Sunday, October 30, 2011

A closer look at the Surprising Senators

There were murmurs this past offseason that rebuilding Ottawa had been asked by their only remaining star forward Jason Spezza to facilitate a trade.  Spezza denied it.  He earned a lot of respect by openly addressing the topic and dismissing it as a rumor.  Trade request or not it’s been openly known the Oilers have been trying to pry Spezza out of Ottawa for the past couple years and the package of young talent and draft picks a true #1 Centre nets would have any GM in rebuild mode salivating.  Kudos to GM Bryan Murray for sticking with Spezza through a tough 2010-11 campaign and trusting he could help bring along a young team with limited offensive prospects. Jason has 15 points in 11 games as of tonight, tied for second in the league; his play and leadership have pulled Ottawa from a rocky start to fourth in the East after tonight’s victory in the battle of Ontario.
Tonight’s win was Robin Lehner’s first of the season and the sixth straight for the Sens.  He was recalled to step-in for injured back-up Alex Auld and quickly got in to game action in the second of back-to-back games turning aside 23 of 25 shots in the W.  Lehner was forced in to starting duty last season as a rookie in the spring just after his infamous World Junior performance which included an obscenity laced postgame interview in which he ripped game officials. Despite the signing of Craig Anderson he is still considered the goalie of the future in the Nation’s Capital and will likely return to the AHL when Auld is healthy.
The Senators were questioned when drafting Erik Karlsson from the Swedish Elite League at 15th overall while so many highly touted picks were still available – they were on to something. After just one full year in the SEL Karlsson debuted in the bigs with 26 points in 60 games in 2009-10 and followed that up with a breakout performance last season tallying 45 points and establishing himself as one of the game’s best power play quarterbacks.  He’s off to a flying start this year performing at over a point per game clip. Sergei Gonchar, the prized pick of the UFA market two offseasons ago, had an off year in 20101-11 but has returned to form in the 2011-12 campaign helping the Sens to an astounding 31% power play success rate.
Gonchar and Karlsson are joined by long awaited prospect Jared Cowen who showed a surprising offensive flair in the preseason and David Runblad who was quietly snatched out of St.Louis’ system by Murray in the offseason.  Along with Filip Kuba and veteran Chris Phillips the Sens have an intriguing d-corpse that could round in to one of the leagues finest with experience.  Playing in front of any of three capable keepers, Auld, Anderson or Lehner, this team could put the embarrassing five, six and seven goal against games from early in the season in the rearview in a hurry.
Milan Michalek is on pace for a career year with 13 points through 11 games.  He’ll have to keep it up following the loss of Daniel Alfredson who has been out since a collision with New York’s Wojtek Wolski. It was a tough choice to return one of the few prized forward prospects, this year’s 6th overall pick Mika Zibanijed to the Swedish Elite League but it was the right one. He managed one assist in his nine game trial and will benefit from the increase in ice time he will receive in the SEL. Nikita Filatov, acquired from Columbus this offseason, has been recalled to replace him.  The former first round pick of the Blue Jackets has one of the finest skillsets in the game and hopes to put it all together in a fresh start with the young Sens.
Murray also added veteran centre Zenon Konopka whose pugilistic abilities are seconded only by his faceoff skills. Colin Greening and Zack Smith have come out of relative obscurity to provide depth scoring alongside Chris Neil, Nick Foligno, Jesse Winchester and rookie Stephane Da Costa. Shots against is still over 30 and the penalty Kill is in the low 70s but this team has more depth than they get credit for and a youthful exuberance that will remedy those numbers with time and experience.
Paul MacLean was hired from Detroit to help fit this rag-tag group of career AHLers, rookies and veterans together. His six years of experience in the Red Wings’ system will be invaluable to the team as they find their identity and were clearly targeted in the search to replace Cory Clouston.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Obsessed with the Oil

I am absolutely fascinated by the early success of the Edmonton Oilers.  They have scored the second fewest goals in the league and are leading their division - how is this possible?

I love the multitude of surprises in this young season.  Dallas is leading the Pacific and Colorado was in the lead of the North West until the Oil bursted out the gates at 5-2-2.  In the East Florida and Ottawa are in playoff positions.  Look at the MLB, for example; there are only a handful of teams in competition each season - the same handful give or take a team or two, but in the NHL a team that let in 7 goals in back to back games is in playoff contention.

But back to the Oil, what is with Magnus Paajarvi?  It's obvious that team defense is making them competitive but can Tom Renney not find a way to give this 20 year old who had an impressive 34 points in his rookie season straight out of Sweden some more ice?  He's pointless in nine games to open the year, a minus-1 with no PIMs.  He was doled out a meager 8:39 of ice time over just 13 shifts in Thursday's win over the previously undefeated Capitals.  He's 6'2, 200Lb. already and has decent wheels, an early first round pick with all the tools and he was given eight seconds of power play time in that game out of eight Edmonton odd man advantages - HOW????

You have to give him some minutes, at all, not just meaningful ones but enough to even get his head in the game.  He hasn't played more than 14:50 in the last five games.  He's listed as a left winger but he's at his best playing the right side, his off wing as a left handed shot and using his speed and deft puck skills to create scoring chances.  He had a minute more than Ben Eager in the Capitals game and that can't continue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

East...the new West

For years we've watched a major imbalance of power between the two Conferences.  The West has way more depth while the stars of the East, namely the Capitals, have flared out in the playoffs after lighting up the lower level competition in the regular season, but the tides are changing.

It's far too early for stats to hold much water, but hey, Minnesota at 3-2-3 and Anaheim at 4 -3 -0 are in the playoffs right now if the season ended today and the scene isn't much different in the East.  But let's throw the early standings out the window and just assess the level of talent in each Conference.

There's a reason why last year's cup winners, the Boston Bruins are their own division, Toronto who are leading the North East and Buffalo who are right behind them made amazing offseason moves and each have a very strong supply of young talent in the pipeline.  Sticking with the North East, do you really think Montreal is a last placed team?  Erik Cole isn't enough on his own to add size to a tiny forward core, but a healthy Markov in that defense and the Carey Price of last year are enough to make any AHL forward group good enough to earn an NHL playoff spot.  Don't look now but Ottawa may have turned a corner. Ok, they're destined for last and Alfredsson's hurt but Jason Spezza is back, Milan Michalek is looking like the player he should be and that young D is going to gel, and let us not forget what goalie Craig Anderson did on a young rebuilding Colorado team in the not so distant past.

The Atlantic is probably the strongest division in the East.  Pittsburgh is looking like they could be the team to beat even without Sid the Kid and receiving spot duty from their other uber-star Geno Malkin.  New Jersey still needs a better transition game but they're looking like a playoff threat and they might end up fifth if John Tavares and the kids from Long Island continue on the current trend.  That leaves the Rangers who are a perpetual threat as long as King Henrik is standing between the red metal.  I think the Rangers are a serious dark horse in the East this year.  Adding Brad Richards has created a possible two headed monster with Marian Gaborik.  They have great leadership in Ryan Callahan and a solid list of experience rugged depth forwards.  When the D is healthy they might have what it takes to win the only 16 games that matter.  Jaromir Jagr served noticed that he is for real with his two goals on three breakaways in last night's primetime match-up with the buds.  Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn are looking like a decent return for the jettisoned Carter and Richards.

That takes us to the South East where everybody's cup favourite is off to a perfect 7-0-0 start.  The Caps look good, and they're very different than the team that has collapsed the past three playoffs.  Florida is sitting in second in the SE and the offseason overhaul is looking like a good one.  Tampa has too much firepower not to make the playoffs and they're in third and Carolina is always a playoff threat.  Winnipeg has a good core - they'll challenge Ottawa for last in the East.

I think the East is only marginally better, but stack it up against the West and you'll see it will be harder to make the playoffs on the East Side.  It should be a fun battle between Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Toronto, New Jersey, New York New York and Montreal.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Better with Higher Competition

Scouting is not an exact science, we all know that.  Over the years I've come to think it's more like some sort of black magic and that the Red Wings have some sort of serious voodoo going on. 

I was cruising the box score of last night's Ducks/Dogs game and and I was shocked to see that Ryan Getzlaf's late tally making it a one goal game was only his second goal in seven games so far this season.  When you look at Getzy's stats they're impressive.  His game is unlike anyone elses now or ever.  His combination of size, gritt, all zones excellence, puzzling playmaking and top ten shot release have never before been seen.  I challenge you, name me one other player that brings all that he does as a true centre.

Amazing that he slipped to 19th in the stacked 2003 draft year...or is it?  Ryan Getzlaf has been an Olympic and NHL champ.  He's topped the 90 point plateau and projects to hang around it for years to come, yet in junior he topped out at 75 points with only 68 in his draft year.

Most of the games stars dazzled in juniors and have yet to reproduce the type of numbers in the NHL that they posted as wunderkinds in major junior, college or European leagues.  It took amazing foresight for Ducks scouting staff to see an increase in production from Jr. to the Show; here are a couple other examples:

-Jordan Staal - drafted directly ahead of higher scoring cetnres Jonathan Toews, Nik Backstrom and Phil Kessel in 2006 made the jump right from Jr. to the NHL and put up 29 goals in his rookie season compared to a career high 28 in junior.

-Patrick Sharp was never a point per game producer in the USHL or college but has emerged a dynamic two way threat.  He's posted five straight 20 goal campaigns for Chicago after GM Stan Bowman plucked him from the Flyer's system and earned a long term contract this off season on the strength of a 71 point campaign - he's got 7 points in 7 games to start this season.

How does a team identify the type of talent that like a fine wine get's better with age?

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Has anyone stopped to consider just how difficult the job of NHL disciplinarian is?

Everyone is questioning Brendan Shannahan's rulings on suspensions, but they all questioned the rule changes coming out of the lockout and they may have been the biggest factor in the relative successes the league has enjoyed since.

How does someone as universally loved by fans during his playing career deserve that much abuse in his new role with the league?

It's extreme, no doubt, but figure it out already wouldya?  We've seen this before. When the new rules were implemented everything was getting called and we got to enjoy new hockey lingo like "parallel stick".  Eventually the players learned the boundaries and the game was better for it.  If discipline for dangerous hits can do for players health and well being what the post-lockout rule changes did for goal scoring then I welcome it with open arms

Monday, October 17, 2011


Canucks Podcast with Josh and Brian:

In the spirit of The Hockey News’ Top 20 by position I was inspired to compile a top 20 for forgotten prospects – sort of a misfits Island from the Rudolph Christmas Special.
20 – Daultan Leveille – The Jr B experiment has yet to net double digits in goals in a single season with Michigan State.  Taken just ahead of Jakob Markstrom and Vyacheslav Voynov.
19 – Oscar Moller – Swedish prospect jumped the puddle to hone his skills in the WHL where his gaudy numbers had Kings fans salivating at the prospect of seeing him in Gold and Purple…or black and white…or with a playing card for a uniform, or whatever logo the Kings cook up next.  He was rushed to the NHL straight from Jr. and then ran home to Sweden.
18 – Chet Pickard – Is sporting a svelt 2.05 GAA….for the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones, taken ahead of fellow puckstops Jake Allen, Jakob Markstrom and (for what it’s worth) Thomas McCollum.
17 – Logan McMillan – The Other Logan of the 2007 draft didn’t even really have first round numbers even in the Q so it’s no surprise he hasn’t panned out.
16 – Jack Skille – This product of the USNTDP experienced early success with an NCAA championship and World Junior Silver but has since been traded.  It looks like the revamped Panthers might be a good fit for him.
15 – Zach Hammil – By the time he was drafted he had played three full WHL seasons, notching an impressive 93 points in the 2006-07 campaign with Everett, the year he was taken 6th by the Bruins. His fading in to obscurity was almost immediate as his points totals dropped significantly the very next season.  He had the great misfortune of being selected directly ahead of Logan Couture.
14 – Bobby Sanguinetti – A near point-per-game effort in his draft year rocketed this d-man up the draft rankings but he’s yet to crack even New York’s paper thin blue line despite having one of the most amazing names in the history of hockey…nay sports.
13 – Kendall McCardle – Tabbed with the 20th pick in the 2005 draft we first heard of McCardle and his inspiring story of overcoming the adversity of being partially deaf as a part of a stacked World Junior team. He’s in Winnipeg now after an up and down tenure with Florida.
12 – Riley Nash – The Oil used their third pick of the first round in 2007 to select Riley out of Jr. A.  Sadly Sam Gagner, taken sixth that year, was the prize of their draft day – unless Alex Plante is the next Larry Robinson.  Going 0 for three with a trio of picks between 6 and 21??? Someone got fired.
11 – Leyland Irving – It’s tough to include goalies on this list as they tend to take more time to mature.  Irving is stuck so far down the depth chart in Calgary that not even consistently .900+ numbers weren’t enough to keep him in the AHL.  He did re-up with CGY this offseason and has a stellar .944 save percentage with the Heat.
10 – Ivan Vishnevsky – This sturdy Russian defender had great offensive numbers in three seasons with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL.  He’s got a couple assists this year with Moscow Oblast Atlant of the KHL.  He might make the big time if the NHL ever had a team with three names.
9 – Robert Nilsson – This guy has seen more leagues than Captain Ahab, spending time (chronologically) in the: Swedish Elite League, Swiss A-League, Swe-1, NHL, AHL and KHL.  The Islanders were extatic to nab him at 15th in the famous 2003 draft, but it was a short honeymoon.  The 21 points he posted as a young rookie in the Swedish Elite League turned to 6 the year after he was's been mostly downhill from there.
8 – Patrick O’Sullivan –For all the grand slams in the 2003 draft there were just as many busts.  Patrick O’Sullivan had a stellar OHL career.  He put up an astounding 93 points in his first year as a pro in the AHL and had a very respectable 53 points playing all 82 games in his first full season with LA.  He has since returned to the team that originally drafted him 56th, the Minnesota Wild, but has also spent time in Carolina, Edmonton and is now trying to hit his stride with Phoenix.
7 – Hugh Jessiman – The Rangers had Jessiman ranked as the fourth overall prospect in the 2003 draft, so naturally when he was available with the 12th pick they jumped all over him.  The 6’6” winger was ECAC rookie of the year with Dartmouth but his production fell of drastically after an injury, then he turned pro bouncing between the ECHL and AHL; he even tried boxing in order to better utilize his size, but to no avail.  He has since been dealt to the Panthers.  Too bad Slats didn’t think too highly of Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Cory Perry, Patrice Bergeron or any of the other franchise players taken behind him in one of the best draft years ever.
6 - Patrick White – might be the worst first rounder of all time.  He would rank much higher on this list if he had in fact been drafted even earlier than 25th by the Canucks in 2007.  He was since traded to the Sharks to offset San Jose’s salary dump, and has concluded an unceremonious NCAA career by recently joining some obscure league in Germany. And who went 26th that year you ask?  David Perron.
5 - Thomas Hickey – Probably the most shockingly high pick since the Isles tabbed Rick Dipietro first overall.  Hickey came out of nowhere, briefly, when he was taken fourth in 2007 by LA – he has apparently since receded back in to that nowhere he came from.  He was at the time considered more attractive to Kings talent scouts then Karl Alzner selected directly behind him.
4 – Marek Schwarz – This guy had an amazing World Junior tournament, good enough to be a high first round pick in 2004. He has 38 saves to his credit over six appearances in the show, bouncing between the NHL and AHL, then down to the Alaska Aces of the ECHL in a crouded crease situation in St. Louis and has finally left the continent for the SM-Liiga.
3 – Chris Borque – It must be tough to be the son of one of the game’s greatest d-men.  Chris, the young borque is a forward in Washington’s system. They selected him 33rd in 2004 and he has since played in the KHL, Switzerland, and briefly for the Penguins before returning to the Caps.  He has amazing AHL numbers, including 8 points in 4 games to start this season.  How could someone so good not deserve a shot even on a loaded Capitals team?
2 – Angelo Esposito – Once considered a lock for the top selection in the 2007 draft Angelo was a victim of his own early success.  A 98 point campaign in 2006 left far too much time for scouts to nit-pick his game before draft day – coupled with inexplicable snubs by Team Canada and a knee injury he slid to 20th.
1 – Gilbert Brule – The gritty Vancouver Giants product who showed a knack for scoring in junior hasn’t found a home in the NHL yet.  Heck, LA GM Dean Lombardi took an injured Colin Fraser over him.  He was arguably stifled in Columbus under Ken Hitchcock and showed flashes of his ability with the Oil, but not enough to keep him with the big club; he’s been sent back to the AHL again.

Canucks podcast with Josh and Brian:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Smyth Elbow

I was just reading the Pens/Oil box score without seeing the game highlight pack and needless to say I was shocked when I saw Ryan Smyth had 15 PIMs.  I immediately youtubed the incident - what a needless call on one of the games classiest guys.  As the linesman is leeding Smyth to the box he's watching the replay on the jumbotron and you can just tell he's concerned about both the play and the player, Chris Kunitz, who made the hit and if you watch the replay also got his elbow up on Smyth.

If Smyth was the aggressor then maybe a 5 but as the guy taking the hit and accidentally getting the elbow up there is absolutely no need to give him a five minute major and a game. 

Then I watched the highlights of RNH scoring his first career goal, a game tying tally on a gritty second effort play in the slot; not bad for a kid questioned for his size.  I'm thinking he's a keeper, and I like my pick of the Oil in 8th in the West even more.

Friday, October 7, 2011

MY TOP 50: Part 2

without further adieu....

25  ROBERTO LUONGO (41) - Postseason struggles don't keep him out of the top 25...barely
24  RICK NASH (20) - May just increase his ranking with a true #1 centre in CBJ now
23  ERIC STAAL (17) - Is going to be huge in the transition of Carolina's young core
22  CLAUDE GRIOUX (25) - Quantum leap for a guy not even in the league last year, sky is the limit
21  DREW DOUGHTY (23) - 40 points last season was considered an off year, will climb to top 10 soon
20  CAREY PRICE (30) - Age and position taken in to consideration he is 20th or better undeniably
19  RYAN GETZLAF (  ) - One of only a few power centres and top five playmakers in the league
18  JONATHON TOEWS (8) - Great young leader, a winner and a stalwart in all zones
17  NICK LIDSTROM (12) - He has to break down eventually, right?  If he was 30 he'd be top 10
16  PAVEL DATSYUK (3) - Injury plagued season last year bumped a perrenial top 10
15  RYAN MILLER (36) - How can you win a vezina and then slide to 36? Still one of top 5 stoppers
14  MARTIN ST.LOUIS (9) - Ageless wonder overcame small stature to put up constant big numbers
13  ZDENO CHARA (10) - Arguably the best in the blue line biz, Captain of the reigning cup champs
12  RYAN KESLER (16) - An unmatched blend of high octane scoring and defensive presence
11  EVGENY MALKIN (22) - One knee injury barely keeps him from top 10 let alone top 20
10  DUNCAN KEITH (27) - Stanley Cup. Check. Gold Medal. Check. Norris Trophy. Check
9    TIM THOMAS (14) - Question his style all you want, the stats don't lie.
8    CORY PERRY (7) - I don't think this year was a fluke, and I don't think it's the end of his progression
7    DANIEL SEDIN (4) - Last year's points leader among best in tight spaces
6    HENRIK SEDIN (5) - I rank him atop his brother because he is a centre and leagues top playmaker
5    PEKKA RINNE (28) - It's insane to keep him out of top 10, let alone 28th.  He's the best at his pos.
4    ALEX OVECHKIN (2) - Consistantly invisible at the highest stakes and coming off a subpar year
3    SHEA WEBER (11) - There isn't a better d-man in the league
2    STEVEN STAMKOS (6) - The guy with the most goals in the past two seasons is secod best fo sho
1    SIDNEY CROSBY (1) - The only consensus on the two top 50 lists (mine and TSN) and there's a reason; you can't just bump him because he got hurt.  His points per game average last season were miles ahead of anyone else, and points totals are just one aspect of what make him the best.

Click the link for my Podcast with BC Lion's Jesse Newman, we're also talking Canucks and MLB Playoffs:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Top 50 (PT 1)

I heard TSN had put out a list of the top 50 players in the NHL, so I had to do my own.  I just read the TSN list and include in brackets the TSN ranking for each player.  Obviously this isn't a list of the top scorers from last year, or even entirely based solely on last year, infact it takes in to account production over the career, value to the players team, age, position, etc... 

50  CAM WARD (NR) - Didn't crack TSN's list but amazing money goalie: count the rings
49  THOMAS VANEK (NR) - Perennial 30 goal threat with potential for more
48  MIKE RICHARDS (38) - Down year and trade slipped this great two way threat
47  PATRICK KANE  (24) - He's got the tools offensively, and a cup, but a little one dimensional
46  PATRICK MARLEAU (  ) - Has had an up and down career, losing the C kinda stings
45  HENRIK LUNDQVIST (34) - Shut out King deserves to be counted among top 5 in the crease
44  KRIS LETANG (NR) - How TSN left this guy off the list is beyond me: 50 PT, 100+PIM in 2010-11
43  TEEMU SELANNE (  ) - Another offseason knee surgery? He's got to slow down this year, right?
42  JOE THORNTON (29) - One of hockey's biggest anomolies - so good reg. season, so bad post.
41  KEITH YANDLE (  ) - Imagine what his point totals would be on a real team.
40  JOHN TAVARES (NR) - TSN didn't have the guts put him in the top 50, forget stats top50 skill fosho
39  DANNY BRIERE (37) - Decent point totals, but amazing playoff performer
38  ALEX SEMIN (NR) - Almost left him off, then realized he is better than anyone behind him at 38th
37  PATRICK SHARP (35) - Could be higher but lets see how he does after surgery and big payday
36  NICK BACKSTROM (48) - 100 points the season before last - how could he be 48 by TSN?
35  DAVID KREJCI (NR) - One of the most underrated guys in the league.
34  HENRIK ZETTERBERG (15) - Skills to be higher but all too often injured
33  JEFF CARTER (44) - 48 Goals two seasons ago and a run to the cup - off year last season cost him
32  BOBBY RYAN (33) - More skill than most realize, will probably continue to increase totals
31  ANZE KOPITAR (21) - He just isn't in the top 25 - Prove me wrong!
30  ZACH PARISE (26) - Just named Captain in Jersey, if he wasn't injured he'd be top 20 fo sho
29  MATT DUCHENE (45) - Many questioned his inclusion by TSN - watch the kid play: UNREAL
28  BRAD RICHARDS (19) - Injury prone playmaker has been a beast come playoff time
27  ILYA KOVALCHUK (32) - Unfair he fell this far, don't forget he is still one of the games best scorers
26  JAROME IGINLA (26) - Had a monster year still without a proven top centre.

OK, top 25 coming tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Kids are Alright

Just reading on that the Hurricanes will have two more teens on the roster this opening night joining last years Calder winner Jeff Skinner.  I love this move.  I think we're only starting to see the life span of the average NHLer shrink.  Eventually star player careers could be as brief as an NFL running back as young competition gets higher and higher, but I digress.

What I like most about this move is that Ryan Murphy, the Canes first round pick in this years draft and Justin Faulk, a second rounder from 2010, are both defenseman, and are small to tiny by NHL standards.

Faulk has had a year in college which he dominated with 33 points in 39 games for Minnesota Duluth.  He came up through the US National Team Development Program and is ready for a test at the next level.  Murphy, a true rookie and standing only 5'11" (on paper at least) ripped up the OHL last year well over a point per game.

Why hold them back any longer?  It's a young mans game.  Let the kids play.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


It’s predictions time!
In the East….
1  Washington – Vokoun is s safety net, holtby and neuvirth will carry the torch, Ovy will bounce back
2  Pittsburgh – With or without Sid this team takes the shockingly weak Atlantic
3  Buffalo – Pegulas return on investment will be high…very high, enough to bounce the Bs
4  Boston – Might even be better on paper this year, but so are the three teams ahead of ‘em
5  Philedelphia – Will take time to gel but expect JVRD to live up to the contract
6  Tampa Bay – Still not enough D, can Rollie (and the aging stars) make it?
7  New York Rangers – Could be a dark horse this spring, more forward depth than you think
8  Toronto Maple Leafs – Just picked up Steckel, and one of the best teams down the middle
9  Montreal – I expect Price to have another stellar year, but Cole and Pacioretty aren’t enough
10  Florida – This is a better team than anyone acknowledges…yet, but they sure will
11  Carolina – Just not enough to really be a competitor but a challenge night in, night out
12  Winnipeg – Team of the future, collection of young stars to rival Pitt, Chi or Edm
13  New York Islanders – Ditto for this group, Tavares to break out this year in a big way
14  New Jersey – No puck moving D, aging tenders, missing top line centre, who wants Parise?
15  Ottawa – Absolutely amazing young D shaping up in the Nations Capital, be a few years tho

And in the West….

1  Vancouver – Will survive early injury problems, lotsa points to be had in weak northwest division
2  San Jose – Gritty Bottom six, Havlat could lead team in scoring, Burns and Boyle amazing tandem
3  St. Louis – Halak needs to play well and he will, perhaps best four line team in league
4  LA – Can Penner and Gagne keep up? No questions on D or in the crease.
5  Chicago – Still very much a contender – Leddy and Bickell to break out in a big way
6  Detroit – Helm ready to step up, core is healthy and Howard will continue to improve
7  Anaheim – Healthy Hiller the key.  If the vertigo comes back the ducks could free fall
8  Edmonton – It’s the 80s all over again. This team will run n gun to a playoff spot
9  Columbus – Tough division will keep ‘em out, might make it if they were in the NW
10  Calgary – Too many health questions with Iggy – Backlund might shine even without him
11  Minnesota – Some young talent and improved offense, but still not enough to compete
12  Colorado – Healthy this is a playoff team, but there top 3 forwards are all bandaids
13  Nashville – Will probably score fewer goals than an MLS team this season
14  Dallas – Crease questions abound and the D is paper thin – Ok top 6 – long year in lone star state
15  Phoenix – Even Kyle Turris wants out and he hasn’t done squat.

If it all comes out this way (which it will) we’ll see some interesting playoff match-ups.
Buffalo and Pittsburgh will meet in the second round with Pegula’s crew winning a nail biter, but losing out to the eventual cup champion Caps in the East final.
Chicago will beat the Nux in the second round adding another chapter to this growing rivalry, and San Jose will make the West final yet again, only to lose out to the Hawks in the West final.

Trophy Time:
ART ROSS: The Sedins are a perennial threat, but Stamkos and Ovi will battle all year – could be a surprise like a Kopitar, Malkin or Tavares, but I think Ovi will nudge Stamkos for the lead.
RICHARD: Perry, Stamkos and Ovi will duke it out all year.  I like Stammer to win it.
CALDER: So many questions, who stays who goes back to the minors.  Based on the preseason stats I’d say RNH is here to stay, and if that is the case he’ll take the Calder.  If not Brayden Schenn will get lots of opportunity in Philly.  This season could be the most highly contested Calder race in decades, the list of possible winners includes: Luke Adam, Tim Erixon, Adam Larsson, Nazem Kadri, Ryan Ellis, Gabriel Landeskog, Sean Couturier to name a few.
NORRIS: I think Alex Pietrangelo will take this by a hair over the likes of Shea Weber and John Carlsson, but look for Duncan Keith to bounce back this year and don’t discount PK in the MTL.
VEZINA: Jimmy Howard is going to keep the Wings in the top tier teams this year and Carey Price is going to perform under the pressure of a weak offense, but Pekka Rinne will win out playing in offensively starved Nashville.  I do think Ryan Miller’s numbers in Buffalo will warrant a nomination, but goalies on stellar teams like Lou, Bryzgalov, Fleury and Co. are getting less and less consideration.
SELKE: If Sid is out for a  while then Jordan Staal might just have the offensive numbers to compliment the stellar defensive play, and Manny Malhotra might just earn a nod if healthy but Dean Lombardi didn’t bring Mike Richards in for nothing – look for him to get the icetime in key situations to earn the hardware.
JACK ADAMS: Ron Wilson is going to get the Leafs in to the playoffs, and Tom Renney is going to break all his own rules and run and gun with the kids in Oil Town, but Davis Payne gets the nod for bringing the Blues to the Central Division title.
And the MVPS???? I’d say both Ovi – it’s just Washington’s year.