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

 

 

 

What Now?

road-ahead

 

We’re getting very close to the point that we can see which teams will have the best odds of winning the draft lottery and there are indications surfacing that give some idea how those  teams are going to proceed for the rest of the season.

There are 8 teams  which, in my opinion, are pretty much out of the playoff race and we can list them but their chances of making the post season courtesy of Sports Club Stats.

Edmonton 0.05

Buffalo 0.1

Columbus 0.7

Arizona 1.1

Dallas 2.2

Colorado 2.2

Carolina 5.7

Philadelphia 8.7

So, now, let’s take look at what we might expect those teams do between now and the end of the regular season.

Edmonton Oilers:

Craig MacTavish, without saying it directly yesterday, has essentially thrown in the towel this season and appears ready to do nothing to improve his hockey team as least until the trade deadline…expecting the “progression of accountability” he sees in the Oilers to pull his team out of last place. That message was reinforced this morning when a very serviceable veteran centre, Kyle Chipchura wasn’t claimed on waivers by the Oilers. In the wake of McTavish’s moaning that he didn’t want to give up any assets to acquire a NHL centre, you’d be right in questioning his veracity.

What I expect will happen is that the Oilers will bumble along until the trade deadline and will trade UFA defenseman Jeff Petry and winger David Perron for the best futures he can get. Unfortunately, both those moves will make the team weaker in the present and Groundhog Day will continue.

Blogging icon Tom Benjamin dropped into Lowetide today to echo what I’ve been saying about the Oilers chances of winning the lottery and rafting MacDavid:

TOM BENJAMINsays:

I don’t see how tanking gets the Oilers anything.

Isn’t it a lottery? Isn’t Bettman still in charge? I’m betting that the Oilers fall as many places as they can possibly fall in the “lottery”. Will the real powers that be in the league let the Oilers claim yet another first overall – and a franchise player to boot? I think the fix will be in and the result will please most hockey fans outside Edmonton. The Oiler brass will know they are getting stuck, but what can they say?

Is that too cynical? I think not.

As I’ve said previously, I doubt the league will “allow” the Oilers to pick in the top 2 no matter what so, if McTavish plans to sit on his thumb for the rest of the season, he may be in for a rude awakening at the draft.

Buffalo Sabres:

The Sabres are a bad hockey team…sporting the worst goal differential in the league at -37. They are also 6-4-0 in the their last 10 games so it’s pretty obvious they haven’t given up and are trying to win despite being so close to the 1st overall pick. At some point though, I think their lack of talent will prevail and both Columbus and Carolina will pass them in the EC standings. The big question here is whether or not any of Edmonton, Arizona, Dallas or Colorado can finish worse than the Sabres. I expect not and the Sabres will have a the best shot at the #1 pick.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

This is really a sad story for this franchise and its fans. When healthy, they have a playoff calibre roster but have lost hundreds of man games to injury. As those players return slowly, I expect they’ll climb the standings somewhat and could conceivably finish ahead of Carolina and Philly in the EC standings. I  any event, they’ll get a very nice player from the draft and, if healthy next season should be right back in the mix.

Arizona Coyotes:

The Coyotes have already started making moves designed to be better in the future and I expect there will be a lot more in the next couple of months. Don Maloney has already traded Rob Klinkhammer to Pittsburgh for a young, inexpensive defenseman in Phillip Samuelson. The 23 year Swedish defenseman is the brother of Henrik who was drafted in the 1st round by Arizona. The Coyotes have also started calling up young players to get them some experience and, as mentioned earlier, waived Chipchura and sent David Schlemko to the minors. There is rampant speculation that Maloney will trade UFA veterans Antoine Vermette and Martin Erat as well as defenseman Keith Yandle in the near future not only to save money in a lost season but to stockpile more 2015 draft picks and/or younger players. Worth keeping an eye on.

More on the Coyotes from Larry Brooks:

Remember how a few short weeks ago Andrew Barroway was on the verge of gaining majority control of the Coyotes, the news first reported by The Post?

Not so fast, for now comes word from a plugged-in source that the deal appears to be falling apart, with Barroway seemingly on the verge of backing out.

Slap Shots has been told the current ownership has directed GM Don Maloney to shed payroll … which would mean stripping the club with the league’s third-lowest payroll into a bare-bones operation.

Who could be going in addition to Keith Yandle (at $5.2 million per season through next year)? Not Shane Doan? Not Oliver Ekman-Larsson?

The equally pertinent question, though, is which will come first: the end of the NHL’s financial problems in the desert or the end of Coyotes?

Actually, it’s not so much a pertinent question as a rhetorical one.

Dallas Stars:

The Stars should be much better than their record but shoddy defensive play and sub par goaltending ( a league worst 96 GA) has deep sixed their season. It’s not inconceivable the Stars could go on a run and finish considerably higher in the standings but the hole is already so deep it would take a miracle for them to reach the playoffs. The Stars will have just a ton of cap space next season to address those issue with Horcoff ($5.5M), Erik Cole ($4.5M) and Rich Peverley ($3.25M) coming off their payroll so I think Jim Nill’s play is likely to ride this out until the offseason.

Colorado Avalanche:

Colorado has been playing a bit better of late but they have been subject to late game collapses that remind me a lot of  last season’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Going into the season, the weakness they have on the blue line was no secret and it appears the addition of veterans Brad Stuart, Jerome Iginla and Daniel Briere has been a disaster that won’t be easy to recover from. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a blockbuster deal involving one of their young centres to try and fix their blueline but that likely won’t occur until the offseason.

Carolina Hurricanes:

This is a team to keep a very close eye on. As the season winds down, I expect the Hurricanes will conduct a fire sale.I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if the Canes convinced the Staal brothers to waive the no trade clauses to move to a contender and may be able to move Cam Ward’s awful contract as part of that deal if the other team is prepared to buy him out. The Hurricanes would then be in full tank mode to try to land MCDavid or Eichel…and I expect they will.

Philadelphia Flyers:

I doubt reality has set in Philly yet (when does it?) that the season is lost and they are likely to make some ridiculous moves to try to save it The biggest problem for the Flyers is that they have virtually no cap space so any move they might want to make will be very difficult to pull off. For a smart GM, there may be an opportunity here to bend the Flyers over if Philly panics.

If I was a betting man, I would wager that the draft order following the lottery will look like this:

Buffalo

Carolina

Arizona

Edmonton

Columbus

Colorado

Dallas

Philadelphia

By the way, there is a HUGE game tonight in Calgary between the San Jose Sharks and the Flames. With a win, the Flames could pull 8 points ahead of the Sharks and the final wild card spot. The Flames are starting to get their injured centres back (Matt Stajan is playing tonight) so Bob Hartley is going to have more weapons to try to keep their winning ways going. Should be a great game to watch.

Go Flames?

Snap Shots

Snapshots-logo

 

I’m off to do a little storm watching in Tofino for a couple of days so likely won’t be updating things here for a bit.

But a few thoughts before hitting the road…

1) The Edmonton Oilers are in a very precarious position as multiple sources report Craig MacTavish is “desperate” to make a trade to try to turn the team’s fortunes around. Given his recent track record in assessing NHL talent (Scrivens, Fasth, Nikitin, Purcell), there’s a real danger he could actually make things worse. Dealing from desperation is never a good place to be so this will be fascinating to watch.

2) I see the Oilers have fired goaltending coach Freddie Chabot…likely not a bad move but certainly not going to change things much short term. Apparently Chabot is being replaced by Dustin Schwartz who is the goaltending coach for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Another rookie.

3) David Perron is almost certain to not be an Oiler by the end of the week. Considering he was one of the few Oilers who played with passion pretty much every night, I think the team will miss him more than it thinks and despite not producing much offence this season it must be remembered he was getting 3rd line minutes and was saddled with horrid line mates for much of his time this season.

4) Tuesday nights’ game against the Dallas Stars will be entertaining for several reasons including the head to head matchup between Taylor and Tyler which Tyler is winning hands down this season (Seguin is on pace for 59 goals). If you believe it takes 5 years to assess the outcome of any draft, as I do, this is the year…no contest…and I think Ryan Johansen may yet work his way into the conversation. I would imagine that Seguin and Ales Hemsky will be very motivated in this game.

5) Speaking of Dallas, I’ve been very impressed with the moves Jim Nill has made to shore up his D after a shaky start. He was able to offload Sergei Gonchar and traded Brendan Dillon for Jason Demers. That latter deal doesn’t seem like much until you dig a little deeper and see that Nill is balancing his D pairs with right and left-handed shots. Demers is a righty as is Swedish defenseman John Klingberg who has been called up from the AHL. Klingberg, who reminds me very much of Erik Karlsson, has been nothing short of a revelation in his 7 games with the Stars…scoring 2 goals and 4 assists. Nill still needs a reliable backup goaltender but I’d bet he finds one very soon.

6) Many teams are trying to construct a roster than has 3 scoring lines, with varying degrees of success but new Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said at the beginning of the season that he wanted FOUR lines that can contribute offensively. And, it’s working.

After honoring Daniel Sedin‘s 1,000th game in a pre-game ceremony, right wing Jannik Hansen completed his first career hat trick into an empty net with 42.1 seconds left to lead the Canucks to a 4-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena.

“We strive this year to make it a four-line team,” Hansen said. “It’s not a matter of one, two, three, four. Everyone knows the twins [Daniel and Henrik Sedin] are going to get their matchup every night. After that it’s up to the nine other guys to supply the secondary scoring. As long as we can do that we’ve got a chance to win games.”

And how. Also worth noting is that rookie centre Bo Horvat had 3 assists and won 81% of his face-offs against the Blackhawks who are one of the best FO teams in the league. Kid’s a player folks.

7) The Calgary Flames…what can you say about them that hasn’t been said already. They just keep finding ways to win. 7-3-0 in their last 10 and 7-3-0 against WC opponents. The Flames are departing for a 3 game road trip against the Sharks, Ducks and Coyotes so it’ll be interesting to see if they can sustain their play.

8) And speaking of the Flames…they have 3 of the top 10 scoring rookies in the NHL this season. Johnny Gaudreau (15 PTS), Josh Jooris (9 PTS) and Markus Granlund (9 PTS) have all performed at a very high level. It’s likely that Filip Forsberg (22 PTS) runs away with the Calder Trophy but Flames’ fans have to be pretty pumped about the performance of their rookies. Worth noting that Oilers highly touted rookie Leon Draisaitl is 25th in rookie scoring with only 5 points and is -9.

9) R.I.P. Pat Quinn…the man who saved hockey in Vancouver.

10) R.I.P. Viktor Tikhnov…the man who changed the way hockey is played.