The air is cooling, the wind is blowing… another hockey season is starting.
What is the outlook for your favorite team?
Below is my take on what to watch for from each of the NHL’s Eastern Conference clubs this season:
ATLANTA THRASHERS (2007-08 - 14th Place): Question marks hang over the Thrashers at all three positions - forward, defense and in goal. New coach John Anderson brings a winning tradition with him from the American League, but it might take magic to conjure up a playoff spot for this squad. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Miss Playoffs.
BOSTON BRUINS (2007-08 - 8th Place): The Bruins have one of the most underrated coaches in Claude Julien and made the playoffs last year despite missing top shooter Patrice Bergeron. If defensive lynchpin Zdeno Chara stays healthy, the Bruins should qualify again. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
BUFFALO SABRES (2007-08 - 10th Place): Despite losing several key players to free agency, injuries and trades, the Sabres only missed last year’s playoffs by four points. With depth and versatility up front, a top netminder and a coach who accepts no excuses, I expect them to qualify this year. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
CAROLINA HURRICANES (2007-08 - 9th Place): In recent years, Carolina has had no trouble scoring goals. Preventing them has been the challenge. The defensive side of their blueline looks like a weak point and may require some shoring-up via trades if the Canes are to make the cut. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Miss Playoffs.
FLORIDA PANTHERS (2007-08 - 11th Place): I think this is a much more complete Florida squad than we have seen in any recent years, with strength on defense and in goal. Were Jacques Martin still coaching, I expect the Panthers would win the Southeast. But the Euro-heavy Panthers will be far from the style of team new coach Peter DeBoer was used to having in Kitchener of the Ontario League. I wonder whether there will be chemistry issues. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Potential Playoff Team.
MONTREAL CANADIENS (2007-08 - 1st Place): The Habs have the deepest and most talented group of forwards in the league. The blueline may not be all-star caliber, but it is by no means weak. The only question is in goal. If the Habs can get good, reliable goaltending, they will be a major force to be reckoned with. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS (2007-08 - 4th Place): A few players come, a few go, a few come back. And the Devils are always the Devils. As long as Brodeur stays healthy, I would expect a similar showing to last year. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS (2007-08 - 13th Place): The Isles’ lineup almost looks like two teams – a veteran half, for whom it is now or never and a young half, for whom hope is the future. What these two halves add up to is anybody’s guess, but my guess is nothing. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Miss Playoffs.
NEW YORK RANGERS (2007-08 - 5th Place): An elite coaching staff and a leader in new captain Chris Drury should keep the Rangers on track, despite losing offensive stars Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Brendan Shanahan. On Broadway they call goalie Henrik Lundqvist “the King,” and when he plays, the Blueshirts do not lose very often. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
OTTAWA SENATORS (2007-08 - 7th Place): Over the summer, the Sens made some good moves that should allow them to turn the page on last year’s late-season collapse. However, under the post-lockout CBA, Ottawa’s lost many of the once dominant group of stars it developed. This is simply not the team it once was and barring better-than-expected goaltending, simply making the playoffs may be a reasonable goal. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Potential Playoff Team.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (2007-08 - 6th Place): The Flyers are a solid group at every position. Barring a “sophomore slump” in this young team’s work ethic and competitive edge, the Flyers should make the playoffs again. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (2007-08 - 2nd Place): The Penguins dynamic duo of Crosby and Malkin up front, along with savior Fleury in goal got them to the Stanley Cup final last year. The blueline remains a major liability, but in spite of it, the Penguins should remain a tough team to beat. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Make Playoffs.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (2007-08 - 15th Place): The rebuilt Lightning roster has plenty of good players on it. But it is always a question whether teams with that kind of change can come together. Another question is what to expect from new coach Barry Melrose, who has been away from the bench. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Miss Playoffs.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (2007-08 - 12th Place): The Maple Leafs made off-season moves geared towards the future. But they retain two of the top defensemen in the league in Kaberle and Kubina, good goaltending in Toskala and a hardworking group of two-way forwards. No victory will be easy, but this is the type of roster new coach Ron Wilson has had unexpected success with before. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Potential Playoff Team.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS (2007-08 - 3rd Place): The Caps have a strong group of young forwards and a game-changer in Ovechkin. The defense is not as good, but goaltending is the real question mark. The team relies so heavily on Ovechkin that any significant injury to him would likely doom their playoff chances. 2008-09 Regular Season Prediction: Potential Playoff Team.
Mark Moore is a former pro hockey player with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Mark had to retire due to injury in 2002 and is now Director of Player Development for Ivy Hockey in Toronto. Mark is the older brother of former Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore and current Toronto Maple Leafs player Dominic Moore and author of the acclaimed hockey book Saving the Game.
bropete (Posted 2008-10-09 17:22:29)
IF Washington get's goaltending ( that's a big if ) they may be better than Carolina. With Weiss and Booth hurting in Florida they better be winning a lot of 1 - 0 games for them to be close. I still say Carolina win's the division and has the worst record of any team that make's the playoff's.
whatsthatsmell (Posted 2008-10-09 08:25:28)
This guy is a dreamer. How can he even say Kubina is a top defenceman is beyond me. Kaberle MAYBE... but even that is pushing it.
whatsthatsmell (Posted 2008-10-09 08:23:09)
This guy is a dreamer. I can't believe he even groups Kubina as a top defenceman in the league. Kaberle MAYBE.... but that's pushing it even.
Ralph Malph (Posted 2008-10-08 20:39:52)
Leafs can potentially make the playoffs......If they play in the AHL!
Flyerfan52 (Posted 2008-10-08 18:39:06)
Since you picked 7 teams to make the playoffs and 1 team has to come out of the SE, by your choices, that would leave the Caps or Panthers. That eliminates the Leafs, etc. as potentials.
Flyerfan52 (Posted 2008-10-08 18:34:35)
So in the SE it's the Panthers or Caps? The Leafs are a potential playoff team? Only if Fletcher can blackmail other teams into giving them good, currently inexpensive players for very little.
Martin Dinan (Posted 2008-10-08 18:27:59)
The Leafs, potential playoff team ?!? The writer has more faith in the Leafs than Fletcher and Wilson.