Predicting Each Conference's Final Standings
With the trade deadline passed, we now can generally predict which teams are going all in and which are backing down.
With the current standings so close, anything could happen between now and the final day. That said, I'm going to throw my two cents out there and see how much praise/criticism comes in return.
The following is my prediction for the final standings in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
The Eastern Conference thus far has been completely backwards compared to what most expected, with the exception of a few teams.
Few would have predicted the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres would all in danger of missing the playoffs. But here we are, and that scenario, although still unlikely, is a possibility.
But how will it play out?
15. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers have been horrible this year after winning the Southeast and almost taking down the Conference Champion New Jersey Devils in the playoffs last season.
With the injuries they have and the state of their franchise, I would expect them to stay put at the bottom of the conference.
14. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets enjoyed their time atop the Southeast while it lasted, but the fact is, they're minus-22 in GF/GA and have won just three of the past 10.
The Jets slipped to 10th in the East Thursday after losing the division lead to the Washington Capitals. Looking at the standings, there are a lot of more talented teams still below them.
I'd love to see Winnipeg reach the postseason, but they've got a ways to go before then.
13. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a ton of talent (and the most dominant goal scorer in the league), but issues on defense and in goal have been the story of this season.
Steve Yzerman hopes Ben Bishop is the man for the job after acquiring him from Ottawa at the deadline, but as a still unproven goalie, I wouldn't hold my breath.
This season is as good as done for Tampa Bay. Time to look forward.
12. Buffalo Sabres
After another disappointing campaign, the only move the Buffalo Sabres made at the deadline was to ship their captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild.
It's clear that they're dreaming of the golf course now.
11. New York Islanders
After years of rebuilding, the New York Islanders are finally showing improvement. They currently sit eighth in the East, but I don't see that sticking. Lack of experience and poor defense will catch up eventually.
10. Carolina Hurricanes
When Carolina picked up Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin last summer, it looked as though they'd be a cup contender once again.
But that is not the case. The Hurricanes have struggled all around this year, and it doesn't look as though it's getting any better.
The Canes still have a strong team, though. Perhaps all they need is a fresh start next season.
9. Philadelphia Flyers
After being one of the most exciting and dominant teams in the league last season, the Philadelphia Flyers got off to an atrocious start this season, and it never really picked up until recently.
Despite their strong play of late, goaltending is still a concern in addition to their nightmare of injuries on the blue line.
The Flyers will make a strong case for playoff contention but will slip to ninth on the final night.
8. New Jersey Devils
With the departure of Zach Parise and the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk, it's been a rough year for the New Jersey Devils.
That said, I do think they'll manage to scrap their way into the playoffs. And much like the Philadelphia Flyers, it will take until the final night to do so.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
The trade deadline has passed with no moves for the Maple Leafs, and Joffrey Lupul is lost again to injury.
Time for things to spiral, right? Not this time.
Toronto has been a strong team this season, and after almost a decade and two NHL lockouts, the Toronto Maple Leafs will finally make the playoffs.
6. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators really have been an inspirational story over the past few seasons.
Last year, Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, along with Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza, led the team to a playoff birth despite low expectations from the entire hockey world.
This year, they look to do it again in even more impressive fashion, as they're without all their stars from last year.
5. New York Rangers
Who would have thought that after adding Rick Nash to an already dominant team that the New York Rangers would find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs?
If their first game following the trade deadline which saw them ship superstar Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets, new additions Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe stole the spotlight as the Rangers once again look like a top team in the league.
Expect their recent strong play to continue as New York climbs their way up the Eastern standings.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Nobody could have predicted this comeback for the Montreal Canadiens after they finished last in the East last season.
They're currently in second in the conference, but I don't think they'll be able to fend off the Boston Bruins for the Northeast lead.
3. Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin is dominating, Mike Green is healthy and scoring, Braden Holtby is getting better and Nicklas Backstrom is back to his old passing machine self. Yep, the Washington Capitals are back.
They recently overtook the Jets for the division lead, and they won't be giving it back.
2. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have been one of the most dominant and consistent teams in the league this season. They currently sit three points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead, and I think they'll overtake it before the season comes to a close.
Oh, and did I mentioned they added one of the best players of all time to their roster? Might as well crown them Northeast champs today.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins have looked shaky since losing Sidney Crosby to injury, but this team is simply too talented to let the Eastern lead slip away.
Crosby (if he returns before the end of the season), Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Pascal Dupuis, Douglas Murray, Thomas Vokoun, Brenden Morrow....sounds more like an All-Star team than an actual NHL roster.
The Western Conference hasn't been quite as surprising as the East, but that doesn't mean it's been by the book either.
Many would have predicted the St. Louis Blues to be atop the West starting the season, but they have been mediocre at best this year.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were expected to be the worst team in the league and are contesting for a playoff spot with a Vezina-like performance from Sergei Bobrovsky.
But how will things wrap up for those two teams and others?
15. Calgary Flames
Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames have finally admitted the reality of the state their franchise is in.
They're in desperate need of a rebuild and got a good start with the trading of Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester.
They'll finish last in the West, and Calgary fans may have to get used to that for a few years to come.
14. Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche, with the amount of young talent they have on the roster, should be higher up in the standings. But with the contractual issues with Ryan O'Reilly and injuries to Gabriel Landeskog and Steve Downie, they fell behind early and never caught up.
The team has a strong future, but this isn't their year.
13. Phoenix Coyotes
Year after year, the Phoenix Coyotes have silenced critics by fighting their way into the playoffs, and they even won the Pacific Division last year.
Not this time.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the story of the year this season, pushing for a playoff position with the incredible play of Bobrovsky.
At the deadline they acquired Marian Gaborik to increase their chances, but the fact remains that there are still many more talented teams in the West, and Bobrovsky's play is bound to slip at some point.
Whether they make the postseason or fall short, this has still been a great season for Columbus, who for years couldn't catch a break.
11. Dallas Stars
After adding Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney to the roster, the Dallas Stars looked like they'd be one of the stronger teams in the West this season. But here we are, with 11 games left in the season. The Stars have traded Roy and Jagr and sit 10th in the conference. Things simply didn't work out as planned.
10. Nashville Predators
For years, the public perception was that Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne led the Predators to success. But since losing Ryan Suter, Weber has had less of a presence and the performance of the team has suffered.
They'll still come close to making the postseason but will fall just short.
9. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers could be one of the top teams in the league after years of high draft picks and stockpiling their team offensively.
But it just goes to show that if you don't have goaltending or defense, you can't compete among the best.
The Oilers will fall just short this year, but it will be the last time for a very, very long time.
8. Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings definitely look different in the first year of the post-Lidstrom era. But they still have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
They still have the talent on their roster to get them to their 22nd consecutive postseason.
7. St. Louis Blues
After almost winning the Western Conference last year, the St. Louis Blues have had a rough ride. But the fact remains that they have a plethora of young, talented players on the team who will push their way into the playoffs.
6. San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks and their offensive stars were the first out of the gate this year, with both Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on pace for unprecedented seasons.
But of course, the squad was struck back to reality. The team is aging and headed in the wrong direction, but their talent will keep them in contention for the time being.
5. Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild got off to a slow start this year after acquiring some big names in the summer. But it finally looks like the team is starting to mesh. The question is, will they be able to top the Canucks for the Northwest lead?
I think not.
4. Los Angeles Kings
The LA Kings have been good this year, but they definitely don't look like the team that won the Stanley Cup last year. But then again, they didn't look like that team in the regular season last year either.
The Kings will make the playoffs. And that fact alone should scare a lot of teams.
3. Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks have been shaky at times this year, but with injured players on their way back and the addition of Derek Roy, they should be able to secure the Northwest division.
They can kiss their President's Trophy streak goodbye, though.
2. Anaheim Ducks
Expectations of the Anaheim Ducks were not high this season after a horrible campaign last year. They've successfully silenced critics now.
Anaheim has been the best team in the Pacific division since Day 1, and they're not giving up now.
1. Chicago Blackhawks
Surprise! The Chicago Blackhawks are going to win the Western Conference. It's not like that's been known for months, or anything.