Posted on: October 6, 2011 9:08 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 11:11 pm
By: Adam Gretz
We were a bit worried about the Philadelphia Flyers offense following the loss of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Ville Leino over the summer, but perhaps this Jaromir Jagr and Claude Giroux connection will be a suitable replacement. They seemed to quickly develop some chemistry in the preseason and their playmaking ability was on display in the first period of Thursday's season opening 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
With the Flyers trailing, 1-0, late in the first period, Jagr set up Giroux for the 1,600th point of his NHL career, becoming just the ninth player in NHL history to reach that mark, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic.
The goal itself was a beauty from Giroux, a player that's developed a flare for highlight reel goals throughout his young career, as he blew past Boston's best defender, Zdeno Chara, and then made a nice backhand-to-forehead move to dangle around the best goalie in the NHL, Tim Thomas, and slide the puck into the net.
Just minutes later Jakub Voracek beat Thomas seconds before the period came to a close to score what proved to be the game-winning goal. Just as important for the Flyers is that their big-money pickup from over summer, Ilya Bryzgalov, stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced to earn his first win for Philadelphia.
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: October 4, 2011 9:45 am
HOLD YOUR HORSES, PHILLY: Expectations are through the roof in Philadelphia as the Flyers finally have themselves a No. 1 goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. But the Russian is trying to dial back those expectations: "I came here, and I can't promise the people that next summer we will celebrate the Stanley Cup. I don't want to lie. Yeah, the goalie is a big part and has to play well, but you have to get support from the team. The whole team has to play well to win the Stanley Cup." (Philly.com)
HELL OF A DINNER: One way to make sure you are eating right? Go to the gourmet chefs. That's what Ryan Clowe of the San Jose Sharks did over the weekend, having a dinner made by none other than Gordon Ramsay of Hell's Kitchen fame. (Ryan Clowe Twitter)
POINT TAKEN: Bodog.com released its Stanley Cup odds a few weeks ago by installing the Capitals and Canucks as co-favorites to win it all. So naturally, the Caps and Canucks also topped the over/under list for point totals this season, with Washington first at 107.5. Seems like a safe over to me. (Red Light District Hockey)
HARDING HURTING: Wild backup goaltender Josh Harding suffered a minor ankle injury on a team-building trip, so they were a little short in net when it came timefor practice. Enter Wild assistant to the GM Jim Mill, who strapped on the pads for the first time in 15 years and helped the Wild with some serious spot duty. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
SEATTLE'S PLAN: Since losing the NBA's SuperSonics, Seattle has been without a basketball and hockey team but has shown interest in getting one or both in town. The problem is why the Sonics left: Key Arena is no longer suitable. So a lawmaker has a plan for a sports tax to help fund a new arena. If they build it, then they'll play the Kansas City waiting game. (King 5)
BLADES WEEK 2: For those that are interested, I pass along to you a recap of Canada's Battle of the Blades from Sunday night. Enjoy. (Puck Daddy)
Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 6:12 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Since the NHL went it to its current divisional alignment with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey and both New York teams occupying the Atlantic Division it's pretty much been a three-team race at the top every year.
Since the 1998-99 season only three teams have managed to win the Atlantic outright -- New Jersey (seven times), Philadelphia (four times) and Pittsburgh (one time). The Rangers and Islanders have never won it, while only one of them, the Islanders during the 2001-02 season, has finished higher than third (second place).
Will it be one of the same three teams fighting for the top spot this season, or will one of the New York clubs find a way to win it for the first time under this current setup?
This year the division is loaded with story lines. The Flyers, the defending division champs, re-tooled their roster over the summer, while the Penguins may have to start the season without their best player -- and arguably the best player in the world -- as Sidney Crosby continues to recover from a concussion.
The Islanders look to be a team on the rise, while the Rangers landed the biggest free agent that hit the open market over the summer (of course they did). Meanwhile, the Devils look to build on the momentum of a strong second half and have to figure out what to do with Zach Parise, playing on a one-year deal, as he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Atlantic Division (in predicted order of finish):
Pittsburgh Penguins: Playing without Jordan Staal for the first half of the season and without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the second half of the season the Penguins still managed to finish tied for the top spot in the Atlantic last season with 106 points, losing in a tiebreaker to the Flyers. That's an impressive accomplishment given how the team is built around those three players. Malkin and Staal look to be ready to go this season, and assuming Crosby returns to his former self, the Penguins should have the personnel to not only finish on top of the division, but also make up for two straight early exits in the playoffs.
Strengths: How did the Penguins manage to stay competitive last season without their three best players for such a long period of time? An outstanding defense anchored by Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Combine the defense with the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson and the Penguins finished the regular season allowing the sixth fewest goals per game in the league. Even if Crosby isn't ready for the start of the season the Penguins still have excellent depth down the middle with Malkin, Staal and Mark Letestu, a nice two-way player that excels in the faceoff circle.
Weaknesses: When you have so much money invested down the middle (centers, defense and goaltending) it's going to be difficult to fill in talent on the wings. James Neal is supposed to be the goal-scoring winger they've been searching for, but he struggled in his debut season with the Penguins after coming over in a trade with Dallas. Steve Sullivan signed a one-year deal this summer and can still provide some offense, assuming he's able to stay on the ice.
The Penguins power play has been, well, pretty awful the past three years, even with the talent they're capable of putting on the ice. There are a lot of reasons they went out in the first round last year, and their 1-for-35 showing on the power play is at the top of the list.
New York Rangers: Surely you're not surprised that the biggest free agent available (Brad Richards) landed with the New York Rangers. Especially when said free agent has such a great track record playing for coach John Tortorella. The two spent a number of years together in Tampa Bay, including the 2003-04 season when the Lightning won their Stanley Cup, while Richards took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Still, a lot of their success will depend on how well Richards and Gaborik play together, and whether or not Gabork bounces back from a disappointing season a year ago.
Strengths: Henrik Lundqvist is as steady and durable as they come in the crease, and a goaltender that's capable of stealing a game by himself. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan bring a nice mix of skill and grit to the top lines.
Strong team defensively -- and Lundqivst certainly helps that -- even if their blue line, which is anchored by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, doesn't contain a single player over the age of 27.
Weaknesses: Speaking of Staal, he's still dealing with some symptoms as a result of a concussion he suffered at the end of last season, which is not a good thing. Gaborik, for all his skill and ability, is always one shift away from his next injury (and yes, that's technically true for every player, but Gaborik's career speaks for itself: he's played more than 65 games just five times in 10 years). Mediocre power play during the regular season that scored one goal in 19 attempts during their first-round playoff loss to the Capitals.
Philadelphia Flyers: Talk about a team that went through a transition this summer. When all was said and done the Flyers basically swapped Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Daniel Carcillo, Sean O'Donnell and Darroll Powe for Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Andreas Lilja and Max Talbot. Better? Worse? The same? Paul Holmgren and Flyers fans are about to find out.
Strengths: Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are excellent young forwards, and Van Riemsdyk could be ready to have a breakout season following his impressive postseason run from a year ago. Danny Briere is still around to be one of their leading offensive weapons.
In a bizarre twist, goaltending moves from an area weakness to one of their biggest strengths thanks to the offseason addition of Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, in order to improve their goaltending the Flyers had to make a series of moves that involved trading Richards and Carter, while also losing Leino to free agency. That's three of their top-five scorers from a year ago.
It's possible the addition of Bryzgalov, combined with the development of the young players and draft picks they acquired in the Richards and Carter deals, could allow this to allwork out for the better in the long run, but they may have taken a step back in the short-term.
Will Giroux and Briere be as productive now that they'll be facing the other teams best players in the absence of Richards and Carter?
Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are both a year older, and Pronger's health was a big problem last season.
New Jersey Devils: When it comes to making coaching changes, no league seems to make more than the NHL, and within the NHL, no team seems to make more than the New Jersey Devils. After a summer-long saga involving their pursuit and eventual signing of Ilya Kovalchuk (who they acquired at the trade deadline of the previous season), the Devils had a disastrous start to last season, winning just nine of their first 31 games, resulting in the firing of head coach John MacLean.
Who did the Devils turn to at the point? Jacques Lemaire, naturally, for his third different stint with the team.
They finished with a 29-17-3 record under his watch and managed to stay in the playoff race longer than anybody could have expected following their awful start. Pete DeBoer takes over behind the bench this season, making him the 9th different coach to lead the team since the start of the 2000-01 season.
Strengths: The Devils should have a strong top-six once Travis Zajac returns, and they'll also benefit from the return of Zach Parise after he missedall but 13 games of last season. He's also playing on a one-year contract (perhaps a "show me" contract. As in, show me you're fully recovered and can once again be one of the top left wingers in the league before we sign you long-term).
As always, they finished with strong numbers defensively allowing just over 2.5 goals per game. Will they be as strong defensively without LeMaire running the ship?
Weaknesses: Who on the defense is going to provide some offense? No defenseman scored more than Andy Greene's 23 points a season ago. Adam Larsson, the Devils first-round pick in June, looks to have a ton of upside but some growing pains should be expected as a rookie.
Martin Brodeur is a Hall of Famer and one of the best goalies to ever play in the NHL, but he's clearly not the player he once was. And if the Devils do make it back to the playoffs, well, he's been pretty bad in two of his past three postseason appearances, while the Devils haven't made it out of the first round since 2006-07.
New York Islanders: The New York Islanders made headlines last season because of a massive on-ice brawl in early February. They should make headlines this season because they're an improving team that's going to compete for a playoff spot thanks to their impressive collection of young forwards, with the recently signed John Tavares leading the way.
The Islanders offseason didn't see them bring in anybody significant from outside the organization, unless you're counting on Brian Rolston returning to his 30-goal form from four years ago, but they are getting back their top defenseman, Mark Streit, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and that can be a huge addition to a team that's thin on the blue line.
Along with the return of Streit, a full-season for Kyle Okposo, an excellent two-way forward, will be a welcome addition as well.
Strengths: Definitely their forwards. They're young, they're productive, and many of them are signed long-term for what could be excellent value against the salary cap. The Islanders had eight different players score at least 10 goals last season, and seven of them are returning this season (the only one that isn't is Rob Schremp and his 10 goals).
Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Tavares, Blake Comeau and P.A. Parenteau all scored at least 20 goals for the Islanders a year ago.
Frans Nielsen is one of the NHL's most underrated defensive forwards and showed last season he's also capable of chipping in some offense, scoring 13 goals. He finished sixth the voting for the Selke Trophy which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward.
Weaknesses: Even with the return of Streit, as well as the presence of emerging young defenseman Travis Hamonic, who looks like he's going to be quite a player, there is still a lot of questions about this team defensively and in goal, and in the end that could prove to be their downfall this season.
Rick DiPietro is still signed through the 2020-21 season and has appeared in just 39 games over the past three years.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Adam Gretz, Brad Richards, Brooks Orpik, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Tavares, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Kyle Okposo, Marian Gaborik, Mark Streit, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise
Posted on: September 26, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:54 am
By: Adam Gretz
The San Jose Sharks have comfortably controlled the Pacific Division the past four seasons, winning it each year by an average margin of about 11 points.
Regular season success hasn't been much of an issue for the Sharks, reaching the 100-point mark six of the past seven seasons. The issue has always been whether or not they can avoid what seemed to be an annual early exit from the playoffs. They've done some work to help break their negative postseason reputation the past two years, reaching the conference finals each year before ultimately losing to Chicago and Vancouver respectively.
Will this be the year they finally break through and win the Conference? Will they be able to continue their dominance within the division, or did their four divisional rivals do enough to catch up this summer?
The Pacific was the only division in the NHL last season to produce four playoff teams, as Anaheim, Phoenix and Los Angeles joined the Sharks in the postseason. The Ducks boast the NHL's reigning MVP in Corey Perry, while the Los Angeles Kings made what was perhaps the biggest addition in the Western Conference by acquiring Mike Richards in an offseason blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Pacific Division (In order of predicted finish)
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks avoided disaster in the second round of the playoffs last season by escaping with a Game 7 win over the Detroit Red Wings after watching a 3-0 series lead slip away, advancing to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row where they lost to the Canucks in five games. General manager Doug Wilson made a few significant changes to his roster this summer by sacrificing a bit of offense (Devin Setoguchi) to get a defensive upgrade in Brent Burns, while also sending Dany Heatley, a player that is coming his worst goal-scoring season since his rookie year, to Minnesota for Martin Havlat.
Strengths: Even after trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi the Sharks still have two outstanding lines with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Martin Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. Boyle, Burns, Marc Eduard Vlasic and Douglas Murray is a strong top-four on the blue line that combines offensive ability (Boyle and Burns) and strong defensive play (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray, who also happens to be one of the biggest hitters in the league). They have an outstanding power play that should still be a force even with the loss of Heatley and his 11 power play goals from a year ago. Burns (eight power play goals a year ago) gives them another weapon on the point to go along with Boyle.
Weaknesses: The third and fourth lines aren't great, and the injury questions surrounding goaltenders Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should be a concern early in the season, but should go away once Niemi returns to the lineup, and may be as early as the season opener. Penalty kill was a major problem last season -- can the addition of Michal Handzus make a difference?
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings haven't advanced beyond the first round of the Western Conference playoffs in over a decade, and have only won one playoff series since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals all the way back in 1993. This roster, on paper, looks to be their best chance for postseason success -- assuming they finally work out something with unsigned defenseman Drew Doughty. For years we've been waiting for the Kings to make a big move given their tradable assets and cap space, and they finally pulled off the blockbuster trade this summer by acquiring Mike Richards from the Philadelphia Flyers.
Strengths: If you believe championship teams are built down the middle, then the Los Angeles Kings should have a great foundation. Already having Anze Kopitar on the roster, the Kings added Richards, one of the best two-way centers in the NHL, back in June in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick. Combine those two with Jarret Stoll, and the Kings top-three centers should be able to match up with just about any team in the Western Conference. Thanks to steady stay-at-home defensemen like Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell the Kings had one of the top penalty killing units in the league last season.
On the wings Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Simon Gagne help create what should be an improved offense over the one that finished 25th in goals scored last season.
Weaknesses: As of this moment the biggest weakness for the Kings might be the fact that their best defenseman, Drew Doughty, remains unsigned as a restricted free agent, and with each passing day we're one day closer to him missing games that actually count in the standings. The power play needs to improve, finishing just 21st in the NHL last season.
Anaheim Ducks: Without looking it up, do you know which player led all NHL defensemen in scoring last season? Nicklas Lidstrom? Shea Weber? Maybe Dan Boyle? Try again. It was Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky, giving the Ducks the NHL's top-scoring defenseman as well as the leading goal-scorer (Corey Perry, the only player to hit the 50-goal mark).
Strengths: Corey Perry. Ryan Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan. Teemu Selanne. Those four players combined for nearly 60 percent of Anaheim's goals in 2010-11, and that was with one of them, Getzlaf, missing 15 games. Perry, who finished as the NHL's leading goal-scorer and won his first MVP award, probably isn't going to score 50 goals again, and Selanne is a year older (but still productive) but this is still an excellent quartet of forwards.
Weaknesses: Which forwards after the four mentioned above can provide offense?
Jonas Hiller is an excellent goaltender when he's in the lineup, but how much will his battle with vertigo impact him this season? If he has to miss any extended time the options behind him (Dan Ellis is currently the backup) aren't really all that promising.
The defense can certainly provide some offense with Lubomir Visnovsky, who is coming off a career year with 68 points, and Cam Fowler having a very promising rookie season -- from an offensive perspective -- with 10 goals and 30 assists, but questions remain as to how good they can be in their own zone.
Dallas Stars: There are disappointing ways to finish a season, and then there's what the Dallas Stars did to close out the 2010-11 season, losing nine of their final 14 games to miss the playoffs -- the only team in the division to do so -- by just one point. All they had to do on the final day of the regular season was beat the Minnesota Wild, a team that had completely gone in the tank and won just seven of its final 22 games. The Stars lost, 5-3, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to clinch the No. 8 spot.
Strengths: Some very good forwards with players like Louii Eriksson and Jamie Benn leading the way, and Mike Ribiero still gives them a No. 1 center in the absence of Brad Richards who signed a huge deal with the New York Rangers in free agency. Based on his play after coming over in a mid-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Goligoski looks like he could be on the verge of a breakout season.
Weaknesses: Losing Brad Richards to free agency is a big blow, even with Mike Ribiero -- who trailed Richards by just six points last season -- still on the roster. No disrespect to Steve Ott, who is a fine all-around player, but a 1-2 punch of Richards and Ribiero down the middle is more dangerous than Ribiero-Ott from an offensive perspective.
Mediocre special teams a year ago with the Power Play finishing middle of the pack and the penalty kill in the bottom seven.
Phoenix Coyotes: Yes, the Coyotes are still here, and yes, they're looking to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season after having been eliminated by Detroit in each of the past two seasons. They locked up one of their most important players to a long-term contract extension by signing Keith Yandle to a five-year deal this summer, but also said goodbye to another key player in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Strengths: Dave Tippett has done a masterful job the past two seasons with the Coyotes taking a team in a financial mess with little star power to speak of and helping to get them to the playoffs each year with a disciplined, defensive style that the players have bought in to. Keith Yandle is one of the best up-and-coming defenseman in the NHL,
Weaknesses:Replacing Bryzgalov with Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera seems like a significant drop in talent. The one thing Phoenix does have going for it here is that it has a tight defensive system and some excellent two-way players, while Smith has past experience playing in Tippett's system. Still, will that be enough to overcome the loss of Bryzgalov? The Coyotes don't have a true big-time goal-scorer on the roster, but did manage to have 11 different players score at least 10 goals last season. Three of those players (Lee Stempniak, Eric Belanger and Scottie Upshall) are gone, and another, Kyle Turris, is holding out with some absurd contract demands.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 14, 2011 9:36 am
BELAK'S DEPRESSION: Here is a very powerful piece written by Michael Landsberg at TSN, a good friend to the late Wade Belak. It's a terrific read that gives a closer look into each of their issues with depression, offering up a different perspective. Really worth a read.
ST. LOUIS SALE: The Blues are still searching for a new ownership group as Dave Checketts tries to separate himself from the franchise. A new and promising group has emerged (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) to possibly push this sale closer to a reality. The group, led by Calgary businessman and former Coyotes suitor Max Chambers, includes six-time Cup winner Bryan Trottier.
TWEET BEAT: Do you enjoy following some of the Flyers on Twitter like Ilya Bryzgalov or James van Riemsdyk? They might not be entertaining as much in the coming months. The Flyers are cracking down on how much the players Tweet during "business hours" as prospect Zac Rinaldo recently found out (from Puck Daddy/Courier Times).
QUITE A PAIR: Welcome to Detroit, Ian White. The defenseman is getting a nice signing bonus, opening training camp as the defensive partner of Nicklas Lidstrom. The other Red Wings pairings will be Brad Stuart with Niklas Kronwall then Mike Commodore will join forces with Brendan Smith when camp opens.
THE FIGHT GOES ON: The fight over fighting in the NHL has grown to an all-time high this offseason. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun is one of those who would like to see the pugilism expunged from the sport, but believes the only way that will get done is with a strong-willed GM.
SPECIAL DELIVERY: It's awesome enough when your season tickets arrive at your house, nothing gets the blood pumping quite like seeing your admission slips. Now just imagine those season tickets being delivered by none other than Sidney Crosby? That's what a few Penguins fans got to experience.
Tags: Brad Stuart, Brendan Smith, Brian Stubits, Daily Skate, Dave Checketts, Detroit Red Wings, Ian White, Ilya Bryzgalov, James Van Riemsdyk, Mike Commodore, NHL Fighting, Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, St. Louis Blues, Wade Belak, Zac Rinaldo
Posted on: September 8, 2011 2:51 pm
Here's the team's press release:
Cheverie is a well-regarded prospect, but he was stuck in the Panthers organization behind arguably the NHL's top goalie prospect, Jacob Markstrom. Of course, the Coyotes have to replace the departed Ilya Bryzgalov and to do so they brought in Mike Smith to join Jason LaBarbera. While Cheverie isn't likely to factor in the NHL this season, it's worth the flyer for Phoenix that he develops into a player who can take over down the line.
The price for the prospect is Bernhardt, a player who has shown scoring ability but has struggled to stay on the ice. He played a full 72-game schedule back in 2008-09 with Prince Albert of the WHL and he showed what he's capable of, scoring 35 goals with 57 assists.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: August 25, 2011 10:28 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 11:19 pm
By: Adam Gretz
After a series of trades and some re-tooling of the roster earlier this summer, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has pretty much become the face of the Philadelphia Flyers. He's the highest paid player on the team and the third highest-paid player in the NHL this season, a contract he signed shortly after forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were sent packing to Los Angeles and Columbus.
With that comes plenty of expectation, especially at a position that has been viewed as the only weak link for a perennial Stanley Cup contender. It's a bold shift in organizational structure for the Flyers, a team that over the past several years went through each season and playoff run with a revolving door of goaltenders with relatively small salary cap commitments.
Over the past three seasons alone the Flyers used eight different goaltenders for at least one game. Those days appear to be over, as Bryzgalov will obviously be counted on to solidify the position for the next several years. Whether he will be enough to overcome the loss of offensive players like Richards, Carter and Ville Leino remains to be seen, but the 31-year-old has become one of the most important players -- if not the most important player -- in the organization for the foreseeable future.
The Flyers introduced Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia media on Thursday, and he's not only ready to play as many games as the Flyers need him to play, he's expecting to win a lot of them, too (then again, what else is he going to say?).
Said Bryzgalov, "When you play a lot, you feel confident about your game. If they need me to play 70 games, I'll play 70. If they need me to play 50, I'll play 50. So it all depends on the coach and management, whatever they need."
He's also looking to win at least 40 games this season, something he did two years ago as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. Playing 50 games, or even 60 games, hasn't been an issue in recent years as he was a workhorse for the Coyotes, appearing in at least 64 games in each of the past four seasons.
The 40 wins, however, could be tougher goal to reach.
Of course, regular seasons wins aren't going to be what the majority of Flyers fans care about. It's all going to come down to what happens in the playoffs, an area that remains somewhat of a question for Bryzgalov after some struggles the past two seasons with the Coyotes, a team that simply wasn't as talented from top-to-bottom as the Detroit Red Wings teams that eliminated them (he had more postseason success with Anaheim back in 2005 and 2006).
The Flyers lost a lot of offense this summer and are replacing it with some unproven -- though talented -- youngsters up front, while their top two defenseman (Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen) are both a year older, which means more responsibility for the man in goal. He's an improvement over what they've been running out there in past years for sure, but it's not out of the question for the Flyers to take a bit of a step back this year as a team, even with the upgrade Bryzgalov will bring.
You can see Bryzgalov's introductory press conference in its entirety at the Flyers website.
Photo: Getty Images