This past week, I gathered some of the great hockey minds here at Bleacher Report for a little first quarter report. Thanks to Brett Bodner, Bryan Thiel, Derek Harmsworth, Miah D, and Greg Caggiano for participating.
My biggest surprise is the Boston Bruins. Coming into the season, no one expected this team to be good or even have a chance at making the playoffs. Now look at them, first place in the Eastern Conference.
My biggest disappointment is the Dallas Stars however. This team has way too much skill and talent to be dead last in the Western conference. It just doesn't make any sense.
My MVP would have to be Joe Thornton because of how much he's contributed to this San Jose Sharks team, who is 22-3-2. That record is unheard of and he's a big part of the reason why this team is that good.
The Vezina without a doubt would have to go to Henrik Lundqvist. He is very important to the New York Rangers and without him this Ranger team would not be in first place or even a contender.
I believe that the San Jose Sharks will win the Stanley Cup. They've had enough talent to do so over the past couple of years and I believe this is the year where it has all come together for them, and they will win the Cup.
My dark horse team is the Minnesota Wild. This team is having a lot of success and are under the radar. Backstrom has been outstanding and Mikko Koivu is having a great year. They've been very good over the years, so do not count out this team as a Stanley Cup contender.
I'm going to start with the biggest disappointment because this one is obvious: the Dallas Stars. So many people (including myself) had the Stars pegged as contenders in the Pacific Division (I had them winning it), but the season seems to have fallen apart.
Whether there's inner turmoil due to the Avery incident (and by incident I mean his Dallas career) or the horse-shoe wedged up Marty Turco's butt has suddenly gone rusty and he needs a tetanus shot, something needs to happen in Dallas to turn the Stars around.
I think the biggest surprise for a lot of people is Boston. The Bruins were bound to be competitive this season (I had a tough time placing them in my Eastern Conference preview) and players like Marc Savard and Milan Lucic are making people take notice of this team. Tim Thomas has also been a lot better than I expected him to be, but there's something people overlook: the play of the defense.
Think about this: the Boston Bruins have currently allowed the same amount of goals (56) on the season as Minnesota. Now that's defense.
Vezina and MVP are always tough because streaks can end and begin at any moment. If a player has a four-point night like Andrew Ladd did on Sunday, then all of the sudden he could jump from 15th to fifth in scoring. That being said, I think Marc Savard could really be a dark horse for the award if Boston stays hot.
People talk about the B's hurting after losing Joe Thornton, but replacing him with Marc Savard isn't exactly the worst thing in the world, especially given the way he's performed with some of those youngsters.
I'd also like to see it go to either Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf get some consideration, but at the top right now it's Malkin, Ovechkin, and Crosby. My vote goes to Ovechkin.
The prospective Vezina winner is a crapshoot though. Tim Thomas again is having a monster season, so it'll be interesting to see if he can swipe a few more starts to boost his win totals, but keep his save percentage high, plus his goals-against low. Roberto Luongo's injury has eliminated him for now, but if he comes back hot (he's already leading in shutouts) and tears up the league, his name will be right back up there.
Nabokov has come back from injury and has been a wall, so he's my choice now. A guy to keep an eye on however is Nicklas Backstrom of Minnesota—I nearly killed Ken Armer when he dealt him to Greg Caggiano for Kari Lehtonen—seeing as it's a keeper league, I would've dealt him my first and second picks next year for Backstrom (Which brings up another question: Can we trade draft picks?).
My choice for the Cup winner remains the same though: the Detroit Red Wings. If it wasn't for Boston (who has an identical record to that of the Wings) and San Jose (who've lost all of three games in regulation and two in overtime) then the Wings would be the story.
A Dark Horse? Well, grab your black paint and hit the barn at about one in the morning because you aren't getting any darker than this: the Toronto Maple Leafs. With all that's happened lately, I don't even know if I'm kidding any more.
On a slightly more serious note, the Buffalo Sabres. And just for you, how about the Phoenix Coyotes Chris—two teams that I liked the look of in the preseason and I still like today.
Biggest Surprise: Boston Bruins
Now don't get me wrong, I knew Boston had something good going on, I even declared so in an article on Bleacher Report last spring. I simply couldn't have guessed that they would be out of the gate as hot as they are. The early success is doing wonders for their attendance in a very tough market, and they are my surprise of the season so far.
Biggest Disappointment: Dallas
While early in this season Ottawa is a close second, Dallas is by far the biggest disappointment in the NHL this year. While Sean Avery and his antics have grown stale on his teammates (come to think of it, they were never fresh with those guys were they?) it's hard to blame it all on Avery. He isn't the goaltender, and the Stars haven't gotten the effort they need from Turco, or the defense. With Avery gone, the Stars can forget about the circus and start playing some hockey. They better hurry.
MVP: Sidney Crosby
While I still maintain Ovechkin as the better all around player, Sidney Crosby is having a lights-out year. Despite missing time to injury, he is still second in points in the NHL, and has 16 powerplay goals. A close second (and a little off the board perhaps) has to be Shea Weber. This guy is appreciated, but not enough while somewhat hidden in Nashville.
Vezina Trophy: Tim Thomas
While traditional goalies who spend years refining their style may have just gagged, Tim Thomas has been nothing short of spectacular in Boston. Every time there is a challenge, be it in a game or in his career, Thomas has shown the resiliency to fight back, and become better than ever. He leads the league in GAA and is second by .1 in Save Percentage.
Stanley Cup Champions: San Jose Sharks
Having believed in the Sharks for a few years now (and being burned in playoff pools by my faith) I truly believe this is a team that can snatch the title from the Detroit Red Wings. They have no glaring weaknesses, and pun intended, they smell blood. They have something to prove and they look unstoppable early.
Dark Horse: Anaheim Ducks
With all their talent, and recent Stanley Cup, its hard to call them a dark horse, but I will anyway. not too many people are talking about the team from So-Cal, yet led by Getzlaf, Perry, and Giguere, this team looks like it has its swagger back, and as the season rolls on, I think they could really turn heads.
Biggest Surprise: Boston Bruins
The Bruins’s show during last year’s playoffs was just the appetizer for more to come. Despite a few injuries, the Bruins and Claude Julien showed great resistance to the Montreal Canadiens during the first round.
It is no surprise this year, with the return of Patrice Bergeron, the addition of Michael Ryder, the red hot Tim Thomas, and Marc Savard still keeping up with the amazing work that they look behind when watching the Eastern Conference. It shouldn’t be named a surprise though, it is more a logical continuing of events!
The Dallas Stars have been dealing with injuries on their key players this season. Despite Mike Modano’s hard work, the team has a hard time finding a way through the Western Conference; while the San Jose Sharks are high in the Pacific division.
Marty Turco’s strange play hasn’t been a stranger to this situation either, with struggles to get a consistent wining streak; allowing three or more goals in 17 of his 25 games this year. And into those 17 games, he had eight games facing 25 shots or less.
MVP: Jarome Iginla
Into the top five pointers of the NHL, with 33 points, Captain Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames is leading in every way he can, both in goals and in assists. He now has at least a point in nine of his last 10 games; a sequence during which the Flames are 7-3-0. Could he be more inspiring?
Roberto Luongo might be a great candidate for the Vezina Trophy. Before his injury, Luongo made the headlines so many times for the Vancouver Canucks.
With only 39 goals allowed on more than 500 shots, the new Canucks Captain has been showing his leadership through his statistics. And should we add more on the 200 minutes (three games and one period) without allowing a goal? Simply wow!
The Stanley Cup
For a third year in a row, it looks like the ultimate prize will go to the Western Conference again, the San Jose Sharks. It looks like this might finally be their year!
Coming on top of the Pacific division for the second year in a row, with a great duo of goaltenders, they can get hotter than the conference semi-finals!
Dominating the league in goals per game, coming as the fifth best powerplay of the league, if they keep up, it might be interesting.
The Pittsburgh Penguins would be my other team to watch. Without some of their players, they still can run an amazing scoring machine; with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Will it be the year?
Biggest Surprise: New Jersey Devils. I only pick this team because after Martin Brodeur went down, many people felt the season was lost. Who expected that the tandem of Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen could be propelling this team to where they are right now?
They both have played well when called upon, especially Clemmensen who has shown flashes of Brodeur. The offense has also gotten stronger with Elias and Parise coming through big. With Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik coming back from injury, they will only get stronger.
Biggest Disappointment: Dallas Stars. Who would have thought that virtually the same Dallas team from last season, a team that reached the conference finals, would be sitting in last place in the western conference? Marty Turco hasn't played well at all and offensive catalyst Mike Ribeiro has struggled. The Avery fiasco didn't help matters either as his gigantic contract will come back to bite the Stars. I'm just counting the days until Brett Hull is fired.
MVP: Evgeni Malkin. He continues to be Pittsburgh's dominant force while also outshining Sidney Crosby. The guy is intimidating and his shot is one of the deadliest in the league. Why doesn't he get more attention?
Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist. He leads the NHL in wins and is the sole reason why the Rangers are in first in the Atlantic division. The team plays awful in front of him on a nightly basis and he continues to keep them in the game.
Stanley Cup: Detroit Red Wings. Despite San Jose's phenomenal start, I believe the mighty Wings will win their second straight Cup victory. They have the same team as last year only with the addition of Marian Hossa who has played very well. As long as Osgood can stay healthy, the Cup is theirs.
Biggest Surprise: Some may be thinking I am going with the Bruins, but I am not surprised by their run right now. Last year I saw this team as a serious threat for the Eastern Conference crown. My biggest surprise so far has been the San Jose Sharks. While I did expect them to be a force in the Western Conference like they always are, to get off to the start they have is unpredictable.
Biggest Disappointment: For disappointment, I am going to go with the Oilers. Sam Gagner has had an absolutely miserable second season so far. The Oilers defense has a few names that can be huge offensively, namely Lubomir Visnovsky, Sheldon Souray, and Tom Gilbert. They need more scoring if they want to have a chance in the West.
MVP/Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist has been sensational. Without him, the New York Rangers are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Every game he makes phenomenal saves and bails out the defense of the Rangers who have turnover machines in Michal Rozsival, Wade Redden, and Dmitri Kalinin. He leads the league in wins and I believe he will end it as such.
Stanley Cup: The Red Wings. Yes San Jose has gotten off to a great start, but they have done nothing but choke in the playoffs. Until that changes, I will be hesitant to pick them. Detroit is still unbelievable.
As for a Dark Horse, and maybe they aren't anymore, but the Boston Bruins. Yes Boston fans, jump on the bandwagon of fair weatherness (I know its not a word) for the Bruins. As a friend of mine predicted during the summer, the Bruins will lose to the Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. Still think they are going to lose? I don't think they would if they make it to the finals.
I will have another edition of this at the All Star break with the questions altered slightly.
Thanks again to the contributors.