In case many of you haven’t noticed the NHL season has begun! Tonight I will be giving you my 2006-07 regular season predictions with a short blurp on each team. These standings are by conference and in order of finish. Note that the top teams in each of the 3 divisions are seeded 1, 2, and 3 in their respective conference.
- Ottawa Senators – The Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson line is still the best in hockey, that is, if new coach John Paddock decides to keep them together. Ray Emery showed last year he could hold up during the entire regular season in net. Wade Redden is still a top defensemen in this league. Depth may be an issue if injuries hit this team.
- Carolina Hurricanes – After barely missing the playoffs as Defending Stanley Cup Champions last year I believe this team will get over last year’s hangover and be back at the top of the league. Eric Staal continues to get better and better. Their defense is still suspect but I see goalie Cam Ward bouncing back strong this year to carry the Canes.
- NY Rangers – As much as Caps fans don’t like it, Jaromir Jagr shows up to play just about every night with this club. They added Scott Gomez from New Jersey and Chris Drury from the Sabres so that will really help. Drury is a winner everywhere he goes. Henrik Lundqvist gives the Rangers a strong goaltender. Defense is the only weakness on this team.
- Pittsburgh Penguins – It seems the Pens are the trendy pick to win it all this year. I say: NO WAY!! They are still too young but they have an incredibly promising future with the best player in the league, Sydney Crosby, along with other talented young guys such as Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury (goalie). Adding Peter Sykora is smart and Gary Roberts and Marc Recchi provide veteran leadership. The defense is weak – Sergei Gonchar is good on the power play but can be a major liability in his own zone at times.
- Atlanta Thrashers – Marian Hossa is an unrestricted FA after this year so I expect a good year from him playing with Ilya Kovalchuk and the ageless wonder, Via Kozlov. The goaltending is solid with Lehtonen and Hedberg. The defense kills this team. If you like goals watch as many Thrashers games as you can.
- Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs will finally be back in the playoffs as GM John Ferguson desperately tries to keep his job. He has been public enemy #1 in Toronto the last couple of years. Adding F Jason Blake was a great move and they brought in G Vesa Toskula from San Jose that will shore up their goaltending. They also still have Mats Sundin as team captain and Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle on defense. If they stay healthy Yonge Street will be hopping once again this year.
- Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers spent A LOT of money in the off-season and overpaid for Daniel Briere but that is what desperation will do to a team that is struggling in a great hockey city. They also brought in Jason Smith (solid D) and Joffrey Lupul (young F) from Edmonton. They are counting on Martin Biron in net and that should be enough to squeeze them into the bottom of the playoff picture.
- New Jersey Devils – Despite losing Gomez and Brian Rafalski (Detroit) this team still has Patrick Elias, Brian Gionta, Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and most importantly the best goalie in the league: Martin Brodeur. New coach Brent Sutter will get the maximum out of this team and GM Lou Lamierello always drafts well so Sutter will have some young players to utilize.
- Florida Panthers – This is another team on the rise. They obtained Tomas Vokoun from Nashville so their goaltending situation will be much stronger. Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton are strong up front and Bryan Allen and Jay Bouwmeester anchor the defense.
- Montreal Canadiens – They lost a great PP shot in Sheldon Souray and picked up Roman Hamrlik (Calgary) to try and fill the void on defense. They have the Frenchmen, Cristobal Huet, in net but this team just doesn’t have the firepower to make the playoffs this year.
- Boston Bruins – Many Bostoners will tell you that Bruins discussions used to rank right up there with Red Sox talk and far eclipsed Patriot interest for years. Boy have times changed in Beantown since the injury ended Cam Neely’s career followed by the departure of Ray Bourque. Sadly the misery continues in Boston this year as newly acquired goalie Manny Fernandez won’t be enough to get this team in the playoffs.
- Tampa Bay Lightning – When you put your money in 3 players (Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis) you pay the price elsewhere with the salary cap. Dan Boyle’s early season injury won’t help either and they don’t really have a goalie.
- Buffalo Sabres – Despite losing Drury and Briere many so-called experts still see this as a playoff team. Yes they have Ryan Miller in net but Max Afinogenov, Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Tim Connolly (if he stays healthy) can’t make up for the scoring loss caused by the departed high priced free agents. Sorry Buffalo fans, it will be a long year for you.
- New York Islanders – Losing Jason Blake really hurts but on the other hand finally getting rid of Alexei Yashin and his ridiculous contract may help going forward for this franchise. Overall looking at this roster I see a bunch of washed up veterans to go with a great goalie, Rick DiPietro. Ted Nolan can’t make chicken salad out of you know what this year.
- Washington Capitals – This once proud franchise will once again finish last in the division and every single day Team Prez Dick Patrick has to regret more and more that he let marketing freak Susan O’Malley talk Abe Pollin into firing David Poile (who made the playoffs the first 14 years but missed in his 15th and was subsequently booted). George McPhee has been a disastrous GM but his job seems safe because NOBODY cares about hockey in DC anymore and Teddy AOL Leonsis CRAVES the limelight. McPhee brought in softies Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, and Tom Poti to play with Alex Ovechkin and Olie Kolzig this year. Their PP will improve but they have a very weak defense. Where have you gone Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Kevin Hatcher, and Calle Johansson?
- Detroit Red Wings – They lost Mathieu Schneider to the Ducks but gained Brian Rafalski from New Jersey. Dominic Hasek is 42 but can still play if that groin holds up. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are great players and a joy to watch. Niklas Lidstrom is still one of the top defensemen in the league.The Red Wings will finish #1 in the West simply because the rest of their division is not very good.
- Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne aren’t with the defending Stanley Cup Champions yet as they are retired but I expect Niedermayer back around the 1st of the year. $7M is just too much money to pass up. They have Schneider, Chris Pronger, and Francois Beauchemin on defense and Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Perry, Chris Kunitz, and Andy McDonald up front. They added Todd Bertuzzi and if he stays healthy that will help as well. Their goaltending remains real strong with JJ Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov. This is a very GOOD hockey team.
- Calgary Flames – Mike Keenan is back again to help a team that badly underachieved last year. The Flames lost their identity of a hard working team and was miserable on the road last year. Darryl Sutter had enough of that so expect a different mentality this year. The team still has one of the best defensive groups in the league with Robyn Regehr, Dion Phaneuf, and newly added Corey Sarich (TB) and Adrian Aucoin (Chi). Aucoin gives Calgary that badly needed right handed PP shot they have lacked. Up front they still have Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Kristan Huselius, Matthew Lombardi, and they added Owen Nolan as well. The Red Mile will be rocking again this year!! Go Flames Go!!!
- San Jose Sharks – I’ve seen the Sharks picked 1st or 2nd in the conference in many publications but I won’t do that for one reason: Ron Wilson. Ron has a way of wearing his players out. Still they have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Steve Bernier, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Milan Mihalek up front and have Evgeni Nabakov in net.
- Dallas Stars – They didn’t do much in Free Agency this year but still have a very solid team with Brendan Morrow, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen up front and Marty Turco in goal. Dave Tippett is a very good coach and with Jussi Jokinen they are tough to beat in shootouts. Still they have little margin for error and could miss the playoffs altogether if injuries strike in the right places.
- Colorado Avalanche – Joe Sakic is still one of the best players in the league and he has a very good young forward in Paul Stastny on the team to go with Milan Hejduk, Andrew Brunette, and the off-season FA signing of Ryan Smyth. They brought in FA D Scott Hannan from San Jose so that will help their defense but I am not sold on Peter Budaj in net. Joel Quenneville is a good coach.
- Vancouver Canucks – Can Roberto Luongo carry this team again? He is a very good goalie but I don’t think they steal the division title from Calgary this year. The Sedins are great playmakers up front but Marcus Naslund is a guy I still classify as soft and an underachiever.
- St. Louis Blues – I miss not hearing John Davidson call Ranger games on MSN but JD knows hockey and he is turning around the Blues. Pretty soon they will be a hockey town again. They picked up Paul Kariya to go with a team that played really well under new coach Andy Murray. I think they squeak into the playoffs this year thanks to numerous games against Chicago, Columbus, and Nashville.
- Minnesota Wild – If Marian Gaborik plays all 80 games than this team would make the playoffs – but he can’t stay healthy. Brian Rolston has a rocket of a shot. They are going with Niklas Backstrom in goal. This team lived by the shootout last year to make the playoffs.
- Nashville Predators – David Poile did a great job of building this team primarily through the draft and they have a very good young defense led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. However, they just lost too many players due to the fire sale caused by owner Craig Leopold’s decision to put the team on the market. Not even Barry Trotz’s solid coaching can get this team in the playoffs. I’m not sold on Chris Mason in net. Losing Vokoun kills this team.
- Los Angeles Kings – Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson give this team something to build around and young goalie Steve Bernier turned in a gem in the opener in London last Saturday – but this team just isn’t ready yet.
- Chicago Blackhawks – Robert Lang, Martin Lapointe, Yanic Perrault, Sergei Samsonov, etc….this team is made up of a bunch of aging castaways. They have Nikolai Khabibulin in net but even he can’t work miracles with this team.
- Edmonton Oilers – It is hard to believe that this team played a game 7 for the Stanley Cup in 2005. Kevin Lowe has decided to stockpile draft choices and go young. He also overspent on FA, Dustin Penner (Anaheim).
- Columbus Blue Jackets – Rich Nash was a major disappointment last year. Nickolai Zherdev, David Vborny, and Sergei Federov must have career years for this team to even be competitive. There is not much hope in Buckeye town this year.
- Phoenix Coyotes – Wayne Gretzky’s crew is going through a major re-building effort. They will be the worst team in the league this year.
Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section, there is nothing like a good hockey dialogue!