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25 Maple Leaf and hockey opinions on the eve of camp

With training camp just days away, and a busy summer of trades, free-agent signings and dissipated rumors largely behind us, some all-over-the-map hockey thoughts:

1.    I think to give Leaf fans a little something extra to hang their hats on (in addition to hopefully following an even more improved and hard to play against team), we will need to see somebody a bit unexpected step up and contribute more than we are anticipating right now.  Whether that is Frattin, Colborne, Kadri, Holzer, etc., somebody needs to make a dramatic step forward for fans to have a little extra jump in their rooting step…

2.    I say this in part because, if you are not actually hopeful of a Cup run, and your “bar” is just making the playoffs and maybe winning a round, then along the way, part of the fun is often when something out of the blue happens.  Last year, it was Reimer emerging out of (seemingly, for some of us, at least) nowwhere.

3.     Mike Modano is evidently thinking of coming back for a 21st season.  I would have much preferred he retire as a Dallas Star, before his 'one and done' year with the Wings.  If he keeps hanging on, he will be like so many guys before him.  In fact, he’s already there.

4.     Tomas Vokoun, having mis-judged the free-agent market, signed an “under-value” contract.  My guess is he will be motivated to have a tremendous season, in order to to build up his free agency case for next summer.

5.     I don’t see Montreal as appreciably better.  Yes, Price should be an elite guy in goal again.  But if he stumbles for any reason, they have no shot. I don’t see Cole having a dramatic impact.

6.     Like most teams over the past several seasons, the Bruins won’t repeat.  Not that they aren’t still a very solid team, but repeating is just too tough nowadays.  They had a long, arduous road to the Cup.  Their guys have been partying this summer, just like previous champions.  Winning another four rounds in the playoffs is too much to expect.

7.     The Canucks came within one game of attaining what many observers thought was their destiny.  They were likely the best “constructed” team, and emerged from the tough Western Conference.  Will this actually be their year?  Will Luongo be the guy in the playoffs? Who knows, but I’m thinking….no.

8.     What about Crosby?  Will we see him at all?  If we do, will we see the real Crosby?  I’m thinking no, and no.

9.     The happiest hockey fans (other than those in Boston, who are happy to have won their Cup and won’t feel the need for another…) in the NHL this season will be in Winnipeg.  How long the honeymoon will last, I don’t really know.  But I believe it will certainly last this season.

10. If Kessel stays healthy, he should finish with 38 goals.  Not enough constancy in his game to hit 40, I don’t think (famous last words!)

11. That said, he may help Connolly as much as a lot of fans are thinking Connolly will help him.

12. I wonder if, or how many, NHL’ers will follow Jerred Weaver’s lead in baseball and sign away their looming free-agency to stay where they are happy?  Not that taking “only” 85 million dollars makes Weaver a saint, but his agent wanted to grab even more.

13. This leads me to Doughty in LA.  Some are blaming the Kings for not giving him the world.  But how much is enough for these guys, who are like 21 or 22?

14. Stamkos will likely be the Hart Trophy winner this coming season.  Just feels like it’s his time.

15. All those youngsters in Edmonton are one year older.  They may have the largest contingent of elite-skill guys at the forward position in hockey (see my recent post comparing the Leafs and the Oilers…).  Will this translate into a lot more wins?  Some. But they still have roster issues, I think.

16. I don’t see any legitimate reason to believe the Senators will be significantly improved.  A new coach?  They’ve tried lots of those in recent years.  Even if he brings in a different “attitude” (we hear that every fall), I just don’t think the talent is there any more to be a really good team.

17. The Devils?  I wrote all last season that I felt the Kovalchuk re-signing was not a wise move for Lamoriello.  I feel no differently now.  Another team (like Colorado) that once was so competitive every year, but no longer.

18. As far as the Capitals are concerned, I’ve kind of lost my enthusiasm.  They are becoming a bit like the Sharks.  Talented, but I always end up wanting more.  Will Ovechkin rebound and be dominant again?  Probably.  Hopefully.  I love watching the guy.

19. You know what I’d really like to see in Washington?  The Caps playing like they did a few years ago, like the old 1950s and ‘60s Montreal Canadiens.  Fire-wagon hockey.  At least entertain us.  But they tried the whole “defense first” thing last season, and all they achieved is that they were way duller—and they still lost.

20. It’s funny.  A year ago the Hawks were coming off a Cup, but they had to dismantle a lot of the team, a lot of the gritty guys- the supporting cast who had made a huge difference.  They’ve made even more moves, and I don’t see them as being Cup threats again.

21. The Sabres have spent wads of cash.  They have an enthusiastic, wealthy owner.  Will they be a lot better?  I don’t think so.

22. That said, isn’t this the every-other-year that Ryan Miller is amazing?  So we’ll see.

23. One of the more intriguing Eastern Conference teams will be the Flyers.  They’ve traded off Carter and Richards and brought in a new goalie.  Will they be better?  I’m saying yes.  More chemistry, better attitude, some really good young talent.  They have better goaltending—and still have Pronger.

24. A year ago (less, actually) I thought the Rangers really didn’t have that much.  But they played hard, blocked shots all year long, and even though Gaborik was often invisible, they were very hard to beat.  I think they will make more strides forward this year and will challenge to win the East.  Of course, I was wrong about them last year.

25. I’ll make my annual statement (not a prediction) that the Wings will take a step back.  I will likely be wrong again.

Hey, it's the end of August.  I may be off on a lot of the above.  Just my gut instincts, I guess.

What matters is what happens when the games start to count.  And we're not that far off now.


  1. My pre-season prediction record is spotty at best, but...

    1) I think the step-up will have to come from someone like Kulemin, or Bozak - a player who's already had some experience but who has another level to get to. And I hope Gustavsson rebounds (that's not a good verb for a goalie, is it?)

    2) Per Gustavsson above, is this the year for Rynnas or Scrivens to move up? I think we'll see one of them.

    3-6) Agreed. It's always painful to watch a player try and wring one more season out of a career that's pretty much been squeezed dry.

    7) I won't be surprised if Vancouver is in the final again. And I think last season's disappointment will translate into victory this season - unless they meet Tampa Bay.

    8) I'm thinking Crosby is done. If he comes back, his career will be ended by the next concussion, which will occur within a year.

    9) I like the Winnipeg good vibes, too - I hope they make it into the playoffs, just to stoke the fires further. But I hate their new logo!

    10) Going back to point #1, I think it's possible this is the year Kessel really catches fire. (I have to add that I think Lupul is going to be a great partner for him.)

    11) Agreed. Phil is a crafty playmaker as well as scorer. If he can have two line mates who are on the same page, look out.

    12) Only those who think they've got a shot at a Cup in the near future!

    15) It feels like Edmonton has one more year in the wilderness, to me.

    16) Agreed.

    17) Hmm... the Devils looked pretty good in the second half, as did Kovalchuk. I wouldn't count them out quite yet.

    18-19) Yep.

    20-25) I look for the Sabres to improve, the Rangers to drop, the Flyers to be top 8, the Wings to stall. Can't wait for the season to start!