We are roughly 4 weeks away from the start of training camp and the beginning of the 2007/2008 National Hockey League season. I want to take a look at the teams who finished 9-15 in the Eastern Conference standings for the 06/07 season. Are any of these teams ready to make a playoff run? Lets find out...
#9) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished with a 40-31-11 record with 91 points in the East and only 1 point away from the 8th spot which was snagged by the NY Islanders on the last day of the regular season. Some of the moves the Leafs have made are:
Players added: RW Jason Blake, G Vesa Toskala, F Mark Bell.
The Leafs also re-signed their captain Mats Sundin, who "took one for the team" and signed for much less then expected. They also kept Nik Antropov, Bates Battaglia and D Staffan Kronwall, each to 2 year deals.
As of today, these have been the most notable happenings out of Toronto. With an upgrade at goaltending and another scorer in Jason Blake, I really feel that with the core of this team sticking around and the addition of some needed help, The Maple Leafs may be ready to sneak into a playoff spot. The rumblings at HB is that the Leafs are not done and still trying to add to their roster. I have heard Mike Peca to a deal for Patrick Marleau. If they can find a way to add to this line up, it will only increase there chance at attaining a spot in the top 8.
#10) Montreal Canadians
The Montreal Canadians were a shoot out away from taking the 8th spot but came up short from this years post season when the NJ Devils were unable to defeat the NY Islanders on the regular season finale. They finished 42-34-6 with 90 points. They owned the tie breakers against the Isle's and Leafs but it just wasnt meant to be.
Players added:C Bryan Smolinski, D Roman Hamrlik, F Tom Kostopoulos
The Habs have been able to re-sign Christopher Higgins, Thomas Plekanec, Mike Komisarek, Josh Gorges, Patrice Brisebois and Michael Ryder.
The Habs have been one of the most rumored teams this off season in trying to acquire Patrick Marleau. Michael Ryders low 1 year deal worth $2.95 Million says nothing else to me but trade bait. Will a trade take place before camp, during camp, during the season? Only time will tell but a deal for a Marleau type player will bring this team into playoff contention again this upcoming season without question. Will the loss of Sheldon Souray, Raden Bonk and Sergei Samsonov come back to haunt the Habs? In my opinion the Montreal Canadians will be a better team without them and makes acquiring a Patrick Marleau that more realistic.
#11) Carolina Hurricanes
There is no question that missing the playoffs was a disappointment for the then defending Stanley Cup champs Carolina Hurricanes. They ended the season with a 40-34-8 record and 88 pts. Here is a look of what they have done in the off-season to this point:
Players added: C Matt Cullen
The Canes were able to keep the services of one F Scott Walker.
Cam Ward seemed to have come back down to earth this past season, though after watching a few games he didnt have much help either. It has been a quiet off season so far for the 05/06 champs but bringing back Matt Cullen is a perfect fit for both the Hurricanes and Cullen as Cullen just couldnt fit in the Rangers system and belongs where he has had the most recent success. Due to the lack of movement this off season its very hard for me to see the Canes push past the surgence of either the Maple Leafs or Canadians.
#12) Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers who came out at the start of the season on fire, just couldnt keep the flame lite as they finished the season 35-31-16 with 86 pts. Moves have been made to better this squad and here is a look of what has been done:
Players added: G Thomas Vokoun, F Richard Zednik, RW Radek Dvorak and F Brett Mclean.
The Panthers were able to reach a long term deal and keep restricted free agent Nathan Horton. Other re-signings include C Jozef Stumpel and D Bryan Allen.
The Florida Panthers have lost forwards Martin Gelinas and Chris Gratton but have acquired the most important piece to any teams puzzle and that is a #1 Goaltender. Thomas Vokoun already makes this team better and can go out and steal you a few games here and there. I do think they need to go out and maybe bring in another speedy forward or another D-man that can help solitify Florida's Defensive game. Will they beable to sneak into a playoff spot? With the key additions made and the suntractions from other teams who were in the playoffs this past season, they might be able to grab a spot but everything has to fall into place. To me, It is all on Vokoun's play.
#13) Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins, though tough to play at times, finished with only a 35-41-6 record and 76 pts. When thinking about the Boston Bruins, they only term that comes to mind is re-build. That process has begun and it starts with there biggest acquisition of their off season which they brought in through a trade with the Minnesota Wild...
Players added: G Manny Fernandez and RW Shawn Thornton
The Bruins have been able to keep D Andrew Alberts, LW Jeff Hoggan and F Brandon Bochenski.
Much like the Florida Panthers, The Boston Bruins have gotten what they needed the most and thats a solid #1 goaltender. Bringing in Manny Fernandez is a start, but they still need to bring in a few pieces to try to solve this puzzle. With the right moves whether it's through trade, signings or within the system, I believe the Bruins are a year or two away before being able to make a big push into a playoff spot.
#14) Washington Capitals
Whenever a team has a player like Alexander Ovechkin expectations will of course be high. The problem with this years Washington Capitals is there wasnt much of a supporting cast for Ovechkin which lead them to a 28-40-40 record with 70 pts. They needed to make some changes and so far thay have done fairly well for themselves...
Players added: C Michael Nylander, D Tom Poti, C Viktor Kozlov and C Joe Motzko
The Capitals were able to retain the services of F Chris Clark, D Steve Eminger and C Brian Sutherby.
Looking at the upcoming year, The Washington Capitals have put together a team that will indeed improve in the standings. Olaf Kolzig is still a solid goaltender and with a better team around him can only get better. The free agent signings have helped them on offense and Tom Poti brings a steady defensive game that will sure up a defense that has some question marks. We will see if these acquisitions can propel the Capitals into the playoffs but I feel that there are too many teams in the East with stronger line ups and will have to wait another year before making a post season apperance.
#15) Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers ended their 2006/2007 season with a horrid 22-48-12 record with only 56 pts. After a 9-1 defeat to the Buffalo Sabres back in October, The re-organization of the Flyers front office began. The regular season ended on a high note as the newly acquired Marty Biron was able to beat his former team in the regular season finale and take this Flyers team into an off-season that now has Flyers fans ready for October. Here is what they have done:
Players added: C Daniel Briere, F Scott Hartnell, D Jason Smith, RW Joffrey Lupul and D Kimmo Timonen
The Flyers have been able to re-sign now starting goaltender Martin Biron, back up goaltender Antero Niittymaki and D Lasse Kukkonen.
While the 06/07 Flyers season will be one that is easy to forget with Flyers fans. The upcoming season is one that will make people remember what putting on the Orange and Black is all about. While they lost D Joni Pitkanen, F Mike York, LW Todd Fedoruk and F Geoff Sanderson. The Flyers are "Out with the old" and "In with the new" in my opinion. Coach John Stevens has a line up that almost brings this team back into contention. They now have a #1 goaltender who has been ready to take over the helm for a team in this league for a couple years now. They have upgraded in every aspect of the line up and will only turn the race for a playoff spot an interesting one. Will the new guys click? I think so.
This is just a small look at each team who missed the playoffs this past season in the Eastern Conference and what they have done to correct the problems that exist or existed. I know there are still free agents available and possible trades that may go done but all we can do is go with what we have right now in front of us. If this blog were to ask which team most improved from last season? Hands down thats the Philadelphia Flyers, but this blog asks which team is ready to make a push into a playoff spot right now?!?!
This time of year everyone has high expectations and think that their team is going to be better than another so lets look at this objectively. From the rosters we have just talked about above, which team would you say is most ready to take one of the 8 playoff spots available? My guess is either Toronto or Montreal but we never know what a new season brings.
I will be taking a look at the Western Conference teams in my next blog. Hope you enjoyed!!