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Predictions made by Frank Fleming on January 19, 2013 at 2:45 am ET.
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2012/13 NHL PREVIEW
Philadelphia Flyers 57 points
The Flyers will be able to score, but on defense they will continue to be left sore, as they need Ilya Bryzgalov to rebound off a terrible season, if they are to go anywhere this season. In the best division in hockey, just getting into the playoffs could be a hard task if the Flyers do not improve on defense. They have too much talent to completely fall flat, but they will have to scratch and claw to get one of the last few spots in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins over New Jersey Devils
Los Angeles Kings over Chicago Blackhawks
STANLEY CUP FINALS:
Los Angeles Kings over Pittsburgh Penguins
Vancouver Canucks 59 points
The sooner the Canucks can rid themselves of Goalie Roberto Luongo the better. Once a fan favorite Luongo has become the target of fans ire in the Pacific Northwest as he has gotten the blame for the 2011 finals collapse and last year's first round flameout. They have another solid Goalie in Corey Schneider just waiting to step in. What also hurts the Canucks is two-way forward Ryan Kesler is still not ready to return form off-season surgery. Despite the loss of Kesler the Canucks should still be a solid playoff team.
Tampa Bay Lightning 52 points
Goals will be a plenty on Florida's Gulf Coast, as the Lightning once again should be one of the highest scoring teams led by Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone and Steve Stamkos. Unfortunately their opponents will likely score even more goals as Tampa had the highest Goals Against Average last season and did nothing to improve on their goaltending and defense. Simply put until the Lightning can find a steady goalie they will be sitting home watching the playoffs again.
Boston Bruins 59 points
With Goalie Tim Thomas taking a year sabbatical it will up to Tuukka Rask to secure the net in Boston. In 2010 Rask spent most of the season in goal as Thomas had a subpar season, and the Bruins were still among the stingiest teams in the league thanks to defenseman Zdeno Chara. The Bruins will again be the best team in the Northeast. However, Rask has struggled in the playoffs and it is hard to imagine the Bruins going on a long run unless Thomas shows up and decides to play.
Ottawa Senators 50 points
Last year the Senators were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL, as they made the playoffs in a season most expected them to be rebuilding. The driving force was defense, as Erik Karlsson joined Bobby Orr and Dennis Potvin as Norris Trophy winners under the age of 22. Karlsson has a bright future, but the Senators will have a hard time equaling last year's success as they were partly spurred by a career season from Goalie Craig Anderson, who ordinarily is average at best.
Florida Panthers 46 points
Somehow the Panthers won the Southeast Division last season, and took the Devils to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs. They did it by almost playing keep away from the opponent as they lost 18 games in overtime during the regular season. If they lost just half of those games in regulation they would have not come close to the playoffs. My sense is their ability to just survive until overtime will not work two straight seasons.
Winnipeg Jets 40 points
One of the negative side effects of the labor dispute is that the NHL was unable to work on realignment to get the Jets into the Western Conference. With all games being in the East and a lot of games in division the Jets will be flying a lot this season and that won't be good as they will once again be nearly eliminated by their schedule. The Jets have young rising stars and will play well at home, but it will not be enough as they finish in last.
New York Islanders 47 points
The good news for the Islanders is soon they will escape their rotting crypt on Long Island for a city arena in Brooklyn, and John Tavares is rounding into one of the bright young stars in the NHL. If not for playing in the rugged Atlantic Division they could make a run at the playoffs. However, the Islanders do not have enough depth or talent to escape last place, though they will not be pushovers and will show signs of life for their long suffering fans.
Montreal Canadiens 42 points
Last season Les Habitants hit fond rocheux, with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, while fans fumed over the hiring of a non French speaking coach. With Michel Therrien starting his second tenure year behind the bench order has been restored in Montreal. However, the Canadiens are a long hot at best to reach the playoffs. They do have a foundation on the blueline with P.K. Subban who needs a long term deal and will be the top priority for the Habs as they focus on returning to elite status in years to come.
Pittsburgh Penguins 66 points
Sidney Crosby is healthy rested and just aching to get on the ice and resume his spot as one of the best players in the NHL. Just 25 Crosby has had a career of peaks and valleys from winning a Stanley Cup and Gold Medal to a Post Concussion Syndrome. If Crosby can stay healthy and Evgeni Malkin can continue his MVP play the Penguins will be the team to beat. However, if they are to win the cup they must improve on defense.
Washington Capitals 63 points
With Alex Ovechkin and the addition of Mike Ribeiro there is no question that the Capitals will score. If Braden Holtby can provide strong goaltending like he did in the playoffs and Mike Green can bounce back from an injury plagued season the Capitals could be raising the Stanley Cup in June. New Coach Adam Oates, being a former Capitals captain should be able to get the best out of the Caps, who will be among the best teams in the East.
Toronto Maple Leafs 38 points
Like a poorly attended to backyard, the Maple Leafs are one giant jumbled mess and fans have reached the apex of frustration in Toronto. The Leafs have not seen the postseason since 2004, in other words two lockouts ago and the sudden firing of General Manager Brian Burke after the lockout ended puzzled everyone. The team is said to be pursuing Roberto Luongo, but one can only think they are courting disaster as Luongo who wilted in the 2011 finals, would certainly have trouble in Toronto where fans get upset at every single loss.
Buffalo Sabres 55 points
Like the Bruins the Sabres are a team based around a solid goalie and defense. If Ryan Miller stays healthy the Sabres should be able to get into the playoffs this season. I also fully expect a bounce back season by Tyler Myers who suffered a disappointing seaon last season. However, if the Sabres are going to rise higher than the eight seed or past the first round, they will need to find more scoring.
New Jersey Devils 58 points
The last time there was a 48-game schedule after a long lockout the Devils were the Stanley Cup Champions. Back than Martin Brodeur was a kid now he is a legend, and despite being on the plus side of 40 he is still one of the best around. The big issue will be replacing Zach Parise, but with the Devils defense they will again be a dangerous team come the playoffs. The key player for the Devils will be Ilya Kovalchuk who must provide the offensive leadership without Captain Zach.
New York Rangers 68 points
Last year the Rangers were the best team in the Eastern Conference and came within two games of going to the Finals. They have the most rounded team in the NHL, and are the unquestioned favorite as they have added some needed scoring in Rick Nash. If Nash is able to withstand the pressure of playing important games and scores at his normal level the Rangers will be hard to beat at least in the regular season, which may be a big disadvantage when the postseason starts.
Anaheim Ducks 49 Points
Last season was a very disappointing season for the Ducks, as they got off to an awful start and finished in last place in the Pacific Division. If they are to return to the playoffs this year, the Ducks will need a better performance from Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf than they got last season, while keeping Goalie Jonas Heller on the ice. Perry in particular was a letdown last year as he managed just 60 points after winning the Hart Trophy in 2011.
Nashville Predators 45 points
It was nearly a Tennessee two step out of Nashville, as the Predators needed to overpay to match Shea Weber's deal with the Flyers, having already lost Ryan Suter to free agency. It will be hard enough replacing Suter as he combined with Weber to form the best defensive pair in the league. Many have doubted the Predators in the past only to be proven wrong. I don't care I doubt they can make the playoffs without Ryan Suter, as their offense is simply not good enough either.
Calgary Flames 34 points
The fire may still burn inside Captain Jarome Iginla and Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff but the rest of the team is just wet in Calgary as the Flames need to begin the process of rebuilding as both stars who were on the 2004 Finals team are the only bright spots in an otherwise dim situation. This has all the makings of a fire sale in Calgary as both Iginla and Kipprusoff would be valuable additions for a contender as the Flames get prospects and start a new foundation. .
San Jose Sharks 55 points
The Sharks have been one of the best teams in the West for several years now, but their inability to reach the Stanley Cup Finals has made their legacy one of disappointment. The team is still led by Joe Thornton who is not getting any younger. To say their window of opportunity is closing would be an understatement. Last season they need a strong finish just to make the playoffs and went out quietly in the first round, I see the same thing this season.
Edmonton Oilers 54 points
No team is younger and more talented than the Edmonton Oilers whose struggles have enabled them to get the top pick in the NHL draft each of the last three seasons. Eventually all that talent will pay off and the Oilers will be cup contenders. For now fans will settle for a playoff cameo. This is something I think the Oilers will get as they will also get a boost from Justin Schultz who has been turning heads in the AHL during the lockout.
Detroit Red Wings 51 points
The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs, Total Recall was in the theaters with Arnold saving Mars, and last year they remade Total Recall with audiences saving their money by not watching it. This year the Wings run will end, this is an old team and it is time to rebuild as the loss of Captain Niklas Lidstrom a seven time Norris Trophy winner will be too much to overcome. Their blue line also lost Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart, leaving nobody to cover-up Goalie Jimmy Howard's foibles.
Columbus Blue Jackets 21 points
Blessed are the fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets, since joining the NHL in 2000 they have been the league's punching bag and a comic's punchline. Without Rick Nash things are only going to get worse, especially as Ryan Murray the number two overall pick out for the season with a shoulder injury. With just 48 games, it may be hard for the Blue Jackets to even post more than ten wins. One day they will make the finals and their fans who stick by them now will get rewarded if they live that long.
OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
Chicago Blackhawks 64 points
The Blackhawks are a team that can win the Stanley Cup or flame out and have trouble just making the playoffs. The key is their defense and goaltending, if Corey Crawford is sharp the Blackhawks, (which should be easy if Duncan Keith has a strong season like I expect him to have0 they will go far. With Marian Hossa ready to go after his concussion and Jonathan Toews always poised to be among the league leaders, I see the Blackhawks being at the top of the Western Conference.
Minnesota Wild 60 points
Not since the Wild ushered the NHL's return to Minnesota in 2000, has the State of Hockey anticipated the start of a season this much. The free agent signings of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, both natives in the Land of 10,000 Lakes have Wild fans dreaming of a Stanley Cup. Now fans should realize it may take time for this team to gel, but at least in the regular season they should have a strong enough season to take them to the top of the Northwest.
Phoenix Coyotes 56 points
Like a world class golf course in Nome, Alaska a hockey team in Phoenix has had trouble getting much support. This is a shame as the Coyotes are a solid team that for the first time had some success last year, reaching the Western Conference Finals, led by Captain Shane Doan. Getting back to the conference final will be a hard task for the Coyotes who hope to finally fide some stable ownership this season which will secure their future in the desert.
Los Angeles Kings 62 points
No team has won back to back Stanley Cup Championships since the Red Wings repeated in 1998. However, no team has been better poised to hold on to the crown like the Los Angeles Kings are this year. Last year's playoffs confirmed what many hockey insiders already knew and that is Jonathan Quick is the best goalie in the NHL. The Kings also have one of the best defenses in the NHL, and the acquisition of Jeff Carter last season gave them just enough offense to win the cup.
Colorado Avalanche 48 points
The Avalanche are starting to piece together a solid young nucleus, which will make them one of the teams to beat for years to come in the West. However, they have too many holes to overcome to be considered a serious playoff contender this year. Hoping to fill some of the holes the Avs signed P.A. Parenteau, but this was is a longshot gamble at best. Fans in Denver should enjoy the continued development of Gabriel Landeskog, who should olnly get better after winning the Calder Trophy last season.
Dallas Stars 41 points
The Stars who have missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons are starting to piece together a solid young defense. This off-season after the departure of Mike Ribeiro the Stars made some puzzling moves by signing Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney both of whom are over the age of 40 and well past their primes. Unless Jagr can find the fountain of youth and Goalie Kari Lehtonen has a career year the Stars will be home again in for the postseason.
St. Louis Blues 61 points
Last year the Blues were one of the best teams in the NHL as they had the stingiest defense in the league backed by goalies Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, The two will again share duties between the pipes, but ultimately the Blues will need to choose one or the other if they are to take the next step. It won't matter who is chosen, as they have a strong defense led by Alex Pieterangelo, but they will likely need some more offense punch to win the cup.
Carolina Hurricanes 60 points
The Hurricanes are banking on a pair of Staals helping Carolina rain goals upon the Eastern Conference; as they added All-Star Jordan Staal to longtime fan favorite Mark Staal. The Staal brothers along with Jeff Skinner should make the Hurricanes one of the most exciting teams in the NHL, and if they can get a solid season out of Goalie Cam Ward, and their young defense led by Justin Faulk they could sneak up and make a run at another Stanley Cup.
ART ROSS: Sidney Crosby Penguins
RICHARD: Ilya Kovalchuk Devils
ADAMS: Kirk Muller Hurricanes
CALDER: Justin Schultz Oilers
SELKE: Patrice Bergeron Bruins
VEZINA: Jonathan Quick Kings
NORRIS: Duncan Keith Blackhawks
HART: Sidney Crosby Penguins
SMYTHE: Jonathan Quick Kings
Coaches Who Will be Fired
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