October 05, 2007

The Winning is Easy - Before the Season

Off to the West:

Western Conference Preview


Biggest hello: Bertuzzi. When he’s happy, he’s death on wheels.
Biggest goodbye: Niedermayer. Smartest player in the league.
Watch for: Fantastic youth, even with Penner gone.
Watch out: Stanley Cup hangover, plus a brutal, brutal opening series (five games on the road; four games in five days; all home openers for opponents!)
Note: Will a rested Selanne and/or Niedermayer suddenly show up in January?


Biggest hello: Aucoin – he can eat minutes, but with this team, he won’t have to. Huge shot. Not always accurate, but there.
Biggest goodbye: Amonte. Never brought the 20 goals Calgary was hoping for, anyways. Replaced with Nolan.
Watch for: New coach Keenan should shore up the defensive lapses that hurt the team last year.
Watch out: New coach Keenan rides goalies hard, and often, and publicly. How will Kiprusoff react?
Note: Any player disagreements with Keenan will fall on deaf ears with the GM – Sutter is NOT someone to cry to.


Biggest hello: Toews. The stadium may start filling again this year.
Biggest goodbye: Aucoin, and lots of folks who played a half season or less. Not really very big losses.
Watch for: This year’s theme: Year of the Kids!
Watch out: Khabibulin can’t get back to form after a bad (for him) first year.
Note: Not to speak ill of the dead, but does this mean Chicago might have some home games broadcast? Please? Remind the city you exist, guys.


Biggest hello: Smyth. Arguably the finest free agent available last year.
Biggest goodbye: McLean. Versatile forward, brought 35 points on few minutes.
Watch for: IS this the year Sakic fails to lead the team in scoring? If so, it won’t be because he’s playing badly…
Watch out: Theodore not only can’t return of Montreal form, but can’t at least help Budaj.
Note: They may be a defenceman or two away from the playoffs this year; but even that won’t help if the goaltending doesn’t stand up.


Biggest hello: Peca. Immediate heart transfusion for any team. Never, ever quits
Biggest goodbye: Berard. This is a recording – Columbus needs Klesla to play to his full potential… NOW.
Watch for: Better disciplined, more determined team play.
Watch out: Still not quite enough skill to make playoffs. If they get there, it will be on heart.
Note: A full season of Hitchcock may be all this team needs to get to the post season. But I doubt it.


Biggest hello: Winchester? Not much shopping this season, I see.
Biggest goodbye: Nagy. Never quite clicked with the team last year, but can these guys afford to give up on any scoring?
Watch for: Modano finally loses patience with Riberio.
Watch out: Riberio sulks instead of responds.
Note: Whoever said “defence wins championships” never saw this team. Turco can’t score, guys.


Biggest hello: Rafalski. Point man with better passes than shot.
Biggest goodbye: Schneider. Was making Chelios “feel old”.
Watch for: With a weaker Nashville, who in their division is going to stop them?
Watch out: A vastly improved Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis might.
Note: Don’t these people ever die? In a “rebuilding” phase for five years now, but you can never tell.


Biggest hello: Penner. With That Contract, lots of pressure to be The Man.
Biggest goodbye: Smith and Smyth. That’s a lot of leadership to try replacing.
Watch for: Slumping youth rounding back into form (Horcoff, Hemsky, Stoll, Torres, Pisani…).
Watch out: The nightmare injury troubles happen again – eleven regulars were out at one time.
Note: Three new power play specialists have shown up. Think the GM had something in mind?


Biggest hello: Lots of solid arrivals, but it could be… Bernier?
Biggest goodbye: Stuart. Modry is the closest they have to a stay-at-home defenseman now.
Watch for: Is this the year (finally!) that everyone clicks?
Watch out: If the inexperience shows in the net.
Note: LA has had a deep, skilled, well-balanced team for a few seasons now, but they’ve hit ungodly injury trouble every year. With health, this is my favorite dark horse team.


Biggest hello: Belanger. Solid fit for the team, but doesn’t add anything they didn’t have before.
Biggest goodbye: White. Some fast (a given for the Wild) scoring (not so much) has left the building.
Watch for: Same team got 104 points last season. Why change?
Watch out: Out in the first round last season. Should have changed.
Note: Where do they keep finding these goalies? Backstrom, Harding and Scheaffer all solid options, and all young.


Biggest hello: Jed Ortmeyer. How can you not love “Jed” playing in Nashville?
Biggest goodbye: Kariya, Timonen, Vokoun. The top guy from each position, plus Forsberg.
Watch for: Still lots of skill remaining here, other teams may think the losses hit the Predators harder than they actually did.
Watch out: Local buyers are having trouble raising money for the team. Watch out for those damn Canadians, buying up all the NHL teams and moving them North!
Note: They still have all the grit they’re famous for – anyone taking this team lightly is going to get eaten.


Biggest hello: Goalies! Goalies everywhere!
Biggest goodbye: Complete overhaul from last year – Nolan will be missed most.
Watch for: Youth is being served – NOW.
Watch out: Youth is being served – NOW.
Note: Auld, Aebischer, Tellqvist, LeNeveu… All have had ice time, none of them succeeded as a number one.


Biggest hello: Decisions, decisions… I’ll go with Kariya.
Biggest goodbye: Dvorak. Third line forward, not much else. Never lived up to his draft position.
Watch for: They have the skill (now) to ease future star Eric Johnson into his role; he may force them to play him more.
Watch out: The most games Legace has ever played in a season is 51. He may need to play more this year.
Note: Possibly the most improved team in the league. Very strong finish last season, plus a real desire by veterans on the team to drag the Blues back to respectability.


Biggest hello: Roenick. Didn’t he “absolutely” retire? Youngest team gets another veteran.
Biggest goodbye: Hannan. Pretty good depth on this defence, but Hannan is a national level player.
Watch for: An extra year of experience won’t hurt this team at all.
Watch out: The “Yips” may strike come playoff time (See also: Dallas Stars)
Note: More focus on succeeding in the playoffs, less for the regular season.


Biggest hello: Shannon. Not many players these days stick in the bigs when they have a two-way contract.
Biggest goodbye: Fitzpatrick. Almost an All-Star, don’cha know!
Watch for: Mason Raymond (who?) gets to start – with the Sedins, yet.
Watch out: Lots of players had disappointing offensive seasons last year – if that continues, they’re doomed come playoff time.
Note: Expect 20 games to see if scoring improves. If not, there will be a trade out of the defence.


And that's them! To be revisited (and edited, if I cared enough NOT to look like an utter fool) regularly during the season.

Game on!


posted by Thursday at 8:52 pm


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