Thursday, October 9, 2008

NHL Predictions

The NHL season starts tonight in North America. Yeah we had games last weekend in Europe, but today really feels like opening night. As a result I figured it was time for me to put myself on the line with some NHL predictions here. The parody in the NHL is such that these predictions are probably futile, but I'm going to make a go of it anyway. Feel free to post or e-mail your own predictions and we can see who was closer at the end of the season.


1. Detroit Red Wings: Easy choice here obviously. The Wings pretty much own first place in the regular season. Their division makes it easy on them. Chicago should be a challenge to them this year, but Nashville got worse, Columbus should be about the same and St. Louis will likely be pretty awful. The Wings not only have almost everyone back from last year, but they added Marian Hossa to an all ready loaded line-up. It'd almost be foolish to pick anybody but the Wings as the top team in the West. That being said, I don't think they'll win the Cup this year. Recently the teams that made the Cup finals or won the Cup itself have either lost in the first round or missed the playoffs the following season. It's too hard to go all the way to the finals and regroup without the conditioning time in the summer.

2. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are an absurdly talented team. However, they seemed to be floundering a little under Ron Wilson. Not that he isn't a great coach, but in time the same old message just gets old. Their new coaching staff will likely open things up and let the creative talent carry this team. Nabakov is a terrific goaltender. They've made big upgrades on the blue line was well. Veterans Rob Blake and Dan Boyle will vastly improve their transition game and power play. This is the team to watch in the west. They've been the team to watch in the west for a while now though. It's put up or shut up.

3. Edmonton Oilers: As an Oilers fan this is a little bit of a homer pick. I don't think it's unrealistic. The Oilers had one of the better records in the second half of last season. That was without Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray and Ethan Moreau. They'll have those guys back and the additions of Eric Cole and Visnovski. Those two should play big parts in igniting the power play. How great will Souray and Visnovski look together with the man advantage? The key for Edmonton is that their young players need to take a step forward instead of suffering from the dreaded softmore jinx. If Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, Andrew Cogliano and Tom Gilbert improve on their rookie seasons this Edmonton team could be terrific. Probably not a cup contender yet, but not far off. They also need Garon to show he can be a #1 for two consecutive seasons. One good year doesn't prove anything just yet.

4. Anaheim Ducks: A year removed from the Stanley Cup hangover these Ducks should challenge for the division title and another run at the finals. They'll have Niedermayer and Selanne back for the entire season this time. Those bodies are a lot more rested after getting dumped in the first round of the playoffs last year. For the most part this is the same Ducks team that won the whole thing in 06-07. You absolutely can't count them out. Depth might be a bit of a concern though. Any major injuries could derail the season.

5. Minnesota Wild: The Wild didn't do much of anything to improve in the off season, but their team was good enough to win the division last year. The loss of Rolston and Demitra will hurt, but Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan should help. Zidliky is a strong addition to the power play as well. The Wild will once again win a lot of 2-1 games.

6. Dallas Stars: This is going to be a tough team to play against. However, I think they may run into some underachivement up the middle. Brad Richards hasn't ever lived up to his 2003-04 season. Mike Ribiero had a career year last year, but will in continue? Mike Modano is at the end of his career and not scoring nearly as much as he used to. Zubov's injury will also be a big blow depending how long he's out. Turco will be great again as usual.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: There's a lot of hype for this team. Will they live up to it? Huet has to be great, but I don't know if you can count on that. He should be better than Khabibulain was, but not by too much. Campbell will be a great addition on the PP, but this team doesn't have many players who will shut the opposition down. Expect a lot of high scoring games one way or the other. Toews and Kane have a lot of pressure on them here, especially if Havlat can't stay healthy. At the very least they'll be a blast to watch.

8. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks have a lot of question marks. If their D can stay healthy they should be back in the playoffs. However, who is going to score the goals? The top line should be fine. Demitra can replace what Naslund did if he stays healthy. That's a big if. After that we all know it's going to be a bit difficult for them. The Canucks also plan to open their game up this season. I don't know if they have the roster to do that. They DO have one an elite goaltender though and that can change things in a hurray.

9. Calgary Flames: Lose Tanguay and Nolan, replace them with Cammalleri and Bertuzzi. Is that an upgrade? I don't think it is. I also think the Kipper is a question mark after an iffy season. The defence isn't as strong as they make it out to be. The scoring depth is almost as weak as Vancouver's. I don't see why there's much hope for this team to be a contender. Another big question for me here is can Dion Phaneuff become a legitimate top 10 or top 5 defenceman? He's fantastic on the PP and throws big hits, but he's not one of the best in his own zone. He'll have to improve to match up to his hype.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets: Running in place. Lose some key players and replace them with guys of relatively similar value. Unless some of their young guys make a huge leap forward it's going to be another year outside of the playoffs for Columbus. I'd love to see them make it, those fans deserve it. I think they're at least a season away.

11. Phoenix Coyotes: See Columbus. The main problem for Phoenix now will be lack of depth on the blue line. Jokinen was a nice pick up, but who replaces Ballard and Boynton? Lots of young guys, but they may have a hard time carrying the load for this team. Fans there should be excited about what's to come though.

12. Colorado Avalanche: A team in transition. The old stars like Sakic and Foote are fading. Thew new guys like Statsny, Wolski and Svatos are taking over. Neither are at their best at this stage. The blue line strikes me as shaky. However, it's in goal where Colorado has the biggest trouble. Budaj has never proven he can be a reliable starter in the NHL. Raycroft was probably the worst goaltender in the NHL last year. That doesn't inspire much confidence. When I look at the roster this pick makes sense, but the Avalanche always find a way to be good.

13. Nashville Predators: Nashville lost a lot of talent from their emerging team of two seasons ago. An unstable ownsership is to blame. Even over this off season they lost Zidliky via trade and are now going with the unproven Dan Ellis as their #1. Does one half season mean Ellis is suddenly a top tier guy when he had never shown it previously? We'll find out. Radulov's defection is a massive blow to their forward group. I don't know if they can recover.

14. St. Louis Blues: Eric Johnson is gone for the season. They were counting on him to turn into their #1 very quickly. I hope this prediction is wrong for the sake of Fruitvale's Barret Jackman. However, I think this team is just mediocre in every way. They've got some good young talent and some declining veterans. Not enough.

15. Los Angeles Kings: A lot of great young talent. They'd make a fantastic AHL team. Not enough steady NHL vets to make any kind of run at it yet though. Goaltending isn't strong enough either.


1. Ottawa Senators: I know most won't agree with me here. The second half of last season was not a reflection of how talented this team is. They had some negative stuff going on in the dressing room. They had a couple of badly timed injuries. They never figured out their goaltending situation. The coach wasn't the right guy for the job. They've replaced the coach, shipped out the negative influences and brought in some tough, character players who know how to win and to lead. Secondary scoring and a puck moving defenceman are both issues that they have to address. Goaltending isn't elite, but both guys are steady.

2. New Jersey Devils: I keep expecting them to take a turn for the worse and they never do. Brodeur is still one of the best if not the best goaltender in the entire NHL. Young guys like Parise and Zajak are going to get better. Rolston is a nice addition who brings scoring and grit. There's a lot to like. They absolutely need Elias and Gionta to be better this year.

3. Washington Capitals: No reason to think they won't repeat. The only major issue could be Jose Theodore. He had a better year last year, but which Theodore will show up now that he's not in a contract year? Nylander and Clark returning healthy could be big additions to their depth. Fedorov for a full season will make an impact. The defence could use some help.

4. Montreal Canadiens: A great team but maybe a little bit soft. Laraque is a big strong man, but he doesn't really initiative physically. I don't think theyhave enough grit. The guys they added are soft, skilled players like Tanguay and Lang. This team needs some sandpaper. The other issue is if Price will respond from a dissapointing end to last season. I like the Habs, I just see them as a lot more flawed than others seem to. There are a lot of expectations on this team. We'll see, I wouldn't be surprised by a division title.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: They'd be higher if not for the injuries to Gonchar and Whitney. That takes a lot of steam out of the high powered Penguins offence. Add in the departures of Malone, Roberts, Hossa, Laraque... this team is missing a lot from their cup run. Obviously they still have Crosby and Malkin. Fleury should still be very good. Their wingers are questionable as is their depth on the blue line.

6. New York Rangers: A ton of changes but I don't know if they are really any better. Losing Jagr (who was their best player by a wide margin in the playoffs) and replacing him with the likes of Naslund and Zherdev isn't really an upgrade. Redden should turn his game around now that he's in a new situation, but I don't think he's a top 10 guy in the league anymore. The Rangers needs Drury and Gomez to be better this season. Time to take over that team and deliver more scoring. They have elite goaltending and pretty solid depth. Should be a playoff team for former Smokies coach Tom Renney. A contender? Doubt it.

7. Boston Bruins: A playoff team last year and all they've done is add to the roster. Bergeron is back and healthy. Michael Ryder is on board and hungry. The young guns are a year older and should be a year better. Chara and company should be back in the playoffs. I don't think they did enough to reach the next level, but a couple of key trades at the deadline could put them right in the running.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers would be higher on my list if not for recent injury woes on the blue line. Parent and Jones going down and Smith's departure leaves them dangerously thin back there. The forward group is strong. They should have two or three lines that can really burn you. They've got grit and defensive talent there as well. It's just that their D is probably not good enough. Biron is going to have to have a great year.

9. Buffalo Sabres: Buffalo didn't change much at all in the off season. I don't think any of their guys are really going to get much better than they are. Roy made his leap last year. Vanek should have a much better first half. Miller is a good goalie but I think he's rated too highly. His numbers really aren't all that fantastic. The D is relatively deep but no real stars. This is a middle of the pack team at best.

10. Carolina Hurricanes: Again a team that wasn't good enough last year and didn't really make significant changes to their roster. The injury to Justin Williams again is a killer. He's an important part of that forward group and just can't seem to catch a break. It's especially important because the Hurricanes felt they had enough forward depth to trade Cole for Joni Pitkanen. As for Pitkanen, watching him play as much as I did last year with the Oilers I know how talented he is. Talented and very very inconsistent. He's also really not that special on the power play for an offensive defenceman. He's had two "off" years in a row so I wonder if those are off years or if that's just how good he's going to be. I also find that Cam Ward is not quite the goaltender people think he is. Had a great run in the 05-06 playoffs, but his numbers are below average since then. Staal, Ward and company have to be back at the level they were at two years ago if they're going to get into a playoff spot.

11. Flordia Panthers: I like a lot of the players on this Panthers roster and I like their hiring Deboer to coach the team. However, they just don't have enough scoring. The blue line could be one of the better ones in the NHL with the addition of McCabe, Ballard and Boynton to what was all ready a pretty decent group. The loss of Jokinen up front is going to be hard for them to overcome. Cory Stillman isn't going to replace him. Nathan Horton and Weiss really have to take their game up a few notches if Florida is going to make the playoffs. That or they're going to have to trade someone from the blue line to get some scoring. If not it will probably be another season of the Panthers enjoying those fabulous golf courses down in Florida.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning: A whole lot of forwards does not a team make. I like a lot of the guys they've added, but you can't win without defencemen. Meszaros is a guy who had his best success with Chara and who hasn't been great ever since the big guy left Ottawa. Ranger is a pretty good defenceman and Carle is OK. They're going to have some trouble. They say championships are won from the goalie out. Tampa doesn't have good goaltending or defencemen. The forwards are terrific but that won't be enough.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs: Ron Wilson is a terrific coach who will have these guys playing a very tight defensive system. I think as a result the Leafs are going to be competative in more games than you expect. You could see that in their 3-2 win over Detroit. However, they just don't have anywhere near the talent you need to be competative in the NHL. There's no way they'll make the playoffs, but I don't expect the Leafs to be as awful as some people think they will be.

14. Atlanta Thrashers: Who is their #1 centre? Todd White? The forward situation is ugly in Atlanta. Their blue line might not be too bad with the additions of Hainsey and Schneider. I like their goaltending. But Kovalchuk can't do everything by himself. Williams is a nice addition up front, but we're talking about a paper thin forward group. Don Waddell has got to be running out of chances now.

15. New York Islanders: Speaking of paper thin, it's hard to find anyone on the Islanders roster that would be on the top line or top pairing of any other NHL team. There are some very good young players and the goaltending will be solid for the next 33 years, but this team is going to have trouble winning games. They don't have Ted Nolan around to will their untalented group to victory anymore. Last place here they come.


Hart: Sidney Crosby (runner up: Alex Ovechkin)

Art Ross: Sidney Crosby (runner up: Joe Thornton)

Richard: Alex Ovechkin (runner up: Rick Nash)

Vezina: Henrik Lundqvist (runner up: Roberto Luongo)

Norris: Niklas Lidstrom (runner up: Zdeno Chara)

Calder: Kyle Turris (runner up: Steven Stamkos)

Jack Adams: Craig Hartsburgh (runner up: Craig MacTavish)

Selke: Brendan Morrow (runner up: Mike Richards)

No comments: