Thursday, October 6, 2011

The NHL is BACK baby AHHH: NHL Preview 2011-12

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
Atlantic Division:

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.

Northeast Division

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.”

Southeast Division

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.

5. Winnipeg Jets

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:

Central Division

1. Detroit Red Wings

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mentality for the Detroit Red Wings and it’s worked for them. With Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Red Wings have a 1-2 punch that rivals the combination of a healthy Crosby and Malkin. Nik Lidstrom is getting older, but it hasn’t slowed him down. He leads a D corps that is strong the whole way through the bottom pair. Jimmy Howard has proved solid in net, notching 37 wins in each of his first two seasons. The Red Wings are the model of consistency, don’t expect anything different this year.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago’s cup defense was pretty uninspiring. It took a complete choke by the Dallas stars for the Hawks to even qualify for the playoffs, and than went down 3-0 to the eventual western conference champion Canucks. While they did rally back to force game 7, Chicago fans expected a much better season. Patrick Kane has tons of talent, and perpetual BAC of about .22. Maybe the Veteran presence of newly acquired winger Andrew Brunette will help him. Jonathan Toews is an elite talent, and with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on the second line, Offense shouldn’t be a problem. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook make a strong top pair on D, and Niklas Hjalmarsson (yeah I looked up the spelling) is solid. The bottom 3 on defense could be better. Nick Leddy had a pretty good rookie season but will have to keep improving. Steve Montador is a solid 6th but isn’t anything special. Corey Crawford needs to be strong in net. He’s proven to be solid but has only had one full season in the NHL. They are a strong team overall, but they can be beat.

3. Nashville Predators

Barry Trotz is a great coach. The Predators have not only managed to stay afloat under his reign, but against all odds, have flourished. Pekka Rinne doesn’t seem to get his due as one of the best goalies in the game today, and the Preds D is strong enough to protect him. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are among the best in the game and Jonathan Blum is only going to get better after a strong quarter of a season as a rookie last year. They signed Jack Hillen from the Islanders, and he is an underrated offensive Defenseman. The offense however, is a different story. The Predators lack the dynamic forward they need to be a fixture in the playoffs Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat are good players, but would be better on a stronger teams second line. Mike Fisher was acquired from Ottawa at the deadline last year and was an instant hit, although it was probably more due to his relationship with country star Carrie Underwood than his play, which wasn’t so bad either. Colin Wilson needs to keep improving. Nashville definitely has what it takes to make the playoffs though. They play a solid defensive game, and they’ve proven they can win regardless of the offensive issues.

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

With just one playoff appearance in team history, a first round sweep by the Red Wings, Columbus fans are growing impatient. They can get a little bit excited with the addition of Jeff Carter from the Flyers. Carter could potentially be the center Rick Nash has been looking for. The off ice distractions of booze, parties, and Scott Hartnell’s wife are back in Philly, and Carter should have an easier time focusing on hockey in the slow pace and dim lights of Columbus, Ohio. The Jackets have gotten some solid players, but the loss of Kristian Huselius for up to half of the season already sets them back. Vinny Prospal was signed in his stead, and while there is still talent, the aging winger has felt injury problems of his own, and as much as I like the guy, he shouldn’t be counted on to rescue the team. On D, Jackets GM Scott Howson threw way too much money at James Wisniewski, who will be paired up with Fedor Tyutin. Tyutin is a solid defenseman, sure. But if he’s your top guy, you’ve got problems. In goal, Steve Mason has been uninspiring since his strong rookie campaign a few years ago. Columbus is starting to run out of excuses, and if this season doesn’t turn out as they hope, it could get ugly.

Northwest Division

1. Vancouver Canucks

The defending conference champs might just win this division by default. Last year, they were the only team in the division to make the playoffs. The same could happen again. The team remains largely the same. The Sedin Twins will still be the main fixtures on their forward corps. Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler will continue to be major players, and their D remains unchanged, led by Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis. Roberto Luongo catches some flack, but he’s a very good goalie. Whatever you may think of the Canucks after last years game 7 choke, they still play in a weak division, and they will still be the best in that weak division.

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

Edmonton has been making some strides. Even though they were last in the NHL last year, they have some exciting young players who are learning. Taylor Hall is the real deal, and so are Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Sam Gagne. Ryan Smyth returns home to Edmonton where he enjoyed his best days. Ryan Whitney is a solid top defenseman. He leads a D corps that includes Ladislav Smid, Theo Peckham, and recently added tough guy Andy Sutton. Playing in a weak division will help the Oilers, who are making steps in the right direction. Devan Dubynk is an decent young goalie who will keep improving. Playoffs are unlikely, but head coach Tom Renney has the team playing some exciting hockey. The young guns are learning the ropes together, and they’ll break out…eventually.

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.

Pacific Division

1. San Jose Sharks

It’s the Sharks division to lose this year. They traded Dany Heatley but brought in standout defenseman Brent Burns. Burns, along with Dan Boyle offer some strong offensive power from the backend. M.E Vlasic is one of the best young defenseman in the game, Douglas Murray and is underrated. The Sharks will also have the offensive power up front to make up for the loss of Heatley. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are elite. Ryan Clowe has emerged and will only get better. Logan Couture is one of the best young gun, and if he improves off of his 56 point season, the Sharks will be asking Dany who? Antti Niemi proved a lot of doubters wrong, and Antero Nittymaki is as good of a backup as one could possibly ask for. The Pacific is a tough division. The Sharks though, are a tough team.

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

Yes, Teemu is returning. Teemu Selanne is back. He signed a one year deal late in the offseason. At 41 years of age, he’s playing the game like a 20 year old. On a lineup that includes Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan, Teemu and the Ducks could be in for another strong year. Saku Koivu also provides some offensive depth. On D, Lubomir Visnovsky tallied a ridiculous 68 points from the backend for the Ducks. Cam Fowler will look to improve off of a strong rookie campaign and Toni Lydman had a strong first season in Anaheim after 5 in Buffalo. Anaheim is a strong team, in a strong division.

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

1 comment:

  1. In regards to your Devils assessment:

    'Freckled with nobodies [defensively]' - Volchenkov and Tallinder are both established defensemen, and number 4 overall draft pick Adam Larsson has been described as the most NHL ready out of the draft...more so than any defensemen out of the draft in the past 5 years. No all-stars on D doesn't necessarily mean a team is defensively thin. The Devils are (and always have been) a defensive-minded team and considering the depth in 2-way forwards up front, defense isn't much of a worry. The Brodeur-Favre thing is a bit of an overstatement; he's in his final year of his contract and even though he loves women, he can still ball out in net. I think it's just a big bold for people like Scott Burnside to count a team out on power rankings because they miss the playoffs once in over a decade (due to an inexperienced first year coach). Also if you ever want to rank hockey like an espn analyst, here's the formula:

    Slot the teams that played for the Cup as 1 & 2
    Slot big market teams with marquee players that ESPN likes to talk about 3-8
    Slot bubble teams that spent some money and/or remade their rosters 9-16
    Take the rest, move them each a slot or two up or down from where they finished last year and write a blurb about some weakness they have not properly addressed

    Call it a night