This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

The New York Rangers went big game hunting this summer. They managed to take down the biggest game on the free agency market. Even with Brad Richards ( @BRichards_1991) in the fold the offense is still a question mark because there are several players who haven’t even looked like they knew it was their job to score pulling down big checks the last couple seasons.

 

High Card:

Henrik Lundqvist is the kingpin and you just can’t argue how strong he is in net. He’s had a sv% over .920 the last two seasons and played almost 150 regular season games off in that time. He’s had a total 17 nights off in two years. Marion Gaborik missed more games than that last season.

Wild Card:

Perhaps the Rangers should see if one of their players will change their name to Robin Hood. If they can swing it, perhaps they can also get Maid Marion to show up. Twenty games missed last season, twenty less goals than the season before. This from the highest paid forward on the team. Forty goal scorer or twenty? Marion Gaborik needs to be the former if this team is going to make a deep playoff run with or without Richards, Staal or anyone else Gaborik needs to man up and chase down some goals.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

Who could have predicted last seasons New Jersey Devils results? Not me. Just about everyone had them listed as a top five team in the NHL. This season is the expected redemption. I’m not sure how I’ll replace my ilya Vs the Rookies campaign if they come out swinging this season but I’m sure some other team will have a slow, painful public death and possibly it won’t be an attempt at Steve Jobs like martyrdom.

 

High Card:

Entering last season you could have your choice of who to put here, Kovalchuk, Brodeur, Parise, Volchenkov it almost didn’t matter.  This year Zach Parise has to provide the drive to turn the page on last season. It won’t be easy given the amount of turnover on the team and the lingering questions about the clubs future in the owners box, the goal crease and on the blueline but he’s the captain, the fan favoite and one of the few players free from the shame of last seasons dismal performence.

Wild Card:

When you’re a sure first ballot hall of famer a bad season is a surprise, a massive disappointment, and unlikely to cost you your job, even if it turns into a second season. Even factoring in injuries, unfamiliar bodies on the blueline and the fatigue of having played in the Olympics the previous year the question of how much of Brodeur’s wilting last season was simply age. He enters this season at thirty-nine with 1132 regular season and 181 post season NHL games under his belt. For comparison Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson between them have 978 combined regular and post season games.  If he comes back next season will depend on a lot of factors, and that’s another one of the questions surrounding the guy who has spent nearly 80,000 minutes between the pipes for the New Jersey Devils.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

The Kings have been slowly climbing the ladder towards the top of the NHL for a couple seasons. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown are three pretty good building blocks. Add in players like Rob Scuderi who have won the Cup elsewhere and you get a strong matrix to add pieces to. This summer two potentially huge pieces were added, Simone Gagne and Mike Richards.

High Card:

Anze Kopitar needs to take advantage of added weapons and facing thinner defenses this season. Opposing teams will now have to honor the threat of Mike Richards as well. With two legitimate #1 centers the team has the opportunity to score some serious goals, and Kopitar has all the skill he needs to embarrass the opposition. With Gagne, Penner, Brown and the rest on board it is time for Kopitar to aim for the 100 point mark.

Wild Card:

Can Mike Richards shed the if not apathy then certainly lowered interest of the past season or two? If he can turn back into the hungry, aggressive SOB that made opposing fan bases hate and respect him the team he could well be able to raise the Cup with his new team. The other part of the equation is how well will he adjust to a new team, the western conference travel, a new coach and a roster that includes only one person he’s played with in the NHL? He also won’t be the captain here and that could be either good or bad for his focus.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

The Winged Wheel is looking a bit different than it did when they last won it all. While undeniably they are more gritty and less likely to be physically intimidated they are also older, slower and less skilled. If anyone had said three years ago that Mike Commodore, Ian White and Todd Bertuzzi would all wear the Red Wings Jersey at oncepeople would assume either a massive change leadership or insanity. We know for sure there hasn’t been a chance in leadership, on the last one we’ll wait for the jury to respond.

High Card:

Datsyuk.

 

Wild Card:

Nicklas Lidstrom. It is clear to everyone who watches hockey that the Detroit Captain has lost a step or three in the last couple years. This says more elegantly much about him receiving the Norris Trophy last season than I ever could. He’s still one of the smartest defensemen in the NHL, still able to make great passes and shoot the puck, but I don’t think players hold him in awe the way they used to. There’s a good reason for this, for the first time in his career last year he was a minus player. Nicklas Lidstrom, a double digit minus player a concept so alien one can only assume the people who cast ballots for the Norris assumed it was a persistent typo.  If he can get back to the form he had two or three seasons ago the Wings have a lot to look forward to in what may be his fair well tour. If he plateaus at last seasons level or slips further the Wings can look forward to a long summer to rest up and scout.

 

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

The Senators had one of their worst seasons last year. Not just statistically, but in terms of performance of those on the ice. They weren’t fun to watch, and it was clear even with all the walking wounded and star eyed AHL prospects levied into the roster that more than one veteran was counting the days until they didn’t have to interrupt their golfing, hunting and self pity with hockey. There were some bright spots, Bobby Butler put up 21 points in 36 games while shuttling between Ottawa and Binghamton, Erk Karlsson nearly doubled his points production in a fifth more games, and Jason Spezza ended his season with a four game points streak and healthy.

 

High Card:

Key veterans are all motivated to stop being the division punch line. Given age, health and consistency concerns among Aldredsson, Spezza and Anderson it’s hard to say which  (if any) will emerge as the rock the teams upward climb from last seasons futility will rest upon.  All three are capable of carrying play and team for stretches, who knows maybe they all get in the zone at once.

Wild Card:

Youth, youth, youth. If Zibanejad, Karlsson, Butler, Cohen, Rundblad, and the enigmatic Filatov can play near potential this year the Senators are going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The Sens Sixpack has all the talent to be the core of the team for the next ten years and could easily spark a Chicago like renaissance. But, given what has been said about the attitude of certain players in Ottawa, the vast age gulf between them and team captain Alfredsson, and the lack of a true #1 defenseman to guide the backend, one wonders what this group will do and how well.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

What a year to be a hockey fan in Nashville. After years, and years of futility they finally make it out of the first round and give the eventual conference champions a couple good pops on the chin. Joel Ward and Pekka Rinne put themselves in the Conn-Smythe discussion, and they knocked off Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and the rest of team quack on their way. Then over the summer Ward departs and franchise icon Shea Weber is only signed to a one year deal.

High Card:

Pekka Rinne emerged from undeserved obscurity last season. Apparently even being in flyover country can’t keep you off the medias radar when you put up a .930 GAA in a division with the reigning champions and Detroit Red Wings.  Even when Weber failed to get a point in their six game tilt with the Canucks he never allowed more than three goals.

Wild Card:

Shea Weber. It’s hard to come up with reasons to worry about his on ice performance when even a broken foot heading into the Olympic year didn’t slow him down. That said,  no one with enough wit to find Nashville on a map can wonder how long Weber will stay. If he doesn’t feel the team is going the right way at the All Star break does he tell David Polie and encourage him to trade him for a fortune t0 a team that’s more able to spend money? It is unthinkable that there’d be more than three teams who didn’t at least put together a package for the Predators for him. How much will speculation about his contract status affect the team around him is another major question.  Weber had the best season of any defenseman last season, regardless of who the award went to. Will he stay or go is the question, what is the return if he goes?

 

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

From what’s been said in Chicago it’s time for the Cup hangover and drought to end and end now. The influx of new players is heavy and interesting, but the talented core remains the same and that’s what will bring success if the team can wrest it from their opponents.

High Card:

Duncan Keith is expecting a year more like the one that saw him win the Stanley Cup just months after taking home a Olympic Gold. In an  interview he said he didn’t take good enough care of himself between winning the cup and the start of last season. It’s unlikely a member of the triple gold club could fail to fix a problem having identified it, and with this Norris winner back in form it transforms the whole team.

Wild Card:

Filling the crease for the departed rookie sensation Antti Niemi couldn’t have been an easy job for Corey Crawford. He did however go out and do the job better, in more games behind a worse team. Like James Reimer in Toronto he no longer has the advantage of being new. Other teams will have a good load of material from last year to supplement with any of this years tapes.  One of the interesting challenges will be having Ray Emery as a backup to start the season as the older goaltender will be both fighting for ice time and a contract for next season.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

With the injury bug living full time in the Blues locker room consistency didn’t occur much for the Blues, it is hoped that this season they can find some. Rumors circulate that there is even a potential new owner interested in keeping the team where it is.

High Card:

When you score thirty goals twice you’re expected to keep it up. That’s what’s on the agenda for David Backes, well that and two other important things. One is stay healthy. The other is lead the team back to the post season. If the team is passably healthy his biggest challenge will be keeping people pointed in the right direction.

 

Wild Card:

Alex Pietrangelo had a breakout season. In the previous two years and 17 games he was a -9 with just three points. In 79 games last year the Blues were treated to his emergence as a legitimate high end defenseman. Eleven goals and forty three points with a swing all the way to +18 which was good for second on the team. Can he avoid a sophomore slump in what will be the fourth year and presumably second full season as a member of Missouri’s most famous pro sports team?

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

The Carolina Hurricanes seemed like they would return to the post season until late in the season. They were playing well, Eric Staal had remembered to turn on his personality circuit for the All Star weekend, and the Carolinas were swept up in Beibermania Skinner-Mania as the youngest player in the league skated into the hearts of millions and the NHL Awards show for the Calder Trophy. Even the butchering of the national anthem by Clay Aiken couldn’t dampen spirits in Raleigh. Unfortunately for fans of the wayward Whale things were not meant to be. With the influx of new young talent, and also Tomas Kaberle and Brian Boucher, the Canes are clearly gearing up for something.

High Card:

This one couldn’t be simpler even if the team had a third star quality skater. Eric Staal is far too often overlooked as a player, and yet given the level of talent he’s had around him most of his career he’s still put up some impressive numbers. For my money he’s the most driven athlete in the entire division, and leads his hugely talented draft class in goals and points.  If he has a great season the teams odds of reaching the playoffs are pretty good.

Wild Card:

Cam Ward had the best sv% of his career across a record high number of games played. If he be that dominant again, he’s more than done his part. Unfortunately his .923 sv% is well above not just any other year he’s had but far enough outside his career average to make people nervous about him coming back to earth this season. With new members of the blueline, and some larger more mobile forwards in front of him he may find his job easier this season, or not. It will also be interesting to see how he reacts to having a man who has been considered a #1 goaltender in other cities sharing duties with him.