Thursday, April 24, 2008

"American Idol- President Edition"?

No no, I'm not talking about a singing competition for American presidents- I'm here to propose a new idea to decide the next president of the United States of America (if not every other elected official in the world).

See, with the knowledge that American Idol considerably outdraws the presidential race in terms of viewership and votes, it would naturally follow that maybe the two ideas should be combined as one. Instead of having to wait eight long months waiting for the Democrats and the Republicans to decide on which faceless robot will represent them and then wait three more long months to choose the drone whose rehearsed jabs were the least boring, why not open the entire race to every eligible contestant in America, have "judges" (maybe one from each political stream, or at least the major ones) whittle them down to 40 or so where eventually we'll vote them off until we figure out an overall winner- the President. Along the way we can expect the usual segments we love so much on Idol, such as the funny auditions (if you think awful singing is bad, think of the ideas some of the hopefuls will come up with...) as well as challenges to test the candidates on their speaking ability, their passion and their charisma, as well as how well versed they are in current events and issues. You could even throw in a segment for a "secret talent", like what is done on the Miss America pageant, because several Presidents had talents in something other than...wait, they had talents (Bill Clinton, for one, is a saxophone player).

Now, I understand the competition is fraught with problems because navigating through the milieu of ideas within the political spectrum is a lot harder than simply deciding who's got the best voice (we're talking about picking someone to run a country, where there can hardly be a consensus and which is more important a job than releasing an album that no one will buy anyway), but it's plain to me that democracy in the 21st century has lost a lot of its bite. Part of it has to do with the fact our society is just so comfortable to live in that there's hardly a pressing need to debate about how the country should go forward ("it ain't broke so don't fix it") but part of it also has to do with the fact the process just doesn't have any pizazz. The success of American Idol hinges on the fact that it's entertaining and while I don't think political decisions should be made on entertainment value alone, if the political process could appear to be "fun" (just like Idol) then maybe more would turn out to the polls because then it'd be worth watching- and following. Besides, if nothing else, it should serve as a reminder that as long as we have a lifeless process we'll have a lifeless leader- and I think that is an issue more pressing than any concern this "glamourization" may cause.

-DG

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Into The Crystal Ball- Round 2

What a finish.

In a first round that featured three Game 7’s (including one decided in overtime), six Game 6’s, three near comebacks from 3-1 down (the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks), lots of surprises (the Ducks’ ouster, the whipping of the Ottawa Senators and Dan Ellis of the Nashville Predators nearly ousting the Detroit Red Wings on his own) and eight overtime games, the National Hockey League’s Round of 16 in 2008 was a Round you just didn’t want to see end. Unfortunately it has to, but the great first round should set up a barnstormer of a Round 2 winding down to a fantastic finish in the Cup Final after a dud of 2007 playoff year (only one Game 7 and six Game 6’s out of all the playoff games).

It also means it’s time for another peak into my crystal orb (5-3 in Round 1) to tell you who will win the Stanley Cup.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Conference Semi-Finals

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

They may have both gotten the expected results, but both the Canadiens and the Flyers know they were lucky to escape from the first round after both nearly blew 3-1 series leads to the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals respectively, with the latter series not decided until Philadelphia’s Joffrey Lupul, quiet all series long, netted the overtime winner in Game 7. Neither team enters with a lot of confidence or a lot of answers, as the Flyers saw the Capitals beat them at their own game in outhitting Philadelphia and playing with a lot more energy and intensity and the Canadiens saw their power play suffer dramatically against Boston and goaltending sensation Carey Price turn into a sieve after his peewee level blunder gifted Glen Metropolit the Game 5-deciding goal. If there is a redeeming factor for both it is the fact Philadelphia is again playing a Capitals-like team in the fast, skilled Canadiens (albeit Montreal has more overall skill than Washington does) and Montreal knows that they beat the Flyers all four times during the regular season (including a 1-0 Price shutout on February 16). The Flyers also know that they possess the playoffs’ leading marksman (Daniel Briérè with six goals) and the Canadiens should get inspirational captain Saku Koivu back to full health as the series wears on. Now, when I first forecasted this series in the Round 1 predictions (based on the regular seasons, mind you), I saw a Philadelphia victory because the Canadiens are not as big as Philadelphia is, but after watching the two teams in the playoffs- and knowing that Koivu is returning for Montreal- the Canadiens appear to be the better team (especially if Alexei Kovalev comes back to form). The Flyers may still be bigger but the Canadiens showed they could be physical if they had to be, and despite how wobbly Price is, Price is a much better goaltender than Washington’s Cristobal Huet. Montreal might not score as much against a revitalized Martin Biron for Philadelphia (who should have enough juice to give Montreal a test), but by the end it’ll be Montreal moving on to Round 3.

Canadiens 4, Flyers 2

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 New York Rangers

Sidney Crosby on Broadway- another series I forecasted during the regular season edition but played now under incredibly different dynamics. Then I predicted a Rangers team where Henrik Lundqvist would defy the odds and steal the series from the heavily favoured Penguins, but after watching Crosby & Co. utterly dismantle the Ottawa Senators there’s just no way that I can see that happening now. The Rangers gained more notoriety in Round 1 after Sean Avery’s stick-waving in front of New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur caused the NHL to amend the rulebook, but the Devils- a shell of their former Stanley Cup-winning selves- were hardly overwhelmed by New York (despite the series scoreline), who played with more purpose throughout the series. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, saw Evgeni Malkin, greybeard Gary Roberts and (eventually) Marian Hossa emerge as a dynamic compliment to Crosby, which will pose match-up nightmares for Rangers’ coach Tom Renney. Meanwhile, all Penguins bench boss Michel Therrien has to worry about is Scott Gomez, the aging Brendan Shanahan and the moody Jaromir Jagr. Not only that, but the Penguins’ defence, led by puck movers Ryan Whitney and Kristopher Letang and sharpshooter Sergei Zubov clearly outclasses the largely no-name Rangers defence and players such as Maxime Talbot, Jarkko Ruttu and Ryan Malone give Pittsburgh the jam they need to compete against the likes of Avery and Ryan Callahan. Really, the only edge the Rangers have is Lundqvist over Marc-Andre Fleury in goal. That may be worth a victory or two, but this is Pittsburgh’s series to lose.

Penguins 4, Rangers 2

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #2 Pittsburgh Penguins

It’s almost like a homecoming for Crosby, who played his junior hockey in Rimouski, which is just up the Gaspé Peninsula. Still, Crosby’s welcome in Montreal will be hardly cordial, since Montreal is likely to be viewed as the underdog despite being the higher seed. That underdog tag will be more than an illusion as the teams are match up well until you see Pittsburgh’s far deeper forward cast. Montreal does have enough talent to push Pittsburgh to the brink (especially with Price), but the Penguins have enough magic to pull out of La Belle Province with a hard-fought, Eastern Conference-winning performance.

Penguins 4, Canadiens 3

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

Doesn’t come with the same kind of sizzle that earlier Wings-Avs series did, but old rivalries die hard. Many of the veterans from series past- Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote on Colorado and Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper and Chris Chelios on Detroit- are still present on both teams ensuring that the nastiness from years past will at least make an appearance. The nastiness factor might seem convincing enough to take Colorado in this series, since the Red Wings don’t have the muscle to win that battle, while the fact that Detroit needed a fluke goal in Game 6 against a better-focused (but clearly overmatched Nashville team) adds fuel to the Colorado fire; but this series will be anything but a slam dunk for the Avalanche. It was the goaltending of Jose Theodore and the fact that the Avalanche faced an offensively challenged Minnesota Wild team that pulled the Avalanche out of Round 1, as Sakic, Forsberg and Foote are past their primes, and Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny have no support lower on the depth chart (in addition to both being virtually invisible in Round 1). Detroit, meanwhile, can throw Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk up front as well as Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on the back end in addition to having a capable army of smart two-way players who will never give up the puck. Plus, the Avalanche just aren’t mean enough to really throw Detroit off their game. Colorado will probably eke out a win or two, but don’t expect any repeats of years past, since the Red Wings have more than enough to cruise into Round 3.

Red Wings 4, Avalanche 1

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

Any doubts that the Sharks couldn’t be a Stanley Cup-contending team can be laid to rest after the four-goal second period drowned the Calgary Flames out of Game 7 and out of the playoffs in Round 1. San Jose survived a series that lived up to the hype as the closest matched series in the first round and only pulled through because the Flames had the one “bad period” in Game 7 that the series had yet to see. In addition to dousing Calgary’s Stanley Cup aspirations (and the added confidence that brings), the Sharks also re-established their best players among the league’s elite, as Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau finally broke loose against the Flames, with the old warrior Jeremy Roenick providing the added leadership that perhaps San Jose had lacked in previous years. The only concern might be defenceman Brian Campbell’s sub-par performance, but he did pick it up in the final two games signalling a breakout. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars didn’t at all look thoroughly convincing in their upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks, since that series was marked more by the Ducks shooting themselves in the foot with too many penalties (and, despite what Don Cherry said about it, none of them was due to roughness- all of them were obvious and stupid, including needless cross-checks and obvious trips and hooks) and a Dallas team that needed a third period outburst in Game 6 to defeat an Anaheim team that had more purpose in staving off elimination in Game 5 following a 3-1 series deficit. Still, there’s enough on the Stars’ roster to give the Sharks a push, including power forward Brendan Morrow, elite two-way forward Brad Richards, the revitalized Stephane Robidas and Mike Ribeiro and Marty Turco, the affable elite goaltender who showed he finally could win a playoff series. However, I’d be hard-pressed to pick against San Jose following their performance against Calgary and despite all the talent on Dallas’ roster, there’s just not enough to overcome the Bay Area-ers in 2008.

Sharks 4, Stars 2

Conference Final

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #2 San Jose Sharks

The Wings may have won last year in six games but they didn’t play a Sharks team quite like this one, one that will have a lot more purpose, passion and talent than the team Detroit put away last year. This is where the Hockeytown dream dies, since the Wings finally face off against that physical team with skill that would be problematic for them, although San Jose isn’t quite Anaheim in terms of physicality. Still, anyone expecting a tight series will be disappointed, because by this point San Jose will be brimming with confidence after two rounds and the Wings will look more like they’re stumbling through being merely lucky to get the favourable draw for the playoff match-ups that they did. Look for the Sharks to avenge last year in four quick games.

Sharks 4, Wings 0

STANLEY CUP FINAL

W2 San Jose Sharks vs. E2 Pittsburgh Penguins

The pundits in Canada will whine the series will have no sizzle without a “traditional” (re: Canadian) team in the Final (despite the fact that Crosby is playing in this final) but once the series starts they’ll realize there’s a lot to love. It’ll be the physical Sharks against the skilled Penguins, with both teams matching up considerably well. San Jose does have an edge in goal- Evgeni Nabokov over Fleury- but that won’t be enough to tilt the series considerably in the Sharks’ favour as the Penguins’ speed and talent level will give San Jose coach Ron Wilson fits all series long. This will be an exciting series to watch, full of goals and full of hits and, much like Calgary-San Jose, will be up-and-down all series long. At the end of the day, it’ll be the Sharks bringing the Cup back to the West Coast, as although the Penguins have slightly more skill, the Sharks have more muscle and at this time of year, that means everything. Pittsburgh will show the NHL world that they will be a force for years to come, but their Stanley Cup won’t arrive this year.

Sharks 4, Penguins 3

-DG

Friday, April 11, 2008

How about a playoff lottery?

Hearing Ottawa Senators General Manager/coach Bryan Murray claim that the Pittsburgh Penguins "tanked" just so they could face the Senators in the first round of the playoffs got me thinking- since the National Hockey League has a "draft lottery" to prevent teams from tanking to get a great pick why not have a "playoff lottery" to ensure teams don't tank to get a more favourable opponent? My idea works as follows:

There would be two groups, one for the highest and lowest seeds and one for the mid-table ones. This would mean that #1 would be randomly selected to play either #7 or #8 (with #2 playing the team #1 did not draw out of those two) and the same with #3 and #4 with the #5 and #6 seeds. The rest of the playoffs would remain the same with reseeding after the first round.

Another option would be to allow the higher seeds to select who they will play in the first two rounds among the lower seeds, with the #1 seed getting the first choice, the #2 seed getting the second choice, and so on. Teams would not be allowed to select a team that would qualify for home-ice advantage in that round (in the first round the #1,#2,#3 and #4 seeds could only select from the seeds #5-#8 and in the second round the teams reseeded #1 and #2 could only select from the teams reseeded #3 and #4) to ensure that the strongest teams at least have the shot (that they earned) to have a deep run in the playoffs.

Neither idea are precedented (nor do I think the Penguins really tanked, albeit it is close), but I think the NHL owes itself to make some kind of alteration to the playoffs to make sure teams don't "abuse" the standings to ensure they'll have a competitive edge.

-DG

Monday, April 07, 2008

Into The Crystal Ball- 2008 Stanley Cup Playoff Edition

Well, the regular season has been decided and there were a couple of surprises- most notably that of the Montreal Canadiens- and a couple of disappointments (none more notable than the Ottawa Senators, who wasted a great start)- so that means time to dust off the old crystal ball and see how the playoffs will be determined. In last season’s playoffs I was correct in eight of 15 playoff series, and, in this regular season I correctly predicted 12 of the 16 playoff entrants. So here goes with another set of predictions:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

First Round

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #8 Boston Bruins

This will be the 31st instalment of the one-sided Montreal-Boston playoff rivalry (the Canadiens have won 23 of the previous 30 series) but this figures to be the most intriguing. Neither team were expected to be playoff teams yet both took the Eastern Conference by storm in qualifying for unexpected berths. They both play the same way- to borrow a tennis analogy they are “aggressive counter-punchers”, relying on great defence to create offence, with both boasting a great compliment of great checkers (Mike Komisarek and Maxim Lapierre for Montreal alongside Andrew Alberts and PJ Axelsson for Boston) with great scorers (Alexei Kovalev for Montreal and Marc Savard for Boston). The difference is going to be in net, and that is what will give Montreal their 24th victory in their playoff encounters- as good as Tim Thomas is for Boston, he’s not comparable to sensational rookie Carey Price, who looks primed to be the Patrick Roy of his generation. The series might be closer because of the (prospective) absence of Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, but there’s no reason to believe Montreal cannot escape comfortably to the second round.

Canadiens 4, Bruins 2

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Ottawa Senators

A re-match of last season’s opening round series, only this time it’s the Penguins who are the higher seed. Last season the Senators dominated Pittsburgh by throwing around Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin & Co. who looked out of sorts in their first playoff series, but, now that they know what the NHL playoffs is like, they’ll be better prepared and ready to face the Ottawa assault. A lot will be made of the fact Ottawa backed into the playoffs by slumping from first to seventh during the course of the season (with the Senators done in by shaky goaltending and huge lapses in defensive zone coverage) and the absence of a second-line centre really hurt the team this season, but make no mistake- the Senators still have a lot of their weapons from last year’s great playoff team (Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, etc.) and thus they are still a very potent team that has a lot more skill than their seeding suggests. The Penguins shouldn’t feel comfortable playing the Senators, who just might feel they could make a similar run the 1999 Buffalo Sabres did, a team that, like Ottawa, was once first in the Eastern Conference only to slump at the end of the season. This series will be fun to watch, and whoever wins will only do so barely- and the crystal ball is clearly displaying the grand logo of the Ottawa centurion.

Senators 4, Penguins 3

#3 Washington Capitals vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

The Capitals are the NHL’s version of the Colorado Rockies, a team that came from nowhere to win its division. Winners of 13 of their last 16 games and their last seven overall, Washington stealthily stole the division (and a playoff spot in the process) from the Carolina Hurricanes and enters the playoffs full of confidence and youthful enthusiasm with home-ice advantage to boot. They’ll face a Philadelphia Flyers team that is emerging from the rubble of last season’s debacle and thus has something to prove, and might feel “lucky” to face a Capitals team that really should be ranked eighth. They’ll be boosted by the fact that several veterans of the Flyers’ playoff runs of yesteryear (Derian Hatcher, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards) are still around and key contributors, but the Capitals will be anything but a cakewalk. Alexander Ovechkin established himself as the league’s best player in potting an astounding 65 goals this season as well as adding an element of defence and hitting to his game, making him just as well-rounded as Jarome Iginla or Vincent Lecavalier. Of course, the Capitals are more than just Ovechkin, boasting great rookie Nicklas Backstrom as well as super youngster Alexander Semin and deadline-day acquisitions Sergei Fedorov and Cristobal Huet, the latter of whom went a long way in solidifying their playoff spot. The big variable will be whether or not the Capitals’ young guns will be ready for the playoffs and while Fedorov and Huet have experience, neither of them have been out of the first round since 2002 (when Fedorov won his last Cup with the Detroit Red Wings). Washington should have enough to give Philadelphia a push, but the Flyers’ experience should be enough to carry the day.

Flyers 4, Capitals 3

#4 New Jersey Devils vs. #5 New York Rangers

Rematch of the 2006 series the Devils dominated, but this year’s Rangers team is miles ahead of the “happy-to-be-here” version that was soundly clocked by New Jersey. The Devils also don’t have a lot of the talent they had in that series, as Brian Rafalski is in Detroit and Scott Gomez is across the Hudson- and playing against them in this series. The Rangers should also be buoyed by the fact they gave the favoured Buffalo Sabres a run in the second round last season and the addition of Gomez as well as former Sabre Chris Drury to that team gives a New York team that already has Brendan Shanahan and Jaromir Jagr quite the offensive punch, and the addition of Christian Backman at the deadline gives the Rangers the puck moving defenceman they needed. Plus, this may be the year that Martin Brodeur’s armour starts to fade- he’ll be 36 in May and didn’t look at all like himself in last year’s playoffs, so Henrik Lundqvist is primed to outplay the legend. The fact New Jersey has home ice should give them a bit of a lift, but this series has “Rangers” written all over it.

Rangers 4, Devils 1

Second Round

#1 Montreal vs. #7 Ottawa

The “Highway 40 Series” (denoting the highway that links Ottawa and Montreal together), this should be the series where Koivu comes back to Montreal (if he doesn’t come back against Boston). That should give the Canadiens a lift against the potent Senators, against whom they figure to have a high-scoring series (both teams are the two highest scoring teams in the league), so the determining factor will be who can make the best defensive adjustment. That team is Montreal, who are just that much better than the Senators are at defence and should carry them to the Conference Final.

Canadiens 4, Senators 2

#5 New York vs. #6 Philadelphia

After facing Brodeur in the first round, the Rangers will feel relieved they get to face Martin Biron, who isn’t a bad goaltender in his own right but certainly isn’t Brodeur. Still, the Flyers have a lot more at their disposal other than Biron- including more offensive weapons than New York- and that alone is going to give the Rangers quite the test. Not only that, but the much more physical Flyers should figure to push the Rangers around (Sean Avery will have his hands full, if not bloodied, by the end of the series), meaning if New York advances they’ll have nothing left for the Conference Final. That won’t happen though- the combination of Philadelphia’s energy in both the physical and scoring departments and the Rangers’ lack of weapons in response will see the Flyers advance to their first Conference Final since 2004.

Flyers 4, Rangers 2

Conference Final

#1 Montreal vs. #6 Philadelphia

The Canadiens should figure they’ll be prepared for the Flyers after playing the big Bruins, but Philadelphia is a different beast. The Flyers are big but can also score, whereas the Bruins are just big, which will pose countless problems for the Montreal coaching staff. The Canadiens measure up more than others might think with the likes of Guillame Latendresse and Komisarek, but even there, line-for-line, pound-for-pound, the Flyers are simply better. Montreal should push Philadelphia to the brink, but by the point the Canadiens will have nothing left, spurring the Flyers all the way to the Cup Final.

Flyers 4, Canadiens 3

WESTERN CONFERENCE

First Round

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Nashville Predators

If it wasn’t for the Canadiens, the Predators would be the surprise of the season. Left for dead after the dismantling they went through in the off-season, Nashville- led by the likes of ex-Sabre Jean-Pierre Dumont (who finally showed he can carry a team), long-timer Marek Zidlicky and the goaltending tandem of Dan Ellis and Chris Mason- channelled the spirit of their plucky 2004 selves and made the playoffs against incredible odds. They’ll need to work similar magic if they expect to get past the powerful, President’s Trophy-winning Red Wings, who look more like a soccer team than a hockey team with their puck possession approach. There are still question marks on the Detroit roster- size for one, plus a distinct lack of finishing ability (as good as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are, they’re playmakers not snipers) and the fact their goaltending is ancient (Domonik Hasek’s and Chris Osgood’s best days are long behind both). However, the Predators don’t have nearly enough weapons to exploit any of those weaknesses, and while the hockey world figured they passed their expectations just by reaching the playoffs, there may those who will wonder if that’s good enough after realizing Nashville still hasn’t won a playoff series.

Red Wings 4, Predators 0

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Calgary Flames

The Sharks- hockey’s greatest tease- finally got over the hump by winning the Pacific Division after two straight seasons finishing in fifth, knocking out Nashville in the first round and getting bounced themselves in Round 2. Thus, San Jose could actually deliver on all that promise they offered, especially after the addition of Brian Campbell from Buffalo makes the team that much faster. However, the familiar refrain in the Bay Area is the fact Joe Thornton has yet to lead any team past the second round, and compounding the problem is the fact that despite all the talent on San Jose’s roster- arguably the deepest in the NHL- they will face the equally talented but also equally underachieving Calgary Flames, out to prove they’re not going to have another run of 15 consecutive seasons without advancing from the first round. This could be the closest of all the playoff series, as San Jose and Calgary match up extremely well on paper- both teams have elite-level goaltending (Evgeni Nabokov and Miika Kiprusoff), great checkers (Joe Pavelski and Ryan Clowe for San Jose vs. Stephane Yelle and Owen Nolan for Calgary), elite-level forwards (Thornton and Jarome Iginla), good secondary scorers (Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo for San Jose and Alex Tanguay and Daymond Langkow for Calgary) and a deep blueline (led by Christian Erhoff, Matt Carle and Campbell in San Jose and Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Adrian Aucoin in Calgary). Not only that, but each team’s weaknesses cancel each other out- the Sharks lack an elite-level sniper (Thornton led the team with 29 goals) while the Flames lack an elite-level playmaker (Iginla led the team with 48 assists), and San Jose’s offensive-minded defence corps will be countered by Calgary’s shutdown-oriented counterparts. What just mind win the day is experience, and the fact of the matter is despite the fact the Sharks haven’t been to the Conference Final since they played these very Flames in 2004 (during Calgary’s magical Stanley Cup run), the Sharks have still managed to get past the first round against talented sides, even if that side was Nashville both times. So expect the series to go to the wire- maybe even overtime in Game 7- but it’ll be the Sharks who will move through.

Sharks 4, Flames 3

#3 Minnesota Wild vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

A lot was made of the Senators’ troubles this season, but equally disappointing was Colorado, a team pegged to win the Northwest after snagging Ryan Smyth in the off-season. It was perhaps this disappointment that led to the Avalanche to hold a reunion of sorts on trade deadline day, acquiring old Stanley Cup stalwarts Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote and so nearly convincing Patrick Roy to come out of retirement (okay, that last one was a joke). The result is a pastiche of a team that looks stronger than it actually is, since for every talent the team can boast (such as Joe Sakic, Smyth, Paul Stastny, Jose Theodore and Forsberg), it has two question marks right beside it (no defenceman scored more than Jeff Finger’s eight goals, and Wojtek Wolski produced only 18 goals and 48 points in a second-line capacity). Still, despite all their weaknesses, the Wild are not so much better than they are that the Avs don’t have a shot. Minnesota’s offence is comparable in overall talent to Colorado’s, as even though Marian Gaborik is Minnesota’s only 80+ point producer with 83, the Wild have six players who passed 40 points, two past sixty (counting Pavol Demitra) and a defenceman over 10 goals (Brent Burns with 15), compared to Colorado’s five past 40 points and only one past sixty (Stastny); and, as good as Niklas Backstrom is in net for Minnesota, he’s no comparison to Theodore. At the end of the day, though, it’s worth pointing out that Minnesota did win the toughest division in hockey- the Northwest- and, playing against a Northwest team in Colorado, it should signify that the Wild have what it takes to advance. Paper may suggest the Avalanche, but games are won on the ice and Minnesota has already shown it can win there.

Wild 4, Avalanche 2

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

No worries for a Stanley Cup hangover here, as the Ducks finished in a comfortable fourth position despite a horrid start and looking like the Cup winners they were last year, especially after Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer came back. In front of them this year is Dallas in the first round, a team that filled a significant hole by acquiring Brad Richards at the trade deadline. Richards gives Dallas that elite-level centre to pair with Brendan Morrow they were lacking all season (since Mike Modano is past his prime) and makes Dallas a very scary No. 5. Not only that, but Marty Turco no longer has the “great regular season goaltender” tag dogging him anymore, meaning the Stars’ talent is very real and gives an Anaheim team a tough first round test a year after breezing through the first two rounds. However, Anaheim won without much depth last year, but the story is different- Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider provide a nice compliment to Selanne and Ryan Getzlaf up front and Chris Pronger, Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin on the back end; plus Anaheim has an elite level goaltender themselves in Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The two teams match up very well, but what will set the two apart is Anaheim’s size and experience, as the Stars haven’t been out of the first round since a 2003 loss against a then-upstart Anaheim team. It won’t be a deserved first-round exit, since Dallas looked so much stronger, but the Stars consigned themselves to this fate by their own poor start.

Ducks 4, Stars 2

Second Round

#1 Detroit vs. #4 Anaheim

The 2007 Conference Finals, Part II. Anaheim won last year because of their size, smacking around a clearly undersized Red Wings team that still isn’t up to that task, and, worse, has to contend with a much deeper Ducks team in this go around. Add to that the sieve-like goaltending the Michiganders are receiving and this has the potential to get ugly. There’s nothing else for Anaheim to do except win this series handily thus guaranteeing themselves another easy trip to the Conference Final.

Ducks 4, Red Wings 0

#2 San Jose vs. #3 Minnesota

From “faux elite” to elite, the Wild will also have their hands full against a deep Sharks team whose only fault for this series might be how winded they are after facing Calgary. That said, the defensively-sound Wild boast enough offence this time around to give the Sharks a fight, especially considering San Jose is an offensive-minded team and thus will have a very difficult time fighting through Jacques Lemaire’s positionally smart bunch. What will again be Minnesota’s undoing is a lack of offence, because even though the Wild should figure to contain the Sharks’ offence, it has enough weapons to find a way through meaning at some point the Wild will need to counterattack; and as long as the Sharks focus on Gaborik (Minnesota’s only threat), that will prove impossible. It won’t be a cakewalk for San Jose, but Minnesota just doesn’t have enough to bring them over the hump.

Sharks 4, Wild 2

Conference Final

#2 San Jose vs. #4 Anaheim

The Battle of California…maybe it’s not as romantic as a Los Angeles Kings-Anaheim Ducks confrontation, but the fact they’re both from the same state will make this match-up spicy enough. Anaheim will be buoyed by an easy second round and pumped to get back to the Cup Final for a second year in a row, while San Jose will be a team full of confidence after proving they’re finally capable of making good use of the embarrassment of riches they have. These two teams also match up considerably well, both being very energetic sides that can score and hit, meaning we just may have a new rivalry on our hands by the time this series is over (especially considering Pronger is still loathed in San Jose from his days as a St. Louis Blue). This will also be a very close series, but the Ducks have enough firepower and more experience to see them through to a second-consecutive Cup Final, leaving the Sharks again empty-handed- but at least with something to build upon for next season.

Ducks 4, Sharks 3

STANLEY CUP FINAL

#4W Anaheim vs. #6E Philadelphia

The New Broad Street Bullies vs. The Original Broad Street Bullies, there’s enough intrigue here to fill the sports pages on both sides of the border. At first glance, one knows there will be blood in this series, since the Flyers are definitely going to set out to prove that they are still the NHL’s toughest team and not the upstart Ducks, while Anaheim will be out to prove that it too can stand alongside the ’74 and ’75 Flyers in the annals of hockey history. Not that fisticuffs will be the only thing featured in this series- there will be lots of goals, great saves and loads of energy, so much so that this just might be the most entertaining Cup Final in recent memory even if it won’t go down to the wire. Standing above it, though, will be Anaheim, who are just a hair deeper than the Flyers are and that will prove the difference. Still, Philadelphia will give the defending champs quite the run and warm many hockey hearts in the process so even if they don’t lift hockey’s ultimate prize, they’ll still have a lot to hold their heads up high to.

Ducks 4, Flyers 2

-DG