January 19, 2013

NHL Preview, Eastern Promises

Eastern Conference Preview


Biggest hello: Rookie Torey King, if he can find some room.
Biggest goodbye: Tim Thomas.  If Tukka Rask falters at all, Thomas hits the spotlight once again.
Watch for: With six players getting more than 20 goals and Nathan Horton coming back, it's going to be tough for any checking line to know who to stop.
Watch out: Marc Savard is still out on a Long Term Injury; at this point, his career could be over.
Note: One (and only) upside of Savard's injury is the cap room available should help be needed.


Biggest hello: Steve Ott, superpest extrordinaire.
Biggest goodbye: Derek Roy.  The 44 points in an off season, sure; but also their only centre to get over .500 on faceoffs.
Watch for: The late season line of Tyler Ennis-Drew Stafford-Foligno got 49 combined points in their 13 games together.
Watch out: Is sophmore Cody Hodgson really their first line centre, or is it the generously listed at 5'9", 160 pound Tyler Ennis?
Note: Ryan Miller's horrible start nearly derailed the Sabres' season, only to be salvaged by a brilliant two month stretch later.  As he goes...


Biggest hello: A "Brother Act" advertising campaign, courtesy Jordan Staal.
Biggest goodbye: It cost them, though, as Brandon Sutter was growing into a fine player himself.
Watch for: Marc-Andre Gragnani has the potential (and opportunity) to be a power play force on a team that needs one.
Watch out: If not, this will be yet another team who thinks Joe Corvo is a "power play specialist".
Note: So, what do you think it would take to get Marc out of Manhattan?


Biggest hello: Peter Meuller.  He has second line skills and should be well past his injury trouble.
Biggest goodbye: Jason Garrison.  Huge shot, but also a reliable defender who played 23 minutes per game.
Watch for: Jonathan Huberdeau is going to get all the ice time he can eat; if he ends up beside Mueller, his numbers could surprise.
Watch out: The Panthers jumped 22 points last year, but 18 points came in losses.  Which way will the bounces go this year?
Note: Even with Garrison, Brian Campbell was playing 27 minutes a night.  He's going to need someone else to produce on the blue line this year.


Biggest hello: Brad Boyes.  He's a finisher, though a couple of years removed from his 30- and 40- goal seasons in St. Louis.
Biggest goodbye: P. A. Parenteau.  Works the boards well, good vision for his passes.
Watch for: A team packed with young kids and late bloomers, the team will go as far as John Tavares can drag them.
Watch out: Evgeni Nabokov needs more support in and in front of his crease, and the most likely backups are rookies Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson.
Note: If Lubomir Visnovsky reports, they'll have two solid puck moving defensemen (with Mark Streit) and give Calvin de Haan a bit more development time.  That would be good.  If Nino Niederreiter finds his way out of whatever cave he was in last season, that would be even better.


Biggest hello: Rick "Did-it-HAVE-to-be-the-Rangers?" Nash.
Biggest goodbye: The mulitpurpose Artem Anisimov.
Watch for: Chris Kreider is penciled in on the top two lines after five goals in the playoffs.  Given who else the Rangers have on those lines, he's got to be considered the front runner in Calder Trophy talk.
Watch out: Hopefully the continued development of Michael del Zotto will give the Rangers an improved power play, sitting at 23rd in the league last year.
Note: Forward depth was traded away to get Nash; no team has a more clearly delineated "two lines attack, two defend" lineup.


Biggest hello: Andrei Markov, for however long that lasts.
Biggest goodbye: General Manager Pierre Gauthier and His Amazing Train Wreck.
Watch for: Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust add some mean to an otherwise squishy-soft lineup.
Watch out: If the Canadiens get off to a slow start, how much quicker will the P. K. Subban standoff be resolved?  Not as quickly as if Markov gets injured again...
Note: New GM Marc Bergevin and his staff are going to get that rarest of things in this hockey mad city: a honeymoon.  Expect it to last right up until they lose three in a row.


Biggest hello: Travis Zajac being around for a full season.
Biggest goodbye: Zach Parise being gone for the rest of his career.
Watch for: Kovalchuk has fully bought in to the Devils' way of doing things, because that means he gets 24:30 of ice time and others can pick up the defensive slack.  Should hit 75 points, and used in all circumstances.
Watch out: David Clarkson got 30 goals last year - that's not likely to repeat itself.
Note: There is a need for points coming from the blue line - think new assistant coach Scott Stevens knows anything about that?


Biggest hello: Guillaume Latendresse.  A big risk given his recent injury history, but also a 30-goal man when healthy.
Biggest goodbye: Nick Foligno.  Scrappy and fearless, he had a breakout season in less than 15 minutes a game.
Watch for: Loads of youth was intorduced last year, and more could come this year in Jakob Silferberg and Mark Stone.
Watch out: A lot of toughness went to the wayside with the loss of Zenon Konopka and an injured Jared Cowen.
Note: Ottawa has some goodwill from the unexpected playoff spot last season, but don't want to squander captain Daniel Alfredsson's last season in the NHL, so how young are they going to get?


Biggest hello: Luke Schenn is in to hopefully shore up a shaken defense.
Biggest goodbye: Matt Carle led the team in ice time last season, and apparently had good enough memories of his twelve games in Tampa Bay to sign there.
Watch for: Three rookie forwards played a big role among the Flyers forwards, and that confidence should have them roaring this season.
Watch out: An offer sheet was made to Shea Weber for a reason - with Chris Pronger gone, possibly for good, their top defensemen are the skilled-but-slight Kimmo Timonen and the huge-but-offensively-inept Braydon Coburn.
Note: As much of a circus goaltending was last year, it's got to be better this time out.  Ilya Bryzgalovis better than what showed last season... isn't he?  He was phenominal in March, but melted down again in the playoffs, so who knows?


Biggest hello: Tomas Vokoun is the undisputed starter on a lot of teams, and a toss-up on several others.
Biggest goodbye: Jordan Staal.  The cost of success, the Penguins lost one of the most versatile forwards in the league for a cheaper, younger replacement.
Watch for: Evgeny Malkin dragged James Neal into 40-goal, 40-assist land, so they're staying together.  The Penguins have $9 million in cap space.  Is Sidney Crosby really going to have Chris Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis on his wings all season?
Watch out: Fans will wince any time Crosby gets hit by an opposing player.  Or accidentally by a team mate.  Or by anything else, really.
Note: Vokoun is a darned fine insurance policy in canse of another bizarre meltdown by Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.


Biggest hello: Matt Carle.  A good acquisition, given Mattias Ohlund's injury and Sami Salo's injury-to-be.
Biggest goodbye: Bruno Gervais.  Can do anything depth defernder, but does none of it very well.
Watch for: The Lightning should be able to keep Marc-Andre Bergeron where he belongs - on the power play and below 19 minutes of ice time.  If he's recovered (as he says he is), he's a 40-point defender over a full season.
Watch out: Anders Lindback is the nominal starter with all of 38 NHL games experience, and that behind the far tighter system in Nashville.
Note: The leagues worst goals against average by an uncomfortable margin has to get better; even if Lindback falters, the arrival of Carle and Salo and an extra year for Victor Hedman will help stabilize the defense.


Biggest hello: James van Riemsdyk.  A young forward the Maple Leafs are hoping will grow with Mikhail Grabovski, Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel, and the other young forwards.
Biggest goodbye: Luke Schenn, a massive hitter who became a favourite target of Toronto's Boo Birds for his defensive mistakes.
Watch for: Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel got off to a roaring start last year, and they'll drag whichever centre they end up with along for the ride.
Watch out: Offense has improved, but defense stays mired near the bottom of the league - 28th best penalty kill and 29th best goals agains average.
Note: Off to a good start last year, if they can get one this season, they could well finish in the top eight.  Some attribute the drop in James Reimer's play to trying a new system under now-fired goalie coach Francois Allaire.  Reimer's played all of 71 NHL games, so could still bounce back from a bad season.


Biggest hello: Mike Ribeiro is better suited to being a second line centre he'll be here instead of the top guy he was in Dallas.
Biggest goodbye: Alexander Semin's play often frustrates, but he was the Capitals' second highest goal scorer and points man last season - and +/-, shockingly enough.
Watch for: Goalies Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby (who played more games in the playoffs than regular season last year) have proven themselves as starters.
Watch out: Alex Ovechkin is clearly frustrated with the lack of team success and mentioned how much he liked playing in Russia during the lockout.  As captain, he can't let that attitude infect the rest of the team, meaning a fast start in mandatory.
Note: On their third coach in three years; after Bruce Boudreau's "too hot" and Dale Hunter's "too cold" styles, is Adam Oates' style going to be the "just right" porridge?  In any case, he could start by improving the special teams.


Biggest hello: Oli Jokinen steps right on to the first line.  He likely won't hit 60 points again, but has a more complete game than he used to and is enthusiastic about playing in front of the Jets fanatics.
Biggest goodbye: Steady in unspectacular backup goalie Chris Mason.
Watch for: Evander Kane took a big step forward, hitting 30 goals; he's also only 20 years old and has had the occasional off-ice distraction, so he could slip in production this year, but I don't bet on it.
Watch out: The Jets have a solid top four on their blue line, but none of the top them made it to 70 games last year, and it was the first season Mark Stuart hit 80 games in three seasons.
Note: The honeymoon continues in Winnipeg, and they'll need it.  Being in the Southeast Division for this short season is going to put a LOT of miles on these guys.


posted by Thursday at 3:18 pm


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