As a member of the working NHL media, I know all too well how the pile on mentality can work.
Television people, by the very nature of their work, have to make snap reactions and analyses, yet once those opinions are put out there, it's pretty hard to take them back. Newspaper people often have a tendency to be influenced by these opinions, especially on trade deadline day and the opening of free agency because most of those writers are watching the news unfold on TV, just like all the fans.
So here we are in mid-July, and there is already an NHL prognosticator predicting the demise of your Montreal Canadiens.
Terry Frei, a respected reporter for the Denver Post who also writes for ESPN.com, recently published his Eastern Conference predictions for next season. A warning before you decide to click on that link: What you see may disturb you.
Frei predicts the Canadiens will not only finish out of the playoffs in ninth place, but he also thinks the Toronto Maple Leafs will slide into the final playoff spot, which essentially discredits everything he wrote.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, and I would have no problem accepting Frei's that the Habs will miss the playoffs because that remains a very real possibility. But behind the Leafs? Really? Has he seen their depth chart?
I will be the first to say that what Brian Burke accomplished this summer was very impressive, simply because he has a vision for his team and he went out and executed his plan. Or at least a part of it. Burke has mentioned he likes to have six skill guys and six bangers among his 12 forwards. Unless I'm missing something, I fail to see where his six skill guys are.
Jason Blake has some skill, as does (like it or not) Mikhail Grabovski, but those aren't exactly guys you want to build around. Then there's Nik Hagman, who's a nice player but hardly a legitimate top-line forward. Is Matt Stajan going to light the world on fire? Or Jiri Tlusty? Or Alexei Ponikarovsky? Or Lee Stempniak?
The defence looks very much improved and there's some intriguing young players coming in, but otherwise, I don't see the playoffs in the Leafs future.
I do, however, feel the Habs will make the playoffs with Carey Price and an improved defence as the driving force behind it. Yes, it is possible to have an improved defence when you've lost Mike Komisarek to free agency and I'm making an educated leap of faith on Price, but I think a playoff spot is definitely within this team's grasp and I don't think they'll squeak in either.
And from the looks of it, they will likely have to do it without Vincent Lecavalier as Tampa co-owner Len Barrie looks to have met his cash call from Gary Bettman. That doesn't necessarily mean Lecavalier still won't be traded this summer, but I would think it's going to take a lot more assets for Barrie to sign off on a deal than it would if it were only Oren Koules making the final call.
There is a possibility that Bob Gainey could make a pitch for Patrick Marleau, seeing as San Jose has yet to make any changes to a group that has clearly shown it needs a shot in the arm, but I have trouble envisioning a package that could be offered to get Marleau that wouldn't severely cripple the team. This would not be auction in an effort to save money, it would be a hockey trade and the Habs don't have the necessary depth of talent to pull it off. Tomas Plekanec and prospects simply won't cut it because Doug Wilson is no fool.
As much as Gainey may want to ship Plekanec out of town, and I believe he does just to avoid having to give a guy he made a healthy scratch in the playoffs a hefty raise, I'm not sure how much value he has. He had one magical season, but otherwise he's always been a pretty mid-range talent, but one that could potentially thrive with Andrei Kostitsyn and whoever finds himself on right wing.
No, if I were Gainey I would sit on what he's already done and let the predictions of impending doom start rolling in.
We've already seen the motivational power of dire pre-season predictions.