PHT’s Season Preview: 30 questions, 180 answers

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We made a list of 30 questions ahead of the 2016-17 NHL season, then we tried to answer those questions. Enjoy:

1. Of all the teams that missed the playoffs last season, the most likely to make the playoffs this season is…

Jason Brough: Winnipeg. The Jets made the right choice by waiving Ondrej Pavelec. You worry about their structure and discipline, but there’s enough young talent on that roster, led by Mark Scheifele.

Adam Gretz: I will say Carolina, because I always say Carolina. I love their defense and eventually they have to get goaltending that is good enough to get them in. That has to happen at some point, right?

Joey Alfieri: Montreal. Carey Price‘s knee has held up through the World Cup and one preseason game and if he can stay relatively healthy this year, the Canadiens will return to the postseason.

James O’Brien: The Bruins’ long-term outlook is troubling, but they have the goods to make that small step back into the playoffs. They only missed last season in a tiebreaker, after all.

Cam Tucker: I want to say the Carolina Hurricanes. But I’ll go with the Boston Bruins. Mainly because I don’t see the Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs.

Mike Halford: Montreal. A healthy Price doesn’t just get them back into the postseason, it makes them a contender to come out of the East.

2. Of all the teams that made the playoffs last season, the most likely to miss the playoffs is…

Brough: Minnesota. The Wild’s core is getting old, and there’s not enough youth to stem the decline. Signing Eric Staal and making him the No. 1 center was an act of sheer desperation.

Gretz: Detroit. Another core player (Pavel Datsyuk) is gone, another one (Henrik Zetterberg) is another year older, and I still don’t trust their defense.

Alfieri: Minnesota. I’m with Jason on this one. That’s an old team and they didn’t do much to get younger or faster this offseason. I like the Bruce Boudreau hire, but it won’t be enough.

O’Brien: Philadelphia. Ron Hextall knows what he’s doing, but the good stuff won’t really come until after 2016-17 when cap space really clears up. Expect some growing pains in the meantime.

Tucker: Detroit’s streak of 25 consecutive post-season appearances is great, but they were underwhelming last year. No Datsyuk now. Henrik Zetterberg is a year older. Feels like the end of an era.

Halford: The Red Wings, who are in serious trouble. They did nothing to upgrade their aging blue line, and now both Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are banged up.

3. One team that isn’t getting enough respect is…

Brough: Vancouver. The Canucks probably won’t make the playoffs, but they won’t finish dead last with 65 points either.

Gretz: Probably Montreal. I hate what they did over the summer and I hate the way they play, but a healthy Carey Price is going to make a big difference.

Alfieri: Florida. They have a great bunch of young players that will be looking to take the next step. For a team that finished at the top of the Atlantic division, no one is talking about them as serious contenders.

O’Brien: Los Angeles. The Kings remain possession demigods, their important defensemen are in their primes and Anze Kopitar is beyond legit. Their championship window is open.

Tucker: The Hurricanes. Lots of young, talented players. Good puck possession team. I think they’re capable of surprising some teams in the East this season.

Halford: Carolina. I love everything Ron Francis has done there… aside from the goaltending.

4. One team that’s getting too much respect is…

Brough: Florida. It’s funny, last year, I picked the Panthers as the team that wasn’t getting enough respect. I still like what they’re doing, but they haven’t won a playoff round yet. Let’s just hold our horses on these guys. (I obviously disagree with Joey that they’re not getting enough love.)

Gretz: I’ll say Los Angeles. Still a good team, but they have a lot of core guys that are starting to get older and I have doubts about their ability to consistently score enough.

Alfieri: Chicago. Before you throw stones at me, hear me out. Yes, Toews, Kane, Panarin and Keith are still around, but the supporting cast has taken a hit over the last few off-seasons. I’m not suggesting they’ll miss the playoffs, but maybe they aren’t as elite as some people think.

O’Brien: Last year, people overlooked the Sharks too much. This time around, are red flags being ignored? Because yikes, that core is scary old.

Tucker: The Kings. Didn’t make the playoffs in 2015, got eliminated in the first round in 2016. I think they’re a playoff team. Just not the juggernaut they used to be.

Halford: Dallas. Absolutely decimated by injury right now, and a major candidate for a slow start. Also, that “who’s your starting goalie?” question isn’t going away, much to Lindy Ruff’s chagrin.

5. The worst team in the NHL will be…

Brough: Columbus. The Jackets were terrible last year, and they haven’t made many changes. I like their young blue line, and I do think there’s hope for this club. But Sergei Bobrovsky will need to be really, really good if they have any hope this year.

Gretz: Columbus. And it doesn’t look very promising long-term, either.

Alfieri: Not to be redundant, but I think it has to be Columbus. They have a few nice pieces, but that roster simply isn’t good enough right now.

O’Brien: John Chayka is working magic in Arizona, but the current roster looks weaker than that “hide the coin” trick.

Tucker: The Canucks. And they’ll pick No. 2 overall in the draft, missing out on the one guy they really need, Nolan Patrick, because they’re the Canucks.

Halford: Columbus. I’m not making the same mistake as last year. John Tortorella is gonna run this team into the ground.

6. The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs 25 straight seasons. Will they keep the streak alive?

Brough: No, I think this is the year it ends. Frans Nielsen can probably replace last year’s version of Pavel Datsyuk, but that blue line just isn’t good enough.

Gretz: As I mentioned above, no. The Red Wings have been flirting with this for a couple of years now and I think this is the year it happens.

Alfieri: Nope. Datsyuk is gone, Zetterberg’s production has dipped and that group of defensemen isn’t good enough in today’s NHL.

O’Brien: Yes, on the strength of their young forwards and Petr Mrazek. But it won’t be pretty with that sketchy defense. Missing the playoffs might be better for Detroit, actually.

Tucker: No. They’re on the decline, and there are other teams in the East on the rise.

Halford: No, and an aside — how weird will it be to see the Red Wings in the draft lottery?

7. The Edmonton Oilers have missed the playoffs 10 straight seasons. Will they miss them again?

Brough: Yes. The Oilers are still too thin on defense. They should be better than last season, but I’ve said that before and regretted it.

Gretz: Yes, but a full season of Connor McDavid is going to get them a little bit closer.

Alfieri: No. The Oilers will shock everyone this year and sneak into the playoffs. They still have some deficiencies on the blue line, but I think McDavid (and the depth up front) will carry this team into this postseason this year.

O’Brien: Yes. With the Oilers, let’s just assume they’ll fail until they prove otherwise.

Tucker: Yes. But I think they will be in a fight for a wild-card spot right up until the final few games of the season.

Halford: Yes. They’re going to be exactly like Team North America at the World Cup — tons of fun, great to watch, but goaltending and defensive lapses will keep ’em out.

8. Will the Washington Capitals finally get past the second round of the playoffs?

Brough: No. I picked them to win the Cup last year and they let me down. My answer is out of spite.

Gretz: I am going to say yes. They will probably have to get through Pittsburgh to do it, and that almost certainly sends Capitals fans into a panic, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Washington could win a best-of-seven there. We were an overtime Game 6 from getting a winner-take-all game last year.

Alfieri: Yes. The Capitals continue to disappoint every spring, but this is the year they get it done. Don’t ask me why, they just do.

O’Brien: Yes, this Capitals team is seriously stacked. That forward group is extra-frightening.

Tucker: Yes. #CapsThirdRound2017. I know. Worst hashtag ever. But still, the Capitals have plenty of talent and it will happen.

Halford: Yes. My answer is out of spite for Brough.

9. Assuming Sidney Crosby will be healthy for the playoffs, how confident are you that the Pittsburgh Penguins could repeat as Stanley Cup champs?

Brough: Surprisingly confident, considering there hasn’t been a repeat champ in almost two decades. I still can’t believe how easily the Pens handled the Sharks. The series went six games, but it wasn’t even close.

Gretz: Not very. It’s not that I don’t think they are good enough, I am just going based on history and logic here. There is a reason nobody has done it in nearly 20 years. They will still be one of the top teams in the league, but a lot has to go your way to win it once. Even more has to go your way to win it two years in a row.

Alfieri: I’m not confident. There’s depth up front and depth in goal, but a lot of what they do hinges on Kris Letang. Can he stay healthy after a short summer?

O’Brien: I’m confident that the Penguins are for real, but I’d still go with “the field” over Pittsburgh. So, technically: not confident. Technically.

Tucker: Well, I’ve got the Capitals going beyond the second round, so not very confident I guess.

Halford: Not very. They’re in a three-way race with the Caps and Bolts to come out of the East. (Four if you count Montreal, which I have). So I’m 25 to 33.3 percent confident.

10. The biggest wildcard team (i.e. could be decent, could be a disaster) is…

Brough: Anaheim. The Ducks have the talent. But an aging core full of strong personalities, with Randy Carlyle as the coach? Yeah, I could see that going sideways.

Gretz: Montreal. Carey Price could put the team on his back and Shea Weber could score 25 goals. Or the house of cards collapses again and Therrien gets fired in a month. Then there is Alexander Radulov and where he fits and what he can still do. So many amazing things can happen here and it can all go in any direction at any time. My eyes are glued to them.

Alfieri: It has to be Montreal. I think they’ll be fine, but there’s no team that’s more of a wildcard than the Canadiens. If Carey Price goes down again, forget about it.

O’Brien: Colorado is a tough nut to crack. Sure, there’s talent on paper, but what if those horrific possession stats weren’t all Patrick Roy’s fault? Then again, what if it WAS all Roy’s fault?

Tucker: Hurricanes. They’ve got plenty of good young players and I think they could push for a wild card in the East. Depends on the goaltending duo of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, so…?

Halford: Winnipeg. The Jets are absolutely loaded with talent, speed, youth, etc. etc. So much relies on their goaltending, though, which is why they’re the ultimate wildcard.

11. What is the most dangerous assumption that you’ve seen people making?

Brough: That the Blackhawks will be fine, just because they’re the Blackhawks. There are so many wild cards in that forward group. There was a reason Stan Bowman kicked the tires on Nail Yakupov.

Gretz: That all of Philadelphia’s young defensemen are going to pan out exactly as planned. Things almost never work out that well with prospects. One will probably be as good as expected (or better), one will probably be decent, another will probably be a bust. We’ll just have to wait to find out who does what.

Alfieri: That Henrik Lundqvist will be able to keep the Rangers competitive. Lundqvist is still great, but he’s getting older, and have you seen the group of defensemen in front of him? Marc Staal and Dan Girardi aren’t getting any quicker.

O’Brien: That Carey Price will be Carey Price. So far so good, mind you, but it’s dangerous to assume that a player can seamlessly return from an injury (even a superstar like Carey Price).

Tucker: When it comes to the Panthers, I’m guilty of thinking they’re a Stanley Cup contender this year. Plenty to get excited about with this team. They’re going in the right direction. But they may still be a year or two away from being a conference champion.

Halford: That the Stars won’t miss Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers on the back end. Those guys played big minutes for them last year, and Dan Hamhuis isn’t so young anymore.

12. The team that should be most worried about its goaltending is…

Brough: Still the Dallas Stars, just like last year. Jim Nill has done everything well there, except that.

Gretz: Carolina. They are still sticking with Cam Ward, who has been below average for a few years now, and I don’t think Eddie Lack was quite as good as they hoped he would be last season.

Alfieri: Dallas. All the other pieces are in place for them to be legit cup contenders, but their goalie situation is holding them back.

O’Brien: Nashville. In three of the past four seasons, Pekka Rinne put up backup-type numbers. That won’t fly if the Predators want to make that next step.

Tucker: The Ducks. John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier? Could be a challenge.

Halford: Dallas, but you can write any story you want.

13. The player with the most to prove is…

Brough: Eric Staal. See my answer to No. 2.

Gretz: Whoever is standing in the crease for the Dallas Stars on any given night. Everything about that team is Stanley Cup ready. Except for the goalies.

Alfieri: Alexander Radulov. There’s no doubt that the talent is there, but we’ll see how much his attitude has changed. He’s saying all the right things for now, but what happens when the going gets tough.

O’Brien: Frederik Andersen. Toronto is tough on goalies, and the Maple Leafs handed him $25 million before he even played a game for them. Hot take: that situation could really go sour.

Tucker: P.K. Subban. Most were highly critical of Habs GM Marc Bergevin for making that trade. Subban even said this trade was more about personality than hockey. The Preds started right away in marketing him to their fans. He’s in a new, enthusiastic market with a team that should content in the West.

Halford: Nail Yakupov. Easiest answer of the bunch.

14. A young player (not a rookie) who really needs to take the next step is…

Brough: Robby Fabbri in St. Louis. After losing David Backes and Troy Brouwer, the Blues will need Fabbri to build on his impressive rookie season.

Gretz: Derrick Pouliot in Pittsburgh. A top-10 pick that is supposed to be a top-pairing defensemen should have probably already taken that next step by this point in his career.

Alfieri: I’ll go with Nathan Beaulieu. You may have heard that the Canadiens traded P.K. Subban away this summer. They’ll need a mobile guy (he’s also a former first round pick) to eat a lot more minutes this season.

O’Brien: How much better will the Sabres be? Robin Lehner‘s play will likely answer that question. Contract year pressures bring it up a notch, too.

Tucker: Jonathan Drouin. He was productive in the playoffs, salvaging his 2015-16 season after all the speculation — following his public trade request — about his future with the Lightning. Only eight goals and 42 points in 91 regular season games, though. Think he’s capable of far more.

Halford: John Gibson. So much of Anaheim’s season is riding on the guy. And it’s a huge season for the Ducks.

15. A rookie (not Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, or Jesse Puljujarvi) who could win the Calder Trophy is…

Brough: William Nylander in Toronto. He tore it up in the AHL, and you know he’ll get plenty of publicity playing for the Leafs.

Gretz: Dylan Strome in Arizona. His numbers in the OHL were consistently ridiculous and he is probably the best of the already impressive young core in Arizona.

Alfieri: Zach Werenski. As some of us mentioned above, the Jackets aren’t very good, which means their talented young d-man should get plenty of ice time this season.

O’Brien: Matt Murray. His injury and Marc-Andre Fleury makes this risky, but his talent and the team in front of him could make for great numbers.

Tucker: Sebastian Aho. Productive 2015-16 Finnish league season with 45 points in 45 games. May not be able to fly under the radar for very long in Carolina.

Halford: Jimmy Vesey, at the ripe ol’ age of 23. Like last year’s winner, Artemi Panarin, he’s older and more experienced than the field. Should prove beneficial.

16. The best free-agent addition will be…

Brough: Brian Campbell in Chicago. I no longer worry about the Blackhawks’ defense. (The forwards, as mentioned, are a different story.)

Gretz: Keith Yandle in Florida. They gave him a ton of money, but he is one of the most productive defensemen in the entire league, and has been for quite some time. He is going to be a great fit for a team that needs more offense from its blue line.

Alfieri: Andrew Ladd. I don’t love this contract long-term, but with Okposo gone, he’ll have a great chance to produce in Brooklyn.

O’Brien: Jiri Hudler. The Stars paid just $2 million to land a forward who scored 76 points in 2014-15. Much like with Campbell, it almost feels like cheating.

Tucker: Dale Weise! No…seriously, Kyle Okposo. Proven scorer from the Islanders. Wonder what he can do playing alongside someone like Ryan O’Reilly or Jack Eichel.

Halford: Loui Eriksson. The Canucks won’t be good, but he’ll make an impact, either on the top line with fellow Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin, or by giving Vancouver’s second line a boost.

17. The pending UFA you’re most curious about is…

Brough: Brent Burns is the big one, but I think he’ll re-sign. I’m curious to see where Ben Bishop goes, because there’s no room in Tampa Bay to keep him.

Gretz: Burns’ teammate, Joe Thornton. How much longer does he want to keep playing? Will he finish his career as a Shark? What would he get on the open market as a 38-year-old? He will still probably be a top-10 player in the league.

Alfieri: Kevin Shattenkirk. Multiple teams were interested in trading for Shattenkirk this summer, but it sounds like the price was pretty steep. With Vladimir Tarasenko and Paul Stastny making $7-plus million and Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester signed long-term, will the Blues be able to lock up Shattenkirk, do they deal him or do they let him walk in July?

O’Brien: Ben Bishop’s been great in Tampa Bay, looking sharp in the playoffs and landing two Vezina nominations. He’s likely out of town at some point, so who gets a potential franchise goalie?

Tucker: Newly signed Kris Russell. What will the Oilers do if they’re out of it by the deadline and another team needs a defenseman? Or, could he turn his one-year contract into something more long-term?

Halford: Did Tucker really say Kris Russell? Anyway, definitely Bishop.

18. One big-name player who will get traded mid-season is… 

Brough: Martin Hanzal from Arizona. He’s a pending UFA, and the Coyotes are long shots to make the playoffs.

Gretz: Ben Bishop. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the future, I can’t see Tampa Bay wanting to lose an asset like Bishop for nothing, and somebody like Dallas is going to need him.

Alfieri: Patrick Marleau. This is the year it finally happens. After years of speculation, the Sharks will unload the pending UFA.

O’Brien: Kevin Shattenkirk. Someone else might recognize the value seemingly downplayed by the Blues.

Tucker: My original answer was going to be Nail Yakupov. Timing is everything. I’ll say … Ryan Miller? Maybe a contending team suddenly needs a goalie around the trade deadline, and he’s a pending UFA? Hey, it worked out great for the Blues! I’d like to change my answer to Bishop.

Halford: Jarome Iginla, once Colorado falls out of the race. It’ll be the 2013 trade deadline all over again. CONFIRMED!

19. In terms of this season ALONE, which team will win the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade?

Brough: The Predators. Subban is a perfect fit for Peter Laviolette’s system, and he’s already a hit with the fans. Weber, meanwhile, is a great warrior, but there are a lot of hard miles on that 31-year-old body.

Gretz: The Predators. Nashville has the best defensive situation (talent, salary cap, age) in the league and I think we are going to see Subban’s game reach a level we have never seen before.

Alfieri: Give me Nashville. Subban will thrive now that he’s away from ultra conservative coach Michel Therrien.

O’Brien: Predators. The real question is: will Subban score more points than Erik Karlsson?

Tucker: I see a trend happening here. So I’ll say Montreal. Shea Weber’s slap shot ripped a hole in the net during the 2010 Olympics.

Halford: Nashville. I don’t want to say Shea Weber is done — far from it — but he’s definitely on the back nine of his career. Are we all forgetting how bad he was in Game 7 against San Jose?

20. Connor McDavid versus Sidney Crosby – once again assuming Crosby will be healthy, who will finish with more points?

Brough: I’ll take McDavid. And you know why? Because Crosby had the most points of his career (120) in his second season.

Gretz: Crosby. They will end up No. 1 and 2 in the Art Ross race.

Alfieri: Crosby. McDavid might be the next great superstar, but when Crosby got hot last season there was no stopping him.

O’Brien: McDavid. I have a weird feeling that Crosby deals with nagging injuries while Connor gets the health luck he lacked last season.

Tucker: Sidney Crosby. But not by much. Let’s just hope both remain healthy for the entire season.

Halford: Patrick Kane.

21. The first head coach to be fired will be…

Brough: For the record, I always get this wrong. So congratulations, Michel Therrien, I pick you.

Gretz: The John Tortorella era in Columbus was fun.

Alfieri: Like Adam, I think Tortorella gets the boot in Columbus.

O’Brien: Canucks management could make Willie Desjardins the fall guy for a slow start. Don’t forget, Travis Green is down in Utica.

Tucker: Willie Desjardins. He’s been on the hot seat for a while. If the Canucks start poorly, it’s difficult to justify to the fan base that Desjardins should stick around.

Halford: Claude Julien. Suffice to say I don’t have the highest of hopes for Boston this year.

22. The NHL general manager on the hottest seat is…

Brough: Chuck Fletcher in Minnesota. He’s spent a lot of his owner’s money, and Bruce Boudreau is his third head coach. The Wild have only won two playoff series since Fletcher came aboard in 2009.

Gretz: Marc Bergevin. You don’t preside over the biggest collapse in the history of the Montreal Canadiens and then respond by trading the face of the franchise without sitting on a seat that is at least a little bit warm.

Alfieri: I’m going with Fletcher as well. He hasn’t done much to make that team better over the last few years. He better hope Boudreau can figure this thing out.

O’Brien: Jarmo Kekalainen is basically Fletcher if his expensive teams didn’t even make the playoffs.

Tucker: Marc Bergevin. I feel like I’m going to have a Frank Costanza moment here (skip ahead to the 0:14 mark of the clip).

Halford: Bob Murray. He’s got some onerous contracts, the team is getting old, the pressure is on and I feel like the Randy Carlyle re-hire could be a disaster.

23. The Canadian team with the best chance to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since 1993 is…

Brough: I’m tempted to say Montreal with a healthy Carey Price. But that’s too easy, so I’ll say Winnipeg, with Connor Hellebuyck playing the role of Matt Murray. (P.S. — I don’t think this is the year Canada’s drought will end.)

Gretz: Toronto. I know. That is crazy. But it’s mainly because out of all of the teams in Canada I can at least reasonably figure out what the Maple Leafs’ long-term plan is. And it might eventually work. This is also another way of saying all of the Canadian teams are very far away from winning the Stanley Cup.

Alfieri: I guess it has to be Montreal, but let’s be real here…no Canadian team is winning the Stanley Cup this year.

O’Brien: Yikes, Montreal I guess. Get it together, gang.

Tucker: The Canadiens. Carey Price is already a great goalie, but he will morph into a brick wall — like, an actual brick wall the size of the net — and that’s how it will be done.

Halford: Montreal by default. I actually think the Habs will be pretty good —  healthy Price, way tougher and nastier to play against — but even if they’re just OK, they’re still the best of the lot. Woe Canada.

24. Will NHL players participate in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea?

Brough: I’ll say yes, with 60 percent confidence. If they were so dead set against it, they wouldn’t even be trying to get the IOC to cover the costs.

Gretz: Definitely. It seems like we go through this will-they-or-won’t-they situation every four years and until they don’t actually go, I am convinced they will find a way to make it work.

Alfieri: I think they’re going, but who knows? Hockey fans will riot if they don’t. (Or maybe they won’t, who knows?)

O’Brien: I’m saying no in hopes of reverse-jinxing the league into doing the right thing. Wait, does that nullify the reverse-jinx? This is hard.

Tucker: Yes. You can showcase your best players to a completely different part of the world, a completely different market. Be foolish not to.

Halford: They’ll go. The players want it too much.

25. I’ll be a happy hockey fan if…

Brough: The league admits it’s become too hard to score goals. Because admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Gretz: Sort of related to Jason’s answer, but if we, as a hockey-watching community, can finally accept that even the best players will at some point go a long time (8-10 games) without scoring a goal and not freak out every time they do.

Alfieri: Just give me more goals and I’ll be happy. I don’t need every game to end 6-4, but just more goals overall, please.

O’Brien: More teams follow the lead of the exciting, aggressive Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tucker: Alex Ovechkin wins the Stanley Cup. One less narrative to worry about.

Halford: St. Louis wins one for the Gipper and makes a playoff run for Ken Hitchcock. I like Hitch. I’ll miss his sweet HOCKEY sweater.

26. I’ll be a sad hockey fan if…

Brough: The Arizona Coyotes don’t announce an arena deal soon. It’s the story that never ends. I want it to end!

Gretz: This turns out to be Jaromir Jagr‘s last season in the NHL.

Alfieri: The NHL announces that it won’t go to the Olympics.

O’Brien: We never progress beyond an era of 60-point seasons being (accurately) labeled as really good.

Tucker: Every Canadian team is shut out of the playoffs. Again. One more narrative to worry about.

Halford: Sidney Crosby’s season is derailed by this concussion. Would be awful.

27. What is an under-the-radar story that you’ll be following even if most people aren’t?

Brough: The Ottawa Senators are the definition of under the radar, but I’m very curious to see how they do, especially with Guy Boucher behind the bench. If the Sens were in a big market, they’d be a far more popular soap opera.

Gretz: Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we kind of forgot about Taylor Hall being in New Jersey. He is one of the elite players at his position and gives the Devils exactly what they need.

Alfieri: I’ll play off what Adam said. I’m really curious to see what Adam Larsson does in Edmonton. Most of the fans believe the Oilers got fleeced in that deal.

O’Brien: Liberals vs. conservatives, hockey edition. Will teams drift more toward “new” ways of thinking or will the grit-minded types win out?

Tucker: Auston Matthews in his first season in Toronto. Just kidding. The play of the Colorado Avalanche under new coach Jared Bednar. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Patrick Roy, obviously. But he’s done some very good things coaching in the minors.

Halford: The Islanders potentially leaving Brooklyn. Heck, the Islanders in general. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin all gone. Three-headed goalie monster. Plenty of storylines in play.

28. Last season, you were dead wrong about…

Brough: Mike Sullivan. After all those years as John Tortorella’s right-hand man, I didn’t think he was the guy to solve the Penguins. I was wrong. Incredibly wrong.

Gretz: The Carl Hagelin trade making a difference for Pittsburgh. As in, I did not think it would. Oops.

Alfieri: The Montreal Canadiens. They started 9-0-0, but what a collapse.

O’Brien: Christian Ehrhoff didn’t work out so well.

Tucker: Um, where do we start? Well, I had pretty much written off the Penguins when they made their coaching change, so that’s one. There were a few others, but you only asked for one.

Halford: Everything positive thing I said about the Blue Jackets.

29. The prediction you’re least confident about this season is…

Brough: Not a prediction per se, but my skepticism about the Blackhawks’ forwards may be overdone. There’s talent among those youngsters. It just hasn’t been proven at the NHL level yet.

Gretz: I will go back to the first one I made at the top and the Carolina Hurricanes making the playoffs. There is a lot to like about that team. There is also a lot that can go wrong.

Alfieri: I picked the Oilers to make the playoffs, so this one is fairly obvious.

O’Brien: Just one? Picking a coach to lose his job and a team to be the worst keeps getting tougher.

Tucker: The Capitals making it past the second round. Thanks, Pittsburgh.

Halford: I’m pretty down on Dallas, so of course the Stars will win 67 games and sweep their way to the Cup.

30. Finally, make a crazy prediction that probably won’t happen, but on second thought, you never know…

Brough: It turns out Subban’s teammates in Nashville don’t like him either, but the Preds win the Cup because that stuff doesn’t really matter anyway.

Gretz: Shea. Weber. Norris. Trophy. Winner.

Alfieri: My “Oilers make the playoffs” prediction wasn’t enough? Fine. The Kyle Okposo signing will be a flop. He’ll score less than 20 goals in his first season with Buffalo.

O’Brien: Alex Radulov saves Michel Therrien’s job. Just ruminate on that one for a moment.

Tucker: The Maple Leafs make the playoffs, clinching a spot on April 8 with the Penguins and Phil Kessel in the house. *Thumbs up*

Halford: Torts wins the Jack Adams.

Governor approves activities for pro teams in New Jersey

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Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Tuesday that as long as the NFL’s Giants and Jets and the NHL’s Devils follow health and medical protocols, they could open training camps or even hold competition.

The NFL’s preseason and training camps wouldn’t begin until midsummer — teams are doing virtual workouts in place of the usual on-field activities because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the NHL is planning ways to complete the 2019-20 season. Should those plans include the Devils, they now can reopen their training facilities.

“Professional sports teams in NJ may return to training and even competition — if their leagues choose to move in that direction,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

“We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel.”

A Jets spokesman said: “We are working closely with Gov. Murphy’s office, the league and our medical staff to establish prudent, health and safety measures for our staff and players. Based on those guidelines, we will begin to open our facility using a phased approach at a time that is the most practical for our operations.”

The Giants echoed those sentiments and said: “With today’s announcement by the governor, we are finalizing our plans to reopen the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. We will continue to have as many employees as possible working remotely. For employees who need to return to work at our facility, we expect to begin that process next week, and we will do so in a systematic and safe way that adheres to the state’s guidelines and NFL protocols.”

Isolating away from family a ‘hot topic’ as NHL plots return

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Young and single, Thatcher Demko has plenty of time on his hands, with little to do. Quarantining to play hockey wouldn’t be a problem for the Vancouver Canucks goalie.

“I don’t have too many roots,” the 24-year-old said. “I’ve been living pretty much out of my car for the most part for the last six, seven years just going from place to place.”

Older players disagree.

Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk doesn’t think players with children would be interested in spending lengthy stretches away from their loved ones amid the pandemic. And neither does Boston’s Tuukka Rask, who bluntly said: “It doesn’t feel right to take guys away from their families for many, many months at a time.”

It’s a reality players might have to face for the NHL to resume play, something Toronto’s Kyle Clifford calls a “hot topic” among players. While the NHL and its players’ union are discussing a 24-team playoff format to resume the season, figuring out how to incorporate family time in a potential quarantine environment is one of many hurdles to clear.

“For sure that’s a big thing,” said Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk, one of the players on the Return to Play committee and a new father. “No one wants to be away from their family for months on end, and everyone is aware of that with who’s on this committee.”

From Dubnyk and Rask in the NHL to Major League Baseball players Mike Trout and Ryan Zimmerman, pro athletes have voiced concerns about spending significant time away from family. When baseball was considering a containment bubble in Arizona to play, Zimmerman — whose wife is due to give birth to the couple’s third child in June — said he wouldn’t accept not seeing them for four or five months.

“I can tell you right now that’s not going to happen,” Zimmerman said. “Not many people have to go through that, nor should they.”

The NHL, like the NBA, does not face the challenge of trying to complete an entire season. But even an abbreviated return calls for coordinating 600-plus players at different stages of their personal lives.

“I think it’d be easier for guys without families or single guys to kind of go on quarantine and enjoy that process as much as you can,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “But it would be tough being a father myself. It would be tough to live through FaceTime in that situation. But you have to weigh the pros and cons on each side and what’s important for you and your family.”

The league was exploring various locations that could host games, including Edmonton, Columbus and Las Vegas. They could be big enough for players to bring family members with them, or the format might allow for a break in the schedule for teams that advance deep into the playoffs.

“You’ve got to kind of create this bubble, but if families are coming in and out, then I don’t know,” said Carolina’s Jordan Martinook, who has a year-old son he doesn’t want to be away from for more than a month at a time. “That kind of compromises the bubble. I don’t know if they would say your family’s got to be with you from day one the whole time or they can’t come if you’re in the bubble.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said league officials are “sensitive to the issue and are focused on finding a solution that works for the players.”

New Jersey’s Connor Carrick, whose Devils might be off until the start of next season, said he trusts NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and his staff to make a decision in the best interest of as many players as possible. Those waiting on the possibility of playing, like Washington’s Beck Malenstyn, hope there’s a resolution that weighs isolation from family members against the risk of them getting infected.

“I think there’s probably a happy medium between the two,” Malenstyn said. “You definitely don’t just want to close the door on your family in a time like this. But it’s also you have to look at it if we were going to take that step to go back and play, it’s the safety of your family to probably not have them around, either, just with the exposure to everything.”

Added Demko, the Vancouver goalie: “I think everyone’s going to have to make a sacrifice: players, owners, union. I don’t think that there is a scenario where everyone’s going to be happy with the situation.”

Why Hurricanes, Lightning voted against Return to Play proposal

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The NHLPA Executive Board vote on the 24-team, conference-based return-to-play proposal went 29-2 in favor of the idea. Given the circumstances, increasing the field, rewarding the top four seeds in each conference, and using play-in games to determine the 16 playoff teams was what ended up getting approved.

The two teams that voted against the proposal weren’t in danger of missing out, but had their reasons to be against such a format.

As Lightning forward Alex Killorn explained to Joe Smith of The Athletic, the bigger field and his team having a Round 1 bye were the main concerns among his teammates.

“They didn’t feel it was fair that certain teams that probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs would have a chance to make the playoffs in a best-of-five series,” said Killorn, the team’s player rep. “My team also felt it was unfair that the teams with a bye would not be as well prepared for a playoff series as the teams that had already basically played a playoff series to get into the playoffs.”

[NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format]

The approved format sees the Lightning start with a bye and participating in a mini-tournament with the Bruins, Capitals and Flyers for seeding before taking on one of the play-in round series winners. How useful those games before Round 2 would be was another issue with Killorn and his team.

“The only problem I have with that format is that the top teams that have a bye,” he said. “I don’t know how competitive the games will be going forward where the teams at the bottom will be playing playoff games right away and [would be] potentially more prepared for the real playoffs.”

Hurricanes’ view

Carolina is set to be the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and would take on the Rangers in the play-in round. The winner of that series would then play the No. 3 seed — either the Lightning, Capitals, Bruins or Flyers.

The Hurricanes had 14 games to play and were sitting in the first wild card spot at the time of the March 12 pause. Player rep Jordan Martinook and his teammates disagreed with the proposal because they felt this created format made their road even tougher.

“It just kind of limits our odds and makes you play another playoff series, basically. It wasn’t just for our team’s situation,” Martinook told reporters on Monday. “You look at teams that had a 10 percent chance to make it, and now they’re pretty much on a 50-50 playing field.”

Who knows if the Hurricanes would have reeled off a points streak over the final 14 games to improve their standing, but Martinook was confident his team could have finished strong.

“I’m not taking anything away from the top four teams,” he said, “but we felt like we could have kept climbing the ladder. It doesn’t really benefit the teams in 5, 6, 7 or 8, it kind of hinders those teams. Then, it gives a lot to the 9, 10, 11 and 12.”

Martinook acknowledged that the ideal return to play format would be to finish the regular season, but time is of the essence and the Hurricanes will be ready to play.

“We’re fine with the way it’s going to go,” he said. “You’re going to have to win to win. We’re fully prepared with what we’ve got moving forward.”

MORE:
NHL targets early June for Phase 2 of return to play plans
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL’s dynamic duos; Malarchuk helping veterans

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Which NHL duo could be hockey’s version of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? [TSN]

• “Saluting Jaromir Jagr, the most overqualified sidekick in NHL history” [The Score]

• The Devils showed interest in Rikard Gronborg, but his contract features no NHL out clause and he will honor the remaining term on his deal. [Swiss Hockey News]

• The story of former NHL ref Pat Dapuzzo, whose career came to an end after a freak injury, and how he’s influenced those around him. [Sportsnet]

• On Clint Malarchuk and how he’s helping veterans these days. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• The one trophy Wayne Gretzky keeps in his California home is one that was gifted to him from Maurice Richard. [NHL.com]

• A great read on the history of one of the league’s best logos: the Coyotes’ Kachina’s. [Arizona Republic]

• Work on the Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park is set to resume. [NHL.com]

• The 2020 NHL draft pool for goaltenders is thin. [Featurd]

Robby Fabbri is hoping to make Detroit his home come free agency. [Freep]

• Zayde Wisdom, a 2020 NHL draft prospect, is taking advice from the likes of Wayne Simmonds and the Stewart brothers ahead of taking the next step in his hockey career. [NHL.com]

• Looking back at the short history of the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey program. [The Hockey News]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.