Big Boy Hockey

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Scoring goals is the hardest skill in the NHL.

The 20 players you see here are the best of the best.

Patrick Kane is having an obscene season and is easily the league MVP but, when you look at overall points, Erik Karlsson is making a case.

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Then, when we look at the top 20 NHL players as selected by TSN’s poll of the best 20 players, we see that some defensemen and goaltenders sneak into the conversation.

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I don’t have too many arguments here except that Sidney Crosby will rocket up these standings as his renaissance (8 goals and 18 points in his last 10GP) gathers steam.

You’ll notice that Chicago has 4 players in the top 20 and that likely explains why they are  the best team in the dominant WC and Washington has 3.

Taylor Hall, among a huge number of 1st overall draft picks for the Oilers, is barely hanging on with the Big Boys and will drop out of this ranking in short order.

A team that has drafted 1st overall as many times as the Oilers and have 1 player on the verge of not being in the top 20 in the league is a massive fail.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

Snapshots

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Best of the Best

TSN released their Top 50 players in the NHL earlier today.

There weren’t a lot of surprises except for Sidney Crosby (#14) dropping from #1 but Sid has been on a tear lately and will surface in the top 10 in NHL scoring very soon.

The poll of  NHL head coaches did, however, get it right when they picked the best LW’s in the league other than indicating that Patrick Kane is a LW when he is, in fact, a RW.

While Kane is having a memorable season, Jamie Benn is the dominant LW in the league and it isn’t even close.

Second best LW?  Alex Ovechkin…no argument from me.

3rd?…Johnny Gaudreau.

If you’ve been following along…I said this a year ago and Taylor Hall is 4th although I expect Panarin will eat his lunch shortly.

Eye of the Hurricane

I’m sure you want to know which team will be the “Next Big Thing” in the NHL.

It’s the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here is why.

The Hurricanes currently have $22 million in free cap space and are in the conversation for a playoff spot based on top 5 possession metrics mostly due to their elite D and coaching.

The Canes will be adding Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeon to that D corp next season and, with the expiration of the contracts of Eric Staal and Cam Ward, will have about $30 million in free cap space with which they can pick the bones of cap strapped teams.

Oh, the humanity.

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are on course for their worst season in team history and have two high profile pending UFA players in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

Ladd will end up in Florida while Buff will soon be a Star.

Book it.

Woe Canada

The Vancouver Canucks, based on the difficulty of schedule, are the only Canadian team with a reasonable shot at making the playoffs.

Anaheim is finally starting to show their power so the Canucks only hope is to track down Nashville or Colorado for a wild card spot.

50-50….at best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Wild West

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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

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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.

 

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Enter November

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October is in the books and some definite storylines for the season are beginning to emerge.

  1. As I predicted before the season started…the Dallas Stars are the best team in the NHL. They’re off to their best start (9-2-0) in team history and seem to be able to outscore any lingering issues they have on the defensive side of the game.

Jamie Benn leads the league in scoring at a torrid 1.54 PPG and lineman Tyler Seguin is right behind him at 1.45 PPG. Benn’s pro-rated points total for a full season is an eye popping 126 points and Seguin projects at 119 points.

Flying somewhat under the radar for the Stars is sophomore defenseman John Klingberg with 11 points in 11 games. And now that Patrick Sharp is finding the range (4G 4A) the high octane offence should perform at an even higher level.

2. Some would argue the Canadiens should be deemed the best team in hockey but once again the Habs have been riding Carey Price goaltending so far this season so their record masks a few issues with the team. And now, there is this:

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien told reporters that Price suffered the injury in Montreal’s 4-3 loss in Edmonton on Thursday.

Rookie Mike Condon will make a second consecutive start in the Canadiens’ home game tonight against Winnipeg.

The Habs have three more home games coming up. Ottawa is at Montreal Tuesday, followed by the New York Rangers on Thursday and archrival Boston on Saturday.

Price is 7-2 with a 2.01 goals-against average this season for Montreal.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Habs fare without their best player.

3. Of course the biggest surprise of the season’s first month is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are amongst the most talented and deepest teams in the league so it’s not inconceivable they could soon go on winning streak but some are already questions why GM Bob Murray made so many changes to last season’s powerful roster.

from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun,

… The Ducks made six or seven significant changes to the roster, they fired assistant coach Brad Lauer and brought in former Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, presumeably to take over from Boudreau if the club didn’t get off to the kind of start Murray expected this season.

If Boudreau voiced concerns about the roster changes, and nobody is sure how much say he has, then it must have fallen on deaf ears. Remember, it took awhile before Murray even confirmed that Boudreau was going to be back behind the bench in the first place. Not all is well there.

The word is Murray is trying desperately to make a roster move before somebody gets fired. We’ve been told he’s listening to offers for defenceman Cam Fowler but will only consider a move to an Eastern Conference team and will want a boatload in return to make that deal happen.

4. As bad as the Ducks have been, a couple of wins would get them right back into the Pacific Division race since both Calgary and Edmonton are pretty mediocre and I doubt Arizona can hang out in the top 3 for much longer. They will, however have to leapfrog San Jose if they want a chance at a playoff berth.

5. Speaking of Calgary and Edmonton, the Oilers should be thoroughly embarrassed by losing to the Flames last night. The Flames were playing their 5th game in 7 nights but out hustled and outplayed the Oilers for much of the game.

The song remains the same for the Oilers…an over rated offence, putrid defense and spotty goaltending. The Oilers once again went to war with two goaltenders who had not established themselves as NHL starters and the results have been predictable with Cam Talbot (.897) and Anders Nilsson (.902) finding out what it’s like to play behind such and atrocious defence.

Once again were getting affirmation that the Oilers don’t have even one passable top pairing D and until they realize they’re going to have to move at least one of their prized top draft picks to get one, they will remain in the crapper.

6. The Flames have also been abysmal this season for many of the same reasons the Oilers have done a faceplant. Shoddy defensive play and spotty goaltending have sunk the Flames so far, but the return of their best defenseman, TJ Brodie, from injury should help immensely with the former but all 3 of their goaltenders have a save percentage under .870 so, unless that changes, the Flames are sunk.

Amid all the doom and gloom in Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau is still scoring at a PPG pace and I expect he’ll exceed that this season as he is riding a 4.3 shooting percentage so far. You know that won’t last.

7. The rookie scoring race isn’t too surprising with Connor McDavid leading the way (but not by much).

What is interesting, though, is some of the underlying numbers since not all teams have their rookies playing as much or given as much rope as the Oilers always do with their youngsters.

P/60 5V5

Artemi Panarinin – Chicago 4.07

Oscar Lindberg – NYR  3.77

Jared McCann – Vancouver 3.24

Connor McDavid – Edmonton 3.07

Max Domi – Arizona 2.56

Anthony Duclair – Arizona 2.55

Dylan Larkin – Detroit 2.35

Nikolaj Ehlers – Winnipeg 1.99

Jack Eichel – Buffalo 0.73

It must also be noted that McDavid is running a shooting percentage of 22.7% and that isn’t going to last so the Calder Trophy race is much closer than it appears.

Also of note, Jack Eichel has generated the most shots by any rookie (40) but they just haven’t been going in. By way of contrast, McDavid has generated only 22 shots.

Wild Wild West 15/16

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It’s that time of year where hockey pundits and fans try and figure out which NHL teams will have success in the upcoming season.

We’ve been told this is “The Year of “Analytics” in the game so let’s start there and see what we find.

Sporstnet has compiled the predictions, based on analytics, where every team will finished in the 105/16 season.

I strongly recommend you read the entire article linked to above for methodology and context but here’s a quick peek at the results.

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I’ll let you make your own assessment of those stats based “predictions” (holy cow…look at Anaheim!) but I thought i would distill them a bit to see which teams will or will not make the playoffs in the WC based those methods.

Central

Chicago

Dallas

St. Louis

Pacific

San Jose

Los Angeles

Anaheim

Wild Card

Minnesota

Nashville

Close But No Cigar

Calgary

Winnipeg

In the Toilet

Colorado

Vancouver

Edmonton

Arizona

Oh, where to begin!!!

The Stazis have the Sharks making a huge return to relevance, improving from 89 points last season to a Conference Championship with 110 points. This despite another few thousand miles on the odometer for Thornton and Marleau and bringing in a new coach and precious little else. Don’t think so.

They also have the Ducks dropping 10 points in the season(likely based on possession which the team always defies) and are likely ignoring the further maturation of the deep but youthful D the Ducks have deployed)

They correctly in my opinion have identified the Dallas Stars as one of the most improved team in the WC but they totally ignore the turmoil in Chicago which saw the Hawks lose Sharp, Oduya, Saad, among, others and the effect that may have on team chemistry never mind the Stanley Cup hangover that seems to be a real thing.

They also have the Oilers improving by only 8 points which I find very hard to believe considering the radical changes they’ve mad throughout the organization and on the ice.

Those are just a few quibbles so let’s take a look at what I think we’ll see this season.


Central

Dallas

Wins this division if their defensive game and goaltending improve to what they seemed to be in the last 20 games last season (best record in the NHL). The Stars top 6 forward group is the best in the NHL and even though Jamie Benn, Valerie Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky (as well as D John Klingberg and Patrick Nemeth) were injured last season, the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league.

St. Louis

The Blues were tied for tops in the division last season and I have seen nothing to indicate they will drop back by any significant amount. With Vladimir Tarasenko likely to challenge for the scoring lead and perhaps some less difficult games against Chicago, the Blues are dropping back

Minnesota

The Wild had the second best goal differential in the west last season (+30) and despite a very slow start with sub par goaltending, finished with 100 points, a mere 2 points behind Chicago. They’ll get over that hump this season


Pacific

Anaheim

Virtually every prognosticator I’ve seen is calling for the Ducks to top the WC and most pick them to win the Stanley Cup.

I agree.

The Ducks have added tremendous speed up front in Carl Hagelin, size and grit with Chris Stewart and a veteran presence on D in Kevin Bieksa. Their young D, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Depres and Josh Manson are all going to be better and they have 3 quality NHL goaltenders in the system.

Calgary

I’m going off the board here but I think the Flames have another gravity defying season in them.

The Stazis all insist, based on last year’s possession metrics, that the Flames will do a face plant this season.

I don’t they will since Brad Treleving knows full well his team has to improve in the area and addressed the issue directly by adding Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton.

Both are positive possession guys and a closer look at the Flames possession number show the Flames did juts fine when Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie were on the ice. Now that their second pairing has added Hamilton and their second line has added Frolik, they will be significanlyt better in that area.

And lest we forget, the Flames have also added Sam Bennett to their second like which promises to bring a lot more scoring than last season.

If they can get league average goaltending, and they have 3 strong choices in net, I see them finishing 3rd in the Pacific.

Wild Card

Here’s where things get very uncertain where injury, bad luck or a tickle in someone’s throat could decide the last 2 spots in the WC playoffs.

I’ll just rank them in order of what I think the probability is that they could make it.

Los Angeles

Is Milan Lucic a strong enough replacement for Justin Williams?

San Jose

They’ll be playing against tougher Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers in their division this season

Chicago 

Lots of changes and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Nashville

Still not convinced they have enough offence and an injury to one centre kills them

Vancouver

The Canucks have added size, speed and youth to their lineup. Keep a close eye on Bo Horvat who looks ready to explode.

Rookie defenseman Ben Hutton was spectacular in the pre-season and brings size, speed and scoring ability to the Canucks D,

Whether or not youngsters Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen can make an impact is still in question but their infusion of youth should help a stale Canucks lineup.

Winnipeg

The toughest team to rank. Big team that may have over achieved last season but, if their rookies take off they could surprise.

Colorado

Their D remains weak and losing Ryan O’Reilly is going to hurt.

Edmonton

I’ve got them down for 10 more wins this season but that will get them nowhere near the playoffs and with a very tough first 20 games, they may be out of the race by Halloween again. Cam Talbot has never played in front of the worst D in the league before. He’s about to.

Arizona

Never mind

Ranking the Rebuilds #8…the Edmonton Oilers.

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Where to begin?

I guess we can say the Edmonton Oilers rebuild started in 2010 when the Edmonton Oilers drafted Taylor Hall…although any astute observer would point out it should have (and probably did) start in 2006 when Chris Pronger led the exodus out of Kevin Lowe’s Egypt.

Lowe never was able to part the the Red Sea and employed a long list of toadies to insulate him from his failures as a general manager and, later, as a President of Hockey Operations.

No need to belabour his shortcomings as they are well documented so perhaps it will be more instructive to take the temperature of where the longest rebuild in NHL history stands now.

I’ve been saying for years that the Oilers rebuild was ass backwards from the start and that rings as true today as it did when it started.

In  2010, the Oilers drafted a winger, Taylor Hall, as the first piece of their future when a centre with at least as much potential was sitting right there.

Tyler Seguin has already gone supernova and may have won the Art Ross trophy last season had he not been a victim of a dirty hit while Taylor Hall remains an injury riddled gunslinger who gives up more than he creates.

While very far from a perfect stat, Hall’s career plus/minus is -23 while Seguin checks in at +68.

Nuff said.

A year later, the Oilers would start to address their needs down the middle when they selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins overall but they still remained inured to the notion that, since defensemen take longer to develop, it would be prudent to try and find a top pairing D or two to kick start the process and that decision would (and will) haunt them for several more years.

Adam Larsson, Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin were all top 10 picks in 2011 and all of them are highly regarded top pairing D while Hopkins is likely a second line C.

Oops.

While still void at centre and, more importantly on D, the Oilers would totally lose the script and draft Nail Yakupov 1st overall in 2012.

There is substantial evidence that the Oilers scouting staff wanted to draft a defenseman in the 2012 draft but were overruled by owner Daryl Katz who opted instead to draft the shiniest prospect in a draft that was incredibly deep in D in the top 10.

I dare say you couldn’t trade near bust Yakupov straight up for any of the D taken in the top 10 of that draft.

Ryan Murray

Griffin Reinhart (more later)

Morgan Rielly

Hampus Lindholm

Mat Dumba

Derek Pouliot

Jacob Trouba

Old Oiler nemesis Brian Burke left the 2012 draft crowing he got the best player, Morgan Rielly, 5th overall and he was probably right.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are stuck with yet another disappointing winger and have had to overpay wildly to try and correct that mistake by trading for the most disappointing of that first round draft class, Griffin Reinhart.

Apparently two wrongs make a right 🙂

A year later, the Oilers would spend the 7th overall pick to draft Darnell Nurse who has progressed reasonably well but has already been passed by Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mirco Mueller and will soon feel some heat from Samuel Morin, Ryan Pulock and Josh Morrisey.

Nurse may well have a chance to become a top pairing D but, most often, those guys appear early and Nurse is almost 21 years of age with only 2 games of NHL experience to his credit.

I would wager he’ll be a very good #3 leaving the Oilers without a true #1D they should have in the stable after almost a decade drafting near the top of draft.

In 2014, it’s somewhat understandable the Oilers would address their dire need at C by taking one at #3 overall…the problem is, they took the wrong one.

Dynamic centre Sam Bennett was ranked ahead of Leon Draisaitl by virtually every scouting service including the “Oracle” Bob McKenzie.

Had Bennett not been injured in his draft year, he may have gone 1st overall but the Oilers opted to draft the next Joe Colborne when they had a shot at the next Doug Gilmour.

I expect Flames fans will be mocking that decision for the next decade.


Despite a decade  of gaffes, the Oilers defied the odds and won the 2015 draft lottery and that triggered a series of events that may give even the most jaded Oiler fan some realistic hope for the future.

I’m convinced the potential of drafting Connor McDavid resulted in a phone call from league offices and/or McDavid’s agent Bobby Orr that served as a wake up call to Oilers’ owner Katz that his old boys club gong show needed to come to a quick end.

And it did.

After conducting a “forensic audit” that, honestly, could have been conducted by a drunk chimpanzee, Bob Nicholson decided that Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish were not up to the task of building a winning hockey team.

That neither was fired outright remains a concern but at least someone else is now has the last word on team building.

Enter new GM Peter Chiarelli and new head coach Todd McLellan.

While these hirings represent a huge upgrade on the their predecessors, I believe a little critical thinking is needed here.

Chiarlelli did win a cup with the Bruins but his propensity to overpay bottom 6 role players and his decision to trade Tyler Seguin, combined with his mismanagement of the Bruins’ cap had him run out of Beantown on a rail.

The overpayments for Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart and Lauri Korpikoski suggest Chiarelli may not have learned his lesson.

That he did not exercise buyouts on Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin or Teddy Purcell also shows that he doesn’t have a firm grasp on value for dollars.

Certainly worth watching but, in the interim, he is carrying more than $10 million in cap space for players who are below replacement value and when you consider the $3.9 million accruing to AHL level defenseman Justin Schultz, it looks even worse.

Many Oiler fans are giddy that Todd McLellan is their new coaching messiah but they haven’t exercised critical thinking in assessing his body of work in San Jose.

He took over a team that Ron Wilson had taken to the next level and, despite a star studded lineup, was never able to get the team to reach expectations.

McClellan took over a team that finished with 108 points in Wilson’s final season in 2007/08.

Over his tenure in San Jose, his record was as following:

117

113

105

96

57 (lockout season)

111

89

In other words, the Sharks slowly declined in performance during his tenure and were never able to advance to the Stanley Cup finals despite an almost all star lineup.

Whether or not he can take a young team and move them up the standings against incredibly fierce competition is a question that has yet to be answered.


So, what can we foresee for the Oilers in a season that could see them miss the playoffs for a record 10th straight season?

Well, the playoffs aren’t anywhere near a possibility….the team still has too many question marks to challenge the Big Boys in the western conference.

Once again, the Oilers go into a season with questions marks in goal, and on D and while McDavid will certainly make a difference, unless he can influence the Oilers atrocious team D even with the addition of yet another second pairing D in Sekera, it would take a Vezina Trohpy season from unproven starter Cam Talbot to move up much at all in the standings.

Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and, especially, Dallas will all be better this season and let’s remember the Colorado Avalanche, despite having a very disappointing season, finished 28 points ahead of the Oilers.

I have no doubt the Oilers will be better but I expect only the Arizona Coyotes will care very much.

13th in the west…again.

Nostradamus Redux

images

Before the 2014/15 seasons began, I went out on a limb and predicted where the WC teams would finish in the standings and, of course, I had some hits and misses.

I had these as the teams that would make the post season…in this order:

STL

CHI

ANA

DAL

LAK

COL

MIN

VCR

Well, I got only 5 out of 8 right but I certainly over-rated Colorado thinking their your stars would be enough to overcome their defensive deficiencies but, as a group, they underperformed and their season was done.

I believe, if Dallas had received even average goaltending, they would have made the playoffs but one very hopeful sign for the Stars is their 7-3-0 record in the last 10 games. Jim Nill, with a ton of cap space available should be able to shore up his D and G positions and the Stars should be very dangerous next season.

The Kings were sunk, very simply, by an abysmal record in 1 goal games and shootouts (2-8). Reports have surfaced that there is tension between the King’s players and coach Sutter so I think we may see some changes there in the offseason. It would be very amusing if the Kings fired Sutter and replaced him with Todd McClellan if he gets fired in San Jose.

I obviously under-rated the Winnipeg Jets (who didn’t?) but, after having watched them this season, I doubt I or anyone else is going to do that again. Their a big, talented, hardworking team with a bevy of youngsters either breaking in or just a few months away.

No one I saw predicted Calgary would make the playoffs so I’m going to give myself a partial pass for missing that pick because I did manage to frame their issues:

The Calgary Flames

The Flames, as everyone knows, are rebuilding and they are doing it the right way. They’ve shored up their goaltending with Jonas Hiller, they have a legitimate top pairing on D and they now have tremendous centre depth if their two recent #1 picks develop according to their pedigree.

They lost some goal scoring with the departure of Mike Cammalleri but I expect Johnny Gaudreau, Mason Raymond and Sam Bennett will more than compensate.

Sean Monahan produced a 30+ goal season and Gaudreau was even better than advertised but the big surprise was the play of Jiri Hudler with the two youngsters, As you know, Bennet was derailed by shoulder surgery so expect the Flames to look pretty good going into next season if they can wisely use their bounty of cap space to add a couple more big pieces.

I said this about the Nashville Predators:

The Nashville Predators

It’s really hard to know what to expect from the Predators. They have added a lot of potential goal scoring in James Neal and Mike Ribiero as well as a new offensively minded coach.

Their defense and goaltending are stellar and their centre depth is something else so there is potential for them to return to the playoffs.

This likely comes down to whether or not they can adapt to a totally new style of playing so they are a team that could surprise.

Well, they did surprise to an extent but I’m not sure they are as good as their regular season record would seem to indicate.

At the bottom of the heap, here is how I called things:

 The Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers seem to have improved somewhat but there are still tremendous holes in the lineup (what else is new?)

Their centre depth remains the worst in the league, they don’t have ONE top pairing defenseman and their goaltending is questionable.

At centre, they are a RNH injury away from disaster, it appears they will play Nikita Nikitin as a top pairing D (yikes) and have decided Ben Scrivens is as least an average NHL goaltender. Scrivens was very good early in his Oiler career but was very pedestrian as the season wore on.

The Oilers don’t score much and they are dreadful defensively (although they should improve somewhat) and the addition of some mid level defensemen, some cast off wingers and a couple of more rookies are NOT the answer.

Man…I called that one perfectly…except for the part where I said “improved somewhat”. They were actually worse.

 The Arizona Coyotes

There is word tonight that the NHL is trying to find a new buyer for the Coyotes. Source

The current owners reportedly lost $24 million last season (who could have seen that coming?) and need to bail.

At some point, the off ice activity has to have an effect on the on ice performance and I’d guess that it going to happen this season.

The Coyotes lost their two top scoring forwards in Mike Ribiero and Radim Vrbata and replaced them with Martin Erat and Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner.

The previously defensive stalwart Coyotes sprung some leaks last season and unless Mike Smith has a Vezina level performance this season, this team is doomed.

Nailed it again.

The Wild, Wild West III

wild-west-crispin-delgado

 

We don’t need to say much of anything about the Eastern Conference of the NHL.

The 8 playoff positions have already been decided unless the Florida Panthers go on an insane run.

But, it’s different in the west where the Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames are surging.

I’ve been saying since the 10 game mark that the Wild are much better than their record indicates…they are outshooting their opponent by more than 5 shots per game and have only been held back by sub par goaltending.

They’re 8-1-1 in their last 10 games played and are challenging for a wild card spot.

Their record has been helped by the stellar goaltending of Oiler reject Devan Dubnyk (I’m still  not totally convinced) and I would think they will be a formidable playoff opponent if they make the second season.

I’ve watched pretty much every Flames game this season and I can’t recall them taking even ONE shift off. They play their bags off every night and, while not the most talented WC team, they are never outworked.  Never.

They walked into San Jose tonight and left with a well deserved 4-1 win and leap frogged the Sharks and Canucks in the standings.

We’re now at the point in the season where goal differential starts to tell you about who is quality and who isn’t:

CHI +39

STL +36

NSH +34

CAL +19

ANA +14

VCR +7

WIN +7

SJS +1

MIN +1

LAK E

DAL -5

COL -15

ARI  -53

EDM – 55

If you have a spare $100…put it on the Wild or the Flames. You’ll get great odds and could get a big payoff.