Thursday 17 January 2013

NHL Season Preview 2013 - Stanley Cup Predictions

National Hockey League
Season Preview 2013
By W D Nicolson, January 17, 2013

Well well well... there is a 2013 NHL season after all.

Let's just forget the last 6 months or so of the NHL lockout and focus on the hockey that is on the way next week.

Last year -'s NHL Predictions for 2011/2012 did better than expected - we are happy to report.

We picked the Kings to come out of the West, the Hart, Ted Lindsay and Art Ross winner in Evgeni Malkin, Gabriel Landeskog as the Rookie of the Year, picked 5 of the 8 Eastern Conference playoff teams and nailed 6 of 8 Western Conference playoff teams.

Yes the Penguins fell short of living up to our prediction as the Cup winners, but getting the Kings as the best of the West - and they went on to win the Cup beating the Devils - isn't a bad effort.

Here's what we said about the Kings prior to 2011/2012...

The Los Angeles Kings at $17.00 - Made a massive addition to their talented squad by getting former Flyers' captain Mike Richards in an off-season trade. His drive (and intent to stick it to the Flyers for trading him) could get them past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000/2001 and who knows maybe another trip to the Stanley Cup Finals (Wayne Gretzky led the Kings to the promised land in 1992-1993)? Adding Richards to Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown looks like a very good mix.

And for good measure we didn't write off the Devils either...

The New Jersey Devils at $23.00 - They are here simply because Martin Brodeur might have one last great season left in him. That didn't look the case last year when he was awful to begin with and the team badly missed Zach Parise - but both say they are fine entering the season and Ilya Kovalchuk can't scrape around for 60 points in 81 games again surely? Travis Zajac's injury keeps him out until the new years and that is a concern but don't bet against Brodeur and Parise really lifting this team off the canvas.

Mind you - it's worth re-iterating that we got the Pens wrong as Stanley Cup champs... and knowing where our loyalties lie - may do so again.

Below is another truncated but hopefully rather punchy NHL Preview.

After we go through the East and West regular season standings - we'll list our favourites and dark horses like last year.

Who is your pick for the Stanley Cup? Feel free to comment below or tweet me @wdnicolson



  1.  PENGUINS * (Last Year's Regular Season Finish: 4th)
  2.  BRUINS * (2nd)
  3.  HURRICANES * (12th)
  4.  FLYERS (5th)
  5.  RANGERS (1st)
  6.  LIGHTNING (10th)
  7.  CAPITALS (7th)
  8.  SABRES (9th)
  9.  PANTHERS (3rd)
  10.  JETS (11th)
  11.  CANADIENS (15th)
  12.  ISLANDERS (14th)
  13.  SENATORS (8th)
  14.  DEVILS (6th - Reached Cup Finals)
  15.  MAPLE LEAFS (13th)
East in short:
Goaltending will be key in the shortened season as I see a lot of coaches riding their #1 netminder for the opening 15 games - and by then you'll have a good indication of who can make the playoffs.
As a result - the top 5 teams should rise to the top and the likes of the Lighting, Capitals and Panthers need a clear #1 to emerge to nail down those last 3 spots. Miller is good enough to get the Sabres in ahead of any of those 3 teams (I've now swapped the Panthers and Sabres after writing that), while the Jets will go as far as Pavelec can carry them. The Devils and Senators fall out of contention for mine after being playoff teams, while the Canadiens and Islanders will do better than last season. That leaves the Leafs - who are toast if they don't upgrade in net.
Eastern Conference Semi Finals: 
Penguins over Capitals
Rangers over Lightning
I like a couple of first round upsets in the Caps and Bolts accounting for the Bruins and Hurricanes, but the Pens (Miller might steal a game or two in the first round) and Rangers (in a great first round series v the Flyers) are my picks to advance past them in the next round.
Eastern Conference Finals:
Penguins over Rangers
Lundqvist v Fleury... If King Henrik stands on his head and Flower doesn't bloom - no amount of Crosby or Malkin would save the Pens. But here's hoping MAF does.
 The Pittsburgh Penguins will be Eastern Conference Champions

  1.  KINGS * 8th - Won Stanley Cup
  2.  CANUCKS * 1st
  3.  BLACKHAWKS * 6th
  4.  SHARKS 7th
  5.  STARS 10th
  6.  PREDATORS 4th
  7.  BLUES 2nd
  8.  RED WINGS 5th
  9.  COYOTES 3rd
  10.  WILD 12th
  11.  OILERS 14th
  12.  DUCKS 13th
  13.  FLAMES 9th
  14.  AVALANCHE 11th
  15.  BLUE JACKETS 15th
West in short:
Kings deserve to be favourites even if they waited til the last minute to go on their run... mind you that ended in a Stanley Cup - so hello #1 seed. The Canucks will be good per normal and the Blackhawks look the best of the Central to grab the #3 seed. The Sharks should be better in a shorter season if Niemi remembers how to be a stud, and the Stars could be the big improvers with some veteran winners on board. The Predators and Blues take a step back this season but their goaltending should keep them in the playoffs, while the Red Wings are a concern with no Lidstrom holding that blueline together. Still they get into the 8th slot on reputation, with the Coyotes my only team to drop out of the playoffs from last year - Smith can't be that good again can he?
The Wild need Backstrom back to his best in net - with or without Parise/Suter, while the Oilers are picked on potential in 11th. As for the Ducks - don't write them off like I have, while the Flames, Avalanche and Blue Jackets look like numbers making uppers... but see previous sentence - what do I know?
Western Conference Semi Finals: 
Sharks over Kings
Canucks over Blackhawks
No upsets in the Round 1, so I'm giving Marleau, Thornton, Boyle and Niemi one last chance to break the San Jose duck-egg when it comes to pushing through the playoffs. I just think they can get the Kings if Niemi plays out of his skin in the 2nd round. The Canucks get to another Conference Final, courtesy of a 7-game series against the Hawks.
Western Conference Finals:
Sharks over Canucks
I've backed the Sharks to beat the Kings, so why not the Canucks? I just think this short season is made for Thornton-Marleau to make it a 1997 Draft-class playoff run to remember.
The San Jose Sharks will be Western Conference Champions
Penguins over Sharksin 6 Games
The Pens have arguably the two best players in the game, so this isn't a reach. That said they had this entering last year's playoffs and got bounced in the opening round. They are that good however if Fleury plays like an elite goalie (he's done it before and they won the Cup because of it), because Malkin and Crosby are an irresistible combination.
They can beat the Sharks in 4 games if Malkin/Crosby go nuts, but as I've mentioned - there are some quality veterans on the Sharks - so I expect them to give the Pens a run for their money in the Cup Final.
Mind you - I only just changed my mind late in the editing process of this NHL Preview - I had the Pens v Kings again for much of the week.
Time will tell if I should have just copy/pasted last year's preview...
Sidney Crosby wins Conn Smythe Trophy

Who can win it? (Other than the Penguins or Sharks)
The Kings obviously as defending champs and three teams from the East. I think the Flyers could if Bryzgalov plays to the value of his contract and Giroux is Giroux, the Rangers are a beast if Nash and Gaborik score 70 goals between them and the Caps might just be a Cinderella story come playoff time if Alex the Great is just that.
Next level?
The Bruins, Canucks and Blackhawks have the pedigree to make a run, but I'm not 100% sold on their goaltending.
Need everything to go their way even if they make the dance
If Lindback is a legit #1 - the Bolts can make a run with Stamkos, St.Louis and Lecavalier, the Hurricanes look a classic regular season team who can't score in the playoffs, while the Stars have a veteran unit who might steal a playoff round. The Blues, Red Wings and Predators... sorry boys had your chance last year. As for the Sabres - I only put them in the playoffs very late ahead of the Panthers - meaning I believe neither can win.
Best 3 teams I don't have in the playoffs?
Obviously the Panthers, then give me the Wild and Coyotes.
Who is your pick for the Stanley Cup? Feel free to comment below or tweet me @wdnicolson

2013 NHL AWARD PREDICTIONS | Last Year's Winner
Hart Memorial Trophy - League MVP
Evgeni Malkin, Penguins | Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
Vezina Tropy - Best Goalie
Cam Ward, Hurricanes | Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Norris Memorial Trophy - Best Defenseman
Zdeno Chara, Bruins | Erik Karlsson, Sentaors
Calder Memorial Trophy - Best Rookie
Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers | Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy - Fairest Player
Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings | Brian Campbell, Panthers
Frank J. Selke Trophy - Best Defensive Forward
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks | Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
Jack Adams Award - Best Coach
Dan Bylsma, Penguins | Ken Hitchcock, Blues
Ted Linsday (Lester B. Pearson) Award - Most Outstanding Judged by Players
Sidney Crosby, Penguins | Evgeni Malkin, Penguins
Art Ross Trophy - Most Points
Evgeni Malkin, Penguins with 65 | Evgeni Malkin, Penguins with 109
Maurice Richard Trophy - Most Goals
Steven Stamkos, Lightning with 33 | Steven Stamkos, Lightning with 60
Wayne Gretzky Trophy - Most Assists (unofficial award)
Sidney Crosby, Penguins with 41 | Henrik Sedin, Canucks with 67
William M. Jennings Trophy - Fewest Goals Against Team
Los Angeles Kings | Brian Elliott/Jaroslav Halak, Blues
Presidents' Trophy - Best Regular Season Record
Pittsburgh Penguins | Vancouver Canucks
Awards Note: Honestly, if the Pens are as good as I expect - flip a coin between Malkin and Sidney Crosby for all the major awards. Stamkos could sneak away with it though if he scores 40 goals in 48 game season and the Bolts make the playoffs. It's Bylsma or Kirk Muller for the Adams, while I really like Huberdeau's name so he gets the Calder like Landeskog last year. Go Cam Ward with almost 30 wins and a ridiculous save % for the Vezina in a battle of two with Jon Quick.

NHL VIDEOS... some YouTube gold from the professional sports league that doesn't pull posted hockey content and in fact embraces it.
Enjoy your NHL this season... thankfully there is one.