Pre-game... Pre-season... Pre-... paration. Is that what the first half of the season really is? The '08 portion of the '08-'09 season? The time when sought-after, Hall of Fame free agents decide to return to the game they "love" after a half-year hiatus?
Well if it is, than its time to take a look at how the teams look heading into the latter part of the season. Not yet are the teams at the 40, 41 game mark signifying the half-pole mark of the schedule, most are still about three to four games back, (except of course for the Rangers at 39 games). But now is the time for teams to get serious, either strategize for the post, or plan for the draft.
Looking at Ross McKeon's 'Power Rankings: New Years Resolutions...' on Yahoo! Sports you get an idea of what teams should be looking to do better this year, than they did the season before leading up to April. Some of these I agree with, some, to me, are flat out wrong. And while I won't disagree with the rankings so much as what these teams need heading into '09. I'll just do the top 15 for the whole brevity thing.
Boston Bruins - McKeon's right in that the B's are rolling, this team is playing like they see the game differently than the rest of the league, they are just hitting on all cylinders. But as far as making noise at the deadline, I think that could be a mistake tampering with the chemistry of this team. Barring injury, and the need to fill some holes, the only trade bait is Manny Fernandez but I think keeping the tandem of Manny and Tim Thomas may pay dividens.
San Jose Sharks - I'll have a live account of what this team is capable of when I visit the 'Tank' on Saturday night against the pushover Isles. For right now, this is the team to beat in West, even though Detroit whooped them two weeks ago. Detroit will be the main competition for this team, and they know it, but do they know that Claude Lemieux is not the answer.
Detroit Red Wings - Do these guys have enough left in the tank for another run? Sure they'll make it interesting, and will be hard for any team to beat, but goaltending is suspect, and this is probably the last year for a few cast members.
Montreal Canadiens - Gambled on Carey Price putting the team on his back just like McKeon says, but was a little wobbly when the pressure's on. No question the pressure is on for the 100th Anniversary of the franchise, but I believe the best shot for the Canadiens was last year.
Washington Capitals - I'm actually surprised they are as high as they are in the standings, 9 points back from Conference leader Boston, and two ahead of the Rangers. Goaltending and defense are the Caps' problems McKeon states, and I agree, more so goaltending. Losing Huet was big, even though he hasn't played the greatest for the Hawks, much better recently, he is still a much better alternative than career underachiever Jose Theodore.
Chicago Blackhawks - Ah, the great white hope of the NHL and little Gary. They are the new Penguins of the league, top draft picks, skilled role players, this team will have to suffer a hard loss in the postseason this year, to have that fire for next year.
New York Rangers - Still reeling from the heartbreak of Sundin's traderous walk to Vancouver. I don't know if this organization will ever learn that high priced free agents alone will not get you to May. Defense is miserable, Lundqvist can only do so much.
Calgary Flames - Their best shot is long behind them, and that series between Tampa could have gone either way. Kiprusoff is on a decline, and Iginla and Phaneuf cannot do it alone.
Philadelphia Flyers - I actually figured the Flyers to make a good run last year, even though it surprised the rest of the hockey world for them to beat the powerful Canadiens. This team has all the right elements but the injury bug keeps biting them in the ass. But there is something else that's keeping this team from getting over the hump. No chalice, but another good run.
New Jersey Devils - Its funny how everyone thought the sky had fallen when Brodeur went down, but the Devils have kept it together. But nothing will help this team get past the first round this year, even with Brodeur back.
Pittsburgh Penguins - The fire should be brighter than ever for this team, after that scalding loss to Detroit in Game 7, not to mention Hossa's departure for the red and white. I believe Marian would have a better shot this year with the Pens than with the Wings. Shero will probably make another big move for another "winger for Crosby," unless he's learned his lesson.
Edmonton Oilers - Not sure about this spot in the rankings but whatever. Right now they're sitting just outside the playoff bubble with a lot of good teams inside, and a few they're competing with outside the Top 8. Big moves would have to be made in Edmonton for Oil Country to even have a shot, and I don't think they have the personnel to offer, aside from goalies.
Vancouver Canucks - Its Sundin madness in BC and his entry into the lineup is going to put a lot of electricity into that team, not to mention the fan base. But still Gillis has a lot of room to work with, and is still attempting to prove himself to the rest of the GM's around the league. As McKeon states the signing of the Sedins' is critical, but that will have a lot to do with Sundin returning for another year.
Anaheim Ducks - 2007 was an exciting time for hockey fans in Southern California, but that ship has sailed. General decline, and the exodus of Brian Burke will have this team yearning for another Championship for years to come.
Carolina Hurricanes - Another team that's been on the decline since their Stanley Cup skate-around. Brind'Amour is not the Selke representative he once was, and the goaltending that was lucky that year has now shown its true colors. They'll miss the playoffs, but it won't be nearly as dramatic as last year's late charge by the Caps.
More to follow...