The ring of rings

Today the Blackhawks received their 2013 championship rings, just 2 days before opening night. Honestly, all I can really say is wow. These things are amazing.

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ring-3205956144_slidering-4210015443_slideRing-1_slide

To compare the two rings, here is the face of their 2010 Stanley Cup ring:

chi_ring_front_300

Personally, I like this year’s ring a bit better. Not that there’s anything wrong with the 2010 ring, it’s just that I like the red rubies on this year’s ring. It’s also pretty cool how they inscribed each opponent and the outcome of each series from the playoffs on the inside of the finger hole. These will be tough to beat.

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Blackhawks’ final roster almost set

11985-statue-of-jesus-rio-de-janeiro-1280x800-world-wallpaperWith just three days remaining until the opening puck drop to the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks still have some key decisions to make regarding their final roster. Currently, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri, Joakim Nordstrom, Michael Kostka, and Ryan Stanton are all battling for the remaining three open spots on the Blackhawks’ roster. All seven of those guys are worthy of playing in the NHL, but only three will begin the season in Chicago.

There has been a lot of talk all summer long about who may get the number two center job with the Blackhawks this year. For a quite a while, it was looking like Brandon Pirri would be the guy. However, it is looking more and more like that potentially may not be the case. While he is certainly still a candidate, other guys like Ben Smith, Joakim Nordstrom, and Michael Kostka are proving this preseason that they belong on the opening night roster. If those three were to make the team, then that leaves Brandon Pirri headed back to Rockford (for now at least). It is possible that the Blackhawks may not keep 8 defensemen on the roster like they have right now. They may choose instead to hang on to 3 forwards, which would be a good thing for Pirri.

As training camp came and went and as the preseason has come and (almost) gone, Joakim Nordstrom has really stood out as the possible replacement to Michael Frolik on the fourth line and top penalty-killing unit. Joel Quenneville has commented that Nordstrom has looked really good on the PK with Kruger, and Kruger has voiced the same opinion. Nordstrom has made it clear that he is willing to do whatever it is going to take to make the team, and right now he seems to be doing the right things. His hustle and defensive awareness have apparently really stood out to the coaching staff.

Right now, I would pencil in Ben Smith and Joakim Nordstrom on the opening night roster. The last open spot will most likely go to either Pirri or Kostka, based on how things have played out this preseason. Personally, I would keep Brandon Pirri on the roster. That would mean that someone like Brandon Bollig would have the be a healthy scratch, but I am okay with that. Pirri is a better all-around player than Bollig.

Regardless of what the Hawks’ coaching staff and management decides to do with the remaining three empty spots on the roster, this is going to be a good team. Almost everyone from last year’s team is back, and the rookies who do make the team should fit in just fine. The Blackhawks’ have done a real good job of developing their minor league prospects in recent years, and because of that they have a number of young guys who are more than capable of playing on the NHL team.

This should be another fun season.

Minnesota Wild’s new road jersey

Well I said in my NHL jersey rankings post that if the Wild could get some better road uniforms that I’d have them ranked higher on my list. As it turns out, they have come up with new road jerseys since I made my rankings. I have to say, they’re a lot better than the ones they wore a year ago.

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I really like how they added more green to the jersey on the elbows and near the waist. I also love the lacing at the neck. I wish more teams would use that look. This is a significant improvement from their previous road jerseys.

NHL Eastern Conference predictions

Here’s how I think the Eastern Conference will play out this season:

Metropolitan 

1. 2518158277_cf0b185de3

The Penguins are consistently one of the best teams in hockey during the regular season with all of that talent. I see no reason as to why that will change this year. The playoffs, however, are a different story with this team.

2. llrs2zxi127vkqgcsvfb

After a couple of down years, I expect Washington to be back near the top of the league this season. Ovechkin found his form over the course of last season, and I think he’ll stay hot heading into this season. However, this team seems to always have the potential to disappoint.

3. 144

This will be their first season under new head coach Alain Vigneault, and I think it could go one of two ways; good, or really bad. I don’t see an in-between with the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist is always a key factor in this team’s success, and while I expect him to be an elite goalie again this year, I am not as sure about the rest of the team. For now, I’m saying they take third in this division.

4. 161

Last year was a season to forget for the Flyers. They greatly under-performed. Now that Bryzgalov is gone and Ray Emery has taken his place, there should be less off-ice distractions, which will help, but I don’t think last year was a fluke. Teams don’t just go from the top of the conference to the bottom in one year without there being more than a few problems. Having said that, I think Philadelphia has the potential to finish in the top 3 in this division.

5. Carolina-Hurricanes-Logo

The Hurricanes somewhat remind me of the Oilers in terms of their potential. Edmonton has more talent, but both teams are better than what they showed us last season. Like the Oilers, I think Carolina has the potential to make the postseason as a wild card team, but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

6. 138

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should have the Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes or not. They could go either way. Last year was a major surprise for the Islanders as they made the playoffs for the first time in a number of years. John Tavares is becoming one of the best centers in the game, and he’ll probably be named team captain sometime this month. Still, I don’t think this team will replicate what they accomplished last year.

7. bluejackets07-rgbjpg-8678ad1b3fbe2735

For the first time in a long time, the Blue Jackets are not projected to be the worst team in the league. If they were still in the Central Division, I might have them placed higher in the standings. Unfortunately for the Jackets, this division may be the toughest in hockey. While they will be a solid, possibly above .500 team, I don’t see them making the playoffs in this conference.

8. 127

There isn’t a whole lot to look forward to with the Devils. Kovalchuk is gone, Clarkson is gone, and Brodeur is slowly on his way out. They did acquire Corey Schneider, Jaromir Jagr, Ryan Clowe, and Michael Ryder, among others, but there are still a ton of question marks with this team, especially on defense.

Atlantic

1. Detroit-Red-Wings-Logo

This is my big prediction for this upcoming season. While I’m sure others have the Wings finishing first in this division, I don’t think I’m in the majority. Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss were big acquisitions for the Wings that will greatly help. I feel that a line with Datsyuk/Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson could be a major threat to opposing teams. Aside from their big name players, the Wings also have a lot of young talent that really looked good in last year’s playoffs. The big question mark here is their defense. I’d expect the Wings to upgrade on the blue line via trade at some point this season.

2. Boston_Bruins_logo

They lost Horton, Seguin, Peverley, and Jagr, but acquired Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla. Their offense should be pretty comparable to what it was last year, and their defense remains arguably the best in the NHL. The Bruins will contend for the top spot in the East again this season, but for now I have them finishing second in their own division.

3. Toronto-Maple-Leafs-Logo

This is where the Atlantic Division kind of falls to a lower level. The Wings and Bruins, in my opinion, will be elite teams in the NHL. After them, however, I don’t see another solid lock for the postseason in this division. The Maple Leafs have the best shot of the remaining teams, and rightfully so. They made some big moves this off season by signing David Clarkson and trading for Jonathan Bernier and Dave Bolland. If James Reimer begins to show some weaknesses, expect Bernier to be named their new starting goalie. My fear with Toronto is that they are expecting too much out of Dave Bolland. They have really hyped him up since they traded for him, but he’s not the offensive player that they’re making him out to be. The Leafs will be good, but not great.

4. 2bkf2l3xyxi5p0cavbj8

They made a big move by acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Ducks, but they also lost their captain via free agency. Last year the Senators surprised a lot of people by not only making the playoffs, but by advancing to the second round. In all honesty, I think Ottawa is going to be pretty similar to what they were last season. I think we’re probably looking at a wild card spot for the Sens, but they have the ability to miss the postseason as well.

5. 97hhvk8e5if0riesnex30etgz

This is kind of a “wild card” pick for me. The Lightning were not good last season, but I think they have the talent and potential to be better. Stamkos will continue to be one of the best players in hockey, St. Louis will stay productive, and the signing of Valtteri Filppula will prove to be bigger than people think. They have a decent offensive team, but their defense is still suspect. Matt Carle needs to bounce back after a couple of down seasons since signing in Tampa, and Viktor Hedman needs to play up to his potential for this team to be decent again. Along with their defense, goaltending is another foggy area with the Lightning. I’m not totally sold on Ben Bishop, but only time will tell with him.

6.  canadiens

I felt all of last season that this team was overachieving. I thought for sure that they would choke near the end of the year and either fall to a bottom seed in the East playoffs, or miss the postseason all together. They did neither. This year, I think their record will be a bit more indicative as to how good the Canadiens really are. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, and I think they could end up even lower in the standings than I have them here.

7. 230

While they’re not as bad as the Flames, this team is in a rebuilding phase just like Calgary. They’ve had some good talent over the past few years, but nothing ever panned out the way that they wanted it to. Tyler Myers has regressed a bit since his rookie campaign, and guys like Drew Stafford haven’t really improved much over the past couple seasons. Ryan Miller is coming off of one of his worst seasons in the NHL, but I think he’ll be better this year.

8. 94

The Panthers shocked everyone two years ago when they made the playoffs, and there’s a reason for that. They weren’t/aren’t that good. They have a ton of young guys who could turn out to be good hockey players, and they have Jonathan Huberdeau who seems to have a promising future. Still, there are way too many unknowns with this team. Defensively, they have a bit more veteran depth, but they’re not great in that area. Expect another last place finish for Florida.

Playoffs

Metropolitan Division:

1. Penguins 2. Capitals 3. Rangers

Atlantic Division:

1. Red Wings 2. Bruins 3. Maple Leafs

Wild Card teams:

1. Flyers 2. Senators

NHL Western Conference predictions

With the 2013-14 NHL season now just a month away from beginning, I thought I’d offer up my predictions as to how the regular season will play out. With the new divisions and playoff format coming into play this year, it should be interesting to see which teams benefit and which teams do not.

Here are my Western Conference division predictions.

Pacific

1third_jersey_logo

The Kings have enough talent and skill to be one of the best teams in hockey. The past 2 seasons they have really disappointed in the regular season, so maybe this will be their year.

2ducks

I had a tough time trying to decide where I should place the Ducks. The loss of Bobby Ryan will hurt, but their acquisition of Dustin Penner will help. Also, they have Selanne back for one more year. Personally, I think this team will go as its goaltending goes.

3sharks_new

The Sharks got off to a hot start last season, and then faded off a bit until the playoffs came around. In the postseason they got hot again and were one win from the WCF. This team is getting old with guys like Thornton and Marleau, but they still have some elite talent.

4. canucks-logo

I think we’re going to see the Canucks fade a little bit this season. There is just too much uncertainty with them right now. How will John Tortorella do in his first year there? Will Luongo have a “bounce-back” season? They have a ton of skill, but I don’t know that they’ll put it all together.

5. Oilers_Logo_by_mattmcdonald

This is a team that could finish higher than I have them placed here. Edmonton has been stockpiling high draft picks for quite a while now, and I think this could be the year that they finally turn the corner and put together a winning season. The acquisitions of Andrew Ference, David Perron, and Boyd Gordon should help a lot.

6. 8lqmtthh0w2wgumr6goswqmki

I think it may be a while before we see the Coyotes back in the postseason. They had their run if you ask me. However, anytime you have Mike Smith as your starting goalie, you have a chance to win.

7. Calgary-Flames-Logo

The Flames are in a definite rebuilding phase right now. Don’t expect much from them for a few years.

Central

1. 56

The defending champs will return this season with pretty much the same roster that they won the Cup with last season. Losing Bolland and Frolik will force new guys to step up on the PK, but I don’t think they’ll have a problem with that. Brandon Pirri could be a very key piece to this team’s success, and Corey Crawford’s play will once again determine just how good this team can be.

2. st-louis-blues-logo

Many people have the Blues winning it all this season. I don’t. They’ll be a very good team, but I still don’t think that they have the offensive firepower that is needed to overtake the Blackhawks in this division or win the Cup.

3. Minnesota-Wild-Logo

The Wild were a big disappointment last season for most people. To me, they did just what I thought they’d do. Prior to getting Parise and Suter, they were a mediocre team. With those two, they were a bit better than the year before. This season, they’ve added Keith Ballard to the blue line (a big acquisition in my opinion), and they signed Matt Cooke to be replace Cal Clutterbuck. They’ll also have Jason Pominville for the entire season, barring injury. If Backstrom and Harding stay healthy in goal, the Wild could be a good team.

4. dallas-stars-new-logo-2014.0_standard_352.0

I feel like the Stars are being underrated by most NHL analysts. Most experts are predicting a bad year for Dallas, but I think this team could be a possible playoff contender. They lost Loui Eriksson via trade, but they added Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley in the same deal. Peverley is a good faceoff center, and Seguin has a ton of potential upside to his game. Not to mention they signed Shawn Horcoff, whose past leadership role in Edmonton should help with this team. Their biggest weakness is their defense.

5. jetswhite

This will be the Jets’ first year in the Western Conference, and I’m still unsure as to whether or not that’s a good or bad thing for them (on the ice). They made a push for the playoffs last season, but came up short over the last few weeks. Their team this season is much better than last year’s with their acquisitions over the summer, but I am not ready to put a whole lot of confidence in the Jets just yet. They are somewhat of a mystery team to me at this point.

6. colorado-avalanche-logo-nhl-hockey

Here’s another case of a team with a lot of young talent that under-performed last season. I don’t think they’ll be a playoff team, but they should be better than they were a year ago. I’m excited to see how Nathan Mackinnon does in his first NHL season.

7. NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper

Every year the Predators seem to be underrated by everyone. And every year Pekka Rinne almost single-handedly gets this team into the playoff race. This year will be different. I don’t see Nashville having a whole lot of success in the improved Western Conference this season.

Playoffs

Pacific Division: 

1. Kings 2. Ducks 3. Sharks

Central Division:

1. Blackhawks 2. Blues 3. Wild

Wild Card teams:

1. Canucks 2. Oilers

I’ll have my Eastern Conference predictions posted sometime in the next few days.