The warm up is over. All of y'all that were keeping track of the pre-season, it's time to reset your clocks. Bring on the new NHL season!
|(Photo via mancavesports.org)|
Top 3 Contenders
Fresh off their riotous Stanley Cup victory, the Bruins have no intention of stepping off the throne. They basically look like the same team, with a few deletions - Recchi (retirement) and Kaberle (Carolina). This opens the door for some youngins, like Seguin, to jump in and eat up some minutes. With more minutes come more responsibility.
Chara will return to his beastly self to lead this team back to the top of the pack. If Thomas plays like he did last season (and playoffs), there is no reason why the Bruins can't win back to back championships since Detroit did it in 97 and 98. Size and skill are lovely bedfellows.
The Sabres new owner, Terry Pegula, has brought new life to this team including giving GM Regier a blank cheque to build his roster. He's been frugal in the past, but broke the bank this off season. Regier brought in some nice players: Ville Leino (4.5 million), Christian Ehrhoff (4 million) and Robyn Reghr (4 million). Throw in the newly extended Myers (5.5 million until 2019) with a healthy Derek Roy and you have a team that will make every city they visit cringe, with a healthy a dose of hate.
All-Star, Team USA goalie Ryan Miller finally has a team in front of him. He will be his regular self once again this season with the Vezina in his sights.
The Crosby injury has been a hot topic all summer, with everyone and their gerbil making assumptions about the Kid's status and his potential return. He didn't play a single pre-season game but has started to participate in high intensity practice. For all the fools that don't believe he will come back with a vengeance, take a look at what Michael Jordan did in '86 after missing over 60 games with a broken foot. The Greats are great for a reason...they laugh in the face of adversity. Bank on this: Sid will be back before the end of 2011 and will dominate.
Malkin and Stall are back in full effect after disappointing 2010-2011 seasons. From what I've heard about Malkin during this pre-season, he is on a mission. Add Steve "the comeback kid" Sullivan, with a maturing Fleury and the shifty Kris Letang...you have yourself a tough opponent.
Let's get it straight: Philly made the playoffs last year and will again this season. They have undergone one of the most dramatic changes by trading out Captain Mike Richards (Kings) and Jeff Carter (Blue Jackets). They were considered the heart and soul of the Flyers. And they liked to party. A lot. There were rumors of the coach implementing a "dry island" in the Philly dressing room. Let's say that Richards and Carter's torches were extinguished on more than one occasion.
Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds (via LA), 2011 1st round draft pick Sean Couturier and former KHL all-star Jaromir Jagr join a talented group that will turn some heads. Philly also addresses a weak spot with the Bryzgalov signing as the man between the iron pipes. So the surprise is that they got stronger by subtraction (with some sweet additions).
Top 3 Flops
Ugghhh! This hurts...like getting a slap shot in the face courtesy of Shea Webber hurts (if you don't understand why, click here). The Senators are now a rebuilding team and an era is concluding. Captain Daniel Alfredsson is inching closer to retirement with every passing game. I hope that they trade him to a contender for that last chance to get a Cup. Alfie and the Sens had a shot at it, but were muscled out of a championship. More importantly, he deserves another shot.
So, were talking about a rebuild with a few prospects vying for some ice time (and your hearts). Zibanejad and Runblad join Erik Karlsson this year as the Sens exceed their Swedish quota for the season. They will be joined by 6"5' Jared Cowen and French prospect Da Costa. So a mix of old and very young will be iced this season.
Toss in goalie Craig Anderson and Jason Spezza and you have yourself a sub .500 team. Lowered expectations.
Mark Streit as Captain? Really? I would've have never guessed that. With Doug Weight retiring for the 10th time, might as well give the "C" to the guy with the biggest paycheck.
The youth movement is strong on the Isles. The core is still very young and will learn to lose and win (mostly lose) through this set of 82 games. Look for them to make a run for that playoff spot until January. With studs like Tavares, Okposo and Grabner signed for the long term they will have some good runs for the Cup. Just not now.
Before you start hating on me for slotting 2 Canadian teams in the bottom 3, let's look at some facts: this team did not dramatically change in terms of their roster since they moved from Atlanta, they haven't added any "game changer" type players and they are a young club.
And they didn't make the playoffs last year. So all signs point to a 9 to 12 seed finish. On the bright side, the Jets locked down their Cap Andrew Ladd and have a strong forward in Evander Kane. Byfuglien will hopefully have another strong offensive season that will last beyond the All-Star game.
The biggest X-Factor for the transplanted Thrashers is their new home. When in Atlanta, the arena was as vacant as Sean Avery's skull. Pros need to look beyond this and motivate themselves to play at a high level. But they are human in the end and need some groupie love! The fans in Winnipeg will energize this group for every sold out home game.