Let’s hop right into this.
1. Los Angeles Kings: This team is going to kill this year. Anze Kopitar is going to have one hell of a season, and he will challenge Evgeni Malkin for the scoring title until the end of the season. Newly signed defenseman Drew Doughty has a lot to prove this season after he signed a pretty hefty contract a week ago. This is the type of team you don’t want to take a lot of penalties against.
Player to Watch: Jonathan Quick. Quick is a good goaltender, but hasn’t been able to elevate his game to the next level despite the team around him getting better these past few seasons. With back up Jonathan Bernier, who many believe has what it takes to be an elite goalie, pushing him, Quick could be out of a job should the Connecticut native slip up early in the season.
2. Vancouver Canucks: No Finals hangover for this team. Henrik and Daniel Sedin will continue to put fear into the eyes of goalies and people who suffer from Geminiphobia. Ryan Kesler will continue to make his case for “Best American Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of.” And then there’s those wacky green men to look forward to. What will they think of next? Hopefully constructive ways to not blow a 2-0 Cup Final lead.
Player to Watch: Cory Schneeder. This is a guy who, like Bernier, some believe is the better goaltender despite holding down the back up role. If anything happens to Bob Luongo, Schneider should transition in comfortably. Or maybe he makes his way to a new team before the deadline. New Jersey, perhaps?
The rest of the West, plus Stanley Cup Final predictions and Major Awards:
3. Nashville Predators: Yup, this is the year they make the jump. They’ve been riding that fine line between bubble team and legit contender for a few seasons now, but now they’ve got the pieces. An offense that commits to a system. A defense led by the highest payed (deserving) blueliner, Shea Weber, he of beards of excellence. A legit goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a very competent back up in Anders Lindback (noticing a trend with theses teams on top?). This team is going to be scary.
Player to Watch: Sergei Kostitsyn. The highest scoring player on the team by far, it’s up to this guy to step up his game and move towards that elite forward status. He probably wouldn’t be the top LW anywhere else (except Colorado), but in Nashville he has the opportunity to make the next step. His next paycheck, and his teams playoff hopes, lie in his hands.
4. Detroit Red Wings: Yuck. Gross. Ew. If the Red Wings could be a picture, they’d be this:
Player to Watch: Todd Bertuzzi. Remember this?
Let’s hope someone ends this asshole’s career.
5. San Jose Sharks: Another predictable year from San Jose. A million assists from
God Joe Norton Thorton. Countless clutch goals via Joe Pavelski. Dany Heatley Martin Havlat tearing up the power play. Yawn.
Player to Watch: Antti Niemi. Another team, another goaltender. This one is big though, because for years the Sharks have been trying to break the proverbial “choke artist” label they’ve been associated with. Niemi has won a Cup before (’10, Chicago) so he can be the difference maker for this team.
6. Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks are going to be a very hard team to track this year. On the one hand, we know what they are capable of with their very competent defense and scoring prowess (Hossa, Kane, Toews). But goaltending will be a concern. If Corey Crawford can duplicate his stats from last year, the Hawks will be quite fine. While the defense did lose Brian Campbell, Stan Bowman has proven to be very good at plugging the holes in his lineup.
Player to Watch: Patrick Kane. While Patrick Sharp was out during preseason, Kane stepped up and played center for the Hawks. He wasn’t very good at it, but the fact that he was changing up his game for the team is important. He’s always been sort of the rebellious younger brother to Jonathan (Jesus, lot’s of hockey players are named Jonathan) Toews favorite son status, and this season is as good as any for him to mature. But I wouldn’t mind another year of cabbie punching.
7. Colorado Avalanche: This is not the same team that garnered two top 3 picks in the last three years. This is a team with a revamped defense led by the Hercules incarnate, Erik Johnson. Matt Duchene-Paul Stastny-Ryan O’Reilly represent a cerberus of centering (fuck yes, my new favorite phrase ever). Newly drafted LWer Gabriel Landeskog just became my new favorite Gabby (sorry Marian) and will probably score like 35 goals and win the Rookie of the Year trophy. Oh and they’re my favorite team so what’d you think, I was not going to peg them to make the playoffs?
Player to Watch: Semyon Varlamov. Varly has the rare opportunity to directly affect what he was traded for. Sent over to the Avs from Washington for a first round pick (plus a conditional 2nd/3rd rounder), it’s pretty much in his hands whether that pick is a lottery draw in the top 5, or nothing more than another late first round pick (which might as well be a 7th round pick based on what players actually are capable of after the first 8 picks or so). He has a very good record in the three seasons he has been in the league, although he has a tendency to be injured. If Varly can stay healthy, look out.
8. St Louis Blues: This is a just an example of a team that is getting better every year. With Halak behind them, the Blues’ blue line (sorry) has a reason to be confident. Chris Steward and Jason Arnott will be a scoring dynamo for the team, and Jamie Langenbrunner will bring a wealth of veteran knowledge.
Player to Watch: David Backes. One of the guys challenging Kesler for the “Best American Athlete You’ve Never Heard Of,” Backes is poised for a breakout year. As the captain of the team what he does on the ice and in the locker room should translate into wins or losses for this team.
9. Anaheim Ducks: A transition year for the Ducks, they have to realize that they the corpse of Teemu Selanne cannot roam the power play forever. They took the Mighty out of their name’s years ago, so they get a resounding “Meh” from me. But hey, in NHL12 they’re old Mighty Ducks jerseys are available to play with. That’s pretty cool!
Player to Watch: Corey Perry. Man, he is just fun to watch. Here’s to another 50!
10. Calgary Flames: Hey, you’re not the most obscure team in Canada anymore! Congrats guys, you did it!
Player to Watch: Jerome Iginla. That should be, Player to Watch get traded (to the Rangers.)
11. Phoenix Coyotes: This team has a lot of good things about it, I guess. I’m getting bored anyways it’s no fun to talk about teams that suck.
Player to Watch: Paul Bissonette. Well, don’t watch him, “follow” him, on twitter. He’s very funny.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets: Despite what people believe, this team is incapable of getting better. It seems almost year after year people think they will make that jump, finally become a force to be reckoned with in the West. Not this year, and probably not next year. (Because they may move to the East.)
Player to Watch: Jeff Carter. The former Flyer no doubt smacked many a hoe when he found out he got traded to Ohio, of all places. If he can get over the disappointment of leaving Philly (who is ever sad to leave Philly? I love when I leave Philly) he should be able to see that he’s got a big new shiny toy to play with, Rick Nash. These two are going to be all over the highlight reel this year.
13. Dallas Stars: This was not a very good team last year, and that’s when they had Brad Richards. Now, they don’t have Brad Richards. They will not be a very good team this year.
Player to Watch: Jamie Benn, I guess. The Dallas Stars are not a very good team.
14. Minnesota Wild: Cliches! Rhetoric! Predictions!
Player to Watch: Dany Heatley. Where’s that other “N”, Dany? You didn’t leave it on the side of the road with Daniel Snider did you?
15. Edmonton Oilers: To the 2012 NHL Draft!
Player to Watch: Linus Omark. This is going to be a very bad team, but at the very least I hope they get into a number of shootouts to we can watch this guy. I apologize in advance for the U2.
West Finals: Kings def Predators
East Finals: Flyers def Habs
Stanley Cup Finals: Kings def Flyers
MVP: Evgeni Malkin
Vezina: Carey Price
Norris: Tyler Myers
Calder: Gabriel Landeskog
Are you ready for some hockey??? Hank Williams, Jr. call me, we’ll work on a jingle.