Thursday, September 30, 2010

Capital Choke Job

Today is the finish line for the 2010-2011 NHL season preview.  Tomorrow will be predictions for the Stanley Cup Finals, as well as things that happened while I was doing this preview.  Next week should be back to some semblance of normalcy.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS


2009-2010 record: 54-15-13 (121 points)
Lost to Montreal in the 1st round 4-3
Captain: Alexander Ovechkin
Alternate captains: Tom Poti, Mike Knuble

3 players to watch: Mention the Capitals and the first player to get mentioned is Alexander Ovechkin.  Even though he missed some games due to suspension, he still put up great numbers.  The true definition of game changer, he also has to show up in the playoffs, or to be more specific, trust his teammates instead of trying to do it all himself in the biggest games.  Goaltending is the team's biggest question mark.  This time last year, Semyon Varlamov was being touted as the goaltender of the future.  However, an inconsistent year forced Jose Theodore into the starting role.  Now, he faces stiff competition from Michal Neuwirth, and his performance in the 2009 playoffs seems like a distant memory.  For all of the talk about Mike Green disappearing in the playoffs, a new defensive star may be emerging in John Carlson, who experienced success in the World Junior Championships, he looked ready in the playoffs.  Now, he is expected to be in the top two pairings.

Things to look for:  There is no question that the Caps will make the playoffs.  As long as the Caps boast Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and the underrated Niklas Backstrom, the team can will have offense.  The real issue up front is the second line center, a weakness exposed in the Montreal series.  Green will provide offense from the blue line, but he also has to show up in the playoffs.  Seemingly every year, an APB is put out for him come playoff time, and his reputation as a "lazy in his own end" type of defenseman only amplifies the problems in the extra season.  Carlson and Karl Alzner should be expected to fill two spots on the blue line, meaning that Green will likely have to pick up some slack, since neither have much NHL experience.  Goaltending has held the team back from being a Stanley Cup contender, and now with Varlamov and Neuwirth, competing for the starting job, it is likely that the team will go through some growing pains here.

Prediction: 1st in the East

Song: Children of Bodom-Hate Me!

The Captials are a team that people will either love or hate, and are led by an equally polarizing figure in Ovechkin.  That sounds like Children of Bodom, who like the Caps, are pretty much all style and little substance.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Believe in Blue

The 2010-2011 NHL season is almost at an end, with only two teams to go.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS


2009-2010 record: 49-28-5 (103 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference Semifinals 4-2
Captain: TBA
Alternate captains: Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler

3 players to watch: There is hardly a time when one can mention Henrik and Daniel Sedin as a separate entity.  However, when Daniel went down to injury, Henrik stepped up his game to the point of winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies.  Everyone now knows what the Sedins can do as individuals, so now imagine having both on the ice at the same time.  Despite backstopping the Canadian National team to a gold medal in the Olympics, Roberto Luongo had a down year.  The additional responsibilities that go with the captaincy weighed heavily on him last year, causing an uncharacteristic spike in his numbers.  Now that he is no longer captain, expect numbers closer to his standards this year.  What should help is the health of the blue line, which should be helped by the addition of Dan Hamhuis.  A mainstay on the Nashville blue line for the past few years, he was deemed expendable by the team's ability to churn out NHL level defensemen.  Hamhuis figures to be a top pairing player who can provide solid two-way play.

Things to look for: Luongo's down year showed up in the Chicago series, particularly at home.  Not having the captain duties and the pressure from Corey Schneider should push him to produce numbers closer to his standards.  Offense is no issue, as all six players on the top two lines produced at least 25 goals each.  Alex Burrows will miss the first month of the season after off-season shoulder surgery, which should at least open the door for Raffi Torres, who is on a one year tryout.  The bottom two lines provide some grit and toughness, and now with Manny Malhotra as third line center, a face-off specialist.  Toughness comes in the form of Darcy Hordichuk, Rick Rypien, and Tanner Glass.  Injuries struck the blue line last year, with Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell missing significant time.  Hamhuis and Keith Ballard haven't missed much time to injuries, which should give the blue line some piece of mind.  The problem here: too much depth.  If Bieksa isn't traded, then the final spot is pretty much a dog fight between Shane O'Brien, Andrew Alberts, and Aaron Rome.  The wild card here is Sami Salo, and whether or not he will be coming back after an off-season injury.

Prediction: 1st in the West

Song: Sonata Arctica-Paid in Full

With all of the additions in the off-season, the Canucks expect to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Anything short of that this year would be a less than satisfactory investment.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Nation of Angst

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS


2009-2010 record: 30-38-14 (74 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Dion Phaneuf
Alternate captains: Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek

3 players to watch: The key to Toronto getting its swagger back begins with newly appointed captain Dion Phaneuf.  Acquired in a trade with Calgary last year, he found new life in an even bigger pressure cooker.  Now, with the additional responsibilities, he will be asked to continue to bring stability to a locker room desperately in need of it.  Even though he has played all of one NHL game in his career, all eyes are on Nazem Kadri.  The 2009 first round pick has had a lot of hype, and it remains to be seen if he can handle the bright lights of Toronto.  If all goes well, expect him to be a second line center by the end of this year.  For all of the grief that Toronto got for trading its first round pick this year to Boston, which turned out to be Tyler Seguin, the Maple Leafs got a pretty good return in Phil Kessel.  Even though he didn't play a full season due to injuries, Kessel still managed 30 goals last year, which was far and away, the best total on the team.  Without it, the Maple Leafs would have likely been challenging for the first overall pick (if they didn't trade that, as well).

Things to look for: To put things plainly, the Maple Leafs were miserable.  Now, granted, they began to find their game in February, it also took the additions of Phaneuf, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and Tyler Bozak, as well as jettisoning the contracts of Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan, and Jason Blake.  Giguere added a veteran presence in goal, which in turn, brought out the best in Jonas Gustavsson.  It will be interesting to see who emerges as the number one goalie, as both would love to prove their worth.  The blue line is full of heavy hitters, but not much in the way of a puck moving defenseman.  The hope is that either Phaneuf or Luke Schenn will rediscover that part of their game.  Offense was a major issue, as there was a precipitous fall off from Kessel.  Kris Versteeg, Bozak, and Kadri are all expected to take a huge step towards helping the offense.  Naturally, both special teams were terrible, so improving the numbers is imperative.

Prediction: 13th in the East

Song: Rush-The Spirit of Radio

Much like radio, which has been compromised by corporations and prizes, the Maple Leafs have been compromised by ownership through the years.  Having been nowhere near a Stanley Cup since 1967, the Maple Leafs haven't found the right combination for that elusive prize.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Lightning Strikes Anew

The preview for the 2010-2011 NHL season is almost at an end.  Just four more teams to go, and almost two weeks to go before the season begins.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING


2009-2010 record: 34-36-12 (80 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Vincent Lecavalier
Alternate captains: Mattias Ohlund, Martin St. Louis

3 players to watch:  The present of the Lightning is Martin St. Louis.  He doesn't get the headlines that Vincent Lecavalier does, but he is one of the most productive players on the team.  His mentorship to Steven Stamkos ensures that the team will be well off in the future.  Speaking of the future, Stamkos is the representation of all that the Lightning can become.  A 50 goal season in his sophmore year is just the beginning of what could be a bright future.  Anything approaching 40 this year would be ideal for Stamkos.  Goal is the team's biggest question mark, and the team hopes it can answer it with Dan Ellis.  Having lost his job in Nashville to Pekka Rinne, he will be motivated to prove his worth.

Things to look for: Offesnively, the team looks good on paper.  Of course, any team that has Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Simon Gagne should be able to at least, coax 30 goals a piece from the foursome.  Depth at the forward spot is thin, but if the four produce as they should, then that could cover up this issue to a degree.  The blue line is better than it was two seasons ago, but the Lightning is still a ways off from contending.  Continued development from Victor Hedman and a return of sorts from Mattias Ohlund would help out here.  Ellis and Mike Smith are contending for the starting spot in goal, and both have a lot to prove.  Smith struggled last year, and on occasion, was spelled by Antero Niitymaaki, who is now in San Jose.  Ellis was knocked out of the starting spot in Nashville and seeks to prove that he can still be a starter in the league.  If nothing else, the Lightning should be more stable from top to bottom, as office issues clouded the team's performance the last few years.

Prediction: 5th in the East

Song: Widow-An American Werewolf in Raleigh

Yes, I am aware of the fact that the Lightning play in Florida, but that isn't going to stop me from putting this song up for the team.  One front office change later, the Lightning is a new team, much in the same way that someone is a new creature after a transformation into a werewolf.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bite with Dentures?

SAN JOSE SHARKS


2009-2010 record: 51-20-11 (113 points)
Lost to Chicago in Conference Finals 4-0
Captain: TBA
Alternate captains: Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle

3 players to watch: The face of all of the Sharks' recent successes and failures is Patrick Marleau.  Until last year, he was the face of the team's failures.  He put up his best numbers last year and that carried over to the playoffs.  In turn, he was rewarded with a new contract, which should give him some security in knowing that he won't have to worry about being moved.  In contrast, Joe Thornton is the player that needs to step up, mainly in the postseason.  The regular season isn't the problem for him, it's just a matter of keeping that momentum up through the playoffs.  An underrated player prior to the Olympics, Joe Pavelski became something of a household name (in the Shark Tank) and was given a new contract.  The spotlight won't be on him too much, but he will perform.

Things to look for: The goaltending spot is in flux for the first time in almost a decade.  That may not be a bad thing, since the incumbent Evgeni Nabokov wasn't the answer for them to take the final step.  Antero Niitymaaki and Antti Niemi are battling for the number one spot, with Niemi having a slight edge.  This could be a two goalie system, since neither one has really established themselves as a true number one.  Defensively, the Sharks don't have great depth, hence the reason for making a run at Niklas Hjalmarsson.  However, having Dan Boyle on the line offers some offense and help for the power play.  The forwards are collectively a great group, and figure to get better with Logan Couture joining the team.  He had a taste of playoff hockey last year, and with Manny Malhotra gone, he figures to start on the third line in the beginning, but should move up by the end of the season.  The question, like always, is will San Jose finally get over the hill and reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Prediction: 4th in the West

Song: In Flames-Ordinary Story

The Sharks are generally great in the regular season, but until last year, they were ordinary in the playoffs.  If the Sharks wish to shake off the "ordinary" and "choker" labels, another deep playoff run is a must.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

HALAK!

ST. LOUIS BLUES


2009-2010 record: 40-32-10 (90 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Eric Brewer
Alternate Captain: David Backes, Barret Jackman

3 players to watch: New acquisition Jaroslav Halak brings a spectacular, albeit brief, playoff resume and a penchant for being clutch when it counts the most.  He was also the goaltender when Slovakia nearly made it to the gold medal game in the 2010 Olympics.  Brad Boyes is capable of a 40 goal season, as he did a few seasons ago.  However, he slumped to 14 goals in 82 games.  If St. Louis is expected to take the next step, Boyes will have to approach 30 goals or so.  The blue line has a lot of potential, but not all of the parts have been around enough for it to realize its potential.  One piece that could figure into the mix is Alex Pietrangelo.  He will likely start on the third pairing, but expect him to move up in the order.

Things to look for: Like Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Los Angeles, the Blues have tried to develop from within.  However, they have gone through the development quite slowly.  Guys like T.J. Oshie, David Backes, David Perron, and Erik Johnson should be ready to take charge and produce to their highest potential.  Offensively, the team is without a game changer, so scoring by committee is the team's best chance, unless Boyes can rediscover his scoring touch.  The blue line isn't spectacular, but they play fairly well together and should be worth watching...if they can stay healthy.  Leadership may be an issue, as Keith Tkachuk retired and Paul Kariya was not retained, but also won't be playing this season due to injury.  Who provides the veteran leadership will be worth watching.  Chris Mason was solid, but not flashy.  St. Louis got even better in goal with the trade for Halak, and Halak will steal a few games for St. Louis.  The comparisons to Dominik Hasek may be far off, but another year like last season, and those comparisons just may become true.

Prediction: 7th in the West

Song: Dillinger Escape Plan-Jim Fear

St. Louis hockey will be hard to turn away from this season, much in the same way that Dillinger Escape Plan is hard to turn away from.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New House, New Defense, Same Expectations

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS


2009-2010 record: 47-28-7 (101 points)
Lost to Montreal in the conference semifinals 4-3
Captain: Sidney Crosby
Alternate captains: Evgeni Malkin

3 players to watch: Pittsburgh is Sidney Crosby.  Sidney Crosby is Pittsburgh.  Any doubts about who the face of the Penguins is right now were erased last season, as Crosby put the team on his back when Evgeni Malkin went down for a few games to injury.  If he can control his emotions (read: Game 7 against Montreal), then Pittsburgh is almost certain to be a Stanley Cup contender again.  Marc-Andre Fleury continued his inconsistent career, as he faltered in the playoffs last year.  The normally "average in the regular season, spectacular in the playoffs" Fleury didn't play to expectations.  Finding a happy medium is imperative, but he won't be in any danger of losing his starting job in Pittsburgh as long as he performs when the games count the most, as evidenced in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs.  Defense let Fleury down part of the time last year, so the Penguins went out and signed two defensemen.  One to look for here is Paul Martin, who offers a nice balance between offense and defense.  He won't replace the offensive prowess of Sergei Gonchar, but he offers a nice two way game.

Things to look for: Pittsburgh will benefit from a longer offseason, as they have had deep playoff runs the previous two season.  Last year would have been expecting too much, with the Olympic Games, but that is out of the way, so expect Pittsburgh to be closer to their high expectations.  Finding wing men for Crosby and Malkin would help, as both can lift others' games, but too often, the talent level isn't where it should be.  Crosby won't have to lift the team like he did last year for as long as Malkin can stay healthy.  Jordan Staal, when he returns from injury, is the best number three center in the league.  Martin and Zbynek Michalek were signed to bolster the team's blue line, and both are defensively responsible, which should make life easier for Fleury.  However, the difference between a Stanley Cup final appearance and an early exit lies squarely on Fleury's shoulders.

Prediction: 2nd in the East

Song: Waylander-With Veins Afire

Pittsburgh is hungry to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals, and they certainly want to erase the bad taste of the Montreal series from last year.  There is a lot of motivation for the team to be great.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Desert Seconds

PHOENIX COYOTES


2009-2010 record: 50-25-7 (107 points)
Lost to Detroit in the 1st round 4-3
Captain: Shane Doan
Alternate captains: Ed Jovanovski

3 players to watch:  The playoff hopes for Phoenix begin with the man in net: Ilya Bryzgalov.  The Vezina Trophy finalist has really found his game since coming to Phoenix in the middle of the 2008-2009 season.  He will be asked to provide solid goaltending once again.  Mid-season acquisition Lee Stempniak was a revelation, rediscovering the game he lost in Toronto.  The question here is which Stempniak will show up: the one that looked lost in Toronto or the one who was on a torrid scoring stretch in Phoenix?  Kyle Turris was rushed to the NHL and like many rookies, looked lost most of the time.  A year in the minors has him ready to try again at the NHL level.  Look for him to make a bigger impact this time around.

Things to look for: Goal scoring was spread out evenly, but pretty scarce.  This isn't necessarily an indictment of the team's lack of offense, but the Coyotes tried addressing this beginning in mid-season, acquiring Stempniak and Wojtek Wolski.  The search for offense continued in the offseason, with the Coyotes signing Ray Whitney to a deal.  Expect Wolski and Whitney to provide near or above last year's numbers.  It would also help if Shane Doan can rebound from a down year, as he failed to reach 20 goals last year.  The blue line is in good shape, with Ed Jovanovski and Keith Yandle holding down the top two spots, and the group as a whole was good, helping the team to a third overall ranking in goals allowed.  Of course, it also helps that Bryzgalov is in net, too.  The kids who were rushed to the Coyotes two seasons ago (Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Mikhail Tikhonov) were sent down before last season, and all three will be better for it in the long run.  Throw in Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the blue line, and the Coyotes look like they will have a lot to look forward to this season and beyond.

Prediction: 6th in the West

Song: Firewind-Head Up High

There are many reasons for the Coyotes to have their head up high.  A bright future on the ice in the face of an uncertain future off of it, the Coyotes don't appear to be fazed by much.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Motown Ph..." *punch in the face* Shut the %$@# Up!

The second piece for Hockey Blog in Canada is now up for your perusal, and you can find it here.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS


2009-2010 record: 41-35-6 (88 points)
Lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals 4-2
Captain: Mike Richards
Alternate captains: Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timmonen

3 players to watch: As much as many fans outside of Philadelphia hate Chris Pronger, there is no denying that he is a game changer.  Just ask Edmonton and Anaheim when he was playing for those teams.  Even as he nears 36, he still logs an average of 24 minutes ice time.  Nikolai Zherdev joins the Flyers after a year exile in the KHL.  He will be counted on to provide some scoring punch.  Defense isn't his strong suit, but on a Philadelphia team that has its share of tough guys, he won't have to do much.  Of course, Philly fans might think differently.  Last year's goaltending was a mess, yet the Flyers somehow made it all the way to the Finals.  Credit some of that success to Michael Leighton, who actually had a good year after being picked up from waivers midseason before going down to injury.  He returned in the Boston series after Brian Boucher got hurt, and led the Flyers to the Finals.  He will be asked to solidify the goaltending position this year, and if he can reproduce anywhere near the league average, the Flyers will be looking good again come playoff time.

Things to look for: The Flyers had salary cap issues, which explains why they traded away potential 30 goal scorer (when healthy) Simon Gagne.  He will be missed, but Zherdev should compensate for that.  The blue line was pretty much a 4 man rotation last year, so with the acquisition of some depth, the Flyers should be able to go six deep this year.  The usual suspects on offense return, which means guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Daniel Briere can be penciled in for 30 goals or so.  It just simply wouldn't be the Flyers without some people on the team that can piss you off, and Pronger and Daniel Carcillo are better at it than anyone.  Adding punch (literally) to the mix is Jody Shelley.  Goaltender is the biggest question, as in can they stay healthy.  Boucher and Leighton missed time last year.  The winner for the number one spot will likely be the one who can stay off the injured list.

Prediction: 6th in the East

Song: General Surgery-Convivial Corpse Disposal Methodology

The Flyers hardly ever play a pretty style of hockey, and last year's team was no exception.  It doesn't matter if they are up 3-0 or down 3-0 in a series, they just keep coming at you and will do so while getting blood and dirt on them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Et tu, Leclaire?

OTTAWA SENATORS


2009-2010 record: 44-32-6 (94 points)
Lost to Pittsburgh in the 1st round 4-1
Captain: Daniel Alfreddson
Alternate captains: Mike Fisher, Chris Phillips

3 players to watch: Ottawa has long been Daniel Alfreddson's team, and as he nears 40, the window for a Stanley Cup closes just a little more.  That doesn't mean he isn't still putting up the numbers, as he led the team in points.  He is perhaps the quietest captain, but he is also one of the better players to currently wear the C, too.  The goaltender situation is a bit of a mess, but good health and production from Pascal Leclaire should fix that.  This year is practically a now or never situation for him, as he is being paid like a number one goalie, but he hasn't been able to fulfill those expectations.  And given that Brian Elliot filled in pretty well last year in leading them to the playoffs, the pressure is on.  Offense has been an issue since Dany Heatley bolted town, but one guy to look for is Peter Regin.  He had a solid season last year, and was one of the best players in the playoff showing against the Penguins.

Things to look for: The biggest question for the Senators is in goal.  If Leclaire is healthy and playing anywhere near his potential, then the Senators will be surefire playoff contenders.  If he isn't, they will struggle for one of the last playoff spots.  Defense is going be an issue, with shot blocker extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov leaving for New Jersey.  So, who did the Senators replace him with?  Offensive minded defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who will help out the power play from the blue line, but expecting any real defensive contributions from him would be unreasonable.  Maybe this is the year that kids such as Brian Lee and Jared Cowen stick onto the big league team this year.  The forward group is headed up by Alfredsson, who doesn't show many signs of slowing down.  However, Jason Spezza and Alexei Kovalev need to step up, as both had their numbers go down from their norms last season.  Nick Foligno, Mike Fisher, and Regin contributed some, and all three will be asked to contribute more offense.

Prediction: 8th in the East

Song: Anathema-Make it Right (F.F.S.)

Every year, the Sens seem to be competing  for the playoffs, but are ultimately undone by their goaltending.  Is this the year they solve that problem.  Fans certainly hope so (F.F.S.)


Monday, September 20, 2010

Restless Nights

Sometime today (or whenever the piece shows up), there will be a second installation of my writings featured on the Hockey Blog in Canada, which if you're unfamiliar, can be found here.

NEW YORK RANGERS


2009-2010 record: 38-33-11 (87 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Chris Drury
Alternate captains: Vinny Prospal, Ryan Callahan

3 players to watch: Any hopes for the Rangers to even think about the playoffs begin and end with Henrik Lundqvist.  Without him, the Rangers are contending for the first overall pick in the NHL Draft.  He was overworked last year, but should be fresher with a more capable backup and the Olympic Games not being an issue.  After what was arguably his worst season as an NHL pro, Alexander Frolov was signed to a one year deal by the Rangers in the offseason.  When he wants to, he can be a 30-40 goal scorer.  However, those moments weren't in abundance for the Los Angeles Kings, who just let him walk after last season.  He will have the motivation in the next contract and perhaps, proving others wrong.  Michael Del Zotto was solid as a rookie last year.  Unfortunately, he didn't have much help on the blue line.  This year, he is expected to shoulder more of the load and with Marc Staal around, the two should be giving the Rangers peace of mind knowing that the blue line doesn't look like a total disaster.

Things to look for: If there ever was an award for the most idiotic signing in the offseason, it would go to the Rangers for signing Derek Boogaard to a 4 year (!) deal.  Most enforcers rarely get a 2 year deal, let alone four.  And as the Donald Brashear signing proved, the Rangers just waste money most of the time.  As for Boogaard, his only role will be to protect Marian Gaborik.  Anything else is gravy (as evidenced by his zero in the goals department).  Lundqvist played 73 games last year, a fact reflected in the Rangers' lack of confidence in the backups.  Martin Biron figures to see 20 games or so, which should help Lundqvist considerably.  Gaborik was a revelation in that he managed to stay healthy for the entire season.  That led to his top ten finish in points scored, but now can he remain healthy for the season again?  If he isn't then there is a considerable drop off in offense after him.  The Rangers did not address their offensive issues in free agency, and will look to its underachievers such as Wade Redden (if he isn't buried in Hartford), Chris Drury, and sophmore Artem Anisimov to chip in with some offense.

Prediction: 12th in the East

Song: Edguy-King of Fools

This song is dedicated to one Glen Sather, who keeps signing guys like Wade Redden, Derek Boogaard, and Donald Brashear, among others, to ridiculous deals.  The fact that few, if any, produce anywhere near their potential makes him the court jester.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting Off the Island

For those of you wondering where that piece for Hockey Blog in Canada is that I was promising, here it is: Click here

Now, that's out of the way, expect another piece in the coming days on the Hockey Blog in Canada.  Back to the regularly scheduled 2010-2011 NHL season preview.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS


2009-2010 record: 34-37-11 (79 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Doug Weight
Alternate captains: Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo

3 players to watch: The future of the Islanders is squarely on the shoulders of the young players, and no one carries that burden more than John Tavares.  He was off to a fast start last year, but only managed two goals in a 34 game stretch.  He still led the team in points, and will be counted on to improve the numbers, as well as be the face of the franchise.  Coming out of nowhere to lead the team in goals was fellow rookie Matt Moulson.  30 goals from a far less heralded rookie, he will be asked to replicate those numbers.  Being on the same line as Tavares and Kyle Okposo will help.  The blue line needed another guy to occupy minutes, and this offseason, they acquired one in James Wisniewski.  Health has been a main issue, as well as overagressiveness (he was suspended for a few games last season), but when things are right, he can be a 20 minute a night defenseman and even provide 30 points a season like he did last year.

Things to look for: The Islanders are still a young team with a lot of potential, and that doesn't figure to change soon.  Already with Okposo, Tavares, Moulson, and Josh Bailey on the Islanders squad, they will take long looks at defensemen this season in Calvin DeHaan and Travis Hamonic.  Building from within with veteran leadership is the team's theme here, as also in the mix is Doug Weight (locker room presence), Wisniewski (minutes eating D-man), and Trent Hunter (Charlie Hustle).  Toughness shouldn't be an issue here, as they have Trevor Gillies and penalty minutes leader Zenon Konopka on board.  Like any young team, depth is an issue, but it isn't detrimental.  The biggest question mark is in goal, specifically, Rick DiPietro.  If he can play 40 games this season, then consider it a miracle.  If he isn't healthy, then the Islanders will have to go back to Dwayne Rolosson.  After that, it's pretty much a crap shoot, as the talent behind them is largely unproven.

Prediction: 14th in the East

Song: After Forever-Monolith of Doubt

From the team's ability to be competitive again to the situation surrounding the team's ability to get a new (or at least renovated) arena, there is much doubt surrounding the Islanders.  Last season, they almost went through it and proved people wrong.  Can they do it again?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Purgatory

NEW JERSEY DEVILS


2009-2010 record: 48-27-7 (103 points)
Lost to Philadelphia in 1st round 4-1
Captain: Jamie Langenbrunner
Alternate captains: Patrik Elias, Zach Parise

3 players to watch: For all of the playoff failures of recent seasons, much of that blame can be placed on not getting Martin Brodeur enough rest during the regular season.  He still plays at a high level, and gives New Jersey some security in goal.  The offseason drama of Ilya Kovalchuk was one of the more watched topics in the NHL.  Now, with a 15 year contract in the triple digits (in millions), there is much pressure for him to perform, especially when the playoffs roll around.  For as much as the blue line doesn't contribute to the offense, one player to watch is Andy Greene.  With Paul Martin leaving for Pittsburgh, Greene is the team's best offensive threat...well, at least moving the puck to the forwards.

Things to look for: New Jersey is going to make the playoffs.  That should be a pick sure to go right.  However, all bets are off when it comes to the playoffs.  It would help to have the likes of Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Travis Zajac putting up numbers.  Kovalchuk is an automatic pick for 40 goals and is also a sure bet to disappear on defense.  So, how he fits with the team (for the life of the contract) will be something to look for.  An old face in Jason Arnott returns, and he adds grit and leadership, as well as a veteran presence who knows how to win.  Brodeur is going to be Brodeur, but getting him to rest for 20 games or so is paramount, so the signing of Johan Hedberg is a first step in that direction.  The committment to defense in the offseason was evident with the signings of Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder.  Neither are offensive threats from the blue line, but they won't be allowing many scoring chances, either.

Prediction: 4th in the East

Song: Zimmers Hole-When You Were Shouting at the Devil

Fans will likely be shouting at the Devils if they don't make it past the first round again this year.


Friday, September 17, 2010

N-A-S-H (ha, ha) V-I-Double L-E

NASHVILLE PREDATORS


2009-2010 record: 47-29-6 (100 points)
Lost to Chicago in 1st round 4-2
Captain: Shea Weber
Alternate captains: Steve Sullivan

3 players to watch: Nashville has become something of a defenseman factory, with its ability to produce NHL-caliber players at that position.  Nevermore is that evident than when they announced that Shea Weber would be named captain of the team.  Often ignored outside of Nashville, he was a part of the Canadian team that won gold in February.  Now, he is in the spotlight, so how he handles the additional responsibility will determine the Preds' fate this year.  New Predator Matthew Lombardi is expected to add speed to the lineup.  He will also be expected to add offense to a team that since its existence, hasn't had much in the way of a true goal scorer.  With Dan Hamhuis' departure, there is an opening for a sixth defenseman.  One player to watch is Ryan Parent.  He was unable to crack the Flyers' lineup last year, but a new team and an opportunity could be all he needs to gain playing time, and given the Preds' penchant for defensemen, he could thrive.

Things to look for:  The search for offense continues.  Sure, Patric Hornqvist contributed 30 goals last year, but no one is sure if it is a one year abberation or not.  Outside of that, only Martin Erat had more than 20 goals.  With most teams, this is a recipe for disaster.  However, Nashville can boast a more than capable blue line group that despite losing Hamhuis, will be just as good as last year.  Helping the defense is the emergence of goaltender Pekka Rinne.  Last year was proof that he wasn't a half year wonder (2008-09 season) and now with Dan Ellis in Tampa, the number one job is his come opening night.  If he falters, the depth behind him is largely untested on the NHL level, so a repeat year from him is imperative.

Prediction: 8th in the West

Song: Daylight Dies-Dismantling Devotion

Nothing particularly exciting, yet one of the most consistent bands out there, Daylight Dies often gets overlooked by larger media, yet puts out good music every chance they get.  Nashville gets overlooked by the media, yet is always in the playoff race by the end of the year.  This year will be no different.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Price We Pay

A reminder to all of you who actually read this little blog to check out Hockey Blog in Canada (hockey-blog-in-canada.blogspot.com) for a featured piece from yours truly.

MONTREAL CANADIENS


2009-2010 record: 34-33-10 (88 points)
Lost to Philadelphia in Conference Finals 4-1
Captain: TBA
Alternate Captains: Hal Gill, Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov

3 players to watch: For all of the talk about Mike Cammalleri's coming out party during last season's playoffs, it was Brian Gionta who provided a consistent effort throughout the season. Granted, Cammalleri missed a few games during the regular season, which explains the 50 points in 65 games, but Gionta is one of the team leaders on and off the ice, and that is without the Captain's C on his jersey.  With playoff hero Jaroslav Halak off to the Show Me State, naturally, all eyes are on Carey Price.  He had some trouble the last two years, and was actually displaced as the starter last year.  Any more struggles this year and he could be booed out of the building and the city of Montreal.  One of the pleasant surprises last playoffs for the Canadiens was P.K. Subban.  Just 20 years old, he played minutes on the blue line normally reserved for the Chris Prongers of world and handled it like a veteran.  He is almost certainly ticketed for second pairing duty this year, and could be a first pairing defenseman by the end of the year.

Things to look for:  So, what does Montreal do for an encore?  A playoff run from the eighth spot that saw them knock off heavy favorites Washington and Pittsburgh have raised some expectations for the team.  However, Halak is gone, and Price has yet to prove that he can handle the pressure cooker that is Montreal.  If he falters, the backup is Alex Auld.  Take that for what you will.  Defensively, Andrei Markov, the team's best blue liner, is likely going to miss half the season.  This opens the door to Subban, who showed that pressure is just a four letter word to him.  He still has some improving to do, but he's already halfway in his development with time to spare.  Cammalleri had a break out playoff run, something that was tapped into with his time in Calgary in 2008-2009 and Montreal in the regular season, when he was healthy.  The Canadiens are counting on him to be ready for 82 games.  Likely as important as the goaltending situation is who gets the C on their jersey.  There is no shortage of worthy candidates, as Gionta, Hal Gill, and to a lesser extent, Scott Gomez, all can lay claim to that distinction.

Prediction: 9th in the East

Song: Leaves' Eyes-My Destiny

Where the Canadiens' destiny this season lies depends on Price.  It will be a season long war for the team's quest for a playoff spot, which is almost certain to be filled with good and bad moments, sort of like what is in the Leaves' Eyes video.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Identity Crisis

MINNESOTA WILD


2009-2010 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Mikko Koivu
Alternate Captains: Andrew Brunette, Martin Havlat, Greg Zanon

3 players to watch: For all of the problems that the Wild experienced last year, they found their face of the franchise in Mikko Koivu.  Recently signed to a 7-year deal, he led the team in scoring and was named the team's first permanent captain.  He will be counted on to improve on his numbers.  Improvement is imperative for the Wild's big free agent signing last year Martin Havlat.  The Wild look foolish for letting Marian Gaborik walk and signing Havlat last offseason, as Gaborik managed to stay healthy and rank tenth in the league in scoring.  Havlat?  He managed to play 73 games, but only managed 54 points.  Unacceptable numbers for a guy that is capable of a 90 point season.  Last year brought a pleasant surprise in mid-season acquisition Guillaume Latendresse.  Floundering on the fourth line in Montreal, he was picked up by Minnesota and scored 25 goals in a Wild uniform.  With a full season, 40 goals is the potential ceiling for him this year.

Things to look for: Year one of the post-Jacques Lemaire era was a total disaster.  Offensively, they were about the same as they ever were and defensively was the team's worst in franchise history.  How the team adapts from this setback will go a long way in determining where they end up.  This also affected the goaltending, as both Nicklas Backstrom and Josh Harding put up career worst numbers.  Both will have to prove that their best years were not a product of the previous system.  Mental toughness was also an issue, so the Wild went out to pick up Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom.  Neither are superstars, but they should add the toughness missing from a year ago.  And Derek Boogaard is gone for the "greener" pastures of Broadway, so the Wild will count on new guy Brad Staubitz to fill the enforcer role.

Prediction: 12th in the West

Song: Hammerfall-Any Means Necessary

The Wild will need to do what it can to get back into the playoffs, and with the acquisitions of Staubitz and Nystrom, the Wild are willing to get their hands dirty.  The band is also good for drunken group karaoke.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

From Prince to King?

LOS ANGELES KINGS


2009-2010 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)
Lost to Vancouver in 1st round 4-2
Captain: Dustin Brown
Alternate Captains: Matt Greene, Anze Kopitar

3 players to watch: The centerpiece of the Kings' youth movement is Anze Kopitar.  His offensive numbers led the team by over 20 points.  It's possible that he might be the only sure thing on offense this year, but he has also shown an inclination to improve on his two-way game.  Even with last year's breakout season, the pressure remains on Jonathan Quick.  The glut of young goaltenders waiting in the wings sees Quick needing to do even better this year because if he doesn't, former 1st round pick Jonathan Bernier is ready to take the starting job.  One guy to look for to have a great season is Wayne Simmonds.  A third liner a year ago, he adapted well to his role and the demands of the NHL.  Now, he will be elevated to the first two lines, where he will be expected to produce.

Things to look for: The biggest question for the Kings is where the secondary offense will come from.  There was a reason why the Kings were looking into signing Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason.  Look for Los Angeles to get some of their kids more involved in the offense.  The blue line is solid and is in good hands for the next few years.  Any team that can boast a future star (Jack Johnson) and a superstar at 20 (Drew Doughty) certainly looks good on paper.  Throw in reliable, stay at home types in Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi and the Kings look ready here.  Goaltending looks solid, even though Quick is essentially in a fight to keep his hold on the starting job.  Bernier had an excellent showing in his three game trial and Erik Ersberg, last year's backup, does have some ability.  The biggest question is what to do with Brayden Schenn.  The team's top prospect is ready to be on the NHL squad, but because of salary issues and the team's want to have him develop more, where he ends up when the season starts is a question.  When he does join the Kings, he should help out.

Prediction: 4th in the West

Song: The Gathering-Adrenaline

Something about this song (especially the beginning) reminds me of the Kings' rise to where they are now.  Like the song itself, there is no shortage of energy in the Kings, and it will show this season.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Still Looking For its Roar

FLORIDA PANTHERS


2009-2010 record: 32-37-13 (77 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Bryan McCabe
Alternate Captains: Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman

3 players to watch: Florida would have had the worst record in the league last year had Tomas Vokoun not been in goal.  Okay, so maybe that's a stretch, but he is not only the team's best player, but also the most important.  He's important in that this is likely his last year, so if Florida is out of playoff contention come March, he could be moved for prospects.  Any way you look at it, Vokoun will be counted on to steal a lot of games for Florida, which sounds like an unenviable task, given the talent in front of him.  The lack of depth everywhere else is an issue, especially when the first line is David Booth, Stephen Weiss, and Michael Frolik. Frolik, in particular, needs to step up, as he is in what is potentially his walk year.  Without Nathan Horton, he has to step up his offensive output.  In the Keith Ballard trade this offseason, the Panthers got a potential 40 goal scorer in Michael Grabner.  In his brief call up to Vancouver last season, Grabner demonstrated his ability to put the puck in the net, scoring five goals in 20 games.

Things to look for: The Vokoun situation is the most obvious issue, as he could either be moved before the trade deadline or be allowed to walk at the end of the year.  Even if Vokoun leaves, the Panthers are set in goal, with Scott Clemmensen proving to be more than capable of handling the starter duties.  In due time, Jacob Markstrom will be the starter, so the future looks bright for Florida in goal.  However, nothing else in Florida looks good.  The depth on both the front and blue lines are pretty thin, and many of the kids on the team  Not enough talent from the veterans and just an overall dearth of offense will leave Florida competing for the first overall pick in next year's draft.  Losing Horton takes away from an already depleted offense, but Dennis Wideman should help out the need for offense from the blue line, if nothing else.

Prediction: 15th in the East

Song: Katatonia-A Darkness Coming

It looks like another year of no playoffs for Florida, and the feeling of no hope is captured within the Katatonia sound.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turning Tar into Black Gold


EDMONTON OILERS


2009-2010 record: 27-47-8 (62 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: TBA
Alternate Captains: Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff

3 Players to watch: Even with the worst record in the league, the Oilers still have Ales Hemsky, who missed quite a few games last year.  He is the team's best offensive threat, and he will be counted on to provide some veteran guidance for the kids.  The goaltending situation is a mess, and whoever raises their hand to be starter will have to steal a few games for them.  Perhaps Nikolai Khabibulin can be that guy...if he isn't cut for his DUI arrest while on IR last year.  For better or for worse, the future of the Oilers depends on how Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Taylor Hall adapt to the NHL.  Of the three, I expect Eberle to be the breakout player for this year.  In due time, all three will be superstars, but Eberle is the most ready of the three, having nearly missed being on the roster last year.

Things to look for: Obviously, all eyes are on Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle.  How they adapt and what numbers they put up will be looked at.  Equally important is the veteran leadership, which will be provided by Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and if he comes back, Sheldon Souray.  Even if Souray comes back, the blue line is void of a true number one D-man.  They have solid talent, but many of them are second pairing players at best on many teams.  Offense was an issue all year, and bounce back years from the likes of Horcoff and Andrew Cogliano are mandatory.  Hemsky, when healthy, and Dustin Penner were the team's best offensive options, and they will certainly have help with the young talent.  Goaltender is the biggest question, as the potential lineup has a player coming off of injury and a DUI (Khabibulin), an unproven rooke (Devan Dubnyk), an ex-NHL starter returning from exile (Martin Gerber), and Jeff Deslauriers, who stepped into the fire last year when Khabibulin went down and ended up being close to charred levels.

Prediciton: 13th in the West

Song: Paradise Lost-Erased

The Oilers would love to erase last year's woeful year, and with an influx of young talent, they are taking a step in the right direction.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Taking Flight

Today's 2010-2011 NHL season preview heads to Detroit and the Red Wings as they look to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.

DETROIT RED WINGS


2009-2010 record: 44-24-14 (102 points)
Lost to San Jose in the Conference semi-finals 4-2
Captain: Nicklas Lidstrom
Alternate Captains: Henrik Zetterberg, Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk

3 players to watch: For all of the talent on the team, the Red Wings look to Nicklas Lidstrom for leadership.  The elder statesman of the team, he is also their best player, which isn't so bad, considering that he hasn't lost much as he nears 40.  Goaltending...or the revolving door, has been a constant in the Red Wings' playoff run. That isn't to say that the Red Wings don't know how to win, but Jimmy Howard will be counted upon to be the team's goalie for the next decade or so.  Coming off of a Calder Trophy nomination last year, he is expected to take firm hold of the starter's role.  The third defensive pairing has an opening, and one player that could take one of the spots is Jakub Kindl.  A first round pick in 2005, he has been brought up slowly, largely because of the team's depth.  Now, he will be asked to contribute to the big league team.

Things to look for: Every year, it seems that the Red Wings can be penciled in for a playoff spot.  Last year almost ended that streak, as the team's depth was tested.  A healthy Red Wings team at the end of the season demonstrated the team's full potential.  No significant moves were made this offseason, so the Red Wings are banking on good health.  Goaltending is one position to look for, as Howard will be asked to replicate his numbers from last year.  If he doesn't, Chris Osgood will be the guy, and his game is significantly better when the games count the most.  Zetterberg and Datsyuk had their numbers fall off, yet neither could be faulted, as they saw the likes of Johan Franzen lose games to injury.  Look for all three to regain their scoring touch.  As long as Tomas Holmstrom is obstructing the goalie's vision, grit will never be a problem.  Now, with Todd Bertuzzi resigning with the team for another year, he has help and more importantly, Bertuzzi seems to have found his niche late in his career.

Prediction: 2nd in the West

Song: Iron Maiden-Aces High

After an off year (by Detroit standards), the Red Wings look to fly again.  And with their full complement of players, they figure to do so.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Entering The Black Hole

A third of the way through the 2010-2011 NHL season preview and it takes us through Dallas and the rebuilding Stars.

DALLAS STARS


2009-2010 record: 37-31-14 (88 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Brenden Morrow
Alternate Captains: Steve Ott, Niklas Grossman, Brad Richards

3 players to watch:  With Mike Modano gone, the new face of the Stars is Brad Richards.  The leading scorer last year, he rediscovered his game from his Lightning days.  He will have to repeat last season's numbers for the Stars to have a chance.  Goal is an issue, as the Stars said goodbye to Marty Turco, who was in decline.  Entering the mix is Kari Lehtonen, acquired in a midseason deal.  Health and consistency have been an issue for him in recent years, and given that he is being entrusted to handle the goalie duties, this isn't promising for the Stars.  With a dearth of development talent, it will be up to the players already on the Stars to step up, and one that could have a breakthrough season is James Neal.  A 27 goal scorer a year ago, he figures to be a 30 goal scorer every year with more experience.

Things to look for: The Stars are fairly well off on offense, with Richards, Neal, and Loui Eriksson leading the way.  However, the offense will need to be even more proficient, as Jamie Benn needs to repeat his rookie numbers and Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow needs to rediscover their scoring touch.  Defense was a major issue, and it doesn't figure to get much better this season.  Outside of Niklas Grossman, there aren't many options for a first pairing.  With defensive issues comes a porous penalty killing unit that ranked near the bottom of the league.  Benn figures to be a part of the unit in hopes of shoring that unit.  Goaltending is the most obvious issue, with an injury prone Lehtonen, an unproven Brent Krahn, and a washout as a starter in Andrew Raycroft as their goaltenders.  None of them exactly strike fear in the opposing shooters' hearts.

Prediction: 14th in the West

Song: Nightwish-Stargazers

For a team named the Stars, Dallas will be looking up at a lot of teams this season.  Defense will be an issue all year long.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

So Much Promise, Yet...

The 2010-2011 NHL season preview makes a stop in the Ohio captial of Columbus and the Blue Jackets.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2009-2010 record: 32-35-15 (79 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Rick Nash
Alternate Captains: Sami Pahlsson, R.J. Umberger, Rostislav Klesla

3 Players to watch: The face of the franchise is Rick Nash.  He is also the team's best player and the one guy that can actually keep opposing coaches up at night.  He will be expected to lead the Blue Jackets in scoring again.  Two seasons ago, Steve Mason was the talk of Columbus as he led the team to their first playoff run on the way to winning the Calder Trophy and being a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.  Last year was two giant steps backward for him, as the "sophmore slump" caught up to him in a big way.  He will need to at least, find a happy medium between the two seasons.  Last year, Nikita Filatov had some run-ins with then-coach Ken Hitchcock, which forced his exile to the Russian Leagues.

Things to look for: The most obvious thing to look for is how Mason rebounds from a nightmare season.  If he's closer to last year's numbers, the Blue Jackets are in trouble.  The blue line is alright, but lacks an offensive presence.  Sure, they can defend in their own end, but too often, without a puck moving defenseman, they're having to do that a lot.  Look for Kris Russell or rookie John Moore to help out in that regard.  The offense was decent, with Nash, Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius, and R.J. Umberger all netting 20 plus goals.  However, with a rather questionable situation in goal, the Blue Jackets almost have to get into shootouts with the opposing team, which they cannot do on most nights.  Filatov and Derrick Brassard are going to be looked upon to add to the offensive totals while guys like Ethan Moreau and Chris Clark are expected to add experience and mental toughness to a team that lacked it last year.

Prediction: 15th in West

Song: Iced Earth-Declaration Day

It sounds fitting, since the Blue Jackets were named after their Civil War heritage, with many of the generals of that war coming from Ohio.  It could also be taken as the Blue Jackets' make or break year, since they have the young pieces in place for the most part and some veteran leadership that they lacked last year.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Things are going according to plan with the 2010-2011 NHL season preview, which heads to the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Avalanche

COLORADO AVALANCHE


2009-2010 record: 43-30-9 (95 points)
Lost to San Jose 4-2 in the first round
Captain: Adam Foote
Alternate Captains: Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny

3 Players to watch: For all of the talk about the youth movement in Colorado, the Avs would not have even thought about the playoffs without goalie Craig Anderson.  Sure, he was overplayed down the stretch (which explains the 2.64 GAA), but there was no player more important to the team than him.  Given that he's in his walk year, he will be more motivated than last year, which is saying a lot, considering his stellar play.  Since signing the big contract prior to the 2008-2009 season, Paul Stastny has fallen short of expectations.  If he can return to the 30 goal levels that he's used to, then the Avs and the kids on the team will be better for it.  Last year, it was all about Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, but one name to look for is second year player Brandon Yip.  Health is an issue with him, but when healthy, he can contribute 25 goals.

Things to look for: The youth movement plan got accelerated by a year because the Avs made the playoffs and nearly pulled off the upset against the Sharks before losing in six.  There is no question that the current Avs have learned what it takes to win.  However, for every good, there is that possiblity of a drop off, particularly from Duchene and O'Reilly.  Blue line age is also an issue, one that is expected to be resolved in the near future with the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, Cameron Gaunce, and Colby Cohen eventually replacing the likes of Adam Foote and Scott Hannan.  As it was last year, the goaltending is going to be important for the Avs to be competitive and if they hope to win a playoff spot.  If Anderson is out for any extended period of time, the depth behind him is woefully thin, as Peter Budaj is not starter material.

Prediction: 9th in West

Song: Edguy-Mysteria

No one is sure where the Avs will go this season, but there will be no shortage of excitement from the team.  Year two is as much of a question mark for the team as it was last year, only with more expectations.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time For the Second Act

Day 7 of the 2010-2011 NHL season preview heads to Chicago, where the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks aim to go back to back.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS


2009-2010 record: 52-22-8 (112 points)
Won the Stanley Cup 4-2 vs. Philadelphia
Captain-Jonathan Toews
Alternate Captains: Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith

3 Players to watch: For all of the talent that the Blackhawks have, everything begins with Jonathan Toews.  The second youngest player to captain his team to a Stanley Cup, he was also an integral part of the Gold medal winning Canadian team in the 2010 Olympic games.  He doesn't get the headlines that a Patrick Kane or Duncan Keith get, but he is the one that the team gravitates towards.  With Antii Niemi out, the pressure is squarely on Marty Turco.  Cristobal Huet is likely on his way out, so the Blackhawks are Turco's team, and he will have a tough act to follow.  The large turnover of the roster leaves a few spots open, but one of those that seems secure is the blue line.  One of the players that figures to play a larger role is Niklas Hjalmarsson.  Overshadowed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Hjalmarsson's importance to the team was evident when the team matched the San Jose Sharks' offer sheet to him.  Look for him to be one of the best second pairing D-men in the league this year.

Things to look for: The salary cap has wreaked havoc with the Blackhawks' roster, causing an exodus of players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, and Niemi.  The biggest question is who exactly will be suiting up with the Native American on the front of their jerseys.  Goal is another thing to look for, as the team decided to cut ties with Niemi after his salary took a jump.  Turco will be expected to keep things running smoothly in goal and given that Huet is likely gone before the season begins, that leaves perennial prospect Corey Crawford as the backup.  Rookies will likely get some time with the big league team, and one to watch is Jack Skille.  This year is practically now or never for him, as he has yet to crack 50 games in the NHL since being drafted in the first round in 2005.  For all of the changes, the core of the team remains the same, so expecting them to make the playoffs is reasonable.  After that, all bets are off.

Prediction: 5th in West

Song: Theatre of Tragedy-And When He Falleth

All of the elements are there for a major fall from grace for the Blackhawks.  Then again, they could be as good as they were since they still have Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, and Sharp.  What happens this season is up to how the new guys integrate with the players still on the team.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Tropical Depression

Day 6 of the 2010-2011 NHL season preview heads to the recently Earl-hit land of North Carolina and the (surprise) Hurricanes.

CAROLINA HURRICANES


2009-2010 record: 35-37-10 (80 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Eric Staal
Alternate Captains: TBA

3 players to watch: Seemingly for every time people think Cam Ward has turned the corner, something always happens.  Consistency early in his career was an issue and last year, injuries became the issue on the heels of a solid playoff run.  If Ward can find both, then there is no reason why the Hurricanes can't be playoff contenders again.  Named captain midway through last season, it is up to Eric Staal to ramp up his game now that Carolina is without Rod Brind'Amour and Ray Whitney.  He won't be the only contributor on the team if Anton Babchuk has anything to say about it.  Having spent a season in the KHL, Babchuk returns to the Hurricanes and brings a good slapshot from the blueline.  He should also be able to provide a little relief for a team that needs blueline help.

Things to look for: Even with the re-addition of Babchuk, the blue line is still woefully thin.  As many as three rookies could get a look on the blue line.  Staal is now the captain, and leading the team with 70 points is an indication that he needs to be better than that.  Of course, the team around him also figures into the equation.  The only real viable scoring threat on the team are Jussi Jokinen.  Everyone else that has been considered a scoring threat either needs to rediscover that touch or needs to get healthy.  Ward is the goalie of the present and future.  However, if he goes down to injury again or struggles to find consistency (a 2.69 GAA just won't do for an elite goalie), the depth behind him is almost nonexistent.

Prediction: 11th in East

Song: Alestorm-Keelhauled

Maybe the Hurricanes fans feel this way after last season ended with such disappointment, given that the team reached to Conference Finals the year before.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reigniting the Pilot Light

Day 5 of the 2010-2011 NHL season preview brings us to Calgary, and the Flames' hopes of going back to the playoffs.

CALGARY FLAMES


2009-2010 record: 40-32-10 (90 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: Jarome Iginla
Alternate Captains: Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr, Craig Conroy

3 Players to watch: Jarome Iginla is the team's best option.  Unfortunately, during most seasons, he's often the only option.  Last season was his lowest point totals (69), so he is looking to rebound.  The fact that he led the team in that category is more of an indictment on the team than on him.  With the signing of Olli Jokinen in the offseason, the pressure is now on him and the Sutters.  If he can rediscover his game that he left in Florida, then the Flames should make the playoffs.  Otherwise, he could find himself exiled from Calgary at the end of the year.  Ian White was acquired in the Dion Phaneuf trade last season and proved to be a solid pickup.  Expect him to give the blue line a little boost with his solid, if unspectacular play.

Things to look for: The Jokinen trade last season wouldn't have been so bad had they not included Brandon Prust in the deal.  In addition to getting practically nothing in return, they also lost an energy guy in Prust.  Signing Raitis Ivanans is good for some fights, but he isn't the energy guy that the Flames need.  Miikka Kiprusoff has been a rock in goal, but he has also been overworked in recent years.  That does not figure to change this year, as the backups are unproven.  Secondary scoring has almost always been a problem for the Flames, and with Jokinen and Alex Tanguay making a return to Calgary, the hope is that the duo will rediscover their scoring touch and give the Flames a boost in team scoring.  Defense was not a problem last year, and it won't be a problem again this year.

Prediction: 10th in West

Song: Kataklysm-Serenity in Fire

In keeping with something related to the Flames, the team (and the Sutters) will find no serenity if Jokinen doesn't rediscover his Florida scoring touch.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Looking for More

Day four of the 2010-2011 NHL season preview takes us to Buffalo and the Sabres.

BUFFALO SABRES


2009-2010 record: 45-27-10 (100 points)
Lost to Boston 4-2 in the first round
Captain: Craig Rivet
Alternate Captains: Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht

3 players to watch: Everything begins and ends with the man in goal, Ryan Miller.  He had what was arguably his best year, as he nearly willed the United States to gold, took home the Vezina, and led the team to a Northeast Division title.  He keeps Buffalo in nearly every game he plays.  Despite winning the Calder Trophy, Tyler Myers will be facing some immense pressure.  Defensive depth is somewhat lacking, and he will be asked to do more.  Look for Tyler Ennis to make an impact, as he is the one rookie that is most ready to help Buffalo's front line.

Things to look for: Last season was a revelation for Buffalo, as things fell into place on their way to a division title.  Of course, things fell apart in their playoff appearance, meaning that they had to get tougher.  Enter Rob Niedermayer and Shaone Morrisonn.  The power play also needs improvement, so look for Tim Connolly and Derek Roy to ramp up their games with the man advantage.  Tomas Vanek had an up and down year, but when he went down in the playoffs, so did Buffalo.  A healthy Vanek is good for 35-40 goals in a season.  As with many rookies, Myers is looking to avoid the "sophmore slump," which has claimed the likes of Steve Mason.  And finally, Buffalo's hopes for the playoffs are tied to Miller, who is nearing Dominik Hasek status.

Prediction: 3rd in East

Song: One Man Army-He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)

This Alice Cooper cover is practically made for Miller.  He's back for another year and the expectations are that he will replicate the year he had last year.  I say that he will do it, now that he knows what it takes to win the big games.


Friday, September 3, 2010

The Heimlich Maneuver

Today is day three of the 30 part series that is the 2010-2011 NHL season preview.  Today is about the Boston Bruins.

BOSTON BRUINS


2009-2010 record: 39-30-13 (91 points)
Lost 4-3 to Philadelphia in Conference Semifinals
Captain: Zdeno Chara
Alternate Captain: Patrice Bergeron

3 players to watch:  The success of last year's Bruins can be attributed to Tuukka Rask, who took over as starting goaltender midway through the season.  It looks like he has the starting job this year, so don't expect him to give it up anytime soon, especially when 2009 Vezina winner Tim Thomas is looking to regain the starting job.  Zdeno Chara is looking to have a bounce back year after his numbers dropped off from a 2009 Norris winning year.  Tyler Seguin was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft and even with the lofty status, he isn't under any pressure to produce with some considerable talent on the front lines.  Look for him to produce 50 points.

Things to look for: The collapse in the semifinals is well documented.  It will be interesting to see how the Bruins bounce back from this mess.  Gaining some toughness and resolve will go a long way, since they also failed to act accordingly to the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard in a game last year.  The number one goalie spot is Rask's, but don't be surprised if Thomas pushes him for it.  Both have something to prove, which could make the goalie position the strongest on the team.  Offense was putrid, ranking near the bottom of the league in goals, and trading away Phil Kessel before the season didn't help.  Seguin and new Bruin Nathan Horton should be helpful in that category.  And on the subject of Savard, the Bruins are embroiled in an ugly contract dispute with the mercurial center, which has been well documented.  It will be interesting to see what the Bruins eventually do and how this affects Savard's play.

Prediction: 7th in East

Song: Sepultura-Choke

Really?  Is there any other song that I would want to describe the Bruins last season?


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Going Big

Today marks the second of the 30 part series in the 2010-2011 NHL season preview and will cover the Atlanta Thrashers.

ATLANTA THRASHERS


2009-2010 record: 35-34-13 (83 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: TBA
Alternate captains: Zach Bogosian, Ron Hainsey

3 Players to watch: With Ilya Kovalchuk traded last season, the go-to guy by default is Nik Antropov.  He was a big benefactor of being Kovalchuk's linemate prior to the trade and led the team in points (67).  The biggest acquisition in the offseason (both figuratively and literally) was Dustin Byfuglien, and he has a lot to prove.  Yes, his playoff run showed what he can do, but how much of that was him and how much was being on the same line as players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane?  Improving on a career high in points (36) is a must if Atlanta intends to be a playoff contender.  Bryan Little is Atlanta's best player that no one knows about.  A 30 goal scorer last year, he won't compensate for Kovalchuk, but he is the best scoring threat the Thrashers have.

Things to look for: Atlanta has had a history of rushing its kids to the big leagues (Bogosian, Evander Kane, Little), but even with that, there are some rookies that could make the impact that Niclas Bergfors made when he came over in the Kovalchuk trade.  One guy to look for is Patrice Cormier, who is best known for getting suspended last year for an elbow shot.  Goaltending is another situation to look into, as Chris Mason is viewed as a stop gap until last year's incumbent Ondrej Pavalec gains some consistency.  Even with Kovalchuk, the power play was in disarray.  Without a major scoring threat, that does not figure to change anytime soon.  However, with Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, the penalty killing figures to be better than middle of the pack.

Prediction: 10th in East

Song: Sodom-Nuclear Winter

Other than to fit with the Thrashers name, the potential for yet another long winter awaits the team.  Despite the additions, until the team can find a cure for the power play woes and the goaltending can solidify itself, the Thrashers are expected to be playing golf come Spring.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Blue Line Help Needed


So, today begins the 30 teams in 30 days for the Pucks and Rocks edition of the 2010-2011 NHL season preview.  In addition to the usual stuff, there will also be a song of the day attached to each team.  So, without further ado, here we go:




ANAHEIM DUCKS


2009-2010 record: 39-32-11 (89 points)
Did not qualify for the playoffs
Captain: none
Alternate Captains: Ryan Getzlaf, Saku Koivu

Three players to watch: Everything in the front begins with Ryan Getzlaf.  This power forward is central to the Ducks' chances of making the playoffs this year and beyond, particularly with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu nearing the end of their careers.  Defenseman Brendan Mikkelson needs to step up and be a dependable defender.  He did fairly well in his first season, but with Scott Niedermayer retired and Lubomir Visnovsky getting long in the tooth, it is up to Mikkelson to show that the Ducks have some good talent on the blue line in the coming years.  Speaking of blue line, the guy that could be a difference maker this year is Luca Sbisa.  Acquired in the Chris Pronger trade last year, he had a brief stint with the Ducks before getting sent to his junior league team.  He had a good performance in the Olympic Games and is clearly the team's future at defense.  He won't be asked to be the number one defenseman right away, which should bode well for his development.

Things to watch for: With Neidermayer retired, the number one defenseman by default is Visnovsky, who put up 48 points between Edmonton and Anaheim.  Right now, there isn't much behind him, as the other D-men are either unproven (Mikkelson and Sbisa) or just role players.  Anaheim would love to make the playoffs this year, if only to give the Finnish duo of Selanne and Koivu a nice sendoff should either decide to retire.  With Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Toronto, the goalie position is in the hands of Jonas Hiller, whose play forced that trade.  In the Olympics, he was clearly Switzerland's best player and he gives the Ducks a chance to win every night he plays.  Curtis McIlhenny is still an unknown, so it remains to be seen if the Ducks will fall off should Hiller be out for any extended period of time.  Penalty killing has long been an Achilles heel of the Ducks, even dating back to the Stanley Cup year of 2007.  Now, without Niedermayer, the need for the defensemen to be at the top of their games is even more urgent.

Prediction: 11th in the West

Song: Visions of Atlantis-Lost

The potential for the Ducks is quite limited, as their blue line is a mess, and there isn't much depth past the first two lines.  This could be a lost season for the Ducks as they try to find their way.