2013-14 NHL Preview: Preseason Playoff Outlook

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Realignment has been a main subject in all of the previews and in many of the looks ahead to the upcoming season. Although the divisions get a lot of the attention the one thing that has rarely been the topic of discussion yet is the new playoff format for the league. With new division comes a new balance of teams with 7 teams in each of the Western Conference divisions and 8 teams in the Eastern Conference divisions. With only two divisions in each of the conferences the three champions and fight for the rest had to be thrown out. The former format would reward the winners of the three divisions giving them the top spots in the playoffs. Then the rest of the teams in the conference would fight it out for the remaining five spots in the postseason. It was a system that never truly put a lot of emphasis on the divisions as only the winners would get an advantage. If a team was out of the top of their division they could simply focus on games to get one of the remaining spots without thinking about division implications. All of that will change this year as the divisions have become more important as the top three teams from each division will get a spot in the playoffs. This means that teams will need to be even more aware of their performance against divisional opponents. Getting in the top three guarantees a spot in the playoffs while sitting out of those top three spots means a much more difficult path. Instead of fighting it out for the next 5 spots in the conference there will only be two teams that make it from the bigger pool. Taking a page from the NFL and MLB the NHL will establish Wild Card spots for the playoffs. After the first six spot are taken by the top teams in the divisions the final two spots will be up for grabs among the rest of the conferences. It will be a big race and will be very difficult as there are only two spots for everyone else to get. There will still be 8 teams in the playoffs and the format of the process of the playoffs will remain the same. There will still be three rounds of playoffs in each conference along with the Stanley Cup Finals. The new format will mean that divisional games become much more important as every team will want to be among the top three of each division to avoid a fight for only two spots. It will be a new look for the playoff race and will be interesting to see and figure out how it changes the league. In the end though one team will come out on top in the new format and that team will go through the marathon to win the 2014 Stanley Cup but who will it be?

 

Eastern Conference:

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The Eastern Conference is going to be a bit more difficult for teams to make the playoffs as instead of 14 teams there will be 16 teams to compete with. There will be 8 teams in each division meaning that 10 teams will have to fight for two spots. The battle for these eight spots will only get tougher too as the NHL has added one of the most consistent teams to the mix in the Detroit Red Wings. The Eastern Conference will see plenty of changes this year and that will make the playoff chase that much better. The Metropolitan Division could be one of the toughest teams in the NHL this year as they contain some of the best teams in the league. After a long battle with at least 6 teams that could make the top three this year the constants will move on. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be the class of the conference with a healthy Sidney Crosby for the entire season to go along with Evgeni Malkin. The team they will battle all year will be right behind them as the refreshed New York Rangers squad with Alain Vigneault leading the way for a new offence. The Atlantic will get their representation as well with the Boston Bruins taking the top spot in the division. The Flyers, Canadiens, and Senators will fill out the rest of the division leaders while the rest of the conference will fall into the wild card fight. In the end it will be a new and an old team that will take the two spots in the wild card. The Detroit Red Wings are not the team they used to be but they are still have not fallen enough to fall out of the playoffs. The New York Islanders continue to grow as a team and they will find the playoffs again this year. The wild card teams might not last long in these playoffs though as they will take on some very tough competition and the weaker teams will be weeded out. The rest of the playoffs will be tough for every team as a number of series could go down to 7 games. In the end the champion may come down to a team that has been so close for so long and yet have fallen short due to certain areas of the team that have been fixed. It will be a tough year for the eastern conference teams and one team will come out on top to get to the Stanley Cup.

 

How They Will Finish

Division Leaders:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers
3. Boston Bruins
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Ottawa Senators
Wild Card:
7. Detroit Red Wings
8. New York Islanders
Out of the Playoffs:
9. Washington Capitals
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
11. Toronto Maple Leafs
12. Tampa Bay Lightning
13. New Jersey Devils
14. Florida Panthers
15. Carolina Hurricanes
16. Buffalo Sabres

 

Conference Champions:

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Philadelphia Flyers
– The Flyers have always had a pretty good team but have constantly fallen off due to bad goaltending but they have fixed that with the addition of Ray Emery to the team add that to the additions of Mark Streit on the blueline and Vincent Lecavalier to the offensive group the Flyers are poised to take the conference

 

Western Conference:

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For many the Western Conference got off easy on the realignment as they will be minus two teams in the fight for the 8 spots. There will be 14 teams fighting for the playoffs meaning that more than half of the teams in the conference will make the playoffs. Unlike the Eastern Conference where exactly half of the teams in the conference will be out of the hunt there will only be 6 out of it in the West. Even with these better odds the West will still be a challenge to get through with some of the best teams in the league located in the conference. That includes the Chicago Blackhawks who lost very few players from their Stanley Cup winning team and will once again be the team to beat. They will sit at the top of the West and will look to return to the Stanley Cup once again. They will have some competition too as the only other team to win a Stanley Cup in the last two years will also be back and ready to challenge. Meanwhile the St. Louis Blues continue to get better and will be a force in the playoffs as they look to challenge the last two Stanley cup winners. The Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, and the Winnipeg Jets will all be looking for their chance to push the champions to the edge and take their own swing at the championship. The West Wild Card will be a good fight with plenty of teams that could take it but only two will get the spots. The Minnesota Wild are back for another chance at the playoffs as they will be able to get the spot thanks to their big 2012 offseason signings. The San Jose Sharks are aging and although they are still good they will just squeeze past the improved Dallas Stars for the last spot in the playoffs. The entire fight in the West is a tough one and the playoffs will be no difference. There will not be any true big favorites in the playoffs as all of these teams have reasons they can win and reasons they won’t. When the dust settles might just be the team that has the most experience and the least amount of weaknesses that will make it. The team that does make it to the Stanley Cup will have a tough spot as they will go through the grinder in this conference and although they may have better odds at making it the playoffs will be a tough road.

 

How They Will Finish 

Division Leaders:
1. Chicago Blackhawks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Anaheim Ducks
6. Winnipeg Jets
Wild Card:
7. Minnesota Wild
8. San Jose Sharks
Out of the Playoffs:
9. Dallas Stars
10. Nashville Predators
11. Edmonton Oilers
12. Phoenix Coyotes
13. Colorado Avalanche
14. Calgary Flames

Conference Champions:

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Chicago Blackhawks
– The Blackhawks are still one of the best teams in the NHL and with little losses in the offseason they remain one of the best as they will take this great team to the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row

 

2014 Stanley Cup Finals:
Philadelphia Flyers 4 – 3 Chicago Blackhawks
– The Flyers will not be on many people’s radar this year but they made improvements at every level of the team especially in net which is where the Blackhawks do not have a safety net as they will see their old backup Ray Emery take the Flyers to a Stanley Cup victory

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