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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

2007/2008 NHL Predictions

Now that the season is upon us, it’s time to give my predictions for how the east and west will turn out, so that in April we can all look back on this and either marvel, or consider me legally insane.

Eastern Conference

#15 New York Islanders – Mostly every good player from last year is gone. Bring some sunscreen Ricky, you’re gonna need it.

#14 Washington Capitals – Still too young and not deep enough. While they are getting better playoffs are too lofty a goal this year.

#13 Boston Bruins – Is this team trying to kill it’s fan base? Manny Fernandez is a solid goalie, but there is still no defense to speak of in front of him.

#12 Atlanta Thrashers – Kari Lehtonen is injured meaning Johan “Moose” Hedberg will have to become the goalie he was back in Pittsburgh or this team is going nowhere quick. Outside of their top line, this is a very weak team, but the beauty of a new season is that everyone is tied for first.

#11 Florida Panthers – New goalie Tomas Vokoun will provide solid goaltending and a mentor for young Alex Auld. I still don’t see this team making a big splash this season, but if they get some decent scorers next summer, we could see them contend for the division in 08/09.

#10 New Jersey Devils – Langenbrunner (out), Rafalski (gone), Gomez (gone). Those three players have been staples of the Devils’ success in recent years with Marty Brodeur in net. This team loves to play a defensive style, but with a depleted defensive core this team could be playing from behind a lot…which it does not like to do.

#9 Montreal Canadiens – Roman Hamrlik steps in to replace Sheldon Souray and those are some mighty big shoes to fill. The Habs will be in contention, but will come up short once again.

#8 Tampa Bay Lightning – How can you not put this team in the playoffs solely based on the weak division they play in? Plus with Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards etc. there’s enough firepower to get them a spot.

#7 Philadelphia Flyers – The once lowly Flyers added some big names to fill some big holes. Marty Biron came over at the deadline, Kimmo Timmonen came over as a UFA, and most notably Daniel Briere came to town just hours after the free agent market opened. They still lack a little on defense, but this is my surprise pick of the year.

#6 Buffalo Sabres – Hard to replace Chris Drury and Briere, but this is a very deep team. Tim Connoly and Derek Roy will have to step up their games if the Sabres want to make another long run at the Cup.

#5 Toronto Maple Leafs – This is a team that should have made the playoffs last season and only missed out by 1 point. A couple of key losses down the stretch, specifically to the Islanders (who went on to win the 8th seed) cost them dearly. If they can avoid the injury bug that always seems to find it’s way north, they could be a team to be reckoned with.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins surprised many people last year by jumping from 29th in the league to finishing 5th in the conference with 105 points. What hurt in the playoffs was lack of experience and new additions Darryl Sydor and Petr Sykora will guide the young Pens in their quest to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh.

#3 Carolina Hurricanes – In what remains one of the weakest division in hockey, this pick is a total whim. Carolina, Tampa, or even Atlanta (if a lot of things go right) could be in the prime spot to get knocked out in the first round.

#2 Ottawa Senators – After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season before being swatted away like a bug, the Sens are back with the trio of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. This could be the last time we see this trio together with contracts expiring at the end of the season and you know they want another shot at glory.

#1 New York Rangers – look at that offense! The only question that remains is how will the defense hold up? Rookie Mark Staal should provide some stay at home help and with King Henrik between the pipes they could come away with the President’s Trophy.

Western Conference

#15 Phoenix Coyotes – Do I really even need to explain this?

#14 Edmonton Oilers – GM Kevin Lowe broke the bank for Dustin Penner and unloaded any chance of landing a decent draft pick any time soon. You do the math.

#13 – Columbus Blue Jackets – Despite the bad press and constant ragging on this team, there is some talent in Frederik Modin, Rick Nash (though injury prone), and David Vyborny. The addition of Michael Peca will help, but it’s not going to be enough.

#12 – Chicago Blackhawks – Will the death of team president William Wirtz be the spark this team needs to return to form? My guess is no and there’s still plenty of work to be done.

#11 – Nashville Predators – with the mass exodus of talent they had last season and with Chris Mason being the No. 1 goalie in town, I feel that this team which contended for the division title last season, will take a big hit Until the ownership situation is fixed it will be a sad time in Graceland.

#10 – Los Angeles Kings – Significant improvements were brought in with the likes of Ladislav Nagy. Should he remain healthy and with the maturation of Anze Kopitar and Alexander Frolov, the Kings could turn some heads, but they are still a year or two away from the playoffs.

#9 – Minnesota Wild – With the big question on everyone’s mind being will Nicklas Backstrom be able to backstop (2 minutes for being corny) the Wild to the playoffs? Another question I raise is will Marian Gaborik stay healthy. If both these get positive answers, the Wild could backdoor their way into the playoffs (5 minute major for corny.)

#8 – St. Louis Blues – Yes, I know their recent history would suggest I need to be put in a mental ward, but they added some key players this off-season and with John Davidson now in control they could make a return to the playoffs.

#7 – Dallas Stars – This team is always sniffing around the playoffs, but the Turco curse continued again last season in what was arguably the best series of the playoffs against Vancouver. They’ll be back again and watch for backup goalie Mike Smith to get some more ice time this season.

#6 – Calgary Flames – After just squeaking into the playoffs last season and Alex Tanguay having a full season under his belt with new linemates Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow, they should be in position to move up the standings. If Kipper goes down for any reason, this team will be hurting with unproven backup Curtis McElhinney.

#5 – Colorado Avalanche – The addition of Ryan Smyth and another year of experience for Peter Budaj will get the Avs back in contention after being the hottest team down the stretch last season and just narrowly missing the playoffs.

#4 – Anaheim Ducks – defending Stanley Cup champs will get a boost from the likes of Rya getzlaf and Corey Perry, but the loss of Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer will be a big blow. They proved last season they had the depth to be a good team which is why they’ll compete for the division title again and will be dangerous in the playoffs.

#3 – Vancouver Canucks – Roberto Luongo proved once again that he is one of the elite goalies in the league. Whether he faces 40 shots a night or 15, the guys is a wall. Look for Markus Naslund to wake up from whatever funk he’s been in over the last couple years and have a good season.

#2 Detroit Red Wings – with a cupcake division that got even softer this off-season, if the Wings don’t win the division the hockey gods will have turned their back on us all.

#1 San Jose Sharks – Can the pair of Jonathan Cheechoo and Joe Thornton be stopped? The answer is no, or at least has been no since Big Joe came to town. With no goaltending controversy to worry about and their young defensive core with another year of experience, this will be an explosive and fun team to watch.

Here's to another great season and what a season it should be!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

NHL Free Agency Breakdown- Eastern Conference

Upstart writer breaks down the winners and losers of the first couple days of free agency. Check him out!

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Free Agency - Eastern Conference

What a ride!

In just two days we've seen contenders become pretenders and vice verse. All I can say is that I'm sure glad I'm not an Islanders, Devils, or Sabres fan. Here's my list of winners and losers from the first couple days.

New York Islanders
What were they thinking putting Garth Snow in charge? Any doubts that this was a bad move were horribly shattered in the last couple weeks. Someone needs to buy him a copy of "How to be a GM in the NHL" and fast.

First, they buy out Yashin in a move that appeared to free up the money necessary to re-sign Jason Blake and last minute addition at the trade deadline, Ryan Smyth. How wrong they were. Blake headed north to Toronto to join Vesa Toskala and after a fierce bidding war, Smyth went to the Avs. Just to add insult to injury, Tom Poti left for the Caps.

Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres meanwhile stood back and watched their two co-captains from last season bolt within hours. Daniel Briere became the latest addition in the Flyers' hopes of a return to glory after being the worst team in the league in 06/07. Kimmo Timmonen and Jason Smith should help as well.

New York Rangers
The Rangers stunned most of the hockey world by signing both Chris Drury and Scott Gomez for over $7 million each. I'll admit, I laughed at the Gomez deal. Yes he's a good player, but 13 goals last season for a guy who has cracked the 20 goal mark only once in his career? That should be illegal.

These signings now put a potential squeeze on the budget with still having to sign Prucha, Lundqvist, Avery and veteran Brendan Shanahan.

What remains to be seen with the Blueshirts is how their defense will be. There's no doubt that they just fully upgraded their offense, but history has proven that defense wins championships. With guys like Marek Malik and Fedor Tyutin, fans still hold their breath. Now if the Rangers could play the whole game on the powerplay, I'll retract the previous statement.

New Jersey Devils
The Devils were big losers as well. I'll try to leave out the fact that I loathe their unbearably boring playing style and how Marty Brodeur gets way too much hype. Again, yes he's a good player but you could put a pylon in net and it'd win a majority of the games the Devils do.

Anyway, losing Brian Rafalski to the Red Wings and the aforementioned Gomez to the division rival Rangers has got to hurt. Rafalski was a rock on defense even after having an off year last season. The did however bring in replacements in Danius Zubrus (4G 4A in 19 games with Buffalo in 06/07) and Karel Rachunek. Zubrus could turn out to be a solid player, but the Devils will struggle to fill the void Rafalski.

Boston Bruins
Boston still will have issues next season as the still lack a core on defense. Chara is fine and dandy, but he seems to be wanting to put up Bob Probert penalty minutes. He got beaten badly all the time last season, but if he stays out of the box and the Bruins are on the powerplay all the time he can unload the heavy slapper.

One question they seemed to answer is in net. Getting Manny Fernandez from Minnesota is a vast upgrade over Tim Thomas. I'm going to apply the Patrick Roy rule here. Roy was arguably the best goalie of all time, but in his final days in Montreal where he had zero defense to speak of, he was garbage. A goalie truly is only as good as his defense, so I'm going to call this move a push until they get someone who can help out on D.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens meanwhile lost out on two guys, but quickly signed two others. Reports said that GM Ray Shero was going hard after Scott Hannan and Paul Kariya. To make up for it the Pens signed hard-nosed defenseman Daryl Sydor and sniper Petr Sykora. Both of these moves should help out drastically. The Pens lacked another top 4 d-man last season and it showed in the playoffs along with the lack of experience. Sydor and shot-block artist Mark Eaton will compliment each other nicely.

The Sykora signing brings a different aspect to the Pens. Sykora has shown that he can score goals in bunches. Twice in his career he's lit the lamp over 30 times, but while his production trailed off over the last couple years he has championship experience to bring to the kids. Also and most importantly, this move will allow for Rookie of the Year Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal to return to their natural center positions.

Montreal Canadiens

Two words: Roman Hamrlik. This move prety much assures me that fantasy hockey stud Sheldon Souray won't be back, but Hamrlik is a decent replacement. Also the addition of veteran forward Brian Smolinski should add some depth up front. One fact still remains, the Canadiens do not want to have a meltdown like last season where they watch the playoffs from home. With what has happened in the division already, they may have just pushed themselves into the playoff picture.

Once things calm down and the season draws near, I'll take a look at each division and give predictions for standings and playoffs. Stay tuned, up next free agency in the Western Conference. Look out Nashville, I'm coming for you.