At the very back of the most recent issue of The Hockey News, this edition's Inside The Numbers stats pack features some statistical predictions for the upcoming season. The staff took five categories and listed the top 35 in each. The categories are: Defenseman Points; Rookie Points; Goals; Goaltender Wins; 2009 UFA Points.
Let's kick things off by looking at the blueline projections. First off, THN projects Carolina d-man Joe Corvo to register 54 points in 75 games this upcoming season, tied for 11th best in the league with Bryan McCabe (it says Toronto, but that seeming more and more unlikely) and Anaheim's Chris Pronger. After 48 points combined in 74 games with Ottawa and the Canes last year, 54 seems like a fair assessment for Corvo. What came as a bit of a surprise to me, though, was new addition Joni Pitkanen not cracking the top 35.
The final two players making the cut both have 38 points: Colorado veteran John-Michael Liles and Atlanta 2008 first-round choice Zach Bogosian. Pitkanen had three consecutive 40-plus point seasons with Philadelphia before his disastrous year with Edmonton, when he scored eight goals but only registered 26 total points. Surely, GM Jim Rutherford, coach Peter Laviolette and all of Canes nation expect Pitkanen to put up at least 40 points this year. If injuries or poor play derail those efforts, the departure of Erik Cole will be further lamented in the Triangle.
Other fun facts from the D: Nicklas Lidstrom was projected for the most points (69), and high-priced offseason acquisitions Brian Campbell (Chicago, 61 points), Dan Boyle (San Jose, 60), and Lubomir Visnovsky (Edmonton, 59) were all in the top seven. No. 2 overall pick Drew Doughty checked in at 21st with 46 pretend points for the Kings.
Next comes the rookies. THN pins high hopes on No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos, projecting the Lightning center for 63 points in 80 games. Phoenix's Kyle Turris (61), Dallas' Fabian Brunnstrom (54) and the Islanders' Kyle Okposo (52) round out the top four, with the aforementioned Doughty fifth. Hurricanes rookie center Brandon Sutter is 26th on the list, registering 20 points in 71 games. I think that's a pretty fair assessment for the team's projected fourth-line center.
Los Angeles — big surprise — had the most rookies in the top 35. Ted Purcell (T-ninth, 38 points), Brian Boyle (T-17th, 28) and Mark Moulson (22nd, 22) join Doughty on the list.
There were no surprises at the top of the Goals list. Alex Ovechkin leads the rankings, though he drops five goals from this year's total and projects to 60. Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla are the league's other half century pretend goal scorers, all right at 50. But like the Pitkanen projections, Carolina seems to again get slighted.
Eric Staal, who every expert seems to agree took his game to a new level the second half of last year, is 17th (tied with six others) at 35 goals — a three goal drop from this past season. His 38 was good for a tie for 11th last year. THN does predict Staal will keep his perfect attendance record, penciling him in for his fourth-straight 82-game campaign. Among the players listed ahead of him in the list are Johan Franzén (40, more on this in a bit), Thomas Vanek (also 40, four more than last year) and Nathan Horton (38, 11 more than last year and seven more than his career high).
I could see Vanek regaining his form from 2006-07 (when he scored 43 goals for the Sabres), though it will be harder with the talent level in Buffalo compared to those teams of two and three years ago.
As for Horton, I find it hard to believe the player selected right after Staal in the 2003 draft has 38 goals in him this year. A rookie head coach, a lack of top centers and the ongoing Jay Bouwmeester saga, in my opinion, will all be too much of a burden for Horton to live up to his draft position.
But back to Staal — how can THN except Staal to take a step back in 2008-09? With a big contract extension in the works, plus the Hurricanes desperate for a return the postseason, anything but a monster season from the Hurricanes' franchise player would be a surprise.
On to the netminders. Cam Ward checks in at ninth in wins with 37. For what it's worth, seven of the eight goalies in front of Ward have either won or been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (Marc-Andre Fleury is tabbed for 43 wins, second on the list), so Cam is in good company. First on the list is defending Vezina winner Martin Brodeur (45 wins).
Some of the more interesting predictions for the goaltenders: Martin Gerber — on that sinking ship, the S.S. Sens — is projected 10th with 36 wins; new Caps' netminder Jose Theodore is tied for sixth with 38 wins; overhyped youngster Carey Price has 34 wins (T-14th); and maybe the strangest of all, Martin Biron is penciled in for just 33 wins (17th) for an on-the-rise Flyers team.
The final category is points by 2009 unrestricted free agents. Marian Hossa, the newest Red Wing, is first with 88 points. Carolina has no one on the list, seeing that the only scheduled UFAs who will likely play major roles this year are Chad LaRose and Ryan Bayda, both scheduled for jobs in the bottom six forwards. Marian Gaborik (85), Mike Cammalleri (85), Henrik Zetterberg (84) and Daniel Sedin (78) round out the top five. But the most interesting name on the list is Franzén. THN has him predicted for 60 points — so simple math tells us Franzén is projected to have 40 goals and 20 assists. Last year, Brad Boyes scored 43 goals and 22 assists, coming one goal shy of becoming the first player since the before lockout to have twice as many goals as assists while burying 40.
So we'll wrap this up with a trivia question: Who was the last player to score 40-plus goals with half (or fewer) assists, like THN has predicted for Franzén? Let's say 100 Canes Country points to the winner.