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Reviewing our 2013-14 NHL crystal ball at the midseason point

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Patrick Sharp and Sidney Crosby

Two of our four scribes say the Blackhawks and the Penguins are poised for a Stanley Cup showdown. (Getty Images)

By Allan Muir, Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Eli Bernstein

With all 30 teams having reached or passed the 41-game midpoint of the season, we thought it we be fun to take a look back at our preseason crystal ball and see how accurate our forecast was — and look ahead to the second half with the benefit of a little hindsight.

Here are our original picks (conference and Stanley Cup finalists, major award winners, biggest disappointment, and more):

SI.com’s 2013-14 NHL Crystal Ball predictions | GALLERY: Players with something to prove

And now our mid-course corrections:

Allan Muir

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick:
Kings over Blues
New pick:
None
The Ducks haven’t lost a game at home in regulation, the Sharks have dropped just one, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks are as intimidating as any team in recent memory. Pick any one (or two) of those three to make it to the conference finals and you won’t have a hard time defending your choice. Still, I’m sticking with my original picks. Los Angeles has struggled a bit of late, but with Jonathan Quick healthy they should find their groove quickly. St. Louis looks deeper up front than I’d expected (Jaden Schwartz on Team Canada 2018, you can book it) and is such a heavy team to play against. Both the Kings and the Blues have championship potential.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Senators over Penguins
New pick: Bruins over Penguins
Remember the Ottawa team that stared down adversity at every turn last season, the one that was only going to be better this year with a healthy Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza, plus newcomer Bobby Ryan?  Yeah, the Senators fooled me. If not for David Clarkson (see below), they would easily qualify as the season’s biggest, and most surprising, disappointment. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has delivered while dealing with a cruel array of injuries, while Boston’s steady, disciplined game has the Bruins headed for a rematch of last year’s conference final. The Penguins are more explosive, but Boston is built for postseason trench warfare. Gimme the B’s.

STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
Original pick: Kings over Senators
New pick: Kings over Bruins
I’ll stick with L.A. as my winner, but man, what a heavyweight battle this could be against Boston. Two great goalkeepers, two smart coaches. Ultimately, I like the heaviness of the Kings forwards to give them a slight edge.

MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
Hart Trophy:
Sidney Crosby (no change)
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby (no change)
Norris Trophy:  Duncan Keith. My original pick, Erik Karlsson, is back to his pre-injury level of mobility and creativity, and has been dynamite for Ottawa in the offensive zone, but Keith is just playing a better all-around game for a better team. It’s his trophy to lose.
Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask (no change)
Calder Trophy:  Torey Krug. If my original pick, Tomas Hertl, hadn’t suffered a major knee injury, I’m convinced he would run away with rookie of the year honors. But now that his season is over, there’s no player who really stands out in a relatively deep freshman class … at least, not yet. Nathan MacKinnon has been solid for the Avalanche and might win on name recognition alone, but I really like the transitional punch that Krug is bringing to a Bruins defense that will have to alter its identity a little to accommodate for the loss of Dennis Seidenberg. Gimme Krug here.
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron was my original pick –and he is winning face-offs at a 60 percent-plus clip — but his overall game hasn’t quite matched last season’s excellence. Toews is playing MVP-caliber hockey for the Blackhawks.
Adams Award: Jon Cooper. Lindy Ruff, who I picked back in October, has done a fantastic job with a young Stars team that’s gotten younger as injuries have devastated its blueline corps, and he’s a good bet to be a finalist when all the votes are counted. But how do you ignore the job that Jon Cooper has done with the Lightning? Tampa Bay has been without Steven Stamkos, its marquee star, for two months, and dresses eight rookies on most nights. But the Bolts are still right in the thick of a tight race for the Atlantic Division title. The stellar play of goaltender Ben Bishop can’t be ignored, but Cooper deserves recognition for keeping this rag-tag group focused and on point.

MOST INTRIGUING STORYLINE: The Sochi Olympics (no change)

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Dallas Stars (no change)

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: David Clarkson (new). Sheriff Shanny and his player safety department posse, to their credit, seem to have replaced the Spinning Wheel of Justice with something slightly more predictable this season. The result isn’t always satisfying, but more often than not you get the sense of an overarching logic to their decisions. So let’s take the goat horns off them and hand ‘em to someone truly deserving. It’s not just that Clarkson has failed to live up to the $5.25 million salary cap hit he became after signing with the Maple Leafs as a free agent last summer, he’s also been completely overwhelmed by the weight of it. His two suspensions, a 10-game goalless streak to start the season and the 12-game skid that followed shortly afterward revealed a player who has completely lost his sense of what made him so valuable in the first place. His eight-point season isn’t beyond salvaging, but it’s close.

FIRST COACH OR GM FIRED: Claude Noel was my original pick and I think he’ll be the first to be turfed during the second half. The comments out of the Penguins’ dressing room on Sunday night echo what I’ve been saying all season: the Jets are going nowhere with Noel in their cockpit. In the last year of his contract, and with the playoffs sliding quickly out of sight, a change seems inevitable.

Brian Cazeneuve

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Blackhawks over Kings
New pick: None
Chicago is as strong as ever in a conference that is clearly the better of the two. Even with a recent losing streak, I still like L.A.’s upside if goalie Jonathan Quick can get healthy and return to form. No disrespect to the Kings’ very successful and impressive Southern California neighbors in Anaheim, but I’ll keep my pick.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Penguins over Bruins
New pick: None
Pittsburgh is first and Boston is second in the East, which is reason enough to stay with my original choice. But even more important, there are many teams in the league that have had or are still having issues with struggling or injured goaltenders. These two are not among them.

STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
Original pick: Blackhawks over Penguins
New pick: None
The Penguins remain the most explosive team in the NHL, but the defending Cup champions are more balanced and they don’t have Pittsburgh’s recent track record of springtime implosions. This pick stays, too.

MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
Hart Trophy:
  Sidney Crosby. (Original pick: Jonathan Toews.) Can a player be all-world and still do it quietly? Maybe Crosby can. I’ll give him the nod for the Hart because his body has held up, and during the course of a full season, this award should be his.
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby (no change)
Norris Trophy: Duncan Keith. Erik Karlsson, my original pick, has been his usual strong self offensively, but he’s given the puck away more this season. Keith is having a stronger two-way campaign, and he’s my pick now.
Vezina Trophy: Ben Bishop. I originally chose Jonathan Quick. Now, with so many surprising names at the top of the goalie stats, it’s hard to pick one, but I’ll go with Bishop, assuming that his upper body injury won’t cost him a lot of time. He also has an outsider’s chance for the Hart, given how much he’s meant to the Stamkos-less Lightning.
Calder Trophy: Seth Jones was my first choice, and his rookie of the year chances depend on the health of the Sharks’ Tomas Hertl. If Hertl comes back and plays enough games, especially next to Joe Thornton, the San Jose forward should still win the hardware. If not, the Lightning’s Tyler Johnson has been a surprise, while the Avalanche’s Nathan McKinnon has done as well as expected. I’ll cautiously stay with Jones.
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron (no change)
Adams Award: Jon Cooper. (Original pick: Todd Richards.) Tampa Bay’s Cooper has taken a team that finished 14th in its conference last season and kept it in the playoff hunt despite losing the league’s deadliest goal scorer to the injured list for two months. That’s a coach of the year performance.

MOST INTRIGUING STORYLINE: The fighting debate. The return of Tim Thomas was my original choice, but the mercurial goalie didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team and he hasn’t had a great impact in Florida. A bigger story that may one day change the fiber of the game is the enhanced discussion about fighting in the wake of the George Parros’ concussion, Ray Emery’s attack on Braden Holtby, and Shawn Thornton’s sucker punch of Brooks Orpik. No longer are the anti-fighting voices all flying in from the fringes. When three general managers (Ray Shero in Pittsburgh, Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay, and Jim Rutherford in Carolina) are calling for change, this is serious.

The Great Debate: 50 landmark hockey fights

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Colorado Avalanche. If my original pick, the Blue Jackets, rally during the second half the way they did last season, they could still make the playoffs, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference. The bigger improvement, however, will ultimately come from Colorado, where new coach Patrick Roy has molded his skilled forwards into a cohesive unit.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: New York Islanders. For the first two months, my original choice, Canucks coach John Tortorella, deserved the dishonor. Since then, no way. Vancouver has responded to the demanding coach’s exacting ways and, with or without a Presidents’ Trophy, this edition of the team may be more playoff-ready than some of its formidable predecessors. On the other hand, the Isles have taken all the momentum from last season’s strong finish and impressive playoff showing and tossed it into the memory bin. At least Tomas Vanek is in the house for a visit …

FIRST COACH OR GM FIRED: Garth Snow. I originally picked the Flyers’ Peter Laviolette or Paul Holmgren, and it was the coach who got the boot after only three games. Philadelphia’s GM is safe for now, but the same can’t be said now for the Islanders’ Snow. His trade of Matt Moulson — plus a conditional 2014 first-round pick and a ’15 second-rounder — for Thomas Vanek was supposed to shake up the team for another playoff run. But instead it only seemed to shake the team while failing to address real needs on the blue line and in net. It’s not hard to envision a housecleaning on Long Island.

Sarah Kwak

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick:
Blackhawks over Sharks
New pick: None. Chicago continues to maintain its place as the class of the Central Division. After a blistering start, San Jose has cooled but still has all the pieces for a long, physical, hard-fought postseason run. I’m sticking with these.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Penguins over Bruins
New pick: None. Yep, I’m staying with these front-runners, too. Why? Because they are solidly built and easily the cream of the crop in the East. Pittsburgh, despite a wave of injuries to its defense corps, has continued to win. The Pens will be an even more intimidating force when they’re back at full strength.

STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
Original pick: Blackhawks over Penguins
New pick: Penguins over Blackhawks. OK, I’m going to flip-flop here and give this one to Pittsburgh. I think the Western Conference is far stronger than the East, but that’s why the road to the final will take a bigger toll on Chicago. Sidney Crosby has continued to be excellent (and healthy), and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been as good as he’s ever been for the Penguins. He just needs to be solid, not necessarily spectacular, to carry Pittsburgh in the postseason.

MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
Hart Trophy:
Sidney Crosby. (No change. He’s leading the league with 1.43 points per game, and is on pace for 117 for the season, which would be his best offensive performance since 2006-07, the last time he won the Hart.)
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby (no change)
Norris Trophy: Ryan Suter (No change. On a career-best pace with 29 points in 44 games, the Wild defenseman remains my choice. He’s all-around the most solid and steady blueliner in the league right now.)
Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask. (Injury has slowed Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, my original pick, so I’m going with Rask. He’s been so consistently solid for Boston during the past three seasons. Because of Bruins’ stout defense, he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.
Calder Trophy: Tomas Hertl. (Seth Jones, my first choice, eats minutes for the Predators, averaging 21 per game, but he’s still a work in progress as the rookie with the most potential. My Calder pick now (depending on his health) is Tomas Hertl, who has been a godsend for the Sharks.
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron (no change)
Adams Award: Ken Hitchcock. My original pick was the Islanders’ Jack Capuano. Ah, yeah … um, no. I’ll now throw my support behind Hitchcock, who has turned St. Louis into a serious contender in the same neighborhood as Chicago.

MOST INTRIGUING STORYLINE: Department of Player Safety. I originally picked the Penguins for their goaltending situation. Fleury’s been solid so far. Turns out that the most intriguing storyline this season is the seemingly unceasing string of suspensions as the league tries to figure out how much punishment will actually deter players from delivering dangerous hits and cheap shots.

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP: Colorado Avalanche. I first took a shot with the Islanders. So sue me. No, the most improved team this season has been the Avs, without a doubt. Coach Patrick Roy has got his team believing in itself, and last season’s worst team in the West now sits comfortably in playoff position.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: No change. Chicago’s outdoor game on March 1 is yet to come, but I’m still going to call it a disappointment. The Winter Classic last week in Ann Arbor was great. It was picturesque and enjoyable. By March, everybody will be sick of cold weather and ready for the spring. They’ll also be a bit jaded by the previous five outdoor matches. I still say this one will be a bust, by comparison.

FIRST COACH OR GM FIRED: Jay Feaster wasn’t the first to go, but the Flames’ GM was indeed shown the door. Looking down the second-half stretch, I can see Jack Capuano taking the fall on Long Island. Granted, the defense and goaltending have been thin, but after a disastrous skid through November, the Isles have started to play respectable hockey of late in another case of too little, too late to save their playoff hopes.

Eli Bernstein

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Blackhawks over Sharks
New pick: Ducks over Blues
Chicago’s goaltending has been shaky this season and the defense has been especially prone to giving up late goals, traits that do not bode well for the Blackhawks’ chances to repeat as Cup champions. San Jose has been solid but streaky, and Anaheim is the class of the West, rolling over just about everyone of late and possessing perhaps the best top line in hockey. St. Louis finally has some offensive punch to go with its usual air-tight defense and goaltending, and if Alexander Steen can recover from his recent concussion, the Blues will be poised for a deep playoff run.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALISTS
Original pick: Bruins over Penguins
New pick: Penguins over Bruins
Pittsburgh and Boston are head and shoulders above everyone else in the East right now, and they’re evenly matched with each other as well. Sidney Crosby has regained his mantle as the undisputed best player in the league, and the Penguins are absolutely loaded on the offensive end of the ice. For the Bruins, Tuukka Rask is having a career, and Vezina-caliber, year, and contributions from prior unknowns like Reilly Smith has Boston humming along. In the end, I think a healthy Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be the difference if these teams meet in a best-of-seven series.

STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
Original pick: Blackhawks over Bruins
New pick: Ducks over Penguins
In the teams’ only meeting so far this season, Anaheim and Pittsburgh played to a stalemate over two periods before the Penguins erupted for three goals in the third to seal the win. Both teams have skilled offenses and capable defenses and net play; Pittsburgh has the edge on special teams, where its power play and penalty kill have excelled. In the Stanley Cup finals, I’ll give the edge to Anaheim, though, because the Ducks have had to play against the other elite teams in the West on an almost nightly basis while the Penguins have gotten fat against the East’s comparative lack of quality clubs. Over a two-month playoff grind, or a drawn-out series, that may make all the difference.

MAJOR AWARD WINNERS
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby. John Tavares was my original pick, but his Islanders have been an outright mess that he has been unable to save. Simply put, Crosby is playing imaginative, dominant hockey for one of the best teams in the league, making everyone on the ice step up their games around him.
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby (no change)
Norris Trophy: Duncan Keith. I originally chose Ryan Suter, but if the past two Norris Trophy winners are any indication, Keith’s acumen in both the offensive and defensive zones will put him in prime position to win the award this year.
Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask. Henrik Lundqvist, my choice in October, has underperformed and the Rangers have struggled to adjust to new coach Alain Vigneault. The Wild’s Josh Harding and the Canadiens’ Carey Price are also worthy candidates, but Rask has upped his already solid play to new levels. He’s tied for the league lead with four shutouts and is one of the reasons that the Bruins rank second in the NHL in goals-against.
Calder Trophy: Seth Jones (no change)
Selke Trophy: Jonathan Toews. Patrice Bergeron was my preseason choice, but nobody in hockey has been better at winning individual battles along the boards and in the corner. Toews may not be huge, but his body positioning and puck shielding abilities are unparalleled.
Adams Award: Patrick Roy. Dallas Eakins looked like an inspired choice until his potential-packed Oilers failed to launch. Colorado has cooled off some from its rampaging start, but the difference that Roy has made to a club that was destitute last season cannot be overlooked.

MOST INTRIGUING STORYLINE: The concussion-lawsuit headache. The NHL has seen some ugly on-ice incidents this season (among them, George Parros getting knocked out; Shawn Thornton mugging Brooks Orpik) and the impending lawsuit from a group of former players will only serve to bring even more scrutiny to the game’s entrenched values of pugilistic justice. The league has made a point of trying to keep its players safe during the past decade, but questions and concerns obviously remain.

TEAM MOST LIKELY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP:  Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jets, who got my first nod, are currently 11th in the West, so I think I’ll reconsider. Tampa Bay has defied expectations by rising to third in the East, and when Steven Stamkos returns, the Bolts could be a dangerous draw in the playoffs for an unwary opponent.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: New York Islanders. (Original pick: Detroit Red Wings.) The Isles have fallen hard from the heights they reached last season. John Tavares and Co. currently rank second-to-last in the East, and have allowed the second-most goals in the NHL while failing to find any production outside of Tavares, Kyle Okposo and a few other players. Maybe a move to Brooklyn really is the answer, but that won’t come until the 2015-16 season.

FIRST COACH OR GM FIRED: Mike Yeo. Well, Dan Bylsma seems to have taken my original prediction personally. He’s got the Penguins back into powerhouse form, so the new occupant of my hot seat is the Wild’s Yeo, who apparently has told his players not to worry about him as the team languishes on the fringes of the West’s playoff picture. Fans and media alike in Minnesota are calling for his head, and it’s only a matter of time before management listens.

  • Published On Jan 06, 2014
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