Eastern Predictions 2011-12

1. Boston Bruins

The Bruins will pick up where they left off as they defend the Stanley Cup in 2011-2012.  Back-up goaltender Tuukka Rask will start a few more games than in last season and will have more wins.  Tim Thomas will continue his stellar play and challenge for the Vezina Trophy after winning it last season.  The Bruins defense is staying largely the same, but Joe Corvo will replace Tomas Kaberle as the Bruins go-to puck-moving defenseman.  Up-front, Tyler Seguin will flourish this season most likely playing with Patrice Bergeron on the second forward line.  Character and team toughness still define the Bruins and it will bring them success once again.

 

 

2. Washington Capitals

The a goaltending should be solid after picking up Tomas Vokoun from free-agency.  Michael Nueivurth is a solid number two  netminder who will be able to step up if Vokoun falters under pressure.  Washington’s defense looks good on paper, but they’ll have to prove that they can play solid in their own zone. With Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom, the Capitals have a very potent offense again, but the additions of Jeff Halpern, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer will greatly help the Capital’s two-way game.  Washington has one of the best lineups in the NHL but they must gain character and  learn to compete or they will have another disappointing playoff.

3. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers’ most discussed addition this offseason is Ilya Bryzgalov.  We will see if his past regular season success can continue in pressure-packed Philadelphia.  The Flyers still boast one of the strongest groups of defensemen in the league led by newly named captain, Chris Pronger.  Philly’s offense will still be strong even after losing former captain Mike Richards and stud-center Jeff Carter.  Young guns Claude “silky mits” Giroux,  Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and veteran Danny Briere will capitalize with the added pressure.  The loss of experience and an influx of youth may hurt the Flyers come playoff time, they will still have a strong regular season.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon will split time trough the regular season while providing average to above-average netminding.  Once playoff time comes Roloson will take over and dominate.  Anchored by Eric Brewer, Mattias Ohlund and youngster Victor Hedman, the defensive group will remain solid under one of the league’s best coaches, Guy Boucher.  The Lightning’s explosive offense will not lose any of its flair as Stamkos and St. Louis will run the show again.  Steve Yzerman has Tampa built as a playoff team and they will show that once mid-April comes around.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins

Tremendous goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will have a strong year and steal a few games for the Pens this year.  Defensively the team has an above average line-up, but under Dan Bylsma Pittsburgh is one of the best defensive squads.  Evgeni Malkin is back this year and could challenge for the Art Ross Trophy, while everyone is waiting for the NHL’s best player to return.  James Neal will have a productive year and score 30 goals. Jordan Staal has already proven himself as one of the best two-way forwards in the league and will provide consistent play as the team’s third-line center.  If Sydney Crosby returns early, the Penguins could very well finish as the best team in the National Hockey League, but even if he doesn’t Bylsma will lead Pittsburgh to a successful season.

 

6. Buffalo Sabres

With perhaps the best goalie on the planet in Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres have high hopes every year.  Miller needs to have a bounce-back season after a mere above-average 2010-2011.  The Sabres will be better defensively with Robyn Regehr and Robyn RegehrTyler Myers will reach his true potential in the presence of the veteran d-man.  With Derek Roy back in the number-one center slot, Thomas Vanek will have a stellar year.  Ville Leino will provide stable secondary-scoring playing either center or wing.  The NHL’s longest-serving coach, Lindy Ruff, always puts his team in a position to succeed, and the Sabres’ players must take advantage this season.

7. Montreal Canadiens

With Carey Price in net, Montreal will without a doubt be a legitimate playoff contender.  The Habs acquired back-up Peter Budaj to help manage Price’s workload, but expect the franchise netminder to start 70 games or more.  Josh Geroges is recovered from last season’s injury and will help on both sides of the puck as well as in the dressing room.  The Canadiens are hoping Andrei Markov will make a full recovery from his recurring knee problem, but even if he doesn’t, P.K. Subban will be a key contributor from the blue-line.  Eric Cole was the big pick-up this summer and will provide Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri with some relief from the pressures of Montreal.  Montreal will need to be structured defensively as they still lack a forceful offense.

8. New York Rangers

Next to Thomas and Rask in Boston, Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron form the most intimidating goalie tandem in the east.  They will form the backbone of John Tortorella’s well-coached team.  Dan Girardi, the league’s top shot blocker, will work with Assistant Captain Marc Staal to anchor the blue-shirts’ d-corps.  The biggest change on Broadway is the arrival of former Stanley Cup MVP, Brad Richards.  With Richards in the middle, sniper Marian Gaborik will score over 35 goals again.  Mike Rupp came into New York under the radar, but will be a very important asset in a bottom six forward role, killing penalties and  leading off the ice.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs are headed in the right direction and will battle hard for a playoff spot this upcoming year.  James Reimer will be the go to guy in net for Toronto and will have a strong year but may be leaned on too heavily down the stretch.  John-Michael Liles will fill the void left by the departure of Tomas Kaberle and help the buds’ offense with his puck-moving skills.  Luke Schenn will finally show his dominance, young Cody Franson will prove to be a solid addition and Captain Dion Phaneuf must step up his game on both sides of the puck.  Tim Connelly, Matthew Lombardi and Mikhail Grabovski will all be productive, but none of them are true number-one centers.  All 12 forwards will contribute on the scoresheet, similar to past Pheonix Coyotes teams, but unlike those clubs, coach Ron Wilson will ask for too much from his players individually.

10. Carolina Hurricanes

11. New Jersey Devils

12. Winnipeg Jets

13. New York Islanders

14. Florida Panthers

 

15. Ottawa Senators

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