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Rocket's Red Glare: NHL Eastern Conference preview

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: September 28, 2011 - 3:13 PM

Commenter Rocket is back and better than ever, ready to give you a solid post on the NHL every week so we don't have to. Newcomers to this feature should understand that Rocket's feud with Stu is utterly fictional and any disparaging comments about Stu are made purely 1) in jest and 2) with Stu's full expectation. Rocket?

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Well, I'm back.  I know you have a tendency to get emotional about these kinds of things, but I think we'll all be better off if we just kept this professional.  Great, now wipe that smile off of your face and let's get back to work.

Anyone who recognizes me on this site has to know two very important things about me: I love hockey and I hate Stu.  With that in mind allow me to preview the NHL's Eastern Conference in the order in which the teams will finish from worst to first.  Next week we head west.
 
15. Florida Panthers
 
This moribund franchise has not made the playoffs since 2000.  They.  Are.  Terrible.  They did find themselves very much under the cap this off season and made some moves, but they still lost their best player, goaltender Tomas Vokoun.  I had the displeasure of watching them lay down to the Carolina Hurricanes in a late season matchup after they had gutted their already weak roster.  I will never forgive them for the precious hours on this earth that I wasted that night.
 
Thing About This Team That Reminds Me That I Hate Stu:  As noted above, it was right at the turn of the century when the Panthers last made the playoffs, which is also right around the last time that Stu kissed a girl.
 
14. Winnipeg Jets
 
Hockey is back where it belongs!  Right in the middle of Canada on a frozen prairie in a "city" that has the feel of a 12-year-old little brother trying to hang with his 16-year-old brother and his friends!  Personally, I actually do really like Winnipeg and I don't really understand all of the Canada haters on this blog, but Manitoba got the wrong end of the deal with this terrible team.  The excitement is going to wear off awfully quickly when the folks up north get a look at this squad.  The jerseys are all right though.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Should Stu ever move to Winnipeg, he would unfortunately probably be able to convince his fellow Winnipegers that he was only the second worst person to ever reside in the city.
 
13. Ottawa Senators
 
This team had its greatest success when former Badger Dany Heatley was part of the squad.  Then he left, like he has with so many others, and the Senators have never been able to recover.  Are you listening, Minnesota!  You are giving your heart to a former Badger who has a history of leaving just when you need him the most!  He will never love you! Why can't you learn from the mistakes of others?!  Pretty much everybody within this organization seemingly hated each other last year.  A few minor changes over a generally unproductive offseason isn't going to change that.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  It may be that he thinks it's funny or that he has some sort of fetish, but Stu insists on paying the dancers he regularly encounters with Loonies.
 
12. Toronto Maple Leafs
 
This team is essentially the Boston Red Sox of the NHL without the recent success.  Their fans are ubiquitous and insufferable and the other fans of the sport have to spend too much time hearing about them.  Also like Boston, there is a legacy of racial and social tension that is more muted in the present but certainly not completely gone.  Whereas Boston once had a reputation for treating black athletes negatively, Toronto was the team for Canadians who hated their French-speaking brethren.  Nonetheless, the team is loved by millions and might squeak into the playoffs if their young goaltender can carry them.  But probably not.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Forward Phil Kessel was the last player chosen in the inaugural all-star player draft for last year's all-star game, much like Stu was always the last player picked for games at the playground when he was a child.
 
11. New Jersey Devils
 
This team resurrected Jacques Lemaire in the middle of the season to lead the then-atrocious team to the brink of a playoff spot.  Had the regular season (God forbid) been three weeks longer the Devils would have found their way in and maybe even made some noise.  But Jacques retired again and Martin Brodeur and the rest of the crew aren't getting any younger.  Ilya Kovalchuk and Devils fans are going to rue the day he signed that ridiculous contract for a very long time.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  As part of his contractual obligations to Satan, Stu is legally required to root for this team.
 
10. New York Islanders
 
This is once proud franchise has been terrible for so long that it can be hard to remember that they once assembled one of the best teams that hockey has ever seen.  Fortunately for them, they appear to be starting a Detroit Lionsesque resurgence that can only  come from drafting high for about twenty straight years.  This is a team that might have a very bright future.  Of course, their owner has a colorfol pastthey need to over come a bad contract that was terrible when it was signed and looks worse every day, and they'll possibly only get to experience this success once they're in Kansas City or Seattle.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Bryan Trottier would like to have a word with Stu for about five minutes in a dark alley about his Pavstache meme and why it is a complete rip-off.
 
9. New York Rangers
 
You know how the rest of the world has to suffer through one of those "New York fans will not stand for this" rants whenever the Yankees lose three in a row?  How stupid is that?  What are the fans going to do besides call up talk radio and complain?  You want proof?  The Rangers last won the Cup in 1994 and in 1940 before that.  What have New York fans done to show that they "won't stand" for this?  The sense of entitlement that the Yankees have given that town makes me almost as mad as Stu makes me.  This is a boring team that plays good defense and has one oft-injured scorer who we might remember around these parts.  It's not going to be enough to make the playoffs.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu's role model and life coach?  This guy.
 
  
8. Carolina Hurricanes
 
Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but the Canes should sneak into the playoffs this year.  They could score and got an outstanding, mostly unheralded performance from Cam Ward last year.  Their biggest problem was that they couldn't play a lick of defense and looked like a collection of David Hasselhoffs trying to eat a cheeseburger in their own end of the ice.  Tomas Kaberle is a little past his prime but should still have enough in the tank to improve the putrid power play and defensive corps to just push this group into the playoffs.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu's harassing phone calls and letters are quickly robbing teenage dreamboat forward Jeff Skinner of his boyish charm.
 
7. Montreal Canadiens
 
The most successful franchise in the NHL is now staring a nearly two decade Cup drought in the face.  Carey Price, the seeming enigmatic and still very young goaltender-of-the-future for the last three years seemed to finally come into his own.  Price's very good season carried a scrappy but undersized bunch into the playoffs and then gave Boston a big scare, but that was about it.  Sports with a salary cap have a way of creating and maintaing a large and perpetual middle class of OK teams.  They're not bad enough to get the really high draft picks but they're not good enough to win it all.  Despite the nice addition of Alex Cole Montreal is what it is.  Nothing more, nothing less.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu's nom de plume for his Glee fan fiction?  Guy Lafleur.
 
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
 
This is the best meterologically themed team in the Southeast Division.  The top end talent is second to none, and so are the awesomely retooled jerseys.  The rest of the roster is a little more reminiscent of the old third jerseys.  This is a team that can scare you in the playoffs because of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier and the fact that Dwayne Roloson likes to play in the big games.  But the top heavy roster and the fact that Roloson seems to be less enthusiastic about playing in the not-so-big games means that they're not a first-tier playoff team.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu spent the past ten years carefully restoring a DeLorean DMC-12 under the watchful eye of a white-haired guy and now drives the streets of St. Cloud at 88 mph while wearing a sleeveless vest in a desperate attempt to get struck by lightning so he can go back in time and meet a younger version of his mom, who he imagines will look like this.
 
5. Philadelphia Flyers
 
Jaromir Jagr is the Manny Ramirez of hockey, presumably without the PEDs.  He brings a weirdness to the game and locker room that the fans, management, and other players tolerate because of his immense talent.  The problem with those players, however, is that once the production drops off their schtick gets real old real quick.  Undoubtedly, White Sox and Rays fans are, at best, apathetic about Manny's place in their teams' history.  Jagr isn't quite as ridiculous as Manny, but he also has been out of the NHL for the last three seasons and he most likely didn't find the fountain of youth during that time.  This team brought in a lot of talent (like their football counterparts) and a poised to have a vaguely disappointing, yet not outright disastrous season (like their football counterparts).
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  The Flyers will be hosting the Rangers in this season's Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Ballpark on January 2.  This year, Stu will once again "celebrate" the new year alone in his basement.
 
4. Buffalo Sabres
 
Fellow Carolina fans will be unhappy to read this, but Buffalo deserved to be in the playoffs last year.*  This is a team that already had some nice talent up and down the roster, including American hero Ryan Miller, that added some nice pieces.  This includes Ville Leino, who doesn't have eye-popping numbers but who was always around the puck during every Flyers game I watched over the last two years.  They have a new, enthusiastic owner and a healthy roster; two things that they lacked for most of last year.  If you must root for a team from New York, please make it this one.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Since it is technically incorrect to call the North American animal commonly referred to as a buffalo a buffalo – as true buffaloes are indigenous to Africa and Asia – Stu routinely refers to this team as the "Bison Sabres."
 
3. Boston Bruins
 
The Stanley Cup Champs used balanced scoring, an amazing collection of defensemen, and an otherworldly performance from Tim Thomas to win it all.  I really don't expect Thomas, and consequently the team, to be quite as good this year.  But the Northeast doesn't hold as much competition for the Bruins as they would find in the other divisions in the conference, so they'll find their way to third seed relatively comfortably.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Tim Thomas set an NHL record with a .938 save percentage last year, which, coincidentally, is a typical BAC for Stu.
 
2. Washington Capitals
 
By far, the most fascinating team in the NHL.  These regular season wonders play an exciting brand of hockey that earns them a lot of points.  Yet, Alex Ovechkin and Co. have yet to have much success in the playoffs.  And with each passing year they look more and more like frauds who can't get it done when it counts.  Last year they started off very slowly before roaring back to life and capturing the number one seed in the conference.  However, if they start slowly this year it is very possible that their foul-mouthed coach, Bruce Boudreau, will be the first guy canned in this notoriously fickle sport.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu giggles like a 12-year-old whenever anybody mentions this guy.
 
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
 
Last year the Penguins finished with 106 points and were just edged out of the division title under the tiebreaker rules by the Flyers.  They had only one fewer point than the conference leading Capitals.  And they did all of this while missing two of the top five players in the game, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for gigantic swaths of the season. To say that this team is loaded is to say that I tend to manifest something of a distain for Stu on this site.  There is still some question as to whether Crosby and Malkin are going to bounce back from their injuries, but if even one of them remains healthy, let alone both of them, this team will have more than enough to win the conference and make a deep run.
 
TATTTRMTIHS:  Stu is a [redacted].
 
*Yes, I am well aware that of the thirteen other people in this world who identify themselves as Hurricanes fans none of them read this blog.  Just humor me for once.  What are you, Stu?

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