Goaltender Peter Budaj has been one of the few bright spots on the Colorado Avalanche this season. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
I was looking through my pre-season predictions the other day – and feeling pretty good about my prognosticating skills. With the exceptions of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference and the Dallas Stars and Edmonton Oilers in the West, all the teams I had pegged as post-season bound were in position to do so as mid-December approached.
Since it’s clear – because of the NHL’s fraudulent points system – today’s non-playoff teams have a nearly impossible task of making up significant ground in the season’s second half, I’m even more confident in my picks now than I was in September.
And since it’s a common occurrence among THN staff to place a few side wagers during the season, I’ve got a hankering to make a few public bets with you, my beloved and occasionally deranged readers.
(For the record, my current gambles with THN.com editor Edward Fraser are as follows: Firstly, I’ve got the Florida Panthers finishing ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes; I’ve also got the Lightning finishing ahead of the Panthers – and yes, I’m prepared to accept defeat on that one already; and lastly, we set the over/under for points by Florida defenseman Keith Ballard at 40 and I took the over.)
So here are four teams I’m ready to say are out of the playoff picture as of today – and the punishments I’m willing to accept if they defy the odds and continue to play once the regular season is done:
As far as I’m concerned, Joe Sakic’s bizarre injury at the hands of a wayward snowblower was the final nail in the coffin for the Avs this season.
Granted, their goaltending duo of Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft hasn’t been quite as horrendous as many expected, but any team that has Ryan Smyth, Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and Milan Hejduk on it and scores fewer goals – in two more games – than the stingy Minnesota Wild has got major problems.
If They Make The Playoffs, I Will: Never again watch Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead. This may not seem like much of a sacrifice, but only if you don’t realize how much affection I have for that brilliant black comedy, which includes one of Christopher Walken’s greatest hammy acting performances ever. Trust me, this is a weighty wager for this cinephile. I said, cinephile.
Does it tell you something that there is no more goaltending controversy in Sens-ville, yet the team remains nearer to the Eastern Conference basement than the East’s eighth and final playoff spot? It does for me.
Even if Ottawa does figure out a way to kickstart their offense (which ranks ahead of only the lowly Lightning and the defense-obsessed Rangers), they’ve got a formidable schedule with which to contend – including nine more games against Northeast Division powerhouses in Boston and Montreal.
Considering the Sens’ only two Northeast Division victories this season have come against the hap-challenged Maple Leafs and the middling Sabres, I don’t like their chances.
If They Make The Playoffs, I Will: Commission a musical mash-up consisting of Alanis Morissette and Paul Anka music – and Tom Green’s short-lived professional rap career – and listen to it on repeat for an entire drive from Toronto to Ottawa. And back, even.
With Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec, the Thrashers were supposed to benefit from a wealth of great goaltending this year. Instead, they (along with veteran journeyman Johan Hedberg) have combined for a 3.56 goals-against average, which ties them with Dallas for last place in the league in that department.
And let’s not talk about Atlanta’s abysmal penalty kill (a league-worst 73.0 percent). Don Waddell may be technically correct when he says he won’t be the person to trade Ilya Kovalchuk – but that’s only because he may be removed as Thrashers’ GM before the end of the year.
If They Make The Playoffs, I Will: Ask Thrashers coach John Anderson to re-grow his famous moustache, shave it and paste the shavings on my face for an entire week.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
I feel awful for long-suffering Blue Jackets fans. But I cannot in good conscience put any faith in a team that currently has a 9.9 percent power play efficiency rating.
That’s right – nine-point-nine stinking percent. Is it possible to decline penalties like they do in the NFL?
If They Make The Playoffs, I Will: Attend a Blue Jackets game wearing a Civil War-era military uniform and sit quietly while Doug MacLean regales me with his draft record as Columbus’ GM.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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