05 October 2011
The start of the 2011-2012 NHL regular season is upon us. So it's that time again to try and predict who will finish where this season. A decade ago, only 18-20 teams had a real shot of making the playoffs, so it was easier to predict. Now, with a salary cap and parody throughout the league, you have just as much a chance of thoroughly plotting out who will get in correctly as you do of picking who makes it by pulling names out of a hat. So here's how I think the conferences will look after all 1,230 games have been completed.
1-Philadelphia Flyers-Why they're in-Despite a surprising overhaul in the offseason, their defense and goaltending will be too strong for them not to be around the top of the East.
2-Boston Bruins-Why they're in-Keeping as many pieces of a Stanley Cup winning team as they did only means another successful year.
3-Washington Capitals-Why they're in-This team has proven again and again that they are excellent in the regular season.
4-Pittsburgh Penguins-Why they're in-Crosby or not, this team proved last year with both Crosby and Malkin out that they can still compete, which they'll do again this year.
5-Buffalo Sabres-Why they're in-A solid team only got stronger in the offseason with key additions and has the best roster since the last season both Drury and Briere were on the team.
6-New York Rangers-Why they're in-Added the most sought after free agent in the summer and still have one of the best goaltenders in the league.
7-Tampa Bay Lightning-Why they're in-Too much fire power will make up for any off nights had by the defense or goaltending.
8-Montreal Canadiens-Why they're in-Carey Price plays big enough for a team of talented, although undersized forwards.
9-Toronto Maple Leafs-Why they're out-Still likely a season away, inexperience in net probably costs them too many games to get into the playoffs.
10-New Jersey Devils-Why they're out-Martin Brodeur continues to age at a rate faster than that of what the offense can score goals.
11-Carolina Hurricanes-Why they're out-Lost a heart and soul leader in Erik Cole and Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner cannot carry a team.
12-Winnipeg Jets-Why they're out-A sold out home crowd isn't enough to power a team into the postseason that still has some depth issues.
13-Florida Panthers-Why they're out-With such a large turnover in personnel, it takes too long for chemistry to form.
14-New York Islanders-Why they're out-Too many questions about their too many goalies, even if their youngsters continue to develop.
15-Ottawa Senators-Why they're out-Clearly a team rebuilding, it would take a miracle for this team not to be last in the East.
1-Vancouver Canucks-Why they're in-Came within a win of the Stanley Cup and return largely the same team, now only hungrier.
2-Chicago Blackhawks-Why they're in-Filled in the voids left by the massive facelift last offseason and key cogs in their success have better years.
3-San Jose Sharks-Why they're in-The handful of trades made prove to be the changeup the Sharks needed to become even more competitive.
4-Los Angeles Kings-Why they're in-The young defense corps and goaltending tandem continue to develop into one of the best back ends in the NHL.
5-Anaheim Ducks-Why they're in-Four high quality stars on offense prove to be too much for many teams night after night.
6-Detroit Red Wings-Why they're in-While aging, they always find ways to win and will have enough offense to overcome being one of the celebrity news older teams in the league.
7-Nashville Predators-Why they're in-A great defense and one of the best goalies in the league cover up for a suspect offense.
8-St. Louis Blues-Why they're in-Injuries finally stop stalking this team and all the young talent finally comes together for a successful year.
9-Calgary Flames-Why they're out-The team continues to prove that they are chronic underachievers and once again falls short.
10-Minnesota Wild-Why they're out-A strong goaltending tandem isn't enough to bail this team out over a full 82-game schedule.
11-Columbus Blue Jackets-Why they're out-Adding one center and overpaying one defensemen aren't enough to push this team into the playoffs.
12-Dallas Stars-Why they're out-Losing their top offensive player to free agency proves to be too much for the rest of the team to overcome.
13-Colorado Avalanche-Why they're out-The newly acquired goaltending duo fails to live up to expectations.
14-Edmonton Oilers-Why they're out-Still too young and another year of development is needed for their upcoming young stars.
15-Phoenix Coyotes-Why they're out-Losing one of the best goalies in the league combined with a likely mid-season relocation announcement leaves this team little to play for each night.
Eastern Conference Final-Flyers vs. Bruins-In what is quickly becoming a yearly playoff match, the Flyers avenge their sweep at the hands of Boston last season and return to the Finals after a one year hiatus.
Western Conference Final-Blackhawks vs. Kings-Experience proves to be too much for the upstart Kings to overcome and Chicago reclaims its Western crown from 2010.
Stanley Cup Final-For the second time in three years, the Flyers and the Blackhawks face off for the Stanley Cup. Chicago holds an edge offensively after all the moves the Flyers made, but defense and goaltending favor the Philadelphia. And if the Nashville Predators have taught us anything, having a strong D and goalie is more than enough to overcome offensive deficiencies, and the Philadelphia Flyers make amends for their 2010 heartbreak and defeat the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers will win the Stanley Cup in six games.
Outside the box predictions:
If strong teams overachieve Stanley Cup Finals-Kings defeat Sabres. While unlikely that both teams will rise above expectations, if I had to pick a team from each conference that would have a season that defies reason, it would be the Kings and the Sabres. It would be a solid match up too, with the Kings winning in seven games.
If the world turns upside down, reversing all NHL fortune Stanley Cup Finals-Jets defeat Oilers. No professional hockey journalist would predict this Finals match up if they wanted to keep their job. But should this year be one of those seasons where every team seems to do something they shouldn't, Winnipeg will meet Edmonton in the Finals. The Jets prove fans do mean more than dollar signs and ride finally having a true home ice to the big dance and the Oilers see the kind of immediate maturation that the Penguins and Blackhawks saw in the postseasons of recent years. The Jets would win in five games, but it would sure be a great series.
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