2008-09 NHL Betting Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 10/07/2008
The NHL season is just around the corner. Actually, it has sort of started - four teams have played two games each in Europe. That only barely counts, though. The real action gets going this week, beckoning in eight months of slashing, checking, punching, and maybe even a little skating and scoring. To help get you back into the swing of things, here's a quick preview of some of the key stories for the NHL season ahead:
Red Wings On Track To Repeat
Not only did Detroit win the Stanley Cup last year, but they made it look easy. They put together the best regular season record, and then cruised through the playoffs relatively unscathed. They did it with an impressive mix of talent and experience. This year, the core of that talent is back, and it has been supplemented. Marian Hossa was a big part of the reason Pittsburgh made the finals against Detroit last year. This year, he is a Red Wing. He'll be hungry, too. He left some big, long-term contracts on the table to sign in Detroit for one year. He wants a Cup, and this is his best chance of getting one. Detroit will be as tough as always, and are a near lock to win their division, and likely their conference. Their only real potential problem is the same that faced them last year - experience comes with age, and these guys are getting old. The loss of one or more of their core veterans could give another team a chance. The team is favored to win the Cup by a decent margin, though, and it would be no surprise to seeing them skating to victory in June.
Wide Open Northwest
The Northwest Division is shaping up to be perhaps the most hotly contested of the six divisions. That's not necessarily because it's good, though. All of the teams in the group had a lot of work to do in the offseason, and all had a bunch of new players in the dressing room this fall. Calgary changed their offensive mix, notably taking a risk on talented but troubled Todd Bertuzzi. Edmonton has aggressively shuffled their deck, adding Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky and letting some underperformers find new homes. Minnesota focused on their defense, and has upgraded it to perhaps the best puck-handling group in the league besides Detroit. Vancouver got rid of some old faces that had been at the center of things for a decade and more, and that has brought a new attitude to the team. Colorado got tougher, and will be improved just because they are healthier. Each still has glaring weaknesses, though. That means that any one of them, except maybe Vancouver, could win the division. On the other side, any one of them has the potential to miss the playoffs.
Washington made huge strides forward last year, winning their division after years of futility. It appears as if things will continue to be bright this year. That's not hard, of course, when you have All-World mega-star Alexander Ovechkin on your team. What is striking about this team, though, is that they finally have some depth. Their collection of centers is the deepest in the league, and there's far more scoring potential than just Ovechkin. This team should be able to light it up. They may have to score a lot to win, though, because they have real questions in goal. For the first time in what seems like a century, Olaf Kolzig is not with the team. Jose Theodore has been brought in as the No. 1 guy, and anyone who has watched the NHL over the last decade knows that that is kind of scary. When Theodore is on he's as good as anyone, but his high times have been fleeting for a few years now.
Pittsburgh To Take The Next Step?
Last year, Pittsburgh made it all the way to the Cup finals before getting chopped down by the Detroit buzzsaw. Now Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are a year older and wiser, so it would seem logical to assume that the team will be even better. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to call. Those two players will be at least as good as last year, especially if Crosby stays healthy all year. Their supporting cast isn't what it was last year, though. Hossa is gone, Ryan Whitney fled to Tampa Bay, Jarkko Ruutu and the calming veteran influence of Gary Roberts is missing. Most significantly, those guys are all left wingers, so the entire left side of the ice has a new look. On top of that, the defense is decimated by injuries, and will be for several months. If this team is going to come close to what they did last year the top two are going to have to do it themselves. They are ridiculously good, but this year we'll see just how good.
No division is as top heavy as the Pacific. Anaheim, Dallas, and San Jose are all legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and all three will spend the season beating each other up. Of the three, I have the most hope for the Stars. They return the core that made it all the way to the conference final last year, they will have Brad Richards all year after picking him up at the trade deadline last year, they are tougher and more annoying thanks to the addition of Sean Avery, and 23 year old rookie Fabian Brunnstrom has the potential to be a high impact star.