Oct 062011
 

After more than a month of review, analysis, and rankings, it’s time to predict what will actually happen in the upcoming NHL season.

If you take all things into consideration, one thing becomes abundantly clear – parity. No team is very strong at each position (coach, goalie, defence, forward), and most teams are only a shade better or worse than another.

It looks like all the same teams that made the playoffs last year have a good chance of making it again this year. As we’ve discussed though, it’s rare that there’s so little change in the standings from year-to-year. Injuries therefore will be the biggest factor in determining who plays on in April and who doesn’t.

This time last year I predicted Boston as the Stanley Cup champion. Read on to find out this year’s predicted winner:

 Western Conference

  1. Vancouver 110-115 points
  2. Anaheim 105-110
  3. Nashville 100-105
  4. Chicago 100-105
  5. San Jose 90-95
  6. Detroit 90-95
  7. St. Louis 90-95
  8. Los Angeles 90-95
  9. Calgary 80-85
  10. Edmonton 75-80
  11. Colorado 70-75
  12. Dallas 70-75
  13. Phoenix 70-75
  14. Minnesota 65-70
  15. Columbus 55-60

Notes on the above:

  • Surprisingly, I have the Predators rated the best team in the Conference (based on very strong goaltending, defence and coaching scores). Nashville plays in a brutally tough division though. Vancouver plays in the weakest division in the league, and that should lead them to another 1st place showing.
  • I have Chicago, LA and Vancouver rated roughly the same. I don’t have a non-playoff team rated anywhere near the top-8 teams in the West.
  • Could be significantly better than they’re ranked: San Jose (if Niemi plays a full season like his half-season last year); Colorado (if the kids are healthy and Varlamov is a legit goalie); St. Louis (if Halak is healthy and the youth take the next step).
  • Could be significantly worse than they’re ranked: Anaheim (if any of their core gets hurt they have very little depth); Detroit (if Jimmy Howard is only adequate and age catches up to the team); Phoenix (if their goaltending is as weak as expected).
  • Could miss the playoffs: Their division is so tough, a slow start or injury troubles could kill St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago or Nashville’s playoff chances.
  • Could make the playoffs with some luck: Calgary (if Mikka Kiprusof has some magic left, Iginla stays healthy and they incredibly find some secondary scoring).

 Eastern Conference

  1. Washington 110-115
  2. Boston 105-110
  3. Pittsburgh 105-110
  4. Philadelphia 100-105
  5. Buffalo 100-105
  6. Montreal 90-95
  7. NY Rangers 90-95
  8. Tampa Bay 85-90
  9. New Jersey 80-85
  10. Toronto 80-85
  11. Carolina 75-80
  12. NY Islanders 70-75
  13. Winnipeg 70-75
  14. Ottawa 60-65
  15. Florida 55-60

Notes on the above:

  • Pittsburgh is the highest rated team in the Conference, but its close between them, Boston and Washington. Given the weakness of Washington’s division, the Capitals are likely to take first place.
  • I think the travel schedule of teams in the Southeast Division will have a negative impact on how those teams compete in the standings.  
  • Could be significantly better than they’re ranked: New York Rangers (depends how the kids progress and if Brad Richards performs); New Jersey (depends on Martin Brodeur, Adam Larsson and Mattias Tedenby); New York Islanders (if they get any goaltending they could be in the playoff mix).
  • Could be significantly worse than they’re ranked: Toronto (Corporately, Brian Burke has to get his team into the playoffs this year. The team is awfully young and inexperienced though); Montreal (if Carey Price goes down look out); Tampa Bay (similar to Montreal, they cannot afford a Dwayne Roloson injury).
  • Could miss the playoffs if things don’t gel right: Philadelphia (Chris Pronger’s injury prone, no one really knows what Jaromir Jagr will do and the kids are still kids).
  • Could make the playoffs with some luck: Carolina (great goaltending, okay defence and Eric Staal is an elite player).

Other fearless predictions for the upcoming season:

  • Conference Finals: Washington over Pittsburgh in the East; Chicago over Nashville in the West
  • Stanley Cup Final: Chicago over Washington
  • Chicago plays Vancouver in the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
  • Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combine to play 120 games this year. Only one of them is available come playoff time.
  • With the Toronto Maple Leafs not making the playoffs, Brian Burke removes himself from the GM position and takes his place as President of the hockey club.
  • Phil Kessel is rumoured to be traded all year.
  • Jaromir Jagr is the most entertaining thing about the new season of HBO 24/7.
  • Lou Lamoriello retires at the end of the season. So does Martin Brodeur, Niklas Lidstrom, Teemu Selanne and Jaime Langenbrunner.
  • The Predators do not trade or re-sign Shea Weber, leaving him a UFARFA for 2012-13.
  • The NHL and NHLPA do not come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series over the New York Yankees. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera promptly retire.
  • Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla fail to score 30 goals.
  • James Neal, Taylor Hall, John Tavares and Tyler Seguin each score 30 goals.
  • A year after her divorce, a Christina Aguilera sex tape is leaked online.
  • The War Horse marks the beginning of the end of Steven Speilberg’s career as a director. It’s awful.
  • Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith do divorce after all.
  • Slash does not appear on stage with Guns N’ Roses at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
  • The Toronto Blue Jays bid on Prince Fielder.
  • There is another recession.
  • Game of Thrones sets new viewing records for HBO.
  • Only Two Broke Girls, The New Girl and Prime Suspect earn a second TV season on a major US television network.
  • The Office without Steve Carrell is terrible.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is the highest scoring rookie. Nino Niederrater wins the Calder Trophy.
  • Alex Ovechkin wins the Art Ross and is the only player to crack 100 points.
  • Jonathan Toews wins the Hart.
  • Shea Weber wins the Norris.
  • Roberto Luongo wins the Vezina.
  • Tuukka Rask replaces Tim Thomas as Bruin starter at some point this season.
  • Shane Doan is traded from Phoenix at his request.
  • Jose Theodore is traded by Florida at the trade deadline.
  • It’s all but confirmed the Phoenix Coyotes will play in Quebec City starting in 2014.
  • The Blue Jackets’ Scott Arniel is the first coach fired. Ron Wilson is next, and whoever replaces Ron Wilson spurs the Leafs to a late-season playoff charge.
  • Coldplay’s new album is considered a disappointment.
  • Brendan Shanahan is forced (allegedly) to resign as NHL disciplinarian.
  • Teemu Selanne is hurt and can’t play in Winnipeg in December.
  • To the financial benefit of the NHL there is no NBA season.
Sep 072011
 

In January I wrote that Russian hockey, by forcing domestic players into the KHL, was ensuring the the league could one day approach, if not equal and surpass, the talent level found in the NHL.

Today’s tragic plane crash underscores how that will probably never happen.

In his book “King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Superleague,” Dave King talks at length in about the travels of KHL teams – the tough mining towns, the surrounding poverty and the perilous flights teams took between games. It’s a subject matter he’s commented on again in the wake of the accident.

There’s lots of oil money backing the KHL. None of it is going towards improving the safety, health or post-career experience of its players. (Not that the NHL is totally infalliable on these issues either. As we’ve seen with the deaths of three players this summer, greater off-ice support is something the league and NHLPA need to adopt.) Until that happens, the Russian Superleague will remain more like the Wild Wild West than a professional alternative to the NHL.

*****

The fact that Sidney Crosby’s return to the NHL is indefinite is the second tragedy of the day (albeit the only one with a possible happy ending). The NHL is a much better league with its best player in the lineup. For anyone paying attention though, today’s announcement was expected – there have been too many rumours of setbacks over the last few months.

Today’s announcement should also be lauded. Whereas previous marquee players like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine rushed back time and again from serious concussion, Crosby’s camp understands he is one big hit away from the end of his career. Given the risk, there is no sense rushing him back before he is 100%.

January 1st, 2012 will mark a year since Crosby received his concussion against the Washington Capitals. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see Sid the Kid in the NHL until after New Year’s Day has passed.

Jun 272011
 

Don’t let anyone ever tell you there aren’t trades to be made in a salary-capped NHL.

Philadelphia got the NHL summer silly-season underway with a stunning move that sent Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. Then they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year deal.

Not quite sure how this makes the Flyers better for the 2011-12 season, but the Kings and Blue Jackets certainly are.

Other deals over the weekend came fast and furious:

  • The Buffalo Sabres signaled they’ve got cash by acquiring Robyn Regehr for a bag of pucks.
  • The San Jose Sharks signaled they know why they lost to the Canucks in the playoffs, trading for Minnesota’s Brent Burns and upgrading their defense big time.
  • The Ottawa Senators signaled desperation by acquiring Nikita Filatov.
  • The Capitals signaled they want to get tougher, acquiring rugged winger Troy Brouwer from the Blackhawks.
  • The Florida Panthers signaled they’re in the market for bad contracts to reach the salary cap floor ($48.3 million), trading with Chicago for the high-priced, much maligned Brian Campbell.
  • The Edmonton Oilers signaled they’re actually interested in drafting something other than first overall, trading with Los Angeles for notorious weeper Ryan Smyth.

In the spirit of all this movement, here now is one man’s opinion on the best* moves each NHL team could make during the rest of the off-season.

(*: At times in this article “best” may also serve as a synonym for “most interesting,” “easiest” or “most controversial.”)

Anaheim Ducks

Their move: Sign UFAs Teemu Selanne and Jussi Jokinen
Why: The team has money and some solid prospects, but at this very moment they need scoring depth. Selanne has one more year left in him, and adding Jokinen would give the Ducks an all-Finnish second line. That just sounds fun.

Boston Bruins
Their move: Sign UFA Christian Ehrhoff
Why: These are the Stanley Cup champions, and yet, they’re still underrated by many around the league. A full season from Rich Peverley and improved play from Tyler Seguin should easily replace the offense lost from Mark Recchi and Michael Ryder. What the team really needs is an offensive defenseman. Ehrhoff is the best one on the market and is young enough to be a core member of a contending team for years to come. While Boston has to get Brad Marchand under contract, they should still have enough room under the salary cap to give Ehroff $5-6 million a season. This is the financial flexibility afforded by Marc Savard’s long-term injury.

Buffalo Sabres

Their move: Sign UFAs Brooks Laich, Raffi Torres and Zenon Konopka
Why: Buffalo, fast and skilled, is also one of the smaller teams in the NHL. With new money to spend, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them very active on the UFA front. Robyn Regehr is a start on the size-issue, and adding additional grit and toughness in Torres and Konopka (who’s also great on faceoffs) would help make dynamic players like Nathan Gerbe and Derek Roy play a little taller. Laich could slide into a top-six scoring role.

Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals
Their move: Trade Jarome Iginla to Washington for Alex Semin and conditional draft picks.
Why: Crazy and controversial, but explainable. First off, the Capitals need to shake-up their core – a core that has led to post-season disappointments in back-to-back playoffs. Semin is an enigma with 50-goal potential, but he’s been brutal come playoff time. In Iginla, the Capitals would get a player who represents all the qualities they seem to lack, and puts them on the fast-track to win now. Meanwhile, the Flames have nowhere to go but down in the standings. Jay Feaster is resisting a rebuild, but the core of this team is aging faster than Renee Zellweger. It would be a very unpopular move, since Iginla has so many intangibles Semin seems to lack. But Semin’s offensive ceiling is much higher than Iginla’s. In fact Semin could be the most offensively-talented Flame since Kent Nilsson or Hakaan Loob in the 1980s. And in today’s NHL, you pay big money for scoring, but can always find character in the bargain bin. The conditional draft picks would be related to the Flames resigning Semin (who’s a UFA after this year), and how far the Capitals get in the post-season.

Carolina Hurricanes
Their move: Sign UFA Andrew Brunette
Why: Brunette might be the slowest skater in the NHL, but he’s terrific in front of the net on the powerplay. He’d add some complimentary scoring, along with some veteran experience, to Carolina’s top-six. This is important, since the Hurricanes currently look like they’re ready to ice a group of forwards whose average age could qualify them for the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Chicago Blackhawks
Their move: Sign UFA Erik Cole
Why: Cole has terrific size and speed to go with a decent scoring touch. He’s won a Cup before, and his style of play would easily replace Troy Brouwer in the Chicago lineup.

Colorado Avalanche
Their move: Sign Tomas Vokun
Why: The team needs a goaltender desperately, particularly since they prefer to play an offense-first, fast-paced style. Vokun would probably prefer to go to a contender, but most of them are set between the pipes. With the salary cap floor issue staring them in the face, let’s not forget the Avalanche have a lot of money to offer.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Their move: Sign UFA Cory Stillman
Why: The Blue Jackets probably need a defenseman more, but I can’t see them winning the sweepstakes for any of the top free agent blueliners available. A playmaking winger to go with shooters Jeff Carter and Rick Nash sounds like a more affordable shopping excursion, and low-and-behold Cory Stillman is available. Columbus has some room to make sure salary dollars aren’t an issue for Stillman either.

Dallas Stars
Their move: Sign UFA Tim Connolly
Why: Let’s keep in mind that the Stars are trying to be sold, so they’re operating under a budget, and can’t spend to the cap. They have to spend to the floor though, and Tim Connolly’s playmaking skills are Richards-esque.

Detroit Red Wings
Their move: Sign Tomas Kaberle
Why: A cerebral, smooth-passing defenseman, it’s easy to see Kaberle fitting into the Red Wings puck-control offense very well. With Brian Rafalski retiring, Kaberle is the next best thing.

Edmonton Oilers
Their move: Trade for Ryan Smyth and sign UFA Scott Hannan
Why: The Oilers can use all the intangibles Smyth brings, while serving as an offensive bridge while the youngsters continue to develop. Hannan has lost a ton of footspeed, but the Oilers could use a veteran, defensive presence on the back-end.

Florida Panthers
Their move: Sign Pascal Leclaire
Why: It’s a stop-gap measure until Jacob Markstrom is ready, but Leclaire at one-point showed the talent to be a top-10 NHL goalie. Injuries and inconsistency have prevented that from happening, but with the Panthers he’d get a second chance. As stated elsewhere, the Panthers have a lot of work to do this off-season to reach the salary-cap floor.

Los Angeles Kings
Their move: Sign UFA Simon Gagne
Why: With all due respect to Anze Kopitar, he can’t do it alone, and Mike Richards gives the team elite depth down the middle (Richards, Kopitar, Jarrett Stoll). Add to that a plethora of young wingers in the pipeline, two elite defensemen on the back-end in Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, and solid goaltending from Jonathan Quick, and suddenly the Kings are Stanley Cup contenders. With Richards signed, Simmonds gone and Smyth on the way out, the Kings could use another veteran shooter. Gagne had a very strong second half, has played with Richards before, wants to win and would fit comfortably under the salary cap.

Minnesota Wild
Their move: Sign UFA Anton Babchuk
Why: The Wild need to replace Brent Burns. Babchuk is less expensive than other two-way options on the market, and is young enough that he still has upside.

Montreal Canadiens
Their move: Trade Scott Gomez to the Florida Panthers for Shawn Matthias
Why: The urgency of reaching the salary cap floor is an opportunity for the Canadiens to unload Gomez, whose $7 million salary really handicaps Montreal’s payroll flexibility. In Gomez, the Panthers get a Stanley Cup winning veteran with strong leadership qualities, whose playmaking skills could fit nicely with youngsters Jack Skille, Evgeny Dadonov and Niclas Bergfors. Matthias is young, with good size which Montreal lacks. The former top prospect has had a tough time putting it together at the NHL level, and a change in scenery may help.

Nashville Predators
Their move: Sign Nikolai Zherdev
Why: Sure he isn’t exactly interested in many things beyond Nikolai Zherdev, but he did score 16 goals in limited time with Philadelphia. In a thin year for unrestricted free agents, Zherdev might have some of the best offensive tools available. It’s high-risk, but the reward could be high too, especially when you consider a) what Zherdev might cost and b) the Predators budget. Besides, if anyone can keep him in line, it’s coach Barry Trotz.

New Jersey Devils
Their move: Trade Darius Zubrus to Colorado Avalanche for Ryan Stoa, sign UFA James Wisniewski
Why: Zubrus is a big veteran who is defensively sound and can play all three forward positions. The size of the contract would help the Avalanche reach the salary cap floor. Meanwhile, the Devils gain some cap flexibility, and in Stoa they get a cheaper player who has similar size and strength. Wisniewski fills an offensive need on back-end.

New York Islanders
Their move: Sign UFA Joni Pitkanen
Why: There’s no guarantee Marek Streit returns after his shoulder injury at the top of his game, and Pitkanen would add another strong puck-moving defenseman to the roster. Granted, we are talking about GM Garth Snow and Owner Charles Wang, so doing the “best” or “right” thing isn’t necessarily a priority for the organization.

New York Rangers
Their move: Trade Wade Redden to any team with salary floor issues for a conditional draft pick.
Why: The salary cap floor is a gift from heaven for GM Glen Sather, who has a few teams (16 teams are currently under the salary cap floor) looking to add dollars.

Ottawa Senators and St. Louis Blues
Their move: Trade Daniel Alfredsson to St. Louis for Jayden Schwartz and draft picks.
Why: Daniel Alfredsson has been the good soldier, but the clock is about to strike midnight on his career (and has already struck midnight on his deteriorating back). In St. Louis he could take a veteran leadership role, mentoring the young Swede Patrick Berglund and playing on what should be a strong playoff team for the rest of his days. Contrary to what Bryan Murray may have you believe, the Senators as currently constituted are a mess. The team lacks scoring depth up front, and the team’s best prospects (David Rundbald, Jared Cowen) are defensemen. The collegiate Schwartz is a potential second-line, playmaking centre, and is expendable since the Blues already have some good young forwards in the mix.

Philadelphia Flyers
Their move: Not trading away Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
Why: As good as Ilya Bryzgalov is, his contract with the Flyers (roughly $5.3 million per season) didn’t necessitate trading both Richards and Carter. It’s rumoured off-ice or dressing room issues with Chris Pronger was the reason Richards was dealt, but who would you rather have – a 26-year old, perennial Selke Trophy candidate who can score 30-goals, or a 37-year old injury prone, once dominant defenseman who is signed until he’s 42? Meanwhile, Jakub Voracek has not played up to his potential in any season since joining the Blue Jackets, and Wayne Simmonds looks at-best to be a 25-goal guy. Add to that, Brayden Schenn now faces the daunting task of replacing Mike Richards in Flyers fans hearts and minds. Philadelphia, Stanley Cup finalists a year ago, have definitely taken an interim step back.

But since we can’t go back in time, their best move is re-signing Ville Leino.

Phoenix Coyotes
Their move: Sign UFA Ray Emery
Why: Ilya Bryzgalov was the biggest reason the Coyotes made the playoffs in the last two seasons. With Tomas Vokun likely looking elsewhere for more money, the Kings likely unwilling to trade Jonathan Bernier inside their own division, and the Canucks unlikely to trade Cory Schneider with Roberto Luongo’s demons, this is the next best goaltending option.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Their move: Signing UFA Tomas Fleischmann
Why: Fleischmann is certainly an injury risk, but he has high offensive-IQ and would look very good on the wings of either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It’s a cheap, high-risk, high-reward investment that could have a 60-70 point payoff. You know, exactly what they were hoping to get last year from Mr. Hilary Duff, Mike Comrie.

Jaromir Jagr would be a really fun fit in Pittsburgh as well, as long as you consider a) he would be the league’s slowest player and b) if he struggles at all he could become a dressing room distraction.

San Jose Sharks
Their move: Sign UFAs Jan Hejda and Scott Upshall
Why: Defense is clearly the team’s glaring weakness, even with the acquisition of Burns. Hejda is an underrated shutdown defenseman, and adding him to the Sharks blueline would give San Jose some nice depth. Meanwhile, if they can find a way to afford him, Upshall would replace Setoguchi as a nice complimentary scorer on a team that’s going for the Stanley Cup in 2011-12.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Their move: Sign UFAs Marty Reasoner and Ian White
Why: The signing of Eric Brewer really was the best thing the Lightning could do in the off-season. He is an underrated defenseman who shone in the playoffs. Marty Reasoner doesn’t have the quickest wheels, but he’s an effective third-line player. Ian White would be an upgrade on Marc-Andre Bergeron, and would improve the Lightning powerplay cheaply.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Their move: Sign UFA Brad Richards
Why: Unless you’ve been living in a cave, Brian Burke has made it clear the team needs a number one centre. Richards will go to whoever can pay him the most. The Leafs have a lot of money to offer. Unless Richards takes less to sign in a) New York or b) with a contender, it seems like a lock he’ll be wearing blue and white next year. When you add John-Michael Liles to the mix, these moves would seemingly make the Leafs a playoff team.

Vancouver Canucks
Their move: Sign UFAs Kevin Bieksa and Michael Ryder
Why: Bieksa is a swiss army knife defenseman, doing all things reasonably well. His play in 2010-11 demonstrated he can be a strong #2 defenseman. Ryder provides complimentary scoring depth on a team that really lacks it. He’s Alex Burrows 2.0 without the biting.

Winnipeg Jets
Their move: Trade Ron Hainsey and Patrice Cormier to the Phoenix Coyotes for Shane Doan
Why: On first blush this is a sentimental trade, bringing back the only remaining Winnipeg Jet not named Teemu Selanne. Yet Doan would bring consistency and commitment to a team that was lacking both last year, along with 20-goal hands. Meanwhile the Coyotes, in losing Ilya Bryzgalov, are not a playoff team this year. Cormier has power-forward potential and would join an assortment of young Coyote prospects. Hainsey is a solid two-way defenseman that has become somewhat expendable in Winnipeg with the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien and Johhny Oduya.

May 312011
 

For Part 1 of my thoughts on the Final, click here.

So here we are, at the end of the rainbow. Vancouver versus Boston. Canada versus America. Green Men versus Green Monster. West Coast versus East Coast. Orca versus Bear. Winner gets the Stanley Cup.

So which of these teams has the edge?

First, let’s look back at where I had each team rated at the beginning of the season:

BostonVancouver
B+GoaltendingB+
ADefenseB+
A-ForwardsA-
BCoachingB-
100-115 (1st in Conference, Stanley Cup Winner)Predicted Points/Season100-115 (1st in Conference, Loss to Detroit)

And now?

Goaltending: Boston and Vancouver’s goaltending both played above expectations this season, with Tim Thomas putting together an A+ season in net. Despite some poor outings, in general both Roberto Luongo and Thomas have sustained their play in the post-season. Boston: A+. Vancouver: A.

Defense: Boston’s defense wasn’t as dynamic as expected, slipping at least a half, if not a full-grade until the arrival of Tomas Kaberle solved this problem (at least on paper). Kaberle though has struggled, and often finds himself playing 6th defenseman minutes. Boston: B.

Vancouver’s defensive depth was tested time and again, but they have remained a B+ group surviving, and in some cases thriving, without an elite blueliner. The sight of Canuck defenseman flying past San Jose backcheckers to create odd-man rushes will be in Shark coach Todd McLellan’s dreams all summer. Vancouver: B+.

Forwards: Ryan Kesler effectively carried the secondary scoring burden of the Canucks this season, who get little offense from anything below the second line. Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre have been effective pickups in energy and defensive roles though, and the Sedins are the most talented players in the series. Boston: B+.

Conversely, the Bruins offense really didn’t materialize quite as expected, with the loss of Marc Savard hurting the team’s powerplay. Nonetheless, Boston has out-scored Vancouver in the playoffs. Tyler Seguin had a quiet season but has shown flashes of brilliance when given the opportunity this spring. Mark Recchi has been MIA for most of the playoffs and is expected to retire if the Bruins win the Cup. Vancouver: B+.

Coaching: Both coaches have improved their standing somewhat with a Cup Final appearance. However, there remains skepticism. For Claude Julien, doubters suggest he has a hard time adapting in-game to what the opposition throws at his team. Others suggest Boston’s run-and-gun moments against Tampa Bay and Philadelphia are proof his defensive tactics remain unnecessarily stifling. Boston: B+.

Conversely, Barry Trotz out-coached Alain Vigneault for most of the Nashville series. Coach AV also raises some eyebrows with his handling of Keith Ballard and an apparent love affair with Tanner Glass. Vancouver: B.

Special Teams: Vancouver has the edge based on a more successful powerplay, both in the regular- and post-seasons. However, both teams haven’t exactly lit-it-up on the penalty kill in the playoffs. Manny Malholtra’s return may help here, unless he’s not capable of contributing in his usual fashion. Boston: B-. Vancouver: B+.

As you can see, despite Vancouver’s status as Cup favourite there’s very little difference between these two teams. When you add in the match-up game (Zdeno Chara versus the Sedins; Kesler versus Krecji), it’s easy to see this becoming a long series.

Except a long Cup Final would be a first for the Bruins. They’ve never gone more than six games when playing for the Cup, and have been involved in four sweeps. Lest anyone needs a reminder, the last time they made it this far was against Edmonton in 1990. Rumour has it the word “shellacking” was borne out of Edmonton’s dominance over Boston.

But these aren’t your 1990 Boston Bruins. This is a legitimate Cup team, and one that will give the Canucks a lot of trouble. The outcome of the Final rests on one or more of the following happening:

1) One of the goalies outplays the other
2) Ryan Kesler or one of the Sedins goes down to injury
3) Patrice Bergeron inserts himself into the Conn Smythe discussion
4) Boston’s powerplay shows up
5) Raffi Torres knocks Bergeron or Krecji out of the series
6) Vancouver’s third-line outplays Boston’s third line
7) Vancouver’s defense continues to support the attack and score goals

Expect 1 (Luongo), 4, 5 and 7 to happen, with Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup in seven games.

May 312011
 

There has been a lot of chatter the last few weeks about the Vancouver Canucks’ status as “Canada’s Team.”

In particular, there seems to be a palpable desire on the part of some Canuck fans to see the hometown team embraced to the loving bosom of the rest of Canada. To no one’s surprise, this love hasn’t exactly been reciprocated.

A friend with roots to a different Canadian province explained this resistance pretty well. To paraphrase:

“The rest of Canada already looks at Vancouver with resentment. It’s Lotus Land – the land of wealth. It’s beautiful. You guys don’t have any winter. You’re a two-hour flight to Vegas. You just had the Olympics. Work/life balance actually matters here. And yet, now you spoiled douchebags get to have the Stanley Cup too? F-that.”

Even in all the talk about “Canada’s Team,” the consensus seems to be the Canucks are roughly 7-14 days away from enjoying their first Stanley Cup victory.

James Mirtle posted an interesting piece comparing Boston and Vancouver in a number of statistical categories.

To add some “sober second thought” to the local Cup hoopla, and in honour of Vancouver’s 17 years between Cup Final appearances, here are 17 reasons why Boston could win the Stanley Cup.

1. East vs. West Exhibit #1: The last four Eastern teams to win Game Seven in the Conference Final have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Overall, Conference Final, Game Seven-winning teams are 7-2 in the Cup Final since the East/West format was introduced in 1994.

2. East vs. West Exhibit #2: Since the East/West Conferences were created in 1994, there have been four Stanley Cup Finals with a distance greater than 3000 kilometres between each team. The Eastern Conference Champion has won every Final:

Carolina over Edmonton in 7 (2006)
Tampa Bay over Calgary in 7 (2004)
New Jersey over Anaheim in 7 (2003)
New York over Vancouver in 7 (1994)

According to Google Maps, it is roughly 4028 kilometres between Vancouver and Boston.

3. Groin injuries, which Ryan Kesler is suspected to have, can be tricky to rehabilitate. An injured Kesler is a big break for Boston. Kesler is Vancouver’s most valuable forward. They need him healthy to neutralize David Krejci’s line. Just as importantly, Kesler is expected to win battles against Zdeno Chara in front of the Bruins net on the powerplay.

4. Tim Thomas. To sum: The likely Vezina Trophy winner just posted the best regular season save percentage of all-time. He also called his shot during the Eastern Conference Final, saying Boston would beat Tampa Bay. He backed this up, posting a shutout in Game 7 against the Lightning. Currently his post-season save percentage is higher than Luongo’s. A hot Tim Thomas could really cause Vancouver nightmares.

5. Small Sample Size Exhibit #1: Tim Thomas hasn’t lost to Roberto Luongo since March 27, 2006, when the latter was a Florida Panther. Thomas made 45 saves in a 4-3 shootout loss that night.

6. Small Sample Size Exhibit #2: It’s only three games but under Alain Vigneault Vancouver has never scored more than two goals against Claude Julien’s Bruins:

February 26, 2001: Boston 3, Vancouver 1 (Thomas over Luongo)
February 6, 2010: Vancouver 2, Boston 2 (Vancouver shoot-out victory, Luongo over Tuukka Rask)
October 28, 2008: Boston 1, Vancouver 0 (Oct 28, 2008: Bos 1-0, Thomas over Luongo)

7. Scoring Depth Exhibit #1 Tyler Seguin: There isn’t a bottom-six player on the Canucks who has anywhere close to the offensive talent Seguin has. He’s a game-changer hiding in the weeds of Boston’s third line.

8. Scoring Depth Exhibit #2: If we go by the lineups posted by Matt, the bottom-six for Boston has scored 17 goals in the playoffs. Vancouver’s bottom-six? Just five goals. Boston might not have the Sedins, but their scoring depth (among forwards) trumps Vancouver’s.

9. Don Cherry always says if your team is winning you don’t mess with the lineup or team chemistry. The Canucks are about to do just that by returning Manny Malholtra to action. The romantic notion of Malholtra coming back to make an impact on the Cup Final should be tempered with the fact that he has two goals (for a total of two points) in 24 career playoff games.

10. Boston was the best team at 5-on-5 in the regular season and is the best team at 5-on-5 in the post-season.

11. If you look at the averages and norms of special team play, it is safe to assume Boston’s powerplay percentage (8.2%) will improve at some point.

12. Ghosts of Playoffs Past Exhibit #1: Given Ryan Clowe’s injury, this becomes the first playoff series in which the Canucks’ defense will have to handle a talented power forward. Actually, it should read power forwards, as both Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton will try and disrupt the crease around Roberto Luongo. Zdeno Chara might also get powerplay time in front of the net as well. Let’s not forget how Dustin Byfuglien’s dominance continues to haunt Vancouver fans.

13. Ghosts of Playoffs Past Exhibit #2: The Bruins feature many of the elements that have challenged the Canucks so far in these playoffs. Boston can lock down defensively as well as the Nashville Predators. Like Chicago, the Bruins have a top defensive pair (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg) that can play against the Sedins. Like Chicago’s Dave Bolland, Boston’s Brad Marchand is also very skilled at becoming a distraction.

14. All the pressure is on Vancouver. Hard to believe, but a team from Boston is legitimately the underdog.

15. The all-time series is significantly slanted in Boston’s favour – they’re 66-25-17 against the Canucks.

16. When leading after two periods, Boston has yet to lose a game in these playoffs.

17. The Canucks won’t have played for a week since finishing off the Sharks on May 24th. Long layoffs have a tendency of coming back to haunt the teams that earn them. Just ask the Red Wings’ Mike Babcock, who admitted Detroit was rusty at the start of round two against San Jose.

Apr 132011
 

It’s shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

TSN – Canada’s “sports leader” – tends to have a smugness problem when it comes to covering hockey.

Darren Dreger, Pierre Maguire, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie – these are all good, informed hockey people, who just so happen to take their job a bit too seriously. These guys never want to be wrong.

Which is probably why the network let its experts provide “consensus” selections for the winner of each first-round series during its playoff preview show.

Talk about wimping out. Predicting who will win each round is part of the fun, part of the entertainment that is built around the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Every time an expert picks a fan’s team, it’s another deposit into their bank of hope.

There’s a long history of discomfort with hockey predictions at TSN. There was never any love lost between the crew and Maggie the Monkey. Lately, Bob McKenzie has taken to twitter criticizing folks for expecting him to choose winners.

Thankfully, Sportsnet’s panel doesn’t have the same problem. They understand entertaining the viewer is just as important as being right when it comes to sports television.

Here now are first round predictions from a variety of folks in the hockey media. Note – “n/a” means they didn’t make a selection. “?” means Mike Milbury couldn’t decide. Great insight there Mike.

WAS/NYRPHI/BUFBOS/MTLPITT/TBVAN/CHISJ/LADET/PHXANA/NSH
Scott BurnsideESPNWAS in 6PHI in 5MTL in 7PIT in 7CHI in 7SJ in 5DET in 7NSH in 7
Pierre LebrunESPNWAS in 5BUF in 7BOS in 7PIT in 7VAN in 5SJ in 6DET in 7ANA in 6
Matthew BarnabyESPNWAS in 5BUF in 7BOS in 5TB in 6VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 7NSH in 7
John BuccigrossESPNWAS in 7BUF in 7BOS in 7PIT in 7VAN in 6SJ in 7DET in 7NSH in 7
Linda CohnESPNNYR in 7BUF in 6BOS in 7TB in 7VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 7ANA in 6
EJ HradekESPNWAS in 7BUF in 6BOS in 7PIT in 6VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 6ANA in 7
Steve LevyESPNWAS in 6BUF in 7BOS in 7PIT in 5CHI in 7SJ in 5DET in 5ANA in 6
Barry MelroseESPNWAS in 5PHI in 6BOS in 6PIT in 6VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 7ANA in 6
Terry JonesEdmonton SunWAS in 7BUF in 7BOS in 6PIT in 7VAN in 7SJ in 4DET in 7ANA in 6
Damien CoxToronto StarWAS in 6BUF in 6BOS in 7TB in 6VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 6ANA in 6
Chris BottaNew York TimesWAS in 6BUF in 6BOS in 5TB in 6VAN in 7SJ in 5DET in 7ANA in 7
The Hockey NewsThe Hockey NewsWAS in 6PHI in 7BOS in 6TB in 7VAN in 6SJ in 6DET in 5ANA in 7
Elliotte FriedmanCBCWASBUFBOSPITVANSJPHXANA
Tim WharnsbyCBCNYR in 7PHI in 6BOS in 6PIT in 7VAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 7NSH in 7
Mike BrophySportsnetNYR in 7PHI in 6BOS in 6TB in 6VAN in 5SJ in 6DET in 7ANA in 6
Nick KypreosSportsnetWAS in 6PHI in 6MTL in 7PIT in 7VAN in 5SJ in 6DET in 6ANA in 7
Doug MacleanSportsnetWAS in 6BUF in 6BOS in 6PIT in 6VAN in 6SJ in 6DET in 6ANA in 5
Brad MaySportsnetWAS in 6BUF in 7BOS in 5TB in 7VAN in 4SJ in 5DET in 6ANA in 6
John ShannonSportsnetWAS in 5BUF in 6BOS in 6PIT in 7VAN in 5SJ in 5DET in 6ANA in 6
TSN "Consensus"TSNWASPHIBOSPITVANSJDETANA
James MirtleGlobe and MailWAS in 6BUF in 7BOS in 7PIT in 6VAN in 7SJ in 5DET in 6NSH in 7
Eric DuhatschekGlobe and Mailn/an/an/an/aVAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 7NSH in 6
Dave ShoaltsGlobe and MailWAS in 5BUF in 7BOS in 6PIT in 7n/an/an/an/a
Dan Di SciulloSportsnetwork.comWAS in 6PHI in 7BOS in 5PIT in 7VAN in 6SJ in 6PHX in 7NSH in 6
Cam ColeVancouver SunWAS in 6BUF in 6BOS in 7TB in 6VAN in 7SJ in 5PHX in 6ANA in 6
Greg WyshynskiPuck DaddyWAS in 6BUF in 6BOS in 5TB in 6VAN in 7SJ in 5DET in 7NSH in 7
Tony GallagherVancouver Provincen/an/an/an/aVAN in 6SJ in 5DET in 5NSH in 7
Ed WillesVancouver ProvinceNYR in 6PHI in 6BOS in 5PIT in 7n/an/an/an/a
Mike MilburyCBCWAS in 4????SJDETANA
PJ StockCBCWAS in 6PHI in 6BOS in 6TB in 7VAN in 7SJ in 5DET in 6ANA in 5
Kelly HrudeyCBCWAS in 6BUF in 7BOS in 7PIT in 7VAN in 5SJ in 6DET in 7NSH in 7
Apr 112011
 

Earlier, we looked at the playoff match-ups in the Eastern Conference. Now we look at the Western Conference.

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs (8) Chicago Blackhawks

Season Series: Tied (2-2)

The Canucks enter the post-season as the prohibitive favourites to win the Stanley Cup. They finish the year with the league’s best powerplay, goals for, goals against, top-scorer (Daniel Sedin) and overall record. Oh, and they’re second overall in save percentage, third in penalty kill. Anything less than a Cup Finals appearance will make the season a failure, which is high-stakes for coach Alain Vigneault. The defense, injured for most of the year, is finally healthy, and is very mobile. Roberto Luongo just completed his strongest year in Vancouver. Finally, 40-goal scorer Ryan Kesler has earned Hart Trophy consideration, and is the favourite to win the Selke Trophy.

An up-and-down season was saved in Chicago by the emergence of Corey Crawford (.918) in goal and Jonathan Toews up-front. Toews in particular has quickly established himself as this generation’s Steve Yzerman. The core of this team is the same as last year’s Cup champion, but the secondary pieces have not played nearly as well. Michael Frolik, acquired at the deadline, finished the year with two goals in 27-games as a Blackhawk. Tomas Kopecky (-13), Viktor Stalberg (12 goals) aren’t making anyone forget Kris Versteeg or Andrew Ladd anytime soon. They’re in the post-season though, which means a lot of the pressure is off. They’ve also eliminated Vancouver in each of the last two playoffs.

Match-up to Watch: Roberto Luongo vs. crease crashers

Great goalies can shut out the game around them and focus on stopping the puck. The knock against Luongo has been his willingness to let the battles in front of him affect the mental side of his game. The Blackhawks have feasted on this in recent years (although Dustin Byfuglien now plays for Atlanta). If it happens again this spring, real questions will have to be asked about Roberto’s mental toughness to take this team deep into the playoffs.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: Chicago
Goaltending: Vancouver
Defense: Even (Chicago’s top-end is stronger; Canucks defense is deeper)
Scoring: Vancouver (both teams have good top-end scoring, but little depth)
Special Teams: Vancouver

Prediction: Vancouver in 7

(2) San Jose Sharks vs (7) Los Angeles Kings

Season Series: Tied (3-3)

The Sharks were in jeopardy of missing the playoffs near the midway point of the season. Then Antti Niemi took over, posting a 2.14 goals against average and a .925 save percentage after the All-Star Break. Only Vancouver has had a better record against the Western Conference than the Sharks this year. San Jose has long had a reputation as playoff underachievers, but they made the Conference Finals last season, and this year’s entry is deeper up front and in goal. Offense remains the team’s strength, with Patrick Marleau leading the way with 37-goals. That being said, they enter the playoffs with the second-worst penalty kill in the post-season (only the Phoenix Coyotes are worse).

Despite matching last year’s win total, this wasn’t exactly the leap forward that was expected of the Kings this season. The trade for a top-flight forward never materialized for GM Dean Lombardi. Instead, a lack of scoring kept the team in a dogfight for the playoffs most of the year. The Kings enter the playoffs as the lowest scoring team to make it. The lowest scoring team to make the playoffs since the lockout has never been past the first round. Anze Kopitar carried the team offensively all year (73 points, good for 15th overall), but will miss the post-season with a broken ankle. Dustin Penner has been a bust (2 goals in 18 games), while Ryan Smyth has four goals since the All-Star break. Drew Doughty has also struggled a year after Norris Trophy consideration. It hasn’t been all bad though – with the two Jonathans (Quick and Bernier) in goal, Los Angeles has had some of the strongest goaltending in the league throughout the year.

Match-up to Watch: Drew Doughty vs. Patrick Marleau

With both Kopitar and Justin Williams (57 points) likely unavailable, the Kings will need to keep games low scoring if they hope to win the series. While Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley are the more famous names, Marleau is the Sharks most dynamic player. An excellent skater, it will be up to Doughty to ensure Marleau is kept in-check throughout the series.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: San Jose (although this isn’t exactly a battle of Scotty Bowmans)
Goaltending: Los Angeles (slight edge here, as Niemi still lets in a softy now and then)
Defense: Even (Los Angeles has a better top-end, while San Jose’s group is deeper)
Scoring: San Jose (a huge advantage here. Kings will have real troubles scoring)
Special Teams: Even (Sharks powerplay is great, pk bad. Kings are the exact reverse)

Prediction: Sharks in 5

(3) Detroit Red Wings vs (6) Phoenix Coyotes

Season Series: Tied (2-2)

The Red Wings have limped towards the post-season, playing their poorest hockey in recent weeks. Prior to the March swoon it was a typically successful Red Wings season, with 12 players reaching double-digits in goals. Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall will both play through injury to start the first round, with Zetterberg sporting a knee brace.. The powerplay has been good all year, and Nicklas Lidstrom became the oldest defenseman in NHL history with a 60-point season. Despite the accolades, this is the first season of his career that Lidstrom will finish as a minus, and there have been times when his foot-speed has been exposed. There are real questions about Jimmy Howard in goal, although the Red Wings have won Cups with less between the pipes.

While off-ice it’s a different story, on-ice the Coyotes have had two strong back-to-back seasons. The “desert dogs” play an aggressive, defensive style under coach Dave Tippett, and they’re one of the faster teams in the league. In fact, the Coyotes used this speed to give the Red Wings a scare in last year’s playoffs, losing in seven hard fought games. Pending UFA goalie Ilya Bryzgalov had another terrific year in goal (.921 save percentage), and is certainly the team’s MVP. In front of him, an underrated defense gets the job done, with Keith Yandle having established himself as one of the league’s best blueline threats (59 points, although he cooled in the second half). The offense is not particularly deep, with Shane Doan being the team’s only 20-goal scorer (20 exactly). That being said, Radim Vrbata, Lee Stempniak and Lauri Korpikoski each finished the season with 19-goals. Killing penalties has been a weakness all year – the Coyotes enter the playoffs as the worst penalty killing team remaining.

Match-up to Watch: Niklas Lidstrom vs. Shane Doan

Doan, the Coyotes captain, is an inspirational, physical leader and the team’s best offensive player. He was injured for most of the Red Wings series last year. If healthy, he may have changed the outcome of that series. Lidstrom had a tough start handling the quickness of Phoenix’s attack at the beginning of last year’s series. A stronger series from him should nullify Doan, and go a long way towards nullifying Phoenix’s attack.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: Detroit (closer than you might think – Tippett is vastly underrated)
Goaltending: Phoenix (huge advantage)
Defense: Even (top-end goes to Detroit; Phoenix has greater depth)
Scoring: Detroit (clear advantage, unless Zetterberg or Datsyuk aren’t healthy)
Special Teams: Detroit

Prediction: Detroit in 7

(4) Anaheim Ducks vs (5) Nashville Predators

Season Series: Nashville (3-1)

Fewer teams have faced more adversity than the Anaheim Ducks in reaching the playoffs. They were without Ryan Getzlaf for 15 games and their number one goalie, Jonas Hiller, has fought vertigo since the All-Star break. However, coach Randy Carlyle kept the team on track, and winger Corey Perry stepped up with not only his first 50-goal NHL season, but his first 50-goal season at any level. Perry will get MVP consideration, but GM Ducks General Manager Bob Murray should get Executive of the Year consideration as well. Each of the team’s major personnel decisions, from keeping Cam Fowler, to signing Toni Lydman and Ray Emery, to trading for Francois Beauchemin, have paid off. Emery in particular has stabilized the goaltending situation that jeopardized Anaheim’s season. Any discussion about the Ducks season though needs to include the incredible play of Teemu Selanne. Only Gordie Howe (103) and Johnny Bucyk (83) had more than Selanne’s 80-points as a 40-year old.

It was another year of stellar defensive hockey under Nashville coach Barry Trotz. They finished in the top-5 in most defensive categories, including goals against, save percentage and penalty-killing. Much of the credit should go to Pekke Renne, who had six shutouts to go along with a .930 save percentage. Goal-scoring was once again done by committee, with only Patric Hornqvist (21) and Sergei Kostitsyn (23) eclipsing the 20-goal plateau. Mike Fisher hasn’t delivered much offensively since coming over from Ottawa, but he, along with David Legwand, give the Predators two centres they can play against a team’s top line. Shea Weber leads an unheralded defense that can skate and play physically.

Match-up to Watch: Pekke Renne vs. Ray Emery

The Predators have never won a playoff series, and can only go as far as Pekke Renne can carry them. If he can outplay Ray Emery (or Jonas Hiller, if Emery falters), the Predators have a chance. If Emery continues his strong play (and he has carried a team to the Cup Finals before), the Predators will once again experience a short post-season.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: Anaheim (slight edge. Trotz is one of the leagues most consistent, but Randy Carlyle may have had his best season as coach)
Goaltending: Nashville (Anaheim’s goaltending is a real wildcard)
Defense: Anaheim (it’s deeper and more talented than Nashville’s)
Scoring: Anaheim (Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan is one of the better top-lines in the league)
Special Teams: Even (strong Anaheim powerplay will go against a strong Nashville penalty kill)

Prediction: Anaheim in 5

Apr 112011
 

Finally. The real NHL season. Let’s take a look at what will happen over the next few weeks in Round One.

First, the Eastern Conference.

(1) Washington Capitals vs (8) New York Rangers

Season Series: Rangers (3-1)

Good or bad, it feels like the final chapter is about to be written for this group of players and coaches in Washington. The Capitals have used the 2010-2011 season to institute a defensive style they believe will help them win playoff games. If they aren’t successful this spring you can expect changes to be made, with Bruce Boudreau’s job likely in jeopardy. Yet, despite a slow start to the season, Washington has probably been the best team in the Eastern Conference since March 1st . For that matter, no team in the East has more wins against Conference opponents than the Capitals. They enter the playoffs relatively healthy.

If any team has backed into these playoffs it’s the New York Rangers, who needed help from the Tampa Bay Lightning to finally eliminate the Hurricanes on Saturday. It’s been an up and down season for the Rangers. While a young core has developed (Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Callahan, Michael Sauer, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov), the team’s veterans have struggled. Marian Gaborik in particular has looked less threatening than in years past. They enter these playoffs without their second-leading goal-scorer, Ryan Callahan, who’s probably out for the rest of the year with a fractured leg. That being said, Chris Drury has returned to the lineup, and is known for being one of the great crunch-time players in the NHL. In contrast to the Capitals, the Rangers have the worst Conference record amongst all the Eastern playoff teams.

Match-up to watch: Henrik Lundqvist vs Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin, long criticized for poor crunch-time performances (individual and team), has a lot to prove. A dominant performance against the Rangers would be a good start to fixing the lone blemish on his reputation. Conversely, Lundqvist is entering the playoffs having played his fewest games since 2005-06. One of the best goalies in the game, a rested King Henrik could prove deadly to Washington’s playoff hopes.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Rangers (slight edge given John Tortorella’s won a championship before)
Goaltending: Rangers (Lundqvist is one of the league’s best)
Defense: Capitals (Rangers defense is rather young; Caps d-corps is a big upgrade over last year’s)
Scoring: Capitals (unless Semin disappears again. If so, the edge goes to New York)
Special Teams: Even

Prediction: Washington in 6

(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs (7) Buffalo Sabres

Season Series: Tied (2-2)

Talk about a tale of two seasons – last year Philadelphia made the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. This year there wasn’t another team happier to see the back of game 82, as the Flyers went 3-4-3 in their last 10. Despite the struggles, the Flyers still finished the year as the only Eastern Conference team to average more than 3 goals-per-game. There’s no question this team can score – it’s on the defensive side of the ledger where real issues have emerged. Chris Pronger, the team’s best defenseman, is questionable for the first round. Meanwhile, the Flyers annual struggle in goal has continued, with last year’s playoff hero Michael Leighton recalled from the minors this week.

With a record of 15-4-4 since February 23rd, the Buffalo Sabres have peaked at the right time. Losing first-line centre Derek Roy to injury actually turned into a bit of a blessing. Rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe have played well with additional responsibility, sparking a formally-dormant offense. Thomas Vanek has also been terrific in Roy’s absence, with 32 points in 31 games since the All-Star Break. He’ll play with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, giving Buffalo a solid, experienced top-line. Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers have rebounded from poor starts, and Miller should be healthy to carry the load in the first round. If not, Jhonas Enroth has been more than capable, having not lost in regulation so far in 2011.

Match-up to Watch: Tyler Myers vs. Claude Giroux

There are more famous forwards on the Flyers, but Claude Giroux has become the true offensive force, finishing the year as Philly’s top scorer. Meanwhile, Tyler Myers has already earned comparisons to a young Chris Pronger in his career. A strong, physical first-round effort against Giroux and the Flyers by Myers could swing the series Buffalo’s way.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even (two of the league’s best)
Goaltending: Buffalo (We could see three different Flyers goalies in this series)
Defense: Philadelphia (Especially if Pronger plays)
Scoring: Philadelphia (Best offense in the Eastern Conference)
Special Teams: Buffalo (clear advantage here based on regular season numbers)

Prediction: Buffalo in 7

(3) Boston Bruins vs (6) Montreal Canadiens

Season Series: Montreal (4-2)

Given the drama that has involved these two teams this winter, it makes sense for the Bruins and the Habs to play in the first round. The 2010-11 campaign has seen the return of the Big Bad Bruins, who finished the year second in the league in fighting majors. Milan Lucic fulfilled his potential as the “next Cam Neely” with his first 30-goal season. Meanwhile, Brad Marchand eclipsed the hyped Tyler Seguin as the team’s best rookie, scoring 21-goals and playing every game with a physical edge. The Bruins can afford to play a physical style with likely Vezina candidate Tim Thomas in goal. Thomas finished the year with the highest single-season save percentage (.938) of all-time.

If the Bruins are big and bad, the Canadiens are the little engine that could. Just like the team that went to the Conference Finals last year, this Canadiens team may be small but it’s quick, with a strong hockey IQ. While the offense has been hard to come by, the emergence of goalie Carey Price has kept Montreal comfortably in a playoff spot for most of the year. However, he’s played more games than ever before – in fact, it’s more games in one season than any other goalie in Montreal history. P.K. Subban has had a flashy rookie season, but his high-risk, high-reward style seems in contrast with the way Jacques Martin prefers to have his team play. One thing to point out when it comes to these two teams – historically Montreal is 24-8 against Boston in the playoffs.

Match-up to Watch: Tim Thomas vs Carey Price

Given the defensive styles both teams employ, whoever wins the goaltending battle should win the series. Price has lost his last eight playoff decisions. Meanwhile, in losing to the Flyers in the second round last year, Boston became the first team in 35-years to do it after starting with three straight wins. However, Tim Thomas didn’t play in the 2009-10 post-season.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: Even (coaches so similar you could switch them between teams and no one would notice)
Goaltending: Even (Thomas has had a historic season, but Price has also been excellent)
Defense: Boston (if there’s an injury to one of Boston’s top-3 this changes to Montreal)
Scoring: Boston (deeper than they’ve been since the early 90s)
Special Teams: Montreal

Prediction: Boston in 5

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

Season Series: Tied (2-2)

Without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for most of the year, the Pittsburgh Penguins still won the most games in franchise history since 1995-96. They did it through defense, as the Penguins placed first overall in penalty killing, seventh overall in goals against, fifth overall in shots allowed this year. Alex Kovalev and James Neal have been disappointments, but Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy have picked up the scoring slack. Kennedy in particular has been surprisingly good, with 13 goals since the All-Star Break. The 2010-11 Penguins ice a better group of defensemen then either of their two most recent Cup Finals teams. And Marc-Andre Fleury has played himself into the Vezina discussion.

The Lightning have been near the top of the Conference all year, and the arrival of Dwyane Roloson has solidified their greatest weakness – goaltending. While Martin St. Louis has been the team’s most valuable forward, Steven Stamkos has disappeared after a lot of early-season hype. He has just three goals since March 1st. A couple of key veterans have picked up the slack though – Vincent Lecavalier is playing his best hockey in years, while Simon Gagne has found his game after a brutal first-half. Their strong play gives the Lightning two good offensive lines. The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs represent the first test of coach Guy Boucher’s infamous 1-3-1 system, which attempts to outnumber the opposition in the defensive zone. While it’s hard to argue with a 100+ point season, Tampa Bay had one of the worst records in the league when leading or tied after two periods.

Match-up to Watch: Brooks Orpik vs. Martin St. Louis/Steven Stamkos

Orpik, the classic stay-at-home, punishing defenseman, can expect a lot of ice-time against the pairing of St. Louis and Stamkos. Keeping these two off the score sheet will be integral for the Penguins to go beyond the first round.

Quick Decisions:

Coach: Pittsburgh (Boucher hasn’t proven anything yet; Blysma should win the Adams)
Goaltending: Pittsburgh (Fleury has carried the team since Crosby went down)
Defense: Pittsburgh (Tampa’s defense is their biggest weakness)
Offense: Tampa Bay
Special Teams: Tampa Bay (top ten finishes on the penalty kill and the powerplay)

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6

Apr 032011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Rod Phillips, Edmonton Oilers

Photo credit: Edmonton Journal

It was a bittersweet moment this week in Edmonton, where radio play-by-play man Rod Phillips called his final game after a 37-year career.

Sweet in that, if there was ever a play-by-play man who deserves a banner in the rafters, it’s Phillips. The man never failed to deliver goose bumps.

As the iconic voice of the dynasty Oilers, his most famous calls (Gretzky’s 50 in 39 pops immediately to mind) are already a part of hockey history. He is a well-deserved Hall of Famer, and by all accounts a great person to boot.

But the night was also slightly bitter in that Phillip’s retirement represents another nail in the slow death that is hockey on radio.

The era of turning down the TV volume and turning up the radio is coming to a close.

Think about it. As the number of sports cable networks has grown, so to has their need for content, meaning fans can watch every home team game. The television broadcast of any hockey game are also more accessible than ever before, streamed online to any computer and a growing number of portable devices.

If you’re a good broadcaster, chances are you’ll end up in television, where the money is better than radio anyways.

To sum up – if Foster Hewitt were alive today, he’d have spent little-to-no time broadcasting hockey on radio.

In honour of Rod Phillips, and thanks to the Centre Ice Package, here now are one man’s rankings of television play-by-play teams in every NHL city.

TURN THE VOLUME UP CREWS (16-20 points)

Chicago Blackhawks
Play-by-Play: Pat Foley
One of the best. “Hawks Win! Hawks Win!” Absolutely loses himself on game winners, which is always fun.
Rating: 8.5
Colour: Ed Olczyk/Steve Konroyd
Olczyk seems to be everywhere these days – it’s like you can’t watch a US hockey broadcast without seeing him. He was a good NHL player, a terrible coach, but as an analyst, he’s one of the best in the game. Konroyd replaces Olzcyk when Eddie O’s doing Versus games, but I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing him provide colour.
Rating (Olczyk only): 9
TOTAL: 17.5

New Jersey Devils
Play-by-Play: Mike Emrick
The voice of U.S. hockey, and it’s a well-deserved title. Has to sell the game a bit more than he would broadcasting in Canada, but there’s no doubt he’s an elite-level performer.
Rating: 10
Colour: Chico Resch
Always sounds like he’s had a few. He’s an old-school, homer analyst who’s having a good time in the press box. It’s hard to dislike him.
Rating: 7
TOTAL: 17

San Jose Sharks
Play-by-Play: Randy Hahn
Underrated and probably deserves more exposure.
Rating: 8.5
Colour: Drew Remenda
It didn’t work out for him on Hockey Night in Canada, but Remenda remains an insightful analyst. He and Hahn work very well together.
Rating: 8.5
TOTAL: 17

Los Angeles Kings
Play-by-Play: Bob Miller
Another of the all-time greats and a Hall of Famer. Too bad folks on the East Coast are asleep by the time he steps up to the microphone
Rating: 9
Colour: Jim Fox
As solid as the come, with good analysis and insight. Kings broadcasts are surprisingly good.
Rating: 8
TOTAL: 17

Boston Bruins
Play-by-Play: Jack Edwards
Great, great energy level and the catchphrases are delivered in machine-gun-like fashion. God Boston sports fans are blessed with some great hometown broadcasters.
Rating: 9
Colour: Andy Brickley
Brickly combines with Edwards to form one of the best local on-air teams. He’s knowledgeable and the pair has solid chemistry. For what it’s worth, has also dropped an on-air f-bomb.
Rating: 7.5
TOTAL: 16.5

Detroit Red Wings
Play-by-Play: Ken Daniels
The former Leafs broadcaster has really blossomed with the Red Wings into one of the league’s best. Easily holds the attention of viewers and brings them to the edge of their seat.
Rating: 9
Colour: Mickey Redmond/Larry Murphy
Mickey Redmond is to Red Wings hockey what Jerry Remy is to Red Sox baseball. Grandpa may or may not have a screw loose, but you’re curious to hear what he has to say next. I haven’t had a chance to hear Murphy (he only does West Coast games) but the online feedback isn’t great.
Rating (Redmond-only): 7.5
TOTAL: 16.5

Buffalo Sabres
Play-by-Play: Rick Jeanneret
A living legend. One of the best of all-time. Have a listen yourself.
Rating: 10
Colour: Harry Neale
One of the great funnyman/storytelling analysts of all-time is in the sunset of his career. If you’re looking for real insight though, look elsewhere.
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 16.5

Washington Capitals
Play-by-Play: Joe Beninati
Informed and is one of the better play-by-play men at weaving information into the action. I’m not sure what “on the interchange” or “reverse the flow” really means though.
Rating: 8
Colour: Craig Laughlin
High-pitched but informed. He and Beninati clearly listen to each other and have great chemistry.
Rating: 8
TOTAL: 16

Nashville Predators
Play-by-Play: Pete Weber
Nashville is still looking for their first playoff series victory, but in terms of expansion teams they clearly won the championship bringing Weber on-board from Buffalo. He’s terrific.
Rating: 8.5
Colour: Terry Crisp
Like John Garrett, he’s another old-schooler who at this stage of his career has little insight to offer. However, he has great chemistry with Weber and his enthusiasm level is still high. Always starts his sentences with “Pete,” like he forgets he’s talking to more than just his broadcast partner.
Rating: 7.5
TOTAL: 16

TOLERABLE CREWS (12-15.5 points)

Philadelphia Flyers
Play-by-Play: Jim Jackson
Like Ken Daniels, easily brings fans to the edge of their seats.
Rating: 8
Colour: Keith Jones/Bill Clement
Jones is an authority when it comes to talking the game, but his voice is rather bland. Clement fills in for Jones from time to time, and has been doing hockey for ages. As smooth as they come.
Rating: Jones 7.5, Clement 8
TOTAL: 15.5-16

Dallas Stars
Play-by-Play: Ralph Strangis
Pretty generic but incredibly popular in the Dallas area. Need proof? The Stars simulcast Strangis and Reaugh on both radio and television, and you can also listen to them on an in-arena radio channel.
Rating: 6.5
Colour: Daryl Reaugh
Really knows the game, and has one of the best senses of humour going. Might be the best colour analyst in the United States.
Rating: 9
TOTAL: 15.5

Phoenix Coyotes
Play-by-Play: Dave Strader
Great voice and follows the play well.
Rating: 9
Colour: Tyson Nash
Still pretty new at this. Knows the game though
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 15.5

Anaheim Ducks
Play-by-Play: John Ahlers
Ahlers is an excitable and strong play-by-play caller. Great chemistry with Hayward.
Rating: 7.5
Colour: Brian Hayward.
Hayward is the calm, cool analyst who contrasts very nicely with the excitable Ahlers. He’s opinionated, and a notorious homer, but he does really know his stuff.
Rating: 8
TOTAL: 15.5

St. Louis Blues
Play-by-Play: John Kelly
A Ken Daniels knockoff, which isn’t a bad thing.
Rating: 7
Colour: Darren Pang
Mr. Positivity is enthusiastic and fun. Might be tough to sit through an entire season of his energy though.
Rating: 8
TOTAL: 15

Pittsburgh Penguins
Play-by-Play: Paul Steigerwald
Sounds a bit like Pete Weber. Serviceable, but listening to him you can’t help but compare him to former Penguins TV broadcaster Mike Lange. That’s a comparison few people would win, which could be why Steigerwald isn’t exactly Mr. Popularity in Pittsburgh.
Rating: 6
Play-by-Play: Bob Errey
Informed and funny. Good chemistry with his broadcast partner
Rating: 8.5
TOTAL: 14.5

Carolina Hurricanes
Play-by-Play: John Forslund
Very, very good. Love the “hey hey whaddaya say!” catchphrase.
Rating: 8.5
Colour: Tripp Tracy
Tracy sounds an awful lot like Drew Remenda. Remenda though provides far more interesting insight.
Rating: 6
TOTAL: 14.5

Vancouver Canucks
Play-by-Play: John Shorthouse
Rating: 8
The best play-by-play men reflect the ebb and flow of a game in their voice. “Shorty” has transitioned nicely from the radio side to become the voice of the Canucks.
Colour: John Garrett
Stronger delivering colourful stories than he is at in-game analysis.
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 14.5

Colorado Avalanche
Play-by-Play: Mike Haynes
Hard to knock a guy whose survived a brain aneurysm. He’s serviceable, but can get a bit over-the-top. Some of his enthusiasm strikes me as insincere. A noted homer, but come on – how many home town broadcasters aren’t?
Rating: 6.5
Colour: Peter McNabb
He and Haynes have some good chemistry, but like other U.S. broadcasts, sometimes their conversations have nothing to do with the game action. Seems to have a tough time being critical of Avs play or players.
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 13

Edmonton Oilers
Play-by-Play: Kevin Quinn
Quinn has moved well-beyond the guy who used to make Barrie’s CKVR sportscasts almost tolerable. His play-by-play has improved with practice, and while his goal calls are average, his “overrrrtimmmmmme winner” call is pretty great.
Rating: 7
Colour: Louis Debrusk
Bland. A big step-down from Ray Ferraro, who had this gig before moving to TSN.
Rating: 6
TOTAL: 13

New York Rangers
Play-by-Play: Sam Rosen
Rosen just sounds like New York – belligerent, loud, potentially tipsy. These are actually compliments.
Rating: 7.5
Colour: Joe Micheletti
My one note on Micheletti in my notebook: “blah.”
Rating: 5.5
TOTAL: 13

Toronto Maple Leafs
Play-by-Play: Joe Bowen
Like John Shorthouse, another former radio guy who made a smooth move into television. One of the best pure voices and play-by-play calls in the game. Sadly, he’s pushed his awful “holy makinaw” catchphrase to the point of embarrassment. When Harry Neale used to be his booth partner, minutes of the game just featured the two of them giggling.
Rating: 7.5
Colour: Greg Millen
This is the man who once used the Telestrator during live game action. His obsession for goaltenders hasn’t waned – it remains the primary focus of all his analysis.
Rating: 5
TOTAL: 12.5

Montreal Canadiens
Play-by-Play: Dave Randorf
Not a naturally gifted hockey play-by-play man, but he’s got a good voice and a decent goal call.
Rating: 6
Mike Johnson
He’s still really new to the broadcast arena, but Johnson’s shown some knowledge.
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 12.5

New York Islanders
Play-by-Play: Howie Rose
Hockey isn’t Rose’s first love, obviously. Still, he’s decent. Gets a full extra mark for his classic Matteau call.
Rating: 7
Colour: Butch Goring
Great former Islander. Not a great speaker. Definitely falls in the “glass is half full” class of analyst.
Rating: 5
TOTAL: 12

Columbus Blue Jackets
Play-by-Play: Jeff Rimer
Easy enough to listen to, even though he seems to get confused on air, especially when it comes to penalties (who got it, for what).
Rating: 7
Colour: Bill Davidge
I’m pretty sure 95% of Canadian hockey fans know the game just as well as Bill Davidge does.
Rating: 5
TOTAL: 12

TURN THE VOLUME OFF CREWS (less than 12 points)

Ottawa Senators
Play-by-Play: Dean Brown
One of the most boring game callers in the NHL. Bit of a stuffed shirt approach.
Rating: 5.5
Colour: Denis Potvin
Arguably one of the top-5 defenseman of all-time, but coasting as a broadcaster. Not as much insight as one would expect.
Colour: 6
TOTAL: 11.5

Atlanta Thrashers
Play-by-Play: Matt McConnell
One of the more generic play-by-play voices going.
Rating: 5
Colour: Daren Eliot
Not afraid to speak, unlike some other commentators, who go minutes without saying anything. Has good chemistry with McConnell.
Rating: 6.5
TOTAL: 11.5

Calgary Flames
Play-by-Play: Peter Loubardias
Has a great voice but comes across as a keener, trying to hard to put his stamp on the action. I also don’t need to know where everyone on the ice ever played junior. And what exactly is an “up pass?”
Rating: 5
Colour: Charlie Simmer
Simmer’s quiet, low-voice – basically the anti-Loubardias, which isn’t a bad thing. But a team with this history, and in Canada, should be able to do better.
Rating: 6
TOTAL: 11

Minnesota Wild
Play-by-Play: Dan Terhaar
Another generic play-by-play voice. And, like many of the play-by-play guys in the U.S., sometimes doesn’t seem to know what’s happening on the ice.
Rating: 5
Colour: Mike Greenlay
See Bill Davidge. For a hockey mad city Minnesota deserves a better crew.
Rating: 5
TOTAL: 10

Tampa Bay Lightning
Play-by-Play: Rick Peckham
Another generic play-by-play voice.
Rating: 5
Colour: Bobby Taylor
Doesn’t have much to say, and doesn’t come across as very informed. Odds are good you’ll here a “this guy” a few times during the game.
Rating: 4
TOTAL: 9

Florida Panthers
Play-by-Play: Steve Goldstein
He might just be the reason why no one watches games in Florida. U.S. hockey Goldstein sounds disinterested, talking with Lindsay about other topics around the NHL, and other times letting the broadcast go silent, rather than call game play action.
Rating: 3
Colour: Bill Lindsay
Still pretty raw at the broadcasting game, but he seems informed. Not a lot of chemistry with Goldstein though.
Rating: 5
TOTAL: 8

Mar 262011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

With two weeks left until the end of the NHL regular season, it’s pretty easy for fans to get caught up in the race for the final playoff spots.

But those teams who scramble to the finish line rarely make it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose in the West, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington in the East – these are your Stanley Cup favourites heading into the Spring.

Each of these teams has their strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s take a closer look.

Philadelphia Flyers

Strengths: Offensive depth – five 20-goal scorers, soon-to-be five players with 50-or-more points. A strong two-way defense that features two solid puckmovers (Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn), two good puck movers (Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen) and one of the best of all-time (Chris Pronger). This is also an experienced team, similar in makeup to the roster that made it to the Finals last year. Peter Laviolette is a very good coach.

Weaknesses: For a team this offensively gifted, the powerplay has been awfully mediocre.

Question marks: The Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals last year with questionable goaltending. Sergei Bobrovski enters the playoffs as the number one, but he’s unproven. Chris Pronger has had an injury-filled season. Healthy he’s their MVP, and has proven (as recently as last year) he can be a dominant player in the post-season.

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: 100-1

Boston Bruins

Strengths: Goaltending. Tim Thomas has had a wonderful season, and Tuukka Rask is a more-than-capable back-up. Like the Flyers, the Bruins also feature balanced scoring. They’re also the best team in the NHL at 5-on-5.

Weaknesses: It’s a good thing the Bruins have good goaltending, since they are second-worst in the league at giving up shots on goal. Without Zdeno Chara, this is a serviceable defense at best.

Question marks: None of the players the Bruins picked-up (Tomas Kaberle, Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly) have made much of an impact, although Kaberle has picked it up of late. The thing is the former Leaf blueliner’s post-season play has never earned rave reviews. This is also predominantly the same team that got upset by the Flyers last year.

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: 20-1

Washington Capitals

Strengths: With Crosby out, they have the most talented player in the game in Alex Ovechkin. They’ve played very well defensively in the regular season, and the blueline is much improved over the 2009-10 season. Their penalty killing is amongst the league’s best. Good team speed.

Weaknesses: Injuries have plagued the team’s best players (Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nik Backstrom, Alex Semin) for most of the season. This might be why scoring has been such a problem. Only the Los Angeles Kings and Montreal Canadiens are on pace to score fewer goals to reach the post-season than Washington. Low-scoring teams historically don’t do well in the playoffs.

Question marks: The Capitals might be the team with the most question marks on this list. Goaltending is a concern, with three youngsters (Michal Neuvirth, Sergei Varlamov, Braden Holtby) each looking like the answer for periods of time during the season. Perhaps the biggest question is the health of Alex Ovechkin. Without him dominating, this team won’t score enough. Finally, for a team that’s dedicated itself to the defensive side of the game, can this new approach translate into playoff victories, or is it true that a leopard can’t change its spots?

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: 4-1

Vancouver Canucks

Strengths: The team’s top line. In fact, for two seasons now the Sedin line (the brothers and whomever they lineup with) has been probably the best line in the NHL. Canucks special teams have been truly special – there might not be another team that moves the puck on the powerplay as well as Vancouver. Roberto Luongo has had another strong season, and should enter the playoffs rested. The defense is incredibly deep, featuring a group that’s good, but not great, in all areas.

Weaknesses: This team is top-heavy. For all their success scoring, the Canucks might finish the season with only three 20-goal scorers on the roster (Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows). That’s the same number as the offensively challenged Capitals this season. Vancouver has also been home and cooled out as the top seed in the Western Conference for almost two months now, which rarely bodes well for playoff success.

Question marks: Can Vancouver’s secondary scoring step up if other teams take liberties with the Sedin line and find a way to render it ineffective? Rightly or wrongly, Roberto Luongo still has a reputation for not being mentally tough enough to go far in the post-season. With Manny Malholtra out, there is a lot more pressure on Ryan Kesler to dominate the faceoff circle and play a shut-down role.

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: (Given it could mean facing Chicago or Anaheim) 5-1

Detroit Red Wings

Strengths: This is an experienced, well-rounded team that rarely takes penalties nor loses focus. They have the best defenseman in the game (Nik Lidstrom) and probably the two best two-way players in the game (Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk), all having terrific seasons. This is another team with solid puck moving options on defense. They have arguably the league’s best coach (Mike Babcock) behind the bench.

Weaknesses: Jimmy Howard might have a new contract, but his rebound control isn’t very good. He’s definitely the weakest link on the team.

Question marks: For all the skill and speed the Red Wings have, they will have to prove they can win the trench battles required to go deep in the playoffs. Secondary scoring, particularly in a physical playoff series, is also something to wonder about.

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: 10-1

San Jose Sharks

Strengths: Maybe the strongest top-six offensively in the NHL, and certainly one of the best teams in the centre position. No team takes more shots than San Jose. Other than Vancouver no team is better in the faceoff circle.

Weaknesses: The defense has been a concern for most of the year, although it has improved steadily over the second half. While the team’s bottom-six forwards are full of grit and sandpaper, goals are hard to come by.

Question marks: Antti Niemi has been terrific for a few months, and has already won a Stanley Cup. Still, there are those who believe his unorthodox approach render him a liability. This post-season is his chance to prove he’s not a one-playoff wonder. Like Washington, the Sharks, particularly their top three players (Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley), face questions about being mentally tough enough for playoff success. Heatley in particular has lacked edge since putting on a Sharks uniform.

Chances they’ll be upset in the first-round: 20-1

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Damien Cox looked at the rebuilding jobs of eight NHL teams. Oiler fans won’t be happy.
  • Boston’s 7-0 win over Montreal was the highest-rated regular season game on NESN (New England Sports Channel) in 27-years. It’s also safe to say the Bruins have a pretty strong psychological advantage over the Canadiens right now.
  • With local talk that Canucks ownership is hoping to lure an NBA franchise to the Rogers Centre, interesting to read that Anaheim’s ownership is hoping to do the same thing.
  • Michael Grabner has scored more goals than any player acquired on waivers in the past 15 years. Between Grabner and Matt Moulson, the Islanders have their first pair of 30-goal scorers since 2001-02.
  • For those of you who missed it, here’s Ray Ferrero’s take on the Atlanta Thrashers situation.
  • With Justin Williams out of the Los Angeles lineup for the rest of the season, this could be the last, best chance for Oscar Moller to finally stick with the big club. His development has been a disappointment so far for the Kings.
  • Sad news out of Edmonton where anthem singer Paul Lorieau is retiring at the end of the season. Lorieau was the first anthem singer to invite the crowd to sing the national anthem, popularizing the move during the Oilers Cup run in 2006. He’s been the team’s anthem singer since 1981.
  • Too little, too late – Columbus players held a closed door meeting after the team’s loss to Phoenix earlier in the week. The Blue Jackets have only won two of their last 14 games.
  • The Ottawa Citizen takes a look at how their “departed” (Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Chris Kelly etc) have fared since being traded.
  • From the department of weird stats: The Dallas Stars are 2-8-3 without Adam Burish in the lineup.
  • More evidence that Tomas Vokun won’t be a Florida Panther for much longer: he called out his teammates for a lack of effort this week.
  • With the playoffs out of reach, is it really that important for Zach Parise to return to the New Jersey lineup? Entering restricted free agency, perhaps Parise wants to prove he’s healthy. Much could be lost if his knee isn’t ready for NHL action.
  • The emergence of Brandon Prust for the New York Rangers makes one think Sean Avery is very expendable come this off-season.
  • Sidney Crosby is still progressing in his attempt to return to the Penguins lineup. As stated numerous times, expect him in the lineup during the first round of the playoffs.
  • Not a very bold prediction, but you have to expect Gary Bettman will announce the Coyotes are moving to Winnipeg the day after Phoenix is eliminated from the playoffs.
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