Friday, August 15, 2008

Canadiens for First: Why People Get Up In Arms Over Predictions

The Hockey News have outdone themselves. They really have.

In putting out their latest prognostications, they have shown they have a far greater talent for being predictable – perhaps than ever before – than for making predictions. let's have a look shall we:

PositionTHN predictionRegular season 2007-08Change
4PhiladelphiaNew Jersey+2
5OttawaNew York Rangers+2
6New York RangersPhiladelphia-1
7New JerseyOttawa-3
9Tampa BayCarolina+6
13AtlantaNew York Islanders+1
15New York IslandersTampa Bay-2

Had they written these prediction last summer, they would have been radical – and they would have been remarkably close to the mark. The only exception being Tampa Bay. That is my point. The THN predictions are clearly based more on last year's standings than on any other parameter.

Where is the expert view?

Oh, we do have the change for Tampa, but again that is the view of the people and is nothing worth buying a magazine for. It is also wrong in my point of view, as I look at the quality of the Tampa signings and can only think they'd be better off with one Brad Richards than 10 Ryan Malones, Gary Roberts and Radim Vrbatas. But then they failed miserably with Richards, so where does the improvement come from.

Do The Hockey News writers actually expect a virtual repeat of last season's playoff qualifiers? Are they so bereft of judgment and ideas to fail to see the important changes that have happened in the East?

Take Washington for example: their late season surge was greatly helped by a certain all-star goaltender in excellent form. You need only ask the Canadiens if you want to know the difference between Huet and Theodore. Colorado, after all, would rather pin hopes on a middling Budaj than go with Theo again. And, Washington have done little to fill their holes. They re-signed Green (spending too much in the process), but he still has no support. Fedorov is back, and I love the signing, but this is 2009 now, not 1989. Ovechkin will be as good, Semin will be better, Backstrom too. but unless any of the forwards can show a talent for being a second defenceman or starting goalie, I see problems.

Add to that, Carolina has made more calculated changes to their line-up (Corvo, eaves, Ruutu, Pitkanen) and will probably enjoy something better from Staal this season. I'm not a Cam Ward booster, but he's not worse than Theodore. Personally, I can't see how Washington wins this battle.

Buffalo, sweethearts from last season's picks, have taken a predictable fall, but could yet again be a team to surprise. In some ways they are the potential Montreal of this season in that they can run with the big boys and reallly only need to iron out their lacklustre nights against weak opposition to get their positioning in order. There is no way I see them finishing behind Boston, for example, and to put them back of Tampa is insulting. By not making a major move, they duped THN into moving them down. I doubt signing Roberts would have been the make or break for this team. Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Ales Kotalik, Drew Stafford, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek are the guys here. That's even with Afinogenov in limbo.

As for Montreal, I don't see them winning the conference. I think Pittsburgh will do that with some ease. For one thing, the Canadiens must have surely learned what pushing for the meaningless title cost them down the stretch. Personally, I think the Canadiens have moved into the group that should feel comfortable about making the playoffs (with Pittsburgh and New Jersey), but will be focused on the Cup. If Carey Price showed more endurance and consistency last year, I'd be in there with the call for first, but I can see he's still learning.

Despite gaining Tanguay and the popular view that losing Streit was meaningless (I think that's way off), it shouldn't be overlooked that we also lost Huet. Despite a weak February for us, he did get us a number of critical wins last season.

That being said, I think the Canadiens have a better chance at playoff success this season. For one thing, I believe Price cares about winning (except in the odd Game 4), and so will be better for the experiences of 2008. In addition, Tanguay will provide another forward who can score, and more importantly for the other team to worry about and mark – they won't be able to leave him uncovered like Higgins and Ryder often were.

In this way, the Habs may be a bit more New Jersey than Detroit this season. choosing to hone their game for the playoffs with steady improvement, as opposed to leading from the first post to the last.

So, I guess I don't agree with the latest THN predictions. No doubt, if I wait until next August, I'll be able to get an accurate prediction on what would happen this season from them, but I can't wait that long. I don't think I'm alone in my displeasure – most of the fan sites talking about this are pretty disgusted by the quality of the work done by the team there.

I think next summer we should have some fun and make predictions about what THN are likely to pick. I don't know, maybe it would be too easy, though.

I will, of course, do my own predictions at some point. However, I don't really see the need to jump the gun by so much. Who knows what injuries, retirements, signings and (if we are to believe Eklund – from every team a whole boatload of) trades will happen between now and September. Though my guesses won't change much, I can learn from The Hockey News and limit the ire of bloggers by giving them less time to worry about such things before pucks are dropped in Europe.

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