Posted by: mcpuck | August 27, 2014

Eastern Conference Outlook

Eastern Conference Outlook

As we enter the doldrums of summer, we’ll take a look ahead at where our favorite teams might be headed after a tumultuous off season that saw several big names move, ownership change hands, and several proverbial torches get passed.

  1. Pittsburg Penguins – A front office shakeup that included both Head Coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero’s walking papers, and some additions (Patric Hornqvist, Christian Erhoff, and Steve Downie) and subtractions (James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen) give this Penguins team a different feel. If healthy, the number one team in the east.
  2. Boston Bruins – They fall back a bit thanks to the departure of Jarome Iginla. They haven’t addressed his loss, and with RFA’s Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still unsigned, this team has more questions than answers.
  3. Tampa Bay Lighting – A team that’s relying on its young players continued development to help push them to the next level. Ben Bishop looks like a stud in net, and if Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat trend upward, then this explosive offense could make life difficult for the relatively soft East.
  4. Montreal Canadiens – A team led by young superstars P.K. Subban and Carey Price, Montreal shocked a lot of teams by beating the Bruins in the playoffs. Although Elite status is just beyond their reach, the future is bright as their core is locked up for several years.
  5. New York Rangers – The little team that could found its way into the finals on Henrik Lundquist’s shoulders, and the stout, team first attitude in front of him. The pre-deadline deal that sent Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis should continue to pay off into the 2014 season.
  6. Philadelphia Flyers – Could be a spot up on my list if they had reliable goaltending, but Ray Emery and Steve Mason are not a Jennings threat in net. Claude Giroux returned to form after a sluggish start, and young stars like Wayne Simmonds continue to show signs of breaking out. If they continue to get solid goaltending, their offense will carry them to a playoff spot.
  7. Washington Capitals – Despite overpaying Brooks Orpik to the tune of 5 million plus per year, the addition of Matt Niskanen surely helps shore up Washington’s biggest weakness: its blue line. If the expensive gamble works on the back end, the top tier offense provided by Alex Ovechkin, and the better than average goaltending of Brayden Holtby should be enough to get them into the playoffs.
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets – Coming off what should be considered a successful year for a rather unsuccessful franchise, the Blue Jackets continue their ascension into the top half of the Eastern Conference. Scott Hartnell is an underrated signing for a team trying to play a more physical brand of hockey, and if Brobovsky can show signs of what won him the Vezina in 2012, the Blue Jackets will make the playoffs again.
  9. Detroit Red Wings – Sadly, this will be the year the Wings playoff streak comes to an end. Despite the emergence of Gustav Nyquist, they did little to address their aging forward group, and when your biggest signing is overpaying to resign Kyle Quincey, you have problems on D. Another year removed from the primes of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, not even the return of Alfy will make a difference.
  10. Toronto Maple Leafs – This team is constantly on the rise, but never seems to get there. This year should be no different. A middle of the road team with only one true superstar in Phil Kessel, the team is hoping that the young players they’ve stuck by in recent years finally blossom into the top 6 players they’d hoped for all along.
  11. Ottawa Senators – After acquiring prolific scorer Bobby Ryan, the hopes were high that the Sens would finally make a push at Stanley’s Cup, but the brass broke down, and finally moved Jason Spezza. The deal included several young players, as well as blue chip prospect Alex Chiasson, but the return won’t be felt until next year at the earliest. With as many young players, the growing pains will outweigh the positives for this rebuilding squad.
  12. New Jersey – The Devils are a team moving in the wrong direction. After Kovi left town, it’s been left to aging veterans like Jaromire Jagr and Michael Ryder to steer the ship, but despite making a push late, fell short of the playoffs. Without much being added to the roster in the offseason, the odds they finish in the bottom half increase with each passing day.
  13. New York Islanders – With as much talent this team has at the top of its roster, I feel bad listing them this low in my rankings, but players like Grabovski and Kulemin aren’t going to push them over the hump. If Halak doesn’t return to the form he showed in net for Montreal years ago, this team won’t find pay dirt.
  14. Carolina Hurricanes – Who is this team’s starting goaltender? Cam Ward has become something of an enigma. The myth of a starting goaltender that can’t stay on the ice. The Staal brothers are nice players for sure, but the days of them moonlighting as elite NHL players is over, and Carolina’s hopes for a playoff berth with them.
  15. Florida Panthers – Ever the under achievers, Florida made waves when they acquired Roberto Loungo. Too little too late I’d say. A roster of NHL castoffs and over paid “get to the floor” players, this team will look good for stretches, but ultimately find nothing but a lottery pick at the end of the year.
  16. Buffalo Sabres – Let the rebuild begin! A wealth of young players, this team might have cause for optimism, but only if the fans realize they won’t compete for anything but the number 1 pick this year.

 

Dark Horse: Washington Capitals – I feel as though the moves they made are high risk/high reward, and that high reward could be a top seed in the east if all the chips fall their way.  Ovechkin is still a top 5 NHL player and my choice for the Rocket Richard trophy, and if the defense shores up, they could put a beating on the weak teams in their division.

Panic Button Team: As a Bruins fan, it pains me to say this, but we’ll know early on in the season if it’s time to hit the panic button. With players like David Krejci and Johnny Boychuck up for contracts at the end of this year, and a huge cap crisis now, it’d be hard to see this roster maintaining a semblance of its self unless they’re at the top of the standings.

Beast of the East: I’m picking the Penguins to win the East soley on the fact that Crosby and Malkin are the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the league, and as hot and cold as Marc Andre-Fluery is, he can still steal them games in net. The East is looking weak this year, and I’d expect them to be front runners most of the year.

Posted by: mcpuck | May 28, 2013

Game 7: Kings vs Sharks

The East Finals are set, the West is wrapping up, but we still have the question of who will be playing for the right to represent the Conference in the Finals.

Game 7 of the tightly contested Western semi between the 5th seeded LA Kings, and the 6th seeded San Jose Sharks is being played this evening at the Staples Center. Can the Sharks be the first team in the series to win on the road? Can LA continue it’s home dominance and close out the series?

In LA, the Sharks have been out scored 9-3, and aside from a one goal lead in game two, haven’t had much success beating Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. LA on the other hand, has ridden it’s 2012 Conn Smythe trophy winner in Quick to a round 1 victory and some stoic round 2 performances.

San Jose has the firepower to topple the defending Cup champs, though. With veterans Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle all searching for their first Stanley Cup, you can bet the energy will be high to start the game.

If Quick can continue his stellar playoff performance, and the Kings can weather what will likely be San Jose’s best efforts early, the Kings will advance to face the winner of the Detroit and Chicago.

My Prediction 3-1 Kings.

Posted by: mcpuck | May 28, 2013

March to the Finals

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If one thing can be certain going into what will be the final two Western Conference games before the Conference Finals are set, is that we cannot be certain what will happen, or who will win.

With such high end talent that has been on display, it’s nearly impossible to predict with any modicum of success who will win. The hockey landscape entering the first round looked decidedly different entering the second. In the East, the 2nd seeded Montreal Canadiens, and the 3rd seeded Washington Capitals fell to teams who squeaked into the playoffs. If it weren’t for a final frame miracle, the Bruins would have been ousted by the 5th seeded Leafs! In the west? Of the higher seeded teams, only the Blackhawks survived as the Ducks (2), Canucks (3), and the Blues (4) were all ousted by lower seeded teams.

We find ourselves entertaining the thought that the 4 combatants for the cup in a few days are the 4 consecutive previous cup winners. (LA -2012, Boston-2011, Chicago-2010, Pittsburgh-2009). Afterwards? All bets are off.

Posted by: mcpuck | July 6, 2011

Biggest Winners (and losers) So Far…

I know the free agency period is still really young, but many of the big names have already moved, and a number of high profile trades have gone through. It’s as good a time as any to examine our 5 Winners and Losers of Free Agency (so far).

WINNERS

5. Florida Panthers
This is a fringe pick in my book, partly because they were so under the cap they needed to make some signings in order to reach the cap floor, but this being said, Dale Talon has done an admirable job in wooing free agents to play in what is the NHL equivalent of a graveyard. Trading for Campbell and Kopecky, and signing solid two way forwards in Sean Bergenheim and Scotty Upshall will help this squad immensely. Whether we buy into the hype is another story, but all of these guys did. Bonus: The Panthers lost franchise goaltender Tomas Vokoun to greener pastures (Washington Capitals) but were able to replace him with a veteran presence in Jose Theadore. Much maligned, Theadore will have a chip on his shoulder to prove his doubters wrong.

4. Edmonton Oilers

Another team that had some money to burn, Edmonton seems to have addressed many of their key needs through free agency and trades. None of the names stand out more than the rest, unless you consider Ryan Smyth a standout (he’s slightly past his prime here people), but they got back solid returns on their investment with guys like Cam Barker, Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, and Ladislav Smid. With the immense talent pool this team has to play with, it’s a pretty safe bet they won’t be playing for a lottery pick this season. Bonus: With all of the big names out there, Edmonton opted to go the rout less travelled, and stick with their marquee guys. The only big name coming in would have to be Ryan Smyth, and it’s a move made out of reputation. Smyth was certainly deserving of picking a home to retire in, and the Oilers will welcome him back with open arms.

3. Buffalo Sabres

I toyed with the idea of bumping them up, but the majority of their moves came through trades, so we’ll keep them here at 3. At first glance Buffalo is a hard team to put a finger on. If you’re a die hard fan, you’ll find the words come easy, but for those of us who follow other teams, it was hard to imagine how Buffalo was able to thrive with such underwhelming rosters.  The easy answer? They had a ton of character, but lacked formidable skill. What they did add was an underrated set up man in Ville Leino, and trade for some above average defenders in Robin Reghere and Christian Erhoff. Bonus: This team managed to compete for a playoff spot this past year despite dealing with injuries and a lack of scoring punch. Without losing much, they were able to bolster both their blue line, and add a decent facilitator up front in Leino. They’ll be back in the mix early in the North East.

2. Los Angeles Kings

This may seem strange to many of you, considering they haven’t had much movement over the last few days, but in all reality, finding a way to add to your roster without any subtraction is mighty impressive, especially considering who they were able to get. This team has a nice mix of veteran leadership and youth ready to break out, it’s a wonder they didn’t make a deeper run last year until you consider the injuries.  Somehow fleecing Philadelphia for Mike Richards, the Kings added captain material while shipping out a few slower developing prospects (Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn) and they were able to add a proven playoff contender in Simon Gagne as well. When Anze Kopitar returns 100%, this team will be a scary one out West. Bonus: Considered early contenders for the services of Brad Richards, the Kings stood down and made moves that made a ton more sense. The 9 million dollar contract he signed wouldn’t have allowed them as much flexibility to improve.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

One year after blowing up the team due to poor cap management, the Blackhawks were back at it, signing a wealth of solid players to improve an already dangerous team. The one thing lacking last year as they were bounced from the playoffs by Vancouver? Size and physicality. Carcillo, Mayers and Brunett bring size and pop,  but don’t hurt them offensively. Simultaniously, while adding through free agency, they were removing a cancerous contract from their books in the form of Brian Campbell. Don’t take this the wrong way, Campbell is a solid defenseman, someone who will compete with the best of them, but the amount of money tied up on the blue line was hamstringing this team. This will be a huge addition by subtraction for the Hawks. Bonus:  How in the world does one convince a team to trade a 1st round pick for a guy whose averaged less than 40 points a season for 3 NHL seasons? Troy Brouwer, while still maintaining a lot of upside, wasn’t worthy of Washington’s first round pick, yet here we are.

Honorable mention: Toronto Maple Leafs. This has less to do with any moves Burke made, but more with the fact that he didn’t make any glaringly awful ones. It seems this time each year we’re shaking our heads at some hard to understand trade or signing. Maybe this speaks to better days in Toronto.

LOSERS

5. Phoenix Coyotes

They find themselves on this list for one reason and one reason only. Ilya Bryzgolov. Not only did they do very little to resign one of the best goalies in the NHL for consecutive years, they let him go for far less than he was worth. And to make matters worse, they acquired often injured perennial backup Mike Smith to replace him. This team, despite the encouraging last few years, is now even further away from any kind of sustained success.

4. Montreal Canadiens

Here’s a team that for years has done nothing but try to improve through addition both via trade and free agency. Yet in an offseason that’s seen their biggest rival win the Stanley Cup, and many of their divisional opponents improve, they’ve done nothing to improve their own club. Overpaying for Erik Cole (4.2 million a year? Are you joking?) and letting a huge chunk of their roster walk for various reasons, it remains to be seen if there’s enough left out there to make them contenders again.

3. St. Louis Blues

I don’t understand how a franchise consistently on the bubble can continue to justify that kind of existence. Whenever this team is one or two pieces away from contending, they seem to try and get older, and wiser. If only they could improve the latter in the front office. Although they added a few significant pieces is Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, none of the additions screams we’re better! So it remains to be seen if they’ll have a positive effect, but with cap space that was available to them, it’s egregious that they didn’t make a single move on an elite or high level player.

2. Dallas Stars

Some may argue that they did everything they could to replace fleeing superstar Brad Richards, but in the end, Dallas fans will be left wanting. Richards is a special player on the ice, and all they could do to supplant him is to overpay on again, off again Michael Ryder (2 years, 7 million). Sure he can play in the playoffs, but the way the Stars look, there’s no guaranteeing they’ll even make it.

1. Philadelphia Flyers

There will be two very differing sides to this argument, and I must agree that with this much change comes uncertainty, and they can absolutely improve going forward. But the one thing I can’t understand is that they traded their two most consistent and beloved players (Mike Richards and Jeff Carter) for guys that aren’t going to help them win NOW. With the team smaller and less physical than ever, it remains to be seen if they can still compete with the big guys in the East. I personally think aside from the Bryzgolov trade, they got fleeced left and right. Think Montreal circa 2008. Things won’t end well with them.

Honorable Mention: Carolina Hurricanes. Yet another team overpaying for so-so players. As a Bruins fan I can tell you Kaberle is a hot and cold player, and despite that he probably deserves a second chance, to swing with a 3 year deal worth 4.3 million will probably become a point of contention in Raleigh. Unfortunately, to add to the dysfunction, they seem to have built a roster with as many Toronto cast off as they could… and if I remember correctly, Toronto wasn’t very good for a pretty long time.

Posted by: mcpuck | June 25, 2011

Building a Blockbuster

I’ll keep this quick and short, mostly because I have a new golf swing I’m eager to test out.

It’s come to my attention through various media sources that the NHL is on fire. No, not literally (not that you’d fall for that anyways) but proverbially. It seems as though all the wheeling and dealing we missed at last years deadline finally spilled over into the offseason as a few HUGE trades have gone through, and a few more seem to be festering in front offices around the league.

The largest of which has to be the Philadelphia Flyers sending Captain Mike Richards to LA and perennial allstar Jeff Carter to Columbus. Granted, much has been made of the trades, but in all honesty, getting young players full of potential like Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds back and making room for goalie Ilya Bryzgolov was a great idea for a team not getting it done.

Oh, and LA and Columbus thank you Philly!

That being said, a few others have gone down: Robyn Rehger is now a Sabre, Filatov was shipped to Ottawa, and a few others were traded during the first and second rounds of the Draft over the last 48 hours.  It begs the question, will this kind of trade fervor hold up for a while, or will we see a steeling of the collective resolve of NHL GM’s across the continent.

My guess is the former, as the NHL has been stupendously reactionary over the last few years. I expect trigger happy franchises like the Leafs and Devils to move a little to try and shore up issues and maybe get younger, and don’t be surprised if even the “standing pat” Bruins bite on a trade or two. (Maybe even a sign and trade? *cough Kaberle cough*)

Posted by: mcpuck | June 25, 2011

NHL Draft

Oh, you’re an NHL fan and you’ve been living under a rock? Let me catch you up.

The Boston Bruins won the cup, Corey Perry won the Hart, and the Oilers selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

That’s correct, after selecting winger Taylor Hall with the #1 pick last year, the Oil added another offensive weapon in Nugent Hopkins who was the consensus #1 pick. Although coming to the NHL with far less fan-fair than his counterpart Hall, Nugent-Hopkins has the tools to be a very good NHL player.

Sadly, outside of a certain few prospects my knowledge is fairly limited. Because they have a better grasp on this kind of thing, follow this link here to the TSN.ca article to find out a bit more. If you’re as lazy as I am, here’s a few highlights from the first round.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is selected 1st over all.
Adam Larsson finds himself the first defensive player off the board.
Do they know how to Dougie in Boston? Dougie Hamilton falls all the way to 9th for the Boston Bruins.
Speaking of Defense, how does Ryan Murphy fall all the way to 12th? Oh yea, he’s like 9 years old or something.
Since we’re making fun of NHL fans out of touch, the Winnepeg Jets select Bobby Hull Mark Shiefele with their first pick in franchise history… Oh yea, and the Winnepeg Jets are back.

Posted by: mcpuck | June 25, 2011

Off Season: Vancouver Canucks

After examining the NHL Champion Boston Bruins recently, it’s only right we look at the team they beat, the #1 team in the regular season; the Vancouver Canucks.

Building off as phenomenal season as the Canucks had this past season is never an easy task, but the last three winners have found a certain amount of success (if not just regular season) in the following season. (Detroit in 07-08′, San Jose in 08-09′, Washington in 09-10′)

That being said, it’s not easy, and it will take another phenomenal off season by GM Mike Gillis if the Canucks want to repeat their success.  The biggest challenge to Vancouver will be to figure out it’s free-agent issue. Of the 24 players whose numbers counted against the cap last year, only 13 of them are under contract this coming season. With 11 UFA and RFA players, this team has some huge holes to fill.

With the new cap bump, Vancouver has 18 million to sign these 11 players, so I fully expect them to stick to resigning their players rather than dabbling heavily in free agency. The keys to success in the resign phase will be to first, resign Kevin Bieksa. In a series that saw more than its fair share of soft play, Bieksa was a stud and his effort echoed his hard words throughout. They’d be far worse off by losing him. Second, I’d expect them to bring back Raffi Torres and Chris Higgins. You can’t put a value on what guys like that bring to a team. If you can score goals, play physical, and get under your opponents skin, you have a place on any NHL team.

Third, this team is going to have to add to their defense through the Draft and through free-agency. With 4 players under contract (Hamhuis, Edler, Ballard, and Rome) and 5 entering some form of free agency (Bieksa, Sweatt, Salo, Erhoff, Alberts) there’s little chance they can resign all of these players. With Ballard and his 4.2 million dollar contract all but guaranteed for 4 more seasons, Gillis will have to get creative to fill a top 4 squad. Salo, Erhoff and Bieksa all made 3 million plus a piece last season, and will more than likely demand around the same amount.

Bieksa will be back for close to 4 million, meaning Salo and Erhoff are probably cost prohibitive. Alberts is a steal at under 2 million so expect him back, but that means they have to resign 2 players for less than 4 million combined (unless they want to hamstring the offense).  If it were me (and it’s not) I’d look to sign a big physical defenseman like Anton Babchuk for around 1.5 million, and add a responsible D-man with a good amount of upside. I’d take Andy Greene for less than a million.

Now, these are pie in the sky proposals, and odds are both guys will be swooped up by their own teams, but that being said, my analysis of their holes remain.

If they deal with those issues, Canucks fans will only have to bite their fingers and hope that their superstars can build off their 2010 campaign and sustain in the playoffs. For my money, I have the Canucks finishing 3rd in the West, and only about 10-15 points ahead of the Wild and Calgary.

Posted by: mcpuck | June 20, 2011

Offseason: Boston Bruins

From the top down, for the next month or so, we’ll look at each team and examine their numbers and needs. First and foremost, lets look at the NHL Champions, the Boston Bruins.

First, a look at the cap numbers. As of today, the NHL has approved the bump in the NHL Salary Cap to 64 million dollars, a full 4.5 million higher than the start of last year. What does this mean to the Boston Bruins? Observe below.

Bruins pose for their first team photo after winning the cup.

Players signed: 18
Total Salary:  51.1 million (including 2.65 million bonus)
Salary Cap Room: 12.9 million (based on reported 64 million dollar cap)
Free Agents: UFA – Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle RFA – Brad Marchand

Just looking at those numbers, it’s staggering to think that this team could return almost entirely untouched, and probably better than last year. How often can a defending champion say something like that? That being said, this team does have a few questions looming, none of which larger than what to do with fellow UFA’s Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle.

If you’re new to the Bruins, then you probably haven’t lived through the feast or famine years of Michael Ryder in a B’s sweater. Some nights he’s the best player on the rink, on other nights, he has shades of Dennis Wideman. Purely looking at the numbers, Michael Ryder’s regular season numbers (18/23/41) aren’t worthy of the 4 million dollar pay day he’s been getting. His playoff numbers (25 games, 8/9/17) are much better, but will they get him resigned with the club.

My guess is yes, somewhere in the 2 year, 6 million dollar range. If he’s not willing to take a significant pay cut, Chiarelli will likely let him walk, where he’ll earn close to the 4 million he’s been making somewhere else. This Bruins team is stocked full of youth and talent, and Jordan Caron will likely step in and play right away.

On the back end, we have Tomas Kaberle. Many Bruins fans and pundits may say that he was far from worth his 4.5 million dollar cap hit, but I’ll say this for Chiarelli; he sticks to his guns when no one else does. That being said, I imagine Kaberle will take a discount and get a deal done. Expect something around 3 to 4 years, 3.75 million a year.

The one last question mark is Brad Marchand, and the question isn’t do we sign him, but how much do we pay him. I imagine he’ll be willing to sign for a modest pay increase (he’s only making 600,000 or so now). So if PC offers him 3 years, 9 million, I have a hard time believing he won’t take it.

When all is said and done, my guess is Michael Ryder will walk and Kaberle and Marchand will resign. That leaves one roster spot for this team to fill, and it will likely be filled with a gritty, two way player much like a Rich Peverly type. If I had to pick one guy I’d bring in, it’d be Erik Cole who is an UFA coming out of Carolina. Odds are they’ll let him walk, and he’d be relatively cheap (2.75 million or so) and he’d fit their mold.

The make up of this team won’t look much different from last year, and having all of that cap space means Peter Chiarelli can tweak this roster and put a quality product on the ice again next year. I for one look forward to seeing this team play in a few months.

Any feedback, players you think should go or be signed? Let me know in the comments.

Posted by: mcpuck | June 19, 2011

The Battle Continues…

So yesterday we examined the teams that did not battle for the cup, and aside from the top few teams in each conference, there’s no reason to believe there’ll be a lot of breakthrough from those bottom teams. That leaves the 16 playoff teams from this year. But what do they need to do to drink from the cup?

Starting with the lowest seeded teams regardless of conference, we’ll work our way up to the best of the best: the Boston Bruins.

16. New York Rangers: It seems that for the last few years the final seed in the East has come down to the last game or two, and this year was no exception. The Rangers squeeked in, only to be put to bed by the high powered Washington Capitals. As I said last year, this team has a ton of talent, but is relying too heavily on players without a playoff pedigree. Marian Gaborik is an all world talent, but his health will be the difference between this team fighting for the cup, or fighting for the 8th seed. That being said, they’ll taste the playoffs again baring major injury to their catalyst in Henrik Lundqvist.

15. Buffalo Sabres: This team, to me anyways, is an enigma. One superstar in Tomas Vanek, followed by a lot of middling forwards and some on-again off-again defensemen. This team reminds me a lot of my own beloved Boston Bruins with a few pieces missing. The Boyes deal could work out to be a great one, but they’re one dish man away from elite status.

14. Montreal Canadiens: As usual, the Canadiens seemed to be nipping at the Bruins heels in the Northeast division until they faded slightly at the end of the regular season. A little more consistency out of their big name players, and the addition of one or two more gritty guys who can help Travis Moen patrol the ice would go help their goal of a deep playoff run.

13. Chicago Blackhawks: It seems strange to me that a team with such depth and talent could be the 13th place team, but alas, there were times it seemed they may not make the playoffs. The cap issues they dealt with last season isn’t nearly as dire, but even with the cap numbers increasing, they have to sign 6 or 7 guys with approxamitly 7-8 million. Doesn’t speak to much improvement. If they can move a salary like Sharp, and sign or trade for a real goalie, this team could find itself back in the hunt. Otherwise, they could struggle to make the playoffs again.

12. L.A. Kings: This was a disappointing end to a great momentum building season. With young studs Anze Kopitar up front, and Drew Doughty on the blue line, as well as the youthful yet talented roster, this team will be a force this year. If Anze returns to full health that is. A nice mix of veteran leaders (Smyth, Penner) and some blue-chip prospects, this team is poised for great things.

11. Pheonix Coyotes: Knowing you’re not going to have to move is going to only help this team. Still, this team is in need of a superstar identity. There’s so many teams courting Brad Richards that the scenario is becoming cliche, but a player like Richards is what this team needs. He’s won the cup, he can play at both ends of the ice, and he’s thrived in smaller markets. I don’t think it’ll happen, but until they can land themselves their franchise player, they’ll toil in the middle of the field (and probably lose to the Red Wings come playoff time).

10. Nashville Predators: If you’re asking me my opinion, this team overachieved immensely, and will probably crash back down to earth. The saving grace here? Pekka Rinne, is still young, and seems to have established himself as a stud between the pipes. Get this team a little speed on offense and maybe they can do a bit more against the better playoff teams.

9. Anaheim Ducks: Is it just me, or did we witness the beginning of a dangerous Western Conference team? In what universe does the scenario occur that Ryan Getzlaf is the third best player on your team? This is indeed the case with Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry having a coming out last year. Aside from resigning or replacing Teemu Selanne, and adding a bit of 3rd and 4th line depth, this team is set for a deep playoff run as the big guns in the West are declining or rebuilding to an extent.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning: A team with great offense will score a lot of goals, but watching them in a 7 game series made me wonder if they have what it takes with this current roster to win 16 playoff games.  A superstar talent in Stamkos needs to be better in clutch time if they want to have a chance.  That being said, defensively  their system works, but I don’t trust the sum of their parts.

7. See: Champions

6. Detroit Red Wings: Age is beginning to catch up to the Wings as the core of their team continues to inch past its prime. The key to a revival is to use some of that cap space (17 million +) to find some young guys who can play the hybrid European style they play. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will be good as usual, but there’s no garuntee that Franzen returns to his previous glory, and Lindstrom IS 4 million years old. If they can’t begin to put into place some young talent, this team could fade down the stretch.

5. San Jose Sharks: Is there any real way to predict how this team will perform? A perenial regular season monster, this team seems to flip the switch OFF when it costs the most. Whether you believe it’s Joe Thorntons legacy as a guy who couldn’t get it done or not, this team is too soft to compete with the likes of the West. Ultra talented, this team’s identy needs an overhaul, and I expect it to come this off season. Whether it’s Marleau, Heatley, or someone else, expect this team to look VERY different next year.

4. Pittsburg Penguins: A team built to compete, their walls came crashing down when Crosby got himself hurt. If he can come back 100%, this team will find itself near the top of the East, but without him, they’re a bit bottom heavy and don’t really have the depth to compete. They’re still near to the cap, so they won’t have much to spend with, but a savvy veteran pick up, similar to the Bill Guerin one a few years ago, and this team could get that push it needs.

3. Philadelphia Flyers: This is, and will be, the Eastern Conferences proverbial “nemesis”. Built to be a 4 line powerhouse, they probably had to feel they’d have won the cup if they showed up against the Bruins in the second round this year. With a good young group of forwards, and a stud led defensive core, this team is a goalie away from hockey glory. But everyone knows that… except it seems Paul Holmgren. With a stud goalie in Tomas Vokoun as a UFA, it’ll be interesting if they can or want to clear up cap space to make a serious run.

2. Washington Capitals: I’d like to introduce you to the Eastern Conference version of the San Jose Sharks. Despite the incredible offensive force this team is, their weak from the blue-line back. I’ve been a big advocate of trading one of the top guns (Semin anyone?) and investing it in an elite defenseman. Still, I feel this team has probably hit a wall, and with the current lineup won’t break through.

1. Vancouver Canucks: I’m sure it was devastating to be a ‘Nucks fan and to watch them collapse against the Bruins after such a strong march to the cup, but the word Character is something that no one would accuse them of exhibiting. Had Burrows not bit a finger and Aaron Rome not knowingly ran a helpless player, this series may have gone their way, but giving a team incentive, and then trying to dive your way to a championship is a clear path to destruction. There are a lot of guys on that team I respect, I think Malhotra is a great hockey player, I like Raymond, and despite his mouth Bieksa. That being said, Coach Vignault needs to get a handle on this team or be replaced. With talent like they have, he should have had them fired up and firing back instead of the embarrassing turtle job the whole team did.

Stanley Cup Champions (7th). Boston Bruins: It’s easy to say “they’re the best team, and they’ll repeat” and I certainly hope this is true, but to be honest, there’s a lot of talented teams out there, and it’s never easy to play 82 games and be as healthy as the Bruins were right to the end. That being said, looking at this team, realizing only 3 players are hitting free agency and with close to 15 million in cap space to sign them (Marchand, Ryder and Kaberle) I can’t see a scenario where this team doesn’t compete for a few seasons. With so much youth already contributing, this team has contender written all over it.

Posted by: mcpuck | June 18, 2011

Where do we go from here?

With a Stanley Cup Champion crowned in the Boston Bruins, all that’s left is to celebrate in Boston, and look forward to a new NHL season that sits precariously on the horizon. It’s a little to early to start predictions and things of that nature, so instead today, I’ll look at all of the non-playoff teams and what they need to do to burst that proverbial bubble, and get their own shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Tomorrow I’ll peek at the teams that DID make it, and what they need to do to make it to that next level: Stanley Cup Champions.

Eastern Conference

9th Place – Carolina Hurricanes: This team was one less losing streak away from making the playoffs. There’s one glaring weakness on this team, and it’s the age on its blue line. This team is, simply put, one top tier D-man away from a playoff birth.

10th Place – Toronto Maple Leafs: I pegged them at 8th on my preseason rankings last year, and I still think their close. A ton of young talent and not enough veteran presence has them toiling near the bottom of the east again early on; unless they add a veteran guy to play on the top three lines.

11th Place – New Jersey Devils: Stand pat anyone? This season was a tale of two teams for New Jersey. It was nice to see them catch fire late in the season, and they’re certainly a fun team to watch. The certainly need to sign Zack Parise if they want to compete next year, but with this year of overcoming adversity under their belt, the Devils will be a force next year.

12th Place – Atlanta/Winnepeg: Atlanta plain stunk last year, and it had a lot to do with decisions ownership made over the last few seasons. The new ownership needs to show they want to win, BAD, by spending a little money on a big name UFA or two… they have the money (23 million in cap space) . Brad Richards anyone?

13th Place – Ottawa Senators: It’s time to rebuild up in Ottawa. Unfortunately, the Sens were the first team to find out dumping all of your money into a few guys not only doesn’t win you cups, it’ll hamstring you a few years down the line when it seems impossible to unload anyone. Spezza says he wants to stay, but he needs to go. That money can be spent on a Goalie or a top tier defenseman. Infuse this team with some talented youth and let Alfy bring them along and in a few years they’ll be golden.

14th Place – New York Islanders:  Maybe it’s me, but I think this team is poised to break out in a big way. They have a plethora of blue-chip talent that’s about to peak all at the same time. The only thing they need is consistency in net. If DiPeitro can stay healthy (and that answers been a resounding NO) then they’ll be okay. If they’re a revolving door in net again, it’s another year of futility.

15th Place – Florida Panthers: This team, and it’s front office, are an embarrassment to the NHL and it’s other teams and fans. Even more so than Atlanta, this team needs a change in scenery. The team has some solid players, but with only 12 players under contract for a measly 18 million dollars, they need to find a way to spend that money on players that will help them win, and put butts in the seats. Still, Florida needs to bid farewell to this step-child of the league.

 

Western Conference

9th Place – Dallas Stars: They’re in trouble if they lose Brad Richards to free agency. This team has very little identity, and a lot of young players who may not be ready to lead. If they manage to keep Richards, they need to spend a little money to bring in another veteran D man, maybe someone like Ed Jovanovski to help gel that back end into a cohesive unit.

10th Place – Calgary Flames: Despite making a run at the playoffs late, this team was never really in the running. Age and mismanagement by Sutter has hamstrung this team. They’re in need of a short rebuilding stage and Iginla is in need of a championship, time to make a deal.

11th Place – St. Louis Blues: This season was a bit of a disappointment for a team loaded with talent compared to some of the other teams on this list. A common theme is a lack of playoff experience on their roster, so my first piece of advice would be to snag someone with some deep playoff runs to his credit. I feel Simon Gagne would be a nice fit for this team

12th Place – Minnesota Wild: I might be the only one who feels this way, but for this team to throw all of it’s eggs in Mikko Koivu’s basket seems silly and misinformed. He’s a solid two way player, but he won’t win you a championship.  With the roster the way it is, looking to bring back Kobasew and maybe another character guy, and bolstering the blue line with some cheap help will do this team wonders. Problem is, they’ve overpaid for what little talent they have.

13th Place – Columbus Blue Jackets: This team has one of the premier talents in the league in Rick Nash, and unfortunately they’ve had a few busts along the way from recent drafts. That being said, they’re one or two solid guys away from  making a run. Guys like Langenbrunner and Erik Cole would bring some much needed grit and scoring touch down low to a team without much of that.

14th Place – Colorado Avalanche: Much like the aforementioned Islanders, this team is deep on talent and light on leadership. All this team needs really, is an above average goaltender and a veteran leader, possibly a guy like Corey Stillman or Steve Sullivan.

15th Place – Edmonton Oilers: Another lottery pick? Check. This team needs to keep plugging. Nothing short of a miracle will make these guys a contender this year, but they’ll give teams fits, and probably gel and make a short run  late in the season. I love the makeup of this team, and fans of the oilers can place their hope on the not-so-distant future.

Dark Horse: My dark horse for divisional dominance this year in each conference is (drumroll please):

EAST – New Jersey: I suppose it’s not much of a darkhorse, but the way the top of each division looks (Bruins/Montreal, Washington/Tampa, Philly/Pittsburg) it’s kind of a stretch to see ANY of these teams atop a division, but with the pedigree and talent in NJ, they have the best chance

WEST – Colorado: Maybe I feel that the collapse in the Finals will carry over into the new season for vancouver, and maybe I think Colorado got some unfair heat towards the end of the season, but this division is wide open. None of these teams will be as weak, so kudo’s to Vancouver for feasting on them this year, but they won’t run away with it next.

Lottery Picks (AKA 5 bottom teams)

So who will end up with the top 5 picks next year?

#5. Minnesota Wild – It’ll get worse before it gets better

#4. Calgary Flames – Let the rebuilding begin

#3. Columbus Blue Jacket – Alas, Columbus needs this

#2. Winnepeg Whatevertheyare’s – 40 million in cap space? There’s not enough UFA’s to build a solid team

#1. Ottawa Senators – This team is in for a few lean years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: mcpuck | June 18, 2011

CONGRATULATIONS: BOSTON BRUINS

I’d like to send a heart felt thank you and congratulations to the Boston Bruins. As you know from my many homerisms throughout the last few years posts, I’m a huge Bruins fan. This being said, I’ll keep it short. Congrats to you Boston, enjoy your day. But lets be honest, you’re already looking forward to next year.

Till next season, thank you!

Posted by: mcpuck | October 7, 2010

Western Conference Rankings

1. Detroit Red Wings : The Red Wings build off a solid second half and a healthier lineup to find themselves back in familiar territory. If Jimmy Howard can avoid the sophomore slump, this team is dangerous.

2. San Jose Sharks : I have a good feeling about Joe Thornton being named Captain of this team.  It’s time he stepped into that veteran leader role, and help a deeply talented team over the hump and into the history books.

3. Chicago Blackhawks : Could be higher on this list if they didn’t have a mini-fire sale after winning the Stanley Cup.  Marty Turco should benefit from having a Norris-lead defense in front of him.

4. Vancouver Canucks : For those of you concerned about Henrik Sedin’s ability to play at Art Ross levels, consider that twin-brother and key linemate Daniel missed 20 games last year.

5. Los Angeles Kings : Immense talent on both offense and defense, this team is wondering if either Jonathan (Quick or Bernier) can duplicate the ‘rookie’ performance of a certain ex-Blackhawk *cough*Antti Niemi*cough*

6. Calgary Flames : As slow as this team started last year, I have a feeling they can only improve.  Besides, Olli Jokenin can’t be as bad as he was last year… can he?

7. St. Louis Blues : This team finally got itself a serious goaltender in Jaroslov Halak. After flirting with late-season success a few years in a row now, this team now has ‘playoffs’ written all over it.

8. Colorado Avalanche : This team is still an enigma.  When clicking on all cylinders, it’s a top 5 team, but is prone to slumps that could bury it in sniffing distance of a lottery pick.

9. Phoenix Coyotes : Much like the Avalanche, this team made the most of what talent it had, and rode the back of resurgent Ilya Bryzgolof. This season it will be much tougher with an aging Shane Doan the only stud player they have… and that’s pushing it.

10.  Anahiem Ducks : No Scott Neidermeier means a long season for the Duck’s defense.  Ryan Getzlaf and company have to prove that all the accolades earned a few years ago as prospects weren’t missplaced.

11. Columbus Blue Jackets : A lot of pundits have been writing Columbus off completely, and maybe they’re right.  I still think Rick Nash can affect a game unlike many of the other big name guys in the West.  Here’s to hoping the goalies can straighten themselves out.

12. Nashville Predators : I can’t get the notion that, as a 7th seed, this team overachieved by a mile.

13. Minnesota : A team that was reluctant to hang on to Marian Gaborik has places all it’s eggs in one basket… and that baskets name is Mikko Koivu.

14. Edmonton Oilers : Even with the addition of Taylor hall and a healthy Ales Hemsky (and addition by subtraction in the case of Sheldon Souray) this team is a basement dweller.  Another year or two away from challenging for a playoff spot.

15. Dallas Stars : This team has a ton of problems.  They no longer have Marty Turco to use as a scapegoat, although Leightonen and Raycroft are easy enough to place blame on.  Get ready for 1st overall boys.

15.

Posted by: mcpuck | October 7, 2010

Eastern Conference Rankings

1. Washington Capitals : It remains to be seen if the much maligned defense and goal tending can improve to the level of championship contenders.  They’ll score plenty of goals, but it looks like they’ll give up quite a few again.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins : The injury to pivot Jordan Staal will likely hamstring the team early, but the overwhelming talent on offense should keep them from falling in the rankings.

3. Boston Bruins : There’s only a few players in the NHL who mean more to his team than Marc Savard does to the Boston Bruins.  His absence from the team as the season starts will certainly hurt the team, but with a stellar defense, solid goaltending, they’ll stay in the hunt.

4. Philadelphia Flyers : What the Flyers lack in net, they make up for with veteran leadership and a bruising style of play.

5. New Jersey Devils : It ought to be interesting to see how Lou Lamoriello will deal with the salary cap nightmare that is Ilya Kovulchuk’s new contract.  Will it be bye bye Zajac?

6. Montreal Canadiens : Pierre Gauthier’s success is now hinged solely on the performance of often criticized Carey Price. Will he emerge as the star this team is betting on?

7. Buffalo Sabres : Certainly thin on offense, any injury could cripple this team. Defense is strong, but it’s the play of goalie Ryan Miller that will make or break this team.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs : They’ve come a long way from the basement dwellers of last season.  This may be a bit of a stretch, but I feel that a re-invigorated Toronto franchise will sniff the playoffs this year.

9. Ottawa Senators : Seemingly built as a bubble team, Ottawa’s lack of depth and goaltending will be it’s undoing.

10. New York Rangers : It seems a bit of a gamble to throw all your chips down on Marion Gaborik to stay relatively healthy for two years in a row. (Just a hint, you’d have to go back to before the lockout to find two consecutive seasons of 70+ games for Gabby)

11. Tampa Bay Lightning : With the talent on offense and a few cogs on defense, this team is a solid netminder away from a playoff team.  I’d consider them my darkhorse to make a run in this conference.

12. New York Islanders : Can their goaltending situation finally settle down?  Who knows, but with the amount of young talent the Isles have amassed, they’ve got an outside shot at meaningful games late in the season.

13. Atlanta Thrashers : There’s nothing here that makes me say “these guys have a chance”.  There’s some young talent that could excite us for the future, but nothing for this season.

14. Florida Panthers : Losing Nathan Horton is going to hurt, but they’re so far from the playoff picture anyways, that it won’t make much of a difference.  On the bright side, there will be some entertainment with Dennis Wideman back on the blueline.

15. Carolina Hurricanes : It’s a shame someone as talented as Eric Staal is relegated to the Eastern Conferences version of Siberia.  Even at his elite level, he can’t make up for as many shortcomings as this team has.

Posted by: mcpuck | September 29, 2010

YOU’RE HIRED!!

If it’s one thing I’ve come to realize is, hockey fans are insanely passionate, and as such, we always seem to have an ‘educated opinion’ about everything.  If you’ve ever visited HFBoards, you’d know what I’m talking about.  But as someone who values his fellow sports fans opinions, I’d like to offer you a soap box in the form of YOU’RE HIRED. Every Wednesday (barring unforeseen circumstances) throughout the NHL season, we’ll offer up a new topic for you to debate.

Without further ado, lets jump right into our first topic.  I’ll throw out an easy one… what should the NHL do about the plethora of struggling franchises that seem to be only getting worse?  If you look at the Forbes NHL franchise valuations, you’ll see that in November of last year (when these lists are usually done) there were 14 franchises operating in the red.

You can make the argument that the economy has hurt already struggling franchises like the Islanders and the Sabres more than any success or lack thereof, but its clear to me that as a franchise struggles to put talent on the rink, it struggles to put butts in the seats.  Lets face it, professional sports is all about entertainment, and who in their right mind would spend the outrageous ticket prices to see a team that’s playing for a lottery pick?

Take the hockey mecca teams out of the equation (Toronto, Montreal, Boston etc etc) and you’ll see how the product impacts the bottom line.  Just two years ago, the Washington Capitals were considered a bottom of the barrel team as far as total value is concerned… this most recent list shows you how quickly you can turn around a franchise with deeper playoff runs.

Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time to look at the one team that can make or break the ‘move franchises’ argument for both sides: The Pheonix Coyotes.

If you’re Gary Bettman, you have to be thrilled that they made the playoffs.  Their performance down the stretch last year proved that any team can improve dramatically without having to overhaul the entire system.  Will it be enough to save the franchise? I don’t think so, but if it does then cities like Winnepeg and Hamilton will have to wait on a franchise of their own.

If the Coyotes fold or can’t survive even with a solid product on the ice, be prepared for one or two franchises to move, and move soon.  Pheonix is a given, but what is the next team that should move?  You tell me, after all… YOU’RE HIRED!!

Posted by: mcpuck | June 27, 2010

Superstar or Superexpendable?

1988. Gretzky traded to the LA Kings. The end of an era, and not just in Edmonton.  From that day forward, there was no star in the game considered untouchable.  The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, was official traded from Edmonton to the Kings. All players from here on out are expendable.

You can argue that a player like Crosby or Ovechkin, who mean so much more than playoff wins and piles of NHL awards to their respective clubs, are untouchable. But I venture to guess that if the money stopped flowing, then they would no long wear that tag. They, like Gretzky in 88′ would become expendable.

Although not on the same level as Sid the Kid and Alex Ovechkin, Marc Savard’s name carries nearly as much weight with Bruins fans as his counterparts in Pittsburgh and Washington. Despite this, his name has surfaced as a likely trade candidate as the NHL Draft rolls on.  Is this just posturing by the Bruins front office or is it true that he may be moved?

We won’t discuss the trade rumors themselves, but it begs the question: Is there any loyalty left in sports?

With Marc Savard, here’s your one consistent scoring threat, a guy who should have around 90+ points a year when healthy.  Add to that the fact that he took a “home town discount” to, and I quote the man himself “retire a Boston Bruin”, and you have a volatile situation with a fan base that has had it’s fair share of one sided trades. (Joe Thornton anyone?)

As someone who follows a great deal of hockey and attempts to break free of bias towards his favorite teams, I understand that the Bruins are deep at center and Savard is their biggest bargaining chip in a trade.  Sometimes, the deals your hearing are too good to pass up despite what an easily frustrated fan base says.  If you’re Peter Chiarelli, odds are you’re not sleeping well at night knowing you may trade the only hero your team has had in the eyes of it’s fans since the days of Cam Neely and Ray Bourque.  Hell, the fans only moment of happiness was when Bourque finally won the cup in Colorado.

So, as an armchair GM, I ask all of you fellow hockey fans, at what point do you stop and say “even though it’s good for the team, it’s bad for the franchise” ? And do you pull the trigger hoping that the success of the trade outweighs the outrage at trading your teams most beloved player?

I do.

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