We are one week into the NHL season. With so few games having been played, and so many new players and coaches, the standings at this point are almost meaningless. The points matter a little, but even the teams that are 3-0-0 or 0-3-0 have only played 3.6% of their schedule.

Off The Ledge:

Buffalo Sabres fans, your team isn’t as bad as things look now. Despite the teams woeful start, the goaltending is still solid. Seven goals against in three games means Ryan Miler and Jonas Enroth are doing their part, the defense is at a minimum useful but the very, very young forward group hasn’t gotten in sync yet.

Philadelphia Flyers faithful should all retreat from the rooftops and bridges and find a good beer and cheese-steak. With two goalies still new to the system, and a several skaters who are either new as well, or spent some time out with injuries last year. While not many people are betting on Ray Emery to turn in the same (or better) numbers as last season, he’s a better goalie than he’s shown in his single outing this season.

Edmonton Oilers true believers have seen this before, and well, it was supposed to be different this year. Just as it was supposed to be different each of the last half dozen season. Unlike any of those years, I actually think this will be a better season.  They have veteran leadership, Taylor Hall is already doing better at faceoffs than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and top center Sam Gagner will be back by Thanksgiving to lighten the load for the team.

Don’t Plan The Parade:

Colorado Avalanche fans should be ecstatic right now. Somehow their team has scored nine goals and allowed just two through two games. Sure they’ve got offensive talent and Semyon Varlemov is underrated as a goaltender, but this isn’t merely over achieving for a team with a very very similar defense to last years 27th in the league team.

Toronto Maple Leafs A three and zero start is impressive, and not exactly luck. Their game against Montreal they slipped by with a one goal win. They did be the Flyers by two goals, but against the best of their opponents they had to win  in the coin flip competition known as a shootout. Possibly more importantly, there is a brewing goaltending controversy with Bernier and Reimer, and the two players leading the team in scoring; Mason Raymond and Joffrey Lupul are hardly the pictures of perfect health.

 

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

Of the two eastern divisions, this one has the most teams who turned in a middling performance last year and put together the points needed to make the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils:

Good news: One of the most changed teams in the NHL since last year, they have a much deeper forward pool than we’ve seen in the Garden state in a long time.

Bad news: The defense is still iffy a lot of games, and we still don’t know what Schneider will look like as the #1 goalie playing full time or even an 50/50 split.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Good news: Claude Giroux is back earlier than expected. The possibly complacent group has been refreshed.

Bad news: A lack of injuries is about the best think that can be said for this “Frankenteam”, the roster is studded by buyouts, players past their prime, journeymen…

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Good news: For the first time in the careers of most of the draft picks on the roster, the team is moving in the right direction.

Bad news: High priced gun slinger Nathan Horton is out for a while, and Vinny Prospal is no longer on the roster, and for good or ill, when Horton returns it will affect team chemistry.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Good news: The big names are all back; Crosby, Malkin, Neal. The team didn’t have a lot of turnover in the off season, they let go of their trade deadline reinforcements, demoted Bennett (and then they recalled him) but are pretty much the group we saw last year.

Bad news: Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has been in a state of melt down for a while, Vokoun is out for who knows how long, and Jeff Zatkoff is a complete unknown at the NHL level,.

New York Islanders:

Good news: Lots of growth last year, Casey Cizikas is poised for a good year, Thomas Hickey and Griffin Reinhart will push each other and the rest of the blueline for ice time.

Bad news: in what may become the perennial question; who will play and succeed on John Tavares wing. There is also the question of goaltending.

New York Rangers:

Good news: The defense is the strength of the team. Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi are more blueline gifts than most teams own it.

Bad news: Brad Richards is still an unknown, and how well the coach works with this team is also an unknown, and Henrik Lundqvist’s preseason looked a lot like Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes:

Good news: They have all the offense they need to succeed, adding Hainsey will help, and Anton Khudobin is one of the best backup goalies in the NHL.

Bad news: The defense overall is pretty mediocre. Cam Ward hasn’t been healthy of late, and they are in a division that has all sorts of teams that could make the playoffs.

Washington Capitals:

Good news: Ovechkin, Laich, Carlson, Green, Backstrom is enough talent to tilt the ice in most games, adding Grabovski is almost cheating.

Bad news: We still don’t know if this roster can produce for a season and more importantly the post season.

Top three teams:

Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers

These three have the best mix of talent, grit, and balance. It would not be surprising if the Rangers were edged out by another team, but who does that, if at all, is a matter of who is healthiest.  I would not be surprised at all to see five teams from this division make it to the post season.

Goalie may be the most important position in all of sports. In hockey they are not only the last line of defense, playing more minutes a year than any skater, they are often the spark plug for offensive breakouts. Some teams have impressive goaltenders who not have played well in the past, but have done so in their system.

Philadelphia Flyers

The last half dozen years have served as a great example of why this team needs solid goaltenders who can play that way in their system. Ilya Bryzgalov was great in Phoenix. In Philadelphia he was bought out two years into a forever contract. When they squared off with the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals a few years back they used three different goalies in one post season. It isn’t hard to make the case that a goalie better than Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher or Johan Backlund might have had them hoisting the Cup and not Chicago. This year we will see if their cursed crease can bring down the resurgent Ray Emery, and Columbus Blue Jackets discard Steve Mason. I doubt either goaltender gets taken in first five rounds of any fantasy hockey draft.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The serial meltdowns of Marc-Andre Fleury are too much for all but the willfully blind to ignore. If once is chance, twice is coincidence, and three times is a certainty, four consecutive playoff flame-outs should be enough for anyone. In the last four seasons his save percentages are .891 following the Stanley Cup win, .899, .834, and most recent .883. Those numbers won’t keep you employed in the regular season. Last year Fleury forfeited the crease to the 36 year old Vokoun who’s first playoff appearance came the year Fleury was drafted, turned in a Sv% of .933 behind the exact same defense, Vokoun is now out recovering from a blood clot.

Calgary Flames

When most of your fans can’t name your goaltenders you’ve either found the new sexy netminder or you found someone willing to get peppered for a pay check. Joey MacDonald is career backup who since entering the NHL in the 2006-7 season has only played in 122 games. Forty-nine of them were in 2008-9 for the New York Islanders. He has a career save % of .903. The likely starter broke into the NHL the same season. He then spent three seasons on the shuttle between the AHL and NHL before fleeing to Europe. While in the KHL Karri Romo never topped 45 games. In the KHL playoffs, all but one post season his Sv% dropped from the regular season. To make it worse, Romo and MacDonald are playing behind a defense that just isn’t good. You could as accurately name the player best in their own end with stats as by picking a name from a hat.

Florida Panthers

New owners, old owners the story has been the same in Sunrise for years: not much quality. If the aim is to improve, at minimum a quality, healthy backup for Jacob Markstrom is needed. Last year Markstrom split 56 games between the AHL and NHL, and tacked on three more world cup games for good measure. The other goalie under NHL contract is Scott Clemmensen the less said about his play last season the better. They’ve brought in Tim Thomas on a professional tryout, but however good he has played in the past hasn’t been signed, and hasn’t played in a year.

Some o these teams are doomed from the start, for others their weakness won’t be exposed until the post season, all of these teams have some form of crease crisis.

This feature will follow the various non-news tv shows surrounding the NHL and NHL teams.

What a confusing morass of not a lot. This is an anti-documentary. Zero context, just nothing. They show all 11 goals in the first game without any sorta backbone to it. Utterly formless.  No setup for the goals, no looks at the bench, and you don’t even get an idea how each players is doing in the post season with a given goal. After watching the goals for the first two games, I’m reminded how ugly most of the goals in that series were. But don’t worry, there are exciting interviews with Chris Pronger and Ben Eager. And by exciting I mean Patrice Bergeron’s appearance on NHL36 was more engaging, and Jonathan Toews shows more change of expression on an interview.

Brent Sopel’s goal immediately follows a goal only after review. Also, Michael Leighton is not an NHL goalie He is certainly a traditional Philadelphia Flyers goalie, but his ability to stop pucks is rival only by the ability of the city of Brotherly Love to suck the talent out of netminders. Also, Claude Giroux was useful in this series.

If you had only this show to work on you’d think all the goalies were awful, Dave Bolland was an All Star, and that Chris Pronger was the only Flyer allowed to talk to the media. Fortunately, the playoff beards are mighty. Kris Versteeg looks like a viking,

At 50 minutes into this long program you get to the start of game six. Its a blessing. There isn’t much to recommend this program, and given the weirdness of Kane’s cup clincher, Hossa getting the Stanley Cup from Toews is probably the real emotional highlight of the show.

What horrible production, this was a highlight show without the setup, and a documentary with and documentation. Even as a chance to relive the events if you watched it all, it lacks severely.

The Phoenix Coyotes summer overshadowed the season. The single most important event to happen since the franchise landed in the deseret, owners took over who were committed to keeping the Coyotes in Glendale. The team’s season wasn’t what they wanted. Oliver Ekman-Larsson continued to grow and develop. Mike Smith was a cornerstone, and Keith Yandle led the Coyotes in scoring.

The draft and the summer were good for the team too. Max Domi is the biggest name on the prospect list, but Henrick Samuelsson, Connor Murphy and Andy Miele will try and steal some of the limelight and earn a spot on the roster. With a roster that so lacked in offense last year (21st), anyone who can play responsible two way hockey and put the puck in the net has a good chance of making the roster this year.

The Phoenix Coyotes will open the season at home, and then go on a road trip that crosses the continent. After hosting the New York Rangers at home, they will travel to face the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers. That’s four playoff teams, five cities and three timezones.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home games: 1

Projected points:  5

The future is now for the Coyotes, with five years to become a profitable, team and build a fanbase that will make future lean years both rare and survivable; the clock is ticking. They have draft some interesting talent, they have some All-Stars, and a good coach. Ownership should take the most important marketing measures and add one or two talented players through trade to put this team on the map locally, and internatiionally. The first week of the season will be tough, the month perhaps better a bit better with only has two back to back sets. Shane Doan, Mikkel Boedker, Zybnek Michalek and the rest of the teams most reliable players will need to step forward and hold the line for Coyotes to be playing in the third week of April.

The NHL has surprises here and there, injuries unexpected firings, and ridiculous hirings. But the for the most part, NHL observers can expect exactly the train-wrecks and triumphs that are written in the stars just waiting to be read.

7:  Jarome Iginla & Brendan Morrow

Both Morrow and Iginla ended up as part of the augmentation of talent for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they made a run towards the Cup. The team fell short, and what came next, should surprise 0.0% of hockey fans. Brendan Morrow who’s offense has fallen off the cliff since the 2010-11 season is without a contract. He performed like a third line rookie in the playoffs, and his skating was not impressive. Iginla on the other hand is signed to a contender having put up nearly a point per game despite the Pittsburgh Penguins season ending a lot like David Carradine, only without the consent or fun.

6: Nathan Horton Bolting Boston

When players who spend a lot of their career in very laid back markets without a strong (and occasionally vicious) media presence suddenly get dropped into the crucible of a major hockey market, the result is often less than pretty. Players have flamed out in Toronto, Montreal, New York and Boston. For Horton who spent most of his career in Florida where on an average day the training staff outnumber the media contingent Boston was destined to be uncomfortable. Add in six seasons of never getting to the playoffs and then suddenly winning the Cup, and he literally had no reason to stay. Columbus is about as close to southern Ontario as Boston, a quieter town, and as much as the team has improved, it will be a playoff team most of the next seven years so he wasn’t giving up much.

5: Bryzgalov goes Bye-Bye

Speaking of guys going from small markets to major hockey markets, witness the rise and fall of one Ilya Bryzgalov. Was all of his disastrous stay in Philadelphia his fault? No. Are the Philadelphia Flyers the kiss of death for goalie talent? Yes. Did everyone outside the Philadelphia Flyers front office see this coming? All the way across the humongous big universe. The buyout of Bryzgalov was both needed and inevitable. Sadly, he and his contract were not the biggest issues with Flyers, otherwise know as the home of things that make you go hmmm.

4: Russians Mute On Anti-Gay Laws

Whatever they think, Russian players in North America aren’t going to speak up about their government’s further encoding homophobia into the nations culture. If they agree with their home nations laws, they risk ostracizing here.  If they publicly disagree with the laws, the risk legal censure at home and possibly even being barred from the Sochi Olympic and other international competition. Here groups like You Can Play would keep them busy defending themselves, and well, National Geographic has convinced me I don’t ever want to see a Russian prison.

 3: RFA Contract Disputes Dragging On

The swallows return to Capistrano, and NHL teams drag their heels and try and sweat young players. Both happen with enough regularity that they cease to be amazing. Last year P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations dragged into camp, the year before it was Drew Doughty, this year it is Alex Pietrangelo. All of them are great young defenseman who any team should be happy to have and want to keep happy. But, these are NHL teams we’re dealing with.

2: Unsupportable Ranking of Sidney Crosby in NHL Fantasy Column
The NHL marketing department, which seems to have a super majority of the brain trust in league HQ, simply can not help itself, or the league. No matter what happens they keep beating the same drum over, and over in the same pattern. In the last three season Sidney Crosby has missed (113) more games than he’s played (99). His injury history should lead no one to think he’ll be healthy the majority of the season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic who was taken 34 picks after Crosby and started his NHL career a year later has played 49 more NHL games, Patrick Kane who was drafted two full years later and has suffered his own injuries has played just 36 games less. Alex Ovechkin, Andrej Meszaros, Andrew Ladd, Johan Franzen, Mark Streit and Travis Zajac several of whom have had serious injuries entered the league the same year or later have all played more games as well. Yes that includes 9th round pick Mark Streit, who missed an entire season.  So why is Sidney Crosby the #1 ranked Fantasy Hockey property? Because it sells jerseys.

1: Big, Dumb Contracts

Leaves fall from trees, cats chase mice, Matt Cooke is surprised when he is sent to the penalty box, all are slightly less predictable than a general manager in the NHL handing out incredibly dumb contracts sometime in the first two weeks of July. This year immediately after he was bought out Vincent Lecavalier was able to make it big (again) thanks to the generosity of Paul Holmgren Philadelphia Flyers General Manager. But Holmgren couldn’t help himself, he also made sure Mark Streit didn’t starve in the streets. Between the two he tied up $10,000,000.00 in cap space, Streit’s is a +35 contract and Lecavalier has a full no movement clause.

But Holmgren is hardly alone there. The Boston Bruins joined in by signing a goaltender who has never one a championship, not in World Juniors, World Championship, Olympics, AHL, ECHL, CHL or any place else to a contract they gave him $8,000,000.00 a year despite the lack of success and injury trouble. Tuukka Rask can thank Peter Chiarelli and Can Neely for buying a nice bill of goods.

Not to be outdone, Ray Shero’s golden handshake with Kris Letang was arguably the worst contract given to a defenseman since Dennis Wideman signed in Calgary. Letang’s playoff performance this year makes it doubtful to many people that he’s a $5m defenseman. Shero clearly believes that Letang is a $7,250,000.00 defenseman.

The City of Brotherly Love played host to three of the four horseman of the Apocalypse last season, or at least the Flyers locker room did. Players that weren’t injured were often ill, and despair cloaked the stands and fanbase days into the season. Four different goaltenders saw action during the season, and only one of those four, Steve Mason, is with the organization today. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out as the end point of a debacle, the other two just went away.  Thirty-five skaters played for the team last year.  Thirteen of those skaters were defensemen and none of those played in every game. Of the 22 forwards, five were goalless, seven managed not even an assist. If you’re just tuning into hockey, it will not surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers did not make the playoffs.

The off season saw Bryzgalov bought out, and also the wizrd of playoff points Daniel Briere. Thanks to a cap situation that looks like Medusa, the list of players signed in the off season reads like a who’s who of has beens and almost weres. Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and yet it only took the Flyers days to decide he needed a five year contract with a no movement clause big enough to make him their second highest paid forward. In the 11 years since Kris Newbury was signed he has totaled no more than 11 games in the NHL in any season. Jay Rosehill possesses no qualities that don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, and where they do exist they come with more skill. While Mark Streit isn’t a bad player, he’s a +35 contract for four years at more than five million a year. This is a guy who is going to be 36 before the winter holidays, and owns very little playoff experience.

The first five games for the Flyers season aren’t all that bad as schedules go. They start the season at home hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs before jetting north to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the first half of a back to back that ends in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then the Broad Street Bullies head home for games against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points : 3+

Players like Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and the often injured Claude Giroux mean the Flyers have a chance to win any game on the strength of their offense. The depth of the defense, the adaptability of their coach Peter Laviolette, and the quality of play of netminders Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the key points of the season. Youngsters like Scott Laughton, Nick Cousisns and Mark Alt will take aim at the heavens, but for this team to succeed they need good health and veteran contributions in their own zone.

Last season’s Red Wings had to live with the reality of a Lidstrom-less existence. It showed more in their finishing 21st in goals for than other parts of their game. Datsyuk and Zetterberg put in heroic efforts over the shortened season that the two aging stars may or may not be able to duplicate in a full season. Jimmy Howard turned in a career year for GAA and nearly matching his previous best sv% as well. The Red Wing’s in the standings swung back and forth like a pendulum, bringing them back and forth from 11th to 4th and finally coming to rest with them in 7th place. In the opening round of the playoffs they squared off against the Anaheim Ducks, and quickly fell behind. The Ducks proved unable to put them away and then take the eventual Cup winners to seven games.

In the off season they added the soon to be 41 year old Daniel Alfredsson and former Florida Panther Stephen Weiss. They’ve also gotten their wish to shift from the west to the east. The travel schedule may be more brutal in the west, but the physicality of hockey isn’t quite the same. The Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will all happily throw the body at a prodigious rate and there are other teams not far behind. To open the season, the Wings make themselves known to their new conference rivals interrupted only by a clash with the Coyotes. Opening night will have them hosting the Buffalo Sabres before packing up for Raleigh and a date with the Carolina Hurricanes. On the backend of a Friday/Saturday set on the road they face the new look Boston Bruins, before going home to the Coyotes and Flyers.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

Alfredsson is quoted as saying going to Detroit was a selfish move because he wanted to win. Given the lack of difference overall in quality between his old franchise and new one, we’ll have to see how well that works out. The Olympics could also trip this team up. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will undoubtedly get tapped for their national teams, and Ericsson and Kronwall would be unsurprising choices as well, there is even a chance Alfredsson gets to pull on the national jersey one more time. What that means is almost all their best player could have extra strain, wear and tear, injuries and travel time or illness before the second half.