I’m not a fan of doing team by team previews because truth be told, as much of a hockey fan as I am, I really don’t have the time or cable package to watch all of your teams and give you legitimate analysis on if your 4th line wings are going to be difference makers (they’re probably not). So, in an effort to keep your attention for longer than… HEY! I’m talking here! Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. This is just going to be a quick look-see at each conference this year with a couple talking points for each team. We’ll start with the conference that plays for the Prince of Wales trophy and do the West tomorrow. You can start counting my words… now.
It took 39 years but the Boston Bruins finally brought the Cup home to Boston and filled it with chowdah. So naturally we’ll expect them to have a Stanley Cup hangover, right? Maybe. I’d be more concerned with a Tim Thomas regression seeing as he was positively amazing last year. Yeah, the short summer will affect them but Thomas turning 38 before this coming season’s playoffs is the bigger deal. Also, Tyler Seguin… what does 2011 hold for him? He proved in the playoffs he’s capable of more than 4th line minutes already. Just put Chara’s name on the 2012 Norris though. That’s a lock. Moving on to the team that did a lot of moving this summer, the Philadelphia Flyers. 2nd in the East last season but another playoff fizzle. They moved Jeff Carter and Brad Richards, their top two centers, out of the conference and got back a reasonable haul for them. Nothing mindblowing, but it was all to make room for Iyla Bryzgalov. Fans of the Fly Boys now have their goalie but I don’t think he’s the answer to the problem. Giving Bobrovsky a chance this year may have suited them better. Danny Briere centering a top line isn’t quite what I would consider ideal. They’ll allow less goals this year. The problem is that they may lose just as many, if not more, in their own scoresheet.
Is there any chance the Washington Capitals don’t win the President’s Trophy? I think not. Getting Tomas Vokoun for $1.5M makes what John Dillinger did look like petty theft. That solves their woes between the pipes. Oh, did I mention the Caps were 4th in the league in goals allowed anyways last year? They’ve still got Ovechkin and he’s still dynamic. Will they have Alex Semin after the trade deadline? Will there be enough of a presence on the Caps’ blue line in front of Vokoun? I’m about as big of a Mike Green hater as you’ll find but American born John Carlson is a tank. It all comes down to the playoffs for Washington. Can Boudreau get them through? If not to at least the conference finals, he’s done. Speaking of coaches with a mastery of profanity in the English language, I don’t think you guys have any idea how excited I am for the New York Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella to be on HBO’s 24/7 this year.
Bruce Boudreau put on an act for the series last year if you ask me. Torts? There will be no act. It’s all real. But can Brad Richards be the real deal in the Big Apple? He and Henrik Lundqvist will be the big names to follow but I think it’s the supplementary parts where they fail. The Blueshirts have health issues with Gaborik and Callahan. Brandon Dubinsky got his raise but can he play well enough to justify it? The Rangers have one guy on their blue line older than me and I’m 27. That’s awfully green. Just not enough depth but they’re a playoff team for sure. As we talk about the playoffs for next year, will there be a Canadian team from the Eastern conference that actually makes them? The Montreal Canadiens did last year. They didn’t really do a whole lot to inspire confidence in 2011-12. Carey Price is the best goaltender in the NHL if you ask me. If he’s not already, then he’s well on his way. He’s fundamentally sound and P.K. Subban, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges in front of him helps tremendously. Past that… uh, well they added Erik Cole. He’s not the difference this team needs though. Scott Gomez can bounce back. They’re going to be really fighting all year to even make the 7 or 8 spot. The Habs have a lot of work to do from within to build around those two pieces. NHL teams aren’t built from the netminder and out much any more though. Be curious how Montreal handles that.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are… put down the waffle, please. Well, the Leafs are getting better at least! They made a nice little run at the end of 2011 and then fizzled to miss the playoffs by eight points. James Reimer, or Optimus Reim as they call him, will have a tough task this year. The Habs fans nearly booed Carey Price out of Montreal. Leafs fans aren’t that much more patient. There’s still not a ton of help for Phil Kessel at his wings so is Reimer worth eight points over the course of a season? I’m going bold here. Leafs make the playoffs. Then are promptly bounced by Washington. Meanwhile, in Ottawa Senators country… Craig Anderson is going to be a lonely man. No one cares about the Sens anyways. Even in Canada. In a contest for worst general manager in the NHL, Bryan Murray stands alone now with Darryl Sutter out of Calgary. Jay Feaster’s no peach either, but we’ll get to that tomorrow. Another year near the bottom for the Senators..
My first post here about hockey this season was about head shots and Brendan Shanahan doing his best to get rid of them. No one knows the pain of this more than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby is still not cleared for contact. They’ve got Geno back but you know who is getting the bolded name for the Pens? Two guys actually, Kris Letang and Jordan Staal. Find me another team with better depth at center (when healthy) than the Penguins. You can’t. Despite losing all that talent in Malkin and Crosby, Jordan Staal still had a big year. Kris Letang could have been a Norris nominee. If the Pens stay status quo and get a healthy Crosby back, the Caps visions of 2008-09 will play in their heads again. Dan Byslma, last year’s Jack Adams winner, can coach circles around Boudreau. The Pens are dangerous without the best player in the world. They’re lethal with 87.
Two teams that may fly under the radar a bit this year but shouldn’t are the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Buffalo spent just to spend in the offseason. I like adding Christian Ehrhoff but the term is outrageous. The Ville Leino contract is just plain stupid. Tomas Vanek still makes way too much money. Yet, Ryan Miller can provide Millercles. I’ve also gotta say… I was totally wrong on Tyler Myers. Kid is a monster. Just takes a little longer for defensemen to develop. He’s a Norris candidate for years to come. For some reason, the Sabres now remind me of the Sharks of the last few seasons. They will probably have a good to great regular season but come playoff time, flop city. Tampa kept Steven Stamkos in the fold and for the most part, they return most of their key parts. Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis are a year older though. They still don’t have a goalie, despite getting some magic from Dwayne Roloson last year. Yet, this team got to the East Finals last year and one game from the Cup Finals. Regression. Still a playoff team, but too many teams below them got better. There’s also plenty of tape on the 1-3-1 defense they employed last year.
It’s darkhorse time. Remember that team in Jersey? The one that David Puddy cheers for? The New Jersey Devils are going to be good this year. Don’t forget about this team. Zach Parise is back and healthy. Ilya Kovalchuk is no longer the center of attention after a season in Jersey. Patrick Elias and Travis Zajac round out what should be a high scoring offense. Their defensive corps leaves something to be desired however Anton Volchenkov is still the shot blocking machine a team with questions in net needs. Marty Brodeur, while aging, had a really nice second half last year. If I had to go outside the standard Washington, Pittsburgh or Boston pick, I’d go with the Devils. Plus Parise is ‘Merican.
On the flip side, file the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets under teams that won’t surprise us. They’ll all suck. Quickly, the Jets have Byfuglien getting fat and arrested, Carolina is still overpayingCam Ward (Kaberle does nothing for me) and the Panthers are run by Dale Tallon. Thanks for taking Soup’s contract off the Hawks’ hands Uncle Dale! The commonality among these teams is that they all play, or used to play, in markets where the fans don’t exactly come to the arena in droves for games. Winnipeg left Atlanta and should be able to start building a decent team there as the salary cap constraints will only exist in Byfuglien’s bloated ticket. They’ll sell out every game at MTS Centre this year. The Panthers were dead last in attendance last year and that’s not changing any time soon. Dale Tallon built that Blackhawks team that won the Cup two season ago. As long as he’s figured out the US Postal Service, then the Cats have a shot to actually build a decent hockey team. Without going on a tangent about my love for Brian Campbell, he’s going to be the veteran presence that team needs while it struggles. He just shouldn’t be making $7.1M to do so. Others have faith in the Canes possibly making a run at the playoffs this season. I have no such delusions. They finished 9th last year and at least two teams below them improved.
One last team. The New York Islanders. They’re still run by Charles Wang and that’s no good. But I like this team. I really do. They’re young, they’ve got a fairly deep system that is loaded with top draft picks from sucking for so long. John Tavares can and should be built around. They’re still going with Mr. Glass in net but they’ve got Nabokov’s NHL rights too. This team won’t have any aspirations for the playoffs but they’ll be better equipped to play spoilers again. Now if New Yorkers had voted to get this team a new barn to play in, then Wang might have sold the team and they could have moved from Nassau to a better facility where a more engaged owner may have purchased the team.
If you want just straight forward predictions on the East, then I’ll give you selections sure to be wrong. The Capitals are no doubt the team that should lock up the top seed in the East. As it stands now, I’d pick them to win the conference since Crosby’s health is still somewhat of a misnomer. The most improved team in the East should absolutely be the New Jersey Devils. I’d say the team that takes the biggest step back is the one that won it all a year ago. Boston still has Marc Savard’s cap hit to deal with and his gray matter isn’t fairing any better than it was last year. If not Boston, then it’s Tampa. The fan base that has the first meltdown will absolutely be the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve wanted a goalie for so long and yet they had a young one the whole time. It would not surprise me if the Flyers end the calendar year barely in the playoff picture. It’s going to take a lot of time for all those new parts to come together and everything to gel. Bryzgalov is no doubt a talented goalie, but I’m not putting him in even a top five discussion as it currently stands. Paul Holmgren broke the bank and that contract I think will eventually be his undoing.
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