2011-2012 NHL Predictions

Who’s pumped for NHL opening night tomorrow? I’m still shaking off the stanley cup hangover…or crying fest…whatever it may be. I left my season predictions to the final possible moment, mostly because my time has been sucked up by prepping for hockey pools. Ok, so lets do this. If you hate my picks…good, its too easy if you just let it happen all the time 🙂

Western Conference

(P) – Makes playoffs

Central Divison

1) Chicago (P)

2) Detroit (P)

3) Nashville (P)

4) St. Louis (P)

5) Columbus

This division is shaping up to be the toughest in the Western Conference. My projected last place team Columbus is no pushover either especially with their additions of Carter and Wisniewski. The battle for first in this division will be tight, but I’m giving it to the younger Blackhawks who will be hungry to get back to the elite tier after a Cup hangover like season. Nashville seems to always be there in the end and with Rinne they should be. St. Louis looks stacked offensively, they have 3 solid lines that can fill the net. However, keeping the puck out of their net will be the key as they are relying heavily on 2 very young d-men in Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk to soak up tons of ice time.

Northwest Division

1) Vancouver (P)

2) Minnesota

3) Calgary

4) Edmonton

5) Colorado

The Canucks should take this division again in a cake walk. The defending Western Conference champs have the luxury of playing in the weakest division in the conference. Their depth will be tested a bit in the beginning with injuries to Raymond, Kesler and Rome; however, there’s enough depth here to keep them ahead of the pack. Minny will look to newcomers Heatley and Setoguchi to provide the offensive punch that this team seems to lack in year in and year out. I see the Wild sniffing around the 8th seed, but just miss out when all is said and done. The Flames are an ageing bunch and I wonder how long it will take before Flames fans cry out for a blow up of the roster. I don’t see them blowing the team up and instead I see them riding out the ageing stars to another missed playoff run. Edmonton is loaded with top level prospects and the addition of Captain Canada Ryan Smyth will help in the continued development of the youngsters. Their time is coming, but the youngn’s still need to take some more lumps before they can start challenging for the post season. The Avs gave up the most goals in the league last year and it could happen again. They have some young talent as well, but their defence has holes and their forwards are small and lack grit. The Avs may challenge for the #1 pick in next years draft.

Pacific Division

1) San Jose (P)

2) LA (P)

3) Anaheim (P)

4) Phoenix

5) Dallas

The Sharks come in as the favourites in the Pacific yet again. It’s the same story with the Sharks, we’ve seen what they can do in the regular season, but it’s in the post season where they’ve fallen flat. This lead to the shake-up to their big 3 with the shipping away of Heatley. We’ll see in May if this shake-up was enough. LA turned some heads in the offseason when they were able to acquire the Flyers’ captain Mike Richards. Richards will give Kopitar some long awaited help up the middle and I think the Kings push the Sharks all the way to the end of the division title. The Ducks have a big 3 of their own and all 3 are in their prime. Selanne coming back for another year adds some much needed secondary scoring and the return of Hiller between the pipes makes the Ducks a scary team. Phoenix dodged relocation this off-season, but these talks will likely resurface this year. Phoenix lost their stud goaltender Bryzgalov to Philly and now have serious question marks in the net with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera. The Coyotes lack firepower (their projected #1 centre is Daymond Langkow) and will likely challenge Dallas for last in the division for much of the season. Dallas lost their best player in Brad Richards to the Rangers and as we saw last year, without Richards they struggled. Their top line of Eriksson, Ribeiro and Morrow is solid, but after this their is quite a drop off. One thing to watch is the return of Sheldon Souray to the NHL.

Overall

1) Vancouver

2) Chicago

3) San Jose

4) Detroit

5) LA

6) Anaheim

7) Nashville

8) St. Louis

Western Conference winner: Vancouver, c’mon, who do you think I would pick?

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1) Pittsburgh (P)

2) Philadelphia (P)

3) NYR (P)

4) New Jersey (P)

5) NYI

The Penguins tied for first in the division even with their best player being out for half the year and their 2nd best player also injured. Malkin is back and Crosby is looking like he’ll be back at some point this year. The Pens are strong up front, on d and in net, they are my pick for Eastern Conference champs. Philly shocked the hockey world when they dealt away 2 of their best players in Richards and Carter. However, I think their pick up of Bryzgalov is the bigger deal. This finally….finally, gives them a bonafide #1 goalie. They’ll push the Pens all season long. Brad Richards is yet another big ticket free agent pick-up by the Rangers. He joins another high priced talent in Gaborik to make one of the scariest one-two punches in the league. The Rangers have arguably the best goalie in the league and solid depth up front. It’s on the backend where the question marks lie. My pick for New Jersey to make the playoffs is insane I know, but they were one of the best teams in the league in the 2nd half of the season. They really suffered with the loss of their now captain Parise early in the year. With a healthy Parise back and also a healthy Brodeur, they’ve got a solid shot as anyone to squeak in. The Islanders aren’t completely laughable. They have a lot of young exciting talent: Taveres, Okposo, Grabner, Moulson, Harmonic. They also have a name brand goalie in Nabokov manning the pipes. Mark Streit also returns to the line-up after missing all of last season. They may shock the world this year…ok maybe not yet…but soon.

Northeast Division

1) Boston (P)

2) Buffalo (P)

3) Montreal

4) Ottawa

5) Toronto

The defending champs (it hurts saying that) are virtually the same team this year. I’m not going to talk about them anymore…their good…that’s all I’m going to admit. Buffalo went wild and went on a shopping spree this offseason. The shopping has given them solid depth up front and on d, add this to their superstar goalie and you have a playoff team. The Canadians will rely heavily on Carey Price this year and I’m sure he’ll have a great season, but adding just Erik Cole to their small forward line-up just doesn’t seem like enough of an upgrade to scream playoff contender. Will Markov play? If he is 100% this team has a shot at the playoffs, without him it’ll be tough. Ottawa was pure awful last year, but I see them bounce back this year as last year they had poor goaltending and injuries to key offensive players. Both of these issues are no longer issues to start the year and I see the Sens being a much better team this year. Oh the Leafs…do I have somewhat of a negative bias here…maybe…but really I am just looking at the facts. Reimer played extremely well to close out the year, but as the #1 guy at the get go, can he repeat his performance for a full year? Can Tim Connolly stay healthy? Too many question marks for my liking.

Southeast Division

1) Washington (P)

2) Tampa Bay (P)

3) Carolina

4) Winnipeg

5) Florida

The Caps added some great pieces in the offseason. Vokoun gives them a clear cut #1 goalie, Brouwer and Ward add some grit and size and Hamrlik adds some experience to balance out some of the young d-men. I see Ovie having a monster year…maybe a hart trophy type year. The Lightning look to build on a solid season a year ago and will be lead by their superstar youngster Steven Stamkos. Victor Hedman is becoming a solid #1 d-man and Rollie the goalie will keep them in games all year. Carolina will again be in the mix for the 7th or 8th seed this year. They kind of remind of a Phoenix of the east, always sniffing around the playoff picture with an underwhelming line-up. Welcome back Winnipeg Jets! I think this team will be fun to watch because it’s looking like they’ll be in a lot of high scoring games. Just not enough depth up front to challenge. The Panthers are a lock for last place in this division. Jose Theodore is the starter in net…’nuff said.

Overall

1) Washington

2) Pittsburgh

3) Boston

4) Tampa Bay

5) Buffalo

6) Philadelphia

7) NYR

8) New Jersey

Eastern Conference Winner: Pittsburgh, Sidney returns and pushes his team over the Caps.

Stanley Cup Winner: Vancouver in 7. 41 years of futility ends this year. Riots turn into an extreme hug-a-thon on the downtown streets. Luongo wins Conn Smythe…but fans cheer for Schneider until bitter end.

 

Winning1

Image by Alison Faith via Flickr