“Are you an expert?” 2010-11 NHL Predictions!
FINALLY, that special time of year is upon us…the start of the NHL season. Last year saw some great regular season performances followed by a few playoff surprises. Will this year be any different?
Everyone loves making predictions, so I figured I’d throw mine out there – especially since there are some “expert” picks I’ve seen that must have come straight from the insane asylum. I know you don’t have all day to read a detailed analysis of each team, so I’ll keep it simple starting with the divisions.
Let’s start with the Western Conference…
I see this one as being one of the more competitive divisions in the league. The Sharks and Kings stay at the head of the pack while the biggest question for me is the Phoenix Coyotes. Can they keep the momo or was last season just a one-hit wonder? Bryzgalov is a phenom but great goaltending can only take you so far. Anaheim stays solid although they are now light on D-men. As for Dallas…well, at least they can’t fall further than last year when they brought up the rear.
Final call? I’ll take the Sharks over the Kings…but by less than last year’s 12 points.
I’ll start off by saying this: it’s a great year to be a Canucks fan. Every piece is now in place for this team to be one of the NHL’s elite. They have balanced scoring, a super defense, and one of the best netminders in the game. The first question will be if Luongo can stay healthy. If so, this race is over before it starts. Moving on down the list, the Flames and Avs will wage war for second place, although I’m liking Kipper over Mr. Anderson this season. Rounding things out, I don’t have a lot of love for the Wild but I think they’ll still come in ahead of the Oilers, who will improve upon last season’s 62 point effort.
This one here will be the most competitive division in the conference, heck, probably the league. Mix in the always-steady Red Wings and couple them with a slightly watered down Blackhawks team and the top of the division is wide open. Add to it a couple of clubs who are gaining their footing in St. Louis and Nashville and you have four teams who are all capable of taking the Central. Heck, I’ll even give Columbus a little love (even though I think they’ll still be the cellar dwellers). The BJs will get a full season to play some fun, non-Hitchcock hockey and I think their results will see the benefits from it. But let’s get back to the good stuff…can the Hawks reign this season with Turco in net? Will the Wings find glory again? How about the Preds and Rinne? How much of a lift will Halak bring to the Blues?
As much as I hate to say it, I’m going to go with the Detroit Red Wings. I respect their consistency and I like Jimmy Howard in net. I think the veteran leadership coupled with the possibility of a healthy Franzen put these guys just ahead of the rest. As for second place, I’m actually going with a surprise…the Nashville Predators. With solid years from Rinne and Hornqvist, the Music City will have something to sing about again. Don’t get me wrong though, I still like the Hawks. However, between the departure of Byfuglien, the health questions of Brian Campbell, and the mystery of Turco in net, I can’t pick them for the division crown.
1) Red Wings
5) Blue Jackets
Aaaaand let’s go with the Eastern Conference….
Until the Rangers can step it up to another level, this remains a two-team race. The Devils and Penguins will be the top two contenders again, as I think the lack of clarity with the goaltending situation will keep Philly out of the top spot. Both Philly and Montreal have been getting mad love from “the experts” this pre-season but let’s just remember that they were lucky to even make the playoffs last season. The Rangers, as I mentioned before, remain in a state of mediocrity and the Islanders….well, they’re still the Islanders. Still paying Rick DiPietro millions to play a few periods while their top line doesn’t even have a guy making a million per season on it…oof.
Back to the top dogs, I’m liking the fact that New Jersey has Kovalchuk for an entire season (for the sake of them winning, not because I like Ilya as a Devil). Couple that with me believing in Marty Brodeur more than Marc-Andre Fleury, and I’ll give the Devils the nod.
The Northeast won’t be up there with the Central in terms of competitiveness, but it’ll be fairly close. If I didn’t think Montreal was a one-hit playoff wonder then it would be a different situation. Up top, I’m going to enjoy this battle between the Sabres, Bruins, and yes…Senators. The Sabres are well-balanced with the fantastic Ryan Miller in net. The Bruins are also well-balanced with Rask trying to hold off Thomas in goal. I’m a big fan of bringing in Nathan Horton and I’m also liking the prospects for a healthier David Krejci – as well as a better year for Zdeno Chara. Give me the Bruins edging past the Sabres for #1 in the division.
I’m getting the impression that many out there aren’t taking the Senators seriously, which I think will be to their benefit. Look for Jason Spezza to have a bounce-back year and if LeClaire can keep it together in goal, the Sens just might surprise a few teams. While I like some Habs players individually, the fact doesn’t change that Carey Price is backstopping them up between the pipes. Anyone who follows me knows how much of a mistake I think the Habs made in letting Halak go in favor of Price. We’ll see how that one plays out. Oh, almost forgot…and although I am a Brian Burke fan, I still can’t see Toronto making it out of the basement. Love the passion of the city, but I’m just not feeling it from the club yet.
5) Maple Leafs
Finally, we’ve made it home. While there are no guarantees in sports, I’m still going to take the Capitals as my lock to win the Southeast. The only true weakness I can find is the fact that Washington still doesn’t have a #1 in net, but we’ll see how the season plays out. Will Semyon Varlamov become the next Kari Lehtonen? I sure hope not (as that’s not a good thing, folks), but that remains to be seen. As for the rest of the squad, I’m liking the D a little better than last season and the offense will again put up big numbers. Top of the division? No problem I say.
As for the rest, this division has to be taken much more seriously now. A healthy Eric Staal and Cam Ward in Carolina will give them a boost well above last season’s 80 points. The other team I’m watching is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos should have another stellar season and Vinny Lecavalier should bounce back with good numbers as well. I also like the re-addition of Pavel Kubina to the blueline. If they ever figure out their goaltending situation, keep an eye on the Bolts.
So about the Thrashers and Panthers…yeah, I’m really not all that interested in either team. Some good young players on each club but neither team is worth considering for the top eight seeds. Or ten. Or…twelve? The biggest news out of these teams this season just might be what city they’ll belong to next season…doh.
Anyway…moving on with the picks…
Well now, that took a heckuva lot longer than I expected. I guess I’ll run through the playoffs and post-season honors while I’m at it.
Being that I’m both a Capitals and Canucks fan and the fact that this will probably be the only time in history I can actually make a reasonable prediction of this nature, I’m going to jump on it.
I like the Capitals out of the East and Canucks from the West.
Washington over Vancouver in seven games.
Okay…I’m awake again…
Vezina: Miller – if Luongo’s healthy though, look out
Calder: Subban – did you not see the playoffs last season? He’s for real
Norris: Doughty – should’ve won it last season, will be rewarded this season
Ross: Crosby – assists will get it done for him
Richard: Ovechkin – edges out Stamkos by a hat trick
Hart: Ovechkin – provided he doesn’t get suspended multiple times
If you’ve made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading. Enjoy opening night and good luck to you and your favorite teams and players for the rest of the season.