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.

 

Out with the (not so) old, in with the new. If any team has had more turnover, particularly among its top players than the Flyers did this off season I don’t know who they are. It is hard to argue the city of Brotherly Love’s favorite team is stronger immediately, but they may be better three years from now than the team that was chased from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in an inglorious sweep last spring.  Shipping out one of the top two way centers in Mike Richards, and a goal machine in Jeff Carter is a big gamble. The rest of the people they let walk are almost negligible after the former team captain and his running buddy.

High Card:

James Van Riemsdyk was anointed the future of the franchise even before the playoffs came to an end. The media love-in for JVR was about what one would expect of someone who found a cure for cancer that can be made from sugar water and bacon. When the suits in Flyerland moved Richards and Carter and let half the roster walk then for an encore made him the longest signed skater on the team it was clear the media had red the feelings of team management right. So all the third year player has to do is somehow justify the contract he signed in the off season. True, this contract doesn’t kick in until next season, but hey since when do fans in certain cities pay any attention to things like that? Realistically the three lettered man probably needs to crack the sixty point plateau to stave off fan wrath and drag the team into the playoffs.

Wild Card:

With the former official captain no longer on the team Chris Pronger is freer to work his wiles upon the team. Unfortunately there are two factors at play that might prevent him from doing so. One is the wonky back that derailed his season last year. The other is how new many faces are on the team and the baggage they may bring with them. Jaromir Jagr is back in the NHL and not likely to go with the prevailing wind if he doesn’t like its direction, even if it comes from a figure like Pronger. Wayne Simmonds seems to have brought a cloud of controversy with him out of La-La-Land. And Ilya Bryzgalov is newly signed goalie who is expected to be the best goalie in team history, get used to a new city and team, and probably save kittens from trees in his spare time. Those are just some of the personalities that could cause spiritual drift in the locker room

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.

 

As talented as some of the Avalanche forwards are on the surface it is amazing that they finished both out of the playoffs and in the lottery. Unfortunately for fans in Colorado forwards aren’t the only players who affect the outcome of a game. Last year they were dismal on the penalty kill, and had the defensive prowess of a hobbled sheep.  Goaltending is best left unmentioned save to say that they did make several changes.

High Card:

Last year Matt Duchene made the jump from rising star to All Star. This year he needs to assume an even larger and more responsible role for his team. With more than fifty goals in just two seasons in the NHL it is easy to see how many had him going number one in his draft year. As the current points leader for the 2009 draftees it’s hard to say he doesn’t live up to the billing, or see him getting anything but better in his third year.  Duchene led the team in takeaways last season, if he can further round out his game good things will follow.

Wild Card:

Semyon Varlemov is the hole card in the Avalanches hand.  This season is when he’ll get flipped over and at some point we’ll all figure out where in the deck he sits. In the three seasons he’s appeared in the NHL thus far he’s had passable stats on a not very defensive team in Washington, but never for very long. To date he’s played a high of 27 NHL regular season games in a season. He does have some playoff experience with a solid .915 Sv% through 19 games, but he’s also had issues staying healthy. To date at just 23 he’s suffered kneed and groin issues. He also threatened to return to Russia just days before he was traded to Colorado.

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.

 

If there is a team more in need of a post season cup of coffee than Ohio’s boys of winter I can’t think of who they might be. With their additions since their season ended in early April, and the chance of a sparkling rookie breaking the line up they have a good chance of making it happen. With the new deal that will lower the financial burden of the team and keep them in the city longer they should also have a little more flexibility to retain talent.

High Card:

While Captain Rick Nash is undoubtedly more talented, than Jeff Carter the latter is the key to the season. Jeff Carter has been on high end teams with a legitimate shot at winning the cup. No forward on the BlueJackets has more recent playoff experience, and some have never been on a team that has won a playoff game. Carters experience will need to be passed on to his new teammates and how much how well he does this will affect the teams post season hopes and performance can’t be understated.

Wild Card:

Of all the major deals struck over the summer, James Wisniewski received perhaps the most discussed.  It is easy to see why when you hit the stat sheet. His salary this season will be more than twice what it was last year. Despite having debuted in the NHL in the 05-06 season last season was the first year he played more than 70 games (75), and the only season he’s had more than 31 points. This is also the first multi-year deal since his entry level deal. On the plus side of the ledger when he got the chance to play quality minutes in an offensive role last season it took him just 43 games to equal his best NHL production level previously achieved in 69 games. He also managed to collect points in a hard fought series against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. It’s pretty simple, if last year was the real James Wisniewski Columbus just got a new cannon for the blueline. If last year was an aberration, they may never live his contract down and heads will likely roll.

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.

One of the more interesting teams to watch since their ignoble fall from the post season to date has been none other than The Great Eight’s supporting cast. Well, they do support him during the regular season. One hopes that at some point they will remember they are supposed to be productive in the off season as well. While letting go of Scott Hannan was one of the more curious moves for a team not overly experienced in playing viable defense, overall you can’t help but call the off season successful. Given that they are still over the salary cap it is likely there will be one or two moves will be made before the curtain goes up in October.

High card:

It is an absolute no brainer to put Alex Ovechkin in this spot. However, after last season he could just as easily be put into the wild card role. With a bad-by-his-standards 32 goals last season, one could wonder if he’s lost his edge, been figured out by goaltenders and defense, or simply was too injured to compete at his normal level. Whichever of those or other reason it might have been, it just doesn’t matter. Anything less than a forty goal regular season that leads to at least the conference finals will be seen as a failure.

Wild card:

There are at least half a dozen players who could be put into this slot, certainly Semin, Backstrom, and the recently acquired Vokoun head the list of other important variables and none can be underrated in their post season level of success being a contributing factor in either direction they aren’t quite at the top. I almost listed both Alzner and Carlson as well who were so important last year.  However the player who needs to be healthy, and contribute at his highest level for the Capitals to succeed is Mike Green. Without his skating, and scoring proficiency from roughly the direction of the blueline, the Capitals are doomed. Having had an injury riddled regular season he recovered enough to turn in a solid second season. How he follows last seasons playoffs up, and how much he can improve his defensive play will likely be the difference between playing in April and playing in June.

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 move from Atlanta, the team members not only have to get used to a new arena, new city and new climate, they also face the daunting challenge of living up to the expectations of a hockey mad city. Last season this team was in playoff position for much of the year, and then faded. This year they to be consistent all season to get to the playoffs.

High card:

Ondrej Pavelec split the crease time with two other goalies last season. This year he needs to seize the pilots seat and fly the team to new heights. With save percentages as high as .924 and .936 in his best months last season, he’s got the goods to get the job done. Without him playing at or near his best the Jets will be landing early in April and spend another long summer refueling.

Wild card:

Former Chicago Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien was almost two different players last season. In the first three months of the season he scored twelve goals, in the last four, just eight. Maybe it was fatigue as part of the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the team faltered around him and he couldn’t keep the team going, it doesn’t matter either way. If you had asked anyone on December fifth who their top five picks for Norris Trophy nominees were Big Buff would have been on 9 out of 10 lists, but March 5 he’d have been lucky to make half. If he can play consistently in the second half this year the Jets have a chance at playing in May.

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 Ducks had a great offensive team last year and (like all four other teams in the Pacific Division) spent part of the season in the drivers seat. In the post season they went up against their mirror image, a team with a great defense but that was offensively lacking. With star forward Bobby “still there at 2” Ryan injured, they fell to the Nashville Predators.  This season it’s with some of the youngsters a season more experienced going another round or two is likely if people play to their potential, and stay healthy.

High card:

Corey Perry. With fifty goals he was the undisputed offensive leader for the team last year. With a +9, 11 game winners, 4 short handed goals, a solid faceoff percentage, and leading his teams forwards in short handed time on ice he was hands down the most potent player for the team. This year he’s likely to need to match that level of contribution, particularly in the post season for the team to make it to the next level.

Wild card:

With his rookie season under his belt and even a playoff appearance, it’s time to see if the Ducks most highly touted recent draft pick can address the weaknesses in his game.  Heading into the 2010 draft Cam Fowler was talked about in the same breath as eventual number one and two picks Hall and Seguin. On draft day with questions as to his commitment and ability in his own zone swirling, he fell not just from the top five where he was a consensus selection but all the way out of the top ten to twelfth.  If Fowler can keep his offensive game, and sacrifice less defensive positioning, he might just be the catalyst to propel the team higher and deeper. With a -25 last season he’s got plenty of room to improve.

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 Calgary Flames are a team that can be charitably called in transition. It might be more accurate to call them quietly chaotic. Previous management left the larder bare of high end prospects and sprayed success retardant contracts that have threatened to snuff the spark. Last year they missed the playoffs by three points and spent a good amount of time spinning their wheels.

High card:

Jarome Iginla, I can’t think of any scenario for the Flames making the playoffs that doesn’t involve the Calgary captain having (another) exceptional season. In the past ten season he’s scored at least thirty goals.  Two of those seasons were forty goal seasons, two more were fifty goal seasons. Mr. Not-In-October may not have the luxury the slow starts he’s credited with this year. Without at least 35 goals, and probably closer to fifty its likely that ice quality in May won’t be anything in Calgary is worried about.

Wild card:

George R.R. Martin couldn’t write a more epic collapse than what Jay Bouwmeester has experienced in Calagary, when his contract was expiring he was exchanged for Jordan Leopold when the Panthers knew they couldn’t keep him. Since the trade it’s been dismal. Two years and just seven goals without even the sniff of the playoffs that were instantly expected when he was acquired. In his last year in Sunrise he potted fifteen goals. If the Flames are going to burn bright into the spring, Jay-Bo needs to return to form. In the season after the trade the frequently injured Leopold scored 13 goals in just 61 games playing on Florida’s defense while the NHL’s current iron man  netted just three.