My Two Cents for September 1st, 2013
2013-14 Season Preview - Believe it or not, the 2013-14 NHL season is just around the corner. With the NFL kicking off next Sunday, College Football underway and Major League Baseball entering it's home stretch towards their post season, the NHL is also is going to come calling with their new season as a 30 clubs begin a new chase for the Stanley Cup. That chase will included 82 regular season games spread out over six months, followed by a two month series of playoff rounds which lead to the Stanley Cup finals. In between all of this, the NHL will also do this season what it does every four years, go into a three week hiatus in February during the Winter Olympic Games so that many of their players may also represent their countries during the Olympic Hockey Tournament. Gone from last season are the bad memories of Gary Bettman's fourth career shut down of the league which when settled truncated the season to 48 regular season games. The season was forgettable for some teams while being memorable for others. The Chicago Blackhawks at the end of it all came away with the Stanley Cup, their second in four years. The Blackhawks appear to be the odds on favorite to win it all again. That however will be a topic for a column to appear in the next couple of weeks. The next four My Two Cents columns will focus on the upcoming season with a division to be previewed each week. The Pacific Division will be the last of the four columns since the San Jose Sharks are there. This week the focus will be on the NHL Atlantic Division with a brief breakdown of each team in projected order of finish and point total (don't read anything into the point total, it's just there to shed light on the team and their projected finish. They can always prove me wrong during the season as some in the past have). Without further ado, here is a look at the NHL's newly formed Atlantic Division:
8) Buffalo Sabres (64) - The Buffalo Sabres are going to be entering the 2013-14 with a lot of questions. This is not something that is entirely unexpected however as the Sabres have begun to reorganize the franchise after the purge of Lindy Ruff as their head coach for many years early last spring. Gone are also former team Captain Jason Pominville, along with Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold. Veterans Drew Miller, Thomas Vaneck and long time veteran starter in goal Ryan Miller may start the season with the Sabres, but how long they'll each remain in Buffalo is anybody's guess. New Head Coach Ron Rolston was brought in from the collegiate ranks to begin what very well could turn into a rebuilding project, particularly of the Sabres don't get off to a good start or struggle at any point of the season. Their roster still consist of NHL veterans such as Cody Hodgeson, Tyler Ennis, Steve Ott, Villie Leino, Henrik Tallinder, and former Shark Christian Ehrhoff. These players will have to bring even more to the table this season if the Sabres are to legitimately contend, otherwise it will be a long season for the Western New York franchise.
7) Tampa Bay Lighting (67) - The Lighting are a team that can accomplish a lot if given the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately they are now in a division top heavy with the likes of Boston and Detroit. Add to the mix is that long time Lightning fan favorite Vincent Lecavalier exited the franchise and has since signed on with the Philadephia Flyers. The Lighting still have Martin St Louis, who is one of a few players left over from the Stanley Cup team of the 2004-05 season. However, St Louis is 38 years of age though from the way he plays the game you would hardly know that. He is still and maybe even more so now the undisputed face of the franchise. The Lightning will have their work cut out for them now that they are in a stronger division, but this is not to day that they cannot compete in it. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman this offseason has brought in former Red Wing C/LW Valtteri Filppula to help out St Louis and Steven Stamkos to help strengthen an offensive threat that absorbed a blow by the departure of Lecavalier. RW Geoff Walker and first found draft pick Jonathan Drouin have also been added to give Tampa some spark. In the net, Ben Bishop was acquired from the Ottawa Senators to complete the Cory Canacher trade last spring. He is expected to compete for the top starting goalie position along with Anders Lindback. Mathieu Garon, who started 18 games for Tampa last season is still an UFA at this point. Tampa is a team that has a good deal of veteran leadership and their experience maybe the only reason the team does not finish at the bottom of the division this season. The Lighting may be a fun team to watch from time to time, but on the whole just lack the necessary depth to be a serious contender in 2013-14.
6) Florida Panthers (73) - The Panthers are a franchise who are just two seasons removed from their last post season appearance in 2011-12. However the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign could not end soon enough for the Panthers who struggled mightily through the shortened campaign. Florida General Manager Dale Tallon, credited for putting together drafts in his days with Chicago that transformed the Blackhawks from an "also ran" to a powerhouse, has the same task before him with the Panthers. Florida this off season was very busy in the player acquisition department. To increase the overall depth of the team, the Panthers brought in veterans such as former Shark Scott Gomez to go along with RW Bobby Butler, C Jon Matsumoto, D Mike Mottau, RW Steven Pinizzotto, C Jesse Winchester, RW Joey Crabb, D Matt Gilroy. They will be joined by veterans Tomas Fleischmann, Shawm Mathias and Thomas Kopecky who will make the Florida roster a respectable one. In addition, the Panthers youth movement includes several key players all 22 or younger. Forwards Drew Shore, Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad, along with defensemen Erik Gudbarnson and Dmitry Kulikov with give Florida hockey fans a good glimpse of the team's future while contributing to the present day roster. In goal, Jacob Markstrom, 23, looks top be the top man on the Panthers' depth chart as UFA Jose Theodore may or may not return. Overall, the Panthers have a good mix of players that can carry the team as far as it's willing to go. The only problem is that they are now in a division that is top heavy with Boston and now Detroit.
(5) Montreal Canadians (84)- Montreal last season entered the post season in the Eastern Conference as the number two seed having just edged out Boston for the old Northeast Division. Once the playoffs started, the Canadians drew the Ottawa Senators and before they knew what even hit them were blown out in five games, with Ottawa winning three of the five games rather handily if not very easily. The Canadians lost the last game 6-1 in a game where it seemed they all but surrendered. This was a bitter pill to swallow for the otherwise most storied franchise in the history of the NHL (the Canadians being hockey's mass equivalent of baseball's New York Yankees). In the upcoming 2013-14 campaign the Canadians mission going forward is learn from what happened at the end of last season, then sweep it under the rug. The good news in Montreal is that a new season is at it's dawn and they can now begin to put last season behind them. The Canadians in the offseason signed former Philadelphia Flyer Daniel Briere. He will be looked up to to lead the Canadians along with Max Pacioretty, Rene Bourque, former Shark Josh Gorges, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Brian Gionta. The Canadians may also be one of the tougher teams to go up against as they have three hard hitting enforcers in their lineup in P.K. Subban, former Anaheim Duck George Parros, and former Shark Douglas Murray. In goal, Carey Price looks like the man to carry the load in the net. With the subtractions also of Michael Ryder and Colby Armstong, Montreal appears to be trying to keep a strong unit on the ice that can be a factor in the long run. The question for the Canadians has to be which team will their fans see? The one that won or pointed in 25 of 30 games at one stretch last season, or the one that got owned in the first round of the post season (in much the same way the St Louis Blues owned the Sharks two years ago). If nothing else, things are never dull in Montreal.
(4) Ottawa Senators (92)- The 2013-14 season in Ottawa will mark the official beginning of the post Daniel Alfredsson era. The long time Captain of the Senators left to try and chase a chance at the Stanley Cup in Detroit as the end of his playing days draw near. There was plenty of upheaval in Ottawa about his departure, however at the same time the Senators still have a number of talented players who have shown they can compete with just about anybody in the NHL. The acquisition of Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks was a huge pickup for Ottawa as they are bringing in a player who is still very early in his career and can be groomed to be a leader. Ryan will make a difference in Ottawa and should he stay healthy has the ability to carry this team as far as they are willing to go. In addition to Ryan, the Senators feature Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Jared Cohen and former Shark Milan Michalek, all of whom should be healthy to start the season. If they remain healthy, they could do some collective damage together. Kyle Turris, Colin Greening, Zack Smith are still relatively young players just getting into their prime years. Left wing Clarke MacArthur was signed in the offseason to give the Senators another offensive weapon. In goal Craig Anderson is again expected to start in net. Overall, the Senators main problem could very well be the luck of the draw in sharing a division with the likes of Boston and Detroit. However the Senators are a team very capable of a tough out if they can put it all together. Alfredsson may be gone, however I feel the Senators will be out to prove the franchise is bigger than just about one player. Ottawa will not be lacking in the motivation department.
(3) Toronto Maple Leafs (95)- The fans of the Maple Leafs nine year wait of seeing their team make the post season came to an end last season. The Maples Leafs took the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and came within 82 seconds of upsetting the Boston Bruins in the first round of last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite the rather painful exit from the post season, the fact remained that the Leafs had finally broken through and ended a drought their fans thought might go on seemingly forever. The Maple Leafs come back in the 2013-14 season looking to build upon what they did last year in the NHL's new Atlantic Division. Head Coach Randy Carlyle, who took Anaheim to their first Cup title six years ago, has the Maple Leafs primed to make a move in the east. Phil Kessell, Nazim Kardi, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul amongst others are looking to help Toronto take the next step forward. Off season acquisitions such as David Bolland from Chicago, and David Clarkson from New Jersey are going to infuse the Leafs with more firepower as they challenge Boston and Detroit for the top spot in the division. In the net it will be a healthy competition between James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, picked up in an offseason trade from the Los Angeles Kings. The Maple Leafs know there are expectations that come with their blue and white sweaters. This year, fans in Toronto could very well see a team that will with some hard work and some luck could find itself playing deep into the post season. The chemistry for that to happen is now in place.
2) Detroit Red Wings (99)- The Detroit Red Wings have migrated to the Eastern Conference and geographically are better served for it, having played in the Western Conference since the 1981-82 season. This will help the franchise cut down on multiple trips to the west coast and their fans having to wait until after 10pm (ET) for games to start more than a few times a year. As for as the team goes, the Red Wings roster is well suited to play anywhere and they should do just fine. Because of the travel being less, they may even thrive. The Red Wings roster is almost a who's who of the NHL as the names are known league wide. Despite being in the later stages of their careers, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson and Niklas Kronwall are still very solid players who can still contribute to the bottom line at a somewhat efficient level. How long they can play at this level remains to be seen. However the Red Wings have very quitely brought along talent through their farm systems such as Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Thomas Tatar. These are just a few players in a youth infusion that will keep the Red Wings competitive. The Red Wings also brought in Steven Weiss (from Florida) and Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa) to add veteran experience. In goal Jimmy Howard when on the big stage has shown he is as good as anyone in the league and is capable of shutting down any opponent on any given night. The Red Wings may see different opponents going forward, but their mission will be the same. Their goal now is to get reacquainted with a Western Conference foe, only this time it being in the Stanley Cup Finals.
1) Boston Bruins (104)- The defending Eastern Conference Champion should be more than ready to go when the season starts next month. The Bruins are ready to put last years Cup finals behind them and can't wait to get started. With the success the Bruins have enjoyed over the last three years, the expectations and standards in Boston have only raised. The Bruins have the same expectations of themselves and are looking not only to meet the newly set standard, but to also exceed it. The Bruins are a club that is perfectly able and a roster which is perfectly willing. That combination will allow Boston to make another deep run into the post season this spring. Led by Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Brad Marchand the Bruins will be looking to do what Chicago did last season, secure their second Stanley Cup in four years. The Bruins also brought in players who will add more firepower to their line by trading for Loui Eriksson (from Dallas), plus signing former Calgary Flame Captain Jarome Iginla in free agency. Both Eriksson and Iginlia are a perfect fit as those two should be able to help the black and gold absorb a free agency loss (Nathan Horton), as well as the trade of a productive but highly controversial player (Tyler Sequin). In the net Tuukka Rask will be back to try and want to better his campaign from last season. Rask is the one player on this roster that could not get back on the ice fast enough to start this season after a tough end to the Stanley Cup Finals in June. Rask took over as Boston's number one goalie when former Bruin Tim Thomas left the team for good after the 2010-11 season. Rask has been solid and reliable for the Bruins who will be depending him to lead the way back to the 2013-14 finals. Boston man for man is clearly the best team in the Atlantic Division and should win this division. However their journey to get there will not be the easiest.
Next Week- The Metropolitan Division Preview- This new division will be featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets (formerly of the Western Conference).
Giving My Two Cents on Saturdays- Starting next weekend (Sept 7th) and through the month of September only, this column will be posted on Saturdays (instead of Sunday's). This is because of the start of the NFL season where most people may not be thinking so much about hockey. The article will return to Sunday's once the NHL season starts on October with the exception of any Sharks Sunday games which will be somewhat rare during the course of the season.
Pucknology Readers- In the coming days Pucknology.com, which made it's debut last October, is about to undergo some major changes internally. These changes will not in anyway effect the reporting or content, or take away from the main focus which is promoting the San Jose Sharks and hockey throughout Northern and Central California. We are about to partner up with a major player (which is all we can tell you right now) who will be able to take this site to the next level and make it better than ever. We feel you the reader will like the changes we bring about here in the coming days leading up to the start of the NHL season next month. Stay tuned, bigger and better is coming to Pucknology.com: The Final Word on San Jose Sharks Hockey. As of September 7th, this article will also be making it's debut in the Fan vs Fan Golden Gate Report.
...just my two cents...
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