It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal; everyone is equal out of the gate.
Recap- Detroit looked unstoppable throughout the season until they met Anaheim in round two of the Western conference. Suddenly they found a worthy opponent that seemed to pull it together just in time for the playoffs and just managed to squeak out a game seven victory. After Detroit and Pittsburg breezed through their round three opponents, Pittsburg won the Stanley cup pulling off a seven game upset of Detroit in a repeat engagement of 2007-2008.
Does 2008-2009 mark the end of the Detroit dynasty? Four Stanley cups in the last 12 years. With several key departures this year including Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, Ty Conklin, Jiri Hudler, and Mikael Samuelsson Detroit will have some holes to fill. With a strong farm system the Red Wings promise to be a strong contender again this year. Darren Helm in particular looked strong in the playoffs.
Can ageless Nicklas Lidstrom keep on performing at such high level at 39 years old and in his 18th season? Henrik Zetterberg had a drop in his regular season goals total at 31 his lowest since 2003-2004 season. But when it mattered both he and Franzen scored at a point a game throughout the playoffs.
Pittsburgh also lost some key players in the off season.
On defense Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Petr Sykora will be missed, though the Pittsburgh core has remained intact with all stars E. Malkin, S. Crosby, M. Fleury, B. Guerin, S. Gonchar, and a strong supporting cast Fedotenko, C. Kunitz, M. Talbot , J. Staal and Brooks Orpik .
Add 6’4” Jay McKee to the defense and Pittsburgh will again have a strong contending team for the cup.
Boston made a surprise early exit in the playoffs much to the chagrin of Don Cherry.
But besides the distraction of leading goal scorer Kessels RFA contract the Bruins will be just as strong as last season as the core of the team lead by Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and rock solid Milan Lucic have remained intact. Goaltending of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask look to be solid tandem for the Bruins, and they look to be the team to beat in the North East.
San Jose again didn’t live up to expectations for the second year in a row after a very promising regular season. San Jose was lucky to stretch the series with Anaheim to 6 games.
The biggest off season news was the retirement of Jeremy Roenick, and the non trade of Dany Heatley to the Sharks. Seeing is believing and if the Sharks make the finals this year it will be a surprise to everyone except die hard Sharks fans, though they have the talent on paper to go all the way.
Anaheim Ducks were the biggest surprise of the 2008-2009 playoffs, but of all the major contenders they have really lost a significant part of the teams core including Chris Pronger, Rob Niedermeyer, Bret Hedican, and Francois Beauchemin.
Though they still have a lot of talent on the team lead by Bobby Ryan, and Getzlaf, this team will have to search for the Chemistry to equal last years dramatic playoff finish.
Saku Koivu, and Selanne will give the ducks a strong second line scoring.
Chicago’s young team has all the pieces and in my mind will be stronger than last year. With the significant signing of Hossa, who will no doubt be ready for the playoffs, this fast young team promises to have a fine season in 2009-2010.
The only question mark is the Black hawk goaltending situation, losing Nikolai Khabibulin. The other significant loss from last years team is Martin Havlat . The additions of John Madden and Tomas Kopecky from Detroit have been acquired to round out the roster.
My prediction is Cristobal Huet will be just good enough to lead them to the finals. It would be poetic justice for Marion Hossa to 3 times be the brides maid switching teams each of the last three years on his personal quest to win the cup.
And the Stanley cup winner will be the Philadelphia Flyers, yes folks you heard it here first.
Significant additions , one word- Pronger. Finally the Flyers have found the right goalie, humbled but talented Ray Emery, fresh from his one year banishment in Russia.
The Flyer center ice looks like Richards, Carter and Briere (who I believe has something to prove this year). Simon Gagne, Scott Hartnell, Giroux round out the team that has the most balanced scoring attack in the league, and could easily be the highest scoring team in the league over all next year.
Pronger will make the players around him stronger, Braydon, Coburn and Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Parent round out a strong top four. The Flyers over the Blackhawks in the finals, your friendly prognosticator from the cheap seats.