This is a feature we’re going to try to do about once a month, maybe a little more often. We’ve gathered out blogging friends from around the division to give us a little more insight from those in the know about the teams the Hawks are competing with. Without further ado, this roundtable’s question is what can we expect from each team this season:
Minnesota: Bryan Reynolds – formerly of HockeyWilderness.com
An outlook on the Minnesota Wild, huh? That’s easy. Take all of the predictions you have read about them, throw them in a hat, mix them around, and then burn the hat. No one knows what this team is going to do. Some have them as lofty as finishing second to the Hawks in the division (conference?), and others have them finishing 29th in the league. I can all but guarantee it will be neither of those two things. The Wild are who they are. They lost Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to free agency, and Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi to a trade. The people predicting doom and gloom used these players being on the team to put the Wild in the basement year after year. Now, with them gone, they say the Wild are worse off because those players aren’t around. I truly think people have just become so accustomed to Wild being also-rans that no one bothers to put any real effort into researching the team. Hell, one preview (the one that has them in 29th) bases their conclusion on the fact that Ryan Suter makes more money than the other six d-men on the team combined. Because that’s a stat we should all know. Cost of your top defenseman as compared to the sum total of the next six. No mention that Jonas Brodin arguably out played Ryan Suter last year for 1/6 of the cost.
The story hasn’t changed. There are too many “if this than that” scenarios for the Wild. If
Charlie Coyle is a true beast (as he is projected to be), the Wild will be improved over Matt Cullen. If Jonas Brodin truly is the next coming of Nick Lidstrom, the Wild are improved. If Jason Zucker can take a step up, the Wild are improved. If Nino Neideriter can play hockey and stop whining, the Wild are improved. if Mikael Granlund can live up to even a portion of the lofty expectations, the Wild are improved. If Matt Cooke can not revert to the Matt Cooke he has been known to be, the Wild are… well… still a joke for signing him in the first place. The top line looks to be Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Jason Pominville, which for the first time in the history of the team gives them an actual first line. Not to expect 100 points from any of them, but all three are capable of 80, which is not something they have had before.
If ifs and buts were candy and nuts. That’s what you get from the Wild year in and year out. They aren’t Cup contenders, unless there are multiple Calder worthy performances, and they aren’t lottery winners, barring massive injuries. They are, as always… the Wild.
Nashville: Dirk Hoag – OnTheForecheck.com (and overall wonderful human being)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; a homegrown stable of talented defenseman in front of an excellent goalie will be Nashville’s competitive strength this season. Up front, a deep but pedestrian bunch of forwards promises to return the “grit” to the Predators’ game, but the big question is whether they can produce enough goals to keep up with the rest of the West.
It’s not all old news, however; there are two teenagers on the Opening Night roster in Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg, both with star-quality potential at their positions. The center depth chart is deeper than ever with the addition of Matt Cullen, but one does wonder if there’s enough ice time to keep him, Mike Fisher, David Legwand and Paul Gaustad happy. Viktor Stalberg appears to be the ideal free agent signing for a team like Nashville that needed some zip, and Matt Hendricks returns as the prodigal Predators draft pick who made his way into the league with Colorado and Washington before returning to Nashville as a free agent.
Between Pekka Rinne’s recovery from off-season hip surgery, all the youth on the blueline, and the lack of high-end offense up front, there are just too many questions for me to feel good about Nashville’s chances to return to the playoffs. Down the road, however, the future looks pretty bright, considering all the young talent working their way up through the system.
St. Louis: Chris Gift from St. Louis Gametime (Publication)
This offseason Blues management drew a fair amount of criticism from locals by not doing enough to improve the team. Sure, they asked Vincent Lecavalier to prom and were rejected even though according to Lecavalier’s people, the “Blues made the most attractive offer,” (in other words, they put together one hell of a PowerPoint, but he still went to Philadelphia), and dealt the enigmatic David Perron to Edmonton for the enigmatic Magnus Paajarvi and a second round pick (when it all boils down to it, isn’t it at least more interesting to have a Magnus on the team instead of yet another David?), but at the end off the offseason the Blues did add veterans with plenty left in their tanks in Derek Roy and Maxim Lapierre, plus one with probably not-so-much left in his tank in Brendan Morrow.
The Blues will go from towards the top of the middle of the pack to Cup shoo-ins if the league will allow game to be won by the score of “zero to negative-one.” The top six, Jackman, Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, Leopold, and Polak are as solid as a defensive corps will get from 1-6 in the league. The big question is going to be in goal. Jaroslav Halak hasn’t been healthy for a full season, and Brian Elliott is either terrific, or terrifically awful. Jake Allen starts the season in the AHL, but sooner rather than later because of ineffective play by one of the veterans, or injury, or assassination, the top job with the Blues will be his.
Like the other 29 teams in the league, the Blues will be successful this season if they get good to above average goaltending and score three or more goals a night.
With all respect due to Chicago, a division title is probably out of the question for the Blues this season. Fighting with Dallas, Colorado, and Nashville for the Silver Medal is probably more like it.
Colorado: Nick Brown from MileHighHockey.com
The Avs are no Stanley Cup contenders. You may be shocked by this prognosis. After all, the team was better than one other team last season and brought back a remarkably similar roster. It might be difficult to imagine how a team that has responded to utter failure at keeping pucks out of the net by adding Nathan MacKinnon and flipping David Jones and Shane O’Brien for Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich can finish with a record worse than 80-0-2. But it’s true.
Bright spots are obvious. It’s the forward corps. We could see Matt Duchene hit 80 this season if he stays healthy. The same goes for any regular linemate he has. So far in the past, he’s had good synergy with P.A. Parenteau as well as Ryan O’Reilly, who recently shifted from center to LW and looks to play with Duchene to start the year. The center depth remains outstanding. (The winger depth should be good enough to hold its own.) But your forwards can’t score if the puck is behind you and very little was done over the offseason to address that. Greg Zanon was bought out, though his Beard was retained in a consulting role. Shane O’Brien’s 2 remaining contract years were replaced with Cory Sarich’s 1. Andre Benoit was picked up on the cheap. Francois Allaire was brought in to help Semyon Varlamov realize his potential. That’s….. that’s it. Any improvement on the backend has to be seen as almost entirely coaching. Both Allaire and that other guy they hired. Patrick something.
It’s a key season in the long-term rebuild process here. There’s a lottery pick on each forward line and a so-far-underwhelming #1D in Erik Johnson: Is this the year he steps up? If not now, then when? Are the forwards going to be good enough to compete for a Cup before their window closes? Is Semyon Varlamov going to be The Guy, or do we need to start looking elsewhere? This is a big year for him with a new coach and (hopefully) fresh start. Can the front office build an NHL winner as well as they can play for one? The Avalanche has been mired in a lot of questions since the Colorado Craig Andersons last made the playoffs. Playoffs are unlikely–pretty much nobody has them finishing above 6th in the West and half of us would call that optimistic–but this is the year we start to see big questions answered.
But, at least, gone should be the boring Avs who try to work the puck deep but ultimately can’t. That Patrick fella wants to entertain the fans almost as much as he wants to win hockey games. Gone should be the team who gets behind and checks out in defeat immediately. They could easily start rough as they learn a new coach’s style, but this will be a team right on the playoffs bubble til they aren’t and they should be a heck of a lot more fun to watch in the process.
You’ll notice we couldn’t find anyone from Winnipeg or Dallas. I assume the Peggers are already frozen and they’re watching a high school football game in Dallas. We’ll get it fixed for next time.
Weekend Music Pick
Let’s go with one of the more underrated bands around – Kasabian