Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NHL Season Preview - Eastern Conference

Was it just me or was that a quick summer?

It seems like two weeks ago that the Penguins were skating off the ice at Joe Louis Arena with their third Stanley Cup in tow, while Kris Draper had a hissy-fit in the Detroit dressing room ("and you can print that, tell him I said it!").

So after enduring another season of pathetic Blue Jays baseball, thank goodness the NHL season is here.  It makes it much easier to forget the Vernon Wells pop outs and Scott Richmond losses.

While McCoy will work his magic breaking down the Western Conference, I'll lend my expertise to the more exciting Eastern Conference, where some interesting storylines are already taking place.

The Favourites

Pittsburgh Penguins:  Nobody should be surprised.  The Eastern Conference belongs to the Penguins until someone takes it from them.  While a third straight Stanley Cup Final appearance is certainly not out of the question, there are a few Eastern teams capable of uprooting the Champs from Steeltown.

The one thing the Pens have going against them is the fact they (along with Detroit) have played a lot of hockey over the last two seasons.  Will fatigue and two consecutive short summers take their toll on the Champs?  There is no doubt that it could be their biggest downfall heading into 2010.

On the other hand, they have Malkin and Crosby.  Crosby is coming off a "bad" year.  He had 100 + points in that bad year.  Malkin is coming off an Art Ross and Conn Smythe.  I don't need to tell you how good those guys are.

After his performance during the Stanley Cup run, Marc-Andre Fleury has solidified his status as an elite, world class goalie, and this year will be even more motivated.  Why?  He wants to go Vancouver in February and represent his country.

They lost Hal Gill, they lost Rob Scuderi, and sure that will hurt.  But let's not forget who the Pens lost after losing to Detroit in 2008.  Roberts, Malone, Hossa, Conklin, Hall, the list goes on.  It was supposed to be too much to rebound from.  Twelve months later, the Pens lifted Lord Stanley.

All this and I haven't even mentioned Gonchar, Guerin, Kunitz, Staal, and Letang.  The Penguins will be fine.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins didn't do much during the offseason, their biggest move was ridding themselves of Phil Kessel and stockpiling draft picks.

Besides Kessel's departure, much is the same with the Bruins, the reigning top Eastern seed.  They still have balance up front and it doesn't hurt that Marc Savard is entering the last year of his contract.  The Bruins will rely again on three young studs who broke through in a big way last year: Krecji, Lucic, and Wheeler.

Tim Thomas is coming off a Vezina win and I don't think he can repeat that this season.  If he struggles, Tuukka Rask is waiting in the wings, and is ready for prime time.

The Northeast Division was a cake-walk for Boston last year, and while I see them winning it again, it won't come as easily with the Leafs, Sens, and Habs all vastly improved.

Washington Capitals: The Caps certainly aren't far off.  However, their biggest offseason need was a big rugged blueliner, which they didn't get.  Chris Pronger would have been a perfect fit for this team, and really, just what they needed.  Instead, they went out and signed Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison.  While not bad picks ups, those two guys are not going to get the Capitals to the next level.

The Capitals do have some scary talent though.  I don't need to tell you how good Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin are.  Mike Green puts up the sexy offensive numbers from the point, but couldn't defend me in his own zone.  He was exploited in the Pittsburgh series last season, as were the entire Washington defense corps.

This team will only go as far as a goalie will carry them.  Jose Theodore had a great year last year, but was dumped early in the playoffs for rookie Simeon Varlamov, who's Cinderalla slipper got crushed in a brutal game seven choke job against Pittsburgh.  Whoever gets the most starts this year, shoulders a huge amount of pressure.  The Caps will be in a lot of high scoring games.

Carolina Hurricanes: Was it any surprise that the Canes and Pens were the last two teams standing in the East last season?  They were, after all, the two hottest teams down the stretch.

The Hurricanes' big weakness is also on the blueline, and the Penguins definitely exposed that in the Conference Finals.  Nothing was done to improve that problem, but the Hurricanes are deep enough up front, and have a bonafide number one goalie in Cam Ward, something that sets them apart from Washington.

The Canes are aging, however.  Ray Whitney, Rod Brind'Amour, and Erik Cole are no spring chickens.  The team will be able to offset that problem however, with an influx of young blood like Brandon Sutter and Zach Boychuk.

And beware of Eric Staal.  Like a lot of players, he is on the bubble for an Olympic roster spot, so he should be nothing short of lights out this season.

Philadelphia Flyers: It seems like a lot of pundits are picking the Flyers to come out of the East.  I'm not 100% sure why.

I know they are good.  I know they signed Chris Pronger.  I know they are going to be tough to play against.  The Ian Laperriere signing was brilliant.  I just have one question:  Do people really believe in Ray Emery that much?

I don't.

That said, they will be a force to be reckoned with.  A full season from Briere and Gagne would be nice, but they got by without that last season.

As good as their forwards are, the Flyers' big strength is on the blueline.  Pronger, Timmonen, Coburn, and Parent make up the top four, and thats as  formidable a corps as exists in the NHL.  They will have to be good to stop snipers from getting at Ray Emery and Brian Boucher.

Another problem that has plagued the Flyers forever has been lack of discipline.  Stupid penalties do the team in year in and year out.  Playing a lot against powerplays like the Caps' and Pens' may spell trouble.


New York Rangers:  As Henrik Lundqvist goes, so go the Rangers, a team that has had more trouble scoring than Steve at a high school dance.

But Glen Sather has taken steps to fix that this year.  Signing Marian Gaborik is a gamble, but if it pays off and he stays healthy, its a move that can put the Rangers in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

A lot of guys had off years for the Blueshirts in 08-09.  Chris Drury and Wade Redden need to be much better, both on the ice and in the room.  If they are half the players they can be, it would be a drastic improvement.

The Rangers expect big things from Chris Higgins, who came over from Montreal, and still has a lot of upside.  Three rookies will make an impact on Broadway this year as well.  You might have seen Artem Anisimov scoring highlight reel goals all preseason long.  Well, he has made the team and should help offset the loss of Nikolai Zherdev.  Defencemen Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto have also made the team out of training camp and are expecting to get powerplay time on the point.

Playoff Contenders

Montreal Canadiens:  The city is abuzz over the new guys.  Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta are reunited, and Michael Cammalleri brings 39 goals to the wing in Montreal.  Gomez and Gionta looked 2005-esque in preseason, which is a good sign for the Habs' faithful.  Les Habitants should be able to score, but the big question mark up front is size.  Are the forwards big and strong enough to withstand the physicality teams like Toronto and Boston will bring?

It is no surprise that Carey Price is the big question mark on this team heading into the season.  The biggest thing he needed to do over the summer was grow the hell up.  Too many times last year he seemed like he didn't care, or was in a different universe.  If he has a decent head on his shoulders, he can be a top five goalie in the NHL.  If not, well then it will be more of the same for Montreal.

The loss of Mike Komisarek won't hurt as much as people expect.  Jaroslav Spacek brings a big, underrated shot from the blueline, and if Hal Gill is put in the right situation, then he should do just fine as well.

Ottawa Senators: Can the Sens make it back to the playoffs?  I think they can. If...

a) Pascal Leclaire is the goalie they are hoping he can be.  Can he stay healthy? 

b) Alex Kovalev does not take half the season off.

We all know that Dany Heatley is now an ex-Sen.  By all accounts, he was turning into a cancer anyway, and the return of Jonathan Cheecho and Milan Michalek from the Sharks will help people forget him soon enough.  Ottawa now has a top six of Spezza, Alfredsson, Kovalev, Michalek, Cheechoo, and Fisher.  Rookie Peter Regin is likely to bump Fisher out of that second line spot.

The Sens need big things from Chris Campoli.  He needs to be the powerplay quarterback they have been missing since Chara left.

Buffalo Sabres: This team was on its way to the postseason last year, but then Ryan Miller got injured, and that was that.  No player in the league might be more important to their team than the Sabres' star netminder.  Simply put, if he can stay healthy, the team has a good shot at seeing April hockey.  If not, then well expect the Sabres to miss the playoffs for the third straight season.

The Sabres are still young and lethal up front with the likes of Vanek, Roy, Pominville, and Stafford.

Their biggest downfall might be the division they play in.  Like I said, the Northeast will be no tea party this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs played the preseason like it was the Stanley Cup Finals.  Seriously, did they save anything for games that actually count?

There is no doubt the Leafs will be better.  They will challenge for a playoff spot.  By all accounts, they will be an abrasive, exciting team, one that is hard to play against.  The thing is, you can only get away with that for so long.  Discipline and fatigue will be problems for the Leafs.

While the acquisitions of Phil Kessel and Mike Komisarek are grabbing headlines, the best move the Leafs made was the signing of Francois Beauchemin.  He is a good, all around player.  An underrated powerplay performer who isn't a liability in his own end?  Any team in the league would take that any day.

And sorry, but I am nowhere close to being sold on Komisarek.  What do I see in him?  Bryan McCabe.

Between the pipes, the Leafs at least have options now.  The pressure is on Vesa Toskala to be better, and he will most certainly be on a short leash.  Leafs faithful is already anointing Jonas Gustavsson as the next coming of Christ himself.  Speaking of religion, God I hate this team.

New Jersey Devils:  They Devils' time has come.  To not be as good as they usually are.  More than ever, its Martin Brodeur versus the world.

The Devils are in desperate need of offensive help on the back-end.  Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya just are not going to cut it.

Up front, they have Parise, Zajac, and aging guys like Rolston, Elias, and Langenbrunner.  After that there is nothing.  The Devils just might find themselves on the outside looking in come April.  If the team makes the playoffs this year, Brodeur will deserve Hart Trophy consideration.

Bottom Feeders

Tampa Bay Lightning:  The Bolts could be a surprise this year, but it all depends on Mike Smith and his ability to stay healthy.

The Tampa defence is greatly improved with Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker, and Kurtis Foster arriving.  Hedman is expected to log heavy minutes in his rookie season, and no doubt will be mentored by fellow Swede Ohlund.

Up front, they subtract career enigma Vinny Prospal, and replace him with a much more consistent Alex Tanguay.  The best news for Tampa Bay is that Vincent Lecavalier is still on the roster.

New York Islanders: Let the John Tavares show begin.  If anything, at least there is hope on the Island now.

Tavares is expected to jump and be successful right away, and he should be able to live up to expectations.  Beside Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and Trent Hunter though, the Isles are pretty weak at the forward positions.

Actually, the Islanders are pretty weak all over. 

There is a logjam in goal, with new acquisitions Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson signed for insurance because Rick DiPietro hurts himself every time he sneezes.

The Islanders have a long road back.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers came close to the playoffs last year.  They won't this year.  No Jay Bouwmeester, plain and simple.

While there is lots of young talent up front in the likes of Booth, Horton, Weiss, Olesz, and Frolik, in order to make a run, all of them need to have career years.

Tomas Vokoun also needs to be more consistent down the stretch for the Panthers to have any shot.

The bottom line is that with Bouwmeester gone, you're missing not only the backbone of the blueline, but also the biggest part to the transition game.  Now Florida has to rely on Brayn McCabe to fill the void.  Good luck with that.

Atlanta Thrashers: Like last year, the Thrashers will be able to score.  Kovalchuk in a contract year?  Yes, please.  But they also have unheralded Byan Little, Rich Peverley, and two new bodies in Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov to bolster their attack.

The problem will once again be keeping pucks out of the net.  Will the real Kari Lethonen stand up this year?

The most intriguing thing happening in Atlanta this year (besides the Kovalchuk trade talk that will start in November), is first round pick Evander Kane making the team out of training camp.  If given enough playing time, he could be in the Calder sweepstakes.

How They'll Finish

1. Pittsburgh
2. Boston
3. Carolina
4. Washington
5. Philadelphia
6. New York Rangers
7. Montreal
8. Ottawa
9. Buffalo
10.New Jersey
11. Toronto
12. Tampa Bay
13. Florida
14. New York Islanders
15. Atlanta

Stanley Cup Finals

Pittsburgh vs. Anaheim

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NHL Season Preview - Western Conference

It's been a while since I've sat here about to write a blog. Since then I've enjoyed my rainy summer as best I could while packing up and moving back to Ontario.
With the NHL's newest campaign about to start on Thursday, what better time to come back and spit venom on this keyboard then now?
After a quick discussion with Rose unlike those that have made our ears bleed in Glendale, AZ, we've decided to focus on the conference which hosts our favourite teams. Hence, read Rose's blog for the East and disagree with mine in the West (GO PHOENIX!!!).
Pacific Division
The Ducks biggest loss last year came not from the ice but upstairs as GM Brian Burke bolted, in the worst kept secret, to Toronto as their new GM. Salary Cap wise, Burke created somewhat of a mess however was extremely instrumental in creating the championship team back in 2007. On the ice the team struggled throughout most of the season and would've missed the playoffs if not for Swiss G Jonas Hiller winning 12 of his (and the teams) last 16 games. Along with Hiller, Anaheim still has a nice core of young talent with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry leading the way and sophomore Bobby Ryan looking to continue with scoring after a 30 goal rookie campaign. Looking to re-kindle past success in Anaheim is Joffrey Lupul who's return to Anaheim marks the second time in his short career he's been involved in a deal that's also included Chris Pronger, with Pronger going to Philly. Rounding out the new additions are D Nick Boynton, F Saku Koivu and D Luca Sbisa. D Francois Beauchemin left for a big ticket deal in Toronto joining Pronger, D Bret Hedican and F Rob Niedermayer as other departures.
A simple math lesson for new GM's: little/no cap room + no impact additions + skimping on dependable backup + perennial slow start by G Marty Turco = One bad season. That's exactly what happened with the Stars last season. One year after making one the biggest trade deadline splashes in recent memories, acquiring F Brad Richards, the Stars did exactly the opposite the following off-season. The "Dynamic Duo" GM's that were Brett Hull and Les Jackson were nothing of the sort after limping through last off-season deciding on only F Sean "Sloppy Second" Avery and Swede rookie Fabian Brunnstrom. After losing Captain F Brendan Morrow for the season and D Sergei Zubov for long-term, the team faltered and hit a low point when Avery spoke with the Calgary Media about some girl next door and was soon dealt to the Rangers. Enter new GM Joe Nieuwendyk who's first order of business was ushering out coach Dve Tippett and bringing in Marc Crawford. No impact players were brought in with G Alex Auld, D Karlis Skrastins and D Jeff Woywitka being the new names. Departures included F Brendan Morrisson, F Joel Lundqvist, F Mark Parrish, D Darryl Sydor and Zubov. Look for Dallas to join the likes of Colorado and Ottawa who've enjoyed past success but are entering a rough patch.
This rebuilding franchise finally received a ROI last year but not where they expected it. Most improvement didn't come from the forwards as expected, but rather the blue line and backstop. G Jonathan Quick, along with rookie Drew Doughty and Kyle Quindey all paid great dividends while former 1st round pick Jack Johnson missed half the season with shoulder problems. The main goal this year is to improve scoring while maintain the goals against (11th). New additions this year include F Ryan Smyth and D Rob Scuderi, who proved his worth after last years performance with the Penguins. By bringing in Smyth, the Kings lost the resurrected Quincey and D Tom Priessing who were joined by F Derek Armstrong, F Kyle Calder, D Denis Gauthier. Unless the team can see improved scoring from forwards, it can be another year chalked up to rebuilding.
The Phoenix Coyotes. If you follow the sport, even a little bit, then you know about the franchise and their current situation. I'm not going to get into the details, if your unaware and curious, go someplace else and do the research. As for the team in continuous rebuilding mode, it be another long year. Bringing in new coach Dave Tippett will provide a definite upgrade behind the bench however with the losses of F Olli Jokinen (CGY), Nigel Dawes (CGY) and Steve Reinprecht (FLA) the team will rely more heavily on youngsters F Kyle Turris, Peter Mueller, Scottie Upshall, Mikkel Boedker and Matthew Lombardi all who are still unproven. New faces to the team include D Adrian Aucoin who should be a welcome addition to QB the PP, D Jim Vandermeer and F Radim Vrbata. As we watched Ilya Bryzgalov play slip last year, the team brought in Jason LaBarbera to supply back up. At the end of the day fans of the game will be more interested in what happens off the ice than on and unfortunately it'll affect the team.
All roads lead to San Jose. Well, according to F Dany Heatley that couldn't be any closer to the truth. After a question riddled off-season the disgruntled forward finally got his wish in the first day of training camp by being sent to the Sharks with a pick for F Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and 2 picks. As if this team needed any more firing power, they easily become a cup favourite if they weren't already. Even with the loss of Cheechoo and Michalek, the team has ample support for Heatley, Thornton and Marleau in the likes of sophomore F Devin Setaguchi and F Ryan Clowe. Even though this team is scary deep, one question mark in my mind is what happens if G Evgeni Nabakov goes down long term? That aside look for this team to continue the trend, if healthy, of 100+ point seasons. On a side note, former 67's D Derek Joslin, F Jamie McGinn and Logan Couture could get some action this year.
Central Division
A season to remember quickly became an off-season to forget for the Blackhawks. We all knew that with this much young talent, the franchise would eventually become a viable and competitive team. We just didn't see it coming that quickly, only three wins from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Then trouble hit the scene quickly after the post-season was over. Pivitol playoff performers G Nicholai Khabibulin and F Martin Havlet, Sammy Pahlsson all were no longer in the Windy City and franchise player and face of the team, Patrick Kane was involved in an assault charge in his home town of Buffalo. What was supposed to be an off-season with renewed interest and anticipation became that which has been familiar to the team, questions. One of the big free agent splashes this off-season was Marian "I picked the wrong team damnit" Hossa. his scoring capability should compensate the loss of Havlet, but with a post-season to forget, he'll need to improve heavily if the Hawks are to be back in the fold. Another question mark is G Christobal Huet. Brought in for a large sum, Huet now has his chance to prove the franchise right by signing him. All these questions aside, the team is still extremely promising with players like F Chris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and David Bolland to compliment Toews, Kane and Hossa.
After a long nine years, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally became a playoff team. Even if it was for a minute, the playoff birth provided growth for the franchise and continued young GM Scott Howsen goal of building a reputation for himself as a competent GM. The biggest surprise for the team last year was G Steve Mason. The 20 year came in once G Pascal Leclaire was limited to only 12 games because of a nasty ankle injury. We all the know the story behind Mason. World Junior Championship star, OHL star, 10 shutouts, Vezina candidate and Calder winner all before the age of 21. Another problem that Mason was able to help solve was scoring depth. Mason's rise ultimately allowed the team to trade Leclaire to Ottawa in exchange for F Antoine Vermette. This move was made to provide a shot of offence for a team that relied on F Rick Nash, RJ Umberger and Kristian Huselius. Not much tinkering was done during the off-season, G Mathieu Garon was brought in for relief duty and gritty F Sammy Pahlsson moved from division rival Chicago. Look for sophomore F Derick Brassard to be look to for scoring this year, but in a tough Western Conference, fans will have to remember last year's playoff appearance until the next one come in a few years.
The Red Wings have been the model of consistentcy for years. That trend may be in jeopardy as no other team took hits as a result of the salary cap than the Wings. Key players Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Ty Conklin all left via free agency. The team still has plenty of depth with more minutes available for F Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary and Patrick Eaves. The biggest concern for this team is the the potential for wear and tear on the back end. D Nicklas Lidstrom is now 39 and may feel the effects of two consecutive 25+ game post-seasons. Similar to that is G Chris Osgood, if Osgood even comes close to his performance last regular season G Jimmy Howard will get his shot. Detroit will be a favourite for the division, however their rivals from the Windy City might a thing or two to say about that.
Ahh Nashville. You were a contender and with the snap of a finger...SNAP, back to reality. After 6 years in the post-season, the Preds missed the playoffs and more importantly stood idol as several key players left the organization. No acquisitions were made save for the locking up of the oft-injured F Steve Sullivan. If you do look for that silver lining it's young D Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. These two have all star potential and Weber went gangbusters last year to finish with 23 goals. A healthy F Jason Arnott, even at 35 years of age, can beleivably put up 25+ goals this season. Add to that the possibility of a consistent season from G Pekka Rinne and the Preds may have an outside shot at the playoffs. Just don't hold your breath.
Losing F Andy McDonald, D Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson and G Chris Mason early in the season spelt certain doom for the team. By New Years, the Blues were in 15th place and without hope. Then suddenly they started playing. Mason returned to play 38 straight games posting a 24-8-6 record and the return of McDonald along with youngsters F David Backes, David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund provided enough punch to clinch a playoff spot in the second to last game and finishing 6th overall. Although the team scored only 5 goals and lost in a sweep, the team shows promise. The two major departures for this team are defencemen Jay McKee (PIT) and Jeff Woywitka (Dal), however with hopes of Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson playing a healthy season, these losses should be compensated. In goal, the Blues brought in a reliable Ty Conklin who's posted 43 wins in the last two seasons as a backup. If health isn't an issue, 2nd most games lost to injury last year, the team should compete for the 6,7,8 spot.
Northwest Division
The "Iron Mike" era, after a season of high hopes ended with a fourth consecutive first round exit to the upstart Hawks, with GM Darryl Sutter's younger brother, and Red Deer native, Brent taking over. With several big ticket contracts for G Mikka Kiprusoff, F Jarome Iginla, D Dion Phanuef and Robyn Regher, the Flames tried to fiscally get some bang for their buck. This yielded mix results as F Rene Bourque exceded expectations while F Todd Bertuzzi couldn't recapture his old form, even if his contract only ate up 1.95M. With 39 goal scorer F Michael Cammalleri leaving for Montreal, the loss of those goals will be on F Olli Jokinen to fill the gap. To add to an already impressive blue line the Flames acquired D Jay Bouwmeester for a song at the draft and quicky locked him up for 5 years. The addition vaulted the Flames as a team with arguably the best defensive corps in the league. After a lack luster season by Phanuef, look for Brent Sutter (Phaneuf's Red Deer Rebel coach), to help bring his game back up. Kiprusoff will again carry the load in net and therein lies the biggest question mark. With a declining save pct. in each of the past 5 seasons, no reliable back-up and four early round exits, Kiprusoff needs to regain his form of old to help bring this team further in the playoffs.
The Oilers for a few years now have been that team "on the cusp", however they have yet to reach that cusp and last year was the straw that broke the camel's back for 9+ year coach Craig McTavish. Boasting one of the leagues worst PP's, sophomore slumps by F Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, only two 20 goal scorers (one being D Sheldon Souray) and a single player over 65 points caused the nessecary changes. coach Pat Quinn replaced McTavish and is joined by Tom Renney to provide a fresh attitude. On defence, Sheldon Souray still leads the corps joined by Lubomir Visnovsky and one year more mature Tom Gilbert. Between the pipes two goalies playing into the well known "contract year" status received their contracts. G Dwayne Roloson left for the Isles and Nikolai Khabibulin signed a 4 year deal at the age of 36 leaving the Windy City. In order for the Oil to make the playoffs since being one game away from winning it all in 06' (sniff), more productivity needs to be put in by F Shawn Horcoff ($7 mil this year), Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky. Without this, it'll be another long season in Oil Country.
After their worst season since moving to Denver the Avalanche lost an icon to the game, Joe Sakic, to retirement. With a core of young talent in F Paul Stasney, Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos and rookie Matt Duchene, the future looks bright but may be in for a rough patch. The team moved Ryan Smyth (LA) in exchange for Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing to solidify the back end. In net however is the teams weakest point. G Peter Budaj never lived up to the hype and is now on a carousal of netminders who'll likey share duty throughout the season. One thing the team can look forward to this year is a chance to receive the first overall pick in next years entry draft as it won't be good this year, no matter how many times you shake the 8-ball.
After missing the playoffs this year certain expectations weren't met and changes needed to be made. From top to bottom, GM Doug Risebrough was given the door, coach Jacques Lemaire resigned after a long tenure and the departure of Marian Gaborik ended a love/hate relationship that ranked second only to the players continual injury problems. Apparently the team hasn't learned their lesson as they handed a large contract to F Martin Havlet who himself has battled injuries for most of his career. F Owen Nolan enjoyed a return to his former self however don't expect that to repeat itself. Even with the team remaining relatively stable defensively (G Niklas Backstrom being locked up long-term and the addition of D Greg Zanon) the team will still need to improve scoring in order to compete in a tough NW division. This team should make the playoffs but don't be surprised if they miss out.
The Canucks appeared poised to go deep in the playoffs. After ending the season strong and sweeping the Blues however G Roberto Luongo's second round meltdown resulted in a career worst 7 goals in game 6 and a series loss to the Hawks. These expectations carried into the off-season while GM Mike Gillis had some decisions to make. His decision ultimately meant re-signing the Sedin twins to matching 5 year/30.5 M contracts and bringing in former Stanley Cup winner F Mikael Samelsson. He wasn't done there though, to replace the departed D Mattius Ohlund, he traded for D Christian Erhoff and signed the captian of his team, franchise player, G Roberto Luongo to a massive 12-year contract extension. In order to meet these expectations, the Canucks will need a healthy and happy captain and some supportive scoring that has plagued the team for years. All said, the Canucks should compete for the division title.
McCoy's picks:
Division winners - San Jose, Chicago and Calgary
Cup finalists - San Jose and Pittsburgh
Cup winner - Pittsburgh