And…Here We Go!

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In a just a few hours, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators will kick off the NHL’s 100th season.

More than ever before, this season will be exemplified by a bevy of young guns under the employ of the Leafs, the Oilers, Flames and especially the Carolina Hurricanes.

I haven’t been around for all those seasons but have to say I’ve been a fan since before games were televised and, hopefully, will be around for a few more.

The game has changed tremendously over the decades and I have to say its current iteration featuring skill and speed as witnessed at the recent World Cup has me salivating for the upcoming games despite the insistence of coaching systems that are determined to slow the game to a crawl. Hopeful, the success of the Penguins last season will rub off on those who yearn to win by preaching safe, boring defensive hockey. We’ll soon see.

The Battle of Alberta

To me, as an almost life long Albertan, the greatest intrigue this season will be the relative ascendance of the two Alberta teams that are rising from the ashes of the past decade of ineptitude and failure.

Of course, the Edmonton Oilers have been re-building for almost an entire decade while the Calgary Flames have made a much quicker turnaround under Brian Burke and Brad Treleving.

Going into the season, it’s pretty easy to see that the renaissance in Calgary has been more successful despite the Oilers having a string of #1 picks and, while you can debate the relative merits of the forward corps on each team, the Flames are clearly better on the back end and, with even league average goaltending, should make an aggressive move up the standings.

But, I think it prudent to question whether the Oilers’ forward group is better than the Flames…I don’t think it is.

Here is the Flames’ announced forward group for tonight’s game:

I’ve seen a couple of Tweets today (from Oiler fans) suggesting that second line will get killed by the Oilers but, if we can agree the Oilers/Flames top lines are pretty much a saw off and remember that Brouwer, situationally, can move up to the top line, I don’t think the Oilers second line of Pouliot-Hopkins-Kassian is clearly superior.

In fact, I’m expecting Sam Bennett to break out in a big way this season after an 18G 18A season….I’m thinking 25G and 30A should be reasonable with the two gig wingers he’ll be playing with.

Brouwer should be good for at least 20 now that he’s getting second line minutes with skill and Tkachuk, who was superb in pre-season creates a huge net front presence that will also help Bennett.

Farther down the lineup, The Flames third group is built on two veterans who bring a very strong two way game, something that Maroon-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi will have a tough time with.

While fourth lines don’t make a huge difference in any game, The Flames group is clearly superior to Pitlick-Letestu-Slepshyev in experience.

The Back End

Calgary’s new coach is trying some unusual pairings for tonight’s game…splitting up Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton to carry Wideman, Engelland and newly-signed Niklas Grossman but I doubt that approach lasts all that long and he has the option of re-uniting his top D at any time.

What we really need to remember here is that the Flames D will be very much involved in the offensive side of the game, something the Oilers have little or no answer for.

In goal…Cam Talbot has a decent first season with the Oilers but he;s playing without a safety net while the Flames have added last season’s top goaltender by save percentage as well as a capable NHL quality backup.

How Brian Elliot adapts to a new team will be critical for the Flames this season but even if he performs at career average, the Flames should take a big step up the standings.

A Bold Prediction

I have the Calgary Flames going on a huge run this season…finishing second in the Pacific Division with the potential for a long playoff run.

I think both Anaheim and Los Angeles will falter somewhat allowing the Flames to move in behind the Sharks in second spot.

Which of the Ducks or Kings gets bumped will likely depend on luck and/or injury but the signs of a small regression are there.

Another Bold Prediction

The Edmonton Oilers are going into another season with dreadful depth in key positions and almost any injury could sink their season again.

If any of  McDavid, Eberle, Hopkins, Klefbom or Talbot missed any significant time due to injury, they just don’t have the horses to replace them.

Considering that pretty much every one of those players has a significant injury history, a prudent bettor wouldn’t count of them all being around all season.

I think you’ll see the Oilers and Canucks scrambling to stay out of last place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference as all of Colorado, Arizona and Winnipeg finish ahead of them.

For the Canucks to prevail, they, like the Oilers, need everything to go right this season and, if experience teaches us anything, it seldom does.

So, for Shits and Giggles…

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WC

  1. Chicago
  2. Dallas
  3. Nashville
  4. St. Louis
  5. San Jose
  6. Calgary
  7. Minnesota
  8. Anaheim
  9. Winnipeg
  10. Los Angeles
  11. Colorado
  12. Arizona
  13. Vancouver
  14. Edmonton

You’re welcome

 

 

 

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Snap Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t Look Now…

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As of this writing…the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the Montreal Canadiens.

If they lose, as expected, they’ll be a scant 3 points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes (pending the Coyotes home game against the Rangers).

Carolina is 5 points back of the Leafs but have 3 games in hand so it’s entirely reasonable to assume the Leafs will be in 3rd spot in the draft lottery a week from now.

The Sabres and Oilers are so bad it’s highly unlikely the Leafs can out suck them but I would imagine a team like the the Leafs that is about to blow things up could start a “down to the wood” rebuild with the 3rd overall pick with a decent shot of getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Worth mentioning that McDavid, a Toronto boy, has expressed a great deal of interest in being drafted by the Leafs.

The most highly touted hockey prospect since Sidney Crosby delivered music to the ears of Leafs Nation this weekend.

“That would be an absolute dream come true,” Connor McDovaid told Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun when asked about the possibility of becoming a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It’s pretty crazy to even think about.”

“I’m from Toronto. You have to be a Leafs fan,” McDavid said in the article. “So, of course, I was. Of course. My dad was a Leafs fan. Every Saturday night watching Hockey Night in Canada would be my favourite time.”

Toronto is the most important franchise in the National Hockey League. It leads the league in revenue generated, in appreciating franchise values and I would wager that Gary Bettman is tuned into what’s transpiring in Toronto in a major way.
Don’t be surprised if the Leafs officially start their rebuild by drafting the best player since Sidney Crosby.

Speaking of the Oilers, there’s lots of blather on Lowetide and other Oiler fanboy sites about how the team has “turned north” under Todd Nelson.
Nonsense, of course.
The Oilers are 9-10-2 under Nelson with their 6 remaining games in February against Winnipeg, Boston, Minnesota (twice), Anaheim and St. Louis.
I would be surprised if the Oilers win 2 of those games.
Also worth noting is that, if the Oilers played at a season long pace of 9-10-2 over 82 games, they would still finish in 13th place in the WC.
You can’t see north from here.

Tough break for Tyler Seguin and the Dallas Stars after the Star’s centre will be out for 3-6 weeks with a knee injury after being low bridged by Dmitri Kulikov.

That ends any thoughts of Seguin winning a scoring title and likely is also the end of the Stars’ playoff hopes since Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves were also injured in the same game