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

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Boy Hockey

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Scoring goals is the hardest skill in the NHL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The WC Stretch Run

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

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

Dallas – 99.8%

Chicago – 99.8%

Los Angeles – 99.6%

San Jose – 94.2%

St. Louis – 89.5%

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

Minnesota – 75.9%

Colorado – 61.4%

Nashville – 49.4%

Anaheim – 48.9%

Arizona – 39.1%

Vancouver – 24.7%

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

Calgary – 9%

Winnipeg – 5.8%

Edmonton – 0.9%

So, what’s likely to happen here?

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


 

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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


 

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

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

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


 

The real underdog here is the Vancouver Canucks.

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

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

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

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

 

Snapshots

Snapshots-logo

Best of the Best

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

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

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

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

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

3rd?…Johnny Gaudreau.

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

Eye of the Hurricane

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

It’s the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here is why.

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

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

Oh, the humanity.

Crashing Jets

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

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

Book it.

Woe Canada

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

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

50-50….at best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pacific Triangle

You-Cant-Get-There-from-Here

What a week in the wacky Pacific Division.

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

Dec 22 – vs. Sharks

Dec 26 – @ Coyotes

Dec 28 – @ Canucks

Dec 29 – @ Oilers

Dec 31 – @ Flames

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

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

Baseball Standings Dec 11/15

San Jose – .512

Vancouver – .500

Arizona – .500

Edmonton – .466

Anaheim – .465

Calgary – .464

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

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

Pacific Division Road Records:

LAK  8-3-1

SJS  10-5-1

VCR  6-5-5

ARZ  7-10-1

EDM  4-10-1

ANA 3-8-1

CAL 3-9-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm….

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

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

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

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

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

 

Enter November

turning-calendar-page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P/60 5V5

Artemi Panarinin – Chicago 4.07

Oscar Lindberg – NYR  3.77

Jared McCann – Vancouver 3.24

Connor McDavid – Edmonton 3.07

Max Domi – Arizona 2.56

Anthony Duclair – Arizona 2.55

Dylan Larkin – Detroit 2.35

Nikolaj Ehlers – Winnipeg 1.99

Jack Eichel – Buffalo 0.73

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

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

Wild Wild West 15/16

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Rebuilds #8…the Edmonton Oilers.

12v7_Sherman

Where to begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuff said.

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

Ryan Murray

Griffin Reinhart (more later)

Morgan Rielly

Hampus Lindholm

Mat Dumba

Derek Pouliot

Jacob Trouba

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

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

Apparently two wrongs make a right 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

117

113

105

96

57 (lockout season)

111

89

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

13th in the west…again.

Ranking the Rebuilds #7….the Colorado Avalanche

colorado_avalanche_ice_logo_wallpaper_by_denversportswalls-d6tbnhr

I think we can agree that the Colorado Avalanche rebuild began on May 10, 2013.

That is the day that Joe Sakic was named Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.

That’s an odd title and the Avs retained Greg Sherman but he reportedly serves in an advisory capacity to Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy who has a tremendous amount of control over personnel decisions.

Sakic hired Roy on May 23rd of 2013 and the tandem set to work rebuilding a team that had missed the playoffs for 4 of the previous 5 seasons.

The new regime didn’t have to start from scratch since the 2009 draft had produced Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyson Barrie who are all accomplished NHL players.

The 2010 draft produced blue chip goalie prospect Calvin Pickard and 2011 produced Gabriel Landeskog the apparent best player in the draft.

But, in the first draft conducted by the new regime, they hit pay dirt at #1 with Nathan MacKinnon and stud defensive prospect Chris Bigras who may be NHL ready as early as this fall.

The Avalanche would defy the odds in the 2013/14 season, winning the Central Division before bowing out  to the Wild in the conference semi finals.

Pretty much everyone except the Avs most rabid fans saw that season as Cinderella and predicted a much more rational record in the following season and, of course, the expected happened as the Avs fell from 112 points to 90.

But folks, let’s be honest, a team in only the second year of a rebuild, playing in the toughest division in hockey that can accumulate 90 points is nothing to be easily dismissed.

While it’s true the Avs had the second worst possession record in the league last season, it’s important to remember that the LA Kings had the best record in the league with a SAT% of 55.37 and missed the playoffs while 4 teams that fell below 50% did make the post season.

So, while possession stats tell you something, they don’t tell you everything.

Goaltending was not an issue for the AVs last season as Semyon Varlamov posted a decent .921 SV% and the aforementioned Calvin Pickard was stellar in 16 appearances at .931.

No, the issue was that the Avs gave up too many shots at 33.2/G, one of the worst records in the league.

That fact, coupled with an offence that struggled, especially sophomore Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene to a lesser degree, left the Avs gasping for air.

That leaves us wondering if the management team has addressed those issue in the offseason and it seems they have at least somewhat.

In one of the biggest blockbusters of the offseason, Colorado traded 200 foot demon Ryan O’Reilly whose contract demands were “mile high” for former 1st rounds picks D Nikita Zadorov and C Mikhael Grigorenko, University of Michigan Star JT Compher and the Sabres 31st pick in the draft which they later flipped to San Jose for AJ Greer and 2 – 2016 draft picks.

Picking 10th overall in the 2015 draft, the Avs selected Mikko Rantanen who had played the previous 3 seasons against men in the Finnish league who Bob Mackenzie ranked right in that 10th spot.

The 6’4″ 210 RW is thought to be close to NHL ready.
An exceptionally talented playmaker and always a consistent threat on the ice; Rantanen is a combination of elite-level hockey sense, silky smooth hands, and nimble skating. Needs to improve his shot and physical play, as he doesn’t take advantage of his size in many situations. All-in-all, an intelligent, big-bodied forward that oozes skill.

(Curtis Joe, EP 2014) – See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=91186#sthash.Kpm5dZ3D.dpuf

So, if we can agree, as previously mentioned, that the Avs are set in goal, let’s take a look at how they shape up at D and then down the middle.

As well as adding Zadorov in trade, the Avs signed 35 year old Francois Beauchemin to a 3 year contract at $4.5M/season.

Beauchemin has still been very effective but this contract could be a gamble if his play tails off as he ages.

With a top pairing of #1D Erik Johnson and Beauchemin, they should be fine for 20 minutes a night but they will need to find a steady partner for offensive whiz Tyson Barrie who scored an impressive 12 foals and 53 points last season.

The Av’s did not re-sign 37 year old Jan Hejda and Brad Stuart has passed his best before date so, unless Zadorov is ready to step in the #4 role, the team may be gasping agin.

Of course, Chris Bigras may take that spot in camp but there’s not a whole lot behind them on the depth chart although there are some distant bells in the system.

If I were Joe and Patrick, sitting with more than $8M in free cap space, I would have signed Cody Franson weeks ago…hasn’t happened yet.


Down the middle, the Avalanche have an embarrassment of riches even after trading Or’ Reilly.

Nathan MacKinnon

Matt Duchene

Carl Soderburg (signed in the offseason)

Mikail Grigorenko

John Mitchell

Marc Andre Cliche

With Soderburg likely to take a top 6 role, Duchene may find himself playing RW again since it’s an area of weakness for the team so there’s an opportunity for Grigorenko if he is ready to step up.


If Duchene does indeed play on the wing, he’ll be joined by stud Landeskog and the ageless Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay as well as Blake Comeau, Cody McLeod, Patrick Bordeleau and Dennis Everburg.

Hockey’s Future has the Avs ranked 29th in the league in their prospects ranking and I think that’s fair.

Strengths: The Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. Chris Bigras has shown excellent growth at the junior level and may be ready to take that next step in his career, while Stefan Elliot and Duncan Siemens are finding their way at the pro level. Will Butcher, Kyle Wood and recent free-agent signing Mason Geertsen add interesting pieces to the organization’s defensive core. Goaltender Calvin Pickard had a very impressive showing with the Avalanche last season, breaking through after three years in the AHL. He should get a chance to improve in the NHL full time next season.

Weaknesses: Skill. Colorado has quantity in prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. Connor Bleackley will turn pro after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns in the WHL, but the center projects more as a high-energy, third-line pivot.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Connor Bleackley, C; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Stefan Elliot, D; 5. Duncan Siemens, D.

With goal and centre pretty much locked in, they will need at least one D prospect to step in a help right away.

If they hope to finish their rebuild anytime soon, they may have to spend some of that cap space to acquire a couple of skill players to replace the elders in the lineup sooner rather than later. but Rantanen may be able to help in that regard.

Playing in the Central, where I see 5 teams making the playoffs, I doubt they will be contenders this upcoming season but, with some prudent moves in the next 12 months, when many teams will be forced to dump players due to a declining cap, perhaps the best strategy it to wait and pounce when the time is right.