- John Buccigross, SportsCenter anchor
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In case you missed last week's column, we are looking back at my preseason predictions and player point projections as a way to evaluate all 30 teams and how they'll fare down the stretch. Last week, we checked out the Western Conference, where it appears I will get it right on seven of eight predictions. I will not be as prolific with my Eastern Conference picks as anywhere from five to seven could be correct.
The current player projections are their current actual pace, not a new projection. Here's the East in the order I picked them.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Preseason prediction: There is no logical reason why Martin St. Louis went from 94 points to 61 in the "new" NHL. If this team is refocused and makes a good deadline deal for a free agent-to-be and/or a defenseman, the Lightning should rebound to and regain membership in the Eastern Conference elite.
Preseason player projection: Vincent Lecavalier, 45-48-93. Current projection: 52-54-106.
Here and now: We had Vinny pegged for his first 40-goal season, and if he keeps up his pace, he will reach 50. There was no logic for why Martin St. Louis struggled last season. He is on pace for 100 points, as well. I like the Shane O'Brien pick up from Anaheim. He has good size and gives the Lightning some toughness in front of the net, just in time for the playoffs. Instead of taking a chance on a young defenseman in a draft, the Bolts acquire a player who is an asset right now. The Lightning can use that third-rounder from Anaheim to get some more playoff depth if they can stay under the cap. The Lightning need Curtis Joseph, or a similar upgrade in net, to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Preseason prediction: The Sabres should keep rolling this season with a young, fast team. Ryan Miller is the best goalie in the Northeast Division. Why they gave Tim Connolly a three-year contract and let Jay McKee go, I'll never know. I'm sure they saw the Hurricanes raising the Cup last June and said to themselves, "That could very well be us next June."
Preseason player projection: Chris Drury, 35-41-76. Current projection: 44-32-75.
Here and now: One point off on Drury isn't too shabby. We'll have to see how long he will be out. With all of the Sabres' injuries, they have to watch out for New Jersey taking over the East's No. 1 spot. But I think the Sabres will figure a way to get it done. As time passes, it seems more apparent this is the Sabres' year in the Eastern Conference. A special, magical year. If they can get and stay healthy, I just don't see anyone beating them. I don't see a need to make a deal here and I would keep Martin Biron.
3. New Jersey Devils
Preseason prediction: The Devils remain the best all-around team, and before they kiss their era goodbye and give way to the Penguins in years to come, they will win another division title this season.
Preseason player projection: Patrik Elias, 45-65-110. Current projection: 26-49-75.
Here and now: The Penguins will not continue their pace and the Devils will indeed win the Atlantic. The Devils are a legitimate Cup contender. They haven't scored many goals, but they clearly have good offensive players. I've always loved Elias, and my projection probably was made more with my heart than my head. A defenseman here would be a nice addition.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
Preseason prediction: They will be good again, but won't quite enjoy some of the career performances they received last season.
Preseason player projection: Rod Brind'Amour, 23-38-61. Current projection: 26-62-88.
Here and now: All of this power-play time has Rob the Bod's assist total higher than normal. He probably will set a career high in power-play assists this season. The Hurricanes had a magical 2005-06 season, but injuries, especially along the blue line, have made it difficult to get into any kind of rhythm. They have a nice roster of offensive players, and if they can tighten up the defense and get great goaltending, the Hurricanes will be team no one wants to face in the first round. Come playoff time, we know the Raleigh rink can be as loud as a Disturbed concert.
5. Ottawa Senators
Preseason prediction: When a team this good gets this close but still falls short in the end, I blame management. The Big Z is in Boston now, but the Sens are still a solid team.
Preseason player prediction: Dany Heatley, 55-55-110. Current Projection: 46-54-101.
Here and now: Ottawa is a strange team. The Sens don't have great goaltending. They have good speed. They are tough. They have some very good offensive players. They have an experienced coach and general manager. They score goals and their goals-against is very good. They just seem to be missing the mojo Buffalo has; maybe they can obtain that during the postseason. The Stanley Cup playoffs are a hypnotic experience that can shape, change and inspire players and teams. I don't underestimate what the experience of the playoffs can do to people.
6. New York Rangers
Preseason prediction: The style of Henrik Lundqvist is the only reason I'm picking this team to make the playoffs. I don't know if Jaromir Jagr is going to have the energy and health to carry this team this season. I probably should have picked the Rangers to miss the playoffs, but I'll ride the momentum and the Swedish stone wall in net and say they sneak in after a deadline trade.
Preseason player prediction: Brendan Shanahan, 39-46-85. Current projection: 37-34-71.
Here and now: I probably should have picked the Rangers to miss the playoffs. This team is dead. Shanahan is the heart and soul of the Rangers and now he's out for some time. The Columbus loss at home Saturday night was a killer. We've talked about their problems for more than two seasons: a lack of a strong second line, a lack of a mobile and creative defense. I'm sure they will throw the world at Daniel Briere this summer.
7. Atlanta Thrashers
Preseason prediction: Indifferent ownership obviously has caused a delay in the progress of what should be a playoff team. There are enough pieces in place for all of this to come together this season. The Thrashers can score enough and they should defend well enough to make the playoffs.
Preseason player prediction: Ilya Kovalchuk, 68-50-118. Current projection: 42-36-78.
Here and now: The Thrashers gave up a ton for Keith Tkachuk, who likely will not make that much of a difference with this team. But Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik are big-bodied veterans who give Atlanta a better chance come playoff time. If the Thrashers get great goaltending, they will be a dangerous playoff team. They have tons of toughness and jam. We'll see if they have the speed and skill.
8. Boston Bruins
Preseason prediction: I have to admit, I was talked into this by outside sources. There is a major depth issue here and still a bit of a question mark in net. My concern for Bruins fans: Where are they going to find the 30 additional goals they are going to need to make the playoffs?
Preseason player prediction: Phil Kessel, 32-33-65. Current projection: 11-13-24.
Here and now: Kessel's cancer derailed his season for a time, but he is back and flying again. He is top-flight talent. If he learns the little things about the game, he can be a top-line player. OK, I'll reveal my sources: Chicken Parm, a.k.a. Ray Ferraro, convinced me to put the Bruins in the top 8. I didn't want to do it, but I like what the Bruins are doing. The Marco Sturm signing was a good omen. I'm sure if Sturm turned down their $3.5 million per offer, the B's would have dealt him ($3.5 million for a 25-30-goal scorer is a good sign). The Bruins have to address goaltending over the summer. They should come back strong next season. The Bruins are not completely out of it, but I don't see them having the defensive-minded team to win the 15 or so games needed to make the top 8.
9. Florida Panthers
Preseason prediction: The Panthers do have an interesting mix of talent and a playoff berth is not out of the question. However, the old-age factor and the situation in net lead me to believe they will finish out of the picture.
Preseason player prediction: Todd Bertuzzi, 29-50-79. Current projection: BUST!
Here and now: Well, Bertuzzi did start out with a point-a-game average. The Roberto Luongo trade will set this franchise back a few years. They still should have been better, but the Panthers were awful on the road. I would strip as much salary as possible and try to get a goalie again. They'll never make the playoffs with their current netminders.
Preseason prediction: It's hunch time. Peter Forsberg's health is always an issue. The Flyers' blue line is hardly top shelf, and what to make of the goalies? My gut tells me that after 11 straight playoff appearances, there might be a one-season hiatus in Philadelphia.
Preseason player prediction: Jeff Carter, 36-31-67. Current projection: 15-25-40.
Here and now: They are doing well in their rebuilding. The Forsberg trade was a solid move. A couple of character guys and some more draft picks. The Flyers offered Forsberg a good contract, so fans can't blame the front office. Braydon Coburn is 22 and still not quite NHL-ready. Maybe a new start will accelerate his development. The Flyers are doing a good job of shedding payroll and positioning themselves for the draft and free agency.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs
Preseason prediction: This seems like an organization that is trying to do two things at once: Get younger and still appease people who pay those ridiculous ticket prices in the lower bowl.
Preseason player prediction: Mats Sundin, 39-50-89. Current projection: 34-41-75.
Here and now: Paul Maurice has done a good job of getting players to play better. The Leafs are not a great defensive team, they have so-so goaltending and a lot of average players around Sundin, Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle. I imagine they are looking to add some revenue from a playoff series or two. They still seem like a tweener team.
Preseason player prediction: Michael Ryder, 35-36-71. Current projection: 26-28-54.
Here and now: They couldn't keep both Sheldon Souray and Craig Rivet, and I think the Habs traded away the right guy (Rivet). Maybe Montreal will still trade Souray, but I don't know why. The Canadiens have a brutal schedule the rest of the way. I don't think they'll make the postseason after it seemed like they were a lock before a collapse started at the turn of the new year.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins
Preseason prediction: The Penguins are going to be much better than last season. They will win more than 10 road games and my heart tells me they can make a major jump.
Here and now: At 19, Crosby is unequivocally the best offensive player in the NHL. I saw him and his team in person versus the Islanders on President's Day and here are some observations: Crosby plays hockey and soccer at the same time. He controls the puck with his feet like no other player. His effort was "all out" every shift. In fact, the whole Penguins team had an energy that was surprising for an afternoon tilt. The Islanders matched it and won a thrilling one-goal game. I think the Penguins' issue is mostly their team defense. They were set up in a 1-2-2 trap, and because of a bad read by a couple of players, the Islanders ended up with a 2-on-1. Malkin is a monster talent with power and reach. I'd like to see him add 10 pounds of lower-body strength. He doesn't have the same concentration and inner-simmering rage like Crosby. That's a bit of an unfair comparison because Sid's legendary competitiveness is the foundation of his greatness. I disagree with people who say the Penguins should go crazy at the deadline. I would let all of these young players live through the experience together. Maybe add one veteran up front and in back, but not if it takes playing time away from the younger players.
14. Washington Capitals
Preseason prediction: Little scoring depth and a thin blue line will translate into another lottery pick for the Capitals. In the long term, that is a good thing.
Preseason player prediction: Alexander Ovechkin, 58-58-116. Current projection: 46-52-98.
Here and now: I would deal Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik and keep accumulating assets. It's painful, but it is the best over the long term. Another single-digit draft pick is what this organization needs. The lower the number, the better. Cap room plus high picks means playoffs real fast.
15. New York Islanders
Preseason prediction: Meanwhile, the Islanders will have the same problems as last season -- lack of scoring and a dicey defense.
Preseason player prediction: Alexei Yashin, 25-37-62. Current: 17-33-50.
Here and now: Of all the bubble teams, the Islanders have the best chance to make the playoffs because they are defensively sound. I think they will try to make a deal for a scorer if the price is right. They play good team defense and have an acrobatic goalie. If Rick DiPietro was a Bruin, Boston would be in the top 8. This team is very well coached. Their arena deal will costs millions, so making the playoffs will ease the pain. Any kind of drought or injury is the kind of span a bubble team can't afford, but the Islanders will get their share of ties, which keeps the meter ticking. A shootout win here, an unexpected hot streak here, and the Islanders can be in the postseason. I always root for my predictions. But in this case, I hope I am wrong and the Isles get in.
Scott Young played in 1,181 NHL games for six different organizations and seven different uniforms (Nordiques and Avalanche). The Massachusetts native finished with 342 goals and 414 assists. He was also a very solid playoff performer (44-43-87 in 144 postseason games). He scored at least one goal in his 14 playoff series. He was a strong straight-ahead skater who had a wicked one-timer. He retired after last season and turns 40 this October.
Question from John Buccigross: What's up with Scott Young these days?
Answer from Scott Young: Coaching one son at the Mite Major level, teaching my five-year-old how to skate and watching my daughter play basketball in Sterling, Mass. I'm also involved with a Web site called fasthockey.com. It's for players (ages 14-21) who want to be seen by coaches. Players build a profile and can even include a highlight video. It's meant to make the whole recruiting process easier for players, scouts and coaches. By building a huge data base of players, coaches can sort through players that they are looking for. If they want a big, left-handed shooting defenseman, they can find one quickly. It's great for the players because they get to go on for free and get exposed to coaches all over North America. It's like taking Facebook and bringing it into a hockey community. There is one group that is for Minnesota high school hockey. We have a kid on the site from Latvia and obscure parts of the United States. Division III schools don't have a budget for extensive travel, so we can be a real service to them.
Q: How do you teach you kids to shoot?
A: Quick release. You see kids with that real long, low wrist shot. In the early stages of development, that's fine, but soon thereafter, you want to get them into that mode of getting the shot off before the goalie is set. I shot a lot of pucks off of cement in my parents' basement and I think shooting off cement makes you stronger than shooting it off ice.
Q: Any regrets over your career?
A: No, not really. I took big risks in my career that were all based on that I felt I could play a bigger role. And it worked. I got moved to teams where I could play a much bigger role, and as a result, I had a much better NHL career. I had the guts to stand up for myself. It wasn't an easy thing to do at the time and it was risky, but I guess if you believe in yourself, you have to stand up and speak up. In fact, speaking up helped get me drafted where I got drafted in 1986. New Jersey called me to come up to their room for an interview the day before the draft. They were picking 24th overall. Well, I just woke up from a nap and was a little groggy. They told me the room number, but I didn't write it down and quickly forgot it. So, I knocked on a hotel room door that I thought was the right room number. I walk into the room and see all of these guys smoking cigars. I scan the room and see John Cunnif and I know he is with Hartford. They were a little confused, but invited me in. I know I was in the wrong room, but I just started talking to the Whalers brass as if this was a planned meeting.
Eventually, I got to the Devils' room, and after they caught wind of what I had just done, they were laughing through the whole meeting. There was no way they were drafting me now! [The Devils ended up taking Neil Brady third overall] Hartford, meanwhile, was so impressed with how I handled myself in the impromptu meeting, they ended up taking me 11th overall.
Tell us what you think about Chris Neil's hit and the Sabres' reaction as a whole. With so many of our guys out for a while, who do you like on the market that the Sabres might trade for? Do you think all the rookie forwards who are going to play a handful of games will be a good thing for this team's depth going into the playoffs? On a related note, you need to get a copy of legendary Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret's "Top Shelf" DVD. My roommates and I watch it before every Buffalo game to get pumped up.
St. Bonaventure University
I don't understand why a shoulder pad to the head is not equivalent to an elbow to the head. This is a hit that needs to be outlawed in the NHL. Chris Neil had plenty of time and space to make a decision on how to hit Chris Drury. That alone tells you the hit was a late hit. It was superfluous, unsportsmanlike and excessive. How many stories have we read of players being seriously hurt after hitting their heads on the ice? It is why USA Hockey now mandates all coaches wear helmets during practice.
The force of Drury's head hitting the ice was frightening. It could have killed him. We have situations and circumstances where injuries will occur during the course of a hockey game. We all know this going in. Part of the game's appeal and zest is its danger. The soul of the game might very well be the fear. The fear creates concentration. The fear creates chemicals in the body that result in a state of pleasure and ecstasy. Hockey, because of fear, is our Chemical Romance. Most NHL players don't play scared, but there is an underlying fear. This is good. For kids, it teaches them to overcome fear and pain and rise above. But there are instances that cross the line. The reason why the NFL mandates a strict policy against helmet-to-helmet shots is because quarterbacks and receivers are DEFENSELESS. They can't defend themselves while attempting to perform their task.
The NHL needs to implement this standard NOW. Hitting defenseless players in the head with shoulder pads is hockey's equivalent to helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL. In Drury's case, it is even more dangerous because of the whiplash effect of the brain slamming into the wall of the skull. It might be difficult for NHL officials to see some of these hits throughout the course of a game. I would not put too much pressure on them.
But, after the fact, there are hits that can be reviewed. A review can see if players had intent. It is a fast game with collisions. Those collisions are thrilling and exciting. But when a player is hit two seconds after he shoots or passes the puck, like Drury or Paul Kariya in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, these hits are unnecessary because the intent is clearly to injure.
In studying Brian Campbell's hit on R.J. Umberger in last season's playoffs, Campbell was anticipating Umberger receiving the pass on the breakout. He was making the right play. His left foot was planted on the ice as he set to hit Umberger. Because Umberger missed the breakout pass and was lunging forward to gather in the puck, he lowered his body. As a result, Campbell's shoulder pad caught a lot of Umberger's head. But I would not have penalized Campbell. He was planning on hitting Umberger in the torso. The late move made it a head hit. The NHL can look at hits in this way.
The NFL still has hard hits, the hardest hits in its history, because of the speed and athleticism of its players. The NHL still will have big hits. But the NHL and NHLPA need to work together and figure out the difference between a hockey-play hit and a superfluous hit. Neil should have received a two-game suspension. Again, I wouldn't put pressure on the on-ice officials unless the hit is as clear as day.
How great would it be for the league to start every year with the Original Six playing each other, plus a fourth game involving the reigning Stanley Cup champs? This way, the league can showcase the present with the past.
Tan H. Do
It's called marketing, people. How cool would it be to have a triple-header in Toronto on the first Saturday night of the season? Bring back all the old players. Yes, the Original Six doesn't resonate with the new fan, but showing reverence to it by implementing a little modern marketing would not be difficult. With its rich history, the NHL has an advantage over a lot of its market-share rivals. It needs to balance the new with the old. The Original Six does mean something to my generation, which will live another 50 years, or more. You need to entertain and inspire us, as well.
There has been talk lately of changing how many points are awarded for a win with various plans being discussed. My suggestion would be this: two points for a win in regulation, one point for an overtime/shootout win. Things still stay simple, teams will have incentive to win in regulation and no points for a losing team. The point differential in each game would actually stay the same. What do you think?
Personally, I would be for an all or nothing, winner-take-all (two points) system. Your point does make some sense. But I feel like a kid when I watch a hockey game, and when I was a kid, I would get physically depressed when the game passed the 10-minute mark of the second period. It was then I knew the game was halfway over. I would get a knot in my stomach and prayed the rest of the day the game would take forever. I took in every second of the experience. If the current point system means more ties, then it doesn't bother me. It means more hockey.
I know you're a big proponent of making the nets bigger and increasing goal totals to make the game more exciting. But anyone who watched the Devils/Rangers game last night will tell you games don't have to be high-scoring to be exciting. No one left the Meadowlands last night without getting their money's worth. Fast pace, great goaltending, defensive heroics and physical play are all thrilling elements of the game, too. Hockey is more than goals, my man. The NHL doesn't need bigger nets. It needs a new commissioner. It's no coincidence the NHL's downward spiral coincides with his hiring.
My point on bigger nets is not that increased goal scoring will make the game instantly more exciting. It may make it fairer and a coach's approach may be different if offense is rewarded more than defense. The offense needs to have the advantage in the entertainment business.
Another great tactic for getting your kid into the game for free is to carry him in your arms while he pretends he's asleep on your shoulder. Nobody says a word because they don't want to "disturb him." This tactic has proven successful several times at the Garden in Boston.
Note to self: Give Jack three shots of NyQuil prior to entering Canucks-Red Wings game.
I'm a former Minnesota Wild employee. When I was with the company, any child over the age of 2 was supposed to have a ticket for their seat. I have no idea how this was enforced, since babies usually don't make it down to the DMV often, but that was the rule.
A 3-year-old has to buy a $120 ticket? You'll see kids all over Minnesota knocking out their classmates' teeth to get enough from the tooth fairy to see a Wild game.
Thanks for taking the time to interview Tommy Haines and focus the attention on the outdoor rinks. I agree that there is something "magical" about playing the game on a frozen lake or pond. That said, my U.S. Pond Hockey Championship team -- the Woodhill Trespassers (two years, 7-1 record) -- would like to know when we can include you on our roster for the greatest sports tournament played outdoors?! I'd be willing to argue that what Bob Mould was to Husker Du, John Buccigross is to the W.T. Make it happen!
Can't wait for the documentary!
Go to www.PONDHOCKEYMOVIE.com. Check it out. It will be special.
I was reading your article last week and saw the suggestion of eliminating short-handed icing and wanted to tell you that USA Hockey is current using Massachusetts as a pilot program for this exact rule this year. I ref peewee and below and I think this rule is horrible! It completely kills any chance of getting the puck out of your end for any time longer than a few seconds as the other team clears the zone. And with a 5-on-3, forget it. I've also heard other refs say that this rule is probably going to go through for all of USA Hockey.
I'm against this measure. I enjoy a good icing on a penalty kill.
Regarding the worst trades ever, here are two that I can easily think of:
In 1992, trading Dominik Hasek to Buffalo for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth-round pick. Granted, the pick gave the Hawks Eric Daze, but I find that to be more sheer luck than anything. And the Hawks trading away Phil Esposito. I wasn't even alive then and that trade still has my head shaking. Thanks again for your time and efforts and I hope you have a great day. Please send my regards to Ken and Mrs. Otter.
Ken is, and always will be, single.
How about Montreal trading John Kordic to Toronto for Russ Courtnall? That HAS to be the worst trade of all (or best if you are a Habs fan like me. :)
Yellowknife Northwest Territories
• Boston Garden for whatever-it's-called-today Garden: Bad trade.
• Chicago Stadium for what-it's-called-today Center: Bad trade.
• No two-line passing for two-line passing: Good trade.
• The organ for a loud Creed song: Bad trade.
As a Sabres fan, it scares me to think the Sabres could lose both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency at the end of the year. The Sabres have a policy where they do not negotiate any contracts during the season. Much to my chagrin. Philadelphia is rumored to be interested in both players and will make a push for them when free agency starts. In your opinion, do you think they will test the market and take the big bucks, or stay with a winning team and take a home town discount? Both players seem very happy here and I can't imagine they would go to a rebuilding team for more money when I can picture both of their jerseys being raised to the rafters in HSBC Arena someday.
This summer, either Drury or Briere will sign the most lucrative contracts on this planet. It will enable them to accumulate enough money to relieve all worries for themselves and their families. They both will be offered large contracts by desperate GMs. We'll see one of those crazy six-year deals. Five years for $30 million is the over-under for Drury and Briere as the cap continues to somehow rise. Buffalo will be able to afford one of them, but not both, primarily because of the length of the contract they will receive elsewhere. This is sad for the fan, but these are men with dreams. Who knows, maybe, they both will sign and stay. I don't know. Enjoy every moment, cut out every box score, record every chapter in this long season. Because if it ends with a happy ending, you'll remember it for the rest of your lives. And if every player on the team left after this season, you would still have that feeling. You really will. I would hope and pray for that.
I love your column and I read it religiously every Monday. Hockey is a religion in our family. My sons -- Max, 7, and Jack, 6 -- play mite and mini-mite hockey in Town of Tonawanda. They also play street hockey (they had an extended family game on a balmy Christmas Day), knee hockey, table-top hockey, air hockey, bubble hockey, and when all else fails, hockey with a wadded up napkin. Max always does the Rick Jeanneret play-by-play and has "Top shelf, where momma hides the cookies!" down cold. This picture is from our Christmas card. GO SABRES!
A proud hockey momma,
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Buccigross isn't afraid to look back at his East predictions, but he isn't very happy about that Chris Drury hit.