The negative reflux from Leaf fans after the embarassing loss to Buffalo has done a great job of hiding the true issue at hand.
First of all, I’m a Hab fan. If you feel like reading any further, go ahead. If not, its fine with me. As a die-hard Hab fan, I consider myself one of the most biased fans out there. I call a spade a spade, I critisize what should be critisized, and praise what should be praised.
Jim Rutherford continues his era with the Carolina Hurricanes. Rutherford saw his team go from Stanley Cup champs to regular season losers. The Hurricanes missed the playoffs by a minor margin, but it never looks good to win the Cup and miss the playoffs the season after. Reminds me of the 1995 New Jersey Devils.
Peter Laviolette won the Stanley Cup, but coached his team out of the playoffs. Must have been frustrating, but I cannot blame him too much either as the Canes suffered with injuries and lack defensive talent, not to mention goaltending. Nonetheless, Laviolette has faced tough situations in his career, and he has the right mind to get this team back into playoff action.
The mode is evident. For the Hurricanes it is desperation hockey starting from Game 1 to Game 82. They won the Cup and they need to forget about last season’s gaffe and get on with it. They need to focus, and play at a more consistent level. The problems with the team is that it stayed status quo for the most part in the off-season, but it did well to re-acquire Matt Cullen from the New York Rangers. It is important to keep a winning core that worked. It will be a tough year for the Hurricanes, and they need to be a category five hurricane if they want to make it to the playoffs.
On The Rush
The Hurricanes know what their problem was last season. Eric Staal. I am surprised he was not discussed enough in the off-season as he had a horrible season. Scoring 30 goals and 70 points is not the bad part. It’s going from 100 points to 70 points, that’s the bad part. It’s just unacceptable on his part and Eric has to regain his form first and foremost if the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs. Ray Whitney and Rod Brind’Amour had great seasons surpassing the 80 point mark, respectively, but they are also aging and how long can they go for scoring this much? Erik Cole and Justin Williams prove really good scoring as well in the 60-70 point range. Cory Stillman looks to rebound from being too injured to be effective. Overall, the firepower is well present in Carolina, especially if Staal turns it on, and with Matt Cullen adding more support on the offense, the Hurricanes become one of the most underrated offensive teams in the NHL. Offense is well set, and it will help them succeed. If Staal explodes, the rest will explode
Covering the D-Zone
This is the worst part about this team. The defense is just abysmal at best. It lacks size, skill, or anything that is worth considering good. How much can you comment on a defense that consists of the following names: Frantisek Kaberle, Mike Commodore, Tim Gleason, Bret Hedican, Dennis Seidenberg, Niclas Wallin, and Glen Wesley. Hedican and Wesley may be on the verge of retirement. Commodore is solid but a third pair defenseman at best. Kaberle is injury prone. Tim Gleason is a solid young defenseman, but also needs to stay healthy. Dennis Seidenberg appears to be a journeyman in the NHL as this is his third team in four years. He is an average defenseman, but better for depth purposes. Wallin is also a very good defenseman, but does not stand out. Last season the defense ranked 20th, and even in their Cup winning season, the Canes defense was no better than 19th in the league. Expect the defense to be about the same unless Cam Ward regains his playoff form from two seasons ago. Carolina’s defense is a very weak point and it was surprising not to see GM Rutherford make any changes to help out the blueline.
Guarding the Net
Cam Ward was a well touted goalie prospect, but he put on a mediocre season when he received the starting role for the franchise. He is still young and carrying loads of potential, but a .897 save percentage was very unattractive to look at. Can Ward pull himself together and regain his form? It’s a coint toss. I recall his rookie ampaign as back-up to Martin Gerber and he did not look sharp at all and appeared to be a goalie that needed a lot of time to develop. Yet, he ended up being the star of the 2006 playoffs. Was I wrong? Not with the way he performed last season. Behind Ward is John Grahame who was also not as consistent as hoped. Overall, the goaltending situation in Carolina is nothing more than a huge question mark. If Ward performs well, this team will make the playoffs, but if he is too inconsistent, then this team will repeat another early summer vacation.
Expected and Projected
The Carolina Hurricanes are expected to make the playoffs since many see Eric Staal rebounding from a poor performance last season. The Hurricanes have good depth, scoring is very underrated, but the defense is a major concern and the goaltending is questionable. But if you take the best case scenarios, then the Hurricanes are not just a playoff team, but a tough competitor to face in the playoffs as well. Projected: I do not expected this hockey club to make the playoffs, at all. I lost credibility in Cam Ward and the defense looks very very doubtful for my tastes. Some defensemen are aging, a couple are on the brink of retirement, and the younger defensemen are just not that good. Without good goaltending and the defense ranking in the bottom half of the league, you’re not going to make the playoffs unless the offense performs at a stellar level every game. I doubt it, however, and the Hurricanes will compete for the 8th seed, but will fail to make it.
Don Waddell has been the only general manager named to work the Thrashers since 1999. He has made the necessary, albeit drastic, changes to get his club into the playoffs in 2007.
Bob Hartley has added another accomplishment to his career by bringing the Atlanta Thrashers to their first post-season appearance in 2007.
This is the toughest year for the Atlanta Thrashers after making the playoffs for the first time in club history. They made it and now they have to repeat the same success in the regular season. The Thrashers are in the playoffs mode for sure, but it is no guarantee that they will play in the 2008 playoffs as the competition got tougher. Let’s also not forget how bad the Thrashers looked against the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. The Thrashers have to build from where they left off and so GM Don Waddell did not make any significant moves in the off-season other than signing veteran center Todd White. The former Seanator and Wild has had a good career with his good hockey sense, smart play, and adds some good offense as well, not to mention good playoff experience. The players need to meet their expectations. Goaltending will be solid if Kari Lehtonen remains fairly healthy, and Johan Hedberg is a very good back-up goalie for insurance. The defense remains a big concern, however, as changes on the D occurred. For better or worse? Find out later on, but here’s a hint, it’s not looking good.
To Take Charge
Last year I mentioned that Ilya Kovalchuk was in charge of this team since it played without Dany Heatley. I have to admit that I was about to nominate him again as the man in charge for the Thrashers, but I’ll cut the guy some slack this season and give attention to Marian Hossa. Hossa, this is your year to push the Thrashers forward. You always do well in the regular season, but against the Rangers in the playoffs you were a total ghost. Hossa needs to step it up when it counts.
On the Rush
Last season the Atlanta Thrashers showed a decrease in their offense as they dropped from 6th to 16th in the NHL. From 276 goals scored in the 2006 season to just 239 goals scored in 2007. This issue has to be resolved. Both Hossa and Kovalchuk did well last season scoring 43 and 42 goals respectively, but the rest of the gang has to show more balance, especially with Scott Mellanby retiring. It was a good move to keep Slava Kozlov in the line-up, and Todd White should be able to add more offense, especially if he finds himself playing with either Hossa or Kovalchuk. The problem with the Thrashers is that the depth looks questionable. Aside from Kovalchuk, Hossa, and Kozlov, the Thrashers really lack a strong 2nd line of offense. As mentioned, White can help, but the team needs better 2nd line talent instead of relying on Jon Sim, Eric Belanger, and Pascal Dupuis, who are best seen as third liners. Offense may not be an issue the Euro Trio can really explode, but supplemental scoring will be needed on that second line..
Covering the D-Zone
This is Atlanta’s biggest concern, the blueline. They have a lot of bodies, but these guys are aging and they are not the kind you want to depend on. Well known defensemen are Niklas Havelid, Ken Klee, and Alkexei Zhitnik. All three of them are older than 34, and all three of them are not exactly the kind to rely upon. The problem with this defense is that it’s just not that good overall, it ranked 15th in the NHL last season, but none of them are bonafide two-way defensemen. They are better fit defensively, except for Zhitnik who works well on the power play. Garnet Exelby is a steady defensive defenseman. Steve McCarthy is skilled, but has never excelled in his career thus far. Who else is on this team? No one else. They lost their top defensive prospect in Braydon Coburn when they acquired Alex Zhitnik from the Philadelphia Flyers. Waddell, what were you thinking? So, if the defense is not skilled enough offensively, especially with skating abilities, then the forwards will have a tougher time scoring. Losing Andy Sutton via free agency was costly, but Sutton does not score goals. The Thrashers are hoping that prospect Boris Valabik will fill Sutton’s role well. Expect Waddell to seek offensive help from the blueline and it does not need to be a defenseman that scores a bunch of points, but the Thrashers need at least a defenseman that has good two-way hockey sense, and skates the puck up well enough.
Guarding the Net
He is still just 23-years-old, and he was a huge disappointment in the playoffs. But hey, give the young guy a break, right? He is a very talented goalie and the Thrashers hope he can have a breakout season where he becomes the star goaltender to push the Thrashers in the playoffs. Thing is, he also needs to stay healthy. I still see this goalie as a future franchise net guardian. His numbers were solid in the 2006-2007 season with .912 SV%. Can he carry that this season and improve on it? Yes. Will he? Give the poor guy a better defense. Lehtonen may find himself struggling if Atlanta’s defense has poor showings on a consistent basis. Possibly his save percentage will be good, but goals against average may suffer and especially the numbers in the Wins column of his profile sheet. Backing the young star, though, is NHL vet Johan Hedberg. Hedberg did very well in the playoffs against the Rangers, despite losing the games. This guy was one of the best additions that Waddell ever made. Expect him to get many starts this season as Hartley will need to shake things up. The Thrashers will struggle with their defense, and if the defense struggles, so does the goaltending.
Expected and Projected
Expected: The Thrashers made the playoffs last season, and I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt that they can make consecutive playoff appearances. They have a great goalie, three excellent forwards, and a top NHL head coach. The Eastern Conference may look very tough, but the Southeast Division is a real crap shoot and the Thrashers can win their division. Atlanta is expected to finish in 7th or 8th. Projected: This team is quite a mess. The scoring is good, but Hossa and Kovalchuk really need to ignite it. The defense is the weakest part of the team. The goaltending is in check, though, and character is also strong with Bobby Holik, Steve Rucchin, and Todd White. I project this team not making the playoffs. The defense looks too weak and it will prove to be the reason why the team won’t make the playoffs unless management makes changes, which are very expected.
Team Name: New York Islanders
General Manager: Garth Snow, was named GM on July 18, 2006 after Neil Smith was fired by Charles Wang.
Head Coach: Ted Nolan, was hired on June 8, 2006.
Payroll: $41.103 million
The New York Islanders this year are again rebuilding. After losing trade deadline acquisition Ryan Smyth, fan favorite, Jason Blake, 25 goal scorer Viktor Kozlov, tough guy Arron Asham and clutch goal scorer Richard Zednik to free agency, and captain Alexei Yashin via buyout, the team inked Ruslan Fedotenko, Josef Vasicek, Trent Hunter, Chris Simon, and Wade Dubielewicz to one year deals, allowing for a large turnover next summer as well.
To Take Charge
Bill Guerin, the 17 year veteran brought in to provide leadership and stability was signed to a two year deal, and surprised with the captain’s ‘C’ at the press conference introducing him to the media. Guerin, is expected to be the leader both on the ice and in the locker room. Goaltender Rick DiPietro is the cornerstone of this team. Management has built this team around him, as evidenced by the 15 year, $67.5 million contract he signed. This is his team, and he is going to be the focus of the media and the fans for the remainder of his time on the Island.
On the Rush
Miroslav Satan will find himself again the leader of the offensive charge. Despite his production and shooting percentage decreasing, he had a respectable 27 goals, and 59 points last season. He is expected to start on the second line wing. Aside from being a leader in the locker room, Mike Sillinger will be taking up the charge. Last season, he also had 59 points, and for the past six seasons, he has averaged 0.59 points per game and has been converting on 14.1% of his shots. Captain Bill Guerin, last season tied for 16th in goals (36), is hoped to contribute in a similar fashion to his 56 points from last year. An interesting variable is forward Ruslan Fedotenko, brought on to the Island for an exorbitant $2.9 million. Fedotenko, last season with the Bolts had the second worst season of his career (12-20-32). He is consistently inconsistent, but might prove to be quite a find on the Islanders’ part.
Covering the D-Zone
The Islanders’ defense is best described as unimpressive. Their number one defenseman, Brendan Witt had 131 penalty minutes last year, and was too busy serving time in the box, when he should have been helping defend his goal. Their second blueliner, Radek Martinek, has missed significant time out with injury in the past few years. He would be far better respected if he weren’t so injury prone. The Isles’ offensive defenseman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, appears to be the bright spot in their defensive black hole. The future doesn’t look that bright either – their young defensemen, Campoli and Gervais are a -19, and a -11 respectively. The Islanders lack a shut down defenseman, and their defense is far too weak or inexperienced to get the job done.
Guarding the Net
The Islanders made headlines last year by signing starter Rick DiPietro to a 15 year, $67.5 million dollar contract. DiPi has improved in each of his full seasons in the NHL. Last season, he was 32-19-9, with a 2.58 GAA and a .919 SV%, all three are improvements on his stats from 2005-06 (30-24-5, 3.02, .900). When he’s on his game, he can be very good, but when he’s off, he’s far from impressive. He’s being paid $4.5 million a year, as if he was consistently on the ball. Unfortunately for him, he will be receiving no help from his defense this year. The backup, Wade Dubielewicz, an overage rookie had four victories last year, with a 2.06 GAA and an impressive .934 SV%. Last year in Bridgeport he was 20-21-0, with a .910 SV% and a 3.12 GAA. Islander fans will remember him as the one who maneuvered the team into the playoffs last year. Finally a second string goalie, look for him to have a respectable GAA and save percentage.
Ruslan Fedotenko – Mike Comrie – Bill Guerin
Jeff Tambellini – Josef Vasicek – Miroslav Satan
Jon Sim – Mike Sillinger – Trent Hunter
Sean Bergenheim – Shawn Bates – Andy Hilbert
Brendan Witt – Radek Martinek
Andy Sutton – Marc–Andre Bergeron
Chris Campoli – Bruno Gervais
Most of the hockey world believes the Islanders will again be pushovers. They are by far, not the best team in the Atlantic Division – and it wouldn’t be too far of a jump to say they are the worst team in the Atlantic. Last season, they allowed 248 goals, and scored 240 – an improvement on a year ago (278 GA and 230 GF). This team is still rebuilding – they were lucky to make the playoffs last year, but wont get that lucky again this year.
The New York Islanders will find themselves out of the playoff race, looking in, long before the playoffs are set to begin. Last year, the team sneaked into the postseason, but this year they wont be so lucky, as they lost the offense of Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, and Alexei Yashin, and they still have the $67.5 million man, who is still in the process of maturing and living up to the expectations of being the first overall draft choice. This team is in a rebuilding mode, and they are going to be dealing at the deadline to augment the future as much as possible.
TEAM NAME: Tampa Bay Lightning
TEAM PAYROLL: $43.667 million
GENERAL MANAGER: Jay Feaster, entering his seventh season in the GM’s chair.
HEAD COACH: John Tortorella, entering his eighth season as the coach.
The Tampa Bay Lightning is trying to make serious noise in the playoffs before their “window of opportunity” closes. The way management sees it, this is the last year that number one defenseman, Dan Boyle, and top six forward, Vaclav Prospal are under contract. Their goal is to capture the Southeast Division crown. Seeing as they were 4 points from catching the Thrashers and the division, they have a legitimate shot at it this year. The team expects to win the Southeast Division crown, and thus guarantee themselves at worst the third seed, as well as home ice advantage.
To Take Charge
Thirty-eight year old Captain Tim Taylor underwent a hip-resurfacing surgery on September sixth, and will be off the ice until at least February. Despite not being on the ice, the team captain will still be around the team, facilitating bonding and helping new members become acquainted with their teammates. With Taylor out of the lineup, Marty St. Louis has been given an ‘A’ to join Lecavalier and Richards. The Three Musketeers will be looked at for the leadership in the locker room. The three franchise players must use this year as an audition for next year’s open captain’s ‘C,’ as “Tails” has stated this will be his last year.
On the Rush
The Bolts have a very impressive group up front, as it contains superstars Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, and Vaclav Prospal. Last year, St. Louis and Lecavalier had 102 and 108 points respectively, and Lecavalier captured the Rocket Richard Trophy. St. Louis (43-59-102) and Lecavalier (52-56-108) played together for most of the year, and fed off each other. Their linemate, Vaclav Prospal, is set for a far better year this year. Last year, he appeared snake bitten, recording 14 goals and 55 points, his lowest total since 2003-04. He appears ready to improve and forget last year. His numbers since the 2001-02 season have fluctuated: 55-79-54-80-55, and if history repeats itself, it appears that next year he should be near the 80 point mark once again. Brad Richards suffered last year without sharpshooter Fredrik Modin. He played with a hodgepodge of wingers, none of whom was able to capitalize on the numerous opportunities he provided for them. This year, he has Jan Hlavac, Michel Ouelett and Andreas Karlsson competing to be on his line. Hlavac and Ouelett appear the favorites, as Hlavac had 28 goals with the NYR in 2000-01, and Ouelett has a history with Richards from their days at Rimouski. Also added this year is veteran Chris Gratton, in his third stint with the Bolts, who should be good for around 30 points, as well as an improved penalty kill.
Covering the D-Zone
As in years past, Danny Boyle will be the Lightning’s number one defenseman. He is an offensive defenseman, and last year set career highs with 20 goals, and 63 points. Last season, on numerous occasions Boyle played over 30 minutes a game. He finished the year second in the league in time on ice. He led the team in ice time (27:03) by playing on the power play, during the penalty kill, and in even strength situations. His defensive partner again will be Paul Ranger. Ranger suffered a knee injury toward the end of the year, but came back to finish his sophomore year with 4 goals and 28 points. Interestingly enough, in his regular season career thus far, he’s had 5 goals, four of those have been game winners, and the Bolts have won every regular season game he’s scored in. Filip Kuba, a defenseman brought in last year had the best offensive season of his career (15-22-37). A big body, at 6’3” he is still working on playing the body more. Brad Lukowich returned this summer to the Lightning, for his second tour of duty, after he and the NJD dispatched the Bolts from the postseason in 6 games. He returns a much more mature player, and hopes to improve his offense production (4,8,12). He’s believed to be more positionally sound, and will help shore up the defense that lost Nolan Pratt, Luke Richardson, and Cory Sarich this summer. Shane O’Brien, the trade deadline acquisition, at 6’2”, 224 lbs. is expected to have a higher offensive output now that he’s in a system that allows him to skate with the puck.
Guarding the Net
Goaltending once again is going to be the facet that can either make or break the Tampa Bay Lightning. Marc Denis, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets last year appeared to be a mistake, going 17-18-2 with a 3.19 GAA and a .883 SV%. He lost the start because of these far from superb numbers. He has to get better this year – as there is no way for him to possibly get worse. After losing the start, he lost the backup’s job to 20 year old rookie Karri Ramo, and finished the year in street clothes. Overage rookie, Johan Holmqvist officially took over the reigns from Denis in March, when he was anointed the playoff starter. It had become apparent that the skaters (as well as the coaching staff) felt more comfortable with the Swede in net. “Homer” finished the year with a 29-15-3 record, with a 2.85 GAA and a .893 save percentage. Competing with these two veterans is Karri Ramo, who last year, found himself as the backup for all six playoff games after playing 69:31 minutes in the regular season. He seemed ready – if not willing – to play if the call came. Ramo comes into camp after a year in AHL Springfield, where he went 15-24-1, with a 3.13 GAA and a .906 SV%. The AHL All-Star is regarded as the reason that the Falcons weren’t worse.
Vaclav Prospal – Vincent Lecavalier – Martin St. Louis
Michel Ouellet – Brad Richards – Jan Hlavac
Andre Roy – Chris Gratton – Nick Tarnasky
Jason Ward – Ryan Craig – Andreas Karlsson
Dan Boyle – Paul Ranger
Filip Kuba – Shane O’Brien
Brad Lukowich – Doug Janik
The media believes this team will have a very hard time getting into the postseason because it has so much of its payroll tied up in the “Tampa Trio.” The “Three Musketeers” will once again find that the responsibility falls on them to win games. Until the Bolts find an undisputable Number One Guy, questions will continue to arise about the goaltending and thus the team’s playoff abilities. Once again, if the offense produces, this team becomes a playoff contender – but should the offense falter, the goaltending and defense isn’t strong enough to carry the team into the playoffs.
Last year, the Bolts relied on the “MVP line” (St. Louis, Lecavalier, Prospal) to win games too often. This year, the Lightning has added scoring depth with the acquisitions of Chris Gratton, Michel Ouelett, and Jan Hlavac, as well as the return of Andreas Karlsson, Jason Ward and Nick Tarnasky. St. Louis and Lecavalier appear not to have lost a step over the summer, and will again feed off each other. Vaclav Prospal, the third player on the MVP line should bounce back from his horrible season last year, and get near the 80 point mark. Brad Richards, will also improve his numbers from last year, and should be able to get near 100 points with the help of his new linemates. The goaltending situation, while still shaky appears better than last year, as Denis will not be handed the start on a silver platter, and if Holmqvist falters, there are two steady goaltenders willing and ready to take the job from him. With improved offensive production and goa
ltending, this team appears to be geared for serious playoff contention – maybe even a Cup run.
Worry not, I won’t be writing an article about every Senators player. I just thought I would make some predicitions about how ol’ Alfie will do this year.
After the past few Rangers pre-season games, I have begun to worry about my beloved Rangers. They have not looked like the high expectation Rangers that are supposed to be.
According to the Ottawa Sun contract talks between the Senators and Dany Heatley are beginning to heat up.
So according to Sportsnet, Shawn Horcoff has been bumped down to the third line center role in Edmonton. That being the case….