2021-2022 NHL Season: Way too Early Playoff Predictions

2021-2022 NHL Season: Way too Early Playoff Predictions

by December 27, 2021 1 comment

We are now one-third of the way through the 2021 NHL Season. There has been no shortage of storylines throughout the league early on. The Anaheim Ducks have caught fire after finishing in last place during their COVID-19 shortened campaign. Winners of 17 of their first 32 contests, Dallas Eakin’s group is sitting in second place in the Pacific Division. Along with this, the Minnesota Wild have continued to prove they are one of the elite cup contenders.

Home to one of the best young rosters in the game, the franchise currently sits one point clear of the Nashville Predators and the St Louis Blues in the Central Division. Forced to pause due to the pandemic, the league chose to cancel all games through December 27th. While hockey fans anxiously await the return of their favorite teams, here are my way too early playoff predictions.

Atlantic Division

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Florida Panthers
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Tampa Bay has returned to the top of the Atlantic Division after a slow start to the season. Winners of their final three games before the shutdown, the team is likely to get healthy in the new year as they prepare to try and win their third Stanley Cup in a row. Star winger Nikita Kucherov has a January return date tagged after being placed on the injured reserve list with a lower-body injury just four games into the year. Furthermore, Brayden Point is inching closer to reappearing in the lineup after making his way back to practice.

Florida is home to one of the best young lineups in the game. The group has ridden their stellar first line as they look to get back to the postseason for just the second time in the last six years. Jonathan Huberdeau is pacing the group with 33 points early on. Furthermore, defenseman Aaron Ekblad is also having a stellar start to his 2021 campaign as the 25-year-old sits second on the team with 16 assists in 28 games.

Much Improved Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are much improved in their own end after disappointingly losing to their rival Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs a year ago. Currently sitting 16th in the league with just 31.2 shots allowed per game, the group has also allowed only 2.5 goals per game on average. Once again, scoring goals at a rapid pace, Auston Matthews trails only Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin with 20 goals.

He racked up six tallies during his last five contests. Cementing his status as a number one netminder, Jack Campbell sits third in the league in wins and fourth in the NHL with a 1.94 goals-against average. An early favorite for the Vezina Trophy, the former first-round pick currently sports a .937 save percentage across 22 starts. The best three teams in the Atlantic Division to this point, look for these three franchises to man the three playoff spots.

Metropolitan Division

  1. Carolina Hurricanes
  2. Washington Capitals
  3. New York Rangers

The Hurricanes are the leaders in the Metropolitan Division early on. This was after they finished atop the Central Division during the COVID-19 shortened season a year ago. Remaining one of the stingiest clubs in the league in their own zone, Rod Brind’amour’s group sits in the top five in almost every major defensive category. Led up front by their young star center in Sebastian Aho, the former second-round pick has made a case for the league-wide MVP Award. He sits tenth in the league in points (32) and goals (15). Frederik Andersen has found his form behind one of the deepest rosters in the game. Inking a deal with Carolina in the offseason after an injury-riddled campaign in Toronto, he is on pace to record career highs in save percentage and goals-against average.

The Capitals finally got Nicklas Backstrom back in the lineup. The longtime center missed the first 28 games of the year after undergoing offseason hip surgery. Filling in during his absence, Ovechkin continues to put up points at a rapid pace in his 17th year in the league. The 36-year-old already has 22 tallies through the first third of the season to sit second behind Draisaitl. Furthermore, Evgeny Kuznetsov and John Carlson are also off to hot starts.

The former has racked up 21 assists while playing over 22 minutes per night, while the latter sits fifth in the NHL in defenseman scoring with 26 points in 31 games. Things will ultimately come down to goaltending for the franchise. If Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek can remain solid in goal, the franchise will be a tough out in postseason play.

Young Rangers Take a Step Forward

New York was lauded by many as a team set to take a step forward this season. The group has held off the surging Pittsburgh Penguins to sit in the final playoff spot in the division. Getting stellar performances out of their star players, winger Artemi Panarin has racked up nine goals and 24 assists to lead the club with 33 points. Along with this, last year’s Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox continues to make a case to capture the award for the second year in a row.

The 23-year-old is pacing the group with over 24 minutes on the ice per night while sitting in a tie for the lead-in points by a blueliner. Filling in behind their horses up front, the team’s young players have provided depth, scoring lower down in the lineup. Furthermore, with Igor Shesterkin quickly becoming a star in goal, if the 25 year gets hot at the right time, he is capable of taking New York a long way.

Eastern Conference Wild Cards

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. Boston Bruins

Surging after getting Sidney Crosby off the injured reserve list, Pittsburgh has won 14 of their last 23 games. Sitting just four points back of the Rangers for the final divisional playoff spot, Mike Sullivan‘s group currently holds the first wild card in the conference. A deeper roster than many people across the league give them credit for, the group has gotten strong performances from winger Evan Rodrigues and veteran Center Jeff Carter.

Rodrigues sits second on the team with 23 points, while Carter has racked up nine goals in 17 games. Continuing to cement himself as one of the elite goal scorers in the game, Jake Guentzel is pacing the group with 15 goals. Benefitting from a bounce-back season from netminder Triston Jarry, the 26-year-old has recorded 15 wins across 24 starts while posting three shutouts. With the return of Evgeni Malkin looming, this is a veteran group suddenly with life in it.

Limping Bruins

A team that has limped along to begin their 2021 campaign, the Bruins sit at 14-10-1. Off to a 10-6 start, the group lost four of their last six before the shutdown. Currently sitting on the outside of the postseason race in the Eastern Conference, they trail the Detroit Red Wings by three points for the final wild-card spot. More than ten players now sit in the league’s COVID-19 protocols, making matters worse for the team. Still one of the best clubs across the NHL on special teams, they are clicking at 23.7 percent with the extra man to sit eighth.

Along with this, they are killing penalties at an 81 percent clip. However, their five-on-five play remains an issue. Struggling to get any production behind their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron, the group will need to get their lower half of the lineup going to close out the year. However, this is still a team that knows what it takes to find success in the playoffs. Look for them to right the ship and qualify for postseason play for the sixth season in a row.

Central Division

  1. Minnesota Wild
  2. St Louis Blues
  3. Colorado Avalanche

The deepest division in hockey again this season. Minnesota has moved out of the middle of the pack to elite contender status the past two years. A fun young team, they sit second in the NHL in goals per game with 3.63 averaged per contest. Kirill Kaprizov has electrified to begin his 2021 campaign after capturing league-wide rookie of the year honors a year go. He is averaging over a point per game, with 36 in 30 contests.

Along with this, longtime winger Ryan Hartman is enjoying a resurgence. Bouncing around between teams over the past few seasons, the former first-round pick appears to have found a home in Minneapolis. Rock-solid in net Cam Talbot gives the group a chance to win every night. Look for them to capture their first division crown in over 12 years. Dean Evason is an early Jack Adams Award favorite.

Overcoming adversity during the early parts of their season, the Blues have appeared to find their groove. Faced with a COVID-19 outbreak early on in the year, the team lost Brandon Saad, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Clifford, Ville Husso, Niko Mikkola, and Torey Krug. Furthermore, the group is now facing a second outbreak that has forced them to place three more players in the protocols.

However, St Louis still sits three points clear of the Colorado Avalanche for the third spot in the Central Division. Impressive on the power play, the group is clicking at a 29.5 percent rate with the extra man. Furthermore, they are averaging 32.4 shots on goal per contest with a 10.3 shooting percentage. Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, and Ivan Barbashev have been outstanding for the group.

Avalanche Finally Playing Like Contenders

Hit hard by COVID early on in the year; the Avalanche lost superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon. The team has also seen Andre Burakovsky, Devon Toews, and goaltender Darcy Kuemper miss time. Finally getting healthy, the perennial Stanley Cup favorites ripped off a 7-2-1 stretch before the pause. Nazem Kadri is enjoying one of the best stretches of play of his 13 year NHL tenure.

On pace for career highs in goals and assists, the longtime Maple Leaf leads the team with 38 points. Furthermore, defenseman Cale Makar is once again proving why he is one of the elite young players in the game. The Calgary native has already racked up 13 tallies in 23 games while playing over 24 minutes a night.

Pacific Division

  1. Vegas Golden Knights
  2. Edmonton Oilers
  3. Calgary Flames

Ripping off an 8-2 run over their last ten games, the Golden Knights now sit in a tie with the Anaheim Ducks. They both have 40 points to man the top spot in the Pacific Division. Vegas is finally getting their star players back after losing William Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, and Mark Stone early on. The team has improved their goal differential to +17. Along with this, they are averaging over 3.4 goals per game on 33.5 shots.

Outstanding for the team in Karlsson’s absence, Chandler Stephenson has proved to many around the league that he is a capable number one center. Furthermore, Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo have continued to solidify themselves as one of the game’s elite defense pairings. The return of Jack Eichel is likely to happen at some point in this second half of the year. This team is too talented not to be around in the end.

Rebounding from a losing streak before the league-wide hiatus, the Oilers knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Seattle Kraken in their final two contests. Falling to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, Connor McDavid and Draisaitl are leading the way for the group again. Tied for the NHL lead at 49 points each, the duo has combined to score 40 goals early on.

However, after a strong start to the year, the group is struggling to find production from lower down in their lineup. Warren Foegele has just three points in his last eight games, while Zack Kassian has just three in his last eight. More concerning for the group has been their carousel in goal. Without Mike Smith for a large chunk of the season, Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner have both encountered major problems in between the pipes.

The Darryl Sutter Effect

Hit with tough luck in the midst of a bounce-back 2021 campaign, the Flames were forced to postpone their last seven contests. Hit hard with one of the biggest COVID-19 breakouts across the league, more than 33 members of the group were forced to isolate, including 20 players. Still one of the best clubs in the NHL, Calgary is currently sitting in third place in the Pacific Division.

Finally getting superstar numbers out of goaltender Jacob Markstrom, the Sweedish netminder has posted a .933 save percentage and a 1.94 goals-against average. Along with this, both Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk bounced back after down seasons a year ago. This group is set up perfectly for postseason play with the perfect combination of grit and skill. They grab the final playoff spot in the division.

Western Conference Wild Cards

  1. Anaheim Ducks
  2. Winnipeg Jets

The story of the NHL season to date, the Ducks have won 17 of their first 32 contests. Tied for the top spot in their division, the group has rattled off a 6-1-3 record over their last ten games. Enjoying breakout performances from a young cast of players, rookie Trevor Zegras has been outstanding for the team. Building off a strong performance in the World Junior Tournament last December, the 20-year-old center sits second on the team with 25 points.

Furthermore, both Troy Terry and Sony Milano have provided glimpses into the future for Anaheim fans. Rock-solid in goal, John Gibson gives the team a chance to win every night. This is paired with the outstanding leadership provided by captain Ryan Getzlaf and Cam Fowler on the back end. Expected to take a small step back in the second half of the year, this is still a playoff team.

New Voice in Winnipeg

Filled with no shortage of storylines, the Jets are looking to regroup after the restart of league play. Once thought of as one of the elite teams in the NHL to start the year, the team lost ten of their last 15 games. This forced longtime head coach Paul Maurice to step down from the organization after eight seasons. Needing to clean things up in the defensive zone, Winnipeg has allowed nine goals over their last four contests.

Along with this, they have also been miserable on the penalty kill. One of the worst teams when down a man, the group kills off just 70.9 percent of their penalty kill opportunities. However, the team is still home to an elite cast of players in Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Nikolaj Ehlers. Hopefully, a new voice in Dave Cameron will allow them to get right.


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