British Columbia, caravan driving, and an undying love for the Maple Leafs. Steve McConnell returns to give unabashed opinions on the second BEARD Hockey season.
I once was a young man. Some of you may remember me. I found the old <redacted by management> in a random drunken search for Toronto Maple Leafs fan sites back in 2002, when I was a young lad.
I offered those GM's unbiased (and often harsh) predictions totally unsolicited. It became a bit of a tradition. I even managed to follow some of them to the new <redacted by management>, and then to Skyward Hockey. And I still contributed - for reasons no one but Jack Daniel really knows (least of all, me).
Fast forward to 2021. The old man is back.
No need to revisit my undoubtedly spot-on predictions from last year. It's cool. Just give me the credit I know I deserve. But enough about me. Well, one more tidbit...
I drove a caravan into BC last week and ended up on a 5-day bender.
Don't ask for the details - even I can't remember them.
Thomas got with me and asked if I could spend a few days producing some more predictions for you crazed GM's. I told him I would - for $10,000 USD. He laughed, I cried, and after he countered me down to $5 CDN and a bottle of Bim Jeam's, I acquiesced.
I spent every waking hour these past few hungover-filled days pouring over rosters, game reports, and using my patented skills as a researcher and writer to come up with the most can't-miss predictions in hockey history.
Or I'm just winging it. I'll let you decide.
Wait, where the heck is <name redacted by management>? Has my END TIMES PREDICTION COME TRUE?!? I TOLD YOU ALL! I was so sure he would <remainder of diatribe, which was 18 pages long and included possibly highly classified government information, has been redacted by management>.
Alright, I've settled down. I'm done, for sure this time. I still think those aliens out on Sauntauri X owe me a beer. Anyway, I'll let Thomas format this sucker into something legible.
Here we go. Again.
#1: Ottawa Senators (43-31-8, 94 pts, 3rd in Atlantic)
This team is better than last year's squad, and they weren't half bad. You could say GM Mike Bell improved the roster somewhat, but I say some natural building upon the foundation was to be expected. In any case, it bodes well for the Senators, who claim the Atlantic crown.
#2: Montreal Canadiens (47-25-10, 104 pts, 1st in Atlantic)
Though not as impenetrable as they were last year, GM Lennart Westman and his Habs head into the new campaign with most of the same cast of characters in tow. The regular season matters less to me for this club - it's all about what happens in May (and maybe June?).
#3: Buffalo Sabres (43-33-6, 92 pts, 4th in Atlantic)
The Sabres backslid hard after the trade deadline last season, eventually being bounced by Montreal without too much fuss. This year, it's a much-improved defense (at the top end) and largely the same offensive unit, sprinkled with young guns and Cam Talbot. How long before Ryan Miller takes over and becomes the feel-good story of the year? I give it 5 games.
#4: Detroit Red Wings (43-29-10, 96 pts, 2nd in Atlantic)
The top four clubs here stay the same with some jockeying amongst them. The Red Wings have some depth and punch, but is Juuse Saros the answer in net? If this club gets hot, it can win the division. If they get cold, they could miss the playoffs entirely.
#5: Florida Panthers (38-40-4, 80 pts, 8th in Atlantic)
The Panthers look vastly improved from the basement dwellers of last season. While a playoff berth might still be another year away due to the sheer amount of competitive teams in the middle of the Eastern pack, GM Trevor Cook has the long-game in mind here.
#6: Tampa Bay Lightning (42-37-3, 87 pts, 7th in Atlantic)
New Bolts GM Wes Mucyk has put his stamp on Tampa Bay in short order, but much of the top-end of this club remains the same. Auston Matthews will need to carry this club offensively for the Lightning to have any chance this year, but the future is bright.
#7: Toronto Maple Leafs (41-34-7, 89 pts, 6th in Atlantic)
The enigma that is Big TO still has Alex Ovechkin and some decent depth pieces. But this is definitely a step-back year for GM Sean Hanley. The aged D-corps and average goaltending just isn't equipped to fight the firepower that exists ahead of them. A blow-up could be just what the doctor ordered here.
#8: Boston Bruins (39-32-11, 89 pts, 5th in Atlantic)
This is a club in transition as the youth get their seasoning in Providence. Some journeymen veterans sprinkle the pro lineup but fans in Beantown are in for a long season. How long will John Gibson hold up the fort before 19-year old phenom Yaroslav Askarov takes the reins?
#1: Carolina Hurricanes (39-32-11, 89 pts, 4th in Metro)
The defense still leaves a lot to be desired. But there's no doubt that Carolina has the firepower to match pretty much anyone in BEARD Hockey. With Carey Price back for another solid season and continued improvement from the depth parts, the Canes look good to go deep this year.
#2: Pittsburgh Penguins (41-37-4, 86 points, 5th in Metro)
There's just something about this team that makes it feel better than it is on paper. Maybe it's my undying love of the name Swackhammer. Swack...hammah. Competent where they need to be, the excitement is in the young guns. Cody Glass, Brett Howden, Kaapo Kakko, Miro Heiskanen, and defending Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar seem set for even more of a breakout this year. Dark horse candidate to make a huge splash.