Taking A Flyer On NHL Picks

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - October 19, 2005
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After 241 player movements, a plethora of rule changes, a complete restructuring of the league’s financial policies and season-long lockout, does anyone feel confident enough, or dumb enough, to take a stab at who will win the 2006 Stanley Cup? Confident? No. Lacking mental efficiency? Bingo!

Of all the teams expected to make a cup run, no one was busier than the Broad Street Bullies. Philadelphia replaced 13 players, second most in the league, from a team that squeaked by New Jersey for the Eastern Division title two years ago and was just a hair from the finals. The Flyers are a tad slow, and the new rules designed to open up the game could cause a bit of a problem. But by adding the league’s most complete player, Peter Forsberg, lights out defender Derian Hatcher - if he can stay healthy - and a corps of good, young players, the Flyers should be right there at the end.

No team may be better from top to bottom than Calgary. The signing of left winger Tony Amonte and center Daymond Langkow could give the Flames the best first line in hockey. It was the move they didn’t make, however, that will solidify their run to the finals. Unlike the Avalanche, who let Forsberg become a Flyer, Calgary made sure Jarome Iginla remained a Flame. Even with goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and his 1.69 goals against average, the lowest in the league since Canada bowed to Buckingham Palace, Calgary is only going as far as Iginla will take them.

The 2003-2004 Stanley Cup Champions should prosper under the new rules. Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and league MVP Martin St. Louis can flat out move. The only real question about the Lightning returning to the finals is can they do it without Mikolai Khabibulin? His replacement, John Grahame, was very good as a backup (2.06 gaa and a .913 save percentage), but it’s still a downgrade at the game’s most important position. Especially when the playoffs start.

The one team that mirrors the Lighting is the Ottawa Senators; a solid corps of regulars with some questions at goalie. Gone from the net is Patrick Lalime (2.29 and .905) and in his place is 40-year-old Dominik Hasek. So far the Dominator has been playing like a spry 36-year-old, which just happens to be how old the formerly retired Czech was the last time he played regularly. He’s 3-0 with a 2.21 gaa and a .920 save percentage. How long he can maintain this is anyone’s guess. His history of groin trouble is a huge concern for the ever-sprawling netminder.

Even though the Red Wings had to give up a lot to get under the new salary cap, the shelves are not completely bare. Young stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who are used to the wide open International game, will be counted on to carry the offensive load while new coach Mike Babcock hopes aged front liners Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan have enough left in the tank for one more run. Nicklas Lidstrom will once again be dominant on defense, but whether or not goalies Chris Osgood or Manny Legace are capable of being the man between the pipes remains to be seen.

Two final teams of interest are Vancouver and San Jose. If returning ambusher Todd Bertuzzi is not forced to carry too much baggage during the season, he and linemates Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison could really screw up some teams’ plans for the post season. The Sharks may be the most interesting one of the bunch. Picked to be either one of the top teams in the league or a bottom feeder in the Western Conference, the young squad built for speed in a new faster game could go far. But if their detractors are correct, the loss of Mike Ricci, Vincent Damphousse, Mike Rathje and Todd Harvey will cost them dearly.

Confident or stupid? You decide.

Even though Calgary is struggling defensively during the early season, they should figure things out in time to meet Philly in the Stanley Cup Finals. The seven game series should be a tight one with Calgary coming out on top. Philly’s loss of four of its top five scorers combined with Kiprusoff’s net play should be enough to bring the cup back to Canada for the first time since 1993.

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