NHL: 21 Early and Bold Predictions for the 2011-2012 Season
With the playoffs finally in full swing a number of great stories and headlines have been emerging on a nightly basis—some of which may have huge implications for next season.
Some players are making their teams take notice, while others are watching the soil come down on their heads as they continually bury themselves through poor performances.
Off the ice, the Phoenix Coyotes and Atlanta Thrashers continue to find themselves with ownership question marks, while head-shots and suspensions continue to be a focus of fans, players and management alike.
Clearly, the results (or lack thereof) of the first round will have huge implications on free agent contracts, coach and general managers futures and player movement.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at 21 predictions for the upcoming 2011-12 season.
With the Vancouver Canucks up three games to none over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, Roberto Luongo’s goaltending took a huge nosedive, resulting in two straight loses, which has allowed the Blackhawks to get back into the series.
Needless to say, Luongo has looked rather shaky for the Canucks, but let’s face it, this is not the first time Luongo has come up small in playoff action.
Luongo has a career 308-269-33 regular season record to go along with his .928 save percentage and 2.53 goals against average.
On the other hand, outside of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Playoffs in which Luongo put together a 5-7 record to go along with his impressive .941 save percentage and minuscule 1.77 goals against average, Luongo is yet to put together a solid playoff, watching his numbers slide to .914/2.52 in 2007-08, .895/3.22 in 2009-10 and .885/3.67 in 2010-11.
Combined, Luongo owns a 20-19 playoff record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average—not bad numbers, but far from dominating.
With the Canucks far and away the NHL’s best team this season, it would hardly be a stretch to imagine Luongo being shopped should his team not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals (at least).
His bloated contract and lack of playoff success may cause many GM’s to take a pass on Luongo, but there always seems to be one sucker out there that would take a Flyer on this guy—maybe even the Flyers?…lol…
Of course this could go either way. Should Luongo lead his team to victory this spring, in the minds of many he will have exorcised his demons and made his way into the hearts of Vancouver fans forever—but if he fails….look out…
With the Washington Capitals finally looking like a cohesive unit this season, it’s hard to imagine the Caps reverting to their run and gun offensive approach.
As a result, Alexander Ovechkin may find it hard to return to the fifty goal scoring level he attained in 2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10.
With 32 goals in 2010-11 it appears as if Ovechkin will have his work cut out for him if he wants to hit the Fifty-goal mark next season, if ever.
Mark Recchi Will Retire
At age 43 and with nothing left to prove on the ice, Boston Bruins veteran forward Mark Recchi will probably hang ‘em up after the 2010-11 season.
577 career goals, 956 career assists and a grand total of 1,533 points makes Recchi a sure-fire Hall of Famer in many people’s books.
With Boston currently up 3-2 in their series against the Montreal Canadiens it appears as if the Bruins have just as good a chance of winning the Stanley Cup as anyone this year.
Let’s face it—should the Bruins pull it off, Recchi is as good as gone. That said, even if the Bruins do not win it all this year, it’s easy to see Recchi retiring.
With both the Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes in dire straights financially, it appears as if one or both of these franchises will be on the move in time for the 2011-12 season.
Winnipeg is investing millions of dollars upgrading their current arena, adding VIP Boxes and doing everything possible to catch the eye of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Without question, Winnipeg will have NHL hockey in the next few years—it says here, it will be next season.
Alexei Kovalev Has Played His Final NHL Hockey Game
Regardless of what Alexei Kovalev accomplishes in this years Stanley Cup Playoffs, it pretty tough to imagine any NHL team taking a chance on the oft-disinterested Kovalev for an entire season.
Kovalev carried a cap-hit of $5,000,000 this season, problem is, with just 16 goals and 34 points through 74 games with the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins, he played more like a $1.5 million player.
With the KHL continuing to offer substantial monies for “has-been” hockey players it appears as if the enigmatic Kovalev will look to sign for the big money in Russia rather than make a go of it at a discounted rate in the NHL.
Let’s face it—this guy could care less about winning, so why waste your hard earned cash on him? Let him join the other has-beens in the KHL…”don’t let the door…”…well, you know the rest!
This one is a no-brainer!—The Phoenix Coyotes will not make the playoffs next season.
If Phoenix does end up moving to Winnipeg or any other city they will be a lock not to make the playoffs.
If the Coyotes remain in Phoenix, they will still be hard-pressed to make the playoffs.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov recently came out and said he had zero interest in signing in Winnipeg, going so far as to suggest he would rather head back to Russia next season.
It’s hard to imagine many players wanting to play in Winnipeg, which may make it difficult for the Coyotes to sign pending free agents Keith Yandle (RFA), Ed Jovanovski (UFA), Radim Vrbata (UFA) and the aforementioned Bryzgalov (UFA)—each of whom are key contributors to the Coyotes success.
With the team in disarray and the franchises future hanging in the balance few UFA’s will sign with the Coyotes, which puts their playoff chances at risk.
Look for the Coyotes to take a major nosedive in the standings next season, missing the playoffs for the first time in three years.
Ryan Miller Will Win The Vezina Trophy:
Buffalo Sabres netminder Ryan Miller is already a world class goaltender, so picking him as a Vezina Trophy favorite isn’t really a stretch.
Still, with the likes of Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas, Roberto Luongo, Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury expected to be in the running for the Vezina, Miller will surely face some stiff competition for the coveted Vezina Trophy.
With new ownership and a big bankroll backing them, look for the Sabres to bolster their lineup via free agency this summer.
A few roster tweaks should afford Miller a few more wins, which, when combined with his already impressive goals against average and save percentage numbers, will help persuade the voters that he is the best goaltender on the planet.
The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have been perennial favorites to win the Eastern Conference Northeast Division for what seems like an eternity, but their may be a new king next season.
Sure, Boston and Montreal should have good teams next season, but I get the feeling Buffalo will make a few key roster changes this summer, which should be enough to catapult them into first in the Northeast.
Besides, Buffalo already owns Ryan Miller (arguably the best goaltender on the planet) and the ninth best offense in the NHL this past season. The Sabres also owned the NHL’s 18th best defense, which is where they should see considerable improvement next season.
Should the Sabres get a little more timely scoring and shore up their defense they will be “money” and, if all goes according to plan, Northeast Champs!
Marc Savard Will Retire
The victim of several devastating hits over the past few seasons, Marc Savard is at a critical point in his NHL career.
Should Savard decide to mount another comeback he will continue to risk life-altering brain damage every time he laces up the skates. Should he retire, he will be turning his back on a legitimate chance to win a Stanley Cup with a deep Bruins team.
Savard managed to play in just 25 games this season, scoring twice and adding eight assists for a total of ten points. Savard was also a minus seven on a team filled with plus players and while he looked to be giving 100 percent each and every night he was out on the ice everyone in the building knows he could be one hit away from ending his career.
When everything is said and done I think Savard will opt for retirement—there’s simply too little to gain and everything to lose here.
Sidney Crosby Will Lead The NHL In Goal Scoring
Let me get two things out of the way here—Sidney Crosby will be back playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins next season and he will lead the NHL in goal scoring.
Prior to his concussion Crosby was on-pace to have one of the best offensive seasons in NHL history, registering 32 goals, 34 assists for a total of 66 points in 41 games.
Some quick math tells us that Crosby was on pace for a 132-point season, which would have made Crosby one of the highest scoring players in NHL history. (Wayne Gretzky scored 160 or more nine times, Mario Lemieux did it four times).
Clearly, Crosby was on a mission in 2010-11 to prove to the hockey world once and for all that he is the best player on the planet. Look for Sid the Kid to start the 2011-12 season right where he left off—as a dominating force not seen since Gretzky and Lemieux played.
Despite playing in a very tough Eastern Conference (not that the Western Conference is any easier), the Toronto Maple Leafs look to be playoff bound in 2011-12.
Down the stretch the Leafs were one of the NHL’s better teams. Much of their success was due to the tremendous goaltending of rookie netminder James Reimer who, with his first NHL season behind him, should be ready to take the reins as the Leafs starter next season.
With Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Leafs head coach Ron Wilson running out of contract time, one has to expect both men will do everything possible to get this team into the playoffs.
Whether it’s a couple of key off-season additions, the fact the team will not see a ton of change this summer or the fact that the Maple Leafs look to have a number of prospects on the cusp of making the jump to the big club—something’s gotta give, something’s gotta push the Blue and White into a playoff position.
Will it be easy? No. That said, the Leafs look to be poised for big things in 2011-12. For the sake of Maple Leaf fans everywhere let’s hope my preminition is correct.
The Florida Panthers Will Be the NHL’s Worst Team
The Florida Panthers finished the 2010-11 season with a record of 30-40-12—good enough for 28th overall in a 30 team league.
Down the stretch the Panthers were brutal, posting a 1-7-2, coincidently the worst record down the stretch in the entire NHL.
The Panthers finished the 2010-11 season with the 30th ranked power play, sixth ranked penalty kill, 27th ranked offense and the 14th ranked defense.
While there were the two bright spots of a good defense and a great penalty kill, with the departures of defenseman Bryan McCabe and the uncertainty of franchise goaltender Tomas Vokoun, there is every reason to believe the Panthers are going to slide in the standings in 2011-12.
While prospects Jacob Markstrom (G), Erik Gudbranson (D) and Nick Bjugstad (C) give the Panthers reason to believe the future is bright, all three of those prospects are expected to be a work in progress for another year or two, so don’t expect any of them to have a huge positive impact on the Panthers fortunes next season.
Void of legitimate first line talent on his line for much of the 2010-11 season, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel still managed to score 31 goals, good enough for a share of 14th overall the league, tying him with the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Thomas Vanek, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby and Logan Couture.
While nobody is saying that Kessel is as talented as any of the aforementioned players, he still has the gift of goal scoring, which, in itself, makes him an elite player in that regard.
With Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke expected to make a number of roster upgrades (including a top line centre) there is every reason to believe that Kessel will hit the 40-goals mark in 2011-12.
Five players (Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos, Jarome Iginla, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kessler) scored 40 goals in 2010-11—what will the critics say if Kessel manages to pull off this feat next season?
Sidney Crosby Will Be MVP
Anyone that watched Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby play in the first half of the 2010-11 season knows that he was having a season for the ages.
Needles to say, Crosby will look to make the 2011-12 season his comeback year, positing more goals, more points and making more defensemen look silly than any other NHL forward.
Look for Crosby to have a monster season in 2011-12, look for Crosby to emerge as the NHL’s MVP.
Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber is like a fine wine—he just keeps getting better with age.
While just 25-years old, Weber already has six NHL seasons behind him. His ability to shut down the leagues top offensive forwards on a consistent basis, lay out his opponents with big hits and create offense puts Weber up there with the best defensemen in the league.
Look for Weber to have a monster season in 2011-12 (possibly 20 goals and 60 points), culminating in his first (or maybe second) Norris Trophy win as the NHL’s best defenseman.
Jonas Gustavsson Will Be Demoted Or Traded
In his rookie season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson put together a decent 16-15-9 record to go along with a 2.87 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.
Thought to be the Leafs goaltender of the future, Gustavsson struggled to find his way, fumbling his way to a 6-13-2 record, 3.29 goals against average and a paltry .890 save percentage.
Injuries and a lack of playing time contributed to Gustavsson’s struggles, but he never really looked comfortable between the pipes all season, leading to the promotion of James Reimer from the Toronto Marlies to fill Gustavsson’s role as the Leafs starter.
Reimer’s success story is well documented, as is Gustavsson’s fall. While it appears as if Reimer will be given every opportunity to be the Leafs number one goaltender, Gustavsson’s future with the club is anything but clear.
I am on record as saying I expect Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke to sign another proven goaltender this summer. If that happens, look for Gustavsson to be demoted to the Marlies for the entire 2011-12 season or traded by at the draft.
Predicting P.K. Subban to make the Eastern Conference all-star team in 2011-12 is hardly risky.
Few players have arrived on the NHL scene and made the type of impact Young Subban has in his short NHL career.
While there will be stiff competition for Subban, there is every reason to believe that he will be wearing an all-star uniform next season.
Zach Parise Will Be The Comeback Player Of The Year
Injured for much of the 2010-11 season, New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise managed to get into a total of 13 games, posting three goals and six points.
While his future with the New Jersey Devils is in doubt, nobody doubts Parise’s talent, which is amongst the best the NHL has to offer.
Posting point totals of 82 in 2009-10 and 94 in 2008-09, it’s not hard to predict Parise will be the NHL”s comeback player of the year next season.
Look for Parise to hit the 80-point plateau—no matter what NHL uniform he is wearing.
Decimated by injuries for much of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season, Joffrey Lupul has had a tough time establishing himself as an NHL regular.
Through 23 games with the Anaheim Ducks in 2009-10 Lupul scored ten goals and added four assists for a total of 14 points. In 2010-11 Lupul played 23 games with the Ducks registering 14 points before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Through 26 games with the Leafs Lupul registered nine goals and 18 points, sending notice to the NHL that Lupul looks to be back to 100 percent.
More impotantly, Lupul helped spark Leafs sniper Phil Kessel and helped round out the Maple Leafs woeful scoring attack.
With Burke expected to bring in a legitimate number one centre, look for Lupul to have tremendous season, hitting the fifty point mark for the first time since he turned the trick in 2008-09 as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Taylor Hall Will Lead All NHL Sophomores In Goal Scoring
With 34 goals on the season, New York Islanders rookie forward Michael Grabner narrowly beat out San Josse Sharks rookie Logan Couture (32) and Carolina Hurricanes rookie Jeff Skinner (31) for the rookie goal scoring lead.
Finishing fourth overall in rookie goal scoring, Edmonton Oilers rookie Taylor Hall lit the lamp a total of 22 times in 2010-11. If not for a season ending injury which limited the favorite to win the rookie of the year award to 65 games Hall may have found himself atop of the rookie scoring lead.
Look for Hall to have a spirited season in 2010-11, emerging as the top scoring NHL sophomore with 40 plus goals on the season.
According to hockeyfights.com, the number of fights in the NHL remained constant this season, holding at 645 fights in 2010-11, the same amount of fights we witnessed in 2009-10.
In fact, the number of fights in an NHL game has not dipped below 500 since the 2006-07 season when there were only 497 fights.
With the NHL looking to continue to crack down on all forms of violence in the game and many rosters opting to carry less “tough guys”, it appears as if, for the first time in a long time, we may see a decline in the number of fights we see.
37.24 percent of all NHL games have a fight in them—look for that number to go down towards the 32 percent range, which would mean there would be more like 500-550 fights next season, a reduction of nearly 100 fights.