Friday, November 25, 2011

Surprise Teams in the NHL at the American Thanksgiving Break

Since every NHL team has now played 19 games but no more than 22 games, it is a good point to take a look at the surprise teams at the quarter mark of the 2011-12 season. We have five that are positive surprises and five more that are surprisingly disappointing.

We'll also make a projection for each of the teams as to whether they will stay inside or outside the playoff picture at the end of the current campaign. Make the jump so see which teams we included in our lists...

Positive Surprises...

Minnesota - Who could have projected that the Wild would have risen to the top of the Western Conference with 29 points. Rookie head coach, Mike Yeo has transformed last year's offensively challenged team into a powerhouse in the league. The addition of Dany Heatley (6g, 7a) and Devin Setoguchi (6g, 5a) has really sparked the offense and the return of Josh Harding from injury has been a plus too.
Projection - The Wild will hold on to a top eight slot and make the playoffs.

Florida - The Panthers made a ton of off season moves and the biggest question heading into the season was whether all the mid-level players could come together quickly and mesh as a group to pay well enough as a team to produce wins. Kevin Dineen has done an excellent job of pushing the Panthers to the top of the Southeast Division.
Projection - The Panthers will fade as the season progresses and could hang on for a playoff slot but I'm guessing that they do not. They will become a power in the East in the next few years as their quality youngsters move from the minors to the NHL.

Dallas - The Stars roared out of the gate, going 8-3-0, but have looked much more docile in the last ten games with a 5-5 record. Sheldon Souray has been a huge surprise as a bargain basement addition from the scrap heap of the AHL. Jamie Benn has established himself as a star for the team.
Projection - Even though the ownership issue has been resolved, the Stars will be a bubble team in April and I'm thinking that they will be outside looking in on the final day of the season, once again.

Edmonton - The Oilers have been loaded with talent since they have been bad enough, long enough to accumulate plenty of high first round picks. The emergence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the improvement of other youngsters along with the stellar play of Nikolai Khabibulin has made the team competitive in the tough Western Conference.
Projection - The Oil will come back to earth and finish out of the playoff picture. The kids will continue to impress and help the organization push for a new arena.

Ottawa - The Senators are very young and were projected to be headed for one of the last two slots in the Eastern Conference but they have been surprisingly average.
Projection - The Sens will end up near the basement before it is all over but may not be as bad as advertised prior to the season.

Major Disappointments...

Washington - What can you say? The team that was only missing a top goaltender picked up Tomas Vokoun in the off season. Now, Alexander Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau can't seem to get along. The team is still in the top eight but much more was expected.
Projection - The situation will improve and the Caps will win the Southeast.

Vancouver - The Canucks currently are sitting in eleventh place in the West and have yet to put together any consistent effort. The hangover from the Stanley Cup finals appears to linger on.
Projection - The Canucks will return to their prior form and be a power in the West before the season concludes. They will get past the Wild and win their division.

Anaheim - The Ducks are one of the best offensive teams in the NHL but the defense is not up to par. Injuries have hit hard early, especially with the loss of Lubomir Visnovsky.
Projection - The Ducks are notorious for slow starts but are currently eight points out of a playoff slot. On paper, they look like they are in trouble but my gut feeling is that they will go on a run and make the playoffs.

Carolina - The Canes have been offensively challenged for several years and relied on defense and goaltending. That pipe-dream has collapsed as they have given up the most goals in the league at 76.
Projection - There are tough times ahead in Carolina and I'm not sure when they will taste the playoffs again.

Columbus - We did not pick the Jackets to be in the playoff hunt this year but they are far worse than even we suspected. Steve Mason is one of the worst NHL starting goaltenders in recent years. Why the Columbus brass has any confidence in him is beyond comprehension. All the efforts to spend to the cap with off season acquisitions was a complete waste of time and money as long as Mason remains on the team.
Projection - The Jackets will trade for another goalie at some point and improve as the season goes on, but there is little that they can do to avoid the title of "the doormat of the Central Division NHL."

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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