Monday, October 24, 2011

Power Play Woes

If there has been one thing that has ailed the Wild this season, its been their power play. A promising opening night in that department (2/4), has since been drowned out by a horrid stretch of play while on the man advantage. In the 7 games since opening night, the Wild have gone 1 for 27 on the PP, including the 0 for 19 stretch they are currently under. The last time Minnesota got a tally on the man advantage, was Devin Setoguchi's goal in Ottawa. Clearly, something has to change on the team's PP unit.

The main concern for me, is that I have grown tired of watching a forward (Lately it has been Pierre-Marc Bouchard) sit on the point with the top line. PMB's performance on the Power Play has been simply abysmal. For proof of this, watch his PP shifts against Pittsburgh. But, there is a lack of scoring defenseman on the team, and it would appear that we will be seeing a forward on the PP blueline for most of the season (Unless the team acquires a defenseman that can score). It also creates a lack of punch on the second line of the PP when PMB sits on the point, and guys like Bulmer and Clutterbuck take his spot (Not exactly the offensive types). But, Mike Yeo has taken notice of PMB's performance, and as Russo points out today, it would appear he is going back to the second PP line, while Matt Cullen takes over on the point.

Another concern with the man advantage is still the lack of shots this team is taking. The Wild are still towards the bottom of the league in shots taken (27th-25.4 shots per game), despite their offensive upgrades this offseason. And as much as I like the quality of their shots, it would still be nice to see them take more shots, period. You never know what can happen when you fire one on net. Hopefully, Yeo feels the same way and sends them the message to start firing more frequently.

I know, there are still some growing pains going on with the new system of Yeo. So you would like to think that at some point, the power play (and the team for that matter) can take off. Perhaps Yeo would also try juggling his PP lines up a bit, much like he has with his regular top lines (Switching up PMB and Devin Setoguchi between lines 1 and 2), to see if he can spark his stale PP units.

This team is very capable of scoring, so you would like to think that that the power play can get out of its funk sooner rather than later. This team needs a strong power play to help the lack of scoring on the team, in general. Otherwise, if it stays like this, we are going to be in for a frustrating season once again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No Crosby. No Malkin. No Problem. Right?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They are the two leaders, and two best players of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, injuries have kept both stars in Pittsburgh and both will be sitting out tonight's game against our hometown team. So one sees that with both guys out of the Pens lineup, and they would say, "We should win easily." Wrong. Whatever you do tomorrow night, don't think the Pens will go down so easy.

The Pens have played 7 games on the young season. Crosby, obviously, has played none. Malkin, has played in 3 games (1G-3A), but has missed the last four as he continues to battle a knee injury. Despite their absences, the Pens come in to St. Paul with the second most goals scored in the NHL (19, Colorado has 20). They have been getting outstanding production from forwards Jordan Staal (2G-3A), James Neal (5G-1A), and defenseman Kris Letang (1G-6A) in the absence of their star forwards.

Perhaps, the only weakness on this team right now, is their defense. With the exception of Letang, the remaining 5 Pens defenseman have played abysmally. Paul Martin (U of M alum), Matt Niskanen (UMD alum), Zybnek Michalek, Deryk Engelland, and Ben Lovejoy have combined to put up a line of 2G-3A and a +/- of -11. Folks, thats an awful line from your remaining 5 defenseman. So if the Wild want to come out of tonight's game with a pair of points, they got to attack the weak Pittsburgh defense.

Mike Yeo's philosophy, as I understand it, is forwards get in behind the defense and create havoc while defenseman give an occasional help down low (If you are a defenseman who doesn't score, helping out down low is a minimal thing for you). If the Wild can keep out of the box, get their line changes in order, get a solid start from Nik Backstrom, and most importantly get behind the defense, they should be able to get those two points from Pittsburgh tonight. Also keep in mind, Pittsburgh is coming off a tough 2-1 loss in Winnipeg yesterday. So they will not be as fresh as the Wild. Also, they used their #1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury last night, so I would expect backup Brent Johnson (Don't mess with him!) to get the nod between the pipes. And he has played very well so far this season for the Pens, so don't dismiss him as well.

For me, this will be a very telling game for the hometown squad. They are coming off a tough 3-2 OT loss to Detroit on Saturday. They also have won just 2 out of the first five games, but they have come away with at least a point in 4 of the first five games (I was planning on doing a post on how this was a good sign, but my friends at First Round Bust beat me to it. Haha). They also are in the middle of a tough stretch of games. So I will look for them to have a bit more jump in their step as they play in the friendly confines of Xcel Energy Center once again before hitting the road to division rivals Vancouver and Edmonton. You also have the nationally televised game tomorrow night, so hopefully they can put on a good show for the rest of the NHL. With all those variables going into this, I would like to see the team get their issues straightened out and earn a victory over one of the NHL's elite teams.

Don't expect a blowout Wild victory just because the Pens aren't at 100%. If they win, it will have to be a full 60 minute, hard fought effort. Otherwise, the Pens will bounce any chance you give them. Because despite the absences of their star players, this is still a very good team.

UPDATE (3:00 PM)-The NHL just announced that Kris Letang is receiving a two game suspension for a boarding penalty he took last night against Winnipeg. The Pens have called up Brian Strait to replace Letang for tonights game.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Opening Night Notes

Tonight, after 6 months since their last game, the Wild open up the 2011-12 season. It's seemingly been a longer offseason than others in recent years. Most of that has to do with the excitement around this team, after some major changes were made my Chuck Fletcher this offseason. So here are some things you should know as we drop the puck tonight.

  • Per, Mike Russo of the Strib, F Matt Kassian and D Justin Falk will be watching the game from the press box tonight.
  • With the scratches of Kassian and Falk, rookie forward Brett Bulmer will make his NHL debut tonight.
  • Expect a pretty lengthy tribute to former Wild players Derek Boogaard and Pavol Demitra, who passed away during the offseason, prior to the game tonight.
  • Mike Yeo, coaches his first game behind the Wild bench tonight. Russo had a nice story on him in today's paper.
  • The Blue Jackets, tonight's opponent, are coming off a 3-2 loss in their season opener last night at home against Nashville.
  • For those watching the game at home, be sure to tune into the pregame and postgame show to watch new Wild TV analyst, Wes Walz.
  • The Wild will become the first NHL team to have free Wi-Fi in the arena. With this Wi-Fi, you can access replays not shown on the scoreboard, and even place food orders from their seats.
  • I've also heard that concession prices have increased this season. You can now buy your beer for somewhere between $8-9 bucks.
This is all I have for today. I will be at the game tonight, watching from the cheap seats cheering on the Wild. Hopefully they can continue their good success of winning their home openers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Recaps and Postseason Predictions

If you missed any of the 6 divisions or the Wild preview, check them out here: Southeast Division, Atlantic Division, Northeast Division, Pacific Division, Central Division, Northwest Division, Wild.

Here are my picks for the division winners:
Southeast: Washington
Atlantic: Pittsburgh
Northeast: Boston
Pacific: San Jose
Central: Chicago
Northwest: Vancouver

And now here are my 8 playoff teams from each Conference and how they will turn out

Eastern Conference:
1. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. New York Rangers
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Carolina Hurricanes

Quarterfinals: WSH over CAR in 6, BOS over PHI in 7, PIT over NYR in 5, TB over BUF in 6
Semifinals: WSH over TB in 6, PIT over BOS in 6
Finals: PIT over WSH in 5

Western Conference
1. San Jose Sharks
2. Vancouver Canucks
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. Los Angeles Kings
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Calgary Flames
8. Nashville Predators

Quarterfinals: SJ over NSH in 5, VAN over CGY in 6, CHI over ANA in 6, LA over DET in 6
Semifinals: LA over SJ in 6, CHI over VAN in 7
Finals: CHI over LA in 7

Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh over Chicago in 7

Award Winners
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin (WSH)
Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie): Pekka Rinne (NSH)
Calder Trophy (Top Rookie): Adam Larsson (NJ)

Thats all for me, and the predictions. The puck drops at 6 tonight between Philadelphia and Boston. Enjoy the season everyone!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Minnesota Wild

In just three days, we drop the puck on the 2011-12 (Year 11) Minnesota Wild Season. So in this post we will dive into looking back on their offseason, and we will look ahead to their season and ultimately where they will end up in April.

Offseason Moves

Coming In: RW Dany Heatley, RW Devin Setoguchi, C Darroll Powe, D Mike Lundin
Heading Out: RW Martin Havlat, D Brent Burns, LW Andrew Brunette, RW Antti Miettinen, RW Chuck Kobasew, G Jose Theodore

The Wild were very active this offseason, as GM Chuck Fletcher dealt first liners Havlat and Burns in separate deals to San Jose In return for Heatley, Setoguchi, RW Charlie Coyle, and C Zack Phillips. The Wild had to sacrifice their best d-man in Burns, but it was a move that will help out the team in the long run. I will admit, it would of been nice to see what Havlat and Burns could of done in the new system, but Fletcher felt they could best help the team by trading them. It was a very bold offseason for Fletcher, and hopefully for him, its one that pays off in the long run.

Projected Lines
(Stats Listed are from the 2010-11 Season)


Dany Heatley-Mikko Koivu-Devin Setoguchi

Guillaume Latendresse -Matt Cullen- Pierre-Marc Bouchard (11-3-3-6)-(78-12-27-39)-(59-12-26-38)

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Colton Gillies-Eric Nystrom-Brad Staubitz

Reserves: Eric Johnson (4-1-2-3), Brett Bulmer (57-18-31-49 in WHL)


Greg Zanon-Marek Zidlicky

Nick Schultz-Marco Scandella

Mike Lundin-Jared Spurgeon

Reserves: Clayton Stoner (57-2-7-9), Justin Falk (22-0-3-3)


Starter: Niklas Backstrom (22-23-5-2.66-.916)
Backup: Josh Harding (DNP-Torn ACL)

Reserves: Matt Hackett (23-16-2-2.37-.916 in AHL)

Mike Yeo: The 3rd Head Coach In Wild History

Back in early September, I did a post on Mike Yeo. In the video below, you can see what he is going to try and establish with this team. He wants a team that gives a full effort every night. He wants a team that will pay attention to the details. He wants to have a team that will be aggressive, physical, and structured. And most of all, he is going to try to establish an identity with this team. Yeo had been an assistant in Pittsburgh before coming to the Houston Aeros last season, so having that knowledge of what it takes to win from behind the bench will be very key for the Wild. When the Wild hired Todd Richards two years ago, I thought they got it right. I had thought they had someone they will have behind the bench for a while. Boy, was I wrong. And here I am again saying they got it right. I believe Yeo is the right hire for the Wild. He took the Houston Aeros from a 7th place finish, to a 2nd place finish and a date in the Calder Cup Finals. And I believe, he can translate that same success to the Wild this season.

Players That Need To Step Up

Matt Cullen
As you can read from his stats up top, Cullen had a awful first year with his hometown team. Out of the 39 points Cullen scored last year, just 14 came at even strength. That was tied for 388th best in the NHL. That is just plain awful, from a guy who is being paid three and a half million a year. If the Wild have good success this year, they need much much more from Cullen. If Latendresse and Bouchard can stay healthy and on his wings, there should be no issues with Cullen putting up better numbers than last year.

Guillaume Latendresse
Last year, we all heard about how Gui showed up to camp out of shape. It was so bad, the winger could only play in 11 games last year. Not exactly the greatest thing to do, when trying to lock down a contract for longer than two years. But this year, he showed up to camp much slimmer and looked much better in the preseason. He will be relied on to provide that secondary scoring, that he gave us in 09-10 when he came out of nowhere to score 25 goals in 55 games after being traded to us from Montreal. And with the pass happy Bouchard and Cullen on his line, Gui should have no issues putting 20-25 goals in the net this year.

Marek Zidlicky
When the Wild acquired Marek Zidlicky prior to the 08-09 season, they got a really great offensive defenseman. In his first season, he put up a 12-30-42 line (the 12 goals were 8th best in the West). But, in the offseason Jacques Lemaire left and Todd Richards came in, and Zidlicky really hasn't been the same since. In the 124 games Zidlicky played under Richards, he posted a line of 13-54-67 and was -22. So hopefully, a change behind the bench is what he needs. Because with the loss of Brent Burns, the Wild need someone to step up and put up good offensive numbers from the blueline. And that someone should be Marek Zidlicky.

Niklas Backstrom
Mike Yeo's new aggressive system is really going to test his defense and goalies. So, he will need his #1 goalie, Niklas Backstrom, to step up his game this year. Last year, Backs put up mediocre numbers, while also battling injuries for a brief part of the year. Backstrom, much like Zidlicky, has seen a drop in numbers since the departure of Lemaire. His GAA took a jump from the 2.3's to the 2.7's, and his save percentage dropped from the .920's into the .900's & .910's. For a guy who is being paid $6 million, its about time we see the Backstrom that helped the Wild win the Northwest division three years ago. You hope he can return to that form, otherwise the Wild may need to start looking for a better/cheaper option between the pipes.

5 Prospects That Will Impact the 2011-12 Season
No, this list will not include Mikael Granlund or Jonas Brodin. They are the top prospects the Wild have, but they won't be anywhere near the State of Hockey in 2011-12.

Marco Scandella-D
If anyone stuck out with me, as to who had a great preseason, it was Marco Scandella. He looked very sharp on the blue line as he played in all 6 games this preseason. He won't put up big time offensive numbers, but he could very well put up big time minutes for this team going forward. So in essence, he is a young Nick Schultz. Look for Scandella to play most of, if not all of, this season with the Wild this season.

Nate Prosser-D
If a defenseman gets hurt for the Wild this year, Nate Prosser will be the first one to get the call up. He is very similar in size and ability to Scandella, but the edge on most things would still go to Scandella. Prosser projects to be a second line blue-liner, at most. He is solid defensively, but offensively he won't be expected to put up much numbers. He has played very well for the team since being signed out of Colorado College following the 09-10 season.

Casey Wellman-F
Like Prosser, Casey Wellman would be the first forward called up if someone went down with injury. Wellman was another of the Wild's undrafted college signees, as he came out of UMass following the 09-10 season. Wellman is only 6'0" and 173 lbs, so he will need to rely on his speed and stick handling to remain on the team, should he get the call up. Wellman can put up 20+ goals in a season if he can stay healthy. And that is they key for him: Keeping him on the ice.

Matt Hackett-G
Matt Hackett would not of been in this post had I made it two days ago. But, due to an injury to Josh Harding, Hackett got the call up and will probably be up here a few games before returning to Houston. Hackett has only been in pro hockey for just one season, and he is already third on the Wild depth chart in the goaltending area. As you saw from his stats above, he had an impressive year with Houston as their #1 goalie. Hopefully, Backstrom and Harding can stay healthy so Hackett can stay down in Houston and get another season of being the #1 under his belt. But, if called up, he should do just fine.

Brett Bulmer-F
When the final roster cuts came after Friday's game against Edmonton, Brett Bulmer surprisingly did not see his name. He became the first player from the Wild's 2010 draft class to crack the big club. Last year with Kelowna of the WHL, Bulmer had improvements on all his stats from the previous year. He also posted 109 penalty minutes last year, and the year prior he had 95. He is the aggressive, physical type that Yeo is wanting to see from his players. And with Bulmer's very strong preseason, it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise to see him make this team out of camp. Look for Bulmer to get minutes on the third and fourth line this year.

Where They'll Finish
It's really tough trying to bolt down where this team will finish. I believe this can be a playoff team. But, their final couple of preseason games were really disheartening. The team could not hold a third period lead, and ended up with losses against St. Louis and Edmonton because of it. There will be growing pains with the new system from new Head Coach Mike Yeo. There will be growing pains from the young defensemen trying to step up and play big minutes from this team. The offense should begin to pick up and be a solid improvement from last year with the new additions. But ultimately, I believe this team will be on the outside looking in next April, as they end up being the last team out of the playoffs. The West is just filled with so many good teams, I can't put the Wild in there just because they are my favorite team. I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong here. So here's to hoping the Wild can do just that in 2011-12.

Tomorrow, I will have my final NHL 2011 Preview post, as I recap the division winners, pick the 16 playoff teams, award winners, and of course pick the Stanley Cup winner.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Northwest Division

5. Edmonton Oilers-The best crop of young prospects can be found in Edmonton. Problem is, that’s all they have going for them at the moment. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and #1 overall pick (2011 Draft) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lead the young prospects of Edmonton as they try and pry their way out of the NHL’s basement. But, they will not do so this year. The young guys will be major contributors to the team this year, but, their inexperience will be their undoing. Also, the Oilers defense and goaltending will once again be one of the league’s worse. Look for Edmonton to be in the hunt for the worst record in the NHL once again this year.

4. Colorado Avalanche-Coming in a close second to the Oilers in the NHL’s basement, was the Colorado Avalanche. The team has some nice young offensive forwards (Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and the #2 overall pick in the 2011 draft Gabriel Landeskog), and should put up some good offensive numbers. But why the Avs failed last year, was the fact they had poor defense and goaltending. The Avs traded for Washington G Semyon Varlamov (Giving up a #1 and #2 pick for him), to help fix that problem. The thing is, Varlamov has never played a full season yet. So giving up that much for him is a big time gamble, in my opinion. As for the Avs going into this season, they will do better than last year, but not well enough to contend for a playoff spot.

3. Minnesota Wild-Full team breakdown will be in tomorrow's post.

2. Calgary Flames-Last December, the Flames were playing like one of the worst teams in the NHL. But then, their GM Darryl Sutter was fired, and the team suddenly took off. They finished the season on a 27-11-9 tear, and finished just 2 points out of a playoff spot. This team is solid offensively (led by RW Jarome Iginla), and have a very solid presence in goal with Mikka Kiprusoff. However, their defense is average at best. They will need top blue liners Matt Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester to step up and now lead the defense, after Robyn Regehr was dealt to Buffalo this summer. I really can't explain why I believe in Calgary to finish second. It's really just a gut feeling. They somehow always find a way to get it done. And as long as they have Iginla, they should be good.

1. Vancouver Canucks-It’s hard to believe that the Canucks did not win the Cup last year. They simply were the complete package. They had the #1 ranked offense, #1 ranked defense, and arguably the #1 goalie in the NHL. But they were just simply outplayed in Game 7 against Boston. Not many changes for Vancouver heading in to this season. The only notable losses for the Canucks this summer were D Christian Erhoff and LW Raffi Torres. So essentially, they are bringing back the same team for 2011-12. And they should be just fine. This is still one of, if not the best team in the league. Look for Vancouver to compete for the West’s and NHL’s best record this season and make another deep run in the playoffs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Central Division

5. Columbus Blue Jackets-Within an hour of the Kings acquiring Mike Richards from Philly, Columbus got in on the action and got C Jeff Carter from the Flyers as well. But that wasn't the only big move the Jackets made over the summer. They signed D-Man James Wisniewski to a ridiculous 6 year/$33 million deal. But behind their top line, this team has way too many question marks (2nd & 3rd lines, defensive depth, and goaltending) for them to be relevant this year. It will be a long year in the basement for Columbus.

4. St Louis Blues-For some reason, people are picking St. Louis to be a playoff team. I just don't see it. They have a balanced scoring attack, but no real big scorer. They have a nice young defensive core, but nothing that says they are gonna be great this year. And I like their goalie Jaroslav Halak, but can he step up and be the big time goalie they need him to be? Many things need to go right for St. Louis this year, for them to get a playoff spot. And I just don't see that happening.

3. Nashville Predators-Nashville had the 3rd best defensive team in the NHL last year behind Vancouver and Boston. So the Preds, are really bringing the same team back in 2011. It was also the same team that finished 22nd in scoring last year. They also bring back Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie) finalist Pekka Rinne between the pipes. As much as their offense doesn't score, they still have a great defense. And it will keep the Preds in the hunt for a playoff spot all year.

2. Detroit Red Wings-Really ever since the mid '90s, the Red Wings have been the best in this division. But, that run is quickly coming to an end. Their stars are getting older, and their farm system doesn't look like its going to produce any good replacements any time soon. But, this team was still one of the best scoring teams in the NHL last year. But that will only take them so far, with all the good defensive teams there are out there. The Wings will still have a stellar 2011-12 season, but they certainly won't be tops in this division.

1. Chicago Blackhawks-Prior to Last year, the Blackhawks literally watched half their roster get turned over following their Stanley Cup championship. They then suffered the championship hangover, as they underperformed, but still made it into the playoffs (You can send a thank you card to 199 W Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul, MN). This year, the Hawks should be back in prime form. They have a great offense (lead by Kane, Toews, and Hossa), a solid defensive core (lead by Seabrook and Keith), and they may have solved their goaltending issues for a while with Corey Crawford. The Hawks are lock to win the division this year, and also should be a Cup contender once again.

Tomorrow, we will look at the last division, the Northwest division.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NHL 2011 Preview-Pacific Division

5. Phoenix Coyotes-The Coyotes have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. But they did so more on the strength of their defense and goaltending. But they lost key players D Ed Jovanovski and G Ilya Bryzgalov this past offseason. And the Coyotes now are looking to Mike Smith to fill Bryzgalov's shoes between the pipes. Not exactly the best guy for the job. You have to give coach Dave Tippett a lot of credit for what he did the past few years there. But the run ends this year.

4. Dallas Stars-With Brad Richards, the Stars were a team that was contending for a playoff spot. Without Richards, this is a team that won't be anywhere near the postseason. Yes, the Stars still have Loui Eriksson and Mike Ribero. But they lack a good supporting cast and solid goaltending. Kari Lehtonen has posted poor GAA and Save Percentages, and will be too heavily relied on this year. Don't expect much from the Stars this year, as they finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference.

3. Anaheim Ducks-Anaheim boasts one of the best lines in all of hockey, with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and reigning MVP Corey Perry as their number one line. Its a line that put up nearly 250 points last year, and will be expected to do the same again. Teemu Selanne and his 80 points also return to the Ducks this year. The main concern for Anaheim is on the defensive side. They ranked 20th in defense last year, and made no big acquisitions to help correct that deficiency. They also don't know what to expect from their net minder Jonas Hiller, who suffered Vertigo symptoms last year. Despite those issues, the Ducks still make the postseason, but will see a first round exit.

2. Los Angeles Kings-On the day before the NHL Draft in June, the Kings made a huge offseason splash, by trading for Flyers C Mike Richards. It made this team a real contender in the western conference. They were a horrible offensive team last year, but thanks to their great defense, they were able to make it into the playoffs for a second straight year. Richards and Simon Gagne will help add some more scoring depth to the Kings. And this team is now instantly a top 4 team in the West. So hopefully, they can make an appearance in the second round of the playoffs.

1. San Jose Sharks-The past two years have seen San Jose make it to the Western Conference Finals. But both times, they didn't even come close to the Campbell Trophy. So, a change was needed. And they turned to the Wild for some needed change. The Sharks first acquired D-Man Brent Burns from MIN, then eventually traded sniper Dany Heatley for Martin Havlat. The Sharks have brought in those new faces to help bring a new result to San Jose. There is literally no weakness on this team, and they should be making another deep run in the playoffs come next April. But can they put the past behind them and finally make it into the Cup finals?

Tomorrow's post looks at the Central Division

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nystrom, Foster, and No Touch Icing

Last night, we saw Eric Nystrom hustling to beat out Oilers D Taylor Fedun on a icing call. But then as Nystrom reached around Fedun to try and touch the puck first, he caused Fedun to fall and slide feet first into the boards. Fedun's right leg slammed into the boards, causing his femur to fracture and ending his season before it even started.

The hit comes when the NHL is trying to crack down on players delivering illegal hits to players in "vulnerable" positions. Nystrom had even been tweeting about those types of hits yesterday saying that players need to not put themselves in "vulnerable positions". Expect the NHL to now look further into maybe adopting the "no-touch icing" rule, to keep injuries down on those plays. You may remember former Wild D-Man Kurtis Foster suffered a similar injury in March of '08 against San Jose (Video below). Mike Russo tweeted last night that Foster will be in contact with the NHLPA about "no-touch" icing.

I'm really torn on the no-touch icing. Yes, I want to keep the players safe and on the ice. But I also want to see the hustle that Eric Nystrom showed last night while trying to beat out Fedun. They are the best at what they do and taking away the touching of the puck eliminates that hustle and also, the scoring opportunities that comes with beating out an icing call.

As Russo writes today, Nystrom is not expected to face any type of discipline for the play with Fedun. And he shouldn't. He was clearly making a play for the puck, and not the defender. It was just very unfortunate that Fedun was hurt so badly on the play. Sometimes, things like this just happen. Its part of the game. Nystrom even went so far to apologize to Fedun, he visited him in the hospital today, apologizing numerous times in his brief visit.

I ultimately believe you will see "no-touch" icing in the NHL very soon. If not sometime this year, then most likely next year. Player safety is being put front and center these days, and this will be a big move in ensuring more of it. Its sad to see the touch icing leave, but we got to keep the players safe out there. And that's the bottom line...

NHL 2011 Preview-Northeast Division

5. Ottawa Senators-I'm not really sure where to start with this team. They have little offense, their defense consists of old veterans or inexperience young guys, and their goaltending does not feature anyone who should be a starter in this league. Besides their top line, which features Jason Spezza and Daniel Aflredsson, don't expect this team to put up many goals. In fact, don't expect much from this team at all. The Sens battle for last place in the East this year.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs-Last year James Reimer started 28 out of the Leafs final 33 games. He posted a 16-7-5 record with a .921 save percentage. Now moving forward to 11-12, the Leafs are hoping the netminder can produce similar results throughout a whole season. The Leafs bring in a very young team this year (average age is 26), and look to build off their final two months of success last year. Offensively, I think they will still struggle. Defensively, you should see some big improvements, lead by the 21 year old Luke Schenn, who the Leafs locked up for the next 5 seasons. If for whatever reason, the Leafs can put the puck in the net, they should be in the hunt for a playoff spot. But right now, I don’t see that happening this year.

3. Montreal Canadiens-I really like Montreal. In fact, I even considered putting them ahead of Buffalo. But the fact remains is they lack a good scoring punch. They did bring in Erik Cole fron Carolina, but he is not the answer for the “lack of punch” they have. They look to have a real solid defense, lead by the 22 year old P.K. Subban, in front of G Carey Price who had a tremendous season last year. If Price can continue his winning ways, the Habs should be able to win many games, if they can score more than three goals. If Montreal gets someone to step up, or find a way to acquire a scorer this year, they could be a darkhorse playoff team. But until they do, all they will be able to do is battle it out for a playoff spot at seasons end.

2. Buffalo Sabres-The Sabres were, by far, the most active team this offseason. They signed free agents F Ville Leino and D Christian Erhoff to multiyear deals, and traded for D Robyn Regehr from Calgary. With these additions, the Sabres now boast one of the best defensive cores in the NHL. Scoring wise, they are led by former Gopher Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford, both coming off 30 goal seasons. Then add the fact they have all star Ryan Miller between the pipes, and Buffalo should have a contending team this year. But should they lose some players to injury, they have no cap space to make a deal, so they would have to promote from within. I believe this team will make a good run in the playoffs, but they will be looking up to the defending champs in the division standings.

1. Boston Bruins-The defending champs bring back essentially, the same team that won the Cup last year. In fact, their biggest offseason addition is Benoit Pouliot. That’s how quiet of an offseason Boston had. They have great depth in both their forwards and defense. That depth should carry over to another great regular season in Boston. The key for Boston is pretty simple: Goaltending. If Tim Thomas can remain solid, and Tuuka Rask can follow suit in his limited starts between the pipes, the Bruins should be in contention for the East’s top record this season. The Bruins are pretty much a lock to win this division. But the big question is: How far can they go in the postseason?

Tomorrow, I dive into the Western Conference and look at the Pacific Division.