Sep 222008
 

Training camp’s all about establishing chemistry and figuring out which players go where. ESPN’s Sean Allen provides some insight and here are the highlights:

Zach Bogosian seems to be penciled in to make the team, and Allen figures him to hit the 40-point mark, but I highly doubt it. I think their top powerplay quarterbacks are going to be Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom.

With Justin Williams out for most of the season it means a spot has opened up beside Eric Staal. The likely candidate is Patrick Eaves, although Sergei Samsonov, who has rejuvenated his career in Carolina, may get a call too. I also think that perhaps Tuomo Ruutu or AHL standout Ryan Bayda may get some looks.

Even with Joe Sakic‘s return, the Avs are pegging Paul Stastny as their number one centre, who will most likely have Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski on his wings. Sakic will get Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos, although given Hejduk and Sakic’s chemistry together I would think they would stay on the same line, with Smyth and Wolski switching spots.

The Wings want balance and they have publicly stated that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will start on different lines. This means that Marian Hossa is definitely getting first-line minutes. Allen notes that Valtteri Filppula may drop to the number three centre slot, but I think that spot is still Kris Draper‘s and Filppula may just end up on Zetterberg’s left wing. Dan Cleary was Allen’s choice as Zetterberg’s left wing but I think he’s better suited for the bottom two lines.

With the addition of Robert Lang, it looks like Saku Koivu will be starting the season on the third line, potentially with Guillaume Latendresse and Chris Higgins, giving them one of the most talented third lines in the league. Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn may find themselves on the same line with top centre Tomas Plekanec, allowing the enigmatic Alexei Kovalev to lineup with former Penguins teammate Lang.

Craig Hartsburg wants to break up the Big Three (again) and see where it takes them (again). John Paddock tried that last year with mediocre results and with no significant changes up front it remains to be seen what Hartsburg will do, but it’s almost a sure bet that captain Daniel Alfredsson will start on a separate line. The coveted spot beside Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley will be up for grabs, but it looks like the leading contender is little-known Jesse Winchester. Allen notes that Alfredsson may get Nick Foligno and Chris Kelly as linemates, but I would think the speedy Antoine Vermette and/or Mike Fisher would be better fits.

The Leafs may experiment with former Hab Mikhail Grabovski on the top line, but I would think that a combination of Jason Blake and Nik Antropov, along with either Alex Steen or Alexei Ponikarovsky would be it.

Sep 202008
 

Where to begin? The defending Cup champs are so well-balanced and talented from top to bottom that the fact they managed to land Marian Hossa means they’re the heavy favourites to repeat again, which hasn’t happened since 1997 and 1998 when, you guessed it, Steve Yzerman and the Wings did it. It almost came as a shock to some that the Wings won the Cup, in part because 1) they had an European captain, and 2) their best centre had been labeled as a playoff “choker” the last couple of years. They were labeled as a team that didn’t scare anybody with their physical play, which is partly true, but when the Ducks won the Cup the year before it the in-your-face type of hockey the Ducks played almost became a standard for Cup-contending teams. Instead the Wings stuck to their gameplan and proved everyone wrong.

It’s always a blessing that your best offensive players are also your best defensive players. For Mike Babcock, he’s been blessed with their Big Three of Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Pavel Datsyuk. The Euro Trio is by far the most committed, talented, and well-rounded core in the league. When your best players are in the running for the Art Ross, Selke, and Norris trophies, you know you’ve got something special. This is what differentiates the Wings from all the other teams in the league – unlike about 3/4 of the league, they can send out their best players in any situation of the game. The three carried the team throughout the season and the playoffs, and in the process showed to the world that Europeans know how to play playoff hockey too. Not only that, their supporting cast, once again carefully put together by Ken Holland, came through and responded well when they were asked upon. Just ask anybody about Johan Franzen, whose 13 playoff goals had him being mentioned as a potential Conn Smythe candidate. The Wings are just blessed with talent through all 12 forwards, almost a little unfair, considering the speedy and surprising Darren Helm may be the odd man out this year despite having the ability to become at least a 4th liner on any other team. The Wings could boast as many as 8 20+ goal scorers this coming year.

On defense you can’t start with anyone else other than Lidstrom, who is the most valuable player to his position, and potentially the best defenseman of his generation. Lidstrom doesn’t do anything that will make you stand up or cheer, but he has the ability to just glue your eyes to the screen and watch him do difficult things with a incredible ease. He rarely makes any mistakes, and that’s how defensemen should play their game. His hockey smarts are completely off the charts, and when paired with Brian Rafalski, one of the most underrated puck-movers in the game, they form the most dangerous PP duo in the league. Rafalski played a major role in their Cup win, despite the fact that he was often overshadowed by the Euro Trio’s defensive games. In fact, it was very surprising that Datsyuk had led the team in hits, with Zetterberg following close behind. Brad Stuart re-vitalized his career and seems to be enjoying his time in Detroit. The most feel-good story though, is Niklas Kronwall (brother Staffan plays for Toronto), who led the team’s defensemen in points with 15 and played every single game, despite never playing in more than 70 during the season. Along with Jonathan Ericsson, who was drafted as a forward, “Nick, Jr.” could be the future anchor of this team’s defense when Lidstrom retires.

The Wings proved that you don’t need a $6m goalie to win. Chris Osgood posted some of the best stats of his career last year in part because of a new hybrid style and the defense in front of him. Osgood’s $1.4m cap hit is amongst the lowest in the league for goalies, but at that price he’s probably the best bang for your buck in the league. Should he falter, and even if he does with the personnel in front of him will keep Detroit at least in the top 10 in defense, Ty Conklin is more than capable, after making a string of spectacular starts in the place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury.

There’s almost no weaknesses on this squad. An already potent offense added the best sniper on the market this summer in Hossa, and a stable defense will have Stuart for a full season and a more experienced Kronwall. Osgood is the de facto starter and won’t have to fight to regain his starting role. The coaching staff remains one of the league’s best despite losing Todd McLellan to the Sharks. The only thing that’s stopping the Wings are themselves, who will no doubt have to motivate themselves for 82 games and more. It’s been ten years since the last Cup repeats, and the Wings have set themselves up to break that trend.

Cap wise, the Wings are very close to the ceiling, but that shouldn’t be a problem considering that there will quite a bit of player movements in the first couple months of the season. The most pressing matter for the Wings, however, is Zetterberg’s extension. His contract expires this summer, and don’t worry Wings fans, he won’t be going anywhere. However, Hossa is also in the same boat and it remains to be seen what will be done should both have outstanding seasons. Neither will make more than Lidstrom’s $7.45m, but nothing less than Datsyuk’s $6.7m as well. Zetterberg has priority over Hossa, who may head for greener pastures or even perhaps return to Pittsburgh should he win a Cup this year.

Projected lineup:
Pavel Datsyuk – Henrik Zetterberg – Tomas Holmstrom
Johan Franzen – Valtteri Filppula – Marian Hossa
Kirk Maltby – Kris Draper – Mikael Samuelsson
Dan Cleary – Tomas Kopecky – Jiri Hudler

Niklas Lidstrom – Brian Rafalski
Brad Stuart – Niklas Kronwall
Andreas Lilja – Brett Lebda

Chris Osgood – Ty Conklin

scratches: Darren Helm, Chris Chelios, Jonathan Ericsson

Coach: Mike Babcock
GM: Ken Holland

Predicted finish: 1st Central, 1st West

Aug 202008
 

Todd Bertuzzi has yet to find a home. Since his Vancouver days, the burly winger has never spent more than a full year with any team. First, he was traded to Florida for Roberto Luongo, but promptly shipped to Detroit at the deadline. He wasn’t as effective as Ken Holland had hoped for, despite putting up 4 points in 8 games. He then promptly signed a lucrative contract with Anaheim, re-uniting him with Brian Burke, and with the promise of possibly playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf or Andy McDonald, things looked pretty bright. But with Scott Niedermayer notifying the team of his commitment for 82 games, and with Teemu Selanne still mulling over retirement, it left Bertuzzi, along with his hefty contract, the casualty. So, for the third straight season, Bertuzzi will be putting on a different sweater than the season before.

All this, some argue, can be traced back to the 2004 Steve Moore incident. Moore suffered facial lacerations and broken vertebrae as a result of Bertuzzi’s sucker punch and the pile-up that followed, and promptly smacked a $38m lawsuit against Bertuzzi, Marc Crawford, Brian Burke, Brad May, and Orca Bay. The lawsuit was filed in Colorado, the place of the event, but was thrown out as the judge felt that BC would be a better venue. In Vancouver, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to charges of assault causing bodily harm, and completed his probation successfully. In 2006, Moore filed another lawsuit against Bertuzzi in his native province of Ontario, citing loss of income, aggravated damages, punitive damages, and mental distress. The lawsuit claims that Bertuzzi should owe Moore roughly $20m.

Of course Bertuzzi didn’t have $20m lying around (he had tried to settle with Moore for $350k), and has since filed a lawsuit against Crawford in his own defense. Bertuzzi claims that he was obeying Crawford, and that he was contractually obligated to do so. However, just recently Crawford has came out saying that Bertuzzi refused to listen to him, and that his actions were of his own doing and further claims that he had tried to get Bertuzzi off the ice. Crawford is vehemently denying any involvement in the incident. It’s a battle of his word against mine, and I don’t ever see Bertuzzi winning this lawsuit because Crawford is innocent until proven guilty. Bertuzzi will have to bring forth some very convincing evidence to win.

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.

Sep 252007
 

Chicago Blackhawks
Strengths:
-Two prime young prospects in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
-Good talent with Martin Havlat and Tuomo Ruutu
Weaknesses:
-They added Sergei Samsonov
-Lack a quality top pairing defenseman
-Lack depth up front
-Khabibulin makes way too much money.
Question Marks:
-Can Ruutu and Havlat stay healthy?
-Are Jonathan Toews and especially smallish Patrick Kane ready for the NHL
Outlook:
-With a couple of high draft picks the past two drafts the Blackhawks have added a couple of quality young prospects in Toews and Kane which gives Blackhawks fans something to be optimistic about down the road but they probably aren’t yet ready to star in the NHL. That means another subpar season and likely another quality draft pick in next seasons draft which is supposed to be a good one. If they can draft a top end defence or goalie prospect to go with the young forwards it wouldn’t be all bad.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Strengths:
-Doug MacLean is gone
-Sergei Fedorov and Adam Foote’s salaries come off the books after this season freeing up over $10.5 million for next summer’s free agent frenzy.
-Rick Nash
Weaknesses:
-Pretty much everything except maybe coaching with Ken Hitchcock.
Question Marks:
-Can Rick Nash take his game up another notch into 40 goal, 70 point territory.
-Can Gilbert Brule improve on a weak first season and establish himself at least as a second line center.
-Will either Fredrik Norrena or Pascal LeClaire establish themselves as a quality #1 goalie.
Outlook:
-It looks all but certain that the Blue Jackets will miss the playoffs once again but Blue Jacket fans should look for whether Ken Hitchcock can instil better consistency, work ethic and defensive system in the team. I think that should be the measure of success this season because in the standings we aren’t likely to see a lot of success.

Detroit Red Wings
Strengths:
-Experience and leadership.
-Solid core of top 6 defensemen (among the best in the league) led by star Nicklas Lidstrom and newcomer Brian Rafalski.
-Exellent top end forwards in Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom.
-A decent complement of young forwards in Hudler, Franzen, Filppula, and Kopecky.
Weaknesses:
-Age of their goaltending tandem, particularly Hasek.
-The loss of Lang, Shanahan and others over the past couple seasons has cost them some of their quality experienced depth.
Question Marks:
-Does Hasek have another good, healthy season left in him?
-Will a couple of their young forwards have a break out season.
Outlook:
-The Red Wings arguably have the best mix of players in the NHL with some quality veterans, some players in their prime, and some younger players ready to take their game up a level. They also have a good mix of offence, defence and goaltending. All-round they are a very good team and once again should compete for top spot in the west as well as for the Stanley Cup. Possibly the best team in the NHL.

Nashville Predators
Strengths:
-Potential future star players in winger Alexander Radulov and defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
-Despite losing Timonen they still have a pretty good group of 6 defensemen.
Weaknesses:
-Lost a lot of talent and depth up front with the losses of Forsberg, Kariya, Hartnell and with Steve Sullivan out with injury likely at least until January.
-The trading away of Tomas Vokoun puts a lot of pressure on new starting goalie Chris Mason.
Question Marks:
-Can Radulov replace Paul Kariya’s offence and then some?
-Can goalie Chris Mason handle playing 60+ games as a true #1 goalie with not a lot of support at backup.
Outlook:
-The Nashville Predators lost a lot in the off season, probably more than any other team, but despite that they still could compete for the final playoff spot if goalie Chris Mason take what he did in parts of the past two seasons and make it work for a full season and if Radulov can jump to 30 goal, 75 point territory this early in his career. They probably still won’t be as good as some other teams competing for playoff spots but they have the advantage of playing Columbus and Chicago 8 times each which should keep them in the race.

St. Louis Blues
Strengths:
-They have the makings of a pretty good defence group if rookie Erik Johnson can come close to matching his hype and Jay McKee and the others can remain healthy..
-A potential top line of Kariya, Tkachuk and Stempniak has the makings to be a very good line as all three players have 30 goal potential.
Weaknesses:
-Not a lot of depth up front after the first couple lines.
-None of Legace, Bacashihua or Toivonen have proven themselves to be top level starting goalies on a consistent basis.
Question Marks:
-How good will Erik Johnson be.
-Can their defence remain healthy, something they didn’t do last year.
-Will one of the goalies step on and be a true consistent #1 guy
Outlook:
-New president John Davidson has done an admiral job rebuilding the Blues. They took a small step forward last year and should take another one this year which if all things go well could put them in a battle for a playoff spot and compete with the Predators for second spot in the division.

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
Sep 052007
 

Ok, it’s time to get back in hockey mode and start looking to the upcoming season which is less than a month away. But first, let me look at a handful of good and bad off season moves.

The Good

Ryan Whitney: While Whitney doesn’t get the media attention of his teammate forwards Crosby, Malkin and Staal, he is one of the best young defensemen in the NHL and had an excelleny year last year with 14 goals, 59 points and a +9. The Penguins made a very smart move locking up Whitney for the next 6 years at a respectable $4 million per season. In a few years they could have a Norris contender in Whitney for about half of what other top defensemen will be making.

Tomas Vokoun: For a price of a couple of draft picks the Florida Panthers went out and picked up one of the best goalies in the NHL. Florida had mediocre goaltending last year and missed the playoffs by 6 points. With Vokoun in net and with some improvement from some of their other young players I expect the Panthers will have an excellent shot at a playoff spot this season and will contend for the division title.

Smyth/Hannan: The Avalanche are a team that made a big splash in the free agent pool but aren’t getting a lot of recognition for doing so. Not only did they sign two excellent players, but they may have signed the most valuable of the top free agents. Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic will provide the Avalanche the best leadership both on and off the ice than any other pair in the NHL and Hannan is a nice defensive defenseman that should help out the Avalanche in their own end. If Budaj continues his improvement in goal, the Avalanche could be cup contenders once again.

Toskala: The price was fairly high but the Leafs addressed their most pressing need with the acquisition of Vesa Toskala. While Toskala is still unproven as an NHL starting goalie, he will most certainly be better than Aubin and will give coach Maurice with a pair of goalies (with Raycroft) so that he can go with the hot hand. The Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point and adding Toskala should easily make up that point and get them into the playoffs.

Keenan: The Calgary Flames big spash of the summer was bringing in an experienced, hard nosed coach in Mike Keenan. Keenan will have the team playing harder, tougher and better defensively which is what took them to the Stanley Cup finals a few years back. Keenan will coach more like how Sutter did and I expect the Flames will be an improved team this upcoming season because of it.

Preissing/Handzus/Nagy/Calder/Stuart – There were rumours that the Kings were going to get into the fight for the high priced free agents (Drury, Briere, Gomez, Smyth) but instead they probably went the smarter route and signed a number of cheaper second tier players. The Kings have some quality talent in Cammaleri, Frolov, Kopitar and others so didn’t really need more talent. What they really needed was some depth and experience to mentor that young talent and take some pressure off them and that is exactly what they added.

Todd White – I don’t know why, but I just really like this move by the Atlanta Thrashers. White is a good two-way player who has enough skill to skate with the talented players that the Thrashers have (he has played with Hossa in Ottawa too) and because he is smart defensively he complements those offensive players perfectly. The Thrashers didn’t have a lot of money to spend but made a smart move in signing White to a $2.375 million/year four year deal.

The Bad Moves

Drury – I like Chris Drury. He is a good, solid, 2-way player with good leadership skills. Problem is, he is a second line player now being paid like a first line star. He might score the Rangers 30 goals and get 65 points, but that isn’t the kind of output I would expect from a $7 million player. For that money they could have signed Peca for the leadership and defensive ability, kept Nylander to keep the successfull Jagr-Nylander-Straka trio in tact (and be certain to keep Jagr happy), plus had some money left over to bring in a quality defenseman.

Hartnell – Hartnell will certainly bring some toughness to the Flyers who have converted themselves to a softer team recently but $4.2 million for a guy who will get you 20-25 goals and 40-45 points? That’s a bit much

Lang – There are some teams out there that can just never seem to make a smart move or the mvoes they make never work out. One of those teams is the Blackhawks. They made a splash a few years ago signing Khabibulin but he has been a flop. Last year they made a splash trading for and signing Havlat and while he started off great, he got injured as he always does. This year they didn’t make quite the same sized splash signing Lang to a 2 year $8 million contract but the return on investment will be just as bad. Lang’s production has fallen from 79 points in 2003-04 to 62 points in 2005-06 to 52 points last year and at 36 years of age, that is more likely an irreversable trend than not and Lang has never brought much else to the game than his offensive abilities. Lang is done as an effective player in the NHL and the Blackhawks just made another bad move.

Toskala – Trading for Toskala was a smart move by the Leafs, giving an unproven goalie (as a starter) an extension at $4 million per year was not a smart move. I just don’t see the benefit to signing Toskala now to that large contract rather than waiting to see how he does as a starter. Even if Toskala came in played excellent and took over the starting role from Raycroft (as the Leafs hope he will do), it is unlikely that he would command much more than $4 million if they signed him in January but the risk would be dramatically lowered. It just smells Gerberesk.

Hamrlik – It is questionable whether Hamrlik will be worth his $5.5 million salary cap hit next season, but I am almost certain he will not be worth anywhere near that $5.5 million salary cap hit 4 years from now at age 36. From Kovalev to Samsonov and now to Hamrlik, Montreal seems to be good for one bad signing every summer.

LA Kings goaltending – While I think the Kings made some good moves at forward and defense, they failed to address their most pressing need of a top goalie. Until they do so, they will be a mediocre team at best and all but certain to miss the playoffs.

Other questioinable moves: Briere ($$, length of contract). Timonen ($$, length of contract). Sarich ($$). Penner (cost of compensation). Rafalski (length of contrtact), Nylander ($$, length of contract).

Apr 242007
 

Time for the second round predictions. Like the first round, the second round features some intriguing matchups and also like the first round, none of those match ups are divisional rivals.

  1. NY Rangers at Buffalo

    NY Rangers (road) Buffalo (home)
    Predicted Winner Buffalo (Good)
    Fair Odds +135 -155
    Overall Record 42-30-10 53-22-7
    Home/Road Record 21-15-5 28-10-3
    Last 10 Games 7-2-1 7-3-0
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/14: NY Rangers 4 at Buffalo 7
    • 2006/11/05: Buffalo 4 at NY Rangers 3 (OT)
    • 2006/11/26: Buffalo 3 at NY Rangers 2 (OT)
    • 2006/12/01: NY Rangers 3 at Buffalo 4 (SO)

    My Opinion: Buffalo has been my pick to win the east before the season and they are still my pick though I think the Rangers could give them a challenge. With Jagr, Straka, Nylander and Shanahan the Rangers have 4 legitimate threats offensively, Sean Avery has given them a valuable boost in the ultra-pest category and he has also played great hockey too. The Rangers also have a servicable group of defensemen that are more of the stay at home defensvie minded variety which is probably better against a deep and talented offensive team in Buffalo. And most importantly what the Rangers have is some of the best goaltending in the NHL over the past 2-3 months.. With Buffalo having a deeper set of forwards and a better group of defensemen the Rangers are going to need Lundqvist to substantially out play Ryan Miller if they are to win. Problem is Miller is a very good goalie too so I think Buffalo will win this series. My Prediction: Buffalo in 7

  2. Ottawa at New Jersey

    Ottawa (road) New Jersey (home)
    Predicted Winner New Jersey (Some)
    Fair Odds +110 -111
    Overall Record 48-25-9 49-24-9
    Home/Road Record 23-12-6 25-10-6
    Last 10 Games 6-2-2 6-3-1
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/21: New Jersey 1 at Ottawa 8
    • 2006/11/17: Ottawa 2 at New Jersey 3
    • 2007/01/06: New Jersey 3 at Ottawa 2
    • 2007/04/03: Ottawa 1 at New Jersey 2 (SO)

    My OpinionOttawa looked very good in defeating Pittsburgh relatively easily but I think the Senators are going to be in tough now against New Jersey. The defense first, rely on exceptional goaltending style of play the the Devils play seems to be a challenge for Ottawa to overcome. In the first game of the season series Ottawa trounced the Devils 8-1 but only mustered 5 goals in the final 3 games. Ottawa has also struggled to generate offense against other defense-first, top goaltending teams losing 1-2 to Calgary and 2-1 to Vancouver. As for the Devils they looked off their game early in the Tampa series but rounded into form late in the series winning 3 straight games to take the series in 6 games. Ottawa has a lot more secondary scoring than Tampa did so that should be a bigger challenge for the Devils but Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley didn’t have good series against the Penguins either. That has to change if the Senators are to have any chance against the Devils. The Devils also have two lines producing goals which bodes well because you know that Volchenkov and Phillips will do a good job at shutting down one of them. Getting that second line scoring will be key and if the Devils get that they should win this series. My Prediction: Devils in 6

  3. San Jose at Detroit

    San Jose (road) Detroit (home)
    Predicted Winner Detroit (Some)
    Fair Odds +120 -125
    Overall Record 51-26-5 50-19-13
    Home/Road Record 26-14-1 29-4-8
    Last 10 Games 7-1-2 5-1-4
    Past Games
    • 2006/10/19: Detroit 1 at San Jose 5
    • 2006/10/25: San Jose 1 at Detroit 2
    • 2006/12/02: San Jose 3 at Detroit 2
    • 2007/01/04: Detroit 4 at San Jose 9

    My Opinion: I was not sold on the Red Wings going into the playoffs but the way they dominated the Flames at both ends of the rink was very impressive. If it weren’t for Kipprusoff it could have been a sweep for the Wings. But San Jose looked very good against a strong Nashville team as well so I think this might be a dandy of a series. San Jose will provide more of an offensive threat than the Flames did, but their goaltending isn’t near as good. The Wings are better defensively than the Predators and more experienced but may not have the raw talent than Nashville had. But I don’t beleive that raw talent is what wins in the playoffs. Smart team play, hard work, dedication, depth and experience is what wins in the playoffs and I think the Wings have a bit more of that than the Sharks. My Prediction: Wings in 7

  4. Vancouver at Anaheim

    Vancouver (road) Anaheim (home)
    Predicted Winner Anaheim (Some)
    Fair Odds +117 -120
    Overall Record 49-26-7 48-20-14
    Home/Road Record 23-15-3 26-6-9
    Last 10 Games 6-3-1 5-3-2
    Past Games
    • 2006/11/09: Anaheim 6 at Vancouver 0
    • 2006/11/30: Anaheim 2 at Vancouver 1
    • 2007/02/20: Vancouver 3 at Anaheim 2 (OT)
    • 2007/03/11: Vancouver 2 at Anaheim 4
  5. My Opinion: I am still not sold on Anaheim being a typical Stanley Cup winning team as I think they lack depth on defense and have a lot of young and relatively inexperienced forwards. But, they fairly easily defeated Minnesota and I think should relatively easily defeat the Canucks. The reason is, those two teams are ideal match ups for the Ducks. With a high dependence on just a few defensemen I think they are better suited to play against one line teams like the Wild and Canucks than deep, talented teams like Nashville, San Jose or Detroit. As we saw in the Dallas series, if you can shut down the Sedin line you go a long way to completely shutting down Vancouver’s offense. I think the Ducks can mostly do that just like they shut down the Wild’s offense. The Ducks should be able to generate more offense against Luongo than the Stars did so I think this is the end of the line for the Canucks. My Prediction: Ducks in 5

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

Apr 192006
 

Today and tomorrow I am going to post my first round playoff previews/predictions. Here are the western conference preview and tomorrow I’ll post my eastern conference preview.

Detroit vs Edmonton

Season Series
November 3: Edmonton 4 at Detroit 3 (OT)
November 17: Detroit 5 at Edmonton 6 (OT)
March 18: Detroit 4 at Edmonton 3 (SO)
April 11: Edmonton 0 at Detroit 2

These two teams matched up fairly well during the regular season with both teams wining 2 games and 3 of the games going to overtime. If that sort of thing happens in the playoffs we are in for a dandy of a series despite being 1st seed vs 8th seed. The key to the series for Edmonton is getting quality goaltending from deadline pickup Dwayne Roloson. Edmonton has very solid defence and enough offence to compete with most teams so it will be up to Roloson not to give any games away. Detroit is such a well balanced team it is hard to pinpoint any one aspect that we should focus on as a key to success but having Zetterberg continue his scoring ways in his first playoff as a first liner will be important for them. Prediction: Detroit in 6

Dallas at Colorado

Season Series
October 8: Colorado 3 at Dallas 2
November 5: Dallas 3 at Colorado 2 (SO)
January 26: Dallas 3 at Colorado 2 (SO)
March 4: Colorado 3 at Dallas 5

Although the regular season series was fairly close, Dallas has to be considered the favourite in this match up. Colorado is in a similar position to Edmonton. Pretty good defence and enough scoring to match up with almost anyone but a question mark in goal. Colorado management decided that Aebischer was not the guy to take them to the promise land and took a gamble on the injured Jose Theodore. Now is the time when we find out if that gamble pays off. In his 5 games (4 starts) for Colorado late in the season Theodore was 1-2-1 with a 3.04 goals against average and a .887 save percentage. That probably won’t be good enough so he will have to pick up his game some if the Avalanche are to move on to the second round. The key to the will also be goaltending which might surprise some consider Marty Turco is in goal. Somehow Marty Turco managed to win 41 games despite having a mediocre .898 save %. In the back of my mind I am thinking he might suffer the Patrick Lalime syndrome in that he somehow manages to win a bunch of games in the regular season despite having average or below average save percentage but in the playoffs when the games get close and more hard fought isn’t quite up to task. I think how Turco plays is something we should watch for as the series goes on. Prediction: Dallas in 7

Calgary vs Anaheim

Season Series:
October 26: Calgary 1 at Anaheim 4
February 8: Anaheim 1 at Calgary 3
April 11: Anaheim 0 at Calgary 3
April 17: Calgary 3 at Anaheim 4

The season series is was a dead heat with both teams winning their home games and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was one of those series where home ice advantage is of great importance. The key for Calgary is getting some goal scoring from someone. Kipprusoff might be the best goalie in the world and Calgary’s defence is second to none but can they get any consistant goal scoring. Jarome Iginla let the team in goals and points but with just 67 points was among the lowest team leading point total in the NHL. The Iginla-Langkow line has to provide consistent offence in the playoffs or Calgary will struggle to win. The keys for Anaheim will be how the youngsters play. Andy MacDonald, Joffrey Lupul, Chris Kunitz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry will all be depended on to various levels and how they play could go a long way to how well the Ducks do in the playoffs. Prediction: Flames in 6

Nashville at San Jose

Season Series
October 5: San Jose 2 at Nashville 3
October 22: San Jose 1 at Nashville 2
November 2: Nashville 2 at San Jose 3 (OT)
March 11: Nashville 2 at San Jose 3 (OT)

The season series was another home team wins all the games series and all the games were close. But with 3 of the games occurring very early in the season and before Thornton joined the Sharks we can’t really conclude much from the season series. With Vokoun out until next season the key to the playoffs for the Predators will be goalie Chris Mason who has played surprisingly well since taking over the #1 role. But he never really had to play a pressure packed game as the Predators were pretty much a lock for the 4th seed in the playoffs neither being able to catch the Red Wings nor likely to be caught by the rest of the playoff teams. Whether Mason can play under the pressure of the playoffs is what will have to wait and see about. The key for San Jose is simply just being able to continue what they have been doing the last month or so. You want to go into the playoffs playing good hockey, and the Sharks are definitely doing that, but you don’t want to be mentally worn out after having to play 6 weeks of important hockey. Prediction: Sharks in 5.