2013 NHL Preview

Ok, we’ve all gotten the lock-out bitterness out of our systems right? ok, well if you’re still angry, please read elsewhere because WhitSport is moving forward! I’m proud to present a quick look at what to expect for the 48 game season that the NHL will conduct in the coming months.

The last time the NHL salvaged a strike-shortened season (1995) there were also 48 games played, with the Devils taking home the Stanley Cup in the end. Many teams think their teams can get hot and make a run at the playoffs this year, despite disappointing results in 2012. Back in ’95 this was not the case, as only 3 teams who made the playoffs in ’94 failed to do so after the lockout. This does not bode well for teams like the Maple Leafs, Oilers, and Islanders who are looking to end long playoff droughts. Last year saw tons of drama with more upsets than ever before in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The LA Kings took home Lord Stanley’s trophy, and in the process, became the first 8th seed to win the Cup.

With the amount of craziness that continues to go on display once the Playoffs roll around, it becomes nearly impossible to predict who will be vying for the Cup in June. Nevertheless, let’s have a go!


1. Penguins– with Crosby healthy, and Malkin already warmed up after playing in Russia, the Pens, who finished just 1 point behind the Rangers for the top spot in the East last year, look to avenge their early post-season departure with a deep run this season
2. Bruins– the B’s are a fairly young team and showed some consistency last year after winning their division for the 2nd straight season. Plus, with Tim Thomas on sabbatical, it’s Tuuka time!!
3. Capitals– with new coach Adam Oates around, the culture should improve in Washington. Ovechkin seems to be returning to normal, and may be given a longer leash than he had under Dale Hunter.
4. Rangers– John Tortorella certainly won’t let his foot off the pedal now. The Rangers have the personnel to make a great run, only questions surround whether Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and company can all live up to their billing.
5. Devils– it’d be hard to put the reigning Conference Champs any lower, with Brodeur back and rested, this young team could prove why last spring was no fluke. Watch out for emerging young stars like Henrique and Larsson.
6. Sabres– Nice additions in the offseason. If Ryan Miller steps back up to the level we know he can play, Buffalo has a shot to make some waves.
7. Flyers– with the goaltending situation at a crossroads, there could be bumps along the road. A solid scoring department may barely save them
8. Lightning– I’m expecting a big year from Stamkos. If the defense can improve, even just slightly, they’ll be in the mix.
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9. Panthers– they’re just one of those teams who played well last year, but a shortened season could prove fatal, only saving grace is their division
10. Jets– I like what they’re doing here. Their young consortium of talent is progressing nicely, but might be a goaltender away from the playoffs
11. Senators– I just don’t see enough here to warrant another playoff run, especially since the odds of Eric Karlsson putting up similar #’s to last year are slim
12. Canadiens– slight improvement over last year, but seriously need some scorers to contend for the playoffs again.
13. Islanders– this high? really? I think Tavares has his break out season, but a hefty schedule against the rest of the Atlantic keep the Isles humbled.
14. Hurricanes– the decline has been quick, and shows no signs of turning around this year. Contracts like Jordan Staal and Alex Semin have bad news written all over them.
15. Maple Leafs– goaltending is too flaky, and scoring is too thin behind Kessel. Bottom of the barrel here.


1. Blues– Ken Hitchcock was St. Louis’ savior a year ago, and they aren’t about to turn back now. Expect the Blues to continue stifling defensive play throughout the year.
2. Canucks– Roberto Luongo is as good as gone, but Schneider is more than capable, and all of the offensive weapons are back. They should contend for the President’s Trophy again
3. Coyotes– this team continues to impress despite a major lack of star power. I like Mike Smith to have another great year in net.
4. Blackhawks– I think the Blackhawks, now healthy, should put together a nice season. Patrick Kane is poised for a bounce-back campaign.
5. Ducks– yep this is my sleeper pick. Bruce Boudreau had this squad playing back up to their potential last year, but ran out time to snag a playoff berth. Look for bounce back years for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf
6. Red Wings– losing Nik Lidstrom might take more of a toll than some people think. I like their young talent a lot, but it’d be crazy to put them too much higher.
7. Predators– With Rinne back, they’re pretty much a lock for a playoff spot. Some worries about loss of Suter, but signing Hal Gill and re-signing others will help.
8. Stars- could repeat last year and get off to a red-hot start, but this time, a shortened schedule means they make the cut in April.
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9. Kings- what?! how could I leave the defending champs out of the playoffs? First off, they sneaked in as an 8-seed, and secondly, they’ve still got some major questions on offense
10. Sharks– we saw the decline begin last year, they have some good young players, but not enough depth.
11. Wild– two huge signings, but you need 4 full lines to make a decent NHL team. They could make things interesting if net-minder Niklas Backstrom stays healthy.
12. Avalanche– lots of good young talent, but really just too young for a playoff sprint (their Captain is only 20 years old!).
13. Oilers– just too much talent to finish any lower. Looking forward to seeing Yakupov and his new friends in action, even if the wins aren’t plentiful.
14. Flames– last year they did their normal routine and limped out of contention as the months dragged on. With an aging squad I don’t see much improvement on the horizon
15. Blue Jackets– just nothing here to think they’ll finish above bottom. With Nash gone they can begin to rebuild

In terms of pre-season Cup picks, I have never even been close to correct, but I’ll made some silly picks anyway…

Rangers fans hope to light em up with King Henry this summer

Stanley Cup: Rangers over Blues
Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP): Henrik Lundqvist
Hart (Reg Season MVP): Claude Giroux
Art Ross (Most Points): Claude Giroux
Rocket Richard (Most Goals): Steven Stamkos
Vezina (Best Goalie): Mike Smith
Norris (Best Defenseman): Kris Letang
Calder (Best Rookie): Nail Yakupov
Jack Adams (Best Coach): Adam Oates

Any comments, disagreements, praise, questions, quips, queries, and quandaries are all welcomed here. Looking forward to the puck finally dropping!


2011 NHL Predictions

Well it’s that time of the year again. Pucks are dropping across the continent, and even across the Atlantic on another. Additionally, the Penguins, who nearly left Pittsburgh just 6 years ago, unveil their new arena this evening (unfortunately it no longer looks like an igloo).

As temperatures cool, the feeling of fall is certainly here, and that can mean only one thing… HOCKEY IS BACK! Here’s a quick look at WhitSport’s predictions for the 2010-2011 NHL Season. Another great campaign can be assured, including an All Star Weekend, Live from Carolina!

Possible All-Star Squads:
EAST: (Fwds) Ovechkin, Crosby, Backstrom, Stamkos, Cammalleri, Gaborik, Okposo, M Richards, Kessel, Parise, E Staal, Weiss  (Def) Chara, M Green, Gonchar, Markov, Pronger, Enstrom  (Goalie) Brodeur, Ward, Miller

WEST: (Fwds) Heatley, H Sedin, Kane, Perry, Nash, Kopitar, Datsyuk, Iginla, Stasny, Hemsky, Latendresse, Doan  (Def) Lidstrom, Boyle, Weber, Robidas, Doughty, Keith (Goalie) Halak, Luongo, Howard

The playoffs can be hard to predict, and there’s always a few changes to the teams in and out from one year to the next. So I’ve included a few surprises, as well as some “well duh” picks…

Predicted Playoff Seeds:

1. Capitals

2. Penguins
3. Bruins
4. Devils
5. Lightning
6. Flyers
7. Rangers
8. Hurricanes

1. Red Wings

2. Sharks
3. Canucks
4. Coyotes
5. Blackhawks
6. Blues
7. Stars
8. Wild

Conference Finals:

Capitals over Bruins

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Canucks over Red Wings

2011 Stanley Cup: Capitals over Canucks

While the end of the season awards always bring debate, one of the nice things is that looking back, not many people see some of the winners coming at all. Well this is a year of redemption I believe. Look for Ovechkin to just run away with trophies, including the one that matters the most… His teammate Mike Green will finally get his due, and play enough defense to take home his coveted crown. As for the rest of the hardware, well check it out…

End of Season Award Wrap-up

Conne Smyth: Niklas Backstrom (WAS)

Hart Trophy: Alex Ovechkin (WAS)

Vezina: Martin Brodeur (NJD)

Calder: Jeff Skinner (CAR)

Art Ross: Alex Ovechkin (WAS)

Norris: Mike Green (WAS)

Jack Adams: Guy Boucher (TB)

Jennings: Theordore & Backstrom (MIN)


In Soviet Russia, ice-rink made of vodka


Thanks for reading and be sure to visit the 2010-11 NHL Preview Page for an in depth view into each division and a look at what your team might expect in the coming season. Enjoy puck heads!

NHL: 2010 Off-Season Hockey Report

Ahh the summer heat may melt the ice across the continent, but while these guys are out on the golf course, their agents are hard at work trying to find them a new home and boatload of cash. Sure the NHL doesn’t have the same blockbuster free agents as the NBA, but interesting for sure, especially when the trades are thrown in there. It should be fun to see how things play out. Enjoy!

1. Olli Jokinen CGY/NYR – possibly the most puzzling of all FA’s, rated a top centerman 3 years ago, now it seems like few teams want him, consecutive lackluster seasons can do that.
2. Vaclav Prospal NYR – see-saw career track says another big season is up for Vinny in 2010-11
3. Matt Cullen OTT – journeyman, and good two way player, but lacking offensive punch
4. Matthew Lombardi PHO – Will garner a lot of interest from teams, but isn’t really a huge name.
5. Mike Comrie EDM – inclusion on this list further proves the lack of available depth at this position

1. Ilya Kovalchuk ATL/NJ – will likely garner most $ and attention of all UFA’s
2. Alexander Frolov LA – young talent who has yet to peak. Possibly a top 5 UFA this year.
3. Paul Kariya – not what he used to be, but still a good leader, maybe good for 40 points
4. Arron Asham – PHI – Wont bring many points to the table, but his grit and physicality are unquestioned.
5. Colby Armstrong – Versatile winger would be a great 3rd line addition to most teams

1. Sergei Gonchar PIT – experienced cup winner and power play general, not bad on defense either. Injuries may be a concern though
2. Paul Martin NJ – will likely command $6 mil/yr or more, really showed his value last year
3. Anton Volchenkov OTT – not much on offense, but consistent and solid defender overall, justb try and get a puck past him
4. Derek Morris BOS/PHO – big pick-up for the Yotes, but likely headed back East.
5. Jordan Leopold FLA/PIT – didn’t stand out in Pittsburgh, but the skill is there, his stock may have fallen a tad though
6. Marc Andre Bergeron MTL –  centerpiece of stingy Habs defense, will likely continue to do same elsewhere
7. Dan Hamhuis NAS/PIT –  the Pens traded for his rights, but more teams are looking to sign the blue-line threat
8. Pavel Kubina ATL – top offensive FA defenseman, this is becoming a trend, does anyone want him?
9.  Toni Lydman BUF – good player on both ends of ice, might get more than a few offers
10. Joe Corvo CAR/WAS – didn’t have the same spark in DC, but still a vet with some left in the tank

As you can tell, the NHL Free Agent class this summer is littered with sought after defensemen. Goaltenders aren’t exactly limited in quantity either… take your pick!

1. Evgeni Nabakov SJ – finally got out of the first round, maybe he’ll move out of cursed San Jose?
2. Marty Turco DAL –  best days are likely behind him, but a change of scenery could lead to a resurgence
3. Jose Theodore WAS – better than fans in DC will tell you, his 30 wins this year were no anomaly
4. Patrick Lalime BUF –  serviceable back up, would be a solid pick up to play #2
5. Peter Budaj COL – if not for Anderson’s great start to the year Budaj would have featured his skills even more
6. Dan Ellis NAS – could start for a number of teams, he is a consistent net-minder with experience
7. Ray Emery PHI – will need to prove he is healthy if he wants another chance as a #1 starter
8. Chris Mason STL – May have to resort to playing as a #2, but solid nonetheless
9. Alex Auld DAL/NYR – another back-up for sure, probably suitable down here on the list.
10. Antero Nittymaki TB – probably could start for some teams, but his value will ensure him a job

One last list for ya, Restricted free agents who are screaming… “show me the money!!!” Where’s Cuba Gooding Jr when you need him?

Antti Niemi CHI
Chris Stewart COL
Bobby Ryan ANA
Andrew Ladd CHI
James Neal DAL
Blake Wheeler BOS
Darren Helm DET
Ondrej Pavelec ATL
Jeff Deslauriers EDM
Guillaume Latendresse MIN
Maxim Lapierre MTL
Carey Price MTL
Daniel Girardi NYR
Marc Staal NYR
Daniel Carcillo PHI
Devin Setoguchi SJ
Erik Johnson STL
Steve Downie TB
Eric Fehr WAS
Jeff Schultz WAS

Heating up the Ice

Hopefully the Flyers don’t melt the playing surface, because they’re on fire right now. Aside from their early series hiccup against the Bruins, the Bullies have been the best team in the NHL, outscoring their opponents 36-18. But, their 6-0 shellacking on Sunday night showed me more about their defensive effort though. Sure the Canadiens may have layed a big goose egg in Game 1 against the Penguins too, but Pronger, Timonen, Carle, and especially Michael Leighton sucked the life out of a Canadiens offense that was really hitting its stride. I’m not very good with predictions, but if you held a gun to my head, I’d say the Flyers have a real shot winning the Cup. Gill and Georges may have had success bottling up Malkin and Crosby in the last round, but this Philly team looks quicker than both the Caps and Pens. It may be up to the Montreal faithful to get the Habs back in this series.

Let’s not foget about the other hot teams, thats right plural, out West. The Blackhawks may have taken the early advantage against the Sharks on Sunday, but don’t count San Jose out yet. Sure Chicago’s offense is banging on all cylinders, but San Jose was the better team in several aspects of yesterdays Game 1 contest (shots on goal, faceoffs, takeaways) plus they didnt take a single penalty. Also remember that Chicago has lost 3 times at home in these playoffs already. If San Jose evens the series at the Shark-Tank tomorrow, the Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them heading back to Chicago. I wouldnt be surprised at all if this series goes seven games, especially after the tight nature of game 1. Don’t expect any scores like the one we saw in Philly last night. Guys like Campbell and Boyle have been there before and both defenses are being quite stingy at the moment.


Flyers in 5…. ‘Hawks in 7

2010 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Here’s what we know about the Stanley Cup playoffs:
– Teams that get hot are the ones that move on. (Hurricanes last year, Flyers two seasons ago, Edmonton in ‘06)
– Sometimes, top teams flame out after a long season (see the #1 seeded Sharks last year falling to Anaheim in round 1)
– Only ONE #1 seed has made it to the Finals since the lockout (really!)
– Goaltending wins Stanley Cups (Fleury, Osgood, Giguere, and Ward last 4 seasons)

Here’s what we don’t know:
– Which teams will catch fire
– Which top teams will continue elite levels of play
– Where the upsets will come from
– What goalie will burst into the spotlight
– Who will take Lord Stanley’s Cup home…

If history has taught us anything it’s that playoff predictions are typically wrong. I thought filling out an NCAA bracket was tough. The 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs were a testament to how difficult it can be in pro hockey as well. This year I’ve gone with reason and gut instincts, but I’ve mixed things up a bit for fun. Here’s my take…


Cup Contenders: Right now, the Capitals look poised to make a Cup charge, with New Jersey and Pittsburgh as the next two contenders. All three teams have a few questions marks, but most people’s money will be on these top 3 in the East.

Sleeper Alert: Boston Bruins – behind a solid net minder in Tukkaa Rask and a core of players who were one goal from the Conference Finals last season.

Series Breakdowns:

The Capitals showcase the best young talent in the league (Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green), but they have yet to get over the hump, and only boast one player (Mike Knuble) who has won a Stanley Cup. The Capitals scoring alone can win them a close game, and can get them back in a series even if they fall behind. Coach Boudreau showed last year that he’s not afraid to mix things up with his net minders. It seems like Jose Theodore would be the logical choice, as he’s gone undefeated in regular over his last 23 starts. One problem… he’d be facing his old team (and their rowdy fans) in the first round. Montreal hockey-goers hide no feelings; they’ll do whatever it takes to make the former Canadien goalie as uncomfortable as possible. The Habs themselves boast the second best power play in the league and beat the Caps twice in the regular season. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has been solid since the Olympics, but only has about 90 minutes of playoff experience.

Verdict: Capitals in 6

Despite a goal tally that continues to plummet each year, the Devils know that on the shoulders of Brodeur alone, they can achieve their ultimate goal; no other NHL team has as much confidence in their goalie. The Flyers are in the opposite end of the boat, they’ve scored goals lately and have had to turn to their 3rd string goaltender to keep pucks out of the net. Philly beat New Jersey 5 times in the regular season, which may show that they’ve learned how to beat one of the league’s stingiest defenses of all time. They’ve got plenty of guys that can score; unfortunately many of them are on the shelf with injuries.

Verdict: Devils in 6

The Sabres and Bruins is one of the more intriguing match-ups on the postseason slate. Both teams boast a solid net minder who looks capable of taking his team to the promised land. Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is more proven than Boston’s Tuukka Rask, but the Bruins defense showed up big time late in the season. Buffalo’s team is much younger and may run into problems when facing guys on the B’s who have been around longer (like Recchi, Chara, and Satan). Overall the edge may have to go to the Bruins, who took home 4 wins in 6 games against the Sabres in the regular season.

Verdict: Bruins in 7

The Penguins and Senators will be matched up in the playoffs for the third time in 4 seasons. Don’t expect the Sens to roll over and get swept like they did in 2008. Ottawa’s Brian Elliot looks strong and beat the Pens earlier in the season. A Pittsburgh lineup that features most of the team that won the Cup a season ago, looks to get back to the Finals for a third straight year. The targets are affixed to their backs, but the Pens seem to welcome the pressure that goes along with playing alongside the league’s most publicized player. The Sens may not be favorites, but they’ll play a closer series than most are expecting

Verdict: Penguins in 6


Cup Contenders: the Red Wings look like the hottest team in the West right now, but the top 3 seeds in San Jose, Chicago, and Vancouver are all legitimate threats to the crown. Goal tending points won’t go to the Hawks or Sharks, and experience has to make the Red Wings a favorite despite being the #5 seed.

Sleeper Alert: Coyotes – they’ve defied the odds to this point and seemingly have one of the top 3 goalies in the league, I’d say it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.

Series Breakdowns:

It seems like San Jose is that team that can’t get over the postseason hump. Aside from winning Western Conference regular season titles, they’ve got little else to brag about.

While the Avalanche appear to be young and vulnerable, don’t expect a thrashing in this series. Young players like Stasny, Stewart, and Duchene could bounce back from an ugly ending to the regular season and win a game or two. Craig Anderson has been good for the Avs, but I believe San Jose actually has the edge with Nabokov in net.

Sharks in 5

The battle between Chicago and Nashville might end up being one of the more lopsided playoff series in the West. While the Predators have played fairly well all season, they are still a team that fails to match up well with their opponents in this case. Pekka Rinne played well at times, but his losing skids were endless at some points. If Chicago can get on the board early, they won’t have to worry that their goalie’s name is Neimi. I expect Sharp, Toews, and Kane to light things up, their newly added veterans to assist with the experience factor, and the Hawks to cruise into the second round.

Blackhawks in 4

In the undercard series, the Canucks and Kings will both look to ride balanced attacks into the second round of the playoffs. Neither team is very deep, and both rely on stars like the Sedin twins, Luongo, Kopitar and Doughty. I think this series could be closer than anticipated. The Canucks have the edge in net, with Canada’s golden goalie. LA looks to have the edge in experience (Modin, Scuderi, and Williams all have won Stanley Cups). If recent play is factored in, the Kings late season slide does not bode well for their chances of advancing.

Canucks in 6

The Red Wings appear to be playing at the same dangerous level as always. Aside from their struggles earlier in the season, they hung around the playoff hunt, and found a star in Jimmy Howard. Goaltending wins championships, and although Howard is just 26 years old, he is playing like a veteran, and has plenty of vets across the lineup to back him up. The pesky Coyotes will grab most headlines to start out, as this is their first playoff appearance in almost a decade, and the team almost folded a few months ago. But the series will be played on the ice, where the Red Wings are on fire lately. Although Bryzgalov is probably the most deserving of the league MVP award, and despite the fact that the ‘Yotes played Detroit close this year, the Red Wings look too good right now to warrant a different result.

Red Wings in 6


I’ll take the Devils to meet the Capitals in the East; both teams owned the defending champs in the regular season, and I think the Pens run will finally come to an end. I’ll give the Devils the edge in this match-up, due to their stingy defense and the guy they have blocking pucks in front of goal. Ovechkin will fail to make his Stanley Cup debut again. I also have a hunch that Washington’s goalie situation will take a troublesome turn.

In the West I believe the Red Wings will oust the Sharks and meet the Canucks in the Conference Finals, but Canadians will have the last laugh again, as Henrik Sedin and the boys in Vancouver march on to the Finals. Howard will be good, but I’m seeing a change up this year in the final two…

So, it’ll be the Canucks and the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks will rely on stellar play from its top line, but it won’t be enough to overcome the Devils, as Brodeur claims his 4th Cup. Enjoy!!!

NHL Regular Season Wrap-Up

With just a few game remaining in the regular season, it’s time to start talking playoff hockey. But before we cloud our minds with how the games brightest stars will fare during the second season, we should probably take a look at who deserves what in the year end Award Show:

Only one thing has basically been wrapped up in terms of NHL awards:

Presidents Trophy (Most Points) – Capitals

As for the rest of the gang:

Hart Trophy (MVP)
Who will win it? Alex Ovechkin (WAS) probably the frontrunner, however looking at his team’s record without him, some people may consider his less “valuable” than in previous years
Who Should win it? Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX) without him the Yotes are a pedestrian 7-5-1. He the glue on that team.

Art Ross (Most Points)
Who will win it? Henrik Sedin (VAN)  His passing touch and play around the net one of a kind and something to truly marvel at.
Who Should win it? Henrik Sedin (VAN), despite having a clone… I mean twin that can do pretty much everything he can, Henrik really put up the most solid numbers this year.

Vezina (Best Goalie)
Who will win it? Martin Brodeur (NJD) the likely choice, with a slight edge over Bryzgalov in most stats.
Who Should win it? Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX) should win it because he plays for the COYOTES! He’s also one the the greatest waver-wire pick ups of all time.

Calder (Rookie of Year)
Who will win it? Tuuka Rask (BOS) or Jimmy Howard (DET), 3 goalies have won this award in the last 8 years
Who Should win it? Matt Duchene (COL), really consistent all year long, and scored a few big goals for the Avs.

Norris (Best Defender)
Who will win it? Mike Green (WAS) hugely inflated stats by playing on the PP with guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom… I saw a recent stat that said close to 80% of his assists are secondary
Who Should win it? Duncan Keith (CHI) drastically improved his offensive game and really anchored the ‘Hawks defense on a team with poor goaltending

Jack Adams (Coach of Year)
Who will win it? Bruce Boudreau (WAS), led the Caps to all sorts of franchise records and built quite a juggernaut
Who Should win it? Bruce Boudreau (WAS), but Joel Quennville (CHI) also deserves a mention

Rocket Richard (Top Goal Scorer)
Who will win it? Sidney Crosby (PIT), with games remaining against the Islanders and Thrashers he’ll likely notch another goal or few to overtake the pack
Who Should win it? Alex Ovechkin (WAS), missed a fair # of games to injury and suspension, would have likely scored 55+ goals

All that being said we can turn our focus onto the teams who will be playing at least another week or two:

Playoff Bound:

1. Capitals
2. Devils
3. Sabres
4. Penguins
5. Senators
6. Canadiens
7. Flyers
8. Bruins
1. Blackhawks
2. Sharks
3. Canucks
4. Coyotes
5. Red Wings
6. Predators
7. Kings
8. Avalanche


I expect the Rangers to miss out narrowly, as Philly seems to have turned things around. A few potential first round match-ups really excite me, like Chicago vs Colorado… two really young unproven teams going at it. In the East, I’d love to see the Flyers against the Devils or Capitals and think the Broad Street Bullies would give both teams more than they’d like to handle. Check back for Whitsport’s Post-season picks on Monday when everything is all set.


NHL: Top 10 Pre-Playoff Headlines

While the Capitals may be the only team to clinch a playoff birth a few other things are certain when it comes to the last 3 weeks of the NHL’s Regular Season.  Here’s Whitsport’s Top Ten Headlines leading up the NHL Playoffs:

#10 – The races for the final playoff spots are slightly less exciting than in previous years. Typically this time in March we discuss three or four teams that are close, or have battled it out for that last playoff spot all season long. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year, sure the B’s and Thrashers are separated by the slimmest of margins, but outside of that, not much else we didn’t expect. Rangers tanking in March? Check! Red Wings going on a run and tying up a berth? No, really?! Fortunately, the predictability will vanish once April 11th rolls around.

#9 – The Phoenix Coyotes will make their playoff debut. Probably the most problematic situation in sports. The Phoenix Coyotes had no fans, no owner, and possibly no home just a few months ago. Now, they share a lead for the top spot in the Western Conf, and they look poised to challenge many of the top guns in the West. Behind Bryzgalov in net, and a nice mix of veterans and youth, the ‘Yotes might continue to surprise people who say “The Coyotes?!… made the playoffs?!”

#8 – Buffalo, New Jersey, and Nashville look to be in good shape headed into the playoffs. When it comes to winning a Cup, most people would agree that Goaltending can win you one. As long as that holds true, teams like Devils with Marty Brodeur and Sabres with Ryan Miller like their chances. Others like the Coyotes and Predators, are blazing hot right now, with win streaks of 9 and 6 games respectively. Both teams would love to keep the pace heading into April.

#7 – Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Chicago should worry about their goalie situations. In Philly, it’s an injury bug… in Chicago, it’s two inconsistent goalies who have done little to impress in the post-season. A handful of NHL teams are going to have to make some major decisions in net next month. Goalie by committee has never won a Cup, and this year likely won’t be the first. Washington’s likely the top contender in the East, but Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a huge decision to make… Theodore or Varlamov… who starts in net? San Jose may be the reigning President’s Trophy winners, but their net-minder has a history of dropping the ball (or puck rather) in the second season.

#6 – What happened to the star power? Guys like Ovechkin, Crosby, and Joe Thornton have cooled down a bit since the Olympic break, and who can blame them. Add a handful of games, and intense games mind you, to the schedule, it’s no wonder some of the game’s biggest names are slowing down a bit this late in the season. Teams like Phoenix and Atlanta, who had very few Olympians playing in February, are fresh and playing well. Will the NHL’s stars rise when the games really count?

#5 – It’s all about the match-ups! The Blackhawks could lock up the #1 seed in the West, but if that means having to play the #8 Red Wings in the first round, they might rather be seeded 2 or 3. Sure ‘Hawks fans would love to get revenge for last year, but wouldn’t they rather see a team like Colorado or LA in round 1? Same goes for a team like Buffalo, who are close to being paired up with the Senators in the playoffs (they are 0-3-1 against Ottawa this season, and would likely prefer to face anyone else). Teams like Vancouver, on the other hand, love their current seeding, which would pair them with the Kings (against whom they’ve allowed just 3 goals in 3 meetings).

#4 – Parity seems evident between the East and West. Right now one could easily make the argument that the Western Conference looks a bit more competitive than the East. Judging by the #8 seeds alone, the Wings have 85 points to the Bruins 76. This means that if teams like Calgary, St. Louis and Anaheim were all in the East, they’d have playoff births. It’s not to say that whatever team that prevails from the West will be handed the Stanley Cup, but they will sure have to earn it on the way there. After the top 3 or 4 teams in the East, the talent pool declines a bit more rapidly than in the West.

#3 – The race for 8th in the West is practically over. The Red Wings put on a show on Monday night, and further distanced themselves from the floundering Flames at the cusp of the Western Conf playoff race. With Franzen, Zetterberg, and Howard playing really well, it looks like Calgary would need a miracle to squeak into the playoffs. Heck, the Wings might even catch a 6 or 7 seed in the West, thus putting the Chicago match-up on hold…

#2 – The race for 8th in the East is heating up! The Bruins and Atlanta may not have the biggest names or the flashiest stars, but their race for eighth in the East warrants some attention. The Bruins have struggled to score goals, but have really picked up the physical play, as was evident against New York on Sunday. The Thrashers handled Philly in a home-and-home over the weekend, and appear to have an easier schedule down the stretch. This one could go down to the wire

#1 – Will the rules change for the playoffs? It seems like everyone is talking about this story. Matt Cooke may not have been the first one to throw a cheap shot and someone and knock them out for the rest of the year, but he certainly started the debate of the season. Will the NHL change the rules regarding head shots just in time for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Most experts, and people in the know seem to think this is a highly possible scenario. Most hockey nuts will tell you that the hitting and fighting subsides a bit during the playoffs, but the NHL supposedly has a rule drawn up that will be reviewed by the Players Association and could be enacted just in time for the playoffs. What effect will this have on the way the game is played? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.