Hockey is finally back! It will take some time before I start liking the league as an institution (lockout, wtf) but the game itself is still the game itself. In honor of NHL hockey’s return, I will revive an annual tradition: predicting the standings (many many moons ago, during a really boring biology class, I gave each team a full record including goals for and against). I’ll do the East today and the West tomorrow. Rankings are based on total points, not playoff position (which is altered by division winners getting the top three seeds).
Owen’s Spookily Accurate NHL Eastern Conference Predictions for 2013
1. The New York Rangers. Hard to argue with a team that won the conference last year and then added Rick Nash without any major subtractions. Tortorella’s shouts and murmurs might wear thin by season’s end, but for the bulk of this short season I trust Torts will have the Strangers skating as hard as anyone.
2. The Pittsburgh Penguins. Also hard to argue with the Sid and Geno show. Not having Staal as their third center hurts, but as long as Fleury is right, these guys will be a juggernaut.
3. The Boston Bruins (second in conference for winning division). The Bruins seem to enjoy going from unstoppable to a mess, but one has to think Tim Thomas being gone will stabilize things a little. I keep wanting to rank them lower, because I will expect volatility until I see otherwise, but with Seguin, Chara, Rask et. al., there’s too much talent to not top-3 them for now.
4. The New Jersey Devils. Am I reaching? Probably. Am I a biased Devils fan? Definitely. But those who watched last season’s playoffs know how ferocious the Devils’ forecheck is, how tightly coached they are, and that Marty and Moose still have it after all these years. Yes, Parise is gone, but they still run four strong lines, and a short season plays to their strengths.
5. The Florida Panthers (third in conference for winning division). These guys terrified me in the first round against the Devils last season, and it took a minor miracle for the Devils to escape. The only things keeping them down are questions in goal and that their young phenoms haven’t proven themselves at the NHL level yet. Still, more weapons than one might realize here.
6. The Carolina Hurricanes. That’s a nice big jump for a team that missed the playoffs last year, but it will be crowded near the playoff bubble anyway, and I feel like the Staal brothers will be awesome, even if they don’t play on the same line. Wouldn’t be surprised by a mini-rebirth for Semin here too.
7. The Philadelphia Flyers. They’re a little too good to be ranked this low, but they have major questions on defense and goaltending. Giroux is one of the best players in the world, and longterm, the Flyers aren’t going anywhere, but I see enough stumbles here to say that they barely make the playoffs.
8. The Buffalo Sabres. I thought about the Capitals and Lightning here, but I’m predicting Ryan Miller goes berserk and that the rest of the team has enough firepower to turn said berserkness into wins. I don’t know if they’re much better than the flawed, underachieving team that missed the playoffs last year, but they only missed by 3 points (with 7 shootout losses), so add in a little Miller time and they can make it back.
9. The Washington Capitals. They did their best limiting Ovechkin’s minutes last year, and then hired Adam Oates as coach to return Ovechkin to greatness. Oates is awesome, and he’ll help sort out the Ovechkin identity crisis, but they’ll need some existential wanderings, and in a short season, I’ll say that costs them a playoff spot.
10. The Tampa Bay Lightning. This feels too low for any team with Steven Stamkos, but he was awesome last year and they missed the playoffs. They could be this year’s Senators, especially with a revamped defense, but I’m now in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode with their two stalwarts Lecalvier and St. Louis. Still, as I write this I am very worried that this pick will look really silly when they win the division.
11. The Ottawa Senators. The Senators are lovable, and had some great surprise success last season, but they’re due for a down year. Daniel Alfredsson is awesome, but maybe not awesome enough to lead this team back to the playoffs at 39.
12. The Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto is too good a market for their continued mediocrity. Maybe Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos could run them in his spare time. They have some fun players, but they can’t keep the party going the whole time. They really shouldn’t have made that Kessel trade.
13. The New York Islanders. I could see the Brooklyn Islanders being a strong team. Get Tavares a few buddies and things will start to look up. Still, as a Devils fan, I’ve had the Islanders on my radar for two decades, and they’ve been good for like two of those years.
14. The Montreal Canadiens. The Canadian government should step in here. Having both the Montreal and Toronto teams be this bad is unacceptable to the great nation of Canada.
15. The Winnipeg Jets. It continues to be good to have the Jets back in Winnipeg. They will continue to be bad, relative to the other hockey teams.