers have few expectations. But they still have some talent, and could slip into the playoffs if they avoid another bad start.
Colin Horgan: Living in Toronto, it’s tempting to believe that with the mega summer moves, the Maple Leafs will finally be contenders. So, I’ll say the Winnipeg Jets.
Amanda Stein: Washington Capitals. With the addition of TJ Oshie and Justin Williams to the core of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (and Braden Holtby between the pipes), this could be a group that turns heads after last year’s capitulation against the New York Rangers.
MC: Phil Kessel. Big things are expected for the former Maple Leaf, now playing with Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, but he won’t realize expectations of a career resurgence.
DJG: Capitals. Braden Holtby had a career year and Alex Ovechkin had his best all-around season in 2014-15. It’s unlikely both happen again.
CH: Mike Babcock.
AS: Red Wings. Detroit’s remarkable streak of 24 consecutive playoff appearances, a record for major league sports, will finally come to an end in a significant transition year.
One bold prediction
MC: The New York Rangers miss the playoffs. They will rely on an aging Henrik Lundqvist who has been injury prone of late and lack depth on offense.
DJG: Mike Babcock will be out by the end of the season as Leafs coach. Yes, he has a new, eight-year contract. But nothing would surprise in Toronto.
CH: The Calgary Flames will make the playoffs again.
AS: This will be the last season for Steven Stamkos in Tampa. Still no contract, the allure of free agency and those mega bucks becomes more alluring as you get closer to 1 July.
First coach to get fired
MC: Mike Yeo. The Minnesota Wild have the talent but always come up short. This season won’t be any different and his fifth season will mark his last in Minny.
DJG: Todd Richards, Blue Jackets. Columbus has big expectations after finishing strong last year and adding Brandon Saad. If they struggle early, Richards might be gone.
CH: (crosses fingers) Don Cherry? Probably Claude Julien.
AS: Claude Julien. Missed the playoffs last season, and new general manager Don Sweeney inherited him, even though he made the decision to keep him. Will he stay or go has been a broken record for Julien the last couple of years. If the Bruins start slow, I say Sweeney pulls the trigger.
Will there be an NHL team in Las Vegas within the next 10 years?
MC: Yes. There’s too much momentum – the season-ticket drive was a rousing success – and the NHL seems intent on cashing in that massive expansion fee.
DJG: Yes. Putting a team in Vegas would be a marriage of Gary Bettman’s two great loves: placing teams in warm locations and making questionable decisions.
CH: Yes. They shall be called Las Nordiques.
AS: Absolutely. It feels as though the league has been moving towards it for years. The arena is there, and there is a keen interest in being the first major league sport to lay down roots in Nevada. Let’s make some money!
Gary Bettman is ...
MC: ... once again in over his head if he believes the NHL needs two more teams before relocating existing struggling franchises. The Coyotes are in disarray and the Panthers can’t draw. Fix those clubs first.
DJG: ... better than Roger Goodell. In a shocking turn, over the past year, NHL fans have come to realize Bettman is somehow not the worst sports commissioner.
CH: ... still not getting it about concussions.
AS: Remarkable at tolerating the cacophony of boos every time he speaks in front of fans. He is doing the job asked of him: representing the interests of the owners, which isn’t always the popular ones. I like Gary Bettman.
Hart Trophy winner (most valuable player)
MC: Jamie Benn. The Dallas Stars forward snagged the Art Ross trophy one year ago and plays alongside one of the best forwards in the game in Tyler Seguin. Add in Patrick Sharp and Benn could even improve on his banner season.
DJG: Jonathan Toews. He has a Conn Smythe, but rarely gets serious Hart consideration. Making the playoffs with Chicago’s depleted roster could change that.
CH: Alex Ovechkin.
AS: Sidney Crosby. The Kid always seems to be in the running, and with Phil Kessel on his line this year he could earn himself a few more points than usual. In a league where scoring seems to have taken a slight hit, Crosby keeps on producing.
Norris Trophy winner (top defenseman)
MC: Erik Karlsson. The Swede is a good bet to pick up his second consecutive award for best defenseman. He’s one of the best scorers in the league, full stop, and is only improving at 25.
DJG: Kris Letang. Letang may have been the frontrunner last year before getting injured. If he can avoid concussion/mumps/this year’s Penguins mystery malady, the trophy is his.
CH: Mark Giordano.
AS: Drew Doughty. It will be about time for last year’s runner-up, not least because the Kings should be better. Doughty can and does do it all.
Vezina Trophy winner (top goaltender)
MC: Carey Price. Another repeat selection here. Price was the best goalie in 2014-15 and there wasn’t a close second. There’s no reason to believe that kind of dominance will subside.
DJG: Henrik Lundqvist. The Ranger roster has had a bit of a makeover, but their star remains and will get a lot of (deserved) credit for keeping New York in contention.
CH: Carey Price.
AS: Carey Price. Montreal’s goaltender has given no reason to believe he’ll slow down after his out-of-this-world numbers last season. He simply has been in a league of his own since the Sochi Olympics. Even if his numbers dip, they’re still the best in the league.
Adams Trophy winner (top coach)
MC: Dan Bylsma. The Sabres should improve greatly under the former Pittsburgh coach’s watch and have an infusion of young talent do so, spearheaded by Evander Kane and No2 overall pick Jack Eichel.
DJG: Joel Quenneville. Quenneville has three Cups with Chicago, but hasn’t won coach of the year there. Lesser talent this year will get him a trophy, but not the one he wants.
CH: Todd McClellan if the Oilers turn it around. Lindy Ruff if Dallas goes deep.
AS: Barry Trotz. In year one Washington’s Trotz brought a level of consistency to the Capitals game we hadn’t seen in years. In year two Trotz has the pleasure of coaching one of the most complete Capitals lineups since 2010.
Calder Trophy winner (top rookie)
MC: Connor McDavid. The Oiler is a generational talent and will put up monster numbers for a bad team. Eichel will push him for the trophy, though.
DJG: Jack Eichel. Does this mean Eichel will be the better player than Connor McDavid long-term? Not at all. Remember that Ovechkin won the Calder over Crosby.
CH: It’s so obviously going to be McDavid or Eichel that it won’t be McDavid or Eichel. In other words: Sam Bennett.
AS: Connor McDavid. I feel like being a Canadian myself, and having heard about McDavid for the last 10 years I have no choice but to say Connor McDavid. He’s the next Sidney Crosby, right?
Atlantic Division champion
MC: Lightning. The defending Eastern Conference champions are one of the speediest teams in the league and will benefit greatly from the Cup experience.
DJG: Lightning. Tampa Bay return a young, stacked roster that nearly won the Cup. Winning the Atlantic shouldn’t be a problem.
CH: Wouldn’t it be great it if were Buffalo?
AS: Lightning. A balanced returning cast with more experience and a strong one-two punch between the pipes. A team once motivated by a first-round sweep will surely be spurred by a Cup loss.
Metropolitan Division champion
MC: Islanders. The upstarts now playing in Brooklyn are poised to overtake the rival Rangers. The Isles boast one of the best young forward groups in the game led by John Tavares. Only their questionable goaltending can stop them.
DJG: Penguins. Like Letang and the Norris, if the Penguins can avoid weird medical problems this year they’ll have Phil Kessel treating himself to celebratory hot dogs.
CH: Washington Capitals. They are no joke. TJ Oshie is a frightening addition. Though I’d like to see the Islanders pull it off, somehow.
AS: Capitals. Defense may be the biggest question mark with no real superstar, but they have a solid group in place with Holtby there to pick up the slack in net. Expect big things.
Central Division champion
MC: Predators. Pekka Rinne is one of the game’s elite and their young defense group will mature even more. Look for Roman Josi and Seth Jones to break out and bring home a tough division.
DJG: Blues. Picking St Louis to win the division is never all that bold. Picking them to win the Cup is entirely different.
CH: Predators. Remember the Nashville Predators?
AS: Predators. Toughest division in hockey. A Laviolette sophomore season, coupled with a talented cast of returning players and some new talent. Pekka Rinne has one of the better teams he’s had front of him, and managed to put up Vezina-worthy numbers with lesser talent.
Pacific Division champion
MC: Ducks. Simply one of the most well-rounded teams in the league from the net out, they roll four lines as well as any club.
DJG: Ducks. Echoing my pick of the Blues in the Central: Picking the Ducks to win the division is never all that bold. Picking them to win the Cup? Entirely different.
CH: Probably Anaheim, let’s be honest. But for fun: Calgary.
AS: Ducks. Anaheim appears to be the most talented team on paper (which of course guarantees nothing). Big, bad, strong and talented, and now with more depth! I get nervous for the Pacific division just reading through their roster.
Eastern Conference finals prediction
MC: Pittsburgh Penguins over Washington Capitals.
DJG: Tampa Bay Lightning over Pittsburgh Penguins.
CH: Tampa Bay Lightning over Washington Capitals.
AS: Washington Capitals over Tampa Bay Lightning.
Western Conference finals prediction
MC: Anaheim Ducks over Nashville Predators.
DJG: Anaheim Ducks over Nashville Predators.
CH: Anaheim Ducks over Chicago Blackhawks.
AS: Anaheim Ducks over Nashville Predators.
Stanley Cup Finals prediction
MC: Anaheim. Under Bruce Boudreau, they’ve been knocking at the door for years and will finally come through this season. Their forward group features great two-way players (Ryan Getzalf, Ryan Kesler), strong goaltending (Frederick Andersen) and a top D pairing (Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen).
DJG: Tampa Bay. If you’re looking for the next Blackhawks-esque ‘dynasty’ contender, look to the Lightning. Even after pushing Chicago to six games in the Final last year, they have the third-youngest roster in the NHL. Hopefully the people of Tampa appreciate what they have.
CH: Anaheim. The McSorley curse endures. Canadians grumble about no real hockey cities in the Final. Canadians grumble about undeservedly cheap playoff tickets in SoCal. Viewership north of the border plummets. A southern expansion team beats a southern expansion team. Gary Bettman smiles.
AS: Anaheim. They were very close last season and tick just about every box for a contender. Big strong offence, check. Mobile, young (but not too young) defense, check. A capable goalie in Frederik Andersen, check. Off-season tinkering additions with Chris Stewart and Carl Hagelin, check. This team looks poised for the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.