Posted on: August 26, 2010 11:53 am

Early, Pre-Camp NHL Predictions

With only about 6 weeks left until the return of hockey and with most teams basically having the players in place for their opening day rosters (with the exception of rookies making it out of camp and the Arron Asham-like signings), I figured it's a good time to give my early season predictions on how the 2010'11 season shall unfold. I already gave one set of early predictions on a thread on the NHL board, but I thought more on it and made some changes to how I see the season playing out. And I'm going to add in playoff picks for next season, something I didn't do on the NHL message board.

Eastern Conference 
Atlantic Division
*Pittsburgh Penguins
*Philadelphia Flyers
*New Jersey Devils
New York Rangers
New York Islanders

I fully expect the Atlantic Division crown is the Penguins to lose this year. It may be a homer pick, but top-to-bottom I think the Pens have the best team in the Atlantic. With an improved defense, the Big 4 with another year of experience, and with something to prove following the Game 7 beatdown by the Habs last year, Pittsburgh will take the division this year and compete with the Caps for 1st place in the East. The Flyers, as much as I despise them, look to have a solid team heading into next season, but the question that always follows them is goaltending. I don't even know who their starting goalie will be next season. Will it be Boucher or Leighton? Or will they make a splash and try for Niemi? I think Marty will keep the Devils competitive like always. But, I think they'll take a small step backwards this year because I think age will be a factor for Brodeur this year and they need to find scoring from somewhere, especially if Kovalchuk signs somewhere else. IF Gaborik can stay healthy again and Frolov provides a second scoring touch for the Rangers, along with a strong season from Henrik, I think the Rangers could shock some people. However, there are too many IF's for me to put them higher. The Isles look a little improved, but I think they're still too young to take that "next step" just yet.

Southeast Division
*Washington Capitals
*Tampa Bay Lightning
Atlanta Thrashers
Carolina Hurricanes
Florida Panthers

Unlike the last few years, there may be more than 1 competitive team in the SE this season. Even so, the Caps will run away this division once again. They basically have the same team intact from last year's President Trophy winning squad. However, like the Flyers, they have a major goaltending question. Is Varlamov good enough/improved enough to take them over the hump in the playoffs? I'm not sold. However, they will likely win the East regular season again due the SE being miles weaker than the Atlantic and SE, too many easy points for the Caps to pick up. Tampa is probably the most improved team from last season, and they'll make noise in the SE but their lack of depth in their 3rd/4th lines worries me. Atlanta could be a surprise team, but not a big enough surprise to actually make the playoffs. Carolina's lack of a strong defense and lack of scoring from anyone other than Eric Staal will hurt them this year. Florida is full-blown cleaning house mode it seems. Vokoun will be traded at the deadline this year.

Northeast Division
*Boston Bruins
*Buffalo Sabres
*Ottawa Senators
Montreal Canadians
Toronto Maple Leafs

The biggest problem the Bruins had last year was absolutely no scoring. They may have fixed that with the additions of Nathan Horton and Tyler Sequin. Improved scoring, combined with solid defense and a young stud in Tukka Rask gets Boston the division crown. Buffalo will once again be carried by Ryan Miller into the playoffs, and if Vanek can stay healthy they should provide Boston with good competition for the SE division crown. Gonchar adds depth at the blueline for the Sens, but Boston and Buffalo, and questions about Pascal Leclaire, keep the Sens from having as strong a season as they did last year. Montreal will quickly regret the decision to trade Halak away. Toronto, although improved, will ensure Boston of another Top-10 pick.

Conference Standings
1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Boston Bruins
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Ottawa Senators
9. New York Rangers
10. Atlanta Thrashers
11. Montreal Canadiens
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. New York Islanders
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Florida Panthers

Playoff Seedins/Results

1. Capitals vs 8. Senators
Caps offense is too much for the Sens to handle, win the series 4-1.

2. Penguins vs 7. Sabres
With Miller in net, the Sabres give the Pens some fits, but Pittsburgh battles through, wins the series 4-2.

3. Bruins vs 6. Devils
Two defensive teams make this a low-scoring series, but exciting nonetheless. Devils pull the upset in 7, win series 4-3.

4. Flyers vs 5. Lightning
Best 1st round matchup of the playoffs. High scoring and explosive, Tampa wins an amazing game 7, 6-5, win series 4-3

1. Capitals vs 6. Devils
An explosive offense vs a tight defensive system, the Caps survive, winning the series in 7, 4-3.

2. Penguins vs 5. Lightning
A high scoring series through the first 4 games, Fleury stones the Lightning in games 5 and 6, Pens win the series 4-2.

Conference Finals
1. Capitals vs. 2. Penguins
Rematch of the incredible 2nd round matchup of 2009, Crosby once again outduels Ovechkin, Pens take the series in 7, Washington loses a Game 7 on home ice for the 4th straight season. Pens win series, and the eastern conference, 4-3.

Western Conference
Central Division
*Detroit Red Wings
*Chicago Blackhawks
*St. Louis Blues
Nashville Predators
Columbus Blue Jackets

Chicago will suffer from a post-Cup hangover and a team blow-up the likes of the Florida Marlins. They'll still have a good team, but Detroit proves once again to not take them lightly and they'll take advantage of the Hawks sufferings. St. Louis will surprise people, and the Halak-led Blues will once again return to the playoffs. Nashville will probably have another strong season, but the rise of St. Louis means someone has to suffer, and that team is the Preds. Columbus has a lot of young players, and it will show again this season.

Northwest Division
*Vancouver Canucks
*Colorado Avalanche
Calgary Flames
Minnesota Wild
Edmonton Oilers

The Sedin brothers and Roberto Luongo will finally have a break-out season and take the West this year (regular season anyways). Colorado's young core continues to grow together, but their biggest question mark will be if Craig Anderson can have a second straight strong season in net. Calgary will be competitive this year, but just miss out on the playoffs. Minnesota did nothing to improve, they'll have another mediocre season. Edmonton did take steps towards improving, but they're another year or two away from being competitive. 

Pacific Division
*Los Angeles Kings
*Phoenix Coyotes
*San Jose Sharks
Anaheim Ducks
Dallas Stars

The young teams of LA and Phoenix take the "next step" behind strong seasons from Quick and Bryzgalov, with LA taking the division from a stronger defense and more scoring depth. San Jose will fall back to the pack as they recover from Nabokov's departure. Despite his post-season failures, Nabokov always made the Sharks one of the best regular season teams. With Jonas Hiller in net, the Ducks may end up being the surprise team from the West this year. A shaky defense (although improved with the drafting of Cam Fowler) will keep them from being too surprising. The losses of Turco and Modano will hurt the Stars next season.

Conference Standings
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Colorado Avalanche
7. San Jose Sharks
8. St. Louis Blues
9. Nashville Predators
10. Calgary Flames
11. Anaheim Ducks
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Dallas Stars

Playoff Seedings/Results

1. Canucks vs 8. Blues
Halak doesn't come up clutch like last season for his 8th seeded team, Canucks win the series in 5, 4-1.

2. Kings vs 7. Sharks
The young Kings show the Sharks how to win a playoff series, win it in 6 games, 4-2.

3. Red Wings vs 6. Avalanche
Shades of '96 and '02, the Wings vets prove too much for the young Avalance, win the series 4-1.

4. Blackhawks vs 5. Coyotes
Second-best 1st round matchup behind Philly/Tampa, the series turns into a shootout, Chicago taking Game 7 at home, 4-3.

1. Canucks vs. 4. Blackhawks
Third times the charm for the Canucks, as they finally get through the Hawks, win the series in 7, 4-3.

2. Kings vs. 3 Red Wings
This time youth beats out experience, as the Kings beat the Wings and win in 6, 4-2.

Conference Finals
1. Canucks vs. 2. Kings
Quick outduels Luongo, and the Kings outlast the Canucks in a thrilling 7-game series, winning it 4-3.

Stanley Cup Finals
2. Penguins vs 2. Kings
Pens finish with a better record than the Kings, getting them home-ice. This proves costly, as the series goes 7, with the home team winning every game, and the Pens finally hoisting the Cup at home, win series 4-3.

Conn Smythe: Sidney Crosby
Hart: Anze Kopitar
Art Ross: Anze Kopitar
Richard: Steven Stamkos
Norris: Duncan Keith
Calder: Taylor Hall
Vezina: Roberto Luongo

May be a homer pick in going with the Penguins, but oh well. It's still August, I can be a homer for another month and a half until the season starts.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com