Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meet Me Halfway: Preseason Picks vs. Reality

Hockey is a funny sport. You just never know what's going to happen.

Case in point... many things I expected to happen this year in the NHL have not happened.

I had such amazing luck (maybe a little skill...?) in picking the Playoffs last year, that I figured, "You know what? I'm going to try and pick the conferences this year while I'm at it."

I was cool, I was confident, and I made picks for the East and West, and felt pretty good about them.

Well, there have obviously been some mixed results. A few teams have done inexplicably well this year, while others have gone completely to hell.

But you know what? Attempting to pick the conferences was just an exercise in entertainment.

Just like this midpoint report is... an exercise in entertainment. I can laugh at myself

I assure you, I was not on anything when I made these predictions to begin with... and my disclaimer is that I did title them "Fearless (Maybe Just Crazy)" predictions when I wrote them. Take it for what it's worth.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1. New York Rangers
My Prediction: 7th
My Explanation/Excuse: Tops in the conference? Did NOT see that coming. Now, we are only halfway through the season, still plenty of room to move. I have to give credit where it's due... this team is doing a hell of a lot better than expected.

2. Boston Bruins
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Obviously, I wasn't far off here. The Bs' start in October was flat-out scary, though. A couple significant win streaks woke them up, though. Good stuff.

3. Florida Panthers
My Prediction: 14th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ummmmm... oops? However, barring an injury to Jose Theodore that keeps him out of the Playoffs, the Panthers could finish first, and they'd still exit in the first round.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Not far off here, really, but I never imagined anyone other than Pittsburgh would stay close. However, with Sid Crosby's abbreviated return to the ice -- and extended return to the IR -- the Flyers have the Rangers keeping things interesting in the Atlantic

5. Ottawa Senators
My Prediction: 12th
My Explanation/Excuse: I can't explain this. Freakish luck?

6. New Jersey Devils
My Prediction: 9th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Devils appear to have mostly righted the ship so far, after last year's disaster. The future is definitely uncertain after Martin Brodeur's retirement. This season is probably the team's last shot at a Cup for the foreseeable future, unless they find a money goaltender in the offseason.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs
My Prediction: 10th
My Explanation/Excuse: Not bad, Leafs... not bad at all. Phil Kessel has broken out, and the rest of the team seems to be keeping up nicely. Have to say, I'm pretty impressed.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins
My Prediction: 4th
My Explanation/Excuse: I did not see Sidney Crosby getting hurt again. They're doing pretty well, considering.

9. Winnipeg Jets
My Prediction: 13th
My Explanation/Excuse: Hockey's back in Winnipeg, and they're packing the house with NHL-starved fans who give a damn. Claude Noel is looking really good right now. Hell, I referred to his first non-interim head coaching job as an unenviable task. But you know what? Good for him, and good for the team.

10. Washington Capitals
My Prediction: 1st
My Explanation/Excuse: No excuses here. Vokoun has been decent, and Neuvirth has not pushed him. Neither one seems to be getting much help from the guys in front of them, but they team is starting to wake up. I think it's only a matter of time before they're back in the top half gunning for home ice in the Playoffs.
 
11. Buffalo Sabres
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Rough year in Buffalo. Guys getting hurt, Miller inadvertently hurting himself. I definitely saw them doing better this year.
 
12. Montreal Canadiens
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Erik Cole has been a huge asset, and Max Pacioretty has rebounded nicely from that horrifying neck injury from last season. The skaters are putting up quality numbers, but Carey Price has slipped back into mediocrity

13. Tampa Bay Lightning
My Prediction: 5th
My Explanation/Excuse: Wow... what the hell happened to this team? I thought they'd threaten the Bruins in the Eastern Finals again this year, but Dwayne Roloson's game in net has gone to hell this year. Stamkos is still a beast, but that may not be enough.

14. Carolina Hurricanes
My Prediction: 11th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ouch. It hurts not having Jeff Skinner for the past month. They're just not generating the offense they need. and Cam Ward can't carry the kind of load he's carrying this year.
 
15. New York Islanders
My Prediction: 15th
My Explanation/Excuse: Holy crow, I actually nailed one! Oh, wait... it's the Islanders. Who didn't pick them last?

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1. Vancouver Canucks
My Prediction: 1st
My Explanation/Excuse: After a rough start, the Canucks are back atop the Western Conference, where I figured they would be. Because of that rough start, though... they haven't been able to distance themselves from the rest of the Northwest. Yet.

2. Detroit Red Wings
My Prediction: 3rd
My Explanation/Excuse: I figured they'd top the Central easily, but after some so-so play in October, they're back on track. However, right now they're in a three-way tie with Chicago and St. Louis. The standings in the Central could very well be changing every day for the next couple months.

3. San Jose Sharks
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Like the Wings (or any team in the top ten, really) the Sharks just happen to be here. The top ten teams in the West are separated by eight points. The Canucks are the only team with a division lead larger than three points.

4. St. Louis Blues
My Prediction: 8th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ken Hitchcock. 'Nuff said. The Blues were awful out of the gate, and convinced the Jackets to let them talk to Hitch. He could win the Adams trophy if this keeps up. This team's on fire.

5. Chicago Blackhawks
My Prediction: 9th
My Explanation/Excuse: Oops. I saw the Hawks as the odd-team-out in the Central. Obviously, certain things in the Central did not go as predicted. Corey Crawford was not a fluke, and the Hawks' core players are scoring at or near a point-a-game pace.

6. Los Angeles Kings
My Prediction: 5th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Kings have been up and down all season, and are in the mix in the really close Western Conference. Quick has been terrific in goal, and Anze Kopitar continues to produce quality offense. After holding out well into training camp for a higher salary than Kopitar, Drew Doughty is on pace to (again) see his point production decline.

7. Nashville Predators
My Prediction: 4th
My Explanation/Excuse: It's Nashville... I'm not far off here. Barry Trotz can coach and he can get this team to win.

8. Minnesota Wild
My Prediction: 10th
My Explanation/Excuse: They've scored the second-fewest goals in the conference (even fewer than the Jackets, in fact). Still, the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have still helped. The backup goalies have stepped up to contribute, as Niklas Backstrom has had a so-so year.

9. Dallas Stars
My Prediction: 13th
My Explanation/Excuse: Remember the hype around Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson? Believe it. Benn's leading the team in scoring at just 22 years old. Kari Lehtonen has been really good in net, too.

10. Colorado Avalanche
My Prediction: 11th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Avs are barely on the outside looking in, and have surpassed expectations so far.

11. Phoenix Coyotes
My Prediction: 12th
My Explanation/Excuse: Rough year for Mike Smith as a number-one goaltender. Still, he's doing alright for a former East backup coming west in his first season. Even at age 39, Ray Whitney is still putting up points. The dogs are not far from the Playoff pack.

12. Calgary Flames
My Prediction: 15th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Flames are living and dying by streaky play right now. Win three, lose four, win four, lose five. Painful... but still not last (and, hell, I bet the Jackets would kill for the kind of streaks the Flames have had).

13. Edmonton Oilers
My Prediction: 14th
My Explanation/Excuse: Amazing to think the Oilers got off to such a hot start, then plummeted back to earth and gunning for another high draft pick. Not a number one draft pick, probably, but....

14. Anaheim Ducks
My Prediction: 7th
My Explanation/Excuse: Did not see this coming. Top Ducks like Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne are still scoring, but the goaltending has been suspect all around.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Nope. I don't want to talk about it.

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