Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Western Conference Prediction Review

Let's start with the conference that I did ok with:

Teams listed in projected order of finish:

1. Detroit Red Wings (actual finish: 1st):

I wrote this:

Call me a homer, but I really believe they’re the best team in the West. They have the best defense corps in the league as Lidstrom and Schneider are going to be lethal with the new rules (As will Kronwall once he comes back), Fischer makes a nice breakout pass, and Chelios and Lilja are no slouches as 4-5 defensemen. Everyone’s pretty solid in their own end, and there’s a lot of offensive talent there. Everyone wants to talk about their lack of depth now, but if you look at the rosters, there aren’t a whole lot of teams that do have depth. And Yzerman-Draper-Maltby as a third line isn’t bad at all. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the league’s brightest young stars, and having Robert Lang and a motivated Brendan Shanahan isn’t too bad either.

Everything I wrote was fairly accurate. Lidstrom and Schneider had career years, Chelios and Lilja were solid, Datsyuk and Z had awesome seasons, and Lang & Shanny were great as well. I cited Mike Babcock as the team's biggest addition, and the players have absolutely fallen in love with him. He actually coaches unlike his predecessor. I had CuJo as their biggest loss. They ended up not missing him very much due to Legace's outstanding performance, but they really didn't miss McCarty, Hatcher or Whitney either.

Great pick by me. They were never really challenged for the top spot in the second half.

2. Vancouver Canucks (actual finish: 9th, 20 points out of second):

They’re deep, they have one of the best—if not THE best—lines in the NHL, Bertuzzi is going to be a force with the new rules, and they’ve got a solid defense corps. But as with the Red Wings, the big question mark yet again is in net.

Note to self: Don't pick a team with VERY iffy goaltending that high ever again. Things didn't go so well for Vancouver this year. Bertuzzi forgot how to play hockey, Morrison didn't have a great year, and the team was killed by injuries to their defensemen during the Olympics. This is a team that still should have made the playoffs, and without those injuries they probably do. But really, they've only got themselves to blame as they haven't had a quality NHL goaltender in the last 8 years or so. The guy I had as their "Big Gain", Anson Carter, put in 33 goals for them, and their biggest question mark (The goaltending) was in fact the problem, with no goalie having above a .902 save percentage, and only Alex Auld cracking a 3.00 gaa.

Overall a terrible pick for second in the conference, but that's still a team that makes the playoffs as probably a 6 seed barring the injuries in the Olympics.

3. Calgary Flames (actual finish: 3rd seed, 4th in the West, 3 points out of 3rd):

I didn't buy into the love affair that everyone seemed to be having with Calgary:

I’m not quite buying all the Flames Kool-Aid that TSN, SI and ESPN have been spewing, picking them #1 in the league and whatnot. But they are going to be a very solid team, and they’re better in goal that the two teams listed above them. And they still have the best player in the league in Iginla. They’ve got a great defense corps as well. That adds up to a pretty good finish in the conference.

Overall pretty accurate. Solid all around, and they've got probably the best goalie in the West. Hamrlik didn't have a great year, but he missed 30 games or so, and their "biggest loss" Craig Conroy had 22 goals and 66 points for the Kings.

My biggest question mark about this team was who was going to score apart from the top line. The answer was Phaneuf, Kobasew and no one else. This team only had 7 double-digit goal scorers.

4. Nashville Predators (actual finish 4th seed, 3rd in points, 3 points out of 4th):

I didn't say anything of real substance about this team. Vokoun = good, Kariya = good. But everyone knew that. I said Kariya and Sullivan were the only real difference makers on the team (apart from between the pipes) and they were the only two thirty-goal scorers.
I would say I pretty much nailed this pick as well. Hit their seeding dead on.

5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (actual finish 6th, 1 point out of 5th):

I said the Ducks pulled off the coup of the free agent period by luring Scott Niedermayer away from the Devils, and he pulled off a campaign that is worthy of a Norris Trophy, though a career year by Nick Lidstrom is going to keep him from getting it. Giguere's numbers did fall a little bit, as expected, due to the limitations on goalie pads, but he still put up very solid numbers. Selanne regained his form with 40-50--90. I didn't forsee big years by Andy MacDonald and Joffrey Lupul however.

Probably an 8.5 out of 10 on the accuracy scale. Fedorov was moved, and 2 of their bigger goal scorers weren't mentioned, but I was one point out of hitting this dead on.

San Jose Sharks (actual finish 5th, 1 point out of 6th):

This pick was looking really bad early on. Enter Joe Thornton. His 72 assists in just over 50 games as a Shark were the catalyst for Jonathan Cheechoo's Rocket Richard Trophy winning campaign (who saw that one coming?)

Despite losing Rathje, the defense is still strong with Stuart, Hannah, and McLaren, and they’re strong in net with Nabokov. Up front is the same question that most teams are facing…who is going to score after the top 4-5 forwards?
Stuart was moved and Nabokov was benched. They really didn't have a lot outside of their top line, but when you've got the leading goal scorer and the leading assist man on your top line, sometimes that's enough.

I wondered about Milan Michalek's health, and he played in all but 1 game, and dropped in 17 goals and 35 points for the Sharkies. Not bad for a rook.

7. LA Kings (actual finish 10th, 6 points out of 7th):

Conroy, Demitra, Roenick, Mr. Candice Cameron. Not a bad crop of free agents the Kings signed, and I didn’t even mention their starting goalie Mathieu Garon. They also lost quite a bit though, with Ziggy Palffy, Ian Laperriere, Anson Carter, Martin Straka, Jozef Stumpel, Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh taking off.

Conroy and Demitra had great years, Roenick & Bure had injury problems.

They do, however, have a pair of young stars-in-the-making in Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri. They don’t have a great defense corps in front of their young goalie however, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold down the fort.

The two youngsters both had outstanding years, with Cammalleri just edging out Frolov in points (though he played about 10 more games). Garon struggled in front of that defense corps
and as predicted, the Kings were once again hurt by injury. They still made a valient effort at the playoffs, though they'll regret giving up Tambellini and another prospect for a pair of guys that didn't get 'em in.

Biggest Gain: Jeremy Roenick. The guy can still play when he shuts his mouth long enough to do it.

Or he will net less goals than Kris Draper. And he didn't really shut up either.

Biggest Question Mark: The Kings have been absolutely ravaged by injury the last few years. “Can they stay healthy?” trumps “Can Mathieu Garon make an impact as an NHL starting goalie?”.

The answer to both those questions was "no", which is why they're watching the playoffs on TV.

8. Dallas Stars (actual finish 2nd, 17 points out of 8th):

By far my worst pick in the Western Conference. I stated that "They're going to be right on the bubble the entire year" and wondered if they had enough to even make the playoffs. That was never in doubt. They kept up with the Wings for awhile for the top spot, but faded down the stretch. They were greatly aided by the shootout, in which they were pretty much automatic. Under the old rules (allowing ties), this team would've been closer to the bubble than the top of the conference. At least I'll keep telling myself that.

Keeping Modano was in fact key, and Skoula was in fact bad enough to get moved to Minnesota. The defense was sured up by a great year out of Zubov and Boucher, and by the emergence of Robidas. Their "solid goalie" in Turco was awful early on and really pretty good the rest of the year. I mentioned that they had "no superstud prospects adjusting to the NHL" but failed to mention that guy who single-handedly got them at least 8 points by being automatic in the shootout and who tallied 55 points, Jussi Jokinen.

9. Colorado Avalanche (actual finish T-7, 3 points out of 9th):

This was my favorite pick, and I firmly believed in the Avs not making the playoffs. I was almost right. And if the Canucks and/or Kings hadn't completely collapsed down the stretch, I would have been right.

[Lacroix] also had the most curious move of the offseason, signing Brad May who put out a bounty on Steve Moore last season. The defense corps is shaky once you get past Rob Blake and Karlis Skrastins (and the fact that I give them Skrastins in the “not shaky” department says something). The Anti-Christ JM Liles is a good offensive defenseman, but he ain’t Nick Lidstrom in his own end.

May ended up with 6 points and was a team-worst -14. Probably not the numbers they were looking for out of a guy that could have upset team chemistry that bad (and was at best a PR nightmare). The defense was in fact shaky, though Vaananen should have been mentioned instead of Skrastins as the 2nd defenseman. Actually Rob Blake was the problem early on, but he put it together and had a good second half.

Hedjuk, Sakic and Tanguay are as good as any top 3 forwards you’ll find, but once you get past them there ain’t a lot of scoring punch left.

....Apart from that rookie that stole some of the spotlight from Crosby and Ovechkin in the early going before getting hurt.

I also wrote that the big question was:

Unfairly or not, is 2003-04 Vezina-candidate David Aebischer really a good goalie? Can he carry the load without a viable backup (still) and with a questionable defense corps? He had a great year in 03-04 but I’m still not sold on him. I’m biased, but I really don’t see this team making the playoffs.

The answer was no, he can't carry the load, and he was shipped off to Montreal in one of the strangest deals we've ever seen. Time will tell if it was a good move for either team, but thanks to some suprisingly adequate play by Budaj, and some luck that their competition faired even worse, the Avs backed into the playoffs, and LaCroix was spared from having committed one of the biggest gaffes of all time, by trading his starting goalie for another goalie that was injured.

It was a ballsy pick to have the Avs out of the playoffs, and I was pretty damn close to being right.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets (actual finish 13th, 15 points out of 10th):

To be completely fair to myself on this one, Rick Nash was injured for 30 games, and after he came back, the BJ's were a much better team. They were looking fairly legit down the stretch, and always played the Wings tough. I said that Foote, Hrdina and Berard were great signings. I was half-right. Foote was fairly good, but they probably wanted more out of a guy that they shelled out that much money to. Hrdina was 6th on the team in scoring was was a nice #2 center. Berard was awful. 32 points is pretty good, but he was a (yikes) -29, which was -15 more than the next worst player on the team.

The defense corps is good and Denis is a capable goalie, but I don’t see them quite having enough firepower yet to make the playoffs in the close West.

They didn't have enough firepower, but with Nash they would've been sniffing around the outside of the bubble. Pretty much in line with what I thought. As it stood, they got off to a horrible start, and despite some solid play down the stretch were never remotely a factor this year.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (actual finish 12th, 3 points out of 11th):

This is a team that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of. I debated putting them as high as 7th, but they end up back here and I’m not sure why. They have good forwards (Comrie, Nedved, Nagy, Doan, Hull), a solid defense corps (Morris, Tanabe, Gauthier), and a good goalie in Curtis Joseph. So why do I have them ranked 11th? No clue. I just don’t like something there and I can’t put my finger on it. They’ve got definite upward mobility from this position.

I can put that "not having them in 7th" thing in my good decision column. Comrie, Nagy, and Doan all had great years. Nedved never made an impact and was shipped to Philly, and Brett Hull didn't make it through the first week of the season. Two of the three defensemen I talked about also didn't make it very long in the desert.

Langkow's 59 points would have definitely helped this team out, as I said. Especially when you add in the fact that Nedved (their "big pick up") didn't do anything for them. CuJo was ok, and probably would have been a nice pickup for a team like Vancouver. The end is near for him though, and it's too bad.

12. Chicago Blackhawks (actual finish 14th, 16 points out of 12th):


They’re another sexy pick to have a breakout season, and while I could see it, I’m not going along with it. There’s so much young talent on this team that I feel like they’re still a year away. Tuomo Ruutu is sick though. Adrian Aucoin and Nikolai Khabibulin were great acquisitions. Making Martin Lapointe the third highest-paid player on the team was not. They have a very shaky defense corps. It’s a good thing they signed the Bulin Wall, because they’re going to need him.

Smart move to not go along with it! Though at this point it's extremely optimistic to think that they're "only" a year away. Ruutu is sick, but he was injured for almost the entire season. As was Aucoin. Khabi was a complete disappointment. He had no help in front of him, but a 3.35 and a .886 wasn't what they were looking for. Lapointe was an unbelievable -31. Only one other player on the team was worse than -14. His -31 matched his positive point total though! Probably not worth the money.

13. Edmonton Oilers (actual finish T-7, 21 points out of 13th):

Alright Brian, you win. They had enough to make the playoffs and I really underestimated their goal scoring from the previous season.

They’re fast. They should greatly benefit from the new rules. They added Chris Pronger and Mike Peca. And yet, I don’t think it’s going to be enough (sorry Mgoblog). They don’t have a lot of proven scorers up front…or…well…any that aren’t named Ryan Smyth (Peca had 3 good years, but has come back to Earth the last couple of seasons). Ed note: After watching them last night, Jarrett Stoll is gonna be a player (whether it’s this year or not) and Horcoff looks like he could break out this year. The defense corps is solid, and they expect good things from ex-UNH goalie Ty Conklin.

They did benefit from the new rules, Pronger was pretty darn good for them, even if Peca wasn't really. Smyth had a wonderful year, as Stoll's breakout season was in fact this year with 22-46--68. Horcoff, Torres, and Hemsky had great years as well. 58 assists from a winger (Hemsky) is a very nice total. All that talk about Ty Conklin though....wha happened? He was pretty awful.

14. Minnesota Wild (actual finish 11th, 19 points out of 14th):
Only six teams had fewer goals, and Rolston was a great pickup (led the team in points). He and Gaborik accounted for about 1/3 of the team's goals. They never really contended, and I don't have anything else to say about them because they still bore me silly.

15. St Louis Blues (actual finish 15th):


That playoff streak is coming to an end. There’s just no way it doesn’t, short of 7 plane crashes.

I don't even have to say much more than that. Scott Young was their leading scorer but he didn't crack 50 points and he was -32. They couldn't even keep a goalie healthy. Sanford looks like he at least belongs in the NHL. This season was pretty much just to get a good look at their team, and they can't have been real happy with what they saw. Kessel or Toews. Hell, or Erik Johnson, would look really nice. I'll root for either of the Minnesota guys to go here, because there's no way the Blues don't try to sign them immediately.

Overall I would say I did pretty well in the West. I got 6 of the 8 playoff teams, was within 1 position of 9 of the 15 teams, and was off by 3 positions or more on only 3 of the teams. I'll put that up against anyone in the MSM's predictions. The East was a completely different story....

No comments: