Time for me to make a fool of myself, although we won’t have firm evidence for at least a few weeks…. Time for me to predict the season.
First, the western conference:
None of last year’s playoff teams really got worse, and this is going to make the west a tough conference again. I’m predicting 95 points to make the playoffs at all.
Central: Detroit (and most points in the west, and president’s trophy)
Pacific: San Jose (2nd seed)
Northwest: Vancouver (third seed)
is it possible for only one team in the central to make the playoffs? Probably not. St. Louis is better, but not a playoff team. Chicago is better, too, but not this year. Nashville, I worry that the ownership issues will get in the way. And I’m not convinced Columbus is good. But changes are, one other team will put it together and make a late spot. Since I’m rooting ofr them, I’ll choose the Blues in 8th.
4th seed: Anaheim
7th: Los Angeles
8th: St. Louis
Right now, who comes out of the west is a pick’em among Detroit, San Jose, and Anaheim. It depends entirely on who gets lucky and who stays healthy and who avoids the traps each team has:
Detroit: will hasek stay healthy? If not….
San jose: will they work out the consistency problems? Will Navokov perform to expectations? Will Cheechoo bounce back?
Anaheim: Guigiere? and when will Niedermeyer come back? Selanne too, probably.
I have an issue about players who sit out until mid-season or later and then roll in for the playoffs; Forsberg made it work, and I expect Niedermeyer will do something similar. If Selanne doesn’t retire, he’ll come back later, too; I’m guessing both will rejoin Anaheim at some point, or they’d have formally hung it up. And they’ll be fresh for the playoffs, and taht’s scary.
Now, I don’t think this is fair for the fans or the game, but it’s legal, and if you’re good enough, you obviously can get away with it. I hope the practice doesn’t expand, but you can see advantages for teams, too — salary cap savings and better play in the playoffs when others are tired. Now, should this be changed? Can it? I think it’s something the league needs to think about and monitor. I’m torn, personally. maybe there’s some date beyond which if you aren’t on the roster, you have to clear waivers to join in? Or maybe if a team and player can actually pull this off, we should congratulate them.
but I don’t think the fans are getting a fair shake. And I worry we’ll start seeing older, key players turn this into the hockey equivalent of the designated hitter. And how do you explain it to that player who spent four months busting his butt for the team, to be dropped from the lineup when the stud decides he’s ready to play?
urgh. It’s always something…
Anyway, eastern conference:
Northeast: Ottawa (2nd)
Southeast: Washington (3rd)
again, it turns into a crapshoot quickly. I like what the capitals have done — and they play in a pretty weak conference. It’ll help, but they’ll be a lot better, too. No gimmee.
I’m guessing 90 points to make the playoffs.
4th seed: Buffalo — they won’t suck as much as some buffalo fans worry.
5th seed: NY Rangers
6th seed: New Jersey
7th seed: Boston
8th seed: Carolina
I like the Senators to come out of the east this year, personally. But Ottawa or the Rangers might make it intersting. I keep waiting for Martin Brodeur to get hurt or get human, but it may not matter, the rest of the team isn’t as impressive as it has been.
And right now, if I had to bet, I’d bet the Sharks to take the cup. It’s what I do. But there are easily six teams that can take it depending on luck and happenstance, and I wouldn’t be disappointed. Much.