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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective NHL Forecasting

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Predicting the future is a challenging business. It is governed by many of the same factors that determine the outcome of our own life: hard work and dedication (collecting data and information on every team), confidence and trust (avoiding over-thinking and believing your gut), ability and aptitude (how well do you actually know the game?) and pure luck (see: rectally-lodged horseshoes, leprechauns, David Spade and Heather Locklear). With that in mind, I submit to the public record my projections for the 2008-2009 NHL season, starting with (arguably) the best division in hockey: East Atlantic.

New York Rangers
-- Gone from the roster are Straka, Avery and Jagr (and with passing days, it looks like Shanny as well). Signed to fill the holes are the vapid and diminishing talents of free agents Wade Redden and Marcus Naslund. That pretty much puts their off-season in the loss column, but Glen Sather would tell you otherwise. He moved two former early round picks (Backman and Tyutin) to acquire enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev, and Dan Fritsche. The latter will learn from and play much like stalwart Chris Drury, whereas Zherdev will try and fill the flashy neon shoes of Jagr. Returning contributors will keep the Rangers competitive in the East: Lunqvist and Gomez are both All Star and near the peak of their career, while Dubinsky and Marc Staal continue to mature into solid top-line players.

2008 Record: 42-27-13, 3rd Atlantic
Projected '09: 40-30-12, 3nd Atlantic

Pittsburgh Penguins

-- At short odds to win it all, most will put them in the Cup Final again -- not me. Pittsburgh brilliantly executed their plan to build a team capable of winning the Cup last year, but Detroit proved they did a better job. The Pens revealed their urgency by surprisingly acquiring Marion Hossa, who ironically left a cloud of smoke when he bolted to the aforementioned Red Wings. Unfortunately their taste of success was succeeded by changes on mass. Lost are Hossa, Malone, Roberts, Ruutu and Laraque (and now Ryan Whitney to injury for 5month) meaning their 2009 opening day roster could have 7-10 new names on it. If goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can back up his excellent performance last year, Crosby and Malkin will make sure enough pucks get buried on the other side to keep them in the playoff hunt, quite possibly with home-ice advantage based on their savage level of raw talent.

2008 Record: 47-27-8, 1st Atlantic
Projected '09: 42-29-11, 2rd Atlantic

New Jersey Devils
-- They can be summed up perfectly by a quote from GM Lou Lamoriello:
" People forget—we had 99 points and were in first place 60, 70 percent of the year. We've added two players in Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston, and certainly we're looking for a defenseman or two to come in and play—or push somebody—and we'll see what happens from there."

Who would have thought the brilliant architect of the Devils near-dynasty would have such a good sound bite in him? Thanks Lou, if only you were smart enough to create a winner that was also exciting to watch, we'd care more about your club and less about you (hmm, maybe its deliberate...). Any how, I've been waiting for Marty Brodeur to slide, and he's proven me wrong two years running. Call me stubborn, but age catches everyone and Brodeur is human, right? They'll ride him all year and I wouldn't be surprised if an injury was to blame for their below average performance. That notwithstanding Parise, Elias, Rolston, and the same crew of role players that seemingly over-achieve annually means this division will ice yet another playoff contender.

2008 Record: 46-29-7, 2nd Atlantic
Projected '09: 41-33-8, 4th Atlantic

New York Islanders
-- Brutal. This is a definite re-build year for the Islanders and I have little interest detailing their inevitable ass-raping courtesy of their divisional rivals. On the flip side, they could be celebrating the first-overall pick at the draft lottery in the summer!

2008 Record: 35-38-9, 5th Atlantic
Projected '09: 32-41-9, 5th Atlantic

Philadelphia Flyers
-- Lost Umberger, but gained Simon Gagne back from a year of concussion rehab and an off-season of strength and conditioning. Having scored 40+ twice, the Flyers fans are desperate to keep him healthy and productive on a strong team that has all the tools to make some noise in the Eastern conference. They are extremely deep up the middle (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere) and compliment it well with defenders (Timonen, Coburn, Jones) that can move the puck and contribute at both ends of the rink. Marty Biron was in his prime last season (30-20-9, .918SV%, 2.59GGA, 5SO) which means this young team has a lethal make-up: confidence, talent, motivation. I think they surprise a lot of people and win this division, and maybe get to the Finals if they're healthy.

2008 Record: 42-29-11, 4th Atlantic
Projected '09: 47-25-10, 1th Atlantic

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Ari Baum-Cohen said...

So Philly at +900 or the Rangers at +1600 to win the East?

Derek from Cloud9 Sports said...

I'm super-bullish on the Flyers. They are strong and near-peak in all the right places, it a matter of performance for them. The Rangers got a lot younger and might be a year, maybe two away from a legit push to the Finals.