Back in the Saddle

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It’s been a while.

As a summer filled with weddings, fishing, camping and a great deal of SFA is coming to an end, thoughts are once gain turning to hockey.

While I’ve been closely following the minutia of the summer transaction in the NHL, I’ve reached the general conclusion that not much will have changed when the 2016/17 season officially kicks off.

I think this is especially true when it comes to the Western Conference where it appears the powerhouse teams will remain just that while the pretenders have fiddled around the margins a bit but none, with a couple of exceptions, have taken the kind of steps to significantly enhance their chances of post season success.

That’s not to say that there are no curious situations that bear watching and, of course, there may still be a few moves between now and opening night but I think we are close enough to completion to get a read on how the WC teams stack up.

Anaheim

The Ducks’ biggest offseason acquisition was Randy Carlyle. My goodness. Carlyle was brought back to, reportedly, light a fire under the Ducks vets but whether or not that old school approach will work is certainly questionable.

As of this writing, the Ducks still haven’t sorted out their defense with Hampus Lindholm still unsigned and they don’t have room on the roster for blue-chippers Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour so something has to give there and, like most pundits, I expect Cam Fowler may find a new home before the season starts.

The Ducks also, curiously added Antoine Vermette to a centre group that includes Getzlaf, Kesler, Thompson and Rakell (when signed) when their most pressing need seems to be a scoring winger.

Arizona

This team is all about the future as fuzzy-cheeked GM John Chayka keeps adding to an already deep prospect pool.

That pool features a veritable CHL All Star team:

  • Max Domi
  • Dylan Strome
  • Anthony Duclair
  • Christian Dvorak
  • Jacob Chychrun
  • Lawson Crouse
  • Anthony DeAngelo
  • Brendan Perlini

Obviously, it’ll take a bit of time but that group is ridiculously strong but I can see the Coyotes taking a big step ahead this season especially since they added Alex Goligoski to help out Ekmann-Larsson on D.

 

Calgary

The Flames were my pick as the most successful team in the offseason.

They had some very well-defined needs and filled all of them.

Replacing Bob Hartley with a coach who emphasizes high-speed attack hockey will result in a much more dangerous Flames team.

But even more important is the acquisitions they made in goal with Brian Elliot who had the best save percentage in the league last season (minimum 40 games) and capable backup Chad Johnson.

The Flames were the 4th highest scoring team in the WC last season and, if they can cut GA from worst to even average, they will be a playoff team.

They added 20 goal scorer Troy Brower at no real cost and if draft pick Matthew Tkachuk makes the team out of camp (I think he will) they should be a higher scoring team.

Critics like to point out that the Flames D is weak after you past Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton and,on the surface, that is true but those critics tend to forget that the Flames have some pretty impressive prospects in Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Kenney Morrison bubbling under.

Obviously the Dennis Wideman, Ladislav Smid and Derek England contracts all represent obstacles but they will all be gone next offseason clearing up almost $12 million in cap space allowing the Flames to fill out their D with more useful players.

With their talent up front (once they sign Gaudreau) this is a team primed for a major move up the standings.

Chicago

Not much needs to be said about the Hawks and they weren’t busy in the offseason other than trying to stay under the cap but they should be better this season for one reason….Brian Campbell.

Campbell at $1.5 million is a huge steal for the Hawks and addresses their most glaring need for a team that has played with 3 NHL defensemen in the recent past.

Even at 37, Campbell remains an elite puck moving defenseman.

Colorado

If you’re looking for a team that could surprise this season, look no further. The deletion of Patrick Roy may have a huge impact on this team and, while their D is very questionable, they have enough talent up front to be competitive and lets remember they only missed the playoffs by 5 points last season. Replacing Roy should easily make up that gap.

Dallas

Old friend Woodguy bet me last week that the Dallas Stars, who won the WC title last season, would miss the playoffs.

I howled at that notion and even gave him 2-1 odds.

His reasoning I guess revolves around the changes Jim Nill has made to his D by letting Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski head elsewhere.

But let’s take a closer look.

Nill also added veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis who came back from injury last season to play very well for the Canucks.

With John Klingberg anchoring the top pairing and Stephen Johns emerging as a bona-fide second pairing ace, the Stars have the foundation for an exceptional young D on the RH side.

At the moment, Hamhuis joins Johnny Oduya, and Jordie Benn as a veteran presence but it’s the next wave that is remarkable.

  • Julius Honka
  • Esa Lindell
  • Jamie Oleksiak
  • Patrick Nemeth
  • Mattia Backman
  • Ludwig Bystrom

Every one of those players is very likely to have NHL careers which, when they join Klingberg and Johns in the next couple of seasons, will give the Stars the best young D in the league.

Honka is pretty much a Klingberg clone having scored 11G and 44P in the AHL last season and is likely ready for the NHL.

A right hand side of Klingberg, Honka and Johns is just ridiculous especially since Dallas has the LH vets to give them cover.

Esa Lindell is a huge LH defenseman who is also NHL ready after posting 14G and 42P in the AHL last season.

At 22 years of age and after playing against men in the AHL and the Finnish league for the past two seasons, he should have no problems easing his way into the NHL given that he’ll be sheltered by Hamhuis, Oduya and Benn.

No need say much about the best offence in the NHL except to say that the Stars, after getting break-out years from Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark in 15/16, added Jiri Hudler to an already ridiculously deep group of forwards.

Not to mention that Jason Dickinson and Devin Shore are reported ready for NHL duty.

Edmonton

We’ll conclude our look at half the WC teams with an assessment of the offseason work of the Oilers’ Peter Chiarelli.

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that I promoted, predicted and expected a Taylor Hall trade to finally get some help on defense.

Problem is, Adam Larsson is a woefully inadequate return for Hall.

Larson may be a top pairing D some day but he isn’t now and you don’t trade a player like Hall for hope. You just don’t.

I expect Hall contributed to his demise with the Oilers with his entitled attitude but the trade leaves the Oilers going into another season with a putative top pairing of Larsson and the perennially injured Oscar Klefbom who has only 107 NHL games on his resume.

Once again we are reminded that the Oilers organization approached their 10 year infinibuild ass backwards are only now addressing their D in a meaningful way.

They have a very nice group of young forwards but the loss of Hall mitigates that fact and the addition of Milan Lucic, while a good move, won’t replace Hall’s value to the team.

Obviously you can’t talk about the Oilers without mentioning Connor McDavid and, if he can remain healthy all year, the Oilers should be able to recover somewhat from the Hall trade.

But a McDavid, RNH, Klefbom or Cam Talbot injury will expose the Oilers’ lack of depth and have them out of the playoffs race by Halloween.

On his blog, Lowetide has released his “reasonable expectations” stating that the Oilers will end the season with a net neutral goal differential, finish 10th in the WC and 21 overall. (he predicted a positive goal differential 3 seasons ago)

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the other teams who will prevent those things from happening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Bumbling of Alberta

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There are only 6 weeks left in the NHL regular season, the  2 Alberta teams are fighting for bragging rights as the best and worst teams in the province.

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While Winnipeg, Arizona and Vancouver may have something to say about who finishes where, the odds on favourites to win the Toilet Bowl both reside in Alberta.

So, what’s likely to happen here?

Obviously, Calgary, with 3 games in hand, has the advantage but there are a couple of other factors to look at.

The Oilers final 15 games are all against the Western Conference. They have a 17-14-1 record against the East but are a paltry 8-21-6 against the West.

The Flames have 3 games left against the EC including winnable games against Montreal and Toronto and also have the “advantage” of owning a 13-20-2 record against the WC so, if things stay true to form, the Flames SHOULD be able to pull away from the Oilers down the stretch.

However, if momentum counts for anything, the Flames (1-8-1) appear to be stumbling badly with Kari Ramo out of the lineup while the Oilers (3-6-1) have been able to pick up a few more points in the last 1o games.
One other thing that may come into play here is the additions the Oilers have made to beef up the team for the stretch as they try to become a heavier team to compete in the West.

Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon give the team a different edge but it remains to be seen how much impact they can have when the Oilers play the big boys in the Pacific Division.

The Oilers have 7 games remaining against teams currently in a playoff position while the Flames have 10 which, if they turn into losses, wipes out their advantage in games in hand.

The Oilers final 3 games of the season are against the Flames and 2 against the Canucks.

I would imagine those 3 games will be critical to how all this plays out.

 

Big Boy Hockey

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Scoring goals is the hardest skill in the NHL.

The 20 players you see here are the best of the best.

Patrick Kane is having an obscene season and is easily the league MVP but, when you look at overall points, Erik Karlsson is making a case.

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Then, when we look at the top 20 NHL players as selected by TSN’s poll of the best 20 players, we see that some defensemen and goaltenders sneak into the conversation.

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I don’t have too many arguments here except that Sidney Crosby will rocket up these standings as his renaissance (8 goals and 18 points in his last 10GP) gathers steam.

You’ll notice that Chicago has 4 players in the top 20 and that likely explains why they are  the best team in the dominant WC and Washington has 3.

Taylor Hall, among a huge number of 1st overall draft picks for the Oilers, is barely hanging on with the Big Boys and will drop out of this ranking in short order.

A team that has drafted 1st overall as many times as the Oilers and have 1 player on the verge of not being in the top 20 in the league is a massive fail.

 

 

Taylor vs. Johnny

I was more than a little bemused by all the whining in Oilerdom yesterday that the “main stream media” were lavishing praise on Jonny Gaudreau while not giving Taylor Hall his due.

Here’s a sampling from Lowetide’s site:

  1. BÖÖK¡JEsays:

    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying. Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

     

  2. G MONEYsays:

    “Guys just love playing with Johnny Gaudreau. He’s got such great hands, give him the puck, and he’ll find you.”

    Are you fucking kidding me?

    Never mind that Hall carried the puck all the way from the fucking D zone, made the zone entry, then passed to Gaudreau who had it for half a second before passing it back to Hall for the finish.

    Jeezus H Keerist.

  3. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    böök¡je:
    The love for Gaudreau from these announcers is fucking annoying.Honestly, its like Hall doesn’t exist.

    Hall back checked and stole the puck creating that break away.

    But Gaudreau gets the love for a couple tap passes.

  4. CENTRE OF ATTENTIONsays:

    G Money,

    Hall back checked and created that turn over to get the break away.

    That goal was all his.

    Meanwhile, Dubnyk with a big fumble and Sedin just kind of pushes it in there.

    Hall had a very nice game and so did Johnny but that begs the question, since this was a 3 on 3 tourney, which player is better in the overtime format?

    As luck would have it, Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy has an extensive post on just that subject this morning and, as you can see below, it’s not even close.

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    “This is clearly a guy who is considerably better than everyone at just about everything to do with 3-on-3 play. The three guys in front of him in goals, by the way, are shooting 100 percent (Vlad Namestnikov), 75 percent (Jordan Staal), and 43 percent (Jonathan Toews), and you probably make the argument that only Toews — with a similar number of minutes played and only two fewer shots — has a relatively sustainable number in that regard. Namestnikov is 2 for 2 in OT, and Staal is 3 for 4. They’ve also played far fewer actual minutes than Toews or Gaudreau.”

    Obviously there is no further debate about this but there were also some “in game” comments over at Lowetide that Hall is better defensively but the available evidence does not support that and, in fact, the opposite may be true.

    GAON/60

    Hall – 2.81

    Gaudreau – 2.96

    ONSV% 

    Hall – .902

    Gaudreau – .898

    PDO

     

    Hall – 995

Gaudreau – 993

What we see here is that, while Hall has a marginal difference in GA/60, Hall has been the beneficiary of slightly better goaltending.

At evens, Hall is faring better but, considering how dominant Gaudreau is in OT, his team is benefitting in huge measure from his special skills in a very important segment of the contemporary game.

P/60 5V5

Hall – 2.73

Gaudreau – 2.26

As we head into the final stretch, it will be fascinating to watch which player will surpass the other in the final scoring standings.

As it sits….

PPG

Gaudreau – .979

Hall – .960

It’s worth noting that neither player scores much on the road…

Hall has 15 road games left while Gaudreau has 18 so, perhaps Hall has the advantage but anyone suggesting there is much of a difference between these 2 players is a homer.

 

The WC Stretch Run

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The All Star break provides us with the unofficial half waypoint of the season although some teams have already played 50 or more games.

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Common sense and Sports Club Stats tell us that some teams have already secured a playoff berth.

Dallas – 99.8%

Chicago – 99.8%

Los Angeles – 99.6%

San Jose – 94.2%

St. Louis – 89.5%

That leaves just 3 open spots and, realistically, only 6 teams with any chance of grabbing a spot.

Minnesota – 75.9%

Colorado – 61.4%

Nashville – 49.4%

Anaheim – 48.9%

Arizona – 39.1%

Vancouver – 24.7%

The 3 Canadian Prairie teams are D.O.A. and will be dead men skating for the next 2 months barring an act of God.

Calgary – 9%

Winnipeg – 5.8%

Edmonton – 0.9%

So, what’s likely to happen here?

One way we can asses things is to look at home/road, interdivisional schedules and recent momentum.


 

First, let’s take a look at the difficulty of schedule facing WC teams:

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What stands out here is that the Coyotes, Predators and Wild face tougher schedules than some of the other hopefuls, while the Avalanche and Canucks have relatively easy schedules down the stretch.


 

Minnesota, on the surface, would appear to have the best odds here but they have been very poor of late (2-6-2) and have an equal number of home and road games remaining.

The Wild have been fine defensively but can’t put the puck in the ocean.

This team has been the best defensive team in the NHL since early December, yet it finds itself in this position because again it cannot score easily. There are so many passengers on this team right now, it’s really unbelievable.

The amount of what coach Mike Yeo called, “major, major slumps,” has to be remedied.

We’re talking Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter, Thomas Vanek, Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba. All these guys are relied upon to score and none of them are.

Source

You can bet GM Chuck Fletcher is working the phones to add some scoring to his lineup and he does have an excess of defensemen to dangle (Jonas Brodin anyone?) but his team has precious little time to reverse course, especially with a tough remaining schedule.


 

If momentum (and confidence) count for anything, and I think they do, Colorado at      (6-4-0) is trending up.

They have played 2 more road games than home although their home record (12-10-3) is nothing to write “home” about.

Clouding things in Denver is a civil suit filed against goaltender Semyon Varlamov with a trial currently underway.

After his then-girlfriend accused him of beating her, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov told the team’s managers that she hit him, and he moved her aside and locked himself in a bedroom, Avs head coach Patrick Roy testified Thursday.

The story Varlamov told Roy and other team managers differed from the account of Evgeniya Vavrinyuk.

Vavrinyuk, whose civil suit against Varlamov is being heard in Denver District Court, has testified that Varlamov beat her.

The suit, filed in October 2014, claims Varlamov had beaten her for years before his  arrest in October 2013 on suspicion of felony kidnapping and assault.

Who knows how that might affect the team but it surely has to be some kind of distraction.


 

The Nashville Predators, much like the Wild, lack the high end scoring prowess to keep up with the big boys in the Central Division.

Despite adding a #1C in Ryan Johansen, the Preds still need a high scoring winger.

They likely won’t move another D to get one so I’m not sure where they go from here.

Had Pekka Rinne kept up his all world goaltending performances of the past few seasons, they might be competitive but Rinne has been pedestrian (.906) and, at 32 may be fading.

The Predators have a tough schedule going home but have only played 23 games at home where they are very good (13-7-3) and and 27 on the road.


 

To me, the team to watch is the Anaheim Ducks.

They’ve been a top 3 team in possession stats all season and their scoring is coming around.

This is my choice to grab a spot in the Pacific Division which I, and many others, thought would win the division crown.


 

The Arizona Coyotes has been living large all season but the clock is about to strike midnight for Cinderella.

The Dogs are the second worst team in the league in terms of possession but have a very difficult schedule down the stretch.

Can’t say I’m disappointed in their performance but with the plethora of talent coming in next season they WILL be a much improved team next season.


 

The real underdog here is the Vancouver Canucks.

They’ve endured a host of injuries but will be getting Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter and Dan Hamhuis back after the all star break.

While those returnees may not be earth shattering, it’s worth noting that Vancouver has had a brutal schedule thus far with multiple long road trips and a huge imbalance in home/road games.

Vancouver has only played 22 games at home and 28 on the road so, if they can create some momentum at home, they have a chance to stay in the race.

The Canucks easily have the softest schedule in the back half so, if they can take advantage, they should have good shot at a wildcard spot.

 

Snapshots

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Best of the Best

TSN released their Top 50 players in the NHL earlier today.

There weren’t a lot of surprises except for Sidney Crosby (#14) dropping from #1 but Sid has been on a tear lately and will surface in the top 10 in NHL scoring very soon.

The poll of  NHL head coaches did, however, get it right when they picked the best LW’s in the league other than indicating that Patrick Kane is a LW when he is, in fact, a RW.

While Kane is having a memorable season, Jamie Benn is the dominant LW in the league and it isn’t even close.

Second best LW?  Alex Ovechkin…no argument from me.

3rd?…Johnny Gaudreau.

If you’ve been following along…I said this a year ago and Taylor Hall is 4th although I expect Panarin will eat his lunch shortly.

Eye of the Hurricane

I’m sure you want to know which team will be the “Next Big Thing” in the NHL.

It’s the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here is why.

The Hurricanes currently have $22 million in free cap space and are in the conversation for a playoff spot based on top 5 possession metrics mostly due to their elite D and coaching.

The Canes will be adding Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeon to that D corp next season and, with the expiration of the contracts of Eric Staal and Cam Ward, will have about $30 million in free cap space with which they can pick the bones of cap strapped teams.

Oh, the humanity.

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are on course for their worst season in team history and have two high profile pending UFA players in Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

Ladd will end up in Florida while Buff will soon be a Star.

Book it.

Woe Canada

The Vancouver Canucks, based on the difficulty of schedule, are the only Canadian team with a reasonable shot at making the playoffs.

Anaheim is finally starting to show their power so the Canucks only hope is to track down Nashville or Colorado for a wild card spot.

50-50….at best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woe Canada

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As we near the all star break…not one Canadian NHL team is in a playoff position.

The last time that happened was after the merger of the NHL and WHA in 1979.

A quick glance at the standings would seem to indicate that only the Montreal Canadiens have a chance but let’s take a peek at what the chances are…things may be somewhat different than they appear.

…beginning the bottom of the barrel.

Edmonton Oilers 0.8% (.430 win percentage)

The Oilers are done and have been for quite some time if you take an honest look at things. The Oilers have played the most games in their division (50) and have only managed to win 16 of them in regulation.

Their winning percentage is only better than Columbus and is,  unbelievably, worse than 2 teams that have recently been stripped to the studs and are just beginning a rebuild while the Oilers have been trying to turn north for most of a decade.

It’s no longer arguable that the Oilers rebuild is failing because they stubbornly refused to draft high end defensemen when they had a chance (how would Dimitri Kulikov, Adam Larsson or  any of the buffet of defensemen from the 2012 draft.

While the Oilers have finally acquired 3 NHL calibre centres, many teams have 6 or 7 capable at the position and the Oilers “draft wingers” strategy has failed them miserably.

Only slightly improved goaltending has them ahead of last years pace but consider their points accrual over the past 5 seasons:

2010/11 – 62 points

2011/12- 74

2012/13 – 77 (pro-rated)

2013/14 – 67

2014/15 – 62

2015/16 – 70 (pro-rated)

Give or take some luck, the Oilers have gotten absolutely nowhere since drafting Taylor Hall in 2010.

That is, frankly, embarrassing.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2.2% (.438)

The Leafs are where everyone, including their management and coach thought they would be.

Their rebuild is less than a year old so it’s no surprise they are flying a bit but anyone who watches the team can see renewed effort and structure.

While their goaltending remains in flux,they have two young stud D men to build around and with 2 blue chip C prospects in William Nylander (1.26 PPG AHL) and Mitch Marner (2.09 PPG OHL) coming up down the middle, they are following the winning blueprint all the way.

They will lack size in the top 6 but they will likely draft very high this coming draft and should be able to choose from any of the giant Finns or, more likely, will select Matthew Tkachuk from Head Scout Dale Hunter’s London Knights.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the try and swing a deal to draft Nylander’s brother Alexander (1.41 PPG OHL) who is reportedly a better player than his older brother.

No chance at the playoffs but things look bright.

Winnipeg Jets 4.2% (.469)

The Jets should be much better than their record suggests but shaky goaltending has let them down again and you have to think a major shake up will be on the way in the offseason.

The Jets are very likely to trade captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien before the trade deadline so the return on those two assets will be a huge factor in determining their future course.

I would imagine they will eventually address their goaltending and, while they have some very good your D, they will need to add some offsets in their top 6 to be a consistent playoff threat.

Ottawa Senators 18.1% (.530)

Like the Jets, the Senators have suffered from mediocre goaltending that has kept them from the playoff bracket.

While they do have some offence from Bobby Ryan, Mark Stoke and Mike Hoffman, they lead the league in SA/G at 33.3 so their flaws are pretty obvious and I think you can expect a coaching change in the offseason.

Imagine where they would be without Eric Karlsson?

Calgary Flames 25.5% (.500)

On the surface, the Flames seem very close to being DOA but they have a significant number of games in hand on almost every team and are, if effect, in charge of their own fate.

If the Flames can take advantage of those extra games over the net couple of weeks, they can stay in the fight but winning NOW is critical.

Vancouver Canucks 33.3% (.534)

The Canucks record (20-18-11) is somewhat deceiving.

They’ve had several brutally long road trips in the first half of the season and, in fact, have played 21 home games compared to 28 on the road so will have a much friendlier schedule down the stretch.

They’ve been playing for a while without their top 2 C’s and, at various times, without their #2 and #3 D but they are all expected back shortly and, if the Canucks can settle into a rhythm at home, they may have a chance to surpass Arizona and Anaheim for the final Pacific Division playoff spot.

Problem is, the Canucks are only 9-8-2 at home so, unless they can improve that record considerably, they won’t make it.

Montreal Canadiens 54.3% (.542)

On the surface, the Habs have the best chance of making the playoffs but that is somewhat deceiving as well.

They have been awful (3-6-1 10GP) since Carey Price went down and he’s not expected back fro several weeks.

If momentum counts for anything, and I think it does, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ottawa finishes ahead of Montreal in the final standings.

A Carey Price return would prove to be a godsend but I expect it will be too little too late.

To be honest I wouldn’t bet on any of these dogs but, if I was forced to pick one team that might take it, it would be Vancouver.

The combination of an easy schedule, the return of key injured veterans and the continuing emergence of Bo Horvat and Ben Hutton might just be enough but I expect it will, take some cooperation by the Anaheim Ducks for the Canucks to see the post season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BATTLE OF ALBERTA

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It’s Saturday and the HNIC feature game pits the Calgary Flames at the Edmonton Oilers which gives us an opportunity to take the temperature of both franchises.

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A few weeks back, this snapshot was quite different with the Flames having the worst goal differential in the Pacific Division but, with the return of TJ Brodie, the Flames have been performing at a much higher level and their goaltending, while certainly not elite has been much better too.

For exactly ONE day, the Oilers found themselves in a playoff spot but, let’s be honest folks, they have been abysmal over the past 20 game game stretch.

How bad have they been?

Darcy McLeod of Because Oilers fame summed it up well in a tweet this morning:

Since McDavid went down it’s 4-15-13. Think about that for a minute. 4 regulation wins, 13 ties.

If you recall, I had the Oilers finishing 13th in the WC in my pre-season predictions finishing ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes.

Well, like many, I was wrong about the Coyotes (the focus of a future column) but unless the Oilers can somehow go on a 10 game win streak, they are almost certainly going to finish in the basement again.

Now, it’s possible the Jets accept the inevitable and trade Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd sooner rather than later and the return of McDavid gives the Oilers just enough of a boost to pass them but, due to multiple games in hand, it’s unlikely the Oilers can pass Arizona, San Jose, Anaheim or Calgary. With LA already home and dry, the Oilers only chance of achieving a modicum of self respect would be to pass Vancouver in the Pacific.

But there are a few things that need to be considered there. The Canucks are in the midst of their final brutal road trip of the season and will have played 28 road games by the end of the week and only 21 at home so their remaining schedule will be much easier.

The Canucks have also been playing, at times, missing 3 of their top 4D (Tanev is back now) while also missing Brandon Sutter who is due back any day so, if they can keep their heads above water this week, they won’t be easy to catch especially now that Bo Horvat has caught fire (5 goals and 8 points in his last 5 games) and Emerson Etem,who looks fabulous thus far starts to deliver.

What ails the Oilers is obvious and has been for years. They need TWO top pairing D and above average goaltending to have any chance at success.

It appears Peter Chiarelli was willing to move Ryan Nugent Hopkins for Seth Jones but was rebuffed by Nashville and, of course Chiarelli has already spent a couple of silver bulllets on acquiring Griffin Reinhart who doesn’t have a ghost of a chance to be what the Oilers need most.

But, one often overlooked factor in the losing is that the plethora of top draft picks the Oilers have acquired over the past 10 years just aren’t all that good.

If you recall, I forecast that Taylor Hall’s production would falter while Leon Draisaitl’s ridiculous shooting percentage fell back to earth and…guess what…that’s exactly what has happened.

Hall was as high as 4th in league scoring a few weeks back and has now plummeted out of the top 10 and it’s highly likely that he’ll be out of the top 20 in short order since some very talented players are closing fast and almost all have games in hand.

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If you need further amplification on this, please note that Hall has scored only 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 10GP and only .565 PPG on the road this season.

No need to even mention the lack of production from other “elite” players on the Oilers but one thing I am finding interesting is the race between Hall and Johnny Hockey for the second best LW (and second team all star after Jamie Benn) in the WC.

George, the Gentleman Backpacker blogger (very seriously a good read), summed it up over at Lowetides blog this morning:

  1. NYCOIL “GENTLEMAN BACKPACKER”says:

    You guys hate Gaudreau now, well just wait until he takes 2nd team LW behind Benn, shutting Hall out again from post season awards. Then you know you will really hate him as the Flames fans you know tell you they got a better LW in the 4th round than we did at 1st overall.

    You know this is going to happen so I am softening the inevitable blow for you.

And why wouldn’t Flames fans say that? It appears to be true.

While Hall has a slight edge in PPG in their respective careers (.883 vs .878) let’s remember that Gaudreau is 2 years younger than Hall and appears to be on an upward trajectory while Hall may have plateud as many players do as they approach their mid 20’s.

Gaudreau also has trouble scoring on the road (.526 PPG) but he gets more done at home so  this should be an interesting race to watch in the back half.

Of course, Oiler fans will try and convince them selves Hall’s issues are because the Oilers don’t have the puck moving D to get the puck to him but that raises a couple of other considerations.

Tha Flames D, before Brodie returned, were dreadful in the early part of the season and Gaudreau produced offence anyway.

And, I challenge you to watch how many of Hall’s “chances” are actually giveaways in the Ozone as he fires shot after shot from low danger areas while almost all of Gaudreau’s points come from high danger areas,often in the blue part.

Tonight’s game will be fascinating from several different angles including how Zack Kassian will perform in his second game with the Oilers up against a team that likes to crash and bang.

I watched every game that Kassian played with the Canucks and the biggest issue for him was inconsistency in playing a physical game and a tendency to commit bone hated turnovers in the neutral zone which often got him benched.

And one final thing, if the Oilers do indeed move RNH for a defenseman, they could be making a grave mistake since their organizational C depth without him would be horribly shitty and Draisaitl is less than he appears to be.

The right move is to trade a winger who has enough cache to bring in a high level D and that player is…wait for it…Taylor Hall.

 

The Pacific Triangle

You-Cant-Get-There-from-Here

What a week in the wacky Pacific Division.

The Los Angeles Kings are pulling away from the pack and have a 9 point lead on everyone with 2 games in hand on most teams. The Kings have won 6 in a row and can put a division championship to bed by the end of December with a schedule that features 5 straight games against their dubious competition between Dec. 22 and 31.

Dec 22 – vs. Sharks

Dec 26 – @ Coyotes

Dec 28 – @ Canucks

Dec 29 – @ Oilers

Dec 31 – @ Flames

Between now and the 22, they play the Sabres, the Canadiens, the Senators and the Leafs so, even if they play 8 of their next 9 on the road, they have a superb chance to put things to bed especially since they sport an 8-3-1 road record. They already have a 99.3% chance of making the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats so I can’t see them faltering.

Behind the Kings, things are getting very interesting as every team has lost more games than they’ve won.

Baseball Standings Dec 11/15

San Jose – .512

Vancouver – .500

Arizona – .500

Edmonton – .466

Anaheim – .465

Calgary – .464

In other words, it’s pretty much a dead heat between 6 teams vying for the two remaining playoff spots in the Western Conference if you concede that 5 Central Division teams will make the playoffs.

Interestingly enough, EVERY Pacific Division team except Arizona is heading out on a road trip this week so how they fare on the road could be a great measuring stick for their longer term chances.

Pacific Division Road Records:

LAK  8-3-1

SJS  10-5-1

VCR  6-5-5

ARZ  7-10-1

EDM  4-10-1

ANA 3-8-1

CAL 3-9-2

Worth noting that  7 of the Coyotes remaining 8 games in December are  at home and the Coyotes have a 7-4-0 record in Glendale.

If they can continue that pace, they should be able to put some space between them and the rest of these dogs by the end of the month.

Another oddity is the Home/Road record of the Sharks. While going 10-5-1 on the road, they just don’t win much at home (4-8-0) so they may keep pace with the Coyotes on their upcoming roadie.

Vancouver is in a very tough spot after losing Dan Hamhuis for a couple of months to a facial injury, leaving them with even fewer bonafide NHL defensemen. This road trip could well spell the end of any playoff glimmers the Canucks may still harbour and they may become sellers as soon as the Christmas trade freeze ends in early January.

The Edmonton Oilers start a 4 game road trip in Boston Monday night before heading to NYR, Chicago and Colorado.

Their current 5 game win streak is almost exclusively because of the play of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl so we’ll see how that goes on the road when opposition coaches can choose their match ups.

Worth noting, Taylor Hall is scoring 1.6 PPG at home but only .667 on the road.

(For those keeping score…Tyler Seguin is 1.36 PPG at home and 1.40 PPG on the road)

Hmmmm….

After a game at home tonight against the Rangers, the Calgary Flames depart for a trip through the Death Valley Division ® with games against Nashville, Dallas and St. Louis with Detroit as a chaser. There’s little reason to believe they’ll improve much on their road record although Mark Giordano has been much better lately and their goaltending is improving.

The Anaheim Ducks need to fire their coach in the worst way as they inexplicably can’t score and likely need a new voice that will at least prepare them to show up at the opening face off.

By way of illustration…the Ducks have scored 56 goals this season…Dallas has scored 102…yikes.

So, other than Arizona likely to separate themselves from the pack this week and San Jose having a couple of games in hand on most teams, I expect will see much of the same mess a week from now.

Gary’s parity is working but it sure ain’t pretty.

 

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?