by PuckStopsHere on 09/29/11 at 05:02 PM ET
With the regular season fast approaching, it is time to begin my predictions for the regular season. I want to begin with my standard disclaimer. I have seen several people attempt to predict the winner or every game (or a significant number of them) over a season. I have never seen anybody post as good as a 60% success rate. If we assume that 60% is a theoretical limit for the maximum possible longterm success rate (and that number is probably too high), then we can see that 20% of the time the better team wins because of their talent (i.e. they are the better team) and the rest of the time the game was won by luck. There is an equal chance that either team can win because of luck, so there is a 40% chance the favorite wins and a 40% chance the underdog wins. This leaves us with one game in five won because of the talent of the better team. That is the signal I am trying to predict. I cannot predict the other games.
In the regular season things get even harder. It is September and some of the games I am trying to predict will not happen until next spring. By then there will be trades, injuries, new coaches, streaks, slumps and a bunch of other things nobody can expect today.
So here are my predictions for the finish in the Northwest Division and a little blurb for each team:
1. Vancouver Canucks - This is a pretty easy prediction. Last year Vancouver won the Presidents Trophy and came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. The rest of their division missed the playoffs. Vancouver has nearly the same roster they had last year except Christian Ehrhoff is gone. A lot of people are arguing goaltending is a weakness after they saw Roberto Luongo play some weak games in last year’s finals. Luongo has long been one of the best goalies in the NHL and he was a Vezina Trophy nominee last year and that is the result I think is more probable in the upcoming season. The biggest problem in the finals last year was that Vancouver stopped scoring. That comes from a team where Daniel Sedin led the league in scoring last season and Henrik Sedin the year before. Ryan Kesler is also an excellent source of scoring and a strong defensive player as well. Mikael Samuelsson, Alexander Burrows and Manny Malhotra provide some solid depth. If they are a healthy group they will score. Many of those players were playing hurt or out of the lineup in the finals. The defence is solid but lacks and spectacular players. Alexander Edler, Dan Hamhius, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa are a strong top four. I expect this team has learned that they don’t need to run away with the Presidents Trophy to win the Stanley Cup and may hold things back a bit in the regular season, but nobody else in this division is likely to challenge them for the division title.
2. Calgary Flames - This team is the most likely team in the division to join Vancouver in the playoffs. They only missed out by three points last year. A strong season from Miikka Kiprusoff might be enough to change that. He was a below average goalie last season, but he has been dominant in years past. Though I would bet against it, it isn’t impossible that Kiprusoff bounces back to another top season. Jarome Iginla leads the offence. At age 34, he is in decline but he is still an all star player. Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen are among their depth players, but there are few young players who are likely to take a step forward. On defence, Jay Bouwmeester and Mark Giordano are the key players. This team is on their way down, but they may still have enough left to compete for a playoff spot if they get some goaltending.
3. Minnesota Wild - Minnesota spent much of the regular season making trades with the San Jose Sharks. Gone is their top defenceman in Brent Burns and the most important addition is Dany Heatley. Heatley is 30 years old and has been in decline over the past couple years. Hopefully he is able to bounce back. He could be the dominant scorer the team needs. Devin Setoguchi is another ex-Shark with offensive talent. Mikko Koivu is the lone remaining top offensive talent. With Burns gone, Marek Zidlicky, Nick Schultz and Greg Zanon lead the defence. That is not a strong group. Burns will be missed. Niklas Backstrom is a solid goaltender. This team is trying to make the transition from the defensive team they were under Jacques Lemaire to a more offensive team, but it will be a messy transition and they won’t succeed overnight - if they ever will.
4. Colorado Avalanche - Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are too good offensive talents who might be ready to break out offensively, but they only managed 50 something points each last year. Milan Hejduk provides important depth, but he is now 35 years old. Beyond them there are few top offensive talents. On defence, Erik Johnson is hoped to show that his being the first pick overall in the draft in 2006 was worthwhile, but I am starting to have my doubts. Beyond him, there are few bets to be average NHL defencemen. The Avs have new goaltending in Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Neither is coming off great seasons, but I bet they will be able to carry the load. This isn’t a deep team but it has a couple top offensive players who could make a big jump and will likely have solid goaltending. The goaltending will be needed because the defence won’t be very good.
5. Edmonton Oilers - After two years in last place overall, Edmonton is ready to make a step forward. It probably won’t be a big step. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins may be a potential laden group but they are a group that is short on experience and Eberle’s 43 point season last year is their top offensive total to date. Ryan Smyth will be welcomed home to Edmonton at age 35 he won’t be a star this time around. They have real problems on defence, as Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert are the best players available. Nikolai Khabibulin is planned to be the number one goalie, but he is 38 years old and coming off of an awful season. Devan Dubnyk is the other choice. He hasn’t done much to show he is an NHL number one goalie, but he has been better than Khabibulin. Edmonton will have serious trouble preventing goals. They will have growing pains on offence but the potential is there. The offence could surprise and we could see the Oilers move out of last place in the division, but I don’t think they are ready yet and their goal prevention remains a serious problem. It will be interesting to see if this group can be solid contenders in the future, but they are a long way away right now.
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