Thursday, September 30, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins

2010-11 Prediction 2nd Eastern Conference

Pens fans are quite fortunate. Many would kill to have a team of this quality to follow as their own. For those of us lucky enough to live in Pittsburgh, we can also count the striking Consol Energy Center and hosting the Winter Classic as reasons we will wake up this fall and winter. With all the excitement comes a new slogan: "Destiny Has a New Home". The upside of such a slogan is that the organization is acknowledging and embracing the high expectations that surround this team. I would contend that the downside of such a slogan is that it is a bit presumptuous. When I was just a fat middle school kid, the Penguins did for me what the Pirates and Steelers of the time could not do, and would not do for quite some time (still waiting on you Bucs). Simply put, they did not break my heart. Mario Lemieux and company raised the Cup twice on the road. Many speculated that a dynasty was inevitable and that the only question was how many Cups they would finish with. History shows that there was quite a delay until the 3rd one was captured. Nobody was left on the ice from the first run. While the players on those early 90s teams shouldn't hang their heads, "destiny" passed them by. Anybody that understands hockey would objectively have conceded that it was only a matter of time until C Sidney Crosby won a Stanley Cup (the same feeling I have about Ovechkin, but I'll discuss that in the Caps preview). The core of players around Sid is certainly a talented one, but destiny will not carry this team to another championship...hard work and team play will.

Free Agency has taken a toll on the team the past few years, which is arguably the cost of success in a salary cap era. When the dust settled after this past offseason, the Pens move forward with the same core, but a definitively new look. There are new guys on the blue line, with D's Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. While these are both good players, I am still not sold that the team has improved on defense. Will Paul Martin have an easy transition to a new offense? Michalek figures to transition more smoothly, as solid defense is an easy trait to plug in to a lineup. On F, Aaron Asham and Mike Comrie signed at reasonable prices. Comrie figures to have the best upside, but time will tell if he will produce or if he will join the long list of wingers that were just along for the ride on this team. The Asham signing is curious, since Matt Cooke re-signed. Not because of any bad blood between the two (both say it's water under the bridge), but because I'm not certain that he will not take bad penalties. If he stays out the box, he should round out the lineup well.

This season will be defined by questions (and eventual answers) for the Penguins. Near the top of the list is G Marc-Andre Fleury. To say that he has been inconsistent during his career is an understatement. He is a Stanley Cup winning goalie, yet at times it almost seems as if he isn't paying attention. There have been ups (3 NHL seasons with 35 or more wins) and downs (a mock cheer at home when making a save, which I did not particpate in, nor agree with). If you are like me and believe that the playoffs require a different style of hockey, then you know that the Pens will only go as far as Fleury can take them.

Defensively, I am not sure all the shiny new toys will make the team better and of course I have a few questions. What impact will losing Sergei Gonchar have on the power play? Gonchar was often a punching bag here, but the only time he deserved it was the end of last season. He was a top 5 defenseman for this team, and his ice time and value went far beyond the man advantage. Perhaps Alex Goligoski and/or Kris Letang will increase their role to fill the Gonch-void. Early signs are pointing to Letang. Youngsters like Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, and potential 9 game tryout Simon Despres have upside, but the NHL is a long, long way from they AHL, or juniors in Despres' case. For my money, the highlight of this group is Brooks Orpik. On other teams, I truly believe Orpik would be a candidate for Captain. When the Pens funk was evident last year, he was the only player bold enough to say so to the media. He will most likely be wearing an "A" this season, and it is well earned.

By now, I'm sure you figured out that I also have questions about the forward group. C Jordan Staal will not be ready for the start of the regualr season due to complications from his foot surgery. How long will it take for him to recover? Will there be any long term setbacks for the sure to be perennial Selke candidate? One of the major flaws with the roster is the lack of proven, NHL caliber, wingers. Players like Matt Cooke, Mike Rupp, and Pascal Dupuis had career years in 2009-10. While I like what each brings to the team in terms of hustle and grit, it borders on lunacy to count on these guys to have career years every season. To date Chris Kunitz has been a disappointment, and Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy have been publically mentioned by GM Ray Shero as players that have to step it up. Players like Mark Letestu and Dustin Jeffrey have been competing for a roster spot, but they do not figure to be impact players. The only young impact player, the Pens are counting on this season is W Eric Tangradi. While he may not be on this team at the start of the season, he will be up and ready for the playoffs.

The two biggest questions for the Pens will revolve around their two best players. While C Sidney Crosby is an incredible talent, this will be his first time as Captain without Bill Guerin since the Stanley Cup year. You remember that year right? Before Guerin arrived, the Pens had quit on Coach Michel Therrien and were in 10th place in the East. Can Crosby step up his leadership in the dressing room? Time will tell. The other large question mark is C Evgeni Malkin. His 2009-10 stats don't tell the full story of how poor he performed. This is a world class talent that spent much of the season either injured or mired in a funk that lead the majority of fans to compare him to Jaromir Jagr. Malkin has publically stated he has no problem moving to a spot on wing to help the team, and so far so good. This season you will find out all you ever need to know about Malkin and his mental makeup. Will he regain his place a top 5 scorer or will he pout at the first sign of personal struggle? Coach Dan Bylsma will have his hand full, despite the talented roster. He surely knows that destiny may sell tickets, but hard work and dedication will be the difference between fulfilled destiny or shattered dreams.

Player to Watch: C Evgeni Malkin

2010-11 Preview: Philadelphia Flyers

2010-11 Prediction 4th Eastern Conference

If there is a such a thing in this world as a successful disappointment, then the Flyers' 2009-10 season would surely qualify. For much of the season, things looked bleak. A playoff spot was not secured until game 82 ended in a shootout. While the hockey world ooh'd and ahh'd over Washington and Pittsburgh, Philly quietly gritted their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. If you stopped right there, many fans would consider this a huge success. The problem is, this is Philadelphia. Expectations are high, and nothing short of bringing the Cup back to Broad Street is considered a success. This team often gets lost in the glaring spotlight that shines on the Caps and Pens in the East. Even if you don't want to admit it, Philly has a young and talented team overall. Personally, I believe the best thing to happen for this team was hiring Peter Laviolette as coach. He emphasizes playing the game tough, but makes sure this team keeps it composure. In the past, this has been the Achilles' Heel of the squad.  Philly is strong on defense, with Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Braydon Coburn, and Kimmo Timonen leading the way. Forwards such as James Van Remsdyk and Claude Giroux are young up and comers while Daniel Carcillo and Scott Hartnell stir the pot. Add Nikolai Zherdev (back from Russia's KHL), sprinkle in Mike Richards wearing the "C" with some Jeff Carter and you have a strong core up front. Dont' forget that Daniel Briere answered his critics by leading last season's playoffs in points. One area where Philly comes up short on paper is between the pipes. Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton do not exactly strike fear in shooter's hearts, so look for them to attempt to upgrade at some point. Now that this young team knows what it is capable of, they will work hard to join the conversation with Washington and Pittsburgh as the elite of the Eastern Conference.

Player to Watch: F Nikolai Zherdev

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Phoenix Coyotes

2010-11 Prediction 6th Western Conference

The Coyotes finished the 2009-10 season in 4th place in the Western Conference with a 50-25-7 record and 107 points. Shocking is the best way to describe the 2009-10 Coyotes they were predicted to be one of the worst teams in the NHL but surprised everyone by finishing 4th in the West and taking the Red Wings to Game 7 of their 1st Round Playoff Series. Their offense ranked 28th but the defense ranked 3rd and Ilya Bryzgalov was very strong in goal. The only real loss the Coyotes suffered in the off season was D Zybnek Michalek and GM Don Maloney was able to sign forwards Ray Whitney and Andrew Ebbett. The Coyotes will fall slightly in the standings but will definitely make a return trip to the Playoffs this season. Look for them to advance to the 2nd Round this time around.

Player to Watch:
Oliver Ekman-Larsson

2010-11 Preview: Nashville Predators

2010-11 Prediction 10th Western Conference

The Predators finished the 2009-10 season in 7th place in the Western Conference with a 47-29-6 record and 100 points. The Preds have always been a strong defensive team and that certainly will not change this season. They did lose D Dan Hamhuis this off season but still have 2 of the top defensemen in the West in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. The offense on the other hand is usually middle of the pack and doesn't look like it will improve this season after the losses of F Jason Arnott and Dustin Boyd. Don't expect the Preds to make a return appearance to the Playoffs this season.

Player to Watch: Pekka Rinne

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Ottawa Senators

2010-11 Prediction 8th Eastern Conference

Ottawa had both a frustrating season and a fruitful season in the 2009-10 edition. Moments of frustration involve the goalie situation (Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire), lack of production among the forwards (RW's Alexei Kovalev and Milan Michalek) and the same general malaise that seems to have plagued the Sens for the better part of a decade. The season was a positive one overall though, due to the playoff appearance and a chippier demeanor for most of those games in the playoffs. RW Daniel Alfredsson is another year older, and it has become stunning evident that he cannot do everything. C Jason Spezza had a very frustrating year that started off with stick issues, a prolonged goal drought, injury, and then a point per game pace to close the season. The defense core got dramatically less intimidating with the loss of Anton Volchenkov to the Devils via free agency. Many local fans will know that D Sergei Gonchar left on the first day of free agency to join former teammate F Jarko Ruutu in Canada's capital. Other D-men include Chris Phillips, Matt Carkner, Erik Karlsson, and Filip Kuba. The Sens should make a run at the playoffs, but it will take every man pulling their weight. Don't be surpised if they come up short and a team like Rangers take their place.

Player to Watch: C Jason Spezza

2010-11 Preview: New York Rangers

2010-11 Prediction 9th Eastern Conference

2009-10 ended in utter disappointment for the Blue Shirts. Not only did they miss the playoffs, they missed the playoff by losing in a shootout in the season's final regular season game. Acquiring RW Marian Gaborik was a success, but the rest of the offense wasn't for most of the season. There was nearly a 30 point gap between Gabby and C's Vinny Prospal and Brandon Dubinsky. Guys like RW Ryan Callahan and C's Chris Drury, Sean Avery, and Eric Christensen are capable of more production and will need to produce more in order for the Rangers to make the playoffs. G Henrik Lundqvist has gone on record with his belief, nay, guarantee that this season will not end on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. He will need some help from D's Marc Staal, Matt Gilroy, and Michael Del Zotto. While it does not seem crazy to me that the Rangers could have a hot streak and climb in to the playoffs in the tough Atlantic Division, it seems crazier to expect the issues in Manhattan resolving themselves with little roster turnover and a tight cap situation.

Player to Watch: D Michael Del Zotto

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Minnesota Wild

2010-11 Prediction 14th Western Conference

The Wild finished the 2009-10 season in 13th place in the Western Conference with a 38-36-8 record and 84 points. The Wild had as much trouble scoring goals as they did keeping their opponents from scoring on their defense. There really isn't much to say about the Wild. They will have another tough season and depending on what the Oilers do could end up in the basement of the Western Confernce.

Player to Watch: F Guillaume Latendresse

2010-11 Preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-11 Prediction 5th Western Conference

The Kings finished the 2009-10 season in 6th place in the Western Conference with a 46-27-9 record and 101 points. The Kings are one of the NHL's youngest teams and they are also quickly becoming one of the best teams in the Western Conference. They have one of the league's best defenses and boast a solid group of Top 6 forwards including budding superstar Anze Kopitar. The Kings should have no trouble making a return trip to the Playoffs this season and should go deeper as well.

Player to Watch: F Anze Kopitar

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Farewell to the Civic Arena

Many in Pittsburgh are horrified at the thought of the destruction of the first home of the Penguins. While this is understandable, to an extent, allowing this structure to stand really defeats the purpose of building the Consol Energy Center in the first place. As a life long resident of Pittsburgh, I've noticed that we aren't exactly progressive thinkers. One of the most frustrating things about the city I love the most is that people tend to be overly emotional about the past. It seems that there are people that feel like the Steelers of the 1970s accomplished the most glorious acheivements in the history of humanity, the steel mills will fiiire back up any day now, and that there's just no room in this tahn for good ideas. Today's vote to demolish the Igloo is bittersweet. Many of the best moments of my life happened at this building, and I was often lucky enough to have been there when it went down. My support of the demolition isn't done out of some disrespect for the legacy of this building. I do believe it was a modern marvel in its heyday. The reason this is a good idea goes hand in hand with the potential development of the areas shown above. There's a lot of room there. For anyone that is familiar with Pittsburgh's North Side, the areas near Heinz Field and PNC Park are quite beautiful. This is a far cry from what it was in the Three Rivers Stadium days. Development similar to that is crucial for the Downtown and Hill District. Currently, there are very few places to go in this area to spend money and have a good time (parking taxes excluded). With any luck, people with way more money, clout, and brains than me will make sure to have some nice, new destinations for people to extend the great times they will have at the Consol Energy Center and more importantly spend money in the city!! With these words, I say my formal goodbyes to the Civic Arena. You have served us well and we will miss you. Now be a good building and join your brother Three Rivers Stadium...

2010-11 Preview: New York Islanders

2010-11 Prediction 15th Eastern Conference

Things for the hockey squad on Long Island have looked bleak for a while now, and unfortunately that looks likely to continue both off and on the ice this season. Their dismal record aside, the Islanders face major hurdles in their continued effort to finance a new Arena. The good news for Isles have been the talks involving a potential move to Queens or a casino backed arena proposal in the Long Island area. If any of the New York based possiblities do not pan out, Kansas City and its Sprint Center seem eager to land a team either in the NHL or NBA. The Isles continue to hope for G Rick DiPietro to have a healthy season. Reports have already surfaced that DiPietro may be starting the season injured, which doesn't point to a positive outcome for this season. D Mark Streit is joined on the blue line by free agent Mark Eaton. Up front, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, and John Tavares are the focal points of the offense. Tavares is a former #1 overall pick, and while he struggled at times in his rookie season, many think he could be this year's Steven Stamkos (a player that had an incredible second season). Aside from this, it will be a long winter for fans of a former NHL giant.

Player to Watch: C John Tavares

2010-11 Preview: New Jersey Devils

2010-11 Prediction 5th Eastern Conference

Ilya Kovalchuk. Ok, seriously enough about him, his contract, the drama, and the horse he rode in on. He's an excellent player and the New Jersey Devils are more than one person. F's like Patrick Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brian Rolston, and Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise (a real American Hero) are veteran forwards that have had excellent careers without Russian snipers. The Devils also managed to add two of the biggest names in free agency, D Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder. This move, more than any other could be the key to New Jersey's success. Forwards in the Atlantic Division should be nervous about a division schedule pitting them against the typically stingy Devils with these guys. It all starts and ends with G Martin Brodeur though. He is 38 years old and many have felt that he needs to play less games during the season, instead of the recent trend of him playing less games in the playoffs by bowing out early because he is tired by March. If Brodeur finds a proper balance and this team goes in to the playoffs clicking on all cylanders, they could be the sleeper team in the east.

Player to Watch: D Anton Volchenkov

Goodbye Civic/Mellon Arena

the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority unanimously voted to demolish the Civic/Mellon Arena this morning. stating that it will cost more money to keep the building as some people have suggested needs to be done. as much as I will miss seeing the Igloo sitting there on the Hill it's time has passed and it's time to move on. I have a ton of great memories from the Civic Arena but it needs to go.

2010-11 Preview: Edmonton Oilers

2010-11 Prediction 15th Western Conference

The Oilers finished the 2009-10 season in 15th place in the Western Conference with a 27-47-8 record and 62 points. There is not much to say about the Oilers 09-10 season except that they were awful. This season they will have a group of three very talented rookie Forwards in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi but they will not be enough to get the Oilers out of the basement of the Western Conference or the NHL for that matter. When you are relying on Ryan Whitney to be your top Defensemen you know the defense isn't going to fair very well. GM Steve Tambellini told Sheldon Souray to stay away from training camp. Needless to say the longstanding disagreements between Souray and the Oilers have finally come to the boiling point. The offense should have no trouble improving on their 27th ranking last season but the defense will definitely hold the Oilers back.

Players to Watch: F Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Detroit Red Wings

2010-11 Prediction 2nd Western Conference

The Red Wings finished the 2009-10 season in 5th place in the Western Conference with a 44-24-14 record and 102 points. Despite the season not getting off to a great start due to a rash of injuries to their top players the Red Wings turned it around after the Olympic break and finished on a 16-2-3 tear. Although they were knocked out in the 2nd Round by the Sharks GM Ken Holland did not panic and start rebuilding. Defensemen Niklas Lidstrom announced early in the off-season that he would return for one more year with the Wings. The Wings are basically returning the same roster this season and as long as they stay healthy and Goaltender Jimmy Howard plays as solid as he did last season the Wings should have no problem rolling through the Western Conference during the regular season and the Playoffs.

Player to Watch: F Darren Helm

Sunday, September 12, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Montreal Candiens

2010-11 Prediction 10th Eastern Conference

The only way to properly explain to someone that is new to hockey what the Montreal Canadiens mystique is about is to compare them to the New York Yankees. Everything they do, both on and off the ice, is subject to intense scrutiny in both then English and French speaking media. One would think that all would be well coming off a season in which they upset both the Penguins and the Capitals in series that they "couldn't win". This is far from the case as the man largely responsible for these upsets, G Jaroslav Halak, was traded to St. Louis for depth. Time will answer the question of whether this was a bad move or a shred move to unload a one-hit wonder at the peak of his worth. Present day Montreal has to find themselves wondering if G Carey Price is washed up before ever having lived up to his hype at the old age of 23 (told you they were tough up there). Past the goalie, the Canadiens return most of the small lineup. While this didn't cause problems for them in the first two rounds against high skill teams, a more gritty Philly squad was able to trip them up. Mike Cammalerri, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez are tiny forwards, while guys like Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Darche add size. The blue line has some talent as well with guys like Andrei Markov, Hal Gill, and PK Subban hoping to help Price stabilize his performance. All in all, the Canadiens will most likely come up short due to Price's inconsistencies.

Player to Watch: G Carey Price

2010-11 Preview: Florida Panthers

2010-11 Prediction 14th Eastern Conference

The Panthers hope to have better days ahead, as GM Dale Tallon has publically stated he hopes to replicate the success he had in building Chicago's roster here in south Florida. In the meantime, on-ice success figures to be few and far between as this team has been on the cusp of a playoff spot the past few years, but just haven't been able to get it done. I see no reason that this will the season they turn that around. There are some bright spots for anyone that understands hockey in Miami. David Booth (returning from injury), Stephen Weiss, and Michael Frolik lead the group of forwards. Bryan McCabe leads a no-name defense, and will also continue to wear the "C" for this group. Between the pipes, Tomas Vokoun gives this team a puncher's chance to win every night, but in the end it seems that Florida will miss the playoffs again. That surely will make Dale Tallon happy, as the key to his plans lay in the high picks of the next few drafts.
Player to Watch: LW David Booth

2010-11 Preview: Dallas Stars

2010-11 Prediction 13th Western Conference

The Stars finished the 2009-10 season in 12th place in the Western Conference with a 37-31-14 record and 88 points. The Stars let two longtime team leaders in Mike Modano and Marty Turco walk away during the off-season. They traded for G Kari Lehtonen last season at the deadline and will rely on him to take over full time in goal this season. There is a good mix of youth and experience on the roster but the youth will still need another season before the Stars can expect to return to the Playoffs. Forwards James Neal and Jamie Benn will need to step up big in order for the offense to continue to improve. The Stars are very young on the defensive side of the puck as well and need to improve of their 23rd overall ranking from last season. Unfortunately for the fans in Dallas it is going to be a rebuilding season and they should expect some trades to be made to bring in an experienced defensemen or two.

Player to Watch: F Jamie Benn

2010-11 Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

2010-11 Prediction 12th Western Conference

The Blue Jackets finished the 2009-10 season in 14th place in the Western Conference with a 32-35-15 record and 79 points. After making the Playoffs for the first time in their history in 2008-09 the Blue Jackets hit rock bottom last season. There was a lot of turmoil in the locker room between the players and now former coach Ken Hitchcock. Team leader and longtime Blue Jacket Rick Nash and Hitchcock did not see eye to eye on many issues concerning the team and the direction it was heading in. Former number one Draft Pick Nikita Filatov left for the KHL after Hitchcock refused to give him ice time. Rookie head coach Scott Arniel will have the luxury of having Filatov returning to the Blue Jackets roster. Filatov should be able to help improve the offense enough to move the team into the top 10 in scoring. Goalie Steve Mason suffered from a major drop-off last season compared to his remarkable rookie campaign. If Mason is able to regain some or most of his form the Blue Jackets may be able to sneak into the 8th spot and return to the Playoffs. If he doesn't regain his form the Blue Jackets will be near the bottom of the Western Conference again this season.

Player to Watch: F Nikita Filatov

Friday, September 10, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

2010-2011 Prediction 12th Eastern Conference

Two seasons ago the Hurricanes were in the Conference Finals. Last season they were a sub-.500 disaster. It seems that all signs point the Carolina fans to a season closer to last season's version. Two key vets have departed: Ray Whitney and future HOFer Rod Brind'Amour. The back end of the team provides lots of questions. Can Cam Ward return to the form of the past after a nasty skate-cut injury? Will any defenseman step up to help Joni Pitkanen? The forward group also has concerns, but at least there are two sure bets in C Eric Staal and LW Jussi Jokinen. From top to bottom, the rest of the lineup will need to prove itself for the Canes to have a shot at sneaking in to the playoff. At the end of the day, this team will probably need more time in order to develop themselves back in to a playoff team.

Player to Watch: C Eric Staal

2010-11 Preview: Buffalo Sabres

2010-11 Prediction 3rd Eastern Conference

The problem I've always had with predictions is that there are just too many variables to accurately assess whether or not they were worthwhile or just a waste of time. Since I'm the one writing this, I already know my predications are a waste of time, but for the sake of giving an accurate portrayal of this edition of the Sabres, I feel the need to disclaim that predicting them to win the division a) does not indicate I think they will have playoff success, and b) could be rendered even more useless with a few key injuries. If G Ryan Miller goes down for any period of time, this team could be in trouble. The same could be said of Calder (Rookie of the Year) winner D Tyler Myers or any of the other defenseman this team has left after the departures of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman. Guys like Jordan Leopold, Steve Montador, and Andrej Sekera will need to stay healthy and log quality minutes for this season not to go south. Up front the team is not exceptional, but solid. C Derek Roy, RW Jason Pominville, and LW Thomas Vanek  are more than capable of putting up enough points to give this team a chance to win. Add C Rob Neidermayer (the last standing Neidermayer) to the mix for some additional veteran leadership and Buffalo should have plenty of times to celebrate until mid-April.

Player to Watch: D Tyler Myers

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Colorado Avalanche

2010-11 Prediction 9th Western Conference

The Avalanche finished the 2009-10 season in 8th place in the Western Conference with a 43-30-9 record and 95 points. The Avs are still in the midst of their rebuilding process and despite making a surprise trip to the Playoffs last season they will not make a return appearance this season. Look for Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene to lead the young Avs to a 9th place finish in the West. If Goalie Craig Anderson has another impressive season he could possibly push them into the Playoffs but it will be very difficult for him to have a repeat of his performance from last season. The defense is very rookie heavy and will need at least another season to grow and get stronger.

Player to Watch: F Ryan Stoa

2010-11 Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

2010-11 Prediction 4th Western Conference

The Blackhawks finished the 2009-10 season in 2nd place in the Western Conference with a 52-22-8 record and 112 points. They were also crowned the Stanley Cup Champions by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games. It will be quite difficult for the Hawks to repeat as Cup Champions this season after being forced to move a lot of players to get their payroll under the Salary Cap. GM Stan Bowman had to trade away or release 7 players during the off-season which included Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager, John Madden, Andrew Ladd, Brent Sopel and Goalie Antti Niemi. Bowman was able to sign veteran goaltender Marty Turco. Captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will once again be among the top scorers in the NHL and will help guide the Hawks back to the Playoffs this season but they will have trouble going far in the Playoffs with their lack of bench depth.

Player to Watch: F Jack Skille

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Boston Bruins

2010-11 Prediction 6th Eastern Conference

When you talk (or type) about the B's, defense and goaltending come to mind. Zdeno Chara monitors the blue line in front of G Tukka Rask, and can send the puck the other way at over 100 mph. Nathan Horton also will help the Bruins after being traded from Florida. Surprisingly, where the Bruins figure to have trouble is putting pucks in to the net. The problem isn't a lack of talent, but a startling inconsistency. Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard are world class talents. Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton add the grit. Tyler Seguin, the #2 overall pick, has generated quite a buzz and all signs point to him making the team and (from a Boston perspective) hopefully helping to relieve the pressure on the offense. Watch for Bruins to be featured during the NHL Premiere festivities in Prague, Czech Replic October 9th and 10th.
Player to Watch: G Tukka Rask

2010-11 Preview: Atlanta Thrashers

2010-11 Prediction 13th Eastern Conference

The Atltanta Thrashers roster experienced major changes between the trade deadline last season and now. F Ilya Kovalchuk was shipped off to New Jersey after turning down a huge deal to stay as the face of this franchcise. Other players of note that have departed are F's Slava Kozlov, Maxim Afinogenov, and Colby Armstrong. While the Thrash do not appear to have gained a glut of talent, they definitely got tougher. Add to the lineup guys like D Brent Sopel and F's Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, and Dustin Byfuglien. Goaltending would appear to be the biggest question mark for this squad, with veteran Chris Mason battling 19 year old Ondrej Pavelec. Aside from Byfuglien and his exciting two-way play, the highlight of this team figures to be Evander Kane. Unfortunately for him, the rebuild in Atlanta doesn't appear to have provided him with many players near his talent level.

Player to Watch: C/W Evander Kane

2010-11 Preview: Calgary Flames

2010-11 Prediction 7th Western Conference

The Flames finished the 2009-10 season in 10th place in the Western Conference with a 40-32-10 record and 90 points. Look for the Flames to make their return to the NHL Playoffs this season. They certainly will not be among the elite NHL teams but they should be strong enough to finish in 7th place in the West. There were no major players lost during the off-season and Darryl Sutter signed veteran forwards Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen (both former Flames). Jarome Iginla has played with both forwards before and maybe this time they will be able to find better chemistry and help the Flames improve on their 29th ranked offense from last season. The defense is very solid (ranked 5th in 2009-10) and number one goalie Miikka Kiprusoff looks to have a bounce back season.

Player to Watch: C Mikael Backlund

Monday, September 6, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Anaheim Ducks

2010-11 Prediction 11th Western Conference

The Ducks finished the 2009-10 season in 11th place in the Western Conference with a 39-32-11 record and 89 points. They will have a hard time improving on that record this season with the loss of arguably their best defensemen Scott Niedermayer to retirement. Teemu Selanne will return for one more NHL season and he will add some much needed offense but the Ducks will have a hard time keeping other teams from filling the net behind Jonas Hiller with their sub-par defense. As of today they still have not come to an agreement with F Bobby Ryan who is an RFA. Ryan is a major cog in their offense and is paired on the top line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Ryan hopes to sign a new contract before camp begins in two weeks. After the top line the forwards consist of Selanne, Jason Blake, Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul who bring veteran leadership and tons of experience but they are certainly no longer in their primes. 2010-11 will be another long season for Jonas Hiller and the Ducks.

Player to Watch: D Luca Sbisa

2010-11 Team Previews

With only 31 days left until the puck drops for the first game of the 2010-11 NHL season in Helsinki Finland (Carolina vs Minnesota) we are going to write a preview for all 30 NHL teams. Dave will cover the Western Conference and Ern will cover the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

...And It Begins.

When the calendar turns the page to September, many sports fans minds turn to the start of college and pro football. For a select few, the start of football only serves as a placeholder until life begins again…the drop of the puck on another NHL season!

The 2009-2010season was a disappointing one for fans of the flightless bird, but overall the league and fans of the sport had to be thrilled. The games kicked off in Helsinki and Stockholm, celebrated a Winter Classic at Boston’s Fenway Park, took a slight detour to Vancouver for some gold trinkets, and concluded in Philadelphia when Patrick Kane scored what he will always remember was the prettiest goal of his career, replays be damned. In between there were plenty of exciting moments.

In the West, Phoenix emerged from a disastrous off-season to make the playoffs. Exciting teams in Vancouver, Colorado, and Los Angeles also had strong seasons. San Jose overcame many years of disappointment by advancing to the conference finals, but coming up short as Chicago’s young, pricey core proved that age really ain’t nothin’ but a number.

To many, the East was much less exciting. Many fans felt that the entire season was nothing but a dress rehearsal for the inevitable, a matchup of Washington and Pittsburgh meeting as mere formality, with the winner moving on to claim the Stanley Cup. Montreal and a goalie named Jaroslav Halak (his name will certainly come up both in the Montreal and St. Louis team previews) didn’t much care for these opinions, and managed to come up a little bit short when Philadelphia edged them out in the Conference Finals.

Individually, both young and established stars provided the excitement. Tampa’s Steven Stamkos topped the 50 goal mark in his 2nd year. Established stars like Crosby and Overchkin may have bowed out of the playoffs early, but Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Mike Richards lead their teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. Martin Brodeur set the NHL’s all time shutout record against the Penguins. Henrik Sedin went on to claim the Art Ross Trophy for league top scorer.

Most of the time, the off-season is a mostly uneventful time to be a fan. Free Agency is usually a short blip on the radar, but this time that wasn’t the case. Coming off a Stanley Cup win, Chicago was forced to dismantle much of their team based on salary cap issues. The Salary Cap also loomed large in the case of Ilya Kovalchuk. He attempted to sign a 17-year, $102m contract with New Jersey. Even though there is not a rule specifically prohibiting this in the NHL collective bargaining agreement, the NHL decided to reject the deal on the basis that it violated the salary cap. This ended up in court, and to the surprise of many the revocation was upheld.

That’s the abridged version of how we made it from September 2009 to now. Over the next few weeks we will be rolling out team previews (very original of us) and maybe a few other surprises that will be sure to keep this the least read hockey blog in the world. Well, aside from any blogs about the Atlanta Thrashers...