Dec 042008
 

There’s been a lot of talk about Sean Avery‘s recent comments and its suspension but I think there’s still some issues to discuss. There’s been some talk about the league’s motivations behind the suspension, considering that a hit from behind to the head these days gets you only 3 games. Here are some things to take into consideration as well.

1 – Avery’s smart. He knows what he has to do to drum up some excitement. A while ago he made a comment about how villains and heroes sell and he has no problem playing the villain. He relishes that role. A part of me actually thinks that he’s trying to leave a legacy the size of his ego – after all, there is already a “Sean Avery” rule. While his comment was a generalization, there’s no mistaking that it was directed at Dion Phaneuf and Elisha Cuthbert. The only thing that’s a little confusing is that he’s trying to build excitement for a game against the Flames in Calgary. To my knowledge, nobody ever needs to build up excitement for a hockey game in Canada. It’s built-in. If the game had been in Dallas, it might’ve been a little different.

2 – I didn’t find his comments that crude. It’s an off-hand comment that guys often say to each other to get the blood boiling. There have been a lot worse things said on the ice, and the line between trash talk and personal attacks is pretty fine. Denis Gauthier and Georges Laraque have both claimed to be victims of racial slurs. However, the fact that he choose to premeditate his comments and say it off ice in front of cameras was what got him into trouble. Had he said the same comments on the ice, there wouldn’t have been any ramifications at all.

3 – I think an often overlooked aspect in a physical game like this is escalation. It’s going to sound a little crazy, but what if the league wanted to protect Avery? Phaneuf and Jarome Iginla chose to ignore his comments, but you have to remember that, as non-factor as it was, Todd Bertuzzi is on the same team. Avery was asking the Flames to feed him his lunch, there’s no question about that. There’s a general bounty on all pests in the league, and perhaps none may be bigger than Jarkko Ruutu‘s, but only because Avery can still be an effective hockey player without his big mouth. What if Paul Mara had gone completely nuts and decided to pummel Ruutu whether he wanted to or not in that Rangers-Senators game? Had something happened to Avery, there would’ve been talk about the league’s clear disregard for player safety.

4 – The NHL is suspending Avery on the basis that his comments were detrimental to the league and game. What if he had just said, “Phaneuf should stop falling in love with my sloppy seconds”? Would that have made a difference? That in itself is a personal attack, albeit public, but at least Avery didn’t mention “NHL,” or “league,” or “other players.” I think that if he had chosen his comments a little more wisely, after all, he is often under the league microscope, he wouldn’t have been suspended. The comparisons to the other leagues about trash talk are baseless because of each sport’s unique culture. The cross-references to the NBA or NFL or MLB are all moot points. However, how many games Avery gets suspended for will raise further questions of disciplinary action and set a precedent for comments like these.

5 – The Stars have pretty much banished Avery. There’s no way Avery would want to come back to a team that has left him out to dry. It’s hard to stick up for a guy that is supposedly a cancer in the locker room, but he is their teammate. The fact that a traditionally close-knit team like the Stars have refused to stick up for a teammate tells us how dysfunctional that locker room really is. The Stars can’t buy out Avery until June and there won’t be many takers for Avery. The best solution for the Stars is to send him to the minor leagues and let his play do the talking before he gets another chance in the league. Brett Hull needs to find a way to offset his mistake.

Anyway, this topic has been beaten to death, and it’s time to move on. For the Stars, it’s time to right the ship. If they can’t put together a string of good games, changes are in the making. It may be time for the Stars to look outside of their organization for help.

Dec 032008
 

Just wanted to make a few comments on several recent happenings in the NHL and here at HockeyAnalysis.com.

Sean Avery: It is time that someone really put this guy in his place and I think it is really going to happen. Everyone is getting tired of his act and most importantly his teammates and his teams owner is getting tired of his act. His main ally within the Stars organization was Brett Hull and Hull is now saying his antics of yesterday stepped over the line and goes beyond hockey. I am not sure what the Stars franchise will do but if I were owner Tom Hicks I would first put Avery on waivers. If someone claims him then you just got rid of a headache but I doubt anyone will claim him. Next I would sit Avery down and tell him this is his last chance and that he should focus on playing hockey and quit all the other nonsense and tell him that the next outburst will see him being sent to the AHL where he can play out the rest of his four year contract.

Laviolette/Maurice: Today we have learned that the Carolina Hurricanes have fired coach Peter Laviolette and re-hired former coach Paul Maurice to take over at least until the end of the season. I am not convinced that Laviolette is a great coach, but I don’t think he is a bad coach either. This is an unfortunate situation where I think Laviolette is getting fired for being a coach of an average team made worse by a number of significant injuries. I don’t see how this will make the Hurricanes better. Having watched Maurice in Toronto the past couple seasons, I do not think that Maurice is a good coach. His teams have missed the playoffs 7 of 10 times and outside of the surprise cup run in 2002 he has won zero playoff series.

Burke/Toskala: I am a little dismayed at what Steve Buffery has written in a column today. In particular I am dismayed at the idea that maybe Toskala is one of the untouchables on the Leafs.

Nobody on the current roster is said to be untouchable, with the possible exception of 19-year-old defenceman Luke Schenn, and perhaps Mike Van Ryn, Niklas Hagman and Vesa Toskala. Toskala has been red-hot of late and it seems Burke won’t be in any hurry to ship him out, and not just because he’s finally coming around after an inconsistent start.

“I believe in him, in fact, we tried to get him early in his career,” Burke said of the Finnish netminder.

Luke Schenn is probably untouchable. That makes sense. Niklas Hagman is a relatively young guy that can do a lot of things well so I can see wanting him around (though I wouldn’t necessarily say he is untouchable). The same sort of think can be said for Van Ryn. He is probably a Burke kind of player and doesn’t make too much money. But Toskala? I’ll forgive Buffery for the Toskala red-hot comment since he probably wrote it before Toskala gave up a stinker of a goal 1:15 into the game and then three more goals in the first period and 5 on 30 shots in total, but is Toskala really untouchable? And I hope Burke is really just trying to say nice things about Toskala in order to keep his trade value up because I absolutely don’t believe he is a #1 goalie on any team looking to make a lengthy run in the playoffs.

Finally, I want to formally welcome our new Flames blogger Matt to HockeyAnalysis.com. Matt will be writing at Flames.HockeyAnalysis.com and already has a couple of posts up on the Sean Avery situation.

Oct 202008
 

The only thing that’s saving the Ducks from being the worst in the league is their one win (4-0 vs. SJ). Some teams have traditionally been off to bad starts (Dallas), but the hockey the Ducks have been playing have been horrendous. In six games, the Ducks’ top offensive weapons in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Chris Kunitz have only combined for a measly 3 points and -18. Instead, it’s the third liners that have done most of the scoring, led by veteran linemates Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen, both with 4 points. I find it a little surprising that the usually vocal Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle have remained mum on their star players’ disappearing acts, but they probably know something we don’t know. The Ducks will continue to fall if their players refuse to show up for games. Some of the lack of scoring can be attributed to the penalties the Ducks have taken (Getzlaf, Perry, and Selanne aren’t regular penalty killers), but it’s no excuse for 4.2% powerplay. When will they start showing up? How long before Burke makes some noise?

The Pacific Division will be no contest this year if the Sharks continue to play they are – with something to prove. Asides from the loss to the Ducks, the Sharks are 5-0 with a goal differential of +10 (18-8). That is the best ratio in the West, and it shouldn’t be surprising. Jonathan Cheechoo is off to a great start with 4 goals and Patrick Marleau has been pretty good with 4 points. The powerplay is only clicking at 12.5%, but with Todd McLellan behind the bench (he managed Detroit’s powerplay in years past), that number should increase substantially by December. The question is though, how long can the Sharks keep this up? It’s early in the season and the Cup is months away – will the Sharks burn out? The toughest thing in pro hockey is to stay motivated, and will Cheechoo and Marleau be able to keep that pace?

Drew Doughty has been great for the Kings. He has yet to register a point, but is a healthy +2 and logs just under 20 minutes of ice-time per game (19:59). He’s making a strong case for himself to stick around full-time, especially now with Jack Johnson out for an extended period of time. The Kings are a surprising 2-2 to start, with a emphatic win over the cross-town rival Ducks while managing to keep the Sharks on their toes with their home-and-home series at the start of the season. The Kings have only scored 1 more goal than their opponents, and that will be a problem as the season goes on. Jason LaBarbera is playing just fine for now, but he’s no NHL starter. The Kings are only one of three teams (Minnesota and Buffalo) that have had perfect PK so far. Can the Kings play spoiler this year?

The Stars are off to a terrible start and so is Marty Turco, especially after a 6-1 drubbing by the Blues. As stated previously the Stars are slow starters, but they’ve allowed 13 goals in their 3 losses, and with such a defensively tight team it’s unacceptable. The Stars are really feeling the effects of not having Sergei Zubov. Captain Brenden Morrow has been frustrated and he’s starting to take some bad penalties, and along with linemate Mike Ribeiro (they were separated briefly against the Avs), own the team’s worst +/- at -4 and -6, respectively. Fabian Brunnstrom made noise with a hat trick in his debut, and the Stars will look to him to provide some scoring after letting Nik Hagman and Miettinen walk. When will the Stars turn it around?

The Coyotes’ 2-3 start is rather pedestrian, but with a 12-17 GF-GA ratio it’s a little alarming, considering that adding Kurt Sauer and having Ilya Bryzgalov on board for a full season should help defensively. Olli Jokinen has not disappointed, with 6 points in 5 games, while Kyle Turris has pitched in nicely with a goal and 3 helpers, making an early case for a Calder nomination. Trading away Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard took a lot of Phoenix’s depth away, and it’s showing, with the third pairing of David Hale and Keith Yandle both an awful -5. The desert dogs have some cap room to play with and may opt to bring in a veteran presence to their blueline – perhaps either Rhett Warrener, Anders Eriksson, or Kyle McLaren?

Sep 202008
 

The Thrashers were interested in Mathieu Schneider, but felt that given the veteran’s price tag and current skill set it was just too expensive. Don Waddell claims that Schneider’s age was not a factor in the decision.

Nikolai Khabibulin is looking forward to the start of the season, but admits he was surprised when the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet to a multi-year deal. He also admits that even though he hasn’t been at his best, he didn’t have a “championship calibre” team in front of him either. Not exactly the words management wants to hear, but Khabibulin has to make do with what he’s got in front of him (and it’s not bad) and hope to land another fat contract. Meanwhile, veteran Keith Carney has been invited to camp.

The Jackets are prepared to possibly enter the season with rookie Derick Brassard as their new number one centre. Ken Hitchcock reportedly liked Brassard and Kristian Huselius on the top line with Rick Nash, while the second line consisted of rookie Jakub Voracek, RJ Umberger, and Fredrik Modin.

The Stars have also tinkered with their lineup, with Mike Modano lining up to the left of Brad Richards and Sean Avery. It gives Modano some playing time in the top six and getting him away from the checking line role that’s better suited for someone else.

Marian Gaborik certainly isn’t helping his own case after being listed as day-to-day with a pulled right quad. The sniping winger is expected to land a lucrative contract this summer – whether it’s with the Wild or someone else remains to be seen. The injury-prone winger has to have another healthy season if he wants to cash in big time.

It’s obvious, so don’t expect Martin Brodeur to play 77 games like he did last year. Both Brodeur and Brent Sutter admitted that the games took a toll on the veteran goalie, and that Avery didn’t help in that department either. Look for Kevin Weekes to do a little more than usual last year to collect his six-figure paycheque.

Tom Renney and the Rangers remain mum on Brendan Shanahan, and says that his focus is now on training camp.

Derian Hatcher‘s career seems to be in jeopardy due to a bum knee, and Wayne Fish believes that it’ll really hurt the team’s chances this year (I beg to differ), but claims that with the addition of Ossi Vaananen and camp invite Bryan Berard it should lessen the pain (Fish is comparing the “irreplaceable” Hatcher to two journeymen? Okay.)

The Sharks are ready to open up their camp with the following lines:
Marleau – Thornton – Clowe
Michalek – Pavelski – Cheechoo
Goc – Mitchell – Grier
Plihal – Roenick – Setoguchi
Ron Wilson also had Patrick Marleau on Joe Thornton‘s wing in order to get his game going last year, but it didn’t last.

The Blues kicked off their training camp with a snooze, and I daresay that the rest of the season wouldn’t be too different. Coach Andy Murray suggested that the Blues could start the season with rookie Patrick Berglund on the top line with Paul Kariya. Murray also acknowledged that the losses of Ryan Johnson, Jamal Mayers, and Bryce Salvador, all three great locker room guys, means that veterans Kariya and Keith Tkachuk, neither been known as vocal captains, will need to step up.

Move aside “Seen Stamkos.” It’s time for “WWGRD?” in Tampa. Now that wunderkind Steve Stamkos is officially signed the focus moves to training camp. For the Lightning, who had a major overhaul in its front office staff and approach to the new season, it’s a chance to capitalize on a resurgence of interest in Lightning hockey. Just ask yourself, What Would Gary Roberts Do?

The Caps are excited and raring to go. So much so that they had to ask sophomore Nicklas Backstrom, who was early and the first on the ice, to get off after half an hour for precautionary reasons. When your rookies are that excited, you know your team is in good spirits, and for the Caps, why shouldn’t they?

Sep 182008
 

This year, for the first time in a long time, Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov will not be synonymous with the Stars. While the two aging veterans do strike a soft spot in the fans’ hearts, Brenden Morrow showed the world last year that this was his team. It wasn’t too long ago that the traditional ‘C’ was taken off Modano’s sweater and given to a very surprised Morrow, of course amidst a cloud of controversy. That is, of course, all in the past now. What’s most important to the Stars right now is the present, spearheaded by the league’s only GM partnership in Brett Hull and Les Jackson. The two men could not be more opposite, but they have managed to co-exist and more importantly, put one of the most competitive teams on the ice. The Stars opted to tinker with their roster this year and once again head into the season as a darkhorse Cup contender.

The Stars don’t have an offensive game-breaker but they do have a balanced attack, led by the all-rounded Morrow. Despite losing 27-goal scorer Niklas Hagman (Toronto) and 15-goal scorer Antti Miettinen (Minnesota) to free agency, the Stars landed one of the most valuable players in Sean Avery and netted Europe’s hottest prospect in Fabian Brunnstrom. Say what you want about Avery and his antics, but the fact of the matter is, the Rangers lacked oomph without him in the lineup and he plays the game with an edge and a respectable amount of skill. The Stars were bumped from the playoffs by a more physical Detroit team and Avery will certainly help in that department. The biggest surprise for the Stars was Mike Ribeiro, who became the team’s number one centre after posting an impressive 83-point campaign. Along with Brad Richards and Modano, the Stars have arguably the most dependable two-way centres in the league. Sergei Zubov is also healthy to start the season after and injury-plagued, 46-game campaign, and when healthy he is certainly on the shortlist for Norris candidates. That’s the good. Here’s the bad. It remains to be seen if Brunnstrom’s a media hype of if he really is the real deal. He exploded onto the hockey radar in Christmas and took his time weighing his options, and both sides hope they have made the right decision. Ribeiro’s 27 goals raised a lot of eyebrows because of his other-worldly shooting percentage of 25.2%. The league’s best snipers average only around 15-18%, and for a guy that doesn’t shoot much (his 107 shots were ranked 9th on the team) that’s a just mind-boggling, and it certainly makes a strong case for a regression in goal totals this year. Then there’s Richards. The Stars had been lacking in scoring oomph for quite some time, and at the time it was believed that Richards would be that guy, after failed experiments with Ladislav Nagy and Eric Lindros. Richards put up the stats (11 points in 12 games), but in that span the Stars only managed to win 3 regular season games. Of course, the Stars did advance to the Conference Finals, but you can’t reach the playoffs if you can’t win during the season. However, even without Richards the Stars ranked 13th on the PP and 2nd offensively in the West, and with a healthy Zubov that should give them reason enough to improve.

Dallas has always traditionally been a defensively-responsible team, and that’s in part due to their forwards’ ability to backcheck. Jere Lehtinen is a perennial Selke contender, and although he has lost a step over the years Modano has also developed into a strong two-way player, and the gritty Steve Ott is no slouch either, ranking among the league’s best with a 58.8% face-off winning percentage. Richards will also no doubt help in that department, and don’t expect him to post another -25 season again. In the back end, the Stars don’t have the same headline-grabbing defensemen as the division rival Ducks, but Stephane Robidas had a break-out season and averaged almost 26 minutes of ice-time per game. Philippe Boucher is also another stabilizing presence and that’s perfect for youngsters Trevor Daley (age 25), Matt Niskanen (21), Niklas Grossman (23), and Marc Fistric (22). The coaching staff, led by Dave Tippett, have done an amazing job with their kids and unlike many other teams, the Stars have taught their young defensemen how to properly play defense at the NHL level from day one.

When the Stars reached the playoffs last year and were bounced in the first round yet again, for the first time the blame wasn’t directed towards Marty Turco. The regular season brick wall turned into a sieve come playoff time, and it has been a long-awaited coming out party for the 33-year old netminder. He proved last year that he could perform as well, if not better, in the playoffs, and it paid off with a trip to the Conference Finals after a lengthy absence. Tobias Stephan is penciled in to be the backup and won’t see much playing time, perhaps 15 games or so, but he is capable and Tippett shouldn’t lose any sleep over the thought of starting him the next day. This is one of the biggest strengths for a close-knit Stars squad and a big reason for their 2nd ranked PK and 6th ranked defense.

The Stars have spent as close to the cap as they’d like to and won’t figure into any major season transactions, in part because as many as seven players have no-trade clauses. It should not be a major concern, because the Stars, despite traditionally being slow starters, will be competitive all season long. The Stars could challenge for the division title, but their offense raises question marks and it’s a wonder how they’re going to score their goals should Ribeiro fail to keep up his 25% shooting mark. No one on the Stars’ current roster is a noted goal-scorer, and while that does have its advantages, the Stars may have to rely on defense and goaltending yet again to win games.

Richards will be counted on to return to his Conn Smythe form and perhaps all he needed was a change of scenery. It remains to be seen what kind of antics Avery would get into, but with a very grounded Stars squad and Morrow as its leader it shouldn’t be that big of a problem. Avery will definitely be in the mix when the Stars resume their rivalries against the Ducks, Sharks, and Wings.

Projected lineup:
Brenden Morrow – Mike Ribeiro – Jere Lehtinen
Sean Avery – Brad Richards – Loui Eriksson
Joel Lundqvist – Mike Modano – BJ Crombeen
Fabian Brunnstrom – Steve Ott – Krys Barch

Stephane Robidas – Sergei Zubov
Philippe Boucher – Trevor Daley
Niklas Grossman – Matt Niskanen

Marty Turco – Tobias Stephan

scratches: Toby Petersen, Marc Fistric, Chris Conner

GM: Les Jackson/Brett Hull
Coach: Dave Tippett

Predicted finish: 3rd Pacific, 5th West

Aug 162008
 

The Hockey News’ Rankings in the Yearly Yearbook were released, and for the West they’re as follows:

1 Detroit Red Wings
2 San Jose Sharks
3 Minnesota Wild
4 Dallas Stars
5 Anaheim Ducks
6 Edmonton Oilers
7 Chicago Blackhawks
8 Calgary Flames
9 Nashville Predators
10 Phoenix Coyotes
11 Vancouver Canucks
12 Columbus Blue Jackets
13 Los Angeles Kings
14 Colorado Avalanche
15 St. Louis Blues

Detroit at the top is an absolute no-brainer. They won the Cup and somehow got better by adding Marian Hossa. They’ve got Pavel Datsyuk locked up for awhile, and it’s hard to see Henrik Zetterberg not follow suit. Niklas Kronwall, and to a lesser extent, Jonathan Ericsson, look to take over Nicklas Lidstrom‘s mantle when he retires. They’re going to remain a powerhouse for years to come.

I have a hard time believing Minnesota will finish atop the Northwest Division. They lost key offensive pieces in Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston, and replaced them with two aging veterans (Owen Nolan, Andrew Brunette) and a mid-level winger in Antti Miettinen. Their biggest acquisition is Marek Zidlicky, but the Flames have improved more – Calgary’s the early division favourite.

I don’t think the Oilers will finish that high. Adding Lubomir Visnovsky was huge, but they will miss Jarret Stoll‘s shot on the PP. Erik Cole was also another nice add, but I don’t think Visnovsky and Cole makes them better than the Coyotes. Their biggest question mark remains in net, and with some quality goaltending in the West that might be their downfall.

The Coyotes to me are a playoff team – they’ve got a talented forwards, a responsible captain, a respectable defense highlighted by a rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski, and good goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov. The dogs have tons going for them, and with Kyle Turris expected to make the squad out of training camp the team will be loaded with offense, led by the newly-acquired Olli Jokinen, who might get his first taste of playoff hockey this season.

How the Kings are ahead of the Avs and Blues is beyond me. Technically, they don’t even exist in the NHL because they’ve yet to reach the salary floor. Even with they do be re-signing all their RFAs, their team is laughable at best, and just might win the Calder Cup. This team needs at least two more season to grow before they’re even a playoff contender – it looks like they’re going for the John Tavares sweepstakes and rebuilding Pittsburgh-style.

The Avs, even without Joe Sakic for most of the season, remained competitive until the late stages of the season. Should Sakic retire, they don’t have a player to take over as captain or offensive dynamo yet, although Paul Stastny comes close. A healthy Ryan Smyth and having Adam Foote for a whole season, with some of Darcy Tucker‘s toughness, will make them a respectable squad, but like the Oilers, their biggest question mark remains in net.

Stay tuned for the East.

Feb 262008
 

Here are a few of my thoughts about the trade deadline action.

Short Term Winners

Pittsburgh Penguins – Adding Hossa, Dupuis and Gill has the potential to make them a really scary team. Think about it. In recent weeks the top line of Malkin, Sykora and Malone have been one of the best lines in the NHL and over the next week or two you will add Crosby and Hossa to fill out a 1A line. Losing Armstrong and Christensen will hurt the third line but with a top 2 lines that good they may not need a third line. In Hal Gill they add a very big, physical, defense first defenseman that will make life for opposing forwards much less pleasant. If Conklin continues his stellar play it isn’t hard to conceive that the Penguins are now easily the best team in the East.

San Jose Sharks – Brian Campbell is exactly what the Sharks needed. They have the talent up front and they have some solid defensive defensemen but what they didn’t have was that top tier puck moving defensemen and PP quarterback. Campbell is that guy. They still need some of their other players to step up their games if they want to be true Cup contenders but the Sharks should be a lot better today than they were yesterday.

Long Term Winners

Atlanta Thrashers – We knew they were going to trade Hossa but by getting two very solid young and cheap 3rd line players, a good prospect and a first round pick they got more than I thought they would. They now have some young depth role players that they very much needed and if they can add a nice centerman in the off season with the money they saved from Hossa they will have the makings of a nice core of players.

Losers

Montreal Canadiens – If you think you have a chance to make a run in the playoffs I don’t understand the thought process of trading your top and only established goalie for a second round pick. The Canadiens are now rushing Price to the NHL and while he has looked great at times he has looked mediocre at times too. Rushing goalies to the NHL is never a good thing. Just look at Marc-Andre Fleury as evidence. This move puts Price’s confidence and development at risk. On top of that GM Bob Gainey was talking for a couple weeks about wanting a big name player to add to the team but he came up empty here too. He wasn’t even able to add some needed size to the line up. Overall the Canadiens are not as good a team after this evening as they were this morning.

Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks aren’t losers because they made a bad trade but they are losers because they weren’t able to make a trade they desperately needed. That is to add some much needed offense to the lineup. With a bit more offensive punch they could have been a threat in the playoffs. Instead they may not make the playoffs.

Undetermined

Dallas Stars – I am partly surprised that they didn’t have to give up more to get Richards but Richards with his huge contract is also a significant long term risk. No doubt that Richards will help the Stars but will he help them to the tune of $7.8 million salary? Last year Richards got 70 points and he is on about the same pace this year. That’s not bad but that’s not $7.8 million value. People will say that it is largely due to the fact doesn’t play regularly with top level players which is partly true (he does play on the top PP unit) but he also plays in the horrific defensive southeast division. Richards has 28 points in 23 games against southeast division opponents and 29 points in 39 games against the rest of the league. That is 60 point pace against non-southeast opponents and I can assure you he isn’t going to a team in Dallas that is loaded with offensive players. Maybe this trade will invigorate Richards and he will return to his 90 point form but that is far from a certainty and until we see what Richards does we don’t know if Dallas does well in this trade or not.

Ottawa Senators – If you go by acquisition cost, Martin Lapointe’s value is somewhere between Wade Belak and Rob Davison. That would indicate that Lapointe won’t mean a whole lot to the Senators and he probably won’t. But the Senators have the talent to make a run in the playoffs regardless of what they did today but they are also in a downward spiral and if they can’t turn it around and they exit the playoffs early I am sure we will all look back at this trade deadline and say they should have done more.

Sep 242007
 

Over the next week I am going to be posting brief reviews of what we can expect from each team in the NHL for the upcoming season. Included will be some team strengths and weaknesses as well as some question marks for what to look for and a final outlook. The question marks will be an indication of what might occur and if it does they could finish better than I expect. Finally, once all the previews are complete I will post my final standings predictions. So, lets start off in the Pacific Division.

Anaheim Ducks
Strengths:
-One of the best goaltending tandems in the league.
-The experience of winning the Stanley Cup.
-Young talent in Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan.
-Chris Pronger (and Niedermayer if he returns)
Weaknesses:
-For whatever reason, recently teams that make the Stanley Cup finals have struggled the following season.
-The loss of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner takes a lot away from last years cup wining team.
-Questionable health of newcomers Bertuzzi and Schneider
Question Marks:
-Will Niedermayer or Selanne return at some point?
-Can Bertuzzi become the 25 goal, 60+ point guy the Ducks need him to be?
-Will they eventually trade Bryzgalov for some help elsewhere.
Outlook:
-The Ducks should easily make the playoffs but defending the Stanley Cup is going to be difficult with the current lot of players as they likely haven’t adequately replaced the performances of Selanne, Niedermayer and Penner. Of course, that all changes should Niedermayer return because the Ducks would then have an insanely good defense that no team could come close to matching.

Dallas Stars
Strengths:
-Goaltending with Marty Turco and Mark Smith.
-One of the better defensive teams in the league.
Weaknesses:
-They will struggle to score goals.
Question Marks:
-Can Mike Modano, at age 37, return to a point per game player after a sub-par year in 2006-07.
-How much does 37 year old Sergei Zubov have left in the tank to anchor their power play.
Outlook:
-When you look at the Dallas roster you wonder how they managed to have back to back seasons of 112 and 107 points but you have to give them credit for getting them done. It is probably fair to expect more or less the same this season and a playoff spot but unless they can figure out how to score some goals they can’t be considered a true cup contender.

Los Angeles Kings
Strengths:
-Young talent in Frolov, Cammalleri, Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Patrick O’Sullivan, Jack Johnson and Jonathan Bernier.
-Added some good depth (for the short term) with the signings of Nagy, Handzus, Calder, Preissing and Stuart.
-Lots of salary cap space going forward to continue rebuilding process.
Weaknesses:
-To say goaltending is a weakness is an understatement. They were bad last year and probably their best goalie Mathieu Garon walked via free agency. That leaves Jason LaBarbera, who had a solid year in the AHL last year but isn’t generally highly regarded, a very weak backup in Aubin and a 19 year old prospect in Bernier.
Question Marks:
-Will they risk Bernier’s confidence/development and give him an opportunity to play or will the trade for a goalie (Martin Gerber??).
Outlook:
-This is no doubt going to be a transition year for the Kings. I can’t see them making the playoffs, or even being close, but as a franchise they are headed in the right direction. They have lots of young talent and I expect them to be big players in next years free agent market as they have a lot of cap room and the free agent market has the potential to bee better than this years (Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa being two potential prime targets).

Phoenix Coyotes
Strengths:
-Hmmm. Shane Doan maybe?
-They have some decent talent on defence with Jovanovski, Michalek, Ballard, Morris and Boynton.
Weaknesses:
-Pretty much everything but mostly they lack any top end forwards outside of Doan who is more of a second line player.
-Several backup goalies but no starters.
Question Marks:
-How bad will this team be?
Outlook:
-There isn’t much positive going to happen in Phoenix this season so the best Coyote fans can probably hope for is a last place finish and the first pick in next years draft.

San Jose Sharks
Strengths:
-Quality and depth of forward with Thornton and Marleau being one of the best one-two center tandems in the league and Cheechoo and Michalek providing some scoring from the wings.
-Excellent young talent in Michalek, Bernier, Carle, Pavelski, and Vlasic.
Weaknesses:
-The defense lacks a true #1 guy and the loss of Scott Hannan will be felt.
-Overall experience and/or depth at forward, on defence and in goal.
Question Marks:
-How quickly can San Jose’s young players really take their game to the next level.
-Can Nabokov stay healthy and/or will San Jose acquire a quality backup for him?
Outlook:
-The Sharks have the makings of a really good team but they are still missing some parts, particular a true #1 defenseman, and some experience this will hold them back from being true top tier Stanley Cup contenders. I think they need another year or two.

Sep 112007
 

I was going to write up team by team reports, and I may still do that for some teams, but I decided to first post some numerical evaluations of each team in nice and easily readable table format. I have divided each team up into Forwards, Defense and Goaltending and then divided each of those groups into Talent, Depth and Experience/Leadership and ranked each of those nine categories based on a score out of 10. I then summed up all 9 categories to get an overall team score. Below are my results for the western conference. Let me know what you all think. For the most part I am happy with them but if you can provide a good arguement I may consider making slight modifications.

Note: I made the assumption that Niedermayer will not play for the Ducks and I also factored in a few long term injuries (i.e. Steve Sullivan is expected to miss 3 months due to back surgery).

Update:While working on the eastern conference (and in conjunction with Triumph’s comment) I have decided to tweak the overall formula. The new forumula will weight experience significantly less and also give more weight to #1 goalie and less to depth (Vancouver, Calgary, New Jersey, etc. hardly need a backup goalie). This is the new updated table.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Detroit 8 5 7 10 8 8 8 6 10 54.3
Vancouver 7 6 6 7 8 6 10 7 6 52.5
Anaheim 7 7 6 9 6 8 8 7 8 51.8
Dallas 6 7 7 7 7 8 8 8 7 50.3
Calgary 7 6 7 8 7 6 9 4 7 50.2
San Jose 9 7 7 6 7 5 8 5 7 49.8
Minnesota 8 6 7 6 8 7 7 6 4 47.5
Colorado 8 7 7 7 7 6 6 6 5 47.0
Edmonton 6 6 5 7 7 6 7 7 7 46.0
St. Louis 7 6 7 6 7 6 7 6 6 45.8
Nashville 6 7 6 7 7 6 7 4 5 45.2
Los Angeles 6 7 6 7 7 7 5 5 5 43.0
Chicago 7 5 5 5 5 4 7 6 7 40.8
Columbus 6 6 6 5 5 5 6 6 6 39.7
Phoenix 4 5 5 7 7 7 5 6 5 39.2
Apr 102007
 

Here are my first round predictions for the western conference. My eastern conference predictions will come later today. What is interesting about the western conference matchups is that the the home team has won every single game of each of the regular season series except for the final game of the San Jose-Nashville series in which Nashville won the game on the road in a shootout. That might lead you to believe that the home teams should win these series, but I wouldn’t be too eager to jump that that conclusion. For the most part, all the games were close and so should these series.

Calgary at Detroit

Calgary (road) Detroit (home)
Predicted Winner Detroit (Good)
Fair Odds +127 -137
Overall Record 43-29-10 50-19-13
Home/Road Record 13-20-8 29-4-8
Last 10 Games 6-4-0 5-1-4
Past Games
  • 2006/11/01: Calgary 2 at Detroit 3
  • 2006/11/17: Detroit 1 at Calgary 4
  • 2007/02/11: Calgary 4 at Detroit 7
  • 2007/03/20: Detroit 1 at Calgary 2

There are a lot of series that are really difficult to predict this year and this is certainly one of them. Detroit has played pretty consistently good hockey all year while Calgary started off horribly, then played significantly better, and then sputtered a bit down the final stretch of the season losing its last 4 games as well as having a 1-4-1 stretch in March. That said, I have always believed that Calgary has the best combination of offense, defense, goaltending, skill, toughness, experience and depth of any team in the NHL. The key for the Flames in this series might be that toughness as Detroit is generally a soft team and tough, tenacious play can beat them, kind of like what the Oilers did last season. If they play hard physical hockey on guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lang I think they have a chance of shutting down Detroit’s offense. The key for the Red Wings might be their deadline pickup of Todd Bertuzzi (and to a lesser extend Kyle Calder) as he can play that physical game and certainly won’t be intimidated by it. But is he healthy enough to play that style of game against a very physical team for a full 7 games series? I am not sure about that.
My prediction: Flames in 6

Minnesota at Anaheim

Minnesota (road) Anaheim (home)
Predicted Winner Anaheim (Some)
Fair Odds +120 -125
Overall Record 48-26-8 48-20-14
Home/Road Record 19-19-3 26-6-9
Last 10 Games 7-2-1 5-3-2
Past Games
  • 2006/10/20: Minnesota 1 at Anaheim 2
  • 2006/10/27: Anaheim 2 at Minnesota 3 (SO)
  • 2006/11/12: Minnesota 2 at Anaheim 3
  • 2006/12/31: Anaheim 3 at Minnesota 4

This is another difficult series to predict as I believe both teams have serious flaws though both teams have also looked extremely dominant at times. For Anaheim they have the stellar 2 defensemen but lack much depth on defense as their 5 and 6 guys, whoever they are, don’t scare anyone. That might cost them more down the road as the grind of the playoffs takes their toll or against a very physical team but whether Minnesota can expose that in the first round is another question. Anaheim also has a lot of youth and inexperience up front in guys like Penner, Getzlaf, Perry, Kunitz and others. For Minnesota, their defense is really unspectacular and could be the achilles heel for them. That said, they play great team defense so it will be more difficult for other teams to expose that flaw. The other question mark for Minnesota is whether rookie Niklas Backstrom is ready to handle the pressure in the playoffs. It certianly isn’t un heard of for young goalies to lead their team deep into the playoffs (see Cam Ward last season) but it has to be a bit of a concern not at least having a healthy Manny Fernandez there if needed.
My Prediction Anaheim in 7

Dallas at Vancouver

Dallas (road) Vancouver (home)
Predicted Winner Vancouver (Some)
Fair Odds +122 -129
Overall Record 50-25-7 49-26-7
Home/Road Record 22-14-5 26-11-4
Last 10 Games 7-1-2 6-3-1
Past Games
  • 2006/10/23: Vancouver 1 at Dallas 2
  • 2006/11/06: Dallas 1 at Vancouver 2
  • 2007/01/03: Dallas 1 at Vancouver 2 (SO)
  • 2007/02/25: Vancouver 1 at Dallas 2 (OT)

Yawn. Sorry, but I have a hard time getting up for this series. If you like offense and goals do not watch this series. In 4 games this year these two teams combined for just 11 goals (not counting the shootout). I don’t see much different now that the playoffs are here. I think the best two offensive players in this series are both named Sedin and both play for Vancouver and I think Vancouver has the better goalie as well so all that is good news for the Canucks. The only thing that I think can save the stars is if Modano gets on fire and becomes a dominant player, something he hasn’t done much of this season. Unfortunately I think he is past his prime and the Canucks will win this series fairly easily by having that slight edge to win the close games.
My Prediction: Vancouver in 5

San Jose at Nashville

San Jose (road) Nashville (home)
Predicted Winner Nashville (Some)
Fair Odds +117 -121
Overall Record 51-26-5 51-23-8
Home/Road Record 26-14-1 28-8-5
Last 10 Games 7-1-2 5-3-2
Past Games
  • 2006/10/26: San Jose 3 at Nashville 4
  • 2006/12/09: Nashville 1 at San Jose 3
  • 2007/02/14: San Jose 0 at Nashville 5
  • 2007/02/28: Nashville 4 at San Jose 3 (SO)

This is another tough series to predict because while I think Nashville is the better regular season team, I am not convinced they are built to win in the playoffs for some of the same reasons Detroit might struggle. They have a lot of small forwards and defensemen that I think can be exposed, especially by a team like the Sharks which has size up front. It worked for San Jose when they bounced the Predators out of the playoffs in the first round last year and it could certainly happen again. Nashville has tried to address the size issue by adding Arnott and Vishnevski but is that enough? Another key for Nashville will be the health of Peter Forsberg and whether he can be a leader for the team both on the ice, on the scoreboard, and in the dressing room. If he can, then the Predtors have a chance to beat anyone but that is a huge if based on what he has done in the regular season for both the Flyers and Nashville. For the Sharks, I question their experience on defense as they will depend a lot on rookies Vlasic and Carle and you just never know how they will react to the pressure of playoff hockey. In the end I think the Sharks size will over power the Predators.
My Prediction: San Jose in 7