Jan 242014
 

8 goals in 7 games.

After losing 2-1 at home to the Nashville Predators last night, the Canucks have now scored just 8 goals in 7 games, and have lost 9 of their last 12 games.

Poooofftt is right.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Dec 032013
 

162397699_slide
(source: nhl.com)

Vancouver Canucks (14-10-5)
Nashville Predators (13-11-3)

The Vancouver Canucks wrap-up their 4-game road trip tonight against the Nashville Predators. This is the first of 3 meetings between the two teams. Last season, the Canucks won all 3 games against the Predators.

With their Sunday morning win against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Canucks have won 2 of the 3 games on the road trip so far, and it would be good to head home for their 5-game homestand on a winning note. On the other hand, the Predators have lost their last 2 games; they were shutout by the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout on Saturday.

Who’s Hot

After ending his 24-game point drought on November 23rd against the Chicago Blackhawks, Canucks defensemen Jason Garrison has been on fire. He has 6 points (1 goal and 5 assists) in his last 5 games.

For the Predators, Mr. Carrie Underwood, Mike Fisher, has 3 goals in his last 4 games. Fisher also opened the scoring for the Predators on Saturday against the Flyers.

Who’s Out

Once again, the Canucks will be without forward Alexandre Burrows who is out indefinitely with a broken jaw. Forward Jordan Schroeder is still out with a sprained ankle, though he is expected to return in mid-to-late December.

The Predators will be without the bearded one, Shea Weber (eye), and Kevin Klein (lower body). Forward Filip Forsberg (upper body) has been placed on injured reserve.

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.

Chicago Blackhawks

Photo credit: Grantland

Chicago Blackhawks

The Good

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, and may very well have a chance at a repeat performance. After all, they retained much of their players, with Dave Bolland perhaps the only significant subtraction from the roster. Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger all seem ready to take on more responsibility.

The Bad

Especially with the hard salary cap and increased parity, it’s pretty darn tough to repeat in this league. The last team to be able to do so were the 1996/1997 and 1997/1998 Detroit Red Wings.

The Outlook

As much as it hurts to say this, I think the Blackhawks are, once again, the team to beat this season.

*****

Colorado Avalanche

The Good

After a few seasons in the cellar, the Avalanche are slowly assembling a good group of players up front. Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon are as good a young forward core as any team can ask for.

The Bad

Their defense is weak and their goaltending is inconsistent.

The Outlook

There may be hope on the horizon for the Avs, but at least for this season, they’ll have to go through some growing pains.

*****

Dallas Stars

The Good

The Stars may have given up first-line winger, Loui Eriksson, to the Boston Bruins, but in Tyler Seguin, they received someone with no. 1 center potential. In the same deal, they also managed to get Rich Peverley, who has potential to produce as a no. 2 center. Jamie Benn, a 6’2″ forward who averaged 0.80 points per game last season, is an emerging star. 23-year old Alex Chiasson and 2013 1st round draft pick Valeri Nichushkin look like they will fill some key roles in the lineup.

The Bad

There’s not a lot of depth in the back end after Alex Goligoski, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley. 39-year old, UFA signing Sergei Gonchar will help, but other than that will rely on guys like Brendan Dillon, ex-Canuck Kevin Connauton, Jamie Oleksiak and Jordie Benn to improve.

The Outlook

This may be a bridge year for the Stars. The kids will get opportunities to play and gain some much-needed experience.

*****

Minnesota Wild

The Good

By signing Matt Cooke and trading for Nino Niederreiter, the Wild did well to improve their bottom-six.

The Bad

The top-six is top-heavy. After the no. 1 line of Mikko Koivu-Zach Parise-Jason Pomminville, the Wild will have to rely on youngsters, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, and hope that Dany Heatley can stay relatively healthy and able to chip in offensively.

The Outlook

After making a big splash and signing Parise and franchise defenseman Ryan Suter last year, there was a lot of optimism in St. Paul to start the 2012/2013 season. Expectations should be more tempered this season.

*****

Nashville Predators

The Good

Goaltending and defense will, of course, once again be the Predators’ strong suit. They had Seth Jones drop into their laps at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and Roman Josi looks like the real deal.

The Bad

The Preds’ offense finished dead last in the NHL last year; this year won’t be any better.

The Outlook

Sometime in the future, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and Taylor Beck may well provide Nashville with the offense they need. Just not with any regular frequency this season.

*****

St. Louis Blues

The Good

The Blues have incredible depth throughout their lineup and should once again be one of the hardest teams to play against. Already with David Backes, Alex Steen, Chris Stewart, Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko, they went ahead and added Magnus Paajarvi from Edmonton and ex-Canucks, Derek Roy and Maxim Lapierre. Their defensive corps consisting of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barret Jackman, Roman Polak and Jordan Leopold may be the best in the league.

The Bad

The Blues have only won one playoff round – in 2011/2012 – in the last ten seasons.

The Outlook

The Blues should easily make the post-season in the new Central Division, and certainly, they have the pieces to finally make it out of the second round of the playoffs.

*****

Winnipeg Jets

The Good

The Jets’ top-3 on d – Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian – can produce with the best of them. Up front, they added some depth behind Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little by signing versatile Michael Frolik and 20-goal man, Devin Setoguchi.

The Bad

Their defense isn’t that great defensively, playing in the same division as some very good defensive teams.

The Outlook

The Jets should be able to compete for one of the Western Conference’s wildcard spots.

Mar 142013
 

I look at the good, the bad, and the interesting from the Vancouver Canucks’ 7-4 victory over the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena.

I doubt that anyone predicted 11 total goals in this contest between two teams that have had difficulty scoring this season.  The fans were treated to a highly entertaining contest that had a bit of everything: nice goals, fights, defensive breakdowns, and even a penalty shot.

I touch on Jannik Hansen, Andrew Ebbett, Mason Raymond, Henrik’s penalty shot, David Booth, Kevin Bieksa’s tough game, our crowded blueline, and a little trip I’m taking.

Thus, I’ll be taking a one-week break from creating these postgame commentaries.

 

Mar 142013
 

After winning just 1 of 3 games in their recently-concluded road trip, the Canucks head back to Rogers Arena for a 4-game home stand. They’ll look to build on their shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday and improve on their rather average 6-3-3 home record.

Like the Canucks, the Nashville Predators are in a dogfight to make the playoffs. They currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, but are among a group of 8 teams (including the Canucks) that are within 2 points of each other. In fact, after the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, only 8 points separate 3rd place and 15th place in the wild, wild West.

Alex Edler and Scott Hannan

Photo by Frederick Breedon

Perhaps none of this should be a surprise to the Preds. While they managed to retain Shea Weber – thanks to Paul Holmgren, it only took them $110 million to do it – Weber himself hasn’t been as good this season as he has been in the past. Losing Ryan Suter does that. They’re also relying more on second-year players like Roman Josi and Gabriel Bourque.

Now, if you think this matters to Preds fans, or if you think the team would suffer in the box office because of the lockout, you’re wrong. The Predators have sold out all 12 home games so far this season and they expect to sell out the remaining 12 home games the rest of the way.

The Canucks and the Preds have already met once this season. Led by Roberto Luongo and his 23 saves, the Canucks won a 1-0 decision in Nashville back on February 22nd. Dale Weise, who scored the game’s lone goal halfway through the third period, was the unlikely hero.

Canucks Record

25 GP, 12-7-6, 30 points (1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Jason Garrison has points in consecutive games (1G-1A-2P). He’s also been logging some additional ice-time – in the 23 to 25-minute range – while Kevin Bieksa remains injured (and Andrew Alberts remains in the lineup to play his whopping 10 minutes per game).

After a 5-game stretch during which he allowed an average of 4 goals per game, Pekka Rinne has 2 shutouts in his last 3 games.

Who’s Not

Despite his decent play and his beauty of a spinorama move in Tuesday’s shootout, Mason Raymond only has 4 points (2G-2A) in his last 13 games.

Quickies

  • Maple Ridge’s Vic Bartley was called up by the Predators over the weekend and will play his first-ever NHL game in Vancouver. (Maple Ridge News)
  • Known as the guy who cost the Canucks Revelstoke native, Aaron Volpatti, Steve Pinizzotto finished his conditioning stint with the Chicago Wolves yesterday, and is expected to join the Canucks today. (Vancouver Sun)
Feb 192013
 

Surrey native, Brenden Dillon, of the Dallas Stars scores the game-winner against the Vancouver Canucks.

After 6 consecutive wins, the Vancouver Canucks fell a bit back down to earth last week. They did win a relatively low-key game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, but then blew leads in back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the last week was Henrik Sedin passing Markus Naslund as the Canucks’ franchise scoring leader. Against the Stars on Friday, King Hank assisted on brother Daniel’s goal to tie Naslund, and a bit later in the game, passed Naslund with a beautiful cross-ice assist on Alex Burrows’ marker. For good measure, he recorded another 2 points on Sunday against the Blues – an assist on Ryan Kesler’s first goal of the season, and also, his own first goal of the season.

This week, the Canucks embark on a four-game road trip through the Central and Pacific Divisions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at Chicago Blackhawks (5:30 PM start)

The Canucks won the two teams’ first meeting back on February 1st behind some great goaltending from Roberto Luongo and Jordan Schroeder’s shootout winner. To-date, this stands as 1 of the Hawks’ 3 losses this season – they are 12-0-3 with all 3 losses coming in the shootout.

Patrick Kane is off to a hot start with 21 points (9G-12A) in 15 games, putting him in a tie with Steven Stamkos for 3rd in the NHL in scoring. (Stamkos has played 1 less game, however.) Starter Corey Crawford remains sidelined due to a suspected concussion.

With the Canucks placing Andrew Ebbett on waivers yesterday, it is expected that David Booth will make his season debut against the Hawks.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at Dallas Stars (5:00 PM)

The Dallas Stars ruined Hank’s night last Friday by coming back from a 2-goal deficit and posting a 4-3 win at Rogers Arena. With 3 minutes left in the third period, Surrey native, Brenden Dillon, scored his 3rd goal of the season, which stood up as the game-winner.

Undrafted in junior and undrafted in the NHL, Dillon is a good story for the Stars in the early season.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at Nashville Predators (5:00 PM)

After last season’s offensive explosion of sorts, during which they ranked 8th in the league in goals per game (2.83), the Nashville Predators have somewhat reverted back to form, currently ranking 30th out of 30 teams and scoring a measly average of 2.06 goals per game. Losing Ryan Suter in the summer has surely hurt. And now, they’re also missing Patric Hornqvist (leg injury), who had 27 goals for them last season. Still, they sit 5th in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to gaining 5 “loser points” (1 in OT and 4 in the shootout).

The Canucks and the Preds split their 4 games last season with both teams winning two games each, one at home and the other on the road.

Tuesday, February 24, 2013 at Detroit Red Wings (2:00 PM)

For a team going through a turnover of sorts, the Detroit Red Wings are doing a decent job of staying in contention for a playoff spot. Sure they lost Niklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler, but they’ve been able to break in guys like Damien Brunner, Tomas Tatar and Brian Lashoff into the lineup. They’ve also given Jonathan Ericsson a larger role in the back end.

The Canucks had a 2-1-1 record against the Wings last season. Henrik Sedin paced the Canucks with 4 assists while Daniel had 2 goals and 3 points. Darren Helm scored 5 (1G-4A) of his 26 points last season in the 4 games against the Canucks.

Jan 182013
 

The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues could be battling for top spot in the Western Conference this season.

Yesterday, we previewed the Eastern Conference. Today – the Western Conference:

1. St. Louis Blues – 60 points

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

Why: The time is now for the Blues, who are strong in all areas and backstopped by one of the best pairings in the league (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott). A Conference Finals appearance, at the very least, should be expected. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pieterangelo are among the best young defensemen in the game and eat up minutes on the back end. The addition of rookie winger Vlad Tarasenko should give the Blues three scoring lines with grit.

2. Los Angeles Kings – 58 points

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

Why: The Kings finally played to their potential in last year’s post season, winning the Stanley Cup after a difficult regular season. There’s no reason to expect similar struggles this time around, especially with the lockout-related layoff recharging some of the players’ batteries. An injury to Willie Mitchell hurts somewhat, but should give more icetime to second-year defenseman Slava Voynov, who was the reason L.A. could part with Jack Johnson at last year’s deadline. The Kings are extremely deep at centre, with Anze Kopitar a dominant two-way force (although he’s starting the season with a knee injury). Jonathan Quick was the NHL’s best goalie in 2012, and is supported by Jonathan Bernier, who could easily start for a number of other teams.

3. Vancouver Canucks – 50 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: A-
Defense: B+
Forwards: B+
Coaching: B-

Why: The window on the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dream is quickly closing. Injuries have rendered Ryan Kesler a question mark, and without him it’s hard to see where the goals will come from beyond the Sedin line. David Booth’s injury also adds to these offensive woes. The team is deep in net, and really needs to move Roberto Luongo as soon as possible to fill gaps up front. The blueline is very solid but unspectacular, with Jason Garrison likely to struggle to repeat last year’s goal-scoring performance. New starting goalie Cory Schneider was the only significant Canuck to spend time playing during the lockout. Expect this team to be slow out of the gate.

4. Detroit Red Wings – 54 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: B
Defense: C+
Forwards: B
Coaching: A

Why: The Red Wings blueline looks rather suspect, especially when you consider two former Maple Leafs (Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White) will be expected to shoulder top-4 minutes. Actually, the Wings will likely go as far as two youngsters take them: If Brendan Smith can step in and fill some of the offensive void left by Lidstrom’s retirement, that will be a major boost to the team’s fortunes. Similarly, if Damien Brunner can find chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg, it will fill the void left by Jiri Hudler’s departure. Pavel Datsyuk remains an elite player, and Jimmy Howard is a proven commodity in goal.

5. Nashville Predators – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: A
Defense: B
Forwards: C-
Coaching: B-

Why: The Predators will be successful as long as Pekka Rinne remains a top-end goaltender in the NHL. Thankfully, Rinne played throughout the lockout, and should be in top-form right out of the gate. Yes, the loss of Ryan Suter has an impact, but not as much as you may expect, as youngsters Jonathan Blum and especially Roman Josi are ready for additional minutes. Up front, the team is filled with strong skating grinders, with Craig Smith the most likely Predator to experience a bump in offensive performance. This team will never win pretty, and the style of play likely to be found during this shortened season may actually be to their benefit. For what it’s worth, reviews of Sergei Kostitsyn’s play overseas during the lockout were extremely positive.

6. Phoenix Coyotes – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: B
Defense: B
Forwards: D+
Coaching: A

Why: Mike Smith came out of nowhere to dominate between the pipes, lifting the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Finals. A similar level of performance should get them safely back into the playoffs, although an injury would be devastating (the drop-off in quality to backup Jason LaBarbera is massive). Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a point per game defenseman in the AHL, and looks ready to assume the mantle left by Niklas Lidstrom as the best Swedish defenseman in the NHL. Nobody squeezes more out of marginal NHL talent on the third and fourth lines than coach Dave Tippett. Steve Sullivan is unlikely to replace the performance of Ray Whitney (off to Dallas), which means the time is now for Mikel Boedker and Martin Hanzal to find their offensive game. In all honesty, the Predators and Coyotes are arguably the same team playing in different coloured jerseys.

7. Chicago Blackhawls – 51 points

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

Why: The elite talent to be found on the Blackhawks roster – and there’s a lot of it – is held back by questionable goaltending. Corey Crawford was inconsistent in goal last season for Chicago, and Ray Emery wasn’t much better. The defense unit is largely unchanged and should be strong, although Duncan Keith’s play dipped slightly in 2011-12. Up front, Marian Hossa should be ready after a devastating playoff hit from Raffi Torres, and Patrick Kane played very well overseas during the lockout.

8. Minnesota Wild – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for the playoffs
Goaltending: B-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: D+

Why: Since when has spending a lot of money on unrestricted free agents led to on-ice success? Granted, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are huge improvements to the Wild roster, but this remains a work-in-progress lineup. Mikko Koivu should thrive with Parise on his wing, but the real key to the Minnesota attack this year will be the development of Mikael Granlund. If Granlund is Calder Trophy-worthy offensively, that should push the Wild into playoff contention. The defense behind Suter is thin and relatively young, and who knows how he will respond to greater responsibility than what he had in Nashville. Nik Backstrom is better-than-average in goal, but has been injury prone of late. His backup – Josh Harding – also has injury issues and was diagnosed with MS in October. Raised expectations and a slow start could cost coach Mike Yeo his job.

9. Edmonton Oilers – 49 points

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

Why: Let’s be clear – on paper, right now, it’s hard to see the Oilers as a playoff team. However it’s very likely they will improve upon every grade listed above over the course of the season. That’s what happens when young teams develop and get better. It should also be noted that only the Flyers had more players active during the lockout than the Oilers. Rookie Jeff Schultz has dominated the AHL, and could be the most exciting rookie defenseman to hit the NHL since Sergei Zubov. NHL-calibre play from the rookie Schultz, and injury-free play from Ryan Whitney, will give a significant boost to the Oiler blueline. Meanwhile, the team is loaded with offensive talent up front. Jordan Eberle, in particular, looks like he might be ready to join elite status. Finally, there isn’t a more respected coach internationally than Ralph Krueger. If he lives up to his reputation, it’s just one more reason why the Oilers can make the playoffs.

10. San Jose Sharks – 49 points

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

Why: The Sharks nucleus remains formidable, but beyond Logan Couture, it is also aging, with the best days behind Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau. San Jose remains a team with a good top-six and a sketchy bottom six group of forwards. The blueline is the team’s strength. Brent Burns is still recovering from off-season surgery and had a disappointing first season on the West Coast, but has the talent to be a solid #2 defenseman. Brad Stuart and Doug Murray are solid defensively, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is underrated. In goal, Antti Niemi continues his history of inconsistent play, and may be pushed by backup Thomas Greiss.

11. Dallas Stars – 46 points

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

Why: The Stars have rolled the dice in the off-season, loading up with aged veterans Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in efforts to get the team back into the playoffs. It’s quite possible this strategy could blow up in the team’s face, as older players will have their energy and bodies taxed during the shortened season. Top-line forward Jaime Benn is also sitting out with a contract dispute, making it even more likely the Stars get off to a poor start. The blueline is thin, although Alex Goligoski has untapped potential as a puck-mover. The key then is how well Kari Lehtonen can play, and how healthy he can remain. Lehtonen was Vezina-calbire last season.

12. Anaheim Ducks – 44 points

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

Why: Like their state rivals in San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks boast a very solid offensive nucleus in their top two lines (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) but little depth beyond that upfront. The hope is rookies Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly can fill the talent gap, but that’s asking a lot (especially Smith-Pelly, who hasn’t shown much in the AHL). The addition of Scott Niedermayer as an assistant coach is hoped to help the stalled development of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. They must improve to support what is otherwise a slow-footed, veteran blueline. In net, Jonas Hiller had a poor 2011-12 and must rebound for the Ducks to get into the playoff race. A slow start could see some major changes to the roster, not to mention coach and management.

13. Calgary Flames – 43 points

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

Why: There’s just not enough talent on this roster to win a playoff spot, which means it will take a superhuman season from Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Flames to the post-season. At his age (36) that’s a lot to ask. Meanwhile, the team’s best player, Jarome Iginla, has already suffered a groin injury and has a lot of wear and tear on his 35-year old body. The additions of Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka (out with a blood clot) and Dennis Wideman are band-aid solutions to solving some of the offensive issues that have plagued the team recently. You can question each players’ willingness to compete and they’re likely to be found in Bob Hartley’s doghouse at some point. In fact, a poor start to the short Flames season could see both Kiprusoff and Iginla finally dealt, in efforts to better secure the team’s future.

14. Colorado Avalanche – 41 points

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

Why: Whereas the Capitals are the biggest question mark in the Eastern Conference, welcome to the biggest question mark in the West. They could win the division; they could end up in last place. The Avalanche certainly feature talented young forwards up front (Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Statsny), but the contract dispute with Ryan O’Reilly is a significant blow. He’s the team’s best two-way player – Colorado’s version of Ryan Kesler – and without him there’s a significant lack of grit and defensive acumen amongst the forward group. The defense looks like a mess. Erik Johnson is still struggling to find a consistent, top-level NHL game. Rookies Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott may be asked to add speed and puck-movement to a sluggish blueline, but both play a high-risk game. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are a goaltending duo with strong potential but prone to streakiness. Keep in mind – only 5 Avs players were active during the lockout.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 38 points

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

Why: Essentially, the Blue Jackets have blown themselves up by trading Rick Nash, and are starting from scratch in terms of building a winner. They’re going about it the right way this time, with a focus on building from the net out. They could be better than they’re rated here. Sergei Bobrovsky was lights-out during the lockout in the KHL and has high-end potential. A strong season from him would be the first strong goaltending season Columbus has had in years. On defense, Jack Johnson played very well after being dealt from the Kings, as did Nikita Nikitin (from St. Louis). Add James Wisniewski to the equation and suddenly you have a mobile, solid puck-moving top-three. It’s in their own zone where there could be problems. The biggest hole is up front on offense, where youngster Cam Atkinson looks primed to break out. There’s some decent grit and speed in the mix, but goals will be very hard to come by.

Jul 192012
 

You can’t blame Canucks fans for obsessing over the possibility of Shea Weber coming to Vancouver. Besides being from BC and still holding strong ties here, he’s a legitimate no. 1 defenseman and a Norris Trophy candidate – basically, a defenseman the kind of which the Canucks have never had.

As an RFA this season and a UFA next season, Nashville’s options were limited. Presumably, the Predators had been trying to re-sign him, but from the looks of things, Weber didn’t seem too interested. He was free to sign an offer sheet with a team he liked, and if the Predators didn’t match, they would receive draft picks as compensation, hardly a suitable return for a player of his ilk. And if the offer sheet were for a one-year term, and if the Predators did match, they couldn’t trade him for the next year and Weber could walk away for nothing at the end of it. Like Dan Hamhuis did a couple of years ago and Ryan Suter did this year.

So I’m sure David Poile wasn’t pleased with last night’s bombshell the Philadelphia Flyers had signed him to a 14-year/$110 million offer sheet:


From Kyper, here’s the complete breakdown of the deal:

YearSalarySigning BonusTotal $Cap Hit
Year 1$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 2$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 3$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 4$1 mil$13 mil$14 mil$7.857 mil
Year 5$4 mil$8 mil$12 mil$7.857 mil
Year 6$4 mil$8 mil$12 mil$7.857 mil
Year 7$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 8$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 9$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 10$6 mil$0$6 mil$7.857 mil
Year 11$3 mil$0$3 mil$7.857 mil
Year 12$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Year 13$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Year 14$1 mil$0$1 mil$7.857 mil
Total $$42 mil$68 mil$110 mil

To be frank, very few probably foresaw an offer sheet for big term and big bucks, if only because negotiating with Weber and getting him to sign on such terms would be akin to doing David Poile’s job for him. With the right to match, the 14-year term could guarantee Weber stays in Nashville for the rest of his career; with a reasonable cap hit, the only impediment would be whether or not they could come up with enough cash flow – $80 million in the first 6 years of the deal – to afford it. Really, if I’m David Poile, I don’t see any reason not to match the Flyers’ offer, except maybe if I could work out a trade with the Flyers in the next 7 days for several top-level players or prospects.

For those criticizing Mike Gillis or the Canucks for not being aggressive enough, consider these:

1) I doubt this is a money issue. Aquilini has shown time and again that he’s willing to buck up. Look at the big-money, long-term commitments he’s made to Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Hamhius, Bieksa, Ballard, Booth, Garrison, Schneider… the list goes on. Look at how much he’s willing to spend on depth NHL players while they’re playing in the AHL.

2) The Canucks could have thrown Weber a one-year offer sheet, but given the state of CBA negotiations, why would he sign on for one year and then have to negotiate a new contract under the new – and presumably more stringent – CBA next year?

3) The Canucks could have thrown Weber a multi-year offer sheet, but unlike the Flyers, the Canucks probably weren’t willing to risk that Nashville would simply match, and thus remove Weber from the market.

4) if the Predators were indeed shopping Weber’s rights, it’s hard to believe the Canucks would have been able to offer anywhere near the kind of return the Flyers, Rangers, Sharks (the other rumored suitors for Weber) are able to. The Canucks’ biggest trading chip would’ve been one of their goaltenders, which the Predators don’t need. After that, it’s probably Alex Edler, who is, like Weber would’ve been, a UFA next year. In comparison, the other teams could offer a package that potentially includes the likes of Taylor Hall, Sean Couturier, Braydon Coburn, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Patrick Marleau or Joe Pavelski.

For the most optimistic of us, I suppose, given the Predators’ general financial environment and the Flyers’ willingness to trade even long-term deals, we could hope that Weber would someday be available via the trade market. In the meantime, the Canucks’ 42-year quest for a true no. 1 defenseman continues.

May 142012
 

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: L.A (3-1-2)

What we learned about the Coyotes in the Second Round: That they’re Cinderella at the ball. Hard to give too much credit to a team that has been routinely outshot (-9.5 shots for/shots against differential in the playoffs) and only had one powerplay goal in the second round. Mike Smith has been terrific yes, but the Desert Dogs were fortunate Nashville found the Phoenix nightlife to their liking. Then again, there are a couple of notorious partiers on the Kings team…

What we learned about the Kings in the Second Round: After a rather miserable 82-game season, this Kings team has become the fearsome squad many pundits predicted could be a darkhorse Cup contender way back at the beginning of the season. It’s not a very fast team, but the Kings move the puck well, are big, and might have the best forecheck left in the playoffs. Los Angeles is averaging 3.00 goals per game right now (tied for 3rd in the post-season and best remaining with the Devils), which is the type of production that should be expected from this group of forwards. Jonathan Quick has been the best goalie in the league this spring (.949 save percentage). Darryl Sutter got some good minutes out of the fourth line against St. Louis (which he didn’t do against Vancouver) and even Dustin Penner (5 pts in 5 games against the Blues) is rolling.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching:  Even (Sutter’s been to a Cup Final as a head coach before, but Dave Tippet has had a great playoff behind the bench leading his less-talented team to two series wins)

Goaltending: Even. Quick has been the playoffs’ best, but the Coyotes don’t get this far without Mike Smith performing like a superhero. Smith gets the benefit of the doubt, although the Kings made Brian Elliott look human last series.

Defense: Kings. Both teams are exceptional defensively. The difference is the Coyotes still give up a ton of shots (even if they’re from outside scoring areas). The Kings are able to clamp down a bit more and they have Drew Doughty, who showed flashes of dominance early in the Blues series.

Offense: Kings (Los Angeles’ top two lines are more talented than what Phoenix can put on the ice, and they’re hot right now. Having said that, Phoenix has gotten timely scoring from every line. Consider this a slight edge that could grow larger if Jeff Carter could ever get going).

Special Teams: Even. Neither team is lighting up the powerplay right now and yet both teams have extremely strong penalty kills. This, coupled with the strength of both goalies, points to a low-scoring series.

Prediction:  Kings in 5.

*****

Notes on the Dearly Departed:

St. Louis Blues

Cause of Death: Injuries to Alex Pieterangelo and Jaroslav Halak.

Prescription: Stay the course. Brian Elliott was inconsistent at times in the second round, meaning interest in dealing Jaroslav Halak in the off-season should be limited. Otherwise this is a team in the headed in the right direction (especially if Patrick Berglund can carry his playoff performance into next year).

Nashville Predators

Cause of Death: Off-ice distractions that tore the dressing room apart.

Prescription: Let Ryan Suter go – the Predators have some good young defenseman primed for NHL exposure, and they could use the money to help keep Shea Weber long-term. Move back-up goalie Anders Lindback in a package that can return a top-six scoring forward. Let Alex Radulov go – sure he’s talented, but it’s clear now he doesn’t have the intangibles that lead to NHL playoff success. This could be a classic case of a team stumbling before taking the next step. There’s still a lot to like in Smashville.

Apr 272012
 
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues

Photo credit: The Checking Line

Let’s just get this out of the way first, shall we?

This first round was a bloody disappointment.

Welcome to the deadpuck era 2.0 – to a style of play that see goal prevention more successful than goal creation.

Where goaltenders dominate, and the flow of the game – much improved since the lockout – has returned to slogging through muck.

It’s an game filled with interference and Wild West justice, where league’s least skilled players may attack, hurt and render obsolete its most talented.

Look, playoff hockey is supposed to be many things – faster, more physical, more passionate. But what it shouldn’t be is more boring.

But that’s what it’s been.

The league has become stronger defensively in general, and the playoffs have only amplified that. This is shaping up to be the lowest scoring first-round of the last five years, if not longer. 

First Round Goals Per Game:

Western ConferenceYearEastern Conference
4.4320125.64*
5.9620115.83
6.4320105.08
5.3020095.00
5.0820085.65

God bless that Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, which on its own has saved the league from having the lack of goals be a bigger negative story. The Battle of Pennsylvania averaged 9.33 (!!!) goals per game. The rest of the Eastern Conference games have been snore-fests (4.47).

Skilled teams are falling by the wayside in these playoffs, which, unless Philadelphia or Nashville win the Stanley Cup, reverses the historic trend that shows scoring teams persevere.

The only question is if this is a one-year anomaly or not.

The decline in scoring league-wide in recent years; the rise in shot-blocking; the reduction in penalty calls this season and power play goals (only the Sharks scored at a rate higher than 10% on the powerplay after the All-Star Game!); the defensive collapse in front of the net and other strategies lead me to believe things are only going to get worse unless rules are changed.

With that cheery thought in mind, let’s take a look at the Second Round match-ups in the Western Conference.

 St. Louis Blues (2) vs.Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: Los Angeles Kings (3-1)

What we have learned about St. Louis:

They have come of age. When the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock, they did so to determine once and for all whether the young players they’d assembled on their roster were good enough to win together. Manhandling the Sharks in the first round answered that question. Winning in five games also gives them some rest ahead of another round of significant travel against a gruelling West Coast team. The Blues have four lines that can contribute, although in reality only the top-two lines are a threat to score.

What we have learned about Los Angeles:

That they look like another Darryl Sutter team – the 2004 Calgary Flames that went on a Cup run. Jonathan Quick remains a brick wall in goal (Miikka Kiprusoff-esque) and Dustin Brown did a pretty terrific Jarome Iginla impression against the Canucks. Having said that, the absence of Daniel Sedin for three games (all losses) and the poor play of Ryan Kesler were significant factors in L.A.’s win. They’re a good team – better than your usual eighth place team – but the stars were aligned a bit for them in round one. Oh, and the fourth line barely plays.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Blues. Slight edge to Hitchcock because he’s won a Cup but both coaches have their teams playing about as well as possible.

Goaltending: Kings. Both teams have put up microscopic goals against totals but if I had to pick one goalie from this series to win a seventh game right now it would be Jonathan Quick, not Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak.

Defense: Even. Alex Pieterangelo is playing better than Drew Doughty these days, but Willie Mitchell had the series of his life against the Canucks. Both teams execute their defensive systems flawlessly.

Offense: Blues. A slight edge here to the Blues, as Andy McDonald and Patrick Berglund had impressive first rounds. Can they continue? Meanwhile, the potential is there for L.A.’s offense to explode, but a strict commitment to Darryl Sutter’s system could mean on-going sporadic production from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Kings are to win this series, they need one of their big guns to get hot.

Special Teams: Blues. The Blues powerplay was third-best in the league post the All-Star Game, and lit-up the Sharks at a rate of 33%. Both teams have very good penalty kills.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

*****

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

What we have learned about Nashville:

They are who we thought they were – arguably the most talented, deepest Predators team in franchise history. They proved they can skate and out-play the Red Wings five-on-five as their powerplay (league best in the regular season) failed them in the first round. At over 20-minutes a game, rookie defenseman Roman Josi was leaned on and played a sound series against Detroit.

What we have learned about Phoenix:

That Mike Smith has pretty much transformed himself into goaltending coach Sean Burke, who at his best was among the league’s elite netminders. This is a Phoenix team that found surprising scoring depth in round one – no remaining Western Conference team had as many different round one goal scorers as Phoenix did (11). Otherwise, this is a Coyotes team that won a playoff series by taking advantage of the counter-attack and being opportunistic. Territorially, thanks to their bend-don’t-break defensive scheme, the Coyotes were outplayed much of round one by the Blackhawks.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Two of the best coaches in the game.

Goaltending: Even. Pekka Rinne has a bit longer resume, but Mike Smith was all-world for Phoenix in round one.

Defense: Predators. It’s an underrated blueline in Phoenix, but Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were dominant against the Red Wings. The Predators should get Hal Gill back as well, which should give them a boost on the penalty kill and an additional match-up advantage. Forwards on both teams are expected to play both-ways, but the Predators don’t give up nearly as many shots as the Coyotes do.

Offense: Predators. The Coyotes surprising scoring in the first round could be attributable to poor play from Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Ray Whitney is an elite, intelligent attacker but the rough style of play found in these playoffs limits his effectiveness at even strength. Let’s not forget Nashville was one of the highest scoring teams in the league during the regular season. Alex Radulov is probably the player in this series most capable of dominating play.

Special Teams: Predators. Phoenix’s special teams were very good against a Chicago team that struggled in this area during the regular season. Expect a bit of a drop-off. Nashville’s powerplay struggled against Detroit. They’ll need a better second round performance if they hope to beat the Coyotes.

Prediction: Predators in 5.

*****

Finally, a quick word on the departed:

Vancouver Canucks

Cause of death: A lack of secondary scoring and Duncan Keith’s elbow.

Prescription: Stay-the-course, get what you can for Luongo, and try and find a 25-goal scorer or strong playmaker who can mesh with Ryan Kesler.

*****

Chicago Blackhawks

Cause of death: Poor goaltending and a massive concussion to Marian Hossa, care of Raffi Torres.

Prescription: Upgrade in net. Otherwise there’s still much to like about this Chicago team.

*****

Detroit Red Wings

Cause of death: Age. This team is just not as deep or capable on defense or up front.

Prescription: Use their cap space on Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. A Rick Nash trade would be worth exploring too. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jaromir Jagr end up here either as a PP specialist (if he doesn’t resign in Philly).

*****

San Jose Sharks

Cause of death: Age. See the Red Wings above.

Prescription: Shake up the core. It would not be a surprise to see Patrick Marleau and/or Danny Boyle moved to bring fresh pieces into the fold. The Sharks will try to take a quick step back to take a giant leap forward before Joe Thornton is completely washed up.

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