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.

Apr 242009
 

I’ll admit over the course of the season I’ve been really harsh towards Taylor so I guess now I have to take it easy on him. Pyatt’s back in town and according to the team has resumed his full duties as a Canucks player. Again, my condolences go out to him and to the Bragnalo family, I can only imagine what it’s like for Taylor to have lost his high school sweetheart of 11 years.

That being said, it’s playoff time, we’re right in the thick of things and the question now is “Who/what/where/when/why to do with Pyatt”. Pyatt was at the end of the season finally skating a lot better, he’d managed to get a few points and it looked like he was settling in on the third line and finally clicking with his line mates. Then tragedy struck and off he goes and the bottom lines fill up nicely and form a cohesion that has wowed us all.

If Pyatt comes back and takes up his role on the third line we’re going to see that third line that has been fantastic split up. So is that third line playing so brilliantly because the players are playing well, or because they’ve got some sort of chemistry there? Either way, I’d be hesitant to split up Wellwood, Bernier and Raymond with the way they’ve been playing. They’ve been that energy line that’s been missing since Burrows got his 1st line promotion and Kesler locked up a spot alongside Sundin and Demitra.

Putting Pyatt on the 4th line might work well (even though my boy Hansen then gets the scratch) because with the way Johnson’s been playing with Rypien, the third man seems interchangeable. But is Pyatt really ready?

Here’s my issue, I feel for Pyatt, I really do. However, when you look at the team from a neutral perspective, Pyatt’s coming in as an emotional wreck. We know he’s close to the team, we know his fiance was close to the team, and I don’t want that flood of emotions to be brought into the locker room. We saw how the original shock of the event hit the players and the last thing this team needs is emotional instability to hit the team again. If Pyatt is ready to play (my criticism of him aside) I welcome him back with open arms. But here is a team that is at the top of it’s game. It’s got a new found chemistry that’s more like alchemy the way they’ve been cashing in lately, and I just want to see them do whatever is necessary to go all the way, whether or not that includes Pyatt.

Apr 232009
 

Before I go praising the Canucks through every high hill and low dale, I have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to the St. Louis Blues. They played a fantastic series, they were young, inexperienced, and they gave us a heck of a run for our money. The 4-0 series sweep was no indication of how close the series was and even in the last game, they were down, they got up, they tied it, and they took us late into OT before they finally fell to their final playoff loss of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

So now the Canucks have up to 10 days off. Should I be worried? Should we start throwing up the red flags? The Canucks of old would certainly have raised question in our minds as to whether they’d benefit from such a long break. Then again, that was the Canucks squad that came out flat against most opponents many nights, that was the Canucks squad that had no secondary scoring, and that was a Canucks squad that’s specialty teams were absolutely brutal. Here’s a Canucks team that defies everything we know and love about this team as fans. They’ve shown us a level of play we never thought was possible from them, and now have me thinking that even after 10 days off they’ll be just fine.

The boys need to use the time wisely and just heal their wounds. The early round advancing was a blessing in disguise. Salo and Sundin who were healthy scratches in game 4 now have a little extra time to fix their respective injuries. Demitra could use the time, as could Luongo and Henrik Sedin who were both a little shaken up at different times in the OT series clincher. I’m sure even Ryan Johnson could use a break and take care of the bruises he’s inevitably amounted after going down for nearly every shot he can.

No matter who we face in the second round I think the break will benefit us. If we face Detroit because San Jose pulls off the comeback in their series, then we’ll face a team that’s equally rested (barring a miracle on ice by the Blue Jackets). If that’s the case then they’ll likely be a little off their game from the lack of game time too. If we play the winner of the Chicago/Calgary series, I get the feeling the winner is going to emerge after 7 games, and with that in mind, they’re going to come out tired, and beat up. So even if we’re off our game a little after the long break, the fact we’ve got rested legs should make up for the temporary out of sync play that should start to dissipate through the first period.

This is a Canucks team that we haven’t ever seen. This is the best team we’ve seen since the West Coast express saw Naslund and Bert finish 2 and 3 in the scoring race during the regular season. While we all could try and predict what might happen, we’re likely shooting in the dark because none of us would have predicted this the way it turned out.

Apr 212009
 
Apr 202009
 
Apr 172009
 
Jan 092009
 
Jan 082009
 

After a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers last night in which he had 3 points, Alex Burrows does the best job of summing up the effect of Mats Sundin’s addition to the Vancouver Canucks lineup (Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun):

“We didn’t see their top four defencemen all night,” Burrows explained of the Oiler matchups. “We saw a lot of their third pairing, so obviously that’s going to open up ice for us. I think everybody will be benefit from him.”

Kyle Wellwood also added:

“I was talking to Henrik and Daniel before the game, telling them the other team’s coach has to make a decision now [about which Canucks to check] with Mats out there,” Wellwood said. “He can’t play his top defencemen 60 minutes. I thought Mats had a strong game.”

Mats Sundin didn’t score last night. He logged a very average 15 minutes of ice-time and didn’t have any shots on goal (though he had a few scoring chances), but he sure made a difference. For the last couple of seasons, there was so much talk about how the Canucks need a second scoring line to help the Sedins. With Sundin in the lineup and how he attracts the defense, they may well have three.

Much, much more on Sundin’s debut:

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