Sunday, September 29, 2013

East



The East remains the junior circuit, Bettman's parity is slowly eroding the powerhouses out west but there are still four teams that are head and shoulders above anything the east can offer. Not to say that the Stanley Cup might not come back east, in a seven game series anything can happen, a team can get lucky (Carolina), ride a hot goalie and Shawn Thornton (Boston) or run into a club riddled with injuries to key players (Pittsburgh) but the reality is that the eastern teams are smaller and slower and not as deep as the big boys out west.

 That said the eastern conference is probably the more interesting of the two. There is no team head and shoulders above the rest except for the Penguins and we all know that their goaltending is garbage. They might run and gun to the conference championship in the regular season and a first round win over an eighth seed but as soon as they hit the big boys things will fall apart. Beyond the Pens it seems most of the rest of the conference playoff seeds seem pretty clear, though fluid, with a handful of clubs fighting for the final spot. Injuries and the unexpected may throw things for a loop but I'm pretty confident that things will suss out as follows or at least relatively close to this:

Sure Things

Pens - This club reminds you of the Pens clubs of twenty years ago in a way, its top heavy as hell. The problem for this club is that while those teams ran out Lemieux, Francis, Jagr, Tocchet and Stevens in the top six as well as some decent D and a reasonable goaltender in Tom Barrasso, this team is even more top heavy. Kunitz and Dupuis are nice players but they're not in the same conversation as Crosby, Malkin and Neal and after them the dropoff is severe. Their Cup winner had Staal, Kennedy, Cooke and Talbot in the bottom six, this team has Sutter and not a lot else. The D is shoddy and with Vokoun done its Fleury or nothing for the Pens. The crazy thing is that the talent up top was enough to help the Pens run away and hide last year and this year may be more of the same. But their goaltending, D and depth up front will get exposed in the playoffs.

Habs - The Habs are one of those clubs that you look at and wonder if its mirrors sometimes but their roster is pretty solid. Subban is a superstar and they have enough guys like Plekanec and Eller who can do the heavy lifting so that the kids (and Danny Briere) can kill the softs. Injuries blew the club apart last spring so its hard to say if they are a team that can come out of the east although one suspects that if Price provides them with good goaltending and they are healthy then they will be in the mix.

Bruins - Two trips to the Finals in three years, the Bruins are the team I'd pick to come out of the conference again this year except their depth has taken a hit. Horton, Seguin, Peverley, Jagr and Ference are all gone, replaced by Eriksson and Iginla and unprovens for now. Chara isn't getting any younger and so you know Chiarelli will being in reinforcements in the spring if the youth isn't up to the task. The edge the Bruins have had for years now is that aforementioned depth and as often happens the beginning of the end for a contender is when that depth starts to take a hit. That said they will be in the mix again and are a shoo in to make the playoffs.

Wings - Detroit leaves a division that included Chicago and St. Louis, two of the best teams in the league, and comes east and I expect they're going to tear it up. They aren't your older brother's Wings but they came the closest to knocking Chicago off last spring. In two years or so they are going to be fucked, they're all getting old, all of them, but Datsyuk and Zetterberg are going to eat the east alive and Babcock will get the most out of a roster that looks like a bit of a hodgepodge in places to be honest.

Sens - Ottawa had a quality year despite being ruined by injuries last season and I think the addition of Ryan, good health and a step forward from their raft of quality kids will actually put them into the conversation when it comes to contenders this season. I rate MacLean as a quality coach and they have very good goaltending and strength up the middle. A team on the rise even if you can't name half of their players.

Caps - Washington started slowly and then got rolling last season and I expect them to have a good year. The addition of Grabovski is going to help a lot and their lineup is deep pretty everywhere you look, not sure if they are a true contender but I suspect that they are.

In The Conversation

That's four teams in the Atlantic and two in the Metropolitan what the fuck oh right its the NHL. (Had a conversation at the boy's practice this morning, one of his buddies asked why the Sabres' coach got a fine for leaving John Scott on the ice last Sunday, all we could say is 'because its the NHL'. Mickey Mouse right down to the red pants with the big brass buttons). Anyhow another team from the I can't even say it division has to make the playoffs. My guess is the two remaining clubs will come from this group of four and the teams that end up out of it will probably be the least healthy of the lot.

Islanders - these guys have the inside track, they are a team on the rise and one suspects with some goaltending they might have beaten the Pens last spring. Indeed if I were an Islanders' fan (are there any Islanders' fans?) that would be my biggest concern. They have enough up front and on the back end and Tavares is unreal. But the goaltending ...

Rangers - the Rangers have Lundqvist and if Staal can recover then I really love their top four D and while a lot of their forward corps is more sizzle than steak they still have a lot of quality there. And I like Vigneault a lot, I like him more than Tortorella, I think he can get more out of this club. Really hard to see them missing the playoffs to be honest.

BJs (heh) - Wow Columbus really is a bunch of no names for sure, other than Gaborik, talk about your anonymous bunch. But they fell just short of the playoffs in a tougher conference last year and they added Nathan Horton. On the other hand they were a bit lucky last year and do we expect Bobrovsky to repeat his numbers from last season. Then again they were in a division with St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago and now they are not.  So yeah I have no idea.

Leafs - The Leafs were super lucky last year and they got rid of their best centre, two decent top nine options and a quality fourth line player. In came David Clarkson, Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond as well as Paul Ranger on the back end.

 I think the Leafs don't make the playoffs if its a level playing field and I am pretty confident that Carlyle will screw things up (he's already grumbling about Gardiner and one must remember that the Leafs didn't put their best lineup together until, what, game four against the Bruins?) but with that said their D is a pretty reasonable group one through six and they have a nice set of wingers in the top nine and Phil Kessel is one of the best players in the league. There's not a lot going on behind them in the standings so if a team or two above them falters then I think the Leafs might make it. The problem for them is the loss of Grabovski turns a strength (centre) into a weakness. Remember that Dave Bolland lost his job to MICHAEL HANDZUS and was a fourth liner in Chicago who could not produce offence playing with PATRICK KANE. And then you have Kessel's comfort goat, Tyler Bozak, also know as a poor man's Matt Stajan. I picture Carlyle making a mess of this with his 'system' and insistence on playing a couple of goons every night and Kessel, Kulemin, Reimer and Phaneuf all being gone by next June. We worry about a lack of depth with the Oilers, the Leafs have nobody who can move into their top nine forwards after McClement. Nobody. Think about that. And a poor possession team got rid of some good possession guys with speed. LoLeafs.

Junk

There's a real drop off after the top ten teams.

Devils - New Jersey finished in last place in their division last year and then lost Kovalchuk and Clarkson, its up to Patrik Elias, one of the great underrated players of his generation, Adam Henrique and a bunch of nobodies. I've never liked the Devils, ever, maybe this season will lead them to folding, a man can hope.

Flyers - Watching Holmgren try and build a contender is sheer entertainment, every year he throws money at flawed aging players, every year the team takes another step backwards. They really have some wonderful players up front but their best two D are on LTIR and pushing 40 and whoever thought Steve Mason was the answer in goal is well I have no words for that one really. Unless Ray Emery's magic hip can withstand 75 games of 35 shots plus then the Flyers are going to sink in the standings and then next summer Holmgren will throw a huge contract at Nick Schultz and sign Jose Theodore.

Lightning - part of me wants to like Tampa, they have some tremendous players up front and of course now they have added Filppula and Drouin to replace Vinny but I think they're top heavy and their D is shoddy and honestly I don't see them being any better than last year when their GA was sixth worst in the league. Another high pick for them I think. Fun place to see a game though.

Panthers - Dale Tallon reminds me of Garth Snow. Sometimes he does great things. He built the Blackhawks. This summer he picked up Boyes, Gilbert and Tim Thomas for basically nothing. He has some nice young pieces on this club. Other times he's a disaster. The qualifying offer fiasco. A couple of summers ago when he threw big money and term at a pile of mediocre free agents. He's the Dave Kingman of NHL GMs. All or nothing. This year its going to be more nothing even if Tim Thomas is Tim Thomas. The Panthers were full value terrible last year. Only Nashville scored less goals. Nobody allowed more. In a short season they were twenty points out of the playoffs. Some people say they might surprise. If they aren't a lottery team colour me surprised, whatever colour that is, maybe its 'flesh' whatever the hell that was.

Les Sabres - oh the poor Sabres. Add Darcy Regier to the long list of GMs who did great when faced with a budget and then fell to pieces when suddenly given an open chequebook, it reminds me of when I went away to school for the first time, by the spring I was looking in couch cushions for money to buy Kraft Dinner or a bowl of soup. The men from moustache town are facing what will be another long winter in what will be a series of long winters with the only drama being when Vanek and Miller get sent out of town. Its amazing how difficult it is to build a good team but how easy it is to ruin same. They have some nice kids but a long way to go and once Vanek goes its going to be a real wasteland.

Canes - its almost as if these eastern teams have a blueprint on how to be bad. Super quality top six forwards and then junk on the blueline and or in net. Carolina's goaltending is better than a lot of these other clubs and Hainsey was a nice cheap add but their D is thin and not that good and after that top six their forwards are either unproven, ancient or terrible. No way to run a railroad but fuck the Canes anyhow. Fuck them.

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