The hockey season is starting (finally!), so it’s time for the annual predictions, so everyone can laugh at me again at the end of the season. First up — the western conference.
The team to beat in the Western conference this year is the Colorado Avalanche. The trade of Drury hurts their offense, but improved their defense, and with Sakic and Forsberg, they could afford to give up some offense. Roy shows no signs of slowing down, and they’ve been there and know what needs to be done. Barring significant injuries, the trip to the Stanley Cup goes through Colorado.
A close second, if everything goes as planned, is the San Jose Sharks. This assumes players like Marleau come through as hoped, that Stuart and Nabokov get signed fairly soon, and that the team stays fairly healthy. It’s clear, however, that the Sharks are now at the point where it’s time chase the brass ring. This year, next year, and after that, they’ll have to start reloading or risk falling back. For the Sharks, it’s time to break the 100 point barrier, and I want to see 50 wins. In the West, that’s a stretch — but doable.
Third on my list is Detroit. Losing Bowman and Hasek is a significant loss, but make no mistake, that simply means the Wings are going for a division championship, not the president’s trophy.
Those are the top teams in the west. A rung lower on the ladder are Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Phoenix. I expect all of those teams to make the playoffs, but they don’t have quite the horsepower. But if a top team slips or gets hurt, watch out.
The other two teams that ought to make the playoffs are St. Louis and Dallas. Both teams are on the downslide — in Dallas, Marty Turco is unproven, in St. Louis, Brent Johnson and Chris Pronger are hurt. The Blues are in serious hurt short term, and their big worrry is hanging on until they get healthy enough to compete. There’s a good chance they’ll fade into the sunset by December.
Non-playoff teams: Columbus (still building), Chicago (after one year of falsely making fans believe, they’ve gone back to asking the cheap-ass Blackhawks) Nashville (still building, but should compete for a playoff spot), Calgary (might compete for a playoff spot), Edmonton (should compete for a playoff spot), Minnesota (boring but competitive), and Anaheim (they will be better. Will they be good?)
92 points will miss the playoffs. It’ll take 100 points to win a division, and if you notice, four of the five teams in the Pacific are on my list as playoff teams. That’s a tough division.
But heck, it’s gonna be fun…