Saturday, September 26, 2009

NHL Pre-Season Predictacular

Well, it's nearly that time of the year, when I feel the need to put it all on the line and make a series of predictions for the upcoming NHL Season. After a very busy off-season it seems like there are a lot of interesting questions to start the season out.

Can the Penguins repeat? Will Crosby, Ovechkin, or Malkin win the scoring title? Can the Wings go deep in the playoffs? Who will make the Olympic teams? Who will own the Coyotes?

I certainly don't feel like I can answer too many of those questions, but I can make some educated guesses as to where the teams will place in the standings. These are of course guaren-damn-teed*

*Guarantee not valid anywhere*


The last two seasons have seen a surprise Original Six Northeast Division team snatch the first seed, after the Habs and Bruins were able to pull it out the last two years. Logically that means that the Leafs will shock the hockey world and finish first in the East. Right?

Hang up the phone, don't call Vegas, and make that wager please. The Leafs should certainly be the most improved team in the Conference this coming season, and will be a lot of fun to watch for the first time in eight years or so. However, there have been a lot of proactive teams this off-season who should be able to tough it out past the Buds to make it in the Top 8.

The other Canadian teams have undergone similar make-overs, with the Habs having completely revamped their roster, and the Sens making slightly less drastic, but still noticeable changes. The Canadiens have one of those teams that is difficult to put your finger on. They could easily miss the playoffs, but could just as easily be in the Conference finals. Seriously. I'm going to lean towards the former, but if they get off to a hot start I'm changing my mind, and jumping on that band wagon. The Sens on the other hand, I am actually quite optimistic about. A full season with Pascal LeClaire gives them probably the most stability at goaltending that the team has had since the 1920s. Also, their offensive depth is pretty staggering as they have probably the best top 9 forwards in the Eastern Conference for a team that is not based in Pennsylvania. Their defense is questionable, but I think that Phillips and Volchenkov can more than shoulder the load. And if Cloughston can coach as well as he did near the end of last season, they should have a chance to play in the spring.

As for the rest of the Conference, obviously the main focus will be on Pittsburgh and Washington. Can the Pens repeat? Can the Caps make the next step? To be honest, I think that the answer to both of these questions is: no. The Pens have all of the talent on paper to make a run for a repeat, but I think that they may be lacking that extra special oomph to sip from the Mug once more, much like the Ducks a few years ago. The Caps have all of the offense but are lacking a bone-crushing defenseman, and Theodore and Varlamov are big question marks in net. They should have a successful regular season, but I just don't see them getting too deep in the playoffs.

I think that the three biggest usurpers stand to be the Philadelphia Flyers, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers. The Flyers have fantastic depth at forward, incredible defense, but a question mark in net. If Ray Emery can play like it's 2006 and not like it's 2007 then this team should be a Stanley Cup favourite. The two Southeast teams made huge strides last year and are still looking up, I think that the Panthers will finally end their playoff drought this year, with or without Bouwmeester.

As for the rest of the Conference. I think that the Bruins and Devils are still going to be a threat, while the Rangers lack of offensive depth hurts them down the stretch. The Sabres, have the talent to make it to the playoffs, but I think that they are going to suffer from playing in a tough division and will not quite be able to make the dance. The Thrashers and Islanders should toil in obscurity a bit longer, while the Lightning should improve, but not nearly enough. When it's all said and done I think that the Conference should look like this:

1. Boston Bruins
2. Washington Capitals
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Carolina Hurricanes
6. New Jersey Devils
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Florida Panthers
9. Buffalo Sabres
10. Montreal Canadiens
11. Toronto Maple Leafs
12. New York Rangers
13. Tampa Bay Lightning
14. New York Islanders
15. Atlanta Thrashers

With the Conference finals coming down wot the Bruins and the Flyers, with the Flyers pulling it out. Pronger always gets results in his first year with a new team.


And now things get interesting.

Let's start this out with something easy. The Red Wings and Sharks are going to be at the top of the pile. The Coyotes and Avalanche are going to be at the bottom of the pile. Everyone knows that. It's the rest that leaves a lot of question marks.

After a successful season expectations are high in Vancouver. Despite an injury to Luongo and Sundin doing not much, this team still won a very difficult division and made it to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in a decade. The core of their team is still intact, and they added a lot of depth to their defense, and made a great signing in Michael Sammulson. But at the end of the day, I just don't buy it. Their defensive core of Bieksa, Mitchell, and Salo are always injured, so I wouldn't be shocked if they all miss substantial time this season. Also, and more importantly, the Canucks have to go on a record setting 14 game road trip in February because of the Olympics. If this team doesn't go at least .500 on this trip than their season could be in jeopardy in their ultra-competitive division. I know that the Canucks will make the playoffs, but I just don't see them clinching their division again. I instead see them competing with Chicago for the 4-5 spot.

That honour should instead go to the most proactive team of the summer, the Calgary Flames. They made a huge addition getting Jay Bouwmeester, which will give them the best defense in the league, bar none. Also, and probably more importantly, they made a big change behind the bench getting Brent Sutter behind the bench. Sutter deserves all sorts of credit for his work in New Jersey last year, guiding them to a division crown, despite the fact that Brodeur went down with an injury. He should be able to take this ultra-talented team and lead them to the top of the division.

The last Canadian team, Edmonton, is showing a lot of promise. Khabibulin should be an asset between the pipes, and they have a fantastic amount of depth up front, also Souray and Vishnovsky should still be solid powerplay contributors. I think that they will be in a grind with the likes of St. Louis, Minnesota, Anaheim, Columbus, LA, Nashville, and Dallas in the very nebulous 6-13 region of the Western Conference, which really could go anyway for any team.

As for that very large group of teams, I think that the Blues are in the best shape. They have the same great young team that they did last year, only their former-future-franchise Eric Johnson will probably not be injured in a freak golf cart crash. Add in another year of development for the likes of Perron, Backes, and Oshie, and an injury free season for Kariya and MacDonald and they should be a lock to be at the top of that pile.

I am not certain what to think about Minnesota and Anaheim who both made some pretty drastic changes in the off-season, both in terms of players and more importantly, in terms of philosophy. The Wild are trying to open up and the Ducks are thinking about rebuilding. As a Sens fan I know that it is foolish to count on Havlat to be both healthy and productive in the first year of his contract, so I think that the Wild will be disappointed, while I think that the Ducks will be just barely on the outside looking in.

Next up, there is the feel good story of the Blue Jackets, who made it to the playoffs for the first time last year on the backs of a rookie goalie. While this young team seems likely to make it back to the dance. However, I think that this is far too much pressure to put on a sophomore goalie, who is bound to undergo a few growing pains. Just ask Carey Price.

The Predators, Kings, and Stars seem easy to write off after last season, but that would be premature in all of these cases. The Preds have a long history of being better than the sum of their parts, and if their rumoured interest in Kessel was true, then they may be looking to actually increase their payroll, which could make them a challenging team. The Kings are once more one of the NHL's most promising teams, who should finally compete for the playoffs, but have too many questions in net to secure a spot in the Top 8 at this time. Lastly, there is the Dallas Stars. This is a team that one year ago had very lofty expectations, but fell severely short in the end. Some blame Sean Avery, some blame Marty Turco, and some blame Brendan Morrow's ACL. The truth is, it's probably a bit of all three. However, now Avery is gone, Morrow has been healed, and Turco has the opportunity to bounce back. I'm going to go out on a limb, again, and say that the Stars should be able to find their way back into the second season, to the surprise of many.

So it should look something like this:

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Calgary Flames
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. St. Louis Blues
7. Dallas Stars
8. Edmonton Oilers
9. Columbus Blue Jackets
10. Los Angales Kings
11. Minnesota Wilds
12. Anaheim Ducks
13. Nashville Predators
14. Colorado Avalanche
15. Phoenix Coyotes

With the Conference finals coming down to San Jose and Calgary, and just like 2004 the Flames will come out on time. This leads to a showdown between Calgary and Philly. As much as I want to go with Calgary, Philly seems too good...ahh screw it, CALGARY IS WINNING THE CUP IN 2010!!!!!!

Crazy? Let's find on!

Until next time,


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

NHL Off-Season Winners and Losers

NHL training camps all around the league are opening up in the next few days. It certainly has been a busy off-season as all sorts of big names have found new homes. But what teams are better than before? Which ones are worse off? I'll give you the lowdown on my opinions of the current NHL landscape after the shakedown of the last few months.


Philadelphia Flyers: Chris Pronger makes an already potent defense corps absolutely terrifying. He will log big minutes against big stars and do big damage. Also, Ray Emery is certainly an interesting addition. I think that Ray has a lot to prove after his disastrous last season in Ottawa. I fully expect him to bounce back, which should make the Flyers a legitimate threat in the East.

Toronto Maple Leafs: As much as a I hate to say it, they are looking good right now. A top four defense that boasts Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, and Francois Beauchamin is down right terrifying. Also, if Gustavsson turns out to be as good as everyone says that he is, they are definitely solid in between the pipes. However, I really have no idea who is going to score any goals for this team. They will probably miss the playoffs yet again, but should be in better position then they were before.

Montreal Canadiens: Now this is going to be a team to watch for the first month or so of the season. The completely new look first line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammelleri will either crash or burn. If Gomez and Gionta can reignite their magic from a few seasons ago, and Cammelleri can build on his career year then it should be the former, but one never knows. The defensive additions of Spacek, Gill, and Mara are certainly interesting, and Spacek in particular should help their ailing powerplay. Also, a very understated signing was Travis Mohen, who is a very effective defensive forward, and should add a good amount of grit to a team that looks soft on paper. After the disastrous closing of the Centennial Season the team needed a drastic change and that is certainly what it got.

Anaheim Ducks: Sure losing Pronger is a big hit, but they were able to get a Joffrey Lupul and two first round draft picks in exchange for him. They also were able to become Finland's favourite team by uniting national heroes Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. Those three players should make an excellent second line to compliment their big three of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Of course, if they can parlay J-S Gigure for even more help up front they could get even better.

Calgary Flames: Remember what I said about Toronto's defense? Now replace those four names with Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Reghr, and Corey Sarich and you may as well call them War, Famine, Death, and Pestilence because they will bring an Apocalypse on their opposition. Also add in the highly predictable coaching change, and the Flames may just be able to finally get over the hump and be a Western Conference powerhouse. Of course, they will need to add some offense to replace Mike Cammalleri's missing goals, but they should be able to figure something out.

Florida Panthers: I gave this team a lot of love last year, and I'm ready to do it again. They knew that they were going to loose J-Bo, but were able to add Jordan Leopold which is certainly a step up from nothing. They also added Scott Clemensen who was simply brilliant in New Jersey last year, and I honestly thought that he would end up starting somewhere. This gives the Panthers lots of options in between the pipes. Their forward crop of Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Stephen Weiss grew in leaps and bounds last year, but fell just short of making the playoffs. I think that this team legitimately has a chance to make it to the big dance for the first time in ten seasons.

Boston Bruins: Sure they didn't add anything, but they didn't lose anyone. Their core of Kreji, Lucic, Savard, and Kessel are still Bruins and that should terrify the rest of the Eastern Conference.


Chicago Blackhawks: Last season I applauded them for their big additions of Christobal Huet and Brian Campbell, but both ended up having terrible seasons. Somehow though, the team was able to make it to the Conference Finals despite their big name, big money signings. The team then signs a 30 year old Marian Hossa to a staggering 12-year contract, which is being investigated by the league for attempting to circumvent the salary cap. For their sake I hope that they were being crooked, because a 42 year old Marian Hossa would be next to useless, especially given how much of a “contract year” type player he has turned into. To top off the idiocy, they mess up the offer sheets for Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg, two of their building blocks, and are forced to pay more to keep them around. This puts them closer to the cap, and given the fact that both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are in need of big money contract extensions in the near future, makes this once promising team look a little bit bleaker in my eyes.

Atlanta Thrashers: If this team has any hope of resigning Ilya Kovalchuk, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, then they need to surround him with talented players. Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina were wastes of space in Toronto, chances are they will be again in Hotlanta. Look for this to be Kovalchuk's last season as a Thrasher, which will make this team even more pathetic in the future. Ah well, not like anyone will notice.

New York Rangers: Their multi-year signing of Marian Gaborik was the summers biggest gamble. As he could end up scoring 50 goals, or he could end up missing 50 games due to an injury. Both seem equally likely. While they were able to free up cap-room in trading away the over paid Scott Gomez, they are still stuck with Redden and Drury's massive contracts. They also added Ales Kottalik to their long list of over-priced contracts, signing him to $3 million a year, which must make sense to someone, because it sure is not me. Also, they chose to allow their most consistent scorer last season, Nikolai Zherdev walk away in arbitration over $600,000. Not the best decision for a team that struggled to score goals last year.

In Between:

Ottawa Senators: Kovalev was certainly a good signing, and he should mesh well with Alfreddson, Fisher, and Spezza. However, as of this posting Dany Heatley remains a Senator, so I have no choice but to keep them here. This has proven to be a massive distraction for the entire organization. One has to wonder if they had not spent so much time dealing with him than perhaps they could have made some bigger splashes. Had the rumoured Penner/Smyd/Cogliano trade happened then they would be squarely in the winners category. Also there is talk of him going to San Jose for Ehroff, Cheechoo and a first round pick, which is at the very least intriguing. However, given the way things are now, I'm on the fence for their chances next year.

New York Islanders: They made the right decision in taking Tavares first overall. Sure they need defense more and Hedman would be a perfect fit for that, but this is a team that needs fans and desperately needs a face for the franchise, which he should be. I think that he may not have a Crosby/Ovechkin/Malkin/Kane/Toews style rookie year that we have grown accustomed to in recent years, but rather he should have a slower build much like Joe Thornton and Vincent LeCavalier went through a decade ago, and hey they both turned out to be not too bad. But they started making some bad decisions when the free agency period began, signing two goaltenders in Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson. Does this mean that DiPietro has not yet recovered from his injury? Or are they planning on holding one to trade to another team should their goalie either fail or get injured? Also, they really should be chasing some sort of offensive help for Tavares in his rookie year, because right now he has next to none.

Vancouver Canucks: I never know what to think of this team in the off-season. The signing of Mikael Samuelsson was a good one, and he should compliment Kessler and Burrows as excellent two way forwards. However, they let Ohlund go and do not replace his big minutes. While it seems like Mitchell, Salo, and Bieksa can shoulder the load, the fact remains that those three have missed a ton of time for injury in the past few years, so it remains to be seen if they will be able to provide those big minutes. Also, it appeared the Cory Schneider was developing well as an NHL backup, yet they got and sign Andrew Raycroft of all people, leaving Schneider to play in the minors. On the plus side, it appears that Cody Hodgson is poised to make it in the big time for the Canucks, and has already been touted as a favourite for Rookie of the Year. Let's hope they don't screw him up!

San Jose Sharks: After their absolutely embarrassing first round loss they promised all sorts of changes. There was all sorts of talk of Marleau and/or Thornton finding a new home. So far there have been no major additions, which could just mean more of the same for this talented but underachieving team.

Los Angeles Kings: They definitely made the right call in picking Brayden Schenn as opposed to trading him, but after that I start to wonder what exactly is going to happen with this team. In bringing in Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi they add two solid depth players with winning pedigrees who should be positive influences on their young players like Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson. However, I do feel that they are overpaying for both of them. Scuderi is not at all worth the $3million plus that he is set to receive and Ryan Smyth is a fantastic character addition, but has been a career 70 point man, certainly not worth making over $5 million. Also, Kyle Quincey who was traded as part of the package for Ryan Smyth was blossoming into a solid top four defenseman, who certainly cost less than Scuderi. This team is a solid dark horse candidate to make the playoffs, but when they have to play San Jose and Anaheim eight times a year, one never knows.

Right? Wrong? Let's spend the next few months finding out...

Until next time,


Friday, September 04, 2009

Shades of Wrestlemania...6 Months in Advance

Well now that Summerslam is officially over, it seems like the biggest Wrestling event of the year, Wrestlemania is just around the corner!!! In keeping with my traditions here on the bloggero, I'll try to predict the card, much like I did about 6 months ago. Some things will stay the same to me, some...not so much.

So without further ado....

Winner Take All:
ECW and Unified Tag Titles on the Line

William Regal (ECW Champion) and Vladmir Kozlov and Ezekial Jackson (Tag Champions)
Shelton Benjamin and Cryme Tyme

This seems like a pretty logical match to me that will get everyone on the card a little bit. I think that Regal will win the title from Captain Charisma, and should be in for a nice long reign. I'm not sure how the titles will end up getting to Kozlov and Jackson, but it seems like a nice fit. Also teaming Benjamin up with Cryme Tyme could do wonders for him. I'd like to see the challengers win here.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match

John Morrison vs. Christian vs. MVP vs. Rey Mysterio
vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Matt Hardy vs. Evan Bourne vs. The Big Show

The usual massive match with some of the usual suspects like MVP, Matt Hardy and Kofi Kingston. However, for intrigue I've added Evan Bourne and Rey Mysterio, who would excel in this environment, and The Big Show who was originally penciled in for this past years match, but was placed into the World Title Match instead. I think that he would actually be a solid addition to the match, as the sight of him trying to climb the ladder, throwing little guys out of the ring, or crashing down through tables would be all kinds of awesome. I ranked the wrestlers in order of who I think should win. If the WWE wants to create new stars, they need to realize that John Morrison is going to be at the forefront of the new generation. Give him a chance to run with the ball. Of course, this assumes the Rey Mysterio will not quit the WWE over his recent suspension, but if he does he could be easily replaced by The Miz, The Hurricane, or Tyson Kidd.

Battle Royal for the United States Title

Jack Swagger vs. The World

Alright, so I couldn't exactly think of a good place to put either Swagger or the US Title on the card so I came up with this idea. Have Swagger (the US Champion) complain to some RAW Guest host or another about being left off of the card. Since the host does not like the treatment, he books him to defend his title in a special 26 man Battle Royal consisting of wrestlers from all three brands. This would of course allow a lot of other wrestlers to get a place on the card, and it could have some fun dynamics between different wrestlers. I would choose to have Swagger get eliminated quickly by everyone, and have Tyson Kidd win it to steal the US Title back to Canada and Smackdown. Of course, the draft could easily bring that title (or the IC one) back to RAW, but it could make for some fun promos in the mean time.

Extreme Rules

Jeff Hardy vs. CM Punk

I know that Jeff is gone for now. But I have a feeling that he won't stay gone. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him come back in early 2010. Logically this would have to lead to a showdown with CM Punk. Really, what better place to see Punk get his due than on the grandest stage of them all?


The Undertaker vs. Dolph Ziggler

While this seems like an odd pairing, and in many ways it probably is. But I think that the Undertaker is going to be used to elevate someone new come March. Ziggler has been on quite the roll since moving to Smackdown, and would be a great person to think that he can take on The Dead Man. Of course, he would end up losing, but so long as he looks good, it's something.

Third Generation Showdown

Ted Dibiase vs. Randy Orton

It seems like the WWE wants to split up the Legacy, and turn Ted face. I'm not 100% certain that he could play a Main Event face, but I think that if he is going to, it's going to need a big time showdown with Orton. I would love to see Dibiase get kicked out of Legacy, take a leave for a while and then slowly hunt down Orton before finally getting a one-on-one match with him at Wrestlemania.

Women's Title Match

Michelle McCool (c) vs. Natalya Niedhart

The typical bathroom break match. Although I think that this match could be incredibly good. I'd love to see Niedhart get a win here on this stage.

D-X Explodes

Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels

Do you know that these two have not had a match in five years? Also, do you know that they have never had a showdown at Wrestlemania? That kind of logic made HBK-Taker fresh, and it could again here. I have heard a ton of rumours that Shawn is thinking of retiring after Wrestlemania 26, and what better way for him to go out than a match with Triple H?

WWE Title Match

John Cena (c) vs. Batista

The WWE wanted this to be a big match at this past Wrestlemania but Batista's injury ruined that one. I guess they should really push it back to this year. It'll still be a major showdown between two major talents. And with Batista's talent is fading, it should happen sooner rather than later.

World Title Match

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Edge

Probably the most set in stone match on the card. I'm not sure that it will be for the title, but it would be so much better if it was. These two have proven to be two of the best performers in the company over the last few years so they really and truly deserve to get the main event slot. I think that it would be great to have Jericho retain here only for Morrison to come out, cash in his shot and win the title. Now that would make a new star and a Wrestlemania moment for sure.

I think that just about does it, keep watching in the next 6 months to see how right/wrong I am.

Until next time,