The Ottawa Senators boast a talented core of offensive stars, including Jason Spezza Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, pictured.. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
2006-07 NHL season
Last Updated Fri., Sept. 29, 2006
The NHL drops the puck on the 2006-07 regular season next Wednesday and while all 30 teams have dreams of winning the Stanley Cup, only a handful of clubs have a legitimate chance of hoisting Lord Stanley's mug.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes are vying to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings turned the trick a decade ago, while the Ottawa Senators try to rebound from a disappointing playoff exit and fulfill the proclamation made by Don Cherry last year that they would win it all.
It's been 13 years since the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Since then, no Canadian team has managed to win hockey's most prestigious trophy, though theyve come close. Folks in Alberta hope the Edmonton Oilers can repeat their fairy-tale run to the finals and finally bring the Cup back north of the border, but the Calgary Flames, bolstered by the addition of Alex Tanguay, look to be in a better position to restore Canadian pride.
Here's a breakdown of the teams to watch on the road to the Stanley Cup finals.
Eric Staal's emergence as an offensive force was key to the Hurricanes' Cup victory. (Elsa/Getty Images)
2005-06 record: 52-22-8 (112 points, second place in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Stanley Cup champions (defeated Edmonton in seven games)
New faces: Mike Angelidis (LW); Jesse Boulerice (RW/LW); Tim Conboy (D); Patrick Dwyer (RW); John Grahame (G); Brad Isbister (LW/RW); Scott Kelman (C); Trevor Letowski (RW); David Tanabe (D); Scott Walker (RW); Shane Willis (RW).
Outlook: No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings pulled it off in 1997-98, but you have to like Carolina's chances. The Hurricanes have a solid core of veterans (Rod Brind'Amour, Bret Hedican, Cory Stillman) and youngsters (Eric Staal, Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward, Justin Williams), all of whom played key roles in last season's Stanley Cup run. With Martin Gerber gone (to Ottawa) the No. 1 goalie's job belongs to Ward look for him to be a Vezina candidate. Ward will play behind a solid defensive unit anchored by Hedican and Frantisek Kaberle. Carolina boasts great offensive depth with plenty of speed and character. Staal and Williams had breakout campaigns in 2005-06 and should be ever better this season.
2005-06 record: 52-21-9 (113 points, first place in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Buffalo in five games)
New faces: Jamie Allison (D/LW); Michal Barinka (D); Charlie Cook (D); Joe Corvo (D); Andrew Ebbett (F); Martin Gerber (G); Josh Hennessy (C); Brian Maloney (C/LW); Dean McAmmond (C/LW); Serge Payer (C/LW); Cory Pecker (C) ; Tom Preissing (D); Bobby Robins (RW); Ryan Vesce (F)
Outlook: The humiliation of last year's early exit in the playoffs still stings, especially after the Senators were tipped by Grapes to win the Stanley Cup. A hungry Ottawa will remember that as it tries to shake off its reputation as post-season chokers. With goalies Martin Gerber and Ray Emery, the Senators have an impressive 1-2 puck-stopping punch. Zdeno Chara left for Boston, but Ottawa is still solid defensively with Wade Redden and Chris Phillips. Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza formed the best line in the NHL last season, and should provide plenty of fireworks again. With Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski gone, Peter Schaefer, Mike Fisher and newcomer Dean McAmmond will need to provide Ottawa will plenty of secondary scoring.
Detroit Red Wings
2005-06 record: 58-16-8 (124 points, first place in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Conference quarter-finals (lost to Edmonton in six games)
New faces: Brendan Brooks (C); Dominik Hasek (G); Matt Hussey (C/LW); Greg Johnson (C); Krystofer Kolanos (C); Josh Langfeld (RW/LW); Danny Markov (D); Brad Norton (D) ; Dan Smith (D)
Outlook: It'll be interesting to see how Detroit responds after its first-round exit in the playoffs, especially with veterans Brendan Shanahan (now with the Rangers) and Steve Yzerman (retired) gone. Dominik Hasek is back in Motown and will start in net, but if his groin injury bothers him again, the Red Wings have a great backup in Chris Osgood. Four-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom, Mathieu Schneider and Chris Chelios have plenty of experience on the blue-line. The addition of Danny Markov bolsters an already sturdy defence. Detroit's offensive depth is its greatest strength: Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are explosive, Robert Lang and Jason Williams are coming off great seasons, and Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper are superb two-way players.
2005-06 record: 46-25-11 (103 points, third place in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Conference quarter-finals (lost to Anaheim in seven games)
New Faces: Brad Ference (D); Jeff Friesen (LW); Eric Godard (RW); Jamie McLennan (G); Alex Tanguay (LW); Andrei Zyuzin (D)
Outlook: Jim Playfair takes over the coach reins, allowing Darryl Sutter to focus on his duties as GM. Sutter made a big splash by trading for Alex Tanguay, a move that could result in Calgary returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 2003-04. Miikka Kiprusoff was the best goalie in the NHL last season he was at or near the top in every major statistical category as he claimed the Vezina Trophy. Even without Jordan Leopold (dealt to Colorado) Calgary still has one of the best defensive units in the NHL. Youngster Dion Phaneuf combines physical play with offensive flash, while Robyn Regehr, Rhett Warrener and Andrew Ference are workhorse blue-liners. The Tanguay-Jarome Iginla combination will have opposing defencemen quivering in their skates.
ON THE RISE
In Ilya Kovalchuk, pictured, and Marian Hossa, the Thrashers have two of the NHL's most dynamic players. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)
2005-06 record: 41-33-8 (90 points, tenth place in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: did not qualify
New faces: Fred Brathwaite (G); Dave Caruso (G); Joey Crabb (RW); Darren Haydar (RW); Johan Hedberg (G); Niko Kapanen (C); Jason Krog (C/W); Glen Metropolit (C/W); Steve Rucchin (C); Jon Sim (LW/RW); Vitaly Vishnevski (D); Kyle Wanvig (RW)
Outlook: After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2005-06, the Thrashers appear ready to claim a post-season berth for the first time in franchise history. In Finnish netminder Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta has one of the most promising young goalies in the NHL. The off-season addition of Johan Hedberg gives Atlanta a solid backup plan if Lehtonen gets injured. Defence is a concern for the Thrashers they lack a stud defenceman and will be relying on youngsters McCarthy, Braydon Coburn and Marc Popovic. Up front, Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa form one of the NHL's most explosive offensive duos, while newcomer Niko Kapanen is a smart two-way forward. With Marc Savard gone, veteran Bobby Holik has to improve on his 33 points from 2005-06.
2005-06 record: 43-27-12 (98 points, sixth place in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Conference finals (lost to Edmonton in five games)
New faces: Ryan Carter (C); Colby Genoway (LW); Travis Green (C/RW); Michael Leighton (G); Ian Moran (D); Chris Pronger (D); Karl Stewart (LW); Shawn Thornton (RW); Clay Wilson (D)
Outlook: Anaheim came within three wins of reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season. The acquisition of star defenceman Chris Pronger could put them over the top in 2006-07. Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the no. 1 goalie, but look for him to split time with backup Ilya Bryzgalov, who was sensational in last year's playoffs. Anaheim's defence is impressive is there a better pairing in the NHL than Pronger and Scott Niedermayer? Sean O'Donnell offers size and muscle, while Francois Beauchemin is a reliable top-four defenceman. Winger Teemu Selanne had his best season in years in 2005-06 and Andy McDonald also had a career campaign. Youngsters Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will have to provide the Ducks with more secondary scoring, though.
ON A SLIDE
Toronto Maple Leafs
2005-06 record: 41-33-8 (90 points, ninth place in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: did not qualify
New faces: Brent Aubin (RW); Bates Battaglia (LW); Hal Gill (D); Chris Harrington (D); Pavel Kubina (D); Michael Peca (C); Andrew Raycroft (G); Erik Westrum (C)
Outlook: Sorry Leafs fans, but the Stanley Cup drought (dating back to 1967) won't end this season. Ed Belfour is gone, which means Andrew Raycroft takes over the top goalie's spot. The former Calder Trophy winner is coming off a terrible 2005-06 campaign, with suggestions he is nothing more than a flash in the pan. Toronto was wise to shore up its blue-line by locking up Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle and signing free agents Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill, but the defence is pretty thin once you look past those four. Grinding forward Michael Peca is new for the Leafs, but his presence doesn't address Toronto's need for an explosive goal-scorer to take the pressure off Mats Sundin. Can Alexander Steen build on a respectable rookie campaign? The Leafs certainly hope so, but time will tell.
2005-06 record: 43-30-9 (95 points, seventh in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Anaheim in four games)
New Faces: Tyler Arnason (C); Ben Guite (C/RW); Ken Klee (D); Jordan Leopold (D); Kris Mayotte (G); Matt Murley (LW/RW); Mark Rycroft (RW/LW); Michael Vernace (D)
Outlook: Coach Joel Quenneville has a difficult task in Denver he has to build a team that slumped into the last year's playoffs back into a Stanley Cup contender without Alex Tanguay and Rob Blake. Jose Theodore was decent after being traded to the Avs in March but he didn't exactly shine in the playoffs. Now in his first full season in Denver, the former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner has to produce. Blake's departure for Los Angeles leaves Colorado without a top point man although, it has to be said, the arrival of Jordan Leopold from Calgary gives the Avs a defenceman who can handle the puck. Trading Tanguay left a big hole in Colorado's top line, which means more pressure on rookie Wojtek Wolski and newcomer Tyler Arnason, who was a complete washout in Ottawa last season.
THE DARK HORSES
The Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller has all the skills to be one of the NHL's top goalies for years to come. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
2005-06 record: 52-24-6 (110 points, fourth place in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Conference finals (lost to Carolina in seven games)
New Faces: Adam Berkhoel (G); Jaroslav Spacek (D)
Outlook: Don't be fooled by Buffalo's refusal to go out and sign a big name free agent in the off-season this is a very dangerous team (just ask the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo's second-round victim in the playoffs last year). Ryan Miller had a breakout season in 2005-06 and firmly emerged as Buffalo's No. 1 goalie. Expect big things from the American again this year as he's eager to prove last season was no fluke. Buffalo's defence lacks star power, but Teppo Numminen and Toni Lydman are no-nonsense blue-liners who are reliable in their zone. The addition of Jaroslav Spacek gives Buffalo a dangerous point man on the power play. Even without J.P. Dumont (now with Nashville) and Mike Grier (San Jose), the Sabres still have a balanced attack, led by Maxim Afinogenov and Daniel Briere.
San Jose Sharks
2005-06 record: 44-27-11 (99 points, fifth in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Edmonton in six games)
New faces: Mark Bell (LW); Mathieu Biron (D); Curtis Brown (C); Mathieu Darche (LW); Scott Ferguson (D); Mike Grier (RW); Graham Mink (RW); Patrick Traverse (D)
Outlook: The Sharks were one of the most exciting teams in the NHL last season and have the Stanley Cup firmly in their sights. San Jose doesn't have a definitive No. 1 goalie Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, both terrific netminders, split time between the posts last season, and will do the same this year. The loss of Tom Preissing is bit of a blow, but the Sharks still have great depth on the blue-line, led by stalwarts Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren. League MVP Joe Thornton and Rocket Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo were the best goal-scoring duo in the NHL last year, while veteran Patrick Marleau enjoyed a career campaign. Newcomers Mark Bell, Curtis Brown and Mike Grier will help lighten the offensive load carried by Thornton and Cheechoo.