Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NHL Breakdown and Preseason Predictions

With the NHL entering a 48 game season, anything is possible.  Divisional games will be incredibly important entering this year, and for that reason I will be providing my take on how it will go down.

Lets start with the Eastern Conference:

Southeast Division:
  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Florida Panthers
  4. Carolina Hurricanes
  5. Winnipeg Jets
The Southeast is definitely not the best division in the league but this is a very evenly matched division.  We will wait to see if Ovechkin will return to his dominant self, but I see people like Ribeiro and Carlson stepping up for Washington to take the division.  I love Holtby, but am unsure if he can manage to be the guy all season long for them.  Tampa will rely on Stamkos and their powerplay to score most of their goals again, but the main reason I love them this year is newly acquired goalie Anders Lindback.  He was a great backup for Rinne in Nashville, who just spits out All Star caliber goalies like it is their job.  Florida was a surprise last year but Versteeg and Fleishman might not repeat their performances from last year and they will ultimately miss playoffs.  Staal brothers united will be fun but Carolina lacks depth.  Blake Wheeler will step up and be elite for Winnipeg in the future, but with their lack of talent and stupid amount of travel (no west conference games), they will have a tough, long year.

Northeast Division:
  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Buffalo Sabres
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs
  4. Ottawa Senators
  5. Montreal Canadiens
The Bruins will be a team that plays a tough brand of hockey and this suits them well for a short season, as well as playoffs.  Tuukka Rask will be fine replacing Tim Thomas and the Bruins will win the Northeast division again.  Buffalo let me down last year but I believe they have the talent to be a force in the east.  Ryan Miller needs to play elite again while Jason Pominville, Christian Ehrhoff,  Robin Regehr, and newly acquire Steve Ott and Cody Hodgson need to play to up to their potential for Buffalo to have success.  Toronto may or may not have Luongo when the season is over but I cannot help but take them at #3 in the division.  I can only hope Toronto does well under its new coach Randy Carlyle.  I picked Ottawa to finish 30th in the league last year and they surprised me to take the 8th seed and make playoffs.  They had a surprisingly high-powered offense behind Norris winner Erik Karlsson but I am going to assume this was a fluke and Ottawa will be back to mediocrity.  The Habs will finish last again because they have little talent and still have not signed their only good player PK Subban.

Atlantic Division:
  1. New York Rangers
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins
  3. Philadelphia Flyers
  4. New Jersey Devils
  5. New York Islanders
This division was tough for me to call due to it being stacked with talent.  The Rangers have the best goalie in the east and added Nash to an already filthy lineup.  Needless to say they will be an elite team in 2013.  Pittsburgh lost a Staal but they still have 2 of the 3 best centers in the NHL and plenty of depth at forward, defense, and goalie.  They will be at the top of the division as well.  Philly is always a fun team and they can score at will as well as play the toughness game.  With their veterans like Briere and Hartnell working with youngsters like Schenn, Read, and Couturier they should find the score sheet more than anybody else.  Depending on how Bryzgalov decides to play will determine how far they go this year.  The Devils went to the Stanley Cup finals last year yet they are still near the bottom of this stacked division.  Kovalchuk, Henrique, and Parise was one of the most dominant lines in hockey last year but Parise is gone now.  Elias and Brodeur are still incredible but they are not getting any younger.  I see them falling off a bit and missing playoffs due to the weird short season schedule.  The Islanders are on the way up.  I truly believe they are just a year or 2 away from not only a playoff appearance, but cup contention.  Strome is destroying the CHL along with other prospects such as Griffin Reinhart.  Tavares and company have a bright future as long as Snow doesn't destroy their team but unfortunately I do not see this being their breakout season.  Maybe next year Islander fans (if there are any).

Now on to the Western Conference:

Northwest Division:
  1. Vancouver Canucks
  2. Minnesota Wild
  3. Colorado Avalanche
  4. Edmonton Oilers
  5. Calgary Flames
As much as I hate to admit it, Vancouver SHOULD have the Presidents Trophy wrapped up already.  This SHOULD be their year.  Vancouver has the tough task of traveling significantly more than any other team in the league.  Luongo has the task of playing under the constant scrutiny of fans no matter where he goes.  This all hindered Vancouver's cup run a few years ago.  This year they will still travel more than anyone else, but over 48 games it will not be as taxing as a full 82 game season would be on the players.  They will still be fresh come playoff time.  Luongo, as of now, is still on the roster and will likely split time with Schneider until they decide who to go with.  Throw in the fact that they have by far the easiest schedule in the league (28 games against the Wild, Avs, Oil, and Flames), and you have a recipe for success.  Vancouver has everything going their way so there is no excuse for them to finish anything other than 1st place.

As for the rest of the Northwest, Minnesota made the most noise in the offseason.  Suter and Parise are both HUGE signings.  Parise, along with Heatley, Setoguchi, and Koivu, will provide a large amount of offense for the team.  Although I believe Suter is one of the top 5 best defensemen in the entire NHL and not simply a product of Shea Weber, he will have to carry this Wild team on his back all season long.  Other than Suter there are no defensemen on this team that should be anything other than depth players on an NHL team.  Given the weak schedule the Wild have, they should be able to sneak in the playoffs as a low seed.  Colorado has enough talent to be a good team, and an incredible youngster and now captain in Gabriel Landeskog.  This team, like the Islanders will be a team of the future but are not quite there yet.  Edmonton is in the same group as Colorado and the Islanders.  Expect Eberle, Hall, Yakupov, Gagner, and RNH to dominate for years to come but not this year.  As for Calgary, as much as I would love for them to finish 9th and get a low draft pick as usual, they do not bring anything to the table to make me consider them relevant and they should end up in the bottom of the pack in the west.

Pacific Division:
  1. San Jose Sharks
  2. Dallas Stars
  3. Los Angeles Kings
  4. Phoenix Coyotes
  5. Anaheim Ducks
San Jose is one of my favorite teams so I may be a little biased here, but there is no reason they should not reign supreme on top of the Pacific Division as they usually do.  They are healthy, they have young and veteran players, and they are coming into this season as underdogs.  Everyone will be talking about LA and sleeping on this stacked Sharks team.  Niemi should have a bounce back year thanks to an incredible defense in front of him.  Brad Stuart was one of the quietest, yet biggest, moves of the offseason.  The achilles heel of the Sharks' season last year was their penalty killing.  They brought in Brad Stuart, Adam Burish, and veteran coach Larry Robinson to address this issue and it will be solved.  Dallas comes in as #2 as my sleeper pick. They have been a game or two away from playoffs the past 2 seasons.  Kari Lehtonen is a stud between the pipes.  Benn, Eriksson, and Ryder proved to be one of the most effective lines in the league last year.  Adding veterans Ray Whitney, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr to help Brendan Morrow lead this team will go a long way.  Their defense is a little sketchy but I think this is a quietly solid roster that could make noise in 2013.  The Stanley Cup winning LA Kings do not have the hangover of the short offseason to worry about, but a knee injury to Anze Kopitar to worry about instead.  Their best player went down to a knee injury but this team has amazing defense, mixing young studs with savvy veterans, to compliment their MVP goalie Jon Quick.  The offense ran dry from time to time last year but LA should muster enough goals to sneak into playoffs again as a dangerous 6-8 seed team again.  Phoinix held on to Doan but lost Whitney to free agency.  Smith is a monster in net but they just do not have enough scoring to be a top level team.  The only reason they MIGHT sneak into playoffs is because of Smith and his great defense consisting of Michalek, Yandle, and the soon to be All Star Oliver Ekman-Larsson.  Anaheim still has the big 4 goal scorers in Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, and Teemu Selanne but unfortunately for them they have nobody else worthwhile on their roster.  Hiller is good but not great.  I hope the Finnish Flash gets traded to a playoff team before he retires, but he seems to be happy in Anaheim for now.

Central Division:
  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Chicago Blackhawks
  3. Nashville Predators
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blues were a big surprise last year finishing 2nd in the west and really putting on a defensive clinic the NHL was not ready for.  They had 2 shutdown goalies in Halak and Elliot and a good defensive team coached by the defensive genius Ken Hitchcock.  Pieterangelo and Shattenkirk are two of the most promising defensemen in the league.  The Blues offense is capable of putting the puck in the net, but they have a roster full of defensively minded guys and that is how they find success.  With Hitchcock and captain David Backes at the helm of the ship, the Blues should take the central two years in a row.  Chicago can flat out score goals, but they were similar to the Flyers last year in their inability to keep goals out.  Crawford and Emery struggled mightily in net but I think the Blackhawks can figure that out to finish 2013 with a solid year and ultimately take the west's 4th seed.  Nashville lost Suter but they have so many young defense in their system that they do not need to fret.  Blum, Ellis, Hillen, and Josi round of the young studs joining Weber, Gill, Klein, and Hannan at defense.  With such depth and a world class goalie in Pekka Rinne, Nashville should be solid again.  They have 4 lines they can roll on offense that are all capable of scoring despite the lack of star players.  I am going to skip Detroit for a second to quickly explain that Columbus sucks and will be 30th in the NHL to nobody's surprise, whether Mason or Bobrovsky are in net.

I already know half of the Detroit audience closed this article the moment they saw Detroit ranked 4th in the division according to me.  Before you discount me as not credible and a Detroit hater let me explain myself.  Detroit recently lost the hall of famer Nick Lidstrom to retirement and Brad Stuart in a trade with San Jose.  Obviously losing Lidstrom is detrimental, but Stuart is quietly a solid defenseman and the team's best penalty killer.  I know Kronwall, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg are elite players but outside of that I really do not love the Red Wings' roster.  Cleary, Franzen, Bertuzzi and White are vastly over rated and have seen their best days already. Filppula could emerge as a great player and leader but he can only do so much.  Helm is fast and a huge part of the team but he will never be the offensive player fans want him to be.  Gustav Nyqvist is not expected to make the roster but he could be a great player in the future despite his lack in size.  Bottom line, when I look at the roster I cannot get past the giant hole I see on defense.  Kronwall, White, Colaiacovo, Quincy, Kindle, Smith, and Ericsson is not the ideal defensive lineup by any means.  That means the playoff hopes of Detroit relies on Howard.  He can either prove me wrong and step up as an elite goalie in the league or be exposed as mediocre.  Either way I do not love the Red Wings' chances entering 2013, sorry my Detroit fans.

Here is how I see it playing out
  1. New York Rangers
  2. Boston Bruins
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs
  9. New Jersey Devils
  10. Florida Panthers
  11. Ottawa Senators
  12. Carolina Hurricanes
  13. New York Islanders
  14. Winnipeg Jets
  15. Montreal Canadiens
  1. Vancouver Canucks
  2. San Jose Sharks
  3. St. Louis Blues
  4. Chicago Blackhawks
  5. Dallas Stars
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Los Angeles Kings
  8. Minnesota Wild
  9. Detroit Red Wings
  10. Phoenix Coyotes
  11. Colorado Avalanche
  12. Edmonton Oilers
  13. Anaheim Ducks
  14. Calgary Flames
  15. Columbus Blue Jackets

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