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Few answers only raise more questions

by Brian Duff
More questions than answers. That's what we’re left with after Trade Deadline 2010.

And isn't that always the way?

Let's start at the top, and in the Eastern Conference, where the Capitals kept the neon "Open" sign shining brightly on The Business of Happiness. How can they not be happy in D.C. after adding at least three significant pieces (I use those words because analyst Greg Millen can't stand it when players are referred to as such) in Eric Belanger, Scott Walker and Joe Corvo to the puzzle?

While some may still question their blue line's defensive capabilities, and their goaltending, I won't. As long as the Capitals commit to a starting netminder and don't panic with that individual in the opening round, there's no reason they won't see at least the conference finals.

Are the Devils the Capitals' biggest threat? When Paul Martin returns -- assuming he can get to full strength -- they will appear on paper to be as good as they've been at any time since 2003. However, and for whatever reason(s), this un-Devil-like team gives up goals in bunches. Unless that changes, we will be talking about another early playoff exit.

Will Alexei Ponikarovsky hurt the Penguins with an ill-timed penalty? It happened a lot during his Toronto days -- at least it seemed like it -- but chances are he will learn quickly what is required from him to play with the best. Pittsburgh should meet the Capitals in the third round.

Who wants the Northeast crown? Clearly not Buffalo after magically making a 13-point Northeast Division lead disappear by winning only three times in the last 15 games. Their core four -- Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville -- never are on the same page offensively, yet they play sometimes as if they think they are the same three-line juggernaut that waltzed to the conference finals in 2006 and 2007. They'd better hope Raffi Torres can have an immediate impact -- and yet, if that's how they're thinking, their chances don't look good.

Ottawa should be able to maintain their position atop the Northeast, but a few more games like the one right out of the break -- a 4-1 home loss to the Rangers -- and goaltending will again be the topic du jour in Canada's capital.

Speaking of goaltending, I've been on board the Michael Leighton Express since before it left the Raleigh rail yard. He should have been given a better shot with the Hurricanes before and after Cam Ward got injured, but that's just an opinion from a distance. I have no idea whether he can lead the Flyers to where they want to get to. Who does? His story though, is one of the better ones this season.

Will the Boston Bruins follow the aforementioned Sabres teams and go from tops in the conference to no playoffs at all? Uncanny similarities to be sure: unexpected rise, multiple players have career seasons, contracts necessitate change, career-season players don't meet new expectations (for a variety of reasons), and fans cry for days gone by. Boston's silver lining, of course -- one that Buffalo never found -- is that they own a top pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.

Will Steven Stamkos score 50 goals? NHL Network analyst Gary Green says yes, and who am I to disagree. Greener, and thousands of others, was non-committal on whether Stamkos would carry the Lightning into the playoffs.

Will John Tavares ever score again? Definitely -- it just seems like he won't.

Wednesday was a wild night in the Western Conference, thanks to the efforts of Don Maloney, Dean Lombardi, Bob Murray and, to a lesser extent, David Poile. More on their teams in a moment, but first things first:

Which team is the favorite?

The standings say it's a coin toss between Chicago and San Jose, but many side with the Blackhawks, presumably due to fewer postseason failures.

And yet despite nothing of great significance being added to their roster, Vancouver seems to be getting a lot of play.

I say none of the above.

Let me rephrase that -- all of them will be favored based on where they're seeded, but I'm going with this being the year of the upset in the West.

We've talked about the great stories of Colorado and Phoenix all season long, and now there's even more to like. The Coyotes added a handful of legitimate NHL veterans, which only can help in the long run. And Colorado, by dealing Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix, just put even more emphasis on the kids (save for the subtle and excellent addition of Stephane Yelle), and all they did was respond appropriately in handing Anaheim a 4-3 loss, the Ducks' first at home in a dozen games.

Can either club win a round or two? Yes. Maybe more. Why not?

Are the Kings the equal of the Blackhawks when it comes to balance among their forward lines? Not yet, at least not statistically, but they're close. And with the additions of Fredrik Modin and Jeff Halpern, they should feel a lot better about the defensive side of the game. And with Jonathan Quick in goal, they may well have the advantage in the crease.

How much better are the Predators? Potentially, a lot. It's not all about whom they've added (Denis Grebeshkov, Dustin Boyd), but rather what they didn't give up (Dan Hamhuis) and the boost that can give to the existing group. If the veteran forwards can gain traction because of these moves, and the contractual commitment to Pekka Rinne, this team, led by its talented defense corps, finally may win a playoff round for the first time in franchise history.

Would you want your team to play Detroit in the first round? After last night, yes.

In mid-April? I’m not so sure.

I still believe they have the roster to make noise. Sometimes though, you can't beat the hockey gods, and we'll see if this turns out to be one of those seasons.

Does anyone behind Detroit want the eighth spot? Calgary, Dallas and Anaheim didn't respond with an immediate yes (although the Ducks should look better once Lubomir Visnovsky arrives), but the Blues and Wild did.

Six teams, separated by four points in the West, vying for one spot.

Do you know which one will make it? Do me a favor, and don't spoil the surprise.
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