Monday, October 1

Leafs Cut Ondrus, Williams, Harry Neale

The meaningfully meaningless pre-season is over, with the Leafs silt settling down for a record of 3-3-2. You get a sense of how precarious the season success for the Leafs really could be. When the go-to guys (Sundin, Blake, Kaberle) were in, the Leafs clicked and found success. When they weren't, and coupled with the losses of other important parts (Wellwood, Bell, Raycroft's glove hand), we looked like trouble. What this means is if the Leafs stay healthy and people produce as they should, we make the playoffs, and well at that. If they don't...oh wait, my phone's ringing

With the injury situation already chafing at the Leafs genitals, many of the guys took advantage of the opportunities given, and ran with them, most notably, Andy Wozniewski. He looked great in September, as he has at two other Leafs camps/pre seasons, and he's made the team. Chad Kilger, a guy I'm a fan of, scored 4 times and is someone I look forward to having on the ice. He can score, hit and really crank the puck. Here he is shooting a puck harder than anyone else ever, 105 MPH:

Here is a picture Judging by the sepia tone of the video, I think it was shot prior to the 1910/11 season. But don't mind me... all's I know is that I like the look of those Kenora Thistles, with the unstoppable O-L-D line of Donnie "Rubberboots" O'Malley, Jackson "Table Top" Lonsberry and Mortimer "King" Donnagen. The Kaiser better watch out, I tells ya!

Leafs cuts include Clemmensen, Gamache, Harrison, Ondrus, Salmelainen and Jeremy Williams who were all put on waivers. Jiri Tlusty is going to the Marlies and should have a great year of development and will make the team next season. Of these guys, I think Harrison is the most likely to be picked up, followed by Williams. I'm not saying it'll happen, but Harrison is on the wrong end of a Defensive logjam with the Leafs, and could step in and play for a team now.

~ ~ ~ ~

Sad to say that Harry Neale is leaving the Leafs broadcast booth he's shared with the best play-by-play man anywhere, Joe Bowen. The two have such great chemistry and seem to have fun working with each other. Quite unlike Neale's chemistry with his still HNIC partner Bob Cole, who allows Harry to talk every 30th whistle, or 4 times a game, whichever comes first.

Neale is joining the Sabres game call team who just lost somebody to retirement, or something I'd find out about if I cared. He lives in Buffalo anyway, so his work commute will now rarely involve a possible full body strip search. Hold on, I did say, rarely.

Greg Millen is with Bowen now. I like him, too. He knows a lot, as he's one of those goalies-turned-color men, and isn't afraid to criticize players, Leafs or otherwise. I can't stand broadcaster homers as I've written about before, and Moose and I have spend many games together spitting epithets at people like Jim "GREAT SAVE BY CLOUTIER!" Hughson, and the infuriating Boston based Andy Brickley who's biased-bile commentary and "Pahk Yah Cah and Pay a Dawla" accent make me wish my tinnitus was worse. There's nothing better than watching a well called game, and few things less fun than watching a guy call a game like he has money on the line. Money on the line and a Boston accent.

You heard it here fifth!

The Oilers have done it. They've really done it. They've signed Sam Gagner to a three year entry level contract! Can you believe that? He's the first Oiler first round pick signed in his first year since Jason Arnott in, what, 93? As most of you know (save Greener) he can play 10 games with the Oilers before they have to make a decision on his fate this year. Whether he goes back to Junior or stays with the club. But he's obviously done enough to whet the appetite of MacT, and that means the rest of the Oilers semi-faithful. Quick note, Gagner's nickname is Gons. That is boring. I think we should call him "the last name after these quotation marks is French for winning!". As in, Sam "the last name after these quotation marks is French for Winning" Gagner. Or for short, TLNATQMISFFW! "Hey! TLNATQMISFFW! Pass the puck!" See? Smooth!

Timbits! The Oilers also put Thoreson on waivers (duh) and released Anson Carter from his career ending tryout. Hey dreads, you're not good enough for the Oilers!? Whoa. Bet you wish you'd stayed with the Sedin's, huh? I bet that one year payday was worth it. What am I saying. It's like millions of dollars. Of course it was. Also, Brodziak has made the team. Yipee!

HSHS Season Preview

The Distant Third Cousin of All Previews!

Eastern Conference

This is going to be fun, because I actually have no idea what I'm going to write, or who I'm going to pick, until I write it. It's like I'm blogging LIVE! from my cerebral cortex, but with a lot fewer naked women...and spell check.

Northeast Division

1. Buffalo Sabres:
I'm sad to see Thomas Vanek go. For 18 solid minutes, Vanek was the heart and soul of the Edmonton Oilers. But it's time to wipe away the tears, pick ourselves up, and move on as an organization. Sabre fans, you will LOVE this guy! Personally, I don't think the Sabres are due for the drop-off that everyone thinks. While they lost Drury and Briere, they get Tim Connolly back, and increased roles for Derek Roy and young stud Drew Stafford should help offset the departures. The defence is still solid, and Ryan Miller is one of the five best goalies in the NHL.

2. Ottawa Senators: Coming off the short summer, and with contract distractions hanging over the heads of Dany Heatley, Wade Redden, and Niko Dimitrakos, it could be tough sleding for the Sens. I wouldn't be surprised to see them slip a bit, but their depth should pull them through. Besides it's hard not to root for an organization that exudes class through leaders like Chris Neil and Daniel Alfredsson. Congratualtions to Bryan Murray on making Ray Emery the most overpaid goalie in the NHL. Or is that their back-up, Martin Gerber?

3. Toronto Maple Leafs: After writing that about Ottawa, I suddenly want to put the Leafs 2nd. See Leafs fans, you've improved already! Ironically, the Leafs look a lot like the Oilers on paper. Good goaltending, dangerous PP, but concerns about secondary scoring and defence. I think the addition of Jason Blake and another year of development from Wellwood, Steen, and Ponikarovsky, should allow them to score enough goals. The defence is still a concern. It's strange how hard I try to like, no, accept the Leafs for Greener's sake. Fuck, I'm a really good friend.

4. Montreal Canadiens: Didn't really do a lot to improve themselves in the off-season despite missing the playoffs. They do have some nice young pieces (Higgins, Latendresse), a mobile, puck moving defence, and are embarrassingly rich in goal with Huet, Halak and future star, Carey Price. Michael Ryder should have a big year on the verge of UFA status, but they need career-type years from some of their aging core (Koivu, Kovalev) to make the playoffs. Kovalev can do some sick things, but I have to say, he stole a lot of these from me:

5. Boston Bruins: When it comes to goaltending, Boston is kinda like Los Angeles. It's where goalies go to die. Who was the last good Bruins goalie? Reggie Lemelin? Gilles Gilbert? Enter Manny Fernandez, who probably won't have to make too many saves playing behind a stout top six that includes Andrew Alberts, Denis Wideman, Mark Stuart and Andrew Ference. Sadly, his arrival probably spells the end to my favorite part of any Boston Bruins telecast, when Andy Brickley, with his ridiculous 'chowdery' accent, raves about the goaltending of Tim Tuaawmus. That's Tim Thomas to those of you in the other 12 colonies. Lottery pick!

Atlantic Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins:
Even while losing to Ottawa in the playoffs, you could see the lightbulb come on for this team. Young guys like Staal and Crosby really competed like veterans - they get it. I really like the subtle off-season moves the made. Re-signing Gary Roberts and adding Sydor on the back-end were nice moves to compliment the young guns. Petr Sykora is a pure shooter who could score 40+ playing with Crosby. Hopefully Penguins fans can taste some success before Kevin Lowe comes calling with the Evgeni Malkin offer sheet.

2. New York Rangers: The Rangers are everyones sexy pick this year, and can't you just see why? In all seriousness, Henrik Lundqvist is tired of being treated like a piece of meat. He wants to be judged as a goaltender. I'm talking to you, John Davidson.

The Rangers are trying to build a winner the way the Rangers always try to build a winner - with money. Scott Gomez, who had as many points as Shawn Horcoff, will make $10 million this year. The Oilers used their 65% off coupon and have Horcoff for $3.6 million. That being said, they look loaded up front. The blueline corps lacks a true top pairing guy, but they can move the puck and are fairly capable as a group. They're well coached, have "a rock star" in goal, and they're hungry from last years playoff success.

3. New Jersey Devils: Another popular pick to take a slide this year, and who wouldn't mind seeing Lou Lamoriello get bounced early? Despite losing Brian Rafalski and Scott Gomez to free agency, this year Lamoriello has used a little known loophole in the CBA to have their goals still count for New Jersey.

The Devils still have a lot of veterans who know how to win (Elias, Langenbrunner, Madden) and some very good young players (Parise, Gionta, Zajac). The blueline still needs to be re-tooled by there is enough there to put them in the mix for a playoff spot. Of course they still have the ageless Martin Brodeur in goal, backed-up by the aptly named Kevin Weekes.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: They were very active in the off-season, and they'll be better, but how much? Hartnell and Upshall are nice complimentary players, but Briere has to show he can be the guy, and the same goes for Martin Biron in goal. Besides Kimmo Timonen and the underrated Lasse Kukkonen, their defence is aging and contributes little in the way of offence or puck moving ability. Can't wait to see how Joffrey Lupul is received in a hard-as-nails town like Philly. Being named after a ballet always makes a good first impression.

5. New York Islanders: Ladies and gentlemen...YOUR New York Islanders!!! Either GM Garth Snow is standing on some phone books, or Charles Wang demands that all his new players be at eye-level when speaking to him.

I don't want to hear another word about players not wanting to play in Edmonton as long as the Islanders are in the league. Which of the Isles big off-season signings gets you excited? Ruslan Fedotenko? Andy Sutton? How about Bill 'Final Payday' Guerin? Or maybe professional panhandler, Mike Comrie? Yeah, Mr. Hillary Duff has conned another franchise into paying him millions of dollars for a season of apathetic play, healthy scratchings, and educational lectures on his cro-magnon jawed relatives. It's okay Hillary, Ted Nolan has the exact same reaction when he thinks about that spoiled, rich kid being his first line center.

But it's not all bad news on Long Island. Rick DiPietro has turned into a true #1 goalie, and the human hand grenade, Marc-Andre Bergeron, is sure to keep things exciting when Nassau Coliseum patrons start to nod off at the site of Jon Sim on the power play.

Southeast Division

1. Florida Panthers:
My sleepers for this year and my pick in a wide open division. They've quietly assembled a very nice young core, led by Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton and Jay Bouwmeester. They are a little thin up front, so they'll need a full season from injury prone Stephen Weiss, and contributions from veterans Radek Dvorak, Jozef Stumpel and Ville Peltonen. Aside from Bouwmeester, the defence features the vastly under-appreciated Mike Van Ryn, and solid, stay-at-homers Ruslan Salei and Bryan Allen. In goal, the acquisition of Tomas Vokoun was one of the best, and least talked about, deals of the summer. He should help undo some of the damage done to the franchise by whatever idiot traded Roberto Luongo. Now, who was that? Oh yeah...enjoy, Calgary!

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: You have to think this is the last hurrah for the 'Big 3' in Tampa. GM Jay Feaster resisted the temptation to break up the three-headed financial albatross, and is giving them another chance to win a Cup together. Unfortunately, that decision has again left the Lightning with little or no depth at various positions, especially defence and in goal.

To compund matters, their best defenceman, Dan Boyle, suffered a freak injury in the locker room, when his skate fell off the shelf and severed three tendons in his wrist. Apparently, Boyle was too immersed in his copy of Sports Illustrated - featuring pictures of Vinny Lecavalier and his girlfriend - to notice the falling, razor-like object about to end his career. Luckily, he should only be out 4-6 weeks.

If they get adequate goaltending, they're a playoff team. Just how far they can go will be determined by whether Feaster can add some depth later in the season to take the burden off his big guns.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: Largely unchanged from the team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago, the Hurricanes are getting older and their defence is just plain shitty on paper. Now that Cam Ward has been unmasked as the overrated, flash-in-the-pan that intelligent hockey observers (Greener & I) knew he was, I'm betting this team has another tough time making the playoffs. Still, playing in a weak division may allow them to rack-up enough points to squeak in, providing that drunk Eric Staal can stay out of jail long enough. I'm kidding! Sort of...

4. Washington Capitals: They haven't come close to making the playoffs since Ovechkin arrived, and you have to think George McPee's job is on the line. Luckily help is on the way in the form of Michael Nylander's wife. Her husband should prove to be a productive partner for Ovechkin now that he doesn't have to worry about her bitching and moaning about where to find good Ligonberries in Edmonton.

There's actually reason for a little bit of optimism in D.C. where Rookie of the Year favorite, Niklas Backstrom, will be counted on to make an immediate impact along with up-and-comer Alexander Semin. The defence has some decent veterans in Brian Pothier and Ben Clymer, but it's time for first round picks Steve Eminger, Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn to step up or risk having unnecessary consonants stripped from their name.

Overall, it doesn't seem like the Capitals have much of a plan as an organization, and signing Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti isn't exactly a statement of intent.

5. Atlanta Thrashers: Without a doubt the worst GM in hockey: Don Waddell. The moves he made at the end of last year sacrificed the teams' future and depth for mediocre assets that were never going to make them Cup contenders. What the hell has Keith Tkachuk ever done to be considered a leader or impact player? I'll give you a second...nothing. File him under 'Roenick' for loser.

Their complete playoff capitualtion at the hands of the Rangers showed just how far they have to go. Somehow you get the feeling this franchise will find a way to ruin Kari Lehtonen, lose Marian Hossa to free agency, and yet Waddell will still keep his job. Even with two elite scorers like Kovalchuk and Hossa, they should still battle Phoenix in the Steve Stamkos Derby.

Playoff Predictions:

1- Pittsburgh *
2- Buffalo *
3- Florida *
4- NY Rangers
5- Ottawa
6- Toronto
7- Tampa Bay
8- New Jersey
* Division Champs

Western Conference up next!