Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Eastern Conference 2006-07 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.

The fans were really surprised by the rise to power of the Carolina Hurricanes. That means that the previous two winners of the Stanley Cup have come from the Southeastern Conference. The NHL will be riding the after-glow of a successful season, but everybody knows they aren't out of the woods yet. They have to give things a chance to build back up to what it once was in America - the 4th favorite sport.

Atlanta: The Thrashers had a ton of offense last season, but no defense. At the beginning of the year, they still don't have any defense. Kovalchick may make another serious run for the scoring title this year without any help. At least they went out and got a reliable backup.. who wasn't from Finland. Look for the Thrashers to continue to ignore the primary rule in sports. Defense wins championships! Downgrade!
Boston: Boston gave up on their franchise captain last season and perhaps drafted a new one in Phil Kessel. Hype suggests he could be a star, but if you don't believe that, just ask him. Supposedly, he will tell you what a stud he is. They got Chara for defense, a new GM, and a new coach. It is a long way up, but at least they made an attempt to turn things around. Upgrade!
Buffalo: Another team to surprise a lot of fans and media was the Sabres. They have felt the verge of a new changing of the guard since making it to the Conference finals. They didn't want to pay Dumont and sent him packing for music city. They will be as strong as their goaltending will take them now that Ryan Miller is a rising star after his efforts last year. But, for the entire season, they will be known as the "Buffaslugs" for their new team logo. Despite all the strides forward, that still earns them a - Downgrade!
Carolina: Stanley Cup Champs. Who knew. So, once all the vets got their ring, they left their money on the nightstand and showered. Recchi - gone, Weight - Gone, Johnson - gone. The Canes have some really good young stars, but not any new veterans that helped them like last year. They may make the playoffs, but it will be in the bottom 4 seeds now that the division championship doesn't guarantee a top-3 spot. Downgrade!
Florida: If the Panthers don't start winning, they will develop an inferiority complex. Two rivals winning a Cup shows that a southern team can do it. Their keys to victory will mean development for the high draft picks they have collected. Belfour will be more comfortable with Nieuwendyk and Roberts in front of him. But at some point, Eddie the Eagle's back will get the better of his downsloping talents. The Bertuzzi reclamation project is going to be the story of the year. Any team that gets rid of Emperor Keenan is an Upgrade!
Montreal: Almost the same team as last year, but with the addition of Samsonov. I don't see them getting any farther than a first round exit in the playoffs. Captain Koivu isn't the same player since the eye injury, so the bulk of the work is going to come from the wings.Even
New Jersey: Blame it on the cap. Blame it on no coach for last season. Insert whatever excuse the Devils are using this time around. The team that critics say is the most boring team to watch because of their defense-first mentality will have to lean on that. If only the Thrashers figured this out. Gomez, Elias, and Parise will make it to another post-season. Look for the Devils to make another move to get under the salary cap if they want to contend again. The new arena in Newark alone is a huge Upgrade.
NY Islanders: This is a mess. The Islanders officially jumped the shark when they hired Garth Snow as GM and rewarding an unproven DiPietro with a huge contract. At least, they did get some key Free Agents in Sean Hill, Chris Simon, and Brendan Witt without mixing up the team chemistry from last season. It will keep their heads above water while Campoli and others learn their way. Downgrade! (and getting worse).
NY Rangers: Unfortunately, the Rangers collapse at the end of last season provided a bunch of reasons to justify not building an entire team with Czech players. The Rangers didn't make any significant off season moves so they haven't learned from their lesson yet. Give it one more year of total collapse before they realize what the problem is. Downgrade!
Ottawa: So, there is something to be said about a team with a bunch of soft Euros and Senators fans have learned the hard way. They built their house of cards on high scoring non-north Americans, but now are trying to pluck out and replace them with guys like Corvo and Preissing. Goaltending is shaky at best. Gerber was just along for the ride to win a Cup ring but will get more credit than he deserves. Even
Philadelphia: This team is quite the interesting enigma. If you can logically tell me what Bobby Clarke has as a gameplan, I will buy you a cheeseburger from the dollar menu. If the injury bug stays away from the Fly boys, I see them as a dangerous team. The only question is how their goaltending will hold up. Niittymaki was on his way from wrestling the starting job away from Esche Upgrade!
Pittsburgh: A new direction for this team. I don't think they could have gotten any lower last year. The best new acquisition for the team has been the GM Ray Shero who has addressed the lack of defense on the team. Fleury will have to find some confidence under a rock or from some Pens Patrol puckbunny. Crosby may win the Art Ross according to some pundits and the bloggers, but it's credibility will only last as long as Ekman and others can protect Sid. Upgrade!
Tampa Bay: So, the Lightning had a big set back as the "King of the mountain" and got knocked off by the Senators in their Stanley Cup defense. They got the goaltending they needed with Denis and reliable defense with Kuba. Look for these guys to score their way back into Upgrade
Toronto: Coach Mo says that the Leafs will struggle with baby steps to get back to respectability. He knows his stuff. Unfortunately, he's right. The Leafs were forced to downsize and gather in some journeymen to hold the line. Gill will be the key positional acquisition and Raycroft, a Calder trophy winner, is hoping that the worst is behind him. The Leafs don't rebuild they only reload. But will it take another losing season wake them up from their obsolete business model. Downgrade!
Washington: Well, there is nowhere to go but up for this franchise. They tried to go out and get some help on the wings with Brashear and Zednik. Expect the Capitals to again sit on the bottom of the barrel and collect more top draft picks. Upgrade!
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