Dec 102013
 

This time, John Garrett didn’t say the dreaded ‘s’ word. And this time, the Canucks didn’t let in a softie with seconds left on the clock, and hung on for a 2-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Chris Tanev scored the eventual game-winning goal 3:35 into the game, and Eddie Lack made 31 saves for his first career shutout in his first ever home start.

Yes, it was a good day.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Dec 092013
 
Source: www.fanpop.com

Source: www.fanpop.com

Are the Canucks ready to break out after this latest swing of positive results? We sure hope so and we’re confident that they’ll catch fire again tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. Here are five reasons why:

Santorelli on fire!

Last night Mike Santorelli showed another sparkling performance with two goals and an assist and was a whisker away from completing his hat trick in that 3rd period. Whether he’s the second line centre or working on the wing with the Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins line, Santorelli has been a welcome surprise in the season so far. Already on pace to reach 20 goals and 50 points this season.

Canucks drive for five

Turning over the Avalanche extended the current win streak to four games and improved the season record to 17-10-5. The Canucks are beginning to learn lessons and not repeating the same mistakes from previous games. It was a strong performance, turning a 1-0 lead heading into the 3rd period into a 3-1 win. Albeit the late, late goal which John Garrett jinxed with 7.1 seconds to go, the Canucks were strong in the third period, adding a couple of goals from Santorelli and Kesler.

Learning their lessons

After throwing away a 2-goal lead against the Phoenix Coyotes in the previous game, you could forgive the Rogers Arena crowd for being a little nervous last night heading into the third period. On Team 1040, they were calling for the Canucks to be positive, to not sit back, and instead, to look for that next goal and not let the Avs back into the game. The Canucks are even beginning to find points up and down the lineup with Chris Higgins, Dale Weise, Jannik Hansen and David Booth combining for 9 points between them in the last 5 games.

“If you want to be successful in this league, you’ve got to be able to hold on to leads. Tonight, I think we did it the right way.” -Mike Santorelli

Don’t repeat at home what happened on the road in Carolina

Only a week ago, the Canucks faced the Hurricanes in the second game of a road back-to-back. We don’t want a repeat of their efforts in the early part of the second period of that game when they Canucks surrendered 2 goals and squandered a 2-0 lead just 49 seconds out of the break. Thankfully, Kesler hit back almost immediately to re-establish the lead. (Kesler had also opened the scoring only 3:24 into that game.) Much like they did against the Avs last night, the Canucks do need to come out hard and continue to put teams away.

Special teams getting special again

After a terrible early season slump, the powerplay has scored in 7 of the past 8 games and is now a source of strength. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the power is back in the powerplay now now that Jason Garrison has hit his stride with 6 powerplay points in his last 8 games.

Against the Canes last week, the penalty-killing units got the Canucks through the game, killing off all 6 Carolina powerplays – 11:33 worth of penalty time – and since then, the Canucks have killed 11 straight penalties. Even without Alex Burrows, they still look good.

Dec 092013
 
Ryan Kesler is happy as a kid on Christmas about his performance the past 4 games.

Ryan Kesler is happy as a kid on Christmas about his performance the past 4 games. (Photo credit vansunsportsblogs.com)

A “Battle of the Bros” takes place tonight at Rogers Arena with the Carolina Hurricanes gusting into town. ‘Canes captain, Eric Staal, and his brother, Jordan Staal, are here to take on our Sedin twins. This is the second and final meeting between the Canucks and the Canes this season. They met a little over a week ago with the Canucks winning 3-2 in Raleigh and kick-starting their 4-game win streak.

Since that loss, however, the Hurricanes have won 3 straight games themselves, including an impressive win on Friday night win against the San Jose Sharks. In that game, they battled back from a 2-goal first period deficit and scored 4 goals in the third period en route to a 5-3 win.

The Canes haven’t played since Friday and should be well-rested for tonight’s match-up. On the other hand, the Canucks played – and won – last night and tonight’s game will be their 3rd in four nights.

The Canucks will likely look to Eddie Lack to play. Roberto Luongo, who has been brilliant in his last 3 games (0.960 save percentage), was 7.1 seconds away from a shutout last night and may have the evening off.

Who’s Hot

Mike Santorelli had a hand in all 3 Canucks goals last night, scoring on 2 of them and assisting on the other, and was awarded the post-game Haida hat. He now has 7 points (3 goals and 4 assists) in his last 6 games, and 21 points (8 goals and 13 assists) in 32 games this season.

Jason Garrison has really stepped up his game with Alex Edler still injured. He notched an assist last night to extend his point-streak to 4 games; he has 6 points (1 goal and 3 assists) in that span.

With his goal last night, Ryan Kesler now has 5 goals in his last 4 games, and 15 goals this season. The latter ties him for 8th in the NHL with Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin. Beast mode activated.

For Carolina, Jeff Skinner has 7 points (6 goals and 1 assist) his last 5 games, including a couple of 3-point games during the current Canes win-streak.

Eric Staal is on a roll as well 5 points (1 goal and 4 assists) in his last 4 games. His 23 points for the season lead the Canes, and also leads all other Staals in the league.

Who’s Out

Same IR list for the Canucks with Alex Edler (knee), Alex Burrows (jaw surgery) and Jordan Schroeder (ankle) all still out.

The Canes will definitely be without Mike Komisarek, Drayson Bowman and Patrick Dwyer. Alexander Semin is also day-to-day recovering from a concussion, and is not expected to play tonight.

Dec 022013
 
Mike Komisarek acting like a baby

Mike Komisarek acting like a baby

Halfway through the Canucks 3-2 win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Sunday, Brad Richardson and Mike Komisarek exchanged slashes in front of the Carolina net before Richardson dropped his gloves in anticipation of a fight.

Unfortunately, Komisarek had other plans. In a move some might call brilliant and others might call cowardly, the Carolina defenseman kept his gloves on and Richardson was left shaking his head on the way to the penalty box to serve a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Canucks fans were enraged, as was Kevin Bieksa on the Canucks’ bench. This wasn’t the first time that Komisarek pulled this kind of tactic, as I was reminded by @DimFilipovic:

Well at least Komisarek dropped his gloves and engaged (before getting beaten up).

The cameras cut to Komisarek taunting and making cry baby faces at the Canucks bench, providing me with this screen cap and tweet:

— Clay Imoo (@CanuckClay) December 1, 2013
 

The picture was too good to pass up, and with the ease of Twitter, I knew I had my new CHB Top 10.

Thus, here are the Top 10 Reasons Why Mike Komisarek was Crying:

HM:  “He just realized he plays for Carolina.” – submitted by @thelights17

HM:  “He just wants more power play time.” – submitted by @Savyl91l

HM:  “He knows he can’t even score on a 2 man advantage.” – submitted by @brittca

10:  “He just got the last “your momma” joke someone made at his expense.” – submitted by @cherry_grant

9:  “To become an internet meme so the coaches will remember he exists.” – submitted by @simonwils

8:  “Someone took his sweet roll.” – submitted by @SDelarg

7:  “He’s missing Ron Burgandy commentating on TSN.” – submitted by @MikeVersace1

6:  “He didn’t make the Carolina Hurricanes cheerleading squad. #dealwithitprincess” – submitted by @HarmonyForseth

5:  “He saw his face in the glass behind the bench.” – submitted by @Lestat774

4:  “Because of whatever the trainer standing right behind him is doing.” – submitted by @Rozzy80

3:  “He smelt his glove.” – submitted by @613SportsChick

2:  “Bieksa won’t give him his Tonka truck back.” – submitted by @LorrieForseth

1:  “He lost his binkie when he shot off his mouth.” – submitted by @Aviewfromabroad

binkie
 

Dec 022013
 

Fret not if you didn’t have your morning coffee before the Vancouver Canucks’ 10 AM game versus the Carolina Hurricanes yesterday because the first 5 minutes would’ve woken you up. Not only was there a bit of a brouhaha just a couple of minutes into the game, but the Canucks also scored the first goal in a game for just the 11th time this season. On the powerplay.

Things got dicey at the start of the second period, but the Canucks managed to eke out a 3-2 win, their second win on this 4-game road trip.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Dec 012013
 
Canucks play in Raleigh Carolina Sunday Nov. 30th at 10 am pst.

The Date; December 1st. The City; Raleigh, North Carolina. The Time; 10 am (pst). Be there. 

Fresh off the loss in New York, the Canucks got right on a plane, and after an hour and a half of cocktail peanuts and Tortella yell-speaking, landed in North Carolina for another 10 AM morning matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes. Halfway through their four-game road trip the Canucks have broken even so far with a win and a loss. Early games are always a concern for me and I still have images of Luongo’s groin injury in Pittsburgh in 2008 dancing in my head.

With Luongo starting – and getting pulled – against the Rangers, expect to see Swede Eddie Lack in net for the Canucks. Lack has only played in 6 games this season (started 4 games), but does have a respectable 0.906% save percentage.

Who’s Hot

This week the streaking Sedin is… Daniel! With 3 goals and 5 assists in 5 games, he seems to have regained some confidence. Somewhat surprisingly, David Booth is another streaking Canuck with 3 points, including goals in back-to-back games, in his last 2 games.

On the opposite end of the ice, the Hurricanes are getting a lot of offensive support from defenseman Andrej Sekera, who has 3 goals and 2 assists in his past 4 games. That being said, Sekera missed the game Friday and did not practice with the team Saturday. He’s unlikely to play but we won’t know for sure until game time. The Hurricanes’ captain will definitely be playing Sunday though. Eric Staal had 10 points in 14 November games.

Who’s Out

For the Canucks Jordan Schroeder remains out with his sprained ankle. For the Hurricanes, Andrej Sekera, Tim Gleason and Anton Khudobin are all expected not to play. Alexander Semin also remains sidelined with a concussion.

Sep 302013
 

On the eve of the start of the 2013/2014 NHL regular season, I preview the 30 teams, one division at a time.

Rangers vs Islanders

Photo credit: MLB

Carolina Hurricanes

The Good

The top-line of Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty was one of the highest-scoring lines in the NHL last season, but the Canes have little scoring depth after that. Adding Jordan Staal last season helped address this, but at this point, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner can’t reliably be counted on to stay healthy.

The Bad

I think it says enough when the addition of Mike Komisarek on defense is considered an upgrade.

The Outlook

Things won’t be rocking like a Hurricane in Carolina this season.

*****

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Good

If Marion Gaborik, Nathan Horton, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky can ever stay healthy, the Blue Jackets may actually boast some scoring punch on its top two lines. They still do have a lot of ifs, but there’s no denying GM John Davidson has the team moving along the right path.

The Bad

Like the Canes, the Blue Jackets don’t have a lot of team depth.

The Outlook

Columbus was built to bump and grind it out with the best of them, which, playing in the old Central Division, almost won them a playoff spot last season. The East is a different beast, however, and being in the same division as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders will force them to play a more wide-open game than they’d like.

*****

New Jersey Devils

The Good

With Hall of Famer, Martin Brodeur, already in the lineup, goaltending was never an issue in Newark. But now, they also have ex-Canuck, Cory Schneider, to take over when Brodeur decides to hang them up.

The Bad

After losing Zach Parise, the Devils finished 28th in goals per game in 2012/2013. Now, they’ve also lost their leading goal scorer, David Clarkson (Toronto), and 2nd-leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk (KHL).

The Outlook

While Brodeur and Schneider can keep the Devils close in games, regardless of how the team is playing in front of them, I’m not convinced UFA signings, Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe can adequately replace the loss of Parise, Kovalchuk and Clarkson.

*****

New York Islanders

The Good

With John Tavares and Matt Moulson leading the way, the Islanders finished the 2012/2013 season with the 7th-ranked offense in the NHL. Now, it looks like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are poised to take another step in their development and help out. Ex-Canuck, Michael Grabner, can also be counted on to score about 20+ goals.

The Bad

The Isles don’t have much back on d. Yes, they’ll score a lot. But they’ll also let in a lot of goals.

The Outlook

If another youngster or two – maybe a Griffin Reinhart – then the Isles may very well compete for one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

*****

New York Rangers

The Good

The Rangers may very well benefit from a gentler, calmer, kinder (sometimes too kind) voice behind the bench in former Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault. But also, AV will also benefit from having an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, a deep group down the middle (Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derrick Brassard and Brian Boyle), some solid players on the wings (Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan), and some good, young players stepping in (Carl Hagelin, Mats Zucarello and JT Miller).

The Bad

The Rangers’ special teams weren’t exactly special last season – their PP was in the bottom-third of the league and their PK was merely average – and they didn’t add anyone specifically to address them.

The Outlook

After the Penguins and the Capitals, the Rangers should take one of the divisional playoff spots. How far they go will depend largely on how AV can motivate a group that seemed to get stale last season.

*****

Philadelphia Flyers

The Good

On paper, the Flyers seem to always boast one of the strongest, most balanced teams in the league, and this season is no different. Up front, they already had Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, Sean Couturier and Matt Read in their top-nine. And then they added Vincent Lecavalier during free agency. In the back, they added offensive defenseman, Mark Streit, to a group that already included Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Nicklas Grossman and Luke Schenn.

The Bad

The Flyers’ playoff hopes hang on Ray Emery, who hasn’t been a no. 1 goalie since the 2006/2007 season, and Steve Mason, whose last good year as a no. 1 goalie was his rookie year in the 2008/2009 season.

The Outlook

As their goaltending go, the Flyers will go. But hey, it wouldn’t be Philadelphia-like any other way.

*****

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Good

Where to start? Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal and Chris Kunitz highlight the attack, and Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen provide more than adequate support. 21-year old Beau Bennett looks good too.

The Bad

Marc-Andre Fleury is still the Pens’ starting goaltender while Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely.

The Outlook

The Pens should make the playoffs on the strength of their lineup alone. After that, all bets are off.

*****

Washington Capitals

The Good

Simply, the Caps’ offense. Alex Ovechkin is back. And so is Mike Green. Nicklas Backstrom scored at a point-a-game pace. Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer also improved. And while the league’s 5th-ranked offense and top-ranked power play lost second-line center, Mike Ribeiro, the Caps did replace him with Mikhail Grabovski.

The Bad

The defense is razor-thin. Green, fellow offensive defenseman, John Carlson, and defensive defenseman, Karl Alzner, head the group, but after that consists of some guys I’ve never heard of.

The Outlook

The Caps will make the playoffs, but will need some help in the back end to make any sort of an extended playoff run.

Jan 172013
 

The Bruins and the Rangers are ranked at the top of the Eastern Conference to start the 2012/2013 season.

Photo credit: CBC.ca

Another year, another season preview.

As usual, we’ve ranked each team’s goaltending, defense, forwards and coaches based on expectations and past performance.

However, given the shortened season, we’ve also taken a few other things into consideration when ranking teams overall, including:

  • Whether key players were active during the lockout in competitive leagues. Suffice to say, if someone was playing in the AHL or KHL they’re likely to be better out of the gate than an NHL player who toiled in Britain or Italy or sat on the couch.
  • How old or young the team’s key players are. With a schedule filled with games almost every-other night, veteran players may be more susceptible to critical injury than younger ones.
  • Goaltending. In what many expect to be lower-scoring rush to the playoffs, teams with the best goaltending may have a slight edge.

A couple of other things to remember based on the previous short season (94-95):

  • Veterans as a group seemed to struggle.
  • The top-5 scorers in the league were all under 26, and Eric Lindros (22) won the Hart Trophy.
  • 94-95 was the year the Nordiques exploded out of the league’s basement. The following year, in Colorado, they won the Stanley Cup/

Alright – let’s get to it. Here now are the Out of Town Notebook’s Eastern Conference rankings for the 2012/2013 NHL season:

1. Boston Bruins – 61 points

Status: Cup Contender
Goaltending: C+
Defense: A
Forwards: B
Coaching: B-

Why: The Bruins are ranked first because the majority of their core are either young (Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Tuukka Rask, Dougie Hamilton) or in their prime (Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara), and most of them (save Lucic) played somewhere during the lockout. Seguin might make a real leap this season, bumping up the forward grade even higher. Expect that goaltender mark to rise as well, as Rask gets comfortable as the team’s defacto number one. Anton Khudobin will serve as the backup and has potential.

2. New York Rangers – 59 points

Status: Cup Contender
Goaltending: A
Defense: B-
Forwards: A-
Coaching: B

Why: On paper, the Rangers look like they have it all – a nice mix of youth and experience; superior goaltending; an emerging, deep blueline; and, with the addition of Rick Nash, a strong top-six with finish. The issue here is that only a handful of Rangers played during the lockout, leading to concerns about a slow start. Come playoff time though, New York should be ready for a long post-season run. On paper, they look like the best team in the Conference.

3. Washington Capitals – 51 points

Status: Wild Card
Goaltending: C-
Defense: B+
Forwards: B
Coaching: D+

Why: The Caps enter the season with serious question marks. Can Brandon Holtby be the starting goalie they’ve lacked in the past? He’s followed up a great post-season with a solid AHL campaign, but he could also become Jon Casey. What about coach Adam Oates? A shortened season for a first-time bench boss, when every game will be a battle, is a significant challenge. The guess here is that both Holtby and Oates raise their pre-season ratings, and the Capitals, backed by a strong blueline and a return-to-form from Alex Ovechkin, eek out another division title. Having said that, no team was shuffled in and out of the playoffs more in these rankings than the Caps. The Southeast Division is the worst in the NHL, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see all five teams battling for the division crown.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins – 54 points

Status: Contender
Goaltending: B
Defense: B-
Forwards: A
Coaching: A

Why: While a lot of focus will be placed on Sidney Crosby’s health, the fact remains that the Penguins were bounced early in last year’s playoffs because their defense and goaltending were atrocious. The talent is there in both positions to rebound, especially if Kris Letang can stay healthy. Tomas Vokoun is a more than capable backup goalie and could supplant Marc-Andre Fleury as the team’s top-goalie. Evgeni Malkin dominated the KHL and was the best player in the world in 2012.

5. Philadelphia Flyers – 54 points

Status: Darkhorse
Goaltending: C+
Defense: B
Forwards: B-
Coaching: A

Why: It’s just a question of timing for when the Flyers become a legitimate Cup threat. Given no other NHL team had more players playing in the AHL or KHL than the Flyers during the lockout, the betting here is the Flyers take another step forward this year. Their young core of forwards, including Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Claude Giroux, Jakob Voracek and Wayne Simmons – rivals that of the more heralded Oilers (and Giroux is a top-5 NHL player already). While it’s unlikely Chris Pronger will ever suit up again, the blueline is still solid, with Kimmo Timonen forever underrated. The concern here centers around the crease, where the kooky Ilya Bryzgalov tries to find his Coyotes form. He wasn’t very good in the KHL during the lockout either.

6. Buffalo Sabres – 51 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: A
Defense: C+
Forwards: C-
Coaching: B-

Why: The Sabres will go as far as their goaltending takes them. Ryan Miller had a strong second half last year, and Jhonas Enroth is capable of carrying the team for short stretches. Up front, it’s a transition year for the Sabres with Cody Hodgson (point-per-game in the AHL during the lockout) and Tyler Ennis carrying the load down the middle. Tyler Myers’ development stagnated in 2011-12. Buffalo needs him to continue developing to carry an average blueline.

7. Ottawa: 50 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C
Defense: C+
Forwards: C
Coaching: C

Why: Ottawa made the playoffs last year riding on the back of exceptional play from defenseman Erik Karlsson and centre Jason Spezza. They could easily repeat their 2011-12 seasons, and Karlsson’s youth means it’s possible he could even exceed his Norris Trophy performance. The key for the Senators will be the supporting cast – whether youngsters Mika Zibanejad (poor AHL season to date) and Jakob Silfverberg (strong AHL play) can contribute secondary scoring; whether someone will step up to fill Jared Cowen’s shoes on defense (he’ll miss the season with an injury); and whether Daniel Alfredsson has anything left. Craig Anderson is slightly-overrated, but the goalies behind him (Robin Lehner, Ben Bishop) are very promising and have played extremely well in the AHL.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C-
Defense: C-
Forwards: B-
Coaching: C+

Why: There remains a talented top-six playing hockey on the beach in Tampa Bay – the problem is winners are built from the back-end out. Matt Carle brings a new, puck moving dynamic to Tampa’s blueline, but the Lightning defense won’t get better until Viktor Hedman takes the next step. Anders Lindback is the wild card here – if his performance for the Predators in limited action was legit, he’ll solve the team’s defensive issues on his own. That would vault the Lightning into a fight for the division crown. If Lindback is only average, this team is likely on the outside of the playoff picture.

9. Carolina: 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: B+
Defense: C-
Forwards: B-
Coaching: C-

Why: Quietly, the Hurricanes are putting together a team with promise, but they’re not there yet. The additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin give the Hurricanes a potent second line, although an injury to Tuomo Ruuttu hurts. The strength of Carolina’s defensive game will dictate how far up the standings they go. The blueline is a mixed bag of youth, toughness, and incompetence (looking at you Joe Corvo), putting a lot of pressure on Cam Ward to keep them in games.

10. Montreal Canadiens – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: A
Defense: C+
Forwards: C
Coaching: C-

Why: Similar to the Sabres, the key for the Canadiens this season is how well Carey Price plays. He has the ability to carry the team. An extended P.K. Subban absence could also kill Montreal’s season, as Andrei Markov can’t be counted on to carry the defense anymore. Rookie Alex Galchenyuk has looked good in camp and will enter the year either as the team’s second line centre or lining up on the wing with Tomas Plekanec.

11. Winnipeg Jets – 44 points

Status: Also-rans
Goaltending: C
Defense: B-
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C

Why: Three reasons why the Jets are unlikely to make the post-season this year: 1) Zach Bogosian’s wrist injury significantly hampers Winnipeg’s blueline. If he’s healthy, there’s an interesting mix on defense. 2) Ondrej Pavelec has only been an average NHL goalie to date, and the Jets will need him to be elite to catch the teams ahead of them in the standings. Not sure Pavelec has that in him. 3) The travel. The league is already looking at 48-games in roughly 100 days. When you add the schedule the mis-conferenced Jets will have to face, it’s an enormous disadvantage.

12. New Jersey Devils – 41 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: C
Defense: D+
Forwards: C+
Coach: B-

Why: Simply put – it’s hard to believe, after sitting out the lockout and another year older, veteran Martin Brodeur can find the level of play required to push New Jersey into the post-season. Losing Zach Parise to the Wild hurts the attack, and puts more pressure on Adam Henrique (poor AHL performance during the lockout) and Ilya Kovalchuk (sulking to play in North America) to score. The defense is hard-working, but not very talented beyond second-year man Adam Larsson. If Peter DeBoer gets the Devils back into the playoffs he should be considered an Adams Trophy nominee.

13. Florida Panthers – 40 points

Status: Rebuilding
Goaltending: D
Defense: C+
Forwards: D+
Coaching: C

Why: Last year’s surprising Panthers team was a bridge squad – a veteran team of placeholders using a strong defensive system to mitigate the risk of losing, while buying the franchise a year of development. This season marks the beginning of a youth influx into the Florida roster, with Jonathan Huberdeau the most prominent youngster likely in the starting lineup. Generally speaking, this type of transition usually means a fall in the standings. The future in net is Jacob Markstrom, but he got off to a slow start in the AHL this year and may be given another season to establish himself. That leaves the underwhelming Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen trying to duplicate last year’s success. Only a few Panthers played in the AHL or KHL during the lockout, and none of those players were part of the team’s core. That could mean a slow start is in the offering.

14. New York Islanders – 39 points

Status: Rebuilding
Goaltending: D+
Defense: C-
Forwards: C-
Coaching: D+

Why: This is likely the lowest the Islanders will rate on this list for the next few years. They have potential impact prospects on forward and defense, and as they develop, they’ll also rise up the standings. John Tavares has an Art Ross trophy in him. The talk is Rick DiPietro is the healthiest he’s been in years, which would have a positive impact on their goaltending situation. However, we’ll believe it when we see it. This is a development season – watch for the Islanders to push for a playoff spot next year.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs – 38 points

Status: Lost
Goaltending: D-
Defense: C-
Forwards: C
Coach: C+

Why: Quite simply, this is a team with the worst goaltending in the NHL; whose best defenseman (Jake Gardiner) is suffering from concussion issues; that’s without a legitimate number one centre; whose most important players (Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul) barely played during the lockout. The ownership wants this Leaf squad to make the playoffs, which means an upgrade in goal (Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo) is a possibility. But it’s likely not enough. The best thing for this franchise might just be bottoming out with a top-2 draft pick.

May 292012
 

Everything that has a beginning has an end.

It seems fitting the New Jersey Devils are facing the Los Angeles Kings in this year’s Stanley Cup. There are several parallels to the Edmonton Oilers – Carolina Hurricanes final that ended the first post-lockout season (2005-06). Both series feature:

  • a team Wayne Gretzky played for (Kings now; Oilers then)
  • an over-the-hill goaltender taking his team on an improbable run (40-year old Martin Brodeur now; 36-year old Dwayne Roloson* then)
  • a team trying to buck the traditional formula and win the Cup without a legitimate number #1 defenseman (Devils now; Hurricanes then)
  • surprising contributions from 21-year old rookies (Adam Henrique now; Carolina goalie Cam Ward then)
  • one team reaching the final thanks to Collective Bargaining Agreement-related roster moves (thanks to the new salary cap and floor system, the Oilers went out and acquired Chris Pronger; thanks to a loophole in the CBA, the Devils offered and retained Ilya Kovalchuk’s services for the next 983248932498 years)

Perhaps the most striking difference between the two series is what they represent. The Oilers/Hurricanes final was the riveting first chapter on a post-lockout era of exciting hockey and parity, where any team could afford a contender and a winner. It was a Stanley Cup Final representing hope. Meanwhile, with another lockout staring the NHL in the face, this year’s Devils/Kings final serves as a referendum on the game since 2004-05. It’s a Stanley Cup Final representing reality.

The question is, are we in a better place with the game today then we were in 2005/06?

Financially yes – the NHL is more successful now as a business than ever before. It will be even more successful once it eliminates (unlikely), finds deep-pocketed owners for (unlikely), or moves franchises (Phoenix, Florida, potentially New Jersey, Columbus) to locations (Canada) where off-ice success is easier to achieve. (Remember, the most profitable franchises in the league are all located in Canada, and prop up to varying degrees the 23 teams south of the border. If the Canadian dollar ever falls below US$0.80 again, league financial health will become a very different story.)

As for the on-ice product, the answer is no. Advances in goal-scoring and flow to the game have largely been negated by smart coaches. As the salary cap has gone up, we’ve seen the big spending = big winning formula return, which was allegedly the reason for the salary cap to begin with. It’s a faster game than it was, but also more intense – just like the NFL, injuries are now a common determining factor in the success or failure of an NHL team’s season.

Unlike the last lockout, and despite on-ice evidence to the contrary, there isn’t a sense around league circles that the product is in trouble. So while the NHL is about to go through big CBA changes –  whether it’s no salary cap floor, a cap on the length of player contracts or eliminating the loophole that allows teams to bury contracts in the minors – real innovations to improve the game are years away.

This means the style of hockey that’s been showcased around the league in 2012 – fast but structured, nasty, defensively-disciplined, tactical and expected to be played mistake-free by its players – is here for awhile.

And its a style of hockey that seems miles away from the promise of the game showcased in the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Devils and the Kings play the current style of hockey very, very well. Part 2 of this preview will break down both teams, and offer a Stanley Cup prediction.

Postscript:

* – On behalf of Oiler fans I’m obligated to note that if Dwayne Roloson doesn’t get injured the Oilers probably win the Stanley Cup. A healthy Roloson means a rusty Ty Conklin doesn’t come in cold during the third period and give the puck away behind the net to lose Game 1. It also means a rusty Jussi Markkanen (remember, Edmonton ridiculously rotated backups all playoff, with Conklin and Markkanen splitting practice time) doesn’t let the Oilers get blown out in Game 2. Edmonton won three of the remaining 5 games of the series anyways, so it’s no stretch to think a healthy Roloson gives them a split in the first two games, rather than an 0-2 deficit. Having been reminded of all this, Oiler fans have permission to throw up in their mouths a bit.

Mar 272012
 

As we wind down the 2011-12 NHL season, it’s only fitting to take a moment and pay our respects to the “dearly departed” – those teams we know will be golfing in a couple of weeks.

Here now is a quick look at each of the teams looking ahead to 2012-13 already,  in reverse order of today’s standings.

Columbus Blue Jackets

What went wrong: Pretty much everything. James Wisniewski’s 8-game suspension crippled the team out of the gate. Coach Scott Arniel tried switching his team’s approach from an aggressive to conservative style mid-season, but the results were too poor to save his job. Jeff Carter was injured for much of his time in Columbus, and looked like a pout on skates when he did play.  Oh, and Steve Mason is currently ranked 77th amongst NHL goalies in goals against average (3.43).

What went right: Unlike Jeff Carter, Jack Johnson has embraced being a Blue Jacket, and has 10 points in 15 Columbus games. He still has the potential to turn this difficult trade into a real win for the Blue Jackets. Derick Brassard has quietly led the team in scoring since the All-Star Game (20 pts in 27 games).

Off-Season Gameplan: Address the goaltending issues that have hampered the franchise for most of its existence and make peace with Rick Nash. Trading Nash would kill the franchise. If this means firing GM Scott Howson, so be it.

Montreal Canadiens

What went wrong: The front office went insane, firing assistant coaches within hours of game time and throwing Randy Cunneyworth under the bus for his unilingualism. Top veterans Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri struggled, rendering a pop-gun offense useless for most of the first-half. And while Carey Price played well, even his numbers were slightly off from last season.

What went right: The Canadiens have embraced their youth as the season’s moved on. Max Pacioretty looks like a top NHL power forward. David Desharnais is second in team scoring since the All-Star Game (22 points in 26 games) and will be Montreal’s defacto second line centre next season. The physical Alex Emelin could be an interesting compliment to Andrei Markov in a top pairing. Lars Eller continues to develop and will flirt with 20 goals this year. Of the veterans, Eric Cole reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in five years.

Off-Season Gameplan: Draft a talented Russian, whether it’s Alex Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko, with their highest pick since selecting Mike Komisarek seventh overall in 2001. Alex Kovalev flourished in Montreal, where the fans embraced his offensive flair. There’s no reason to believe that magic can’t happen again.

Edmonton Oilers

What went wrong: Nothing really went wrong – this team is probably as bad as they should be, especially given the injuries they’ve accrued. Of those injuries, the one to Ryan Whitney was the most damaging, as it exposed a very shallow blueline group. Nik Khabibulin has played worse as the season’s gone on, and he may be moved in the off-season. Eric Belanger is having his worst season as a pro, but he has partially solved the team’s faceoff problems.

What went right: Jordan Eberle does look like a young Dany Heatley and should be a Lady Byng candidate this season. The other super kids, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, both look like they have top-20 NHL player potential. Devyn Dubnyk has a .918 save percentage since the All-Star Game. Sam Gagner continues to show flashes of top-six talent, and leads the team with a +8 rating. Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry have had terrific second halves. The pieces on this team are really starting to come together.

Off-Season Gameplan: Not much needs to be done upfront, but it’s the defense that needs tinkering. Another top-4 defenseman, or a youngster (draft pick) with top-pairing talent should be a priority. Help for Dubnyk would be an asset as well.

Minnesota Wild

What went wrong: Minnesota’s lack of offensive depth was exposed by injuries to Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikko Koivu. As a result, just like the Habs, a slight weakening of the team’s defensive play was enough to sewer the Wild’s playoff chances. The Wild might not have a 25-goal scorer this season. Josh Harding has had a disappointing second half (2 wins in 10 games, a .904 save percentage).

What went right:  Despite some historically low numbers, Dany Heatley has been a more competitive player with the Wild than he was in San Jose or Ottawa. Jared Spurgeon has played well enough that the Wild could trade Nick Schultz. Nik Backstrom has been his usual solid self.

Off-Season Gameplan: Bring on the kids. Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle could both see top-six roles in the NHL next season, bringing much needed offensive talent to the Wild roster. The Wild should also be in the running for a lottery pick in a draft that is loaded with quality defenseman. Beyond the influx of youth, Zach Parise should be targetted if he hits unrestricted free agency. It’s the type of move that would not only help the team, but would satiate restless Wild fans who feel the franchise has been spinning its wheels.

New York Islanders

What went wrong: For the Islanders to take the next step they need to work on their 5-on-5 play. They’ve ranked near the bottom of this category all year. Michael Grabner suffered from the sophomore slump (16 goals). One has to ask whether his skating talents can continue to flourish in a league where hooking and holding has crept back into play. Heralded rookie Nino Niederreiter has suffered through a lost season on the Island, with just one assist in 49 games. He’s averaged fourth-line minutes to boot.

What went right: John Tavares took another step towards greatness, improving his strength and speed and looking on many nights like a future Art Ross candidate. As Tavares has blossomed he’s lifted his linemates to new heights – Matt Moulson may reach 40 goals this year and P.A. Parenteau will have more than 50 assists. Together they have given the Islanders a dynamic first line, which is usually enough to fight for a playoff spot. New York’s powerplay has also been good all year, and Evgeni Nabokov has given the Islanders good goaltending on a nightly basis.

Off-Season Gameplan: GM Garth Snow should make resigning P.A. Parenteau a priority. Given the misuse of Nino Niederreiter this season, one wonders if the Islanders still see him as a top-six talent. If not, moving him could net a solid return. Continuing to build offensive depth, and acquiring a solid, stay-at-home top-four defenseman, should also be on New York’s shopping list. A few tweaks and this team will fight for a playoff spot next year.

Toronto Maple Leafs

What went wrong: The Leafs gambled on James Reimer and it came up snake eyes. As a result, the run-and-gun Leafs have given up goals by the bushel, eventually costing coach Ron Wilson his job. The defensive depth hasn’t materialized, with Mike Komisarek looking AHL-bound, John-Michael Liles frequently swimming out of position in his own zone and Luke Schenn regressing in his fourth season. In a broader sense, GM Brian Burke’s rebuild hasn’t gone well either – compared to the team he inherited, the Leafs are only better in a few areas (top-line wingers; top-two defensemen; more prospects). Otherwise this team looks a lot like the 2008-09 team that was jettisoned out of town. None of the replacements, particularly those acquired through free agency, have been actual upgrades.

What went right: All due respect to Tyler Seguin, but Phil Kessel remains the better player in that trade and will likely finish top-5 in league scoring. He is Mike Gartner 2.0. Healthy for the first time and stronger than ever before, Joffrey Lupul established himself as a top-line winger and compliment to Kessel, playing in the All-Star Game before getting hurt. Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarson have emerged as potential top-four defenseman, with Gardiner in particular showing flashes of offensive prowess.

Off-Season Gameplan: It’s a make-or-break off-season for GM Brian Burke. New coach Randy Carlyle demands a conservative style of play this roster wasn’t built for, which means major changes could be afoot. A lottery pick would be beneficial, as the Leafs could use a top-line talent to go with the complimentary-type players drafted in previous seasons. However, the most important move the team could make this summer is to solidify their goaltending position. Whether it’s taking Roberto Luongo off of Vancouver’s hands (I know, NTC), grabbing one of the “elite” young goaltenders (Josh Harding, Corey Schneider, Jonathan Bernier), or making a play for Jaroslav Halak. The Leafs won’t make the playoffs next year without a solution in net.

Anaheim Ducks

What went wrong: The Ducks just dug themselves too deep a hole. Whereas last year the team found its game amidst rumours the players had turned on coach Randy Carlyle, Anaheim couldn’t do the same this season, eventually leading to Carlyle’s firing. In particular, Jonas Hiller struggled early, and captain Ryan Getzlaf has had a nightmare season (one goal since the All Star Game).  Sophomore Cam Fowler has also struggled (-24 on the year).

What went right: The team has responded to coach Bruce Boudreau, and a full season under his direction should see the Ducks return to the post-season. Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan have performed well for coach “Gabby.” Sheldon Brookbank has done a good job as the sixth defenseman, while Toni Lydman remains one of the better defensive defenseman in the league.

Off-Season Gameplan: Signs point to Selanne returning, which means the Ducks core remains as good as any in the NHL. Devante Smith-Pelley will likely have a top-six role to lose in training camp, but the Ducks could really use an upgrade at second-line centre. Impending free agent Saku Koivu can’t adequately fill that role anymore. Some veteran grit to the third and fourth lines would help as well.

Carolina Hurricanes:

What went wrong: Terrible starts to the season from Cam Ward and Eric Staal effectively put the Hurricanes behind the eight-ball. An injury to Joni Pitkanen – the team’s best offensive defenseman – didn’t help either. Carolina’s special teams, particularly the penalty kill, have been among the league’s weakest. No team gives up more shots-per-game than Carolina. Jeff Skinner hasn’t been the same player since returning from injury.

What went right: Surprisingly, Jiri Tlusty has had a strong second-half, placing second in team scoring (18 points in 22 games). Tim Gleason has been a beast defensively and remains one of the most underrated blueliners in the game. Chad LaRose will flirt with 20 goals this year. Staal’s been terrific since about December.

Off-Season Gameplan: With some solid youngsters up-front in the pipeline (Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk), what Carolina could really use is a veteran defenseman. Rumours that the Hurricanes are interested in Ryan Suter if he becomes a free agent underscore this belief. With the offense essentially living-or-dying on the Eric Staal’s back (shades of the 1990s Toronto Maple Leafs and Mats Sundin), Carolina has to hope Jeff Skinner rebounds next year.   

Tampa Bay Lightning

What went wrong: The clock struck midnight on the pumpkin named Dwayne Roloson, as the veteran netminder has been arguably the NHL’s worst goalie all year. The team’s blueline hasn’t played as well as last season either, with Eric Brewer in particular not living up to his playoff performance. With only four goals and averaging just 11-odd minutes of ice-time, one wonders if Brett Connolly’s development has been hurt playing in the NHL this season. Marc-Andre Bergeron’s injury meant the Lightning went most of the year without a true poweplay threat from the point. The penalty killing has struggled.

What went right: Steven Stamkos remains the league’s elite sniper, and should pick up the Richard Trophy for his 50+ goal efforts this season. Victor Hedman has had a strong second-half (+4, 10 points in 22 games), as has Teddy Purcell (33 points in 27 games). The latter is noteworthy, since it’s been done in Vincent Lecavalier’s absence.

Off-Season Gameplan: Goaltending. Tampa Bay doesn’t really have any, and needs to find it in the off-season. Beyond that a solid defenseman in the draft would go a long way to shoring up the blueline for the future. Offensive depth would be the third priority, particularly given that Martin St. Louis will be 37 next year.

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