Oct 072010

The Chicago Blackhawks begin their 84th NHL regular season campaign and defense of the organization’s 4th Stanley Cup championship tonight at 9pm (central) at the Pepsi Center in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.  The game will be televised nationwide by VERSUS.

With the turnover and cap-crunch all having been well-documented since the Hawks hoisted the Cup back on June 9th, all that’s left is to do is wait and see how the newcomers fit, and who picks up the slack.

Tonight is no more important to any Blackhawk than it is to Marty Turco.

Turco, 35, had a so-so preseason and his teammates have struggled to adjust to Turco’s eagerness to play the puck.  With Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet and even Nikolai Khabibulin, the defense was solely responsible for retrieving the puck, clearing the zone and quarterbacking the offense.  Turco likes to audible and call plays himself.  The Hawks offense hasn’t been built that way and it will take time to find a happy medium.

Chicago should win this game easily.  Craig Anderson led the Avs with a phenomenal run last October and November, but he was a lot less his super-human self in the second half.  With the exception of Marian Hossa, the Hawk veterans mostly coasted through the preseason in cruise control and should be ready to hammer the gas tonight in Denver.

With all the talk of who the Blackhawks lost and the “damage” done to the 2010 Champs roster, veterans like Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Kane and captain Jonathan Toews will be looking to make a statement.

Marty Turco too can address Blackhawk fans and the rest of the league tonight himself.  Something along the lines of “Niemi Who?”

And he’d better make that kind of a statement, because waiting around the corner Saturday night for the Hawks’ home opener and Stanley Cup banner unveiling are the Detroit Red Wings.  A night of celebration and raising the banner in the faces of the hated Red Wings may sound poetic to some, but once the wheels on the pomp and circumstance hault, Saturday night has all the makings of a Red Wings express reminder that while Chicago’s celebration may only be four months old, a whole new season has arrived..

If Turco struggles tonight and the Wings emerge victorious Saturday, the UC will be uproarious, but not in a good way.  Gloom and doom will take flight and Turco will feel the heat. Continue reading »

Oct 072010

I wanted to get my full predictions up before the first puck drops on the 2010-11 NHL Season at 11am this morning in Helsinki, Finland (Hurricanes-Wild).  I’ll follow this up later on today after a nap, with team-by-team commentary and thorough explanations of these detailed predictions.

2010-11 Western Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Vancouver Canucks 51 21 10 112
2 Detroit Red Wings 48 22 12 108
3 San Jose Sharks 47 24 11 105
4 Los Angeles Kings 47 25 10 104
5 Chicago Blackhawks 46 24 12 104
6 Nashville Predators 44 29 9 97
7 St. Louis Blues 44 30 8 96
8 Colorado Avalanche 42 31 9 93
9 Phoenix Coyotes 41 32 9 91
10 Anaheim Ducks 39 34 9 87
11 Calgary Flames 38 33 11 87
12 Minnesota Wild 37 36 9 83
13 Columbus Blue Jackets   36 37 9 81
14 Dallas Stars 34 37 11 79
15 Edmonton Oilers 33 38 11 77

2010-11 Eastern Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Boston Bruins 51 23 8 110
2 Washington Capitals 48 24 10 106
3 Philadelphia Flyers 46 25 11 103
4 New Jersey Devils 45 27 10 100
5 Pittsburgh Penguins 43 27 12 98
6 Buffalo Sabres 43 31 8 94
7 Montreal Canadiens 42 30 10 94
8 Tampa Bay Lightning   40 32 10 90
9 Carolina Hurricanes 39 32 11 89
10 Atlanta Thrashers 38 32 12 88
11 Ottawa Senators 39 36 7 85
12 Toronto Maple Leafs 35 37 10 80
13 New York Rangers 33 40 9 75
14 Florida Panthers 32 39 11 75
15 New York Islanders 29 40 13 71

East Conference Quarter-Finals
Boston Bruins over Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Caps over Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers over Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins over New Jersey Devils

East Conference Semi-Finals
Boston Bruins over Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals over Philadelphia Flyers

Eastern Conference Final
Washington Capitals over Boston Bruins

West Conference Quarter-Finals
Vancouver Canucks over Colorado Avalanche

Detroit Red Wings over St. Louis Blues

San Jose Sharks over Nashville Predators

Los Angeles Kings over Chicago Blackhawks

West Conference Semi-Finals
Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks

Detroit Red Wings over San Jose Sharks

Western Conference Final
Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings

2011 Stanley Cup Finals
Washington Capitals over Los Angeles Kings

Quick notes:
As I mentioned way back on last month’s TTMI~Radio when we previewed training camp with Sam Fels, I expect Los Angeles to go for it all this year, and acquire Brad Richards from Dallas sometime in February if not earlier.  If the Stars are pinning their hopes on Kari Lehtonen, they will regret it.  Brad Richards will be a UFA next summer and the Kings are a 1st or high-end 2nd line center away from being serious Cup contenders.  The Kings will have Thomas Hickey and Colton Teubert, top defenseman prospects to package in a deal, and the Stars have a tremendous need for good young blue liners.

Where LA finishes mostly depends on when they get Richards, or another big gun.  But they will make that move.  They wanted Ilya Kovalchuk, but the price was too high and long-term implications would have potentially cost them key pieces down the line.  Richards is a big game performer as his Conn Smythe trophy from the 2004 Finals proves.  The Kings’ defense might be the deepest, most versatile in the West when its all said an done.  In the end, I believe they fall short.  But it will be a fun ride for Kings’ fans.

In regards to the Hawks, a lot of where they finish really depends heavily on what Detroit does.  If the Wings can stay healthy and receive competent goaltending, I can’t envision them not winning the Central.  But, it will go down to the wire.  I had the Hawks finishing with 106-107 points before the Campbell injury, and that dropped them one slot and cost them home ice against the Kings on my board.

If it were any other team but the Kings, I’d lean heavy on the Hawks to advance to the second round.  At some point though, the lack of depth, inexperience and downgrades in some key positions left behind by the departed will catch up with them.  And I can’t bet on Marty Turco.

Going into the season, its apparent to me each conference has clearly defined upper and lower tiers.  In the middle are a bunch of teams you could pick to win a round if the worlds align just right by April, but none are real Cup contenders.  So, the betting money is with the chalk.

I’m going back to my prediction of a year ago.  This will be the season it all clicks in Washington.  At some point they’ll get a goalie.  Varlamov won’t be that man.  George McPhee, in my mind, made a big mistake not making a move on Antti Niemi.  Unless he has a bigger fish (Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun) in mind.  I also agree, as Sam Fels predicted on our show in September, that Bruce Boudreau won’t be the guy behind the Caps’ bench when they make their run for the Cup in the spring.

I’ll have more later including season-ending trophy predictions.