These are bold, but I will try to make arguments for all. Feel free to tell me I'm loony.
5) The Los Angeles Kings will make the playoffs.
As I wrote before the start of this season, this statement sounds like pure lunacy.
However, the Kings have continually surprised me with intelligent decision-making this year. Most recently, shipping former starter Jason LaBarbera to Vancouver for essentially a bundle of left-handed Jr. sticks (A seventh Round Pick).
Whatever. Let's remove the doubt that he might play again. While this seems like it should not be cited as a significant notation in competent decision-making, we are no more than a year removed from having Dan Cloutier actually starting games between the pipes.
Now, the Kings are going with who is hot, and for the first time in a handful of years have a respectable goaltending tandem in Erik Ersberg and Jonathon Quick.
Combining solid goaltending with shut-down defense and some nice young talent at forward, the Kings will knock Phoenix out of a playoff spot and slide in at seven or eight.
4) The Northwest Division will exchange leaders five more times this year.
This division is pure insanity, as I would not seriously count any of them out of the playoff race, and wouldn't bet a nickel on who would win.
The Flames looked shaky out of the gate and now have what should be considered a commanding lead for this division, at a margin of three points.
Vancouver has had its ups and downs, and if anyone had been asked prior to the start of this year how they'd fare without Roberto Luongo for any long stretch, the only likely response would be a hearty chuckle. The fact that they are currently sitting fifth in the West is astoundingly impressive.
Colorado has spent time in the basement this year and now sits in the eighth and final playoff spot, despite losing Joe Sakic to an unfortunate snow-blower incident and Paul Stastny with a broken arm. If they can get Stastny back and some consistent goaltending from Peter Budaj, they have a shot.
Minnesota just lost the services of Marian Gaborik essentially for the remainder of the regular season due to hip surgery. Shocker, but they have played well in his absence, and I feel that Nicklas Backstrom deserves to start opposite Henrik Lundqvist in Montreal.
Many experts picked Edmonton to finish atop this division in pre-season, but the Oilers currently sit at the bottom. They have as much young talent as anyone, as well as skilled puck-moving defensemen, the second hardest shot in the league courtesy of Sheldon Souray, and a competent goaltending trio of all things. They could go on a streak and slide into mid to late April play as well.
3) Marc Savard will surpass Evgeni Malkin in assists and finish with over 100 points.
Fact: Marc Savard is the most underrated player in the NHL.
And when did Evgeni Malkin decide to become a playmaker? Who does he think he is? He can knock on 50 goals one year and then notch 60 assists the following year before the All-Star break?
Malkin, Crosby, and Ovechkin get a ton of press, and rightfully so. They put butts in the seats and almost always provide entertaining hockey games.
As true as that statement is, believe me when I tell you, you need to watch Marc Savard.
If the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup this year, Marc Savard will take home the Conn Smythe.
2) The Philadelphia Flyers will win the Atlantic.
With four very legitimate cup contending teams, the Atlantic Division is the best division in the NHL. I've said for a while that it was the Pacific, with three very strong contenders, but this year, though the Sharks are better and the Kings and Coyotes are improving, the Stars and the Ducks are not what they used to be.
For that reason, it may be nearly impossible to determine who will come out of this division on top, and I will be shocked if all but the Islanders don't make the playoffs.
After a rocky start, the Flyers are only a game behind the division-leading Rangers with two games in hand. They have been getting inconsistent goaltending and defense, but continue to be driven by three explosive scoring lines. However, recently, this number has been dwindled down to two lines due to injuries.
The goaltending should even out, and the defense has looked better with every game. 18-year-old rookie Luca Sbisa has been fantastic. Braydon Coburn does it all in their own end, and I estimate that he will start putting up better numbers on the other end of the ice in the second half of the season.
But the real story in Philly is the play of the team's forwards. Jeff Carter is on pace to score 59 goals. Mike Richards is on pace to put up 85 points. Carter will score 50, and I will be very disappointed if Richards does not surpass 90 points.
The return of Briere and Gagne, as well as some internal competition for the starting netminder spot, will propel Philly, and the Flyers will earn the honors from the Atlantic, probably good enough for a No. 2 seed into the playoffs.
1) The Sharks will not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Why not? Not because of anything they are doing wrong. I wrote an article entitled What teams are for Real? and touted them as the best team in the NHL, and they are definitely still among the top three.
My prediction is that the Western Conference representative will come out of the Central Division, and being the only two teams from this division that will see post-season action, it will be either the Red Wings or the Blackhawks, who will have to figure out how to solve the Detroit riddle if they want to see any playoff glory.
I don't know what it is, but San Jose just gets the short end of the luck stick in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I think the monkey still resides on the Sharks' backs for another season. Next year, they will start off struggling, but finish strong in 2010 en route to the franchise's first Stanley Cup.