Season Preview: Plante

In BAL, CHA, DEN, EDH, GLP, PIT, SAL, SCA, STE, Uncategorized, WIN on November 26, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Sawchuk Conference has its powerhouses – and the last five cups. But the Plante is where all the intrigue is.

Apart from a strong Salem squad fresh off a trip to the Gump Cup Finals, the entire conference is full of dark horses – young teams, growing teams, sure, but few that are in flat-out rebuilding mode. That kind of parity makes the conference incredibly tough to call.

In – D Ryan McDonagh, F Nino Niederreiter, G Jacob Markstrom, D Michael Sauer, F Blake Geoffrion, F Teemu Hartikainen, F Brandon Prust
Out – F Evgeni Malkin, F Cal O’Reilly, D Bryan McCabe, F Darroll Powe, D Anton Stralman, F Rob Schremp, F Jamie Langenbrunner

Baltimore made the boldest move of the off-season, unloading Evgeni Malkin for all of Pittsburgh’s draft picks. That meant a pretty big personnel turnover – 7 guys in and 7 out, not counting poor Steven Kampfer, released before he even got a sniff. It’s hard to look as this as anything but a small step backwards in the short term, but any team with Anze Kopitar is poised to compensate for the loss of a player of Malkin’s calibre, and the team still has a strong core in its prime.

In – F Luke Adam, F Matt Halischuk, F Matt Calvert, D Jason Garrison, F BJ Crombeen, F Mike Knuble
Out –  G Michal Neuvirth, F Alexander Frolov, F Benoit Pouliot, F M-A Pouliot, D Kurtis Foster, D Oskars Bartulis

Charleston should be a playoff team, there should be little doubt of that. After a surprising trip to the finals led to two straight years of mediocrity, the Chiefs started rounding back into form when Steven Stamkos hit the scene. Now that they have a marquee scorer, they have a roster with few glaring weaknesses, and with Miikka Kiprusoff and Jonathan Quick splitting duties in goal, they should be one of the Plante’s better teams.

In – D Kevin Shattenkirk, G Anders Lindback, F Brandon McMillan, D Patrick Wiercioch, G Thomas McCollum, D Cameron Gaunce, F David Jones
Out – F Tomas Plekanec, G Ty Conklin, G Justin Peters, F Zach Boychuk, D Kim Johnsson, F Jere Lehtinen, D John Negrin

You wouldn’t think that a team that ran away with the conference lead two seasons running would call for retooling, but after an incredibly disappointing ’10-’11, Denver’s needs to bounce back. The Spurs have an intriguing roster, having brought in young Kevin Shattenkirk to augment a pretty strong defense led by Keith Yandle. On paper, they have lots of firepower, but they remain one of the league’s thinnest teams on the wings, even after the summer acquisition of David Jones. The question is, can Mike Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Matt Duchene, and Danny Briere do all the heavy lifting on their lines?

In – F Alexander Burmistrov, F Joe Colborne, D Jeff Petry, F Eric Wellwood, F Nick Spaling
Out – F Jesse Winchester, F Dustin Boyd, F Jarkko Ruutu, F Jason Williams, F Jamal Mayers, F Michal Repik

The Lynx made the postseason for the first time in half a decade last year and, apparently encouraged by that progress, management made few off-season changes of note. Alexander Burmistrov is still a season away from making any kind of impact, but it doesn’t matter: the Lynx have the kind of high-end talent in Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Kesler that it takes to win in the GWMHL. Their defense has few marquee players but is one of the league’s deepest, and the Carey PriceTuukka Rask combo could take them far. The Lynx could easily be the season’s biggest surprise.

In – F Taylor Hall, D Nick Leddy, F Marco Scandella, F Erik Condra, F Darren Helm, F Erik Christensen, D Jay Harrison
Out – F Kris Draper, D Mike Mottau, F Fernando Pisani, F Robbie Earl, D Taylor Chorney, F Nigel Dawes, D Karlis Skrastins

There’s no question that the Pilots – formerly the Cows – got better this off-season. A lot better. Draftees Taylor Hall and Nick Leddy will be in a position to make an impact right away, and of seven cuts since the end of the regular season, not a single one will be missed. Unfortunately, the Cows have been rudderless for some time now, so management has an uphill climb ahead. Key vets like Tomas Holmstrom can’t be counted on as key contributors anymore and depth up front is going to be a challenge this season.

In – F Evgeni Malkin, D Bryan McCabe, F Cal O’Reilly, G Ben Bishop,
Out –  F Chris Clark, F Ben Maxwell, F Doug Weight, F Glen Metropolit

Much like Great Lakes, the Pittsburgh Hornets have been hurt over the years by absentee ownership. Now back in the hands of a committed GM, they’ll be looking to right the ship. The strategy? Pittsburgh ditched all its draft picks for Evgeni Malkin and change. The team’s been plagued by an aging defense that just hasn’t been righ since Zubov retired. (Victor Hedman‘s development cannot come quickly enough.) Fortunately, the Hornets have some players who can step up and contribute alongside Malkin – particularly James Neal and Drew Stafford – and should certainly be in the conversation for one of the final two playoff spots.

In – D Jonathan Blum, F Philip McRae, F Greg Nemisz, D Justin Braun
Out – F Kristian Huselius, D Mike Commodore, F Robert Nilsson, F Darren Helm

Here’s the team that keeps the entire Plante up at night. By far the deepest team, and strong at all positions, the Wannabees are coming off a Gump Cup Final loss and out for blood. It was a bit of a shocker when Kristian Huselius got cut, but it’s not likely the team will miss him much. Frankly, even if you halve Patrick Marleau‘s insane 77-goal total from last year, this team’s a sure-fire contender. Look out.

In – D Travis Hamonic, F David Desharnais, G Jason LaBarbera, D Filip Kuba
Out – D Mathieu Carle, D Jared Cowen, F Ian Laperriere, D Jay McKee, F Peter Mueller, D Davis Drewiske, F Ryan Potulny, D John Scott

The moment Marc Savard went down with a concussion, life got a lot more complicated for the Fire Ants. They’re in a weird place, undergoing a slow-motion shakeup that still keeps them mostly competitive. Their biggest problem heading into the off-season was on defense: after Zdeno Chara, who is there? Maybe Trevor Daley can step up, but with Sami Salo always hurt, they went out and shored up with rookie Travis Hamonic and then Filip Kuba, acquired for two draft picks. But did they go far enough?

In – F Magnus Paajarvi, G Braden Holtby, F Kyle Clifford, D Mark Fayne, D Mike Weaver
Out – F Alexei Kovalev, F Jesse Joensuu, G Martin Biron, F Craig Conroy, F Fredrik Modin

After four straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Eagles made few off-season changes – they picked up some depth guys and got right of dead weight like Alexei Kovalev. They’re relying on a well-balanced forward group – a hard-working bunch with few big names but the ability to light the lamp – and Tim Thomas to carry them. One might worry about that blueline – can any D featuring Jim Vandermeer in a prominent role really compete? There, too, the answer is the same: In Timmy We Trust.

In – F Tyler Seguin, F Mattias Tedenby, F Patrice Cormier, D Chris Tanev, G Martin Biron, F Kyle Wellwood, F Matt Hendricks
Out – F John Mitchell, D Adam Pardy, F Ethan Moreau, F Owen Nolan, F Miroslav Satan, G Dustin Tokarski, G Christ Osgood

The Falcons escaped Altoona and got unquestionably better along the way. With the last generation retiring, a new group heading by Jamie Benn and Tobias Enstrom is having to grow up fast. They picked up some exciting pieces in the draft, especially in Tyler Seguin, but it’s fair to say this probably isn’t the year they go for the title. Still, with a healthy Jordan Staal, Winnipeg’s another one of those Plante teams that could surprise some people.


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