NHL 2011-12 preview: Predicting the conferences

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 8:03 PM

Michael Russo takes a look at how the NHL's Western and Eastern Conferences will shake out this season.

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San Jose defenseman Brent Burns, center, crashed the net against Phoenix in the preseason. Burns, traded to the Sharks on draft night, will try to get San Jose over the hump in the Western Conference playoffs.

Photo: Ross D. Franklin, AP

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WESTERN CONFERENCE RANKINGS

(predicted order of finish)

1. SAN JOSE SHARKS

2010-11: 48-25-9 (105 points)

After going to the conference finals the past two seasons, the Sharks will bank on Brent Burns and Martin Havlat to get them over the hump.

2. VANCOUVER CANUCKS

2010-11: 54-19-9 (117 points)

Coughing up a Cup will make this team even more motivated, but it must survive the first month without Ryan Kesler.

3. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

2010-11: 44-29-9 (97 points)

Awesome core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith is complemented by veteran additions Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers.

4. LOS ANGELES KINGS

2010-11: 46-30-6 (98 points)

Anze Kopitar-Mike Richards punch can match up with any centers in the league, and suddenly-svelte Dustin Penner is motivated.

5. DETROIT RED WINGS

2010-11: 47-25-10 (104 points)

Plenty of holes and aging, but when you boast Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom, you'll be just fine.

6. NASHVILLE PREDATORS

2010-11: 44-27-11 (99 points)

Star goalie in Pekka Rinne, star defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and a superstar coach in Barry Trotz.

7. ST. LOUIS BLUES

2010-11: 38-33-11 (87 points)

Been fooled by underachieving bunch for two years, so why not three? Look for Chris Stewart to have a monster year with David Backes.

8. ANAHEIM DUCKS

2010-11: 47-30-5 (99 points)

This is a one-line team, but that one line is Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry. And goalie Jonas Hiller appears recovered from vertigo.

9. DALLAS STARS

2010-11: 42-29-11 (95 points)

Offensive threats with Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Brenden Morrow; blue line, goaltending questionable.

10. MINNESOTA WILD

2010-11: 39-35-8

(86 points)

Healthy Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard will be huge if Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi light lamp, but blue line could cause distress.

11. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

2010-11: 34-35-13 (81 points)

Rick Nash finally has a center next to him in Jeff Carter, and Fedor Tyutin is a star on the back end, but it all comes down to goalie Steve Mason.

12. PHOENIX COYOTES

2010-11: 43-26-13 (99 points)

Don't bet against coach Dave Tippett, but the goaltending switch of Ilya Bryzgalov for Mike Smith makes us skittish.

13. COLORADO AVALANCHE

2010-11: 30-44-8 (68 points)

This young, talented team is on the rise, but it is not mature enough yet to gain 30 points and make the playoffs.

14. CALGARY FLAMES

2010-11: 41-29-12 (94 points)

GM Jay Feaster inherited an aging lineup with a shallow prospects corps. Even Jarome Iginla can't keep this team from falling off map.

15. EDMONTON OILERS

2010-11: 25-45-12 (62 points)

Scintillating crop of forwards with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi; worst blue line on face of the Earth.

EASTERN CONFERENCE RANKINGS

(predicted order of finish)

1. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

2010-11: 49-25-8 (106 points)

Undefeated preseason without Sid the Kid. But Crosby should be back soon, and Evgeni Malkin clearly is back from major knee surgery.

2. WASHINGTON CAPITALS

2010-11: 48-23-11 (107 points)

Alex Ovechkin is beyond motivated. Agent's misstep in overpricing free-agent goalie Tomas Vokoun enabled him to fall into the Caps' laps.

3. BOSTON BRUINS

2010-11: 46-25-11 (103 points)

As deep a team as there is in the NHL. Can Tim Thomas even come close to duplicating an all-world season that lifted the B's to a Cup?

4. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

2010-11: 46-25-11 (103 points)

Steven Stamkos is a top-three NHL player, and the rest have taken to Guy Boucher's system. Will GM Steve Yzerman replace soon-to-be 42-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson?

5. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

2010-11: 47-23-12 (106 points)

Booted Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to change culture; handed reins to Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.

6. NEW YORK RANGERS

2010-11: 44-33-5 (93 points)

Marian Gaborik finally has a center in Brad Richards. Now, can Gabby rebound from an atrocious 2010-11 season?

7. CAROLINA HURRICANES

2010-11: 40-31-11 (91 points)

Eric Staal and Cam Ward still might be the faces of the franchise, but make no mistake, this team belongs to Jeff Skinner and Brandon Sutter.

8. BUFFALO SABRES

2010-11: 43-29-10 (96 points)

New owner Terry Pegula threw the money around, giving Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino big bucks to complement a solid core.

9. WINNIPEG JETS

2010: 34-36-12 (80 points)

Tremendous first half last season was followed by a second-half swoon and an eventual move out of Atlanta. Stacked with rising kids.

10. MONTREAL CANADIENS

2010-11: 44-30-8 (96 points)

Had lots of trouble scoring last season (except against the Wild), but big addition Erik Cole hasn't succeeded anywhere but Carolina.

11. NEW YORK ISLANDERS

2010-11: 30-39-13 (73 points)

They're big time on the rise with John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson. Slight problem: Goaltending is still kind of important in the NHL.

12. NEW JERSEY DEVILS

2010-11: 38-39-5 (81 points)

Travis Zajac injury will hurt, but Zach Parise and gang exploded in the second half. Of course, that could have been the Jacques Lemaire factor.

13. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

2010-11: 37-34-11 (85 points)

After failing to land Brad Richards, the No. 1 center brought in to play alongside Phil Kessel was, gulp, Tim Connolly. Good luck with that.

14. FLORIDA PANTHERS

2010-11: 30-40-12 (72 points)

Executed an offseason overhaul like no other, but it wouldn't be a season without Florida missing the playoffs.

15. OTTAWA SENATORS

2010-11: 32-40-10 (74 points)

From Stanley Cup finalists to favorites for first overall pick in five long years, this team is rebuilding big-time.

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Atlanta 2 Bottom 5th Inning
Detroit 1
Philadelphia 1 Bottom 5th Inning
Houston 2
St. Louis 4 Bottom 7th Inning
Miami 0
Baltimore 0 Top 6th Inning
Tampa Bay 0
NY Yankees 1 Bottom 5th Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Chicago Cubs 2:05 PM
San Francisco
Los Angeles 2:05 PM
Chicago WSox
San Diego 2:05 PM
Seattle
Cleveland 2:05 PM
Cincinnati
Milwaukee 2:05 PM
LA Angels
Oakland 2:05 PM
Chicago Cubs
Texas 2:05 PM
Kansas City
Colorado 2:10 PM
Arizona
NY Mets 4:05 PM
Washington
Boston 6:05 PM
Minnesota
Toronto 6:05 PM
Baltimore
Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Chicago
Dallas 9:30 PM
Portland
Calgary 6:00 PM
Boston
St. Louis 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Dallas 6:30 PM
Florida
NY Islanders 7:00 PM
Nashville
Vancouver 8:00 PM
Arizona
Montreal 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Morgan State 3:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Niagara 4:00 PM
Siena
Holy Cross 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Western Ky 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Navy 6:00 PM
Colgate
Temple 6:00 PM
East Carolina
UAB 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Lafayette
American Univ 6:00 PM
Lehigh
Wisconsin 6:00 PM
Minnesota
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Saint Peters
Arkansas 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Morehead State 6:00 PM
UT Martin
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
North Florida
Southern Ill 6:05 PM
Missouri State
Texas State 6:30 PM
Appalachian St
SC State 6:30 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Delaware State 6:30 PM
Coppin State
Middle Tennessee 6:30 PM
FIU
Texas-Arlington 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Norfolk State 6:30 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 7:00 PM
Florida A&M
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Georgia State 7:00 PM
ULM
Marshall 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Rice 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ark-Little Rock 7:15 PM
Louisiana
South Alabama 7:30 PM
Arkansas State
Alabama State 7:30 PM
Grambling St
Alabama A&M 7:30 PM
Jackson State
Sam Houston St 7:30 PM
Lamar
Central Arkansas 7:30 PM
Nicholls
Portland State 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Southern U 7:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 7:30 PM
Texas Southern
Houston Baptist 7:30 PM
TX A&M-CC
SE Louisiana 7:45 PM
New Orleans
California 8:00 PM
Arizona
Eastern Ill 8:00 PM
Belmont
Memphis 8:00 PM
Connecticut
VA Commonwealth 8:00 PM
Davidson
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Marist 8:00 PM
Quinnipiac
Sacramento St 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Northwestern St 8:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
North Texas 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 8:00 PM
Washington
Idaho 8:00 PM
Weber State
Abilene Christian 8:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Eastern Wash 8:05 PM
Idaho State
Bradley 8:35 PM
Drake
Cal State Fullerton 9:00 PM
UC Irvine
CS-Northridge 9:00 PM
Long Beach State
UC Riverside 9:00 PM
UC Davis
Stanford 10:00 PM
Arizona State
Utah 10:00 PM
Washington St
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 55 2nd Half 7:05
Ole Miss 43
Manhattan 24 2nd Half
Niagara 28
Massachusetts 21 1st Half 2:44
Richmond 17
Virginia 28 1st Half 4:09
Miami-Florida 29
Jacksonville St 16 2nd Half
Belmont 23
Morgan State 33 2nd Half
MD-Eastern Shore 31
Campbell 0 1st Half 17:37
Winthrop 3
Furman 21 1st Half 6:49
Samford 18
Oregon 0 1st Half 20:00
Washington St 0
Indiana 1:55 PM
(23) Rutgers
Pepperdine 2:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Auburn 2:25 PM
(18) Texas A&M
Morehead St 3:00 PM
Tennessee St
George Mason 3:30 PM
Saint Josephs
Western Carolina 3:30 PM
East Tenn St
Arizona 4:00 PM
UCLA
Texas State 4:00 PM
Appalachian St
TX-Arlington 4:00 PM
Georgia Southern
SC State 4:30 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Delaware State 4:30 PM
Coppin State
Portland 4:30 PM
Santa Clara
Norfolk State 4:30 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 4:30 PM
NC Central
Savannah State 5:00 PM
Florida A&M
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Central Arkansas 5:00 PM
Nicholls
Houston Baptist 5:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Radford
Georgia 5:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 5:00 PM
Marshall
Ark-Little Rock 5:00 PM
Louisiana
South Alabama 5:05 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 5:15 PM
ULM
Sam Houston St 5:30 PM
Lamar
SE Louisiana 5:30 PM
New Orleans
Northwestern St 5:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Alabama A&M 5:30 PM
Jackson State
Alabama State 5:30 PM
Grambling
Southern U 5:30 PM
Prairie View
Alcorn State 5:30 PM
Texas Southern
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 5:45 PM
Mercer
Abilene Christian 6:00 PM
Incarnate Word
La Salle 6:00 PM
Rhode Island
Illinois 6:00 PM
Nebraska
TX-San Antonio 6:00 PM
Rice
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
Oakland
Missouri State 6:05 PM
Indiana State
Georgia Tech 7:00 PM
(15) North Carolina
Presbyterian 7:00 PM
High Point
Charlotte 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
UAB
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
North Texas
Wichita State 7:00 PM
Evansville
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Northern Iowa
Bradley 7:05 PM
Drake
Vanderbilt 7:30 PM
(12) Kentucky
Colorado 8:00 PM
USC
San Francisco 8:00 PM
Pacific
FIU 8:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Eastern Washington
Weber State 8:00 PM
Idaho
Purdue 8:25 PM
Minnesota
Cal-Irvine 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Long Beach St 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Hawaii 9:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
UC Davis 9:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Northern Ariz 9:00 PM
Portland State
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Utah 10:30 PM
Washington
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA
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