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

 

 

 

Spitballin’

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Just a few random thoughts as the NHL takes a brief Christmas break….

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are pretty much out of the playoff race.They’re 9 points (remember they have to finish AHEAD of another team) back of the final wildcard berth in the WC and I can’t see them catching either Nashville or Minnesota.

Unless they have an unlikely win streak in the next couple of weeks, the Jets (whose playoff chances are currently at 12% according to Sports Club Stats) should start thinking about next season.

That means they should try and maximize the return they can get for Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd who are coming up on UFA status. And that also means they should make some moves as soon as possible since a team acquiring them could use the help down the stretch not just after the trade deadline at the end of February.

That raises the question of which teams might be in a position to take on their contracts.

In the case of Big Buff, I think we should keep and eye on the Los Angeles Kings who are in a position take take a strong run at another cup.

After shedding the Voynov and Richards contracts, the Kings are sitting with about $4 million in free cap space and could easily fit his contract under the cap.

That raises the question…do the Kings have the pieces necessary to acquire Buff from the Jets?

They don’t have a 1st round pick but they do have some intriguing prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

Hockey’s Future has a great rundown of what the Kings prospect pool looks like here and I think there are enough quality players in Ontario that could help the Kings piece together a deal.

As for Andrew Ladd, it might be harder for the Jets to part with him since he is their team leader and a consistent scorer but it makes sense for the Jets to move him and further bolster their prospect pool with a possible eye on re-signing him in the offseason.

A team I would keep a close eye on here is the Florida Panthers who have stated they are searching for a scoring winger and, of course, Ladd has a connection to Dale Tallon from their Chicago days.

The Panthers have more than $6 million in free cap space and just a ton of blue chip prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

The Jets already have the deepest prospect pool in the league and could perhaps add to it significantly if they get a lottery pick and a good return on Byfuglien and Ladd.

A bitter pill for Jets fans this season but also a huge opportunity for the team.

What About Those Canucks?

In my pre-season prognostications, I had the Canucks making the playoffs…not because they’re much good but because Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton are pretty bad. That Anaheim has been horrid has helped make me look pretty smart although I, and no one else, saw that coming.

Well, the Canucks, at the break, are clinging to the last Pacific Division spot despite going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. But we need to consider a few things here.

The Canucks have had just a brutal schedule up to now with multiple long road trips and have only played 14 home games compared to 22 on the road.

Their next 7 straight games are at home so, if they can get their act together on home ice (5-6-3), they have a chance to pull away from the pack.

We should have a pretty good idea how this will turn out by January 15.

Heere’s Johnny

Picking a team out of the bottom of the scrap heap to perhaps take a run at the last Pacific Division playoff spot is tough since the pretenders are so closely packed and the results could depend on injury and/or a great deal of luck.

But going into the break, the hottest team in hockey is the Calgary Flames (8-2-0).

Calgary is being led offensively by 22 year old phenom Johnny Gaudreau who has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 10 games.

Bu that’s not the whole story.

TJ Brodie has played 25 games since returning from injury…their record in that 25 games is 14W-9L-2OTL

That folks is a playoff calibre stretch of games and also worth noting is that the Flames play 7 of their next 8 games at home where they have a stellar 11-5-0 record.

Gloomy in Edmonton

Both the Canucks and Flames have the Oilers next on their dance cards and it’s likely the Oilers will have to win both to stay in the race as remote as their chances actually are.

Those 2 games are followed by LAK, ANA and ARZ so a week from today the Oilers could be hanging on or out of contention by New Year’s Day.

Based on schedule and momentum, I would wager Calgary will be in a playoff spot a week from now.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Quarter Pole

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Most NHL teams have now played a quarter of their season and the cream has risen to the top and the dregs are being separated.

RISING STARS

No surprise to me but almost unnoticed by the national media is just how absolutely dominant the Dallas Stars have been this season.

The Stars are sporting a record of 17-4 with no loser points and despite not showing up for 2 losses against the Leafs.

The Stars have a 6 point lead over the Blues who have the second best record in the West and they’ve scored 12 more goals (74) than the second place Canucks (62).

Montreal is pacing the Stars with 74 goals as well but they’re playing in the weaker conference while Dallas has run up a 6-1 record against the tougher West. The Stars will be playing more games against the West as the season progresses but there is absolutely no reason to think they can’t keep up the pace.

The most remarkable thing about the Stars is not the all world performances from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin (which I expected) but the emergence into an elite defenseman of 23 year old John Klingberg. 

Klingberg is tied for the league lead in assists with Patrick Kane and Seguin at 19 apiece and has hit 3 goal posts in his last 2 games.

Worth noting…the last defenseman to lead the league in assists was some guy named Bobby Orr.…Klingberg might soon make history.

BLACK FRIDAY

We’re only a few days away from the defacto playoff doomsday for teams that are at least 10 points out of a playoff berth. It is almost impossible for those teams to make up enough ground to grab a spot so let’s take a look at which teams could see their seasons effectively over by Black Friday.

The Pacific Triangle

In reality, there is very little chance that the Central Division won’t send 5 teams to the playoffs so that leaves the last 3 spots for the Pacific Division.

 

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Edmonton has a  7-12-1 record heading into the week and have only 4 wins in their past 10 games.

The Oilers face Washington, Carolina and Detroit in the next week and would need to win at least 2 of those games to stay in the hunt. Even then, they would need just the right combination of losses from other Pacific Division teams to remain viable.

What is germaine here for the Oilers is the schedule for the teams that are ahead of them this week.

As of this writing, the LA Kings are losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and both San Jose (vs. Columbus) and Vancouver (vs. New Jersey) play later today and both could enhance their chances substantially with a win and an Oilers’ loss to red hot Washington (6-3-1 in their last 10) would leave them 9 points out.

It also doesn’t help that two teams the Oilers are chasing, Anaheim and Calgary, play each other Tuesday or that Anaheim also plays Arizona on Wednesday and Calgary plays Arizona on Friday.

If there are any 3 point games among that group and the Oilers don’t win at least 2 of 3, their season is pretty much done.

Vancouver also has a couple of tough games this week against the Wild and Stars but have shown an ability to keep games close and pick up points.

If the Canucks can build on last night’s 6-3 hammering of the Blackhawks and pick up at least 3-4 points this week they should hang around but anything less and they may be in trouble.

The Calgary Flames, of course, are also in a very precarious spot but have been playing much better (6-4-0 in their last 10) since TJ Brodie returned to the lineup.They can pretty much write their own story if they can win against Anaheim and Arizona but that’s certainly not a given although I like their chances.

Things will be much clearer by Black Friday.

Sedinery

sedin-video-shot

We would be remiss to not mention a superb performance by the Sedin twins last night.

Daniel scored 3 and added an assist while brother Henrik had a 5 point night including a goal.

Both have now moved into the top 15 in league scoring (Daniel tied for 6th…Henrik only 2 points back.)

Watch out Pacific Division if the Sedins catch fire.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fermi Paradox

00FQBf-28448684

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.

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I’ll let you make your own assessment of those stats based “predictions” (holy cow…look at Anaheim!) but I thought i would distill them a bit to see which teams will or will not make the playoffs in the WC based those methods.

Central

Chicago

Dallas

St. Louis

Pacific

San Jose

Los Angeles

Anaheim

Wild Card

Minnesota

Nashville

Close But No Cigar

Calgary

Winnipeg

In the Toilet

Colorado

Vancouver

Edmonton

Arizona

Oh, where to begin!!!

The Stazis have the Sharks making a huge return to relevance, improving from 89 points last season to a Conference Championship with 110 points. This despite another few thousand miles on the odometer for Thornton and Marleau and bringing in a new coach and precious little else. Don’t think so.

They also have the Ducks dropping 10 points in the season(likely based on possession which the team always defies) and are likely ignoring the further maturation of the deep but youthful D the Ducks have deployed)

They correctly in my opinion have identified the Dallas Stars as one of the most improved team in the WC but they totally ignore the turmoil in Chicago which saw the Hawks lose Sharp, Oduya, Saad, among, others and the effect that may have on team chemistry never mind the Stanley Cup hangover that seems to be a real thing.

They also have the Oilers improving by only 8 points which I find very hard to believe considering the radical changes they’ve mad throughout the organization and on the ice.

Those are just a few quibbles so let’s take a look at what I think we’ll see this season.


Central

Dallas

Wins this division if their defensive game and goaltending improve to what they seemed to be in the last 20 games last season (best record in the NHL). The Stars top 6 forward group is the best in the NHL and even though Jamie Benn, Valerie Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky (as well as D John Klingberg and Patrick Nemeth) were injured last season, the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league.

St. Louis

The Blues were tied for tops in the division last season and I have seen nothing to indicate they will drop back by any significant amount. With Vladimir Tarasenko likely to challenge for the scoring lead and perhaps some less difficult games against Chicago, the Blues are dropping back

Minnesota

The Wild had the second best goal differential in the west last season (+30) and despite a very slow start with sub par goaltending, finished with 100 points, a mere 2 points behind Chicago. They’ll get over that hump this season


Pacific

Anaheim

Virtually every prognosticator I’ve seen is calling for the Ducks to top the WC and most pick them to win the Stanley Cup.

I agree.

The Ducks have added tremendous speed up front in Carl Hagelin, size and grit with Chris Stewart and a veteran presence on D in Kevin Bieksa. Their young D, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Depres and Josh Manson are all going to be better and they have 3 quality NHL goaltenders in the system.

Calgary

I’m going off the board here but I think the Flames have another gravity defying season in them.

The Stazis all insist, based on last year’s possession metrics, that the Flames will do a face plant this season.

I don’t they will since Brad Treleving knows full well his team has to improve in the area and addressed the issue directly by adding Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton.

Both are positive possession guys and a closer look at the Flames possession number show the Flames did juts fine when Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie were on the ice. Now that their second pairing has added Hamilton and their second line has added Frolik, they will be significanlyt better in that area.

And lest we forget, the Flames have also added Sam Bennett to their second like which promises to bring a lot more scoring than last season.

If they can get league average goaltending, and they have 3 strong choices in net, I see them finishing 3rd in the Pacific.

Wild Card

Here’s where things get very uncertain where injury, bad luck or a tickle in someone’s throat could decide the last 2 spots in the WC playoffs.

I’ll just rank them in order of what I think the probability is that they could make it.

Los Angeles

Is Milan Lucic a strong enough replacement for Justin Williams?

San Jose

They’ll be playing against tougher Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers in their division this season

Chicago 

Lots of changes and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Nashville

Still not convinced they have enough offence and an injury to one centre kills them

Vancouver

The Canucks have added size, speed and youth to their lineup. Keep a close eye on Bo Horvat who looks ready to explode.

Rookie defenseman Ben Hutton was spectacular in the pre-season and brings size, speed and scoring ability to the Canucks D,

Whether or not youngsters Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen can make an impact is still in question but their infusion of youth should help a stale Canucks lineup.

Winnipeg

The toughest team to rank. Big team that may have over achieved last season but, if their rookies take off they could surprise.

Colorado

Their D remains weak and losing Ryan O’Reilly is going to hurt.

Edmonton

I’ve got them down for 10 more wins this season but that will get them nowhere near the playoffs and with a very tough first 20 games, they may be out of the race by Halloween again. Cam Talbot has never played in front of the worst D in the league before. He’s about to.

Arizona

Never mind

Nostradamus Redux

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Before the 2014/15 seasons began, I went out on a limb and predicted where the WC teams would finish in the standings and, of course, I had some hits and misses.

I had these as the teams that would make the post season…in this order:

STL

CHI

ANA

DAL

LAK

COL

MIN

VCR

Well, I got only 5 out of 8 right but I certainly over-rated Colorado thinking their your stars would be enough to overcome their defensive deficiencies but, as a group, they underperformed and their season was done.

I believe, if Dallas had received even average goaltending, they would have made the playoffs but one very hopeful sign for the Stars is their 7-3-0 record in the last 10 games. Jim Nill, with a ton of cap space available should be able to shore up his D and G positions and the Stars should be very dangerous next season.

The Kings were sunk, very simply, by an abysmal record in 1 goal games and shootouts (2-8). Reports have surfaced that there is tension between the King’s players and coach Sutter so I think we may see some changes there in the offseason. It would be very amusing if the Kings fired Sutter and replaced him with Todd McClellan if he gets fired in San Jose.

I obviously under-rated the Winnipeg Jets (who didn’t?) but, after having watched them this season, I doubt I or anyone else is going to do that again. Their a big, talented, hardworking team with a bevy of youngsters either breaking in or just a few months away.

No one I saw predicted Calgary would make the playoffs so I’m going to give myself a partial pass for missing that pick because I did manage to frame their issues:

The Calgary Flames

The Flames, as everyone knows, are rebuilding and they are doing it the right way. They’ve shored up their goaltending with Jonas Hiller, they have a legitimate top pairing on D and they now have tremendous centre depth if their two recent #1 picks develop according to their pedigree.

They lost some goal scoring with the departure of Mike Cammalleri but I expect Johnny Gaudreau, Mason Raymond and Sam Bennett will more than compensate.

Sean Monahan produced a 30+ goal season and Gaudreau was even better than advertised but the big surprise was the play of Jiri Hudler with the two youngsters, As you know, Bennet was derailed by shoulder surgery so expect the Flames to look pretty good going into next season if they can wisely use their bounty of cap space to add a couple more big pieces.

I said this about the Nashville Predators:

The Nashville Predators

It’s really hard to know what to expect from the Predators. They have added a lot of potential goal scoring in James Neal and Mike Ribiero as well as a new offensively minded coach.

Their defense and goaltending are stellar and their centre depth is something else so there is potential for them to return to the playoffs.

This likely comes down to whether or not they can adapt to a totally new style of playing so they are a team that could surprise.

Well, they did surprise to an extent but I’m not sure they are as good as their regular season record would seem to indicate.

At the bottom of the heap, here is how I called things:

 The Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers seem to have improved somewhat but there are still tremendous holes in the lineup (what else is new?)

Their centre depth remains the worst in the league, they don’t have ONE top pairing defenseman and their goaltending is questionable.

At centre, they are a RNH injury away from disaster, it appears they will play Nikita Nikitin as a top pairing D (yikes) and have decided Ben Scrivens is as least an average NHL goaltender. Scrivens was very good early in his Oiler career but was very pedestrian as the season wore on.

The Oilers don’t score much and they are dreadful defensively (although they should improve somewhat) and the addition of some mid level defensemen, some cast off wingers and a couple of more rookies are NOT the answer.

Man…I called that one perfectly…except for the part where I said “improved somewhat”. They were actually worse.

 The Arizona Coyotes

There is word tonight that the NHL is trying to find a new buyer for the Coyotes. Source

The current owners reportedly lost $24 million last season (who could have seen that coming?) and need to bail.

At some point, the off ice activity has to have an effect on the on ice performance and I’d guess that it going to happen this season.

The Coyotes lost their two top scoring forwards in Mike Ribiero and Radim Vrbata and replaced them with Martin Erat and Kyle Wellwood Sam Gagner.

The previously defensive stalwart Coyotes sprung some leaks last season and unless Mike Smith has a Vezina level performance this season, this team is doomed.

Nailed it again.

The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.

 

 

 

 

Snap Shots

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1) So, the fire sale has begun in Toronto with the Nashville Predators swooping in and picking up two of the better players on the Leafs roster. The trade essentially breaks down as a low 1st round pick to Toronto for Franson (a player I like a lot) and  Brendan Leipsic (a very good prospect who is playing well in the AHL) for Mike Santorelli. That both of the players acquired by Nashville are on expiring contracts leaves Nashville with cap flexibility in the offseason and gives them more firepower for a playoff run. But that also means Toronto did very, very well in the trade by getting a 1st for Franson and I would imagine the Leafs may add another 1st pick or two as they burn things to the ground.

2)  The Vancouver Canucks could be in big trouble as they try to hang on to a playoff spot. #1D Alex Edler is out with an “upper body injury” and join Kevin Bieksa (broken hand) on the walking wounded list. Cody Franson would look pretty good in Vancouver right now but Nashville got their first.

3) The Calgary Flames are like that bad smell that just won’t go away. They remain in the last wild card spot after a 3-2 win over the Canucks last night but both Minnesota (8-0-2 in their last 10 GP) and the LA Kings (winners of 4 straight) are charging hard. Calgary can’t afford to lose so it’ll be fun to watch them fight and claw for the remaining games in the season.

4) There were more than a few critics (mainly Oilers fans) of Flames centre Sean Monahan’s performance last season suggesting he was lucky to score 22 goals because he had an “unsustainable” 15.7 shooting percentage. Well, his percentage has dropped a bit this season to 14.1 but, playing on a line with Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gadreau, Monahan is putting up even better numbers this season and is on pace for 28 goals and 52 points. Looks like it WAS sustainable.

5) Speaking of Gaudreau…he continues to pile up points and is on pace for 22 goals and 62 points and remains in the running for the Calder Trophy although Filip Forsberg has an 8 point lead.

6) But for my money, Florida Panthers rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad is the rookie of the year. Ekblad, who turned 19 just last week, is playing more than 22 minutes a game for the Cats (tied for second on the team) and is putting up exceptional scoring numbers for a rookie (on pace for 13 goals and 47 points).

7) Stop the Parade! After absorbing a 7-2 beating at the hands of the Ottawa Senators yesterday, the Oilers are now 9-11-2 under Todd Nelson. As mentioned yesterday, the Oilers next 5 games are against the big, heavy Winnipeg Jets, Boston and then a WC heavy schedule that kicks off with 2 games against the streaking Wild, Anaheim and St. Louis. Worth noting the Oilers are 4-21-8 against the west this season.

8) There’s continuing speculation that the LA Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are working on a deal that would see Mike Richards and Dion Phaneuf trade teams. That’s a deal with plenty of complications but makes sense on several levels. Phaneuf would be a great pick up for LA’s second pairing (despite the price) and the Leafs could certainly use Richards as a stop gap while their rebuild develops. Richards is an Ontario boy and perhaps a move to the ACC might kick start his career. If, as rumoured, the Leafs trade Tyler Bozak, they will certainly need SOMEONE to play centre.

9) The Florida Panthers remain 4 points out of a wild card spot in the EC with a game in hand on the Bruins. GM Dale Tallon is reportedly shopping veterans on expiring contracts including Sean Bergenheim, Thomas Fleischmann, and Tomas Kopecky. Must be a difficult time for “Trader Dale”, one of the most active GM’s in recent years. I would imagine he will be able to move all of those players for late round picks but runs the risk of losing out on playoff revenue.

10) Back to the Flames for a moment…Calgary is sitting on the most free cap space in the league AND the second best prospect pool in the NHL. The Flames have flexibility to take on any contract and could, of course, extract a King’s ransom from any team that needs to dump salary now, or in the offseason. Keep a close eye on what happens in Calgary since the Burke regime is in a perfect spot to either load up for the playoffs or finish their rebuild in the offseason. I doubt they want Phaneuf back but Phil Kessel might be a very interesting addition if they can get the Leafs to retain some salary in return for a couple of prospects or picks. It’s a good time to be Brian Burke!

 

Snap Shots…the Groundhog Day Edition.

Other than men turned out in top hats scaring the crap out some mangy rodents, we have a few other Groundhog Day observations.

1) It’s certainly Groundhog Day for the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. The Canucks are suffering another late season swoon that could soon see them looking up at a playoff spot. They’re playing a bland, boring style of hockey that sees them having great difficult scoring and, oddly enough, they’re much better on the road than at home. The Leafs, of course, are doing their annual face plant and, they’re goal scoring is even worse than the Canucks. Meanwhile, the Oilers are playing a little better but, as in years past, only when it doesn’t matter.

2) Speaking of the Oilers…Elliotte Friedman was on a Calgary radio station this morning with some thoughts on Taylor Hall and why the Oilers can’t win.

“And those guys in Edmonton, they don’t know how to win. And again, some of it is their own fault because when you’re the best players, you have to be the ones who say, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to get there.’ And I don’t think those guys have. But when you lose and you lose and you lose, nobody teaches you how to get there either. And that’s what I see with this team. They don’t know what it takes to be winners in this league.”

 

3) The trade deadline is exactly 1 month away and there is lot’s of smoke but, so far, no fire. Don Maloney was on several radio shows over the weekend telling everyone who would listen that he has hung out the For Sale sign on his Arizona Coyotes roster with the only untouchable being Shane Doan. Antoine Vermette, Martin Hanzal, Z. Michalek, Keith Yandle, Martin Erat and, presumably Oliver Ekman-Larsson may find new homes by the 1st of March and Maloney should be sitting with a fistful of picks or young prospects. Since I also expect Arizona to win the lottery, they can then start building around Connor McDavid.

4) One GM who should have Maloney on speed dial is Craig MacTavish. If the Oilers are ever going to turn the ship around, they absolutely have to find a top pairing D and the only way they’re going to get one is to move at least one of their “core pieces”. Since the Oilers have no forward prospects of note, I would consider Taylor Hall for OEL and call it a day.

5) With both the price of oil and the Canadian dollar in free fall, it’s entirely possible the salary cap next season could be flat and that’s going to be a major problem for several teams. Jonathan Willis has a piece up at Bleacher Report which details how a low cap will affect the Chicago Blackhawks. But the issue will also have a major impact on teams like the Bruins, Rangers and Kings.

6) As I’ve mentioned several times, the Calgary Flames have the lowest payroll and the most cap space available in the offseason so are perfectly poised to take advantage of teams that have to offload salary. Imagine what the Flames D would look like if they were able to add Brent Seabrook and Keith Yandle in one off season. Jeebus!

7) Had a chance to watch the Dallas/Winnipeg game on Saturday and came away even more impressed with young (22 years old) defenseman John Klingberg. Klingberg, who was chosen as the NHL Rookie of the Month for January, was dominant, scoring 2G 2A and now has 9 goals and 24 points on the season in only 35GP. The 5th round pick in 2010 is very much like Erik Karlsson although Klingberg appears to be better defensively.

8) No surprise that Alex Ovechkin has taken over the goal scoring lead with 31…exceeding the 30 goal mark for the 10th straight season. Rick Nash (29) Tyler Seguin (28), Steven Stamkos (27), Patrick Kane (25), Vladimir Tarasenko (25) and Joe Pavelski would seem like the only players who could challenge for the lead.

9) Interestingly enough, the only Oiler player who protects to score 20 this season is Jordan Eberle who is on pace to score 21. Since David Perron was traded to Pittsburgh he has been on a predictable tear, recording 6 goals and 9 points 12GP. At that rate, he will easily score 20 while his replacement in Edmonton (Benoit Pouliot) won’t come close.

10) The flip side of that coin is that the Calgary Flames have 4 players on pace to score 20+, Gaudreau, Hudler, Monahan and Wideman with Giordano also having a decent shot at 20.