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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Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Arrieta 2 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: D. Axelrod 7
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 2 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 3
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 4
Tampa Bay - LP: K. Yates 4 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 5
Atlanta - WP: M. Minor 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 1
Cleveland - WP: C. Carrasco 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks 2
Minnesota - WP: A. Swarzak 11 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: B. Chen 5
Texas - LP: R. Mendez 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 4
Oakland - LP: R. Cook 3 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: F. Salas 4
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
NY Jets 7 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
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