As regular readers of this website will know, The Hockey News staff recently convened to debate and decide our official standings predictions for the NHL’s 2008-09 season. Other than the completely out-on-a-limb guess that the Red Wings will make the playoffs, there wasn’t much in the way of unanimous consensus regarding any particular team.
I won’t give the entire predictions list away, but let’s just say there are some picks that won’t sit well with certain teams or their fans. That’s just the nature of the beast. But when you’re on the other side of the process, you come to understand the difficulties involved in forecasting the fortunes of teams in a league that’s become far less predictable since the salary cap somewhat evened things out.
Take, for instance, the St. Louis Blues. There’s a franchise I had high hopes for last season, which is why I personally picked them to qualify for the 2008 playoffs.
The Blues began the ’07-08 campaign well enough, building a 14-8-1 record through the first two months. Unfortunately, they then averaged less than four wins per month in the final five months of the regular season – and made head coach Andy Murray the odds-on favorite to be the first coach fired this coming year if that troublesome trend continues.
That doesn’t mean I’ve soured on them, though. They’ve still got dependable veterans such as Jay McKee, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald and Manny Legace, as well as a tremendous collection of young talent that includes blue-chip defensive prospect Erik Johnson and forwards Brad Boyes, David Backes, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller.
In fact, in THN’s 2008 Future Watch special edition, the Blues had the fourth-best rating of the 30 NHL franchises. So there’s little doubt John Davidson & Co. are on the proper path to constructing a year-in, year-out Stanley Cup contender.
Nevertheless, is it fair to expect them to give Detroit a run for their money in the Central Division next year? (I’ll wait ‘till you’re done laughing out the answer before I continue.)
Is it smart to think the Blues will be better than a Chicago Blackhawks squad that looks primed and ready to make a huge jump in the standings?
Is it rational to assume St. Louis will finish ahead of the Nashville Predators, who still have more or less the same healthy mix of youth and experience that secured a playoff spot for them last year?
Heck, even the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets appear to be at least somewhat improved.
And let’s not forget about teams outside of the Blues’ division; if you assume Detroit, San Jose, Anaheim, and Dallas are playoff locks in the Western Conference, are you honestly prepared to say St. Louis will edge out Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton, Phoenix, and Colorado – not to mention their Central Division foes – for one of the final four post-season berths?
Not if you’re sober enough to legally operate heavy machinery, you’re not.
Now, could the Blues surprise and defy their cynics? Of course they could. However, when it comes to predictions, it’s all about the likelihood of something happening, not the best-case scenario. And to the majority of us here at THN, the likelihood is the Blues will be on the outside of the playoff picture for the fourth consecutive season.
The truth is, a complete reversal of fortune such as the Philadelphia Flyers enjoyed last season is more an aberration than a reasonable expectation. Once you’ve cleared the decks – the way the Blues did during a bumpy change in ownership that began in 2005 – the subsequent restoration project almost inevitably requires years to complete.
All this is just something to bear in mind when our collective and individual predictions are before your eyes. If an August publication such as ours has your team in an uncomplimentary standings slot, it doesn’t automatically signal that we’ve judged them to be bereft of hope and potential.
In the modern-day NHL, all it means is that, with apologies to Cheech and Chong, things are indeed tough all over.
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.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.