Sympathy for Non-Playoff'ers

The playoffs are up, regular season is over and everyone is talking about the playoff teams. Well, I like to be different! I like this place to be different than other Web sites. Everyone is talking playoffs hockey so what is the point for me to do the same and saying not much different, right?

Toronto Maple Leafs

Indeed, the injuries have hurt this Leafs team, but it does not excuse them from not making the playoffs. When quite healthy, this team blew some chances. Toronto cannot blame the New Jersey Devils for losing in shootouts against the New York Islanders, and they cannot blame the injuries either. What theoretically eliminated this team from the playoffs was the 5-2 loss against an Isle’s team that was doomed when Rick DiPietro went down with a nasty injury. Luckily for the Isle’s, Wade Dubielewicz came up huge. Unfortunately for the Leafs, Andrew Raycroft came up with nothing. I truly believe that this is what killed any hopes for the Maple Leafs: goaltending. Raycroft’s numbers are mediocre at best. I know some fans still like the guy, but he had to be pulled twice in order for his team to have a chance to win in the last few games. The first time it made no difference as the Rangers hammered them 7-2, and the second time it did, winning against the Montreal Canadiens. Even if the Maple Leafs made the playoffs, how could anyone expect the team to even win a game or two against the Buffalo Sabres with Raycroft in net? Yes, Rayzor deserves another shot next season, but JFJ better look for a solid….SOLID back-up goaltender. The defense is way too expensive for this team, closing in on the $15M mark I believe? The team needs top six fowards and they don’t even have to be stellar forwards. Forget the big names as there are actually few of them this summer. Paul Maurice is the kind of coach that makes a solid, hard-working team thrive when it has depth. Not stellar depth, but solid depth. There are some good solid forwards out there, specifically wingers. The Leafs are in desperate need of that.

Montreal Canadiens

I understand that some Habs fans want Bob Gainey’s head for such a chaotic season. And yes, he made a mistake with the team at the start of the year where it looked frail and weak up front, especially with a UFA bust in Sergei Samsonov. But, that’s a tough one to expect. I think Gainey deserves a break here. I hope the Quebec media is not grilling him. There are more important things in life than hockey and the man had a horrible……..horrible loss when his daughter went missing. The man is committed, he made the Dallas Stars into a Cup team before, he knows how to build a team and he will need time. Right now he does not deserve any booing on the fans’, and media’s, part. Leave the man be, let him be with his family peacefully. Now, once the playoffs are done, then let’s talk hockey and I am sure he will be stronger inside to focus better by then. He traded Craig Rivet, character guy. Will he keep Sheldon Souray? Should he keep Souray? If not, then I think the Canadiens need retooling. Tank the season and retool. For some odd reason, I’ve read on a message board that Captain Saku Koivu is not as liked by the fans as he used to be. Maybe it’s time to change identity by trading the captain? He could attract a lot of interest around the league. The Canadiens had a tough season, and a messy one. Changes need to be made and one path is where Gainey retools the team with big decisions, and the other is by strengthening the team by keeping the core and cutting guys like Alex Kovalev and Samsonov, quite possibly Andrej Markov, from the team. Use the cap money on quality frowards that fit Carboneau’s kind of game.

Carolina Hurricanes

What a big stinker. In my season preview, I stated my doubts of the Hurricanes pointing out two key issues. One, defense. It was ranked 17th in 2006. It was ranked 19th in 2007. Second, Cam Ward had a great playoff run, but it never escaped my mind that he looked decent at best last season when backing up Martin Gerber. So, my question in September was “will this guy actually bring his playoff game into the regular season?”. Well, he didn’t. And you can say injuries, Cup hangover, loss of players via free agency. But, where it all went wrong was the defense. GM Rutherford should have improved the defense when losing Aaron Ward, but not even just because of that. The guy should have seen his 17th ranked defense last season and said to himself “I better fix this”. He didn’t. He made a lousy move by trading top prospect Jack Johnson to the LA Kings. For what? Nothing that helped. And by the way, I was really disturbed by the recent play of the Hurricanes in the last two meetings with the Florida Panthers. You want to know what dives look like, go watch the Carolina Hurricanes. Eric Staal should be ashamed of himself by taking such a poorly performed dive in OT against the Panthers on a Sunday afternoon game. Eddie Belfour did the right thing to call on the dive and make the ref look silly as for some reason he saw no dive. So, I never had anything against Carolina…..but I’ve lost a great deal of respect for Eric Staal and a couple of his teammates who just make pathetic dives. Well deserved of not making the playoffs.

Florida Panthers

They had their chances to make the playoffs, but they blew a few of them. Despite the key injuries to Joe Nieuwendyk and Todd Bertuzzi, plus other key contributors for short legths of time, the Panthers blew some games that they should have won. Yet, there is quite a big plus for this team. The Panthers traded away Roberto Luongo for an all-star first line player who only played seven games as a Panther. For a decent starting goalie who struggled all season long and then had a season ending injury, which may carry out early next season. For a solid second pairing defenseman. In the first half, goaltending was abysmal. In the first half, goal scoring was lagging. Yet in the end, this team managed to put slightly better numbers this season than last. And that’s without Luongo, Bertuzzi, Nieuwendyk, Roberts…..Auld. They allowed the same amount of goals, but scored more. Slight improvements, but not too shabby when key players were not able to contribute for all 82 games. Nathan Horton finally became a 30-goal scorer. So, I give credit to the Panthers and definitely to Jacques Martin. This guy has so many issues to deal with and he managed to improve the team. Slight improvement, but noticeable. As I’ve been informed from a source, there is a very high chance, I’d say more than 80%, that Eddie Belfour will remain a Panther. Unfortunately the latest incident may change that, but the guy was stellar in net for the last 30 games or so. He had over 25 consecutive starts; not bad for a 42-year-old goalie. The fans started to love him, cheer for him. Considering that the list of UFA goalies is rather weak this season, I’d say the Panthers should retain Belfour, and GM Jacques Martin will have to play the free agent market well by acquiring scoring depth forwards, 2nd tier. Yet one possible problem is Nathan Horton, who butted heads with Coach Martin earlier in the season. Will he cause trouble to re-sign? We don’t know, but it is possible. If so, though, the Panthers have the best tradeable player in the NHL in the summer. So here is a theory of mine. If the New York Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist playing stellar in nets in the post-season, then they may want to resolve the issue of future goaltending problems. This team lacks a young scoring winger, and Nathan Horton fits that spot. The Panthers could find keen interest in Al Montoya, who keeps getting better. A package deal including Horton and Montoya? It would satisfy me as a Rangers fan, and satisfy me as a Panthers supporter. But back to reality, depending on what Martin does this summer, I think the Panthers should be considered as a tough team to face next season, no doubt. They youngsters played well this year, and can only get better for 07-08.

Boston Bruins

As much as I like Tim Thomas, he is not a capable starting goaltender. The Bruins need to make the playoffs, soon. They spent big bucks last year and they’ll spend big ones again if J-S Giguere shows a sign of interest to play for Black and Gold. This team has consistency issues, depth issues from forwards to defense, and goaltending. You can’t necessarily fix all that with free agents, but GM Chiarelli may be able to get the right players on the team for next season that really make a difference. Some of the young players have played well, but they need to start putting their names on the scoresheets more frequently. Not much else to say about this team other than I am waiting for something different worthwhile seeing that is noticeable. Bruins hockey in the playoffs is good for the NHL, so…..bring it back soon; I like seeing Black and Gold in the post-season and raise the volume of a Dropkick Murphys album.

Washington Capitals

If GM George McPhee fails to provide any top talent for Alex Ovechkin by October, then I hope Ovechkin demands to be traded. Here is a guy who has nothing on his team other than decent young players, but not so talented either. The guy ended up playing an all-round game to try and make his team win. What a player. That’s what I define as a real hockey player. Sid the Kid had the commodities playing with much better talent around him, yet this Russian guy needs to order a crapload of stuff from room service for chubby Ted Leonis. Please, don’t waste such an amazing talent. Give him a skilled center. The problem is, there are not many available this summer. So, once again I expect the Capitals to make a few minor signings that add pretty good depth, make minor imporvements and still stay well below the salary cap. Does this team plan on staying with a low-budget for three more years or so? I mean, my suggestion would be to sign Viktor Kozlov and bring back Oleg Kvasha as I think he’d fly with Ovechkin. But if none of that happens, which is highly likeable, then here is my crazy Mad Mikster idea. TRADE FOR ALEXEI YASHIN!!!! What’s there to lose? The team won’t be able to spend huge bucks the next few seasons, they won’t make a run at the cup the next few seasons, so may as well give Ovechkin a skilled center that just does not belong on Long Island. Give Ovechkin Alexei Yashin and who knows what can happen? It may be that these two will become so scary and good together. And imagine if Alexei Yashin finds his game back WITH Ovechkin. I’d call it Monstrin in Russian.

Philadelphia Flyers

Would it not have been fun if there was a game that fans pick which team will be dead last in the league? Why do we always have to pick the Cup winner? How about the season’s loser? I bet you that if that happened back in September, and this is all money-prize talk of course, a Leafs fan would have won the money! Anyway, I don’t see how the Flyers want to make another UFA splash this summer. Martin Biron was a great acquisition for the next couple of years and he adds a lot of character to the team. But, even if he gets Daniel Briere to sign with the Flyers, what about the rest of the team? One guy cannot fix it all for them. Yet, the Flyers will be ready to spend and expect to make the playoffs next season. Some of you know my favorite saint in hockey. Saint Happenin.

That’s it for now as next time it will be the Western Conference non-playoff teams. That’s right. Complete coverage of non-playoffs hockey, only right here on Aren’t we special now?

Thanks as always for reading and hope you all had a nice weekend earlier.

Micki Peroni

Vice Administrator