NHL Preview: An Early Look at Five Top Teams

NHL Preview: An Early Look at Five Top Teams

NHL Preview: An Early Look at Five Top Teams
by: Scott Rickenbach

1) Detroit – Yes, it is indeed so tough to repeat as a champion in any of the four major sports but, the fact is, no list of Stanley Cup contenders would be complete without the Red Wings! Detroit added Marian Hossa and he was arguably the top forward available in free agency. They also managed to hang onto defenseman Brad Stuart even though he could have signed for more money with another club! Keep in mind that even though goalie Dominik Hasek has retired, the Red Wings turn the duties over to Chris Osgood now and he had a fine season last year. The fact that Detroit added Ty Conklin adds further strength to this position as he was rock solid for Pittsburgh last season. Note also that the Red Wings already had Jimmy Howard “waiting in the wings” as well. This team is again one of the strongest in the league.

2) San Jose – This is my other strongest Stanley Cup contender from the Western Conference. I feel the Sharks have a great shot to win it all this season. New coach Todd McLellan was an assistant under Mike Babcock in Detroit for the last three seasons so he knows all about what it feels like to hoist the Stanley Cup. Now he gets an opportunity to do it as a head coach rather than an assistant. The Sharks, as usual, are loaded with talent. However, in the past, they just couldn’t quite “get over the hump” with Ron Wilson at the helm. We feel that the “blue collar” style that McLellan brings is exactly what the Sharks have needed! San Jose was often labeled “soft” in past postseasons. That certainly won’t be the case this year…not with McLellan running the show here!

3) Montreal – Even though Pittsburgh grabs a lot of the attention in the East and the Rangers are “close” and getting some attention, we feel the Habs have the best shot to come out of the East this season and challenge for the Cup. The Canadiens did lose forward Michael Ryder and defenseman Mark Streit in the offseason. However, they also got a key “enforcer” with Georges Laraque and, also, Montreal added forward Alex Tanguay. Even though Tanguay struggled some in Calgary look for him to be a major force in Montreal as he is likely to be on the same line with Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev. Another big key to the reason we feel the Canadiens could take the next step this season is that 21-year old Carey Price returns as goalie after getting plenty experience as a rookie last season. Price really impressed and grew a lot and is now ready to backstop this team all the way to the Finals!

4) Philadelphia – Yes, this one is more of a “flyer” on the Flyers but the fact is this team is worth a look at longer odds for winning it all this season. Philadelphia went a long, long way in the 2008 playoffs as they looked strong all the way up until they matched up with Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Finals. Although they fell short there, the Flyers are indeed a better team in comparison with last season. They did lose RJ Umberger and Jason Smith in the offseason but Smith was struggling to keep up with quick forwards last season. The names they added in the offseason weren’t big names but they were the “pieces” the Flyers needed to complete their “puzzle”. When you factor this in along with the return of goalie Martin Biron, who was fantastic in the playoffs, you can see why the Flyers are a team to be reckoned with in the East this season.

5) Tampa Bay – Here’s our true darkhorse candidate in the East. Yes, their odds are even longer than the Flyers and no, we’re not oblivious to the fact that this team had the fewest wins in the NHL last season. The fact is that this club is simply tremendously improved! Coach Barry Melrose has quickly put together the kind of players he wants in Tampa Bay. Yes, a lot of the key personnel was left intact with the Lightning but he added some gritty, hard-nosed players that will quickly help this team grow beyond the finesse and skills of Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The question mark for the Lightning is their defense but we truly like the “new look” of this team and Coach Melrose is quick to retort that his defense is much better than people are giving it credit for. He says the key about their blueline is that they’re young and so most haven’t heard a lot about these guys yet but he insists they are very talented and that the defensemen are going to be a much more cohesive unit than what most are anticipating. The Lightning were very active in the offseason in terms of the moves they made and we feel it way pay off quickly and by the time the spring rolls around, this will be one of the top teams in the East and that certainly gives them a shot at getting to the Finals and then, as we all know, anything can happen!

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