Monday, August 29, 2005

NHL Preview: Part One

With the NHL Pre-Season just around the corner, I figure I would start giving a preview of the league, two divisions at a time; one from the Eastern Conference and one from the Western Conference. It's your basic premise of a season preview with off-season pick ups, chemistry of the team, and all the other fun stuff that you usually see with the season previews. So without any further adu, I present the preview for the Atlantic and Central Divisions.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

New Jersey Devils: This off-season, the Devils got hit hard with the loss of Scott Niedermayer to Free Agency. Not only that, but at the time of press, Lou Lamoriello will have to find a way to drop 5 million dollars from their payroll. Regardless of that, the re-acquistion of Alexander Mogilny will give more speed and scoring ability to the top-6. Vladimir Malakhov will try to fill the gap that was left from Scott Niedermayer, though that will be a daunting task to say the least.

Aside from Mogilny, the re-signings of Scott Gomez, Jeff Friesen, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Brian Rafalski will keep most of the core of the team together. Of course, anyone of those players could be dealt in order to get under the cap; but there will be plenty of leaders on this team no matter what.

Not only that, but you have to consider the Devils as a contender for one reason: Martin Brodeur. Having 9 straight season with over 30 wins; you can rest assured that they can expect that kind of performace again from the 2-time Vezina Trophy Winner.

New York Islanders: It seems "Mad Mike" Milbury has been busy this off-season. With the acquistions of Miroslav Satan, Alexei Zhitnik, Brad Lukowich, Brent Sopel, and Mike York; the Islanders look like they could try and counteract the loss of Michael Peca and Adrian Aucoin.

In any case, the Islanders will have to find a way to get into the playoffs and actually have some longevity in them. With early exits to Tampa Bay last year and Ottawa the year before; they will need to get some kind of playoff presence or else heads will roll next summer.

Between the pipes, Rick DiPietro is due for a breakout eventually; at least the Isles brass hopes so. He's been improving little-by-little and should do just fine for the Isles this season, even in the new look of the NHL. If DiPietro falters, they can only hope that Garth Snow can pick up the slack, but after the rules change-- who knows if Snow can adapt to the smaller pads.

New York Rangers: For a team that has abused the salary flow for so long, the Rangers have actually been pretty go in ways of money for this new CBA. With pick-ups like Marek Malik, Martin Straka, and Ville Nieminen; it seems that the Rangers will combine speed, defense, and hard-nose play all in one.

Looking up front, with Jaromir Jagr's disillusion for the new CBA, you have to wonder if he'll give his whole heart out there or if he'll slack off like he has in the past couple of seasons. You have to think with former teammate Martin Straka with him, that he will be able to be the player many are accustom too. Picking up Steve Rucchin to be a leader out there on the ice, the Rangers offense could be turning a corner when it comes to production.

The goaltending should be an interesting site to see. Kevin Weekes has never had a winning season in his tenure in the NHL, Alvaro Montoya is just coming out of College, and Henrik Lundqvist coming over from his first North American season; the last line of defense could be the Achilles' heel for the Blueshirts.

Philadelphia Flyers: Wow-- that's pretty much all you can say when it comes to talking about the Flyers. They picked up Peter Forsberg, probably the biggest UFA out there this summer, Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and all they had to part with is Jeremy Roenick. Add to that, the young guns in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the Flyers look like they're good for now and for the future.

The mentality of the Broad Street Bullies seems to be there with big guys who can hit and take a hit, plus they seem on paper they could take over the Eastern Conference for years to come....but that's on paper. We have seen weirder stuff happen.

With Robert Esche, Keith Primeau, Sami Kapanen, and Kim Johnsson all returning; the Flyers are poised to make a return trip to the Eastern Conference finals, but this time hoping to change the result at the end of the series.

Pittsburgh Penguins: For a team that was almost send into obscurity last year; they have sure made a huge comeback; and that's using the term loosely. When they won the Draft Lottery, you could tell that not only was the team amped up, but that the city was amped up as well. Along with the Drafting of Sidney Crosby, the Penguins got some kind of blue chip to help lure some Free Agents over to the Steel City.

It must have worked because they were able to get Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, and John LeClair. Granted, someone like LeClair is a risk, but if it pays off in the Penguins favor, all the better for the team. Outside of those pick-ups, guys like Mario Lemieux, Dick Tarnstrom, and Mark Recchi will be able to help out along side of the pick ups. However, the big issue is injuries. With Lemieux bad hip, LeClair's bad back, and Jocelyn Thibault's legs, that could be the only thing that would hinder the Pens.

Speaking of Thibault, it looks like he'll be the mentor to Marc-Andre Fleury. Having both of them being French-Canadian and both being QMJHL graduates; this could be the best thing of someone like Fleury to learn more about the NHL game.


CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago Blackhawks: Bill Wirtz has been known as a cheap owner. He didn't want to put home games on TV, he won't sign players to keep them in Chi-town, and he never would pass up on a bargain. However, he seems to be content with the new NHL and has been doing some shopping that he had longed for. Most notably getting the Stanley Cup winning goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Adrian Aucoin from the Islanders to beef up the back-lines.

What's more important is that the Hawks are hoping that Eric Daze will stay healthy the whole season and that the pick-ups of Matthew Barnaby, Martin Lapointe, along with the stallwarts of Mark Bell, Tyler Arnason, and Tuomo Ruutu will be effective in the season to come.

The Hawks will be starting fresh with a new coach behind the bench and a completely new outlook on the upcoming season. The Chicago fans should be very excited to get out to the United Center because this year, the Hawks could actually rival the Wolves in the AHL this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: In the past few seasons, the defense has been the biggest downfall of the Blue Jackets. It seemed that Doug MacLean finally got the message and went out and signed Adam Foote and Bryan Berard to help mold younger guys like Rostislav Klesa and Radoslav Suchy into better players than they are now.

Up front, the "Rick and Nik Show" seems like it will be in full effect. With Rick Nash signing a multi-year deal after coming off a terrific season in Switzerland and Nikolai Zherdev coming off a good season in Russia, these two look like they could be clicking once again in the Nationwide Arena.

With the signing of Martin Prusek as a back-up, this could take a lot of pressure off the starter Marc Denis and maybe make him play a little harder knowing that someone like Prusek could take over the Number One Spot should he falter.

Detroit Red Wings: There has not been much movement in Hockeytown. The only big name signing was getting Chris Osgood back in a winged-wheel jersey. Outside of that, they had to deal with the departing of Darren McCarty and Derian Hatcher via buyout. However, the Red Wings always seem to find a way to do a lot with a little.

Up-front the aging players the likes of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan could actually benefit from the year off and could rest up and be on their game again. Add Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby to the mix; the Wings do a lot with a little. They will need to get their two young guys, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, under contract in order to balance the old with the new.

With Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Wings could get a shot in the arm and actually make it further in the playoffs than they have in the previous campaigns. However, for that to happen, they'll need to make sure nothing go wrong, or else they could be in for an uphill climb.

Nashville Predators: With their big addition of Paul Kariya to the mix, it actually gives players like Steve Sullivan and David Legwand a linemate that will know what to do in a high-tempo situation. Scott Walker, Martin Erat, and Scott Hartnell will have to show that they can produce like they did in '03-'04 for the Preds to be taken seriously.

The backline for the Preds will be a mix of young and old. With Danny Markov added into the mix, it will give guys like Kimmo Timonen, Dan Hamhuis, and Ryan Suter someone to learn from and someone who can help them out on the depleted back line.

Tomas Vokoun will probably be under the microscope again should his blueline falter. He has played very well in the past couple of seasons and coming off his first winning season in the NHL, he will be heavily tested to help get the Preds to another playoff berth.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues seemed to have been hit hard in the new outlook. With Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight tying up $13 million; they had to cut ties with Chris Pronger by shipping him to Edmonton. In return, they got Eric Brewer and two prospects (Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch); but it left a huge hole on the back line. With Al MacInnis looking toward retirement, they'll have to lean on their young blueliners to carry the load left behind.

Outside of Tkachuk and Weight, there's not many players on the team with the big scoring touch. Guys like Dallas Drake, Eric Boguniecki, Dean McAmmond, and Mike Sillinger will need to step it up big time in order for the Blues to have a productive season on the score sheet.

With the departure of Chris Osgood, the Blues will rely on Patrick Lalime to help backstop them to a playoff spot. With Reinhard Divis slated as his back-up, you can rest assured that Lalime will be a workhorse for the Blues. They can only hope he can bounce back from his dismal performance in the '04 playoffs and help them get deep into the playoff chase.

So that is the way I look at the two Division starting off our preview of the upcoming NHL Season. Next week, I'll focus on the Northeast and Northwest Divisions and what you can look forward to seeing when the puck drops on October 5th.

If you have some comments or questions; feel free to email the Show and we'll talk about it.

This has been ScottyWazz. Take care of yourself and someone else. PEACE!!

2 comments:

Sports Junky said...

I agree,

I love Hockey. and recently I have bought stock in it. Not like real stock on Wall street, but a stock market that is strictly for sports.

You have seen it? Its pretty cool. You buy issues for your favorite teams and you make real money. Not like a fake stock simulator. I cash out Dividends each time the team wins. Also I can sell my team stock when the price goes up.

check it out if something like this interests you.
heres a link http://allsportsmarket.com
you can log in and check it out for free..

They just released IPO'S for Hockey this week, so there are alot of good deals there.

Keep up the good work on your blog!
-Erik

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