The 2012-13 season wasn’t one Carolina Hurricanes fans are going to holdup as a sign of a great things to come. Despite the arrival of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin they finished 13th in the east, and 26th in the NHL overall. Injuries to Cam Ward, and Dan Ellis, and (of course) Jeff Skinner would have doomed them even if their defense had been up to supporting a playoff run. With the loss of Bryan Allen, it was not. On the positive side Jiri Tlusty emerged as a dominant offensive presence. Further, having iced 35 skaters in the abbreviated 48 game season the organization got to see a good deal of the depth it has. With only four draft picks they took Elias Lindholm in the first round. 

The Hurricanes schedule to open the season is not easy. They square off with the Red Wings to open the season at home before hosting the Flyers. Then they depart for a trip to Pittsburgh and Washington before coming home to host the Los Angeles Kings. Stylistically, the Penguins and Flyers might be the least difficult, but the Flyers are much more physical, and the Penguins have a (slightly) better defense. They also play their first back to back of the season with the Capitals and Kings on the road then home.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of Cities: 3

Best Opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home Games: 3

Projected Points: 3+

While I don’t expect the season to start well, they still have a formidable forward group, The blueline remains very interesting as well. With Faulk entering his 3rd NHL season we can expect more from him. Mike Komisarek is a complete wild card. Before his feud with Milan Lucic he was a very solid 4th defenseman, since then he has managed to slip entirely out of the NHL. If the prefeud Komisarek is evidence for a large part of the season  the Canes will likely have one of the better bargains in their locker room. Andrej Sekera is another player who could bring a big upside to the team. He’s capable of playing big minutes, he skates fairly well and the change of scenery could be all he needs to emerge as a name to know. As of now, they have 11 forwards and 6 defensemen listed on their roster, the fight for the other roster spots should reveal a great deal about the team.

The 2012-13 season wasn’t one Carolina Hurricanes fans are going to holdup as a sign of a great things to come. Despite the arrival of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin they finished 13th in the east, and 26th in the NHL overall. Injuries to Cam Ward, and Dan Ellis, and (of course) Jeff Skinner would have doomed them even if their defense had been up to supporting a playoff run. With the loss of Bryan Allen, it was not. On the positive side Jiri Tlusty emerged as a dominant offensive presence. Further, having iced 35 skaters in the abbreviated 48 game season the organization got to see a good deal of the depth it has. With only four draft picks they took Elias Lindholm in the first round. 

The Hurricanes schedule to open the season is not easy. They square off with the Red Wings to open the season at home before hosting the Flyers. Then they depart for a trip to Pittsburgh and Washington before coming home to host the Los Angeles Kings. Stylistically, the Penguins and Flyers might be the least difficult, but the Flyers are much more physical, and the Penguins have a (slightly) better defense. They also play their first back to back of the season with the Capitals and Kings on the road then home.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of Cities: 3

Best Opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home Games: 3

Projected Points: 3+

While I don’t expect the season to start well, they still have a formidable forward group, The blueline remains very interesting as well. With Faulk entering his 3rd NHL season we can expect more from him. Mike Komisarek is a complete wild card. Before his feud with Milan Lucic he was a very solid 4th defenseman, since then he has managed to slip entirely out of the NHL. If the prefeud Komisarek is evidence for a large part of the season  the Canes will likely have one of the better bargains in their locker room. Andrej Sekera is another player who could bring a big upside to the team. He’s capable of playing big minutes, he skates fairly well and the change of scenery could be all he needs to emerge as a name to know. As of now, they have 11 forwards and 6 defensemen listed on their roster, the fight for the other roster spots should reveal a great deal about the team.

The new Metropolitan division combines all five of the teams from the old Atlantic Division, two teams from the thoroughly shattered Southeast division, and one former central division team. After last season this will hands down be the hardest division to predict.

Carolina:We know that with a healthy backup the team is already better than it was last year. We know that adding Mike Komisarek (assuming he can stick to the NHL) will add a touch of belligerence. We know that the defense as a whole is suspect. We know it will be a lot of fun to watch a full season of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Semin as the teams nucleus.

Columbus: We know that they decided to take their move into the eastern conference seriously. With the addition of Nathan Horton and Marion Gaborik in the last several months, the team added to a solid defensive foundation. We know teams that underestimate them are in for a rough night. We know that even with the two year contract he signed that there is no certainty Bobrovsky will finish the deal in Columbus. We know if Ryan Murray makes the squad he’ll be in the perfect position to garner Calder consideration.

New Jersey:We know The Devils had the sort of negative off season attention that can sink the sales of a team. We know that the additions of Clowe, Jagr, and Ryder will give the team a different look than it had last season. We know that since Kovalchuk and Clarkson couldn’t drag the team into the playoffs this might not be a bad thing. We know someone has their head up their backside because Adam Henrique is still unsigned.

New York Islanders: We know this team made the playoffs last year, kept all its major components and added the physicality of one Cal Clutterbuck. We know that with defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart, Calvin De Hann, and Scott Mayfield waiting in the wings the guys currently on the roster should keep one eye on the puck and the other looking over their shoulder. We know the team really needs to figure out a long term solution in net.

New York Rangers: We know the Rangers will have new coach this year. We know the new coach has an entirely different persona than the last coach. We Brad Richards needs to have a banner year while there is still time. We know sooner or later someone will figure out you don’t go deep in the playoffs playing your starting goalie 65+ games a season.

Philadelphia: We know that with the injection of Lecavalier and possibly Laughton into the lineup fans might be excused an excess of hope. We know the defense is still without an impact player. We know Ray Emery will battle his heart out between the pipes. We know no one knows what to expect out of Steve Mason. We know the Flyers will likely miss the playoffs.

Pittsburgh: We know the team didn’t do anything to correct its playoff attitude issues; same coach, same captain, same mix of ‘leaders’. We know that having the goalie see a sports psychologist is a step, but we also know complete rebuilds of a persons psyche can take years if they occur at all.

Washington: We know the Capitals have a limited window to win with the current core of Ovechkin,  Backstrom, Laich, Greene, Alzner, and Carlson, We know some of them might not be in D.C. if/when the Cup is hoisted by the local boys. We know Adam Oates is still on a short leash because in any sane universe George McFee is on an even shorter one. We know that the Capitals (probably don’t operate in a sane universe.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.

Yesterday’s top tidbit on twitter was the release of the NHL’s anonymous player survey by Sports Illustrated detailing the player voted most overrated players in the NHL. While some of the players on the list were there unfairly, like say Bouwmeester who’s stats have slipped, but a look at his minute distribution reveals a big difference in how he’s been used in Calgary vs Florida. Others likes Scott Gomez or Jay-Bo teammate Olli Jokinen there’s not much defense for.

Oddly, the man listed as most overrated is also in a Toronto Maple Leaf’s uniform. In fact the Maple Leaf’s captain Dion Phaneuf, Phaneuf is one of the few players on the team who is finally having the type of season his booster club thinks he has every year. Perhaps most injurious to Komisarek was the right hook Maple Leaf’s General Manager Brian Burke through in defense of the Captain via Twitter:

Dion overrated? Are you kidding! Players who voted in this poll can meet w/Dion in Ottawa at the All-Star Game, where he's a starter!
@LeafsBB20
Brian Burke

No mention is made of Komisarek. No defense at all. Is this a not so subtle indication that Burke too has noticed the spiraling and consistently sub-par and sub-paygrade play. To console himself, Komisarek too mounted the Twitter pulpit and had this to say:

Two different polls...which is better #10 or #4 lol? http://t.co/NJzDjFuZ or http://t.co/lNUtprSm
@mkomisarek
Mike Komisarek

in which he provided a (broken) link to a womens magazine article that says he’s cute. He later corrected it. But like his disastrous and one sided feud with the Milan Lucic, perhaps this shrill attempt to distract from his play and the missing esteem of his peers is something he should just leave alone.

The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will square off Wednesday in Toronto, and Saturday in Boston. Amazing as it is to be talking seriously about the Maple Leafs and the playoffs, not to mention the importance of a two game set in November, it’s a reality. With more than a quarter of the season gone the Leafs enter this pair of games atop the Northeast.

The Bruins sit just one point behind them, and have had a strong November. With two meetings already in the bag, and the Bruins having won both games handily these two games will provide an opportunity for both teams. The Leafs can get back even with the Bruins by winning both, or at least remain competitive with a split. The Bruins with two wins can go forward knowing they have nailed down one of the tie breakers. As difficult as it is to imagine a team like the Leafs can give up over three goals a game and remain in the running, they hold a playoff spot now.

In the previous two games the Bruins won by a combined 13-2. Tyler Seguin has a hat trick, in Toronto. Phil Kessel has not had a goal and is -2. The Bruins enter Wednesday’s game without any injuries. Toronto is missing Colby Armstrong, James Reimer, Matthew Lombardi, Mike Komisarek is also on the IR.

The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.

Southeast division:

Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team.  If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.

Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything.  Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.

Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.

Atlantic division

This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.

The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.

The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.

New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.

Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.

Northeast division

If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.

Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland.  Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.

Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.

A couple times in the last two or three weeks I’ve heard people say that teams take on the personality of their head coach. Specifically they were saying this in an effort to criticize Claude Julien. I just don’t think I can agree. The coach is on a day to day basis the most influential member of club management, but that’s about where it ends.

The general manager on the other hand not only selects the coaches, and the players, but selects the scouts, the assistant general managers, and trainers. They also set the priorities of personality, and physical attributes they value. It is also the GM who (in most organizations) has the final call on trades, draft choices, and what players are assigned to and recalled from a minor league affiliate. On top of that, they have the final say what free agents are pursued or resigned.

Bearing those things in mind, let’s look at two general managers that have been appointed recently, and the types of players they have brought in, made captain, and attempted to move.

First Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs:

  • Dion Phanuef, aggressive, hard skating defenseman who has drafted high and has a reputation for playing on or over the edge. Has not had his defensive game flattered much in the last couple seasons. Also has a reputation for not having his head in the game for long stretches of time. He was brought into the Maple Leafs via a trade with the Calgary Flames. After twenty six games of tepid play last season, he was named captain in the off season, a position that had been vacant since the departure in 2008 of Leafs icon Mats Sundin.
  • Phil Kessel, was acquired from the Boston Bruins in exchange for two first round draft picks  and a second round pick (Tyler Seguin 1st 2010, Jared Knight 2nd 2010, and upcoming 1st 2011). Kessel was and remains widely praised for exceptional speed, and a shot release that puts him in the top ten or fifteen players in the league in both. He’s also got a well documented history of failure to perform against top teams, isn’t gifted with an impressive work ethic, and probably accumulates almost as many hits her year as Tim Thomas. He’s not shown a willingness to play through pain for the good of the team.
  • Mike Komisarek, picked up after he earned himself a one way ticket to anywhere but the Bell Centre. He’s a defensive defenseman, who plays with an edge, engaged in a very one-sided feud with Bruins winger Milan Lucic where he lost a couple fights, including one where he spent months on the shelf as a result of an injury sustained during the fight. He gouged the eye of the much smaller Matt Hunwick and hasn’t covered himself in glory as a Leaf.

Now a look at some of the key free players Peter Chiarelli has brought to the Boston Bruins.

  • Zdeno Chara. Has responded well to both coaches he’s played for a Bruin, his former Islanders General Manager’s lone complaint of him is that he wanted to much money. He came into a town with a history of elite defensemen and earned himself a Norris trophy. Has, been a fixture of the team, played the 2009-10 season with a dislocated finger. Soft spoken off the ice and willing to give time to fans.
  • Marc Savard. Came in a point per game player with a reputation for soft play, and defensive nonexistence. In the time he’s been in Boston, his points total has dipped slightly, but he has also been a large contributor to the penalty kill, and has led the team in scoring three of the four plus seasons here. By nearly any conceivable measure, he signed a contract extension well under his fair market value to remain a member of the Boston Bruins.
  • Mark Recchi. As the NHL’s elder statesman by more than two years, on the surface it’s an interesting question as to why he’s on the roster at all. That is until you remember he’s one of the handful of players to hit over 1000 games, 1000 points, and 1000 penalty minutes. Also, certain minor stars of the NHL like Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos credit him with helping them hugely. Add that to the Bruins pretty young roster, and the upcoming talents and he’s a very, subtle element in the developmental progression of several players.

When you look at the rosters of both teams, see interviews with the core players, and look at who’s wearing the letters on the front of their jerseys you’ll notice that for the most part the Bruin’s players are soft spoken, introverted, and even if they play a very physical game, lean towards the cerebral thinking mans player. If you look at the Maple Leafs roster, you get one dimensional, high risk high reward style players who are more emotionally driven. I don’t think you could watch five minutes of footage of both GM’s and come away with any impression other than that these are the men who have crafted their teams.