By Brad Lee
Sports Illustrated online NHL columnist Darren Elliot is a retired NHL goaltender.Â He was aÂ bad one at that with a 4-plus goals-against average and only 25 wins in 86 NHL career games. I wish I could say he's a better writer than goalie, but I can't, mainly judging by his column this week.
Before everyone begins putting their fantasy teams together and making pre-season predictions, let's take stock of what has transpired this summer. After all, many teams made substantial moves both on the ice and behind the bench.
When it comes to coaching moves, Flames GM Darryl Sutter surprised many by giving Iron Mike Keenan the task of getting the most out of Calgary's impressive assemblage of parts. While Keenan's eighth NHL stop makes for an interesting storyline, the Flames' revamped blueline holds the key. Adrian Aucoin, Cory Sarich and Anders Ericksson will hopefully add dimensions that were lacking last season -- especially Sarich on the penalty kill.
Yeah Mike Keenan gets the most out of players...players named Brian Noonan andÂ Adam Creighton. And despite breaking the curse with the Rangers and climbing into the fifth spot in all-time coaching wins, he's still a major dick and not only burns bridges with franchises, he napalms them. I'm sure this will end well.Â Â
In the other major coaching move, Sutter's brother Brent takes over in New Jersey. But with the Devils' eternally entrenched in their conservative brand of hockey and longtime assistants Larry Robinson and John MacLean in place -- not to mention the omnipotent presence of GM Lou Lamoriello (who is never shy about descending from the mount to take control behind the bench) -- what can Sutter really bring to bear?
I would have written that sentence about Lou a little differently:Â ...not to mentionÂ GM Lucifer Belzebub (who is never shy about rising from the pits of Hell to coach the Devils and take all the credit when his dark magic produces another Stanley Cup. Â
Daunting as well for Sutter is the fact that the Devils lost much of their offensive luster with centerman Scott Gomez signing with the Rangers and defenseman Brian Rafalski bolting to Detroit. They were two of the bigger free agents on the move this summer, but strangely, Rafalski was the only big-name skater that switched conferences -- that's not counting Ryan Smyth's short tenure in the East with the Islanders.Â
I deleted the rest of that worthless paragraph becauseÂ it was just filler after a decent nugget about few players changing conferences. But if you look at the teams that could afford signing big-name players, they were mostly East Coast teams. Go figure.
When it comes to goaltenders, the two boldest moves saw inter-conference shuffling. The Maple Leafs landed Vesa Toskala from the Sharks and the Panthers upgraded substantially by getting Tomas Vokoun from Nashville. With the addition of Vokoun and the continued growth and development of young stars Jay Bouwmeester, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton, the Panthers are a legitimate playoff contender for the first time in years.
AllÂ 10 Panthers fans areÂ giddy right now.Â Â
It isn't surprising that some of the talent between the pipes went west-to-east, since the Western Conference was deeper and more experienced at that position. Overall, the West was stronger that the East last season, and that might hold true again when you consider that three Western teams that failed to make the playoffs have upgraded admirably.
I can't wait for him to break down theÂ Blues' improvements. Â
The Avalanche added Smyth up front and Scott Hannan on defense and now have to hope that Jose Theodore can provide the topflight goaltending he gave Montreal once upon a time.
Ugh. Jose Theodore hasn't had a save percentage above 90 percent since 2003-04. He's a shadow of his former self and embarassed that anyone, including a weekly SI.com columnist, would say he has the ability to be a topflight goalie and not include the phrase "in the AHL."
Shouldn't he have mentioned the Blues by now?Â Â Â
In Chicago, Nik Khabibulin gives the Blackhawks quality in goal and they've added veterans Robert Lang and Kevyn Adams, as well as the enigmatic Sergei Samsonov up front. The future looks more hopeful for this perpetually downtrodden franchise when you consider that the Blackhawks have top blue chip prospects Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to potentially add to the attack as well.
Darren, you really should have paid attention to last TWO seasons because Khabibulin already has 110 games in a Hawks sweater under his belt and every player you've talked about has been a new faceÂ in a new place.Â Â OK Darren, give me something I can chew on about the Blues.
And the recently woeful Blues signed Paul Kariya to lead the way offensively and seemed to have bolstered their entire roster within the space of a year.
That's some in-depth analysis right there. No mention of Erik Johnson or re-signingÂ Keith Tkachuk or the emergence ofÂ Dutchie Stempniak or David Backes. But he's TOTALLy right -- the Blues do have that Kariya guy now, and the team probably won't be nearly as woeful. Thanks for the breakdown, Darren.