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OFF THE ICE

Pre-season previews & pundit predictions

Monday, 08.09.2008 / 6:30 PM / Off the Ice
By Jen Sharpe  - edmontonoilers.com
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Pre-season previews & pundit predictions

Starting Monday, September 22nd, all eyes will return to Rexall Place as the Oilers host the first of four pre-season home games this season. Featuring seven total games (including games in Vancouver, Calgary, and Dallas), this season’s exhibition schedule provides Oilers players, coaches, and management with unprecedented opportunities to study, compare, and prepare for the start of the regular season on October 12.

Although training camp has yet to begin, analysis and predictions can be found within the hockey community and on the web. Here’s a summary of what the Oilers pre-season competitors have accomplished in the off-season and various pundit predictions for 2008-09:


VANCOUVER CANUCKS
  • Monday, September 22 @ Edmonton (7:00pm, Sportsnet West) - Tickets
  • Tuesday, September 23 @ Vancouver (8:00pm, Sportsnet West)
  • First regular season match-up: Saturday, October 25 @ Vancouver (8:00pm, CBC)
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo will be the key to Vancouver's success this season. (AP Photo the Canadian Press, Richard Lam)

For the second time in three seasons, the Canucks missed the playoffs in ’07-08, and for the second time in five years, the club opted to make a change at the highest level by dismissing their General Manager. Only nine days after finishing 11th in the West, Dave Nonis concluded his 10-season Canucks career (including four as G.M.) and was replaced by high-profile agent-turned-executive Mike Gillis nine days after that.

This season will be coach Alain Vigneault’s third behind the bench, and the 2007 Jack Adams Award winner will have plenty of new names under his command. Gone are Captain Markus Naslund, vet Trevor Linden, and Brendan Morrison, while new acquisitions include forwards Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, and Darcy Hordichuk. The Sedin twins are still in the fold, as is Ryan Kesler, agitator Alexandre Burrows, and up-and-comers Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, and Michael Grabner.

On the blueline, Vancouver added Rob Davison and hopes to see continued development from youngsters Alexander Edler and Nathan McIver, as well as steady contributions from Lukas Krajicek. This summer’s tragic death of Luc Bourdon certainly shook up the club and its defensive plans for the coming season.

All-star goalie Roberto Luongo will play a vital role in the club’s ’08-09 success, of course. Curtis Sanford will continue to provide back-up duties, while 2004 first-rounder Cory Schneider is waiting in the wings (aka. Winnipeg).

Predictions

Brian Compton, NHL.com
“Many would argue the Canucks have the best goalie in the world, which means the Canucks will have a chance to win on most nights. As long as he remains healthy, Vancouver will contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.” ...more

Bryan Thiel, The Bleacher Report
“The Canucks are great in net, could be good on defense, and need a lot of help up front. Although the defense could be a tad fragile with three key cogs coming off of surgery or major slumps/injury, there should be some quality games played in front of Roberto Luongo.” ...more

The Hockey News
Canucks predicted to finish 11th in the West. Read more in The Hockey News 2008-09 Yearbook.
 
 
CALGARY FLAMES
  • Tuesday, September 30 @ Edmonton (7:00pm) Tickets
  • Friday, October 3 @ Calgary (6:00pm)
  • First regular season match-up: Friday, October 17 @ Calgary (7:00pm, Sportsnet West)
From left, Todd Bertuzzi , Mike Cammalleri, Rene Bourque, Andre Roy and Curtis Glencross pose at a news conference where the five new Calgary Flames hockey players were introduced Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008 at the Saddledome in Calgary, Canada. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Mike Sturk)
To nobody’s surprise, the Flames will boast fiery forward Jarome Iginla and solid backstopper Miikka Kiprusoff for another season. But it’s tough guy Todd Bertuzzi that has cow-town buzzing: After signing with the club July 7th, the former Duck said Iginla – and Iginla alone – lured him like a moth to the Flames.

Joining Bertuzzi on Calgary’s newbie list is sniper Mike Cammalleri, who was part of a three-way draft-day deal between the Flames, Kings, and Ducks. With Alex Tanguay, Kristian Huselius, and Owen Nolan off to other destinations, the Flames also picked up defenceman Mark Giordano and forwards Rene Bourque, Pete Vandermeer, and Curtis Glencross, among others. Forwards Dustin Boyd and 2004 first-rounder Kris Chucko are youngsters to keep an eye on.

Between the pipes, Kiprusoff is coming off an epic 76-game season and can expect to make another plethora of appearances in 2008-09. Curtis McElhinney is tapped as Calgary’s #2, although the 25-year-old has appeared in only five NHL games and has yet to earn a win.

Predictions

Brian Compton, NHL.com
“As long as Kiprusoff is healthy, the Flames will be competitive in basically every game… Calgary's depth up front is impressive. Besides Iginla, the Flames have enough firepower to keep pace in the Northwest Division. Players such as Todd Bertuzzi and Mike Cammalleri have added incentive, given the fact that they will both be free agents after this season.” ...more

Ross McKeon, Yahoo! Sports
“Calgary will be one of the toughest cities to visit and escape with two points, but the Flames have so many question marks up front they look like a team that will have to rely on goaltending and defense to keep them in the hunt. That goes a long way, but usually not all the way.” ...more 

Dan Noon, The Bleacher Report
“When critics say that the Northwest is the toughest division in the NHL, I think that they are talking about the Flames. This is by far the meanest, toughest, most disciplined team in the NHL. Bertuzzi will fit in nicely alongside Iginla.” ...more

The Hockey News
Flames predicted to finish 8th in the West. Read more in The Hockey News 2008-09 Yearbook.
 

FLORIDA PANTHERS
  • Wednesday, September 24 @ Edmonton (7:00pm) Tickets
  • Thursday, September 25 @ Edmonton (7:00pm) Tickets
  • First regular season match-up: Thursday, December 11 @ Edmonton (7:00pm, Sportsnet West)
Florida Panthers' Nathan Horton, foreground, celebrates his goal in front of Carolina Hurricanes fans during second period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, April 4, 2008. Panthers won 4-3. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Panthers G.M. Jacques Martin was a busy man in the off-season, appointing OHL coaching all-star and Memorial Cup winner Peter DeBoer as the club’s new bench boss on June 13th and then promptly ushering out Captain and leading scorer Olli Jokinen at draft deadline a week later.

Up front, Cory Stillman should make a productive addition to the Panthers offence, having signed a three-year deal on July 1st. Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik, and Brett McLean will continue to play important roles on the roster, while a slew of twenty-somethings round out the club’s offensive contingent.

Florida’s defence, led yet again by Jay Bouwmeester, received off-season rejuvenation with the addition of Coyotes pair Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton (the other half of the Jokinen trade) and vet Bryan McCabe from the Leafs. Bryan Allen is another big “B” on the blueline, with 2007 first-round pick and Strathmore- native Keaton Ellerby likely making an appearance this pre-season in Edmonton.

Behind those boys stands Tomas Vokoun, and behind him is back-up Craig Anderson. Veteran Vokoun appeared in 69 games last season and faced more shots than any goalie in the League.  Florida’s second pick in 2005, Tyler Plante, is also in the system, but with a 3.56 GAA in 25 games with Rochester (AHL) last season, it’s apparent the 21-year-old Plante needs time to grow.

Predictions

Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com
“Peter DeBoer, the 10th head coach in Panthers history, brings with him a renewed passion and energy to the position… The Panthers' defense has the potential to be one of the strongest in the Southeast Division with McCabe, Ballard, Boynton, Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen manning the blue line in front of veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun. The club finished 14th in the League in 2007-08, allowing 2.68 goals per game, and expects to improve on that mark with the upgrades made in the offseason.” ...more

Jeff Mackie, Top Shelf
“The biggest reason to believe in the Panthers is the new man behind the bench. Peter DeBoer, 40, takes over from Jacques Martin, who will concentrate on his duties as GM. DeBoer is a proven winner with two OHL championships and a Memorial Cup on his resume.” ...more

Tyler Hill, The Bleacher Report
“The loss of Olli Jokinen, not to mention the addition of Bryan McCabe, can only hurt this Panthers squad.” ...more 

The Hockey News
Panthers predicted to finish 12th in the East. Read more in The Hockey News 2008-09 Yearbook.
 

DALLAS STARS
  • Sunday, October 5 @ Dallas (6:00pm)
  • First regular season match-up: Sunday, November 30 @ Dallas (4:00pm, Sportsnet West)
Dallas Stars center Mike Modano, left, celebrates with teammate Brenden Morrow, right, after scoring against the San Jose Sharks in the third period of Game 2 of a Western Conference semifinal playoff hockey series in San Jose, Calif., Sunday, April 27, 2008. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A balanced blend of old(er) and new, the ’08-09 Stars feature proven vets, peaking players, and promising prospects at every end of the ice – except perhaps in net. In last season’s playoff run, Marty Turco again proved to be one of the League’s top ‘tenders, a situation the Stars hope repeats itself as rookie back-up and 2002 second-round pick Tobias Stephan remains a toss-up with only one career NHL appearance.

Last season’s last-minute acquisition Brad Richards surged through the end of the season, posting 26 points in 30 regular- and post-season games with Dallas. Richards joins Captain Brenden Morrow, leading scorer Mike Ribeiro, and the always-interesting Sean Avery as players who should see plenty of ice time in the lone-star state.

As veterans Sergei Zubov and Mike Modano silence retirement rumours for another season, co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson hope young Swedes Loui Eriksson, Fabian Brunnstrom, and Nicklas Grossman fill the hole left by Finnish forward Niklas Hagman.

With Zubov at the helm, Dallas’ defensive unit is dangerous. Stephane Robidas, Matt Niskanen, and Trevor Daley added 76 points to Zubov’s 35, and all four defencemen will be back with the Stars this season. Opponents should also keep an eye on 2004 first-round pick Mark Fistric, which shouldn’t be too difficult considering he’s a hulking 6’2” and 232 lbs.   

Predictions

John Kreiser, NHL.com  
“The Stars have a number of players, led by Morrow and Ribeiro, who are in the prime of their careers, plus a bunch of youngsters who are almost ready to contribute. They've gone from an old team to one in which the key players are under 30.” ...more

Dan Noon, The Bleacher Report 
“This one is simple: If Sean Avery stays healthy and doesn't get suspended, Dallas wins the division.” ...more

The Hockey News
Dallas predicted to finish 4th in the West. Read more in The Hockey News 2008-09 Yearbook.

- With files from NHL.com
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