Eastern Conference: What To Watch For in The 2008-09 NHL Season
Yesterday I wrote about what excites me for each team in the Western Conference. Today, it's the Eastern Conference.
Can Ilya Kovalchuk carry this team to the post-season? The Thrashers made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2007, only to get swept by the Rangers. They regressed last season, and now new head coach John Anderson will try to get them back. Outside of Kovalchuk there isn't much to work with, but Zac Bogosian could provide hope for the future.
Can the B's build off of their surprising 2007-08 campaign? With the exception of signing Michael Ryder, Boston made no changes to their line-up from a year ago. If Patrice Bergeron can return healthy, and Milan Lucic can continue to improve, the Bruins should be very good again.
While the Sabres should be good, I always love Sabres games because of Rick Jeanneret. I also love watching Tim Connolly and how he plays the game.
Will the changes on defense be enough? The Canes acquired Joni Pitkanen, Josef Melichar, and Anton Babchuk to replace Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican. If they show enough improvement, Eric Staal and Cam Ward should be able to shoulder the load in Carolina.
What will happen with Jay Bouwmeester? He's quickly becoming one of the best defensemen in the league, but is entering the final year of his deal. The additions of Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton will help protect the battered Tomas Vokoun, but it could be offset if the Panthers decide to trade Bouwmeester to a contender.
How will they deal with increased pressure? Between overachieving a year ago and holding the top spot in the conference, to the organization celebrating 100 years throughout the year, the Canadiens have much higher expectations and attention this season. The difference between a good and great Habs team is the play of Carey Price.
New Jersey Devils
Can Martin Brodeur and the defensive system continue to succeed? We're watching an all-time great approach the twilight of his career, and he'll get some offensive help with the acquisitions of familiar faces Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik.
New York Islanders
Kyle Okposo and Steve Tambellini are the only bright spots on this awful team. Rick DiPietro's health is a major question entering the season.
New York Rangers
How will the team mesh? Gone from last season is Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery, two players that had very important roles on this team. It will be very intriguing to see if the players the Rangers brought in (Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, Wade Redden, and Dmitri Kalinin) can shoulder the load in front of Vezina front-runner Henrik Lundqvist.
Which team will show up? The Senators got off to a blistering start last season, only to implode and get swept out of the playoffs. There is no better line in the NHL than Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson, but Martin Gerber needs to prove he's an NHL-caliber goaltender.
Will this team emerge as the favorites in the East? The Flyers saw a lot of players emerge and step up during their exciting playoff run last season, and if Martin Biron and Mike Richards can continue to play at that level, there's a lot of young talent that will ensure a high-quality product in Philadelphia for this season and beyond. I'm excited to see Braydon Coburn make the next step to becoming a borderline elite defenseman in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are bona fide elite talent, but the Pens lost some quality forwards in the off-season. It will be very interesting to see if Sid the Kid can make the players around him better, because Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko don't excite me.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Easily the story of the 2008 off-season, the Lightning will look nothing like the team that was horrible a season ago. I'm very interested to see how the young defense will look, because the forwards appear to be very solid, especially the top line of Vinny Prospal, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St-Louis.
Toronto Maple Leafs
You'd have to be a big Leafs fan or a masochist to watch Toronto this year. Vesa Toskala is underrated, but this is a team full of grinders that wouldn't be anywhere near the top six forwards on any other team in the NHL. Let the rebuilding begin.
Under the direction of Bruce Boudreau, this was last year's Cinderella story, barely sneaking into the post-season. Alex Ovechkin is a joy to watch, and Karl Alzner is a rookie to keep an eye on.
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