Time for my annual comedy piece, in which I make predictions about which teams will do well and which ones won’t in the upcoming hockey season. I have been doing this for more than 20 years, lockouts being the exception, and I’ll keep doing it until I actually get one mostly right, I guess.
This year we have realignment, which changes a lot of traditional rivalries; there’s a new playoff qualification structure, and we have a new, balanced schedule where every team plays home and home with every other team (finally). I could quibble about some of the decisions, but overall, I like the changes. I love the balanced schedule, I mostly love the new playoff format, and I think they did the best they could with realignment, other than deciding to put some pain on the florida teams. There is no perfect plan, not with the geographic clumping in the northeast. But the travel and border crossing for the two Florida teams is going to get old. On the other hand, they’ll start to understand what west coast teams have always dealt with….
The new playoff format: four divisions instead of six, and the top three teams in each division, with the playoff groups rounded off by the top two conference point-getting teams that don’t otherwise qualify. this means a lower-seeded team might find itself playing first round on the road against someone in another division, which will be painful, but that’s incentive to finish in the top three.
So how is this all going to shape up? Let’s start in the east.
The east is broken into two divisions: The Atlantic, which includes four Canadian teams: Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Buffalo, two Florida teams with the Panthers and Tampa Bay, Detroit and Boston.
At some point this division will wake up and change from “we got Detroit back in the east! Think of all the sellouts!” to “Oh my god, we have Detroit in our division! That screws us making the playoffs”. you can assume that Detroit and Boston will take two of the playoff spots for the foreseeable future, and I expect Montreal will be up there as well, which means the other five teams are more or less playing for those wild card sports. If you’re in Toronto, somewhere around mid-season I expect to see the media pundits whining that things aren’t fair because the Leafs are up against all of the tough competition that the pundits used to whine they wanted playing more games against Toronto.
Then you have the Metropolitan division, which could be named the “rangers take the bus to every road game” division, almost. It’s the Rangers, the Devils, the Brooklyn Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, as well as the Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Columbus “oh my god what have they done to us?” Bluejackets.
It’s actually going to be tough for a lot of teams to compete for the playoffs here. You have to pretty much pencil in Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh into the playoffs before the season starts, and you have 12 teams playing for five spots, including the three Canadian teams. This may make it harder for Canada to celebrate lots of first round playoff losses moving forward.
My guesses for this season, and with eastern teams, it’s always a guess:
Atlantic: Detroit, Boston, Montreal
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia
Wild Cards: Rangers, Ottawa
(sorry, Leafs fans….)
And now out west, as the NHL defines West.
The central division is Chicago, Winnipeg, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and St. Louis. The good news is that hockey games will mostly be timed in the same timezone and only one timezone off except for the road trips to the coast. The bad news is that the flight from Dallas to winnipeg is still a long one, just north/south instead of east/west.
And out in the Pacific division, which Laurie’s named the “too late, didn’t watch” division in honor of the east coast media who need their beauty sleep and so never see the late games… We have Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Jose, and Vancouver.
My guesses for the west:
Central: Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville.
Pacific: San jose, Vancouver, and Los Angeles.
Wild Cards: St. Louis and Phoenix.
It’s hard to narrow this down to just one east and one west team for the finals. In the east, I really like both Detroit and Pittsburgh. If they make the eastern final, that’s going to be a heck of a series. If I have to choose just one — I never like betting against the red wings, so I won’t. Which will piss off the Pittsburgh fans. Boston, Montreal, Washington all have a legitimate shot into the final four.
but I’ll pick Detroit.
And in the West, my final two are San Jose and Los Angeles.
I’ll pick San Jose not just because I don’t want to get stoned, but because I think they are going to be a hard team to stop if they stay healthy. But both the Kings and Vancouver worry me, although at some point I expect the “Luongo circus train” to arrive and chaos to ensue, and I do not expect it to be Luongo’s fault. But something just tells me that soap opera still have a few chapters to play out.
it’s going to be curious to see if the new ownership in Phoenix causes that team to surge, or if it falls back and regroups. There was a whole lot of “mission from god” going on with that team (bless you, Shane Doan, for holding it all together down there) but I don’t think we’ll know until 20 games in if they can build from that or whether they lose the adrenalin rush and let it slip. I do like that team long-term.
Because it is about the only benefit of realignment that I really like, I’ll take San Jose and Detroit in the final. Remember, prior to this year, that wasn’t possible. now it is (although Toronto/Montreal in the final is still not possible. Maybe someday…)
That would be fun…. (and I’ll take San Jose. Hey, I don’t want to be stoned….)
Welcome to the season. It is a season without labor strife, a season without teams in crisis (Florida has new owners; Phoenix has new owners; New Jersey seems settled). it’ll be interesting to see what the new york and canadian whiner-media use to beat up on Bettman this year, because you know they won’t actually admit that he was able to fix things. They’ll still complain that they haven’t moved all of the teams back to Canada or something…
In other words, business as usual…