Monday, April 09, 2007

Hockeyists From the West

Like Torres, my primary emotion now that the Oilers' season is done is relief, although in his case I would think shame might fit the bill better. For he and most of his teammates.
Anyhow its now Stanley time. We all know the NHL would be better served by having a 70 game schedule and the playoffs starting in early March and ending in May but of course the genius of those who run the NHL is that they never do anything intelligent. So instead the tournament now runs into the later part of June. With a number of teams from the south in the running this season it should make for terrific ice conditions for the league's showcase. And, of course, come summer, the idea of sitting in front of the TV certainly trumps any enthusiasm for sitting on a patio, going to the park or engaging in any outdoor activities.
Last spring almost killed me. Jack was six months old when the playoffs started and not a great sleeper. Couple that with the Oilers' deep run and when I woke up on June 20th I was pretty well an exhausted husk. This season I will follow the playoffs with interest. I always do. Without the personal investment, however, it should make for a spring with a little more sleep and a little lest angst (although certainly a duller one).
So, remembering your Cup Champs from 100 years ago, those "hockeyists from the West", the Kenora Thistles, lets take a quick look at the opening round. Last season I was exactly one under .500 in my predictions so I figure with a shootout I'd likely be about a 95 point team. Not bad.
Prince of Wales
In my mind, this is the weaker conference. Unlike last year where I looked at both conferences and figured all but a couple of teams could win the Cup, I can't really see a lot of true contenders coming out of the East. I think that Buffalo is the class of the conference, followed closely by Ottawa. Jersey and the Pens are in the next tier. I can't see any of the remaining four winning at all and I can't see Jersey or the Pens winning the Cup either. Having said that if Buffalo falters then this conference is anyone's to win.
Les Sabres/Islanders - The Isles snuck in and good for them and if DiPietro was available then I would think they might have an outside chance at a miracle but they have an AHL goalie (his success this week notwithstanding), a top D pair of Brendan Witt and Sean Hill and a go to offensive guy who has never succeeded in the playoffs. Buffalo is completely healthy, except for Gaustad, deep at every position and on a mission. I love Ted Nolan and Smytty, obviously, but unless Ryan Miller goes down, I can't see the Isles winning more then a game. Sabres in five.
Devils/Lightning - I hate the Devils, always have, and I think they're not winning a thing this spring unless Brodeur turns into Patrick Roy, circa 1993. They are a good team but not a great one. Good draw for them however as Tampa's goaltending is again suspect. Can't win with bad goaltending. Devils in five, maybe six.
Thrashers/Rangers - Don't like the Thrashers either. Kovalchuk is a punk, first of all. And so is Tkachuk for that matter. My worst nightmare would be an Atlanta/Nashville final. Anyhow, unlike Carolina last year and Tampa the year before, Atlanta is actually not very good. Not very deep anywhere and a lot of guys untried in the second season. Coming out of a division with two poor teams, a Canes' team that never found its stride and a Tampa team which was inconsistent and, as noted, had poor goaltending, does not impress me. Rangers in six.
Sens/Pens - Marquee matchup of the first round and its a shame one of these teams goes out early. Every year I figure the Sens will have figured it out and every year they fuck it up. This year it all comes down to one guy. Heatley. One of only two fifty goal scorers this season, if he disappears like he did last year, then the Sens are done. If he plays like a star, then they go through. Look at this team and they and Buffalo should be there in the end. It goes against everything I hope for the Ottawas and believe about young teams but I think they go down early again - Pens in seven. And more scapegoats for the Sens this summer - Redden, Alfredsson, Muckler and Murray this time.
Clarence Campbell
The West is crazy. Any of these teams could go all the way and it would be no surprise. I think the Sabres and maybe the Senators could match up against a Western club but other then that I think its a Western Conference title this season.
Wings/Flames - The sexy and easy upset pick is the Flames over the Wings and, sorry Chief, I have to go with it. The reasoning - the Wings are a good matchup for the Flames, the Wings once again have an inflated point total due to their division, the Wings have some injury concerns. Actually it is that last point that is the killer. Zetterberg is skating again but a back injury is a nasty one to have. And Kronwall is out. Add to this that the Flames actually have a lot going on up front this year and I think they take it in six. One win in the first two in Detroit will do it.
Ducks/Wild - MacT describes the Wild as a team that you play and you feel like you're totally in control and then you look up and you're down 2-1 late in the third. Bad draw for the Ducks, I think. Wild always seem to find a way to get it done. However, having said that, if Pronger shuts down Gaborik, and I cannot see why not, then the Ducks will win. I don't think they have the offence or the goaltending to go all the way but I think they do get by Wild on Jack Lemaire. Ducks in seven.
Canucks/Stars - A roll of the dice here. Dallas has a hard time scoring goals and the Canucks have four Dmen who can shut it down, plus Luongo and home ice. They will get enough offence from the Sedins and their supporting cast to sneak by. Canucks in seven.
Preds/Sharks - Again, a roll of the dice. I picked the Sharks to win the Conference and, iirc, the Cup at the beginning of the year. I'm still not sure about their D but they are bigger and deeper up front then they were last year and if Roli does not make that save on Cheechoo they were likely in the Finals at least last spring. The Preds have a few concerns up front with injuries. I think the Sharks eat the Preds' young D alive. Sharks in six.


Kyle said...

For the Stars to even have a chance Turco will have to shake off his playoff cobwebs.

Anonymous said...

Prince of Wales, 1st round:

Sabres in 5.

Devils in 5.

Rangers in 6.

Sens in 6.

Clarence Campbell, 1st round:

Red Wings in 7.

Wild in 7.

Canucks in 6.

Sharks in 6.


PJ said...

I've got a bad feeling about this. For the 3rd year in a row, the cup will likely go to a team in the East due to the fact that the much stronger Western teams will beat up on eachother in the 18-21 games that it takes to win the Campbell bowl.

Scarlett said...

I can't believe you're picking the Penguins. No no no! Every year I say this but it's the Sens year. This time, I would be shocked if they blew it. I think their early season struggles will help this team finally get over the hump.

And I agree, the Western teams are so much stronger and it's a guess to pick who gets through.

Black Dog said...

oh scarlett, if it were any team but the Sens I would agree but I can't put any faith in them; why they hired Murray whose resume is littered with regular season powerhouses that fell way short come playoff time, is beyond me

I would love to see them go a long long way but I can't trust them

pj - I think the Lightning and Canes were both higher seeded teams that had slight edges over their western opponents, just the way the tournaments worked out - if the Sabres or Sens make it to the final then we might see another eastern champion but I think any other matchup would lead to a western victory

Scarlett said...

I just can't believe the Sens screw up again. I can't. This can't continue. Maybe it's more wishful thinking than anything, but how many more series are they going to blow? It has to stop sometime. I'm thinking this year is a good bet. But you're right, Heatley (and Emery) have to show up, grab the team by the balls and lead them to the promise land. lol