If, exactly a year ago, you ventured that the New Jersey Devils would reach the Stanley Cup Final, your best friend likely would have suggested a sedative and a long rest somewhere on the Cocos Islands.
Egad! Did Peter DeBoer's sextet fool us or what? Hey, they made darn fools out of just about every prognosticator this side of Sunnyside's crystal ball factory.
At the very least Martin Brodeur & Company proved that one should never take a dark horse lightly; or a light horse darkly. But you get the point; I hope!
Okay, the point is that if there's a 2012-2013 Dark Horse candidate why not the New York Islanders? (Chorus, please: "Yeah; why not?")
It's been a half-dozen years since the Nassaumen squeeked into eighth-seed when Alexei Yashin still was captain and Pontiac was making cars.
Hold on to your fedoras, The Maven is hereby predicting that Jack Capuano's crew will finally haul themselves out of No Man's Ice and into the post-season; otherwise known as the playoffs.
My confidence is rooted in youth and maturation along with a rare break in goaltending luck; as in good luck.
But first let's look at the Young Turks, alias Draft picks are ready to hit the heights.
Ryan Strome, the gifted center, is my fave but I expect left wing Kirill Kabanov to emerge next season the way Adam Henrique came out of nowhere to rescue the Devils. I have it on the best authority that Nino Niederreiter has been working like a power saw this Summer in Portland, Oregon with a special trainer. If nothing else it demonstrates that the Swiss potential-ace is well-motivated to prove that last year's meager output was really not the Nino Garth Snow hoped he was securing at a top pick. Ditto for D-man Calvin de Haan who was drafted the same June as John Tavares.
Swedish goaltender Anders Nilsson could easily move in as Evgeni Nabokov's back-up if Rick DiPietro fails to stay healthy. Then again, you never know; this finally could be DP's great-great-come-and-get-it-year.
The Maven expects a Top Six to be difference-makers and that means Tavares, his prolific buddy Matt Moulson, one-time 40-goal man Brad Boyes, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen.
Granted that Grabner disappointed himself and followers last season but he's got the speed and savvy; now it's matter of converting on his surplus of breakaways. Likewise, Bailey is well aware that he's got the goods and only requires steady linemates and a few breaks to turn his career toward the stratosphere.
Assuming -- at least Snow hopes -- that Lubomir Visnovsky winds up on defense, he could provide a 40-point season to match captain Mark Streit. Meanwhile, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald rank among the NHL's most underrated defense pairings.
No question, the Isles fortunes will hinge on how the club handles its Atlantic Division rivals. But, apart from the Rangers, there are shortcomings on the Flyers, Penguins and Devils.
Minus Chris Pronger (injured perhaps indefinitely), Matt Carle (moved as free agent), Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja -- both with long-term injuries -- Philly's defense makes a slice of Swiss cheese look like the China Wall.
Meanwhile the Penguins can only hope that Sidney Crosby remains concussion-free -- no guarantee -- and that sieve-like Marc-Andre Fleury decides not to self-destruct as he did in 2011-2012. As for the Devils, well, they still haven't filled the gap caused by Zach Parise's emigration to Minnesota.
Here's the trick: Capuano must inspire his horses out of the gate as if their contracts hinged on it.
That done this club has enough talent to sustain itself down to the Finish Line.
It happened in Newark; it could happen in Uniondale!
Every year we hear grunts, groans and grumbles when the Hockey Hall of Fame announces its nominees. But this year an Ontario writer is doing something about it; as in a book.
Kris Kullas is the author and his tome's title says it all: ACCESS DENIED -- FORGOTTEN & FUTURE HEROES OF HOCKEY'S HALL OF FAME. The book is published by Frosted Forest Northern Ontario Publishing and makes for fascinating reading.
The way Kullas sees it the Hall of Fame's standards are skewed to the extent that heroes such as 1951 Stanley Cup-winning scorer Bill Barilko deserves to be in the Pantheon every bit as much as this year's entrants (NAME THEM).
Nor surprisingly Kullas fingers several Rangers whose access has been denied but he manages to make a case for their being qualified. Try these aces on for size:
LORNE CHABOT: How could the goalie who spearheaded the Rangers first Stanley Cup drive in 1928 not be in the Hall of Fame? In an 11-year NHL career the French-Canadian ace played nobly for six teams. His record as you will see was more than commendable.
Chabot played in 412 NHL games and registered a record of 201-147-62. Over his 11 season career, Chabot was a Vezina Trophy Winner in 1934-35 and posted a career goals against average of 2.02. More impressive, however, may be his shut out totals.
With 71 blank sheets during his time as a tender, Chabot pitched a shutout in every sixth game in which he played. One of those shutouts occurred in the semi-finals of the 1933 Playoffs. In a six-overtime marathon, his Toronto Maple Leafs bested the Boston Bruins 1-0 through nine periods of hockey. His 71 shutouts would be good for ninth overall in career shutouts among goalies. It's criminal to deny access with that resume.
DEAN PRENTICE: Rangers icon Andy Bathgate will be the first to tell you that he (Andy) never would be in the Pantheon of Hockey were it not for his left wing, Prentice. Dean was a workhorse in the Bob Gainey tradition. If Gainey is in the Hall, Prentice should be as well.
Prentice re-defined consistency during his 22-season-career. His 860 points over 1,378 regular season games is good for 0.6 points per game. Beyond the numbers however, Prentice was best known for being a coach's dream; a quintessential team guy. Plus, was a power play and penalty kill specialist, a tremendous backchecker and all-around. To define Deano with a pair of World War II words, he was gung-ho.
BOB NEVIN: Either Nevvy or Deano rank as the most underrated Ranger of all-time. Bob not only could score, check and play a clean game he's one of the precious few players ever to decision Montreal's heavyweight champ John Ferguson in a fight. Nevin also starred on two Toronto Stanley Cup-winners.
From the get-go, Nevin was a clear talent at the NHL level. Coming up second only to Dave Keon for the Calder Trophy in their rookie years, Nevin scored 21 goals in an era when 20 goals was a benchmark for the NHL's elite. He continued to do just that when he was traded to the Rangers. Notching more than 20 goals a season five more times after leaving Toronto, Nevin was consistently among the league's top talent. His 0.64 points per game in his career is more than good enough for The Hall and it doesn't hurt that he has two Stanley Cup rings to back it up.
KEVIN LOWE: If ever there was an unsung hero of the Rangers 1994 run to the Stanley Cup it was the all-purpose -- and very tough play of Lowe on the backline. Ditto for when he helped the Oilers to their Cup jubilees.
There is little doubt that Kevin Lowe was not only one of the most efficient two-way defenseman to play the game, but he was also a natural born leader. Without any fanfare or attention, Lowe was an incredibly consistent D-man and was an integral piece of the 1994 team that brought the Cup back to the Garden after a 54-year drought. Lowe appeared in seven All Star games, played in a staggering 1,254 regular season games, and despite being known for his defensive game, still registered a 0.34 point per game average. And don't forget that Lowe was part of a total of six Stanley Cup-winning teams. Kevin should have been inducted in the Hall long ago based on his Oilers exploits alone.