The Hockey News predicts the Jackets will finish 8th in the West this season, as the latest installment in their countdown of teams was released today. Here is their synopsis:
The Blue Jackets made their first-ever playoff appearance last season and will need to battle just as hard to return to the post-season dance this year. Their developing youngsters (Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov) hope to make that task easier, but ultimately, they’ll need Steve Mason and Rick Nash to lead the way again.
Frankly, I disagree with this pick, as I think the CBJ will finish ahead of Dallas, and possibly Vancouver. For what it's worth, here is my own assessment of the West for this year:
15. Phoenix Coyotes -- still a train wreck of a situation. Even if Reinsdorf wins the bid, likely to be playing to an empty house.
14. Colorado Avalanche -- there is a real leadership void in Denver, and too many missing pieces to really challenge this year.
13. Nashville Predators -- have done little to fix their offensive woes. They fell further behind this off-season, and the standings will show it.
12. Los Angeles Kings -- still looking for the glue that will make all of that potential work together as a good unit. Doughty and Scuderi will need to be huge, and no room for marginal performances in goal.
11. Minnesota Wild -- Another team looking for the pieces to fit properly. The offense is relying on a healthy Martin Havlat -- a shaky proposition, at best. While their defense will keep them in some games, they just don't have the finishing ability to take the pressure off the goaltender.
10. Edmonton Oilers -- the Oilers did not do much to improve themselves this year. Goal remains an iffy proposition. They have some front-end punch, but just not enough to crack the playoffs in the West.
9. Dallas Stars -- Sure, injuries hurt them last year, and Richards, Morrow, Lehtinen and Eriksson provide some up front firepower. However, with a weak blue line, they are relying on a healthy and more consistent Marty Turco. Too much needs to go right for them to make it this year.
8. St. Louis Blues -- An incredible run down the stretch earned them a playoff slot last year, and this provides a confidence boost for this season. If they stay healthy, and can show that the stretch was not a fluke, they should earn the 8th slot.
7. Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks have relied on the Luongo-Sedin formula for awhile now, and with good reason. However, the blue line has some holes, Luongo is not immune from the injury bug, and there will be tons of turmoil and distractions with Vancouver hosting the Olympics. They will make the playoffs, but perhaps not as convincingly as some would expect.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets -- Asssuming reasonable health, and a predictable incremental gain in chemistry and performance from the youngsters, this is a likely slot. If the CBJ get that offensive defenseman, and can reduce the minutes burden on the blue line and in goal, could go significantly higher.
5. Anaheim Ducks -- Anaheim is always something of an enigma, as the front-end talent is always balanced by questions of age. Can Hiller carry the load again if Giguere goes down or is ineffective in goal? Will Niedermeyer meet expectations? They always seem to find a way to make it work, so they will be a contender to the end.
4. Detroit Red Wings -- while a 4 seed in the playoffs is never a bad thing, this year will mark the start of a slow decline in Detroit. They will still be a force, but age and defections will knock them from the top of the heap.
3. San Jose Sharks -- still a talented group, so should lead a division that is improving, but not there yet. Nabokov is solid, but getting older, and an heir has not emerged. Marleau and Thornton need to continue to stabilize Setoguchi and the younger guns, while the blue line needs to hold its own.
2. Chicago Blackhawks -- Adding Kopecky, Hossa and Madden to this bunch is almost an embarassment of riches for the front lines. Campbell needs to up his game on the blue line, and Huet is a huge question mark in goal. However, this club can score its way out of situations, and will take advantage of it this year. They face an uncertain future after this year, due to cap constraints, so expect them to go for the gold now.
1. Calgary Flames --With JBo coming on board, the Flames seem to have all of the pieces in place. Solid forwards, perhaps the best blue line in hockey, and a proven goaltender (although has shown some chinks in the armor). Expectations are huge, and they appear ready to take the next step.
So, there it is -- like it or not. Comments?