The lockout came to an end early this morning, when many hockey fans were tuckered out and sound asleep. For most fans, their day was immediately made when they woke up to find out a deal had been reached between the NHL and the NHLPA.
Twitter has been rocking all day long, and I anticipate the anarchy will continue well into the night, just like the marathon-meeting that ended the lockout. The overall reaction has been outstanding, proving that the NHL has the best fan base. There is the occasional fan that says something along the lines of, “Lockout’s over? Time to boycott the NHL to get revenge!” All I can do is shake my head to that. You’ve been whining and crying with all of the other fans for the last 4 months that there hasn’t been hockey, and once it’s finally back in 2 weeks you’re going to act like you don’t care? If that’s your plan, how can you consider yourself a true fan? I can understand if you don’t want to spend any money towards tickets, apparel, etc. But not following along with your team and not partaking in anything hockey-related is just outrageous.
All of that aside, there is a season to be played, playoff spots that need to be filled, and eventually a banner that needs to be raised; Which means that it’s prediction time!
I figured I’d just go all out and give my predictions for the final standings, as well as my playoff predictions, which of course, will include my Stanley Cup Champions.
1. New York Rangers
5. Tampa Bay
11. New Jersey
13. New York Islanders
With the acquisition of winger Rick Nash to go along with other talented forwards, and a goalie in Henrik Lundqvist who is in his prime, there is no reason why the Rangers can’t stay at the top of the Eastern conference standings.
Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin will return to his old self, making the team much more explosive than it was last year. The team is matured and they have the grit in their bottom 6 and on defense to win the the division. Bryaden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth will battle and push themselves to win the starting goalie title, but I foresee an ongoing carousel of “riding the hot hand” which is a good problem to have for the Caps.
I don’t see the Bruins having a great season this year, but because I think that there will only be one other team in their division that makes the playoffs this year, they’ll win the division and secure the 3rd seed. It’ll be interesting to see how Tuukka Rask handles being the full-time starter and if it will affect the team’s ability to win games.
For the fifth straight year, the Penguins will be overshadowed by another team in their division by a dismal amount of points, resulting in a 4th place seed instead of a division win, and a top-3 seed. The Pens still won’t have a top-end winger for captain Sidney Crosby, but his health alone will make or break the team.
After a disappointing season in which the Bolts failed to make the playoffs, the Lightning will find themselves in the 5th seed, where they were 2 seasons ago. Steven Stamkos will lead the league in goals for a second straight season, and Marty St. Louis will be a huge factor in him reaching that accolade. If Anders Lindback can turn into the goalie he’s expected to be, the Lightning will have some security in the cage for the first time in 3 seasons.
The Flyers will have a good season and once again make the playoffs, but the inconsistency of ‘tender Ilya Bryzgalov could put the team in trouble. Claude Giroux will be amazing on the ice again, but with Jaromir Jagr gone and Dan Brieregetting older, Giroux will have a bigger load to carry on his shoulder.
The acquisition of Jordan Staal will put the Hurricanes back in the playoffs. He brings a better defensive presence and better offensive upside than who he is replacing in Brandon Sutter. Cam Ward will be a huge part in the success of the team and could lead a surprise run in the playoffs.
Tomas Vanek will return to the all-star caliber player he is capable of being, providing the Sabres much needed offense. Ryan Miller will put his injuries last season behind him and bounce back with numbers that are hard to look past, putting the Sabres in the playoffs with the 8th seed.
Eastern conference playoffs:
Rangers (1) vs. Sabres (8) – Rangers in 5 games
Capitals (2) vs. Hurricanes (7) - Hurricanes in 7 games
Bruins (3) vs. Flyers (6) – Flyers in 7 games
Penguins (4) vs Lightning (5) – Penguins in 6 games
Rangers (1) vs. Hurricanes (7) – Rangers in 6 games
Penguins (4) vs. Flyers (6) – Penguins in 7 games
Rangers (1) vs. Penguins (4) – Rangers in 7 games
Eastern conference champion:
New York Rangers
1. St. Louis
2. Los Angeles
6. San Jose
There isn’t a “superstar” on the Blues, but they’re a highly talented team with lots of depth and players that are consistent with their production. They will continue to play great defense and will find themselves the winners of the West.
Of course the Kings won the Cup last season, but there was a reason they finished 8th in the regular season. They struggled to score at times, but with Jonathan Quick’s goaltending they have no reason to worry as long as they can even get some production from Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Anze Kopitar.
Don’t forget about the “wild” run the Wild made last season. They were first in the conference half way through the year before they fell apart. Now that they have Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in the lineup, they will provide the offense the team missed last season and obviously add more help in the defensive zone. Nicklas Backstrom will quietly have another good season.
The Canucks’ goalie controversy will keep them from winning their division, but they will still finish the regular season in the 4th seed. Daniel Sedin will be among the top-10 in goals and his brother Henrik Sedin will lead the league in assists, makes sense doesn’t it?
The Predators lost a very important player in Ryan Suter during the off-season, and will have to rely on goalie Pekka Rinne a little more than he’s accustomed to. They also lost scoring threat Alexander Radulov to the KHL. Expect many low-scoring games from the Preds.
This is an important season for the Sharks. Dan Boyle is probably entering his last season of top-5 defensive scoring production. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are in their prime, and won’t be for too much longer before their declination begins, so it will be important they can get everything they can from them. Antti Niemi will play like the goalie that took the Blackhawks to the Finals in 2010, but he will still have his moments.
The Hawks could be the winners of their division if they did something about Corey Crawford. He isn’t consistent, he’s not good, and he costs too much. They have the scoring and depth on defense, when they get a goalie, they could find themselves hoisting the Cup again.
Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata will provide just enough scoring to put the Coyotes back into the playoffs. They have scoring on the back-end as well, and also have a brick-wall in Mike Smith that has them in the playoffs with the 8th seed.
Western conference playoffs:
Blues (1) vs. Coyotes (8) – Blues in 4 games
Kings (2) vs. Blackhawks (7) – Kings in 6 games
Wild (3) vs. Sharks (6) – Sharks in 7 games
Canucks (4) vs. Predators (5) – Canucks in 6 games
Blues (1) vs. Sharks (6) – Blues in 7 games
Kings (2) vs. Canucks (4) – Canucks in 7 games
Blues (1) vs. Canucks (4) – Canucks in 7 games
Western conference champion:
Stanley Cup Final:
Rangers vs. Canucks – Rangers in 6 games
The Rangers will become the Stanley Cup Champions because they are the best well-rounded team in the league. They can roll 4 lines onto the ice and they can all produce. They have a superb defense. They have a goalie in Henrik Lundqvist who could very well win the Vezina. And they have a coach in John Tortorella who couldn’t be more deserving.
Regardless of my predictions, I’m just glad hockey is finally back. I can’t wait for the puck to drop and I will definitely cherish every second of hockey I watch this season.
Follow Danny Shirey on twitter @_DSHY