My hockey predictions continue out West

Updated: October 3, 2006, 11:12 AM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

I believe ...

Sidney Crosby will win the Art Ross Trophy.
Ilya Kovalchuk will win the Maurice Richard Trophy.
In Coyotes and time as an abstract.
Hockey is more vinyl than digital, and if we take any more sandpaper out of the game, the game will lose its soul.
There is no greater ache than the ache people get when they miss their son or daughter's hockey game.
Cold rinks make for warm people.
Kerry Fraser in a hockey helmet is just not right.
You might as well put one on Bobby Orr.
Jack Johnson should be able to do whatever Jack Johnson wants.
I'm looking forward to this NHL season more than last NHL season.
The Western Conference will look something like this.

1. Anaheim Ducks

Oh, I'm gonna muster every ounce of confidence I have
And cannon ball into the water
I'm gonna muster every ounce of confidence I have
For you I will
-- "For You I Will," Teddy Geiger

Once again, Brian Burke is all in. He had multiple forward chips to deal and used them to get a gigantic presence in Chris Pronger. Scott Niedermayer is already a Hall of Famer with his Norris Trophies and three Stanley Cups. Pronger just has to get a few more seasons under his belt and he'll be a Cup winner, too. The Ducks should have a massive power play if Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have the hunger to be great. They both have the hands and reach to score 15-20 power-play goals. This NHL is made for Stanislav Chistov's talents and he should be productive. The Ducks have the speed to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. I like this team because it appears to be able to play a multitude of styles, and that usually equates to a great team.

Point projection: Ryan Getzlaf, 27-44-71. His hair is amongst the top 5 in the league. He needs to show that hunger around the cage.

Kerry Fraser
Dave Sandford/Getty ImagesNo helmet rule: Kerry Fraser's hair needs to be open and free.

2. Nashville Predators

I was searching
for something I thought
I would never find
Losing my mind
-- "You," Rascal Flatts

The Predators don't have a wing better than Henrik Zetterberg, a center better than Pavel Datsyuk or a defenseman better than four-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. But, compared to those Red Wings, the Preds do have more depth, better cohesiveness and a better goalie. Coach Barry Trotz needs to get off to a good start or he could be replaced by former Knicks coach Larry Brown. I still have a question: Who is their leader? Who is their Rod Brind'Amour, their Dave Andreychuk, their Scott Stevens, their Steve Yzerman, their Patrick Roy? Those players were leaders on the last five Stanley Cup winners. Go through the list of Stanley Cup winners and they all have at least one strong veteran personality to lead the way. Paul Kariya is close. It's something GM Dave Poile needs to think about come trade deadline. This team has needed some size down low for a while and Poile has addressed that. You can't teach reach, yo.

Point Projection: Paul Kariya, 37-52-89 He needs to up the grit and show some Yzerman fire. He doesn't have to say a word. He can do it with his eyes.

3. Calgary Flames

Power un-restrained dead on the mark
Is what we will deliver tonight, deliver tonight
Pleasure fused with pain this triumph of the soul
will make you shiver tonight, will make you shiver tonight, yeah
-- "10,000 Fists," Disturbed

Calgary won the Northwest Division last season and finished third in the conference. I think that will be the case again. This might be the best division in the NHL and there will be few freebies in division play. Calgary only scored 218 goals last season and that is not enough come playoff time. That's why the Flames got Alex Tanguay. They must up their goal total to at least 250 and I'm not sure Calgary can get there. They need an unexpected source, like Matthew Lombardi, to step up. Tanguay never had a double-digit season in power-play goals with Colorado. If he can get into that 15-20, career-year range, he should score 40 goals this season. Jarome Iginla only had 17 even-strength goals last season. That has to change. Part of the problem was Iginla did not have strong linemates and he faced the best defenders every shift because of the Flames' lack of scoring depth. This season, he has a better linemate, so he and teammates need to step up.

Point projection: Alex Tanguay, 41-58-99. He will have a career year in power-play numbers (16-25-41).

4. San Jose Sharks

Can't you feel 'em circlin' honey?
Can't you feel 'em swimmin' around?
You got fins to the left, fins to the right,
And you're the only bait in town.

-- "Fins," Jimmy Buffett

This team doesn't pass the leadership test, as well. You just don't see a player on the roster who will gather everybody in his arms, pull them toward him and lead all those personalities. A player with a résumé. Doug Wilson should begin to look around now and find someone who can be that guy. If Columbus falters, Adam Foote would be that guy. As the league gets younger, these kinds of players will become rarer. It's why young players who embrace that leadership role early will be winners. Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and those effervescent competitors will win Cups early because they have veteran fire and young legs. It's why the Oilers won so young. The Sharks seem to lack that guy. It will be fun to watch and see if anybody grows up and steps forward. Mike Grier has some of those qualities and he's a fantasy league geek, so maybe he can take some of that role. But it helps when your leader is a high-level player.

Point projection: Joe Thornton 33-87-120. This year is J.T.'s best chance to win a Stanley Cup.

5. Detroit Red Wings

I've come down with something
I'm frozen, tied up, cast in lead
It's simple, so says the captain
Face forward, move slow, forge ahead.

-- "The Captain," Guster

When Steve Yzerman entered the NHL, The Little River Band, Billy Idol, Quarterflash, Laura Branigan, Journey, ELO, Loverboy, ABC, Supertramp (and something called Michael Jackson) were all being played on the radio. Music stores sold mostly cassettes and albums. There was no World Wide Web. Gary Bettman was picking up David Stern's takeout in New York City. You cannot overestimate the impact of losing a force like Steve Yzerman. He played over three decades with nary a negative vibe. His final season was a model of grace. Accepting a small, grunt role kept his team energized. Legends often suck energy from the team at the end of their careers because they demand more ice time and become a distraction. Fitting in is a quality we all can learn from. If you already have a winged-wheel tattoo, or are thinking about getting one, put 692 somewhere on or near your tat. And three little Stanley Cups. The Wings are still good because they have a god on defense in Lidstrom, a 40-50-goal threat in Zetterberg and a potent power play. What they don't have is a championship roster.

Point projection: Henrik Zetterberg, 44-53-97. Yzerman loves Zetterberg because he's good and he always plays hard.

6. Minnesota Wild

Money so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a raise,
it's no surprise that they're giving none away
-- "Money," Pink Floyd

After trying to play Wal-Mart in an upscale mall hockey world, the Wild finally gave in to their matchless American fans and finally spent some of that gigantic pile of cash that has been accumulating in the ceiling tiles of their arena. Marian Gaborik is primed for 50 goals, but like Iginla in Calgary, he needs help. Pierre-Marc Bouchard needs to step up into the 30-goal area. Pavol Demitra needs to be a 35-55-90 guy. Brian Rolston's career season was driven by a massive power-play year; he can't be expected to repeat that, but the Wild need 25 goals out of him. Mark Parrish returns home to Minnesota with his top-shelf hands. He could go for 30 goals with all the adrenalin he will have this season. You are now talking about the potential for five 30-goal scorers. The Hurricanes had four last season and 25 goals from Matt Cullen. The Wild could match that. I understand they play a little different style, but I guarantee they will have a better power play and more goals. With the responsible hockey culture intact, I like the Wild to make a great leap forward this season. Cue the Billy Bragg.

Point projection: Marian Gaborik, 51-53-104. 300 shots on goal will get you 50 goals.

7. Vancouver Canucks

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don't ask why
It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time
-- "Good Riddance," Green Day

Getting Roberto Luongo and stuff for Todd Bertuzzi and stuff is one of the biggest steals in recent NHL trade history. Luongo comes from a culture that could care less about hockey (but they have very loud Gloria Estefan music) to one that lives and breathes it. The Canucks didn't have a cloud hanging over them with Bertuzzi in their organization, they had a low pressure system with flying darts from the sky. Luongo has a pretty solid defensive corps in front of him, so the Canucks should be a team that allows around 230 goals. If they can get that down to 215-200, they will make the playoffs. Can they score enough goals? That will be the challenge, but the focus here is defense. That's how Vancouver will make the playoffs.

Point production: Markus Nasland, 34-43-77. It's time to stop the production slippage and lead this team.

8. Edmonton Oilers

You saw them too
But you never will again
It's too late
Don't you know
It's been too late
For a long time

-- "Late," Ben Folds

So close to a Cup and then BAM! Chris Pronger walks into the sunset of SoCal. That is a major blow to a team that gave up 251 goals last season. The Oilers expect their goaltending to be better for a full season. Joffrey Lupul, Ales Hemsky, Petr Sykora, Jarret Stoll and an assortment of skaters will have the Oilers on the edge of the playoff picture. Picking four teams from one division is a bit risky. Four teams from the Northeast made the 2004 playoffs.

Point projection: Joffrey Lupul, 34-39-73. He should see lots of power-play time and put up 15-15-30 PP numbers.

The Killers
Jason Squires/WireImage.comIn Bucci's book, Phil Kessel beats out The Killers any day of the week.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

Anticipation has a habit to set you up
For disappointment in evening entertainment but
Tonight there'll be some love
Tonight there'll be a ruckus yeah
Regardless of what's gone before

-- "The View From the Afternoon," Arctic Monkeys

I had the Blue Jackets in the eighth spot when I first started writing this. Then, I looked at their defense and goaltending and I chickened out. They are a better offensive team than last season, but the defensive corps and goaltending are unproven. I can see this team making a deadline deal for blue-line help and getting in with monster years from their forwards. There should be hope in Columbus, which finished strong and play in a division where it could build some point equity. The No. 7 and 8 spots are really wide open in the Western Conference. I give everyone a shot but St. Louis.

Point projection: Rick Nash, 57-44-101 From the blue line in, he has few peers.

10. Phoenix Coyotes

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

-- "Crazy," Gnarls Barkley

Here's another team I wanted to take in the Top 8, but scoring issues and age scare me. They should have a better chance this season. I love Ed Jovanovski. He bolsters a pretty good defense. I just wonder if this team can be a high-level skating team for 82 games and stay healthy.

Point projection: Jeremy Roenick, 18-28-46. Jeremy wants to get his 500 goals to bolter his Hall of Fame hopes.

11. Dallas Stars

Movin' on is a chance that you have to take
Any time you try to stay -- together
Say a word out of line
And you find that the friends you had
Are gone forever
Forever
-- "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," Billy Joel

Maybe my goodbye is a bit premature, but I have Dallas out this season. I see a bit too many 35- and 36-year-olds on the roster. I would say this team has more Finns than an A-Ha reunion concert, but, unfortunately, A-Ha is a Norwegian band. Like I said, there are few shockers in the NHL in terms of teams making the playoffs. It wouldn't be a shock if Dallas got in, but I'm gonna have them out.

Point projection: Eric Lindros, 28-33-61. That gives him 395-505-900 in less than 800 games.

12. Colorado Avalanche

Hope this is what you wanted.
Hope this is what you had in mind.
Cuz this is what you're getting

-- "Ticks and Leeches," Tool

One of the great NHL franchises of the past 10 years is no more. If Bettman had received his salary cap back in 1994, there never would have been all of those great Red Wing-Avalanche games over the last decade. Rob Blake and Tanguay have left. The Avs didn't handle the salary-cap inception very well and they are now paying the price. And they will continue to pay the price in the coming season. Seventeen of Colorado's final 25 games are on the road this season.

Point projection: Joe Sakic, 27-47-74. Joe scores his 600th career goal April 5, 2007 in Vancouver.

13. Chicago Blackhawks

Even if your hope has burned with time,
Anything that's dead shall be re-grown,
And your vicious pain, your warning sign,
You will be fine.

-- "The Adventure," Angels and Airwaves

I have to admit it: I have a good feeling about this team. I think they are going to make a stride this season. They are probably three more good drafts away and they cannot afford any injuries. But I think all the veterans who collectively underachieved last season will be better. Martin Havlat will give the Blackhawks a big year, and they'll have some sandpaper. Chicago certainly has a chance to mess it all up (and history tells us the front office will), but I feel a strange tinge of hope.

Point projection: Martin Havlat, 42-41-83. OK, Marty, you have your money. Now play.

14. Los Angeles Kings

Now I feel the worst is near
I hold them close and count their years
And pray a ray of light appears
To shine down on us here

-- "Shape of Things To Come," Audioslave

Marc Crawford's freakish head of hair has found an appropriate home in Los Angeles. Picking a Marc Crawford team to finish 14th in a conference with a veteran defensive corps might mean I lost my mind about 10 minutes ago, but this team has major offensive issues, and, as we know now, you can't win without offense anymore. The Kings are a top-notch organization with a strong administrative staff. They will get better fast.

Point projection: Alexander Frolov, 31-36-67. Massive amounts of power-play time will hopefully get Alexander a 30-30 season.

15. St. Louis Blues

Together we can take this one day at a time
Can you take my breath away?
Can you give him life today?
'Cos everything's gonna be OK
I'll be your strength,
I'll be here when you wake up

-- "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," Sweetbox

It's going to be a long season for John Davidson. If all the veterans come together, the Blues could climb out of the Western Conference hole. But age and inexperience is a combination for disaster in the new NHL. Finish low a couple of seasons, keep getting top three picks and then supplement with free agents. And don't forget, the free-agent age is dropping. It's 28 or seven accrued seasons next year, and 27 or seven accrued seasons in 2008-09. If a player began his NHL career when he was 18, he can be unrestricted at 25. Teams can improve much quicker than they could yesterday and today.

Point projection: Bill Guerin, 19-27-46. In 51 games, Billy, Billy, Billy reaches 1,000 career games.

The Mother of All Mailbags


John,

Great job with your first column of the season. Your golf game must have been terrific this summer. Either that, or you are getting excited for your son to get started playing hockey again. Do you still play at all?

Sean Baldeschwiler
Seattle, Wa.

I try to read and respond to every e-mail sent to me. For those of you who don't write e-mails, I just want to say thanks for taking the time to click on each week. I really appreciate it. My golf game is peaking just in time for winter! Two weeks ago, I got my first hole-in-one at Ellington Ridge Golf Course in Ellington, Conn. 161 yards, Par 3. I teed up my Nike One, pulled an 8 iron, and one hopped it on the hole for a 1. I acted like a UCLA freshman winning getting the winning bid on "The Price Is Right." If I'm lucky enough to get my next one, I'll act like Adam Oates after scoring a goal.


John,

Excuse me, are you an expert or a joker?

Xavier Legault

I'm a jester. I hop on one leg across the land handing out lollipops while quoting James Joyce. I'm accompanied by my pet otter, Ken. We harmonize "Friday I'm in Love" by The Cure even on Tuesdays. On the weekends, I haul lumber. For Ken.


John,

Ed Giacomin
AP Photo/Kathy WillensAs an added bonus to his Rangers season preview, Bucci gives you a picture of Eddie Giacomin.
I loved the article on the 70s Bruins. As a lifelong native of Massachusetts, I know the deep following this team had. It had a huge impression on me as a young boy. It was consuming. There are many of us who grew up during those days and now lament the shabby state of our beloved B's. Today, it is sad to see how few Massachusetts (R.I., N.H.) kids care about hockey. Yes, we love the Sox and the Pats, but the Bruins are family. I can vividly remember the framed picture of the 1970 Cup champs on the dining room wall of my grandmother's house in Dedham. It was every bit as engrossing as the Sox have been for the past three years and maybe even more so.

God Bless Uncle Kenny.
Thanks again,
Doug Ackerman
Devoted B's and NHL fan

Thanks for all the heartfelt responses to Uncle Kenny.


John,

I have to say this. You're an interesting writer who does things differently. It's quite refreshing, to be honest, compared to all of the bland sports writers out there in the world (including at ESPN). But I have to say that your Rangers' preview has to be one of the worst pieces of sports writing that I have ever read. I question you on if you even researched that little piece in the very least.

Jonathan Philpot

OK, how about this: Jsdhgkj irihlgl mnkxjh kajijor lkahoidh, Ed Giacomin.


John,

Since you did a phenomenal job last year projecting Sid the Kid's stats (and because you amazingly forgot to mention him in your Eastern Conference preview), can you PLEASE provide us/me/we/all with projections for Crosby in his sophomore season?

(P.S: It's a Canadian thing; I just need to know.)

Cheers,
Sean Pile

52-80-132.


John,

I have a 10-month-old daughter. I figure I can get her hooked on hockey around age 3 or so. Will I have a chance to make her an Isles fan, or would that just be cruel? Will she want to root for my boys or will she be so embarrassed by their play that she will just jump on some bandwagon by age 5? Thanks.

Bryan, N.Y.

I believe all children are unrestricted free agents when it comes to picking their sports teams. They will likely pick the team you root for, but give them the freedom at a young age to do the American thing and bandwagon on the winning teams.


Hey Kid,

Just read your hockey predictions for the East. Damn fine article and the music lyrics were strangely well suited and in cases thought provoking. If the songwriter is the modern day poet, what does that make a sportswriter?

Keep up the good work.
Tom

I feel like a modern day nerd.


Oh, Knowledgeable Oracle of Hockey,

Evgeni Malkin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEvgeni Malkin, friend or foe?
Have you seen Malkin play the game? I know you have. Don't you think your prediction of 70-whatever points is a little light? Even with his injured shoulder, which is mildly injured at that, he's going to hit the 90-point mark with ease. This guy has "it." That ability to mesmerize fans and other players that is so rarely seen in sports. Even some of the greats of the game didn't have "it." Heck, Sidney doesn't even have "it" and that's not meant to take anything away from him or anyone else for that matter.

Shawn D. Vogt
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Shawn, head down to the Pittsburgh Police Department and turn you and your Pittsburgh Sports Fan carrying card. For anyone, much less someone from Western Pennsylvania, to come to that conclusion of Sidney Crosby should not be allowed to watch sports, much less hockey. From what I've seen, Malkin will be a great player, but he doesn't have "it." He won't grind for nearly every minute of every game like Alexander Ovechkin and Crosby did in their rookie seasons. It's hard in your rookie season. Ask Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Nathan Horton, and many others. What Crosby and Ovechkin did was MONUMENTAL. These are once-in-a-generation talents. They are abnormal. Malkin is on a lower level.


John,

What's up with your book? Can't find it on Amazon.

Todd McMullen

To clarify. I'm putting the finishing touches on a first-person biography on the improbable and funny hockey career of Keith Jones entitled, "Jonesy." The book should be out in late February. I'll let you know when and where you can buy it and will have a couple of excerpts in this space throughout the season.


Bucci,

My wife is due in March. We don't know the sex yet. Can you give me a boy name and a girl name?

Thanks,
Keith Wagner
Richmond, Va.

William Washington Wagner or Willie Wagner
Gloria Elizabeth Wagner

Hockey Fact: Joe Thornton became the first Hart Trophy winner to switch clubs during his winning campaign in 2005-06 NHL season, having played for both the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks that season.


Hey Booch,

I'd love to hear you comment on the fact that officiating (which was, for the most part, superb last year) intends to crack down on embellishment/diving this year. I'm far more interested in the embellishing aspect, because the whole "arm-pitting" of the stick to draw a hooking penalty was sickening.

Dan Doherty
Hamilton, Ontario

I'm on record as saying I don't want referees playing figure skating judge. If you arm-pit a stick, it's holding. If you dive, you take yourself out of the play. If you were tripped and then embellish, you look like a clown.


Yo Bucci,

Who will have a better 2006-07 season: Keane, The Killers, Kanye, Kessel or Ken the Otter? In your opinion, which stadiums have the best national anthem singers? I'll concede Edmonton at No. 1, but who else can compare to Rene Rencourt's mustache and tux in Boston?!?

Keep it real,
P.J. Bennett
Huntington Beach, Calif.

I'd take Kessel over Kanye and The Killers. He has 82 releases coming. I like the guy who wears the white gloves with the awkward thumb's up at the end. The hairy beast in Vancouver. Jake Schroeder in Denver. I'm still shivering over Zakk Wylde's guitar solo anthem before a Kings game. But, you know my girl Lauren Hart in Philly is my choice for the anthem.


John,

Just wanted to commend you on your outstanding musical selections, way to pull "Black" out of the hat. Not only a fantastic song, but a great description of the late-season-fading Senators.

Go Sharks,
Jeremy

Jeremy spoke in ... my Inbox today.


Hey Bucci,

I wanted to write in to you about the graciousness of Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks played the Ducks this last Saturday night (Sept. 23) at the Save Mart Center here in Fresno, Calif. Well, at the end of the game, my 8-year-old nephew was waving to all the players coming off the ice and Thornton handed him his stick from the game. You cannot imagine the look on my nephew's face. Our family is going to hang that stick, the game program and a hockey puck he made my dad buy him in his room. Being a longtime Chicago Blackhawks fan, I am now going to root big time for the San Jose Sharks.

Thanks,
Neil Deans


Hi John,

I am a devoted Sabres fan and thanks for picking them to finish second in the division! :) There has been a lot of people against the new jerseys for the Sabres. I myself think the banana slug logo is the worst move they have ever made, and it's the worst design since the Morton's Fisherman fiasco on Long Island! It is just hideous! I was wondering what your thoughts on the new threads?

Thanks,
Todd Freeman

Give it some time. I buy CDs that I don't like at first listen. In fact, the CDs I like, the best ones, I didn't necessarily like at first listen. Things that play with your eyes and ears need time. Now, sometimes a CD or a jersey can remain rancid, but I would give it 20 games. Maybe when Chris Drury scores on overtime winner in early November, you'll love them.


John,

It would be a HUGE thrill for the guys if you could ever work a mention of me and my pals in when and if you comment about Boston in any piece at all this year! I can guarantee you it would be framed and hung proudly over several home bars in and around the greater Boston area. Me and all my pals have the very, very last row in the nose bleeds with our 10-game package this year, (fifth year running). Just look for the plastic coat hangers I attached to the back wall. Boston's own "Terrible Ten" -- 10 guys, 10 games. That's us!

Paul E. McCormack

Done.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.