Posted by: mdegeorge | October 11, 2010

The predictions are in: the 2010-11 NHL Season

I wouldn’t take them to the bank just yet, but you can pretty well depend on this year’s picks. It should be an exciting season, with a perfect combination of teams under major pressure to produce a Cup run (here’s looking at you, Washington and San Jose) and teams with emerging young talent that could launch a surprise or two.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the 2009-10 NHL Season.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

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New Jersey (1st Atlantic, 2nd East) – 42 wins for Martin Brodeur, 42 goals for Ilya Kovalchuk, around 110 boring, choke-the-life-outta-the-other-team points and a second round exit. They’re a team build for 82 games but vulnerable in any seven-game stretch.

Philadelphia (2nd Atlantic, 4th East) – They’ll go as far as their beat-up goaltending corps and Chris Pronger’s knees (and back, and shoulders, and…) will take them. The Fly guys will be a hot-and-cold team that just edges the Pens in the standings.

Pittsburgh (3rd Atlantic, 5th East) – The Penguins will struggle with the new additions and the establishment of offensive chemistry. Expect another patented Sidney Crosby-era late season peak into the fifth seed.

New York Rangers (4th Atlantic, 11th East) – Their most significant offseason acquisition was Derek Boogaard and Chris Drury starts the season injured. The defense will mature, but it won’t be enough to climb that playoff hump.

New York Islanders (5th Atlantic, 14th East) – I’m so excited to see John Tavares and Kyle Okposo grow together. If Rick DiPietro plays they way they’ve paid him, they could enter the crown Eastern conference pray. But the stadium drama will prove to be too much, and their better off stockpiling talent for another year.

Northeast Division

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Ottawa (1st Northeast, 3rd East) – They get the edge by simple arithmetic: the Sens’ weakness (goaltending) is less pronounced than the Bruins’ weakness (offense). It’ll be interesting to see if Sergei Gonchar’s presence can reinvigorate Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev.

Boston (2nd Northeast, 6th East) – So many injuries to start the season don’t complement the specter of last spring’s playoff collapse too well. But their goaltending is so strong that grinding out 2-1 contests actually suits them.

Montreal (3rd Northeast, 7th East) – Round and round she goes, where the Carey Price meter stops, nobody knows. It could well be a national disaster, but with their defensive talent and just enough offense, they’ll scrape their way into the postseason.

Buffalo (4th Northeast, 9th East) – Just not enough offense, unless Drew Stafford and Derek Roy come up with something very special. The defense will have some adjustments to make without Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, but Ryan Miller and company won’t be the unit limiting the Sabers.

Toronto (5th Northeast, 12th East) – Improvement is coming for the Leafs, but not yet. There are just too many question marks (Jonas Gustavsson as a number one goalie; Kris Versteeg as a top-line winger; Colby Armstrong and Nazem Kadri as top-six forwards) to make the leap this season.

Southeast Division

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Washington (1st Southeast, 1st East) – The standard bearers for hockey’s weakest division won’t have any regular season difficulties. But that has long since ceased to be a question for the Caps, hasn’t it?

Tampa Bay (2nd Southeast, 8th East) – This year’s surprise team benefits from the weak division. They’ve got too much veteran talent and one of the deepest forward corps built around budding superstar Steven Stamkos. The key player though may be Dan Ellis as the insurance policy to Mike Smith in goal.

Atlanta (3rd Southeast, 10th East) – The Kovalchuk deal will prove to be a win for the Thrashers, but it won’t translate into the playoffs this season. The blend of Evander Kane and the talented youngsters with the Chicago expatriate contingent is intriguing, but not a playoff team yet.

Carolina (4th Southeast, 13th East) – There’s just something missing here. Eric Staal and the offense lack just enough potency and the defense lacks just enough authority to keep them out of the playoffs, despite Cam Ward’s obvious ability.

Florida (5th Southeast, 15th East) – The offense will struggle mightily this season. Expect the rebuilding process to enter a new phase this season when Tomas Vokoun makes his exit to a contender at the trade deadline.

Western Conference

Central Division

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Detroit (1st Central, 2nd West) – It took a slew of injuries to derail the Wings’ chances this year. But with everyone healthy again to complement the return of Jiri Hudler and the young players who grew out of necessity last year, the only thing that can slow them is if Jimmy Howard struggles in goal.

Chicago (2nd Central, 4th West) – It’ll take some time to adjust to the Chinese fire drill of personnel changes in the offseason. That lag will cost them the division, but they’ll be in no worse position that last year when it comes time for the postseason.

St. Louis (3rd Central, 8th West) – The Blues toils in the second division for the better part of the post-lockout era are paying off with a wealth of young talent that with the addition of Jaroslav Halak just sneak into the postseason mix.

Nashville (4th Central, 10th West) – The Preds have a great defense with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but the offense is the question. If Sergei Kostitsyn and Matthew Lombardi contribute to the offense, they could be a factor in the playoff race.

Columbus (5th Central, 14th West) – You wonder just how much longer the Rick Nash era lasts before he strong arms his way out. They have a talented young blueline corps, but this isn’t the year the pieces fall into place for the Blue Jackets.

Pacific Division

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San Jose (1st Pacific, 1st West) – Much like the Caps, the regular season will be a formality. They’ve got the big guns up front and the defense to make it hold up. The question is whether the two-headed Finnish monster of Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi can do what Evegeni Nabokov never could come May.

Los Angeles (2nd Pacific, 5th West) – Their nucleus is mostly intact from last season, and another year of growth will be a beauty to watch. It all rests with Jonathan Quick, but this year’s goal will be winning their first playoff series.

Phoenix (3rd Pacific, 7th West) – They won’t take the league by surprise like last year, but this is still a very good young team that made a few understated additions to bolster the offense and should have a return engagement in the postseason.

Anaheim (4th Pacific, 11th West) – The Ducks have a great core of young forwards, but depth is a serious concern. That, combined with a mishmash on the blueline and the still unproven credentials of Jonas Hiller as the full-time starter, means they’ll miss out on the playoffs again.

Dallas (5th Pacific, 13th West) – It’s a transitional time in Dallas, who lost a large part of their identity with the departures of Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, and Marty Turco. The defense is young, the netminding duties reside on the unsteady shoulders of Kari Lehtonen, and the Stars appear destined for the division cellar.

Northwest Division

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Vancouver (1st Northwest, 3rd West) – It’s their division to lose. The Sedins are a force and while the support scoring may tail off from career years last season, a revamped defensive unit should compensate. Now, if only they could somehow avoid those Blackhawks.

Colorado (2nd Northwest, 6th West) – Don’t expect them to run away with the division early as they did last year, but their youthful squad will be playing postseason hockey as long as Craig Anderson can stay healthy and effective between the pipes.

Calgary (3rd Northwest, 9th West) – If nothing else, the Flames take the trophy for most befuddling offseason by resigning two players (Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen) they previously traded away. Combined with the volatility of Miikka Kiprusoff, it’ll be a second straight season without postseason play for them.

Minnesota (4th Northwest, 12th West) – Having Pierre-Marc Bouchard back after missing all of last season will be a windfall for a perennially challenged offense. They’ll still fall just short of the playoffs, however.

Edmonton (5th Northwest, 15th West) – They have a disgusting array of young talent emerging, but it won’t make much of a difference this year. The growing pains will net them another lottery pick for a team in the midst of a multi-year rebuilding project.

Conference Quarterfinals winners: Washington, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Boston; San Jose, Detroit, Vancover, Chicago

Conference Finals winners: Washington and Pittsburgh; Chicago and Detroit

Stanley Cup winners: Detroit over Washington

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