Pretenders and Contenders
Now I cannot say that I have seen every team in the league play this year, but I have seen a very high percentage play. So by each division I will look at each team and do a little prediction for the outcome of the season for each team.
I have seen all the teams in the East play and have a great feel for the teams.
Pittsburgh is a team that appears to be out of balance on the ice. They have a ton of money tied up in just a few players and the role players have not really established themselves yet. Fleury has been quite awful this year. Johnson has outplayed him clearly. However, you can never count out a team that can field a lineup with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal up front. These guys have won before, but I feel their wingers and defense are not the same quality as in the past.
The Rangers are built very similarly to the old Devils. A great goalie with a solid team around them, however I get the feeling that the team is not a close group as the old Devils were. Sean Avery is a distraction and distractions are bad.
New Jersey is a team that is completely adrift at sea. Lou is not happy as he was “Jerry Jones” by the owner and forced to sign Kovelchuk. He does not fit into the NJ team concept. He creates a rift within the team. They will flounder until the old core of players are replaced and brought to play with Kovelchuk not the other way around.
The Islanders started well and have absolutely fallen apart both on and off the ice. They have a few young guys that are improving but there is just not enough players on the island to compete.
Philadelphia is solid with 4 quality lines, 3 defense pair, and 3 goalies. Laviolette has clearly defined roles for all the players and they all seem to be flourishing in the roles. They are solid and as usual the injuries will determine how far the Flyers can play.
Montreal is a team that has one glaring weakness. They lack size to play physically. This will not manifest until the playoffs start. They will be solid are year, but could struggle with big physical teams.
Boston is another team that has 4 quality lines, 3 defense pairs and 2 goalies. Their mission will not be complete until they go deeper in the playoffs. After last year’s collapse, nothing short of a Cup will clear the ghosts of last year.
Ottawa is stuck right in the middle of the division. They are not as good as Montreal or Boston and better than Toronto and Buffalo. This leaves them on the outside of the contender pool.
Toronto is a team that is still being rebuilt. They will be in the running for the playoffs and will try to make a big trade to put them into the playoffs.
Buffalo is a team that is showing that sometimes the quiet solid players are the keys to the team. Over the years many free agents have left Buffalo and the results of that have been too much to overcome this year. They might have the best goalie in the league, but even Miller cannot win games on his own.
Washington is the class of the southeast. Their glaring weakness for a long playoff run is the defense and goaltending. They are still a defensive stopper that plays big minutes away from being dominate. In goal they have 3 really great young goalies, but one must emerge, so who will it be? These types of questions weigh on a team.
Tampa Bay is a team that will benefit from playing in the southeast division. All those games against Florida and Carolina will help their point total. Tampa has plenty of offensive power but other than 1 defenseman, they are awful behind the blue line. This combination will get them into the playoffs and crushed by someone in the first round.
Atlanta is a team on the rise. They have a nice mixture of guys that are playing for each other and together. This team has a great chance to make the playoffs or at least battle for a lower spot.
Carolina is just simply not very good. Eric Staal is quality but other than the all star game, there is nothing to look forward to in Carolina.
Florida is just bad. They have a goalie and he might be traded by the deadline. They have nothing else.
I do not get to watch full games for the Western teams as I work early and cannot stay up to watch games til 1 or 2 am. I do watch NHL on the Fly and pay close attention to the games.
Detroit is obviously the class of the division again. They have played far less games than the other top teams and almost have the same point total. The key factor to the Wings is whether their older roster can stay healthy. If they can – look out. If not, the Wings will show the wear and fall from their perch.
Chicago is the defending champs but they really blew the team up. From watching them a lot last year they won more due to their depth than their stars. I was surprised that they chose to deal the depth away and retain the stars. They should improve during the year as the new roles are sorted out, but their goaltending has taken a large step backward. Their stars will have to carry them as far as they go.
Nashville is the classic pesky team. Most NHL fans cannot name a guy on the Predators and yet they make the playoffs year after year. They play the game the right way and remind me a lot of the Devils from the early 90s as they build around their goalie with a lot of moveable parts and a few great defensemen. This is a team that will go as far as their goalie can take them.
St. Louis is a bit of a mystery. They traded for the big name goalie and Mr. Davidson is a smart hockey man that has built from youth. The jury is still out on this group but they could be very good or become disinterested.
Columbus simply does not have enough fire power to win consistently. They will beat many teams because of their goaltending and the pesky way they play the game. In the long run I feel that this group is a year or two away from contending.
Vancouver should be the best team in the division, but are they? They are supposed to have the goalie to carry them, but is he? They have great forwards that can really score, but can they? The defense is deep and really solid, but are they? As you can see on paper the Canucks should be great, but have always come up short in the playoffs. The only success for this team can be winning the Cup.
Colorado and Minnesota are very similar teams. They have great goalies and lots of young players that are getting better day by day. They can only go far if their goalie steals several games in playoff rounds.
Calgary and Edmonton have similar records and have gotten their records with different types of teams. Edmonton is young and playing the “kids” while Calgary is playing many overpaid veterans that are playing poorly. In the end, Calgary will only be a factor as they trade their players to other teams for potential cup runs. Edmonton will stay the course and use this season as seasoning for their kids, a very smart move by Edmonton.
Los Angeles and San Jose are both quality teams. The only issue I see with these teams is that neither team has the number 1 goalie established. If a clear number 1 becomes established, that team might do well. However, neither of these franchises have ever had great playoff runs (except for the 1 Gretzky year in LA).
Phoenix is the wildcard in the Pacific. These guys are young, fast, have a great goalie, and have a passionate fan following. They should make the playoffs, but it will be a fight for them to get in. They are maybe a year away from a deep playoff run, but you never know.
Anaheim and Dallas are teams that could overachieve, but during the course of the season these teams will fade as they play out their schedule. They are both proud franchises that are rebuilding and this year will not be the breakthrough.
The East has a two class system in play. The powers are Philly, Pittsburgh, Washington and Boston. The playoff level has Montreal, Tampa Bay, Rangers, Atlanta, and Ottawa. The other teams simply don’t have enough to make the playoffs. So I will suggest that Ottawa will be the odd team out. For my prediction I will take Philadelphia to beat Boston in the Conference Finals.
The West is very deep. They have a full 10-11 teams that are playoff worthy, but I like Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Vancouver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Jose to be the playoff teams in the West in no particular order. I think it is time for a new team to take control of the West. In the Conference Finals I like Los Angeles to defeat Detroit.
Good Night and Good Hockey!
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