Dealing the Cards

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The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators executed the biggest trade of the NHL season earlier today.

The Jackets sent #1C Ryan Johansen to Hockey Tonk ® in exchange for 2013 4th overall pick Seth Jones.

It’s a trade that addresses extreme need for both teams.

Nashville has been searching for a #1C for years and Columbus has been shy on the blue line for almost as long.

Most of the comments I’ve seen are worried about C depth in Columbus which is pretty much balderdash.

It’s obvious that Columbus is waving a white flag on the season, understandably, and are positioning the team for the future.

After the departure of Johansen, here’s how the Jackets’ C depth looks going forward.

Alexander Wennberg

Brandon Dubinsky

Boone Jenner

Marko Dano

William Karlsson

Sonny Milano

Wennberg is a revelation this season and the others on the list are not chopped liver.

The addition of Seth Jones, a potential #1D, is exactly what the Jackets need and, if he and Ryan Murray live up to their draft pedigree, they will have a superb top pairing for a decade.

I’d wager they will.

From the Nashville perspective, The Predators have a tremendous group on D and can afford to move one of them for strength down the middle.

If Nashville can find a scoring winger, this move makes them a legit Stanley Cup contender.

With more than $8 million in free cap space to work with, David Poile should be able to add pretty much anyone available for a cup run

Radim Vrbata?

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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1) With the trade deadline fast approaching, I think we’ll soon see some dominos fall. The chief sellers are likely to be Arizona, Buffalo, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

2) With the Canadian dollar in freefall, the salary cap is not likely to hit the $73M estimated earlier with Gary Bettman recently indicating it may be around $71M . That will have a major impact on teams like Boston, Chicago, the Rangers and Pittsburgh who are going to be in cap hell in the offseason.

3) Teams who have a lot of cap space (like Calgary and Arizona) or who can create it by selling expensive pieces are going to be in a great position to pick up some very good players for pennies on the dollar as we saw last offseason when the Islanders picked up Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy and fast tracked their rebuild right into the playoffs.

4)  Worth noting that the league leading Nashville Predators have one of the lowest payrolls in the league at only $61M. Scary to think how good they can be if they pick up a couple of major pieces this summer.

5) Other than Nashville, perhaps one of the league biggest surprises (quietly) is the Detroit Red Wings.

• Detroit is second in the Atlantic Division, one point behind Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay. The Red Wings have won five straight and are 13 points better than were at this point last season. The surprising part is they’ve gotten better with little roster turnover.

“Around July 5 when not much happened last summer, I was disappointed – just like a few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think any of us would’ve believed we’d be in this spot, the general manager and myself included.”

So much for those who predicted the Wings would fall apart when Lidstrom retired.

6) The Vancouver Canucks are a bit of an enigma. They remain vulnerable to any of the 5 or so teams chasing them for a playoff spot (although the Canucks have games in hand on most) but what is holding the Canucks back is that they are very mediocre at home (11-8-1) while possessing the best road record in the league (15-8-2). Go figure.

7) It appears the Maple Leafs aren’t going to be signing UFA defenseman Cody Franson to a term and dollars the team likes and will move him shortly. The 6’5″ 215 pound RH shooting defenseman is having a career offensive year with 6 goals and 29 points. The Sicamous, BC boy would look pretty good on the Canucks blue line but I don’t know if the Canucks will be willing to give up much for a playoff rental even with Kevin Bieksa out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. He may end up in Dallas who could also use another RH shot.

8) With Franson on the market, the trade value of Jeff Petry will sink even further. Another RH shot, Petry’s boxcars are pretty bad…4G 6A 10P -22. Disturbing to think Petry is the Oilers best defenseman and they are going to send him away.

9) There’s an old hockey saying…”goaltending is 50% of the game when you have it and 100% of the game when you don’t”. See Winnipeg and Nashville for reference.

10) Want to know why the Calgary Flames could make the playoffs? It’s because they have a 19-8-1 record against WC and a 14-4-1 record agains the Pacific Division. Want to know why the Oilers are in the basement? They have 3-19-1 record against the WC and are 2-14-3 against the Pacific Division.

Mid Terms

Half-way-done

 

Most teams are either at or past the halfway point of the season.

Only Vancouver, Columbus, Florida and the Rangers have yet to play their 41st game, while New Jersey and Tampa Bay will have played 44 by night’s end.

The Nashville Predators head down the back stretch with the best record in hockey and, while I certainly didn’t expect that kind of stellar performance from them, I’m also not totally surprised that a team that features Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Seth Jones is having success. David Poile made a lot of savvy moves in the offseason and the Preds are benefiting from an outstanding performance from rookie Filip Forsberg propelling them to the top.

At the other end of the spectrum, both Minnesota and Dallas have been huge disappointments.

The Wild have been one of the best possession teams in the league all season but have been sewered by dreadful goaltending and, although it’s not his fault, I can’t imagine coach Mike Yeo survives the month.

In Dallas, shoddy defensive play is stifling one of the most productive offensive teams in the league but I imagine Jim Nill will wear that and pursue other options in the offseason.

Another team that has surprised has been the Winnipeg Jets. Despite being down 4 of their top 6 D and Evander Kane for an extended period, they are still hanging on to a wild card spot although by a very slim 3 points and, while I don’t expect them to hang on you have to admire their pluck.

Staying in the WC, you may recall that I predicted Edmonton and Arizona would battle for the basement but I have to admit I though the Oilers would be the better team and grab the 13th spot ahead of the Coyotes. Arizona has a 7 point lead with 2 games in and so it looks like the Oilers are going to make a liar out of me.

There are virtually no surprises in the EC except, perhaps, the declining play of the Bruins, (not really all that surprising after trading Boychuk) and the unfortunate situation surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets. If healthy, I believe the Jackets would have been a playoff team but that ship has sailed and let’s hope they get better breaks next season.

Not in the surprise category, but worth mentioning again, the Florida Panthers continue their march up the standings and it wouldn’t surprise if they finish in the top 3 in the Atlantic Division never mind a wild card spot. This is going to be a very good team for a very long time so enjoy the ride.

On an individual level, I think you have to give the highest mid-term marks to Flyers winger Jakub Voracek. The big Czech has 52 points and legs Tyler Seguin by 4 although I expect Seguin, Patrick Kane and a couple of others are going to make for a very interesting race down the stretch.

Snapshots

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1) Whatever you do, try to avoid the current flu bug that’s going around. I’m now into day 4 of absolute misery with no end in the sight. Chills, sweats, swallowing razor blades are all features of the current bug.

2) The Minnesota Wild lost again Saturday afternoon. They outshot the Nashville Predators 37-27. It’s their 4th straight loss and comes after games in which they outshot Chicago 44-20 and outshot San Jose 31-26. The Wild are outshooting the opposition by an average of 5 shots/game and yet they are 12th in the WC and sinking like a rock. No surprise what’s going on there…goaltending has been dreadful…Kuemper .902…Backstrom .893…Curry .826

3) There’s a little ray of sunshine in Oilerland after the Oilers beat the Blackhawks  But let’s remember the Oilers have 2 wins and 3 losses in the their last 5 games and then…there is this.

Jonathan Willis @JonathanWillis · 1h 1 hour ago

#Oilers 5v5 SH% and SV%:
– 2014-15 Eakins: 6.5%, 0.902
– 2013-14 Eakins: 7.7%, 0.913
– 2014-15 Nelson: 12.6%, 0.951

Jonathan Willis @JonathanWillis · 2h 2 hours ago
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked Todd Nelson as a coach, but he didn’t just double the effectiveness of #Oilers shooters and goalies.

4) Interesting trade between the Flames and Panthers this week as the teams swapped centres with Drew Shore going to Calgary and Corban Knight going to to Florida. Shore, who seems to be NHL ready, was blocked in Florida but Calgary is absolutely loaded at C as well with Backlund, Stajan, Monohan, Colborne, Jooris, Byron, Bouma, Reinhart and, of course, Sam Bennett. Gotta think there is another move coming.

5) I see Ryan Nugent Hopkins has been chosen as the Oilers representative at the All Star game. So, we’ll have to endure the fanboys touting his all star credentials for a few years. Important to note that Hopkins is currently 43rd in scoring among centres and not only is that NOT all-star rated by performance but it is also not what you would expect from any 1st line centre. Hopkins is nothing more or nothing less than a very good 2nd line centre.

6) The Vancouver Canucks remain a riddle. For a while they are among the highest scoring teams in the league but everyone on the team has gone stone cold and they are in danger of dropping out of a playoff spot. The surprising Jets, the Flames and the Kings are right on their heels although the Canucks have multiple games in hand.

7) It appears the Colorado Avalanche are don’t yet. After winning 7 of their last 10 games, they are surging toward the playoffs and are now only 4 points out. The WC playoff race is going to be barn burner.

8) As I predicted weeks ago, the Florida Panthers are methodically making their way up the EC standing…now only 3 points behind Boston but with 4 games in hand.

9) Checking the scoring race…I see Tyler Seguin has cooled off over the past few games and is now tied with Rick Nash for the goalscoring lead with 26 and is 2 points behind Jakub Voracek for the overall points lead. Two other players to keep an eye on are Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane who have both been very hot lately.

10) It appears the Buffalo Sabres are reverting to form and will likely occupy the 30th overall spot in the league in the very near future and both Edmonton and Carolina are still very much in the running while Arizona also looks like they’re going to tank. I still expect the league will be “managing” this draft very carefully to ensure that Connor McDavid doesn’t end up on a team that will fritter away such a valuable league asset.

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1) Winnipeg Free Press writer Gary Lawless has an interesting post up about the disposability of NHL head coaches and has some particularly harsh comments about the Edmonton Oilers.

Dallas Eakins, Pete DeBoer and Paul MacLean have all been fired this season by organizations with either no plan or the lack of strength to support one.

The Oilers hired Eakins to be part of building a winning program in Edmonton, but fired him after little more than one season. GM Craig MacTavish stood in front of the media following the firing and claimed to have “blood all over his hands,” for his role in assembling a terrible lineup.

MacTavish hired a rookie head coach to work with a young team but panicked when the growing pains became too much.

Everything that transpired in Edmonton was predictable, from a meddling owner to a GM submitting to pressure and casting aside his top lieutenant. Edmonton isn’t a coaching-change away from improvement. MacTavish knows this and firing Eakins was disingenuous. Oilers fans should have been insulted at the flimsy ruse.

Most GM’s get only two head coaches in their tenure so it will be interesting to see how much rope Craig MacTavish has in Edmonton.

2) The Florida Panthers continue their march up the EC standings, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 GP and now sit only 2 points behind the Maple Leafs with 3 games in hand. They have a positive shot differential and are getting all star level goaltending from Roberto Luongo (.923) while emerging star Nick Bjugstad is on pace for a 33 goal season and appears to be gaining confidence with every game. Rookie Defenseman Aaron Ekblad has been noting short of a revelation….the 18 year old has 5 goals, 21 points and leads the team in plus/minus at +8.

3) The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently the highest scoring team in the league at 3.23 G/G. If they ever figure out that defense thing, they could be dangerous.

4) The same might apply to the Dallas Stars who are 28th in the league in GA/G. The Stars, though, are on an 8-2-0 run in their past 10 are are making a belated push for the playoffs. GM Jin Nill continues to try and shore up his D, picking David Schlemko off waivers this morning but I doubt that will be enough to stem the tide.

5) Speaking of the Stars…Tyler Seguin has cooled off a bit of late but remains on pace for a 57 goal 100 point season. In the meantime, it appears Taylor Hall has become “indifferent” in Edmonton and is on pace for 23 goals 53 points.

6) 5 years on from the 2010 draft, things are starting to get a little clearer. Seguin has passed Hall in GP, goals and points, despite playing his first 2 seasons in a sport role in Boston while Hall was top dog in Edmonton. But, to me, one of the most fascinating stories of that draft is Russian sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian, picked 16th in the draft by the St. Louis Blues, is in his 3rd NHL season and is on pace for 47 goals.

7) Before the season began, I predicted the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks would be battling for a wild card spot at the end of the season and that certainly looks like a good bet. They’re currently tied with 45 points apiece and will likely have company in that battle with the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames.

8) As the season winds down, teams’ record against their own conference becomes more and more important as they wrap up their season series against the other conference. Some notables in the WC vs. WC:

Vancouver – 13-7-2

San Jose – 13-6-3

Calgary – 15-7-1

Nashville – 17-5-1

Edmonton 2-18-2

9) Since Edmonton will have to climb over at least 7 teams to get to the playoffs, how deep is the hole they’ve dug? I don’t think you can even see the bottom from here.

10) And finally, how ’bout them Nashville Predators? As of this writing they are leading the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 mid way through the second period. And, worth noting, Mark Arcobello who was traded by Edmonton to Nashville for spare centre Derek Roy, just scored his 8th goal of the season…Roy has 1 goal on the season and only 1 assist in his 3 games as an Oiler. Of course, Roy is  1 inch taller than Arcobello so there is that 🙂