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The Hockey News 2009-10 NHL regular season predictions

The Boston Bruins took down the East with 116 points last season and the team is poised to make another Cup run this season. (Getty Images)

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The Boston Bruins took down the East with 116 points last season and the team is poised to make another Cup run this season. (Getty Images)

Yes, it’s that time of year again – pre-season prediction time.

In one of our many continuing traditions, The Hockey News has already debated the merits of all 30 NHL teams and decided on the order of team finishes, in both conferences, for the upcoming regular season.

The complete list will be available in THN’s 2009-10 Yearbook edition, available for purchase at the end of August. But this year, as a special bonus for our online audience, we thought we’d do things a little differently and reveal parts of our predictions a day at a time on THN.com.

Starting Thursday, we’ll unveil our predictions for the 15th-ranked teams in each conference, as well as short explanations explaining our rationale for the decision. Each day thereafter, the next two teams will be posted online, until we get to Aug. 19th, when our two picks for conference champions are unveiled.

Discuss and enjoy!

Why: The John Tavares Era begins this year on Long Island – but unfortunately for Islanders fans, too much of their lousy past remains. Their thin pools of talent at just about every position and their ultra-tough competition in the Atlantic Division, featuring the defending champion Penguins, improved Flyers and always tough Devils, makes a playoff spot this year highly unlikely. Why: The news for hockey fans in Arizona is horrendous on virtually all fronts, from the dragged-out soap opera regarding the Yotes’ ownership to the seemingly perpetual on-ice rebuilding job. Phoenix has some nice components, but in the Pacific Division and Western Conference, they’ve got an outside shot – at best – for a playoff berth.
Why: After Ilya Kovalchuk there’s a serious drop-off in talent at forward. The defense does have some promise with a passable top-four, but goaltending remains a trouble spot, even if the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen is healthy. With ownership still fighting over control of the team, there’s little chance of an economic boost anytime soon. Why: Some believe Joe Sakic may not have retired if the Colorado Avalanche iced a Stanley Cup-contending team this year. Management’s off-season rebuilding of the roster rendered that option moot – and also severely hampered the Avs’ hopes at a playoff berth. They’ll need at least a couple years to hope to regain past glories.
Why: This is a max-spending team with just one skater worthy of max money – and Marian Gaborik can’t stay healthy. The Rangers’ best player is their goalie, a good thing, but their No. 1 center is Brandon Dubinsky and the suspect defense is expensive, two bad things. The Rangers are a rebuilding team, but refuse to admit it. Why: The Wild is not afraid to admit it’s rebuilding. Trap-happy, defense-first hockey has gone the way of the Dodo in Minnesota. The problem is Minnesota doesn’t have the horses to run and gun. A healthy Martin Havlat will help, but a big year from a number of kids is needed for Minnesota to have any chance of success.
Why: Like every Florida team of recent memory, this year’s lineup is full of youth and promise…but it’s also full of too many “ifs” – if the youngsters produce, if the defense is as good without Bouwmeester, etc. Until upper management dedicates itself to winning, Florida will continue to flounder in the wrong half of the standings. Why: Full of so much future firepower and home to the deepest core of prospects in the league, the Kings are popular dark horse pick year in and year out. The problem is, the Western Conference is stacked with playoff-worthy teams, so the Kings are having a hard time navigating a winning season. But it will come.
Why: The good news is, for the first time since the lockout Leafs fans are getting excited for the hockey they will witness this season. The bad news is, the hockey they will witness this season will be exciting in a physical fashion, not a game-breaking one. Not much improvement in the points department this season. Why: One old goalie has been swapped for another, but it’s the same cast of skaters who’ve missed the playoffs for the past three seasons after the ’06 Cup run. The new two-headed coaching monster in Pat Quinn and Tom Renney could provide gains, but the Oilers are still far off the West’s A-list.
Why: The gale-force winds that blew this ship off course last year have calmed down somewhat, so the team has been able to start building towards a playoff berth. Ownership squabbling aside, the drafting of Victor Hedman and the signing of Mattias Ohlund improve a questionable defense core to compliment a respectable group of forwards. Why: After four-straight post-season appearances from 2004 to 2008, the Preds are finding out that good coaching and a shoestring budget no longer cut it in the ultra-competitive West. Nashville has an all-star caliber goalie and a young, skilled, bruising D-corps. But with no scoring stars up front, the Preds are destined to fall short of the playoffs.
Why: Thanks to mid-year replacement head coach Cory Clouston, the Senators provided hope to their fans at the end of the 2008-09 season. They’ll likely challenge for a low-seed playoff spot, but unless new additions Pascal Leclaire and Alexei Kovalev step up in a huge way, we see them on the outside of the post-season picture for the second straight campaign.  Why: With a strong youth core, veteran presence and an introductory playoff appearance, the Blues are on the verge of something special. However, it is common for teams built around kids to take at least a little step back after a season of exceeding expectations. The Blues will be a challenge, but the Western Conference is a beast.
Why: GM Bob Gainey's big makeover of the roster was controversial, but it’s hard to see the Habs missing the post-season with their rebuilt offense: Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta will take the pressure of the Kostitsyns and Tomas Plekanec, and the goaltending duo of Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak will hold up their end of the bargain in net. Why: The Blue Jackets made their first playoff appearance last season and will need to battle just as hard to return to the post-season dance this year. Their developing youngsters (Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov) hope to make that task easier, but ultimately, they’ll need Steve Mason and Rick Nash to lead the way again. 
Why: The Sabres will return with essentially the same cast of characters from 2008-09, but the big difference in Buffalo – we can only assume – will be a healthy Ryan Miller in goal. Miller was 34-18-6 last season, his backups were 7-14-3. A full season from Tim Connolly will help, too, as will the continued maturation of the forward corps. Why: One year ago the Stars were coming off a run to the Conference final and were pegged as contenders for the Cup. Injuries, among other things, hit the team in key positions and Dallas never got its act together. However, all the parts that made this team a threat are still in place and they’re hungry for redemption.
 Why: The great thing about the Carolina Hurricanes is their lineup rarely changes, so success comes down to execution. On the strength of Eric Staal up front and Cam Ward in net, Carolina has two game-breakers. The defense got tougher thanks to the addition of Andrew Alberts and the repatriation of Aaron Ward, so look for the Canes to be another tough out in the 2009-10 playoffs. Why: Not long ago, Anaheim was an aging team facing considerable salary cap hurdles. Luckily for Ducks fans, the deft work of GM Bob Murray steered them out of financial trouble and back into the West’s upper echelon. Defense may be a concern, but if goalie Jonas Hiller and center Ryan Getzlaf continue the dominance they demonstrated last year, look out
Why: Defense-first coach Jacques Lemaire is back with the team he had his most success with, winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. With Martin Brodeur in goal and an underrated — if unspectacular — blueline, the Devils are poised to be competitive again in the East this season. But the offense will likely suffer under Lemaire, meaning New Jersey will fall some.  Why: Already loaded with front-end talent, the Flames brought in the biggest fish available in the summer by acqiuring Jay Bouwmeester. While the defense is one of the league’s best and a world-class goaltender backs it up, Calgary’s weakness will be offense, but with Jarome Iginla leading the way the Flames are still a contender.
Why: The addition of Chris Pronger turned an emerging blueline into one of the NHL’s top units. New goaltender Ray Emery has a chance to be a big upgrade over Martin Biron, assuming the ex-Kontinental Leaguer keeps his head about him. The Flyers are now even tougher to play against and remain deep at forward, especially down the middle. Why: After an eight-year run as Central Division champs, a changing of the guard is set to take place. Detroit still boasts perhaps the league’s deepest lineup up front, but you can’t lose the likes of Marian Hossa and Jiri Hudler without taking a hit. That said, another 100-point season is in the cards.
Why: Thanks to a roster that sports two of the game's top stars, the Penguins once again will be excellent, but the wear-and-tear of a Stanley Cup run likely will preclude them from winning an Eastern Conference regular-season title. If Jay McKee and one of Pittsburgh’s young blueline prospects can’t fill the skates of departed veterans Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, the season may be more of a challenge than first suspected. Why: Vancouver won the Northwest last year when Roberto Luongo played just 54 games. The Sedins will be another year better, as will young forwards Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. With the additions of Mikael Samuelsson and Calder-candidate Cody Hodgson, the forward corps is deeper. Mattias Ohlund will be missed, but not enough to see the Canucks fall.
Why: Alex Ovechkin and his mates are the most electric team in the NHL. The Caps have lost some veterans to the Kontinental League, but none were the straws that stir the drink. Last season’s crushing playoff loss to the Penguins taught hard lessons about team defense, ones that will resonate this season and keep Washington near the top of the East. Why: Sure, UFA acquisition Marian Hossa will miss the first chunk of the season, but the Hawks were fourth in the league in goals-for last season, so it’s not as though they’ll struggle to tickle the twine. An easy target on this team is the goaltending, but Cristobal Huet had good numbers in 41 games last season and the Hawks have options in Niemi and Crawford.
Why: After falling short of the Stanley Cup final last season, look for the powerful Bruins to keep their foot on the gas and win the East again this year. Featuring the NHL’s reigning best defenseman (Zdeno Chara), goaltender (Tim Thomas) and coach (Claude Julien), the B’s also boast a potent, deep offense and plenty of toughness.  Why: The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, despite their inability to cash in in the playoffs, are a good bet to repeat as regular season champs after a summer of little roster turnover. Look for sophomore bench boss Todd McLellan to have his troops better prepared for the stretch run, where they struggled badly in 2008-09.


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masterv Posted
(2009-09-04 16:20:45)

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As an Ottawa fan, I predict the sens will move up and be comfortably in the playoffs. With a front line of Alfie, Spezza and probably Heatley (and he will have to play well if he wants to make the olympic team, and earn himself a trade afterwards), and then the likes of Kovalev and fisher on the second line, plus a solid defensive core, and much improved goaltending, playoffs should be a sure thing. Maybe 5th or 6th spot. Boston is good, but I don't think they'll be first, maybe third. Pittsburg and Washington will duke out the first and second positions and i think replace montreal with tampa bay and youve got the eastern playoff picture. Im liking what theyve predicted for the west!

svandusen Posted
(2009-09-03 11:50:19)

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It is obvious that the Ottawa Senators will be much better this year. They have a goalie in Leclair and a geat new offensive talent in Kovalev. Remeber that Kovalev won a Stanley Cup with New York Rangers. With Alfredsson, Spezza, Fisher and a new young defence, you should see a great improvement from last year. Both Montreal and Buffalo will have terrible years and poor Toronto...do I need to say anything more.

igotradekonmybonk Posted
(2009-09-01 21:24:16)

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Wow. Why don't we just watch last season for the same results? The standings have fluxuated so much season after season since 2006. I don't know where to begin. Pittsburgh will miss Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi? Really? Look for them to win the East. The new coaching philosophy will be a breath of fresh air in Edmonton. I think they have a shot at the 6th-8th seed. I also like how you guys say if Tim Connolly will stay healthy this year... that's like saying if Gaborik will stay healthy this season, it just doesn't happen.

zerogoals30 Posted
(2009-08-24 03:29:22)

it's a long shot but i wouldn't be suprised to see los angeles in 6th or 7th by the end of the season. they were a smyth trade away from making the playoffs. and it makes me wonder if they are thinking about signing tanguay, i heard los angeles was on his list of locations to come to. he would make a good solid second liner that i think the kings need. he would be great on a line that already features what i think would be frolov and stoll. smyth, kopitar, and brown sounds too good of a line to pass up and the kings defense was one of the best last season all season long. i still think the kings would of made the playoffs last year if they didn't have jason labarbera start the first 24 of 28 games of the season. he doesn't give anybody a chance to win especially in a shootout you- might as well turn off the TV. Jonathan Quick had a winning record of 21-18-2 with a 2.48 GAA and 91% save percentage on what everybody calls a less than mediocre team. I think they are going to the playoffs this year. they are ready. GO KINGS GO!!!

randycane Posted
(2009-08-23 19:14:32)

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It's always fun to ponder, predict, and prognosticate what will happen in the coming season. Being able to justify your viewpoints, is a little harder, especially if you root for a lousy team, haha. So, i did a little research b4 putting in my 2 cents. The Canes (who finished 6th) had a 33-19-5 record after Maurice became coach. they also were 13-1-2 from Mar. 3- Apr. 7. then they beat the 3rd seated NJ Devils, and 1st seated Bos. Bruins b4 losing to the 4th seated (and eventual Cup Champ Pitt. Penguins). This would be enough to warrant more consideration, but they've also improved in the off season. Kostopolous, Yelle, Ward, A, and Alberts, all help make the Canes a deeper, tougher, more physical team to play, and they still have a lot of speed! prediction: Canes/ Caps 1/2 in some order, Bruins, Pens, 3/4, Habs, Flyers 5/6, Sens, Bolts, 7/8. ..Rags, Devs, Slugs, Cats, Lafs, Iles, Trash

billw7940 Posted
(2009-08-23 07:22:35)

Having been a Wings fan since the days of the Original 6, (which tells you something about my age I suppose), I have to disagree with predictions of the Hawks supplanting Detroit in the Central. Its certianly possible but I just dont see it happening, at least not this year. And lest anyone think this is due to wearing red colored glasses, let me add that Im absolutely disgusted with Hollands signing of Bertuzzi. Its a disgrace to the winged wheel and I'll not be pulling for them, watchng them, or attending any games at the Joe this year in protest. So a Chicago upset wouldnt be the end of the world, its just not going to happen. The Wings depth is still just too much what with the youngsters coming up this year. Now, having said that, I'll qualify it by predicating a return to overall team defense and Ozzy commiting himself to the regular season, not just the playoffs like he did last year. While the Central will be the toughest overall division in the league, when the ice shavings finally settle, it'll be another Wings division championship, in spite of the felon in the lineup.

disconnected81 Posted
(2009-08-22 18:29:35)

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It doesn't bother me that the penguins lost some valuable blueliners in the offseason - I predict Malkin will score 120+ points this year helping the pens outscore almost every team in the league. I like their chances of a repeat. Boston and Washington don't really do it for me. If there is another Pitt-Wsh rematch in the playoffs I don't think it will be nearly as competitive (pens in 5).

beepbeep Posted
(2009-08-22 13:34:36)

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Anyone that believes Samuelsson will be as productive as he was for the Wings is in for a rude awakening...6'3" 217lbs and plays like a 5'4''girl...Jiri Hudler played bigger than Sammy..................good luck.

brian_kemp Posted
(2009-08-21 08:54:36)

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benny, I got your point, I just don't agree with it. Their forwards weren't their main problem last year, their defensmen were. They've upgraded. They should spend less time in their own zone this year, and even with their weak bottom 6 forwards, they will still be a better team than last year. As for instant chemistry, they didn't add anywhere near the new faces this year as last. I see them still in the hunt for a playoff spot near the end of the season, and a return to form for Lecavalier, as well as an improvement in points totals for Stamkos.

swampdragon Posted
(2009-08-21 03:19:57)

Flyersfan52 the Canucks have the PREMIER goalie in the world so they always have a chance at the cup .Forever1994 its 2009-10 not 1994 are you delusional go throw on your Counting Crows CD and relive 1994

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