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#15 Edmonton Oilers
Skinny: Exciting times are ahead for Edmonton, but until the
Oilers fix a porous defense and settle on a franchise goalie they will continue
to struggle. Edmonton could be in line
for its third-straight No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, but although the rebuild
has been a slow process there will be visible results this season. An impressive array of young talent up front
including Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
should make the Oilers fun to watch, but the team will again still struggle to
keep the puck out of its own net. Cam
Barker and Andy Sutton won’t do much to patch up the leaky defense and Devin
Dubnyk is still a huge question mark in goal. But if those young forwards begin to blossom, the Oilers, who still have
veterans Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, could put on some offensive firework
Bold Prediction: Taylor Hall scores 40 goals.
Fact or Fiction: Nugent-Hopkins was the right call with the
2011 No. 1 pick.
Fiction. Nugent-Hopkins could turn out to be a rare offensive talent, but the
Oilers are already stocked with young forwards. Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson has drawn comparisons to some of the
all-time greats, so for the defensively-challenged Oilers he should have been
the pick. Edmonton may well get another
chance to pick a defenseman at the top of the first round next June, but they
probably won’t get another chance to select a player like Larsson.
#14 Dallas Stars
Skinny: Unstable ownership has hurt Dallas, but the loss of
Brad Richards is expected to crush the team this season. The Stars still have two underrated stars in
Mike Ribeiro and Loui Eriksson, but Richards was the engine that made Dallas
go. Dallas still has Captain Brenden
Morrow and did add a few players in free agency, but Sheldon Souray, Michael
Ryder, Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak won’t do much to help the Stars’
fortunes. Somehow Dallas held tightly to
a playoff spot in the Western Conference deep into the 2010-2011 season, but unless
Kari Lehtonen has an MVP-type season, the Stars’ weak roster will make it
difficult for the team to stay competitive this year.
Bold Prediction: Jamie Benn comes within five points of
matching Brad Richards’ team-leading 77 points of a year ago.
Fact or Fiction: Dallas will be unable to replace Richards
and won’t be able to score enough to compete.
Fiction. Dallas will
struggle mightily but not just because Richards is gone. Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro are still a
formidable one-two center duo and 26-year-old right wing Loui Eriksson is one
of the game’s best kept secrets, but there’s just not much behind them. Dallas is a middle of the road defensive team
at best and has a collection of third- and fourth-line forwards behind its big
three. There are just not enough solid players
for this team to stay in the hunt.
#13 Phoenix Coyotes
Skinny: Phoenix has been the epitome of a hard-working,
overachieving team the past two seasons, but the loss of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
will send Phoenix tumbling down the standings this year. The Coyotes also watched as defenseman Ed
Jovanovski and forwards Vernon Fiddler and Eric Belanger exited as free agents
and Phoenix did little to replace them. New goalie Mike Smith hasn’t done much to distinguish himself so far in
the NHL and if he doesn’t suddenly turn things around Phoenix will really
struggle to keep the puck out of its net. The Coyotes still have young talent and guidance from veteran leaders,
but the team’s losses will be too much to overcome.
Bold Prediction: Phoenix trades long-time captain and
pending UFA Shane Doan at the trade deadline after falling out of contention.
Fact or Fiction: Without Bryzgalov the Coyotes will be
unable to keep the puck out of their net.
Fact. Smith has been
average at best during his five-year career and backup Jason LaBarbera has
never proven that he can handle a heavy workload. Phoenix may not be as horrible as people
think because of its deep defensive group headlined by emerging star Keith
Yandle and promising youngster Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but the Coyotes have been
an extremely resilient team in recent years and may have trouble maintaining
their high morale when Smith lets in a few soft ones.
#12 Columbus Blue Jackets
Skinny: Sick of treading water, the Columbus Blue Jackets
spent big money this offseason in an effort to upgrade their lineup. High-priced acquisitions Jeff Carter and
James Wisniewski and top prospect Ryan Johansen should give the team some added
offensive punch. The Jackets also locked
up two members of their core, Fedor Tyutin and R.J. Umberger, to
long-term deals and now have five players signed through the 2015-2016 season. Columbus will miss second-line left wing
Kristian Huselius, who’s out until December with a torn pectoral muscle, but
the Jackets added a capable playmaking veteran in Vinny Prospal to fill the
void. The real question is whether the
Jackets will be able to keep the puck out of their own net. Steve Mason had another abysmal season after
being a Calder Trophy finalist in 2008-2009 and the Jackets don’t have a good
Bold Prediction: Wisniewski scores just 35 points a season
after posting 51 with the Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders.
Fact or Fiction: Mason will bounce back after two
desperately needs reliable goaltending, but they won’t find it in Mason. After coming out of nowhere to win 33 games
and post a 2.29 goals against average as a rookie, Mason has had two awful
seasons with a save percentage of just over .900 and an average of over three
goals against per game. Columbus no
longer has Mathieu Garon as a security blanket so this is Mason’s ship and the
Blue Jackets will sink or swim on his performance. Unfortunately, Mason just hasn’t proven that
he’s a capable starting goalie and the Blue Jackets will have to find his
replacement before they can make a serious run at the playoffs.
#11 Calgary Flames
Skinny: A second-half surge almost pushed the Flames into
the playoffs a year ago, but Calgary is returning virtually the same roster
that started the season 14-18-3. If
everything goes well, the Flames do have enough talent to push for a playoff
spot, but this team is getting long in the tooth and seems like its hanging on
by a thread. Jarome Iginla once again
carried Calgary, but the Flames will need another surprisingly strong season
from left wing Alex Tanguay and a drastic improvement from prized center Mikael
Backlund to stay in the hunt. The
blueline feels very different with the departures of Robin Regeher and Jordan
Leopold - both now with the Sabres - but Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Anton
Babchuk and Cory Sarich still form a strong top-four. The Flames desperately need one more great
season from soon-to-be 35-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff - if he struggles this team
could fall apart quickly.
Bold Prediction: Backlund becomes a true No. 1 center and
propels Iginla to another 35-goal season.
Fact or Fiction: Calgary should trade Jarome Iginla.
Fact. This suggestion
was growing in popularity last winter as the Flames plummeted to the Western
Conference cellar, but a huge second-half run quieted any trade talk. Including this season, Iginla still has two
years left on his deal, making him very attractive to potentially interested
teams. The Flames are destined to fall
down the standings and have little reason to believe that a brighter future is
ahead. Trading Iginla wouldn’t be
popular, but if and when the Flames are out of it they must try to replenish
their system by dealing their popular captain.
#10 Minnesota Wild
Skinny: After finishing 26th in goals scored in 2010-2011,
the Wild finally decided it was time to add some firepower. The result was a pair of blockbuster trades
with the San Jose Sharks that saw Brent Burns and Martin Havlat shipped out of
town in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, Dany Heatley, picks and prospects. The additions of Setoguchi and Heatley along
with the return of Pierre-Marc Bouchard should make the Wild a much more
exciting team to watch, but it won’t necessarily help Minnesota in the standings. The Wild got a strong return for Burns, but
he’s been arguably the team’s most important player for several years. Now Minnesota must rely on Marek Zidlicky,
Greg Zanon, Nick Schultz and Clayton Stoner to assume leadership of the
defense. It’s a capable group, but the
transition may take time.
Bold Prediction: Now with new weapons at his disposal, Mikko
Koivu scores 85 points and begins to draw national attention as one of the
league’s premier playmakers.
Fact or Fiction: Heatley’s days as an elite goal-scorer are
gotten a bad rap because of his poor playoff performances and six-year low of
26 goals last season, but he’s still as dangerous a forward as there is in the
NHL. Before 2010-2011 Heatley had posted
goal totals of 39, 39, 41 and 50 each in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. He’s still just 30-years-old and believe it
or not, he’s only played nine seasons in the NHL. In other words, Heatley’s got a lot of hockey
left. He’ll no longer be paired with Joe
Thornton, but Heatley will find that Koivu is not a bad playmaker himself.
#9 Anaheim Ducks
Skinny: Anaheim received a major shot in the arm when Teemu
Selanne announced that he’ll return for yet another season at the age of
41. Selanne along with the always dangerous
top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will ensure that the Ducks
won’t lack offense, but the back-end is where things could be shaky. Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman turned in
banner years in 2010-2011 and are backed by a group of capable two-way
defenders, but Anaheim’s uncertain goaltending situation could be its
undoing. After a first-half that garnered
him an All-Star game appearance, Jonas Hiller vanished down the stretch with
vertigo. Hiller has played well during
the preseason, but his health will be worth monitoring as the season
progresses. If Hiller is at the top of
his game, Anaheim should make the playoffs, but if the Ducks have to rely on
backup Dan Ellis for any length of time, they’ll be in trouble.
Bold Prediction: Cam Fowler goes from being a minus-25 as a
rookie to a plus-10 in his sophomore season.
Fact or Fiction: Teemu Selanne will get the 59 points
necessary to become the all-time European scoring leader.
Fact. Selanne scored
80 points a year ago, so why should he have any problem getting 59 in
2010-2011? The 41-year-old was nearly a
point-per-game player in the three previous seasons, but Selanne hadn’t played
more than 65 games since 2006-2007 when he tallied 94 points. This year may be Selanne’s swan song, but
it’s not because he can’t play anymore.
#8 Colorado Avalanche
Skinny: Semyon Varlamov had better turn into a top-flight
starting goalie for the Avalanche after the exorbitant price Colorado paid Washington
to get him. The transition from Craig
Anderson to a new franchise goalie didn’t take long, but Varlamov failed to
nail down a starting job in Washington and the Avalanche have a lot invested in
him. Varlamov will backstop a youth
revival that could make the Avalanche a surprise team this year. In his third professional season Duchene is
ready to turn into a star and he’s got an improving supporting cast with Paul
Stastny, the emerging David Jones, the return of Peter Mueller, perhaps the
last hurrah of right wing Milan Hejduk and everyone’s favorite rookie forward,
Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche
acquired 2007 first-overall pick Erik Johnson to anchor a rapidly changing
defense that lost long-time Avs Adam Foote and John-Michael Liles and added
former-Blue Jacket Jan Hejda, former Predator Shane O’Brien and youngster
Stefan Elliot. This is a team in
transition, but it could get better in a hurry.
Bold Prediction: Gabriel Landeskog posts 25 goals and 25 assists
alongside Matt Duchene en route to a Calder Trophy bid.
Fact or Fiction: Varlamov will be the right fit in Colorado.
Fact. Semyon created
enormous expectations for himself with a stunning debut performance in the
first round of the playoffs in 2009 against the Rangers when he stepped in from
the minors and backstopped the Capitals to the second round. In Washington, Varlamov struggled with
injuries and the constant pressure of young goalies like Michal Neuvirth
leaning over his shoulder and had a very difficult time getting into a
rhythm. In Colorado Varlamov will still
have J.S. Giguere behind him, but the knowledge that he is Colorado’s franchise
goaltender. Varlamov has always had the
talent, but he will finally thrive with the Avalanche.
#7 Nashville Predators
Skinny: The future contact issues that could arise with
Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter next summer could form a cloud over this
team, but the Predators have shown to be tough and resilient throughout their
brief history. As always, Nashville will
get by with scoring by committee, but the Predators do have some intriguing
young forwards that could help this team score a bit more this season. Nashville makes life so difficult for the
opponent night in and night out and is so tight defensively that the Predators
will have no trouble grinding out their usual playoff berth.
Bold Prediction: Suter, Weber and Rinne all have their best
seasons yet as they prepare to enter free agency.
Fact or Fiction: The Predators should move one of their
three stars prior to the trade deadline.
Fact. It might pain
Nashville to break up its core, but that’s going to happen next summer whether
they like it or not. If the Predators
are somehow in control of one of the top seeds in the Western Conference and in
line for home-ice advantage, then they’ll have no choice but to keep the band
together. Otherwise the Predators should
do what the Stars failed to last year and maximize the return on at least one
free agent-to-be before they lose him for nothing. With Shea Weber slated to be a restricted
free agent and Pekka Rinne at a less in-demand position, Ryan Suter is the most
logical candidate and there would certainly be plenty of suitors.
#6 St. Louis Blues
Skinny: The Blues were the classic team-on-the-rise that
took a step back in its second year, but St. Louis may have avoided that if it
didn’t lost key players in droves last season. Now the young Blues have more experience and they added a couple of key players
that will provide leadership in Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. Jaroslav Halak’s play dipped after a strong
start a year ago, but his struggles can also be attributed partially to the decimated
lineup. The Blues are surprisingly deep
and multi-talented and if they grow together quickly St. Louis could really
climb the standings, but they may lack that one star player that can really
propel a team.
Bold Prediction: Chris Stewart becomes an All-Star and
approaches 40 goals.
Fact or Fiction: Jaroslav Halak was a one-year wonder with
drop-off in play during the second half of the 2010-2011 season has some
concerned, but it’s important to remember that the Blues’ lineup was ravaged by
injuries during the second half of the year. Halak had a terrific start while his teammates were skating with him,
but once the team’s play slipped Halak’s did as well. St. Louis could have a dynamite defensive
unit and that will only help Halak bounce back in his second season with the organization.
#5 Los Angeles Kings
Skinny: Long criticized for not having a true superstar, the
Los Angeles Kings attempted to land a pair of Richards’ that would end that
talk for good. The Kings settled for
Mike, the former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, and now have a superstar
co-pilot for Anze Kopitar. Los Angeles
was able to breathe a sigh of relief when the team finally re-signed Drew
Doughty last week and the Kings now have the talent and depth to join the
Western Conference’s elite. The Kings
have been stockpiling young talent for years and the team has gradually improved;
if Simon Gagne and Justin Williams can stay healthy then this could be the year
they take the next step.
Bold Prediction: Jonathan Bernier gives Jonathan Quick a
scare for control of the No. 1 netminding job before Quick locks down the
position for good halfway through the season. Los Angeles trades Bernier in the offseason.
Fact or Fiction: Dustin Penner will settle into the
first-line left wing position after a shaky start in Los Angeles.
Fiction. Penner is
always a quick starter, so don’t be surprised if he puts up some big numbers out
of the gate with the help of Kopitar. But Penner seemed overwhelmed with the Kings down the stretch and was
completely invisible towards the end of the season, when he failed to score a
point in the team’s final 12 games, and in the playoffs. Penner’s combination of size and goal-scoring
ability has tortured Edmonton for a while, but now he’s L.A.’s problem.
#4 Detroit Red Wings
Skinny: The Red Wings as we’ve known them are slowly
breaking apart, but Detroit should have no trouble finishing near the top of
the Western Conference yet again. The
sudden retirement of Brian Rafalski was a blow, but as long as Nicklas Lidstrom
- Rafalski’s long-time partner on the blueline - is active, Detroit will be
OK. Some new life will be injected into
the defense with the bargain additions of Ian White and Mike Commodore, both of
whom should thrive with the NHL’s model franchise. Last season the Red Wings finished second in
scoring even though ace center Pavel Datsyuk missed 26 games and his return
should be a major help for this club. Detroit is facing the very real possibility that this is Lidstrom’s last
season and several other cornerstone players are nearing the latter stages of
their careers as well, but the Red Wings have stockpiled young talent and will
reload rather than rebuild. That won’t
be an immediate concern though; the Red Wings are still poised for another
Bold Prediction: Nicklas Lidstrom wins a final Norris Trophy
before riding off into the sunset.
Fact or Fiction: Niklas Kronwall will be able to fill
Fact. Kronwall might
not be able to match Rafalski’s usual 50 points, but Kronwall did tally 51
points including 22 on the power play in 2008-2009. The good news is that Kronwall doesn’t
necessarily have to fill the void all by himself. White has plenty of offensive ability, so if
Kronwall can simply play his usual physical game and ratchet up his production
a little, the Red Wings will be fine. Rafalski was one of the better defenders in the game, but as usual
Detroit has a good combination of veteran depth and youngsters that will soon be
ready to take over.
#3 Chicago Blackhawks
Skinny: A year after winning the Stanley Cup the Blackhawks
were simply unable to weather the losses of so many key players. Despite that, Chicago managed to squeak into
the playoffs and gave the eventual Western Conference Champion Vancouver
Canucks all they kind handle in a seven-game first round. This year the replacements for those departed
players - Bryan Bickell, Victor Stalberg and Michael Frolik - all have more
experience and should be capable of providing ample support for Chicago’s big
guns, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Free agent signing Andrew Brunette will fit
in seamlessly with the Blackhawks, who also added some toughness in Dan
Carcillo, Jamaal Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell. The Stanley Cup hangover is gone and now the
Blackhawks will get back to dominating.
Bold Prediction: 38-year-old Andrew Brunette racks up 60
Fact or Fiction: Duncan Keith will return to form.
Fact. Keith himself
admitted that it was difficult for the Blackhawks to stay focused after the
huge success of the 2009-2010 season and the subsequent loss of so many key
players. Keith’s numbers dropped across
the board, but he is simply too good of a player to play so poorly again. Chicago ranked 12th in goals against even
with an abysmal season from Keith, who posted a minus-one rating after three
straight seasons of finishing plus-21 or better. The Blackhawks are stacked across the board,
but a return to Norris Trophy form from Keith will be the biggest difference
for Chicago this season.
#2 San Jose Sharks
Skinny: San Jose has shaken the “playoff underachiever”
title that now belongs to Washington, but the Sharks remain unsatisfied with
their inability to win the Stanley Cup. Veteran Joe Thornton led San Jose to the
Western Conference Finals last spring, but in the end San Jose was unable to
keep up with the Canucks. Yet again, the
Sharks are knocking on the door but there is a palpable sense that San Jose’s
veterans are approaching “now or never” time. The Sharks made a surprising trade with Minnesota to acquire Brent Burns
at the June draft and followed up with a shocking deal for Martin Havlat a week
later. In the process, the Sharks gained
more speed and a stud puck-moving defenseman, but they gave up a former 50-goal
scorer in Dany Heatley and a valuable winger in Devin Setoguchi as well as a
good bit of the little young talent the organization had. There’s no doubt that this team will roll
during the regular season and the Sharks will yet again be loaded for a playoff
run, but it’s hard to say whether they’re better off following the big
trades. If Havlat can stay healthy, he
can produce big numbers, but is he on Heatley’s level? Perhaps not, but Heatley has struggled in the
playoffs while Havlat has 12 goals in his previous 26 playoff games. The Sharks are all-in and they deserve credit
for their moxy, but will it pay off?
Bold Prediction: For the first time since 2003-2004, the
Sharks have no 70-point men but six Sharks tally 60 points or more.
Fact or Fiction: San Jose’s window is closing.
Fact. The Sharks are
determined to win now and anything short of a Stanley Cup is a failure. San Jose got good players back, but trading
Setoguchi and Heatley was dramatic and a perhaps unnecessary shakeup. This team has underachieved in the past, but
the Sharks seemed to finally figure it out during the 2011 playoffs. Management wasn’t willing to wait another
year and shook up the core yet again, but the Sharks aren’t necessarily better
off. Heatley has had his struggles, but
he’s still a premier goal-scorer. Burns
is a terrific puck-mover, but San Jose already had Dan Boyle in that role. Perhaps this will finally be the change that
makes the difference, but it seems like the Sharks may be grasping at straws as
Thornton and Marleau quietly grow older.
#1 Vancouver Canucks
Skinny: Vancouver ran into a brick wall in Tim Thomas and
the Boston Bruins during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and was unable to solve
the world’s best netminder when it mattered most. The Canucks will return most of the players
from their runner-up club, with the notable exception of defenseman Christian
Ehrhoff. For most teams, that would be a
crippling blow but Vancouver had assembled such ridiculous depth that former
first-round pick Keith Ballard was a healthy scratch for much of the
playoffs. For a near-champion, Vancouver
did have a host of flaws. Inconsistency
from the Sedin twins and uncertainty in goal could have derailed a lesser team
much earlier than the Canucks fell off the tracks, but those issues remain
unsolved heading into this season.
Bold Prediction: For the second year in a row, Vancouver
finishes first in goals scored and on the power play.
Fact or Fiction: Is Vancouver better prepared for a long
should run away with the Western Conference again, but are the Canucks in better
position to handle the playoffs than they were last year? This team is battle-tested now and sometimes
that’s all it takes for players to develop the mental toughness necessary to
get over the hump. However, the Canucks
will need Roberto Luongo to play like a star and the Sedins to play like two of
the best players in the league for the entire year to return to the Finals
again. Valuable bottom-six players
Tanner Glass, Jeff Tambellini and Raffi Torres could be missed and the Canucks
may need to add some grit before the trade deadline.
Hart Trophy: Alex Ovechkin
Art Ross Trophy: Evgeni Malkin
Rocket Richard Trophy: Alex Ovechkin
Vezina Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist
Calder Trophy: Nino Niederreiter
Norris Trophy: Nicklas Lidstrom
Jack Adams Award: Davis Payne
William Jennings Trophy: Boston Bruins
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews
Eastern Conference Playoffs
Washington Capitals over Carolina Hurricanes
Boston Bruins over Tampa Bay Lightning
Pittsburgh Penguins over New York Rangers
Buffalo Sabres over Philadelphia Flyers
Washington Capitals over Buffalo Sabres
Pittsburgh Penguins over Boston Bruins
Washington Capitals over Pittsburgh Penguins
Western Conference Playoffs
Vancouver Canucks over Colorado Avalanche
San Jose Sharks over Nashville Predators
Chicago Blackhawks over St. Louis Blues
Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings
Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks
Chicago Blackhawks over San Jose Sharks
Chicago Blackhawks over Los Angeles Kings
Stanley Cup Finals
Washington Capitals over Chicago Blackhawks in 6
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