The Opossum-Palooza

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10.04.2006

NHL 2006-07 Season Preview

As noted, your friend and mine DefDude, who was supposed to be writing previews for the as-yet unpreviewed Pacific Division (as well as the Vancouver Canucks) has been AWOL for the past few weeks. But today, he makes his triumphant return with an absurdly comprehensive look at the whole of the upcoming NHL year.

Yes, yes, I am all too aware that my efforts to see the NHL preview series through to completion were somewhat lacking, but a combination of tests, athletic engagements, and the realization that, as a college student, I am supposed to be cutting corners and skipping assignments whenever possible, led to my not caring for a week or two there. The Canucks preview I owe can be summed up in a few simple words: Finally shored up the goaltending situation, but unfortunately there is no one to score the goals in Vancouver anymore, and JovoCop will be sorely missed, so the Canucks will find themselves most likely buried under their stiff divisional competition. There you go. But as I find myself sitting here on all-hockey’s eve, a cold shiver of anticipation suddenly begins to run down my spine: Hockey’s back, tonight at 7 on (Versus or OLN? YOU decide!), with a rematch of last season’s NHL Eastern conference finals, Buffalo and Carolina. 19 hours after I write this, the coolest game on earth begins again.

While October means reveling in yet another Yankees playoff failure for most Americans, there are still the select few among us for whom October is really the beginning. And what a beginning it shall be. From the fall of the old guard, to the return of a tortured franchise to the realm of respectability, this year promises to be one of the most epic in NHL history. Much of last year was spent on adjusting to the new salary structure and rules. Now, one year removed from that grace period, some of the biggest teams in hockey are poised for a precipitous fall. The Atlantic division, once the home of epic division battles between the Flyers and Devils, and residence of the resurgent Rangers, looks weaker than ever, with so many question marks surrounding all three teams as to make one wonder if only one will make the playoffs: Will Philadelphia have a competent, healthy goaltender for most of the early season? Will it matter who plays net behind that disaster of a defense? Will Jaromir Jagr remember that he is, in fact, a primadonna prick, and refuse to carry the team on his shoulders once again? Will it matter if he does, seeing as how the Devils showed last year that he can be completely depantsed when left alone? Can Lou Lamiorello cut yet another deal with his team’s sponsors to get out of his self-induced salary cap hole (Early warning signs are pointing to yes).

Out West, Colorado will have to face the dilemma of the fact that I trust a joe Sakic-led team to overcome most, if not all, odds to win as much as I trust a Jose Theodore-followed team to overcome most, if not all odds to lose, and the job of covering up the fact that Colorado’s goaltender not only isn’t a Patrick Roy, but isn’t even a Patrick Lalime (at least Lalime played well in the regular season), doesn’t get any easier when they lose their best defenseman to a conference opponent, and give a division opponent the forward they so desperately need in order to fix it. Elsewhere, hockeytown will have to cope with the loss of two elder statesmen, Stevie Y (Link to your post on him), and Brendan Shanahan, and will almost certainly be yet another playoff dissapointment, except this time they won’t do it as a top seed, because they will be fighting for a bottom seed this time.

Of course, with all these teams falling, someone else has to move up to take their place. Calgary, San Jose, Nashville, and Anaheim all appear poised to dominate their Western Conference brethren this season, while Buffalo and Ottawa appear to be the only dependable teams in the east. But of course, who moves into the elite spots isn’t interesting; it is the surprise middling- to good teams that make the stories. Take the Phoenix Coyotes: coached by none other than “The Great One,” the desert dogs managed a disappointing .500 finish last season, and so went out to revamp the defense, leading most journalists to label Phoenix as the sleeper team of 06-07 (meaning, of course, Phoenix will fall flat on its face out of the gate, show signs of life in December, and then ultimately fall short in their inspired playoff push after the All-Star break). This season’s real stories look to come from much more unexpected places: Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington, and Chicago. Atlanta barely missed the playoffs last season, and a healthy kari Lehtonen could propel them to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference; Minnesota, the poor man’s Calgary Flames, needed to only score another goal every other game to jump from lottery loser to playoff player, and should certainly find what they need in the additions of Mark Parrish, Kenny Johnsson, and Pavol Demitra; Washington, home to the NHL’s most charismatic, dynamic scorer, suddenly has a depth of scoring potential, a strong crop of grinding forwards, and a deep defense with enough to potential to offset its inexperience (yes I’m a blatant homer, shut up); and Chicago, after yet another disappointment despite adding big names Adrian Aucoin and Nikolai Khabibulin last offseason, are poised to make a strong defensive stand with newly acquired center Michael Handzus, Aucoin, a healthy Khabibulin, and the young Ryan Suter.

But ultimately, the story of this NHL season will be the personalities, as young stars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, with a full year of experience under their belts, will shock and awe both opponents and fans alike as they take the game to new heights, both on the ice and off it, while other charismatic stars such as Illya Kovalchuk, Joe Thornton, and Paul Kariya will be given the freedom to make their mark in their respective markets. The Evgeni Malking saga, and its unavoidable implication of Russian mob corruption, will continue to make for a compelling off-ice story to match any NBA or NFL styled misdemeanor, and Reebok’s vigorous efforts to make its investment in the NHL profitable will lead to much greater exposure for all these individuals.

AND HERE THEY ARE, DEFDUDE’S NHL 2006-2007 PREDICTIONS

Eastern Conference

Northeast Division
Buffalo
Ottawa
Montreal
Boston
Toronto

Atlantic Division
Philadelphia
New Jersey
NY Rangers
Pittsburgh
NY Islanders

Southeast Division
Atlanta
Carolina
Washington
Tampa Bay
Florida


Final Eastern Conference Standings
1. Buffalo*
2. Atlanta*
3. Philadelphia*
4. Carolina
5. Ottawa
6. New Jersey
7. Washington
8. Montreal
9. New York Rangers
10. Boston
11. Tampa Bay
12. Pittsburgh
13. Toronto
14. Florida
15. New York Islanders

Western Conference

Central Division
Nashville
Chicago
Detroit
Columbus
St. Louis

Northwestern Division
Calgary
Minnesota
Colorado
Edmonton
Vancouver

Pacific Division
Anaheim
San Jose
Los Angeles
Phoenix
Dallas

Final Western Conference Standings

1. Calgary*
2. Nashville*
3. Anaheim*
4. San Jose
5. Los Angeles
6. Minnesota
7. Chicago
8. Detroit
9. Colorado
10. Phoenix
11. Edmonton
12. Dallas
13. Vancouver
14. Columbus
15. St. Louis


Playoffs:

Eastern Conference First Round:

(1)Buffalo beats (8)Montreal

(7)Washington Beats (2)Atlanta

(3)Philadelphia beats (6)New Jersey

(5)Ottawa beats (4)Carolina

Western Conference First Round:

(1)Calgary beats (7)Detroit

(2)Nashville beats (7)Chicago

(6)Minnesota beats (3)Anaheim

(4)San Jose beats (5)Los Angeles

Eastern Conference semifinals:

(1)Buffalo beats (7)Washington

(3)Philadelphia beats (5)Ottawa

Western Conference semifinals:

(1)Calgary beats (6)Minnesota

(2)Nashville beats (4)San Jose

Eastern Conference Finals:

(1)Buffalo beats (3)Philadelphia

Western Conference Finals:

(1)Calgary beats (2)Nashville

Stanley Cup Final:

Calgary Flames beat Buffalo Sabres.

See you in June!

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