Editor’s Note: This post was written by Adam over at Canada Sports Guy. He’ll be bringing his NHL insight here from time to time. Look for part 2 of this post tomorrow afternoon.
As the NHL gets ready to open the 2009-2010 season, each team has questions that need to be answered. Here is a preview of the eastern conference teams:
Atlanta Thrashers – The Thrashers have added some key players in Nic Antropov and Pavel Kubina to go along with their superstar, Ilya Kovalchuk. This team should have no trouble scoring goals. The problem will be in goal and whether or not Kari Lehtonen can keep the puck out. If he is playing well, this team will be dangerous.
Boston Bruins – Did the Boston Bruins hit their ceiling last season when they had 116 points in the regular season? The Bruins are close to the salary cap and lost Phil Kessel because of their cap issues. They still have the best defense corps in the Northeast division, that should keep them in the top three seeds come playoff time.
Buffalo Sabres – Inconsistency was the big problem for the Sabres last season. They just could not build that momentum, or at least contain it. The strength of the Sabres was their scoring and power play and it will remain so this season. If Tim Connolly can stay healthy, they will make a serious push for the playoffs. The Sabres were in 6th place in the conference as late as February.
Carolina Hurricanes – This team will be looking to build on the surprising playoff success it had in the playoffs last season. They have all the elements of a dangerous team with a skilled center, clutch goalie and role players. They will need to sustain this effort for an entire season which will be interesting to watch. Eric Staal will be looking to get off fast in the season to try and make the Canadian Olympic team.
Florida Panthers – The Panthers almost made the playoffs last season, losing out to the Montreal Canadiens by one point. The team lost Jay Bowmeester to the Calgary Flames, and overall team toughness. Will they be able to compete in a division where everyone else got better? It could be a long winter in Florida.
Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens had a very busy off-season and have 11 new players on their roster. They have improved their team speed with Gionta and Gomez, but they lack size and toughness. Will they be able to compete in their division with Boston and Toronto? The pressure of this town might be too great for the young goalie Carey Price.
New Jersey Devils – The Devils dug back in their past with the hiring of their former coach Jacques Lemaire. Lemaire is an old school defensive coach. How will the Devils compete? Martin Brodeur might have a career year under this defensive system. The trap style worked pre-lockout, but this is a faster, exciting NHL.
New York Islanders – This once proud franchise is in a rebuilding stage. They will be bad, very bad, but at least they have John Tavares, the current number-one pick in the entry draft. Tavares will not be enough for the playoffs but he’s a great player to build around. The bigger concern is in the goalie position as they have a ton of money tied up in 3 NHL goalies.
New York Rangers – This should not be a boring season in NY. The Rangers signed Martin Gaborik on the wing, but lost their center, Scott Gomez, to the Montreal Canadiens. Will Sean Avery be a contributing player again? How many headline quotes will head coach John Tortorella generate?
Ottawa Senators – The Senators had a very messy divorce from superstar Dany Heatley, but did very well in the trade with the acquisitions of Mila Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo. They also picked up the ultra-talented Alex Kovalev through free agency. Will Pascal Leclaire be able to stop the puck? If he does, this team will push for a playoff spot.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers lost to the Penguins last year in the playoffs and they then went out to get Chris Pronger via a trade. Pronger is big, tough and dirty. He was brought to the Flyers to hit Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin, and hit them hard. The Flyers also took a gamble on goalie Ray Emery which should be a slight upgrade. They will be tough to beat.
Pittsburgh Penguins – The champion Penguins did not get any better this off-season, especially in re-signing the old guy Billy Guerin. Will the Penguins be as hungry this year as last season? I am still not sold on Fluery in goal, but they still have the best combo of superstars in Crosby and Malkin. Crosby’s health is a slight concern as well as he always seems to be a little banged up.
Tampa Bay Lightning – This team will be much better this year with a healthy Vinny Lecavalier and 2nd-year player Steven Stamkos. Stamkos was very good in the 2nd half of last season and was very good at the World Championships playing on a line with Lightning teammate Marty St Louis.
Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs had a very good off-season through free agency and the draft. They have one of the top defensive groups in the league and will be very tough to play against. They should be much improved in goal with a healthy Vesa Toskala. The biggest question is: who will score for them?
Washington Capitals – Expect Ovechkin to again be the best player in the league, but the biggest question mark for the Caps has to be their goalie. Will Semyon Varlamov be able to win the starting position? If they have a great season in the net, they could be hoisting the cup in June.
Those are the questions concerning the Eastern Conference teams. How will they overcome/answer?