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PostSubject: SEASON PREVIEW, 2014-15   Sat Oct 04, 2014 1:02 pm

The start of the 2014-15 season is just a few days away. Ten teams will be competing for the elusive FHL Cup. After last Sunday’s draft some teams are already facing an uphill climb. Others stand poised to pounce. Following is a brief look at all 10 FHL Cup contenders.

GM Hamilton cleaned up last year largely on the strength of his defense and goaltending. With only two goalies starting for each team in 2014-15, defensemen and forwards are projected to administer most of the damage. In the forward department, the Bluliners are solid having secured the services of Alexander Ovechkin and John Tavares in the opening round. Zach Parise, Daniel Sedin and Ryan O’Reilly would follow. The Bluliners selected their first defenseman in Round 2, inking Victor Hedman. The breakout star was later joined by Niklas Kronwall and Dan Boyle. Corey Crawford and Mike Smith were the first to be seated in goal.

BOTTOM LINE: The Bluliners should be fine at the forward position. Ovechkin and Tavares are money while a healthy Parise - playing for an arguably better team - should provide plenty of support. The defense will need an upgrade. Spoiled by the play of Erik Karlsson last year, Hamilton is now banking on a 38 year-old Boyle and a defense-minded Kronwall to fill the void. They won’t.

GM Morgan has been thinking “defense first” since joining the league in 1993. Nothing changed this year as the two-time Cup winner selected Erik Karlsson with the 3rd overall pick. The Ottawa forward-wannabe was later paired with point-hog and emergency ward-regular Kris Letang. Flyer-favorite Claude Giroux was inked in the first round. Giroux was later joined by Jason Spezza and Gabriel Landeskog. Semyon Varlamov and Jimmy Howard were employed to guard the net.

BOTTOM LINE: If Karlsson and Letang stay healthy - and that’s a big "if" for Letang - the Flyers will be in it for the long haul. Only one other team (Wild Ducks) can compete with that level of defensive firepower. The forwards will have to be good-enough; not a sure thing with the on-a-better-team-but-oft-injured Jason Spezza holding forward job No. 2. Youngster Landeskog has a large upside but a large upside cannot be cashed at the bank. On paper the Flyers look competitive but will need to upgrade the forward slot if they want to hoist their 3rd FHL Cup.

The Dream Team appeared to wearing their Thinking Cap as they went forward-goalie-forward-forward with their first four picks. Some pundits argued that a defenseman (Weber) or forward (Tavares) with pick No. 2 might have been a better choice, but the young franchise appears to be on the right track. That track actually leading to an FHL Cup depends on the play of Corey Perry, Anze Kopitar and Patrick Sharp on the front line; Kevin Shattenkirk and Jason Garrison on the blueline and Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky in net.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite drafting forwards with 3 of their first 4 picks, the forward position isn’t especially intimidating. Good, yes; scary-good, no. This wouldn’t be a huge issue if the forward crew were supported by blue chip blueliners. The defensive corp is good, but Shattenkirk, Garrison and Torey Krug don’t strike fear in the hearts of fantasy hockey men. Without a defensive upgrade, GM Austin's team likely won't be planting a flag on top of Mt. FHL at the conclusion of the season

The forward-thinking Ice Cats were again thinking forward at the draft, scooping up four forwards with their first four picks. Patrick Kane was reeled-in first, followed by Phil Kessel, Jamie Benn and Jordan Eberle. Defenseman Alex Petrangelo was inked in the 3rd round. Pietrangelo was later joined on the blueline by Tyson Barrie and Alexander Edler. Antti Niemi and Steve Mason were seated in goal.

BOTTOM LINE: Kane, Kessel and Benn could very well be the best three-man rotation the league. However when you load up on one position, other positions suffer. Such is the case on the blueline. Assist-loving Pietrangelo is solid but he simply doesn’t score enough goals. Barrie is young and unproven. Edler isn't that good. While the forwards can carry a lot of weight, the weight might be too big a load to bare if help isn’t found for the questionable blueline.

In a year when goaltending isn’t necessarily a game-changer, Steve Henry, the two-time champion and goalie-loving GM changed course; nabbing Steven Stamkos with his first pick. Stamkos was followed by another forward, Ryan Getzlaf. At that point Henry couldn’t help himself, using his next two picks to ink goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Marc-Andre Fleury. The first defenseman (Mike Green) wasn't picked until round No. 3. Green was joined on the blueline by Mark Giordanno and Dion Phaneuf.

BOTTOM LINE: If Stamkos can skate on both legs in 2014-15, the sniper should wreck a devastating amount of havoc. Getzlaf is no slouch. These two alone could keep the Ice Hog snouts above water. The defense however could drag the team under as Green appears to have lost his touch while Giordano (one hit wonder?) and Phaneuf (fading star?) are far from a sure-thing. That said, if Green’s play is rekindled and Phaneuf remembers he used to score a ton of goals, the Ice Hogs will contend.

With everyone downplaying the role of the goaltender, the Miscondcuts curiously selected goaltenders (Tuuka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist) with their first two picks; passing on the likes of Tavares, Getzlaf, Giroux and Weber to ink Lundquvist with pick No. 2. The strategy left GM Smalley with slimmer pickings as the draft progressed, inking Jonathan Toews and Zedno Chara to anchor the forward and defensive slots respectively. Nicklas Backstrom and Chris Kunitz were called upon to support Toews. Justin Schultz and Andrei Markov were summoned to help Chara.

BOTTOM LINE: If GM Smalley is to win his 3rd FHL Cup, the Misconducts are going to need another coat of paint. The goaltending will be fine but gaping holes - especially at the defensive position - could form as the season progresses. Chara is an aging star while Justin Schultz’s best days may be another year or two in the future. The 35 year-old Markov is serviceable, but serviceable doesn’t win championships.

The Polar Bears were in the hunt for much of last season, largely because their play from the blueline (Subban and Byfuglien). This position was ignored early as GM Elya went forward-goalie-goalie (Tyler Seguin, Ben Bishop, Pekka Rinne) with his first three picks. Defender Keith Yandle was collected with the team’s 4th pick. Yandle was later joined on the blueline by Brent Burns and Christian Ehrhoff. James van Riemsdyk and Tomas Hertl would lock arms with Seguin.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite not loading up on defenseman the Polar Bears are one of the top defensive teams. Burns could find himself floating between the position of defenseman and forward - which typically generates more points - while Ehrhoff could be a 3rd round steal as the veteran blueliner is now passing pucks to offensively gifted Penguins. If the Bears are to win the Cup, GM Elya will likely need forward reinforcements as the current crew appear to be skating on thin ice.

Hoping for a return to the glory days of 2012-13 (second place overall) GM Megan selected Taylor Hall and his still untapped game with her first pick. P.K. Subban was anointed captain of the rearguards. Forwards Matt Duchene and Joe Thornton would take a seat next to Hall. Mark Streit and Brian Campbell joined Subban on the blueline. Kari Lehtonen and Ryan Miller were positioned in net.

BOTTOM LINE: The top of the Redliner team is solid as Hall, Subban and Lehtonen can go toe-to-toe with any forward-defeseman-goaltender threesome in the league. Teams however are comprised of 12 starters and that's where problems begin to surface. No depth. While the forward position can likely hold the fort, Streit and Campbell don’t pack much of a punch on the blueline. The pop supplied by Subban will only go so far. If help isn’t found during the season another Cup-less year is in store.

The Timbers are back and they’re searching for their first FHL championship. The search party is lead by superstar Evgeni Malkin, budding superstar Nathan MacKinnon, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and now-a-full-time-starter Cory Schneider. Helping search, among others, are Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty and Brian Elliot.

BOTTOM LINE: On paper the Timbers look like contenders. What the paper doesn’t reveal however is the questionable health of much of the team. The oft-injured Malkin is injured again. The oft-injured Datsyuk is injured again. The oft-injured Gaborik is injured again. Hossa has also been shelved as the first week of the season beckons. Overcoming an injury to a key player has been accomplished in the past; sidestepping a plague is impossible. For the Timbers to compete for the Cup, GM Sarzynski will have to be both good and healthy.

With a load of FHL championships already stuffed in their back pocket, the Wild Ducks have enough ammunition in their coffer to bag another. Sidney Crosby, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Henrik Zetterberg anchor the forward slot; Shea Weber and Dustin Byfuglien are the top defenders while The Andersons - Frederik and Craig - have been hired to guard the twine.

BOTTOM LINE: Any team housing Sidney Crosby typically has as chance. The Ducks also have one of the best bluelines in the league. Weber and Byfuglien combined for 43 goals last year. No team can match those numbers. Not surprisingly the Ducks are thinnest in net. Neither Anderson is a sure thing as Fred is competing for a job in Anaheim while shaky Craig is backstopping a bad team. With the goalie position being a relatively easy fix, it shouldn’t derail the Ducks as they begin their quest for a league-best 8th FHL championship.
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