Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:34 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It appears that Brendan Shanahan's schedule is full. Again.
Not only does he have to deal with (we're assuming) Edmonton's Andy Sutton for his hit on Alexei Ponikarovsky during Wednesday's game, it's also been announced that Buffalo's Ville Leino and Colorado's Kevin Porter will have disciplinary hearings for seperate incidents over the past couple of days.
As always, it's important to keep in mind that a hearing does not mean a suspension is automatic, but it sure seems like it's possible.
Porter is being called in for his knee-on-knee hit against the Vancouver Canucks that resulted in David Booth being sidelined for the next four-to-six weeks with a sprained MCL. There was a debate as to whether or not he would face any supplemental discipline, and the fact Booth is going to be out of the lineup for an extended period of time is not a positive development for Porter.
He was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing.
Leino, meanwhile, is having a hearing because of an elbow he delivered to the head of Philadelphia's Matt Read during the Sabres 5-4 overtime loss to the Flyers on Wednesday night. He was not penalized on the play, but when watching the video, it's not hard to see why Shanahan wants to have a word with him, as he deliberately stuck his elbow out and made contact with Read's head as he skated past him.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:16 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2011 12:37 pm
By: Adam Gretz
One of the most anticipated matchups of the regular season finally takes place on Thursday night as cross-state rivals Pittsburgh and Philadelphia face off at the Wells Fargo Center. These games are always a highlight of both team's schedules, and usually involve some level of on-ice chaos.
This time around, it's the first meeting between the two teams since the Flyers' dip into the free agency pool over the summer that included their signings of former Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot.
Talbot was a playoff hero for the Penguins in recent years, scoring two goals in their Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, helping the team claim its third Stanley Cup title. There was also his famous silencing of the crowd in Philadelphia earlier that postseason following his fight with Daniel Carcillo in a Game 6 series clinching win.
And the there's the Jagr angle. He is still the second greatest player in franchise history, and a large part of the first two championships the team won in the early 90s, and all of that is going to get overshadowed for the foreseaable future, or at least as long as he wears the Flyers orange and black, because of what happened over the summer.
By now, you're probably already familiar with how it all went down, but if you're not, a quick refresher: After spending three years playing in the KHL, Jagr was ready to make a return to the NHL and the Penguins were one of the teams interested. What followed was a highly publicized free agency courtship between them and the Detroit Red Wings, before both teams ultimately backed out of the bidding with Jagr signing a one-year pact with Pittsburgh's fiercest rival, essentially burning every bridge that wasn't already burned when he asked for a trade out of Pittsburgh 10 years ago.
And with that, the stage is set for Thursday night, even if it seems to mean more to the fans of the two teams (especially the Penguins fans) than it does for the players on the ice.
Three talking points heading into Thursday's game:
1) Matchup with Jagr more for Penguins fans than Penguins players: Regarding the Penguins' first meeting with Jagr since his signing with Philadelphia, defenseman Brooks Orpik said, via Josh Yohe of the Tribune-Review, "I think this whole thing is more for the fans. I've been here the longest of anyone, and I've never played with him. Had one training camp with him — that was it."
And that's probably accurate. When Jagr last suited up for the Penguins, players like Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and James Neal were all under the age of 14. Defenseman Simon Despres would have been 10 years old, and none of the players on the roster played a single game with him in the NHL.
After they missed out on Jagr, the Penguins ended up signing veteran forward Steve Sullivan who has spent most of this season playing on a line with James Neal and Evgeni Malkin. He hasn't been Jagr, but he's been solid with 12 points in 28 games.
2) With Jagr, the Flyers can still score ... a lot: Two months into the season and Jagr has proven he can still play at a high level, even at the age of 39, averaging a point-per-game with nine goals and 13 assists in his first 22 games this season, playing mostly on a line with the NHL's current leading scorer, Claude Giroux. The additions of Jagr and Talbot were part of a summer-long re-tooling by Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, and while it seemed that goaltending would finally become a strength (or at least, no longer be a glaring weakness) with the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes, it's the offense that's continued to carry the Flyers, even in the absence of defenseman Chris Pronger.
The Flyers, at this point, have silenced any doubt as to whether or not they have enough offense following the losses of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino to compete for a top spot in the East, currently putting the highest-scoring team in the NHL out on the ice. Giroux has been everything the Flyers could have hoped that he would be at their top-scoring option, while rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier have played large roles.
3) Sidney Crosby Isn't Playing And Nobody Knows Why: When the Penguins announced on Wednesday that Sidney Crosby will miss the next two games (including Thursday's game in Philadelphia) it was assumed that it was a result of his center ice collision with teammate Chris Kunitz. And while that wouldn't have been good news, it would have been better than worrying about whether or not it was a head injury. But that may not be the case. As Mike Colligan of the Hockey Writers pointed out on Thursday, Crosby took several hits during what was an extremely physical game with the Boston Bruins on Monday, including an elbow from David Krejci (poor video quality by clicking here). Because the Penguins were so vague with their description, saying only that he "took a hard hit," and because NHL teams guard injury information like it's gold in Fort Knox, we're left to guess as to which play has him sidelined "as a precaution."
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Tags: Adam Gretz, Boston Bruins, Chris Kunitz, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, David Krejci, Detroit Red Wings, Evgeni Malkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzgalov, James Neal, Jaromir Jagr, Jeff Carter, Jordan Staal, Max Talbot, Mike Richards, Paul Holmgren, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Simon Despre, Ville Leino
Posted on: December 8, 2011 12:15 pm
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Posted on: November 1, 2011 2:32 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The first month of the NHL season is in the books and we're still trying to figure out which teams are good, which teams are bad and which hot start is for real and which one is simply an early season mirage. Let's check in with a progress report on some notable players and teams for the month of October.
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs: Let's pretend, just hypothetically, that Phil Kessel is able stay near the top of the NHL's scoring list all.
Now, you shouldn't expect him to maintain his current pace (his shooting percentage is currently 26 percent -- that's probably not sustainable for a full season), but what if he were to do something completely unexpected like, say, win the NHL's scoring title and help lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Would that do anything to change your opinion of the the trade that brought him to Toronto? Should it? Brian Burke has already said Boston won the trade because it has a Stanley Cup, but that trade -- which landed the Bruins two first-round draft picks, including a No. 2 overall selection used on Tyler Seguin, and a second-round pick -- had little to do with that championship. Seguin played about 12 minutes a game and scored 11 goals during the regular season, and only appeared in two postseason series. It's not like he was the driving force behind that cup run. The steep price Toronto paid still overshadow the fact that Kessel is a pretty darn good (three straight years of 30-plus goals) player and still only 24 years of age.
Even if he doesn't maintain this current pace he's been the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL this season and one of the biggest reasons the Maple Leafs are off to their best start in a decade, and that's worthy of a top-grade for the first month.
Other players and teams earning A's for the month of October
Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) -- had one of the best months of any goaltender in the NHL, including three consecutive shutouts; James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- for a Penguins team that continues to deal with injuries, Neal has been their best overall player and looks to be the young goal-scoring winger they've been searching for for years; Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton Oilers) -- He leads the NHL in save percentage and goals against average for what has been, so far, the toughest team in the NHL to score against; and the Dallas Stars -- winners of eight of their first 11 games, thanks in large part to the play of Kari Lehtonen.
Ottawa Senators: For the first two weeks of the season the Ottawa Senators looked to be every bit as awful as they were expected to be.
Over the next two weeks? They won six games in a row and end the month two game over .500. Even through the awful stretch to start the season the Senators were impressive with their determination to never quit in a game, regardless of the score, resulting in acouple of late come-from-behind victories (against Minnesota and the Rangers).
They've been outscored 27-15 over the first two periods but have outscored their opponents 21-18 in the third period. It's not likely they'll be able to continue to rely on huge third period comebacks to get wins, and they're going to have to start getting some better starts in games so they're not constantly trying to play catch up, but a 7-5 record at this point is more than could have (or should have) been expected.
Other players and teams earning B's for the month of October
Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators) -- He's been the best player on a Nashville team that is losing the possession battle just about every single night and is facing more shots than any other goaltender in the league. He's keeping the Predators in it while they search for some offense; Jaromir Jagr (Philadelphia Flyers) -- Three years away from the NHL and at 39 years of age Jagr opened the season and showed everybody that he can still play at the highest level with a point-per-game pace for the Flyers.
Detroit Red Wings: The A-plus honor student that brings home the rare and unexpected C. You know they can do better, and you expect them to do better. (And they will do better.) But after starting the season 5-0 the Red Wings dropped four in a row by a combined margin of 16-4. That streak includes a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Washington Capitals, a game that was followed by a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets for their first victory of the season. Their defense definitely took a hit when Brian Rafalski retired over the summer, and they're not the defensive stalwart they were a few years ago, but they should be better than they've looked over the first month.
Other players and teams earning C's for the month of October
Montreal Canadiens -- Injuries to their defense, as well as top forward Michael Cammalleri, didn't help, but a rather uninspiring start for the Canadiens that only started to turn around when an assistant coach was forced to take the fall.
Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula spent a ton of money this summer in an effort to make the Sabres a Stanley Cup contender, and one of his biggest investments, Ville Leino, has been a complete non-factor through the first month of the season. In 10 games the 28-year-old Leino has scored just one goal to go with one assist and has recorded just five shots on goal, or one every other game. He's definitely talented, but based on what he's actually produced at the NHL level the six-year, $27 million contract was, at the very least, one hell of a gamble. And so far it's a losing one.
Other plays and teams earning D's for the month of October
Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis Blues) -- And he's probably right on the line between D and F. Let's just say this: the only goaltender in the NHL that has a worse save percentage entering November is Ottawa's backup, Alex Auld.
Columbus Blue Jackets: An offseason with such excitement and a season that seemed to have so much promise was opened with … the worst start in franchise history and the worst record in the NHL. There is obviously time to turn it around -- and I still believe the Jackets can -- and the two big offseason acquisitions have been limited so far, which isn't helping things. James Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the regular season, while Jeff Carter, acquired from the Flyers, was limited to just five games in October due to a foot injury, scoring zero goals. Still … the worst start in franchise history?
Other players and teams earning F's for the month of October
The Boston Bruins -- Defending champs with the second-worst record in the league.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Boston Bruins, Brian Burke, Brian Rafalski, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Edmonton Oilers, James Neal, James Wisniewski, Jaromir Jagr, Jaroslav Halak, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick, Kari Lehtonen, Los Angeles Kings, Michael Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ottawa Senators, Pekka Rinne, Phil Kessel, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tyler Seguin, Ville Leino
Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
By: Adam Gretz
We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.
What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?
Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?
In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .
1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets
Our Conclusion: Too soon
A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.
But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.
For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.
2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy
Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon
When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.
Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.
Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.
3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender
Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate
The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.
They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.
With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior
Our Conclusion: Too Soon
The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.
I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.
It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.
5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger
Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.
New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Brendan Shanahan, Buffalo Sabres, Chris PRonger, Christian Ehrhoff, Columbus Blue Jackets, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Ilya Bryzgaov, James Wisniewski, Kimo Timmonen, Michal Neuvirth, NHL Discipline, Philadelphia Flyers, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Steve Mason, Tomas Vokoun, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino, Washington Capitals
Posted on: September 29, 2011 10:35 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 12:04 am
By: Adam Gretz
Jaromir Jagr hasn't appeared in a regular season NHL game in three years, and based on the way he's played so far in the preseason it's almost as if he never left.
He scored the game-winning goal in Philadelphia's 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night when he finished a perfect pass from Claude Giroux (the player Jagr referred to as a "mini-Mario" -- as in Mario Lemieux -- earlier this week) as the 39-year-old forward was left wide open just to the left of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur.
(Video by clicking here: And look how open Jagr is ... it's almost as if everybody on the ice forgot about him.)
For Jagr, it's his fourth goal of the preseason, and they've all come over the past three games while he's also recorded a pair of assists. Along with his goal on Thursday, Jagr had another outstanding scoring chance late in the first period during a two-on-one rush with Braydon Coburn only to have Brodeur make a fantastic stop while sliding across the crease to his left to get his pad on the puck after Jagr snapped off a quick one-timer.
We've talked quite a bit this offseason about how much offense the Flyers have to replace after losing Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino, and Jagr is going to have to be one of the focal points of the new-look Flyers. So far, in games that don't count, he looks like he's still capable of being a top offensive player. How he's able to hold up over the course of an 82-game regular season (and the playoffs) will be a big factor in how much success the Flyers have (or don't have).
Photo: Getty Images
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 16, 2011 4:37 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 4:44 pm
By: Adam Gretz
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded Mike Richards to the Los Angeles Kings earlier this summer they not only traded their best two-way forward, they also said goodbye to the player that was their captain over the past three seasons.
That void was filled on Friday afternoon when it was announced that defenseman Chris Pronger has been named the 18th captain in franchise history, and their eighth since the 2000-01 season. Forward Danny Briere and defenseman Kimmo Timonen will serve as the alternate captains.
The Flyers acquired Pronger before the 2009-10 season from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and a first-round draft pick, and it seemed to be a perfect match from the beginning.
Shortly after the trade the Flyers signed Pronger to a massive seven-year, $34.4 million contract extension that carries a $4.9 million cap hit that will continue to count against the cap even if Pronger retires since it was signed after he turned 35. He will turn 37 in October and still has six years remaining on his current deal.
Pronger made an immediate impact for the Flyers during the '09-10 season and recorded 55 points in 82 regular season games, and was also a workhorse during the playoffs when the Flyers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they would ultimately lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
He was limited to just 50 games last season and appeared in just three of the Flyers playoff games while going through four different surgeries over the course of the season. His availability for the start of the regular season is still uncertain at this point, even though general manager Paul Holmgren recently said that he expects him to be ready when Philadelphia opens its season on Oct. 6 against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
After an offseason overhaul of the roster that saw the team trade Richards and Jeff Carter, while also losing players like Ville Leino in free agency, their offense has taken a hit in the short-term. That of course means the defense, led by Pronger and Timmonen, as well as newly acquired goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will need to not only be healthy and in the lineup, but also be on top of their game if the Flyers have any hope of being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Photo: Getty Images