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Crystal Ball

The season starts in one day and I haven't even made my predictions yet. Shame on me! It's too bad I didn't think of this earlier, I could have challenged my fellow Canes bloggers and we could all compare picks! I don't think there is enough time now though, maybe next year. I'm going to make this short and sweet without a ton of convoluted reasoning behind every pick. (that's new for me).

Let's start out West.

Pacific

1. Anaheim
2. San Jose
3. Dallas
4. Phoenix
5. Los Angeles

This is a 2 team horse race between the Sharks and the Ducks and it could go either way. Both teams are among favorites to win the Cup, so you can't go wrong getting behind either of these powerhouses. Anaheim has the better defense, San Jose the better offense. I think this comes down to the goaltending and in my opinion the Ducks come out on top here. The old saying says that better goaltending beats better offense, is that still relevant in the new NHL? We'll find out. Dallas has slipped this year. Phoenix could be a bit better, but not enough to make it to the post season. Los Angeles has given up on the year already by trading away Gleason and Belanger for top prospect Johnson.

Northwest

1. Calgary
2. Vancouver
3. Minnesota
4. Edmonton
5. Colorado

Speaking of goaltending, that guy named Kiprusoff is supposed to be pretty good isn't he? Â It's tough to pick against Iginla, all those young studs on defense, and that Euro goalie that is rated at the top of everyone's fantasy hockey wishlist. Another goalie who isn't too shabby himself, Roberto Luongo will finally make the playoffs this time around! Scoring wasn't a problem for the Canucks last year, but stopping the puck was. Problem solved! Minnesota will challenge for the playoffs. Sorry Oilers and Avs, I don't see how you make it this year.

Central

1. Nashville
2. Detroit
3. St. Louis
4. Columbus
5. Chicago

Nashville has it all. They had an elite team last year that played near the top of the league all year until their goalie was hurt. They added JP Dumont, Jason Arnott, and others to an already potent team. They signed Vokoun to a long term contract taking away any uncertainty on his part and he will want to reward. This team will be tough to beat on any given night. Detroit is always good, but not good enough for the President's Trophy this year boys! Whatcha gonna do about a goalie come playoff time? Hasek won't pull a groin in the Olympics this year, but he'll be worn out sharing time with another old-timer Chris Osgood in goal. I don't see good things happening in Detroit during springtime once again this year. I look for St Louis to surprise and contend for a playoff spot. Manny Legace will be pleased to take a few games from his unsuspecting old team-mates from the Motor City. Columbus has improved, the Hawks have not. Either way it won't matter.

Now the East.

Atlantic

1. NY Rangers
2. Philadelphia
3. New Jersey
4. NY Islanders
5. PittsburghÂ
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This could be the weakest division in the NHL. The Rangers will win here, but fade in the playoffs as Jagr melts down again physically and mentally when needed the most. Sound familiar? Again, the Flyers get in the playoffs by default. There is some great talent there, but questionable goaltending and depth. The Devils got hot late last year and squeaked in, will they be able to do it again? How long can Marty remain sharp? The Islanders and Pens will have a battle of "who cares", other than the Crosby watching. Â

NortheastÂ

1. Ottawa
2. Boston
3. Buffalo
4. Montreal
5. Toronto

Ottawa will have a bit of a chip on their shoulders and Dany Heatley is still one of the best in the game. It doesn't hurt to be playing with Spezza and Alfredsson either. Gerber will be good in goal and Emery has another year under his belt and will be better. They will be a tough tandem. I think Boston is greatly improved. They've made good pickups, have solid goaltending, and have Patrice Bergeron, the poor man's version of Sid Crosby. Oh yeah, that tall guy named Chara won't hurt either. Buffalo slips a bit, but still makes the playoffs. Huet will be a disappointment this year for the Habs after getting them in the playoffs last year. Paul Maurice has experience coaching last place teams and it looks like a repeat for him this year as John Ferguson is finally burned in effigy on Yonge Street after the season.

Southeast

1. Carolina
2. Tampa Bay
3. Atlanta
4. Florida
5. Washington

I don't see the Canes losing this division although of course anything is possible. I expect a slow start due to Stillman being out and them having to play a tough road schedule in October, but look for them to gather steam and get hot when it counts. Tampa could be improved from last year with Denis, but not enough to make much noise. Atlanta also could be better but will they make the playoffs for the first time ever? That's a tough bump to get over. It's hard for me to say that Florida will be better without Luongo, so I won't say that. Washington will be fun to watch and will win their share of games, but again should finish near the bottom of the league.Â

In the West Finals, the Ducks and Predators will battle with Nashville coming out on top. In the East I think the Canes and Sens will fight it out with Gerber getting some revenge on his old mates. In another exciting Stanley Cup Finals, the Nashville Predators will prevail and get their names on the Cup, with Vasicek doing it 2 years in a row in a very minimal role! Irony, you have to love it!


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