2011-12 NHL Season Preview: THW Conference Picks

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Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent

Well kids, the NHL season will finally be upon us tomorrow night. The Boston Bruins will battle the Philadelphia Flyers in their first game as defending champions, and it will kick off six months of nearly nonstop action. After a summer that was known more for tragedies off the ice than for the moves than what teams did to improve themselves in pursuit of the Bruins, it feels good to finally know that guys will hit the ice for real in less than 24 hours.

With the start of the campaign imminent, there was only one thing for the staff of The Hockey Writers to do: make our picks for the season ahead. Who does the staff of THW think will make the playoffs this season? That question was posed to 14 writers on our staff, and the results were somewhat mixed. Five of the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference were unanimously picked to make the playoffs, and in the West, only four were given that distinction.

All of the division results were also mixed, with the exception of the Vancouver Canucks winning the Northwest. The biggest swing from one set of picks to another was the fate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, with two writers picking them to finish sixth in the West and two more picking them to finish 14th.

With those factors in mind, here are the results of the THW selection committee, which consisted of:

-Mike Colligan, Pittsburgh Penguins Senior Correspondent

-Angie Lewis, Washington Capitals Senior Correspondent

-Monica McAlister, NHL Senior Correspondent

-Jim Neveau, NHL Senior Columnist

-Jared Book, Montreal Canadiens Correspondent

-Lukas Hardonk, Toronto Maple Leafs Correspondent

-Stephen Kaczmar, Edmonton Oilers Correspondent

-Patrick Kearns, Prospects Guru

-Ryan Pike, Calgary Flames Correspondent

-Shawn Reznik, Prospects Guru

-Brandon Schlager, Buffalo Sabres Correspondent

-Daniel Schopf, Winnipeg Jets Correspondent

-Alex Stallings, Columbus Blue Jackets Correspondent

-Chris Wassel, Fantasy Guru

Eastern Conference: 

1. Washington Capitals (1.71 average selection) 

Only two writers didn’t give the Caps the nod in the Southeast Division. Nine writers gave them the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The lowest anyone had them slotted was fifth.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (3.36) 

Despite the uncertainty facing Sidney Crosby’s return to the lineup, the THW staffers felt that they would make the playoffs, with the sixth seed being the lowest that anyone predicted them to finish.

3. Boston Bruins (3.92) 

One of the tighter races was the battle between the Bruins and Sabres, with the defending champions coming out on top. The highest anyone had them finishing was second, and the lowest spot on the totem poll was seventh.

4. Buffalo Sabres (4.21) 

The Sabres barely lost out to the Bruins for the preseason Northeast Division crown, with each team receiving seven votes to win their division.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (4.43) 

The Bolts made a nice run last season in making the playoffs and making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the THW staff feels they will have similar success this year.

6. Philadelphia Flyers (4.5) 

After a season filled with big-time moves, the Flyers finished further down the list than most experts have them. One writer even slotted them outside of the playoffs.

7. New York Rangers (7.29) 

Despite waiving Sean Avery, the Rangers had nearly unanimous support for their playoff candidacy, with 11 of the 14 writers giving them the nod.

8. Montreal Canadiens (7.93) 

The Habs were a borderline team for most of the writers polled, with most of the votes falling within the 7-9 seed range.

9. Carolina Hurricanes (9.57) 

With a decent offseason in the rear view mirror, and with Cam Ward in their net, the Hurricanes will look to make the playoffs after a two-year absence. The THW staff doesn’t think that they’ll make it, however.

9. New Jersey Devils (9.57) 

In the only tie of our poll, the Devils were picked by the writers to finish just outside of the playoffs. This would be a huge advancement over their disappointing year last season, but the writers are banking on a bounceback.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs (10.86) 

Another team on the rise in the East is the Leafs, and even though they made some savvy offseason moves and have James Reimer in net, the THW staff doesn’t think that will be quite enough.

12. New York Islanders (12.14) 

With young stars like John Tavares and Michael Grabner, the Islanders are looking to make a big move this year, but the THW staff isn’t buying Garth Snow’s reclamation project just yet.

13. Winnipeg Jets (12.79)

A new city and a new logo aren’t enough to push this organization over the top and into the playoffs in the eyes of most of the writers. In fact, only one writer picked them to make the postseason.

14. Florida Panthers (13.21) 

Dale Tallon’s huge offseason of signings wasn’t enough to convince the THW staff that the Panthers are ready for primetime. All writers picked them to finish between 11th and 14th in the East.

15. Ottawa Senators (14.5) 

Bringing up the rear, Ottawa doesn’t inspire much confidence at all among the THW staff. They got one #11 and #13 vote, but they received a whopping 11 selections as the 15th seed.

Western Conference 

1. Vancouver Canucks (1.62) 

The only team to receive unanimous support as a division winner, the Canucks inspire significant confidence among the THW staff, with only one writer picking them to finish outside of the Top 2.

2. San Jose Sharks (3.15) 

The Sharks made some significant changes in the offseason, and the THW staff largely endorsed the moves. They received four first-place votes, trailing only Vancouver in that category in the West.

3. Detroit Red Wings (3.85) 

In an insanely tight race for the top spot in the Central, the Red Wings barely prevailed. Their veteran presence and years of playoff experience certainly played a role amongst the staff.

4. Chicago Blackhawks (3.92) 

The Hawks got plenty of love in the Central, but in the end it was the slew of #5 and #6 seeds given them by staff members that doomed them to the fourth spot.

5. Los Angeles Kings (4.31) 

The darling of many in the prognostication business, the Kings got plenty of love from THW staff, but in the end most liked the Sharks better to take the Pacific.

6. Anaheim Ducks (5.69) 

The Ducks are getting a lot of praise for their potential this season, and with young stalwarts like Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry, the THW staff agreed, with only one writer picking them to finish out of the playoffs.

7. Nashville Predators (6.31) 

One writer picked the Predators to stun the Blackhawks and Red Wings and win the Central, but the majority picked them to finish in the bottom quarter of the playoff qualifiers in the West.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets (9.54) 

In a tight battle between Central foes for the final playoff spot, the Jackets surprisingly prevailed in the staff polling. The acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski likely played a role in their selection.

9. St. Louis Blues (9.62)

Despite the Blues’ maturation under Davis Payne, six THW staffers picked the Blues to finish 11th or worse in the West, thereby dooming their chances of being in the top eight in the poll.

10. Calgary Flames (11.15) 

The Flames are often the subject of intense mockery because of their questionable personnel decisions (Olli Jokinen, anyone?), but the team did receive several #9 votes, as well as one #8 vote, so the THW staff wouldn’t be stunned by a playoff berth by and large.

11. Dallas Stars (11.31) 

With the departure of Brad Richards, the Stars took a hit among most of the voters, but one voter did slot them into the #8 seed.

12. Minnesota Wild (11.38)

The Wild may be headed in a more offensive direction as a team strategy (the acquisitions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi back that up), but the THW staff isn’t buying it. The Wild received a bunch of #13 votes and one last place votes in our poll.

13. Phoenix Coyotes (11.69) 

The Coyotes lost some believers with the offseason departure of Ilya Bryzgalov, and their standing in the poll shows that. Five voters had them at 14th or worse, and only one picked them to make the playoffs.

14. Colorado Avalanche (12.54) 

The Avalanche may have acquired a new franchise goaltender in Semyon Varlamov, but that didn’t sell the team’s playoff chances well with the THW staff. Only one writer picked them to even finish in the top 10 in the West.

15. Edmonton Oilers (13.87) 

The Oilers have had the first pick in the draft for two years in a row, but the THW staff seems to think they may be battling the Senators for that spot again this year. No one picked them to finish above #12.


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