A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eastern Conference hot seats (part two)

This is part two of this series.
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 are the last seven.

Tampa Bay Lightning Again, The Score picked on the goalie, putting Marc Denis in the "hot seat". I just don't think it's fair. I'd rather put a position player with the weight on his shoulders. In this case, I think it should be Vincent "The Horseman" Lecavalier. Vinny was the #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft. Unlike the #8 pick (Mark Bell) and the #11 pick (Jeff Heerema) from that year's draft, he has avoided a jail sentence this summer. All joking aside, he had his "breakout" season last year, scoring 108 (52/56) points, which shattered his previous personal best by 30 points. It will be on him to repeat that kind of performance and lead his team to a fifth straight playoff appearance. Martin St. Louis also had an explosion last season and will have to do the same this year. Honestly, because they're division foes, I hope they don't help their team, but they sure are fun to watch.

Toronto Maple Leafs The Score once again took the wimpy way out and put the heat on newly acquired goaltender Vesa Toskala. This is utter crap. He'll be duking it out for the #2 spot with former perennial Brodeur backup Scott Clemmensen. In all honesty, he'll probably land with the Marlies or he'll be picked up off the waiver wire. Hot seat? I think not. My pick isn't as wimpy. I'll call out 24-year old Kyle Wellwood. I could have taken the easy way out and picked on the Captain, but Sundin has been probably the most consistent player in all of hockey. You know he's going to give you exactly a point a night. And he's the damn Captain. I say Wellwood because he has shown that he can produce huge numbers at every level, and it's time to do it at the NHL level. Last season, defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were #2 and #3 on the the Leafs in terms of points production with 58 and 57 respectively. The forwards have to step up, and I think Wellwood is gonna have to be the guy. It certainly won't be Bates Battaglia. They won't be a Cup contender either way, but if this guy can break out, they'll at least make the playoffs.

Florida Panthers. Again with the goaltender. The Score put Tomas Vokoun in there. I don't see why. He was run out of Nashville on a rail and brought in to Florida to replace Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour, who had become the Adam "Pacman" Jones of hockey with his off-ice antics. In 2006, it was certainly true that the Preds' success was predicated upon the health and performance of Vokoun. When he went down with his pelvic thrombophlebitis late in the '06 seson, the Preds took a nosedive and were quickly eliminated in the first round of those playoffs.
It's true that their goaltending depends upon him. The backup, Craig Anderson, is not a good goalie. I'll pick on Nathan Horton. He was taken 3rd in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (just behind Eric Staal), and of that class, he's one of a few who hasn't had at least one explosive season. Don't misunderstand me. His 62 (31/31) points last year were good, but I think there's more in the tank.
If Olli Jokinen has a horrible season, this team is done, but that won't happen, so there's no point in discussing that. I think Horton can have more of a hand in making them better. They'll still miss the playoffs, but I think Horton will have his year, and it will benefit the Cats greatly.

Pittsburgh Penguins. The Score put old man Gary Roberts in the "hot seat". I won't do that. I can't quite pick between two sophomores, so I'll make them sit in each other's lap in the hot seat. Jordan Staal had a remarkable rookie season. Most folks figured he'd play in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he exploded right out of the gate to earn his spot on the big club. His 42 (29/13) points were way better than the 31 (11/20) that his brother scored during his rookie campaign. His seven shorties were tops in the entire league. If he can do like his brother and have an explosive second year, the Pens will be very happy. Also, second year player Evgeni Malkin has a different challenge. His is to prove that his eye-popping 85 (33/52) points wasn't a fluke. He's a big, big dude, and he's fun to watch. If Malkin can maintain or increase his production, and Staal can increase his, the Pens will be a serious force to be reckoned with.

New York Rangers. The Score says Chris Drury is the guy. I think I agree. He was one of two ultra-expensive free agent acquisitions made by the Rags. He'll not only have to prove that he's worth the $7.1M he'll earn this season. He also has to fill the void left by Michael Nylander. Then again, Scott Gomez will be making $10M. He's never even had a 90 point season in the NHL and he's making stupid money. More money than Jagr. "The Golden Bitch" will probably not like this. Rags fans and Chris Drury himself should hope that there are no hostilities, or Drury will be shown the door. Maybe that is the "hot seat". The relationship between Jagr and Gomez. Yes. I'm sure of it. That's it.

Ottawa Senators. The Score says defenseman Wade Redden. At $6.5M, he's the Sens' highest paid player. I dunno. Daniel Alfredsson had a monstrous 103-point season in '06 , then had a bit of a letdown last season, but he still managed 87 (29/58) points. He was great in the playoffs. At one point in the regular season, though, he went through a drought, and his attitude came into question. I don't know all the details. He and Jason Spezza are both big pieces of the puzzle and they must put up 90 or more points. They must also stay healthy, which is a challenge for Spezza. If one of these guys slacks this year, the other will pick up. I can't decide on anybody. I'm tempted to go against my own rule and pick Ray Emery. He emerged as a star last season, and if he should falter or fall back to Earth (read: Cam Ward), that might make a big difference.

Atlanta Thrashers The Score picked Ilya Kovalchuk. He did drop off his point production by 22 points last season. Sure. Why not? If he drops off again, the Thrash will have no hope of qualifying for the playoffs.

Okay, so that's the Eastern Conference. I doubt that I'll bother with the Western Conference, but we'll see.

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