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With the All-Star Game coming and many clubs having reached the 41-game threshold of the 2021-22 NHL season, now is an excellent time to assess the postseason races, prospective trade prospects, and award and scoring championship contenders.
We asked our NHL analysts for their top predictions for the rest of the season, and they didn’t disappoint: we have cases for the Oilers making (or not making) the playoffs, a goalie winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP, a team that was supposed to be rebuilding swinging a deal for one of the best defensemen available, and much more.
Here’s how our experts predict the remainder of the regular season will go:
You read it correctly: I didn’t say Vezina Trophy; I said Hart Trophy, as in the best individual honor that any NHL player, goaltender or goal scorer, may earn at the NHL awards.
Sure, Alex Ovechkin is putting up ridiculous statistics, Nazem Kadri is enjoying a fantastic season in Colorado, and the Oilers have two scorers. There’s also the reality that goaltenders don’t win the Hart very frequently; it’s only occurred eight times in league history, with Carey Price winning it in 2015.
It all comes down to the award’s definition: “This award is granted to the player assessed to be the most useful to his team.” Shesterkin embodies that criteria this season. He’s been instrumental in the Rangers’ spectacular ascent. Before the season began, the Rangers’ main focus was on contending for a playoff berth; who could have imagined battling for the league lead in points? Shesterkin has been a lifesaver for the squad when they’ve needed it most, and he’s one of the main reasons they’re at the top of the standings. Individually, he has the best save % in the league (.936) and the second-best goals-against average (2.08) in the league.
I can see Shesterkin hoisting some silverware beyond April if the Rangers win the playoffs and he maintains his level of performance. — NHL host Arda Ocal
Is there a player in the league who is more important to the league’s top first-half squad than Huberdeau?
Florida has been missing Aleksander Barkov for extended periods of time, its goaltending has been shaky at times, and the Panthers’ ranks have been devastated by injuries and illnesses, but Huberdeau has maintained his club atop the rankings. His 58 points put him 21 points ahead of the team’s second-place finisher, and he’s been an all-around performer. He’ll be more deserving of MVP honors than anyone by April. — NHL writer/reporter Kristen Shilton
Nazem Kadri will force his way into the discussion for the Selke Trophy.
Inspired by Greg Wyshynski’s recent feature on the Avalanche center, in which Kadri calls for a campaign to nominate him for the league’s top defensive forward ( “What’s more, guess what? Man, start pitching it. Get the information out there “(
After all, why not?
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ best shutdown forward for years has been performing in a similar 200-foot fashion with his current club in Colorado, despite previously being on the periphery of Selke consideration. Kadri’s personal statistics include a 56.62 percent Corsi for percentage and a 54.34 percent high-danger percentage. According to Evolving Hockey and Natural Stats, Corsi for % is 15.1 goals above replacement and 2.7 wins above replacement. Trick — it’s just a way to quantify what we’re seeing him accomplish on the ice. He averages about 19 minutes each game, takes a lot of faceoffs and wins the majority of them, and contributes to the penalty kill. Plus, since this is a contract year, this uncompromisingly tough competitor will leave no stone unturned in the playoffs. Oh, and don’t forget about the 51 points in 36 games.
Set aside Aleksander Barkov, Sean Couturier (currently on long-term IR), and Patrice Bergeron; there’s another defensive forward hoping for more love from the PHWA this season. I’m not saying Kadri will win, but he’s obviously earned a place in the conversation. NHL analyst Victoria Matiash
The Edmonton Oilers have a chance to reach the playoffs… or do they?
The Oilers will break out of their funk and reach the playoffs, in my opinion. The squad has faced some difficult challenges and will use them as inspiration moving into the second half of the season. I also envision them being aggressive towards the deadline to acquire some players, which will energise the team and help them close off the season. — NHL analyst Ryan Callahan
This isn’t supposed to be a big forecast. But… we’ve all seen the Oilers recently, haven’t we? And it’s been a shambles. Desperation, on the other hand, is a potent motivator, and Edmonton still has a full season to rediscover itself. I still believe it can get there by the March deadline without sacrificing anything significant. Shilton’s words
Edmonton’s lack of cap room, in my opinion, will prevent them from making significant additions before the trade deadline Their goaltending fails them, and they fall short of catching the Kings for third place in the Pacific, while the Predators and Jets take the two wild cards in the West.
On the bright side, I believe Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will finish first and second in the scoring race. NHL analyst Brian Boucher
The Stanley Cup will be won by the Rangers.
The cry “19-40!” was a regular at Islanders and Devils games when they faced the Rangers when I was a kid, and we’re getting to the point when a “19-94!” shout will occur. When you’ve only won one Cup in 82 years, that’s what may happen.
In Igor Shesterkin and Adam Fox, they may have the finest goalkeeper and defensemen in the game. Chris Kreider is having an incredible year. The youthful core of Rangers supporters has been waiting for this to happen for a long time They’ve also added ruggedness to the team, which was previously missing.
When a championship is on the line in New York, there’s usually a rush to make a major deal, and I believe they will (I know Jakob Chychrun’s name has been mentioned). I believe the Rangers will win the Cup after a “new” 28-year drought. — NHL play-by-play announcer Bob Wischusen
The Kings are one of the league’s surprise contenders, not just because they were not projected to be in a playoff spot this far into the season, but also because of how they’ve done it: They have five scorers in the top six who are above the age of 28. The Kings’ much-heralded prospect pool is still churning, but they should have a clearer idea of who’s in their future and who isn’t by now. To put it another way, it’s time for GM Rob Blake and his team to start trading those prospects for proven NHL players
In this instance, that skill is Chychrun, an Arizona Coyotes defender who, well, needs a new home as much as the Coyotes, I guess. He’s the type of left-side defenseman they’re missing, and he’s also a puck-mover. He wouldn’t be a one-time fix, but rather a long-term foundation for them. The Kings have the first-round pick as well as the prospects needed to lure him away from Arizona.
GM Rob Blake should make a push for Chychrun, similar to how previous Kings GM Dean Lombardi utilized his young players to get Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. — NHL writer/reporter Greg Wyshynski
The Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues, the two most recent stanley cup winners, will bolster their rosters ahead of a postseason push.
Both general managers (Julien BriseBois for Tampa Bay and Doug Armstrong for St. Louis) have publicly stated that they have no cap space and are unable to make any moves.
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That’s something we’ve heard before. Both BriseBois and Armstrong have shown throughout their careers that they aren’t afraid to take risks and can be resourceful when it comes to salary cap maneuvering.
Armstrong may trade Vladimir Tarasenko, his second-leading scorer, if St. Louis is serious about making a splash. Despite the fact that Tarasenko has been a good soldier since requesting a trade during the 2021 Stanley Cup Final — and has answered any questions about how he will recover from his third shoulder surgery by scoring 38 points in 37 games — I still get the impression that both the player and the team believe a fresh start is the best path forward. NHL writer/reporter Emily Kaplan
This is going to be a busy trade deadline with a lot of big names involved.
General managers may have no option but to be active on the trade market in the second half of this season since the schedule is so compressed and — dare we say — unparalleled in scope. It’s quite conceivable that there will be an increase in injuries or even mediocre performance, forcing teams to take unexpected turns. This might lead to even more havoc on the acquisitions front than we’re accustomed to witnessing. Shilton’s words
I’m not going to mention names, but I believe three particular deals will occur this season: the Oilers will get a goaltender, the Panthers will acquire a top-four defender, and the Rangers will add to their top-six forward core. NHL analyst Ray Ferraro
Before the deadline, I believe Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux will be sent to one of the top three clubs in the Central Division (Colorado, St. Louis, or Minnesota, by points percentage). Boucher’s
Predictions for the playoff bracket
The East has been mostly determined. All of the clubs presently in the playoff picture will make it this season, with several seeding battles yet to be decided. This is how I see it going down:
The top three teams in the Atlantic are the Panthers, Lightning, and Bruins. Boston will benefit from a revitalized Tuukka Rask and renewed scoring balance.
Hurricanes, Penguins, and Rangers are the top three teams in the Metro. Pittsburgh is serious, and it will gain from playing with a complete lineup for the first time.
The Maple Leafs and the Capitals are both wild cards. Boston will overcome Toronto in the second half. Defense and goaltending will scuff their toes a little, costing them a top-three division place. Washington will have a complete, healthy lineup for the first time this season, but its goaltending will be the poorest of all the Metro teams, costing them a top-three finish.
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The Central will have five teams in the West, while the Pacific will have three.
Avalanche, Blues, and Wild are the top three teams in Central. In the second half, Colorado reaches its stride, capturing the division and the West.
The Golden Knights Flames, and Kings all go 1-2-3 in the Pacific. Calgary earns the No. 2 spot with games remaining, while L.A. holds off late-charging Edmonton and SAN JOSE for third place in the Pacific.
Predators and Jets are wild cards. Nashville battles Minnesota for the top three spots in the Central, but falls short, while Winnipeg takes advantage of its games in hand to claim the last wild-card place. The Jets are led in by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and left wing Kyle Connor. Boucher’s
Who will win the goal-scoring competition?
Auston Matthews, with 59 goals, is my pick to win the goal-scoring crown. However, I believe Alex Ovechkin will maintain his current pace and score more than 50 points for the seventh time in his career. Boucher’s
Alex Ovechkin is my selection for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer. Ferraro’s words
Without a doubt, Alex Ovechkin will continue to be a force in the second half. For weeks, he has been pacing — or almost pace — all league scores. However, in the last month, there has been some genuine rivalry in the goal-scoring battle. Matthews, the reigning Richard Trophy winner, is gaining traction, Chris Kreider continues to shine, and there are other up-and-comers in the Western Conference biting at Ovechkin’s heels as well.
It’ll be thrilling, but I don’t believe Ovi will be crowned champion this season. Shilton’s words
Bruce Boudreau is the winner of the Jack Adams Award.
Yes, this is reliant on the Vancouver Canucks reaching the stanley cup playoffs which Money Puck estimates they have a 14% probability of achieving. But do you believe all of California’s clubs will finish in the top four spots in the playoffs? Do you believe the Calgary Flames will be able to find the consistency they need to make the playoffs? Do you have confidence in the Edmonton Oilers? I mean, at all?
Boudreau will be the coach of the year if the Canucks reach the playoffs. He previously earned the award in 2007-08 for leading the Washington Capitals to the playoffs in 61 games; at the conclusion of the season, he’ll have guided 57 of them with Vancouver. The broadcasters that vote for this prize are enamored with him.
So, let’s make a bold prediction: The Canucks rally for a playoff berth, and Bruce Boudreau gets all the credit for his regular-season wizardry. Then they lose in Game 7 of the first round, which, considering Boudreau’s track record, isn’t such a wild forecast. Wyshynski (Wyshynski)
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