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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Los Angeles - C. Frias 2:10 PM
Colorado - J. De La Rosa
San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 2:40 PM
Arizona - A. Chafin
Boston - C. Buchholz 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - F. Liriano
Toronto - J. Happ 6:05 PM
Baltimore - B. Norris
Washington - B. Treinen 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Wood
Miami - H. Alvarez 6:10 PM
NY Mets - D. Gee
NY Yankees - B. McCarthy 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - A. Cobb
Cincinnati - D. Corcino 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - K. Hendricks
Chicago WSox - C. Sale 7:10 PM
Kansas City - Y. Ventura
Cleveland - C. Carrasco 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Oberholtzer
Detroit - D. Price 7:10 PM
Minnesota - K. Gibson
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 7:15 PM
St. Louis - A. Wainwright
Seattle - J. Paxton 9:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Wilson
Texas - D. Holland 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
Philadelphia - C. Hamels 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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