21.Boston Bruins-Earlier in debuting this notorious blog, I issued some serious criticism towards General Manager Don Sweeney on now he handled the acquisitions of Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic, and how he handled the 2015 NHL Draft. Going into the 2014/2015 campaign, the Bruins were perennial Eastern Conference contenders to now transforming into possible divisional doormats. The Bruins, although nowhere near competing for a championship, have enough talent that I won't go as far to proclaim them as a laughing stock, but with the lack of success in Red Sox National and all of the turmoil presiding with the New England Patriots, mediocrity may becoming a norm in the Massachusetts professional sporting scene.
Upfront, massive things will be asked of the newly acquired Matt Beleskey. Beleskey, who made his mark with the Anaheim Ducks was awarded this off-season with a in my opinion undeserved nineteen million dollar contract over five years considering that prior to inking the gargantuan contract, his career high posted last year was thirty two points. I'm sorry, but on what universe is a 32 point player rewarded quasi-franchise player money? The Sweeney dismantling of this organization continues. If Beleskey can't improve upon that measly point total, I struggle to ascertain on who will be netting the goals especially considering their marquee, most noteworthy player is Patrice Bergeron, who's penchant is specializing in the defensive zone. Also, if you believe the infamous EA Sports cover curse, your Mr.NHL 2015 Bergeron may be due for a rapid decline in production. The player I'm expecting big things out of is the creative Czech David Pastrnak. For a player who just turned nineteen, a valid argument could be made that he's Boston's most talented commodity, which to continue my theme of bleak times in Boston could be a problematic dilemma for coach Claude Julien. I've seen Pastrnak lace up a handful of times and the skill is clearly there in spades, but I see a player who's prevy for taking too many chances and it's paramount that he become more of a trusted source in the d-zone. The utilization of Pastrnak will be key as I fully expect to see Julien start the year pairing Bergeron and Pastrnak. A seventy point season is what I'm predicting for this young lad.
Losing Dougie Hamilton for the likes of Zac Senyshyn...to quote a Buddy Holly classic "O Boy". I could spend the entire profile chronicling the gong show that was the Bruins 2015 draft, but the Dougie Hamilton deal comes to the forefront. I've seen better deals consummated in a Golden Baseball League, where the Calgary Vipers traded the late John Odom to the Laredo Broncos for baseball bats. With Hamilton now a member of the Calgary Flames, who's going to replace that level of productivity? If you're assuming the answer is Zdeno Chara, then A) you're delusional and B) clearly haven't watched Chara play in years as in recent memory his play has started to resemble an aging Roman Hamrlik. His patented shot that for years was so revered, can essentially be, to use a play on words, be as potent as a Ben "Revere" swing. To clarify that analogy, Ben Revere is a newly acquired Toronto Blue Jay who as of this writing has struggled out of them gate offensively going 2 for 15. The defenceman due for a breakout is Kevan Miller. One of the few NHL'ers hailing from Los Angeles which shows the success that Wayne Gretzky had reviving hockey in Southern California had an admirable rookie season last year skating his way to a +20. With the departure of Hamilton, a top four position is imminent for Miller and what I love about his game is his offensive instinct, which wasn't showcased the last couple of years but will need to be now. He delivers a great first pass which I appreciate is an over-used analogy but stringing the likes of Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on breakaways will be important duties to fulfill on an offensively challenged Bruins hockey club.
If Malcolm Subban is anything like his brother P.K personality wise, there may be a conflict of demeanor between himself and Tuuka Rask. Rask, who's one of the top goaltenders in the league has a quieter reputation which makes the potential dynamic amongst this goaltending battery intriguing. For his standards, Rask had a miserable year in 2014/2015, and by miserable I mean good but when comparing his statistics from years past, they pale in comparison. Rask will have to channel is inner 1995 Martin Brodeur for this team not to fall on the same hardships as the Boston Red Sox.
22.Florida Panthers- This ranking I immensely struggled with for a variety of reasons. For starters, I've had an unhealthy infatuation with this organization ever since the days of John Vanbiesbrouck, who I loved as a player, not so much as a club manager as he had dealt with the well reported racial accusations between himself and Trevor Daley while overseeing the Ontario Hockey League organization, the great Scott Mellanby, and the unheralded Paul Laus. As weird as it sounds, Paul Laus may have been my favourite hockey player growing up, him or Billy Guerin and I'm not sure the reason why I had a man crush on Laus other then him and I share the same birthday. One of those players that sticks with you over time. Getting back to the dilemma at hand, as much as I respected the vintage Florida Panthers, the modern day Panthers leave a lot to be desired. Does Head Coach Gerard Gallant have enough horses to one day contend for the Kentucky Derby? We'll soon find out.
Gerard Gallant and Jonathan Huberdeau prior to their time in the sunrise state, had a previous relationship with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs. This should bode well, and frankly should've boded better last year but it really didn't. He's now completed three full seasons in the National Hockey League and although his statistics continue to improve, I'm left wanting more, much more. To revert this to music terms, Huberdeau has been a steady employee of Much Music for a few years now, I'm waiting for him to take the splurge to the now defunct or re-named?...MuchMore Music. Huberdeau has drawn comparisons to "Lucky" Luc Robitaille, and in terms of appearance, sure I see the similarities but pertaining to the way they conduct themselves on the ice, they couldn't differentiate anymore in style. Robitaille was the player who couldn't skate and feasted of Wayne Gretzky's expert hockey sense, whereas Huberdeau is a decent skater and judging from his ever increasing penalty minutes has a feistiness about him that provides another interesting skillset, pure tenacity. Move over Charlie Conway, and I've referenced this on more then one occasion but my blog, my rules....there is a new "real Minnesota miracle man" by the name of Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad doesn't do one particular facet extraordinary, the same semblance could've been applied at Conway, but let's hope Bjugstad is more adaptable to critique then Conway was to coach Orion. He'll be counted upon in 2015/2016 the same way he was counted upon last year and that's to be relied on the penalty kill and chip in timely offence. Forty three points is commendable but I most definitely see a player who has the capability to scare the sixty point range. A training camp surprise to watch out, and I'm slating this fellow to make the team is Rocco Grimaldi. This gentleman had a stellar showing last year with San Antonio of the American Hockey League is primed to take that next jump into the big show. Due to his size being listed at 5'6, he'll naturally draw parallels to Martin St.Louis and Gallant will likely insert him in a fourth line role to begin with seeing minutes on PP2 as likely. Think Johnny Gaudreau Panther fans and you may have more then a fourth line commodity by the time seasons over. It leaves me one last question. Is Grimaldi the best athlete to don the name Rocco since the hay day of PGA Tour pro, and 2008 U.S Open runner-up Rocco Mediate?
As much as I had a fascination with Paul Laus back in the late nineties, his on ice productivity has already been tripled by prodigy Aaron Ekblad. Already staking claim to being a top fifteen NHL defenceman at the age of nineteen, the sky is literally the limit for this Barrie Colt alumni. What doesn't he do spectacularly already? He's responsible defensively in large part due to his size he can man handle National Hockey League veterans, he has an unbelievably accurate shot, and he can remarkably quarterback a power play. A statistic that I had a hard time wrapping my head around was throughout 2014-2015, as a rookie defenceman he reeled in four game winning goals. In just another player who along with Huberdeau and Gallant has a New Brunswick connection in Dmitri Kulikov. This former Moncton Wildcat rebounded after garnering through a disastrous 2013/2014 season. The plus minus statistic hasn't exactly been friendly to Kulikov over the years mainly due to limping through poor Panther teams, but last year was the first year to which he wasn't a minus player. The Panthers had a brief glimpse of playoff aspirations last year, and Kulikov's resilience was important in the resurgence but a continued development in that plus/minus category will be imperative for the Panthers to stay the course.
The man who fans chant "Luuuuuuuuuu" is still the sheriff between the pipes for the citizens of Miami. That's right Roberto Luongo, who is immersed in his second tenure with the organization will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership to a very young group. For what's it worth, I think General Manager Dale Tallon who has has made a lot of respected hockey related moves turning around this at one time perceived side show, colossally mismanaged the goaltending department. They had a budding goaltending prospect in Jacob Markstrom who they never gave a chance to, and elected to bring back the veteran to right a ship that at the time wasn't fully broken. Florida's stupidity is Vancouver's gain as it was when they sent a young, still proving himself Luongo to Vancouver many years ago. Do I think Luongo still has what it takes to take a team dancing to the playoffs? No, I do not but I fail to see any better internal options. Perhaps taking a run at the fallen out of favour Jack Campbell from the Dallas Stars should be in order?