Now that the All-Star break is winding down and teams are reuniting and returning to practice today, this is a good time to take a look back at my preseason predictions to see hits and misses at roughly the 50 game mark of the season.
There have been major disparities in games played up until this point but the gap has narrowed now with the Rangers, Thrashers and Ducks have the least games left with 30 and ten teams have 33 games left, and everyone else in between.
Here are my preseason predictions along with the current standings in parentheses and thoughts at the All-Star break.
1. Detroit (2) The Red Wings have performed about as expected but have been hit with a rash of injuries again this season including to both Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood. They will still win the Central and be in the top three at the end.
2. Vancouver (1) The Canucks have really been on a roll since the first of December and stormed to the top of the West. Roberto Luongo hasn’t lost in regulation since December 5. They should easily win the Northwest and most likely compete for the President’s Trophy.
3. Los Angeles (11) My darling team of the preseason has not performed as expected and are facing a long string of road games in February. I still think there is too much talent not to make the playoffs.
4. San Jose (8) The Sharks have mucked along for most of the season and the only consistency they have shown is that of mediocrity. Again, I find it hard to imagine that they will not make the top eight in the end.
5. Nashville (4) The Predators have surpassed most folk’s expectations to this point, especially considering the loss on numerous key players to injury. Their call-ups from the AHL are a testimony to their number one prospects ranking. I am not surprised with their standing but find it hard to believe that they have lost most of their games in two five game losing streaks, a four gamer, and the current two game slide.
6. Chicago (7) The Hawks have performed about as expected and have made the transition from Marty Turco to Cory Crawford as their leader in goal. They should battle the Preds for second in the Central as the season winds down.
7. Phoenix (6) Ilya Bryzgalov has carried the Coyotes again this year and the team has played well in the competitive Pacific Division and Keith Yandle has turned into a scoring machine and was a deserved late addition to the All-Star game.
8. St. Louis (13) The Blues have struggled with injuries to key players and have not done well with replacements from their farm system. Jaroslav Halak has been the key to keeping them in range of a playoff spot. It will be interesting to see if they make a run as players return.
9. Colorado (9) The Avs are right where I projected them at this point. The youngsters have played well and a return of Peter Forsberg could really be an asset in their development. At this point, I think they have a better than 50% chance to make the playoffs.
10. Calgary (12) The Flames have made an incredible 6-1-3 run leading up to the break and are a total surprise after I had declared them the second most mismanaged team in the NHL a month into the season.
11. Anaheim (5) Last year I picked the Ducks to win the West and I think my preseason pick of eleventh showed a bit of bitterness from my big miss before. Even though they are currently in fifth, I think they have less than a 50% chance of the playoffs.
12. Edmonton (15) I overestimated the ability of the young core to win games for the Oilers. Their goaltending has been horrible, giving up a league worst 168 goals.
13. Minnesota (10) The Wild have also been a surprise but I don’t see them making the top eight. Jose Theodore was a great off season pick up.
14. Dallas (3) What can I say? I thought they has nothing to offer. Kari Lehtonen has been healthy for the second season in his career and has lived up to the potential everyone has always expected. I think it is 50-50 on them wining the Pacific but they will make the playoffs.
15. Columbus (14) The Jackets are about I as expected. They are consistent, being very average on the road as well as at home. They may play better down the stretch but will be sellers at the trade deadline, once again.
Eastern Conference and Finals Predictions...
1. Washington (5) After charging out of the gate at the start of the season, the Capitals have come back to the pack and are four points out of the Southeast Division lead. Surprisingly, I think Tampa may hold on to the lead at the end of the season.
2. Pittsburgh (4) The Penguins have weathered the storm of injuries and should be getting back into form as Sidney Crosby appears ready to return. I think they have at least a 50% chance of getting past the Flyers for the Atlantic title.
3. Boston (3) The Bruins have been playing well and have the second best road record in the league. In spite of the injury to Mark Savard, they should be able to hold on to the Northeast lead as they will get little pressure from the rear.
4. Philadelphia (1) The Flyers remain solid this year and show no signs of a Stanley Cup hangover. No one could have imagined that Segei Bobrowsky would have had the rookie year that he has had. I still feel that they have a cool spell coming that could allow the Penguins to pass them.
5. New Jersey (15) Along with Dallas, this was my huge miss of the year. I didn’t expect the team to challenge for the division lead after the Kovalchuk fiasco, but I never expected them to be last in the league. They wave shown a resurgence lately so 12th or 13th is not out of their range by year’s end.
6. Buffalo (10) I expected more out of the Sabres and they still may be able to make a run down the stretch and get back in the top eight. They will need better defense and Ryan Miller to play lights out for that to happen.
7. Tampa Bay (2) I expected a major improvement this year and felt sure that the Lightning would make the playoffs but they have really gelled and become a force in the Eastern Conference. The addition of Roloson may be the move that carries them deep into the playoffs.
8. Ottawa (13) The Sens were a minor miss for me. I thought they would sneak into the playoffs but I was wrong. They seem to be getting worse and will be big sellers at the trade deadline.
9. Montreal (7) The Habs have done a little better than I expected, primarily due to Carey Price playing much better than anticipated. I still will be surprised if they make the playoffs at season’s end.
10. Toronto (12) I keep waiting for Brian Burke’s magic to kick in but it won’t be this year. Look for a flurry of activity at the trade deadline as the Leafs try to continue to build for the future.
11. Atlanta (8) The Thrashers are a difficult team to figure. I think they will be around the eighth position going forward but I don’t think they will be in the playoffs at the end of the season.
12. New York Rangers (6) Every year, I look at the Rangers on paper and see a very mediocre team but they always seem to do better than expected. I still believe it will come down to the end for them to try to sneak in the playoffs.
13. Carolina (9) I had high hopes for the Hurricanes last season and they let me down. This year they have played much better and have gotten a huge shot in the arm from Jeff Skinner. If they can figure out how to score more consistently and Cam Ward plays well, I would think they have at least a 50% chance of the top eight.
14. New York Islanders (14) The Islanders are in grave danger to being buried in 15th place once again. Everything possible has gone wrong for them again this year. The good news is that they will get another top pick to add to their stable of young talent.
15. Florida (11) The Panthers have been better than expected this year and I’m not exactly sure why that is. I expect that they will slip a bit as the season winds down and will be sellers at the trade deadline.
As for the playoffs, This is what I said in the pre-season.
In the West, I see first round winners being the Wings, Canucks, Kings and Predators. The Kings will exorcise demons and move on to defeat the Predators in the finals.
In the East, the Caps, Pens, Bruins and Flyers will advance to the second round. The Pens and Caps will meet in the finals to help the league in their negotiations with NBC and the Pens will reign.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, we will see Sidney Crosby end any speculation about who the best player in hockey is as the Penguins will beat the Kings in a fun series to watch.
I'll stick with that at this point and acknowledge that the Kings are a long shot to go deep at this point. We will see how things develop between now and June.
All Star Game...
We would like to thank Ryan Porth of RLD Hockey for our complete POTG All-Star Weekend coverage. Check out more from Ryan at RLD Hockey. His latest is the top five plays of the weekend.
Amanda DiPaolo and Jeremy Gover were also in Raleigh over the weekend and also have plenty of coverage. Jeremy has an AS edition of the 303:30.
Gary Bettman gave his "State of the Game" speech in Raleigh on Saturday. Aaron Wood has the complete transcript.
Dirk Hoag hs his take on the live Guardians at the All-Star game.
In Pred Nation...
The Predators return to the ice this afternoon at 2:00 at the Bridgestone Arena.
The best news on the Predator front this weekend came from AJ at PMFF who ran into Jordin Tootoo who indicated that he would "be back soon."
Ryan Porth looks at the elephant in the living room that everyone wants to ignore... re-signing Shea Weber. His big game in Raleigh just upped his value.
Amanda DiPaolo has the story of Nashville being voted the most under-rated team by the NHLPA. Here is the complete poll.
Brandon Felder returns after a long absence with a look at the Preds at mid-season.
Jas Faulkner has her weekly greetings from Smashville. She also reveals the truth abut Shea Weber and a few other all-stars.
On the Forecheck opens voting on the play of the month for January.
Rachel at What the Puck has come out of hiding.
Patten Fuqua has the story on Linus Klasen stealing the show at the AHL skills contest.
The Milwaukee Admirals had a big weekend with a blowout on Friday and Roman Josi scoring a game winner in OT on Saturday. Blake Geoffrion may have come of age in the process with 4 goals and 2 assists for the weekend.
Hockey's future looks at the Predators 2006 draft which may be filled with late bloomers. Blake Geoffrion, Mark Dekanich and Ryan Flynn all went the college route which generally is slower to send players to the NHL.
Last but not least is Mark Willoughby's weekly My View.
Around the NHL...
Ryan Porth looked at what the standings would look like at the break with an Olympic format point system.
It just never ends on the Coyotes sale front. The NHL confirms that there are not troubles in how the sale is proceeding. Here is an audio clip of Bill Daly dispelling the rumors. Gary Bettman has his discussion on the topic too.
David Shoalts shoots at a different target for relocation, the Atlanta Thrashers.
Rob Blake has joined the NHL hockey ops department. They really seem to be loading up on ex-players before the upcoming NHLPA negotiations.
This would never happen in the USA. A curling match delayed the CBC coverage of the all-star game.
Odds and Ends...
I am growing impatient waiting for a Netflix app for the Droid. It may be available soon but it sounds like only initially for phones running Snapdragon.
This may be the stupidest lawsuit ever. A woman has sued Diddy for a trillion dollars for being responsible for the World Trade Center attacks and fathering her child.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass