Predicting is never an easy thing because injuries, surprises, disappointments happen all the time. I remember when the oilers went to the cup final, I told everyone I know that Edmonton was going to make it to the cup final that year just as the regular season ended. I predicted it because the oilers never seemed to quit in any game. Under normal circumstances I probably would have had Detroit win that round one. That being said here's what I think may unfold for 2011/2012.
1. Vancouver Canucks
Strengths: Scoring, Defense and Goaltending. Say what you want about the canucks but they are a complete team on paper because they have the offense, the defense and the goaltending capable to going far. This is a fantasy players team for sure/ That being said all teams have a weakness.
Weaknesses: Depth, Veteran Experience and Pugnacity. The Canucks couldn't fight the Bruins, and they had little veteran experience where players like Recchi was able to give so much to the Bruins and offer how to win a grueling Stanley Cup against a team that on paper is better. The Bruins proved that paper means nothing, it's the way you play from scoring to defense to goaltending to style to experience. The Canucks learned they need experience so in come try-outs for Owen Nolan and Todd Fedoruk.
Outcome: The Canucks will win the west again, they definitely have what it takes during the regular season. The question is can Sedin 1 and 2, Luongo, Nolan, Kesler, and Hamhuis lead this team during the playoffs?
Strengths: Once again scoring, defense and goaltending. Another complete team on paper. The Red Wings have an iconic managerial team. This is a team to model after, a dynasty.
Weaknesses: Age, this team is getting older and while the young guns are given chances, it's still the older players that need to play top form in order for the Wings to win. Datsyuk, Franzen, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, they are the go to guys.
Outcome: Another top team in the west and with less injuries they will come second, but the playoffs will be another question as age becomes a harder obstacle once again for them.
3. Los Angeles:
Strengths: Youth & Strong Top 6, Youth & Strong Defense, goaltending. This team has scoring, defense, goaltending and youth. They have drive, and can be very scary. They are close to being better than the Canucks on paper.
Weaknesses: Players who don't always to their potential round out the top 6. Penner and Gagne are top 6 players and should be but they have struggled mightily in the past. Which players will appear for the kings. That is a big question.
Outcome: They win do amazing this year and will compete with the Canucks for the cup. Who will succeed I will predict later. Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier that is a strong core.
4. San Jose:
Strengths: Scoring, Defense, and goaltending. This is common amongst the west's top 5. They have amazing teams on paper and the Sharks fit that bill as well. Marleau, Thornton, Havlat, Burns, Boyle, Niemi say what you want but this is a good core.
Weaknesses: Perennial Underachievers. I said this about Chara and last year Chara improved his postseason play and behold the Bruins won. This team needs Thornton, Marleau to show up. It's the only way.
Outcome: Once again showing strength in the season, this team will come up short in the playoffs.
Strengths: Scoring - Check, Defense - Check, Goaltending - Check, Last year was a trying year they were missing key pieces lost in Byfuglien and Versteeg. Now Versteeg is an aberration, and Byfuglien has been replaced with several players. Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, and Andrew Brunette can replace Byfuglien as a package.
Weaknesses: Youth in goaltending, and no Byfuglien. I know I stated earlier and he is replaced from a package of players. But three players can't block the net and screen it at the same time. So production wise, and pugnacity wise yes he will be replaced, but his net screening is still going to be missed. Come playoffs that will be huge.
Outcome: They will improve from last year, but unfortunately won't make the jump to the finals.
Strengths: Scoring and goaltending. This team still has a great top 6 especially if Selanne returns. Also Hiller if healthy is a great goalie. Their defense is improving but is not the same since Niedermeyer left.
Weaknesses: Defense is still in the works and Selanne won't be around long. Two problems arise from the Ducks, their defense will be good with Fowler but they are not a powerhouse defense and more youngsters are needed to prove themselves. Then once the defense strengthens Selanne will retire causing a huge hole on the second line.
Outcome: They will make the playoffs again, but Cup potential? probably not.
Strengths: Barry Trotz, what else can I say? I know Weber, Suter, Rinne. This team is proof that coaching can do a lot.
Weaknesses: Scoring this team needs a top 6. Trotz continues to impress but he needs a top 6. Enough said.
Outcome: They will win another playoff round. but that's all this fat lady will sing until the top 6 is rounded out.
Strengths: Nash, Carter, and return of Mason. If Mason returns this will be a strong team. If Mason returns he has a chance to to compare to Brodeur thanks for his rookie 10 shut-outs, he is on good track to match up. Nash and Carter well you can't go wrong. Add is Wisniewski and finally Columbus has somewhere to build from.
Weaknesses: Depth, much much more depth is needed. More scoring, Brassard needs to improve, the rookies need to jump up, lots is still needed, but Wisniewski and Carter are a great start.
Outcome: Making the playoffs and winning one playoff game will mark an improvement, but not much more after that. Still need around 3 years.
Strengths: Iginla-Tanguay Tandem, Bouwmeester-Giordano Tandem, and Kiprusoff. This team is good on paper but still many missing pieces.
Weaknesses: Missing pieces and no cap for it. Stajan needed as a top player and being paid as one? Amazes me how Burke sold that one and I am a Stajan fan because because he would be an amazing third line center.
Outcome: Coming close the playoffs, Sutter does all he can but no cigar here. This team needs to rebuild, it's time while there are still veterans left to teach.
Strengths: Defense and goaltending. Some scoring. This team is so close yet so far. They have a good core but its missing one big piece, same for the defense.
Weaknesses: Heatley, no Thornton on his wing and he doesn't always come to play. Missing pieces, Minnesota needs to draft a top player and fast.
Outcome: No playoffs again Heatley and Setoguchi are not answers.
Strengths: Youth, scoring, and an improving defense. The teams top 6 is scary especially in a year or 2. Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Eberle, Svensson, Omark? I don't know about you but that is scary. Add in an improving defense led by Whitney. This is an improving team.
Weaknesses: Missing pieces on defense and goaltending. Wow the dumbest move in recent Oiler history, the signing of the Bulin wall. he is handcuffing this team, but I guess there is one bright side - the draft picks.
Outcome: Improvement - Check, Leadership - Check. Smyth will provide so much to the youth, and a Hemsky trade will go long ways in improving the missing pieces. The bottom dwellers will soon be a playoff team.
12. St. Louis:
Strengths: Youth and strong defense and goaltending. The top 6 is needing improving but has potential. Their defense is improving and Halak is a good goalie.
Weaknesses: Still many missing pieces. Not far along, but there are missing pieces, creativity is needed before they become like the Panthers.
Outcome: Will miss the playoffs and then an offseason like none other will come around.
Strengths: Joe Nieuwendyk. He alone is a strength. He adds Lehtonen, and Goligoski. you really can't go wrong. Add in Jamie Benn and this team has potential, Nieuwendyk will figure something out just not this year especially after losing Richards.
Weaknesses: Loss of Richards, Enough said, time is need to replace him, but for now there is a gaping hole.
Outcome: A Long year for stars fans.
Strengths: Youth, youth and more youth. This team is like the Oilers there is majorly improving and are becoming better. The team is looking scary.
Weaknesses: Time and youth. The team needs time to improve and gel. There are still really young.
Outcome: A great draft pick and coming close to a perennial playoff team is around the corner.
Strengths: Dave Tippett. They have a great coach. About all there is right now. Oh and potential with some youth.
Weaknesses: The team itself is missing too many components now that Bryzgalov is gone. The team is destined to be Western fodder.
Outcome: Last place, but now the team can finally add in crucial draft picks guaranteed to bring this team up in a few years.
There you have, a preview of this year. and I know some of the picks might surprise you, and very good chance that I am wrong, but it's fun and I know my predictions are arguable.