With the puck set to drop in less than 24 hours, it's time for some late predictions.
First for some Blackhawks individual predictions:
Team leader in points: Patrick Kane (104). Kane has improved each year offensively and should find yet another level to his game this season. Very scary for the Western Conference if this is the case.
Team leader in goals: Jonathan Toews (40). Another solid year for the captain. Let's hope for a faster start in October than usual.
Plus/Minus: I was going to go with a surprise and pick Nik Hjalmarsson here, but being paired with a 19-year old rookie (Leddy) for the first month of the year likely doesn't bode well for his statistics. I'll go with the safe pick and say Duncan Keith with a +25.
Top newcomer: Jeremy Morin. Yes, I know he isn't on the opening night roster. I think he will find his way into a Blackhawks sweater at some point this season and stick. The kid showed too much promise throughout the preseason to be a fluke. He is noticeable on both ends of the ice and is the type of player Joel Quenneville loves. If Nick Leddy is sent back down when Campbell returns, look for a possible Morin call-up under the salary cap.
Biggest disappointment: Viktor Stalberg. He will show flashes, but I just don't see him being the 82-game player the Hawks would like him to be. If the Hawks call up Morin or Igor Makarov throughout the season, look for Stalberg to be the odd man out. This is one I would love to be wrong about.
Biggest surprise: Corey Crawford. Remember last preseason when Crawford played even with Antti Niemi and could have easily won the backup job? Why can't he be this year's Niemi? Crawford has been in the Hawks' minor league system for what seems like forever, and I expect him to seize this opportunity in the backup role. I'm not saying Turco won't be good himself, but don't be shocked if there is a fan created goaltending controversy at some point. Partially because Crawford earns recognition and partially because fans always think the backup is better.
Now for some simple NHL predictions (Hint: I'm not buying into the Canucks hype):
Western Conference Playoff Teams
1. Chicago Blackhawks: Sorry, but until proven otherwise, nobody is better.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Very good hockey team, but are they a Cup contender? Not with Mr. Headcase between the pipes.
3. Los Angeles Kings: This team has been on the brink for a long time. They become real contenders this year.
4.) Detroit Red Wings: Finishing only a point or two behind the Hawks in the Central. If this team stays healthy, look out.
5.) San Jose Sharks: Always a good team, but I expect some goaltending issues while Antti Niemi adjusts to the new environment. Finishing below the #1 seed might even serve them well come playoff time.
6.) Phoenix Coyotes: I like this Coyotes team a lot, and they should build on the momentum they had at the end of last year.
7.) Nashville Predators: Why will Nashville finish 7th? I don't know....because they always do?
8.) St.Louis Blues: Solid young team that could be dangerous when healthy. Imagine that 1 vs 8 playoff matchup.
Eastern Conference Playoff Teams
1.) Washington Capitals: Always scary good in the regular season. Can they take the next step starting in mid-April?
2. New Jersey Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk on this team for a full season is a scary thought.
3. Boston Bruins: Battled through injuries last year and still made noise in the postseason.
4.) Pittsburgh Penguins: Doesn't matter what seed this team has, they are a tough out in a 7-game series. Unless Jaroslav Halak is between the pipes.
5.) Philadelphia Flyers: Defending Eastern Conference champions with another solid year, but I don't see them finishing higher than 5th.
6.) Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller with another Vezina-worthy season.
7.) Tampa Bay Lightning: Call me crazy, but this team is loaded with young talent and will contend for a Stanley Cup before 2013. The thought of Gagne, Lecavlier, Stamkos, and St. Louis on one power play unit is making Bruce Boudreau go bald as we speak. Oh wait....
8.) Ottawa Senators: A team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
Western Conference Finals: Chicago over Los Angeles in 7
Eastern Conference Finals: Washington over Pittsburgh in 6.
Stanley Cup Finals: Chicago over Washington in 6.
Now can the puck drop already?!