That is one of the few problems of winning the Presidents’ Trophy and going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Canucks proved they were the best team in the league during the regular season and were one game away from doing the same thing in the playoffs. That being said, there was very few positions up for grabs. The games in September meant very little for the teams that expect to be playing into June. Now let us look at who those teams should be.
I hate to blow my own horn, but if you look back at last year’s preview column yours truly picked the Canucks to be playing against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. This year in the Western Conference there are some new stars and some new rivalries. The San Jose Sharks and the Canucks had an intense playoff round in the conference final.
The Canucks have three of the top ten players in the league in Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler. Their defence is deep and they have Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider coming off a Jennings Trophy campaign. The Canucks will win the West.
The Sharks got better by getting rid of Dany Heatley. Martin Havlat will them an even better team. Brent Burns will take some of the pressure off Dan Boyle. The Sharks will finish second.
Detroit is healthy to start the season, something they were not last year. They have strength up the middle with Datsyuk,Zetterberg and Filppula and Nik Lidstrom never seems to age. The Wings should finish third.
The Los Angeles Kings will score more goals with two good lines with the addition of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. They should be fourth.
Some people think Chicago will be back to their Stanley Cup form of two years ago, but I just don't see it. After Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrooke what do they have on the blueline? You think Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell make them better? The Hawks will be fifth.
Anaheim had a terrible start last year and used up so much energy just to make the playoffs they had nothing left and lost in the first round. Andrew Cogliano is an upgrade from Todd Marchant, and Getzlaf, Perry, and Bobby Ryan is one of the best lines in the league, but with their young defence they have to have a healthy Jonas Hiller in net. If he has any vertigo problems the Ducks will be done. I pick Anaheim for sixth.
Now here is where it gets almost impossible to predict. I like Nashville for seventh just because they have Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and Pekke Rinne and how can you say a team coached by Barry Trotz is not going to make the playoffs.
The eighth and final playoff spot is a toss up between Calgary and Phoenix. When is the last time a division has had only one team qualify for post-season two years in a row? Calgary is the next best team in the Northwest Division, but they will have to play all year long like they did in the second half to have a chance. Dave Tippett will have to get Mike Smith to do his best Ilya Bryzgalov imitation and that still may not be enough. You look at the defence in Columbus, St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas and tell me you think they have a chance at making the playoffs? Edmonton is still two years away.
I am just going to list the Eastern Conference teams in order of where I think they will finish. We do not have to pay much attention to them until playoff time and then only in the final!
6. Tampa Bay
8. New Jersey
9. New York Rangers
13. New York Islanders