Thursday, September 8, 2011

2011/12 NHL Preview - Predictions

With yesterday's tragic plane crash and resulting deaths of KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in Russia, we felt it best not to publish a hockey story.

So today, we welcome you to our pre-season forecasts/predictions for the 2011-12 NHL season. With rookie and training camps about to get underway, we've completed our divisional previews around the league and can move on to to our best guess on how things will play out.

We'll begin, conference by conference, with our prediction of the final standings, and then discuss some rationale / expectations behind them.


1. x-Washington Capitals
2. x-Philadelphia Flyers
3. x-Montreal Canadiens
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Boston Bruins
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
8. New York Rangers
9. Toronto Maple Leafs
10. New Jersey Devils
11. Carolina Hurricanes
12. New York Islanders
13. Florida Panthers
14. Winnipeg Jets
15. Ottawa Senators

I can hear the howls of homerism already, but I do think the Northeast will be a three dog race this year between the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, and Boston Bruins. When healthy, all three have deep rosters playing in front of one of the league's best goaltenders. The Sabres lead the group on defense, while I would argue the Habs have the better forward group, and the Bruins are likely the most balanced while also having an edge in toughness. Ultimately, the team that takes it is likely the one that best avoids injury and individual slumps, so here's hoping for some luck on Montreal's side! (for more on this, see my Northeast Division Preview)

Sure, they won the Conference last year as well, but the moves the Washington Capitals made this summer cement them as a top flight contender. They've added the kind of depth forwards you win with (Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward...) as well as help on the back end (Roman Hamrlik, Tomas Vokoun).

It will be interesting to see how the Philadelphia Flyers new team performs, but I expect that the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov will outweigh any dip in offensive production from the younger club, helping them take the division ahead of the (for now) Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.

Looking at the playoff race, the 8th spot may come down to the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New Jersey Devils with Henrik Lundqvist being our key reason for selecting N.Y. (yes, ahead of the addition of Brad Richards). The Leafs have a good forward group, but there are questions around James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson, while the Devils will need Martin Brodeur to play like he's 10 years younger than he really is to crack the top 8.


1. x-Los Angeles Kings
2. x-Vancouver Canucks
3. x-Detroit Red Wings
4. San Jose Sharks
5. St. Louis Blues
6. Chicago Blackhawks
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. Calgary Flames
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Minnesota Wild
12. Dallas Stars
13. Colorado Avalanche
14. Nashville Predators
15. Phoenix Coyotes

If the East seems like it's full of "safer" picks, the West is where we'll gamble a bit. The Los Angeles Kings were very active improving their club over the summer, and they enter the season with a young, exciting, skilled, and well-balanced team. Reuniting Mike Richards and Simon Gagne fills out perhaps the league's best top 6, and with a solid D and two strong netminders, they are a real threat to take the Conference title.

The Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, and Detroit Red Wings seem to find themselves near the top of the standings every year, so there isn't much to justify there, but the St. Louis Blues are amassing the depth needed to join the elite. Injuries derailed what could have been an emerging season for the team last year, so if they're healthier, look for them to climb the standings buoyed by an offense 4 lines strong and a Jaroslav Halak with much to prove in goal.

On the lower end of the playoff hunt, the 7th and 8th spots would be debated over by the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Edmonton Oilers. The Oil may need one more year before jumping into the competitive ranks out West, during which time they'd hopefully address the D and goaltending situations. The Blue Jackets were aggressive in adding to their roster, and while the offense looks impressive enough, the D still needs some more retooling and there are questions in goal. That leaves the Ducks and Flames, both with star netminders that need to bounce back this season in Jonas Hiller and Miikka Kiprusoff. Both teams have nice balances of offense and defense, however, and thus have good chances at making the post-season, potentially becoming contenders if they can add to their core by the trade deadline.

So that's it. This is how we expect the season to play out, barring the unexpected. And of course, with injuries, trades, and anything and everything else, the unexpected is likely what's expected. So take our predictions with a grain of salt. But if we're right, that doesn't mean we won't brag about it!

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