Before the season's start, I wrote in this cyberish space that Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby would finish his rookie campaign with 38 goals, 63 assists and 101 points. His final numbers: 39-63-102.
There was so much mystery and uncertainty with this "new" NHL, but projecting what great things this dedicated and gifted athlete would accomplish was not difficult after watching him play three preseason shifts.
Everything else was truly up for grabs.
Salary caps, buyouts, free agents, rule changes, a full season off and retirements made predicting team success nearly impossible. In the end, this space went 5-for-8 in the Eastern Conference. Injuries to Atlanta and Florida did them (and me) in, and the Bruins quit when they traded Joe Thornton.
In the Western Conference, I was 6-for-8. Not bad. Vancouver had more wins than Edmonton but lost out by three points. A healthy Ed Jovanovski and Dan Cloutier probably would have landed the Canucks a postseason berth. And my Coyotes pick was the one pick I made with my heart. Who knew Wayne Gretzky's heart would be broken so many times this hockey season? Thank goodness for Wayne that his season is over. He needs about 40 rounds of golf and 40 naps to feel reborn.
So, with the NHL's second season beginning this week, it is time for another round of predictions as a way to look back and look ahead. Here's a look at the first round and at my NHL awards winners.
Stanley Cup Playoffs -- First Round
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Edmonton: I wrote this back in October after seeing the Red Wings play the Blue Jackets in Columbus:
"You can put the Wings back among the Western Conference elite. In fact, from what I've seen and considering their experience, I put the Wings as the favorite in the West. I think the Wings could get to the Stanley Cup with Manny Legace or whoever else in net."
I still believe this. Unless Pavel Datsyuk can't play. I'm sure he will at some point. But hold off on the long-term Wings wins until we see Datsyuk back at 100 percent. Still, this series should be manageable.
Prediction: Red Wings in five.
No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 7 Colorado: Colorado is dangerous because it can score power-play goals. However, the Avs are a bit loose defensively and the Stars are very good at home. Also, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Calgary are the three teams in the playoffs that finished this season under .500 on the road. Dallas should be able to control this series with its skating and goalie Marty Turco. Winning Game 1 is big in this one.
Prediction: Stars in six.
No. 3 Calgary vs. No. 6 Anaheim: This is my pick for the best first-round series of both conferences. Anaheim has a little bit of everything. Calgary has a whole lot of grit. Something tells me the Flames will beat on Teemu Selanne and the young Ducks forwards. Then, something tells me Anaheim is a good defensive team and Calgary has issues with goal scoring. I'm going to go with Anaheim. The Ducks have speed, experience, some length down low and Scott Niedermayer.
Prediction: Ducks in seven.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San Jose: San Jose is big and fast. "San Jose Thornton" is hot heading into the postseason -- and he has something to prove. Big Joe has been a postseason flop so far in his career. It's time for Thornton to step up and play with a controlled rage. He plays regular-season intensity hockey very well. He hasn't figured out how the postseason works. Nashville has a chance, and my first instinct was to take the Predators. They will play very well at home, and their arena will be right there with Carolina's as the loudest in the postseason.
Prediction: Sharks in seven.
No. 1 Ottawa vs. No. 8 Tampa Bay: The Lightning are not dangerous. They were a bad road team and a bad power-play team. Ottawa will take its 113-point game to another level. Martin Havlat is back, and the Senators win this series over the Bolts.
Prediction: Senators in five.
No. 2 Carolina vs. No. 7 Montreal: The Hurricanes are not an elite defensive team, and that will prevent them from playing for the Cup. Still, they are going to be one of the best home teams in this tournament and also should be able to steal one -- or two -- on the road.
Prediction: Hurricanes in five.
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 New York: I saw the Rangers in person a couple of weeks ago and was not impressed. This is a bad matchup for New York. New Jersey is fast, has two scoring lines, and has a really experienced and effective checking line. Jaromir Jagr could carry the Rangers to a series win if he can give his team leads. But if the Blueshirts fall behind early, this series could be over soon.
Prediction: Devils in six.
No. 4 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Philadelphia: My heart says Peter Forsberg has been storing his energy in an underground tank in South Jersey to use for his gold medal/Stanley Cup doubleheader quest. My head says the Sabres, if allowed to skate unimpeded by the rules, should be able to win a long series. The experience factor scares me in this series. And the fact is, no matter what the NHL says, more will be let go in the playoffs in terms of officiating. We will see multiple cross-checks to the lower backs of players, players taking their hands off sticks and impeding players like Thornton when he sets up behind the net. If that scenario is the case, the Flyers will win this series. But …
Prediction: Sabres in seven.
Here is a look at the NHL awards (in no particular order):
Prediction: With 50 goals and 100 points, coupled with Dominique Wilkins-like human highlight moments and an immense likability factor, Broadbander Ovechkin wins the Calder Trophy. Crosby and Phaneuf should have been on the Canadian Olympic team in February. They will be for 2010, and Canada will win gold.
• Jack Adams Award -- Coach of the Year
Candidates: Detroit's Mike Babcock, Carolina's Peter Laviolette and New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello
Prediction: There were many outstanding coaching performances this season. In fact, one could argue the depth of quality NHL coaching has never been better. Hence, the tight races down the stretch. But it's truly amazing how Babcock elevated the play of so many players after he stepped into the culture of Detroit, with its heavy air of tradition and recent habits.
Prediction: For 28 minutes a night, nearly every slap shot on goal, outlet pass, power-play goal and regal air -- Lidstrom is simply the best.
• Maurice Richard Trophy -- Top Goal Scorer
Winner: The best-looking trophy is going to San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo. No prediction necessary. Cheechoo tripled his goal total from his first to second season. Then, he doubled that this season, going from 28 to 56.
Prediction: Marty, Marty, the one-man party. Brodeur played in 72 games, won 42 of them and saw more than 2,000 shots, and his aura gave the Devils the confidence to win the Atlantic Division in a miracle finish. I know there is a lot of support for Kiprusoff with his 10 shutouts, but Brodeur has such charisma and consistency, his résumé deserves another Vezina.
• Hart Trophy -- League MVP
Candidate: New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, San Jose's Joe Thornton and Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson
Prediction: I grinded over this one. Thornton's 96-assist season is an impressive feat. He makes his teammates better and his linemates rich, but Thornton has Patrick Marleau to support him in the middle. Jagr has the best combination of playmaking and release in the NHL. He carried the Rangers for much of the season before injuries cost them the division (and Jagr a couple of trophies). Without Jagr, the Rangers have very little. I still don't know how they did it. If you got a chance to see them both
play in person on consecutive nights, I bet you would say Jagr is the MVP. His talent is irresistible.
The Mother of All Mailbags
1. If you could pick any current NHL player to start a team from scratch, who would be your top three? I was thinking (in this order) Thornton, Phaneuf, Ovechkin. If I had to pick a goalie, I guess it would be Luongo.
2. In your opinion, is Fleury still a top goaltending prospect? There was so much hype around him when he went to the Pens, and now not so much. I still think he has a LOT of promise (if he gets out of Pittsburgh).
If I were named president of an expansion team to begin play in 2006-07 in Toronto (why doesn't that town have two teams?), I would choose Phaneuf, Crosby and Ovechkin for salary and youth purposes. After next season, they will be the three best players in the league. Norris, Hart and Richard trophies aplenty.
Last week, I sent you an e-mail pertaining to my Pennsylvania High School State Championship. Just to follow up, we defeated Cardinal O'Hara 5-2, outshooting them 43-13, to win our first state title in 30 years. Also, in the reply, you told me that "Pearl Jam will usher you to a state championship."
With that in mind, I created a masterful mix of Pearl Jam songs to listen to in the locker room, I believe it worked to perfection. In addition, I printed out your e-mail and read it many times before the game because it provided outstanding motivation. So, in conclusion, thank you Mr. Buccigross for everything.
Mount Lebanon Blue Devils
Pa. State Champions
"Are we getting something out of this all-encompassing trip?
you can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets, oh
or you can come to terms and realize
you're the only one who cannot forgive yourself, oh
makes much more sense to live in the present tense."
-- "Present Tense" by Pearl Jam
The hype of two years ago was a result of all the Illinois/Michigan transplants who couldn't root for "their" team rooting for the Lightning. Fact is, they have many teams; whoever is winning. It was amazing how much Lightning silver and black was displayed from March 2004 until August 2004. That's when the official sport of Florida, football, started. This year, there isn't a Lightning jersey in sight. Go figure. Loyalty is a thing of the past. It's sad, really.
I LOVE hockey and will watch any two teams play but, I bleed orange and black and cannot imagine not doing so. Even stuck in this hockey wasteland.
Stuck in Florida,
I know you get a ton of these e-mails every day, so I'll keep this short and sweet. In your reply to an e-mail from a Japanese hockey dad regarding the worldwide growth of the game, you said to have patience, it's coming. Well, as someone who has lived in Hong Kong and mainland China for over three years, I can happily tell you that it's already here.
When I arrived, signs of ice hockey were scarce, but now we have three arenas here, in which two are used for hockey. We have organized youth leagues and some startlingly good 3-on-3 men's leagues in an organized format (we play 3-on-3 because the largest ice surface here is exactly half the NHL size). To be able to witness the development of both children and adults who were never previously exposed to the game is something I look very positively upon regarding the future of the game.
Thanks a lot,
All right, with all this talk of slots licenses and Plan B's, I can't take it anymore. Just give it to me straight: do you think that the Pens are going to stay in Pittsburgh? I know there's really no way to be sure, but it'd just be comforting for us die-hard fans to feel like someone's with us on this.
Peace, Love, and Pens,
My instinct says no. Bored rich men with money and real estate love the action, and they will risk a major investment because that is how they operate. And they will usually invest in a hot market. However, this isn't the '90s anymore. States and cities don't throw outrageous money at professional sports teams. So, if a wealthy person cuts a deal quickly, or an arena is already available, the Penguins are safe. But you can feel the sharks circling and you don't sense a palpable enthusiasm to keep the Penguins in Pennsylvania. It reminds me of the New England Patriots when they were all but gone to St. Louis. Robert Kraft came in and saved the day. Now, New England is a gigantic market compared to Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh can be saved by a prince or a casino. Casinos seem to be America's answer to just about everything these days. Personally, I find the Penguins being saved by a casino a little creepy. But, as Chuck Noll used to say, "Whatever it takes."
I saw this article floating around. "Developer May Move Penguins to Hartford." I always have to support New England states, so I'm rooting for it. I was wondering if you think (a) Hartford is a viable location for an NHL franchise; and (b) How much of this rumor is an effort to force the city of Pittsburgh to pony some dough for a new arena? Do you think there's any chance at all that Hartford could be the new Minnesota?
Absolutely. There are about 3.5 million people in Connecticut. Springfield, Mass., has another 150,000. There are enough people. And the grass roots of amateur hockey is strewn throughout the state, from In House to NCAA Division I. The travel is easy on the players: It's close to Canada, and rookies can billet at Trey Wingo's house. The Penguins are an unrestricted free agent. The NHL is a strong international brand with almost a century of history. Communities and arena owners with only NBA, or no NBA team at all, are salivating at having an NHL team with such high-end young players who will be good for a long time. Hartford, the new Minnesota? Not quite. The hockey is high-quality and plentiful in Connecticut, and a riverside arena would be slammin', but there is no other place in the U.S. that even approaches hockey in Minnesota.
I feel the highest compliment any person can give another is to say they would like their son (or daughter) to be looked upon the same way as another person. And without hesitation, my choice for that person is Al MacInnis.
Al MacInnis is one of like eight real grown-ups among men in their 40s.
You left out the most compelling reason of all for putting Pat Verbeek in the Hall: his tremendous nickname. It doesn't get much better than "The Little Ball of Hate."
Perhaps the greatest nickname of all time.
Why do you want an e-mail from Iceland? They actually have ice there! Getting an e-mail from them would be like eating turkey on Thanksgiving -- expected! Wouldn't it be better getting an e-mail from the Middle East? When the next owner of the Stanley Cup is being decided, we'll be "enjoying" 130-plus degree days! And before you ask the question, the answer is, "yes." Ice skating can be had in Manama, Bahrain, as well as Muscat, Oman (though, I don't think they've discovered hockey, yet).
Lt. David "Chim Chim" Riley
Force Protection Action Officer
Manama, Bahrain (in the Persian Gulf)
Spritle was taken?
Has a TV show ever used music better than "Scrubs?" If you're not watching it, you should just for the music. Last night, they used Ben Fold's "Still Fighting It" for an episode about parent-kid relations. Not hockey, but stuff that seems to be right up your alley all the same.
Zach Braff is a legend. Next e-mail.
OK, the reason I write is twofold (no pun intended). Ben Folds is coming to Niagara University next month. I'm trying to convince my wife to go. What would be three songs to play for her to seal the deal?
And we're having a baby in November, right around the time the N.Y. Rangers will be defending the Stanley Cup. We do not want to know the sex of the baby until the birth. Any name ideas?
Thanks and here's to a great playoffs!
I wouldn't consider these the best Ben Folds songs, but I would recommend them to first-time listeners to get them hooked.
-- "Zak and Sara"
-- "Army" (Live)
--Also, make sure she doesn't mind liberal use of the "F" word, and I'm not talking about Foligno.
--Carla Catherine Mollica (CCM)
--Anthony Jason Mollica (A.J. Mollica. I like it.)
Hockey Fact: Most Stanley Cups: Montreal 23, Toronto 13, Detroit 10.
You wrote in this week's column that Boston's fan base has not completely eroded, but it is teetering. This is a misstatement. The Bruins' fan base is all but gone. Kids don't watch any more, both newspapers have reduced column space for coverage, and local sports radio not only ignores, but ridicules them. 10-15 years ago, there was outrage at how bad the team had gotten. Now, there is just silence, which is far worse. Back then, only the Red Sox could claim the same level of loyalty and dedication from their fans. If the team becomes competitive again, the people may return, but I don't believe the passion will.
It's a fair point, Chris. The old-school passion may have been obliterated by Montgomery Burns Jacobs. But one reason the fan base is uninterested is because the Bruins are not interesting. They might have had the most interesting team in NHL history in the early '70s. The teams in the late '70s were very interesting, led by Don Cherry and Terry O'Reilly. Ray Bourque and Cam Neely? Interesting and Hall of Famers. Like an average movie or TV show, the Bruins are boring. And to make things worse, they play in a boring arena. Yet, I believe if the Bruins restructure their front office with passionate and planning people, they can recapture some of the winter hearts of the city.
Each time I log onto the internet, the first thing I do is go to ESPN.com and see if your new column is up.
SPC Ben Moore
I first thing I do is check on you, your brothers and sisters in uniform. The Stanley Cup might be the hardest trophy to win in sports, but let's not kid ourselves about what true courage is. We hope that you can make a difference in the Middle East and that you return home safe -- before the Cup is carried in the air.
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is email@example.com.