The Wysh list: Bold predictions for 2019; Gritty dresses up as Santa

The Wysh List publishes every Friday.

For hockey fans, 2018 was a truly magical year, in the sense that nothing short of the supernatural could have gotten an expansion team in the Stanley Cup Final and the Washington Capitals to actually win the thing.

What does 2019 hold? Here are 15 bold predictions for next year, all of them completely accurate, as If this was written by some type of soothsayer. Here’s to a happy and healthy year for us all.

Nashville and Las Vegas are given outdoor games. At this point, it would be a mild surprise if Music City didn’t get a Stadium Series game announced in the next few months. (The Detroit Red Wings would be an interesting and nostalgic choice; the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets would be the best from a hockey perspective; please no Blackhawks, NHL.) With the Raiders’ stadium under construction in Vegas, we’ll go ahead and predict a Stadium Series game in Sin City also gets announced, against the Los Angeles Kings. (As for Winter Classic 2020, total guess, but Buffalo vs. Toronto in Western New York.)

Elias Pettersson wins NHL All-Star Game MVP. The Pacific Division has won two of the three All-Star 3-on-3 tournaments and made the final in that other year. There’s a decent chance that the Canucks’ star rookie could end up on Connor McDavid‘s wing, with little defense, plenty of open ice and the motivating desire to show up the veterans. He scores 15 goals. Let’s go.

Tom Wilson escapes suspension for the rest of the regular season. I’m using the word “escapes” here because I expect a couple of additional “borderline” plays that blow up #HockeyTwitter. But nothing that rises to the level of suspension by the Department of Player Safety. Which is a shame, because we love reading Gary Bettman appeal rejection essays. Then again, it also means Wilson wouldn’t have performed amateur cranial surgery on an opponent, so that’s good.

Rick Nash returns, signs with the Maple Leafs. After John Tavares made it safe for veteran Good Ontario Boys to return home, Nash feels well enough to sign for the rest of the season and play for his former Olympic coach, Mike Babcock. (This is partially just a wish our heart is making, because it’s tragic what happened to this star’s career due to concussion symptoms.)

Scott Gordon earns the Flyers’ head-coaching gig. Given the amount of games and his relationship with the team’s younger players, a marginal improvement by the Flyers under Gordon’s watch allows him to shake off the interim tag and gives Philadelphia their next head coach until he’s fired two seasons later.

Joel Quenneville hired by St. Louis Blues for record-breaking contract. Coach Q spurns more appealing landing spots to return to where it all began … because they were willing to give him more years and money than what Mike Babcock received in Toronto. (No prediction on whether this was penance from GM Doug Armstrong for having selected Babcock as Team Canada’s coach in Sochi over Quenneville.)

Artemi Panarin signs with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Russian star rejoins Patrick Kane on the team’s top line for seven seasons. How do they make it work under the cap? Partially by trading Brandon Saad and his $6 million cap hit. Hence, the star winger laundering is complete.

The CWHL and NWHL finally merge, with league backing. As the women’s national team players have shown, if they band together in support of a movement, they can get things done. And too many of them from the U.S. and Canada have indicated they want one league for this to not happen soon.

Seattle Metropolitans vetoed by NHL, so they become the Sockeyes. At the board of governors meeting, Bettman gave one of those parental “we’ll see” comments when the idea of Seattle’s expansion team sharing a name with one of the league’s four divisions was brought up. So we’ll go ahead and assume that won’t happen. Neither does Kraken, unfortunately. Seattle gets fishy, goes with Sockeyes, which has some local popularity.

The Buffalo Sabres shock the hockey world, win a first-round playoff series. Apologies in advance to the winner of the Metropolitan Division.

Sean Monahan wins the Lady Byng. Finally fulfilling the destiny that the Boring Sean Monahan meme predicted.

Connor McDavid wins the Hart Trophy as Edmonton snags a wild-card spot. The “bold” part of the prediction might be the Oilers actually crossing that finish line ahead of seven other teams.

Ottawa wins the draft lottery, sparking a massive franchise-redefining celebration … in Denver, where Jack Hughes will give the Avalanche the next Patrick Kane to add to their arsenal, having acquired the Senators’ pick in the Matt Duchene trade. It really can’t go any other way for Ottawa, can it?

We see at least one offer sheet signed, and one William Nylander-like stalemate from the RFAs. I’ll go Brayden Point on the offer sheet and William Karlsson with the Willie Special.

Gritty appears at the NHL Awards, except it’s actually Gary Bettman in the suit. And it’s the most epic jumping of the shark since the last time Logan Couture tried to low-bridge an opponent. Speaking of Gritty …

The week in gritty

Gritty dressing up as Santa Claus has lasted slightly longer than Advent. Here’s our beloved googly eyed canister of Tang in a Christmas cartoon, via the Philadelphia Flyers.

Two reactions:

1. We’re still thinking the Flyers had no idea how big Gritty was going to be, because otherwise this would have been a Rankin/Bass stop-motion style holiday classic.

2. We understand that there needs to be a sense of decorum and responsibility here because essentially this is a mascot created for the enjoyment of children, no matter how we’ve appropriated it for our own amusement — but the real Gritty 1 billion percent eats that penguin.

RIP All-Star voting

There are three reasons we know the name Zemgus Girgensons.

The first is that he plays for the Buffalo Sabres, at least when he’s not a healthy scratch. The second was that Latvian hip-hop song that he inspired. The third was that incredible surge in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game voting, thanks to those fans back in Latvia flooding the ballot box.

When fan voting wrapped up on Jan. 1, 2015, Girgensons finished with 1,574,896 votes. That was 350,000 more than Patrick Kane.

One looks back fondly at this campaign, but one no longer recognizes it. The John Scott fairy tale of 2016 was the Girgensons campaign turned up to 11, culminating in the ultimate goof-vote-turned-sports-legend that’s basically muted any further attempts at such chicanery. But there’s another reason why the Girgensons and Scott votes can’t happen again: The NHL has decided that the fan votes are more trouble than they’re worth and doesn’t even release the vote totals any longer.

This week, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (Atlantic), Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (Central), Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (Metropolitan) and Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (Pacific) were voted in as All-Star Game captains. There were no vote totals announced, nor were they touted during All-Star Game voting.

This was a practice started during the Scott campaign, when the league was so embarrassed by the fans’ will — which, for the record, produced one of the most impactful and popular NHL All-Star weekends in recent memory — that it refused to release vote totals during the voting, nor at the end of the voting.

(The fans could view Scott’s place in the rankings online, but with no vote totals attached.)

My theory on keeping the vote totals out of public discourse: That there’s been so much fan apathy created around the All-Star voting that the totals are embarrassingly low. There’s been a decreasing number of players that fans can vote into the game. Back in the day, it was 12 players from both conferences. Now it’s four, one from each division. The remaining players who will comprise the four All-Star rosters will be determined by the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department. There are 44 players in the All-Star Game, which allegedly is the “fans’ game,” and yet they vote for 9 percent of the players in that game. That’s absurd, and we know it, so we don’t care.

Plus, after the “Vote For Rory” mess and the Montreal Canadiens‘ ballot box stuffing and Girgensons and Scott, it’s clear the NHL feels releasing vote totals is more trouble than it’s worth.

This isn’t meant to be an anti-All-Star Game screed. It’s one of my favorite events in sports, in particular the skills competition. But let’s end the charade that it’s in any way a celebration created by the fans. They limit our votes and then don’t even announce how many there were. We have about as much influence on the current incarnation of the All-Star Game as we do on the noise-o-meter on the Jumbotron, which (spoiler warning) explodes no matter how loud we are.

But, hey, we’ll always have John Scott, All-Star Game MVP. They can’t take that away from us.

I mean, they tried. They really, really tried. Really, really, really ….

Jersey fouls

Meanwhile, on Long Island ….

The John Tavares protest jerseys have spread to Christmas ornaments, we see.

Listen to ESPN ON ICE

It’s the top 10 stories of 2018 from ESPN ON ICE. Hear Emily Kaplan and I count them down, from the scandals to the face-licking to the post-Cup revelry of Alex Ovechkin. Stream it here or grab it on iTunes here.

Puck headlines

I don’t hate Jake Guentzel at five years for $6 million annually. William Nylander reset the market. All this talk about “Sid made him” misses the fact that it hasn’t been the case for everyone during Sidney Crosby‘s reign. If he’s the new Chris Kunitz, so be it.

On the IIHF and the “wussification” of hockey.

Points for the Harry Potter lede on this story about Austin Lemieux, son of Mario.

Ken Campbell on the Humboldt Broncos: “A lot of us who were there in April went back for the Broncos’ home opener on Sept. 12. There had been some healing, but it would be folly to think that those families or that community would be able to make any sense of what happened or be able to manage their grief. Some never will.”

Carter Hart mania is running wild in Philadelphia.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Game is headed to St. Louis, apparently. Get ready for a slew of new NHL announcements next month, including what we hope is an outdoor game in Nashville.

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

In praise of Mark Giordano ($), who probably would have a Norris Trophy by now were it not for injuries.

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Great work here from Emily Kaplan on Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton.

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