The NHL season is just days away and all the “experts” have made their picks for what team will lift the Lord Stanley’s Cup in June 2011. I figured I would throw my two cents in and let you know who will win it all, and compared to what all those experts think, I KNOW who will win it. (Disclaimer: I obviously have no idea who will win the Stanley Cup this season. Do not use these predictions if you are in Vegas gambling on the winner of the NHL.)
1. Washington Capitals
Last year’s President’s Trophy winner will most likely end up on top of the Eastern Conference again this season. With a team with so much offensive force it would be plain stupid to pass on them as the winners of the Southeast Division. The Caps combines their offensive skills with an impressive defensive line as well. The only questions about the Caps are: will Varlamov be stabile enough to carry the team on nights when Ovechkin & Co. aren’t able to put up the numbers, and did the caps learn anything from last years disappointing exit in the first round of the playoffs, or will they continue to be a great regular season team and then fail when the fun begins. If the answer to those two questions is yes, then we have a serious cup contender in the Washington Capitals.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have the last few years become a team that is always mentioned as a serious contender to win the cup, and rightfully so. A team with a center line consisting of Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal, who would have been a starting line center on any other team, plus a world-class goalie in Fleury combined with other extremely skilled players should always be considered a threat. Yes, the Penguins lost Gonchar over the summer, but they have added Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek. The Penguins will do just fine this season considering how they are coming of their longest summer break in years and the fact that they are playing in a brand new arena will definitely help their cause in the quest for the cup.
3. Boston Bruins
Expectations were high on the Bruins last year coming off a season where they won the Eastern Conference. However, the Bruins didn’t manage to live up to the expectations and ended up struggling all year long, especially when it came to scoring goals. I don’t think the bruins will struggle as much this year since they have Seguin who will be probably be able to put up decent numbers, along with the acquisition of Horton, who is a potent player. Boston has one of the most interesting goalie combinations in the league with Rask and Thomas, and a stellar defense led by Zdeno Chara. The Bruins will win the Northeast Division right before Buffalo and end up as the third seed in the East.
4. New Jersey Devils
Kovy, Kovy, Kovy. There has been a lot of talk over the summer regarding the contract offered to Kovalchuk. The league eventually signed off on it and the Devils were able to add one of the best scorers in the league to their roster. I think Kovy will have adjusted to the Devils by now and he will put up some great numbers. A first line consisting of Kovalchuk, Zajac and Parise is just as good as any first line any other team can put out on the ice. The addition of Johan Hedberg as back-up for Marty Brodeur is a great move by the Devils. Brodeur is not getting any younger and if they want him to be in shape for the playoffs then he will need a reliable back-up that can take some of the load of his shoulders. Brodeur cant play 75 games a season and still be fresh in the playoffs anymore. Also, the additions of Volchenkov and Tallinder will be good for the devils, as well as the signing of Jason Arnott. Expect the Devils to be one of the teams that will be standing when it is getting close to decide a winner.
5. Buffalo Sabres
With Ryan Miller in net the Sabres will be able to win games just because of him. He was the best goalie in the league last year and I don’t see a reason to why he wouldn’t be it this year too. The Sabres may have lost Tallinder and Lydman, but they have young guys, such as Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers, and Tyler Ennis who can step up even more this year and become real leaders for the team. If Vanek finally can be the player everybody expects him to be then the Sabres will be a ggod team this year. Will it be enough for them to win the Stanley Cup while celebrating 40 years? Probably not, the Sabres fans can expect their team to comfortably make it to the playoffs.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Why am I not ranking last year’s Stanley Cup finalist higher than 6th in the East? Well, only because the Flyers are a playoff team. There will be a lot of drama and turbulence in the Flyers camp during the season, but when the regular season is over expect the Flyers to be a mean, hard-hitting team with the right mentality to go deep in the playoffs again. The loss of Simon Gagne will hurt them though.
7. Tampa Bay Lightnings
I am jumping on the Steve Yzerman bandwagon and expect the Tamba Bay Lightnings to make the playoffs this year. They still have their veterans in St Louis and Lecavalier, they have Stamkos who put up 51 goals last year, plus a bunch of other young and talented players. Yzerman brings the winner mentality from the Red Wings organization and the Lightnings will be a team that will surprise a lot of fans around the league. The only reason I’m not ranking them higher is because I don’t think Ellis-Smith is that great of a goalie combination.
8. Ottawa Senators
The Senators have a lot of impressive offensive talent on their roster with players such as Gonchar, Alfredsson, Kovalev and Spezza, but who will take care of the defense? Their offensive skill and the fact that Spezza wants to prove that last year was a one-time thing will be enough for them to secure a playoff spot, but it won’t be an easy season for them.
9. Montreal Canadiens
Knocked out Washington and Pittsburg in the playoffs last year thanks to a goalie named Halak. Halak is no longer with the Habs and I think that will be the reason to why they will miss the playoffs this year. I don’t think Price has what it takes to carry an entire team on his shoulders. Unfortunately we will not be seeing profiles like PK Subban and Cammalleri coming spring and playoff time.
Toronto is a team that has been in the process of change for the past 10 years or so, but now I think they are finally on to something. They have a real starting goalie in Giguere and a good back-up in Gustavsson. The might have the best defense in the East with players such as Phaneuf, Komisarek, Kaberle, Beauchemin and Gunnarsson. The question about the Leafs is: Can they score? Sure they have Kessel, but he wasn’t all that great last year. Anyway, the Maple Leafs could be a playoff team this year, but if not now then absolutely next year. They have a lot of young interesting players that will develop into something good. The Maple Leafs will soon be back in the playoffs.
11. New York Rangers
The Rangers is probably the one organization in the league that has the worst management. Sometimes you wonder what Mr. Sather is thinking, like when he signed Wade Redden to a multi million-dollar contract over an extended period of time. Redden is now in the AHL playing, or when he gave Ales Kotalik a No-Trade clause. Anyways, no other team in the league was more dependent on one player than the Rangers were last year. If it wasn’t for Lundqvist (and a little bit of Gaborik) they wouldn’t even have been close to making the playoffs. This year they have signed Biron to help him out, which is a good signing, but unfortunately it won’t be enough for the blue shirts. No playoffs this year either.
12. Atlanta Thrashers
The Atlanta Thrashers can be considered the Blackhawks light. They managed to pick up four players: Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and Dustin Byfuglien. They also took the assistant general manager from Chicago. The Thrashers have a lot of new faces on the roster this year and it will probably take them a while to get going and by then it will be too late. No playoffs for the Atlanta team. They will also miss a scorer of Kovalchuk’s ability, along with no really good goalie.
13. Carolina Hurricanes
Probably the most boring team in the league. They have no profiles or stars except for Eric Staal and he hasn’t even been that great since they won the Cup back in 2006. They will be team at the bottom of the Eastern conference and you won’t be hearing much about them this year, just like any other year.
14. Florida Panthers
Dick Tallon, the guy behind the transformation of the Chicago Blackhawks, is now in southern Florida and his job is to transform the Panthers in the same way. That is easier said than done. In Chicago he had Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith to work with, in Florida he has… nothing. Well, he has Markstrom who will be a world-class goalie and he is the future of the Florida franchise, but besides him there isn’t a whole lot at the moment. A point that is proven by looking at who are considered to be their most important players: Stephen Weiss and Bryan McCabe, besides Vokoun. Vokoun is a great goalie and did wonders for Florida last year, but it will be a season in the bottom of the East for the Panthers.
15. New York Islanders
The roster was a sad sight even before the injuries to Streit and Okposo. With them injured for a while and no one to take their spots it is going to be a long season for all the fans in Nassau Coliseum. The last spot in the conference has Islanders’ name on it.
1. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are a great regular season team, and therefore I believe they will win the Western Conference. They have pretty much the same team as last year, but with one exception: instead of having Nabokov in net they now have Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi. The Sharks have become known for choking in the playoffs, but last year they actually made it all the way to the Conference Finals. I think with that experience and the fact that Nabokov is no longer around will make the Sharks a threat this year.
2. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings aren’t getting any younger and with the addition of Mike Modano they are certainly still the oldest team in the league. However, they might also be the most talented team in the league. Since the Red Wings finally didn’t make it to the finals last year they got some extra well needed rest. The Red Wings will want to prove that last year, which was the worst season in decades for the organization, was due to lack of rest and injuries. Lidstrom & Co. want to win the Cup one last time before they retire and I think they will be able to do it.
3. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks have one of the best goalies in the league in Luongo, they have one of the best first lines as well with Sedin, Sedin and Burrows, but will that be enough? It hasn’t been previous years since they have lost to the Blackhawks two years in a row in the playoffs. Is this the year? I think they will go far, and I think they have learned something from the earlier defeats, but will they win? Probably not.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser, Adam Burish and Cristobal Huet have all left the Champs from last season. However the Blackhawks still have their stars in Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith etc. What they lost is the depth, and of course a goalie. They signed Turco over the summer, but his career is going downhill. I don’t believe in a repeat, but if Turco plays like he did a few years ago, then it could happen. The Blackhawks still have the best D in the league.
5. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were able to get to the playoffs last year and I think they will be able to do the same thing this year. They have a great mix of young and old players and a solid goalie. They also have a few upcoming stars in Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar. Kopitar is just as good as Malkin, but you don’t hear much about him since he is all the way out west. The Kings will make it to the playoffs and if they get a good start they will surprise a lot of people and play in the Western Conference Finals, and maybe even the Stanley Cup Finals.
6. Phoenix Coyotes
This team has no real owner, they almost went bankrupt before last season and despite the chaos they managed to end 4th in the West and taking the Red Wings to seven games in the first round of the playoffs. I believe the Coyotes are just as good as they were last year and they will without a doubt be there when the fun starts in the spring, and if Bryzgalov keeps playing like he has the last few years the playoffs could get fun in Arizona.
7. St. Louis Blues
The Blues missed the playoffs last year, but now their young guns know what it takes to be a playoff team and they will bounce back hungry for success. The Playoffs better get ready for the Blues, especially since the have last year’s playoff king Halak in net now.
8. Nashville Predators
Somehow the Predators always manage to sneak into the playoffs and this year will not be an exception. It will be a battle though with Edmonton and Colorado falling just short.
9. Edmonton Oilers
Like I wrote in an earlier post, the Edmonton fans are excited about this season. Unfortunately they won’t be able to go all the way to the playoffs, not yet. Their young players will start off great, but as the long NHL season starts wearing them out they will fall back. However, the Oilers are a team to look out for as they will most likely make the same transformation as the Pittsburgh Penguins did a few years back.
10. Colorado Avalanche
They made it last year, but this year will be a year “in between” for the young Avalanche, pretty much like how the Blues made it two years ago, but then missed the playoffs last year. The Avalanche are becoming a good team again, but this year they will have to watch the playoff from their couches.
11. Calgary Flames
Sorry Flames fans you are not going to make it this year either and why did you re-sign Tanguy and Jokinen? Wasn’t it pretty obvious they don’t work with Iginla? Until the Flames sign players that can play with Iginla there won’t be any playoff hockey being played in Calgary.
12. Anaheim Ducks
Pronger left a huge hole in the Ducks’ defense when he went to Philly, and Niedermayer will leave one too. The Ducks have done nothing to cover up for those huge losses and without doing so the offensive power from Getzlaf, Ryan, Perry and the Finnish Connection. No hockey will be played in Orange County this spring.
13. Minnesota Wild
The Wild decided to get rid of their coach Jacques Lemaire because they wanted to play more offensively. That didn’t really work out for them last year and I don’t see it working out for them this year either. They just don’t have the players to play an offensive style hockey. If anything will happen for the Wild this year, then Havlat must start scoring points again, but that is unlikely to happen if you ask me.
14. Dallas Stars
Not a whole lot to say about the Dallas Stars. They have been losing players for a few years and they haven’t been able to afford adequate cover for these losses. Therefore they now don’t have much of a team except for their first line. Dallas has a long way to go before they will play in the playoffs again.
15. Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus Blue Jackets are probably the worst team in the West. They have nothing except for Rick Nash. Steve Mason needs to play like he did his rookie year if the Blue Jackets will have any chance of staying away from the last spot in the West.
Stanley Cup Finals
New Jersey Devils 2 – Detroit Red Wings 4
What do you think, am I on to something here or am I way off?