Saturday, September 29, 2007

Preview of the NHL Season- Northeast Division

Ottawa Senators:

Strengths: The Senators boast one of the league's elite collection of scoring firepower, including Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson....The defense remains strong as well. Anton Volchenkov, in particular, provided outstanding play last season and Chris Phillips' steady presence makes this unit particularly hard to beat....Ray Emery proved to be one of the top ten goaltenders last season and is line to have another fine year.

Weaknesses: Wade Redden's play late in the year was a cause for concern as it will if it continues this season....Emery has already sustained an injury in the preseason. His health is paramount to Ottawa's chances of making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals....The team needs to address Dany Heatley's pending free agency status sooner rather than later before it becomes a locker room distraction.

Prediction: 1st in Northeast

Buffalo Sabres:

Strengths: Ryan Miller has proven himself to be among the elite netminders in the league....Buffalo has one of the best rosters comprised of young talent in the NHL. Maxim Afenigenov, Drew Stafford, Tim Connolly and Brian Campbell could all eventually develop into perennial All-Stars....Coach Lindy Ruff had the team playing consistently hard all of last season and there's no reason to think that will change.

Weaknesses: The Sabres were arguably hit the hardest of any team in the league by Free Agent defections this past summer, losing Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and Dainus Zubrus among others. Their contributions will be very hard to replace....Recurring injuries continue to thwart the development of many Buffalo's players....The downside of a having such a young squad is that Veteran leadership is an issue. Someone needs to step up in the locker room and motivate the team when they are behind.

Prediction: 2nd in Northeast Division

Toronto Maple Leafs:

Strengths: This team has already proven they have no problems putting the puck in the net. They bolstered that attribute even further by signing Jason Blake, who scored 40 goals last year for the Islanders....The defense has stepped up and provided a steadier presence, unlike years past. With players like Carlo Colaiacovo and Stefan Kromwell, the Leafs have good core to build from....Toronto signed Vesa Toskala in the offseason, hoping the Finnish goalie will continue his development toward becoming an all star netminder.

Weaknesses: The Leafs Front Office seems to lack a cohesive plan on how to build this team. Their indecision has led to tumult and an unbalanced lineup in recent years....Though Andrew Raycroft recorded 37 wins last season, he lets up too many soft goals. If Toskala does not prove to be the answer in net, the Leafs will find themselves without a reliable goaltender for a stretch run....Toronto has too many players on their roster who play a reckless game and lack discipline for periods of time (Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker are two who come to mind.)

Prediction: 3rd in Northeast Division

Montreal Canadians:

Strengths: The Canadians are solid between the pipes. Cristobal Huet, Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price form a trio that incredible amounts of potential....Montreal has several budding talents in their system on the Offensive front as well. Players like Guillaume Latendresse and Andrei Kostitsyn should continue their development this season....Andrei Markov also has the ability to bloom eventually into an All Star.

Weaknesses: The Canadians lost a big source of scoring when Sheldon Souray left the team to go to Edmonton....Montreal signed Roman Hamrlik and Brian Smolinski during Free Agency, but neither player will have a tremendous impact on the team's fortunes and will eat up valuable cap space....The chemistry in the locker room has not been right for awhile and the current roster seems to fold under the immense pressure from the Montreal media. They lack a few strong voices to right the ship.

Prediction: 4th in the Northeast Division

Boston Bruins:

Strengths- The Bruins have possibly the league's most underrated center in Marc Savard. He put up 96 points last season....Phil Kessel came out on top with his battle against cancer and has a load of potential. this could be a big year for him....The Bruins acquired Manny Fernandez to stabilize their situation in goal. Fernandez combined with Niklas Backstrom last season to win the Jennings Trophy.

Weaknesses- Beyond Zdeno Chara, there is very little else to boast about in the Bruins Defensive Corps....Claude Julien takes over the coaching reins. There has been some doubt expressed about his ability to galvanize the dressing room into a cohesive unit....An injury to Fernandez, who has never played more than 55 games in a season in his career, would leave the Bruins with considerably less talented goaltending options and would likely doom their season.

Prediction: 5th in Northeast

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