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…

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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

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots

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  1. Anyone who didn’t take my advice almost a year ago and keep a close eye on John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars should certainly be paying attention now. Klingberg scored the game winning goal and added 2 assists last night as the Stars beat the very strong Minnesota Wild.

Klingberg is now 6th in league scoring with 20 points and is on pace for a 91 point season and he’s a DEFENSEMAN. If Klingberg were playing in one of the big media markets like New York, Toronto Montreal the league would be abuzz about what’s going on in Big D but there’s is little chatter outside Dallas.

The 6’3″ 180 lb. defenseman just turned 23 so who knows what his upside is but if you take some time to watch him play you will see a fast, skilled smart defenseman who can transition the puck as well as Drew Doughty but has better offensive skills than the LA rearguard.

As his experience grows and he gets a little better in his own zone, I think we’re looking at a multiple Norris Trophy winner here.

And he was FIFTH round pick in 2010.

2. As I expected, the Oilers return from a 3 game Pacific Division road trip in last place in the NHL…up next are Chicago and the surging New Jersey Devils followed by a 5 game eastern road trip. That should put the final nails in the coffin by American Thanksgiving on November 26th.

3. Leon Draisaitl has a 33.3% shooting percentage. He’s generating fewer than 2 shots per game. It’s amusing that Oiler fans only mention regression when it applies to players on other teams.

4. Speaking of shooting percentage, I’ve had a long running discussion (and a bet) with GMoney from Oilers Nerd Alert regarding the shooting percentage of Sean Monohan:

Recorded for posterity … a couple of bets I’ve made:

1. On the reversion of Sean Monahan’s shooting percentage, with dashingsilverfox:

DSF wins if Monahans sh% is > 12% next year (2015-2016 season), minimum 40 games played (DSF to verify this last point in case he remembers different).

I win if Monahans sh% is 12% or less.

Terms: One bottle of 10 y.o. Talisker vs two bottles of Osoyoos Larose, shipped or ready for pickup to the others locale.

Monahan has now played 174 games for the Flames over 2 and a bit seasons. His shooting percentage in this 3 seasons:

15.7

16.2

16.7

How do you like my chances? 🙂

5. Would you be surprised to learn that the Toronto Maple Leafs are among the top 15 possession teams in the league as measured by Corsi close?

Well, they are and are also only 2 points ahead of the woeful Blue Jackets and Oilers in the standings. It would appear that scoring skill and goaltending are more important than possession.

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.

Source

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.

westerndeviation

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.

Ranking the Rebuilds #2…The Dallas Stars.

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In the first segment of this series, we took a look at the tremendous success of Steve Yzerman…leading his team to a berth in the Stanley Cup finals after 5 seasons on the job.

This time, a look at the work of another Detroit Red Wings alumni, Jim Nill.

Nill took over the Dallas Stars in April 2013.

The Stars were coming off a season that saw them finish dead last in the Pacific Division…11th in the WC.

The Stars had missed the playoffs for 5 straight season many of which were played under the uncertainty of the ownership of Tom Hicks.

The team was purchased out of bankruptcy by Vancouver billionaire Tom Gaglardi during the 2011/12 season.

Gaglardi was not content with losing and, after only one season with the incumbent management group, cleaned house:

The day after their final regular season game of the 2012-13 season (a 3–0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings), the Stars fired General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. The next day, the Stars introduced their 11th all-time general manager, Jim Nill, the former assistant general manager of the Red Wings. On May 14, 2013, the coaching staff was also fired,[32] and on May 31, 2013, Scott White was re-introduced as the director of hockey operations

It appears Nill also had little patience for losing and wasted little time in assessing the teams holes and setting out to fill them.

The Stars leading centre the previous season was Cody Eakin…a 21 year old who scored only 7 goals and 24 points the previous season.

Nill, taking to heart the sage advice from former boss Ken Holland in Detroit, knew he had to build his team up the middle and in a blockbuster series of moves, acquired centres Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff in his first offseason.

Those moves paid off when the Stars made the playoffs the following season but, to some degree, that was nothing more than a “dead cat bounce” because the Stars team defense was still highly suspect and the team needed secondary scoring.

In his second offseason, Nill didn’t rest on his laurels…he sent Alex Chiasson, a couple of prospects and a 2nd round pick to Ottawa for Jason Spezza.

He followed up that move by signing former Senator and Oiler Ales Hemsky to a 3 year contract.

The Stars would flounder in the 2014/15 season…sewered by sub par goaltending and, still, questionable team D but had the best record in the NHL after the all star break. (14W 5L 1OTL in the last 20 games).

To illustrate how poor the team was defensively, one need look no further than the fact that the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league (3.13 GPG) behind only the Lightning but ranked 27 in the league (3.13 GAG).

It’s important to remember here that the Stars may have been even more potent offensively had a few issues not impacted things.

1) Jamie Benn played the entire season with two damaged hips but won the Art Ross Trophy in any event. Benn had  offseason surgery and says his recovery is ahead of schedule.

2) Tyler Seguin was on pace for 51 goals before receiving a dirty low bridge hit from Dimitri Kulikov. Seguin missed 11 games but finished 2nd in the league (1.08 PPG) to Sidney Crosby (1.09 PPG).

3) Highly touted RW Valeri Nichushkin was limited to only 8 games also due to a hip injury but is also recovered.

4) Newly acquired centre Jason Spezza admits he had a bit of a down season while adapting to a new team but managed to score 17 goals and 62 points nonetheless. Spezza’s play picked up in the second half of the season and, of course there is this:

Just like with the Stars, Spezza excelled in a secondary role on a high-offense teamCanada scored 66 goals in 10 games, 26 more than the second-highest scoring team, Russia. Spezza, Seguin and Eakin scored 19 of Canada’s 66 goals in the tournament. Seguin led the tournament with nine goals in 10 games, and Eakin finished with four goals and two assists. Spezza tallied six goals and eight assists for 14 points, the most in the tournament. He was selected as the tournament’s top forward and was named to the All-Star team. Spezza finally won a goal medal in his third trip to the World Championship.

5) Ales Hemsky also needed hip surgery in the offseason and I expect he’ll be far more productive in the coming season:

“I can already feel I have more motion,” Hemsky told the Dallas Morning News in a report published Tuesday. “It’s just been two months and I know I have a long way to go, but I can feel the difference.”

Hemsky had 11 goals and 21 assists in 76 games last season playing the majority of the season alongside center Jason Spezza. Hemsky didn’t score his first goal of the season until Nov. 28 against the Minnesota Wild.

“It was a lot of pressure I was putting on myself, and I think I worked through that,” he said. “This feels completely different.”

Despite those woes, the Stars had a high octane offence last season but Nill added even more firepower a couple of weeks ago when he swung a trade for Patrick Sharp.

Sharp is only one season removed from a 34 goal 84 point season in Chicago and despite a drop off in 2014/15 where he had a shooting percentage of of only 7 percent (career 11.4) and was playing more than 2 mins/game less than the previous season, I think you can expect a big regression to the mean playing on the Stars 2nd line.

Sharp’s TOI, shot totals and shooting percentage should all jump next season closer to his career norms.

Despite how much I like the Sharp acquisition, the other player coming over in the trade may have a much more lasting impact. Steven Johns was Chicago’s best D prospect and many were shocked when he was included in the deal and, although, after a great season in the AHL, where he was the Ice Hogs best defenseman, he will have some work to do to crack the new and improved Dallas D.

And, of course, Nill pulled off the trifecta of adding former Blackhawks (signed Antti Niemi earlier) when he picked up Johnny Oduya who seems destined for a second pairing shut down role In Dallas.

There are some in the blog world who call into question the Stars D last season (and they did need the improvement Nill provided but, folks, they are starting at a very high level with young Stars Klingberg, Nemeth, Jokkipakka and Johns set to take the next step) and the addition of Oduya is a step up from Trevor Daley. Here’s a look from Defending Big D:

Defensemans_.0

That chart, of course, doesn’t include either Johns or Jamie Oleksiak who are both NHL ready nor does it include Stars 2014 1st round draft pick Julius Honka who acquitted him self exceptionally well in his rookie season in the AHL.

Needless to say the Stars’ young D is loaded with Goligoski, Demers, Oduya and Benn providing veteran support.

In goal, the Stars suffered through a very bad early season from starter Kari Lehtonen (.903) and even worse backup goaltending so Nill added another veteran in Antti Niemi.

He’s been criticized for spending too much on goaltending but the Stars, even after all their acquisitions, remain well under the cap so that’s not valid.

If they get even career average goaltending from either or both vets, they’ll cut their GA by a huge margin.

I’d wager that will happen.

In speaking of the Stars drafting and development under Nill, I think we need to remember a couple of things about his former role in the Red Wings organization.

Not only was he the Wings’ Director of Amateur scouting from 1994 until  his departure in 2013, but he was also the GM of the Wings AHL affiliate.

I don’t think we need to elaborate further on his spectacular record there but it’s very clear the man knows how to recognize talent all over the draft and develop those players at a very high level.

Nill only has 3 drafts under his belt in Dallas so it’s too early to call one way or the other but the aforementioned Nichushkin, Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson and Honka all appear to be blue chip prospects.

Hockey’s Future has Dallas ranked at #7 on their team ranking list and gives Nill his due:

Strengths: Dallas has extracted great value out of late-round draft picks, first with Jamie Benn, now with John Klingberg.

General Manager Jim Nill has a reputation as a scouting man, and has already re-acquired a pair of Red Wings picks with whom he was familiar in Mattias Janmark and Mattias Backman. This system has quite a few intriguing names and several players ready to graduate into NHL players.

Julius Honka leads a very deep pool of defenders. As a junior-eligible player playing as a rookie in the AHL, his scoring was modest and he made mistakes, but got excellent experience. Jamie Oleksiak is ready for a depth NHL role, and the same can be said for Patrik Nemeth, who suffered an injury early in the season. Esa Lindell had a spectacular season in Finland. Even after Lindell, there are several names that project to be good pros, starting with big and rough Jyrki Jokipakka, who got a two-year deal after establishing himself as a dependable presence for Dallas over the course of last season.

With that kind of spectacular depth in young D, I would imagine Nill will be filling out his prospect list with forwards in the next couple of drafts and he started by picking Denis Guryanov (Russia) and Roope Hintz (Finland) in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2015 draft.

Neither of them were highly touted but I certainly wouldn’t bet against Nill finding 2 more NHL forwards in those spots.

But, let’s be honest, the Stars offence is already the best in the league.

They have their Toews (Seguin) they have their Kane (Benn), they have their Sharp (Sharp) potentially their Hossa (Nichushkin) a superb second line centre (Spezza) and a strong supporting cast that includes centres Cody Eakin, Vern Fiddler and Colton Sceviour and wingers that include Hemsky, Antoine Roussel, Patrick Eaves, Brett Ritchie and Travis Moen.

If the D gels as I expect and the Stars get adequate goaltending, they will win the toughest division in hockey…the Central.

Book it!

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

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.