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.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

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.

PACIFIC DIVISION

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!!

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