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
Sep 172005
 

Anaheim: J-S Giguere should start again for Anaheim, although he may not be recognizable without his over-sized equipment. Russian prospect Ilya Bryzgalov is a strong possibility for the backup role, however, former Ducks netminder Steve Shields has also been invited to camp and could claim the role. The expectation is that Shields and Adam Wall will play net for Anaheim’s farm team.

Calgary: Mikka Kiprusoff headlines Calgary’s attempt to return to as Western Conference Champions, and there is some question as to whether he can maintain the form he showed after being acquired from San Jose. The backup position remains less clear, as Philippe Sauve has struggled at the pro level (he played in the ECHL during the lockout) and Brent Krahn’s numerous injuries have limited his mobility and potential. Sauve, however, is expected to win the job.

Chicago: Given that six goaltenders saw NHL ice time for the Blackhawks last season, the signing of Stanley Cup champion Nikolai Khabibulin should ease the minds of fans. Although Thibault has played well since being acquired from Montreal for Jeff Hackett, Khabibulin is an instant upgrade. Michael Leighton is his likely backup, although he’ll be challenged by Illinois-native Craig Anderson in camp. Corey Crawford is a distant, if talented, prospect.

Colorado: David Aebischer, who unsurprisingly played in Switzerland during the lockout, returns as the undisputed number one man. Peter Budaj, a 22-year old prospect, seems likely to graduate to the NHL as his backup, although he may face a battle from free-agent signee Vitaly Kolesnik, who is currently the top goaltender for the Kazhakstan National Team. 26-year old Tom Lawson and CHL-starter Tyler Wieman are likely ticketed for the minors.

Columbus: Although GM Doug MacLean has stated that Martin Prusek will contend for the starting job, expect to see Marc Denis once again starting in net for the Blue Jackets. Prusek’s inconsistency and injury problems make it unlikely that he will be a viable starter. Pascal Leclaire, long tagged as the “goalie of the future” sits third on the depth chart. Tomas Popperle and Andrew Penner will likely only see minor league duty.

Dallas: Marty Turco, one of the best regular-season goalies in the past three years will start in net again. He hopes to rebound from a poor 2003-04 playoffs, where he went 1-4, with a 3.32 GAA and .849 SV%. Johan Hedberg, who struggled in Vancouver last season, was signed to back him up. Possible (but unlikely) challengers include minor-leaguers Mike Smith and Dan Ellis. Ellis played one game for Dallas in 03-04, making 25 saves for the win, but started the season in the ECHL.

Detroit: Although the combination of Chris Osgood and Manny Legace seems like a duo best suited to a 1a/1b goaltender scenario, coach Mike Babcock is on record as stating that he prefers one starting goaltender. If he in fact implements this system, give Osgood a slight edge to claim the top job, as Legace struggled last season when asked to play more than 30 games. 25-year old Joey MacDonald provides depth, while 2003 second-round pick Jimmy Howard represents a possible future starter.

Edmonton: Ty Conklin and Jussi Markannen will likely rotate games this season, and either could emerge as the starter. Markannen played well during the lockout, while Conklin emerged as Edmonton’s starter in 2003-04. There are questions about depth, as prospect Jeff Drouin Deslauriers needs seasoning and Mike Morrison needs more oppurtunities at the AHL level. Devan Dubnyk, projected as a future starter, will return to junior.

Los Angeles: Given the turmoil in net in previous seasons, it should come as little surprise that the Kings are once again sporting a new tandem. Replacing Cechmanek is 27-year old Mathieu Garon, a veteran of only 43 NHL games. Garon has long been tagged as a future starter, and played exceedingly well in the AHL during the lockout. Whether he can duplicate that success as an NHL starter is still unknown. His likely backup, 2003-04 AHL MVP Jason LaBarbera, has proven all he can in the minors, but with only 5 NHL starts is unlikely to take over if Garon struggles. Adam Hauser provides depth.

Minnesota: As in previous seasons, the tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Manny Fernandez will handle goaltending duties for the Wild, with Roloson likely getting the bulk of the work. Fernandez, who has previously requested more playing time, may be dealt. 21-year old Josh Harding provides depth and could eventually succeed Roloson as starter.

Nashville: Tomas Vokoun, who won the gold medal with the Czechs at the 2005 World Championships should again be one of the better starting netminders in the league. Current backup Chris Mason may be pushed by 1999 first-rounder Brian Finley, whose development has been stalled by a serious groin injury, although Finley seems likely to return to the AHL.

Phoenix: For a team that made a mountain of changes in the off-season, the biggest acquisition may be Curtis Joseph, who is likely to relegate inconsistent Brian Boucher to a backup role. This gives David LeNeveu, often described as a can’t-miss prospect, a little more time to play in the AHL, rather than being rushed into the big leagues. Veteran Steve Passmore will provide depth and injury insurance.

San Jose: Evgeni Nabokov will be back again as the Sharks starter, and should again perform well. The 1994 9th round pick played sparingly in Russia during the lockout, playing just under twenty games. Barring injury, Toskala should play a little less than his career high of 28 games from 2003/04. Dmitri Patzold and Nolan Schaefer, who split time in the AHL during the lockout will provide depth.

St. Louis: Patrick Lalime, following struggles in Ottawa, will receive a chance to rebound with a changing Blues team. He should be an upgrade over previous starters Chris Osgood and Brent Johnson. Reinhard Divis, Curtis Sanford, and Jason Bacashihua, all of who played during the lockout will battle for a roster spot, with Divis the likely winner. Marek Schwarz could provide goaltending farther down the line.

Vancouver: Dan Cloutier, having just signed a two-year contract, returns for his fourth season as the starter in Vancouver. He played in Austria during the lockout, going 7-0-5 in 13 games in an inferior league. The real battle will be between backup possibilities Alex Auld and Brent Johnson. Auld has the edge, and seemed to be guaranteed the job before the lockout; however, his play in the minors was eclipsed by depth goalie Wade Flaherty, who took the starting job in the playoffs. Johnson, four years removed from a 34-win regular season and a playoff round with three shutouts, could surprise.

 Posted by at 10:23 am