predictions of where each club will finish in the standings of
each division are just that: predictions. If you disagree with
my assessments, no problem, write in and tell me why and I'll
post your comments in "The Fans Speak Out".
folks, if I rank your team lower than you expect, don't get wrapped
around the axle about it, ok? Insult-laden e-mails will be treated
with howls of derisive laughter prior to my hitting the "delete"
key, as those comments won't see the light of day on this site!
this is based on what the rosters looked like as of late September,
2006. Injuries, trades and call-ups will obviously have some
impact on their outcome.
1. NEW YORK
RANGERS. Expect another standout season by superstar forward
Jaromir Jagr once he shakes off his nagging shoulder injury.
Off-season acquisition Brendan Shanahan and promising sophomore
forward Petr Prucha could help Jagr carry the offensive load.
The addition of Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen could bolster the
Blueshirts' overall defensive game. Young star goalie Henrik
Lundqvist should pick up from last season's outstanding performance.
FLYERS. Plenty of depth up front should provide the Flyers with
a potent offensive attack. Expect improved performances from
Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Getting Peter Forsberg
back healthy will provide a significant offensive boost. Goaltending
battle between Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki should only
benefit Flyers. Concerns about speed and health of blueline could
be a factor as season progresses.
3. NEW JERSEY
DEVILS. Veterans like goalie Martin Brodeur, defenceman Brian
Rafalski and forwards Patrik Elias will continue to make the
Devils a competitive club. Expect youngster Zach Parise and David
Hale to bolster the veterans. Salary cap problems, however, could
force GM Lou Lamoriello to cut into his club's depth to get under
the cap before the start of the season, which could have a serious
impact upon the Devils roster and their playoff hopes.
PENGUINS. As young superstar Sidney Crosby goes, so goes the
Penguins, but he should have more help this season. Promising
rookie Evgeny Malkin and sophomore Colby Armstrong should help
Crosby carry the offensive load. Expect better seasons from veteran
blueliner Sergei Gonchar and forward Ryan Malone. Goalie Marc-Andre
Fleury will be expected to step up his performance. Lack of skilled
defensive depth should still be a problem for the Pens but the
club should improve over last season.
5. NEW YORK
ISLANDERS. Head coach Ted Nolan will have his hands full getting
this roster to significantly improve over last season's poor
showing. If he can motivate Alexei Yashin and Miroslav Satan
to better performances the Isles could finish higher than this.
If they don't, Mike York, Jason Blake and Trent Hunter will have
to step it up. Addition of veteran blueliners like Sean Hill,
Tom Poti and Brendan Witt may bolster the defence. Rick DiPietro
will have to prove himself among the league's elite goalie to
give the Isles a legitimate playoff shot.
SABRES. Despite losing a few key players to free agency the Sabres
still retained most of its core players. Overall team speed and
aggresive checking style should continue to make them a difficult
opponent and a Cup contender. Plenty of depth in good young players
throughout the roster who have yet to reach their prime. Expect
big seasons from Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Ryan Miller
and Henrik Tallinder. The Sabres should not only lead the division
but also challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.
SENATORS. First line of Heatley-Alfredsson-Spezza could be one
of the league's best. Considerable blueline depth led by Wade
Redden, Chris Phillips and sophomore Andrej Meszaros. Goaltenders
Ray Emery and Martin Gerber should battle it out for starter's
role but remains to be seen if they can carry Senators deep in
the playoffs. There is some concern about left wing depth but
that could be addressed from within or via trade later in the
CANADIENS. Speed to burn with this year's Habs. Addition of Sergei
Samsonov and Mike Johnson should provide valuable veteran forward
depth. Promising sophomores like Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec
could also bolster offensive attack. Average blueline corps but
should play hard for new head coach Guy Carbonneau. Concern over
lack of sizeable depth at center. Where they finish could ultimately
depend on goalie Cristobal Huet repeating last season's heroics.
BRUINS. First line of Bergeron-Sturm-Boyes should provide considerable
offensive punch. Off-season additions of Zdeno Chara and Paul
Mara considerably bolsters blueline depth and effectiveness.
Concerns over Marc Savard effectively centre the second line
and Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen carrying the goaltending duties
throughout the season could determine where the B's finish in
this year's standings.
MAPLE LEAFS. New head coach Paul Maurice will give plenty of
playing time to promising youngsters like Kyle Wellwood and Alex
Steen. Blueline will have plenty of offensive punch from Bryan
McCabe, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina but appear to be lacking
strong defensive presence. Concerns about forward depth, especially
on Mats Sundin's line. New starting goalie Andrew Raycroft will
have to return to his 2004 Calder winning form for Leafs to have
a serious shot at the playoffs.
HURRICANES. Early injuries to some key players and the potential
for a "Stanley Cup hangover" could affect Hurricanes
early, but there's still plenty of talent on this roster to overcome
these problems. Eric Staal is a young superstar on the rise and
will be assisted by Erik Cole, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney.
Smythe winning goalie Cam Ward should carry his playoff performance
into this season. Blueline walloped by injury early but should
recover by mid-season.
BAY LIGHTNING. Bolstered goaltending depth in Marc Denis and
promising Johan Holmqvist. Blueline corps still average bunch
but will be expected to work hard under head coach John Tortorella.
Top three forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin
St. Louis should carry offence but there are concerns about the
forward depth beyond those three. The Bolts will have to work
harder this season than last to comfortably make the post-season.
PANTHERS. Team captain Olli Jokinen should get plenty of help
from off-season acquisition Todd Bertuzzi and promising youngsters
Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. Blueline corps should significantly
improve as Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn continue to mature
and with addition of veteran Ruslan Salei. Playoff hopes could
rest on the goaltending tandem of Alex Auld and the aging Ed
THRASHERS. Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa will provide the Thrashers
with lethal offensive punch but there isn't much depth beyond
them. Legitimate concerns over the absence of a skilled playmaking
centre. No-name blueline corps will have its work cut out again
this season. Playoff hopes could rest upon goaltender Kari Lehtonen,
who'll need to play an entire season healthy for the Thrashers
to have a real chance.
CAPITALS. The young movement continues in Washington, centered
around superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who should get some offensive
help from Alexander Semin and newly-acquired Richard Zednik.
Caps still lack experienced depth throughout the roster except
in goal, where Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson will continue to
see lots of work this season. The Caps should be better than
last season but still has a long way to go before it competes
for a playoff berth.
PREDATORS. Off-season additions of Jason Arnott and JP Dumont
will join Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan to provide more experienced
scoring depth up front. Under-rated blueline corps among the
best in the NHL. Well-coached by long-time bench boss Barry Trotz.
Only true area of concern between the pipes, where long-time
starter Tomas Vokoun is coming back from a blood condition that
knocked him out of last year's playoffs. If he's back at full
health, the Preds are in excellent shape.
RED WINGS. Concerns over retirement of Steve Yzerman and departure
of Brendan Shanahan unfairly overshadowing the fact this is still
a talented team. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will power
the offence, the checking lines are still manned by warhorses
like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby and the blueline remains anchored
by Norris winner Niklas Lidstrom. Potential problem area is in
goal, where the Wings hopes rest on an aging, injury-prone Dominik
BLUE JACKETS. Rick Nash led the Jackets to one of the better
records in the NHL in the second half of last season, and if
he stays healthy throughout the season could carry this team
toward playoff contention. The additions of Fredrik Modin and
Anson Carter should bolster their scoring depth, whilst promising
Gilbert Brule could be a factor. The defence corps is average
at best and it remains to be seen how Pascal Leclaire holds up
in his first full season as the Jackets starting goalie.
4. ST. LOUIS
BLUES. Nowhere to go but up for the Blues after a horrific 2005-06
season. Keith Tkachuk is coming into this season in better shape
and with newly acquired veteran linemates Doug Weight and Bill
Guerin should power the Blues offensive attack. The blueline
corps should be bolstered by the addition of Jay McKee and look
for Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to have strong seasons. As
with all the teams in this division, goaltending is a question
mark as Curtis Sanford and Manny Legace split the duties.
BLACKHAWKS. Former Senators Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski
and former Flyer Michal Handzus should go a long way to improving
the 'Hawks depth. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin should bounce back
from his forgettable '05-'06 debut as a 'Hawk. Promising Tuomo
Ruutu could be a big offensive factor if he can avoid the injury
bug. A team with lots of promising young players, but youth also
make mistakes as they develop, especially on defence, and that
could hold back the 'Hawks this season.
1. SAN JOSE
SHARKS. Expect the lethal offensive punch of Joe Thornton and
Jonathan Cheechoo to pick up where they left off last season.
Strong second line centered by Patrick Marleau. Off-season acquisitions
of forwards Mark Bell, Mike Grier and Curtis Brown could help
make the Sharks one of the league's deepest teams at forward.
Deep in goal with Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala with Nolan
Schaefer knocking on the door. Young blueliners Matt Carle and
Christian Ehrhoff showed amazing poise in last year's playoffs.
All around depth have the Sharks poised to challenge for the
Western Conference crown.
DUCKS. Off-season addition of Chris Pronger to play alongside
Scott Niedermayer give the Ducks an all-star blueline pairing.
Rejuvenated Teemu Selanne should have another strong campaign.
Promising youngsters Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf should step
up this season. Goaltending duel between JS Giguere and Ilya
Bryzgalov should only benefit the Ducks. Expect the Ducks to
jockey for position with the Sharks in the division and the conference
throughout the season.
STARS. A veteran club that at times showed its age last season
but still not one to be taken lightly. Goalie Marty Turco can
be relied upon for strong regular season netminding. Plenty of
experience blueline depth, although there is concern about its
ability to adapt to speedy forwards under the new rules. Modano-Lehtinen-Morrow
will carry the bulk of the offensive load this season as it may
be expecting too much of a fragile Eric Lindros to play through
most of the season on the second line.
COYOTES. The addition of Ed Jovanovski should provide a welcome
boost to the blueline corps, and look for young Keith Ballard
to move up the depth chart. If Ladislav Nagy can stay healthy
and Jeremy Roenick rediscover his scoring touch the 'Yotes could
make some offensive noise this season. While David LeNeveu is
being touted as the Coyotes goalie of the future, this season's
hopes will once again rest on an aging Curtis Joseph. If "CuJo"
can bounce back from an inconsistent '05-'06 campaign, the Coyotes
might challenge for one of the final playoff berths in the Conference.
5. LOS ANGELES
KINGS. The rebuilding has begun in LA. New GM Dean Lombardi and
head coach Marc Crawford have their work cut out for them with
a fragile Kings team that has been walloped by injuries and inconsistency
in recent years. Veteran Dan Cloutier should provide stability
in goal, while Rob Blake's return will further bolster an already
solid Kings blueline. Offence, however, is a question mark this
season, as the Kings look for improvement from Alexander Frolov
and Mike Cammalleri. Without it, the Kings could find goals tough
to come by.
FLAMES. With Vezina winner Mikka Kiprusoff and arguably the best
blueline corps in the NHL, the Flames should once again be the
best defensive team in the league. Adding Alex Tanguay to Jarome
Iginla's line could give the Flames a potentially lethal offensive
one-two punch. Still, concerns remain about the offensive depth
beyond the first line. The Flames are so good with their aggressive
defensive game that they should win their division and challenge
for the Conference crown, but lack of offensive depth could hamper
their Cup aspirations.
CANUCKS. The Canucks will be changing their strategy from an
all-out offensive attack to a more defensive one. The off-season
addition of Roberto Luongo finally gives the Canucks the superstar
goalie they've lacked. Willie Mitchell's addition to the blueline
should add more defensive strength. Expect the Sedins to carry
over their strong offensive performances from last season while
Markus Naslund should also continue to be the lynchpin of the
offensive attack. It may take some time to adjust to the new
style but the Canucks have the horses to return to the playoffs.
WILD. Finally addressed their lack of offence by acquiring Pavol
Demitra to play alongside young scoring star Marian Gaborik whilst
Mark Parrish should provide offensive depth to the second line.
Look for under-rated Pierre-Marc Bouchard to have a good season.
Goaltending is solid with Manny Fernandez and promising Josh
Harding. The blueline corps appears average but under head coach
Jacques Lemaire should round into one of the better ones in the
West. If the offence takes off as hoped the Wild could challenge
for first or second in this division.
OILERS. Their offense is explosive and exciting. Expect big seasons
from Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff and Raffi Torres.
Should Dwayne Roloson shake off his playoff ending knee injury
and return to form the Oilers won't have any worries between
the pipes. The major problem area, however, is the blueline,
where the losses of Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom
will be felt. They'll need Marc-Andre Bergeron, Ladislav Smid
and Matt Greene to step it up if they're to return to the playoffs.
AVALANCHE. Governed by the "if" factor. "If"
Jose Theodore can overcome a horrific '05-'06 season, "if"
Tyler Arnason can finally prove to be an consistently effective
NHL forward, "if" the blueline can adapt to the off-season
departure of Rob Blake, "if" an aging Joe Sakic can
still perform at a high level, "if" Marek Svatos doesn't
succumb to a sophomore slump and "if" promising Wojtek
Wolski can have a rookie season like Svatos did last season,
the Avs could finish higher than this. For the first time, Avs
fans will be seeing a team in transition, and against tougher,
deeper opponents, could face a real struggle to make the playoffs.