A few days ago, The Score presented its list of players who will be in "the hot seat" for their respective team. Not necessarily that their job is on the line, but the suggestion is that the success or failure of the team would be predicated upon the success or failure of a single player. Unfortunately, their list puts too much pressure on the goaltender to be the guy. I don't really buy that. Too often, goalies become the fall guy he's not getting any goal support. I like to look elsewhere.
The rest of the crew over at SESO have been kicking this around for a few days, everyone putting their own two cents in. I thought it would be fun to take it team-by-team and give my own unqualified opinion. I'm in no way qualified to comment on Western Conference teams, and in many cases, I have no business commenting on Eastern, but I'll take a shot at all 15 teams in the East. Here, at least is part one of this project. Please excuse the length.
Boston Bruins. The Score says Manny Fernandez is in the hot seat. They traded to get him, and the idea is that he's going to right the goaltending ship. I'm not looking that way at all. Tim Thomas is by no means Ken Dryden, but I just don't think that the Bruins main problem was between the pipes. Their goaltending was suspect, but even more suspect was their offensive production. The Bs scored just 210 goals last season, putting them in 25th place league-wide. This is clearly an area that needs improvement. I'll pick on the youngster Phil Kessel. He's gonna have to step it up in this, his sophomore season. The Teddy Bears have been all about Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron, but that's going to have to change. He is going to have to show everyone why the Bs took him with the #5 overall pick in 2006 and why they sent him straight to the big club. Take a quick look at his rookie numbers. 29 (11/18) points in 70 games. Look at Eric Staal's rookie season, when he was also sent directly to the big club. 31 (11/20) points in 81 games. If Kessel can have a Staal-esque sophomore season, I think the natives in Boston will be quite happy with how the rest of the squad responds. It's unfair to pin it on the kid, but I really think that if they want to be any good, it's going to take a breakout season by Kessel.
Montréal Canadiens. The Score picks on Alexei Kovalev. He's grossly overpaid, and he needs to prove his worth, but that 95-point season was a freak combination of playing over one's head and playing alongside Jagr and Lemieux. It was a perfect storm, and it'll never happen again. I'll pick on Michael Ryder. He's been good, but there's probably more in the tank. He needs to find it. With Sheldon Souray gone, someone will have to pick up the slack in point production. Koivu can't do it all, and I don't see the need to demand more of Kovalev in that department. Ryder was the Habs' leading goal-scorer last season, but he needs to pick it up even more. If he should have a letdown of a season, they're done.
Washington Capitals. The Score put Ovechkin in the hot seat. Not me. I put Michael Nylander there. He was an uber-expensive free agent acquisition, and it is up to him to bolster that one man show up there. Okay, so with Alexander Semin there, it's a two man show. But anyway, it's all on him to make it a three-man show. He has to stay healthy and motivated. He has to have the kinds of numbers that he had the last two seasons (83 points, 79 points). Elsewise, the Caps will have wasted their money and they will finish out of the playoffs again. I think they'll finish out of the playoffs either way, but Nylander can help them to be competitive.
New Jersey Devils. The Score chose Dainius Zubrus. That pick is too obvious. The Devils need a Scott Gomez replacement. Zubrus ain't it. He put up good numbers in 2005-06 when he played on a very very crappy Capitals team, but whenever he's surrounded by talent, those numbers won't be as high. After he was acquired by Buffalo at the trade deadline last season, he did virtually nothing for them in the regular or post season. at $3.4M, he's way overpaid, and he needs to have a 70+ point season to justify the big contract. He won't, but the Devs will be just fine. Unless.... My hot seat selection for them is Zach Parise. The youngster had a semi-breakout season last year with 62(31/31) points. He'll need to have another career best season this year This season, he won't have the beautiful playmaking of Scott Gomez to help him out, and who knows whether Hepatitis Boy will stay healthy all season. In any case, Parise should step up his game, and my opinion is that as he goes, so too will go the Devils.
Philadelphia Flyers. The Score said Marty Biron was the guy. The Bullies went all apey in the free agent market, and really you could pick any of those new guys with the huge price tags. I'll take the easy way out and pick the former Sabres captain Danny Briere. He's making $10M this year, and if he doesn't score over 150 goals and add 150 assists while leading the Flyers to their third Stanley Cup, it will have been a waste. Who wants to bet that it won't happen?
Unfair to pin it all on Briere? I don't think so. This dude's salary has been skyrocketing at a rate non-commensurate with his production. In 2003-04, Briere made $1.6M while putting up 65 (28/37) points. Before the lockout, an arbitrator "awarded" him a $2.55M contract for the season that never happened. In 2005-06, he made $2M and put up 58 (25/33) points in just 48 games (1.21 ppg). Last seson, he was awarded a "huge" $5M contract via arbitration and he scored 95 (32/63) points (1.17 ppg). This season, his pay will literally double. Even when you average out the "cap hit" to $6.5M, this is a hefty raise. I don't think he deserves it, and unless he accomplishes the aforementioned impossible tasks, it won't have been worth it. Can Briere handle the pressure of living up to this huge contract? With all these "sexy" acquisitions, the Flyers should be competitive, but I think it all depends on the little Quebeccer.
Speaking of the Buffalo Sabres, The Score puts Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek sitting in each other's laps in the "hot seat". Those two were among the Sabres' top five scorers, and they'll certainly need to put up the same kinds of numbers if the Sabres want to be good. They'll be good, but if Maxim Afinogenov can crank it up a couple of notches, they'll be great. He's been a frustrating player for Sabres fans. With such flashes of brilliance interspersed with sloppiness and a trademark inability to finish scoring chances, I think there's a phenom trapped in the body of a near-phenom. If he busts out, the Sabres will be (to borrow from Rick Jeanneret) "Scary Good" despite losing their two co-captains to ridiculous free agent poaching. In the 2004 season, Afinogenov scored one of the most incredible goals I've ever seen. Enjoy the YouTube clip and Jeaneret's call.
As a special treat for Sabres fans, that's Carolina's current #2 goaltender "Johnny Crackers" getting abused by Maxi in the clip.
The Score puts Cam Ward in Carolina's "hot seat". This is purely based on the way Cam came down to earth last season after playing way over his head on the way to winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe trophy in 2006. Will Cam have to be good? Sure. However, I pick Matt Cullen. When Carolina struggled last season, everyone had a million excuses for why they weren't the same as the Cup-winning team. Almost everyone agreed that the absence of Cully was a huge factor. A lot of people rated it as the #1 factor. Carolina spent a lot of money to re-acquire Cullen via trade with the Rangers. Now that Carolina has replaced Cullen with Cullen himself, they should be able to return to 2006 form. Cullen will have to put up at 50 or more points and push the Canes back into a deep playoff run to justify going over the self-imposed budget. If he can't produce, the Canes will be on the links in April. He's the "hot seat" guy.
New York Islanders. In keeping with their "pick on the new guy or the goalie" theme, The Score put Billy Guerin in the Isles' "hot seat". The Isles are going to stink this year. They've made some acquisitions, but they're all old guys, except Mike Comrie, and they overpaid like hell for him. Charles Wang is running a clown factory over there, and the Isles' new sweaters are going to make a lot of eyes sore. Defenseman Emma Bergeron had a great season last year, and he'll probably be the Isles leading point-getter this season. Just for giggles, I'll put Jeff Tambellini in the "hot seat". In what was a pretty strong draft class in 2003, Tambellini was taken with the 27th overall pick. He put up point-a-night numbers in two AHL seasons, but has yet to make an impact on the NHL level. The Isles will have a bunch of 10-goal scorers, and a small handful of old dudes scoring 20. I don't see anyone scoring 30, unless this guy has a breakout season. If he does, the Isles might be competitive. I don't think old man Billy Guerin will be able to carry the weight of the team. One of the young guys will have to step to the front. I nominate Tambellini.
This is taking way longer than I anticipated. Look for part two by Friday evening. Lemme know what you think.
4 years ago