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 Vancouver Canucks owned the regular season almost from the drop of the first puck. They claimed the Presidents Trophy by a cool ten points, entered the playoffs with home ice advantage all the way, and had good health in their key forwards and goaltenders. Partly this was deceptive. They played in the only division with just one team to make the playoffs, and with two of the bottom five defenses. That said the final battles of the 100 games war that is the road to the Stanley Cup was lost not on the basis of skill, but on will.

 

High Card:

Sedins. For the purposes of their play they are two halves of the same equation. While Henrik Sedin or “Thing -11” has proven an ability to play without his other-sib, Daniel hasn’t and that is the fundamental difference. The last two seasons have seen them atop the scoring race. It is likely they will both be in the top five again. In theory they may even learn to play some form of defense.

Wild Card:

Given the performance of the team in the playoffs, particularly in the finals, no one should have more questions about the team on the ice than Roberto Luongo. He put up two shutouts in the finals, won three home games, had better numbers in both save percentage and goals against average than either Marc-Andre Fleury or Antti Niemi when they were the Cup winning goalie. Can Roberto Luongo still trust the coach to manage this team? Can he trust the players in front of him to show up when it counts? On the other hand he had (with lots of help) some pretty spectacular meltdowns along the way that kept his team from ever getting into some games. Worse, Tim Thomas didn’t pump his tires.

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 Lightning were one save, one shot, and one heartbeat away from going a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals last May. Given the players on their blueline, and the concentration of their scoring it could be said they were playing over their heads. With little change over in personnel attitude and applying lessons from last season will have to be enough to get them to their destination if there are no changes made during the season.

 

High Card:

Martin St Louis. Clearly the most valuable player on the team last year in the regular season and the playoffs. Incredibly consistent, driven at a level few can even sniff at, and one of the most skilled players in the NHL. At thirty-six years old to start the season he’s only the second oldest player on the team,  He’s clearly a team leader and without him to lead the teams offense and spark the attitude by going straight at defense the teams hopes just don’t exist.

Wild Card:

In the past three regular seasons team captain Vincent Lecavalier has failed to get to the better than point per game status that is his high water mark. Last season despite missing almost twenty games due to injuries by the end of the year he looked a lot more like the 2006-2008 superstar and 100 point man many remember. In the playoffs he more than made up for that. In 18 games he put up 19 points against three of the top six stingiest defenses in the NHL. Boston who went on to win the Stanley Cup allowed him a four point game, the Capitals allowed him points in all four games, and the Penguins leaked points to him in five of the seven games of their series. If he can spend the year at a pace similar to his personal playoff blitzkrieg he may be in line for some individual hardware no matter how the team finishes the season.  Based on recent full seasons though we have to consider the possibility he will produce at a lower rate.

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.

 

Last season ended in ignoble fashion as the Coyotes were swept onto the golf course in surprisingly easy fashion by the Detroit Red Wings.  While Doan, Vrbata and Yandle all had more than a point per game a total of ten goals in four playoff games is a pretty poor showing. Worse from the teams perspective is that the off season saw the departure of Ilya Bryzgalov. The only possible bright spot in the departure of one of the NHL’s best known goalies is that he won’t be helping any conference rivals this season.In his place are two goalies who have never been #1’s in their NHL careers.  There is however hope, Keith Yandle was locked up for five years and Paul Bissonette ( @BizNasty2point0 ) was just extended two years as well.

 

High Card:

Shane Doan is the most important known quantity in the Coyotes portfolio. He’s a complete player. He scores, leads, fights, hits, occasionally gets suspended and never goes back to the bench having had a seconds rest on his shift.  He’s been good for 20-30 goals a season since 99-00, and has be stated repeatedly he wants to stay in Phoenix.

Wild Card:

While taking a shot at the potential of the goal-tending would be really easy, a bigger question is the teams best defenseman since there has at least been solid reason to hope there. Keith Yandle has improved hugely in point production. He went from above average range to top three in the NHL earning second start honors from the NHL along the way. If he keeps playing like an elite level defenseman even though Ed Jovanovski one of the few older players on the team departed over the summer for Sunrise Florida.  If he even retreats to his previous level of achievement, combined with the decrease in goalie quality the team is unlikely to make the post season at all.

 

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.

 

On paper the team that hails from Pegulaville is one of the most improved teams in the NHL. Given that they were just seven points behind the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the standings when the regular season ended, this should ring alarm bells in a lot of locker and board rooms.  Brad Boyes, Robyn Regehr, RegehrVille Leino are just some of the players to arrive since Terry Pegula purchased the team he’s had a lifelong love affair with.

High Card:

Ryan Miller is a no brainer in this slot even after a stepback from the numbers that saw him earn a Vezina Trophy two season ago. Ryan Miller is simply put the most talented goalie on the planet. Healthy he’s proven nearly unbeatable even with defenses that have proved aggressively mediocre in front of him. Regehr will help block shots and steady play in front of him, Ehrhoff should help get the puck out of the zone making Millers job easier.  This team can’t go anywhere without him.

 

Wild Card:

Can Ehrhoff go from being one of six roughly equal defenseman to shouldering a larger share of responsibility and remain the player that helped take his team all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver?  The northeast division is a lot tougher than the northwest was last year. Not the least of his problems will be facing goaltenders like Price and Thomas twelve times over the season. Together with Miller they give the division the best goaltending in the NHL. Almost worse is having had the entire hockey world focused on two pivotal weeks of his career that they will use as a blueprint for containing him.

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.

 

Not many teams can get eliminated before the Stanley Cup Finals and actually answer questions about themselves in a positive manner. Anyone who doubted the ability of Joe Thornton to produce or go all in when the regular season was over who could even see reality from their house has had to put those doubts to rest. In the same series Ryan Clowe proved you don’t need to be able to put your jersey on yourself to take the ice in the NHL post season. At the same time, the post season proved a catalyst to blast some parts off.

 

High Card:

Joe Thornton. There is no better passer in the NHL and likely no better passer in the world. Faceoffs are another high end skill, in the past few years Thornton has shifted from 100 point man to 100% man influencing 100%of the game from the ice or the bench and clearly leaving that same percentage of effort as a calling card when the chips are down.

 

Wild Card:

Can Brent Burns both elevate his game and integrate with a new team smoothly? The first round pick who arrived in a swap from the Wild has not been the player some expected. Last year he tossed up his best offensive numbers to date, but was also the worst regular on the blueline for +/-. If he can’t be more useful to the less talented goaltending in San Jose he might derail the train himself. If he can be even average in his own zone and put up similar numbers offensively, or even better them the Sharks stand in a much better place.

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.

 

Brian Burke pulled another one out his sleeve just hours before I wrote this by picking up one of the NHL’s faceoff from the cap constrained New Jersey Devils for a fourth round pick. Add this to picking up Cody Franson and John Michael-Liles in the off-season and there is reason to hope the teams late surge last year might be more than a mirage. If you toss University of Wisconsin alumni Jake Gardiner into the mix you’ve got half your blueline revamped in one short off season.

 

High Card:

Mikhail Grabovski has demonstrated that he’s the best forward on the team since arriving. Well rounded, aggressive and skilled. While no ones is going to pick him to win the Art Ross, he is quite likely to be the Toronto Maple Leafs MVP again. Kessel put up a few more points than Grabovski last season but was a turnover machine. Grabovski is much more of a Jordan Staal or Mikko Koivu type two way presence and is the type of guy who gets it.

Wild Card:

Is it real or is it beginners luck, that’s the question James Reimer has on his plate this season. A .921 2.60 20-10-0-5 line on a team that couldn’t collectively beat one of their wives previously is nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately it was clear to anyone who could do math the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t going to have their travel plans restricted by work in mid April by the time he arrived on the scene.  Will the pressure of potentially jumping into the post season be too much for what is probably the divisions fourth best team and their goalie?

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.

 

Two trades with the  San Jose Sharks provided an influx of offensive flair that the second coming to “The State of Hockey” sorely needed. The team needed something and having regressed from 22nd two seasons ago to 26th in goals for last year, this may be just what the GM ordered.

 

High Card:

Mikko Koivu is the keystone of the franchise. As the on ice leader and all around best skater the team has no hope without him. Faceoffs, penalty killing, scoring more points in his career than Ryan Kesler he does it all. As one of the most underrated players in the NHL if he can propel the team back to the post season he might finally get people to give him some of the respect he’s clearly earned.

 

Wild Card:

Odd as it seems to say a top ten goaltender who didn’t have their worst season needs to be better, it is true. Niklas Backstrom is capable of both more games played (when healthy) and a better save percentage than he produced last year. The team finished five wins and nine points out of a playoff spot last season while he played nine games less than the previous season, and twenty one less than the one before that. With Josh Harding hurt to start the season his importance can’t be overstated.

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 Brian Rolston returning, Kyle Okposo expected to play more than just the 38 games he managed last year, and the fragile Rick Dipietro starting the season healthy for what may be the first time since he was drafted there is a lot to think about with this years Islanders on the ice. Their off ice quest for a new arena is enough to keep anyone busy, but fortunately they have a tattoo artist on sight to help them deal with the pain.

High Card:

John Tavares, last years team points leader needs to get even better at both ends of the ice. But he’s pretty spiffy already. With more experience, depth and hopefully better healthy around him it is likely Taveres will hit the point per game player level that divides the merely really good from the elite offensive players in the NHL. Without Tavares the team slides to the bottom of the pile with or without the help of a tough division in the tougher of the two conferences.

Wild Card:

After a year on the shelf its almost impossible to say where his mental game and physical skills will lead Mark Streit. The Swiss born defenseman has in the past put up sixty-two points in a season and if he does that combined with a good season from the balance of the young team he now captains they might get a chance to play in middle April or later.  The soon to be 34 year old is best known for his offense, but it is worth noting that in his two seasons as an Islander they have finished a combined -121, and he’s been a +5 in that time.

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.

 

In 2010-11 the Penguins had an amazing season. They defied all the critics by making drastic improvements to their defense. Unfortunately they also had an amazing amount of man games lost to injury. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal each played roughly half a season, never all of them at once. Chris Kunitz missed a double digit number of games as well. Yet they still made the playoffs.

High Card:

Kris Letang. With the teams centers shelved for about a season and a half worth of games, Letang stepped into the offensive gap and had by far his best offensive totals. He improved in his own end as well. Despite the teams reduced offense Letang was 22 better in the +/- column than in 08-09 when the Penguins hoisted the Cup. While putting Sidney Crosby or Evegeny Malkin into this space is probably what some expected, with all the time they spent on the shelf last year, it is hard to say either will be capable of being the best player when they return to the ice.

Wild Card:

Marc-Andre Fluery. While Fluery too had a career year last year, he was only the second best goaltender on the team in doing so. Backup Brent Johnson was better in both GAA and Sv%.  Even if he’s only slightly below last years numbers the first pick overall in 2003 is likely to ride the team in to the playoffs. The real question will be if he is going to be on what passes for one of his hot streaks that will decide how deep the team goes. Of his five NHL playoff appearances, three of them feature save percentages under .900.