Now that the 2012-2013 NHL lockout is over, here at Pucking Hockey we can get back to business. First up, we will do our yearly Eastern and Western Conference predictions.
The season will be a short one, yes, and we may see unexpected teams make the playoffs where as they probably wouldn’t if this was a full season. So taking that into consideration this is how I expect the Western Conference to pan out before the playoffs.
Who else? The Division is weak enough to nick some points and get that 1st overall spot. I do not think they will grab as many points as the NY Rangers and will not win the President Trophy this year.
The question mark for this team is who will be in net at the beginning of the season. Luongo or Schneider? Whoever it is, it will not matter. Both are solid and if Luongo is moved for some quality assets, the roster could only improve.
The time to win is now, so I would expect the Luongo deal yield some assets that can provide immediate impact. The roster has not changed much but it does not need to.
I love the addition of Jason Garrison. His boom stick will be very important during the playoffs. Why? Well 0-14 in their first 3 games versus the Kings. You cannot win without a good powerplay is important in the playoffs.
I think they remedy this, but look for more of the same from this team. The twins put up 60 or more points each (remember, short season limits more points) and this team cruises to another dominant season. What else can be said?
2) Chicago Blackhawks
26th in PP, 27th in PK, and 22nd in goals against in 2011-2013. Those stats would make you assume this team finished somewhere near the bottom in the standings, right?
Well this team is that good to overcome these terrible numbers. This is why I think that they will only be better this year.
There is no way with Keith at the point, Toews at center, and Kane and Sharp, that you do not have a good PP unit. Oh, and Hossa, who is not so terrible either. So expect these numbers to be a bit better. Corey Crawford will be better, too.
He had an awful year and just could not get it going, but look for him to rebound. Extra powerplay goals will definitely help him win more games and get more confidence. So while the Central division is highly competitive, I do not see this team faltering as much as they did last year.
3) L.A. Kings
Yes, the champs are this good and they will be this good this year. No scoring woes and no cup hangover. Well there will be hangovers to be had, but I am sure by the time the season starts they have had enough Tylenol to get back to hockey shape.
Was it just me or did it seem like the entire team was just drinking 24/7 after winning the cup? Let’s get back to this year.
Carter and Richards got their bro-mance back and this is good news for all of the brand new LA Kings fans.
Scoring did not exactly come in buckets to LA last year. 29th in goals scored is not how they were expected to finish last year and surely did not look like a team that struggled to score during the playoffs.
Quick will continue his dominance and help solidify his starting position for the USA Olympics squad. What could go wrong?
Well, not much. Plenty of leadership and a blue line that is only getting better, look for a great season all you new hockey “fans”.
My biggest question mark here is the goaltending. Can Elliot and Halak continue such dominance in net?
The fact is that the Blues did not score that many goals and that number can only go up. T.J. Oshie should flirt with 60 points if not more, and so should Perron. While a healthy Andy McDonald showed what he can do in the playoffs, I would expect him to maybe reach 40 points if he plays 50 games.
Backes is a rock and lots of NHL players will attest to this after having tried to hit him, or especially those who have been hit by him.
I really hope to see Tarasenko play for the Blues as well. With solid coaching and extremely balanced four-line attack, with some very dynamic players who know how to backcheck, they will be fighting with the Blackhawks for the Central Division.
It seems ages ago since we were all holding our breath and waiting to see where Parise and Suter would end up after July 1st. It was pretty shocking that both went to one place for more money than about 12 franchises’ total value according to Forbes (98 million each while Wild total value was listed at 213 million).
This was, and still is, very interesting and exciting bits and pieces for the hockey crazy Minnesota. Does this solve the drastic issues up front for the Wild? Well yes and no.
For one the real catalyst for the offensive unit is Mikko Koivu (The Wild were 27 – 20 with him in the lineup and 8-16 without him). The Wild truly go as he goes and what Suter and Parise will offer should be a compliment to his efforts.
The powerplay should improve from 27th in the league last year and they should score more than 177 goals (that is only two goals per game for mathematically challenged).
Backstrom is, well, Backstrom. If he can stay healthy and continue his success between the pipes, there’s no reason the Wild are not in the top 5 of the West.
What also works for the Wild is that they should be better than the Flames, Colorado, and Edmonton.
Like some minorities in the NHL universe, I stray to the thought that Nashville will be fine without Suter. Weber is locked in and he makes a difference.
The most important piece of the Predators team is of course Barry Trotz.
While the Red Wings rely on scoring lots of goals, Barry Trotz has instilled a tight defensive game that relies on extremely good goaltending of Pekka Rinne with tight backchecking.
System hockey makes it easier to fill the roster holes that arise due to the free agency. This is why the Predators will not suffer much. Just look at their PP last year and tell me how that powerplay was better than Chicago’s?
They have a solid chance for a good playoff run and shown last year that they are willing to add depth at the trade deadline. Look for a solid finish and lots of frustrating games for the Wings fans.
I feel that this “new” NHL favors younger and faster players and this team has a surplus of them.
Like the Jets in the East, the Oilers in the West are my surprise team to make the playoffs due to the short season. And the key is Taylor Hall staying healthy, I mean after-all, it is a short season. There’s no reason for Hall to not finish one NHL season in his young career, something he has yet to do.
They are fast and have a lot of scoring threats on offense.
They remind me of the Penguins, they can score goals to keep up with teams in the regular season but the goaltending and defense is a question mark.
There were two teams in the West that lost a top defenseman on their team – the Red Wings and Predators. To me the impact will be felt by the Red Wings much more than by the Predators.
We know that no one can replace Niklas Lidstrom, so instead the Wings are using their well-seasoned young guns to fill in the depth chart on the back end.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg will still carry the load and push 40 and maybe 50 points if they stay healthy and play 50 games. Losing Hudler was not a big deal because Filppula and Zetterberg were the starts on that line last year.
Samuelsson should replace Hudler and match his numbers, while giving Detroit another PP pivot on the blue line. Brendan Smith will be a good addition on the blue line, while Jakub Kindl is not as bad as most Wing fans would have you believe.
Kronwall will step up and as most fantasy guides will tell you he performs very well when Lindstrom (be it very rarely) sat out due to injury. Howard will back stop this team into the playoffs, but without some better than expected years from Franzen and Nyquist, do not expect another Cup run.
The final 8th spot was hard to predict, it was a toss up between the Coyotes and Red Wings.
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