NHL Roundtable: Predictions for new hockey year

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Now that we’ve said goodbye to 2017, it’s time to look ahead at what the hockey world will bring up for 2018. The PHT staff pulled out their crystal balls and have offered up three predictions each for the next 12 months. Please remember us when all of these come true.

SEAN LEAHY

George McPhee stands pat at the trade deadline: The Vegas Golden Knights are exceeding everyone’s expectations but face an uncertain summer with a number of pending unrestricted free agents like James Neal, Jonathan Marchessault and David Perron. While in any other situation, McPhee might deal them away for assets as the expansion club looks to build a consistent winner, they’re going to go all-in in Year 1 to make the postseason and increase the excitement around the team even more.

Ken Holland moves upstairs: It’s almost perfectly set up for this to happen. The long-time Detroit Red Wings general manager is in the final year of his contract and his team is likely to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, which previously happened in 1982 -83. You also have Chris Ilitch taking over the reins of the organization from his late dad and looking to revamp the franchise. Holland doesn’t get fired, but gets the ceremonial “thanks for all the success, here’s your ‘senior advisor’ position.”

The U.S. women recapture gold at the Olympics: Canada has won four straight golds since the Americans won the first tournament in Nagano in 1998. The U.S. has went home with silver three times, including a heartbreaking loss in Sochi in 2014. Kelli Stack hitting the post late in regulation will serve as motivation for the unfinished business the U.S. women have this time around. Plus, you can bet last spring’s pay dispute led to even tighter knit group, which will help them win gold again.

JOEY ALFIERI

The Pittsburgh Penguins miss the playoffs: The grind of two Stanley Cup runs will finally catch up to them. GM Jim Rutherford is trying to shake up his roster because he clearly feels like his team needs it. Whatever move he makes, I predict that it won’t be enough to get them in.

Max Pacioretty will be on the move before the start of next season: The Canadiens captain is struggling, but he remains a bargain at $4.5 million per season. His contract expires after next season so to maximize his value, the Habs need to trade him soon. I’m going to go ahead and say he’ll be shipped to the St. Louis Blues in a package that involves top prospect Robert Thomas.

Erik Karlsson will be a member of the Dallas Stars before the calendar shifts to 2019: I realize that saying Karlsson won’t be a Senator isn’t exactly bold, but picking the team he’s going to is! The Stars could use a boost on defense and landing the best one in the game is as good as it gets. Marc Methot and Karlsson will be reunited in Big D!

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JAMES O’BRIEN

The Predators win the Stanley Cup: Yes, I’m doubling down. When making this choice before the season, I assumed (dangerously, but successfully) that the Preds would add a key piece. They’ve really flourished with Kyle Turris, now giving them two strong scoring lines, two good-to-strong goalies, and Ryan Ellis permitting, two strong defense pairings.

John Tavares re-signs with the Islanders: Now, I’m not saying that he’ll re-sign with the Isles during the 2017-18 season. He might even dip his toe in the UFA water, at least to test the temperature. But I expect Tavares to stick with the Isles. Now can they truly contend going forward? That’s a tougher question.

Marc Bergevin gets fired: Just in time for him to dig an enormous hole for whoever takes over! That’s the problem with GMs who continue to make mistakes: there’s a “legacy” of moves for the next person to deal with. Montreal needs to pull the Band-Aid off now, before Bergevin trades them into further disrepair.

SCOTT BILLECK

Erik Karlsson is traded: Karlsson, seeing the rubble around him as the Senators continue to crumble, and after the Eugene-Melnyk-threatens-to-move-the-team debacle, decides he’s done in Canada’s capital and wants out. With his pending unrestricted free agent status, and with no choice but to find a return, the Senators trade him.

Vegas Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup: Look, it’s a longshot, even given how good they’ve been, but why can’t the magic from the regular season spill into the postseason? They find a way to win games, they score a lot of goals and they have great goaltending (and apparent depth at the position). Perhaps it’s not that crazy of a thought after all.

The NHL adopts puck tracking technology: In a world with pinpoint accuracy when it comes to GPS, the NHL makes the move to puck tracking, which eliminates the long wait times for goal reviews. Fans and scribes alike get a chance to look at shot statistics in a new way, looking at average shot speed, hardest slapshot in a game situation, etc.

ADAM GRETZ

• The Vegas Golden Knights will go deep into the playoffs: They are already on track to be the most successful expansion team ever, and they are not going to stop at regular season success. They are going to win a round in the playoffs, and maybe two. Their success right now is no longer just about hot percentages or strong goaltending like it was early in the year. There is still an element of that in there, but they are also legitimately good. It would take a monumental collapse at this point for them to even miss the playoffs, and there just seems to be enough here that they are going to knock someone off once they get in.

• The Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens will make trades they will regret: Probably for very different reasons. The Penguins are having a miserable season and are in danger of missing te playoffs entirely after winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. They lost a ton of depth over the summer, did nothing to replace it, and I can not see them going away without doing something this season to try and correct it. Maybe it won’t involve Kris Letang, but there might be a panic trade coming at some point. The Canadiens are in kind of a similar position, only worse. They are having a worse season and they might actually end up trading one of their core players in Max Pacioretty. At a time when his value is at an all-time low.

• Four players will top 100 points this season: I wrote about this a week ago but the slight increase in goal scoring this season has led to the potential return of a nearly extinct player in the NHL — the 100-point scorer. Right now there are a handful of players on track to hit the century mark and I think four of them will end up getting there. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Josh Bailey. What is most notable about this, aside from the fact they all might get there in an era where almost nobody reaches it anymore, is that they are two sets of teammates. There have only been five 100-point scorers in the NHL since 2010-11. The last time a set of teammates did it was Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in 2009-10. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin also did it in 2008-09. The last time two different sets of teammates did it in the same season? 1995-96 when the Pittsburgh Penguins had three (Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis) and the Colorado Avalanche had Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic.

PHT 2017 year in review:

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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.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.