It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth
1. San Jose Sharks (29-5-5, 63 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 2nd Pacific, 4th West
1st Half MVP: Dan Boyle
Look Back: San Jose got off to a record-setting start with 25 wins in their first 30 games. The additions of Boyle and Blake have paid huge dividends already. Setoguchi and Pavelski are having career years, and Nabokov finally has a backup in Boucher. Everything has gone right so far for the Sharks.
Look Ahead: I don’t know if they’ll be able to hold off the red-hot Red Wings for the top spot in the west; Detroit will travel to San Jose next Saturday for a big showdown. The Sharks have been inconsistent on the road, and play most of their games in February away from HP Pavilion. I think Todd McLellan’s crew will slide into 2nd in the west behind the superior defending champs.
New end-of-season prediction: 1st Pacific, 2nd West
2. Detroit Red Wings (27-7-5, 59 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 1st Central, 1st West
1st Half MVP: Datsyuk/Hossa/Zetterberg
Look Back: The Red Wings have been, well, the Red Wings. They’ve played very well all year, no matter who’s between the pipes. Mike Babcock’s bunch have won statement games left and right during the 1st half of the season.
Look Ahead: I’m pretty confident Detroit will eventually pass the Sharks, even though I hate everything about the Wings. They have a big 6-game road trip starting next week, which could be the tell-tale sign whether they go into the break the leaders in the conference. Nonetheless, this is a great team that’ll be a tough out in April.
New end-of-season prediction: 1st Central, 1st West
3. Calgary Flames (24-12-4, 52 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 2nd Northwest, 6th West
1st Half MVP: Jarome Iginla
Look Back: The Flames are currently blazin’ and in a zone. ‘Kipper’ is showing flashes of the old Kiprusoff, and Iginla is continuing his prowess in Calgary. They’re also getting contributions from role players such as Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, and Davis Moss. This is a dangerous team that will only get better.
Look Ahead: Will they threaten the Wings and Sharks for the top spot in the west? Probably not. Do they have a legit chance of knocking one or both of them out in the playoffs? Heck yes! They should win the Northwest with a bit of ease, 6-10 points IMO. If the Stanley Cup makes its overdue return to Canada, it’ll be the Flames who’ll win it.
New end-of-season prediction: 1st Northwest, 3rd West
4. Chicago Blackhawks (22-8-7, 51 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 2nd Central, 7th West
1st Half MVP: Patrick Kane
Look Back: The ‘Hawks continued its momentum from last year and put hockey back on the map in the city of Chicago. They fired Denis Savard just a few games into the season, but replacement Joel Quenneville has been a blessing for this team; the perfect man for the job. And even though Toews has suffered from a sophomore slump, guys like Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp have picked up the slack.
Look Ahead: I don’t see them slowing anytime soon. I expect them to pull away with the 4th seed. A big stretch, though, for the ‘Hawks is after the All-Star break… they play 11 of 12 on the road. That may be the time when the true ‘Hawks come out.
New end-of-season prediction: 2nd Central, 4th West
5. Vancouver Canucks (21-15-5, 47 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 5th Northwest, 12th West
1st Half MVP: The Sedin twins
Look Back: I’m actually pretty surprised the Canucks have been able to stay afloat since the Luongo injury. Sanford, Schneider, and LaBarbera have filled in the best they can. The Sedins have saved this team in the 1st half. Without them (along with Luong), Vancouver could be in trouble. They’re the only consistent players on offense.
Look Ahead: It’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect Sundin has down the stretch. This team could potentially win the Northwest if they get hot. But without Luongo for a while longer, I see them flirting with disaster ‘til he comes back. Expect them to make a run in the playoffs, though.
New end-of-season prediction: 2nd Northwest, 5th West
6. Anaheim Ducks (21-15-5, 47 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 3rd Pacific, 5th West
1st Half MVP: Ryan Getzlaf
Look Back: Getzlaf may be the 1st half MVP, but Jonas Hiller was a close second. Family distractions continue to keep Giguere off his game. So the Ducks have needed Hiller to kick it up a couple notches, and he has done just that. He’s 10-6-1 with a 2.06 GAA with 3 shutouts. The emergence of Bobby Ryan should be a good sign, too.
Look Ahead: Anaheim plays a lot of road games from now through February, so it’ll be important for them to stay healthy and get every point they can. This team is kind of teetering on the playoff bubble, but I still expect them to make the postseason over the inexperienced teams behind them.
New end-of-season prediction: 2nd Pacific, 6th West
7. Minnesota Wild (20-16-3, 43 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 3rd Northwest, 8th West
1st Half MVP: Niklas Backstrom
Look Back: Backstrom for Mayor of St. Paul!! He may be a darkhorse for the Hart if the Wild make a run in the 2nd half. The Gaborik saga didn’t seem to faze them, mentally. But his absence showed in their December drought.
Look Ahead: The Wild have just 4 home games in March, so they need to rack up some points in the next 6 weeks for some breathing room. Jacques Lemaire’s bunch will go as far as Backstrom takes ‘em. Gaborik could return in mid-March and give a boost. I think they’ll barely make the playoffs… like on the last day of the season.
New end-of-season prediction: 4th Northwest, 8th West
8. Phoenix Coyotes (19-17-5, 43 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 4th Pacific, 11th West
1st Half MVP: Shane Doan
Look Back: Just when you think the ‘Yotes are going to finally breakthrough and make a run, they seem to have a letdown. Phoenix has just one win streak of 3 games; and they 6 separate 2-game winning streaks, showing that they just can’t get to the next level. Jokinen and the kids are underachieving, stats wise, while Doan is keeping their heads above water at this point.
Look Ahead: Here’s the biggest question facing Wayne Gretzky’s bunch… can they get over the hump and put together a stretch that ultimately gets them into the playoffs?? They failed to do so last year. Their 5 games before the break may go a long way in determining who this team really is.
New end-of-season prediction: 4th Pacific, 11th West
9. Edmonton Oilers (19-16-3, 41 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 1st Northwest, 3rd West
1st Half MVP: Sheldon Souray
Look Back: This is really one of the tougher teams to figure out. The kids (Cogliano, Gagner, and Nilsson) have started slowly this season, and need to pick it up immediately. Dwayne Roloson has been good, but not great, and does not have a reliable backup. A bright spot for the Oilers is the blue line duo of Souray and Visnovsky on the power play.
Look Ahead: Edmonton will get a lot of chances to pick up some wins in the next few weeks since they’ll be playing in Rexall a bunch. If they can stay healthy, I like the Oilers’ chances of sneaking into the playoffs. Any significant injury to Rolo or Souray, though, will cost ‘em that chance.
New end-of-season prediction: 3rd Northwest, 7th West
10. Colorado Avalanche (20-19-1, 41 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 4th Northwest, 10th West
1st Half MVP: Paul Stastny
Look Back: Colorado has been a very streaky team so far this year, due in large part to their goaltending. I don’t know why Granato won’t start Raycroft more often… he’s 7-1 and has a better GAA than Budaj. They’ve also hit the injury bug, with Sakic, Stastny, and Foote all sidelined.
Look Ahead: Starting on Jan. 16, the Avalanche will have an 8-game home-stand. This is critical to their playoff hopes as they’ll play 7 western conference teams. And they’ll probably be without Sakic and Stastny for a while. Everyone needs to kick it up a notch… if not, the Avs may tumble in the standings.
New end-of-season prediction: 5th Northwest, 12th West
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (18-18-4, 40 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 4th Central, 13th West
1st Half MVP: Steve Mason
Look Back: Even though the Jackets have hit the wall after an impressive 4-game winning streak, you have to look at the bright spots. Steve Mason has bailed this team on numerous occasions when the offense had nothing in the well. Rick Nash will have to continue to carry the team offensively with the injury to Derick Brassard.
Look Ahead: Do they have enough firepower to hang around in the playoff picture?? We’ll know if this team is for real or not in the weeks after the All-Star break. They play 9 of 11 at home during that stretch, and this young team needs to capitalize with that opportunity.
New end-of-season prediction: 3rd Central, 10th West
12. Dallas Stars (17-16-5, 39 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 1st Pacific, 2nd West
1st Half MVP: Loui Eriksson
Look Back: The Sean Avery signing turned into a bust quickly and I think management did the right thing in shutting the door on him. And ever since the ‘sloppy seconds’ incident, Dallas is playing much better, going 9-5-1 in that span.
Look Ahead: I really think Dallas will be able to get hot and become a big playoff threat. But in the end, I think it’ll be too big of a hole to dig out of… especially without Captain Morrow.
New end-of-season prediction: 3rd Pacific, 9th West
13. Los Angeles Kings (16-17-6, 38 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 5th Pacific, 15th West
1st Half MVP: Dustin Brown
Look Back: It kinda looks like the wheels are starting to fall off in LA, going 3-5-2 in their last ten. But you gotta commend their effort in every game. They’re talent is still young, and once again playing musical chairs in net.
Look Ahead: I think finishing .500 would be a big step in the right direction for LA. I know that sounds stupid… but c’mon, the Kings in the playoffs?? They’re becoming the NHL’s Cincinnati Bengals, but are turning the corner for the future.
New end-of-season prediction: 5th Pacific, 14th West
14. Nashville Predators (17-19-3, 37 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 3rd Central, 9th West
1st Half MVP: Shea Weber
Look Back: Nashville’s playoff chances have taken a major shot to the gut since Dec. 6. They’re 3-9-1 since then, and have scored 3 goals in just 3 of those games. They also just went 0-5 in a vital stretch against the Northwest Division. Weber is budding into of the top d-men in the league, but he and Arnott don’t have enough of a supporting cast around ‘em.
Look Ahead: Unless Steve Sullivan comes back and picks up where he left off, I don’t see where the production will come from. Erat and Dumont seem lost out there, and the role players are in a major funk. It doesn’t look like the Preds will be able to make it 5 straight playoff appearances…
New end-of-season prediction: 4th Central, 14th West
15. St. Louis Blues (15-21-3, 33 pts.)
My pre-season prediction: 5th Central, 14th West
1st Half MVP: N/A
Look Back: St. Louis has struggled all year, and that was expected. Injuries to Kariya, Legace, E. Johnson, and McDonald put a major dent in the Blues’ hopes to make the postseason.
Look Ahead: I don’t think the Blues are going anywhere. The schedule looks daunting for ‘em, and they could be the winner for the Tavares sweepstakes in April.
New end-of-season prediction: 5th Central, 15th West
at 6:40 PM
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