Wed Aug 18 11:10am EDT
Preseason predictions are like crazy relatives, in the sense that everyone has one but none should be taken all that seriously. Unless you really believe the government placed cameras on the golf course to track the movements of your Uncle Morty.
We're nowhere near making our own predictions for the 2010-11 NHL regular season, if only because (a) there's still plenty of time for dramatic changes to occur this summer for certain teams (rhymes with "Schlovalchuk") and (b) we're sort of in denial that training camp is actually almost here, because it seriously cuts into our Justin Bieber coverage.
But The Hockey News is always out of the gate early with its bold predictions, which are featured in the annual yearbook and slowly rolling out on its website. That includes standings predictions for next season, which have gone far enough to reveal which teams THN doesn't believe will make the playoff cut next season.
Oh, this is not happy news for the New York Rangers faithful ...
From THN, here's how it believes the Eastern Conference plays out:
15. Florida Panthers
13. New York Rangers
10. Ottawa Senators
Obviously the kick to the stones here is for the Rangers. Sure, outside of Alex Frolov there wasn't a key acquisition this summer to kick-start a team that was one shootout goal away from the postseason last spring.
But 13th, and behind the Leafs? THN's justification:
Why: Missing the playoffs on the last day of the regular season must still be stinging the Rangers and it won't help we've slotted them in at unlucky No. 13 for 2010-11. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist(notes) is about the only reason the Rangers are still afloat and you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes Marian Gaborik(notes) will make it through another season untouched by injury.
The argument on Gaborik can be made two ways: The obvious pessimism that the porcelain player will have a truncated season due to injury, or optimism that a player who appeared in 77 games three seasons ago and 76 last season can play around that range again.
We're not sure the Rangers are a playoff team, but we're fairly sure they're not the 13th best team in the East. Not with Lundqvist and the blue-liners in front of him (assuming Gilroy and Del Zotto don't regress, and that Marc Staal(notes) gets a contract), and not when the offense could be improved with Frolov and Norway's scoring ace Mats Zuccarello-Aasen.
But, in fairness, Sports Illustrated has them 12th, too.
The other slight surprise here might be the Hurricanes, who seem to be the dark-horse darlings for a lot of folks in August. They're going to be better on the blue line than last year, but is this enough up front to complete offensively?
As for the Western Conference:
15. Edmonton Oilers
13. Minnesota Wild
12. Dallas Stars
11. Anaheim Ducks
While the teams listed here are, by and large, understandably listed here, is this yet another example of picking against a weakened Nashville Predators team that inevitably still makes the playoff cut?
THN, on the Preds:
Why: Proficient at piecing together rosters on a dime, the Nashville Predators and GM David Poile were cutting cost again this summer. Captain Jason Arnott(notes) was traded back to New Jersey, defenseman Dan Hamhuis(notes) was traded to Philadelphia and Dan Ellis(notes) was lost to free agency. In their place come speedster Matthew Lombardi(notes) who has settled in as a 45- to 55-point man, the underwhelming potential of Sergei Kostitsyn(notes) and young defenseman Ryan Parent(notes) who couldn't find a permanent role with the Flyers. You can never underestimate the Predators, but this edition will find the Western Conference a tough trek.
The Patric Hornqvist(notes) saga has dragged on a bit longer than expected, but assuming he's back this is a team that gets a surprising amount of offense from its forwards; and one that added Matthew Lombardi and should have a full (and improved) season out of Colin Wilson(notes). And in what world do Hamhuis and Parent get a mention but Shea Weber(notes) (in a contract year) and Ryan Suter(notes) don't?
Look, there's no shame in leaving the Predators out of the playoff mix. It's as much rite of autumn as pumpkin picking and the Detroit Lions at the bottom of their division. But if you were to wager money on it, who are you backing for a postseason berth: Predators GM David Poile or the man who gave Calgary fans Olli Jokinen(notes) Part Deux?