The Hockey News editorial group was sitting in our boardroom the other day, convening one of our loudest, most spirited and truly fascinating meetings of the year.
The topic? Predictions for the upcoming NHL season.
The process is laborious but, internally anyway, compelling. We pore over teams’ depth charts, the moves they’ve made during the off-season, consider factors such as coaching changes, organic growth and schedule implications, then we engage in a free-for-all.
These prognostications, which you’ll find later this August in our Yearbook, are the ultimate source of lightning strikes for our audience. Nothing rankles a die-hard more than telling him the club he lives and dies with isn’t going to make the playoffs. It’s certain to trigger poisonous hate mail.
Really, our order of selection is guesswork, but we like to consider it educated guesswork. And we realize, because it has our brand stamp of approval, many readers take the guesses very seriously.
The most contentious argument we had about this year’s order of finish concerned the Calgary Flames. After squeaking into the playoffs last season, are they vulnerable to being usurped and finishing out of the top eight in the West?
Some of the questions that were raised include:
• Their defense: is it overrated?
• Jarome Iginla: He’s unquestionably one of the pre-eminent players in the NHL, but can he carry a forward group that appears to lack depth?
• Miikka Kiprusoff: which one will show up? And if it’s the very good one, at what point in the season will that happen?
• Mike Keenan: has the game passed him by? Will he have the players’ ears in Year 2 of his tenure?
• With so many improving and strong teams in the West, can Calgary hold off the challengers?
And finally, what to make of Todd Bertuzzi? What impact will he have, positively or negatively, on the Flames’ fortunes.
From my perspective, the Bertuzzi signing was worth the risk. Still just 33, he’s not the player he once was, but was still effective at times with the Ducks last season – he scored at nearly a 50-point pace and was plus-8 – and is an upgrade over the departed Owen Nolan, the player he ostensibly replaces.
Why did Anaheim buy him out? It’s all about the cap hit. If the Ducks could have retained him at the $1.95 million Calgary is paying, they would have.
As for his impact in the dressing room, his teammates in both Anaheim and Detroit have vouched for his good citizenry. While he may never shake the legacy he created for himself when he attacked Steve Moore, the “moody” reputation that once dogged him appears to have evaporated.
So what does this all mean for the Flames in 2008-09? Will they make the playoffs? Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog normally appears every weekend.
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