1. Tampa Bay Lighting – Currently tied with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference with 15 points and a 7-2-1 record. This is a very interesting team that added Steve Yzerman as VP and General Manger to its Hockey Operations in May of this year. Yzerman had served as VP with the Detroit Red Wings for five years and is one of the brightest young minds in hockey these days.
It doesn’t hurt that he worked with a very strong Detroit organization where he was mentored by some of the top people in the business. What Yzerman has done is added some pieces to an already talented team, led by 20 year old Steven Stamkos who is only in his second season, but is currently leading the NHL in points with 19.
If you can recall, Stamkos finished last season tied with Sidney Crosby for 51 goals and a share of the Maurice Richard Trophy awarded for most goals scored in a season.
All this in only Stamkos’ second year in the NHL. If this kid has proven one thing, it is that he knows how to score and in numbers.
The Lighting is stocked with scorers like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and they added Simon Gagne from the Philadelphia Flyers this season. Unfortunately Gagne has not got off to the start the Lighting was hoping for, as he has no points to date.
They have a good mixture of veterans and youth that understand their roles within this team. Ryan Malone, Steve Downie, Victor Hedman, Dominic Moore and Teddy Purcell, are just a few of the names that make up this line-up.
On defense, first round pick Victor Hedman, all 6’6” of him, is being mentored by a very experienced Mattias Ohlund, who was a great signing and utilization for Tampa Bay. Add to that the off season signing of UFA Pavel Kubina, Randy Jones and Brett Clark, and you can say Yzerman has done a fine job in shoring up the back end.
Goaltender Dan Ellis, who came over from Nashville, has been the benefactor of the stronger defense, as he has posted some sparkling numbers with 2.37GAA and a .914 Sv %.
2. Montreal Canadiens – After letting goaltender Jaraslav Halak go in the off season, there was a boat load of doubts whether Carey Price would come close to filling those skates. Anyone who watched the outstanding play of Halak in the play-offs, where he led the Canadiens to the third round, was surely scratching their heads about the decision to not re-sign him.
But who would have thought that the Habs would be tied for first place in the Eastern Conference?
This is not a big team in size with players like Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri, but they did add some grit with Dustin Boyd and size with Lars Eller. Speaking of Gionta and Gomez, they are off to a real slow start with three points apiece, so that is a surprise in light of Montreal’s standings.
Who has emerged to take up the points slack is Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, with 10 each. Also, Jeff Halpern who was with the LA Kings and Tampa Bay Lighting last season, is already on pace for a career year in points, with seven in 11 games. So the scoring is coming from players other than their top line.
On defense, the emergence of P.K. Subban, who played in two regular and 14 play-off games last season, has added some depth to a group that already has a number of good D-men. With the return of their leader Andrei Markov to the line-up and the already present Roman Hamrlik, Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Ryan O’Byrne, it’s no wonder that Carey Price is posting the numbers he is.
In this league you don’t have stats like 2.38GAA and a .912 Sv % without some help in front of you.3. New Jersey Devils – When you look at a team like the Devils, who finished in the the top five over the last seasons (2nd,3rd, 4th, 2nd and 3rd), now sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference – that’s a huge surprise!
This is an organization that has been built by CEO/Pres./General Manager Lou Lamoriello to be consistently a contender for the Stanley Cup. To see a line-up such as theirs underperforming, is mind boggling.
How can a team with Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Arnott, Dainius Zubrus, Zach Praise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias, just to list a few, be where they are? This is a team with a future Hall of Fame goaltender in Martin Brodeur who is presently 3W-7L, 2.78GAA and a .905 Sv %.
Those are not Brodeur type stats - heck, you have to go back to 1991-92 when he first broke in with the Devils, to find worse numbers. I believe one of the main reasons for the 39GA to the 20GF is due to the condition of their defense.
Right now there are three key D-men out with injuries in Anton Volchenkov (only played 2 games), Bryce Salvador and Mark Fraser. The only other D-men in the line-up that have much in the way of NHL experience, are Colin White, Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene. Not exactly household names.
What the Devils are also facing is the inexperience of first year head coach John MacLean, although you would think having served seven years as an assistant NHL coach with these same Devils would garner him enough experience.
There were more than a few eyebrows raised this season when MacLean sat out Kovalchuk, with what was reported to have been a few late showings for practice time. At least MacLean was going to let the rest of the team know who was boss, big multi-year contract or not.
Once Volchenkov and Salvador get back into the line-up, I think you’ll see the ship turned around or else MacLean may be forced to walk the gang plank.4. St. Louis Blues – Maybe they shouldn’t be so much of a surprise when you have Jaroslav Halak as your goaltender with his 1.71GAA and .931 Sv%. I mean this is the goalie that was responsible for Montreal’s deep run into the play-offs.
People were wondering how he would do with the Blues. Well his stats and the success in the early season of the Blues speak volumes, as St. Louis sits in the number three spot in the Western Conference.
This team is loaded with some fine young talent and I was wondering when they were going to have a break out year. Well with Halak, that just might happen this season.
David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, Eric Johnson, Matt D’Agostini, Patrik Berglund are a few of the Blues young guns that are stepping forward to awaken the rest of the NHL, saying here we are. There are a number of veterans that have shown the younger players just exactly how this is done.
Andy McDonald, Alex Steen, Brad Boyes, Barrett Jackman and Eric Brewer have added that veteran leadership, like the right seasoning to a bubbling recipe.
In the NHL these days you just don’t go very far without a supporting defense, which makes the goaltender’s job just a little bit easier. Some of the names I mentioned previously have made Halak’s job, and his stats, what they currently are.
Led by Eric Brewer, Barrett Jackman, Brad Boyes, Roman Polak and Carlo Colcaiacov, and the addition of young D-men Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo, has given this Blues team a solid group with some depth.
Since the Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson, joined the organization in 2006, he has gone about building this team by adding some of the missing ingredients. and Jaroslav Halak in goal, was probably the key one to date.5. Los Angeles Kings – For some it may have come as a surprise, but for me I aleady picked them to win the Pacific Division and finish in the top three of the Western Conference. They currently are first in the Western Conference. Last season they finished sixth and made it to the play-offs for the first time since 2001/02.
This is a team that has been built well through the draft system. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Parse, Brayden Schenn and Drew Doughty all came through the entry level draft.
The Kings, with their young talent (watch for Simmonds to be in their top 5 point stats next season) and especially Doughty, who could be a Norris Trophy winner very soon, is the next up and coming team. This could be the next team like Chicago, to hoist the Stanley Cup.
With the addition of UFA Willie Mitchell on defense, LA has the makeup to do some damage come play-off time. Mitchell will be a great mentor for Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, who already have displayed their talent.
Along with Matt Greene and Rob Scuderi, the Kings now have formidable defense with the addition of Mitchell.
You throw in the off-season signing of UFA Alexei Ponikarovsky, to a mixture of the young guns Anze Kopitar, Scott Parse, Wayne Simmonds and Dustin Brown, sprinkle in a few veterans like Ryan Smyth, Michael Handzus, Jarrett Stoll and Justin Williams, and you have a recipe for a very good team.
The goaltending has the potential to be in the top ten this season with a pair of Jonathan’s – Quick and Bernier. Quick already hit the 40 win mark last year and Bernier was so highly thought of that Kings management shipped Erik Ersberg to the AHL, and when Ersberg balked at playing, gave him his outright release.
Already Quick is off to a torrid start with 7W-1L, 1.84GAA and a .938 Sv% and Bernier’s numbers are right up there also, 2.68GAA and a .910 Sv%. Both are in their early 20’s, so LA’s goaltending future looks solid.
Dean Lombardi, who was the San Jose Sharks chief architect, is now the President/General Manager of the LA Kings, and it’s no coincidence that his arrival has spurred some recent success. Another one of the very astute NHL hockey minds in the business.
I liked this team last year and I think it has the makings of another Chicago Blackhawks type of season. Well, maybe not like last year but definitely like two seasons ago when Chicago finished third in the Western Conference.
As always, you can also find me at @twitter.com/nucksiceman.com,
Filed under: NHL