23.Carolina Hurricanes-Ron Francis has long had the deserved reputation of being one of the league's great leaders, and will hope to use that praise overseeing a retooling Hurricanes organization that has been marred in a longer than desired drought ever since their magical 2005-2006 Stanley Cup Champions exploit. In a year from now, this ranking may drastically change as the Hurricanes have a renowned farm system which could lead to an exasperated charge as early as 2016-2017. Hurricane Raleigh may not take in full effect yet but it's worth watching to see the brute of the storm start brewing.
The Staal's, specifically Eric have went hand in hand with the city of Raleigh for the last twelve years now. However, I would argue that the more important Staal tied to any tangible success this year will be Jordan. I say this because it's evident that Eric has hit the wall in terms of possible production, his rapidly declining statistics speak louder then words as aside from his rookie season, he put up a career worst fifty four points. I've never viewed Eric as a great fit in today's no clutching and grabbing National Hockey League as his foot speed is not transferrable for how the game is now played and more concerning is that as team captain, he's not making the rest of his followers better. I mentioned Ron Francis earlier and I think a comparison could be drawn between Staal and Francis. Do I think Francis was the best of the crop during his era, no chance but he had a positive effect on his teammates and I think of Mark Recchi, Rod Brind'amour, and Alyn McCauley as players Francis flourished positively to stand out careers with apologies to Leaf fans who think McCauley was a stiff, when in reality during the few years in the early two thousands when the Leafs reached respectability, the Ottawa 67 alumni was a key contributor even though numbers won't suggest that. Bringing this back to Eric, he similarly echoed grand leaps for the likes of Justin Williams and Cory Stillman making him a notorious leader in the game at that time. The problem now is that Staal is no longer making others around him better, or at the very least serviceable. I'd hate to call Jeff Skinner damaged goods, but I will and it's in large part due to injuries, particularly concussion issues but also the apparent "leader" Staal has done NOTHING in the last four years to rub off well on Skinner, essentially the point I'm trying to make is that Skinner hasn't had the veteran leadership to know what it takes to win. The reason I believe Jordan Staal will end up becoming more valuable then Eric is due to versatility. Widely believed to be one of the league's best penalty killer, this facet breeds increased importance because it's expected the Canes will spend the majority of each game back on their heels. When Jordan was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the theory was that because he was stuck behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the depth chart that a move which ended up being Carolina would lead to more offensive success, but it really hasn't. I think the bigger issue is that maybe over the years media pendants have over valued Staal's capability pertaining to putting the puck in the back of the net. Because he quasi-dominated the play with his big body playing for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, a lot more was expected out of him professionally but just like Andrea Bargnani, pre professional domination guarantees squat.
The Hurricanes have collected themselves a boatload of young d-men that will surely rival the likes of the New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames for years to come. This starts, and on most teams would end, but not the Hurricanes with Justin Faulk. Aside from being a Fantasy Hockey monster for me this past season, Faulk has the making of becoming a top ten defenceman in the league, if he hasn't reached that plateau already. With prospects like Jarred Tinordi and Mark Pysyk picked ahead of him in the 2010 National Hockey League entry draft as he was picked thirty seventh overall, Faulk has lapped, some say double lapped the development of the aforementioned Tinordi and Pysyk and became the most marketable professional athlete in the Carolina region other than Cam Newton. He bares resemblance to Ed Jovanovski because he's a deceptive skater and also incredibly strong on the puck. Faulk has a heavy shot and based off of tallying thirty four assists on an offensively challenged organization, it shows the gift he has been blessed with dishing away the rubber. With Noah Hanifin slating in the lineup as early as the 2015-2016 season, a number one all American pairing will be the talk of the town. Noah Hanifin comes with extremely high credentials. It remains to be seen what the ultimate plan heading into next season is for Noah, if his play at Boston College was any indication, he may join the list of a plethora of young athletes who enter the NCAA with the sole purpose of being "one and done". I take massive issue with the way the NCAA has sanctioned the athletes regarding eligibility to play professionally, particularly in the NBA but this is a topic I will save for a later day. Hanifin's strengths are his skating and just like Faulk, better then age suggest passing ability. Just imagine the day where Bill Peters(although he better start winning or his job's in jeopardy) implements Faulk and Hanifin on the same powerplay. Add Ryan Murphy and Hayden Fleury in two years time, a hockey's version of the "Legion of Boom" may be in order.
For the first time in a long time, Cam Ward has goaltending competition. This competition comes in the form of former Vancouver Canuck Eddie Lack. The fact is that Cam Ward hasn't been very good in recent memory. Lack, who actually proved to be more trustworthy then Ryan Miller out in the West coast will push to be the number one goaltender. Since predictions are something I have no problem, here's my convoluted theory for how the Hurricanes goaltending conundrum will play out. Cam Ward, who I think it's clear needs a change of scenery could be sent out to the Winnipeg Jets if Ondrej Pavelec has a rocky beginning. If that materializes, then expect for Bill Peters to bring in a goaltender that he's quite familiar with having him with the Spokane Chiefs in Dustin Tokarski. Bringing in somebody who just wins in the Watson,Saskatchewan native would fit in beautifully for a team that has it's sights set on the long-term, not the short-term.
24.Ottawa Senators- If some of you perceived this blog to be too "hunky-dory", then clearly you haven't read a word of any piece because when the criticism is apt, I will do my best to deliver. What I'm about to theorize is something that hardcore Senator supporters will have a field day with. Dave Cameron is not a good coach, not in the least. Dave Cameron took over from a underachieving team led by Paul McLean, and then what happened, the next coming of Jim Carey or Dwayne Roloson came along in Andrew Hammond. Anyone who fruitfully thinks Dave Cameron's coaching tactics were even a partial reason for the Senator's playoff push, then the blinders need to come off. This is not a good hockey club, and I appreciate the hardships General Manager Bryan Murray is going through, but he has built an on-ice product that would make the Philadelphia 76'ers look like world beaters. If it wasn't for Mark Stone and Andrew Hammond, this team may of finished with the third worst point total. This ranking I'm thinking is too kind.
I referenced that Mark Stone was one of the few reasons why Ottawa squeaked into the playoffs. The guy's middle name might as well be clutch because that's all he did in the second half of the season. Stone's skating will almost certainly leave you cringing, but his positioning is effective which allows him to find optimum spots on the ice. Twenty six goals has been a god send for the Senators and if he continues to exude his high hockey I.Q, reaching the patented thirty club may not be so far fetched. Speaking of those underachieving Senators, has there been anyone more underachieving then Mika Zibanejad. I recall watching this particular player in the World juniors and he absolutely ripped apart the competition. He was the recipient of scoring the golden goal in the '12 Juniors leading Sweden past Russia in the gold medal game. One would think that the confidence received from scoring such a prominent goal in a world class tournament would translate to immediate professional success, the same way Jordan Eberle used his burgeoning ego from his iconic World junior memories to immediate results with the Oilers....well individually, certainly not team, but Zibanejad's career path hasn't followed the same direction. Entering his fourth season with a career high point total of forty-six frankly isn't anywhere near good enough, and the 2015-2016 season will be viewed as make or break. He's got the flash in his game that is unparalleled to any other Senator forward, but it's time to start using this flash to his advantage. Continuing on this timeline of disappointment, let me profile Milan Michalek. When Milan first broke in with the San Jose Sharks, the world was literally his oyster as with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau as linemates as he accumulated two hundred and fourteen points with the Sharks but once he was shipped off to Ottawa, he's been a enormous failure as he was brought in, ironically in exchange for the once sniper turned pylon Dany Heatley. So what happened? Could it be due to lackluster linemates? Perhaps, but his centerman was Jason Spezza for years, so that's no excuse. From my perspective, he's become too selfish and he's not utilizing linemates to further his production. By the end of last year, his running mates of Zibanejad an Bobby Ryan seemed to be developing chemistry so we'll see if that can carry over.
The reigning Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson will again lead the way from the back end. I'm being a little too critical towards the prospects of the Senators, and do I feel that Karlsson is an upper echelon defenceman? Absolutely I do, but it's my belief that he wasn't the proper selection for the Norris, my vote would've went for P.K Subban. Karlsson is an elite offensive specimen but he's a bit of a, to reference a title from a hit currently in theaters, "train-wreck" defensively. He's very scattery and never one to back up his d partner as I saw many times last year whether it was Cody Ceci or Marc Methot, his ill-timed aggressive maneuver led to odd man rushes the other way. Cody Ceci, meanwhile has proven to be a draft day steal at fifteenth overall. When watching the 2012 draft on TSN, I vividly recall Pierre McGuire being surprised by the selection with the sentiments that I shared and that was the only reason he was picked that high was because he was a 67' alumni and Ottawa homegrown individual. If you read my praises above for Carolina Hurricanes stud Justin Faulk, think of Ceci as a poor-man's Faulk. A superb shot but doesn't quite have the well rounded game to which Faulk possesses. I'm curious to see in what capacity Ceci is used this year, and some, including myself will argue that loading up that first pairing the aforementioned Ceci with Karlsson. Conversely, an argument could be made which I do not accept but will draw out anyway and that is that it could be wise to separate Ceci and Karlsson to provide more depth amongst the top four and further yet the top six defensive core.
The debate on who deserves the starting gig in Ottawa may be a full year water cooler conversation. Craig Anderson or Andrew Hammond? My personal preference would be to lean towards Anderson based off of his complete workload, but I can't completely dismiss the merits of Andrew Hammond. As much as I suspect him to be the next Carey and Roloson, I suppose I can't discount the chance that Hammond will continue this heroic play and be the long term answer for the Senators. Encroaching on Anderson's mindset is an interesting thought because you have to ponder how happy he really is losing starts to a goalie who at one point last year was a sub 500 goaltender in the American Hockey League. With the complexity for how the Senators goaltending assignments played out last season, it would surprise no one if by the end of the year newly signed out of Boston University Matt O'Connor worked his way to the starting goaltender discussion.