Barring an injury bug that puts fifty percent of the roster on the shelf for six weeks all at once, mass alien abduction, or being forced to play blind folded there’s not really any reason this team shouldn’t win the division and be within a handful of points of the conferences top slot. An offense starring Kovalchuk, Zajak, Rolston, Elias and Arnott should be enough to keep Broduer’s win total climbing, and the defenses job reasonably easy.
New York Rangers:
The Rangers need to do something that isn’t average this year. In goals for and against, even by period they were utterly average. They ranked between eleven and twenty in most offensive and defensive areas, with their penalty kill achieving a high water mark of seventh. In a division with two teams that have been to the big dance in the last two seasons, and the reinvigorated New Jersey Devils. Probably not a playoff team unless one of the divisions big three has a protracted period of major suckage, but better than some of the teams out west that will sneak in.
The Flyers are in a similar position to the Penguins two seasons ago. Working against them is a rumored rift in the locker room between captain Mike Richards and defensive stud Chris Pronger. Worse, from their prospective the two biggest reasons for their failure to raise the Cup were not addressed. Goaltending and conditioning. The Flyers forwards, starting with their captain looked lung a wrung out bar rag by the middle of game five of the Stanley Cup playoffs, by the end of the first period of game six it was nearly a forgone conclusion. All that saved them from going down and out early was the titanic effort of their top four defensemen who played huge minutes and came up huge. While it can be argued the goal position will have been solidified by experience and better health, well, let’s say I’m not a buyer of that particular bill of goods. That said, the Flyers are still deeper on both offense and defense than anyone but the Devils within the Atlantic division,
Last years Penguins had a whole host of issues to keep them down, injuries to their most offensively talented center in Geno Malkin, the Olympic melodrama that had the roster running about in Vancouver to no good for an already thin roster, and the continued feud between Crosby and Ovechkin that took Crosby away from what he’s supposed to be doing; exploiting and developing his wingers offensive capabilities, and left him concentrating on a goal scoring race that hurt the team. On top of that you had a defense mostly made up of mispositioned wingers and of course they started the season with the second worst goalie to hoist the Cup in the past decade or two. Fortunately for Fluery Niemi proved to be notably worse, but was carried by a very, strong team and Fluery can now claim third on that list. Even if they didn’t make much move to bolster the goal scoring on their wings, they did ad Zbynek Michalek to the defense that allowed more goals than all but one team to make the playoffs last year. Michalek alone should double the quality of play in their defensive zone by himself.
New York Islanders:
Oh the poor Isles, this will sound like a slam, but it really isn’t: The Islanders will challenge for the fourth spot in what may be the best division in the NHL this year. Despite the loss of Streit for a long period, the young team spent last year making life miserable for any team that marked a game against Hampstead’s warriors as easy two points. Pop Quiz, what do last years Montreal, New Jersey and Boston squads have in common with last years Islanders? Answer they each scored the same number or less goals. I think the Islanders are two years, and some shrewd free agent signings from being able to make the same sort of noise the Coyotes did last year.
The Coyotes should win their division this year. They had one less win than the Sharks last year, and are better balanced than the Kings. No major talent losses, and a great mix of youth and veterans. I can’t imagine the team failing to make the playoffs for the second straight year. The biggest impact on their early season will not be how they play in Europe, but that they play in Europe. I won’t be surprised if they have a lukewarm start and steadily grind their way into the playoffs after catching their breath.
What a turn around in playoff performances last year. They showed grit, determination and that Joe Thornton can not be blamed for previous failures to flourish. Pavelski and the rest of supporting cast were fun to watch. Sadly, they will not have a repeated conference win in the regular season without an early reinforcement of their defense and finding a legitimate top tier NHL goalie. I’ll be interested to see what moves they make after the holidays.
Yee-ha they drafted well! While undeniably more talented than the other team I had the same introduction for, they are clearly a weaker team than the top three in the division. The most interesting stories in Duckville will be the development of Fowler without a clear mentor, and how (if at all), George Parros, some old guys, and a bunch of guys with Ryan in their name can keep the journey to golfing season interesting. Roughly speaking their eastern conference equivalent is probably the New York Rangers.
Funny thing about this team their damn good. Sadly no one seems to know this. Kopitar is probably the most under rated forward in the NHL, Dustin Brown is as good as (or better) Jonathan Toews (and I’m a big fan of Captain Toews), and Drew Doughty is the closest thing to this generations Ray Bourque that exists in the NHL, and yet no one seems to know this. I was laughed at when I said before last season started that they would probably make the playoffs. The only thing holding this team down is a left wing that is a touch shaky. Ryan Smyth is solid, but Ponikarovsky has yet to prove himself. Look for sparks to fly when they play Vancouver this year, and for them to play two rounds in the second season.
Fans of the Stars should be cheering the Oilers, Wild, and Blue Jackets at every opportunity. Those teams success this season will allow the Stars a better lottery position and a brighter future. With a defense that could have it’s pairings picked from a hat, and a goalie situation headlined by the oft injured and not quite spectacular Kari Lehtonen this team is not much to write home about even with a reasonably talented young forward cadre.