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

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.

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    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced Friday that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

    Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

    The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

    “They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

    Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

    Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

    Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

    “I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

    The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

    There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

    “We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

    The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

    COMINGS AND GOINGS

    The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

    MORE POWER

    The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

    “It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

    BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

    Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

    “Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

    UP FRONT

    With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

    ON THE SLATE

    This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”