Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Your First Look at the Eastern Conference Final Standings

Call it the start of hurricane season, a pre-emptive strike before every single hockey fan posts their Eastern Conference predictions. Mine include Dany Heatley on the Senators because at this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise. When I started this exercise, I was prepared to keep Ottawa out of the top eight because I don't think we've improved enough to jump up from 12th. I know we're excited about Kovalev and Leclaire and Clouston, but would that be good enough to jump four teams? But a funny thing happened when I looked at the middle class - it isn't very good! So by putting Ottawa into the eight spot, it isn't entirely because I think we're the eighth best, rather it is because I think there are seven other teams that are worse. This isn't homerism, folks, because I truly have fears about if we can make the second season. I just really don't think very highly of the conference as a whole.

Here are my final Eastern Conference predictions:

1. Pittsburgh
This is an easy one. It isn't because I think they'll make it back to the Finals for a third year in a row, but I don't think there is another team that improved enough to knock them off. They have two of the most prolific players in the game, a strong blue line (McKee can fill in for Gill and Scuderi is this year's Tom Preissing), and they'll have Guerin and Kunitz for a full season. They're better than the rest.

2. Washington
The reason they can't take the number one spot, and the reason they won't get to the Finals for a few more years, is because they ignore goaltending. The loss of Fedorov and Kozlov will be made up with the further development of the young stars in DC. Varlamov will be much like Emery a few years ago - good enough to make it through the regular season but not cut out for the big time of the playoffs.

3. Boston
It is great to see Chara at the top of his game and it stinks that he's doing it for someone else in the division. Claude Julien has built a system that runs like a well-oiled machine. It reminds me a lot of the Ducks of a few years ago without the clutching and grabbing. Solid goalie, elite defenceman, an old guard of scorers (Savard, Bergeron, Ryder) and a slew of upcoming stars (Krejci, Lucic, Bitz). Boston isn't great, but they're going to be a top five team for a long time. Without question, they are the best team in the Northeast Division.

4. Philadelphia
I'm personally terrified that we're going to see Pronger four times a year now. The guy is a monster and contrary to most pundits, he isn't slowing down. I also think Emery will have a decent year. He won't see too many shots, he won't be the biggest media darling on the team, and he has the cockiness to rise to the occasion. A healthy Gagne and Briere will be important, but Philly is good enough to give the Penguins a run for a while before settling for the 4 seed.

5. NY Rangers
Down with Gomez, in with Gaborik. To me, this is kind of a break even trade off just because Gabby is a point a game player for the 20 games he dresses. The Rags will be hanging around the 5-6 seed as long as Lundqvist is in town and that is kinda the thinking here. I still don't see them scoring a ton of goals and they still have guys like Drury and Redden on awful contracts, but there's enough talent in guys like Dubinsky, Callahan, Prospal, and Staal to get them more wins than losses.

6. Carolina
They're like the New Jersey of the south, the team that you don't really notice until they're winning playoff games in April. Funny how it is usually New Jersey that they're beating these days! If you get a free moment, browse their roster and think about just how deep they are at forward. If Cam Ward plays slightly above average and Staal continues to turn into a top centre in the league, Carolina can actually take a shot at home ice advantage in the four-slot. The Canes are going to be around for a long time and if only Pitkanen could hit his potential, the Canes could go on a run.

7. New Jersey
Martin Brodeur. Okay, I'll continue - they have a very solid top six with guys like Parise, Elias, Zubrus, Rolston, Zajac, and Shanahan. People keep point out out that Stevens and Niedermeyer have never been replaced, but that isn't ever going to happen. Instead, they've left it to Martin, Oduya, White, and Salvador, which is good enough to make the playoffs again. The problem here is that the Caps will torch this defence in the playoffs even more than Carolina did last year.

8. Ottawa
As I said earlier, it isn't that I think we're the 8th best, we're just above the other seven teams below this. I think Clouston is putting the right system in place and AK27 will provide some fantastic secondary scoring, possibly 65-70 points. I also expect big things of Lee and Campoli on the blue line, a big step forward from last year. And most importantly, we're going to get some solid goaltending for Pascal. I really believe that. This kid seems built for the cameras of a hockey market but without the Hummer and the tardiness. We'll clinch in the last three games of the season.

9. Montreal
My initial reaction to Gainey's moves were that he'd run them into the ground. After careful thought, I haven't changed my mind too much. Without question, he has changed the identity of that team. The problem is, nobody knows what the hell that identity is going to be. Scott Gomez has chemistry with Gionta? Gomez doesn't have chemistry with anyone right now. Cammalleri can score but he won't have Iginla helping him much. The defence is a pot pourri of castoffs surrounding their only elite player in Andrei Markov. Finally, their goalie is a basketcase and will never, EVER grow into an elite netminder in that market. Carey Price might have talent, but that city will never let his confidence catch up. The result will be more time on the outside.

10. Florida
Sure, they gave a run for the playoffs last year that lasted until the final week. In fact, Montreal had an OT loss point that made the difference between swapping places. The problem is that even though Booth and Olesz will continue to grow, they replaced Bouwmeester with Leopold. Even if you aren't sure if Bouw was a top flight defenceman, he took up 25-28 minutes a night and was a major part of that blue line. Leopold doesn't hold a chance of filling those minutes. It was fun last year for this team, but they'll slowly start heading back to mediocrity.

11. Buffalo
I'm sick and tired of people talking about how great Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are and how they should not be blamed for the collapse of this team. Then who the hell do you blame? The exodus out of this town over the past few years has been alarming and nothing has been done to replace the departed. If Lindy Ruff is such a good coach, couldn't he get talented players like Vanek, Pominville, and Roy to get this team to the postseason? Isn't Ryan Miller supposed to be the future of USA Hockey? Seriously, this team is not very good and it starts with management and coaching. At some point, when the Slugs continue to miss the playoffs, people will stop showering these guys with undeserved praise.

12. Toronto
This isn't because I think Brian Burke is an idiot. This isn't because we all hate the Leafs. This is because they are no better than last year and somebody needs to stand up and call them out. They don't have anyone to score a damn goal! Am I taking crazy pills here? Wait for the rebuttal of a Leafs fan and they'll point out that they scored lots last year and the focus was on keeping them out of their own net. Sure, and I agree that the blue line is tougher now, but I have concerns about Komisarek, Exelby, and Beauchemin. Komi was destroyed by Lucic and turtled up, Exelby has seen his development hit a major plateau, and Beauchemin is insanely overrated. Anybody could look good playing with Niedermeyer and Burkie should have known that. And Colton Orr? This isn't a new Ducks team, this is a team of thugs that will spend half the game in the box and the other half trying to pass out of their own zone. Ron Wilson doesn't last far past the Olympics before Burkie finds his own coach. If you think this is a playoff team, get a life.

13. Atlanta
This group might actually push up on Toronto and Buffalo more than people think. While a lot depends on Lehtonen's health, they'll get a boost from Kubina and they'll get some help with Antropov. The big question will be how Bogosian and Enstrom develop and if they're ready for top four responsibilities. Both players should be legit top pairing players but stalled last year (Bogosian missed a chunk of time, in his defense). Atlanta isn't playoff material, but it wouldn't shock me if they rattled off some wins late in the year to rally the fans, much like the Sens did last year.

14. Tampa Bay
Mattias Ohlund will help just enough to get them out of last place, but this team stinks. Can you tell me who their starting goalie will be? Cutting Prospal just leaves Lecavalier without his boyfriend, though him and Marty St. Louis might step up in an Olympic year. At the end of the day, though, they will let in so many goals that they'll be getting more sunburn from the goal light than from the beach. Zing.

15. NY Islanders
A step in the right direction for Garth and the boys. They actually have goalie(s) that can stay healthy and the kids will take another step in the right direction. Tavares will be much like Stamkos last year - he'll struggle early under the microscope and will eventually settle into a leadership role and put up 50-60pts. This organization is still a few years from even contending for the playoffs, but they'll get back there soon. If Charles can get them a new arena, then this might even become a destination for free agents on July 1st instead of at the end of the summer when players have no other options. It feels tough to keep these fellas in last place, but JT isn't enough to get them out of the basement yet. Another top three pick will help next year.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The problem with current ratings of the Senators is that all the people making predictions are looking through dismal-gray coated glasses. This is the product of the utter disappointment of the first part of last season and the controversy around Heatley. Why, for example, the belief that Washington´s young players will both replace the loss of Federov and Koslov and contribute to the outperformance of temas like Philly and Boston? But predicted breakthrough seasons for Campoli and Lee, in addition to the acquisition of Kovy and Leclair, plus the ample evidence of the positive impact of Cloustin´s coaching amounts in your prediction that the Sens will muster only 8th, and even that will be achieved only in the last three games. The hopeful signs at the end of last year of many of the Sens´ young players are overlooked here to: Foligno, Shannon, Winchester. Finally, does anybody really believe that playing consistently with Kovy or Alphie will not spark Fisher´s numbers? No man, don´t let the bad weather and Senator-shitting-on trends get you down. Put on some happy rose-coloured shades: Heater/Spezza/Kovy - #1 scoring line in the league. Shannon/Fish/Alphie - 4th best second line. Above average defense and solid goaltending. Sens finish 4th in the east behind Pens, Bruins, Philly, but only after making a move at the deadline to add a monster offensive d-man who will propel them to the conference finals. After that my rose-coloured vision gets blurry.

t

Master Of Puppets said...

I think at least one of the bottom 3 teams are poised to move up. Atlanta made a few moves, Tampa has Hedman, not to mention Ohlund now. Stamkos for year 2, with Vinnie, St. Louis and Malone a year further along. The Isles have goaltending shored up - surely one of Biron, Roloson etc can steal a few games for them. Okposo, Bailey and JT for youth movement.

I bet one of those shocks the shit out of Buffalo or TO.

The Laffs only have Ron Wilsons coaching. He'd better have a damn good PK system worked out too, cuz the buds are set to wear out the seat in the sin bin. They have Blake, Grabovski, Stajan and Ponikarovsky - woohoo. And without Antropov, Kubina and yes even Moore helped with offense, I'm thinking one of Atlanta, NYI and TB will rise above - hell the laffs may even fall to 15th and wouldn't that be downright effin sweet? Ballard years for the buds all over again.

Canucnik said...

Duff:

Clearly you have not been listening to me lately!

Washington (Their Russians)

Ottawa ( Kovy and "The American Army!")

Boston (Chara and his goalie)

Philly (Ray and that big dirty Bastard!)

Carolina (Staal and Corvo)

New Jersey (Brodeur)

Pittsburg (no Gonchar for half the season)

Montreal (Price...Markov by themselves)

And the rest don't score!

duff said...

Hey T,
It sounded like you compared the development of Semin and Backstrom to the development of Lee and Campoli. The growth of the Caps youngsters has been amazing and won't slow down; the growth of Ottawa's D is more a hope for us with no guarantees. If I'm going too hard on them for a rough start last year, then I think it is fair to say you are giving them far too much credit for the great finish. Do you honestly believe that Ryan Shannon is a second line player in the NHL? This is a kid that was in the minors and was acquired for Lawrence Nicholat and skated his ass off to make the team. My bet is that Shannon sees some time in the press box before Christmas. He isn't that good! The team played with very little pressure last year, so I don't think you can put all your hopes on the solid finish. You're also saying that Kovalev and Leclaire will propel them from 12th into 4th place. High hopes. I love the Sens as much as anyone and I would be devastated if we miss the playoffs, but we're gonna be fighting for a spot until the final week.

duff said...

MOP, I think you have a good point. If any of the three teams at the bottom (ATL, TB, NYI) have a shot as moving up, I honestly think it is the Thrashers, provided that Lehtonen is healthy. Antropov will play well with Kovy and Kubina immediately becomes their best defenceman. Tampa added two good defenceman, but they have the worst goaltending in the Conference. I don't even know if Smith is healthy and Nittymaki is the default after that. The Isles will be hard pressed to move up too much. My hope is that the Leafs spend so much time in the box that Wilson can't find enough penalty killers.

duff said...

Nik:
where do I start? Ottawa in second place? Awesome. It's 3 years from happening, but I like your spirit.
On Pittsburgh: Gonchar was out for half of last year and it appears things worked out okay for them.
On Montreal: So Price is good enough to get Montreal in but Lundqvist isn't good enough to get the Rags in?

Listen, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I appreciate you guys all posting yours up. That is what makes it fun! But I hope we're realistic about how Ottawa actually does this year because I think a lot of Sens fans are going to be disappointed.

Canucnik said...

Duff:

a) Ya gotta think ya can...ya gotta believe!

b) Pitt is so vulnerable physically and mentally with their difference maker... Mr. Gonchar.

c) Lundqvist is done...solved...he's down too early and staying down too long...never used to do that...it's too many shots...too much pressure.

pynch said...

I just noticed last week's Yahoo power poll (thanks to our friends at SENS Town and their Hump Day links).

Ottawa is ranked 22nd in the league, and I'm fine with that opinion. What really grinds my gears is that Buffalo and Toronto are ranked 20 and 21 respectively. Give me a break. Say what you want and make your predictions, but there is no way Ottawa finishes lower that 3rd in the division (and I believe they'll surpass Montreal).

Anonymous said...

Hey Duff,
I get what you're saying for sure, and I agree that it COULD turn out that bad. I am not arguing that the team will be the best in the league, but that the outlook can be viewed much more positively than it is in your assessment. I mean, the record under Clouston was 19-11-4. That's good for 101 points over the course of a season. That's 4th place right there, even without subtracting points from teams they would have beaten at that clip. I have never bought the "no pressure at the end of the season" argument either. The coach had just been fired the team was being heavily criticized an they were extremely frustrated. They were looking at not getting in the playoffs for the first time in what... 10 years! For much of that period there was a faint chance of a playoff spot. If you could get an honest answer from any of the players I'm sure they would say that the whole season - beginning and especially end - was a pressure-cooker. Shannon, Winchester, and Foligno all contributed substantially to the turnaround. Both Lee and Campoli have potential to prove their worth as second-pairing level players next year as well. I loved Lee's play particularly at the end of last year. All those five guys COULD be expected to improve their play next year. So where would that put us? From the 101 points from the Clouston effect to maybe an additional five? Sure, why not? 106 then. Good for 4th place. Oh, and then there is the issue that the team now has legitimate secondary scoring with Kovy, and lets assume that Leclair actually plays as expected. Wow, those two things must be good for another ten points! So that's 116! Cool! Number 1!! Well, maybe that's a little too rosy.

t

canucnik said...

t

116 points cool! Number 1!! Ya got it goin' on.

As you know with me it's the "D" if they play at all we are once again an Eastern Powerhouse.

I 've played with guys like Duff...good player but...on the bench he's always talking about how good the other guys are!

duff said...

Nik - on the bench, all I talk about is how to expose their defensive weaknesses. Keep the puck on the opposite side of their strong skaters, go after their weaknesses.

The same goes for our team - adding Kovalev doesn't mean that our secondary scoring is solved. It means we have a 4th guy that can score (Heatley saga pending). At some point, people have to accept that Mike Fisher is a 40 point player. Nick Foligno appears to have slightly better hands and can be a 50-point player. Ryan Shannon is a flash in the pan (and the flash went off in the spring). Listen, guys, there is no way that we're as bad as the team that finished 12th last year. But there is no way we're a top five team in this Conference right now, with or without Dany Heatley. I'm not ready to extrapolate Clouston's record last year across an 82-game season this year.

I'm not a Debbie Downer, I'm a realist. We're playoff capable, but we're going to have to earn it the hard way.

Canucnik said...

The difference between success and failure...one bad call!

Kovy is the tipping point...he makes everybody better!

PS: Sometimes it's the deletion that's as important as the additions!

PPS: We are too good and too smart to get bullied this year. That goes for players, coaches and Mgmt.