With the regular season about to begin and everyone sick of reading predictions I present for you....Uhh more predictions! But this is the last of them.
Hey, click on the jump and make fun of them...Did I really pick Atlanta to go to the playoffs? Someone call Ron Burgundy because "I immediately regret this decision!"
Outlook: This is a year of enormous significance for the Thrashers, as franchise player Ilya Kovalchuk is in the last year of his contract. To show their talented forward they are committed to winning (and making him happy) they've increased their payroll to almost $50 million, bringing in European faces like Nik Antropov, Maxime Afinogenov and Pavel Kubina to help the team. #4 overall pick Evander Kane has made the team out of camp and figures to start on the 3rd line (with old friend Colby Armstrong). The offense has depth with the above named players as well as Bryan Little, Todd White and Rich Peverley. Defensively they've got a capable Top 4 for maybe the first time in franchise history.
How they could make this prediction wrong: Goalie Kari Lehtonen's injuries (currently not skating after back surgery) has unfortunately made him a profound disappointment. Johan Hedberg, God love him, has been barely serviceable. Ondrej Pavelec is young and talented but it's totally unknown how he'll perform for long stretches at the NHL level. For the Thrashers to be a surprise team and make it to the NHL, they'll have to get quality goaltending from someone.
Player to watch: Kovalchuk [79 games played, 43 goals, 49 assists last season]
Young gun: Zack Bogosian [47gp, 9g, 10a]
Outlook: The Devils are officially the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s: a well run organization that consistently wins but keeps losing parts without much in the way of replacing it, but somehow defies logic by continuing to win. The Braves did eventually fall apart and Martin Brodeur is now 37 years old and coming off of a series injury. But the Devils installed Jacques Lemaire to work his boring magic and trap the hell out of everyone. It doesn't take much offensive talent to win 2-1 games.
How they could make this prediction wrong: If Brodeur is still in form and secondary scoring (like Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, Brian Rolston) is better than anticipated NJD will finish better than 7th in the regular season. If Brodeur falters or gets hurt again, they could end up out of the playoffs.
Player to watch: Zach Parise [82 games, 45 goals, 49 assists last season]
Young gun: Parise? Zajac? [not a lot of young, young talent expected this season that I know of]
Outlook: The Hurricanes return largely the same cast of characters from the team that eliminated the always tough Brodeur Devils as well as the #1 seed in the East last season. Along with Pittsburgh, no team was better February - May than Carolina, though they'd like not to dig a hole this season to have to be so big.
How they could make this prediction wrong: Cam Ward dealt with injury through the playoffs and missed a day of Team Canada's camp with a back problem. He swore it was minor and that he simply "slept on it wrong" and did return to the ice the following day. But if Ward is more injured than he's letting on to it would sabotage the season before it begins....For the Canes to outperform this prediction, captain Rod Brind'Amour is going to have to contribute more than he did last season and not somehow end up as a -23.
Outlook: Out with the old, in with the new as Montreal had a big roster turnover and now welcomes small speedy skill forwards (Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez) and some big defensemen (Hal Gill and Paul Mara) to help turn them around. With long-time team captain Saku Koivu in Anaheim, it's a changing of the guard up in the pressure-cooker known as Montreal.
How they could make this prediction wrong: I hate to keep harping on the goalies, but being the goalie of the Canadiens is like playing QB for the Dallas Cowboys or SS or CF for the New York Yankees. It's high profile and very demanding. Care Price struggled in his second season but has the talent to be among the league's best. If he flounders the team is doomed. Gomez is coming off of inconsistent play in New York, and if he doesn't perform the Habs don't have much center scoring depth to pick up the slack.
Player to watch: Cammalleri [81 games, 39 goals, 43 assists last season]
Young gun: Matt D'Agostini [53gp, 12g, 9a]
Outlook: Adding guys like Chris Pronger and Ian Laperriere should add to Philly's team toughness, which has never been an issue. But Pronger, along with Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle give the Flyers one of the best and deepest defenses in the league. They've got the skill forwards too and the impeccable leadership of Mike Richards. What could possibly go wrong?
How they could make this prediction wrong: Noted short-fuse Ray Emery is what could go wrong. Back from Russia, Emery is determined to redeem himself. But will he melt under the intensity of the Philadelphian atmosphere?
Player to watch: Richards [79 games, 30 goals, 50 assists last season]
Young gun: Claude Giroux [42gp, 9g, 18a]
Outlook: You know the drill: almost all of the same faces are back from the Cup team. The Pens need wingers to step up and hope the new faces on the blueline can fill in. There's talk of hangovers on the horizon, which didn't hurt last season.
How they could make this prediction wrong: The Flyers, Devils or Rangers are capable of winning the traditionally tough division, so a top 3 position is far from guaranteed. Consistency night in and night out will be key: all Pittsburgh's opponents will be amped up to take a shot at the champs; the Pens are going to learn quickly they'll need to match that level of play.
Player to watch: Sidney Crosby [77 games, 30 goals, 70 assists] Maybe that Malkin guy too
Young gun: All the young players are pretty established...Is it fair to put Alex Goligoski here, even if he's older than Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, et al? I made this up and I don't even know.
Outlook: Despite losing a 36 goal scorer in Phil Kessel, the Bruins still boast one of the deepest and talented groups of forwards in the East. Patrice Bergeron figures to start the year on a "3rd line" so that's all you need to know about Boston being able to replace Kessel's production. Still Mike Ryder, Blake Wheeler and the ageless Mark Recchi are all on notice to come through. Zdeno Chara is a monster. Just wanted to say it.
How they could make this prediction wrong: Tim Thomas won the Vezina, but he's no spring chicken (35 years old). Plenty of goalies have had one good year and a major drop-off/let-down and Thomas has never really been seen as an elite goalie. Plus he only played in 54 games last year and his backup is now the untested (but talented) Tuukka Rask.
Outlook: The Caps are well positioned to have a great regular season again, their offense is explosive, their defense is middling and they can expect reasonably decent performances (at the end of the day) from their goalies. Being in a traditionally weak division will help rack up points. Jose Theodore, who runs hot and cold in the regular season needs a strong start to stave off impressive youngster Semyon Varlamov. Alex Ovechkin has his sights set on another MVP-type season and new-comer and noted Penguin killer Mike Knuble figures to add a measure of size and skill in front of the net and in the corners that Washington lacked.
How they could make this prediction wrong: Alex Semin misses a chunk of games with injury almost every year; if he goes down the Caps somewhat questionable secondary goal scoring will have a lot of pressure on them. Also the defense is the same crew that Pittsburgh ripped up, aggressive teams might take note of that. Further JT60 knows he has a short leash and can't feel too confident. If he struggles and Varlamov isn't as brilliant as he was the Caps may not get out to the fast and consistent start you need to finish 1st in the conference.
Player to watch: Ovechkin [79 games, 56 goals, 54 assists last season]
Young gun: Varlamov [4-0-1, .918 save % and 2.37 GAA last regular season]