Before we get down to the nitty gritty, I probably owe you guys some sort of apology. I sort of went AWOL after entry four in my “So You’ve Decided to Buy a New Jersey” and found myself lacking the creative drive to keep blogging. It didn’t help that baseball is probably more boring than deciding which kind of milk to buy, and Papa Bear has a strict “No Soccer Posts” rule. So for a month I found myself wandering around the internet aimlessly, lost in it’s sea of cat videos and nipple slips. But like a Phoenix, all I needed was a little fire to kick start this engine. Papa Bear figured out how to use his twitter (effectively), Captain Dan started texting me all of Jaromir Jagr’s recent moves that I fear he may actually be stalking the Czech Native, and TimmyP and myself started battling in NHL12 (one word review: fuckingawesome) that I found myself wanting to get back on that horse and start blogging. Oh and Papa Bear sent me a text that if I don’t write anything soon he’s going to kick me off the payroll (McDonalds coupons.) And hockey’s back guys. HOCKEY!
Team previews, playoff predictions, and players to watch, after the jump.
Let’s kick things off with the Eastern Conference. I’m going to list the teams in order of how I think they will finish this season.
Phillies Flyers: Yeah, I think the Flyers are going to run the east. I just think they have a lot of the right parts to win 45-55 games this season. They’ve got a strong blueline (the only thing that hasn’t changed since their Eastern Finals trip in ’10) and I think Chris Pronger wants to prove to the rest of the East that he’s the mayor of Dry Island. GM Paul Holmgren shocked a lot of fans when he made his now infamous trades during the offseason, but if he is to be believed and the allegations of wild ways are true, than if anything this will be a more focused team next year. Plus, I love me some Wayne Simmonds so much that if anyone ever threw a banana peel at him while I was around, I would jump in front of it all “Look out, Mr. President!” style.
Player to watch: Ilya Bryzgalov. I am big fan of Easy, Breezy, Beautiful and frankly was a little upset when he was traded to the Flyers. I had him pegged as one of the potential targets for my beloved Avs. Breezy has been harping for a few years now that he is a true number one, and this summer he got paid like one. If he can be the goalie he thinks he is, and be reaaaaaaal good for 55-65 games, he’s got the potential to take the Flyers all the way. But shhhh, nobody tell Dan his playoffs stats (12-13, including 4 straight losses in the first round last year.)
2. Washington Capitals: This will be just another workman like year for the Caps. They will win a lot of games. People will pick them early and often to be the favorite for the Stanley Cup. Alex Ovechkin will score ridiculous goals and maintain his status as “Ugliest guy in the world who will always be getting more pussy than you.” Bruce Boudreau will ride the hot seat all year, and will jam his fingers into the cushion (it took me 4 minutes to spell that word correctly) looking for left over hot wings from last year. Then they’ll make the playoffs and lose in the 1st round and everyone will dismissively wank together.
Player to watch: Thomas Vokoun. As an Avs fan, I have a personal relationship with the Capitals. We got their old goalie (Semyon Varlamov, <3) for a hefty price: a first round pick this year and conditional 2nd/3rd rounder next year. Thomas Vokoun was supposed to be the goalie we signed this offseason, and when he signed with the Capitals it was heralded as the “bargain signing of the year.” Well he sucks and I cannot wait until everyone realizes that he wasn’t that good in Nashville and Florida, and hopefully I get to continue the series I just created in my head, “Shake it off, Thomas” where I just show goals scored on him from the previous night. I am so excited for hockey, you guys. I’ve already started drinking.
3. Boston Bruins: This is by far my ballsiest pick. It all comes down to Tim Thomas. So just read my Player to Watch.
Player to Watch: I JUST TOLD YOU IT WAS THOMAS OMG DON’T YOU LISTEN. 28-25. 36-18. 17-26. 35-18. Those would be Thomas’ win/loss records the past four years. So yeah, it could be interesting this year. Still, I think Boston is a very good team with a strong defense and well I picked ’em to finish 3rd and no changesies.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: This is a team that, without it’s top two players last year, still managed to make the playoffs and make noise, and that effort did not go unseen, as Dan Bylsma was awarded the Jack Adams trophy. While Jordan Staal would be the number one center 25-26 teams, he is usually number 3 on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. I don’t think Sidney Crosby returns this year (I think he retires. Seriously), but this team will go by unaffected and cruise into the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Evgeni Malkin. With Crosby due to miss some significant time regardless, this looks to be the year Evgeni get’s to say “See, good I am” in broken English. An injury kept him on the shelf most of last year, so look for him to come roaring out of the gates. Oh and he’s my MVP pick.
5. Montreal Canadiens: This is a team that is going to have an interesting year. They lack a true number one center, rather sticking with two very competent number 2’s (Tomas Pleckanec and Scott Gomez). They are a team built on speed and a transition game, and while the league seems to be moving towards bigger defenses (RE: Boston Bruins, 2011 Cup team) the Habs never seem to go with the grain. Carey Price will be looking to have another solid year, and will possibly get his name thrown into the Vezina conversation.
Player to Watch: P. K. Subban. This is the year that P.K. either becomes a force to be reckoned with on the blueline, a true power play quarterback and a leader in the locker room, or he becomes just another defenseman, someone who plays the game with predictability and leaves you wondering if that’s all he’s got. I think we see the former.
6. New York Rangers: OK, OK, settle down everyone. I know, the Rangers really made only one offseason move. Yes it was expensive, and yes it was significant, but does not one move a Stanley Cup contender make. But you have to understand what this team acquired: A true number one center. Brad Richards is good. He is good, good. He’s back playing with the coach he won a cup with (He won a Cup guys! How many other players on the Rags have won a Cup? ::Googles “New York Rangers” roster:: Nobody.) and he’s got a fantastic winger to feed sauce to all season. If Hank can have even a pedestrian year, I think this defense proves some people wrong and this team makes a surprise run.
Player to Watch: Marian Gaborik. Brought in a few seasons ago, Marian hasn’t transitioned into the All-Star, 40 goal scoring winger that the Rags (and their faithful) thought he would become. Well you can label this year as “the year.” With a very competent center (Richards had 148 assists in his 3 years in Dallas. I honestly cannot name one goal scorer he played with.), some of the weight should be lifted off of Gabby and he should be lighting that lamp a lot more frequently this year.
7. Buffalo Sabres: This should be an interesting year for the Sabres. I don’t think they’ve quite made the jump from “Possible” to “Probable” in terms of being a Cup contender. Losing their number one center doesn’t help, but this isn’t an offensive team (sorry Thomas Vanek.) This team is built from the goalie out. Look for another solid year from Ryan Miller (my fantasy team is depending on it, asshole) as he prepares to shock the world in Socchi 2014.
Player to Watch: Tyler Myers. Like with P.K. Subban above, only this transformation will absolutely happen. Look for this kid to kill it all year, playing big boy minutes and racking up a cool 40+ points from the blueline. This guy wins the Norris. Well, he will if Nick Lidstrom dies this year. Sooooo, maybe? Please?
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Fact: The Leafs are one of only two teams to not make the playoffs since the lockout (the other being the Florida Panthers.) So now’s as good a time as ever.
Player to Watch: John-Micheal Liles. Liles had some big years in an Avs sweater, and was brought over to compliment Dion Phaneuf on the Toronto blue line. If he can continue to be the little offensive d-man that could, he should have a strong year and I think he propels this team into the playoffs (a first round exit via the Flyers, but a win for Toronto itself.)
9. Tampa Bay Lightning: A good team, that made a surprise run to the East Finals last year, I think they fall just short of the bubble this season. You know how Thomas is like, 38 or something and everyone is saying that his body is due to break down? Well, Dwayne Roloson, the goalie who led Tampa to the East Finals, just got his AARP card in the mail.
Player to Watch: Vincent Lecavalier. Four or five years ago, this guy was huge. Rumored to be moving to Montreal, he was given a huge contract from the Bolts and yet he hasn’t produced. In the past 3 years he’s failed to break the 30 goal and 70 point mark. Another poor showing from Vinny and we could see him moving to a team that could take his contract and afford to move him to possibly left wing if they maybe have a need for that sort of thing. Like the Avs. Oh, fuck.
10. Carolina Hurricanes: A weird year is in store for the Canes. Cam Ward will get injured. Eric Staal will take a year off (but still manage like, 80 points.) The defense will be patch work, and you’ll see an overhaul in summer of ’12.
Players to Watch: Jeff Skinner. Does he hit that sophomore slump, or does he continue to tear up the score sheet and simultaneously make more panties wet in Carolina than, well, than a hurricane. Wait, I could have sworn I had something better for that.
11. Winnipeg Jets: Sorry Jets fans. I know the support will be there. You guys will sellout every game this year (and for the next 3-5), and a Jets game will be the thing to do in Manitoba (that sound you just heard was every moose in Manitoba breathing a sigh of relief.) But you’re still sort of the Atlanta Thrashers, because, well you have all the same players. And most of those players suck. Because they played for the Thrashers. Who you sort of kind of still are.
Players to Watch: Evander Kane. But this guy is pretty good so you’ve got that going. And he’s black, so that’s pretty exciting, right? A player of African American (he is Canadian though) descent playing in front of the largest African American population in the US ? That’s pretty good for hockey, right? Oh, fuck, that’s right they’re not in Atlanta anymore.
12. Florida Panthers: I know, I know, you’re saying, “OK Joe, you remember that the New Jersey Devils are in the East right? Because knowing you, you are doing this off a whim and don’t have a sheet in front you with a list of the teams. Right? That’s why you just listed the four other teams in the Southeast Conference in a row? Because you’re just remembering them? You’re stoned too, aren’t you?
Player to Watch: I have no idea who plays for this team. Don’t worry, neither does anyone else in Florida. Ladies and Gentleman, your 2013-2014 Quebec Nordiques!
13. Ottawa Senators: “Come on, the Senators, over the Devils? The Senators?”
Player to Watch: Craig Anderson. Fuck you, Craig Anderson, you sack of shit.
14. New York Islanders: “Fuck you, Joe”
Player to watch: Tavares I guess. What’s his first name, Jonathan. Or is it Jonathon. If shorthand is John, shouldn’t it be Johnathon? Wait, my spell check just allowed it. Johnathon Tavares. Watch Johnathon Tavares play professional ice hockey this year.
15. New Jersey Devils: Have you ever wanted to see a career die? Not just flame out, or end abruptly, but die. As in, in the hospice, tubes everywhere, a soft beep letting you know the thing you’re watching die hasn’t died yet. That’s Martin Broduers career looking towards the reaper on that hospice bed. Go over, say “Hello.” He won’t remember you, or even look at you, but he can hear you. OOOOOOOOH CAN HE HEAR YOU.
Player to Watch: Red Ferrari Marty. Say what you want, Patrick Roy left the game of hockey when his time was up like a man. He didn’t stick around and destroy his team. Seriously, who is the Devils back up goalie? I’m not even going to Google it, because I can already tell you he sucks. Have fun at the draft next year, Devils fan. I can tell you from personal experience, you start to look forward to that lottery pick year after year.