The WTYKY Season Preview
The hockey season is about two weeks away, which means that barring a last-minute Ron Hainsey signing, most teams have set their lineups and will be about as good in two weeks as they are now. That means we can safely embark on the soon-to-be-embarrassing exercise of season predictions.
I’ll be honest with you—these new divisions make it pretty much impossible for me to wrap my head around who is a playoff team and who isn’t, so we’re going to just do a reverse-overall-standings split into three groups of ten, while pausing along the way to offer insightful or possibly erroneous commentary. First comes Varada’s take then comes James’ then comes Tim Murray in a baby carriage (amazing to picture). Enjoy.
The Bottom Ten
25. Tampa Bay
I want to say right up front that parity has made a bottom ten finish not as bad a thing as it once was. There’s almost as much distance between tenth last and dead last as there is between tenth last and a playoff spot. So picking somebody to finish, say, fifth last is not really such an awful thing as it appears. (Case in point: Ottawa finishes fifth last a couple of seasons ago, makes the playoffs the next year. Everyone acts surprised, but look at the standings: Ottawa simply wasn’t as bad as finishing fifth last might imply.)
Having said that, Calgary is pretty clearly heading for a long and awful season. Their first line center is Matt Stajan. Their goaltender is Karri Ramo. Their top defenseman is a massively overpaid Dennis Wideman. They’re in a tough division where everyone has gotten better or at least stayed about the same. I don’t think I’m out on a limb here. They’re going to be awful. I hope Mike Cammalleri gets traded soon–he’s too fun a player to languish there. Fun fact: Mike Cammalleri makes $7 million this season!
Putting Toronto in the bottom ten, and below Carolina, is going to simply be discounted as me being a Sens fan, though there’s plenty of analysis out there on just how lucky the Leafs were last season. While I don’t think they’ve gotten much worse, they haven’t gotten much better either despite the additions of David Clarkson and Jonathan Bernier. I think the Clarkson deal is over-maligned; he’s a good player, or least he will be this season. It seems to me that pessimism over the final years of his seven year deal is leaking into feelings about next season. But they also lost two very useful players in Grabovski and MacArthur, and their defense is still questionable. Combine that with the luck factor and they’ll come back to earth hard. And that’s assuming they can actually get Kadri and Franson under contract, the likelihood of which is a total mystery to me.
Winnipeg moves to possibly the most difficult division in the league, and Columbus can’t survive on Vezina-level goaltending again. Maybe this is the year Steve Yzerman gets fired by Tampa. He runs that team the way I play Be a GM mode on Xbox. Which is to say, poorly.
The Middle Ten
19. New Jersey
15. New York Islanders
I was as excited as any Ottawa fan to see Vollman of Hockey Abstract pick the Sens to win the Presidents Trophy, and I hope his mathematically-computed prediction holds true—but part of me refuses to tempt the hockey gods by going along with it. I’m too skeptical. Is Karlsson 100%? Will Anderson come back to earth? How is Spezza’s back? We haven’t seen a version of this team without Alfredsson in almost two full decades—how will they adjust to their best two-way forward leaving town? They’ll be good, and I think they’ll make the playoffs, but I don’t think they’re appreciably better than the 7th place team they were last year. They’ll get 10-15 more goals out of Bobby Ryan than they might have expected out of Jakub Silfverberg. That’s not enough of a difference to me to turn them into elite contenders.
I was tempted to pick Montreal much lower, but ultimately a team that finishes bottom three one season and then wins their conference the next season is too much of an unknown to do anything more than stick them in the middle of the league with a big question mark next to their name.
I’m also showing huge improvement for Nashville (though still no playoffs), and that’s not (only) Seth Jones. I just think they’re a good team that underachieved last year.
Other than that, this is the great mediocre middle ground that is your 2013 NHL. Everybody gets a participation badge! Any of these teams could find themselves within a half-dozen points above or below the cut-off line for the post-season. I think Edmonton, Nashville and Dallas just miss. As for Washington, most are predicting that they’re in trouble now that they don’t have the easy Southeast to rely on. Personally, I think they get their act together as a result.
The Top Ten
8. San Jose
7. New York Rangers
2. St. Louis
1. Los Angeles
I’m more bullish on Philadelphia than perhaps I should be, especially since I’ve also got the Rangers and Pens from the same division in the top ten, but they’re a deep team. The Streit pick-up, though an overpayment, will serve them well. Goaltending is a massive question mark, as always. Anyway, I have Philly anywhere from top ten to bottom ten, but I just can’t see them stinking as badly as they did last year with Lecavalier up the middle and another year for all of their young players. At some point Brayden Schenn is going to turn into a beast. Anyway, I don’t like them so much as I like all the teams in the middle less.
Picking St. Louis to finish higher than Chicago is also ballsy. I just think they’re ridiculously deep at every position, and if Halak is back to 100% health they’ll have their formidable goaltending tandem back as well.
Obviously picking somebody other than the team who set a record for most consecutive wins this year, and then went on to win the Cup, is pretty stupid. What can I say—it’s hockey, and I’m trying to pay lip service to the chaos underlying this game we love. Chicago will play mediocre hockey out of the gate, look tired, be only slightly above .500 approaching the holiday season, and then turn it on and be near the top of the league by the end of the season. And they may very well repeat and win another Cup. But it won’t be enough to catch Los Angeles in the regular season standings.
As for LA, they didn’t make many changes aside from allowing Rob Scuderi to walk, but they didn’t need to make many changes. They have best-in-class players at every position. I was blown away by how well they played last season, making it to the conference finals a season after winning the cup. They’ll eat up Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton and Phoenix in their new division. Everyone is in their prime, and they have at least another few seasons of scary good hockey in them. They’re my pick for best team in the league.
Other than injuries, the new divisional format could be as awkward as a junior high dance. Lots of teams who aren’t used to one another having to play regularly, and seeing every team in your barn at least once also changes the dynamic. Finally, the Olympics will throw a huge wrench in the middle of everything, as it usually does. I’m not picking the Rangers to finish 7thoverall if Henrik Lundqvist tears his adductor muscle in his first game for Team Sweden.
Thanks and now shut down your browser…I mean time for JAMES’ PIXXX:
Well, here we are. This is where I pretend to have my finger on the pulse of the league! *Wipes nervous sweat from brow and types “What happened in the Western Conference last year?” into Wikipedia* Thanks for reading! The best part about predicting hockey is that I feel that completely BSing your picks has about as much credibility as a so called hockey expert’s picks. THANKS ONCE AGAIN FOR READING! Seriously, some magazine / website / webazine picked Ottawa to win the President’s trophy so… *rests case*
The Bottom Ten
30. Florida – This team is the man and the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The rest of the league is the Cannibal horde that roams the ashen wasteland that was once Earth. The Panthers are so bad that they bought out Filip Kuba and THAT WAS SOMEHOW A BAD MOVE. These clowns have it all: Leafs runoff like Kris Versteeg and Joey Crabb, iffy at absolute best reclamation projects: Scott Gomez, Jesse Winchester, and oh speaking of whom lots of Sens runoff dudes who couldn’t even hang on a rebuilding team: Bobby Butler, Matt Gilroy. You’ve got your star-ish players who I had no idea were on the team: Tomas Fleishmann, Ed Jovanovski. Last but certainly not least they suffer the annual emancipation of their quality players. This year’s model: Stephen Weiss….I think the only hope this team has is if Jakob Markstrom channels his inner Sergei Bobrovski and bails the big cats out for wins but out of embarrassing blowout losses as well….all season. I saw Florida play in person once last season and to think this team might actually be weaker now is just…wow. Keep carrying the fire Jonathan Huberdeau…one day ye shall be released.
29. Calgary – What can be said that Varada didn’t already say. I will add the very real possibility of a complete desperation move (due to Matt Stajan being their no. 1 centre) of rushing 18 year old first round pick Sean Monahan into the NHL. You know, just to add that extra clusterfuckocity. I’ve seen way crazier shit happen. So beginneth the first Iggy-less Flames season since 1996 (!) but also of very noteworthy import, Mika Kiprusoff has unofficially retired according to some reports…so…
28. Buffalo – I am not joking I forget this team even exists sometimes.
27. Dallas – Ladies and Gentlemen put your hands together for Buffalooooo Weeeest!!!
26. Winnipeg – The Jets have been hard at work all summer signing players I have never heard of to deals. Congrats Brenden Kichton (?) on his 3 year 1.86 million dollar contract! …is that even a million dollars after taxes? Anyway, enjoy those Western roadies boys.
25. Colorado – I almost don’t know why this team is so bad but they did little to improve. Maybe if the players try to go through the wall for Patrick Roy in his first season behind the bench it could go better. A healthier Landeskog can’t hurt things. A slight jump in standings after an absolutely dismal season.
24. Columbus – ? Uhhh…Ottawa trades Jim O’Brien and future considerations for Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and a conditional pick at some point?
23. Edmonton – Hmmm, the Be a GM Mode of my game keeps saying “Insert NHL defensemen to start game” but I haven’t even touched their roster yet. *blows on cartridge*
22. Tampa Bay – Now I really don’t know what makes this team so terrible either but I have to admit that I love that they are. Nothing like a team you don’t like struggling despite getting the league’s premier goal scorer with the number 1 pick, a bruising 6 foot 6 defenseman with the no. 2 overall and has a player so good he can win the Art Ross at age 38. Sure these guys could still turn out to be the sleeping giants that they are considered year after year or, you know, not. I’m going to say probably not. Speaking of giants, is Ben Bishop their no. 1 goalie in his sophomore season? Damn! He’s a really good goalie, but uh…no pressure buddy. 45 career games and off ya go! Agree with Varada that I think Steve Yzerman, despite BEING A GOOD NEPEAN BOY and former Raider, might be the most over hyped GM in the league. Whoa he picked Canada’s Olympic team! Wow, definitely not a job most people who play fantasy hockey couldn’t do. How much was that team worth in Cap space I wonder?
21. Washington – This is a team I am just salivating at the chance to watch get dummied. I used to really like watching the Caps but I don’t know, after years of shitting the bus (that’s right) I have grown to love rooting against them. Maybe it’s the years of undeserved entitlement to high seeding at playoff time? I still love Alex Ovechkin. It’s hard to dislike a guy who’s considered Crosby’s rival but was there a less deserved Hart trophy won than his this year? He wasn’t even great for an entire shortened season. It was much representative of the Caps playoff birth. They pulled it together enough halfway through the to make yet another (and their final) HILARIOUS 3rd in the conference finish. As is customary they made a pretty quick exit. It’s just crazy to think Mike Ribiero of all people carried the Caps and then for them to lose him in the off season? Great stuff. Grabovsky was a good pick up but quality forwards have never been Washington’s weak link. There’s been talk the last few seasons of the Caps’ window closing. With the long overdue dissolution of the South Easy Division prepare to see the beginning of the end of the Capitals as a threat.
The Middle Ten
20. New Jersey – An admitted crapshoot guess. This team annually manages to do pretty well despite my doubts. Even though he is no one’s favorite player the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk hurts everything but the Devils’ pocketbook. Ditto Clarkson. Even at his 73 years young, Brodeur and new partner Cory Scheider serve as a pretty solid tandem on paper. Worth mentioning that Jaromir Jagr is their second highest scorer at the time of this post. A 41 year old top offensive threat and a 41 year old starting goalie: Pray to the groin gods Devils fans.
19. Philadelphia – I am howww you say, not so bullish (inbullish?) on this team. Giroux enters the season fresh off an injury which I think could hurt them out of the gate. Call me “not a Montreal fan” but I do not believe the acquisition of Lecavalier makes your team significantly better. Another weird contract that will come back to haunt them. There’re a lot of bright spots on this team though. I mean, really, it’s perplexing why they struggled so much last season but some times good teams turn sour. Ray Emery I think will be the difference maker for the Flyers but if he goes down or struggles things quickly get very weak in net. Especially concerning when you consider Rayzor wont be playing behind Chicago’s D corps anymore. Could go either way but I’m calling another rough year in the City of Motherly Love.
18. Carolina – *yawns and types “Is there anything interesting one can say about Carolina’s Hurricanes? into Askjeeves.com* Is Eric Staal hurt still? Is Jeff Skinner? That could be bad.
17. Phoenix sorry my bad ARIZONA apologies all around. – Saturday December 21st, 2013, in the second period of a game Mike Ribiero suddenly realizes he is no longer passing to Alex Ovechkin. He nearly thinks “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” After the game he looks up on his smartphone where the Caps sit in the now non-cushioned standings and buys a season’s pass to Phoenix’s Wet N’ Wild Waterpark (which he can use year round). Sens fans remain obsessed with David Rundblad’s development while Kyle Turris continues to score heroic playoff OT winners for the Sens.
16. Nashville – Me: Siri, help me cheat and find me something informative and witty to say about Nashville Predators.
Siri: “I cannot find anything to help you cheat on Natasha Prendehurst.”
15. Toronto – The additions of Clarkson and Bernier are good. The losses of Grabovsky and MacArthur *tents fingers* for absolutely nothing are for sure bad. Phil Kessel is very chubby for a guy who can skate like the wind, Dion Phaneuf make learn good off season do things. The media is already pitting Reimer against Bernier and I am making a giant bowl of popcorn. I think they make the playoffs again but it’s more of a struggle to get there this time/ to do anything. Something-something offer sheet Nazim Kadri already!
14 Montreal – Maybe I’m
definitely biased by the banged up squad that Ottawa literally beat down in the playoffs but I do not much believe in this team. If Price falters (which we’ve seen) the Habs don’t have much in the way of a backup in Budaj (which we’ve also seen). There are a lot of quality up and comers for Montreal as we witnessed in the sound out play of Brendan Gallagher, Alex “Im actually American” Galchenyuk and PK Subban. The addition of pain in the ass Dany Brier helps and George Parros will…add…much needed Movember leadership?…I see a down season for the Canadians in a very competitive and physical division but not a disastrous one. They still make the playoffs but will again be in rough shape by the time they get there.
13. Minnesota – Here’s a team that spends eleventy squillion dollars in salary and didn’t even finish ahead of the Binghamton Senators in the league standings last year. Can you imagine the motivation level of a Dany Heatley that knows he’s about to be bought out? He’s going to be ordering Little Caesar’s Hot and Readys to the bench. Yikes. Oh, also, Matt Cooke is a top 5 point getter on this team right now. Seems like these guys will continue to get their heads kicked in by the Chicago Blackhawks.
12. Ottawa – Okay, here we go. Here’s what I have to say about the team that’s hardest to separate from emotionally, enjoy! This year will be another positive one for Ottawa but with a twist: It will be more balanced than we’ve become accustomed to. Not all players will have perfectly healthy seasons and enjoy career years in points nor will they take up an entire floor of the Ottawa General Hospital. Goaltending will be good but human, goals will be more consistent, some players will struggle, coaching will remain great and the Sens will finish in a decent spot. Predictions: Bobby Ryan will work out fine (if your expectation is around 30 goals) as will Karlsson in his return (if your expectation is around 60 points). Milan Michalek will be injured during the Olympics and Pageau will actually live up to the hype and stick with the squad. Another playoff year and I cant wait!
11. New York Islanders – I suppose I’m going to have be fun and pick at last one surprise team so here it is. Since no one is reading at this point anyway, I’m going with the Highliners to make a solid jump after a 27 year rebuild. Their playoff round against the Pens showed that this is a young team with serious wheels and a lot of skill that is slowly coming together. Rick DiPietro’s banishment helps general vibe of their new building. As a Sens fan, I know teams have surprised with less. If they can get some goaltending and conduct the proper cleansing ceremonies they could catch the East off guard.
The Top Ten
10. Vancouver – This team reminds me way too much of the post-cup final Senators. Disciplinarian coach comes in, players unhappy in their roles mixed with heavy media scrutiny. A top 10 finish is admittedly a good problem but with Vineault’s exit and the hasty and bizzare dealing of Cory Schneider I see as this as the start of many hasty and poor decisions. After failing to deliver on consecutive President’s Trophy wins and a string of divison titles I can this resulting in nothing but a tidal wave of pressure from fans and Van city’s notorious media alike. Remember when anything short of capturing a cup was a failure in Ottawa? These guys are deep in that but now featuring an openly unhappy goaltender who’s becoming known for cracking under pressure with no viable backup in place OH! and a complete asshole of a new coach who has no problem throwing his players to the wolves if things go south. You thought Don Cherry was hard on the Sedins? Just wait. I still see them doing pretty well by the merit of their roster but the microscope is really going to be on this squad.
9. San Jose – No fucking idea. Thanks for reading!
8. New York Rangers – Solid regular season, non-surprising playoff exit at hands of lower seed. AKA business as usual. Nickname Idea: The Metropolitan Bed Soilers.
7. Anaheim – No fucking idea 2: I watch YouTube videos of Bobby Ryan about 4 times per week so that’s where I’m at.
6. Detroit – Yeah I know. It’s just a prediction made by an idiot and it still hurts to look at. A good finish…a great one even. Look, they’re a really good team that I think will benefit greatly from their move to the East. Silver lining: Uhh…they’re slowly getting pretty old I guess?
5. St. Louis – If Ken Hitchcock can turn Brian Elliot into an all star goalie all bets are off.
4. Boston – Man, I miss when Boston sucked. I’ve heard chatter that the Bruins are on the decline but I just don’t see it. I hope Ottawa can win a few more against them this year than they have been because hot damn are they a boring team to watch win 1-0 over and over. Remember how last season MacLean was like, “I don’t know, Lehner beat them once…start him every game I guess?” Celebrate the moments of our lives.
3. Pittsburgh – This friggin’ team. Ugh. Marc Andre Fleury has been seeing a sports psychologist which is on some amazing Martin Gerber type shit. Knowing Ray Shero if things go wrong he’ll just somehow manage to trade for Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist by giving up Deryk Engelland and a 9th round pick because I hate this team so much.
2. Los Angeles – I don’t know much about the Kings (What? Sorry for not watching a bunch of Kings games) but they seem really well built and didn’t change much.
1. Chicago – After their 2013 performance it’s really hard for me to bet against these guys. You know your lineup is scary good when the biggest obstacle facing them is fatigue from having TOO MANY OLYMPIANS on the team.