NHL predictions 2021: Final standings, awards, playoff projections, Stanley Cup pick

After some uncertainty, the 2021 NHL season officially is here and the puck will drop on a 56-game, 116-day sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Like always, hope springs eternal for all 31 teams and, like previous seasons, it’s different for each one. Some are looking at the next couple of months as a time to set up their strategy and prepare for the postseason as a Cup contender while others are using the time to continue to build and breed success with their club. 

This season will be a unique one filled with twists and turns. Aside from the compact schedule, which will include the first time in league history that teams will play four consecutive games against the same opponent within a regular season, COVID-19 has and will impact things. Divisions have already been realigned based on geographic locations, with one containing just Canadian teams because of a travel ban between the U.S. and Canada. And the NHL is expecting more games to be postponed; the Stars’ first three games — two against the Panthers and one against the Lightning — have been postponed because of 17 players testing positive. 

The postseason has also been tweaked, with the four top teams in each division advancing to the playoffs and the No. 1 team playing No. 4 and No. 2 playing No. 3. The winners then face off, with the champ of the division meeting the other four winners in a re-seeded semifinal before the Stanley Cup Final.

NHL SCHEDULE CHANGES: List of games postponed, rescheduled because of COVID-19

Normally, the road to the Stanley Cup is a long, twisting, curving one with never-ending potholes — this year will be extra winding but it will end with the same result: a Stanley Cup champion. Who will be there is the greatest mystery. The tight schedule this year makes it even more critical to get off to a good start while avoiding losing streaks throughout the season. Predicting what will be is always a tricky concept, but it’s time to look into the future and see who will make the 2021 season one to remember.

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NHL predictions for 2021

Awards

Award
Winner
Hart
Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche
Vezina
Jacob Markstrom, Flames
Art Ross
Connor McDavid, Oilers
Rocket Richard
Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs
Norris
Cale Makar, Avalanche
Calder
Alexis Lafreniere, Rangers
Selke
Mark Stone, Golden Knights
Jack Adams
Travis Green, Canucks

East Division

1. Philadelphia Flyers
2. New York Islanders
3. Washington Capitals
4. New York Rangers
5. Boston Bruins
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. New Jersey Devils

Central Division

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Dallas Stars
3. Carolina Hurricanes
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
5. Nashville Predators
6. Florida Panthers
7. Detroit Red Wings
8. Chicago Blackhawks

West Division

1. Colorado Avalanche*
2. Vegas Golden Knights
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Minnesota Wild
5. Arizona Coyotes
6. Los Angeles Kings
7. San Jose Sharks
8. Anaheim Ducks

North Division

1. Toronto Maple Leafs 
2. Calgary Flames
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Winnipeg Jets

*Presidents’ Trophy: Avalanche

Playoffs

East bracket

Series
Winner
(1) Flyers vs. (4) Rangers
Flyers
(2) Islanders vs. (3) Capitals
Capitals
(1) Flyers vs. (3) Capitals
Flyers

Central bracket

Series
Winner
(1) Lightning vs. (4) Blue Jackets
Lightning
(2) Stars vs. (3) Hurricanes
Stars
(1) Lightning vs. (2) Stars
Stars

West bracket

Series
Winner
(1) Avalanche vs. (4) Wild
Avalanche
(2) Golden Knights vs. (3) Blues
Golden Knights
(1) Avalanche vs. (2) Golden Knights
Golden Knights

Semifinals

Teams are re-seeded based on points from the regular season.

Series
Winner
(1) Flyers vs. (4) Stars
Flyers
(2) Maple Leafs vs. (3) Golden Knights
Golden Knights

Stanley Cup Final

Series
Winner
Flyers vs. Golden Knights
Golden Knights
Conn Smythe Trophy
Robin Lehner