The EC (that’s Eastern Conference you fool…)
Can anyone beat the puck control, the speed and the combined physicality of the west? Or rather, barring extreme injury and unexpected circumstance, can anyone beat the Wings? Perhaps… the Pens have experience from last years finals but lost some of the depth that would give them the edge, having a key depth player defect, however, the Caps and the Rangers both present teams that not only can best the Pens but idealistically make a run at the Wings and the Caps have the league’s iconoclast: ale ove. No offense Sid the Kid, but despite the leagues wanton love for you, Ale is the best player to step on the ice in decades and already in three seasons trumped you despite your trip to the finals and there’s almost no doubt even coming from a funky sports market like DC Ove is going to overshadow not only with his hands and skates but his ability to be humble and personable to the media. And let’s not forget the Habs, they are the only team in all of professional sports to win at least one championship in every decade of their existance and are have the second most championships next to the Yankees who only recently passed them. Not only is this the best team they’ve fielded in the decade plus since their last cup, this is getting to be the last chance to wrap one up for the opening decade of the millenium, the hockey Gods are on their side…
The SE Division
The first team in the SE to learn to play defense wins. There is offensive potency in this division but a serious lack of balance and the constantly shifting sands of the SE have left ambiguity since the Caps relinquished the title after the early years of realignment after expansion. Caps not only retain the division but the weakness in the division creates yet again only a one-team representation in the playoffs.
Washington is the team to beat in the SE. They stormed back last year from the depths of the dead after several years of rebuilding to become a balanced team. The pressure isn’t on Ove anymore on offense as Semin, Backstrom and Laich are coming into their own, Federov, Nylander, Kozlov and Clark to hold the rest together, plus Fleishman showing flashes of upcoming brilliance and Green repeating his numbers for last year. The question is the Caps defense, which for years was the backbone of the team. Well, Clark, Nylander, Federov, Brashier play two ways (and Federov can play pure D from his Detroit training) and it’s a much more experienced D than in years past, backstopped by newly acquired Jose Theodore, who is the ultimate wildcard on the team. If in years past it was on Ove and Ollie, this year it’s on Jose and as he goes, so will the Caps in the long haul, but they have the bullets upfront to destroy with enough two way to make up for true blueline anchors. Caps #1 SE, #2 EC.
The Canes are essentially the most consistent team in this division the last few years, but consistency doesn’t win Cups, ask the Caps who spent something like 20+ years making playoff appearances without a win and in a thinner league with more parity standing out is going to take more than the lack of moves the Canes made. The core of the team should carry them and Ward should backstop well enough in the pipes to hold the team in contention, but without a midseason kicker, chances are they settle for missing the playoffs by mere points despite a category one storm consistently to the end. Canes #2 SE, #9 EC barely missing playoffs.
For all the big name acquisitions on offense for TB they didn’t build a balanced team and they did almost nothing to solidify a D that looks like Swiss Cheese. The end result is going to be a battle for goalie led by ex-Caps stalwart Kolzig and a developing D that will depend on the potential of the offense to keep games balanced. The real question is, is there enough click in the offense to be effective, or will it take them most of the season to find their groove. The Bolts are going to end de-electrified like a coal burning powerplant in the Green era and the cheese will taste more like blue cheese than anything else. TB #3 SE, misses playoffs.
Will be the surprise of the SE and probably pounce on more teams in the division and conference than will be ready for them. Unfortunately, it won’t be enough to climb out of the basement, but like those early Cats they will find enough ways to play together to be painful if they extend their claws and maybe even a few stuffed mice will feel the pain. There’s some reason for concern for a team that’s known for being a sleeping cat, and are injury prone yet again; so they’ll end up chasing their own tail the whole season and never quite mature into the deadly panther FLA #4 SE, misses playoffs.
This mis-matched group is going to look more rag-tag than an Oliver Twist character. Even if there was definition to this team, it would appear to most like one of those magic pictures… the performance will be at a first graders level when the rest of the league are playing as pros. They might not be the worst team, but they certainly aren’t going to show any flashes of brilliance either and are going to find a way to continue to prove to the rest of the league the SE are weak and discombobulated. ATL last and 2nds to last EC.
The NE is the division divided. There’s little parity here in some ways, it’s more the haves and the have nots, and the haves are the Habs and the Hab-nots are everyone else. That’s not to say the Habs are going to be the runaways, they, like the Caps in the SE will have some competition but like the SE, the division is a mess of mismatches.
Centennial revelations of these perennial winners find a Montreal team that’s more balanced than in years past. Offseason moves added more offence and leadership taking the pressure off powerful Saku Koivu, however, last season’s transition to Price in net will the pivot to the team as they look for those final opportunities to continue their once-a-decade Cup dominance. The season will have its ups-and-downs but when push comes to shove the mettle of the team will be the defining difference. Habs #1 NE, #3 EC.
The disfunctionality that defined Ottawa the last decade will continue again and the lack of defensive depth will continue to plague them as they slowly transition from being an offensive machine to a typical player in the new definition of modern post-lockout hockey. The potential, as always is there, but collectively, now that their style is the league average and the rest of the conference is built on a similar platform can they really find a way to stand out. It all leans on how they develop the goal tending for the season, because everything else will springboard from its success or failure. #2 NE, #6 EC
The focus is on defense. The offense will end up holding up the entire team. The balance won’t come through because no one will have the breakout year to redefine the franchise. What will keep them competitive will be discipline and as they attempt to become one of the few defensive minded teams based on coaching philosophy it will provide a foundation for success that builds on their previous development behind the blueline. They might lack the big names but the potential is there, #3 NE #8 EC.
Beantown slid into the playoffs and made some big stories in their performance once they did last season but without quantifiable moves to bolster a team that teetered through much of the season things won’t work out the same this time around. It’s a bearish market out there in reality and in hockey and without the leverage to midseason fill in holes, the Brues will struggle though the season and ultimately underachieve in the mediocrity in their division. Brues #4 NE, #10 EC – miss playoffs barely.
The history of the Leafs not only plays into their success but bithes time to their failure as well. The lack of physical play allowed them to be beat up last year. The lack of offense hurt them in getting them in games, the lack of defense hurt them in staying in games and a lack of direction hurt them in being a team first and foremost. Not much really changed in the offseason and the hurtful feelings that allow them to feel like the bastard child of their division and the forgotten orig-6 team might be the only leg they have to stand on as they face those opponents through the season. Leafs #5 NE, miss playoffs.
Probably the toughest and tightest division in the conference, it includes the power pens, the physical flyers the defensive devils and the ragged rangers, along with the idiotic isles reeling in the back end. Despite having all the pieces of the puzzle, the diversity can also play against this division as they have to face conference opponents that are built along vastly difference scales and then too, overcome the typical repeats of this division when then face the west…
All the hype and all the pressure is on the Pens. They overcame injuries last season to succeed with some last minute trades, but really changed very little in the core this season while providing some great opportunity to develop through the playoffs their youth and team mentality. Physicality will continue to be a question. Defensive responsibility will really define the team for the season especially in net, while the strength of the offence will continue to dominate most teams in the league who can’t figure out it’s depth and ingenuity. Despite their expected success they will barely claim #1 status both in the ATL and the EC.
Underrated. NYR held that title for several years before buying their way into a Cup then after dismantling rebuilt to this point once again. The challenged for NYR is to make a team on the ice, not just a team on paper. They were lucky in 94, they need that luck again in the way the team is built now. Supposedly, they have that depth and development to make their moves but will the off-season changes in the team gel into a successful unit. It could be a fast start with a slow transition and a strong ending knowing they way the Rangers typically play. #2 ATL #4 EC.
Physical brutality can power this team through the season if they can stay healthy. No one in the league is working toward the old school mentality the way Phil is with that Philthy approach to play that’s so reminiscent to the 70s in a power-scoring conference. If the goaltenting holds up and the depth of the D stays true, there won’t be much to stop the attack if they continue to play shoulder first over both blue lines, though, there’s still the outstanding question, with hi-po being the league standard, where do blue collar teams fall. According to the Flyers, it’ll be screwing up the playoff balance yet again if they stay healthy. Phi #3 ALT #5 EC
The team lives and dies by the pipemending of Mr. Brodeur. He’ll probably end up breaking a number of records again this season but the real question is if the lack of physicality of defense will be enough to hold up the team despite the glairing offensive problems they still seem to suffer from. Off-season moves reek of turn-back-the-clock ideas but the Devs always seem to shine with their player choices so the scouting is on their side. Another transition year in learning the western-Canadian coaching style might find a dramatic mid-season shift in ideology that will cost continuity but provide yet another playoff run. Devs #4 ATL,#7 EC.
A team with no ID. A team with no direction. A team with no venue. The real conversation is how to make things right, rather than waste time in what’s wrong. They need to rebuild the front office and rebound from lackluster decisions there. They need to get over the DiPietro deal and begin moving forward to a new team relinquishing the fact that they have the money and time beat on Rick and his bum body. They have old D in front of the net and a slow offense that isn’t physical and almost everything working against them in the conference. Yet, that last-is-first mentality, might keep them out of the complete cellar as they begin the first sense of change that will come during the season, Isles #5, second to last EC