Thursday, October 6, 2011
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - 2011-12 NHL Season Predictions
Thursday Morning Cupcheck: Your source for 100% accurate predictions.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we told the world just where they could stick their top-flight playmaking centers; this week we were planning on giving a minute-by-minute live update on Opening Night in Hockey (9:01am - Staring blankly at the TV while Versus shows the first six hours of the Alabama MotoFishing Marathon// 3:13pm - Screaming incoherently, hacks at screen with frozen tilapia filet), but instead we're going to prove to the world that once again, we're smarter than Miss Cleo.
Well, at least when it comes to hockey.
Quick warning to those of you who disagree with our prediction that your team will not go 82-0-0 this season: Please, do us real experts a favor and go back to writing your erotic Flyers fan-fiction — that Ilya Bryzgalov isn't going to **** himself! (unless of course—ugh, nevermind).
#1: Pittsburgh Penguins - Crosby or no Crosby, every other non-Isles team in this division got older and weaker over the summer. Should be a cakewalk if Neal can manage to score more than four goals in 82 games.
#2: Philadelphia Flyers - Tough start to the season, then huge chunks of wins in the mid-to-late months, before bowing out meekly in the first round due to sub-standard goaltending. But at least they'll have Pronger for up to 41 games!
#3: New York Islanders - Young, fast, tough, well-coached, hungry team that is tough to play against and may actually have a decent goalie if Nabokov decides to stick around. Could actually make the playoffs if injuries aren't too bad.
#4: New York Rangers - Speaking of injuries ... at least with Brad Richards in the fold, they'll finally be able to score on the powerplay. The downside? The 15 shorthanded goals he'll give up from the point pretty much cancels that out.
#5: New Jersey Devils - Another year, another on-ice soap opera punctuated by mid-season coaching changes, underperforming trillionaires and a defense that will probably (hopefully) be good again in 2-3 years.
#1: Montreal Canadiens - A defensively-deep team with world-class goaltending and a spread-out offense, this team is one Andrei Markov non-injury away from seizing the division from their hated rivals.
#2: Boston Bruins - The extra 20-odd playoff games will start to show come February, when nagging injuries and Tim Thomas' Bret Saberhagen-like on-again-off-again performance will drag this team down in the standings.
#3: Buffalo Sabres - Despite taking some huge leaps backward with their free agent signings, this is still the Sabres, and they're still coached by Lindy Ruff. Expect them to squeak into the #7 or #8 seed and do some damage in the playoffs.
#4: Toronto Maple Leafs - Even if they had the talent up front (which they don't), few teams play as poorly as a defensive unit as these guys. No team outside of the Oilers/Avs had a worse commitment to team defense last season, and it showed. And at least the Oilers/Avs have the exuberance of youth as their excuse. Toronto just has shoddy coaching.
#5: Ottawa Senators - A team on the rise? Maybe next season. Craig Anderson's 45-shots-against-per-night heroics makes it tempting to rank them higher, but then I remember this indisputable fact: They're still the Senators.
#1: Washington Capitals - Best team in the NHL ... now with a world-class goalie! With a weak division, tons of scoring and an entire season of defensive commitment under their belts, it will take a collapse of Red Soxian proportions for this Capitals team not to run away with the Eastern crown.
#2: Tampa Bay Lightning - Will this team be able to bounce back from the loss of Sean Bergenheim? Somehow, I think they'll pull through, although it certainly helps to have 18 games against the Jets/Canes/Cats to fluff up your W-L record.
#3: Winnipeg Jets - A young team on the rise, and young teams are far more susceptible to crowd support than teams of cagey vets and free agent mercenaries. Also helps to have 12 games against the Canes/Cats to fluff up your W-L record.
#4: Carolina Hurricanes - Not a good team, and not a young team. At least they've got 6 games against the Cats to fluff up their W-L record.
#5: Florida Panthers - Replacing 2/3rds of your current roster with free agent mercenaries is always, always, always a recipe for catastrophic failure. The one exception that proves the rule is the 2002 Red Wings, and their fourth line had like 1200 career goals between them. But at least they have 6 gam—oh, wait, nevermind.
#1: Chicago Blackhawks - A very good team across the board. Only a severe sophomore slump from Crawford could prevent this team from snatching the division.
#2: Detroit Red Wings - Every year this team gets older, every year they sink a little down the standings, every year they suffer more and more injuries, every year Lidstrom's minutes-per-game drops significantly, and every year the defense lets in more goals than the last. That said, he's still playing, and they're still coached by Mike Babcock. For now.
#3: St. Louis Blues - Provided they can get past the usual 400+ man-games lost to injury (who the hell are the team doctors for these guys?), this is a high-powered, physical team that no one wants to play against.
#4: Nashville Predators - Having your team's top players playing for a contract usually means just one thing: incredible individual stats at the expense of the team. That going to be a real problem when your team is terrified of trying to score.
#5: Columbus Blue Jackets - Jeff Carter may be a #1 center, but he's also a carbon-copy duplicate of Rick Nash, rather than a complimentary player. Expect desperate Columbus sportswriters to abandon the "at least Nash can scoop up some of Carter's rebounds" line sometime around mid-November.
#1: Vancouver Canucks - Last year the Canucks were the only team in the division that didn't fire their coach and/or GM. This year, even if Kesler plays just 20 games, won't be much different.
#2: Minnesota Wild - This team needed scoring, and went out and got it. They needed a top-notch young coach, and went out and got him. They still have a great defensive corp bouncing back from last season's injuries, and while they may not make the playoffs, at least they'll be a fun team to watch again.
#3: Calgary Flames - This team's big guns are almost all on the wrong side of 30 and they've got questionable commitment to team play. Still, it is a decent roster on paper, and Kiprusoff is due for at least one more dominant season ... right?
#4: Edmonton Oilers - Could this be it? Could this really be happening? Could this finally, really, actually, be the season when the Oilers are not the absolute worst team in hockey??? Well, thanks to the Avs and about fourteen #1-overall draft picks ... yes! Heck, they might even crack 70 points.
#5: Colorado Avalanche - A year ago this team was terrible, but at least it had a lot of young stars to develop into young studs. Fortunately for the rest of the league (particularly Ottawa and St. Louis), the Avs management has decided to try and snag the next four or five #1 overall draft picks by acting like Edmonton. Should be another rough year in Denver.
#1: Los Angeles Kings - The Kings have always been a talented young team with studs at every position, but up until this season they've lacked one crucial element to team success — leadership. With Mike Richards taking over for the NHL's biggest joke of a captain in Dustin Brown, the Kings might actually start hitting and scoring rather than diving and whining. If so, they become bona-fide Stanley Cup contenders.
#2: San Jose Sharks - While this team took some huge strides backward in the offseason (Wild fans know more about Brent Burns than East Coast sportswriters who never stay up to watch Western Conference games), they're still the Sharks, and they're still one of the best-coached/best-managed/deepest teams in the league.
#3: Dallas Stars - Along with the Wild and Isles, one of the three surprise teams of the season. This team needed balanced scoring, defensive depth, and a coach that has won something sometime in the last 15 years. And they got all three, on one of the tightest budgets in the league. It's going to be a dogfight once again in the best division in hockey, but Dallas should be one of the four Pacific teams making it into the big dance.
#4: Phoenix Coyotes - Sportswriters love sexy free agent acquisitions, and annually write off teams that don't share that love. And annually, those teams that focus on promoting from within and working on commitment to team defense — rather than relying on some guy who wasn't wanted all that badly on his old team — seem to "surprise" the experts. Expect Phoenix do to what all Dave Tippett teams have always done, which is rack up regular season wins, then get swept in the first round.
#5: Anaheim Ducks - This team played out of its mind last season, then was exposed in the playoffs as a top-heavy team that can score five goals a game while allowing eight. Should be entertaining as hell for the rest of the league, but the huge number in the 'loss' column won't be for fans.
Eastern Conference Champion: Pittsburgh Penguins over Washington Capitals
Western Conference Champion: Chicago Blackhawks over Dallas Stars
Stanley Cup Champion: Pittsburgh Penguins
Remember, you heard it here first!
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