It's an obligatory rite all of us hockey writers go through at the start of an NHL season, the dreaded predictions post.
Follow after the jump for my stab at the conference standings and your 2011 Stanley Cup Champions...
For the record, these aren't hardcore statistically-driven projections, these represent my "gut" feel for the upcoming campaign:
|Western Conference||Eastern Conference|
|1||Vancouver Canucks||Solid team, crappy division.||1||Washington Capitals||The Southeast may be getting tougher, but they'll still fly.|
|2||Los Angeles Kings||Willie Mitchell could be the best pickup in the West this year.||2||Pittsburgh Penguins||Replacing Gonchar with Martin & Michalek was smooth.|
|3||Detroit Red Wings||Health, Hudler & Howard enough to win a tough Central.||3||Buffalo Sabres||Ryan Miller's the difference maker in an up-for-grabs division.|
|4||Chicago Blackhawks||Shed mostly replaceable parts, but will miss Versteeg & Byfuglien.||4||Philadelphia Flyers||If they could ever get a top-notch goalie, look out.|
|5||San Jose Sharks||Losing Nabokov won't hurt much.||5||New Jersey Devils||Kovalchuk cost them a lot, and it'll show in a lack of depth.|
|6||Nashville Predators||Will Pekka live up to the hype?||6||Ottawa Senators||Their top power play unit will be fun to watch.|
|7||Colorado Avalanche||How will Matt Duchene do in Year 2?||7||Atlanta Thrashers||There are some decent pieces coming together here in front of Chris Mason.|
|8||Phoenix Coyotes||Tippett's crew can't count on those shootout wins but will still be tough.||8||Tampa Bay Lightning||Stevie Y's off to a good start, but Stamkos won't hit 50 again.|
|9||Calgary Flames||Can Jay Bouwmeester deliver the goods?||9||Boston Bruins||Savard's injury a huge blow to a team looking for goals.|
|10||St. Louis Blues||Halak-a-mania is running wild… too wild.||10||New York Rangers||I still laugh every time I think of Boogaard making $1.6 million.|
|11||Edmonton Oilers||Expect lots of excitement in Edmonton as the kids learn the ropes.||11||Montreal Canadiens||The media will chew up Carey Price and undermine the team.|
|12||Minnesota Wild||Todd Richards has a lot of work to do here.||12||Carolina Hurricanes||They're up, then they're down… and now they'll stay down.|
|13||Anaheim Ducks||2007 seems like an age ago when you look at their blueline.||13||Toronto Maple Leafs||Modest improvement, but still a ways to go.|
|14||Dallas Stars||It's tough to rebuild amid ownership turmoil.||14||Florida Panthers||The rebuild is only just getting started.|
|15||Columbus Blue Jackets||Rookie coach wants to run a new system with the same old cast. Yikes.||15||New York Islanders||A mess already, then key injuries hit.|
Stanley Cup Champion
I like the Detroit Red Wings to win it once again, as they still seem to have the most talented set of skaters in total, and a decent enough goalie to get the job done. And Mike Babcock's no slouch behind the bench.
So what do you think? Have I been hitting the crack pipe too hard? Not as hard as this guy, though!