Ben Barr> Freshman> Journalism> University of Maryland
The Stanley Cup playoffs have proven to be the toughest championship tournament in professional sports year after year. A team that has a weakness in any area of their game does not stand a chance of playing into June and for Lord Stanley’s silver. Two teams that are both skilled and tough will get the chance to play for the Cup in 2011. So here is who is going to make it there:
Western Conference Champions: Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks finally have all the pieces together in a year where the rest of the Western Conference contenders have dramatically reshaped their rosters. While teams like Chicago and San Jose have seen major changes at different positions (across the board for the Hawks and the Sharks with Antti Niemi), the Canucks only solidified their team this summer. They firmed up their defense for the long haul by bringing in Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard. Luongo will be excellent in the net and Vancouver has a great offense with the Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, and Alex Burrows. They also have solid depth with Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond, and Manny Malhotra, a new arrival from San Jose. Things are really shaping up for 2011 to be the Canucks’ year.
Eastern Conference Champions: Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia has only added to a team that many believed had the most talented depth second only to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Besides from dealing Simon Gagne to Tampa to free up cap space, the Flyers have added Nikolai Zherdev to take his place and three good defensemen in Andrej Meszaros, Sean O’Donnell, and Matt Walker. Chris Pronger proved to be everything that was expected of him when he arrived in Philly and a full year with Peter Laviolette at the helm is only going to help the Flyers perform even better than last year. The Flyers have proven to be able to handle top competition in the playoffs over the years with Washington and Boston and a matchup with Pittsburgh looks to be swinging in their favor with the full roster of talent that they have. The Flyers are ready to make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
2010-2011 Stanley Cup Champion: Vancouver Canucks
Everything will be able to fall into place for the Canucks in 2011 not only to come out of the West but also to win it all. They will have a slight edge on the Flyers with goaltending most likely tipping the scale. This will be a very close series just like last year’s Hawks-Flyers final round. This will be the year for the Canucks.
Images courtesy of zimbio.com and nflinstock.com.