So why shouldn’t the Guelph Storm be considered a top three team this season?
I’ve mentioned this several times this pre-season to people, several of who scoff at the notion.
Many people tend to look at why their own team won’t be a contender rather than why they will. We tend to be overly critical of the team we are most familiar with and dwell on flaws rather than strengths.
Additionally, people tend to be somewhat focused on their team in making overall predictions rather than looking at what else is going on in the conference.
For example, people question Guelph's goaltending. My response? "Who's the second best goaltender in the Western Conference?" After WIndsor's Mike DiPietro, there is no obvious answer to who the top goalies are because none have been consistent enough to prove it.
So while official predictions are still a couple of weeks away, let’s look at why the Storm is a legitimate contender.
First and foremost, they are an older, experienced team. Rarely will you see a young, inexperienced team be a legit contender. They have nine players 19 or 20 and will be adding more.
Second, and this might be the biggest thing, Guelph had a plethora of players under perform last year, by anyone’s standards. It is safe to assume (expect?) that there will be at least 10 returning players who will be more productive this season than last. At least. And I’m not including any defencemen or Isaac Ratcliffe in that group.
Improved performance by half the roster would obviously lead to increased positioning in the standings.
Then there is the Go For It factor. Being close means adding pieces. Guelph should surely be doing this as the season evolves. At the very least they will be adding a third high-end overage player.
Then there is the rest of the league to consider. What Guelph does is just part of the equation. What others do, or don't do, is also to be considered.
London, already a legit contender, will find ways to get better, but it is also a team that will likely be even stronger next year and probably won’t want to empty the piggy bank this year.
Guelph will be emptying the piggy bank.
Saginaw will be a very good team this year but might be a year away from peaking, and as such hesitant to make big deals.
Owen Sound and Sault Ste. Marie are both still very good teams, but will both be faced with decisions as to whether or not they should trade star players before the deadline. The Bertuzzi/Dickinson dilemma the Storm faced four years ago now faces those teams.
Windsor is building a legit contender down the road, but is still very young and will be trading its best player at some point to add key pieces for that future contending squad.
Flint was dead last a year ago and will join Sarnia, Kitchener and Erie - three teams at various stages of a full rebuild mode - in battling for the playoffs.
When the dust settles, I see Guelph, London and, if the Soo and Owen Sound go into full “sell” mode, Saginaw as the top three teams. If the Attack or Hounds decide to stay the course and give it another run, they will be in the mix too.
So there you have it. Guelph has a lot of work to do and a lot to prove. But the pieces are in place for a top three finish and a legitimate shot at a Western Conference title.
At least on my computer screen.