Forget Christmas! The start of NHL Hockey season truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Time to wipe the slate clean as 32 teams being their journey yet again to claim the ultimate trophy in sports. This season, the NHL returns with a new (ish) look – new divisions, new faces, and old faces wearing new sweaters – but like Led Zeppelin said, the song remains the same.
Looking back on last year’s predictions, we were slightly psychic on some and wildly, horribly, almost comically off-base with others. Wonder how we’ll fare this year…
#1 - Chuck: Bruins. With the addition of Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla, the Bruins might finally have a solution to their lack of wingers with finish. Losing Seguin hurt me and Brad Marchand much more than it did the dynamic of this team. With Tuukka in net, a crop of youngsters ready to make the leap to the big time, and the acrid taste of Stanley Cup disappointment still linger in their mouths, expect the Black and Gold to pick up right where they left off.
Pants: Penguins. For the same reasons as last year, including being pissed about an ungraceful playoff exit. All I want is a full season and a healthy Crosby, forever and ever. Amen. The scoring chemistry in the Crosby-Dupuis-Kunitz line gives me chills and I like the way Neal & Malkin are shaping up around a combination of Jokinen and Bennett.
#2 - Chuck: Penguins. This team is stacked like Jenga so of course they are going to finish high in any pre-season poll. Pittsburgh’s wild card is their goaltending and with Vokoun out, Fleury is going to need to get out of his own head if he wants to help his team. I don’t think the GAA will be anything fantastic but the Pens’ high powered offsence will erase any need for spectacular goal tending.
Pants: Bruins. They’ re tough and mean and that’ll go a long way in a long season. With additional scorers on board and the distraction of Seguin’s sophomore slump traded away, I don’t expect any let-up here.
Pants didn’t pick the Bolts or Canes to make the playoffs. She feels really bad about that.
#3 - Chuck: Red Wings. Zetterberg and his team of aged wonders have jumped to the East with the new NHL realignment and with that will come new match-ups and new potental for rivalries. While the additions of Alfredsson and Weiss did exactly infuse this team with a youthful glow, they are still solid components and coupled with the goaltending of Jimmy Howard could help them make a run.
Pants: Capitals. Oh, I’m doing it. Get your asssssssses in gear, boys. Ovechkin has successfully completed the switch to right wing and Adam Oates’ system. It clicked like magic late last season. Made-of-glass Mike Green is healthy and, fingers and toes and eyes crossed, staying that way. Did I mention he led all d-men in goals last season? Holtby’s older in net, we have multiple 2Cs and everybody’s getting married next summer. Don’t you the Cup at your wedding, Mikey/Ovi/Nicky?!
#4 - Chuck: Rangers. Under new coach Alain Vigneault, players like Stepan, Callahan, and Zuccarello could have the opportunity to flash their skills more than they did under the Draconian rule of Tortorella. The backbone of this team remains Henrik Lundqvist. The goalie/ridiculously good-looking human/vampire being is the final year of a contract which makes winning the Cup all that more important for the Rangers. If they don’t, stranger things could be afoot at MSG.
Pants: Flyers. Last season was
AWESOME rough in Philly. I don’t expect that to happen twice. Gingeroux will return to form as one of the most exciting players in the NHL, their goaltending nightmare has hopefully ended and honestly, they just love to bug the crap out of me. Vinny will suddenly have another 40+ goal season because that’s my luck.
Cartman’s first rule of Fight Club…
#5 - Chuck: Senators. Despite the loss of Alfredsson, the Sens are a team that could make a playoff run…given that their players remain healthy. The intermitten losses of Spezza, Karlsson, Anderson, and Michalek crippled the Senators, so it is exciting to think of what can be done if they all remain off the IR. Ottawa also had 4 of the top rookie scorers in the league last season which could paint an interesting picture in the East.
Pants: Red Wings. They’re always in here somewhere, though never quite so low as they were last year. Joining the Eastern Conference could really help them – much less/shorter travel for the old boys.
#6 - Chuck: Islanders. John Tavares, in his polo shirt/khaki pant superhero costume will come to save the day. Islanders showed a lot of heart in their playoff series and gave fans something to get excited about for the first time since the 1980s. It’s hard to live up to that legacy but the Islanders have an expanding roster of young spritely forwards. They won’t contend (too many defensive issues) but they could make it quite interesting.
Pants: Rangers. Like how I put them 6 and the Caps at 3 so they’d play each other in the first round? And you can find me with my head in an oven somewhere?! The NYR toughed out a tough season last year. With Coach AV presumably endeavoring to reclaim Sad Brad’s hockey skills, it should be all sunshine and cupcakes in the Rangers locker room now. Give them half a season to adjust and expect to see a big push in the second half.
#7 - Chuck: Maple Leafs. Could things be looking up in Toronto? The Leafs got gritty and grimy in the off-season adding post-season veterans David Clarkson and Dave Bolland. The addition of Jonathan Bernier was also a savvy move – not only does Bernier have playoff experience, but it also creates a little competition for Reimer for that top spot.
Pants: Islanders. This whole thing is on John’s shoulders, with the huge percentage of offense he’s figured in the last two seasons. The only people who believe the Islanders can win are the Islanders, and that kind of gumption goes a long way. Also, I drafted Nabokov so there’s some wishful thinking here. Get ‘em, John! And by “them” I mean not my teams, okay?
#8 - Chuck: Blue Jackets. Okay, you can stop laughing now – this could actually happen. After their 11th hour push to the playoffs last season inspiring hashtags everywhere and the Vezina win by Bobrobsky, Columbus is a team that might make this interesting. They’ll get Gaborik for a full season and with the addition of Nathan Horton, they are giving themselves a bit of that veteran presence that they lack.
Pants: Senators. With a healthy crew and the addition of Bobby Ryan, this team is more solid Sens than the pesky Sens of last season.
So there are our Eastern Conference pre-season picks. Who do you think should be on this list? Who is your dark horse pick?