NHL: 10 Bold Predictions for the Remainder of the 2011/12 Season
At the turn of the year, the NHL season is rapidly approaching its halfway point. Certain teams are already emerging as potential cup candidates, while others are dropping behind and are beginning to plan for the NHL draft.
That said, there is still a long way to go this season. Many things will change, and at the end of the season, the NHL will undoubtedly have a different look than it does now.
Here are 10 predictions of things that might happen between now and the end of the 2012 playoffs.
1. The Columbus Blue Jackets Will Finish Last Overall
Every year, there is one team that falls way behind right from the start. One team that never seems to be able to win. One team that is the mockery of the league.
Last year that team was the Edmonton Oilers. This year, it is the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As of today, the Blue Jackets sit dead last in the league. Through 36 games, they have a dismal 9-22-5 record, having scored just 87 goals and given up 122 for a league-worst minus-35 goal differential. Despite the star additions of Jeff Carter (you can't help but feel they might have been better off with Sean Couturier) and James Wisniewski, the Jackets have been dead last from day one.
A first overall pick may well be headed to C-Bus. Will super prospect Nail Yakupov end up a Jacket?
2. The Detroit Red Wings Will Not Lose Again at the Joe Louis Arena
More so than any other arena in the NHL, the Joe Louis Arena is a fortress. The home advantage it offers its beloved Detroit Red Wings is great; so great, the Red Wings currently have a home record of 15-2-1.
To put it kindly, the Red Wings are dominant when they play in front of their home crowd in the arena that they have called their home since 1979. When the Wings play there, it is mesmerizing: they never look like they will lose. Opposing teams arrive frightened to play, and for good reason. Simply put, it is nearly impossible to get points of the Red Wings when they are at home.
They have not lost their since the 3rd of November, and there is no reason to believe they will lose there again.
3. A Record Will Be Set for Most Coach Firings
This has not been a good year if you're an NHL coach.
Already six coaches have been fired, dismissed from their jobs as their employers look elsewhere for the man to lead their respective teams. First, Davis Payne was kicked out in St Louis. Then, the Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau. Paul Maurice was shown the door in Carolina.Anaheim's Randy Carlyle was fired. Montreal dismissed Jacques Martin and, finally, Terry Murray was booted out in Los Angeles. They were replaced by, in order, Ken Hitchcock, Dale Hunter, Kirk Muller, Bruce Boudreau, Randy Cunneyworth, and Darryl Sutter.
The record for most firings in an NHL season is eight (2002-03), and there is a good chance we'll break that this season. Next to go? Columbus' Scott Arniel, the Colorado Avalanche's Joe Sacco and the New York Islanders' Jack Capuano.
4. Bruce Boudreau Will Turn Around the Anaheim Ducks
Since taking over in Anaheim after being fired from the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau has not yet performed as he is expected to. The Ducks have gone 3-6-2 under him, and have not looked like they are ready to turn a bad season around. The first coach in NHL history to reach 200 wins has struggled.
The situation in Anaheim is very different to the one in Washington. When Boudreau took over in the nation's capital, it was with a team coming out of a rebuild. With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Bäckström, Alexander Semin and Mike Green on his roster, Boudreau was able to work magic.
Furthermore, he had experience coaching with the organization after three seasons with the AHL's Hershey Bears, and he was already adapted to the systems the Caps wanted to play.
In Anaheim, he finds a team that should be contenders, struggling. His best players are still young but underperforming. Boudreau has a new challenge on his hands, but what people must remember is that he is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and that he will soon adapt. Ducks fans need not worry; they will soon be back where they belong. As soon as this season, perhaps.
5. Alex Ovechkin Will Come Back with a Vengeance
Alex Ovechkin's struggles have been no secret.
Last season, the NHL's most dynamic player posted 32 goals and 85 points, with career lows across the board. At 26, the Russian should be entering his prime, but this season has been no different. With his 12 goals and 25 points through 35 games, Ovechkin is on track for new career lows of 28 goals and 59 points, hardly the production you'd expect from a two-time Hart Trophy winner making $9 million a year.
Alex Ovechkin will come back. It's a matter of time, but he will come back. The Russian has been double and triple-marked by defenders throughout his career, and that has started to catch up with him. That, and the fact that the Caps have moved to a more defensive-minded style, have been the reasons for his decline.
Now, with Dale Hunter in charge, Ovechkin is learning to play a new way, drive-to-the-net, get-in-your-face game, and it is paying dividends. He looks like a new player under Hunter. He has three goals in the last five games, and things are starting to click for him. Before you know it, Ovechkin will be back, and it will be very, very scary.
6. There Will Be Several Blockbuster Trades at the Deadline
This year, more than in recent memory, there is a lot of talk about big-name players being on the move. Tension is building up to the February 27th deadline, and the expectation is that more than one big deal will go down before the window closes.
Shane Doan, Ales Hemsky, Jarome Iginla, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Alexander Semin, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber. Those are just a few of the big names that have been talked about in countless trade rumors through the first few months of the 2011-12 season. While not all of them will be traded, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see at least four or five of these players find new homes come February 28th.
This is a trade deadline that the average hockey fan must follow. Tsn.ca awaits you.
7. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Will Win the Calder Trophy
While in recent seasons rookies have sped off in the scoring race together, this year there is one player who is clearly emerging as the front-runner.
That man is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Through 35 games, Nugent-Hopkins has 13 goals and 35 points, putting him on track to total the highest point numbers for a rookie since Evgeni Malkin's 85 in 2006/07. The first overall pick from the 2011 draft has impressed just about everyone with his speed and smarts, and is only going to get better. Unless a Taylor Hall-esque injury derails his season, Nugent-Hopkins will sweep the votes for the 2012 Calder Trophy.
8. Sidney Crosby Will Be Forced To Retire
Concussions have been the story of the NHL over the past few seasons, as a worryingly high number of players have been forced out of action with traumatic brain injuries. None has been more talked about than that of Sidney Crosby, who has missed 68 of the past 78 Penguins games with his concussion.
Unfortunately, Crosby might have to leave the game after suffering another setback to his injury. He managed two goals and 10 assists in an eight-game cameo appearance for the Pens in late-November-early-December before returning to the injury list. There has been no further update on his status, and signs are pointing to him once again being shut down for the season.
Concussions are an extremely serious injury, and not just in hockey; it is one that can come back to haunt you in later life. With his short but illustrious career (584 NHL points in 420 NHL games, Captain, Four-time NHL All-Star, Hart Trophy Winner, Olympic Games Winner, Stanley Cup Winner), Crosby is likely bound for the NHL Hall of Fame regardless of what lies ahead. For the good of his future, it might be wise for Sidney Crosby to call it a day.
9. Claude Giroux Will Win the Art Ross
Every year there seems to be a new player who breaks out and blossoms into an NHL star. While Claude Giroux has always been productive, this year, he has exploded onto the NHL scene as one of its best players.
Through 30 games, the 23-year-old has 17 goals and 26 assists, leading the Philadelphia Flyers' top line alongside Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr. Those numbers put him on track for 44 goals and 112 points, the best numbers for a Flyers player since Eric Lindros' 116 points in 1995-96.
Giroux is emerging as a premier NHL player, and if he manages to avoid further injuries (he missed four games with a concussion), there is little doubt he will claim the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top point producer.
10. The Boston Bruins Will Repeat as Stanley Cup Champions
The Boston Bruins had a bad cup hangover: The 4-7-0 cup hangover was one of epic proportions. The bounce back has been of epic proportions as well, however. The Bruins are 19-2-0 since that start, and are well on their way to more success.
It seems things are starting to fall into place for the Bruins. Tim Thomas is stellar again, the best players are performing, the youngsters are getting better and the team looks dominant. Had it not been for the bad start, the Bruins would be far off in front of the pack at the moment, and while Presidents Trophy winners rarely manage to go all the way, it has been a while since a team has looked so much better than everyone else.
Another Stanley Cup triumph could well be on the horizon for the Boston Bruins.
Follow Jake Ware on Twitter at @JacobWare95