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Screen Shots: Prepare for the predictions

One of the most overused of many modern music clichés can be found at the start of a popular song, when the rapper or singer estimates that the audience “ain't ready for” whatever schlock they're hawking. Apparently, many artists mistake the unprepared for the uninterested.

We think our readers deserve a little more courtesy. We want you to always be ready for what Screen Shots has in store. That's why we're putting you on a full week's notice: the pre-season predictions are just a week away (Eastern picks next Monday, the Western Conference seven days later).

The advance warning provides ample chance to properly warm up your anger muscles and air out your acid tongues. There should be enough time to practice typing in all caps, and to decide on the minimum number of exclamation marks you need to adequately express your disgust with me. There's even time to select the stock insult (i.e., “Have you ever played this game?”, “I can't believe you get paid to write this,” etc.) to lead off a nasty e-mail with.

When it comes to an outpouring of outrage, there really is no time like prediction time. That's how hockey pundits know fall has officially begun: all the self-esteem you built up over the summer suddenly is replaced by a barrage of inquiries as to the frequency by which you were dropped on your head as a child. The most discerning irate fan has been known to have columns hermetically sealed, so it's especially fresh when they throw it back in our face come springtime.

This year, the onslaught of outrage has begun a little earlier than normal. Thanks to The Hockey News' 2006-07 Yearbook predictions – which include the Western Conference-champion Oilers finishing in 12th place – our editors and writers rank second only to Chris Pronger's poor wife on the list of Edmontonians' most-loathed people.

Hoo-boy, did Oilers faithful let us have it. It wasn't only that we were picking their team to miss the post-season; we had the gall to call them the West's fourth-worst franchise. We weren't just giving them a verbal noogie; we were capping it off with a Wet Willie/kick-in-the-pants combo at the same time.

Forget that their top two defensemen and a trio of solid forwards are playing in other cities this season, that 37-year-old goalie Dwayne Roloson is coming off a serious knee injury, and that other teams in the conference have made bolder moves to improve themselves. We dared to doubt a team that squeaked into the playoffs due in large part to the collapse of the Vancouver Canucks; consequently, and like a mafia don's relationship with his ratfink turncoat brother, we are now dead to Oilers fans.

That's a pity. It really is nothing personal on our behalf. And believe it or not, everybody at THN doesn't agree with every selection we publish. This year in particular, it seemed harder than ever to agree on anything.

During the editorial meeting to finalize our Yearbook picks, we all believed Capitals and Islanders were in for another long season, but the convergence of opinion ended there.

Some thought the Flames could be primed for a surprise plummet in the standings. Others saw the Canadiens making the playoffs this season. And some believed the Blackhawks an outside shot at a post-season berth. We don't believe any of those things, but that doesn't mean a good case wasn't made that all of them could come to pass.

Our group did wind up agreeing on one more thing – that the race for the final playoff spots in both conferences would be tighter than ever, meaning the disparity between 8th place and 12th place conceivably could be as few as eight points. Four regular-season wins, in other words, could be the difference between the road to the lottery and the quest for the Cup.

In our mind, that took much of the sting out of dropping a team like the Oilers down so low. We're no longer necessarily condemning a team's chances anymore, but confirming the parity that now exists in the league.

Nevertheless, the mere suggestion any longtime or recent contender may not make the playoffs, and their fans become a shrewdness of mini-King Kongs (yup, a group of apes is called a shrewdness) seething and scaling skyscrapers, clutching their optimism to their chests as if it were Fay Wray.

But talk to players and GMs now, and they'll tell you the line separating success from failure is thinner than a shrewdness of fashion models (OK, we made that one up.) Nobody has discovered a championship template in this league yet, and those who believe their team is safe from year-to-year major turbulence are setting themselves up for quite a shock.

The fact is, hockey predictions were never a savvy gambler's best bet to begin with. Now, thanks to a still-evolving game and collective bargaining agreement that outlaws financial advantage, they are 99 and 44/100ths pure conjecture. They're still fun, though, if only to see the chest-pounding, frothing-at-the-mouth, “my-Pa-can-take-your-Pa-anytime” reactions they inevitably elicit.

For better or worse, that type of tribalism is what sports is all about.

Adam Proteau's Screen Shots appears regularly - Including every Thursday starting In October - only on Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at

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