Since the lockout, the Montreal Canadiens have been very consistent in qualifying for the post-season. After a while a Habs fan, like me, starts to expect at least a playoff birth come every April. Before today, it hadn’t even dawned on me that it’ll be a tad harder for Montreal to see any of the second season.
I say this not because I don’t have faith in Canadiens, or that I that I that they’re bad, but because the Northwest division has improved immensely. In years prior the Habs and Bruins were the only playoff contenders in the NW, however, in the off season both the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs made crucial improvements to their roster that make them playoff contenders.
Buffalo Sabres: Last season Buffalo witnessed a shakeup for the better in the ownership department. They now have an owner who’s not afraid to dish out some cash if it means winning. He proved this by signing Leino, Ehrhoff, Regehr and Boyes. With Boyes and Leino, combined with the likes of Vanek, Roy, Stafford, Pomminville, Ennis and Gerbe, makes for a great offence. As for defence, Ehrhoff and Regehr join forces with Myers and Gragnani to make a rock solid defencive core. Buffalo already has one of the league’s elite goaltenders in Ryan Miller, so there is nothing to worry about between the pipes.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs did make some moves, although they are pretty minuscule when compared to all of Buffalo’s vast sea of moves. For forwards, TML signed Tim Connoly. Not likley to do much though, the once sniper has struggled in recent years with the Sabres and is not expected to notch more than 45- 50 points this season. The other Leaf signing was given to a d-man, John-Michael Liles. Liles will add a veteran presence to a young team. Through trade, Toronto was able to get much more. Toronto made a deal with Nashville that saw Matthew Lombardi and Cody Franson in exchange for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney. Lebda would be later bought out, so Nashville essentially gave Lombardi and Franson away. More recently, Toronto acquired David Steckel for a 4th round pick. Steckel can basically win any faceoff he’s in. He showed that last night against the Habs. He kept the puck away from them all night long. If Reimer can avoid a sophomore slump, Toronto has an OK chance at the playoffs.
Montreal Canadiens: Montreal didn’t make many moves, but made effective ones. The Habs beefed up their offence by signing Erik Cole and claiming Blair Betts. Montreal’s goaltending also improved by signing Peter Budaj to back up Carey Price.
I’m not saying these two teams are better than the Canadiens, all I’m saying is that having to play these two teams more often than the rest of the league, will provide Montreal some serious competition and make it that much harder to get wins.
So that leaves 4 teams in the Northwest with serious shots at clinching the playoffs: Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. History would show that usually only 3 teams max, from a division will make the playoffs. Who’ll be Left out?
Let’s hope Price is our savior for the second year in a row and let him carry us to the post-season.
Habs are back in action on Sunday when they play the Jets in the first ever regular season NHL game at the MTS centre. Post game right here on thehockeyhouse.net
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Photo: (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)