Stanley Cup 2012: Philly to Bryz to Cup success
The only thing that has been consistent about the Flyers goaltending over recent seasons has been its sheer inconsistency. The fans have seen goalies come and go since Hextell (circa 1987) and all have fell short of leading Philly to another elusive Stanley cup success. However, things are set to change for the Philly faithful as they have a bonafide number 1 that can stand on his head and win them Sheffield most famous export - Lord Stanley's mug.
Ilya Bryzgalov is the big money free agent signing and the main reason I'm tipping Philadelphia to defeat all before them winning the Atlantic Divison (5/4) the Eastern Conference (9/2) and the Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup (9/1). The off season work done by GM Paul Holmgren in trading away 2 of his biggest stars (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) will improve the sides dynamics and settle the side, as will handing the captaincy to veteran D-man Chris Pronger.
Despite the big trades the Flyers have plenty of scoring depth including a new 1-2 punch at centre - which most franchises would love, Danny Briere (33/1 top goalscorer) and Claude Giroux. When you add in goal machine Jaromir Jagr and Calder trophy candidate Brayden Schenn you realise that this year Flyers are going to take some beating.
The main contenders they will face in the Eastern Conference will be the Pittsburgh Penguins (4/1), Philadelphia Flyers (9/2), Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals (5/1). The Penguins have confirmed they will be missing superstar Sidney Crosby for the season opener as he continues to battle post concussion syndrome. Expect their other star forward Evgeni Malkin to pick up the slack and carry the team (11/1 top scorer) towards a Cup run.
The Washington Capitals have been a fantastic team - until the playoffs start and so It's a surprise to see Coach Bruce Bordreau still there to start the season. The great 8 Alex Ovechkin (11/2 top scorer) will again light the lamp all season long but even with the added offseason veterans, including net minder Tomas Vokoun (25/1 Vezina Trophy) I still fancy them to be playing golf by the time the Cup Finals start.
The defending champions Boston have done a fantastic job and full credit has to go to GM Peter Chiarelli for the way he has assembled his side as they have been able to keep the roster together, and have cap space, unlike the Blackhawks the year before. Led by 37 year old Tim Thomas (6/1 Vezina) in net and Slovak beast Zdeno Chara on defence the Bruins will go deep again.
There could be a couple of dark horses in the East - most notably Buffalo Sabres (10/1) and the New York Rangers (18/1). The Sabres have long been a struggling team on a shoestring, however the longest serving coach in the NHL, Lindy Ruff, is finally able to spend following Terry Pagula's takeover and the additions of Ville Leino and Christian Erhoff will see them challenge their more established rivals.
Over in the Garden there is optimism among blue shirts fans at the Rangers landed the prize free agent on the market this off season, Brad Richards. Paired up with Marian Gaborik (14/1 top scorer) the duo will give the Rangers the goals to succeed while Henrik Lundqvist (10/1 Vezina) will continue to be the top goaltender his is. That just may see their fans optimism rewarded.
The Western Conference looks as deep as usual and challenges can be expected from reigning President Cup winners Vancouver (3/1), San Jose (5/1), Detroit (6/1), Chicago and Los Angeles Kings (both 7/1).
The Vancouver Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup finals last season and looked like ending Canada's long wait for a Stanley Cup until choking. This year the roster is pretty much intact but there's even more question marks over Luongo (6/1 Vezina) and can his ability to handle the pressure, expect him not to and the Canucks fall short again.
The San Jose Sharks are my pick to claim the Western Conference title (5/1) on top of the Pacific Division (17/10) but yet again fall agonisingly short of bringing the Stanley Cup to California. They have made some great roster moves in the summer bringing in Martin Havlat for the frequently sulky Dany Heatley and adding Brent Burns as the missing peice on D. It's time for these Sharks to deliver.
The Detroit Red Wings will again be challengers, but aren't they always!? The loss of Rafalski to retirement was a huge blow but Lidstrom playing on will keep the Wings flying. I don't expect them to win the Central Division (5/6 to do so) and the age will catch up with them come playoff time.
The Chicago Blackhawks are back to being major challengers after a lot of the pieces from the 2010 team were traded due to the cap they have retooled ready for this season and with Patrick Kane (66/1 top scorer) they have the depth to win the Central Division (9/4) and go deep in the playoffs.
The LA Kings believe they acquired the missing piece of the puzzle when they traded for Mike Richards as their number 2 centre. They have also managed to wrap up contract talks with Drew Doughty in time for the season so if net minder Jonathon Quick can produce they may be able to upset a few big guns.
The other major NHL storyline for this season is the return of hockey to Winnipeg and for the first time since the Jets were last in the league Edmonton is not the least desirable city for free agents. The new Jets have moved from Atlanta following their off ice issues so it would be foolish to think this side will be able to emulate the Colorado Avalanche of 1996 and have success in year 1 - so much so the 1/16 they miss the playoffs seems a fair price for a roster that has consistently struggled.
As part of our wide range of markets we have prices on all teams to make/miss the playoffs and there is plenty of value to be found in there or a chance for you to back your favourite side if they're not a cup contender. And don't forget - just beacuse the season starts the betting doesn't have to stop! We'll be regularly revising outrights along with daily lines on all matches including the NHL Premier in Europe and the amazing NHL Winter Classic!
My Top Picks for the season:
Philadelphia Flyers - Stanley Cup @ 9/1, Eastern Conference @ 9/2 Atlantic Division @ 5/4
San Jose Sharks - Stanley Cup @ 10/1, Western Conference @ 5/1, Pacific Division @ 17/10
Presidents Cup - Washington Capitals @ 13/2
To Make Playoffs - Nashville Predators @ 4/6, Colorado Avalanche @ 4/1, Florida Panthers @ 7/1
To Miss Playoffs - Dallas Stars @ 11/10, Phoenix Coyotes @ 11/8, Toronto Maple Leafs @ 8/15
Top Goalscorer - Marion Gaborik @ 14/1, Rick Nash @ 25/1
Top Goaltender (Vezina Trophy) - Henrik Lundqvist @ 10/1