Preview: One team is overshadowed by the Miami Heat. The other is from New Jersey. Neither team is expected to win the Cup, but because the way teams are seeded we get the Devils and Panthers. I’m gonna be honest, if you’re just trying to get into hockey, I’d probably recommend watching another series. This is the Grizzlies-Spurs of the NHL. Apologizes to the Grizzlies and Spurs.
Panthers: Dale Tallon – Dale Tallon is not a player, he’s the team’s general manager. Still, after years of being a terrible, bottom feeding team, Tallon was hired as GM and basically gutted the entire team, choosing to rebuild them with free agents and trades. As a result, the Florida Panthers barely resemble last year’s team. But hey, they won the division and are in the playoffs, so Tallon deserves credit for turing around the team.
Devils: Ilya Kovalchuk – Their superstar player, acquired from the dearly departed Atlanta Thrashers, put up 83 points in his first full season with the Devils. He’s still one of the most game-changing wingers in the game, but his long contract with the Devils assures he’ll be staying with the team, even if other vital pieces leave via free agency or retirement. For now, Kovy’s their guy.
Most Wonderful Surprise:
Panthers: Jason Garrison – Everyone figured this guy was a defensive defenseman, albeit a not very good one. This season, he decided to show everyone that he’s got a wicked slapshot, and ended the year with 16 goals, 2nd in the NHL for defenseman behind two
guys who got 19. Garrison is an upcoming free agent and will likely look to cash out on his stellar two-way play, but for now he’s a Panther.
Devils: Adam Henrique – You know what really helps a rookie his first year in the NHL? Having guys like Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on your line for good chunks of the season. 51 points makes him a contender for rookie of the year, but Henrique’s gotta thank his lucky stars for the chances he was given this season.
Panthers: Ed Jovanovski – Jovocop, my favorite nickname for him, was drafted 1st overall by the Panthers all the way in the 1994 draft. After stops in Phoenix and Vancouver, he signed with the Panthers, but has definitely lost a step as far as his game is concerned.
While he’ll add a nice veteran presence to the team, look for the Panthers to rely on other defenders in clutch situations.
Devils: Martin Brodeur – He’s probably one of the top 3 goaltenders of all time, everything considered. But as every year passes, his skill deteriorates, and although he’ll most likely retire as a Devil, the sad truth is New Jersey will need to find another starting goalie sooner rather than later.
Panthers: Erik Gudbranson – This young defenseman struggled at times in his first full pro season, but his type of aggressive, physical game is perfect for the playoffs. If there’s anytime for Gudbranson to take the next step, it’s right now.
Devils: Zach Parise – Fans of the other 29 teams are licking their chops, as Parise becomes a free agent in the upcoming offseason and is by far the best forward available. Everybody wants him, and he knows a hot playoffs would make him that more valuable when it’s time to listen to offers. But one has to wonder if there’s any tension in the locker room considering Parise has made no attempts to get a contract extension with New Jersey.
Devils in 6 in a boring series.