Monday, September 25, 2006

Predictions: Northeast Division

Last week, I posted my predictions for the West Conference, I will continue into the east conference with the Northeast Division.

1. Ottawa Senators They may have lost a lot of talent in Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat, but they still have Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Wade Redden and that is a good core. Martin Gerber is a solid starting goalie - though not an elite one. This is the team to beat in the northeast.

2. Montreal Canadiens The key to this team is Cristobal Huet, he played at Vezina level for the last half of last season. If he can do that for a full year, Montreal will do very well. Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Samsonov and Saku Koivu are all capable point producers. There are several youngsters ready to take a step forward like Chris Higgins and Alexander Perezhogin. I think Bob Gainey is doing a good job building this bunch.

3. Buffalo Sabres Buffalo had a great year last season almost making the Stanley Cup finals. And they did it without anybody emerging as a bonafide superstar. They did it with a deep team where everyone contributed. In a fast roster turnover salary capped league, it is hard to maintain that kind of momentum from year to year. Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Ryan Miller et al are young and exciting, but there are holes opening up and little to fill them. Tim Connolly is an unknown due to his concussion situation. Teppo Numminen may be back but he is likely to see reduced time and importance. JP Dumont and Jay McKee are gone. Mostly, I think they overachieved last year. I think that most likely they wont overachieve again.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs Toronto will have a good defence. Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina are as good a 1-2-3 punch as anyone has. Andrew Raycroft is a good goalie coming off a bad season. I think he will bounce back - though there is a lot of negativity surrounding his acquisition in the media. Mats Sundin is still a very good player though he is aging. There are not a lot of other potential sources of big offensive numbers in the rest of the forwards with Darcy Tucker, Alexander Steen and Jeff O'Neill probably the best candidates.

5. Boston Bruins Boston really hurt themselves last year when they traded Joe Thornton to San Jose. They tried hard to dig themselves out of the hole this summer, but I don't think they succeeded. They signed Zdeno Chara, who is one of the best defensemen in hockey. He will join Brad Stuart and Paul Mara in a pretty solid defence. The problems are scoring and goaltending. Last year Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes led in scoring. Both are young players, neither are ready to be supserstars (though Boston is paying Bergeron as though he is one). They added Marc Savard who is coming off a big scoring year in Atlanta with elite linemates he wont find in Boston. In goal things could be worse. There are no proven number one guys here. Sure Tim Thomas played well down the stretch and Hannu Toivonen and Tuukka Rask have potential, but there is nobody who has proven any longterm reliability. There are too many holes remaining on this team.

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