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Crystal ball has answers for 2015-16 questions

NHL.com @NHL

The 2015-16 NHL season starts Wednesday and is full of interesting storylines.

Instead of waiting until it ends nine months from now, we decided to look into the future and do some prognosticating. We asked NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen to channel his fortune-telling powers and use his answers to shed some light on eight telling questions about the upcoming season.

Here are the answers:

1. Will Phil Kessel score 50 goals in his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Though it's hard to predict a player will score 40 goals, let alone 50, because of how difficult it is to reach those numbers, let's remember that Kessel scored 37 goals two seasons ago playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs with Tyler Bozak as his center. This is not a knock on Bozak by any means, but you won't find anyone anywhere willing to compare him to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

If healthy, Kessel should be good for at least 30 goals at even strength playing on the wing with Crosby or Malkin as his center (Kessel will get first chance with Crosby). Considering the Penguins' first power-play unit should feature Kessel with Crosby and Malkin, plus defenseman Kris Letang, Kessel could score 15 or so power-play goals. Put it together and the outlook is good for Kessel to reach 50, as bold a prediction as that may be.

2. Will anyone reach 100 points this season?

If the outlook is good for Kessel to score 50 goals, it stands to reason Crosby or Malkin will pile up the assists and get to 100 points. They've done it before, without Kessel.

If Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn is going to play an entire season on a line with Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp, it wouldn't be shocking to see him reach 100 points. Benn won the Art Ross Trophy with 87 points last season, when Sharp was with the Chicago Blackhawks and Seguin missed 11 games.

There have been three 100-point scorers in the past four full NHL seasons, none last season, but that doesn't mean they're extinct (Crosby had 104 in 2013-14; Malkin had 109 in 2011-12; Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks had 104 in 2010-11). Don't bank on four players reaching more than 100 points, which happened in 2009-10, but there could be one or two.

3. Will Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price break the single-season record of 48 wins?

Price could top 40 wins again (he had 44 last season), but he won't break Martin Brodeur's record of 48, which he set with the New Jersey Devils in 2006-07.

Price won 66.7 percent of his games, all starts, last season (44 of 66). If he wins at the same percentage this season, he will have to start or be the goalie of record in 72 games, a number he has reached once in his NHL career (2010-11, when he won 38 games). It's unlikely Price will start, or play in, that many games. He has averaged 65.5 games in the past four 82-game seasons.

It also may be unrealistic for him to have a .667 winning percentage again. His winning percentage in eight NHL seasons is .513 (223 wins, 435 games).

The Canadiens used Dustin Tokarski in 17 games last season, when Price was dominating and clearly the best in the world. Rookie Mike Condon won the backup job out of training camp. Montreal has 16 sets of back-to-back games this season, so coach Michel Therrien should use Condon, provided he remains the backup, in at least that many games, if not more.

4. Can someone other than Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres or Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers win the Calder Trophy?

Bring up the Calder Trophy and say the name of any other rookie -- be it Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames, Max Domi or Anthony Duclair of the Arizona Coyotes, Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings, Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets, Sergei Plotnikov of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sam Reinhart of the Sabres, or Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks -- and the answer will be a variation of the same thing:

Yeah, but McDavid.

Yeah, but Eichel.

Yeah, but McDavid and Eichel.

Technically, yes, another rookie can be outstanding this season to steal it from one of these future stars, but this has all the makings of a Calder race that will evoke memories of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Crosby in 2005-06. There will be two legit candidates, then everyone else.

5. Will Mike Babcock work his magic with the Toronto Maple Leafs and reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first season as their coach?

The better question would be, "Will Babcock work his magic with the Maple Leafs to speed their rebuilding process along in his first season as their coach?"

The answer to the question being asked here is no, the Maple Leafs will not make the playoffs this season. Babcock is a winner, has been wherever he's gone, at every level he's coached at, but the Maple Leafs represent his greatest challenge and are not built to win this season.

Toronto has a lot of players, a lot of parts, but Babcock is not a miracle worker and it won't come together quickly enough for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs this season. A more realistic goal is for Babcock to see improvement. That's possible, if not likely.

6. Is there a defenseman who can top 70 points this season?

Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson had 66 points last season, down from the 74 he had in 2013-14. Average it out for two seasons and you get 70, which should be his over/under number. Take the over.

P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning are other candidates for 70-plus points. Subban had 60 last season, up from 53 in 2013-14. He was on a 74-point pace (38 points in 44 games) in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He's 26, improving, in his prime. He can do it.

If Hedman initiates more of the end-to-end rushes he made during the playoffs last season, he could be in the neighborhood of 70 points too. He had 55 points in 75 games in 2013-14, which was as close to a full season as he's played. His confidence wasn't as high in that season as it is now.

7. Will the Calgary Flames continue the improvement they showed last season?

The Flames will be the latest test study for the analytics community, whose voice is growing louder, for good reason. All signs point to regression from the Flames, particularly because their underlying numbers last season, including shot-attempts percentage (44.4 percent) and goal differential (plus-36 after the second period) fuel reasonable arguments that they could take a step backward in the same manner the Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche did in previous seasons.

However, the difference between the Flames and the Maple Leafs and Avalanche is they identified that they were bucking the analytics trend to make the playoffs and went about trying to fix their deficiencies. The offseason additions of defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forward Michael Frolik should help Calgary. Having Bennett for a full season could bolster the Flames' center depth.

There seemed to be an air of contentment with the Maple Leafs and Avalanche in previous seasons. That is not the case with the Flames. It could be the difference for them, but the fact is they can't rely on winning games this season the way they did last season.

8. Will a team win the Stanley Cup for the first time?

The best candidates to break through in the Western Conference are the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, but they could cannibalize each other. I've predicted that the Wild will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, so they have a chance.

The best candidate in the Eastern Conference is the Washington Capitals, but the New York Rangers have been a wall they have not been able to get past. Even if the Capitals do defeat that nemesis -- I think they can -- they'll eventually run into the Lightning, who remind me of the Penguins from 2008-09.

Tampa Bay last season, like Pittsburgh in 2007-08, gained playoff experience by reaching the Stanley Cup Final and perspective by losing it (in six games to the Blackhawks). The Penguins won the Cup the following season. The Lightning will do the same and win the Cup for the second time (2004).

Book it.

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