A couple of weeks ago, I revisited my preseason predictions for the Eastern Conference. I felt pretty good about my choices at the time, but that might not be the case anymore, especially regarding the puzzling collapse of the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve got to be better than this, right?
It’s the Western Conference’s turn, and I’ve got my share of hits and misses there:
|Rank||Prediction||Actual||On Pace For x Pts|
|1||San Jose Sharks||Chicago Blackhawks||118|
|2||Detroit Red Wings||San Jose Sharks||110|
|3||Chicago Blackhawks||Nashville Predators||107|
|4||Calgary Flames||Los Angeles Kings||104|
|5||Anaheim Ducks||Calgary Flames||103|
|6||St. Louis Blues||Colorado Avalanche||102|
|7||Vancouver Canucks||Phoenix Coyotes||100|
|8||Columbus Blue Jackets||Dallas Stars||96|
|9||Nashville Predators||Detroit Red Wings||93|
|10||Minnesota Wild||Vancouver Canucks||91|
|11||Edmonton Oilers||Minnesota Wild||87|
|12||Dallas Stars||St. Louis Blues||84|
|13||Los Angeles Kings||Anaheim Ducks||82|
|14||Colorado Avalanche||Columbus Blue Jackets||80|
|15||Phoenix Coyotes||Edmonton Oilers||80|
1. Chicago Blackhawks – So far, it looks like VUKOTA’s nailed number one. My slight downgrade was mostly due to a lack of confidence in the goaltending. Cristobal Huet has been better than I expected, though the Blackhawks might fare even better with Antti Niemi.
2. San Jose Sharks – How could you not like the President’s Trophy winners, when they went ahead and added talented scorer Dany Heatley? You also had to figure that the goaltending situation would improve.
3. Nashville Predators – My middling prediction for the Predators would have looked better if I ran this a few weeks ago. Players like Martin Erat, David Legwand and Dan Hamhuis are playing at unprecedented levels – You’d expect them to fall back to the pack a bit. My guarded optimism for Nashville was based on belief in young netminder Pekka Rinne.
4. Los Angeles Kings – I didn’t see it coming in the preseason, but I jumped on the bandwagon quicker than most. Even with the loss of Ryan Smyth and cooling of Anze Kopitar, the Kings have succeeded as a team.
5. Calgary Flames - Hit this one on the head. I figured that Kipper and Phaneuf were due for bouncebacks, plus adding Bouwmeester would help.
6. Colorado Avalanche - Big miss on this one, although I don’t know anyone who expected this. Even the other authors of Puck Prospectus, who were all quite high on Craig Anderson, didn’t foresee this.
7. Phoenix Coyotes – The other big surprise. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has played the best hockey of his career, helping Phoenix to the league’s 4th best GA per game. I thought the messy ownership situation would bog down an already poor team, but so far, so good. You’d think that they’ll slide back to the pack, though.
8. Dallas Stars – A smaller surprise. A healthy Brad Richards, burgeoning James Neal and competent Marty Turco have buoyed the Stars. I thought Turco was cooked, and didn’t see where any improvement would come from.
9. Detroit Red Wings – We should have seen this coming, right? Though aged, Detroit remained a team of tremendous talent even with the departures of Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson. Ville Leino showed signs of breaking out in the playoffs, but has been an enormous dud. It’s amazing that Detroit is in the playoff hunt with the rash of injuries they’ve dealt with. I suppose that the venerable lineup should have hinted towards possible injury issues.
10. Vancouver Canucks – This looked better a few weeks ago. The return of Daniel Sedin from injury and the return to form of Roberto Luongo should get the Canucks back into the playoff picture quickly.
11. Minnesota Wild – Somewhat better play has raised the Wild out of the Western Division basement. You had to know that losses of Marian Gaborik and coach Jacques Lemaire to the NY Metro area would have to hurt.
12. St. Louis Blues – I bought into the fine second half of last season, assuming that young talent had figured things out and would be able to produce at that level or higher this season. The Blues are back on the tracks after a horrible start now, so we’ll see.
13. Anaheim Ducks – Anaheim what? Oh, D-U-C-K-S. Playing toe to toe with the mighty Wings in the 2008-9 postseason seemed to show the real level of play of a team that had sleepwalked through most of the regular season. But Anaheim is a team that’s about five deep with quality forwards–even with the addition of Saku Koivu–and they’re iffy on defense. Geez, you’d still think they’d be better than this.
14. Columbus – I predicted that Steve Mason would perform poorly in the playoffs due to the high workload that he suffered during his rookie season. I picked up on that, but missed the fact that the effects could translate into this season. Do you have a better explanation? Columbus has the third worst GA per game in the NHL, and it shows in their record. Ken Hitchcock might be the first coach fired this season.
15. Edmonton – Marginally worse than the teams above them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they crept up in the standings. Dustin Penner’s been the shining star of a fine offense, but the Oilers’ defense and goaltending has let them down. Picking up Khabibulin wasn’t going to be an improvement over Roloson.