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Craig Anderson

It’s playoff time, and rather than lead off with some clever transition from nothing, I’ll mention that I don’t need to do that and that you don’t need another vanilla, clichéd-up version of some dude picking all the favorites to win in 6 or 7 games and act like any value was added to your Stanley Cup playoff investment.
What we are going to do today is look at the “experts’ picks” from three of the most visible hockey media companies, compare their hunches to the series prices currently offered by the sportsbooks, and see if we can’t take a stab at predicting some things that won’t happen in the first round of the playoffs.
The three sources that I tallied to compile the 35 “experts’ picks” figures were NHL.com, espn.com (I know, I know), and Sportsnet.ca. The series price betting lines were taken from sportsbook.com.
Eastern Conference
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators – For all the talk that I seem to be hearing amongst the hockey world about a lot of people picking Ottawa to win this series, it sure didn’t show up with regard to the experts. Of the 35 to vote, 33 took the Rangers to advance, making New York the most sure thing to win a round amongst all NHL teams. At -240, the Rangers are also the most expensive bet. No matter how we slice it, NYR is the most favored team of any in the first round of the playoffs.

I think that suits Ottawa just fine, what with their Roland Deschain attitude both in net and throughout the roster. Craig Anderson lives for big games, and is the kind of goalie that almost guarantees his team won’t get swept out of any series. Unfortunately, the flipside is a lack of consistency at mundane times, which leads to a lot of doubters. I am unsure if Ben Bishop is in the team’s plans as far as playing in this series, but I am confident that what won’t happen is Ottawa getting swept out by New York. Their offense is too dynamic at the top and Anderson is going to have at least a pseudo-Game 3 moment at some point.
Photo found here
Sir Craig Anderson, F.M. (Fuckin’ Man)

But, I also don’t believe Ottawa would go into New York and win a Game 7 against such a deep, physical team with the best goalie in the world. Game 7s are typically only lost at home by uber-talented, smooth skating offensive teams that get the yips when everything is on the line in front of their demanding fans. The Rangers are not this type of team. They are too physical and deep, and whedn the moment gets as big as it can get, I like teams that base their games around the simple things to be most likely to close out a home Game 7.
I want to put this out there right now: there is only 1 way that Ottawa can win this series, and it basically looks like the blueprint for any underdog in a seven-game series. The Sens must split the first two games, then bring it home and ambush the Rangers. If Ottawa can grab the coveted 3-1 lead, then I would expect they can close it out at home in Game 6. Let’s also point out that New York is not as seasoned as the stereotypical #1 seed, so there is always the possibility that MSG eats its young in Game 5 when the chips are down, whether the series be at 2-2 or 1-3 against the Rangers.
My ones of loyal readers know that I do not like picking “good” teams to get eliminated at home, but I’m struggling to pick against Ottawa winning two games in a series against a team that has truly no playoff success to speak of. I can’t deny that I feel the most likely (safe?) outcome is that the Rangers will do enough to take a 3-2 lead back to Ottawa and find a way to play a grinding, shutdown road game to knock the Sens out in 6.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 33-2 NYR; Series price NYR (-240) OTT (+190); What Won’t Happen: NYR in 4, OTT in 7.
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
This one smells like a rat. A cheese eater. Another member of that nation that Frank Costello so resented toward his end.
Let’s play a game called “go back twelve months.” It’s fun. You can often spot forests through trees. Here we go.
Twelve months ago, people were giving the Washington Capitals one last chance to make things right and get to the finals (or at least the conference finals). The Caps came into the playoffs on fire and grabbed another #1 seed. They would even go on to casually handle the New York Rangers in an albeit contested five-game series with playoff rookie Michal Neuvirth in nets. Washington then got swept by Tampa Bay, and all of us proverbial Ned Starks dropped our proverbial Ices through the necks of Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau and everyone involved with the Capitals’ organization.
We were pissed. Much like Mrs. Bobby Petrino, we all knew we were looking the other way on a team that had not under its current makeup seriously challenged for a spot in the eastern final. And don’t give me “’09 Game 7,” because I watched that damn game. I said “seriously.” But we went ahead and picked them anyway, and if we didn’t, it’s because we picked them to lose in the second round to Pittsburgh, who actually lost in the first round to Tampa Bay. Once the second round was set, everybody was back on the bandwagon and unafraid to admit it. We weren’t sure Washington was going to win it all, or even get past PHILADELPHIA in the east, but they were damn sure not losing to a division rival who plays in the state of Florida.
Then the Caps got swept, and we got embarrassed. “We’ll never back you again,” we said. And from the looks of it, we haven’t reneged on that promise yet.
Boston, meanwhile, was still having to deal with questions about their most recent playoff collapse — that of blowing 3-0 series and Game 7 leads at home to the Flyers. Boston squeaked past a Montreal team that most had pegged for what actually happened to them this season. The Bs entered the second round on the road at the team that had not only done them dirty the season before, but had led the eastern conference for much of the season. I don’t remember Boston being a consensus pick to beat Philadelphia, but maybe I have amnesia. Or maybe all the rest of you do. That’s why we’re playing this game.
Then Boston swept the Flyers en route to two more series that had to end with victories in deciding seventh games. Kudos to the champs, they earned it. But that’s what happened. Boston won a 16-team, 4-round tournament in which 3 of those 4 rounds saw them pushed to the brink, and that’s having the league leading Vezina-in-waiting goaltender backstopping every game. Tim Thomas is still there, but he’s only shining out the string with regard to that trophy.
So, what are the numbers, you ask? Of the 35 “experts,” 32 of them have picked the Bruins to defeat the Capitals. In other words, this is the second-most surefire bet in their eyes. I get that it’s a 2-7 matchup, but this 32-3 vote still raises my eyebrows. This whole thing stinks of revenge. If you don’t believe me and are countering with, “Yeah, but Boston will win this series and almost anyone would think so,” let me get to the rest of the tallies here in a minute. And remember, it’s the Washington Capitals here. Despite all of their transparent playoff problems, it never stopped the majority of people from picking them to win before. So, what’s changed so drastically? Our egos, maybe…
The betting line represents Boston as tied for the second biggest favorite, along with Vancouver, at -225.
I’m not going to pick Washington to win straight up, and I certainly have never liked some of their key players, but if you’re looking solely for value, the Caps on the money line has to be a candidate.
Here’s what won’t happen: Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby will not get deer-faced and give up terrible goals to get the team eliminated. It’s funny, Neuvirth was a playoff rookie until he looked incredibly solid last year against the Rangers. Most people think Holtby is more talented than Neuvirth, and has been pretty good in limited big league action over the past two seasons. Yet, Holtby’s assumed status as fill-in starter is cited as a big reason why Washington will lose. Seriously? The Caps might lose because they are not as well set up to enjoy playoff success as the Bruins are, but it won’t be because Holtby shits the bed.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 32-3 BOS; Series price: BOS (-225) WSH (+188); What Won’t Happen: Caps lose because of Holtby.
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
This one’s just comical. I understand it’s the Florida Panthers. I understand it’s the Southeast Division. I understand it’s a traditional power with the winningest goalie ever. But the degree to which the Panthers are being written off as glorified sparring partners for a team that has accomplished exactly nothing over the last four seasons can only be explained by the “name on the front” theory.
See, it doesn’t matter that the New Jersey Devils have won only two first round series (and zero beyond that) since the lockout, or that the Panthers have home ice in this series, or that until upgrading the size of his pads, Marty Brodeur looked like he might not be able to start in the ECHL. None of that matters, because this series is between the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils.
Who cares that the best defenseman in the series is Florida’s Brian Campbell, or that six of the eight points that the Devils have on the Panthers this year are via the six extra shootout wins that New Jersey “earned,” or that, again, Florida has home ice in the series. None of that matters, because New Jersey is going to pound their asses and it’s unfair that all of us have to sit through such an undeserving playoff qualification (never mind that we love watching the Capitals… who lost the division to Florida…).
New Jersey ought to be the favorite, but the gap is too wide for a road favorite that led the league in shootout wins. If they play their cards right, the Devils will be lucky enough to bring a 3-2 lead home, where they would logically close it out. But this is far from a sure thing.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 30-5 NJD; Series price NJD (-210) FLA (+170); What Won’t Happen: Devils in 4, as projected by a few of the experts (including Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek, who I tend to agree with on most hockey arguments).
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
It’s really too bad. This one could have been so badass. The league could have went and let everybody believe that this was a true grudge match, that no holds were going to be barred and that the face would have to go through hell to get past a very worthy adversary just to advance to the second round.
Then the league went and started fining anyone and everyone who used anything relating to Pittsburgh in a paragraph with anything relating to a putdown. You aren’t reading this for information on the league’s clear “no shit talk on the Pens” directive, so I won’t go into detail, but over the past few weeks no fewer than three fines have been levied at three separate entities who may have used words to call into question basic things like fairness, toughness or a propensity to bitch and moan.
Lots has been said recently on the matter, and I don’t have much to add except that the complaints by fans, coaches and all those around the game are very warranted and on point. Quite simply, the first rule of the NHL is that you do not talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins (unless it’s to select roster players as either award candidates or all-time great fodder). The second rule is that you do not, under any bleeping circumstances, talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The whole situation is pretty sad, and not the least of which for the Penguins themselves, who through league memos regarding unfair practices that they went on to use themselves, medical incompetence that was masked as the need to give special officiating for special players, and the public silence regarding these ridiculous, arbitrary and capricious fines that are getting levied against any and all dissenters, have adopted the roles of Craig Kilborn in Old School or Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers — men who have all the tools and do not need to win by cheating or having others cheat for them, yet go down that route nonetheless.
It’s embarrassing to the league, it’s embarrassing to the Pens and it makes a mockery of notions of justice. But, the rules are the rules, and the commissioner’s office makes the rules.
Of course, there’s no way that office would let an anti-shit-talking directive leak over into an on-ice anti-shit-officiating directive that would screw the Pens’ opponents. Not after losing Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs last year. Not a chance.
Don’t like the conspiracy theorist? Then don’t give him all the reason in the world to believe in the likelihood and practicality of the conspiracy.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned a player in this series yet. It’s because I don’t have to. Sorry Flyers fans, there’s no way you’re winning this series. I’m surprised the votes and line are as close as they are. The sad thing is, I think the Flyers actually match up alright with the Penguins. Oh well, what could have been…
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 27-8 PIT; Series price: PIT (-220) PHIL (+180); What Won’t Happen: Philadelphia winning the series… or the penalty minute battle… or the lowest fine competition…
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Over the summer I popped off about the disappointment that Ottawa Senators’ center Jason Spezza has been since the team snatched lottery pick status from the jaws of Stanley Cup contendership.
I said that Spezza hadn’t done enough to keep the Sens out of the basement — specifically, he wasn’t able to stay on the ice last year. But injuries happen, and I shouldn’t have blamed the guy for picking one up.
I then took it further, saying that Spezza’s once promising career was sliding into irrelevance, and that his uninspiring play almost led one to reconsider the 2001 trade that sent pariah Alexei Yashin to Long Island in exchange for (amongst other things) the #2 draft pick that was used on Spezza.
The ignorant rant continued with a reference to The Big Lebowski that could best be summed up by saying that Spezza was quickly and quietly succumbing to his fate as a losing hockey player. Interestingly, I started by saying that Spezza was “one of the few players I’m more tired of talking about than Phil Kessel.” (League leaders, anyone?)…
Fail.
Not Spezza’s fail, my fail. I failed in a way that approaches the shouting distance of epic.


Jason’s succeeding beyond anyone’s expectations, at least outside of the organization. I will take a second to plug my recovery by saying that at our draft on October 2nd, I drafted Spezza relatively early despite what I wrote about him just over two months prior and the fact that he doesn’t hit anyone (those that read me know how much I hate fantasy leagues that don’t factor in hits or blocks). I don’t know why I picked him. Maybe I just wanted to believe that my summer attack would be a fantastic case of sports psychology, since I know he read the piece a dozen times.
Jason Spezza: “Hey Tram, eat shit. Who you calling a loser? Loser.”

But one thing is clear: Jason Spezza believes. He believes in his talent, he seems to believe in his body finally, and perhaps most shockingly, he really looks like he believes in his team. Let’s not push this to the side and give the standard line, “Every professional athlete should believe in his (or her… stop laughing) team,” because the obvious fact is that not every player does believe in his team.
And Spezza has every reason to not believe in his team. He has every reason to let the downward pressure take over and send him plummeting to the bottom. Every reason to say that he made a Cup Final and did his best, but now doesn’t have the support to accomplish anything on the ice. And he has 7 million reasons to look like he’s just playing for the paycheck.
Instead, Jason Spezza has turned in 11% of what is looking like by far the most impressive season of his nine-year NHL career. Sure, he had 71 assists in 2005-06, and 34 goals in each of the following two seasons, but the situation now is totally different. The Sens started approximately 43 rookies on opening night this season, and through the first six games it showed. Ottawa was 1-5, and had given up an astounding 30 goals in those games. But Craig Anderson has gotten it together, as expected, and Spezza has led the team to three straight wins.
Photo via bleacherreport.com
I unashamedly love this man. Craig Anderson might be hockey’s Gareth Barry.

As I said in that July post, Spezza’s talent was never in question. The man is a puck boss with great passing vision and creativity. What has come into question over the seasons since the lockout is his character and dedication to the team. Nothing seems to have ever been corroborated, but people closer than myself often cited a riff between Spezza and former head coach Bryan Murray during those successful years in the middle of last decade. I am not alleging anything other than that rumors existed. We do know that goalie Ray Emery was bought out of his contract in the summer of 2008, and we also know that Emery feuded with anyone from coaching to traffic cops. We also know that more recent coach Cory Clouston feuded with Dany Heatley, and Heatley was subsequently traded (albeit after Heatley’s own trade request). So, maybe the rumors of Spezza’s dissatisfaction with coaching were overblown or entirely false.
But even the classiest of players would probably look at the Sens’ lineup and sigh. Still only 28, Spezza is one of the elder statesmen on a team that is in no way close to contending for a Stanley Cup. Spezza is due to become an unrestricted free agent upon the conclusion of his current contract, but he’ll be 32 years old by the time that day comes. Who knows if his body will still allow him to play at a level high enough to crack the top six on a contending team in the year 2015 and beyond?
Given this circumstance, Spezza had three options: mail in the usual 58-game season, finish near last place, and make $7 million this year, embrace the idea of completely rebuilding the only franchise he’s ever played for and lead by example for a team that maybe, possibly, is three years away from the possibility of a conference final, or put in a trade request and hope to be some other team’s missing piece.
Proving once and for all that he is a true hockey player, Spezza chose the second option, and has been the key skater in all nine of the team’s games so far this year. Sure, they’ve taken a couple on the chin in blowout losses to Colorado and Philadelphia, but Spezza has scored on his attempt in both of Ottawa’s shootout wins, including last night’s game-winner, despite coming into the year something like 11-for-33 in shootouts for his career.
Those goals don’t count for stats, but Spezza’s doing just fine in that department anyway. He’s on the board with five goals and seven assists so far, which, if you’re wondering, is a 109-point pace. Will he finish with that amount of points? Probably not, but only because he’s likely to miss some games at some point. But after seeing the way he’s led from the front, I don’t think it really matters if Spezza misses some games this year due to bumps and bruises. Sure, a serious injury would be devastating, but minor hurts come with playing hockey, and this team isn’t scheduled to make the playoffs this year anyway. What’s important is that Spezza continues his inspiring play on the ice when he is on the ice, with the assumption that when this team is ready to ascend in a few years, their likely captain can be counted on because he was with the youth every step of the way.
By 2014-15, current captain Daniel Alfredsson will probably be retired. But that happens to be the contract years for both Spezza and Anderson, who by then will be playing for a new contract and with what many assume will be one of the best goalies of the next decade: Robin Lehner. If enough of the kids progress, circle that season. And when Ottawa’s golf season starts a month or two later than usual, remember that the first 11% of 2011-12 foreshadowed all of it.
Photo via crashthenet.ca
With Jacob Markstrom currently killing it in Florida, is fellow Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner now the best player in the world not in the NHL?

To wrap, I want to apologize for all of the negative things I wrote in July about Jason Spezza’s career trajectory. There were two more items from that post about the Senators that make me look foolish: 1) That I bundled Spezza with Kessel as players that I’m tired of talking about (Kessel leads the NHL in goals and points, while Spezza is second in points); and 2) that I wrote that Ottawa winger Milan Michalek “isn’t a top-six NHL forward.” Nice call, dumbass.

Anyway, I hope my good calls (Kari Lehtonen, the Dallas team, Ryan Callahan, Jacov Markstrom, etc.) outweigh the bad (Avalanche sucking, Canucks having the division clinched by the all-star break, Panthers finishing in 15th again) and that you look forward to some more calls throughout the season. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

And in case you want to read the July 25th blast I refer to in this post, click here!

The National Hockey League drops the puck on another season tonight, but all headlines will be dwarfed by news of the death of Steve Jobs at age 56.
In the spirit of an open culture, and to avoid being a hindsight oracle, here are my picks for order of finish in the eastern conference, which will be followed by a blurb, mainly meant to explain changes from my premature projections over two months ago.


Eastern Conference
  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Philadelphia Flyers
  3. Boston Bruins
  4. Pittsburgh Penguins
  5. Buffalo Sabres
  6. New York Rangers
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning
  8. Montreal Canadiens
  9. Carolina Hurricanes
  10. New York Islanders
  11. Toronto Maple Leafs
  12. New Jersey Devils
  13. Ottawa Senators
  14. Winnipeg Jets
  15. Florida Panthers
Eastern Conference Blurb:
Over the summer I took the Flyers for third in their own division. But now that I’ve seen some preseason games and had a look at all of the teams, I think Philly’s stable of defensemen is deeper than Pittsburgh’s or New York’s, especially after the Pens traded Alex Goligoski to Dallas and the Rangers are having to start the season with their best blue liner, Marc Staal, on the IR with post-concussion syndrome.
In net, I think all three Atlantic contenders are as solid as can be, with starters that can contend for awards and backups that can fill the gaps. It should be noted that Philly is weakest at backup goalie, as Sergei Bobrovsky fell off at the end of his rookie season last year, while Brent Johnson held the Penguins together at the start of last year when Marc-Andre Fleury was dealing with a serious lack of form. At MSG, Henrik Lundqvist should have the luxury of resting more this season thanks to a healthy Marty Biron, who posted a nasty 2.13 GAA before breaking his collarbone last season.
And offensively, the acquisition of Jaromir Jagr already looks like a winner. He ripped up the Rangers in a preseason game and is said to have budding chemistry with Claude Giroux, which given their physical statures might be worthy of a Rocky and Bullwinkle reference. I expect James van Riemsdyk to come good this season, and the added physical presences Wayne Simmonds and Max Talbot bring to a team that already has Scott Hartnell up front should give the Flyers enough offense to compliment their exceptional top five defensemen (Pronger, Timonen, Meszaros, Carle & Coburn) and newfound stability in net (Bryzgalov).
I think the Sabres will finish right around where everyone expects them to: second in the division and about fifth in the conference. The additions have been talked about for a while now, but I want to reiterate that I think the most important player that Buffalo will have this year that they didn’t for last year’s playoff run is a guy who was already on the team and scoring at a point-a-game pace, center Derek Roy. While everyone else fawns over Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, watch Roy closely. He has the speed and agility to be amongst the second tier of leading scorers in the league (read 80 – 90 points).
The Rangers themselves are tricky, because I want to love their growth and development together with guys like Staal, Dan Girardi, captain Callahan, Brian Boyle and all of the other, more offensively gifted forwards. On top of that, they have the goalie I believe to be the best in the world in Lundqvist. And then there’s the Brad Richards signing. But a lot of my belief that the Rangers are an up-and-coming team is dependent upon their big-minute players actually playing, and this Staal concussion thing has me skittish. We all have seen what has transpired with Sidney Crosby, and now I’m hearing the term “five-hour migraines” attached to Staal’s name. If the man is unable to play for long stretches of the season, a whole lot more will be asked of Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and new guy Tim Erixon. Although I love players with big hits and blocks totals, I did notice Girardi putting passes on the wrong side of the tape in that game against Philly over a week ago. There’s a time and a place to put the puck on a teammate’s backhand, but it’s not when their standing still with their hips squared up to you. That’s just what I saw.
Regarding the Lightning coming in seventh, I think their division is a little bit better than last year (how could it not be), and I’m also a little concerned about their depth on defense and in goal. Trading for Eric Brewer at the deadline was brilliant, and Victor Hedman should take a big step forward this year. But I don’t see the depth on this blue line that some of the other teams in the east have. I mean, Washington’s starting with a third pairing of Dennis Wideman and Mike Green. I’ve been very critical of Green in the past, but that was largely based on this assumption that he’s a great defenseman and a top-liner. Once upon a time Dennis Wideman was thought to be that very same thing with Boston. But as a team’s fifth and sixth defensemen, that’s a hell of a group, and that’s something that I don’t see with Tampa Bay in the Matt Gilroys, Brett Clarks and Bruno Gervaises of the world. But hey, what do I know?
And then there’s Montreal. I picked them eighth solely because I’m sick of telling people that I think they will fall off every September only to see them punch above their weight and get into the playoffs. And often times it doesn’t stop there, as we saw last year when they went to overtime in the seventh game against the eventual champs. Or the year before when they eliminated Washington and Pittsburgh en route to the eastern conference finals. I’m sick of picking them to miss the playoffs and looking like a moron, so I’ve got them eighth.
As far as hockey goes, the Habs have two key new faces this year in winger Erik Cole and D man Andrei Markov. I know, Markov’s not new, but he didn’t really play last year, so give me the Derek Roy Corollary here and let’s add him to what the Habs already accomplished last season. Carey Price was fantastic in net last season, and I don’t foresee a huge dropoff. On a positive note, he’s no longer backed up by Alex Auld. The downside is that he now starts in front of Peter Budaj. It seems the Habs are vehemently against the idea of allowing Price to rest for more than 12 games a season, after trading away Jaro Halak and giving Price the likes of Auld and Budaj. I think there is upside with this team, and they could go as high as probably fifth. More importantly, they are playoff tested and know what it takes to win important games. Montreal will be a tough opponent 70 times this season; in other words, the games that Price starts.
Carolina lost Cole to Montreal and didn’t really replace him, but they have a lot of young players who are supposed to be good, and the league leader in games played between the crease. While Cam Ward can be counted on to play a million minutes again this year, he (unlike Carey Price) may not have to. The Canes added Brian Boucher, who as a backup is not a bad option at all. Carolina also added Tomas Kaberle, who should help the team offensively at least. Up with Kabby are hitter/blocker extraordinaire Tim Gleason and one of the best D men in the league that nobody talks about, Joni Pitkanen. And to be clear, he’s both one of the best D men in the league and a player that nobody talks about, not just “the best of the rest.” But if I’m going to call out Tampa Bay’s defense as thin, then it would be irresponsible not to note the same caveat in this Carolina team. And this team doesn’t have the luxury of a dynamic offense like Tampa does, although Eric Staal remains one of the best centers in the NHL.
The New York hockey Islanders. This one is probably the one that will draw me the most criticism, and I understand why. Over the summer, I bashed team owner Charles Wang and said that while the team had the pieces to be good, that no group of men could succeed under that kind of leadership. Well, I studied up and put the Isles’ roster up against New Jersey’s, and I actually think there’s a good chance NYI finishes ahead of NJ. The Isles have a ton of young talent at forward, led by John Tavares, and at least “options” in net in Al Montoya, Evgeni Nabokov and Rick DiPietro. I know those three don’t inspire Stanley Cup visions, but if they can find their one good one, and it could end up being Montoya, then that would just be another problem solved for the club that has had so many in the last decade. But the two players to watch if you want to see how to positively impact hockey games from the back are newly-anointed captain Mark Streit (who, like Markov, is returning from a missed season) and huge Slovakian national Milan Jurcina. If both Streit and Jurcina can stay healthy for the most part — which it should be noted is something that neither accomplished last season — then the Isles will be so much the better for it on both ends of the ice.
And regarding the Devils, there are certainly ways that they can make the playoffs this season. Marty Brodeur could return to Vezina contending form; Zach Parise could get happy with the franchise and start inspiring his teammates to do their best Montreal impression; Ilya Kovalchuk could play two-way hockey. But ultimately I don’t like the smell coming from that direction, and Parise being on a one-year deal with the ability to become an unrestricted free agent next summer is kind of akin to granting someone a pity date. Sure, maybe the date will go amazing and the loser will raise his game and convince the hot girl to date him again, but more likely is that the date will come and go, the loser will act either defeated or desperate, and the whole thing will be a scene from a memory for the one granting the pity date. Let’s get the cast straight here — Parise is the one granting the pity date; the Devils are the ones who know this is it, now or never.
But even if Parise likes what he sees and buys into Kovalchuk as a higher paid teammate who plays the same position and plays inspired hockey, I still don’t think the Devils’ roster is very good. Aside from their two left wings and Patrik Elias, they don’t have a forward worth a damn in the NHL unless some of their entry-level guys show readiness from the beginning. I don’t even want to talk about their defense. Anton Volchenkov has to start earning his huge contract in year two with the Devils. Actually, no he doesn’t. And that might be the problem. Andy Greene is always going to be Andy Greene, and I’m tired of trying to convince myself otherwise. And then there’s the rest of them… prove me wrong Devils.
I want to buy into the Leafs, and I love their defensemen right now, but I think they’re just too weak systematically and in goal to rise up this season. The offense is alright, and Tim Connolly should give them something as the second-line center along with Phil Kessel. That is, if he doesn’t piss everyone off around him first. The real top line of MacArthur, Kulemin and Grabovski should be fine, although last year was the first time those guys did what they did, so maybe there’s a question of consistency. But the blue line is where this team is good, so logic would follow that they have to win games that way. Maybe they can with a rejuvenated Dion Phaneuf, freshly signed Luke Schenn and newly acquired J.M. Liles and Cody Franson (who incidentally is scratched for tonight’s opener). But in the end, I don’t predict the Leafs to have consistent above-average play in net, and until I can rely on that I can’t take them to the playoffs with the forwards in front of James Reimer & Jonas Gustavsson.
Ottawa should be a fun team to watch this season. Most people completely write them off, but those people don’t fully understand the beauty of Craig Anderson. I’ll keep saying this ‘til the day I die, but go back and watch Game 3 of the 2010 first round between Colorado and San Jose, all the way through the post-game if you can. If that isn’t enough, check out Craig’s first game with the Senators on February 19 of this year. It was a 1-0 win over the Maple Leafs, and it embodied what my brother and I have seen in Anderson for a few years now: the guy has an uncanny ability to win games with the game’s second-best group of skaters in front of him. That situation will present itself a lot this year, but watch what a professional does. And sure, he got his way out of Colorado, but can you blame him? Wouldn’t you do anything to get out of a burning building? Anderson did, and while noobs will compare Ottawa to Colorado negatively, I am 100% certain that Anderson is in a better situation now, and he knows it. The Sens are truly rebuilding, while Colorado sits without a captain, without hardly any players signed beyond this year, and without a whole lot of IQ points in the room. Anderson was too smart to be on the Avalanche, and the Senators are better off for it.
I really am saddened to pick Winnipeg for 14th, and I really can’t explain why I did so. They have a decent enough goalie in Ondrej Pavelec, some pretty good defensemen (at least on the offensive score sheet), forwards that should be good enough to at least compete for eighth, and one of the best home-ice advantages in the league. But I just don’t see enough there, and I think that once realignment is official, the team will start looking forward to next season in the western conference, when its travel will go from awful to just a lot. I really do like Pavelec as a starting goalie in this league, but I think his time is still coming, and the team may not be able to score enough goals to account for what I view as a less-than-stalwart defense.
And last but not least, the Florida Panthers. I think they’re trying, and I think there should be some more signings next year (at least there better be). I am a huge fan of winger David Booth, and I love what they did bringing defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski into a team that had to meet the salary cap floor. But as far as most of these forwards making $3 million or more on new contracts, I don’t think many of them are worth their weight in lead and I don’t see how the loss of goaltender Tomas Vokoun can be glossed over. Vokoun went out and killed it for an awful team. He kept to his grind and continually turned in top-level performances. Now, the Panthers are supposed to rely on Jose Theodore to get it done? Beyond him, there’s Scott Clemmensen, but he’s not even healthy, and to throw all-everything prospect Jacob Markstrom into the fire could do more harm that good, although I actually think he seems like a mentally strong kid who could handle a 3+ GAA. 
Aside from Booth and the two new D men, one player to watch closely is blue liner Erik Gudbranson. I wrote about him in my summer predictions, but the time has come to see how much he’s improved his game. The sky is the limit for this kid, and the limit for the team should rise every year. But for purposes of this year alone, I don’t see the top-level talent or the depth necessary to compete for anything beyond a double digit finish in the east.

Picks for the west are in, and post will be up before all the action really gets going this weekend.
It’s time for the second of six editions of Premature NHL Prognostication, and we’ll pick up with the division that sports the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Northeast Division looks to be a three-team race this year with Ottawa and Toronto still rebuilding, but by no means should this division be ignored.
The talking points are there for every team contending for the top spot. Boston comes into the season as the defending champions for the first time in nearly 40 years, and brings with it nearly the same roster. Buffalo enjoyed its first offseason while under the passionate ownership of former natural gas drilling mogul Terry Pegula, who has turned his attention to hockey by funding Penn State’s startup program and buying the Sabres, as well as making some lower profile sports acquisitions. And Montreal is Montreal. They’ll always have their fan base, but they bring a squad into 2011-12 that has earned a reputation as playing tough and being better than the sum of its parts after advancing to the eastern conference finals in 2010 and pushing the Bruins to the brink in 2011. Let’s get to the unnecessarily early projections.
1st: Boston Bruins 2010-11: 103 points, 1st in division
The Bruins looked like an upper-echelon team early last season, but really at no point were they “supposed to win” the Stanley Cup. Even coming into Game 7 at Vancouver, the Bruins were a betting underdog, as almost any road team would be. The usual questions that follow a championship season exist:
  • Can the Bruins repeat in 2011-12?
  • Will the hunger be there during the regular season?
  • Will the makeup of the team be the same?
The last question can be answered in the affirmative. Boston has only lost Michael Ryder (to Dallas) and Tomas Kaberle (to Carolina) from its group that played most of the 25 playoff games this past spring. The money wasn’t right for either of them, and so the Bruins did the logical thing: let them walk. Most assume that 43 year-old Mark Recchi is done playing NHL hockey, and the team still has to get third-line winger Brad Marchand back under contract. Perhaps part of the holdup on Marchand’s new deal is due to the fact that team captain Zdeno Chara essentially deported Marchand back to Canada for “partying too hard” in Boston in the weeks that followed the Stanley Cup win. While I think young people drinking too much can be a serious problem, Marchand certainly sounds and plays like a character guy that most hockey teams would appreciate having, and I don’t think there’s any question that he’ll be back in the fold for the Bruins this fall.
Boston’s only free agent acquisition of note is left wing Benoit Pouliot from Montreal, who can be loosely seen as filling the positional hole left by the retiring Recchi.
The goaltending situation in Boston doesn’t really need to be examined too deeply. Tim Thomas is coming off his second Vezina Trophy in three years and the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. Also on the roster is 24 year-old Tuukka Rask, who started 45 regular season games in 2009-10, along with all 13 playoff games that year. Rask figured to be the Bruins starter coming into last season, but Tim Thomas pretty much led the league in peripheral stats from wire to wire, giving the Bruins no choice but to roll the guy enjoying a season for all-time. Rask still managed to make 29 appearances last year, but regressed with a record of 11-14-2 to go with a 2.67 GAA. His .918 save percentage was solid, but didn’t measure up to his own .931 from the previous season, nor to Thomas’ .938 last year. All in all, there’s no reason to expect the Bruins goaltending to be anything shy of top ten in the league this season, and that’s almost a worst-case scenario.
The thing I love about the Bruins is their ability to do it all. They play a physical style, but also have guys with great skill. David Krejci revealed himself as a sharp shooter in the playoffs, and Nathan Horton came up with huge goal after huge goal before meeting his season’s untimely end early in Game 3 of the finals. Everyone knows about Patrice Bergeron’s two-way game, and Rich Peverley adds some B-Table offense to the team. Nobody is quite sure what to expect from sophomore center Tyler Seguin this year, but he certainly made good of his few opportunities in last year’s playoffs. Seguin has the potential to be the best forward on the team, but it will probably take some time for him to get his grip on the little things that make a guy like Bergeron so effective.
Defensively, the Bruins blue liners sum up the team as a whole. They are big, bruising guys who can jump in offensively and contribute. The back end is obviously led by the big customs agent, 2008-09 Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara. But beyond Chara, the Bruins have minute chewer Dennis Seidenberg, who is defensively sound and a good enough skater and puck handler to factor big offensively as well. The rest of Boston’s defenders are less polished, but they all play a role. Johnny Boychuk can lay a big hit, and Andrew Ference makes sure not to get beat. Ference was plus-22 last season, and tallied two-thirds the number of points in the playoffs as he did in the regular season while playing only one-third the number of games. Then he, er, didn’t flip off the Montreal crowd in the first round of the playoffs. Joe Corvo’s best asset is his belief that he can shoot the puck 120 mph, but if the Bruins are smart Corvo won’t be called upon to do too much this season.
Considering that the Bruins won the division by seven points last season before going on to win the league’s ultimate prize, I see no reason not to peg them as favorites in the Northeast this season.
2nd: Buffalo Sabres 2010-11: 96 points, 3rd in division
Buffalo and Montreal ended up tied behind the Bruins last year, and both teams ended up losing Game 7s on the road in the first round. But unlike Montreal, the Sabres went ape shit trying to land new players under the still new ownership of Pegula. The state of the franchise is a far cry from a few years ago when contraction or relocation seemed like a real possibility.
The reason I like Buffalo to finish ahead of Montreal this season is based on the idea that if two teams start out as equals (both had 96 points and lost in Game 7 of the first round last year), then the team that improves the most should be better in the near future. We’ll get to the breakdown of Montreal next, but the Sabres scored a couple of players in the offseason that signaled their ascent to free agent relevance, in case some people still hadn’t gotten the Pegula memo.
The biggest of the offseason grabs was German-born defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who had spent the previous two seasons with the contending Vancouver Canucks. Ehrhoff’s new 10-year, $40 million contract has been much debated, but the fact is he’s a Sabre now, and that can’t be anything but good for Buffalo on both sides of the puck. Ehrhoff’s fluid skating and puck movement should increase the Sabres’ time of possession and create scoring chances that previously were given to the Sedins and company in Vancouver. Ehrhoff tallied 94 points and played at a plus-55 in his two seasons with the Canucks (159 games played).
The Sabres also scored free agent winger Ville Leino, who came onto the scene in the 2009 playoffs with Detroit. The Red Wings were suffering from their typical injuries, and Leino held down the fort well enough to get the Wings through to the finals, where they eventually lost in seven games to Pittsburgh. Leino was traded the following season to Philadelphia, where he put together his first legitimate NHL season last year. The Finnish forward contributed 53 points in 81 games for the Flyers in 2010-11, and played in all of the team’s 11 playoff games. Leino appears to have solid offensive potential, as he skates well while also using his solid frame to compete for position around the circles. Leino amassed 77 points in 55 games in his final season in Finland with Jokerit Helsinki in 2007-08. He will be 28 years old throughout the upcoming season.
But the best new addition to this squad might be an old edition in the form of returning top-line center Derek Roy. The 32nd overall pick from ten years ago was rolling with 35 points in as many games before he tore a quadriceps just before Christmas. Roy returned to play only in the team’s final game in which they were brutally eliminated by Philadelphia. Roy may not quite be Brad Richards, but he is a huge boost to a Buffalo team that had to figure out how to score without him for the final 47 games of the regular season and the first six games against the then-defending eastern conference champ Flyers. Roy is shifty, quick and an excellent passer. I would expect nothing shy of 55 assists assuming Roy is able to play close to 80 games this season.
The Sabres recently resigned backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth, but I wouldn’t expect him to see a whole lot of time this year. Ryan Miller just turned 31 years old and could be entering the final stages of his prime. Most of the Sabres’ acquisitions have to do with owner Pegula’s seriousness about winning, but some of them also have to do with the fact that Buffalo knows that the window for having an all-world goaltender might be closing, albeit slowly. Between the success of elderly chaps like Tim Thomas and Marty Brodeur, and Miller’s own lack of having to carry a lot of weight around (6’2” but only 175 lbs.), I wouldn’t expect to see much decline in Miller’s play for at least four years. But that doesn’t change the fact that goalies are hugely important to winning championships, and Buffalo currently has one of the best. It’s not now-or-never, but it’s somewhat-soon-or-maybe-not-for-a-long-while.
The Sabres still have to figure out how to get into compliance with the salary cap, as they are rostering over $3.5 million too much with their current 23-man squad. But that will get figured out somehow, and I don’t expect it to include any huge losses. The resignings of defensemen Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber help fill out the blue line. Sekera played over 21 minutes a game last year, adding 26 assists. Weber brought the thunder with 158 hits in just 58 games. Bringing back winger Drew Stafford was also a priority in the offseason, and the Sabres did what they probably will do for a while now: they got their man. Stafford scored a four-year deal worth $4 million per season, and he will be expected to bring more consistent scoring than in seasons past. Stafford scored 31 goals in 62 games last season, and will only turn 26 years old in late October.
Two Sabres to Watch
Brad Boyes was brought in at the trading deadline from St. Louis, and the catchphrase that everyone wanted to use to describe Boyes was “sharpshooter.” Well, the gun misfired, because Boyes did not bring the Sabres that offense they desperately needed. He went for 5 goals in 21 regular season games with Buffalo before marking only one up on the board in the Sabres’ seven-game loss to the Flyers. Boyes has one more year left on his contract at a $4 million cap hit, and one has to wonder if he will be around at the end of the season, and maybe even at the beginning.
On defense, Tyler Myers enters his third NHL season. The 6’8” Texas-born Canadian was the rookie of the year in 2009-10, but took a long time to get off the ground last season. Myers was playing better by the end of the season, and contributed five assists and a goal in the seven-game loss to the Flyers. If Myers can emerge as a big-time NHL defenseman this year, then the Sabres have a very formidable group of blue liners. If he cannot, then a lot will be asked of guys like Ehrhoff, Sekera, the offensively-minded Jordan Leopold, and rock-solid Robyn Regehr, who had 180 hits and 142 blocked shots while skating 21:29 per game last year. Leopold is a career minus-28 in eight NHL seasons, despite playing for playoff qualifiers in six of those years. I know that plus/minus is sometimes a misleading or unfair stat, but in this case, I think the numbers fairly represent what I’ve seen on the ice. Leopold did manage 13 goals and 22 assists in 71 games last season, however. In short, the progress of Myers should help determine whether the Sabres are stuck between 6th and 8th in the east or if they can put it together and separate from Montreal while challenging Boston for the division title this season.
3rd: Montreal Canadiens 2010-11: 96 points, 2nd in division
The Canadiens have made a living lately by stuffing their detractors’ words right back where they came from. I doubted that Montreal would even make the playoffs last year, and then wrote that they probably couldn’t handle Boston’s size in round one. Well, they acquitted themselves just fine, again, and I’m done doubting them as a playoff team that can contend with anyone. On paper I don’t think the Canadiens should finish any higher than 8th in the east, but they seem to have a toughness that can’t be quantified.
Toughness means nothing without a good goaltender, and last season Carey Price established himself as one of the better ones in the league. We kept waiting for the immature Price to rear his ugly head, but that never did happen. From the first game of the season all the way to allowing Nathan Horton’s overtime eliminator in Game 7, Price was outstanding. He stood out. I’ve questioned his mental makeup in the past, but after last season, I’m convinced. Price looks like an uber-talented guy who finally grew up and figured out how to get out of his own head and just play hockey hard every night. I actually think a .920 save percentage can be expected this season, and it might need to be achieved. Price’s backup situation went from bad to bad when the Habs replaced Alex Auld with former Avalanche left-hander Peter Budaj. Price played 72 of 82 games last year, and he’ll need to play close to 70 again this year if Montreal wants to make the playoffs. The last time Price had to battle a Slovakian backup, he lost his job to Jaroslav Halak. Don’t expect history to repeat itself with Halak’s international backup, Budaj.
In front of Price will be a group of defensemen with different playing styles. Smooth-skating and hard-shooting Andrei Markov is back from injury and ready to go. The Habs resigned his polar opposite, Hal Gill, to a new one-year deal in the offseason. Gill is a towering man who uses his length and strength to keep defenders from Price’s crease. Youngster P.K. Subban is something of a combination of aforementioned two, possessing neither the size of Gill nor the polished offensive game of Markov, at least not yet. But Subban is just 22, and was able to come up with 14 goals and 24 assists in his rookie campagin last year. He also produced when it counted, as he was the one to notch the power play goal with under two minutes remaining in Game 7 to force overtime in Boston. Although Horton eventually knocked Montreal out, that doesn’t erase Subban’s biggest clutch moment of his young career. Subban had over 100 hits and blocks last year, an indicator that he gets involved often. Much like Tyler Myers in Buffalo, the Canadiens’ back end largely depends upon the progression of its bright youngster, P.K. Subban.
Montreal’s forwards appear to be less threatening on the whole than your typical contender, which is why I can’t project them higher than third in the Northeast. Outside of the short-but-dynamic center Tomas Plekanec, the Habs don’t seem to have a lot of firepower. There’s Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and the newly-signed Erik Cole, who score but can’t create the way Plekanec can. Gionta quietly scored 29 goals last year, while Cammalleri added 19 with 28 assists while missing 15 games due to injury. Cole was Montreal’s big offseason signing, and he is coming off a 26 goal, 26 assist season with Carolina. The Habs need Cole to at least match that output if they are to have a chance to go higher than Buffalo or Boston in this division, but realistically his contract should demand 30+ goals for a team that needs them to come from some consistent sources.
Scott Gomez and his $7.3 million cap hit continue to be talking points, but salary aside, he is the one forward besides Plekanec who has the speed and touch to create for others. Frankly, Gomez was not good enough last season. He limped in with 38 points (only 7 goals) and was minus-15 in 2010-11. But if Gomez can channel previous seasons, then the Habs can have their second centerman that they desperately need offensively. Since the lockout, Gomez had assist totals of 51, 47, 54, 42 and 47 before last year’s disappointing output of 31. The Alaskan is only 31 years old, so it’s not as if he’s over the hill and has no chance to physically recapture the magic, although it seems like Gomez should be older by now. He broke into the NHL in 1999 and played all 82 games in his Stanley Cup winning rookie season with the Devils. Since then Gomez won another Cup in 2003 before playing two seasons each for the Rangers and Canadiens, which brings us to the present. A two-time Cup winner with 508 career assists at the age of 31 shouldn’t be written off, but the Habs need a bounce back season by Gomez in a bad way.
Given their goaltending, talent at the very top, and fighting spirit, I think the Habs have the chance to compete with anyone. But considering what I think is a lack of depth up against a big spender and a defending champion, I think third place is what Montreal should expect this season, which should be good enough to get them back into the playoffs for the fifth straight year.
4th: Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: 85 points, 4th in division
Based on my love for Craig Anderson, I really wanted to put Ottawa here. But I just couldn’t. The Leafs have done what they could do lately to improve the squad while also focusing on the long-term health of the organization. They dealt away players that they knew were either leaving or demanding big paydays, as well as wingers who couldn’t live up to top-six responsibilities without all-star Cup winners around them.
The Leafs got a passionate effort out of no-name goaltender James Reimer, and rewarded him with a new three-year contract that more than tripled his pay grade. Reimer is expected to be the Leafs’ starter in net, but the previously anointed one, Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson, is still hanging around and certainly doesn’t want his NHL career to go down in flames. A little healthy competition could turn out to be beneficial for the Leafs, if not this season, then later on down the line after one of them had to actually win a competition.
I’m almost done talking about winger Phil Kessel. The guy’s a great shooter, he’s got potential as well as past performance, but he hasn’t totally lived up to the trade that brought him to Toronto yet. In fairness, we all give Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik the asterisk of not having played with a great center, and yet Kessel’s situation hasn’t been any different in Toronto. The Leafs brought in Tim Connolly from Buffalo, so we’ll see if he’s the answer to Kessel’s goal scoring consistency questions.
The team also scored forward Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson from Nashville in exchange for Robert Slaney and former Red Wing bust Brett Lebda. At the very least, the Leafs upgraded at each position this season with that trade. At most, they robbed the Preds. We’ll see how it turns out, as Lombardi is coming off a concussion that basically erased his entire season (he played two games). Franson notched a surprising 21 assists from the blue line last season, despite only playing 15:10 a night.
Toronto had a couple of forwards who “came up” last season, including center Clarke MacArthur and his linemate Nikolai Kulemin. Those guys played out of their minds from the second line last year, and we’ll see if either of them was a one-hit wonder or if the Leafs found a couple gems.
There were also some forwards who didn’t quite live up, starting with center Tyler Bozak. I think some of the Leafs’ youngsters suffered a little bit from being under the microscope. Bozak and Nazem Kadri should have better seasons this year, and one never knows if winger Joffrey Lupul is ready to return to being a sniper like he was with Anaheim once upon a time (and I mean “once;” Lupul only really overachieved during the 2006 playoffs). The Leafs hope so, as Lupul is the third-highest paid forward on the team. Anyone willing to bet that he scores in the top three? I didn’t think so.
Toronto has a few winners on defense. Besides the newly-acquired Franson, the Leafs boast one of the better overall defensemen in Dion Phaneuf. The big guy leads the team in salary, and rightfully so. Phaneuf must continue to bring it at a high level while also bringing along Toronto’s young defensemen, Keith Aulie, 22, and Luke Schenn, 21. Schenn is an RFA right now, but is really just waiting on a new contract. I can’t see any way the Leafs don’t come to terms with the promising blue liner who has the gifts to become one of the league’s best.
The Maple Leafs look like a team in rebuilding mode, and they seem to have a fan base that is ready to stay the course. Playoff appearances are always desired, but there’s almost no chance of the ultimate success this year, and I expect the team to keep building toward that ultimate goal somewhere down the line through consistent improvement. Fourth place is the status quo this year for Toronto. Finishing fifth would be underachieving, while beating out Montreal, Buffalo or Boston would be pleasantly unexpected. I don’t expect it, and the Leafs should finish around 10th or 11th in the eastern conference in 2011-12.
5th: Ottawa Senators 2010-11: 74 points, 5th in division
I really want to believe in the Sens. They have a goalie in Craig Anderson who rocked a 2.05 GAA in 18 games with the team last year, following a dreadful 3.28 behind a group of skaters who seemingly couldn’t care less in Colorado. One reason I wanted to pick Ottawa ahead of Toronto this year was based on Anderson’s first game with the Senators on February 19. He had one of his patented “give a damn” games and stopped all 47 shots in a 1-0 road shootout win over the Leafs. I expect Craig to enjoy a fresh season in Ottawa playing behind a group of players who seemed to love playing for the vocal goalie.
But then I looked at the rosters and realized the two problems with taking Ottawa over anyone this year. First, they just aren’t deep enough at NHL positions. They have plenty of solid young talent that contributed big time in bringing the AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators its first Calder Cup championship. But those guys aren’t ready to be day-in, day-out performers at the level needed to succeed in the NHL. And that would be fine, if the Senators had big time top-line players who took care of business.
Enter Jason Spezza, one of the few players I’m more tired of talking about than Phil Kessel. The Sens top center is still rolling at almost a point-a-game clip, and still rolling at a miss 20 games a season clip. And honestly, a team that is as young as the Sens needs its big time offensive talent to deliver at least a point a game. Fifteen players of consequence scored at that pace last season, and a team like the Sens need a guy like Spezza to be in that top 15 if they’re going to be able to overachieve. But despite Spezza’s talent, I doubt he’ll top 70 points this year, for inexplicable reasons. I mean it shouldn’t even be plausible to go back and relive the Alexei Yashin trade in 2001, but Spezza at least makes you wonder. Ok, you’re right, no he doesn’t. But still.


Is that styrofoam cup biodegradable, Jason?

Spezza reminds me of one of the many memorable quotes from the movie The Big Lebowski, where Jackie Treehorn sends a couple of collectors to The Dude’s apartment to collect sums of money that didn’t exist in The Dude’s household. After dunking The Dude’s head in the toilet and peeing on his rug, the thugs start to figure out that they got the wrong Jeffrey Lebowski. One intruder looks to the other and asks, “Woo, isn’t this guy supposed to be a millionaire?” Woo takes about a second before concluding that The Dude “looks like a fucking loser.”

Photo via
“No, like I said, Woo peed on my rug.”

Perhaps these words are a bit harsh and untrue, as Spezza is a multi-millionaire and has enjoyed periods of winning, most notably during the three-year stretch immediately following the lockout that saw the Sens make the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. Spezza did manage 90, 87 and 92 points in those seasons, respectively. Yet the Lebowski summary remains. You watch him play, and you realize why he was the #2 pick in the draft in 2001. He shows control with the puck, speed and precision passing that can get any fan base excited. But then you keep watching and you notice that he can’t stay on the ice. You notice that his assist totals went south around the same time that fellow #2 overall pick (from the 2000 draft) Dany Heatley wore out his welcome in Ottawa and was subsequently traded to San Jose for Milan Michalek, who isn’t a top-six NHL forward, and Jonathan Cheechoo, who inexplicably led the NHL with 56 goals in 2005-06 before he forgot how to score and was waived, sent to Binghamton, and bought out of his contract before quietly rejoining the Sharks minor league team.
And so now, outside of aging captain Daniel Alfredsson, Spezza has almost nobody to turn to for support. Spezza’s individual talent leads one to compare him with the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire. But he’s quietly letting a promising career slide into irrelevance, albeit with the help of the organization dealing away talented players in exchange for very little. It’s too early to write Jason Spezza off, but from a team game standpoint, per Woo in Lebowski, he’s starting to look like a bleeping loser.
Aside from Spezza, the rest of the Senator veterans didn’t do enough last season, and from top to bottom don’t really have the ability to score enough goals to contend. Ottawa outscored only New Jersey in the entire NHL last year, so simple improvement may not be enough to get into the playoffs this year, or even to beat out Toronto in the division. I love Anderson, and I like the Sens talent on defense in the forms of Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson, but I just don’t see enough offensive depth for Ottawa to contend for the playoffs in 2011-12. Former Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean will take over head coaching duties for the Senators this year. It’s a rebuilding process, and one that the B-Sens showed has real promise. The time just hasn’t come yet.
Next up, we’ll round out the eastern conference with our premature picks for the order of finish in the Southeast Division.