Tuesday, September 29, 2009



As our New York Islanders enter the 09-10 season, there’s no doubt they are currently one of those teams in the NHL that the media of the hockey world simply has little interest in. Surely the presence of a one Mr. Tavares puts us in a certain spotlight that we haven’t had in recent memory, but what will happen if he starts off this season anything like Steven Stamkos did for the Tampa Bay Lightning last year? Expecting anything else might prove to be little more than wishful thinking on our behalves. Speaking of expectations, our team is promptly experiencing preseason placement in the lower 10th of the standings with nary a publication expecting more than a spot amongst the league’s worst three teams.

Now, unlike previous years where certain “professional” hockey writers have even gone so far as to NOT preview the Islanders based on statements to the effect that the team is simply far too uninteresting to waste one’s time on, publications are at least giving this franchise credit for taking a conservative and promising path to better competitiveness. In addition, whereas the team made few splashes in the course of this summer and may have failed to improve certain on-ice weaknesses (enforcer, defensive depth, scoring winger), there is no doubt that the drafting of Tavares – considered to be immediately NHL-capable, if not more – as well as the signing of not one but two bona-fide NHL goaltenders in Roloson and Biron, has this team looking better than it did this time last year. One must also think (hope, believe?) that the Islanders can’t possibly have worse luck in the injury department than was the case last season. This all accumulates into the assumption that this team must be better than last year’s edition. Still, I suppose the many experts out there will say that although this would seem true, the competition hasn’t been sleeping either.

Indeed it hasn’t, but are the other teams in the conference really as strong as some may suggest? Haven’t some, perhaps like Philly, only created some new holes in order to plug others (uhh, goaltending)? Will teams that aren’t starting the season with a Danny Heatley or Phil Kessel going to be as good as they have been with those players? Can a team whose first line consists of some extremely talented players, none of which is taller than roughly 4’2”, successfully handle the rigors of a long NHL season? Will a team losing its best goalie and top DMan still be able to fight for that 8th spot in the conference? As always, the results are earned on the ice and not on paper, but I’ll contend that this season is going to see more than one team have a heck of a lot of trouble maintaining the lofty spot it held in last year’s standings. In so many ways, it seems like many of last year’s competitive teams have lost a bit more than they’ve gained. This could be said of no less than the Flyers, Bruins, Penguins, Devils, Panthers and especially, the ohhhh so despised of NY Rangers.

With this in mind, here’s a short look at where I BOLDLY predict the teams in the NHL to finish this season!

1) Washington – Their time seems to have come. A team that’s been on the rise will see its Ovechkin literally “will” them to the top of the conference. He has some help and the Theodore/Varlamov tandem will be sufficient enough in the regular season.
Topscorer: Alex Ovechkin with 54-58-112
Keep an eye on: Nicklas Backstrom, maybe the league’s most underrated playmaker.

2) Philadelphia – Like Washington, the goaltending will suffice in the regular season and this team is simply loaded up front. Pronger’s leadership is the key to an otherwise suspect defense, despite what many think the names should add up to. Once the playoffs start though, it’ll be a whole new ball game.
Topscorer: Simon Gagne with 33-52-85
Keep an eye on: Ray Emery, because there’s probably not a player in the league with more to prove.

3) Ottawa – YES, I’m not joking. The big chip on the shoulder has been removed and something tells me these boys are gonna be the better for it. By the by, there’s still a boatload of talent hanging around in Ottawa. Goaltending and the defense will have to be much better than last season though.
Topscorer: Jason Spezza with 35-56-91
Keep an eye on: Jonathan Cheechoo, whose career simply MUST take a swing upwards after 4 years of unalterable decrease in production.

4) Boston – Some players were just too good last year. The team has depth, but Krejci is out the first few months and they simply are not the team they were without Kessel in the line-up.
Topscorer: Marc Savard with 18-53-71
Keep an eye on: Michael Ryder, who will be asked for even more now that Kessel is gone.

5) Carolina – The little engine that could is still solid from top to bottom. Staal is a real stud, the blueline is doable and there are a few kids of note coming up through the system. It may not be a smooth trip, but Carolina is a tough team with a top goaltender.
Topscorer: Eric Staal with 39-37-76
Keep an eye on: Chad Larose, a guy who has improved every season and has become part of Carolina’s identity.

6) Pittsburgh – Crosby, Malkin, Fluery, Staal… this team will once again center (literally) around its young guns and the regular season will have its share of bumps and bruises. They lost some solid role players and didn’t necessarily replace them. In addition, the stars are surrounded by the Kunitz, Guerins and Fedetenkos of the world. Still, it’ll be a whole new story once the playoffs come around.
Topscorer: Evgeny Malkin with 42-73-115
Keep an eye on: Eric Tangradi, because someone has to prove offensively worthy of playing with Malkin or Crosby.

7) Tampa Bay – This season will be a whole new story. The additions were very good this summer and in Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos, Malone, Meszaros and Smith, the team already had some real decent players to build around. I see much improvement in the standings coming on in TB.
Topscorer: Martin St. Louis with 36-58-94
Keep an eye on: Steven Stamkos, whose 2nd half to last season was simply outstanding for a rookie!

8) Montreal – The Habs must make good on last season and fact is, there are a lot of boys in Montreal who can really play this game. The pressure remains immense, but expect a competitive team to slip into the playoffs and be the type of opponent no-one wants to face in round 1.
Topscorer: Scott Gomez with 23-54-77
Keep an eye on: Carey Price, because not a goalie in the league will have THIS many critics to satisfy?

9) Atlanta – Is what Washington was the season before last. Things are looking good in Atlanta and the blueline was much improved last season – at least in the talent department. Goaltending has been solidified and there were some solid signings. They’ll make things interesting.
Topscorer: Ilya Kovalchuk with 53-46-99
Keep an eye on: Rich Peverley, who can’t possibly be as productive as he was for ATL last season, right?

10) Toronto – The Leafs will be one tough opponent to play against. There is talent here and they’ve got lots of guys who can literally hurt you. A lack of scoring at critical junctures will be what ultimately keeps them out of the playoffs, but things are definitely looking up. Most blueline depth in the league right now.
Topscorer: Phil Kessel with 41-24-45
Keep an eye on: Viktor Stalberg, who may be the biggest league-wide surprise to make an NHL line-up out of camp.

11) New Jersey – In recent years, I’d never count them out. Something tells me none of Brodeur, Parise or Langenbrunner will be able to hold the torch high enough to be in the playoffs again this year.
Topscorer: Zach Parise with 34-37-71
Keep an eye on: Paul Martin, who wants to be on Team USA and needs to finally put up the numbers to show it.

12) Buffalo – So much homegrown talent, but a nagging feeling in my stomach sees this team simply not being deep enough in the face of injury. That’ll be its downfall. Once Connolly falls, a lot of hard-fought 2-1 and 3-2 losses will be the result.
Topscorer: Roman Vanek with 42-33-75
Keep an eye on: Tim Connolly, because his being able to play 70 games as opposed to 35 will determine if this team is in the playoffs or not.

13) NY Islanders – The Isles will earn this spot based on a commitment to the system and better goaltending. They’ll still not be the prettiest team to watch, but the level of competitiveness and the improvements the kids make will be visible, will keep them in the running for a long time and will show the NHL, that they are a team on the rise! The goal this season is to simply show the critics that there’s much more in the tank than most currently believe.
Topscorer: Kyle Okposo with 24-28-52
Keep an eye on: John Tavares, the most highly touted player in hockey since… uhh, Steven Stamkos?

14) NY Rangers – If it weren’t for Lundqvist, this team would suffer greatly this season, but the question marks are far too great at the moment to rank the Rags ahead of other teams. Should health be on their side, they’ll not be at this spot. My prediction, however, is that their most important players are gonna lose too much time for this team to hold its head above water.
Topscorer: Marian Gaborik with 28-26-54
Keep an eye on: Artem Anisimov, upon whose shoulders A LOT of hope is being placed.

15) Florida Panthers – A fundamentally solid team, the loss of Anderson and Bouwmeester will weigh too heavily for Florida to compete. The biggest problem will continue to be a lack of offense. There’s only going to be so much that Weiss, Horton, Frolik and Booth can do.
Topscorer: David Booth with 27-38-65
Keep an eye on: Michael Frolik, who’s not called “baby Jagr” for nothing!


1) Detroit Red Wings – Still have all the ingredients.
Topscorer: Pavel Datsyuk with 38-51-89
2) San Jose Sharks – Have star power and a few real good kids.
Topscorer: Joe Thornton with 26-66-92
3) Calgary Flames – See San Jose.
Topscorer: Jerome Iginla with 41-53-94
4) St. Louis Blues – Chicago who? This is THE most up-n-coming team in hockey!
Topscorer: Andy MacDonald with 24-54-78
5) Chicago Blackhawks – Have question marks, no doubts, but doggone exciting.
Topscorer: Patrick Kane with 33-49-82
6) Vancouver Canucks – Solid, but still need to find more all-round production.
Topscorer: Henrik Sedin with 17-72-89
7) Anaheim Ducks – Ohhh, they’ll be in the playoffs and NO-ONE will want to play them there!
Topscorer: Ryan Getzlaf with 34-51-85
8) Dallas Stars – Simply too good when healthy not to be a playoff team.
Topscorer: Brendan Morrow with 36-41-77

9) LA Kings – Almost there, but goaltending won’t be good enough.
Topscorer: Anze Kopitar with 23-55-78
10) Edmonton - Still getting better, but just can’t put it all together.
Topscorer: Ales Hemsky with 28-48-76
11) Columbus Blue Jackets – Too much responsibility on the shoulders of young and small forwards.
Topscorer: Rick Nash with 45-37-82
12) Nashville Predators – Good, solid club with a great blueline and still desperate for scorers.
Topscorer: Jason Arnott with 29-32-61
13) Minnesota Wild – Going back to the drawing board, even if there are some interesting parts.
Topscorer: Martin Havlat with 31-42-73
14) Phoenix Coyotes – Some kids will prevent them from the best lottery percentage.
Topscorer: Shane Doan with 29-36-65
15) Colorado Avalanche – I see more injuries; I see last place!
Topscorer: Paul Stastny with 25-50-75

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