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The Sedin twins will help Vancouver cruise during the regular season, but will the Canucks make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals?


The Sedin twins will help Vancouver cruise during the regular season, but will the Canucks make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals?

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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 displays.

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 contingency plan.

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 disappointing season.

Fiction.  Columbus 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 over.

Fiction.  Heatley’s 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 Montreal.

Fiction.  Halak’s 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 playoff run.

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 Rafalski’s shoes. 

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 points.

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 playoff run?

Fact.  Vancouver 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.

 

 

Awards:

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

Quarterfinals

Washington Capitals over Carolina Hurricanes

Boston Bruins over Tampa Bay Lightning

Pittsburgh Penguins over New York Rangers

Buffalo Sabres over Philadelphia Flyers

Semifinals

Washington Capitals over Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins over Boston Bruins

Conference Finals

Washington Capitals over Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Western Conference Playoffs

Quarterfinals

Vancouver Canucks over Colorado Avalanche

San Jose Sharks over Nashville Predators

Chicago Blackhawks over St. Louis Blues

Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings

Semifinals

Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks

Chicago Blackhawks over San Jose Sharks

Conference Finals

Chicago Blackhawks over Los Angeles Kings

 

Stanley Cup Finals

Washington Capitals over Chicago Blackhawks in 6

 

 

 

Share your picks below! 

 

Click here for our full Summer 2011 Archive >

 

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Posted by Kevin Baumer | October 5, 2011 at 01:23 pm
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New York Rangers VS Minnesota Wild
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

  1 2 3 OT F
Rangers 0 0 5 - 5
Wild 0 3 1 - 4








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