hockeyfights.com content team
Oct 4, 2006
After a short summer the 2006-07 NHL season has arrived. A summer of free agency, training camp cuts and the waiver wire can shake things up plenty. Here's the hockeyfights.com toughness preview to clue you in on who's landed where, who's moved on and which team might become your new favorite.
This offseason, Anaheim elected to drop the "mighty" from their name which is ironic since the franchise is set to roll out what may be the toughest lineup in the NHL. Heavyweight Todd Fedoruk returns after thriving in his first year away from the Flyer organization in the shadow of Donald Brashear (how much do Flyer fans miss him now?!). He will have his hands full in a loaded division but has plenty of help. Defenseman Shane O'Brien makes the team as a rookie, and should bring plenty of toughness after averaging 300
PIMs and 16 fights the past two seasons in the AHL. Elsewhere, Travis Moen will add some fights on the 4th line, while ample gritty players such as Sean O'Donnell, Corey Perry, and Chris Kunitz will fight as needed. Overall, Anaheim looks to duplicate the feat of Ottawa last year: be simultaneously regarded as the toughest and best team in the NHL. Surely this Stanley Cup hopeful team will be as entertaining and fun to watch as any team in the league, no matter what type of hockey you prefer!
X-Factor: Shane O'Brien. Will he secure a top 6 spot and be as active as in the minors?
Additions: Shane O'Brien
Subtractions: Zenon Konopka
The improving Thrashers will once again benefit from being in the softest division in hockey, where only one of their four foes has any threat of physical intimidation at all. Eric Boulton continues as the team's capable heavyweight. His main support in fighting the Thrashers' battles comes from one of the toughest defensive cores in the league. Greg de Vries, newcomer Vitaly Vishnevski, and Andy Sutton all play an
aggressive, bruising game. They are joined by two mystery-men in the fight
department. The ferocious hitting Garnet Exelby (75
PIMs, 2 fights) saw his penalty minutes and fights decrease dramatically from his rookie year (134
PIMs, 9 fights). Even more staggering was Shane Hnidy, who after averaging a fight every eight games for his career, managed only one in a 66 game campaign in 05-06. Bruising defenseman Braydon Coburn had hoped to make the team before a separated shoulder derailed that late in pre-season, but look for him or heavyweight Boris Valabik to get a defensive call up should an injury occur. If Boulton is a mainstay in the lineup, and all their
defensemen return to the style of play they are capable of, the Thrashers could be a
scary team to enter the offensive zone against.
X-Factor: Garnet Exelby. Will he decide to return to his roughshod play of his rookie year?
Subtractions: Ron Petrovicky
The days of Colton Orr being the town sheriff are now officially in the past as the Bruins went out and signed tough defenseman Wade Brookbank to a two-way contract this summer. With the defense already being just about set, Brookbank has seen time on the wing during the preseason. The Bruins also picked up marquee blueliner Zdeno Chara on the very first day of free agency. The 6'9" monster will be far from a liability on the ice and has the ability to throw down when needed though it is uncertain whether Dave Lewis will promote Chara dropping the gloves or advise him to shy away from it. The Bruins also have other players with fighting ability in the form of Andrew Alberts and Wayne Primeau if needed.
X-Factor: Wade Brookbank. Will Brookbank be able to see enough ice time and produce enough so he won't be sent down to Providence? Only time will tell...
Additions: Wade Brookbank, Zdeno Chara
Subtractions: Dan LaCouture, Brad Isbister, Nick Boynton
Andrew Peters again is slotted to be the Sabres heavyweight but this time, head coach Lindy Ruff has vowed to play the heavyweight 60-70 games after a season in which he was scratched for all but a handful. That would greatly raise the toughness of the squad from a year ago, especially since veteran fourth line forward Adam Mair is healthy and ready to go. Paul Gaustad also returns and will chip in a few fights and points from the center position. Several things to watch are how active and
aggressive Mair is coming back from concussion problems and how the budding rivalry between Peters and McGrattan will unfold. No doubt McGrattan will be hungry for revenge on the man who laid a beating on him at the end of 05-06 in the third of their three fight series. Unfortunately for the organization, there was no room at the NHL level for
feisty forward Chris Thorburn and they lost him on waivers to Pittsburgh, but the team still looks to have what it takes to play in the tough Northeast Division.
X-Factor: Andrew Peters. Will Lindy Ruff stick to his word and play him 60-70 games this year?
Subtractions: Jay McKee
The always gritty Flames continue their pattern of dressing a team that combines toughness and skill, but unfortunately they have neglected to include a heavyweight fighter. Gone is heavyweight Chris Simon, while off-season signing Eric Godard surprisingly did not make
the team. The aging Darren McCarty will still be around for the day-to-day enforcing and just about every other forward will drop the gloves if need be, but no one can stand up to the heavyweights of the conference. The defense is one of the toughest units around, anchored by first year phenom Dion Phaneuf and supplemented by other tough customers. Brandon Prust is a great light-heavyweight who has impressed the organization but has been squeezed out by the Flames' forward depth. Nevertheless, he should get a cup of coffee during the year and make some noise before landing McCarty's job in 2007-08.
X-Factor: Brandon Prust. Will he and his 30-fight per year mentality get the call this season? One injury will open the door.
Subtractions: Chris Simon, Bryan Marchment
The defending Stanley Cup champs have had a rough road in the off-season, and will have a struggle ahead of them if they are to repeat. Even more daunting of a task is improving the lack of protection in their lineup, where Mike Commodore will attempt at being the designated enforcer for a full year. Though his breakout performance last year was impressive, he should not be a primary fighting option. Newly acquired Tim Gleason will add another middleweight option on the blueline, while players like Scott Walker and Craig Adams will chip in a bit. However, the Hurricane stars will have a tough time should opposing teams desire to play rough or cheap shot them. Jesse Boulerice and Stephen Peat await in the AHL, waiting for the call-up to protect the troops. Some fans fail to see why Boulerice wasn't kept around to keep teams honest, especially after management praised his efforts on improving his game before re-assigning him.
X-Factor: Jesse Boulerice. Will the Hurricanes be forced to bring him up from the minors?
Additions: Tim Gleason, Scott Walker
After taking an impressive decision from Derek Boogaard in pre-season, veteran Reed Low pulled off a shocking return to the NHL. Although not one of the more agile enforcers, his willingness to stick up for his teammates is something Chicago must have deemed necessary after watching star center Tuomo Ruutu go down for 4 weeks after a cheapshot from Blue Jacket Rostislav Klesla. How long Low will stick around the NHL is anyone's guess, but it must feel good for the veteran after a miserable 05-06 campaign in which he was sent to the minors only to have his jaw broken by Garrett Burnett. The Hawks still also have Jim Vandermeer who will be much more comfortable in the secondary fighter role with Low around. Several gritty forwards like Martin Lapointe will help out with the toughness. While losing quality tough players like Matthew Barnaby and Mark Bell will take a toll, the addition of Low ensures that the Hawks will not be pushovers.
X-Factor: Reed Low. Are you kidding me? How long will this pleasant surprise last in the new-NHL?
Additions: Reed Low
Subtractions: Matt Barnaby, Mark Bell
The Avalanche toughness went on a roller-coaster ride this fall. First veteran tough guy Brad May underwent what will likely be season-ending shoulder surgery (and perhaps career-ending) leaving the team in a very depleted state. Then, just days before the regular season, George Parros was claimed off waivers from the Kings giving the team the heavyweight presence they need to protect an otherwise soft lineup. The departures of Dan Hinote and Bob Boughner leave the Avalanche stripped of role players from their lineup. However, Parros will be supported by the feisty forward Ian Laperriere and reserve winger Cody McCormick who may have been promoted to be May's replacement if he had been more impressive filling in last year. In the weakened Northwest division, the Avalanche have addressed the toughness issue just enough to get by with acceptable marks at the beginning of the season.
X-Factor: George Parros. Will he continue to improve as a player and fighter in his sophomore season?
Additions: George Parros
Subtractions: Brad May (shoulder surgery, out 4-6 months), Bob Boughner, Dan Hinote
Jody Shelley enters his 5th year of enforcing for the Blue Jackets in 06-07, making him the longest tenured enforcer of any NHL team along with Toronto's Wade Belak. He has a supporting cast of a few tough players who may drop the gloves once or twice during the season if the need arises: Ron Hainsey, Adam Foote, Duvie Westcott, and Jason Chimera. Expect Shelley to do an admirable job patrolling the ice while getting his usual 4th line minutes. It will be interesting to see if he can build on his most consistent year yet and break into top 10 heavyweight lists everywhere.
X-Factor: An Injury to Shelley. The only way Columbus could surprise us this year is if Shelley gets a rare injury and Brandon Sugden is unleashed on the NHL.
Subtractions: Michael Rupp
In a division overflowing with heavyweights, the Stars elected to forego a big man and counter with a collection of lightweights and gritty forwards. Matthew Barnaby joins the team as another agitating middleweight to go along with the always active Steve Ott. The crumbling body of Eric Lindros also signs on, providing another power forward to go along with Brenden Morrow. It will be interesting to see what happens should opponents start to play rough against Lindros. Barnaby is willing to fight much bigger men, as evidenced again this preseason in his bout vs. 6'8" Mitch Fritz, but is certainly not a deterrent. Some players on the roster should practice fighting because if things get ugly with the tougher teams in the division, they will have to answer with team warfare.
X-Factor: Eric Lindros. How ferociously will he play and how ferociously will the Stars protect him?
Additions: Matthew Barnaby, Eric Lindros
Subtractions: Bill Guerin, Nathan Perrott, Jeremy Stevenson
Having made a reputation as the softest team in the NHL for the better part of a decade, Detroit took the ultimate plunge last year relying mainly on aging winger Brendan Shanahan in the fight department and amassing a paltry 6 fighting majors -- shattering Ottawa's record of 14. This year, after Shanahan signed with the Rangers, they made the unlikely move of keeping veteran defenseman Brad Norton around to serve as policeman. Though Norton will likely spend a good portion of his time in Detroit sitting in the
press box, he can hopefully be inserted into the lineup for rivalry games to give the Wings some semblance of toughness. However, the team foolishly sent Darryl Bootland back to the minors. Surely this tough customer has enough skill to be on the 4th line and provide Detroit with some toughness (56 points, 26 fights last year in the AHL) in a division that suddenly has bulked up. But, barring a mid-season
call-up, Detroit fans will have to endure another year in which they may challenge their own record for fighting futility.
X-Factor: Darryl Bootland. The Obi-Wan Kanobi of Detroit--help the Wings fans Darryl, you're their only hope...
Additions: Brad Norton
Subtractions: Brendan Shanahan
Toughness will be a major issue on a championship caliber team with few other holes. Eight year Oilers veteran Georges Laraque, the reigning heavyweight champion of the NHL, sadly was forced to leave. The Oilers elected not to replace him in favor of a team toughness approach in the new-NHL. A collection of players such as Ethan Moreau, Jason Smith and Matt Greene will have to deal with any rough stuff that comes the Oilers way. The team will be way over their head if a game gets out of hand, especially during the Battle of Alberta, scheduled for eight times a year. Brad Winchester, whose stock has fallen of late, will likely be the team's benchwarmer or form of trade bait due to a one-way contract that has kept him from being sent to the AHL. He could get a chance if the Oilers get pushed around too much. Jean-Francois Jacques can fight a bit as well and the so-called 'Crazy Train' is knocking on the door of the fourth line. Still, for the first time since 1997 opposing players won't see Big Georges on the Edmonton bench. The organization and fans probably can't even remember what it feels like to have open season against their stars, but will have a taste of it soon.
X-Factor: Edmonton Fans. Will there be outrage when the Oilers start getting run and there is no Laraque to settle things? Management might be forced to consider dressing a tough guy.
Additions: Jean-Francois Jacques
Subtractions: Georges Laraque
Though still without a heavyweight since the trade of Eric Cairns, the Panthers have done a bit to bolster their concept of team toughness. The arrival of lightning-rod Todd Bertuzzi gives them a solid power-forward to go along with other rugged forwards such as Gary Roberts, Chris Gratton, and Nathan Horton. Bryan Allen and Ruslan Salei similarly added some more grit to the blueline, where Steve Montador returns as the team's most likely fighter. He may struggle to find playing time until the seemingly inevitable season-ending injury to Branislav Mezei occurs. Though the lineup may be par for the course in the Southeast, the lack of a true heavyweight to dress
occasionally will hurt the team when playing Washington or non-divisional games.
X-Factor: Steve Montador. How will he fair as the top fighter on a team for a full year?
Additions: Bryan Allen, Todd Bertuzzi
The Kings pulled off a shocker in waiving George Parros before the regular season in favor of keeping the hulking Raitis Ivanans around in the enforcer position. Parros had a steadily improving year in 05-06 in which he was able to make modest contributions and hang with the heavyweights by year's end. His replacement is more of a pure fighter, and a much better one, though his hockey skills are suspect. His fearsome presence will be needed on a team with super-pest Sean Avery continually earning the ire of opposing teams. Also around are 3rd and 4th liners Scott Thornton, Jeff Cowan and Tom Kostopoulos who are either aging or unable to fight very well. If Ivanans stays though, the team looks fairly tough on paper, even in the toughest division in the league. Ivanans will certainly be looking to capitalize on a rare 2nd opportunity
after bowing out of his first shot at the NHL courtesy of Zdeno Chara and a late punch that gave him a broken face in his first NHL fight.
X-Factor: Raitis Ivanans. Has this European monster improved his game enough to make an impact this year?
Additions: Raitis Ivanans
Subtractions: George Parros, Tim Gleason
Seemingly overnight, all of super-heavyweight Derek Boogaard's divisional competition vanished. The
monstrous forward will be on the Wild roster, but may have diminished playing time because it seems there are few in the division who will dare fight him. This leaves Minnesota in a predicament because they have virtually no toughness outside of one heavyweight whose effectiveness is greatly
diminished in the new-NHL which frowns on forcing people to fight. Other fighting options, such as Scott Ferguson, Alex Henry and Kyle Wanvig have all moved on. It seems as if the ample middleweights of the Northwest division, protected by a soft Wild squad on one side and legislation that will keep Boogaard from
instigating a fight with them on the other, will have a field day picking on the Wild all year long unless their toughness is addressed.
X-Factor: Derek Boogaard. Can he find dance-partners in a weakened division and what will the encore to his TKO-laden freshman year be?
Subtractions: Alex Henry, Kyle Wanvig
While the Habs sport an average heavyweight in Aaron Downey, his supporting cast is a solid mix of young and veteran light-heavyweights and middleweights who won't shy away from helping Downey out when the time comes. Sheldon Souray, Garth Murray, Craig Rivet, Steve Begin all are returning from last season and provide an alternative for the other smaller fighters in the league to consider. The largest question mark remains Downey himself, as he
struggled through a miserable 05-06 season marred by inactivity and frequent TKOs at the hands of his opponents.
X-Factor: Aaron Downey. Will Downey be able to rebound from a very disappointing 2005-06 in which he took more than a couple brutal losses?
Subtractions: Todd Simpson
Nashville again gets set to ice a feisty team, with an abundance of scrappy forwards vying for the final few spots on the 3rd and 4th lines. Among these are heavyweight Darcy Hordichuk, Jordin Tootoo and his freight-train hits, and Scott Nichol. The team also moved to bulk up their defense, having lost their trade-deadline rental Brendan Witt. In comes Alex Henry,
a stay-at-home defenseman with heavyweight size from Minnesota. Massive
defenseman Nolan Yonkman also arrives from the Capitals organization, but he will start in the AHL. Even if he does not get called up though, the team is in good shape in the toughness department with the exciting Hordichuk leading a tough group of guys.
X-Factor: Jordin Tootoo. How many fights, brawls and general trouble can he start with his super-aggressive play for the year?
Additions: Alex Henry
Subtractions: Jeremy Stevenson
Although enveloped in serious salary cap issues, the Devils are set to ice one of the tougher teams in the East. Rookie sensation Cam Janssen returns with a full-time job and should provide the team with limitless energy, excellent hitting, and about 20 scraps in the upcoming year. A strong supporting cast includes Dan LaCouture, Colin White, Michael Rupp, and David Hale. They should have more than enough firepower to handle their divisional foes with their excellent team-toughness and group of willing fighters, even with the surprising release of forward Grant Marshall.
X-Factor: Cam Janssen. Just how much mayhem can this wild-man rack up in a tamer NHL? It should be fun to watch.
Additions: Dan LaCouture
Subtractions: Grant Marshall
Ownership has been making most of the headlines for the tumultuous Isles franchise of late with the promoting of one goaltender to general manager and the signing of another to a 15-year contract. The Isles' toughness department is also in a state of flux, with tough guys Eric Godard and John Erskine being let go. Filling the void is veteran heavyweight Chris Simon, who is less one-dimensional than his predecessor. Witt takes over as the physical d-man, and is certainly an upgrade over Erskine as a player, but will only fight a few times a year. Arron Asham remains one of the top middleweights in the league. Although a lot depends on which version of Chris Simon will show up, this should be enough to handle a division that is not particularly deep with toughness.
X-Factor: Chris Simon. Which version will show up: the 250 PIM wrecking ball of 2 years ago or the more passive version?
Additions: Chris Simon, Brendan Witt
Subtractions: Eric Godard, John Erskine
After being bruised and battered for most of last season, the Rangers hoped to address their lack of toughness by signing the destructive Colton Orr who returns this year to try to protect another soft Ranger squad. Though showing tremendous improvement in skating and play-making in the pre-season, Orr will often likely be scratched, leaving fighting duties to the aggressive but usually overmatched Ryan Hollweg. Elsewhere, some fragile European bodies have been replaced by more physical wingers in Brendan Shanahan and Adam Hall, but these do not figure to contribute much in the fighting department. The Rangers could be in for some ugly games if Orr is not playing regularly and things get out of hand.
X-Factor: Colton Orr. Can he impress the coaches with his new-found game to earn a regular spot in the lineup and significant minutes?
Additions: Brendan Shanahan
Subtractions: Jason Strudwick
After revamping their level of toughness in 2005-06 and surprising many, the Senators come into this season with one of the league's top tag-teams still intact. Rookie sensation Brian McGrattan will look to prove that his freshman year was no fluke and continue to rack up wins against the toughest fighters the league has to offer. Amidst all of McGrattan's accolades, we can't overlook the fact that Chris Neil had an undefeated regular season last year,
solidifying himself as one of the top light-heavyweights in the league today. Though the loss of Zdeno Chara takes away another fighting option, Neil and McGrattan can handle what most any team can throw the team's way physically.
X-Factor: Brian McGrattan. Will McGrattan's rise up the rankings continue or will he suffer from a sophomore slump this time around?
Subtractions: Zdeno Chara
After looking like they would carry no tough guys for the first time in team history, Coach Hitchcock threw a
curveball and announced that two minor league scrappers, the prolific fighter Riley Cote and scrappy Boyd Kane, had made the big club. After casting off longtime heavyweight Donald Brashear, Cote will take over enforcing duties, earning a spot on the team with constant hustle while more skilled prospects didn't show enough fire for their coach. Another rugged forward, Ben Eager, waits in the wings, and will probably rotate in from the AHL for Kane or Cote when he recovers from some injuries and gets in game shape. Elsewhere, Mike Richards and Derian Hatcher were impressive in the pre-season showing a tenacity that will likely lead them to fight a few times during the year. Finally, hard-hitting defenseman Denis Gauthier rounds out a squad that won't be confused with the Broad Street Bullies of old, but is quite adequate in the new-NHL while Cote remains on the squad.
X-Factor: Riley Cote. Will this very surprising addition to the roster stay up all year and play?
Additions: Riley Cote, Boyd Kane
Subtractions: Donald Brashear, Turner Stevenson
Apparently Wayne Gretzky hasn't forgotten what got him here. In the legacy of Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko, the bruisers that kept The Great One healthy, the Coyotes have assembled one of the toughest teams in the league. After a year in which Gretzky admitted his team was pushed around, the organization invested in Georges Laraque, the currently undisputed heavyweight champion. They also have secured a spot for the exciting light-heavyweight rookie, Josh Gratton. That is a dynamic duo that any team could be proud of, but they are further surrounded with other tough players. These include power forward Owen Nolan,
excellent middleweight Dave Scatchard, and punishing defensemen in Ed Jovanovski, Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. The Phoenix forwards should have plenty of room to operate and star Shane Doan will not have to duplicate the busiest fighting year of his 10 year career. The only worry is if all these tough guys leave the Coyotes on an endless penalty kill.
X-Factor: Georges Laraque. Will pacifist Big Georges let other tough customers around him do all the fighting?
Additions: Georges Laraque, Ed Jovanovski, Owen Nolan, Nick Boynton
Subtractions: Tyson Nash
Pittsburgh will need plenty of muscle for 2006-07 in order to protect the prized young centers Crosby and Malkin and to clean up the messes created by newly acquired super-pest Jarkko Ruutu. Fortunately, they have two heavyweights for the task. Andre Roy returns from an injury plagued year to a regular spot on the 4th line. Eric Cairns will provide extra protection on
occasion, likely serving as the team's 7th defenseman. Elsewhere, forwards like Ryan Malone and Colby Armstrong will play on the top 2 lines with Crosby and Malkin and can both drop the gloves for some immediate protection. Ron Petrovicky and waiver wire claims Karl Stewart and Chris Thorburn round out one of the toughest squads in the NHL. Also look to see if Roy attempts to get revenge on Colton Orr for breaking his jaw last autumn.
X-Factor: Eric Cairns. An injury plagued start to the year is not what will give him the speed to stay in the new-NHL. Will he be more than a spot-starter?
Additions: Ron Petrovicky, Jarkko Ruutu, Karl Stewart, Chris Thorburn
Subtractions: Ryan Vandenbussche, Lyle Odelein
After an injury filled season kept Scott Parker out of the lineup in 05-06, "The Sheriff" will again be ready to do battle for the Sharks and give the team the heavyweight presence it lacked last year. How much ice time Parker will see remains a question, but chances are he will need to be in the lineup often vs. divisional rivals stacked with toughness. Rob Davison will add some fights from the blueline, although he too will have to battle for playing time. Besides them, the Sharks have a very gritty first line that will include newcomer Mark Bell and center Joe Thornton. Fourth line center Mark Smith will add some needed toughness.
X-Factor: Scott Parker. After being injured almost all of last year, how will he pass his first test of surviving in the new-NHL?
Additions: Mark Bell
The Blues enter the season with more than enough toughness to survive in the new-NHL. The team welcomes back Barret Jackman from a broken jaw that shelved him for the end of 05-06 and his unique blend of excellent defense and willingness to fight. It will be worth watching to see how much will he want to risk fight-related injuries to an already injury-plagued career. Meanwhile, fellow defenseman Matt Walker proved he could hang with heavyweights last year in beating Todd Fedoruk but will be
fighting for playing time. Elsewhere, Jamal Mayers had a career year with 15 goals and 15 fights. Many will be thrilled if he can duplicate that peformance. Joining the Blues is Bill Guerin, who will add some toughness to the first line, and lightweight Dan Hinote. Finally, in a surprise move, minor league tough guy D.J. King made the roster as the 13th forward and should add extra grit when needed. It all adds up to a team that should be exciting to watch this season in the fight department.
X-Factor: Matt Walker. Will he get the playing time in his sophomore season to prove he is a legit NHL heavyweight?
Additions: D.J. King, Bill Guerin, Dan Hinote
Yet another Southeast team that has abandoned the concept of a heavyweight fighter, Tampa looks forward to another year of being soft. Gone is the ineffective heavyweight Chris Dingman and only Nick Tarnasky saves the team from having to rely on star center, Vinny Lecavalier, to handle the fights this season. The rookie made the team out of training camp, and is a hard-working forward who has averaged 14 fights the past two years in the AHL to go along with 2 preseason bouts this year. Whether he gets the minutes to take the load off of Lecavalier and Cory Sarich is another story. Defenseman Doug Janik also made the team and can add some toughness until the recovering Paul Ranger takes his spot. Meanwhile, slugger Mitch Fritz will have to wait for a call up from the AHL where the
monstrous forward will again start the year after being one of the final cuts from training camp. Until that happens, it could be a very dull year in terms of physical play from a team which only two seasons ago dressed two heavyweights for nearly every post-season game of a successful Stanley Cup championship.
X-Factor: Mitch Fritz. Can he crack the NHL sometime this year... finally?
Additions: Nick Tarnasky
Subtractions: Chris Dingman
With the retirement of long time enforcer Tie Domi happening just weeks ago, a new era of Leafs toughness will begin this season. Wade Belak will finally get his chance to prove he was the top guy all along and rebound from an otherwise sub-par 2005-06 season. Darcy Tucker will most likely continue to spend his time both scoring and dropping the gloves when the need arises. Hulking defenseman Hal Gill is a nice addition to a defense that became severely depleted this offseason. Ben Ondrus is another scrappy player who may spend time with both the Leafs and their affiliate in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies.
X-Factor: Wade Belak. Belak finally has his chance to shine. Will he silence all of the doubters who say that his time has passed by having a breakout year?
Additions: Hal Gill, Jay Harrison
Subtractions: Tie Domi, Eric Lindros
The Canucks were gutted of much of their top talent in the off-season (most notably Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski, and Bryan Allen). In addition to those rugged skill players, most of their traditional toughness has been lost as well. Heavyweight Wade Brookbank and pest Jarkko Ruutu have moved on leaving a much softer Canuck squad. That leaves Kevin Bieksa, the undefeated rookie middleweight from last year who now has a full time defensive job in 06-07. Fans are counting on him to be the team's answer to rough stuff but he has never fought heavyweights before. Another possibility is the recently demoted Rick Rypien. Coach Alain Vigneault has already stated that he will be welcoming Rypien with open arms back up to the big club once he recovers from a thumb injury, giving the Canucks another option. Elsewhere, Willie Mitchell, Alex Burrows and Matt Cooke should be good for a few scraps.
X-Factor: Kevin Bieksa. Can he step up in class to serve as an enforcer?
Additions: Willie Mitchell
Subtractions: Wade Brookbank, Jarkko Ruutu, Bryan Allen, Todd Bertuzzi, Ed Jovanovski
While most of their division rivals won't dress a heavyweight fighter this year, the Capitals smartly decided to invest in not one, but two in order to protect phenom Alexander Ovechkin. Heavyweight title contender Donald Brashear joins the team, as does bruising defenseman, John Erskine, fresh off a break-out year in 05-06. Together they will make sure no one touches the future of the franchise. Their presence alone should scare off most of the Southeast division from even thinking of harming A.O. The Capitals are also bolstered by a plethora of scrappy forwards, including the new captain, Chris Clark, Brian Sutherby, Matt Bradley, and Ben Clymer. Even Ovechkin himself backed up his physical style of play by dropping the gloves this pre-season. It promises to be an entertaining year to watch the Capitals, although one wonders who the team will be squaring off against when they have more capable fighters than their entire division put together.
X-Factor: Donald Brashear. Criticized for his lack of fighting in Philadelphia at times, how active will he be in a division where there is no one to fight?
Additions: Donald Brashear, John Erskine
Subtractions: Nolan Yonkman, Brendan Witt
Contributors: John Chandler, Jamie Fitzgerald, Jon Porus, Jamie Ranney
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