What NHL realignment means for the Maple Leafs

Gary BettmanIt was inevitable after the Atlanta Thrashers packed up and moved to Winnipeg, but yesterday the NHL Board of Governors approved the first drastic realignment since 1992-93, which saw the league go from four divisions to two conferences.

Commissioner Gary Bettman had allegedly been working this for a while which made this quick approval a possibility. Here’s a breakdown of the changes:

New NHL Conferences (image: NHL.com)  What’s new?

  • Teams will play in four conferences instead of two
  • Each conference will consist of seven or eight teams
  • Each team will play one home/away game with non-conference teams
  • The rest of the games will be versus inter-conference teams
  • Better travel situations for many teams (especially those in the Western Conference)

For the Leafs, the team won’t be seeing much change. The biggest is probably more trips to Florida, now that the Panthers and Lightning are in the conference. Other than that, it’s essentially the Northeast Division, which means those rivalries will be more important.

With the playoff format the top four teams from each conference will make it through. Those four teams would then face off against each other in the first and second round, so it should make for some intense hockey.

One thing I would have liked was for the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Rangers to be in our conference. The “Original Six” (+ Ottawa & Buffalo) in one group would be great, though I’m sure it wouldn’t have much play for many American markets.

What do you think of the new setup and do you have any changes you wish they’d made or kept the same?

2011 NHL playoff predictions: Final Round

NHL Playoffs 2011The NHL Playoffs are the most grueling in all of pro sports. There have been 16 teams competing for Lord Stanley’s mug, and only two have made it through the three rounds necessary to fight for it. With their win in game seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Boston Bruins will be the team heading to Vancouver to face the Canucks on Wednesday June 1. Although I picked the Lightning to win, Boston has clearly shown they have what it takes to compete, and it will be good to see an original six team in the finals against one from Canada; either way, the Stanley Cup is revisiting its roots.

This series will come down to the goalies and while Thomas is older, he’s held up pretty well and is still battling each night, including the 1-0 victory to take the series against Tampa. The Canucks have also had to rely on Roberto Luongo, he has shown these playoffs that he can handle the load and I don’t see why he can’t continue that. Hopefully a good omen, found while searching for a better Canucks photo, I came across this EA Sports NHL ’11 post on October 6, 2010 predicting Vancouver would win the President’s trophy and the Stanley Cup as well (albeit against the ill-fated Washington Capitals). Even without that EA prediction, I’ve picked the Canucks in each round and Boston in none, so I’ll have to stick with what has gotten me here and go with Vancouver to take it all in six games.

2011 NHL playoff predictions: Western and Eastern Conference Finals

NHL Playoffs 2011

The NHL Playoffs are now past the halfway point as we head into the Western and Eastern Conference Finals. The second round was a great one, though for the most part not as closely contested as the first, especially in the Eastern Conference. My predictions this time around were good with 3 out of 4 guessed correctly. Here is my 2nd round winners and losers, and below that, my 3rd round picks:

Called it: Vancouver (in 6), San Jose, Boston

Missed it: Tampa Bay

Western Conference

The Canucks managed to avoid another seven game series against the Nashville Predators and were able to put them out of their misery in six, but it was a hard-fought series against a team that never gave up and a goalie in Pekke Rinne that was tough to beat, game-in and game-out. This time around they will be going up against the San Jose Sharks who put away the Detroit Red Wings in seven, and look to be hitting their stride, finally shedding themselves of their own playoff curse. Both teams will bring it hard this series, but I think the Canucks will eke out a victory in 7.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning

I went against the Lightning in the first two rounds, and they clearly made me look like a fool, so this time around against the Boston Bruins, I’ll take the youth over the no-quit attitude. Sure it would be great to see an original 6 team in the Stanley Cup Final but when I get the chance to boo a Northeast Division rival, I can’t pass that opportunity up. Bold, but Lightning in 5.

2011 NHL playoff predictions: 2nd Round

NHL Playoffs 2011The first round of the NHL Playoffs are officially over, and what a first round it was! I have to say it was the most exciting round of playoffs in any sport that I’ve watched in recent memory. When it came to my predictions, I did pretty well, getting 6 out of 8 series correctly; I even got a few series down to the number of games played. Let’s hope I can continue the trend. Here is my 1st round winners and losers, and below that, my 2nd round picks:

Called it: Vancouver (in 7), San Jose (in 6), Detroit, Nashville (in 6), Washington, Tampa Bay

Missed it: Philadelphia, Boston

Western Conference

After the grueling first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver have to regroup quickly as they go head-to-head against the Nashville Predators. The Preds dangerous team who have just come off their first ever franchise playoff series win, are well rested and itching to get another series win under their belt. That being said, the Canucks are too strong of a team and are riding on their high from the game seven victory. It will be a tough one but I predict Canucks in 6.

I’m hesitant to pick the Sharks, who are going up against the perennial playoff powerhouse Detroit Red Wings, but I’m going to go with my heart and say the Sharks can pull out this victory. The team will have to dominate the series early and get Detroit on their heels, which is a tough task. If all goes well I say San Jose in 6.

Eastern Conference

The most exciting series in the Eastern Conference for me is the Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning. On the offensive side, it’ll be great to see Ovechkin/Semin go up against Lecavalier/Stamkos/St. Louis, so hopefully there will be no shortage of goals. I’d like to see the Caps take the next step and I think against the aging Roloson they can make him work for his wins. I say the Capitals in 7.

I spent the last seven games cheering against these Boston Bruins, but as with my Habs rooting, I’ll go for the team I hate less, yet again. Facing the not-so-impressive Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins should take the experience they gained from the first round series and carry it onward to a victory over Philly and its revolving door of goalies. Bruins in 6.

NHL playoff predictions: 2011 edition

NHL Playoffs 2011It’s that time of year again. The NHL playoffs are about to begin and I must give you my predictions. Hopefully these ones actually stick this year. The match-ups look like they are going to be great and given how close the teams in the Western Conference were I think it may be a toss up.

Let me know what you think of my picks and share your own!

Western Conference

Vancouver vs. ChicagoThe Vancouver Canucks are my pick in this match-up but I wouldn’t count out the Blackhawks in this one either. Throughout the season the two have been relatively equal, with the Canucks taking an overtime victory and therefore the extra point. In the west, this is the match-up I’m most looking forward to. Canucks in 7.

San Jose vs. Los AngelesI’m taking the San Jose Sharks over the Kings even though they tend to disappoint me in the playoffs. The Kings, while young and exciting, are not quite in the Sharks territory yet in terms of experience, so I think they will take this as a learning experience and be back next season to compete. Sharks in 6.

Detroit vs. Phoenix As much as I’d like to see the Coyotes take this one, it’s always a tough choice to go against the Detroit Red Wings. This franchise is always a strong contender for the cup and this season is no different. Wings in 5.

Anaheim vs. NashvilleEven though the Ducks have the NHL’s leading goal scorer in Corey Perry, the Nashville Predators are my dark horse choice this season. If they can get by the Ducks this round I see them at least in the Western finals. Predators in 6.

Eastern Conference

Washington vs. New YorkThis first round matchup suits the Washington Capitals just fine. I’m often disappointed by cheering for them in the playoffs but unless the Rangers pull off a shocking upset I’ll take the Capitals in 6.

Philadelphia vs. BuffaloWith the Flyers coasting in to the playoffs I think the Buffalo Sabres can pull off the upset. It won’t be an easy series, especially in Philadelphia, but I think the Sabres have played hard down the stretch and with Ryan Miller between the pipes, anything can happen. Sabres in 7.

Boston vs. MontrealThis series is the most exciting one in the NHL for me. There is so much bad blood between the two teams it’s sure to be a great one. With the exception of one thumping the Montreal Canadiens have handled the Bruins pretty well this season, so I think they’ll continue that in the first round. Canadiens in 6. (note: I am not cheering for the Habs, I just believe they will win.)

Pittsburgh vs. Tampa BayAnother exciting series is shaping up in the middle of the Eastern Conference. It’s a tough one to call but I think the Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to overtake the Crosby/Malkin-less Pens. Lightning in 6.

(Graphics thanks to NHL.com)

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