So while I was gone it appeared the National Hockey League got under way. Due to a lack of a inexpensive internet connection while I was in Chicago I wasn’t able to post a preseason preview before the season actually began. So on the eve of the Lightning starting with a 6-3 loss to the Thrashers I give to you my Preseason Prognostication for the NHL.
Let’s start with the Lightning. After another off-season where there was more press about the front office instead of the team on the ice it’s nice that they’re finally on the ice. General Manager Brian Lawton addressed the biggest need by totally overhauling the defense.
Four of the six starting defenseman were not with the team last year. The even better news is that they’re actually NHL-caliber blue liners. Victor Hedman, who picked up his first point on a second period assist, appears destined to be a rock on the Lightning’s defensive line for a long time to come.
They Bolts should post better numbers this season with their strengthen defense. Of course, as I started this article they gave up six goals in their season debut. It’s cool though, they’ll be better. Trust me!
Offensively, they have a true 1a and 1b pairing. The Lecavalier, Tanguay and Downie (for now) line is on the same talent level as the Stamkos, Malone and St Louis line. When they can roll those lines out for two to three minutes in a row the opposition is going to be on their heels. Anything, they get from the third and fourth line will be a bonus.
It will be interesting to see if Zenon Konopka gets into a fight in every single game this season. I would imagine 81 fights would be a record. Hopefully, he manages to win at least one of them. The job of defending the stars with their fists seems to fall with Konopka and Todd Fedoruk. They’re both willing pugilists, but not ones that will strike fear into other teams cheap shot artists.
Goaltending will go as far as Mike Smith’s head will. I mean that both physically and mentally. If his concussion problems are in the best he is definitely on his way to being an elite net minder. As talented as he is, he does get himself in trouble with his tendency to roam after the puck. He needs also to control the rebounds a bit better. His style, a mix of butterfly and Hasek-like aerobics, tends to leave him vulnerable to rebounds.
Overall, I see them finishing anywhere from 8th-10th in the Eastern Conference. With a playoff push and the foul stench that emanates from Raymond James Stadium I believe they’ll be the darlings of Tampa Bay this winter. By the way I love saying “winter” in Florida. Winter means three days of 40 degree weather and the sun dipping behind the clouds for more than 6 minutes.
Since I only spent six paragraphs on my season preview I figure I owe you some other random predictions.. As always I’ll review this after the season to see how I did.
The Penguins will not repeat as Stanley Cup champions (sorry Link). I have a feeling that the winners will come out of the west this year. For fun let’s say the San Jose Sharks get over their playoff woes and ride the wave to the Cup.
Bonus prediction regarding the Pens. Serious talk will circulate about Crosby or Malkin getting traded. It will replace the “Vinny Traded to Montreal” headlines in Canada.
Dany Heatley equals success in San Jose while Marion Hossa equals angry Blackhawk fans in Chicago. Heatley will thrive with Joe Thornton setting him up and playing without the pressure that comes with suiting up for a Canadian team.
Hossa’s injury is going to get him off to a rough start in Chicago and they’ll struggle to find chemistry in the clubhouse. His name will be bandied about come trade deadline time.
The Phoenix Coyotes off ice troubles will extend to their performance on the ice. They will be drafting first next June. The best that they can hope for is to settle the ownership situation. Hey maybe once Oren Koules buys out Len Barrie, then Barrie can get his investors together to buy the ‘Yotes. After all, he’s been approved once as an owner, there’s no reason he can’t be approved again, right?
James Wright doesn’t get sent back to juniors. I must say that I didn’t follow him too closely in training camp, but based on his performance in Game 1 I think he’s here to stay. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bolts put him on a plan similar to Stamkos’ last season where he gets the occasional game off to watch from the press box.
My plus/minus will be -15 this season. A little background:
When the Bolts won the Stanley Cup it seemed that every time I turned on the radio or TV the Lightning scored a goal. So after a couple of seasons I decided that maybe I should track the goals scored vs. goals given up. The rules are simple - any goal regardless of power play, penalty kill counts. Empty net goals count as well. The only goals that don’t count are shootout goals.
My record so far:
2009-10: -3 (not a great start)
There ya go. You’ve just seen what I’ve seen in my crystal ball.