2008-2009 SEASON PREVIEW: Eastern Conference
Sid and Alex.
Alex and Sid.
These two are linked together permanently for the forseeable future. They're also the two who give Beaver Bettman a tingle in his boy parts.
Sidney Crosby got to the Stanley Cup Finals, and Alex Ovechkin was the best player in hockey. One of these till change this year.
The Penguins have some outstanding talent, with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, but losing Marian Hossa's scoring and Ryan Malone's character, not to mention Jacques Laraque's badassery, take away from what can make the difference betwen a great team and one that's just very good.
Laraque wound up in Montreal, where the rest of the Habs now have their chests puffed out a little further, knowing anyone that takes a run at them will get fucked up royally by Laraque. Montreal also has Carey Price in the net, ready to take his place among all-time great Canadiens goalies, along with Andreis Kostitsyn and Markov and Captain Saku Koivu. They look like they might be ready to make the leap to elite status.
The Caps, along with Ovechkin, have Jose Theodore in net - someone else who was once ready to take his place among all-time Canadiens goalies. Bruce Boudreau has the team heading in the right direction, they just are't all the way there yet, at least that's how it looks now.
The Lightning has Legend-in-waiting Steven Stamkos, and some damn fine forwards, like Vincent Lacavalier and Martin St. Louis. They just look like they're going to see lots of 6-5 games down in Tampa.
The Flyers shocked the shit out of everyone in the playoffs, making the conference finals after squeaking into the playoffs. After years of Bobby Clarke eschewing defense in favor of hulking forwards, Paul Holmgren took the GM reins and retooled the team into one that actually understands there's two ends to a rink. They're not going to surprise anyone this year.
The Rangers? Jagr, Avery, Shanahan and Tyutin out. Naslund, Zherdev, Redden and Kalinin in. Same shit, different stall. Conference semis and out, once again. Lundqvist will be a Vezina finalist and go home empty handed on trophy night, yet again.
I'm guessing New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" will be blasting at every Devils game, since they went out and got Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik. Martin Brodeur is still a fine goalie - in fact, without the trap and defensive stalwarts he had during the Devils', ahem, glory days, he's seeing more shots, and tougher ones. He might be playing better goal now than he did when he was winning the Cup.
The Sabres are another team with a damn fine goalie. Ryan Miller will keep the Sabres in every game. They've got a bunch of nice forwards, the best of the bunch being Derek Roy. They should make the playoffs, and Miller might get hot enough to make them this year's Flyers.
Ottawa is just a mess. They've got everything to be a top-4 team in the conference with the exception of a goalie. Which is like having a Lamborghini with an engine from a Volkswagen. Getting rid of headcase Ray Emery will help, but no team is going to be happy with the thought of Martin Gerber in the pipes on a regular basis. Guh.
Florida traded away their leader in Olli Jokinen, but getting back Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard makes the Florida blueline corps possibly the best that doesn't play in a city that couples so well with the word "sucks". Goalie Tomas Vokoun will see a lot less shots this year, and a team that stopes the other guys from scoring generally has success inthis league.
Everyone else in the East gargles balls.
Then there's Toronto.
So here's how the East seems to shake itself out...
ATLANTIC: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Rangers, Devils, Islanders. (holy shit, the Islanders are still inthe league?)
NORTHEAST: Montreal, Buffalo, Ottawa, Boston, Toronto
SOUTHEAST: Washington, Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Atlanta
Monday, we'll preview the Western Conference, and we'll do a full Hawks preview on Wednesday.