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 222008
 

I could live with Kurt Sauer‘s hit on Andrei Kostitsyn. It’s a fast game and it happens when people are hitting others – the arms come up sometimes to protect themselves and near the boards is always a dangerous area to be. What I don’t get, however, is what Georges Laraque was supposed to accomplish.

There are only a handful of teams out there who dress their tough guys fairly regularly: Montreal with Laraque, Minnesota with Derek Boogaard, Pittsburgh with Eric Godard, Atlanta with Eric Boulton, Anaheim with George Parros (who is on a scoring streak), Buffalo with Andrew Peters, Calgary with Andre Roy, St. Louis with Cam Janssen and now David Koci, and the Coyotes with Todd Fedoruk and Brian McGrattan. It goes without saying that coaches choose to play these players 2-5 minutes a night to ensure the safety of their star players, but it does take two to tango, and what if the opposition refuses to fight and pull a Sauer? Instead of dropping the gloves with Laraque, he choose to do it with a much smaller Tom Kostpoulos, who in the process is made to look absolutely silly. So… what’s the point of dressing Laraque? Sauer refused to dance, and there was nothing the Habs, Sergei Kostitsyn, or Laraque could do about it. Obviously there was some sort of thought in the back of Guy Carbonneau‘s head that told him Sauer would willingly respond to Laraque and keep the “fighter’s code,” but he didn’t.

Of course this brings us back to the “unwritten” code amongst NHLers, in which borderline hits on star players have to be answered, but Sauer was always in the driver’s seat. He made the hit and dictated how the Habs would respond. This also goes back to the Ottawa-Buffalo brawl, in which Lindy Ruff sent out Peters and Patrick Kaleta (EDIT: not Kaleta, but Adam Mair and Paul Gaustad as PeterS points out) on purpose against Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley to avenge Chris Neil‘s borderline hit on Chris Drury. The Sens made the hit, and in the process made the Sabres look like a goon squad with Ruff taking the brunt of it.

So what does having a “heavyweight” accomplish? The only upside is that it’s supposed to protect your players and intimidate the other team, but judging from Kostopoulos’ face it sure didn’t do anything to faze Sauer. Teams that regularly dress their heavyweights are wasting 2-5 minutes of ice-time per game, instead of giving that ice-time to quality players. If heavyweights are supposed to dictate the tone of the game, or even just to provide some sort of spark, the Habs and Laraque failed miserably in that department. Sauer’s not dumb enough to take on Laraque, and I don’t imagine many players in the league are. So, really, what’s the point?

Sep 282008
 

On paper the Habs look great. The reigning Eastern Conference champs lost replaceable players over the summer but addressed toughness issues with Georges Laraque and got their French-Canadian star in Alex Tanguay. The Habs enter their centennial season with high expectations from the team, media, and fans alike, and even pegged by some to win their 25th Cup. The Habs are skilled and fast – they may not be tough or big, but the players buy into Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller‘s system and as a result became one of the most efficient teams in the league, scoring 257 goals and putting together a league-best powerplay at 24.1%.

Offensively, the Habs aren’t short of anything. While they’re particularly imposing, all their players are ready to take, or sometimes give, a hit. There’s no bullying this Habs team whose players clearly know what their roles and expectations are. The success that came with it was a bonus, as not even Carbonneau expected such a successful regular season, but after finishing first they lost in the second round to a hot Philadelphia team. With the acquisition of Robert Lang, it means that the Habs can take some off some of the offensive responsibilities of Saku Koivu, and perhaps reunite Lang with Alexei Kovalev, his former linemate in Pittsburgh. Of course, that would mean separating Tomas Plekanec and Kovalev, the two top scorers on the team that combined for 153 points. The Habs’ dynamic sibling duo, Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn, are also expected to step up and improve on their 53 and 27 point seasons, respectively. Chris Higgins provides a strong defensive conscience on the forwards corps, and is no stranger to scoring, having recorded 3 straight 20+ goal season, six including his last year at Yale University. However, unfortunately for Higgins, with the Kostitsyns ready to move up into the top six and with the addition of Tanguay, Higgins may be regulated to third-line duty, although that isn’t to say Carbonneau doesn’t have the personnel to ice three scoring lines. The Habs’ grinders are as hard-working as any, led by veteran Steve Begin and with youngsters Maxim Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura ready for full-time duty on the squad the Habs are 12 deep strong.

Defensively, the Habs have one of the most underrated defenseman in Andrei Markov. Markov’s 24:58 ATOI lead the team, and his career-best 58 points was no easy feat either. With Mark Streit gone, it means that Markov is the de facto powerplay quarterback and will no doubt be putting his heavy shot to good use. Mike Komisarek was ranked first in the league in blocked shots, putting his 6’4″ 240 lbs. frame to good use. With Roman Hamrlik the Habs also have no trouble getting the puck out of their zone. What the forwards lack in size is made up on defense, including recent free agent signee Alex Henry (6’5″, 220) and the giant Ryan O’Byrne (6’5″, 235), who, along with Josh Gorges, slowly played themselves into a regular role and finished the season on strong notes.

Goaltending is perhaps the Habs’ biggest weakness… or it may be its biggest strength. Bob Gainey felt that Carey Price was ready to handle number one duties, so at the deadline he dealt away Cristobal Huet, who has one of the best save percentages over a 4-year period amongst NHL goalies, to Washington. There’s no doubt that Price and back-up Jaroslav Halak have the talent, but it’s just a question of consistency and maturity. Price’s calm demeanor, often confused with indifference, and outstanding positioning allowed him to become the goalie he is and will be, but the Bruins and Flyers showed that, like any rookie, he’s prone to meltdowns, which prompted Carbonneau to go with Halak down the stretch. If Price pans out, and hopefully the next Patrick Roy as some have said he will be, it may be the strongest aspect of an already strong Habs squad. The obvious downside is that if Price falters, Halak is not quite ready for full-time NHL duty, which is probably the reason why management signed Quebec native Marc Denis to a two-way contract this summer.

With the acquisition of Lang, Gainey has announced that the Habs will be moving forward without Mats Sundin, with just a shade over $1.5m to spare. The Habs are likely to have finished all the wheeling and dealing they’d like to do before the season, will unlikely be making noise during the season, unless the Habs completely fall flat on their faces coming out of the gates.

It will be interesting to see how the Habs respond to higher expectations. Only expected to challenge for a playoff spot, the Habs blew everyone away and left the rest of the Eastern Conference in a cloud of dust. They were one of the best teams in the league at protecting leads, with only 5 one-goal losses, and blew out their opposition with some regularity, winning 21 games when leading by more than 3. However, there are two significant factors that could prevent them from doing so. First, is how well Price adjusts to being the number one goalie as a 20-year old. The second, is Kovalev. The Habs’ powerplay last year was successful in part because of Kovalev, whose powerplay point total was a full 12 more than his even strength output (47-35). No other Habs player has such polarizing stats, and even powerplay specialist Streit only had 6 more powerplay points than even strength. The worst part, however, is the fact that Kovalev, at 35 years old, posted the best point total of his career since 2001, when he had 95. His centre that year? None other than Lang. Perhaps Gainey went after Lang to prevent Kovalev’s seriously bi-polar production (77, 45, 65, 47 in previous years). If history is any indication, Kovalev is on his way to a sub-par year.

Projected lineup:
Andrei Kostitsyn – Tomas Plekanec – Alexei Kovalev
Alex Tanguay – Robert Lang – Sergei Kostitsyn
Chris Higgins – Saku Koivu – Guillaume Latendresse
Steve Begin – Kyle Chipchura – Tom Kostopoulos

Andrei Markov – Mike Komisarek
Roman Hamrlik – Josh Gorges
Francois Bouillon – Ryan O’Byrne

Carey Price – Jaroslav Halak

scratches: Maxim Lapierre, Georges Laraque, Patrice Brisebois

Coach: Guy Carbonneau
GM: Bob Gainey

Predicted finish: 1st Northeast, 1st East

Sep 222008
 

Training camp’s all about establishing chemistry and figuring out which players go where. ESPN’s Sean Allen provides some insight and here are the highlights:

Zach Bogosian seems to be penciled in to make the team, and Allen figures him to hit the 40-point mark, but I highly doubt it. I think their top powerplay quarterbacks are going to be Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom.

With Justin Williams out for most of the season it means a spot has opened up beside Eric Staal. The likely candidate is Patrick Eaves, although Sergei Samsonov, who has rejuvenated his career in Carolina, may get a call too. I also think that perhaps Tuomo Ruutu or AHL standout Ryan Bayda may get some looks.

Even with Joe Sakic‘s return, the Avs are pegging Paul Stastny as their number one centre, who will most likely have Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski on his wings. Sakic will get Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos, although given Hejduk and Sakic’s chemistry together I would think they would stay on the same line, with Smyth and Wolski switching spots.

The Wings want balance and they have publicly stated that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will start on different lines. This means that Marian Hossa is definitely getting first-line minutes. Allen notes that Valtteri Filppula may drop to the number three centre slot, but I think that spot is still Kris Draper‘s and Filppula may just end up on Zetterberg’s left wing. Dan Cleary was Allen’s choice as Zetterberg’s left wing but I think he’s better suited for the bottom two lines.

With the addition of Robert Lang, it looks like Saku Koivu will be starting the season on the third line, potentially with Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins, giving them one of the most talented third lines in the league. Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn may find themselves on the same line with top centre Tomas Plekanec, allowing the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev to lineup with former Penguins teammate Lang.

Craig Hartsburg wants to break up the Big Three (again) and see where it takes them (again). John Paddock tried that last year with mediocre results and with no significant changes up front it remains to be seen what Hartsburg will do, but it’s almost a sure bet that captain Daniel Alfredsson will start on a separate line. The coveted spot beside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley will be up for grabs, but it looks like the leading contender is little-known Jesse Winchester. Allen notes that Alfredsson may get Nick Foligno and Chris Kelly as linemates, but I would think the speedy Antoine Vermette and/or Mike Fisher would be better fits.

The Leafs may experiment with former Hab Mikhail Grabovski on the top line, but I would think that a combination of Jason Blake and Nik Antropov, along with either Alex Steen or Alexei Ponikarovsky would be it.

Sep 132008
 

The Habs’ acquisition of Robert Lang from Chicago means a couple things:

1. Mats Sundin will not be a Hab. That is with utmost certainty after Bob Gainey made that clear in his press conference. Lang will be slotted into the third line, which means that Kyle Chipchura, who is expected to make the squad, may start the season in the AHL unless he has a good camp.

2. Chicago will still be looking to dump salary, but it looks like they may actually start the season with a Cristobal Huet-Nikolai Khabibulin tandem as Dale Tallon had suggested they would. By dumping Lang’s $4m salary, the Hawks are roughly $1.5m under the cap, good enough to start the season, but a little dangerous should the need for injury replacements arise early in the season. The Hawks are saddled with a lot of sub-$1m rookie contracts, which makes creating room a lot more difficult because it would have to involve multiple players. There is still a chance that Khabibulin ($6.75m) get moved, and if he does that means the Hawks will have plenty of cap room to play around with. The Khabibulin to LA rumours won’t die down until he is actually moved.

3. The dominoes are starting to fall. The Habs decided to move on after Sundin stated that he will not be making a decision prior to camp, which means that more teams will do the same. A lot of players, notably Brendan Shanahan and Mathieu Schneider, will find out their new homes in the coming weeks. I would think that both players would be dealt before camp begins, although under the new CBA it looks like more and more GMs are hesitant to pull the trigger and willing to be patient. Mark Parrish, another player who is looking for a new home, may find one soon after he complained that Sundin’s indecisiveness was holding up league transactions.

4. Now that the Habs have made the first move, other East teams may do the same. The Rangers could be busy in the coming weeks, perhaps signing Shanahan or acquiring Schneider, but then of course should they choose to do that they’d have to dump some salary too.

5. The Canucks are in a tight spot. While having $10m to spend is a luxury, it’ll be interesting to see how they spend it. There were rumours flying around that should Sundin land in the Big Apple that Gomez could be in a Canucks uniform, but now that seems less likely than ever. Parrish is on the Canucks’ radar and could find himself there very soon.

Aug 272008
 

More on Mats Sundin. The endless carousel goes ’round and ’round, with still no end in sight.

“This is the song that never ends,
As it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…”

While Sundin sits on his sofa and mulls over his options, teams are getting anxious, reports Bruce Garrioch. Sundin is going to be the first domino to fall – once he decides what to do, there will be a flurry of moves as teams move to their Plan Bs. Others are waiting to see where he signs, because some players on the block, like Mathieu Schneider, are of interest to team(s) who are in the Sundin sweepstakes as well. I think that team’s the Habs, and here’s why.

The Rangers sit only $2m below the cap ceiling, and wth Sundin they’ll have to clear at least $7-8m (assuming that Sundin signs for $7m/year) to accomodate him. Only 3 Rangers are making more than $7m, and two of them are, you guessed it, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, the Rangers’ big spendings last summer. Getting Sundin will give them arguably the strongest group down the middle (perhaps Dallas can challenge), but to accomodate Sundin one of them has to go. It seems a little strange that Glen Sather would deal away a younger player on a long-term contract for a short-term, one-year fix like Sundin – but then again, it is Sather, and he’s known for bold moves. Once Sundin retires, the Rangers will once again have money to play with, and once again in search of another scoring centre. Gomez can be moved to the wing since Drury is better at face-offs, but in actuality it was Drury who spent more time on the wing last year than Gomez. Not including this year, Gomez has 4 years remaining on his contract while Drury has 3. Gomez’s cap hit is slightly higher than Drury’s, but he is 3 years younger. I don’t think either player will be too pleased with the Rangers if they get traded, but they will give the “it’s part of the business” speech regardless, even though both sides had publicly stated that they’re committed long-term and the contract was signed in good will.

If the Rangers are ready to go to such drastic lengths to accomodate Sundin, then I would think that they’d be ready to accomodate Schneider as well. Schneider’s $5.625m cap hit is smaller, but the Rangers will still have to clear some $6m of cap space, and that’s harder than accommodating Sundin. Even with a package of Paul Mara and Petr Prucha that’s not enough. I’m not too sure who would be sent away should Schneider end up a blueshirt, but I would think that both Gomez and Drury would stay. I would rule Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, and Michal Rozsival out of the question, considering they’ve just signed this summer. It does not speak well of the Rangers organization if they do trade either of them, after all, they’ve finally clawed their way back to respectability with “proper” team building. Paul Mara would be an interesting option, but with his $1.95m salary he’d have to be packaged with someone else. Added to that speculation is the fact that Schneider is a native of New York City.

The Habs have $6m in cap space. Without moving anyone, they can accomodate Schneider, but for the sake of having emergency cap space, they’d only have to deal away one player, and considering that their player salary structure isn’t as extreme as the Rangers, they have a lot of mid-salary players they can part with, including Francois Bouillon and Mathieu Dandenault, who are going to be UFAs next summer. Simply put, I think the Habs will have a much easier time accomodating Schneider’s salary than the Rangers, and they do have plenty of youngsters to offer Anaheim. Tack on the fact that Bob Gainey has made it known that he’s less than optimistic about Sundin going to Montreal, he may have had enough of the waiting game and elected to bolster his blueline instead.

Toronto and Vancouer are long-shots to land Schneider, and I would think that Vancouver has little to zero interest in the veteran blueliner considering their current defensive corps. Toronto could make a pitch to replace the soon-to-be-Panther Bryan McCabe, but I don’t think adding more salary, especially with a 39-year old, is in the team’s best interests going forward.

While the Habs and Rangers are fine without either Sundin or Schneider, there’s no doubt that the addition of either would help, it just all depends on who’s going out the door.

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.

Aug 132008
 

As Canada’s #1 sports network, and hockey obviously at the forefront, I’m a little disappointed and frustrated at times by their hockey coverage, especially those of their staff writers. They’ve recently coughed up a short article on the Canucks. (The Leafs and Habs have also been covered). You’d think that for a sports network as large as theirs they’d take a little more prudence when writing these things, but they don’t.

In the Canucks article, they noted that Jason Jaffray as a potential “youngster” that could be thrust into a scoring role should Mats Sundin not sign, but Jaffray is 27 years old – hardly considered a “youngster,” unless by “youngster,” they mean “inexperienced,” in which Jaffray has only 19 NHL games under his belt, all of them coming last year. Another thing that really bugs me is their lineup projections. Now these lines are based on personal opinion, but how can you misspell “Ryan Kesler?” Vancouver’s arguably most prized forward must deserve at least a spell-check. It’s not like we’re asking them to spell “Schwarzenegger.” I also think sitting Darcy Hordichuk in favour of Jeff Cowan is a little ridiculous.

These short articles are for die-hard hockey fans like us to pass a little time, but you’d think they’d take a little more prudence and give a little more thought to, or even proofread, what they write.

Feb 262008
 

Here are a few of my thoughts about the trade deadline action.

Short Term Winners

Pittsburgh Penguins – Adding Hossa, Dupuis and Gill has the potential to make them a really scary team. Think about it. In recent weeks the top line of Malkin, Sykora and Malone have been one of the best lines in the NHL and over the next week or two you will add Crosby and Hossa to fill out a 1A line. Losing Armstrong and Christensen will hurt the third line but with a top 2 lines that good they may not need a third line. In Hal Gill they add a very big, physical, defense first defenseman that will make life for opposing forwards much less pleasant. If Conklin continues his stellar play it isn’t hard to conceive that the Penguins are now easily the best team in the East.

San Jose Sharks – Brian Campbell is exactly what the Sharks needed. They have the talent up front and they have some solid defensive defensemen but what they didn’t have was that top tier puck moving defensemen and PP quarterback. Campbell is that guy. They still need some of their other players to step up their games if they want to be true Cup contenders but the Sharks should be a lot better today than they were yesterday.

Long Term Winners

Atlanta Thrashers – We knew they were going to trade Hossa but by getting two very solid young and cheap 3rd line players, a good prospect and a first round pick they got more than I thought they would. They now have some young depth role players that they very much needed and if they can add a nice centerman in the off season with the money they saved from Hossa they will have the makings of a nice core of players.

Losers

Montreal Canadiens – If you think you have a chance to make a run in the playoffs I don’t understand the thought process of trading your top and only established goalie for a second round pick. The Canadiens are now rushing Price to the NHL and while he has looked great at times he has looked mediocre at times too. Rushing goalies to the NHL is never a good thing. Just look at Marc-Andre Fleury as evidence. This move puts Price’s confidence and development at risk. On top of that GM Bob Gainey was talking for a couple weeks about wanting a big name player to add to the team but he came up empty here too. He wasn’t even able to add some needed size to the line up. Overall the Canadiens are not as good a team after this evening as they were this morning.

Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks aren’t losers because they made a bad trade but they are losers because they weren’t able to make a trade they desperately needed. That is to add some much needed offense to the lineup. With a bit more offensive punch they could have been a threat in the playoffs. Instead they may not make the playoffs.

Undetermined

Dallas Stars – I am partly surprised that they didn’t have to give up more to get Richards but Richards with his huge contract is also a significant long term risk. No doubt that Richards will help the Stars but will he help them to the tune of $7.8 million salary? Last year Richards got 70 points and he is on about the same pace this year. That’s not bad but that’s not $7.8 million value. People will say that it is largely due to the fact doesn’t play regularly with top level players which is partly true (he does play on the top PP unit) but he also plays in the horrific defensive southeast division. Richards has 28 points in 23 games against southeast division opponents and 29 points in 39 games against the rest of the league. That is 60 point pace against non-southeast opponents and I can assure you he isn’t going to a team in Dallas that is loaded with offensive players. Maybe this trade will invigorate Richards and he will return to his 90 point form but that is far from a certainty and until we see what Richards does we don’t know if Dallas does well in this trade or not.

Ottawa Senators – If you go by acquisition cost, Martin Lapointe’s value is somewhere between Wade Belak and Rob Davison. That would indicate that Lapointe won’t mean a whole lot to the Senators and he probably won’t. But the Senators have the talent to make a run in the playoffs regardless of what they did today but they are also in a downward spiral and if they can’t turn it around and they exit the playoffs early I am sure we will all look back at this trade deadline and say they should have done more.

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.