In 1991-1992 Kelly Buchberger was on a tare. Playing tough third line and sometimes fourth line minutes. Buchie put up career numbers in every statistical category: goals, assists, points, +/-, shots, ice-time, and topped 150 penalty minutes for the fourth consecutive year. He was one of 8 Oilers to score 20 goals, he tied for 7th on the team in points (44), and even had more penalty minutes than enforcer Louie Debrusk. That’s some year.
The ’91-’92 Oilers were a resilient bunch. That off-season the team had traded Hall-of-famers Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri. They also dealt important role players who had been with the team for years and through the grind of a mitt full of Cup runs in Steve Smith and Kenny Linseman. Even Coach John Muckler took off. The Oil were a shell of their former selves.
That didn’t stop them from reaching their 2nd straight Conference Final though. Thanks to a team effort on offense spearheaded by newly acquired Vincent Damphousse and 1990 Stanley Cup holdover Joe Murphy, the goaltending of Bill Ranford, and the veteran leadership of Kevin Lowe, the Oil bled, fought, scratched, and clawed their way to the 3rd round of the playoffs. All with Buchberger chippin’ in his share of big goals and fights. Who knew that would be the last time the Oilers would make it to the Conference Final until 2006? Ummm, pretty much everybody actually. Boy were they terrible in 1993. Worse in 1994. Ughhh.
Nonetheless the ’91-’92 season was without question Buchie’s high-water mark. In fact, 1991-1992 was a bit of a watershed year for myself too. That was the year I went to Disneyland. Hollar!!!! First time on an airplane, first time high-fivin’ Mickey Mouse, and the first-time I was ever in Mexico. Good times.
Anway, Buchie never came close to duplicating those types of numbers for the rest of his career. But for one glorious season he shot out the lights. Tonight I plan to do the same with my Pre-season predictions. On the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the commencement of Kelly Buchberger’s finest season in the greatest hockey league on Earth I give you the 2011-2012 NHL season in advance.
Hold on to your butts.
The East should be better this year. The gap between the playoff teams and the playoff contenders has closed a little bit. Not necessarily because of the top teams getting weaker, rather the bottom teams have improved. With the exception of maybe the Senators every team has a chance to challenge for a playoff spot well into February. That should make the trade deadline interesting at least.
The Division winners:
1. (Southeast) Washington Capitals
2. (Atlantic) Pittsburgh Penguins
3. (Northeast) Boston Bruins
– No surprises here. The three most complete teams in the conference should win the day. The Caps should run away with things a touch and Pittsburgh and Boston might get a little scare from Buffalo and Philadelphia respectively, but for the most part these clubs are the favourites out of the gate.
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. Philadelphia Flyers
– Buffalo is the most improved team in the conference. The additions of Erhoff, Leino, and Regehr give them a depth they haven’t had since their President Cup trophy season back in 20o7. If healthy they could challenge the B’s in the Northeast.
– We know Tampa won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year like they did last year. We also know that Guy Boucher is an excellent coach. We also know that Stamkos, Lecavalier, and St. Louis might be the best trio in the league. And we know that Roloson is the best goalie at 41 in the history of the game. And we also know that Steve Yzerman will only improve the team as the season goes on. Attention Washington Capitals your window for success just got a little smaller.
– We know Philly will contend this year the question is how much. Bryzgalov will make them a strong regular season team but if they get Boston in the 1st round of the playoffs they are done. I am also interested to see where they are going to get the offense from after trading Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
The Playoff Challengers:
7. New York Rangers
8. Montreal Canadiens
9. New Jersey Devils
10. Carolina Hurricanes
Each one of these teams has question marks on defense going into the season. For New York it’s health. Now that Marc Staal is experiencing concussion like symptoms how much depth do they have? For Montreal it’s health too. Is Markov going to be healthy enough to play 40-60 games? For New Jersey they lack depth. They need a monster year from Volchenkov and a bounce-back year from Tallinder. And for Carolina it’s who is going to be their shut-down guy. Bryan Allen? I don’t think so.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs
12. Florida Panthers
13. New York Islanders
14. Winnipeg Jets
– I was talking to a Leafs fan yesterday and I asked him if there was any bad players on the Leafs. He said no. He is delusional. So to are you if you think they are going to make the playoffs on the hopes that Tim Connolly is a number one center, that James Reimer is going to be as good for 60 games as he was last year, and that Dion Phaneuf is still a Norris Trophy candidate. Ha.
– I would love to put Florida higher because I actually think they have made some nice additions to the club. I especially like the signings of Marcel Goc and Scottie Upshall. Goc might have been the best Predator last year before he got hurt and Upshall would look pretty sick in Oiler silks right about now. Damn. Still, there are question marks in goal for the Cats, and the blueline has some holes in it.
– No goalie for the Islanders and a defense corp that’s still learning means that spectacular offense will make for some high scoring games out on the Island. A top 9 of Tavares, Bailey, Okposo, Moulson, Grabner, Niederreter, Nielsen, Comeau, and Rolston, aint too shabby. Look out for Ryan Strome if and when he makes this team. Yikes.
– I really want Winnipeg to be good. I do. But I just don’t see where this team is going to get goals from. I expect Byfuglien and Ladd to be good for 20 goals each but after that they are hoping and praying for some young kids to break out. The blueline is still questionable, as is the goaltending. However, if the MTS Centre is rocking every night like it was last night then they might go over .500 at home and that could be enough to make them a playoff contender. I hope so.
15. Ottawa Senators
– Bryan Murray started a rebuild last year and I’m not completely convinced he’ll be around by the end of it. There are going to be some dark days ahead for the Sens. On a lighter note, Binghamton was pretty good last year. They won the Calder Cup and will feed the big club some pretty good prospects: Bobby Bulter, Eric Condra, Patrick Wiercioch, and Robin Lehner. Not to mention the big kid Jared Cowen who looks like a player, and that Swede they drafted this year, Mika Zibanejad. They’ll be good one day. Not today though.
And the rest:
Best goalies: Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas
Best scorers: Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos
Best d-men: Zdeno Chara and Marc Staal
Best coaches: Guy Boucher and Dan Bylsma
Breakout year candidate: Thomas Vokoun (Washington Capitals) *Though he has been good for years his numbers should go up across the board playing for a good team.
Up next: The Campbell Conference