2010-2011 NHL Predictions: 10 Questions for Coming Season

Alison Myers@AlisonM_110Correspondent IOctober 2, 2010

2010-2011 NHL Predictions: 10 Questions for Coming Season

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    The NHL's preseason schedule will come to a close tomorrow, and regular season openers are just five days away.

    However, as teams make their final cuts and come up with opening night line combinations, there are still some uncertainties with most, if not all, of the league's 30 teams.

    Who will get better from the 2009-2010 season?

    Which rookie will stand out the most?

    Will anybody have a Cinderella run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

    Here are 10 questions that may be on NHL fans' minds now that "Hocktober" (thanks, Twitter trending topic) has officially arrived.

    P.S. Any similarities to the NHL's new promotional spots known as "Questions Will Become Answers" is purely a coincidence.

     

No. 1: How Will Mike Modano Fare as a Detroit Red Wing?

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    After the 2009-2010 season, Mike Modano was informed that he would not be offered a new contract with the Dallas Stars, the organization where he spent his entire career.

    Modano signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Since he was born in Livonia, Michigan, this will be a homecoming of sorts for him.

    However, it is still too early to tell how Modano will do in a new uniform. His statistics have been declining in the last two years. After scoring 57 points in the 2007-2008 season, he finished with 46 and 30 points in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 respectively.

    Last year, he only played in 59 games due to injury. It was the second time in four seasons he played less than a full year.

    Can Modano rekindle his career playing with great players such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk? Or should he hang it up after the 2010-2011 campaign?

No. 2: Is Taylor vs. Tyler the New Crosby vs. Ovechkin?

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    As we all know, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were the top two picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Hall was taken by the Edmonton Oilers, while Seguin was picked by the Boston Bruins.

    Both players had highly successful careers in the Onatrio Hockey League.

    Hall won two consecutive Memorial Cups with the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010 and was the MVP of  both tournaments. He also has four medals in junior tournament competition and finished his career with Windsor with 280 points in 183 games. He will be a key face for the re-building Oilers in 2010-2011.

    Seguin is already being compared to Detroit legend Steve Yzerman. He has played two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, where he posted 173 points in 124 games. This year, he tied with Hall for the OHL scoring award, as both players had 106 points.

    Unlike Hall, Seguin has not locked up a spot in the NHL. He has one more year of junior eligibility and could end up being sent back to Plymouth.

    Even if Seguin does not make the NHL this year, you can't argue that people will be comparing every detail about these two, just as Crosby and Ovechkin are constantly compared and debated about.

No. 3: Can the New Jersey Devils Get Past Round One of the Playoffs?

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    The New Jersey Devils, despite finishing first or second in the Atlantic Division every year since 2002, have not gotten past the first round of the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season. That year, they lost to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

    It's not that the Devils don't have the talent. They have locked up Ilya Kovalchuk for pretty much the rest of his playing career. Kovalchuk experienced almost no playoff success as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, but he had six points in five playoff games for the Devils in 2010.

    There is also Patrik Elias, who was a member of the 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup Champions teams. In the 2000-2001 campaign, he set the Devils franchise record for most playoff points in one postseason with 23.

    Of course, you cannot talk about New Jersey without mentioning Martin Brodeur. He has been on all three of New Jersey's Stanley Cup playoff teams. He holds NHL records for shutouts in one playoff season with seven and was the first goaltender in NHL history to have three shutouts in two playoff series. He accomplished the feat in the 1995 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals.

    The last two years, the Devils have lost in the first round, where they should have been favorites.

    In 2009, they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They looked to have the game wrapped up, but Carolina scored two goals in the waning minutes of the game to give the Devils and their fans a shocking loss.

    This year, New Jersey lost to the Philadelphia Flyers, who were the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, in five games. The Flyers went on to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

    New Jersey will turn to new head coach John MacLean to lead them back to playoff glory.

    MacLean was a part of the 1995 championship team as a player, and he captured his first Stanley Cup as a coach in 2003, when he was serving an assistant coach.

    New Jersey will once again have the talent to make a good playoff run, but do they have the focus?

No. 4: Is the Penguins-Capitals Rivalry Really Over-Exposed?

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    If you're not a Penguins or a Capitals fan, you're probably already answering yes to this question.

    However, none of us will know for sure until the TV ratings come out.

    The Penguins and Capitals will play in this year's Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, which will be aired on NBC on New Year's Day.

    The two teams are also scheduled to meet on Super Bowl Sunday. The game is scheduled for 12:30, which basically ensures that NBC will once again pick up the game.

    They also have two other games scheduled for this season, and both have chances to be picked up by Versus or the NHL Network, ensuring that they are the front runners for prime television spots.  

    They will also be the subjects of HBO's series "24/7", which follows sports teams during the season. The show will be filmed in the weeks and months leading up to the Winter Classic.

    The NHL thinks that the casual fan loves matchups such as these. Not only are the games intense, but the debate about whether or not Crosby or Ovechkin is the better player is almost never-ending. Each team has also gotten new fans as the result of their stars.

    Will fans be sucked in by the Crosby-Ovechkin saga once again, or will they turn off their TV sets and say enough is enough?

     

No. 5: Have the San Jose Sharks Shed the Choker Label?

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    In the 2010 playoffs, the San Jose Sharks reached the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2003-2004, when they lost to the Calgary Flames. This year's appearance against the Chicago Blackhawks was the second time in franchise history they had made it that far.

    However, it was still not meant to be for the Sharks. They were swept by the Hawks in four games.

    Like the Devils, who we discussed earlier in this piece, the Sharks definitely have the talent to make a long playoff run. They just always fall under pressure.

    Among the Sharks players who put up solid numbers in this year's playoffs was Joe Pavelski. He had 17 points in 15 games and posted a plus-six rating. He was one of five players on the team to post a positive plus/minus rating.

    Joe Thornton had a good playoff run offensively, registering 12 points in 15 games. However, he was abysmal on defense, posting a minus-11.

    As the Sharks look to make the playoffs this year, they must not only focus on getting far, but also dealing with the loss of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who left for the KHL.

    Nabokov played in 80 playoff games with San Jose. He had a .500 winning percentage with a 40-39 record and averaged a 2.29 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

    In place of Nabokov, the Sharks have Antti Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with Chicago. Niemi had a record of 16-6 and posted a 2.63 GAA and .910 save percentage. His 16 wins were ranked first among all NHL goaltenders participating in the postsesaon.

    If Niemi falters, San Jose can also turn to Antero Nittymaki. Nittymaki played with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, where he had a record of  21-18-5 with a 2.87 GAA and .909 save percentage. However, he has never participated in an NHL postseason.

    Do the Sharks have to win the Stanley Cup to officially lose the choker label, or was the Western Conference Final trip enough for their fans?

No. 6: Can the Boston Bruins Overcome Their Playoff Collapse?

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    It goes without saying that the Boston Bruins' 2010 Stanley Cup hopes ended in embarrassment.

    The Bruins became the third team in NHL history to drop a 3-0 lead in a playoff series and lost to the Flyers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

    The majority of Boston's roster will return for the 2010-2011 season. They have also added Nathan Horton and Greg Campbell, who were acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Dennis Wideman.

    Horton had 295 points in 422 games with Florida, including back-to-back 60-point seasons in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008.

    Campbell had 85 points in 353 games, but has not played a full season yet in his career. The closest he came to playing a full campaign was when he played in 81 games during the 2007-2008 season.

    Because the Panthers are a long-struggling team, neither Horton or Campbell have Stanley Cup playoff experience. Will they be able to handle the pressure of a playoff run?

    Patrice Bergeron will be one of the keys to any playoff success this year. Last season, he had 11 points and a plus-four in 13 games, including a five game point streak where he posted seven points (two goals and five assists).

    Zdeno Chara had seven points and a plus-one in the playoffs, and his 29 penalty minutes led the Bruins. He was also fourth in the NHL in that category.

    Claude Julien will return to the Bruins' bench for his fourth season as head coach. He has yet to get Boston past the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and the team has not been to the Conference Finals since they were swept by the Penguins in 1992. He could be on the hot seat if the team does not find playoff success this year.

     

No. 7: Will Teemu Selanne or Mike Modano Retire After This Year?

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    Teemu Selanne and Mike Modano have a couple of things in common.

    Both turned 40 years old over the summer.

    Both have won one Stanley Cup in their career. Modano won with the Dallas Stars in 1999, while Selanne won with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

    They might have one more thing in common after the 2010-2011 season: retirement.

    Selanne has not played a full season since the 2006-2007 season. He has 1,260 points in 1,186 NHL games and has played 18 seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, the Ducks, the Sharks, and the Colorado Avalanche.

    This will be his 12th season with the Ducks and his fifth consecutive with Anaheim since returning to the team following the 2004-2005 lockout.

    Modano played his whole career with the Stars before signing in Detroit. He has 1,359 points in 1,459 games, the most points by an American player. He has also played in the most games of any U.S. player.

    Like Selanne, Modano struggled with injuries last year. He was limited to just 30 points in 59 games.

    Selanne holds the Ducks' franchise record for career points with 743 and set several records as a rookie in 1992-1993, including the single season record for goals by a rookie with 76.

    Both players have one-year contracts with their respective teams, so we will see if their bodies are ready to give up once the season draws to a close.

No. 8: Who Will End Their Playoff Drought?

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    For less time-consuming purposes, the topic of this slide is limited to teams who have not been in the playoffs for three or more seasons.

    Who will finally end their bad luck and make the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

    Will it be the Edmonton Oilers, who will boast two of the league's top young players in Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle?

    Will it be the Atlanta Thrashers, who added a quartet of players who brought the Blackhawks their first Stanley Cup in 49 years and also have a goalie who helped end a three-year playoff drought for the St. Louis Blues?

    Will it be the New York Islanders, who added a defenseman from the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Penguins, an enforcer with the most penalty minutes in the league in 2009-2010, and have a goalie from Edmonton's 2006 Finals run?

    Can the Toronto Maple Leafs come around and end the mockery they face from other fans around the league? Is a 2007 Cup winning goalie, who also won the 2003 Conn Smythe as a Stanley Cup runner-up, the key to ending the playoff drought? Can young forward Kris Versteeg use his playoff experience to help Toronto?

    Will the Florida Panthers be able to rely on Chris Higgins, Dennis Wideman, and Steve Bernier to make the postseason for the first time since 2000?

    Is Simon Gagne going to help Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who were both members of Tampa's 2004 championship team, make the Lightning playoff contenders for the first time since 2007?

    It is a long season, and each team is currently on equal footing to end their misery.

    Who do you think it will be?

No. 9: Which First-Year Coach Will Stand Out?

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    When the puck drops on October 7, six coaches will be starting the toughest seasons of their careers: their first as a head coach. 

    Tom Renney will be coaching the re-building Edmonton Oilers. He was previously the head coach of the New York Rangers before being dismissed in 2009. He led the Rangers to the playoffs three years in a row, but never made it further than the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

    Renney served as an associate coach for the Oilers last season before being named head coach in the offseason.

    Scott Arniel, who will be taking over the Columbus Blue Jackets, was previously an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres from 2002-2006. This will be his first NHL head coaching job.

    After leaving the Sabres, Arniel coached the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Canucks. In 2009, he was named the AHL's Coach of the Year and took the Moose to the 2009 Calder Cup Finals.

    Davis Payne will begin his first full season with the St. Louis Blues after being named interim head coach following the dismissal of Andy Murray in January. Under his guidance, the Blues posted a 23-15-4 record for the remainder of 2009-2010, but failed to make the postseason.

    Payne came up through the system, coaching the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL and posting a 62-44-9 record. He coached the team from 2008 until his promotion.

    Guy Boucher signed a four-year contract to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year, he was the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens' AHL affiliate. He led Hamilton to a record of 52-17-11 and was named the 2010 Coach of the Year.

    Craig Ramsay, who takes over the Atlanta Thrashers, has extensive experience behind an NHL bench. He has previously served as an assistant coach with the Senators, the Sabres, the Lightning, and the Flyers. In 2004, he won the Stanley Cup with the Bolts.

    Ramsay was also the Flyers' interim head coach from 2000-2001. In 2000, he helped the Flyers to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they ultimately lost to the Devils.

    Peter Laviolette probably has the most pressure on him out of all of the new coaches. Last year, he took over the Flyers after John Stevens was fired in 2009. The Flyers made the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and then went on a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    Laviolette is no stranger to success. He also won the 2006 Stanley Cup as the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes also had the best record in the Southeast Division in 2006, posting a 52-22-8 mark.

    John MacLean will be the head coach of the Devils after serving as an assistant for eight seasons. He was on the coaching staff for the Devils' 2003 title.

    Whether these coaches are veterans of NHL benches or newbies, they will have a lot of pressure to lead their teams to glory and implement a successful philosophy.

No. 10: Which Injured Player Will Be Missed the Most?

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    No matter how hard players try to stay healthy, injuries happen.

    Sometimes they come at the worst times. In these cases, the players will miss time at the beginning of the season.

    Which team will feel the biggest impact from this?

    The Bruins will lose Marc Savard, who is dealing with post-concussion syndrome. Savard had 33 points and a plus-two in 41 games. He missed the last three weeks of the regular season and part of the playoffs after a hit from Matt  Cooke of the Penguins gave him a concussion.

    The 2009-2010 campaign marked the first time in four years that Savard did not have at least 70 points in a season.

    Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger continues his recovery after offseason knee surgery to repair an injury sustained in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    In his first season in Philadelphia, Pronger had 55 points and a plus-22 rating in 82 games. His plus-22 led the Flyers, and his point total led all Flyers defensemen. In the postseason, his 36 penalty minutes were ranked first, and his 14 assists were sixth.

    Prior to joining the Flyers, Pronger participated in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals with Edmonton. He won his first career Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007.

    The Flyers will also lose goaltender Michael Leighton, who will miss a month with a back injury. Leighton came to the Flyers in 2009-2010 after being traded from the Hurricanes. He played 27 games for Philadelphia and had a record of 16-5-2 to go with a 2.48 GAA and .918 save percentage.

    The Islanders had two players, Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo, sustain shoulder injuries, and both will miss significant time. Streit is expected to miss six months, while Okposo will be out for two to three months.

    Streit and Okposo were alternate captains in 2009-2010 and the team's second and third leading scorers. Streit posted 49 points in 82 games, while Okposo had 52 points in 80 games.

    Finally, the Penguins will start the season without their iron man, Jordan Staal.

    Staal had played in every Penguins regular season games for the last three years. He suffered a foot injury in the 2010 playoffs after being cut by P.K. Subban's skate during the Eastern Conference Semifinals with the Montreal Canadiens. Staal returned to the playoffs not long after the injury, but recently underwent a procedure to repair an infection in his foot.

    Staal has had two consecutive 40-point seasons with the Penguins, posting 49 points in both 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. He was also a nominee for the Selke Trophy this year.

    Although all of these players will be missed, the bigger question is which team can best overcome having a missing link.