Thursday, September 15, 2005

NHL Preview: Part Three

We’re now at the end of the preview period of things. It’s down to the last two divisions in the Southeast and the Pacific Division. The basic premise is still there and everything like that. We should get through this rather promptly.


Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers are coming into the season with some good off-season pick-ups by getting Bobby Holik from the free agent market and acquiring Marian Hossa and Greg deVries from the Senators. On top of that, the Thrashers signed Peter Bondra as insurance, in case Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t re-sign in time. The forwards outside of that should be great role players. Guys like Marc Savard and Patrik Stefan are out for break-out seasons if they are able to listen to Bob Hartley’s plan.

The blue line is a silent bunch with a lot of youth grit Jaroslav Modry will anchor this crew as the Thrashers try to mold Braydon Coburn and Garnet Exelby into all-star caliber defensemen. The ability to have Niclas Havelid on the back line to carry the puck more into the offensive zone will help the Thrashers in the long run.

Kari Lehtonen will be tested as the #1 starter this year. With a very successful stint in the AHL, it seems Lehtonen is ready for the big time. Having a veteran like Mike Dunham behind Lehtonen allows the Thrashers to give Lehtonen the playing time, knowing that if the rookie were to falter, there would be someone there to pick up the pieces.

Carolina Hurricanes: If ever there was a team that could have a big issue getting wins, it could be the Hurricanes. They made little dents into the free agency market, getting Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney into the line-up. Eric Staal will have to have a huge breakout season to help lick the wounds in Carolina. The ageless Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole will be around to help the scoring, but after that—all bets are off.

The back-line is going to be another question mark. Getting Oleg Tverdovsky and Mike Commodore in the span of the past off-seasons will help a little bit, but not enough to allow them make a push as they did in 2002. Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican will be the stalwarts on the backline; and they’ll have plenty to do in order to get respect from the rest of the league.

The goaltending will be the huge question mark. There is no veteran presence in between the pipes. With Martin Gerber slated as the #1 goalie, the Canes will have an uphill battle to keep the pucks out of the net. Cam Ward is coming off a stellar season in Lowell, but he will still be a few more years away from getting those numbers in the NHL.

Florida Panthers: There’s going to be a strong veteran presence in the locker room this year. With the addition of Martin Gelinas, Gary Roberts, and Joe Nieuwendyk, the Panthers should have great teachers for the young guns. With the speed they have in Nathan Horton, Kristian Huselius, and Anthony Stewart; the Panthers should have a great mix of grit, speed, and experience.

The blue line will have the same mix of youth and experience. With Jay Bouwmeester advancing his development, along with Mike Van Ryn—the youth of the Panthers defense is bright. Sean Hill and Eric Cairns will bring a veteran voice and rugged play back in the blue line.

Roberto Luongo should be expected to see a lot of rubber in this season, just because he plays for the Panthers. Now, if he and the front office could settle their squabbling and worry about the on-ice task that would be even better. If not, Jamie McLennan will be able to carry the load as he did in Calgary last season when Miikka Kiprusoff went down.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The title defense finally begins for the Lightning. They have pretty much the same team and they did in ’03-’04. The question is can they do it again?? They have the horses upfront to do it, but they will have to repeat what they did by scoring at will and making the game look easy. It’s time for Vincent Lecavalier to have a breakout season instead of relying on others to carry the load. Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards will be solid again up front with Fredrik Modin and Vaclav Prospal adding markers here and there.

The top defensemen of Pavel Kubina and Dan Boyle should be able to contribute as well and help abundantly on the power play. If Darryl Sydor can get his offensive form back, he should be a force to be reckoned with as well. However, the best part about this blue-line is although they have the scoring touch, they don’t often let the puck get past them. That could change with the new rules, but I doubt something like that will happen.

Now, the goalie debate will be on for the Bolts this season. With Nikolai Khabibulin heading to Chicago, John Grahame was supposed to be in the spotlight. However, the Bolts went out and got Sean Burke just in case. Grahame should be able to get the starting role as Burke will probably allow him to see what he can do and then get his time when needed.

Washington Capitals: Starting from scratch will be the theme for this year’s Capitals line-up. After gutting the team for the past five season, the Caps are taking the “wait and see” approach to the salary cap. Alexander Ovechkin will be the cornerstone to the offense this year. Without much punch in the forward position, the Caps will rely on the superstar Russian to take the brunt of the workload. Alexander Semin and Dainius Zubrus will add to the scoring, but outside of that—the youth will be a factor.

Brendan Witt is going to be the old guard on the blue-line; however, how long he will be in DC is another question. The Caps are going to rely on the size factor. Getting towering defensemen like Mathieu Biron and Ivan Majesky to help compliment Jeff Schultz’s size—the Caps will have at least that in their favor. Steve Eminger should make the team and be a playmaker on the backline if he can stay healthy all season.

The workhorse will be Olaf Kolzig in net. He’ll get at least 60 starts if he stays healthy, but he probably won’t have the wins for the Caps. He’ll see a lot of pucks and should have a great save percentage, but if you just going on wins, he’ll be hard-pressed to get those. Should Kolzig go down, Maxime Ouellet will be there to show his stuff.


Anaheim Mighty Ducks: The Ducks made a splash in this off-season. Not only did they get new ownership, a new GM, but they got both a new and old face to show off the new team philosophy. Scott Niedermayer was a huge pickup in getting the Ducks more respect. Niedermayer will anchor the defense alongside Sandis Ozolinsh and Keith Carney. This should help the Ducks get some meaningful help for their goaltending.

In addition, the Ducks got back Teemu Selanne from free agency. Selanne will be one of the few options the Ducks have to put the biscuit in the basket. Sergei Fedorov and Petr Sykora will be the other options for the Ducks. Newcomers Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be getting a lot of time for the new look Ducks, as they will be the future of this team leading into the next decade.

The person who should be most effected by the goalie pad reduction should be J-S Giguere. If he wants to be an elite goalie in this league—Giguere will have to show that he actually has skill and didn’t just rely on his oversized pads. There’s not much to help him out either as this will be Ilya Bryzgalov’s first real taste at the NHL limelight.

Dallas Stars: Not much has changed in the lone-star state. They’ll still have Bill Guerin and Mike Modano up front with Jason Arnott and Jere Lehtinen helping on the second line. Though there may not be the scoring punch as the other teams, there’s enough grinding forwards to help muck it up in the corners. If need be, there can be plenty of player contributing.

On the blue line, Sergei Zubov is back and will be he voice-of-reason for the defense. Having new guys like Stephane Robidas, Martin Skoula, and Trevor Daley put into the mix should help the diversity of play. The Stars lost a lot in the means of experience, but are going a different route all together.

Marty Turco will be the man back in net for the Stars. His ability to outsmart shooters could be his advantage this year. He should get plenty of wins for the Stars and if not, Johan Hedberg is ready to take some of the pressure off of Turco’s back.

Los Angeles Kings: Los Angeles has a new outspoken star in Jeremy Roenick. The Kings hope Roenick can get the Kings back into the playoffs. With assistance from Pavol Demitra, Alexander Frolov, and Craig Conroy, that dream can become a reality. However, the Kings will have to hope that their young guys are able to contribute as well. Dustin Brown, Mike Cammalleri, and Noah Clarke will be deep on the depth chart, but could contribute if called upon.

The Kings have a solid defense, which will help them. With all of the top four defensemen staying in LA, the chemistry should be there. Mattias Norstrom and Lubomir Visnovsky will be the top line and should put up some nice power play numbers if given the chance to shoot more often. Having rugged defensemen like Aaron Miller and Nathan Dempsey onboard will help balance out the load on the blue line.

Mathieu Garon is hoping that his season last year in Manchester will translate into instant success in LA. This will be his first season to be a starter after a couple seasons backing up Jose Theodore in Montreal. Along with Garon, Jason LaBarbera will hope that his time in Hartford and in the AHL will translate into pushing for the #1 spot into the season.

Phoenix Coyotes: Wayne Gretzky is the new bench boss in town and he has a nice arsenal to help him get plenty of wins this season. With Mike Comrie, Petr Nedved, and Shane Doan all ready to play—the Great One should get plenty of scoring. Add Ladislav Nagy, Mike Johnson, and the ageless Brett Hull, and the top six for the Desert Dogs are looking very nice.

The defense for the Coyotes will have very few holes in it—if they are able to stay healthy. Derek Morris and David Tanabe should be the top line, but guys like Paul Mara, Sean O’Donnell, and Denis Gauthier could be shuffled around along with Cale Hulse. The pressure to perform could come from Keith Ballard, Rick Berry, and Brad Ference; who are looking for a spot on the big league club at the start of the season.

There’s a new top dog in Phoenix. Curtis Joseph turned down offers from the Penguins and Red Wings to go to Phoenix. A new surrounding and knowing that he could have the #1 job for the majority of the time, should calm down the nerves of Joseph. Joseph had a difficult time of playing well with the threat of Dominik Hasek hanging over his head. Backing up CuJo will be Brian Boucher, but youngster David LeNeveu is going to make a push in order to get a taste of the NHL experience.

San Jose Sharks: There’s a lot of fans of the Sharks who have been asking me about why the Sharks didn’t go out on the market to pick-up some veteran leadership and scoring punch. Personally—I don’t see why they needed to. The Sharks have a great team without getting someone outside the organization. If Marco Sturm can stay healthy; he can be deadly with the puck. Patrick Marleau is turning into a great on-ice leader, Jonathan Cheechoo is adjusting from the AHL to the NHL very nicely, and they have stacks and stacks of talent that they molded through the Draft.

The forward line is not the only one who has talent. The rear guards on San Jose have talent that is proving their worth and showing what they can do. Kyle McLaren and Scott Hannan can bring the punishment, while Brad Stuart is the quarterback on that team and can pass tape-to-tape with the best of them.

In net, Evgeni Nabokov will be the incumbent #1 with Vesa Toskala as the back up. Nabokov had a great year last year leading the Sharks to a Pacific Division title and will have to be on his game again to repeat that performance. He should be getting the majority of the starts and should be getting several wins this year, so he’s a good bet on any team.

So that’s all she wrote. That’s the end of the preview. Be on the lookout for the Fantasy Rankings brought to you by the boys at “Face Off Hockey Show”, as we try to break down the positions and do our best to make your fantasy team reign supreme.

Remember, if you agree, disagree, or want to check my psychological background when it comes to these previews, please email the Show with anything you have to ask.

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

Thursday, September 08, 2005

NHL Preview: Part Two

Well—with the training camps not too far away, we continue our look at the divisional settings in the new look NHL. This week, we’ll go up North and take on the Northeast and Northwest. Both division should be highly contested with the possibly of a majority of the division getting into the playoffs.


Boston Bruins: With only four players under contract when the new CBA was signed, you could expect the Bruins to be one of the smarter teams out there when it came to planning for the new look NHL. They have made some noise in the free agent market by getting Alexei Zhamnov, Shawn McEachern, and Brian Leetch to help get a veteran presence in the locker room.

However, the big thing that the Bruins did was to get their superstars under contract. By getting the likes of Glen Murray, Joe Thornton, and Sergei Samsonov under contract for the long-term; they Bruins will have their building blocks for seasons to come and they don’t have to worry about losing them early in their careers. Not only that, but they can also won’t have to worry about getting them signed when trying to get Patrice Bergeron re-signed in a couple of seasons.

Between the pipes, Andrew Raycroft has proven he could be a quality number one goalie. With the defensive corps the likes of Hal Gill, Leetch, Jiri Slegr, and Ian Moran, you have a mix of scoring ability and positional play.

Buffalo Sabres: With the recent problems with getting revenue into the Sabres franchise, it is obvious that the Sabres will be at the lower limit of the salary cap. The team did not make much noise in the off-season, but did gain a veteran voice in Teppo Numminen to help guide and mold a very young team.

The upside for the Sabres is that they actually have a good team at a young age. Both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere helped the Sabres save some kind of face last season, but they’ll have to do a lot more work to do the same this year. However, lucky enough for them; they’ll have help in the way of Derek Roy, Ales Kotalik, and Tomas Vanek, all young talent who have proven they belong on the big squad. The back line of defense is a young, but they’ll be able to learn from Numminen and grow together as a squad, hopefully helping Buffalo in the future.

The Sabres do have an interesting situation in net. It seems they’ll have a logjam at who will be staying. Ryan Miller had an amazing season in Rochester last year and could push to be the #1 or #1a goalie. Martin Biron will be under the spotlight and will have one-year to prove that he belongs long-term for the Sabres. Mika Noronen is the quiet one that could make the most noise trying to save his job and stay on the team. It will be a dogfight for #1 spot, but you can bet that regardless of who wins, they’ll have to stand on their head to get things done.

Montreal Canadiens: There should be nothing new about the Habs come this season. They have pretty much the same core of players they had at the end of last season. With the pick-up of Mathieu Dandenault to help bolster the defense, the Habs should be in the running for another playoff run next season.

Up front, Alexei Kovalev will have to actually play during the regular season and not wait until it is too late to get his scoring streak. Saku Koivu will be back and should be good with having another year off to get all his wits about him. Add Radek Bonk and Mike Ribeiro to the fold, you can bet the Habs should be pretty set up front.

Jose Theodore should be getting most of the work this year. Cristobel Huet should get some work here and there, but since he’ll still be trying to adapt to the workload in the NHL, Theodore will be the workhorse for the team. The only thing that Theodore will have to worry about is not slipping back into his old habit of alternating good and bad years. To be an elite goalie, he’ll have to consistently have quality seasons for the Habs.

Ottawa Senators: One of the more interesting things about the Senators in the new CBA is trying to make sure that they have their key players under contract for years to come. One of those shoes fell, when the Senators traded away Marian Hossa to Atlanta for Dany Heatley. The debate goes on about who got the better of the deal, but both players will be key for their respective teams.

Outside of the lost of Hossa, the Sens are the team they have been in the past few seasons. You can expect Daniel Alfredsson and Zdeno Chara to get about the same ice time they have in the past years. The defense will be as strong as it has been in the past and the offense should benefit from the new rules to open up the game. If they can score 262 with a lot of clutching and grabbing, you can bet they’ll match or exceed that mark this year.

The one question mark is between the pipes. The Sens will go as far as Dominik Hasek’s health. There’s no doubt that Hasek could help the team out for the better, but the stat that he’s played only 14 games in 3 years; that could be the one that alarms Sens fans most. Plus, even though they have a great crop of young talent in net, none of them seems ready to carry the workload and pressure of being a full-time NHLer.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs could be the most interesting team to watch for the fact that they have two guys on the team who probably couldn’t comb their hair for the threat of going back on the IR. The signings of both Jason Allison and Eric Lindros were something that had some pundits scratching their heads; but you can bet that if they do actually contribute, it will come at a low cost to the team, as they both will be at no more than $1.55M against the cap each.

All that aside, the addition of Jeff O’Neill could help the Leafs up front, as they lost Alexander Mogilny to New Jersey. The other players look oddly familiar as the Leafs have tried to keep the team together as much as possible. The one thing that could be a distraction is the spat between Owen Nolan and Leafs management over Nolan’s contract. The team will be rather strong on the blue-line with Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee, and Tomas Kaberle taking the brunt of the load.

In the net, the Leafs almost have the same situation as their Provincial rivals in Ottawa; they’ll only go as far as Ed Belfour’s health. Now, the 40-year old Belfour should have some left in the tank, but the main concern is how he’ll be able to comeback from back surgery in the last off-season. Like the Sens, the Leafs don’t have anyone ready to take the workload if Belfour were to go down.


Calgary Flames: The Flames will be hard pressed not to follow in the footsteps of the one-hit wonders like the Carolina Hurricanes and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. However, with the players they in their system, it’ll be hard to believe they will be like the previous runners-up of the Stanley Cup. Getting players like Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty this off-season at bargain-basement prices will help Jarome Iginla shine once again in Cowtown.

The defense for the Flames should be very strong. With Jordan Leopold, Andrew Ference, and Robyn Regehr all back to the Flames, along with the addition of Roman Hamrlik, plus the rising prospect that is Dion Phaneuf—the Flames should be very strong along the blue line this coming season.

In net, the Flames only hope that Miikka Kiprusoff can rekindle the magic he had during last season’s playoff run. Much like many teams, there’s not much experience in the back-up position. The Flames have Brent Krahn in their system and acquired Phillipe Sauve from Colorado in the summer. Both have had minimal to no success in the NHL, but hope to turn that around, should something happen to Kiprusoff.

Colorado Avalanche: The landscape has been unkind to the Colorado Avalanche. They lost players like Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg to the free agency market and have gotten very little back on the market themselves. Though they picked up utility players like Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisebois, they will still miss the play of two original Avalanche players.

However, lucky for the Avs, they have players like Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, and Joe Sakic to provide the offense while Rob Blake and top prospect John-Michael Liles will help garner the blue line. If anything will be the downfall for the Avs, it will be the lack of depth on the blue-line. Losing someone like Foote hurts the landscape of a team’s blue-line and makes the void hard to fill.

In net, David Aebischer will have to prove himself even more this year than last year. Though the Swiss native posted a 32-win season, he did have some great talent in front of him. He should be thoroughly tested with the new wide-open NHL. He’ll get a lot of time in the net too because both Peter Budaj and Tom Lawson lack NHL experience.

Edmonton Oilers: If there is a team who loves the new landscape, it’s the Oilers. They were able to pick up Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, a feat that would not have happened under the old system. The fans of Edmonton are very excited about the new season and they have a right to be. When you go from almost losing a team to getting a premier defenseman and forward—you can’t help but like the odds.

The causalities of the trades were Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, Doug Lynch, and Mike York; all who have promising careers ahead of them. Yet, even with those losses, the Oilers have been able to keep the likes of Jani Rita, Raffi Torres, Ales Hemsky, and Shawn Horcoff from getting away from them. Along with Jason Smith, Radek Dvorak, and Ethan Moreau; the Oilers have a great mix of young and experienced in their line-up.

Between the pipes, Ty Conklin did pretty well in his rookie season; but there is going to be a better set of defenders in front of him to help fend off some of the attack. But if Conklin is unable to get the job done, the Oilers will have Jussi Markkanen to help push the sophomore along should the road get bumpy.

Minnesota Wild: The youth movement is obviously the way the Wild front office wants to go, as they did not even make a dent in the off-season when it came to pick ups. Their biggest move was picking up tough guy Andrei Nazarov. However, looking at the crop of talent that the Wild have been able to accumulate over the years—I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to make some noise in the future.

As for the present, it should be interesting to see if Alexandre Daigle can keep his game the way it is. The Former 1st Overall Draft Pick lead the Wild in goals and points in ’03-’04; but not having Marian Gaborik for the first part of the season didn’t hurt his cause either. But how well will Gaborik do this year?? The Wild hopes he’ll regain his form and get the lead out for the season. If not, they know that Brian Rolston will whip him into shape and push him to become the star he knows he is.

With Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson making the same amount of money—the 1a and 1b tags will be on them once again—but for some reason I think Roloson will be able to over take the #1 position outright.

Vancouver Canucks: The biggest pick-up for the Canucks has been the reinstatement of Todd Bertuzzi into the NHL. That will help reform their top line of Bertuzzi, Markus Naslund, and Brendan Morrison and hopefully let that line rack up the points they did before the work stoppage.

The Canucks were able to get some key role players into their line-up via free agency. Anson Carter was picked up from Los Angeles and will probably play with the Sedin twins, which not only helps their stock, but Carter’s as well. Richard Park was picked up from Minnesota and will be a key player on the third of fourth line as a grinder or role player on the penalty kill.

Defense and goaltending should be fairly solid. Ed Jovanovski, Mattias Ohlund, and Sami Salo will be anchoring the corps, which Dan Cloutier will be getting most the work in net with Alex Auld and Brent Johnson battling for the back-up role. If the Canucks want to show they can be a dominate team year after year—this is the year to start doing it.

So that’s another two divisions down with two more to go next week. Remember, if you agree, disagree, or want to check my psychological background when it comes to these previews, please email the Show with anything you have to ask. Next week, we end out with the Southeast and Pacific Division.

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