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Posted: Friday October 10, 2008 2:12PM; Updated: Monday October 13, 2008 1:15PM
Allan Muir Allan Muir >
INSIDE THE NHL

Crystal oddball predictions

Story Highlights

Tampa's Barry Melrose will be the first coach to get pink slip

NHL will be hard-pressed to top Def Leppard’s Cup faux pas

David Jones, Ducks and Mikkel Boedker will be nice surprises

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Barry Melrose may be the toast of Tampa Bay right now, but he may also be the first coach this season to be given the pink slip.
Barry Melrose may be the toast of Tampa Bay right now, but he may also be the first coach this season to be given the pink slip.
Chris Livingston/Icon SMI

The good old crystal ball looks a little worse for wear this season -- I think the kids used it for backyard bowling over the summer -- but the warranty ensures that it'll take a licking and keep on kicking out predictions. Besides, it was made in China, so you know the quality is unquestionable.

During the course of training camp, I spent countless hours with the mysterious orb, trying to divine secrets about the new season. Kinda gave me a headache, but if Braydon Coburn can take 55 stitches to the left eye and come back, I figured I'd better fight through the pain, too.

So, what manner of secrets did the old ball reveal about your favorite team? Read on ...

First coach to be given the opportunity to spend more time with his family: Barry Melrose

Despite a hot and heavy romance with Lightning boss Oren Koules, Melrose is under immediate pressure to prove that he has what it takes to manage a modern NHL bench after more than a decade of looking smart in the studio. He inherited a team that has been rebuilt on last season's ashes and looks to have chemistry issues that would befuddle Osamu Shimomura. But with all those high profile acquisitions come high expectations. If the picture doesn't come into focus by Christmas, Melrose may regret the decision to leave the cozy confines of the broadcast booth.

Team with the most balls in the John Tavares/Victor Hedman lottery: Thrashers

All it takes is one look at this team's roster -- and that ludicrous new third jersey -- to recognize that this has the makings of a rather long season. Outside of Ilya Kovalchuk, there is not a single player here who can repeat as a 20-goal scorer. And the reconstituted defense, while faster and more offensively oriented, looks like a nightmare for goalie Kari Lehtonen and his snap-happy groin. Now nine years into a five-year plan, the Thrashers are nowhere near to competing for a playoff spot, let alone the Stanley Cup.

First GM to enjoy the view from a golden parachute: Don Waddell

See above ... and below.

Three players poised for breakout seasons: Braydon Coburn, Wojtek Wolski, Phil Kessel

Coburn's breakout won't be made obvious by inflated point totals, although he should top last season's 36. Instead, he'll assert himself as Philly's top defenseman by making better decisions with the puck while reducing his mistakes that arise from overly aggressive play. He'll earn a spot in the All-Star Game, prompting GM Paul Holmgren to send a thank-you card and flowers to Waddell for gifting Coburn to the Flyers in a Feb. 2007 deal for Alexei Zhitnik.

The Avs' Wolski benefited from strength and conditioning efforts over summer, adding 10 pounds of muscle that will make him more effective along the boards and out in front. His sweat and toil also earned him a spot as Joe Sakic's wingman, which shouldn't hurt Wolski's point totals. And, if nothing else, he won't have to deal with regular accommodations in the doghouse of his now ex-coach, Joel Quenneville.

After two seasons of teasing coaches and Bruins fans with his shootout prowess and occasional bursts of five-on-five creativity, Kessel enters his contract year with something to prove. Playing alongside Patrice Bergeron, and with his good buddy Blake Wheeler around to keep him honest, he'll have no excuses not to produce impressively.

Embarrassing moment that will be hardest to beat: Joe Elliott and Darren McCarty

It was bad enough that the badly aging singer for Def Leppard placed the Stanley Cup upside down during Thursday night's live NHL Face-Off Rocks broadcast, but when the star of the ill-conceived event tried to cover up his faux pas by saying, "Nevermind. We're soccer boys. What do we know?" weren't we all disappointed that McCarty didn't pull the jacket up over Elliott's head and offer him the choice of one lump or two? If McCarty won't drop 'em over a clear violation of the code like that, it's no wonder he wasn't in uniform on opening night.

At least we can take solace in knowing it's all uphill from here for the league's marketing department. Unless, of course, they've booked another relevant act, like Sergio Mendes and Brazil '77 or Cibo Mato, for All-Star Weekend.

Best new rule: No commercial breaks on an icing call

This one will succeed despite going largely unnoticed, a sure sign that it's the right course of action. Too often last season, teams would ice the puck with a TV timeout coming up, knowing they'd get the artificial break to rest weary skaters. This rule removes that option and, at least theoretically, increases the chances of scoring on tired troops.

Most popular free agency destination next summer: Carolina

You kidding? Who wouldn't want to play for a team that puts the kibosh on bag skates, hard runs, stair climbs or any other off-ice activity that taxes the heart and body? If only Kyle Wellwood had heard about this before signing with the Canucks.

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