Mar 7, 2002
I can admit when I'm wrong. The last time I discussed all the Canadian teams, The Calgary Flames, along with the Montreal Canadiens were the toast of their conferences. Were at or near the top, and neither were expected to be. The Ottawa Senators were looking to solidify a solid place in the middle of the pack, along with the Vancouver Canucks. The Toronto Maple Leafs still hadn't found the groove for all the new bodies acquired in the off-season to fit into. The Edmonton Oilers were finding life without Doug Weight just fine, thank you.
I know...it's been a while since I've reviewed all the Canadian teams, but now with just over a week to the trade deadline, it seems fitting to look at the wants and needs of all these teams.
Both Edmonton and Montreal are tied for eighth place... and as things stand, both would lose on tie-breaks. Toronto and Ottawa are the only Canadian teams in the playoffs right now. Toronto leads the Northeast division with 76 points, and the Senators are creeping closer, a single point behind, with 75. So, let's talk about the teams with the most pressing needs...Montreal and Edmonton.
Montreal Canadiens - The Habs were dealt a serious blow when Jeff Hackett went down with another separated shoulder. This isn't necessarily because Hackett would have taken the Canadiens to the playoffs, but he was deemed expendable with the play of Jose Theodore, and prospect Mathieu Garon. Montreal could have gotten a decent second-line winger for Hackett, and that's something this offense-starved team really needs. Placing Hackett in a package deal with a prospect, most likely Arron Asham or Craig Darby could have netted GM Andre Savard a player who could have made a decent difference and help the Habs overcome the New York Rangers for 8th place. On a side note for the Canadiens, I firmly believe that Michel Therrien should win the Jack Adams trophy if the Canadiens make the playoffs. He has had to deal with the loss of Saku Koivu and Donald Audette, along with top-four defender Sheldon Souray.
Edmonton Oilers - Originally, I didn't think Mike Comrie could replace Doug Weight... and he hasn't, but Rem Murray was really able to make a difference down the middle for the Oilers. He isn't talked about much, and is on a bit of a cold streak now, but the burden of replacing Weight isn't just on young Comrie's shoulders, it should fall on everyone on the team to put in a bit extra effort to replace a player of his calibre. Where this team really needs a boost is on the right side, where the four wingers (Anson Carter, Mike Grier, Jochen Hecht and Georges Laraque) have combined for 3 points in their last 27 man-games. If those guys pick up the scoring slack, this team could surpass the Phoenix Coyotes into eighth place. If they do, the good news is they won't have to face Dallas again in the first round. The two Canadian teams already in the playoffs have their own separate needs.
Ottawa Senators - This team really doesn't need too much right now. Like Edmonton, picking up the slack of their departing star player didn't just fall on the next centre down in the depth chart. Radek Bonk will never be Alexei Yashin, but unless he rides his current streak of four points in his last five games... his point totals will have dropped from last year. The team defence, and especially the play of hulking Zdeno Chara has really impressed me this year. Chara may be one of the few really big players who is actually learning how to play with his size.
Toronto Maple Leafs - I wouldn't say this team has a need aside from the obvious one in goal. However, trainer Chris Broadhurst really needs to earn his money with Alex Mogilny. After being diagnosed with a crack in his vertebrae, he was treated, and is cleared to play. The problem is that the rigors of a game are too much for Mogilny, ans he has a pain threshold level he has to deal with. Wade Belak (flu) and Jyrki Lumme (suspension) are two guys that can step up and fill a hole but have been unavailable recently. Continuing with defensemen that impressed me, I though both Marc Moro and youngster Karel Pilar didn't look too bad in the Leafs' 6-2 loss in Detroit on Wednesday. Paul Healey, another call-up to fill the void, has done good work so far on the fourth line, including scoring his first ever NHL goal on Monday night.
Vancouver Canucks - I would do only one thing if I were General Manager Brian Burke, and that's scrap the Sedin project. Brothers Henrik and Daniel have been sadly disappointing this season, and if Burke wants to make a change there, the brothers might yield either a second line scorer or a third or fourth defenseman. One thing all playoff teams should have and always could use more of is depth. If Vancouver looks to make it into the postseason something drastic would have to be done. However, there is always next year, and a trio of young forwards (Tyler Bouck, Steve Kariya and Harold Druken) will all be fighting hard for a spot on the roster. Defenseman Bryan Allen should also make a push for the team next year, but one strong question still lingers with this team. Is Dan Cloutier really good enough?
Calgary Flames - At the beginning of the season, The Hockey News picked Calgary to finish last in the league. I was slightly more optimistic; I believe I had called them in the bottom five in the league before the season started. Well, they're surprised everyone. Jarome Iginla, despite the fact that he has defensive specialist specialists draped all over him game in, game out, has been able to put pucks in at a league-leading pace. Craig Conroy has proved that checkers can score. Roman Turek has proved that he can be a stellar staring goalie... at times. With Rob Niedermeyer healthy, the Flames do have a dependable second centre, and in Dean McAmmond, they have someone who is already at his career high in points for a season. After that, though... the forward lines are slim pickings. Chuck Kobasew should arrive to help out slightly next year, but small market teams are rarely able to generate the kind of revenue that can help them acquire a superstar in the league. Teams like Calgary have to grow their own in guys like Theo Fleury and Iginla.
Toronto and Ottawa are in...Edmonton and Montreal are on the line...Calgary and Vancouver are out...but not far out. Who is going to make the push for the postseason?
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