Saturday, September 29, 2007

Puck off

America is dumb. Legions of hairy beer swillers are so fascinated by shiny objects hurtling around an oval for three hours that ESPN can devote chunks of its programming (fuck you, Brad Daugherty, talk hoops!) to this, ahem, sport, but nary a hockey game is to be found on the tube until the last round in June. I'm not naive enough to think that it's anything but financial. Capitalism makes the world go 'round and there are simply more Bush voters than there are fans of SCTV. So, until this country wises up; or Hell, after proven to exist, freezes over; or ESPN is alright with shelling out millions for a 1.7 rating, we puckheads south of the border whose cable company doesn't carry Versus are forced to watch highlights on the internets, thereby shedding productive man-hours from our respective companies' bottom lines. How 'bout them gilded apples, you fucks? Anyway, here's what's going to happen in the NHL in 2007-08. Or not.

Atlantic: N.Y. Rangers. Hockey is the one sport where a team with obviously less talent can outwork a superior one on a regular basis and knock their ass out of the playoffs. The Rangers added big-time free agents Chris Drury and Scott Gomez - both of whom have the required grit - to Jaromir Jagr and a solid goalie, but is their blueline tough enough and can they discover a new source of chemistry that Nylander and Jagr had? Pittsburgh has oodles of offensive power but, oh, that inconsistent gloveman. As for the rest, New Jersey is Martin Brodeur and an annually-shrinking supporting cast, Philly has a bushel of young talent but isn't ready and the Islanders are a joke.

Northeast: Ottawa. They finally showed some cojones last spring and should hold off Buffalo, who will slip a bit with all the free agent losses, but the retention of Thomas Vanek and the emergence of young winger Drew Stafford should help offset that and they still have Ryan Miller between the pipes. Toronto should vie for a playoff spot if new goalie Vesa Toskala can handle the Canadian version of the New York sporting press, and Montreal and Boston are garbage. Hard to believe the Habs and former MVP Jose Theodore were the darlings of the league just a few short years ago.

Southeast: Carolina. Don't let the inordinate amount of injuries last year color the fact that this is the best all-around team in the division. Tampa Bay is still pretty good but which editions of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Vaclav Prospal will show up? Atlanta doesn't have enough talent outside of Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk and Florida is terrible, and even Tomas Vokoun can't save the young guys every night. But Washington, after adding playmaker Michael Nylander to set up the two Alexes, Ovechkin and Semin, could sneak into the playoffs.

Central: Detroit. Even if world-class flake Dominik Hasek acts up or submits to the ravages of old age, there is no way anyone else is taking this division. Nashville held a fire sale in the offseason and will drop like the credibility of the Democratic Congress, St. Louis is rebuilding (with an aging Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk?) and Columbus, ostensibly "my" team, continues to flounder in so many spectacular ways. Then there's poor Chicago. Saddled with a joke of an owner who finally decided to relieve some of the fans' pain by croaking the other day, young center Jonathan Toews broke his finger and will miss 2-3 weeks. Sure, it's not that much time, but given that he plays for the Blackhawks, I'm sure the finger will get infected and he'll miss a month or two. At which point gangrene will have set in and it'll have to be amputated.

Northwest: Vancouver. The Canucks have the best goalie in the league not named Martin and just enough offensive talent to win a bunch of 2-1 and 3-2 games. Minnesota, by trading inconsistent Manny Fernandez to Boston, handed the goalie job to Niklas Backstrom, which, if uber-talented/oft-injured Marian Gaborik can stay on the ice, should be enough to push Vancouver to the limit if not pass them outright. Colorado and Calgary should both make the playoffs, the former on the strength of its offense, the latter because of Mikka Kiprusoff. Finally, Edmonton. Did they really go to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals a couple of years ago?

Pacific: Anaheim. Front-to-back, still probably the most talented team in the league even if Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne decide to enter the old folks' home, but San Jose will certainly make things difficult for the Ducks; they're deeper than Anaheim, but it's difficult to get over the proverbial hump and they haven't yet. The Stars are on offensive life-support, and the regular season brilliance of Marty Turco won't be enough to challenge for the Cup even though he - finally - carried that brilliance over into the postseason. Los Angeles and Phoenix remain non-entities.

Eastern playoff teams: Ottawa, N.Y. Rangers, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, New Jersey and, oh, what the hell - Washington. Always some weirdo that crashes the party.

Western playoff teams: Detroit, Anaheim, Vancouver, San Jose, Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Dallas.

Stanley Cup Finals: Ouch. This is difficult, as there isn't a Scotty Bowman-led Montreal or N.Y. Islanders 1982 vintage in the league but about 8-10 teams - if they catch the requisite breaks - that can win the thing. If the Penguins were a bit sturdier in goal, they'd be the pick, but since Marc-Andre Fleury isn't quite ready for primetime, I suppose that this is the year the Senators finally get to drink cheap hooch out of Lord Stanley's tub as it winds its way from parade to family gathering to unspoken orgy in the back of a seedy Kamloops strip joint. Ottawa over San Jose. Or Detroit. Or Anaheim. Maybe.


spyderkl said...

Colorado in the playoffs this time, huh? Eh, we'll flame out early - just like last year.

Of course, we won this weekend. But it's early yet.

Randal Graves said...

I have Peter Stastny on one of my fantasy teams, so I hope so. :) But Adding Ryan Smyth was huge and Budaj was pretty good in goal last year and I think he'll carry it over. The West is tough, but they should get in.