Monday, January 7, 2013
League Wide Predictions
So for all of you whose heads are still in NCAA mode, I'll break down each division and what to expect from them.
Barring any unfortunate series of crippling injuries, the New York Rangers will be the force of the Atlantic. With a first line of Nash-Gaborik-Richards, and the Vezina winner between the pipes, it's clear to me that the Rangers are going to be the team to watch. Pittsburgh is the only other team in the Atlantic that has Cup potential. Crosby looks to be healthy, and Malkin is..well...Malkin. The only place where I see shakiness is in net. Fleury had a playoff to forget. With the acquisition of Vokoun, I see mistrust is Fleury. Offensively, they'll be fine. New Jersey and Philadelphia will be pests, but in the end I don't see them having the playoff-worthy seasons they had last year. NJ lost Parise, and are all getting old. Philadelphia lost the Shea Weber sweepstakes, but have promise in Giroux, and are expecting huge things out of Jakub Voarcek. Bryzgalov could be a buyout candidate, but I guarantee they give him at least one more season before calling it quits on the Spaceman. The New Yo- I mean Brooklyn Islanders will not even make a splash this year. Visnovsky literally would rather stay in the KHL than come back to the Isles. Pull a Columbus move and trade away your team and start fresh.
I mentioned in my Bruins preview post that the Northeast will be dominated by the Bruins. It's pretty obvious to me. The Habs? Toronto? Useless teams. Buffalo would be the team I put my money on upsetting Boston. They lost Derek Roy, but got a lot tougher with Ott (Jack Edwards is so happy Ott is in the Bruins division...) and John Scott, and it's tough to doubt Ryan Miller in net. Ottawa is usually a team that has some level of success, but I don't see it for them this year. Alfredsson coming back amidst retirement rumors could spark some fire in them. Sorry everyone else in the Northeast, I think this is the Bruins year in this division.
This division is intriguing me. All five teams have excellent potential. My money this year is on either Tampa or Carolina. Tampa is already a great team with Vinny Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis. They have a great mix of old and new talent. This team also got a boost from 6'6" goalie Anders Lindback, who I thought never got a fair shot in Nashville. Carolina quietly became contenders over the summer, making some big acquisitions. Perhaps the biggest was acquiring Jordan Staal (they're literally one Staal away from having all the brothers in the Hurricanes organization). Then they sign Alex Semin amidst rumors of him moving permanently to the KHL. Semin has been ruthlessly criticized in Washington, but the kid still put up numbers. He gets lazy, but he's a hell of a hockey player. Cam Ward is always a great force in net, and I guarantee this team will be the thorn in every Southeast team's side. Florida's got a good team, but they're getting old. They had zero gas in the tank at the end of their playoff last year. Winnipeg has some promise, but I think they'll fall short. Wellwood, Byfuglien and Evander Kane have all gotten very out of shape during the lockout, and I think they're gonna have a tough start.
Poor Columbus. They gain SOME strength with the Rangers trade (Acquired Dubinsky, Anisimov, top prospect Tim Erixon and a 1st round pick) and even get John Davidson's brilliant mind as director of Hockey Operations, but they're gonna have a tough time in this division. Look for Nashville to lead the way. Watching the press conference when they announced Weber was staying in Nashville, it was clear that this team is excited. Weber is a beast, and he's leading a young talented crew. Plus, it doesn't hurt having a Vezina finalist backstopping you. Chicago and Detroit should have decent seasons, but Detroit needs to realize that players get older and do in fact age. They're getting old, and I don't trust Jimmy Howard in net as far as I can throw him. Bless Shattenkirk's heart, he's becoming a top D-man, but I don't see it for the Blues this season. They looked FLAT in the playoffs, and I think that Brian Elliot's cinderella career is waning.
This division is gonna boil down to Vancouver and Minnesota battling it out. Life got breathed into the Wild with the signings of Parise and Suter, and they're going to be doing everything in their power to prove that they were worth every penny. I still see Vancouver taking the division, but it's not going to the usual dominance that they're used to. I don't buy Edmonton THIS year. I know they have the youngest team with the most potential blah blah blah but every year, bringing in another top draft pick doesn't allow for much chemistry to build. Couple that with a shortened season, and I think it will take awhile for them to really gel and figure themselves out. Look out for them in 2013-2014 though. The Avs aren't going to make any waves, and as long as Calgary has Miikka Kiprusoff, they're going to be having a tough time. The Fin is past his prime but those in Calgary can't accept that fact. Flames fans should be watching Hockey East closely, as Mark Jankowski is their top prospect.
If you don't think that LA is going to be the powerhouse, you need to reevaluate your hockey knowledge. They steamrolled everyone they saw in the playoffs and made it look easy. They have a great balance of physicality and smart hockey sense. Oh and a goalie who plays like a brick wall. Seriously, I have never seen a goalie with better lateral movement than this guy, he looks like a spider when he moves. Phoenix will be pests to LA, and most likely wind up in another postseason conference battle with them. San Jose and Anaheim, god bless their hearts, aren't going to do anything. Both are shaky in net and aging horribly. I would give the edge to Anaheim purely on the shoulders of Perry, Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. HOWEVER Bobby Ryan has expressed extreme displeasure in playing in Anaheim, and I wouldn't be surprised if he finishes the season in a different sweater. The Stars are a curious case. The Jagr acquisition peaked my curiousity, but Dallas had my full attention when they brought in Derek Roy. Look at their lineup. Suddenly Jamie Benn, Jagr, Roy, Brenden Morrow and Michael Ryder jump off the page, and their top 6 looks pretty damn good. If Lehtonen stays consistent (which is a big ol' issue for him), Dallas could be looking at some postseason time.
Whew. That's a lot. If you took the time to read all of that, I salute you. Now let's go play some damn hockey.