It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for since the Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup in June. It’s the start of the regular season. Every day there will be hockey that counts. Every day there will be amazing goals, unbelievable saves, incredible passes, thrilling fights, and completely boneheaded mistakes.And we will enjoy every second of it because we’re sick like that.
It’s not an 82 game race to the end, it’s a marathon. There will be no Olympics to interrupt things this season and the pressure to win is always present. The Blackhawks start the season with the bull’s-eye on their back and they get to carry that burden through the entire regular season through to the playoffs. It’s a position the franchise hasn’t seen since 1961-1962 and many of their new fans are hoping the team handles things a bit better than the franchise did for nearly 50 years.
So you our loyal PHT readers have been wondering what James and I think of how the season will turn out before all mayhem breaks out at noon today with the Hurricanes and Wild kicking the season off from Finland. If you come with us after the jump, you’ll see just how we think things play out this year as we pick our playoff teams and eventual Stanley Cup champions. You can take these predictions to the bank, just so long as that bank is filled with Monopoly money and candy.
Joe says: The Caps will have a harder go of it in the Southeast, but they’re still awfully good and they’ll still get their points. The divisional races in the other two divisions are much more interesting between Buffalo and Boston and New Jersey and Pittsburgh. The jumble for the 2-5 spots in the playoffs will be fascinating. After that, however, coin toss city. Philly is still awfully good even in spite of their future goaltending headache.
I like Montreal and Tampa Bay to round things out. It’s a shame we can’t get them to play each other in the first round to tie their connections together from the off-season to the postseason. Truth is, the 7-11 spots will be as tight as the 2-5 spots will be. Anyone in there can make the playoffs. Toronto and Carolina mark the line between being close to the playoffs and being God-awful.
James says: Yes, the Southeast Division is much improved, but the Capitals are a still leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. That dominance will help them earn the top seed again. The Devils were already built for the regular season, but adding Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Arnott really cements that fact. Losing Marc Savard really hurts my confidence in Boston, but I still think they’re better than Buffalo. Pittsburgh always seems to slide into that 4-5 seed range, so why not? Philadelphia is deep and talented, but might struggle a bit next season. I like Tampa Bay, especially in the weak Southeast (and Eastern Conference, really).
The eighth spot was the biggest coin toss of them all, though. Ultimately, I like Eric Staal more than Michael Cammalleri and Cam Ward more than Carey Price. I have little-to-no confidence in that pick in particular, as the Senators and Rangers could just as easily take that spot.
As for the Western Conference…
Joe says: Vancouver will look like a juggernaut during the regular season. Kids will write songs about them, the elders will create myths and the hardcore fans will close the tinfoil haberdashery for the regular season. They’ll roll over the Northwest to win the division. Meanwhile, San Jose and Detroit both face heavy challenges from within and hang on to take the other two top spots in the conference. Los Angeles and Phoenix will fight it out over fifth, meanwhile Chicago plays it cool to sit in fourth.
Nashville and St. Louis will scare their fans into thinking they may not make it to the playoffs but ultimately will, meanwhile Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas push hard but fall short. Below them, things turn ugly. Minnesota will struggle, meanwhile Edmonton will finish low but will bring joy to their fans in the form of hope. Anaheim loses an uphill battle having to deal with everyone else in their division. Columbus will struggle mightily dealing with a new system.
James says: The Canucks will feast on a weak Northwest Division and will thrive without having a crazy Olympic Break to mess up their rhythm. The Blackhawks and Red Wings will battle until the bitter end, but Chicago’s youth will trump Detroit’s experience. The Sharks will win the Pacific by outlasting the top-heavy Kings. While they lack elegance, the Predators and Coyotes will yield results from their Chinese Water Torture-style defensive techniques to make it into the playoffs.
Much like the eighth seed in the East, I had trouble picking a No. 8 in the West. Every team has its problems: the Blues will struggle to score, the Flames are weak down the middle, the Ducks cannot play defense and so on. Still, the Blues have a nice young core and should play solid defense in front of their newly acquired goalie Jaroslav Halak. I wouldn’t bet my meager life savings on them, but I feel best about making this choice.
We’ll tell you who we’ve got for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals in our next post.