Los Angeles Kings over New Jersey Devils: can’t say I had that pegged as my Stanley Cup Final last season. But all was not lost. I correctly predicted 11 of the 16 playoff teams—five in the East, six in the West—missing out on Ottawa, Florida, and, yes, New Jersey (damn you Buffalo, Toronto, and Tampa Bay!) and I had Calgary and Anaheim making the postseason instead of Nashville and Phoenix in the West. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. My only somewhat impressive prediction was that the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals would play seven amazing games in the Eastern Conference semis. They did. But I had the C-A-P-S triumphing in that final tilt instead of falling to the Rangers.
Speaking of the Blue Shirts, they are my pick to win this year’s Stanley Cup. And they will do so in a stirring reprise of one of the best ever championship series. A seven game rematch of the thrilling 1994 Stanley Cup Final where legendary captain Mark Messier went toe-to-toe with the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure, and former Wisconsin Badger netminder Mike Richter outdueled Canucks goalie Kirk McLean to secure the Rangers their first Cup since 1940. And just like 19 years ago, New York will again skate the most revered trophy in sports around on the hallowed ice of Madison Square Garden, this time with the help of two ex-Badgers, including playoff MVP Ryan McDonagh.
This truncated 48 game schedule is going to be ferocious, intense, and—truth be told—exactly what the National Hockey League needs to begin to rehab its (self-immolated) image. As for what else is going to go down between now and the beginning of the postseason: I think Alexander Semin—who took my advice, but unfortunately chose the wrong team—dominates in Carolina, helping the Hurricanes make it back to the postseason; Steven Stamkos comes close (44 goals) but cannot quite put the biscuit-in-the-basket on average once per game; and despite inking the top two players in free agency, the Minnesota Wild fail to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
And now, without further ado . . .
The award(s) goes to . . .
Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP): Ryan McDonagh, D, New York Rangers
Hart Trophy (Regular season MVP): Rick Nash, LW, New York Rangers
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender): Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward): Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
Lady Byng Trophy (Most Gentlemanly Player): Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year): Ralph Krueger, Edmonton Oilers
Before getting to what else lies ahead this year, I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite one prognostication from last season I nailed (and am most sad about): the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, my all-time favorite player. Check back next week for a special post devoted entirely to No. 5.
Finally, what prognostication piece would be complete without my bold (and uncannily accurate) team-by-team predictions for the upcoming campaign? As for the best two months in sports, the Stanley Cup playoffs, here is how I see it playing out:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
New York Rangers (1) over New Jersey Devils (8), 4 games to 1
Boston Bruins (2) over Washington Capitals (7), 4-3
Carolina Hurricanes (3) over Philadelphia Flyers (6), 4-2
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) over Tampa Bay Lightning (5), 4-3
Western Conference Quarterfinals
Los Angeles Kings (1) over Edmonton Oilers (8), 4-1
Vancouver Canucks (2) over Phoenix Coyotes (7), 4-2
Detroit Red Wings (6) over Chicago Blackhawks (3), 4-3
St. Louis Blues (4) over San Jose Sharks (5), 4-2
Eastern Conference Semifinals
New York Rangers (1) over Pittsburgh Penguins (4), 4-3
Carolina Hurricanes (3) over Boston Bruins (2), 4-2
Western Conference Semifinals
Los Angeles Kings (1) over Detroit Red Wings (6), 4-3
Vancouver Canucks (2) over St. Louis Blues (4), 4-2
Eastern Conference Finals
New York Rangers (1) over Carolina Hurricanes (3), 4-2
Western Conference Finals
Vancouver Canucks (2) over Los Angeles Kings (1), 4-2
Stanley Cup Final
New York Rangers (1) over Vancouver Canucks (2), 4-3