Which teams will fall of the radar as contenders and who will take their places? While we probably will not witness another basement-to-conference-finalists story as we did last year with the Philadelphia Flyers, there are several teams who got significantly stronger over the summer, and a few that got somewhat weaker. I’ll give you the bad news first.
Ottawa fans, I am truly sorry, but the way the Senators finished off the second half of last season combined with their lack of a true number one defenseman has me thinking they may end up on the outside of a very tight 8th playoff spot race in the East. The Devils could be another team coming up short. Martin Brodeur has been outstanding for what seems like forever, and at 36 now, a decline has got to be on the horizon. To add to that, GM Lou Lamoriello also sank money into another two aging vets this off-season, in Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik. In the East, the most likely of teams to find themselves in the playoffs next April are the Buffalo Sabres, led by a plethora of young, talented, speedy forwards which include Derek Roy, Tomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, and Jason Pominville. Either the Hurricanes or the Lightning will scoop up the final spot.
In the West, the Colorado Avalanche are older, and lost maybe their most important piece from last season in Jose Theodore. Unless Andrew Raycroft miraculously finds his former rookie of the year touch, the Avs could be in serious danger of missing the postseason. The team that has improved the most from the beginning of last season to the beginning of this season, and by a landslide at that, is the Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat and several other young guns fill out a forward group that is very capable of piling up goals in bunches. Their true strength however comes from their back end. After signing Brian Campbell in July, the Hawks may have the best overall group of defensemen in the league, with 6 different players capable of lining up on the powerplay on any given night. Did I mention that they also signed the best goalie on the market this summer in Cristobal Huet? The Phoenix Coyotes did a good job acquiring superstar Olli Jokinen, and it looks as though flashy rookies Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, and Kevin Porter will all be given the opportunity to contribute right off the bat. Throw in a breakout season from Peter Mueller and you may just see the Coyotes somewhere other than the golf course come the end of the regular season. Wouldn’t that be nice Mr. Gretzky?