Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Regular Season Eastern Conference Predictions Analysis - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. . .

Back in early October, I sat down to make regular season predictions on what teams would make the playoffs. Now, here at Natural Hat Trick Productions, we take a moment to step back and reflect on the best and worst of those for the Eastern Conference:

My predictions:
1) Montreal Canadiens
2) Washington Capitals
3) Philadelphia Flyers
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
5) Boston Bruins
6) New York Rangers
7) New Jersey Devils
8) Florida Panthers

In Reality:
1) Boston Bruins
2) Washington Capitals
3) New Jersey Devils
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
5) Philadelphia Flyers
6) Carolina Hurricanes
7) New York Rangers
8) Montreal Canadiens

First of all I got 7 out of 8 teams correct, which I think deserves a brief moment of applause. Clap, cla...okay, fine, this was the easier conference to predict, I think. I had Florida taking Ottawa's spot from last year. Instead, Carolina got hot and took it instead. But Florida was the next team in waiting and, Panthers fans, if it means anything, I was pulling hard for you guys. Not, mind you, at the expense of New York, but because it would have been a great thing to see.

The Caps and Pittsburgh were the only two teams I picked correctly in terms of order. I obviously, as did so many of us around the NHL, drink the koolaid of the masses and think Montreal was going to be the #1 seed for the second year in a row. Instead, they, like the Rangers, only secured a playoff spot with two games to go.

Now, let's take a moment to smile/laugh/nod/cringe at some of my thoughts on the East going into this season. There are some doozies.

Pat Me On The Back:

Flyers: "Philly performed better than expected and I expect no different this year...If this team doesn't compete for or win the division, I will be shocked." (Devils won the division, but both Pitt and Philly were only 7 points behind. Flyers improved from 95 points last year to 99 this year).

Devils - "I think they will gain some points on last year even if only because I just do not see them taking as few points as they did from the Rangers and Islanders last year. Isles will be worse and NJ did not like being the Rangers punching bag, and that’s enough incentive right there to win more games." (2007-08 - 99pts/46 wins; 2008-09 - 106pts/51 wins).

Isles: "There might not be too much to cheer about in Isleland this season. NYI - here are you tickets to the Jonathan Tavares sweepstakes. Don't lose 'em! Many will enter, one will win." (Isles - last place in league and best chance to land top pick in this year's draft)

Penguins: "And no. Miroslav Satan may not be the answer." (Enough said).

Rangers: "Honestly this is my hardest team to predict because if I had to guess, I’d say they have both the potential to be the best team in the East and the potential to fall flat on their faces. So, to be fair, I’ll go somewhere in between. The Rangers will be a playoff team, but they will not crack the top four." (seed #7)

Capitals: "I think the Capitals are going to be better than last year and definitely win the division. They might even challenge for one of the top two spots in the East, especially since I think they'll garner a lot of points playing against the likes of Tampa and Atlanta." (From 94 points last year to 108 this year, they have the #2 seed and are tops in the South East).

Thrashers: "Hard to pick a team I feel worse for than Atlanta...There will be no hockey playoffs in Georgia this year."

Maple Leafs: "When Ryan Hollweg and Jeff Finger are two of your only acquisitions in the off-season, well, it’s going to be a long year."

Bruins: "I seriously think, whether it’s Fernandez stepping in, Tim Thomas standing pat, or Tuukka Rask stepping up, this team can make it in nets. And Marc Savard as well as Marco Sturm are poised for high point totals this season as they did last year. I feel good about Boston’s chances. I think it’ll be a good year and people will be surprised." (Ignore the fact that Sturm was out with injury and played only 19 games this year, and the rest was spot on. The Bruins had two solid goalies (and even Rask shotout the Rangers.) Savard was awesome. And the Bruins surprised a lot of people. Just not me.)

Sabres: "I hope it’s a better year for Buffalo, but I think they’ll fall just short again." (Again, just short).

I'm Such a Moron:

Rangers: "Do I think this team will score more goals than last year? Last year there weren’t many goals to speak of and a power play to embarrass even the best of us all, but, it’s hard to say that they will score less with guys like Markus Naslund and Nik Zherdev, and hopefully a re-energized Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. So I’d have to assume that unless everyone has an awful year, they will score more." (And this from the person who thought their powerplay couldn't possibly be any worse either. *I want to bury head in sand*. Sure I just went through a nice little rant on why Naslund and Zherdev were assets to the team, but Gomez and Drury? And no one, not one player! - cracked 60 points on this team.)

Hurricanes: "The team doesn’t look that different but it seems miles away from the Cup win in 2006. I just don’t know. I can’t argue with Rod Brind’Amour’s leadership or Peter Laviolette’s style or even what I assume to be a great year for Eric Staal, who has just shored up a long, new contract to remain in NC. But… I just don’t think they have enough in them to knock someone out of the East." (Obviously RBA was a non-factor in terms of statistics, but he's still their leader, Laviolette was shown the door ealier this year, and they did make the playoffs. Of course, having Cole come back to the team DID kinda make everyone feel like it was 2006 all over again. So while I was right about Staal, but they did prove me wrong big time.)

Lightning: "In short, I think Tampa will not struggle to score goals... And despite my earlier uncertainty, their goalie situation seems to be in very good hands...Do I think they’ll be better than many think – yes." (At least I didn't think they'd actually make the playoffs. Unfortunatley for all involved, Tampa did very little to entertain. Melrose was not even there long enough to entertain!)

Canadiens: "In a year where there will be many ceremonies, including a banner raising for one Patrick Roy, the team will need to be sharp to keep the fans and the city happy. And, honestly, with minimal additions – Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang and Georges Laraques– and minimal departures – Mark Streit and Michael Ryder – I don’t see why they won’t. Montreal will easily, in my opinion, win the Northeast, and contend again for a top two spot in the conference." (I suppose I meant minimal in terms of not many in terms of departures, but my gosh, did the departure of Mark Streit hurt the Habs - and me, because he's on the WRONG New York team!! Their powerplay, once a lethal force, was pedestrian this year until Schneider came here late in the season. And, not so shockingly, the Islanders was pretty good. Wonder why? Tanguay and Lang were great pickups for the Habs, but when Lang went down with injury it hurt them big time. Laraques hardly ever saw the ice. They didn't see good or consistent effort from nearly enough players this year and that is why they not only didn't even challenge Boston for the top spot in the division, they barely even made the playoffs. I was sooooooo very wrong about this team. True, I was not alone, but I couldn't have been more wrong.)

Ottawa: "I for one think Heatley will have a career year....You just can't rely on one team and one defensive pairing. Not in this league. I see them perhaps coming just short this year." (Ottawa, despite hanging on still as of two weeks ago, really didn't come "just short" so I have to put this in the moron pile even though I didn't pick them. And as for Heatley, his 39G/33A/72P/-11 were really horrible considering the fanatastic years he has had).


Panthers: "Maybe they’ll be better, by addition through subtraction. But I feel it. If it can happen to the Tampa Rays, why not to the Florida Panthers. Playoffs in Florida? Maybe!" (This doesn't fall in either grouping. I said they'd maybe make the playoffs. Again, I still feel badly they couldn't get it done. I will hope again for them next year and every year until they do return to the second season.)

Overall, I know I did a much better job with the East than the West (maybe not surprisingly). I think in spite of all the ups and downs of a season, injuries and surprise players, picking 7 out of 8 teams that make the playoffs is a good record. I'll take it. And, too, with the three point games, not too much movement was made. If you went back a month, Florida held the last playoff spot. Carolina only ousted Florida in the last few weeks. Otherwise, my picks would have been perfect.

Also worth noting, I do get credit for the following statement:

"I think the Atlantic division will be the toughest and will have the most
representatives going to the playoffs of any in the East."

With NJ, Philly, Pitt, and New York, the Atlantic has four teams going to the playoffs. Southeast (Wash, Canes) and NorthEast (Bruins, Habs) each have two.

I realize this is not the most unique of thoughts and this has been the way, for three years now, but I have to grab credit where I can. ;)

Tomorrow, I'll try to do the West prediction analysis and before Wednesday, I'll run through some brief some playoff predictions too. Some fantastic matchups to look forward to, that's for sure!

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