NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals Predictions

1-8 Matchup:

vs. 

I love this matchup. The Canucks won their second straight President’s Trophy this year as being the team to earn the most points in the regular season. They are currently without Daniel Sedin (concussion), but their offense is still lethal. Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows are just a few of their top scorers who will be more than ready to take on the Kings. Possibly the most intriguing story-line heading into this series is the Canucks’ goalie situation. Roberto Luongo has been the number 1 goalie in Vancouver all year long, but has not played like the number 1 goalie that they signed to a 12-year, $64 million contract a couple of years ago. In fact, he was recently booed on the Canucks’ home ice. His replacement, Corey Schneider, has had a much better year than Luongo, with a 1.96 goals-against-average. I’ve heard rumors that the Canucks’ players have confidence in both goalies, but have a little bit more confidence in Schneider.  Again, that is something I have heard through NHL analysts, and it’s just a rumor. The Kings have been tough to figure out all year long. Much like the Washington Capitals, the Kings have way more talent and skill than their record shows. When you have top forwards such as Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter, and one of the best goalies in hockey in Jonathan Quick, one would think that you should finish a bit higher in the standings than 8th. For whatever reason, however, the Kings just haven’t been able to put it all together consistently this year. I think this series is going to come down to the goaltending. Can Luongo find his game again? Can Quick continue to play at a Vezina Trophy-worthy level? We’ll just have to wait and see.

-Vancouver win series, 4-2.

2-7 Matchup:

vs. 

I think this is going to be another great matchup. Expect to see a lot of physical play throughout the entire series, as these are two of the more physical teams in the Western Conference. The Blues fell behind the Canucks in the standings only recently, after having led the Western Conference in points for an extended period of time. The main reason why they are the number 2 seed in the West is because of their defense and goaltending. They finished the regular season number 1 in fewest goals-against per game. They have gotten spectacular play from both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in goal all season long. Now the question is, who are they going to turn to in net to start the playoffs? If I were the one having to make this decision, I would probably go with Jaroslav Halak because of his past experience in the playoffs with the Canadiens. However, I honestly believe this one is up for grabs. Ken Hitchcock could go either way. The biggest problem that I see with the Blues is their potential lack of offense. Their highest point-getters, David Backes and T.J. Oshie, only finished the season with 54 points each. That’s rather low compared to most NHL teams. My worry is that they don’t have enough fire power on the offensive end to get the job done in the playoffs. The Sharks have been possibly the most disappointing team this season. They are easily one of the most talented teams in hockey, yet they barely made the playoffs. They finished the season 8th in the league in goals-against-average, which isn’t bad. From what I have seen of the Sharks, it almost seems that until recently, they had been coming out “flat” on a nightly basis and weren’t able to get a good team-game going. It’s almost as though they didn’t have enough motivation to go out and compete every night. It would appear, however, that they have recently found that motivation and are therefore playing much better. To be completely honest with you, the Sharks have a good chance at upsetting the Blues in this series. But, my gut says…

-St. Louis wins series, 4-3.

3-6 Matchup:

vs. 

The Coyotes are still looking for their first playoff series victory since moving to Phoenix, believe it or not. They made an incredible run at the end of this season to capture their first ever division title, thanks to the play of Mike Smith in net. Heading into the playoffs, he has stopped 190 of his last 192 shots-against. That’s an incredible statistic. Without the play of Mike Smith for much of this season, odds are that the Coyotes are not a playoff team. Their leading scorer for the regular season was 39-year old Ray Whitney, finishing with 77 points. Arguably the best player on the Coyotes is defenseman Keith Yandle. He finished the season with 43 points, but he is also one of the best players at his position in the entire NHL. He is going to have to play up to his fullest potential this series to try and slow down the Chicago offense. Speaking of Chicago, they have been an interesting team to follow this season. Before their 9-game losing streak that started in late January, the Hawks led the NHL in points and were seemingly a top candidate to compete for the Cup. However, that losing streak dropped them in the standings, and they weren’t ever able to climb their way back up to the top. Shortly after ending their losing streak, Jonathan Toews went down with a concussion and missed the last 22 games of the season. Despite his loss, the Hawks have played very well without Toews and came close to getting both the 4th or 5th seed in the West. It is very likely that Toews will be back to start this series against Phoenix, and if that is the case, the Hawks just get that much better. The key for Chicago is going to be the play of their goalie, Corey Crawford. He has had an up and down season, to say the least, but seems to have found his game over the last month of the season.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

4-5 Matchup:

vs. 

Along with the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series in the East, this has all the makings to be possibly the best series of the first round. Both of these teams are at the top of the league when it comes to defense, both ranking in the top 10 in goals-against-average. Nashville went all-out at the trade deadline and got defenseman Hal Gill, and forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn to help improve their depth on both offense and defense. Then, Alex Radulov decided to rejoin the team after leaving them following the ’07-’08 season to play in the KHL. For those who don’t know a whole about Radulov, he can be a top-notch point producer and goal scorer and has already greatly helped out Nashville’s offense. The Predators have the best single pairing of defenseman on any one team in hockey with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. They also have a top-5 goalie in Pekka Rinne back-stopping their defense. While they don’t exactly have the prolific scorers that most of the top offensive teams do, the Preds finished the season ranked 8th in goals-per-game, and 1st on the powerplay. They also finished as the 10th best team in killing off penalties. Any time you can have both of your special teams ranked in the top 10 in the NHL, you should be confident about your team moving forward. The Red Wings were one of my favorites to win the Stanley Cup when this season began, and for a good portion of the season it looked like they might very well be a leading candidate. However, over the past month or so, they have fallen into a bit of a rut. After setting the all-time NHL record for consecutive wins on home ice, one would think that they might be the President’s Trophy-winning team. That is obviously not the case. When it comes to playing on the road, the Wings are just 17-21-3. In order for them to win this series, they are going to need to play better than that on the road. Jimmy Howard, who has been injured a couple of times this year, needs to have a great series in net for Detroit. Even though the Wings finished second in the West in goals scored, they are going to really have to step it up defensively in this series. They can’t rely on scoring 3 goals per game against Pekka Rinne.

-Nashville wins series, 4-3.

NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Predictions

Here are my predictions on how the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals will play out.

1-8 Matchup:

vs. 

The Rangers have been number 1 in the Eastern Conference since about late December, or early January I believe, and for good reason. They are an extremely well-balanced team with an above average offense and one of the best defenses in hockey. They rank third in the NHL in goals-against-average thanks to the play of their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. He should without a doubt be a top 2 candidate to win the Vezina Trophy this year. As for the Senators, they have had a very nice “comeback season” after finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference last season. They have some good offensive weapons in Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, and one of the league’s best defenseman in Erik Karlsson. With that said, however, the Rangers are too deep and skilled of a team for the Sens to beat in a 7-game series.

-New York wins series, 4-1.

2-7 Matchup:

vs. 

The defending Stanley Cup champions are never an easy team to knock out of the playoffs. The Bruins showed no signs of a “Cup hangover” early on this season, but as the year progressed, they began to show some signs of exhaustion. For about the first 2-3 months of the season, it looked like the Bruins were going to run away with the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have since come back down to earth. They, much like the Rangers, have an extremely deep team. All 4 lines are capable of scoring. Their defense is one of the best in hockey, and their goaltending is as well. The Capitals have been a tough team to figure out all year long. For the past few years, they have consistently been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but not so much this year. It wasn’t until recently that they finally started to step up their game and play some good, consistent hockey. Alex Ovechkin has had one of his most disappointing seasons so far in his career, and so has Alex Semin. I think this will be a surprisingly good series. The fact that the Bruins have had the fewest amount of rest from the end of last season until now (Vancouver as well), coupled with the fact that Washington has started to play a lot better and stronger as of late, I see this series being a very competitive one. In the end, it’s going to come down to goaltending and defense.

-Boston wins series, 4-3.

3-6 Matchup:

vs. 

Both of these teams have had great turnaround seasons. Florida finished last season as the worst team in the Eastern Conference. This year, they went out and acquired Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell, among a few others, and gave themselves a brand new identity. Their offense is not the best, but it is decent. The same can be said of their defense and goaltending. The Devils finished last season ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference, which completely surprised many people, myself included. This year, they have played the way that we expected them to a year ago. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are two of the game’s most lethal scorers. They also have rookie Adam Henrique, who has been a very pleasant surprise on the offensive end this season. As for their goaltending, do I even have to mention his name? Martin Brodeur is arguably the best goalie of all-time, and even though he is getting up there in age, he can still get the job done. I’m calling for an upset in this series (I am only saying it’s an upset because Florida has a higher seed).

New Jersey wins series, 4-2.

4-5 Matchup:

vs. 

You want a physical series? Well, this should be all that, and more. This is arguably the best first-round series in the entire playoffs this year. Both of these teams are capable of going very deep into the playoffs, but only one of them will get through the first-round. Pittsburgh was able to climb the standings this year at an incredible pace and become one of the best teams in hockey, all without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. They have what could be the deepest team in the league offensively, and their defense isn’t anything to ignore either. Pittsburgh has the best trio of centers in the NHL now that Crosby is back: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal. This will make them a tough team for anyone to defend. Oh and by the way, the Penguins led the league in goals per game this season. Also, don’t forget they are only 3 years removed from winning the Cup and still have a number of players who were on that team, including Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flyers also have a very good offensive team, as they ranked second this season in goals per game. Their biggest problem is going to be defense. They went out and traded for Nicklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina at the trade deadline, which will help, but I am still not convinced that their D-unit is strong enough to beat the Penguins. Also, despite the recent play of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, I am not 100% sold that he can guide a team to the Stanley Cup. He showed too many weak spots early on this season. This is going to be a very entertaining series to watch, but I just don’t see the Flyers prevailing.

-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-2.

Check back later on for my Western Conference predictions.

Predicted Final National League Standings

NATIONAL LEAGUE

East Division

1.

They’ve won their division 5 straight seasons. With that pitching staff, I don’t see anything changing.

2.

Next to the Red Sox, the Braves suffered the biggest collapse in baseball last year by losing their lead in the Wild Card standings to the Cardinals. This year, I think they’ll lock up one of the Wild Card spots and hold onto it.

3.

The most surprising team this off-season was the Miami Marlins. Big signings such as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle should move this team up in their division.

4.

Honestly, I think the 3rd spot in this division is a toss-up between the Marlins and Nationals. Washington acquired Gio Gonzalez this off-season to help add depth to their pitching rotation, and they have Stephen Strasburg back and healthy to start the season. I would also expect a bounce-back season from Jayson Werth.

5.

Not much has gone right for the Mets in recent years. They have been lacking pitching lately, but now they are lacking offense. They traded away Carlos Beltran last year, and they lost Jose Reyes to the Marlins this off-season.

Central Division

1.

Yes, I know they lost Pujols, but this team is still loaded with talent. They have Adam Wainwright back to start the season (who was arguably the best pitcher in baseball when he got hurt last spring), and they signed Carlos Beltran this past winter to add to their offense. It’ll be a close race between the Cardinals and Brewers, but in the end I think St. Louis prevails for the division crown.

2.

Like the Cardinals, they lost a huge piece of their offense in Prince Fielder this off-season. In his place, they signed Aramis Ramirez to try and get back some of the offense that they lost. If they are going to make a run at winning the division again this year, they need their pitching to stay strong and healthy the entire season. I feel like they have the offense to get it done, but how will their pitching compare to the Cardinals’? With that said, I think the team that finishes second in this division will get one of the two Wild Card spots.

3.

They just inked Joey Votto to a huge, multi-year deal. So they have that going for them. Their offense is decent, and they play in a definite hitter’s park. Their pitching, however, is what will hold them back in the division. The addition of Matt Latos will help, but it’s not enough.

4.

They had a great first half to the season last year, but then reality sunk back in for the Pirates. They have some good players on their roster, led by Andrew McCutchen, but I still don’t think they will finish over .500 this season.

5.

The Cubs are in the re-building phase right now. They traded away Carlos Zambrano and Sean Marshall this off-season, among others, and they lost Aramis Ramirez to free agency. This year is going to be a year for guys like Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney to grow into better players and gain more experience at the Major League level.

6.

There’s not a whole lot going on down in Houston. It’ll be a year full of bringing up minor league players to try and get them some MLB experience, much like the Cubs.

West Division

1.

If Ian Kennedy can have another strong season on the mound for these guys, and if Trevor Cahill can have a good season, I think they have a really good shot as repeating as division champions. I am predicting that Justin Upton hits over 40 home runs this year.

2.

Pitching is the biggest question mark for the Rockies this season. Every year we say that Colorado has a shot at winning the division, but their pitching always lets us down. If they can get quality innings out of 4 of their 5 starters throughout the entirety of the season, they will challenge the D-Backs for the division championship.

3.

Unlike the Rockies, pitching is not what the Giants are concerned about. It’s their offense. They brought in Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline last year to try and produce more runs down the final stretch of the season, but that didn’t work. They will be getting Buster Posey back to start the season, which is definitely a positive, but they just don’t have a comparable offense to either Arizona or Colorado.

4.

This could be my most underrated team in the National League. They have the reigning Cy Young winner, and the MVP runner-up. For whatever reason, the Dodgers just haven’t been able to play up to their potential the past few years. If Chad Billingsley can find a way to get back to his 2008 form, and if Aaron Harang can provide some quality innings and get 10 wins this year, we could be talking about the Dodgers possibly winning this division come late September.

5.

There are too many question marks surrounding the Padres this year. In recent years, they have been able to put together a couple strong seasons seemingly out of the blue. I don’t see that happening this year, however.

 

 

 

 

Predicted Final American League Standings

This is always just a shot in the dark, but I love trying to predict how the standings will finish up in the MLB each year. Today, I am going to cover the American League, and tomorrow I will go over the National League. So here we go. My 2012 predictions:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

East Division

1.

Last year, they were the victims of one of the largest late-season collapses in baseball history. They were pegged as a potential World Series Champion. That obviously didn’t happen. I expect them to have a big bounce-back year this season.

2.

 

It’ll be a close race between the Yankees and Red Sox for the division crown, but I see New York getting one of the now 2 Wild Card spots. However, if Nova and Pineda can live up to expectations based off of the way they pitched last season, then maybe the Yankees win the AL East. But as of now, I just don’t see that happening.

3. 

They are going to have one of the best pitching rotations in all of baseball. That I am sure of. I just don’t see them winning the division. As for the second Wild Card spot, I see that team coming out of the AL West.

4.

For the past few years now, it has seemed as though the Blue Jays have been on the verge of becoming a Wild Card contender. Unfortunately for them, they can never put together a strong season from start to finish. I don’t see it panning out for them any differently this season.

5.

First of all, yes this is the logo that the Orioles have chosen to go with for the 2012 season. Second of all, they will finish last in the AL East again this year. They have some young talent with Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, but where’s the pitching?

Central Division

1.

With the addition of Prince Fielder to their lineup, these guys are going to be tough to pitch against. Then you throw in the fact that they have the reigning AL Cy Young/MVP winner leading their rotation, I don’t see them being surpassed by anyone in this division.

2.

The Indians have a lot of young talent: Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, and Michael Brantley, just to name a few. They acquired Ubaldo Jimenez last year from the Rockies, and even though that didn’t pan out they way that the Indians had hoped, look for him to have a bit of a bounce-back year this season.

3. 

They need Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both to stay healthy all year if they want any chance at the division. Their pitching is what has most people worried, and for good reason.

4.

The Sox are going through a rebuilding phase right now. They lost Carlos Quentin and Mark Buehrle, among others, this off-season. This year, they will be hoping that get a lot more production out of Adam Dunn. One player to watch on the White Sox will be Dayan Viciedo. That kid is loaded with potential.

5. 

The Royals have the second best farm system in all of baseball based on overall talent, according to BaseballAmerica.com. I would have to agree. After years of finishing near, or at the bottom of the league, they are loaded with top draft picks in their minor league system. Some of them are just beginning to surface at the Major League level, such as Eric Hosmer, who is expected to have a big breakout season this year.

West Division

1.

Everyone knows that they signed Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson to big contracts this off-season. Because of those two signings, the Angels are now definite contenders in the American League. They have arguably the best starting rotation in all of baseball.

2.

They are the 2-time defending AL Champions heading into this season. Yes, they lost CJ Wilson to their division rivals in Anaheim, but they signed Yu Darvish to replace him. Much of the Rangers success this season lies in the hands of Darvish. Can he produce the way that they need him to? Only time will tell. I see the Rangers getting the second Wild Card spot come the end of the season.

3.

The Mariners got off to an impressive start last season, but couldn’t keep it up as the year progressed. They ended up finishing last in the division as the result. This year, they should theoretically finish third in the division if you compare their talent to that of the A’s. The acquisition of Jesus Montero in exchange for Joel Pineda needs to benefit the Mariners this season, or else their front office is going to look pretty bad.

4.

Two of their top pitchers heading into last season, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, are no longer with the A’s. They really don’t have much pitching now heading into this season. As for their offense, they signed Cuban prospect Yoenis Cespedes to help produce some runs. Plus, don’t forget about Manny Ramirez. Yes he is suspended for the first 50 games of the season, but once he is done serving the suspension, I’d expect to see him in the A’s lineup. However, with all of that being said, this looks like a last place team to me.