It’s been an interesting week in Chicago. After a hint of spring the weather has turned a bit dreary over the last few days. The clouds have rolled in and the winds have picked up. The press reveled in the dismissal of Bulls Coach Vinny Del Negro and warily stepped on the Blackhawks bandwagon. A crazy boyfriend walked into an Old Navy next to my CTA stop and shot his girlfriend and then himself Friday morning. And to top it off the Chief Executive of the METRA system left his family a suicide note and then stepped in front of train.
Life in the city is nothing if not interesting. On top of that my roommate and I finally scraped together some extra money to order the Extra Innings package so I get to watch the O’s on the TV! As usual, just as I write them off they show signs of life. Offense – check. Relief pitching – check. Swept the Red Sox – check.
With their better play (two in a row!) I figure I’ll let them be for this posting. No need to reverse the reverse jinx. Instead let’s go ahead and continue a tradition that I started on the previous blog – the annual review of my preseason NHL predictions. As usual it’s comprised mostly of picks gone horribly wrong, which is why you shouldn’t take stock in anything I write.
Here’s the original post from October post from October . Gosh I was really optimistic about the team back then. So let’s take a look to see how I did.
The Bolts Should Post Better Numbers With Their Strengthened Defense
They did end up with a better record (34-36-12) and gave up fewer goals (260 goals allowed in 2009-10 as opposed to 279 in 2008-09). However, those numbers are a bit deceiving. Antero Niittymaki’s heroics in net were more responsible for the 19 fewer goals allowed then any accomplishment from the group of blueliners in front of him. Despite their overall lack of cohesiveness there were some bright spots. Kurtis Foster showed that he is recovered from the horrific leg injury he suffered two seasons ago. His presence at the point on the power play, the fear of his glass-breaking slap shot, created a lot of room for Steven Stamkos. Hopefully, resigning him is a priority for whatever GM takes over the team.
Mike Lundin finally made it back to the big club and showed a lot of maturity. After struggling last season to find the consistency that he had displayed in his rookie season, he was the most consistent defenseman for the team for most of the season. Vic Hedman showed flashes of greatness and flashes of being a rookie. There was a nice stretch in February where every mistake he made ended up in the back of the net. He should learn a lot from this season and be even more effective next season.
I grade this as a win.
Goaltending Will Go As Far As Mike Smith’s Head Will
Smith lost his number one status as the Lightning goalie. He allowed the most goals he ever has in a season. He battled bouts of inconsistency and was run over in practice by one of his own players. Basically he did nothing to convince the fans that he is the goalie of the future. Without a consistent presence in net the Lightning floundered early and late in the season. Combined with their underachieving defense and one line scoring threat they fell out of the playoff race after the Olympic break and had to win their last three games to avoid a top three pick in the draft. Next season could see wunderkind Dustin Tokarski in net in place of Smith.
This too is a win.
Overall, I See Them Finishing Anywhere From 8th-10th in the Eastern Conference
I was close on this one as they finished tied for 11th. Of course, it took the aforementioned 3 game winning streak to get that far up in the standings. Like I said I was optimistic in the fall. Were there signs back then that pointed to the team underachieving like they did? Probably, but don’t forget that as late as January they were in sixth place and looking like a lock to make the playoffs.
Stupid Olympic break!
This is a loss.
So for the Lightning I finished 2-1. A couple of the other observations – Zenon Kenopka did not get into 81 fights, but he did break the Lightning season record for penalty minutes while being involved in a bizarre non-trade at the deadline. Only the Lightning would try to trade a pick that they didn’t actually have. For the record I would have been extremely perturbed by this move. While Zeke might be known for his willingness to drop the gloves he was also an effective forechecker and a pretty good face-off man. His 62.3 winning percentage would have led the league if he had enough draws to qualify. To trade him for a one-dimensional player would have been sheer lunacy.
I also said something about Steve Stamkos giving the Lightning a solid second line. If only the first line had shown up last season. Let’s not relive that part of the season please.
On to the other predictions.
The Pens Will Not Repeat As Stanley Cup Champions
The playoffs aren’t over yet and the Penguins are still alive. If they were to win their series with the Canadians then they would have home ice in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston or Philadelphia. While I think they will advance in the east, I don’t think they have the firepower to keep up with Chicago or San Jose in the west. So far Montreal has given them everything they can handle and the Habs don’t have half the firepower of ‘Hawks and Sharks.
To Be Determined
Dany Heatley = Success, Marion Hossa = Trade
Heatley finished with 39 goals and 82 points playing most of the season with Joe Thornton and the Sharks seem to have finally found some success in the playoffs. So I got that part of the equation correct. I think I whiffed a bit on the Hossa side.
The Slovakian forward might have a woman’s name, but he played a man’s game this year. He potted 24 goals in only 57 games during the regular season, but saved his most important goal for the postseason. His game five overtime tally broke the Predators backs in the first round, especially since he had spent the previous four minutes reflecting on a dubious boarding call.
I give myself a half a win.
The Coyotes will draft first.
By far this is my largest gaffe of the season. I guess I had assumed that all teams with ownership issues would underperform like the Lightning. Coach Dave Tippet should be awarded this year’s and next year’s Jack Adams award for the coaching job he did this season. Their success drives home the importance of having a strong goalie between the pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov had a career year posting 42 wins and a 2.29 GAA. At 30, the Russian netminder is just entering his prime and should keep the Coyotes in contention no matter what city they call home next season.
For the record the Coyotes are drafting 25th.
This is a big ol’ loss.
The Lightning Will Not Send James Wright back to Juniors.
This looked pretty well for most of the season. He made it past the 10 game mark where teams can send a player back to his junior team without it costing them a year of NHL service time. The 2008 4th round pick was an early surprise making the team straight out of training camp. Through the first month of the season he played well and even spent some time on Vincent’s line (of course everyone on the team did at some point). It seemed like a lock that he would spend the entire season with the big club.
Then on January 21st the Lightning announced that he was going to be sent back to the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. “Killer” had developed quite a fan base in the TBA so it was a bit of a shock that the team would send him down after he had spent so much time in the league. Was it fair? Probably, he had been struggling on the ice and he gained valuable playoff time with the Giants. Also, he got to avoid the chaos that was the Lightning organization over the last three months of the season.
This is a loss.
My Personal Plus/Minus would be -15.
It was looking soooooo good for a while. Into late January I was actually even and the Lightning offense was starting to pick up. Then the slide happened. For whatever reason the Bolts forgot they were in a playoff race and started giving up goals left and right. I believe I finished at a -23 or -24, I can’t remember and I left the sheet at home. It was bad no matter what the actual number was. Bummer.
This too is a loss.
Another season and another bad list of predictions. What can I say? Enjoy the rest
of the playoffs folks!