Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, a reminder that season previews are total crapshoots.
There is now officially just one week left in the NHL regular season and, for the teams in the basement of the standings, it can’t come soon enough. This will be the penultimate Bottoms Up of the 2011-12 season, as next week we’ll take a look at the season as a whole and the long journeys that led to the worst teams in the league ending up as cellar dwellers.
This week, however, I want to look back even further, before the season even began. During the 2011 off-season, every hockey publication and blog worth its salt drags out a crystal ball, lays out the tarot cards, and tears open tea bags. Predictions and prognostications are everywhere in the month leading up to the start of the season, partly because they’re fun, partly because everyone is desperate for the season to begin, and partly because it gets discussion going.
There’s nothing that gets a hockey fan more fired up than seeing his favourite team disparaged, particularly if its done before a single game has even been played. Hope springs eternal during the summer, as newly acquired free agents fly into town, fresh-faced rookies start making a name for themselves in training camp, and team management starts making big promises about competing for a playoff spot and once they’re in…who knows?
For some of those teams, the big dreams come crashing down almost immediately, while others soar briefly then slowly deflate until it’s difficult to see that there was any promise to begin with. Take a guess which one is more depressing.
Most season previews deal with the big winners: who’s going to win the division, the conference, the Stanley Cup. But a few also predict the bottom end of the standings and I’m going to take a look at exactly how accurate those predictions were. The three I’ll be looking at are The Hockey News, Puck Daddy, and Backhand Shelf’s own Justin Bourne.
Fortunately for myself, I tend to avoid making specific predictions simply because I know some jerk like me is going to come back to them later and point out just how wrong I was. But I’ll touch on some of my own expectations as we go. Justin and The Hockey News had their predictions conveniently in list format, while Puck Daddy has theirs broken down by division, with a bevy of contributors. I will be going by majority rules with them for the most part.
The Hockey News: The bottom three in the East, according to The Hockey News, were going to be the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, and Ottawa Senators. At this point, the only one of those teams outside the playoffs is the Jets, and even they are not mathematically eliminated yet, winning in overtime against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday to stay in contention. In order to make it, however, they’ll need to win every game and pray that the Capitals and Sabres both lose the rest of their games this week.
The Florida Panthers, on the other hand, are currently on top of the (admittedly terrible) Southeast Division. Not only are they miles away from the cellar, they’re looking at home ice advantage in the playoffs. The Senators aren’t out of the woods yet, but they’re two points up on the Capitals and Sabres with a game in hand.
As for the actual basement dwellers in the East, they had the Canadiens in the playoffs, but right on the bubble in 8th. The Leafs and Islanders were predicted to finish 10th and 12th, respectively.
Puck Daddy: The majority of their writers had the Islanders and Senators at the bottom of their respective divisions, with an even split on the Panthers and Jets in the Southeast Division. Since the 5 teams in the Southeast are pretty equally good/bad, they have actually all managed to escape the cellar. They made the same perfectly understandable mistake as The Hockey News when it came to the Senators.
They deserve kudos, however, for accepting the mediocrity of the Islanders. Personally, I thought the Islanders would be a vastly improved team that would battle for a spot in the playoffs. Not a single one of Puck Daddy’s writers had them in the playoffs. They did, however, almost all have the Canadiens in the top eight in the East. Whoops.
Backhand Shelf: Justin had the Senators as last in the East, with the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils just ahead of them. So, looks like everyone was wrong about the Senators. People didn’t just expect them to be bad; they expected them to be the worst.
The Hurricanes weren’t a bad pick, as they’re just barely outside the basement, but the Devils are quite comfortably in the playoffs. Justin wasn’t alone with this prediction: both Sean Leahy and Harrison Mooney over at Puck Daddy had the Devils last in the Atlantic division.
Incidentally, Bourne had the Rangers as 12th in the East, had the Canadiens as making the playoffs, and predicted that the Sabres would finish with the second most points in the Conference. So…yeah.
The Hockey News: THN starts off strong, predicted the Edmonton Oilers to finish last in the West, but goes off the rails pretty quickly, predicting that the Phoenix Coyotes would crash and burn without Bryzgalov and the Dallas Stars would do the same without Brad Richards.
Admittedly, both the Coyotes and Stars are barely holding on to playoff spots, sitting in 7th and 8th, but both also have a shot at winning the Pacific Division and having home ice advantage in the first round. Again, this might be saying more about the division than those two teams.
As for the other actual cellar dwellers, they had the Blue Jackets in 12th and the Wild in 11th, so not too far off all around.
Puck Daddy: The PD writers were nearly unanimous: the Blue Jackets were going to be in the basement. The one person who didn’t agree, Ryan Lambert, had them making the playoffs. The Oilers were a popular basement choice as well, with the Stars and Coyotes splitting the Pacific vote, along the same lines as The Hockey News.
Only Harrison Mooney had the Wild at the bottom of the standings, though only two of the six had them actually making the playoffs. Overall, Puck Daddy wasn’t too far off when it came to the bottom of the standings (though they all had the Sharks finishing first or second in the West).
Backhand Shelf: Oh, Justin. Our erstwhile leader didn’t get a single basement team right in the West, putting the Colorado Avalanche in last place, followed by the Calgary Flames and the Phoenix Coyotes. To his credit, he didn’t have any of the three actual basement teams making the playoffs.
Also to his credit, it’s possible that none of the teams he had at the bottom of the conference will make the playoffs. The Flames are essentially eliminated already, while the Coyotes are hanging on in 8th and the Avalanche are tied for 9th, but have played two more games than the teams ahead of them. At the moment, it’s looking quite possible that the Canucks will be the only representative from the Northwest Division.
I don’t blame Justin for thinking the Avalanche would crash and burn this year; so did I, as it looked like scoring goals would be an issue. Turns out, it totally is, as they are 24th in the league in goals per game. But they’re also 11th in goals against per game, and their defensive style has kept them in playoff contention with just one week to go.