Sunday, October 09, 2011
Predictions are a mug's game but here I go. Looking back I'm usually on the money out west when it comes to predicting which teams make the playoffs, if not the exact order. I've nailed seven out of eight each of the last two years. Out east I'm far less successful generally, although last year I got six, an improvement over the four of the previous year. Of course I picked Ottawa to make it last year so .... here goes nothing.
Like most years I think there are a handful of clubs that are shoo-ins, those clubs so good and so deep that they can survive injuries and slumps easily. This year I think there are three teams that are Cup contenders imo.
The Canucks remain the best team in the conference imo. They said goodbye to Ehrloff and Torres but they will have Higgins and Lapierre for a full year and have Edler and Tanev rising on the blue. Raymond is out longterm but Kesler apparently is only out for a couple of more weeks. The plus for Vancouver? Their division is so poor that they probably will win the Conference beating up the patsies they get to play six games each. Still a really unlikeable group and in reality nothing matters until the playoffs for them.
Lots of folks picking San Jose to come out of the west, same as its been for nearly a decade. Again a bit of a bleah division, expect them to pick up a lot of points playing weak sisters Phoenix and Dallas. Havlat is an upgrade over A-Rod Heatley and Burns and White will aid the blue but like the Canucks its all about the playoffs for these guys. If Couture becomes as good as he looks to become then this is a different club and Handzus gives them another element.
Hawks were best eighth place team in history last year, they had a terrific goal differential and if Patrick Sharpo had scored in G7 OT who knows how far they would have gone. They never recovered from the combination of winning the Cup the previous spring as well as the ravages wrought upon them by the cap that summer when they lost over a third of their roster. The Turco experiment was a failure and Duncan Keith looked a shadow of himself and they never got untracked. Crawford is the number one guy from day one this year and I'd expect bouncebacks from Keith and others. The bounty from all of those trades from 2010 is still a year or two away but even without those kids the Hawks have a ton of talent, especially at the top end. They're bigger too which should help and having Frolik for the whole year will be big.
After the big three I think you're looking at three teams that should make the playoffs easily but are likely pretenders.
The KIngs haven't done a damn thing yet and they may be a step beneath the top three but on paper they are impressive. Very strong up the middle and nice top two lines, a deep blue with all types of quality, good young goaltending. Looking at their roster the one question I would have is their bottom six forwards, they haven't the depth of the clubs ahead of them imo. Should easily make the playoffs though.
Time is running out on the Wings. Ian White is a solid player, though no Rafalski, but the problem for Detroit is the same problem we all have. Time marches on. Hard to say Niklas Lidstrom is in decline when he just won another Norris but he is slipping a bit. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Stuart, Franzen, Bertuzzi, Cleary - all are on the wrong side of thirty and with age comes injuries. Wings are still an excellent team but I think this year is the year the slide begins.
An interesting year for the Preds, one might say a definitive year for the franchise, with key players Renne, Suter and Weber all nearing unrestricted free agency. Nobody does more with less than Poile and Trotz and I think they will make the playoffs pretty easily this year. The problem for them is trying to keep these players. If they do then they might actually take the next step. Without them and they become like the turn of the century Oilers, another little team that could that ended up being a farm club for the big boys.
After the top six its really iffy. The Western Conference is not what it once was. Former powers (or at least perennial playoff clubs) Dallas, Anaheim, Colorado and Calgary have all aged or bled talent while young up and coming teams like the Blues and BJs and Coyotes have never arrived or may never will. (Caution Oilers' fans.)
The level of talent on all of these clubs is so thin that I believe that a rash of injuries similar to what the Oilers had last season (and the season before that and the season before that) could easily send any of them into the elevator shaft. Scratch that ... these teams are so thin that even one or two injuries to key personnel could send them into a tailspin.
For the last two playoff spots I'm going to go with the following, just because I have to pick someone, right?
The Ducks are thin but their top level of talent is so good - Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, Lubo, Selanne - plus I believe in Carlyle. I didn't think they would make it last year, they proved me wrong. I think they sneak in again this year.
I really really want to pick the Stars for the basement but I look at what they have up front and think they have enough to pull out an eighth place finish. I'm not sold on their D or their goaltending but they have enough good forwards to get them through. (Although if Lehtonen or Robidas go down then they're truly fucked.
St Louis seems to be a hot pick when it comes to young clubs taking that next step. I'm not so in love with them plus they are in the toughest division out west. If Halak has a very good year then they'll be in the mix I guess, certainly Arnott and Langenbrunner will help.
The also rans in this conference are many. Seriously I could see any of these clubs finishing last. We'll go with this order but I could see this sussing out almost any way you can think of.
Next year they will be bottom of the conference unless Feaster can pull a rabbit out of a hat or some kids come out of nowhere. Iggy is aging, Kiprusoff is slipping, the once solid D is almost as thin as the Oilers and up front they have the makings of a nice lineup, if it were six or seven years ago. Jokinen, Stajan, Hagman, the list of guys who add nothing goes on and on. They still have solid quality in Bourque, Glencross and Moss but the remaining forwards are aging or terrible. If Giordano or Bouwmeester (or both) go down, they'll sink like a stone. I may have them ranked too high at tenth but I don't like any of the other clubs here either.
Minnesota has always been so blah and now with the addition of Heatley they are unlikeable as well. Mediocre, anonymous, they are the poster club for a league with too many teams. Koivu makes a huge difference for them, otherwise they're going nowhere.
THis may be too high but I have a lot of faith in Dave Tippett. That goaltending though ... if they still had Bryzgalov they'd probably be a playoff team again but losing him plus guys like Belanger, Fiddler and even Special Ed is probably enough to sink them.
Your Edmonton Oilers
Folks ask me who I could pick the Oilers above and here's how I look at it. Their GD was abysmal last year but for a couple of months they were essentially an AHL club. Could injuries happen again? Sure but they are deeper than in years past and at some point the freaky run of guys getting hurt has to stop. With Whitney out the D is awful but it looks like he may be back soon and if he and Gilbert can play the majority of the season I think they can do well enough to lift the club out of the basement. I think the PK is going to be better and I think the goaltending is as well. They're still a couple of top four Dmen short but I think Whitney can shepherd Petry well enough that they can keep their heads above water.
And looking at the rest of the conference I see teams as thin or thinner than Edmonton. A couple of injuries and they'll fall right past them. Maybe even if they stay healthy.
They added Carter but this club is bad. Like a lot of these clubs they're pretty well a one line team, their D is mediocre and their goaltending iffy. Howson will be unemployed a year from now.
And so will Greg Sherman. The Avs are poor all around from their goaltending out. They have a couple of nice players in Duchesne and Stastny but they're pretty rotten. And they don't even have their number one pick anymore. Oops!
So that's it. I'll look at the Wales in the next day or two. Of course injuries will play a huge role this year as in every year and its hard to say what teams will emerge and which will fail (who figured on the Devils last year). Its a mug's game as I said.
But yes I do figure on the Oilers to jump four or five spots in the overall standings. They could totally finish last overall again but I think they are close in talent to a few teams now and a combination of them being better and a few teams falling apart pushes them up and out of the lottery.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:20 PM