yankee hockey

NEXT YEAR IN ZION

As of tonight the playoffs are pretty much set (with the seven and eight spots in the West coming down to the final two games). Some teams deserved a spot but couldn’t find one, some teams couldn’t fight through the rough patches, and some teams apparently were brought into the league from the ECHL without any of our knowledge. The year is over for 14 teams, but that doesn’t mean those teams should be out of our minds. Let’s see what non-playoff teams have in store for the off-season leading into next season.

NY Islanders:

The Islanders are a team mired in mediocrity. It’s sad that a team that dominated the late seventies/early eighties is now the laughing stock of the league. What with a 15 year contract for DiPietro (how’s that going Mr. Wang?), along with years of teams consisting of youngsters without mentors, there’s not much to look forward to. If GM Garth Snow is smart he’ll forego the siren song of Tavares and go for big defensemen Hedman who they need more. With Kyle Okposo, Bill Guerin, and Mark Streit leading the scoring department, Richard Park leading the heart department, and Viktor Hedman leading the defense they sure to finish better then last next year.

Tampa Bay:

They had a hickup this year. This team is much better then it’s record. What they really need is defense. They may be better off trading their early pick for a load of big NHL ready defensemen. If they can shore up their back end then they’ll be back in the playoffs next year.

Colorado:

Everything in Colorado depends on what Sakic decides to do this off-season. It’s my belief that he wants one more full year and won’t let this year be his last. Still, a year lost to injury could convince an older player that it’s time to hang ’em up. Even with Sakic back, there’s not much Colorado can do to make it back to the post-season next year, unless there’s a cave in the Rockies where a goalie and a defense is hiding.

Atlanta:

Like Colorado, there’s not much they can do in Atlanta to make it to the post-season next year. This is a team that requires a couple of years of building before it gets back into the playoffs. It all starts at the draft where they need to be smart, not popular. They need a Rick Nash or Shea Webber like player, not another Kovalchyuk.

Los Angeles:

This    team    is    so   good. Too bad there are at least seven teams in the West who will still be better next year, so it will still be a battle for them to make it into the playoffs. Still, you gotta think they’ll fight for Anaheim for that spot all year with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick.

Phoenix:

Like LA, Phoenix is a very good team. They have a very strong defense, they’ll have an older Kyle Turris, and hopefully they’ll still have Shane Doan. I’m not sure what happened to Bryzgalov this year, but he could get it back next year. I think they’ll be fighting for the eighth spot.

Toronto:

It’s another rebuilding year in TO. Unfortunately they have nothing to build with., especially since they traded almost all of their tradeable players before the deadline this year and really only managed to replace their second round pick. We’ll see if Brian Burke can prove he didn’t just inherit a champion team in Anaheim.

Dallas:

Things are looking old in Dallas. They need to get young and they need to get young fast. I expect them to be amongst the busiest traders come draft day. Will Modano stay another year? Will Turco flop again next year? They’ll need to improve a lot to make it back to the post-season, I expect a couple of years of rebuilding.

Ottawa:

Ottawa is a weird one cause they can score a metric butt-load of goals, but somehow they couldn’t score more then the opposition. They need goaltending and a puck moving defensemen. They can probably get both through trades alone. With those two things in place they should be able to squeeze into one of the bottom three spots in the East.

Edmonton:

For years now Edmonton has been the whipping boy of the Northwest Division, and that’s not likely to change. Their number one goaltender ends this season at 39 years of age, their young players aren’t playing well enough, and their defense is error prone. What they really need in the off-season is a Michael Peca-type leader, the kind you used to have in Ryan Smyth. If they can address that need (instead of trying to poach some untested RFA again) then they have a good chance to improve in the standings.

Minnesota:

One of the teams that may still make it into the post-season, Minny doesn’t stand a chance. In the off-season they will lose their most gifted offensive talent in Marian Gaborik, not that he ever could reach his potential because of injuries. That leaves them with talented, but not nearly talented enough Mikko Koivu. The Wild do not have the firepower to get back into the post-season, nor will they be able to find it in one off-season. I see in their future, the NY Islanders.

Buffalo:

They really shouldn’t be on this list, but they are going to be playing golf this Spring instead of hockey so here they are. All they need is a full season from Tomas Vanek and Ryan Miller and they are good to go.

Florida:

Like Buffalo, they didn’t necessarily belong on this list. They will, however, next season if they can’t replace Jeremy Bouwmeester. This was their year and they just couldn’t pull it off. They’re going to need to get some tough defenders and some flashy forwards in the off-season.

There will be one more team to miss the playoffs, but at this point there are three tied at 88. Each of those teams has what it takes, for the most part, to make it. And all of those teams, for the most part, are primed to improve next season. Nashville found a great starting goaltender in Pekka Rinne. St Louis has an incredibly potent offense. And Anaheim… well if Niedermayer doesn’t retire and they keep Pronger there’s no reason to doubt they won’t be right back in the thick of things come 2010. The biggest question is who is in this year that will get left behind next year. Look out Montreal, at the end of the season all but ten of your contracts run out, and you barely squeezed in this year.

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