This blog will invite some resounding rebukes, but I think it is worthy to discuss when considering who is and is not going to execute trades in the next couple of days...
The Atlantic. New Jersey has come on strong of late and looks like they are the team to beat. The Pens look stronger than last year in the playoffs, especially in skating without Sidney. If character is stronger, this could push them on to further rounds. Stanley Cup winner though? Not so sure. I have been a long-time NY Rangers fan and thought their acquisitions this past summer had real potential. While they are showing some good signs, I still think they are inconsistent winners which would not bode well for a Cup final. The Isles might make a late run to gain a playoff birth, but they would likely be out in Round 1. I think Philly will fall short.
Northeast. Ottawa is in 1st, but they are struggling. Team defense, goalie attitude and star player scoring output are all hurting. If they cannot right the ship, they are out in 2nd Round at latest. You have to like the looks of Montreal right now. With or without an impact trade, they are likely to go through a few rounds of the playoffs this year. Boston is looking stronger than in previous years but would need an extra push to get them up over the top. This speaks to a key trade, but you have then got to get chemistry going in their last 21-22 games. Keep an eye on Buffalo who has seemed to find their legs this year (despite the loss to the Rangers on SATURDAY night). I think Toronto is out no matter who comes in on the trade wire.
Southeast. This will go down to the wire this year with likely the top team only getting into the 1st Round. If that team is Carolina or Washington, they might stand a chance of a 1st Round win as a dark horse. The rest will be on the golf course early.
Eastern Conference? For my money, it is New Jersey, Montreal or Pittsburgh in order as likely to go to the final.
Central. Detroit is in real trouble despite their record. The current absence of Lidstrom, Rafalski and now Chelios hurts their overall team D, affecting both the goalie's ability to keep the puck out of the net and to breakout from their own end. An accomplished defender is easier to insert into a lineup that a forward whose actions require that bond of chemistry to form and hold. So the Wings have to make a trade for a defender by Tuesday. Nashville is likely to squeak into the playoffs, but without an impact player and their ability to solve some issues immediately, they will go out in Round 1. I am pulling for Chicago because it is hard not to like Toews and Kane, but they, along with Columbus and the Blues will either only make it in and then out on Round 1 or be watching the playoffs from home.
Northwest. Minnesota, Vancouver and Calgary all have grit this year. I like the Wild's chances of making it multiple rounds. Vancouver, if it goes multiple rounds, will do so on the back on Luongo again because it still doesn't look like the have the scoring capacity for a long run. I like Calgary as a dark horse to cause trouble in the playoffs this year, maybe into multiple rounds. Colorado and Edmonton will both be looking on from the outside unless Colorado has a strong run and others in front of them slip.
Pacific. WOW! Dallas, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix all look strong right now. Dallas and Anaheim are the strongest, but Phoenix has confidence and has been able to pull off some wins lately. The Western Conference will likely come down to Dallas and Anaheim, and despite the Ducks awesome size and Blue Line, I think Dallas can skate with them and has the better goaltender. San Jose seems to have SOMETHING missing of late. The Coyotes may or may not make it into Round 1, which would serve to give their youngsters some good experience, but they will not go past Round 1. And L.A. will have to wait until next year again.
Western Conference? Dallas, Anaheim and, as a longer shot, Minnesota or a completely healthy Detroit will challenge for the Cup.
For the final, I like Dallas or Anaheim versus New Jersey or Montreal with a Western Conference winner.