The Seventh Annual 2009-10 NHL Predictions…of Truculence

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The Seventh Annual 2009-10 NHL Predictions…of Truculence
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Because let’s face it…this season means business.

The burgeoning dynastic potential of the Pittsburgh Penguins vs the “We’ve still got it, damnit!” approach of the Detroit Red Wings.

The 2010 Olympics…and rumour-mongering as to the status of 2014 in Sochi, The potential rebirth of the Toronto Maple Leafs…as well as the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings, The potential for destruction in…Montreal.

Will Boston or Washington take the next step? Are Carolina for real? Can Calgary’s defense play to even 75% of it’s potential under The Brothers Sutter? And will Mikka Kiprusoff get enough time off this year to actually play well?

Will Chicago continue it’s ascension to the top of the Western Conference, or will a) Detroit, b) in-house issues (the 2010 contract statuses of Kane, Towes, and Keith) weigh on the players’ minds, or c) a combination of both, be able to stop them? 

Is Cristobal Huet The Man? For that matter, really Phili, Ray Emery?

Alright, let’s do this thing. Within the confines of the theme of truculence, this will not be one of my usual 6,000+ word full-season theses. Thanks to boxing injuries on both elbows which, ironically enough have left me with “Golfers’ elbow,” typing is for a lack of a better term, a huge bitch.

So this will be rather concise. Full prediction of standings, and one major thought/question mark for each team. Followed by playoff predictions, and Stanley Cup winning predictions.

P.S. Who predicted the Pens winning the Stanley Cup last year? This guy, that’s who.

Before we start, I have to explain one thing: The Gretzky/Oilers of the 80’s Corollary. Ever since Sidney Crosby began his NHL career, I have compared it to that of Wayne Gretzky, both individually and in terms of their respective teams’ development.

My hypothesis going in was that Crosby would be this generation’s Gretzky. While Crosby will never put up 92 goals, 162 assists, or 215 points in any single season, he also plays in the six-goals-per-game era, as opposed to the 8.5 goals-per-game free-wheeling era that was the majority of the 1980’s.

If both players ascended to the same position in the NHL hierarchy, and both teams had similar supporting casts, by all rights Pittsburgh should win multiple Stanley Cups during the peak years of Crosby and said supporting cast.

Here are the direct comparisons between the teams.

Gretzky-Crosby

Messier-Malkin

Coffee-Gonchar

Fuhr/Moog-Fleury

Lowe-Orpik

McTavish/Krushelnvski-Staal

Yes there are differences between each player in the comparison. But ultimately, the players play basically the same role on their respective teams.

And while Pittsburgh have no one to mirror the production of both Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson, the parity of the 30 team Salary Cap era makes it unnecessary in terms of being able to successfully prove the hypothesis.

So let’s see how the corollary is doing.

Neither won the Calder Trophy. Gretzky because he’d played a pro season with the WHA. Crosby because the 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled, and negated Alex Ovechkin’s likely first NHL season.

Gretzky won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP in his rookie year, and won it for eight consecutive years, and nine of 10. Crosby won the NHL MVP in his second season, and has lost to Alex Ovechkin the last two seasons after losing games to injuries both seasons.

Gretzky also never had a player as comparably dynamic to himself as Ovechkin is to Crosby during his the majority of his peak years.

Gretzky’s Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in his fourth season with the team (in the NHL), and lost. Crosby’s Penguins made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in his third season with the team, and lost. That’s pretty damn close.

Gretzky’s Oilers won the Stanley Cup in his fifth season with the team (in the NHL). Crosby’s Penguins won the Stanley Cup in his fourth season with the team.

Basically, Crosby’s Penguins are one year ahead of the pace that Gretzky’s Oilers did things, and Crosby is keeping as reasonably close a personal pace to Gretzky as one could expect a young star to be able to in comparison to the most prolific scorer (and in my personal opinion, the greatest player) in NHL history.

Quick random stat fact: Wayne Gretzky scored 122 goals and 382 points in 208 playoff games. WOW

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh – Will my Gretzky/Oilers of the 80’s Corollary continue to hold up?

2. Washington – Will Mike Green, who absolutely has to be on Team Canada in Vancouver, continue to develop defensively, and for that matter will the rest of the team?

3. Boston – How out-of-this-world will Marc Savard play in an effort to prove Steve Yzerman wrong?

4. New Jersey – How badly will Jacques Lemaire stifle Parise and Elias, as he used to Elias just a few years ago?

5. Carolina – Will Cam Ward continue to develop into an elite goalie, or has he not really rounded the corner to consistent greatness?

6. Ottawa – Spezza, Alfredsson, and Kovalev will rebound. Michalek will continue to develop. Can Cheechoo, and for that matter Fisher, provide Top-6-level scoring? And seriously, who on that D is actually going to hit anyone?

7. NY Rangers – Which Brandon Dubinsky will show up this year, the one who played like gangbusters with Jaromir Jagr in 07-08 (and will be paired up with Marian Gaborik this year), or the one who played like he was in quicksand for the last 67 games of last season?

And seriously, it’s not even “Hello, Mr. Redden?” anymore, it’s more like “HELLO, EARTH TO WADE REDDEN!!!!!” A 20 year old defensemen who couldn’t even get an invite to Canada’s World Junior team last year just took your job as the PPQB, are you freaking kidding me?!?!?!

8. Philadelphia – Realistically, Ray Emery’s Russian stats average out to a 2.60 GAA & a .908 SV% at the NHL level. Will that be enough to lead this team to the 100+ point season that everyone expects from Phili this year? (I don’t think so.) And seriously, will Richards/Carter/Gagne play like gangbusters in the first half, or will they feel the pressure of trying to impress the Olympic Brain-trust?

9. Toronto – Generally, players coming back from shoulder surgery play tentatively their first season back. How much of a difference will Phil Kessel actually make this year? Because if he doesn’t score…

10. Buffalo – Can the incredible team chemistry that you’d think these guys would have by now, the core having been together for so long, be enough to elevate the Sabres into the tail end of the playoffs?

11. Tampa Bay – The same question that could be asked of Toronto and Anaheim, how quickly will this defense mesh together? How quickly will Victor Hedman play meaningful minutes and be able to eat up 20+ minutes a night?

How much of a leap does Steve Stamkos take this year (I’m drafting him in virtually every hockey pool I’m doing, so I’m banking on 70-80 points)?

12. Florida – How has this team not been contracted yet? I genuinely like Pete DeBoer, as The Interview: Peter DeBoer should illustrate, and I genuinely think he’s doing a tremendous job with very little in Florida. He deserves better.

13. Montreal – Honestly, I think that Gomez, a superlative playmaker who needs the puck on his stick to be effective, and Cammelleri, a pure sniper who benefited from Jarome Igina doing nothing but set him up last season, will be very good together. Gionta…not so much. And the D? Hello A. Markov, welcome to the Dollhouse.

14. Atlanta – Bringing in Russian players to make Ilya Kovalchuk happy enough to re-sign? A solid idea in theory. Bringing in players whose nightly effort on losing teams ranged from uneven-to-purely terrible, to a losing team? FAIL

15. NY Islanders – If my elbows ever heal up, you’ll get a 3000 word article entitled Why John Tavares should be a Right Winger. By the way, a below-average skating 18 year old on an absolutely terrible NHL team will not win the Rookie of the Year.

In video game terms, Tavares’ skating at the OHL level last year was a 76/100. In the NHL, he’s a 54. Maybe a 60 if he did a boatload of power/speed skating training and the proper leg workout program over the summer. But he’s not there yet.

Western Conference

1. San Jose – Yawn. Call me when Joe Thornton starts skating like he cares, not like he’s scared of re-injuring his back.

2. Detroit – In 2002, they won the Stanley Cup despite sending almost half their team to the Salt Lake City Olympics. In 2006, they lost in the first round of the Playoffs after Nagano.  This team has played a lot of games, and too many of it’s key players aren’t getting any younger.

3. Vancouver – Roberto Luongo is NOT the best goalie in the World (“Hello? You have a collect call from Boston, will you accept the charges?” “Yes.” “Hi, Mr. Lalongo? It’s Tim Thomas calling. Try to catch up.”

4. Chicago - *Shakes head at both the complete lack of foresight of Dale Tallon, and the abominable way that management there handled his firing*  Not this year folks, not this year.

5. Calgary – Not so much a question, as much as a statement. As long as Kiprusoff is playing 70+ regular season games, you could put Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey on that defense. This team won’t win.

6. Columbus – Young Team on the Rise: Who’s Cold – Chicago. Who’s Hot: Columbus.

7. St. Louis – Who Else is Hot: St. Louis. If this team stays healthy, they could cause some teams serious problems this year, and that’s more aimed at Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald than it is Eric Brewer, who I’ve never been high on.

8. Anaheim – Will the defense mesh? Will Ryan Whitney remember how to score 50+ points while playing with the guy who should be Team Canada’s Captain in Vancouver? And seriously, Selanne or not, how will Koivu not decline like every other big name who’s moved to a new team in their mid-30’s?

9. Los Angeles – I only have them 9th because there are only so many good teams. If Doughty and Johnson put up 40+ points and play good D, and Smyth/Williams combine to play 140 games, and Jon Quick is the real deal…okay so maybe they have question marks. But they’re close.

10. Edmonton – Did Edmonton stunt the development of Sam Gagner by keeping him as an 18 year old, or was the majority of his last 120 NHL games just a prolonged slump? I don’t know, you don’t know, and no one on the Edmonton Oilers knows.

He’s a good kid who comes from a good family, so let’s hope that the offensive yearnings of Pat Quinn give Gagner, and for that matter Andrew Cogliano no choice but to flourish in their 3rd NHL seasons.

11. Dallas – Call me when they properly replace Sergei Zubov, and find someone who can play with Brad Richards. Until then, neither Richards nor Marty Turco (who I expect to be better, but really, like that’s tough after last season) will play to their potential. And as a result, neither will the team.

12. Nashville – Jason Arnott isn’t getting any younger, folks. Steve Sullivan is one of my sleeper picks this year, but how long will his back stay awake? And seriously, how come every young goalie that comes out-of-nowhere to have a phenomenal first season as a starter on Nashville takes three steps back the next year?

First it was Chris Mason two seasons ago. Last season it was Dan Ellis. Pekka Rinne, tell us what makes you any different. Or better yet, show us.

13. Minnesota – New coach. New system. Gaborik vs Havlat isn’t even the issue.

14. Phoenix – Unlike the kids in Phili, you don’t have to worry about one Shane Doan over-playing in an effort to make Team Canada. Doan has to be on Team Canada, period. PERIOD! Lombardi will be solid. Mueller will be much-improved after his own sophomore jinx. Both LaBarbera and his random hot streaks, and Al Montoya, who was stellar in a short call-up last March/April, will push Easy Breezy Ilya.

15. Colorado – I am a huge advocate of Craig Anderson’s. HUGE. Paul Stastny is a great young talent. I have nothing else positive to say about this team.

(In double-checking that statement against their roster/depth chart, I’m pretty sure I’m in a Winner’s League on Yahoo with one of the guys on said THN Yearbook depth chart. He picked 11th and I had the unenviable position of 12th, a.k.a. last. He knew what he was doing, which is more than I can say for the guy who picked first overall and took…Mikka Kiprusoff. I’m positive that guy was picking for his friend or something.)

2009-10 NHL Playoffs

Western Conference

1. San Jose vs 8. Anaheim: Oh how quaint. San Jose takes the re-match.

2. Detroit vs 7. St. Louis: The Blues push the tired Wings, just not far enough.

3. Vancouver vs 6. Columbus: Vancouver gets that “Destiny” feeling at this point.

4. Chicago vs 5. Calgary: The vets upset the over-confident kids whose focus has been more on the Olympics than it has the Stanley Cup this year.

1. San Jose vs 5. Calgary: Oh, this is interesting. Iginla…heart. Jokinen…Yes. Kipper? Thornton? Kipper.

2. Detroit vs 3. Vancouver: Again, oh my. seven-gamer for sure. Detroit gets tired of skating, while Lalongo gets tired of FAIL.

Vancouver vs Calgary: For the record, I don’t know what I’m gonna pick until I get to the point of actually doing this. Wow. Maybe the trade deadline will help me out with this one.

Either way, Vancouver keeps doing that “Destiny” thing, as Kipper finally succumbs to his uber-long season. But rest assured Calgary fans, Jarome Iginla doesn’t make it easy.

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh vs 8. Philadelphia: Hey Emery, remember when you thought that former Penguin Alexei Morozov was tough to stop last year? What do you think of the current batch?

2. Washington vs 7. NY Rangers: This time, Washington destroys them.

3. Boston vs 6. Ottawa: Look on the bright side Sens’ fans, at least you made the playoffs this time.

4. New Jersey vs 5. Carolina: Ya this feels familiar too. Who’s Brodeur’s backup? Yann Danis? I love that guy! Hmmm…

1. Pittsburgh vs 5. Carolina: The ‘Canes may have snuck one out in 7 against the Devils, but the Gretzky/Oilers of the 80’s Corollary holds strong for Pittsburgh.

2. Washington vs 3. Boston: James, I’m sorry. In this round, I’m not betting against Ovie, even when Thomas always has a Full House blocking his net.

Pittsburgh vs Washington, The Rematch: Skater-to-skater, these teams match up very evenly. So when all else fails, go to the last line of defense. Fleury > whoever is in Washington’s net at this point. Pens in 6.

2009-10 Stanley Cup Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Vancouver Canucks

Not a bad match-up, wouldn’t you agree? The defending Stanley Cup Champion vs the Team of Destiny. The Pens have a far superior forward ranks, while the Canucks have a better defensive group. So do we go back to goaltending? No. It’s a toss-up.

But let’s be honest: in this day and age, “Destiny” rarely comes true. To that end, Ryan Kesler is not the shutdown machine that either of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both have a legitimate chance to break 40 points in these playoffs, if they have the energy to.

The Gretzky/Oilers of the 80’s corollary stands tall. And so do your 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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