At least that’s what some critics tell us.
Phoenix 15th in the West, just behind Colorado in 14th, Los Angeles in 12th and Nashville in 10th. Who would’ve guessed they’d all be in the top six now?
Atlanta 14th in the East, well behind Philadelphia in fourth place and Carolina in sixth. And didn’t we pick those Flyers to win the Stanley Cup?
OK, it was hot that day, the air conditioning wasn’t working and we weren’t thinking straight.
But wait a second, we’re not ready to walk away from those predictions. As we approach the midway point of the NHL season, the only thing for certain is that the standings will change drastically in 2010. Heck, just seven points separates third place from 10th in the West. And in the East, just eight points separates fifth-place Boston from 14th-place Toronto.
Here’s my personal opinion on how things will unfold in the second half of the season.
The bubble has burst for the Colorado Avalanche. It led the conference for a short stretch and the Northwest Division virtually all season. Even though goalie Craig Anderson has been solid and rookies Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly very smooth, the Avalanche will slip out of playoff contention in the dog days of February and March. The same can be said for the Phoenix Coyotes, who have defied the odds and actually gotten stronger through December.
The impressive Los Angeles Kings won’t win the Pacific from the mighty San Jose Sharks, but they’ll finish among the top six and make the playoff for the first time since 2002. And I’m still not convinced the Nashville Predators will continue to win with mirrors. They’ve somehow done it the past several seasons and are the league’s hottest team over the past 20 games, but I’m still not seeing it.
If Colorado, Phoenix and Nashville are going to drop from the playoff picture, that means three teams from the lower echelon will climb the standings. Ninth-place Detroit is an obvious choice. I also have positive feelings for Dallas and Anaheim to make the move up. For last year’s playoff darlings St. Louis and Columbus, they’re back on the outside again.
I don’t think there’s going to be nearly as much movement in the East. I’m betting the farm (I don’t own one so I can throw around that expression loosely) Philadelphia recovers and makes the playoffs. Taking the big slide from the top eight will be the Ottawa Senators. The Atlanta Thrashers, I’m proud to prognosticate, will remain strong and finish in seventh.
And typically, the Florida Panthers will stay competitive right down to the final weekend of the season, then lose out and finish ninth. The team passing them? Rangers? Montreal? Toronto? No way, it’ll be Tampa Bay.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.