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The Canadian Press hockey writers don't think the Stanley Cup is going far

NHL.com @NHL

Not only will the Stanley Cup not be returning to Canada this season, it's probably staying in California.

At least that's what a group of sportswriters for The Canadian Press concluded in their annual predictions ahead of the 2007-08 NHL season.

Bill Beacon, Robin Brownlee, Chris Johnston, Pierre LeBrun, Neil Stevens, Gregory Strong and Chris Yzerman answered a variety of questions about the upcoming year and the majority think the Cup will remain in the Golden State for another summer.

Four of us believe the San Jose Sharks will finally break through and win a championship while a fifth thinks the Anaheim Ducks will repeat. Detroit and the New York Rangers also earned one vote apiece.

"San Jose has been knocking on the door for a couple of years and looks ready to continue the string of sunbelt champions," one writer said of his choice to win it all.

We're split down the middle on who will lose in the final. Two votes each went to the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. The other went to Detroit.

Things are a little more clear-cut when it comes to the Canadian teams. Ottawa received four votes as the best in the country while Calgary was given two and Vancouver one.

All but one of us believes Edmonton will finish lowest among the six teams that play north of the border.

"Dustin Penner is not the answer," said one writer.

We found more consensus when it came to the NHL's scoring champion. Five of us believe Sidney Crosby will be at the top for a second straight year - with a point total ranging from 120 to 168 - and if that's the case, he may well take home a second Hart Trophy as league MVP.

And why not? Wayne Gretzky once won eight of those in a row.

The other votes for the NHL's scoring leader went to Jaromir Jagr (at 145 points) and Alexander Ovechkin (127 points).

Every team in the league made off-season moves in an effort to bolster their lineup, but only some will end up liking what they got.

The majority of our panel thinks the Philadelphia Flyers hit a home run by signing centre Daniel Briere and that the Florida Panthers were wise to acquire goaltender Tomas Vokoun via trade. We believe those players will be the most effective at their position among major off-season acquisitions.

We'll also be keeping our eyes on a number of other players. Nathan Horton in Florida, Alex Radulov in Nashville, Guillaume Latendresse in Montreal, Alexander Semin in Washington, Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim and Jordan Staal in Pittsburgh are among the guys we expect to have breakout seasons.

On the flip side, we know some players will disappoint and it becomes pretty evident here why we are so low on the Edmonton Oilers. Penner and new teammates Joni Pitkanen and Sheldon Souray each were nominated in the category of players on the verge of a disappointing season.

Others included in this dubious category were Owen Nolan in Calgary, Martin St. Louis in Tampa, Bill Guerin in Long Island and Ladislav Nagy in Los Angeles.

There will be no disappointment in Detroit this year. Our panel unanimously picked the Red Wings to take advantage of all those games against weaker Central Division opponents and win the Presidents' Trophy as the best regular-season team.

Six of our seven voters think Phoenix will finish dead last in the league.

"They stink," said one writer.

Of course, the playoffs are what every team is gunning for. We don't envision much change in the Western Conference power structure - the majority of our panel believes that Nashville will be the only team to miss the playoffs after making them a year ago. We have the Colorado Avalanche replacing the Predators.

There should be more of a shakeup in the East. Our writers believe that the Islanders, Atlanta and possibly Tampa Bay (we were split) will be knocked out. We think that Washington, Toronto and Philadelphia will be on the rise.

A disappointing start to the season will no doubt cost at least one coach his job. With seven votes we came up with six different names for the first to be let go: Marc Crawford (Los Angeles), Wayne Gretzky (Phoenix), Bob Hartley (Atlanta), Mike Keenan (Calgary), Jacques Lemaire (Minnesota) and Craig MacTavish (Edmonton).

While it seems unlikely that Gretzky would ever be fired or that Keenan could be let go just months after taking over the Flames, keep in mind that few would have predicted Ken Hitchcock would be the first shown the door last year. And Philadelphia fired him just three weeks into the season.

It can be a tough business.

Fortunately, it's not all bad news. Only two of our writers think there will even be one failed drug test in the league this season and we all expect to see at least five players score 50 goals. Only two hit that mark last season.

If early ticket sales are a barometer, the outdoor game in Buffalo between the Sabres and Penguins will be a success. Our writers think it'll be plenty cold enough, too - only one of us believes the temperature will be above freezing.

Five of us think it will be minus-15 or colder. If that is indeed the case, all those fans best bring their tuques.

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