Posted: Fri March 15, 2013 1:37PM; Updated: Fri March 15, 2013 10:07PM

SI.com's NHL 2013 midseason Crystal Ball predictions

Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
Jonathan Toews and Viktor Fasth
The Blackhawks were the biggest story of the first half, but the Ducks have been the bigger surprise.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As the abbreviated NHL season roars past its midpoint and we hit the stretch drive to the playoffs, we asked our four puck prognosticators to dust off the old Crystal Ball again and revisit their preseason picks, which you can find here. Yes, indeed, it's always nice to get a mulligan or three. Raise your hand if you saw the Canadiens and Ducks coming on as strong as they have? The Rangers, a popular and sexy preseason pick to play for or win the Stanley Cup, may yet validate that glowing assessment, but the Oilers haven't lived up to their hype and defenseman Justin Schultz has been supplanted as a Calder Trophy favorite. However, many of our most intriguing players to watch are still pretty darned intriguing. (Hello, Sergei Bobrovsky...) So we're teeing up our predictions again with another cold eye on the postseason field, the eventual Stanley Cup champion, the major awards winners as well as four significant story lines. Take 'em to the bank -- but be prepared to get a strange look from the teller.

MIDSEASON: Stretch drive forecast | Midseason awards | Fantasy All-Stars | Calder conundrum | Draft prospect rankings

Playoff Predictions
 
Allan Muir
  WESTERN CONFERENCE   EASTERN CONFERENCE   STANLEY CUP FINAL  
  over   over   over  
  Western playoff field: Blackhawks, Kings, Canucks, Ducks, Red Wings, Stars, Coyotes, Blues
Eastern playoff field: Bruins, Penguins, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Rangers, Senators, Devils, Leafs
 
 
 
Sarah Kwak
  WESTERN CONFERENCE   EASTERN CONFERENCE   STANLEY CUP FINAL  
  over   over   over  
  Western playoff field: Blackhawks, Canucks, Blues, Ducks, Kings, Red Wings, Wild, Sharks
Eastern playoff field: Penguins, Bruins, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Rangers, Devils, Jets, Flyers
 
 
 
Brian Cazeneuve
  WESTERN CONFERENCE   EASTERN CONFERENCE   STANLEY CUP FINAL  
  over   over   over  
  Western playoff field: Blackhawks, Canucks, Kings, Ducks, Red Wings, Wild, Blues, Predators
Eastern playoff field: Penguins, Bruins, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Capitals
 
 
 
Adrian Dater
  WESTERN CONFERENCE   EASTERN CONFERENCE   STANLEY CUP FINAL  
  over   over   over  
  Western playoff field: Blackhawks, Canucks, Kings, Ducks, Red Wings, Wild, Coyotes, Blues
Eastern playoff field: Bruins, Penguins, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Rangers, Devils, Jets, Maple Leafs
 
 
Major Award Winners
 
Muir
  Hart
Trophy
  Ross
Trophy
  Norris
Trophy
  Vezina
Trophy
  Calder
Trophy
  Selke
Trophy
  Adams
Award
 
               
  Sidney
Crosby
  Sidney
Crosby
  Zdeno
Chara
  Tuukka
Rask
  Jonathan
Huberdeau
  Jonathan
Toews
  Paul
MacLean
 
 
 
Kwak
  Hart
Trophy
  Ross
Trophy
  Norris
Trophy
  Vezina
Trophy
  Calder
Trophy
  Selke
Trophy
  Adams
Award
 
               
  Sidney
Crosby
  Sidney
Crosby
  Niklas
Kronwall
  Corey
Crawford
  Jonathan
Huberdeau
  Patrice
Bergeron
  Bruce
Boudreau
 
 
 
Cazeneuve
  Hart
Trophy
  Ross
Trophy
  Norris
Trophy
  Vezina
Trophy
  Calder
Trophy
  Selke
Trophy
  Adams
Award
 
               
  Sidney
Crosby
  Sidney
Crosby
  Kris
Letang
  Tuukka
Rask
  Jonathan
Huberdeau
  Pavel
Datsyuk
  Michel
Therrien
 
 
 
Dater
  Hart
Trophy
  Ross
Trophy
  Norris
Trophy
  Vezina
Trophy
  Calder
Trophy
  Selke
Trophy
  Adams
Award
 
               
  Sidney
Crosby
  Sidney
Crosby
  Francois
Beauchemin
  Craig
Anderson
  Cory
Conacher
  Patrice
Bergeron
  Bruce
Boudreau
 
 
Most Intriguing Second-Half Story
 
Jarome Iginla :: Tony Gutierrez/AP
Muir
The trade deadline. There are plenty of big names potentially in play -- Iginla, Perry, Kiprusoff, Ribeiro, Clowe, Miller, Morrow, Jagr, Bouwmeester, Streit -- and while there's sure to be more talk than action, the chance for at least a couple of franchise-altering deals will keep the hot stove burning until the April 3 deadline.

Kwak
Whether the Flyers make the playoffs. If they don't, what sort of wrath is in store for the Orange and Black? Their superstar center Claude Giroux went from third in the league in points last season to 19th currently, with just eight goals and 25 points. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has been middling, with a 2.86 GAA and .896 save percentage, but he alone is not to blame for those numbers, as the Flyers' defense has been poor and porous. Bryzgalov has faced the second-most shots this season. So what happens if things don't get better in Philadelphia, the land of wild overreaction to failure? It'll be up to the team to avoid finding out.

Cazeneuve
Trades. With a deadline that is closer to season's end than in years past, and with more teams still in the hunt for playoff berths until the closing week because of the shorter schedule, just how many sellers will there be to give buyers' rosters that critical boost?

Dater
The Blackhawks. Was their record-setting start more of a blessing than a curse? The 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings won an NHL-record 62 games and were practically awarded the Cup before the playoffs. But they lost in the Western finals to Colorado and players later said the heavy pursuit of the wins record might have hurt more than it helped; that the combination of big-headedness and fatigue did them in. Everybody thinks the Blackhawks are the best team in the league now -- at least the general fan does -- so will the burden of expectations become a little much?
 
Player or Team Poised to Improve
 
Brad Richards :: Henny Ray Abrams/AP

Muir
Brad Richards. He's always been a player who could get lost in the weeds every now and then, but the Richards that I've seen so far this year is in way deeper than that. He's looked so disinterested that I'm surprised John Tortorella hasn't advertised for a heart donor yet. But Richie's always found his way out of slumps, so I have to believe he has a big second-half ahead of him. He has goals in two of his last three after going oh-fer-February, hinting at better times to come.

Kwak
Winnipeg Jets. A 5-8-1 start may have dampened spirits in Winnipeg this season, but the Jets have tightened up defensively over the last month and are very much within striking distance of the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes. In the opening 14 games, the Jets had a league-worst 3.21 GAA, but have brought that average down to 2.42 since Feb. 19. And what's more, they've already gone through the most grueling parts of their season, travel-wise. Of their 22 remaining games, only nine will be on the road, and last season, the Jets were a far better team in their own building.

Cazeneuve
Chris Kunitz. The guy wasn't chopped liver in the first place -- and even chopped liver could play on Sidney Crosby's line and rack up some points by osmosis. Still, Kunitz has become a superb complement to the game's best player, amassing 37 points and a league-high +22 rating through 27 games. Those are Jari Kurri and (prime) Jaromir Jagr numbers, making Kunitz the game's elite sidekick and, at age 33, a point-per-game player for the first time in his career. Look for him to continue to excel in the second half.

Dater
Colorado Avalanche. Look out for these guys in the second half. The return of Ryan O'Reilly totally changed the complexion of this previously lifeless team. The Avs were the giant-killers who stopped Chicago's streak, after all, and few teams are going to be able to match the Avs' 1-3 center depth down the middle with O'Reilly, Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny. If these guys sneak into the playoffs, they won't be fun to face.
 
Hottest Seat in the League
 
Peter Laviolette :: Gene J. Puskar/AP
Muir
Peter Laviolette, Flyers. He's been hamstrung by injuries and an undermanned defense, but with time running out for Philly to turn around a season that started with much higher expectations, it might be time for a new voice in the room. This coach is clearly out of ideas, and the Flyers' effort against the Devils on March 13 (a 5-2 loss) smelled like a team that's ready to pack it in. GM Paul Holmgren says Lavy's job is safe, but I don't buy it.

Kwak
Todd McLellan, Sharks. In his fifth season behind San Jose's bench, McLellan has got to be feeling the heat. After finishing either first or second in the Pacific for eight straight years, the Sharks are treading water right on the playoff bubble. And though McLellan has guided them to two trips to the Western finals as well as the Presidents' Trophy in 2009, missing the playoffs is simply not an option for a franchise that has played more postseason hockey since 2004 than every NHL club but one: the Red Wings.

Cazeneuve
George McPhee, Capitals. Of course, we could go with Adam Oates, but the Capitals' coach has only been on the job for this shortened season. During the past few years, GM McPhee has had time to make this team click by installing a forgiving coach (Bruce Boudreau), a defensive and demanding coach (Dale Hunter) and a coach who was an offensive whiz (Oates). Yet McPhee hasn't pushed the right buttons or found the best way to maximize the considerable talent on his roster. Time is short now. A playoff miss could mean a pink slip.

Dater
Peter Laviolette, Flyers. One would think that this unwanted designation has to go to him. His Flyers have been the definition of streaky, but their bad streaks have outweighed their good ones. They are not a patient lot in Philly when it comes to coaches. Just ask Ken Hitchcock, who was canned after a 1-6-1 start in 2006, and John Stevens, who got the boot after 25 games in 2009 when the 13-11-1 team failed to live up to lofty expectations.
 
Biggest Surprise
 
Anaheim Ducks :: Debora Robinson/Getty Images

Muir
Stars in/Sharks out. I'll look ahead: There are nights when Dallas' defensive corps is exposed as a group of pro hockey toddlers, and you wonder how the puck ever gets out of their end. And then there are nights when they thrive on young legs, moxie and a world-class backstop in Kari Lehtonen, and you see the potential shining through. It's hardly a foolproof setup, but I think they might have enough to sneak into the eighth spot after four years on the playoff sidelines. If they do, it'll be at the expense of the Sharks, a team that doesn't seem to have the fight in it to win the battles down low that often lead to goals. Unless GM Doug Wilson makes a significant change to the chemistry up front, the Sharks are finished.

Kwak
Montreal Canadiens. It's tough to say which team I've been more surprised by so far: Montreal or Anaheim. But when you get down to it, the Ducks have a ton of talent and experience on their roster, and though they suffered through a dismal season last year, there were stretches that suggested this team could seriously succeed. So, that leaves the Canadiens, who are my biggest surprise of 2013. Not only did Montreal not tinker much with its pretty underwhelming roster, it let young, star defenseman P.K. Subban sit out the first six games of the season due to a contract impasse. Even more surprising, coach Michel Therrien turned it all around so quickly. Hired last summer, he is the only new bench boss who has more wins than losses this season, which is impressive considering that he did it with essentially no training camp. That said: Anyone who has bought in to the idea of a deep playoff run will likely be rudely surprised, as I think the Habs will be ousted in the first round.

Cazeneuve
Anaheim Ducks. OK, surely you knew the Anaheim Ducks were going to be this good, right? You figured the franchise had done enough re-tooling and that missing the playoffs in 2012 was just a blip on the screen. You suspected Bruce Boudreau was just the man to right the ship and that blueliners Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray would be +17 after just 25 games. Had it nailed, right? Well, I didn't. And while I don't see them reaching the conference final, I do think the Ducks will be a tough playoff out, surprising those who still take them lightly and turning out to be the season's most unexpected success.

Dater
Anaheim Ducks. How many of us had the Anaheim Ducks in the top five before the season? I know I didn't. I saw a team that was too old and that had one, maybe two, good lines and a subpar defense. So maybe that call didn't work out so well for me, but I think they'll still qualify as the season's biggest surprise. Coach Bruce Boudreau should be the landslide Jack Adams Award winner for the job he's done.

 
SI Videos
Videos from the Web
 
SI.com
Hot Topics: NBA Playoffs NHL Playoffs Chris Johnson Jameis Winston NFL Draft Michael Sam Aldon Smith
TM & © 2014 Time Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Read our privacy guidelines and ad choices.
SI CoverRead All ArticlesBuy Cover Reprint