RANKING THEM FROM BEAST TO LEAST: Eastern Conference Preview

From the minute Gary Bettman whispered, "You complete me." to Sidney Crosby as he handed the cup over to the Penguins' Captain, people have wondered whether they can do it again.

Well...

They lost a couple character guys, and make no mistake - they didn't win the Finals because their stars stepped up. You can make the argument that the Red Wings were too banged up, but the Penguins were banged up as well. Pittsburgh surely benefitted from a shady overturning of C Evegni Malkin's instigator suspension, but in the end, Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending, and a helpful crossbar won them the Cup.

Some Eastern teams did retooling. The Devils, who put the band back together last year, went out and hired their Ruben Kincaid, Jacques Lemaire. The Islanders got their most ballyhooed draft pick since Rick DePietro, so they're well on their way to bringing many Cups to Winnekanskatoon, right?

The Rangers once again kept with their fine tradition of not knowing the difference between spending money and spending money wisely. The Caps basically stood pat, and one ungodly bad team can have a major impact on the Stanley Cup. Let's get to our scientific rankings, which is a nice way of saying I hit some websites and read through The Hockey News Yearbook:

1. Pittsburgh - Kudos to GM Ray Shero for surrounding his two superstars with hard workers.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: The Penguins repeat as Champs, and Crosby carries Gary Bettman off the ice while "Up Where We Belong" plays, and Bettman puts on Crosby's helmet.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: RW Bill Guerin acts his age, D Rob Scuderi and D Hal Gill are missed more than anyone expected, and whatever buy-in the players had for Coach Dan Bylsma's system of two-way hockey expires.

2. Washington - Not only is LW Alex Ovechkin the best player in the NHL, but he's the most electriying player since Guy Lafleur.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: Ovie teams up with C Nicklas Backstrom and RW Mike Knuble for 120 goals, and G Simeon Varlamov turns out to be the real deal.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Varlamov turns out to be human, Ovechkin is a minus player, and the Caps slip to lower than 4th in the East.

3. Boston - Everything went far better-than-expected for the B's last season, and they have to get the RFA situation settled with RW Phil Kessel. 

BEST CASE SCENARIO: Everything goes as it did last year.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: G Tim Thomas reverts to being a fair-to-middlin' goalie, D Zdeno Chara goes back to being too damn slow, and injuries stack up.

4. Philadelphia - They are shooting for the Cup right now. With Ray Emery in goal. No, really. Ray Emery. Blackhawk fans suddenly feel so much better about Cristobal Huet.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: D Chris Pronger gives the Flyers blueline depth they haven't had in decades, and somehow they manage to spend less time shorthanded than they did last year.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Ray Emery. In Philadelphia, where they boo Santa Claus. This has the makings of a meltdown of epic proportions.

5. Carolina - The Hurricanes were brutal in the first half last season, then underwent a complete turnaround in the second half that propelled them all the way to the Conference Finals. They've got an awful lot of players entering the last year of their contracts, which could be a motivational tool or a distraction.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: C Rod Brind'Amour finds the Fountain of Youth, and the defensemen are able to make up for their glacial slowness with positioning and physical play. Basically, they need to watch film of Brent Seabrook from the second half of last year.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The 'Canes have always gone in the crapper after a deep playoff run. Not that it matters, but after last year's Jeckyll/Hyde act, what does?

6. New Jersey - GM Lou Lamoriello just keeps bringing back pieces from Cup winners past. Somewhere, Ken Daneyko waits by the phone.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: G Martin Brodeur is back to his 80-games-a-year durability, and Jacques Lemaire thrills CT with a traptastic D.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: They actually find themselves calling Daneyko.

7. Ottawa - I'm placing them up here based upon the belief they will be able to deepen their offensive capabilities with whatever they get for LW Dany Heatley.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: They get at least two players able to combine for more than the 40 or so goals they'd get from a non-petulant Heatley.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: G Pascal Leclaire plays like he did last year, and LW Alexei Kovalev continues to be an enigma.

8. Tampa Bay - They overpaid for Ds Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker, but their D is better than last year. That's how bad their defense was, Matt Walker improves it.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: D Victor Hedman makes the team out of camp, learns the NHL game from Ohlund, and has a better rookie year than Toronto's Luke Schenn did last season.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Matt Walker gets as many minutes as he did in Chicago.

9. Buffalo - This was an organization that needed to clean house. GM Darcy Regier and Coach Lindy Ruff are still there, though.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: G Ryan Miller has the breakout season everyone knows he's capable of. If he's a legitimate Vezina Trophy contender, this team makes the playoffs.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Miller plays the way he did last year, and the offense does about what it did last year. Tee time will be early April if that's the case.

10. Toronto: GM Brian Burke and Coach Ron Wilson would put Leafs' sweaters on gorillas if they could skate.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: G Jonas Gustavsson turns out to be the real deal, and winds up taking the starting job from Vesa Toskala, while the Leafs somehow learned how to kill penalties over the offseason. Oh, and they get someone up front who is more of a scoring threat than LW Jason Blake.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Teams see Toronto as the night on the schedule when they get to fluff up their Power Play numbers.

11. Montreal - They needed new blood, so their new top-line center is...Scott Gomez?

BEST CASE SCENARIO: New LW Mike Cammalleri stays focused, and plays like he did last year in Calgary.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Cammalleri plays like he did two years ago in Los Angeles.

12. Florida - They missed the playoffs because of a losing record vs. Montreal. So naturally they traded away D Jay Bouwmeester. The Panthers spend money for talent, so they should have made a more concerted effort to keep their best player.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: They ride gritty play, solid defense and good goaltending to a better-than-expected season.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: The team with the 24th-best attendance in the NHL last season loses a home date with one of the NHL's biggest draws, the Chicago Blackhawks. Florida will be playing the Hawks in Helsinki. Brilliant, Gary. Ass.

13. New York Rangers - GM Glen Sather seems determined to have his membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame revoked.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: New RW Marian Gaborik stays healthy and electrifies the Garden. G Henrik Lundqvist turns in a season for the ages. Mark Messier holds a pillow over Sather's face.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: Sather is GM for the next 5 years.

14. Atlanta Thrashers - This is a bad, bad, very bad hockey team. They have one player who is among the NHL elite - LW (and Captain) Ilya Kovalchuk. He is in the last year of his contract. If Atlanta feels they won't be able to sign him, teams with Cup aspirations will line up with every prospect in their system to get him for a playoff push, and Atlanta gets to rebuild.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: Kovalchuk signs, D Zach Bogosian continues growing into one helluva defenseman, and RW Evander Kane is a Calder Trophy finalist.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: They don't trade Kovalchuk, and don't sign him.

15. New York Islanders - They drafted C John Tavares first overall, but they actually had worse attendance than Phoenix last year. Even if Tavares winds up being The Savior, chances are better than 50% his number hangs from the rafters in another city.

BEST CASE SCENARIO: There isn't one. They're shitty.
WORST CASE SCENARIO: They're shitty, and they get hosed in the draft lottery.

Well, there you have it. One meathead's fearless predictions. Feel free to argue or ignore.

 

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  • 9/10/2009 10:13 AM MGRW wrote:
    Malkin and Crosby didn't "step up", but they didn't step down either. They played how two of the top 5 players in hockey are expected to play, which was huge. The out of this world contributions from Max Talbot, etc. helped, but you need those kind of unlikely contributions in the playoffs. They won't miss their "character" guys. Hal Gill was their version of Matt Walker.

    Off topic, what's it going to take to get Kovalchuk. A.) He's awesome and (more importantly) B.) Contract year (freeing up 6-7 mil for the big 3)

    VERSTEEG + Byfuglien + Flotsam = Kovalchuk?
    Reply to this
    1. 9/10/2009 10:32 AM Fork wrote:
      We're both on the same page, as far as Kovalchuk goes.
      You throw in one real prospect, either Beach or Aliu, and this gets done today.
      Reply to this
  • 9/11/2009 11:22 PM Dave Morris wrote:
    Wait a cottonpickin second, fellas. Ilya Kovalchuk or Ilya Kuryakin? The Man from UNCLE's sidekick I can see happening in some devious scenario engineered by StanFinger. But you think Dandy Don Waddell will give him up for DaSteeg and BuffNStuf? Why, those guys don't speak any Russian. No, wait a second...that trade might make sense. Now don't you all go starting some rumors, y'hear?

    BTW pretty good Conference analysis, but I was confused by this best case/worst case scenario thingie. Who the heck do you think you are, Donald Rumsfeld? I half expected a breakdown of the 'known knowns', the unknown knowns', 'the known unknowns' and the dreaded 'unknown unknowns'.

    So what you're saying is, Pens win, face Hawks in replay of '92. Say it's gonna be different this time.
    Reply to this

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