Top Shelf: NHL Early Season Playoff Predictions
By Brody Burns
- Boston – The reigning Eastern Conference champs should be back at the top again this season. Their physical play and the goaltending of Tukka Rask were spectacular in their sweep of the Penguins in the conference finals. The Bruins will be tough to beat.
- Pittsburgh – With a healthy Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby together again, the Penguins offense will be tough to stop. The pressure is squarely on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been inconsistent at best.
- Detroit – There has not been a more consistently excellent sports franchise over the past twenty two years than the Red Wings, who last missed the playoffs during the George H.W. Bush presidency. The Eastern Conference just got much more competitive with the newly arrived Red Wings.
- Toronto – The Maple Leafs were bumped out in the first-round of the playoffs last season, and G.M. David Nonis made a busy off-season to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The Leafs’ should be better.
- Ottawa – The Senators lose their heart and soul in Daniel Alfredsson who left for Detroit. Alfredsson is the franchise leader in games, goals, assists, and points. Yet their strength last year was goaltending and defense, it’ll be back, and the Senators will make the post-season.
- New York Rangers – The most apparent departure from the Rangers is controversial former coach John Tortorella. New coach Alain Vigneault will get the buy-in from his players, but the top of the East is too stacked, the Rangers will be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs.
- New York Islanders – The Islanders have a plethora of forwards under 30 and a breakout star in John Tavares. They’ll be in the thick of the fight for one of the last playoff spots.
- Montreal – The Canadians surprised the league by winning their division last season, but the newly formed Atlantic Division will be the most competitive in all of hockey. I see the division landing five teams in the post-season, as the Canadians hold off the Capitals for the final playoff spot.
Eastern Conference Finals – Penguins over Red Wings – Too much talent on this roster, and if Fleury is even halfway decent, then the Penguins will play for the cup.
- Chicago – It will be difficult to take the Stanley Cup away from the Blackhawks. With forwards Jonathan Toews only 25, Patrick Kane 24, and goalie Corey Crawford only 28, they’re all set to enter the prime of their careers, together. This franchise is set to be good for a long time and they’ll be playing for the cup again this season.
- Los Angeles – The 2012 cup champions will be fighting for the top spot in the Western Conference. Jonathan Quick needs to be more of his unbeatable-2012 than his inconsistent-2013, but my guess is he will be.
- St. Louis – The Blues relied on suffocating blue line play last season, and this year they’ll have a full season of trade deadline acquisitions Jay Bouwmester and Jordan Leopold. The Blues need to score more, but their defense will make nearly every game competitive.
- San Jose – The Sharks are a bit like Groundhogs Day: they haven’t missed the playoffs since 2002-03, won their division five times, but never made it past the Conference Finals. The Sharks should be back at the top again, but the Kings and Blackhawks are too much to get past.
- Minnesota – The Wild are too reliant on their top line for scoring, and need more production from the rest of their roster, and will likely get bounced out in the first round again.
- Edmonton – The Oilers will break their playoff drought, as they haven’t made the post-season since the 2005-06 season. The young talent will finally coalesce and the defense will be better.
- Vancouver – The Canucks brought in Tortorella as a last ditch effort to make a run with this roster. The Canucks played in the 2011 Cup Finals against the Bruins, but since then have looked like an average team at best. The window is closing.
- Colorado – GM Joe Sakic and new coach Patrick Roy are throwbacks to the glory days for the Avalanche. There is a tremendous amount of young talent on this roster. The defense is shaky, but they’ll be one of the surprises of the league.
Western Conference Finals – Blackhawks over Kings – it’ll be a repeat matchup of last year’s conference finals, and the outcome will be a repeat as well.
Stanley Cup Finals – Blackhawks over Penguins – The dream NHL matchup of stars, talent, and passionate fan bases, but as is the case in playoff hockey, the better goalie gets this one. Crawford shuts down the Penguins offense, and the Blackhawks raise the cup again.