What do all these changes mean for the playoffs?
Obvoiusly there have been tremendous changes made to nearly every team in the league, but does that mean that there will be drastic changes in the eight teams from each conference that will make the playoffs? There is little doubt that Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis, and Philadelphia have done the most to attempt to raise their club up to Stanley’s level. The way I see it is that Dallas is making the greatest push to make a splash come May and June. Although it appears they are going to lose Brett Hull, and already have lost Mike Keane, the additions of Audette, Lumme, Kamensky and Turgeon are good ones for a club that is only two years removed from their victory lap with the Cup. Detroit acquired arguably the best goaltender in the world, as well as an established veteran goal-scorer in Luc Robitaille. They didn’t do too much to lower the age of the club, which seemed to be a problem, proving that they are going to make one more furious run while they have the ability to. Subtracted from last year’s roster is the popular Martin Lapointe and Vyacheslav Kozlov. I like St. Louis’ acquisition of Doug Weight (although I would have liked to have seen him stay in Edmonton), and Philadelphia looks like they’ve got that extra point or two in the standings by nabbing JR.
The Islanders made headlines acquiring one of the best two-way centers in the game, Michael Peca, and one of the worlds best and speediest in Alexei Yashin. Does this make them a playoff team? Probably not. They have some nice talent and there is no doubt that they will improve from the league’s worst record last season, but how much of a difference can their changes make? We’ll have to wait until the season starts to get a glimpse at the new Islanders.
I wouldn’t expect too much change in the 16-team field of the NHL playoffs, except possible changes in seeding. The Flyers MIGHT pass up the Devils for the Atlantic Division title, and I believe whoever wins that division can lock up the conference as well. Although the Devils lost Mogilny and O’Donnell, they’re still one of the deepest and strongest teams in the league. Don’t count them out because they haven’t ADDED big names to the roster. The same goes for the Avalanche. They have not IMPROVED by re-signing Blake, Sakic, and Roy, and they may well have lost a step or two on defense with the losses of Bourque and Klemm. But, like the Devils, I wouldn’t worry if I were a Colorado fan, as they’re still an unbelievably deep club.
Little is said of the Calgary Flames. I’m not sure Turek is what they needed, and losing Val Bure isn’t going to be popular in Alberta, but it shows that they’re trying to improve and are working on making the playoffs.
These are obviously early predictions, but I see Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Jose, St. Louis, and Vancouver getting in without problem, and then Edmonton fighting with Calgary for the final spot. If Edmonton gets in, it’ll be the same 8 teams in the West. Out East, expect New Jersey, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Washington; and four teams on the outside looking for the last two spots: Boston, Carolina, Buffalo, and maybe even the Islanders, but again, we’ll have to wait and see how the new teammates play together on Long Island to judge their capabilities. Why Buffalo on the outside, you say? Buffalo’s a talented team, but I don’t know how well they are going to adjust without the heart and soul of the club in the crease. With Hasek’s departure, the door is open for a brilliant crop of young goaltenders to strut their stuff, and the organization is confident that Biron and Noronen can get the job done. I don’t doubt that at all, but how will the team play with their new keepers? That we will also have to wait for. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Sabres didn’t make the playoffs in ’02, but can’t count them out just yet…