The Carolina Hurricanes are on the eve of a whole new season and many Caniacs are certainly hoping for, if not anticipating an exciting and successful year of hockey. All signs indicate that they won't be disappointed! Experts from around the hockey world have predicted that the Canes will finish anywhere from 3rd in the Eastern Conference to 15th.Â The predictions have been all over the map! In this humble blogger's opinion, not only will the Canes return to the playoffs, but they will also win their division. Here are a few quick reasons why:
- These guys have already proven that they can win together as a team. Not only did they win the Cup, but they were one of the dominating teams in the league for most of the year in 2005-06. They blew away the rest of their division and won it by 20 points! I really feel that they have the ability to be successful again.
- As disappointing as last year was, they only missed making the playoffs by 4 points. There is no doubt in my mind that the acquisition of Matt Cullen alone is worth 4 points. Add in a healthy Cory Stillman and Frantisek Kaberle and I think you can keep adding more points.
- The well documented "Cup hangover" is over. Players are healthier, hungrier, and mentally ready to go.
- Goalie Cam Ward has trained all summer and looks better than ever. While a few pundits claim that the Conn Smythe performance was a fluke, the rest of his career would indicate otherwise. In 2001-02, he was named the WHL's top goaltender and awarded the Del Wilson Trophy. In 2002-03, he was named the top goalie by the Western Major Juniors Hockey Writer's Association. In 2003-04, he was again named top goalie in the WHL and won the Del Wilson Trophy, won the Vaughn Award as the top goaltender in the entire Canadian Hockey League, and also was awarded the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as the WHL player of the year! In just one year at Lowell he set franchise records for most wins and most shut outs in a season. Winning the Conn Smythe was a fluke? I don't think so! I think that we will see more of the real Cam Ward this year.
Of course there are a few question marks about the team, no one can deny that. While the defense looked pretty durable during the pre-season, the jury is still not out yet about how healthy they can stay throughout the year. Carolina's depth is inexperienced. That usually spells trouble for anyone if there are injuries, especially on the blue line. If the team is hit with any array of injuries, it will hurt them. But every team in the league has that concern. Another possible question is young Eric Staal. Can he perform at a superior level with the pressure of being under the microscope as one of the league's most marketed superstars?
This is how I see the conference shaking out and a brief explanation why:
- Ottawa: The class of the East. Spezza and Heatley both playing for new contracts. Two top-notch goalies and an experienced defense. Night in and night out, they will be a tough team to beat.
- Pittsburgh: The talented youth gets older and wiser and better. Fleury gains confidence. A couple of nice off season additions will help out.
- Carolina: See first paragraph.
- NY Rangers: They have too much talent not to do well.
- New Jersey: Brodeur is still Brodeur and new Coach Sutter will have the team ready.
- Buffalo: Even without the superstars, they have a pretty solid team and decent goaltending.
- Florida: One of the hottest teams in the league at the end of last year, and that was before Vokoun.
- Washington: Freaky pick. The talented youth starts to gel and rallies in front of Kolzig?
- Toronto: I don't see enough talent there to make the playoffs, but they get close.
- Philadelphia: The defense is still too big, slow, and old. Hartnell and Timonen are not the players that their salaries indicate. Plus, the Flyers are in the toughest division in the East.
- Tampa Bay: One of the Triad gets hurt and the goaltending is a disappointment....again.
- NY Islanders: Ted Nolan is great, but his team is not. Oh yeah, they're also in the Atlantic Division. You want to play the Pens, Devils, Rangers, and Flyers 8 times each?
- Montreal: Sat idly by during free agency and it comes back to bite Gainey where it hurts. In this case, sticking with the same team that didn't do anything last year doesn't make sense.
- Boston: Some talent, but not enough. Murray isn't getting any younger.
- Atlanta: Fell apart in last year's playoffs and the downward plunge continues.
It's going to be another interesting year in the NHL with it's share of surprises. Will the Capitals be a surprise, or someone else?Â Agree or disagree with my picks?Â Let me know why!
Big game tonight!Â I'll do a pre-game posting with line-ups and analysis before noon.