Saturday, October 06, 2007

And Now....The Playoff and Award Prognostications

In the last of the league-wide prognostications, we get to the playoffs and the awards…Let’s start with the important stuff, first.


First Round

(1) Ottawa over (8) Toronto
(2) Pittsburgh over (7) Carolina
(6) New Jersey over (3) Washington
(5) NY Rangers over (4) Buffalo

Conference Semi-Finals

(1) Ottawa over (6) New Jersey
(5) NY Rangers over (2) Pittsburgh

Conference Finals

NY Rangers over Ottawa


First Round

(1) San Jose over (8) Nashville
(7) Vancouver over (2) Detroit
(6) Anaheim over (3) Minnesota
(5) Dallas over (4) Colorado

Conference Semi-Finals

(1) San Jose over (7) Vancouver
(6) Anaheim over (5) Dallas

Conference Finals

San Jose over Anaheim

Stanley Cup Finals

San Jose over NY Rangers

And, the awards:

Hart: Sidney Crosby (Dany Heatley, Alexander Ovechkin). Crosby will be the default choice for the next dozen years. He has to “lose” the award. No one else will “win” it.

Ross: Sidney Crosby (Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton). Purely numbers, and Crosby will have more than anyone else.

Norris: Nicklas Lidstrom (Chris Pronger, Chris Phillps). Lidstrom has a stranglehold on this thing. Someone will have to pry it from his dead, stiff fingers.

Calder: Erik Johnson (Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews). Or maybe the other Johnson (Jack)

Pearson: Sidney Crosby (Dany Heatley, Alexander Ovechkin). See “Hart”

Richard: Alexander Ovechkin (Dany Heatley, Vincent Lecavalier). More numbers, and Ovechkin is looking like he’ll have a big year.

Vezina: Roberto Luongo (Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur). He’s the best, playing in a difficult situation with the prospect of so little offensive support.

Selke: Rod Brind’Amour (Samuel Pahlsson, Chris Drury). Three in a row…

Adams: Glen Hanlon (Barry Trotz, John Paddock). If the Caps win the Southeast, Hanlon should be at least a finalist.

Conn Smythe: Joe Thornton. To the victors go the spoils.

…with a few of our own…

Billy Martin Award (first coach to be fired): Bob Hartley

Celine Dion Award (most overrated): Daniel Briere

Avis Car Rental Award (most underrated): Ray Whitney

Chico Resch Award (best “backup” goalie): Ilya Bryzgalov

Dave Schultz Award (rookie most likely to make an impact…literally): Milan Lucic

Scarecrow "If I Only Had a Brain Award" (most inept front office): Columbus Blue Jackets

Tin Man "If I Only Had a Heart Award" (player most likely to pout when things go bad): Jaromir Jagr

Cowardly Lion "What Do They Got That I Ain't Got" Award (player least likely to exhibit courage in a skirmish): Daniel Briere

Oh, by the way...The Western Conference Prognostications

It occurred to The Peerless that we were only half done with the conference prognostications. So here, for your edification and reading enjoyment, we bring you The Western Conference:

1. San Jose Sharks

Why they will be better – Unfinished business. Last year, the Sharks were a talented team, but one that still had a little green in the lumber and just didn’t have the experience in big games that others had. The talent is still there, and the experience gained last year will give the Sharks more of a battle-tested look.

Why they won’t – They are still very young on defense and lost Scott Hannan to free agency. Then there is that playoff thing…the Sharks have gone out in the third, second, and second round in the last three years. Sometimes, a club hits that wall and falls back.

Key Player: Joe Thornton. The big guy is starting the first year of a bigger, three-year deal. He is “The Man” on this team, and if the Sharks falter, he will be the one bearing the burden of unmet expectations, regardless of what numbers he puts up.

On paper…this is a team that actually looks more like a team built for the playoffs (unlike, say, the Red Wings, who seem to be regular season wonders the past few seasons, but fall short in the playoffs). But that last step is a big one. The question in the background is, “is Ron Wilson the guy to lead them there?”

2. Detroit Red Wings

Why they will be better – Professionalism. Top to bottom, from the equipment managers to the owner, this might be the best run hockey franchise in the NHL. They draft well, they sign well, they coach well, they play well. They always seem to find a way to plug in the holes left with departing players, but this year they added a player with some edge – Dallas Drake – that they’ve seemed to lack since Darren McCarty left the club coming out of the lockout. Brian Rafalski is a nice addition to take some of the load off Nicklas Lidstrom.

Why they wont – Age and style. One starts to think that come 2056, who ever is blogging on hockey will be remarking about the ageless Chris Chelios and whether he can continue to be effective. He can’t live forever, can he? Then there is the style thing. This is a very skilled club that will run circles around the doormat teams of the league that cannot match their skill level. But it is not a sturdy team, in terms of physical style. Will their more slightly-built forwards be folded up in the playoffs? Oh, by the way, Lidstrom and Rafalski are 37 and 34, respectively.

Key Player – Dominik Hasek. Hasek will be 43 years old on January 29th. Chris Osgood is a capable backup, but if Hasek starts feeling his age, the Wings have problems.

On paper…The only way the Wings do not win the Central Division (probably the weakest – top to bottom – of all) is if Joe Louis Arena falls into the Detroit River with the team skating inside. So what? That’s not what the Lords of Hockeytown are all about. Can they make the finals? It says here, “no.” They’re too similar to the team they were last year.

3. Minnesota Wild

Why they will be better – Marian Gaborik. Gaborik had 30 goals in 48 games last year. If he comes close to that pace this year, the Wild have more than enough on their roster to make up that one thin point that kept them from winning the Northwest last year.

Why they won’t – Niklas Backstrom. When things were new – last season – Backstrom came into the lineup and was one of, if not the best goaltender over the second half of the year. But last year, he played in 41 games as the understudy who made good. This year, he’s the guy who is the man who will be counted on to play 70-or-so games at a high level. He’s playing with a different job description this year.

Key Player – Backstrom. The margin of error in this division is tight, top-to-bottom – perhaps as much as in the Southeast. The drop-off from Backstrom to backup Josh Harding (who has a promising future in front of him, but who has only 10 games of NHL experience) might be too steep for comfort.

On paper…this team is not your father’s Wild. With Gaborik, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Pavol Demitra, and Mark Parrish, the team should not suffer for offense. They look to have a nice balance of offense and defense, youth and veterans. But in the end, it comes down to “the other Backstrom.”

4. Colorado Avalanche

Why they will be better – They added a dimension of grit they seemed to have in insufficient supply last year. Scott Hannan and Ryan Smyth are the two that provide that dimension, while performing at a high level of talent at their respective positions. This will help less on the offensive side (they tied for the top spot in goals scored) as on what they give up.

Why they won’t – Goaltending. Peter Budaj is the Amazing Anonymous Goaltender. Did you know that he’s played 91 games the last two years, compiling a 45-26-12, 2.75, .903 record? Still, is he the guy?

Key Player – Budaj. He’d better be the guy. Colorado might have topped out on offense, so the Avs can’t rely on more to cover any goaltending shortcomings.

On paper…this is a pretty solid bet for a playoff team, but they are one of those teams no one is going to be giving second thoughts to as a Cup contender. The most interesting thing about the Avalanche is that they are one half of an interesting mirror image of themselves in their own division…

5. Dallas Stars

Why they will be better – It’s hard to see how, but seeing the problems Nashville had over the summer, that no doubt will carry over into the fall and winter, the Stars shouldn’t be worse, either. They have enough to move up into that slot. They have a fine defensive system and solid goaltending in Marty Turco, but this group couldn’t dent the net against air.

Why they won’t – They were tied for 21st in the NHL last year (with Vancouver) in goals scored-per-game. The team they are icing this year doesn’t look to improve on that mark, and there is only so much a goaltender of Marty Turco’s ability can improve. Every night is going to be a tightrope walk for these guys.

Key Player – Mike Modano. He combined with Brenden Morrow to miss 65 games last year. But even with missing 23 games, Modano’s scoring pace was not on a pace to match his 2005-2006 pace. Since putting up 85 points in 2002-2003, he’s gone 44-77-43. The Stars need him closer to 77.

On paper…the Stars have the kind of defensive mind set that will keep them in just about every game. But they have to find scoring from somewhere. They had no 60-point scorer, and two of their top four scorers were defensemen last year (Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucheer). One of those scorers – Ladislav Nagy – is gone (to Los Angeles). On paper, it’s hard to see where that scoring comes from.

6. Anaheim Ducks

Why they will be better – By definition, they won’t. You do not improve on a Stanley Cup. You can repeat, however, and the key to that will be the kids last year – Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry – taking another step forward, and having Bobby Ryan not be too much (if any) of a drop-off from the departed Dustin Penner.

Why they won’t – More than the loss (presumed) to retirement of Scott Niedermayer, there is one number that matters here, as far as The Peerless is concerned…115. That is the number of days between the Ducks winning the Cup and their opener against the Kings in London. It is the shortest off-season of any major North American team sport. The Ducks will pay for this all year.

Key Player – Chris Pronger. As if he didn’t bear a large burden last year, he might have a bigger one this year. He’s got to be disciplined and resolute. The kind of stuff that earned him two separate one-game suspensions in the playoffs last year is not something this club needs.

On paper...they will be the same in-your-face regular season club (they led the NHL in fighting majors by a wide margin last year) as reflects GM Brian Burke’s personality. They will have solid goaltending, and they have both balance and experience. They will not fall as far as did Carolina did last year; they’re a playoff team. But that hangover is going to be stirring around all year.

7. Vancouver Canucks

Why they will be better – Another team where it is hard to see how. They made few, if any, moves of consequence in the off-season, and that in the aftermath of having the problem the Stars had…a distinct lack of offense (remember, those two clubs tied in goals-per-game scored). If desperate, one might point to Roberto Luongo being more comfortable in Vancouver with a year there under his belt, but that’s a reach.

Why they won’t – Every team (well, maybe not Calgary) got better…on paper. It might not be so much being worse as being passed by.

Key Player – Markus Naslund. 60 points won’t do it...not nearly. If he puts up that many this year, the Canucks might very well be on the outside, looking in.

On paper…this club looks a bit like Dallas, with somewhat better goaltending, but not as good a team-wide defense. Perhaps a bit too much like Dallas.

8. Nashville Predators

Why they’ll be better – They won’t. Seven of the 20 players who dressed for Nashville’s last playoff game are no longer with the club, including: Tomas Vokoun, Paul Kariya, Kimo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Peter Forsberg, Vitaly Vishnevski, and Ramzi Abid. They added, what?...Martin Gelinas, Jed Ortmeyer, and Radek Bonk? Do the math.

Why they won’t – It has the whiff of a franchise that’s given up, for the time being. They should just post a “CLEARANCE SALE: ALL THINGS MUST GO” sign. Chris Mason is a fine goaltender, but he’s going to be called upon to pretty much bear the load. It’s just that the rest of the non-Detroit Central is so bad (or, in the case of St. Louis, not yet ready) that they will probably sneak in.

Key Player – Alexander Radulov. 18 goals was a nice start last year. The Predators need more out of him if the club is to be playing after the first week of April.

On paper…in any other division, perhaps, the soap opera that has been the off-season would prove too daunting an obstacle to overcome, but there is enough talent from last year,not to mention a couple of fine young defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, to keep the Predators from slipping all the way out of the top eight.

9. Calgary Flames

Why they will be better – Miikka Kiprusoff. He “slipped” a little last year, going from 2.07 to 2.46 in GAA, and from .923 to .917. He still won 40 games, nevertheless (down from 42 the previous year in the same number of appearances).

Why they won’t – Mike Keenan. Geez, won’t he just die, already? Here is your fun Mike stat…in his last seven years of coaching in the NHL, he’s coached 82 games in a season….once. Whether that’s coming in or going out, upheaval follows this guy around.

Key Player – Jarome Iginla. Fiery player meets fiery coach. This will either focus the flame, or it will be…well, entertaining.

On paper…it’s hard to see the Flames being as prolific on offense (seventh in goals-scored-per-game…four places higher than Detroit, for example) or as accommodating on defense (11th in goals-against-per-game…only one spot ahead of the Islanders). They should resemble more the 2005-2006 club in style, but the question might be more one of whether the combustible Keenan will finish the year here.

10. St. Louis Blues

Why they will be better – Their Johnsons (please, hold the jokes). Erik comes in as a Calder Trophy candidate on the blue line, Mike played his way onto the roster as a training camp try-out candidate, and Ryan gives the club…well, another Johnson.

Why they won’t – goaltending. Manny Legace and Hannu Toivonen each have shortcomings to overcome – Legace hasn’t really demonstrated he’s the guy for a long haul. He played in 45 games last year for the Blues and did post a 23-15-5 record, but he has never played more than 51 games in a season. Toivonen looked like an excellent prospect in Boston, until he went 3-9-1 last year. He’s only 23, so there is some hope there.

Key Player – Legace. If the Blues are to make the playoffs, he doesn’t have to play the way he did in that 51-game season of his (in Detroit, where he was 37-8-3), but he has to demonstrate that he can shoulder the load for the lion’s share of the season.

On paper…they are better, but probably not enough to crack the top eight. They are a year away.

11. Los Angeles Kings

Why they will be better – Anze Kopitar has a season under his belt (including a year of physical maturity), and the Kings weren’t shy about signing talent, even if it wasn’t the top end of sort the New York Piggys…uh, Rangers took on.

Why they won’t – I haven’t seen a lot of Jonathan Bernier, but I like what I’ve seen. But he’s 19 years old, coming right out of juniors. He’s also a somewhat slightly built guy, and you wonder how much of the 82-game season he can carry. He will be a fine goalie, it just might not be this year.

Key Player – Jason Labarbera. Whether Bernier is or is not the main guy this year, Labarbera figures to get some significant playing time. He’s put up fine numbers in the AHL (three times in the last four seasons winning 30-plus games). He has not seen that success translate into that at the NHL level (12-12-2, 3.14, .890, career). He needs to.

On paper…this is a team that has the parts to make the playoffs, if they can gel quickly. The big question – as it is with a lot of teams – is, “do they have the goaltending over the long haul?” This year, they probably do not.

12. Edmonton Oilers

Why they will be better – If you take away the post-Ryan Smyth trade funk (2-15-1 from March 1st on), this was not a bad team. One can’t assume they’d have the same sort of collapse, and there is youth on this club to like.

Why they won’t – 10 of their 13 roster forwards are 25 or younger; four of their seven defensemen. That’s a lot of young talent, but the operative word there is, “young.” This isn’t the year.

Key Player – Sheldon Souray. If he’s as ineffective an even-strength player as he was in Montreal last year, this team will struggle, no matter how many power play points he puts up.

On paper...the Oilers have the makings of a pretty good team, but this is a half-baked cake (in the better sense of the term). They will probably show some glimpses of the team they will be a couple of years from now, but not enough of them to make the playoffs this year.

13. Chicago Blackhawks

Why they will be better – The same things apply here as is the case for Edmonton, in that there is a lot of youth to like. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are players to watch.

Why they won’t – The other talent they brought in. It has the look of “aging star review.” Robert Lang and Yanic Perreault have some skills to contribute, but neither are going to find the fountain of youth in the Windy City. They, with Martin Lapointe, represent 106 years of age, more than 2,500 games of experience, and almost $8.0 million in salary. It's not likely the Hawks get their money's worth.

Key Player – Nikolai Khabibulin. He “rebounded” last year to go 25-26-5, 2.86, .902 after a disaster of a 2005-2006 season (17-26-6, 3.35, .886). He’d better be at least that good this year. If he reverts to the previous season’s form, this club might have the most ping-pong balls in the lottery drawing.

On paper…It’s long past even calling this a “proud franchise.” That is receding into the past so as to render it with little historical significance to this generation of fans. They have had one playoff appearance in the last nine years (one and done in 2002), after having made the dance for 28 straight seasons. That’s all prelude to the view that there is more struggle in store. This club is still a few years away.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets

Why they will be better – They did finish 11th in the West last year, and it was the second highest standings point total in their six-year history. One would like to think that Michael Peca could add some grit, that Gilbert Brule could continue his development, or that Ken Hitchcock will work his gruff magic behind the bench, but there aren’t many hooks here on which to hang one’s hat.

Why they won’t – They're just not that good. And, they have a bit of a sideshow called, “where will Nikolai end up?” Nikolai Zherdev is like the phenom of fiction…he has a $5 million talent, and a five-cent head. If he ever gets his head screwed on right, that talent no doubt will be something to see. But it doesn’t seem likely he’ll ever do it in Columbus, and that will be a distraction.

Key Player – Rick Nash. He’s in that “tweener” stage, where he is no longer a “prospect” (he has 282 games of experience) and, at 23, is not quite a “veteran.” But he’s the go-to-guy on this team. Trouble is, starting with his rookie year, he seems to have one year on, one year off. This should be his “on” year. The Blue Jackets need it to be.

On paper…Columbus simply lacks talent depth. They haven’t drafted very well, they haven’t brought in any high-end talent via free agency (at least not that wasn’t pretty far past its prime), they don’t appear to have traded adeptly. There isn’t a lot to work with here.

15. Phoenix Coyotes

Why they will be better – They rid themselves of a lot of veteran (ok, ”over the hill”) talent to make way for youngsters.

Why they won’t – Uh…where are the youngsters? Well, at least the ones who can play? You look at the roster, and a scene from the movie, “Major League,” comes to mind. It’s a diner counter in Cleveland, and the waitress asks a couple of regulars, “Spring training starts the twelfth. How do you think the Indians will do this year?” One of them responds, “they don't look too good.” Well, Phoenix don’t look too good.

Key Player – John Tavares. He’s their only hope, and he’s two years away.

On paper...One must preface one’s remarks here by saying that until the sun goes dark, the Washington Capitals’ record of futility for a regular season – 21 points – is safe. That said, if Phoenix earns 50 points this year, they should have a parade.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- The Home Opener, Caps vs. Hurricanes

Welcome to Opening Night at Ver-r-r-r-r-r-rizon Center. The Peerless Prognosticator is coming to you live from Prognostication Central, where he is bringing you, the discerning hockey fan, the slam dunk prognostications for tonight…

We’re joined by our coaches panel, which, if you remember back to last year, provided some of their keen insights…

“ho…I don’t know about ‘keen,’ Peerless”

Thanks, Coach Madden….their keen insights into what it takes to win. And now that we stand on the precipice of a toboggan run through the untrodden snow of a new season…

“You get a degree from one of those mail order writing schools for that?”

No, Casey…as I was saying, the untrodden snow of a new season.

“Didn’t you already play one game?”

Yes, Coach Wooden, the Caps won last night, 3-1 over the Thrashers.

“Then it isn’t ‘untrodden,’ is it?”

No, sir, I guess not…as we stand on the…oh, forget it. Coaches, the Caps are a retooled unit in all aspects – five-on-five, power play, penalty kill – and they have a new philosophy and a new outlook, some of my fellow prognosticators’ predictions, notwithstanding. Can they be better than last year?

“Oh, sure…”

Coach Madden?

“Well let’s look at this play from last year, for instance…you have Ovechkin here with the puck, and he’s skating out of his own zone – SCHWIP! – and you have these guys on defense moving over to him like this – ZAP!! – and he’s there barreling down the wing, and then the two defensemen slide over, one backing up like this to keep Ovechkin in front of him – BOOP! – and this other one sliding over to take the middle of the ice away – BING! So what’s Ovechkin going to do? Well, I say, “where is everyone else?” Standing around with a turkey leg in their hand?”

Now, look at last night…you’ve got all the Caps involved here…the puck goes here – ZING! – then it’s over here – SCHWAP! – then this rookie has the puck…what’s his name, “Backstroke…”

“Backstrom,” Coach…

“Yeah…and he slides the puck over to Rhinelander…”

“Nylander,” Coach…

“Yeah…and he curls out from behind thenet – SCHWIPIDDYDOODAH” – and buries the puck…the Caps would have just waited for Ovechkin’s next shift last year.”

Good point…Coach Lombardi?

“I think what John’s trying to say here is that all the pieces pull together like a team…they’re saying, ‘it’s our puck, and you can’t have it.’ And, they’re just not letting the other team have it – time of possession…we didn’t have that in my day, but let me tell ya…but my Packers always seemed to have the ball with Jimmy and Paul ramming it down the other guy’s gullet.”

Yes, Coach Wooden…

“I think Coach Lombardi is exactly right…it looked like all five guys on the ice last night at any time were on the same page. And that’s the key…you’ve got to have all five guys with their oars in the water, pulling together…”

Coach Rockne?

“I was watching the Caps take it down the left side…take it down the right side…take it down the middle…pass, skate, hit-hit-hit – well, maybe not enough of that…but they did what they had to do, they paid the price. They walked into the other guy’s house and played smart, played tough, played like my Irish teams did…”

Should we call them, “Capitol Domers,” Coach?

“Let’s not get silly about this, Peerless…”

Casey, what’s your take on all of this?

“Well, I liked that Backstrom kid…like I said once – or was it twice? – ‘ability is the art of getting credit for all the home runs somebody else hits.’ And that was the kid last night, moving the puck along to that Nylander kid for a goal. Kid played with lotsa moxie, like he’s been around a while. And like that other thing I said, ‘good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa.’ Same here…good power plays will stop good penalty killing, and vice versa. Caps were one-for-seven with the extra guy, which wasn’t great, but they were four-for-four when they were short a guy.

Let’s go around the room one time…you’re predictions for tonight’s home opener…Coach Madden?

“Well, if the Caps can get out to a lead and keep the Hurricanes from taking that lead, I think the Caps will get out of it with a win.”

Uh…ok, Coach Wooden?

“Well, taking a page from Mr. Stengel, something I said once comes to mind…’I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.’ The Caps are kind of green, and the Hurricanes have a few guys who have won a championship…but the Caps’ talent is better and more developed than last year. I like their chances a lot. Put me down in the Caps’ column.”

Coach Lombardi?

“Well, I’d like to have talent and experience (laughter). But, since we’re all quoting ourselves here, ‘A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.’ If the Caps have the courage and the determination and the drive, and they’re willing to make the sacrifices good teams have to make, they’ll win. I have no doubt.”

Coach Rockne?

"Well, I’m thinking Coach Hanlon has his work cut out for him tonight, just like Coach Hartley did last night – opening night, with all the ceremonies and the delays and the distractions. But like I said, ‘an automobile goes nowhere efficiently, unless it has a quick, hot spark to ignite things, to set the cogs of the machine in motion.’ If Coach Hanlon can give ‘em that spark coming out of the locker room, it should be a good night. I’m going with the Caps.”

Casey? have the last word…

“Way back when I was managing the Yankees…or was it the Mets?...well, it was one of those two teams…I said, ‘if we're going to win the pennant, we've got to start thinking we're not as good as we think we are.’ The Caps won one game last night, not a Stanley Cup. Don’t get cocky, guys…play the way you can, and you’ll be alright.

Well, there you have it…our esteemed panel has the Caps coming out on top tonight, and if there is one thing The Peerless has learned, there is safety in herds. Tonight is the Caps’ night…

Caps 3 – Hurricanes 2….yes, Casey?

“Peerless, lemme give you some advice…never make predictions, especially about the future.”

Seeing Green...

Check this out...

Ten forecasters (let's not call them "prognosticators")...ten forecasts of an early spring for the Red Horde.

Keep it up...y'all are going to look pretty silly, come April.

OK...separated at birth?

Will fans start shouting, "Scooby-DOOOOOOOOO" when Ovechkin scores?