Wednesday, October 04, 2006

2006-2007 NHL Season Preview Part II: Atlantic and Northeast Divisions

Part I is here, here's Part II. Once again, in predicted order of finish.

Atlantic:

Philadelphia Flyers: Annually one of the most overrated teams in what is now the most overrated division in the NHL. The Flyers still aren't built for the "new NHL" and probably aren't built for the 1970's NHL either. They're getting kudos for adding some more offensive pop but did nothing to help out their slow defense and now their already muddled goaltending issues have been made worse by injuries. The fact that the Flyers can win this division speaks to just how weak it is. However the Flyers are going to have to hope that Forsberg can stay healthy. Without Floppa, there isn't much chance for them.

New York Rangers: Just when we had thought that the Rangers had wised up and decided to stay away from aging superstars looking for a fat paycheck to ride into retirement, the Rangers go out and get Brendan Shanahan. The problem for the Rangers though isn't the lack of scoring or leadership, but the post-Olympic hangover of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are only going to go as far as Lundqvist takes them. There aren't any Olympic games to sidetrack Lundqvist this year but until he puts in a full season's worth of work, he's just another flamed out Rangers goaltender.

New Jersey Devils: So the resident genius Lou Lamoriello keeps doing it again and again and again... Last year he jumped behind the bench in the middle of the season and his team rode an 11 game winning streak to the Atlantic Division title and a sweep over the slumping Rangers in the first round. This summer Lou Lam gets handcuffed by an arbitration decision and has wiggled out of salary cap jail. When will this end? I'm thinking this season. Why? Well first of all, if it wasn't for that hot streak at the end, the Devils wouldn't have won the Atlantic Division last year and gotten a first round match up with the Rangers. There weren't many teams who wouldn't have beaten the Rangers in the first round last year. Secondly while the immediate cap problem has been solved, the Devils are still a long way from being out of the woods. Any kind of long-term injury (to a player other than Alexander Mogilny) could have a devastating impact on the team. But can the Devils catch lightning in a bottle again this year and go on a hot streak to finish off the season? I doubt it. This is where they would have finished last year if it wasn't for that season ending hot streak.

New York Islanders: CW wisdom says that the circus surrounding this team will cause it to fall off the map. Sorry, but I don't quite buy that, yet. The Islanders were not a playoff team last year and won't be a playoff team this year. But saying that they'll be worse because of a crazy front office situation? I'm sorry, that just doesn't add up. Ted Nolan didn't come back to the NHL just to pilot a rudderless ship. He has gotten players who want to play for him to come to Long Island. The Islanders will be handcuffed for the foreseeable future by the ridiculous Alexi Yashin and Rick DiPietro contracts. If DiPietro reacts to his long term deal the way that Yashin did (by not bothering to play anymore) then the Islanders will be worse. But rumor has it that Nolan has unique motivational tactics to say the least and the Islanders have an outside chance at surprising people.

Pittsburgh Penguins: "The Penguins have added some offensive firepower to go with all-everything-all-the-time phenom Sydney Crosby and will make the playoffs this year." Geeze, where did we hear that one before? Oh, that's right, last year. Well, we all know how last year turned out for Pittsburgh and I think it will much of the same again this year. The ONLY reason why Pittsburgh could finish higher than 5th in the Atlantic Division is because of the weakness of their division overall. But because the Atlantic is overrated to begin with, we'll be deluged with story after story of the Penguins renaissance. (Barf!) Offensively, Pittsburgh's "new firepower" consists of a defector and a teenager. Jordan Staal is a surprise on the opening night roster, but don't expect him to last long or have much of an impact. Malkin is injured and his debut may have to wait. Not only must Malkin prove himself in the NHL, he must also navigate the legal issues of his defection. But the real reason why the Penguins will continue to stink is that they did nothing to improve the worst defense in the NHL last year. The only new defender is Mark Eaton. Are you kidding me? The Penguins sent some of their players to the AHL last year to get some seasoning in the playoffs. Those players folded like a tent against Hershey and questions about Marc-Andre Fleury have started to bubble to the surface. The Penguins simply do not have what it takes to make the playoffs, period. Anybody telling you otherwise is a fool.

Northeast:

Buffalo Sabres: We all watched this past off season as the Sabres took it on the chin in arbitration. While the Sabres are likely to move a goaltender their return cannot be much because all those arbitration cases have them nearly capped out. Should the Sabres stay healthy, they'll be tough to beat. But if injuries set in, they are in trouble because they have little wiggle room under the cap.

Ottawa Senators: One of the few things my father and I are in full agreement on is that neither Murray brother will ever appear on the Stanley Cup. Ottawa was forced to let go of some defenders because of salary cap issues but they still have enough left over to be a serious contender. However, Head Coach Brian Murray is still behind the bench. Murray has proven throughout his career as a Head Coach that he just does not have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Most teams have obvious holes somewhere on the ice, for Ottawa, it is behind the bench.

Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens will be looking to score more goals this season as their offense last year was below average to say the least. The Habs looks to have everything in order on the blueline and in goal. Even if the offense does not get going, the Habs should be able to sneak into the playoffs simply because the rest of the East is so weak.

Boston Bruins: Here's the popular "sleeper pick" for some people. Everybody is raving about the Bruins going out and getting Zdeno Chara as a UFA. Remember that UFA curse? Well, what makes you think that Chara will be immune? I'm not buying that these guys are that much improved. There are too many new players in Boston for them to gel quickly and become a contender. The Bruins should be better, but only marginally so. This is a team that is a year away from being good.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Yet another team that Father Time and the salary cap have caught up to. The Leafs got rid of some old and unproductive players to acquire some not as old players to become unproductive. Paul Maurice takes over behind the bench and must figure out a way to get everybody on the same page quickly. The Leafs seem to have imported a good part of their team from Boston but aren't likely to get better results than the Bruins did last year. The Leafs are further hampered by the salary cap as they too are capped out and do not have much flexibility to make roster changes on the fly.

Look for my cockeyed view of the Southeast division later today.

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