PHT’s 2020-21 predictions: NHL Awards, first coach fired, free agent busts

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It’s almost here! The 2020-21 NHL season begins on Wednesday with a triple-header on NBCSN. As we wait for puck drop, let’s begin with some predictions for the new year. Today we’ll look at our NHL Awards picks, which teams are overhyped, who will be the first coach fired, and more.

Pre-season predictions are fun way to get a sense of what people are thinking heading into a new season. There was plenty of changes around the league during the off-season.

Who will take home the hardware in June and what teams and players will be notable this season? Here’s what the PHT staff is thinking at the moment.

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

OVERHYPED TEAM

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Canadiens. There’s certainly a good future here with Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov, among others. But that Josh Anderson contract could look like a nightmare soon, and you wonder if their depth will be able to chip in when needed. Plus, can Carey Price recapture his form from circa 2015?

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Canadiens. Look, the Habs aren’t bad — you might even see them among my playoff picks. But their solid run in the playoff bubble really drove a lot of wishful thinking, and at least some of those breaks won’t go their way. (Remember when it seemed like Shea Weber was on the verge of retirement? It wasn’t that long ago.)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Maple Leafs. I actually hate doing this because I really do love their forward talent and I hate the narrative around their salary cap structure. But you also can not ignore the fact that in four years this group has not won a single playoff round. Is T.J. Brodie still a top-pairing defender, and how good is he without Mark Giordano? Is adding a bunch of mid-late 30s (and an early 40s!) forwards the missing pieces to the puzzle? I am not sure. I do think the all Canadian divisional format helps them come playoff team with some better potential matchups, but at this point I still have to actually see it. 

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Rangers. Look, I fell for the Rangers last year and they got hot at the end, sure, but I just don’t really buy in on the whole thing. Artemi Panarin is great, they have some good defensemen, Alexis Lafrenière is there, but there’s still something off; plus, the division just has better teams.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Rangers. I buy them as an up and coming team. I do not see them being significantly better than they were last season. Alexis Lafreniere is a big addition, but the Rangers still lack depth up front and on defense.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Golden Knights. Vegas keeps signing players and then dealing them elsewhere. The team morale can’t be great.

[2020-21 NHL ON NBC TV SCHEDULE]

UNDERRATED TEAM

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Wild. They’ve long been that team’s that makes you feel “meh.” But there’s some excitement now with the arrivals of Marco Rossi and Kirill Kaprizov, plus the expectation of Kevin Fiala taking another big step forward. Cam Talbot may be starting, but Kaapo Kahkonen brings hope down the road in goal.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Flames. On the flip side of bubble-related recency bias, people are probably a little bit too down on the Flames. With that talent, and a potential difference-maker in Jacob Markstrom, the Flames could surprise. Not “Stanley Cup” surprise but maybe they’ll be less of a bummer?

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Canadiens. I think Montreal has a chance to really make a big move here this season. They had great possession numbers a year ago and potentially addressed their finishing issues offensively with Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson. I do not love everything they did this offseason, but the potential is there. The additions, the goalie duo, the potential breakout by a player like Nick Suzuki, and the division format makes this a very interesting team.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Canadiens: I really like the offseason the Canadiens had. They made a push to be a better team and already showed some spark in the bubble.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Jets. Their offense is still scary and they’ve got a stud in net. The North Division is up for grabs, so I like the Jets’ chances all things considered.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Jets. They have too much firepower up front with Scheifele, Wheeler, Connor and Laine, plus a great goaltender in Hellebuyck.

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UNDERRATED PLAYER

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Evgenii Dadonov. Playing in Florida since 2010 may not have helped his rep, but he’s a real good player and a consistent goal scorer. Since 2017-18, he has more goals than Sidney Crosby, Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, Logan Couture, Phil Kessel, Filip Forsberg, Jonathan Toews, Taylor Hall, and Mitch Marner.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Jared Spurgeon. I’m ready to drink the Jared Spurgeon Kool-Aid, and not just because of the bad “surgeon” puns.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Mika Zibanejad. He is coming off a GREAT year but he still is not getting a ton of attention for it. He seems kind of lost in the shuffle of Artemi Panarin, the young players, the goalies, and everyone else on that Rangers roster. It also might be easy to write that performance off as a fluke, but he was a 30-goal, 75-point player the year before that. 

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Devon Toews: He feels like such a good fit with the Avs, and it’s easy to get buried behind some of the best offensive players in the game. He was averaging almost 30 points per season with the Islanders and he should take a leap.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Andrei Svechnikov. 20 goals as an 18-year-old rookie. 24 last season in just 68 games. He is a budding superstar and is a darkhorse to challenge for the goal scoring crown this season.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Jack Hughes. He was the first overall pick in 2019 and had only 21 points in his rookie year. Joe Thornton had only seven points in his rookie campaign after being drafted first overall and jumped to 41 before quickly becoming one of the best in the NHL.

[2020-21 FREE AGENT TRACKER]

FIRST COACH FIRED

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Rick Tocchet. There was plenty of off-season turmoil for the Coyotes, and with a new GM in town, Bill Armstrong may not wait long to decide to bring in his own coach.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Rick Tocchet. Few coaches are safe when a new GM takes over, and the Coyotes seem like they’re on the brink of disaster. So I’ll pick Rick Tocchet.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Not that it is going to be his fault, but I could see Jeremy Colliton taking the fall in Chicago for what is going to be a brutal season. The injuries, the goalie situation, the lack of depth all over the roster. I am not sure Colliton is the long-term coach in Chicago and this just seems like a tough spot to be in.

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: Ralph Krueger: It just doesn’t feel like Buffalo is going to have a good time, which we probably knew, but this training camp start doesn’t look so hot.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: This is a tough one. Two-thirds of the leagues coaches have spent two or fewer seasons coaching their current team. So looking at the “veterans” the one that stands out is Jeff Blashill. The Wings have stuck by his side but if the losing continues, might Steve Yzerman think about making a switch?

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: John Tortorella. The apparent animosity coming from Pierre-Luc Dubois means that GM Kekalainen has to decide who to keep, Torts or Dubois. The player wins out here.

2020 FREE AGENT BUST

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: Jacob Markstrom. That’s a six-year, $30M contract given to a 30-year-old goalie. He had another strong year in Vancouver last season, but netminders don’t age well once they hit 30. This looks like an all-in type of move for the short-term before blowing it up if the team underachieves.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Joel Edmundson. Look, the Habs didn’t ruin their future by giving Joel Edmundson baffling term and money. Still, teams can often put themselves in bad positions by making a series of medium-sized mistakes. (See: Canucks, Vancouver. Though some of their gaffes were large.)

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Chris Tanev in Calgary is one that I am not really all that high on. This would have been a great signing four years ago, but I am not sure Tanev is that same player anymore and I do not see the Flames getting the player they think they are getting. 

Marisa Ingemi, NHL writer: T.J. Brodie: External defensemen haven’t had the best time when they’ve ended up in Toronto over the past couple of seasons. 

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Jacob Markstrom. Calgary has lacked stability in net since the Miikka Kiprusoff days, so I understand the move. Markstrom is a huge upgrade in the short term. But there were a lot of options on the goalie market this offseason and I think they overpaid here.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: Braden Holtby. He has not played well the last couple of seasons and Thatcher Demko is poised to take over the net in Vancouver.