Training camp notebook (cont.)
Free agent center Brendan Morrison will return from the wrist and knee injuries that limited him to 39 games and only 25 points last season to be the catalyst for much needed second-line scoring. Morrison should be a better fit than was Doug Weight (since departed to Long Island), who was brought in from St. Louis last December for Andy MacDonald.
By getting bigger and stronger on the wings, the Flames be better. The additions of Curtis Glencross, Rene Bourque, Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Cammalleri solidifies Calgary's identity behind the game's premier power forward: captain Jarome Iginla.
The free-agent adds of defenseman Brian Campbell and goaltender Cristobal Huet will be enough to put the Blackhawks in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and only the second time since 1997. Campbell will help the Hawks' powerplay efficiency and Huet will improve their consistency in goal.
Tony Granato's second stint behind the bench won't go any more smoothly than his first (two early playoff exits in his season-and-a-half as Colorado's head man). The Avalanche have some fine young pieces in Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski and the motivating factor of captain Joe Sakic's return, but not much else, especially in goal. That's critical.
Columbus Blue Jackets
For all the promise shown last season, this still won't be the campaign in which the Jackets finally make the playoffs for the first time in their history. Alas, they still don't have enough dependable scoring outside of Rick Nash, even with the additions of Kristian Backman and RJ Umberger.
Did their trip to the Western Conference Finals prove indicative of where this team really is? Yes. The Stars have young leadership in Brendan Morrow; premier playmakers in the middle with Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro; key veterans in Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov who are still capable of contributing significantly, and a diligent defensive identity backed up by goaltender Marty Turco.
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit has all the ingredients win back-to-back Stanley Cups for the first time since they turned the trick in 1997 and 1998. The addition of hired gun Marian Hossa boosted their chances of repeating from the realm of possibility to the neighborhood of a foregone conclusion.
The Oilers have to hope that goaltender Mathieu Garon plays to the same level as he did season ago. It's possible, but not likely based on his career to date and the fact that he only played 47 games in 2007-08 -- not a big number for a number one -- with 10 of his 26 wins coming via the shootout. While impressive, that number is also deceptively inflationary.
Los Angeles Kings
They have a stable of young talent that will continue to grow under the tutelage of new coach Terry Murray and returning assistant Mark Hardy. The playoffs may be still be a reach, but you can expect this team to make strides in the right direction.
After last season's division title and subsequent first-round flameout against Colorado, it's fair to ask if coach Jacques Lemaire is still the right man to guide this team. I say, yes. He showed frustration at times last season, but when it comes to winning hockey, Lemaire is still very hard to improve upon.
If you think the Preds will improve enough to remain a playoff team, consider that their powerplay ranked near the bottom of the league last season -- and that was with 26-goal scorer Alexander Radulov, he of the disputed contract with Ufa of Russia's Continental Hockey League (KHL). Their top two centermen -- Jason Arnott and David Legwand -- are both under 50 percent as faceoff men and Dan Ellis led the NHL in save percentage as an unknown, a luxury he won't have this time around.
The addition of Olli Jokinen down the middle won't be enough to lead the young Coyotes to the playoffs. Jokinen has yet to participate in postseason play after 10 seasons in the league, and there may be a reason beyond the poor teams he's played for in Los Angeles, Florida and on Long Island: his leadership qualities were routinely scrutinized while he was the captain of the Panthers.
San Jose Sharks
Reconstituting the blueline with veterans will put the Sharks over the top. By adding Dan Boyle, Rob Blake and Brad Lukowich, GM Doug Wilson gave his team and new head coach Todd McLellan the best chance possible to take the next step and challenge the Red Wings, Stars and Ducks for the Western Conference crown and a shot at the ultimate prize.
St. Louis Blues
Their fans would surely like to know if this team has finally hit the bottom of the rebuilding process. This season will see the Blues integrate even more young talent -- most likely forwards T.J. Oshie out of North Dakota and Swede Patrick Berglund -- and they'll garner valuable experience as they continue to reestablish an identity and improve accordingly.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo will be enough to keep them in almost every game, but he alone can't make up for a lack of offensive production, and the Canucks are looking awfully thin in that department.