The NHL All-Star Game is taking place on Feb. 4, 2023, at FLA Live Arena, in Sunrise, Florida, with the skills competition set to happen the night before. Usually, the All-Star Game is considered the halfway mark of the season.
However, with the event now in February instead of late January, teams have already played more than 41 games, and there will be a lot of storylines to follow as the season winds down.
Recently, the players union and the league agreed that teams would get an entire week off, meaning even those players who earn the chance to play in the annual event can still enjoy some rest for the stretch run. Although every team begins and ends their break at different times, important dates are creeping up, like the trade deadline (Mar. 3) and the end of the regular season (Apr. 16).
Let’s look at five bold predictions for the NHL with two months left on the schedule.
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Alex Ovechkin will score 50 goals for the ninth time in his career
If no one paid attention to hockey headlines this year, Alex Ovechkin scored his 800th goal on Dec. 13, 2022, to become the third player in league history to reach that mark. After surpassing “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe for second on the all-time list (801), he moved closer to Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals, which has stood since 1999.
Every night the Washington Capitals play, Ovechkin has a chance to continue his pursuit of one of the game’s most treasured records. Heading into the break, he passed the 30-goal mark for the 17th time in his career and should reach the magical 50-goal plateau by the season’s end. Furthermore, when the “Great 8” achieves this milestone for the ninth time in his career, he will move to within 64 goals of Gretzky’s record.
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The New Jersey Devils will win the Metropolitan Division
The last time the New Jersey Devils earned a playoff spot in 2017-18, the Seattle Kraken didn’t exist, and the Vegas Golden Knights were an expansion team. After nearly two decades as a Stanley Cup contender, the franchise has only qualified for the postseason twice since 2010, and with some last-place finishes, the team has been rebuilding through the draft. Now that those prospects have matured into stars, the Devils are contending for the Metropolitan Division crown for the first time in 13 years.
Although the Carolina Hurricanes are on a mission to repeat as divisional champions, the Devils have given them a run for their money and remain a threat to dethrone the ‘Canes. Thus far, each team has gone on lengthy win streaks, New Jersey (13) and Carolina (11); however, at the time of this writing, they remain separated by a few points. Ultimately the division title and accompanying favorable playoff spot (second seed) will come down to the wire, with this young and hungry Devils team coming out on top to earn the conference’s second seed.
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Buffalo Sabres sneak into the NHL playoffs as a wild-card team
The Buffalo Sabres’ leading scorer Tage Thompson was 15 years old when the franchise last qualified for the playoffs in 2012. Currently, he’s leading a resurgent team with young stars like Ramus Dahlin, Owen Power, Alex Tuch, and Dylan Cozens. Unfortunately, the franchise has been at the bottom for years, stuck in a constant rebuild. Nevertheless, the group’s success in 2022-23 has turned many heads in the hockey community.
Realistically, the Sabres will not qualify for the playoffs through the Atlantic Division since the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Hurricanes are comfortable in their positions. However, there is always a chance for a wild card spot. The Sabres have an uphill climb against two veteran clubs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Capitals, but these kids are playing on a different level right now and will sneak into the postseason as the last wild-card team.
Colorado Avalanche qualify for the playoffs, while avoiding Wild Card race
At first glance, it seems crazy to say that the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche, won’t qualify for the postseason after winning the franchise’s third title last season. However, injuries have derailed their campaign, and the team has struggled to stay in the wild-card race, competing on a nightly basis with four other teams.
Despite playing the bulk of the season shorthanded in one capacity or another, the team has done enough to stay in contention thus far. Realistically, with reinforcements on the way, the Avalanche will be a better team in a month when Gabriel Landeskog returns and Nathan McKinnon overcomes any ailments that have slowed him down. In the end, this team will be able to qualify for the playoffs after advancing up in the division, leaving the wild card race altogether.
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Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid will score 70 goals
Everyone knew that Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid was good; some may even say really good, potentially one of the all-time greats. However, despite all his successes in eight seasons, McDavid has never scored 50 goals or collected 130 points in a season. Currently, he’s producing 1.81 points per game and is on pace to shatter his personal bests in goals (44) and points (123).
As of this writing, McDavid already has 40 goals through 49 games and, based on projections, should finish with 66 goals. Considering the league has not had a 70-goal scorer since Alexander Mogliny and Teemu Selanne (each had 76) in 1992-93, the Oilers will need those goals from McDavid if they hope to stay in the playoff race. Right now, only eight players in history have scored 70 or more goals in a season, and considering how talented McDavid is, he will be the first player in a generation to reach that plateau.
Usually, bold predictions go one or two ways; they either come to fruition or blow up in the writer’s face. Since every team has about 30 games left, and half of the teams are trying to qualify for the playoffs, there will be thousands of storylines to follow in the days ahead. Today, we examined five storylines that will make headlines down the stretch, keeping the hockey community engaged in discussions and debates well into the offseason.