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.

 

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Trader Jim

 

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What an astounding performance last night from the Dallas Stars.

The Minnesota Wild lulled the Stars to sleep and took a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period before the Stars collectively said “that’s enough of this shit”.

After being outshot 9-7 in the 1st period, the Stars amped it up and out shot Minnesota 35-15 in the final 2 periods and wound up winning the game 4-3 in OT.

Only a stout performance from Wild goalie Darcy Kemper kept this one close.


 

In response to a reader’s comment last night, I thought I would expand on the amazing work of Dallas GM Nill.

We’ll let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting but as impressive as what follows has been…there’s much more to the story that we’ll get to afterward.

 

In April 2013, he was hired as GM of the Dallas Stars. Nill immediately made several major transactions starting with trading a 6th round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft to the Ottawa Senators for DefensemenSergei Gonchar and signed him a 2-year, $10-million dollar contract.[1] On July 4, 2013 in a blockbuster trade, Nill sent 2011 NHL All-StarLoui Eriksson and prospects Joe MorrowReilly Smith, and Matt Fraser to the Boston Bruins in exchange for the former 2nd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry DraftTyler Seguin as well as Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.[2] On the same day he traded prospect Philip Larsen and a 7th round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for their captain Shawn Horcoff.[3]

On July 1, 2014, Nill traded for Ottawa Senators center and captain, Jason Spezza and right winger Ludwig Karlsson for Alex Chiasson, Nick Paul, Alex Guptill, and a 2nd round pick in the 2015 NHL draft. On the same day, he also signed unrestricted free agent forward, Ales Hemsky to a 3 year, $12 million contract.[4]

On July 10, 2015, Nill traded for forward Patrick Sharp and defensive prospect Stephen Johns from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt.[5] On July 15, 2015, Nill signed unrestricted free agent defenseman, Johnny Oduya to a 2 year $7.5 million contract.[6]

Nill’s unique ability to pull off the blockbuster trade has been attributed to a Jedi-like wiggle of his trademark mustache, nicknamed “Monty.”

Yes, a few blockbusters in there and I think the only mis-step was Hemsky’s 3 year deal but there is also a back story that is often missed.

You may have noticed the name Stephen Johns in the trade for Sharp and that’s only one example of Nill dealing with the present and future at the same time.

John’s was a 2nd round pick of the Blackhawks and is currently playing in the AHL.

He’s joined in Texas by Mattias Backman, a promising defenseman that Nill drafted in the 5th round while with Detroit and whom he got for virtually nothing when he traded UFA Erik Cole for Backman and Mattias Janmark who is currently playing more than 13 minutes a night on the Stars’ 3rd line.

More on that trade and the players involved from Defending Big D.

As you can see, Nill managed to move a player who is now out of hockey for a blue chip defensive prospect and yet another centre.

So, not only has Nill given lie to the notion that you can’t acquire elite centres except through the draft but he’s also built Dallas’ defensive depth from awful to among the best in the league in what amounts to only two seasons of work.

Take a peek.

John Klingberg (5th round 2010)

Alex Goligoski (very good#2 D inherited by Nill)

Jason Demers (Nill acquired in a trade with San Jose)

Johnny Oduya (signed as a free agent by Nill)

Jordie Benn (inherited by Nill)

Jyrki Jokipakka (7th round 2011)

Patrick Nemeth (2nd round 2010)

Jamie Oleksiak (1st round 2011)

Those are  the 8 defensemen Dallas has carried this season not wanting to lose any of them to waivers although, at some point, I expect Nill will deal from a position of extreme strength and make a another trade.

But, as alluded to earlier, it doesn’t stop there.

These D are warming up in the bullpen in the AHL and appear to have a solid NHL future:

Stephen Johns (trade)

Esa Lindell (trade)

Mattias Backman (trade)

Julius Honka (1st round 2014)

Ludwig Bystrom (2nd round 2012)

That depth is just ridiculous and, while Nill certainly can’t claim credit for all of them, he now has so many bullets in his chamber he’s set himself up for many years.

When we examine Nill’s draft history, we have to remember that he was “The Man” in Detroit as well as the GM of the Wings’ AHL team before moving to Dallas….or, in other words, the man mainly responsible for “the Detroit Model”.

Since his first draft in 2013 with Texas Nill has picked the following players in the first 2 rounds.

2013 

Valeri Nichsuhkin 109GP

Jason Dickinson 15P in 20GP AHL rookie

Remi Elle 6P in 11GP AHL rookie

2014

Julius Honka 40P in 87GP in AHL

Brett Pollock 31P in 28GP Edmonton WHL

2015

Denis Guryanov playing in the Russian junior League (an odd pick)

Roope Hintz playing in the Finnish SM Liga.

I admit I have to wonder about those 2015 picks but Nill has a long track record of discovering NHL players in Europe so at this point I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

To summarize, Nill had some pretty nice pieces to work with when he took over the Stars (Jamie and Jordy Benn, Klingberg on the way, Goligoski etc.) but he immediately got to work and acquired the pieces needed to win all while stock piling his prospect depth.

To be able to acquire Seguin, Spezza, Sharp and Oduya, Demers and all that D depth without losing anything of consequence is just remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshots

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

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

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

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

And he was FIFTH round pick in 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15.7

16.2

16.7

How do you like my chances? 🙂

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

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

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

10 TO WATCH

detective with magnifying glass

With the exhibition season drawing to a close, it’s time to anticipate some of the story lines I think we’ll see develop over the course of the season.

Here are the 10 top things I’m expecting to emerge over the next 7 months.

  1. Ryan Johansen

Johansen is the oft forgotten graduate of the Class of 2010 that also includes Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The 6’3″ 225 centre came close to a PPG last season and, now that he has Brandon Saad patrolling his left wing, I expect Johansen to take another step forward and emerge as a true superstar. Worth noting that Johansen led the NHL pre season scoring with 4G and 12P in only 4 games while his right winger, Nick Foligno finished with 9 points and Saad recorded 8. This is setting up as one of the premier lines in all of hockey.

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

Most observers expect McDavid and Eichel to be the top two in an outstanding rookie class but it needs to be remembered that both are playing on teams that don’t score much, have huge holes on the blue line and questionable goaltending. None of those things apply to Bennett whose Calgary Flames were 6th in goal scoring last season and promise to be even better this season with a healthy Mark Giordano, the additions of possession darling Michael Frolik and puck moving wizard Dougie Hamilton as well as further maturation of young stars Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Others to keep an eye on are Artemi Panarinin in Chicago and Nikolaj Ehlers in Winnipeg.

3. Jamie Benn

Benn won the scoring title last season despite playing with two bad hips which he had operated on in the offseason. He’s now healthy and will have Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin as line mates. Will he win the Hart Trophy? When asked which player he would build a team around, Sidney Crosby immediately identified Benn as his choice. I don’t disagree.

4. Tyler Seguin

The Yin to Benn’s Yang is Tyler Seguin who emerged last season as a bonafide superstar. Seguin would have easily topped 40 goals last season had he not missed 10 games to a dirty low bridge hit. He may be one of the few players with a legitimate chance to hit 50 this season and I wouldn’t bet against him.

6. Bo Horvat

Horvat was a revelation last season starting out on the 4th line and later in the season centering Vancouver’s 3rd line. In camp this season, he’s already moved up to the Canucks 2nd line C position and there are more than a few observers who believe he will soon make Vancouver fans forget all about Ryan Kesler.

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is another member of that sweet 2010 draft class that should hit another level this season. After scoring 37 goals and 73 points in 77 GP last season, I expect Tarasenko will soon join Seguin atop the pinnacle of that draft class.

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

The Oilers finished 8 points ahead of the Sabres last season and, while adding Connor McDavid, trading for Cam Talbot and signing Andrej Sekera, the Sabres have blown them away in making substantive changes to their roster.

Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, Jamie McGinn, Zach Bogosian, Cody Franson and Robin Lehner trump everything the Oilers have done in the offseason. I expect they’ll improve much more than the Oilers. and….by the way…the Oilers are almost cap strapped while the Sabres have almost $12M in free cap space. 

9. The Detroit Red Wings

This is the season that the Wings finally fail to make the playoffs. It’s not so much that they will decline by a large margin but the hard charging Florida Panthers, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators all are likely to finish ahead of them.

10. There is always one team that surprises with their success and at least one other that does a face plant. This season, I think the Calgary Flames are going to surprise and will win the Pacific Division. My candidate for the team likely to fall furthest is the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks made the playoffs last season by a mere 3 points and with the changes they’ve been forced make and the surging Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets, they could well finish 6th in the tough Central Division.

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 Wild Wild West III

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As I expected, and predicted, the Minnesota Wild are poised to clinch a playoff spot in the near future.

Sports Club Stats has them sitting at a 98.8% chance of making the playoffs going into tonight’s game at home against the Kings. A win would out them at 99.8% and with 95 points they would have a death grip on a wildcard spot and would be, in fact in 3rd place in the Central Division although the Blackhawks would have 2 games in hand.

The game tonight, though, also has tremendous implications on the playoff hopes of the Calgary Flames who now trail the Kings by 1 point.

Calgary still has 3 was to make the playoffs…finish ahead of the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division…finish ahead of the Kings in the Pacific Division or grab the final wild card spot if any of Vancouver, Los Angeles or Winnipeg fades down the stretch.

I’m really hoping all of Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary makes the playoffs since that would enhance the chances of a Canadian team winning a cup…something that hasn’t happened since Christ was a cowboy.

It’s not that I don’t like the Kings or appreciate how good they can be but it would be refreshing to have a different dynamic in this years’ playoffs.

 

 

 

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.