PHT predicts the 2010-2011 regular season

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It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for since the Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup in June. It’s the start of the regular season. Every day there will be hockey that counts. Every day there will be amazing goals, unbelievable saves, incredible passes, thrilling fights, and completely boneheaded mistakes.And we will enjoy every second of it because we’re sick like that.

It’s not an 82 game race to the end, it’s a marathon. There will be no Olympics to interrupt things this season and the pressure to win is always present. The Blackhawks start the season with the bull’s-eye on their back and they get to carry that burden through the entire regular season through to the playoffs. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t seen since 1961-1962 and many of their new fans are hoping the team handles things a bit better than the franchise did for nearly 50 years.

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So you our loyal PHT readers have been wondering what James and I think of how the season will turn out before all mayhem breaks out at noon today with the Hurricanes and Wild kicking the season off from Finland. If you come with us after the jump, you’ll see just how we think things play out this year as we pick our playoff teams and eventual Stanley Cup champions. You can take these predictions to the bank, just so long as that bank is filled with Monopoly money and candy.

ECStandings.jpgJoe says:  The Caps will have a harder go of it in the Southeast, but they’re still awfully good and they’ll still get their points. The divisional races in the other two divisions are much more interesting between Buffalo and Boston and New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The jumble for the 2-5 spots in the playoffs will be fascinating. After that, however, coin toss city. Philly is still awfully good even in spite of their future goaltending headache.

I like Montreal and Tampa Bay to round things out. It’s a shame we can’t get them to play each other in the first round to tie their connections together from the off-season to the postseason. Truth is, the 7-11 spots will be as tight as the 2-5 spots will be. Anyone in there can make the playoffs. Toronto and Carolina mark the line between being close to the playoffs and being God-awful.

James says: Yes, the Southeast Division is much improved, but the Capitals are a still leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. That dominance will help them earn the top seed again. The Devils were already built for the regular season, but adding Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Arnott really cements that fact. Losing Marc Savard really hurts my confidence in Boston, but I still think they’re better than Buffalo. Pittsburgh always seems to slide into that 4-5 seed range, so why not? Philadelphia is deep and talented, but might struggle a bit next season. I like Tampa Bay, especially in the weak Southeast (and Eastern Conference, really).

The eighth spot was the biggest coin toss of them all, though. Ultimately, I like Eric Staal more than Michael Cammalleri and Cam Ward more than Carey Price. I have little-to-no confidence in that pick in particular, as the Senators and Rangers could just as easily take that spot.

As for the Western Conference…

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Joe says: Vancouver will look like a juggernaut during the regular season. Kids will write songs about them, the elders will create myths and the hardcore fans will close the tinfoil haberdashery for the regular season. They’ll roll over the Northwest to win the division. Meanwhile, San Jose and Detroit both face heavy challenges from within and hang on to take the other two top spots in the conference. Los Angeles and Phoenix will fight it out over fifth, meanwhile Chicago plays it cool to sit in fourth.

Nashville and St. Louis will scare their fans into thinking they may not make it to the playoffs but ultimately will, meanwhile Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas push hard but fall short. Below them, things turn ugly. Minnesota will struggle, meanwhile Edmonton will finish low but will bring joy to their fans in the form of hope. Anaheim loses an uphill battle having to deal with everyone else in their division. Columbus will struggle mightily dealing with a new system.

James says: The Canucks will feast on a weak Northwest Division and will thrive without having a crazy Olympic Break to mess up their rhythm. The Blackhawks and Red Wings will battle until the bitter end, but Chicago’s youth will trump Detroit’s experience. The Sharks will win the Pacific by outlasting the top-heavy Kings. While they lack elegance, the Predators and Coyotes will yield results from their Chinese Water Torture-style defensive techniques to make it into the playoffs.

Much like the eighth seed in the East, I had trouble picking a No. 8 in the West. Every team has its problems: the Blues will struggle to score, the Flames are weak down the middle, the Ducks cannot play defense and so on. Still, the Blues have a nice young core and should play solid defense in front of their newly acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak. I wouldn’t bet my meager life savings on them, but I feel best about making this choice.

We’ll tell you who we’ve got for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals in our next post.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.

Capitals bump Todd Reirden up to associate coach

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Assistant coach Todd Reirden of the Washington Capitals talks to the power play unit during a time-out against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals announced that Todd Reirden (pictured) was promoted from assistant to associate coach on Monday.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, most directly, the team shared word that he’ll run Capitals training camp while Barry Trotz works with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Giving Reirden a promotion makes sense, as he’s been linked to some head coaching searches. The Washington Post compiled some of his opportunities:

In the past two years, Reirden has been a serious candidate for two NHL head-coaching gigs. According to the Calgary Sun, Reirden was a finalist to coach the Flames before they settled on Glen Gulutzan, and he was considered for the New Jersey Devils’ vacancy last summer, too. Lane Lambert, another Capitals assistant, was a finalist for the Colorado Avalanche head-coaching job earlier this month, according to the Denver Post.

The Capitals have a pretty well-regarded coaching group, as many credit goaltending coach Mitch Korn with some of Braden Holtby‘s improvement since Trotz took over.

Maybe we’ll see Reirden and Lambert get head coaching gigs at some point, but for now, Trotz’s “coaching tree” stays intact.

Penguins believe Kessel, others can heal up by start of next season

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup after their 3-1 victory to win the Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Going deep enough into the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup often comes with the cost of stacking up injuries, and the Pittsburgh Penguins paid the price.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others report, Phil Kessel (wrist) and others aren’t guaranteed to be healthy to start the 2016-17 regular season.

“All the injured guys are tracking in the right direction,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Until they all get here, we won’t know 100 percent where they’re at, but it sounds like all the guys should be ready for camp.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs down a significant list of players who likely accrued bumps and bruises that may carry over:

Defenseman Trevor Daley, for instance, suffered a broken ankle on May 20. Kris Letang (foot), Nick Bonino (elbow infection), Bryan Rust (hand), Patric Hornqvist (hand) and Evgeni Malkin (elbow), among others, dealt with physical problems of varying severity at times.

If recent history is any indication, Kessel will probably fight hard not to miss time.

For all the weird criticisms he receives, he’s been remarkably durable, playing in every game during the past six seasons.

That’s impressive stuff, but the Penguins would be wise to keep an eye on the big picture. If it comes down to making Kessel and others swallow a little pride to limit the odds of aggravating injuries, they need to do it.

Even if it means a bumpy start to their title defense.

Win now, worry later: Why the Lightning should go all-in

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08:  Ben Bishop #30 celebrates with Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in Game Three of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 8, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Lightning day at PHT …

The Chicago Blackhawks employed some great teams in winning three championships so far during the Jonathan ToewsPatrick Kane era, but there was something special about that first group.

For one thing, Toews and Kane were playing out the final years of their entry-level contracts. Those CBA-powered savings gave the Blackhawks a surplus of players who would eventually be too expensive to retain, most notably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell.

That fantastic group never faced elimination during an overpowering run to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

Thanks to deft maneuvering by GM Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks were able to reload and put together other strong supporting casts even after big losses, and that could be a profound lesson for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It might be tempting for the Bolts to merely keep their window open as long as possible. Instead, they should take a big swing in 2016-17 and then trust management to recover from any fallout.

Bishop’s expiring contract

The safe move would be to trade away some of the expiring contracts on Tampa Bay’s roster instead of risking getting nothing when they leave.

Many believe that Ben Bishop is on his way out. With one year left on a contract that carries about a $6 million cap hit and Andrei Vasilevskiy getting the Jake Allen-style “you’re the man” extension, it seems like a matter of time.

Keeping Bishop around for one more season might just pay off, though.

For one thing, Vasilevskiy’s shown signs of brilliance, yet his current NHL numbers aren’t overwhelmingly strong. Bishop, meanwhile, kept the Bolts afloat during some tough times in 2015-16.

Even if the Lightning feel like Vasy is the guy, what if he gets hurt? They’ve already seen goalies get injured at inopportune times, and the reigning champion Penguins provide another reminder.

(For more on the Bishop situation, click here.)

Win low, worry later

GM Steve Yzerman deserves ample credit for signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman to relative bargain deals, but those are still expensive contracts. The squeeze is coming.

That said, the Lightning may want to identify their own Byfugliens and Ladds and go for broke in 2016-17. Let’s not forget how close they were to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance even with Stamkos on the shelf.

It’s tough to imagine the Bolts managing to keep all of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine many opponents managing to contain an attack that features Stamkos, Johnson, Palat, Drouin and other dangerous attackers.

(Plus, another year of evaluation would give Yzerman time to determine who is truly a core member.)

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It’s a challenging situation, but the Lightning easily rank alongside the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and maybe a few other select teams as the cream of the East crop.

They’re positioned to jostle with the elites for some time, but why not take their best shot in 2016-17 and then make the best of things later on?

Sometimes the difference between really good and truly great comes down to having the courage to make these tough calls.