FanPost

NHL Preview East (Blind Pigs and Acorns, Part One)


Well, that's the end of the pre-season, so it's time to get down to brass... er, tacks.  That's right: I'm willing to prove that there's no humiliation like Sports Prognostication Humiliation!

Without further ado, here's what's what in the Eastern Conference:

 


ATLANTA

Biggest hello: Pavel Kubina.  While all the forwards here seem to get time on the power play, they need a point man and Kubina’s it.
Biggest goodbye: Garnet Exelby.  He had 120 minutes in penalties, but with a willing 240-pound Boris Valabik coming up, he won’t be missed that much.
Watch for: Bogosian.  Nine goals and nineteen points in little more than half a season?  With Atlanta pushing the offence, expect those numbers to double.
Watch out: With five forwards who have played centre, there could be a Merry-Go-Round happening if someone doesn’t click with Kovalchuk right away.
Note: This off-season was all about keeping Kovalchuk happy - and with good reason.  While I’m not a fan of a team naming their highest scoring forward captain, it seems to have worked in Atlanta.


BOSTON

Biggest hello: Tuukka Rask.  Finally, a chance for steady NHL work!
Biggest goodbye: Phil Kessel.  Detractors appeared when he held out (individualistic play, seven points in twenty games, selfish on and off ice), but a startlingly fast 36 goal scorer is tough to come by.
Watch for: Bergeron finally being over his concussion problems.  He made a slow return last year, but was picking up speed as the season progressed.
Watch out: Um…  The right side is a bit shallow if Ryder doesn’t repeat last year’s 27 goals?
Note: If Blake Wheeler adds some bite to his 6-5 frame, the Bruins could have a Rick Nash on their hands.


BUFFALO

Biggest hello: Tyler Myers.  Yes, the 6-7 Myers towers over his much, much smaller teammates.  But he’s also skilled, as being the WHL MVP last season can attest.
Biggest goodbye: Teppo Numminen.  How can this guy not be playing any more?  Okay, it’s because 20 seasons is a long, long time and Buffalo needs the locker.
Watch for: Tim Connolly is a point-a-game player, so if he manages to play 70 or more games, the Sabres chances of making the playoffs improve massively.
Watch out: Miller missed 13 games, and Buffalo missed the playoffs.  Simple math for a team on the edge.
Note: Lindy Ruff has to be up for some kind of Lifetime Achievement Award.  More than 100 coaches have been fired during his tenure, but his players have never tuned him out.


CAROLINA

Biggest hello: Tom Kostopoulos.  A veteran taking over the defensive forward role handled by the departed Patrick Eaves.
Biggest goodbye: Babchuk-Seidenberg.  Having 65 points leave the blue line and not replacing them is going to put a lot of pressure on Corvo and Pitkanen.
Watch for: This team loves playing for Paul Maurice, and after a couple years without him they celebrated his homecoming with a massive late-season push to the playoffs and into the third round.  They should get there far more easily this time.
Watch out: Special teams were not good last season, and if that doesn’t change it will bite them come playoff time.
Note: This was an aggressive blue line that loved to leap into the rush, trusting in Cam Ward to bail them out; the addition of Andrew Alberts and Aaron Ward changes their defensive complexion entirely.


FLORIDA

Biggest hello: Scott Clemmensen.   Vokoun is still number one, but this means Craig Anderson won’t be missed nearly as much as he may have been.
Biggest goodbye: Bouwmeester.  Some criticized the decision to keep him for the playoff push (which they missed in a tiebreaker), but they have the depth to compensate for his loss.
Watch for: A far deeper blue line than they’re often given credit for, if Seidenberg can maintain lat year’s pace, the forwards are going to be giving out a lot more assists.
Watch out: About those forwards…  The youth will have to mature quick and show continued improvement or the playoffs will be one more year away.
Note: Hate the shootout yet?  Eight losses in eleven tries ended their season in April.  Of course, a full season from Cory Stillman might have stopped half of those shootouts from happening.


LONG ISLAND (New York)

Biggest hello: Oh, some kid.  You know, what’s-his-name.  Yeah, that guy.
Biggest goodbye: Dean McAmmond.  Any forward who could be +5 in just 18 games with this team is going to be missed.
Watch for: With Roloson and Biron in the fold, it looks like DiPietro has the year off.  The rest of the team can rest easy knowing their ‘tender isn’t going to shatter at any moment.
Watch out: If Tavares gets off to a slow start, the happy glow the team has right now could turn ugly, especially with owner Charles Wang looking to dump the team.
Note: Rookie Kyle Okposo was the Islander’s highest scoring forward last season with 39 points.  Realistically, it doesn’t matter what Tavares does in his first year, he’s going to help.


MANHATTAN (New York)

Biggest hello: Marian Gaborik. He may not be on the ice for long, but when he is he’s good for a point a game.  As talented as he is fragile.
Biggest goodbye: Markus Naslund.  The team’s leading scorer walks away.
Watch for: Brandon Dubinsky should take the #1 centre role from Chris Drury this year, and the sooner the better.
Watch out: Sean Avery and coach John Tortorella renew acquaintances after the latter kicked the former off the team two years ago.  Could be fun to watch, if you hate the Rangers.
Note: The Rangers are slowly turning into a young, fast team; they’ve tried being one before, but they were overly optimistic about player development then.  If they can talk Zherdev back next season, Gaborik will be one of the "greybeards" of the team.


MONTREAL

Biggest hello: The entire first line - though Gionta is still being rewarded for a single amazing season.
Biggest goodbye: Anyone got a dart board?  Kovalev is a fine scorer and fan favorite, and was the only departing player to play anything close to a full season.
Watch for: Lots and lots of power plays early s opposing teams try to intimidate the Canadiens’ top line.
Watch out: The smallest first line in the league; you can hit ‘em, if you can catch ‘em.
Note: The huge, whole-scale changes this season may also happen in goal.  If Carey Price doesn’t seize the reins, NOW, he will be overtaken by Jaroslav Halak.


NEW JERSEY

Biggest hello: Yann Denis, by default.  Perfectly good goalie, finally got into 30 games with the Islanders, then apparently decides opening the gate for Brodeur is more rewarding.
Biggest goodbye: Brian Gionta.  He got 60 points last year in only 17 minutes a game.
Watch for: Rolston to get back to 30 goals under his old coach.
Watch out: He may be the only one.
Note: David Clarkson is going to be asked to leave the gloves on a bit more this season, since Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond will be taking over that job.  A higher points total should ensue.


OTTAWA

Biggest hello: Coach Cory Clouston and a stable dressing room.
Biggest goodbye: Forty goals and chaos.
Watch for: A change in scenery bringing out the best in Jonathan Cheechoo.  Never quits working, and can contribute on any line, but is here to get his scoring back.
Watch out: Chris Campoli is the only scoring defenseman Ottawa has, despite Kuba’s best efforts.  Unless Erik Karlsson is a revelation, there’s no other scoring help from the blue line this year.
Note: This is going to be a season of teaching the forwards how to come back.  Both Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon could spend substantial time with the big club.


PHILIDELPHIA

Biggest hello: Chris Pronger.  Despite his reputation, has matured his game and took fewer stupid penalties last season than usual.
Biggest goodbye: They may find themselves missing Martin Biron, but payroll had to be cut somewhere.
Watch for: Five 30+ goal scorers on the team and about 500 minutes in penalties just from the left wingers.
Watch out: Emery is all reaction and emotion.  When he’s on, he’s on; when he’s not, he explodes.  Emery could easily lose his starting position to Boucher.
Note: Pronger’s arrival will help Kimmo Timonen as much as anyone - the scoring defenseman was the Flyer’s only offensive threat, and wore a target all season and playoffs.


PITTSBURGH

Biggest hello: Coach Dan Bylsma.
Biggest goodbye: Petr Sykora.  With him and Satan gone, the scoring depth takes a hit.
Watch for: Chris Kunitz will get first crack at being Crosby’s left winger.  If he gets it, he’s golden.
Watch out: Just how old is Bill Guerin, and do you really want him being your first line right winger?  With centres like these, who needs wings anyway, right?
Note: This could be a team with three centres as their leading scorers (if Gonchar misses any time).


TAMPA BAY

Biggest hello: Mattias Ohlund.  A calming influence and stable player on and off the ice, he’s here to tutor Victor Hedman.
Biggest goodbye: About 15 defensemen (of the 21 that played with the Lightning last season).
Watch for: Keep the Beast With Two Brains out of the newspapers, and the team could settle down enough to pick up some wins this year.  They’ve improved their defense immensely this year.
Watch out: If owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie get to scrapping again, coach Rick Tocchet will have all he can handle keeping it out of the dressing room.
Note: Lesson One for Owners: You hired a GM for a reason, let him do his job. (see also: Charles Wang, New York Islanders)


TORONTO

Biggest hello: Collectively about 420 pounds.
Biggest goodbye: Any pretense of politeness.
Watch for: Phil Kessel has a lot to prove in being traded for two first and one second round pick; he will under coach Wilson, or he’ll be riding pine.
Watch out: If Kessel does blow it, that leaves the Leafs awful thin up front unless Rickard Wallin can translate "45 points in 55 games" from Swedish.
Note: While everyone’s noticed the increase in size, not everyone has noticed an improved skill level, too.  At the very least goals against should decline by a considerable margin over last year, but also expect the smaller forwards to skate with more confidence this year, and maybe with just a hint of attitude.


WASHINGTON

Biggest hello: Mike Knuble.  Slow but steady, another 25 goal season is coming.
Biggest goodbye: Viktor Kozlov.  Provided some scoring depth, but mostly was there to have Russians in the room.
Watch for: Wide open competition for ice time up front on the second scoring line and power play.
Watch out: Outside of Mike Green, there’s no scoring on the blue line for this team if Tom Poti doesn’t get back to healthy.
Note: Despite rumblings, Washington is better in goal than you’d think - Calder Cup MVP Michal Neuvirth is waiting to play.  The Capitals don’t want to call him up just yet, but if they have to, they will.

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