Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets is swarmed by his teammates after scoring his third goal to give him a hat trick and defeat the Detroit Red Wings in overtime on Jan. 27, 2009. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” – Albert Einstein.
Surely a man of such great intellect and such profound hockey hair couldn’t be mistaken. And if this is true, hockey fans really are crazier than the toothless infantry dropping to block a 90 mph frozen rubber disc.
Each spring Stanley Cup playoff predictions abound and wars are waged across lines of Cinderella stories and veteran horsemen. Everyone draws up who they think will advance, who will bow out early and ultimately who will lift the glorious mug in June.
And each spring we’re all wrong, unless you lie, cheat or own a DeLorean. But we always come back, sure we’ve got it right this time.
The first day after the playoffs are decided, the THN editorial meeting revolves around our difference of opinions on who we think will win and lose. With such great league parity, I was anticipating a divided debate among our group, but was surprised at a noticeable trend.
Parity widens the common ground.
Sure, I’m picking the Sharks to knock off the Ducks in the first round, but at the same time, how can you be surprised if a team as potent as Anaheim wins a series?
Before I even sat down for the meeting I knew my thoughts on one particular series – probably anticipated by the group – would be opposed. However, I was hopeful I could gain enough support for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ upset of the Detroit Red Wings to make it our team selection. I couldn’t convince the hypnotized minds (damn that winged wheel).
It was hard for me to believe when most of the guys labeled Columbus as the team ‘just happy to be there,’ while the truly upstart Blues were being considered for an upset and even Montreal got some buzz over Boston.
Sure, it wasn’t me against the world – that Ryan Kennedy is a good guy – but c’mon, it’s time to give these Blue Jackets some respect.
To poke at Columbus’ youth is a popular place to start prodding them, but that ignores the big-gamers they have as well. R.J. Umberger was a bull, scoring 10 goals for the Flyers in their run to the Eastern Conference final last season and Mike Commodore has played a key shutdown role on two separate trips to the Cup final – winning it once with Carolina. Don’t underestimate Commodore; his experience next to Jan Hejda’s emergence will make for a difficult venture past the blueline.
Michael Peca and Raffi Torres were big sandpaper pieces in Edmonton’s Cup final run in 2006 and will play the same role for this playoff underdog. These two will rub their experience on Jason Chimera and Manny Malhotra, two players who had strong seasons grinding it out for the Jackets.
And then there are the kids.
If you want to still call him one, Rick Nash – 24 and in his fifth NHL season – is a star in the making. What better way to make a first impression to the post-season crowd than to dismiss the defending champs? Jakub Voracek slowed towards the end of the year, so I’m not expecting him to play a big role, but his speed and offensive instincts will help tire an aged opponent and will come in handy in overtimes. Kris Russell is the only truly offensive defenseman Columbus has and he can step up in a big way by making their last-place power play effective in a seven game series. And of course, Derick Brassard could possibly return late...
Obviously if goalie Steve Mason falters, the Blue Jackets will exit gracefully, but that goes for all teams anyway. Mason has played big games before, leading Canada to World Junior Championship gold in 2008. This may be on a whole new level with a completely different crowd, but Mason is a calm, cool and collected netminder with incredible abilities.
And don’t forget the Jackets smothered the Wings 8-2 in Detroit at one point this season. Not that they’ll blow out the Wings in this series, but that game was a huge boost for coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad.
"When we won in Detroit, our mindset changed a lot,” Hitch told the Detroit Free Press. “There was another confidence level that came over our team that we’d not had before. It wasn’t just confidence playing against Detroit, but it was confidence of playing on the road and being able to beat good teams.”
Every year brings a new crop of predictions, but no matter how sure of them you are it’s more rare than an incorrectly spelled name on the Stanley Cup that you get them all right. And this year of parity will be no exception.
Am I crazy for going against the proven champs? Maybe, but this will be a great series. That’s why they play the games; that’s why we watch them.
And for the record: I’m sure of a Vancouver-Carolina final. And of course you’re entitled to your own opinion in the comments section below, albeit the wrong one.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.