“I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years…Ever since, I have distrusted myself and avoided all predictions.” – Wilbur Wright, co-inventor of air travel
Like Wilbur, I also have a fair amount of self-distrust going on – usually, when certain alcoholic drinks are blended into my bloodstream with other certain alcoholic drinks.
Much as I’d prefer to, though, I can’t avoid predictions. Goes with the gig. And anyway, it’s become something of a guilty pleasure to watch readers completely wig out and wish multiple plagues upon me after reading something into a passage I likely never intended when I wrote it in the first place.
One last thing before I get into my pre-season picks – which include an optimistic and cynical assessment of each team’s fortunes – for the NHL (Western Conference this week, Eastern Conference next week): these are my selections, arrived at by me and me alone. They therefore do not necessarily represent the picks/views of The Hockey News magazine, other THN staffers, Transcontinental Media Inc. (THN’s parent company), city of Toronto, province of Ontario, country of Canada, other signatories of the North American Free Trade agreement, or Gary Bettman. But if those people/entities are smart, they do.
1. Detroit Red Wings
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: When you convince a star like Marian Hossa to put off a lucrative, lengthy payday for a year in order to get his best shot at a Stanley Cup, you know you’re doing a bang up job. An embarrassment of riches topped only by Scarlett Johansson.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: There’s a reason why there hasn’t been a repeat champion in this league since 1998: injuries, and, yes, dumb luck, often conspire to scuttle the best laid plans. And if you’d told the hockey world five years ago the consensus No. 1 team in ’08-09 would have a goalie tandem of Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin, the lockout never would have happened, as neither the NHL nor NHLPA would’ve been able to hear each other over the ensuing cacophony of laughter.
2. San Jose Sharks
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: A new coach and bolstered blueline has Sharks fans, both in the stands and in the press box, expecting nothing less than a Cup final appearance this season. The health of newly acquired veterans Dan Boyle and Rob Blake will be key to that happening.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: You’re counting on Boyle and Blake, who combined to miss 56 games last season, for the breakthrough you’ve been looking for all these years? And is that journeyman Brian Boucher I spy as Evgeni Nabokov’s backup in net? That makes three thirty-something-year-old veterans who must stay healthy for the Sharks to prosper. Don’t know if I love those odds.
3. Calgary Flames
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: From the blueline back, this is essentially the same Flames squad that gave the Sharks a decent run for their money in the playoffs last spring. And as I noted in THN’s annual meeting to decide our collective magazine predictions, this team has a genuine star NHLer at all three major positions. I don’t believe you can say the same about any other team in the Northwest; that’s why I’m giving them the nod in what promises to be a very competitive division.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: Todd. Freakin’. Bertuzzi. Need I say more? I believe I needn’t.
4. Dallas Stars
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: Like the Red Wings, the Stars have an abundance of depth at both forward and defense. Unlike Detroit, they’re no offensive juggernaut, but Marty Turco’s top-tier play between the pipes affords them the luxury of not having to produce goals at a 1980s-era Edmonton Oilers pace. They don’t play the most exciting style, but now that Sean Avery’s stink-eye routine has come to Texas, the entertainment value of a Stars game has risen dramatically.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: I’m loathe to assume the worst here, what with the Stars being my pre-season selection to win the Stanley Cup and all. I will say it does seem unlikely the Stanley Cup could have a name (Fabian Brunnstrom) engraved on it that might be mistaken for Mamma Mia’s Broadway choreographer.
5. Anaheim Ducks
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: There’s simply no chance a team with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne (probably), Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger on its roster can finish 28th overall in offense for two consecutive years. And if the latest round of adjustments to goalie equipment hampers the performance of veteran J-S Giguere, the Ducks have a formidable backup in Jonas Hiller.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: None of Anaheim’s off-season changes truly addressed their mediocre penalty kill, which hurt them in a big way against Dallas in the playoffs. (Yes, I know they signed Brendan Morrison, but he’s been a depreciating asset for the past four seasons.)
6. Chicago Blackhawks
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: To the untrained eye, it may seem that predicting a team will jump four rungs in the Western Conference standings represents a significant leap of faith. But considering the Hawks finished last year just seven points out of sixth place, it’s not at all a huge stretch to imagine they’ll find themselves in the West’s upper crust this year.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: With all due respect to Chicago baseball legend Frank Thomas, Martin Havlat has become the Windy City’s new Big Hurt. If that bum shoulder of his goes wonky again, the Hawks will have to lean on their young forwards even more than most expect them to already.
7. Minnesota Wild
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: How can you bet against Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, the Yoda of defense-first hockey? On second thought, maybe that should be the Emperor Palpatine of defense-first hockey. Either way, dude’s good at doing a lot with a little.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: With the volume of off-season lateral moves Minnesota made, would I be surprised to see the Wild miss the playoffs altogether? I would not. Would I be even less surprised to see Marian Gaborik get traded primarily because of another wishy-washy Wild season? I would.
8. Edmonton Oilers
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: Forget about any one acquisition made by Oilers GM Kevin Lowe this summer, here’s the reason why I think the Oilers will be back in the post-season this year: they were a stellar 25-8-6 in one-goal games last season. If they’ve got that type of poise with a young lineup, they’re bound to be a force to reckon with after adding a couple leaders in Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: Many an eyeball will be squarely – and some, cynically – focused on goalie Mathieu Garon, to see whether he’s a one-year wonder or the real thing. Behind him is grizzled old chap Dwayne Roloson, a guy who may not be disgruntled just yet, but likely is preparing his gruntles to be dissed as you read this. Not exactly the most stable netminding situation.
9. Phoenix Coyotes
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: The acquisition of Olli Jokinen adds veteran scoring power to Phoenix’s top line, while also allowing some of the pressure to be removed from the shoulders of captain Shane Doan. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Ilya Bryzgalov is just entering the prime of his career; he probably won’t get a lot of press yet again, but should be a force for the Coyotes in net for years to come.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: A defense that ranked 17th overall last season took a fair-sized hit when Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton were sent to Florida in the Jokinen deal. And any place where Daniel Carcillo and Todd Fedoruk are considered two of the team’s upper-level wingers can’t be a place where goals are going to come freely and quickly.
10. Nashville Predators
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: By my count, Nashville’s management duo of GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz have been together longer than Lewis and Martin, Lewis and Clark, and many other famous old-time partnerships that kids these days have no idea about. That longevity goes a long way to explaining why the Preds continue to ice hungry teams regardless of the number of high-end stars on the roster.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: While Western Conference teams all around them made copious amounts of changes to bolster their rosters, the Predators added, um, Josh Gratton and Ryan Jones. And those who think Steve Sullivan is coming to the rescue have had their deep fried pickles fried a tad too deeply.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: Jackets GM Scott Howson didn’t mess around this summer in renovating Columbus’ lineup, first bringing Ohio State alumnus R.J. Umberger into the fold, along with former Flames sniper Kristian Huselius and ex-Oilers ball of energy Raffi Torres. That gives coach Ken Hitchcock and star winger Rick Nash some serious talent to work with up front.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: For all the good he did to the forward unit, Howson failed to bring in an honest-to-goodness difference maker on defense. You might say Mike Commodore and/or Fedor Tyutin fits the bill; I might wet myself laughing in return. Until Rostislav Klesla is no longer this team’s top blueliner, it will continue to tread water.
12. Colorado Avalanche
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: At least Joe Sakic is coming back for one more year.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: Okay, so there’s more than just Sakic’s return to appreciate. Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski have their best days ahead of them; and veterans such as Ryan Smyth, Scott Hannan and Milan Hejduk won’t let the Avs spiral to the bottom of the conference. But who’s kidding whom – the league’s third-worst power play and 10th worst penalty kill won’t be improved in the least by Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft.
13. St. Louis Blues
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: After the fire sale that preceded a change in ownership, the Blues were all but stripped bare of their assets, so it was bound to take GM Larry Pleau and team president John Davidson a few years to build the base back up. And with Erik Johnson, Brad Boyes, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and David Perron on board, they’ve done exactly that.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: The Blues do have a wealth of young talent, but also have a handful of high-priced, fast-fading veterans (Keith Tkachuk, Paul Kariya, Jay McKee) taking up valuable minutes on the ice. I like Andy Murray a lot, but I fear he’ll take the fall early in the season for this team’s growing pains.
14. Vancouver Canucks
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: Thank Buddha for Roberto Luongo and the Sedins; if it weren’t for them, Canucks fans might be forced to turn their collective attention to the joys of living in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: Fun fact – the only place Mason Raymond and Taylor Pyatt are considered second line NHLers is in the Raymond and Pyatt households. Same goes for Steve Bernier as a first line winger. Yes, it’s going to be a long year in Van-City.
15. Los Angeles Kings
Always-Look-On-The Bright-Side Adam Says: Another franchise that has oodles of on-ice potential but not much to show for it, the Kings may have to eventually unload one of their burgeoning young superstars for the type of sure-thing, veteran star that has, to this point, avoided them like the cast of The Hills avoids carbohydrates. Their future is undoubtedly bright, but their present is as smoggy as a typical L.A. day.
Always-Assume-The-Worst Adam Says: For the not-so-low combined price of $6.7 million, the Kings got a whopping 41 points – and a minus-32 – out of Kyle Calder and Michal Handzus last season. Should former Oiler Jarret Stoll (he of the brand new, four-year, $14.4 million contract) under-perform in a similar fashion, team ownership may have GM Dean Lombardi kidnapped and held in a remote, undisclosed location from April through September of 2009.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News’ online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays in the summer, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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