With the opening of the NHL regular season just a week away I thought it was a good time to make some predictions, even though I've been more miss then hit lately.
I thought I'd take a look at the Canadian clubs, and who might be the best hope to bring Lord Stanley's Mug back to the great white north.
6. Calgary Flames
There isn't much to like about this year's installment of the Calgary Flames.
Mikka Kiprusoff continues to be on the decline, and as good as their defense looks with the addition of Jay Bouwmeester it will do very little to help a weak offensive attack that drops off considerably after Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen.
The Flames are looking to rely heavily on Nigel Dawes and Curtis Glencross to fill the void left by Mike Cammalleri, but lets face it the two have just 54 goals between them in 278 NHL games played with 7 different clubs.
Letting Fleury and his four points and plus four rating in four pre-season tilts was not a bright move considering he may have been the only positive on an otherwise very lackluster team.
Look for the Flames to finish 8th in the West and bow out in the first-round of the playoffs once again, it may be the only thing that is a guarantee now-a-days.
5. Montreal Canadiens
It isn't too often a team makes a complete roster over-haul then makes an impression in the playoffs that season.
That will reign true for the Habs unfortunately.
While the Canadiens did get some fresh young legs to replace Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev, they did not gain any size or heart which has been a lot of the teams downfall in recent years.
To make matters worse the defense got older and slower with the additions of Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek, which should make it even tougher for Carey Price to rebound from a horrendous season.
In the end the Canadiens spent too much on the free agent market and should have spent the next few seasons in a rebuild phase similar to the Leafs.
4. Ottawa Senators
The Sens could go either way this season as they have seemed to be consistent underachievers since making the Cup finals in 2007.
But all signs point to a resurrection this season as the Senators have made some moves to get deeper even though they were forced to do so.
The addition of Alexei Kovalev, Jonathan Cheechoo and the best of the three in Milan Michalek, who at 24 years old could end up being a Hossa-like thoroughbred, will give the Sens a much needed boost of offense.
Ottawa has a congestion of puck-moving defenseman and may need more grit at the back end, but if their goaltenders Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott can play to their potential the Sens could be a dangerous team once again.
3. Edmonton Oilers
All in all the Edmonton Oilers underachieved last season due to injuries, uninspired play and a bit of the sophomore jinx to their stable of young phenoms.
Look for that to change this season with the subtle moves made by Steve Tambellini and company.
Nikolai Khabibulin carried the Chicago Blackhawks into the semi-finals last season, and at 36 years of age he is an upgrade on the 40 year old Roloson.
Pat Quinn and Tom Renney may represent the odd couple of NHL coaching tandems, but it may make sense as Renney is a doctor of the game and loves to coach the youth movement. While Quinn has always had a knack with the veterans.
If Mike Comrie continues to play with a fire lit under his arse, and Cogliano, Gagner, Penner and company can play to their potential then the possibilities are endless with this speedy Oiler squad.
Though that may be just too many if's?
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
What a difference a year makes, but Toronto looks like a team built to contend in the playoffs after a little less than a year under the Brian Burke regime.
The goaltending is vastly improved with the addition of the "Monster" Jonas Gustavsson, which will only be enhanced by one of the best defense core's in the league.
It is yet to be seen if the "Frat Line"(Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg), can endure the rigors of an 82 game schedule, but they will have to as the offense will be resting squarely on the shoulders of new acquisition Phil Kessel otherwise.
If the Leafs can score by committee, and the defense lives up to the hype, then Toronto is in real good shape to make a run.
Leafs fans should thank Ron Wilson and Brian Burke for being the NHL's version of "Pinky" and "the Brain".
1. Vancouver Canucks
This may finally be the year that the Vancouver Canucks relinquish their playoff demons.
The Nucks have looked stellar in pre-season play so far and all signs point to a Western Conference championship considering the west isn't home to the powerhouses any longer.
Vancouver can beat you in many ways including their strong transition game, thanks to the speed of their forwards. With the additions of Mikael Samuelsson and rookies Cody Hodgson and Sergei Shirokov the forward units just got a little deeper, meaning they can beat you with all four lines.
If the defense falters it doesn't hurt that the Canucks can lean on their captain and best goaltender in the league Roberto Luongo.
The Nucks biggest test in the west may just be the upstart Chicago Blackhawks, but it remains to be seen if Christobal Huet has what it takes to lead a team deep into the playoffs.
Either way the Vancouver Canucks will have the pride of Canada on their backs this season, as maybe the best shot at bringing the Cup home.
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