Let’s get the first unofficial prediction out of the way: There will be a 2013 NHL season. There will be a new CBA. This stupid, stupid lockout will give way to a truncated campaign … even if many fans don’t come back to the League to watch it.
That established, what else can we anticipate from 2013? Here are 10 predictions:
1. Realignment Adopted, and the Playoffs Will Rule
The NHL will realign for the 2013-14 season, using the four-conference format that was adopted by the Board of Governors in 2011 before it was spiked by the NHLPA. In the short term, a return to divisional playoffs will produce some amazing drama. In the long term … we’ll probably get sick of it.
2. Alex Ovechkin Becomes Alex Ovechkin Again
Ovechkin scored 38 goals last season; but when you averaged 54 goals annually in your first five seasons, it comes off as underwhelming. With Adam Oates in as the Washington Capitals’ new head coach, the team’s power play (16.7 percent last season) should improve. Ovechkin’s numbers will improve along with it: He’ll crack 40 goals again thanks to a goal surge on the man advantage. Oates will figure out how to utilize him.
3. The Oil and Water Yakupov Stories Begin
Nail Yakupov is a boundlessly talented player. He’s also outspoken and swaggery. How will he fit with the established young core of the Edmonton Oilers? Bigger question: How long will it take for the Edmonton media to start with the personality clashes and divided locker room stories?
4. Teemu Plays Two
Our favorite Finnish star comes back for the shortened season … and then one more full 82-game swan song in 2013-14, before finally retiring. Teemu Selanne, 700 goals? Perhaps.
5. Roberto Luongo Joins the Leafs; the Leafs make the playoffs
Everything we’ve heard indicates that Luongo will be joining the Toronto Maple Leafs via trade once the lockout ends, with a package including Tyler Bozak headed to the Vancouver Canucks. So that’s not exactly a bold prediction. So let’s get bold: The Leafs make the playoffs in a shortened season with Luongo between the pipes. He’ll bring the team’s second-to-worst GAA (3.12) back to respectability. And he’ll save Brian Burke’s job.
6. Ryan Suter Thrives, Shea Weber Struggles
There’s some logic here. Suter’s Minnesota Wild are a team that’s trying to establish success, while Weber’s trying to maintain excellence with the Nashville Predators. Both have huge contracts, but there’s no question the nature of Weber’s near-departure puts a shade more pressure on him next season – while Suter will play in the shadow of Zach Parise’s expectations. Expect Suter to have a solid, unspectacular season; expect any of Weber’s struggles to be magnified thanks to that contract and the Predators’ established success.
7. Power Plays on Steroids
The NHL is going to try and juice scoring with some rules changes, presumably for the 2013-14 season. The “ringette” line concept, which would force teams to advance the puck out of their zone rather than fire passed over the red line, is one option. But we think the NHL might opt to make power plays more potent. In a perfect world, that means “2-minute majors” during which teams can score multiple times. But more likely, it’ll mean forcing penalty killers to skate the puck out of the zone rather than dumping it. Which could mean “icing on the penalty kill”, which is a whole different bag of donuts.
8. A Former NHL Player Comes Out
Patrick Burke’s “You Can Play” project – “ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation” – has put a spotlight on how gay players are treated in hockey. More to the point: It’s revealed levels of compassion and understanding in the NHL that may have been previously undetected. It’s probably still not time for an active player to come out; but given the campaign’s success and the cultural vibe on LGBT rights, it wouldn’t shock us to see a former NHL player come out – and make an impact.
9. No. 9 Seed Wins the Draft Lottery
The NHL seems hell-bent on revamping the draft lottery in the next CBA, going to an NBA-style format in which any team can capture the top pick. Like back in 1993, when the Orlando Magic had only one chance to win the lottery (out of 66) and did just that, drafting and trading Chris Weber. So how wonderful would it be to see a No. 9 seed in the NHL – a team that, say, missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker or something – win the first new lottery and freak out all the conspiracy theorists? And by that we mean: Which one of Gary Bettman’s supporters will have the lottery fixed for them so they can grab Nathan MacKinnon?
10. The New York Rangers Win The 2013 Stanley Cup
They were the bridesmaids in the conference last season. They bring back an incredible assemblage of talent, from the scorers to the grinders to the back line. If his groin isn’t wonky, Rick Nash will be a juggernaut with Brad Richards. As long as Henrik Lundqvist can reach the finish line – he’s gotten progressively more porous as the playoffs advance – the Rangers are the team the beat in the East. Plus, the idea that they’d win the Cup in a lockout-shortened season is a level of delicious irony that this Devils fan can’t wait to see play out. Asterisk!