Is it the end of the regular season already? Seems like it was only yesterday that all 30 NHL teams had hope the 2009-10 campaign would be good to them. Silly wabbits.
Speaking of silly, I want to take a quick look at my preseason picks for the Eastern and Western Conferences. But rather than gloat over the 10 of 16 playoff teams I correctly pegged — not overly shabby, considering Phoenix and Colorado weren’t on many pundits’ lists of post-season bound franchises — let’s look at the six playoff-unworthy teams I miscalculated on.
CALGARY: I Picked Them To Finish First in the West
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What Was I Thinking? I thought the Flames’ defense corps would live up to the fact it was the highest-paid defense corps in the league. I also thought GM Darryl Sutter would go Travis Bickle on his roster if Calgary failed to meet expectations. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the extent to which Sutter would lose his mind and start (a) trading key components and (b) signing new acquisitions to lucrative contract extensions before they’d played 10 games with Calgary.
But remember, at one point in the season, Calgary occupied first place in the West! And no, I’m not referring to opening night of the season.
ANAHEIM: I Picked Them To Finish Sixth in the West What Was I Thinking? In my defense, my prediction for the Ducks did note there were many ways they could miss the playoffs. Sure enough, injuries to Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul were some of the chief reasons they couldn’t keep up with the Joneses in the ultra-competitive West.
All in all, I still like the Ducks’ core. Anaheim attempted to make a later-season playoff push by going 14-8 through January and February, but a five-game losing streak at the start of March sealed their fate.
If they can stay healthy, convince Scott Niedermayer to return and figure out a way to hold onto leads heading into the third period — their .758 winning percentage when leading after 40 minutes was the league’s third-worst — they should be back in the hunt for a postseason slot next year.
COLUMBUS: I Picked Them To Finish Seventh in the West
What Was I Thinking? Mostly that the Blue Jackets would build on their first playoff appearance in franchise history thanks to a more experienced (and contractually-extended) Rick Nash, emerging youngsters such as Derick Brassard, Nikita Filatov, Steve Mason and Jakub Voracek, and a stingy, Ken Hitchcock-designed defensive presence.
So much for those notions. Nash’s point totals are back to where they were two years ago; Hitchcock was let go after an ugly December record (2-9-5) buried their playoff hopes; Mason played matador to many a puck that was shot at him; and although the injury bug didn’t strike Columbus to the same degree as other teams, the hurt feelings of Filatov caused him to head home to Russia in November.
The result: only three teams in the West have scored fewer times this year than the Jackets — and only one has allowed more goals. Needless to say, I think someone from the organization should wear civil war gear to The Hockey News’ offices in an effort to repay my faith in them.
EDMONTON: I Picked Them To Finish Eighth in the West
What Was I Thinking? I qualified my Oilers prediction this year by saying I had a hunch they could sneak into the final playoff berth in the West. Perhaps only that Nazi-saluting photo of Sandra Bullock’s soon-to-be-ex-husband goof was more wrong.
Edmonton’s biggest problem wasn’t so much that they suffered a whack of injuries (to key players such as Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray and Nikolai Khabibulin) or that they progressively got more pathetic as the season went on (their best month was a 7-6-1 record in October) or that January was a 100 percent victory-free (0-10-2) zone for them.
No, the central issue with this team was that Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner, their two highest-paid forwards, combined for less than 100 points through 80 games (even with career bests in goals and points from Penner) and exactly two game-winning goals.
If that happens to any team, it will need Herculean efforts from its other offensive contributors to even have a hope of making the playoffs. The Oilers had nothing but Newton-type sidekicks (a.k.a. half-man, half-horse’s ass) so they sunk and sunk quickly.
CAROLINA: I Picked Them To Finish Fifth in the East
What Was I Thinking? Actually, I don’t think I was that far off with the Hurricanes.
Early-season injuries to Cam Ward and Eric Staal had them in a painful tailspin, But once the Canes got healthy, their fortunes returned to where many thought they’d be all year long; since January began, they’ve been 24-13-3 and very nearly climbed all the way back into the playoff picture. That’s where they’ll be next year.
TAMPA BAY: I Picked Them To Finish Eighth in the East
What Was I Thinking? As I said in the fall, I liked the manner in which Bolts GM Brian Lawton remade his defense corps. And the way Steven Stamkos came on in the latter half of the 2008-09 season, it seemed as if Tampa could vie for a playoff spot.
They did so — until Lawton took the hatchet to assistant coach Wes Walz in late February and caused a rift between Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet that clearly affected the team’s performance.
Nothing less than a total management housecleaning will get me believing in them again.
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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