The wait is over everyone, it is finally GAMEDAY in Leafs Nation! What better way to kick off the season opener than with some predictions of how I think the division standings will finish in April.
Boston Bruins (3rd)
This team’s aging core has some hard miles on them after a trip to the Cup Final, but I feel confident that they can figure it out come playoff time. They have some strong veteran leaders to help support some youthful talent.
X-Factor: Bruce Cassidy! The Bruins finished 6th in CF% last season mostly because of the way Cassidy has been able to maximize each player’s ability.
Bold Prediction: Charlie McAvoy gets 45 points. This kid has proven he is a future Norris Trophy winner and he has not even turned 22.
Buffalo Sabres (6th)
Jason Botterill has given Ralph Krueger everything a new coach could ask for on the backend. In less than 6 months, Botterill added 3 highly touted d-men in Jokiharju, Montour, and Miller. Not forgetting Dahlin and Ristolainen (assuming no trade), you could argue this d-core is the deepest in the division.
X-Factor: Defensive Depth! 1 through 6, there might not be a deeper d-core in the division.
Bold Prediction: Casey Mittelstadt gets more than 50 points. Adding Vesey should allow Krueger to put Skinner with Mittelstadt to add some much needed scoring depth.
Detroit Red Wings (7th)
Detroit fans were elated when Steve Yzerman was named GM. Yzerman couldn’t bring his scouting guru Al Murray along with him so he is in foreign territory as GM. The future looks promising, but right now this roster lacks the star-power on both sides of the puck to be a playoff contender.
X-Factor: TBD! This team lacks an identity right now.
Bold Prediction: Dylan Larkin breaks the 80 point barrier thanks to playing with a healthy Mantha.
Florida Panthers (4th – WC1)
Dale Tallon and Joel Quenneville have reunited to spearhead the best Panthers roster in their history. They brought in 3 main pieces from UFA this season who all bring Cup Final experience. But the highlight of the summer was adding Sergei Bobrovsky to give some stability in goal.
X-Factor: Aleksander Barkov! The star centre’s in the Atlantic is unparalleled and Barkov has a chance to be the best of the bunch this season.
Bold Prediction: Aaron Ekblad scores 50 points. Stralman will relieve some responsibilities for Ekblad, freeing him up offensively. Since 2014/2015, he’s 6th in goals and 13th in shots amongst defencemen (he’s still only 23).
Montreal Canadiens (5th)
I cannot see the Habs making it the playoffs this season. I think it is hard to imagine all of Domi, Danault, Drouin, and Tatar having career years again. Their future is most definitely bright, and the prospect system is full but I still can’t see this team making a splash unless Price has another MVP season like 2014/2015.
X-Factor: Shea Weber! Giordano just won a Norris at 35, it would be naive to think Weber can’t do the same barring health.
Bold Prediction: Brendan Gallagher will not score 30 goals. I predict a slight regression to the winger’s career shooting %.
Ottawa Senators (8th)
Not much more to say about the Senators hopes this season other than that they aren’t that high. They have brought in all the castaways from the Leafs last season to try and surround some promising young stars in Chabot, Tkachuk and Brannstrom. At least this year, they own their 1st round lottery pick this season.
X-Factor: Youth Movement! Leafs Nation saw in 2016/2017 what “a bunch of kids” can do, maybe the Sens find a youthful spark.
Bold Prediction: Former Leaf Connor Brown scores 20 goals again. We’ve seen it ourselves that this guy can make the most of an opportunity if it is given to him, and he’ll get that in Ottawa.
Tampa Bay Lightning (1st)
After being on the wrong end of the biggest underdog story in recent memory, you can be 1000% sure that this Lightning squad is going to come out pissed off and ready to dominate. The best all-around team in the league is a lock for 1st in the Division and the President’s Trophy once again, but we all know its what they do in the spring that will matter most.
X-Factor: Regular Season Hangover! A new season starts every spring, and the fate of this teams core depends solely rectifying that mistake next spring.
Bold Prediction: Tyler Johnson will score 60 points. John Cooper is putting Johnson back at centre where he once scored 72 points for Tampa before being pushed over to the wing after the emergence of Anthony Cirelli.
Toronto Maple Leafs (2nd)
I believe the Leafs on paper are better than last year, and I think this will allow them to push further up the standings to gain home ice this season. For more detail about our thoughts on the upcoming Leafs season, please read our Leafs Season Preview.
X-Factor: Paul McFarland and David Hakstol! With a new set of voices to help guide the special teams, the Leafs have the talent to become a bonafide cup-contender if they can have a Top 10 PP & PK.
Bold Prediction: Auston Matthews scores at least 50 goals and 100 points. The talent is there, ideal linemates are there, the powerplay is fresh… all things point towards this kid taking the next step to becoming one of the NHL’s top point producers.
Overall, we know that the fate of the Leafs core players, coaching staff, and management will be decided in the playoffs, but they must take this regular season more seriously to set themselves up for success.