Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: Teams 3-1, The Stanley Cup Favorites

3. Washington


Key Statistics:


Fenwick- 50.4%
Even Strength Shooting%- 7%
Even Strength Save%- .928

2010-2011 Review:


Washington's year last year was filled with up and downs.  Most notable was their extended losing streak in December that provided some sweet Bruce Boudreau rants on '24/7'.  After this lull however, the team played extremely well, finishing first in the Eastern Conference and second overall in total points.  Unfortunately for Caps fans, the playoffs brought another early exit, as the Caps were swept in the Eastern Conference Semis, a series which was much closer than a sweep would indicate.

Offseason Changes:


Where do we start?  George McPhee was a busy man this offseason, with resigning key players (Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner), fleecing teams in trades (Semyon Varlamov for a 1st round pick), signing elite goalies for a back-up's cap hit (Tomas Vokoun), and filling out the rest of his team with veteran players capable of playing tough minutes.  The team added precious forward depth with the additions of Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, and Jeff Halpern.  They also bolstered their blueline with the addition of Roman Hamrlik.  George McPhee took a team that was already very good and turned them into Stanley Cup favorites.  The Capitals now have it all.

Key Questions for 2011-2012:


Will the Capitals be better territorially this year?
  • Last year the Capitals were a middle of the pack team territorially, though some of their signings are players capable of driving the play forward (Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer).  It'll be interesting to see if this has any impact, as Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin are the only remaining forwards who can be counted on to control play.  
Was last year's mediocre Power Play just variance or should it be a cause for concern?
  • After spending the last handful of years with one of the league's best power plays, last year's Capitals saw their success with the man advantage dwindle, posting the NHL's 16th best Power Play.  Was this bad coaching or bad luck?  Either way, if these problems creep back up it could be a problem, as Washington probably has less margin for error here given their relative weakness at even strength.


2. Vancouver

Key Statistics:


Fenwick- 53.9%
Even Strength Shooting%- 8.2%
Even Strength Save%- .939

2010-2011 Review:


Vancouver was the class of the NHL last year, earning 117 points on their way to winning the President's Trophy.  Their postseason nearly ended in disaster before Alex Burrows scored an OT winner in Game 7 of the first round, and from there they handled Nashville and San Jose en route to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1994.  The rest, as they say, is history, as Tim Thomas and the Bruins won the final two games of the series as Vancouver began to burn.

Offseason Changes:


Mike Gillis (correctly) resisted the temptation to overreact, as nearly all of their regulars return, with Christian Ehrhoff as the only key piece to leave.  Marco Sturm was their most notable endeavor in UFA.  Most of the offseason work came with re-signing their own players, as Kevin Bieksa, Max Lapierre, Jannik Hansen, Sami Salo, and Andrew Alberts all re-upped this summer.

Key Questions for 2011-2012:


Is Vancouver deep enough along the blueline?

  • This is slightly nitty, as Vancouver is clearly an elite team, but one chink in the armor is their depth along the blueline, especially after nothing was done to replace the departure of Christian Ehrhoff. If Vancouver runs into injuries which is a possibility given the history of Sami Salo and (to a lesser extent) Kevin Bieksa, there could be issues, as giving big minutes to players like Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome is a recipe for disaster.  Keith Ballard returning to form is essential.

1. Chicago

Key Statistics:

Fenwick- 54%
Even Strength Shooting%- 6.5%
Even Strength Save%- .919

2010-2011 Review:

Last season was a disappointment for the Blackhawks.  Coming off a Stanley Cup and the ensuing cap hell, Chicago was really hamstrung with last year's lineup, and it showed, as players such as Fernando Pisani, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell, Nick Boynton, and Jassen Cullimore all played substantial minutes at various points throughout the season.  The team got better later on after adding Chris Campoli and Michael Frolik, but still needed a lot of luck to even make the playoffs.  Chicago ended up losing in 7 games to the eventual Western Conference champions.

Offseason Changes:

The Hawks FO was not shy this summer, as they moved two key cogs from the 09-10 cup run on draft night, sending Troy Brouwer to the Washington Capitals for a 1st round pick.  Later that night they moved Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers for Rostislav Olesz.  The money freed from the Campbell deal was quickly put into use, as the Blackhawks then acquired and signed Steve Montador, and on July 1st, signed Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo, and Sean O'Donnell.  Sami Lepisto was also signed later in the Summer.

Key Questions for 2011-2012:

Did the Blackhawks do enough to replace Brian Campbell?
  • While the Campbell move was a huge win from a cap management perspective, it left the Blackhawks with a huge hole on defense.  The Hawks brass continues to insist that Nick Leddy is indeed ready to fill the void, but that obviously remains to be seen.  Campbell played a huge role for the Blackhawks, one that was often under appreciated by certain types of Hawks fans.  Chicago's possession game is predicated on quick transitions from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.  Losing his skating and his offensive skills will be hard to replace.  The depth should be better than last year, but the Blackhawks could find themselves in trouble if Leddy doesn't take a step forward.
Driving Play Power Rankings from 30 to 1:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. New York Islanders
26. Minnesota
25. Ottawa
24. Toronto
23. Florida
22. Phoenix
21. Winnipeg
20. Anaheim
19. Carolina
18. Calgary
17. St. Louis
16. Nashville
15. New York Rangers
14. Columbus
13. Buffalo
12. Philadelphia
11. Boston
10. Montreal
9. Tampa Bay
8. New Jersey
7. Los Angeles
6. Detroit
5. Pittsburgh
4. San Jose
3. Washington
2. Vancouver
1. Chicago

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