If, according to Gainey, this is the end of additions through free agency (barring unbelievable opportunities), then I thought it would be worth looking at the line up.
The forward lines look similar to last year with a few more young faces. I would line things up this way:
1) Higgins Koivu Ryder
2) Kostitsyn Plekanec Kovalev
3) Lapierre Smolinski Latendresse
4) Begin Chipchura Milroy
Reserves: Locke, Grabovski, Murray
I like the top line, though if there were some way to get Ryder working on line 2, it would be great to have Kovalev with Koivu, in my opinion. Kostitsyn has the most potential of all the young forwards, barring Higgins. He should be up on line 2, and he could do some damage with Plekanec. Latendresse would be on the PP, but being on the third line, as opposed to the fourth might be good for him. Milroy led the Bulldogs in the regular season, and he might translate his success to the NHL like Ryder, Plekanec and Higgins before him. I'd take the chance. I would like to see Locke there somewhere, but he could slot in if there's an injury.
The scoring might be difficult again unless Higgins improves and Kostitsyn really starts to contribute (e.g., more than 20 goals), but I do like the way there are no real laggards on the bottom 2 lines.
The defense also has a similar look, though Hamrlik is in. I would line them up this way:
1) Markov Komisarek
2) Hamrlik O'Byrne
3) Bouillon Streit
Reserves: Gorges, Dandenault
Depending on the opponents, Streit could be used up front. I see Dandenault dressing for a lot of games based on this and other strategical adjustments.
The goalies are easy, presuming Aebischer is gone:
I like Price, but he'll have his time. He could benefit from trying to translate playoff success into consistent results over 80 games. I would prefer that he learns this on Hamilton. The advantage will be that he plays a lot, and we continue to get good value out of Huet, who should return to form.
Overall, I think the team is alright. We could still use a defenseman to come in and coach our corps. Gainey must know someone. Our defensive forward tutelage is obviously top-notch, but our defensemen could use some help. I think the team is good enough to make the playoffs, and inexperienced enough to miss. I take comfort in knowing that a team on paper is not a team on the ice – you only have to look at Buffalo 2005/6, panned by critics before the season and lauded after they'd seen them play.
I guess we'll have to be patient and reserve judgement on this group too. (I can hear it though: Plekanec passe la rondelle a Kostitsyn, le feinte, il batte Toskala, le but ouvert... et le but... [insert this year's U2 goal song])
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