Back in the Saddle

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It’s been a while.

As a summer filled with weddings, fishing, camping and a great deal of SFA is coming to an end, thoughts are once gain turning to hockey.

While I’ve been closely following the minutia of the summer transaction in the NHL, I’ve reached the general conclusion that not much will have changed when the 2016/17 season officially kicks off.

I think this is especially true when it comes to the Western Conference where it appears the powerhouse teams will remain just that while the pretenders have fiddled around the margins a bit but none, with a couple of exceptions, have taken the kind of steps to significantly enhance their chances of post season success.

That’s not to say that there are no curious situations that bear watching and, of course, there may still be a few moves between now and opening night but I think we are close enough to completion to get a read on how the WC teams stack up.

Anaheim

The Ducks’ biggest offseason acquisition was Randy Carlyle. My goodness. Carlyle was brought back to, reportedly, light a fire under the Ducks vets but whether or not that old school approach will work is certainly questionable.

As of this writing, the Ducks still haven’t sorted out their defense with Hampus Lindholm still unsigned and they don’t have room on the roster for blue-chippers Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour so something has to give there and, like most pundits, I expect Cam Fowler may find a new home before the season starts.

The Ducks also, curiously added Antoine Vermette to a centre group that includes Getzlaf, Kesler, Thompson and Rakell (when signed) when their most pressing need seems to be a scoring winger.

Arizona

This team is all about the future as fuzzy-cheeked GM John Chayka keeps adding to an already deep prospect pool.

That pool features a veritable CHL All Star team:

  • Max Domi
  • Dylan Strome
  • Anthony Duclair
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Jacob Chychrun
  • Lawson Crouse
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Brendan Perlini

Obviously, it’ll take a bit of time but that group is ridiculously strong but I can see the Coyotes taking a big step ahead this season especially since they added Alex Goligoski to help out Ekmann-Larsson on D.

 

Calgary

The Flames were my pick as the most successful team in the offseason.

They had some very well-defined needs and filled all of them.

Replacing Bob Hartley with a coach who emphasizes high-speed attack hockey will result in a much more dangerous Flames team.

But even more important is the acquisitions they made in goal with Brian Elliot who had the best save percentage in the league last season (minimum 40 games) and capable backup Chad Johnson.

The Flames were the 4th highest scoring team in the WC last season and, if they can cut GA from worst to even average, they will be a playoff team.

They added 20 goal scorer Troy Brower at no real cost and if draft pick Matthew Tkachuk makes the team out of camp (I think he will) they should be a higher scoring team.

Critics like to point out that the Flames D is weak after you past Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton and,on the surface, that is true but those critics tend to forget that the Flames have some pretty impressive prospects in Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Kenney Morrison bubbling under.

Obviously the Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid and Derek England contracts all represent obstacles but they will all be gone next offseason clearing up almost $12 million in cap space allowing the Flames to fill out their D with more useful players.

With their talent up front (once they sign Gaudreau) this is a team primed for a major move up the standings.

Chicago

Not much needs to be said about the Hawks and they weren’t busy in the offseason other than trying to stay under the cap but they should be better this season for one reason….Brian Campbell.

Campbell at $1.5 million is a huge steal for the Hawks and addresses their most glaring need for a team that has played with 3 NHL defensemen in the recent past.

Even at 37, Campbell remains an elite puck moving defenseman.

Colorado

If you’re looking for a team that could surprise this season, look no further. The deletion of Patrick Roy may have a huge impact on this team and, while their D is very questionable, they have enough talent up front to be competitive and lets remember they only missed the playoffs by 5 points last season. Replacing Roy should easily make up that gap.

Dallas

Old friend Woodguy bet me last week that the Dallas Stars, who won the WC title last season, would miss the playoffs.

I howled at that notion and even gave him 2-1 odds.

His reasoning I guess revolves around the changes Jim Nill has made to his D by letting Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski head elsewhere.

But let’s take a closer look.

Nill also added veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis who came back from injury last season to play very well for the Canucks.

With John Klingberg anchoring the top pairing and Stephen Johns emerging as a bona-fide second pairing ace, the Stars have the foundation for an exceptional young D on the RH side.

At the moment, Hamhuis joins Johnny Oduya, and Jordie Benn as a veteran presence but it’s the next wave that is remarkable.

  • Julius Honka
  • Esa Lindell
  • Jamie Oleksiak
  • Patrick Nemeth
  • Mattia Backman
  • Ludwig Bystrom

Every one of those players is very likely to have NHL careers which, when they join Klingberg and Johns in the next couple of seasons, will give the Stars the best young D in the league.

Honka is pretty much a Klingberg clone having scored 11G and 44P in the AHL last season and is likely ready for the NHL.

A right hand side of Klingberg, Honka and Johns is just ridiculous especially since Dallas has the LH vets to give them cover.

Esa Lindell is a huge LH defenseman who is also NHL ready after posting 14G and 42P in the AHL last season.

At 22 years of age and after playing against men in the AHL and the Finnish league for the past two seasons, he should have no problems easing his way into the NHL given that he’ll be sheltered by Hamhuis, Oduya and Benn.

No need say much about the best offence in the NHL except to say that the Stars, after getting break-out years from Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark in 15/16, added Jiri Hudler to an already ridiculously deep group of forwards.

Not to mention that Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore are reported ready for NHL duty.

Edmonton

We’ll conclude our look at half the WC teams with an assessment of the offseason work of the Oilers’ Peter Chiarelli.

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I promoted, predicted and expected a Taylor Hall trade to finally get some help on defense.

Problem is, Adam Larsson is a woefully inadequate return for Hall.

Larson may be a top pairing D some day but he isn’t now and you don’t trade a player like Hall for hope. You just don’t.

I expect Hall contributed to his demise with the Oilers with his entitled attitude but the trade leaves the Oilers going into another season with a putative top pairing of Larsson and the perennially injured Oscar Klefbom who has only 107 NHL games on his resume.

Once again we are reminded that the Oilers organization approached their 10 year infinibuild ass backwards are only now addressing their D in a meaningful way.

They have a very nice group of young forwards but the loss of Hall mitigates that fact and the addition of Milan Lucic, while a good move, won’t replace Hall’s value to the team.

Obviously you can’t talk about the Oilers without mentioning Connor McDavid and, if he can remain healthy all year, the Oilers should be able to recover somewhat from the Hall trade.

But a McDavid, RNH, Klefbom or Cam Talbot injury will expose the Oilers’ lack of depth and have them out of the playoffs race by Halloween.

On his blog, Lowetide has released his “reasonable expectations” stating that the Oilers will end the season with a net neutral goal differential, finish 10th in the WC and 21 overall. (he predicted a positive goal differential 3 seasons ago)

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the other teams who will prevent those things from happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Is Jim Benning Doing?

Benning

 

Lots of chatter on the interwebs today that Jim Benning made a major mistake in trading Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson.

On the surface, it might be plausible that is the case but only if you look at it on a “one and done” basis.

But there is a much better way to assess the trade and that is to see it as part of Benning’s need to balance his team.

Benning paid a pretty high price for the towering Gudbranson but, as he told the Vancouver Province last night, it really was market value especially in light of the poor deal the Edmonton Oilers made in acquiring Griffin Reinhart.

“We talked to a lot of teams the last two or three weeks and this wasn’t something we expected to happen — it happened quite fast and we’ve be dealing with them (Panthers) the last two days,” said Benning. “It kind of came together rather quickly. We knew the price to acquire a top-four defenceman was going to be high and giving up McCann was a tough decision. But I just felt like we needed to add a top-four-guy to our group because the market is just so tough.”

“They (Panthers) had a lot of interest in Jared and if you look at the Dougie Hamilton deal in Calgary — a first- and two second-round 2015 picks to Boston at the last draft — and the Griffin Reinhart deal to Edmonton — a first-round pick and 33rd-overall pick to the Islanders — that kind of set the precedent. It was tough to give up the second-round pick in this draft. But we felt it was worth giving up that 33rd-overall pick.

What stands out here is that Benning effectively gave up a late 1st round pick (McCann) and a 2nd round pick for a young, huge RHD with 309 NHL games under his belt while the Oilers paid a higher price for Reinhart who has yet to become a full-time NHL player and has only played 37 NHL games.

Yes, Reinhart is 2 years younger, but at his age, Gudbranson had already played in 189 games in the NHL.

Expectations

Most of the criticism of the deal from Vancouver’s perspective is that Gudbranson hasn’t lived up to his draft pedigree as he was selected 3rd overall in 2010…and that is true.

(Just as Reinhart has belied his 4th overall stats in the 2012 draft.

But Benning was trading for draft pedigree and, of course, Florida would not have moved Gudbranson if he had lived up to the hype.

What Benning acquired was a #4 RH D to balance his back-end and Gudbranson at a $3.5M cap hit next season (and a RFA after that) is certainly at the proper price point.

(worth noting that many of the fiercest critiques of the trade are Oiler fans whose team management is paying a #3 D, Sekera, $5.5M and a #5D, Fayne, $3.625M.)

The Canucks now have a D that is pretty well set and they avoided the temptations to get into the Jason Demers (a #3D) sweepstakes which the Oilers may blow their brains out at over $5M annually since there are very few RH D available as free agents.

Demers is likely better than Gudbranson now but let’s remember that Gudbranson is still only 24 and likely still has some upside and he costs a lot less.

The Canucks D pairings are now coming into focus and, if Alex Edler can stay healthy, they look solid if not spectacular.

Edler – Tanev

Hutton – Gudbranson

Sbisa – Larsen

Tryamkin – Stetcher

It’s easy to forget that Benning added the best defenseman for the NCAA earlier this spring or that Ben Hutton was a god send in his rookie season. Both he and their superb top pairing RH D, Chris Tanev, played for Canada at the recent WHC and that Philip Larsen was acquired earlier for a 5th round pick.

Why McCann?

There is a pretty easy answer to that question…the Canucks have too many centres.

Sedin

Horvat

Sutter

Granlund

Gaunce

While McCann had a passable rookie season, he was likely never going to be a top 6 centre in Vancouver as long as Henrik is around and, with the 5th overall pick in the draft Benning can upgrade on McCann in a few weeks.

At the Draft

With the need for a second pairing D now gone, Benning can comfortably take the best of whichever forward left after the Oilers pick.

Whether they get Matthew Tkachuk, PierreLuc Dubois or Alexander Nylander, all are an upgrade on McCann based on pedigree (McCann was taken 24th overall in 2012).

I expect the Oilers will take Dubois unless they trade down and that will leave Tkachuk sitting there for Benning. He would be the perfect compliment to the Sedins in the short-term but, if another team (like Arizona) trades up to take him with the Oilers pick, Benning will have a shot at Dubois and Nylander either of whom have 1st line potential.

With college phenom Brock Boeser only a year away from pro hockey, the Canucks will have 2/3 of the Sedin succession plan already out-of-the-way and will only need to find a top end C to finish the job.

About the Cap

The acquisition of Gudbranson ends the temptation for the Canucks to re-sign UFA defenseman Dan Hamhuis saving more than a million in cap space.

If, as expected, the Canucks buy out Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins that will free up another $3M to pursue free agents.

With their long-term goaltending locked in place (Markstom, Demko) and their D all set, Benning and company can now turn their attention to adjusting their forward ranks before the season starts knowing they will also get another $6M in cap relief when Ryan Miller’s contract expires a year from now.

With departure of Radim Vrbata ($5M) and Hamhuis ($4.5M) Benning is setting himself up to have some where near $10M this offseason for acquisitions.

Steven Stamkos anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The WC Stretch Run

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The All Star break provides us with the unofficial half waypoint of the season although some teams have already played 50 or more games.

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Common sense and Sports Club Stats tell us that some teams have already secured a playoff berth.

Dallas – 99.8%

Chicago – 99.8%

Los Angeles – 99.6%

San Jose – 94.2%

St. Louis – 89.5%

That leaves just 3 open spots and, realistically, only 6 teams with any chance of grabbing a spot.

Minnesota – 75.9%

Colorado – 61.4%

Nashville – 49.4%

Anaheim – 48.9%

Arizona – 39.1%

Vancouver – 24.7%

The 3 Canadian Prairie teams are D.O.A. and will be dead men skating for the next 2 months barring an act of God.

Calgary – 9%

Winnipeg – 5.8%

Edmonton – 0.9%

So, what’s likely to happen here?

One way we can asses things is to look at home/road, interdivisional schedules and recent momentum.


 

First, let’s take a look at the difficulty of schedule facing WC teams:

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What stands out here is that the Coyotes, Predators and Wild face tougher schedules than some of the other hopefuls, while the Avalanche and Canucks have relatively easy schedules down the stretch.


 

Minnesota, on the surface, would appear to have the best odds here but they have been very poor of late (2-6-2) and have an equal number of home and road games remaining.

The Wild have been fine defensively but can’t put the puck in the ocean.

This team has been the best defensive team in the NHL since early December, yet it finds itself in this position because again it cannot score easily. There are so many passengers on this team right now, it’s really unbelievable.

The amount of what coach Mike Yeo called, “major, major slumps,” has to be remedied.

We’re talking Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba. All these guys are relied upon to score and none of them are.

Source

You can bet GM Chuck Fletcher is working the phones to add some scoring to his lineup and he does have an excess of defensemen to dangle (Jonas Brodin anyone?) but his team has precious little time to reverse course, especially with a tough remaining schedule.


 

If momentum (and confidence) count for anything, and I think they do, Colorado at      (6-4-0) is trending up.

They have played 2 more road games than home although their home record (12-10-3) is nothing to write “home” about.

Clouding things in Denver is a civil suit filed against goaltender Semyon Varlamov with a trial currently underway.

After his then-girlfriend accused him of beating her, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov told the team’s managers that she hit him, and he moved her aside and locked himself in a bedroom, Avs head coach Patrick Roy testified Thursday.

The story Varlamov told Roy and other team managers differed from the account of Evgeniya Vavrinyuk.

Vavrinyuk, whose civil suit against Varlamov is being heard in Denver District Court, has testified that Varlamov beat her.

The suit, filed in October 2014, claims Varlamov had beaten her for years before his  arrest in October 2013 on suspicion of felony kidnapping and assault.

Who knows how that might affect the team but it surely has to be some kind of distraction.


 

The Nashville Predators, much like the Wild, lack the high end scoring prowess to keep up with the big boys in the Central Division.

Despite adding a #1C in Ryan Johansen, the Preds still need a high scoring winger.

They likely won’t move another D to get one so I’m not sure where they go from here.

Had Pekka Rinne kept up his all world goaltending performances of the past few seasons, they might be competitive but Rinne has been pedestrian (.906) and, at 32 may be fading.

The Predators have a tough schedule going home but have only played 23 games at home where they are very good (13-7-3) and and 27 on the road.


 

To me, the team to watch is the Anaheim Ducks.

They’ve been a top 3 team in possession stats all season and their scoring is coming around.

This is my choice to grab a spot in the Pacific Division which I, and many others, thought would win the division crown.


 

The Arizona Coyotes has been living large all season but the clock is about to strike midnight for Cinderella.

The Dogs are the second worst team in the league in terms of possession but have a very difficult schedule down the stretch.

Can’t say I’m disappointed in their performance but with the plethora of talent coming in next season they WILL be a much improved team next season.


 

The real underdog here is the Vancouver Canucks.

They’ve endured a host of injuries but will be getting Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter and Dan Hamhuis back after the all star break.

While those returnees may not be earth shattering, it’s worth noting that Vancouver has had a brutal schedule thus far with multiple long road trips and a huge imbalance in home/road games.

Vancouver has only played 22 games at home and 28 on the road so, if they can create some momentum at home, they have a chance to stay in the race.

The Canucks easily have the softest schedule in the back half so, if they can take advantage, they should have good shot at a wildcard spot.

 

Woe Canada

canada_icon

 

As we near the all star break…not one Canadian NHL team is in a playoff position.

The last time that happened was after the merger of the NHL and WHA in 1979.

A quick glance at the standings would seem to indicate that only the Montreal Canadiens have a chance but let’s take a peek at what the chances are…things may be somewhat different than they appear.

…beginning the bottom of the barrel.

Edmonton Oilers 0.8% (.430 win percentage)

The Oilers are done and have been for quite some time if you take an honest look at things. The Oilers have played the most games in their division (50) and have only managed to win 16 of them in regulation.

Their winning percentage is only better than Columbus and is,  unbelievably, worse than 2 teams that have recently been stripped to the studs and are just beginning a rebuild while the Oilers have been trying to turn north for most of a decade.

It’s no longer arguable that the Oilers rebuild is failing because they stubbornly refused to draft high end defensemen when they had a chance (how would Dimitri Kulikov, Adam Larsson or  any of the buffet of defensemen from the 2012 draft.

While the Oilers have finally acquired 3 NHL calibre centres, many teams have 6 or 7 capable at the position and the Oilers “draft wingers” strategy has failed them miserably.

Only slightly improved goaltending has them ahead of last years pace but consider their points accrual over the past 5 seasons:

2010/11 – 62 points

2011/12- 74

2012/13 – 77 (pro-rated)

2013/14 – 67

2014/15 – 62

2015/16 – 70 (pro-rated)

Give or take some luck, the Oilers have gotten absolutely nowhere since drafting Taylor Hall in 2010.

That is, frankly, embarrassing.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2.2% (.438)

The Leafs are where everyone, including their management and coach thought they would be.

Their rebuild is less than a year old so it’s no surprise they are flying a bit but anyone who watches the team can see renewed effort and structure.

While their goaltending remains in flux,they have two young stud D men to build around and with 2 blue chip C prospects in William Nylander (1.26 PPG AHL) and Mitch Marner (2.09 PPG OHL) coming up down the middle, they are following the winning blueprint all the way.

They will lack size in the top 6 but they will likely draft very high this coming draft and should be able to choose from any of the giant Finns or, more likely, will select Matthew Tkachuk from Head Scout Dale Hunter’s London Knights.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the try and swing a deal to draft Nylander’s brother Alexander (1.41 PPG OHL) who is reportedly a better player than his older brother.

No chance at the playoffs but things look bright.

Winnipeg Jets 4.2% (.469)

The Jets should be much better than their record suggests but shaky goaltending has let them down again and you have to think a major shake up will be on the way in the offseason.

The Jets are very likely to trade captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien before the trade deadline so the return on those two assets will be a huge factor in determining their future course.

I would imagine they will eventually address their goaltending and, while they have some very good your D, they will need to add some offsets in their top 6 to be a consistent playoff threat.

Ottawa Senators 18.1% (.530)

Like the Jets, the Senators have suffered from mediocre goaltending that has kept them from the playoff bracket.

While they do have some offence from Bobby Ryan, Mark Stoke and Mike Hoffman, they lead the league in SA/G at 33.3 so their flaws are pretty obvious and I think you can expect a coaching change in the offseason.

Imagine where they would be without Eric Karlsson?

Calgary Flames 25.5% (.500)

On the surface, the Flames seem very close to being DOA but they have a significant number of games in hand on almost every team and are, if effect, in charge of their own fate.

If the Flames can take advantage of those extra games over the net couple of weeks, they can stay in the fight but winning NOW is critical.

Vancouver Canucks 33.3% (.534)

The Canucks record (20-18-11) is somewhat deceiving.

They’ve had several brutally long road trips in the first half of the season and, in fact, have played 21 home games compared to 28 on the road so will have a much friendlier schedule down the stretch.

They’ve been playing for a while without their top 2 C’s and, at various times, without their #2 and #3 D but they are all expected back shortly and, if the Canucks can settle into a rhythm at home, they may have a chance to surpass Arizona and Anaheim for the final Pacific Division playoff spot.

Problem is, the Canucks are only 9-8-2 at home so, unless they can improve that record considerably, they won’t make it.

Montreal Canadiens 54.3% (.542)

On the surface, the Habs have the best chance of making the playoffs but that is somewhat deceiving as well.

They have been awful (3-6-1 10GP) since Carey Price went down and he’s not expected back fro several weeks.

If momentum counts for anything, and I think it does, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ottawa finishes ahead of Montreal in the final standings.

A Carey Price return would prove to be a godsend but I expect it will be too little too late.

To be honest I wouldn’t bet on any of these dogs but, if I was forced to pick one team that might take it, it would be Vancouver.

The combination of an easy schedule, the return of key injured veterans and the continuing emergence of Bo Horvat and Ben Hutton might just be enough but I expect it will, take some cooperation by the Anaheim Ducks for the Canucks to see the post season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BATTLE OF ALBERTA

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It’s Saturday and the HNIC feature game pits the Calgary Flames at the Edmonton Oilers which gives us an opportunity to take the temperature of both franchises.

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A few weeks back, this snapshot was quite different with the Flames having the worst goal differential in the Pacific Division but, with the return of TJ Brodie, the Flames have been performing at a much higher level and their goaltending, while certainly not elite has been much better too.

For exactly ONE day, the Oilers found themselves in a playoff spot but, let’s be honest folks, they have been abysmal over the past 20 game game stretch.

How bad have they been?

Darcy McLeod of Because Oilers fame summed it up well in a tweet this morning:

Since McDavid went down it’s 4-15-13. Think about that for a minute. 4 regulation wins, 13 ties.

If you recall, I had the Oilers finishing 13th in the WC in my pre-season predictions finishing ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes.

Well, like many, I was wrong about the Coyotes (the focus of a future column) but unless the Oilers can somehow go on a 10 game win streak, they are almost certainly going to finish in the basement again.

Now, it’s possible the Jets accept the inevitable and trade Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd sooner rather than later and the return of McDavid gives the Oilers just enough of a boost to pass them but, due to multiple games in hand, it’s unlikely the Oilers can pass Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim or Calgary. With LA already home and dry, the Oilers only chance of achieving a modicum of self respect would be to pass Vancouver in the Pacific.

But there are a few things that need to be considered there. The Canucks are in the midst of their final brutal road trip of the season and will have played 28 road games by the end of the week and only 21 at home so their remaining schedule will be much easier.

The Canucks have also been playing, at times, missing 3 of their top 4D (Tanev is back now) while also missing Brandon Sutter who is due back any day so, if they can keep their heads above water this week, they won’t be easy to catch especially now that Bo Horvat has caught fire (5 goals and 8 points in his last 5 games) and Emerson Etem,who looks fabulous thus far starts to deliver.

What ails the Oilers is obvious and has been for years. They need TWO top pairing D and above average goaltending to have any chance at success.

It appears Peter Chiarelli was willing to move Ryan Nugent Hopkins for Seth Jones but was rebuffed by Nashville and, of course Chiarelli has already spent a couple of silver bulllets on acquiring Griffin Reinhart who doesn’t have a ghost of a chance to be what the Oilers need most.

But, one often overlooked factor in the losing is that the plethora of top draft picks the Oilers have acquired over the past 10 years just aren’t all that good.

If you recall, I forecast that Taylor Hall’s production would falter while Leon Draisaitl’s ridiculous shooting percentage fell back to earth and…guess what…that’s exactly what has happened.

Hall was as high as 4th in league scoring a few weeks back and has now plummeted out of the top 10 and it’s highly likely that he’ll be out of the top 20 in short order since some very talented players are closing fast and almost all have games in hand.

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If you need further amplification on this, please note that Hall has scored only 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 10GP and only .565 PPG on the road this season.

No need to even mention the lack of production from other “elite” players on the Oilers but one thing I am finding interesting is the race between Hall and Johnny Hockey for the second best LW (and second team all star after Jamie Benn) in the WC.

George, the Gentleman Backpacker blogger (very seriously a good read), summed it up over at Lowetides blog this morning:

  1. NYCOIL “GENTLEMAN BACKPACKER”says:

    You guys hate Gaudreau now, well just wait until he takes 2nd team LW behind Benn, shutting Hall out again from post season awards. Then you know you will really hate him as the Flames fans you know tell you they got a better LW in the 4th round than we did at 1st overall.

    You know this is going to happen so I am softening the inevitable blow for you.

And why wouldn’t Flames fans say that? It appears to be true.

While Hall has a slight edge in PPG in their respective careers (.883 vs .878) let’s remember that Gaudreau is 2 years younger than Hall and appears to be on an upward trajectory while Hall may have plateud as many players do as they approach their mid 20’s.

Gaudreau also has trouble scoring on the road (.526 PPG) but he gets more done at home so  this should be an interesting race to watch in the back half.

Of course, Oiler fans will try and convince them selves Hall’s issues are because the Oilers don’t have the puck moving D to get the puck to him but that raises a couple of other considerations.

Tha Flames D, before Brodie returned, were dreadful in the early part of the season and Gaudreau produced offence anyway.

And, I challenge you to watch how many of Hall’s “chances” are actually giveaways in the Ozone as he fires shot after shot from low danger areas while almost all of Gaudreau’s points come from high danger areas,often in the blue part.

Tonight’s game will be fascinating from several different angles including how Zack Kassian will perform in his second game with the Oilers up against a team that likes to crash and bang.

I watched every game that Kassian played with the Canucks and the biggest issue for him was inconsistency in playing a physical game and a tendency to commit bone hated turnovers in the neutral zone which often got him benched.

And one final thing, if the Oilers do indeed move RNH for a defenseman, they could be making a grave mistake since their organizational C depth without him would be horribly shitty and Draisaitl is less than he appears to be.

The right move is to trade a winger who has enough cache to bring in a high level D and that player is…wait for it…Taylor Hall.

 

Down the Stretch

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We’re unofficially half way through the NHL season although only the Blues have played 40 games.

Nonetheless, New Year’s Day is a good opportunity to look back on 2015 and make some predictions about what we will likely see in the remainder of the season.

Jamie Benn Superstar

Ice Hockey Gold Medal - Sweden v Canada
SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 23: Gold medalists John Tavares #20, Jamie Benn #22 and Corey Perry #24 of Canada celebrate during the medal ceremony after defeating Sweden 3-0 during the Men’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal match on Day 16 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

To me, the most remarkable performance of 2015 is the utter dominance being displayed by Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn. Let’s have a look:

2015 CALENDAR YEAR LEADERS
A look at the top team and individual performances of 2015 (courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau):

GOALS
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 57
2. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 48
3. Steven Stamkos (81 GP): 39
4. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 38
5. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 38

ASSISTS
1. Erik Karlsson (84 GP): 59
2. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 59
3. Nicklas Backstrom (80 GP): 56
4. Henrik Sedin (83 GP): 55
5. P.K. Subban (84 GP): 55

POINTS
1. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 48-59—107
2. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 57-28—85
3. Tyler Seguin (74 GP): 35-48—83
4. John Tavares (80 GP): 37-45—82
5. Daniel Sedin (85 GP): 28-54—82
6. Erik Karlsson (84 GP): 23-59—82

POINTS PER GAME (Minimum: 60 GP)
1. Patrick Kane (80 PTS in 63 GP): 1.27
2. Jamie Benn (107 PTS in 85 GP): 1.26
3. Tyler Seguin (83 PTS in 74 GP): 1.12
4. Alex Ovechkin (85 PTS in 81 GP): 1.05
5. John Tavares (82 PTS in 80 GP): 1.03

POWER-PLAY GOALS
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 25
2. Justin Faulk (83 GP): 17
3. Steven Stamkos (81 GP): 16
4. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 16
5. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 15

SHORTHANDED GOALS
1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (82 GP): 6
2. Brad Marchand (76 GP): 5
3. Blake Wheeler (78 GP): 4
4. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 4
5. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 4

GAME-WINNING GOALS
1. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 12
2. Jonathan Toews (83 GP): 11
3. John Tavares (80 GP): 10
4. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 10
5. Joe Pavelski (80 GP): 9

SHOTS ON GOAL
1. Alex Ovechkin (81 GP): 400
2. Max Pacioretty (82 GP): 331
3. Brent Burns (80 GP): 296
4. Tyler Seguin (74 GP): 289
5. Rick Nash (80 GP): 288

PLUS/MINUS
1. Tyler Toffoli (75 GP): 31
2. Kevin Klein (58 GP): 26
3. Tobias Enstrom (75 GP): 27
4. Marc Methot (78 GP): 27
5. Jamie Benn (85 GP): 27

That’s right folks…Jamie Benn scored 107 points in 2015…22 more than second place finisher Alex Ovechkin.

That Benn is among the top 5 in both PP and SH goals while no other player made both lists, pretty much tells you just how good he is.

Puck Daddy has an excellent read on the ascent of Benn here.

Tallon Rewarded

The Florida Panthers wrapped up 2015 in 1st place in their division and by handing GM Dale Tallon a multi year contract extension.

The Panthers success on the ice is also starting to draw fans to the rink with more than 18,000 in attendance for Tuesday’s win over Montreal.

Now that the team has received a solid financial commitment from Broward County, I expect they will become one of the NHL’s elite teams under Tallon.

Rising and Falling

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 2.11.33 PM

The WC playoff participants have pretty much been decided with the exception two spots in the Pacific Division.

Let’s take a look on what is the most likely scenario to play out based on win% and remaining schedule.

SJS – .5277

ARZ – .527

ANA – .500

VCR – .487

CAL – .487

EDM – .423

San Jose and Anaheim are in the driver’s seat here with the fewest number of games played at 36 and, with Anaheim finally waking from an early season slumber they are making a move on the rest of the division with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10GP.

I expect they will catch Arizona within a couple of weeks and could even surpass San Jose unless the Sharks start to win at home where they’ve gone 5-10-0 so far.

By the middle of January it is highly likely that the 3 California teams have a stranglehold on the division leaving Arizona, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton fighting to avoid the basement.

Amongst that group, I believe only the Flames has a real chance to upset the apple cart with their ability to come back from adversity.

Vancouver, you could argue has been unlucky to be where they are since they have lost 9 games in overtime although there are more than a few Vancouver fans who argue that coach Wille Desjardins deployment in OT is  the real culprit.

The Canucks have also been without 3 of their top 4 D for a while while also being hit with injuries goaltenders and forwards as well.

The odd thing about the Canucks schedule is they have had just brutal, multi game road trips and have played 22 games on the road compared to 16 at home so perhaps they can hang in there if they start winning more at home.

However, if they play like they did in their 5-0 loss to Los Angeles a couple of nights ago, they have no chance.

Arizona continues to surprise but I’m not convinced they’ll hang around much longer. Worth noting that have a -14 goal differential and, while that’s better than Vancouver, Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton, it’s far worse than the Sharks and the Ducks has been improving game by game.

As for the Oilers, all they have to look forward to is the return of Connor McDavid which appears imminent. But let’s remember that the Oilers were 4W – 9L WITH McDavid in the lineup and their problems are with a shitty D corp and inconsistent goaltending. McDavid doesn’t play those positions.

Playoff Chances from Sports Club Stats:

LAK 99.9%

SJS 73.8%

ARZ 53.1%

VCR 31.6%

ANA 22.2%

CAL 20.7%

EDM 5.5%

And just how good are the Dallas Stars?

Their playoff chances now sit at 99.9% and if, as some folks think, the playoff cutoff in the WC this season will be around 86 points, the Stars could finish the season up with a record of 12-28-3 and still make the post season.

And, to allay the recent post from a commenter that the Stars will fail once they play more again the Central Division, the Stars are 7-2-1 in their own division and 13-3-1 against the WC.

THAT is how you win the west.

Next time, let’s take an early look at which players deserve to be all stars.

 

The Pacific Triangle

You-Cant-Get-There-from-Here

What a week in the wacky Pacific Division.

The Los Angeles Kings are pulling away from the pack and have a 9 point lead on everyone with 2 games in hand on most teams. The Kings have won 6 in a row and can put a division championship to bed by the end of December with a schedule that features 5 straight games against their dubious competition between Dec. 22 and 31.

Dec 22 – vs. Sharks

Dec 26 – @ Coyotes

Dec 28 – @ Canucks

Dec 29 – @ Oilers

Dec 31 – @ Flames

Between now and the 22, they play the Sabres, the Canadiens, the Senators and the Leafs so, even if they play 8 of their next 9 on the road, they have a superb chance to put things to bed especially since they sport an 8-3-1 road record. They already have a 99.3% chance of making the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats so I can’t see them faltering.

Behind the Kings, things are getting very interesting as every team has lost more games than they’ve won.

Baseball Standings Dec 11/15

San Jose – .512

Vancouver – .500

Arizona – .500

Edmonton – .466

Anaheim – .465

Calgary – .464

In other words, it’s pretty much a dead heat between 6 teams vying for the two remaining playoff spots in the Western Conference if you concede that 5 Central Division teams will make the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, EVERY Pacific Division team except Arizona is heading out on a road trip this week so how they fare on the road could be a great measuring stick for their longer term chances.

Pacific Division Road Records:

LAK  8-3-1

SJS  10-5-1

VCR  6-5-5

ARZ  7-10-1

EDM  4-10-1

ANA 3-8-1

CAL 3-9-2

Worth noting that  7 of the Coyotes remaining 8 games in December are  at home and the Coyotes have a 7-4-0 record in Glendale.

If they can continue that pace, they should be able to put some space between them and the rest of these dogs by the end of the month.

Another oddity is the Home/Road record of the Sharks. While going 10-5-1 on the road, they just don’t win much at home (4-8-0) so they may keep pace with the Coyotes on their upcoming roadie.

Vancouver is in a very tough spot after losing Dan Hamhuis for a couple of months to a facial injury, leaving them with even fewer bonafide NHL defensemen. This road trip could well spell the end of any playoff glimmers the Canucks may still harbour and they may become sellers as soon as the Christmas trade freeze ends in early January.

The Edmonton Oilers start a 4 game road trip in Boston Monday night before heading to NYR, Chicago and Colorado.

Their current 5 game win streak is almost exclusively because of the play of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl so we’ll see how that goes on the road when opposition coaches can choose their match ups.

Worth noting, Taylor Hall is scoring 1.6 PPG at home but only .667 on the road.

(For those keeping score…Tyler Seguin is 1.36 PPG at home and 1.40 PPG on the road)

Hmmmm….

After a game at home tonight against the Rangers, the Calgary Flames depart for a trip through the Death Valley Division ® with games against Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis with Detroit as a chaser. There’s little reason to believe they’ll improve much on their road record although Mark Giordano has been much better lately and their goaltending is improving.

The Anaheim Ducks need to fire their coach in the worst way as they inexplicably can’t score and likely need a new voice that will at least prepare them to show up at the opening face off.

By way of illustration…the Ducks have scored 56 goals this season…Dallas has scored 102…yikes.

So, other than Arizona likely to separate themselves from the pack this week and San Jose having a couple of games in hand on most teams, I expect will see much of the same mess a week from now.

Gary’s parity is working but it sure ain’t pretty.

 

The Wild Wild West

wild-west-crispin-delgado

14 Things

Black Friday has come and gone and we now have a pretty good idea which teams remain players in the tough Western Conference of the NHL.

The Dallas Stars have been the dominant team I expected them be in my pre-season analysis. They go into tonight’s game against Minnesota with a .784 win percentage and a record of 18-5 which, had they brought their A Game in two losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs, would have been a stunning 20-3.

Enough has been said and written about their superstar studded line up so I won’t belabour the point except to say that Jim Nill took a team that finished 11th in the conference in 2012/13 and built a powerhouse in essentially two seasons. That speaks volumes about teams that seem to need a decade to become competitive.

The St. Louis Blues are performing as well as one might expect considering their deep blue line and the emergence of Colton Parayko on their bottom pairing.

The Blues will have Paul Statsny in the lineup tonight when they face Columbus. Statsny has only played 7 games this season due to injury but has 2 points in the 2 games he’s played since returning to the Blues’ top line. Look for the Blues (14-6-3) to be even better in the second quarter of the season.

The Chicago Blackhawks struggled early but have been coming on hard (6-3-1) in their last ten games led by the all world performance of Patrick Kane.

Kane is on pace for a 125 point season and would normally be running away with the scoring race if not for the Benn/Seguin/Klingberg scoring machine in Dallas.

One thing to keep an eye on though for the Hawks is that any injury to Kane would hurt tremendously as Chicago, even with Kane’s heroics, are only 10th in GF/GP and could fall off a cliff if Kane gets hurt.

The Nashville Predators, predictably, have had trouble scoring and, despite being tied with Chicago in points, could easily fall below the playoff cutline if Minnesota and/or Winnipeg make even a small surge.

You have to wonder how long it will be before David Poile is forced to move one of his hoard of defensemen to ensure his team makes the post season.

The Los Angeles Kings are leading the Pacific Division with 27 points but that total would have them 5th in the Central Division and their lead is precarious with San Jose, Arizona and Vancouver all within 4 points of the Kings.

The Kings are notorious slow starters so I don’t think there is much worry they’ll make the playoffs but one does have to be concerned about the sub standard play of Anze Koptitar who is only on a 40 point pace. I wonder if his protracted contract extension limbo is taking a toll on him. (I have a hunch that Dean Lombardi will not break open the bank for him and he may be traded before July 1st)

The San Jose Sharks have been on a tear of late, sweeping a 6 game road trip and,if they ever find a way to win at home (3-6-0) they’ll waltz into the post season.

It’s worth noting that the Sharks have been without top scoring centre Logan Couture for all but 3 games this season but he’s expected back from a broken fibula as early as tonight against Calgary…that should give the Sharks a shot in the arm.

The Arizona Coyotes somehow just keep hanging around and their not doing it with “Bettman Mirrors”.

The Coyotes have won 12 games in regulation riding a decent D and the superlative play of Martin Hanzal and rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. While Chicago’s Artemi Panarin leads the rookie scoring race, he’s 24 years of age while the Coyotes’ youngsters are only 20.

I’m not convinced the Dogs can hang on to a playoff spot but what we do know is that the Coyotes have two recent draft picks, Christian Dvorak and Dylan Strome with more than 2PPG in the OHL and they should be ready to play next season. Yikes!

The Minnesota Wild have endured the loss of their best player for almost 10 games now but they are in “stealth mode in the Central Division hanging on to the final wild card spot but have a game or two in hand on everyone. Parise returned to action last night in the Wild’s loss to Winnipeg but he should give his team a big boost when he gets up to speed.

The Vancouver Sedins are on fire.

Daniel has 7 goals and and 9 assists in his last 10 games while Henrik “only” has 5 goals and 9 assists.

Ask almost any Oiler fan and they’ll gloat that the Sedins are rapidly declining and will sink the Canucks all while ignoring the fact that the Sedins have never relied on speed but instead on smarts to be among the NHL’s elite, I don’t think you get all that much dumber after 35 do you?

The Sedin’s epic play has been somewhat masking some other issues while the Canucks hang around the WC playoff cut line.

Injuries to Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust have forced a couple of rookies into roles they aren’t ready for and only recently has last season’s top goal scorer, Radim Vrbata start finding the range.

Vrbata is 10th in the league in SOG with 83 and his shooting percentage of 7.3 is well below his career average so expect more from him.

I expect the Canucks will start winning some of the 1 goal games they are now losing but not sure if that will be enough to hold off the Ducks for the final Pacific Division slot.

The Anaheim Ducks can’t be this bad, can they?

I don’t think so either but you have to wonder if and when the dam will burst.

The last 3 teams in the WC could be thrown into a sack and into a river since all of Calgary, Colorado and Edmonton are quickly going no where.

Fans of all 3 teams seem to be expecting a surge or as some like to call it a “turn north”

To illustrate how unlikely that is to happen, let’s take a look at the Oilers next 10 game segment.

@ Pittsburgh (13-8-1)

@ Toronto (7-10-5)

vs. Boston (13-8-1)

vs. Dallas (oh my)

vs. Buffalo  (9-12-2)

vs. San Jose (13-9-0)

vs. NYR (16-5-2)

@Boston (13-8-1)

@NYR (16-5-2)

@Chicago (13-8-2)

I would be shocked if the Oilers can come any from that stretch with more than 8 points.

Even if they were to saw it off at 10 points that would leave them with only  26 after 33 games and the playoff teams will be far over the horizon by then.

Remember when Jim Nill built a powerhouse in only 2 seasons?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Quarter Pole

quarter-pole-675x445

Most NHL teams have now played a quarter of their season and the cream has risen to the top and the dregs are being separated.

RISING STARS

No surprise to me but almost unnoticed by the national media is just how absolutely dominant the Dallas Stars have been this season.

The Stars are sporting a record of 17-4 with no loser points and despite not showing up for 2 losses against the Leafs.

The Stars have a 6 point lead over the Blues who have the second best record in the West and they’ve scored 12 more goals (74) than the second place Canucks (62).

Montreal is pacing the Stars with 74 goals as well but they’re playing in the weaker conference while Dallas has run up a 6-1 record against the tougher West. The Stars will be playing more games against the West as the season progresses but there is absolutely no reason to think they can’t keep up the pace.

The most remarkable thing about the Stars is not the all world performances from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (which I expected) but the emergence into an elite defenseman of 23 year old John Klingberg. 

Klingberg is tied for the league lead in assists with Patrick Kane and Seguin at 19 apiece and has hit 3 goal posts in his last 2 games.

Worth noting…the last defenseman to lead the league in assists was some guy named Bobby Orr.…Klingberg might soon make history.

BLACK FRIDAY

We’re only a few days away from the defacto playoff doomsday for teams that are at least 10 points out of a playoff berth. It is almost impossible for those teams to make up enough ground to grab a spot so let’s take a look at which teams could see their seasons effectively over by Black Friday.

The Pacific Triangle

In reality, there is very little chance that the Central Division won’t send 5 teams to the playoffs so that leaves the last 3 spots for the Pacific Division.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 11.52.02 AM

Edmonton has a  7-12-1 record heading into the week and have only 4 wins in their past 10 games.

The Oilers face Washington, Carolina and Detroit in the next week and would need to win at least 2 of those games to stay in the hunt. Even then, they would need just the right combination of losses from other Pacific Division teams to remain viable.

What is germaine here for the Oilers is the schedule for the teams that are ahead of them this week.

As of this writing, the LA Kings are losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and both San Jose (vs. Columbus) and Vancouver (vs. New Jersey) play later today and both could enhance their chances substantially with a win and an Oilers’ loss to red hot Washington (6-3-1 in their last 10) would leave them 9 points out.

It also doesn’t help that two teams the Oilers are chasing, Anaheim and Calgary, play each other Tuesday or that Anaheim also plays Arizona on Wednesday and Calgary plays Arizona on Friday.

If there are any 3 point games among that group and the Oilers don’t win at least 2 of 3, their season is pretty much done.

Vancouver also has a couple of tough games this week against the Wild and Stars but have shown an ability to keep games close and pick up points.

If the Canucks can build on last night’s 6-3 hammering of the Blackhawks and pick up at least 3-4 points this week they should hang around but anything less and they may be in trouble.

The Calgary Flames, of course, are also in a very precarious spot but have been playing much better (6-4-0 in their last 10) since TJ Brodie returned to the lineup.They can pretty much write their own story if they can win against Anaheim and Arizona but that’s certainly not a given although I like their chances.

Things will be much clearer by Black Friday.

Sedinery

sedin-video-shot

We would be remiss to not mention a superb performance by the Sedin twins last night.

Daniel scored 3 and added an assist while brother Henrik had a 5 point night including a goal.

Both have now moved into the top 15 in league scoring (Daniel tied for 6th…Henrik only 2 points back.)

Watch out Pacific Division if the Sedins catch fire.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning South

Pacific-Triangle-1

It was widely expected that the Edmonton Oilers would and should make a turn north this season after 9 years as the worst team in the NHL.

The “expert panel” assembled by the fine folks at Oilers Nation were all optimistic, even delusional in some cases.

  • Lowetide 93
  • Jeanshorts 90
  • Henderson 90
  • Gregor 86
  • Willis 85
  • Baggedmilk 82
  • Brownlee 82

You may recall that I had predicted before the season began that the Oilers would finish 13th in the conference ahead only of the Arizona Coyotes which, as things are shaking out, may prove me to be slightly optimistic as well.

Old friend Darcy McLeod of Woodblog took the time over at Lowetide this morning to assess how the Oilers are actually performing:

Some comparisons of key stats from this year and last Nov 11.

First number will be this year, 2nd number is last year at this time. (running WOI Oct1/14-Nov11/14)

5v5 GF/60
2.00/60 (tied 17th in NHL)
2.10/60 (tied 18th in NHL)

5v5 GA/60
2.90 (28th in NHL)
3.10 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH%
7.4% (tied 16th)
7.3% (tied 21st)

5v5 SV%
.904 (27th in NHL)
.900 (29th in NHL)

5v5 SH/60
26.8 (27th in NHL)
29.2 (tied 16th in NHL)

5v5 SF/60
29.9 (22nd in NHL)
30.6 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 CF%
48.4 (24th in NHL)
50.6 (15th in NHL)

5v5 SCF/60
24.6 (tied 21st in NHL)
25.1 (tied 22nd in NHL)

5v5 SCA/60
24.8 (11th in NHL)
26.2 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCF/60
9.3 (26th in NHL)
10.9 (16th in NHL)

5v5 HDSCA/60
11.2 (tied 23rd in NHL)
12.0 (22nd in NHL)

Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Oilers slightly better defensively than last year via SA, SCA and HDSA

Oilers slight worse offensively (despite McEverything playing 12 games) via SF, SCF and HDSCF.

No surprise to me as you may know…the Oilers still don’t even have ONE passable top pairing D and don’t even get me started on the over payments for Sekera and Reinhart.

I had also warned about once again going into another season without having a bonafide #1 goaltender a move which, if you consider the buyers market in goaltending, is inexcusable.

The Oilers next 3 games are against Pacific Division opponents…Anaheim tonight followed by Arizona (second games in 2 on the road) and then a third game in four nights against the Kings in LA.

The Oilers would need to get at least 3 points out of those games to even remain in the Pacific Division conversation but it’s much more likely they come away with 1or 0.

That they get to follow up that 3 game death march with a match at home against the Blackhawks likely means the Oilers season will be effectively over a week from today.

Perhaps that will spur Peter Chiarelli to start making some moves to shore up the dreadful D and I would suggest the first place he should look is in Dallas where the Stars are carrying 8 defensemen because they don’t want to expose any of their young “NHL ready” youngsters to waivers:

  1. Alex Goligoski
  2. John Klingberg (untouchable)
  3. Johnny Oduya
  4. Jordie Benn
  5. Jason Demers
  6. Jyrki Jokipakka
  7. Jamie Oleksiak
  8. Patrick Nemeth
  9. Julius Honka*
  10. Stephen Johns*
  11. Esa Lindell*
  12. Ludwig Bystrom*        *in the AHL

Jim Nill might well be reluctant to part with any of those players unless the return was very significant but Goligoski is UFA at the end of the season and if he feels one of his other young players is ready to pair with phenom Klingberg, perhaps Chiarelli could get his attention.

Goligoski, while not an elite pairing D, would certainly be the Oilers #1D right out of the box and would allow the other Oilers D to slot lower in the batting order which is exactly what is needed.

Of course, the Stars have very little need to do anything at this point but Nill has proven to be a GM not afraid to make big moves if he can improve his team in the future.

On the other hand, Chiarelli, a week from now, may realize that with the season already over from a competitive point of view he’ll just sit on his hands for the final few months of the 10th annual death march and try to offload some junk at the deadline.

Going to be a fascinating week ahead.