And…Here We Go!

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In a just a few hours, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will kick off the NHL’s 100th season.

More than ever before, this season will be exemplified by a bevy of young guns under the employ of the Leafs, the Oilers, Flames and especially the Carolina Hurricanes.

I haven’t been around for all those seasons but have to say I’ve been a fan since before games were televised and, hopefully, will be around for a few more.

The game has changed tremendously over the decades and I have to say its current iteration featuring skill and speed as witnessed at the recent World Cup has me salivating for the upcoming games despite the insistence of coaching systems that are determined to slow the game to a crawl. Hopeful, the success of the Penguins last season will rub off on those who yearn to win by preaching safe, boring defensive hockey. We’ll soon see.

The Battle of Alberta

To me, as an almost life long Albertan, the greatest intrigue this season will be the relative ascendance of the two Alberta teams that are rising from the ashes of the past decade of ineptitude and failure.

Of course, the Edmonton Oilers have been re-building for almost an entire decade while the Calgary Flames have made a much quicker turnaround under Brian Burke and Brad Treleving.

Going into the season, it’s pretty easy to see that the renaissance in Calgary has been more successful despite the Oilers having a string of #1 picks and, while you can debate the relative merits of the forward corps on each team, the Flames are clearly better on the back end and, with even league average goaltending, should make an aggressive move up the standings.

But, I think it prudent to question whether the Oilers’ forward group is better than the Flames…I don’t think it is.

Here is the Flames’ announced forward group for tonight’s game:

I’ve seen a couple of Tweets today (from Oiler fans) suggesting that second line will get killed by the Oilers but, if we can agree the Oilers/Flames top lines are pretty much a saw off and remember that Brouwer, situationally, can move up to the top line, I don’t think the Oilers second line of Pouliot-Hopkins-Kassian is clearly superior.

In fact, I’m expecting Sam Bennett to break out in a big way this season after an 18G 18A season….I’m thinking 25G and 30A should be reasonable with the two gig wingers he’ll be playing with.

Brouwer should be good for at least 20 now that he’s getting second line minutes with skill and Tkachuk, who was superb in pre-season creates a huge net front presence that will also help Bennett.

Farther down the lineup, The Flames third group is built on two veterans who bring a very strong two way game, something that Maroon-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi will have a tough time with.

While fourth lines don’t make a huge difference in any game, The Flames group is clearly superior to Pitlick-Letestu-Slepshyev in experience.

The Back End

Calgary’s new coach is trying some unusual pairings for tonight’s game…splitting up Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton to carry Wideman, Engelland and newly-signed Niklas Grossman but I doubt that approach lasts all that long and he has the option of re-uniting his top D at any time.

What we really need to remember here is that the Flames D will be very much involved in the offensive side of the game, something the Oilers have little or no answer for.

In goal…Cam Talbot has a decent first season with the Oilers but he;s playing without a safety net while the Flames have added last season’s top goaltender by save percentage as well as a capable NHL quality backup.

How Brian Elliot adapts to a new team will be critical for the Flames this season but even if he performs at career average, the Flames should take a big step up the standings.

A Bold Prediction

I have the Calgary Flames going on a huge run this season…finishing second in the Pacific Division with the potential for a long playoff run.

I think both Anaheim and Los Angeles will falter somewhat allowing the Flames to move in behind the Sharks in second spot.

Which of the Ducks or Kings gets bumped will likely depend on luck and/or injury but the signs of a small regression are there.

Another Bold Prediction

The Edmonton Oilers are going into another season with dreadful depth in key positions and almost any injury could sink their season again.

If any of  McDavid, Eberle, Hopkins, Klefbom or Talbot missed any significant time due to injury, they just don’t have the horses to replace them.

Considering that pretty much every one of those players has a significant injury history, a prudent bettor wouldn’t count of them all being around all season.

I think you’ll see the Oilers and Canucks scrambling to stay out of last place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference as all of Colorado, Arizona and Winnipeg finish ahead of them.

For the Canucks to prevail, they, like the Oilers, need everything to go right this season and, if experience teaches us anything, it seldom does.

So, for Shits and Giggles…

images

WC

  1. Chicago
  2. Dallas
  3. Nashville
  4. St. Louis
  5. San Jose
  6. Calgary
  7. Minnesota
  8. Anaheim
  9. Winnipeg
  10. Los Angeles
  11. Colorado
  12. Arizona
  13. Vancouver
  14. Edmonton

You’re welcome

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Bumbling of Alberta

tank-battle-tank-war-2-0-s-307x512

There are only 6 weeks left in the NHL regular season, the  2 Alberta teams are fighting for bragging rights as the best and worst teams in the province.

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 10.30.21 AM.png

While Winnipeg, Arizona and Vancouver may have something to say about who finishes where, the odds on favourites to win the Toilet Bowl both reside in Alberta.

So, what’s likely to happen here?

Obviously, Calgary, with 3 games in hand, has the advantage but there are a couple of other factors to look at.

The Oilers final 15 games are all against the Western Conference. They have a 17-14-1 record against the East but are a paltry 8-21-6 against the West.

The Flames have 3 games left against the EC including winnable games against Montreal and Toronto and also have the “advantage” of owning a 13-20-2 record against the WC so, if things stay true to form, the Flames SHOULD be able to pull away from the Oilers down the stretch.

However, if momentum counts for anything, the Flames (1-8-1) appear to be stumbling badly with Kari Ramo out of the lineup while the Oilers (3-6-1) have been able to pick up a few more points in the last 1o games.
One other thing that may come into play here is the additions the Oilers have made to beef up the team for the stretch as they try to become a heavier team to compete in the West.

Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon give the team a different edge but it remains to be seen how much impact they can have when the Oilers play the big boys in the Pacific Division.

The Oilers have 7 games remaining against teams currently in a playoff position while the Flames have 10 which, if they turn into losses, wipes out their advantage in games in hand.

The Oilers final 3 games of the season are against the Flames and 2 against the Canucks.

I would imagine those 3 games will be critical to how all this plays out.

 

Taylor vs. Johnny

I was more than a little bemused by all the whining in Oilerdom yesterday that the “main stream media” were lavishing praise on Jonny Gaudreau while not giving Taylor Hall his due.

Here’s a sampling from Lowetide’s site:

  1. BÖÖK¡JEsays:

    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying. Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

     

  2. G MONEYsays:

    “Guys just love playing with Johnny Gaudreau. He’s got such great hands, give him the puck, and he’ll find you.”

    Are you fucking kidding me?

    Never mind that Hall carried the puck all the way from the fucking D zone, made the zone entry, then passed to Gaudreau who had it for half a second before passing it back to Hall for the finish.

    Jeezus H Keerist.

  3. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    böök¡je:
    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying.Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

    Hall back checked and stole the puck creating that break away.

    But Gaudreau gets the love for a couple tap passes.

  4. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    G Money,

    Hall back checked and created that turn over to get the break away.

    That goal was all his.

    Meanwhile, Dubnyk with a big fumble and Sedin just kind of pushes it in there.

    Hall had a very nice game and so did Johnny but that begs the question, since this was a 3 on 3 tourney, which player is better in the overtime format?

    As luck would have it, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy has an extensive post on just that subject this morning and, as you can see below, it’s not even close.

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    “This is clearly a guy who is considerably better than everyone at just about everything to do with 3-on-3 play. The three guys in front of him in goals, by the way, are shooting 100 percent (Vlad Namestnikov), 75 percent (Jordan Staal), and 43 percent (Jonathan Toews), and you probably make the argument that only Toews — with a similar number of minutes played and only two fewer shots — has a relatively sustainable number in that regard. Namestnikov is 2 for 2 in OT, and Staal is 3 for 4. They’ve also played far fewer actual minutes than Toews or Gaudreau.”

    Obviously there is no further debate about this but there were also some “in game” comments over at Lowetide that Hall is better defensively but the available evidence does not support that and, in fact, the opposite may be true.

    GAON/60

    Hall – 2.81

    Gaudreau – 2.96

    ONSV% 

    Hall – .902

    Gaudreau – .898

    PDO

     

    Hall – 995

Gaudreau – 993

What we see here is that, while Hall has a marginal difference in GA/60, Hall has been the beneficiary of slightly better goaltending.

At evens, Hall is faring better but, considering how dominant Gaudreau is in OT, his team is benefitting in huge measure from his special skills in a very important segment of the contemporary game.

P/60 5V5

Hall – 2.73

Gaudreau – 2.26

As we head into the final stretch, it will be fascinating to watch which player will surpass the other in the final scoring standings.

As it sits….

PPG

Gaudreau – .979

Hall – .960

It’s worth noting that neither player scores much on the road…

Hall has 15 road games left while Gaudreau has 18 so, perhaps Hall has the advantage but anyone suggesting there is much of a difference between these 2 players is a homer.

 

The WC Stretch Run

sexy-stretching-stretch-29

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

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.37.03 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 3.16.16 PM.png

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.

 

Rating the Stars

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**** I thought I would update this post since I’m being called out by name over at Lowetide’s Fanboy Site ®****

SEISMIC SOURCEsays:

Off topic, but just returned from reading DSF’s site. Its killing him that Hall is playing so well.

Fact of the matter is, Hall is performing EXACTLY as I expected he would when Draisaitl’s 15 minutes of fame faded into oblivion.

Also of note, as I’ve mentioned for weeks, Hall doesn’t produce on the road when other teams can shut him down.

Hall has only 13 points in 21 road games this season….that’s only .619 PPG on the road.

Just for comparisons sake…Tyler Seguin has 25 points in 21 road games this season…that’s 1.19 PPG on the road.

One of these is not like the other.

Many teams have now reached the half way point of the season and we’re starting to see some risers and fallers in the statistical rankings.

Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin have been out in from of the pack for almost the entire first half and I think it’s unlikely that changes much going forward.

Normalized for games played, here’s how the top 10 forwards look by the PPG measure:

Patrick Kane 1.43

Jamie Benn 1.27

Tyler Seguin 1.22

Vladimir Tarasenko 1.03

Blake Wheeler 1.03

Johnny Gaudreau 1.03

Joe Pavelski 1.03

Taylor Hall 1.00

Evgeni Malkin 0.97

Daniel Sedin 0.95

Most of the above names have been pretty consistent but a couple have been moving up rapidly after slow starts to the season.

Joe Pavelski has scored 8 goals and 13 points in his last 10 games and, with the return of Logan Couture from injury, I expect Pavelski will keep up that pace.

Likewise, Malkin has scored 5 goals and 11 points in his last 10 and should pass a couple of others on the list in short order.

At the other end of the scale, Taylor Hall has scored only 2 goals and 7 points in his last 10 GP with 3 of those points coming in 1 game against the Jets.

You may recall, I predicted a few weeks back that Hall’s production would tail off as Leon Draisaitl’s unsustainable 33% shooting percentage would normalize which it has done in a big way (now 13.2% and dropping like a stone).

Oiler fans should also be concerned that Hall just doesn’t score much on the road…getting only 1 goal and 5 points in his last 10 road games.

Unless that somehow changes, Hall will drop out of the top 10 very quickly

The Snipers

Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in hockey so players who put the puck in the net at a significant rate hold the most value to me eye.

Here’s how that looks in GPG.

Jamie Benn .585

Patrick Kane .575

Vladimir Tarasenko .575

Alex Ovechkin .568

Tyler Seguin .561

Joe Pavelksi .541

Mike Hoffman .528

Tyler Toffoli .487

Evgeni Malkin .473

Johnny Gaudreau .447

Obviously, any player that is on both of the above lists is a tremendous offensive player and deserves to be at the all star game.

The Bobby Orrs

The modern NHL game relies to a very large degree on fast, mobile defensemen who can move the puck and contribute to the offense.

Erik Karlsson is having just a ridiculous season with 1.05 PPG and I’m beginning to believe he should win the league MVP award.

Dallas Stars phenom John Klingberg isn’t far behind at .902 but he’s cooled off a bit lately and Brent Burns, at .919, has passed him.

I’d keep an eye out for Justin Faulk at .750 and Tyson Barrie also at .750 to  keep moving up as the second half unfolds as well as the Flames TJ Brodie who is returning from injury and has been coming on strong at .689.

 

 

 

 

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

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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.