Full disclosure: The West rankings were written before the first games. The East rankings were done today, though it might be a couple days (or even early next week) before the team-by-team is put up. Anything that I took from the games Wednesday night has been noted, though I didn’t change any of the West rankings.
Biggest Gain: Mike Babcock. No question about it (and that’s not just because they were pretty quiet in the free agent market). He’s a huge upgrade from Dave Lewis and just might provide the kick in the butt this team needed.
Biggest Loss: Curtis Joseph. No he wasn’t great, but he was a darn solid goalie who deserved a lot better than he got from the Wings. Plus now they have Chris Osgood. Awesome.
Biggest Question Mark: The obvious question mark is in goal. Legace has put up great regular season numbers—and I think he’s a darn good goalie, and should be the starter—
but never has been “The Man”. Osgood is hurt (and those groin injuries can linger) and he kinda sucks. But the Wings won a Cup with Ozzie in net, and they’ve still got a great defense corps to help cover it up.
Biggest Gain: Anson Carter. Nothing spectacular, but he adds good depth and can knock in some goals for them.
Biggest Loss: Brad May. Who’s going to put out a bounty on unsuspecting players now?
Biggest Question Mark: In goal. Cloutier has held them back for a couple years when it looked like they were getting ready to contend. He’s just not a good goalie. But this could be the year that it doesn’t matter all that much anymore. Or maybe they’ll just play Alex Auld.
Biggest Gain: Roman Hamrlik. Provides some nice offensive punch to their blueline, which was lacking in it before. He edges out Philippe Sauve for this award. Just kidding.
Biggest Loss: Craig Conroy. They didn’t lose any great players, but the Flames did lose some solid ones, and Conroy is the best of that bunch.
Biggest Question Mark: Who’s going to score apart from their top line? Simon-Reinprecht-Donovan isn’t exactly a great 2nd line (though I do think the world of Reinprecht as a hockey player, and I think he’s very underrated).
Biggest Gain: Paul Kariya. If (and that’s a big if) he can stay healthy, he should thrive having the new rules, which means people can’t hit him and that makes him happy since he’s a pussy. I hate Paul Kariya, but when he’s on, he’s fun to watch.
Biggest Loss: Denis Arkhipov. He chipped in a consistent 30-40 points and was great on the line with Erat and Orszagh. The latter was a big loss as well. He may be back once his knee heals, but I think he tore all of his CLs, so he won’t be back for awhile.
Biggest Question Mark: Can Kariya stay healthy? They’ve got some solid players, but Steve Sullivan is the only other difference marker on their roster that isn’t in goal. Kariya adds that threat to a second line, which makes them that much harder to play against.
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks: The Los Angeles Ducks of Orange County but Sometimes Anaheim Too pulled off the coup of the Free Agent Frenzy, getting Scott Niedermayer to leave New Jersey (Though really…who wouldn’t want to leave New Jersey for SoCal?) and join his brother. They also got Selanne away from his
partner friend Paul Kariya. Niedermayer, Ozolinsh, Salei, Carney, Vishnevski, and the almost-Wolverine Jason
Biggest Gain: Scott Niedermayer. The absolute best defenseman available and they landed him. Solid all-around, spectacular on offense.
Biggest Loss: The bulk on JS Giguere’s pads.
Biggest Question Mark: Can Giguere regain his form from when he took the Ducks to the Cup Finals? If he can adjust to the new rules they could be higher than I have them ranked.
Subtractions: D Mike Rathje, C Vincent Damphousse, D Jason Marshall, C Mike Ricci, F Curtis Brown, F Todd Harvey, F Alexander Korolyuk (returned to Europe). Ouch. Despite losing Rathje, the defense is still strong with Stuart, Hannah, and McLaren, and they’re strong in net with Nabokov. Up front is the same question that most teams are facing…who is going to score after the top 4-5 forwards?
Biggest Gain: Umm….I guess that’d be Josh Langfeld. That has to make Sharks fans feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Biggest Loss: Rathje. He’s huge, he logged a lot of minutes for the team, and was relatively healthy. If they had managed to keep him (and with $14 million in cap room, how did they not?) that would be one scary-good defense corps.
Biggest Question Mark: Can Milan Michalek overcome a serious knee injury and live up to the high hopes placed on him as the #1 prospect in the organization?
7. LA Kings: Conroy, Demitra, Roenick, Mr. Candice Cameron. Not a bad crop of free agents the Kings signed, and I didn’t even mention their starting goalie Mathieu Garon. They also lost quite a bit though, with Ziggy Palffy, Ian Laperriere, Anson Carter, Martin Straka, Jozef Stumpel, Jason Allison and Adam Deadmarsh taking off. The latter two hadn’t helped them recently, despite being great players in the past. Allison for $1-1.5 million is a gamble worth taking though, and the Leafs could hit on that boom-or-bust player.
They do, however, have a pair of young stars-in-the-making in Alexander Frolov and Michael Cammalleri. They don’t have a great defense corps in front of their young goalie however, and it will be interesting to see if he can hold down the fort.
Biggest Gain: Jeremy Roenick. The guy can still play when he shuts his mouth long enough to do it.
Biggest Loss: Ziggy Palffy. When he’s healthy, he’s close to a point-per-game player. It’s hard to replace that, and even if you can replace that, you’d like to have it anyway.
Biggest Question Mark: The Kings have been absolutely ravaged by injury the last few years. “Can they stay healthy?” trumps “Can Mathieu Garon make an impact as an NHL starting goalie?”.
Biggest Gain: Modano’s signature on his contract. It looked like he was gone, but he decided to stick with the team he’s played for his whole career.
Biggest Loss: Teppo Numminen wasn’t the player for them that they hoped he would be, but when you’ve got Skoula in your top 3, you’re going to feel the loss of a guy that probably underachieved for your team.
Biggest Question Mark: Is this team good enough to make the playoffs? I feel like this team pretty much is what it is. No real injury reclamation projects, no superstud prospects adjusting to the NHL, a solid goalie, no players that seem ready to make The Leap. They’re going to be right on the bubble the whole year I think.
Biggest Gain: Antti Laaksonen. He’s a good all-around forward who should be a fan-favorite, having played for DU.
Biggest Loss: Forsberg or Foote. Take your pick. They were both integral parts of
Biggest Question Mark: Unfairly or not, is 2003-04 Vezina-candidate David Aebischer really a good goalie? Can he carry the load without a viable backup (still) and with a questionable defense corps? He had a great year in 03-04 but I’m still not sold on him. I’m biased, but I really don’t see this team making the playoffs.
Biggest Signing: Adam Foote. He can put fear in the hearts of opposing forwards and is the mean defenseman they needed to clear the front of the net.
Biggest Loss: Gerard Gallant’s moustache. He hasn’t had it for awhile I don’t think, but I still miss it whenever they show him. They didn’t really lose anyone in the offseason unless you count Zenith Komarniski, which I don’t.
Biggest Question Mark: Who scores apart from the top line, and will Rick Nash have better than a 3:1 goal:assist ratio?
Biggest Gain: Petr Nedved. Nedved’s 40-50 points should be a nice addition to a team that doesn’t have a ton at center behind Mike Comrie.
Biggest Loss: Daymond Langkow. Nedved’s 40-50 points don’t completely replace Langkow’s 50-60.
Biggest Question Mark: Is Wayne Gretzky a face, or a legit coach? We’ll find out. They talk about how he’s great at recognizing talent. We’ll see in the upcoming seasons if he should be behind the bench or in the front office.
Biggest Gain: Khabibulin. If Scott Niedermayer wasn’t the prize of the free agent class, then Khabibulin was. Does anyone really think he wouldn’t have ended up in
Biggest Loss: Bryan Berard. He isn’t a great defenseman, but he’s solid enough and would probably be their #2 guy.
Biggest Question Mark: Can the young talent get used to the NHL, and if so, how quickly? If they mesh quickly, then this team could also be shooting up the Western Conference.
Biggest Gain: Chris Pronger, literally and figuratively. If he stays healthy we all know how good he can be. The biggest issue is staying healthy.
Biggest Loss: Eric Brewer, both literally and figuratively. I think the world of him as a player, and the Oilers are taking a gamble that Pronger won’t get hurt yet again.
Biggest Question Mark: Who the hell is going to score for this team?
Biggest Gain: Brian Rolston. When Alexandre Daigle was your leading scorer (probably on and off the ice), you need some help offensively.
Biggest Loss: The ability to trap.
Biggest Question Mark: Has anyone heard of any of their centers? That’s probably an exaggeration, but still…
Biggest Gain: Eric Brewer. This trade will work out well for both teams. It’ll look really good for the Blues in a couple years, much in the way the Pronger for Shanahan team worked out for them.
Biggest Loss: Chris Pronger. Go figure.
Biggest Question Mark: The biggest question comes courtesy of me watching the game last night, and was echoed roughly 1 second later by everyone else I was watching with. “Dallas Drake is their captain???”
In the playoffs, the Wings come out of the West if they get any goaltending whatsoever. I have faith in Babcock he’ll go with Legace, and Manny will do just fine.