Clear69° WeatherClear69° Weather

Previewing the 2009-10 NHL season

Two-minute tour of the divisions

Eastern Conference

Atlantic: The Flyers continue to improve, especially after adding defenseman Chris Pronger. But we have doubts that Ray Emery is the solution in goal. New Jersey will be better simply by adding (again) coach Jacques Lemaire, above. The Penguins tend to coast through regular seasons, but the defending Stanley Cup champs remain the class of the division.

Northeast: Overall, a lousy division even though, on the surface, it appears the Maple Leafs and Canadiens did improve in the offseason. Actually, the Canadiens completely overhauled the organization, so it's hard to tell if they're better or even worse. The Bruins will not be challenged, but the regular season is never a problem with this team. It's the playoffs that do them in.

Southeast: The Hurricanes consistently are solid and yet somehow always overlooked. The Lightning should be better. But the Capitals not only will win the division going away, they might be the team holding Lord Stanley's Cup come June.

Western Conference

Central: This might be the best division in hockey, especially with the resurgence of the Blackhawks and Blues and the continued growth of the Blue Jackets. The Red Wings, however, should have enough to stay on top even with a rough offseason that saw them lose Marian Hossa, above, (to rival Chicago, no less), Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson.

Northwest: This division has gone from the best in the league to one that's just overrated and living on past reputation. The Canucks, Flames and Wild are ordinary teams that can't seem to do anything in the postseason. The Flames appear to have the edge after adding defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

Pacific: This figures to be a two-team race between the Sharks and Ducks with the Stars not too far behind. Both made key changes with Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul going to Anaheim and Dany Heatley ending up in San Jose. The Heatley move will be the difference.

Predictions

Stanley Cup: Capitals over Red Wings

Hart Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Norris Trophy (top defenseman): Zdeno Chara, Bruins

Vezina Trophy (top goalie): Roberto Luongo, Canucks

Calder Trophy (top rookie): John Tavares, Islanders

Jack Adams (top coach): Andy Murray, Blues

First coach fired: Jacques Martin, Canadiens

Three teams on the rise

Lightning

We said this last year. But this time, it feels different because the team didn't bring in players for the sake of name recognition. Instead of acting as if it was playing fantasy hockey, the Lightning actually targeted players who addressed needs, especially on defense. And rookie defenseman Victor Hedman will have a huge impact.

Blues

Last season, St. Louis came back from the dead and was one of the NHL's feel-good stories with a 41-31-10 record despite having key players sidelined for good chunks of the season. You would think with a healthy squad, particularly Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson, above, the Blues should improve on last season's breakout effort.

Islanders

This team has nowhere to go but up. First overall draft pick John Tavares, above, will be an impact player, and New York finally has not one, but two reliable goalies — Dwayne Roloson, Martin Biron — to stand in for the always-injured Rick DiPietro. Roloson has a history of keeping teams with subpar talent in the running (see: Oilers, Wild). This isn't a playoff team, but it is better.

Three teams on the decline

Senators

This bad team got worse. And it's because Dany Heatley forced a trade that landed Ottawa Jonathan Cheechoo, above, who has seen his goal production drop from 56 to 37 to 23 to only 12 last season.

Wild

For starters, Minnesota lost the best coach in hockey when Jacques Lemaire retired then resurfaced in New Jersey. Even though Marian Gaborik barely played last season, letting him leave via free agency was a mistake even if the Wild did pick up Martin Havlat, above.

Canadiens

Actually, the decline started late last season as Montreal went from Cup hopeful to being swept in the first round of the playoffs. It parted ways with Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev, players who might be no great loss, and it picked up Scott Gomez, above, and Brian Gionta, players who might be no great addition. Plus, the goaltending remains a question mark.

One better, one worse

Team that will be better than you think: Sabres Team that will be worse than you think: Rangers

Team that had the best offseason

Lightning

We'll try this again. Tampa Bay improved on defense with the drafting of Victor Hedman and acquisitions of Mattias Ohlund, Matt Walker and Kurtis Foster. It added a nice player up front in Alex Tanguay then added a decent backup in goal in Antero Niittymaki. Plus, starting goalie Mike Smith got healthy, so it's like it added a No. 1 goalie. Other teams that had a productive summer include the Flyers (Chris Pronger), Maple Leafs (Phil Kessel), Flames (Jay Bouwmeester) and Sharks (Dany Heatley).

Team that had the worst offseason

Avalanche

Colorado has fallen from one of the elite organizations in the game to a bottom-feeder. The past offseason saw the retirement of the greatest player in franchise history, Joe Sakic, right, and the loss of dependable forward Ryan Smyth.

Previewing the 2009-10 NHL season 10/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 7:20am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...