Thursday, 23 April 2009

Thrown Out Forcefully

Well, we've seen the brooms come out in the Western Conference twice, and both times saw inexperienced teams take the fall in series. The Vancouver Canucks sent a very young St. Louis Blues team home with their tail between their legs, while the Detroit Red Wings played the role of teacher against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their series. Really, though, the two series couldn't have been any different as the Vancouver Canucks relied on a goaltender who is world-class and in a zone all by himself. The Detroit Red Wings, on the other hand, proved to be the "Big Red Machine" we're all used to seeing as they got scoring from everywhere and simply rolled over the Blue Jackets without much resistance.

Over in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens were swept out of the playoffs with ease by the Boston Bruins. Montreal looked like a team defeated before Game Four even began, and the bigger, faster Bruins simply pounded them into submission. While Montreal has a number of playoff-experienced players, the Eastern Conference sweep was much different than the Western Conference sweeps in that Boston was just a much better team than the Montreal Canadiens were in all facets of the game.

The Blues, in my eyes, don't really need to do much to change their playoff aspirations for next season. They have a great young nucleus of players mixed with some savvy veteran players, and their goaltending is fairly decent. Chris Mason doesn't have the résumé of a Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur yet, but he doesn't have to be a world-beater with this great group of youngsters in front of him. Like Detroit with Osgood, all Mason has to do is make the routine stops, and the Blues shouldn't have a problem returning to the playoffs next season.

There is nothing that can teach experience like experience, and having the Blues' youngsters experience this run to the playoffs should make them a tougher team next year. Getting a healthy Paul Kariya back will help as his experience can't be overlooked, and his leadership is something that St. Louis could have used this April.

All in all, I see St. Louis being a threat in the Western Conference next season if they play as well as they did in the second half of this season. And there is nothing to suggest that they cannot. Will they make the playoffs? I'd say there's a pretty good chance that they'll be back next season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets need a few pieces to make a deeper run next season. First, they need a solid, puck-moving defenceman to get their speedy wingers the puck. Kris Russell is coming along, but he doesn't have a world-class outlet pass yet, and it really showed against the Detroit Red Wings. When Nash, Huselius, and Modin can't get the puck up ice, the Blue Jackets tend to play in their end far too often. Having someone who can stretch the ice like a Lidstrom or a Rafalski would really help the Blue Jackets' cause.

Secondly, the Jackets have to find a centerman for Rick Nash. RJ Umberger showed he is a very capable centerman as he was the Jackets' best player in the series, but Umberger is a power forward, not a setup man. Rick Nash needs a slick skating man in the middle to help him take command of a game.

Do I see Columbus in the playoffs next season? With Derrick Brassard, Nikita Filatov, and Jakub Voracek headlining this roster that features 15 skaters who are 25 years of age or younger, the Blue Jackets will only get better, and this taste of the playoffs combined with the spanking laid on them by the powerhouse Red Wings should have the intensity and fire burning deep within their bellies. Will they be back? My guess is yes.

And then we come to the paradox that is the Montreal Canadiens. Soundly beaten by their arch-rivals in the Bruins, the Canadiens are a team in disarray. And as sad as this may sound, I don't think they will be as good as they were this year when the playoffs roll around next season.

Fourteen unrestricted free agents including key cogs such as captain Saku Koivu, winger Alexei Kovalev, and defenceman Mike Komisarek will be tough to sign. Who do you let go if you're GM Bob Gainey? Do you bring in a new coach or do you remain behind the bench? If you do bring a new coach, do you bring in a taskmaster like John Tortorella or someone who relies on a system where everyone buys in to win like a Pat Quinn?

These questions should hopefully be answered by next September, but I don't see Montreal cracking the eight spots in 2010. They were horrible down the stretch this season, and backed into the playoffs with four straight losses. Sadly, this team needs a lot of re-tooling, and it might be a "rebuilding year" next season for Les Habitants.

Now, I'm not one to make bold predictions, and a lot will happen between now and next April. However, if everything stays the same, the two teams in the West seem to be going up while the Eastern team seems to be on a serious down-swing.

Your thoughts? Hit me with them in the comments.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i definitly agree with you on your thoughts with columbus. they have a great coach and are a very youthful team that when it clicks it will be very very strong. I see them making a very strong play for camalari in the offseason. look what he did for iginla this season. calg got olli at the deadline cause he is locked down for less then what cami deserves in the open market, as well as olli being a keenen guy(olli only plays above his level when keenen is coaching ie florida) cami is a top rated young center and nash would benefit greatly.