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.

NORTHEAST DIVISION

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.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

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!!

1 comment:

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