Hockey season is almost here, which means that every homeless woodsman and indie music aficionado has had an opportunity to weigh in with predictions and analysis. By the by: I just got back from Oregon, and give Portland an NHL team already. The Winterhawks are awesome, and it would be worth it for the playoff beards alone.
Anyway, for the most part, predictions are pretty straightforward and non-contentious. After all, every season produces only a few truly elite and truly terrible teams. Most teams fall somewhere in the creamy middle – say, about a 10-15 point differential straddling the sensitive spot known as “the bubble,” which is located between one’s anus and genitals. Where one falls on this spectrum is largely determined by puck-luck (PDO), injuries, and the presence of STIs.
Still, there are always a few teams that seem to benefit from the assumption that adding in the offseason automatically makes you better. I find a fair share of analysts weight additions to the lineup far more than changes in tactics or what’s going on in the rest of the team’s division.
With that in mind, here are my three most overrated and most underrated teams in the NHL based on what I’ve seen in the preseason predictions. If I’m wrong about any of these, I’ll move back to Portland permanently and become a Trail Blazers fan.
Perfect, because Steve Yzerman has got to be the most overrated GM in the league. He inherited one of the best players in the world in Stamkos and a stud defenseman in Hedman. The team went to the Conference Finals in his first year, but missed the playoffs twice in the next three seasons, with one of those a third-last overall finish. They made the playoffs once and were swept in the first round. And he accomplish that by spending money like no other. Perhaps only the Philadelphia Flyers have been as addicted to burning cash. No coincidence they picked up Lecavalier after Yzerman paid him millions to go away so he could throw millions at boy band synchronized back-up dancer Valterri Filpulla.
Look, there’s a lot of talent on that roster, and I’m as excited as anyone to see what it can do. (And would be even more excited if they weren’t in Ottawa’s division.) But people are picking this team to be a Cup contender and win the East. That’s quite a jump. There are scenarios where the planets align and all that, but that’s true of almost any team.
As a fan of a team who used to get picked to be a Cup contender every year, let me throw some cold water on this whole thing. The team hasn’t been particularly good for the last couple of years, even with a lot of talent on the roster. They’ve lost St. Louis, Bishop may not be a starter (though it didn’t stop Yzerman from paying him $6MM a year starting next year), the young kids are still young, and the constant overhaul of the roster has got to have some residual effects on strategy and coherence. They’re probably good, but they might also be the perfect example of the way analysts pick favorites. They traded for other people’s salary dumps and handed out contracts like pez. Did this ever work for the Rangers? Why would it work for Tampa?
Another sexy pick. When Lindy Ruff unleashed his fully armed and operational battle station on the power-play last week everyone lost their minds. Forget that it was a preseason game against the Panthers.
Dallas has all the tools to do well, and I’m rooting for Spezz. I like this island of misfit toys—players like Hemsky, Seguin and Spezza, too often maligned by the local media for their former teams, come together with a cassette tape of Appetite for Destruction and a fist full of pizza money. But c’mon, we can admit that Spezza, Hemsky and Lehtonen are going to be hurt for most of the season and that’s the ballgame for Dallas, right? It’s totally gonna happen.
New York Islanders
Not that people are setting the expectations for the Islanders especially high—most of what I’ve seen is something along the lines of “If everything goes right, they might push for a playoff spot.” But they had 79 points last year, good for fifth last in the league. In fact, the last time they didn’t have a top five pick, not counting the 2012-2013 lockout-shortened season when everything was wacky, was 2006-2007.
Read that again. That last time the Islanders didn’t have a top five pick, Peter Schaefer was still an Ottawa Senator.
The year Ottawa finished fifth last overall we were all traumatized, and that’s been life as an Islanders fan for almost a decade. Do we really expect the addition of Halak, Leddy, Boychuk, Grabovski and Kulemin to reverse that kind of tradition? I mean, they’re probably better than usual…but 15 points in the standings-better? C’mon.
I feel like Nashville gets slotted in somewhere in the lower half of the mediocre teams every year because people don’t watch them that closely and there won’t be the kind of outcry you get when you predict Montreal is due for some mild regression. And they’re definitely in tough in the central—I’m not calling them to make the playoffs or anything. But they have one of the best net minders in the league, probably the best all-around defenseman, the best prospect, decent-to-good scorers and some intriguing prospects throughout the lineup. They’re not world-beaters or anything, but I think they can beat any team in the league on any given night, and expect them to take more than a few teams by surprise.
They’re everyone’s pick to stink this year because of their unsustainable PDO, and some regression is probably in order. But regression from a 112 point season is regression from unbelievable to…still pretty damned good. They finished a full 12 points higher than possession darlings and consensus best-team Los Angeles. And they did it all in the toughest division in hockey.
It’s funny how Tampa having young players and good prospects and betting on progression results in everyone picking them to be sudden contenders, but Colorado having Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly, and friggin’ MacKinnon doesn’t result in same. Put it this way—given Dallas clinched last year’s final wild card spot with 91 points, Colorado has 21 points worth of wiggle room from their total last year to do the same. That’s insane. They’re a playoff team, and given the right match-ups can do some damage.
Sure, they lost Vrbata, who was the only one who scores goals for them. But Mike Smith spent much of the season hurt and they finished only two points out of a playoff spot. If Gagner turns out to be a legit second line center, Erat sets out to prove everyone wrong after his disastrous campaign in Washington, and everyone else chips in with the ugliest goals you’ve ever seen, it won’t be a surprise if that defense can get it done.
By the way, Arizona is spending almost $3MM more on salary this season than Ottawa.
HAVE A GOOD SEASON EVERYONE