With the unofficial second half of the NHL season just around the proverbial bend, it’s only right the Fifth Feather goes on record with conference and Stanley Cup winners. With parody in the NHL running wild like an arctic wolf, it’s a particularly difficult year to forecast, but lucky for you, the Fifth Feather isn’t afraid of being out on limbs. Without further ado, stand back and let the predictions fly:
After a certain age, I lost all of my ability to make anything resembling a solid prediction. When I was little, I could pick winners like a miniature Hank Greenberg. Anybody else pick the Broncos over the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII or the North Stars to take the Campbell Conference in ’91? Yeah, didn’t think so. Sadly, I can’t come anywhere close to predictions like that anymore. With all being said, Bob is currently pointing a gun at my head to pick Conference Champions and Stanley Cup Champions, so here goes nothing.
Campbell Conference: There’s basically two teams who stand above the rest with a third mega-sleeper lurking. Detroit and San Jose are the BigFoots (or is it BigFeet?) of the conference. Dallas is a major lurker trailing the 8th seed by four points but with at least a game at hand over any team close. I can’t bring myself to pick Dallas just because there’s something about Mike Modano’s face that makes me break out in hives, and Sergei Zubov is old enough to spin yarns about the way Stalin used to run things in the USSR. It just seems like this is San Jose’s year. They have the total package. Detroit was fortunate to win the Cup last year with a two-headed monster of Hasek and Osgood. Conklin and Osgood aren’t nearly as competent, and San Jose is just too strong for them to overtake in a 7 game set.
Prince of Wales Conference: It’s wide open in the Wild, Wild East. Any number of teams can emerge the champ among this group but after doing a little bit of research and taking into consideration some All-Star karma, I’m going with the Les Canadien. They have 10 guys who will be unrestricted free agents this summer and another 4 that will be restricted. How do you say “motivated by money” in French? Goalie Carey Price will also introduce himself to the novice hockey fan by becoming ‘That Goalie’. You know what I’m talking about, the goalie who becomes the Human Torch and goes through the playoffs with a goals against average of something like 1.03. Here’s another prediction you won’t see anywhere else for another few months: After the Canadiens lose in the Finals to San Jose, they will finally acquire Vincent Lecavalier due to the approximately $27 million coming off the payroll. Unfortunately, the expectations will be ridiculously high, and the team won’t be nearly as strong with Lecavalier’s contract eating up nearly half of next year’s cap space.
My Cup Winner: the San Jose Sharks.
Eastern Conference: It seems fairly easy to me to break down the Eastern Conference to three contenders. Pittsburgh will expend its gas just making the playoffs; the Rangers can’t win via shootout in the playoffs; and Montreal and Washington will run into goaltending issues come springtime. That leaves Philadelphia, New Jersey and Boston as my top three conference contenders. Then, I apply my super secret formula for playoff success: gritty, speedy forwards, a top-flight goaltender and a top-ten defenseman. Though they’ll be a tough, tough out come April, that eliminates the Devils, who should be able to supply capable forwards and goaltending (assuming Martin Brodeur is still alive), but haven’t boasted a true top defenseman since Scott Stevens left for the Hall of Fame. (But, darn, that stable of forwards is hard to ignore. And, you thought the ‘Hawks had decent depth?) And, though I like the Flyers, they’re missing the goalie. I’ll take the Bruins to win the East. They have a gritty group of forwards, and a goalie in Tim Thomas and a top defenseman in Zdeno Chara who are ready to take the hockey world by storm.
Western Conference: This one hurts; please don’t hate me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was riding the Dallas Stars wave back in September. I have something of a man crush on Stephane Robidas and his perpetually broken face, and it’s hard to imagine a better captain and playoff leader than Brendan Morrow. Throw in Sean Avery, who had a heck of a playoff last season, and unless something goes horribly awry, that’s a conference finalist. Well, something did go horribly wrong – two things, actually. Brendan Morrow decided he needed a new knee, and Sean Avery did – well, what I should have probably expected him to do from the beginning. Exit, stage left, Dallas Stars. That leaves us with five contenders in the West: Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, Vancouver and Anaheim. (Why not Calgary, who may have the best player in the NHL, arguably two top defensemen in Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr, as well as a playoff tested goalie? Because Todd Bertuzzi and Adrian Aucoin would have to win the Cup; that’s why.) Again, we apply my super secret playoff formula, and boom-shaka-laka: Vancouver leaves, because they don’t have a top-flight defenseman, though a large contingent of Swedes typically bodes well come NHL playoff time. (Insert poorly constructed international joke here.) Anaheim goes away, because they’ve only scored 15 more goals than the Nashville Predators; it killed them last year, and it will do them in this time around, too. That leaves Detroit, San Jose and Chicago, but you can scrap the formula for the Sharks and the ‘Hawks. On paper they should cut through most of the conference like a buzz saw, but San Jose will need more than a 43 year-old cheap shot artist to deal with the pressure come April. Four straight second round losses, a reworked defensive corps, a new head coach and a Presidents Trophy is a recipe for disaster where I come from. And, the ‘Hawks are just too damn young, but, boy it will be a shame; they have all three pieces of the formula. So, though I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, I’ll take the ‘Wings in the West – even though it flies in the face of my formula. Their forwards, who welcomed Marian Hossa after dominating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals last season, may be the best in the NHL, and their top-four defensemen include Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. After that, the goaltending will take care of itself – just like it did last year. If Chris “I’m Total Crap Everywhere But Detroit” Osgood was good enough to win in May of ’08, he should bring enough to do it in May of ’09.
And, in the battle of outdated goalie masks, Chris Osgood’s ‘Wings beat Tim Thomas’ Bruins in seven … or, with any luck, not.
So, who’s winning the Cup this year, folks?