The regular season is over and the playoffs have started, but the Red Wings have an extra day off in their series with the Coyotes, so let's take a quick look back at the season that was. As you are aware, I took a look at the Central Division over the course of the season, but some of you may not know that I did "previews" of each of the other teams in the division prior to this season. For those not aware, I had my own blog called "The Hole in the Door", and before joining WIIM I looked at the other teams in the Western Conference and "predicted" where they would end up. I think now would be a good time to see how close I was.
Season: 44-27-11, 99 Points (2nd in Central, 5th in West)
What I Said: My Prediction: This team is going to be good; perhaps better than people expect. I know we make fun of Bubba a lot, but they are returning a lot of their younger players that didn't tear up the league last year, but who performed adequately. If they can get any improvement out of those guys, they will be in good shape. I like the arrival of Lombardi, but Kostitsyn is going to have to show a commitment level that was not displayed in Montreal. I think the departure of Dan Ellis is going to hurt them at times, as there is not a dependable backup on the team right now that the Preds could count on should Rinne falter. However, given their previous history, that backup will end up being next year's starter anyway. The defense is very good, and as I said, look for Shea Weber to make a big impact not only on the Predators but also on the NHL as a whole. I think another 100 point season is not out of the question, and they will once again finish in the middle of the conference.
Was I Right? You know, minus my order of finish, I'd say I was pretty damn close on this one. The Predators were once again a tough team to play against. Anders Lindback stepped in as the backup and performed admirably, especially early in the season when Rinne was injured. Weber is a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate (and is the only acceptable winner if Nicklas Lidstrom doesn't get it), and Kostitsyn blossomed offensively.
Season: 44-29-9, 97 points (3rd in Central, 8th in West)
What I Said: My Prediction: The Hawks are going to learn what it's like to be the hunted rather than the hunter. I don't believe in the "Stanley Cup hangover", but I really question whether the entire team (Kane, I'm looking in your direction) can maintain the focus necessary to defend their title. The losses on offense are going to show during the regular season, and the top players are going to be relied on much more than they were last year. The team figures to be more top-heavy this year, and this will result in a tired team by the time the playoffs roll around. Ultimately, the lack of depth will be their downfall, and the Hawks will fail to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals. There's a reason that it's been over 10 years since an NHL team went back-to-back, and I fully expect this trend to continue this year. However, do not underestimate the Hawks: they are still a very good team, and if the Wings don't show any improvement over last year, they could easily find themselves looking up at the Hawks in the division for the second year in a row. I expect the Central to be a two-horse race this year between the Hawks and Wings, but ultimately the Wings will prevail in mid-March when the Hawks run out of gas. I also predict that the first time I hear "Chelsea Dagger", I am going to stab myself in the ear.
Was I Right? I think I was pretty close to being accurate. Obviously we have no idea what the Hawks are going to do in the playoffs just yet, but I was wrong about the division coming down to the Wings and Hawks (sorry, Predators). Considering the Hawks made the playoffs only because Dallas couldn't seal the deal against the Wild, this season was definitely a step back. However, the Wings did clinch the division in March, so I'm counting that as a victory.
Season: 38-33-11, 87 Points (4th in Central, 11th in West)
What I Said: My Prediction: The Blues are still a few years away from being true contenders. However, this season, they are going to be very hard to play against. They have one of the better defensive corps in the division, and Halak gives them a legitimate #1 goalie. They will continue to have problems scoring goals, but the potential is there for an offensive outburst. If the young forwards can get back to playing the way they did in 2008-09, a playoff appearance is not entirely out of the question. This is also a very young team, and under a new coach, this could be the start of their ascension in the division and the conference. They are going to be one of the most competitive teams in the conference this year, but I am just not sure that they have the talent to really contend for anything beyond a playoff spot and first round exit.
Was I Right? Like a lot of Blues fans, I think I overestimated the team a little. However, to be completely fair, this was a team that was decimated by injuries this year, so that really put them at a disadvantage. The Blues were a tough team to play against some nights, and others they looked like they couldn't beat a peewee team. While they didn't make the playoffs (again), they did blitz the Wings 10-3 in a meaningless regular season game a few weeks ago, giving Blues fans a reason to smile for the first time since the lockout.
Season: 34-35-13, 81 Points (5th in Central, 13th in West)
What I Said: My Prediction: I'm not going to do records or anything like that, but I will give my general impression of the team. The Blue Jackets took a tremendous step backwards last season after finally making the playoffs. Their biggest off-season move was hiring a new coach, and combined with the return of Nikita Filatov, the Blue Jackets will be looking to start fresh this season and put last year behind them. Personally, I just don't see a real ton of talent on this team outside of Nash, Filatov and Mason, and while I think they will be more competitive and a tougher team to play against this season, I don't think that's going to equate to much of a jump in the standings overall. There's been improvement, but not enough for this team to make the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are unfortunately going to spend another year being taken advantage of by the top teams in the division and the conference. However, I do think the Jackets are headed in the right direction, so this year should be about staying the course with their youth and ensuring their key guys are gaining experience and confidence.
Was I Right? Look, this one was pretty easy, because there is just not enough talent on this team to compete in what is becoming an increasingly competitive division. Steve Mason once again was unable to regain his Calder-winning form, and while the offense was better, it's still Rick Nash and then a significant drop off. Unless the BJs make some big changes in their on-ice personnel, they are going to languish at the bottom of the division for some time.