Vice President of U.S. Sports and Sports Correspondent Ryan DiNunzio provides an in-depth analysis of every NHL team to prepare you for the upcoming NHL season.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
2010 Record: 38-39-5, 81 points (4th in Atlantic Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: LW Eric Boulton, RW Cam Janssen, D Maxim Noreau
Losses: C David McIntyre, G Mike McKenna, RW Brian Rolston, D Colin White
In a Nutshell: The Devils are coming off their worst season since 1989 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. They finished the second half of the season very strong and will look to build on that momentum. What will be key for the Devils to rebound or rebuild is simple: Zach Parise needs to get healthy, stay healthy and fire the attack for the Devils. If he can lead the way, pressure will be taken off of Ilya Kovulchuk and Patrick Elias. With them being comfortable and in form, they should help the development of young prospect Jacob Josefson. More goals will ease the burden on an aging Martin Brodeur; with more goals the workload for the former Vezina Trophy winner should be lessened. To aid Brodeur, Henrik Tallinder will have to prove his big salary and get back to his form from his time in Buffalo. In a nutshell, the Devils need to score early and often; days of relying on Brodeur to carry the load are slowly fading.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Atlantic Division, 7th Seed Eastern Conference
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2010 Record: 30-39-13, 73 points (5th in Atlantic Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: D Matt Donovan, C Marty Reasoner, LW Brian Rolston
Losses: D Bruno Gervais, C Rob Hisey, C Zenon Konopka, G Nathan Lawson, D Radek Martinek, C Doug Weight, RW Trent Hunter
In a Nutshell They produced a strong run in the second half of the 2010-11 season. For them to continue to do so and build on that momentum, the Islanders will lean on youthful talent that many have previously written off. They have John Tavares, who was on the verge of a breakout season last year (finally), along with Michael Grabner and prospect Casey Cizika who could really be a spark offensively this year and truly entertain the Islander’s fans. Rick DiPietro needs to show his worth in goal, because he certainly has not lived up the monster multi-year deal he has. For the Islanders, to make a move, they may need to (big swallow) sit DiPietro and put in one of the other netminders to fuel a resurgence from this team.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Atlantic Division, miss the playoffs
NEW YORK RANGERS
2010 Record: 44-33-5, 93 points (3rd in Atlantic Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: RW Andre Deveaux, D Tim Erixon, C Brad Richards, Michael Rupp, RW Andreas Thuresson
Losses: C Chris Drury, C Brodie Dupont, D Matt Gilroy, LW Vaclav Prospal
In a Nutshell: The Rangers are facing their highest expectations in years. Acquiring Brad Richards through free agency could turn out to be the key for New York and a Cup run. If he can lead the charge along with new captain Ryan Callahan, the Rangers could be the dominant team in the east. Richards will be looked at to spark some sputtering offensive talent that the Rangers posses; if he is capable and the pressure isn’t too much, less will be needed from netminder Henrik Lundqvist. If he stays healthy and Marc Staal can outshine his older brother, New York will be solid on both ends of the ice. Look for the chemistry of this team to be tested. If they pass, look for big things; if they fail, they will be cellar dwellers. There will be no in-between for this team.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Atlantic Division, 3rd Seed Eastern Conference.
2010 Record: 47-23-12, 106 points (Tied for 1st Atlantic Division, 2nd Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: 2nd Round loss against Boston (4-0 series)
Additions: G Jason Bacashihua, G Ilya Bryzgalov, RW Jaromir Jagr, D Andreas Lilja, RW Wayne Simmonds, C Brayden Schenn, C Maxime Talbot, RW Jakub Voracek
Losses: LW Dan Carcillo, C Jeff Carter, G Brian Boucher, LW Ville Leino, D Sean O’Donnell, RW Darroll Powe, C Mike Richards, D Danny Syvret, RW Kris Versteeg, RW Nikolay Zherdev
In a Nutshell: It was a crazy offseason for the Flyers. After a disappointing playoff exit, they dealt away two young stars in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to remake their roster. In making those moves they acquired one of the youngest and most NHL-ready prospects in Brayden Schenn (a preseason Calder Trophy favorite), a potential future All-Star and team captain. However, they will still depend on veterans to carry the load; Daniel Briere and Chris Pronger will again be leaned on heavily to lead. For the Flyers to have success they will need James van Riemsdyk to continue his hot streak from the playoffs, Claude Giroux to avoid a “sophomore slump”, Jaromir Jagr needs to find some form and for Ilya Bryzgalov finally give the Flyers some stability between the pipes—something they have lacked since Ron Hextall. This team really could go either way; they have some talent and experience, but whether they have what it takes to do more than just compete is the big question.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd in Atlantic Division, 7th Seed Eastern Conference
2010 Record: 49-25-8, 106 points (Tied for 1st Atlantic Division, 4th Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: 1st Round loss against Tampa Bay (4-3 series)
Additions: LW Steve MacIntyre, D Alexandre Picard, LW Steve Sullivan, RW Jason Williams
Losses: RW Eric Godard, RW Alex Kovalev, D Corey Potter, C Michael Rupp, LW Brett Sterling, C Maxime Talbot
In a Nutshell: Stay healthy. The sooner Sidney Crosby returns the better for Pittsburgh. They faired really well last year under Dan Bylsma to remain as one of the elite teams without Sid. 2010-11 was a tough year for the Pens injury wise; they constantly were without key players, so role players stepped up and performed extremely well. They have the best young attack in the game and are building a strong defense out of a talented young prospect pool. Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal will need to lead this team, even if Crosby returns quickly; Malkin and Staal will have to be at their peak for the Pens to make a Cup run like 2010.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Atlantic Division, miss the playoffs
2010 Record: 46-25-11, 103 points (1st Northeast Division, 3rd Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: Stanley Cup Champions against Vancouver (4-3 series)
Additions: D Joe Corvo, LW Benoit Pouliot
Losses: RW Michael Ryder, D Tomas Kaberle, RW Mark Recchi
In a Nutshell: The defending champs need one thing to repeat. They need Tim Thomas to perform. The Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner is the key to Boston’s success. They have a solid core returning from a team that won three of four playoff series in seven games. They have tremendous depth and some strong youth up and coming in the ranks. Tyler Sequin will look to build on a solid first year campaign as his time becomes more regular and he establishes himself as a full-time player. The Bruins will also look for Zdeno Chara to continue his solid form and for Brad Marchand to continue being an impact player. The loss of Kaberle means that Joe Corvo will have to step up in his first season with Boston to keep the backline solid. Boston has a great opportunity to repeat, they will rely on their depth, and they need Tim Thomas to hold off father-time just a little longer.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd in Northeast Division, 5th Seed Eastern Conference
2010 Record: 43-29-10, 96 points (Tied for 2nd in Northeast Division, 7th Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: 1st Round loss against Philadelphia (4-3 series)
Additions: D Christian Ehrhoff, LW Ales Kotalik, RW Ville Leino, G Drew McIntyre, D Robyn Regehr.
Losses: D Chris Butler, F Paul Byron, D Tim Conboy, C Tim Connolly, G Patrick Lalime, RW Mark Mancari, D Steve Montador, RW Mark Parrish.
In a Nutshell: The biggest addition for the Sabres may be their owner Terry Pegula and his checkbook. Finally the Sabres have money to spend to keep the talent they have developed and add some coveted free agency to bolster their roster. But it is not just the team’s new bankroll that should have people excited, it is the swagger that they now possess. Pegula didn’t just spend money on free agents, he poured cash into upgrading the outdated player’s facilities, the locker room, training area, etc. There is a new belief in Buffalo. They will again lean on one of the league’s best, Ryan Miller, between the pipes. His job may have gotten a little easier with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Erhoff; they will join an already talented group of blueliners which includes, Tyler Myers Jordan Leopold. Up front Nathan Gerbe will look to build on his strong finish to the 2010-2011, and Brad Boyes and Tyler Ennis will look to continue their great form. Also, look for a return to form from Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek to again rack up the points. This could be the most talented team in years for Buffalo, and it may lead them back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997-98. If they stay healthy, and Miller gets rest when needed, Buffalo can hang with anyone in the league.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Northeast Division, 2nd Seed Eastern Conference
2010 Record: 44-30-8, 96 points (Tied for 2nd in Northeast Division, 6th Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: 1st Round exit against Boston (4-3 series)
Additions: F Erik Cole, G Peter Budaj, D Raphael Diaz, F Michael Blunden, D Jeff Woywitka, D Chris Campoli.
Losses: D James Wisniewski, D Brent Sopel, D Paul Mara, F Benoit Pouliot, D Alexandre Picard, D Roman Hamrlik, F Jeff Halpern, F Dustin Boyd.
In a Nutshell: The Habs fell just short during overtime against the eventual Cup winners, the Bruins. Can they bounce back from coming up just short? The team lost more players to injury last season than I think they care to remember. But with those injuries, they showed that they had depth and a crop of young talent who could step in and fight. They fought their way into the playoffs and the sixth seed. With Carey Price between the pipes they will have a chance to get back to the players. What they need is P.K. Subban to continue his high level of play, Alexei Yemelin needs to live up to the hype during his first NHL season, and Scott Gomez needs to show his worth. The linchpin for the Habs this season could be the return of Max Pacioretty. If he gets hot and performs well, the Habs could go deep.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Northeast Division, 8th Seed Eastern Conference
2010 Record: 32-40-10, 74 points (5th in Northeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: G Alex Auld, D Tim Conboy, LW Nikita Filatov, C Zenon Konopka, G Mike McKenna, RW Mark Parrish
Losses: C Cody Bass, G Curtis McElhinney, C Ryan Potulny, RW Ryan Shannon, D Derek Smith
In a Nutshell: To say that 2011-12 will be a rebuilding year for Ottawa is an understatement. After a fire sale at the trade deadline last year, they are loaded with freshly drafted young talent. For them to have any success, the remaining veterans will need to step up and teach and guide the young boys. I wouldn’t expect too much from Ottawa this season, but the future is certainly bright. Alex Auld in net should be a solid addition, and with some tougher vets, young entertaining forwards Bobby Butler, Nikita Filatov, and Stefan Noesen may have some freedom and protection to shine.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Northeast Division, miss the playoffs.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2010 Record: 37-34-11, 85 points (4th Northeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: C Tim Connolly, C Philippe Dupuis, D Cody Franson, C Matthew Lombardi, D John-Michael Liles
Losses: C Tim Brent, G Jean-Sebastien Giguere, D Brett Lebda, LW Robert Slaney, LW Fredrik Sjostrom
In a Nutshell: The Leafs definitely improved at the end of the last season and had the fourth best record in the Eastern Conference after the All-Star break. For them to continue the climb, they need to stay healthy. They will also need new additions Tim Conolly and Matt Lombardi to perform. Conolly will look to partner with Phil Kessel to provide a spark to the Leafs’ offense. They have built a solid core of defenseman and hope that the surprising performance last year from netminder James Reimer was not a fluke. This should be an interesting season in Toronto, and there may be very little patience left in the hostile hockey market. Only time will tell with this team. If they have a slow first half, they may not have enough talent to rebound in the second half.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Northeast Division, miss the playoffs
2010 Record: 40-31-11, 91 points (3rd in Southeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: C Tim Brent, G Brian Boucher, D Tomas Kaberle, LW Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW Anthony Stewart, LW Chris Durno
Losses: RW Erik Cole, G Justin Pogge, D Bryan Rodney
In a Nutshell: Despite missing the playoffs, the Canes still have a strong foundation to build upon. Though Carolina is a young team, boasting last year’s Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, they have a veteran leader in Eric Staal to guide them. Last year they had a great start and finish to the season but were weak in between. They need to be more consistent this season if they want to break into the playoffs. Though they were able to keep a core of players including Brandon Sutter, Erik Cole’s departure is a big loss; they are hoping Alexei Ponikarovsky can fill his shoes. The Canes will also look for contributions from newcomer Tomas Kaberle. If Carolina can put together 81 games of solid play, they will be in the hunt, and could cause some of the top seeds in the playoffs headaches. They will not be a breakout or an exciting team to watch, just a solid competitor in the middle rungs of the league.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Southeast Division, just miss the playoffs as the 9th seed
2010 Record: 30-40-12, 72 points (5th in Southeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions: LW Sean Bergenheim, RW Matt Bradley, D Brian Campbell, LW Tomas Fleischmann, C Marcel Goc, D Ed Jovanovski, RW Tomas Kopecky, G Jose Theodore, RW Scottie Upshall, RW Kris Versteeg
Losses: RW Niclas Bergfors, RW Steve Bernier, LW Darcy Hordichuk, LW Rostislav Olesz, C Marty Reasoner, LW Sergei Samsonov, G Tomas Vokoun
Key to Success: The worst franchise since the NHL lockout doesn’t get much better this year. Though they are stockpiling some young talent for the future, they need to build a base of success with this crop of veterans (some at the end of their careers) for the young players to be excited about the franchise. The loss of Tomas Vokoun should not be overlooked; Jose Theodore will need to wake up the echoes, or the Panthers could be dismal all season long. The brightest spot for this franchise is newcomer Tomas Fleischmann; if he can regain his pre-injury form, the club may have something to build on. Stephen Weiss will need to again carry the load for this team, and hopefully he can help this team earn a few more wins. With in-state rival Tampa always having success, the folks around Miami may be running out of patience or too apathetic to care about this club anymore unless they do something – SOON.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Southeast Division, miss the playoffs
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2010 Record: 46-25-11, 103 points (2nd in Southeast Division, 5th Seed Eastern Conference)
Playoff Results: Eastern Conference Finals loss against Boston (4-3 series)
Key Additions: G Mathieu Garon, D Bruno Gervais, D Matt Gilroy, LW Alexandre Picard, C Tom Pyatt, RW Ryan Shannon, C Trevor Smith
Key Losses: LW Sean Bergenheim, LW Chris Durno, LW Simon Gagne, D Randy Jones, D Matt Smaby, G Mike Smith
In a Nutshell: Tampa Bay was one game shy of the Stanley Cup Finals last season and will continue to be a dangerous team in 2011-12. They have solid, talented goal-scoring veterans in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier and a young star in Steven Stamkos. With Marc-Andre Burgeron holding firm on the blue line, the Lighting will be solid on both ends of the ice. Dwayne Roloson will be solid between the pipes; but for Tampa to have a repeat run reminiscent of last season, he will need to play at a little higher level and be a bit more consistent. Look for Tampa Bay to compete and be in the mix all season long, but add some muscle at the trade deadline for a deep playoff run.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd Southeast Division, 4th Seed Eastern Conference
2010 Record: 48-23-11, 107 points (1st in Southeast Division)
Playoff Results: 2nd Round loss against Tampa Bay (4-0 series)
Additions: LW Chris Bourque, RW Troy Brouwer, C Jeff Halpern, D Roman Hamrlik, C Christian Hanson, RW Danick Paquette, D Ryan Potulny, D Danny Richmond, RW Taylor Stefishen, G Tomas Vokoun, RW Joel Ward
Losses: C Jason Arnott, RW Matt Bradley, RW Eric Fehr, C Boyd Gordon, D Scott Hannan, RW Steve Pinizzotto, D Tyler Sloan, LW Marco Sturm, G Semyon Varlamov, RW Brian Willsie
In a Nutshell: This may be a last gap for the Capitals. Easily the most talented team with the world’s most talented player, both the last two seasons ended in similar fashion with early playoff exits. They have done a great deal to retool their roster and may have sured up a weakness between the pipes with a low cost solution in Tomas Vokoun. Every team that makes a great Cup run gets solid performances in the net, and Vokoun is capable of providing that for the Caps, for the first time since Oli the Goalie. They will look to blend their fast-paced attacking style from ’09 and the blue line stalwartness from ’10 to create a new style that gives them the playoff success they so desperately need. With the addition of Evgeny Kuznetsov and the growth of Marcus Johansson, the Capitals have some great talent to move around Alex Ovechkin. For two years Washington has been on the brink of the greatness the last two seasons; Vokoun and some youthful energy and fresh desire may be just what they need to get there.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Southeast Division, 1st Seed Eastern Conference
WINNIPEG JETS (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers)
2010 Record: 34-36-12, 80 points (4th in Southeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Additions:, RW Eric Fehr, D Mark Flood, C Aaron Gagnon, LW Tanner Glass, D Randy Jones, LW Kenndal McArdle, D Derek Meech, C Kyle Wellwood
Losses: LW Eric Boulton, RW Radek Dvorak, C Angelo Esposito, D Freddy Meyer, RW Danick Paquette, C Rob Schremp, RW Anthony Stewart
In a Nutshell: Though the move to Winnipeg from Atlanta will certainly bring excitement, it will also bring it’s challenges. They need to build a stronger defense if they ever wish to contend in the Southeast Division. It may be difficult for the franchise to deal with the death of Rick Rypien early in the season, and it may provide some emotional fire to fuel the team. But with a very re-tooled roster, they still may not have enough to be that different. They will be an exciting team to watch, but the results will be the same. The Jets do have some offensively talented youngsters that will provide some entertainment, and maybe they can learn from the lessons of last season. The games get harder, not easier, as the season progresses. As much as the fans are going to will this team the playoffs it won’t be enough. This is a franchise in transition, and it will take some time to put all of the pieces together; they do have a bright future, but the future is not now.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Southeast Division, miss the playoffs
EASTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
1. Washington Capitals
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. New York Rangers
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Boston Bruins
6. Philadelphia Flyers
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Montreal Canadiens
9. Carolina Hurricanes
10. Pittsburgh Penguins
#1 Washington Capitals v #8 Montreal Canadiens – Washington (4 games)
#2 Buffalo Sabres v #7 New Jersey Devils – Buffalo (6 games)
#3 New York Rangers v #6 Philadelphia Flyers – Philadelphia (7 games)
#4 Tampa Bay Lightning v #5 Boston Bruins – Tampa Bay (7 games)
#1 Washington v #4 Tampa Bay – Tampa Bay (6 games)
#2 Buffalo v #6 Philadelphia – Buffalo (6 games)
#2 Buffalo v #4 Tampa Bay – Buffalo (5 games)
DETROIT RED WINGS
2010 Record: 47-25-10, 104 points (1st in Central Division)
Playoff Results: 2nd round exit against San Jose (4-3 series)
Key Additions: G Ty Conklin, RW Chris Conner, D Mike Commodore, D Garnet Exelby, D Ian White
Key Losses: C Kris Draper, D Derek Meech, G Chris Osgood, D Brian Rafalski, C Mike Modano, D Ruslan Salei
Key to Success: There is little debate that Detroit will be a playoff team and contend for the division title. However, if the Motor City intends to raise another Stanley Cup banner, goaltender Jimmy Howard will need to ensure that his consistency matches his talent. Every year, critics state that Detroit is a little older and slower, yet the team is always on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders. As long as seasoned veterans Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg stay healthy, the Red Wings will contend in the West under Coach Mike Babcock’s system. Perhaps no other team in the league drafts as well as the Red Wings, so there is plenty of depth in the system. However, in order to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, Jimmy Howard must be the goalie the Detroit faithful hope he can be.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd in Central Division, 4th Seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 44-27-11, 99 points (2nd in Central Division)
Playoff Results: 2nd round loss against Vancouver (4-2 series)
Key Additions: RW Niclas Bergfors, C Brodie Dupont, D Jack Hillen, C Robert Slaney, D Tyler Sloan, RW Zack Stortini
Key Losses: RW J.P. Dumont, D Cody Franson, C Marcel Goc, D Aaron Johnson, C Matthew Lombardi, D Shane O’Brien, LW Steve Sullivan, RW Andreas Thuresson, RW Joel Ward, D Brett Lebda
Key to Success: Nashville ices a team every season that, to the average hockey fan, might not look like much. But head coach Barry Trotz somehow finds a way to get the most out of his players and employs a system based on strong defense and goaltending. The Predators have one of the top defensive pairings in all of hockey with the combination of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Weber, a Norris Trophy candidate last season for the league’s top defender, has the all-around ability to lead his team back to the playoffs. Pekka Rinne is one of the most underrated goaltenders in the league and possesses supreme natural talent. However, for Nashville to take it to the next step, they need some of their young forwards to rise to the occasion. The team lost the speedy fan-favorite winger Steve Sullivan to free agency, and it is looking for youngsters such as Blake Geoffrion and Colin Wilson to provide some much needed goal scoring that will be lost from the departures of Sullivan and winger J.P. Dumont. Nashville will be well-coached and tough to play against, but they will need to rely on work ethic to oust much more talented teams in the Western Conference.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Central Division, 7th in Western Conference
2010 Record: 44-29-9 (3rd in Central Division)
Playoff Results: 1st round loss against Vancouver (4-3 series)
Key Additions: D Steve Montador, RW Jamal Mayers, D Sean O’Donnell, LW Andrew Brunette, LW Dan Carcillo, D Sami Lepisto
Key Losses: D Brian Campbell, C Jake Dowell
Key to Success: Unlike last offseason, when Chicago had to dismantle its Stanley Cup roster in order to comply with the NHL’s salary cap, the Blackhawks were able to keep most of its team together this offseason. Brian Campbell’s massive contract is finally off the books, and young defenseman Nick Leddy has a chance to bolster the blueline for the Hawks. The Blackhawks are an extremely talented team, with players such as team captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp leading the offense. The big question this year will be whether second-year goaltender Corey Crawford can repeat his stellar rookie campaign. There appears to be no weaknesses for the Blackhawks on paper. The defense is led by last year’s Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. Keith’s defensive partner, Brent Seabrook, helps form one of the top defensive shutdown units in the entire league. Chicago has every reason to come out of the Western Conference and contend for a Stanley Cup this season.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Central Division, 2nd Seed in Western Conference
ST. LOUIS BLUES
2010 Record: 38-33-11, 87 points (4th in Central Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: C Jason Arnott, C Evgeny Grachev, C Scott Nichol, LW Brett Sterling, RW Jonathan Cheechoo, RW Jamie Langenbrunner, D Kent Huskins, D Danny Syvret, G Brian Elliot
Key Losses: D Dean Arsene, D Nathan Oystrick, D Tyson Strachan, RW Cam Janssen, G Ty Conklin
Key to Success: The Blues are a young team that continues to grow each season. The team is built on toughness, and no one exemplifies the Blues’ style more than David Backes. The United States Olympian scored 31 goals last season, and Backes hopes to be supported by several other talented players who missed significant time last season: David Perron, Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie. If former Shark Jonathan Cheechoo can regain the form he showed in San Jose, the Blues have some promise up front. The Blues are hoping that their young defensive unit continues to grow, and defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo have shown much promise for the future. The Blues may have a tough time competing for the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference, but if they can squeeze in, they can be a team that can upset some of the league powerhouses because of goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Two seasons ago, Halak stood on his head and led the Montreal Canadiens on a successful playoff run before falling in the Conference finals. Halak still has the ability to put a team on his back and make a strong playoff run if St. Louis is able to contend.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Central Division, 9th Seed in Western Conference
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2010 Record: 34-35-13, 81 points (5th in Central Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: C Cody Bass, C Jeff Carter, LW Alexandre Giroux, D Aaron Johnson, D Radek Martinek, LW Vaclav Prospal, C Ryan Russell, G Curtis Sanford, D James Wisniewski
Key Losses: RW Mike Blunden, D Mike Commodore, LW Nikita Filatov, G Mathieu Garon, D Jan Hejda, D Sami Lepisto, C Andrew Murray, RW Scottie Upshall, RW Jacob Voracek
Key to Success: The Blue Jackets have not won a playoff game in team history, and management decided to make a big splash this offseason, acquiring center Jeff Carter from Philadelphia and adding blueliner James Wisniewski to the mix. Perhaps no one is more excited about the addition of Carter than veteran winger Rick Nash. Nash is a superb talent, but for most of his career he has been the only elite offensive threat in Columbus. Jeff Carter will change that. The team no longer has to worry about failed projects such as Nikolay Zherdev, Gilbert Brule, and Nikita Filatov. Carter and Nash playing on the same line will automatically give the Jackets more offensive upside than it has seen in recent memory. The team is expecting secondary scoring from R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, and Derrick Brassard. Goaltender Steve Mason was outstanding as a rookie in 2009, posting ten shutouts as a rookie, but he has since cooled down. Expect the Blue Jackets to miss the playoffs this season, but do not be surprised if they improve from last season due to their offseason acquisitions.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Central Division, 13th seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 54-19-9, 117 points (1st in Northeast Division and best regular-season record in the NHL)
Playoff Results: Lost in Stanley Cup Finals to Boston (4-3 series)
Key Additions: LW Marco Sturm, RW Mark Mancari, RW Byron Bitz, LW Mike Duco, C Andrew Ebbett, D Ryan Parent
Key Losses: D Christian Ehrhoff, LW Raffi Torres, LW Jeff Tambellini, LW Tanner Glass
Key to Success: Last season, Vancouver seemed to have it all. The team won the Presidents Trophy for obtaining the most points in the regular season. Head Coach Alain Vigneault was a Jack Adams finalist for coach of the year. Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy for being the NHL’s leading scorer. United States Olympian and breakout star Ryan Kesler won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward. Roberto Luongo was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goaltender. The team did not appear to have any weaknesses in the regular season, but in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Boston Bruins exposed the Canucks for their lack of toughness. The Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, have plenty of skill, but fans in Vancouver are beginning to wonder if they are the answers for the playoffs. Roberto Luongo failed to show that he could take over games in the playoffs when his team needed him to. Luongo won a gold medal for Canada last year. He has the talent needed to win the Stanley Cup. He just needs to be at the top of his game when it matters most, and he has failed to do that in the Stanley Cup playoffs. For the Canucks to win a championship, they need to show team toughness and grit when the playoffs come around.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Northwest Division, 1st seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 41-29-12, 94 points (2nd in Northeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: RW Lee Stempniak, D Scott Hannan, C Paul Byron, D Chris Butler, RW Pierre-Luc Letourneau-LeBlond
Key Losses: C Daymond Langkow, D Robyn Regehr, D Adam Pardy, LW Fredrik Modin, RW Ales Kotalik
Key to Success: The Flames look to continue the success they had at the end of last season. The team only suffered 11 losses in its last 47 games. Calgary is hoping to find instant chemistry between young center Mikael Backlund and veteran All-Star Jarome Iginla. In order for the Flames to get to the playoffs, they will need goals coming from other players than Jarome Iginla. Matt Stajan, Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen will all have to produce. The Flames should be a borderline playoff team this season, but fans are optimistic due to the strong finish that the Flames had in the second half of last season.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd in Northwest Division, 8th seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 39-35-8, 86 points (3rd in Northeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: RW Dany Heatley, D Mike Lundin, C Darroll Powe, RW Devin Setoguchi
Key Losses: D Cam Barker, LW Andrew Brunette, D Brent Burns, RW Martin Havlat, RW Chuck Kobasew, C Patrick O’Sullivan, G Jose Theodore, F James Sheppard
Key to Success: The Wild have often been called the New Jersey Devils of the West. This is because of the team’s willingness to use a defensive-minded system known casually as “the trap.” When teams play the Wild, they are frustrated. When fans watch the Wild, they are frustrated. But when a team is built like the Wild has been built, there really is no choice but to employ the trap. This season, that may change due to the creative offensive players added to the roster. Minnesota will have a much different look this season, thanks to the addition of Dany Heatley (and to a lesser extent, Devin Setoguchi). Goaltender Niklas Backstrom and team captain Mikko Koivu will provide stability to the new-look Wild. Mike Yeo gets his first audition as a head coach in the NHL after previously working as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh and as the head coach of Minnesota’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Houston Aeros. Yeo guided the Aeros to first place in the AHL, so Wild fans are excited to see what the new head coach do with the big club.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Northwest Division, 12th seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 30-44-8, 68 points (4th in Northeast Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: F Evan Brophey, G Cedrick Desjardins, G Jean-Sebastian Giguere, D Jan Hejda, RW Chuck Kobasew, C Joakim Lindstrom, G Drew McIntyre, D Shane O’Brien, G Semyon Varlamov
Key Losses: G Jason Bacashihua, G Peter Budaj, C Philippe Dupuis, G Brian Elliott, LW Tomas Fleischmann, D Adam Foote, D John-Michael Liles
Key to Success: The Avalanche spent the second overall draft pick of 2011 on winger Gabriel Landeskog, and most experts believe that he was the most NHL-ready player available in the entire draft. Landeskog may get the chance to display his skills as early as the season opener. He would join other superb young talents such as center Matt Duchene, the third overall selection in the 2009 draft. Blueliner Erik Johnson, the first overall draft pick of 2006, was shocked to find out he was traded to the Avs last season, but Colorado is suddenly becoming loaded with plenty of young players with lots of upside. The Avalanche decided to make Semyon Varlamov their man between the pipes, and he will have a chance to showcase what he can do as the team’s number one goalie. The Avs are probably a few seasons away from the playoffs, but this young team will continue to grow together and will not be easy to play against.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Northwest Division, 15th Seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 25-45-12, 62 points (5th in Central Division)
Playoff Results: did not qualify
Key Additions: LW Ryan Smyth, LW Ben Eager, C Eric Belanger, RW Darcy Hordichuk, D Cam Barker, D Andy Sutton
Key Losses: D Kurtis Foster, LW J-F Jacques, D Jim Vandermeer, C Andrew Cogliano, C Colin Fraser, D Sheldon Souray, LW Steve McIntyre
Key to Success: Oiler fans are hungry to get back into the playoffs and raise another banner, but they must be patient with this young team. It can be argued that no other team in the league matches the skill that the young, undeveloped players on the Oilers possess. The team is building through the draft, and this year’s first-overall draft pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has a chance to make the team out of training camp. Last year’s first-overall draft pick Taylor Hall has shown promise in the NHL already, but his rookie season was cut short by a high ankle sprain. Other elite young talents in Edmonton include Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle. These young players will be joined by Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth, who is excited to return to the Oilers after he was shockingly traded several years ago. The Oilers are still a few seasons away from being relevant in the West, but that is not to say that this young team cannot turn some heads this season.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Northwest Division, 14th seed in Western Conference
SAN JOSE SHARKS
2010 Record: 48-25-9, 105 points (1st in Pacific Division)
Playoff Results: 3rd round loss against Vancouver (4-1 series)
Key Additions: D Brent Burns, C Michal Handzus, RW Martin Havlat, D Matt Pelech, D Jim Vandermeer, RW Andrew Murray, C James Sheppard
Key Losses: LW Ben Eager, RW Dany Heatley, D Kent Huskins, RW Jamal Mayers, C Scott Nichol, RW Devin Setoguchi, D Niclas Wallin
Key to Success: San Jose will look much different entering the 2011 season, primarily because of the losses of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. San Jose felt the need for a change after bowing out early again in the postseason. Many believed that the top line of Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau made the Sharks too top-heavy. The departure of Heatley and Setoguchi paved way for the arrival of players such as Bren Burns and Martin Havlat, who will help provide solid depth that San Jose usually lacks. There is no question that San Jose will be a contender in the West, but every season, the Sharks seem to fall apart in the playoffs, even when they are heavily favored. The team hopes a more balanced attack this season will translate to more success in the playoffs.
SS Predicted Finish: 3rd in Pacific Division, 6th Seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 47-30-5, 99 points (Tied for 2nd with Phoenix in Pacific Division, but finished second behind Phoenix based on tie-breaker criteria)
Playoff Results: 1st round loss against Nashville (4-2 series)
Key Additions: C Mark Bell, D Mathieu Carle, C Andrew Cogliano, G Jeff Deslauriers, RW Andrew Gordon, LW Jean-Francois Jacques, D Bryan Rodney, D Matt Smaby
Key Losses: C Kyle Chipchura, C Josh Green, LW Jason Jaffray, D Andreas Lilja, C Todd Marchant, D Mark Mitera, D Andy Sutton
Key to Success: The Ducks have arguably the best top line in all of hockey. Left wing Bobby Ryan has scored at least 30 goals in three consecutive seasons. Center Ryan Getzlaf has the tenacity of a fourth-line grinder, combined with the skill of a top class playmaker. Right wing Corey Perry won the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) and the Hart Trophy (league MVP) last season. The thing that makes this line unique is that all three players use their large frames to their advantage, and all play with a very physical game. Not only does the Ducks’ top line put pucks in the back of the net, but they continuously ware down their opponent’s top defensive unit. Ageless superstar Teemu Selanne returns in what will likely be his last NHL season, and the Ducks want to make his last season a championship one. To make this happen, the Ducks need to stay healthy and hope that goaltender Jonas Hiller has another strong season. If this happens, the Ducks can do some damage in the West.
SS Predicted Finish: 1st in Pacific Division, 3rd Seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 43-26-13, 99 points (Tied for 2nd with Anaheim in Pacific Division, but finished third behind Anaheim based off tie-breaker criteria)
Playoff Results: 1st round exit against Detroit (4-0 series)
Key Additions: F Daymond Langkow, F Raffi Torres, G Mike Smith, F Kyle Chipchura, F Boyd Gordon, F Alexandre Bolduc, G Curtis McElhinney, D Dean Arsene, D Nathan Oystrick, G Justin Pogge, F Patrick O’Sullivan, F Marc Pouliot, D Tyler Eckford, F Matt Clackson
Key Losses: G Ilya Bryzgalov, F Vernon Fiddler, D Ed Jovanowski, F Andrew Ebbett, D Nolan Yonkman, F Eric Belanger, F Bracken Kearns
Key to Success: Similar to what Barry Trotz has done in Nashville, Phoenix’s head coach Dave Tippett has found a way to elevate the Coyotes to a playoff-caliber team without playoff-caliber players. The Coyotes enter another season in which there is doubt as to whether the team will remain in Arizona after this season. On the ice, the worries should be even more serious. The team traded goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers after it became evident that he would not re-sign with the Coyotes. Veteran Mike Smith will become the top option in net. Smith is a serviceable player, but he does not possess the superior talent that Bryzgalov possesses. The team will look to new forwards Daymond Langkow and Raffi Torres to provide offense to Dave Tippett’s successful system, but this may be the year when the lack of talent in Phoenix catches up with them.
SS Predicted Finish: 5th in Pacific Division, 11th seed in Western Conference
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2010 Record: 46-30-6, 98 points (4th in Pacific Division)
Playoff Results: 1st round exit v. San Jose (4-2)
Key Additions: C Mike Richards, LW Simon Gagne, C Colin Fraser
Key Losses: LW Ryan Smyth, RW Wayne Simmonds, C Braden Schenn, LW Alexei Ponikarovsky, C Michael Handzus, D Peter Harold
Key to Success: The Kings are blessed with talent, but they have lost in the first round of the playoffs in two straight seasons. In an effort to get the team to the next level, management made a big move and acquired Flyers captain Mike Richards. The Kings were forced to depart with contributor Wayne Simmonds and prospect Brayden Schenn, but they also brought in oft-injured winger Simon Gagne, who flashes brilliance when healthy. The Kings are loaded with even more talent up front with Anze Kopitar, who suffered a broken ankle last season, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. The blueline is also stable thanks to players such as Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi. If Jonathan Quick can continue to develop into a strong goaltender, the sky is the limit for Los Angeles. The keys to the Kings success will be getting Richards into a comfort zone with a new team, and making sure Kopitar and Gagne remain healthy. The Kings are a true dark horse team to win the Stanley Cup this season.
Christian Athlete to Watch: Name, position, quote.
SS Predicted Finish: 2nd in Pacific Division, 5th seed in Western Conference
2010 Record: 42-29-11, 95 points (5th in Central Division)
Playoff Results: Did not qualify
Key Additions: C Jake Dowell, RW Radek Dvorak, LW Vernon Fiddler, RW Eric Godard, D Adam Pardy, RW Michael Ryder, D Sheldon Souray
Key Losses: RW Jamie Langenbrunner, C Brad Richards, RW Jason Williams, D Jeff Woywitka
Key to Success: The Dallas Stars took a huge hit when All-Star Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers. Nevertheless, there is still talent up front for Dallas. Captain Brenden Morrow should provide another solid year for the Stars, and young forward Jamie Benn gave management enough confidence to trade power forward James Neal away last season. Two-way forward Loui Eriksson will help to fill the back of the net while often shutting down his opponent’s top line. The Stars have one the NHL’s most potent powerplays, and Alex Goligoski—acquired last season in the Neal trade—will man the point and give the Stars the puck-moving defenseman that the team has lacked since Sergei Zubov.
SS Predicted Finish: 4th in Pacific Division, 10th Seed in Western Conference
WESTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS.
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Los Angeles Kings
6. San Jose Sharks
7. Nashville Predators
8. Calgary Flames
9. St. Louis Blues
10. Dallas Stars
#1 Vancouver Canucks v #8 Calgary Flames – Vancouver (4 games)
#2 Chicago Blackhawks v #7 Nashville Predators – Chicago (5 games)
#3 Anaheim Ducks v #6 San Jose Sharks – Anaheim (6 games)
#4 Detroit Red Wings v #5 Los Angeles Kings – Los Angeles (7 games)
#1 Vancouver v #5 Los Angeles – Los Angeles (6 games)
#2 Chicago v #3 Anaheim – Chicago (6 games)
#2 Chicago v #5 Los Angeles – Chicago (7 games)