Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Much Longer NHL Preview Than I Intended

I wasn’t going to do an NHL Preview this year since I’ve been doing the team preview for the Michigan hockey team, but I’ve really enjoyed doing them in the past. You’re getting the detailed breakdown for the West, and a bare bones breakdown of the East, since it’s pretty obvious that my picks suck for that conference. It's much longer than I intended, and I even kind of mailed in the East. It still stretched to 11 pages and took me 3 hours to write.

For each team, I’ve listed their top acquisition, key loss, the breakdown on players that were picked in my 12 person, 21 round fantasy draft (while it’s not an absolute measure of how good a team should be, it’s kind of fun to see), along with a few comments and a projected finish.

Western Conference

1. Detroit Red Wings
Top Acquisition: Brian Rafalski
Key Loss: Mathieu Schneider, Todd Bertuzzi
Fantasy Breakdown: 6 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I want to put San Jose here, but since they’re in a division with Anaheim and Dallas, I can’t do it. The Wings are a great team in their own right, and with a few extra “easy” points, they get the edge. I don’t buy the argument that they’ve feasted on this division in the past (the stats don’t back it up) but when you’re looking at two pretty equal teams, it’s hard not to give the edge to the team in a weaker division.

Detroit had a strong defense corps last season and they get even better with the Rafalski/Schneider swap. The only thing that they’re losing in that trade-off is a booming shot from the point. But Rafalski has all the offensive instincts of Schneider, and he’s much better defensively.

The main worry that I have about this team is our depth at forward. After Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Holmstrom there’s not a lot there. Filppula, Cleary, and Samuelsson were picked in our draft, but none of them can be considered “sure things”. Hudler performed in limited ice time last season. Draper might be given a chance to be on a scoring line (God forbid!). Grigorenko didn’t even make the roster out of camp. This team needs another top-six forward (or two) and they’ve got the cap room to do it. Maybe they’re targeting Peter Forsberg if he makes a return to the NHL?

In goal they’re as solid as anyone in the league, with Dominik Hasek. Of course the big question is “Can he stay healthy?” Hasek proved that he could get through last season with his new stretching regimen. If he makes it through this year, the Wings have as good of a chance as anyone to be hoisting the Cup at season’s end.

2. San Jose Sharks
Top Acquisition: Experience for their young players
Key Loss: Vesa Toskala
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-3-1

I really thought San Jose was going to take it last year. I didn’t give the Wings a chance against them (completely wrong as it turned out), but they pushed Detroit to the brink of a 3-1 deficit before Robert Lang tied up game 4 and the Wings won in overtime. If Nabokov stops that shot, the Sharks win that series and I would’ve liked their chances against Anaheim.

The Sharks didn’t make a splash in the free agent market this offseason—Jeremy Roenick?—but rather chose to build from within. Forwards Pavelski, Clowe, and Michalek along with defensemen Vlasic and Carle will benefit from the experience that they’ve gotten and might improve the team more than a free agent signing would have.

They’re still a young team, and they’re still young on defense. Additionally, they moved their safety net in goal (Toskala), which could come into play should Nabokov get hurt or falter. He was very good for them in the playoffs, however.

The biggest question mark is how will team captain Patrick Marleau respond after his coach pretty much threw him under the bus for his disappearing act in the post-season?

3. Anaheim Ducks
Top Acquisition: Mathieu Schneider, Todd Bertuzzi
Key Loss: Teemu Selanne, Dustin Penner, Scott Niedermayer (?)
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-4-2 (Includes Niedermayer)

The defending Cup champs looked to be the favorite to get it done again this season until Scott Niedermayer started talking early retirement. At this time, all he’s said is that he won’t be there for the start of the season. The smart money is that he’ll come back late in the year for another run at it.

The Ducks prepared for his departure by snagging Schneider away from Detroit and bringing Todd Bertuzzi along with him. Bertuzzi replaces Penner, who was signed to a ridiculous offer sheet by Edmonton that Anaheim refused to match.

The big loss is Selanne, who also hasn’t 100% committed to retirement. Between he and Niedermayer, that’s a lot of points for the Ducks to replace.

The other question mark is if the Stay-Puff Marshmellow Man, JS Giguere, can continue to be effective. He was really good in the playoffs for them, but he had hernia surgery in the offseason and he’s had lingering hip problems as well.

4. Vancouver Canucks
Top Acquisition: Roberto Luongo last year (What? He’s the only thing they’ve really got going for them)
Key Loss: Rory Fitzpatrick (He just missed the All-Star team, right?)
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-3-1

It’s amazing how this team has completely flip-flopped from five years ago. In the 2002 playoffs—when the Bertuzzi-Morrison-Naslund line was at their peak—I marveled at how good that team would be, if they only had a goalie.

Now they have a goalie, possibly the best goalie, and they can’t score (only New Jersey had less amongst playoff teams). They didn’t really do anything about it in the offseason either.

They’ll still be in the mix because of Luongo, but I think this team is going to be another good example of close, but no cigar.

5. Minnesota Wild
Top Acquisition: Eric Belanger
Key Loss: Manny Fernandez
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-0-2

I’m officially buying into the hype. I like this team (Gaborik and Rolston were both my picks, and I had to really stop myself from nabbing Demitra too). After years of boring hockey, no offense, and just playing for a 2-1 win, the Wild finally have some goal scorers.

Gaborik is absolutely ridiculous when he’s healthy. The problem is that he’s banged up quite a bit. In addition to the top three forwards I’ve listed above, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Mikko Koivu are good players. Belanger is one of those two-way centers that Jacques Lemaire loves.

The defense is solid, but unspectacular. They don’t get a lot of offense from the blueline (they were the only team that didn’t have a defenseman picked in our draft) but they’re a solid defensive team.

And then there’s the goalie. Niklas Backstrom was incredible last season as an older rookie. He had a 1.97 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, which led to Manny Fernandez becoming expendable. Josh Harding, with his Rascall Flats mask and his .960 save percentage in seven games, is the talented backup.

Make no mistake, they’ll still win games by playing defense. But this time, they’ve actually got some offense to go with it. It’s a nice combination.

6. Colorado Avalanche
Top Acquisition: Ryan Smyth
Key Loss: Patrice Brisebois
Fantasy Breakdown: 7-3-2

The bitch is back.

After a year outside the playoffs, the Avalanche should without question make their return this year. Francois Giguere has done an excellent job cleaning up the mess that Pierre Lacroix left, when Lacroix went from genius to not making a good trade in three years.

The Avs have done an incredible job of drafting the past few seasons, loading up on collegiate players, and it’s starting to pay off for them. Paul Stastny was outstanding as a rookie and looks to build on that strong campaign. Ex-Wolverine TJ Hensick had a great training camp and would’ve made the team but for the depth at center. I imagine that we’ll see him back at some point this year.

The Avs have a great group of forwards highlighted by Sakic, Hedjuk, Stastny, Brunette, Smyth, and Wolski. The Avs led the Western Conference in goals last year and there’s really no reason to expect that to change.

The defense is a little more shaky, and I’m still not sold on Peter Budaj in net, but there’s still no reason that this team shouldn’t be playing come late April.

7. Calgary Flames
Top Acquisition: Owen Nolan
Key Loss: Roman Hamrlik, Brad Stuart
Fantasy Breakdown: 4-2-1

Last year’s eighth place team and perennial pest checks in at #7 this year. This is a team that lives and dies by their goalie. Kiprusoff is as good as it gets in the NHL and he alone should be enough to get this team to the playoffs.

Thankfully he’s got a little bit of help. Iginla, Tanguay, the surprising Huselius, and the solid Langkow along with rearguards Phaneuf and Regehr provide some aid. Nolan even had a bit of a resurgence in the desert last year. They’re still not a scary group of positional players, but they hit hard, they’re annoying to play against, and with their goalie, they have a chance to beat most every team on any given night.

Firing the ironically named Jim Playfair at the end of last season didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that they replaced him with Mike Keenan, who I’m pretty sure is fighting with Mike Sillinger to be the first person to be an employee of every organization in the league. We’ll see how that one goes…

8. Dallas Stars
Top Acquisition: Umm…errr…
Key Loss: Ladislav Nagy
Fantasy Breakdown: 3-2-1

People are writing off the Stars because, let’s face it, they’ve got no goal scoring. But what they do have is a very solid defense, and a goalie in Marty Turco who is coming off an outstanding playoff performance, even if he didn’t get that series win he needs.

The surprising thing is that they really didn’t do anything in the offseason to help themselves. They let Sydor, Nagy, and Lindros go. Not that those guys were anything special, but they didn’t even replace them. I think Nagy is a better player than he’s given credit for, and while he was kind of a bust for them, he should’ve been brought back.

The thing working against Dallas is that they’ve got Anaheim and San Jose in their division, along with upstart Los Angeles, who won’t be easy pickings anymore. That and a lack of offense.

I still think they can be a playoff team, but as is usually the case, this one is going down to the wire.

9. St. Louis Blues
Top Acquisition: Paul Kariya, Erik Johnson
Key Loss: Captain, Dallas Drake
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-2-1

After years of being a doormat team, the Blues are finally ready to make some noise in the playoff race again. They made a too little, too late run at the playoffs at the end of last season before finishing in the 10th slot.

I’m actually tempted to put them ahead of the Stars, but I’m not going to do it. I like what they’ve done with the team though. Manny Legace was very strong through the middle part of last year, before an injury ended his season.

They brought back Paul Kariya, who was very good in Nashville after a failed stint in Colorado. He’ll help the top line, and will likely be paired with Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes, who I love as a sleeper this year.

On defense, they add Calder candidate Erik Johnson, who made the leap to the NHL to bolster an already fairly decent group.

It wouldn’t shock me a bit if they make the playoffs.

10. Los Angeles Kings
Top Acquisition: Tom Priessing, Brad Stuart, Ladislav Nagy, Jack Johnson, Kyle Calder, Jonathan Bernier
Key Loss: Aaron Miller, I guess
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-4-1 (though I added Bernier after the opener, so that’d be a 2 in goalies)

This is going to be a fun team. They were one of the big off-season winners (along with the Rangers). They get Jack Johnson for a full season (I list him as an acquisition because he only played 5 games last year). They completely revamped the defense corps. Buccigross doesn’t like the Nagy signing much, but I do. As I said earlier, I think he’s a better player than he’s given credit for and he could be a real asset to a team like LA. Kyle Calder has looked great for them—that’s a guy I kind of wish Detroit had kept. He started off so good, then got hurt, got into Babcock’s dog house, and they let him go.

The big piece to the puzzle though is Bernier. The Kings haven’t had a goalie in a long time. Last year’s move to trade for Dan Cloutier over signing Legace as a free agent is still a puzzler to me. But Bernier looks like the real deal. They’ve questioned if he’ll stick or if he’ll be shipped back to his junior team, but after the performance in the opener in London against the Ducks, I imagine they’ll keep him.

If they get solid goaltending, this is a playoff team. If not, they’re a year away, but they’re a budding powerhouse. There’s a lot of young talent on this team (Frolov, Cammalleri, Kopitar, Brown, Armstrong, O'Sullivan, Johnson) and they’ve still got a few solid vets in there as well.

If the goaltending situation was more settled, I would have them in the playoffs. Talk to me again in 15-20 games.

11. Nashville Predators
Top Acquisition: Jed Ortmeyer
Key Losses: Tomas Vokoun, Peter Forsberg, Kimmo Timonen, Scott Hartnell, Paul Kariya
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-3-1

It really saddens me when a team has been built to be a contender, and then due to ownership issues they have to tear it apart. It was looking as if Wings/Predators was going to be a fun rivalry in the future. They pushed Detroit last year in the Central, there was a playoff battle or two. And then it all got ripped apart.

Just look at that list of key losses. You can even include Steve Sullivan, who is out until at least December with a back injury. Who knows how he’ll respond (I picked him up anyway). You can’t replace guys like that.

That said, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Alexander Radulov will be one of the breakout players this year. Martin Erat is one of the best that you’ve never heard of. J.P. Dumont is a solid player in his own right, and they’ve got a future Norris candidate in Shea Weber (another great sleeper). In goal is Chris Mason, who did a nice job splitting time with Vokoun, but I’m partial to the latter and I think it was a mistake to let him go.

If they could have kept last year’s core group together and then added the improvement of Radulov and Weber, this team could have contended. Now, they’ll be lucky to contend for a playoff spot. That’s not the formula for success if you’re looking to keep the team in Nashville. Reportedly, they’re allowed to leave if attendance drops below 14,000, so you might see a real-life version of Major League going on in Tennessee. And it’s too bad.

12. Chicago Blackhawks
Top Acquisition: A casket for Bill Wirtz, Pat Kane, Jonathan Toews, Sergei Samsonov, and (gulp) Robert Lang
Key Loss: Injuries to Ruutu and Havlat (let’s just get those out of the way right now)
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-1-1

Mean to say that about Bill Wirtz? Yes. He was supposedly a good guy—I know Chelios loved him—but hockey was not going to come back in Chicago until he was no longer running the team. And this league needs fans in Chicago to at least give a damn again. Hopefully they can now get the games back on TV and be willing to spend some money so the Blackhawks might matter again. I miss caring about that game.

Anyway, there’s some young blood coming in. #1 pick Pat Kane may not be ready yet, but he’s a damn fine hockey player. Jonathan Toews should contend with the two Johnsonses for the Calder. Samsonov and Lang were actually pretty nice pickups to pair with Martin Havlat, until he gets hurt a month into the season.

I’m not sure I’d want Lang as my #1 center, but maybe a lot of ice time is all he needs to get back to being the guy that nearly led the league in scoring a couple years back. Or maybe he just really is that lazy.

Edmonton Oilers
Top Acquisition: Dustin Penner, Sheldon Souray, Joni Pitkanen, Andrew Cogliano
Key Loss: Petr Sykora, Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith, can I list Ryan Smyth again
Fantasy Breakdown: 3-2-1

I’m not sure they scored a goal after Ryan Smyth was traded.

Souray will help the offense from the back end, but he doesn’t exactly bring a lot of defensive savvy to the table.

If Ales Hemsky is going to realize his potential, now would be a good time to think about doing that. After putting up 77 points in his third year, he had a 24 point dropoff last season.

Jarret Stoll had a huge dropoff as well, but had injury troubles as well.

The big surprise could come in the form of ex-Wolverine Andrew Cogliano, who led the team in goals in training camp. He impressed the Oilers and he stuck with the team. He has the speed, the play making ability, and the shot to be a very good NHLer.

While they do have guys that could make jumps in points (Stoll, Hemsky, Torres), it’s still pretty hard to see this team in the playoffs at the end of the year. They won’t be as bad as they were at the end of last year though.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Top Acquisition: Mike Peca
Key Loss: Anders Eriksson (never thought that’d be something I would type!)
Fantasy Breakdown: 4-1-1


They can’t get Nikolai Zherdev to play hard. They can’t make Rick Nash realize his potential. They can’t make Sergei Fedorov younger. Their goaltender of the future got beat out by a 32 year old rookie. The bright spot is David Vyborny. 64 points last year, and a solid guy to have on the top line. But there’s really not a whole lot else on this team. Part of me wonders if we won’t see Fedorov back in Detroit, either at the deadline or on the cheap next year.

15. Phoenix Coyotes
Top Acquisition: Mike York
Key Loss: Owen Nolan
Fantasy Breakdown: 1-2-0

Sweet Mother of Mercy this is a bad hockey team. Let me put this in perspective for you all. There were 12 teams in my fantasy draft. Shane Doan was drafted 135th overall and he was the first Coyote taken. The next one (Jovocop) was 168th and Keith Ballard went 239th. And that’s it. We had 252 players taken in the draft, and we felt the need to draft three players from Phoenix. No other team had less than six players taken, and most teams at least had their top line drafted. Phoenix was also the only team whose starting goalie was not selected.

I’m honestly not sure how you put together a hockey team that is this bad. There is exactly zero chance that this team doesn’t finish last in the West. Zero. And I’d be shocked if they’re not last in the league.

That’s the West. Here are my rankings for the East, which will be much less detailed, because quite frankly I suck at picking this conference. I did find that while it’s not as ripe with contenders as the West, the bottom of the conference is extremely hard to sort out from 6-15. There’s not one team in there that I would say can’t make the playoffs.

Eastern Conference:

1. New York Rangers
Top Acquisition: Chris Drury, Scott Gomez
Key Loss: Jed Ortmeyer
Fantasy Breakdown: 8-2-1

Real good team. I’m still worried about the defense a little bit, and I’m not fully buying into the hype, even though I have them #1. But they’re going to be good.

Be afraid though. The teams that I pick to be #1 in the East tend to do things like miss the playoffs.

2. Ottawa Senators
Top Acquisition: None
Key Loss: Mike Comrie, Tom Priessing
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-5-2

They still have as good of a top line as any. Deep defense. Solid goaltending if Emery is healthy. The Wings would’ve rolled them.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Top Acquisition: Petr Sykora
Key Loss: None
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-2-1

Fun, fun team to watch. Nice team to pluck fantasy players from. Can’t wait to catch em on Center Ice. Don’t think they’re a real contender for the Cup yet.

4. Buffalo Sabres
Top Acquisition: None
Key Loss: Chris Drury, Daniel Briere
Fantasy Breakdown: 7-2-1

Still powerful offensively if guys like Connolly step up and stay healthy. Still have a very good goalie in Ryan Miller. Good thing they kept Vanek.

5. Carolina Hurricanes
Top Acquisition: Matt Cullen
Key Loss: David Tanabe, Andrew Hutchinson
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-1-1

They missed the playoffs last year, they won’t this year. They’re the best in a pretty bad division. This team has rebound written all over them, especially if the top forwards can stay healthy. I don’t like the defense all that much, but they still should be in the top half of the East.

6. New Jersey Devils
Top Acquisition: Dainius Zubrus
Key Loss: Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-1-1

They still have a good group of forwards, but Paul Martin needs to step up in Rafalski’s absence. Brodeur keeps this team in the playoffs.

7. Philadelphia Flyers
Top Acquisition: Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen, Jason Smith
Key Loss: Joni Pitkanen
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-1-1

Much improved over that disaster last year. If Biron can hold up being the starter, they should make the playoffs.

8. Florida Panthers
Top Acquisition: Tomas Vokoun
Key Loss: Martin Gelinas
Fantasy Breakdown: 4-3-1

Vokoun was a great pickup. The Panthers weren’t that far out of the playoffs last year and with a great goalie in Vokoun, that might be the difference.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs
Top Acquisition: Vesa Toskala, Jason Blake, Mark Bell
Key Loss: Yanic Perrault
Fantasy Breakdown: 6-3-1

Their big acquisition in goal is apparently not starting. Mark Bell is going to jail at some point. Good stuff, eh Leafs fans? Blake is a really good, underrated player though. Losing Wellwood to an injury doesn’t help.

10. Atlanta Thrashers
Top Acquisition: Todd White
Key Loss: Keith Tkachuk
Fantasy Breakdown: 4-1-1

Still a great top line. Still not much else.

11. New York Islanders
Top Acquisition: Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin
Key Loss: Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti, Richard Zednik, Alexei Yashin
Fantasy Breakdown: 8-1-1

Surprising amount of forwards drafted, given the mass departures from Long Island. Decent forwards, good goalie. I originally had this team listed dead last, but perhaps I should give them more credit. Especially considering they might have the best coach in the league.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning
Top Acquisition: Jan Hlavec
Key Loss: Nolan Pratt
Fantasy Breakdown: 4-3-1

That whole “paying 3 guys a ton of money” thing doesn’t work so well when you don’t have a goalie.

13. Montreal Canadiens
Top Acquisition: Roman Hamrlik, Patrice Brisebois
Key Loss: Sergei Samsonov, Sheldon Souray
Fantasy Breakdown: 2-3-1

It’s strange how good their PP was last year for the talent they had. Souray being gone hurts the PP big time and that’s how they scored their goals.

14. Washington Capitals
Top Acquisition: Niklas Backstrom, Tom Poti, Michael Nylander
Key Loss: None
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-1-1

They’ll be better. Backstrom is going to be a great player. Nylander and Semin are nice supporting guys.

15. Boston Bruins
Top Acquisition: Manny Fernandez
Key Loss: Glen Murray
Fantasy Breakdown: 5-1-1

Kessel not getting nut cancer will help this year. So will having an NHL goalie. Chara big. Big good. Honestly, I don’t like them at 15 but I don’t like the Caps there either and I can’t figure out who else to slide in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Penguins pick up Adam Hall? That seems like a good acquisition.