Well, ladies and gentleman, it's finally begun. The 2009-10 NHL season began last night, and in a matter of hours the Flyers and Penguins will both be playing their first games of the year. With the season getting underway, it's time to give out OBG's official 2009-10 NHL season predictions. We're going to predict everything about the upcoming season, from who will finish where, to who will win what award, to who will be hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in June.
So, without further ado, I give you OBG's 2009-10 NHL season predictions!
1) Canadiens- The departure of a number of old, overpaid players allowed the Canadiens to go on a wild shopping spree over the off-season, one that has left them stacked up front. The departures of Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev should be more than made-up for by the additions of Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta. There have been a number of other changes for the Habs, and overall I think things are looking good for the Canadiens this season. The only thing holding them back is the same thing that has been their undoing over the past couple years- goaltending. Carey Price has been playing in the NHL for long enough that he should be confident and focused enough to play consistently. If not, if may be time for the Canadiens to find a new goalie to lead the team in the years to come.
2) Capitals- I think that the Capitals shouldn't have too hard of a time winning the Southeast Division this year. They're a little weaker up front, with Mike Knuble coming in and Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov playing in Russia, but otherwise things are pretty much the same in the skater department. The biggest question for the Capitals is in goal. Simeon Varlamov played well for much of the playoffs last year, but it's unclear whether or not that was a fluke. If he doesn't emerge as a starting netminder, the Capitals will have to rely on Jose Theodore to return to his former superstar form. Either way, if the Capitals go into the postseason without a strong, experienced netminder, a Stanley Cup run doesn't seem like too good of a possibility.
3) Flyers- After a disapointing end to their 2008-09 campaign, the Flyers have a newfound determination to bring home a title. They have an incredible amount of depth in their organization on defense as well as up front, which can go a long way over the course of a season. There are, however, a lot of things that could bring this team down. If new goaltender Ray Emery keeps a level head, the Flyers will be very tough to beat; however, if he has a meltdown, they're going to be in a lot of trouble. Secondly, all of the Flyers stars up front-including Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne- suffered injuries at some point last season. The fact that the Flyers don't have a true take-charge superstar on offense has hurt them in the playoffs over the past couple years, and a long-term injury to a couple of these guys could only make things worse. Finally, a big concern I personally have is that, should Chris Pronger go down, this team will be in a huge pickle, one that could haunt them for years. I think the Flyers should finish very well in the regular season, but it's the playoffs that have been the Flyers Achilles heel of late.
4) Bruins- Whether or not Tim Thomas is able to win another Vezina Trophy, this team is going to be a playoff contender. Even without Phil Kessel, this is an impressive squad that has the pieces in place to finish near the top of the conference again. In the likely event that they make the postseason, their prospects will certainly be good. As long as Thomas plays well, they'll have two of the most important things a team needs to make a title run- goaltending and playoff experience.
5) Penguins- A few of the Penguins' veteran players departed after last year, but they're still a fantastic squad with strong goaltending, good coaching, and a couple of guys named Crosby and Malkin. The health of Marc-Andre Fleury, Sergei Gonchar, and Crosby is a concern, but the Penguins back-to-back conference titles came in seasons that saw injuries to multiple key players. They won't finish as well as last year, but another playoff run seems like a safe bet.
6) Rangers- The Rangers traded away Scott Gomez and got a better, yet more injury-prone top center in Marian Gaboirk. Even if Gaborik faces injury problems, I still think the Rangers will have a strong season. I'm a big Sean Avery fan (despite being a Flyers fan), and last year he proved how valuable he is to the Rangers. This team almost knocked off the Capitals last year, and I don't believe that was a fluke. The Rangers should reach the playoffs again, barring any major issues (like a major injury to Henrik Lundqvist).
7) Hurricanes- Last year Cam Ward proved that he's a top-tier netminder, and he got a long-term contract because of it. Expect him to have a strong season, and expect the Hurricanes team as a whole to continue to show the heart and teamwork that pushed them far into the playoffs last year. They may even give the Capitals a run for their money in the Southeast Division.
8) Devils- Yes, believe it or not, I predict that the east will have the same eight playoff teams as last year. I think Martin Brodeur's time is starting to run out. With his all-time wins record in the books, I think a decline is on the horizon for Marty. The Devils didn't suffer too many losses this off-season, but the heart and soul of their organization probably doesn't have a whole lot left in the tank- at least not enough to carry the Devils over the course of an entire season. Their other strengths will probably push them into the playoffs, but it doesn't look like another division title is in store for them this year.
9) Lightning- Tampa Bay has done a tremendous job of climbing out of the cellar over the past couple years, and they could very well squeeze their way into the playoffs. However, there are a lot of other strong teams they're going to have to beat out in order to return to the postseason, making the prospect of doing so a difficult one.
10) Maple Leafs- I like the new additions, but this team is still in a rebuilding stage. Unless Jonas Gustavsson and Vesa Toskala win a Jennings trophy, the weaknesses Toronto has up front will pretty much preclude them from making the playoff.
11) Islanders- The Islanders have ridiculous goaltending depth this year, which should help pull them out of the cellar. However, having no Bill Guerin pretty much cancels out the benefit of John Tavares, so I wouldn't go so far as to say the Isles are playoff-bound.
12) Sabres- The Sabres managed to finish pretty high in the standings given the number of injuries they endured last year, but their outlook for this season isn't all that great, even if they do manage to stay healthy. Some of their most important players- like Ryan Miller and Tim Connolly- are injury risks, but with or without those key players the Sabres' lineup isn't too impressive. At best, perhaps the Sabres could be a bubble team.
13) Thrashers- The only way this team will have any shot at the postseason is if Kari Lehtonen gets his act together, or they find a new starting netminder. Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikolai Antropov, and Maxim Afinogenov could combine for 120 goals, and it still wouldn't be enough unless Lehtonen begins playing like a number one goalie.
14) Senators- The departure of Dany Heatley and the arrivals of Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo, and Alexei Kovalev means that the Sens will be a wee bit deeper up front, but unless they find a top-notch goalie, a return to the playoffs seems doubtful.
15) Panthers- The Panthers knew they'd be in trouble if they didn't deal Jay Bouwmeester at last season's trade deadline and then didn't make the playoffs. They probably won't even get close to doing so this year.
1) Sharks- What happens when you win a President's Trophy, and then you add Dany Heatley to an otherwise mostly unchanged team? You win another President's Trophy- or at least you should. If Evgeni Nabokov has any major problems, then Thomas Greiss will probably be the Sharks starting netminder. Now that could pull an otherwise powerful squad down a bit in the standings.
2) Blackhawks- With or without Marian Hossa, Chicago has a fantastic looking squad that should have a very successful season after gaining experience in last year's playoffs. Their chances of overthrowing the Red Wings as the champs of the Central Division are looking good.
3) Flames- Another example of a strong team out west that added a superstar in the off-season. Jay Bouwmeester should help the Flames avoid another letdown in the Northwest Division, even after they lost forward Mike Cammalleri and a couple other players to free agency.
4) Canucks- Not too many changes here, but Vancouver did win the Northwest Division last year with Roberto Luongo out for an extended period of time. Another playoff run seems inevitable for them.
5) Red Wings- We saw signs of aging from the Red Wings in the finals last year, as they appeared to run out of gas towards the end of the series. They're still a fantastic squad, but I think they're going to fall a bit more in the standings than some might expect.
6) Wild- The loss of Marian Gaborik for much of last season hurt their chances, but he's no longer playing in Minnesota. Martin Havlat is less of an injury risk, and with him in place a return to the playoffs looks like a good possibility for the Wild.
7) Kings- Everyone seems to think they're going to surge back into the playoffs this year, although I don't think they will with Jonathan Quick in net. However, given the attitude the Kings' management seems to have, I get the feeling that they'll go after a real number one goalie if they can't find one within the organization.
8) Predators- They just missed the playoffs last year, and they, like the Kings, don't seem to have a true number one netminder. Like the Kings, I think that they're going to find a true number one goalie if the need arises, and because of that I see them just squeezing into the playoffs.
9) Blues- I doubt that Chris Mason is going to play as well as he did at the end of last year, but the addition of Ty Conklin means that the Blues have a backup plan if Mason fails to keep up his good work from last year. Still, I see the Blues falling just short of a playoff berth.
10) Ducks- They finished eighth last year with Chris Pronger on the team. Without him, an old Scott Niedermayer will have that much more work, and that will probably make the Ducks miss the playoffs.
11) Oilers- Adding Nikolai Khabibulin to replace Dwayne Roloson is an improvement, but not by enough for the Oilers to return to the playoffs.
12) Blue Jackets- I am a firm believer in the "Sophomore Curse," which causes rookie sensations to mysteriously struggle the following year. This would be a disaster for the Blue Jackets, as without Steve Mason's supreme rookie season in goal, they simply wouldn't have made the playoffs last year. He won't be as good, and neither will the team be. Expect them to miss the postseason.
13) Stars- A massive losing streak crushed their playoff hopes last year, but what's to prevent another slide? They're just another mostly unchanged team that should stay in the Western Conference cellar.
14) Coyotes- Even Wayne Gretzky himself couldn't save this team. They have severe financial problems and things won't be much better on the ice.
15) Avalanche- No surprise here, as the Avalanche haven't made any moves that would suggest they can climb out of last place in a highly competitive Western Conference.
With our regular-season predictions in place here at OBG, our pre-season playoff predictions will be coming soon. We'll be predicting the results of the entire playoffs before the season is even a week old.
Meanwhile, enjoy the Flyers and Penguins season openers tonight, and we'll see you again soon here at OBG!