Thursday, August 30, 2007

Oh Canada

NHL training camps are opening up in a few days, and all 30 teams are starting off fresh. New players, new staff, a new season. That's the beauty of training camp. There are 30 teams that think they have a shot at the Stanley Cup. But as always, only 2 lucky teams can get into the Final. Last year, one of those lucky teams were the Ottawa Senators, who seemed to have shaken off their playoff jitters from years past, only to lose in the Finals. Now they and 5 other Canadian teams hope to bring the Cup to Canada for the 1st time in 14 grueling years. But which of these Canadian teams actually have a realistic shot at bringing back glory to Canada. Well here's what I think.

Calgary Flames - The Flames made the playoffs last year by 1 point, just beating out Colorado. This year though, it seems that the Flames will be going for a much higher spot than 8th. This off-season, the Flames big signings were Owen Nolan and Cory Sarich. Nolan had 16 goals and 24 assists with Phoenix last year, while Sarich had 15 points with Tampa last year, all assists. But Sarich's job isn't to score, it's to fill Roman Hamrlik's spot. Hamrlik spent 2 years with Calgary before leaving for Montreal this off-season. The Flames also acquired Adrian Aucoin from the Blackhawks via trade. Not much has changed for an already solid offence. Veteran winger Owen Nolan should bring some swagger and all-around nastiness up front. Jarome Iginla will have his usual strong supporting cast , as Matthew Lombardi, Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, and Daymond Langkow all had career seasons.

This team looks like a 100 point type of team and could go all the way this year. They will probably get the 4th or 5th seed, seeing that the Avalanche and the Canucks are in their division. This is a team that is made for playoff hockey. They have gritty and skilled players, so watch out for the Flames, they could win the Cup.

Edmonton Oilers
- Edmonton's season went from bad to worse last year when Ryan Smyth was traded at the trade deadline to the Islanders. The Oilers finished the season with a measly 71 points. But Edmonton made some changes in the off-season, getting powerplay specialist Sheldon Souray from the Canadiens, Dustin Penner from the Ducks and Mathieu Garon from the Kings. But the Oilers did lose some good players as well, as Petr Sykora, Jason Smith and Joffery Lupal are all on different teams now. If there's one thing GM Kevin Lowe could be looking at sooner than later, it's a top-six forward who can play on the second line. They are likely prepared to part with one of their nine NHL-ready defencemen and a prospect or two to try and get it.

But unless the Oilers make that kind of trade, I don't see them making the playoffs. They lack talent and they don't have a "wow" player, that all teams need to lead them. They will finish 10th-13th in the Conference and last in their division. They are not threat to win the Stanley Cup.

Montreal Canadiens - The Habs missed the playoffs barely last year after losing to their arch rival Toronto Maple Leafs in the final game of the season.

But during the off-season, Montreal looked to get some good players to help them this year. They made great offers to Paul Karyia, Ryan Smyth and even Quebec native Daniel Briere, but none of them signed. But the Habs did get some guys. They signed Roman Hamrlik for the defencive end, and Bryan Smolinski for faceoffs. The Canadiens did lose some key guys during the off-season though. Sheldon Souray went to Edmonton, Alexander Perezhogin left for Swedan and Radek Bonk left for the Preds. At this point, it looks like the additions were made to off set the loss of other players. But Smolinski is a solid faceoff man - something the Canadiens desperately needed.

Faceoffs though don't get you you into the playoffs. I expect the Canadiens to finish 9th-11th in the Eastern Conference. Montreal just lost too many goals with Souray, Perezhogin and Bonk (39 goals between just Bonk and Souray). They are not a threat to win the cup.

Ottawa Senators - The Senators got all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year, but ended up losing to the Ducks. Ottawa didn't really make any big moves during the off-season, as their only notable loss was Mike Comrie, and their best signing was Niko Dimitrakos. The Senators may not score as many goals this season, but the drop-off will be insignificant. The team is also expected to play a more physical type of game. With players like Chris Phillips and Antoine Vermette, many people expect more hits.

Ottawa has almost the same exact lineup from last year, and they made it to the Final with that lineup, so I have to put them as the front-runners to win the Eastern Conference and the Northeast Division. They are a real threat to win the cup.

Toronto Maple Leafs - The Leafs missed the playoffs by 1 point last season after the Islanders beat the Devils in their final game. But the Leafs made some moves this off-season to make sure that wouldn't happen again. Toronto signed Jason Blake to a long-term contract, and traded for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell on draft day. The Leafs did lose some people as well as Micheal Peca and Yanic Perreault found new homes.

Those losses aren't that great though, and the Leafs signings will do lots of good. The addition of Toskala will put pressure on Andrew Raycroft to perform better in training camp, or his starting job will be taken away. Blake will be a great force up front, and Bell will help Kyle Wellwood on the 2nd line. I expect the Leafs to finish 5th-8th in the conference and 2nd in their division. Even with those high expectations, I see them as only a minor threat to win the Cup.

Vancouver Canucks - Vancouver is coming off a great year that ended at the hands of the Ducks. The Canucks had 105 points last year and had the 3rd seed in the Conference. During the off-season, Vancouver didn't really sign anyone that can make a difference for them, and they didn't lose anyone good either. They have basically the same team as last year, which is pretty good.

I think that Vancouver will have another great year behind Roberto Luongo and get the 3rd-5th seed in the Western Conference. They are a pretty good contender to win the Stanley Cup.

So out of all these teams, I think that the Ottawa Senators have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. They have the talent, the grit and the goaltending. But over the past few years, there has always been a surprise Canadian team in the Final. So we'll have to what and see what happens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If montreal finishes 9-11, it won't be because we lost Souray (-28 last year) or Perezhogin (mentioning him as a goal scoring loss is curious as he only netted 6 last year in 61 games ...and was benched for the last 11 games for stupid penalties), it will be because the young core doesn't improve as expected. If these young guns do continue their development (higgins, plekanec, kostitsyn, komisarek, latendresse and others hoping to crack the lineup) the habs could easily finish as high as 5-6.

Time will tell ...