NHL Predictions 2012: 4 Big Teams That Will Miss Playoffs
The 2011-2012 NHL season should be one of the closest we've ever seen. The salary cap has done the job it was supposed to, and created parity around the league. It truly is an "any given Sunday" type atmosphere these days.
And that makes picking who will and who won't make the playoffs a tough job. But, just as some of these teams must go home earlier than expected, someone has got to do it.
Some teams have their season on youth taking the next step. Others are counting on a new goaltender or center to carry the team to the promised land. But only 16 teams can get in. Here are four squads that I just don't see making the cut.
New Jersey Devils
It's hard to bet against the suddenly dynamic duo of Zach Parise and the $100 million man. That's Ilya Kovalchuk, in case you were visiting an aunt in Germany two summers ago and were lucky enough to miss the whole Kovie saga.
The issue for the New Jersey Devils isn't their forward core—though that group could live with an additional secondary threat or a breakout year from a guy like Nick Palmieri. No, the issue in Jersey is on the blue line.
While they do have a steady defender or two, they just don't have the "umph" to be a top-eight team in the Eastern Conference. They took a huge step towards plugging up their porous defensive zone by drafting Adam Larsson, but expecting him to come in and make an immediate impact may not be good for the kid's development.
And we may finally be seeing the smoke coming from underneath the hood of one of the greatest netminders of all time. Martin Brodeur's best years are behind him, and he won't be able to put this squad on his back like in the good ol' days.
I don't think that the Devils will totally tank like it did last season. But this is a group of players that is still missing a piece or two, and they will have an opportunity to add another stud via the draft after this year is over with.
The Calgary Flames are a team in transition. The past isn't all in the rear view just yet, and the future hasn't quite arrived yet either.
There weren't many changes for Calgary over the summer, and the team may actually be a little worse after trading away Daymond Langkow. That move looks downright silly as the team was already thin at center before the deal. With an untimely injury to Mikael Backlund and Brendan Morrison still on the mend, things aren't pretty for the Flames already.
The West is ridiculously tight, and this team put up a great fight last season as they were one of the better teams after the All-Star break. I just don't see any significant reason to believe that the outcome will be any different in Calgary.
The Jarome Iginla trade rumors will continue to swirl, and this may be the season we see those rumblings turn into reality. That would be the ultimate admittance that this team is in rebuild mode.
Until then, they are a fledgling team in the West that just doesn't have the firepower to sneak into the playoffs.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders are painfully close to being a four-to-eight team in the Eastern Conference. They just aren't quite there yet.
They posses one of the most dynamic group of young forwards in the NHL, boasting a top six that is better than most fans around the league realize. John Tavares would own a key to the city already if he played in a hockey-crazed city like Toronto. He'll vie for a scoring title within the next few seasons.
Kyle Okposo is healthy again, and is going to be a great goal scorer for this team.
The bottom-six for the Islanders is also solid. Guys like Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau are great role players. And Brian Rolston still has a rocket for a shot even if he is considerably passed his prime.
The question marks in net and on defense are what will hold this squad back in the long run of an 82 game season. Al Montoya is the starter right now, and I'm not sure that he'll help the team win enough games to push them through the playoff threshold.
Rick DiPietro is still there, but that isn't saying much. And Evgeni Nabokov decided to report this season and has been rewarded with ample time in a sky box as a scratch.
There is a lot of promise on Long Island, but promise doesn't shore up an iffy defense and a questionable presence in goal.
The recent beat down at the hands of the San Jose Sharks should give you an indication of how life will be for the Phoenix Coyotes now that Ilya Bryzgalov has landed in Philadelphia.
The notion has been that the team was able to play way over their heads over the last few seasons because of herculean efforts by Bryzgalov in net. And that notion is spot on. Mike Smith is a huge check down in terms of talent and game-stealing ability.
His first starts already raise questions about his ability to be a starting netminder in the NHL.
Waiting in the wings for a shot at playing time in the crease in Jason LaBarbera.
Things could get ugly in the desert.
Shane Doan is still there. And he'll still leave his heart and soul out on the ice every night.
There are some good young pieces up front that give the Coyotes reason to hope for a brighter future. If Kyle Turris snaps out of his delusional state and realizes that he isn't Matt Duchene, and that demanding over $4 million a year from a cash strapped team after several sub-par seasons isn't a good career move he could eventually be a good player.
Mikkel Boedker is primed for a breakout season, as is Lauri Korpikoski.
And Keith Yandle heads up a group of solid blueliners.
But the issues in net will cost the Coyotes too many points down the stretch.