Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Hello, everyone! Before I begin, I would like to thank Gregsky for the opportunity to be a guest here on ATR. I hope you will find that my work is worthy of the kind remarks he made in his announcement. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

First, I’ll go through the West by order of finish last season and give you a few thoughts on each team. Afterwards, I’ll give you my predictions for the upcoming season.

DETROIT RED WINGS 50-19-13 113 PTS Lost in Conf. Final (ANA)
It always galls me when Detroit is more successful than my Stars, but respect must be given to the defending Central Division champs. DET was in the top ten in goals against (2.33, 2nd), goals scored (3.07, 10th), and penalty kill (84.6%, T6). Those ingredients are always going to get you far. The Wings lost three of their top eight scorers over the summer; saying goodbye to Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider, and Kyle Calder. My question: SO? Any club that can ice the likes of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom is a dangerous club, indeed. Adding Dallas Drake and Brian Rafalski to the mix does nothing but help. For leadership, look to Methuselah – I mean – Chris Chelios. He just keeps going and going. The only question: Can Dominik Hasek stay healthy. If not, just how much confidence is there is Chris Osgood?

What do you say? Yes, Dustin Penner was plucked away by the Oil; and Selanne and Niedermayer are taking more time than they should to decide whether or not to return. However, the majority of this club is intact. The aforementioned Mr. Schneider now calls Anaheim home, as does one of his teammates in Detroit: Todd Bertuzzi. J.S. Giguere returns, as does underrated (in my mind) backup Ilya Bryzgalov. The Ducks finished in the top eight in offense, defense, PP%, and PK%. Will they return to the Finals? Probably not, but they will makes teams work to the limit before they give up the crown.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 49-26-7 105 PTS Lost in 2nd Round (ANA)
Ah, yes, the cause of my distress for these several months: Roberto Luongo. Luongo outlasted Marty Turco as Vancouver ousted Dallas in one of the finest seven-game series one could ever see. He is back, as are the Sedin twins, Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and company. I’m not sure if Ryan Shannon helps the offense much, but Aaron Miller is an upgrade over Brent Sopel, which should make it even more difficult to score on the ‘Nucks. For all of that, this team goes only as far as Luongo can carry them; meaning that they may bow out in the second round again, or not make the postseason at all.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS 51-23-8 110 PTS Lost in 1st Round (SJ)
OK, so you lose Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell, and Tomas Vokoun. To replace them, you bring in Radek Bonk, Greg DeVries, and you put Chris Mason (84 games of NHL experience) in net, backed up by Finn Pekka Rinne (with all of 63 MINUTES in the NHL). While you’re doing that, people are trying to move you to Hamilton, or KC, or Fort Nelson, or some other place. New captain Jason Arnott looks to have a long season ahead of him. The Preds look to have lost their fangs.

SAN JOSE SHARKS 51-26-5 107 PTS Lost in 2nd Round (DET)
I think the Sharks are a dangerous team with the size, speed, and skill to win a title. Of course, I said that last year, and the year before that, etc. When I look at a roster and see Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo, Clowe, and Grier, I think that is a group that can do some damage. Yet, San Jose has fallen short of expectations. Bill Guerin was a late-season rental who now plies his craft as the captain on Long Island. The netminding tandem of Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala has been split up, with Toskala going to Toronto in exchange for three draft picks. I really don’t know why they bothered to sign Jeremy Roenick (please JR, don’t bitch when you get no ice time). The biggest thing working in favor of the Sharks is the more than $12 million in cap space they have to make a move or two. The pressure is on in San Jose – will they be able to breathe?

DALLAS STARS 50-25-7 107 PTS Lost in 1st Round (VAN)
I will try to be as objective as I can, but it is difficult to do so when talk turns to my hometown boys. Yes, they suffered another early exit. No, neither Marty Turco nor Coach Dave Tippett have ever advanced past the first round. No, Dallas made no splash in free agency. That said, please remember that the Stars battled through numerous injuries all year long, losing almost 300 man-games. Mike Modano missed 23 games. Brenden Morrow missed 33 games after a nasty wrist injury (stepped on and sliced at Chicago in late December. Pot-stirrer Steve Ott missed 63 games due to an ankle injury. Despite all of these issues and more, Dallas posted a 100-point season, and Marty Turco answered all the critics in the playoff series. Dallas needs three things in order to play past the first round: 1) stay healthy, and 2) hope the kids (Joel Lundqvist, Loui Eriksson, Junior Lessard) can step forward and help the offense. Finally, forwards Jussi Jokinen (who just signed a two-year deal) and Antti Miettinen (who got his salary doubled in arbitration despite contributing little) must prove they belong at this level.

MINNESOTA WILD 48-26-8 104 PTS Lost in 1st Round (ANA)
The Wild didn’t lose that much, and seemed to have found a No. 1 tender in Niklas Backstrom. They sent Manny Fernandez to Boston to make room for Backstrom and 2002 draft pick Josh Harding. One would like to think they have enough talent to improve on last season’s finish. Problem: This is essentially the same group that was blasted out of the first round in five games. Minnesota’s power play was nonexistent in the series (7.4%), and the penalty kill was dead last among all 16 playoff qualifiers. Does that linger with the club? Minnesota plays seven of their first eleven games on the road – if there is a hangover, the Wild could get buried early.

CALGARY FLAMES 43-29-10 96 PTS Lost in 1st Round (DET)
I read one preview that said goaltender Miikka Kipprusoff had an “off-year”. Excuse me? The guy wins 40 games (seven by shutout), a 2.46 GAA and a .917 SV% and it is an “off-year”? How many teams would pass on that? I thought so. This team has loads of talent and experience. The Flames scored 3.11 goals per game and allowed 2.70. They were in the top half in the league on the PP, but were 22nd on the kill (is that why Kipper was said to be “off”?). Can new coach Mike Keenan put the right people in the right positions? Jarome Iginla enters his 10th season with Calgary. While it’s not “now or never” for him, his window isn’t going to open any wider. The Northwest may well be the toughest division in the league, and it is difficult to say how that will affect them when the playoffs start. It will be very interesting to watch, though.

COLORADO AVALANCHE 44-31-7 95 PTS 9th in West
Look out: here come the Avs. Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan join a club that finished with a flourish (winning 15 of their final 19 games), but came up just short of the postseason. Smyth joins Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski (who I believe will have an all-star type of year), J.M. Liles, and the ageless Joe Sakic on an offense that shouldn’t miss a beat. The Avs scored 3.26 goals per game last season. The biggest impact Smyth and D-man Hannan will make is on the power play, which was in the bottom third last year. Peter Budaj is solid in net, but overpaid head case Jose Theodore is his backup. An injury to Budaj could derail hopes in Denver.

ST. LOUIS BLUES 34-35-13 81 PTS 10TH in West
Look out again: Here come the Blues. The additions of Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk immediately improve the offense. The blueline is well-manned with Eric Brewer, Barrett Jackman, Jay McKee, and big, young Erik Johnson, the number one pick in the 2006 Draft. I was able to see Johnson when St. Louis visited Dallas last week for the preseason opener, and I was immediately impressed. At 6’ 4” and listed at 222 pounds, he already cuts an imposing figure – give him a couple years to fill out and he will be a behemoth. He scored a goal that night, showing a better than average shot. He played in all situations and acquitted himself well. His potential is unlimited right now. St. Louis will make the playoffs this year, and they just might be the surprise team in the West playoffs.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS 33-42-7 73 PTS 11th in West
The Jackets finished in the bottom half of every major category, but there may be some hope. Scott Howson replaces Doug MacLean as GM, and many claim that move is “addition by subtraction”. Secondly, Ken Hitchcock begins his first full season as coach. This gives him the chance to fully install his system and begin to instill higher levels of responsibility and work ethic in his charges. Hopefully, Rick Nash, Nik Zherdev, and company will listen and take Hitch’s lessons to heart. However, this club is still at least two years away or more. Goalie Pascal Leclaire is on IR, which means the job is up for grabs between Frederik Norrena and a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of. There is much to do, much to teach, much to learn. By the way, I haven’t mentioned Sergei Fedorov at all… is he that irrelevant?

EDMONTON OILERS 32-43-7 71 PTS 12th in West
I feel for Oiler fans. I have always had a quiet admiration of the Oil dating back to the seemingly annual meetings with Dallas in the playoffs. Just watching the fans go nuts at Northlands/Skyreach/Rexall would always give me chills. Now, they have to pick up the pieces after having their heart and soul ripped out. When Ryan Smyth was traded to the Islanders, Kevin Lowe was nearly run out of Alberta on a rail as the Oilers went into freefall (winning two of 20 games). Now Oiler fans will watch in pain as Smyth leads the Avs back to the postseason. When Lowe tried to sign Tomas Vanek to a huge deal (which failed), then succeeded in signing Dustin Penner to a huge contract, GM’s around the league wanted to run him out of the league. Penner and Geoff Sanderson will help, but it won’t be nearly enough to resuscitate an offense that finished last in the NHL. Sheldon Souray and Joni Pitkanen were brought in to bolster the D-corps. While Souray will definitely help on the power play (19 PPG with MTL last year), Souray and Pitkanen were a combined -53 last year. Dwayne Roloson will be a very busy man in net. The Oil are a year away… at least.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS 31-42-9 71 PTS 13th in West
The ‘Hawks had the second-worst offense in the league, and the ninth-worst defense. So, what’s to like? Well…. Um…. OK: Robert Lang, and draft picks Johnathan Toews (2006) and Jack Skille (2005) might be able to help Tuomo Ruttu on offense. Kevyn Adams adds a little depth, but not much scoring. Yanic Perrault and Sergei Samsonov bring a dash of scoring. On defense, Cam Barker may see more time with the big club. Brent Seabrook is durable (81 games, 104 PIM). Of course, these are the ‘Hawks, and things are never easy. Toews injured his hand last week and might be available for the opener. Things are never easy in Chicago…..

LOS ANGELES KINGS 27-41-14 68 PTS 14th in West
The Kings may have put together one of the best young teams in the league. Anze Kopitar, Alex Frolov, and Derek Armstrong are joined by Kyle Calder, Michael Handzus, and Ladislav Nagy (I don’t know what is so great about Nagy – he contributed precious little here in Dallas and was considered “soft”.) Brad Stuart and Tom Preissing will provide solid help on the blueline, where youngster Jack Johnson will get loads of time this year. What will keep the Kings from making the playoffs? Goaltending. Dan Cloutier was recently sent to the minors, leaving Jason LaBarbera and J. S. Aubin to guard (?) the nets. The Kings will be spoilers this year, but look like contenders in the future.

PHOENIX COYOTES 31-46-5 67 PTS 15 in West
Everything I read suggests that the Coyotes may finally have a good group of prospects, but that won’t help them this year. Poor on offense, decent on defense, and with a near vacuum in goal, it will be another long, difficult year in the desert. Phoenix may be fortunate to net 67 points again this season.

My predicted order of finish (Please, no wagering):
1) Calgary
2) Detroit
3) San Jose
4) Vancouver
5) Colorado
6) Anaheim
7) Dallas
8) St. Louis

9) Los Angeles
10) Minnesota
11) Nashville
12) Edmonton
13) Columbus
14) Chicago
15) Phoenix

There you have it. I’ll check in from time to time throughout the year. Peace.

No comments: