Season Preview: Ranking The Eastern Conference Forwards

Say what you want about Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, but the man has his own beliefs and sticks to them.

Burke has long suggested you can win a Stanley Cup with the simple forward formula of a skilled top-six and a gritty bottom six.

It’s this formula that he’s applying to the Leafs, while foregoing the traditional approach of rebuilding through the draft.

We’re entering the third year of Burke’s rebuilding experiment, and a few things are starting to become clear.

One, by not rebuilding through the draft, the Leafs have essentially limited their access to the best young, cheap, high-end talent available.

Secondly, the Leafs forward ranks, while still mid-20s young, are especially thin in skill.

This wouldn’t be a big issue except, since the NHL lockout, Stanley Cup contenders have had a common mix up-front.

Strength down the middle; speed; size; young skilled players who contribute without playing big minutes; and strong defensive role players who help the systems game and bring character to the fold.

Scanning the Leafs roster – this “contender” mix is one the Leafs aren’t anywhere close to icing, now or in the near future.

Here are the teams with the best Eastern Conference forwards heading into 2010-11, based on individual player ratings of their likely starting-12.

A+ Grade


The first three lines can play go-go hockey, and Alex Ovechkin has something to prove. Not sure how committed they are to their own zone though, and while Eric Belanger is a useful player, he can’t be a 2C. Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich or someone else will have to step up.

A Grade


Gino Malkin and Sidney Crosby are two of the top-three forwards in the game, and will play on the same line this year more than ever before. Huge drop-off in offensive talent after these two though. Jordan Staal has to take another offensive step, and/or Eric Tangradi has to be an impact rookie, to take the pressure off the team’s top two players. Nice grit, speed on the wings.

A- Grade


Probably best group of centres in the league, including Blair Betts, one of the leagues most underrated defensive players. Without a glaring weakness, this collection of forwards has size, depth, scoring, and can play at both ends. Does Bobby Clarke know Nikolai Zherdev is a Flyer? Just can’t see this partnership ending well between the player and team.


Maybe the best collection of forward the Bruins have had since the late 80s/early 90s. Good size, grit on the wings. If Nathan Horton shows a pulse at all, he’ll score 30 this year.

B+ Grade

New Jersey

Maybe the strongest group of forwards the Devils have had since their Cup runs. Depth is an issue on the 3rd and 4th lines, and speed isn’t exactly the strength of this bunch. There’ll be a lot of pressure on Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias to re-create magic, but any offense from Vladimir Zharkov would be a huge boost and take the burden off the team’s veterans.

B Grade

Tampa Bay

Pretty strong offensive talent on the top-two lines, but this is a group that has to play better in their own zone. Simon Gagne and Dom Moore might help in this area. Vincent Lecavalier is half the player he used to be (92 goals from 2006-2008, 53 goals from 2009-present).


Jason Spezza and company are solid all-around, but aren’t truly excellent in any one way. Health is a concern, and there’s no scoring beyond the first two lines. A lot of pressure on Peter Regin to inject some offense into this mix.

New York Rangers

Group of forwards in desperate need of a gifted, offensive centre. Balanced on the wings, especially if Alex Frolov has a comeback year offensively. If Marian Gaborik repeats last year’s performance, does he get MVP consideration? He had twice the goals of anyone else on the team.


Fast, young, but not overly big, Sabres forwards are also lacking a top-end offensive threat. Thomas Vanek has all the tools to be the elite scorer they need, but at 26, he’s seemingly peaked early in his career.

C+ Grade

New York Islanders

Quietly, some nice pieces are being assembled here. A very young group, but one that has elements of size, speed and skill. Not exactly a responsible group defensively though, and still lacking depth, particularly at centre. Not sure how bringing Doug Weight back solves anything. He’s a nice guy, a good captain, but skates like he’s in quicksand these days.

C Grade


Shifty group that played above-its-head in last year’s playoffs. They’re not very big, and offensively it’s not a deep collection of talent. Lars Eller will be under the microscope, having been traded for playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. Thankfully, all he needs to do is play some solid bottom-6 minutes to fill a gaping hole up-front.


On paper, this is big, nasty, rugged collection of forwards that will have a difficult time scoring goals. Speed might be an issue, and the depth at centre is awfully shallow. A comeback year from Bryan Little would really help.


It’s rebuilding time in Carolina. Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter are the lone bright-lights up-front. Decent grit though.

D+ Grade


There’s Phil Kessel, and then there’s everyone else. Scoring depth is a major concern, although there’s a bit of speed and lots of size in the mix. Nazeem Kadri will be leaned on heavily to play as a top-line centre, which might not be the best thing for his development.


Not very big, not very fast and not very young either. David Booth and Mikael Frolik look like the only “keepers” on a team that’ll look far different at the end of the season.

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1 Response

  1. Xthe_gorgeousxs says:

    seriously though, you might want to stick to canucks hockey, brutal rankings

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