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Showing posts with label Washington Capitals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Washington Capitals. Show all posts

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Arron Asham Knocks Out Jay Beagle: NHL Hockey Fights

And fighting comes one step closer to being eliminated altogether in NHL hockey with another vicious result in a game between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, October 13th, 2011.

The fight was between Arron Asham (Pens) and Jay Beagle (Caps).

Brutal knockout of Beagle by Asham.



And what are fans outraged about? The fact that, in the heat of the moment, Asham made some theatrical hand gestures after Beagle was knocked out and lying on the ice.

Which goes to prove that in hockey, as in everything, being humiliated by someone after the fact often causes more outrage than the initial instance of conflict.

Drive your fist into someone's face, knocking him out, possibly shattering  his jaw and likely concussing him? No problem. You see, that is ritualized and has a long and storied tradition in the NHL. Celebrate the total destruction of someone after the fight? Now that really has a way of focusing people's sense of what is right and wrong.

And I am not trying to be ironic here. That's just the way things are. Not least because of the fact that in most NHL fights (as in this one), the two combatants willingly engage in battle. But there is something repellent about mocking your opponent as he lies injured on the ice.

On the other hand, some fans claim that Asham absolved himself of the post-knockout taunts by tapping his stick against the boards in the penalty box when Beagle got up off the ice.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: The Ovechkin Project by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce

The Ovechkin ProjectThe story of Alexander Ovechkin is still far from being complete. But in his six years as a left winger with the Washington Capitals, he has seen highs and lows, and in his 25 years of life, he has experienced tragedy and victory.

The Ovechkin Project: A Behind-the Scenes Look at Hockey's Most Dangerous Player
by Damien Cox and Gare Joyce, examines Ovechkin's professional and private life from his youth growing up in Russia to the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The book opens at the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver with Ovechkin and his Russian teammates lined up against Canada in the quarterfinal game. A nice preview, it introduces the insiders whose comments and insights on Ovechkin are presented throughout the book.

Sadly, as the authors note in the acknowledgments section, they were never able to secure access to Ovechkin or his family. A shortcoming that no doubt means a less thorough book but not one that renders the result unworthy of reading for hockey fans.

Outrage at the Title of the Book?

Some readers and critics seem to have been affronted by the fact that the book was sub-titled A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Hockey's Most Dangerous Player, when no direct input was provided by Ovechkin himself.

In fact, that's what most of the handful of reviews for the book at Amazon seem to focus on. It almost seems like a concerted effort to glom onto to this minor point and take away from what is an otherwise entertaining and informative book. The criticism is not really relevant, especially because all PR about the book plainly states that it is an unauthorized look at Ovechkin's life.

And the book does contain many comments from Capitals' insiders: owner Ted Leonsis, GM Mike McPhee, head coach Bruce Boudreau and numerous teammates, past and present, of Ovechkin's.

The Early Years

Readers get a fairly lean retelling of Ovechkin's childhood in Russia and the single-minded focus of his mother Tatiana to turn her son into a world-class athlete. Perhaps he absorbed his mother's passion to see him make it big or maybe he was just blessed with a natural drive and determination. But whatever the cause, together with his relatively prosperous upbringing in post-communist Russia and the sports-related opportunities it afforded him, Ovechkin drove himself to be better than anyone else on the ice.

But not everything goes smoothly. When Ovechkin was 12, his older brother died after being involved in a car accident, one of a handful of deaths of people close to him that would have a lasting effect on him.

Recent History

The past few years of Ovechkin's life offer up some great drama and an arc to his character development that couldn't have been more appropriate for an engaging analysis if it had been created by a fiction writer.

The negotiations for Ovechkin's current mammoth contract of 13 years and 124 million dollars is one example of the real-life drama and provides for great reading. It also further highlights how much his family is important to Ovechkin; he had no agents involved in the discussions for his new deal and instead relied on the input of his mother and father and others in his inner circle.

Following the contract, Ovechkin seems to have changed noticeably. His previous goofy, happy-go-lucky self is replaced with someone who is more arrogant and wary of others. With all the people who are out for a piece of someone in that situation, his reaction is not surprising in many ways.

This is where feedback from Ovechkin could have made this a much better book. Of course, this is no fault of the authors. They could have easily reacted with a negative view of their subject but for the most part avoid that path (except where Ovechkin's behaviour may have warranted criticism).

This relative lack of editorializing on certain topics is good: for example, Ovechkin responds to a question from a reporter that alerts him to the length of a suspension he had been handed from the NHL and his first thought is that he will lose out on over 200, 000 dollars because of the missed games. What does it say about Ovechkin? That is pretty much left to the reader to decide.

Major Disappointments

Major disappointments for his teams, both with the Capitals during the 2009/10 playoffs when they bow out in the first round to a determined Montreal Canadiens team with a hot goalie, and the abysmal performance of the Russian squad at the 2010 winter Olympics, add more intrigue and raise further questions about Ovechkin.

The story that emerges of Ovechkin is of someone who is immensely talented but who has not yet found a way to translate that talent into championships for his team. Someone who is in a fierce rivalry with Sidney Crosby, and someone who, while hailed as a leader by his teammates, occasionally veers towards selfishness both on and off the ice.

Crosby/Ovechkin Rivalry

As far as the ongoing competition with Crosby goes, no doubt there is something there. But writers often try to create a strong narrative around which to structure an entire book, and that is the case here with the Crosby/Ovechkin rivalry. It is played up just a bit too much. For example:

“With no apologies to Bird and Johnson, theirs [Ovechkin and Crosby's] could be a rivalry without precedent in the modern history of sport.”

Not an apology, but a glaring bit of prolepsis.

The rivalry theme inevitably concludes, in not so many words, that Crosby has got Ovechkin beat on most levels: well-rounded multi-dimensional play, a Stanley Cup ring and Olympic gold medal, and the willingness to face the heat in an open and honourable way when his team loses.

Other “Sub-Plots”

As with many books that are ostensibly about a single individual, The Ovechkin Project can't help but include numerous other interesting characters and "subplots." One of the most interesting bits in the book is a section about Bruce Boudreau’s incredible turn of fortunes in the past few seasons as he was named as Capitals' head coach during the 2007/08 campaign and helped the team turn around their season. In the early going of the book, a good discussion on the history of Russian players in the NHL also makes for great reading.

Of course, all the threads are somewhat linked to Ovechkin. The NHL’s move over the last few years to start showcasing some of its biggest stars, with limited results, receives attention in the book. And the endorsement agency that Ovechkin signed with, IMG, and how they have tried to mold his public image in an attempt to help him and them cash in, is also interesting.

The requisite hockey book play-by-play recounting of games and series are here and games from the Vancouver winter Olympics of 2010 and the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs are described in absorbing style.

Worth Reading?

The writing is generally tight and entertaining in The Ovechkin Project. Cox and Joyce are good writers and offer up straightforward, unclich├ęd prose with some good turns of phrases. This excerpt describes the build-up to game two of the first round series between Washington and Montreal in the 2009/10 Stanley Cup playoffs:
It was as thought the NHL playoff schedule was specifically designed to keep the personal game of H-O-R-S-E between Ovechkin and Crosby going. Going into Game 2, Ovechkin had seen all the highlights from the second game of the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series from the night before when Crosby had constructed a brilliant setup for the winning goal. On that play, Crosby eluded Jason Spezza behind the net with a series of reverses, like he was running a three-man weave by himself, before feeding Kris Letang for the clinching goal. Crosby also made the key defensive play for the Penguins earlier in the game, batting a loose puck away from the Penguin goal line. So the standard was again set, or lifted, for Ovechin as he stepped out on the ice for the second game against the Habs.
But there were some annoyances. Throughout the book, Cox and Joyce insert italicized sentences following some bit of action that has been described involving a player or coach. As if the italicized words represent what the person was likely thinking at that moment. For example, from this passage that describes Ovechkin’s involvement in a scrum after a goal:

“A melee ensued after Staal’s goal when Orpik got his stick up into the face of Pothier and Ovechkin tackled Letang, sitting on top of him and squeezing the life out of him with a bear hug. They stand up for me, I have to stand up for them.”

Or:

Ovechkin skated off the ice after another disappointing loss. The 100 thousand every game soothes the hurt just a bit.

OK, I made up the last one, but you get the point.

This often works to good effect. It makes a story being told in the past tense seem more immediate and it also provides some indication of what that player in question may have been thinking at that moment. But it becomes tiresome through the course of the book. And sometimes the supposed thought is so inane or obvious as to detract from a good section. Other times it just seems like an opportunity to take a dig at someone.

Another criticism: like many hockey books, the copy-editing here falls on the somewhat sloppy side.

Aside from those minor points, there is enough new information and insight from those associated with Ovechkin to make for an enjoyable read. Ovechkin is likely waiting for what he assumes will be a championship or two in the coming years before he collaborates with someone to present his life story—a book over which he and those closest to him will no doubt insist on complete control. Until that time (and perhaps even after), this is the best critical look at the life of one of the current greats in the NHL.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Ted Leonsis Responds to Claim about Ovechkin Contract

Washington Capitals logoAccess is the lifeblood of journalists. Without the ability to interview key people and maintain an inside track on breaking news, journalists are nothing more than glorified bloggers. This is especially true in the world of sports writers.

The need to maintain access means that sports writers will not always break news that could be damaging to the team on which they report. Perhaps they soften their coverage just a tiny bit here and there. At least until the herd mentality has taken over their fellow hacks, and a particular storyline is deemed safe.

Otherwise, they may find themselves frozen out of the first tier of writers who are given prime interviews, tipped off about impending trades, and made privy to narratives that GMs and/or owners want to float with the aim of strengthening the image of a particular player they want to move.

Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, suggests in this blog post, that Damien Cox has made misleading comments about Alexander Ovechkin's contract because Cox did not have the access he wanted when writing a book about Ovechkin.

Interesting claim and just about impossible to prove. But let's at least take a look at what seems to have set off Leonsis. Here's what Cox writes in a piece entitled Outlaw owners get their way in Kovalchuk deal:
Ted Leonsis, to name another, was a hawk during the last labour struggle and now drinks deeply and gratefully from the revenue-sharing trough. The president of his Washington Capitals, Dick Patrick, is part of one of hockey’s most famous families and a committed league man.

But when they wanted to give Alexander Ovechkin a 13-year, $124 million contract, one they knew Bettman wouldn’t approve of, they did it anyway. That encouraged others, like the bizarre Tampa twosome of Len Barrie and Oren Koules, to engineer a deal with Vinny Lecavalier that started with a $10 million salary and wound down to $1 million.

So, it seems as though Cox is suggesting that the Ovechkin deal paved the way for others to offer long-term, front-loaded contracts to players with the aim of reducing the cap hit for their team. When you give a player who is say, 35 years-old, a 12 or 14 year deal that pays him 7 or 8 million dollars a year in the early part of the contract, and then tapers off to 1 million or less per year as the deal approaches the final years, then yes, a fairly strong argument can be made that an owner is trying to game the system.

First, it is unlikely that the player will be playing when the deal reaches its conclusion, or perhaps the deal will be renegotiated at some point in the future before it expires.

Here's the main problem with grouping the Ovechkin deal in with contracts that pull the long-term, front-loaded stunt with a player in his early to mid-thirties: Ovechkin's contract is not front-loaded! Ovechkin will be paid 9 to 10 million per year for the duration of the contract.

Not only that, this is probably not the last contract that Ovechkin will sign. He was 22 when he inked the deal with the Capitals, and he will be 35 when it expires. Finally, the contract just doesn't feel off like some of the other ones do.

So, Cox's claims are misleading at best, and disingenuous at worst. As for the charge from Leonsis that Cox is bitter at not having access to Ovechkin when he wrote the book and that is why he took a swipe at Leonsis—simply impossible to know if that is true. Unfortunately for Cox, because of the absurdity of his claim, some will no doubt believe that he is bitter for just that reason.

However, Cox can't be too annoyed at the blog posting from Leonsis and the resulting attention. At the very least, he will receive a lot of free publicity for the book he wrote about Ovechkin that will be released in the fall.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Regular Season: Quarter Pole Standings and Review

nhllogo.gifWith most teams in the NHL having played 25% of their schedule, it's time for a look at how things have played out so far.

Eastern Conference


The Ottawa Senators are in a class by themselves in the Eastern Conference and show no sign of letting up. On the few occasions the team have played poorly, they have quickly bounced back and returned to their winning ways.

The Washington Capitals are about the only team whose season is already looking close to an unsalvageable disaster. That they haven't made some kind of move yet is perhaps a testament to the lack of other clubs willing or able to shift players. You've got to think that head coach Glen Hanlon will be walking the plank any day now. A coaching change can jolt a team in the right direction as demonstrated by the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Thrashers have gone 10-4 since sacking Bob Hartley and are suddenly a tough team to beat. They are now nipping at the heels of the hapless Leafs and within a few points of the 5th to 8th place glut in the Eastern Conference.

More than just trying to turn around their season, the Capitals have got to be thinking about Alexander Ovechkin and his looming free agency that will become a reality at the end of the season. No doubt the Caps' potential in the next few seasons will affect his decision about where to play.

Ovechkin will be a Group 2 free agent, so if he does accept an offer from another team and the Caps don't or can't match, at least Washington will get four first round draft picks in return from the organization who lures him away (the prescribed compensation for the salary range Ovechkin will no doubt command.)

Regarding a change behind the bench, what exactly have the Caps got to lose besides more games?

Speaking of the Leafs, they offered up another classic third period collapse in the game against the Bruins last night. The fans at Air Canada Centre had to feel a bit queasy at the sight of goalie Tuuka Rask performing at least as well as his Finnish compatriot in the Leafs net. Most importantly, he got his first start and win in the NHL against the team who traded him away for Andrew Raycroft.

The Leafs now sit in ninth place in the conference. All the teams above them in the standings have at least one game in hand on Toronto and most of those clubs have played two or fewer matches. No sense of urgency seems to grip the organization at the moment.

The Philadelphia Flyers have flattened out a bit after their strong beginning. After going 6-1 with 28 goals to start the season, they have followed up with a rather mediocre 5-6-1 with only 29 goals during that stretch. To this point it has still been an impressive turnaround from last year. The Flyers have a tough run in front of them in their next 8 games as they play the Senators, Bruins, Wild, Avalanche and the Hurricanes (twice), amongst others.

The two most disappointing teams in the East are the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sabres plummet is not as much of a surprise since their team scoring was gutted in the off-season with the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. But most fans didn't expect their drop-off to be as sharp as it has been. Head coach Lindy Ruff has built up loads of capital with the Sabres and despite the team's woes, I can't see his position being in jeopardy any time soon.

The Penguins on the other hand, have got to be the biggest under-achievers of the season. They could be in the market for a number one goaltender or a new coach in the next little while. Rammed with talent and coming off last year's impressive regular season, it will be a bit hard for fans to tolerate the losing much longer.

Two other teams that have swapped places in the standings as compared to last year are the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devils are getting hammered this season. They have yet to win more than two games in a row and the last time they did that was in mid-October.

The Canes on the other hand are off to a great start after their disappointing campaign in 2006-7 and have scored more goals than any other team in the league with 71.

Western Conference


The Western Conference is even more of a mash-up, with the Detroit Red Wings at the top, the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes at the bottom and every other team clogging up the middle. A whopping four points separates 2nd place from 12th.

The grouping at the bottom looks similar to the end of last season with the exception of the Chicago Blackhawks who have exited the cellar. The Blackhawks are a rejuvenated club with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews off to good starts. The ongoing restructuring of their front office is a positive sign for Chicago fans as well.

The biggest non-story of the season is still the expectant Calgary sports writers waiting for Mike Keenan to blow a gasket as the Flames continue their underwhelming start. The standard lament from everyone who follows this team closely is that they seem to have a talented club with all the potential pieces to do well but they continue to offer up sub-par efforts. Keenan's got to be wondering if he should shelve his new milder approach and once again start throwing wild haymakers (metaphorically) in the dressing room.

It's been frustrating so far for the Edmonton Oilers, though their fans at least can take some solace from the fact that they're not too far behind the Flames in the standings. It's safe to say that Dustin Penner is the biggest bust of the off-season free agent signings.

On pace for only 16 goals, that's far from what the Oilers were probably expecting from the lumbering forward. Most fans of the team will say that it's a signing whose worth can only be accurately judged after Penner's 3rd or 4th season with the team. Fair enough. But in the short term, it's certainly not looking too good.

The Detroit Red Wings keep blazing along with consistent play and plenty of offense. Second in goals scored in the league and second in goal differential (with 19 more tallies than they have given up), the Wings are still one of the toughest teams in the league to play against.

The Anaheim Ducks have put together six wins in their last eight starts after a dismal start to the season. The Vancouver Canucks have been improving lately but are still having trouble with consistency. The Columbus Blue Jackets have come back to earth with only two wins in their last nine games (and three shootout loss points) after their impressive beginning.

The St. Louis Blues are in the midst of their second four game winning streak of the season. Though they are a bit lean in the scoring department they have found ways to win. The goaltending from Manny Legace has been solid if unspectacular, though he has only faced 389 shots. Based on play in 15 of the Blues' games, the number of shots directed at him is lower than for most other goalies in the league with comparable minutes played.

A definite sign of good defense and also borne out by the fact that St. Louis have allowed only 40 goals. This has also been helped by having had the lightest schedule in the league so far. With only 18 games played to this point, they have at least two games in hand compared to all other teams above them in the conference standings.

As much as I dislike that qualifier "It's still too early/close to count anyone out," it has a lot of merit for most teams with three quarters of the season yet to play.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Predictions: Eastern Conference

Sens logoPens logoTampa logoDevils logoSabres logoRangers logoThrashers logoLeafs logoFlyers logoCaps logoBruins logoHurricanes logoPanthers logoIsles logohabslogo.gifOK, here's the requisite prediction post wherein I make studied and reasoned comments (offer up a bundle of paraphrased rationalizing) on why I've placed various teams in my projected final standings. In the end I'm going to make at least some wild assed guesses with the knowledge that many well articulated forecasts are no more accurate than the looping swings in the dark variety. Regardless of how someone arrives at their choices, at least a few teams will surprise and insanely over-achieve while one or two clubs will disappoint.

I'm going with conference predictions for the simple reason that they're a helluva lot easier to post. But because of the heavily weighted intra-division play, the only way to make any kind of pick is to look at those groupings first and decide who improved the most and proceed from there. Of course, by working backwards, you could ultimately determine what my picks would look like if sorted into divisions.

You may have read an article I posted last month in which I described the various teams I have cheered for over the years. After a fairly long absence away from regularly watching games (which could continue this season depending on how the online viewing situation plays out) I come to this season as a hockey fan with relatively few biases. Some of you may consider this unthinkable, a bland, second-rate way to watch the game. I'm perfectly content to watch the season unfold in this way and I think it will make me a better observer who is relatively uninfluenced by emotion. At the same time, I'm looking forward to being drawn in by certain teams and situations and will no doubt have some favourites by the end of the season.

First, the Eastern Conference:

1. Ottawa Senators
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Buffalo Sabres
6. New York Rangers
7. Atlanta Thrashers
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Philadelphia Flyers
10. Washington Capitals
11. Boston Bruins
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Florida Panthers
14. New York Islanders
15. Montreal Canadiens

The Senators haven't done much in the off-season but really, they had no need to. Coming off a season in which they surged in the last half and were dominant throughout the playoffs with the exception of the finals, they have every right to leave things as they are. Bryan Murray as GM will no doubt be looking to add the final piece before the trade deadline and John Paddock behind the bench as coach could provide a nice jolt. Ray Emery had his wrist and a new contract sewn up in the off-season but I wouldn't be surprised if Martin Gerber plays a more prominent role this season. A 52 save shut-out, regardless of whether it's in the pre-season, bodes well for his potential in 2007-08. Emery still has some technique issues to sort out before he's ranked as one of the league's elite netminders. He also has a tendency for off-ice antics and any further melodramas involving him together with average play could see his stock plummet.

Many have picked the New York Rangers as the most improved team in the entire league with the signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. And the addition of Brent Sutter could improve the perennially solid and well-disciplined Devils. But I'm still going with the Pittsburgh Penguins to take the Atlantic Division and second overall in the Eastern Conference for no other reason than I like to be a contrarian son-of-a-bitch on occasion. But really, it's not much of a stretch to think they will in fact finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. The explosive talent they have, has, in my opinion, the greatest potential for further improvement this season. Another year of playing together under their belts and the disappointment of an early playoff exit will spur them on to greater heights.

The Buffalo Sabres are going to see their "goals for" numbers take a hit with the loss of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and that will cause them to slip somewhat but not as much as many are predicting.

I see Tampa Bay leapfrogging Atlanta for the Southeast crown and thus being positioned 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Just like last season, I believe the mediocre Southeast will field only one other playoff team with Atlanta taking the 7th position. I well may have ranked them higher but my research on the team has been abysmal. That lack of recognition factor alone is why I have slotted them in based on a quick look at last season's final standings. Sad, I know, but I'm doing this for kicks and can afford shameless admissions such as that. (Imagine one of the well-paid hacks at the Globe and Mail's sports section dropping a line like that?)

I must admit that I've bought into the rationalizing regarding the improvements made to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season and have thus awarded them the last playoff position at 8th in the conference. Despite the 2 poor performances so far by Vesa Toskala in net during the pre-season, I can't help but feel they will see an improvement overall at the position, whether it's with shared duties or perhaps with the unexpected development that sees Andrew Raycroft step up. They have added some scoring with Jason Blake despite having been quite strong in that area last season. Unfortunately, they've already been hit with some pre-season injuries though it's unlikely things could be as bad in that regard as during the 06-07 campaign.

I can't see the Leafs missing the playoffs for a 3rd straight year, not only because of their mild improvements but more for the fact that there will be hell to pay if it even looks like a possibility approaching the midway point of this season. Pressure in the nasty pit of hockey insanity in which the Leafs lurch wildly about is surreal and larger than life.

At least 2 key individuals, GM John Ferguson Jr. and Leafs icon Mats Sundin, will be riding hell bent for success in their respective off-ice and on-ice roles this year. Ferguson will orchestrate at least one final Hail Mary if his job looks like it's in jeopardy and Sundin will haul the team into the playoffs alone even if he's jacked up on enough cortisone to kill a buffalo. Surprisingly, not much has been said as of late (relatively, relatively) by the Toronto media about Sundin's final quarter season slump in 06-07. It could either be painful or inspirational to see how Sundin winds up his career in Toronto this year.

The columnists and journalists who weigh in on all things Leafs related have been braying loudly about everything else though. I believe the sports writers on the hockey beat at Canadian papers, especially the Globe and Mail, are so conscious of being branded as having a pro-Leafs bias, that they go ricocheting in the opposite direction as a way to compensate. Sure there are many informed and often prescient views offered up on the Leafs but so often it's a skewed picture that is presented in the sports sections in many rags. The shrill pronouncements are already flowing from some on the demise of the Leafs this season with the regular season not even underway. They are so extreme in some cases that a person can only lean at least slightly in the other direction and be confident that that is a more likely possibility.

And finally regarding the Leafs, I do buy into the argument that they were hammered beyond normal limits in the injury department last season. Look at where they were at about a month into the campaign in 2006-07. Sure they had some games in hand, but still, they were off to a fairly good start. If anything, I see a reverse of last year with them having a slow start and then improving during the final stretch.

Philadelphia could well be one of the most improved teams this years. It will definitely be a fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and if it isn't the Leafs, I'm sure the Flyers will be right there. The Flyers shipped out their favourite whipping boy (at least he was for some of the fans and a columnist or two) Joni Pitkanen in exchange for Jason Smith and Joffrey Lupul from the Edmonton Oilers. A big unrestricted free agent signing saw the addition of Daniel Briere. He should provide a boost to their scoring, which was horrid last season. The Flyers also grabbed another pair of players from Nashville who were set to become UFAs, when they inked forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. If not the most improved, the Flyers have at least altered the face of their team more than any other club.

However, they absorbed a bludgeoning in that pre-season game with Ottawa a few days ago, losing four players to injuries. It looks as though Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul both damaged their wrists though only Upshall's injury is serious enough to require surgery.

Washington and Boston are 2 teams that have people throwing around that catchall phrase "You'll be surprised." Having been a Bruins fan many years ago, it would definitely be nice to see them break out of their years long average to terrible play. They've got a new coach in Claude Julien who has made it clear the Bruins will be a more physical team. For some real in-depth parsing of the Bruins at every position and the kind of substance and minutiae that can only come from years of following a team, check out this excellent blog.

Well, that's it for my Eastern Conference predictions. I'll offer up my Western Conference forecasts within the next day or two.