As it seems that everyone thinks they are an expert about the NHL and can put out random opinions and pass them as fact (ie. Mike Brophy) I figured I would follow suit. I am pleased to give you my completely biased, but most probably correct NHL Western Conference predictions for the 2010-2011 NHL season.
1. Vancouver Canucks – Even though I doubt Coach Alain Vingeault would be able to coach Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Roy, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Alex Ovechkin and Bobby Orr, in their prime to a Stanley Cup championship I do believe the 2010/2011 Canuck group seems to be a focused bunch. 40 years of mediocrity has made the Vancouver fan base a jaded one, but they are jacked up this year about their team and for good reason. The Sedin twins have gotten better every season since they joined the league culminating in Henrik Sedin winning the Art Ross trophy and Hart trophy as the leagues best player last season. Daniel, who was injured last year, will continue to push Henrik and their work effort should brush off on the other core players, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Alex Burrows and new additions Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard. Newcomers Manny Malhotra and Raffi “cokehead” Torres should make the third line more menacing then the goofy looking Kyle Wellwood and his merry men Steve “I can’t skate” Bernier and The Great Dane, Jannik Hansen. All in all a Northwest Banner seems to be a lock and first place heading into the playoffs seems like a realistic goal and outcome. Long live GM MG. For all of you “it’s destiny” freaks look no further then the last two NHL cities to host a Winter Olympics. The NHL team won the cup the following season, seems like a perfect storm.
2. Chicago Blackhawks – Long gone are the brash, but effective supporting cast of the Stanley Cup winning team. I for one don’t see the great collapse that a lot of these so called experts are predicting. This team still boasts a line up that includes Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook amongst a strong supporting cast like Patrick Sharp, Hjalmarsson, Kopecky and Brian Campbell. They will get wins and points on skill alone. Oh, and anyone thinking that goaltender Marty Turco is a step down in goal, give your head a shake. Goldberg from the Disney Mighty Ducks Movies could have backstopped the Hawks to the Cup. Niemi is not a good goalie, hence why they walked away from the arbitrators ruling. The 2009-2010 Blackhawks were a motivated bunch and there didn’t seem to be anything that would stop them. I doubt they will have that same drive after a summer of parading the Stanley Cup around padding their egos. I’m looking at you Patrick Kane. If I’m Marian Hossa the thought of going to another Stanley Cup final makes me sick.
3. San Jose Sharks – The San Jose Sharks will continue to be a threat as long as they roll out Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and company as their top players. Gone are the days that they will dominate the Pacific division and finish first in the Western Conference with ease, but they are still the best team in the Pacific Division, but for how long? If this team played in somewhere other then beautiful San Jose do you think they would have won a couple of cups by now? I sure do. Far too laid back out there in wine country and with Niemi and Nittymaki as their keepers for a whole season, they will win the division, but not by much.
4. Detroit Red Wings – I for one don’t understand how this organization does it year in and year out. The same players are back for another year and logic says they should finish in the top half of the conference. The age should be a concern and the impending injuries are going to stop this squad from winning the division, but they will be a force once again. The only surprise is that apparently Ken Holland doesn’t realize that Todd Bertuzzi is bad hockey player.
5. Los Angeles Kings – Any team with such a large nucleus of good young talent and coming off a better then anticipated season usually suffers a set back. Although, the maturity of Drew Doughty and the strong group of veteran leadership in Ryan Smyth, Michael Handzus and newcomer Willie Mitchell should keep this team right on track. LA looks like they could be good for a while, as long as they keep that Clune guy off of the ice, what a clown.
6. St. Louis Blues – I’m not drinking the Jaroslav Halak kool – aid, but he is a definite upgrade over Chris “I look like a mechanic” Mason. The Blues were an upcoming team in 2008-2009 only to trip up last year and miss the playoffs. Perhaps they got too complacent after their brilliant second half of the 08/09 season and didn’t get the competitive juices flowing in time to build on their success in the 09/10 season. A full season under new coach Davis Payne and largely the same cast of the 08/09 season should see this team return to the playoffs and compete for home ice down the stretch.
7. Nashville Predators – I have no idea how this team gets into the playoffs every year, but alas. I don’t see any reason why the trend wont continue. Partially because the bottom half of the Western Conference is bad, but also because they boast a stingy young goalie and a big, strong, nasty skilled back end. Nashville consistently is a hard working, focused, pesky team and they will consistently beat up on the lesser lights and will be able to steal enough wins off of the big teams to sneak into the playoffs…..again.
8. Phoenix Coyotes – Captain Coyote, Shane Doan, got his young group on a roll last season which seemed to energize a clueless fan base. Dave Tippett is an excellent coach and Illya Bryzgalov is a good goalie, but I don’t have faith in this group being able to repeat their success or improve on it either. The Coyotes will squeeze into the playoffs mainly because the teams below them are just so much worse.
9. Colorado Avalanche – A young Avalanche team came flying out of the gate as an unknown team in 08/09 and built up an early point cushion which helped them squeeze into the playoffs last season. After a playoff seeding last year this team cannot expect to sneak up on anyone any longer. Additionally, Craig Anderson is going to be hard pressed to duplicate the type of season he had last season. This line up is too young and too inexperienced to be able to repeat last seasons success. This organization is heading in the right direction and should expect to be battling for the upper echelon of the Western Conference in the not to distant future.
10. Calgary Flames – This prediction comes with an asterix. The only way I see the Flames not finishing dead last is if they come stumbling out of the gate and someone, anyone, over there in Cowtown gets the balls to finally take the Sutters out to the glue factory. These clowns are ruining the Flames and the only hope for the flaming C is to get Jay Feaster to take over. A new GM and philosophy change will get this group focused enough to battle for a playoff spot, finish a couple of spots out of the playoffs and in no mans land. Calgary can take solace in the fact that the NorthWest division boasts the Wild, Oil and Avalanche which should help them rack up points they otherwise wouldn’t get. Regardless of their positioning this season, this team needs to be blown up, and in a big way
11. Edmonton Oilers – The future is looking good for the Edmonton Oilers hockey club and fan base. The hardest part for this group this season will be to keep their idiotic fan base in check. Oilers fans will be expecting 5 cups within the next 6 years so these guys better know how to handle pressure. Nevertheless, this team should be a fun group to watch this season. Steve Tambellini will have his work cut out for him to try and stop Kevin Lowe for giving all of these young guys Shawn Horcoff type money and handing them $7 million a season starting next year.
12. Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks are offering their fans a “Victory Pack” where you buy tickets to 4 games and if the Ducks win these games you will get rewarded with free tickets to 4 games later on in the season. When ever your team marketing department and ownership group is banking on you to lose games it pretty much indicates the commitment level to winning in SoCal. Getzlaf, Perry, Hiller and Ryan are a good core, but their bottom 6 forwards and defensive corps is AHL quality at best, too bad to as this team used to boast Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermeyer.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets – There is a hockey team in Columbus?!? Poor, poor Rick Nash, either he hates winning or Columbus has some amazing woman, or something else that is keeping him there. Maybe he has a really sweet house?! Another season of mediocrity will only further alienate a dwindling fan base in the buck eye state. When Ethan Moreau is your biggest addition you have to wonder why bother trying to make any changes at all. Best of luck Scott Arniel.
14. Minnesota Wild – This franchise was doomed from day one. The jerseys, team colours and logo are all hideous and they stocked the team with a cult of over achieving dorks that were a pain in the ass to watch and play against. Their poor seasons and recent streak of playoff less hockey is hockey karma coming back to bite them in the ass for their over achieving years which their fan base confused as a legitimate hockey team. This organization should have hired Pierre Maguire when they had the chance.
15. Dallas Stars – Joe Nieuwendyk and Marc Crawford deserve better then an ownership group that is hemorrhaging money and unloading their other sports franchises. The messy ownership situation and the thin line up will make the Stars an interesting story this season. The Stars will be unloading players and salary before they will be making the necessary changes to improve this squad as they inevitably will end up in bankruptcy. Maybe Fernando Torres can skate?