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Predictions made by Frank Fleming on October 6, 2011 at 12:45 am ET.
Special Thanks to Richard Biver for our new Goalie Mask Designs.
2011/12 NHL PREVIEW
Philadelphia Flyers 104 points
For several seasons the Flyers have been the team that has been good in every aspect of the game, but goaltending. To the Flyers revolving door of goalies you can add Ilya Bryzgalov who came at high price, and forced the Flyers to say good bye to key players like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Flyers can overcome the loss of Richards and Carter it can result in the return of Lord Stanley to Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Flyers over Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks over Los Angeles Kings
STANLEY CUP FINALS:
San Jose Sharks over Philadelphia Flyers
Vancouver Canucks 108 points
What becomes of the broken hearted? That is the only question the Canucks have to answer after losing the Stanley Cup in seven games last year. By any rights last year was the year from them to win, but the sudden disappearance of the Sedin Twins and Roberto Luongo in the finals led to heartbreak and riots. The Canucks have the talent to win the cup, but the hangover could be the dark cloud all season in Vancouver, as the playoffs will bring up that question again are the Canucks chokers?
Tampa Bay Lightning 95 points
Last year the Lightning made plenty of noise in the postseason, coming within one goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. The play of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were the keys to their success. However, they relied a lot on Goalie Dwayne Roloson who though having great playoffs is still rather old, and often unreliable. The Lightning should be a playoff team, but they will be hard pressed to go real far.
Boston Bruins 106 points
The reigning champs return to the ice, with the entire team virtually intact. The strength of the Bruins Defense and Goaltending served them well last year and will continue to be their hallmark. However, the weight of carrying the 36 lb Stanley Cup with a target on their back often is one of the most difficult tasks, especially for a team with an older core like the Bruins. They will be among the East's elite, but it will be hard task to see them repeat.
Ottawa Senators 76 points
Rebuilding is the buzzword in Ottawa, as the Senators coming off their worst season in over a decade are now one of the youngest teams in the league. What veterans they do have will likely be more valuable as trade pieces at the deadline as the Senators endure another session in the basement. Perhaps the most entertaining thing could be a battle with the hated Maple Leafs to avoid the worst record in the East.
Florida Panthers 80 points
Yes, Virginia, there is a team called the Florida Panthers. They exist in total anonymity with no hope of making the playoffs, with few fans following with total devotion. Once again their fans will know irrelevance and no playoffs as the loss of Tomas Vokun will erase any strides they made last year. Yes, they exist and will continue to exist as long as there is town called Sunrise in the middle of the Everglades hosting a winter sport.
Winnipeg Jets 84 points
No doubt about it, no fans are more excited for the 2011/12 season than the fans in Winnipeg. The fact that the Jets won't sniff the playoffs will not matter they are just happy to be back in the NHL. However, for a team called the Jets they will be flying around a lot as they still are in the Southeast Division. Early in the season this should not be a problem, but once February arrives Winnipeg will be jet lagged from all the travel and will have a tough time competing in the East.
New York Islanders 90 points
Despite voters rejecting their arena deal, things are looking up for the Islanders. In his third season John Tavares looks poised for a breakout season after a strong finish last year. Whether their future remains in New York or not remains to be seen, but the Islanders will be in the race for the playoffs until the end of the season and if they can get some good goaltending play they may be able to get over the hump.
Montreal Canadiens 87 points
Youth is the best thing going for Les Canadiens these days, as they saw the departure of several key players during the off-season. Carey Price is a solid goalie, and P.K. Subban is a rising star, but for the Habs to see the playoffs they will need several other players to have break out years. However, in the end the Canadiens bubble will burst as they will end the season on the outside looking in.
Pittsburgh Penguins 102 points
The key for the Penguins is the head of Sidney Crosby, the sooner he can return form a concussion; the better the prospects are for the Penguins. Despite not having their star player for half a season the Penguins managed a strong season, but if he cannot return to form it will be a hard task for the Penguins to continue to be among the best teams in the East. Once he does return Matt Cooke must transition from bully to bodyguard.
Washington Capitals 116 points
The Capitals know how to win in the regular season, that cannot be disputed, but the true test for this team will come in May as too many postseason failures have been their undoing. The addition of tough guy Roman Hamrlik and Goalie Tomas Vokun could help by giving the grit they have been lacking, but you can pencil them in as the best team in the regular season again, with the playoffs being their true test.
Toronto Maple Leafs 78 points
Faded photographs covered now with lines and creases are all the Maple Leafs have to hold on to, as a once proud franchise is just traces of what it used to be. There is no hope either of things improving soon, as they have continued to spin their wheels in the Brian Burke era. As the Leafs are surely to endure another losing season, and a seventh straight year since the Lockout without the playoffs or even challenging for the playoffs more change could be in offing in Toronto which has gone from hockey mad to hockey sad.
Buffalo Sabres 100 points
Things are looking up in Buffalo as new Owner Terry Pegula has opened up the checkbook and added several key players in the offseason, pledging to bring the Cup to Buffalo. It would be hard to imagine them winning it in 2012, with several other strong teams in the East. However, they will be competitive and should be a tough team to beat, as they battle head to head with the Bruins in the Northeast Division.
Carolina Hurricanes 92 points
The Hurricanes have a good young nucleus and a solid goalie, but they will again find themselves on the playoff bubble as they lack that finisher. Jeff Skinner in his second season could become that finisher who gets the winning goal or is able to put a one goal game away. However, he is still very young and has much to learn on the ice. However, once this team learns how to win they should be a contender for years.
New Jersey Devils 98 points
The Devils missed the playoffs for just the second time in 22 years last year, as they were unable to overcome their miserable start under Coach John MacLean. They nearly made one of the most remarkable turnarounds under Jacques Lemaire, but once again Lemaire retired leaving the Devils with another new Coach in Peter DeBoer. The return of Zach Parise should help and Ilya Kovalchuk should play better. Look for a big contribution from Rookie Adam Larsson as they get back to the playoffs.
New York Rangers 88 points
Been here before haven't we? The Rangers sign a big name free agent to a big deal and the fans rejoice only to be disappointed as the Rangers again learn you cannot buy a Stanley Cup. If the Rangers are to make the playoffs they will need Brad Richards to have a big year and Marian Gaborik to stay healthy, and those things won't be in the cards as the Rangers choke on the dust and asbestos of the MSG renovation.
Anaheim Ducks 104 Points
This is not a joke; the Pacific Division is the best division in the NHL, with three potential cup winners all from California. The third team is the Ducks, who saw a breakout season last year from Corey Perry, with the return of Ryan Getzlaf from injury and continued strong play of Goalie Jonas Hiller the sky is the limit. The fun battle will be who wins the division between the three headed monster from the Golden State.
Nashville Predators 97 points
The Predators made some strides last year winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history. However, they lost several key players in the off-season, with an eye on making sure they can keep Goalie Pekka Rinne and Defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter in Music City long term. Those three players will be the key to the Predators success as they work in some talented young players who will keep the Preds in playoff contention for years to come.
Calgary Flames 78 points
Change is in the air in Calgary as the Flames got a new General Manager in Jay Feaster. However, in an off-season that saw the departure of players like Daymond Langkow and Robyn Regehr could single the start of a rebuilding movement. The playoffs are a long shot and come the February just about anyone including Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla could be on the block as the Flames will be looking for prospects to get back to contention quickly.
San Jose Sharks 113 points
The Sharks made an addition by subtraction trading the underachieving Dany Heatley in the off-season. Getting back Martin Havlat should make them more balanced, getting Brent Burns should make them tougher. The Sharks window of opportunity is not going to be open much longer, but this may be the year. The Sharks look primed and could have the best team to win when it counts in the playoffs.
Edmonton Oilers 80 points
Ryan Smyth is returning to Edmonton just as hope seems to be coming back for Oilers hockey. Finishing with the worst record in the NHL the last two seasons has brought a lot of young talent to the Oilers. However, playoff contention is likely a year away. As for 2012 the Oilers will bring some excitement to the game and could be a dangerous team come the end of the year as the future looks bright as they return to the tradition orange and blue of their dynasty years.
Detroit Red Wings 100 points
The model of consistency in the NHL is the Red Wings who have not missed the playoffs since 1990. They may be older, they may have seen some key players retire, but no team is better at rebuilding on the fly than the Wings, who have won four Stanley Cups since 1997. Though winning the Cup will be a hard task for this group, making the playoffs will be a lock and once there they will be a tough out like last year.
Columbus Blue Jackets 92 points
The Blue Jackets are one of two NHL franchises that have never won a playoff game. Since entering the league in 2000 they have been to the postseason just once. That could change this year as they had a big off-season aimed at putting some goal scorers like Jeff Carter around Rick Nash. While it may not be enough to take them far into the postseason it will get them there, and this time they should win a game or two.
OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS
Chicago Blackhawks 104 points
Last year the Blackhawks had to recover from taking a salary cap hit after winning their first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years. In the playoffs they nearly overcame a 0-3 deficit against the Canucks, this year they were able to add some talent and with the dynamic duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in toe the Blackhawks should be one of the top teams in the Western Conference as they take the Central Division.
Minnesota Wild 90 points
The Wild made whole sale changes this off season, as they landed a big name goal scorer in Dany Heatley. Motivating him to play to his full potential is another issue all together. In a weak division they could benefit in their chase for the playoffs. However, when the season is over the Wild will once again find themselves on the outside looking in as they narrowly miss the playoffs again.
Phoenix Coyotes 82 points
How much longer can the Coyotes stay in the desert? How much longer can the Coyotes stay in contention despite their ownership concerns? How much longer can they keep players like Shane Doan with questions surrounding their future seeming never ending? How many of these questions will be answered remains to be seen, but with the loss of Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov it will be hard to imagine them contending in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings 106 points
This is the year the Kings arrive among the NHL's elite after teasing their fans that last few seasons with solid defense and goaltending the Kings have added some scoring punch with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. The Kings have been in the playoffs the last few seasons but have failed to make it out of the first round. That could change this year as they will be among the top teams in the West and could be a certified Cup contender.
Colorado Avalanche 86 points
The Avalanche have a good young core with Paul Statsny and Matt Duschene, to this they added some veterans like Chuck Kobasew. In addition they traded for Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov. If all goes right the Avalanche will return to the playoffs in 2012. However, they need a lot of things to fall right and in the Western Conference it seems to be to high of mountain to climb.
Dallas Stars 64 points
Like the Texas Rangers in MLB the Dallas Stars have had problems with ownership as Tom Hicks Sports Empire crumbled. Unlike the Rangers who had a solid nucleus to stay afloat, the Stars were an old team without any prospects to come in and fill in. This is a mess and until a new regime and new ownership is in place the Stars will struggle and will be a whipping post in the NHL for the next few years.
St. Louis Blues 88 points
These are not the best days for hockey in St. Louis as the Blues have been also-rans since the league returned from the lockout. They now have questions about ownership and want a new arena. To help get back to the playoffs they acquired Jamie Langenbrunner during the offseason, but his best days like the Blues are in the past. The Blues will be on the playoff bubble all season, but in the end the bubble will burst again.
ART ROSS: Henrik Sedin Canucks
RICHARD: Alex Ovechkin Capitals
ADAMS: Peter DeBoer Devils
CALDER: Adam Larsson Devils
SELKE: Ryan Kesler Canucks
VEZINA: Jonathan Quick Kings
NORRIS: Duncan Keith Blackhawks
HART: Jonathan Toews Blackhawks
SMYTHE: Patrick Marleau Sharks
Coaches Who Will be Fired
Joe Sacco Avalanache
Brent Sutter Flames
John Tortorella Rangers
Ron Wilson-Maple Leafs