7.Buffalo Sabres- This is understandably the ranking that will probably cause the most uproar as the Buffalo Sabres had the unwanted infamy of hoisting the league's worst record in 2014-2015. If it wasn't for the Edmonton Oilers and their unprecedented lottery benefit, winning the NHL draft lottery for the fourth time in six years the Sabres would of landed super prospect Connor McDavid which led to a comical moment where at the lottery, Sabres General Manager Tim Murray gave off a smirk of derision when his troops failed to secure the number one, but as he was and is well aware that the consolation prize of Jack Eichel is no slouch. The influx of talent the Sabres have hauled in over the spring and summer has been outstanding and I strongly believe that Buffalo Sabres are ready to make a gargantuan step forward and be forewarned, I'm implying that the Sabres have the recipe to make a long-standing classic dish.
The old saying "this isn't your grandma's...." applies to the 2015-2016 Sabre squad that isn't anywhere close to the 2014-2015 squad that made acquisitions just to improve their draft lottery position.As a disclaimer, I think the Buffalo Sabres have the forwards projected to make the 2015-2016 roster that one could argue, which I will do on their behalf that one through twelve, they possess the most depth bar none. One of the pressing questions I would ask new Head Coach Dan Byslma is what his plan of attack is for Jack Eichel pertaining to line combinations. Before the draft weekend we saw the deal that consummated which saw the Buffalo Sabres haul in Ryan O'Reilly from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for the Russian who for whatever reason displayed a premadonna attitude which fed up Tim Murray in defenceman Nikita Zadorov and Michael Grigorenko. I find it re-assuring that for the first time in quite a long time, from the top down beginning with owner Terry Pegula a winning culture is being presented back to the city of Buffalo, something when lumping in the notoriously awful Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. The aforementioned American patriarch Eichel along with O'Reilly down the middle will create a sense of open season for one of the more underrated players in todays game, that being the former Medicine Hat Tiger Tyler Ennis. Poised to smash the one hundred career goal plateau as he currently sits at eighty nine, Tyler will use his top notch speed to continue to be elusive to NHL defenders and what doesn't get enough attention in his game is his hands around the net. When comparing fellow speedsters such as Mason Raymond, Detroit's Darren Helm(also a former Medicine Hat Tiger) and Carl Hagelin, what differentiates Ennis is that once he takes a couple strides he is gone and once a break occurs, he has the goal scorer penchant to lead what will most definitely be a high octane Buffalo parade this year.
Addition by subtraction is always a positive mantra. Unfortunately where the problem enlies for supporters of the Sabres this year is that their was a little too much subtraction, and not enough addition defensively. Saying good-bye to Zadorov was a necessary evil as the perceived attitude issues, which are shocking because unlike a lot of Russians who have had trouble adjusting to the National Hockey League before him, he sought further development by enlisting the services of the Hunter family with joining the London Knights. Whatever skills gained in Southern Ontario, didn't translate to Southern New York. Zadorov was not the only key cog shipped out of town in the last calendar year, as more alarming to me was the loss of Tyler Myers. No spat towards Zach Bogosian, as he's a quality defenceman and his advanced detail to the defensive game will serve a team that had trouble keeping the puck out of the back of the net well, but not viewing Myers as part of the long term endeavor is inexcusable. As a general statement, and I know it seems like all I'm doing is ragging on the lack of (ex) defensive depth, but when I see an injustice I will pounce on it. In another bold statement, Myers is a top fifteen talent and for a young and up and coming team, I have a hard team believing dealing away a twenty five year old can be justified, not withstanding the acquisition of Evander Kane which led to Myers dismissal. So what DO the Sabres possess on defence aside from Bogosian? When I analyze the pros and cons of Josh Gorges, and I generally like to plug the former WHL'ers, I see someone that is an excellent defensive stalwart but provides less than John Scott offensively. His skating stride has dipped in the last three to four years which could be related to some recent nagging hamstring issues but it's imperative that he works on that facet in his game because unlike through his time in Montreal, judging from a lack of effective power-play"specialists", he will be counted upon to provide offense which has otherwise eluded him during this quasi illustrious career.
I'll throw out props when they are due, and major props to General Manager Murray for the acquisition of Robin Lehner. Fans in Buffalo, who haven't had a capable goaltender since the days of Dominik Hasek, and yes this is me firing shade at Ryan Miller, understandably are questioning whether or not Lehner has what it takes to be an every day starter? I'll re-assure everybody right now by undeniably stating that he does! Lehner was victim to a goaltending circus in Ottawa, and since he is no longer a carnie, Lehner can now prove that he's not someone to laugh at, but someone that has the fortitude to not only carry the Sabres to the playoffs this year, but do some damage while dancing. I was extremely tempted to rank the Sabres higher as a trip to the Stanley Cup is within reach.
8.Montreal Canadiens- Too small? Not a true number one center? Lacking that killer instinct? All these concerns have been brought up, to quote a Nelly/Tim McGraw classic, "over and over again". The real question that needs to be addressed is whethaer the ever introverted General Manager Marc Bergevin has recuperated the pieces that the team was missing during last year's playoff run which saw them bow out to the Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The summarization of that particular series is that they had no viable shut down option against the "triplets" including Johnson/Palat/Kucherov. The cold, hard fact of the matter that in the eastern conference, frankly the entire National Hockey League, comparables of the triplets are all over, and if they can't stop one, they won't be able to stop any. I firmly believe this organization has the basic pieces to be a consistent contender, which stats show they have been the last four years but need some fine-tuning to be done to reach the ultimate pinnacle.
With these collections of previews, one of the more common themes is profiling the players who get a lot of the recognition. For the Canadiens, a player who doesn't get the deserved praise who I'm going to give an impromptu shout-out to is the former Swift Current Bronco, Dale Weise. Most coaches would view the skill-set of Weise who skates hard and hits even harder as a great third line commodity, but what Michel Therrien did at times, which I thought was brilliant, was pairing Weise alongside two more skilled players as during their playoff exploits he saw time with Thomas Plekanec. If I were involved in the coaching circles, which I should be because my hockey methods would equal guaranteed success, I'd employ this logic on a nightly basis as a player like Weise, basically anybody who's willing to sacrifice himself in the corners is the ideal complimentary fit to a first or second line because he provides what most top players don't, tenacity. Also, I don't feel as if Dale is inept when it comes to the offensive side so he may be a hidden treasure for the Habs as we approach the 2015/2016 season. There have been reports, and this ties in to what I discussed pertaining to Nikita Zadorov, now of Colorado having that fair on unfair "Russian" reputation, unfortunately Alex Galchenyuk is beginning to harness a similar fate. For a recap of events, Galchenyuk found himself in coach Therrien's dog house at times throughout the 2014-2015 campaign and showed poor body English particularly in the playoffs. This complicated coach/player relationship led to a stalemate in contract negotiations with at the time agent Igor Larionov. In an interesting turn of events, considering Larionov was the one that brought the Russian turned American to the Ontario Hockey League, Galchenyuk and Larionov parted ways which saw a hookup of sorts between Alex and super-agent Pat Brisson. Brisson has the penchant, as evidenced in his works with Sidney Crosby of bringing sides back to the table after clear dissention has the majority of Quebecois optimistic that a fair deal can be reached. Conversely, let's say a deal cannot be consummated, it would then beg the question whether Bergevin could parlay this conundrum into a blockbuster trade. I for one suffices that it's a strong possibility, and because I love me some predictions I will fearlessly predict that if Galchenyuk remains unsigned by say.....September 1st, will be traded to the Florida Panthers for Nick Bjugstad. Like I mentioned, not a rumour, just a hunch on my part.
The going gets good on the back-end led by perennial Norris candidate P.K Subban. He's popular amongst the Canadian media, as he's always one to give notable sound bites, but more importantly to fans of the Canadiens, he's becoming increasingly popular on the ice based off of his play. Coming into the league via the now extinct Belleville Bulls, Subban's repertoire included his river boat gambler mindset with Gord Miller coining his up ice rushes as the "Sooby-doo", but couldn't be relied upon in his own end. This has most certainly changed as in the 2014-2015 season, he posted a career best +21.Another blackjack in the defensive side of the game may translate into a heroic season for both him and team and maybe, just maybe he can corral in a second Norris trophy. Who's coming along for the ride on the "Sooby-doo"? Nathan Beaulieu perhaps? What I like about Beaulieu is that he's a proven winner as he assisted the 2011 version of the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs to a Memorial Cup on a stacked team that included Zack Phillips and Jonathan Huberdeau. When his dad and himself aren't busy racking up assault charges at parties, I believe Beaulieu can be a serviceable top four defender because his foot speed is criminally overlooked. Some advice I would give assistant coach Clement Jodoin who is in charge of the defence is to start utilizing Andrei Markov better and stop treating him like the twenty four year old he no longer is and start realizing that at this stage of his career he is nothing more then a third pairing defender. Instantaneous results will follow as the more we see of Jeff Petry, the aforementioned Beaulieu and less of Markov we see on-ice will provide credibility to this franchise.
It's hard to fit in more positive adjectives for goaltender Carey Price then he already receives on a daily basis. The guy is great, the Wayne Gretzky of goaltending and nobody affiliated with the game of hockey would disagree when I opinionate, like always the Habs ship will sink or sail with the play of Carey Price.