NHL 2010-11: Predicting The 2011 Playoffs

Tab BamfordSenior Writer ISeptember 17, 2010

NHL 2010-11: Predicting The 2011 Playoffs

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    CHICAGO - JUNE 11: Jonathan Toews #19 hoists the cup during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Last year, the NHL saw a couple of great, historic teams play for the chance to lift Lord Stanley over their heads, and the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 49-year drought in doing so. The playoffs saw an incredible spike in television viewing, and the league's bottom line showed what a great postseason can mean to everyone in the game.

    As teams begin practicing together for the first time, it's officially time for the 2009-10 season to be packed up and put into storage. It's done. Over. Time to look forward.

    So we're going to do precisely that. While it's WAY too early to know exactly what's going to happen, with injuries and trades certainly to shape this season as they do every NHL campaign, let's make a preliminary prediction for what the 2011 playoffs will look like.

Atlantic Division

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    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 22:  Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils defends against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center at on April 22, 2010 in Newark,
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. New Jersey Devils
    2. Pittsburgh Penguins
    3. New York Rangers
    4. Philadelphia Flyers
    5. New York Islanders

    Out of this group, I'm going on record saying that the Rangers and Islanders will have a different coach on the bench by Christmas.

    The Pens should be strong, but Jordan Staal being out of the lineup for the next five weeks or so doesn't help them. There is still a lot to be settled in this division considering the moves the Devils will have to make to get under the cap, but their offense looks too strong to deny them at least a division crown.

    I will also go on record and say that the Rangers will avoid a final Sunday shootout and make the playoffs this year, similar to the Flyers coaching change-inspired run last year. Three teams will qualify for the second season from this group.

Northeast Division

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    TORONTO, ON - APRIL 3:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in a game against the Boston Bruins on April 3, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Bruins defeated the Leafs 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Imag
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs
    2. Buffalo Sabres
    3. Montreal Canadiens
    4. Ottawa Senators
    5. Boston Bruins

    This is a really hard division to handicap because of the changes that took place, both during last season and this summer.

    Buffalo will receive great play between the pipes again, but might be vulnerable to a sophomore slump if Tyler Myers enjoyed the Calder Trophy too much.

    Montreal rolled the dice on Carey Price, and might pay for it down the stretch. Not knowing how PK Subban will handle a full NHL season is another wild card.

    Ottawa has a nice team and made some very good moves, but I'm not sure their collective age/injury history will see them stay healthy for 82 games.

    And Boston is...interesting. They're talking about shuffling some lines, Marc Savard already has issues with post-concussion symptoms, and they have a goalie issue of their own. They could just as easily win this division as they could end up in last.

    But to me, the moves made by Brian Burke in Toronto are too much to ignore. Phil Kessel won't be on an island any more, with young weapons joining him up front and Jean-Sebastian Giguere in the mix for an entire season. With Dion Phaneuf finding a new focus and purpose with the "C" on his chest, the Leafs might back up Kessel's postseason prediction.

    I'm going to saw that Toronto, Buffalo and Montreal all make the playoffs from this division.

Southeast Division

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    WASHINGTON - APRIL 28:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 28, 2010 in Washington,
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. Washington Capitals
    2. Tampa Bay Lightning
    3. Atlanta Thrashers
    4. Carolina Hurricanes
    5. Florida Panthers

    The Lightning made a handful of strong moves this summer and, if the cards fall right, could push the Caps for the division. However, the strength of the Caps up front makes them the prohibitive favorite to not only win the division again, but earn the top seed in the playoffs.

    From this division, only the Capitals and Lightning make the postseason.

Eastern Conference Playoff Standings

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    PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 18: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wachovia Center on April 18, 2010
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
    1. New Jersey Devils
    2. Washington Capitals
    3. Toronto Maple Leafs
    4. Pittsburgh Penguins
    5. Tampa Bay Lightning
    6. Buffalo Sabres
    7. Montreal Canadiens
    8. New York Rangers

Central Division

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 04:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks handles the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 4, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Ge
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. Detroit Red Wings
    2. Chicago Blackhawks
    3. St. Louis Blues
    4. Nashville Predators
    5. Columbus Blue Jackets

    To assume the Blackhawks, still one of the youngest teams in the league, won't have a hangover from winning the Stanley Cup (and then losing one-third of their roster) would be naive. But in the softest division in hockey, they will again challenge the Red Wings for the division crown.

    However, the Blues will be much improved with Jaroslav Halak in net and might challenge for the final playoff spot in March and into April.

    At the end of the day, though, only Chicago and Detroit make the postseason. Health will go a long way in deciding which team ends up on top of the Central.

Northwest Division

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    LOS ANGELES - APRIL 25:  Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks controls the puck in front goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings during Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 25,
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. Vancouver Canucks
    2. Colorado Avalanche
    3. Minnesota Wild
    4. Calgary Flames
    5. Edmonton Oilers

    First off, the Oilers are a mess. They might wind up with the top pick in the draft again next year.

    On the flip side of the coin, the Canucks made a number of strong moves this summer and will again be in position to win the top seed in the conference.

    What's wild (pun intended) is that this division, which may appear on the surface to be soft, could be the most competitive in hockey this year. I see three teams making the playoffs from the Northwest: Vancouver, Colorado and Minnesota.

Pacific Division

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    CHICAGO - MAY 21:  Dany Heatley #15 of the San Jose Sharks moves the puck while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 21, 2010 in Chicago, Illin
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Final Standings:

    1. San Jose Sharks
    2. Los Angeles Kings
    3. Anaheim Ducks
    4. Phoenix Coyotes
    5. Dallas Stars

    Dallas will push Edmonton for the worst record in hockey this year, and will be out of it quickly. They might impact the postseason the most by moving several key players in a mid-season fire sale.

    Meanwhile, reality may settle in for Phoenix and they will end up on the outside looking in this year. However, the Ducks, Kings and Sharks could battle all year for the top spot in this division.

Western Conference Playoff Standings

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    CHICAGO - MAY 09: Members of the Vancouver Canucks including Henrik Sedin #33 and Alexandre Burrows #14 celebrate a 2nd period goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs a
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
    1. Vancouver Canucks
    2. Detroit Red Wings
    3. San Jose Sharks
    4. Chicago Blackhawks
    5. Los Angeles Kings
    6. Anaheim Ducks
    7. Colorado Avalanche
    8. Minnesota Wild

Eastern Conference Round One

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    UNIONDALE, NY - FEBRUARY 13:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the New York Islanders on February 13, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Isles defeated the Lightning 5-4.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    New Jersey Devils over New York Rangers

    Washington Capitals over Montreal Canadiens

    Toronto Maple Leafs over Buffalo Sabres

    Tampa Bay Lightning over Pittsburgh Penguins

    Obviously the upset special here is Tampa Bay, but the already-noticeable fingerprints of new GM Steve Yzerman are all over the roster. The Washington-Montreal matchup is a sexy grudge match from last year, and the New Jersey-New York rivalry could be a physical beast to watch as well.

Western Conference Round One

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 02:  Joe Pavelski #8 and Dan Boyle #22 of the San Jose Sharks hit the ice after colliding with Pavel Datsyuk #13 and Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanl
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Vancouver Canucks over Minnesota Wild

    Detroit Red Wings over Colorado Avalanche

    Anaheim Ducks over San Jose Sharks

    Chicago Blackhawks over Los Angeles Kings

    The sexy matchup here will be the 4-5 contest between Chicago and LA, with the experience in Chicago winning what could be an epic seven-game series.

    For the upset, Anaheim over San Jose could be a fascinating series between two teams that know each other well. Colorado could be an intriguing matchup for Detroit as well.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

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    MONTREAL- APRIL 19:  Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals skates in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 19, 2010 in Montreal, Qu
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    New Jersey Devils over Tampa Bay Lightning

    Washington Capitals over Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Washington-Toronto series could be a high-scoring affair, and Giguere could swing that entire series if he shows up.

    On the other side of the ledger, New Jersey and Tampa Bay could be one of the fastest skating series in recent memory, with young snipers flying back and forth. At the end of the day, though, the guy in net for the Devils will hold his own.

Western Conference Semifinals

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    CHICAGO - MAY 09: Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks is congratulated by Michael Grabner #40 after a win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Vancouver Canucks over Anaheim Ducks

    Chicago Blackhawks over Detroit Red Wings

    Wow! If the United Center was vibrating against the Flyers, Sharks and Canucks last year, can you imagine what it would be like if the defending champions hosted their most hated rival in the playoffs with bragging rights?

    On the other side, Vancouver is too deep for Anaheim. Not much to say about it but the Canucks would win that series in five.

Conference Finals

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks handles the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Benne
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Eastern Conference: New Jersey Devils over Washington Capitals

    Western Conference: Chicago Blackhawks over Vancouver Canucks

    This would be another great year for Gary Bettman's office if the league gets two heated match-ups like these in the respective conference finals.

    In the East, the Devils now have enough fire power to score with a team like Washington, but the great difference is between the pipes. Marty Brodeur can steal a season, much less a best-of-seven, and he could send the Caps home early yet again.

    In the West, Vancouver is much stronger on the blue line this year and doesnt have to worry about Dustin Byfuglien, but there's still something about Chicago that would make this a tough matchup for them. Chicago has outplayed and out-coached Vancouver in two straight seasons, and it could happen again.

Stanley Cup Finals

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    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 16: Zach Parise #9 and Ilya Kovachuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils celebrate their 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Ce
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    New Jersey Devils over Chicago Blackhawks

    This for a result would answer the question: "How will the Devils come up with $3 million to cover the NHL's fine?"

    With a loaded offense and arguably the greatest active goaltender on the planet, the Devils would enter the Finals with the same naive excitement that the Blackhawks did in 2010. The series could be another high-scoring affair, and it could also come down to tight, physical 2-1 games. But the team that hasn't won a championship in the last 12 months will steal the crown from the defending champions, proving that money can buy championships and it is impossible to repeat in the salary cap world.

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