NHL Midseason Outlook

So, I think I’m finally getting my finger on the pulse of the new NHL. Now that you can see thrives and who suffers under the new rules, you can make better predictions. Having said that, it’s easy to forget, every year, just how different the playoffs are. Stands to reason then, that the playoffs will mean even more difference.

Here are the teams I like:

EAST

Ottawa – It’s been fun to watch this team build up the right way, mostly from within and thorugh a few deft trades and precisely timed spicings of UFAs. They are on the verge of something great this year, and I think that their recent doldrums are not a sign of a dropoff, or will mean anything come playoff time.

Philadelphia – Of course they have a goaltending controversy, but they also have the best player in the league who happens to have chemistry with his linemates. This team would be way out in front if not for a bunch of wierd injuries. Will they get Leetch for a playoff run? It’s been long rumored.

Buffalo – They are missing a few things, but grit and leadership aren’t those things. And that’s what matters in the playoffs. Fortunately, the Sabres also have a good goaltender to trade for some spare parts come playoff time.

DARKHORSE: Atlanta – Firepower. They have it. Kovalchuk is amazing to watch, but this isn’t a one man army, either. If their goalie lives up to expectations this spring, this team could be interesting, and might knock off a team that isn’t battle-tested, and not ready for the playoffs just yet, like, say the Rangers.

WEST

Dallas – They have been showing some tremendous grit lately. I’m not a fan of this team, but they are playing well, and they have most, if not all, of the pieces.

Calgary – They haven’t really fallen off since their amazing run in the spring of 04. If Iginla can return to his dominant self, this team will matter in the West.

Vancouver – I really like this team in every position except in net, and that’s what matters during the playoffs. I think that they will either make a move, or somehow solidify this position.

DARK HORSE: San Jose. Everyone’s perennial dark horse, which should be an oxymoron, but I think this time they are stalking on the outside looking in.

Omissions? I just can’t shake the notion that there’s something strange about the Red Wings being this good in the regular season. And the Devils seem hexed this year. They’re doing better with Elias back, but they have bigger problems (a coach for one). I’d love to believe in the LA Kings, but I just can’t. Nashville is impressive, and I’m ready to buy in on them, but it won’t be before I see the players they have combine to win a round.