Sep 272007
 

Atlanta Thrashers
Strengths:
-Top end talent in Kovalchuk and Hossa
-Excellent young goalie in Kari Lehtonen
Weaknesses:
-Lack depth and secondary scoring
-Just an OK defence and not deep.
Question Marks:
-Is Lehtonen ready to take his game to the elite level?
-Will Atlanta re-sign Hossa or be forced to trade him before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer?
-Is Steve Rucchin’s career done?
Outlook:
A few of the bodies changed but I the outlook for the Thrashers is pretty much the same as last year. They will compete for the division title once again but only because they play in a weak division and are otherwise a borderline playoff team whose success or failure is pretty much dependent on the performance of Kovalchuk, Hossa and Lehtonen.

Carolina Hurricanes
Strengths:
-Strong down the middle with Staal, Brind’amour, Cullen and Jeff Hamilton.
-Pretty good set of wingers too.
Weaknesses:
-They have 7 NHL calibre defensemen but none of them are really top pairing defensemen on most good teams in the NHL.
-Despite winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy goalie Cam Ward has still not yet established himself as a good consistent dependable goalie in the NHL.
Question Marks:
-Will goalie Cam Ward take his game up a notch?
-Can Eric Staal return to the level of play he showed in 2005-06?
Outlook:
-Like most teams in this division they are a decent team but not a great one. They have a chance to compete for the division title but may also miss the playoffs like they did last season. Which outcome they obtain will depend on the play of Cam Ward and the Hurricanes weak defence group.

Florida Panthers
Strengths:
-Finally have a proven star goalie.
-Lots of good young talent.
Weaknesses:
-Not a lot of depth up front which means staying healthy will be critical.
-Not a lot of experienced talent.
Question Marks:
-Can Vokoun stay healthy enough to play 65+ games?
-Can Olesz, Horton, Weiss and the other young players take their games up a notch.
Outlook:
-There is no doubt that adding Tomas Vokoun is going to have a major impact on this team. With a lot of young players on the roster, having a proven star goalie back that can help make up for a lot of ‘rookie’ mistakes. If Vokoun can play 65+ games and they get some improvement out of their young forwards there is no reason why Florida can’t compete for a playoff spot or even the division title in this weak southeast division. If neither of those happen it will likely be another playoff miss for the Panthers. I am optimistic about their playoff chances though.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Strengths:
-The big 3 forwards in Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards are among the best in the league.
-Boyle and Kuba are two solid offensive defensemen to compliment the big three forwards.
Weaknesses:
-Goaltending.
-Defensive play.
-Goaltending again.
Question Marks:
-Can Dan Boyle make a quick recovery from his freak accident and return to being a star offensive defensemen?
-Can they finally get some consistent, solid goaltending?
Outlook:
-The story in Tampa since they won their Stanley Cup just prior to the lock out has been all about goaltending. They have squeaked into the playoffs two years in a row now despite having horrible goaltending, in part because of a weak division and in part because they have been stellar in shootouts (combined 16-6 the past 2 years). In fact, last year Tampa’s goalies had a better save percentage in the shootout (.887) than they did during the rest of the game (.884). That is unlikely to happen again and with the potential improvement of Florida and Washington it makes Tampa’s playoff spot seriously up for grabs. Best case scenario for the Lightning is they squeak into the playoffs again.

Washington Capitals
Strengths:
-Next to Pittsburgh might have the best set of young forwards in the NHL with Ovechkin, Semin and rookie Nicklas Backstrom.
-Added some nice complementary forwards in Nylander and Viktor Kozlov.
Weaknesses:
-Below average defence
Question Marks:
-Can Nicklas Backstrom have a solid rookie season?
-Does 37 year old goalie Kolzig have another good year in him?
Outlook:
-The Washington Capitals are one of the interesting teams to watch this year. They finished 14th in the eastern conference last season with 70 points but have added Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti and rookie of the year candidate Nicklas Backstom to their roster. They have the makings of two very good offensive lines, one anchored by a Nylander-Ovechkin duo and the other by a Backstrom-Semin duo with 30 goal scorer Chris Clark and 25 goal scorer Viktor Kozlov added to the mix as well. They have the potential to have a better forward group (top to bottom) than either Tampa or Atlanta and that is saying a lot. Like Tampa and Atlanta though, their defence is suspect though it could be serviceable if everyone plays to their potential. The question is if and when will this offensive talent come together and play like a cohesive unit (much like what happened in Pittsburgh last year). If it happens by the mid-point in the season the Capitals could challenge for a playoff spot but I suspect they are still a year or two and a quality defenseman or two away.

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
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

Apr 032007
 

Tuesday’s results:
Islanders 3, Rangers 2 (SO)
Leafs 3, Flyers 2 (OT)
Tampa 3, Carolina 2
Montreal 2, Boston 0

Updated Standings:
6. NY Rangers (92) – vsMTL, atPIT
7. Tampa Bay (92) – vsFLA, atATL
8. Montreal (90) – atNYR, atTOR
9. Toronto (89) – atNYI, vsMTL
10. NY Islanders (86) – vsTOR, atPHI, atNJ
11. Carolina (86) – vsATL, vsFLA (eliminated)

To Get In:
NY Rangers: A Rangers win or a Leafs loss (in regulation or OT)
Tampa: A Tampa win or an OT loss, or a loss by the leafs (in regulation or OT)
Montreal: Getting a point against the Leafs on Saturday (win or OT/SO loss), or beating Rangers Thursday with the Leafs losing to Islanders.
Toronto: These combinations will get the Leafs in the playoffs:

  • Winning both games in regulation. One of Tampa, Montreal or the Rangers would be eliminated pending other results
  • Leafs win both games but one or both of them in OT and either Tampa loses both in regulation or Rangers lose both with at least one of the two losses in regulation.
  • Lose to Isles Thursday, Rangers defeat Canadiens in regulation and Leafs defeat Canadiens in regulation Saturday. Result: Leafs in, Montreal out.

Islanders: Must win all 3 games with Montreal getting no more than one point or go 2-0-1 including beating the Leafs in regulation and Montreal losing both their games in regulation.
Carolina: Eliminated.

I think those are all the scenarios. If I missed anything let me know.

The other eastern conference race is the battle for tops in the Atlantic division between Pittsburgh and New Jersey and the battle for home ice advantage in the 4 vs 5 seed matchup between Ottawa and either Pittsburgh and New Jersey. The standings currently are:

New Jersey (104) – at Phi, vs NYI
Ottawa (103) – vs Pit, at Bos
Pittsburgh (101) – at Ott, vs NYR

New Jersey clinches top spot in the Atlantic and second seed bu picking up a point against either the Flyers or Islanders. That should happen so the battle is between Pittsburgh and Ottawa for home ice in the first round. For Pittsburgh to gain home ice they need to beat Ottawa Thursday, and then do one point better against the Rangers than whatever Ottawa does against the Bruins. i.e. Ottawa loses, Pittsburgh just needs an OTL. Ottawa gets an OTL, then Pittsburgh must win. That is unless Ottawa get an OTL vs Pittsburgh on Thursday. In that case the Penguins need to beat the Rangers with the Bruins beating the Senators.

Apr 012007
 

With the Rangers and Carolina winning tonight here is how the playoff race in the east looks right now and their games remaining.

6. NY Rangers (91) – atNYI, vsPTL, atPIT
7. Tampa Bay (90) – vsCAR, vsFLA, atATL
8. Montreal (88) – vsBOS, atNYR, atTOR
9. Toronto (87) – vsPHI, atNYI, vsMTL
10. Carolina (86) – atTB, vsATL, vsFLA
11. NY Islanders (84) – vsNYR, vsTOR, atPHI, atNJ

With so many teams still in the race and so games being played against each other and with the crazy 3 point games there are far too many scenarios to figure out how each of these teams can make or miss the playoffs but here are some of what each team needs to do to make the playoffs or what can happen for them to miss.

To get in the playoffs:

Rangers: One more win and they are in.
Tampa: 1-0-1 guarantees a playoff spot. 1-2-0 gets them a spot so long as Montreal doesn’t go 2-0-1 and Toronto goes 3-0-0.
Montreal: 2-0-1 and they are in.
Toronto: 3-0-0 and they are in so long as they defeat Montreal in regulation.
Carolina: Need to go 3-0-0 and get some help. Specifically, no more than 2 of the following can occur:
-Rangers get a win
-Tampa gets a win
-Montreal gets 2 wins
-Leafs go 3-0-0
Islanders: Need to go 4-0-0 and get some help. Specifically, no more than 2 of the following can occur:
-Rangers get a win
-Tampa gets a win
-Montreal gets 4 points
-Toronto goes 2-0-1 with the OTL in the game against the Islanders.

Teams will be out if:

Islanders: Lose any 2 games.
Carolina: Lose any 2 games or lose a single game with Montreal winning a game or Toronto winning 2 games or the Islanders going 3-0-1.
Toronto: Go winless or just win a single game with Montreal getting a single point.
Montreal: Go 0-3-0.
Tampa: Go 0-3-0 and 2 of the following occur:
-Montreal gets 3 points
-Toronto gets 4 points
-Carolina gets 5 points
-NY Islanders go 3-0-1
Rangers: Need to lose all 3 games and three of the following to occur:
-Tampa gets a point
-Montreal gets 3 points
-Toronto goes 2-0-1
-Carolina goes 3-0-0
-Islanders go 3-0-1

May 222006
 

Am I reading this right? Did Brad Richards really sign a 5 year contract that will pay him $7.8 million per year? Is the Tampa Bay management insane? It appears the answer to all of those questions is yes. How sad for Tampa Bay Lightning fans.

Here is the problem. Richards will make $7.8 million a season. Martin St. Louis will make 5.25 million a season. And Vincent Lecavalier will make 6.875 million per season. Combined those 3 guys will make nearly $20 million dollars, or just over half of this past seasons salary cap. Maybe we should read this as a sign that the salary cap will go up dramatically for next season but even if it goes up to $45 million, is Tampa really going to spend to the cap level? How much talent are they going to be able to afford for the other 17-20 players on their roster? Boyle, Sydor, Prospal, Modin and Burke are also signed for next season for a bit over 11 million combined. That’ll be $31 million for 8 players. That’s rediculous. Now don’t get me wrong. Richards is a pretty good player. The best player on that team. But he isn’t a $7.8 million player. Nor is Lecavalier a $6.875 million player (he has never even had an 80 point season). How they are going to fill out that defense and add a quality goalie for no more than $10 million is well beyond me. One has to wonder if maybe St. Louis or Lecavalier mighe get traded but I am not sure who would want to take on those contracts. Maybe San Jose would be willing to rid themselves on Nabokov’s $5.375 million per season contract for St. Louis’s $5.25 million per season contract (that’s a trade that might make sense for both teams). Maybe Montreal would be willing to take on Lecavalier’s contract but not sure what they would be willing to give up in return. And honestly, I have a hard time seeing the Lightning trading Levavalier. They seem to have always held him in higher regard than he probably deserves. I’ll predict now that Tampa won’t be a serious cup contender again for the next 3-5 years.

Apr 202006
 

Here are my eastern conference predictions. I really hate taking all the favourites but aside from an outside chance of Montreal upsetting Carolina I just can’t see any of the other underdogs winning barring unexpected key injuries.

Just a note: The predictions are my predictions, not my algorithms. I am retiring the algorithm for the season as I don’t think it makes sense to use in the playoffs. I also likely won’t be making predictions on every game since it is really the series that matters. I may post some comments each day on the previous nights results and that nights games but it will depend on how busy I am with other stuff.

Ottawa vs Tampa

Season Series:
October 21: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 1
November 3: Tampa 2 at Ottawa 4
March 6: Ottawa 4 at Tampa 0
March 14: Tampa 3 at Ottawa 4

Ottawa swept the season series and that might be a good indication of what might happen in this playoff series. This is the dream match up for Ottawa as I think Montreal would have given them a much bigger challenge. For both teams the key to the series is goaltending. If Tampa wants any change of winning they need to have Grahame or Burke come up with a several excellent games. Unfortunately for Tampa that hasn’t happened with a whole lot of consistency this year. Grahame has 5 shut outs this year which shows he can be a good goalie but while he can shut out a team one night he can give up 6 goals the next. The key for Ottawa is getting good goaltending from Ray Emery. In March they got excellent goaltending from Emery but in April he was mostly horrible. He apparently has a bit of a hip injury that might be taking away some of this quickness so if I am Tampa I pepper him with as many shots as I can. That will be their only hope to win this series. Prediction: Ottawa in 5.

Carolina vs Montreal

Season Series:
December 31: Montreal 3 at Carolina 5
January 23: Montreal 3 at Carolina 7
January 31: Carolina 8 at Montreal 2
March 15: Carolina 5 at Montreal 1

This is one of those series which I think could definitely end up in an upset despite the fact that Carolina went completely nuts vs Montreal in the regular season out scoring the Canadiens by a 25-9 score in their 4 games. The first 3 of those games has the departed and struggling Jose Theodore in net and the last had David Aebischer. Huet has been the much better goalie and should be the Habs main goalie in the playoffs so that should help. Huet’s outstanding goaltending got the Canadiens into the playoffs and they will only go as far as Huet takes them in the playoffs. For the Hurricanes they key their success will be how Doug Weight and Mark Recchi play. These two guys were traded for to add some depth to the Hurricanes offense, particularly after Erik Cole went down, but they haven’t produced a whole lot up until now. These two veterans need to take some pressure off of Eric Staal to produce all the offense. If they can do that the Hurricanes could go deep into the playoffs. Prediction: Hurricanes in 7

New Jersey vs New York Rangers

Season Series:
October 8: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3 (OT)
October 13: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 4
November 3: NY Rangers 4 at New Jersey 2
November 5: New Jersey 2 at NY Rangers 3 (OT)
December 20: New Jersey 3 at NY Rangers 1
January 22: New Jersey 1 at NY Rangers 3
March 4: NY Rangers 1 at New Jersey 2
April 9: NY Rangers 2 at New Jersey 3

This is the only battle amongst division rivals in the first round of the playoffs and it should be fun series to watch. Both teams have good goalies. Both teams have pretty good defences despite not having a bunch of big name players. And both teams have a top line that can score in bunches. In my mind the key to this series will be who can shut down the opposing teams top line the best. Can the Devils keep Jagr to no more than a point a game? Can the Rangers shut down the trio of Gionta, Gomez and Elias all of whom have been awesome in the push for the playoffs? Those are the keys to this series. Prediction: Devils in 6

Buffalo Sabres vs Philadelphia Flyers

Season Series:
December 19: Buffalo 2 at Philadelphia 1 (SO)
February 2: Philadelphia 2 at Buffalo 4
March 11: Buffalo 6 at Philadelphia 5
April 7: Philadelphia 4 at Buffalo 2

I really like Buffalo to win this series. I just think they are a better all round team and I think Buffalo’s speed will give the Flyers defence fits. The only concern one might have for the Sabres is goaltending. Generally Ryan Miller has had a very good rookie season but he struggled a bit in late March and early April. He picked his game up in his last 3 starts of the season so he should have his confidence back. If Miller can give they Sabres good goaltending Buffalo will be a very tough team to beat in the playoffs. There are two keys to the Flyers success. The first is Forsberg’s health. If Forsberg isn’t healthy and playing at his top level the Flyers will struggle to get the offence needed to win. The other key to the Flyers is goaltending. Of course this is nothing new as the Flyers haven’t had top quality goaltending for years and it has never been adequately addressed by GM Bobby Clarke. Goaltending is key in the NHL and if you don’t have it you won’t win and I just don’t think Esche and Niittymaki are good enough to take a team deep into the playoffs though anyone can get hot for a short period of time and win a series.. Prediciton: Buffalo in 6.

Nov 012005
 

I was watching the Tampa-Atlanta game tonight and after the first period the showed a first period summary including goals, shots, PIMS, etc. They also showed hits. After 1 period Atlanta had 4 hits and Tampa had just 1. Yeah, that’s just 1 hit for Tampa in a whole 20 minute period. I thought that was a pretty low hit total and it got me thinking if this is normal for Tampa. It seems that Tampa doesn’t like to hit anyone.

November 1st vs Atlanta: 6 hits
October 29 vs Atlanta: 6 hits
October 28 vs Washington: 8 hits
October 26 vs New Jersey: 4 hits
October 21 vs Ottawa: 11 hits
October 20 vs Atlanta: 9 hits
October 16 vs Washington: 7 hits
October 15 vs Pittsburgh: 5 hits
October 13 vs Buffalo: 15 hits
October 10 vs Boston: 4 hits
October 8 vs Florida: 11 hits
October 7 vs Florida: 7 hits
October 5 vs Carolina: 11 hits

That’s a total of 104 hits in 13 games or an average of 8 per game. Two games that had just 4 hits. That is hard to believe. You play a whole 60 minute game and get just 4 hits. You’d think you could get 4 hits accidentally in a 60 minute game. Here are the hit totals for other teams in games tonight.

Atlanta: 11
New Jersey: 17
Pittsburgh: 9
Florida: 19
Montreal: 25 (Begin had 6 hits, equal to the whole Tampa team)
Boston: 23
Islanders: 16
Chicago: 19
Detroit: 13

And last night:
Toronto: 31
Florida: 34
Montreal: 13
Rangers: 5

Looking at a selection of some past Rangers games, 5 is not a normal total for them and they frequently get 15 or so hits. I haven’t looked at every team but it seems that Tampa is well below the league average when it comes to hits per game. Maybe when I get more time I’ll look into more detail the number of hits per game but from looking at a bunch of games it appears the average is probably around 15-16 hits per team per game. I am not sure how this compares with previous years but my gut tells me that 15 hits in a game would be low for a game in 2003-04.

Sep 292005
 

St. Louis Blues: They will certainly be singing the blues in St. Louis this year as no team has fallen further than the Blues. MacInnis has retired, Pronger was traded, and Demitra, Khavanov and Osgood were let leave for other teams. And to make matters worse, Keith Tkachuk is vastly out of shape. Lalime should be a decent replacement for Osgood but no one is going to adequately replace those other guys. Barring a miracle I can’t see the Blues being close to playoff contention.

Colorado Avalanche: They big loss was Peter Forsberg but they also lost Adam Foote, Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne. Those would make the core of a pretty good team. Although they have lost a lot the Avalanche still have some top talent in Sakic, Hejduk, Tanguay and Blake and adding Brisebois will help the loss of Foote. They will still compete for a playoff spot but they are in a tough division.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Gone from the Stanley Cup champs are talented forward Cory Stillman, defensive defenceman Brad Lukowich and of course star goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and they have only really added Vaclav Prospal and Sean Burke to replace them. I honestly don’t think Burke can be a #1 goalie anymore (just ask the Flyers) so that means Tampa is going to depend on John Grahame to step up and be the #1 guy. Although Grahame played great in stretches last year I am not convinced he can be a top goalie on a cup contending team and I think they will be seriously worried about Atlanta challenging them for the division lead. Also, one has to wonder if Martin St. Louis can repeat his stellar season.

Detroit Red Wings: They didn’t fall as far as some people think but their old players are one year older, and honestly, how much more can you expect from Yzerman and Chelios. Gone are Derian Hatcher, Darren McCarty, Mathieu Dandenault, Ray Whitney, Brett Hull, Hasek and Cujo. But I like their pickup of Andreas Lilja who will fill Dandenault’s role and Andy Delmore could be a solid PP quarterback. They will still have a good offence with Lang, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Shanahan, Lidstrom and others but the big question mark for Detroit is in goal and can Osgood and Legace provide good enough goaltending. If they can Detroit should remain a playoff team in a weak division.

San Jose Sharks: San Jose is a team that few people seem to talk about but they did lose some quality players and didn’t replace them with anyone except rookies they hope will step up. Gone are Mike Ricci, Mike Rathje, Jason Marshall, Alexander Korolyuk and Curtis Brown. If the young players don’t step up, the Sharks will fall down.

Other teams who might fall: Vancouver Canucks have lost some valuable depth on defence with Sopel and Malik gone. Toronto Maple Leafs if *both* Lindros and Allison suffer serious injuries. New Jersey if Elias, Gomez and Mogilny can’t all come back from injury/health issues. I think they have done a decent job patching up their defense.

 Posted by at 9:06 am
Sep 222005
 

With all the player movement since the NHL last played we can’t be sure if all of these lines will be used by the coaches of the teams but here is my list of the best possible first lines teams could use if desired. Be sure to also vote for your top line in the poll in the menu to the left. (poll should be up for several days)

Vancouver Canucks – Markus Naslund-Brendan Morrison-Todd Bertuzzi
While Brendan Morrison is a good player he isn’t really an elite center in the NHL but his wingers are so good and have that perfect mix of talent (Naslund) and toughness (Bertuzzi) that this has to be considered the best line in the NHL.

Atlanta Thrashers – Ilya Kovalchuk-Marc Savard-Marian Hossa
This line is probably the most talented line in the NHL. Kovalchuk might be the most talented young players in the NHL and Hossa is an established big time goal scorer. In the middle is under-appreciated Marc Savard who has found a home in Atlanta. In 2003-04 Savard scored 19 goals and 52 points in just 45 games and should be a more than adequate playmaker for his two big time goal scoring wingers. In terms of pure offensive talent, this line is probably better than Vancouver’s but Bertuzzi’s toughness gives the Canucks line an added dimension and thus the top spot.

Boston Bruins – Sergei Samsonov-Joe Thornton-Glen Murray
Another good mix of skill and size. Joe Thornton is one of the top centers in the league and provides a good mix of size and skill. Glen Murray is a big, strong, goal scoring winger and Samsonov is a flashy and highly skilled skater who should do well under the new rules. This is definitely a line to be feared.

Colorado Avalanche – Alex Tanguay –Joe Sakic-Milan Hejduk
The best line in 2003-04 had to be Tanguay-Forsberg-Hejduk, although that line did suffer some injury problems, particularly with Forsberg. Now that Forsberg has departed Sakic quite likely will step up to play between Tanguay and Hejduk and if he does this line will once again be one of the best in the NHL.

Ottawa Senators – Dany Heatley-Jason Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson
We don’t quite know how new coach Brian Murray will set up his line combinations but this is one possibility. This line has the potential to be ranked higher but as of yet Jason Spezza is a somewhat unproven talent at the NHL level and we don’t quite know if Heatley has or will make a full recovery from his injuries.

Philadelphia Flyers – Simon Gagne-Peter Forsberg-Sami Kapanen
Any line centered by a healthy Peter Forsberg is going to be a good one. Unfortunately Gagne and Kapanen aren’t quite the wingers Forsberg had in Colorado with Hejduk and Tanguay. But they aren’t bad either as Gagne will be the lines goal scorer while Kapanen will provide some solid 2-way play.

Tampa Bay Lightning – Vaclav Prospal-Vincent Lecavalier-Martin St. Louis
Vaclav Prospal returns to Tampa and replaces outgoing Cory Stillman. Tampa has a number of talented forward and a number of different line combinations could be used with Modin and/or Richards also seeing time on the top line. Whatever the combination used Tampa will put out a quality top line. The big question mark is whether St. Louis can repeat his 2003-04 season.

Calgary Flames – Tony Amonte-Daymond Langkow-Jarome Iginla
Clearly the main reason this line makes the list is Iginla. Langkow should be a bit of an improvement over Craig Conroy as Iginla’s centerman. Tony Amonte is an older player who has lost a lot from his 40+ goal days in Chicago but still has good speed and scored 20 goals in Philadelphia in 2003-04. He might do well under the new rules and could score 20-25 goals this season.

After those 8 lines there is a lot to choose from. The Kings potential line of Frolov-Roenick-Demitra looks good and with a healthy Lemieux the Penguins should be able to put out a very good line with Mario and two of Pallfy, Recchi, Leclair and Crosby. Although the Leafs are a little weak at wing either Sundin’s or Allison’s line could potentially provide a nice combination of grit and skill with O’Neill, Tucker or Czerkawski on the wing. If Modano can recover from an off year Dallas could have a strong first line with Guerin and Morrow on the wings and certainly Montreal has some good talent in Koivu, Kovalev, Ribiero and Ryder. Who knows, maybe even Columbus’s potential line of Nash, Marchant and young Zherdev could surprise. There is a lot to choose from.

 Posted by at 7:04 pm