09/24/2009 9:12 AM
By Chad Huebner
Before I figure out who will do what and where (and maybe to whom) in the Western Conference, a few things have come up since my last column; namely, the Phil Kessel trade and the Adam Burish injury.
The trade, on the one hand, shows a crazy commitment by the Toronto Maple Leafs to win now; crazy because they’re still a few years away from doing this. Sports are all about star power and now, the Maple Leafs have a potential one. On a team choked with talent as the Bruins are, Kessel had a hard time standing out on his own. Now he gets the chance to be in Toronto what he thought he would be in Boston, if you get my drift. He’ll also be the “centre” of attention (haw! Two jokes for the price of one!) and will need to address the extra pressure put on him and the rest of the team to perform for fans that haven’t seen a cup winner in more than four decades.
Anyone who knows anything about the Chicago Blackhawks knows that Adam Burish was a big factor to last season’s success in his own, unique way. He’s considered as a sparkplug of emotion, always ready to muck it up with another team to give his club an extra “oomph” when it’s lagging in a game. Surprisingly, his 93 PIM were only second on the club to Ben Eager’s 131 PIM (who’s also no slouch when it comes to enforcing, but hey, maybe he seems a little more reserved about it, if that’s possible). Still, his rough play counts for more than your average goon, who’s only purpose is to get into one big fight per game, and not do much else. Any good team could use a guy like Burish to lift their spirits.
And now, back to the season preview.
Detroit Red Wings
After all that I’ve said about how much I enjoyed the ‘Hawks last season, you’d think I’d be ready to crown them champs of the universe. But the Chicago Sports Cynic side in me says Detroit’s still a powerful team, and they’ll continue to be reckoned with until they’re finished with their seemingly inexhaustible supply of good, young talent. All I can say in the ‘Hawks favor is that it’ll be a much closer race than last year.
See above. All I have left to say is GO ‘HAWKS!!!!!!
St. Louis Blues
Didn’t take too long for the Blues to get back into being a perennial playoff team. They’re a mostly young team, peppered with the likes of a Kariya and a Tkachuk. They managed to snag Ty Conklin, who was brilliant as backup for the Pens and Red Wings. The only thing is, how much can they really improve in such a suddenly good division?
Columbus Blue Jackets
The loss of Pascal LeClaire might be too much to bear. Liked the rhyme? Thank you, I’ll be at the coffee shop all week, try the biscotti. Anyway, the Blue Jackets (sorry, for censorship purposes, this is one team name I can’t shorten to the initials. . . hope some of you got that one) are pinning their hopes on youngling Steve Mason to carry them deeper into the playoffs. This could be risky, but he does have a whole season under his belt, so maybe Columbus doesn’t have to worry about that pesky sophomore slump. The scoring has to match Mason’s fine play, as the Jackets were only one of two playoff teams to give up more goals than they scored.
Until the NHL expands the playoffs from 16, to 18 or 20 teams, this is another case of who finishes last by default, and not for lack of trying to make the playoffs. But I just think there’s a slight more upside to St. Louis and Columbus with their young talent compared to the Preds.
Vancouver Canucks. . . no, Calgary Flames. . . no, Minnesota Wild. . . uh, Edmonton Oilers? Calgary Flames it is!
The only guarantee of this division is that the Colorado Avalanche won’t be winning it anytime soon, which is a bit of a shock if your love for hockey goes back more than a decade. The Canucks are going to be on the road a lot come January-March, and a long stretch that late in the season spells doom for a division winner. That means the Flames will pretty much outlast everyone here by default, unless Mike Keenan takes some anger management courses (hockey needs Angry Mike).
In spite of a 14-game road trip (longest in NHL history) and in spite of sharing the hockey spotlight with the Olympics, the Canucks can still eke out another playoff appearance. Roberto Luongo is locked down until be becomes a cougar (and yes, men can become cougars as much as women can) and the Sedin Twins are still together (as if anyone can break those two up. . . hah!) so it should business as usual. Somewhat.
Suddenly, this division has gone from one of the strongest to one of the weakest in just a few years. It also means a team like the Oilers, who hasn’t done much since their fun 2006 Cup run, can emerge as an up and comer. Craig MacTavish’s coaching was getting a bit stale, so the Oilers got Pat Quinn (not to be confused with the Illinois governor), who has helped other Canadian teams like the Canucks and Maple Leafs turn things around. I’m glad the ‘Bulin Wall made it all the way out here, because I wouldn’t like the idea of the ‘Hawks having to face an aging superstar goalie in the same division eight times a year. Now it’s only four games or so.
After nearly a decade with the same coach/GM combo, it was time for a change. Well, Lemaire went to New Jersey, and the Wild dropped GM Doug Risebrough faster than Tyson dropping Larry Holmes, but it amounts to the same thing. Say what you will about their “boring” defense, it gets the job done. Now’s the time to concentrate on the offense, as yet another ‘Hawks favorite, Marty Havlat, lands in this division.
It was bound to happen, it’s just that most people probably didn’t think it would take this long to happen. Ever since they moved from Quebec City to Denver and went from the Nordiques (I know what the word means and I’m still mystified by the name) to the Avalanche, the Avs were always one of The Teams to Beat. But they were unable to replace the likes of Forsberg, Sakic and Roy with anything coming close to those three, and now thusly, they’re paying dearly for it. That’s not to say coach Tony Granato won’t have this team ready to play each game, it’s just that sometimes all good things must come to an end. I still can’t get over the fact that Bloom County, Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side are all long gone, though.
San Jose Sharks
Zzzzzzzz. . . huh?! Wha?! Oh, sorry, must have been writing in my sleep. What a surprise, I picked the Sharks to finish first in their division again. I could have done this even if they didn’t get Dany Heatley. Get back to me when they do something constructive, like “win in the playoffs.” I’m going back to sleep. . . Zzzzzzzzzz. . .
Zzzzzz. . . huh?! Wha’ now? Oh, yeah, there’s the Ducks, hanging onto San Jose coattails. I’m sure they’ll make some spectacular last second playoff push and do something really special. Or maybe not. Leave me alone! Zzzzzzzzz. . .
Los Angeles Kings
But this one does wake me up a bit. It’s time for the Kings to come through for all the people saying they have potential to do something sometime in the next five years. They’re actually taking good players in, like Ryan Smith and Rob Scuderi, instead of letting them go to better clubs (remember Rob Blake?). Goaltending is a huge question, so until that gets shored up, the Kings can only climb as high as this for now.
If you look at a list of the top goalscorers in the league who are not yet 25, you find the usual names of Ovie and Crosby on there. Then you see “Loui Eriksson, 36 goals (age 23)”, and you wonder who the heck he is. He’s a bright spot for a team that’s starting to sink faster than the sun in the Western Texas scrublands. Marty Turco should be gone before the trade deadline, unless the Stars get an unexpected pick me up from somewhere.
Well, at least they know they’re playing in Phoenix this season. They’re pretty sure on that. Beyond that, who really knows what’s going on with this team? They’ve never really excelled since moving down from Winnipeg, and it seems like all of their best players are constantly shipped elsewhere (Shane Doan, 31 goals last year, you, my dear sir, have a big bulls eye on your back). Plus, The Great One isn’t so great when it comes to trying to teach younger players the way he played, because. . . umm. . THERE’S ONLY ONE GREAT ONE! Some say Jim Balsillie is trying too hard to buy and move this team, I say he’s not trying hard enough.
Playoff Seeding for Western Conference: 1. Detroit 2. San Jose 3. Calgary 4. Chicago 5. Anaheim 6. Vancouver 7. St. Louis 8. Columbus
Playoff Results for Eastern Conference: Quarterfinal Winners-Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and New Jersey. Semifinal Winners-Pittsburgh and Boston. Conference Final Winner-Pittsburgh.
Playoff Results for Western Conference: Quarterfinal Winners-Detroit, San Jose, Chicago and Vancouver. Semifinal Winners-Detroit and Chicago. Conference Final Winner-CHICAGO.
Yep, so much for the status quo, but the ‘Hawks are due. Unfortunately, the result in the Stanley Cup will be the same as it was between Pittsburgh and Chicago in 1992. At least this time around, you can be pretty sure a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie won’t be filmed during the Finals. One helicopter crashing through the center of The Igloo is enough.
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