NHL 2013-14: Fearless Predictions

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With the puck dropping on another NHL season, it’s once again time for me to take my annual stab at predicting the fortunes of the NHL’s Canadian-based teams.

While making preseason predictions is a – mostly futile – guessing game. Injuries, poor play and a host of other variables can throw a wrench into the most well researched prognostications.

With that big caveat out of the way, let’s get to it.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs surprised everyone last year (including yours truly, who picked them to miss the playoffs) with a solid season that included the Northeast division crown and a spot in the playoffs. Blueliner PK Subban, who won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman, is a rising star. Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien will rely heavily on young forwards Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk to bring youth, speed and scoring up front and goaltender Carey Price to have another solid, if not spectacular, year in the nets.

Key additions: The Canadiens signed top-six forward Daniel Briere to bolster the offence and added some size and muscle to their defence by bringing on big Andy Murray. They also signed the mustachioed George Parros for some toughness and comedy relief.

Outlook: This team is on the right path but still lacks scoring depth and, most glaringly, any semblance of blueline toughness. It’s no cinch that they’ll make the playoffs but, if Price, Subban and the kids perfom like they did last year, they might sneak in, albeit as a much lower seed.

Ottawa Senators

This is the first year since 1996 that Sens fans won’t be able to cheer for their long-time captain and face of the franchise, Daniel Alfredsson. While it will seem very odd seeing Alfie in a different sweater, if there was any team he was destined to join, it had to be the Detroit Red Wings. The Sens will survive his loss as long as Craig Anderson provides solid goaltending, and the promising crop of defenceman keeps improving. Last year, Paul Maclean’s squad made the playoffs and even managed to win a round despite playing much of the season without all-star defenceman Erik Karlsson and top-six forward Jason Spezza.

Key Additions: Bobby Ryan brings his scoring abilities to a team that doesn’t have much in the way of offensive talent.

Outlook: They’re too thin upfront, and one or two injuries could spell doom for this team. A playoff spot seems unlikely.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last year, the Leafs lifted Toronto’s spirit by actually making the playoffs, then crushed those same spirits by losing Game 7 to the Boston Bruins in truly agonizing fashion. (Relive the magical meltdown here.) Coach Randy Carlyle will continue to employ his physical style to make sure skilled forwards like Phil Kessel and Nazim Kadri have room to play.

Key additions: General manager David Nonnis has beefed up the lineup with solid two-players like David Clarkson and Dave Bolland and added some depth in goal with Jonathan Bernier.

Outlook: The Leafs should secure a playoff spot, but don’t look for them to advance past the first round. This team still has too many holes, and it’s questionable if you can win with Dion Phaneuf as your top defenceman. Memo to Leaf Nation: no need to plan a Stanley Cup parade route in T.O.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets, as ever, is a team that teeters on the edge of respectability. Give them credit – they do play a spirited brand of hockey led by power forward (and water-bottle crusher) Evander Kane. But that’s not likely to propel them into the upper echelons, especially now that they’re skating in the talent-laden Western Conference. Coach Claude Noel is looking for a bounceback year from the once-promising net-minder, Ondrej Pavelec

Key Additions: Former San Jose Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi and Chicago Blackhawks forward Michael Frolik should help this offensively challenged squad.

Outlook: Another .500 season, another year out of the playoffs. Jets fans, among the loudest in the league, need something besides meaningless mid-season wins to cheer about.

 Calgary Flames

The Flames are in full-on rebuilding mode, and it looks like there could be a long, depressing few years ahead for Calgary fans. So many questions and so few positive answers. Honestly, can a team that relies on the likes of Mike Cammalleri and Jiri Hudler upfront and a collection of no-names on defence pose a threat in the West? Absolutely not, even if talented young Sven Baertschi fulfills his promise as a scoring threat.

Key Additions: Do you consider TJ Galiardi, David Jones, Shane O’Brien, Kris Russell to be key additions? Nope, neither do I. Boy, this is looking really bleak. The only thing we can look forward to is new front office head honcho Brian Burke blowing his top  while watching his club lose another game.

 Edmonton Oilers

We hear so much about the Oilers young big-name talent stars on offence: Taylor Hall! Ryan Nugent-Hopkins! Nail Yakupov! Jordan Eberle! Sure seems like a loaded team. But it doesn’t seem to translate well on ice: last year, I picked them to make the playoffs – and they weren’t even close. Even with all that offensive firepower, new coach Dallas Eakins must contend with a leaky defence and below-average goaltending. Oilers fans should contain their excitement – this is a thoroughly flawed outfit.

Key Additions: A lot of new faces this year but none that will help this team turn the corner.

Outlook: While the team will be in the playoff hunt for most of the year but, when the post season starts, they’ll likely be breaking out their official Edmonton Oilers golf putters.

Vancouver Canucks

Alain Vigneault – the winningest coach in club history – is gone, replaced by the obnoxious firebrand John Tortorella. It’s questionable how long Tortorella’s bad-cop act, which grew very tiresome in New York, will last in Vancouver, especially when it’s aimed at laid-back stars like Henrik and Daniel Sedin. And how will 34-year-old Roberto Luongo goaltender, who was all but run out of town last year, play for his new and famously short-tempered coach?

Key Additions: Little change from last year. Perhaps former Canadiens’ defenceman Yannick Weber will help on the powerplay.

Outlook: The Canucks are getting old before our eyes and many see this year as their last chance to grab Lord Stanley. While the Sedins keep making all the pretty, no-look passes they want, this team doesn’t feel like a Cup contender.