Predicting 2021-22 award winners, Stanley Cup champion
Heading into the 2021-22 regular season, theScore's Kayla Douglas, Mike Dickson, Josh Gold-Smith, Brandon Maron, John Matisz, Sean O'Leary, and Josh Wegman make their picks for the division champions, major award winners, and Stanley Cup Final.
A return to the heavyweight Atlantic Division won't slow the Tampa Bay Lightning's roll. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions lost the heart of their offensive depth with Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman all moving on, but they still have much of the star power and defensive corps (not to mention the insurmountable Andrei Vasilevskiy) that make them truly elite. This time, they'll have to battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers - the latter being their 2020-21 Central Division foes - for the top spot.
There isn't a ton of clarity when it comes to the Metropolitan Division. The New York Islanders are always ready to battle for the No. 1 spot, and the aging Washington Capitals can usually be counted on to make some noise, but some wild cards are waiting in the weeds. The Carolina Hurricanes took a bit of a step back after losing Dougie Hamilton and netminder Alex Nedeljkovic, but they're typically able to force their way into the conversation. Meanwhile, many eyes will be on the New York Rangers as a squad that can surprise this year.
The reigning Presidents' Trophy winners look primed to take over the Central Division. The only pushback the Colorado Avalanche may receive for the top seat is from the Winnipeg Jets, who made a ton of progress in repairing their fractured blue line this offseason with the additions of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg's 2020 Vezina-winning goaltender, finally has some help in front of him after a tumultuous couple of seasons.
It's unanimous: The Vegas Golden Knights are going to absolutely run the table in the Pacific Division. Of course, anything can happen, but Vegas will be able to beat up on a weak trio of California teams all season long.
'Rocket' Richard Trophy
Matthews barely has the edge from our voters to repeat as the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy winner. The Toronto superstar put up 41 goals in 52 games during the shortened campaign. He then underwent offseason wrist surgery to fix an issue that plagued him throughout the year, so there's no telling what a completely healthy Matthews can do.
Pastrnak, who had 20 goals in 48 contests last season, is also primed to re-enter the conversation after shooting at 11.4% in 2020-21, far below his career average of 14.3%. Rantanen, meanwhile, is a dark-horse pick after exploding for 30 tallies in 52 games last season, just one shy of his career-high 31 goals in 74 contests in 2018-19. If he can keep it up, the league better look out.
Art Ross Trophy
It certainly appears McDavid will take home the Art Ross Trophy for the second straight year. He had a monstrous 2020-21 campaign, during which he eclipsed 100 points in just 56 games, and there's really no reason his dominance can't continue in a lacking Pacific Division. However, it wouldn't be wise to count out MacKinnon, who's produced at a 1.35 point-per-game pace the past two seasons.
The Calder Trophy race is gearing up to be a good one, as three players are tied with two votes each. Minnesota Wild prospect Rossi is the easiest to root for after developing a serious heart condition due to COVID-19. When combining regular-season and playoff games, Caufield has the most NHL experience of the trio with 30 contests under his belt. The Montreal Canadiens youngster clearly learned a thing or two in the playoffs, as he put up 12 points in 20 games.
Zegras seems set to thrive with the Anaheim Ducks in the near future. He proved his worth at the 2021 World Juniors by putting up 18 points in seven games to help lift the U.S. to a gold medal. The 20-year-old was recently honored with the Bob Johnson Award for his international dominance. Meanwhile, Knight can rule the crease for a talented Panthers team while learning from veteran netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
Somehow, Vasilevskiy and Hellebuyck have each won only one Vezina Trophy. The former has been a brick wall en route to the Lightning's two Stanley Cup wins, and the latter continues to put up sparkling numbers while being one of the league's busiest netminders. Lehner also looks primed to step up for the Golden Knights in Marc-Andre Fleury's absence.
It's hard to believe Makar is entering just his third full NHL season given the poise he shows. Though the Avalanche star is the most popular pick among our voters, that doesn't mean the field for the Norris Trophy isn't crowded. Hedman is also vying for the honor after already winning once and being named a finalist five years in a row. Theodore and Ekblad, who've never been nominated, may also finally get the recognition and respect they deserve.
McDavid's trophy case is probably going to get fuller after this season, as our voters predict the best player in the league will be named the Hart Trophy winner in back-to-back years. However, MacKinnon is sick of falling short year after year, and if anyone can get his team over the hump, it's him. Meanwhile, Panarin led the Rangers in points for the past two seasons, and with a new bench boss in Gerard Gallant, he may just be able to take the Big Apple to greater heights.
Stanley Cup Final
|Douglas||Avalanche over Lightning|
|Dickson||Avalanche over Islanders|
|Gold-Smith||Avalanche over Lightning|
|Maron||Golden Knights over Panthers|
|Matisz||Avalanche over Lightning|
|O'Leary||Islanders over Avalanche|
|Wegman||Avalanche over Lightning|
Our voters don't see a three-peat in the Lightning's future. The Avalanche look set to finally get past the second round after four straight seasons of premature exits, but the defensively sound Islanders can give them a run for their money. The Golden Knights have a clear path to the top of the Pacific Division, but it remains to be seen if that'll translate to playoff success. Under head coach Joel Quenneville's direction, the Panthers can also stun the league with their talented roster - after the Canadiens' surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, anything is possible.
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