Tuesday, October 02, 2007

NHL season preview
2007-08 Predictions

Parity's going to reign again in the NHL, and especially so in the Eastern Conference. It's incredibly difficult this season to pick a true bottom feeder in the East, and out West, given the division alignment, a top-notch team from the Northwest Division is likely going to miss the playoffs.

Let's consider last season a mulligan and give this another go:

Eastern Conference
  1. Ottawa — They're the class of the East. An offensive powerhouse with two solid netminders, the Senators really just need some more secondary scoring and a better turn from Wade Redden to take another step forward and takeover the division title. The team's power play was also a sore spot last season, but a healthy year from Jason Spezza will make a big difference. Key player: Dany Heatley

  2. Pittsburgh — The additions of Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor don't wow me at all, but it's going to be more growth from within that really propels this team forward, and that showed over the second half in 2006-07. Sidney Crosby's still going to carry this team to a certain degree, but a lot of the season is riding on how they improve on the blue line and in goal. Key player: Marc-Andre Fleury

  3. New Jersey — The Devils always seem to be losing some big-name players over the off-season, but with a scouting network that is consistently unearthing gems from the American college system, they never take a big step back. Injuries to Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner worry me, but expect the losses of Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski to be made up by leaps forward from Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Paul Martin and Andy Greene. Key player: Dainius Zubrus

  4. Buffalo — Another club tasked with overcoming some significant losses, the Sabres have so much forward depth, even without Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, that Lindy Ruff's still going to be struggling to find ice time for all his troops. Derek Roy's ready for top line duties, and the likes of Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad and Clarke MacArthur are all on the rise. Goals won't be a problem; goals against just might. Key player: Ryan Miller

  5. N.Y. Rangers — Sure, a lot of the talk has centred on who's on the way in, but the Rangers did lose Michael Nylander and Matt Cullen, and it remains to be seen if Sean Avery can build on his success in a 29-game audition in New York. Henrik Lundqvist is a star, however, and as long as he's healthy, this is a playoff team. The blue line looks to be marginally improved with a full season with Paul Mara and the addition of Marc Staal. Key player: Lundqvist

  6. Florida — Someone has to win the Southeast Division, and I think it's going to be the Panthers. Florida hasn't made the playoffs in seven years, and over that time has accumulated some of the NHL's exceptional young talent. Players like Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Stephen Weiss and Rusty Olesz are all ready for a big jump forward. Florida missed the postseason by six points last season, and added Tomas Vokoun in goal. Key player: Horton

  7. Atlanta — No one likes the Thrashers this season. A 97-point team in 2006-07, Atlanta didn't really lose anyone of consequence, and you're going to see some real growth-from-within as players like Brett Sterling get a chance to shine. Marian Hossa was a Hart Trophy candidate at the halfway point last season, and still finished with 100 points, and Ilya Kovalchuk should rebound from a subpar year. Key player: Kari Lehtonen

  8. Toronto — This team should be improved. On paper it is, anyway, and while the sky is falling over the play of Vesa Toskala in preseason, he's at least an improvement over J-S Aubin. The Maple Leafs' main problem is that they struggle defensively and were one of the worst teams in the league last season in goals against. Coach Paul Maurice has to find a way to improve the team's awful penalty kill, because another playoff miss will mean a major shakeup. Key player: Toskala

  9. Philadelphia — This is more a function of playing in a tough Atlantic Division than anything, as it's going to be incredibly difficult for four teams from any division to get into the postseason given the league's goofy scheduling. The Flyers will be much-improved, definitely, and in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots all season. Expect a big year from Simon Gagne. Key player: Jeff Carter

  10. Carolina — Another team that will be on the bubble again, right in the middle of the dogfight that will be the Southeast. The blue line continues to get older for the Hurricanes, and at some point Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley aren't going to be top six options, while Rod Brind'Amour can't be counted on for 82 points this season. That said, it really all comes down to the goaltending. Key player: Cam Ward

  11. Washington — They're better, up front and on the blue line, and in goal it all rests with 37-year-old Olaf Kolzig's health. The Capitals can make the playoffs if two or three of their young blueliners put it together this season, as an awful lot of responsibility still rests with Milan Jurcina, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Shaone Morrison and Steve Eminger. Key player: Michael Nylander

  12. N.Y. Islanders — Ted Nolan's going to keep them competitive, however haphazardly the roster was assembled, and I'm expecting a big year, points-wise, from Mike Comrie. Rick DiPietro had a terrific season last year and has really made good on his lifetime contract so far, but the blue line here leaves a lot to be desired. Goal scoring will be a bigger issue this season with Bill Guerin playing a major role, but it's going to be keeping the puck out of the net that hurts them. Key player: DiPietro

  13. Montreal — Hands up if you think the Canadiens will repeat at the league's most dangerous power-play team? Mine's not up either. The fact is, Montreal was only in the Eastern Conference playoff race last season because of a ridiculously successful power play based around Sheldon Souray's cannon of a shot, and the team was terrible at even strength. They lost some depth on the checking lines that could hurt, and an awful lot of youngsters are playing a major role this season. Key player: Alexei Kovalev

  14. Tampa Bay — Losing Dan Boyle, even for only four-to-six weeks, is a major concern. Not having a starting netminder picked out, even as the season's about to start, is, too. An injury to either Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis and there are major problems in Tampa Bay, who now have Filip Kuba as the team's top defender and two unheard of rookies on the top six. Key player: Johan Holmqvist

  15. Boston — I don't like this pick, I really don't, but someone's got to be last this season. I don't expect the Bruins to be that far off the pack, but goaltending still really concerns me. Boston allowed a boatload of shots last season, and Manny Fernandez is about to be shelled as never before, and as much as I expect Zdeno Chara to have a rebound campaign, he's got zero help here. Expect Phil Kessel to breakout, starting now. Key player: Fernandez

Western Conference

  1. Detroit — Are the Red Wings better than San Jose and the rest of the Western Conference powers? Probably not. But when you play in the Central Division, you win an awful lot of games in your own division and emerge at the top of the heap. Still, this is a better team than last season, and I really like the acquisition of Brian Rafalski. Henrik Zetterberg could emerge as a Hart Trophy candidate this season, and a lot of the offensive punch is going to fall to him and Pavel Datsyuk. Key player: Zetterberg

  2. San Jose — Everyone loves the Sharks this off-season, so much so that they are the consensus pick for the Stanley Cup next June. (That's usually not a good thing.) But San Jose, as I see it, has got quite a hole with Scott Hannan vacating the premises, and that falls to an awful lot of youngsters on defence. In fact, this entire team is build on youth, something that's great for the salary cap but not necessarily in the standings, and there is room for them to fall. Matt Carle, for one, played just 18 minutes a night last season, and is going to be tasked with taking on a much larger role. Key player: Carle

  3. Minnesota — Six points was all that separated the Wild from the Anaheim Ducks last season, and that was with Marian Gaborik missing much of the season and playing in a tougher division than the eventual Stanley Cup champs. Minnesota also has its youngsters all about to breakout, as their drafting in the early years is just about to pay off with players like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu and Brent Burns (who was incredible in preseason). Gaborik easily breaks the 100-point barrier with a healthy season. Key player: Niklas Backstrom

  4. Dallas — Here's another team getting no love from the off-season pundits, but one that has continued to put up wins despite key personnel losses. The Stars can't score to save their lives, it's true, but Dallas was the second best team in the league last season in goals against, and coach Dave Tippett is a big reason why. Factor in, also, that Mike Modano and captain Brendan Morrow missed major time with injuries last season, and there should be more goals going in this time around. Key player: Morrow

  5. Nashville — As long as Chris Mason's season last year wasn't a fluke, they're going to be fine. And here's why: The Predators' 110-point season wasn't built on the back of Paul Kariya or Kimmo Timonen, but rather the result of excellent coaching and penalty killing. The team brought in top-notch checkers in Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer, and are going to play a stifling defence-first brand of hockey, and as long as they can coax some goals out of a decent cast up front, this is a playoff team. Playing in the Central Division doesn't hurt, either, as barring a big leap forward from one of the bottom three, the 'two get in' rule includes Nashville. Key player: Alex Radulov

  6. Calgary — The Flames were a mess in preseason, which may just be Iron Mike growing pains, but the mess has made me wary of predicting all that much success for Calgary this year. There's no way, for one, that Kristian Huselius repeats his 77-point season, and it's going to be awfully tough for this Flames team to once again be one of the league's top goal-scoring clubs. What can I say: I lived through his tenure in Vancouver, and Keenan scares me. Key player: Miikka Kiprusoff

  7. Anaheim — This season has Stanley Cup hangover written all over it, from the ridiculous two-month break to the tromp to England, to the kinda-sorta retirements from Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer. If those two come back midseason, they'll be fine, but in the interim, what a mess. With Mathieu Schneider hurt, the defence isn't any better than average, and coach Randy Carlyle is forced to rely on Todd Bertuzzi way too much up front. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry look terrific, however. Key player: Getzlaf

  8. Colorado — It wouldn't surprise me to see the Avalanche win the Northwest Division this season, but a lot rests with their goaltending. Peter Budaj had a nice turn down the stretch last year, and if he can repeat, Colorado might even return to the contender ranks. There's a lot to like, especially up front, and this will be one of the league's highest-scoring teams once again. I also expect Scott Hannan to make a big difference on what was a terrible penalty kill last year. Key player: Budaj

  9. Vancouver — Four teams from the Northwest can't get into the postseason, not with the Oilers looking to be decent this season, and the Canucks have the least room for error. They need a rebound from captain Markus Naslund, they need healthy seasons from the Sedin twins and they desperately need someone else to step up and score a few goals. A lot went right last season (Kevin Bieksa anyone?) and I just fail to see where the gains were made here. It's all Roberto Luongo, again. Key player: Naslund

  10. St. Louis — It's a good sign when you have a capable veteran like Mike Johnson in camp and he's fighting until the very last day to win a spot. There's a lot more depth here than the Blues are credited for, and this very well could be a playoff team. Barret Jackman showed last season he can be a No. 1 or 2 defender in the NHL, and he's going to have to again be terrific, but what St. Louis needs more than anything this season is a power play. Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk have to do more. Key player: Paul Kariya

  11. Edmonton — The youth movement they're putting together in Oil-town's an interesting thing, and it makes it particularly difficult to try and gauge how this season will go in Edmonton. Who knows, after all, how Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson will respond to being thrown into NHL action for the first time? They could just surprise us all — but only if their additions on defence can play at even strength. Key player: Sheldon Souray

  12. Los Angeles — I liked what I saw in England. They've got some nice team speed and the youth movement appears to be working. Mike Cammalleri's now a bona fide top liner and has some help with Alex Frolov and Anze Kopitar, but Rob Blake's still playing a major role on the blue line. So is Jaroslav Modry. And if Jonathan Bernier can't get it done in goal, they're SOL. Key player: Bernier

  13. Columbus — Ken Hitchcock's never coached a team through a full, playoff-less season, but this should be the exception to that rule. They remain lean up front, where Rick Nash and David Vyborny have to do much of the work, and a mess in goal. Both Fredrik Norrena and Pascal Leclaire have experienced hurts through preseason, which means 19-year-old London Knights netminder Steve Mason may see some time early on. The fact that Nikolai Zherdev is the hope for the future says it all. Key player: Adam Foote

  14. Chicago — 36-year-old Robert Lang was this franchise's big addition this off-season, something that almost makes me weep for youngsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who are going to be tasked with trying to save a franchise that's been a mess for a decade. I like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the blue line, and Nikolai Khabibulin was fine in goal last season, but this team was right near the bottom in terms of goals scored last season and Martin Havlat's going to have to essentially do it alone again this year. Key player: Havlat

  15. Phoenix — Wayne Gretzky's going for Steve Stamkos and John Tavares and the Stanley Cup in 2012, so whatever we've got to say about the 2007-08 edition of the Coyotes doesn't really matter. This is hockey's worst roster since Dick Tarnstrom led the Penguins in scoring in 2003-04, and will be one of the worst teams on the ice in the past decade. It's a tanking of the first order, one where Shane Doan is the only player who had more than 33 points last season. This team won't win 20 games this season. Key player: Tavares
UPDATE I did a 10-minute season preview with Mountain FM out in B.C. on Tuesday night with host Shawn Mullin.

Labels:

29 Comments:

At 7:22 PM, October 02, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

You seriously need to get over this notion that the Jackets' goaltending is a mess. The defense? Holier than swiss cheese. The offense? They couldn't buy a goal with their Center issues.

But Norrena is no push-over, as he proved last season with a winning record (a Jackets' first) and a modest Sv% despite how poor the help in front of him was (and I should point out his 41-save shutout against Nashville during their last pre-season game on Saturday, after the nagging knee problem you mentioned). And Leclaire, despite his injury woes last season, has had an extremely strong training camp; so much so that he's starting opening night (followed by Norrena the next night).

You need to look elsewhere for reasoning behind the Jackets' issues this season. It's sort of ... odd, since the one strength the beat writers in Columbus recognize just so happens to be that very goaltending, both in terms of the present and the future (Mason, OHL Goalie of the Year last season).

 
At 8:25 PM, October 02, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

13th is freaking hilarious, James. Thank you.

 
At 8:58 PM, October 02, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

I don't know a thing about the east, but the west summary is excellent imo. You may be a hair hopeful on the Oilers, but other than that it's spot on.

 
At 11:24 PM, October 02, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Mike, how many Vezina winners do you see on this list of OHL goalies of the year?

* 2005-06 Adam Dennis, London Knights
* 2004-05 Michael Ouzas, Mississauga IceDogs
* 2003-04 Paulo Colaiacovo, Barrie Colts
* 2002-03 Andy Chiodo Toronto St. Michael's Majors
* 2001-02 Ray Emery, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
* 2000-01 Craig Anderson, Guelph Storm
* 1999-00 Andrew Raycroft, Kingston Frontenacs
* 1998-99 Brian Finley, Barrie Colts
* 1997-98 Bujar Amidovski, Toronto St. Michael's Majors
* 1996-97 Zac Bierk, Peterborough Petes
* 1995-96 Craig Hillier, Ottawa 67's
* 1994-95 Tyler Moss, Kingston Frontenacs
* 1993-94 Jamie Storr, Owen Sound Platers
* 1992-93 Manny Legace, Niagara Falls Thunder
* 1991-92 Mike Fountain, Oshawa Generals
* 1990-91 Mike Torchia, Kitchener Rangers
* 1989-90 Jeff Fife, Belleville Bulls
* 1988-89 Gus Morschauser, Kitchener Rangers
* 1987-88 Rick Tabaracci, Cornwall Royals

 
At 11:35 PM, October 02, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

13th is freaking hilarious, James. Thank you.

Anywhere between eighth and 13th seems to make sense for the Habs; they're a tough one to call. I suppose they could pass Toronto in the Northeast.

 
At 1:22 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edmonton:
“They could just surprise us all — but only if their additions on defence can play at even strength.”

I’m tired of reporters and fans looking at players’ plus/minus stats without understanding their true meaning which is almost… nothing. The guy who created this stat never played the game is already dead.

Like you said it’s 5 on 5 (with two goalies) and it has very little to do how individual player plays. You play lot’s of minutes for a good team and you end up plus-20-30 (except Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim who was lousy +6 in regular season and +1 in Stanley Cup playoffs) and you play lots of minutes for Philly 2006-7 and you end up with lots of minuses.

Look at Joni Pitkanen’s stats 2005-6 and 2006-7 and compare them to Flyers’ stats. Did Pitkanen really cause all of this? From +22 to -25 while still scoring over 40pts. both seasons. Give your head a shake.

I’ll help you a little bit more: Pitkanen was on ice for seven empty-net goals. It still leaves you with -18 but look at other Flyer players’ stats. Not that bad, eh?

But the proof in the budding is Kyle Calder and Alexei Zhitnik. How much they changed their play 5 on 5 just by getting traded. Zhitnik was plus 15 with Islanders, minus 16 with Flyers and plus 4 with Atlanta. Two out of his three teams made it to playoffs but which ones? Look at Zhitnik’s 5 on 5 play, I quess.

Calder improved like nobody else when he got traded from Philly to Detroit. Amazing, but for some reason Detroit didn’t understand this mighty improvement and poor Kyle was a healthy scratch during playoffs.

Btw, Google what Bryan Murray said about this stat when clueless reporters in Ottawa wrote some praising stuff re: Tom Preissing who was something like +32 when poor Niedermayer wasn’t doing nearly as good.

 
At 1:37 AM, October 03, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

How do you feel about Souray's even-strength play throughout his career? I have him near the bottom last season in goals against per 60 minutes of even strength ice time (3.43), ahead of only Gauthier, Brad Stuart, Steve Eminger, Dallman, Randy Jones, Hatcher, Pitkanen (3.70), Aucoin and Jason York among defencemen who played 40 games last season.

That has nothing to do with the plus part of the equation, where Souray doesn't fare all that well either, based on last season's numbers. At least Pitkanen was generating some offence when he was out there.

(Besides, no one said anything about plus-minus — especially not when there are better metrics available. I encourage you to read the archives regarding my thoughts on plus-minus.)

 
At 6:44 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dallas and Nashville over the likes of Calgary and Anaheim?? Really?

 
At 8:48 AM, October 03, 2007, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

Oh well. If the Sharks take 2nd and the Ducks take 7th, then at least the Sharks won't get to choke their way out of a postseason BoC.

 
At 9:03 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous LETS GO RANGERS!!! said...

James,
Great site and great work. Check here daily for info.

I have to ask you why you think the devils and the Sabres can top the Rangers this year?

Yes, I am a Rangers fan and a realistic one at that. We need to see the proof this team is what it is being hyped to be before we get too excited. But, if this team gets going and clicks. They are easy third in the East at least. With Sens and Pens being great this year.

I also think Philly is going to be a good team this year. But, you have a point in how many teams can make it from a division.

LETS GO RANGERS!!!

 
At 9:16 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ottawa has two solid goalies?

 
At 9:48 AM, October 03, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Toronto gave up the third fewest shots in the Eastern conference this year.

They're not defensively poor, lots of teams would kill to have Kubina, Kaberle, and Colaiacovo, it's just hard to win games when Andrew Raycroft is statistically the 30th place starting goaltender in the league.

 
At 10:07 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SaskHab.
The TSN pundits all agreed Montreal sucks.
Mind you that includes noted Hab Hater Glenn "I played for the Leafs so I get a TV job" Healy whose hockey knowledge is surpassed only by my dog.
12th is realistic because we all know that Montreal's players never develop while everyone else's do.

 
At 10:12 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous PPP said...

I completely agree with your analysis of the Leafs making the playoffs and the Habs sucking.

How can it be hilarious to predict that a team that survived ONLY on the back of stretches of unreal goaltending and a top 5 PP and PK will end up 13th?

The Habs at even strength were embarrassing. They usually looked like a team of boys going up against men.

Losing Souray will have a huge effect on the powerplay. Sort of like two years ago when teams started putting a man up on McCabe during PPs.

 
At 10:46 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Anshu said...

I wish Brodeur would get traded to Toronto so we could really test the theory that "Toronto's defence doesn't suck, their goaltending sucks".

Because despite shots on goal, save percentage and goals against stats, I don't think the theory is particularly sound.

 
At 10:51 AM, October 03, 2007, Blogger FAUXRUMORS said...

1) We generally agree with your assessments. When we did our preseason predictions last week we found the West was far easier to predict than the tighter East
2) From top to bottom the East has much more parity, with any of the 15 teams having a shot at the post season
3) While the difference in the West from top to bottom is much more stark. Can't see ANY way the Coyotes, Hawks or Jackets play in the post season
4) Like you, we're now concerned that our preseason Cup favourite (The Sharks)seems to be EVERYONE'S pick!

 
At 11:04 AM, October 03, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

Survivng "only" on the 3 most important facets of the game isn't really just surviving... before a ridiculously debilitating flu came around and sapped up all the team's energy they were on pace to be the 5th team in the playoffs.

The Habs are by no means a powerhouse, but they're way more balanced this year. Last year was a year of extremes. Extremely bad players 5 on 5, extremely good ones on the PP, one extremely good duo 5 on 5.

The Habs have 6 quality NHL centers (a good one got demoted as a result in Lapierre) and 4 quality NHL d-men (hope you have Streit in your pools), plus the best top D pairing in the conference not in Ottawa (and maybe Florida, who I agree with James on BTW).

Higgins will score 35 goals this year if he stays healthy (which he should, last year were the first injuries of his career). Plekanec could push 65-70 points (while being a top defensive forward) and Kostitsyn 50 or even more.

The Habs still need a top 10 PP and they have the personnel to do it, mainly because Markov is still there, and so is Ryder (who simply just produces consistently on the PP).

This isn't Kovalev's or Souray's team anymore, it is Higgins', Markov's, and Komisarek's. There is nothing one-dimensional about the leadership group (and therefore core) of the team. Last year was the worst it's going to get for Montreal for the next 5-7 years.

The Habs will get at least 90 points, and at worst, just miss the playoffs like last year. Montreal's been building up a lot of depth for the past 3-4 years and it'll start to really show this year. When someone goes down, someone of equal effectiveness is just an hour and a half flight away.

 
At 11:50 AM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous Keith said...

Your NW Division predictions are rather interesting, and no doubt Canuck fans are already burning you in effigy. Even I have to take issue with putting them behind an Avs team with no goaltending.

Personally, I am not at all sold on Minnesota either. Especially when you are depending on Gaborik to be healthy. Calgary is a complete crap shoot. *should* win the division, but they should have won it last year as well. Keenan is an improvement over Playfair though, so this team should be better than last year.

Edmonton, well, 11th is charitable. Not with a defence that can't play defence, an aging goaltender who spends more time whining than stopping pucks, and a very thin forward corps.

 
At 12:50 PM, October 03, 2007, Anonymous PPP said...

I forgot that the 'flu' lasted 4 months.

As for being great on the PP and PK, too bad around 60% of the game is played at even strength.

So far in the pre-season the Habs PP has been far from a top 10 PP so that's already a trouble spot.

I guess we'll just have to revisit the standings in April.

As for Brodeur being traded to Toronto, I'd love it. You can ignore statistics that show that goaltending was the problem last season but that doesn't change the truth of the matter.

 
At 1:45 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

Sorry, shouldn't use flu, should use Norwalk Virus. Huge outbreak this past winter in Montreal. The Habs were amongst the first to get it in the city, then when some of them started recovering, they got it again from their kids who got it at school. It truly did last for a month. Rivet got pneumonia as a result, and Bonk was pretty ill for a while. Half the team was reportedly suffering at one point. Their energy level was noticeably down from January on. It did indeed cost them a playoff spot, and apparently league wide respectability.

 
At 3:32 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I have to ask you why you think the devils and the Sabres can top the Rangers this year?

They did it last season, so why not?

I know this much, the Devils will allow fewer goals and the Sabres should score more.

 
At 5:29 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger trbrown said...

The Canucks have not been receiving much praise this preseason. That being said, I haven't seen many talking heads or jittery hands pick the Canucks to flat-out miss the playoffs.

Your prediction for the Vancouver Canucks mentions that you ”fail to see where the gains were made.” This seems to be a particular reference to the Canucks offensive woes where little has been done to address the problem. However, it appears that you also fail to see where the strength of the Canucks resides… I fear that you are among the hockey journalists who groupthink that the fate of the Canucks this season is dependent on their scoring. This in my opinion is a failure to recognize the system which Roberto Luongo and Alain Vigneault have institutionalized over one season in Vancouver. And I’ll use your prediction of Vancouver, and Nashville to illustrate this:

Let’s consider a few things that you wrote for the Predators:

"As long as Chris Mason's season last year wasn't a fluke, they're going to be fine.

You suggest that as long as Nashville receives decent goaltending, they will be contending for a playoff spot. I think we all agree that good goaltender will provide that opportunity for his team. However, in your write-up for the Canucks, seemingly little consideration is given for Roberto Luongo? Why? In fact there are two statements in your Canucks write-up that stand out to me: ”It's all Roberto Luongo, again” and ”the Canucks have the least room for error.” In my opinion, the two statements do not add up. Luongo has consistently performed as an all-star goaltender night-in night-out. He alone gives the Canucks the most margin for error in the Northwest. When Luongo is playing his best, which was a pretty regular occurrence January-on last season, he can win games (even a playoff series!) without scoring support. I cannot fathom Luongo’s Canucks missing the playoffs. Even if Colorado has Ryan Smyth, who Roberto Luongo had no issue stopping last year when he was an Oiler.

"The Predators' 110-point season wasn't built on the back of Paul Kariya or Kimmo Timonen, but rather the result of excellent coaching and penalty killing. "

Again, for Nashville, they will make the playoffs because of their excellent coaching staff and their penalty killing. Why does this not apply to Vancouver? Surely you are not disregarding 06-07 Coach of the Year Alain Vigneault? Nor the Canucks #1 ranked penalty kill last season? Or perhaps you are, and you consider Luongo the reason for the above accolades. In which case, I'll have you refer to my previous paragraph...

The team brought in top-notch checkers in Martin Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer, and are going to play a stifling defence-first brand of hockey, and as long as they can coax some goals out of a decent cast up front.

Now perhaps this is just me nick picking, but c’mon, Marty Gelinas and Jed Ortmeyer are worth mentioning? Their cohesiveness with Nashville’s grinding defensive style may very well make them a tough team to play against. Perhaps almost as much as Vancouver, who has well regarded defensive forwards like Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, and Matt Cooke? Furthermore, just who is going to make up for the goals from Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen, and Scott Hartnell? That right there is 60 goals and 170 points. Radek Bonk? And of that ‘decent cast’ up front, I will certainly contest that they are no better than the forwards Vancouver will be relying on. I cannot fathom Dumont, Legwand, Arnott, Radulov, and the already-injured Sullivan outscoring Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Naslund, Morrison, Pyatt or Kesler. I’d wager on it.

And yes, something does deserve to be said for which division each team is in. Yes, Vancouver is in the competitive Northwest division and they will be playing other playoff calibre teams. And again, I guess it’s a subjective matter. The only team in my opinion that legitimately improved were the Colorado Avalanche (Smyth, Hannan, Rookies out the wazoo…). I do not see how the Calgary Flames (Sarich, Aucoin, Keenan) or the Minnesota Wild (Belanger, Hill) improved. If anything, the latter two teams made moves to play a more defensive style of hockey, which at this point, I’d be willing to give the edge to the Canucks and Luongo in any given game. Furthermore, I don’t think the Central division can be discounted as the two-horse race it’s been since the lockout. St. Louis was a legitimate threat to any team under Andy Murray and has only improved their offense with Kariya. Likewise, Chicago, while young, has the talent in key positions to take over games.

I don’t mean to attack Nashville as one team which I think will fail and not make the playoffs. I just don’t understand your evaluation of the Predators when contrasted with your evaluation of the Canucks. For all the scoring woes they may have, Roberto Luongo alone makes them an excellent team that is surely Playoff bound.

If they have to rely on Curtis Sanford on the other hand!

 
At 5:31 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger rightonthebutton said...

The Toronto media got to you. What is it like a club you can only join if you're overly optimistic about the Leafs. I mean, c'mon, the Leafs aren't making the playoffs.

 
At 5:39 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger Ebscer said...

Vancouver is a one dementional team but they should make the playoffs...

Also you seem to have the wild, florida and the oilers a bit on the high side...

 
At 5:44 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

T.R. Brown: It's all about the division-heavy scheduling. You cannot have four teams from one division in the playoffs, barring that the fifth teams is a bottom feeder. I don't think Nashville's a better team than the Canucks, but with only three Northwest teams set to make the playoffs, one good team will miss.

The debate is whether that's Minnesota, Calgary, Colorado or Vancouver, and I believe the separation will be (like last season) less than 10 points.

 
At 5:59 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

A month ago, I had zero hope whatsoever for the Oilers, but I really like the sound of some of the talent that's made the team this season. Sure, there will be growing pains, and sure, there will probably be a mind-numbing slump in January, as there is every year, but I do think this team will at least be competitive. I mean, let's not forget, the Oilers were within striking distance of 8th right up until the Smyth trade, and now that everyone's healthy, I see no reason why they won't be able to accomplish something in the 8-10 range. 8 might be a bit optimistic, but I sincerely doubt the Oilers are a lottery team.

I don't get to see/hear as much about the Habs, but they seem like they're in a bit of a similar boat, so I'll make the same call: they'll be a bubble team and probably undecided one way or another until Game 81-82.

 
At 6:01 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

Also, I posted predictions on a friend's site, and I submarined the Flames. I'm calling 11th, with this finally being the year they fail to whip some miraculous recovery from their shitty October out of nowhere. Keenan loses the team by December, and they gradually spiral out of control from there.

Is that blatantly homeristic and totally unrealistic? Of course it is. But I've decided that a little hope is a good thing.

 
At 7:24 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger trbrown said...

James, I suppose my concern is not so much with whether or not Vancouver is a better team than Nashville; but rather that the values you insist will be key to Nashville's success this season are subsequently ignored in your Vancouver prediction.

The Predators are endorsed for their defensive style, their goaltending, and allowed a free pass for their goal-scoring. While the Canucks are given practically no mention of their successful defensive style, Luongo's gamebreaking, and are instead harped upon for their lack of goal-scoring. I think goaltending and defense is far more important than offense.

I appreciate and agree that the Northwest playoff race will be tight. But I fundamentally disagree with your conclusion that the Canucks offense will prevent them from making the dance, especially in a defense first division.

 
At 7:29 PM, October 03, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Nashville was fifth overall in goals scored last season; Vancouver was 22nd.

That's an enormous difference.

Vancouver does have excellent defence and goaltending; that's a given (and perhaps not even worth mentioning in a two sentence blurb). But because I'm predicting them to miss the playoffs, naturally I want to explain why — and that necessitates detailing the team's shortcomings (i.e. they score far less than a team like Nashville).

 

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