Since the season will start in a couple of weeks, I thought I would give my projected preseason picks. The theme that will be evident in my projections is that teams that struggle out of the gate may not be pleased with where they end up.
Eastern Conference Regular Season Standings:
1. Rangers- The addition of Rick Nash should not return Rangers to the top of the Eastern Conference standings but also make them a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
2. Ottawa- Erik Karlsson is proving to be the top scoring defender in the game. If Craig Anderson can play solidly in net, watch out for the Senators.
3. Carolina- The addition of Alexander Semin, the emergence of Jeff Skinner, and the play of Cam Ward should allow the ’Canes to emerge as the best in the southeast.
4. Pittsburgh- The question with this team is their goaltending. Marc-André Fleury will need a strong season to keep his job for the years to come. But, with a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins should end up with the second highest point total in the East. But because they share the division with the Rangers, the Pens will have to settle for second.
5. Philadelphia- The Flyers will always be in contention with Coach Peter Laviolette and Ilya Bryzgalov between the pipes. Wayne Simmonds may be one of the best power forwards in the game.
6. Boston- The Bruins’ forecheck is still the best in the game. Tukka Rask will be the factor that decides the Bruins’ fate.
7. New Jersey- Martin Brodeur will single-handedly again take his team to the postseason.
8. Florida- The reemergence of the Panthers will continue. But with Dale Tallon as the general manager, how long can he keep his core?
9. Tampa Bay- Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier will try to have one last playoff run to their marvelous careers, but even with leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos, Dwayne Roloson’s inconsistency may not allow them to make the postseason.
10. Winnipeg- The Jets are improving, but they may need one more season to make noise.
11. Washington- The Caps will need to learn Adam Oates’ system. We also learned with Wayne Gretzky and Denis Savard that Hall of Fame players may not make good coaches.
12. Montreal- The Habs’ ownership and fans will not accept another conference-worst point total again. They switched upper management for the better. Carey Price will play well, but do they have enough offense even to stay in playoff contention late in the season?
13. Buffalo- The Sabres will have strong play from Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller, but besides that, there isn’t much.
14. Islanders- The loss of P.A. Parenteau to free agency and newly signed Lubomir Visnovsky to KHL Russia already make the Islanders non-playoff contenders. Any chance of success comes from goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
15. Toronto- The playoffs are still many years away for the Leafs.
Eastern Conference Playoffs:
1. Rangers over 8. Florida
The Rangers will have too many stars for the Panthers to handle.
7. New Jersey over 2. Ottawa
All you can say is Brodeur.
3. Carolina over 6. Boston
The Southeast Division has Boston’s number.
4. Pittsburgh over 5. Philadelphia
The Pens will get revenge with a healthy Crosby and Malkin.
1. Rangers over 7. New Jersey
The Rangers with Nash have more stars than the Devils will be able to handle.
4. Pittsburgh over 3. Carolina
The Pens’ offense will overwhelm Cam Ward and the ’Canes.
1. Rangers over 4. Pittsburgh
Lundqvist over Fleury any day.
Western Conference Regular Season Standings:
1. L.A. Kings- The Kings finally clicked in last year’s playoffs, and there is no reason to believe that they will not coast through the Western Conference regular season.
2. St. Louis- With his defensive strategies and seeking wisdom from NBA personnel about a shortened season, Ken Hitchcock may be the best coach in the league at this point. But can the Blues make deep run in the postseason?
3. Minnesota- The additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Sutter will shoot the Wild up the standings. But are they battle tested with young Coach Mike Yeo?
4. Edmonton- The stars of the Oilers’ young nucleus, including Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, all played in Oklahoma City this season during the lockout. Because of this advantage, they will surprise all and make the playoffs easily.
5. Nashville- The Predators are solid and consistent. Pekka Rinne will perform well behind the pipes, and Nashville will be comfortably make the playoffs.
6. Chicago- The Blackawks will have a healthy group of players starting the season, and their high-profile offense will somewhat mask their defensive struggles. The Hawks usually do start the season in sluggish fashion, but that period cannot last as long as in previous seasons.
7. Detroit- The Red Wings are aging and will rely on Pavel Datsyuk to take them as far as they can in the postseason.
8. Vancouver- After a first-round exit last season, the Canucks will most likely have to recover from another slow start. In a 50-game season, the eighth seed may be a likely spot for the team from the Northwest.
9. Dallas- The Stars once more will be lurking late in the season, only to miss the playoffs yet again.
10. Phoenix- The Coyotes had a nice run last season. But former team Captain Ray Whitney left to Dallas and many players are not happy in Phoenix. The morale of the team may cost them a playoff spot.
11. San José- Although talented, the Sharks are an older team, and they will not be able to recover from a bad start. Goaltender Antti Niemi will be standing on his head to keep his team close in playoff contention.
12. Colorado- The Avs have a bright future with Gabriel Landeskog and P.A. Parenteau. They are probably a year away from making the playoffs.
13. Calgary- The Flames are mediocre at best. Jarome Iginla may want to find a way out by the trade deadline, if he wants to end up with a contender.
14. Columbus- The youth of the Jackets may be able to keep them out of the cellar in the East.
15. Anaheim- The Ducks are not a great team. Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Saku Koivu may want a change of scenery.
Western Conference Playoffs:
1. L.A. over 8. Vancouver
In a reversal of seeds, this first-round matchup will go to Los Angeles again.
2. St. Louis over 7. Detroit
This Central Division playoff bout will go to the defense.
6. Chicago over 3. Minnesota
Minnesota will not be prepared as they face the well-coached Blackhawks.
5. Nashville over 4. Edmonton
Edmonton will be too young to take four games out of seven against a tough Nashville squad.
1. L.A. over 6. Chicago
The Kings have as much offense as the Hawks but have a solid defense and goaltender.
2. St. Louis over 5. Nashville
The Predators have never made a conference finals and will be outmatched by an energetic Blues team.
1. L.A. over 2. St. Louis
The Kings have no match in the Western Conference.
Stanley Cup Finals:
1. Rangers over 1. L.A. Kings
The Rangers are the only team to have enough talent to overthrow the Kings, and L.A. will not take the title for two years straight.