Online Exclusive: NHL Preview — The Rest of ‘Em

The Rest of the West

[Predicted 9th] Dallas Stars

Last year’s Pacific Division champs didn’t really make many moves other than adding Mike Ribeiro. Unfortunately, the Sharks and Ducks made big moves to improve. Look for the Stars to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

[Predicted 10th] Vancouver Canucks

Acquiring Roberto Luongo was a good start. Unfortunately, the Canucks failed to address why they missed the playoffs last season: their lousy defense. It’s doubtful that a Canucks team with fewer big guns than last season will be able to leapfrog the four better teams in the division.

[Predicted 11th] Los Angeles Kings

The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. Their big-name acquisition this season? Former Canucks goaltender Dan Cloutier, notorious for disappearing in the playoffs. While the Kings have good defensemen and young forwards, it’s doubtful that Cloutier will get the chance to collapse in the playoffs this year.

[Predicted 12th] Phoenix Coyotes

The Coyotes are rapidly becoming a joke in the NHL. Every year since the arrival of Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes have made a big deal about signing players that used to be big names. We’ve seen Brett Hull and Curtis Joseph arrive, and do nothing. This year sees Ed Jovanovski, Owen Nolan and Jeremy Roenick wander through the desert looking for a playoff spot. They won’t find one.

[Predicted 13th] Columbus Blue Jackets

Since joining the NHL in 2000, the Blue Jackets have yet to qualify for the playoffs. Despite the emergence of Rick Nash, resting the team’s hopes on aging Sergei Fedorov and an untested starting goalie in Pascal Leclaire is probably a bad idea. Look for the Jackets to improve on their mediocre play of last season, but still finish nowhere close to the playoffs.

[Predicted 14th] Chicago Blackhawks

Following the lockout, the Blackhawks hoped to put past failures behind them. Free agent goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was signed to a big-money contract, joining a squad filled with youngsters like Tuomo Ruutu, Mark Bell and Rene Bourque. Khabibulin looked dreadful, Ruutu got injured and only Bell and Kyle Calder lived up to expectations. Swap Bell for newcomer Martin Havlat and imagine why projections are low in Chicago this year.

[Predicted 15th] St. Louis Blues

The worst team in hockey last season, the Blues showed signs of life near the end of the season thanks to an influx of young talent like Jay McClement and Lee Stempniak. Unfortunately for Blues fans, the team loaded up on older players instead of opening the door for the youngsters. As a result, expect it to be a short hockey year in St. Louis.

The Rest of the East

[Predicted 9th] Toronto Maple Leafs

For the last few seasons the question has been who is going to play upfront with captain Mats Sundin? The Leafs tried last season to plug in past-their-prime players like Eric Lindros and Jason Allison and missed the playoffs. This year it’s up to recent signee Mike Peca, a former 30-goal scorer who was very uninspired playing in Edmonton last year, Jeff O’Neill, who has shown sparks of his former 40-goal form and Darcy Tucker, who put up decent numbers last year. The Leafs have a solid top three defenders but not much else behind them on the depth chart. In goal, the Leafs should be alright with Andrew Raycroftčif he can return to his Calder-winning, rookie-of-the-year form and not his “am-I-a-hockey-goaltender-or-a-very-confused-kitten?” form from last season with Beantown. The Leafs will be in the running for a playoff spot all season and can squeak in if they stay healthy, but don’t count on it as they aren’t as good as the rest of the top eight.

[Predicted 10th] Atlanta Thrashers

Where’s the defense? The Thrashers don’t know. They have two offensive studs in wings Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, but lack a solid defense to protect and cut down the shots on emerging star goalie Kari Lehtonen. General Manager Don Waddell guaranteed a playoff spot last year and they missed by two points. Hopefully he doesn’t go making another silly guarantee or else the fans will once again be disappointed.

[Predicted 11th] Florida Panthers

Moving Roberto Luongo for Todd Bertuzzi was a blockbuster deal pulled off by Panthers General Manager Mike Keenan. Now Keenan is gone after a single season and now Jacques Martin has taken over double-duty. What franchises like Florida, the New York Islanders and Columbus fail to understand is success comes from long-term stability. Look at the Nashville Predators, they’ve had the same coach and GM since becoming a franchise and spent the necessary time to now be considered possible division champions. Florida has switched s and coaches willy-nilly and barring some miracle, will continue to be mediocre, with or without the much-maligned Bertuzzi.

[Predicted 12th] Boston Bruins

Last season the Bruins made what will probably come to be known as one of the worst trades in NHL history by moving Joe Thornton. They then followed it up by moving Thornton’s draft-mate, Sergei Samsonov. Both were drafted in the first round in 1999. Now the Bruins will have to start from scratch. Picking up Marc Savard is a start, if you look at his-point total and not the fact that he played the bulk of the year with superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. Adding defenseman Zdeno Chara is another good move. But last year they picked up another supposedly skilled centre in Alexei Zhamnov and another top-flight defender in Brian Leetch. Savard and Chara are slightly younger than Zhamnov and Leetch, but not enough to turn this franchise around.

[Predicted 13th] Pittsburgh Penguins

Unless Sidney Crosby has an season and wins the Hart and Art Ross trophies, rookie Evgeni Malkin wins the Calder Trophy and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wins the Vezina Trophy, it is very unlikely the Penguins will be much better than last year. At least they’re moving in the right direction, allowing room for younger players to come up and play full-time rather than filling their ranks with over-priced and over-rated veterans.

[Predicted 14th] Washington Capitals

Alexander Ovechkin will be something to watch, but with an inexperienced defense and not much help in the forward ranks, Ovechkin will be a one man-show.

[Predicted 15th] New York Islanders

Ha ha ha ha ha. Oh wait. This is a season preview, not a comedy act. Why are the New York Islanders here at all? Garth Snow, retired goalie, now General Manager? Ha ha ha ha ha. Rick Dipietro, a-year contract? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. The only unfortunate aspect about this whole thing is that until owner Charles Wang starts losing enough money to make him want to sell the Islanders, Long Island fans will have to continue to endure this painful joke of a franchise.

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