by Pete Toth… After coming across a few rather dismal and depressing offensive stats projections for the Leafs’ upcoming season, I felt it was my duty to put on my rose-colored glasses and come up with a slightly more positive and uplifting version.
I’m going out on a limb, and am wholeheartedly putting my faith in Cliff Fletcher and his master plan. I honestly believe that what the Fletch is trying to pull off is a rebuilding process that includes a winning season and possible playoff appearances. I may be totally off on this one, and it wouldn’t be the first time.
My intuition tells me (as does my common sense) that a year of rebuilding in the traditional sense of the word, where the club has a horrendous season after an offseason garage sale, is not in the cards that Fletcher is currently dealing.
Yes, he is focusing on the future (his insistence on not acquiring players who are 30 or older). But at the same time, he is building a team “around his goalie.” By the new year, he might be able to put a really tight defensive squad on the ice that is capable of keeping the Leafs in every game (but it will probably take longer). And, as everyone knows, solid defense wins games.
A winning season is not out of the question for this year’s crop. And, with a hot goalie in the playoffs, anything is possible.
Call it rebuilding with a twist. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson.
If all goes according to the “master plan,” players’ potentials are fulfilled, the injury bug doesn’t visit too often, and they get a bit of good luck, the Leafs could very well be the talk of the NHL this year. It’s a long shot, but in sports long shots do sometimes happen.
So, that is my reasoning behind the slightly (overly?) optimistic offensive statistics projection I present.
My projections are based as follows:
Goaltending should remain rock-solid, especially with the new focus on defense, and the team GAA should be around 2.40 for a total of around 200 goals against.
The offensive output could improve the GAA by about half a goal per game, for a total of around 240 goals for (12 more goals than in 2007-08). Therefore, total player points (using 2.75 factoring) should be around 660. The top 18 players should make up 90 percent of this total (would be closer to 95 percent on a stable team with few injuries) for a total of around 600 points.
The Breakdown: (Player/Goals-Assists-Points)
Nik Antropov 30-30-60
Nikky-A should benefit from having played alongside Mats Sundin last year, but should also benefit from NOT playing with him this season. Another solid year for Nik, who might even reach 70 if he plays 80 games.
Tomas Kaberle 10-50-60
Tomo is in his prime and should be good for another 60 points this year.
Jason Blake 25-30-55
Blake says he feels better than ever and if he stays healthy he should easily come close to (and maybe even surpass) his totals from last year.
Matt Stajan 15-30-45
Matt the Stud (according to most Leafettes) should see plenty of ice time on the top two lines this year and this could be another decent year.
Alex Steen 20-25-45
Steen is still really young (or maybe I’m just really old). He was born the same month I was driving around Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Break ‘84, listening to Van Halen’s “Jump.” He should top the half a point per game barrier this year.
Niklas Hagman 25-20-45
The solid Finn could see action on the top line, but will probably end up with Stajan and Steen.
Nikolai Kulemin 20-20-40
Nikky-K will probably play the top two lines, and should acclimate nicely to the NHL with at least 40 points.
Jeff Finger 10-25-35
The Finger should surprise Toronto fans with his consistent defense, solid hitting, and decent numbers.
Pavel Kubina 5-30-35
“Pavel the Gavel” should contribute almost a point every two games once again this season.
Alexei Ponikarovsky 15-20-35
Poni is probably on the trading block, but if he sticks around expect to see him on the third line, where he should get close to 40 points.
Mikhail Grabowski 10-20-30
If Grabby centers the third line for most of the season he should hit 30 points this year.
Mike Van Ryn 5-25-30
My instincts tell me Van Ryn will be on the move soon, that Fletcher took whoever he could get for McCabe, and that he plans to move him forward. If Mike sticks around and stays healthy, he should put up decent numbers.
Jiri Tlusty 10-10-20
George Fat (as his name translates from Czech) should get 20 points on the third line.
Jamal Mayers 5-10-15
Toronto native should be the anchor on the checking line this year and will probably become a fan favorite.
Mark Bell 5-10-15
If Mark makes the team, he should see fourth line action with Moore and Mayers, and 15 points or so.
Dominic Moore 5-10-15
Ditto for Dominic.
Anton Stralman 5-10-15
Great potential for bigger numbers. Depends on his ice time.
Jonas Frogren 1-4-5
Low numbers, but good stay-home type of defenseman.
by Jamie Uyeyama… I’m someone who believes in the rituals of tradition. Especially when it comes to sports. I’m not just talking about the history of everyone’s favourite teams either. I’m talking about people’s own traditions when it comes to playing or watching sports. Maybe every Saturday night you head to the pub to watch Hockey Night in Canada. Maybe you get together with your boys every Saturday and play touch football. Everyone has traditions that are special specifically to there selves.
Watching the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day was a fixture for me and my family every year. We’d go to my Grandma’s and meet up with other family and friends and eat a bunch of Japanese food all day while watching the bowl games on TV. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
It gradually changed over the years (the get together got a little smaller, I was a lot more hung over), but for the most part the tradition of sitting there with my Dad, my Uncle Kenny, and my cousins never changed. We’d be sitting there chowing away watching the Big Ten take on the Pac 10 in the Granddaddy of them all.
When I was younger it seemed like it was always the same story. Don James would lead the Purple and Gold to Pasadena and the Huskies were a powerhouse. If you lived in BC and you followed college football in the 80’s and early 90’s it was almost a foregone conclusion that you would cheer for the University of Washington. They were as close to a hometown team as we were going to get and they were really, really good.
My Dad actually sent a couple of players to play at U Dub back in those glory days. One of them won the Orange Bowl and the other ended up winning a National Championship. I even remember having a poster of Huskies playing in the Rose Bowl one year up in my room and my Dad having one that had a picture of Don James and at the top it said, “The Dawgfather”.
(I vividly remembering this when I visited my Dad at his football office at school back in the day. My Dad has never been the poster kind of guy so I know he must have got it for free. This is the kind of awesome random poster that you probably couldn’t find anywhere these days. If I ever find this poster online then it is going above the mantle next to the Step Brothers movie poster. I know Nicole will be pumped as she reads this in India.)
Well, “The Dawgfather” had an amazing run at U Dub, but since he retired the program has never been the same. This is one of the most proud programs in the nation, let alone the Pac 10, and look at where it’s at now. It didn’t just happen over night, but it is just sad for me to watch the Huskies these days. They got screwed on the Jake Locker call last week but let’s be honest, they were probably going to lose in overtime anyways.
They are stuck in the basement in the Pac 10, they are about to be 0-3 after playing Oklahoma this week, and they are not going to make a bowl game again this season. That’s going to lead them to firing Ty Willingham and blowing it up before starting all over again. Thay will make it their fifth coach since Don James left.
What a sad, sad story.
They have a solid recruiting base, great facilities, and a rich tradition. There is no way they should be in the position they are in now. They should be competiting with USC for Pac 10 supremacy. Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but for me, college football is a lot worse off when the Huskies aren’t good. I hope they get it right with the next coach because I hate seeing them like this.
Compared to the Univeristy of Washington, South Carolina is not even close in terms of college football tradition. It’s one of the few schools in the SEC that does not have a winning tradition. Probably the only school who has had less success than them in the SEC is Vanderbilt.
Guess who South Carolina lost to last week?
That’s right, they lost to Vandy. For the second year in a row! How the hell does South Carolina lose to Vandy two years in a row? This isn’t supposed to be your Grandfather’s Gamecock’s either. They have Steve Spurrier running the show now and they still can’t get over the hump and compete in the SEC East. He’s not a young man anymore so it’s not clear how long he is going to stick around to try and finish the job.
I don’t think you can say it’s over for Spurrier and that he should call it a career, but losing to Vandy has to make you think a little. If I was a South Carolina fan the big “what if” I’d be thinking about right now is the fact that they could have had the hottest coach in America right now coaching their team. Skip Holtz was originally supposed to succeed Lou at SC but along came Spurrier and then that was thrown out the window.
Obviously SC fans were not too upset over Skip being passed over at the time, but how can it not at least creep into their minds right now. Skip and East Carolina have beat Va. Tech and West Virginia to rise up to #14 in the polls.
And Spurrier and South Carolina just lost to Vandy. If only…
The Biggest Game of the Year
The Ohio State University at USC. The biggest game of the year. I don’t care if you’re a fan of either team, this is a must see game.
Is Beanie Wells really healthy? How much is Terelle Pryor going to play a role in this game? Won’t it be too hot in LA for Jim Tressel to wear his sweater vest?
There are a ton of questions going into this game and most of them are directed at Ohio State. Even if all of the answers are positive for Ohio State, they still will be in tough to win this game. The spread is 11 for USC. If I’m picking the spread, then I’m going to say Ohio State. Too bad the spread doesn’t count in real football. USC should win the game.
My only beef with games like this is that they don’t happen often enough. Unless traditional rivals meet in their own conference, it is way too rare that we get a chance to watch national powers play each other in a game of this magnitude. This is what college football should be about.
I want to see Florida play Oklahoma during the regular season. I want to see LSU play Texas at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. These kind of games are the reason I love college football. They don’t have to play these teams in the first or the second game of the season either. Teams have 12 game seasons now so they can play Central Michigan and Utah State as warm ups before they play one of the big boys.
It’s obvious why they don’t do it. Nobody wants to get beat up before they play in their own conference and they don’t want to lose and hurt their national title hopes.
Well, so what. Every team should have at least one out of conference games for the fans every year. It’s the least they could do for the people who worship at the shrine of their school’s football team.
Will they ever do it? I don’t see it happening. Until then we will just have to appreciate the rare opportunities we do have to watch a game like this. So Saturday night I’m going to sit back, relax, and enjoy every minute of it. Then wait a couple of more years until another game like this comes along.
For more you can check out his blog Top Cheddar at www.topcheddar.com
by Mike De Marco… LAST WEEK: 5-2; Power Pick 1-0
TAMPA BAY -7 vs. ATLANTA: I know that starting quarterback Jeff Garcia is not playing and eight points is a lot to lay when playing your backup, but there are many things I like about this game. First off the Falcons are nowhere near as good as it might have looked with their blowout of Detroit. The Lions own the leagues worst defense, one so bad even a rookie quarterback exploited them. Tampa played a very good game against the Saints and I think they bring many positives into this game. Michael Turner will not have the room he had last week to run, and once Matt Ryan is forced to pass on 3rd and long the Bucs will force him into making mistakes. On offense Brian Griese takes over and though I am not a fan of him personally, he is one of the more competent back-ups in the game, and he is very comfortable in the West Coast offence. I expect Tampa to dominate the game on defense. The boys in Nevada have this spread up that high for a reason.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS + 7 vs. SEATTLE: Read the last sentence of the previous game. Now disregard that comment for this game. For the life of me I can’t understand how in the world the Seahawks even have a chance of covering this spread. Their offense has more holes than swiss but they still get respect in Vegas. They have no one to catch balls, and an O-line that can’t pass protect. Though San Francisco lost at home to Arizona last week I think they have the tools to keep this game close, maybe even win it outright. Frank Gore will pound on the defense to open up the pass in the second half. The 49ers D will be lining up with ears pinned back waiting to get a crack at Matt Hasselbeck, who had a very difficult time with an aggressive Bills defense. I really like the 49ers here, and some money on them OUTRIGHT is a good investment as well.
DENVER +1 vs. SAN DIEGO: This is simple really. The Broncos just might be the most improved team in the league this season. How can I make that statement after just one game? Well it’s not just about one game. The defense is better just because they discarded the horrible 2 gap system they used under Jim Bates. They have the best corner combo in football. On offense Jay Cutler hasn’t been touched behind his own line of scrimmage since last year, this is including the entire 7 quarters he played in the preseason. San Diego is without their best pass rusher in Shawne Merriman, so I really expect Cutler to have loads of time to throw, and with Eddie Royal developing into a threat of his own opposite Brandon Marshall, Denver can afford to keep a tight end in to block when needed. This offence is downright scary. You double Marshall and Royal gets one on one, vice versa. You play a cover 2 and they will run the ball down your throats. It’s pick your poison for the Chargers this week, plus the Broncos have not forgotten about the little taunt session Phillip Rivers laid on them last year. This is PAYBACK BABY!
Other selections: Oakland +3.5 , Arizona – 6.5,
Green Bay -3, Carolina - 3
by Joshua Khan… Fantasy hockey leagues are becoming a bitch.
No wait, they aren’t a bitch, they’ve evolved past the simple definition of the harsh overused word. They’re as nasty as John Tortorella on his period.
Having exceptional amounts of hockey knowledge can usually help you draft the greatest team since the District 5 Mighty Ducks, but that’s not the case this year. In Yahoo Fantasy Hockey, the leagues are getting bigger in terms of size and competition. Experts do have the option of taking the easy route and joining a league with six or less teams, but the harsh truth is, options are for pussies.
To really show you know the NHL inside and out, fans should join leagues that have over 10 teams. The draft does get a lot tougher, but the more teams a league has, there’s less of a chance that one of your buddies will end up with a stacked lineup that freezes hell over. Sure your chances of getting the best talent available suck too, but now everyone’s equal.
After taking part in a random 20-person Yahoo fantasy hockey league the other day, here are some basic tips to make sure you don’t draft Jamie Macoun or Damien Rhodes in 2008.
- Don’t underestimate anyone; some of us like to throw in friends who don’t know a single thing about hockey, but unless that friend’s a girl who’s not a tomboy, don’t think you’ll get the same pathetic results from them this year. Along with the NHL’s fanbase growing faster than a chia pet on speed, good players seem to be shining everywhere (even Nashville).
- Look at the stats categories; in some fantasy leagues, the commissioner gets to pick what statistics are included, like face-offs won, powerplay and shorthanded points and even penalty minutes. If owners overlook these simple rules, they’ll more than likely screw themselves over and endure a Jonathan Roy-like shit-kicking.
- Pay attention to the actual draft; nobody likes long fantasy drafts, but if you watch what your friends/enemies do, you can devise a plan that makes sure you don’t suck. If you’re unaware of what’s going on you can end up with players who are terrifyingly worse than Michael Ryder.
- Follow the draft’s momentum; at some points, owners could start drafting goalies or even defensemen and it’s up to make sure you know what’s going on. For example, in the 20-person league I participated in, I grabbed Lundqvist and Huet early to make sure I had goalies. The result? I basically fucked over every single soul in the draft (made an announcement of their case of getting fucked over) and some owners ended up with Tyler Plante and Yann Danis as their starting goalies.
- Research the shit out of the pre-draft rankings; it’s a tedious job, but it pays off. In Yahoo Leagues, star players can be ranked extremely low, especially if they were injured the season before. Eg. Patrice Bergeron, Michael Nylander and Phillipe Boucher (all went after the 250th pick in the random league I joined).
- Create a game-plan; finding sleeper picks and drafting rookies can turn you into a cocky fantasy sports champion, but you have to know what you’re doing. Drafting Martin Straka or taking Steven Stamkos in the first round is just plain fucking stupid.
- Have a good fantasy team name; if you like using simple words (Your Mom Has A Good Wrist Shot) or the names of actual players (Vanek At The Disco), then go for it. Just don’t be too boring or utterly ridiculous and use a name like “Asshole” or “JF The Beast”.
The most important thing to remember is that fantasy sports are meaningless. If “Darren Pupp On U” fucks you over by taking the player you were hoping to pick, don’t cry and bitch that you didn’t get Donald Brashear and his magic hands. The league’s not real, you don’t win prizes and bragging rights isn’t really cool when you’re the one hovering over a computer.
So instead, just tell “Darren Pupp On U” that you slept with his sister.
by Daniel Sallows…
Oh what a wonderful world in which we live.
Where actors, rock stars and athletes are put on pedestal’s regardless of there reckless nature, and teachers and doctors are took for-granted.
Look no further than the Montreal Canadiens retiring Patrick Roy’s number 33.
Yes St. Patrick did it all in his tremendous hockey career winning four Stanley Cups, three Conn Smythe Trophy’s, three Vezina Trophy’s and most recently coaching the Quebec Remparts to a Memorial Cup in 2006.
But for all of his accolades there is a dark cloud that hangs over Patrick Roy proving the saint is more like a demon.
Why even Canadiens fans themselves saw an unraveled Roy lose his temper in 1995 following a 9-1 shellacking to the Detroit Red Wings in which Patrick had words with coach Mario Tremblay.
It ended Roy’s career with the Canadiens.
But it didn’t stop there, as another incident in Denver reared it’s ugly head. This time the police were called to stop a domestic dispute between Roy and his now ex-wife Michele Piuze.
At the 2006 Memorial Cup Roy criticized Moncton Wildcats goaltender Josh Tordjman, a young goalie who had looked up to Patrick Roy growing up, saying he was playing “over his head.” Monctons coach at the time Ted Nolan called Roy “tasteless and classless” after the comments.
In January 2007 Saguenay Police investigated an incident involving Roy and co-owner of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Pierre Cardinal, after there were reports that Patrick had thrown punches at him.
In March of 2008 the incident involving his son Jonathan Roy attacking an opposing goaltender resulted in a 5 game suspension for the elder Roy’s involvment.
So when number 33 is hauled to the rafters fans will remember the Stanley Cups, and all those wins and shut-outs, but for me I’m enjoying the rap sheet that Patrick Roy is working on just as much.
Well his career is over, but as for his antics…I’m thinking he has a few more to come.
Somehow I expected this ass to be a lot more, hmmmm, hotter. Maybe my expectations were just a bit to high, I’ve seen this ass all over the small tube and big screen and it always looked smoking hot, as did the front. But in this picture, it looks like it needs a little toning or photoshop. NOME SAME? Work on it girl… I don’t recognize this ass from that video where she’s slithering around in a pink bikini washing the car!
by Shane House…
When you mention prospects and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the same sentence, most people just laugh. But I know there are a few players in the Leafs’ system who are not only bona fide prospects, but who have the potential to make the NHL as well. Here are five Leafs prospects you have never heard of before:
Until last year, this guy was noted as a defenseman that was average at everything. Not overly good, not overly bad. But last year he lit up the Russian Super League with 16 goals and 12 assists for 28 points in only 55 games.
He has a heavy shot from the point and is very accurate with it as well. The only thing keeping this guy from becoming a solid NHLer is the fact that he wants to stay in Russia. He loves playing in his homeland and that is what’s making this guy an unknown Leafs prospect.
Player Comparison: Bryan McCabe
Phil Oreskovic is the most underrated prospect in the Leafs system. He is a bone-crushing hitter that is very solid in his own zone.
The downside with Oreskovic is that he has no offensive upside. He has mediocre speed and his passing is safe and average. But what more can you ask for from a defensive defenseman?
If this former OHL Defensive Defenseman of the Year can work on his skating and timing with his passes, he could be a huge prospect for the Leafs.
Player Comparison: Cory Sarich
Ruegsegger is one of two players in this article that would be top five prospects if it wasn’t for two things holding them back: skating and size.
Ruegsegger has amazing hands and great elusiveness with the puck and he is good at both ends. His skating is below average and his size as of now leaves more to be desired. If he can improve those two things then I believe he will eventually be in a Leafs uniform.
Player Comparison: Jason Blake
Here’s the second player with loads of potential but lack of size and skating ability.
He is great at both ends and can handle the puck with the best of them. He was fifth in the QMJHL last year with 95 points and did it with almost no help.
He has great hands and good playmaking ability. If he is able to work on his skating and bulk up a bit, then we will most definitely have a good shot at the NHL.
Player Comparison: Matt Stajan
Reimer is a goalie and would be getting a lot more notice if he wasn’t being overshadowed by Justin Pogge.
Reimer has the ability to steal a game with his big frame and dares shooters to try to beat him. If not for a terrible Red Deer squad last year, along with an ankle injury, his stats would be much more impressive.
He should be starting the year competing to back up Pogge in the AHL. If not, he will get significant playing time in the ECHL. When he finally gets a legitimate shot with the Marlies, look for his stock to rise.
Player Comparison: Sean Burke
by Bryan Thiel…
So far we’ve gotten through two divisions—the Northwest and the Southeast—in my journey to preview all thirty NHL teams.
I figured that next up would be the Central division, however before I get to that, I’ve been asked to write a separate article on the Central division.
So as I thought more and more about it, although it spoils a few surprises, I figured, “Hey…why not do a preview of your preview?”
So that’s what we’re doing. The preview of the preview of the Central division. Hope you enjoy (look for the Central division articles to start either later tonight or tomorrow).
Look back through history, and see if you can tell me the last time the Detroit Red Wings weren’t the Central division champions.
You’d have to go back all the way to the 1999-2000 season, when the Red Wings finished second to the St. Louis Blues with 48 wins. Yeah…48 wins. What a terrible second-place finish that was.
Going back even further in time to the 1993-94 season, the Red Wings have been a model of consistency: In 14 and a half seasons (or 15, depending on how you look at 1994-95) the Red Wings have finished out of first place only three times: 1996-97, 1997-98, and the aforementioned 1999-2000. And in those two years when they finished second? They won the Stanley Cup.
Of the past seven seasons, the Red Wings have had the fewest losses in the NHL four times, culminating in a 16-loss season in 2005-06.
Granted this has led to more than a few surprises—and a few championships—come playoff time, but there’s one thing you can’t escape: The Detroit Red Wings will dominate the regular season. There’s no surprise there.
But that doesn’t mean we’re in for a season without surprises. There’s always that dark horse team that comes from nowhere to swipe that final spot in the playoffs, or that surprise player who scores 40 goals, but still gets no notoriety.
Last year, it’s fair to say that the biggest surprises were the Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks, Toews/Kane, and Brad Boyes.
This year? Well, at least one of those things will stay the same.
In an interview I did with Predators’ scout Jason Bukala a few weeks ago, when I asked him how the team would do, he told me:
“The ‘prognosticators’ have a history of underestimating our team before the season begins. We will be better than people think.”
He’s right too. After five seasons of bouncing back and forth between third and fourth in the division and missing the playoffs, the Predators beat out the Edmonton Oilers for the final playoff spot in 2003-04. Following the lockout, the Preds had back-to-back 100-point seasons, surprising more than a few people along the way.
Last season it was more of the same: After saying goodbye to Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Tomas Vokoun, and Paul Kariya, no one thought the Preds would be in the playoff picture.
Now it’s the moves that Columbus and Chicago made in the offseason that have most (including me) thinking that the Predators will fall within the division.
Columbus upgraded up front by adding R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, and Raffi Torres to a lineup already featuring Rick Nash. They shored up their defense by adding Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman and so long as Pascal Leclaire can remain healthy, Columbus seems to be a dangerous team entering the season.
The same can be said for Chicago who, along with holdovers Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, and Duncan Keith, worked to strengthen their goaltending situation by adding Cristobal Huet (although it remains to be seen what will be done with Nikolai Khabibulin). They also added their puck-moving defenseman in Brian Campbell.
The team that’s been overshadowed by the Detroit Red Wings for so long in the division is now even further south on the map, but that’s just where they like it.
Columbus and Chicago aren’t used to expectations. Nashville is comfortable without having any. The ‘Hawks and Jackets are loaded with young, explosive talent. The Preds are just a hard-working team that refuses to get wrapped up in any hype, and quite literally take it “one game at a time.”
Don’t be surprised if the Nashville Predators are fighting to hold on to that eighth playoff spot come April.
While the Predators are surprising, the St. Louis Blues could feature some surprises of their own.
The Blues, much like the Predators, are the beneficiaries of playing in a division where a lot of stock is being put in the three teams ahead of them. While Toews and Kane will be expected to repeat their outstanding rookie years, and Nash and Umberger will be expected to forge immediate success, St. Louis is free to develop a roster of fresh, exciting young players.
Marek Schwarz, the young Czechoslovakian goalie, could benefit from the diverted attention.
While there’s no spot for him as either a starter or a backup on the roster at the beginning of this season—NHL vets Chris Mason and Manny Legace are ahead of him on the depth chart—it could be sooner rather than later before Schwarz sees NHL action once again.
Although he got the call briefly last season (two games played, 0-1) and was largely unimpressive (7.20 goals-against average and a .647 save percentage), both Mason and Legace are concerns for the Blues. Legace has played through knee problems the past two seasons, while Mason was plagued by ineffective stretches last season, losing seven in a row at the beginning of the season and suffering through a nine-game winless streak in late-February through to March.
The other factor at play is that both goalies are in contract years, meaning that if teams come calling looking to add depth to their goaltending situations around the trade deadline (or sooner), Schwarz could see consistent ice time with the Blues and may be able to put a little something special together.
The other two players that the Blues have could rival the success of Kane and Toews last season. If you haven’t heard of T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund, you may want to check out St. Louis’ depth chart.
While Lars Ellers seems to be a few years away from regular NHL action, word out of St. Louis is that the Blues feel Oshie and Berglund are ready for the NHL now.
While Oshie is a shorter player who relies on his abilities and attitude to carry him, he’s been able to consistently put up strong numbers at the collegiate level with the Fighting Sioux. As for tasting success, how does three straight Frozen Four appearances sound?
Berglund seems to be the polar opposite of Oshie. He’s tall and has the natural ability to control a game. He can score just as easily as he can pass the puck, and he could develop into a top-line wonder for the Blues. If they’re teamed up this season, then the Blues may have their own dynamic duo on their hands.
A few years ago, most scoffed at the competition that the Detroit Red Wings faced every season: Chicago, Nashville, Columbus, and St. Louis? To most, that seems to be an easy division title.
Starting this season, however, there doesn’t seem to be any such thing: The Preds are always dangerous, the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks seem ready to turn the corner, and St. Louis is building one of the best defenses in the game, anchored by Alex Pietrangelo and Erik Johnson.
Enjoy this while it lasts, Detroit.
by Bryan Thiel…
Preface: Alright….I’m sick and tired of this.
It’s been a week and I’m through with the NFL.
We GET that the Brady injury is devastating. We GET that the most promising Quarterback is done for another season which debilitates an electric offense. That doesn’t mean I want to see it anymore.
Has any season-ending hit ever been THIS overplayed? This is so terrible that I don’t think I can ever watch a Chiefs’ game again because now I feel sick, and associate their jersey’s with feelings of loss and despair.
That and I’m rationalizing and believing in Matt Cassel.
Dear NHL: Please start your season early.
The Washington Capitals. Tell me what you think of when you hear that name.
Gone are the days when names like Adam Oates, Olaf Kolzig, and Peter Bondra would immediately flicker to mind. Now, new stars, exciting new talents, and the flashiest of the flashy are starting to take hold in Capitals’ fans minds.
Alexander Ovechkin alone makes them fortunate; the fact that they play in the Southeast makes them more fortunate, as it’s statistically been one of the easiest divisions to win in recent history.
If it stays that way the Capitals are set. Even if it doesn’t, unless they suddenly go catatonic, they should have a clear shot at first in the division, with only Carolina in their way.
Roster Additions: Jose Theodore-G (F.A.),
Roster Subtractions: Christobel Huet-G (F.A.), Olaf Kolzig-G (F.A.), Steve Eminger-D (Trade), Ben Clymer-F (F.A.)
How did 2007/08 go? 43-31-8, Third in Conference, First in Southeast Division, Lost in 1st round of playoffs 2008 (Eastern).
2008/09 Goal: First in Division, Conference Finals
Let’s break’er down…
Last season, Bruce Boudreau proved just how useful a head coach can be.
After a disappointing start to the season for the Capitals, Boudreau took over with 61 games remaining in the season, and helped the team do a complete 180 degree turnaround—going 37-17-7, earning 94 points, and vaulting themselves past the Carolina Hurricanes and into first in the Southeast division.
They were also the only representative from that division, so you may get the idea from everything, that it’s one of the lower-tier divisions across the league.
Easy or not though, Boudreau earned his Jack Adams award, and Washington is developing the tools to be dominant for a long time.
$20 says he scores on his back again this year…
Just mention that highlight, and everyone knows who we’re talking about: Alexander Ovechkin.
Anywhere from 50-65 goals in a season, 110-120 points, and some of the greatest celebrations ever, and you’ve got one, if not the, most exciting player in the NHL today. I mean don’t get me wrong, Sidney Crosby is great, but for “get you out of your seat” value, I’d take Ovechkin in a heartbeat.
To go along with Alexander the Great, the Capitals feature a second talented young Russian in Alexander Semin. Although he’s small (listed at 6’2 and 181 lbs), Semin has the ability to perform at a high level. Although injuries derailed him slightly last season, Semin was able to post a solid 26 goals, and with more consistent playing time (thanks to the hope of more consistent health) Semin could easily break the 40 goal barrier (remember he scored 38 in 2006/07) and reach the 80 point level this season.
Coming off a sturdy rookie season, Nicklas Backstrom (the centre, not the goalie) will be looking to eclipse his 69-point breakout, and if he sees a lot of playing time with either Ovechkin or Semin, Backstrom could break out with 80-85 points, if he can stay healthy once again (he played in all 82 games last year).
Along with Backstrom, the Caps have a plethora of dependable young centremen. Both Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel provide big, physical presences down the middle as both are huge (Gordon is 6’1, 204 lbs and Steckel is—no joke—6’5, 222 lbs.). Brooks Laich is another player who can put a big body to use in a two-way game, but the former Senators’ prospect really started to find his offensive game last season, and he could provide some scoring depth if given a little extra ice time.
If the youngsters down the middle get gun-shy though, both Sergei Fedorov (who found another level with Washington last season we hadn’t seen from him in years: 2 goals, 11 assists, in 18 games) and Michael Nylander (37 points in 40 games) will be expected to step up. Both are interesting cases as Fedorov didn’t really find his game until he came to Washington last season (so it’ll be interesting to see if he can hold on to it) and Nylander finished the season with shoulder surgery. But if they can find last season’s forms, then neither are causes for concern.
Down the wings, Tomas Fleischmann will look to continue his development, and may find himself ascending the depth chart in Washington if he starts to produce like he did in the AHL and WHL (at or near a point-per game).
Chris Clark and Donald Brashear will be adding some grit and experience down the wings, while Eric Fehr and Chris Bourque will be expected to begin to come into their own as pieces of a strong Caps future.
Quintin Lang and Matt Bradley are great depth options for a team that has a lot of skilled young players.
Mike Green: Busting Balls since the 2008 playoffs against Philly…
Remember that? The impact? The sound? The image of Patrick Thoresen rolling around in agony after Mike Green ripped a shot off of his manhood?
And that big shot is just one of Green’s assets. He also skates, hits, and has already reached star status with 56 points last year—quite the upswing from his 12 points in 70 games in 2006/07.
Joining him on the blueline will be depth option, and former-London Knight Jon Erskine and the offensive-minded Tom Poti (who could easily regain footing at the 40-point plateau this season with so many weapons at forward).
Brian Pothier needs to prove that he’s fully recovered after suffering a concussion mid-way through last season, but if he has, then Pothier could be good for at least 30 points, while eclipsing his career-high of 35 could be a possibility as well, while fellow middling D-man Shaone Morrisonn could stand to increase in his offensive production to prove he belongs in the upper tier of a regular NHL defensive rotation.
Jeff Schultz, Sami Lepisto, Milan Jurcina, and Karl Azner are all young defensemen who could also earn their way into regular playing time with the Caps this season, although with the expectations placed on Azner, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Washington sees fit to allow him some NHL ice time this season, or to demote him to allow him some more time to gain extra experience.
Either way, when the day comes that Alzner and Green are paired at the top of the Caps’ depth chart, they could be one terrific tandem.
Well….at least Jose Theodore isn’t bald yet…
The only problem with the Caps, is that they’re one All-Star away from the trifecta of forward, defense, and goalie. Sure they’ve got a former All-Star in net, but the Toronot Maple Leafs are also former Stanley Cup champions.
From 2001-2003, Jose Theodore could have provided them with that All-Star presence, and if they had that Theodore, one could easily make a case for the Caps being the Eastern Conference’s representative in the Cup finals.
However, the Theodore of recent memory isn’t so heart-warming.
Despite a bounce-back year of sorts with Colorado last season (28-21, 2.44 GAA, .910 save percentage), Theodore’s track record since the lockout is miserable. He’s 31-33 with a GAA over 3.30 (3.35) and a save percentage well under .890 (.887). If Theodore is to justify the Caps investment of $9 million over the next two seasons, then he needs to prove that 2007/08 wasn’t an aberration and that he’s truly back, and able to get even better.
With a young and hungry Caps team he should be able to do that—especially seeing as this team gives him an excellent shot to win in the way they’re built, and how they play the game.
If he’s not able to though, then the goaltending reigns fall to Brent Johnson—another former 30-game winner who had an alright season last year. Both he and Theodore need to be ready for the season though, because if they’re not, then the Caps are in big trouble.
Offense can win games, but defense wins championships—and they need that last line bold and underlined if they expect to just get to the first round again this season.
So what does it all mean?
I don’t think there’s any doubt that last year just marked the beginning of a scary run of dominance in the Southeast by the Capitals. As these kids grow together (and they will…Ovechkin’s there for another 13 years), they’re only going to get better and better, and we’ll probably be in store for a few years of Capitals/Penguins finals.
The defense could be a tad overrated, lost in the excitement of Ovechkin, but while they aren’t head and shoulders above anyone in the division, they aren’t head and shoulders below them either.
Their biggest need is a goalie, and Jose Theodore may have reinvented himself to the point where he can be that solution.
But before we leave, I’d like to say one thing: Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are NOT the same player, and are almost too different to compare. Ovechkin energizes his team, leads by example, and cashes in on his opportunities. Although it pains me to say, Crosby doesn’t just drive his teammates to perform better, but his playmaking skills are so mind-boggling he MAKES them better—something that A.O. can’t do yet.
And that will be the nicest thing I say about Crosby until I try to rationalize why the Pens beat the Caps out in the playoffs this year.
1st in Southeast
by Mark Ritter… WESTERN CONFERENCE
DETROIT RED WINGS-
How do you stay ahead of the rest of the competition? How about signing the best free agent on the market? That’s exactly what the Red Wings did when they inked Marian Hossa to a one year contract. Add to Hossa to an already intimidating offensive lineup and you have the makings of a repeat Stanley Cup Champion. Detroit was able to get all of the important parts of their Stanley Cup team back; Valtteri Filppula signed a 5 year $15 million deal, Andreas Lilja signed a 2 year $7.4 Million deal and Free Agent Brad Stuart got 4 years and $15 million. Ty Conklin was brought in to backup Chris Osgood and Goalie Jimmy Howard was signed for three years just in case. What’s there to say? Detroit get’s an “A”, for “Another Awesome” year awaits. Detroit is still the team to beat, period! Forget about “Good” this team is “Fawesome!”
Nashville seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel this off-season. Sure they were able to get Defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber under 4 and 3 year contracts, but other than that it’s a snooze fest in Music City. Chris Mason was traded to St. Louis for what amounts to a bag of pucks, Marek Zidlicky was traded to Minnesota for Ryan Jones…I know, who the heck is “Ryan Jones”??? Other moves included going to the movies and attending T-Ball games with the kids. For a team with a decent chance to contend the Predators did a horrible job attracting free agents, did they even try? The Predators get my first “F”. Weber and Suter are good signings, but where will the improvement come from? The Predators are in tough in the West. Goaltending should keep them in many games, they are looking at a 6-7th place finish, could have been so much better if they got some help. The Preds get an “F”. BAD.
ST. LOUIS BLUES-
Many believe this will be a much improved team, don’t count me in on this one. Don’t get me wrong, St. Louis is headed in the right direction, it’s just that they still have to make a few turns first. Notable signings? Well, David Backes signed for 3 years $7.5 Million. Jeff Woywitka signed a one year deal. Yan Stastny signed a 2 year deal. I know; unimpressive signings aren’t they? Goaltender Chris Mason came over in a trade with Minnesota which should give last year’s starter Manny Legace a shot in the arm, but somehow I still feel “Blah” about the Blues’ off-season. I’ll give the Blues a “C” for “Keep the Course”. Lot’s of heavy lifting remains to be completed in St. Louis, patience will be needed with the Blues, look for them to hover around the 10-12 position most of the season. “Indifferent”.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS-
Columbus had one of the busiest off-season’s you’ll ever see. Almost half of the roster will consist of new faces when the puck drops in game one of the 2008/09 season. The question is, did the Blue Jackets bring in the right horses to finally get them to the playoffs? Mike Commodore, Kristian Huselius, R.J Umberger, Raffi Torres, Fedor Tyutin, Chris Backman, Alexandre Picard, Steve Kelly and Mike York were all brought in to make this team into a contender. Millions of dollars have been committed to starting Goalie Pascal Leclaire, Commodores deal was for 5 years 18.75 Million, Huselius got 4 years and $19 Million, R.J. Umberger received a 4year $15 Million deal, that’s a lot of cabbage being paid out on 4 players. Sending Brule packing to Edmonton for Raffi Torres was a good deal, Brule simply didn’t fit into the Blue Jacket’s defensive style. Torres will add some much needed “grit”; he can also put the puck in the net. I was unimpressed with bringing Michael Peca back, he’s way too injury prone and will likely miss 30-40 games again this season, so what’s the point in bringing him back? I like most of the moves Columbus made; it’s just too bad they are in the Western Conference. If this roster competed in the East I would slot them into the 7-9 position, but the Western Conference is a ‘beast’, as such I can’t see the Blue Jackets making the playoffs, it will be close, but the Northwestern Division could have four teams make it into the playoffs, which leaves Detroit, Anaheim, Nashville, San Jose, a much improved Chicago roster, Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus to battle it out for the other four spots, thus, I don’t like Columbus’ chances. I’ll give them a “B+” for, “Betcha come close, But close isn’t good enough”. Good!
For the first time in over a decade the Chicago Blackhawk’s have a legitimate chance of making some noise in the Western Conference. Chicago’s off-season was very strong and a little confusing. Chicago muddied up the waters in the crease signing free agent goalie Cristobal Huet away form the Washington Capitals. Good move from the perimeter, but Chicago already has a high priced starting goalie in Nikolai Khabibulin. So, what gives? Why sign Huet? Your guess is as good as mine, let’s hope the Blackhawk’s find a taker for Khabibulin, otherwise it’s a bad move, one that could cause a soap opera in the dressing room. The other big move Chicago made was bringing in free agent Defenseman Brian Campbell. At 8 years and $56.8 Million the Blackhawk’s better be sure about Campbell. Last time I checked nobody confused Campbell with Bobby Orr, for that kinda money Campbell better play like Orr! A Goaltender, a Defenseman and a bunch of spare parts doesn’t seem like much, but Chicago’s young guns Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will be all the more confident with the stronger backend. Call me Crazy, but I see the Hawks finishing as high as second in their Division, with an outside chance at the 6-8 spot in the Conference. I’ll give Chicago a “B-” for, “Better get rid of the ‘Bulin’ wall”. Good!
Calgary made all kinds of moves in the off-season. Alex Tanguay is out; humanitarian award winner Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Cammalleri are in, I sure as hell hope Bertuzzi isn’t a cancer in Calgary. Meanwhile, many are salivating about the prospect of Jarome Iginla and Cammalleri playing together, it remains to be seen if they will “click”, my gut tells me Iginla will score 50 and Cammalleri will flirt with 80+ points, for the Flames sake let’s hope I am right. Jamie Lundmark and Craig Conroy were signed to one year deals; Rene Bourque was acquired from Chicago, three players with good ‘upside’, but who’s counting? The long and the short of it is the Flames need Iginla and Cammalleri to come up huge. This roster is getting older, confidence is shaky, time is ticking on a championship, if Calgary doesn’t make it to the finals this season there will be huge changes in 2009/10. It’s time the Flames “piss or got off the pot”. Calgary should contend for a top four spot in their Conference, quite possibly first overall in their Division. I’ll give the Flames a “B” for “Y’all better ‘git ‘er done’ or ‘Iron Mike’ is gonna have his foot up ‘yer Butts!” Good…I think!
The Canucks “wowed” the rest of the NHL by offering free agent centre Mats Sundin a two year $20 Million contract, only trouble is Sundin seems to have gotten lost in an Ikea and hasn’t come out to let the Canucks know if that contract is good enough to entice him to come out from under the bed and play. Guess what Canucks fans, he ain’t coming. Marcus Naslund and Brendan Morrison bid adieu to Vancouver, while Pavol Demitra, Nolan Baumgartner, Kyle Wellwood, Ryan Johnson and Steve Bernier (via trade) all signed with the club. Wellwood was shut down last season by Toronto for being unproductive and Lazy in his rehab. Baumgartner signed a two way deal, Johnson is a bit player, While Bernier and Demitra should help fill the void left by Naslund and Morrison. Vancouver is in deep in the Northwest Division. The Canucks will be hard pressed to make the playoffs and may very well finish anywhere from 7-11th in the Conference. Roberto Luongo will keep them competitive, but this roster needs an overhaul, I think the Canucks are in trouble this year. I’ll give the Canucks a “C-” for, “if you thought last year was bad, wait and “C” this season”. Indifferent.
The Oilers didn’t acquire much talent via free agency, but they didn’t lose any real talent either, which in an Oilers fans mind is a great off-season. The Oilers traded for Lubomir Visnovsky, Gilbert Brule and Erik Cole, giving up Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, Raffi Torres and Jani Pitknen respectively. Brule is a risky venture, but sometimes you gotta take a chance on a guy, he’s young and was highly touted when he was drafted. If Brule can get his offensive prowess back look out! I like the direction this club is going, hopefully Sheldon Souray and Erik Cole stay healthy, they will be counted on night after night, if either one goes down they are hard to replace. The Oilers have a legitimate chance at the playoffs, I see them competing for second or third in their Division and 6-9th in the Western Conference. I’ll give the Oilers a “B+” for, “I hope the season is as entertaining as the war of words between Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke”. Good!
The Wild had a pretty tame off-season. Brian Rolston and Pavol Demitra each found new homes, making many ask where the heck Minnesota’s offense is going to come from? Minnesota tried to address these loses by bringing in Free Agent Forwards Owen Nolan and Andrew Brunette. Brunette should be a 20 goal scorer in Minnesota; sadly I think Nolan’s days as a real threat are done. Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Antti Mietinen were re-signed, while Defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron, Marek Zidlicky and Forward Corey Locke were acquired via trades. On the surface it would seem as if the Wild did “ok” this off-season; that said I still think they will need more offence if they are to be a real threat. The playoffs should be easily attainable, but don’t expect them to be number one in their Division again. I see Minnesota holding the 5-7th spot in the Conference, but without more offence they are libel to be playing golf once the second round of the playoffs start. I gave Minnesota a “C-” for, “you can’t win if you don’t score”. Indifferent.
The Colorado Avalanche are poised to have an “interesting” season in 2008/09. Joe Sakic will be back, that’s good news if you are an Avalanche fan. The rest of the news is not so rosy. The Av’s are going to rely on Goaltender Peter Budaj as their starter and they lost Andrew Brunette, ouch! Defensemen Adam Foote- who is getting long in the tooth, John-Michael Liles and forward Marek Svatos all signed contracts to return to the Avalanche, Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft (both bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs) signed as Free Agents. If Colorado has any ideas of bringing in Raycroft to fill the void left by last season’s starting goaltender Jose Theodore’s departure they’ve been inhaling too much of that mountain air; this guys a dud, book it! Tucker should be a useful player, his intensity was questioned at the beginning of last season, but he rounded out decent numbers to finish strongly with Toronto. The Avalanche may be on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around, look for them to struggle in goal and have to fight tooth and nail to stay within striking distance of the number eight seed. I gave Colorado a “B-” for, “The signing of Raycroft was anything but Brilliant!” Liles, Sakic and Svatos aside, Indifferent.
The Ducks have one of the most intimidating rosters on the planet. Scott Neidermeyer, Chris Pronger, Corey Perry, J.S. Giguere, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaff, Mathieu Scheider and when he feels like playing, Teemu Selanne make up an impressive list of talent. So, why didn’t the Ducks make last years final? It’s quite simple really; the Western Conference is just that good, so good that a Stanley Cup Champion on paper was golfing early last spring. The Ducks brought in a few new faces in the off-season and let a few leave too. Todd Bertuzzi was let go by the Ducks, great move in my estimation. There are many new players on their way to Anaheim, many of which are “bit” players; few worth mentioning. The biggest acquisition for the Ducks this off-season was Centre Brendan Morrison. Morrison should flourish in the Ducks system, getting a chance to play with the likes of Chris Kunitz and Ryan Getzlaf will only boost his totals. There is not much else to report from the Ducks as, much like the Red Wings, the roster is stacked so very little changes were necessary. Look for the Ducks to have another great season, they should finish first in their Division and will definitely be in the top four in their Conference. Giguere should see 70+ games and ultra-smooth Defenceman Scott Neidermeyer will be in place for the whole season, combine this with the talented Kunitz and Getzlaf about to get better and you have the makings of a possible birth to the Stanley Cup Finals. There are not too many rosters that rival Detroit’s; the Ducks are a major threat to steal the Cup away from Detroit. I gave the Ducks an “A”. Good!
SAN JOSE SHARKS-
The Sharks were dumped out of the playoffs early for the second year in a row. So how did Management respond? The Sharks re-signed Ryane Clowe, Jeremy Roenick, Marcel Goc, Christian Erhoff and Joe Pavelski; brought in veteran Defenseman Rob Blake via free agency at 1year $5 Million and acquired Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich from the Tampa Bay Lightening for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart and a first rounder. Free agent Goalie Brian Boucher was also signed in hopes of being able to give some rest to Evgeni Nabokov during the regular season. Brian Campbell, Craig Rivet and Steve Bernier are gone, all will be missed, but I think the replacements will fill the voids nicely. Look for the Sharks to be slotted in the top four in the Conference. They will have a tough time finishing ahead of Anaheim and Dallas will be pounding at the door as well, it will be a dogfight all season long. This team has to get it done this year or I see big changes coming. I gave the Sharks a “B+”. Good.
The trade deadline acquisition of Brad Richards provided the Stars with some much needed scoring depth, the question is could the Stars build on their playoff success by scoring a ‘big fish’ in the off-season? Big ‘dope’, big ‘Jerk’, big ‘distraction’, big ‘pain in the butt’, all of these accolades have been used to describe Sean Avery, if you see him as a ‘big fish’, then the Stars got their man. Sean Avery signed a 4 year $15.5 Million deal with the Stars, making him one of the most overpaid players in the history of the game, right? Not so say the Stars, they believe Avery will be worth every penny and expect him to play a key roll in shutting down the opposition and taking Dallas back to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Stars didn’t do much else in the off-season, but you know fourteen teams cringed when they heard Avery was signing in the Western Conference. I wonder if Martin Brodeur sent Brett Hull a bottle of champagne for getting Avery out of the Eastern Conference? The Stars did well by signing Avery; they have a strong roster and some cap space to play with at the deadline, as such, Dallas should compete for the number 2-3 spot in the Division. Dallas could definitely surprise some people, so don’t count them out as a top four seed in the Western Conference. I gave the Stars an “A” for, “Avery”. Good.
LOS ANGELES KINGS-
The Kings are having trouble getting to the Salary Cap minimum never mind building a competitive hockey team. Second overall pick Drew Doughty might just get a chance at playing in the NHL this season, but why would the Kings subject him to the horrors of what will surely be a team that struggles to get to 70 points this year? The Kings need to stay the course and build with youth, but they are also in danger of alienating their fans to the point that they won’t see them back in time for Doughty’s 30th birthday. Expect the Kings to compete for last in the Division, last in the Conference and last in the entire NHL. This team is B-A-D, bad! I gave the Kings a “D”.
11 years after being awarded the Winnipeg Jets old franchise the Coyotes are yet to put a decent season together. There is hope in the form of veteran Shane Doan as well as a bevy of young talent either on their second season or on the way up including, Kyle Turris, Peter Mueller, Michael Boedker and Martin Hanzel, all of whom have great credentials. The Coyotes made a move towards getting better immediately by acquiring highly touted Centre Olli Jokinen from the Florida panthers for young Defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, this trade should help Phoenix be more competitive, but I am not so sure it means a playoff spot. As fate would have it the Coyotes are in the ultra-tough Western Conference where they will have to beat out many teams just to make the eighth and final playoff spot. I see the Coyotes finishing between 8-10th in the Conference, no better than fourth in their Division. I mean how do you take Phoenix over Dallas, Anaheim or San Jose? You don’t, sorry Coyote fans, you may have to wait yet another year for the playoffs, your time will come soon enough though. I gave the Coyotes an “A-”. The team is on the right track, it just may take a little more time.
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