Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pre-Season Predictions: Western Conference

You should know the deal here. We did the East a few weeks ago, now it's Western Conference time. I'll list the picks of my CIA Radio co-hosts again first, then my picks with a bit of explanation for all of them. You can hear the three of us discuss the picks in detail on tonight's edition of CIA Radio.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Nashville Predators
7. Phoenix Coyotes
8. Colorado Avalanche
9. St. Louis Blues
10. Calgary Flames
11. Dallas Stars
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Anaheim Ducks
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
15. Edmonton Oilers

1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Phoenix Coyotes
7. St. Louis Blues
8. Nashville Predators
9. Colorado Avalanche
10. Calgary Flames
11. Minnesota Wild
12. Anaheim Ducks
13. Dallas Stars
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Columbus Blue Jackets

John (YEAH BABY~~)
1. Vancouver Canucks
Why They'll Finish First: As much as it pains me to write this, Vancouver should be, at least in theory, a juggernaut this season. It's similar to me to how Washington came into last season: they clearly were not just a great team, but a great team in a terrible division. As I've said before, I really feel that the Northwest will be this year's version of the Southeast of the past few seasons. Colorado will struggle with some sophomore slumps and take a slight step back, Calgary & Minnesota should be varying degrees of awful, and Edmonton will be extremely young. That means Vancouver should get a ton of easy points this year, just like Washington & Detroit used to in the weak Southeast & Central divisions, locking up first place in the Conference fairly easily (and possibly the franchise's first President's Trophy).

Why They Could Finish Higher: They can't.

Why They Could Finish Lower: I'm not a huge believer in Vancouver's rebuilt defense just yet. The theory behind it is that since they lack that real first-pairing, stud blueliner, they decided to load up on very good second-pairing types instead. Hence the trade for Ballard & the signing of Hamhuis. There's no doubt they'll be stronger from a depth standpoint, but I still don't think this is a back-end that's built for a long playoff run. We'll see if they prove me wrong. I think they'll be fine in the regular season, but maybe Hamhuis, Ballard, or one of the guys already there under-performs and they fall a few spots to 2nd or 3rd. Don't see how they aren't winning that Northwest, though.

2. Los Angeles Kings
Why They'll Finish Second: I know, this is a highly optimistic pick for a team that just finished sixth last year and clinched their first playoff spot in eight years. I don't care. I really believe in this team, and I feel like this is their time to shine. Yes, San Jose will be in the running to win the Pacific, as they always are (and I definitely think this is one situation where the Sharks, who I have at 4th, will probably finish with more points than who I have third). But I really believe in the Kings' defensive corps and their goaltending a lot more than San Jose's. I love LA's blueline with the addition of Willie Mitchell. When you look at a blueline that has Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, AND Matt Greene (once he comes back in November), not to mention all the kids in the system who may step in and contribute this season, you're looking at the best defense in the entire NHL. Goaltending wise, they have two very talented young goalies (who both have the same first name, how weird is that by the way?) who will push each other all year long. While it's true that San Jose has more forward talent up-front, I don't think the difference is so huge that it makes up for LA's huge advantages on the back-end. Plus, I think Kopitar is taking another step forward this season. Without that wacky mid-season slump he had, he would have been a 90-point player for sure, maybe even a 100-point player. I think he gets to that magical 90-to-100 point mark this year. The Sharks will be good, maybe even great, but the Kings are the class of this division.

Why They Could Finish Higher: There are rumblings that Dean Lombardi is looking to fill the only real hole the Kings have: a high-scoring left-winger. Of course, Kovalchuk would have fit in nicely there, but I think one reason why Lombardi didn't feel the need to throw huge money at him is because of the organization's incredible depth prospect-wise. If the Kings get off to a good start and Lombardi feels like they just need one more piece to contend, there isn't a single GM in the league with more options at his disposal to go out and get that one final piece. They're also one of the few teams in the league with a good amount of cap space that actually will be willing to spend it, so they don't necessarily have to wait until the trade deadline to make that kind of move, either.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Like I said already, the Sharks will still be very good this year, as they are every year (in the regular season, anyway). If that left wing hole is too big of a hole for a prospect like Lokitonov (who has looked great there in pre-season) to fill, at least early on, the Kings could struggle a bit and end up losing out the division. But I think an improvement on last year's finish is still pretty much guaranteed: I don't see the Kings finishing anywhere lower than fifth, and probably fourth is more likely.

3. Chicago Blackhawks
Why They'll Finish Third: The Blackhawks have lost a ton of depth at almost every position, that's undeniably true. What's also undeniably true is they still possess some of the most talented young players in the NHL today. Names like Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa will still dot the two forward lines, and Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmmerson, and Campbell will still man the back-end. I have the Hawks dropping a tiny bit down to third just because I think the Central will be a real dogfight this year; while everyone's focusing on Detroit, St. Louis & Nashville have the ability and youthful talent to really surprise people this year, and I think both teams at times will challenge the Hawks for the division crown. But in the end, the Hawks should be able to pull this one out despite their salary-cap woes.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If some of the young-slash-new players really click well and play better than people are expecting, the Hawks could be just as dominant again. The two ex-Oiler refugees Pisani & Potulny look very good in pre-season and could find the back of the net with some frequency (especially with opposing teams having to concentrate on shutting down Chicago's big two lines, which remain two of the best lines in the NHL). Throw in young guys like Jack Skille and (maybe, if he gets a call-up later) Kyle Beach and there's potential here for this team to really surprise people. That sound weird to say about the defending Stanley Cup champions, but there you go.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Brian Campbell being out for 5-6 weeks to start the season is almost certainly going to hurt them, as they have less depth at that position now that shot-blocking machine Brent Sopel has gone to Atlanta. Perhaps that will be enough to put them in a big hole to another Central team early on that they can't dig out of. I think people claiming this team could miss the playoffs are completely out of their friggin' minds, but I could see them falling as far as fifth or sixth if things really go wrong for them.

4. San Jose Sharks
Why They'll Finish Fourth: Rob Blake's retirement is going to hurt this team quite a bit more than people may think. First of all, there's the obvious problem of the huge hole on their back-end that they've done nothing to replace, as Blake played very well for the team last season and logged bigger minutes than you might have guessed for someone that old. But there's also the lesser-discussed problem of his captaincy. The Sharks have long been criticized for being wet between the ears, so to speak; Blake did a fantastic job as captain last year and allowed ex-captain Patrick Marleau to flourish without the added responsibility. Talk is that Dan Boyle is capable of stepping up to make up for it, but after that, who else is there? Respected veterans Jed Ortmeyer and Manny Malhotra were both allowed to walk at the end of last year in free-agency. This roster seems long on enigmatic scorers (no one will ever confuse Joe Thornton or Dany Heatley with great off-ice leaders) and short on character guys. And ultimately, I think that will hurt them this year when the going gets tough in what's sure to be a close race for the Pacific crown with the LA Kings.

Why They Could Finish Higher: With all that said, this is still a team that will score a lot of goals, and in the regular season, that's still enough to get them a lot of points. They could beat out LA for that division crown easily if things go right for them. I still don't think this team has the mental make-up to make another run even back to the Conference Finals, though, even if they do win the division yet again.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the goalie situation implodes, this team might be in real trouble. Niemi was good for Chicago last year, but as any Hawks fan could tell you, he was also a product of playing behind one of the best defensive corps in the entire NHL. The Sharks' blue-line is solid, maybe even very good, but no one will confuse it with being one of the best in the West, let alone the whole NHL. And Nittamayki is the very definition of a hot-and-cold goalie. At times he will look like a world-beater, and at others he won't be able to stop a beach ball.

5. Nashville Predators
Why They'll Finish Fifth: I know, fifth seems awfully high for a team that finished seventh last year and lost several key players (Arnott, Hamhuis). But re-think your gut reaction for a second and think about what the Predators gained. First of all, I've talked to many a Preds fan who thought Arnott was awful last year. And this was long before he was traded, not post-trade retconning. There's an argument to be made that losing Arnott is actually addition-by-subtraction, if only because of the spots it opens up for young players, not to mention allowing Shea Weber to step in as captain. Losing Hamhuis hurts, but not as badly when you figure that they gained Ryan Parent (who will have a bounce-back year after losing the coach's confidence in Philly and getting virtually no minute) for his negotiation rights, an incredibly shrewd move by one of the best GMs in the business in David Poile. Up front, the Preds will be boosted by speedster Matthew Lombardi and the enigmatic Sergei Kostitysin. I'm expecting big things out of Sergei this season; honestly, I think he'll have something to prove and will get every chance to prove it in Nashville. As long as Hornqvist wasn't a one-hit wonder and Colin Wilson is ready for primetime, this Nashville team will continue to shock people.

Why They Could Finish Higher: That blueline depth sure is impressive. It's amazing that a cash-strapped team like the Preds lost a guy like Dan Hamhuis and still boasts a Top 4 of Weber, Ryan Suter, Cody Franson, and Parent. I don't know if they can necessarily wrestle the Central crown out of the Hawks on their own, but if the Hawks struggle, Nashville may pull off the shocker of the year by winning their first division crown.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Hornqvist is huge here, as he must pot at least 25 goals again, and a return to 30 would be optimal. If he regresses back to the player everyone thought he was when he was the final player picked in the draft, Nashville will struggle to replace his scoring and could drop closer to that 7th-thru-10th bubble.

6. Phoenix Coyotes
Why They'll Finish Sixth: It's hard not to look at last year's incredible fourth-place finish as not being a bit of a fluke. After all, they won no less than 14 games in OT/SO (most of those in the shootout where Bryz & co. were positively lethal). On the other hand, taking the Red Wings to the seven-game limit was no easy task, and as we all know there were no shootouts in the playoffs. So obviously there was something to this team last year. Unfortunately, losing Lombardi & Michalek will hurt them, even with some of the guys they've brought in. But don't get me wrong, this is still very much a playoff team. They're gonna drop back a little bit, but not out of the playoffs, thanks to some shrewd free-agent moves (Ray Whitney coming here honestly shocked the hell out of me, and Eric Belanger is a great pick-up too) and some young guys who have gone through the system properly and look ready to contribute (like Kyle Turris up front and Oliver Ekmon-Larsson on the back-end, who apparently didn't get Magnus' memo to drop half of his last name).

Why They Could Finish Higher: This all depends on their kids. If Turris is ready to be what the Coyotes thought he was going to be when they took him third overall in 2007, i.e. a 60- to 80-point performer and a legitimate top rookie (though I don't think he's eligible for the Calder anymore, actually, because of that horrid 2008 campaign under Gretzky), then the Coyotes are suddenly back in the conversation with the Kings & Sharks for a Pacific crown. Don't forget folks, NHL Central Scouting had Turris ranked No. 1 over Patrick Kane (who actually did go No. 1) and JVR (who went No. 2 to the Flyers and had an up-and-down but still solid rookie season last year). But then again, there's a reason the Hawks & Flyers didn't agree, too, so who knows.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Losing shot-blocking machine Michalek will hurt the Coyotes enough already, as they made it by last year largely on the strength of their defense. But if Ekmon-Larsson isn't ready for primetime (and to be fair, he appears to be in pre-season, but that's pre-season), that will hurt their blueline even more. Of course, should Bryzgalov regress at all from his Vezina-nominee season (and one would expect he might, at least a little), that will be horrible for the 'Yotes as well, and maybe they could miss the playoffs after all.

7. Detroit Red Wings
Why They'll Finish Seventh: This is going to be a bit of a controversial pick for me too, and I'm sure fans of the Winged Wheel will hate on me for it, but I don't care. I really don't see where all the hype for this team going into this season as a Cup contender is coming from. Most people are saying they think the Wings have "one more big run" in them, and I think the logic behind that is fundamentally faulty. Is it safe to expect the Wings to have less injury problems this year? Sure, I guess so, considering how bad things got last year logic says it won't be THAT bad again. But anyone expecting perfect health out of one of the oldest teams in the league is kidding themselves, and when pointing out the Wings' injury issues last year, you're also missing the fact that the Wings let several of the players who stepped up during those injuries walk as free agents. Yes, the return of Jiri Hudler will help too, but how much remains to be seen. And the back-end, long a strength of this team, is looking REALLY long in the tooth at this point. I'm sure Wings fans are happy to have Nicklas Lidstrom back for one more year, but let's not forget that he looked like he simply lost a step at times last year. To expect that not to continue is kidding yourself, and I find the number of mainstream hockey writers suggesting that Lidstrom is going to be a Norris candidate this year utterly hilarious. I'm not sure if they're expecting him to find a magical fountain of youth or what, but he's getting older, not younger. Finally, I'm counting on some sophomore struggles from Jimmy Howard, as has been the case for many young goalies who have great rookie seasons, and we all saw how little there is behind him in the form of Chris Osgood.

Why They Could Finish Higher: It's very possible everything I just said doesn't come to pass and this team does indeed find it in them to make one more big run to the Finals. Hudler could have a breakout year back in the NHL as well, which would certainly help too.

Why They Could Finish Lower: It all comes down to the goaltending. Like I said, I think Howard will struggle a bit, and I think the suggestion that Howard will defy the trend of rookie goalies simply because he's a little bit older holds SOME merit (I think he'll be good, just not as good as he was last year and maybe not as consistent). But if he has a Steve Mason-like disaster and CHRIS OSGOOD is getting a lot of starts in 2010-11, yeah, that has disaster written all over it. 8th seed disaster? Yeah. Unthinkable, Detroit-misses-the-playoffs disaster? Maybe.

8th. St. Louis Blues
Why They'll Finish Eighth: This is the easiest preview I'll ever have to write: the Blues will be back to a good, young team who sneaks into the playoffs on the strength of their kids, who should mostly bounce back from disappointing sophomore slumps. I don't think they'll be quite good enough to battle for a higher spot, as I think the kids will still have some slumps and at times people will question whether or not this is really a playoff team. But as long a Halak can play at least half as well as he did in the playoffs last year, they'll ultimately come out of it with a playoff spot (albeit by the skin of their teeth).

Why They Could Finish Higher: If Halak can play as well as he did for Montreal in the playoffs all season long (which is not a sure thing, don't get me wrong), St. Louis could very well be this year's Phoenix: a team that comes out of nowhere largely on the strength of their goaltending and overall team defense to challenge for the division crown. I don't think they get the Central, but they could make it all the way to 4th just like the 'Yotes did if enough things go well for them.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Of course, if Halak is a bust and the kids don't bounce back (or at least, not enough of them do), the Blues could easily be on the outside looking in for yet another season. That's life on the playoff bubble.

9. Calgary Flame
Why They'll Finish Ninth: The only thing worse than being one of the league's oldest teams (like Detroit) is being one of the league's oldest teams while also coming off a year you missed the playoffs (not to mention having not won a single playoff round since that 2004 run to the Cup finals). This is a veteran team pressed up against the cap that isn't particularly strong anywhere. Do they have a good back-end? Sure, but plenty of teams in the West have a stronger blueline, unless Jay Bouwmesster is finally willing to play up to his potential. Do they have some nice wingers? Yeah, but as the Sporting News said, their lines look like "donuts" with the deep holes down the middle. Even enthusiasm about their goaltending must be tempered; yes, Mikka Kippersauf had a fantastic year last year, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that it broke what had been a steadily downward trend as far as his play went. It's a shame that the Flames wasted what was undoubtedly a stellar year from Kipper, but one has to question whether or not we'll see him play that well again. The fact that they're such a veteran squad and so good defensively makes one assume they'll at least be in the mix for one of those last few playoff spots in the West, but I don't see how this team can beat out the younger and flat-out better St. Louis squad.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Bouwmesster will undoubtedly play better this year than he did last year, and Brent Sutter has already made it clear that he'll be allowed to join the rush more (though we'll see how long that lasts when they start giving up odd-man rushes). If he can really get back to form and score 15-20 goals, that'll be a huge step towards a playoff berth. And who knows, maybe Darryl will be proven an unheralded genius and get huge bounce-back years from Jokinen & Tanguay, too. I wouldn't count on it happening, but I suppose it's possible.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the Flames get off to a poor start, I firmly believe that Darryl's replacement is already in town in the form of Jay Feaster, signed as an assistant GM by CEO Ken King back in July. And Feaster is a smart guy, so he will likely move to position the Flames to bottom-out and restock their beyond-empty cupboard. The best way to do that? Trade Jarome Iginla. Oh believe it folks, it could very well happen.

10. Colorado Avalanche
Why They'll Finish Tenth: Another easy explanation: the Avs are to 2010-11 what the Blues were to 2009-10. Like the Blues, they powered their way into the playoffs last year largely on the strength of their kids, and like the Blues now it's time for them to take a small step back. They'll be competitive and in the mix for a playoff spot in the West, but I think they'll fall very slightly short thanks to some sophomore jinxes. Peter Mueller out indefinitely with yet another concussion doesn't help matters, either.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If the dreaded sophomore slumps never come, this is a good, young team with room for improvement. I could easily see them sliding into one of the final playoff spots in the West again if things pan out for them. The other wild card here is goalie Craig Anderson, who looked great last year until fatigue finally set in. This is his contract year and he'll be gunning to prove last year wasn't a fluke (and hopefully earn a huge pay raise from the Avs from his relatively meager salary for a starting goaltender), so he could theoretically play as well or (as impossible as this seems) even better.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Anderson falters or the kids play even worse than I'm expecting, they could find themselves joining the Columbus Blue Jackets, who went from playoff team in 08-09 to draft lottery team in 09-10 after their own big breakthrough.

11. Edmonton Oilers
Why They'll Finish Eleventh: Is eleventh a reach for this team? Sure. But I'm caught up in Oiler pre-season fever, and I think this young and dangerous team will surprise people. Everyone has written at length about how great Hall, Eberle, and Pajaavri will be (and have already been in the pre-season), but let me throw a couple more names at you for why I think they'll be better. First, Kurtis Foster. He has a booming shot and had a great season points-wise with Tampa on the power play last year, and I think this was a vastly underrated (and cheap) pick-up by the Oil. Next, Tom Renney. As a Rangers fan I know Renney very well and he excelled on Broadway in a couple of key areas: working with and teaching the young guys (he did wonders for guys like Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, & Girardi) and getting the entire team to buy into a defensive concept. He is a systems guy and a player's coach and I have no doubt he will cut down on the goals-against. With all that said, the Oilers aren't in for the playoffs quite yet. But this is NOT a bottom-of-the-barrel team.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If everything goes really well, if the Sam Gagners & Andrew Coglianos of the world are re-energized by the youth movement and finally ready to contribute, and if Ales Hemsky has a huge bounce-back year after "the injury", maybe the Oilers can sneak into the playoffs. MAYBE. I wouldn't bet on it, but we did see a team that finished 15th in the West the year before make the playoffs last who knows, right?

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the kids aren't ready, it'll be another long year in Oil Country. But picking up another draft lottery pick wouldn't have anyone in Edmonton crying. Whether this year or in a few years, this team WILL be very good. They simply have too much young talent not to be.

12. Anaheim Ducks
Why They'll Finish Twelfth: The Ducks are a team that are honestly in a weird spot right now. After being a cap team for most of this decade, they've drastically cut payroll over the past two seasons. While that leaves them with plenty of space to be flexible in the future, and surely makes the owners happy after the team didn't exactly pack the house last year, it also leaves the Ducks heading into the season with some gigantic, gaping holes on their back-end. Losing Pronger hurt the Ducks enough last year, but losing Niedemayer to retirement could be downright crippling. They still have the firepower to win some games, but I see this year looking very similar to last: they'll be good at home, bad on the road, and simply won't have the kind of consistency you need to be a playoff team in the Western Conference.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Maybe Cam Fowler has a huge rookie season and helps make up enough for the loss of Niedemayer, in which case the Ducks could move closer to the playoffs. I still don't think they could unseat the likes of a St. Louis, Detroit, or Phoenix, but I could see them sliding up to 9th or 10th. They certainly still have a great group of forwards there who can put the puck in the net.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Ryan, Getzlaf, or Perry are out for significant time this year, this might just be a draft lottery team. Which won't sit well at all with Anaheim's dwindling fanbase; especially when there's a crosstown rival looking so good right now.

13. Dallas Stars
Why They'll Finish Thirteenth: The Stars are in a precarious position heading into the 2010-11 NHL season. They obviously need a great deal of improvement in several areas, especially on defense where they are very, very young. However, there is simply no money available to improve this team due to the ongoing financial problems of owner Tom Hicks. So the Stars enter this season without much hope other than some very good top-six forwards like veteran Brad Richards (coming off the quietest 91-point campaign in franchise history) and youngsters like Jamie Benn. With Richards entering the final year of his contract, it's very likely the Stars could shop him around at the trade deadline since it looks doubtful they'll be able to afford him.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If the young defense really takes a step forward and gels and Kari Lehtonen is finally ready to stay healthy and live up to the promise the Atlanta Thrashers felt he had when they drafted him first overall, perhaps the Stars can be this year's version of the Coyotes and shock a hockey world that's expecting them to be awful. But the fact is, they'll have to go up against the *actual* Coyotes, along with the powerhouse Kings & Sharks, in the very tough Pacific Division. Thus even if they're better than I'm expecting, I can't see them sliding up into the playoffs. 10th seems to be the ceiling for this team, at least to me.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If/when Brad Richards is traded, this team may struggle to score goals, and that was the one thing they actually did fairly well last season. In that case they could compete for last in the conference.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets
Why They Could Finish Fourteenth: It's interesting that I'm suddenly hearing a wave of optimism from some parts of the hockey world for this team. A few people are basically saying that this team might not be nearly as bad as everyone thinks, pointing to new head coach Scott Arniel as well as possible bounce-back seasons from Steve Mason & Derick Brassard. However, Arniel was not even the Jackets' first choice for the job, as the team was first turned down by Guy Boucher (who went to Tampa Bay instead), so that argument seems a little bit disingenuous to me. I'm not saying he's necessarily a terrible coach or anything, but if he wasn't even the team's first choice for the position then I can't see his hire as a huge plus or anything. The fact is, Columbus plays in the incredibly tough Central division, and when it comes right down to it, what does this team do better than the four other teams? St. Louis has a younger and, arguably, better core. Nashville is better defensively. And Detroit & Chicago are usually powerhouses that Columbus can't touch. The fact is, this team has drafted horribly over the years and is paying for it with a complete lack of top-end talent other than Rick Nash. Even if Mason & co. return to their 2009 form, I don't see how this isn't another long year in Ohio.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Like I said, if Mason is back for real and the team buys into Arniel's system then perhaps they'll slide up a few spots. But I don't see this as a playoff team with four other teams in their own division that are almost undeniably better than Columbus at this point.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Well, jesus, I suppose they could very well finish 15th instead of 14th. Not a big slide there.

15. Minnesota Wild
Why They'll Finish Fifteenth: The Wild are a rudderless ship, a team that is going nowhere, and fast. For the first time since hockey first returned to Minnesota, the Wild will not play before sellout crowds every night, and the fact is that they don't deserve to, either. They are just like Columbus- mediocre at everything, not necessarily terrible at anything (though their offense from the back-end was almost non-existent last season, and teams who don't get scoring from their blueline almost never make the playoffs), but destined to fail. The reason why I see the Wild falling even farther this year is simply that I think most of the other teams in their conference have gotten better while they have stagnated. Finishing last in the conference is actually a good thing for the Wild since it will allow them to finally draft their first real blue-chip prospect since Marian Gaborik. But good luck telling them or their long-suffering fans that while they're losing all season long.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If Martin Havlat has a huge bounce-back season and really drives this offense, they could be a little bit better. Again, like with Dallas I'm thinking that around 10th is probably their ceiling, which long-term for the team is worthless. If I'm a Wild fan I'd rather see my team bottom-out and get a draft lottery pick then finish around 10th for seemingly the ten-millionth time for this franchise.

Why They Could Finish Lower: They can't. This is as low as it goes, baby.

So there you are. As always, these predictions are 100% un-guaranteed. Now that we've got all that out of the way, I'm even more ready for some hockey!