Apparently My HB won't let me reply on my own blog, so I'll attempt to do that to as many comments as I can here. I always make the time to try and reply to anyone who stops by and asks what's going through my head.
1. What becomes of the Ducks if Selanne and Niedermayer retire?
First of all, I should state, as it wasn't articulated well in this post, that I wrote that without considering Selanne as part of the roster, given that he's hinted about retiring and is a UFA. As for Niedermayer, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and consider him part of the roster until he says he isn't. Just thought I'd clear that up.
That said, even without Niedermayer, their d-core is arguably the strongest in the defensive-minded West, and perhaps the league. The addition of Schneider is a step in the right direction to replacing Niedermayer- though, in all fairness, Schneider isn't as good, but he is an adequate replacement, nonetheless- and, should Nieds stay, will maintain Anaheim's reputation as having the best blueline.
Onto offense. Much of Anaheim's success wasn't about scoring, but also checking. Given that the checking line is still intact, I say that helps. You're kidding yourself if you don't think that Sami Pahlsson, for one, was extremely indispensable to his team in the playoffs. His line kept Ottawa at bay, and should do the same to opponents this season.
Goaltending doesn't even need to be looked at. Giguere has been excellent for the Ducks, and the D takes a lot of shots away from him, reducing his pressure and improving his game.
Frankly, this team will lose two good players if both Selanne and Nieds retire; however, it's no reason to call for the apocalypse. Their major keys to success are still very much intact.
2. Why is New Jersey in 6th with 98 points? They've lost a lot of players this year!
To make things simple, one word: Brodeur.
Good goalies can backstop a good team to success. Excellent goalies, however, can take teams that have fallen on hard times, and still get them a decent finish. I think Brodeur will do just that. Luongo led an offensively-deficient team to a division title, so I think Brodeur leading his team to 6th place, 3rd in a competitive Atlantic Division, isn't a tall order for the Devils.
3. Why is Washington last?
There's no denying the Caps made big moves with Nylander and Kozlov, giving their first two lines a major boost. But wasn't Jagr supposed to be a major boost for the Caps? Or how about drafting Ovechkin? Let's be honest, the Capitals have, despite snagging some big names, failed to impress in the past. And frankly, I see it happening again.
For one thing, Poti is a defensive upgrade, but he is NOT a top-tier defenseman. The Caps blueline is fairly weak, one of the weakest in the East, and Poti cannot singlehandedly save them. Also, as good as Kolzig has been, he's been decline for the last few years.
Frankly, the Caps will have an easier time putting pucks in the net; however, they will still have a very hard time keeping the pucks out of their net. I think the latter will overwhelm the improvement made in the former.
4. Why do you predict four Atlantic teams, but only one Southeast team, making the playoffs?
While it is true that playing Southeast teams 32 games a season is easier than playing Atlantic ones, the case generally is that the other 50 games compensate for that. In the past, the strongest divisions have had the most playoff contenders. Last year, four Atlantic teams made it, and three Northwest teams did as well, while a fourth- Colorado- was in ninth.
Or how about in 2002, where the strongest division was the Northeast, in which four of five teams made the playoffs, while the fifth- Buffalo- finished 9th; conversely, Carolina was the only Southeast team to make it that year.
In short, stronger divisions traditionally have more playoff teams.
5. Why is Dallas so low?
Perhaps I'm underestimating Dallas, as I did last year, but the 'wow' factor just isn't there. Their offense is extremely weak, they're in a division with the Ducks and Sharks, as well as a much improved Kings squad, while their defense has taken a hit by the loss of Darryl Sydor. Turco is rock solid as always, and he alone could very well prove me wrong.
6. Why do you have Ottawa winning the division?
Look, there are many places where I can be, albeit irrationally accused of bias, but this isn't one of them. If there's one thing I don't want, it's another Northeast Division title for Ottawa.
That said, I think they made a case for themselves last season in the playoffs, and will continue to shine this year.
Having said that, I will now go throw up for saying such wonderful things about my bitter enemies.
7. Are the Rangers overhyped?
Yes and no. They definitely are, on paper, a contender this season. That, however, can be a double-edged sword. Every year, I have a "Free Agent-boosted team"; i.e. one team I think will become a Cup contender based on certain deals that were made that may very well be the missing piece of the puzzle. Last year, that was Anaheim, and they won the cup; the year before, it was Philadelphia, and they were knocked out of the first round.
As I said before, Lundqvist is a Top 5 goalie, Drury and Gomez are impressive pickups, and their D isn't as bad as everyone seems to think. That said, the blueline does still need improvement, and that's why I don't see them winning the Cup.