Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Northeast Report vol 2.1

Back by popular demand and led by a different author, here is your monthly Northeast Report:

Ottawa Senators
A big summer of change in the Canadian capital has left a plethora of new faces set to take the ice at the Bank. Working in Ottawa’s favour is that there will be far less attention placed on this team from the national media and they can benefit from flying under the radar a little bit. Count on Martin Gerber to show the fans what its like to have a healthy #1 goalie for the season and the playoffs – this was John Muckler’s best acquisition of the summer. Watch as Bryan Murray shuffles wingers in and out of the top line to flank Heatley and Spezza until he finds himself what the Sharks are getting in Mark Bell. Eaves and Vermette should be getting the first two cracks at this. The defensive corps is smaller but more mobile and they’ll put up more points this year. What most fans are asking, though, is who will be taking over the Baton Rouge radio spots from the Big Z? Can we push for Kaigorodov to take a crack at it? Or would he have to speak through an interpreter? All in all, this team should win the division and be very fun to watch as they’ll roll four lines for the first time in recent memory.

Montreal Canadiens
A summer of worry for les Habitants as fans sat by their ham radios in the hope of a Saku Koivu eyesight update. He’s back but nobody’s sure if he’s 100% or will get there by the season. This team is banking its season on the one-hit wonder Christobal Huet and although Aebischer is still their backup, the Habs will go as far as Huet will take them. They have two scoring lines with Samsonov joining the top line and Higgins looking for a nice sophomore year with Ryder. If Gainey was a magician, he’d find a bona fide #2 centre to move Ribeiro and/or Bonk and he’d find a bona fide #1 defenceman as Andrei Markov is more of a #2 and Souray is still nude after being undressed regularly by forwards and defencemen alike last season. Montreal is a playoff team, no doubt, but they have some key needs that they’ll need to address if they expect to make a postseason splash.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Winds of change blew threw the Big Smoke over the past few months as John Ferguson Jr. fought for his job like it was going to be his last season. What’s amusing is that the moves he made all but guarantees that it WILL be his last season. Bias aside, Toronto hasn’t done enough of the right moves to get back to the postseason where some misguided ones think they belong. Andrew Raycroft is an upgrade in nets and comes at a good price, but Blackberry-toting fans shouldn’t expect the world of this guy. He is coming off a fragile season on a losing team and is now headed to a tornado of media coverage in Toronto. Mike Peca down the middle is an interesting acquisition because the guy basically earned his contract in Edmonton’s playoffs. His scoring days are over but if he can take some leadership burden off of Sundin, he may help. It’s just sad, though, that he’s another older NHLer following his childhood dream of playing for Toronto. Have you noticed that over the past three or four years, nobody has said it was their childhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup for Toronto? It’s one or the other, boys, but not both. The real question is how they’ll look on defence. Not that any decisions can be made because their top 4 are untradeable – two with no-trade clauses and two with contracts so ridiculous even Charles Wang laughed. I’ll go out in public here and say that Toronto’s playoff hopes rest solely on the shoulders of Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina. That should be enough to give Leaf Nation nightmares!

Boston Bruins
Hey Big Spender, dig that blender…So the Big Z has passed on the BBQ ribs and gone for the BBQ beans – a side dish. However the negotiations went down between Muckler and Chara, rest assured that it was a certainty that he was leaving Ottawa. The Sens would have been crippled even if Chara had accepted the same contract as Redden! Let’s get over it. In Boston, Zdeno Chara will have to be a leader right away. This is a team in need of a franchise player and they’ll look to Z to be that guy. There is some good young talent there, but they’ve thought that in the past only to miss the playoffs and be a financial and cultural disaster, so time will tell how this edition works out. Unless Peter Chiarelli finds a way to acquire Ilya Kovaluchuk, count on Marc Savard’s point totals to go way down. Patrice Bergeron is lights on and the future of this team, but the real issue lies between the pipes. Between unproven Hannu Toivonen and much-traveled Tim Thomas, Boston doesn’t have a goaltender that will crack the top eight. They can either wait for Rask to develop and get up there or they can look at the Martin Biron’s of the world when they get in a crunch in March. No matter, this team doesn’t make the playoffs this year.

Buffalo Sabres
Last but not least, home of the suddenly cockiest fans in hockey, the Sabres. Darcy Regier did a great job of keeping his core together with so many pending arbitration cases, but still lost key cogs in Jay McKee, Mike Grier, and JP Dumont. It may not sound like too big of a deal, but for a team that overachieved and flew under the radar for the better part of the season, count on things being a bit tougher on the Sabres this time around. Just like with Carolina, opponents will be much better prepared to face Buffalo and their speedy wingers and team-first approach. Ryan Miller is for real and their defencemen 1-6 are solid. Up front, they have enough scorers to get in the playoffs, as well. I personally thought that Buffalo was a good all around team last year that overachieved a bit and had a nice run. But they are no longer those lovable kids with the low payroll and awful city – they are now expected to repeat their performance against a restructured Eastern Conference that has spent the summer trying to copy their blueprint. This team comes up behind Ottawa in the division and takes the four seed again, but falls short of the expectations of their unrealistic and downright obnoxious fans.