Everything you’re about to read can change when you cough.

This is the reality of the 2021 NHL season, set in (mostly) empty stadiums during the VIDOC-19 pandemic. The league has released the names of 27 players who started the season without the COVID protocol, and that doesn’t include the 17 Dallas Stars members who tested positive.

There will be players who will suddenly disappear from the lineup. Games will be rescheduled later in the season. The NHL has structured this season to be as safe as possible given the general desire of owners and players to not return to the bubble, but everyone understands the unpredictability that comes with the bubble.

With that in mind, here’s my forecast for the 2021 season. Have fun!

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Intermediate NHL Division East

1. 1. Washington’s capitals (full view)
2. The capitals of the city. 2. Flyers from Philadelphia (full screen)
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (full image)
4. Boston Bruins (full frame)
5. 5. New York Islanders (full image)
6. New York Rangers (Full view)
7. Buffalo swords (full view)
8. The devils of New Jersey (full screen)

There can be few understated team accomplishments in the NHL other than five consecutive major league titles. The Capitals have won their division 10 times in Alex Ovechkin’s last 13 seasons. That’s what they do. Either way, Peter Laviolette will beat Jack Adams for playing them harder than they did in the bubble or for some bullshit, but mostly because he’s one of the few new head coaches this season, and that’s how the price works. The key to this prediction: That a deep and improved defensive unit plays best for Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek, who have potential, if not my extreme confidence.

The Flyers finished one point behind the Capitals last season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a field like that again. Carter Hart will have a career year and win the Vezina Trophy because his terrible stage fright will not matter if he plays in empty barns all season. The Flyers have a versatile group of forwards, and I love Oscar Lindblom-Shan Couturier-Travis the ultimate trio. I’m a little concerned about the implications of Matt Niskanen’s sudden retirement as a glue on blue line, but not as concerned as I am about what Gritty can do when he has an empty arena at his disposal every game. I imagine elaborate musical numbers with confetti cannons.

2 Connected

Take a look at the 2017-18 Penguins team and check it out now. The slow start of talent and personality at the top of the lineup in the middle of the decade finally caught up with the Penguins, but it’s hard not to give them a place in the playoffs because of the quality of their training and the continued relevance of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who return Jake Guentzel on the wing. But, my God, this is not a championship team. I’m not sure who should hear that, but it should be on the record.

Did you guys hear that free agent Torey Krug was not fired and Zdeno Chara is no longer with the Bruins? Because I really don’t understand why Boston is ranked first in the league by many experts, despite this defensive turnover rate and lack of replacement players. Not to mention that the Bruins can’t be a playoff team built on the back of their front row, Tuukka Raske and Jaroslav Halak.

It looks like we’ll be spared another postseason thanks to the Islanders’ anti-hockey art, which has only gotten worse since Ilya Sorokin joined the goalkeeping tandem. A very average team with an exemplary player in Mathew Barzal. I wonder if Jean-Gabriel Pago can still score 0.63 points per game on a six-year contract extension.

I was desperate for a way to get the Rangers into the playoffs, and they were able to do the traditional Metro ranking. But they’re still so young and so defensive (2.74 goals expected against last season’s NHL runner-up, 5-for-5). Unless Igor Shesterkin makes them eligible for the postseason. In that case he wins the Calder Trophy and the Vezina.

Buffalo swords. Dear, dear Buffalo. There needs to be an NFL Red Zone channel that shows us every line change from Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall so we don’t have to wait for Cody Eakin and Kyle Okposo to see them. The Sabres top the list of surprise teams, which makes sense in a 56-game sprint: 20 good games to start with, and maybe they’ll follow? But while they’ve filled in a few holes, they haven’t improved the defense or goaltending, which had a .900 save percentage last season. The Sabres are far more likely to trade Hall to a playoff team this season than they are to become one themselves.

There’s a chance the Devils took cover and left with Corey Crawford. Another season in the reservoir, but not without intrigue: What are the chances of Travis Zajac, Kyle Palmieri and/or Nikita Gusev transferring by the deadline, given that they’re all their age? (The Devils have a $39 million cap open for next summer. That’s not a typo.)

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