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Thursday, September 23, 2010

NHL Preview: Northeast Division Forwards

Note: The above pic is my creation, not Weagz's, so don't blame him.  - Matteau

Toronto Maple Leafs
Kris Versteeg - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Colby Armstrong
Luca Caputi - John Mitchell - Fredrik Sjostrom
Mike Brown - Christian Hanson - Colton Orr

I gotta confess: I am a huge fan of the moves that front offices make and how they structure a team. I don’t know why it is, but I guess I think that success starts at the top. When the Maple Leafs named Burke their GM in 2008, I said to my friends--well, “our fun in the sun is over, we will not be able to laugh at how bad the Leafs are much longer…” Well, we’re still waiting, aren’t we? I would have thought that the Leafs forwards three years into the Burke experiment would look something like this…

Jagr - Gretzky - Hull
Bossy - Lemieux - Selanne
Kurri - Messier - Dionne
Nieuwendyk - Forsberg - Ciccarelli

By the way, in my bizarre world, Brian Burke also has superpowers. Yet, instead, we get Phil Kessel, some young guys, and a bunch of brutes.

Tyler Bozak is the most interesting of the young guys, putting up 27 points in 37 games last year and placing him alongside Kessel will obviously help to bring him along, but I’m not sure how well this line will do on the road against some of the big defensive pairings in this conference (Chara - Seidenberg; Myers - Leopold; Markov - Gorges). Versteeg is an interesting add to this team, but he does not scream “top-line scoring” guy to me.

On the second line, Kulemin is another young guy that might come into his own, but Grabovski and Armstrong are not really consistent scorers--this isn’t really a second line that’s going to pitch in that much. Caputi and Mitchell are too young to assess and Fredrik Sjostrom is well, a third-liner for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Colton Orr? Christian Hanson? Really? Come on Burke! The first line is an average second line for a decent team. The second line is an average third line for most teams. The third line is a fourth line for most teams and the fourth line doesn’t belong in hockey.

How much longer do we have to wait, Burke? Hockey needs the Toronto Maple Leafs to be relevant--and this group ain’t doin’ it.

Montreal Canadiens
Mike Cammalleri - Scott Gomez - Brian Gionta
Travis Moen - Tomas Plekanec - Andrei Kostitsyn
Tom Pyatt - Lars Eller - Maxim Lapierre
Benoit Pouliot - Jeff Halpern - Mathieu Darche

The Canadiens are an interesting group--at first glance you have to be somewhat impressed, especially since the Habs are about defense and goaltending, they do not need to roll four scoring lines. They appear to have a really nice top line; Cammalleri can do some damage, Gomez is a stud, and Gionta scored 48 goals. That’s when you start to pull back the covers on this thing. Gionta hasn’t gotten anywhere near 48 goals since 2005-06 and Gomez is a 6% shooter, folks. The second line is Travis Moen (huh? Who?), Andrei Kostitsyn, and Tomas Plekanec--admittedly, I’m impressed with Plekanec’s 70 points last year and 20 goals in each of the last five years. Yet, one man does not a line make. Then it gets dicey. Tom Pyatt, Lars Eller, Maxim Lapierre, Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern, and Mathieu Darche are steady defensive-forwards, but let’s not expect more than a handful of goals from these guys.

I like some of the pieces for the Habs; Cammalleri and Plekanec are gamers, Gomez and Gionta are still riding off the coattails of the Devils success early in their career, Andrei Kostitsyn isn’t in prison--so that’s something. The rest of these guys--I just don’t see it.

Ottawa Senators
Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson
Peter Regin - Mike Fisher - Alexei Kovalev
Nick Foligno - Chris Kelly - Chris Neil
Jarkko Ruutu - Jesse Winchester - Roman Wick

At first glance, this too looks like a well-constructed NHL team, but a closer look reveals that there are cracks in the ice. Spezza and Alfredsson are so good, though, that they instantly make this set of forwards better than the Habs. However, in his first season since coming over from San Jose, Milan Michalek greeted the fans in Ottawa by laying a fresh steaming -12 +/- rating turd on center ice--his first negative rating in his career.  His points dropped precipitously as well. Hockey GMs have to start to realize that just because you put up points in Washington, San Jose, or Chicago, that doesn’t mean you are going to put up points everywhere.

On the second line, Mike Fisher married shorthanded in life, but he has to play with Dr. Alexei and Mr. Kovalev on his right side.  Dr. Alexei is still capable of flashes of greatness, but Mr. Kovalev is often mired in long stretches of indifference. Peter Regin pitched in 29 points in 75 games, which is a nice contribution for a second-liner. This group is capable of generating a second scoring option, but as Kovalev goes, so does this line and I don’t think he’s capable of doing it much this year--and surely not for 82 consecutive games.
Nick Foligno, Chris Kelly, and Chris Neil do a yeoman's job on the third line. Jarkko Ruutu is on the fourth line--can somebody tell me why this guy is still in the league? Winchester and Wick are fourth liners.

If Michalek and Kovalev show up, this could be the best line of forwards in the Northeast, but I am guessing that they will each show up for about 20 games this year, which is not quite a full season.

Buffalo Sabres
Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville
Jochen Hecht - Tim Connolly - Mike Grier
Tyler Ennis - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta
Nathan Gerbe - Rob Niedermeyer - Drew Stafford

This is what I call a big-boy lineup. The Sabres have what you would want in a set of forwards--they’ve got a big-name sniper that can pitch in as much as 40 goals, they’ve got a center who can get him the puck, and even a winger on the other side that's not much of a slouch. The second line is centered by a guy that can find the back of the net and some wingers that aren’t strangers to the net themselves. The third line is young, but has already demonstrated that they know how to get the rubber past the goalie as well. The fourth line is centered by a guy who has made a career of being one of the best fourth line centers in the game and also pitching in more than a handful of goals himself, while getting limited ice time. When you consider that these guys historically play within their system and are often very solid defensively, the pieces are here for a very silent-but-deadly set of forwards.

Vanek gets the press, because he’s the sniper, but don’t discount the contributions by Roy, who has put up 81, 70, and 69 points in the last three years. Pominville has strung together three straight seasons of 20 goals and Hecht found twine 21 times last year. Connolly had almost 50 assists last year, to boot. Ennis only played 10 games last year, but he had 9 points in those games! Gaustad may reach 30 points on the third line. To be able to get 80 goals from a first line, 60 from a second line, 40 from a third line, and 20 from a fourth line is about as good as a team in the Salary Cap Era can hope for--Buffalo’s forwards might be able to make that happen.

Boston Bruins
Marco Sturm - Marc Savard - Nathan Horton
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Mark Recchi
Blake Wheeler - Patrice Bergeron - Michael Ryder
David Paille - Tyler Seguin - Shawn Thornton

On talent alone, the Bruins are pretty tough to beat, especially down the middle. Savard was injured last year and the Bruins appeared to suffer across the board. Now Savard is back and they have also added Nathan Horton, who is often injured himself, but is a legit winger to add some scoring power along the wings to support the depth down the middle. Tyler Seguin is listed as the fourth line center, but he isn’t really a fourth-liner, but we can’t assume that he’s going to come into the league and be better than Savard, Krejci, and Bergeron.

Ed. Note: It appears that Savard might still be suffering from post-concussion syndrome, and will be out for a while.  As of right now, Tyler Seguin has a good chance at being the replacement for however long Savard will be out.

Savard may be able to set Horton up for a big season (again, health issues aside)--Sturm will ride along for lots of points. Lucic will also get to ride shotgun for Krejci setting up Recchi--although it’s hard to say how much Recchi has left.

Blake Wheeler may take a few steps forward, he pitched in 38 points last year and he’s at that age where a lot of guys take their career to the next level. Ryder, Paille, and Thornton aren’t exciting but they aren’t going to hurt you that much either. Ryder can even add some scoring on the third line.
The question is whether or not their two dangerous wingers (Horton and Recchi) can stay healthy and contribute. It will also be interesting to see if Seguin gets some PP time as well. Overall, we are going to assume that Savard is going to come back to form and boost the Bruins to the best group of forwards in the Northeast.

Northeast Division Forwards Ranking
1. Boston Bruins
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Montreal Canadiens
5. Toronto Maple Leafs

1 comment:

  1. Blog Cosby hates you for not knowing who Travis Moen is. They conceived a love-child after he carried the Ducks to the Cup.

    I have to disagree that 29 points is good for a second-liner (Peter Regin). We're not talking about the Islanders here.

    Oh, by the way, I noticed when I was editing this that you misspelled "Lemieux" and "Sjostrom" but not "Nieuwendyk." The Weagz works in mysterious ways.


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