The best thing about the playoffs in any sport is that every team has an equal chance to win a championship when the playoffs start. The biggest thing is just getting there.
That's when anything can happen.
This season the obvious choices for a Stanley Cup final played out, but last year the Montreal Canadiens, an eighth ranked Eastern Conference team, went all the way to the Conference Finals on the back of Jaroslav Halak.
They went up against the seventh ranked Philadelphia Flyers in that final, eventually losing in five games to the bigger and stronger Flyers squad.
In the West that year, mostly all the top ranked teams advanced in the playoffs, as was expected. But with that said, its all about just getting there. That's where the Cup runs and magic begins.
Here is a listing of the main reason why each NHL team could make the playoffs next season.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Big Three
One of the best lines in all of hockey, this skilled trio accounts for nearly all the scoring on an aging Ducks squad. These three are not aging, rather just entering their respective primes, however, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Lubomir Vishnovsky, Jason Blake and others are older than 35 and could be nearing the end soon.
On the back of this trio will be the main reason why this club makes it to the playoffs. The health of Jonas Hiller could be a main reason why they are Stanley Cup contenders and not just playoff participants.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Consistent Vezina Calibre Goaltending
The entire Bruins team won them a Stanley Cup this past season, but many pundits believe Tim Thomas was the main reason why they won the Stanley Cup.
Aside from Thomas, the Bruins have likely the best center depth in the NHL, and they play a very sound defensive system drawn up by coach Claude Julien. If this team doesn't make the playoffs, I'll be very surprised.
Even if Thomas gets injured, they have a great safety net to fall back on in Tuukka Rask.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: One Name, Ryan Miller
Despite adding veterans Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr to an already good team, the fact remains that Ryan Miller, when healthy, makes this team a cup contender, not just a playoff team.
Miller has the ability to take a team on his frail shoulders and carry them past an opponent.
With raises expected to come to Tyler Myers, Marc Andre Gragnani and Tyler Ennis, the Sabres may need to shed some salary before the following season, but that will not interfere with their season this year. Even without Tim Connolly, this team is strong, and look for them to be a surprise team in the Eastern Conference.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Jarome Iginla Performing at the Top of His Game
Jarome Iginla is a perennial all-star, a great team Captain, and the sole reason for offence in the Saddledome most evenings.
It's been 10 straight years that Iginla has totalled at least 30 goals a season, and last season it was his best year since 2007, as he scored 43 goals this year.
The Flames will never have a problem with goals against with Miikka Kiprosoff back there; they'll have the problems putting offence up. If Iginla carries them offensively and they get some more secondary scoring, the Flames could return to the playoffs.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Emergence of Jeff Skinner and the Leadership of Eric Staal
The Hurricanes are a younger, quicker team these days and under the guidance of former Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice, they have turned a corner. With Captain and perennial All-Star Eric Staal and standout rookie Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes can compete with anyone offensively.
The defensive end is where the Canes will need to improve.
They won't get much help defensively with the signing of Tomas Kaberle, but he will help out their powerplay and give them another dimension on the backend.
Cam Ward, if healthy, is a top 10 goalie in the NHL and has always given them a chance to win every game.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Blackhawks Ability to Play All Three Zones Tough.
Finishing the season fourth in goals for, and 12th in goals against, along with having one of the better special teams in the NHL, the Blackhawks are a tough match-up for anybody on any given night.
With a top six consisting of Pat Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Brunette, the Blackhawks should have no trouble being close to or exceeding last year's offensive output.
The major question marks with team are in regards to their depth after the top six and their goaltending, which at times as shaky last season.
If the Hawks get the goaltending, they make the playoffs at the end of the year.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: If Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov Evolve Into All-Stars.
The Avalanche for all intents and purposes are not making the playoffs next year. They have improved their goaltending greatly after having to suffer with Brian Elliott for the remainder of last season, but their inexperence will still get them a seat on the outside.
However, if the recently acquired Semyon Varlamov can backstop the Avalanche night in and night out, and Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson evolve into their top three draft pick potential, then the playoffs could be on the horizon.
If not this season, in the years coming playoffs could be a possibilility.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: A New Look Top-Line Could Vault Jackets into Playoff Contention.
When Jeff Carter was acquired prior to the 2011 NHL Draft, it sent shockwaves through the NHL, as he was acquired for Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall selection, which turned out to be Sean Couturier.
Along with Carter, Captain Rick Nash may have a new center next to him as Ryan Johansen, the organizations top prospect could eventually make his way to the first line this season.
Johansen, along with defenseman John Moore, could debut this season with the Jackets.
Also, the recently signed James Wisniewski helps the Jackets fix a woeful powerplay, which was second last in the NHL last year. Getting some consistent goaltending from Steve Mason would be a big help as well.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: A Better Defense Overall
There is some reason for optimism in Dallas, as the Stars really did improve their defense this offseason. Another year of Alex Goligoski should help, as well as free agent defenseman Adam Pardy and Sheldon Souray.
Another bright spot is in goal, as Kari Lehtonen looks like he's starting to show why he was taken high in the first round in his draft year. Not only that, but the Stars have a few good prospects coming up as goalie Jack Campbell, winger Scott Glennie and defender Jamieson Oleksiak figure prominently in the Stars future plans.
They were a win away from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, but with the loss of Brad Richards, it would be a small miracle if they better their year from the previous season.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Veteran Presence That Seems to Never Go Away
These next few years may be the last of the Red Wing veterans.
Kris Draper looks like he could be retiring, Tomas Holmstrom is over 35, Nicklas Lidstrom seems to be playing on a year-to-year basis, and they have already lost the likes of Brian Rafalski, Mike Modano and now Chris Osgood.
They'll still have Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Jimmy Howard, so their playoff hopes should be safe, but getting there will be a lot harder than it used to be.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Completely Revamped Defence and the Return of Ryan Smyth
The Oilers made some strides this offseason by improving their defence and also drafting quite well with their first three picks by taking Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and David Musil.
Ryan Smyth provides this young squad with some veteran leadership it sorely lacked. With hopefully an injury free season from Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney, and hopefully Nikolai Khabibulin, the Oilers could surprise in 2011-12.
The future looks bright, and with the right mix and the goalie coming up with good saves at opportune times, the Oilers could make a playoff push this season.
Is it likely—probably not—but the potential is there.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Dale Tallon is Their GM
Dale Tallon rejuvenated a dying Chicago Blackhawks franchise, and he now is attempting to do the same in Florida with the Panthers franchise. He has done his best to acquire players and sign players to get to the cap floor of $48 million this offseason.
In the process he has made the team relevant again with his recent additions of Scottie Upshall, Ed Jovanovski, Tomas Fleischmann Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Jose Theodore.
In the process, though, he has been acquiring a lot of former Blackhawks players, so he's going with familiarity rather than chance with his trades and free agent pick-ups.
With Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom and Quinton Howden close to their debuts, the Panthers are getting closer and closer to their goal of making it back to the playoffs.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Strength Up the Middle
Nothing really changed with the Kings this year except the huge addition of Mike Richards to center the second line in Hollywood. He'll be likely paired with Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, which will cause many headaches on a nightly basis.
A strong D core and one of the best goalie tandems in the league make the Kings nearly a virtual lock to return to the playoffs in 2011-12.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The New Shark Players Acquired Earlier
When Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle arrived in Minnesota, it also signified a moment when the Wild management decided that it's time to put pucks in the net now, and hopefully that will be enough to get them back to the promised land.
With Heatley a perennial 30-goal scorer, Setoguchi, who has also scored 30 in a season, and Coyle, who will make his mark a little later, the Wild will be a better goal scoring group this year. There's a possibility Mikael Granlund could debut this year as well if he impresses in camp.
So far in the rookie camp, Granlund has exceeded expectations and has looked like a man among boys in the week long camp.
"His patience with the puck is everything," Torchetti said. "He slows the game down on his entries. He is very poised. He sees the ice. He knows when to move it, when to let it go. And when you play with players like that, it gives you more poise, especially four-on-four. You don't just want to dump it in. You want to hold onto the puck.
"He certainly has that presence. Even on the bench [on Sunday], when we were down by two, [the players] weren't even worried by it. They knew we had a chance. We were going to get a power play and then we were going to get our shootout, so just be patient. And that is what [Granlund] definitely brings. He slows the game down to a different level."
—John Torchetti, Houston Aeros Head Coach (Thoughts on Granlund)
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Carey Price
One of the best young goaltenders in the league, Carey Price last year carried the Habs on his back after they lost Andrei Markov for the season. The Habs are a decent team, but I truly believe they lean heavily on goaltending on advancing into the postseason.
Price finished last season with a 2.35 GAA and a .923 SV percentage, both top 10 in goalie statistics. Montreal was fourth last in goals for in the Eastern Conference, so they were relying heavily on Price to backstop them in the regular season and playoffs.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Another Vezina Year Out of Rinne?
I really don't know how the Predators do it, but under Barry Trotz this team just gets how to win. Even with a roster that isn't full of big names, this team plays as a team and always seems to be in the playoff hunt. Next season should be no different, as the Predators look to make it back again.
For that to happen, plenty will depend upon the performance and health of star goalie Pekka Rinne. Rinne is in a contract year, so you will likely see a huge year out of Rinne.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Zach Parise is Back Healthy
The Devils scored a league worst 174 goals last season, but they should manage to improve upon that, which should also give Ilya Kovalchuk more room to maneuver as well. A full year of Martin Brodeur would go a long way as well towards another playoff berth for the Devils.
With Parise back, this team is worth mentioning when talking playoffs.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: John Tavares turning into the Next Sidney Crosby?
Far-Fetched? I think so, but it's how the Isles will make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. John Tavares has all the capabilities to be an absolute stud in the NHL, just a matter of gaining more foot speed and having some talent playing alongside him.
With Kyle Okposo improving, Matt Moulson coming out of nowhere, and eventually Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome, Tavares is going to have some offensive help in the coming years.
This season the Isles could welcome back Mark Streit. Streit missed the entire year last year with a torn labrum and rotator cuff, and he could possibly be back for the season opener.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 are a Possibility: King Henrik
Thought I was going to say Brad Richards? Right now, King Henrik is the reason why the Rangers will make it back to the playoffs. Richards, of course, will have a helping hand, but Lundqvist, who led the NHL with 11 shutouts last season, should see the bulk of action with John Tortarella's Rangers squad.
Lundqvist is one of the best goaltenders in the entire league, and his ability to stand on his head makes him the easy choice for Rangers MVP and the sole reason why they could and should make the playoffs this season.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Recent Great Drafting May Get The Sens Back to the Playoffs.
It may not be this season, but in the coming years, look for the Senators to be a force once again. A savvy draft of Mika Zibanejad, along with former Ottawa 67's forward Shane Prince and Peterborough Petes sniper Matthew Puempel, the Senators have definitely tried their hand at improving the teams offence.
With Craig Anderson and rookie Robin Lehner, the Sens goaltending is in good hands.
What needs to be addressed is getting some more offence to help out Jason Spezza this season. The guys listed are another one to three years away before making an impact in the NHL.
The Sens defence is mighty young, but they're filled with potential. With a healthy Sergei Gonchar, the Sens should be more offensive on the back end. With youngsters Erik Karlsson, David Rundblad, Jared Cowen and veteran Chris Phillips the defence is fine for the time being.
It's all about adding offence.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Signing of Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov
They finally got their goaltender, but it came at a huge price.
That price was Captain Mike Richards and sniper Jeff Carter, both of whom were jettisoned out of town to make room for the Russian goalie. Bryzgalov signed a nine-year contract, so he'll be staying in the city of Brotherly Love for quite awhile.
Other than Bryzgalov, the Flyers got a bit younger with the additions of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier and, of course, Brayden Schenn.
How both deals play out will be anyone's guess, but for what he gave up, I'm giving GM Paul Holmgren a high five for taking a couple of massive risks that could pay-out huge for them down the road.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Another Year of Offence by Committee
Another team like the Predators, the Coyotes are a team that somehow made it to the playoffs without much talent at all. They scored by committee. Not a lot of ego's on the team, and that's why they were so successful. They follow a strict system put forth by Dave Tippett and they follow it well.
One major drawback now is the club is without a legit starting goaltender, as they will be relying upon Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera for the majority of the heavy lifting in goal, unlike last year when they had Ilya Bryzgalov manning the nets in Phoenix.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Return of Crosby and Malkin
The Penguins, despite a plethora of injuries, managed to finish in the top five in the Eastern Conference and did so without their two best players from about New Year's on.
With them back next season, look out for the new look Penguins. If you haven't done so already, mark down James Neal as a sleeper pick in your fantasy drafts, because I'm expecting a huge year out of him if both return.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Relatively the Same Offense With More Offensive Firepower on the Backend, Means More Playoff Hockey in the Golden State.
The Sharks enjoyed plenty of success last year, but there were questions regarding whether their defence was up to the task of leading them going forward.
GM Doug Wilson took notice and acquired defender Brent Burns in exchange for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick in 2011, who turned out to be Zack Phillips, of the Memorial Cup winning Saint John Sea Dogs.
It was a bit of a risk to give up that much forward upside, but it's apparent the Sharks were desperate for defensive help at any cost.
This move should turn out well for them.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Young Core of the Blues
After a very savvy trade to acquire Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Blues are heading in the right direction. A very tough team to play at home, the Blues are a developing club that is making strides every day.
Their roster is very young and is developing before the fans eyes. If they make good strides this year, the Blues could sneak into the playoffs, but that's a big if right now.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: These Two Guys Right Here
They are the source of most of the offence in Tampa Bay, and they will be next year as well when they take to the ice.
St. Louis feeds Stamkos the puck, and Stamkos takes care of the rest.
With an improved defense and a goalie who actually stops the puck, expect another long run in the playoffs when they make it.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: James Reimer's Play Next Season is Just as Good as it was Last Year.
When James Reimer took over for Jean Sebasties Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson, the Leafs season was nearly shot. However, just when doubters called them out, Reimer and the Leafs strung off a few wins in a row and found themselves back in the race.
Had the Leafs played with that confidence from the start of the season, they would have made the playoffs on the back of Reimer. However, that was not the case.
With the additions of Tim Connolly, John Michael Liles, Matt Lombardi and Cody Franson, expect the Leafs to be a much improved team next year, possibly as high as top six in the East if all goes right.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Sedin Twins and Kesler
Plain and simple, three of the best players in the NHL today.
Each one of them brings a different thing to the table. Daniel brings good scoring touch and a some passing to the table, Henrik is the ultimate set-up man, and Kesler is your Selke trophy nominee that can win a Maurice Richard if he had Henrik feeding him the puck.
Couple those players with a good defensive core, an Olympic winning goalie and a standout backup, and what do you have? A Stanley Cup contender.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: Tomas Vokoun
Tomas Vokoun was the sole reason he gave the Panthers a chance to win every night. He did the same thing in Nashville when he was with the Predators. He opens up a new chapter in his life playing behind Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson in Washington.
Vokoun, if given about 55 to 60 starts, could be in the running for the Vezina by years end and could lead the Capitals to a Cup Final this year.
He is signed this year for $1.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.
Reason the Playoffs in 2012 Are a Possibility: The Environment Surrounding the Return of the Winnipeg Jets.
They may not be the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they will be playing in front of a noisy, packed house at the MTS Center and will be a tough game for anyone to go and play.
Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian anchor a solid defensive core, meanwhile up front, youngster Evander Kane is evolving into a miniature version of Jarome Iginla, and I'm not just saying that because of his skin color. Kane dominates the puck, and like a fine wine, is only getting better with age.
Look for the Jets to miss the playoffs this year, but you never know. With all this pressure they could succeed, but with a young team, you highly doubt they can handle it for an entire season.
But we shall see!
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