Thursday, January 13, 2011
Questions for the second half of the season
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
1. Will the Hurricanes crack the top eight in the East and make the playoffs? If so, which East team falls out?
Burnside: As much as I applaud the plucky Canes, I don't see either Montreal or Atlanta, the most obvious candidates to fall out of the top eight right now, opening the door for Carolina. That said, watch out for the Canes next season.
LeBrun: Yes, they will. Buoyed by hosting such a prestigious event as the NHL All-Star Game, the Hurricanes will catch Atlanta and force it out in a true Southeast slugfest to the wire.
2. Which player will win the scoring race?
Burnside: Still have to go with Sidney Crosby. The Pens won't be rushing their captain back as he recovers from a concussion, but he has a pretty good cushion in the points department and I think he'll still hold off Steven Stamkos and the charging Sedin twins. It'll be close, but Crosby will win the scoring title and his second Hart Trophy to boot.
LeBrun: Call me crazy, but I'm on the Vancouver Canucks bandwagon like nobody's business. As such, I predict Daniel Sedin will jump up and snag it. This is only possible because of Crosby's unfortunate concussion.
3. Which player will have a strong second-half resurgence?
Burnside: Watch for new/old Dallas Stars forward Jamie Langenbrunner to take off after a miserable first half in New Jersey. The former Devils captain will see lots of power-play time in Dallas and could be a point a game guy as the Stars look to hold on to the Pacific Division crown.
LeBrun: Look for our pal Joe Thornton to get rip-roaring hot in the second half and lead his San Jose Sharks into the playoffs after a frustrating first half. He's below his normal pace right now, but we sense Jumbo Joe exploding soon.
4. Tampa Bay is the only playoff team in the East with a negative goal differential. Will they keep winning despite this pattern?
Burnside: I think they will. Their goal differential has slowly improved in recent weeks, and with Dwayne Roloson upgrading the goaltending, I expect they'll be in the black soon enough while continuing to battle Washington for the top spot in the Southeast.
LeBrun: I suspect they'll drop a bit lower in the standings, ceding the Southeast crown to Washington, but nevertheless make the postseason, which is a terrific accomplishment for a club that was nowhere close to the playoff line a year ago.
5. What will Alex Ovechkin's final stat line be at the end of the regular season?
Ovechkin has 15 goals, 30 assists, 45 points through 44 games.
Burnside: 32 goals, 64 assists, 96 points.
LeBrun: 40 goals, 58 assists, 98 points.
6. How many Southeast Division teams will make the playoffs, and which teams will they be?
Burnside: And then there were three: Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta
LeBrun: This is my Southeast postseason hat trick: Washington, Tampa Bay, Carolina
7. Which team will win the Presidents' Trophy?
Burnside: The Philadelphia Flyers will edge Vancouver for the top spot in the league based on playing more junky teams in the East.
LeBrun: Catch Canucks fever yet? The Presidents' Trophy is headed to Van city in the 40th anniversary season of its NHL debut.
8. Will the Stars hold on to the Pacific Division lead?
Burnside: Yes. The Stars will indeed be the surprise winners of the Pacific because they're getting good goaltending from both Kari Lehtonen, who may be comeback player of the year, and backup Andrew Raycroft. The addition of Langenbrunner adds another character, point-producing guy to an already deep forward contingent. Watch out for this team in April.
LeBrun: No. I like the Los Angeles Kings to rebound strong in the second half while the Stars, a terrific and surprising story, come down to Earth a little.
9. Will Jarome Iginla (Flames) and Brad Richards (Dallas) change locations before the end of the regular season?
Burnside: Nope. The Flames captain will finish out the season and perhaps his career in Calgary. While Richards may be on the move in the offseason as a free agent, the Stars' best player will finish at least this season in Dallas not as a rental player.
LeBrun: Don't think so. The Stars can't afford to move him now with a playoff spot all but assured. Flames interim GM Jay Feaster has already said he won't move Iginla. Which is the wrong decision, but I digress.
10. Which team will finish with the worst record: the Leafs, Devils or Islanders?
Burnside: The Devils. Why? Just look at them. The only justice will be if they miss out on the No. 1 pick in the lottery. This kind of mess shouldn't be rewarded with a No. 1 overall pick.
LeBrun: At the time of this writing, the Leafs were actually on a roll, 26th in the NHL and a full 16 points ahead of last-place New Jersey. Pretty hard to believe Toronto could possibly finish last at this point. I'd like to not say New Jersey because I think there's been enough piling on this season for the Devils, but the Isles and Oilers are nearly 10 points ahead at the time of this writing.