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Wrong end of the table

Flipping through my Hockey News "Yearbook," I was hit upside the head by something.

Now, THN's yearbook always arrives too early -- comically so -- to be a proper season preview or reference guide, but it nonetheless entertains during August's slow hockey days. Its pre-training camp best guesses, premature though they be, aren't totally outlandish. Which is why this hurts:

Both of my favorite teams, the Wales and Campbell representatives I've followed since I first recognized a puck, are picked to finish last. Dead last.

The Islanders don't receive any love after their offseason of "Believe in Youth" and the tardy removal of a coach who many pundits credited for last season's pre-injury plague playoff drive. Then again, their write-up is by a local reporter whose paper barely acknowledges the team's existence. As a mark of just how premature THN's yearbook is, they didn't even know the Islanders' new coach at press time.

On the other side of the compass, the St. Louis Blues are picked last in the West after a similarly quiet offseason, personnel-wise. So I'm going into the season under a dark forecast ... but hey, the only way is up!

As much as it hurts, I can't blame THN. To be distant from the team(s) (except for the Leafs) provides THN some objectivity -- at the expense of understanding why a club thinks it can get by with what it has. If I had to do it, I might come to the same conclusions.

But parity has crept into the NHL so pervasively, I'm no longer surprised when any team in each conference's 6th-15th slots surprises or disappoints vs. their pre-season expectations. And that's what gives us hope something good can happen. Hey, last season's THN pick for 15th in the East was ... the 94-point, 8th-place Boston Bruins.

Alas, the preview isn't solely depressing for this fan. For one, there's a priceless photo of an afro'd Mike Bossy on page 35. (Somehow, seeing him in an afro makes him more mortal. Like maybe, just maybe, you too can score at least 51 goals in every healthy season of your NHL career. Or not.)

For another, in celebration of the Canadiens' 100th season, they've included a sampling of facts you didn't know about the club. Among them: Pierre Turgeon ranks second all-time in Canadiens history for points per game. That's a nice arrow for my quiver in my next Turgeon argument.

And finally, Jay Greenberg's tedious "I only write in vacuous puns and similes" season prediction routine is as absent as Pavol Demitra come playoff time. As yearned for as a 0-0 tie. As essential as the NHL's shield redesign. That absence, to my eyes, is a relief.

But now that I think about it, I'm probably misremembering the timing of my misery; that column probably appears closer to the actual beginning of the season. Damn.