IC Radio: Eastern Conference Preview
The following team previews have been paraphrased from Saturday’s Illegal Curve Hockey Show Season Preview. Download the podcast from IllegalCurve.com or subscribe to the Illegal Curve Hockey Show on iTunes.
New York Rangers
Last season: Place in NHL 2nd, Goals for Rank: 11th, Goals against Rank: 3rd, Power Play 23rd, Penalty Kill 5th, Face offs 18th.
Off-season acquisitions: Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham
Subtractions: Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, Tim Erixon, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust
Richard: I personally think the Rangers are the best team in the Eastern Conference this year. Credit to Glen Sather because Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto are the top four defensemen, and only one of them is making over $3 million. Each of them is under $4 million.
Ezzy: You’ve got a great team, the best team. They have the same goalie, same defense, as a group they are amazing defensively. Adding Rick Nash should improve the power play, while still playing the same defensive, shot blocking, “controversial” style.
Bold prediction: Rick Nash may be able to exceed the goals of all of the subtractions combined
Place in NHL: 2nd, Goals for rank: 11th, Goals against rank 3rd, Power play 23rd, Penalty Killing 5th, Face offs 13th.
Additions: Brandon Sutter, Tanner Glass, Thomas Vokoun
Subtractions: Jordan Staal, Steve Sullivan, Zybanek Michalek
Ezzy: I see them picking up a depth defenseman at the deadline. Their defense isn’t as good as it was, three or four years ago, but good enough to get them into the playoffs as the 4th or 5th seed.
Richard: Niskanen and Engelland can’t compete with the opposition that they will be matched up against. The young players need to take a step forward because the veterans they had last season didn’t provide much value.
Last season: Place in NHL 6th, Goals for rank 2nd, Goals against rank 20th, Power play 6th, Penalty Kill 17th, Face offs 24th.
Additions: Luke Schenn
Subtractions: Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Carle, Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Kubina, James Van Riemsdyk
Ezzy: The defense is weaker than it was a year or two ago, but they will still be a top team.
Richard: The loss of Pronger will hurt, but Philadelphia played the majority of last season without him. The top nine forwards are great, the question is, will Bryzgalov be able to make up for the defensive deficiencies. They aren’t in the same class as Boston, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh.
New Jersey Devils
Last season: Place in NHL 8th, Goals for rank 8th, Goals against rank 8th, Power play 14th, Penalty Kill 1st, Face offs 29th.
Additions: Krys Barch
Subtractions: Zach Parise, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Petr Sykora, Matt Taromina, Eric Boulton
Ezzy: The Devils have taken a step back from last season. Zach Parise will be too big of a loss for them. They won’t make the playoffs this year because of the lack of offense and they will run into an injury or two.
Richard: You can’t lose the skill of a Zach Parise, not replace it, and think that it won’t become a problem. Brodeur won’t be able to play as well as he did last year. The Henrique injury is debilitating in a shortened season.
New York Islanders
Last season: Place in NHL 27th, Goals for rank 28th, Goals against 27th, Power play 8th, Penalty kill 22nd, Face-offs 26th.
Additions: Brad Boyes, Eric Boulton, Lubomir Visnovsky?, Matt Carkner
Subtractions: Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina, Al Montoya, Jay Pandalfo, PA Parenteau, Steve Staios
Drew: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Islanders finish ahead of the Devils.
Richard: They have a nice base, but this is not the year. Hopefully they trade Nabakov for some type of an asset. Last year they were bottom third in every significant category we’ve discussed except for power play.
Ezzy: I’m not confident in Nabakov or Dipietro, and have them finishing in the bottom of the division.
Last season: Place in NHL 7th, Goals for rank 3rd, Goals against 6th Power play 15th, Penalty Kill 11th, Faceoffs 1st.
Additions: Garnet Exelby
Subtractions: Joe Corvo, Benoit Pouliot, Greg Zanon
Drew: Was last year’s defeat in the playoffs an aberration, or are they poised to make a run in the playoffs?
Richard: It was an aberration, looking at their lineup 1 through 12, I don’t know if you have a better 1 through 12 in the East. The teams that win have strength up the middle, Krejci, Bergeron, Seguin, Greg Campbell, Chris Kelly, they are strong up the middle. They are solid defensively, with great goaltending and a good coach.
Ezzy: Tukka Rask is an excellent goaltender and has a lot to prove in the last year of his contract. They didn’t make any offseason moves, but they re-signed key pieces in Marchand, Lucic, Kelly. Five on five, they may be the best team in the NHL.
Last season: Place in NHL 16th, Goals for 4th, Goals against 24th, Power play 11th, Penalty Kill 20th, Face-offs 16th.
Additions: Guillaume Latandresse, Mike Lundin, Mark Methot
Subtractions: Nick Foligno, Bobby Butler, Nikita Filatov, Filip Kuba, Zenon Konopka
Drew: Is the arrow still pointing up for the Senators, how high can they go after last year?
Ezzy: They overachieved last year, and many teams in the East have gotten better. The future looks bright in Ottawa, but I don’t have them as a playoff team.
Richard: They’re interesting and hard to predict because they surprised everyone last year. If you are able to play two netminders in a shortened season, that may be a benefit. I do worry about their back end, the Jared Cowen injury is massive, how do they replace him? Gonchar and Phillips are getting older. Their defense costs them in sustaining what they did last year.
Last season: Place in NHL 19th, Goals for 17th, Goals against 18th, Power play 16th, Penalty Kill 19th, Face-offs 19th.
Additions: Steve Ott, Adam Pardy, John Scott
Subtractions: Brad Boyes, Derek Roy
Richard: Why would they sign Adam Pardy who is now buried in the minors, and John Scott, who is slower than Adam Pardy?!?! Cody Hodgson is the key, I love Tyler Ennis, he is my breakout pick of the year. This is a skilled roster, with Ryan Miller in goal, you can’t help but think they will be better. How is this not a playoff team, top to bottom?
Ezzy: I have the Sabres making the playoffs, they finished 9th last season, and underachieved big time. Ryan Miller went in a 19-3-2 run last season, he is one of the top 3 goaltenders in the NHL. Grigorenko will be a top rookie, the Sabres will have a bounce back year, they underachieved way too much (last season).
Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season: Place in NHL 25th, Goals for 10th, Goals against 29th, Power play 10th, Penalty Kill 28th, Face-offs 4th
Additions: James Van Riemsdyk, Jay McClement, Keith Aucoin (who has been since claimed on waivers)
Subtractions: Colby Armstrong, Jonas Gustavsson, Luke Schenn
Richard: You look at the Leafs, and there is nothing there to inspire confidence. You’d like to see improvement from Kadri, and maybe they’ll be able to get some assets for their veterans. Randy Carlyle should improve the team defensively. Their goaltending will be better because Carlyle is putting in a defensive system. Top to bottom, this roster is awful!
Ezzy: I like the decision of returning first round draft pick Morgan Reilly to the OHL. They’re not going to score enough goals, James Reimer and Ben Scrievens will struggle with the defense group that they have. The Leafs will be better than last year, but I still have them at 12th or 13th in the Eastern Conference.
Last season: Place in NHL 29th, Goals for rank 19th, Goals against 11th, Power play 28th, Penalty Kill 2nd, Face offs 25th.
Additions: Colby Armstrong, Francois Boullion, Brandon Prust, Cedrick Desjardins
Subtractions: Matthieu Darche, Brad Staubitz, Andreas Engqvist, PK Subban?
Drew: Without PK Subban, they have no chance.
Richard: They could be a pleasant surprise if everything falls into place.
Ezzy: I think the Montreal Canadiens will be better than last year. PK Subban concerns me because he wanted the same amount of years as Drew Doughty (seven). We don’t know when he will sign, but the Habs are going to improve (over last season), but I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs. Alex Galchenyuk will be a top rookie in the NHL this year.
Southeast Division (less the Jets)
Last season: Place in NHL 14th, Goals for rank 27th, Goals against 12th, Power play 7th, Penalty kill 25th, Face offs 11th.
Additions: Filip Kuba, Peter Mueller, George Parros, Casey Wellman, Alex Kovalev
Subtractions: Jason Garrison, Mikael Samuelsson, Wojtek Wolski
Ezzy: I look at the team, and it doesn’t slap me in the face and say, “this is a really good team like the Bruins or Flyers.” It’s a good team, they’ll be competitive, but they overachieved last year, and I don’t think they can replicate it. I don’t think they make the playoffs.
Richard: I think a lot of their season is dependent on the second line. It has Peter Mueller, who has a concussion history, but there is no question about his skill level, Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexei Kovalev. Their season is very much dependent on their second line, if they can provide enough offense. Second line and goaltending is the key to me. I don’t think they make the playoffs either, but this division is a total crapshoot.
Last season: Place in NHL 15th, Goals for rank 14th, Goals against 21st, Power play 18th, Penalty kill 21st, Face offs 17th.
Additions: Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski
Subtractions: Alex Semin, Jeff Halpern, Dennis Wideman, Tomas Vokoun, Cody Eakin
Drew: Do the Capitals regain the Southeast division title?
Richard: I think they do. New Head Coach Adam Oates is the key here. I think this division is up for grabs. Is Backstrom healthy? Does Ovechkin regain his old form? Because then, Ribeiro can anchor the second line and create offense for Wolski and Brouwer. If Oates can get Backstrom and Ovechkin back to their old form, while keeping them healthy, they can take the division. But they could also end up missing the playoffs, this is no shoo-in.
Ezzy: Adam Oates is going to make the Capitals’ special teams better, and open the game up. Alex Ovechkin will get back to the top ten in league scoring. Dale Hunter did good things with the Capitals last season, but Oates will change some things. The penalty kill and power play will get better; I think they will make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season: Place in NHL 21st, Goals for rank 8th, Goals against 30th, Power play 25th, Penalty kill 26th, Face offs 11th.
Additions: Matt Carle, Anders Lindback, Sami Salo, Benoit Pouliot
Subtractions: Bruno Gervais
Drew: Can they keep the puck out of their own net? They were dead last in goals against last year.
Richard: I like the moves they have made; they haven’t lost any significant pieces. Lindback is the key, but the defense looks a lot deeper. This is a tough division; it’s not the SouthLeast anymore. I think Guy Boucher is the best coach in the division.
Ezzy: The Lightning will be back in the playoffs. I think Sami Salo is a bigger addition than Matt Carle. The forward group is exactly the same (aside from Pouliot), the defense is improved.
Last Season: Place in NHL 23rd, Goals for rank 16th, Goals against 25th, Power play 20th, Penalty kill 23rd, Face offs 10th.
Additions: Alex Semin, Jordan Staal, Joe Corvo, Marc-Andre Gragnani
Subtractions: Bryan Allen, Brandon Sutter
Drew: They are a sexy pick to make a big leap, do they have it in them?
Richard: I don’t think so, I think they are weak on the wings, and I think their defense is overrated. Joe Corvo is not a top four defenseman. They are great up the middle, but weak on the wings. I don’t think they will be an easy team to play against, but this is not a playoff team.
Ezzy: This is one area where we disagree most, I have them winning the Division (as does Drew). Cam Ward is a top five goaltender in the NHL, they are excellent up the middle. The reason I differ with Richy is I think that certain forwards will be adequate on the wings playing with the Staal brothers. They are a team on the up for sure.