NHL Realignment: 5 Bold Predictions for the First Playoffs Under New System

Mark PareCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2011

NHL Realignment: 5 Bold Predictions for the First Playoffs Under New System

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    There we have it, folks.  The speculating is done, we have ourselves a brand new NHL with this new alignment.  There are definitely a lot of losers in this new system, but there are more teams that now have more opportunities to become better franchises.

    The Stanley Cup Playoffs is seeing a new twist as well as we will go back to what was essentially the four-division alignment with the winners playing each other in the final four.

    How it works: in each of the four conferences (which I have already named the West, Atlantic, East and Central) the top four teams each season will make the playoffs and will play amongst themselves until one team remains.  The final four teams will match up, based on geographical location, with the West and Central winners playing and the East and Atlantic teams playing.

    Here are some bold predictions for what the first playoffs may shape up to be, followed by a final rundown on where the teams will finish in the new season.

Edmonton Oilers Make Playoffs

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    The Edmonton Oilers have not seen the playoffs since they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.

    The Oilers are young and tough.  They are one of the more surprising teams this season, as their core has really come out of their shell and has played some elite level hockey.

    What more can you say about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?  The kid is already one of the league's best players, and he has the points to prove it.  Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have been stellar as well and when you combine that youthful energy with the veteran instincts of Ryan Smyth and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, this team is going places.

    They have a shot at the playoffs this season.

    That's a bold statement in itself and when it comes to next season and the new alignment, their chances are way better now that they don't have to contend with the Detroit Red Wings or Chicago Blackhawks for a playoff spot.

San Jose Sharks Miss Playoffs

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    The Sharks have been constant playoff contenders and have been touted as Stanley Cup favourites on numerous occasions.

    The new alignment could go either way for the team.  They currently sit at 5-5 against opponents from the Pacific and Northwest division, but something tells me that with Edmonton's resurgence there's going to be one elite team that will take the fall from grace. Sorry to say it, San Jose fans, but the Sharks will not make the 2012-13 postseason.

    If you find some goaltending that rivals Evgeni Nabokov, then we'll talk about reconsidering this one.

Minnesota Wild Take 1st in Conference

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    Something must have gotten into the drinking water in Minnesota because the Wild are just playing excellent hockey.

    Minnesota will be in a conference made up of teams from the Central and Northwest division, as well as the Winnipeg Jets.

    So far, the Wild are 13-2-2 against Central or Northwestern opponents, and that dominance is only going to become greater, in my opinion.

    Their new coach, Mike Yeo, is making this team better behind the bench and it goes out to the product on the ice, with captain Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley, who has a lot more spotlight on him than he did crammed between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.

    I guess I have a soft spot for the Wild coach, as he is from the same city that I currently live in (North Bay, ON), but considering the improvement on the ice and their place in the standings, the Wild are only going to get better, and to that point, in one year's time, who knows where they will be?

    I predict that they will be the first "Central" Conference champions in the 2012-13 season.

Vancouver Canucks Win Stanley Cup

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    Hopefully, I am right on this one because I'd rather not see any of those riots anymore.

    The Vancouver Canucks are 8-3 against the Northwest and Pacific divisions.  They will be in tough against teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks but when it comes down to it, the Canucks know how to get it done against the Western Conference when the games matter.

    Something tells me that they will learn from their mistakes from last season and use this season as a measuring stick on where they want to be in a year.  They are Cup contenders this year, but the talents of the Sedin brothers and the goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have really been taking hits in the media lately.

    That's not to say that they pay attention to a lot of that stuff but they can't ignore the fact that they, as well as the rest of the team, need to get better to be in the position they were last season.

    If they can have another deep playoff run, then in my opinion, the Vancouver Canucks will be lifting the Stanley Cup at the end of next season.

The Final Four Will Be...

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    The Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.

    Yes, it's hard to even fathom at this point of time, but the fact is all these teams could have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup next season.

    Vancouver is always in the mix, Nashville has proven to be an elite performer as of late, winning their first series last season but has some catching up to do this year.

    The Leafs have been sensational, contending for the Northeast division lead, something unheard of a year ago, and the Capitals are another team that have the talent but, no offense to Bruce Boudreau, needed a fresh eye on the bench in Dale Hunter.

    The predictions of next season's standings are on the next slide, but when all is said and done, this is my prediction for the final four. Some teams have been there recently, some, it's been a while, and still some, never before. But in a new NHL, anything and everything is possible.

Final 2012-13 Standings

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    Western Conference (A)

    1. Vancouver Canucks
    2. Los Angeles Kings
    3. Edmonton Oilers
    4. Anaheim Ducks
    5. San Jose Sharks
    6. Phoenix Coyotes
    7. Calgary Flames
    8. Colorado Avalanche

    Central Conference (B)

    1. Minnesota Wild
    2. Detroit Red Wings
    3. Chicago Blackhawks
    4. Nashville Predators
    5. Dallas Stars
    6. Columbus Blue Jackets
    7. St. Louis Blues
    8. Winnipeg Jets (new conference, have to get used to playing a tougher conference on a regular basis)

    Eastern Conference (C)

    1. Boston Bruins
    2. Toronto Maple Leafs
    3. Montreal Canadiens
    4. Buffalo Sabres
    5. Tampa Bay Lightning
    6. Florida Panthers
    7. Ottawa Senators

    Atlantic Conference (D)

    1. Pittsburgh Penguins
    2. Philadelphia Flyers
    3. Washington Capitals
    4. New York Rangers
    5. New Jersey Devils
    6. New York Islanders
    7. Carolina Hurricanes

    What do you think?

     

    Mark Pare is a Toronto Maple Leafs Featured Columnist. You can follow him on  Twitter and don't forget to check out his sportswriter page.