Finally the country of Canada will be back to normal. This Saturday, Hockey Night in Canada returns to sooth hockey fans from the tip of Newfoundland to the shores of British Columbia, who have not had a whiff of NHL hockey since June.
With the arrival of the new NHL campaign, the heavy predictions are rolling in from the experts, and we at TSC are no different.
Seeing as how the Stanley Cup won’t be decided for another nine months or so, it would be rather pompous to predict a winner right now. Well here goes nothing:
Look for the Western Conference to be won by the Anaheim Ducks again, but not in the same fashion they did last year, as they only lost five games all through the playoffs. Also the loss of their stars from last year were replaced in off-season moves as Todd Bertuzzi takes over Teemu Selanne’s spot, while Mathieu Schneider fills in for Scott Neidermayer. The Ducks still have what it takes to claim the title back-to-back.
Out of the East, it’ll be the New York Rangers. They spent the big bucks on Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, who have both been apart of winning hockey clubs in the past and both will help a team that was already on the cusp of becoming something special. They have the goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist and a strong defensive corps that has the ability to play big and play smart at both ends of the rink. Let’s hope this isn’t a repeat of high-paid players failing to show up. So unfortunately to all hockey fans in Canada, there will not be a Canadian team in the finals.
Here is why there won’t be a Canadian team in the finals. We’ll run through this starting in the west and moving east:
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks turned a lot of heads last year when they made it to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs before being defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Anaheim Ducks. Much of the teams success was due to the play of their Most Valuable Player, Roberto Luongo and to a lesser extent, the play of the Sedin twins throughout the regular season. The question at the end of last year was whether they can produce offensively, and it has yet to be answered. Can this year’s team help lessen the burden on Luongo by scoring more? Can the Sedin’s and Markus Naslund produce when the heat is on? Well, only time will tell. For now the Canucks remain a solid contender in the West, and they can thank Luongo for that.
FINISH: Third in West
Calgary Flames: The Calgary Flames did little in the way of any big acquisitions this summer, as far as players go. However, the Flames did add a new head coach. Remember a guy named Mike Keenan? Yeah, he’s their new head coach. When Keenan was hired by his friend Darryl Sutter, questions instantly surrounded the Flames organization on whether or not Keenan could do the bench job anymore. Well, like their foes to the west, we are going to have to wait and see. One may argue that in a game so dependant upon systems and technicalities of the game, is there room for a pure motivational coach? Whatever argument you make for the coaching of the Flames, they still have the goaltending, depth on defence and ability to outscore their opponent on most night to make a healthy run in the west. Look for Jarome Iginla to lead the way again, with Dion Phaneuf being a bigger force on D then he was last couple years.
FINISH: Sixth in West
Edmonton Oilers: If the Edmonton Oilers did one thing particularly well in the off season, it was aggravate the rest of the league by dishing out offer sheets to such players as Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres and Dustin Penner of the Anaheim Ducks. G.M.’s around the league can be as mad as they want to be with Kevin Lowe, but at the end of the day, he does not care what 29 other general managers think of him so long as he gets his team to win again. There is just one problem. The fans of Edmonton will have to wait a while before they become a winner again. With Ryan Smyth gone, Jason Smith gone and an aging goaltender in Dwayne Roloson, this team is in a rebuilding stage. But with Penner and up-and-comers like Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, the future looks bright for the Oilers. Just not now.
FINISH: 10th in West
Toronto Maple Leafs: Will this be the year that the Toronto Maple Leafs make it back to the big dance? Yes it will be. One thing that the Leafs have added strength to is a goaltending position that may have had as gaping a 5-hole as the goalies that occupied those positions. With the addition of Vesa Toskala, the Leafs now have two capable goalies that will open the season with the big club. The other being Andrew Raycroft, who will look to improve on his 37 wins and .894 save per cent age. The Leafs also added a scoring tough, by signing the skilled Jason Blake. These additions just might be enough to propel the Leafs into the playoffs.
FINISH: Seventh in East
Ottawa Senators: There is not a whole lot in Ottawa that needed changing over the summer, since the team was systematically picked apart in the Stanley Cup finals by the Anaheim Ducks. They were there, they had the team, but the Ducks were simply the more deserving hockey club. The Senators need to improve on a mental game. They have the talent. It can be contested that the Sens possess the largest skill set in the NHL right now. Goaltender Ray Emery is more than capable of keeping his form from last spring, but has to grow mentally strong and last year’s defeat to the Ducks will help that learning process. It will help his team’s focus as well. However, there is another power in the East – that being the New York Rangers – that will prevail over the Senators in the playoffs.
FINISH: First in East
Montreal Canadiens: This year can go one of two directions for the Habs. It sounds cliché, but hey welcome to sports. Up or down. But let’s examine the facts. In order for this team to have a good year, they must give goaltender Carey Price a job with the big club. This kid is the real deal. He guided Team Canada to a Gold Medal at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, then took the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League to the Calder Cup and eventually won the whole thing, proving that he is a winner. Not only that, he is a competitor. Montreal needs that in order to get anywhere this season, especially with their lack of off-season moves. They are going to be battling for that final playoff position once again, but we’re predicting that the Habs will manage to squeak by.
FINISH: Eighth in East
With every year comes the emergence of one dark horse team. Last year, it was the Vancouver Canucks on the strength of thoroughbred Roberto Luongo. The Canucks were picked by some to not even contend for a playoff spot, so you can imagine the sound of jaws dropping collectively within the pro hockey world when they capture the Northwest Division.
This year, the dark horse will be the Washington Capitals. With the addition of Swedish sensation Nicklas Backstrom, winger Victor Kozlov, and play-maker Michael Nylander, the supporting cast for Alexander Ovechkin just got a whole lot better. The defense isn’t all too bad either with Tom Poti and Brian Pothier leading the way. The Caps also managed to sign Russian rookie Simeon Varlamov to a three year entry level contract, in hopes of him succeeding Olaf Kolzig. If Kolzig fails to shine, don’t be surprised to see Varlamov take over the number one spot. It’s about time Washington rose in the standings.
Well, after hours and hours of typing and researching; researching and typing, it is time to finally enjoy some hockey. Bring it on!