And now, the analysis of my regular season predictions for the Western Conference. Fair warning, I did, as expected, pretty brutally. . .
2) San Jose
Pat Me On the Back...
Wild: "I like the Wild. But. . .Marian Gaborik, the Ranger killer, has not proven he can stay healthy. . .makes me think this team will not be as good as years past....A lot was up and down in Minnesota last year and they did make a rather quick exit. Not sure I'd bank on the Wild in what will be a tough race in the West this year." (I had them on a narrow miss and it was, indeed, a pretty narrow miss).
Calgary: "I don't think you can go wrong with an offense centered around I-can-do-everything-posterboy Jarome Iginla. But he can't do it himself. ...Guys like Mike Cammalleri, Craig Conroy and Daymond Langkow will really have to step up. I don't see why Calgary isn't my front-runner though, on experience and the last few years alone."
Sharks: "Add one Dan Boyle, who is looking to resurrect and be the top offensive D-man he proved he could be in Tampa, and you have a team. A plethora of young talent like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ryan Clowe, Milan Michalek, and Joe Pavelski, are primed for good years. This team seems poised. Not to mention anything of my favorite for Vezina this year, the man who was robbed last year, Evgeni Nabokov. Not many are better. The guy was a machine last year. Expect no different in this. I expect San Jose and Dallas to fight to the end for the division title, although I'm not sure either will knock Detroit from the top step." (If you ignore the fact that I said they were battling the Stars, and throw in Devon Settogucci in there, I had it almost right. And San Jose did knock Detroit from the top spot, so they were even better than I thought.)
Kings: "But you know what - I think they'll be better than last year, points wise at least. Playoffs, unfortunately, not a good chance at all. (71 points in 07-08, 79 points in 08-09).
Red Wings: "Really hard to imagine them not sailing right through to the playoffs, although, let it be said, Chicago played them tough last year and will be better this year and Nashville was always a tough game as well. They probably will not have as many points in what should be a more difficult division. But, really, who cares. Bottom line: Red Wings will be playoff bound." (True, they didn't top the West, they came a few points short. But they had 112 points this year, to their 115 last year).
Chicago: "Here's hoping, and it might just be a reality, the only other non-successful original six team besides the New York Rangers, will see a fast rise to glory this year.... Also, add a hopefully (seriously now!) healthy Marty Havlat, and perhaps this is the year. Again, the West is tough, perhaps tougher than last year, but if I had to pick, I'd say Chicago gets it done." (Well what shocks me more than Chicago making the playoffs as I predicted, is that Marty Havlat made it the entire regular season without major injury. I am stunned. He deserves props for this. Chicago is in a good place. I had them lower than they ended up being, but again, remember I got my head tripped up in all that Colorado and Dallas nonsense).
Predators: ". . .but I’m not sure the team that has just seemed to sneak in the last few years, will do it again this year. They will have to be better and have to generate more points in a tougher central division. And I’m not sure they do it....I am just going on a hunch that they don’t make it. If they do, I’m happy. But I’m just not sure it’s not someone else’s turn."
Oilers: "Figure, if Dwayne Roloson can keep the group in it, if he stays, and Sheldon Souray can be the power play quarterback the Oil signed last year, maybe they do have a shot. In my mind there are four or five probable-to-definite picks for the West, and the other three spots are up for grabs. I wouldn't count the Oilers out of it, but that's really going to be anyone's guess." (Another close miss; and I'm taking credit for Roloson here, because he was a big reason this team made it as close as they were).
Ducks: "I have to assume the Ducks will be at least as good as they were last year, if not better...I still think they lack something. But this team is one of my bets to make the playoffs. And probably to be angry enough to go further than last year's quick exit. (I picked them to make the playoffs, yes, but I must admit I thought they'd be more of a shoo-in than they were, stumbling for much of the season and keeping the eighth seed on a late season rise. As for going forther in the playoffs, that it TBD, even if I don't see it happening.)
I'm Such a Moron:
Colorado: "I guess I figure it would have to be either the Wild or the Avalanche making the playoffs this year. Don't think they'd both miss it. And I just might have to go on the side of Colorado. Joe Sakic will need to stay healthy." (I can't even type it because it pains me to say, but I actually thought Peter Budaj would get the job done in nets. Yikes! As for Colorado in general, if Sakic going down didn't hurt this team in every way imaginable, losing Stastny too made it that much worse. I'm not saying they would have made the playoffs, but the Avs shouldn't have been the last place team either and I don't see how they are if those two guys are healthy.)
Canucks: "Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton, and perhaps even Minnesota will average more goals. I sadly don't see how this team makes the playoffs. Mats Sundin, the wanted savior, might not have been able to provide enough on his own to save this team." (Well, call me a moron here. I am not sure if Vancouver was going to be this good, or if Mat Sundin really DID spark some magic in the Pacific Northwest, but this team, a team with a core that has been together a while now, looked much better in the 2nd half than I would have thought. Sundin did help. And you can't bet against a team that has Roberto Luongo. At least I probably shouldn't have. Although who woulda thunk it about Alex Burrows...?)
Stars: "I am excited to see how the Stars do this year and more confident than last year that they will do well. I think Dallas will flourish this year. Marty Turco slayed some demons with his solid performance in nets during the playoffs. Brendan Morrow was a honest-to-goodness beast when it counted. Haven't seen that from him in quite some time. Brad Richards started to find his stride and will get to test his first full year for the black, green, and gold. And my favorite and yours, Sean Avery, who is already ruffling feathers all throughout the Western Conference, gets to pal up with (or against) agitator Steve Ott. Nice." (WELL, obviously nothing turned out the way for Dallas that I thought it would. The team was a wreck to start. Turco forgot what he did in the previous pring. Avery was a non-factor, although most would go on to blame him - unjustifiably - for the team's slow start on ice. Morrow ended up out for the season. Sergei Zubov played as many games for the Stars as Ilya Zubov played for the Senators (10). And Richards broke his wrist, came back, and hurt it again. This was just not the Stars year in any regard whatsoever. And it was NOT all about Sean Avery!)
Coyotes: "I really like their chances at being one of those bottom three surprise teams to squeeze into the playoffs. They almost did it last year and I was rooting for them, trust me. I think having Ilya Bryzgalov for a full year in nets might make the difference. ... Honestly, I think things are looking brighter in Phoenix and perhaps, bright enough to bring the maroon and white into the promised second season. Out of the could-be-there, these might be my favorites." (I lauded Shane Doan, Ed Jovonovski, and Peter Mueller in my paragraph on the desert dogs. Doan had a great year, but Jovo struggled badly to start and the young guys in their sophomore years like Mueller, struggled too. Bryzlgalov would have had to been much better to have helped their cause. All that said, the team did have a better start and at the All-Star break sat in the 5th seed. A late season collapse with no goal scoring, and an untimely injury to defenseman Kurt Sauer, told the tale in the end. No playoffs in Phoenix. I think you can tell that I really wanted them there when I wrote the above in October. Just imagine how much I wanted them there after my favorite player was traded to them in March!!)
Columbus: "Every year for the last few, I've picked Columbus to make the playoffs. And no matter how much I want them to (and I do) and feel they do have a chance (I do), I am not sure if it's possible for all three of the last spots in the West to be filled with teams that failed to make the dance last year. Possible - of course. Probable - probably not. ....and Steve Mason if necessary and healthy, are enough to get it done. I do hope so. Honestly for myself, and for guys like Rick Nash and Manny Malhotra, I hope they do it. I’m just not sure if this is the year to see Phoenix, Chicago, AND Columbus all knock out practical perennial playoff teams like Colorado, and Minnesota." (Well, again, if I was ever happy to be wrong, it is with this team. I had been picking Columbus, like Florida in the East, for the last three years, and finally - FINALLY - they did it. Only I didn't pick 'em. Ribb me all you want. I'm just glad they got it done!)
Blues: "Thus, I know nothing really except I can’t imagine St. Louis will be much better, and I can’t imagine this team is in line for a playoff berth in an over talented and super saturated West." (Good for the Blues for proving me wrong. With the injuries this team has had, it is a big testament to the young guys there and their few lasting veterans that they were able to come through the West. Great job)
So, in my mind, I thought Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, Calgary, and Anaheim were the shoo-ins. I thought Colorado would be the we've-been-there-before and here-we-are-again breed. And I thought Phoenix and Chicago would jump in. Obviously Dallas was an extreme overstep, as my feelings about Montreal were in the East. People can be wrong. I most definitely can be wrong. I'm very glad that Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis were able to make it in to get some fresh blood out there. I really am. Now, next year, if it's Phoenix replacing one of the old steady and true guys, I am all for it. And how about Nashville having a good enough year to be chasing a 3 seed instead of falling short of an 8. Just some things I'd like to see. But, no, none of this fixes my horrendous picks, although, when all was said and done, I still picked 5 out of 8 correctly.