Sunday, October 2, 2011

Driving Play Season Preview: 10-7, The Near-Elite

Sorry about the delay, everybody. I didn't realize that I had a previous engagement with a baseball game in South Philadelphia yesterday. Without further adieu, here are teams 10 through 7 on our countdown as promised.

10. Montreal Canadiens

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 52.7/51.7
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 31.6 (7)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 30.0 (16)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 53.6 (9)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 48.5 (10)


The Montreal Canadiens’ results from last season are interesting to say the least. Despite sporting very good possession numbers, the Habs were ranked 22nd in the league in scoring, shooting only 7.0% at even strength. On the defensive side of the puck, Montreal was a middle-of-the-pack team in allowing shots but solid play from Carey Price helped propel them to the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. Montreal would meet division rival Boston in the first round, and like this commercial, the series wouldn’t disappoint. Boston would squeak out a 4-3 OT win in game 7 and advance to the second round.

Offseason Changes:

Montreal wasn’t very active this offseason, but they were able to shake up their personnel without handcuffing themselves against the salary cap. They let James Wisniewski, Roman Hamrlik, and Jeff Halpern walk to free agency and awarded Erik Cole a new 4 year, $18 million contract. They also re-signed Andrei Markov to a 3-year deal, hoping that he can stay healthy and give that defensive unit a much-needed spark.

Season Outlook:

Montreal is another team that looks very similar to the one we last saw in April. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – they were very good at controlling the play against their opponents last season. If Andrei Markov can give them any semblance of a healthy season and P.K. Subban continues to improve, Montreal has a chance to challenge the top half of the standings in the Eastern Conference.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 52.2/50.7
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 31.5 (8)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 27.3 (3)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 50.0 (13)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 46.0 (4)


Tampa Bay was perhaps the surprise team of the Eastern Conference last season. GM Steve Yzerman had a busy offseason re-tooling the lightning in 2010, and his first season in the front office saw his team improve from 12th to 5th in the standings. Tampa had above-average to elite totals in just about every category except one – goaltending. Yzerman would of course infuse the team with a much-needed upgrade mid-season, acquiring the ageless Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders. The Bolts would prevail against both Pittsburgh and Washington before losing the 7th game of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Boston Bruins.

Offseason Changes:

Tampa is another team that remains largely unchanged from a season ago which certainly is not a bad thing. The Bolts signed forward Ryan Shannon to a 1-year, no risk contract and also added Matt Gilroy and Tom Pyatt. They managed to re-sign core contributors Steven Stamkos and Teddy Purcell to multi-year contracts while Dwayne Roloson agreed to come back for at least one more shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

Season Outlook:

Considering that this team finished 12th in the standings just two seasons ago, it is quite remarkable how tremendous of a job Steve Yzerman has done re-tooling the franchise. It will be interesting to see how Dwayne Roloson performs during a full-season of play for the Lightning, though whatever he can give them figures to be an improvement over the Mike Smith/Dan Ellis tandem of last season. Tampa seems to have all the pieces in place to challenge for a division title, though unseating the Washington Capitals atop the Southeast will be a tall task.

8. New Jersey Devils

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 53.3/53.8
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 28.0 (24)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 25.8 (1)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 49.6 (14)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 43.0 (2)


Another of the teams with the most peculiar results from last season is the New Jersey Devils. They were an elite possession team, and boasted the least shots allowed per 60 minutes average in the NHL. Though they near the bottom in generating shots, they still managed to average a positive shot differential without Zach Parise for a majority of the season. At the end of the day, poor goaltending from Martin Brodeur and a 6.7% shooting percentage at even strength hurt their bottom line on the scoreboard. After a late-season surge, the Devils would finish 11th in the East and miss out on the playoffs.

Offseason Changes:

I’ll fix this broken record that keeps reporting little to no offseason movement sooner or later. This offseason was more about retention in New Jersey, as they re-signed Zach Parise to a 1-year, $6 million contract and brought back Andy Greene for the price of $12 million over 4 years. Thanks to their poor finish last season, the Devils were able to select Adam Larsson 4th overall giving the team a very good defensive prospect.

Season Outlook:

I think I speak for all of my co-authors when I say that we will be very surprised if the Devils repeat their performance from a season ago. Adding a healthy Zach Parise to a cast that performed amongst the NHL’s elite in controlling the play last season means that the offense will receive a luxurious boost up front. The biggest question New Jersey figures to face is goaltending. If Martin Brodeur shows us more of the same from last season, don’t be surprised if Johan Hedberg is eventually given the reigns. Barring another set of unforeseen setbacks, the Devils will definitely be in the mix in the Atlantic Division.

7. Los Angeles Kings

Last Season’s Results:

5-on-5 Fenwick/Corsi %: 50.8/52.0
5-on-5 SF/60 (NHL Rank): 27.9 (26)
5-on-5 SA/60 (NHL Rank): 27.9 (6)
PP SF/60 (NHL Rank): 50.4 (12)
SH SA/60 (NHL Rank): 48.1 (9)


The Los Angeles Kings made the playoffs as the 7th seed in the Western Conference last season, sporting a below-average offense, very good defense and slightly above-average goaltending. The Kings would draw a first round match-up with the San Jose Sharks, but would fall short to the Pacific Division Champions in six games. In the end, the Kings just could not overcome losing superstar center Anze Kopitar(rrrrrrrggggghhhhhh) to a broken ankle near the end of the season.

Offseason Changes:

Finally, some moves to report on! The Kings acquired center Mike Richards from Philadelphia for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and a second-round draft pick. They also signed Richards’ former partner in crime Simon Gagne to a 2-year contract, adding both offensive and defensive depth up front. Franchise cornerstone Drew Doughty recently agreed to an 8-year, $56 million contract, keeping intact what was a very good defensive unit a season ago.

Season Outlook:

Though a few of my fellow bloggers disagree, I think L.A. is ready to take the next step. They should certainly contend for a Pacific Division title this season, as Mike Richards and Simon Gagne figure to give them added tough-minutes help up front. Jonathan Quick might be the only thing standing in their way as he will need to improve in order for Los Angeles to truly be in the conversation with the league’s elite.

Matt will lead us to the promised land, taking us from number six through one on the countdown. Our list so far:

30. Edmonton
29. Colorado
28. Dallas
27. NY 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 Canadiens
9. Tampa Bay Lightning
8. New Jersey Devils
7. Los Angeles Kings

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