As the dawn of the 2011-12 NHL season approaches, no storyline has garnered more attention than the health of former Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby
. While concern from Pittsburgh fans certainly is understandable, if the folks at EA SPORTS have anything to say about it, the Steel City has little reason to worry.
EA released its full simulation of the 2011-12 season Wednesday, and not only does Crosby return to the ice to put up impressive numbers, he winds up lifting a pretty big piece of silver over his head this June -- and a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with it, as the Penguins are projected to win their fourth Stanley Cup, in a six-game Final against the Chicago Blackhawks
The simulation was performed using the EA SPORTS' NHL 12 simulation engine.
END OF SEASON AWARDS
If EA SPORTS has its say, not only will the Penguins win their fourth Stanley Cup next June, but some folks will take home some impressive hardware:
-- Alex Ovechkin
Art Ross Trophy
-- Alex Ovechkin
-- Henrik Lundqvist
-- Brayden Schenn
Lady Byng Trophy
-- Daniel Sedin
-- Shea Weber
Rocket Richard Trophy
-- Steven Stamkos
Ted Lindsay Award
-- Alex Ovechkin
-- Jonathan Toews
Conn Smythe Trophy
-- Sidney Crosby
-- David Kalan
In reality, Crosby's return to the ice remains uncertain, as concussion issues have sidelined him since Jan. 5. That fact wasn't lost on EA, as according to the full results of their simulation, Crosby only will play 65 games this season, a total that has him returning to the ice in early December, possibly for the Pens' matchup with the defending-champion Bruins on Dec. 5. However, once Crosby returns, he gets back in a big way. In those 65 games, Crosby racks up an astonishing 30 goals and 62 assists, a total that ends up leading Pittsburgh in points and putting him seventh in the League scoring race.
Winning the scoring title is Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin
, who compiles 51 goals and 59 assists to hold off Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis
. Coming in third in the race is St. Louis' teammate Steven Stamkos
, whose 53 goals net him his second Rocket Richard Trophy in three seasons.
In addition to winning another Art Ross
Trophy, Ovechkin leads his Caps to the top seed in the East, edging Pittsburgh with 102 points to the Pens' 100. Buffalo and 40-win goaltender Ryan Miller
take the third seed as Northeast Division champions, while Boston, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, the Rangers and Toronto, making its first playoff appearance in eight years, round out the East's top eight. Just missing out on the postseason is Montreal, which finishes ninth due to a tiebreaker, while the New Jersey Devils
also miss the playoffs despite having two players, Zach Parise
and Ilya Kovalchuk
, in the top 20 in scoring.
Out West, the kings of the regular season once again are the Vancouver Canucks
, who run away with their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy on the strength of a 114-point season. San Jose takes the No. 2 seed as Pacific Division champions and the Blackhawks eke out the Central title in a tiebreaker with fourth-seeded Detroit. Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim and rebuilt Minnesota also make the West playoff field.
The West playoffs have few surprises in the first round, though the Kings do manage a six-game upset of the Red Wings. Los Angeles proves feisty in pushing the Canucks to a seventh game in the conference semifinals before bowing out, while Chicago takes out the Sharks in six, setting the stage for Vancouver and Chicago to meet in the postseason for the fourth consecutive year. The Canucks gave their fans a scene to remember this past April as Alexandre Burrows
exorcised Vancouver's demons against the Hawks with an overtime-winner in Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, but EA sees no such sequel in their simulated conference final. In a seven-game thriller, it's Chicago winning the Campbell Conference Bowl for the second time in three seasons.
The East bracket doesn't have any stunners quite on the order of Chicago toppling the Presidents' Trophy winners, but it does feature Tampa Bay making yet another strong run. After upending the Sabres in the first round, Tampa completes one of the bigger surprises of the postseason by upsetting top-seeded Washington for the second straight spring. Their dream comes to an end in Game 7 of the East Finals again, however. The Penguins, who sweep the Rangers and outlast Philadelphia in seven games, edge the Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy and return to the Stanley Cup Final.
It is there that two of the best teams over the League's recent seasons square off for the ultimate prize, and with a fully healthy Crosby, Pittsburgh deafens the Madhouse on Madison in Game 6, winning its second championship in four seasons.
Of course, with nine months to go before the real Cup is awarded, we have no way to know just how accurate EA's NHL 12 simulation engine is going to be. But if the season presents the same kind of competitive races, surprising upsets and storybook finish EA projects, hockey fans should be in for an exciting season. And it just might leave the fans in western Pennsylvania smiling next June.