Predicting the 2015-16 NHL season

Hey, a second straight predictions post! ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

After laying out my MLB playoff predictions — through one wild-card game, I’m already wrong — I’ll take a stab at forecasting the upcoming NHL season, which begins Wednesday.

Below are the teams I like (in no particular order) to reach the playoffs this season, followed by Stanley Cup and award predictions. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Eastern Conference playoff teams: Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens. Quick hits:

A return trip to the Cup finals is within reach for Tampa Bay. … Washington always seems to underachieve, but this could be a breakthrough season. … Henrik Lundqvist always makes the Rangers a contender. … Young Islanders star John Tavares could win the Hart Trophy this season. … Any team that has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is a threat. … The Blue Jackets are a popular choice as a surprise team, and for good reason. … Death, taxes, and the Red Wings in the playoffs. … I expect Montreal to slip a bit, but not out of the playoff picture.

Western Conference playoff teams: Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks. Quick hits:

The defending champions certainly lost some key pieces, but enough talent remains for another deep playoff run. … The Ducks are one of the favorites this season. …. Young Blues standout Vladimir Tarasenko is simply nasty. … The Kings will be motivated after narrowly missing last year’s postseason. … I like Calgary’s team-first culture. … I see many outlets predicting a step back for the Jets, but I still think they’ll contend. … Nashville flies under the radar quite often, but they should compete in the West. … Minnesota should be in the mix, but I give the nod to Vancouver.

Stanley Cup prediction: Lightning over Blues. Tampa Bay was supposedly overmatched in last season’s Stanley Cup finals against Chicago, yet the series still went six games. With a healthy Ben Bishop in goal, and the continued improvement of young stars Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay is locked and loaded for another deep run. St. Louis has been eliminated in the first round each of the last two seasons, but I see a breakthrough this season behind Tarasenko and a deep, talented roster.

Award predictions:

  • Hart (MVP): Steven Stamkos, Lightning
  • Art Ross (Top scorer): John Tavares, Islanders
  • Norris (Top defenseman): Victor Hedman, Lightning
  • Vezina (Top goalie): Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
  • Calder (Top rookie): Connor McDavid, Oilers
  • Jack Adams (Top coach): Todd Richards, Blue Jackets