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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Who's going to win it all (midseason predictions)

Many so called experts like to make their Stanly Cup predictions before the season starts, before they’ve even seen one game by any teams.  How do they do this?  They do it based on reputation.  The reputation of the team, the player s and the management staff in place.  Why do they do this?  Because people will read it and it helps spur conversation and attention to the game.  I like it, but have always felt it best to wait until we get a bit into the season before making these kinds of predictions.  How do I do this?  I do it based on how teams and players are playing and how they have incorporated new parts or made up for parts that are missing.  Why do I wait?  Because you never know.  You don’t know that Minnesota will be this good, or that Columbus would be this bad or teams like the Sabres would have so many injuries.  That’s why it’s best to wait … be patient and then make your predictions.

With all that being said, I think it’s pretty obvious that there are only a handful of teams that are capable of winning the Stanley Cup.  That’s not to say a dark horse won’t appear, but at this point in the cream has risen and we can see which teams have what it takes to bring Lord Stanly home.

Those teams are the: Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.   Why you ask?  What about the Pens, NY Rangers, or Canucks or … well take your pick on any team, but whatever you may think one of the above teams will win it all.
Let’s look at them real fast to see why this is so obvious.

Boston Bruins – They are playing with the confidence of a defending champion and after a slow start have shown what a championship team at the beginning of a long dominant run looks like.  The Bruins are the toughest team to play against in the league due to their scoring depth, their size and above all else – their goaltending.  And when I say goaltending, I don’t mean Tim Thomas alone,  I mean Tim Thomas, Tukka Rask and the defensemen in front of them who are absolutely committed to stopping the puck from going into the net.  They are a league best +56 on goal differential have given up the fewest goals and have the highest goals per game.  Add to that their bruising style and this team really looks better than the one that took it all last season.  

Chicago Blackhawks – A year removed from the fire sale after their championship they have reloaded and appear to have found what every champion needs: goaltending.  Always a head case, Ray Emery is showing again that he has what it takes to lead a team to the finals.  It takes more than one goaltender though and Corey Crawford, who entered the season as the clear number 1, is more than capable to augment this duo of net minders.  None of that speaks to what currently drives the Hawks – offense and a “good enough” defense.   This team can compete with anyone and for my money they have the best captain in professional sports, the only 23-year old Jonathan Toews.   He puts leads with words, deeds and has the ability to get this team moving in the same direction. 

Detroit Red Wings – Well, that should be enough explanation, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t at least offer some kind of insight into their selection.  In summary, they are probably the only team that can compete with the Bruins over a seven game series.  Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk is what a “core” of players should look like, but as we’ve seen the past few years even this stalwarts can’t win by themselves.  For the first time in a few years they have the depth of role players playing well to again be a cup contender.  Also, if you’ve noticed a theme from the two teams mentioned above, I hold goaltending in a very high regard for a team to win it all.  The Wings have the keepers to get it done.  Jimmy Howard, is coming into his own and is backed up by the more than capable Ty Conklin, who has faced playoff pressure many times in his career.

So, now that I’ve narrowed it down to three, which team do I think will win it all?  Unfortunately, I can’t really see any team being able to compete with and beat the Bruins over a 7 game series after playing three other series just to be able to play them.  I say unfortunately, because I truly hate Boston.  Not just the Bruins, but Boston in general.  But, even my hatred for all things Beantown can’t hide the fact that this team has it all.  Looking over their roster, coaching and “intangibles” it’s not hard to figure that going back-to-back, and possibly more, is very much in the cards.  Although, they didn’t add much during the offseason, they are not the same team.  I say that because Tyler Seguin was with the team all year last season, but this season, he’s making his presence known and gives the Bruins more depth of scoring than they already had.

Are there other teams that could win it?  Sure, I’m always willing to “take the field” versus anyone but from a pure hockey sense, right now these three teams are the most likely and with the Bruins looking the most unstoppable.  Anything can happen though, that’s why the games are actually played and that’s why we all watch, because Carolina can come from nowhere to win it all.  

~ written by donmanski

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