Calgarypuck Season Launch
McCracken: NHL Preview

Aaron McCracken
October 7th, 2003


1. Detroit - Best group of defensemen in the NHL and three very good goaltenders. It's going to take a massive collapse for the Red Wings not to finish near the top.

2. Dallas - Turco proved that he was for real, although things will become more challenging without Hatcher and Sydor. Still, the Stars are deep, talented, and rich, and should finish in the Top 3.

3. Colorado - Who needs goaltending when you've got goal scoring? Actually, Aebischer is a decent goalie and a replacement can be easily found if he falters. However, Colorado's depth will be tested this season with four rookies on the starting roster.

4. Vancouver - Relatively quiet off-season, but the Canucks have a well-balanced squad and two goaltenders that can get it done in the regular season.

5. Anaheim - Mike Babcock deserves a ton of credit for getting this team to play so well together. I don't see them returning to the Finals, but I think they'll be a tough team night-in and night-out and should easily make the playoffs.

6. St. Louis - Rarely a favorite, but consistently contenders, little has changed in St. Louis. The return of Pronger will offset mediocre goaltending, and you never know which netminder Larry Pleau will acquire in March.

7. Los Angeles - Obviously, injuries to Allsion and Deadmarsh will play a big role in their season, but Roman Cechmanek seems to keep every game close, so I expect the Kings to contend.

8. Calgary - On the ice, I don't think they're a better team than last year, though Turek leading the league in preseason GAA and save percentage is very promising. However, Daryl Sutter will make a big difference, and if he can keep this team on the happy side of .500 (he was one game over during his tenure last season), I think 8th place is realistic. I'm still concerned about the goaltending situation and offense from blueline, but I think the Flames have enough to edge out the competition. Then again, I said that last year… and the year before.

9. Columbus - I think the Blue Jackets are the surprise team of the West and have done a great job adding veterans to their lineup (Marchant, Letowski, Sydor, Brathwaite). I think they'll be one of the powers of the NHL in the latter half of this decade.

10. Minnesota - They'll continue to be awfully tough to play against, and will win their fair share of games. But without Gaborik and Dupuis, I just don't see them making enough of an impact in October and November to be serious contenders in March & April.

11. Edmonton - If Comrie signs soon, then the Oilers will compete with the Flames all season long for the 8th playoff spot. But this year's team is considerably weaker than the team that notched 92 points last season…

12. San Jose - The Sharks are continuing to rebuild their team, so I don't see them as a legitimate contender. However, with some inspired leadership, this team could be a surprise.

13. Chicago - Post-CBA, the Hawks will have one of the best groups of young forwards in hockey. But for now, they're too inexperienced to be taken seriously.

14. Phoenix - Their biggest asset, goaltender Sean Burke, will be traded if the price is right. The Coyotes have a patchwork lineup and simply cannot be counted on to make any noise this season.

15. Nashville - Have you seen their blueline?


1. Ottawa - The Sens looked very strong in the preseason, which is a testament to their depth. They may be the best team in hockey right now.

2. New Jersey - The Devils keep losing veterans and bringing in young players to replace them. And they keep winning. They're always a threat, especially in the post-season.

3. Tampa Bay - A one year wonder? Not in my opinion. They've got good young players in every position and very reliable goaltending.

4. Philadelphia - I think Hackett will make them miss Cechmanek, but they're still a talented team and a virtual lock for a playoff spot.

5. Toronto - Their defence is not pretty, but Ed Belfour has still got it and the Leafs have enough offense to easily make the playoffs again.

6. Boston - The Bruins will score a ton of goals and Felix Potvin will stop enough pucks to make this a playoff team. I think they'll be out again in the first round, however…

7. New York Islanders - They were 7-0 in the preseason and Michael Peca is healthy. Plus, Rick DiPietro finally appears ready to play regularly in the NHL.

8. Buffalo - An easy team to discount, but they've got talented young players galore and three strong goaltenders. They'll be the surprise of the East.

9. Washington - Losing Klee and Johansson will hurt the Capitals, who are left with a thin and inexperienced blueline. Jagr isn't enough to make this team successful.

10. New York Rangers - One more season with Messier means one more season out of the playoffs. Learn from your mistakes, Sather… money doesn't buy chemistry.

11. Florida - Young, small, and inexperienced. I like a lot of the Panthers' prospects, but this team needs some veteran leadership before it can call itself a contender.

12. Atlanta - I didn't think they were a playoff team before the horrible accident, and losing Heatley for the bulk of the season cements my opinion. However, never underestimate what a team can do in the face of tragedy. They could surprise…

13. Montreal - Jose Theodore will have to carry this team on his back if they hope to make it to the post-season. Don't count on it.

14. Carolina - Even if they improve by 15 points, they still won't be a good team.

15. Pittsburgh - The real question is whether Ed Olczyk will put himself in the lineup in order to improve the Penguins talent level!

Stanley Cup: Detroit over Ottawa in a thrilling seven-game series.

Surprise Teams: Columbus in the West and Buffalo in the East will both make significant strides this season.

Disappointing Teams: Washington and the Rangers will continue to prove that money cannot buy happiness.

Breakout Players: Rick Dipietro - his time has come, and Milbury's patience will finally be rewarded.

Comeback Players: Sergei Samsonov and Chris Pronger will rebound from injuries and have strong seasons, while Fred Brathwaite will steal some key games for the Blue Jackets.


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