I had a crush on a few teams coming into the season. After the first ten games I picked the Blues to come out of the West and the Bruins to come out of the East. Talk about a tale of two cities, eh? While the Blues have been mostly annihilated by injuries, the Bruins have continued to play solid hockey.
For the Bruins: I loved-loved-loved the addition of Horton during the off-season. They have not one, but two proven goaltenders. Outstanding D with a tank on the blue line in Chara. And they have a great group of forwards who are big and talented. Sounds like a recipe for success to me, even if they had stood pat passed the deadline.
But they didn’t. And boy, are they icing a helluva team now.
The addition of Peverley is an outstanding one, and should not be overlooked. If it has been, I don’t think it will remain that way for long. This guy can play, and should center up on Boston’s second or third line and adds solid depth up the middle, even with the loss of Savard.
Chris Kelly is the sandpaper you need to have in the playoffs. That isn’t a newsflash. Adding him to a group of already gritty, down-low type forwards is significant. This is a big, strong team in the offensive zone, and if they get their lines clicking right they will extremely difficult to match up line for line with.
And then there is Thomas Kaberle. I don’t need to write a whole lot about that, because mostly everyone knows the impact that this guy should have on the blue line where there isn’t a lot of name recognition outside of Chara, but isn’t lacking in size. What the guy brings on the power play alone is priceless.
I can tell you this much: I am praying to the Hockey Gods that this Bruins team runs full steam into the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs – preferably in the East finals, with both teams mostly healthy.
Tell me that wouldn’t be a six or seven game, instant classic, war of a series.
The Flyers also bolstered their roster with the addition of Kris Versteeg. This team is about as loaded as one can be with the CBA. I honestly had them coming out of the East the last three years, simply because they were the only team with the strength up the middle to match with the Penguins. And I always liked the Flyers in a matchup with the Pens.
It’s odd to make it this far into a piece about the East without mentioning the Capitals or the Penguins. Almost 500 words may be some kind of record, actually. But I digress.
These two teams are kind of wild cards at this point. If Sid comes back and can catch fire again before the playoffs get underway, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them do some damage. Betting against Sid has cost me constantly since he entered the League, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go on a 27-point per game tear and land his team in the finals. He’s just that good.
But we don’t know when he’ll be back, or even if he’ll be back. And with Malkin gone, that leaves the Pens as a slightly better than average squad. I don’t know if the deal for Neal will be enough to get the Pens passed the second round without their best player coming back.
Looking at the deal for the Pens, I believe they win this trade pretty much hands down. They
dealt from a position of strength, and I would have liked a Goligoski strait up for Neal for the Penguins. Getting Niskanen, then, is a huge plus.
Niskanen had a decent buzz, and had a great rookie year playing next to Sergei Zubov. Once Zubov retired he lost his groove and hasn’t found it since. This could wind up being a huge steal. If nothing else, they added a depth D-man, and you can never have too many of those.
Neal will be the wing that Sid has been waiting his entire career for. If he can be a 55 or 60 point guy playing with Brad Richards, he easily jumps to the 70 or 80 point range with Crosby. I like Goligoski as a player, and he has huge upside. But I say the Pens win this one, both in the short and the long term.
Has the power been out in Washington? Phone lines down or something? While almost everyone else in the East who has an honest shot at the Cup have made substantial hockey moves, the Caps have been unable to ante up and keep pace. I get that they are up against the cap, but so is mostly everyone else.
Do they need to make a move or two? I’d say so. They have a solid squad up front, but do you really think their center core can hang with Philly or that their goaltending could out-duel Boston?
Anything is possible. That’s why hockey is the greatest sport in the world, and pretty much the best thing on the planet behind bacon and beaches. But I have my doubts about the Caps if they stand. I understand they have made fundamental changes to their system, but if it hasn’t equated to more wins in the regular season, why would it lead to that in the playoffs
Then there is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve been a high-octane club since the word go this season. St. Louis is a proven playoff guy, and Stamkos will shine under the bright lights of the playoffs once he gets there.
I liked the deal for Roloson. He’s been bi-polar, performance wise since coming over from Long Island, but has shown that he has plenty of good hockey left in him. Bergeron has been a boon for the Lightning on the power play since being recalled, and is the puck moving defenseman a lot of other teams are dealing assets to acquire. Adding the leadership and skills of a guy like Eric Brewer may not look like as big of a deal as say, Kaberle ending up in Boston. But the impact could be just as great.
In short, I wouldn’t sleep on this Tampa Bay squad for a second, and they are going to be a very tough first round draw for whoever they end up playing. That being said, the East has made their noise it seems. Will the leading teams in the West respond? Or will their cap constraints leave them idle. One thing is clear: Whichever team comes out of the East will be a very difficult out for their Western opponent come Cup time.