Tag:Nashville Predators
Posted on: October 13, 2011 1:28 pm
 

Daily Skate: Sabres being careful with Hecht

By Brian Stubits

HECHT OUT: The Buffalo Sabres will be without Jochen Hecht, who suffered a concussion until at least next week as the team is being especially careful with him considering he has a history of concussions. He will be out at least through Saturday's game at Pittsburgh. (Sabres Edge)

GO FISH: Speak of concussions, Capitals GM George McPhee and member of the NHL and NHLPA concussion working group, talked about them recently. Noting that of course you have to be concerned about the players, a non-physical game just isn't as entertaining. “If you go to Europe … it’s not very entertaining. It’s highly skilled, but it’s like trying to watch two guys fish.” (Washington Times)

ROLOSON THANKS SNOW: Dwayne Roloson returns to Long Island to face the Islanders for the first time since he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. And the 42-year-old took the time to say thanks to GM Garth Snow. "When I signed, Garth told me the situation and to his credit he stuck to his word, that when we were out of the playoffs, he would trade me. Very appreciative of what he did" (ESPN New York)

SERGE OF MOTIVATION: The boo birds have found a target of Sergei Gonchar in Ottawa. Unhappy with his performance, the Senators fans have let him know. His coach Paul MacLean suggests he uses it to his advantage. “I’ve been booed, so it’s something that you ... I think it’s a motivator. If your fans are unhappy with how you play, they should express that they’re unhappy with how you play. Conversely, if you play better, they should appreciate that you play better and to me, it’s just a signal that you need to be better.” (Senators Exra

THE UNTOUCHABLES: Here is a list compiled of the 10 most untradeable contracts in the NHL. Not surprisingly it starts with Rick DiPietro. But after seeing Brian Campbell change addresses this summer makes me think in this this era of a salary cap floor, no contract is untradeable. (The Hockey News)

FISHER STORY: Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators is very open about his strong religious faith. He has said in the past one thing he likes about being in Nashville as opposed to Ottawa is the amount of churches. Last summer he came out with a book Defender of Faith about his story. Here's a little more from Fisher on how it came about. (Predators Insider)

BROTHER BOND: When the Toronto Maple Leafs headed to a military camp for a team-bonding retreat, it made defenseman John-Micheal Liles think of his brother stationed in Washington state with the U.S. Navy. Here's a good story on the strong relationship the brothers have. (Globe and Mail)

STROME SENT DOWN: It's about the time of the season where a lot of the rookies who were getting extended looks out of camp are going to be returned to their junior teams beore contracts kick in. That's what the Islanders did with their first pick in this summer's draft, Ryan Strome. (Islanders team site)

MURPHY TOO: The Carolina Hurricanes did the same with their top pick, sending diminutive Ryan Murphy back to Kitchener of the OHL. In Murphy's case, he had been a healthy scratch in the team's four regular-season games, so it seemed pointless to continue to leave him up. (Hurricanes team site)

GABRIEL'S GOAL: One first-round pick who won't be returning to his junior squad is Colorado Avalanche rookie Gabriel Landeskog. The No. 2 pick in the draft scored his first NHL goal (video below) on Wednesday night in a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he talked to Adrian Dater about it afterward. (All Things Avs)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 11, 2011 9:52 am
 

Daily Skate: Marc Staal still out; lame mascots

By Brian Stubits

STILL STAALED: Marc Staal is still trying to recover from the post-concussion symptoms he has been suffering since the summer, but he's still going to be out for the foreseeable future for the Rangers. He won't accompany the team on their four-game Western Canada road trip. He has gone from being held out for caution in the preseason to still sitting out weeks later. (Newsday)

PELUSO PICKS A FIGHT: Well, not really. But in a figurative sense, the former Senators, Blackhawks, Devils, Blues and Flames tough guy is standing up for fighting in hockey, saying a ban on it "would be stupid." He goes on to assert that depression after playing isn't from fighting, but instead it's poor self-esteem from years of being told all you can do is fight. (Slam Sports)

MASCOT METER: Ever look at an NHL mascot and say to yourself, "Gee, that's really lame?" You aren't the only one. Here is a list thrown together of the eight lamest mascots in the NHL and it's topped by the Canadiens' red-headed furball known as Youppi! The exclamation point is in his name, not my sentence. (Yardbarker.com)

THE BEST EVER: That's the claim of Dejan Kovacevic about Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He thinks the Flower will go down when it's all said and done as the best goaltender the Pens have ever seen, better than Tom Barrasso and the original netminder Les Binkley. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

TROTZ PLOTS MORE: The Predators are perfect at 2-0 even with starting the season the road, but that doesn't mean Barry Trotz is happy with his team. Saying the team has goalie Pekka Rinne to thank for the four points, they are getting back to working even more on defense. Ol' Barry back at it. (Smashville 24/7)

BLADES WEEK 3: Again, for anybody who might be wondering about the Battle of the Blades show in Canada, here is a recap from the third episode. Russ Courtnall and Kim Navarro were booted from the show. They were put together a short time before the show after the death of Wade Belak, who was going to be a contestant. (Puck Daddy)

WHIP IT: Judging from the first week of the season, you are going to hear a lot of a song called The Whip by a band named Locksley this season. The Toronto Maple Leafs are among a few teams that will be using the song when goals are scored this season. Here's a look at the music video. Now it's stuck in your head for good.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 8, 2011 1:54 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 2:14 pm
 

Teams with the most homegrown talent

Hgt1By: Adam Gretz

Every team in the NHL says they want to build through the draft, and like any other aspect of the sport, some have done a better job than others, not only based on the number of home-grown players they have on the roster, but also the quality of said players.

It's always been an important part of constructing a roster and has taken on an even greater level of significance in the salary cap era where teams need to get quality production for an affordable price. There are few things more damaging to a team in the cap era than overpaying a free agent and handing out a large contract for a second-or-third tier player.

Looking across the league at every team's opening night roster and you get an idea as to which teams have done the best job at building from within. Here are the three teams with the most homegrown talent on their opening night rosters.

1) Nashville Predators: No team in the NHL has more drafted-and-developed players on its opening night roster than the Predators' 18. Their group ranges from core players like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, to role players like Jordin Tootoo, to young prospects Craig Smith and Blake Geoffrion.

The farm system has always been the lifeblood of the Predators organization, and it has to be. They don't have the resources to acquire superstars in free agency -- and may struggle to keep their own -- and must rely on their own system to continue to produce talent. The concern has to be whether or not Nashville will ever be able to take the next step as a championship contender, or if the organization has hit its peak with this current strategy.

Other teams across the league are not only able to draft and develop same type of core players, they are also able to re-sign them and keep them long-term once they're eligible for free agency and add complementary pieces from outside the organization.

2) Buffalo Sabres: There's a ton of excitement in Buffalo right now thanks to new owner Terry Pegula. He proved over the summer with his spending that he's committed to utilizing every possible resource he can to make sure the Sabres a contender.

The signings of Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, as well as the trade for Robyn Regehr, made all the headlines, but the Sabres roster is made up of 15 homegrown players. And we're not just talking role players and and roster-filler. Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy, workout warrior Drew Stafford and their newest captain, Jason Pominville, were all drafted and developed by the Sabres front office.

3) Detroit Red Wings: While teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, Edmonton and the New York Islanders have collected multiple lottery picks at the top of the draft to rebuild their franchises, the Red Wings have managed to do it by routinely picking near the bottom of the draft, and finding impact players after the first two rounds. Whether or not it's great scouting ability or great player development is a chicken-or-egg debate, but the Red Wings open the season with 15 players they drafted. That list includes Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetteberg and Tomas Holmstrom, taken in the sixth, seventh and tenth rounds respectively, as well as third-rounders Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom.

In the pre-lockout NHL, before the salary cap, some of the Red Wings' best teams were built largely with big-money players from outside the organization, whether it be Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille or Brett Hull. Today, their roster is made up almost entirely of players they brought up themselves, and whatever players they've managed to acquire through trades or free agency are mainly role players (Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller) or players they managed to pick up on the cheap and developed into productive players (Daniel Cleary).

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 6, 2011 10:03 am
 

Daily Skate: EA simulation picks Pens to win Cup

By Brian Stubits

Today is a very special edition of the Daily Skate. We don't have to tell you why, but we will anyway: the season begins tonight! There are three games on tap, including the champion Bruins opening vs. the Flyers Canadiens-Maple Leafs and Penguins-Canucks. Scoreboard

SIMULATION SEASON: Two seasons ago, EA Sports' simulation using their hockey video game picked the Blackhawks to win the Cup and they did. Last season it predicted the Canucks would win the Presidents' Trophy and the Finals would be Vancouver vs. Boston. It was. This season? The Penguins are their champ. Feeling good Pittsburgh? (EA.com)

OPTIMISTIC START: The negotiations are still a few months away, but if you're like me, you're really starting to fear losing another season to labor strife. But new NHLPA boss Donald Fehr isn't. He's optimistic as the season gets under way that they can get a deal done. There will be plenty of time to negotiate, likely beginning around the All-Star break. (Winnipeg Free Press)

THE HEAT WILL BE ON: The over/under (more on that later today) for the number of coaches to be fired mid-season is 1.5 from bodog. The first could be Ron Wilson of the Maple Leafs. He begins the season squarely on the hot seat as expectations are as high as they have been in a while in Toronto. (Toronto Star)

HE COULD BE BACK: That was supposed to be in a Schwarzenegger voice. Anyway, "he" is Sean Avery, the recently waived Rangers forward who many assumed played his last game not only for the Blueshirts, but in the NHL as no team claimed him. Not so fast. GM Glen Sather says if Avery has earned it, no doubt he could be recalled from the AHL, where he was relocated on Wednesday. (New York Post)

PEACE AND QUIET: It's assumed that most players would prefer to play for a rabid fan base in a hockey-crazy city. Considering that qualifies for each of the seven Canadian markets and a majority of players are Canadian, it seems to be a perfect fit. But former Senators star Mike Fisher is enjoying life outside the spotlight with the Predators in Nashville. (Senators Extra)

SKINNER FEVER PART II: Jeff Skinner was a breakout star for the Hurricanes last season, winning the Calder Trophy as the top rookie. He was also a local star, especially among the swooning young girls of Raleigh. He talks about the craziness he went through last year, expectations for the coming season and much more. (Puck Daddy)

UNDERDOGS, EH?: First-year Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulatzan doesn't mind one bit that his team is considered an underdog. With players like Jamie Benn, Mike Ribiero, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson, I can see why he wouldn't mind being below the radar. Oh, and his Canadian accent is pretty thick (just sayin').

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:57 am
Edited on: September 30, 2011 11:44 am
 

Wings owner Ilitch: Bettman promised move to East

By Brian Stubits

If the Detroit Red Wings aren't in the Eastern Conference next season, there is going to be one angry owner.

Ever since the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets and moved to Manitoba, realignment became an inevitability. And since the beginning of time (OK, the creation of the conferences), Detroit has wanted to be in the East. The long plane rides and late-night games that go past midnight back home aren't necessarily ideal.

Mike Ilitch, the Red Wings owner, has been incredibly vocal about his team's desire to move. Now he says he downright expects it because Gary Bettman promised him as much. In a Q&A with Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News, Ilitch explained the conversation.

Q. OK, once and for all, are you gonna get the Wings out of the Western Conference or not?
A. The commissioner (Gary Bettman) promised me I was next. We even had a meeting over lunch this past season, and he had all his people here, and he goes, 'Yeah, I promised Mike he'd be the next one to go in the Eastern Conference.' So I expect to be in next year. Jimmy D (Devellano) is on the phone every other week reminding them.

(By the way, Ilitch also said they are working on a new arena to replace the Joe, saying "we're going to have a new arena.")

My guess is that might have been a case of Ilitch hearing what he wanted to hear. It's certainly possible that Bettman made such a promise to him, but I'm not ready to go all-in on that being correct. What's more, no matter if Bettman promises it, it still has to be approved by a 2/3 majority of the board of governors. Now whatever Bettman and crew say usually goes, but it's still not a guarantee.

Remember, there will be a lot of opposition to the Red Wings from the teams in the West. No team in the conference draws as well as Detroit on the road. When you start talking money, people get a little more serious, and defensive.

The more I think about Detroit joining the East, the more I begin to believe they might just tear up the current format of six divisions. There's no real way Detroit slides seamlessly into the East. Do they just replace Atlanta in the Southeast? Doesn't seem right. Maybe you move Pittsburgh to the Southeast, Detroit to the Atlantic? I can't imagine Pittsburgh would like being broken up with the Flyers, Rangers, Devils and Islanders one bit.

Instead, if Ilitch is under the right belief and the Wings are flying East, I think you'd see a scenario where they bring a team, likely the Columbus Blue Jackets, with them. You then have the destruction of six division, instead having four. The only thing is that leaves you with two divisions of eight and two with seven, but with a return to the balanced schedule, it helps things.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 30, 2011 10:12 am
 

Daily Skate: Panthers' Theodore cause for concern

By Brian Stubits

TROUBLE IN PARADISE: Jose Theodore, the Panthers' new starting goaltender, played the entirety of the team's final preseason game, a 7-1 shellacking in Dallas. Kevin Dineen expressed some concern over a bad camp but says there's lot of time. (Miami Herald). If he struggles, it will be Jacob Markstrom to come in as he beat out Tyler Plante for the backup job. (Miami Herald)

TRAVEL Kings: Ever wonder who does the most traveling in the NHL every season? Well this year it will be the Los Angeles Kings, who will rack up more than 55,000 miles with 15 back-to-back games and 13 one-game road trips. The Florida Panthers come in second. Surprisingly, the Winnipeg Jets are just 10th on the list. (Shark Page)

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?: There will be a change to the helmets in the NHL this season, but we aren't talking about player safety here. Instead, this season players will have their numbers plastered on the front of their domes in addition to the back, their jersey and shoulders. Just in case, you know, you missed it everywhere else. (Icethetics)

SECOND, BEST?: Most think if Phil Kessel when talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs and their best players. While he did lead the team in scoring last season, it just might be the second line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur in Toronto that really does the damage and dictates the Leafs' success. (Globe and Mail)

MIKA MAKING IT?: The Senators figure to get a lot of time to look at their prospects this season as the prospects for a good season aren't high. So on that note, the team's first pick in the draft this summer, big Swede Mika Zibanejad, has pretty much nailed down a roster spot with the Sens. (Senators Extra)

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE: Brett Connolly is the top prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a ballyhooed player the fans can't wait to see skating in Tampa. The 2010 sixth-overall draft pick is having a great camp and showing he's worthy of at least a longer look, the first nine games of the season. (St. Petersburg Times)

PICK MIGHT STICK: The Pittsburgh Penguins might have found themselves a real gem in the back end of the first orund. Their top pick Joe Morrow is still hanging around camp and keeps a chance to earn a roster spot alive, especially as long as Brooks Orpik is out with an abdominal injury. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

LOOKING GOOD: Nashville, music city, has plenty of good-looking people. A few minutes watching Country Music Television will tell you that. Nashville Lifestyles put together a list of the 25 most beautiful and wouldn't you know it, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne cracked the list. (Nashville Lifestyles)

SUSPENSIONS STICK: Tom Sestito of the Flyers and Jean-Francois Jacques were each suspended by Brendhan Shanahan for action in preseason games and have both been subsequently sent down to AHL affiliates. Well the AHL announced on Thursday that it will enforce the suspensions as well. (TheAHL.com)

STILL GOT IT: Don't think Martin Broudeur has llost much yet. Check out this rob job in last night's Devils game in Philadephia, somehow keeping the puck out of a wide-open net.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Central Division Preview: 'Hawks, Wings battle on

By Brian Stubits

Enjoy this while you can, there's no telling what the Central will look like next season.

One of the premier rivalries in the sport is the Blackhawks vs. the Red Wings. The only two Original Six teams in the West, they have long been fierce combatants. In recent years the Blackhawks have awoken from the doldrums, making this a great series once again.

But this could be it, especially if Detroit has its way. Realignment is coming to the NHL, that much is guaranteed after Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. The Red Wings organization has made it no secret it wants to move East, rivalry with Chicago be damned. Columbus and Nashville would both welcome a move East as well. Something's gotta give, and it will be the Central Division.

It's too bad. Because this year the division is set up to be about more than just these two powers.

Nashville is always sneaky good. People seem to sleep on the Predators every season, but you know they will be there. They are looking to build off the first postseason series win in franchise history with their three Stars in contract seasons. St. Louis seems to think its Blues are ready to make a leap, so long as they can stay healthy. That was a challenge last season. And Columbus? Well there is at least optimism for the first time in a while and some buzz around the team after the addition of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to join Rick Nash.

But as many strides as those teams have and are taking, in the end it will likely still be about the two powerhouses. That's because the Blackhawks are back. They suffered a little last year after winning the Stanley Cup as they had to shed a lot of salary. That meant jettisoning a good chunk of the team that won the Cup. But the core remained together and the team found its groove in the end, pushing the Canucks to the brink in the first round. But after an offseason of reinforcing the roster, Chicago figures to be in the thick until the end.

And Detroit? The Red Wings are ... well they're just the Wings. It's hard to imagine them not being good. Although this year they don't seem to be as loaded as usual, those are some pretty lofty standards. They will still be a threat not only for the division title but in the Western Conference, they can flat out score. That much we know.

So if this is it as division rivals, it should be fun.

Central Division (in predicted order of finish)

PenguinsChicago Blackhawks: Ah, it's nice to be out of salary cap hell, isn't it Chicago? After having to do major salary shedding, the Blackhawks still come out with a cast of characters that includes the names Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and newcomer Andrew Brunette. Throw in Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers to give the team some nastiness power and the forwards are well-rounded.

On defense they will miss Brian Campbell, just not his salary. Sure, he is overpaid, but that doesn't mean he didn't bring anything to the table for the 'Hawks. But the defensive corps is still solid, led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Expectations are very high in Chicago once again.

Strenghts: It's tough to find a better pair of linemates than Toews and Kane. They are both still stepping into their primes, so they have a lot more to show. Those two are also part of the reason why the power play should once again be successful. Last season the unit ranked fourth in the NHL with the man up, led by Sharp's 12 goals on the power play.

They figure to be better at killing penalties thanks to the additions of Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, an area where Chicago struggled last season.

Weaknesses: Depth at center is a major concern at this point. The team has been experimenting during camp with Patrick Kane, of all players, manning the center position. Maybe it's an indictment on the centers on the roster. Perhaps it's an indication of Patrick Sharp's health (or lack thereof). Whatever the reason, it's slightly concerning.

I would also be a little worried about the backup goaltender situation behind Corey Crawford. Alexander Salak is going to have the job and he might be more than adequate in the role, we just don't know much about him at the NHL level where he has little experience.

PenguinsDetroit Red Wings: The Wings are remarkably consistent as they have made the playoffs in each of the past 20 seasons. They also stay consistent in their roster, retaining a lot of their players over time. Case in point, this year's forward group. The Wings will trot out mostly all the same forwards as a year ago for when they finished second in the NHL in scoring.

But the defensive corps received quite a shakeup after last season's 2.89 goals against average, the retirement of Brian Rafalski and loss of Ruslan Salei.

In net they have Jimmy Howard with Ty Conklin backing him up. You have to wonder how much confidence Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have in their starter Howard, though, after the team had a failed pursuit of Tomas Vokoun.

Strengths: As mentioned, the Red Wings can score, almost all of them. Last season there were 13 players that recorded double digits in goals scored, led by Johan Franzen's 28. There is certainly loads of experience in Detroit, too. These guys aren't in their first rodeos. That especially includes defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, who put of retirement for another year on the ice.

Having the leadership that players like Lidstrom can provide certainly doesn't hurt. Also, you might have heard this Babcock fellow on their bench isn't so bad.

Weaknesses: Defense, defense, defense. That is the major concern/question mark here. They revamped the D, bringing in Mike Commodore and Ian White through free agency. Young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson received a pretty lucrative new deal, so he will be expected to improve.

In the defensive vein, the goaltending will also need to get better. Of course, that goes hand in hand with the defense, but Howard has room to improve. Playing for the Wings, his record was solid -- a nice 37-17-5 mark -- but the goals against average of 2.79 (36th out of 47 eligible goalies) and save percentage of .908 (33rd best) aren't worth writing home about.

PenguinsNashville Predators: Hope is high in Smashville coming off the best showing in franchise history, making it to conference semifinals. The Predators have more or less become the NHL's version of a Moneyball team, continuing to cultivate home-grown talent and win on the cheap.

The team is led by the high-profile trio of goalie Pekka Rinne (Vezina finalist) and defensemen Shea Weber (Norris finalist) and Ryan Suter, who are all going into contract seasons. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for each of them. For some players, it's a major distraction, for others it brings out the best playing for a new deal.

If there's anything we've learned about the Predators in recent years it's not to count them out, at least as long as Barry Trotz is on the bench. Maybe this will be the year he finally wins the Jack Adams as the best coach?

Strengths: The Preds have one of the best defenses in all of hockey. That's due to a multitude of reasons stretching from Trotz's system and philosophy to the outstanding personnel on the blue line -- which might get stronger with the addition of heralded prospect Ryan Ellis -- and the elite goaltending of Rinne. All in all, it led to the team posting the third-lowest GAA a season ago.

The farm system is also a strength, it usually is for Nashville. In addition to Ellis, they have forward Craig Smith, who drew rave reviews by scoring six goals in two games in the team's rookie tournament games.

Weaknesses: You would love to have somebody who is the clear-cut scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Preds just don't score a lot, period, forget about one player. Only two players (Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist) topped the 20-goal mark with Kostitsyn pacing the team with 23. Perhaps a healthy Mike Fisher can help with that, at least that's the hope.

As you'd expect with low offensive numbers, the power play placed in the bottom five of the entire league a season ago. The leading power-play scorer was Martin Erat last season with seven.

PenguinsSt. Louis Blues: After coming out of the gate firing 9-1-2 last season, the Blues slowed down as the season wore along, eventually missing the playoffs by 10 points partly because the team dealt with a rash of injuries. Despite that finish, there is positive momentum going in St. Louis and the ownership sees it. That's why they left the young core of the team pretty much untouched this offseason, just electing to bring in a couple of savvy veterans in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to make an impact.

You can see the potential here, especially with another year under their belts. It will be interesting to see how they fare over a full season with Chris Stewert, who they acquired midseason from Colorado last year. After getting the forward, the Blues' offense saw a big uptick in scoring, eventually finishing 10th in the league.

Defensively they came in just below the median at 18th in the league. The Blues should be in the playoff picture all season long.

Strengths: There is a good amount of individual talent here, starting with Stewart and new captain David Backes. In all, they had six players last season score 20 goals or more and one of them, Andy McDonald, reached that plateau in just 58 games. With the abundance of talented and skilled skaters this is a team with plenty of speed up and down the lineup.

You also have to like the young defensive corps that has two stars in the making with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who each had 43 points from the back end a season ago.

Weaknesses: We weren't entirely sure where to put goaltending in this equation since Jaroslav Halak had some struggles in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender. However he showed what he's capable of when he was with the Canadiens. But based on his just average numbers of a season ago and the unsure situation behind him (Ben Bishop vs. Brian Elliott), we'll put this as our best guess.

Another area where the Blues are lacking is in the physicality department. You wonder where exactly the toughness will come from.

PenguinsColumbus Blue Jackets: What is that coming from Columbus? Is that hope? Why yes, I think it is. GM Scott Howson was active this summer by bringing in Wisniewski and Carter along with Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek on the blue line. In addition to signing new players, Howson was also busy in signing his current players to long-term deals, specifically R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin.

Yes, the Jackets are spending money, that's not the problem. What is is the matter of how bang for the buck they are getting. To put it in perspective, the Jackets currently have a higher payroll than the Boston Bruins. The hope is that it translates into success, and a few more fans at the turnstiles as Columbus was 27th in the league in attendance last season.

Strenghts: They have struggled to score recently, but that should be done with, or at least minimized. They have a true No. 1 center now in Carter, which should only further help Nash show he is one of the best players people don't talk about in the NHL. The power play, perhaps Columbus' biggest bug-a-boo in recent seasons, should be significantly better now that they have a quarterback for the unit in Wisniewski (when he's back from suspension) and two very capable scorers up front. It had to get better from last year's 29th-ranked unit.

Weaknesses: Did somebody say goaltending? This is one area where the Blue Jackets didn't do a whole lot of upgrading. Instead, they elected to give the starting reins back to Steve Mason and signing the inexperienced Mark Dekanich to be his backup. Since winning the Calder as the league's top rookie, Mason has struggled. Last season he had a 3.01 goals against average and .901 save percentage. That's a big reason why the Jackets were 26th in scoring in the league.

And while Wisniewski helps, there still isn't much scoring threat from the blue line. Tyutin led Columbus in scoring among defensemen with just 27 points.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 10:03 am
Edited on: September 28, 2011 10:27 am
 

Daily Skate: Doughty stalemate, K.C. auditions

By Brian Stubits

STANDING STRONG: There's a lot more going on these days, but don't forget that Drew Doughty is still not in camp with the Kings, stuck in a contract stalemate. President of the Kings' parent company Tim Leiweke is on GM Dean Lombardi's side in an informative conversatoin with Helene St. James. (L.A. Times)

KANSAS CITY AUDITIONS: Once again Kansas City played host to an NHL exhbition game and once again the city showed well for the game between the Penguins and Kings with 17,779 packing the Sprint Center. But the latest audition still doesn't do much to boost the city's chase for a new team. (Kansas City Star)

DON'T I KNOW YOU? Not everybody hates Sean Avery, the New York Rangers' world-reknowned pest. Check out this look-alike fan in Prague, where the Rangers are getting ready for their season opener. What's one thing Petr Rada likes about Avery? "He's a very funny guy." I'm curious how many agree to that. (NHL.com)

THRILL FROM KIRIL: Looking to get a roller-hockey game going on Long Island, one of the players realized they were short a man. Being friends on Facebook with Kirill Kabanov of the Islanders, one player decided to take a shot in the dark and ask Kabonov to join them. Next thing you know, the Isles prospect was there, creating one Wild roller game. (New York Times)

SPEECH THERAPY: There has been a ton of discourse regarding Wayne Simmonds (apparent but not proven) use of a gay slur on the ice. Here's an excellent one from Bruce Arthur asking why, if the NHL can get rid of the dangerous hits in its league it can't get rid of other hurtful actions. (National Post)

MOVING ON UP: That didn't take long. The No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft, Gabriel Landeskog to the Avalanche, was declared the most NHL-ready prospect there was. Now he's showing it. The Swede has already worked his way on to the top line in Colorado with Paul Stastny and David Jones. (Denver Post)

SHARK CENSORSHIP: For many years you have been able to see shirts near the penalty box and benches in San Jose for Bad Boys Bail Bonds. The owner, a long-time season ticket holder, advertised with the team last year but didn't renew, saying the exposure wasn't worth it. Now the Sharks are banning patrons from promoting or marketing their businesses. There are some unhappy people. (Puck Daddy)

NOTHING BUT NET: In an attempt to help fans see the action on the ice through the mesh netting, the Capitals tried something new on Monday at the Verizon Center, debuting a new white net, hoping it would blend in better and be less obtrusive. Early returns from the fans say not so much. It could be back to normal sooner than you'd think. (Capitals Insider)

JUST SHOOT ME: If the Predators are looking to increase their scoring on the power play, there's a pretty simple suggestion: shoot more! Here's a breakdown of how often (or little) Nashville is shooting with the man advanatage among other Western Conference teams. (Pred Gold)

BACK ALREADY: It was just on Monday when it was said that Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda was expected to miss a couple of weeks with a knee injury. Yet on Tuesday Hejda was right back on the ice, joining the Avs in practice without skipping a beat. Just in case you didn't believe it, Adrian Dater included some video. (Denver Post)

Photo: Dan Rosen

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