Saturday, September 29, 2007

NHL Predictions, Cause Who Else Can You Trust?

It's my favourite time of year, the days right before the start of the hockey season, the days when you can really mean it when you say every team has a shot, every team could surprise us, and that this might just be the year the Leafs win. But then some jerk has to go and drop a puck somewhere and all of a sudden you realize everything your team did in the off season was for nothing and that once again the parade will be somewhere else. Well, I'm here to spare you the heart breaking suspense and give you the inside info on whether your team sucks or not. Hint: they probably do.

New York went through a time warp in the off season, transporting themselves back to a time when they could get any player they wanted simply because they had all the money in the world. Those players, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, make the Rangers the best in the East. They weren't bad before; now they are dangerous. Welcome to the new old NHL.

In my biased opinion, I think the Sens reached their apex last year and everything now is just part of their slow, drawn out decline. It'll start with not resigning Dany Heatley, just wait. For now the Sens are the best in their division, so they'll win but mark my words, this is a broken team.

The Thrashers didn't do much over the summer, but I think the division is weak enough to let that slide. This team is still good enough to win the Southeast but winning a series might still be asking much.

Yeah, yeah, Pittsburgh is hot stuff right now, but they still have an average age of 16, so I'll cool the urge to give them the Presidents Trophy, though the engravers could probably save time by etching Crosby's name into the next ten empty spots on the Art Ross right now. Pittsburgh will be good, but the young guns are probably still feeling a little cocky over last year, which is not the ideal frame of mind.

If you didn't feel bad for Buffalo over the offseason you either live in western New York or you're the type of sick freak who skins cats for fun. First their top players bolt and then Kevin Lowe makes Tomas Vanek a very wealthy man. But Buffalo didn't get through last year simply on the strength of two players, they succeeded because they were deep like a good haiku and now they get to demonstrate it. They won't be as good, but I don't think that's saying much.

I didn't like the way Phillie raided Nashville's sinking ship, but you can`t argue with the results. Philadelphia has undergone a radical face lift, and is once again pretty enough to get invited to the ball. Goaltending seems shaky but why bet against Marty Biron? Philadelphia fans will quickly forget that they ever finished dead last in the East.

I like Carolina. This is still essentially the same team that won the Stanley Cup, and I'm willing to write last year off as an extended hangover. It's a mulligan folks. And the Southeast still isn't anything to get worked up about. The Canes are back.

Home town discount again, but this time I think the potential is there. Last year I was pretty hesitant to put my boys even in eighth, but this year it can happen. Vesa Toskala has been bad, and Kyle Wellwood will be out for a while which is not helping, but no worries. And really, even if the Leafs do tank, at least no more Fergie.

9.Tampa Bay
The big three are poised for a big year, but I'm trying to think of any one else on the team you'd need to watch out for. Defense is just ok, and that was before losing Dan "Watched Pots Don't" Boyle" and goaltending is still whatever.

10.New Jersey
I don't like putting New jersey out of the playoffs as long as Martin Brodeur reigns, but where else to put a team that lost two of its key players like they did. Jersey is no Buffalo. Sweet Lou Lamoriello held this team together admirably in the first years post-lock out, but not even his wizardry could keep it whole forever. Plus, can he keep Brent Sutter for more than a season?

The only good thing I can say about Montreal's offseaon is that they somehow found a team willing to take Sergei Samsonov. Roman Hamrlik is probably an improvement on Sheldon Souray, but Montreal still feels thoroughly average.

Props to the Caps for giving Alexander Ovechkin some half way decent players to pass to him, but this is still a one player show.

The Islanders surprised everybody by generally not sucking ass last season, but they were forced during the summer to replace most of their overachieving mediocre vets with a brand new cast of mediocre vets like it was some sort of reality tv show (Twenty strangers. One hockey team. Can they overcome their differences and learn to work as a team?). Ted Nolan can't do everything.

I don't have anything against Florida but ever since Roberto Luongo left town, what's the point? Florida feels like they might be a good team in another couple years, but for now I'm not sold.

Yeah I just don't know. The Blackhawks of the East just seem to get worse, the more they try to get better. It's probably a zen thing. Boston won't be any better this year.

Man I'm tired of betting against Detroit only for them show me up every year, so here we go: Detroit in first. Just watch now, Dominik Hasek is going to put up a .876 average, and I'm gonna look like an idiot again.

2.San Jose
San Jose continues to be that team that does everything right, but still can't get close to the cup. They have the offense, the defense and the goaltending plus lots of young talent, and now they have Jeremy Roenick to shake things up. Who knows, maybe Roenick will be the wrinkly California version of Sean Avery that sparks the Sharks to new levels of greatness. Or maybe he'll retire by November. Whatever.

Yeah their offseason said "hey guys we're getting pretty desperate," (Mike Keenan AND Owen Nolan?) but I think they are still capable of winning a division.

I hate it when players prolong their retirement decision, and Anaheim has two players protracting the process. If neither Scott Niedermayer nor Teemu Selanne return (my money's on Nieds coming back) it's hard to imagine the Ducks repeating.

I think Colorado will be back with a vengeance this year. Peter Budaj will establish himself as a number one, and Jose Theodore will play well enough to make a few dollars as a free agent. the Avs have loads of talented youngsters (Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos, Paul Statsny, John Michael Liles) plus Ryan Smyth. Ryan Smyth man.

I put them in essentially because of Roberto Luongo. No, not essentially: entirely. They don't have much in the way of offense and there's no reason to think that Marcus Naslund or Brendan Morrison will re-emerge as legit scoring threats. But as long as Luongo is between the pipes, they're capable of doing anything.

Four teams from the same division might be pushing it, but Minnie is certainly good enough to make the playoffs, that is, assuming they can squeeze a whole season out of Marian Gaborik. Wishful thinking?

It breaks my heart, it really does, to see Nashville like this. They lost a lot, and are now relying on a guy named Chris Mason to mind their net (strictly on the level of Hockey Names, Mason has nothing on Vokoun). They great group of youngsters that gave them so much depth have become their go to guys. No room for mistakes.

The Stars are one of those teams who at first glance don't look like they should be all that good, and yet still manage to put up 100+ point seasons. I think that will end this year. Is it time to start looking for a replacement for Mike Modano yet guys?

Chicago could so easily make the playoffs, let's be clear on that. They are an improving team, which is probably the first time in fifteen years you can say that and mean it about Chicago. They're still relying on a whack of young guys though, so maybe some caution is necessary. Bill Wirtz is dead though, kind of poetic, as if his old heart couldn't understand or fathom how his hockey team was improving under his watch.

11.St. Louis
Another rapidly improving hockey team, St. Louis should challenge for the playoffs this year. They probably won't make it, but if their strong finish to last season was any sign, things are going to get better in Missouri.

12.Los Angeles
LA has a lot going for it. They have a great core of young players like Mike Cammallieri and Anze Kopitar and even a young goaltending stud in Jonathan Bernier, plus Marc Crawford's hair. Unfortunately, instead of being content to let their promising pot simmer, they tossed in a bunch of free agent effluence that will just dilute the recipe. Either way I don't think they'll being making the playoffs, but at least get your plan straight, you know?

13. Columbus
So Columbus is rebuilding again, but that's not really accurate because there was nothing really built to begin with. Ken Hitchcock as coach will help, and you can't imagine Rick Nash being much worse than he was last season.

A couple of years ago Edmonton looked poised to make next step to being a great team. They were flush with talented youngsters, any one of which was liable to break out any moment. Shawn Horcoff. Fernando Pisani. Raffi Torres. But then the team hit a hiccough as all of the young guns stalled and all of their free agents sought as much distance between them and the city as possible. Business as usual in Edmonton.

Phoenix is not a good team. No offense, no goaltending, and a very young defense mean it's only going to get worse before it gets better for Wayne Gretzky. A lot worse. Which is stupid because that's what everybody's been saying about the Coyotes for years and it's still just as true today as it was five years ago. Nothing is rising from these ashes any time soon.

And for a finale, some even more poorly informed predictions: Art Ross to Sidney Crosby, Rocket Richard to Crosby, Hart to Crosby, Selke to Crosby, and in a surprising and unprecedented coup, both the Norris and Vezina to Crosby.

I'll give the Stanley Cup to Ottawa, because we all know the only way to guarantee a team missing the Cup is to predict their winning in September. Suck on that Ottawa.


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