Over on ESPN before the NCAA basketball tournament starts, one of their writers comes up with the best and worst cases for each of the
64 65 68 teams in the field. I thought I'd do that for the upcoming season, based on what I see as possibilities for each team going forward. Feel free to disagree in the comments- all of these are wrong or your money back.
Buffalo's Best: This young team that showed spunk down the stretch and gave the Flyers fits in the playoffs continue to play very well as Vanek and Leino score enough that the D and Miller get the job done and win the division. Come playoff time, they don't quite have the ponies to get into the finals, but no one is upset with their first ECF appearance in 5 years. Bills win the AFC East.
Worst: The young guns don't develop and Leino still doesn't learn to shoot the puck. Miller is having to carry the load too much as the inconsistent offense sputters and they finish a disappointing fourth in the division and out of the playoffs. Bills come back to earth and finish 7-9.
Boston's Best: The defending champs are no fluke, as they take the champion's belt seriously and repeat as champs. Claude's system isn't figured out and TT has another stellar year. Pats win it all.
Worst: This veteran team gets old fast, real fast. TT's unsustainable save percentage catches up with him, and Boston's lineup gets riddled with injuries. They wheeze into the playoffs, but are dismissed in the first round in the playoffs, just like the Pats.
Montreal's Best: Price (finally) figures it out and Subban takes a step forward to being the next Chelios they think he is in Quebec. They grind out enough ugly wins to nip the Bruins for the division. They get bounced by the Caps in the ECF, but the Habs are OK with this. Somehow.
Worst: Punchless offense+mentally fragile goalie=disaster. Montreal is barely able to avoid the worst record in the conference. Subban continues to be.... Subban.
Toronto's best: Last year's playoff tease was legit. The young talent assembles and they sneak into the playoffs as the 7-seed. They are outclassed by the Pens in round 1, but hey, progress.
Worst: Last year's playoff tease was just that- a tease. With no real goaltending, they sink to the bottom of the division. Mike Myers is crying softly, somewhere.
Ottawa's best: Well, not going to mince words. They aren't going to be much good this year. They get enough points to get out of the basement of the division, but that's it.
Worst: They finish not only in the basement of the division, but of the entire league.
Pittsburgh's best: Malkin and Crosby return to form, and with Fleury backstopping them and a squad the scratched and clawed their way to 106 points without them for most of the season take the top spot in the conference and take the Cup. Steelers win the Super Bowl, and once again W. PA looks down their collective noses at us. Puke.
Worst: 87 and 71 come back but aren't the same. That squad was playing over their heads and now it's time to pay the piper for it. They finish a disappointing fourth in the division, and bow out again in the first round. Steelers finish 6-10.
Philly's best: Bryz and the youth movement are exactly what this team needed, Jagr turns back to his 1995 form, JVR replaces Giroux and Giroux morphs into a Hart candidate. With new-found confidence in the crease, they win the conference and surprise the Sharks in the finals to win their first cup since '75. Phils win the World Series.
Worst: Bryz can't handle it here, and it shows. Bad. The young guns don't take that step forward and old core on the blue line gets hurt. They miss the scoring they had last year, and the team fades out of playoff contention in April. Phils lose to the Yanks again in the World Series.
Rangers' best: Brad Richards is exactly what this team needs- a scoring threat at the top line to compliment what appears to be a bunch of role players. Backstopped by Lundqvist, this scappy bunch makes the second round before the Caps see them out in a long series.
Worst: Add Richards to the long line of big-money failures they've acquired over the years. The role players can't cut it, Avery makes unsavory jokes (it he makes the team) and Lundqvist gets hurt. They finish in the basement of this competitive division.
Devil's best: Marty gets big enough to plug the goal just by sitting in front of it, and they get enough scoring to make the playoffs. They go down in round 1, but they sell the place out regardless.
Worst: Marty is just fat, and the team lost too much talent to be competitive for a long, long time. Last year's first half was the real deal, and they finish last in the conference.
Islander's best: A good, young core that made a little noise last year gets just enough breaks to make the playoffs for the first time in a while. Their arena stays upright the entire season.
Islander's worst: This team played over its head last year, even while missing the playoffs. Trying to kill two birds with one stone, they decide to make Nassau Coliseum an open-air arena, thinking they'd make every home game like a winter classic. It doesn't work, and the team wins 25 games.
Washington's best: Vokoun is the last piece of the puzzle, and they blitz the league winning 60 en route to a Cup. Ovechkin swears no more Ovechtrick commercials for the rest of his career.
Worst: Vokoun gets old, quick. The team has enough talent to make the playoffs, but another early playoff wheezeout has their fans in despair. Verizon makes 5 more Ovechtrick commercials.
Carolina's best: Ward gets enough help, Skinner takes the next step and the Hurricanes are a surprise team in the ECF. They can't get by the Caps once they get there, but it's OK. The future is bright. Cam Newton breaks the passing yards record in his first year.
Worst: Skinner has a sophomore slump, Ward can't do it alone and the team misses the cut line for the playoffs. Cam Newton breaks his leg in his first year.
Tampa's best: St. Louis and Lecavalier and Roloson have enough in the tank and the powerplay clicks and the team heads back to the finals for the first time in 8 years. They don't have the defense against the Canucks, but they give them a good scare. Rays win it all.
Worst: This old team that barely scored more then it allowed last year can't get it done as the team collapses on 42-year old Roloson's back. The team can't handle pressure and misses the cut line on the last day of the year. Rays lose tomorrow.
Florida's best: Booth takes another step forward and they go from Vokoun to Theodore seemlessly. All the acquisitions get the fans of South Florida to notice that there is another sport in S FLA besides football and basketball and they make the playoffs in the last week for the first time since Clinton was president.
Worst: Versteeg doesn't forget how to fall after he learned from Hartnell last year. The moves that were made don't pan out and they miss the playoffs yet again. The NBA lockout ends, and the Panthers go back to sports purgatory.
Winnipeg's best: The new arena is new, shiny and hey, they got their team back. An energized crowd helps them get close to the playoffs before fading out of contention in March. That counts for something.
Worst: This young team isn't meant for all the travel they'll be doing this year, and they develop an expansion-team mindset and fall to the bottom of the conference standings.
So, that's the East. If this is well-liked I'll run through the West. I'm looking forward to this year, and what this new team brings to the table. If I had to pick a favorite out of this conference I'd say it's Washington, followed by Pittsburgh if Crosby and Malkin return to form. The Northeast looks to be the tightest race, although it's Boston's to lose. I've got the Flyers opening the playoffs on the road, although this team as I outlined above could be very good or very average.