THN Rankings – East

1 Montreal Canadiens
2 Pittsburgh Penguins
3 Washington Capitals
4 Philadelphia Flyers
5 Ottawa Senators
6 NY Rangers
7 New Jersey Devils
8 Carolina Hurricanes
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
10 Boston Bruins
11 Buffalo Sabres
12 Florida Panthers
13 Atlanta Thrashers
14 Toronto Maple Leafs
15 NY Islanders

Again, I’m going to have to disagree with THN over this. If the Pens had managed to keep Ryan Malone and/or Marian Hossa I’d be inclined to agree that they would finish atop their division, but they won’t. When you potentially have Miroslav Satan as your top scoring winger you’re not going to go anywhere fast. The rest of the team remains largely the same.

I have a hard time believing the Sens will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Despite the fact that Wade Redden‘s game is in decline, losing him will hurt because they didn’t replace him. The Sens are still looking for ways to fill out the rest of their roster, but like so many other teams in the East, goaltending is their primary concern. If Martin Gerber doesn’t hold up, they’re slightly above average at best by virtue of their incredible top line.

The Bruins are going to make some noise this year, especially with a completely healed Patrice Bergeron. Michael Ryder will head into camp as the favourite to land the first line right winger slot, and considering the success Claude Julien had with Ryder, along with an elite playmaking centre in Marc Savard, he could be a very nice surprise. Once again, however, they head into training camp with a 1A-1B tandem of fan favourite Tim Thomas and the disgruntled Manny Fernandez.

The East is much more clear cut than the West because so many teams have holes. The Habs, arguably the best team in the East, also has a shaky goaltending situation considering how Carey Price fell apart last year. These goaltending problems also plague at least 3 of the playoff teams listed. It’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out – a lot of teams have areas to improve, and considering the mass exodus of players from the East heading West, this year could be rather different.

This article has 17 Comments

  1. As far as the Senators at 5th, it iis absolutely possible, however, it is possible to see them struggle to finish in the top 8 as well.
    No doubt you pegged the two biggest issues, the replacing of Reddens +22 min a game, and Gerber’s consistency. As far as Redden goes, his play has been so horrendous, I’m inclined to think his not having been replaced is more of a holding pattern then an improvement of step back. Smith will improve his defensive deficiencies, but his offensive time will have to be spread among yet largely unproven assets (Schubert, Lee, Nycholat).
    Gerber is simply too hard to predict. He started the 07/08 campaign on fire, and was the key reason the Senators amassed the record breaking beginning to their season, but in the middle, he was neither the problem, nor more importantly, the solution. Once the Emery fiasco (or more appropriately, unmitigated disaster) was resolved, Gerber played above average, and posted some heroic performances both down the stretch, and in the post season. If he maintains this average to better performance, the Senators will likely reach or better the #5 finish. If he stumbles, look at #8 or worse.
    As for the Canadiens being the best team in the East, I’m not so sure. They grossly overachieved last season, due largely in part to two key factors, PP success, and Kovalev. The PP has likely taken a step back with the loss of Streit, and if Gerber can be considered inconsistent, Kovalev is downright bi-polar.

  2. Price didn’t fall apart, he had 2 shut outs as a rookie in the post-season and Montreal as a team got destroyed bya more physical team. I hope he’s not expected to steal play-off rounds yet

  3. Looks like the Sabres are back where they were 3 years ago…Seems everyone forgets this team is now only missing 3 players from when they won the President’s Trophy and have added Craig Rivet…an upgrade over Brian Campbell in my opinion. Fine with me and I’m sure fine with them.

  4. PeterS, I think the Sabres had horrible luck last season, HORROBLE! Now they’ve been pegged as a lower echelon club, when in fact, they have a roster capable of far more. Last season could have easily been reversed between BUF and MTL, and it seemed all of BUF’s good luck went to MTL, and all of MTL’s bad luck landed in Buffalo.

  5. Everyone is pointing to Bergeron as the Bruins saving grace this year. I think people forget that he is now one bad hit away from ending his career. I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in him being healthy for a few years, at least until he shows some consistency.

    He will definitely not be the same player he was. Very few guys are after injuries like that one.

  6. I think Bergeron will be a little more careful about going into corners or putting his head down at all.

  7. The Canadiens definitely overachieved last year, but I think they’re better this year than they were last year. Honestly speaking, I can’t really see any other East team contending for first other than Pittsburgh, and even then they’re entering the season weaker than the year before.

    Marco, Price gave up some very, very bad goals. The Canadiens were intimidated by a physical Bruins squad, but there’s no excuse for Price letting in goals on a weak wrister from the blueline. He started the postseason off great, and I had them pegged to go far with Price, but he just totally collapsed. Why do you think Carbonneau opted for Halak near the end of the series?

    Gerald, I’ve always thought the Sabres were just a team filled with great second liners. After Briere I’ve always felt that the talent level seemed to just dive right off. Vanek and Afinogenov are good wingers, but not great – they’re definitely in a lower class than the Heatleys, Iginlas, and St. Louises, despite the similar numbers that they have put up. One of the biggest knocks against them has always been their lack of a go-to guy. When the game’s on the line, Ruff has a hard time picking which players on the ice, because so many of them are equal in ability. Their greatest strength comes from being able to balance the scoring over 3 lines, but sometimes that’s their biggest weakness too. Their defense is average, it’s good enough in the East but against the West it’s mediocre.

    Glenn, I think even having Bergeron in the lineup will cause problems for the other team, because it’ll give coaches a bit of a headache on defense. Savard and Bergeron is one of the best 1-2 punches in the East, although not having an elite winger diminishes their production.

  8. I thought Halak only went in net vs the Flyers? Either way I thought he had as good of a post-season as one could of hoped considering how young he is.

    Regarding Buffalo though, I think Vanek would be wicked with a better centre, I mean Vanke-Roy-Afinogenov was wicked that one season because they were “the 3rd line” (on a very deep team) but they weren’t facing top D-men and shut down lines, and while Vanek could be a guy who could go up against a shut down pairing D and forward unit, he’ll need better quality linemates to get over that hump. He needs to work on consistency as he takes too many nights off still though. I see him on the same level as a Simon Gagne though, 40 goal scorer.

  9. A positive GF/GA ratio, and missing the post season is undeniable bad luck.
    The Canadiens are better…how? Not trying to be a bahser, at all, I just don’t know what they’ve done to cement past years over-acheivement as the new expectation. IF they do it again, then I’ll believe it was not over-acheivement, but a true reflection of the teams abilities. Kovalev is the foundation of that teams success, and that’s a bit scary.

  10. Marco, if Gainey and Carbonneau didn’t expect Price to carry them far into the playoffs they wouldn’t have traded Huet. At the time they felt that Price was comfortable and good enough in pressure situations to lead them to at least the Finals. He crumbled after letting in some weak goals.

    Buffalo’s got a lot of talented forwards, just no clear-cut go-to guy. For some teams it’s just easy to decide whose stick to put the puck on when the game’s one the line. Buffalo doesn’t have that luxury. I still think their team is still too small to go places in the playoffs. They’re actually just only one elite centre or defenseman away from vaulting themselves back into division contention.

    Gerald, I don’t feel GF/GA is a ratio that defines how good a team should be. I don’t think the Bruins and Hawks got where they were because of good/bad luck.

    You’ve said it yourself, “past years of over-achievement.” Wouldn’t it be the new expectation after several years of over-achievement? By using your GF/GA theory, they’d still be the top teams in the league, with a +40 goal differential. That’s on par with the Sharks, who finished second. Did the Ducks get lucky and finish with 100+ points too? I don’t think so. The Habs have improved because they got Tanguay, who is a large step up from Ryder, and ton of emerging youngsters. Of course, a lot of their success depends on Price and Kovalev, but on paper their team is top 3 in the East.

  11. Gf/GA is the leading indicator of success, always has been.
    Buf was #4 in GF, 22nd in GA, and had a GD of +18. They needed 2.80 goals per point, way above average (2.60), but were a goal positive club that still missed the post season…bad luck.
    WSH was 8th in GF, 19th in GA, and had a GD of +11. They needed 2.60 marginal goals per point, dead average, and earned their post season berth.
    BOS was the luckiest team in the East, finishing 24th in GF, and 11th in GA, with a GD of -9. They needed only 2.43 goals per point, way below average, but are not known as a defensive giant, and made the post season even with a negative goal diff…luck.
    I agree completely with your view on BUF, but I would be surprised to see BUF repeat with another positive GF/GA and not improve their winning %.
    Agreed on paper MON is a top 3-4 team, but for me, the Price and Kovalev factors are huge uncertainties, that are being given passes based upon last years results. I sure don’t know what Kovy will do, but if history is ant indication, he’s far more likely to become an average top 6 talent then remain a leading offensive force.

  12. I don’t think there’s any stat that is definitely indicative of success. I think all stats are somewhat misleading and when evaluating teams it takes a multiple stats to do so.

    Using your theory, I don’t see how you think that Montreal overachieved? Their GF is second in the league, and their GF/GA differential as noted is one of the best in the league. We won’t know how well Kovalev is going to do, but of course we expect every NHLer to enter the season putting up similar numbers to their totals from last year.

    I also think a large part of any team’s success is being able to close out games. Boston was one of the better ones in the league, sitting 11th, while the Sabres were were a mediocre 25th. Also, if you look at net goals minus, the Bruins were a healthy 8th, while the Sabres were again a mediocre 25th. It all depends on what sort of stats you look at, and over an 82 game season I usually don’t see luck as the sole reason a team should’ve or shouldn’t have made the playoffs. Statistically speaking, the more games they play, the less luck becomes a factor.

  13. I believed MTL over-achieved in offense, not MGD per point.
    In @94% of events, GF/GA is predictive of points, that’s a very strong correlation. As such, any outliers from the norm have to be considered anomalously, or, for lack of a better term, lucky or unlucky.
    As for Kovalev, again, having one year define the rule, and ignore it in context of his recent (3 yrs) career is risky.

  14. Keep in mind about Kovalev, since we’re talking about his “recent” three year career: his 65 points in 05-06 may not look like much but he was limited to 69 games by a knee injury. Of the three seasons he’s spent with the Habs, statistically 06-07 was the aberration, not 07-08 — he has one seriously underachieving season, and two of 0.94 points per game or more. While expecting him to match last year’s exceptional season is a bit much, I don’t think 75 points is unreasonable if he plays a full schedule.

    As for Price, I think his “collapse” is a bit overstated. The Flyers (and by that, I really mean RJ Umberger — 40%!) had a very hot shooting streak against him and a lot of those goals were deflection goals. Deflections are percentage plays, really, and usually Price is good with those because of size and positioning, but sometimes they’ll just go in and often they make the goalie look bad. Meanwhile Montreal ended up uncharacteristically stone cold with their finish despite dominating time of possession — again, some of that was Biron and some of that was a sudden burst of inaccuracy.

    Price was weak in spots, no doubt — and I do wonder how much that slash at his glove in game 2 (was it Hartnell?) really hurt him as his glove hand had hardly been suspect up to that point. But I do think that his “collapse” is being overstated.

    All that to say I wouldn’t read too much in the Flyers series. I really felt that Montreal’s weakest game was ironically the one that they won… and I think an argument could be made that each game in the series was lost by the team that carried the play. It was a very perplexing, and very frustrating, five games.

  15. By collapse I mean the work load will tire him out, and in the NHL, the smallest stumble can have a huge impact.
    Kovy is not likely to disappear, but any step back ill have an impact on this teams success, as he is the driving offensive force. Time will tell.

  16. Gerald, even if we subtract Montreal’s GF totals by 15-20, they’d still be one of the better offensive teams in the East, and their GF/GA differential would still make them a 95+ point team. Each team is different and plays different styles, and to the casual hockey fan, NJ’s +5 GF differential doesn’t exactly translate to a 99-point team.

    MathMan, there is no doubt that Price has the talent and skill to be one of the league’s best. One of the things that separate him from other goalies his age is his ability to keep a cool head, although sometimes I just think he’s indifferent. Perhaps I mistranslated his body language, but in the series against Boston and then Philadelphia it just seemed like he didn’t care.

  17. Some teams do win close games, as a style, but this is few and far between, and can only be considered “normal” after a number of occurrences.
    I guess at the end of the day, I just do not believe MTL will be able to repeat, due to Kovy not producing at the same rate, this effect on others, and a weakening of the PP, and a rookie goalie…but time will tell.

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