Thursday, October 6, 2011

NHL Predictions '11-12

Predicting the future is never easy. So many x-factors we won't even know about play a part in how a season goes. This year, the Bruins aim for a successful Cup defense after a well earned seven-game victory over the Canucks. Boston will again be without Marc Savard, who'll sit out the season. The Bruins should be challenged by Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and a brand new Flyer team minus Jeff Carter and Mike Richards that added Ilya Bryzgalov and Jaromir Jagr. Have we left someone out?

Meanwhile, Vancouver will try to have short memories and repeat out West but should get stiff competition from revamped San Jose, Detroit and Nashville. Can someone else sneak up? Keep an eye on Los Angeles, who added Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, also recently locking up Drew Doughty. Are the new look Jackets playoff bound with the additions of Carter, James Wisniewski and Calder candidate Ryan Johansen? It should be another Wild West.

As the new season opens tonight, we're at a crossroads with new league sheriff Brendan Shanahan policing any dangerous headshots. He already handed out nine suspensions during preseason. It'll be interesting to see if players get the message. The game is so fast that sometimes, there are accidents waiting to happen such as the awful injury Edmonton's Taylor Fedun suffered during a race for an icing with Minnesota's Eric Nystrom. with the ex-Flame's stick catching Fedun's skate causing him to collide into the boards. The damage was a fractured right femur. A similar incident took place a few years ago when Torrey Mitchell shoved Kurt Foster from behind, causing him to miss a whole year. College hockey has adopted hybrid icing with success. Something that could be debated.

There's also the anticipated return of Pen superstar Sidney Crosby from two concussions he suffered days apart starting with the Winter Classic when ex-Cap Dave Steckel caught him from the blindside. Unfortunately, the head injury was made infinitely worse when he returned against Tampa and Victor Hedman hit him from behind, finishing what could've been a special season. Crosby led all scorers in goals and points by a wide margin. There's no telling how it would've finished. Instead, the 24-year old Cup winner has finally gotten closer to returning after months of postconcussion symptoms. He'll start the season on IR. The game is better with him around. Hopefully, we'll get to see Sid back at full strength.

While Crosby nears returning, Ranger All-Star defenseman Marc Staal has suffered continuing headaches stemming from a concussion last February when brother Eric delivered a big hit. In a promising year where they landed big fish Brad Richards to address the lack of a top center and power play quarterback, the Blueshirts' season depends on Staal, who could miss October. Head injuries are the unknown and the organization is taking no chances with their own 24-year old blueline anchor. Unfortunately, at any blink of an eye someone could get seriously hurt, which is why Shanahan is explaining each suspension along with the recent non-suspension for Ryan Malone, who caught Hab Chris Campoli with a borderline hit that injured the defenseman.

The tragic deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak haven't been easy for the hockey world. All were enforcers who were beloved by teammates, fans and media. If any blow to the head is under scrutiny, what about when two players take off the helmets and go at it? It's an issue I'd rather not get into. While some have suggested banning fighting, I still believe it has a place in the game. Who else is going to protect star players? If antagonists aren't made accountable, the game becomes chaotic. We'll leave this debate for the league.

PREDICTING THE FUTURE

EASTERN CONFERENCE

+1.Caps Ovechkin needs help from Backstrom, Green and Semin. Vokoun is a solid goalie but has never won a round.
#2.Sabres The Terry Pegula Era starts off with a bang if Ehrhoff, Leino and Regehr fulfill expectations.
#3.Pens Healthy Geno primed for big year. Fleury, Letang, Jordan Staal, Neal and a kid named Sid.
*4.Bruins Defending champs to battle old Adams nemesis Buffalo all year. Watch for a breakout from Seguin.
*5.Flyers Never has a team changed so much. If Jagr continues to mesh with Giroux/Briere and JVR breaks out, nobody will remember Carter/Richards. All hinges on Bryzgalov and Pronger.
*6.Lightning Stamkos, Lecavalier, St. Louis keep them here for now unless Roloson falls apart. Brett Connolly starts on the third line.
*7.Rangers Richards should revive Gaborik but who plays with them? Boyle's role could increase. Draft Line and Stepan provide depth. King Henrik. Without Staal, it could fall apart.
*8.Devils This is a tenative pick due to Parise. Kovalchuk, Elias and surprise Sykora help. Does Brodeur have one more big year in him? Depends on Larsson, Josefson, Tedenby and Henrique.
9.Canadiens Love the addition of Cole but so much depends on Price and D. Unless Gomez bounces back and Cammalleri explodes, it'll be tough.
10.Islanders Tavares could hit 40/40. Streit bolsters PP. Rolston also solid. They'll score. Is D good enough and what about the three-ring circus in net?
11.Canes Never bet against a Maurice coached team surprising. Need big years from Staal, Skinner and Ward. Jussi Jokinen is underrated finisher.
12.Leafs Burke revamped D with Liles/Franson which will boost PP. But Grabovski/Connolly already hurt. Kessel needs 50 and Reimer must prove himself.
13.Jets Their best move was bringing hockey back to Winnipeg. Look for breakout from Evander Kane. Mark Scheifele made it. Risky style could affect Pavelec.
14.Panthers Hawks South has become the home for nomads. Poor Versteeg and Campbell. Theodore isn't a No.1. Jacob Markstrom is the future in net.
15.Sens How the mighty have fallen. Name five Sens outside of Spezza, Alfredsson, Neil, Phillips, Karlsson, Anderson. Win Bryan Murray's job.

PLAYOFFS

(8) Devils over (1) Caps
(7) Rangers over (2) Sabres
(3) Pens over (6) Lightning
(4) Bruins over (5) Flyers

(3) Pens over (8) Devils
(7) Rangers over (4) Bruins

(3) Pens over (7) Rangers


WESTERN CONFERENCE

+1.Canucks The loss of Ehrhoff could be felt on PP. Kesler will miss time. Sedins, Bieksa, Edler and Burrows lead way. Can Luongo erase Game 7?
#2.Sharks Added Burns/Havlat. Subtracted Heatley/Setoguchi. D will be better. Couture should have monster year. Pavelski too.
#3.Wings Lost Rafalski (retirement) but White will fit in well. #Datsyukian, Zett, Lidstrom, Kronwall. Howard needs big year. Franzen too.
*4.Preds Rinne, Weber and Suter are glue along with Trotz. Offense still airtight. Imagine if it wasn't.
*5.Kings If Richards flourishes, Kopitar dominates and Doughty earns new contract, this is a dangerous team. Quick/Bernier best tandem in league.
*6.Hawks Former champs continue to disassemble spare parts. Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa and Crawford keep them competitive.
*7.Ducks Rating Hart winner Perry teams with Getzlaf and Ryan to form best line in game. Selanne legend grows. All depends on Hiller.
*8.Blues Yes, they're young. Backes and Stewart will have big years. So should Halak. Arnott/Langenbrunner add experience to nice core that includes Oshie, Berglund, Steen, Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk.
9.Flames Iginla can't do it alone and neither can Kipper. Can Tanguay, Bourque and Glencross have repeats?
10.Stars They'll miss Brad Richards. Benn shifts to center. Budding power forward big key along with Ribeiro, Eriksson, Morrow and Goligoski.
11.Coyotes Nobody can tell us Mike Smith's as good as Bryzgalov, even if he tanked last Spring. Yandle could win Norris. Maybe some of vets finally show age.
12.Wild They'll score more but loss of Burns hurts back end. Backstrom may be asked to do too much.
13.Jackets Finally, Nash gets help but unless Wisniewski plays up to contract and Mason returns to Calder form, it could be long year. Johansen will challenge for top rookie at least.
14.Oilers They'll be real exciting. Hall and Eberle will be super sophs. Nugent-Hopkins in the Calder hunt. Smyth returns home. But D is lacking and whether it's Khabibulin or Dubnyk, will it matter?
15.Avs Where have you gone Sakic, Roy and Forsberg? Only Hejduk remains. Stastny needs to rebound. Duchene is a stud and Landeskog should be fun. Erik Johnson and Varlamov with a lot to prove.

PLAYOFFS

(1) Canucks over (8) Blues
(2) Sharks over (7) Ducks
(6) Hawks over (3) Wings
(5) Kings over (4) Preds

(1) Canucks over (6) Hawks
(2) Sharks over (5) Kings

(2) Sharks over (1) Canucks


Stanley Cup Champion: San Jose Sharks
Hart: Evgeni Malkin
Norris: Keith Yandle
Vezina: Pekka Rinne
Selke: Jordan Staal
Byng: Pavel Datsyuk
Calder: Adam Larsson
Adams: Barry Trotz
Masterton: Sidney Crosby
First Coach Fired: Ron Wilson

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