LOCKOUT SCHMOCKOUT. I freely admit it, I'd lost all hope for a season after the G-Betts held that angry press conference where he yelled at Don Fehr for claiming that the two sides were close to a deal. It was nothing but pure egotism, which more or less explains the balance of the CBA negotiations as a whole.
On the plus side, a shortened season means no preseason games, which is great. Preseason games are such teases. They only exist so anally-retentive general managers can decide which of their fourth-liners will stay with the team to play four and a half minutes a night and/or start a fight every other game. The only way it wouldn't be a total drag is if every team had to do a "Hockeyville" type thing where they played in a thousand-seat local arena. Those are much better than the average "young guy trying too hard to make the lineup leaves his feet for a headshot and ends up with a suspension" matches which litter the landscape. Now we get our sloppy play and cold, flat-footed goalies right off the bat in games that actually matter. I CAN'T WAIT, and thanks to the lack of preseason I don't HAVE to wait either. Glorious! Let's get on with some picks.
1. New York Rangers (wins President's Trophy)
2. Washington Capitals
3. Ottawa Senators
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Florida Panthers
How do you make picks in a shortened season, anyway? What metrics should you use? Which is better, players who kept warm in Europe during the lockout, or who just stayed home and worked out at the gym? Me, I'm working with three essential conceits: A) The Rangers have the best on-ice product in the league right now; B) the Northeast division is going to be a shitshow again; and C) the Winnipeg Jets will remain shafted for the foreseeable future until somebody finally pulls the trigger on realignment, which at this rate looks like it'll happen sometime around 2024. (Cripes, if you thought hammering out the details of hockey-related revenue was difficult...)
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Phoenix Coyotes
3. Minnesota Wild
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Nashville Predators
6. San Jose Sharks
7. Chicago Blackhawks
8. Edmonton Oilers
Sure, hey, let's get the Oilers on the list there. I'm sure their new "score first, defend later" team core is ready to finally bring this team back to relevancy. The only thing more interesting than where Edmonton will finish is how badly Columbus will tank. As for the rest of Canada's teams, ehhhhhh. I'm probably wrong about Vancouver going bust, but if the Luongo thing puts a bad enough damper on the locker room, maybe they don't get off to a good start? Or maybe they trade him back to Florida, only for Cory Schneider to go all squiggly on 'em. On another note, I can't be the only one who figures the St. Louis thing last year was a fluke. If I had money in a coach-firing pool, I'd take Ken Hitchcock. (Note that Hitch couldn't stay employed in Dallas despite leading them to five straight division titles and a Stanley Cup. When things go bad for him, they go really bad.)
And Now, The Playoffs!
New York (1) def. Florida (8) in four
I can easily see myself being wrong about everything, of course. With only 48 games and no cross-country interconference jaunts, it's hard to gauge where anyone will end up. But I'm fairly adamant about the Rangers, despite what anyone might tell me about Nash and Gaborik's wonky shoulders. ("The Wonky Shoulders" are an excellent ska-bluegrass fusion group out of Kansas City, by the way.)
Washington (2) def. Philadelphia (7) in seven
I'll probably change my mind about this by September, but right now I get the sense that Ovechkin isn't gonna show up for the 2013-14 campaign. The Caps have entirely assured him that they'll let him go to Sochi regardless of what the NHL scheduling office has to say about it, so he'll probably nap his way through the first half of the season, lead his countrymen to the gold medal game, and then come home nursing a sore ribcage and turn invisible for the rest of the year. But this year he's gonna be great, really! Unlike those other asshole bench bosses, I'm sure Adam Oates is fully prepared to let number 8 play forty-five minutes a game and score ninety goals. And if he doesn't, well, they can always hire some other Caps alumni to coach the team. What's Dino Ciccarelli up to these days?
Ottawa (3) def. Tampa Bay (6) in six
The Toronto Media Conspiracy was debating the other night over whether to take Crosby or Malkin first in their fantasy draft, to which I say "neither." Steven Stamkos all the way, baby. Sixty goals in eighty-two games last year equals roughly thirty-five in forty-eight this year. Hell, I could see him going on a tear out of the gate and putting up forty. Of course, I could also see his leg going on a tear, leaving him hung out to dry while his ACL heals. Short season! Anything can happen! The Islanders could take eighth place in the east and not move to Quebec City after all! So exciting!
Pittsburgh (5) def. New Jersey (4) in six
That said, Crosby and Malkin together and healthy for the first time in ages is reason enough to be excited in Penguinland. So why do I have them finishing third in the Atlantic? For starters, I don't much care for their goalie situation -- Tomas Vokoun? Really? -- whereas the Devils will have a great regular season with Brodeur before his legs give out in the first round (yes, it's that tired prediction again.) And I feel like their defensive corps is lacking this year; they could stand to trade for one of those big tree-stump types to stand around in the slot during penalty kills, maybe. But mostly I'm wondering just how potent the Sid-Evgeni combo will actually be. Both of these guys have gotten used to being on the ice all the time. Who's gonna step back? What if they both end up being awful? Aw, who am I kidding? They're gonna battle for the Art Ross and I'm going to look like an idiot.
Detroit (1) def. Edmonton (8) in four
So Nail Yakupov is a pretty good player, huh? Great name, too. THE NAIL. YAKUPOV. I'm sure he'll fit right in between Taylor Hall's massive ego and Jordan Eberle's massive eyebrows. No hard feelings over that whole "Canadians play dirty" comment, right, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? I can't wait to watch the Red Wings work them over as they quietly implode.
Chicago (7) def. Phoenix (2) in seven
The Globe & Mail gave all the credit for the end of the lockout to Shane Doan, of all people. Shane Doan! Apparently he went and talked to Bill Daly about how an extra couple million on the salary cap meant teams could afford to keep one or two more guys instead of moving them around, thus allowing as many as sixty families to stay put instead of getting uprooted and disrupted. SHANE DOAN: FAMILY MAN. I mentioned this to my inlaws who hate every hockey player ever, and they scoffed at the notion, submitting as evidence that Shane was all over the country meeting with other teams because he was a free agent. Clearly he just wanted more money for himself! SHANE DOAN: MASSIVE FUCKING GLORY BOY. I don't know why I ask them for opinions every year, except that they remind me to enjoy and cherish every moment because someday I will be old and jaded.
San Jose (6) def. Minnesota (3) in five
The only reason I've got the Wild winning the Northwest is because everyone else in that division is shit. I was originally thinking I'd slate them in as a wavering four-five seed, the kind of team whose success is entirely dependent on its newly acquired disparate parts gelling as soon as possible. But then I realized that regardless of when that chemistry sets in, they'll only have to beat away the likes of Calgary and Colorado to reach the top. In any case, it's a damn shame about Josh Harding.
Los Angeles (4) def. Nashville (5) in five
Remember, the Predators paid $110 million over fourteen years for Shea Weber, a man who faceplanted Henrik Zetterberg into the glass in the first round of last year's playoffs. That's a quality franchise move right there. I'd like to see him try to pull the same shit on Drew Doughty.
New York (5) def. Pittsburgh (1) in six
I was going to call this the other way, but then I remembered Hurricane Sandy. HENRIK LUNDQVIST WILL STAND ON HIS HEAD FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE STORM, BRINGING PEACE AND TRANQUILITY BACK TO MANHATTAN. Just like how Katrina hit Louisiana and then four years later the Saints won a Super Bowl.
Ottawa (3) def. Washington (2) in six
Some people are calling for Robin Lehner to get the start ahead of Craig Anderson because the Swede has been tearing it up in the AHL this year. Some people are idiots. I dig on Lehner as much as the next guy and I'm glad the Sens finally seem to have settled their long-term goalie situation, but seasons like these are the whole reason they nabbed Craig for the bargain-basement price of one Brian Elliott. No question: the guy with the heavy NHL experience starts ahead of the kid with the good minor-league record.
Detroit (1) def. Chicago (7) in five
Can Ray Emery start these games, please? It doesn't really matter to me who wins the series, I just want some OLD TIMEY GOALIE BRAWLS like they used to have between Detroit and Colorado.
Los Angeles (4) def. San Jose (6) in four
Joe Thornton played for HC Davos during the lockout, and he reportedly said he learned some defense from his coach over there. Calling it now: Big Joe's gonna win the Selke Award. And then Steve Ott will win the Lady Byng. And I will buy a unicorn.
Ottawa (3) def. New York (1) in seven
What, me still bitter about losing last year when we were up 3 games to 2? Naaaaah. I really, honestly think this Ottawa squad can go all the way, for reals tho. Also, I don't know, something about Rick Nash not having playoff experience. Something something AHL experience something Spezza won the Spengler something something something. It's a lockout year, I'm allowed to be a massive homer.
Los Angeles (4) def. Detroit (1) in five
Did you know Jimmy Howard is only 28 years old? I always think he's way older than that. Look at Detroit's previous goalies: Chris Osgood, who was 47 or so, and Dominik Hasek, who I believe was 175. You can't blame me for being surprised that they have a young guy in there.
Stanley Cup Final
Los Angeles (4) def. Ottawa (3) in four
Have I mentioned how excited I am that they're going to have interleague play all season long in baseball starting this year? Indeed, have I mentioned that I've inexplicably become a baseball fan? I won't bore you with the details, but it's all Brett Lawrie's fault. I'm thinking I'll start a single-serving Tumblr that follows Dan Uggla's quest to become baseball's most notorious strikeout leader. DAAAAAAAAAN UGGLAAAAAAAAAAA! He can only get worse as he gets older, right? I hope he never connects on an 0-2 swing ever again.
That's it! See you in three months when everything I just said here is wrong!