Posted on: October 5, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: October 5, 2011 12:43 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The biggest thing we're watching as the NHL gets ready to drop the puck on the 2011-12 season is when will Penguins captain Sidney Crosby be able return to the lineup?
The only answer to that question, of course, is simply "when he's ready," and not a moment sooner.
But when will that be? That's the question we've been asking since January, and even though it appears to be getting closer, and optimism about his return is higher than it's ever been since he was knocked out of the lineup on Jan. 6, he's not going to be on the ice when the Penguins open up in Vancouver on Thursday night, and he isn't likely to be cleared for contact until Pittsburgh returns from its season-opening trek through western Canada.
Perhaps just as important as when he returns, is whether or not he'll be the same player he was before he left. Prior to the injury Crosby's game had evolved over the previous two seasons to the point where he went from being a great set-up man to the Penguins' go-to goal-scorer, as well as their No. 1 option in the face-off circle. When he left the Penguins' lineup last season he was in the middle of the best year of his career and was on a pace to shatter just about all of his previous career highs.
Not only due to the length of his absence from the game and from contact, but also because of the nature of the injury, there has to be a question of how quickly he'll be able to be that player again.
So that's the big story we're watching this year, and here the other 49 of our 50 things to know, ask and watch for during the 2010-11 season…
2. CBA Talks: This likely won't be settled during the season, but it's still going to loom large and is the giant elephant sitting in the living room ready to make a huge stinking mess all over the couch and floor if you don't feed him on time. The NFL had its lockout come and go, missing only a couple of weeks of training camp and a meaningless preseason game, and the NBA lockout continues to roll on. And soon it will be the NHL's turn. The last time the league was in this situation we lost an entire season, so there's that to keep in mind. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball continues to have labor peace. What a strange world we live in.
3. Brendan Shanahan: The first question we have is whether or not Brendan Shanahan will get tired of making those videos? (We hope the answer is no; because they're great). The second question is whether or not the suspensions will continue at the same torrid pace we saw in the preseason, or if that was simply the "message sending" phase? And if so, will the players get the message?
4. Player safety debates: After a disturbingly dreadful summer that saw the untimely deaths of three young players, all of whom were fighters, the fighting debate reached an entirely new level, even though we don't know how -- or if -- the two were connected. Should all hits to the head be banned? Is no-touch icing long overdue? Crosby's concussion is the one everybody is talking about, but there's also Matthew Lombardi in Toronto and his recovery. Marc Staal, the top defenseman for the New York Rangers, is still having problems following the concussion he suffered late last season, and there's concern as to whether or not Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins will ever play in an NHL game again.
5. Winter Classic: The highlight of the NHL's regular season schedule takes place in Philadelphia between two bitter rivals, the Flyers and Rangers, on Jan. 2. It's the first time a New York team has appeared in the game, and the Flyers host it for the first time after losing to Boston in overtime back in 2010. Last year's game in Pittsburgh featured unseasonable warmth and rain, forcing a delay and some miserable ice conditions. Here's hoping Eastern Pennsylvania gives us better weather.
6. Winnipeg Jets return: The playoffs would be great for no other reason than to see a return of the Winnipeg Whiteout, but even though that seems like a long shot at this point their first taste of the NHL since 1996 should make every game at the MTS Centre have the feel of a Stanley Cup Final game.
7. Bruins repeat attempt: Over the past 20 years we've only seen two teams repeat as Stanley Cup Champions -- the 1991 and 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1996 and 1997 Detroit Red Wings. The Bruins seem to have what it takes to return to the top of the NHL mountain.
8. Realignment decision: The NHL hasnt gone through a divisional realignment in over a decade but it appears to be coming. Detroit wants to go to the East and claims that it's been promised that it will happen, and Winnipeg should be headed to the west. What other changes -- if any -- will we see?
9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The No. 1 overall pick in the June draft is starting the season with the Edmonton Oilers after a strong preseason effort. Is it simply a nine-game look before he gets sent back to his Junior team, or does he make it through the entire season with the big club? Recent history is on his side for making a full-season stay with the Oilers.
10. The NBA lockout: No, this isn't specifically an NHL issue, but if the NBA lockout rolls into the regular season will the NHL gain more exposure because of it, and, perhaps more importantly, will the league be able to take advantage of that opportunity?
11. Life in Philly without Richards and Carter and with Bryzgalov: After a revolving door of mediocre goaltending and an endless list of questions about the position over the years, the Philadelphia Flyers went all in on Ilya Bryzgalov. And now there are some questions about how they'll be able to score after trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
12. Capitals' offensive/defensive balance: Last season the Washington Capitals went from a run-and-gun offensive juggernaut to a defensive-minded team that went from 15th in goals allowed per game the previous season all the way up to fourth. Can they find the happy medium this season and finally get over the playoff hump?
13. Nashville negotiations: It took the arbitration process to get Shea Weber signed to a one-year deal, and he's up for restricted free agency again this offseason. Even worse for the Predators is the upcoming unrestricted free agency of Ryan Suter. And don't forget starting goaltender, and last year's runner-up in the Vezina voting, Pekka Rinne. Two big-time defensemen, a top goalie and three massive contract questions for one of the NHL's most efficient franchises.
14. Doughty's new dough: Drew Doughty is now the third highest paid defensemen in the NHL on a yearly basis, and that means he's going to be expected to play like one of the top defensemen in the NHL. He's shown he's capable of it in the past, but his production regressed a bit last season. When you're making over $7 million a year that can no longer happen.
15. Sales of Dallas, Phoenix and St. Louis: We're still waiting for some sort of resolution to the three ownership sales that have dragged on for quite a while.
16. Year two of Boucher in Tampa Bay: In his debut season Guy Boucher took the Tampa Bay Lightning to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals, and that surely has expectations high for his second year on the job.
17. New-look Sharks: Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi are gone. Martin Havlat and Brent Burns are in. Either San Jose and Minnesota are swapping rosters one trade at a time, or the Sharks feel these are the moves that can finally get them to kick through the door that has been the Western Conference Finals.
18. Perry's encore: OK, let's be honest, nobody had Corey Perry scoring 50 goals and leading the NHL last season, right? He's always been an excellent player -- and a frustrating one to play against, and an easy player to, let's say ... dislike, when he's not on your team-- but prior to last year he only topped the 30-goal mark once in his career. Logic says he returns closer to the 30-goal player he's always been. But logic also said he wouldn't score 50 goals last year.
19. Thomas, the Vezina and the Hart Trophy: Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has won the Vezina Trophy two of the past three years, and would have to be the early season favorite to win it again. He's also set his sights on another major NHL award: The Hart Trophy. That one is going to be tough simply because goalies don't typically win that award. It's only happened seven times in the history of the league, and only three times since the league expanded beyond six teams -- Jose Theodore in 2002, and back-to-back wins for Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998.
20. First-year coaches: Is there a Guy Boucher rookie success story among the NHL's new head coaches, including first-year guys like Minnesota's Mike Yeo, Florida's Kevin Dineen, Winnipeg's Claude Noel and Ottawa's Paul MacLean?
21. Pegula-ville: Buffalo has always been a great hockey town, but these people are absolutely stoked about their new owner, and he went on a summer spending spree that topped just about every other team in the league. But will it pay off?
22. NHL starts in Europe: The Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Kings are all opening their season in Europe. Will one of these teams lift Lord Stanley's Cup at the end of the season? Fun fact: In each of the past three seasons a team that started its season overseas ended up winning the Stanley Cup -- Pittsburgh in 2008, Chicago in 2009 and Boston in 2010.
23. Brodeur's last hurrah? Martin Brodeur has accomplished just about everything a goaltender can accomplish as a hockey player, but will this be his final year in the NHL? Back in April he hinted that it could be.
24. Rangers have a new star: Hello, Brad Richards. You're the latest free agent savior of the New York Rangers! Actually, after so many free agency failures over the years this might be one signing that really does pay off for blue shirts in a big way.
25. Islanders arena situation: What will come of the Islanders quest for a new -- and needed -- home? Is Brooklyn the answer?
26. Sophomore slumps: Do you believe in the Sophomore jinx? Personally, I don't, but I am curious to see what Carolina's Jeff Skinner and San Jose's Logan Couture have to offer in year two.
27. New Panthers ... new results? No team was busier this summer than the Florida Panthers, completely overhauling their roster, in part because they had to spend an obscene amount of money just to reach the NHL's salary cap floor. It's definitely a new team, but is it a better team? I guess that depends on how much faith you have in Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Scott Upshall.
28. How bad are the Senators? On paper, it looks like it's going to be a long season for Ottawa as it celebrates its 20th year in the NHL, but how bad are we talking here? Simply on the outside of the playoff picture, or are we looking at a team that's competing for the worst mark in the NHL?
29. Breakthrough year for Kings: After acquiring Mike Richards the Kings went from being a playoff team in the Western Conference to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with the type of depth down the middle (Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jarett Stoll) a team needs to win it all.
30. Hiller's recovery from vertigo: Jonas Hiller says the vertigo symptoms that robbed him of a good portion of his season -- and the playoffs -- a year ago are gone, and the Ducks need that to be the case if they're going to make a push in the Western Conference. Hiller is one of the best goalies in the league and if he's 100 percent healthy can be a difference maker for Anaheim.
31. Heatley back on a top line: Coming off one of the worst goal-scoring seasons of his career Dany Heatley gets a fresh start in Minnesota, and he's going to be relied on to be a top goal-scoring option for the Wild. Was last year the start of a decline in Heatley's career, or does he return to the 40-goal form we're used to seeing?
32. Will Detroit's defense be good enough? The Red Wings defense has declined a bit in recent years, and this year they're looking to replace Brian Rafalski following his retirement. Nicklas Lidstrom still scores like a champ, but he's not getting any younger back there.
33. Is Matt Cooke a changed man? Penguins agitator Matt Cooke claims he's a changed man following a season that saw him earn two suspensions, including a 17-game ban following a hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. It's one thing to say it, but we have to see it.
34. Varlamov gets another shot: The Avalanche need the Semyon Varlamov gamble to work out, not just because they desperately need an upgrade in net, owning the worst save percentage in the league last season, but also because their first-round pick in 2012 -- perhaps a very, very high selection -- now belongs to the Washington Capitals as a result of the trade that brought him to Colorado.
35. Benn will star for the Stars: The Dallas Stars have done a nice job developing forwards in recent years, and Jamie Benn looks like he's ready to become a 30-goal scorer.
36. Bryzgalov will be missed in Phoenix: The Coyotes will struggle to return to the playoffs for a third consecutive year as they try to replace Ilya Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera. Smith is familiar with coach Dave Tippett, but Bryzgalov was a big part of their success the past two years and he won't be easy to replace.
37. The Blue Jackets will be more entertaining: Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski fill huge needs and Ryan Johansen can be a contender for the Calder Trophy. The playoffs are a real possibility in Columbus, and even if the Jackets fail to qualify, they will at least be a more interesting team to watch this year.
38. Patrick Kane at center: Simply put, how long will this experiment last?
39. Vokoun/Neuvirth/Holtby trio of goaltenders in Washington: An experienced veteran signed for way below his market value and two extremely talented youngsters. Michal Neuvirth still thinks the job is his, and when combined with his talent that level of determination has to be an exciting prospect for the Capitals. Vokoun, though, is no slouch and has been one of the best goaltenders in the league the past few years playing on one of the league's worst teams.
40. Malkin's return to the top of the scoring race: For most players, simply averaging a point-per-game is a success. For a player with Malkin's ability it's considered a disappointment. This season he looks poised to return to the top of the NHL's scoring race and contend for the Art Ross Trophy. Speaking of which...
41. Will somebody other than the Sedin's win the scoring title? The past two years two different players from the same family have won the NHL's scoring title. Is it a three-peat for the Sedin twins?
42. Jaromir Jagr: Does he have anything left? The summer of Jagr was certainly interesting, especially if you were following the #jagrwatch on Twitter, but how much does the 39-year-old forward have left in the tank? Philadelphia might need a lot.
43. How big of an issue is Markov's knee? Andrei Markov is still Montreal's best defenseman and he's still fighting through some problems with the knee injuries that have plagued him over the past two years. After losing Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik the Canadiens need him to be healthy.
44. Will Detroit need an upgrade on Jimmy Howard? The Red Wings say they're happy with their goaltending situation, but twice in the past seven months they've tried to add a veteran goaltender, signing Evgeni Nabokov last season only to lose him on waivers before he could report to the team, and making a run at Tomas Vokoun this summer. That's not a coincidence.
45. Center of attention in Toronto: The Maple Leafs have been searching for a true No. 1 center for quite some time, and after missing out on Brad Richards over the summer went with Tim Connolly on a two-year deal. The good news is he's not a bad player, but the bad news is he's constantly injured. Matthew Lombardi is in the mix if he can overcome his concussion problem, but after that it's a relatively thin group. Heck, even with them it's a thin group.
46. Edmonton's defense: The Oilers have loads of potential at the forward positions but their defense is a mess after Ryan Whitney. Who will step up on their blue line?
47. How many games for DiPietro? Like the Oilers the Islanders hope rests with their collection of forwards while serious questions about their defense and goaltending will haunt them all year. For the Islanders the yearly question (as it will be through 2020) is how many games will the oft-injured Rick DiPietro be in the lineup?
48. Bouwmeester: big money, little offense in Calgary: When the Flames gave Jay Bouwmeester over $6 million per year three years ago they were probably expecting way more offense than this. He's averaged just around 27 points per season since signing with Calgary after averaging over 40 during his finals three seasons with Florida, primarily because his goal-scoring ability has suddenly disappeared. Sixty-eight defenseman recorded more points than his 24 last season.
49. Parise's return: Not only his return to the lineup for the full-season, but also his return to being one of the top left wings in the NHL, will go a long way toward helping the Devils in their effort return to the playoffs after a disappointing season a year ago. In a contract year, Parise needs a big season on a personal level to strike it rich next summer.
50. How many 50-goal scorers will we see? During the 2010-11 season we saw one 50-goal scorer (Perry), down from the three we had the previous season. The preseason favorites have to be Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, and Crosby might be able to get into that mix if he returns to action early enough.
Photos: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Adam Gretz, Andrei Markov, Boston Bruins, Brendan Shanahan, Brent Burns, Corey Perry, Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Drew Doughty, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Ilya Bryzgalov, James Wisniewski, Jamie Benn, Jaromir Jagr, Jay Bouwmeester, Jeff Carter, Jeff Skinner, Jimmy Howard, Jonas Hiller, Marc Savard, Martin Brodeur, Martin Havlat, Michal Neuvirth, Mike Richards, NHL Discipline, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Kane, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Suter, Semyon Varlamov, Shanaban, Shea Weber, Sidney Crosby, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun, Zach Parise
Posted on: September 29, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 4:27 pm
For the first time since the 1993-94 season began, the reigning champion resides in the Northeast Division after the Bruins ended their Cup drought with a thrilling run through the postseason. The even better news for Boston (but not so awesome for the rest of the division) is that the Bruins are back almost completely intact.
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 98. Only two other teams have made it back to the Finals a year after winning in that time, the Stars in 1999 then 2000 and once again the Red Wings (2008, 09). There's a reason for it, the fabled championship hangover.
But in hockey, I think it plays a bigger part than any other sport. The offseason is as short as it gets, the playoffs as long and grueling as any of the major sports. The Bruins lifted the Cup in the middle of June and reported back to camp in early September. All the while they were enjoying a whirlwind of a summer that included plenty of partying and celebrating a title. The Blackhawks admittedly struggled with it last season (although the roster being ripped apart didn't help matters). If only getting rid of it were as easy as taking a couple Tylenol and drinking Vitamin Water.
If they do look sluggish and lethargic to start the season then the Buffalo Sabres will be ready to pounce on the opportunity. They are hockey hungry in Buffalo these days with hope their Sabres can become power players in the East. As for the other three in the division, the East's Canadian coalition? Well they will all be hoping to resurrect their glory days.
Now we'll just have to wait and see how the Bruins respondin their quest for another Cup.
Northeast Division (predicted order of finish)
Boston Bruins: Why mess with a good thing? That's an easy philosphy to live by when you are coming off of claiming the Stanley Cup. Really, the only new additions they have to work into the fold are Benoit Pouliot as a bottom-six forward and Joe Corvo on the blue line. With the solid support all around them of a close-knit group, they should be able to seamlessly slide in and fill the voids left by Tomas Kaberle, Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder, the only pieces to the championship puzzle missing.
One thing I'm not sure many people realize, but this team is very young in addition to being super talented. There are still five players just among the forwards who will be restricted free agents when their contracts run out. The defense is a bit more grizzled, however, and that's where a good chunk of the leadership comes from, of course including captain Zdeno Chara.
There might be a slight sense of urgency for the B's to repeat as champs as they will have a lot of work to do to keep the team together as 10 of their regulars don't have contracts beyond next season. But GM Peter Chiarelli seems to be preparing for that well, saving the B's cap space to maneuver.
Strengths: What's not to like? They are very balanced as 10 players had more than 40 points a season ago, although two of them have departed (Kaberle and Ryder). Defensively they have plenty of veteran presence and have been a very good unit under Claude Julien. Plus, you know, they have that fella named Chara.
Oh, and how can we make it this far without discussing the team's best player, Tim Thomas? He was simply superb last season and through the playoffs, posting the highest single-season save percentage in league history. It's not as if his backup is chopped liver, either, as Tuukka Rask will be expected to shoulder more of the load for the 38-year-old Thomas this year.
Weaknesses: Despite all of their success when five-on-five, Boston's special teams weren't up to snuff. Without much change in personnel, they are going to have to find a way from within to improve the 20th-ranked power play and 18th-best penalty kill units. The power play was a growing concern in the playoffs, which included an 0-for-21 streak in the opening round win over the Canadiens. They tried all sorts of remedies to fix it, including parking Chara in front of the net, but they found their groove late in the playoffs when Chara and his booming shot returned to the point. Their hope is that success will roll over.
After that, we're just getting picky here. There just aren't too many holes from a team that ranked in the top five both offensively and defensively last season and was the NHL's top plus/minus team. They will have the talk of a championship hangover looming over them for much of the season and they will have the proverbial target on their backs as the champs. Those are hurdles that will be new.
Buffalo Sabres: I'm not sure what fans in Buffalo are more excited about right now: the Bills' 3-0 start or the first full season under Terry Pegula? The Sabres' biggest (and richest) fan ushers in a new era that the fans are still trying to get used to, in a good way: Buffalo is a big spender now. Pegula will make sure of that as he is willing to put his money where his mouth is. And his mouth has expressed some awfully high expectations ... multiple championships.
On that note, the Sabres were active in the offseason, most notably signing Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to augment the core group that Buffalo has built. But possibly the biggest acquisition they made was the less-heralded of them all, and that was bringing in Robyn Regehr. The stout defenseman should prove to be a great addition as he brings a lot of toughness and all-around defense. Not to mention he will serve as a good influence for assumed partner Tyler Myers, who is in line for a nice bounceback season with more talent with him on defense.
It almost feels like an acquisition, but the return of Derek Roy will be a big boost, too. The front-line center missed the second half of last season due to a quad injury.
Welcome to Pegulaville. Buffalo still can hardly believe it.
Strengths: There is obviously a strong leader, for one. That's a very nice asset to have an owner so willing to win. But beyond him, there's a reason why Buffalo has moved into the conversation to crack the home-ice equation in the East, the new faces likely will make a very good group even better. In particular, the addition of Ehrhoff to the league's ninth-ranked power-play unit will make the special-teams unit a real asset for the Sabres.
Like their division rivals in Boston, as talented as they are all over the ice, their best player probably sits in the blue paint all game long. Ryan Miller didn't have the greatest of seasons last year for Buffalo, but that tends to happen when you come off a Vezina-winning season ... there's only one direction to go. He's still one of the absolute best in the game.
Oh, and the slug logo is gone, wiped away for good. That's positive for everybody.
Weaknesses: The cap situation is a bit troubling. With Pegula's desire to spend, the Sabres actually exceeded the salary cap over the summer, so they will have to be extra diligent with how they manage the roster. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave them much room to try and make any improvements midseason if need be.
Overall, it's not a roster with many holes in it whatsoever. It will just come down to how talented the team proves to be as there are multiple players capable of 50-plus point seasons.
Montreal Canadiens: Last season, without Max Pacioretty or Andrei Markov, the Canadiens captured the six seed in the East and took the eventual champions to the brink. I'm sure this team, almost al of it remains in town, is still stewing over blowing a 2-game lead to its bitter rival in Boston.
I definitely like the signing of Erik Cole in July, he is a solid (and physical) forward who could prove to be one of the bigger acquisitions of the summer for any team. He adds to a good, but not great group of forwards. They are capable, but need to be better than 23rd-best in the league like a season ago.
Where the success of this team will likely hinge is on the blue line. They have a couple of excellent young talents in P.K. Subban and Markov and some solid players behind them like Josh Gorges and Hal Gill.
A few steps toward a return to form for Scott Gomez (just seven goals last season) wouldn't hurt eiher.
Strenghts: Special teams. Under Jacques Martin, the Habs have been good in both departments of special teams, ranking seventh in both phases a season ago. If Markov remains healthy, the power play remains lethal as Subban and him both are excellent with the man up.
It's pretty Wild the goaltending this division features. Like both teams above them here, the Habs have an oustanding man living in the crease. It took fans a while in Montreal, but they finally warmed up to Carey Price, who finally lived up to his expectations last season. Playing a 72-game work load, Price posted a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage. The trick will be doing it again, but the safe bet is that he turned a corner and an encore shouldn't be a problem.
Weaknesses: Let's be honest, having to rely on Gomez to anchor a top-six line after a 37-point season doesn't have overwhelming talent. It showed in their scoring totals from last season when they averaged 2.60 goals per game. Cole will help as he not only brings a power game (among the league leaders in hits for forwards) but he can score. They would love to see him at least match his 26 goals from a season ago, that would have been good for second on the team.
A major concern all season will rest on the blue line and the depth there. Adding Chris Campoli after camp began was a nice addition to help with the concern, but they still can't really afford for injuries to set in, particularly for Markov. They just invested in him with a rich contract this offseason, so they are counting on him returning at full strength from the ACL tear and remaining that way.
Toronto Maple Leafs: How much longer will the fans in Toronto put up with a team that can't make the playoffs? The postseason drought stretches back to the lockout as the Leafs have been on the outside each season since. The only other team in the same boat is Florida, and let's just say the fans in Toronto take their hockey a touch more seriously than those in the Sunshine State. There's hope that this could be the season where they break through and return to playoff hockey, but that's a tall order for this group still.
Over the summer, GM Brian Burke really coveted center Brad Richards, but his staff was unable to convince the top free agent to head to Toronto. So as a backup plan he signed Tim Connolly from Buffalo to anchor the team's top line. If healthy, a very big if, Connolly can prove to be a good addition, the Leafs had to get deeper at center. Also, I really liked the quiet addition of John-Michael Liles to the defense.
But not much else will matter if the goaltending situation isn't solved. That has been the achilles heel for years in Toronto, but they think -- or hope -- the answer lies in James Reimer in his first full season in the NHL.
Strengths: As you'd expect for a team built by Burke, they have become a physical bunch in Toronto. The team captain, Dion Phaneuf, is one of the toughest hitters in the league. But there is obviously a danger of that being a weakness if the team is getting sent to the sin bin (or being Shanabanned with the new emphasis on safety) too often.
The second line is probably good enough to be Toronto's No. 1 group. The combination of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin placed second, third and fourth in the team scoring, respectively. Each had at least 21 goals.
Weaknesses: The problem is, the skill on the team doesn't go much deeper. Only six players on the team last year reached double digits in scoring. The fact is the Leafs have two lines that can hold up with most in the league, but the third and fourth lines are where they feel the drop.
The center position remains a concern. Sure, Connolly was brought in to help that and same with Matthew Lombardi, but you can't be sure what you are getting from either guy from a health standpoint. As mentioned, Connolly has a history of injury issues. He has only played more than 70 games once (2009-10) since the 2002-03 season. With Lombardi, he's coming off a concussion that cost him all but two games last season. If either or both goes down, then Toronto is right back to being razor thin down the middle.
Ottawa Senators: This is odd territory for the folks in Ottawa. Never in the franchise's history have they had to actually rebuild. Since originally building the team in the early 90s, the team had a long, successful run that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006-07. A couple of the members from the old guard are still around -- Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but the majority of the team is in place to win in the future, not necessarily now.
Expect to see a lot of the kids getting burn this season. It appears as though the team's top draft pick this summer, Sweedish center Mika Zibanejad, is going to make the team out of camp. Another coveted prospect, Jared Cowen, is also making a bid for the roster and join David Rundblad among the defensive corps. Nikita Filatov, who hadn't lived up to his perceived potential in Columbus, will also be given a shot to show what he can do. If he fits in and focuses on his game, his addition could prove to be a steal for Ottawa.
While new coach Paul MacLean and GM Bryan Murray are saying all the rights things about this team being competitive this season, it will serve as a good opportunity to get a glimpse of the future.
Strenghts: They didn't score much at all or play defense particularly well, but they were alright on special teams, particularly on the penalty kill, which ranked ninth in the league. Sergei Gonchar can help keep that ball rolling. That will qualify as a positive here.
We'll also throw goaltender Craig Anderson into the category. He wasn't spectacular last season split between Colorado and Ottawa, but he's shown before what he is capable of when he starred for the Avalanche two seasons ago. And his stint with the Sens was encouraging as he was 11-5-1 with his new team.
It speaks well for what is in the system that the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton won the Calder Cup.
Weaknesses: This says a lot: No player that participated in more than 30 games for the Senators had a plus-rating last season. Chris Phillips was the lowest of them all at minus-35.
This team struggled mightily to score last season and that is unlikely to get easier this time around. Right now there just isn't a heck of a lot of talent to talk about. Spezza was the only player to top the 20-goal mark last year and he barely did so with 21.
The youth is a weakness for now as it will be error prone and show it is green, but the hope is that it turns into a strength down the line.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Andrei Markov, Benoit Pouliot, Boston Bruins, Brad Richards, Brian Burke, Brian Stubits, Bryan Murray, Buffalo Sabres, Carey Price, Chris Campoli, Chris Phillips, Christian Ehrhoff, Clarke MacArthur, Claude Julien, Craig Anderson, Daniel Alfredsson, David Rundblad, Derek Roy, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Cole, Hal Gill, Jacques Martin, James Reimer, Jard Cowen, Jason Spezza, Joe Corvo, John-Michael Liles, Josh Gorges, Mark Recchi, Matthew Lombardi, Max Pacioretty, Michael Ryder, Mika Zibanejad, Mikhail Grabovski, Montreal Canadiens, Nikita Filatov, Nikolai Kulemin, Northeast Division, Northeast Division Preview, Ottawa Senators, P.K. Subban, Paul MacLean, Peter Chiarelli, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Scott Gomez, Terry Pegula, Tim Connolly, Tim Thomas, Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tuukka Rask, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino, Zdeno Chara
Posted on: September 26, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 4:15 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Less than two weeks away from the start of the regular season you probably aren't going to find many players still sitting around in free agency that can make a positive impact on your roster for the upcoming season. One of the few exceptions still out there this year was defenseman Chris Campoli, and according to TSN's Bob McKenzie he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday afternoon, presumably as some added insurance for Andrei Markov if he's not ready for the start of the season.
Campoli spent the 2010-11 season split between the Ottawa Senators and Chicago Blackhawks, recording 21 points in 77 games. The Blackhawks, who acquired him in a mid-season trade in exchange for Ryan Potulny and a second-round draft pick, walked away from him as a restricted free agent this summer (he was awarded just over $2 million in arbitration), allowing him to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent.
With Markov having a setback in his recovery from a knee injury, putting his status for the start of the season in doubt, combined with the loss of James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik this summer, the Canadiens can certainly use some insurance and depth on their blue line, and Campoli can definitely help. Now that Campoli is added to the mix Montreal's defense consists of P.K. Subban, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill, Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Campoli, as well as Markov whenever he's ready to return to the lineup.
Posted on: September 22, 2011 4:16 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 5:48 pm
By: Adam Gretz
There are plenty of new faces in the Philadelphia Flyers locker room this season, and they are going to have the difficult task of replacing the offensive production that belonged to several of last season's top-scorers that are no longer with the team, including Mike Richards (traded), Jeff Carter (traded) and Ville Leino (free agency). Players like Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are still there to help lead the charge, and big things are expected from 2007 No. 2 overall pick James van Riemsdyk.
The 22-year-old van Riemsdyk is entering his third season in the league and signed a brand new six-year, $26.5 million contract extension earlier this summer, coming off a 21-goal, 19-assist season for the Flyers in 2010-11. Solid numbers for a second-year pro, but it was during the playoffs where he really started to excel. Considering the expensive new deal he signed a couple of months ago, it's pretty obvious the Flyers expect him to continue his development and become a top player in a suddenly re-tooled Flyers lineup. And it's something he should be able to do.
Van Riemsdyk's breakout started during last year's playoffs when he played top-line minutes against Buffalo and Boston, typically against their best players, and finished tied for the team lead in playoff goals with seven. Along with the goals he was arguably the Flyers' best overall forward in the playoffs, making an impact every time he stepped on the ice, even with star players like Richards and Carter still on the roster.
That should continue to be the case in 2011.
He's going to be asked to take on a larger role for the Flyers this season, and as he showed in last year's playoffs, when the game becomes a little faster and goals a little harder to come by, he is more than capable of handling that assignment. Thirty-or-more goals shouldn't be out of the question.
Four more players, in no particular order, that could be on the verge of a breakout season…
T.J. Oshie, Blues A former first-round pick by the Blues in 2005, Oshie has had his ups and downs in St. Louis, including a suspension last season following an unexcused absence. He's reportedly shown up to Blues camp in top shape and has apparently dedicated himself to becoming more of a pro. Talent has never been an issue for the 24-year-old Oshie, and now that he appears to be in great shape and committed to becoming a top player, a breakout season could be right around the corner.
P.K. Subban, Canadiens With Andrei Markov's status for the start of the season up in the air due to a setback in his recovery from a knee injury, as well as the departure of Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski, Subban could quickly become the top offensive option for the Canadiens along the blue line. And the flashy 22-year-old definitely has the tools to make a huge impact. He's kind of a polarizing player at this point in his career -- among both fans and players -- and seems to have that "love him or hate him" attraction, but there's no denying the ability and upside. As a rookie he scored 14 goals to go with 24 assists, which is impressive enough, but he's capable of doing even more damage to opponents.
Colin Wilson, Predators There is perhaps no team in the NHL that relies on its farm system more than the Nashville Predators. This year's team has a couple of interesting youngsters including Nashville native Blake Geoffrion, who scored six goals in 20 gameas last year, and Craig Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2009 that had a sensational summer at the World Championships and the recent prospects tournament. There's also former first-round pick Colin Wilson who has a ton of talent but has yet to fully realize it at the NHL level. Entering the final year of his entry level contract, this could be the season the 21-year-old forward becomes the player the Predators anticipated when they selected him at the top of the 2008 draft.
John Carlson, Capitals Like Subban, Carlson is coming off an excellent rookie season with the Capitals and has All-Star level potential. He already has experience playing top-pairing minutes -- he also saw time in every situation, including the power play and the penalty kill as a rookie -- and is loaded with offensive ability. One of the top young defensemen in the NHL and figures to be a core player for one of the best teams in the NHL.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 15, 2011 9:51 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 10:07 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The Montreal Canadiens took a rather large gamble this summer when they signed veteran defenseman Andrei Markov to a three-year, $17.2 million contract extension.
It wasn't a gamble because he isn't worth that type of money in the current market as a point-producing defenseman and power play quarterback, but because he's entering his mid-30's and has missed significant playing time in each of the past two seasons, suffering two torn ACL's, the most recent of which cost him all but seven games of the 2010-11 regular season.
It appears that he's had a bit of a setback in his rehab according to Tony Mariano of the Team 990 Radio, and had to have some water drained from his knee three weeks ago.
The setback was reportedly a result of overtraining, which obviously means he needs to now dial it back a notch and take things a little slower. Given that he just signed a contract that's paying him over $5 million per season and has appeared in just 52 regular season games the past two years, the possibility of him not being ready for the start of the season has to be a concern for the Canadiens given how much he means to their defense and power play.
When he's on the ice Markov runs Montreal's power play, logs between 22 and 24 minute of ice-time per game and is one of the top scoring defensemen in the league. During the 2009-10 season, when he appeared in just 45 games, he recorded 34 points, which followed a season that saw him put up a career-high 64 points, a mark that was second among all NHL defensemen that season, trailing only Washington's Mike Green (73).
In his absence last season the Canadiens top power play options on their blue line were P.K. Subban, James Wisniewski (acquired from the Islanders in late December) and Roman Hamrlik. As a group they were good enough to help the team finish with the seventh best power play mark in the NHL (in previous years with Markov in the lineup on a regular basis they were at the top of the NHL). The problem for this season is Wisniewski and Hamrlik have since moved on to new teams, with Wisniewski going to Columbus and Hamrlik signing with the Capitals. If Markov is not ready for the start of the season that would place almost all of the workload on the 22-year-old -- and extremely talented -- Subban to lead the power play.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 5, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: September 5, 2011 10:12 am
By: Adam Gretz
BURMISTROV FEELS AT HOME There have been rumblings in recent months that some players aren't looking forward to playing in Winnipeg. One player that is seems to be excited about it is 19-year-old winger Alexander Burmistrov, the team's first-round draft pick last year. Burmistrov told the Winnipeg Sun how much he's looking forward to playing in Winnipeg because "people love hockey here and it's cold here, and that's what I know." In 74 games last season he scored six goals to go with 14 assists while playing just over 13 minutes of ice-time per game.
CONCERNS FOR MONTREAL DEFENSE The biggest question mark for the Montreal Canadiens this season: injuries to their defense. Andrei Markov played in just seven games last season and is coming off his second major surgery in as many years. His health, as well as the health of Josh Gorges, will play a huge factor in what success the Canadiens are able to have in 2011.
THOMAS' DAY WITH THE CUP Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas had his deal with the Stanley Cup on Saturday morning and took it back to Vermont where he spent his college days stopping pucks.
PANDOLFO GETS TRYOUT WITH Islanders The New York Islanders announced over the weekend that veteran forward Jay Pandolfo will attend their training camp on a tryout basis. He last played in the NHL during the 2009-10 season as a member of the New Jersey Devils (the only NHL team he's ever played for) scoring four goals in 52 games. In 819 career games he's scored 99 goals. He spent last season making a brief appearance in the American Hockey League with the Springfield Falcons, recording six points (two goals, four assists) in 12 games.