10 Bold Predictions for the NHL in 2011-2012
While Lord Stanley makes his way around Beantown and the rest of the world this summer, us fans have nothing to do, rather than focus our attention to baseball, hit the links, watch reruns of Friends and wait impatiently for NHL 2012 to grace our local gaming stores.
However, there is something else we can do. If there's an area in which all sports fanatics are skilled, it's that of making insane predictions before the corpse of the season is even cold.
Trying desperately to hold onto the 2011 season like a crying child not wanting to leave summer camp, here's a list to hold hockey fans over until September.
The Winnipeg Jets Make the Playoffs
This isn't so much a prediction as it is a hope of mine.
The city of Winnipeg has gone absolutely wild recently, and for good reason. Their beloved Jets are coming home to where they belong, and it may just be one of the better teams to ever lace up in Manitoba.
The addition of Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd paid off in spades, as one switched positions and became a shutdown defender, and the other became a leader and donned the "C." Toss in young guns Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Bryan Little and there's a solid foundation to build a contender upon.
The Thrashers were close the past two years to qualifying for the playoffs, perhaps only lacking in support. That surely won't be a problem in Winnipeg, and with the crowd acting as the sixth man, I look forward to watching this team don blue and red next year.
Jeff Carter Is Dealt to Columbus and Wins First Playoff Series
There's been a lot of talk centering around Jeff Carter, the sniper center for the Philadelphia Flyers, as to whether he'll remain on the roster next year.
With Ilya Bryzgalov now in orange, the Flyers will have to find a way to create cap space and one option would be dealing Carter's massive contract, one in which he was given just last year.
Carter, paired with superstar Rick Nash, could prove to be lethal, as it would be the first time in Nash's short career that he's had someone as equally talented as himself.
It could be the thing that pushes Columbus from continually finishing short of the playoffs, thrusting them into new territory. Along with what is now Winnipeg, Columbus is the only franchise in the NHL to never win a playoff series.
Drew Doughty Wins the Norris Trophy
The first time I had the pleasure of watching Drew Doughty take the ice, the first person I thought of was Raymond Bourque. Even when he played for the Guelph Storm in the OHL, Doughty was a poised defenseman who could move the puck and wasn't afraid to be aggressive.
Being brought to the Olympics as a seventh defender two seasons ago, Doughty soon became part of the team's top tandem (along with Shea Weber) and won gold. This year, Doughty established himself as one of the game's premier D-men, and the sky truly is the limit.
Watch for him to lead the Kings to yet another playoff appearance and nab the spot of best defenseman in the NHL.
San Jose Deals Dany Heatley
The window of opportunity for the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup is closing fast. Though rookie Logan Couture proved that the Sharks have a future, veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle are not getting any younger.
That leaves Danny Heatley, who's coming off his worst offensive season in which he played at least 70 games. There's an argument that he just had an off year. There's also the flip side that dictates he's passed his prime and can't win big games.
It's simply a prediction, but for a man who was sought for his clutch performing, he only had nine points in three rounds of the playoffs.
If anyone's willing to put up the cash, San Jose could use the prospects, as now Thornton, Marleau, Boyle and Heatley are all over 30.
Philadelphia Wins the President's Trophy
Yeah, that's right. As much as it pains me to say, this is my prediction.
Philadelphia finished third in points this past season. Only the Capitals and the Canucks topped their total. With an appearance in the Cup Finals two seasons ago and a quick exit due to poor goaltending this year, the Flyers have jumped to the top of the radar recently.
The only thing holding this team from a legitimate Cup run is goaltending. The mere fact that they were able to make deep playoff runs two years in a row without a full-time starting goalie is pretty impressive.
Now with Ilya Bryzgalov, a severely underrated goaltender, the Flyers should top the standings, even if they decide to ship away Jeff Carter.
Jaromir Jagr Returns to NHL
This isn't so much a prediction, as it's already been confirmed that Jagr is interested in returning to the NHL after spending three seasons with Avangard Omsk of the KHL.
Say what you will about the infamous Ovechkin hit on Jagr, after watching him play in the 2010 Winter Olympics with his native Czech Republic, it's clear that he's still in form to play at the speed of the NHL.
So the question isn't if he comes back, but rather where he'll go when he does? My money's on Detroit, as he'll want to come back to win a cup, and the Red Wings veteran roster seems have one more in them.
If that be the case, hopefully he'll be a veteran acquisition like Brett Hull, rather than Mike Modano.
We See Yet Another Franchise Travel North
Finally the flood gates have opened and we see a franchise come back to Canada, rather than pack up its bags and leave. Though most figured Phoenix would be the first to make the leap, Atlanta barged in and made headlines everywhere during the playoffs, confirming that the Jets will come home.
That asks the question of whether or not more Canadian cities will make a case to bring a franchise to Canada. The Nordiques fans of yesteryear won't sleep until a team graces the streets of Quebec City, and it's just a matter of time before one does.
With the New York Islanders continuing their appalling attendance record and the problem in Phoenix still not resolved, I predict you'll see another franchise sold to Canadians in 2012, be it to Quebec City or South Western Ontario.
Jarome Iginla Leaves Calgary in Flames
It was the discussion that lit up switchboards all over the NHL talk shows come the trade deadline, as no one was sure if an aging Jarome Iginla was going to remain in Calgary.
He enters a contract year in 2011-2012 and it's been speculated that once his contract is up, he's on the first plane to a team that's going to give him a legitimate chance at winning the cup.
If that be the case, the Flames organization would be better to deal Iginla and get something for him, as he'll be an unrestricted free agent.
Watch for the Flames to deal him come next year's trade deadline to a team with cap space and a good record, possibly to the Kings.
Toronto Ends the Playoff Drought
The Toronto Maple Leafs have become so desperate that a four-game winning streak out of the gate leads to planning of the Stanley Cup parade. However crazy that may be, the Leafs will have something to cheer about in 2012, though they should refrain from directing traffic until May.
Toronto came oh so close this year to ending the six-year drought. Next year Dion Phaneuf will continue to lead his team, Phil Kessel will shake the stress of having to deal with Tyler Seguin debates and James Reimer will be the best goaltender to don the Maple Leaf since Curtis Joseph.
The hottest team after the trade deadline this past season will continue their run and make the playoffs, though I'm not even going to dignify the question of whether they'll win the cup with a response.
Boston Beats Anaheim in Finals, Repeat as Champions
I'm betting a lot of Canucks fans just broke their keyboards, and I apologize for that. Many will say that the Bruins got lucky, that Tim Thomas is the only reason they won. but I say they outplayed Vancouver when it mattered most.
Boston had a brilliant postseason, and though they did have to play in three game sevens (an NHL record for a cup champion), they perhaps played their best in all three.
Their core is young, with players like Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand (assuming they can keep him in free agency), Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and they still having yet to play their best hockey.
Couple that with returning veterans Chara and Bergeron, and you have a legitimate cup contender yet again. The only question mark is whether Tim Thomas can duplicate this year's performance, and something tells me he can.
Remember, his story is not like that of Dwayne Roloson for Tampa Bay, who came in cold during the playoffs and impressed. Thomas was a Vezina contender all year long and the 37-year-old still has two stellar years of hockey in his arsenal.
Watch for Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and a healthy Jonas Hiller to guide Anaheim through the West and for Boston to dismantle them in the Finals in six games.