With the NHL underway it is time to get into some predictions. Here is how i see the season playing out.
The Atlantic Division is one of the toughest divisions in hockey. The New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins all have very good clubs and could win this division easily. The New Jersey Devils lost a key piece in Zach Praise but still have enough talent in Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk that they could make some noise in the division. But in the end it is hard to go against a healthy Sidney Crosby and league MVP Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh Penguins win the Atlantic.
The Northeast Division is easy to determine. There is the Boston Bruins and then there is everybody else. Even with the loss of Tim Thomas the Bruins still have a bunch of talent on their team and they will win the division.
While the Northeast is easy to determine the Southeast Division is a total different story.
The Southeast Division is wide open. Last year Florida came out of nowhere to win it so you can’t count them out as the basically have the same team coming back. Tampa Bay Lighting is always dangerous as long as Steven Stamkos is out there putting the puck in the net. Plus they still have talent in Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Look for a bounce back year by Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have a new head coach in Adam Oates and will come out playing hard for them. But the team that will win the division will be the Carolina Hurricanes. I love the moves they made during the off season. Getting Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin improves the offense that already had Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner.
In the Central Division it will be the Chicago Blackhawks winning a close race. They have great talent in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. If they get good goal tending out of Corey Crawford they will be a team to deal with. However, keep a close eye on the St Louis Blues. Last season they were very successful in using a two goalie system with Brain Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. In a shortened season that is going to play a big part for many teams and the Blues are a step above everyone else.
The Northwest Division is a two team race. It comes down between the Vancouver Canucks and the Minnesota Wild. The Canucks are always there among the top team in the NHL with the Sedin twins and will be there again this year. But with the rumors flowing around Roberto Luongo will that be a distraction to the team. As for the Wild they were already winners signing the top two free agents in Zach Praise and Ryan Suter. Now these two have to prove that they were worth all the money. Having these two in the lineup makes the team better and will be one of the top two teams in the Northwest division.
The Pacific Division will be a five team race. This will be a tough division as every team in the division has talent. The LA Kings are defending Stanley Cup champions. The Phoenix Coyotes are coming off a great year and they bring back the same team. If goaltender Mike Smith plays the way he did last year they could win the division. The San Jose Sharks, you say it every year they have the talent but time is running out for them. The Dallas Stars are up and coming and in a short season if they get off to a hot start it could be enough to propel them in the playoffs. But the team that will win the division is the Anaheim Ducks. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are in the final year of their contracts and are going to want to have good years to earn big money in the off season. Plus they still have Bobby Ryan who is a tremendous talent.
The Stanley Cup comes down to the Pittsburgh Penguins vs St Louis Blues. Pens will prevail and bring the cup back to Pittsburgh in a six game series.
The Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby. Crosby is healthy and will prove why he is the face of the NHL. He will have a tremendous season and may even approach 100 points or more. Runner up Jonathan Towes. Toews had 29 goals and 28 assists in 59 games last season and will improve those numbers this year.
The Vezina Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist. He is one of the best goalies in the league and will show us why this season. Runner up: Marc Andre Fleury. Fleury always puts up great numbers and will do so again this year. He will bemefit for the signing of Tomas Vokoun and that will keep him fresher. Which will matter in the playoffs as he leads the Penguins to another Stanley Cup.
The Norris Trophy: Is a wide open race. Erik Karlsson could repeat as a winner. Kris Letang is always in the running and don’t forget about Zedno Chara. But the person that will take home the hardware this year will be Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks. He had 49 points last season while racking up only 34 penalty minutes. He’s a tremendous skater without a flaw in his game, and is going to play in front of quality goaltending while continuing to collect plenty of points as part of a lethal Vancouver power play.
The Calder Trophy: Justin Schultz. Schultz will put up great numbers for a defense-man for the Edmonton Oliers. Plenty of eyes will be on all the other talent for the Oilers and Shultz will come as a surprise. Runner up will be Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers.
The Jack Adams Award:Bruce Boudreau for leading a Ducks team back to the playoffs after they finished last in the Pacific Division last season.
The Selke Trophy: Jordan Staal. He is one of the best two way players in hockey. With more ice time in Carolina he shows you why. Runner up: Pavel Datsyuk. A little older but still knows how to get the job done.
The Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby. A healthy season from him and a thirst to prove himself. He will dominate the league.
The Rocket Richard Trophy: James Neal. Teams are going to focus their efforts on stopping Crosby and Malkin and that is going to lead to plenty of opportunities for Neal. He connect 40 times last year and look for close to that if not more this year. Runner up: Steven Stamkos. One of the most prolific scorers in the league. The puck always has a chance to go in when it is on his stick.
It sure is going to be a fun season to watch.