Bold predictions for the second half of the NHL season: No Kane trade? 160 points for McDavid?

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The NHL has passed the mathematical midpoint of the 2022-23 regular season. We’ve graded all 32 teams — including one A+ and two F’s — and announced the winners of our own batch of awards.

With the 2023 All-Star Game and skills competition approaching on Feb. 3-4, we turn our focus to the collective bold predictions from our ESPN hockey family.

Which players will be on the move before the trade deadline? Which teams will jump into — or fall out of — playoff position? How many points will Connor McDavid amass by season’s end?

I know. BOLD. Chychrun’s name has been bandied about in trade rumors for so long that to see it finally happen will be something. The Arizona Coyotes are looking for a lot in return for the blueliner, and rightfully so, given what Chychrun has shown in the past and could be capable of in the future. A team will step up at last and give the Coyotes what they want for a game-changing defender. — Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter

It’s clear that Kane isn’t himself this season. He’s tracking for his lowest points-per-60 minutes average since 2011-12. He missed a couple of games because of injury. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet speculated recently that Kane could be shut down, sign a one-year extension with the Blackhawks and then see where things are with himself and the team next season. Kane pushed back on that in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago this week, saying, “That’s definitely not where we’re at right now.”

I don’t know if it’s the injury, the flat cap complicating a trade, his undeniable affinity for being a Blackhawk, or the roots he’s put down in Chicago, but I just have an inkling that the Patrick Kane trade we’re all anticipating doesn’t end up happening. Now, Jonathan Toews, on the other hand … — Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter

There will be few fireworks at the trade deadline

The names seemingly available for trade are flashy: Norris Trophy front-runner Erik Karlsson, plus Stanley Cup champs Jonathan Toews, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly, just to name a few.

But too many teams are strapped against the flat cap to make maneuvers. Plus, parity is so intense, few teams feel confident this truly is their year. Many clubs looking to add have depleted draft capital and prospect systems; those who have first-round picks want to hold on to them for a deep and talented 2023 draft class. Vancouver captain Bo Horvat is likely on the move. The fate of everyone else is a lot less clear. — Emily Kaplan, NHL reporter

They are one of the most fun teams to watch in the NHL and are six points out of a wild card. Closing that gap is not impossible, since they have games in hand on some of the other bubble teams in the East.

The case for them doing so: Tage Thompson, who is among the top scorers in the league; Rasmus Dahlin, who has leveled up this season; and while the goaltending has leaked goals at times, Craig Anderson has a .921 save percentage through 15 games. (Reminder: He’s 41!)

There’s an aura around this team that is definitely carrying them. They have the third-most goals in the NHL. I’m believing in this team’s chances, even if there are still things to be addressed, possibly during trade season. I’m enjoying the ride. — Arda Ocal, NHL host

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The NHL’s second-half storylines to watch

Chris Chelios and Mark Messier detail some of the top storylines they’re watching in the NHL’s second half.

The Flames had an 84.5% chance of making the Stanley Cup playoffs as of Thursday, per FiveThirtyEight. Those are the 11th-best odds of any NHL team to qualify for the postseason. But I think they miss.

GM Brad Treliving deserves a ton of credit for attempting to plug the leaks of this vessel after Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk left. But it turns out replacing their 43 goals, plus the ones they generated for others, is quite difficult: The Flames are 23rd in goals per game and 24th in 5-on-5 shooting percentage. Jacob Markstrom has been ordinary in goal.

I don’t like the numbers for them, either: Vegas, Los Angeles and Seattle all look solid. Nashville, St. Louis and especially Colorado are in the wild-card race from the Central; Edmonton, meanwhile, has two players we’ve seen drag mediocre Oilers teams to the playoffs by themselves. The Flames get snuffed out in the West. — Wyshynski

First of all, Paul Maurice’s charges are better than their current 19-20-4 record suggests, keeping top-five company with clubs like the Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in Corsi for percentage (54.33), according to Evolving Hockey. Such robust figures tend to translate into more wins over time.

They’re finally back to reasonable health after having to manage without key figures over significant stretches. By my arithmetic, Aleksander Barkov, Anton Lundell, Aaron Ekblad and (underrated defender) Radko Gudas alone have missed a combined 40 games to date.

After a volatile start to 2022-23, Sergei Bobrovsky is playing better. Anthony Duclair‘s return — post All-Star break? — will inject extra oomph into the offense. This team is going on a heater this winter, one sizzling enough to boost it into a playoff spot in the Atlantic. You just watch. — Victoria Matiash, NHL analyst

How do you predict a champion in a season in which there’s a double-digit number of teams equipped to win it all? It’s tough. And Carolina’s toughest competition will come in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins, who are trying to win one last Cup for their captain, Patrice Bergeron, have talent, depth, and structure — as well as the playoff X factor — goaltending.

But the recent trend of Cup winners has been teams with a few years of sustained regular-season success followed by playoff heartbreak before finally breaking through. That’s the trajectory Carolina is on right now. The one thing they missed last year was an elite scorer who could step up in big moments. Enter Max Pacioretty, and the Canes now have everything they need (though they will probably get some depth reinforcements at the deadline for good measure). — Kaplan

No coaches will be fired

Since 1966-67, there’s been only one full NHL season that didn’t feature at least one coach getting fired. We haven’t had a firing yet in 2022-23.

There’s been a lot of speculation about Bruce Boudreau’s status with the Vancouver Canucks and the lack of success for D.J. Smith’s Ottawa Senators, as those two coaches lead the “first coach fired” odds at sportsbooks. After New Year’s Day, there are historically one or two coaches who get canned.

But I think the 32 bench bosses could escape this season without one of them losing his gig. The fact is that 23 coaches were hired within the past three years, including 11 coaches hired in the offseason. Consider that some likely preseason firing candidates — looking at you, Lindy Ruff (Devils), Peter Laviolette (Capitals) and Dave Hakstol (Kraken) — are coaching teams that are excelling. Many teams that are struggling, such as Anaheim, will likely wait until after the season to make a change — why lessen your Connor Bedard draft odds with sudden success on the ice?

So perhaps the coaches escape unscathed … barring a reactionary owner taking desperate measures, of course. (Hi, James Dolan.) — Wyshynski

Can you ever go wrong betting on Connor McDavid? The Edmonton Oilers‘ captain has been scoring at a torrid pace this season and, yes, he’s going to reach 160 points for the first time since Mario Lemieux did it in 1995-96. (Fun fact: Only Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky have ever put together 160-point campaigns; Lemieux did it four times, Gretzky achieved it nine times.)

McDavid will have to stay healthy to get there, too, and avoid any lengthy dry spells. But if any player can climb that mountain, it’s McDavid. — Shilton

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