a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

04/24/12 Pre-Season Prediction Recap Part Four

Time to wrap up this prediction recap with the final three. Two of these aren't exactly my clearest glimpses through the time fog...

Q: Which Western Conference team is most likely to be worse than the Oilers?

A: Phoenix. Belanger, Upshall and Stempniak are out; The Human Question Mark Daymond Langkow is in. Doan and Whitney are another year older, Jovanovski is gone and the team has no goaltending whatsoever. They might have a better chance with a cardboard cutout of Ilya Bryzgalov in goal than with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera.

Whoa Nelly, this one's a doosey. In my defense: did anyone see this coming?

Lose 59 goals and 130 points (2010-11) from Belanger, Stempniak, Upshall and Turris? Receive 15 goals and 50 points (2011-12) in return from Langkow, Klesla and Rundblad? No biggie.

Ray Whitney is 39 years old, you say? His goal and point totals had declined the previous two seasons? No problem, he'll just score 77 points in all 82 games and finish 13th in the league in that regard.

Speaking of scoring, the Coyotes weren't supposed to have much. Oh no, hang on a minute. Radim Vrbata (whose career-high in goals was 27 back in 2007-08) will outscore Jordan Eberle and pot 35.

Losing Jovanovski hurts though, right? Well as it turns out there's this Ekman-Larsson kid who's doing alright.

And Ilya Bryzgalov? He posted save percentages at or above 0.920 in three of his four seasons with the Coyotes and he has a 0.915 Sv% for his career. Mike Smith, meanwhile, had a career mark of 0.906 in 162 NHL games, and had never had a save percentage at or above 0.920 in a season at any professional level except for five games he spent with the Norfolk Admirals in 2010-11. This year Smith was dramatically better. He posted a 0.930 Sv% and 2.21 GAA in 67 appearances for Phoenix, and won round one of the playoffs almost single-handedly with a 0.950 Sv%.

Frankly, just for this team to have made the playoffs is a shock, but for them to finally win a round is mindblowing. There were plenty of reasons to have doubts about the 'Yotes this season, but they rolled them all up and shoved them sideways up the backsides of their critics (as Brownlee would say). I have a doubt removal procedure booked for later in the summer.

Q: Where do you think the Oilers will finish this season?

A: 13th in the West and 26th overall in the NHL. The Oilers have a shot at being better than Colorado and Phoenix in the West, as well as Winnipeg and Ottawa in the East.

The Oilers finished six points out of 26th this year, and they were actually four Regulation/OT losses behind Toronto. It's not so far off to guess 26th and end in 29th, but again the teams I picked to be bad were dead wrong.

We've covered Phoenix, but the Colorado Avalanche found a way to get up to 20th in the NHL after finishing 29th in 2010-11. Everything was incrementally better for them except for their scoring. They were inside the top eleven of the league in both shots for and against per game, so they controlled the play fairly well even though they didn't always have the finish.

Almost everyone had written off the Senators after last year's debacle of a season, but they got key offensive contributions from Spezza, Alfredsson and Michalek; as well as a potential Norris-worthy season from Erik Karlsson. Nine Senators had at least ten goals, two had 30+ and Karlsson was one shy of giving that team four 20 goal men. Being fourth in the league in goals per game and some improved goaltending can take you a long way.

The Jets flirted with the playoffs for a while but ended up being not that great at 22nd overall. The Hurricanes, Islanders, Leafs and Habs just happened to be worse, and the Jets went 14-6-4 against their lame duck division. Never bet against the enthusiasm of having a team back in Winnipeg...

Q: Will Ales Hemsky be traded this season, or will the Oilers re-sign him?

A: The time for trading Ales Hemsky has more than likely passed. If the Oilers haven't got a package that they liked for him yet, they probably aren't going to get one now that his contract is about to expire. Aside from that, Hemsky is an asset that will need to be replaced on right wing, so Tambellini will probably try to lock him up.

At least we can end on a stronger note. Being a rental hurt Hemsky's value, but his injury history made it ill-advised to trade him for a mediocre package of futures. Oilers management also realized that they would have to replace Hemsky, but of course they didn't yet know that Nail Yakupov was going to drop into their laps. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with locking up a known commodity and hoping that he will bounce back after another summer of rest and training. It took long enough, but the Oilers managed to find a deal that worked for both the player and the team.

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