Mike Ribeiro and the Dallas Stars surprised us this season by becoming serious Cup contenders. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
For players and coaches, the off-season is a time to rest and recharge. For the hockey media, it’s a time to go stir-crazy and speculate wildly. While this is fun and all, it’s generally a mug’s game in terms of accuracy.
The fact of the matter is, no one knows how next season is going to pan out because on-ice chemistry is established on the ice and injuries are an X-factor that can determine playoff and draft spots. Players bomb and then they don’t. Michael Ryder and Alex Kovalev proved both ends of that statement and did so on the same team.
So what can be said at this point? Only certain irrefutable truths. Detroit will win the Central Division. Los Angeles will not make the playoffs. Neither will the Leafs, with or without Mats Sundin.
If you can guarantee me that Calgary will win the Northwest or, conversely, that Edmonton will pass them in the standings, you are bolder than I. Will Columbus or Florida dance this season? I don’t know; there are a lot of “ifs” out there.
As proof of this, here’s a look back at a few of our 2007-08 yearbook team stories that went awry.
The prediction: Eighth in the East, if a high-powered offense produces in front of a quickly developing Kari Lehtonen in net. “We’re definitely capable of staying above .500 (early in the season), that shouldn’t be a fear of anyone,” said GM Don Waddell.
The reality: Fourteenth in the East, no thanks to the 10th-best offense in the conference and the most goals against in the league (272). The Dirty Birds kicked off the season by losing their first six games in regulation.
The prediction: Seventh in the East, if the tenacious goaltending of Ryan Miller continues and if Tim Connolly stays healthy and Maxim Afinogenov’s line (with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek) can soften the blow of departed stars Chris Drury and Daniel Briere.
The reality: Tenth in the East. Connolly did not stay healthy, playing in just 48 games, while Afinogenov shrunk in the spotlight, pulling up lame with just 28 points in 56 contests. Miller actually put up better numbers than in the previous campaign, but without Martin Biron to spell him, the Michigan native played 13 more games (76 total), but won four fewer. Now dropping three spots in the conference is certainly not horrific, but it was the difference between playoffs and no playoffs, plus this year looks to be worse.
The prediction: Eleventh in the West, because this team just has no serious scoring threats beyond Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov.
The reality: Fifth in the West and a serious Stanley Cup contender. Mike Ribeiro made us all look stupid, tallying 27 goals and 83 points, while four other Stars scored 20 or more, including deadline acquisition Brad Richards and the surprising Niklas Hagman. The Stars scored more goals (242) than anyone else in the West except Detroit.
So what are the big “ifs” so far this summer?
If Carolina gets puck movement and virility from its re-worked blueline, the Canes become a threat once again. Gone are veterans Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley, in comes puck-mover Joni Pitkanen and Euro leaguer Josef Melichar.
If the New York Rangers find chemistry amongst a crop of new faces, including Wade Redden, Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund, the team certainly has the goaltending and depth to go far.
If Minnesota can play its regular tight ‘D’ and essentially replace Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston’s offense with Andrew Brunette and Owen Nolan’s, a second straight Northwest title can be had.
We won’t know any of the answers until fall, but these are questions worth remembering.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every second Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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