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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Top 3

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When you spend a lot of cash and cap space on the best 3 players on your team, you had better be getting a massive return on your investment or you’re not likely to be very successful.

I thought we would look at the top 3 players (by cap hit) on all the WC teams to see which teams are getting an adequate return on their investment.

Anaheim – Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler:

$23 million cap hit – 35 G 84P

Arizona – OEL, Doan, Yandle:

$16 million cap hit – 17G 51P

Calgary – Hudler, Wideman, Giordano

$13.2 million cap hit – 31G 80P

Chicago – Kane, Toews, Sharp

$18.5 million cap hit – 31G  81P

Colorado – Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog

$17.5 million cap hit – 22G 54P

Dallas – Spezza, Seguin, Benn (note Horcoff actually has a slightly higher cap hit than Benn but is only getting paid $3 million this season)

$18. 2 million cap hit – 37G 88P

Edmonton – Eberle, Hall, Hopkins

$18 million cap hit – 22G 56P

Los Angeles – Doughty, Kopitar, Brown

$22.6 million cap hit – 15G 42P

Minnesota – Parise, Suter, Koivu

$21.7 million cap hit – 18G 56P

Nashville – Weber, Neal, Fisher

$17 million cap hit – 19G 42P

San Jose – Thornton, Marleau, Couture

$19.3 million cap hit – 35G 82P

St. Louis – Statsny, Pietrangelo, Steen

Cap hit $19.0 million – 18G  40P

Vancouver – Sedin, Sedin, Vrbata

Cap hit $19 million – 25G 75P

Winnipeg – Enstrom, Wheeler, Kane

Cap hit $16.5 – 15G 44P

Some observations:

  • Anaheim is forking out the most dough but they’re getting full value for it.
  • Calgary is getting HUGE value from their best paid players.
  • The Kane and Toews contract extensions next season are going to whack the Blackhawks.
  • The best “top 3” in this study is Spezza, Seguin, Benn and, if Dallas gets its D together, watch out.
  • Edmonton’s “top 3” are very disappointing.
  • The Kings 3 highest paid players are severely under performing and the standings show it.
  • Nashville’s highest scoring players, Forsberg and Ribiero have a combined cap hit of less than $2 million.
  • Likewise, the Blues’ top 3 scoring forwards, Tarasenko, Schwartz and Lehtera have a combined cap hit of $5 million.

Now a list like this doesn’t indicate which team will have the most success but teams that aren’t getting good value from their best paid players are likely not to have any long-term success.

Top Guns

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Time for a look at who is delivering the mail (and who isn’t) so far this season.

There have been some remarkable early season performances by some of the top guns in the league and by some young players who are tearing up the league thus far.

Here’s a look at the top 30 scorers (minimum 10 games played) in the WC 5V5 P/60 thanks to Behind the Net.

WC

Tyler Toffoli – 4.57

Jeff Carter – 4.27

Nick Bonino – 3.89

Chris Higgins – 3.75

Tyler Seguin – 3.74

Jamie Benn – 3.70

Vladimir Tarasenko – 3.62

Tanner Pearson – 3.62

Filip Forsberg – 3.46

Joe Colborne 3.43

Ryan Carter – 3.36

Zach Parise 3.12

Corey Perry – 3.12

Ryan Getzlaf – 3.11

Martin Hanzal – 2.98

Blake Wheeler – 2.98

Jason Pominville – 2.95

Brandon Saad – 3.91

Thomas Vanek – 2.87

Mike Ribiero – 2.83

Jiri Hudler – 2.75

Justin Abdelkader – 2.73

Brian Bickell – 2.72

Joe Thornton – 2.69

James Neal – 2.61

Mason Raymond – 2.61

Taylor Hall – 2.59

Alex Burrows – 2.51

Joe Pavelski – 2.46

Jaden Schwartz – 2.46

A few observations.

There are some interesting names who didn’t make this list…Henrik (2.24) and Daniel (2.27) Sedin are absent although they are reasonably close. But what is striking is how much the Canucks second line has been contributing. Nick Bonino , Chris Higgins and Alex Burrows are all on this list supporting the notion that Willie Desjardins has the Canucks playing an effective 4 line game and silencing critics who thought the Canucks were a one line team without secondary scoring.

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating…the Kings “That 70’s Line” has been a dominant force thus far. They’ve slowed down recently so it will be interesting to see how they’re performing after another month but I think it’s fair to say that Tyler Toffoli has to represent one of the biggest 2nd round draft steals in recent memory.

The Dallas Stars appear to be on the verge of wasting a spectacular season from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Going into the season, we all knew the Stars had issues on D but to add to their woes, their goaltending has been pretty bad too. Kari Lehtonen has been below par at .904 while Anders Lindback has been nothing short of horrible at .852. You have to wonder how long Jim Nill will let that situation fester?

Likely the biggest surprise here is the absence of Jonathan Toews (1.43) and Patrick Kane (1.05)! Since the Hawks are leading the league is shots/game, I wouldn’t read too much into this right now but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Watch out for the Wild. The Wild have 3 players on this list and have the best team shot differential in the league. Despite that, they remain 10th in the WC and. at some point, that dam is going to be breached.

Some interesting numbers and trends emerge when you look at how teams are performing by this metric.

If we use 2.00 P/60 as a demarcation point for players who are performing adequately offensively and then see how many players teams have who are at or above that mark, we see the following:

Anaheim – 3 (Perry, Getzlaf, Silfverberg) Obviously the Ducks are relying on one line to do almost all their scoring)

Arizona – 4 (Hanzal, Boedker, Doan, Erat) Not bad but, when Martin Hanzal is your scoring leader, you’re likely in a spot of trouble)

Calgary – 5 (Colborne, Hudler, Raymond, Gaudreau, Giordano). Gaudreau and Giordano are pleasant surprises for Flames fans here. I wonder though how Colborne and Raymond will fare when they return from injury.

Chicago – 3 (Saad, Bickell, Versteeg) I don’t think it will be long before Toews and Kane join this party.

Colorado – 3 (Iginla, Tanguay, Duchene) What’s remarkable here is who is missing. Top guns Nathan MacKinnon (1.77), Ryan O’Reilly (1.14) and Gabriel Landeskog (0.84!) are having miserable seasons. No wonder the Avalanche are struggling.

Dallas – 6 (Seguin, Benn, Roussel, Spezza, Garbutt, Eaves) The Stars are having a superior offensive season but if you can’t keep the puck out of your own net, it doesn’t matter much.

Edmonton – 4 (Hall, Eberle,Hopkins, Pouliot) the Oilers “superstars” are all at the low end of the range and their performance has come against a steady diet of EC teams. Once their schedule balances out and they play the big boys in the WC, I think it’s possible they won’t have anyone in the top 30 and may have only 1 or 2 above the 2.00 marker. Also notable here is that former 1st round pick Nail Yakupov is at a dreadful 1.66 (134th in the league) substantially behind Flames 4th round pick Johnny Gaudreau (2.12) who is the same age.

Los Angeles – 3 (Toffoli, Carter, Pearson) It’s a good thing for the Kings that trio is shooting out the lights because no one else on the team is scoring much at all. Kopitar (1.68), Richards (1.48) and Justin Williams (0.68) have been dreadful thus far.

Minnesota – 6 (Carter, Parise, Pominville, Vanek, Zucker, Fontaine) The Wild have been killing it at even strength this season but their PP has only recently shown some signs of life.  At a staggering 5%, you just know that won’t last and the Wild will shoot up the standings.

Nashville – 4 (Forsberg, Ribiero, Neal, Roy) The 4 offensive players acquired by Nashville are doing what is required of them and considering the Predators are giving up fewer than 2 GPG, that should easily be enough to win them a playoff spot.

San Jose – 3 (Thornton, Pavelski, Couture) There is a huge drop off behind these 3 which would seem disappointing for the Sharks.

St. Louis – 3 (Tarasenko, Schwartz, Lehtera) Like Anaheim, the Blues have been relying on 1 line to carry the mail. Steen, Berglund and Backes have almost dropped off the face of the earth.

Vancouver – 5 (Bonino, Higgins, Burrows, Sedin, Sedin) and with Richardson at 1.99, The Canucks are battling the Wild for the most balanced attack in the league.

Winnipeg – 1 (Wheeler) This won’t end well.

 

 

 

10 After 10

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So, here we are at the point where most teams have now played their 10th game of the season.

At this point, most teams have a pretty good idea what they have in the lineup and some start contemplating changes.

We can also start to get a pretty good read on how off season moves are paying off…or not.

Forthwith, 10 thoughts on the season thus far:

1) The Minnesota Wild could be the best team in the league. Here’s why:

  • Despite a decent record, 6-3-0, The Wild are actually playing better than their record would otherwise indicate.
  • They have the best 5V5 record in the league at 2.08
  • They are 2nd in the league in Shots For/Game at 35.6 and they lead the league in Shots Against/Game at 23.2. Their shot differential of 12.3 is off the charts good.
  • The Wild are 5th in the league in GF per 60 at 3.33 and they are 4th in the league in GA/60. They are tied for 1st in the league with the Penguins with a goal differential of +14.
  • BUT…the Wild have managed that differential while scoring ZERO PP goals through 9 games while the Penguins are sporting an unworldly 39.5% PP percentage. It would seem incredibly likely that the Penguins will come down to earth and the Wild will start getting some PP production.
  • Last night, with 3 of their starting 6 defensemen on the shelf (Jason Pominville played some D) and with additional injuries to Matt Cooke and Erik Haula, the Wild outshot possession monster San Jose to the tune of 46-28. More on the Wild dominance here.

Watch out for this team.

2) The Nashville Predators are proving once again that a team built the right way, from the back out and up the middle, will be successful. Nashville is almost $10M under the salary cap (only 4 teams spend less) but with Pekka Rinne in goal and perhaps the best D corp in the league, the Predators were able to assemble a patchwork forward group from the free agent pile although it should be pointed out they have NINE legitimate NHL calibre centres on the roster and will only improve in that area once Mike Fisher returns from injury. Peter Laviolette seems like the perfect choice as head coach for this group since he has been able to correctly make use of his big, talented defensive corp to create a quick transition game that is killing opponents. That Nashville has 5-0-2 record against the WC pretty much tells you how good they are.

3) The Dallas Stars are playing with fire. The Stars’ 1st line has been all but unstoppable this season but the Stars are actually -1 in goal differential thanks to a leaky D and lack of an adequate back up goaltender. You’d have to think Jim Nill will be among the first GM’s to make a move this season although the Stars are pretty close to the cap. With a very tough schedule coming up, Anaheim, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Jose, the Stars could be in tough to hang on to a playoff spot unless the Stars can continue to outscore their opponents with their Benn-Spezza-Seguin top line.

4) Before the season started, I predicted Tyler Seguin would flirt with 50 goals and 100 points and be in the running for the Hart Trophy. So far so good. Seguin is on pace for 63 goals and 136 points.

5) Those pundits who suggested the Sedin twins are a spent force might just be eating a little crow early this season. Now that they’ve been unshackled from John Tortorella, the twins are producing at a very high level…they are on pace for 98 point seasons while line mate Radim Vrbata is on pace for 41 goals.

6) The Columbus Blue Jackets are hanging in there (4-5-0) despite the worst run of injuries I’ve ever witnessed.

The star-crossed team has been on an unparalleled run of bad luck. In the last week alone, it has seen forward Nick Foligno stretchered off the ice after a freak collision with a linesman, franchise goalie Sergei Bobrovsky suffer a fractured finger during practice and defenceman James Wisniewski suffer the exact same injury in a game.

If that was the extent of the issues, a team could cope.

But then you remember that there are serious questions about Nathan Horton even playing this season because of back issues and that Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert are also on the shelf.

All nine of those guys would be in the lineup, if healthy. Of course, that’s a big “if” right now.

Read more.

7) The Russians are Coming

The performance of Russian born players this season is worth keeping an eye on. Here’s the run down.

Malkin – 4G 8A 12P

Tarasenko 4G 5A 9P

Kucherov 4G 5A 9P (looks like a rising star)

Ovechkin 5G 1A 6P (struggling with defensive responsibilities?)

Kulemin 1G 5A 6P

Emelin 0G 6A 6P

Datsyuk 2G 3A 5P (in only 4GP)

Namestnikov 3G 1A 4P

Anisimov 2G 2A 4P

Yakupov 2G 2A 4P (not close to 1st overall pick production)

Markov 1G 3A 4P

Kuznetsov 1G 3A 4P

Nikitin 1G 2A 3P

Semin 0G 2A 2P (what a waste of $7M per year)

Voynov 0G 2A 2P (suspended)

Volchenkov 0G 2A 2P

Kulikov 0G 1A 1P (the Panthers don’t score much at all)

Tyutin 0G 1A 1P

Nichushkin 0G 0A 0P (only 2GP due to injury, due back soon)

8) The Edmonton Oilers are living on borrowed time. They may have 4 victories on the season but all 4 have come against EC teams while their record against WC teams is 0-5-1.After a Saturday night matchup agains the Canucks, who have already beaten the Oilers twice this season, they embark on their annual Rodeo Road Trip which sees them play 4 more EC teams and Nashville. They will return home to face the music in the WC. They will close out November with games against the Canucks, Devils, Blackhawks, Stars, Predators and Blues. Good luck with that. The American Thanksgiving Day cutoff for being in the playoffs or not is only a month away.

9) The Colorado Avalanche offence may have come alive just in time to save their season. Nathan MacKinnon scored twice last night to carry the Avs to a 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders. The Avalanche now have points in 5 straight games games (2-0-3) and Semyon Varlamov seems to be getting his mojo back. They have a tough weekend schedule against St. Louis and Anaheim so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against tougher competition.

10) The Buffalo Sabres are on pace to be an historically bad team. They’re averaging just over ONE GF per game. The record for the least number of GF in a season is 133 held by the 1953/54 Chicago Blackhawks. That record may be in jeopardy.

The amazing thing is the Sabres have actually won 2 games while the Carolina Hurricanes remain winless after 8GP. By the way, the record for fewest wins in a season is 8, held by the 1974/75 Washington Capitals.

The Killers

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I think we can agree that the best measure of the value of an offensive forward in the NHL is how he performs at even strength. Scoring on the PP does have value but, especially with fewer and fewer penalties being called, being able to score at evens is critical and, of course is even more valuable in the playoffs where the referees tend to swallow their whistles.

So, early this season, who is killing it at even strength?

*All numbers courtesy Behind the Net.

Last season, the 5 most dominant scorers P/60 5V5 were:

1) Ryan Getzlaf – 3.32

2) Corey Perry – 3.11

3) Jamie Benn – 2.95

4) Taylor Hall – 2.91

5) Tyler Seguin – 2.84

It would seem that elite scorers need to produce above a rate of about 2.25 P/60 to be in the conversation.

So, let’s take an early look at who is killing it so far this season and who is struggling.

There are currently 107 players who meet the 2.25 threshold and you know that regression will weed out a lot of those in the coming weeks but there are a few players whose early season production has been eye popping.

1) Rick Nash – 6.67

2) Jeff Carter – 6.19

3) Mikhail Grabovski – 5.67

4) Tyler Toffoli – 5.63

5) Tanner Pearson – 5.55

6) Jamie Benn – 5.24

7) Matt Cooke – 4.95!!!

8) Ryan Strome – 4.79

9) Ryan Getzlaf – 4.76

10) Corey Perry – 4.74

11) Brock Nelson – 4.66

12) Chris Higgins – 4.59

13) Nick Bonino – 4.39

14) Ryan Carter – 4.35

15) Jakub Voracek – 4.34

16) Jason Zucker – 4.08

17) Nikita Kucherov – 3.98

18) Jaden Shwartz – 3.94

19) Henrik Zetterburg – 3.91

20) Tyler Seguin – 3.91

Some observations about that list would seem to be in order.

I have no idea what’s gotten into Rick Nash. Last season he produced at a pitiful 1.84 P/60 at evens. Perhaps the easiest and most accurate analysis is that his shooting percentage this season is 31% and that’s not likely to persist. Nash is 18th is SOG this season at 29 so I imagine he should drop down the list pretty quickly.

“That 70’s Line” in Los Angeles should likely be renamed “The Killers”. What prompted this column is that I noticed Tyler Toffoli was producing elite scoring while playing only 16 minutes a night. With Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik both out with injury, that line’s ice time will go up so it will be interesting to watch how that affects their production. Based on my viewings of the Kings, I expect they won’t miss a beat…they’re that dominant.

The New York Islanders are a pretty good hockey team. With 3 players on this list, they are producing a lot of offence and are quietly in a position to take over the top spot in the entire NHL if they can beat the Winnipeg Jets at home tonight. I wouldn’t bet against them.

The Vancouver Canucks were worried about secondary scoring when they traded Ryan Kesler to Anaheim in the offseason but, so far, their second line has been very, very good.

Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino and Alex Burrows (2.64 P/60 5V5) have certainly held up their end of the bargain and with the Sedins (Daniel 3.82),  (Henrik 3.78) and (Radim Vrbata 2.73) all well ahead of the 2.25 mark, their scoring is not an issue although their D has been weak so far this season.

Worth noting in the Kesler vs. Bonino race, Kesler has 3 goals and 7 points while Bonino has (you guessed it) 3 goals and 7 points. However, when you look at P/60 5V5, Bonino is outpacing Kesler by a wide margin…4.39 vs 1.25

Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff decided a few games ago to overload his 1st line by running Benn – Spezza – Seguin as a unit so I imagine you might see the Stars’ numbers actually improve. You have to remember that all 3 members of that line can play at centre and watching Ruff deploy them has been an interesting exercise in coaching tactics.

So far this season, Spezza has taken 120 draws while Seguin is at 51 and Benn is at 49. Nice problem to have!

And then there is Matt Cooke. What the hell is he doing on this list anyway?

Well, I expect he won’t be for long but, despite his long, long rap sheet, Cooke is a pretty good hockey player when he’s not doing something stupid.

A few other observations when parsing the numbers:

Sidney Crosby is off to a relatively slow start to the season (2.30). That’ll change at some point.

Watch out for Zack Parise. He’s currently sitting at 3.61 but he also leads the NHL in shots on goal with 48 in only 7 games played.  If he keeps shooting at that rate and his shooting percentage rises from the current 7.5% to his career average of 11.3, he’ll climb this list pretty quickly.

The “high flying” Edmonton Oilers offence isn’t.

The Oilers leader by this metric is Benoit Pouliot at 2.55. That’s a decent number but  Jordan Eberle is the only other Oiler player above the 2.25 mark while RNH (2.24) and Taylor Hall (2.18) are struggling to hit the mark. The Oilers have recently had a steady diet of home games against EC opposition so, when the rubber hits the road and they play a schedule more heavily filled with the Big Boys in the WC and the Pacific Division in particular….we’ll, let’s just say “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”.

The Oilers are also letting David Perron die on the vine by playing him on the 3rd line. Last season, Perron posted a good, not great, 5V5 number of 1.96 which has dropped to a mediocre 1.62 this season. Unless his role changes, I can’t imagine he’ll be too eager to re-sign with the Oilers when his contract is up.

Is something wrong in Chicago?

Although the Hawks are off to a very good start (5-2-1) Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews haven’t been producing much at all at even strength. Kane is sitting at 1.08 while Toews has yet to produce a point at evens 0.00

Something worth watching.

 

 

Cabinet of Curiosities

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So, here we are 1 week into the NHL season (give or take) and some early observations are in order.

1) Edmonton Oiler fans are already near a revolt. The team, as expected, has done a face plant right out of the blocks. Remember I called them to finish 13th in the WC although, based on early returns, that may have been optimistic. There was optimism among the rabble that the Oilers had solidified their D and sorted out their goaltending in the offseason  but both have been nothing short of dreadful and Viktor Fasth is already on IR.

Remember I mentioned the Oilers were a Nugent-Hopkins injury away from a disaster? Well, guess what? As expected, opposition players have been targeting Hopkins, Hall and Eberle with huge, clean hits and already the Oiler kids are back and blue.

As of this writing, I imagine Daniel Winnik is just licking his chops.

There are some observers, particularity at Lowetide’s blog, that the Oilers are “better” this season and point to small sample size Corsi ratios to back up their argument but as long time poster Woodguy has pointed out repeatedly, the Oilers “improvement” has been based on score effects rather than reality.

So far this season, the Oilers are giving up 31.7 shots per game while last year they gave up 32.9

When your goaltending and D are sub par and the opposition is getting unimpeded shots from the prime scoring areas, giving up 5+ goals per game is not surprising.

In the game against the Kings, the Oilers were outshot 13-7 in the 1st period and the Kings went on cruise control after taking a 3-0 lead. They then spent the last 2 periods capitalizing on Oiler defensive mistakes and, in the 3rd period, were obviously playing to get Jonathan Quick a shutout.

The Oilers are getting more shots this season but, as Woodguy has pointed out, the reality is they are getting those shots while playing from behind. That has no sustain.

2) The Colorado Avalanche have started very slowly with a 1-2-0 record after losing their first two games by shutout to the Minnesota Wild. Like the Oilers, the Av’s are giving up way too many shots and, at least against the very impressive Wild, also had trouble generating offence. From the viewing I’ve had, it appears that the Av’s offseason additions, Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere along with Alex Tanguay are having trouble keeping up with the speed of MacKinnon, Duchene and O’Reilly. It’ll be interesting to see how Colorado responds to the issue.

3) 2 teams, the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks, won’t play their 3rd game of the season until Friday night while some other teams will already have played 4 or 5.

That may give both teams a bit of an early season boost since they’ve had time to practice, rest and heal any nagging injuries but, later, they’ll be playing a compressed schedule that may take a toll.

Given their lack of playing time, it’s hard to get an early read on either team but the Wild have been dominant and the Canucks seem to be having fun again. If the Canucks can get their PP back to near the top of the league as they were just a couple of season ago, watch out. So far, they’re at 30% and it appears Radim Vrbata, a RH shot, may be just what the doctor ordered. Sweet Georgia Brown may be back in the house.

4) The Dallas Stars wobbled out of the gate but their victory over a very good Columbus team was just dominant. Jamie Benn showed again why he is the best LW in hockey notching a Gordie Howe hat trick with 1G and 3A. Oh, and Tyler Seguin scored 3 goals with 6 shots and was +4. Take that Taylor!

5) Every season there is a Cinderella team that rises from the ashes to compete with the Big Boys. This season, I think it’ll be the New York Islanders. Garth Snow (I KNOW!) killed it in the offseason adding Grabovski, Kulemin, Boychuk and Leddy and already his moves are paying dividends. Snow has managed to acquire so much centre depth that the Isles are actually playing 3 bonafide NHL centres on one line and, folks, we know the key to winning in the NHL is depth down the middle.

6) The Florida Panthers played a game against the Ottawa Senators earlier this week. Or did they? The announced attendance was 7,211 and I can tell you that I watched the game and if there were actually 3,000 in attendance, I would be shocked. Apparently, Broward County is considering whether or not they would be better off without the Panthers and, unless they are ingesting some of those illegal substances that are so prevalent in Florida, they will just tell the team to GTFO. Quebec City is beckoning.

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Hockey Notes

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A quiet day in the NHL with only 2 games on the schedule.
One of those games features the Toronto Maple Leafs at the New York Rangers.
The Leafs have dropped their first 2 games and have look disorganized and overwhelmed in both contests. I imagine a loss to the Rangers will kick the “Fire Carlyle” chorus into full song.
It’s very early in the season, but, if the Leafs losing ways continue, I think Brendan Shanahan will be presented with a very tempting opportunity to go into tank mode.
If you watched Don Cherry’s ranting last night on HNIC about the Leafs losing because they don’t draft OHL players you might be tempted to fire a shoe through your television screen but you might also can imagine that Leaf’s fans might be okay with the Leafs doing a rebuild based on the possibility of drafting Toronto area phenom Connor McDavid. What would Phil Kessel fetch on the trade market anyway?

Speaking of McDavid, he and line mate Dylan Strome have come blasting out of the gate in the OHL this season. McDavid has 6GP 7G 18P while Strome has matched that point total with 3G and 15A.
McDavid is on a 3PPG pace, pace that would see him threaten the OHL scoring record of 182 points held by Wayne Gretzky.
Strome is another Toronto boy whose draft stock is soaring playing alongside McDavid.
There is a good read on the Stromes and another Toronto area hockey family here

In yesterday’s post we took a close look at the potential for the Sedin twins to bounce back this season and score more than 70 points.
Many of the questions about the Sedins and their new line mate, Radim Vrbata remain since, so far, they’ve only played games against their NW Division Pacific Division rivals from Alberta. But the early indicators are certainly positive.
Henrik has 2G 2P, Daniel has 4A and Vrbata has chipped in with 2G 1A. The line was toying with the Oilers top line in the last night’s game, holding Hopkins/Hall/Eberle off the scoresheet while cycling against them pretty much at will.
The bad news about the Canucks is that they don’t play a playoff quality team for another week. The good news is that their next game is against the Edmonton Oilers.

And, speaking of the Edmonton Oilers, the gnashing of teeth over the comical roster moves of the Lowe/MacT/Eakins troika is become comical in and of itself.
The Boys on the Bus went out and acquired Andrew Ference (aging 3rd pairing D in Boston) Nikitin Nikitin (marginal 3rd pairing D in Columbus) Brad Hunt (an average AHL D) and Mark Fayne (a 2nd paring D at best) and then have tried to assemble a legit NHL defensive corp which includes Justin Schulz (who cannot play D AT ALL) and Jeff Petry (who would be a 4-5D on a good team. What could go wrong?

Some guys who I think are pretty smart, believe that calling up Martin Marincin from OKC is the answer but I have to say if Marincin is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.
Marincin has played pretty well at times for the Oilers but expecting him to stabilize a rag tag band of has beens and never was D is beyond the pale. MacT said in the offseason that he wasn’t interested in acquiring any mid level defensemen and then promptly went out and acquired 3 who might not even meet that low bar.

 The Oilers, as I’ve been saying for 3-4 years, need:

1) A big, veteran, skilled #1 or #2 C

2) Two legit top pairing D

3) An above average goaltender.

They have NONE of those things and nothing much will change unless those needs are addressed.


The Minnesota Wild are/is the real deal folks. Zach Parise has been nothing but spectacular early on with 2G and 2A in 2GP and has fired a staggering 19  SOG on the opposition net.

Before the season began, there was some concern about the Wild goaltending but, so far, Darcy Kuemper has answered those concerns in a big way. The opposition has fired 46 shots on him and he has allowed zero goals. The huge (6’5″) 24 year old has appeared in 34 NHL games over 3 seasons and is developing a nice resume with a career save percentage of .919.

The Wild signed 21 year old defenseman Jonas Brodin to a 6 year contract extension this morning. Brodin has established himself as a bonafide top pairing D in the NHL after being drafted 10th overall in the 2011 draft.

The Wild roster also includes several young players who were drafted by the Wild in Matt Dumba (2012), Mikael Granlund, (2010), Jason Zucker (2010) Darcy Kuemper (2009) and Erik Haula (2009). Nice work.


The Florida Panthers have been awful early but the real story is what happened last night at the Panthers home opener.

The announced attendance of 11,419 was the smallest for a home opener in franchise history.

The previous low was 12,087 at Miami Arena for the 1995-96 debut famously remembered as the “Rat Trick” game.

You have to wonder how long before The Panthers organization, Broward County, which is being asked to further subsidize the Panthers, and the NHL realize that no one cares?
With an arena almost completed in Quebec City, the smart move for the team, the league and the NHLPA is to relocate the team for the 205/26 season.
The Panthers would have Quebec native Roberto Luongo and francophone Jonathan Huberdeau to lead the charge in Quebec and I would imagine the natives of Quebec City would welcome the team with open arms.

 

Sedinery

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The fate of the Vancouver Canucks this season (as in every season in recent memory) rests in the hands of Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Early returns from the 1st game of the season in Calgary are good…Henrik went 1G 1A while Daniel picked up 1A and their new line mate, Radim Vrbata, scored his 1st goal as a Canuck.

“If they can get back to “normal,” they can get production out of their third-wheel (currently Vrbata), and the Canucks can muster a more productive power play, even in consideration of the natural decline with age, there is no reason to believe that they can’t easily surpass their 2013-14 overall production totals, and likely come relatively close to their 2011-12 numbers. Takers on 70+ points anyone? I don’t see why not.”

Much, much more on what to expect from the Sedins this season is here…really a great read.

The Canucks have a very odd October schedule in that they played the Flames on Wednesday, got 3 days off before their home opener against the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night and then don’t play again for almost a week when they travel to Edmonton to take on the Oilers again.

While the Canucks will have only played twice when they meet the Oilers for the second time, the Oilers will be playing their 5th game, sandwiching a road trip to Los Angeles and Arizona in between those two games against the Canucks.

You would think that gives the Canucks a huge advantage in both games against the Oilers since they have the rare opportunity to practise during the season and will have ample time for rest and recovery from any minor injuries while the Oilers take their lumps against 2 big, heavy teams on their road trip.

In another scheduling oddity, the Canucks and Oilers play each other again on November 1st and November 19th so, if one teams dominates this season series, they could do a lot of damage to the aspirations of the other.

The Sedins have rag dolled the Oilers for years…winning their home opener  last season against the Edmonton team 6-2 with Henrik picking up 3 points and Daniel 2.

Last season the teams didn’t meet again until December 13th and it was the same old story with the Canucks winning 4-0 although the Sedins had a quiet night.

If I were a betting man…okay I’m a betting man…I expect the Canucks will win both games against the Oilers this month.

The Oilers D still looks like a work in (cough) progress and there are still huge questions about their goaltending based on Scrivens’ performance against the Flames Thursday.

It’s entirely plausible that the Oilers come home from their road trip 0-4 (maybe they can beat Arizona) to play a rested Canucks squad playing just its 3rd game of the season.

That the Oilers play the high powered Tampa Bay Lightning two days later could trigger a fan revolt if the Oilers open the season 0-6.

The Oilers follow that game with another 5 at home in a row against the Capitals, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Predators and, you guessed it, the Vancouver Canucks on November 1st.

Last season, the Oilers were out of the playoff race by Halloween and, unless they can find some success against the Canucks in the next 21 days, it could happen again.

Game on.

 

 

Now or Never

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American Thanksgiving falls on the 4th Thursday of November.

This year that Thursday falls on November 27th.

It also coincides roughly with the end of the first quarter of the NHL season and for almost every team in the league, the first 20 games determine who will taste playoff success and who won’t.

“The magic playoff number seemed to be 21 points. Those with at least 21 points were more likely to make the playoffs. Those with 20 or fewer points were more likely to miss.

The extra point — introduced for overtime losses in the 1999-2000 season — changed very little statistically. In the five seasons before the extra point was introduced, 63 of 80 playoff teams (78.8 per cent) were in a playoff spot. In the five years afterwards, 61 of 80 (76.3 per cent) were in the same spot.

New rules introduced after the lockout – including the introduction of the shootout — also changed little. In the five years since the lockout, 62 of 80 of playoff teams (77.5 per cent) were in a playoff spot by the fourth Thursday of November.”

Source

In the Western Conference, I think we can group the teams into age categories that should help simplify the actual chances of teams making the playoffs or not.

The Locks:

It would take several acts of God for these teams to miss the playoffs:

Los Angeles

Chicago

Anaheim

St. Louis

4 of the playoff spots in the WC are already gone folks so we’re looking at 12 teams vying for 4 spots. Who is in the next tier?

The Contenders:

I’m going to go out on a bit of limb here (not really) and predict that 5 teams from the Central Division will make the playoffs this season and I’ll tell you why.

We’ve already accounted for Chicago and St. Louis so we have the following in the order I think they will finish:

Dallas – The Stars are the most improved team in the league with the addition of Spezza and Hemsky. They’re deep down the middle have a passable D and decent goaltending.

Minnesota – The Wild added Thomas Vanek to address scoring, Mikael Granlund is an emerging star and Matt Dumba had an outstanding training camp. Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker add developing depth and scoring.

Colorado  – The Avalanche rode percentages last year and are likely to falter somewhat but a top 6 that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay should be able to outscore almost any other problems.

That’s 7 playoff spots already accounted for kids…there’s only ONE left!

The Hopefuls:

To my mind, the only real playoff race (despite what the Bettman point tells you) is between only 2 teams.

San Jose – The Sharks had a tumultuous offseason in which they stripped the captaincy from Joe Thornton, inexplicably added John Scott and then….nothing. The Sharks remain, however, a deep, extremely talented team who could challenge the top group or fade away.

Vancouver – The Canucks have a new President, GM, coach, assistant coaches and second line centre. The also added some secondary scoring but, let’s be honest, to make the playoffs, the Sedins will have to rebound in a big way and Willie Desjardins will have to get their power play back to among the league’s best if the Canucks are going to make it.

Based solely on skill, I have to give the nod to the Sharks here but the Canucks and Sharks play each other 5 times this season and the team that prevails in that series likely makes the dance while the other goes home. Those 5 games should be treated like game 7’s in the Stanley Cup finals since each game will likely have a deciding impact on the standings.

The Rabble:

Occasionally, a team will rise up from the depths and surprise everyone with their performance as Colorado did last season. Are any of the other teams in the WC capable of that feat?

Nashville – To my eye…this is the most unpredictable team in the WC.  They’ve added much needed scoring in James Neal, Mike Ribiero  and a raft of second tier centres. Their D and goaltending are solid but their forward depth is a question mark. Likely close but no cigar.

Phoenix – Weren’t good enough last year and got worse in the offseason.

Winnipeg – The Jets should be better but likely not enough to close the gap on 8th place.

Calgary –  The Flames are better than you think but a long, long way from a playoff contender. They should be fun to watch though.

Edmonton – If the Oilers won 10 more games this season than last, they would still miss the playoffs by 5 or 6 points. They won’t win 10 more games.

So, to me the races will really be between San Jose and Vancouver for the final playoff spot and who will finish last in the division.

I think the Coyotes will finally implode this offseason while Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Nashville jostle for the Best of the Worst.

We’ll have a pretty good idea by the 27th of November.

 

 

 

 

 

Nostradamus

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In just 1 week, the 2014/15 NHL season will be underway and the “experts” are out in full force predicting who will finish where in the standings so I thank you for dropping by to see where teams will actually finish.

Other than the odd waiver wire pickup and surprise demotion to the AHL, NHL rosters are quickly coming into focus so it’s fair to begin sussing out winners and losers.

Without further ado, here is how I see the WC shaping up this winter.

1) The St. Louis Blues.

The Blues finished with 111 points last season…3rd in the WC and  4th overall in the NHL. They did so despite losing their last 6 games in a row. That uncharacteristic swoon likely cost them the President’s Trophy and an easy first round playoff matchup. In the offseason, the Blues added Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera at centre making their centre depth among the best in the league with Statsny, David Backes, Patrick Berglund, Steve Ott, Max Lapierre and Lehtera.  Yikes.

Their blue line is among the best in the league as well so the only questions are in goal where Brian Elliot (.922) and Jake Allen (.905) should be able to provide at least league average goaltending which, considering their tremendous depth in every other area of the lineup makes this a team with virtually no holes. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are two young players on the cusp of greatness and draft choice Robby Fabbri has played so well he is still in camp. With Ty Rattie and Dmitri Jaskin also pushing for an NHL spot the Blues are just about as deep as an NHL team can be.

 

2) The Chicago Blackhawks

Not much needs to be said about the Hawks, except that they addressed their biggest need in the offseason by signing Brad Richards who I expect will have a resurgence in Chicago with the high scoring (1st in the NHL) Hawks. The Blackhawks will likely have to move a defenseman before the season begins to get cap compliant but their depth at D is very strong and moving someone like Nick Leddy shouldn’t cause them much grief.

 

3) The Anaheim Ducks 

Many observers underestimate the Ducks based on a perceived lack of depth on D but, really, they’re just not paying attention.

Cam Fowler has emerged as a true #1D but the Ducks managed to finish last season with 209 GA (5th in the WC) and with the continued development of Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm should easily be able to better than number this season.

But the real news is on the other side of the puck. The Ducks scored 266 goals last season only 1 less than Chicago and 2nd in the NHL and that was before replacing the aged Saku Koivu with Ryan Kesler who will take a big part of the matchup load off the Getzlaf line. Watch for the Ducks’ goal differential to increase from the +57 (best in the WC) this coming season.

 

4) The Dallas Stars

Every season, there is a team that surprises the pundits, most of whom are too inattentive to see what’s really going on.

Jim Nill has been raping the NHL to improve his team since taking over the GM’s job in Texas a mere 18 months ago. Early on he identified centre as the most critical position in building a winning hockey team and has managed to add Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Shawn Horcoff  and Rich Peverley  while having Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, Vern Fiddler and Colton Sceviour on the roster with Radek Faksa and Jason Dickinson warming up in the bullpen. That’s depth folks.

The Stars blue line is still a work in progress but the group they have is decent and I expect when Boston or Chicago are forced to move a D to become cap compliant, Nill will be first in line to help them out.

But what really makes the Stars so scary is their top 6 forward group.

Tyler Seguin has emerged as an elite centre and, with Spezza available to take some of the matchup load away, he’ll be free to fly. I expect a Hart Trophy type season from Seguin this season and with the Super Power Play they have to work with, they should easily be able to outscore any defensive deficiencies that may pop up.

 

5) The Los Angeles Kings

Dean Lombardi did virtually nothing this offseason except sign Marian Gaborik to a very cap friendly deal. The only way to improve last season’s Kings was to add goal scoring which is exactly what he did. But the goal scoring ability doesn’t stop there. The Kings newly formed second line, Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli, may quickly become the best in the WC and I expect you’ll  see a huge bounce back season from both Dustin Brown and Mike Richards this season.

If the Kings were motivated to win the WC, I have no doubt they could do it easily but I expect their Stanley Cup hangover and the fact that they are really built to win in the playoffs will keep them from top spot.

 

6) The Colorado Avalanche

The Avs are predicted by many in the stats community to take a huge tumble this season…I don’t see it.

While I expect they will regress somewhat from their performance a year ago, their young, developing talent is the best in the league.

Nathan MacKinnon is the best young player to enter the NHL since Sidney Crosby and will take a huge step forward this season, playing his natural centre position. With Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Erik Johnson also developing into superstars at the same time, the young core of this team should make any Oiler fan weep. With added veterans Jarome Iginla and Daniel Briere to show the way, the Avs are built for success.

Their D depth is a concern but with elite goaltending and  their potential to score, it would take a major calamity for them to miss the post season

 

7) The Minnesota Wild

The Wild need to score more goals. Thomas Vanek scores goals.

The Wild need an elite top 6 centre to compliment Mikko Koivu. Mikael Granlund should be that centre as early as this season.

Some observers think the Wild defense lacks depth but they’re just not paying attention.

Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon are a very accomplished top 3 and Marco Scandella, Christian Folin, Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba are a very serviceable bottom 4.

Like last season, the Wild have questions in goal but some combination of Backstrom, Harding, Kuemper and Bryzgalov should hold the fort.

The Wild finished 4th best in GA in the WC last season and I expect they’ll be even better this season. Score another 20 goals and they’re easily a playoff team.

 

8A) The Vancouver Canucks

Many, many observers have been predicting the Canucks are on their way to the basement based on an aging lineup and a malaise that set in after their run to the Stanley Cup finals. But they’re ignoring both the underlying numbers and John Tortorella’s negative impact on the team. Tortorella’s dump and chase and shot blocking strategy could not have been more inappropriate for a lineup built on puck possession and quick transition.

New coach Willie Desjardins is preaching the opposite and, considering the Canucks were actually a very good possession team last season but were snake bit by some awful  percentages. Henrik, Daniel and Burrows all shot well below their career averages and they will undoubtedly be much better. The addition of some youth to the lineup is still up in the air but all of Linden Vey, Hunter Shinakurk, Bo Horvat and Nicklas Jensen have had very strong pre-seasons.

 

 

8B) The San Jose Sharks 

The Sharks are hard to call this season due to all the insane activity there in the offseason (John Scott…seriously?) but they just have too much talent to fall completely  out of contention.

The Sharks might coalesce against their team management and lord knows they have a tremendous amount of talent that could propel them up the standings but I believe they will suffer a great deal of angst this season.

 

10) 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.

 

11) 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.

 

12) 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.

 

13) The Winnipeg Jets

It was pretty much a coin toss between Edmonton and Winnipeg for this spot in the standings and it could go either way.

The Jets have as much overall talent as the Oilers but there seems to be a disconnect that keeps them from reaching their potential.

One issue is their sub par goaltending which, given the goaltending market, you would think they could solve.

There’s word that Vancouver may be interested in moving Eddie Lack and a forward so stay tuned since Winnipeg would be a logical trade partner.

 

14) 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.

 

Book it.