Three Weeks Until The Deadline

The NHL season is starting to take shape, starting have an identity. The race for the cup is wide open, and the deadline day deals will have playoff implications.

Here’s where I think we are.

Teams with a realistic shot to come out of the East:

Buffalo. They lack the long history of playoff experience that other teams in the East do, but they did get to the Conference finals last year with mostly the same group. They are likely to coast into the playoffs, so their first round performance will speak volumes.

Atlanta. If this team can pull all of its parts together in the playoffs, they will be a team to fear. No one knows what they’ll do in the playoffs, though.

New Jersey. In stark contrast to the previous two, this group has experience and knows what to do. Being up against the cap limits what trades can be made, and I’m not sold on this year’s edition of the Devils yet. But I never bet against Marty Brodeur.

Out west:

Nashville. There’s a certain Je-ne-sais-quoi about this team that fails to instill confidence in me. They’re good, yeah, but they play 24 games against the Blues, Hawks, and Jackets. I guess what really concerns me is their team defense in the playoff context. I certainly expect them to win at least a round or two.

Anaheim. When healthy, this is the best team on paper and in practice this year. They’re extraordinarily balanced in a pre-cap elite kind of way, and have two goalies who have established playoff shutout records. Barring an injury, they’re returning to the Conference finals at least. There’s cap room here too, so we’ll see what the deadline brings. Concerns? Injury, but that applies to everyone. I’d like to see fewer penalties too.

San Jose. This team doesn’t appear as good as it is in the regular season because Doug Wilson built them for the playoffs, explicitly stating his intention to use the Devils as a model. The big problem with doing that is you need to get yourselves a Brodeur, Stevens, and Niedermayer to do that. Easier said that done. Still, I think this team could win the Cup if the get off on the right foot.

Current rumors around the web:

Sundin and/or Tucker to Anaheim.
Forsberg to Nashville
Bertuzzi on the move.