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07-19-2011, 11:06 AM
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All predictions are, of course, barring freak injuries and weird luck. Predictions in such a highly-variable game as hockey are extremely iffy, and at least one team is almost guaranteed to have a much better or much worse record than their talent level would suggest.

I think that in the Eastern the teams that have no realistic shot at the playoffs are Florida, Ottawa, Carolina, Toronto, Winnipeg, and the Islanders. One of them may get lucky, get a really good year, and slip in... and honestly, I expect one will, but since it would be purely a fluke occurence, it's impossible to predict which one.

With six teams eliminated, that leaves 9 teams vying for eight spots.

In the Southeast, Washington is the best team in the conference. The addition of an elite goalie (on a ridiculously cheap contract!) really clinches it; Washington may well be the best team in the league. Tampa is very strong and unlikely to miss, especially since the division has three minnows (Winnipeg, Carolina, and Florida). I expect to see Washington in first place, and Tampa in 4-5.

The Northeast situation is interesting. Boston is bound to regress to the mean; it's liable to stay overrated for a while, being the Cup champion, but as a team they are likely weaker than the Habs (they probably already were last year, despite Montreal's much worse luck with injuries). Buffalo is better and while I don't think they are better than Boston yet, it's not outside of the realm of possibility that Boston ends up in third place in the division. With two minnows in the division, however, it seems unlikely any of the three actually miss. I would see the division go Montreal-Boston-Buffalo, but it's likely to be close. One of them will be in third, and the others in the 4-7 range.

The Atlantic is likely to be the most competitive division, with only one minnow in the Islanders. That means the unhappy bubble team will probably come from here. Pittsburgh is likely the second-best team in the conference unless Crosby's injury persist; they're most likely to win the division. New Jersey is much stronger than they showed last year, and will be strongly in the mix. Philadelphia tore apart a contending team and are now significantly weaker than they finished last season. It does not seem, intuitively, that they weakened themselves so much so that they aren't a playoff team anymore, but in so competitive a division, it just might be enough for them to land in ninth. (And I suspect throwing Giroux and especially Briere to the top-6 wolves will hurt them more than anticipated; they traded away their two matchup centers). If Philly doesn't miss out, then it's likely to be the Rangers, despite the Richards addition; they strike me as being in the low-end of that top-9, yet significantly stronger than the bottom-6 of the conference.

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