|2011 NHL Bro of the Year, UVM Alum, Tim Thomas|
It's the most wonderful time of the year. Hockey is back (starting tonight at 7 p.m. on VS) and the Hockey Broz D and Jklau have awoken from their summer depression to breath in the cool brisk air of October.
The NHL has had a rough offseason but it is time to put that all behind us and focus on the best game you can name.
We start with a preview of the Eastern Conference brought to you by Dklau, followed by Jklau's take on the West.
Get Dirty Dklau
Probably the toughest division to predict in the league. The Rangers arguably improved over the offseason and the Islanders are maturing. The Devils proved to be bi-polar last year so you have no idea what you are going to get. Pittsburgh is a tough team, Crosby or not. Philadelphia completely re-vamped their roster. Oh well, here goes.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Regardless of whether or not Sidney Crosby awakens from his coma, the Penguins have the most proven talent in this division. It's scary to think that Malkin is only 25, and still peaking. If Crosby comes back at full strength this team is back to being a legitimate cup contender. The defensive core is strong with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Paul Martin, and a good young talent in Ben Lovejoy (normal size face expected this season). Marc Andre-Fleury between the pipes gives you a chance to win every game. Expect Pittsburgh to do that a lot this season.
2. New York Rangers
The Blueshirts made a slight improvement by adding Brad Richards, if anything adding a little bit of depth to a top heavy line-up. Newly appointed Captain Ryan Callahan should have his team's PK up to speed so long as he stays healthy. Defensive pair Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are among the best in the league in terms of shutting down top scorers. 3rd-liner Wojtek Wolski has impressed in training camp thus far and is hinting at being a key role player for his team. Artem Anisimov will only improve, but it's hard to say how much. The team's perennial All-Stars are past their respective peaks, and their young guns are good, but it's questionable how much production you will get from Dubinsky, Callahan, Derek Stepan, Mats Zucarello. All have upsides but are unproven at an elite level. Defensively they are young as well. Might not be such a bad thing.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
They got rid of their two best players in favor of bulking up at the goal-tending position. While Bryzgalov might be a talented goalie, the Flyers may have overcompensated him with a nine year contract. This adheres to their biggest weakness of the past few seasons, but it depleted one of their strengths. From a hockey standpoint it hardly makes sense, but to those familiar with the situation in the locker room it's understandable (how you gonna bang your teammate's wife, bro?). Either way you'd be hard pressed to argue that this team is better than they were last year. Here's to Chris Pronger last season, we can only hope.
4. New York Islanders
Perhaps the first time in recent memory that Long Islanders can start the season with a playoff birth in mind (which begs the question, If a tree falls in the woods....). Swiss Captain Mark Streit should be healthy after missing all of last season and he hopes to lead a young squad to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years. If Rick DiPietro can stay healthy....just kidding. Surprisingly Evgeni Nabakov appears to be around and willing whenever DP goes down again, and he will. Michael Grabner looks to build on an impressive rookie year, will be interesting to see if those sophomore blues set in. Jonathan Tavares is still improving, but how much better can he get if he's linemates with PA Parenteau?
5. New Jersey Devils
Martin Brodeur is teetering on the brink of Brett Favre status. Only Marty might be a bigger dirtbag (affair with sister-in-law or sexting cheerleaders? Discuss amongst yourselves). Defensively they are freckled with nobodies. A healthy Zack Parise would be a huge boost, as Ilya Kovalchuk can only carry the team so far. New head coach Peter DeBoer brings in 3 declining years of playoff inactivity from Florida, so he should be used to a bottom dwelling environment.
1. Boston Bruins
This team has retained a core that was only good enough to bring the cup back to Boston. Hard to peg any other team in this division to top them. One concern is defense. Aside from Chara the group is mediocre at best, and one can only wonder how many times Tim Thomas will bail them out this year. One must remember the down year he had two seasons back, and wonder whether or not he can string together two good consecutive seasons. But that's all speculation. No reason to actually believe Boston has regressed from last year.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo defaults to 2nd in this division, as everyone else sucks. I like the Villie Leino pickup, will be nice to see him flourish as a premier player on his squad. Ryan Miller is one of the best goalies in the league. That alone might get you places.
3. Montreal Canadiens
Scott Gomez was reportedly embarrassed by the way he played last season. That alone implies that last season was worse for him than his previous two season, which were, well, embarrassing. Gomez will make $8 million this year, $1 million for each goal he scored last year. I'm trying to figure out a way to get paid a cool million every time I score - still waiting for a callback from HBO's "Hung" season three casting calls, or maybe Theo Epstein is hiring? Carey Price made 72 appearances last season, so don't be surprised if he breaks down. If he does, so does the city of Montreal. (Seriously, they might actually burn the place down).
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
On paper they look good, but on paper they are also the Toronto Maple Leafs. I just hope Colton Orr doesn't fall victim to the Enforcer's Plague going around the NHL this off-season. I've always liked that guy. Ron Wilson will be looking for a job by the end of 2011.
5. Ottawa Senators
Daniel Alfredsson will begin the season on suicide watch. At the All-Star Break, The Senators will have enough overtime losses to put them within reach of a playoff spot, giving Alfredsson a renewed sense of purpose. They will ultimately fall 14 points short of an 8 seed. Alfredsson returns home to Sweden and goes missing after “going outside for some fresh air.”
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
They used last season's playoffs to show that they are the best team in this division and this year will be no different. Stamkos is my pre-season pick for MVP, he shines as an all star on a potent offense. The addition of Matt Gilroy on defense plays really well into this team's style, and I see him as a better fit in Tampa then in New York. You just wonder if the rest of the team's age will catch up to them
2. Washington Capitals
This team might very well go on and win the division. Heck, they could take the conference, hell even the President's Trophy when all is said and done. But none of their recent success has translated into the postseason. They even brought on Tomas Vokoun this year, who will likely be the starting goalie. Vokoun has a career of regular season success, yet only 3 career playoff wins, so he'll fit right in there. This team gave up late last year, and I wonder if the attitude of the team will ever convert into postseason success. One can only wonder how Bruce Boudreau still has a job.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
There is talent on this team. Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner looks to build on a very impressive rookie season where I think he took a lot of people by surprise. Teams will be privy to him this time around. Tomas Kaberle comes in fresh off claiming a chip with Boston, which gives them a decent amount of depth in the back. This team has a bad taste in its mouth after missing the playoffs on game 82 last year. Don't expect that to happen again.
4. Florida Panthers
Panthers fans (who?) will take solace in knowing that even a broken clock is right twice a day. The blinking-noon franchise that is the Panthers may have got something this year with the addition of Kris Versteeg and the welcome home party for Ed Jovanovski. Question marks in goal are a big concern, but look for Florida to compete this year, at the very most.
No this is not NHL '93 for Sega Genesis, The Winnipeg Jets are back. Unfortunately, the likes of Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk did not come back with them. Playing in front of actual fans this season wont change the fact that this is the Atlanta Thrashers with a fancy disguise. They have a very weak group of centermen. Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd will give the Winnipeg faithful something to cheer about, but not much.
Jklau bust a move:
1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Nashville Predators
4. St. Louis Blues
The Blues will be a very good team…in a few years. The rebuild is going well. They’ve got some solid youth in the system, a goalie of the future in the minors. But this year isn’t their year to contend for a cup. However, playoffs aren’t an absurd notion. David Backes and Chris Stewart are high quality forwards and Andy McDonald is very good when healthy. Patrick Berglund had a much better year last season, as did Alex Steen. They will definitely miss David Perron, who will miss serious time with post concussion symptoms. On Defense, Alex Pietrangelo proved he was truly ready for the NHL with a very strong season. Barret Jackman has spent his whole career in St. Louis and is a steady stay at home defenseman who pairs up perfectly with Pietrangelo. The addition of Kevin Shattenkirk gives them a strong offensive defenseman for the second pair. Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner bring the solid veteran leadership they needed. Jaroslav Halak is a solid goalie, but could be better. The organization isn’t desperately pushing for the playoffs, they are being patient. But it could pay off sooner than many expect.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Northwest Division1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Minnesota Wild
The Dany Heatly saga takes another stop, this time in Minnesota. Heatly seems to have had problems every where he’s been, but his talent cannot be argued. Devin Setoguchi also heads over from San Jose and will provide another strong offensive punch. Mikko Koivu now has some very strong wingers to play with. After that, there’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard but not much else. The rest of their second line are third liners on other teams, their third liners are fourth liners on other teams, and their fourth liners, well you get the picture. Nick Schultz is a strong 2-way defenseman, Marek Zidlicky took a big drop in offensive numbers, but he’s still a threat from the blue-line. Greg Zanon is a solid stay at home guy. But just like their forwards, there is a drop off. Niklas Backstrom is steady in net, but will need to improve. Even though they have problems, the Minnesota Wild made some decent moves, and are the second best in that division.
3. Edmonton Oilers
4. Calgary Flames
Jerome Iginla is one of the best players in the game, and is the face of the Calgary Flames Franchise. Olli Jokinen is an underachieving first line center. Alex Tanguay had a much better year last year, improving by 32 points. The Flames need him to keep up that kind of pace. Michael Backlund was a former first round pick of the Flames, and he needs to step into a bigger role. Rene Bourque is a good secondary force but isn’t that special. On defense, the addition of Scott Hannan will help, but the Flames D, which used to be one of the best in the game, has took a rapid decline in the last few years. Jay Bouwmeester hasn’t been able to bring the same kind of game he played with the Panthers. Cory Sarich is solid, and Anton Babchuk is a strong offensive talent on the blueline. The Flames though, for whatever reason, just have not been able to put it all together. Iginla is their only player truly capable of making the players around him better. Alex Tanguay has only put up the numbers he has with Iginla. Miika Kiprusoff is a great goalie, but the Flames rely too much on him. He had 37 of the teams 41 wins last season.
5. Colorado Avalanche
Matt Duchene is one of the best young guns in the game today. Milan Hejduk is getting old but still has talent. Paul Stastny is also a quality second line center. The Avs also have high hopes for 2nd overall pick Gabriel Landeskog, who will surely be on the NHL roster. They also have high hopes from Erik Johnson, the former St. Louis Blue first overall pick who may have just needed a change of scenery. Jan Hejda comes over from Columbus but overall, their defense could use something more. The Avs need to be patient with their development. The rebuild will take time, and some of the pieces are already in place, just not enough to contend this year.
1. San Jose Sharks
2. LA Kings
I say this on the assumption that the Drew Doughty contract situation will be worked out. And I probably shouldn’t assume that. But if it is, he is one of the best in the game. He is an elite offensive defenseman, and an elite defensive defenseman. Jack Johnson needs to improve defensively but he’s no slouch either. Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez and Rob Scuderi all round out a strong top 6. Up front, the acquisition of former Flyers captain Mike Richards adds another lethal force up front, that already includes Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and new addition Simon Gagne, who seems to do well wherever he goes. He’s a former teammate of Richards, and maybe there is a connection there. In net, Jonathan Quick has emerged as a legitimate NHL starter, and backup Jonathan Bernier has a ton of potential as well.
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Phoenix Coyotes
Goaltending will be an issue for the Coyotes, who lost star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency. Replacing him with Mike Smith is not the answer. Shane Doan and Ray Whitney are their top forwards, but they are older. And who knows how long they will last. Their depth at center is lackluster. Someone needs to step up, big time. They lack any real game breaker. Kyle Turris has failed to live up to his potential, but seems to think he’s worth the money anyway. On D, Keith Yandle is one of the best in the league. Ed Jovanovski has been the anchor of their blue line for a long time, but he has since moved on to the Florida Panthers. The Coyotes were competitive, but after a devastating first round sweep in the last playoffs, and losing all the players they have, it may be a tough road for the financially unstable Phoenix Coyotes.
5. Dallas Stars
Brad Richards is gone. If that doesn’t say enough about the upcoming season in Dallas, than maybe the impending bankruptcy might. Loui Eriksson has been a very strong winger, but with Richards is gone, who knows what he will be able to do. The same can be said for Brendan Morrow and Mike Ribeiro, who will be forced into the first line center role. They added the inconsistent Michael Ryder who won a cup with Boston, but it won’t be enough to make up for lost production. The D is strong though. Their top four of Goligoski, Robidas, Daley and Grossman are as good as any other, and Sheldon Souray will have his shot at redemption, and could potentially fill the void on the Power Play that Brad Richards left on the point. Kari Lehtonen is a decent goalie, but he’ll have some work to do this year. The Stars needed to win their final game to get in the playoffs last year, and got demolished by a Minnesota Wild team that was already out. That effort was followed by firing their coach. The Stars will have to overcome a lot of adversity if they want to compete this year, and I wouldn’t bet money that they do.
So what does this all mean? In reality - nothing.
Preseason picks are a dime-a-dozen. Nobody knows jack until the season is well under way. With that said, here are the Hockey Broz Stanley Cup predictions:
Jklau - Tampa over Chicago
Dklau - San Jose over Tampa
Tampa Bay is 12-1 to win the cup, San Jose is 9-1.
Oh, the good Ol' Hockey Game