Yeah, as the title of this article says, I’m going out on a limb (a very thin one at that) and I’m going to predict next season’s final NHL standings. Be it as it may, before the pre-season, heck, even before free agency. But it’s summer and if you’re a hockey fan, it’s the worst three months of your life and something needs to be done to kill time. Love it, hate it, here it is, the 2008/09 NHL Final regular season standings. (Point totals are in parentheses. Asterisks denote division leaders.)
1. Montreal Canadiens (102)*
2. New York Rangers (100)*
3. Washington Capitals (97)*
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (98)
5. Boston Bruins (96)
6. Carolina Hurricanes (95)
7. Philadelphia Flyers (95)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs (93)
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (92)
10. Ottawa Senators (91)
11. New Jersey Devils (84)
12. Buffalo Sabres (84)
13. Florida Panthers (82)
14. Atlanta Thrashers (75)
15. New York Islanders (73)
1. Detroit Red Wings (114)*
2. Minnesota Wild (106)*
3. Dallas Stars (105)*
4. San Jose Sharks (105)
5. Chicago Blackhawks (96)
6. Colorado Avalanche (96)
7. Phoenix Coyotes (95)
8. Anaheim Ducks (92)
9. Calgary Flames (91)
10. St. Louis Blues (87)
11. Nashville Predators (87)
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (86)
13. Vancouver Canucks (81)
14. Los Angeles Kings (79)
15. Edmonton Oilers (78)
Eastern Conference Analysis
The Montreal Canadiens have virtually the same, fast, young, and energetic team as last season, which won them the conference. Add Alex Tanguay to the picture and they’re even better. The lack of experienced goaltending won’t matter much in the regular season as they will lead the league in offence. But come playoff time, I sense an early exit, even a heavy upset to the eighth place Toronto Maple Leafs.
The New York Rangers haven’t done anything in this off season but moves are sure to come. If Jagr re-signs then complimentary players the likes of Kristian Huselius and Pavol Demitra will be brought in. Add the skilled youths like Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan, Frederic Sjostrom and maybe even Bobby Sanguinetti and this team will go far in the playoffs. I don’t see them winning the Cup but they will exit no earlier than the third round.
The Washington Capitals clinched their division and a playoff spot on the last day of the regular season this year. Once again, they won’t have a comfortable lead as the season winds down but they will hold strong and win the Southeast Division for the second straight season. Alex Ovechkin will lead the League in goal scoring again. I'm going to say he scores 68.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will finish with more points than the Capitals but because of playoff structuring, they will settle for fourth place. It seems Hossa will be moving on so it will be up to Crosby and Malkin to slew foot their way to victory. They will both finish in the top five in scoring but the team will not make it past the second round.
The Boston Bruins had a hell of a season this year and came within a game of upsetting the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs. Their younger players have gained experience and they may add Marian Hossa to their roster. The only question will once again be goaltending. Will Tim Thomas be the number one going into training camp, or will they pretend that he’s not a starter and give him the job mid season as they’ve done in the past? One thing that worries me is, will Hossa fit in with Claude Julien’s defensive system?
The Carolina Hurricanes were a point away from winning their division this season but since the standings were so tight it was either division or bust, and they were eliminated on the final day of the season. Look for them to improve their defense as they bring youth into the mix to make up for the loss of Bret Hedican.
The Philadelphia Flyers will have a successful season but finish a spot lower than this season. Their offence will be fine with Briere and company leading the way, but it will improve even more if Simon Gagne can return. Martin Biron, who had been a career back-up goalie, will look like one over the long season but the offense will make up for it. It could very well be another early exit for the Flyers in the playoffs.
The final playoff spot in the Eastern conference will go to the Toronto Maple Leafs. After firing their coach and drafting well, the Leafs will barely sneak into the playoffs, perhaps clinching on the final day of the season. When the playoffs start, they have a good chance of upsetting the number one seed Montreal Canadiens, but that’s only if their defense can hold up. Only question is, will Mats Sundin be leading the way?
For the rest of the Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning will show a vast improvement but since Barry Melrose is the coach, I can’t have them getting in; they’ll miss out by one point. Next come the Ottawa Senators who will miss out for the first time in a long time, because of a shaky defense that will not include Wade Redden. The goaltending will also cost them.
The New Jersey Devils have done nothing to improve themselves offensively over the last two seasons, relying on defense and future-Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur. In the past, it was always enough to win, but with Brodeur getting old and the offence withering, they will miss out on the playoffs. The Buffalo Sabres will also have a tough season as they will attract no free agents and have to rely on farm players to help win games. There is also talk Ryan Miller may be on the move and that will totally destroy their goaltending situation.
The Florida Panthers traded away their captain in the off season, and he was all the skilled, veteran leadership they had. It will truly be a rebuilding year for the franchise as the young players will learn and develop. The Atlanta Thrashers in trading away Hossa got rid of much of their offensive firepower. With Ilya Kovalchuk wanting out as well, Don Wadell is waiting on pulling the trigger. Look for another disappointing season in Atlanta. Finally, the New York Islanders will finish in dead last. Their leading goal scorer was and will be Bill Guerin, and that’s a problem. Look for their young players to develop, especially Kyle Okposo, but Rick Dipietro and his millennium long deal will not be able to save them.
Western Conference Analysis
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings will finish in first place yet again, and have my bet to win the Cup for the second straight season. Their experienced players aren’t too old (with the exception of Chris Chelios who just turned 90 last week) and their young players are either in or hitting their prime. The only problem may lie in the goal tending. Chris Osgood is getting old and their backup is unknown. Perhaps a trade for Ryan Miller of Buffalo may be in the works.
The Minnesota Wild will win their division yet again, thanks to good, young talent with the likes of Marian Gaborik, toughness in Derek Boogaard, and a good, well coached defensive system. They also have a pair of good, young goalies and could go all the way this season.
The Dallas Stars will win the Pacific Division with the help of a revitalized Marty Turco and a full season of Brad Richards will only help them. Mike Ribeiro will lead the team in points as Mike Modano nears the end of one of the best hockey careers of all time. Their defense is steady but it’s old and hopefully Sergei Zubov will hold up. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but even with all the good I’ve said, I sense an early playoff exit.
The Chicago Blackhawks failed to make the playoffs yet again last season but they were one of the most young and energetic teams in the league and just missed making the playoffs. With all their rookies adding a year under their belt, they will surge into the playoffs before an early exit. Also, for the first time in many years, they will begin televising home games, which shows interest is definitely up.
The Colorado Avalanche will make the playoffs and finish in good standing yet again. There really isn’t much to report on as they have had the same team essentially for the last three seasons. The only question is whether Jose Theodore will be as strong as he ended last season with.
The next surprise playoff-making team is the Phoenix Coyotes. They have a good crop of young and exciting players and can definitely make the playoffs, especially with Wayne Gretzky as head coach.
The last team to sneak into the playoffs is the Anaheim Ducks. More then likely they will not have Teemu Selanne and they will lack offensive firepower but they still have a game plan that will get them in. They won’t fare well though, against the number one seed Red Wings.
The Calgary Flames will just miss the playoffs by one point and may even find themselves eliminated on the final day of the regular season. Coach Mike Keenan will soon after be fired. The St. Louis Blues will show improvement, especially with the acquisition of Chris Mason. The team will be in contention all season but an injury to Paul Kariya in February will ruin their playoff hopes.
The Nashville Predators would be sorry they traded away Chris Mason and had to rely on a kid in Dan Ellis. He will play well but the team won’t work well in front of him and they will miss out on the playoffs. Next come the Columbus Blue Jackets who will release Nikolai Zherdev after only two seasons. The good news will be Rick Nash, who will stay healthy and finish in the top five in goal scoring.
The Vancouver Canucks thought they had offensive problems last season; just wait until this season. Marcus Naslund will be traded at the deadline and coach Alain Vigneault will be fired, despite the extension he was given this season. The Los Angeles Kings in trading away Cammalleri dealt away one of their best forwards and Kopitar will not be able to carry the team on his own. There is good news though, their young crop of talent will begin to mature, especially Jack Johnson. Finally, the last place team will be the Edmonton Oilers. There really isn’t much to say but it’s a real possibility Kevin Lowe will piss off more GMs than the team will have wins this season.
Taking it a Step Further: The Playoffs
Montreal Vs Toronto
New York Vs Philadelphia
Washington Vs Carolina
Pittsburgh Vs Boston
New York Vs Toronto
Washington Vs Pittsburgh
New York Vs Pittsburgh
Detroit Vs Anaheim
Minesotta Vs Phoenix
Dallas Vs Colorado
San Jose Vs Chicago
Detroit Vs Phoenix
Dallas Vs San Jose
Detroit Vs Dallas
Stanley Cup Finals
New York Rangers Vs Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings defeat Rangers in six games.