October 13 — Bold Predictions & a Heated Hart Debate

M-M-MISSING IN ACTION: Toronto is already without Auston Matthews (wrist) and Ilya Mikheyev (thumb) for Wednesday’s home opener against the Montreal Canadiens, and now the Maple Leafs await an update on the status of Mitch Marner. Marner was shaken up after a collision with teammate Wayne Simmonds during practice on Tuesday. It’s been a rough stretch for Leafs with “M” surnames. Lookout, Jake Muzzin and Petr Mrázek!

SIGNED SEALED DELIVERED: Brian Boyle battled his way back into the NHL and made a triumphant debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins. On Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that Boyle signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh and hours later was swarmed by teammates celebrating his first goal as a Penguin. On behalf of everyone: #BoyleStrong.

BANNER DAY BLUES: What started as a joyous day for the Tampa Bay Lightning ended in sorrow, as the Penguins handed Tampa its first home-opening loss in 10 years. Eight different players scored in a game that saw Pittsburgh skate away with a 6-2 victory.

MAX EFFORT: Max Pacioretty recorded two goals and an assist, while Mark Stone added three assists during the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-3 victory over the Seattle Kraken. Ryan Donato scored the inaugural goal for the Kraken 11:32 into the second period, forever solidifying his place in history as a trivia answer.

The Vegas Blueprint

Is comparing the Seattle Kraken’s expansion season to the Vegas Golden Knights’ unprecedented first-year success a journalistic crutch tied conveniently to the fact that the two teams opened the season against each other? Maybe, but the comparison is nonetheless hard to avoid. It also might prove at least partially true.

No, we’re not predicting a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the Kraken, but a team built around a core foundation of Philipp Grubauer, Mark Giordano, Jordan Eberle, and some promising depth brings to mind those precedent-setting Golden Knights from four years ago. Here are four ways that Seattle could follow in those massive Vegas footprints:

Set in Net

Philipp Grubauer, then of the Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marc-André Fleury’s incredible run in Vegas culminated with a Vezina Trophy last year, but let’s not forget that Grubauer—then of the Colorado Avalanche—was a pretty worthy finalist. While lacking Fleury’s star power, Grubauer was still a monumental free-agent signing for the Kraken.

Stability Down the Middle

Seattle center Jared McCann (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

For Vegas, starting its existence with William Karlsson, Erik Haula, and Cody Eakin down the middle proved effective. Seattle’s group, featuring Yanni Gourde, Alex Wennberg, Jared McCann, and Morgan Geekie, might actually be better, even if no one matches Karlsson’s 43 goals.

An Easy Path

NHL Pacific Division (The Hockey Writers)

If we’re being honest, Vegas took advantage of a pretty weak Pacific Division during its fairy tale expansion run, emerging atop a group that included four of the five worst Western Conference teams. Similarly, Seattle debuts in a Pacific where only two of its seven rivals reached the postseason last year.

“Under the Radar” Finds

Morgan Geekie of the Seattle Kraken (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Obviously, no one fully knew what the Golden Knights had in the likes of Karlsson, Haula, and Colin Miller, all of whom promptly reeled off career years. However, the Kraken could be in the same boat. While it’s impossible to tell where those unlikely contributions will come from, players like Wennberg, Geekie, and Mason Appleton look like potential diamonds in the rough.

Bold Predictions: 2021-22 NHL Season

The season officially began last night, and it was honestly everything we could have hoped for, including Pittsburgh spoiling Tampa’s banner night without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice. We have seen plenty of team previews and reasonable predictions roll out the past week, but what’s the fun in that? I decided to make bold fearless predictions for this upcoming season, and before you ask, I was not a guest on Howlers & Growlers while creating this masterpiece. Tweet us using #THWMorningSkate and let us know your craziest prediction for the 2021-22 season.

Ottawa Senators Make Stanley Cup Playoffs

Let’s start this list with a bang. The Senators are currently without star Brady Tkachuk, which will cause some early issues for the club, but they will bounce back in a big way. Expect a dramatic climb into a playoff spot kicking out either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs. Yeah, I said what I said.

Seth Jones Wins Norris Trophy

There will be a lot of pressure for Jones to perform after signing an eight-year, $76 million contract extension with the Blackhawks. At 27 years old, he is playing in his prime, and a change of scenery is just what he needed. Jones will beat out both Darnell Nurse and Dougie Hamilton to take home the award.

Seattle Finishes First in Pacific Division

Maybe it’s inaugural luck or maybe it’s the defensive core, but Seattle will finish at the top of the Pacific Division. No one expects this team to recreate the magic that Vegas had in 2017-18, but Seattle will embrace its underdog stereotype and will find its groove by mid-November. Once Seattle gets going, everyone will fear the Kraken. Opponents beware: don’t forget to bring your jar of dirt to Climate Pledge Arena.

Edmonton Oilers Make Western Conference Final

For too long, Connor McDavid has sat on the sidelines watching others advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That will end this season as he carries his team deep into the postseason. Leon Draisaitl will pull his weight by leading the team in goals, while Duncan Keith’s career is revived in Edmonton. This will either come to fruition or we will wake up from a nap realizing it was a dream and McDavid has actually requested a trade. Only time will tell.

MSk8 Debate 💬

As we head into the regular season, our crew at the Morning Skate will give our predictions for the 2021-22 NHL season. Today’s debate: Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy?

BF: I see a “Mac” winning the Hart, but maybe not the one you’re thinking of. Though currently sidelined with COVID-19, Nathan MacKinnon will come back in a big way and win MVP honors after being named a finalist in three of the past four seasons. Having just turned 26 and starring on one of the league’s top teams, the Colorado Avalanche franchise centre is expected to once again anchor a potent line featuring Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

KF: My initial thought was MacKinnon, which would lead me to say: please see above. For the sake of this debate, I will go in a different direction and select sniper Leon Draisaitl. He won the Hart Trophy in 2020, and the circumstances for why he won remain the same. As long as he shares any amount of ice time with McDavid, he will be back in the discussion. It’s as simple as 2 + 2 = 4 and Draisaitl + McDavid = Hart Trophy.

JJ: There is no world where Connor McDavid does not win the Hart Trophy, as he has continued to get better in each of his first six seasons. He is a two-time recipient of the award, and there is no reason to assume that he has finished being the best player in the league. Having Zack Hyman dig the puck out of the corners will create more space for McDavid, and he is still going to improve off his 1.87 points per game.

KK: Although I agree with Jordan that McDavid is in a league of his own, in honor of Kristy’s bold predictions above, I’m going to make one of my own. With the Hart Trophy awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team,” I’m going with Aleksander Barkov from the Florida Panthers as my candidate. Barkov finished sixth in the Hart voting last season and is equipped with more weapons on an up-and-coming Panthers team heading into a full 82-game season.

VERDICT: Does McDavid have what it takes to win his third Hart Trophy? Agree or disagree with our choices? Sound off on Twitter using #MSk8Debate or join the discussion on Discord.