By Alex Giubelli
The Thrashers finished 10th last season, five points away from making it into the playoffs. Still, they recorded their third best record in their franchise history. The team made some important changes as Maxim Afinogenov, Colby Armstrong and Pavel Kubina are gone, and Chris Mason, Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd now join the team. Afinogenov will be missed as he was a player that was able to put up some points (61 last season). Armstrong wanted more money than he was worth, and he can easily be replaced. Mason will bring stability and experience. Their defence is good, and if Big Buff is manning the point for the Thrashers this year they shouldn’t do too poorly. This isn’t to say that their defense is perfect though, far from it. Their problem once again will be their offence as they strongly miss a scorer like Ilya Kovalchuk. Expect the Thrashers to miss the post season again.
After an up and down season filled with injuries, and making it into the playoffs in the sixth place, the Bruins, against all the odds, defeated Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres, but imploded soon after, losing after leading three games to none against the Flyers in the second round. Whether or not Marc Savard will be able to play is a big question looming over the heads of the Bruins and their fans. Savard has been a leader and a driving force on the team ever since he made the trip from Atlanta to Bean Town. Hopefully he won’t miss too much time. Between the pipes, Tuukka Rask will probably start as the number one goalie again with the tremendous season he just had, that is if he doesn’t follow into the tradition of the second year letdown. Milan Lucic and David Krejci are also back from injury and should be a key element to the Bruins’ offence. Bergeron will also come out big this season as he proves to everyone that his concussion didn’t ruin his skill. Bruins can finish first in the Northeast division and, if nothing goes wrong, can make it to the top three.
Team USA hero, Ryan Miller, brought the Sabres to the playoffs and a third spot in the conference last season before being defeated by the Bruins in six games. Losing Tallinder and Lydman at the blue line create a large void in the team. Torres never really performed in Buffalo, so he won’t be missed. In nets, Ryan Miller will have to perform some more miracles if the Sabres want to reach third place again. Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford need to get back to the way they’ve played in they want to finish third in the East again. Both of them were approaching points-per-game status, but their production trickled off last season. If everything else goes right; meaning that if Thomas Vanek can get more than 40 points and Tyler Myer himself doesn’t get into the sophomore curse, the Sabres should be looking at another solid season.
It seems after last season the Hurricanes are alternating good and bad seasons. With winning the Cup and not making the playoffs the next year. But last year was a bad one, so following the odds this year should be a good one. But we always have exceptions… With Rob Brind’amour and Ray Whitney out, the Hurricanes didn’t lose many players, but those two were key players in the organization. The thing is pretty simple with the Hurricanes, the team depends heart and soul on Captain Eric Stall and Goalie Cam Ward, as the rest is full of underachievers like Segei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen, so if they don’t produce, neither does Carolina. Let’s not even talk about their defence as I ran out of words to describe how pathetic it is. Paul Gleason needs to retire for the good of the whole team. Joe Corvo might be able to add some firepower to the blueline but not as much as Hurricane fans will want. The Canes won’t even come close to the post season.
There’s not a lot to be said about the Panthers as it’s a team you can easily forget about. Finishing fifth in their division and 14th in the conference, the Panthers were terrible enough to have the third draft pick, but couldn’t manage a young superstar. The Panthers are definitely going to miss the skill of Keith Ballard on the blueline as he’s moved to with west coast. The only person who won’t miss him is Tomas VoKoun who probably still has a headache. Tomas Vokoun is reaching the last year of his contract, and if he can succeed on pulling off a season like the last one, the team might reward him or he’ll be playing for someone else. if David Booth can get over his concussion issues. The Panthers are slowly rebuilding their team and I do think they’ll miss the playoffs by a large margin, battling with Toronto and the Islanders to see who will be the worst team. Again.
The hometown team. Some love them some hate them, usually depends on the day of the week. Squeezing into eighth place after a frustrating regular season, the Habs and Jaroslav Halak created some miracles to eliminate the Capitals and the Penguins, making it to the Conference final. Now that savior Jaroslav Halak, Sergei Kostitsyn and Dominic Moore are “Au revoir.” Halak will be the most noticiable loss, Kostitsyn however will probably not be missed by anyone, maybe his brother. Carey Price will be under the microscope all year long as he is now the clear number one. Defensively, the Canadiens should do pretty well with Markov coming back from injury and P.K. Subban thrilling the fans last season in the playoffs should earn a spot with the big guys. Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez will be powering their offence, the last two bringing back their chemistry from their Devils days. Montreal will still fight for one of the last playoff spots though.
New Jersey Devils:
Even if they’re one of the most boring team to watch in the NHL due to their defensive style of play, the Devils finished first in their division and second in the conference. That is before getting destroyed by the Flyers in the first round. Over the years, the post-lockout Devils had earn a reputation were they are a good team in the regualr season, but unable to win the games tha ready matters. Kovalchuk is back, with Anton Volchenkov and Jason Arnott. Volchenkov is a valuable defenceman, but his way of blocking pucks will also give him a VIP pass to the Injury Reserve. The Devils should do well this season, but for the playoffs it’s still to early to tell as Brodeur is not the young rookie he used to be.
New York Islanders:
Not much to say about the Islanders as they finished 13th in the Conference except maybe a decent season for first draft pick John Tavares. You can’t really called anyone that left Long Island a key departure, except maybe for Martin Biron who was a solid goalie. Maybe GM Garth Snow will wise up and replace head coach Scott Gordon before upper management decides Garth’s got to go too. Tavares hasn’t proven himself as a legitimate superstar but might be able to add to his point total like Stamkos did. Unfortunately Tavares doesn’t have as good of a supporting cast. With questionable goalies, a shaky and Streit-less defence, and an unproductive offence, they might be able to pull some victories out of their hat to make them look bad instead of terrible. This year again they’ll probably finish at the bottom, but keep your hopes up fans, that means another top pick at the draft.
New York Rangers:
The first team ever to lose the playoffs in shootout as they finished nineth with a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in their last game of the regular season. The oh-so-lovely John Tortorella is back this year again, needing to prove that the Stanley Cup ring on his finger wasn’t just a lucky strike in his career. Garbage in, garbage out for the Rangers as they let go some players like Olli Jokinen, Wade Redden and Donald Brashear, to add to their organization Alex Frolov, Derek Boogaard and Steve Eminger. Between the pipes, I expect Lundqvist to be as strong as always. Lundqvist is solid enough to carry them, but the team around him is weak, meaning that they’ll probably come short of making the playoffs again this year.
Nobody would have expected the Senators to finish fifth in the Conference last season as they took advantage of some winning-streaks and the hot moments of goalie Brian Elliott. Even if they lost Volchenkov, the team made a sweet move by getting Quaterback, master of the powerplay, Sergei Gonchar. If Gonchar can play as well as he did in Pittsburgh then people will quickly forget about Volchenkov’s shot blocking skills Jason Spezza is on very thin ice (pun intended) with Sens fans and, if he doesn’t put up solid enough numbers, that might be the last we see of the steaky sniper in the nation’s capital. Daniel Alfredsson continues to perform well when he’s healthy so no worries for Sens fans there. Elliott and Leclaire will be competing to get the no.1 spot. The Sens could go either way with the playoffs.
Last season, the Flyers had the almost perfect Cinderella story as they were down 3-0 to the Bruins but succeeded to come back to make it to the Stanley Cup final. The dream stopped there as they lost to the Blackhawks, but still they did better than everyone thought they would. The player to watch this season is Jeff Carter as he’s a key player in the organization, being a consistant goal scorer. The impressive defence of the Flyers is still there, with Chris Pronger and Meszaros. Mike Richards will provide the team with his two-way plays and his great leadership, while Carter and Briere can worry about scoring some important goals. The Flyers can have really impressive depth if everyone can contribute. The Pens will once again have the better in the Pennsylvania battle once again this year. But they’ll make the playoffs that is sure.
It was a little bit too much to expect the Penguins to make it to the Stanley Cup finals three years in a row, and with Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin that had some low moments, it seemed the Pens tank was empty as the Montreal Canadiens eliminated them. We know the flower can be a great goalie, but he needs to improve if they want to drink some champagne again from the cup. Like always, Crosby is there to score some goals and bitch at everyone so we don’t have to worry about him.. I don’t see them in the Stanley Cup final, as I think a stronger team like Washington will kick them out, but you never know, they might win another cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Nothing to be said about a team that has been a complete mess since they won the Stanley Cup. Martin St-Louis and Steven Stamkos being the only bright lights in their last season. Simon Gagne will be a great update from Alex Tanguay if he can stay healthy. New General Manager Steve Yzerman has done his best to add depth to the team with the addition of Dominic Moore and Pavel Kubina, but that won’t save the lightning from missing the playoffs by a mile again. Vincent Lecavalier will be under pressure this season as he needs to justify his rather expensive existence. Stamkos-Lecavalier-St.Louis will be the line to look for. The lightning can make it to the seventh or eighth place with their potentially explosive forwards, their decent defencemen and ok goaltending.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Ah the Maple Leafs. Finishing second worst in the league, but still unable to get a decent draft pick as they gave it away to Boston for Phil Kessel. Karma seems to have a blast with them. GM Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson are both on the hot seat as the team finishes another season at the bottom. Giguere and Gustavsson are both in place this year and might even have a decent season. Well it’s not hard if you look at last year’s goalie Vesa Toskala. Everyone can be a star after that. Kessel will power once more the attack as he can be one of the best scorer in the league if the Leafs can just find someone to play with him. The Leafs will not make the playoffs despite Phaneuf’s promises
The Capitals put quite a show last season as they finished first in the conference, but failed to make it further than the first round as they were stopped by Halak and the Canadiens. The Caps this year are betting big with their two young goalies, Neurvith and Varlamov, but if both man up they’ll be just fine. If you thought Alex Ovechkin was determined to win last year, he’ll be playing like a man possessed this season and with Alex Semin putting up consecutive 35-plus goal seasons that Caps are still full of firepower. I think the Capitals can be real contenders for the Stanley Cup this year. I think everyone is ready to make it further than last year. Maybe it’s Alex’s turn to drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup this year.