NHL 2010-11: New Faces in The Central Division
I'm not sure about the rest of you, but, it's around this time every year when I start getting a little antsy and irritable.
By the middle of August, most of the major free-agent names are off the market, team rosters are just about solidified and training camp is still a few weeks away.
The excitement of the playoffs has faded, the heartbreak or triumph you experienced is a memory and you're now impatiently waiting for the opportunity to sit down in a cold hockey arena, sip a $12 beer and watch an NHL hockey game.
The lack of any major off-season excitement coupled with the long wait for that first puck to drop makes hockey addicts like myself go nuts.
However, now is a great time to start reviewing who went where in the off-season.
It's often the case that, aside from your own team, the season starts and you spot a player with a new jersey on and ask yourself, "Wait, when did they get him"?
For those keeping track at home, the following list should provide a useful guide for the new faces that have arrived in the Central Division, and how they might impact their teams.
Before we get into this, let me note that the players highlighted are truly new faces to their respective teams.
For example, aside from this sentence you won't see the name "Jiri Hudler" or "Jack Skille" appear on this list.
The players identified will be new arrivals via trade or free-agency, set to play their very first game in a new sweater.
While this list won't provide a ranking of which teams did better or worse, I'll set up each slide with a theme that could be applied to the moves made.
These themes you might agree with or they may offend you. Either one is fine, just make sure to post your reaction!
Chicago Blackhawks: Trading Filet Mignon For Hamburger Helper
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New Additions: Marty Turco (G), John Scott (D), Jeff Taffe (F), Viktor Stalberg (F), Ivan Vishnevskiy (D), and Jassen Cullimore (D)
You know, it's funny. For the past few off-seasons, it seems as if one team has consistently had it's name and the word 'exodus' inextricably linked together throughout the summer.
In 2008, it was Pittsburgh, last summer, it was Detroit, and this year, it's Chicago.
While every team pays a price to win the Stanley Cup, Chicago really didn't start paying until after they brought the Cup to Chicago to end a 49-year drought.
When Chicago opens the season with the newly engraved chalice in their building, there will be eight names that appear on the Stanley Cup under '2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks' that will not be on the bench.
Though there exists thousands of articles, blogs and commentaries on how Chicago has been gutted and left for dead by the salary cap, those who know their hockey shouldn't be too quick to agree with such dire sentiments.
True, Chicago is not going to be nearly as deep this year as they were last season, but, GM Stan Bowman has done a very good job of replacing those players he's lost with either promising prospects hungry for the prime-time or experienced veterans that might benefit from a change of scenery.
The most notable of the latter is Marty Turco.
After struggling with consistency the last two seasons in Dallas, Turco has an opportunity to not only regain his confidence behind a much more talented squad, but contribute significantly to the 'Hawks Stanley Cup defense.
Turco needs only to provide good (not great) goal-tending to give his team a chance to win on most nights, and with his years of experience, he should be an excellent mentor for young Corey Crawford who is slated to be Turco's backup in 2010-11.
Aside from Turco, the next most intriguing acquisition for the 'Hawks is forward Viktor Stalberg.
Acquired from Toronto in the Kris Versteeg trade, Stalberg has only 40 games and 14 points attached to his NHL career.
However, it's not Stalberg's record that's intriguing, but his potential. At 6' 3" and 198 pounds, he's got more than enough weight to throw around. But, what's more, he's got the speed and hands of a much smaller player.
Taken together, these assets could very well spell doom for most defenders in the NHL, provided Stalberg hits the ground running to start the season.
In the end, he may prove to be one of the best "under the radar" acquisitions of the summer.
As for Jeff Taffe, John Scott, and Jassen Cullimore, there's not much to say save for the fact that, if they want to turn heretofore lackluster NHL careers into a strong and memorable season, Chicago should provide an excellent place to do just that.
Columbus Blue Jackets: It Could Be Worse...Wait...Could It?
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New Additions: Ethan Moreau (F), Kyle Wilson (F), and Nate Guenin (D)
I know, who?
Though their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history resulted in a 4-0 sweep by the Detroit Red Wings, the Columbus Blue Jackets ended the 2008-09 season on a high note.
They had finally broken through to the post-season, had a sensational rookie goalie emerge as the Calder Trophy winner, and looked poised to build on their success and actually make some noise in 2009-10.
They didn't even crack a whisper.
Steve Mason fell apart in goal, they fired their coach Ken Hitchcock, couldn't buy a goal on most nights, and finished the season next to last in the conference.
Based on their moves over the summer, there's really no reason to hope that this season will be any better.
Aside from acquiring the oft-injured, veteran checker Ethan Moreau off waivers, the Jackets have made virtually no moves during the off-season that would signal that better times are ahead in Columbus.
Their two UFA signings of Kyle Wilson and Nate Guenin have a whopping four NHL games between them with Pittsburgh and Washington, respectively.
The strategy in Columbus seems to be one that involves putting the entire team on Rick Nash's back with hope that he can carry them through to some semblance of success.
Aside from Nash, and possibly Mason, though he's dug quite a whole to crawl out of, the Blue Jackets are devoid of any Bona fide stars around which to build their franchise. This is a very tough obstacle to get around when trying to attract free-agents to your team and one that is likely to blame for the fact that, to this point, Columbus hasn't been able to.
Columbus may surprise everyone and get the most out of their one super star and odd collection of second-tier talent, and emerge as a strong team in 2010-11.
However, the more likely scenario is that they will continue to struggle, fail to make the playoffs, and start counting the days before Rick Nash asks to be traded.
Detroit Red Wings: Team Geritol
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New Additions: Mike Modano (F) and Ruslan Salei (D)
I said it before, and I'll say it again: Red Wings GM Ken Holland is erotically attracted to NHL veterans.
How else can you explain his repeated pattern of going after so-called "washed up" or "over the hill" veterans to fill out his roster summer after summer?
The only problem for those that have a problem with this is that, the Red Wings have become the most successful NHL franchise over the past decade by doing exactly this.
The other thing to consider for those that might lament Detroit's habit of recruiting the Denny's Early Bird crowd each summer is that, for the most part, their big-time roster additions are done during the season.
Had Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk or Niklas Kronwall been allowed to hit free-agency at their allotted times, we'd likely see a very different Detroit Red Wings team today.
While it's true that Holland loves him some old guys, Detroit's outstanding drafting and savvy contract negotiation skills provides them with the kind of youth and talent most teams jump into a dog-fight to acquire come July 1.
This season, Holland decided to grant 40-year-old Mike Modano one more kick at the can as he brought the Michigan native to Detroit on a one-year deal.
Modano still has some hockey left in him and, as is the case with his buddy Turco in Chicago, the opportunity to play for a team with a solid system, and positive atmosphere may do wonders for the aging super-star.
The other free-agent addition was Ruslan Salei. Yeah, he's still playing.
While he could turn out to be a serviceable sixth-defenseman, at 35, he's not going to be anything more than that.
The thing to remember about Detroit heading into next season is that, all and all, they still have a damn good hockey club. And, as excited as some got last year at the prospect of the Red Wings, finally, thankfully, declining into obscurity, they shouldn't hold their breath for that to happen this season.
The odd mixture of aging talent, players in their prime and youngsters trying to prove themselves never seems like one that should work. But, Detroit has proved time and time again that it does.
This season may be no different.
Nashville Predators: Continuing On In Stealth Mode
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New Additions: Jamie Lundmark (F), Matthew Lombardi (F), and Ryan Parent (D)
Every season, the Nashville Predators start the year with a roster populated with a few "has-beens", a couple of "could-be's" and a passel of "never-will-be's". Not exactly a formula for success.
Regardless, every year, there they are, knocking right at the door of the playoffs in April and, at least lately, being welcomed in to stay awhile.
For anyone that ever considers writing the Predators off, don't.
They've proved time and again that great coaching, a tireless work ethic, and timely goal-tending are assets they have and know how to use them to stealthily sneak up on opposition that should know better than to take them for granted.
If anyone doubts this, you have only to look at Game 5 of last year's quarter-finals to see that the Preds were but seconds away from taking a 3-2 stranglehold of the Chicago Blackhawks before Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa tipped fate back into Chicago's favor.
In fact, many 'Hawks recounted after the season that it was the Predators that gave them their biggest challenge of the entire playoffs.
Coming from the Stanley Cup champs, that's saying something.
The Predators off-season moves have been as stealthy as their perennial rise into playoff contention.
After having a career-year for the Cinderella Phoenix Coyotes, Matthew Lombardi was brought into the Honky-Tonk via a three-year, $10.5 million deal.
Blessed with tremendous speed, above-average defensive capabilities and solid face-off skills, Lombardi should fit the Predators, a team that plays a solid, speedy, defensive game, like a glove.
The Rangers selected him in the first round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, with hopes that he'd become the offensive power-house he was as a junior player. However, Lundmark has never come close to even resembling such a player through his six seasons in the NHL.
Since 2002, Lundmark has yo-yoed between the NHL and AHL with the Rangers, Coyotes, Kings, Flames, and Maple Leafs, never establishing himself as a regular NHL forward, let alone an offensive force.
Playing in a solid, well-run system for a very underrated coach in Barry Trotz, may just transform Lundmark from a picture of failed potential, to a valuable, depth forward.
Think Dan Cleary in Detroit.
Though the Preds let Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott walk this summer, the additions they've made, though anything but splashy could very well buoy their efforts to not only make the playoffs, but finally get past the first round.
With Matthew Lombardi, David Legwand, and Marcel Goc down the middle, Pekka Rinne in goal and newly minted captain Shea Weber patrolling the blue-line, Nashville may once again have what it takes to quietly make the playoffs, and then some noise once they get there.
St. Louis Blues: Thank God You're Here!!
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New Additions: Jaroslav Halak (G), TJ Hensick (F),and Vladimir Sobotka (F)
Some noteworthy goalies have occupied the St. Louis net over the past couple decades.
Grant Fuhr, Curtis Joseph, Roman Turek, and Chris Osgood among them.
However, you'd have to go all the way back to the aforementioned Fuhr to find one that might have a chance of being mistaken for a franchise goalie.
Though the Blues enjoyed great regular season success through the late-nineties and early-2000's, their inability to really make a serious run in the playoffs was almost always laid at the feat of their goal-tending, or lack thereof.
This summer, the Blues have potentially made a franchise-defining move in securing playoff hero, Jaroslav Halak for the next four years.
In a move some Montreal fans are still shaking their heads at, the Canadians sent the man who got them past the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Game Seven, and on to the Conference Finals to the St. Louis Blues rather than try to secure the restricted free-agent to a new contract.
The Blues promptly signed Halak and, in so doing, have secured what should be their undisputed starting goal-tender for the coming season.
At 25, Halak likely has his best years ahead of him.
His career numbers are impressive as he's never finished an NHL season with a losing record, a goals-against higher than 2.89 or a save-percentage smaller than .915.
Though the Blues have some decent fire-power in David Backes, Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald, their success is likely going to go as far as Halak and their defenseman can take them.
As such, they've made a pretty safe bet in Halak who may just emerge as the most solid goal-tender in the Central Division this year.
The Blues also added some depth up front in youngster T.J. Hensick (yes, they've got two T.J.'s and a B.J. now) and Vladimir Sobotka from Colorado and Boston, respectively.
Though neither figure to be confused for key additions to the Blues line-up, both should fit in well on a young team that is quickly finding its legs and might, just might, be ready to make a run in the post-season.