Chris Drury and Scott Gomez will lead the Rangers, while young guys like Marc Staal will take on bigger roles. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
At the beginning of the season – even in the months leading up to it – no one is shy about making bold predictions about their favorite team.
“No one gives them any credit. They are better than you think. You’ll see in April. You’ll all see!”
But what happens when that know-it-all is proven to be a loudmouth? When his team is eliminated in, say, February, does he make an appearance? No, not usually. Instead he’ll hibernate in his den, waiting for the off-season where wishful thinking can once again reign supreme.
That, or jump on someone else’s bandwagon, though who would admit to that?
But every now and again those bold predictions pay off and the one who seemingly ran off at the mouth in August comes off feeling like a genius, even if it took 20 tries before the annual bold prediction rang true.
So, to follow up on last week’s blog about which teams I think have the means and potential to overachieve in 2008-09, here are a few teams I think will take a step back, leaving some loyal followers to chew on their words this winter.
Montreal Canadiens: Let me guess, a few of the more prickly Habs fans will take exception to this one and point to a prediction that missed last summer. So old, so boring. These guys must make a killing reading palms and tarot cards. Though I wonder, are they the same ones who claimed the Habs would win the Stanley Cup?
I think anyone who is already handing the East’s regular season title to Montreal needs to take off their blinders, because this is a team that played way over its head last season.
Sure, the Canadiens are talented and I’d be surprised if they missed the playoffs, but I don’t think they’ll finish with home-ice advantage again this season. If the Habs proved anything in last year’s playoffs it’s that they weren’t as good as their regular season record indicated.
While Carey Price is the next great young goalie, he isn’t there yet and if he continues to have issues with his glove hand, Montreal will have issues beating their conference’s big bangers. The one huge plus they have going for them, though, is Alex Kovalev is playing for a contract…so look out.
Minnesota Wild: They could be like the New Jersey Devils in that despite losing a few big-ticket names to free agency, their tried and tested defensive system carries them into the post-season.
Then again, they don’t have anyone who can match Martin Brodeur’s dominance.
The Wild lost a huge part of its two-way game in Brian Rolston and some helpful scoring punch in Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish. The Wild will always be defense-first under coach Jacques Lemaire, which leads me to question a couple of the additions the team made on the back end.
Marek Zidlicky and Marc-Andre Bergeron aren’t known for their defense, but will certainly help a power play that won’t have much luster to begin with. The Northwest Division might end up scoring the fewest goals this season, which ultimately could play into the Wild’s hands, though I think the team has lost too much “umph” to keep themselves propped up in a playoff slot.
New York Rangers: I didn’t like much of what the Rangers did this off-season and I couldn’t figure out why a team that was so close to being a legitimate conference champion contender would re-shape its image.
It goes back to that old, simple saying; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka went back to Europe, Brendan Shanahan still hasn’t been invited back, Nikolai Zherdev – host of a notoriously bad attitude and work ethic – was added for a steep price that included under-appreciated defender Fedor Tyutin and finally Sean Avery, love him or hate him, was lost for nothing to free agency.
It’s time for Scott Gomez and Chris Drury to call this team their own, which is all well and good for them, but the team simply doesn’t have the same make-up for success it did last season. It seems to me the Rangers have a few more ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ that could have their fans choking on candy and nuts by Christmas.
Still, in goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have one of the best back-stoppers in the game, so he should be able to lead them back to the second season, though New York will find themselves having to win big games in April to make it that far.
Rory Boylen is THN.com's web content specialist. His blog appears Thursdays.
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