Prediction: Wings-Capitals in Cup Finals
It's doesn't look like it right now. What will happen?
Your 2011 Western Conference champion will be ... the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings may be the league's elder statesmen, but when healthy they may very well have the best balance of skillful two-way forwards, defensemen that can still get up and down the ice, and a goalie in a contract year who wants to show his 37 wins from last season were no fluke. Detroit had 102 points last season and was battered by injuries. The Wings had a longer than usual summer when you consider they were knocked out in the second round, and now they're all healthy.
Your 2011 Eastern Conference champion will be ... the Washington Capitals.
Never underestimate the power of motivation and hunger. The Capitals have both in spades after blowing a 3-1 lead and losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round last spring. Alex Ovechkin is motivated only to win the Stanley Cup and the rest of the Capitals have his back in a big way. There are questions in goal with 22-year-old Europeans Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov ready to split the duties, perhaps right down the middle. However, Varlamov has Stanley Cup playoff experience (success, too) and Neuvirth has won back-to-back Calder Cups in the AHL. The Capitals will finally prove they are for real.
Your 2011 Stanley Cup champion will be ... the Detroit Red Wings
Health appears to be the only thing that can deter the Wings from putting one more notch on their belt and keeping this dynasty alive another year. Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano and Brian Rafalski might be on the tail end of fantastic careers, but they can still play at a high level. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Jimmy Howard are all in their primes.
Your 2011 Hart Trophy winner will be ... Steven Stamkos
The revamped Lightning will be improved and Stamkos, who is stronger after a summer working out with renowned fitness guru Gary Roberts, will be able to build on his remarkable sophomore season. That's saying something considering the 20-year-old from Markham, Ont. was the co-Rocket Richard winner with 51 goals last season, but he's coming into his prime, has one of the best one-timers in the business and he should find even more space now because he worked extensively this summer on his core and his legs to make them more powerful.
Your 2011 Norris Trophy winner will be ... Chris Pronger
We know he's coming off surgery and he's getting up there in age, but if you watched Pronger in the playoffs last season you know where we're coming from with this pick. This guy has still got one, two or maybe even three more seasons left at his elite status before maybe he starts to fall off. This one ought to be one of his best. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final, built largely on Pronger's long stick, is enough to convince us that the guy can be even better this season. His resume was respected by his teammates when he arrived, but now they know the guy is the real deal for many other reasons.
Your 2011 Vezina Trophy winner will be ... Ryan Miller
The Sabres goalie will go back-to-back as a winner of this award because he will again prove that he's the most consistent goaltender in the League. Miller will play close to 70 games, win upwards of 40 with a goals-against average under 2.50 and a save percentage better than .915. And the Sabres will make the playoffs, perhaps even by winning the Northeast Division again, because of their goaltender who happens to be their biggest star.
Your 2011 Calder Trophy winner will be ... Magnus Paajarvi
The attention is going to go to Edmonton teammate Taylor Hall and Boston center Tyler Seguin, and perhaps also to Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban and Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier. However, it'll be Paajarvi that steps out and has a better season than all of them because he may be more suited for immediate NHL success. He played a full season in the Swedish Elite League last season and then made the World Championship all-tournament team with 9 points in nine games. Paajarvi's power off his 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame will be his greatest asset.
For an alternative viewpoint, be sure to check out the EA Sports NHL 11 Season Preview show on NHL.com.