Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Northeast Division

Northeast Division preview

Buffalo - The Sabres might be the most well-balanced team in the league which should allow them to battle Ottawa for the division title. There are no stars on their defense, but it is solid one through six, and also possesses a good blend of scoring touch and defensive play. Brian Campbell could quietly put up 50 points this year. In goal, Ryan Miller appears to be the starter, but Martin Biron is behind him should he falter, at least until Buffalo finds a team to trade him to. Up front it is much the same as on the blueline, four capable lines, all of whom can put the puck in the net. The only notable omission is JP Dumont, but Thomas Vanek is in his second year now and should pick up the slack. Daniel Briere also missed half of the regular season injured, so if he's healthy all year he should be good for 80 points. After the experience gained during last year's post season run, where the Sabres nearly knocked off Carolina while greatly depleted by injuries, this Sabres team looks to be Buffalo's best chance in a long time to win their first Stanley Cup.

Ottawa - The Senators once again come into a season with their eyes set on finally winning the Stanley Cup. They may have let their best chance slip away last year, as Zdeno Chara signed with Boston and Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski were traded. Ottawa still has a dynamic scoring line with Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, but the supporting cast is younger and less dangerous than in past years. On defense it is a similar story with Wade Redden and Chris Phillips providing a solid top pairing. The rest of the defense has tons of potential, but having four other players with three or fewer NHL seasons could backfire at times. The one area that Ottawa has improved is goaltending. Martin Gerber was signed as a free agent after leading Carolina to a division title. The only problem is that he imploded in the playoffs before Cam Ward took over, though it is said that he was suffering from the flu. Ottawa is still a contender but usually teams win when they're at their peak, and Ottawa appears to be past that peak.

Boston - The Bruins could be a darkhorse pick this year after being rebuilt in the off season. The biggest acquisition was that of defenseman Zdeno Chara which instantly solidifies the back end. Brad Stuart and Paul Mara will provide support, so the Bruins just need to hope that their other young defensemen can play adequately. Up front the Bruins should be more offensive minded with Patrice Bergeron and another free agent, Marc Savard. Wingers like Brad Boyes, who quietly had a breakout season with 70 points in his first full NHL year, Glen Murray, and rookie Phil Kessel should make Boston back into the higher scoring team they were before Joe Thornton was traded. The only question mark is in goal. The Bruins seem ready to go with Hannu Toivonen as the starter after he had a respectable rookie season last year. Tim Thomas, who came out of nowhere last season and got Boston back into the playoff hunt will be a good plan B as long as last year wasn't a fluke. The Bruins should be in the fight for a playoff position this year.

Montreal - The Canadiens could enter this season without captain Saku Koivu as he is pondering retirement after a high stick to the eye knocked him out of last year's playoffs. They still have other players capable of scoring, but Koivu would be a tough loss. Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Samsonov, and Mike Ribeiro cna put up points, but as a whole the forward crop is a very soft bunch and is susceptable to being puched around by bigger, tougher opponents, though that is less of a problem in the current NHL than in years past. On defense Montreal needs a rebound year from Sheldon Souray and continued offensive production from Andrei Markov. After those two is a collection of workmanlike defenders who should be capable of holding the fort if they play consistently. The Habs also hope for Cristobal Huet to show that last season wasn't a fluke. If he had played all of last season as the starter, he would have been a Vezina candidate. David Aebischer is behind him in case he falters. Like Boston, expect Montreal to be fighing for one of the final playoff spots.

Toronto - The Leafs might have addressed their problematic defense by overpaying free agents Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill, and with McCabe and Kaberle they should have a high scoring blueline, but the unit could still be lacking in their own zone. That means they will probably need to be bailed out by Andrew Raycroft, acquired from Boston. If he returns to his Calder-trophy form of 2003-04 he should be capable of that, but if his plays like last year the Leafs will be in trouble. Up front the Leafs still have some big names, but Mats Sundin, Mike Peca, and Jeff O'Neill are all on the downside of their careers and the latter two are coming off terrible seasons. That leaves Darcy Tucker and sophomores Alex Steen and Kyle Wellwood with a burden that's probably larger than they can handle. If the Leafs get big seasons out of a few guys and Raycroft plays well thay might have a chance at the playoffs, but all of that happening at once seems unlikely and they will probably be drafting in the top 10.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Atlantic Division Preview

Preview for the NHL's Atlantic Division:

Philadelphia - The Flyers traditionally rely on grit as much as skill, and they appear to have taken the same approach this year. The top line of Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne, and Mike Knuble is a good blend of skill and toughness, though Forsberg typically misses a month or two injured. Keith Primeau's retirement left a hole at center, but Mike Richards and Petr Nedved should be able to pick up some of the slack. The defense lacks firepower after Joni Pitkanen, but Mike Rathje, Denis Gauthier, and Derian Hatcher are usually reliable in their own end. As usual, there is a goaltending controversy in the Flyer net, with both Robert Esche and Antero Niitymaki battling for the starters job. The Flyers should be a threat to win the division as usual, but after 31 years, the fans want to see the Cup drought end.

NY Rangers - It looks like GM Glen Sather realised that his team was too soft after, as could be predicted, his Euros led by Jaromir Jagr were swept in the opening round of last season's playoffs. He signed Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen, and Aaron Ward. All Stanley Cup winners who add some grit and toughness as well as skill. With Jagr, Straka, and young Petr Prucha to supply offense, the Rangers should not have a problem scoring goals. The defense isn't flashy, but under-rated Marek Malik, Michal Rozsival, and company get the job done. (However, it remains to be seen if power play quarter-back Tom Poti's 3 goals will be missed) As long as Henrik Lundqvist avoids the sophomore jinx, the Rangers' goaltending will be fine and they will battle Philadelphia for the division title.

New Jersey - As it stands right now, the Devils might actually the best team in the Atlantic Division, but due to salary cap problems they will be forced to trade away a couple of good players for draft picks. One of, or possibly even two of Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, John Madden, Colin White, and Bryan Rafalski will have to be dumped unless GM Lou Lamoriello can find takers for Alex Mogilny and Dan McGillis who are making several million dollars a year to play in the minors. But as long as they have Martin Brodeur in the nets they have a chance. Patrik Elias will be fully healthy to start the season this year, and guys like Jamie Langenbrunner and Sergei Brylin lead an abundance of quality second and third liners. Paul Martin and David Hale should be fixtures on the blueline for years to come, and are both coming into their own to compliment Rafalski and White. Regardless of who gets traded, the Devils should still have a good chance at making the playoffs.

Pittsburgh - Sidney Crosby and the Penguins could surprise some people this year. With Corsby they have a legitimate Art Ross candidate, and if he lives up to all the hype, Evgeni Malkin should be the front runner for the Calder Trophy. Other young players like Erik Christensen, Colby Armstrong, and Ryan Malone have the potential to put up decent numbers. Veterans John LeClair and Mark Recchi are on their last legs, but can still provide leadership to the rookies. On defense Sergei Gonchar, for all of his shortcomings, can still put up 60 points. The younf trio of Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, and Noah Welch should be good down the road if not already, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has consistenly improved. The Penguins might not quite have what it takes to make the playoffs, but dont be surprised if they give some teams a run for their money.

NY Islanders - After a few steps in the right direction, the duo of owner Charles Wang and GM/President or whatever title you want to give Mike Milbury has run the franchise back into the ground. The hiring of Neil Smith as GM was a good decision, but unfortunately he was unwilling to be Milbury's puppet and was replaced by Garth Snow, who quickly signed goaltender Rick DiPietro to an assanine 15 year contract. Now that ensures that the Islanders will be solid in the nets this year, but if DiPietro falters they're stuck with him. Speaking of huge contracts, Alexei Yashin is now half way through his 10 year deal and has yet to put up numbers similar to his time in Ottawa. Mike York, Jason Blake, Trent Hunter, and Miro Satan can score as well, but overall they lack firepower upfront (unless Yashin and Satan actually show up to play, which generally isn't the case). The defense was a sore spot last year but has been improved with the acquisitions of free agents Brendan Witt and Tom Poti. There are some bright spots, but as a whole things seem to be once again going down the toilet on the island.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


NHL Previews

Hockey season is almost upon us again. After last year's surprises (Edmonton, Anaheim, Carolina, and Buffalo comprising the final four) it is tough to speculate on who's going to do well this year. For all anybody knows it could be Pittsburgh and Cloumbus playing for the Cup in June. Nonetheless, I'll give my predictions for each team, and probably wonder what I was thinking by Christmas.

Pacific Division:

San Jose - The Sharks might have won this division last season if they had Joe Thornton to begin the season. The Hart Trophy winner will team with Rocket Richard winner Jonathan Cheechoo and newcomer Mark Bell to form one of hockey's top lines. Patrick Marleau should be good for 80 points as the second line center, and he'll be flanked by emerging Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek. Goaltending is solid whether it's Vesa Toskola or Evgeni Nabokov, and one of them could be traded to improve other areas of the roster. The only potential concern could be the defence, which will have four players with 105 or fewer NHL games, leaving Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren as the veterans. The Sharks can definately ride the Thornton-Cheechoo combination to the top of the division, and possibly make a run at the Stanley Cup, unless somebody's checking line can figure out how to neutralize them.

Anaheim - Last year the Ducks were similar to San Jose, in the fact that they started slow and got on a roll later in the season which ended up in lengthy playoff drive. JS Giguere and Ilya Brzgalov will provide a great 1-2 punch in net until one of them (most likely Giguere) gets dealt, which Brian Burke will probably do to makle improvements up front. The Ducks are deep at center with under-rated Andy McDonald leading the way, and they have a good collection of young wingers that started coming into their own last year. The question is whether or not Teemu Selanne will remain a top scorer after last year's surprise season. But Anaheim's strength is no doubt on defence where they can have one of Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger on the ice at all times, if they choose to play them separately. It is almost unprecendented for one team to have arguably the two best defenders in the game at the same time. This makes the Ducks a legitimate Stanley Cup threat.

Dallas - The Stars won the division last year, but almost everything went right for them, until the playoffs of course, where the Avalanche embarassed them in a 5-game upset. Expect a setback this year. The Stars will still battle for a playoff spot, but Marty Turco will need another strong season. Mike Modano and Eric Lindros could provide a great 1-2 punch at center, but Modano is 36 and Lindros will almost certainly get injured. Brenden Morrow, Jere Lehtinen, and others provide decent depth on the wings. The defence is workmanlike, with an abudance of solid defensive d-men to compliment offensive-minded Sergei Zubov who had 71 points last season, but is also 36 years old and could slow down. Overall the Stars are well rounded, but having to battle the Sharks and Ducks eight times a piece could leave them on the playoff bubble.

Phoenix - Gretz's boys should be better than last season, but will still be in tough to make the playoffs. The defence is solid with free agent Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, and Nick Boynton as the top three. Up front they will rely on Shane Doan and, if he can stay healthy, Ladislav Nagy to turn in 80 point seasons. Steve Reinprecht and Mike Comrie will offer support, but old timers Owen Nolan and Jeremy Roenick are definately gambles. In goal Curtis Joseph had a rebound season in 05-06, but at 39 years old, it's hard to say if he can carry it over into this year. If the old boys can all have renaisance campaigns, a playoff spot is within reach. But when it's all said and done, Wayne and the boys will probably be hitting golf balls come April.

Los Angeles - The Kings are interesting in the sense that they appear to be in rebuilding mode with youngsters Patrick O'Sullivan and Anze Kopitar set to jump into the NHL, as well as Alexander Frolov, Mike Cammalleri, and Dustin Brown in the under 25 crop. They also brought in a new coach (Mark Crawford) and new GM (Dean Lombardi) and traded away Pavol Demitra. But they also signed Rob Blake on defense and brought in goalie Dan Cloutier, aparently set to abandon the platoon system between youngsters Mathieu Garon and Jason LaBarbera. They also inexplicably brought back disruptor Sean Avery after kicking him off the team last April. The Kings have some pieces in place, but scoring could be a problem with Craig Conroy and Eric Belanger as the top two pivots. The defense should be a decent group, especially if Lubomir Visnovsky can duplicate his 67 points. But like the Coyotes, the Kings probably need too much to go right for them to end up in the post-season.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Eskimos Playoff Drive

The Eskimos enter the final two months of the CFL season in unfamiliar territory. They are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, something that has not occured since the early 1970s. While all other teams in the league have come to expect their clubs to miss out on the post season at least once in a while, such is not the case in Edmonton.

A lot of people are suggesting that "well, you know they ought to miss after all this time, that's OK." But in reality, it's not OK. Acceptance of failure only fosters a tradition of losing. The fact that there is such a high level of accountability in Edmonton has contributed to the great streak of success. There should be no rebuilding seasons in a league where 6 out of 8 make the playoffs, retooling is what the offseason is for. When the fans allow years of patience for a team to get its act together the result is enevitably a situation like that in Saskatchewan. Several years of last place finishes followed by slow improvements that yielded a competitive team, but one which has yet to reach the Grey Cup. When a .500 record is repeatedly met with approval, there's no pressure to improve the team into a Grey Cup champion. Why mess with a team that the fans will show up and see even if they have little hope of winning the Grey Cup?

If Edmonton fails to mount a charge into the playoffs, you can be sure there will be changes within the organization. The most obvious will be the dismissal of coach Danny Maciocia. It doesn't matter that his team won the Grey Cup last year, the fact is that him and his players have bumbled to a 4-7 record, and the coach should take the fall with them, especially considering that he is largely responsible for a pair of last-second defeats. In any other market Maciocia would have likely earned himself a mulligan or two by winning it all, but in Edmonton it comes back to the accountability factor, and the unwillingness to accept failure, even for one season. Tom Higgins was gassed after winning the Grey Cup and then being bounced from the playoffs early on the next year. Of course, there is still a resonable chance for the Eskimos to find themselves on the field in November. A pair of games with the Tiger-Cats is forthcoming, and that should yield a pair of victories, which would pull the team close to Saskatchewan. They also play the Roughriders twice more, meaning that they still control their own destiny, so all hope should not be lost.



Here's a link to my most recent Hockey's Future article. It focusses on St. Louis Blues training camp. http://hockeysfuture.com/article.php?sid=9029&mode=threaded&order=0

Saturday, September 02, 2006


NFC West

NFC West Preview

Seattle: Last year's Super Bowl runner-up should be almost a lock to win their division for a third straight year. Most of the key players are back, while WR Nate Burleson improves an already solid corps. QB Matt Hasselbeck is in his prime, as is Shaun Alexander who should rush for between 1500 and 2000 yards. Darrell Jackson shold be Hasselbeck's go-to target. The defense is also very well rounded, with lineman Grant Wistrom, LB Lofa Tatupu and a deep and skilled secondary. The biggest challenge for the Seahawks will be to stay focussed and avoid the curse of being the Super Bowl loser who has had a disastrous follow-up campaign in recent years. Curse or not, Seattle should be able to win their division with ease. 12-4

Arizona: Their may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for Arizona after several losing seasons. Coach Dennis Green has built up a solid defense while also compiling a worthy offense. Oddly enough Arizona ranked in the top ten in both total ofense and defense, yet somehow managed to finish 5-11 by finding ways to lose games. Veteran QB Kurt Warner will start the season and provide tutilege to first round pick QB Matt Leinart. The running game was greatly improved with the signing of Edgerrin James, but the O-line could be a concern. WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald provide a dangerous combo. If Arizona performs up to expectations they have a decent shot at the playoffs, especially with a forgiving schedule. 9-7

St. Louis: Once a force in the NFC, the Rams fell to 6-10 last yearand replaced head coach Mike Martz with Scott Linehan. The Rams always based their gameplan around an explosive offense, and should still score plenty of points. Underrated QB Marc Bulger should provide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce with plenty of TD passes. Young RB Steven Jackson could have a big year now that he's the undisputed number one back with veteran Marshall Faulk aleady out for the season with a knee injury, his great career probably over. The defense will be the main concern. It was far from great last season, and has only gotten worse. The Rams offense still makes them tough at home on their artificial turf, but on the road they could struggle mightily. 6-10

San Francisco: The once proud 49ers will probably find themselves in the basement again this year. Unofrtunately for them, this year could be even worse than last year's 4-12 campaign. Young QB Alex Smith, first overall pick in 2005, will have the reigns for the first time, but the cast around him will make his development difficult. RB Kevan Barlow is gone, and while he is far from great, he was still the best San Francisco had to offer. Untested Frank Gore is now the main man in teh backfield. This year's first round pick, TE Vernon Davis will likely be Smith's go-to target. The defense was lousy last season, and again there appears to be no noticable improvment. The fact that they will be kept on the field often while the offense struggles will not help. 3-13


NFC East

NFC East Preview

New York: An excellent performance by Eli Manning last year, his first as teh Giants' starting QB, spurred them on to a division title, but they quickly came apart in the playoffs in an embarassing shut-out loss at home to Carolina. The opportunity might be now for the Giants however, as RB Tiki Barber had an MVP-type campaign last year, but is over 30 years old, meaning he could lose a step very quickly. The pass and catch combo of Manning to Plaxico Burress was one of the NFL's best last year, while Amonte Toomer and Jeremy Shockey provide depth. The defensive secondary was a weakness last year, but New York hopes they've improved it by bringing is veterans R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison. The defenseive end combo of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora should be feared by all opposing offenses. 10-6

Philadelphia: Now that the mess of Terrell Owens and last season is behind them, a healthy Donovan McNabb should be able to lead the Eagles back into the playoff hunt. The Eagles recently acquired Donte Stallworth to improve the receiving corps, but fellow WR Todd Pinkston has been released after requesting a trade. That leaves the Eagles thin at receiver, while RB Bryan Westbrook is only average. On defense the Eagles are good, with a great secondary and DE Javon Kearse. That should provide a counter-balance for a sub-par offense and give the Eagles a chance at the post season. 8-8

Washington: The Redskins made it back to the post-season last year, and should be competitive again this season. The defense was top-10 in the league and should be solid again this year. Shawn Springs and Adam Archuleta will anchor the secondary. The offense could be more of a concern however. QB Mark Brunell had a career-high 23 TD passes last year, with his go-to receiver Santana Moss having a career year of his own. But at 35 and with a history of injuries a repeat performance from Brunell might not be in the cards. RB Clinton Portis is one of the NFL's best and a repeat 1500 yard season is certainly attainable, but the question is whether or not it will be enough to carry the offense. 8-8

Dallas: After acquring WR Terrell Owens, hopes are high for the Cowboys. The team that went 9-7 last year remains largely intact. The defense should remain decent and take some heat off of Drew Bledsoe and the rest of the offense. RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber provide a good ground attack. But naturally the focus is going to be on Owens. He's arguably the league's best receiver, put is with his third team in four years thanks to his poor attitude. He was the main reason behind his former team Philadelphia's poor showing last year, and has already caused disruptions in Cowboys training camp and been fined $10 000 by the team. Expect a strong start by Dallas, but QB Bledsoe has always been mistake prone, and by mid-season T.O. will probably be fed up with him or somebody else and quit on the team. 7-9


NFC South

NFC South preview

Carolina: The Panthers will be tested by the other teams in a tough NFC South division, but are the favorite to come out on top, and many people are suggesting they may represent the NFC at the Super Bowl in February. They are anchored by one of the league's top defensive units, boasting a suberb line led by Julius Peppers, as well as strong linebacking and pass coverage units. On offense, Steve Smith and free-agent signee Keyshawn Johnson should be a great one-two punch. The running game should also be reliable with incumbent DeShaun Foster and first round draft pick DeAngelo Williams. The only area of uncertainty could be at QB. Jake Delhomme has shown that he can be spectacular one week, but dreadful the next. When he's playing up to his capabilities, this years Panthers may be nearly unstoppable. 12-4

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers surprised many by jumping up and winning the division last year. Coach John Gruden's teams always play hard-nosed football, and this year's Bucs team will be no different. The defense is tough, which at least gives Tampa Bay a chance to win most games. DE Simeon Rice is one of the best in the business, and leads a solid front seven. On offense, expect second year RB Cadillac Williams to see plenty of action. A strong year from him could take some pressure off QB Chris Simms, who established himself as the starter last year, but is young and still has ups and downs. Receivers Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway also need to turn in strong performances. 9-7

Atlanta: The Falcons surprisingly missed the playoffs last year, edged out by Carolina and the resurgent Buccaneers. They have made upgrades though, especially on defense where John Abraham and Lawyer Milloy expected to bolster a defense that wasn't all that bad to begin with. RB Warrick Dunn should have more touches this year after TJ Duckett was dealt for receiver Ashley Lelie. Vick will also have TE Algie Crumpler as a target, as well as Brian Finneran once he ruturns from a pre-season injury. But the Falcons success will be a direct result of what Vick can do with the cast around him. He's an increbible athlete, quite possibly the NFL's faster runner, but he has continuously struggled with the passing game. 8-8

New Orleans: The Saints will at least start out with a chance at a successful season this year, as opposed to last when a Hurricane esentially forced them to play the entire season on the road. They drafted RB Reggie Bush, who has tremendous game-breaking ability, to team with Deuce MacAllister in the backfield. The Saints also improved themselves at QB by bringing in Drew Brees. With Joe Horn at receiver, the offense should be respectable, but they'll need to be excellent on most days for the Saints to win, thanks to a defense that could be picked apart by opponents. A winning record is unlikely, but the Saints have put some building blocks in piece for the future. 5-11


NFC North

NFC North preview

Chicago: The Bears are easily the class of the division. They have arguably the NFL's best defense, meaning they can grind out lots of low scoring wins. Linebacker Brian Urlacher is the leader of the defense, and is a run-stopping force out on the field. The offense will probably be commanded by QB Rex Grossman, who was injured for most of last year but returned at the end of the season. His performance was questionable as the Bears lost their only playoff game. Muhsin Muhammad is Chicago's only noteworthy receiver, but the Bears do boast a good running attack with Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones sharing duties. 11-5

Detroit: Many people thought that the Lions would turn the corner last year and have a winning season, but instead they tanked it and coach Steve Mariucci got fired while QB Joey Harrington was cut loose. They brought in former Rams coach Mike Martz as offensive co-ordinator and journeyman QB Jon Kitna in hopes of righting the ship. The defense is suspect, so the Lions will need the offense to step up, and that means some better than average performances from key players. 7-9

Minnesota: The Vikings come into 2006 with a new look team. QB Brad Johnson, who started most of last year after former QB Daunte Culpepper was injured, will be in charge from the get-go, while the Vikings also have a new coach in Brad Childress. Johnson managed to get Minnesota back into the playoff hunt last year, but he is in his late 30's so it's uncertain how much gas he has left in teh tank. RB Chester Taylor is also a newcomer and needs to have a breakout season if the offense is going to succeed, due to a hopelessly thin receiving corps. The defense is solid thanks to their ability to intercept so many passes, but that wont be enough to make up for what could be a lacklustre offense. 6-10

Green Bay: Aging QB Brett Favre has decided to come back for one last kick at the can, but he may regret that decision by mid season when Green Bay is out of the playoff picture. The Packer defense has a few name players, but as a whole is not overly impressive. But the fact that the other three teams in their division look like they'll have lousy offenses could be a saving grace. RB Ahman Green should start the year healthy and is capable of big numbers, but fumbles far too frequently. With WRs Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson and tight end Bubba Franks, Favre should at least have a few reliable targets, but in recent years he has begun to throw more and more costly interceptions. 4-12

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