Detroit – The Cup Final last year showed how old and tired the Wings are. Age is catching up with them, so much so that the AARP has purchased advertising space in front of the home bench at the Joe. Johan Franzen returns from his ACL tear and scores 23 goals to finish out the season. Expect the Wings to finish fifth.
Chicago – The team is still in a rebuilding phase, and the Hawks won’t be ready to challenge for serious hardware until at least 2012. The young core, however, is tied up for a long time, and Marian Hossa is the kind of character player who becomes the face of a franchise. They should finish fourth in the conference but make an early playoff exit.
Nashville – The Predators’ new marketing campaign is “Welcome to Smashville.” In keeping with this theme, the Preds will crush every team in the Central into submission as they take the division handily. Steve Sullivan stays healthy, Evgeni Malkin comes over at the trade deadline and the Sommet Center has a sell-out streak of 32 home games by the playoffs.
Columbus – Two words: sophomore slump. Steve Mason was the hot thing last year, but the kid’s got nothing for his sequel campaign. Rick Nash is, of course, the best player on the team but finds himself unable to score 12 goals a game to keep up with Mason’s inefficiencies. The Jackets suffer, slipping to 13th. They’d probably be worse, but no one can compete with LA’s implosion.
St. Louis – The most injured team in the NHL last year will repeat that feat. Paul Kariya will get his leg cut off on the plane ride back from Anaheim (an event Ducks fans call karma), Keith Tkachuk will realize he’s 37 and throw out his back and Ty Conklin will force his voodoo magic on the team because they aren’t involved with the Winter Classic. On the other hand, T.J. Oshie wins the St. Louis mayoral elections this year and builds a brand new stadium with a never-ending Budweiser fountain. Half the Blues’ starters enter the NHL’s substance abuse program for rampant alcoholism. The Blues get the blues and finish 11th.
San Jose – GM Doug Wilson promised sweeping change, and all fans in Sharks’ country got was Patrick Marleau with no “C” and Dany Heatley. A proven crybaby, Heatley will fare no better in San Jose than in Ottawa. The Fins will really miss Jonathan Cheechoo but limp into the playoffs in eigth.
Phoenix – All the scandal, all the uncertainty – this kind of thing can really get a team going. The ‘Yotes will be primed to make a run at the West, led by Shane “I was drafted by Winnipeg” Doan and…somebody else I’m sure. Dave Tippett will have big shoes to fill, but he’ll be able to take what The Great One left behind to the top of the Western Conference.
Dallas – Injuries plagued the Stars last season, and it’s likely that will happen again with glass figures like Brenden Morrow leading the team. New coach Marc Crawford has a lot on his hands, but there is a bright side. Mike Ribeiro could easily win the Hart Trophy singlehandedly thanks to his filthy shootout moves, but that won’t keep Texas’ team from the conference basement.
Anaheim – Chris Pronger is gone, Scott Niedermayer’s age is now counted in Chelioses, (as in, “What?! Niedermayer is how many Chelioses old?”) and, let’s face it, Ryan Whitney has no offensive upside. Saku Koivu is a dud on the second line, and Bobby Ryan is a flash in the pan. The Ducks had promise but threw it away in the offseason. They finish 10th in the west.
LA – The only king that could maybe save Los Angeles at this point is LeBron James. Kopitar, Brown, Frolov, Smyth – who are these guys? The no-name offense is coupled by a who’s who of defensive failures. There’s no good thing to say: The Kings finish dead last in every category except losses.
Vancouver – The highlight of the Canucks’ season will come in mid-February, when the citizens of Vancouver can finally see some decent hockey played; however, it’s in the Olympics. Roberto Luongo will relinquish the starting job to Andrew Raycroft, Henrik Sedin will be traded for two draft picks and a prospect from the OHL and Alexander Burrows will stop agitating and concentrate more on goal scoring. In a season where everything was supposed to go right for them, the Canucks will epic fail their way to 12th in the West.
Calgary – The Flame’s 30th season in Calgary will play out right, as Jarome Iginla and Olli Jokinen will combine for 200 points. Unfortunately, Mikka Kiprusoff will get injured and only start 14 games, but Jay Bouwmeester will cover the back line and play to a +24. In March. The Flames win the Northwest and challenge Phoenix for the conference title.
Edmonton – Unseasonably warm winter conditions will drive players to request trades up north, and the Oilers will reap the benefits in the form of Ilya Kovalchuk, who defects from Atlanta for the sunnier side of the NHL. Edmonton finishes sixth in the West, but can’t hold on to their second round series with Minnesota.
Minnesota – The Trap is gone from Xcel Energy Center, and scoring has come to reign. Martin Havlat and Petr Sykora will duel for the Rocket Richard Trophy all season, only to lose out to Todd Bertuzzi’s miracle April of six straight games with hat tricks. The Wild enter the playoffs in seventh and make it to the Western Conference final against Phoenix.
Colorado – Without Joe Sakic stealing all the publicity, the Avs can finally let their talent mature. Matt Duchene sets the league on fire in November, racking up 35 points. Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hedjuk, aside from competing for the name with the craziest spelling, trade Gordie Howe Hat Tricks until Wolski breaks his hand on Rick Rypien’s face. The Avalanche just miss the playoffs, but their rebuilding is almost complete.
Boston – You don’t lose Phil Kessel and have a successful season. Who signs David Krejci for four years over the wonderboy sniper? Plus, Milan Lucic plays too physically and doesn’t play the team game. One word: dumb. One more word: thirteenth.
Montreal – What an offseason by Bob Gainey! He dropped a lot of dead weight and picked up some of the best talent in the NHL at a bargain rate. Solid managerial decisions keep Montreal in the hunt during a topsy-turvy year for the rest of the league. Finishing eigth in the East sets them up for a physical war with the Flyers.
Toronto – Brian Burke doesn’t have any brains at all. Who signs a bunch of sandpaper, gritty, ham-and-eggs, meat-and-potatoes role players and expects to win? Jonas Gustavsson records 23 shutouts, but most become shootout losses because the Leafs’ hands of stone can’t put anything but opposing forwards in the back of the net. They finish 11th in the East and rack up so many PIM that Tie Domi tries to sign a one-year deal in December.
Buffalo – Lindy Ruff wins the Jack Adams Award, playmaking Thomas Vanek records 113 assists, and Buffalo still ends up in only seventh because Ryan Miller consistently lets the team down. The Buffaslug gets replaced by the Bufelephant, a buffalo/elephant combination that somehow looks much cooler than it sounds. The Sabres end up in 7th and crush the Hamilton Thrashers’ souls in the first round.
Ottawa – Who needs Dany Heatley anyway? Alfredsson, Spezza, and Cheechoo become the “ASC” line, referring to the sound opponent’s fans make when they score 12 goals a game. 2006-07 is back for the Sens, as the third jersey becomes the home sweater and they win the Northeast with ease. Third is as high as this team can get with Philly and Alanta clogging the top of the standings.
Washington – The Caps lost Sergei Fedorov to the KHL. Tough, but not insurmountable. However, the Southeast is quickly becoming the “Southbeast,” boasting teams on the rise like Atlanta and Florida. Alex Ovechkin will separate his shoulder jumping into the glass after a goal and Washington will find itself out of the playoffs at 12th.
Atlanta – Until Ilya Kovalchuk is traded to Edmonton at the deadline, the Thrashers will dominate the NHL, so much so that their 16-game losing streak without their captain won’t deter their playoff bid. Unfortunately, without Kovy, the Thrash lose two games in a row, sell the team to Jim Balsille, and relocate to Hamilton before they can get swept at home by Buffalo.
Carolina – Nothing special but nothing terrible, the Canes will float to 5th in the East without making much noise at all. Eric Staal scores one goal in 8 straight games, instead of the usual 8 goals in one game and then nothing for a month. Cam Ward wins the starting job in the Olympics because of how terrible Luongo and Brodeur are.
Florida – David Booth, Nathan Horton, and Stephen Weiss stop flirting with stardom and finally take the jump, just not in the same direction. Weiss becomes a 130-point center, Booth crosses the 50-goal mark, and Horton tries to fake a relationship to Tim Horton to get back into the good graces of fans after not recording a point for four months. The Panthers finally do something with themselves, climbing to sixth in the East.
Tampa Bay – The only bigger epic fail than the Lightning is the Kings, which isn’t saying much. The Bolts can’t score, can’t stop goals, can’t do much of anything for that matter. They do solve their overflow of defensemen, though, consistently putting the same terrible four players on the ice with Ohlund and Hedman. Ohlund teaches Hedman to speak English better, but the rookie’s defense suffers on his way to a -32 season. Tampa finds itself dead last in the East, but at least the owners can agree on something, right?
Philly – Stanley Cup, anyone? The addition of Chris Pronger automatically puts the Flyers at the top of a competitive Atlantic Division and tougher Eastern Conference. And, with the “Everybody Loves Ray” Emery show coming to the city of brotherly love, the Flyers will not be stopped as they play a clean, gentlemanly game with class. Pronger gets nominated for the Norris and wins the Lady Byng by a landslide. They finish first in the East.
Pittsburgh – Time to sell high for the Pens, which means Crosby and Malkin are both gone at the deadline in order to restock the shelves on the farm. Crosby starts diving for the Islanders and Malkin goes south for the spring, landing in Nashville. Without their two best players, Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes are down the drain. The Stanley Cup champs slip to 10th in an effort to regain the draft picks Ray Shero has squandered in the past few years.
New York Islanders – One year can change a franchise, and that year is 2009. Drafting John Tavares was the smartest thing the Islanders have done since inking Rick DiPietro to a 15-year deal. The boys on Long Island pick up the pace in the division, only to be outdone by the Flyers’ excellence. Fourth in the conference is impressive, and Mark Streit wins the Norris after scoring 48 goals.
New York Rangers – Marian Gaborik wins the Art Ross trophy after collecting 152 points in a full 82 games played. Henrik Lunqvist goes into rehab after the Olympics and the Rangers find themselves just out of the playoffs at 9th. Sean Avery becomes the Blueshirts’ captain after Chris Drury relocates to Minnesota.
New Jersey – Oh boy, will the Devils be in trouble. Martin Brodeur injures his arm again, in the exact same spot where he did last year, and the team won’t have any solution. New Jersey has the most goals in the league scored against it, and the defense is, ironically, blindsided like a Scott Stevens’ hit. They finish last if not for Tampa Bay’s stranglehold of the basement floor.