Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Why Ottawa will win the East again...

Over the course of the summer, how many times have you heard someone say, "Ottawa lost too much size and scoring, they blew their chance last season"? Are you as sick of it as I am? Well, take a deep breath and relax knowing that the team is just fine and poised to take the Conference once again. Here's why:

1. Parity Hot, Dynasty Cold
Simply put, the league is becoming more and more evenly talented throughout its 30 teams. Ottawa loses Chara to a team that missed the playoffs in the East and Havlat to a team that missed the playoffs West. Buffalo lost Jay McKee to a team that missed the playoffs in the West and JP Dumont to a young team that is becoming closer to making a splash. Carolina lost Weight and Recchi again, and their regular season goalie that led them to a division title is, well, ours now. My point is that every time our elite roster loses a star, so do the next few teams down. We may lose some talent on paper, but so does Buffalo, Carolina, and New Jersey. The fact that John Muckler managed to keep what he did is simply amazing - two 100-point players, a third that is poised to hit that mark this year, the best puck moving defenceman in the league, an elite starting goalie, one of the top checking lines in the Conference, and so on. Long story short, this team didn't lose enough cogs to disappear to the depths of of the middle of the Conference like Colorado or Philadelphia

2. Where are we weak?
Riddle me that. Are we weak in between the pipes? I think you can make an argument that we've never been better in nets. Is our defensive corps small and slow? No, it actually become far more mobile while maintaining size (Phillips, Volchenkov, Schubert, Corvo), speed (Meszaros, Priessing), and skill (Redden and company). I'll take our top 6 against yours eight days a week. What about forwards, are we going to drop in goals scored? Martin Havlat played in 18 games - his point production didn't do much to lead us to being the most offensive team in the NHL. Now you give Alfie a centre in Kaigorodov and we have three legitimate scoring lines. Aren't you excited to see an opponent put out its third line and we counter with Fisher and Schaefer? I'm okay with that. Penalty killers are in place, powerplay is in tact, so it looks to me like we're pretty good from top to bottom.

3. Zdeno Chara is big
Make no mistake - the big Z will be missed. Don't jump off his bandwagon and say that he was exposed for his lack of speed by Buffalo in Round 2. What we have forgotten about the big guy is that between stops at Baton Rouge, he was our key matchup man. He was on the ice against Lecavalier, Kovalev, Foppa, Gomez, Kovalchuk, all the best opposing forwards. Without Z, we don't have anyone that can provide that dominating matchup anymore. We'll have to counter with Redden and Meszaros, which is a far different scenario than putting a monster out there that can throw Yashin off of Long Island with one hand. But hear me now and believe me later, Bryan Murray is a very smart coach and he will have a plan in place. Meszaros is a year older and a year smarter. Phillips is becoming a strong leader back there. Spezza and Heatley will be forced to learn once again the importance of the backcheck. Some of our best games last year were when the big guy was hurt after making Cairns look like a pillow because our forwards took on extra responsibility. We will miss Chara, but we will recover and become smarter. Remember, we made the right decision on which one to keep.

4. We'll win the Conference because we're the best.
Am I gloating? Yeah, a little bit. I do not see Carolina and Buffalo matching last year's output where they both overachieved, I don't see New Jersey recovering from Lou's cap errors of last year, I don't see Bobby Clarke swallowing his pride and getting a proper goalie in Philadelphia, I don't see Jagr finding his soulmate in Manhattan, I don't see Boston and Toronto quite ready to make the postseason, I don't see enough improvement in Montreal from a team that backed into the playoffs, I don't see enough defensive improvement in Atlanta...I can stop there. Did our team get a little worse on paper? Yep. But where did being great on paper get us anyway? 10 playoff games? I love the lineup we have and the summer additions and will have to sit through these 82 games and wait patiently to see what the Swiss Miss can do between the pipes, and how Kaigorodov will handle the playoff pressure, and how our d-men will move the puck out of the zone.

I don't make guarantees anymore because frankly I'm terrible at it. I missed every single one last year! If anything, it was impressive that I got them all wrong. But this you can count on - the Sens will repeat and finish 1st in the Eastern Conference again. The difference now will be to hold on to that title into June.