I know I am going to get a lot of hatred and love for this. I don't mind the hatred as much as you would think. After all, it means you guys care about my opinion.
Now, with that in mind, the title is not a joke. I am absolutely 100 percent serious. I consider the game tonight to be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Which game, you may ask? Anyone who knows me knows I am talking about the game between the Leafs and Flyers. These are two teams with a very deep defence corps.
The Flyers have not employed a first-string goaltender since I was born, but at the same time they showed last year they can win without one.
They have a very deep offence with Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell and, of course, Mike Richards. That is as deep a forward group as you will find in the NHL.
Then, on defence, they have the Pronger, who leads his teams to the finals every other year, Timonen and Coburn. I mean, come on! This is Detroit east. They have OK goaltenders who they don't spend money on, and spend a ton to get the best defence and offense combo you will find. I guess I should say they have the deepest group of skaters.
Now what about the Leafs? What makes them this good? Well, you have the best defence in the league. Yes, I said that—the best defence in the league. Dion Phaneuf is a potential Norris Trophy candidate, Tomas Kaberle is an All-Star puck-moving defenceman, Mike Komisarek is a potential All-Star, Francois Beauchemin just eats up minutes as Bouwmeester did in Florida, and Luke Schenn is developing into one of the best defencemen in the game.
As for Lebda, he played on Detroit, and we also have Gunnarsson developing along with a whole host of other defencemen like Keith Aulie and Jesse Blacker. As for the goaltending duo of Giguere and Gustavsson, they are one of the best tandems. In fact, the league is going to this tandem, which I believe was popularized by Detroit, though nobody noticed. This idea should have been apparent to many GMs but only brilliant ones like Fletcher and Burke seemed to have figured it out.
The Leafs Achilles heel is their offense. The bottom six forwards are phenomenal. They have Fredrik Sjostrom, Colby Armstrong, Tim Brent, Mike Brown, Colton Orr and Mike Zigomanis. The third line is phenomenal at killing penalties and, of course, defence. Furthermore, Colby Armstrong can put the puck in the net and play on the second line. The fourth line is there to muck it up and hurt people. Brown is also phenomenal at killing penalties and, of course, defence. This looks like a solid bottom six to me.
But the top six has only two legitimate forwards in Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg. They are exceptional players who have proven themselves. For now, Clarke MacArthur is proving his worth as a top six forward, but who knows how long that will last.
In conclusion, I expect these two teams to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals because they are built to win in the playoffs. The Flyers are designed like the Detroit Red Wings, and the Leafs have a phenomenal defence and an exceptional bottom six forward group. As I discovered some time back, the key to winning in the playoffs is the bottom six, as you expect opposing defencemen to stop your top six forwards.
So, these two teams are built to win in the playoffs. You may be wondering which one I expect winning. Well, you already have my analysis of the two teams. So, which one will win? Keep in mind this prediction is for the playoffs assuming both teams have similar rosters to what they are icing tonight.
The key is Chris Pronger. He will completely dominate the Leafs top six forwards leaving them to rely on their bottom six. This is what makes Pronger so dangerous. Burke actually admitted his team was single-handedly beaten by Pronger when the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Finals. As for the bottom six forwards, as good as they are for the Leafs, they can hardly score goals. For this reason I expect the Flyers to represent the Eastern Conference.
However, I fully expect Burke to make a few changes to the roster and add players because of the $4 million in cap space he has. David Backes sounds nice, and if he can add a few pluggers who can score, the Leafs will have a chance to win it all.
As for the Flyers, they have very limited cap space. So do not expect them to get a major upgrade by the trade deadline, if ever. This team is pretty much set for the year, and could be in big salary cap trouble next year.
So if Burke makes enough changes, Toronto represents the Eastern Conference this year. If not, Philadelphia does. Keep in mind that this will most likely happen even if both teams get a low seed because they are built to win in the playoffs, not necessarily the regular season.