Sunday, September 02, 2007

Top 5: Teams with Something to Prove

As we inch closer to the season you'll see lots of predictions, lots of previews, lots of rankings of teams. Those are fun, really. Entertaining. Interesting. Thought-provoking.

Exactly why you won't find them here.

Instead we'll be taking a look at lists of five things of my choosing - as always, opposing opinions are welcome, as are suggestions for other "Top 5" lists in the future. Just toss them in the comments...anything to fill up these last few lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

Today's list:
5 Teams with Something to Prove

Washington: Rebuilding is never easy for a team. Everyone suffers – management, coaching staff, players, and fans. But it’s done with the knowledge that the pain will eventually pay off, the waiting will eventually lead to something, the scrimping and saving will allow for better results someday soon. Someday is today, and you can feel a general excitement in the air for the first time in a long time. After imploding in ’03-’04 and posting two straight bottom-feeding 70 point seasons, everyone is ready for that next step. GMGM has addressed the needs to take them there and on paper this is a playoff team…now they just have to prove it on the ice, where it counts.

Atlanta: 2006-07 saw the Thrashers clinch their first division title and thus their first playoff spot in franchise history, but an embarrassing first round sweep at the hands of the Rangers left many people questioning whether they belonged in the postseason at all. Potent offensive talent that had dominated during the regular season was suddenly nonexistent, posting only 6 goals in the 4 games. Several months later and several players lighter, the Thrashers will have to put up a fight to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.

San Jose: The Sharks have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons and in ’06-’07 they posted a franchise-best 107 points. Yet each year they’ve gone into the postseason as favorites only to be knocked out early, making it past the second round only twice in their 16 year history. They lost Hannan and Toskala this summer but managed to do the impossible and locked up Thornton and Marleau for at least a few more years. Now they’ll be looking to prove that regular season success can translate to postseason stamina, something they’ve yet to do.

Ottawa: After a rough, injury-plagued start to the season, the Sens gradually got their act together and rose through the ranks of the Eastern Conference, clawing their way into the postseason bit by bit. Eye-opening performances in the first three rounds made many people wonder if the Cup would indeed be returning to Canada at last and despite turning in a mediocre performance in the Finals the choking dog moniker seemed to be removed. Memories are short in Canada, though, and with most of the roster intact and a new face behind the bench, second best won’t be good enough for a lot of people this year.

Anaheim: Every year the team with the most to prove is the Stanley Cup Champion from the previous year, and the Ducks will be no exception. A team packed with both skill and grit, not to mention an enviable duo in net, dominated the league for most of the season and got stronger with each playoff round. Still there are questions lingering in the air, not the least of which is the status of superstars Selanne and Niedermayer. Once those questions are answered and if they can avoid the dreaded Cup hangover, the championship is theirs to lose.

Honorable Mention - Philadelphia: It’s hard to really say that the Flyers have a lot to prove. After a forgettable season that saw them set milestones aplenty (and not the good kind), conventional wisdom says they just need to not finish dead last to avoid complete implosion. New additions like Briere have to prove their worth while steady veterans like Gagne have to continue nurturing the crop of young talent that saw so much ice time last year. And time will tell if locking up semi-big names to mega-huge deals will be the key to a return to the top…or spell disaster.

Naturally with teams looking to prove themselves the conversation ultimately slides right into those coaches and GMs who find themselves on the hot seat (and yes, there are only 4...because I can do whatever I want):

Hanlon/McPhee (WAS) – Just as the team itself has something to prove, so do the top two engineers of the Caps’ rebuilding process to this point. With a recent influx of veteran talent and many of the youngsters starting to develop there can be no more excuses, and a lot of the credit or blame for whatever happens this season will fall squarely on the shoulders of Hanlon and GMGM.

MacTavish/Lowe (EDM) – After a summer that would seem comical if it wasn’t so sad, things are not looking good in Edmonton. Botched signings, ridiculous offer sheets, and the general need for bodies in jerseys have made Kevin Lowe age about 20 years in the last four months. And let’s not forget the ultimate sin – letting go of Ryan Smyth, the heart and soul of the team, at the trade deadline. MacTavish has the unenviable task of piecing together a roster from the scrapings, and it could get ugly.

Carbonneau/Gainey (MON) – Living in a virtual hockey mecca like Montreal is a dream for any hockey fan. It’s also a nightmare for any hockey player. All the pressure of playing in Toronto without the hometown appeal has made the Habs a last resort kind of town, and no one seems to want to play there. The problem there is the team has been mediocre at best for years now…and the locals won’t stand for it much longer.

Tortorella/Feaster (TB) – A new ownership can mean an influx of passion and money to a franchise. It can also spell doom for the existing GM and coach. With Tampa yet to regain their form from their Stanley Cup run and a huge chunk of the salary going towards “the big three”, Torts and Feaster need to scramble around for a solution that should include some solid goaltending or scramble for new jobs.

Next up: 5 stories of the summer that just won't die...


Bradley said...

Good lists, both of them.

I would add Regeir/Ruff to the management list, if only to fill out the 5. Perhaps through management missteps, they've lost two of the best players to free agency. It's now up to Ruff to prove that he can coach a less talented team to success, even if the President's Trophy is out of reach. Regeir will likely see the praises or curses as the prospects and young players step up to fill the void left this offseason.

CapsChick said...

It's a good point - I'm more inclined to give the Sabres duo one more year before putting them on the hot seat, though. I think Regier had a choice to either keep Briere and Drury in the fold or keep the bulk of his young, talented team that will need pay increases in the next two years. Frankly I think he made the right decision.

The core is still there, and I think they can keep the team in the playoff contention this year. If not, though, I think they're in the spotlight next season for sure.