Sep 062008
 

- Asides from Florida, Bryan McCabe‘s other preferred destination was Manhattan. When the Rangers landed Wade Redden, Florida remained the only city McCabe was willing to waive his no-movement clause for.

- With Dan Boyle and Rob Blake stepping in, and San Jose’s talented young blueline a year older, Kyle McLaren may be the odd man out, and he knows it too. McLaren has made it known that he would like to remain in San Jose, but understands if he is traded.

- Jarret Stoll‘s extension has not been formally announced yet because there are still a few kinks to work out. While it has been confirmed that the annual cap hit will be $3.6m over 4 years, the Kings would like the deal to be front-loaded. By doing so, the Kings will have ample room to re-sign Anze Kopitar and Jack Johnson to lucrative, long-term contracts. It will also make buying out Stoll’s contract (should that event ever arise) easier.

- The KHL-NHL drama continues, as the Kings signed prospects Vjateslav Voinov (Chelyabinsk) and Andrei Loktionov (Yaroslavl) last week on August 27. The KHL contends that the two youngsters were still under contract when the Kings signed them, but Bill Daly has denied such allegations and Alexander Medvedev is expected to meet with IIHF officials next week about the matter. Neither Daly nor any other NHL representative will be in attendance.

Aug 272008
 

More on Mats Sundin. The endless carousel goes ’round and ’round, with still no end in sight.

“This is the song that never ends,
As it goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it, not knowing what it was,
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…”

While Sundin sits on his sofa and mulls over his options, teams are getting anxious, reports Bruce Garrioch. Sundin is going to be the first domino to fall – once he decides what to do, there will be a flurry of moves as teams move to their Plan Bs. Others are waiting to see where he signs, because some players on the block, like Mathieu Schneider, are of interest to team(s) who are in the Sundin sweepstakes as well. I think that team’s the Habs, and here’s why.

The Rangers sit only $2m below the cap ceiling, and wth Sundin they’ll have to clear at least $7-8m (assuming that Sundin signs for $7m/year) to accomodate him. Only 3 Rangers are making more than $7m, and two of them are, you guessed it, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, the Rangers’ big spendings last summer. Getting Sundin will give them arguably the strongest group down the middle (perhaps Dallas can challenge), but to accomodate Sundin one of them has to go. It seems a little strange that Glen Sather would deal away a younger player on a long-term contract for a short-term, one-year fix like Sundin – but then again, it is Sather, and he’s known for bold moves. Once Sundin retires, the Rangers will once again have money to play with, and once again in search of another scoring centre. Gomez can be moved to the wing since Drury is better at face-offs, but in actuality it was Drury who spent more time on the wing last year than Gomez. Not including this year, Gomez has 4 years remaining on his contract while Drury has 3. Gomez’s cap hit is slightly higher than Drury’s, but he is 3 years younger. I don’t think either player will be too pleased with the Rangers if they get traded, but they will give the “it’s part of the business” speech regardless, even though both sides had publicly stated that they’re committed long-term and the contract was signed in good will.

If the Rangers are ready to go to such drastic lengths to accomodate Sundin, then I would think that they’d be ready to accomodate Schneider as well. Schneider’s $5.625m cap hit is smaller, but the Rangers will still have to clear some $6m of cap space, and that’s harder than accommodating Sundin. Even with a package of Paul Mara and Petr Prucha that’s not enough. I’m not too sure who would be sent away should Schneider end up a blueshirt, but I would think that both Gomez and Drury would stay. I would rule Wade Redden, Dmitri Kalinin, and Michal Rozsival out of the question, considering they’ve just signed this summer. It does not speak well of the Rangers organization if they do trade either of them, after all, they’ve finally clawed their way back to respectability with “proper” team building. Paul Mara would be an interesting option, but with his $1.95m salary he’d have to be packaged with someone else. Added to that speculation is the fact that Schneider is a native of New York City.

The Habs have $6m in cap space. Without moving anyone, they can accomodate Schneider, but for the sake of having emergency cap space, they’d only have to deal away one player, and considering that their player salary structure isn’t as extreme as the Rangers, they have a lot of mid-salary players they can part with, including Francois Bouillon and Mathieu Dandenault, who are going to be UFAs next summer. Simply put, I think the Habs will have a much easier time accomodating Schneider’s salary than the Rangers, and they do have plenty of youngsters to offer Anaheim. Tack on the fact that Bob Gainey has made it known that he’s less than optimistic about Sundin going to Montreal, he may have had enough of the waiting game and elected to bolster his blueline instead.

Toronto and Vancouer are long-shots to land Schneider, and I would think that Vancouver has little to zero interest in the veteran blueliner considering their current defensive corps. Toronto could make a pitch to replace the soon-to-be-Panther Bryan McCabe, but I don’t think adding more salary, especially with a 39-year old, is in the team’s best interests going forward.

While the Habs and Rangers are fine without either Sundin or Schneider, there’s no doubt that the addition of either would help, it just all depends on who’s going out the door.

Aug 212008
 

Bryan McCabe‘s move to the sunshine state is generating a lot of buzz lately, and the Palm Beach Post has suggested that McCabe’s acquisition is Jacques Martin‘s way of saying “we’re serious about winning” in the hopes that Jay Bouwmeester would bite.

I say that’s wishful thinking, Jacques. I say the only way they can get Bouwmeester to stay is if they reach the playoffs and put up a fight in the first round, but the former seems unlikely already. While McCabe is a huge step up over Mike Van Ryn, who is rumoured to be going the other way, he’s not exactly a guy that can just turn around the fortunes of an underachieving team. The Panthers still have a shoddy offense and have yet to replace Olli Jokinen, and even with McCabe’s offensive abilities they’re still lacking bite.

On a semi-related topic, the Panthers are one of 8 teams who still have not named a captain, and James Mirtle has brought up some names.

For the record, I don’t think anyone on the Thrashers, Panthers, Kings, Leafs, or Canucks roster is captain material, but if I had to pick it’d be Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton, Dustin Brown, Tomas Kaberle, and Willie Mitchell, respectively. But my picks were Chris Drury for the Rangers, Mike Richards for Philadelphia, and Vincent Lecavalier for Tampa.

Aug 172008
 

1 Montreal Canadiens
2 Pittsburgh Penguins
3 Washington Capitals
4 Philadelphia Flyers
5 Ottawa Senators
6 NY Rangers
7 New Jersey Devils
8 Carolina Hurricanes
9 Tampa Bay Lightning
10 Boston Bruins
11 Buffalo Sabres
12 Florida Panthers
13 Atlanta Thrashers
14 Toronto Maple Leafs
15 NY Islanders

Again, I’m going to have to disagree with THN over this. If the Pens had managed to keep Ryan Malone and/or Marian Hossa I’d be inclined to agree that they would finish atop their division, but they won’t. When you potentially have Miroslav Satan as your top scoring winger you’re not going to go anywhere fast. The rest of the team remains largely the same.

I have a hard time believing the Sens will finish ahead of the Rangers and Devils. Despite the fact that Wade Redden‘s game is in decline, losing him will hurt because they didn’t replace him. The Sens are still looking for ways to fill out the rest of their roster, but like so many other teams in the East, goaltending is their primary concern. If Martin Gerber doesn’t hold up, they’re slightly above average at best by virtue of their incredible top line.

The Bruins are going to make some noise this year, especially with a completely healed Patrice Bergeron. Michael Ryder will head into camp as the favourite to land the first line right winger slot, and considering the success Claude Julien had with Ryder, along with an elite playmaking centre in Marc Savard, he could be a very nice surprise. Once again, however, they head into training camp with a 1A-1B tandem of fan favourite Tim Thomas and the disgruntled Manny Fernandez.

The East is much more clear cut than the West because so many teams have holes. The Habs, arguably the best team in the East, also has a shaky goaltending situation considering how Carey Price fell apart last year. These goaltending problems also plague at least 3 of the playoff teams listed. It’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out – a lot of teams have areas to improve, and considering the mass exodus of players from the East heading West, this year could be rather different.

Aug 122008
 

The NHL just recently released their preseason schedule, and you can see the entire list here. A couple things that are sticking points…

- I like the fact that instead of having regular season games in Europe they’re playing preseason games, and against European clubs, no less. The games mean less to them and their jetlag will be overcome by Opening Night. Following in David Stern‘s footsteps (surprise), Gary Bettman has decided to try and market the NHL game globally, even though a large number of current NHLers are not from North America, unlike the NBA, which averages about 1-2 Europeans per team. Some even have none. While I think playing preseason games elsewhere in the world is a great idea which will perhaps build popularity and overseas interest (much like basketball and baseball), I sincerely hope Bettman doesn’t even remotely consider establishing franchises in Europe as Paul Godfrey once idiotically suggested on OTR.

- This will perhaps be the first time we get a better sense of how good the other European clubs are, playing against NHL teams. Back when the all-star game featured NHL all-stars against the Russian national teams, it wasn’t pretty. The KHL (formerly RSL) has always contended that their teams were as good, if not better, than some teams in the NHL. We will know soon enough on October 1 when the Rangers face Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Bern. The Lightning will face the DEL’s Eisbaren Berlin, the reigning league champs, while the Sens will face off against the SEL’s Vastra Frolunda and the Pens against the FNL’s Jokerit Helsinki.

- A lot of games will be played in cities that do not feature a NHL team, but perhaps future potential franchise expansion or re-location destinations, including Halifax, Kansas City, Winnipeg, London, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas at the storied MGM Grand. There’s little doubt in anyone’s minds that the Halifax, Winnipeg, and London games will be jam-packed, but what of Salt Lake, Kansas and Vegas? You can bet that Bettman will be on hand to personally oversee the games, as it features three very real destinations for expansion or re-location. Should the games create a lot of buzz and sell-out well in advance (I don’t think it will), you can bet that Bettman will bring up expansion once more. It’s very interesting to note that no games will be played in Hamilton. A shot at Jim Balsillie? Maybe.

- The most idiotic game? The Kings against the Sharks in Utah on a Sunday. If Bettman has forgotten, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons), is the predominant religion of Utah, and its followers account for roughly 60% of the state’s population. The ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies averages a little under 4000 fans per game in a 10 100 seat capacity arena. Taking a quick peek at their upcoming schedule, the Grizzlies don’t have a single Sunday home game until March. I think they’ll have quite a hard time filling the stands.

Sep 282007
 

New Jersey Devils
Strengths:
-Martin Brodeur
Weaknesses:
-No longer have that anchor on defense.
Question Marks:
-Can the Devils defensive system work without a stud defenseman?
-Can Elias and Gionta regain the chemistry of the past couple years without Gomez?
-Can Parise improve on last years break out season.
Outlook:
The Devils success over the past decade has largely been due to having stellar goaltending and a nearly as stellar defense. But over the past 3 or 4 years they have lost Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski off their defence and the question is, can they be just as successful without that stud defenseman? Making matters worse is defenseman Colin White has suffered a significant eye injury and when he will return is still uncertain. That is going to put a lot of pressure on an unspectacular crew of Paul Martin, Karel Rachunek, Vitaly Vishnevski, Richard Matvichuk, Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene. To make maters worse the Devils lost on of their top offensive players in Scott Gomez this summer. The Devils anchored by Martin Brodeur still should make the playoffs this year but it is far from certain and a key injury or two could see them fall out of the top eight in the eastern conference.

New York Islanders
Strengths:
-Rick DiPietro is an emerging star goalie
Weaknesses:
-No top end talent anywhere in front of DiPietro
-Lost a lot of key players to free agency.
Question Marks:
-Can the hodge podge of second tier free agents come together quickly as a cohesive unit?
-Can Rick DiPietro take his game up another notch.
Outlook:
The Islanders have lost Alexei Yashin, Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti and Sean Hill from the team that finished last year. That is a lot of holes to fill for a team that just barely made the playoffs. They did make some decent acquisitions in Fedotenko, Guerin, Comrie, Vasicek and Sutton but it is hard to say there is a quality first line player among them. Can Bill Guerin score 36 goals with Mike Comrie as his center like he did last year when he played mostly with Doug Weight, a true playmaking center? I don’t think so. The only saving grace for this team is goalie Rick DiPietro. DiPietro is a good enough goalie that he may be able to keep the Islanders within shooting distance of the playoffs though in the end they will probably end up closer to the basement than a playoff spot.

New York Rangers
Strengths:
-Deep and talented group of forwards.
-Lundqvist is an elite level goalie.
Weaknesses:
-A serviceable but unspectacular group of defense.
Question Marks:
-How will the new lineup come together?
-Will Jagr form the same chemistry with Gomez that he had with Nylander?
-Will Sean Avery wear out his welcome and become a disturbance in the dressing room?
Outlook:
With all the big roster moves the Rangers made in the off season they sure would like to see them as prime Stanley Cup contenders this season. That should be the case, but many people thought that should be the case last year too, but instead they floundered at times, finished only 6th in the eastern conference and were ousted from the playoffs in the second round. If they have learned their lesson and can learn to play a bit more consistent and reliable hockey they should be a contender this year. Chris Drury’s experience and leadership should definitely help them out in this area. In the end the Rangers will compete with Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Buffalo for top spot in the eastern conference and likely for the chance to represent the east in the Stanley Cup finals.

Philadelphia Flyers
Strengths:
-Added a lot of talent in the off season.
-Briere and Gagne should form a potent duo
-Depth of forwards
Weaknesses:
-Questionable defence
-I am not yet sold on Biron as a starting goalie.
Question Marks:
-Can Biron be a quality starting goalie?
-How quickly can this completely revamped lineup come together as a team.
Outlook:
There is no doubt that the Flyers will be one of the most improved teams in the NHL. You can’t add Briere, Hartnell, Lupul, Timonen, and Jason Smith without improving your team. The Flyers now have a lot of depth at the forward position and are capable of putting out 3 lines which can score and Timonen should do wonders in the transition game and helping the power play. Whether they can make the playoffs or not will depend in large part on Biron playing like a quality starting goalie for 55+ games and young defensemen like Braydon Coburn, Lasse Kukkonen, Alex Picard, and Randy Jones becoming reliable defensemen. A playoff spot is not a sure thing with this newly formed team but they should be good enough to be in the hunt which is a dramatic improvement over last season.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Strengths:
-Incredible young talent
-Maybe the best offence in the league
Weaknesses:
-Defensive ability and play – lack a true shut down defenseman
-Average goaltending.
Question Marks:
-Can Marc-Andre Fleury become a consistent reliable #1 goalie?
-Can Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin repeat stellar rookie seasons?
-How much is left in the tanks of veterans Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts and Darryl Sydor?
Outlook:
The Penguins are arguable the most talented team in the NHL as Crosby and Malkin are two superstar talents and Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney probably form the best pair of offensive defenseman in the NHL. The Penguins are going to score goals and score a lot of them. The big question is, can they reduce their goals against. Former first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury showed some improvements in goal last year but the Penguins were still only an average team in terms of goals against. If they can improve on that a bit (and that is partly why they brought in Darryl Sydor) then the Penguins have to be considered a top contender for the Stanley Cup.

Sep 122007
 

Based on the same forumula as the western conference ratings, here are the eastern conference ratings. As usual, if you disagree feel free to post your thoughts and if you can back up your arguement, who knows, maybe you can get me to change my mind.

Forwards Defense Goaltending Total
Talent Depth Exp. Talent Depth Exp. #1 goalie Depth Exp. Score
Ottawa 10 6 7 8 7 7 8 7 6 53.2
Buffalo 8 8 6 7 8 7 8 7 6 52.8
Pittsburgh 10 8 6 8 7 6 7 6 6 52.5
NY Rangers 9 7 8 6 7 6 9 6 6 52.2
Toronto 7 8 7 8 9 7 6 6 6 50.7
Philadelphia 8 8 6 7 7 7 7 7 6 50.3
Florida 7 6 5 7 7 6 9 6 7 49.5
New Jersey 7 6 7 6 6 7 9 6 10 49.5
Montreal 7 6 6 7 7 7 8 7 6 48.8
Atlanta 9 6 7 7 5 6 8 6 5 48.0
Carolina 8 7 7 6 7 8 6 6 6 47.0
NY Islanders 6 7 7 6 7 6 8 5 6 46.8
Boston 7 6 6 7 7 6 7 6 6 46.5
Tampa 9 6 6 8 6 6 6 5 6 46.5
Washington 8 6 5 6 6 5 7 6 7 45.2
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
 

When writing up these first round matchups I realized that not one of them features a divisional rivalry. I am too lazy to check but I am not sure that has ever happened before. Anyway, here are my eastern conference predictions.

NY Islanders at Buffalo

NY Islanders (road) Buffalo (home)
Predicted Winner Buffalo (Good)
Fair Odds +137 -159
Overall Record 40-30-12 53-22-7
Home/Road Record 18-17-6 28-10-3
Last 10 Games 6-3-1 7-3-0
Past Games
  • 2006/10/26: Buffalo 3 at NY Islanders 0
  • 2007/01/01: NY Islanders 1 at Buffalo 3
  • 2007/01/27: Buffalo 3 at NY Islanders 5
  • 2007/03/30: NY Islanders 4 at Buffalo 6

Through some gritty play, some surprise goaltending and some luck the Islanders managed to find their way into the playoffs but unfortunately for them in the first round they are going to play the best team in the east just as they are getting healthy for the first time in a long time. In other words, it is going to be real tough for the Islanders to move on to the next round. That said, if Dubielewicz can provide quality goaltending like he has the past week I think the Islanders could steal a few games. The Islanders may not have any superstars on their team but they have some very good, hard working players like Blake, Smyth, Hunter, Witt, Hill, etc. and should make the Sabres work for their wins. But in the end, the Sabres have by far the better talent, depth and probably goaltending.
My Prediction: Sabres in 6

Tampa Bay at New Jersey

Tampa Bay (road) New Jersey (home)
Predicted Winner New Jersey (Good)
Fair Odds +129 -140
Overall Record 44-33-5 49-24-9
Home/Road Record 22-15-4 25-10-6
Last 10 Games 5-4-1 6-3-1
Past Games
  • 2007/01/18: Tampa Bay 3 at New Jersey 2 (SO)
  • 2007/01/26: New Jersey 2 at Tampa Bay 0
  • 2007/02/11: Tampa Bay 4 at New Jersey 1
  • 2007/03/22: New Jersey 1 at Tampa Bay 3

Those who read my blog will know that I do not think that Tampa is a very good team. Tampa is really just a 4 player team of Lecavalier, St. Louis, Richards and Boyle. Their goaltending is weak, they don’t have a lot of quality depth and if it werent for their shootout play they wouldn’t have been close to making the playoffs. All that said, Tampa has beaten the Devils 3 times this year including both games in New Jersey (one by a shootout) so who knows, maybe they have a chance. Plus, I am not completely sold on the Devils either. But even so, I think between Brodeur and their defensive oriented game the Devils play they will shut down Tampa’s big 3 forwards and New Jersey will get enough offense to put away the Lightning fairly easily.
My Prediction: New Jersey in 5

NY Rangers at Atlanta

NY Rangers (road) Atlanta (home)
Predicted Winner Atlanta (Some)
Fair Odds +121 -127
Overall Record 42-30-10 43-28-11
Home/Road Record 21-15-5 23-12-6
Last 10 Games 7-2-1 6-3-1
Past Games
  • 2006/11/10: NY Rangers 5 at Atlanta 2
  • 2006/11/28: Atlanta 5 at NY Rangers 4 (OT)
  • 2007/01/20: Atlanta 3 at NY Rangers 1
  • 2007/03/16: NY Rangers 1 at Atlanta 2 (OT)

This is a real interesting series between two fairly similar clubs. Both teams are using second year goalies (Lundqvist, Lehtonen) with real promising careers ahead of them. Both teams rely heavily on 4 forwards (Jagr, Straka, Nylander, Shanahan vs Hossa, Kozlov, Kovalchuk and Tkachuk) for offense with 3 of them being European and both teams have decent, though relatively anonymous group of defensemen. The Rangers have a super pest in Sean Avery and the Thrashers have gritty veteren forward Scott Mellanby. For the Rangers I really like that Lundqvist is going into the playoffs playing the best hockey of his season if not his young career and that might be the difference. But I also think that the Thrashers have a little more experience and leadership with guys like Mellanby, Holik, Rucchin, DeVries as well as coach Hartley and that bodes well for the Thrashers. This should be an exciting and long playoff series but in the end I’ll go with the team with home ice advantage.
My Prediction: Thrashers in 7

Pittsburgh at Ottawa

Pittsburgh (road) Ottawa (home)
Predicted Winner Ottawa (Good)
Fair Odds +129 -140
Overall Record 47-24-11 48-25-9
Home/Road Record 21-14-6 25-13-3
Last 10 Games 6-3-1 6-2-2
Past Games
  • 2006/11/10: Ottawa 6 at Pittsburgh 3
  • 2007/03/06: Pittsburgh 5 at Ottawa 4 (SO)
  • 2007/03/18: Ottawa 3 at Pittsburgh 4 (SO)
  • 2007/04/05: Pittsburgh 3 at Ottawa 2

In some ways this is kind of like the San Jose-Nashville series in the west where both teams are quality offensive teams but both teams have their question marks. For Nashville it was their small, soft players and for San Jose it was relying heavily on a couple of young defensemen. In this series it is lack of leadership and grit for the Senators along with carrying the heavy burden of numerous playoff failures in the past. For Pittsburgh it is depending heavily on 3 forwards aged 20 and under a 22 year old goalie and a second year defenseman in Ryan Whitney. I normally would not want to pick a team with that much youth but Crosby and Malkin are rare talents that might be the exception to the rule and Ottawa isn’t exactly a veteren laden, playoff hardened team. Ottawa has their own 21 year old defenseman, a 24 year old second year goalie, and a 23 year old number one center and most of the rest of their team just 25-26 years of age. But what I think will be the difference in this series is the veteren leadership that the Penguins have that the Senators don’t. Between Roberts and Recchi the Penguins might have the two best playoff experienced leaders in the game. Recchi has a pair of Stanley Cups and 135 games of playoff experience. Roberts has a Stanley Cup and 114 games of NHL experience. Ottawa doesn’t have an equivalent and if those two guys can keep Pittsburgh’s young players focused and confident I like Pittsburgh’s chances in this series. Before I make my prediction I will add that it will be critically important for both teams to stay out of the penalty box as both teams have the ability to be especially devastating on the power play.
My Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6