Oct 022007
 

I have just posted my summaries of all six divisions (northeast, atlantic, southeast, central, northwest, pacific) so now it is time to make my predictions on where each team will finish the season in the standings. Let’s start with the western conference since I think it is a bit easier.

(Note: Rankings are based on points, not on playoff seeding which puts the three division winners in the top 3 spots)

Pos Team Points
1 Detroit 110
2 Vancouver 103
3 Anaheim 101
4 Colorado 101
5 San Jose 100
6 Minnesota 99
7 Dallas 98
8 Calgary 96
9 Nashville 92
10 St. Louis 87
11 Los Angeles 86
12 Edmonton 82
13 Chicago 77
14 Columbus 73
15 Phoenix 68

I pondered dropping Anaheim further down the standings because of their injuries and off season losses but in the end I think Niedermayer will return at some point and that should keep them in the top few positions. In my mind there are 8 elite teams in the western conference and those six are the ones I have making the playoffs. There is a chance that Calgary and/or Dallas could drop a bit further and St. Louis or Nashville (or even Los Angeles if they get some quality goaltending from Bernier) challenge for a playoffs spot but if everything plays out as it should there once again won’t be a significant playoff race in the western conference this year.

Now, that is far from the case in the eastern conference where almost anything can happen.

Pos Team Points
1 Pittsburgh 105
2 Buffalo 102
3 NY Rangers 101
4 Ottawa 100
5 Toronto 96
6 Florida 94
7 Atlanta 92
8 New Jersey 91
9 Philadelphia 89
10 Carolina 88
11 Montreal 86
12 Tampa 85
13 Boston 83
14 NY Islanders 81
15 Washington 78

Predicting the eastern conference is really tough because there are really only four sure things when it comes to playoff teams and even that may be stretching it. In my mind Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Buffalo and Ottawa are the four top teams in the eastern conference and all should make the playoffs. But even those teams have some question marks which may cause them to fall out of the top four positions. But after those teams pretty much anything can happen and you could arguably make a case for any one of the remaining teams to make the playoffs or miss them. But, if the Leafs can get average or better goaltending and stay somewhat healthier than last year I think they are the best of the rest. If Florida can get 60+ starts from Vokoun they will be the class of the southeast and will make the playoffs and possibly take the division title. After that it is almost a crap shoot. I suspect only one of New Jersey and Philadelphia will make the playoffs and I have picked New Jersey because of better goaltending and team defense. One could even make a case for the Capitals to make a playoff push but in the end I think they are at least another year away from having their young forwards come together and dominate like they probably will some day.

So what do you all think? Agree? Disagree?

Oct 012007
 

Boston Bruins
Strengths:
-Good 1-2 tandem at center with Savard and Bergeron
-Should get improved goaltending with Manny Fernandez
Weaknesses:
-Lack of overall depth.
-No quality game breakers on the wings.
-Mediocre defense
Question Marks:
-Can Chara rebound after a questionable season last year?
-Can Fernandez be the anchor in goal that the Bruins desperately need?
-Can Glen Murray stay healthy and get back to 40 goal territory?
Outlook:
The Bruins addressed one of their key problem areas with the acquisition of goalie Manny Fernandez but one still has to wonder if Fernandez, who only once has played more than 44 games in a season, is going to be enough to turn this team around. The reality is they still have a mediocre group of defensemen and not a lot of depth up front after the first couple of lines. With Fernandez the Bruins should be a bit better but still aren’t likely going to be playoff contenders.

Buffalo Sabres
Strengths:
-Still possess a lot of quality young talent and good overall depth.
-Miller is one of the better goalies in the game.
Weaknesses:
-The Numminen health issue hurts the depth on defence.
-Lost a lot of experience and leadership with the loss of Briere and Drury.
Question Marks:
-Are youngsters like Derek Roy, Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Mazim Afinogenov ready to become the leaders of the team rather than followers of Briere and Drury?
-Can Tim Connolly stay healthy?
Outlook:
Some might look at the loss of Daniel Breire and Chris Drury as critical losses for the Sabres but I would disagree. The Sabres are still an elite team with elite level talent. Vanek is one of the best young goal scorers in the NHL and Derek Roy is ready to take over as first line center as evidenced by his dominating performances in the pre-season. Those two guys and Afinogenov were a dominating line last year and will likely play with each other this year and have a chance to be one of the top 5 lines in the league. When you add Pominville, Hecht, Kotalik, Gaustad, and Stafford the Sabres should still be able to put out three good lines that can score and not many teams can boast that. If the young guys can step up their games a bit and take on leadership roles there is no reason why the Sabre’s won’t once again be one of the top teams in the eastern conference and battle with the Senators, Rangers and Penguins for the best record in the east.

Montreal Canadiens
Strengths:
-Good goaltending depth and a prime prospect in Carey Price.
-Koivu is one of the better leaders in the game.
Weaknesses:
-No real top end talent on either forward or defence.
-Loss of Souray will really hurt the power play production which was a key to Montreal’s success last season.
Question Marks:
-Can Carey Price be a quality NHL goalie this season allowing management to trade Huet or Halak for some help elsewhere?
-Can Kovalev improve on a dismal season?
Outlook:
Two years ago the Canadiens just barely made the playoffs and last year they just barely missed. This year will probably be no different though I would suggest they are more likely to miss the playoffs again than make it. They just don’t have enough game breakers on offence or enough depth overall to play consistent, quality hockey throughout the season. The only saving grace is they have generally had pretty good goaltending over the past couple of seasons and top prospect Carey Price just adds to that. Some in Montreal feel that goaltending lost them a chance at the playoffs when Huet blew a game against Toronto in the final game of the season but goaltending is one of the only reasons why they have been in the playoff race in the first place. Expect the same this year.

Ottawa Senators
Strengths:
-The big 3 up front (Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley)
-Phillips and Volchenkov are one of the better pairings of shutdown defensemen.
Weaknesses:
-Lost some scoring depth with the Comrie and Preissing leaving via free agency and Schaefer being traded.
-None of Spezza, Fisher and Redden have played 70 games in either of the past 2 seasons.
Question Marks:
-Can Eaves and Vermette step up their offensive production to replace some of that lost.
-Can the Redden and Meszaros defence tandem rebound after a sub-par season.
-Have teams learned from the Ducks that playing hard hitting, hard forechecking hockey is the best way to beat the Senators?
Outlook:
The Ottawa Senators will once again be one of the better teams in the eastern conference led in large part by the offence of the big 3 and the defensive ability of Phillips and Volchenkov. But unlike many, I believe they will suffer a bit with the loss of Comrie, Preissing and Schaefer. Preissing was the Senators top scoring defenseman last year and Schaefer has been Ottawa’s fifth best point producer in each of the past two seasons. The loss of those guys is going to put added pressure on guys like Patrick Eaves, Antoine Vermette and Andrej Meszaros to really step up their games and provide some quality secondary scoring if Ottawa wants to be a top contender for the Stanley Cup again.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Strengths:
-Offence from the back end.
-Overall depth
Weaknesses:
-As a team they have a track record of suffering a lot of injuries.
-Questionable goaltending.
Question Marks:
-Can either Toskala or Raycroft step up and be a quality number 1 goalie?
-Can they stay reasonably healthy?
-Can their younger forwards (particularly Steen and Stajan) become quality second line players and contribute more offensively.
Outlook:
The Leafs should have an improved team this year with the addition of Toskala and 40 goal scorer Jason Blake. Combine that with hopefully a more healthy season and they should make the playoffs. Any chance they may have at a higher playoff seed than 7th or 8th will likely be dependent on whether the duo of Toskala and Raycroft can be an average or better goalie tandem in the NHL.