Jun 112013
 

Nathan Horton has been one of the stars of these NHL playoffs as will be an integral component of the Stanley Cup finals if the Bruins are going to beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Nathan Horton is also set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer so his good playoff performance is good timing. One of the things I have noticed about Horton while looking through the statistics is that he has one of the highest on-ice 5v5 shooting percentages over the past 6 seasons of any NHL forward (ranks 16th among forwards with >300 minutes of ice time).

Part of the reason for this is that he is a fairly good shooter himself (ranks 30th with a 5v5 shooting percentage of 12.25%) but this in no way is the main reason.  Let’s take a look at how Horton’s line mates shooting percentage have been over the past 6 seasons when playing with Horton and when not playing with Horton.

Sh% w/o Horton Sh% w/ Horton Difference
Weiss 11.28% 12.84% 1.56%
Lucic 13.03% 16.98% 3.95%
Krejci 11.41% 12.10% 0.68%
Booth 8.44% 11.26% 2.82%
Frolik 6.58% 10.84% 4.26%
Stillman 10.03% 15.38% 5.35%
Zednik 8.81% 13.56% 4.75%
Average 9.94% 13.28% 3.34%

Included are all forwards Horton has played at least 400 minutes of 5v5 ice time with over the past 6 seasons along with their individual shooting percentage when with Horton and when not with Horton. Every single one of them has an individual shooting percentage higher with Horton than when not with Horton and generally speaking significantly higher.  I have previously looked at how much players can influence their line mates shooting percentages and found that Horton was among the league leaders so the above table agrees with that assessment.

It is still possible that Horton is just really lucky but that argument starts to lose steam when it seems he is getting lucky each and every year over the past 6 years (he has never had a 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage at or below league average). Whatever Horton is doing while on the ice seems to be allowing his line mates to boost their own individual shooting percentages and the result of this is that he has the 9th highest on-ice goals for rate over the past 6 seasons. He is a massively under rated player and is this summers Alexander Semin of the UFA market.

 

Nov 022008
 

- Add a new team into the Mats Sundin sweepstakes: the Ducks. That’s right, the perpetually financially strained team is reportedly making a pitch to Sundin, and with the Ducks so close to the cap they’re going to have to shed salary (again). This time, the casualty may be Chris Kunitz, the former Ducks alternate captain who hasn’t quite lived up to his $3.5m price-tag since signing it. No doubt that the Ducks would prefer to trade Kunitz to an Eastern Conference team, but Brian Burke continues to put himself in situations in which he has absolutely no leverage – Mathieu Schneider was dealt for close to nothing, Ken Klee and Ilya Bryzgalov were lost through waivers, but the Ducks continue to spend, most recently Bret Hedican. I think Sundin is a long shot to land on the Ducks, because the Ducks’ offer won’t come close to the Canucks’ offer in terms of money and length. However, should the Ducks find themselves atop the Pacific come Christmas time (unlikely considering the way the Sharks are playing), it is a very attractive option.

- After Brendan Shanahan gave up hopes in returning to the Rangers, especially after their hot start, he’s starting to look at other options, and those teams include Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, Montreal, and Boston, all of them east teams, but all of them close to the cap. Colorado has also figured into the mix, and I think that’s where we may see Shanahan end up. The Avs have always been an enticing franchise for veteran free agents to play for, and although that may not be the case these days, don’t forget that the Avs still have Joe Sakic, who still has a considerable amount of pull, and the two played together at Salt Lake.

- The Jackets have tried everything, including moving Rick Nash to centre during practise, but it still hasn’t ignited a potentially high-octane offense. Since the first days of the franchise the team has always lacked a playmaking centre for Nash to play with, even though RJ Umberger (I predicted he would be a bust alongside Nash) and Kristian Huselius were signed, it still didn’t work. Derick Brassard is playing well, but he’s not quite ready for number one centre duties yet. This has prompted the Jackets to revive their search for a number one centre… and I don’t think it’s going to happen this year.

- Nikolai Khabibulin is making a strong case for himself to stay, and the Hawks must be giddy about his rising stock. The Hawks seem to be fairing well with both Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet, which means that another $6m on the Hawks’ roster, Martin Havlat, could be out the door instead. The injury-prone winger will be an UFA this summer, which makes him an attractive trade bait, especially if (a big one at that) he manages to stay healthy at least until the trade deadline.

- Mathieu Garon is also playing fairly well, despite the Oilers’ recent cold streak. There haven’t been any public grumblings from Dwayne Roloson, but it’s common knowledge that the 39-year old veteran doesn’t like playing second fiddle. There have been, unsurprisingly, no takers so far, and it’ll be a long season for Roloson from the bench. The Oilers are eager to get Roloson’s $3.667m cap hit off their books, paving the way for Jeff Deslauriers to handle backup duties full-time.

Rumours courtesy of Bruce Garrioch from the Ottawa Sun.

Oct 082008
 

I believe we are in for some serious surprises in both conferences as I don’t think there are many teams that are sure bets to make the playoffs and in both conferences, particularly the west, there are several younger teams ready to make a push for a playoff spot. All that means that some teams expecting to make the playoffs won’t.

Eastern Conference

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

I think the Devils may have made the best off season acquisition by bringing in Brian Rolston from the Minnesota Wild. Rolston is a perfect fit for the Devils and will bring them some much needed offensive balance which I believe will push them into top spot in the eastern conference.

The Montreal Canadiens had a breakout season last year and will once again challenge for top spot in the eastern conference but I don’t believe Kovalev will have as good of a season and that will drop the Canadiens back a spot or two.

The Washington Capitals are the class of the southeast division and should get the third seed and I believe the Rangers and Penguins are good enough for fourth and fifth seeds. The Penguins would easily be ranked higher if it weren’t for the two long term injuries to Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

This is where things get interesting. If the Ottawa Senators found a way to add a top 4 defenseman to the mix and get consistent solid goaltending they would easily compete for the top several spots in the eastern conference. But as it stands now I think the Senators will once again struggle for consistency in goal and I don’t like any team that has an aging Jason Smith as their #4 defenseman and Lee and Picard as the third defense pair with a combined 98 games experience. If one of Phillips, Volchenkov or Kuba gets injured for a lengthy period of time this team could miss the playoffs.

I believe the Buffalo Sabres will be a surprise team this year. They have an excellent young set of forwards that learned a lot last year having to take over leadership roles with the losses of Briere and Drury. They are now ready to step up their games and take the Sabres to the playoffs once again.

The Bruins, Flyers, Lightning and maybe the Hurricanes will all struggle at times this year and any of them could miss the playoffs. I am just not sold on any of those teams having the defense and goaltending to really be a top team in the NHL. Some of you may be surprised that I include the Flyers in this group but I am still not sold on Biron being a top level goalie and I think they could use some help on defense as well with the loss of Derien Hatcher. Problem is, they don’t have much cap space to add such a defenseman. The surprise in the east could be the Flyers missing the playoffs.

The final four probably won’t get many disputes. The Panthers, having traded Jokinen, probably don’t have the offense to compete though their defense and goaltending is more than solid. Toronto could probably end up a bit higher in the standings, but I don’t think that is a goal of theirs and are likely to continue trading away players and playing youngsters over veterans, even if the veterans are better right now. The Thrashers and Islanders are just plain bad with little or no signs of life this year or in the future.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Anaheim Ducks
3. Minnesota Wild
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Dallas Stars
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames
8. Chicago Blackhawks
9. Phoenix Coyotes
10. Vancouver Canucks
11. Colorado Avalanche
12. Nashville Predators
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
14. St. Louis Blues
15. Los Angeles Kings

No surprises at the top of this list as the Detroit Red Wings are the class of the league. They only question is whether they will suffer the Stanley Cup hangover that so many teams do. Being a veteran team who have gone through this before I don’t think they will and should easily be the best team in the western conference and the league.

Next up are the pacific division trio of Anaheim, San Jose and Dallas. All look to be very solid teams but I think Anaheim’s defense should allow them to take top spot followed closely by San Jose and Dallas not too far behind.

The Northwest division is real tough to predict because they all seem to have holes in their lineups. The Wild have lost Demitra and Rolston and I am not convinced bringing in Brunette and Nolan is enough to offset that loss. Calgary looks solid but only if Kiprusoff rebounds from an off season. In fact, Kuprusoff’s career is in a downward trend as his save percentages have dropped 4 seasons in a row from .933 to .923 to .917 to .906 last year. If he drops any more, the Flames could drop out of the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern as well not looking any better than last year. The Colorado Avalanche didn’t do much to excite me this off season and I am not at all sold on a goaltending tandem of Budaj and Raycroft, which has the potential to be among the worst in the league. The aging avalanche are also injury prone and that combination will likely see them drop out of the playoffs. The only team definitively on the rise are the Edmonton Oilers who look to make a jump to the playoffs.

The other two young teams looking to make their jumps into the playoffs are the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks. Both will challenge for a playoff spot but probably only one will get in. I am putting the Blackhawks in because I believe the Coyotes need another year or two to develop their young players and they Phoenix is in a much tougher division.

In the playoffs, I am predicting San Jose will face New Jersey in the finals with New Jersey winning the cup. Regular Season MVP will be Alex Ovechkin, Norris Trophy will go to Dion Phaneuf, Vezina will go to Martin Brodeur and coach of the year will be Brent Sutter of the Devils. The top rookie will be Derick Brassard of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Boston Bruins

 Boston Bruins  Comments Off
Sep 052008
 

The Bruins made the playoffs with one of the league’s worst PK units and offense, yet managed to sneak into the playoffs. The bears caught fire at season’s end and put up a formidable fight against the top-ranked Habs. The Bruins are one of the more physical teams in the East with emphasis on defense, although after captain Zdeno Chara the talent level of the defensive corps dives right off a cliff.

Marc Savard is perhaps one of the most skilled playmakers in the game, and with coach Claude Julien‘s help, he has become a stronger two-way player as well. Savard’s 63 assists ranked third in the league and that total alone is more than the second-leading Bruin scorer (Marco Sturm with 56). The Bruins will also be counting on Chuck Kobasew and Phil Kessel to improve on their 22 and 19-goal campaigns respectively. Kobasew’s 22 markers is a career high and Kessel improved 8 goals from the previous season. More importantly, Patrice Bergeron is once again healthy, after missing 72 games last year with a concussion. The young centre is one of the best players in the game today and will give Boston’s offense (24th) and powerplay (16th) a big boost. The Bruins may not be the most talented team in the East, but what they lack in talent they make up for in size and grit. Milan Lucic became a fan favourite with his hard-nosed, never-back-down style that Bostonians love, and he will provide a strong forechecking presence as well as the ability to pot at least 10 goals. Also figuring into the mix is David Krejci, who may break the 50-point barrier this season after his 56-game, 27-point debut. Also to keep an eye out for is Michael Ryder, who has been reunited with Julien whom he has had the most success with. However, veterans Peter Schaefer and PJ Axelsson‘s futures may not look so bright, at least in the yellow and black. Schaefer has at times played himself out of Julien’s favour and could find a home elsewhere by midseason, while Axelsson is in the last year of his contract. Should the Bruins fail to qualify for the playoffs he will be trade bait at the deadline.

Boston’s defense ranked in the top half of the league, their PK was near death last (28th) with a 78.6% efficiency. After Julien took the reigns the team did a complete 360 and played a defense-first game. The Bruins chopped off roughly 70 GA from their previous year’s total, and was thus granted a playoff spot and managed to keep a high-octane Habs offense relatively in check. Asides from Chara, and enough things have been written about him over the years, the rest of the defensive corps doesn’t look too good. Dennis Wideman is coming off another strong season and is definitely benefiting from being Chara’s partner. After that comes veteran mule Aaron Ward, then Andrew Ference and Andy Alberts. It’s not exactly an elite group, but the Bruins defensemen buy into Julien’s system and block lots of shots, but most often overlooked is the two-way play of their players, in particular, Axelsson and Lucic. Axelsson has been hailed as one of the league’s premier defense forwards, while Lucic will take any body in his own end. Underrated also are the two-way plays of Savard, Bergeron, and Kessel, who is slowly establishing himself as a strong two-way player.

The Bruins once again enter the season with two starters, but this time Tim Thomas is penciled in as the number one. The perpetual underdog will finally enter the season without having to look over his back as Manny Fernandez continues to get healthy. Both goaltenders are in their final year of their contracts so both will be looking to maximize their playtime, and some healthy competition might do the ultra-competitive Thomas good, but Fernandez’s noted poor temperament may cause some troubles. Tuuka Rask will spend another year in the AHL to resolve some consistency issues, but may not stay down there long, as Fernandez’s $4.5m contract may be on the way out. Management wants Rask to get one more full season’s worth of gametime before deciding if the young netminder is ready for the NHL.

The Bruins are cutting it a little tight by being only $1.5m under the cap, which means come Christmas-time Peter Chiarelli may be looking to unload some contracts to make room for call-ups. Axelsson ($1.85m, 1 year remaining), Schaefer ($2.1m, 2YR), and Alberts ($1.25m, 1YR) are potential trade bait. There will be no significant rookies stepping into the Bruins’ lineup this year, although Zach Hamill or Blake Wheeler may challenge for a spot, but he would be better off spending a season in Providence first. However, a lot of sophomore players will be expected to do further step up their game (Vladimir Sobotka and Petteri Nokelainen) while some may get more than just a couple of call-ups (Martins Karsums).

Boston’s future stars, Kessel and Bergeron, need to have excellent seasons to allow this team to stay in contention all-year, while Lucic needs to establish himself as a 10-15 goal scorer as well as a hard-hitter. He could very well supplant Kessel or Bergeron as the face of the Bruins, so Lucic needs to stay away from the sophomore slump before fickle Boston fans pick him apart.

The Bruins will again find it tough get into the playoffs this year. The team remains largely unchanged from last year, save for Bergeron’s health and the recently bought out Glen Murray. While Bergeron’s return will definitely help take some pressure off Savard, he is not enough to vault this team into the playoffs. They still have too many question marks surrounding their goal scorers and consistency issues in net that need to be worked out.

Projected Lines:
Peter Schaefer – Marc Savard – Phil Kessel
Marco Sturm – Patrice Bergeron – Chuck Kobasew
Milan Lucic – David Krejci – Michael Ryder
PJ Axelsson – Stephane Yelle – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Dennis Wideman
Mark Stuart – Aaron Ward
Andrew Alberts – Andrew Ference

Tim Thomas – Manny Fernandez

scratches: Petteri Nokelainen, Vladimir Sobotka, Shane Hnidy

Head Coach: Claude Julien
GM: Peter Chiarelli

Projected Finish: 4th Northeast, 11th East

Aug 172008
 

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.

Oct 012007
 

Boston Bruins
Strengths:
-Good 1-2 tandem at center with Savard and Bergeron
-Should get improved goaltending with Manny Fernandez
Weaknesses:
-Lack of overall depth.
-No quality game breakers on the wings.
-Mediocre defense
Question Marks:
-Can Chara rebound after a questionable season last year?
-Can Fernandez be the anchor in goal that the Bruins desperately need?
-Can Glen Murray stay healthy and get back to 40 goal territory?
Outlook:
The Bruins addressed one of their key problem areas with the acquisition of goalie Manny Fernandez but one still has to wonder if Fernandez, who only once has played more than 44 games in a season, is going to be enough to turn this team around. The reality is they still have a mediocre group of defensemen and not a lot of depth up front after the first couple of lines. With Fernandez the Bruins should be a bit better but still aren’t likely going to be playoff contenders.

Buffalo Sabres
Strengths:
-Still possess a lot of quality young talent and good overall depth.
-Miller is one of the better goalies in the game.
Weaknesses:
-The Numminen health issue hurts the depth on defence.
-Lost a lot of experience and leadership with the loss of Briere and Drury.
Question Marks:
-Are youngsters like Derek Roy, Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Mazim Afinogenov ready to become the leaders of the team rather than followers of Briere and Drury?
-Can Tim Connolly stay healthy?
Outlook:
Some might look at the loss of Daniel Breire and Chris Drury as critical losses for the Sabres but I would disagree. The Sabres are still an elite team with elite level talent. Vanek is one of the best young goal scorers in the NHL and Derek Roy is ready to take over as first line center as evidenced by his dominating performances in the pre-season. Those two guys and Afinogenov were a dominating line last year and will likely play with each other this year and have a chance to be one of the top 5 lines in the league. When you add Pominville, Hecht, Kotalik, Gaustad, and Stafford the Sabres should still be able to put out three good lines that can score and not many teams can boast that. If the young guys can step up their games a bit and take on leadership roles there is no reason why the Sabre’s won’t once again be one of the top teams in the eastern conference and battle with the Senators, Rangers and Penguins for the best record in the east.

Montreal Canadiens
Strengths:
-Good goaltending depth and a prime prospect in Carey Price.
-Koivu is one of the better leaders in the game.
Weaknesses:
-No real top end talent on either forward or defence.
-Loss of Souray will really hurt the power play production which was a key to Montreal’s success last season.
Question Marks:
-Can Carey Price be a quality NHL goalie this season allowing management to trade Huet or Halak for some help elsewhere?
-Can Kovalev improve on a dismal season?
Outlook:
Two years ago the Canadiens just barely made the playoffs and last year they just barely missed. This year will probably be no different though I would suggest they are more likely to miss the playoffs again than make it. They just don’t have enough game breakers on offence or enough depth overall to play consistent, quality hockey throughout the season. The only saving grace is they have generally had pretty good goaltending over the past couple of seasons and top prospect Carey Price just adds to that. Some in Montreal feel that goaltending lost them a chance at the playoffs when Huet blew a game against Toronto in the final game of the season but goaltending is one of the only reasons why they have been in the playoff race in the first place. Expect the same this year.

Ottawa Senators
Strengths:
-The big 3 up front (Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley)
-Phillips and Volchenkov are one of the better pairings of shutdown defensemen.
Weaknesses:
-Lost some scoring depth with the Comrie and Preissing leaving via free agency and Schaefer being traded.
-None of Spezza, Fisher and Redden have played 70 games in either of the past 2 seasons.
Question Marks:
-Can Eaves and Vermette step up their offensive production to replace some of that lost.
-Can the Redden and Meszaros defence tandem rebound after a sub-par season.
-Have teams learned from the Ducks that playing hard hitting, hard forechecking hockey is the best way to beat the Senators?
Outlook:
The Ottawa Senators will once again be one of the better teams in the eastern conference led in large part by the offence of the big 3 and the defensive ability of Phillips and Volchenkov. But unlike many, I believe they will suffer a bit with the loss of Comrie, Preissing and Schaefer. Preissing was the Senators top scoring defenseman last year and Schaefer has been Ottawa’s fifth best point producer in each of the past two seasons. The loss of those guys is going to put added pressure on guys like Patrick Eaves, Antoine Vermette and Andrej Meszaros to really step up their games and provide some quality secondary scoring if Ottawa wants to be a top contender for the Stanley Cup again.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Strengths:
-Offence from the back end.
-Overall depth
Weaknesses:
-As a team they have a track record of suffering a lot of injuries.
-Questionable goaltending.
Question Marks:
-Can either Toskala or Raycroft step up and be a quality number 1 goalie?
-Can they stay reasonably healthy?
-Can their younger forwards (particularly Steen and Stajan) become quality second line players and contribute more offensively.
Outlook:
The Leafs should have an improved team this year with the addition of Toskala and 40 goal scorer Jason Blake. Combine that with hopefully a more healthy season and they should make the playoffs. Any chance they may have at a higher playoff seed than 7th or 8th will likely be dependent on whether the duo of Toskala and Raycroft can be an average or better goalie tandem in the NHL.

Sep 122007
 

Based on the same forumula as the western conference ratings, here are the eastern conference ratings. As usual, if you disagree feel free to post your thoughts and if you can back up your arguement, who knows, maybe you can get me to change my mind.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Ottawa 10 6 7 8 7 7 8 7 6 53.2
Buffalo 8 8 6 7 8 7 8 7 6 52.8
Pittsburgh 10 8 6 8 7 6 7 6 6 52.5
NY Rangers 9 7 8 6 7 6 9 6 6 52.2
Toronto 7 8 7 8 9 7 6 6 6 50.7
Philadelphia 8 8 6 7 7 7 7 7 6 50.3
Florida 7 6 5 7 7 6 9 6 7 49.5
New Jersey 7 6 7 6 6 7 9 6 10 49.5
Montreal 7 6 6 7 7 7 8 7 6 48.8
Atlanta 9 6 7 7 5 6 8 6 5 48.0
Carolina 8 7 7 6 7 8 6 6 6 47.0
NY Islanders 6 7 7 6 7 6 8 5 6 46.8
Boston 7 6 6 7 7 6 7 6 6 46.5
Tampa 9 6 6 8 6 6 6 5 6 46.5
Washington 8 6 5 6 6 5 7 6 7 45.2
Nov 302005
 

If you haven’t heard already, the Boston Bruins have traded Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. In my mind this is a horrible trade for the Bruins and a good one for the Sharks. The Sharks now have a dominant centerman who can take control of a game and anchor the Sharks offense. Every team needs one of those guys if they want to win. For Boston, well, now they don’t and they will suffer. Yes, Brad Stuart is a solid defenseman, and the Bruins could definitely use one of those, but without Thornton Boston is going to suffer significantly in the offensive zone. Not only do they lose Thornton but Glen Murray isn’t going to be near as useful as a goal scorer without Thornton setting him up and I am not sure Bergeron, Boyes, Zhamnov or any of the other centers that Boston has will be able to fill that role adequitely. They Sharks may need to go out and add a depth defenseman to help replace Stuart but this deal is a big win for them.

For you fantasy hockey poolies, Glen Murray will suffer but Bergeron might get a small boost as he will likely take over the first line centerman role. For San Jose, the whole team should improve, especially anyone who plays on the first power play unit including Marleau, Cheechoo and defenseman Tom Preissing.

Sep 222005
 

With all the player movement since the NHL last played we can’t be sure if all of these lines will be used by the coaches of the teams but here is my list of the best possible first lines teams could use if desired. Be sure to also vote for your top line in the poll in the menu to the left. (poll should be up for several days)

Vancouver Canucks – Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi
While Brendan Morrison is a good player he isn’t really an elite center in the NHL but his wingers are so good and have that perfect mix of talent (Naslund) and toughness (Bertuzzi) that this has to be considered the best line in the NHL.

Atlanta Thrashers – Ilya Kovalchuk-Marc Savard-Marian Hossa
This line is probably the most talented line in the NHL. Kovalchuk might be the most talented young players in the NHL and Hossa is an established big time goal scorer. In the middle is under-appreciated Marc Savard who has found a home in Atlanta. In 2003-04 Savard scored 19 goals and 52 points in just 45 games and should be a more than adequate playmaker for his two big time goal scoring wingers. In terms of pure offensive talent, this line is probably better than Vancouver’s but Bertuzzi’s toughness gives the Canucks line an added dimension and thus the top spot.

Boston Bruins – Sergei Samsonov-Joe Thornton-Glen Murray
Another good mix of skill and size. Joe Thornton is one of the top centers in the league and provides a good mix of size and skill. Glen Murray is a big, strong, goal scoring winger and Samsonov is a flashy and highly skilled skater who should do well under the new rules. This is definitely a line to be feared.

Colorado Avalanche – Alex Tanguay –Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk
The best line in 2003-04 had to be Tanguay-Forsberg-Hejduk, although that line did suffer some injury problems, particularly with Forsberg. Now that Forsberg has departed Sakic quite likely will step up to play between Tanguay and Hejduk and if he does this line will once again be one of the best in the NHL.

Ottawa Senators – Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson
We don’t quite know how new coach Brian Murray will set up his line combinations but this is one possibility. This line has the potential to be ranked higher but as of yet Jason Spezza is a somewhat unproven talent at the NHL level and we don’t quite know if Heatley has or will make a full recovery from his injuries.

Philadelphia Flyers – Simon Gagne-Peter Forsberg-Sami Kapanen
Any line centered by a healthy Peter Forsberg is going to be a good one. Unfortunately Gagne and Kapanen aren’t quite the wingers Forsberg had in Colorado with Hejduk and Tanguay. But they aren’t bad either as Gagne will be the lines goal scorer while Kapanen will provide some solid 2-way play.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Vaclav Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Vaclav Prospal returns to Tampa and replaces outgoing Cory Stillman. Tampa has a number of talented forward and a number of different line combinations could be used with Modin and/or Richards also seeing time on the top line. Whatever the combination used Tampa will put out a quality top line. The big question mark is whether St. Louis can repeat his 2003-04 season.

Calgary Flames – Tony Amonte-Daymond Langkow-Jarome Iginla
Clearly the main reason this line makes the list is Iginla. Langkow should be a bit of an improvement over Craig Conroy as Iginla’s centerman. Tony Amonte is an older player who has lost a lot from his 40+ goal days in Chicago but still has good speed and scored 20 goals in Philadelphia in 2003-04. He might do well under the new rules and could score 20-25 goals this season.

After those 8 lines there is a lot to choose from. The Kings potential line of Frolov-Roenick-Demitra looks good and with a healthy Lemieux the Penguins should be able to put out a very good line with Mario and two of Pallfy, Recchi, Leclair and Crosby. Although the Leafs are a little weak at wing either Sundin’s or Allison’s line could potentially provide a nice combination of grit and skill with O’Neill, Tucker or Czerkawski on the wing. If Modano can recover from an off year Dallas could have a strong first line with Guerin and Morrow on the wings and certainly Montreal has some good talent in Koivu, Kovalev, Ribiero and Ryder. Who knows, maybe even Columbus’s potential line of Nash, Marchant and young Zherdev could surprise. There is a lot to choose from.

 Posted by at 7:04 pm