New Faces, New Places: NHL Teams with Revived Chances for the Cup
Which teams have benefited the most this offseason?
Here's a quick list of five teams (in no particular order of importance) benefiting from trades, signing free agents, and picking up veterans for one push at Lord Stanley.
Mike Modano - Detroit Red Wings
If you look at the statistics, at 40 years old, Mike Modano could retire with his head held high. The Michigan native has scored more goals and points (both regular and playoffs) than any other American player, and that's a tough list to lead.
He has one Stanley Cup under his belt and he wants to leave the NHL with one more.
That alone should instill fear in other teams.
This, however, is not the reason why he is on this list. Determination is a great factor in a man's play, but Modano is here because he is going to feel comfortable on a team which respects trajectory, leadership, and locker room presence.
With a calm persona and great knowledge to pass on, he is to become sort of a sage, helping the third line wingers of an already powerful team which (though I AM an Avs fan, I have to admit) has a great playoff history and wants to make up for the (ehem...) discouraging display last season against the Sharks.
I can't wait (I can't believe I'm saying this) to see him play for the Wings this season.
Sergei Gonchar - Ottawa Senators
Gonchar is a good defenseman. Ottawa is a good hockey club.
Add to this that Gonchar has surpassed the 50-point mark every season since 2000-2001 with the exception of an injury plagued 2008-09 and you're looking at a great combination happening here.
Gonchar has playoff experience and a lot of it. A Stanley Cup, a near-miss (or near-hit as George Carlin said) and veteran leadership should greatly help a team that needs just a bit extra to get past the Conference Finals once more.
Gonchar will bring his A-game, it's just a matter of Spezza keeping up his point production and injury-free status, and the rest of the Senators providing a well-rounded team as they did in 2006-07
Simon Gagne - Tampa Bay Lightning
Ok, before you get all crazy with me for citing a team with a losing record, one of the worst goals against average of the season, and a penalty kill system in need of great improvement, let me state my case.
Simon Gagne wants to win and wants it bad. He is coming from a season in which he saw his production go down after injuries limited him to just 58 games (still scoring a respectable 40 points). He was two games away from the Cup after coming from a 3-0 deficit against Boston (deficit which, by the way, happened with Gagne injured) and let's be honest, the Cup-winning goal wasn't pretty.
The Lightning want to win badly as well. They want to prove the Stanley Cup run in 2003-04 was not a one-time deal.
With the re-signing of Martin St. Louis, whose production has been great, and the stellar play of Steven Stamkos, this team is one to watch for.
But the pressure is on, especially for goaltender Dan Ellis and his lack of real playoff experience, and Stamkos himself, as many fear his amazing point production could dip.
The Lightning have no short feat ahead of them, their division is a tough one with a much-improved Atlanta and the ever-intimidating Capitals, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.
Ilya Kovalchuk - New Jersey Devils (IF He Signs)
Bending the title just a bit here, let's assume Kovalchuk is a Devil, but I have to say, this whole drama regarding his contract and hoo-haa about creating a bogus deal kinda makes it interesting for him.
He's already proven he's good, he can score and skate fast, all he has to do now is win a Cup. That's easy to say.
The Devils want a player like him, even if it seems to not fit their defensive style every once in a while, who can bring an instant offensive threat and help shave off some of Parise's load.
With his addition and the presence of veteran Jason Arnott, the team is taking on a new look which can help ease the pain from last year's playoff run.
Oh, did I mention that Brodeur wants revenge for last season? Believe me, those talks about him at the Olympics and playoffs after a great season have the veteran wanting to go out with a bang.
IF Kovalchuk, however, ends up on another team, I believe his effect might not be that direct. The chances of this happening are quite small though as I feel the NHL will have a hard time defending their case.
Let's just wait and see!
Sopel/Ladd/Byfuglien - Atlanta Thrashers
That's right, the Thrashers.
Now, I'm not exactly saying the Thrashers will win the Cup next season, but I believe they are much better and could find themselves in the playoffs, and not only the first round.
Ladd has the experience of winning two Stanley Cups, performing a crucial role as a physical forward. Though his production fell in the past season, he has had great plus/minus throughout his career, an aspect the Thrashers defensive core will greatly appreciate.
Sopel is a veteran who can bring stay-at-home play and locker room presence. The only factor to consider is his health: If so, he can put up good numbers for a defenseman while bringing a physical game.
Then there's Big Buff. He wowed Chicago fans with his physical, no-fear play (can you say Pronger wipe-out?), and produced consistent numbers throughout the regular season. He had stellar production during the playoffs and many consider him a huge factor in the Hawks' Cup run.
All he has to do is click with a Thrashers lineup that will definitely demand more of his play, which he will be happy to bring.
A must for the Thrashers is for Mason and Pavelec to improve. The latter is still young and will develop into a good goaltender with time, and Mason has only provided regular to good numbers throughout his career, which definitely need to be better.
For now, it seems interesting to see a new and different Thrashers team, as well as many others in the NHL. This season is definitely one to look for!