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The 06/07 season is upon us and the hockey experts and pundits have already started putting out their own predictions for the final point standings in the NHL and therefore also predicting if teams will finish in the post-season. Those same “predictions” and lack of reasonable foresight are exactly what has prompted this article.

There are many prognosticators for the final standings within the NHL ranks but by and large the biggest overall disappointment for the 06/07 season was The Score.

The Score is a respected magazine for almost anything puck related in most hockey circles, but they have lost credibility with the last few years predictions (last season predicted the Hurricanes would miss the playoffs) and this season have dropped the ball on many predictions for whatever reasons.

Since this is a Montreal Canadiens based site the focus shall remain on them specifically. The Score has predicted that the Habs will finish 14th in the Eastern Conference (3rd last in the NHL). This logic is explained by saying the current team is still too small and the additions of Samsonov and Johnson have not addressed any concerns; yet a quick look at the top team shows they predict that the Buffalo Sabres will win the Eastern Conference. The same Buffalo Sabres that are as small or smaller then the Canadiens and have less talented goaltending overall. The Sabres even rely on the same speed and skill game that the Canadiens have made popular since the days of the “Flying Frenchmen” of the 1970’s and it is the same strategy they use today. This isn’t to imply that the Sabres will not have a good team; it is meant to show the similarities between the Habs and Sabres and question why one will be so much better then the other if the teams are almost identical.

In contrast to the prediction, the Sabres have lost two goal scorers and a PK specialist in Dumont, Pyatt and Grier as well as two defensemen (that logged 20+ mins per game) while adding only Spacek to the team that finished 4th in the eastern conference a year ago. This hardly speaks volumes about the foreseen increase in points while losing integral parts of the team’s core.

The Canadiens have lost players as well. Two players (Zednik and Bulis) have left the team via UFA and trade. Bulis left as a UFA for a more offensive role in Vancouver that was not an option for him in Montreal; and Zednik went back to the team that drafted him in Washington in return for a draft pick. Both players will be missed for their years of service to the Canadiens but not as much for their contributions to the team. Not to shun either Bulis’ or Zednik’s talent but the players acquired to replace the dearly departed duo are better statistically in scoring and are much more reliable defensively.

Sergei Samsonov and Mike Johnson will don the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge for the first time in their respective careers in 06/07 and with much anticipation from the fans and media alike.

Mike Johnson is a player who contributed 50+ points from the third line, as well as killing penalties and becoming one of the most defensively responsible players in Phoenix. Most hockey pundits feel this is an upgrade over Bulis’ contribution to the team.

Sergei Samsonov is an explosive dynamo who can control the game at times with his speed and skill and yet is defensively responsible as well; a feature that Zednik lacked thus far in his career.

Unfortunately, with these obvious upgrades along with maturing young guns in Higgins, Plekanec, Perezhogin, Komisarek (and likely Kostitsyn) The Score still felt that this better version of the Canadiens would finish 7 spots lower then they did last year. The changes made between this season and last season have not been anything drastic but you have to take into account the upgrades of Johnson and Samsonov, maturing of the previously mentioned young guns and defense as well as the absence of a then struggling goaltender in Jose Theodore.

Since it isn’t a very compelling argument in favor of the “experts” at The Score, I decided that if this stuff can be passed off as a reasonable attempt at predicting the final standings, then logic and reason should be an even better guide. So here are my results for the Eastern Conference standings. Keep in mind this is a total points list not where they will end up in the seedings/positioning.

1. Carolina – I’m not really comfortable picking them this high after losing so many players but mostly because they are throwing all their eggs into Cam Wards basket. If he falters they could finish much lower, perhaps even miss the post season.
Additions –; John Grahame Trevor Letowski, Shane Willis, Scott Walker, Jesse Boulerice
Departures -Doug Weight, Aaron Ward, Mark Recchi, Martin Gerber, Matt Cullen, Josef Vasicek

2. Philadelphia – Again another team that will rely on a young goalie to hold them in the race. Once Gagne re-signs and the combo of Richards and Carter and Pitkanen come into their own this season, they might have the offence to pull it off anyway. 2nd seed might be too high but they will make the top eight.
Additions – Geoff Sanderson, Nolan Baumgartner, Kyle Calder, Daniel Corso, Martin Grenier, Randy Robitaille
Departures – Branko Radivojevic, Jamie Storr, Kim Johnsson, Michal Handzus, Eric Desjardins, Donald Brashear, Mattias Timander, Chris Therien, Brian Savage

3. NYR – The Rangers added severe skill to an already good team without losing anyone important during the off-season; but kind of like beating a dead horse, Lundqvist is the key. He will start as the number one goalie and if he holds true to his 05/06 performance the Rangers should keep this spot.
Additions – Aaron Ward, Brendan Shanahan, Adam Hall, Matt Cullen
Departures – Petr Sykora, Martin Sonnenberg, Steve Rucchin, Tom Poti, Dominic Moore

4. Ottawa – After losing key players like Chara and Havlat (among others) while adding only slightly better goaltending, this fall from the top 2- 3 teams was only expected. I think they can finish even lower but Spezza, Heatley, Redden and Alfredsson are a tough group to beat and they get the benefit of the doubt here.
Additions – Tom Preissing, Dean McAmmond, Martin Gerber, Joe Corvo, Michal Barinka, Jamie Allison, Tyler Arnason
Departures – Vaclav Varada, Brian Pothier, Bryan Smolinski, Glen Metropolit, Martin Havlat, Dominik Hasek, Zdeno Chara

5. Montreal – For the reasons listed above they will challenge Ottawa for the top spot in the division. The additions outweigh the subtractions and cause the slight jump from the 05/06 season. Keep in mind that this includes a healthy Saku Koivu.
Additions – Sergei Samsonov, Mike Johnson, Dan Jancevski
Departures – Richard Zednik, Niklas Sundstrom, Raitis Ivanans Jan Bulis

6. Buffalo – Again as explained above they have lost too many important parts of the core to be given the nod at a higher position. This could change depending on the return in a trade for goaltender Martin Biron. If they can get a team to overpay for his services and fill holes created by Dumont, Grier and Pyatt, then they could finish with home ice in the playoffs.
Additions – Jaroslav Spacek
Departures – Jean-Pierre Dumont, Taylor Pyatt, Jay McKee, Doug Janik, Mike Grier, Rory Fitzpatrick, David Cullen

7. New Jersey – This team is a real wild card at this point. They currently sit just over the cap of $44M and have yet to sign the 47 goal scorer Brian Gionta. Something will have to happen for them to even start the season under the cap. It depends on who is moved to clear the cap as to where they finish, but it is hard to rule out any team Martin Brodeur plays for.
Additions – None worth noting
Departures – Ari Ahonen, Bobby Allen, Brad Ference, Ken Klee Tommy Albelin, Viktor Kozlov (FA), Erik Rasmussen, Krzysztof Oliwa

8. Atlanta – This is finally the year they step out of the basement and taste the NHL playoffs. It will be a close race for them to get in, but the upgrades in net with a healthy Lehtonen, and the subtle changes at every position they should pull it off. Unless of course the GM decides to curse them with the pressure of a “guarantee” for a playoff position.
Additions – Kyle Wanvig, Vitaly Vishnevski, Jon Sim, Steve Rucchin, Glen Metropolit, Jason Krog, Niko Kapanen, Johan Hedberg, Fred Brathwaite
Departures – Steve Shields, Mike Dunham, Peter Bondra, Yannick Tremblay, Marc Savard, Patrik Stefan, Jaroslav Modry, Tomas Kloucek, Serge Aubin, Ramzi Abid

9. NYI – I wanted to put this team in the playoffs because they made some changes to the team that can only help but I don’t think the firing of Neil Smith and promotion of borderline NHL goaltender Garth Snow as GM with zero experience will do anything for the morale of this team. Alexei Yashin’s and Paul Dipietro’s antics are difficult to take, but the “snow” balling in the front office might be too much to add to the pile. On paper this team makes the playoffs, but it all depends on how the players view/react to what happened in the office.
Additions – Brendan Witt, Chris Simon, Mike Sillinger, Tom Poti Sean Hill, Andy Hilbert, Rick Berry
Departures – Justin Papineau, Dmitri Nabokov, Kenny Jonsson Garth Snow

10. Tampa Bay – Tampa really needed to make some changes to get back to the days of contention for the cup, but this off-season passed them by. Tampa has effectively become a one line team. The financial burdens of this one line caused them to miss the boat on some good UFA’s this summer not to mention losing their best D-man in Kubina to Toronto as a UFA. Unless Denis turns out an All-Star performance they will likely miss the dance this year.
Additions – Luke Richardson, Filip Kuba, Doug Janik, Johan Holmqvist, Marc Denis, Andy Delmore
Departures – Darryl Sydor, Shane Willis, John Grahame, Fredrik Modin, Pavel Kubina, Jim Campbell, Martin Cibak

11. Toronto – This is higher then I expect them to finish but they did improve greatly on defense and that has to count for something. Raycroft was not the answer in net the team needed but the concern for this team will be scoring. Antropov and/or Tucker playing alongside Mats Sundin will not get you enough goals to make a playoff team, and Peca has been on the decline offensively for four straight seasons so don’t look there for help. The Leafs have some young guys ( Wellwood, Stajan, Steen to name a few) that will get to play now that Quinn is finally out of the picture but can they take the reigns and make up for the lack of scoring?
Additions – Andrew Raycroft, Michael Peca, Bates Battaglia Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina
Departures – Luke Richardson, Tuukka Rask, Owen Nolan, Eric Lindros, Aki Berg, Ed Belfour, Jason Allison, Tie Domi, Alexander Khavanov, Clarke Wilm

12. Florida – I like the addition of Bertuzzi to such a young team of potential power forwards but not at the cost of Roberto Luongo. The Panthers will find out just how valuable he is once the season starts. With that said, they do have a strong set of forwards that can fill the net so it might equal out in the long run. This team is tough to figure out when Keenan is at the helm and could actually finish as high as 8th.
Additions – Ruslan Salei, Ville Peltonen, Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Belfour, Bryan Allen
Departures – Serge Payer, Jon Sim, Jamie McLennan, Roberto Luongo, Lukas Krajicek, Sean Hill, Jamie Allison, Alexander Karpovtsev, Dan Focht

13. Boston – After getting under market value for Thornton and Samsonov last season, the Bruins spent a truckload of cash on Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard on long term deals. They also will take the chance that Hannu Toivannen will be able to stay healthy and be a number one goaltender for them. Tim Thomas was a one shot wonder and the Bruins will find out the hard way like they did with the Jim Carey experiment. Finally spending some cash was the right thing to do, but they didn’t get enough to help them challenge for a playoff berth for the amount they spent.
Additions – Jason York, Petr Tenkrat, Marc Savard, Tuukka Rask, Paul Mara, Shean Donovan, Nathan Dempsey, Zdeno Chara, Bobby Allen, Brian Finley
Departures – David Tanabe, Shawn McEachern, Brian Leetch Jason MacDonald, Josh Langfeld, Brad Isbister, Dan LaCouture Tom Fitzgerald, Jiri Slegr, Marty Reasoner, Andrew Raycroft, Ian Moran, Hal Gill, Mariusz Czerkawski, Nick Boynton, Travis Green

14. Pittsburgh – This is another tough call. Crosby is a phenom and will carry the weight again on offense, but Malkin looks like he will get his wish and play in the NHL this season as well. These two could really make a splash in a run and gun NHL, but do they have the defense needed to climb the standings, and goaltending to keep them there?
Additions – Nils Ekman, Dominic Moore, Matt Carkner, Mark Eaton, Mark Recchi, Jarkko Ruutu
Departures – Lyle Odelein, Aleksey Morozov, Andy Chiodo, Petr Taticek, Tomas Surovy, Konstantin Koltsov, Krystofer Kolanos Andy Hilbert, Shane Endicott, Sebastien Caron, Eric Boguniecki Lasse Pirjeta

15. Washington – Ovechkin, Ovechkin, Ovechkin. What more can be said about the human highlight reel. It’s a shame that there is more to hockey then one guy because he will be in the basement again this year. The minor additions they made at defense and up front are just not enough to allow a higher rating. Almost every team helped themselves as much as Washington did, so it evens out really. At least Ovechkin will still play at the All-Star game and collect some hardware at the NHL awards.
Additions – Richard Zednik, Chad Wiseman, Peter Vandermeer, Petr Taticek, Brian Pothier, Donald Brashear
Departures – Miroslav Zalesak, Petr Sykora, Ivan Majesky, , Jared Aulin, Andrew Cassels, Nolan Yonkman, Jeff Halpern, Colin Forbes, Mathieu Biron, Boyd Kane

Predicting the final standings for an 82 game season is not an easy thing to do because of all the variables, but it does require more effort then some “experts” put into theirs. I would love to say the standings will finish as stated above but the fact is they likely will change because an argument could be made for any of the top twelve or thirteen teams to make the post season. I know it doesn’t sound very confident, but we only have to wait 10 months or so to see how far off I am. Look on the bright side; at least you didn’t spend $10 for this list like you would have with the “experts” at The Score magazine.