by PuckStopsHere on 10/01/10 at 02:54 AM ET
My predictions continue. I am starting on the East Conference today by looking at the Northeast Division. Here are my West Conference predictions.
Predictions are always hard to do. Unpredicted injuries, trades, streaks and slumps will make these predictions inaccurate, but here is my best guess at the Northeast Division order of finish and my reasons behind them.
1. Buffalo Sabres - Buffalo will have strong goaltending from Ryan Miller. I don’t think he is likely to repeat as Vezina Trophy winner, since he has never had a Vezina type season in his career before last year, but he could be a solid Vezina contender. Their defence should also be solid with rookie of the year Tyler Myers back for a second season. Craig Rivet and Chris Butler provide some depth. This defensive group won’t be league leaders, but they won’t be easily exploited either. At forward, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are all capable of scoring at or near point per game rate. Tim Connolly is also, but he remains a serious injury risk. This team was capable of winning the division last year and they look capable of repeating.
2. Boston Bruins - Boston is the team with the best shot at beating Buffalo, but they may have to do it without Marc Savard. Concussion issues will keep him out for at least the beginning of the season and possibly much longer. In his absence, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Nathan Horton will be the best offensive players and that group lacks a top level scorer. Their defence will be solid, as it is led by Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara. Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Hunwick provide depth. They have the best two goalie system in the league with rookie sensation Tuukka Rask and former Vezina winner Tim Thomas. In the right circumstances, Thomas could be moved for some depth where it is needed. Last year, Boston had the second best goals against in the league, but didn’t score enough to capitalize on that success. They should have similar successes and failures this year.
3. Ottawa Senators - Ottawa’s weakness is goaltending. Neither Pascal Leclaire nor Brian Elliott is likely to give the Sens an above average performance. Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips are a strong pairing on defence and young Erik Karlsson could be a breakthrough talent. This defence is solid, but its successes may be lost to poor goaltending. At forward, Jason Spezza is poised for a comeback year. Ottawa will need that. Their only other point per game level scorer is Daniel Alfredsson, who is starting to show his age at times. Mike Fisher is a solid defensive forward, who has significant value and Alexei Kovalev and Milan Michalek provide depth. Ottawa is in need of a strong goaltending performance. Without that, Ottawa will be back of the serious Stanley Cup contenders.
4. Montreal Canadiens - Montreal is in a position where they can have a serious goaltending problem. Carey Price has talent but is going to have a hard ride replacing playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. The boobirds will be out in force and that might create a scenario where success is hard to come by. If Price fails, Montreal is in for a long year. Andrei Markov is extremely important to the Habs defence. A full injury-free year for Markov will go a long way toward Montreal succeeding. Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek and rookie PK Subban provide some solid depth. Offensively, Montreal will rely upon Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec is likely to come down from a career year, who improved by 31 points last year. I think Carey Price will be the story in Montreal this year. It is a positive story if the fans love him again and if they don’t it will be a long year.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs - Toronto is on the long road back to contention. They will take a big step forward merely by not playing Vesa Toskala in goal this year. Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson cannot possibly do as poorly as Toskala did and either could have quite solid years. Dion Phaneuf is a big improvement on defence and Tomas Kaberle remains on despite a summer of trade rumors. Francois Beauchemin is also a solid piece. The question is at forward. There isn’t much depth there. Phil Kessel is good, but when Nikolai Kulemin is your second highest returning offensive forward you have problems. Kris Versteeg comes in and should help, but he won’t be enough. I think Toronto will take a big step forward and improve their goals against significantly, but the playoffs or a trip out of last in their division is likely too much to ask.
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