Opening Day is upon us. Over the past few weeks, we have prepared for this by previewing 30% of the league and looked at where they were in competing for the Stanley Cup. As the Boston Bruins raise their sixth champion banner, I wanted to touch a couple of items as the season starts and then entertain you with my predictions:
Sidney Crosby – The Penguins have played the NHL’s marquee player on IR for the start of the season. Nobody is sure when Crosby going to play for the Penguins again. Knowing that concussions are not very well understood, the Penguins are going to take a long term approach with Crosby. I expect them to error on the side of caution and hold Sid the Kid out of the lineup until they are 100% sure he is not in any danger. Any dates that are provided by someone outside of either Crosby’s family or the Penguins organization is just guessing.
Winter Classic – The 5th annual Winter Classic will take place on January 2nd, 2012 with the Philadelphia Flyers hosting the New York Rangers. NBC will be broadcasting the contest. This match will be familiar to their TV audience as NBC broadcast this matchup three different times last season. Hopefully when these teams design their “throwback uniforms”, the Flyers will leave the mid-1980’s pants out of the equation.
League Discipline – NHL VP Brendan Shanahan has shown that he is serious about legislating against head shots. Each suspension handed down by Shanny has been accompanied with a video showing the hit and Shanahan explaining the rationale for the suspension. This transparency is quite welcome to the hockey world as it too often appeared that the NHL was making these decisions in a vacuum with a dart board.
1993 Revisited – Temmu Selanne decided to come back to the Anaheim Ducks for his 19th season. Selanne had career resurgence last year scoring 31 goals and 80 points at the age of 40. This probably will be the last season of the Finnish Flash, so enjoy those sublime shooting abilities one more time. Selanne will exit with over 600 goals and 1300 points. The Hall of Fame will be calling for him quickly. Jaromir Jagr, another future Hall of Famer, returns to the NHL after a three season hiatus. Jagr signed a one year deal with the Flyers to provide offense, especially on the power play. Jagr’s has looked outstanding in preseason and his first point for the Flyers will be 1,600th. By the time the season, it would not be unreasonable to see Jagr pass Joe Sakic for 8th place in all-time NHL scoring.
Realignment - The Winnipeg Jets will move out of the Southeast Division and into the Western conference next season. The NHL will most likely move one team back into the Eastern conference. The expectation is that would be the Red Wings. This would leave Columbus as the only Western conference team in the Eastern Time Zone. It would not be surprising to see the NHL change the current three divisions in each conference format.
And for the sake of being able to have a good chuckle over the summer, here are my predictions for the upcoming season:
Eastern Conference Division Winners: Boston (Northeast), Pittsburgh (Atlantic) and Tampa Bay (Southeast)
Western Conference Division Winners: Detroit (Central), San Jose (Pacific) and Vancouver (Northwest)
Other Eastern Playoff Teams: Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, New York Rangers and Toronto
Other Western Playoff Teams: Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim and Colorado
Surprise Teams: Toronto and Colorado
Disappointing Teams: Montreal and Phoenix
Stanley Cup: San Jose Sharks over Tampa Bay Lightning
Art Ross Trophy (Scoring Title): Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Hart Trophy (MVP): Steven Stamkos, Tampa
Rocket Richard Trophy (Most Goals Scored): Stamkos
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Shea Weber, Nashville
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Ryan Johansen, Columbus
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward): Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Lady Byng Trophy (Sportsmanship): Pavel Datysuk, Detroit (I think the NHL is obligated to give it to him.)
Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP): Joe Thornton, San Jose
Jack Adams (Coach of the Year): Joe Sacco, Colorado
All Game Results: Seriously? Like anyone cares.
First Coach Fired: Jack Capuano, New York Islanders (Picking Paul Maurice has been done too many times.)
Player Suspended Longest: Jody Shelley, Philadelphia
Team Most Likely to Make Noise about moving: New York Islanders
City Most Aggressive to land a franchise: Quebec City