10/06/2011 04:15 EDT | Updated 12/05/2011 05:12 EST

Crystal ball: The Canadian Press makes its predictions for 2011-12 season

With the puck set to drop on another NHL season Thursday night, The Canadian Press is dusting off its crystal ball.

Hockey writers Chris Johnston and Bill Beacon boldly predict what will happen during the 2011-12 season:

1. Who makes Stanley Cup?

Beacon: Tampa Bay versus Chicago. The Lightning made the East Conference final last year and coach Guy Boucher and veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier look ready to peak. Chicago, the 2010 champions, will bounce back led by Jonathan Toews. Winner? Tampa Bay.

Johnston: I'm going with Pittsburgh-San Jose. The Penguins are coming off a 106-point season despite missing their top three centres for a significant period of time. San Jose has made it to the conference final the last two years and is greatly improved on the blue-line. Prediction? Sidney Crosby lifts the trophy for a second time.


2. Who wins Art Ross?

Beacon: Sidney Crosby will miss the start of the season before roaring back to the form that gave him 66 points in 42 games before his concussion in January. Points total: 110.

Johnston: Don't forget Crosby's teammate. Evgeni Malkin turned heads with his performance in training camp and will get a head start on the season. The Russian will hit 130 points.


3. Biggest surprise team?

Beacon: Buffalo. It may not be too much of a surprise that free spending by a new owner makes a team better. The Sabres had a good core group, stellar goaltending and a good coach before free agents were added. Now they could unseat Boston in the Northeast Division.

Johnston: Carolina. There is very little buzz around the Hurricanes, as usual, but that will soon change. A team that fell just two points short of a playoff spot last year seems poised to take a step forward after signing some veterans and adding promising rookies Zac Dalpe and Ryan Murphy.


4. What player has a breakout year?

Beacon: Tyler Seguin of the Boston Bruins had 11 goals and 22 points as a little-used rookie. With a year's experience and more ice time, he has the speed and skill to triple that this season.

Johnston: I'm sticking with the same draft class, but picking the player taken ahead of him. While there was nothing wrong with Taylor Hall's rookie season, you can expect the Edmonton Oilers winger to improve greatly on the 42 points and show why he was the top pick in 2009.


5. What free agent signing will be most worth the money?

Beacon: Some would say Brad Richards to the Rangers, but steady, veteran goaltender Tomas Vokoun should bring more value on his one-year US$1.5-million deal to clean up the mess in the Washington Capitals' net.

Johnston: One of Dean Lombardi's quietest moves this summer helped solidify the Kings as a true contender. The signing of Simon Gagne gives the team even more scoring depth, something that will pay off down the stretch.


6. What 40-year-old will make the biggest impact?

Beacon: Dwayne Roloson, who turns 41 on Oct. 12, has looked very sharp in goal in the pre-season for Tampa Bay.

Johnston: Jaromir Jagr is back and ready to take the NHL by storm. After three years in Russia, the Czech forward — who turns 40 in February — will be a big contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers.


7. First coach fired and who gets hired?

Beacon: The Philadelphia Flyers took a risk in changing its leadership by moving Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and someone will be blamed if it backfires. That's usually the coach: in this case, Peter Laviolette. Look for an interim replacement in mid-season, maybe even boss Paul Holmgren? Michel Therrien could also fit in there.

Johnston: Bruce Boudreau is under more pressure than any coach in the NHL and will pay the price if the Washington Capitals show signs of struggle early on. Ken Hitchcock seems like a natural replacement to take over an underperforming team midway through the year.


8. How long will the honeymoon last in Winnipeg?

Beacon: This is a proven hockey town, so it will last as long as the Canadian economy is strong and there is no return to a 65-cent Canadian dollar, one of the things that sunk the Jets and Nordiques in the 1990s.

Johnston: The party will rage for a week or two no matter what happens on the ice. After that, Jets fans will be eager to see a winning product — making them no less demanding than any other fan base of a Canadian team.


9. League realignment, what teams will end up moving and where?

Beacon: The Red Wings have earned the right to move where they like by putting a first-class team on the ice year after year, but claims by at least four other clubs suggest a total realignment to three or four conferences. This would placate, and perhaps in some cases save, teams in Dallas, Nashville, Columbus and Minnesota.

Johnston: I think they'll elect to go with a less dramatic restructuring. Expect Detroit to move to the Eastern Conference, perhaps in the Northeast Division as part of an inter-conference shuffle, while Winnipeg assumes its position in the West.


10. How many suspension videos will Shanahan have to make?

Beacon: There were 38 suspensions last year. Before players adjust to the new head shot rule, there will be many more. Look for 50 to 55 this season, most of them in the first half.

Johnston: Bill, I'll take the under. Shanahan came out swinging with nine suspensions in a little over a week during pre-season but showed signs of easing off by the end of training camp. Players have also heard the message loud and clear. He'll end up with about 40 suspensions.