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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Mathias (Posted 2008-12-15 12:51:46)
Yeah the way they do soccer standings, at least in the English Premier League and I'm sure with others, is 3 points for a win, 0 for a loss, and 1 for a draw (in our case, an OTL). It's worked for ages, why not adopt a similar approach?
Brett (Posted 2008-12-15 11:06:00)
a few years ago you could have argued the NW was the toughest division, but these days you have to give that title to the Atlantic, with the Pacific a close runner up. Pittsburgh/Philly/NYR/New Jersey makes a tough division. I also hate the standings, and even more so the way a .500 team is judged. right now 22 of 30 teams would be seen as having a .500 or better record which is ridiculous. Either do it as points percentage, get rid of the loser point, or do it as wins/gp, not well we won more than we lost in regulation, and we'll pretend those overtime games didn't happen.
Cid from Indiana (Posted 2008-12-14 16:34:03)
Aaron, the Northwest isn't known as the toughest division at all. In other news, OTLs are worth too much. Two losses in overtime shouldn't be worth a straight, regulation win. NHL should adopt 3 points for a win, 1 for a OTL, 0 for a loss.
Aaron Tarleton (Posted 2008-12-13 23:03:58)
I think counting any team in the Northwest division out, especially the Av's, is a little naive. 7 points seperate 1st from last in the Northwest. Thats 3.5 games. The next closest division is ( I believe ) the Central division, with 15 points between first and last. The Northwest isn't known as the toughest division for no reason now, eh?
Bart Wentink (Posted 2008-12-13 16:35:17)
I don't see how you picked Edmonton to be so improved either. Most prognosticators had Edmonton improving for 4 reasons. 1. Offseason moves: a) OK, so they added Eric Cole. A nice, skilled player with injury issues, but let's get real, this is Eric Cole, not Eric Staal! b) They replaced Pitkanen with Visnovski. These two are basically the same player, an offensively skilled defensive liability who lines up on the blueline. c) They added the oh so promising underachiever Gilbert Brule. Can we say "minor leagues"? 2. They finished well last season. Yeah, OK, they won a bunch of meaningless games at the end of the season. Big deal! 3. They would have finished higher if not for injuries. So a team with injury issues addresses that by making their only off-season upgrade a guy with concussion problems. Add to that the fact that a healthy season from Souray would have given them yet another big liability on D. They're probably better off without him. 4. Better than expected play from Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson last season. And in spite of that the Oilers still couldn't make the playoffs! As for this season, chances are at least 1 or 2 of the young guys was playing over his head and will come down to earth. And sophomore slumps do happen. (Not jinxes, I'm not superstitious.) These kids simply aren't going to take anyone by surprise anymore.
Jim Wall (Posted 2008-12-12 16:14:10)
I like traditions. If teams are tied after 60 minutes, they each get a point. If we need to break ties, the winning team gets an extra point. I don't have a problem with the current equation. Tie after 3 periods = 1 point. Win, however it's decided = 1 extra point.
CBJ_ALL_D_WAY (Posted 2008-12-12 15:57:30)
LOL, I only hope the Jackets make the playoffs. I want to know what game you will be attending, cuz I wanna be there too. Adam you are too funny.
Bukator (Posted 2008-12-12 14:00:33)
W=2 OTW=1 L=0
Bean (Posted 2008-12-12 12:49:34)
Fidrat Dude... what standings do you look at? There are no longer 4 columns... that went away about 5 years ago.
cantskate (Posted 2008-12-12 12:49:27)
Along with some others people have mentioned, I'll add the Canes (attrocious D), the Blues (better, but no enough), and possibly the 'Yotes. Not exactly bold predictions by me. I have not been surprised at all by Tampa's play. They are exactly where I thought they'd be. The surprises for me have been Dallas (though I thought they would be worse, I didn't think they would fall that far), Oil (thought they would be better, around 7 or 8 at this point), and the Leafs (thought they would be worse).
Terry Finnigan (Posted 2008-12-12 12:44:02)
Glad you didnt include the Dallas Stars on that "no-chance" list. When the Stars block Sean Avery from returning to them team, they will eventually eek out the finalplayoff spot in the West. If Avery does return to the team, the death march for the season will continue playing fortissimo !
Fidrat Dude (Posted 2008-12-12 12:41:28)
Caz, there ARE 4 colunms now . Win, loss, OT loss and shoot-out loss.
Winghater (Posted 2008-12-12 12:02:39)
Why do you always have to be so negative Adam? It's not even halfway through the season and you're saying "these teams won't make the playoffs." Do you really have nothing better to write about? This is just ridiculous.
Caz (Posted 2008-12-12 11:33:43)
Islanders should be on this list. As for the points system, every game should have the same point value. It sucks when your team wins in regulation but can't make up ground or separate themselves from the pack when two other division rivals play on the same night and come out with an extra point. It gives the standings a false sense of parity. Point system should be 3-2-1-0. The only problem is that we would have 4 columns in the standings.
Captain Kerr (Posted 2008-12-12 11:21:33)
Why doesn't the NHL do like the NBA does where a win is a win and a loss is a loss, whether or not it is in regulation or overtime? In the playoffs, you don't get a point for an overtime loss. Whether you lose by 5 goals in regulation time or on a cheap goal in triple overtime, you still lose. In the NBA they play as many overtimes as are necessary in the regular season to settle a game, yet there is no extra point awarded for an ovetime loss. It would certainly simplify things ... and then a team that is 15-15-3-4 is no longer a .500 team, but a 15-22 team.
Dave Kidd (Posted 2008-12-12 10:59:31)
Adam:I agree that the points system is bogus.What was wrong with a team getting a point for a tie and 2 for a win?How on earth can a league give out 3 points for a game when in fact 2 are only available?Never did like this 3 point schmozzle,never will.I also think the shootout should be scrapped.I have seen enough games live to say that the game was good the way it was.No points should be given for a loss.Nuff said
Kevin (Posted 2008-12-12 09:55:48)
The NHL will probably end up eventually making it so a regulation game win is worth three points. Or some crap like that.
Bukator (Posted 2008-12-12 09:15:39)
I like the idea of awarding 1 or 2 points to the winner, depending on when they win the game, OT/SO or Regulation, and 0 to the losing team. Makes sense to me. For those of us still opposed to the shootout, there's really no sense complaining about it anymore, until it makes it's way into the playoffs. THEN WATCH OUT!
baybye (Posted 2008-12-12 09:09:48)
i personally would like to revert to the old system...2 pts win, 1 tie...do the 5 minutes overtime but end it there..nothing worse then losing a game to a shootout...the teams could have worked their rears off to get the game tied and then basically still lose a point. a goalie could stand on his head to lose in a skills competition. who is suppose to be exited by the shootout...not die hard hockey fans....a tie is a tie is a tie.... only playoffs need a definite winner....
Thadd corbett (Posted 2008-12-12 00:52:01)
Add Dallas to that list.
ian altenbaugh (Posted 2008-12-12 00:32:28)
I agree that the NHL's point system is flawed. While I really like the idea of the shootout, there is nothing more boring than a tie, I do not like the idea of rewarding a team for losing. Why can't the winners get a point if they take it to overtime or shootout and two if they win in regulation.
matt (Posted 2008-12-11 22:28:10)
i'd like to remind the author, that most of the poor performing teams this year are still hovering around .500, every team can still make the playoffs, it's a long year...and the NHL points system is fine
Stephen J. Holodinsky (Posted 2008-12-11 22:01:51)
You might have liked Walken in that movie (he was good), but the best line belongs to Treat Williams "I am Godzilla and you are Japan!"
whatsthatsmell (Posted 2008-12-11 19:42:25)
What was Sakic thinking sticking his hand in a snowblower?? How a mega-star like him even think of taking a chance like that is beyond me. Yes I know it wasn't running at the time, but I have also used a snowblower (and lawnmower, and any other equipment like that) enough to know better. I hope he fully recovers, because when I cut my thumb open a few years ago on a piece of sheet metal, I hit a nerve and it is still numb. Numbness in his case could be career ending.
bropete (Posted 2008-12-11 18:58:12)
Hey Steve,None of the 3 you mentioned ASKED to be traded. Bouwmeester signed for a year giving Florida a chance to prove they were serious about winning, Jokinen was traded cause the GM didn't like him, Hossa signed as a Free Agent with a winning team. The only suprise for me is to see at the bottom is Ottawa. I didn't expect to see them behind Toronto.
Steve (Posted 2008-12-11 17:23:35)
Columbus and Atlanta never really stood a chance, they're as pathetic as NHL teams get. Rick Nash needs to ask for a trade, but the guy is too classy to take the route of a Boumeester, Jokinen or Hossa. As for Colarado I was surprised the hockey news picked them to finish 14th in the west. Their stars may not be what they used to be, but they've got a lot of them and I still expect they'll be fighting for a playoff spot till the bitter end.
Mr. William (Posted 2008-12-11 17:04:42)
I can understand how you picked Dallas and Edmonton to make the playoffs but you should definitely take some heat for picking the Bolts (I think they should have followed the Sens model and just wrote Lights on their new jersey but that's just me, haha). They finished last the previous year and with all the changes you knew they would take some time to gel. Even without all the ownership issues I still did not expect this team to finish any higher than 10th in the conference. Did you think Melrose would create a 4 forward 1 defenceman system that would revolutionize the NHL or something? Oh, and what was wrong with Tom Green's rap career? Check the O.R. was popular song back in the day and how many rap videos take place in Ottawa and feature someone wearing a Sens hat. If it wasn't for Tom Green going into comedy they could have become the Canadian Beastie Boys, lol.
Amanda (Posted 2008-12-11 16:32:26)
How on God's green earth could you pick a team - ANY TEAM - coached by Barry Melrose to make the playoffs?!? Granted, he's not there anymore, but shame on you!!! You don't write for ESPN, so you don't have to be nice to him in articles, like they do. LOL
Dave (Posted 2008-12-11 16:08:16)
Sunny, not everyone thought highly of Tampa bay; however, there were many people who thought it will take a while for them to get on their game but the group of guys never clicked. People also assumed that Lecaviaer (sp) and St. Louis would lead this group on the ice and they haven't performed. TB has great goaltending a good group of forwards who aren't performing and below average to medicore defence. In theory they should of made the playoffs...in theory.
Sunny (Posted 2008-12-11 15:55:02)
RE: the bet on the SE rankings. I wish somebody could explain this phenomenon to me. I truly don't understand why almost all the pre-season prognosticators had TB ranked so highly. Of course there was absolutely no way to predict this hot mess they've turned into. But even if TB still had the same lineup today as they did when the season started (i.e. Carle, Vrbata, etc) & Melrose was coaching effectively - why would you look at that roster & think they would play so well? Many knowledgeable fans were able to see the fundamental problems with the construction of the team (especially in regards to the extreme weakness of the d). Yet the majority of hockey writers & commentators never saw it coming; I mean how does this happen? Even if you believed Mike Smith would be playing as well as he has, I surely don't remember anyone claiming TB would be winning on Smith's back. I was in disbelief when I continually heard predictions of playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!?!?) and/or winning the division for Tampa. It just can't be that all these professionals were swayed by flashy free agent signings, the return of Barry Melrose, & a lot of manufactured hype - can it??! I'm mystified.