The summer is over.
The preseason is over.
The roster deadline is Wednesday, and aside from the odd rookie here and there, lineups are set.
Hockey is about to begin.
Now it's time for that annual ritual we all take such joy in; predictions. Articles have been written previewing teams, divisions, and conferences, but you know what I have to say to all that? Who cares?
Who cares who's going to win the Northwest, or the Southeast or the Central or the West? I want to know who's going to win the only thing that matters. The Stanley Cup.
I'm going out on a bit of a limb with my pick (so feel free to ridicule it in the comments), but here it is:
Next spring, commissioner Gary Bettman will stride out to center ice, pick up the Stanley Cup and hand it to...
Zdeno Chara. Yes, my pick to win it all in 2010-2011 is the Boston Bruins. They will triumph over the San Jose Sharks in six games, winning their first Cup since 1972 in front of their home crowd.
Why Boston, you ask?
Well, when you look at the ingredients required to win in the current NHL you will see that all of these are present. They have grit, they can score (when healthy), they can defend, and they have top-notch goaltending.
The Bruins' depth at center is among the best in the league. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tyler Seguin form arguably the deepest group at center in the East. Patrice Bergeron is one of the better two-way players in the league. He had 52 points and was a plus-6 in 73 games last season. He really shone in the playoffs however, scoring 11 points in 13 games and was plus-4. He can also win faceoffs.
Krejci took a bit of a step back last year, but still managed 52 points and a plus-8 in 79 games. He is due for a bounce back season and will be asked to burden more of the offensive load with Savard currently out indefinitely. Expect his numbers to rise.
Seguin will likely be playing third line minutes until (if) Savard returns. He is comparable to Matt Duchene, so we can look to his rookie season for what to expect. Duchene had 55 points last season, but Seguin will probably not receive as much ice time, so lets say 45 points. Still 45 points from your third center? Pretty damn good. Oh, he can also kill penalties.
Yes, the Bruins had trouble scoring last year, but full seasons from Krejci, Bergeron, and Milan Lucic; plus the addition of Nathan Horton and a bounce back season from Blake Wheeler should help in that department. Lucic is pretty close to an immovable object and should play a similar role for the Bruins to what Dustin Byfuglien did for the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
Boston was second in the NHL in goals against last season, allowing only 191. So their defence, led by Zdeno Chara, is fantastic. Add in stellar goaltending by Tuuka Rask and, if he stumbles, Tim Thomas and the veteran presence and experience of Marc Recchi, and all the ingredients for a championship are present.
In addition, the Bruins have something to prove after last years collapse.
Why not Washington?
I was going to choose Washington, and I still think they very well could win it all, but in a seven game series I think Boston will be able to outlast them. I'm not sold on the Capitals defence as of yet and nothing they have done this summer suggests to me that they will be able to win the hard fought, one goal games that occur in the playoffs. I think that Boston's overall defensive depth and physicality would be able to neutralize the Caps dynamic offense.
Why not Chicago?
This boils down to the fact that teams simply do not repeat as champions anymore. It's been over ten years since the last time a team won back-to-back titles. That being said, if any team is going to do it Chicago will. Despite the offseason exodus, the Blackhawks still have the best group of core players in the league. However, I believe that this is the year when San Jose finally breaks through and wins the Western Conference, so Chicago will fall.
Why not Vancouver?
The Canucks have become the sexy pick to win this year. The Hockey News thinks they're going to win, and this will be one of the best teams they have ever iced. So why will they lose? I simply do not believe that they have what it takes. Henrik Sedin joined the ranks of the elite last year and won the Art Ross and Hart trophies, but he's not a winner in my eyes. Despite having ample opportunity, the Sedins have yet to do anything noteworthy in the playoffs.
The Canucks prized defence, the focus of much offseason excitement, will not fix what led to their downfall. Dustin Byfuglien did not do anything special in the last two years. All he did was stand in front of the net and make life hell for Luongo. Neither Dan Hamhuis nor Keith Ballard are players who can keep the front of the net clear. Rest assured, when the playoffs arrive another big body will park himself in front of Luongo and the Canucks will be powerless to stop him.
Plus, I'm an Oilers fan and it is physically impossible for me to predict Vancouver to win.
Now, let the debate begin. Who do you think is going to win the Stanley Cup this year?