The last few seasons has seen the level of competition rise significantly in the Pacific Division. This season has been no different. Realistically, any of Edmonton, San Jose, and Winnipeg could win the division and the almost automatic #1 seed (the Central still sucks, sorry). If you want to stretch it, Saskatoon could catch fire and take top spot (I for one am cheering for this). I did a little research because I was curious if anything important occurred in May in the real War in the Pacific. Turns out two major events occurred at this time of year in WWII. Japan pulled off a very important invasion to further their ambitions of a Far Eastern Empire. They defeated the Allies in Corregidor, effectively eliminating the American presence in the Philippines. This defeat prompted the infamous quote from General Douglas MacArthur “I shall return!”
The other major event was one of the biggest what ifs of WWII. The Japanese were defeated at the Battle of the Coral Sea. Had they been victorious, Australia would have been left wide open and who knows what would have happened then. So back to the VHL version. San Jose is like the Americans, dominant power of the area. The Oilers are like the Japs, a growing power that wants to take over. The Jets are like the British, historically a power but not quite able to seize the throne. None of the three have been able to pull away and may not be able too.
Edmonton Absolute road warriors. In last three, beat Chicago and Saskatoon. Lost to Sharks. Big game against the Jets on the horizon. San Jose The Sharks like their home cooking. Good balanced scoring so far. In last three, they beat the Oilers and Scouts but lost to the Devils in what had to be a look ahead game. Flames, Canucks, and Caps coming up in what should be a 3-0 run.
Winnipeg The Jets are an anomaly in the VHL, with a significantly better record on the road as opposed to home. Rookie Craig Anderson has looked anything like a rookie and the Jets vets are performing well. In their last three, they beat the Leafs (who doesn’t?) and Lightning but took it on the chin from Pittsburgh. They’ve got the Oilers, Canucks, and Blackhawks coming up.
Saskatoon The Wolves aren’t quite enjoying the breakout season they had last year but after a slow start, they are making up ground. Their last three saw them tie with both Minnesota and New Jersey and lose to the Oilers. Upcoming games against KC, Buffalo, and Hartford.
Calgary The Flames aren’t in last? Holy shit. Who knew that Andrew Cassels was the difference? Last three games saw a loss to the Wolves but wins against Chicago and Toronto. Next three are against SJ, Detroit, and Minnesota.
Vancouver Guess who joined Boston and Ottawa in believing in Stanley Cup Hangovers? The offense is still there but the goals against is not good at all. Toskala looks like the polar opposite of the guy who got them to Game 7 of the Final. Last three were losses to the Rangers and Bruins and a win over the Scouts (thank goodness for KC). Next three are against Detroit, San Jose and the rival Jets (yikes).
LA What is going on in LA LA? The Kings have started slow before but I can’t remember them in the basement before. GM Shirley is looking for a change and is actively shopping some of his key players. Last three were wins against NJ and Minnesota and a loss to St. Louis. Next three are against Montreal, the shitty Senators, and KC.
Central Division Nathan Schroor
Chicago – one win and five losses during their most recent home stand was not the kind of turn around Chicago had in mind to showcase for fans, but it has hurt a strong start by the windy city. What is looking really good are the youngsters that matured IN the juniors. The Sedin’s and Scott Hannan are combining for 21 goals and 39 assists which does bode well for the future beyond this season. Detroit – four wins and four losses has the Wings playing even over the last week but still holding their grip on one of the final playoff spots. With a couple of the premier players in the league on one team carrying the load (Weight (lol) and Lidstrom) new GM Forget should be looking to add some complimentary players from the large number of draft capital the franchise has accumulated.
Kansas City – Looking to occupy the basement of the Western Conference no further the Scouts have begun to unload some futures looking for talent now. A blockbuster trade to bring in proven scorer and league leader Tomas Sandstrom sent notice to the Central Division about the seriousness to contend now and in the future. Rumors are swirling that GM George continues to hammer on the trade phones to bring in even more scoring talent in the days to come.
Milwaukee – Three wins, a tie and a loss in the last 5 have the Admirals jumping right into the heart of the playoff mix; even against tougher opponents. With Jason Smith returning to action shortly, the Admirals can expect to parlay this good week into some strong momentum going forward. Robb Zepp looks very good in Toledo and should be pushing the new comer, Manny Fernandez in the coming season after winning almost 70 percent of his starts in the AHL.
Minnesota – A very big surprise so far this season after a disappointing end to their 2000 campaign ended without a conference finals appearance against the Sharks. Being in the mix again after the one year hiatus with Modano and Carey truly carrying the team. One constant in the Central Division is top players taking teams on their backs rather than working by committee like their Pacific Division counterparts. Also keep an eye on rookie David Legwand and the Calder conversation (6 goals, 12 assists).
St. Louis – If you said you saw Patrick Roy turning this whole team around then I call bullshit. One of the best moves of the offseason was to give the team someone that could hold opponents to under 3 goals a game while Vinny Prospal dominates up front. The Blues have come down from their other-worldly start to the season but are still one of the tops in the league and current favourites to win the Western Conference.
Eastern Conference UFA Report Matt Schroor
We are going to take a look around the Eastern Conference and see where contract negotiations are for some of the big names in the Conference. We will contact all our sources in team offices all across the East to see who is staying, who is going, and who will test the free agency market. Big names demand big money and it will be interesting to see who ends up where when all is said and done.
Jeff Friesen- Jeff will need to be resigned for the future of the Bruins, sources say that negotiations haven’t started. He will probably see a deserved raise, and the Bruins must approach carefully due to the fact Jeff has already went before the Arbitration Board.
Brian Leetch and Mark Reechi- Both are mainstays on a talented Sabres team. They will more than likely see raises when negotiations start. If they fail to come to agreements the Sabres might move them because of a bevy of young talent in the organization.
Jyrki Lumme and Geoff Sanderson- One can hope that the Whalers won’t lose another high-end player to free agency, but both have turned down initial offers. Lumme has been offered around the league already as a precautionary measure.
Patrick Lalime- Marty Turco has struggled since winning the Vezina so the Rangers went out and got Patrick. He is outplaying Turco in equal opportunities. Lalime has turned down the Rangers first offer, but hopefully luck favours the Rangers add they can have continued stability in net.
Jumbo Joe Thornton- Joe got paid by the arbitrator big time. He is looking to lock up big money long term from the Senators or someone else who is willing to pay the price. His agent has had him turn down a couple offers already and could hit the trade or free agency market before all is said and done. If so there would be a big whole at the top of the Sens depth chart.
Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg- The Swede and the Czech are at the centre of the Flyers offense. They have a powerful team with them, but after a couple rejected offers a piece the team might be looking for an identity change. They will both command a pretty penny from any team that would like their services.
Miroslav Satan- Mr. Satan is a hell of a young hockey player. He is playing extremely well in a good forward group. The Penguins have yet to extend a offer to the youngster and will be very happy to have his services. All 25 other teams would be glad if he didn’t.
Manny Legace- Manny has decided that four more years in the nation’s capital is a good idea. That or the raise he got. This will provide the Senators with stability in net for the foreseeable future.
Keith Primeau- Keith was the centerpiece of the Mario Lemieux trade from the Canadiens perspective. He just re-upped for another four years in Montreal, providing them with a big name, and big contract down the middle for years to come.
Hope you enjoyed the look into the future free agents or trade bait of the Eastern Conference, tune in next week for another topic based on the Least Coast.