NHL Pacific Division preview

As is the case before each season, I’ll go through and give a real quick preview of each team and division in the NHL, followed by my prediction as to how I think the standings will look at season’s end. This seemingly gets tougher each and every year to predict…

First up, the guys out west.

Pacific Division

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Ducks’ 2014-15 record: 51-24-7 (109 points)

The Ducks come into this season fresh off another Game 7 defeat in the playoffs after having finished the season as the top team in the Western Conference during the regular season. They have been one of the best regular season teams in recent years, but just haven’t been able to get it done in the postseason. This summer, they added Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart, and Kevin Bieksa, among a couple others, to try and get themselves over that playoff hurdle. In the meantime, they traded away Emerson Etem and lost Matt Belesky to free agency. I have no doubt they’ll be near the league lead in points again this year, but the playoffs are what really matter. How they perform in April, May, and possibly June is what this team will be judged on.

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Coyotes’ 2014-15 record: 24-50-8 (56 points)

Only one team finished last season with fewer points than Arizona. Needless to say, it was a long season in the desert. But, that kind of finish did yield them the number three overall pick in the draft this summer, where they drafted Connor McDavid’s teammate from Erie, Dylan Strome. Arizona has not yet decided what they’ll do with Strome for this season, and he may end up being sent back to the OHL for another year. That’s probably not the worst idea; that or placing him in the AHL. You don’t want to rush a potential future star into the NHL. Another youngster to keep an eye on is Max Domi, who should be on the Coyotes’ opening night roster. Other than that though, there’s not much going on with this team other than the fact they re-signed Antoine Vermette after his short vacation to Chicago. All in all, they’re most likely still a last place finisher in this division, but should see a rise in their point total.

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Flames’ 2014-15 record: 45-30-7 (97 points)

I find it hard to not love what this team is doing. They completely exceeded all expectations last season and found themselves in the postseason where they incredibly advanced to the second round. This offseason, they added Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik to bolster their depth at on the blue line and at forward. Players like Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Markus Granlund undoubtedly gained extremely valuable experience at a young age from last year’s playoff run, which will only help them as they progress into this season. The Flames will also have their captain Mark Giordano back after he was forced to miss the end of last season and the playoffs due to injury. Assuming Bob Hartley will get his guys to play with as much heart and effort as they did last season, I have a hard time seeing this team missing the playoffs this year.

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Oilers’ 2014-15 record: 24-44-14 (62 points)

Like the Flames, it’s tough to not be excited about the Oilers. After multiple years in a row of seeing their young talent not do much of anything, it finally appears as though Edmonton may have their act together now under the guidance of Peter Chiarelli as the new GM, and new head coach Todd McLellan. They won the draft lottery this past spring and subsequently chose the second coming of Wayne Gretzky in Connor McDavid, who should no doubt make an immediate impact on the team on and off the ice. They should also have 2014 first round pick (third overall) Leon Draisaitl making his NHL debut on opening night alongside McDavid. That pairing has shown some good chemistry throughout training camp and the preseason, and could be a real “thing” this season. The Oilers knew they had to improve their blue line this summer, and so they went out and signed Andrej Sekera to go along with what is a very young, but talented, group of defensemen. Heck, their captain Andrew Ference may not even make the top six d-men! (We all know he will, but should he?) Edmonton also traded for Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers. For the first time in his career, he should be getting the majority of the starts in net. When looking at this team, it seemingly has all the makings of a surprise playoff team.

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Kings’ 2014-15 record: 40-27-15 (95 points)

A year after winning the 2014 Stanley Cup, the Kings were watching the playoffs at home from their couches. They even admitted that they were “coasting” through the regular season and saving their energy for the playoffs. The only problem was that they didn’t flip their switch in time and missed the postseason all together. Had they made the playoffs, they would have been the favorite in just about any matchup they ended up with. But that’s history and now we’re talking about this season. They acquired Milan Lucic this summer from Boston, and also signed d-man Christian Ehrhoff to add to what is already a strong blue line. They lost the likes of Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll, and Slava Voynov due to off-ice issues. When you sit back and really examine L.A.’s roster, it’s not that eye-popping. They aren’t the team they were two years ago, but they’re still a good team that should contend for a playoff spot. One way in which they for sure miss the postseason again is if they continue to lose so many overtime/shootout games. That killed them last year.

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Sharks’ 2014-15 record: 40-33-9 (89 points)

The Sharks missed the playoffs for the first time last year since the 2002-2003 season, and don’t appear to be headed back to the postseason this year either. They traded away their number one netminder, Antti Niemi, and acquired Martin Jones to replace him. Jones has never been a starter in the NHL, so the Sharks are really taking a gamble on that one. At forward, San Jose still owns some of the biggest names in hockey (Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, Couture), but after them they take a hit. For the Sharks to see success this year, they’ll need guys like Tomas Hertl, Matt Nieto, and Tommy Wingels to take a big next step in their games. They are going to need to score lots of goals because their defense runs rather thin on the blue line, plus they have a goalie in net who has never been a number one in the NHL.

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Canucks’ 2014-15 record: 48-29-5 (101 points)

Much like Calgary, but not to the same extent, Vancouver exceeded most expectations last season and ended the year as a playoff team with over 100 points. However, they lost Kevin Bieksa and Eddie Lack this summer, along with some others, and really don’t appear to be a playoff team. At least not on paper. Ryan Miller will have to play out of his mind this year to give his team a chance at the postseason, and they’ll also need some youngsters to put up some big point totals right away. The Sedin twins are beginning to creep up there in age, and one has to wonder how much longer they’ll be able to carry the team. As it is right now, I think this is one team who made the playoffs last year that for sure won’t this year.

The Pacific Division as a whole appears to be stronger this year than in recent years with the sudden improvement both up in Calgary and Edmonton. While I see the Ducks remaining the division champs, it will likely be up for grabs after that.

Predicted standings:

  1. Ducks 2. Flames 3. Kings 4. Oilers 5. Sharks 6. Canucks 7. Coyotes

Central Division preview and West playoff teams

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Stanley Cup Playoffs: Quarterfinals predictions

Incredibly, it’s already playoff time again in the NHL. Each season seems to pass by quicker than the one before it. This year, the amount of parity in the league appears to be as great as it’s ever been. Twelve teams finished with over 100 points on the season, and none of them appears to be an absolute clear-cut favorite to win the Cup. Or maybe in better terms, they all seem capable of winning it.

With that, here are my first round predictions.

144 vs. 174

This year’s President’s Trophy winners and the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Rangers, are about as talented of a team as you’ll find from top to bottom in the NHL. They may not have the extreme offensive firepower that other teams have throughout the league, but each of their lines is more than capable of finding the back of the net. Add in the fact that their blue line, now with Keith Yandle, is arguably the best in hockey, and that they have one of the world’s best goalies, there’s really no reason to bet against these guys.

The Penguins ended the season with one of the worst second half records in hockey. To put that into context, they were right there with Arizona in terms of record since the All Star break. That is not good. Still, they are a team with names such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and cannot be taken lightly. Despite just making it into the postseason as the second Wild Card team in the East, the Penguins will not be an easy out. This is a team that has a lot of playoff experience and seems to have the ability to take their game to the next level when it matters. As usual, however, the Penguins will only go as far as Fleury lets them.

All in all, this really should be a good series. These two teams do not like each other and will no doubt let that be known on the ice. In the end though, I just don’t see the Rangers being ousted in the first round. They’ll knock out Pittsburgh for the second year in a row.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

ANAHEIM_DUCKS_LOGO vs. WinnipegJets

The Ducks ended the season tied with the second most points in hockey at 109, but won the tie-breaker with the Blues and therefore got the number one seed in the West. The addition of Ryan Kesler to their lineup this year was a big one and added a lot of depth to their already deep group of centers. Defensively, the Ducks are not as strong as their record as a team may indicate. They ranked 20th in the league in goals against per game, which is not good. Their defensemen are not necessarily below average, but I don’t think they are good enough to win the Cup by any means. Aside from that, they have some big questions marks in goal for the second straight postseason.

As for the Jets, they are making their first playoff appearance since returning to Winnipeg just a few years ago. That city will be electric for Game 3 and should propel the team to at least one home victory between games 3 and 4. As for as the team itself, they will be a tough out. They’re one of only a couple teams in the league that can effectively combine great size, skill, and speed. They are a big team and will wear you down physically in a short amount of time. While their goaltending has been above average this season, to me it could go either way for them in the playoffs. Ondrej Pavolec tends to be an up and down type player, but has played really well most of this year. If he can keep up his current level of play, I think the Jets have a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset.

I am anticipating this series going the distance. The winner will be decided by goaltending, and at this point, I couldn’t tell you who has a definitive advantage in that category.

-Anaheim wins series, 4-3.

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The Canadiens were at or near the top of the NHL standings from start to finish this year and ended the season with the league’s best goals against average. Offensively, however, they rank 20th in goals per game. While they might not be the strongest team in that regard, their defense should make up for it. Their depth on the blue line, coupled with Carey Price in net, makes them arguably the toughest team in the league to score on as evidenced by their GA/G.

In Ottawa, they just witnessed a semi-miracle. The Sens finished out the regular season going 23-4-4 in their last 31 games, thanks to rookie goalie sensation Andrew Hammond. The guy went 20-1-5 over the past couple months and helped sneak the Senators into a Wild Card spot with a win in the last game of the regular season. Not many people had Ottawa pegged as a playoff team back in October, but here they are. Aside from Hammond, rookie Mark Stone has done everything in his power to earn this year’s Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. He ended the year with 26 goals and 38 assists, basically carrying the Sens in goal scoring over the last couple weeks.

It wasn’t long ago that the Senators pulled off a big upset over the Habs in the first round of the playoffs, and this year’s team seems to have the makeup to do that again. While I won’t specifically predict that to happen, I wouldn’t be shocked if it did.

-Montreal wins series, 4-2.

st-louis-blues-logo vs. Minnesota-Wild-Wallpaper-

St. Louis yet again enters the playoffs as a “favorite” to win the Cup by a lot of people. Unfortunately for them though, they haven’t lived up to those expectations in recent years, or ever for that matter. All that aside, this year’s team does look to have the makeup of a true contender. Along with the Rangers, the Blues have one of the league’s elite group of d-men. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk might just be the best one-two punch of right handed defensemen on any team in the NHL. Add in the fact that they have Bouwmeester and now Michalek, and the Blues are without a doubt one of the hardest teams to score on. Offensively, St. Louis got a lot better this year. Vladmir Tarasenko is coming off an injury, but when healthy is lethal. The emergence of Jaden Schwartz as a top six forward has been a welcomed one for the Blues, and has made them a much better goal scoring team. Their only real question mark is in goal, where it looks like Jake Allen will be their starter for Game 1.

Was there a better team in the NHL since January 1st than the Minnesota Wild? Devan Dubnyk almost single handedly brought this team back from the dead to earn the top Wild Card spot in the West, and he should be considered an MVP candidate. He has started practically every game for the Wild since signing there and went 27-9-7 on the year. On offense, the Wild are better this year than in year’s past as they ranked 12th in goals per game. Zach Parise is constantly a major threat with the puck on his stick, and now that they have Thomas Vanek on the roster, their top two lines have become much tougher to handle. On the blue line they have Superman himself in Ryan Suter, who averaged more ice time per game than any other player in the league (29:03). After him, the Wild are good, but not great.

My question is this: will Devan Dubnyk become worn out at any point in this series after playing almost every game since January? Maybe, maybe not. Even if he remains at the top of his game, however, I’m not sure that’ll be enough for the Wild to pull off the upset.

-St. Louis wins series, 4-2.

161 vs. 6cphie5heyvfwn6lbzfowe61h

 

Here we have the seemingly annual underachieving Washington Capitals, although this season was a little different. They didn’t quite start the year at a playoff pace, but over the course of the second half of the season, they have turned it on. Alex Ovechkin topped the 50 goal plateau again and finished the year with more than anyone else in the league. As a team, the Caps ended the regular season ranked 6th in the NHL in goals per game. Braden Holtby closed out his regular season 41 wins, good for third among all goaltenders, and will need to be great for his team to have success in the playoffs. Defensively, the Capitals also rank in the top 10, as they ended with the 7th best goals against average in the league.

The Islanders have now made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons after not seeing postseason action in quite some time. They began this season as possibly the hottest team in hockey and held the number one spot in the East for a decent amount of time. John Tavares has become one of the game’s elite players and fell just one point shy of Jamie Benn for the league lead in points this year. Him and Kyle Okposo lead the forward group on this team in terms of offensive production, and blue liners Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck make up one of the NHL’s most lethal defensive pairings. In net, Jaroslav Halak seems to have found a home with the Islanders. He’s had good postseason success in the past, and he’ll need it again.

This is one series that I really don’t have a good feel for. In my mind, it could go either way. However, with the way these two teams finished out their regular seasons, I have to lean towards Washington.

-Washington wins series, 4-2.

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First of all, how many people had either of these teams making the playoffs back in the preseason? Couldn’t be many. Regardless of that, here they are as first round opponents. After doing what many people perceived as a mini rebuild late last season and over the summer, the Canucks put together a 101 point season. Start to finish this year, the Canucks were one of the best teams in a very competitive Western Conference. Despite losing Ryan Miller a little past the halfway point of the season, the Canucks never missed a beat and kept on winning with Eddie Lack in net. He will be the team’s starter for Game One. On offense, the Sedin twins still lead this team, but Radim Vrbata proved to be a great offseason acquisition as he ended up with 31 goals and 32 assists. As far as defense goes, the Canucks are slightly below average and have a lot of inexperience on their back end.

Now to this year’s Cinderella story, the Calgary Flames. This team was sitting near or at the bottom of the league standings for the past handful of years, and now in just one year are a Wild Card team. A huge reason for that is their incredible, young talent. Another reason is their work ethic. This team works harder than possibly any other team in the NHL, thanks in large part to their coach who demands that style of play. Jiri Hudler, rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan are the offensive leaders of this team and make up the team’s first line. They have been a handful for anyone they’ve played against this year and figure to do the same against Vancouver. Calgary’s defensemen might be the most active offensively of any team’s d-men. After the previously mentioned trio of forwards, the next four players in points on the Flames are all defensemen. In goal they have Jonas Hiller, who has had a very solid season and will need to keep that up against the Canucks.

Despite these two teams combining for the fewest point total of any first round matchup, this has all the makings of being one of the best first round series this year. It’s been a while since we’ve had a series between two western Canadian teams, so hopefully this one lives up to the hype. In the end, it will come down to which team has more depth.

-Vancouver wins series, 4-3.

TampaBayLightning_LOGO vs. DRW Logo

The Lightning had been hovering around the top spot in the Eastern Conference all season, but came up five points shy of the Rangers. Led by Steven Stamkos, the Lightning own one of the league’s most threatening offenses as they finished first in the league in goals per game with a 3.16 average. Aside from Stamkos, Tampa has maybe the league’s most underrated player in Tyler Johnson, who in five fewer games finished with as many points (72) as Stamkos. On defense, the Lightning are good and have three d-pairings that are all effective and reliable. Unlike last year, they should have Ben Bishop in goal for the first round barring an unexpected injury. One could argue that his absence from the lineup last postseason was a huge reason why the Lightning got swept by Montreal in the opening round. When healthy, Bishop is one of the game’s best between the pipes.

On the other side sits the Red Wings. Detroit is making their 24th consecutive playoff appearance this year, which is flat out incredible. One of their biggest strengths is their team speed, but it’s also something that their opponent is good at as well. Whenever you have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on your team though, you can always be optimistic. The Wings finished as a top 10 team in goals per game this year, and they’ll need their offense to keep clicking in order to beat Bishop. On the blue line, Detroit is above average, but not elite. Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are a very talented first pairing and will no doubt have their hands full against the top lines of Tampa Bay. Jimmy Howard, who has proven he can be a clutch playoff performer, is going to need to bring his A game in goal this series. Without goaltending, you have no shot in the playoffs.

While I feel inclined to take Tampa Bay right away, Detroit is quietly one of the toughest teams to beat in the NHL. Add in that they have two superstars in Datsyuk and Zetterberg, a great head coach in Babcock, and a goalie who has the potential to steal a series, and you just can’t count these guys out. This one’s going the distance.

-Tampa Bay wins series, 4-3.

NHL-Nashville-Predators-Logo-Wallpaper vs. 56

The Predators had been leading the Central Division for almost the whole season until the past few weeks or so. After trading for Cody Franson before the trade deadline, the Nashville kind of went into a free fall. Their once big lead in the division quickly evaporated as both the Blues and Blackhawks made up a lot of ground on the Preds. They enter the playoffs as losers of three straight. Having said that, this is still one of the best teams in hockey. While their group of forwards is not that eye popping by any means, they do have some quality depth and can roll four lines. Their defensemen, on the other hand, can be as good as any in hockey. The top pairing of Josi and Weber may be the best duo in the league, and they are followed up by Ekholm and Jones, and Ellis and Franson. In net, I think we are all aware of who Pekka Rinne is. The guy could easily be considered the best goaltender in the NHL and without a doubt can win a series on his own.

For the Blackhawks, news broke today that Patrick Kane has been cleared to play for Game One. So much for that whole “out for 12 weeks” thing. This is very bad for Nashville and the rest of the playoff teams. Since Kane went down with his injury, the Hawks’ offense has severely struggled. Getting him back will be a huge boost. If the Hawks had been able to score over the past month and a half, they might have finished first or second in the division as their defense and goaltending have been rock solid for the most part. The addition of Kimmo Timonen on the back end really helped solidify the Hawks’ third d-pairing, and while he missed the last few games of the regular season, he is expected back for the first round. Aside from him, the Hawks still have Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya. In goal, Corey Crawford put together his best season as a starter and earned a share of the Jennings Trophy along with Carey Price. Crawford already has one ring, and there should be little doubt surrounding him as he goes for his second.

This should be a tightly contested series, and maybe a low scoring one. In the end, however, I think the Blackhawks have way too much firepower for the Predators to handle, especially with Kane now back.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

NHL playoff format needs to change

139990-330-0Last season was the first year of the current NHL playoff format. Under this format, the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, as well as two Wild Card teams per conference. The purpose of this was to build more rivalries in the NHL, because under this structure the first round consists of more divisional matchups than ever before. Here’s how it works for those who don’t know or forgot:

-Division winner plays a wild card team (best division winner plays worst WC team)

-The second and third place finishers in each division play each other in the first round

This guarantees at least four divisional first round series throughout the NHL each year. By having teams from the same division meet in the playoffs, the hope from the NHL is that more rivalries are developed, thus increasing the interest and passion by the fans.

Here is the problem:

Teams such as the Rangers and Penguins, Blackhawks and Blues, and Lightning and Red Wings are all slated to play each other in the first round if the playoffs started today. It doesn’t seem right that major Stanley Cup contenders should have to face another Stanley Cup contender in the first round. This format automatically eliminates some of the best teams in the league right off the bat. Don’t you want these types of matchups in the second and third rounds?

If the playoffs started today, Vancouver (80 pts) and Calgary (77 pts) would be playing each other in round one, meaning one of those teams would advance to the second round while a team like Chicago (84 pts) or St. Louis (87 pts) is sent packing. That doesn’t seem right.

Under the previous playoff format, the number one team in each conference played the number eight team, two played seven, three played six, and so on. That makes a whole lot more sense than this.

I understand that the NHL wants to create more rivalries and cut down on travel costs with this new playoff structure, but they are punishing some of the best teams in the league at the same time by sending them home too early from the playoffs. Until this gets fixed, there are going to be great teams eliminated in the first round every season.

Pacific Division preview

Over the next week or so, I’ll be going over my previews/predictions for each division in the NHL. We’ll start now with the Pacific Division, and then hit the Central, Metropolitan, and Atlantic.

PACIFIC DIVISION

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Anaheim: The Ducks finished last season with 116 points, which was good for first place in the brutal Western Conference and second in the entire league. This offseason, they’ve only seemingly gotten better. The additions of Ryan Kesler, Nate Thompson, and Dany Heatley give Anaheim one of the NHL’s most potent group of centers and forwards. The loss of Teemu Selanne will not be as big as some people may expect. He’ll be more missed in the locker room than on the ice. While the Ducks are primed for another dominant season offensively, their defense and goaltending remain a bit suspect. Can Cam Fowler take his game to the next level? Will Andersen and Gibson get the job done between the pipes? Those are the two question marks surrounding this team.

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Arizona: It’s weird calling them the “Arizona” Coyotes now, but it is what it is. They ended the 2013-14 season with 89 points and did not make the playoffs. If they did anything this summer, it was that they got worse. They let go of Mike Ribeiro and did not make any notable free agent signings. They play in a tough division with some elite offenses all around them, which is an area that they are now lacking in. Defensively, the Coyotes have some good players in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but after them they fall off a cliff. Mike Smith always has the ability to win his team a game on any given night, so they do have that going for them.

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Calgary: I think a lot of people were somewhat surprised by the Flames last season. Earning 77 points is not going to impress many people, but I do believe most had the Flames finishing with a lower total. This team is still in the rebuilding process and will not be a playoff contender (especially in the West) for at least a couple more years, but that doesn’t mean we should all ignore what goes on in Calgary. Young guns like Sean Monahan and goalie Karri Ramo will be looking to make the step to the next level in their respective games. Newcomers Mason Raymond and Jonas Hiller should make a good impact on the Flames this year. The signing of Hiller was one of the most interesting transactions this summer.

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Edmonton: I was really disappointed with how things unfolded in Edmonton last season. In last year’s season preview, I predicted the Oilers to take one of the two wild card spots in the West. Obviously that didn’t happen as Edmonton finished last in the Conference with 67 points. This year, I’ll make the wiser decision and predict that they miss the playoffs again. Their offense has some very young and potentially elite talent in the forms of Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle. It’s their defense that will kill them again. They signed Nikita Nikitin this summer, but that won’t be nearly enough. Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth should have their hands full in goal all season.

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Los Angeles: The Kings are coming into the 2014-15 season fresh off their second Stanley Cup title in the last three seasons. They have basically the same roster back this year as the one they had last year, except now they’ll have Marian Gaborik for the entire year. What’s interesting about the Kings is that they never seem to put together a great regular season. They always finish with a point total somewhere in the mid-90’s, or in last year’s case exactly 100. Once the playoffs begin, then they take their game to the next level. I’ll say that we see more of the same this year. They might finish with more than 100 points this time around, but I don’t see them being one of the top two or even three seeds in the West. The playoffs are a different story…

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San Jose: The Sharks will return this season with most of the same roster that we saw last year, minus Dan Boyle. People are calling the situation in San Jose a “rebuilding process,” but I don’t quite see it that way. The Sharks have not unloaded their top players, and they have a few young guys that should only be getting better this season, like Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto. Goaltending ended up costing the Sharks in the playoffs last year when they went up 3-0 on the Kings in the first round, only to drop the next four games. Antti Niemi has proven that he can be a top-end goalie in the NHL, but he needs to play like one this season. Brent Burns will make the move back to defense this season where he started his career in an attempt to fill the void left by Dan Boyle. I like this change by the Sharks, and I think they’ll without a doubt be a playoff team yet again.

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Vancouver: The Canucks have made it clear that they are now in the process of rebuilding their roster. They traded Roberto Luongo away at last year’s trade deadline, and they dealt Ryan Kesler to the Ducks earlier this summer. They also signed Ryan Miller to be their number one netminder, which surprised me and many other people. Why sign a big name goalie like Miller for a good amount of money if you don’t really plan on contending for a few years to come? It’s an answer I won’t soon find out, but I won’t stay up at night worrying about it either. I’d expect Vancouver to finish with a point total somewhere in the mid to low 80’s this season.

PREDICTED STANDINGS:

1. Ducks 2. Kings 3. Sharks 4. Vancouver 5. Phoenix 6. Edmonton 7. Flames

Keep checking back for my previews on the rest of the NHL.

NHL trade deadline update

roberto_luongo.jpg.size.xxlarge.originalWell if you didn’t know any better, you would probably think that today was the NHL’s trade deadline based on the number of moves that have been made. However, the deadline isn’t until tomorrow afternoon. With so many teams currently in a possible or definite playoff spot, over half the league is looking to make themselves better heading into the home stretch of the season. At the same time, because so many teams are battling for a playoff spot, that lowers the number of “sellers” at this year’s deadline.

We all know by now that the Blues got Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from Buffalo in exchange for Christ Stewart and Jaroslav Halak. This trade basically lit the fuse for the rest of the NHL, and now that fuse is reaching, or has reached its end. Here are some of the more notable acquisitions that have been made in advance of tomorrow’s deadline:

  • St. Louis: Ryan Miller and Steve Ott
  • Buffalo: Chris Stewart and Jaroslav Halak
  • Minnesota: Ilya Bryzgalov
  • Washington: Dustin Penner
  • Anaheim: Stephane Robidas
  • Edmonton: Viktor Fasth
  • Philadelphia: Andrew MacDonald
  • Florida: Roberto Luongo
  • Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom
  • Chicago: David Rundblad

Lots of names already on the move, and some of them big names. One move that has me intrigued is Dustin Penner leaving the Ducks. In return from Washington, the Ducks got a 4th round pick that they in turn used to acquire Stephane Robidas. I am left wondering though if they are done making deals. Penner was a useful winger for Anaheim, and they dLxi8wStraded him essentially for a defenseman. Are they in the process of trading for a winger to replace Penner? The name Thomas Vanek has been linked to Anaheim quite often today, so it will be interesting to see if anything transpires there. If the Ducks do get Vanek, then that may put them above and beyond the rest of the NHL.

Mike Gillis, Vancouver’s general manager, may be the biggest idiot in any NHL front office. Last year at this time, he had Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo as the two goalies for the Canucks. After today’s deal with Florida, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom are Vancouver’s number one and two goalies. Essentially, Gillis traded Schneider and Luongo, two number one goalies, for a first round pick, Jacob Markstrom, and a prospect. What is he trying to do? Why trade Schneider last summer if you weren’t going to keep Luongo as your number one? Now all Gillis has done is weaken his team substantially without really gaining much of an asset in return.

All eyes are now on players such as Vanek, Marian Gaborik, and Canucks’ center, Ryan Kesler. If Mike Gillis trades Kesler, I think its safe to say the Canucks are attempting a “rebuild.” If he doesn’t trade Kesler, well then I don’t know what Gillis is trying to do up there. The Penguins and Flyers are being mentioned as the two teams heavily pursuing Ryan Kesler, although some reports are indicating that Philadelphia is involved only to raise Kesler’s price for Pittsburgh.

Blackhawks update

7327531The Blackhawks have also come up in rumors regarding Ryan Kesler. This one puzzles me. The Blackhawks have about $52,000 in cap space right now according to Capgeek. Ryan Kesler is getting paid $5 million/year all the way through the 2015-2016 season. Currently, the Blackhawks do not have anywhere near the amount of money they would need in order to get Kesler, unless they trade someone like Bryan Bickell and someone else with a smaller contract. Plus, you add in the fact that the Hawks will be looking to extend Kane and Toews this summer (those will be significant pay raises), and they simply will have very little money to play with. Unless of course they trade some of their bigger contracts, which I don’t see them doing. Everyone wants to say “Chicago is in on Kesler,” only because the Hawks could use a true number two center at the moment. People forget about the money situation and the fact that Teuvo Teravainen could very well enter the NHL next season and be that long-lost number two center for the Hawks.

As I began writing this, the Hawks traded this year’s second round pick to Phoenix for David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois. Both are defensemen. Rundblad (23 years old) will join the Blackhawks, giving them eight defensemen on the roster, and Brisebois will david_rundblad_phx_030512head to Rockford. David Rundblad was the Blues’ first round pick in 2009 before being dealt to Phoenix. He has only appeared in 50 NHL games. Rundblad is more of an offensive-defenseman and has some decent potential upside. The problem he has faced up to this point is lack of playing time. In Phoenix, Dave Tippett likes his d-men to be defensive-minded. That didn’t bode well for Rundblad. Also, he was never really given a good chance in the NHL. I don’t know what will happen now that Rundblad is in Chicago, but my guess is he will be given a better opportunity to prove himself. Just look at how the Hawks handled Nick Leddy.

A lot has happened over the last 12 hours or so, and a lot more may still happen. In fact, it was literally just announced that Thomas Vanek is not dressing for tonight’s game in Winnipeg. Clearly, the Islanders are trying to trade him. Whether or not a deal gets done, we shall see.

I’ll try to add more as it happens.

 

 

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.

Jannik Hansen gets 1-game suspension

After a hearing with the NHL’s disciplinary office this afternoon, Canucks forward Jannik Hansen and head coach Alain Vigneault both seemed optimistic about the hearing. Vigneault even stated, “I don’t know why we had that conference.”

Well, apparently Brendan Shanahan saw things differently and as a result handed Hansen a 1-game suspension for his elbow to Marian Hossa’s head. Shanahan pointed out that once Hansen realized Hossa had the inside position on the play, Hansen clenched his fist and “carelessly” extended his forearm to the back of Hossa’s head with no intention of playing the puck. The fact the Hossa was injured and did not return to the game, along with Hansen’s clean history in the league, led to the 1-game ban. Had Hansen been previously penalized by the league, he may have been looking at a 2-3 game suspension.

I said it earlier this week in my blog that it wouldn’t take much of a spark to re-ignite the rivalry and hatred between the Hawks and Canucks. After what happened in Tuesday night’s game, it is safe to say that the rivalry and hatred between the two sides is back in full swing.