Joe Haggerty's 2011-12 NHL preview


Joe Haggerty's 2011-12 NHL preview

By Joe Haggerty Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

It wont be nearly as wide open for the Bruins in the Eastern Conference this time around.

The Bruins return 18 players (16 skaters and two goaltenders) to this seasons team from last years Cup champions, and have a young nucleus paired with a solid defensive philosophy and elite goaltenders. But theyre also stepping into a Northeast Division thats much improved from top to bottom, and an Eastern Conference that saw the Flyers, Rangers and Capitals make big upgrades to teams that were already playoff caliber.

Not only that, but Sidney Crosby is expected to return at some point during the season after last years concussion issues, and that makes the Penguins the prohibitive favorites with the best hockey player in the world.

Itll be a testing battleground for the Bruins for all 82 games, coming off a year that saw them play 107 games (regular season and playoffs) and log an extra two months of hockey when other players were off golfing. Coach Claude Julien was only speaking about the goaltenders the Bruins will have to face with regularity, but one got the impression he knows exactly what his team is in for this season.

We're in a conference -- and even a division -- that has some pretty good goaltenders, so it's not like we're going into the unknown here, said Julien. Ryan Miller in Buffalo Sabres and Carey Price with Montreal Canadiens, who had a great season last year. Craig Anderson's played well for Ottawa. This is only in our division.

I think the way goaltending in Toronto is this season they seem pretty confident there too. When youve got Martin Brodeur in New Jersey and so-on-and-so-forth, this is the challenge you have almost every night. A lot of teams say the same thing about our team and about our goaltending. So it's just one of the pieces of the puzzle that you have to solve, and there's not a million ways to solve that.

There arent a million ways to solve it, but the Bruins came across a few last season that are probably going to do them some good again this year. Here is the NHL preview with Bostons final predicted place within the final painting (and for the record I predicted the Bruins losing to the Wings in the Cup Finals last season before the year got going).

Eastern ConferenceNortheast Division
1. Boston Bruins The Bruins barely hang on in a much tougher division despite returning cast.
2. Buffalo Sabres The new owner, energy and attitude help when it comes with good players for the Sabres.
3. Montreal Canadiens Guys like Subban, Price and Plekanec are only going to get better this season.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs Could this be the year that Toronto makes it back to the postseason? This writer is betting the answer is yes.
5. Ottawa Senators Craig Anderson will need to stand on his head, and that could happen on any given night.

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins The belief here is that Sidney Crosby is back sooner rather than later, and that makes the Pens everybodys favorite.
2. Philadelphia Flyers It may take some time for the new pieces to gel, but Bryzgalov is a huge regular season upgrade at goalie.
3. New York Rangers Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik could be deadly in Gotham.
4. New York Islanders The return of Mark Streit gives the young Isles enough talent to throw scares in other teams.
5. New Jersey Devils This is a difficult team to figure out, but Martin Brodeurs swan song may be a sad one.

Southeast Division
1. Washington Capitals The best team in the East that nobody is talking about got much better with Tomas Vokoun.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning There may be a small dip in Tampa Bays performance, but this Bolts team is playoff-hardened and talent-blessed.
3. Winnipeg Jets The move to Canada agrees with a star-crossed franchise, and talented players like Byfuglien, Kane and Pavelec get the Jets back into the postseason.
4. Carolina Hurricanes Staal and Co. are young and formidable, but they still dont seem to have enough depth to truly challenge.
5. Florida Panthers Hockey purgatory remains firmly in place in Sunrise, Florida. A series of embarrassing signings this summer mean they deserve what they get.

The Washington Capitals over the Boston Bruins in the second round.
The Pittsburgh Penguins over the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.

Caps over the Pens in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Western Conference

Central Division
1. Chicago Blackhawks Kane and Toews show becomes must see hockey TV once again this season free of Cup hangover.
2. Detroit Red Wings The Wings have started to show their age, but theyve still got some sting left before flying East.
3. Nashville Predators The Preds proved last year that theyre for real, and Rinne can beat just about anybody.
4. St. Louis Blues The Blues would have much better chances if their division wasnt so talented and dangerous.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets On paper the Blue Jackets should be much better with Jeff Carter and Rich Nash. On paper that is.

Northwest Division
1. Vancouver Canucks The Sedins have proven they bounce back up when theyre mercilessly driven to the ice. This season will confirm that.
2. Edmonton Oilers The growing pains were many last season, but the young and restless Oilers are ready to ride Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Co. to the playoffs.
3. Calgary Flames Things could go awfully wrong with so much reliance on NHL graybeards like Jarome Iginla and Mikka Kiprusoff.
4. Colorado Avalanche Theres plenty of talent to climb up the rankings for the Avs, but Russian goalie Semyon Varlamov will have to come ready to play.
5. Minnesota Wild Dany Heatley brings his sniping skills to the Wild, but theres a long way to go.

Pacific Division
1. Los Angeles Kings The dark horse for a Stanley Cup championship this season, Mike Richards adds a lot to an already talented bunch without a true, gritty leader.
2. San Jose Sharks The Sharks are obviously loaded once again, but there is growing that San Jose will ever get to Stanleys promise land.
3. Anaheim Ducks The talented core is still there with Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne, and a healthy Jonas Hiller makes them a team without many holes.
4. Phoenix Coyotes Should everyone take it as a bad omen that Kyle Turris refuses to sign a contract to play with the Desert Dogs?
5. Dallas Stars The loss of Brad Richards hurts the Stars, and toxic twins pairing of Michael RyderMike Ribeiro certainly doesnt help.

Vancouver Canucks over the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round
Los Angeles Kings over the San Jose Sharks in the second round
The Kings over the Canucks in the Western Conference Finals

2011-12 NHL Award Winners

Hart Trophy Alex Ovechkin
Vezina Trophy Carey Price
Norris Trophy Shea Weber
Art Ross Trophy Daniel Sedin
Calder Trophy Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Jack Adams Award Guy Boucher
Maurice Richard Trophy Steve Stamkos
Selke Trophy Patrice Bergeron

Stanley Cup Finals: The Kings over the Capitals in seven games to make the fourth straight Stanley Cup winner that began the season in Europe.
Conn Smythe Winner: Mike Richards

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup


McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It was a bitter pill for Adam McQuaid to sit out the first five games of this season, but it looks like the veteran Bruins stay-at-home defenseman is nearing a return to the lineup. McQuaid was cleared to potentially play in Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens after an upper body injury kept him shelved for the team’s first four games, and could be approaching a return in the next few days as Claude Julien mulls a number of possible lineup changes.

“It was obviously frustrating, but I’m where I’m at now and trying to move on from it. Looking forward to getting back into the lineup hopefully as soon as possible here,” said the 30-year-old McQuaid, who had a goal and nine points in 64 games for the Black and Gold last season. “The excitement level is high for me, and it is for everybody after a loss when you’re looking forward to getting back out there.

“It would have been nice to have started the season with the guys, but you can’t change that now. I’ve had some good practices, and I’m just trying to my game as simple as possible, and take it as it comes. Obviously guys have played some games and it’s been a couple of weeks for me, so I’ll just have to keep my game simple.”

The B’s bench boss indicated it was only a matter of time before McQuaid makes his 2016-17 regular season debut, but that he’s got plenty of things to decide prior to dropping the puck against the Wild.

“[McQuaid] was cleared last game. I haven’t made any decisions based for [Tuesday night vs. Minnesota]. There’s a lot of things that are up in the air, and I’ve just go to juggle those things,” said Julien. “Who knows? Hopefully tomorrow morning I’ve got a better picture [of injury situation], and if not then it will be game-time decisions. I wish I could have a better answer [on if McQuaid will play], but I’ve got no answers right now.”

With Colin Miller (minus-4), Joe Morrow, Torey Krug (a rough minus-3 against Montreal) and John-Michael Liles all minus players after the first five games of the season, there are ample options for Julien on which potential blueliner to bump up to the press box. McQuaid is just happy he’s getting closer to a return while skating with 23-year-old Rob O’Gara at practice, and he can get back to helping a B’s team that’s smack dab in the middle (ranked 15th allowing 3.0 goals per game) of the NHL for team defense this season. 

Monday, Oct. 24: Bergeron the best defensive forward ever?


Monday, Oct. 24: Bergeron the best defensive forward ever?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while giving The Walking Dead credit for delivering a pile driver to me as a TV viewer last night. I did not see all of that coming.

*Plenty of questions and answers about the Calgary Flames as they’ve looked a little shaky in the early going this season.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough has the Edmonton Oilers straightening things out after the brutal loss to Buffalo.

*NHL captains like Steve Stamkos carry the heavy weight of tradition on their shoulders as they go about their business.

*The Hockey News wonders if Patrice Bergeron is the best defensive forward to ever play in the NHL. I’m certain he’s in the conversation, but that’s a big, bold statement that deserves some heavy consideration. After all, he never had to defend Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe or any other number of offensive stars. I certainly think he should be in the select club he would join if/when he wins his fourth Selke Trophy.

*Minnesota D-man Matt Dumba was nearly scratched by the Minnesota Wild, and he says that he’s never going to let that happen again.

*The Anaheim Ducks placed Simon Despres on long term injured reserve as they try to stay afloat salary cap-wise, and avoid dealing off a player in-season.

*For something completely different: The Boston Celtics break ground on a new practice facility adjacent to the new Bruins place.