NHL training camps all around the league are opening up in the next few days. It certainly has been a busy off-season as all sorts of big names have found new homes. But what teams are better than before? Which ones are worse off? I'll give you the lowdown on my opinions of the current NHL landscape after the shakedown of the last few months.
Philadelphia Flyers: Chris Pronger makes an already potent defense corps absolutely terrifying. He will log big minutes against big stars and do big damage. Also, Ray Emery is certainly an interesting addition. I think that Ray has a lot to prove after his disastrous last season in Ottawa. I fully expect him to bounce back, which should make the Flyers a legitimate threat in the East.
Toronto Maple Leafs: As much as a I hate to say it, they are looking good right now. A top four defense that boasts Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, and Francois Beauchamin is down right terrifying. Also, if Gustavsson turns out to be as good as everyone says that he is, they are definitely solid in between the pipes. However, I really have no idea who is going to score any goals for this team. They will probably miss the playoffs yet again, but should be in better position then they were before.
Montreal Canadiens: Now this is going to be a team to watch for the first month or so of the season. The completely new look first line of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammelleri will either crash or burn. If Gomez and Gionta can reignite their magic from a few seasons ago, and Cammelleri can build on his career year then it should be the former, but one never knows. The defensive additions of Spacek, Gill, and Mara are certainly interesting, and Spacek in particular should help their ailing powerplay. Also, a very understated signing was Travis Mohen, who is a very effective defensive forward, and should add a good amount of grit to a team that looks soft on paper. After the disastrous closing of the Centennial Season the team needed a drastic change and that is certainly what it got.
Anaheim Ducks: Sure losing Pronger is a big hit, but they were able to get a Joffrey Lupul and two first round draft picks in exchange for him. They also were able to become Finland's favourite team by uniting national heroes Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu. Those three players should make an excellent second line to compliment their big three of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Of course, if they can parlay J-S Gigure for even more help up front they could get even better.
Calgary Flames: Remember what I said about Toronto's defense? Now replace those four names with Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Reghr, and Corey Sarich and you may as well call them War, Famine, Death, and Pestilence because they will bring an Apocalypse on their opposition. Also add in the highly predictable coaching change, and the Flames may just be able to finally get over the hump and be a Western Conference powerhouse. Of course, they will need to add some offense to replace Mike Cammalleri's missing goals, but they should be able to figure something out.
Florida Panthers: I gave this team a lot of love last year, and I'm ready to do it again. They knew that they were going to loose J-Bo, but were able to add Jordan Leopold which is certainly a step up from nothing. They also added Scott Clemensen who was simply brilliant in New Jersey last year, and I honestly thought that he would end up starting somewhere. This gives the Panthers lots of options in between the pipes. Their forward crop of Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Stephen Weiss grew in leaps and bounds last year, but fell just short of making the playoffs. I think that this team legitimately has a chance to make it to the big dance for the first time in ten seasons.
Boston Bruins: Sure they didn't add anything, but they didn't lose anyone. Their core of Kreji, Lucic, Savard, and Kessel are still Bruins and that should terrify the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Chicago Blackhawks: Last season I applauded them for their big additions of Christobal Huet and Brian Campbell, but both ended up having terrible seasons. Somehow though, the team was able to make it to the Conference Finals despite their big name, big money signings. The team then signs a 30 year old Marian Hossa to a staggering 12-year contract, which is being investigated by the league for attempting to circumvent the salary cap. For their sake I hope that they were being crooked, because a 42 year old Marian Hossa would be next to useless, especially given how much of a “contract year” type player he has turned into. To top off the idiocy, they mess up the offer sheets for Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg, two of their building blocks, and are forced to pay more to keep them around. This puts them closer to the cap, and given the fact that both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are in need of big money contract extensions in the near future, makes this once promising team look a little bit bleaker in my eyes.
Atlanta Thrashers: If this team has any hope of resigning Ilya Kovalchuk, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent, then they need to surround him with talented players. Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina were wastes of space in Toronto, chances are they will be again in Hotlanta. Look for this to be Kovalchuk's last season as a Thrasher, which will make this team even more pathetic in the future. Ah well, not like anyone will notice.
New York Rangers: Their multi-year signing of Marian Gaborik was the summers biggest gamble. As he could end up scoring 50 goals, or he could end up missing 50 games due to an injury. Both seem equally likely. While they were able to free up cap-room in trading away the over paid Scott Gomez, they are still stuck with Redden and Drury's massive contracts. They also added Ales Kottalik to their long list of over-priced contracts, signing him to $3 million a year, which must make sense to someone, because it sure is not me. Also, they chose to allow their most consistent scorer last season, Nikolai Zherdev walk away in arbitration over $600,000. Not the best decision for a team that struggled to score goals last year.
Ottawa Senators: Kovalev was certainly a good signing, and he should mesh well with Alfreddson, Fisher, and Spezza. However, as of this posting Dany Heatley remains a Senator, so I have no choice but to keep them here. This has proven to be a massive distraction for the entire organization. One has to wonder if they had not spent so much time dealing with him than perhaps they could have made some bigger splashes. Had the rumoured Penner/Smyd/Cogliano trade happened then they would be squarely in the winners category. Also there is talk of him going to San Jose for Ehroff, Cheechoo and a first round pick, which is at the very least intriguing. However, given the way things are now, I'm on the fence for their chances next year.
New York Islanders: They made the right decision in taking Tavares first overall. Sure they need defense more and Hedman would be a perfect fit for that, but this is a team that needs fans and desperately needs a face for the franchise, which he should be. I think that he may not have a Crosby/Ovechkin/Malkin/Kane/Toews style rookie year that we have grown accustomed to in recent years, but rather he should have a slower build much like Joe Thornton and Vincent LeCavalier went through a decade ago, and hey they both turned out to be not too bad. But they started making some bad decisions when the free agency period began, signing two goaltenders in Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson. Does this mean that DiPietro has not yet recovered from his injury? Or are they planning on holding one to trade to another team should their goalie either fail or get injured? Also, they really should be chasing some sort of offensive help for Tavares in his rookie year, because right now he has next to none.
Vancouver Canucks: I never know what to think of this team in the off-season. The signing of Mikael Samuelsson was a good one, and he should compliment Kessler and Burrows as excellent two way forwards. However, they let Ohlund go and do not replace his big minutes. While it seems like Mitchell, Salo, and Bieksa can shoulder the load, the fact remains that those three have missed a ton of time for injury in the past few years, so it remains to be seen if they will be able to provide those big minutes. Also, it appeared the Cory Schneider was developing well as an NHL backup, yet they got and sign Andrew Raycroft of all people, leaving Schneider to play in the minors. On the plus side, it appears that Cody Hodgson is poised to make it in the big time for the Canucks, and has already been touted as a favourite for Rookie of the Year. Let's hope they don't screw him up!
San Jose Sharks: After their absolutely embarrassing first round loss they promised all sorts of changes. There was all sorts of talk of Marleau and/or Thornton finding a new home. So far there have been no major additions, which could just mean more of the same for this talented but underachieving team.
Los Angeles Kings: They definitely made the right call in picking Brayden Schenn as opposed to trading him, but after that I start to wonder what exactly is going to happen with this team. In bringing in Ryan Smyth and Rob Scuderi they add two solid depth players with winning pedigrees who should be positive influences on their young players like Dustin Brown and Jack Johnson. However, I do feel that they are overpaying for both of them. Scuderi is not at all worth the $3million plus that he is set to receive and Ryan Smyth is a fantastic character addition, but has been a career 70 point man, certainly not worth making over $5 million. Also, Kyle Quincey who was traded as part of the package for Ryan Smyth was blossoming into a solid top four defenseman, who certainly cost less than Scuderi. This team is a solid dark horse candidate to make the playoffs, but when they have to play San Jose and Anaheim eight times a year, one never knows.
Right? Wrong? Let's spend the next few months finding out...
Until next time,