With a new season almost upon us – thank goodness for that – we can finally begin making serious prognostications for 2009-10.
Here’s one man’s predictions on the fortunes of each team this season, based on whether they will improve, decline or remain the same compared to how they finished in the regular season standings last season.
Teams are listed according to their finish from No. 1 through 30. An upward arrow indicates improvement, a downward one indicates decline and a black dot indicates they’ll remain the same.
A red arrow up or down indicates a drastic change, a blue arrow a moderate change and a green arrow a slight change.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
There’s little reason to believe the Sharks will not win their second straight Presidents’ Trophy in 2009-10, but they won’t ultimately make people believers until they have some level of sustained success in the playoffs.
They’ll almost certainly win what has quickly developed into one of the weakest divisions in the NHL, but losing Phil Kessel will hurt. You have to wonder if things can fall into place as nicely as they did for all of last season.
DETROIT RED WINGS
For the first time since Nashville was knocking on the door coming out of the lockout, the Red Wings will have a serious challenge for first place in the Central Division. Even with their depth, losing four front-line forwards in Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky is going to have an effect.
The Capitals can’t be much better in the regular season than they were last year, but it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see them usurp the Bruins for first overall in the Eastern Conference. The question for the Capitals is goaltending.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils won’t mind taking a slight step back in the regular season if it means they might have more playoff success. They have some formidable talent up front, but the most burning question is whether or not it will be stifled under new/old coach Jacques Lemaire.
Primed to make a run for the division title, the Blackhawks will have to play under the pressure of legitimate and increased expectation this season. Can they do it with Cristobal Huet and with Marian Hossa out of the lineup until December?
Another team that will have to deal with elevated expectations, the Canucks have arguably the best goaltender in the league, a deep and talented defense corps, the potential for two very good scoring lines and the advantage of playing in a very bad division.
You’d have to think the Penguins won’t stumble through the first two-thirds of the season the way they did last year. The Penguins are deeper down the middle than any team on the planet.
Picked by THN to win the Stanley Cup in 2009-10, the Flyers made it clear by their off-season acquisitions they intend to seriously contend immediately. They have one of the best defense corps in the league and their top two lines are scary good.
Miikka Kiprusoff is a notoriously slow starter and another one of those beginnings could prevent the Flames from making any significant regular season improvement. They’re not near as low-scoring as people think and their defense corps should be significantly better.
The Hurricanes are not noticeably different than the team that was outclassed in the Eastern Conference final last season, but they’ll continue to be a solid playoff team.
NEW YORK RANGERS
As has been the case since Glen Sather took over, it’s really difficult to figure out exactly what the Rangers are doing this season. Henrik Lundqvist will almost certainly keep them competitive, but the Rangers have a serious lack of depth up front.
Going out on a limb here. The Massive Montreal Makeover will result in a dramatic rise in fortune for the Canadiens this season. Of course, if Carey Price doesn’t improve dramatically himself, all bets are off.
Is there any reason to be excited about this team? Anyone? Anyone? David Booth is the only legitimate front-line forward they have and replacing Jay Bouwmeester with Jordan Leopold is something of a downgrade.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
There’s a legitimate feel-good aura around this team, but the reality is that it isn’t much different from the one that barely squeaked into the playoffs last season. That means if the Blues are going to improve, their young players will have to elevate their games.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
All bets are off for this team to get better if it doesn’t improve on the league’s worst power play last season. The Blue Jackets should have two legitimate scoring lines and a potential breakout player in Nikita Filatov.
Talk to most people around the NHL and they’ll tell you how much they like the way GM Bob Murray has retooled the Ducks. They have arguably the most talented and explosive top line in hockey and the additions of Joffrey Lupul and Saku Koivu have fortified their second unit.
This team finished 10th in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season with largely the same cast of characters. A healthy Ryan Miller for the entire season will significantly enhance their playoff prospects.
They made good hires with GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Todd Richards, but you just get the feeling the Wild is going to have to take a step back in order to take another one forward. They’ll continue to be great defensively, but as usual, scoring is a real concern.
The goaltending and defense are in fine shape, but do the Predators have enough offense to remain competitive in what has developed into the strongest division in the NHL? If they do, it will have to come from within because they did almost nothing to enhance their roster over the summer.
It’s finally time to put the notion the Oilers are a good, young team on the rise to bed once and for all. The biggest improvement the Oilers made was in their coaching staff, but these guys can’t go out and play the games.
This is not the Senators circa the turn of the century, but it’s certainly better than the outfit that stumbled around through the dark last season. Alex Kovalev replacing Dany Heatley. What the heck do you make of that?
The sense around the league is that the Stars had no business missing the playoffs last season. A woeful string of injuries contributed mightily to that disappointment, so good health from the likes of Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen and Steve Ott will help. Marty Turco has to bounce back from a disastrous season.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
There is a real hope the Maple Leafs can parlay their change of personnel and culture into a playoff spot this season. That might be a stretch, but the Leafs should be better. A poor pre-season from Vesa Toskala didn’t bode well, however.
It is very rare that a lame duck team – and that’s exactly what the Coyotes are – doesn’t go down the sinkhole. The Coyotes have some decent young talent, but until their future is solidified, they’ll be a lost cause.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings are stockpiling young talent and it’s time that group of players made a legitimate run for a playoff spot. An appearance in the post-season is an absolute must for this team.
The Thrashers score a ton and give up a ton, something they’ll have to avoid doing this season. Are they a playoff team? Probably not, but they should be better than they were last season.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Avalanche picking first overall in the draft next June. Being bad for an extended period made them Stanley Cup champions before, so why not try it again?
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Not sure why so many people are so excited about this team, but they should be better than last year’s team. The Lightning will be better defensively, but have you seen their third and fourth lines?
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
John Tavares will not be enough to save the Islanders from being a bottom-feeder once again, but they’ve improved their depth in goal and some of their younger players should be able to contribute more.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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