Nash, Datsyuk, Gaborik to have Career Years in 2011-2012?

With the start of the NHL regular season approaching rapidly, much speculation has been doled out regarding what’s to come in the year ahead. While predicting the future is impossible, that’s exactly what I’ve set out to do in answering many of those questions. Here are 30 predictions that I expect to see fulfilled by season’s end:

Rick Nash Evgeni Malkin Penguins Blue Jackets
Will Rick Nash top 40 goals again? (Icon SMI)

1. With Jeff Carter as his center, Rick Nash sets a career high in assists with 45+ and reaches the 40 goal mark for the 3rd time in his career.

2. Fresh off of surgery, Tuukka Rask returns to form and reclaims the starting spot in Boston as Tim Thomas falls from his record numbers of the previous year.

3. While Brad Richards’ goal scoring numbers stay consistent with the rest of his career, his assist production makes a marked increase as linemate Marian Gaborik avoids injury and tops 40 goals for the 3rd time in his career.

4. With the acquisition of veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun and continued development of youngster Michael Neuvirth, the Capitals ride their goalie tandem to the Eastern Conference Finals.

5. After being traded to Minnesota, Dany Heatley fails to put up more than 60 points and stays below 25 goals.

6. Directly related to #5, Martin Havlat, recently traded from Minnesota, has the best season of his career playing in his new San Jose home.

7. Pavel Datsyuk continues where he left off and puts forth a season that wins him the NHL MVP.

8. After an impressive goal scoring season, Steven Stamkos hits a slump, despite linemate Martin St. Louis putting up similar numbers to the year before.

9. Sidney Crosby returns shortly after season’s start but puts up timid numbers in comparison to years past.

10. Stuck centering the 2nd line, Mike Richards has a similar year to the previous one, putting up around 20 goals and 40 assists.

11. Anaheim Ducks’ Corey Perry & Lubomir Visnovsky put forward less impressive seasons and the Ducks fail to make the playoffs.

12. Ilya Bryzgalov struggles through the 1st quarter of the season but his competitive nature takes control as Sergei Bobrovsky challenges for starting position. He then backstops the Flyers deep into the playoffs.

13. Dallas has an unimpressive season and finishes in the bottom 3 of the Western Conference.

14. Steve Mason recovers from 2 unimpressive seasons, returning to his Calder Trophy form and the Blue Jackets make it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

15. James Neal has the best season of his short career after playing a full season in Pittsburgh.

16. Phoenix has a woeful season and promising defensemen Keith Yandle folds under pressure. The Coyotes finish last in the West.

17. Edmonton doesn’t finish last in the league. That place belongs to the Ottawa Senators.

18. Ilya Kovalchuk has a more well rounded year under less pressure with the return of Zach Parise, but those factors are not enough to overcome problematic goaltending and the Devils miss the playoffs again.

Corey Crawford Chicago Blackhawks Goalie
Can Corey Crawford avoid the sophomore slump? (BridgetDS/Flickr)

19. Corey Crawford gets a serious case of the sophomore slump disease, Patrick Kane struggles with wrist problems, and Chicago holds it’s breath as the team struggles to make the playoffs once again.

20. Colorado & St. Louis both have better seasons and fight for the playoffs, one making it and the other not.

21. The Kings make it to the Western Conference finals, Jonathan Quick is a Vezina Trophy finalist.

22. Nicklas Lidstrom puts forth decent numbers in what will be his final season in the NHL.

23. Pittsburgh and Buffalo swap playoff seed spots, the Sabres finishing 4th, the Penguins finishing 7th.

24. Montreal misses the playoffs as Carey Price plays inconsistently.

25. Winnipeg makes the playoffs in the 8th seed in their first year of existence.

26. Tampa Bay finishes first overall in the league but doesn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

27. Boston shares a similar fate as the Lightning and doesn’t come close to repeating as champions after an impressive season.

28. Shea Weber leaves the Predators at the end of the season. Shortly after he signs with the Red Wings.

29. Carolina and Toronto have nearly identical seasons to the previous year and finish in the same spot, just outside of the playoffs.

30. Jeff Skinner and Michael Grabner have average seasons while fellow Calder finalist Logan Couture puts up slightly better numbers than the year before.

Am I spot on or way off base? We’ll have to wait until the end of the season to find out the definitive answer to that, but in the meantime you can share your opinions in the comments below.

Article originally posted here.