The preseason wouldn't be complete without a healthy dose of meaningless predictions. As always, I'm here to serve. Feel free to laugh and hold me accountable if nothing I say comes to pass.
Atlantic: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Devils and Flyers will certainly contend, but there's no touching what Pittsburgh has assembled this season. I don't see either team from New York being a serious threat in 2010-11.
Northeast: Toronto Maple Leafs
Go ahead. Laugh. Point fingers. I realize I'm jeopardizing all credibility I may have with this pick, but I actually believe the Leafs could turn things around this season. More importantly, I don't think there's a quality threat in this division to contend with the big shots from the Atlantic. A strong case could be made for Buffalo, Ottawa or Boston to win the division, but I see big question marks with each team. With 24 opportunities to rack up points against their division mates, the Leafs should gain enough ground to squeak out a division title.
Southeast: Washington Capitals
Gimme. I like Yzerman and all, but I'm not buying the Tampa Kool-Aid just yet. They'll be on the bubble to qualify. The Caps will wrap up the division by late November. As for the other southern franchises, it pains me to say I'll be looking forward to next year's entry draft. (I am a Caniac, for those who don't know).
Regular Season Champs: Pittsburgh Penguins
Playoff Champs: Pittsburgh Penguins
Yes, I'm all about the Pens this season, as they continue to do everything necessary to remain competitive. Replacing Gonchar with Martin and Michalek may hurt the power play, but will certainly give Fleury the extra protection he had been lacking. You just can't beat the stable of centers playing at the shiny new Consol Energy Center this fall. The Pens should dominate the regular season and cash in come playoff time as well.
1. Pittsburgh *
2. Washington *
3. Toronto *
6. New Jersey
9. Tampa Bay
12. NY Rangers
15. NY Islanders
As always, the difference between 7th and 12th won't be all that much by the end of the season. Panthers and Islanders are the only teams I'd be absolutely shocked to see in the post-season. Note, I'm predicting that whoever wins the Northeast division will actually finish no higher than 5th in points in the East.
Central: Chicago Blackhawks
Despite losing 1/3 of their roster in the off-season, fans won't notice that much difference when the team starts playing in October. The guys who chew up the clock will be same, and that's what matters most. Winning this division won't be easy, as Detroit and St. Louis promise to make life difficult.
Northwest: Vancouver Canucks
Easiest of the three division to call out West. The Canucks will face little competition from the likes Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota and Colorado. Start preparing for the playoffs now.
Pacific: Los Angeles Kings
The Kings and Sharks will be within 2 points of each other all season long. When I flipped the coin, it came up Kings. The Coyotes should compete, but won't be in the same class as the big boys here. Dallas and Anaheim are bubble teams.
Regular Season Champs: Vancouver
Playoff Champs: Los Angeles
I could have gone with any one of five options on who will ultimately represent the West. Ultimately, I see the Canucks beating up on their division rivals enough for them to earn the regular season title, along with the Presidents Trophy. However, I just have a feeling the Kings are ready to break through come playoff time, so I'll pick LA to represent the West next June.
1. Vancouver *
2. Los Angeles *
3. Chicago *
5. San Jose
7. St. Louis
The West will be very top-heavy this season. There will be a noticeable gap between the top 5 teams and the rest of the pack. The pick I will have the hardest time defending in here is Minnesota, as they've done nothing in the off-season or pre-season to indicate they'll be better. Bottom line is they'll score more goals than their weak division rivals, which will give them the edge over the other bubble teams.
Presidents Trophy: Vancouver Canucks
Weak division. Solid team.
Stanley Cup Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Nice new banner to hang in that shiny new arena.
Runner Up: LA Kings
Drew Daughty fever. Catch it now.
Hart Trophy, Art Ross & Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos
Forget Ovechkin, Crosby and Sedin. Stamkos is the man. I'm calling a hat trick of trophies.
Conn Smythe: Sidney Crosby
He'll be lifting the trophies that matters most next spring.
Vezina Trophy: Ryan Miller
Looking for a repeat here, but should have plenty of competition.
Norris Trophy: Drew Daughty
Daughty Fever. Catch it now!
Calder Trophy: P.K. Subban
Something to cheer about in Montreal.
And finally, now that we're through the mundane, here are 10 other predictions, sure to come true in 2010-11:
1. The Sutters will be out in Calgary by Christmas
2. John Tavares will lead the Islanders in scoring by no less than 40 points.
3. Nathan Horton scores 40 goals. No other Bruin tops 25.
4. Michael Neuvirth and Jonathan Bernier finish the season with 30+ wins each.
5. The Senators will make a deal for a new starting goalie in time for the playoffs. Let's say… Kiprusoff or Vokoun.
6. After being relegated to the press box in December, Mike Modano retires during the Winter Classic.
7. No player over the age of 30 will finish in the top 10 of scorers this season.
8. Kari Lehtonen has a healthy season and plays 60 games.
9. Corey Crawford earns the starting job in Chicago heading into the playoffs.
10. NHL announces in February that the Florida Panthers will be moving to Quebec.
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