October 04, 2007

Everyone's A Winner!

Ah, pre-season! It's the time when winning teams bloat with unjustified ego and losing ones reassure fans that they're "adjusting". But who's actually done what?

Starting in the East:

Eastern Conference Preview


Biggest hello: White. Never been a first-line centre, he’ll get his shot here.
Biggest goodbye: Mellanby. Garbage goals count just as much as beauties.
Watch for: Kovalchuk finally got a taste of the playoffs – we’ll see how badly he wants back.
Watch out: If Kovalchuk decides his best shot is with another team…
Note: Todd White is the ultimate sleeper pick. He’s a journeyman suddenly flanked by Kovalchuk and Hossa: if he sticks, he could double his more typical 40 points.


Biggest hello: Fernandez. Time to see if it really was the system that made him look good.
Biggest goodbye: Donovan. Depth player, but brought some speed.
Watch for: Same squad they had last year, so expectations for improvement are there. Does coach Julien have a better system than Lewis tried?
Watch out: Fernandez can’t make up for a porous defence.
Note: Some players underperformed last year; some were injured; some were too young. But what really matters is getting fewer goals against – if they don’t manage that, they’re going nowhere.


Biggest hello: Thibault. Very skilled, but kept getting into trouble in Chicago because the work load would wear him down as the season progressed. That won’t happen here.
Biggest goodbye: Briere, Drury, Zubrus… Man, that hurts to type.
Watch for: The players are there to replace the losses, and Coach Ruff is one of the best.
Watch out: The players they’re relying on to replace those losses all had injury trouble last season (Connolly, Afinogenov, Kotalik).
Note: Despite cries of doom and gloom, there’s still a lot of skill, and it’s backed by Miller in net.


Biggest hello: Cullen. Back where he belongs.
Biggest goodbye: Tanabe. Mobile quarterback for the power play. Kaberle had better stay healthy…
Watch for: Ward was humiliated by last year’s results. He showed a ferocious focus on training in the off season, and sounds like he wants to play every game.
Watch out: Kaberle may not stay healthy, and that could doom the power play.
Note: A nice balance of veterans and youth here. Will be in the playoffs, might be in the final…


Biggest hello: Vokoun. May not be quite as good as Belfour, but the circus side show will be absent, too.
Biggest goodbye: Belfour. Great on the ice, terrible both off and in the dressing room.
Watch for: The young players are finally ready for Prime Time.
Watch out: If Jokinen is injured, it’s going to be a tough stretch until he’s back.
Note: A lot of their skill is young. If they go with a constantly rolling, four-line system, they can exhaust opponents, especially late in the season.


Biggest hello: Comrie. Overpaid, yes, but they needed to make noise.
Biggest goodbye: Yashin, the archtype for why you should choose a captain for reasons other than skill.
Watch for: Coach Nolan LOVES rallying cries as much as Henry V.
Watch out: If this defence leaves DiPietro hanging – he’s very much the man, even with “Dubie”s heroics last season.
Note: Lost a #1 or #2 at every single position in the off season. Will they rally around Nolan, or throw in the towel? Never bet against this coach when he’s down.


Biggest hello: Drury. A big game player.
Biggest goodbye: Nylander. Was Jagr’s centre, we’ll see if Gomez can do the same.
Watch for: They want a Calder, and Staal is going to get every chance to earn it.
Watch out: If Gomez repeats his numbers from last year. The Rangers expect more than 60 points from someone lining up with Jagr.
Note: A fashionable pick for the cup; but they’re only two players deep at each spot. Is that enough?


Biggest hello: Brisbois! The fans now have someone else to rain unearned derision upon from the stands!
Biggest goodbye: Souray. Won’t repeat the 26 goals, but fifteen from the point is tough to replace, despite Hamrlik’s confidence.
Watch for: The Annual Calling Out of Kovalev.
Watch out: If Ryder leads in scoring again – and he doesn’t reach 30.
Note: Huet and Price? Really? Well, okay…


Biggest hello: Zubrus. Not as good a passer as Gomez, but a slightly better finisher.
Biggest goodbye: Rafalski. Who’s running the point for these guys now?
Watch for: Zajac is starting as second center, but may find first-line time soon.
Watch out: Now! Fewer goals than Ever!
Note: New Coach Sutter believes the team is rebuilding; they just happen to be rebuilding with Brodeur, so no one can tell.


Biggest hello: Donovan. A little extra depth, but not quite a replacement for Scheaffer.
Biggest goodbye: Muckler. Owners liked the team Muckler put together, but not the GM himself.
Watch for: Less free-wheeling in the games, more determination.
Watch out: If Emery lets stardom get to his head, there will be trouble.
Note: Alfredsson was hungry for the Cup last year – he’s starving now.


Biggest hello: Smith. A solid defenseman who can hit without taking penalties for it.
Biggest goodbye: Pitkanen. Good offensive defenseman, but getting tired of the city.
Watch for: A skilled defence? In Philadelphia? Who knew?
Watch out: Looking for far better results than last season. If this team doesn’t have 10 wins by the quarter mark, second year coach Stevens is gone.
Note: Improved everywhere in the off season. Hopefully the fans will forgive last year’s growing pains.


Biggest hello: Sydor. Fluery will be happier.
Biggest goodbye: Ouellet. Very young scorer with lots of potential to come. Just like twenty other players on the team.
Watch for: Staal. Will he want more ice time, or be happy (for now) as a specialist?
Watch out: There shouldn’t be a “playoff hangover” after a team gets booted in the first round, but the kids might think “Hey, getting there is easy!”
Note: Probably tighter focus on defensive play, and a slight drop in regular season points. Assuming they keep their focus on making noise in the playoffs.


Biggest hello: Ouellet. Actually having a second line (instead of “Richards and whoever”) will help immensely.
Biggest goodbye: Sarich. Solid, keep-‘em-honest defenceman.
Watch for: Possibly Hlavac. If he jells, he can end up on either top two lines.
Watch out: Is Ouellet only as good as Crosby mad him?
Note: Worked on increasing offence. Lovely, but the same two goalies this year were sub-.900 save percentages last year…


Biggest hello: Blake. Adding 40 goals never hurts. Heck, even 30 would be nice.
Biggest goodbye: Perrault. Winning face offs gets you the puck, and you need that to score.
Watch for: Rycroft is getting pushed by Toskala, and rebounds from a weak season.
Watch out: Toskala has never played under the scrutiny of a city like Toronto. If the pressure cooks him, it’ll hurt.
Note: Thin, thin defence, especially if Wozniewski isn’t ready.


Biggest hello: Poti. A point producing, if slightly erratic, power play quarterback. At last.
Biggest goodbye: Beech – no great loss, as anyone lined up with Ovechkin and/or Semin should get more than 26 points.
Watch for: Nylander was Jagr’s hand-picked center, and now he’s Ovechkin’s. Rough life.
Watch out: Backstrom has been heaped with pre-season hype. Bear in mind he’s all of 19 years old!
Note: When’s Kolzig getting the “C” again? He is now, and has long been, the team leader.

To the West tomorrow!


posted by Thursday at 11:31 am


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