Apr 302009
 

After going 7 of 8 in round 1, missing only the Carolina win over New Jersey, it is time to make my predictions for round 2 of the playoffs and this should prove to be a tougher round to predict.

Boston vs Carolina

This is probably the easiest series to predict.  As significant as Carolina’s win over New Jersey was, NEw Jersey seemed to do something they rarely ever do by giving up a number of late goals to lose games.  Boston should prove to be a far more challening foe than New Jersey and as good as Cam Ward has been, I don’t think he can steal more than a game or two and Boston’s superior depth up front and far superior defense will be enough for the Bruins to easily win the series.  Boston in 5.

Washington vs Pittsburgh

This might be the new premier rivalry in the NHL with two of the premier offenses in the game plus the heated russian rivalry of Ovechkin vs Malkin while Sidney Crosby desperately tries to strut his stuff in order to nor be left behind in the offensive flair department.  Both teams have solid supporting casts as well with Backstrom, Semin and Green in Washington and Gonchar, Sykora, Kunitz and others in Pittsburgh.  The difference in this series might come down to goaltending and whether young Capitals goalie, Simean Varlamov can keep up his outstanding play because Marc-Andre Fleury is really developing into a confident and more than competent number 1 goalie.  Varlamov will be facing a much more formidable offense in the Penguins than he faced in the Rangers and I am not sure he can keep up his play and Theodore just isn’t a viable option.  Penguins in 6 in an extremely entertaining series.

Detroit vs Anaheim

Like the Washington-Pittsburgh series, this is one I am really looking forward to watching.  There is no doubt that these two teams have the best group of defensemen in the NHL.  Pronger-Niedermayer-Beauchemin-Whitney vs Lidstrom-Rafalski-Kronwall-Stuart.  Only Boston would come remotely close to those defense groupings.  So, if you assume the defenses cancel each other out the series will come down to Detroits added depth up front to Anaheim’s likely edge in goal.  Osgood was good in the first round but Columbus is not an offensive juggernaught and they seemed overwhelmed bu their first playoff experience and just didn’t put up much of a challenge.  Anaheim should prove to be a tougher challenge for Osgood.  As for Anaheim’s defense and goaltending, they pretty much shut down a very good San Jose offense so there is no reason they may not be able to stand up to Detroit.  It is really difficult to bet against such a talented team like the Red Wings but I am just not confident in Osgood being good enough.  Anaheim in six.

Vancouver vs Chicago

Chicago got a bit lucky in that they played a pretty injury riddled Calgary team but Vancouver will prove to be a much bigger challenge to the young Blackhawk team.  They have depth on defense, can put out a couple of lines that can score a bit, and a lights out goalie that should prove to be far superior than what Kiprusoff was in the first round.  Khabibulin has been very good in the playoffs and all but won the deciding game six game against Calgary but he won’t be good enough to give the Blackhawks a win over the Canucks.  Vancouver in 5.

Apr 152009
 

Boston (5-0-1) vs Montreal (1-4-1)
This one is easy. Barring a spectacular performance from Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak and Boston taking a ridiculous number of penalties, the Bruins will win this one easy. The Bruins have better goaltending, significant better defense considering Montreal’s injuries, and better and bigger forwards. Boston dominated the regular season series and will take this series in 5 games.

Washington (3-0-1) vs NY Rangers (0-3-1)
The Capitals are the young and offensively talented team while the Rangers have more experience (though not significantly so) and play a more defensive game with excellent goaltending. The key for the Rangers will be to have one of their forward lines really step up and consistently produce offense. If they can do that their defense and goaltending may be enough to get them past the Capitals. In the end though I just think the Capitals have too much offensive power with Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom,Green etc. The Capitals will win in 6 games.

New Jersey (1-3-0) vs Carolina (3-1-0)
This is a very intriguing series. You have the hottest team in the NHL in the Hurricanes (won 9 in a row before dropping the final 2 almost meaningless games) against a veteran team who struggled at times down the stretch. The Devils won 4 of their final 5 games, including a season closing victory over the Hurricanes so maybe they are back in the winning mode. Brodeur struggled a bit down the stretch as well but we know he can, and likely will, pick up his game during the playoffs. Cam Ward has been awesome for the Hurricanes the past few months as well so it could be a low scoring series. This is a tough call but I’ll go with Brodeur and the Devils in 7 games.

Pittsburgh (4-2-0) vs Philadelphia (2-4-0)
If the Devils-Hurricanes series is a low scoring one, this will be a high scoring one. Both the Penguins and Flyers have very strong offensive teams and both are capable of putting out two very good offensive lines. Both teams have some good offensive defensemen as well. Defensively both teams have some issues and both teams, particularly the Flyers, have experienced streaky goaltending. For the Flyers Martin Biron can be exceptionally good for a few weeks and then be exceptionally bad for a few weeks. Same for Niittymaki. I am going to give an edge to the Penguins in this series because I think they are playing better hockey heading into the playoffs. Penguins in 6.

San Jose (4-2-0) vs Anaheim (2-4-0)
The Sharks fired Ron Wilson as head coach and brought in Detroit Red Wing assistant coach Todd McLellan to take over as head coach last summer. The reason for the move was in hopes of having more playoff success. For whatever reason, the Sharks didn’t perform up to expectations in the playoffs despite some really good regular seasons under Wilson. The big question is, is this the year for the Sharks? In my opinion they have drawn a pretty tough opening round matchup. They Ducks ended the season on a high note going 10-2-1 in their last 13 games while the Sharks haven’t played as well in the last month or so as they did for most of the season before that. The Ducks can match the Sharks in goal and on defense but the Sharks should have a bit of an edge up front with a little more depth. The Sharks edge in this series is not as significant as many might believe based on each teams regular season point totals. I like the Ducks to upset the Sharks in 7 games.

Detroit (3-2-1) vs Columbus (2-3-1)
This is another upset waiting to happen because the Blue Jackets have generally held their own against the Red Wings and they have a rookie goaltender who is capable of stealing a game or two all on his own. The Red Wings meanwhile have goaltenders that are more than capable of giving away a few games on their own. Outside of goaltending there is really no comparison as the Red Wings are by far the better team. I’ll predict the Red Wings will win in 6, but if the Blue Jackets can pull an upset and take the series I will not be shocked.

Vancouver (2-2-0) vs St. Louis (2-2-0)
Both the Canucks and the Blues played excellent hockey down the stretch with the Canucks surging into the Northwest division title over the Flames and the Blues surging into a final playoff spot. The question I have about the Blues (and somewhat applies to the Blue Jackets too) is will the Blues just be happy to have made the playoffs or will they still have fuel left in their tanks to win a long series. I think for the Blues they may find themselves drained after a tough playoff push which shifts the series into Vancouver’s favour. But the key reason I’ll be picking Vancouver is because I believe Luongo has something to prove and will have a very strong series. I am picking Vancouver in 5 games.

Chicago (4-0-0) vs Calgary (0-3-1)
Of all the ‘good’ teams in the west I always believed the Blackhawks were the team you wanted to face in the playoffs because they have up and down goaltending and a lot of young, inexperienced players. But then I look at how Chicago dominated the Flames in the regular season and how the Flames struggled down the stretch and I have to start thinking that the Blackhawks have the edge in this series. No doubt the key for the Flames is Kipprusoff. When he struggles, the Flames struggle. Kipprusoff struggled down the stretch and if he doesn’t pick it the playoffs will be short for the Flames. As much as I hate to make this prediction, I have to predict the Blackhawks in 7.

Further down the road:
Eastern Conference Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Western Conference Winner: Vancouver Canucks
Stanley Cup Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins

Apr 142009
 

Although Brian Burke didn’t make many significant moves at the trade deadline as many suspected he may it seems apparent that he is wanting to make significant moves in the off season to bring in some young talent. So far he has already signed college free agents Christain Hanson and Tyler Bozak and is in the running to sign defenseman Matt Gilroy. He has also signed QMJHL forward Robert Slaney. Rumours are that Burke is also very interested in Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson who has a very good year as a 24 year old in the Swedish Elite league. We can have no idea how any of these guys will pan out at the NHL level (though Hanson has looked promising in his 5 games getting a goal and an assist) but Hanson, Bozak and Slaney and possibly Gilroy and Gustavsson give the Leafs some much needed organizational depth and give Burke some additional assets to make deals if he finds some of interest. One deal that Burke is interested in making is moving up in the draft in order to draft John Tavares.

I am not shocked by this news. Brian Burke wants to make a splash everywhere he goes. In Vancouver he traded for the draft picked needed to acquire the Sedin twins. In Anaheim he signed free agent defenseman Scott Niedermayer and then traded for Chris Pronger. His opportunity to make a statement move (or moves) for the Leafs is this summer starting with the draft and then into free agency season.

So, what will it take to acquire the first overall pick? Well, that will depend somewhat on who gets the pick but I would assume the asking price would start with the Leafs first round pick, likely 7th. The only teams that have a shot at the #1 overall pick are the Islanders (48.1%), Lightning (18.8%), Avalanche (14.2%), Thrashers (10.7%) and the Los Angeles Kings (8.1%). Each team would provide a different type of trading partner for the Leafs. If Brian Burke had a choice he might be hoping that Tampa wins the draft lottery because it is known that they would like to upgrade their defense and the Leafs have several defenseman who they could deal including Kaberle, former Lightning Kubina, Van Ryn and Ian White all of whom might interest the Lightning. Would Tampa go for something along the lines of the Leafs 7th overall pick and Kaberle for the top overall pick? Possibly. A similar analysis could be said for Colorado who have a top young center already in Paul Stastny and might put a priority on acquiring a defenseman.

But the most likely winner of the draft lottery is the New York Islanders and they pretty much need everything so what they would be looking for in return is a really good hockey trade, not any particular position. With Mark Streit already locked up long term as their offensive defenseman they may not be interested in acquiring the Leafs most valuable asset, Tomas Kaberle. They would probably love Luke Schenn, but would Burke be willing to trade the 7th overall pick and Schenn for the opportunity to draft Tavares? Probably not. In an ideal world I am sure Burke would love to build the Leafs around Tavares and Schenn, not just one of those two. Outside of Kaberle and Schenn, do the Leafs have the assets to acquire the top overall pick from the Islanders? It is not obvious that they do (Tlusty and DiDominico only hold so much value as prospects and it isn’t enough) so it may take some creative trading to accomplish that goal. They may need to seek a third team who will trade them some assets for Kaberle or Kubina that they could then flip to the Islanders for the top overall pick.

In any event, this should prove to be a very interesting summer for the Leafs, starting with the draft in June.