Tuesday, October 2

HSHS Season Preview: Part II

Westward Ho!

Western Conference

Another gexcellent marketing move by the NHL this week, as the Kings and Ducks kicked off their seasons in hockey-mad London. The small Ontario town packed the arena...wait, what? London, England? Brilliant, and on a Saturday no less, when every Englishman is packed into football grounds around the country. I hear Arsenal and Spurs are going to play their North London derby in Green Bay next year...on Super Bowl Sunday.

Northwest Division

1. Colorado Avalanche:
I have to admit, I have no clue about this division. Every team has an obvious weakness, but I guess the Avalanche are as good as anyone. They're especially deep at forward, and have a nice mix of veterans and youth. With Sakic, Hejduk, Smyth, Wolski and Stastny, there's two quality scoring lines, and that doesn't take into account a possible return to form from Marek Svatos, or the unheralded Andrew Brunette. Additionally, you can't underestimate the benefit of having Ian Laperriere's nose horrify the living shit out of opposing defenceman.

On the blueline, they added Scott Hannan to a nice group that includes Brett Clark, John-Michael Liles and iron-man, Karlis Skrastins. The weakness of course is in goal where, like sands through the hourglass, so is Jose Theodore's contract. Fortunately for the Avs, the $6 million back-up is in the final year of his deal, which may inspire him to a save percentage of at least .880. If not, Peter Budaj will have to do.

2. Vancouver Canucks: Until last week I was vehemently opposed to the NHL's discussion about enlarging the nets. Then I heard Roberto Luongo say he would retire if they did. Seriously, what's two or three inches on each side gonna hurt? The Canucks have replaced the Dallas Stars as my 2nd most hated team, mostly because I look at the sheer assness of their roster and can't quite figure out how the Oilers lose to them. It's Luongo. Other than the Sedin twins, nobody else scores, although it's possible that Naslund and Morrison will bounce back in what is likely to be their last season in Vancouver. Mitchell, Ohlund, Salo and Bieksa make up a decent top four, but it remains to be seen if the Canucks will regret their decision not to re-sign 'All-Star', Rory Fitzpatrick.

3. Calgary Flames: One thing you know about Mike Keenan is that he likes to ride his horses. That means, Iginla, Phaneuf and Kiprusoff can expect to play a lot. With a true star at each position, the Flames have a nice core to build around, but they haven't been able to do that effectively. Langkow, Tanguay, Huselius and Conroy are decent players but none are the kind of guys you're dying to go to war with. The defence, which was once their strength now looks disturbingly like a big, slow, chip-it-off-the-glass group. Sarich? Warrener? Aucoin? Ah, the Keenan stamp is already making it's mark. Did I mention those three guys will be making a combined $10 million this season? Who is going to get the forwards the puck? What was wrong with Roman Hamrlik? And why did they let a decent, offensive-minded guy like Mark Giordano go to Russia? Just as a sidenote, I think all Calgary-Edmonton games this year should be decided by a one-on-one skating race between Matthew Lombardi and Andrew Cogliano.

4. Minnesota Wild: There's nothing exciting about the Wild. They're just so mediocre, and nothing in sports is worse than being mediocre. You either want to be very good or very bad. At least if you're very bad you have the hope of high draft picks and getting better. But when you finish between 14th and 20th every year, you get table scraps. GM Doug Risebrough was so happy with losing in the first round of the playoffs that he added just one new face of note - Eric Belanger. A good two-way player that can skate, now that doesn't sound like a Minnesota Wild player AT ALL! This years' drive for 8th will hinge on Gaborik's health and whether or not Niklas Backstrom can prove to be a #1 goalie over a full season.

5. Edmonton Oilers: The best part about writing this has been realizing that the teams in the Oilers' division don't look as good as I thought they were. The Oil could finish anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the Northwest, but with the questions on defence and the number of young players being counted on to deliver, I just can't see them finishing much higher than 4th. I hope I'm wrong. At least Oiler fans get to see some of this every night:

Pacific Division

1. San Jose Sharks: I think they'll finish ahead of the Ducks, partly because of the Ducks losses (Niedermayer/Selanne) and partly because they're a very good regular season team. Gutless, playoff chokers, but a good regular season team. Have you heard my rant about Joe Thornton? Well here it is again...the San Jose Sharks will never win a Stanley Cup as long as Joe Thornton is counted on to be their 'leader'. He's not a leader. He's a quiet, passive guy who plays the same way; always trying to slow the game down. I don't blame Boston one bit for trading the guy. Was the return awful? Absolutely. But they were right in trying to go another direction. "But Moose, he's not even their Captain", you say. You're right, it's that other church mouse, Patrick Marleau. So in order to address the gaping leadership hole, GM Doug Wilson went out and signed...Jeremy Roenick. Well done (pun very much intended).

2. Anaheim Ducks: After playing until June and losing two Hall of Famers to temporary retirement, the Ducks will be hard pressed to win the division again. That's not to say they aren't still the team to beat come playoff time. As I said before, I think at least one of Selanne or Niedermayer will be back mid-season to give this team a lift. Rookie Bobby Ryan looks set to take Dustin Penner's place in the lineup and scored in his first game in England. They still have the best player in the NHL in Chris Pronger, and the best GM who ever lived in Brian Burke. Just ask him.

3. Los Angeles Kings: I kinda like the Kings this year. I would like them even more if they could ever get any goaltending. In my opinion, Anze Kopitar was the best rookie to play in the NHL last year (suck it, Malkin!). He put up 20-41-61, while playing on a terrible team. In the off-season the Kings went out and loaded up on skill (albeit soft, Euro skill) to compliment Kopitar and their other core players, Mike Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov. The arrival of Michael Handzus and Ladislav Nagy adds some scoring punch, but probably puts the Kings over the cap in Slavic hockey hair. They'll probably have to trade Jaroslav Modry. The blueline has improved markedly with the additions of Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart. Those two will join PP kingpin Lubomir Visnovsky and Rob Blake to make up a nice top four. I predict they'll get a goalie and contend for a playoff spot.

4. Dallas Stars: I'd like to go in-depth and say a lot of interesting things about the Dallas Stars, but I really just want to use them as an excuse to see this again:

5. Phoenix Coyotes: The jig is up in the desert. Wayno's Country Club was broken-up this off-season by an owner who actually wanted to win hockey games. The gaul. That meant the hiring of a new GM who didn't play with Gretz, work as an agent for Gretz, caddie for Gretz, or appear in a Pro Stars cereal commerical with Gretz. "Riiiiight?" I mean we all like to make fun of the Islanders, but is there anybody that runs their franchise worse than these clowns? The 'Yotes first line this season will probably consist of Shane Doan, Mike York, and Steve Reinprecht. That's not good. The rest of the roster will be comprised of guys named Mike Zigomanis, Josh Gratton, Thomas Surovy (stop me anytime), Martin Hanzel, Mathias Tjarnqvist (not that Tjarnqvist)...okay, you get the picture. Their defence isn't bad, with Jovo, Morris, Boynton, Michalek, and Ballard, but the guys behind them (Tellqvist and Aebischer) don't allow for too many mistakes.

But enough with dumping on Gretz's gang, it's not like Wayne never gave the franchise anything (he was just saving this until he could return it at the proper time):

Central Division

1. Detroit Red Wings:
Yawn. Once again the geriatric Red Wings have the good fortune of playing 32 games against this ragged bunch of opponents. Are you kidding me with this division? So it is, another playoff berth for the Wings and their 42 year-old grointender (trademark!) , their 45 year-old defenceman, and their grizzled band of thirty-something forwards. I can only assume they signed 38-year-old Dallas Drake to ensure that the team qualified for its AARP benefits.

2. Hamilton Tigers: Everybody talked about the 'fire-sale' that Hamilton had in the off-season, but beyond Kimmo Timonen who did they really lose? Paul Kariya and Scott Hartnell? Those aren't guys who make the difference between winning and losing a Stanley Cup. Admittedly, the trade of Tomas Vokoun could have an impact, but Chris Mason was their #1 for long stretches while Vokoun was injured, and he proved more than capable. To replace the free agent losses, they added some nice mid-level veterans like Radek Bonk, Martin Gelinas and Greg DeVries. Alexander Radulov should have a breakout year, and the defense is still one of the better units in the league with Zidlicky, Weber, Suter and Hamhuis. Don't expect them to fall too far.

3. St. Louis Blues: You could argue that no coach does more with less than Andy Murray. He'll probably need to work his magic again this year, as the Blues look to be a fringe playoff contender on paper. It appears the organization is stuck in a position somewhere between taking a run at it with veterans, and going with the youth movement. Trouble is, the prospect pool hasn't produced enough good young kids to go the youth movement route. So, adding guys like Kariya and Tkachuk to go along with Weight and Rucinsky looks like a bridge until guys like Stempniak, McClement, and Perron are ready to take over. The defence is okay, and with Brewer, Jackman and McKee eating up minutes, it should allow Erik Johnson a slow, smooth transition into the NHL game. The goaltending situation is a mish-mash of mediocre veterans (Legace), young potential (Schwarz), and cast-offs trying to regain form (Toivonen). Andy Strickland is a douchebag.

4. Chicago Blackhawks: I hear a lot of comments about how totally awesome Chicago is going to be with Kane, Toews, Skille, and Havlat. Fo shizzle, but first they're going to suck some more. Because all kids make mistakes at this level, and any team that has that many kids in the lineup is going to lose hockey games. It's just a fact. GM Dale Tallon did go out and get a few veterans, but Samsonov, Lang, and Yanic Perrault aren't exactly cut from the cloth of Mark Messier, if you get my drift. Combine that with the fact that the blueline, while very talented, is still young as well, and it adds up to another season of missing the playoffs. On another note, and I hate to sound like a Jewish mother, but I'm worried that Patrick Kane isn't eating enough. He's so skinny!

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: When former Oilers Assistant GM, Scott Howson took over in Columbus, I wonder if he knew what he was in for. But to his credit, Howson is committed to building up the organization the right way. He has a marquee goal scorer (Rick Nash) to build around, and next year he'll have over $30 million in cap space to play with after big tickets like Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote are off the books. In the meantime, he made some nice depth pick-ups (Hejda, Peca and Novotny), drafted Jakub Voracek, and in Ken Hitchcock, he has one of the games most respected coaches. Possibly the biggest thing the Jackets have going for them is their arena, which is probably the nicest I've ever been to. It's so cozy, it just makes you wanna curl up with a blanket and some hot cocoa. It certainly helps pass the time when you're watching Duvie Westcott try and figure out which one is the defensive zone.

Playoff Predictions:

1. San Jose *
2. Detroit *
3. Colorado *
4. Anaheim
5. Nashville
6. Vancouver
7. Calgary
8. Los Angeles
* Division Champs

That's all folks!
(I reserve the right to distance myself from these predictions upon the first trade/injury of the season involving any team discussed herein)


Greener said...

Great post. A little short, but whatever.
Also: Yet more documented evidence of Gretzky and that asshole Kerry Fraser collaborating to screw another team out of it's rightful property.

Moose said...

You prefer the short, susinct "Greener is a douchebag" posts?

Anonymous said...

Here here Greener. Here here.

Washingtron said...

I had no idea that 90's Principe looked so much like Paul Reiser! Great post! Dumb comments from Greener. Hey, what ever happened to my post about your being a douchebag. Is that still up? Some of my best work...

Norte said...

Gene Principe: class act.