October 04, 2005

Hockey: Eastern Conference Preview

One of the best parts of sports is everyone can pretend to be an expert, meaning you can talk out your ass with a complete stranger, so long as you think you’re right. That being said…

Eastern Conference Preview

ATLANTA

Biggest hello: Holik. Gives the Thrashers a veteran force they’ve never had.
Biggest goodbye: Heatly. A bittersweet parting, fans have been supportive of him.
Watch for: Lehtonen. Only 4 NHL games, but he’s more than good enough.
Watch out: Not exactly a rushing defence. Their best offensive defenceman may be rookie Coburn, if he makes it.
Note: If Kovalchuk plays a single game in Russia after tomorrow, he’d have to clear waivers to play in Atlanta this year; otherwise, the team has until Dec 1 to sign him. Hossa can replace his or Heatly’s or scoring, but not both.

BOSTON

Biggest hello: Leetch. More than makes up for Gonchar and Delmore, if he’s healthy.
Biggest goodbye: Rolston. Made teams hesitate when he was penalty killing.
Watch for: Boyes to get the opportunity to take the absent Rolston’s minutes.
Watch out: Not a deep defence. As Leetch goes, so go the Bruins.
Note: Attendance stayed at the old Boston Gardens level, despite the new(ish) digs. If owner Jacobs would just stay out of sight for a couple of years, that will go up.

BUFFALO

Biggest hello: Numminen. A veteran D surrounded by pups.
Biggest goodbye: Satan. A team that doesn’t score much loses 30 goals. Ouch.
Watch for: Vanek is going to get every chance to make the team, ready or not.
Watch out: With a very young team, lots of mistakes are going to be part of it.
Note: It’s still a toss-up who will be the #1 goalie this year: Biron, Noronen and Miller have loads of talent, so whoever harnesses it first wins.

CAROLINA

Biggest hello: Stillman. Anyone remember he got 80 pionts last season?
Biggest goodbye: O’Neill. He may be injury prone, but he’s a scorer.
Watch for: Gerber giving the Hurricanes a chance to win whenever he plays.
Watch out: Not a lot of help from his defence: Commodore uses his size, no others.
Note: Another team in a youth movement. Cole, Staal and Vasicek have one year’s grace before they have to start carrying this team.

FLORIDA

Biggest hello: Father Time (Gelinas, Hill, Nieuwendyk, Roberts…)
Biggest goodbye: Hordichuk. Kept opposing forwards honest around the goal.
Watch for: Stewart. The more he imitates Roberts, the better.
Watch out: Medical staff! Some of these old folks are brittle.
Note: Lots of youth, now with lots of experience, too. Just keep Keenan away from the ice, and the damage he did to Hagman and Huselius should be repairable.

LONG ISLAND (New York)

Biggest hello: Satan. If Yashin feels less pressure to score, he’ll get more points.
Biggest goodbye: Most of a fantastic defensive corps: Acoin, Hanrlik, Jonsson.
Watch for: DiPietro to be the highest scoring goalie in the league.
Watch out: Yashin is a fine player, horrible captain. A bad mood can mean a bad year.
Note: Milbury has offered DiPietro a 15 year contract extension. Good to know “Mad Mike” is still at it.

MANHATTAN (New York)

Biggest hello: Nylander, if healthy.
Biggest goodbye: Messier. Would have been nice to see him bitch-slap Jagr this year…
Watch for: If Nylander plays more than 60 games, Jagr can get 100 points.
Watch out: If Jagr matures, taking the team onto his capable shoulders and… and… Nope, I just don’t see it.
Note: Lots of “ifs” here, and with good reason. Other than in goal and Staal, the cupboard is going to be bare for a while.

MONTREAL

Biggest hello: Bonk. Good defensive forward, okay scoring, great name.
Biggest goodbye: Brisbois. Who are the fans going to unfairly boo now?
Watch for: Ryder and Ribeiro to have a friendly rivalry. Edge to Ribeiro in a wide open game.
Watch out: If the rivalry becomes unfriendly. Any whiff of a conflict between an anglo player and a franco one can set the media pack howling.
Note: It won’t get much attention if: 1) Kovalev scores like he’s supposed to; and 2) Koivu is signed to a multi-year deal.

NEW JERSEY

Biggest hello: Mogilny. Less ice time means (hopefully) more games.
Biggest goodbye: Niedermayer. Malakhov just isn’t the same thing.
Watch for: Rafalski to take 200 shots.
Watch out: Elias is still recovering from a bout of hepatitis caught in Russia last year.
Note: However open the game is supposed to become, the Devils play their system first. For them, it works.

OTTAWA

Biggest hello: Much as I’d like to say Heatley, it’s Hasek.
Biggest goodbye: Hossa. Leading scorer last season.
Watch for: Spezza to shock folks who are distracted by Crosby and Ovechkin.
Watch out: If Hasek is injured, it’s down to… Emery?
Note: Heatley will do just fine in Ottawa.

PHILIDELPHIA

Biggest hello: Forsberg. Their top draft pick from 1991 finally plays for them.
Biggest goodbye: Roenick. He was their public face, and he was everywhere.
Watch for: Rookies Carter and Richards to be in the line up on day one.
Watch out: The defence is big, but not very mobile (still). They may be vulnerable to penalties.
Note: Could be the deepest team in the league. They’ll go as far as Esche can take them.

PITTSBURGH

Biggest hello: No, not him. On ice, it’s Recchi.
Biggest goodbye: Not much. How about Buchberger? Sure, Buchberger.
Watch for: They had 23 wins last season; they could have that by January this time.
Watch out: Thibault has a habit of wearing out if he plays too much, and with Fleury down, Caron needs to play 25 – 30 games.
Note: This team is going to try winning by getting one more goal than their opponents, which is going to make for some long nights for their goalies. More than 100,000 tickets were sold in the two weeks after Pittsburgh won the Crosby lottery.

TAMPA BAY

Biggest hello: Burke. Solid veteran back up, can take the starting role if needed.
Biggest goodbye: Khabibulin, in a big way.
Watch for: Andreychuk to draw a second salary as an assistant coach.
Watch out: For inflated egos. Andreychuk has to be a buffer between Tortorella and the hot-tempered kids.
Note: Boyle was not supposed to be the top scoring defenceman on the team last year. With a year to adapt, Sydor should be the anchor this year.

TORONTO

Biggest hello: Anyone who can stay healthy. (Lindros, Allison, O’Neill, Khavanov…)
Biggest goodbye: Spending their way out of trouble.
Watch for: Lots of veterans with something to prove this year.
Watch out: A great team on paper, and about as fragile.
Note: If you want to hear 19,000 people holding their collective breath, just go to the Air Canada Centre and listen any time there’s contact on the ice.

WASHINGTON

Biggest hello: Ovechkin. Massively talented, complete player.
Biggest goodbye: Doig. Added a physical touch to the defence.
Watch for: Cassels and Zubrus fight for the right to centre Ovechkin. The loser gets Semin, which isn’t bad at all.
Watch out: For other teams. These guys are not very good this year.
Note: There are prospects coming, and in a couple of years Ovechkin, Semin, Ouellet and Gordon will make the core of a fine team. But until then…

Okay, that’s it.
Now drop the frickin’ puck, already!

Labels:

posted by Thursday at 8:27 pm

8 Comments:

Blogger M@ said...

So c'mon, c'mon. Lay it on the line. Who's going to win the cup?

Damned if I know, so I'll go with Philly.

11:11 am  
Blogger pretty shaved ape said...

heh, the nhl decides to return. for some reason, i find myself just not being excited. some of it comes from the loss of last season, as the players and owners compounded each other's greed. as that season disappeared i began to think they should all just go and get stuffed. i know quite a few fellow fans who have sworn off the nhl and determined to support the local, junior teams. the juniors play with passion and they aren't quite the snivelling, spoiled things that mega-millions seem to create.

a very big factor for me is on the moral basis of reinstating todd bertuzzi. his presence on the ice cheapens the sport. that scum belongs in a cell. at the very least, he should not play one game before his victim does. another sore point for me is danny heatly. if ever further proof were needed that too much, too soon is a bad thing, it is he. what is the state of his court case? has he been patted on the back because he is wealthy and talented? oh we'll just let that vehicular homicide thing slide, no worries then kid, go ahead and play. frankly the nhl has a big job to do in winning me back as a fan and a viewer, althougth the absence of that yammering idiot don cherry does make it more attractive. still, i think i'll go and catch some kitchener ranger games instead. and don't even get me started on the men's "olympic" hockey.

2:41 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

M@ - I don't even know who's getting to the playoffs. Give me a month, and I'll change my mind six or seven times; but right now, I'll say Ottawa.

psa - I have never, ever seen a "snivelling, spoiled thing" play hockey. The closest was perhaps Daigle, and he learned his lesson. I'm a fan of the minors and juniors, too: don't try telling me that the OHL is somehow more decent, or law-abiding, or civilized than the NHL because that's a crock and you know it.

As for moral factors, that's up to you. I can see you point with Bertuzzi, and though I think he's served his time, many don't.

On Heatley, on the other hand, you are way, way off base. Dan Snyder was his best friend, and that was clearly shown when the Snyders spoke over and over in his defence, both in public and in the courts. They knew his remorse, and did not think he should be punished more than he already had been.

I've gone over 200 km/h on public roads on my motorcycle - think I should be locked in jail? He was doing 150, plus he'd never gotten so much as a speeding ticket before, plus the victim's familiy did not want to see him imprisoned. He wasn't driving on city streets, or weaving through traffic, or cutting through back yards. There was no malice, or intent to injure, and he has zero criminal history. He was careless (wet roads), but so was Snyder who didn't wear his seat belt, and would probably be alive if he had.

I do wish they had left the Olympics for the amatuers, though, even if other nations were sending members from their professional leagues.

8:32 pm  
Blogger M@ said...

Thursday - Ottawa seems like a good pick. And fair enough -- nothing holding you to it -- I'm interested in people's impressions because I'm pretty confused myself.

PSA - What Thursday said. To single out Bertuzzi is ridiculous -- the whole league is responsible for allowing that kind of crap to go on. If they allowed the refs to make the calls -- not the head office types, the next day -- there would be a different kind of hockey on the ice.

If you've got a problem with the Bertuzzi thing, then I suggest your problem is with the NHL in general; while I respect and understand that, I don't like when people hide it behind this kind of moral posturing.

5:01 am  
Blogger pretty shaved ape said...

i admit i went over the top in the tone of my initial comments, though i stand by my bertuzzi opinion. having played minor hockey (including one shift against gretzky in an exhibition game, he scored, damn) i really do think that we allow athletes, entertainers and celebrities too much leeway in behaviour and responsibility. if you had killed your best friend on your bike at excessive speed you would likely be in jail. the snyder family is exceptional, many families would not be so generous. what would his situatin have been if the family had been adament about seeing him prosecuted to the full extent of the law?

you are right about the juniors as well. the thing is after watching multi-millionaires squabble over zeroes and commas, i find it hard not to see them as spoiled, owners, players and all. living in southern ontario it is damn near impossible to get a ticket to a leafs game. if a ticket can be had it costs a small fortune. and it isn't just hockey, all professional sports and entertainments seem to have become grossly expensive and excessive.

there's a real disconnect from reality that goes along with it. i work in the entertainment business in film and music. i have watched people devolve into gluttony and abusiveness because there is someone propping up their ill behaviour, bailing them out of jams and covering their tracks. i have seen the damage that it causes and it worries me. i have also seen the struggle that takes place for stars to remain grounded and how difficult it can be to maintain anything that we might call a normal existence.

of course, being a hypocrite, i will still likely get hooked on the game after my moral snit fades a little. and i will certainly watch the olympic women's hockey. as for the men's olympics, bah, we already have an all-star game every year. my solution is to reinject the sacrifice that the olympic spirit is supposed to engender. place a strict limit on the amount of pros on the team, 50 or 60%, require pro players going to the olympics to accept a salary cap for the olympic year of, say, $100,000 and require that they attend camp, qualifying tournaments and a full schedule of team practices. even if that means missing nhl games. i know it will never happen but it would make the dream team deal easier to swallow.

5:27 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

psa - I wonder how many atheletes would be bailing out of the Olympics under those conditions! Love the idea! I hate the fact that some Olympic teams have to play two weeks, and other just one. Man, I was rooting for Belarus last time...

I have to disagree on the odds of my being in jail - again, I have no record, and the (theoretical) victim's family would be pushing hard for me to stay out of prison. I think I'd end up with suspended + community.

Loads of cash - makes being an asshole so much easier, eh? *wistful sigh*

M@ - Okay, how's this for massive hedging: three from each conference and a dark horse.

East: Ottawa, Philly, and Tampa Bay. Dark horse is Montreal.
West: Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose. Dark horse is Minnesota.

Then there's Boston, and Colorado, and New Jersey, and Calgary, and hell, maybe Columbus can get in the playoffs and go running, or even Atlanta should Kovalchuk come back.

Man, I would love to be a bookie this year: when no one knows, every sucker thinks their team has a chance. That said...

Go Canucks!

12:17 pm  
Blogger pretty shaved ape said...

oh how i'd love having the loads of cash, of course being a poor slob i'll say that i'd ttry not to be an asshole. but then the grass is always greener. the cash doesn't solve your problems it just gives you a different set of problems. it is quite fascinating to watch the star system from a good vantage point. obviously big money has advantages but the trade off in terms of privacy and trust would be hard to take. here's hpping we all get the chance to see how the privileged other half (well 2%) lives

3:35 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

Hear, hear!

10:20 pm  

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