So, here’s another guest column. Primetime here loves hockey, is Canadian and the like. Doherty and I dislike the sport and don’t plan on covering it. Plus, we had no idea the season started today.
So why does Hockey use a Puck? Shouldn’t they call it Puckey? Or maybe call the puck a hock …..
These were actual questions posed to me by American citizens of North Dakota, albeit they thought i got down to North Dakota from Saskatchewan via a dogsled. So if you do know what is the fastest game on ice or care about hockey, you know that the season starts tonight. I’ve prepared a preview for the Eastern Conference on how the teams stack up and how they finish. Criticism is already brewing no doubt and I expect Ryan and Doug to rip this apart, but what the hell, here goes …
Atlanta Thrashers: This year is a turn around year for the young franchise. The Heatley/Hossa deal last year hurt them because of the chemistry between Kovalchuk and Heatley. However, this year the two goal-scorers will be on the same page and should put up really good offensive numbers. The defense is solid since they are fast, physical and have great awareness on blocking out in front of the net. The one area that still is touch and go is goaltending, Lehtonen got injured last year and finished with a 20-15 record. But instead of going out and getting a good backup goalie, they went out and got Freddie Brathwaite. At first I didn’t believe the man was still in the league but apparently ATL teams are down with getting guys who are old as hell, (Falcons and Morten). To make matters worse they put faith in Johan Hedberg as either the true backup or 3rd string. Basically ATL needs Lehtonen to stay healthy to go anywhere. Their goalie is streaky to say the least and the defense seems to be overworked given their “offensive nature”. I’m not saying that they are a Cup contender but I expect to see the Thrashers coming in the 6th or 7th playoff spot in the East. They should make the playoffs by outscoring opponents, not by out playing them.
Boston Bruins: This year is going to finish much the same for the blue collar Bruins. Their days of Bobby Orr and Don Cherry long behind them, it appears that management has given up on the team. Last year they dealt away arguably their best superstars in Thornton and Samsonov. Who are they left with to put the puck in the net? Do you think Bergeron is a superstar? Hell no. Who is going to stop forwards from getting to the net? Do you think Zdeno Chara is that good of a defenseman? Your telling me that a team would rather have a defenseman that is physical, big and slow instead of having a power forward who can put the puck in the net and fuck bitches up along the boards the same as Chara? But the sad thing is, their offense and their defense isn’t even the worst part of their team, they truly suck at goaltending. It seems that since Andy Moog the team has been experimenting with 1 hit wonder goalies, they seem to try every young kid that has potential. Unfortunately, this strategy has only paid off for a few organizations and the Bruins manage to mess it up. I see the directionless Bruins finishing below .500 again this year and missing a playoff spot by at least 10 points, I figure they will be just ahead of their Original Six partner Canadiens. You can’t replace offensive players with defense and get better unless you get a top of the line goalie.
Buffalo Sabres: Well the Sabres are still getting that buzz from last years post season. I’m not convinced though; not at all. They have a great offense, that is a given with players like Brier, Maxim Afinogenov and Chris Drury, but they still have Lindy Ruff as the coach. Now this man is not John L Smith, but the man has a great team and lacks in his approach. First off, why the hell would you not have Biron as your starting goalie? This man has proved himself to be a consistent performer and brings a sense of faith that the team can run its offense to the aggressive potential it has. Last year when Biron was in the net, although they gave up more goals, they also scored more. Why? Because the offense would put 3 deep and give up odd man rushes. With Ryan Miller in, they tended to play a more balanced 1-2-2 offense and the defense rarely pinches. This is what lead to their demise against Carolina in the East Final because they would get behind and lack the ability to start the engine back up. A lot of people are calling the Sabres to lead the east this year and they have Cup buzz, but Lindy Ruff is still coaching. Will they win their division? No, will they be 4th in the East? Yes. Will they make the Cup finals? No.
Carolina Hurricanes: Last season worked out really well for the Canes, they finally got a shot to play a team in the Cup final not from Hockeytown. That was their only saving grace. Let’s be honest, they would not have won that series had it not been for Roloson getting injured in game 1. They bring back the same core of guys such as Brindamour (face-off cheater) and Stahl (a young star). Stahl is no doubt a big time game changing forward; he carries himself in a manner similar to Eric Lindros when he originally came into the league. But that is where it stops, Stahl is more of a team player than Lindros ever was and it is obvious the man has heart like Steve Y for his Canes. Between the pipes is probably the best goalie under the age of 30 in the NHL. Yes I think Cam Ward is a better goalie then Kiprosoff, Vokoun, Luongo and the likes. He is un-phased when between the pipes. That all started for him playing for the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. The coach, Sutter is a hardass; that man demands perfection. Cam Ward excelled in that environment and is used to having to come up with the big saves at the right time; the man also played lights out for the Canadian Juniors against the powerful Russians lead by Malkin and Ovechkin. With the team pretty much intact, the Canes will change their history from flopping after going to the Cup for a few years like when they lost to Detroit and will challenge for the number 1 seed in the East. If Cole and Williams can continue to contribute to the offense, the Canes are a formidable team in the East.
Florida Panthers: I guess signing Luongo wasn’t a key for the team. I mean he was overrated but are you telling me that Bertuzzi and 3 chumps are worth Luongo? Atleast the Panthers signed Oli Jokinen who is their Captain but letting Luongo go was the most retarded move they could have made. To make matters worse, Martin Gelinas said that they have 4 solid lines. Come on, if you know you suck why make statements like that? The Panthers don’t deserve to have a full length preview because I’ve given them more recognition in words than they will have in points this year; by almost twice as much. I’m calling them as the cellar dwellers.
Montreal Canadiens: Where do I start with the Canadiens? They have the most illustrious history in the NHL with 2 dozen cups and most of the hockey hall of fame filled with their players. Well, that was then and this is now. What a lot of people don’t know is in the glory days of the Canadiens, they would actually come to small town Saskatchewan to rob the Pat Canadians of their talent, as well as several other communities. Unfortunately, other teams got smart and went grass-roots and gobbled up the talent pool leaving the Canadiens to be a lousy team that is French. Yep, muthafuckas are French and that is all they got going for them. They made a great move last year by getting rid of Jose Thoedore, but unfortunately they didn’t get anything for him. The man sent to keep pucks out of the net is Huet, a goalie that was hot last year; almost like Theodore the year before his big contract. The offense is lead by Koivu, who has a knack for being injured, Michael Ryder (a young gun), Kovalev (and aging goal scorer) and recently acquired Samsonov. Well it looks like there may be more French people in Saskatchewan than the Canadiens will score goals this year. The only shot that Montreal has in even challenging for a playoff spot is if Huet gets 15 shutouts this year and gets 35 wins. However, the losses of Zednik and Sundstrom as well as the aging of their defense will stop the season short and Ryder or Kovalev will be playing under a different jersey come trade deadline. I’m giving them more credit than they deserve but I think they might finish 11 in the East if Huet stays hot. If he comes up in a funk like Theodore, expect a 12th in the East.
New Jersey Devils: What can I say about their goaltender? The league put in rules to limit the man’s strengths and apparently his ex-wife has come to peace with the fact he was banging the fuck outta her sister before leaving her for the sister. Off ice antics aside, Brodeur will excel in the new age trap defense of Claude Julien. Their only real loss is Viktor Kozlov who is far from a superstar as it is. However, the key with the Devils is not having any offensive powerhouses but rather relying on defense to win championships. Hell, it worked in the past, why not go back to NJ’s 2000 roots. Offensive players like Gomez and Gionta are proven scorers and the 1 goal/game average between the two of them will play a vital role in the Devils taking 5th in East with a chance at 3rd in the East because I’m not sure that the Rangers can repeat their regular season play of last year. Also, with Brodeur back to his old self, he will play a lot better against the Rangers and the Devils will dominate the Rangers in the season series.
New York Islanders: How can I be asked to seriously evaluate the Islanders? They signed a half-ass goalie to a 15 year contract. They have no clue about hockey or the business associated with it. In the net, DiPietro best put up career bests or else the Asian owner will be laughed at along with Garth Snow. DiPietro isn’t a bad goalie, just not worth even a 3 year deal at this point. The Islanders used a first round pick on him when they could have had Danny Heatley, that decision is working out great for the Islanders. The recently acquired Brandon Witt and Tom Poti will be expected to play a dual role, scoring goals and keeping the puck outta the net. Chris Simon is a good pickup to defend the owner’s honor by beating fools up, but lets face it; a goal scorer he is not. That leaves Alexi Yashin with no more offensive talent around him with the exception of Vicktor Kozlov. This is the only team that can challenge for the cellar with the Panthers and shit should come down to the wire. They are weak at offense, average at defense and the goalie gets paid even if he sucks. Islander’s fans, blame the new owner for the direction of the team because you were great in the 80’s, crappy in the 90’s and the new laughing stock of the NHL in the 2000’s.
New York Rangers: At least NY will have one team with a winning record, the problem is the Rangers are not going to represent NY like the Yankees or Mets will this year. Think of this team more of the Giants in football, good with a lot of talent but lacking that vital chemistry to lead the league in anything. They made a big mistake in paying Brendan Shanahan $4M/year because the man has not only lost a step, accuracy but walks around with a new found ego for changing the NHL. But here’s the thing, if you were getting old and could change the NHL to help you would you make it more difficult for you to excel? They have a solid offense with Jagr leading the offensive threat, but no doubt they will need their defense and goaltending to step up. Lundqvist is still young and unproven to be a great puck stopper. Maybe it was because the team left him out to dry a lot last year on odd man rushes or maybe because he just can’t handle NY nostalgia. But the man did lead Sweden to a Gold and has potential to be a top 10 goalie in the league. The Rangers will finish in the top 5 in the East, there are a lot of factors that will determine whether they win their division or lose it to the Devils but NY can rest assured that there will be playoff hockey in NY, although most of the city won’t give a fuck.
Ottawa Senators: So I guess Chara wasn’t that big of a deal to Ottawa and rightly so. The man had a physical presence but he was not a superstar on a team full of them. We all know about the offense with Spezza, Alfredsson and Heatley who will all be 100 point players this season but the defense also provides offensive threat with the likes of Redden and recently acquired Corvo. They also got a lot better at goalie with the acquisition of Martin Gerber, who although playing bad in the playoffs, will help the team out giving them the best goalie that they have had going into the playoffs in a few years. The only real issue with the Sen’s is their lack of defense, we all know the offense can score but the defense is not good at keeping the puck out of their end or their net. Expect nothing to change and the Sen’s will win a lot of shootouts but not have barn burners. Coach Murray was never one to have 1-0 wins anyways, so at least there is no conflict there. The Sen’s are my cup pick out of the East. They have never excelled while being dubbed the team by experts and I think their somewhat under the radar status will play huge dividends this year.
Philadelphia Flyers: What do I have to say about Bobby Clarke and the Flyers? Well at least they play in a city that is used to professional championship drought. But in all seriousness, this is a team of underperformers. With the likes of Gagne, Forsberg and Calder the team has offensive potential; but they always have offensive potential. The problem is, it never pans out like it should on paper. Sure Forsberg is injured, but players like Gagne need to step up more so than they have been of late. Alas, the ability of Gagne to step up has presented itself. With Captain Keith finally retiring, it opens the door for Gagne to step up, take the team by the reins and drive them deep into the playoffs. They have play makers who know and have proven they can put the puck in the net and their big defense can play physical with the likes of any team. I really think that the exit of Desjardins opens the door for the defense to get stronger and that they did. They acquired Baumgartner who will help them out by having a solid young defenseman who is not afraid to lay down and block a shot or stand up and force people away from the net. Their goaltending however, leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not saying that Esche is bad, because I think he is one of the better goalies in the East, but he needs some work around the edges. Last season the Flyers didn’t know if they’d get the Olympian or the chump. He could go from making an amazing save to letting in a garbage goal. The depth of their playoff run will rest on his back and he needs to step up his performance if the Flyers intend to end the championship drought in Philly. I expect a middle of the playoff teams out of the Flyers, really anywhere from 4-7 depending on goaltending and Forsberg staying healthy.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Well, I think the Penguins should close up shop and start running covert espionage, cause they are better at smuggling players out of the Russian Federation hockey program than they are at either turning a profit on the team or winning. Well, this year is the time the Penguins turn it around. Although I can’t stand the boy, Sidney Crosby is a top 5 player in the league. He is a pansy like Gretzky but has tremendous puck skills. When you combine him on a line with Malkin you get an amazing combo of speed, puck control, goal scoring ability and really the most exiting line in hockey. These two young stars will get over 100 points and Selanne’s rookie record for points may be blown away this year by Malkin. Yes, I am making that bold prediction that Malkin will get 130 points. Here’s why he will get a lot of points. 1st off, the Penguins suck, and the organization is sinking faster than the Titanic. Who knows if they will be here next year, but the only way is to get fans to come watch. So the organization will put Malkin and Crosby out there as much as possible. These kids could play as much as 27 minutes/game each. 2nd of all, with no name goalies, they have to put up a lot of points and the team is geared towards offense, hell they have given up the most amount of goals in the past 2 or 3 years and nothing will change. 3rd of all, Malkin is almost as good as Ovechkin but has another great playmaker to help him score. Ovie had no one and put up over 100 last year. Don’t expect a playoff run, but they should finish right around 12th in the league, finishing just higher than Washington.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa Bay’s ownership is retarded. They paid a good player, phenom money. Brad Richards is a good-great 1st line player, but the money he got was Jagr’esk and the man is not Jagr. Sure he will be part of a great line in TB with LeCavalier and St. Louis but they will not compare to Ottawa’s number 1 line. The money they blew on Richards should have been spent on a goalie, because that is the sole position that kills the Lightning. Sean Burke is a has been at this point, really a never was. The man was never dominant between the pipes but was a solid performer; Marc Denis is in the same boat in not being a proven winner. So TB must be hoping that they can score more goals than they give up in a score and hope they can hold on style. They have good defense in Boyle, but his offensive mindedness leads to 4 Lightning deep and 3 on 1’s coming back to score on the weak goaltending. They will either make the playoffs in 8th or miss it in 9th, they needed to get better but forget to, perhaps the owner was too worried about the Shock or Pistons and forgot that hockey was off strike.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do I start with the one franchise that I was born to hate? The franchise believes that they are the center of hockey in Canada, but yet put up mediocre performances and think nothing will change. They are a Liberal party rep expecting to be re-elected even after the Sponsorship Scandal. The team has a big budget, some big names but lack of unity. Toronto thinks that because they are in Canada’s biggest city they have to be like New York, spend tons of money and if it doesn’t work this year, spend some more on someone else next year.Their offense is aging but I still see Mats Sundin as a 20-30 goal scorer and Peca will help the team out not only offensively but also defensively. Expect an increase in goals from last year, and a much better PK group too. That leaves us with the goaltending. The only thing worth saying about the goaltending is: Well at least they got smart and got a new goalie. Although Raycroft is unproven, he has to be better than Belfour. Belfour was just biding his time until he got dropped from Toronto, and he had a knack for sucking balls when it came time for the Battle of Ontario. They also got smart in getting rid of overrated players like Lindros, Allison and Domi. But the single best move that allows them a shot at the playoffs was getting rid of Coach Pat Quinn. Maybe I’m bitter because he didn’t get gold for the best Canadian hockey team to go to the Olympics or maybe it is because he is dumb as a coach. When you are having trouble getting scoring out of your players, why not try to put people on the same line who have played together in the past? Oh that’s right, because then you wouldn’t be able to blame losses on lack of offensive production when really even midget coaches can out coach you. Although I hate the organization and everything surrounding them, they might squeak into the playoffs or just miss it. This is a huge improvement from last year’s disappointment.
Washington Capitals: What do you do when you have the best offensive player in the league? You attempt to get him more talent. Well they passed the grade on that one by acquiring Zednik. I like the fit of Zednik and Ovechkin since they are both fast as hell and tough on the puck. Plus Zednik is leaps and bounds ahead of Ovi’s supporting cast last year. Expect Ovi to get to the 110 point mark next year with a potential for putting up 120-130 points if some lesser known players step up. The defense however, is the same crappy defense as last year and will most likely give up the 2nd most goals again. It’s not that they aren’t decent on paper, it’s the fact that most of them have never been on paper. These are no-name defenseman at best, (with the exception of recently acquired Pothier and Heward) and that leaves a lot of speculation about any defense ability. I’m thinking that they will stay clear of the cellar and grab 13th, which sadly is a huge improvement for this organization.