October 04, 2006

Hockey: Wagons East!

Eastern Conference Preview


Biggest hello: Rucchin. A better defensive player than Savard, and by all reports a better team player, too.
Biggest goodbye: Savard. That being said, he was 3 points away from 100 last season.
Watch for: Lehtonen (again). He caught hell from the team for his conditioning, and has improved it enough to play more than the 38 he managed last season.
Watch out: This is not a scoring defense. What can you say about a team that had three 90-point players, yet their highest scoring defenseman only managed 38?
Note: Should Lehtonen go down this year, the team now has two capable veteran back-ups in Hedberg and Brathwaite, instead of just one.


Biggest hello: Chara. Literally.
Biggest goodbye: Gill. Literally.
Watch for: Far faster and more mobile defense. Mara, Stewart and sophomore Jurcina are all offensively minded.
Watch out: All of the three are an adventure in their own zone. With two relatively new-to-the-NHL goaltenders, this could be a bad choice.
Note: Chara is a very good defeneman, no doubt, but I don’t see him as captain material.


Biggest hello: Confidence. Four defensemen out, and they still came within 20 minutes of the finals.
Biggest goodbye: McKee. Blocked 241 shots – if that’s not leading by example, I don’t know what is.
Watch for: Perhaps the best goaltending tandem in the league with Miller and Biron.
Watch out: The “Slugs on Ice!” jerseys.
Note: Biron is going to start this year as the backup, and he’s not liking that at all, but Miller may be the best goalie the United States has ever produced, including Mike Richter.


Biggest hello: Walker. Provides the grit in the season that Recchi did in the playoffs. Now if only he can last more than 60 games…
Biggest goodbye: Gerber. A much better goaltender than Ward throughout the season.
Watch for: Gleason is a solid pick up, and will cover for the injured Kaberle for the first half of the season.
Watch out: Ward is not a very durable goalie, so Grahame is going to get plenty of ice time.
Note: I gave Cole, Staal and Vasicek one year’s grace before they had to start carrying this team: I was wrong. With the coming out of Williams last year, Vasicek became expendable before he became expensive.


Biggest hello: Bertuzzi. Amazing talent – when he’s happy.
Biggest goodbye: Luongo. The only sure thing the Panthers have had these long five years.
Watch for: Roberts to discuss retirement at some point in the season, a la Andreychuk from Tampa Bay last year.
Watch out: Belfour is not the easiest person to get along with, especially if he feels threatened by his nominal back up, and Auld is ready to start full time.
Note: Depth has improved, and some youth has been added, but whether it all works or not is a mystery.


Biggest hello: Witt. A legitimate crease-clearer. He doesn’t get points, but that isn’t what this team needs.
Biggest goodbye: Milbury. Finally, the madness ends – what?
Watch for: An improved goals-against. Sillinger is a very good all around player, and can win a lot of faceoffs.
Watch out: If DiPietro falters at all, the fans are going to let him and his 15 year contract hear about it.
Note: Owner Charles Wang has often bragged about his “management by committee”, but how many members of that committee do you think wanted to fire six week old GM Smith and replaced him with last year’s back up goaltender?


Biggest hello: Shanahan. In theory, 37-year olds aren’t supposed to score their age.
Biggest goodbye: Rucchin. Solid two-way player on a team full of either/or types, excepting Nylander.
Watch for: If Cullen and Shanahan click, then the Rangers get far more dangerous.
Watch out: If Cullen doesn’t develop into the second line centre they hope for, then this ends up a one line team – again. As he only has one season out of eight with more than 20 goals, it’s a question mark.
Note: Not much offence from the D here, except for those rare instances when Ozolinsh is healthy. Staal isn’t anywhere near ready yet.


Biggest hello: Coach Carbonneau. Think slacking off will impress this guy?
Biggest goodbye: Riberio. Young, flashy, and 50 points in each of the last two seasons.
Watch for: If Latendresse sticks, he’s on a top two line.
Watch out: Koivu has played 70 or more games three times in ten seasons.
Note: So now they have two francophone goaltenders, and neither is from Quebec?


Biggest hello: Cap room.
Biggest goodbye: Malakhov’s contract.
Watch for: Clemmensen to have the easiest job in the sport, as Brodeur plays 75 games.
Watch out: Astounding numbers from Gionta, Gomez and Elias, but who else?
Note: This is a small team, and it showed in the number of penalties they got last year: 948 minutes, lowest in the league. That’s over 600 fewer than top-ranked Pittsburgh.


Biggest hello: Gerber. Solid in goal, and far less breakable than Hasek.
Biggest goodbye: Chara. Had to choose who to let go, and they chose right, but it would have been nice to keep him.
Watch for: Another 100+ point season. The young talent is developing according to plan.
Watch out: Can they get enough ice time for all their offensive defensemen?
Note: I just want to say, I totally called it for these guys last year.


Biggest hello: Sanderson. Depth in scoring never hurts.
Biggest goodbye: Johnsson. Deciding the blue line wasn’t old and slow enough, after much dedication the Flyers are (finally!) down to a single defenseman who can skate.
Watch for: Pitkanen to break the 25 minutes/game mark, then simply break.
Watch out: Nittymaki is a fantastic goalie – who is trying to get through the season with cortisone shots so he can avoid surgery.
Note: Still a strange dichotomy – killer speed and skill up front, and lumbering thugs in back. Doomed to repeat their history (great season, failed playoffs) since they don’t seem to be learning from it.


Biggest hello: Malkin. Malkin Malkin Malkin Malkin. Oh, and Recchi (again).
Biggest goodbye: Hilbert. Not actually a point-a-game player, but will be a top six.
Watch for: Lots of enthusiasm, if not consistency. Gonchar should get off to a better start this year.
Watch out: With Staal, Letang, and Malkin making the team out of this training camp, and as many as seven sophomores getting ice time, this could be the youngest team ever. Expect mistakes.
Note: Despite losing two goaltenders with Vancouver plucking Sabourin off waivers, Thibault and Fluery will be as good as you can expect the abandoned to be.


Biggest hello: Denis. Better than Grahame? Maybe. A lateral move.
Biggest goodbye: Modin. Centres were the top three scorers last year. As talented as they are, SOMEone has to play wing.
Watch for: If Craig can play wing, he’s in full time.
Watch out: Eggs, meet basket: Denis is the only experienced goaltender the team is carrying after sending Burke to Springfield. Expect a call.
Note: The best defence is… They are going to try winning by outscoring the opponent, period.


Biggest hello: Raycroft, if he regains his form. He’s certainly better than last year’s numbers, but by how much?
Biggest goodbye: Coach Quinn. Imagine letting youth play!
Watch for: That youth getting a more prominent role this year.
Watch out: If Raycroft loses confidence, they’re doomed.
Note: Is this going to be the year that the astoundingly consistent Sundin finally breaks down? There’s not a lot Toronto can do without him.


Biggest hello: Semin. Finally getting his name on a contract after two years in Russia.
Biggest goodbye: Willsie. Defensively responsible and can chip in 15 – 20 goals.
Watch for: Ovechkin has proven himself captain material this past season.
Watch out: Another tough season ahead for this bunch.
Note: The prospects are still on the way: Hershey, Washington’s farm team, won the Calder Cup last season, and that’s always a good sign. In four or five years, anyways.

So who's getting into the playoffs? Hedging frantically, it is:

In easy: New Jersey; Ottawa; Buffalo; Philadelphia
Into it: Carolina; Atlanta; Montreal; Manhattan
In tough: Boston; Toronto; Tampa Bay
Out: Pittsburgh; Washington; Florida; Long Island

And away we go!


posted by Thursday at 11:56 pm


Blogger M@ said...

Well I asked last year, I'll ask this year: who are you picking for the cup?

I'm putting my money on Ottawa.

And I'm going to say right now that I think Toronto will make the playoffs. I find that this is a minority opinion.

8:53 am  
Blogger Thursday said...

Ye gods, do you really expect me to answer that? Well, I was a D&D geek, so I'm sure I've got a twenty-sided die around here somewhere...

I will say that Ottawa is realistically Canada's only hope of getting Stanley back home, but this is with all of one game played. The pros are ignoring the Senators because of thier playoff history, which is a bit foolish given who made the finals last year. Lots of folks are going with either San Jose, Anaheim or Buffalo, and it's hard to argue against.

Sad to say, I'm not going to try. My money (so far) is on Anaheim.

8:32 pm  
Blogger M@ said...

Hey, I asked last year and you had a guess. Hell, no one's gonna hold you to it. Anaheim seems like a good pick, too.

Always enjoy your hockey roundups -- thanks!

6:44 pm  
Blogger Thursday said...

I just noticed where Mike Dunham ended up - Long Island, home of the $4.5 million/year man.

If Dunham stays healthy, the Islanders are going to have the most expensive backup in the history of the game.

1:00 am  
Blogger M@ said...

Heh. Money well spent, eh?

8:22 am  

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