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Friday, January 13, 2006 

NHL Mid-Season Recap

Now that we’re at the halfway point of the NHL season, I’m going to take a look back at my pre season power rankings. This was an especially hard year to predict, with the large amount of time off between seasons. I think I did pretty good at the top of the standings, didn’t get too many disappointments up there. But I did miss most of the surprises of the year, namely Carolina, Buffalo and the Rangers. In my defense, there still remains little reasonable evidence that they should be at the top of the standings, but there they remain. So, listed below are my picks, in order, before the season, along with their current rank in the standings by points per game.

30 Washington (27) +3 – Ovechkin and some guys. There was no mistaking this for a team.

29 Florida (24) +5 – Luongo and some guys. See above.

28 Buffalo (7) +21 – This has to be the surprise of the century. Second in the division, and only 4 points behind Ottawa halfway through the season? If someone says they saw that coming, they are lying to you. Plain and simple. Looking at their roster itself, stats included, I still can’t justify their place in the standings. I don’t expect it to stand, although they should be able to squeak into the playoffs.

27 Carolina (2) +25 – This isn’t really a surprise. They get to play a lot of game against Florida and Atlanta and Washington. They may be second in points, but it’s not a solid second. Imagine Detroit or Dallas in this division. Records would fall. As will Carolina early on in the playoffs. The East will have a strong team in the number 6 playoff spot.

26 Atlanta (18) +8 – 18th in points, playing in their division, that still makes them about 26th overall. Nailed that one.

25 Minnesota (21) +4 – My comment to the JF when first assembling these rankings was “without their goalies they give buffalo a run... maybe” implying they were just as bad. Well, Buffalo may have fooled me, but Minnesota is as bad. They currently sit second in goals against, and yet have 44 points to show for it. It isn’t every year that the Jennings trophy winner misses the playoffs. This might be that year. It’s time that they traded one of their goaltenders for some real help up front. Manny and Dwaner are both top 10 goalies in the league, edging towards the top 5. The dynamic duo needs to venture out on their own, and the Wild need to cash in on it while they can.

24 NYR (8) +16 – Jagr decided to play this year. He has the ability, if teamed with a goalie, to put any team into the playoffs. I can only think of three people who fit that mold - Jagr, Elias, Naslund. Ovechkin may get there someday, but certainly not yet. The problem with Jagr, though, is that his moods are too fickle. As goes Jagr, so goes the team. We’ll see if he decides to carry the team all year. I’m not certain he will.

23 LA (9) +14 – Wow. Demetra was a huge addition. And riding LaBarbera on his early streak helped. It’s a shame that whatever “personal reasons” kept him from playing for a while really cost him his big shot at the NHL. He was playing like a seasoned #1 with his sights set on being a all star for years to come. Then on a trip to St.Louis he was sent home for personal reasons. Being a goalie and all, the best I can figure is that he had a breakdown of some sort. Garon played well in his absence, and so his chance passed him by. I noticed yesterday he was assigned to the AHL. It’s too bad, I was looking forward to keeping an eye on his career.

22 Nashville (6) +16 – Vokoun. Kariya. Underestimated. My bad.

21 Chicago (26) –5 – My note on Chicago was “all goalie again”. Khabs is funny, he plays well….. when his team has a chance. Best goalie in the world I they do. Why he would bring himself back to the worst team in the league is beyond me. I thought he would be good enough to get them from 30 to 21, but not quite. Chicago is horrible, and everyone is blaming Khabs. But really. I mean really.

20 Columbus (29) –9 – the difference between 20 and 29 comes down to an injury to a guy who is almost in the Jagr, Elias, Naslund group. He’s at least enough to get them ahead of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Washington and Boston. And he likely will in the second half.

19 Boston (25) –6 – The JF tried to question my Boston choice being out of the playoffs. Our conversation went as follows:
“those sound like the next team. I would argue with Boston being that low. they're decent. khabibulin is one of 3 euros in Chicago. seems low to me.”
“Tornton samsonov mceachern
zhamnov murray isbister
green axelsson fitzgerald
boyes scatchard orr

gill leetch
slegr moran
girard stuart


yeah, they have a good power play... and then? I'm not so convinced about them. raycroft is over rated, and then everything goes for hell after the 2nd O and 1st D lines. 3 guys and 3 questionable guy do not a team make. they can easily move up the standings as the year progresses, but I can’t start them higher than the islanders Montreal or St. Louis. “

“their 3rd line "grinders" are as "good" as anyone else. I admit their defense is pretty weak and a lot depends on raycroft. they'll be in the playoffs. “

“someone doesn’t remember Travis green fully.
I really don’t think raycroft is enough. they'd have to make the playoffs over the isles or habs or leafs... really think they can?”
It went on from that, but that was about the gist of it. Boston wasn’t good. And that was before they gave Thornton away. This team is a mess now at best, and that’s good news for Toronto and Montreal’s playoff runs.

18 Phoenix (22) –4 – People were calling Phoenix a playoff team before the season started. I remembered seeing rankings that put Detroit, Dallas and Colorado battling for the last spot, with two of them missing the playoffs. A lot of confusion can get into peoples heads with a year and a half off. I call it the Ken Klee effect. The reason being that Klee was a marginal defenseman in Toronto’s lineup the last time the league had a season. But he did have a name that had been around for a while. The Leafs ended up with 3 young D-men in their camp who appeared to have a shot at the lineup. They certainly appeared to be more well prepared for the season than Klee. How did Ken battle this? He picked up an “injury” in camp and rode the building talk of how key a player he was on the team right into the roster on opening day. And he didn’t do a thing to earn it. Luckily some injuries have brought playing time to the guys who should have earned spots, but nonetheless the term “The Ken Klee Effect” was born. At least there was some sense to having him on the team, no one has yet been able to offer any kind of explanation for Belak or Berg. But back to Phoenix. Another player who has been riding the Ken Klee effect since before the term was defined is Shane Doan. This is not a superstar. He certainly isn’t an Olympian. But what can you do? And so goes the entire Coyotes roster. I only had them so high because I knew what Cujo would be able to do. His signing was hands down the steal of the off season. Vancouver, as always, dropped the ball on that one. Now it’ll cost them some good players to bring him in midseason. After which point the Coyotes drop back to their rightful place with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Chicago.

17 St. Louis (30) –13 – Horrible. Mess. Train wreck. What else can you say about this team? They didn’t look like a playoff team, but they sure didn’t look like the disaster they have been. The only positives have been the 4 games that Tkachuk was actually able to play back in November, (Now that was exciting!) and the play of Back Oshawa. In 9 starts, he had a couple of bad outings against Colorado and Dallas (but to be fair they got every single shot that they wanted in those games. Even late 90’s Brodeur would have lost those games badly), but he has shown lots of promise. I played my NHL 2004 up until the 2007 season, and at that point he had one of the highest goaltending ratings. Given the right chance, that might not be as ridiculous as I thought when playing the game (although I still stand by my questioning Bruno St.Jaques being the top rated defenseman. I can’t imagine any scenario in which he’s played 40 games over the next 3 seasons).

So those are the teams I picked to miss the playoffs before the season started. Only 5 of them are in that I missed (Buffalo, Carolina, NYR, LA, Nashville), but that’s a lot better than most of the rankings I looked at before the season. Tomorrow I’ll tackle my rankings of the teams I picked to make the playoffs, and maybe throw in some of my pre season award selections. Until then, enjoy this: http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/motion/echo/index?id=2286163&category=Motion%20on%20Demand&subcategory=NHL&cobrand=

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