Monday, October 03, 2005

Eastern Conference 2005-06 Overview

Okay, the new NHL season is only but a few days away, so I'll analyze the Eastern Conference today and the Western Conference tomorrow.

Pre-CBA, the league was in an awful unbalanced state giving most of the dominant franchises in the NHL to the Western Conference. However, the free agent frenzy that occurred this summer, all of the Eastern Conference teams were able to "grocery shop" what they needed. Even within the conference itself, the balance has been leveled between a few teams perpetually able to make the playoffs to 16 teams fighting and clawing to be a part of the elite 8. (Oops, the NHL got rid of the fighting and clawing. Bad analogy.) I can't predict what the NHL season will bring, but I will grade each team according to what they look now and how they faired before the lockout.

Atlanta: The Thrashers like goalies from Finland. They went with an even more European flavor even more by trading for Hossa and signing Bondra. Also, they don't want to give up on Ilya "franchise" Kovalchuk even after he went home for more money. The Thrashers are behind the times. The All-Euro team was trendy in the mid 90's. Downgrade!
Boston: A franchise on the brink of returning to previous glory days, the Bruins had a young core of players that were always mentioned on the stats leaderboards. Goalie Andrew Raycroft was Rookie of the Year and hopefully has the stuff to keep going. They supplemented their young core with vets that can get it done. They'll be atop their Division for years to come. Upgrade!
Buffalo: This is going to be some hard times in upstate NY. I didn't think that the Sabres could get any worse post-CBA, but they did. They have Drury and Briere on the first line, but that's it. It will be a long painful season. Downgrade!
Carolina: Addition by subtraction. Okay, they got rid of O'Niel who wasn't happy there to begin with and they seem to be sharing an awful lot of players with Anaheim. Martin Gerber baby will hold the fort until Cam Ward is ready. Look for the 'Canes to transition out soon of the rebuilding years. Upgrade!
Florida: Let the Mike Keene era begin. This is going to be fun to watch. It's actually going to be a train-wreck that you just can't keep your eyes off of. They finally have some veterans that can score. Roberts and Niewendyk want to ride off into the sun together. Why not do it in the Sunshine state? At least the names look good on paper, you won't find them on silver at the end of the year. Luongo is unhappy and may let a fluke goal in at the critical time. Upgrade!
Montreal: This team clearly understood what the new NHL era was going to bring. They were going to grow their talent at home in Hamilton and add a few veterans to the core coming off an amazing playoff run. Keeping Kovalev came as a shock to me, but his performance is based on his mood. Ryder and a lot of other young French Canadians will put the face back on the team soon.Upgrade!
New Jersey: Oh, how the mighty have fallen! The CBA was proven to be kryptonite to the once strong 3 time champs. The Devils have lost their powerful defensive core and had to sell off Friesen for cap space. Don't worry, the Devils always finds diamonds in the rough and draft well. But why was Albany one of the worst AHL team last year? Look for MN native Zach Parise to step up to be a future star for the Devils. Downgrade!
NY Islanders: Go ahead, dump all your money into one premaddona centerman and don't make any space for the salary cap. See where it gets you. This is DiPietro's year to get it done or he will be. Isles are that crazy to draft a goalie #1 overall again! Look for rising star Trent Hunter to be on top of the scoring categories yet again. Downgrade!
NY Rangers: Okay, they went from total and complete suck-titude to just barely unwatchable in two months. It's karma that the Rangers have struggled over the past two years, giving them a taste of what other smaller teams have had to fight through. Jagr doesn't want to be captain. That kinda says something, doesn't it? Downgrade!
Ottawa: They fired their coaching staff, got a goaltender past his prime, brought in and promoted native born players, and the Sens are just about where they where. Spezza looks to be the go to center for the team. Getting caught up in the "playoff arms race" with their mortal enemies Toronto is going to cost them. Depth will have to be shown if the Sens stay on top of the Eastern Conference. Even
Philadelphia: Forsberg. He said he was done with the NHL. I guess he lied. One of the franchises responsible for the lockout, at least they have learned the error of their ways. They will look to push the development of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Hatcher and Rathje are there to put a hurt on any Atlantic Division forward skating to the net. Typical Philly. Upgrade!
Pittsburgh: Not only will they dominate, but they will re-write NHL record books. Landing the best NHL prospect the league touts may prove to be a curse as well as a blessing. Questions will come up under the continent wide media spotlight. Can the new look Pens right the ship and prove to the local politicians that they should stay? Mario is 40 and he thinks he can play 2 more years. This is his swan song weather he likes it or not. Pallfy and Gonchar will teach the young players how to get it done on the powerplay. Pens fans will also be hoping that LeClair and Recchi will be doing the things for us what they were doing against us in a Flyers jersey.Upgrade!
Tampa Bay: Finally, the Champs will have an opportunity to defend their crown. But this year is going to be different for the 'Bolts who have a new goalie in Burke. Plus, how hungry will this team be now that they are all paid like champions? The challenge to John Tortorella is how much he can get this team to win again with his "Phil Jackson-esque" disciplinarian techniques/head games.Even
Toronto: The Leafs will pay the price for being responsible for how the NHL got into this mess in the first place. They overpaid and sacrificed their team's future for the here and now. You'd think they learned while watching their team's core walk out the door. But they brought in Keane, Thomas, and Czerkawski. They like to be old, I guess. Downgrade!
Washington: The Capitals are re-building the mess that they made trying to purge the team of losers and millionaires. They so stripped themselves bare of recognizable talent it's going to take a while before their team could begin to profit on the investments made on the minor league prospects. They grabbed Friesen and Ovechkin in the offseason. They're just going to need a goalie for the future. Kolzig chokes like a Manning in the big games. Upgrade!
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