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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fermi Paradox

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Where is everybody? That was the reaction of physicist Enrico Fermi after an afternoon drinking coffee with fellow scientists who were contemplating the Drake Equation which (simply) states, based on probability, that there must be numerous examples of intelligent life extant on other planets in the Milky Way:

N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L

There are those who would argue that there is a ton of evidence that alien civilizations HAVE visited earth but for some reason have decided to keep their presence here a secret.

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Once you derive the value of pi from that photo, let’s turn our attention to the TOP PARADOXES  of the 2015/16 hockey season.

  1. Following are the top 10 teams in the league in Corsi For% thus far:

STL – 57.9

LAK 57.1

CAR 54.4

TOR 53.2

CLB 53.1

WSH 52.9

CHI 52.8

DAL 52.3

ANA 51.9

MIN 51.8

Fully 4 of those 10 teams are currently out of a playoff spot and a couple, Anaheim and Columbus have 2 wins combined this season.

Now, we should be able to test, going forward, whether or not actual results will flow from having a stellar Corsi record or whether it is Corsi itself that will regress. Go figure.

2. Woke up this morning to find Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin atop the NHL scoring race. While that is no surprise, what is shocking is that they haven’t played all that well to date. I’ve watched every Stars’ game this season and Seguin, in particular, while among the league’s leaders in SOG, has been missing the net a lot and his shooting percentage is a full 2 percentage points below last year. I have no doubt he will soon find the range and, when he does, stand back!

3. No surprise either that the Edmonton Oilers have a worse record than last year in these early days. It’s important to remember that, save for a one in a million miss by Daniel Sedin on a goal mouth tap in, the Oilers record would be 2-5 and likely 2-6 after tonight’s game against the Kings. Once again the Oilers are trying to play NHL hockey with 6 or 7 bottom 4 defensemen and the results, despite some decent goaltending, have been predictable.

4. Speaking of the Oilers, it’s also no surprise that C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has seen his offensive production drop now that Connor McDavid is getting the cherry minutes. Hopkins has only 4 points (on pace for a 40 point season) and his P/60 is a paltry 1.46. As a point of reference, the aforementioned Tyler Seguin is running a 4.48 P/60. Some Oiler apologists will try to tell themselves that’s because Hopkins is facing the “toughs” ands totally ignore that Seguin is too and getting much, much better results.

5.We would be remiss not to revisit the 2010 draft now that the requisite 5 seasons have passed and we a pretty good idea of what these players are now.

Here’s how the prominent forwards look this season after 1/10 of it has passed.

Seguin – 4G 8A 12P

Tarasenko – 5G 4A 9P

Bjugstad – 3G 3A 6P

Johansen – 1G 5A 6P

Hall – 2G 3A 5P

Niederreiter – 3G 1A 4P

Granlund – 1G 3A 4P

Connolly

Schwartz – 0G 4A 4P (injured)

Burmsitrov 1G 2A 3P

Skinner 1G 1A 2P

Any questions?

6. Down the QE II in Calgary, the Flames did a face plant out of the starting blocks this season. But, after a win over Detroit, there is some hope things will turn around.

Was that win a springboard?

Or just a one-off?

The 3-2 overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings was a huge relief for the club. More important though was how the Flames won, and we’re not talking about third-period comebacks or overtime success.

They controlled the play for the bulk of the game notably after the first period. They won puck battles, created chances (dare we mention the Corsi word) and kept with the program even when behind.

In short, it was the kind of start-to-finish outing needed for success, especially from a team which had looked more fragile than a baby bird in most of the losses to start the season.

The trick will be to build off the game, show more of the same against some tough competition, and string a decent stretch together. Wins won’t come easily, but similar efforts in each outing will result in some form of success.

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The Flames now head out on a 5 games in 7 nights road trip and I expect their fate will be decided in less than 2 weeks.

7. Finally, who knows what to make of the Anaheim Ducks. They are, IMO, one of the most talented and deepest teams in the league and yet they are sporting a 1-5-1 record. Their next 3 games are on the road against Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis so it’s conceivable they could end up with only 1 win in their first 10 games. If anything near that catastrophe does happen, notably will Bruce Boudreaux be looking for work, but it will throw the Pacific Division race wide open. Since we have to pretty much cede 5 playoff spots to the Central Division, teams that can surge between now and Halloween can make a pretty strong bid to be above the cut off line by American Thanksgiving.

Should be a fascinating week ahead.

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

10 TO WATCH

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With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.

Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.

  1. Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

3. Jamie Benn

Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.

4. Tyler Seguin

The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.

6. Bo Horvat

Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space. 

9. The Detroit Red Wings

This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.

10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.

Snap Shots

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I’ve been out of town for a while so have been somewhat remiss in posting but thought I would chime in on a few things while the Stanley Cup finals wind their way to conclusion.

1) It’s heartening to see two fast, highly skilled teams are left standing in pursuit of the cup. And it’s especially rewarding to see one of those teams went from near the bottom to the top in a 5 year span rather than have to spend a decade wallowing in the gutter to get there.

2) There are only 2 players on the Lightning roster that were already in place when Steve Yzerman took over 5 years ago….#1C (more on that later) Steven Stamkos and #1D Victor Hedman. If anyone needs a reminder that any rebuild should start from the backend out and then up the middle…there it is.

3) Stamkos has been playing #2 RW for most of the series which not only shows you the value of having too many C’s but also shows you the type of individual he is to accept that role without complaint (as far as we know). It is much easier for an elite centre to shift to wing that the other way around so, when drafting, teams should always select the centre if all else is anywhere near equal. The poster child for how not to rebuild is, of course, the Edmonton Oilers who, 9 years after last making the playoffs, are juts about to draft their #1C and still don’t have any prospects who project as a true #1D.

4) The success of Yzerman in Tampa raises the question of which of the newly minted GM’s will be able to turn around their teams’ fortunes most efficiently. Brad Treleving has already tasted some success in Calgary and goes into the offseason with a huge amount of cap space. He has the opportunity to improve his team very quickly if he acquires the right pieces including another youngish veteran defenseman and a scoring winger. I wouldn’t be shocked if Phil Kessel was on the menu for the latter.

5) After the Oilers hired Peter Chiarelli to be their new GM, I took a closer look at his time in Boston. While he was able to lead his team to a cup, his record in Boston has more than a few blemishes including overpaying more than a few players and putting his team in cap hell. In Edmonton, with Connor McDavid only 3 complete seasons away from likely signing a huge contract, he can’t afford to make any costly mistakes in the interim…I’d advise to keep a close eye on him since, in my mind, the jury is out on how ell he can manage the cap.

6) I would also keep a close eye on Toronto. Another former Red Wing disciple, Brendan Shanahan is assembling a very strong management team and, of course, now also employs the best coach in hockey so, with some astute moves could turn around the Leafs fortunes relatively quickly. If the Leafs can get a good return on Kessel, Phaneuf and others, they could improve rapidly. They already have decent goaltending, a potential #1D in Morgan Rielly and, if they draft Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner or Matt Barzal will have a potential #1C in place to go along with a very good #2C in Nazem Kadri.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be taking a closer look at the prospects of all the “rebuilding” teams and will have some thoughts on the moves they make at the draft and in free agency.

Deep Ducks

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The stars in Anaheim’s locker room were strangely absent after the Ducks’ 4-1 vanquishing of the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

Guys like Kyle Palmieri, Andrew Cogliano and Nate Thompson had massive media scrums around them asking about beautiful looking scoring plays from their conquest.

This is not normal for Anaheim, a team with Hart Trophy winner (and playoff leading scorer) Corey Perry and star centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. All three have contributed in some form or fashion in Anaheim’s nine playoff wins this season.

Sunday afternoon against Chicago, the Ducks showed their depth with their lower lines leading the way against the stifled Blackhawks.

Right now, the Ducks are healthy, and they’re deep – which as Chicago of the two Stanley Cups since 2010 knows, is a powerful combination in the playoffs.

via Ducks’ depth halts Blackhawks stars in Game 1 victory | Puck Daddy – Yahoo Sports.

Yesterday, I got into a conversation over at Lowetide regarding the ridiculous depth on the Anaheim blue line.

The depth on the team is not just confined to the defense but let’s start there.

Beauchemin – Lindholm

Fowler – Despres

Stoner – Vatanen

Holzer – Wisniewski

Manson-Fistric

That’s 8 NHL defensemen, folks and the Ducks have WHL star Shea Theodore right around the corner.

So, how was this D built?

Beauchemin – acquired from Toronto for Joffry Lupul and Jake Gardiner. Lupul was a Ducks 1st round pick in 2002 and Gardiner was a 1st round pick in 2008. There’s a lesson here about not falling in love with your players if a #1D is the return.

Lindholm – 1st round pick 2012

Fowler – 1st round pick 2010

Despres – 1st round pick 2009 (by Pittsburgh). For Ben Lovejoy.

Stoner – UFA signing

Vatanen – 4th round pick 2009 (an absolute steal)

Holzer – From Toronto for Eric Brewer and a 4th round pick.

Wisniewski – From Columbus for Rene Bourque (salary dump), prospect William Karlsson and a 2nd.

Manson – 6th round pick 2011

Fistric – 1st round pick by Dallas in 2004, Acquired by the Ducks after a cup of coffee in Edmonton.

Still to come, of course, is Shea Theodore, the brilliant young D from The Seattle Thunderbirds who was picked in the 1st round in 2013 and scored 13G and 48P in only 43 games this season. (in a brief appearance with Norfolk of the AHL last month Theodore scored 4G and 11P in 9GP…jeebus)

That is just sick depth and I would expect the Ducks will be moving at least Wisniewski and Fistric in the offseason since both are sitting in the press box during the playoffs

I think the lesson here is that identifying and acquiring a #1D is crucial to developing depth since he can provide the shelter (Beauchemin played almost 24 minutes against Chicago) and experience that helps younger D develop.

That is born out by the last 10 cup winners where only the Cinderella Hurricanes didn’t have a stud on the blue line.

It also helps, of course, if you have a scouting department that can identify players like Lindholm, Vatanen, Manson and Theodore.

The Ducks horde of young, talented defensemen doesn’t end with the four in the playoff lineup. Josh Manson, 23, was a solid fill-in for 28 games this season. Shea Theodore, 19, was a first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2013 NHL Draft and is one of the top prospects at the position.

There has been a strong support system in place, with Trent Yawney joining Niedermayer as an assistant coach this season. Yawney coached Vatanen and Lindholm with Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Beauchemin is also able to help mentor them.

Fowler lived with Niedermayer when he joined the Ducks. Despres lived with Beauchemin after the trade. It’s all helped them settle in, and the team has benefitted from it.

More on the Ducks depth on D here.

Before the 3rd round of the playoffs began, I said I thought the Ducks’ depth would allow them to beat Chicago and, as we saw in game 1, Chicago has been forced to play their top 4 almost exclusively with David Rundblad and Kimmo Timmonen hardly leaving the bench.

All Anaheim has to do to win the series IMO is pound Keith, Seabrook, Oduya and Hjalmarsson into submission and that was exactly the strategy they deployed in game 1.

We’ll look at a Anaheim’s forward depth in our next post.

Predictive Value II

Just thought I would update this post to see how the best CF% teams are doing in the post season. As you can see below, only two of the best CF% teams remain in the final four and two teams (Anaheim and the Rangers) weren’t even in the running when the shit started hitting the fan.

I would suggest that elite goaltending by the new age elite goaltender has a better correlation to success than any shot metrics that the Stazis can produce.

Lundqvist .944

Bishop .931

Anderson .925

Crawford .916

The Lightning, Ducks and Blackhawks have the offensive chops to outscore the Lundqvist dominance.

I’m putting my money on Tampa Bay and Anaheim.

Here are the Top 16 CF% teams in the league from the 2014/15 season…let’s see how predictive of post season success that metric has been:

LAK 55.4

CHI 53.6

DET 53.5

TBL 53.0

PIT 52.8

NYI 52.7

NSH 52.7

WPG 52.5

CAR 52.5

DAL 52.1

STL 51.8

BOS 51.7

SJS 51.5

WSH 51.4

FLA 51.3

MIN 51.0

The Final Four

bruce-boudreau-051115-620

There were no huge surprises in the second round of the playoffs with the possible exception of how quickly the Chicago Blackhawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild can match the Hawks in many aspects of the game except one…Patrick Kane.

Kane has been a force throughout the playoffs racking up 7 goals and 13 points in 10 games and the Wild had no answer. The player they acquired to provide high level scoring…Thomas Vanek…was once again a playoff no show managing only 4 assists and a -7 in 10 games.

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has a problem on his hands with Vanek under contract for 2 more seasons at $6.5 million.

To get to the next level that will almost certainly included going through the Blackhawks, he’s going to have to add a high level scorer…we’ll se hot that plays out in the offseason.

But…on to the Final 4.

It’ll be fascinating to watch how the Anaheim/Hawks series plays out since the Ducks are skilled, big, mean and built in a manner to get past the LA Kings.

The Hawks, who don’t have the beef in the lineup that they did in their last two playoff runs are built on skill, speed and a quick transition game that depends to a large degree on stretch passes to generate offense.

I would bet that Anaheim will deploy a strategy that has their big forwards, Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Maroon, Belesky, Etem and Thompson, pound the Hawks defense relentlessly to try and wear them down as the series progresses….the LA Kings style.

The Hawks will have to respond with quick recovery and transition to counter attacking, if the series goes to or near the limit, I think Anaheim will prevail.

To me, the most interesting story is not so much the matchup but how quickly and completely that Steve Yzerman rebuilt a team that is in the final four.

The Tampa Tribune took a look at just that this morning:

In 2011, Yzerman’s first season with the franchise, a team led by holdover franchise icons Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis and stop-gap veterans such as Dwayne Roloson and Sean Bergenheim reached Game 7 of the conference finals at Boston.

This time, the Lightning are tailor-made by Yzerman.

“Back in the 2011 playoffs, we were all relatively new and didn’t know what to expect from our team,” Yzerman said.

“It wasn’t as expected as it is here, where the expectations are a little higher,” Yzerman said in comparing 2011 to this year’s team. “So there is more of an expectation to win.”

Four years later, only two players — Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman — remain with the team.

Now, the roster is filled with draft picks such as Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, undrafted free-agent acquisitions such as Tyler Johnson, J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr, along with trade or free-agent acquisitions such as Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Jason Garrison.

 Pretty clear evidence that Yzerman is among the elite of NHL GM’s.
One facet of Yzerman’s team building that doesn’t get mentioned much is how thoroughly he has mined an opportunity that many other teams ignore…Russians and to a lesser degree…other East Europeans.
Since his first draft, Yzerman has drafted:
Vladislav Namestnikov (2011)
Nikita Kucherov (2011)
Nikita Nesterov (2011)
Ondrej Palat (2011)
Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012)
Nikita Gusev (2012)
Kristers Gudlevskis (2013)
Fully 5 of those players have seen action in this seasons’ playoff action..around 20 percent of the TB roster.
Another interesting item in the TB draft strategy came in the 2014 draft when the Bolts had 3 picks in the first 2 rounds and selected 3 defensemen.
The first of those picks was Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting who, in this past NHL season, where he played for the Sting and, later, the SSM Greyhounds, scored 21 goals and 89 points before scoring another 16 points in 13 playoff games.
The second pick was towering Czech defenseman Dominik Masin who played for the Peterborough Petes, managing 26 points in 48 games.
The third pick was another big D, Jonathan MacLeod, who had a very nice freshman season with Boston University.

I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that Yzerman also signed 6’7″ 220 Czech defenseman Andrej Sustr.

With Victor Hedman leading the way, Nesterov and Sustr already playing significant minutes, 28 year old Anton Stralman under contract for another 4 seasons at a reasonable $4.5M cap hit and 2 thirty year old veterans, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, to provide support, the Lightning D should be formidable for the foreseeable future.

And a forward group that includes Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson,Nikita Kucherov, Andrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin ain’t no chopped liver either.

Once a phenom like DeAngelo joins the group I think the Lightning will join the elite and stay there for a long time.

They’ll be up against a Rangers team whose window is slowly closing but I like the Bolts in 6 although the bookies don’t appear to agree with me:

via Bovada,

Odds to win the 2015 Stanley Cup

New York Rangers                     2/1

Chicago Blackhawks                 11/5

Anaheim Ducks                         12/5

Tampa Bay Lightning                 19/4

Predictive Value

So, here we are moving into the second round of the playoffs with, in my opinion very few surprises.

The Calgary Flames have to be the David to Anaheim’s Goliath but I’ve been telling you all season that the Flames should NOT be discounted.

I suspect they will have a tough time advancing to the 3rd round just based on Anaheim’s size and skill but, then again, folks who have been trashing Calgary for their inability to show well in the “advanced” stats don’t understand what Calgary is doing, how and why.

I thought it would be interesting to go back and take a look at what the Statzis were predicting this season based on “puck possession” and hold their feet to the fire a bit.

The following graph is lifted from an article on SportingCharts.com and you’ll see pretty quickly how poorly the author performed in predicting how the teams in the WC finished in league standings based on their possession metrics.

bob-nhl-5_650x393

The first thing you’ll notice is that almost half of the teams predicted to finish in the playoffs didn’t even make the post season.

The other striking errors are the Kings finishing 1st in the west and Minnesota finishing 13th.

And therein lies the major problem of using past performance to predict future success or failure using nothing more than a statistical approach without raising your eyes from your spreadsheet to rationally assess how the ever shifting lineups of teams are affected by new additions, injuries, progression by young players, coaching changes and a host of other things that are reflected in the “advanced” stats.

If you’ve been following along, you will know that I have been predicting big things for the Wild all the way back to last season and, despite an early season scare caused by dreadful, goaltending, the Wild have been the best team in the NHL for months.

My being bullish on the Wild has been based on roster makeup, systems execution and coaching.I could go on at great length about those things but I’m going to address them a little later in this post when we look at some predictions for the second round.

Before leaving the Corsi/Fenwick debate behind, I’d like to remind you that there are many devotees of “advanced” stats that will tell you that those metrics can accurately predict who will win in the playoffs and win a championship. Really?

Here are the Top 16 CF% teams in the league from the 2014/15 season…let’s see how predictive of post season success that metric has been:

LAK 55.4

CHI 53.6

DET 53.5

TBL 53.0

PIT 52.8

NYI 52.7

NSH 52.7

WPG 52.5

CAR 52.5

DAL 52.1

STL 51.8

BOS 51.7

SJS 51.5

WSH 51.4

FLA 51.3

MIN 51.0

I think you would have to agree that using “possession ” stats to predict playoff success is pretty much useless and while any fool would agree that having the puck is better than not having the puck, there are so many other moving parts in play, that ignoring them leads to embarrassing moments like the article linked to above.

I’m sure the author was all agog that he was on to something brilliantly insightful but Maggie the Monkey could not have done a poorer job.

So, what about the Flames?

Why have they been so successful despite being 28th this season in CF%?

If you watched the Flames/Canucks series with a critical eye, you will have seen exactly the factors that can overcome or ignore the current “possession” fad a lead a team to win more games that they lose.

Bob Hartley (who should win the Jack Adams trophy hands down) has designed his systems play around the personnel he has and has and has received total buy in from his team.

There are several facets to what he is preaching:

1) Relentless forechecking and puck retrieval.

2) Pounding the opposition D in their own end to wear them down.

3) Keeping opposition shots to the outside

4) Blocking shots

5) A mobile D that turns pucks the other way with accuracy and speed.

5) Speed through the neutral zone

6) Crash the net.

There’s nothing magical about his formula and it only works if executed relentlessly but it doesn’t lead to Corsi success…it overcomes that metric.

Interestingly enough, I think you’ll see that Anaheim plays a very similar style although their personnel are bigger and more experienced.

That likely gives the Ducks the advantage in the series between the 17th and the 28th ranked CF% teams but I expect the Flames won’t go quietly and could upset the Ducks if they outwork them and execute better.

I’ve likely watched about 50-55 Flames games this season and I can honestly say that I have never seen the team take even ONE shift off.

We’re about to find out if they want it more than the Ducks.