Blue Line Bill’s NHL Preview

Bill Stoklosa

With hockey season just getting underway, it’s time to stop focusing on Tom Brady’s knee injury or the Chicago Cubs’ epic choke job and begin to consider who will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. Here are my predictions about how all the NHL teams will finish this year.

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: The defending Conference champions look to repeat again this year, and they will not only do that but capture the Cup as well. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have another year of experience under their belt and that spells trouble for the rest of the league. Add to that a solid goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and Pittsburgh will not be stopped in their quest for the Cup.

2. Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens return virtually everyone from a team that finished first in the East last year during the regular season. However, last year’s playoffs showed that a lot of their talented players, like goalie Carey Price and forward Alexei Kovalev just don’t have what it takes to come through in the clutch. I expect them to make another early exit again this year, despite their high seed.

3. Washington Capitals: They aren’t the third best team in the conference, but they’ll capture the third seed by winning a weak Southeast Division, thanks to superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

4. New York Rangers: Last year was a disappointment for the Rangers, but the additions of Wade Redden on defense and Markus Naslund at forward should help a lot. If forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez can step up their games and Henrik Lundqvist continues his stellar play in net, this team should make it to the conference finals.

5. Ottawa Senators: They have former Colgate Raider Graham Jesse Winchester, but the key to their success will be stronger play from Martin Gerber in goal. If Gerber can play well they could make in to the Finals, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

6. Buffalo Sabres: The return of Teppo Numminen and the addition of Craig Rivet will improve Buffalo’s defense enough to get them into the playoffs this season.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: A high powered offense led by Daniel Briere will get the Flyers to the playoffs and probably to the next round, but their defense won’t be enough to get them further.

8. New Jersey Devils: Will goalie Martin Brodeur and a stingy defense get the Devils to the playoffs once again? Yes, but they won’t do much once there.

9. Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas, an elite goalie, will keep the Bruins in the playoff hunt until the end, but an improved Sabres team in their division will spell doom for the Bruins’ playoff hopes.

10. Carolina Hurricanes: This team will stay in the playoff hunt thanks in large part to star forward Eric Staal, but in the end the loss of Erik Cole this offseason will make the playoffs an unattainable goal.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs: The return of Curtis Joseph as a backup is not the change a franchise stuck in a rut of mediocrity needs.

12. Atlanta Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the best players in hockey, but the Thrashers have no defense and that means no playoffs either.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning: Vincent Lecavalier is an elite player and this team drafted well this offseason, but it will be a while before they get back to the playoffs.

14. Florida Panthers: They have a solid goalie, Tomas Vokoun, but not much else.

15. New York Islanders: A franchise that thinks goalie Rick DiPietro was worth a 15 year deal deserves to finish in last.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings: It is difficult for teams to repeat as Champions because of the physical toll that two Stanley Cup runs takes on the body. Even though the Red Wings have a solid offense led by Henrik Zetterberg and a stellar blue line manned by Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom they are an older team. They’ll finish the year with the West’s best record, but I think age will catch up with them in the playoffs and they will fall just short of the Finals.

2. Anaheim Ducks: After a first round exit last season expect the Ducks to make it back to the Finals this year. They won’t finish with the best record in the West because of a tough division, but they should win the conference thanks to a solid playoff tested goalie in Jean-Sebastien Giguere and a solid defense led by a full-strength Scott Niedermayer and the very physical Chris Pronger

3. Minnesota Wild: Marian Gaborik should provide the offense and Niklas Backstrom the goaltending necessary to win a weak Northwest division. Just don’t expect Minnesota get past the second round.

4. Dallas Stars: Goalie Marty Turco played extremely well in the playoffs last season propelling the Stars to the Conference Finals, and he should be strong again this year. That means the Stars will have another strong year, but with a resurgent Ducks team a repeat trip to the Conference Finals seems unlikely.

5. San Jose Sharks: Their offense, led by Joe Thornton, will still be solid, but the loss of Craig Rivet and Brian Campbell on defense and their replacement with Dan Boyle and Rob Blake (both of whom are past their primes) means San Jose will not see the second round.

6. Nashville Predators: Former Colgate Raider Mark Dekanich probably won’t see the ice this year for the Predators, but the Preds will see the playoffs, but as usual not for very long.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: Add Brian Campbell to a team full of young stars like Patrick Kane and you get a playoff berth for the Hawks.

8. Calgary Flames: The scoring of Jarome Iginla and the goaltending of Mikka Kiprusoff will get the Flames to the playoffs, but the supporting cast won’t be good enough to keep them there long.

9. Edmonton Oilers: If defensemen Sheldon Souray can play like he did in Montreal two years ago then the Oilers could finish higher than this, but that is a big if.

10. St Louis Blues: Led by former Colgate Raider Andy McDonald the Blues are getting better, but are not playoff caliber yet.

11. Colorado Avalanche: When Andrew Raycroft will probably be your starting goalie and your team is getting up there in years don’t expect a playoff berth at season’s end.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets: Forward Rick Nash is a very talented player but the Blue Jackets still haven’t given him the supporting cast he needs to get them into the playoffs.

13. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have fallen a lot in recent years and don’t have much talent outside of goalie Roberto Luongo, and he can’t carry the whole team.

14. Phoenix Coyotes: Let’s just say that Wayne Gretzky was a lot better player than he is a coach.

15. Los Angeles Kings: They drafted well this offseason but it will be a while before those players make a difference. Until then, at least the Dodgers are doing well.