10 predictions for the 2022-23 PHF season

It’s reckless prediction season!

Believe it or not, the 2022-23 PHF season is here. A lot has changed since Boston Pride were celebrating with the Isobel Cup in Tampa Bay.

Once again, the PHF has expanded into a new Canadian market and, once again, we saw significant turnover on almost every roster in the league. We have new stars — like Brittany Howard, Sydney Brodt, and Ann-Sophie Bettez — and some familiar faces back in the league like Amanda Pelkey and Brooke Stacey. Of course, we are also adjusting to the departure of stars and fan favorites like Winny Brodt Brown, Audra Morrison, Katie Burt, Taylor Accursi, Marie-Jo Pelletier, and Emily Fluke.

All of these changes make it tricky to predict how everything will unfold when the puck drops. But someone out there has to paint a target on themselves by making some bold predictions for the 2022-23 season — it might as well be me.

Madison Packer approaches 30 points

Judging by her social media accounts, Packer is in the best shape of her life and this is the best Riveters team we have seen in a few years. That’s why I think Packer can put together a 30-point milestone like she did in 2018-19 when she tore up the league with Kate Leary. She had 23 points in 20 GP last year and I feel like she is capable of crushing that production with a stronger supporting cast around her — though she might not see as much ice time as she has in past seasons under a new head coach.

The 2021-22 Riveters were far too dependent on Packer and Kendall Cornine to score goals. That is not going to be the case in 2022-23. There’s so much more offensive skill on this roster and, on paper, the blue line looks like it will have a lot more success moving the puck at evens and on the power play. I expect the Rivs to take some time to get into gear but I also expect them to overpower opposing teams and score a lot more than they did last year. Packer will be right in the middle of all of it.

The Montreal Force will finish at the bottom

I like a lot about what Montreal has in place for its first season — especially in its leadership on and off the ice — but I have questions about this squad’s scoring depth and defense. I think they will lean on their very capable goaltending and their top two forward lines but will have a hard time measuring up to the established powers of this league. I also think they are going to miss having a true home-ice advantage.

Am I certain that Montreal will finish last? Absolutely not, but I am confident they will finish in the bottom half of the standings. There’s good coaching, a peerless analytics team, and some exceptional veterans there, so I don’t think they’ll be in any real trouble. But this is a tough league to win in and it’s not easy being the new kids on the block.

The Boston Pride power play doesn’t suck

The Boston Pride had a 5.6 success rate on the power play in 2021-22, which means it is going to be better this year. That’s it. That’s my entire point here. It simply can’t be that bad again — not with all of the talent they have in Boston and not with the power of Paul Mara’s frown radiating from the bench.

My big bold prediction here is that the Pride PP improves to at least 15 percent — something four of six teams managed last year. Toronto led the league with a 22.8% power play in 2020-21. I love the potential of this group at evens and on special teams and it would be shocking to see them finish last in any major statistical category.

Brooke Stacey scores 10 (or more)

Don’t sleep on Brooke Stacey’s return to pro hockey.

I am a big fan of Stacey’s game and think the Force should structure part of their attack around her and her strengths. Anyone who was a Beauts fan in 2018-19 or a follower of the Maine Black Bears knows exactly what I’m talking about. Stacey can be overwhelming with her speed, size, and strength and is so good at protecting the puck, especially with defenders draped over her back.

Selfishly, I would love to see a top line of Ann-Sophie Bettez, Sarah Lefort, and Brooke Stacey. I feel like that line would do a great job of owning the puck and attacking on the rush at evens but I suspect we might only see that trio on the ice together on the power-play.

Regardless of who she plays with, Stacey is going to be a key player for the Force. If she’s in the lineup every game, scoring 10 goals is absolutely within her reach. Thus far in her NWHL/PHF career, she has 8 goals in 20 appearances — and she managed that on Beauts teams that were starved for offense.

Kennedy Marchment will be the league’s top scorer

In the preseason, we saw a top line of Marchment with Katka Mrázová and Taylor Girard for the Whale. Good lord.

The Whale are by no means a one-line team but I think all of the scoring depth they have in 2022-23 just makes Marchment and her line that much better. Why? Because opposing teams will be spending that much more time in their own zone and taking more penalties and struggling to find the right matchup to contain the Marchment line.

There are a lot of amazing lines in the PHF. Right now, this is the top line in the league until proven otherwise.

The Buffalo Beauts get out of the cellar

I don’t see this year’s Beauts team finishing in last, but I don’t think they finish in the top half of the standings. Buffalo addressed all of its greatest needs over the offseason and has more depth down the middle and skill on the blue line. They also added a gamebreaking talent in Mikyla Grant-Mentis, who can flip a switch and take over a game on any given night.

I think this is the year we finally see the Beauts figure out the connection between consistently losing the possession battle and how it has lead to them chasing the puck and beating themselves by taking penalties. It’s now up to head coach Rhea Coad and her staff to find a way to make the Beauts greater than the sum of their parts.

Brittany Howard will lead T6 in scoring

Brittany Howard is going to tear it up in Toronto this season.

I look at Toronto’s top three lines and see a lot to like, even with Grant-Mentis out of the picture. Michaela Cava is back with the team, Tereza Vanišová, Leah Lum, and Lexi Templeman have joined the fold, and Shiann Darkangelo, Emma Woods, Brooke Boquist, and BWB are all still here. On paper, this offense has a higher potential than last year and a big part of that is Howard.

If Toronto’s PP is as good as it was last season, I would not be surprised if Howard leads the league in power-play goals — especially with a mind like Geraldine Heaney cooking up set plays. There’s a lot of opportunity for Howard to lead the charge and pile up the points as the main target of this offense at evens and on the PP. It’s going to be fun to watch.

Minnesota will have the highest-scoring blue line

Amanda Boulier is back, Sidney Morin is a Whitecap, and we’re slated to have a full season of Sydney Baldwin in Minnesota. This blue line is going to light it up and bring out the best in a deep, balanced group of forwards.

I will never forget former head coach Jack Brodt stating plainly that Baldwin was the best player on a Whitecaps team that had Jonna Albers, Allie Thunstrom, and Amanda Leveille on it. Did you know that Baldwin has 23 points — 10 of which are goals — in 23 PHF regular season games? Well, you do now. She’s crazy good and Boulier and Morin are in the same tier as her. They’re all elite puck-moving defenders who can create offense.

Honestly, I just want to see all of three of them on the same power play unit. Forwards are overrated, anyway.

Schroeder will lead the league in wins

This is one I definitely don’t feel certain about but it’s a fun take so we are going with it.

I think it will either be Elaine Chuli, Amanda Leveille, Meeri Räisänen, or Schroeder who leads the league in wins in 2022-23. The more I stew on it, the more I like Schroeder’s chances. The Six and Whitecaps should be very mindful about overworking their workhorse starters and, at the moment, it feels like Abbie Ives is sharing the crease with Räisänen in a 1B/1A situation in Connecticut.

Schroeder has Lovisa Selander behind her but I’m of the opinion that Selander is at her best when she’s getting lots of minutes — which probably won’t be the case with Schroeder in the picture. That sets the stage for Schroeder earning the starting role and keeping it with Selander as backup and we all expect Boston to pile up wins this year.

The Connecticut Whale will win the Isobel Cup

That’s right. I said it. And they’re going to be regular season champions again.

I could rattle off a list of reasons why this will happen, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll state the obvious: this team is perhaps even better than it was last year and the hockey gods couldn’t possibly deny the Whale again. Right?

We really do need playoff series and not single-game eliminations.

I think we can all agree that if I get half of these right I should, at the very least, get a cookie and be told I am very smart. Some of these predictions are much bigger swings than others but I tried to keep things spicy and touch on every team at least once. Let me know what you think and let me hear your predictions for season 8 of the PHF.