A new hockey season is under way with a new divisional alignment and new rule changes. With that being said, it’s time to dig into some predictions. Here is how I see the season playing out:
The Eastern Conference is the tougher conference and with Detroit Red Wings being added to the mix it becomes all the more difficult. However, it doesn’t seem to matter to the Pittsburgh Penguins as they will win the new Metropolitan division and be the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins seem to cruise to the top seed when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby aren’t healthy, this year expect them both to play a full season and that means trouble for the rest of the league.
The question is how will Marc Andre Fleury play? Will he be the goaltender that people know he can be? The goaltender that led the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup or will he be the goaltender of years pass? I look for Fleury to bounce back and show the critics that he is still one of the best goalies in the league.
Look for the Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators and Red Wings to challenge for the top spot as both have good teams. The Bruins are loaded with talent up and down throughout the roster. The Senators have great mix of experience and youthful talent.
Even after losing their captain in the offseason to the Red Wings, the Senators didn’t wait too long to replace him as they made one of the best moves in the offseason, getting the very talented Bobby Ryan. The Red Wings are getting up there in age and their window to win another cup is closing, but they have a great goaltender in Jimmy Howard and will go as far as Howard can take them.
Expect the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals to be better and to make some noise in the playoffs. The Flyers have always had scoring talent and with the signing of Vincent Lecavalier they have even more. But their big signing of the offseason just might be Ray Emery. The one thing that has always plagued the Flyers has been not getting constant goaltending and with Emery that should change.
It took the Capitals a while to get used to new coach Adam Oates. Now they understand what Oates want out of them and they have a real chance of making a run for the cup this year. There one question mark will be goaltending. Can Braden Holtby lead this team between the pipes?
The surprise team of the Eastern Conference will be the Columbus Blue Jackets. They will get great goaltending again and will get even more scoring with the addition of Marion Gaborik and the offseason signing of Nathan Horton.
The Western Conference will not be a disappointment as they have plenty of talent of their own. The defending champions Chicago Blackhawks will be amazing again and are the favorites in the West to return to the Stanley Cup. But there are plenty of other teams that will have something to say about that. My two favorite teams to prevent the Blackhawks from returning to the Final are the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Blues are incredibly difficult to play against as you have to earn everything you get from them. The one thing that concerns me with the Blues is who will step up and be a reliable scorer for them. Who is the guy that will step up for them and make a play when it is need most?
The Kings I have fewer questions about. They still have plenty of talent on both ends of the ice even after losing a key defenseman in Rob Scuderi to the Penguins. They also have Jonathan Quick and any team that has him between the pipes has a great chance in winning.
Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks will have great seasons. The Oilers have great talent and are building chemistry. They won’t contend for a Cup this year but will make the playoffs as a seven or eight seed. Time is running out for the Sharks. Joe Thorton and Patrick Marleau are in the last year of their contracts and it could be it for them in San Jose. This team is going through a transition and have all but given the reigns to Logan Couture.
Stanley Cup Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins over the St. Louis Blues in six games.
Art Ross and Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby. This is a no brainer. Crosby stays healthy he is the best player in the world. He proves it this year playing a full season and holding his second cup.
Vezina Trophy: Marc-Andre Fleury. He wants to prove the doubters wrong and he will. Fleury returns to form and wins the Vezina Trophy.
Norris Trophy: Ryan Suter. Minnesota gave him a huge contract last season and will want returns on that contract. They won’t win the Cup this year but having Suter win the Norris will be something.
Calder Trophy: Seth Jones. It was amazing to me that Jones fell to the fourth pick of the draft. But by not having the Florida Panthers take him will be a blessing for Jones as he will get to learn from one of the best in the game in Shea Weber.
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron. Year in and year out this guy is one of the best at his own end. The Boston fans love this guy and it is easy to see why.
Rocket Richard Trophy: Steven Stamkos. This guy can score at will and no one will be close to him. Look for Stamkos to approach 70 this year.
Jack Adams Trophy: Ken Hitchcock for leading the Blues to the Stanley Cup Final but they fall just short of winning their first ever championship.