Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Get Ready To Drop The Puck!

So before I get into hockey, I was unable to post anything on baseball the past couple of days so I am going to refrain from making my picks for this round. I will wait until the second round to do so. I will say, that so far nothing has surprised me.

Well, tonight is like Christmas Eve to me; the NHL season begins. But tomorrow is Christmas Day with the New York Rangers getting into action, opening at home against the Washington Capitals. I haven't researched it, but it seems as though the Blueshirts usually open on the road. I hope that over the next four or five days I will do a more in-depth analysis of the National Hockey League, but right now I will kind of just do a basic overview and focus in on only a few teams.

The Outdoor Life Network (OLN) is now known as Versus and they will kick things off with a double-header tonight when the Carolina Hurricanes raise their Stanley Cup banner against the Buffalo Sabres followed by the Dallas Stars visiting the Colorado Avalanche, the other game will be the Toronto Maple Leafs and new Head Coach Paul Maurice hosting the Ottawa Senators.

The Buffalo Sabres have the best coach in the NHL, Lindy Ruff, a former tough-as-nails blueliner for the Rangers among other teams that he played for in the 1980s. His teams are always very, very disciplined. I expect the Sabres to be in the Eastern Conference Finals come May. The Sabres feature some very good forwards such as Connecticut native Chris Drury, Maxim Afinogenov, Brian Campbell, and Jochen Hecht, while they have two stellar goalies in Martin Biron and Ryan Miller. When Buffalo had some down times, pre-lockout, they still played with snarl and discipline, now that they have some guys who can play, they are very dangerous. A brick wall in goal and some very gritty forwards makes for a team built for the regular season and the playoffs. They could use another scorer but these guys are defintite Cup contenders. This will be the year they usurp Ottawa from the top of the Northeast division.

The Carolina Hurricanes have a great goalie in Cam Ward and a wily veteran in captain Rod Brind'Amour, lets see how much Eric Staal will continue to develop. But there is no reason to think these guys aren't going to be one of the top teams in the east again. They lost some good veterans in Matt Cullen and dependable, yet unspectacular blueliner, Aaron Ward. But I expect them to finish either first or second in the conference and are runaway winners of the Southeast division.

Things are different in 'Big D' with Brendan Morrow becoming the new captain of the Dallas Stars taking over for Mike Modano, who gave over the captaincy to Morrow. Eric Lindros and Matthew Barnaby join the team, as did Patrik Stefan. Stefan has been plagued throughout his career with injuries, and surprise, surprise starts the season on the injured list. Lindros' injury problems have been well-documented. Darryl Sydor comes back to Dallas to join a pretty formidable blueline with all-world d-man Sergei Zubov, backed up by goalie Marty Turco. If you get a chance don't miss Zubov in the shootout, he's money in the bank. Mike Modano isn't getting any younger, but he and his aging team will be very resilient. They'll need to be. The Stars won the Pacific last year but they will be hard-pressed to do so this season with the Anaheim Ducks poised to become the best team in the division and in the NHL.

The Colorado Avalanche have not done a good job adjusting to the new NHL and the salary cap which is why Rob Blake is back in Los Angeles. Joe Sakic is still Joe Sakic, but beyond forwards Milan Hejduk and Marek Svatos this team will definitely not remind you of the old Avalanche. Time to rebuild, and there is no better place to start then in goal, Jose Theodore doesn't even come close to Patrick Roy.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have brought in one of my all-time favorite players in Michael Peca, but his leadership and hipchecks won't be enough for this team. Yes, Captain Mats Sundin is who he is and Darcy Tucker hits like an NFL lineman, but you won't hear "Go Leafs Go" too often in Ontario. They will play hard and may be a seventh or eighth seed if all breaks right, but I don't think so.

The Ottawa Senators beat out the Sabres last year by three points to win the Northeast Division, I expect the same neck-and-neck battle, but this time the Sens will fall short. This team boasts an enormous amount of talent up front with Danny Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza; on the blueline they are no slouches either with Wade Redden and Chris Phillips giving nightmares to opposing forwards, and in goal they have Martin Gerber who replaces the high-maintenance Dominik Hasek.

Speaking of Hasek he returns to Detroit to try and reclaim some past glory with the Detroit Red Wings. Don't write the Wings off just yet, yes they lost Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman, but they still boast the best defenseman in the game, in Nicklas Lidstrom. Chris Chelios has had some magnificent years in his 40s, and up front, Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmsrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Robert Lang will keep this team in the playoffs.

So I will continue to preview the rest of the teams, but time does not allow me to continue much further. So I will leave you with my picks for the season:

Eastern Conference
1- Buffalo Sabres
2- Carolina Hurricanes
3- New York Rangers
4- Ottawa Senators
5- New Jersey Devils
6- Philadelphia Flyers
7- Montreal Canadiens
8- Tampa Bay Lightning
9- Toronto Maple Leafs
10- Boston Bruins
11- Pittsburgh Penguins
12- New York Islanders
13- Atlanta Thrashers
14- Washington Capitals
15- Florida Panthers

Western Conference
1- Anaheim Ducks
2- Nashville Predators
3- Calgary Flames
4- San Jose Sharks
5- Edmonton Oilers
6- Vancouver Canucks
7- Dallas Stars
8- Detroit Red Wings
9- St. Louis Blues
10- Colorado Avalanche
11- L.A. Kings
12- Columbus Blue Jackets
13- Chicago Blackhawks
14- Phoenix Coyotes
15- Minnesota Wild

Eastern Conference Finals
Buffalo beats New Jersey in 7

Western Conference Finals
Anaheim Ducks beat Nashville Predators in 6

Stanley Cup Finals
Anaheim Ducks over Buffalo in 7

I don't want to jinx the New York Rangers so I can't pick them in any way when it comes to the playoffs but I do expect big things from them this season!

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