What the puck, part 1
Now that the silly season has subsided, here's part 1 of a two-part look at the NHL for the 2005-06 season (and doesn't it feel good to see that!)...
Philadelphia - division favorite -- If everyone plays to his potential, this team can win the Cup. Stealing Peter Forsberg was a masterstroke. If youngsters Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are the real deal, Keith Primeau holds to his 2004 playoff form and Simon Gagne plays the way he does for Canada's national team, they'll get enough goals. Robert Esche is a solid goalie, which helps.
New Jersey - contender -- Losing Scott Niedermayer will hurt; if Scott Stevens can't come back, that will add to the hurt. Devils have a lot of 20-30 goal types and the best goalie in the game in Martin Brodeur. That'll be enough.
New York Islanders - on the bubble -- Big changes on defence, with three of the big four gone and the replacements not quite at that level. Offense should be better with Miro Satan, but dealing Michael Peca leaves this team short of leadership. Alexei Yashin can't cut it there. If Rick DiPietro plays to his potential in net, they could contend.
Pittsburgh - on the bubble -- Mario Lemieux had a terrific silly season, adding Ziggy Palffy and John LeClair after winning the Sidney Crosby lottery. The Pens also picked up a decent goalie in Josh Thibault and an offensive defenceman in Sergei Gonchar. The strategy is simple -- the Pens will try to outscore people, because, even with Gonchar, their defence is lame.
New York Rangers - on the outside -- Strange silly season. Only one significant buyout (Bobby Holik) and one relatively significant signing, Martin Straka. Also, subtract Eric Lindros, who for long stretches was the Rangers' best player. Another long season at Madison Square Garden looms.
Ottawa - division favorite -- The Sens have a balanced offence, a solid defence and Dominik Hasek. But they still don't have that certain something to break them through to a conference final, it doesn't appear.
Boston - serious contender -- The Bruins are another team that will try to outscore you, with Joe Thornton, Glen Murray, etc. Patrice Bergeron is a future star. Andrew Raycroft looked like the real deal in goal when he played two years ago. Defence, though, is journeymen... and yes, that's all Brian Leetch is these days.
Toronto - contender -- If the Lindros and Jason Allison signings work out, upgrade the Leafs to serious contender. Someone besides Jeff O'Neill will have to score from the wings and Eddie Belfour will have to be strong again. J-S Aubin is a backup, no more.
Montreal - on the bubble -- Jose Theodore will have to be big for the Habs to make the playoffs. Even with keeping Alexei Kovalev, the Canadiens don't have a particularly potent offense. Their D is underrated, but not that great.
Buffalo - on the outside -- In a way, it's a shame the Sabres play in the best division in the East, and you could make an argument that it's the best division in hockey. Not quite enough offense here, unless Briere, Hecht and Connolly really step up.
Tampa Bay - division favorite -- They're not as good as they were when they won the Cup, losing Khabibulin and Cory Stillman won't help. But playing 32 games in hockey's worst division will make them likely to repeat as President's Cup winners and top seed in the East.
Atlanta - on the bubble -- Signing Bobby Holik is a big plus, even if he's just a 20-goal guy now. Heatley and Kovalchuk are as deadly a 1-2 punch as exists, but a journeyman defence has to step up and rookie Pasi Nurminen must be ready in goal if the Thrashers hope to play into the summer.
Florida - on the bubble -- They added a bunch of old heads (Nieuwendyk, Roberts, Gelinas, Stumpel) to some legitimate young talent. Again, here a young defence corps has to step up. Roberto Luongo is legit in goal, which gives the Panthers a chance. But just a chance.
Carolina - on the outside -- Another team that opted for marginal signings. Big hole in goal right now, a marginal offence and a pedestrian defence means a long season in Raleigh.
Washington - on the outside -- Ovechkin will be good, but few of his teammates will. The Caps' best defenceman, Brendan Witt, wants out. Olaf Kolzig will be shell-shocked. It appears that the Caps' front office decided to roll the dice on next year's free agent crop.
Just one fan's opinion, here. Feel free to disagree or whatever.