At the beginning of each season, hockey pundits make their predictions of how each team will finish in the standings. Predicting who will win a championship in any sport is very difficult. There are so many things that can happen in a season that it make it nearly impossible to know how it all will shake out.
So, I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to make some predictions on things that are a little more certain. What I'm going to point out won't surprise anyone. You can set your watches to these occurrences.
Phoenix will stink up the ice again.
This team has been one of the hottest discussion topics in a summer full of controversy and it's not a good thing. No matter what Shane Doan says, the teams ownership issues will surely be a distraction. Not like it matters, Phoenix or Hamilton or whoever they are come this fall isn't exactly a model team. Sure, they boast some promising prospects but they squash their development by forcing them into the lineup too early in order to keep costs down. The perennial desert losers will once again feel the sting of a season wasted. Don't forget they share a division with a Sharks team that is pretty much a lock to make the playoffs each year, a Ducks team that has managed to fill all of their gaps this off-season (and they were few to begin with), a Dallas team looking for redemption, and a Kings team that is on the verge of being a real playoff contender. Start making tee-times, guys.
Ilya Kovalchuk will start house shopping, but not in Atlanta.
Maybe this isn't such a sure thing, but it seems inevitable. Atlanta has a knack for chasing off superstar players, from Heatley to Hossa. Yes, Atlanta has drafted high as of late. Bogosian, Kane, and Little will surely help this team in the future but the problem is they won't keep Kovalchuk from getting insane offers when he become a free agent at the end of this season. They have to go through burgeoning powerhouse Washington, Conference finalists Carolina, a much improved Tampa Bay team, and Florida who missed the playoffs last season on a tiebreak. Yes, the sound of those odds alone just pulled Kari Lehtonen's groin.
Martin Brodeur will bid adieu to Terry Sawchuk's shutout record.
Brodeur has already eclipsed Patrick Roy for most career wins, putting the record out of reasonable reach. If and when that record is broken it will be by a goal-tending phenom, the likes of which we have never seen. "Brodeur vs. Roy" is officially the "Gretzky vs. Lemieux" of the crease, and adding to Brodeur's ammunition will be his ownership of the shutout record. Brodeur stands at 101, Sawchuk has 103. Brodeur had 5 shutouts last season and he only appeared in 31 games. He usually starts around 75. Oh, and uber-defensive minded coach Jacques Lemaire is back behind the bench. It was a nice run Mr. Sawchuk. Take solace in the fact that you'll be beaten out by the best ever. (That's right, I'm a Brodeur guy.)
Alexander Ovechkin will bear his toothless grin a minimum of 50 times.
Ovechkin had a slump last season. After 11 games he had only 8 points and 2 goals. That means 54 of his goals were spread out over just 68 games. Ovechkin's consistency approaches the realm of sickening. Goaltenders will have nightmares of this guy. Don Cherry will get red-faced over Ovechkin's enthusiasm for no reason other than the fact he isn't Canadian. Ovechkin will roar across your Sports Center screen like the Tasmanian Devil. Count on it.
Commissioner Gary Bettman will be booed mercilessly any time he shows his face.
It's sad to say it, but I think George W. Bush had a higher approval rating than Gary Bettman does. Why does everyone hate Bettman so much? It's like asking why is the Fonz cool. Bettman represents "the man" in hockey and "the man" is in charge of everything that the fans hate. Ticket prices? Bettman's fault. TV coverage? Bettman's fault. CBA disputes? Bettman's fault. Whether these things are actually his fault is moot. He will be booed for them anyway. Maybe a little less booed than Sarah Palin though.