And They're Off!
It's an interesting contrast that while the Blue Jays seem to have little or no playoff future while playing in the American League East with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Maple Leafs are in entirely the opposite situation while skating in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
There's absolutely no excuse for them NOT to be in the post-season next spring.
While the East is, don't forget, the conference that produced the 2004 and 2006 Stanley Cup champions, it is a conference that goes into the 2006-07 season without any team that looks particularly dominating or threatening.
Few believe Carolina can repeat. Tampa's still reconfiguring. Philly get a goalie yet? Buffalo's still fighting the budget crunch. Ottawa is still, well, Ottawa, but now without the towering presence of Zdeno Chara.
In fact, you could argue that the top five favourites for the '07 Cup are all from the Western Conference. They would be:
1. Calgary . . . Beefed up scoring with the addition of Alex Tanguay, maybe the best blueline corps in the league.
2. Anaheim . . . Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger can play so much that the Ducks could go with three D-men and 15 forwards.
3. Vancouver . . . Collective team I.Q. skyrocketed over the off-season. Roberto Luongo can carry this team.
4. San Jose . . . A disappointing dismissal at the hands of Edmonton should not obscure the depth and talent on the Sharks.
5. Minnesota Wild . . . A team that has finally added payroll and star power.
Now, somebody from the east will have to emerge. It's like, in the rules.
And unless it's Ottawa, finally, it'll be a team that's as much a surprise as was Carolina a year ago.