NBHL 2010/11 Season Preview
1. New Jersey Devils
The Devils are one of the most consistant teams in the league, and no division will feel the new changes more than the Atlantic. The Devils run nearly 4 equal lines while the previous winner might have to adjust the tactics a bit and that could allow the Devils to steal the division. Brodeur will be the BIG question in New Jersey. He is back for what can be assumed is his last season. Will he hold up the whole year? He hits the ripe old age of 39 right in the smack dab of the playoffs, not many play to that age let alone play well. His numbers haven't dropped, but if they do look for the Devils to finish 2nd in the division. Luckily they have youngster Corey Crawford waiting in the wings, and might see a jump in playing time this season. First round pick Mark Pysyk is looking to jump right into the action, and the Devils would sure love it if he can play well as their D isn't the best in the league. Up front the Devils had a minor retool, but still remaining is star C Zach Parise and wingers Brian Gionta and new comer Raffi Torres should provide plenty of punch to keep this team in strong form.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins could be in trouble. Who knows how well Malkin will return after a very serious 8 month knee injury. He is on the block, but a number have GM's have been disgusted with the asking price of the Star C who is set to become a Free Agent this season and will likely want big time money. How strong is that knee and is it going to be a re-occuring injury? We saw what the Pens do without him with an early exit last season to the Caps in the first round. The Pens return nearly the same team as last season, but with a change in rules things might be a little different. The Penguins will likely be able to work around the rules as last season their highest ice time was still under 20 minutes, but who knows if dressing 20 players will cause a stir. In net young stud Kari Lehtonen is back between the pipes and will have plenty of help from his D. Big Dion is a defensive stud, and can also put up some big numbers. Tarnstrom, Whitney, Foster and Orpik round out one of the strongest Def corps in the league.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
Flyers had a very successful offseason. Picking up some big names in Raycroft, Liles, Martin and Backstrom. I would say that Liles goes down as the steal of the offseason, having broke 70 in 3 of his 4 seasons and a combined +183 since the NBHL began. Raycroft isn't amazing, but with the defense in front of him he should be. Liles and Boynton are a great pairing as Boynton is a perfect shut down option. The defense is one of the most offensively dangerous in the league as Martin, Liles, Pitkanen and possibly even Wideman can all put up over 60 points this season. They are so deep up front, GM Jones is a little worried with the loss of Rolston to retirement will hurt them, but with the combination of star power and depth the Flyers should make their first appearance in the post season since 07.
4. New York Rangers
The Rangers were the toast of the NBHL last year as they were able to finally turn the corner. Now that they have tasted success will they be able to hold onto it? Call me skeptical or a pessamist, but I think the Rags are going to be fighting for a playoff birth this year with the Bruins and Sabres. They have lots of talent, Fluery is one of the leagues best goalies and was a candidate for MVP last season. The defense doesn't have a star, but is very solid from top to bottom. Youngsters Cowen and Nicastro appear ready to make the jump to the NHL and should have solid rookie seasons. The depth doesn't stop on D, up front there are at least 12 guys capable of playing in the NHL, so the battle for spots should be intense. Bobby Ryan and Alexi Yashin lead the team that is quickly aging. There is plenty of young guys ready to get some NHL action when Kapenen, Yashin and Madden retire but will they be as solid? The team top 9 forwards with the exception of Bobby Ryan are 33 or older, so these youngsters are going to have to develop quick.
5. New York Islanders
Lastly the Islanders. I don't know if I have ever seen a team enter a full rebuild quite like this. I think the only true talent they held on to is Carter. Youngsters Bahesky and Vaskivuo are going to be thrown into the fire along with Carter as the teams only true top 6 talent. All 3 players will have decent seasons on this struggling team, but overall this is going to be a long year on the Island. Rookie Jean Labeau is going to get some time to develop in the OHL and AHL, leaving the reigns in net to Rask. Rask has developed slowly and will need lots of help (that he won't get) if he wants to succeed this year. The biggest problem with this team is the defense. When Douglas Murray and Cory Murphy are your top guys, your in lots of trouble! Top 5 pick this year is almost guarenteed for the Islanders given their conference and divsion strength.
1. Ottawa Senators
The gamble paid off and the defending Stanley Cup champs return as the favorite in the East. Nash signed, and didn't even want huge money at that. It is going to be a slightly different team that dawns the Sens logo this year, but strong nonetheless. Nash, Myers and Zuker are the key new players. Zucker has already improved from draft day and should be a contender for the Calder, not so much for his talent but the talent around him is sure going to inflate his numbers. Myers is going to be one half of the biggest defense pairing in NHL history. Chara and Myers combine to stand over 13 feet and with those long sticks and big bodies it is going to be tough to score on the Sens. Not only do they have some great defenders, arguably the best goalie in the league in Roberto Luongo. He was on the block for a while, but when the market for goalies wasn't soaring he was pulled and will likely lead the Sens to a division and possibly conference win this season.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
I didn't believe that the Leafs couldn't win last year, but they were unable to and if they can't win this season GM Osmond is going to have to start looking in the mirror rather than the roster. Campbell was the third overall pick and is one of a few goalies that we have ever seen come out of the draft who can immediatley handle the skill and pressure of the NHL. The draft was great to the Leafs, but they had an overall strong offseason. Picking up Staal and recently Coburn really give them a killer defense at least the top 4. Now the draft; Hall, Seguin, Campbell, McFarland, Gormley, Bozoian... HOLY CRAP! This was to go along with the studs already there. Hemsky is going to have a huge role this year as he has 2 18 year olds on his left and will really need to carry them. It is very possible for youth to succeed but it requires the right mix of youth and vets and the Leafs will see early who will last and who might need more time. The line combos are going to be quite a task as there is some serious talent but it has to be matched right. Peca is going to be a wild card. If he can match up with a youngster and carry that line I think the Leafs have a shot to even take the division and conference. This is for sure one of the top stories heading into the season.
3. Boston Bruins
What a great job done with these Bruins. I don't know how many people remember what was left of this team when Eric took them over, but it wasn't much; Subban and some picks. Subban and those picks were all moved. What was brought in might not be as young and dynamic but this team is ready to compete for the playoffs. Hiller hasn't had the best stats, but he should see a huge boost this season. He has the attributes to be a Vezina candidate and this year could be his break out year. A strong defense that saw some change this past offseason, most notably was the addition of Kronwall. Kronwall has the balance of a great Dman, he can play top line, PP and PK. Up front is where the most remarkable change took place. Much of the thanks goes to Karl of the Sharks who in a post Cup craze gave up half his roster to acqure former player and league whore Thomas Hickey. There is some serious talent up front with Michalek, Kreijci and Hartnell to name a few. If this team can gel together they can beat out the Rangers and division rival Sabres.
4. Buffalo Sabres
I know I am crazy, you look at this roster and you say they can win the conference. And your right if you look at the roster today they might be able to, but what about tomorrow? GM Vanderloo shipped out double the next most GM in the league. There is some serious talent here, its insane how much depth this team has as they are going to have to put some guys on 4th line and minors who can play top line minutes elsewhere. As much depth as they have they have one gaping hole. Niittymaki has been alright in net, but by no means has he been a game winner or show stealer. The defense is very very young and a top pair equalling under 40 could be a disaster. However if Niity holds fort, the D is as good as their atts and the GM doesn't trade half his team away by the Christmas break this team can compete for the conference. That is way too many variables for my liking.
5. Montreal Canadiens
Poor Canadiens. In nearly any other division they could contend for the top spot. This might be the best division in the league ever. From top to bottom all of these teams can compete for home ice in the first round. After dropping a billion dollars on a goalie in Free Agency, we have a full fledged goalie controversy. Olympian and youngster Carey Price is now wondering what is going on, after Theo left he felt secure for about 6 hours. Rinne was brought in and must be thinking why? "Did they make me their higest paid player to sit the bench? Or are they throwing their young Olympic goalie under the bus" Rinne was caught saying at a press conference yesterday. The amount of money was too high to pass up on and now both guys are competing for the starting job. Unfortunately for GM Hunter the Sedins are not quite as good as they are in real life and that is what is holding this team back. Putting all their faith in these two has made it tough for the team to breakout. They hope this is the year, Demitra is almost done, and Boudet and Wilson are ready to jump into the fray right away. The Canadiens might have to try to be more like the NBHL Canadiens and less like the NHL Canucks if they want to break through into the playoffs.
1. Atlanta Thrashers
Was is all a joke? Was Kovalchuck ever truely on the block? Or was the price just so high that nobody was willing to pay? Well whatever it was the toast of the SE is back with nearly the same lineup. Some depth moves, but for the most part the top 2 lines are the exact same as last year. The Thrash had an awesome regular season last year as I expect they will again, but an early exit was blamed on goaltending and it wasn't adressed. Huet and Boucher are alright goalies that are capable of playing decent hockey, but with the strength of the East and especially in net it is hard to see this team really making the jump from consistant regular season performers to Stanley Cup contenders. That being said they SE division has took a bit of a hit, so I expect to see the Thrashers sitting all alone in third come the end of the season.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
The only team who I really think has a chance to contend with the Thrashers for the division is the Bolts. However I don't think Steve Mason is a true starter and despite decent numbers last season I think he still needs more time. The depth is not here for them to win the division I don't think. Upfront they are as good as anyone, but when you start getting to third and fourth lines your really struggling to see how these guys can stop anyone. The defense is pretty solid with youngster Alzner and Regehr leading the group, Shea Weber is still chuggin along that development program in Tampa and is well on his way to turning into a true top line guy. IF Mason can hold for again anf put up similar numbers
3. Florida Panthers
The team is solid, but the verdict is still out on the GM. It is a shame the old GM abandon ship without saying anything. Luckily for the Panthers I still think they got a steal in the first round, but the new GM didn't take over with enough time to get him signed. Miller is a great goalie, and Repik is pretty much ready, so Miller might be on the way out this season if things don't go well for the Panthers early on. There is some strong star power on this team in Marleau, Bouwmeester, Hossa and Palffy, if the newly signed GM comes in and gets after the other teams in the division he can really suprise some people. I think the East might be too tough from top to bottom (excluding the Isle hehe) for the Panthers to make a big splash again this season.
4. Washington Capitals
I could be way wrong here, but after a 2nd round exit last year we haven't seen much from the Caps. The team is stacked, but they barely made the playoffs last year and the conference got much tougher this year. We haven't seen much of JF as of late to show us that the Caps are here to stay, but if a strong commitment is made to this team, as we saw with the huge first round upset over the President trophy winning Penguins, this team can compete for a cup again. Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the league having won multiple Vezina's and well they still have Star player and Alexander Ovechkin among many others. With the team built the way it is its on the GM so this year for the Caps it is either going to be a top 10 place in the league or a top 10 pick at the draft, not likely to be in the middle.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Much like the Islanders, the Canes are in rebuild mode. While many GMs like to retool, these guys find their teams weren't close enough to winning to retool and istead need to pretty much start from scratch. Irbe is back in goale, sorry I mean Kaljuste and we will see if unlike previous Irbe regens he can put up the numbers to back up those attributes. He has had a very rough go in the NHL so far, and it could continue if the team goes the rebuild route this season as many think they are. Unlike the Isle the Canes have a slew of talent on the roster already; Johnson, Petrecki, Komi, Staal, Alffy, Fisher to just name a few. It is very possible that if they can pick up a few 2nd line guys they can contend for the division or at least that final playoff spot.
1. Detroit Redwings
If your lookin for an unbiased opinion lookelsewhere. The Wings come into the new season with the most firepower in the Central and arguably the most in the conference. Calder contenders Ireland and Connolly will have plenty of veteran help surrounded by guys like Datsyuk, Kessel, Zetterberg, Penner and Huselius. A rarity for this GM, but there is plenty of depth to move people around if someone goes down with an injury. In net they are very strong and again probably lead the Central with star Miikka Kiprsoff in for a couple more seasons before likely heading into the HoF. The Defense is where the Wings could struggle, its deep and has some talent but they are lacking in a true top line pairing. All 3 pairs are probably good enough to be a second pair on most teams, but you would be hard pressed to find any of these guys cracking the top pair on any teams. Despite the lack of a top pairing, the offense is very dangerous and all of the guys can put the puck in the net. The Wings are going to rely very heavily on Kipper to keep them in it as they will win a lot of high scoring affairs
2. St. Louis Blues
The Blues came into the offseason with a high draft pick, an old goalie and a young talented team. The start the season with an old goalie, a young talented team and Thomas Vanek. If Liles was the steal of the offseason this is likely going to be the next one. Vanek is a star and was acquired relatively cheap. While the pick may one day be as good as Vanek, he should be a big part of the Blues team this season. Upfront they are stacked with star power. Bergeron, Vanek, Tanguay, Wolski among others...and then what? Well as I have stated the goalie is old, very old. Khabi will be 38 by the middle of the season and was just decent last year, so who knows how he will play this year. I don't think hes got what it takes to get through the year and backup Weekes is just that a backup. He is a good backup so he will keep them in games but it could be rough playoffs for the Blues as they could be goalieless and to make matters worse, they have one of the weakest defenses going. Carlson is a young stud, but still 2nd pairing guy, and after that the team is filled with third pairing guys. That means they are going to have one of Rachunek or Salei on their top pair and yes it gets worse from there. The Blues have a smart GM and offense wins and they have one of the best top 6's so they will do just fine during the season.
3. Chicago Blackhawks
Here ya go Tommy.... Iginla has been on the block for the last season and a half but according to league sources the price has been much to high for anyone to even consider a deal. So that means the star RW will be back in Chicago for another season and he will be a key part of the hawks playoff run. A tactical lesson at the end of last year was too little too late for the Hawks, but its a new year and the Hawks will be right in the thick of things in which has been the worst division in NB so far. This will be the first time that 3 teams from this division make the playoffs which is finally showing signs of life. The hawks are pretty solid upfront with Iginla, JVR, Toews, Skille and Little. They might need some more 3rd or 4th line talent to go far, especially if injuries come up but that is solid enough upfront to get it done early. The defense is pretty underrated, its not the best but there are certainly worse. Hamerlik and Sarch make up a nice top 2 while youngster Shattenkirk will see some PP time and sneak onto top pair here and there. In goal they have a nice 1-2 punch in Dipietro and Vokoun. Rumor has Vokoun on the move, but he might be a valuable asset to the hawks if DiPietro struggles again.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets had a great offseason, and could contend for the division but more likely the 7th or 8th seed. Trading the pick that everyone wanted was huge, they picked up a former 2nd overall and a high pick for the upcoming draft. Dubas isn't the best skater but with that skill he should put up big numbers along side Spezza. Speaking of Spezza another great move was the return on impending FA Rick Nash. Nash wouldn't sign there and they picked up star C Jason Spezza and shut down Dman Chris Phillips. Alex Vincent is in for his rookie season and will be looking to make in impact, but the team is severley lacking some bottom 6 talent and it could hurt them. Their top line is solid, but will it be enough to make up for the bottom 6? On D they are solid, Boyle is back and still has the ability to put up over 80 points, as does stud Bryan Berard. Phillips will be a nice addition as a shut down man while the bottom 3 are D men could be better but will be servicable. In net is the question, the BJs have recently acquired a nice goalie, but he won't ready for a few seasons and Leclaire will need to be great if the Jackets want to make the playoffs
5. Nashville Predators
And the Preds, much to the Canucks liking the Preds traded off Ryan Suter in a clear sign of a rebuild. Could be a couple long seasons in Nashville as they try to attempt to rebuild without their pick. They have a few nice picks this upcoming draft, but for this season they will be in trouble. Esche is a solid goalie but needs some help to succeed and he won't be getting much. Edler becomes the teams top Dman and he is mediocre at best. Hes young and offensive so he will stick through the build, but will likely get bumped down significantly as better players enter the fold. There some serious talent up front which could be moved this year. Naslund and Savard are getting older, and are losing value by the week, especially Naslund as this is likely his last season. Comeau, Hensick and Jurica are the guys for the future so look for the Preds to get these guys as much ice time as possible and for these youngsters to have successful seasons.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Well the Avs could be in for an eventful year, depending how the Ice time rules work out. I will be very intrested to see what they do if the rules get tighter and force teams to run 4 lines. GM Wharry is pretty confident he will adapt and continue to win, and given his knowledge for the game it is very likely, but still a storyline to look to this year. Vezina winner Craig Anderson is back and will look to make it back to back as he is one of the best goalies in the game. Out is Liles on the Avs blue line and in comes some youngsters. Ekman Larsson is in the mix finally after years of FA and massive rookie Victor Hedman will be joining him. Vannanen and Blum close out the top 4, and the other pairing remains to be seen. Upfront its a mix of talent and over achieving youth. Look for the GM to mix them together as guys like Fry and Etem are bound to get some big minutes with some of the top guns in an attempt to get some scoring depth. The AHL system is solid in Lowell as the Avs have snuck a few players through waivers and the depth will be huge if some of these young guys don't produce or some injuries take place. The Avs might not be the best team in the division, but they are solid and the GM knows what hes doing so they should take the division easily, and with the holes in the division they are my pick for the top spot in the conference.
2. Edmonton Oilers
The Oil had a pretty successful offseason. They had a solid draft and some big moves to get significantly better up front. Krupka was the big acquisition which was a steal with the major part of the deal being 2 late 1st round picks. Not really sure why the Sabres GM made this move, but it appears the 2012 draft is a biggy as many GMs have been approached for their 2012 pick. The other move saw them bring in a top line C, one they had been missing for a while. These guys join an already stacked top 12 and an old defense that might be the best in the conference. Age isn't valued very highly in this league, but the Oilers are using that to their advantage acquiring some vets that will go along way. Nabakov is back and hoping to prove 29 GMs wrong about how he is one of the most overrated goalies in EHM history. The Oilers should be able to take home ice for the first round and finish comfortably in 4th.
3. Vancouver Canucks
All depends which way GM Hart wants to take this team. Pretty pissed off after losing Labelle to the deadly AGM demotions, he vowed he was taking the season off and would come back for draft time, but one of the leagues most active GMs off of a tanking season last time probably won't be able to do it again. The team is not the best, but this GM has won with much worse when he first joined this game. He already has a probable top 5 pick and a couple other 1sts so their is no harm in trying to win and if he does he should win. Labelle being sent to juniors hurt like no other, but there is still some talent there. White, Stafford, McCauley, Hagman, Pavelski and favs Wellwood and Bolland are all servicable and capable of putting up numbers. Duncan Keith, Byfuglien and Tim Gleason lead an underrated Defensive group, but they will need to be very good this year as LaBarbera is getting the nod and he has not had a very successful career thus far.
4. Calgary Flames
Yeah yeah the Flames made the playoffs last year, but I am not a believer yet, benefitting from a draft that threw the league out of wack things should be back to normal in Calgary this year. I am expecting another 11-13 finish as in previous years. With teams like the Ducks, Wings, Nucks, Kings and Blue Jackets all improving on last year these Flames are in for a tough go. In goal is what gives this team a chance, Cam Ward is a stud and if he can steal a game every now and then this team will sneak into the 8th spot, but he is going to have to be Vezina worthy. The defense is old and expensive, the team is going to have to rebuild sooner or later and this will probably be the year. Rafalski and Aucoin are already on the block, Aucoin probably won't fetch much intreterst with his speed dropping like J-Hole's moms panties (very fast) and Rafalski will get a lot of interest especially as teams see the need for a vet down the stretch. Schenn, Lukowhich and Yandle are all around for the long haul and will be pivitol parts of the team for years to come. Nothing amazing up front, some good talent that will go well with some good drafts for the Flames. Hecht, Svitov, Kesler, Umberger and Weiss are all very good players who will be around a while.
5. Minnesota Wild
Fox gets his shot to show what hes got. Concensus around the league is that he knows what hes doing, and I love adding some motivation for our new GMs so predicting a last place finish in a weak division is as much motivation as you can get. The talent is there for sure, this team had been abandon for a few seasons so they have virtually been tanking to the top spot. Some nice moves at the draft got this team some depth, although neither of the top 15 picks will dawn the Wild jersey this year, so they are pretty much bringing the same team to the table this year. Bryzgalov is solid in net, and has the skills to go deep in the playoffs when on the right squad. The Defense is headlined by youngster Zach Bogosian who is a monster shut down man but has enough skill to play a factor in the offensive zone. Kronwall, Mitchell and Bergeron are all strong 2nd option guys, and a good mix of Off and Def on the back end. Up front the team made some huge moves. Bringing in Allstar Dany Heatley to play along side of Koivu or Duchene will be huge, and Heatley will elevate the whole line to new heights. Very deep on the LW and up the middle, if they can pick up a top line RW they could be right in the thick of things this season.
1. San Jose Sharks
After blowing a 5- lead in the game to clinch the Stanley Cup the defending Western Conference champs are back and desperately want to avenge that melt down. Pretty much a lock to take the division again. Having won the division 3 years in a row they look to go 4 for 4 this season. Quick is back between the pipes and has developed into a Vezina candidate and should have no problem backstopping this team to the top spot in the division. The defense is unthinkably good, Pronger, Hickey, Jovo, Tinordi, Fowler, Smid, Hallin. Pronger has won 5 straight Norris trophies, every one since the league began. There is a chance he will lose it this year, and thats cause his teamate Hickey is poised to take it. Fowler will likely see time in the AHL as there are so many guys who can play and the GM wants to make sure hes not stuck on the bottom pair. If Forsberg can make it through the season a top of his game this team can win the conference and return to the cup. If Forsberg becomes useless or gets traded the team could be in trouble late in the playoffs. They still have a shot if Forsberg can't go because they are so deep. Thornton, Tavares, Elias, St. Louis, Voracek and O'Reilly are a crazy top 6 and that is excluding Forsberg so one of those guys are going on third line. It is frustrating me looking at this seeing how good this team is so lets just say they are VERY GOOD and will be tough to beat.
2. Dallas Stars
The Stars are going to be in tough this year. The West is finally getting better and the Stars might suffer in the standings as a result. Neidermeyer is going to be the back bone and will have to be very good if to make the playoffs. Turco is back and had a successful season last year and GM M. Lewis will be looking for him to have another. Lehtinen who put up 99 points last year is getting old and will not be able to put those numbers up again. His speed is dropping and he will be in tough to put up 70. They haven't brought anyone to replace him so that is why the conference is going to catch up. The team is deep upfront, but not a lot of guys who will put up big numbers, if Lehtinen can put up similar numbers or they can find a replacement the Stars should be just fine. However they may be looking to sell and rebuild as they are missing their pick this year and with the aging stars they might want to move them and rebuild so they don't enter next season with no assets.
3. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are the perennial 9th/10th place team and will look to finally break through this season. A very different team enters the fold this year, Jimmy Howard will finally have a team infront of him and gets his chance to show what hes got and if his atts are any indication he will be solid. The defense was "rebuilt", the guys are mostly guys the Kings had last year, but they flipped some of the other guys for different parts. Out is Souray, Meszeros, Wiesnewski and Campoli and in are Williams, Hunter, Comrie, Cohen and Louhi. When you see the D that they lost you think wow they lost a lot, but the Kings were so deep they still have Mara, McCabe Lee, Cohen and Tanabe. The Kings might actually be able to breakthrough and make the playoffs this season, after years of heartbreak.
4. Anaheim Ducks
I could be way wrong here, but who knows, the Ducks claim they weren't tanking last year and I will believe him. We will know for sure this year. I think of all the teams that were supposedly tanking the Ducks are the only ones not saying they were so if they magically are in the thick of things this year we will know. Theodore is in net and Budaj will be backing him up, neither of them have had stellar NBHL careers. The defense is solid lead by youngster Pietrangelo, Smith and Markov. Kariya will play a big part in getting youngsters Eberle or Forsberg firing. Chris Stewart will be a force on the RW and the team is pretty deep from top to bottom. The talent is defintely there to win, but tactics are so important and the team was solid last year as well with Gaborik and co. so if they couldn't win then they could have trouble now. A tactical lesson could go a long way for the Ducks.
5. Phoenix Coyotes
How about them Jets... ok ok this division is so tough, its not like the Northeast where every team has a chance to make the playoffs, you could argue it has more at stake in the Pacific. The Yotes and Ducks likely won't win the cup this year but they should be good enough to make the playoffs, but when they have to beat each other up so much it could be tough for either of them to. Giguere is the opposite of Nabakov, doesn't have the greatest attributes, but performs very well. The defense is solid with Morris and Kalinin leading the way. Gonchar is good, but getting old and could falter come mid season. The key to the team being low in my standings is the loss of leader Shane Doan for the first 3 months of the season. If Doan was healthy the team could be 2 or even 3 spots higher, but without him things will be tough in the desert.