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The icy road ahead 

Here are 17 predictions you can take to the bank 

Posted: Tuesday October 3, 2006 1:08PM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 5:39PM
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Without the puck, Ilya Kovalchuk will find it tough to approach or top the 52 goals he scored last season.
Without the puck, Ilya Kovalchuk will find it tough to approach or top the 52 goals he scored last season.
Eliot J. Schecter/Getty Images
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With the new NHL season upon us, everyone including your friendly neighborhood plumber is predicting who will skate off with that big silver Cup next June. I, however, see lots of interesting things happening in the meantime. 

1. Team taking the biggest swan dive in the standings: Red Wings.

After racking up 58 wins and 124 points, the Wings were a whopping 11 points better than Ottawa in the battle for the President's Trophy last season. But Detroit's ball, which has been up in the air for more than a decade, is heading back down to Earth. Too many graybeards and fringe NHLers mean the Wings will be lucky to finish sixth in the West.

2. The "Didn't you used to be Ilya Kovalchuk?" award will go to: Ilya Kovalchuk, Thrashers.

To paraphrase Chris Berman, you can't stop Ilya Kovalchuk, you can only hope that free agency will cut off his supply lines. The loss of center Marc Savard and his pinpoint passing will have a dramatic impact on Kovy's production. On paper at least, Atlanta now has one of the league's least imposing group of centers (Steve Rucchin, Glen Metropolit, Bobby Holik and Niko Kapanen). Kovalchuk's an elite individual talent, but who's going to get him the puck?

3. First man to 20 goals: Glen Murray, Bruins.

Thank you, Marc Savard.

4. First coach to be fired: Ted Nolan, Islanders.

Not that he'll do anything to deserve it, really, but let's face it: Sound decision-making is hardly the hallmark of this wheels-off organization.

5. First team to make a blockbuster trade: Flyers.

Do you get the sense that all this talk about Antero Niittymaki's hip problem being nowhere near as bad as initially reported is just a ploy to even out the playing field for when Bobby Clarke is ready to make a deal? With the window closing on the Peter Forsberg era, Clarke won't give the unpredictable Robert Esche much rope before bringing in a new top stopper ... say, Vesa Toskala of the Sharks.

6. Ten players who will be dealt before the end of the season: Todd Bertuzzi (Panthers), Robert Esche (Flyers), Scott Gomez (Devils), Michal Handzus (Blackhawks), Scott Hartnell (Predators), Aaron Miller (Kings), Owen Nolan (Coyotes), Michael Peca (Maple Leafs), Marco Sturm (Bruins), Keith Tkachuk (Blues).

7. Players who are as cooked as last season suggested: Bill Guerin, Blues, and Andrew Raycroft, Maple Leafs.

Forget about the four he scored the other night against an undermanned Thrashers squad -- Guerin's toast. He should top the 13 goals he graced Dallas with last season (he'd have to fall in a well not to), but it won't be by much. He's lost the speed and abandon that ranked him among the league's top wrecking balls before that 2002 leg injury.

It shouldn't take long for Raycroft to reveal to Maple Leafs fans the same physical shortcomings that led the Bruins to ship him out. Though technically sound, he's not the most athletic goalie out there, and his lateral movement simply isn't up to the pace of the new game.

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