2011-12 NHL Season: 25 Bold and Not So Bold Predictions for October
The NHL season is finally almost upon us, beginning this Thursday night with the Boston Bruins hosting the Philadelphia Flyers, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens and the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There's many things we can expect from this season.
But what about the unexpected?
Here are 25 bold and some not so bold predictions for this first month of the 2011-12 NHL season.
Alex Ovechkin Will Be One of the Suspended Players in October
Brendan Shanahan has suspended nine players so far during the NHL preseason, and he shows no signs of easing up once the regular season starts.
James Wisniewski and Clarke MacArthur are two of the suspended players, and it seems likely that at least one big star will be suspended at some point this season.
I predict that Alex Ovechkin will be one, and quite possibly in this first month of play.
Ovechkin makes lot of huge hits, so it seems likely that at least one will catch the eye of Shanahan, and not in a good way.
But Matt Cooke Will Not Be
Matt Cooke has been suspended many times in his career, typically for hits that targeted the heads of his opponents.
This means that it is very likely that Cooke will be suspended at least once this season now that Shanahan is showing zero tolerance.
However, over the summer, Cooke reflected on the end to the 2010-11 season and said that he is a changed person who won't make those type of hits anymore.
Now I don't know if Cooke is a completely changed person and player, but I'll make the bold prediction that he won't be suspended through the month of October.
Sean Avery Gets Cut by the New York Rangers
Sean Avery is another player considered to be among the dirtiest players in the league today, but perhaps he won't have that opportunity much longer.
The New York Rangers are currently looking to make cuts before their final roster for the start of the season.
I predict that Avery will be one of those cuts.
After all, John Tortorella seems to have about had enough of Avery's antics, and he's probably not the only one in the organization.
Sheldon Souray Won't Spend Too Much Time in the NHL
Sheldon Souray spent last season playing in the American Hockey League. He was on loan to the Hershey Bears as the Edmonton Oilers tried unsuccessfully to trade him.
This summer, the Dallas Stars picked him up.
I predict he won't spend much time playing for the Stars before being sent back down to the AHL again.
Alexander Radulov Will Return to the NHL This Month
Alexander Radulov is feuding with his Kontinental Hockey League team, Salavat Yulaev, with whom he has a contract for three years.
He tweeted Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin that he was seeking a trade because of issues with his head coach.
According to his agent, the possibility of Radulov returning to the NHL exists for 2012, not this year.
However, sometimes things change, so I'll go ahead and make the bold prediction that they will find a way to get Radulov back in the NHL, presumably for the Nashville Predators.
Sidney Crosby Will Return to Play This Month
Sidney Crosby will not be starting this Thursday when the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Vancouver to face the Vancouver Canucks.
However, he seems to be inching closer to a return, and I predict that he will be back in NHL action by the end of the month.
I also predict that unlike what many believe, he'll return to right where he left off, scoring lots of goals and putting up lots of points.
Max Pacioretty Makes His Return as One of the Top Players in October
Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty missed most of last season after suffering a devastating career and life-threatening injury after a brutal hit by Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara.
Pacioretty will return when the Canadiens open up their season, and I predict he'll become a household name (at least in hockey households).
This time, though, it'll be for what he does on the ice, not what happens to him on the ice.
Pacioretty was having his most successful season last year, ending with 24 points when his previous best was 14 points.
He'll do much better than that, beginning a career year as one of the top players in the month of October.
Alexander Semin Will Be the Highest-Scoring Russian in October
Alex Ovechkin is always expected to be the Washington Capitals' top scorer and often expected to be the league's best scorer.
However, after last season, he might not be expected to anymore.
With the return of Evgeni Malkin, many believe that he will be one of the top scorers in the league this year, which he may be.
I predict, though, that Alexander Semin will outscore both of them in the month of October and be the highest-scoring Russian in the NHL and Washington Capitals player.
Semin is out to prove himself this year after the criticisms from his former teammates this summer and the constant trade rumors.
Zach Parise Will Be the Leading Goal Scorer for October
The New Jersey Devils will finally get forward Zach Parise back after going most of the 2010-11 season without him.
How will Parise play after not playing in a regular season game in almost a year?
I predict he'll return and play very well, even leading the NHL in goal scoring for the month of October, at least.
Claude Giroux Will Lead the League in Points
The play of Claude Giroux last season, among other things, allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to trade Mike Richards and Jeff Carter because they knew Giroux was an emerging top scorer.
In fact, he was the Flyers' top scorer last season.
Giroux will do that again this season and perhaps even take it a step further.
I predict Giroux will lead the league in points for the month of October, perhaps even longer after that.
Jonathan Huberdeau Will Be the Best Rookie in October
There is much anticipation to see how well this year's rookies perform in the NHL.
Most of the attention goes to top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and how he'll perform for the Edmonton Oilers, followed closely by Gabriel Landeskog and the Colorado Avalanche.
However, I predict that Jonathan Huberdeau is the rookie who will perform the best right off the bat.
Huberdeau will lead the rookies in scoring for October, and we'll see how far it goes from there.
But the Florida Panthers Will Still Struggle
The Florida Panthers have struggled for the past few seasons, playing in a difficult division, as well as conference.
They dramatically changed their roster this summer, with many new additions, including Jonathan Huberdeau.
However, I predict that they will still get off to a slow start this year and be in the bottom of the standings again.
Tampa Bay Lightning Will Be the Best Team in the Eastern Conference
The Tampa Bay Lightning surprised many people last season when they were contenders for the top spot in the Southeast Division, as well as the Eastern Conference, for quite awhile.
Then, in the playoffs, they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and then swept the Washington Capitals before eventually falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Will they dominate again in 2011-12?
I predict that yes, the Lightning will dominate again this season and will lead the Eastern Conference in the standings right from the start.
The Washington Capitals Will Struggle Early
The Washington Capitals have dominated the Eastern Conference the past few seasons; although last season, they went through a rough stretch in the first half.
From their roster changes this summer, the Caps are again the early favorites to win the Cup next year.
That is a good possibility, but I predict that first, they will struggle as they get accustomed to their changing roster.
The Los Angeles Kings Will Be the Best Team in the Western Conference
The Western Conference is a difficult conference to lead, as most of the teams are pretty stacked.
However, I predict that with all the changes the Los Angeles Kings made this summer, they have what it takes to dominate the West this year.
They'll begin this right away, by being the best team in the Western Conference in the month of October even though they have a pretty difficult travel schedule, beginning their season in Europe.
Anaheim Ducks Will Be Right Behind Them
The Anaheim Ducks will be right behind the Los Angeles Kings in the standings.
After all, they seem to have everything they need. They still have their top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.
They have Teemu Selanne back, and he should have another good season.
And, perhaps most importantly, they have Jonas Hiller back to top health, and he appears able to stay that way.
The Ducks will be another top team for the month of October.
Edmonton Oilers Will Actually Be Pretty Decent Too
The Edmonton Oilers have been the worst team in the NHL for the past two consecutive years.
They did get the top two draft picks of the last two years out of it, though: Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Those two will help spark the team to a pretty decent record for the month of October and perhaps even longer throughout the season.
The Vancouver Canucks Will Struggle Early
The Vancouver Canucks dominated the standings all last season, eventually winning the President's Trophy and appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
However, I predict that they'll get off to a slow start this year and through October.
After all, they will be without Ryan Kesler, one of their top offensive weapons last year, along with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
They'll just struggle through October, though.
Cory Schneider Will Start More Games Than Roberto Luongo
Roberto Luongo has struggled with consistency at times, especially in high-pressure situations. He was even benched last year in the first round of the playoffs.
Luckily for the Vancouver Canucks, they have probably the best backup goaltender in the NHL: Cory Schneider.
This year could possibly be Schneider's last with the Canucks, as he could be used as trade bait since he's on the last year of his contract.
Before the Canucks decide to part ways with him, though, they'll need to give him a chance to show that he can be their starter instead of Lou.
That's why I predict that he will start more games than Luongo in October.
J.S. Giguere Will Start More Games Than Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov was traded to the Colorado Avalanche this summer since the Washington Capitals didn't need the inconsistent and injury-prone goaltender. They have Michal Neuvirth and now, Tomas Vokoun.
The Avalanche intend to have Varlamov be their goaltender of the future, and he will be one day, but not in the month of October.
Either because of Varlamov's inconsistency or due to an injury, I predict that veteran J.S. Giguere will actually start more games for Colorado in October than Varlamov.
Henrik Lundqvist Will Be the Best Goaltender in October
Last year, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens were the dominant goaltenders in the league.
For the start of the season, and likely even longer, Henrik Lundqvist will be the dominant goaltender.
He played very well last season, especially towards the end, as his play solidified the New York Rangers' place in the playoffs.
He'll continue that and play even better in October.
One Richards Will Settle into His New Team Quickly, the Other Not so Much
Both Brad Richards and Mike Richards changed teams this summer. Brad Richards signed with the New York Rangers, and Mike Richards was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.
Mike will settle into his new position and new team right off the bat, since he's already used to the systems employed by Terry Murray.
Brad will take a little longer to settle into his new team.
Not because he's not used to the systems; he has played for John Tortorella after all, but because he'll need time to get used to the position playing in the spotlight.
Mike Smith Posts Better Numbers in October Than Ilya Bryzgalov
Ilya Bryzgalov is another player that I believe will need some time to adjust to playing in a much more high-profile position and the spotlight since his move this summer.
In fact, I predict that his Phoenix Coyotes successor, Mike Smith, will post better numbers in October than he does with the Philadelphia Flyers.
This will not continue throughout the rest of the season, though. Bryzgalov will settle into his role fairly quickly after that.
Al Montoya Will Become the New York Islanders Starting Goaltender at Some Point
The New York Islanders currently have three goaltenders: Rick DiPietro, Evgeni Nabokov and Al Montoya.
DiPietro seems to be the leading candidate for the starting position, followed closely by Nabokov.
However, I predict that at some point in October, Montoya will become the unlikely starter.
After all, DiPietro is quite injury-prone, and Nabokov has not necessarily proven himself to a be a reliable and consistent starting goaltender.
This opens up the door for Montoya.
Toronto Maple Leafs Will Lead the Northeast Division
The new and improved Buffalo Sabres or the Stanley Cup-defending Boston Bruins seem to be the most likely candidates to lead the Northeast Division this year.
That may become the case, but I predict that for the month of October, the Toronto Maple Leafs will surprise and lead the division.
They'll be led by Phil Kessel, who will also surprise and play very well in the month of October.