Steak bet, version 3.0

Another year, another steak bet.

Each of the last two NHL seasons, erstwhile fellow STATS editor Christopher Altruda and I place a hockey-related bet against each other.

Two years ago, I said the Chicago Blackhawks wouldn't win six games in six weeks – this was before Kane, Toews, Sharp and real ownership took over. After getting off to a 4-2-0 start, I thought for sure I would be picking up the check at the Chicago Chophouse, but the 'Hawks didn't let me down: they lost eight in a row including three consecutive shutouts.

Hope remained high even after a win over St. Louis. If the Blackhawks lost to Columbus, there was no way they would win at Phoenix and Anaheim to kick off a road trip, and the rib-eye would be mine. Problem was that Lasse Kukkonen scored, and Brian Boucher – 0-7-1 coming in – channeled Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk in a 1-0 win over the Blue Jackets.

Last season, it was which team would have the fewest points at the end of the season. No way I was losing this … Phoenix hadn't been competitive since leaving Winnipeg a decade earlier, and with David Aebischer, Mikael Tellqvist and Alex Auld in goal, a 60-something-point season was almost certain.

Of course, that changed on Nov. 17, when the Coyotes picked up Ilya Bryzgalov on waivers from Anaheim. He blanked Los Angeles in his Phoenix debut, the first of four straight wins for his new team.

Six teams finished with fewer points than the Coyotes. And Morton's is overrated, by the way.

To prevent this from being settled again six weeks into the season, Chris and I have created five categories. And now, (drum roll please) ... your 2008-09 Steak Bet.



YOUR SIX DIVISION WINNERS: I have gone with Philadelphia, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Vancouver, Dallas; Chris has chosen Pittsburgh, Montreal, Carolina, Detroit, San Jose, Calgary.

I think Montreal and Detroit are no-brainers: the Canadiens, celebrating their 100th anniversary will have a certain degree of pride on the ice. Philadelphia over Pittsburgh is a hunch in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Tampa Bay goes from worst to first. Vancouver will win the Northwest because of Luongo. Dallas will just have Ott, Morrow and Avery beat people up to get to the top.

Altruda's rebuttal: I think Pittsburgh stays more healthy this year, and a full season out of Fleury between the pipes is better than a full season of Biron in Philadelphia to win the Atlantic. Montreal, we agree on. I know Washington is going to push, and Florida may sneak up, but I think Carolina has the overall depth 1 thru 18 to win the Southeast. Detroit, Duh. San Jose… I think the Sharks finally exhale this year after having the Ron Wilson self-administered Heimlich maneuver on their collective throats. It also helps that only two opponents are good (Anaheim, Dallas) and two are mediocre (Phoenix, LA).

FIRST COACH OUT (FIRED OR RESIGNED): I have a hunch that Mike Keenan will wear out his welcome in Calgary. Chris thinks Wayne Gretzky won't last in Phoenix.

The only reason why I say Keenan is that all the bad teams from last season changed their coaches, so there will be a honeymoon phase for ones like Peter DeBoer in Florida, Scott Gordon on Long Island and John Anderson in Atlanta.

Keenan is high-risk/high-reward, something he's done in all his stops. With Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla tied up in long-term deals, you can bet they're not going anywhere.

Altruda's rebuttal: Why Gretzky? Because if the Yotes’ aggressive offseason moves don’t pan out in the first 30 games, I think he falls on the sword.

I also still don’t think he likes coaching, he admits losses linger for days after they happen. For a guy who’s psychotically competitive like that, coupled with the internal pressure of this team having to start off fast to me makes him a more likely candidate than your boy, der Fuhrer Keenan.

WORST TEAM: This one should come down to the wire - I've chosen Los Angeles; Chris picks the New York Islanders.

Sure, the Kings have a wealth of offense in Anze Kopitar - this generation's version of Luc Robitaille - and Dustin Brown. The problem, as usual, is goaltending.

Jonathan Bernier and Jon Quick clearly are future of this franchise in goal. Until that happens - Jason LaBarbera and Erik Ersberg?

As noted co-worker and Islander apologist Jon Palmieri said, "How many chances is LaBarbera going to get?" And he's right - LaBarbera was 17-23-2 with a 3.00 goals-against average while Ersberg was 6-5-3 with a 2.48 GAA.

I'm not confident in that. The Kings probably could score five or six goals a game, but will end up allowing seven or eight.

Altruda's rebuttal: I think this is the season this team finally bottoms out dysfunction-wise, and it’s going to be ugly. Like sub-65 point ugly. I also think the Atlantic Division is stronger than the Pacific (where you took the Kings) and will result in a lower point percentage.

And while it is universally accepted the Kings currently have no goaltending, I’m not counting on DiPietro being healthy for a full season, which will cost them at least six wins.

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