Published On : October 2, 2005
|for the 2005-06 NHL Season|
|Eastern Conference Western Conference|
This team is built to be competitive. With Thorton, Murray, Bergeron, McEachern, Zhamnov, Scatchard, Samsonov, and Isbister, they'll put more than their fair share of pucks in the net. The question every night will be how many goals they give up. Are veterans Leetch and Slegr too old? Will Boynton and Raycroft sit out? Can Girard and rookie Stuart make solid contributions. This team will definitely win more than it loses, and consequently win the division, but unless all the questions that surround this team miraculously get answered in the positive, I see another first-round exit in the playoffs.
They have some real superstars on this team - young an old. Replacing the money-mongering malcontent Yashin with Dany Heatley was a good move and young Jason Spezza could be a real star. The big question will be the old superstar in goal. No longer can the Dominator carry a team on his back like he did for so long with the Sabres. However, if he still has even some of his former brilliance, this team will be fun to watch. Unfortunately for new coach Bryan Murray, the end result will be no different for him than it was for his predecessors.
This team does amazing things with mediocre talent, and it starts with their fans. They are the same demanding, dedicated fans that baseball calls "Red Sox Nation." So, even though their best player Perezhogin is a stick-swinging knucklehead, they still have Jose Theodore, Koivu, Zednik, Souray, Ryder, Markov, Bonk, and Kovalev - and you saw what this group did to the top-ranked Bruins in the last playoffs.
A marginal team at best, don't look for many goals from this talent pool. Drury, Briere, Grier, Dumont, and Afinogenov is the best they got. Defense is even weaker. Hopefully, goalies Biron and Miller can make them somewhat competetive.
Toronto Maple Leafs
I would have ranked this team higher but, honestly, could they have done a worse job picking free agents? Lindros's head hurts, Belfour's back hurts, and Jason Allison is a waste of time. A real shame too, considering that this team was well on it's way just a couple of years ago.
Tampa Bay Lightning
This is a strong team in a very weak division. John Tortorella knows how to coach and will continue to get the best out of Lecavalier, Richards, St.Louis, Kubina, Sarich, Prospal, and Sydor. Burke and Grahame make for one of the best goaltender tandems in the league.
Being second best in this division isn't saying much. They're banking on a lot of new talent, so if it all works, the sky is the limit. However, if they don't sign Ilya Kovalchuk and the new guys stink, then the sky will be falling.
One of the few teams where the defense is better than the offense. And if it's defense that wins cups, who knows, maybe, they could... ah, forgettaboutit - you still have to put the puck in the net.
This team actually has more talent than either Atlanta or Carolina, however I can't imagine how two stubborn hotheads in GM Mike Keenan and goalie Roberto Luongo are going to work together. Nieuwendyk, Stumpel, Roberts, and Jokinen should keep the fans interested for at least a little while, though.
I really do feel for the fans of this team. First, they had to see their team ravaged at the end of the last season, then they watch as management makes little noise at all in the free agent market. In fact, a quick check of their roster reveals very few known entities at all. Dainius Zubrus and Andrew Cassels stick out, but that's about it. Poor Olie the goalie, I can't believe he has remained here.
This team is stacked. Forget about the fact that they drafted the most anticipated rookie phenom since Wayne Gretzky - he is untested talent. The Pens worked the free agency market to perfection - LeClair, Recchi, Gonchar, Odelein, and goalie Jocelyn Thibault will join Lemiuex, Palfy, and others to form one the most potent team in the league. And if Crosby turns out to be half as good as the hockey pundits say? Brrr...it's scary. What a great time it must be for Penguin fans.
After watching their rivals, the Pens, gut their core lineup, the Flyers knew they had to make some noise of their own and nailed down Derian Hatcher, Mike Knuble, and the prized Peter Forsberg. Add these to their stable core of Gagne, Primeau, Desjardins, Kapanan, and Esche, and you have another very good, well balanced team that can compete with anyone.
New York Islanders
Once you leave the state of Pennsylvania, this division gets weak quick. The Islanders are next in my predictions because they are the wild card. They can be very good, anchored by Alexei Yashin, and goalie Rick DiPietro, but both of these two can be underperforming head cases as well. Zhitnik, Parrish, and Bates aren't bad either. And, of course, you can't count out any team that has Satan on their side.
New York Rangers
It looks as if this team has finally learned their lesson and dumped most of their overly paid, poor performing superstars of yore. Instead of bulking up on aging veteran legends, the Rangers are doing an about face and banking on names like Tyutin, Balej, Dawes, and Lundquist to contribute significantly to this teams success. Jagr, Straka, and Kasparaitis will try and show them the way. This is a team in a rebuilding phase.
New Jersey Devils
For too many years, this team was the envy of the NHL. With an average payroll, great position players, and a work ethic that couldn't be beat, this team outperformed the best and brightest. The problem is that now that many of these great position players are gone. The loss of Stevens and Niedermayer is the toughest to swallow and Brodeur will need to be extra sharp this year. The very foundation of this team's success was built on defense, and with that now in question, it could be a very long year.
Central Division |
Chicago Black Hawks
No one in this division looks particularly great. Chicago may have the best new talent, though, in Rene Bourque, Cam Barker, and Brent Seabrook. Barnaby, Lapointe, and Daze will be good hard-working mentors for these young guns. And I still think that Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the best goalies in the NHL.
This is one of the most balanced teams in the NHL. Kariya, Robitaille, and Sullivan lead the offense. Markov, Hamhuis and Suter will lead the defense, and goalies Mason and Vokoun make a nice tandem in net. Look for this team to surprise a few this season.
St. Louis Blues
Losing superstar Chris Pronger hurts. The blues think that Brewer, Lynch and Woywitka can make up for the loss. Here's to hoping they're right. Weight, Drake, and Young have to step up their goal production this year. Leaving the offense squarely on the shoulders of Tkachuk is a recipe for failure. Regardless of all these questions, goalie Patrick Lalime will at least keep them competetive most nights.
Detroit Red Wings
What happens when you can no longer buy your way into the Stanley Cup playoffs? Fourth place and a team mired in mediocrity. This team needs an infusion of youth like no other. Yzerman, Chelios, Lidstrom, Schneider, Shanahan, and Osgood. Sounds like an old timers game, not the lineup of a Stanley Cup contender.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I can't stand these expansion teams who don't even seem to care to create a decent team. It's like the only reason for their existence is to pad the stats of the other teams. Look at their roster. Hrdina, Marchant, Nash, Berard, and Foote are the only names I even recognize, and they aren't all that great.
With Iginla, Amonte, Simon, McCarty, and Nilson on offense, and Hamrlik and Warrener on defense, you can expect this team to compete at a high level. How high will depend on goaltending and coaching. Nonetheless, this is one of the better NHL teams right now.
I like this team's chances this year. Jacques Lemaire is a proven coach and if Mikko Koivu is half as good as his younger brother, then he'll contribute nicely to a lineup that also includes Rolston, Dupuis, Walz, Chouinard, Daigle, and Bouchard.
This team is a prime example of what happens when you have a great team but no plan for the future. They still haven't solved their goaltender situation since Roy retired. Now they've lost Forsberg and Foote. Their poke at free agency produced Brunette, Turgeon and Brisebois - aged veterans with little left in the tank. I may be generous putting them here in third place - it could actually be worse than it appears.
Don't look for this team to score too many goals. Bertuzzi, Carter, Linden, and Naslund don't exactly light the lamp with frequency. The goaltending is sketchy at best with Dan Cloutier suffering from porous pad syndrome. Good thing the defense is solid with Jovanovski, McCarthy, Ohlund, and Salo, or this team would be in last place.
They just don't have enough guns to do battle. Dvorak and Peca anchor the offense and Pronger and Staios will anchor the defense. After them, everything else is a question mark, including the goaltending.
How this team managed to keep Modano, Guerin, Arnott, Barnes, and Lehtinen I'll never know, but this bunch knows how to put the puck in the net. Defense is always a bit suspect with the Stars, but Zubov, Skoula, Klemm, and Daley can hold their own. Turco in nets isn't that bad either. No matter how you slice it, this team is just plain talented.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks
While I wish they hadn't lost veteran forward Steve Rucchin, they still have Sykora, Niedermayer, and Pahlsson and recent free agent pickups Federov and Selanne are brilliant additions. But the best pickup of all will be Scott Niedermayer on defense because he wanted to play with his brother. How nice. He will compliment Carney and Ozolinsh and finally give Giguere a chance back there.
Los Angeles Kings
I have no idea who this team is, but with seven first-round draft picks on their roster they can't end up in last place. All the proven players are forwards - Valeri Bure, Luc Robitaille, Pavol Demitra, and Jeremy Roenick. After that, this team is all potential. Potentially good or potentially bad. Likely, they'll end up somewhere in between.
San Jose Sharks
The sharks put a fin in the water of free agency trying to get Niedermayer from New Jersey only to have it bitten off by a mighty duck. Since then, they high-tailed it out of the water, never to look back. Two of their best players in Marco Sturm and Milan Michalek are returning from serious injury. None of the news out of San Jose recently makes me think this team will be a serious threat to anyone this year.
Last, and yes, least, is this pack of past players. They brought in Gretzky and he loads the team up with guys he used to play against. This just maybe the oldest team in the league. Sure, Hull, Ricci, Nedved, O'Donnell, and Cujo were great in the their prime, but they'll be loading up on the Ben-Gay if they try and play to the level they one were.