With the Christmas break fast approaching in the NHL, it's time to gaze into the cliched crystal ball to predict what will transpire between now and April.
* The Montreal Canadiens will continue their Jekyll and Hyde routine on home ice, ultimately causing them to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. The addition of Tomas Kaberle will improve their offence, but in the end will hurt their defence more.
* The Toronto Maple Leafs will (finally) secure a playoff spot, ending their post-lockout, post-season drought they shared with the Florida Panthers (who will also earn a spot). Unfortunately, neither Phil Kessel nor Joffrey Lupul will win the Art Ross Trophy as the leading point-getter in the NHL.
* The Ottawa Senators have a nice surprise with Milan Michalek scoring goals in bunches. However, the Sens sniper is now sidelined with a concussion but will be out only a few games. While the team needs other players to over-achieve offensively to win games, the problem lies in their goaltending and overall defence and will ultimately leave the team in 11th or 12th in the Eastern Conference.
* The Winnipeg Jets are a puzzling bunch to watch. One game and it's a defensive battle and a 2-1 victory. The next night, they take a pounding and come up short on the scoreboard. They’re finding a way to win at home but a less than stellar road record will not be enough come April for the Jets in their first year back in Winnipeg. The team is still looking for an identity on the ice and the playoffs won't be in the cards this season.
* The Calgary Flames should be undertaking a major rebuild of the franchise. Their top two stars, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, are 34- and 35-years-old, respectively. For the rest of the season, the Flames will be an inconsistent bunch and definitely not good enough to be a playoff contender, finishing the year between ninth and 11th.
* The Edmonton Oilers are an exciting team to watch. Whether that translates into victories in 2012 is a different matter. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have enough chemistry to be a top-flight line in the NHL and if goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin can continue his spectacular play in net, it will be an eighth place finish for the Oilers and a difficult opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
* The only issue facing the Vancouver Canucks is their goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. If Luongo can stay consistent, a playoff spot is guaranteed. But another run to the Stanley Cup final will prove to be a more challenging task if they face any one of the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinal or final.
* At the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 27, expect to see 25-30 trades as playoff teams try to beef up their rosters and clubs on the post-season bubble make a final push. There will likely be five or six sellers on deadline day willing to shed salary for a rebuild and/or a retool of their lineup for the next season.
* Sidney Crosby won't play more than 30 games due to the effects of a concussion suffered almost a year ago but will be healthy for the Pittsburgh Penguins come playoff time.
* Daniel Sedin will repeat as the NHL's Art Ross Trophy winner as the league's leading scorer, the first time since Jaromir Jagr won the award four straight times between 1998 and 2001 that it’s been done.
* The NHL, unable to broker a sale to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in the desert, will eventually be sold and moved in the offseason. It's likely the move will be to a colder climate either in the Pacific Northwest, Kansas City or Eastern Canada.
* Expect to see more concussions in the new year, especially to star players. Also, suspension lengths from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan will continue to rise after what seems like a record year for banishment.