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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spitballin’

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Just a few random thoughts as the NHL takes a brief Christmas break….

Crashing Jets

The Winnipeg Jets are pretty much out of the playoff race.They’re 9 points (remember they have to finish AHEAD of another team) back of the final wildcard berth in the WC and I can’t see them catching either Nashville or Minnesota.

Unless they have an unlikely win streak in the next couple of weeks, the Jets (whose playoff chances are currently at 12% according to Sports Club Stats) should start thinking about next season.

That means they should try and maximize the return they can get for Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd who are coming up on UFA status. And that also means they should make some moves as soon as possible since a team acquiring them could use the help down the stretch not just after the trade deadline at the end of February.

That raises the question of which teams might be in a position to take on their contracts.

In the case of Big Buff, I think we should keep and eye on the Los Angeles Kings who are in a position take take a strong run at another cup.

After shedding the Voynov and Richards contracts, the Kings are sitting with about $4 million in free cap space and could easily fit his contract under the cap.

That raises the question…do the Kings have the pieces necessary to acquire Buff from the Jets?

They don’t have a 1st round pick but they do have some intriguing prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

Hockey’s Future has a great rundown of what the Kings prospect pool looks like here and I think there are enough quality players in Ontario that could help the Kings piece together a deal.

As for Andrew Ladd, it might be harder for the Jets to part with him since he is their team leader and a consistent scorer but it makes sense for the Jets to move him and further bolster their prospect pool with a possible eye on re-signing him in the offseason.

A team I would keep a close eye on here is the Florida Panthers who have stated they are searching for a scoring winger and, of course, Ladd has a connection to Dale Tallon from their Chicago days.

The Panthers have more than $6 million in free cap space and just a ton of blue chip prospects that might tempt Winnipeg.

The Jets already have the deepest prospect pool in the league and could perhaps add to it significantly if they get a lottery pick and a good return on Byfuglien and Ladd.

A bitter pill for Jets fans this season but also a huge opportunity for the team.

What About Those Canucks?

In my pre-season prognostications, I had the Canucks making the playoffs…not because they’re much good but because Arizona, Calgary and Edmonton are pretty bad. That Anaheim has been horrid has helped make me look pretty smart although I, and no one else, saw that coming.

Well, the Canucks, at the break, are clinging to the last Pacific Division spot despite going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games. But we need to consider a few things here.

The Canucks have had just a brutal schedule up to now with multiple long road trips and have only played 14 home games compared to 22 on the road.

Their next 7 straight games are at home so, if they can get their act together on home ice (5-6-3), they have a chance to pull away from the pack.

We should have a pretty good idea how this will turn out by January 15.

Heere’s Johnny

Picking a team out of the bottom of the scrap heap to perhaps take a run at the last Pacific Division playoff spot is tough since the pretenders are so closely packed and the results could depend on injury and/or a great deal of luck.

But going into the break, the hottest team in hockey is the Calgary Flames (8-2-0).

Calgary is being led offensively by 22 year old phenom Johnny Gaudreau who has 10 goals and 16 points in his last 10 games.

Bu that’s not the whole story.

TJ Brodie has played 25 games since returning from injury…their record in that 25 games is 14W-9L-2OTL

That folks is a playoff calibre stretch of games and also worth noting is that the Flames play 7 of their next 8 games at home where they have a stellar 11-5-0 record.

Gloomy in Edmonton

Both the Canucks and Flames have the Oilers next on their dance cards and it’s likely the Oilers will have to win both to stay in the race as remote as their chances actually are.

Those 2 games are followed by LAK, ANA and ARZ so a week from today the Oilers could be hanging on or out of contention by New Year’s Day.

Based on schedule and momentum, I would wager Calgary will be in a playoff spot a week from now.

 

 

 

 

Wild Wild West 15/16

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It’s that time of year where hockey pundits and fans try and figure out which NHL teams will have success in the upcoming season.

We’ve been told this is “The Year of “Analytics” in the game so let’s start there and see what we find.

Sporstnet has compiled the predictions, based on analytics, where every team will finished in the 105/16 season.

I strongly recommend you read the entire article linked to above for methodology and context but here’s a quick peek at the results.

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I’ll let you make your own assessment of those stats based “predictions” (holy cow…look at Anaheim!) but I thought i would distill them a bit to see which teams will or will not make the playoffs in the WC based those methods.

Central

Chicago

Dallas

St. Louis

Pacific

San Jose

Los Angeles

Anaheim

Wild Card

Minnesota

Nashville

Close But No Cigar

Calgary

Winnipeg

In the Toilet

Colorado

Vancouver

Edmonton

Arizona

Oh, where to begin!!!

The Stazis have the Sharks making a huge return to relevance, improving from 89 points last season to a Conference Championship with 110 points. This despite another few thousand miles on the odometer for Thornton and Marleau and bringing in a new coach and precious little else. Don’t think so.

They also have the Ducks dropping 10 points in the season(likely based on possession which the team always defies) and are likely ignoring the further maturation of the deep but youthful D the Ducks have deployed)

They correctly in my opinion have identified the Dallas Stars as one of the most improved team in the WC but they totally ignore the turmoil in Chicago which saw the Hawks lose Sharp, Oduya, Saad, among, others and the effect that may have on team chemistry never mind the Stanley Cup hangover that seems to be a real thing.

They also have the Oilers improving by only 8 points which I find very hard to believe considering the radical changes they’ve mad throughout the organization and on the ice.

Those are just a few quibbles so let’s take a look at what I think we’ll see this season.


Central

Dallas

Wins this division if their defensive game and goaltending improve to what they seemed to be in the last 20 games last season (best record in the NHL). The Stars top 6 forward group is the best in the NHL and even though Jamie Benn, Valerie Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky (as well as D John Klingberg and Patrick Nemeth) were injured last season, the Stars were the second highest scoring team in the league.

St. Louis

The Blues were tied for tops in the division last season and I have seen nothing to indicate they will drop back by any significant amount. With Vladimir Tarasenko likely to challenge for the scoring lead and perhaps some less difficult games against Chicago, the Blues are dropping back

Minnesota

The Wild had the second best goal differential in the west last season (+30) and despite a very slow start with sub par goaltending, finished with 100 points, a mere 2 points behind Chicago. They’ll get over that hump this season


Pacific

Anaheim

Virtually every prognosticator I’ve seen is calling for the Ducks to top the WC and most pick them to win the Stanley Cup.

I agree.

The Ducks have added tremendous speed up front in Carl Hagelin, size and grit with Chris Stewart and a veteran presence on D in Kevin Bieksa. Their young D, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Simon Depres and Josh Manson are all going to be better and they have 3 quality NHL goaltenders in the system.

Calgary

I’m going off the board here but I think the Flames have another gravity defying season in them.

The Stazis all insist, based on last year’s possession metrics, that the Flames will do a face plant this season.

I don’t they will since Brad Treleving knows full well his team has to improve in the area and addressed the issue directly by adding Michael Frolik and Dougie Hamilton.

Both are positive possession guys and a closer look at the Flames possession number show the Flames did juts fine when Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie were on the ice. Now that their second pairing has added Hamilton and their second line has added Frolik, they will be significanlyt better in that area.

And lest we forget, the Flames have also added Sam Bennett to their second like which promises to bring a lot more scoring than last season.

If they can get league average goaltending, and they have 3 strong choices in net, I see them finishing 3rd in the Pacific.

Wild Card

Here’s where things get very uncertain where injury, bad luck or a tickle in someone’s throat could decide the last 2 spots in the WC playoffs.

I’ll just rank them in order of what I think the probability is that they could make it.

Los Angeles

Is Milan Lucic a strong enough replacement for Justin Williams?

San Jose

They’ll be playing against tougher Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers in their division this season

Chicago 

Lots of changes and a Stanley Cup hangover.

Nashville

Still not convinced they have enough offence and an injury to one centre kills them

Vancouver

The Canucks have added size, speed and youth to their lineup. Keep a close eye on Bo Horvat who looks ready to explode.

Rookie defenseman Ben Hutton was spectacular in the pre-season and brings size, speed and scoring ability to the Canucks D,

Whether or not youngsters Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen can make an impact is still in question but their infusion of youth should help a stale Canucks lineup.

Winnipeg

The toughest team to rank. Big team that may have over achieved last season but, if their rookies take off they could surprise.

Colorado

Their D remains weak and losing Ryan O’Reilly is going to hurt.

Edmonton

I’ve got them down for 10 more wins this season but that will get them nowhere near the playoffs and with a very tough first 20 games, they may be out of the race by Halloween again. Cam Talbot has never played in front of the worst D in the league before. He’s about to.

Arizona

Never mind

10 TO WATCH

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

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

  1. Ryan Johansen

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

2. McDavid vs. Eichel vs. Sam Bennett

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

3. Jamie Benn

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

4. Tyler Seguin

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

6. Bo Horvat

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

7. Vladimir Tarasenko

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

8. Buffalo vs. Edmonton

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

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

9. The Detroit Red Wings

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

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

Ranking the Rebuilds #9…the Buffalo Sabres

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The Sabres rebuild hasn’t been all that long by normal standards.

They last made the playoffs in the 2010/11 season with a respectable 96 points but it was clear after early playoff exits and It’s plausible their rebuild began in February 2012 when they sent  long time Sabre Paul Gaustad to Nashville for a 1st round pick (which after a trade with Calgary would become Zemgus Gigensons)

That draft also produced Mikhail Grigorenko (since traded to Colorado) and Jake McCabe but it wasn’t enough to save the job of GM Darcy Regier after 16 years on the job.

He was replaced by longtime Assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators Tim Murray, who, since his hiring in January 2014, has been tasked with building a winner.

As anyone who pays attention knows, you build a winner from the back end out and down the middle and it would seem that’s exactly what Murray is doing.


The Sabres again had 2 1st round picks in the 2013 draft before Murray arrived and had selected Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov so Murray had two blue chip D prospects when he took over the reins as well as Mark Pysyk who was drafted in the 1st round in 2010 and, of course former rookie of the year Tyler Myers who was drafted in 2008

While those players were under development Murray wisely brought in some veteran support in Josh Gorges and Mike Weber. But he was hardly finished.

In a blockbuster deal, Murray sent Myers, veteran Drew Stafford and a 1st round pick to Winnipeg for Zach Bogosian and controversial winger Evander Kane.

Bogosian projects as a #1D as does Ristolainen so Murray felt comfortable trading from a position of strength to address the Sabres long time woes at C.

But even with a lot of promise on D, Murray today signed Cody Franson, easily a top 4 D on most any team to a bargain 2 year contract and I would imagine the Sabres are set at the position for at least the next several seasons.


With enough D in the pipeline, Murray set about fixing the Sabres long time woes at C.

First up was the 2014 draft where the Sabres took Sam Reinhart in the list round and then, after losing the draft lottery to the Oilers, got Jack Eichel as a consolation prize.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Murray then swung a trade with Colorado and got two way C phenom Ryan O’Reilly in return for  Zadorov and Grigorenko.

The results going into the season is that the Sabres have addressed their C depth in a big way for years to come.

Jack Eichel

Sam Reinhart

Ryan O’Reilly

Tyler Ennis

Zemgus Girgensons

David Legwand

Cody McCormick

Oh my.

The Sabres remain shy on scoring wingers with Kane and Matt Moulson providing most of the top 6 punch but Kane has the potential to score more than 30 goals and there is at least some secondary support coming up through the system. (source)

Strengths: After struggling in almost incomprehensible fashion this season, the Buffalo Sabres are nearly ready to climb back to respectability. The team will add a franchise-changing center at the 2015 NHL Draft, but already in the system is Sam Reinhart. Reinhart is an offensively-gifted player who processes play at an elite level, and should make his linemates more effective for years to come. After him, the center pipeline is still solid, with JT Compher and Connor Hurley both top college prospects with whom the organization can afford patience.

There are several solid prospects at right wing too, with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste projecting as gritty supports with some upside, and Hudson Fasching a finesse player with size.

The Sabres have also had a revolving door of goaltenders since Ryan Miller left but hope to have addressed that with Robin Lehner in the offseason. Lerner, with limited experience as a start is a gamble but one that could pay off.

Given the relative short time the Sabres have been rebuilding, I think it’s fair to assert that Murray is on the right track and has already addressed the most difficult tasks.

He’s going into the season with almost $9 million in free cap space and is imposition to take advantage of any cap strapped team now and in the future.

Considering the 2015 McDavid/Eichel draft, it’s going to be almost impossible not to compare the Sabres and Oilers rebuilds going forward.

To my eye, The Sabres are well ahead of schedule and, with the prudent use of all that cap space, the Sabres could blow by the “infinite-build” Oilers in very short order.

The Home Stretch

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Only 5 weeks remaining in the NHL regular season and we’re in for a helluva finish in the WC and there are still 3-4 teams that could grab the final wild card spot in the EC.

The Boston Bruins just defeated the Flyers in OT.

Boston moves to 73 points, up 3 on Florida and 4 on Ottawa and Philly. Given that Florida is without their top 2 goaltenders they may be all but out of it and I’d keep an eye on the streaking Senators who are 8-1-1 in their last 10GP, somehow.

Much more interesting in the WC where Minnesota, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Los Angeles, San Jose and even Dallas, are still all vying for a playoff spot.

I had all but counted the Stars out of the race but there’s word today that Tyler Seguin is expected to return from injury tonight much sooner than expected and, if they can get even average goaltending, they may well be right back in it.

As for the others, I would bet a sizeable amount that the Minnesota Wild will make the playoffs with a very good chance to overtake the Blackhawks and/or St’ Louis for 2nd or #rd in the Central Division.

Then it gets really interesting.

Winnipeg has been exceeding expectations all season but now they are without their best player, Dustin Byfuglien, and their top centre, Bryan, Little for an extended period. I’m not sure they can withstand that double body blow.

Vancouver is almost impossible to get a read on. In their last 10 games, they’ve beaten Minnesota, the Rangers, the Islanders, Boston and St. Louis but lost to Buffalo, Arizona and New Jersey. You have to wonder why they can’t beat the teams they should beat.

The Calgary Flames continue to amaze. Everyone was counting them out when Mark Giordano went down with a season ending injury but all they’ve done is beaten Detroit, Boston and Philly…all on the road….since he went down. What the Flames are accomplishing with the lowest payroll in the league (other than those who sold the farm at the deadline) is a testament to great coaching and hard work. Yes, I know they are getting hammered in the possession stats but what many of the staszis don’t often recognize is that shot blocking is a demonstrable, repeatable skill and the Flames are exceptional at it. Flames defenseman Kris Russell leads the league in BS by a wide margin with 221 compared to 175 for the second place shot blocker Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are also among the top 20 in the league. Shot blocking may not be good for your Corsi rating but it sure does stop goals from being scored.

It also helps that the Flames are among the top scoring teams in the league (11th) at 2.82 while the supposedly young, fast talented Oilers will all those #1 picks are 28th at a paltry 2.17…only Arizona and Buffalo are worse.

Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are both providing great numbers fro such young players and those who expected Monahan to fall back this season have been very disappointed…he could hit 30 goals and 60 points.

Both Los Angeles and San Jose remain just outside the wild card spots and, while I expect LA will make it, San Jose appears to be in serious trouble despite their star-studded lineup.

Buckle up…it’s going to be a great ride.

 

 

 

 

Snap Shots

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1) The Minnesota Wild have been charging up the WC standings and, for the first time this season are now in a playoff position.You may recall I have been saying for months that the Wild should not be overlooked given they outshoot their opposition by an average of almost 5 shots per game. They were sewered early in the season by dreadful goaltending but, now that Devan Dubnyk has been providing them with .925 goaltending, they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 with a guaranteed win against the Edmonton Oilers up next. The Wild are only 6 points back of Chicago in the Central Division and hold a game in hand so this is going to get very interesting.

2) It appears Winnipeg and Calgary are going to duke it out for the final wildcard spot in the WC. It’s unfortunate since I think it would do the game a whole lot of good if both teams made it.

3) Was just glancing at how teams fared against the dominant WC. The Edmonton Oilers have played 36 games against the west. They’ve won 4 and lost 32. That gives us a pretty good idea of how far they are from becoming a playoff team in the west.

4) It appears those writing off the Sedins as a spent force in Vancouver may have to eat some crow. Henrik Sedin is currently in 11th place in scoring among centres while brother Daniel is currently in 7th spot among LW’s.

5) A personal favourite on mine in the rookie of the year race just keeps impressing. Dallas Stars rookie D John Klingberg who has 10G and 32P in only 46 games played. Projected over a full 82 game season that would be 57 points. Also worth noting is that Klingberg has passed Aaron Ekblad  (who is having a phenomenal seasons as an 18 year old) in points.

6) Vancouver rookie Bo Horvat is impressing more and more every day. Despite playing 4th line minutes, Horvat has 9G and 18P. His P/60 5V5 of 1.99 is much better than players like Nathan MacKinnon (1.92) Nazem Kadri (1.82) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1.77). It’ll be interesting to see how he does with more minutes against tougher competition but it appears he is NHL ready.

7) Horvat is starting to make the Corey Schneider trade to the Devils look like a win-win. Schneider has been very good in NJ with a .926 save percentage behind a bad team and posted another shutout tonight against Arizona. Vancouver goalie Ryan Miller is out with a knee problem so Eddie Lack (.917) will be getting more starts and the Canucks have called up Jacob Markstrom from the AHL where he has been phenomenal (.932). Hard to imagine that, in a very short time after moving two of the best goalies in the NHL, the Canucks now have 3 who appear to be NHL calibre.

8) Not much new to report in the Great Tank Battle. Carolina will likely pass the Leafs and the Oilers may pass the Coyotes. This seems reasonable:

1) Buffalo

2) Arizona

3) Edmonton

4) Toronto

9) The season ticket drive in Las Vegas has reached 70 percent of its goal so it appears very, very likely that Sin City will be joining the league in 2016/17.

10) Just a hunch…but keep an eye on the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. If they can find a couple of players who can help now and in the future, I think you may see them add a forward and a defenseman. A deal for Keith Yandle wouldn’t surprise me. Calgary has the assets and the cap space to get this done.

Handicapping the Playoff Races

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The playoff race in the EC is all but over. The Florida Panthers could still track down the Boston Bruins for the last wild card spot so there is that.

But in the WC, things are much more interesting.

As of this writing, 6 teams are still in the running for the final 4 spots in the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at their chances.

Vancouver would appear to be in the catbird seat with 65 points in 55GP and they have games in hand over San Jose (3), Winnipeg (2) and Calgary (1). They also hold the tie breaker of regulation wins (29) over Calgary (28), San Jose (27), Minnesota (26), Winnipeg (24), Los Angeles (24) and Dallas (24).

But…the Canucks are down two of their top 4 defensemen in Edler and Bieksa and may find it difficult to win without them.

Those Stazis discount “momentum” but, believe me, confidence plays a huge part in the performance of sports teams and the Minnesota Wild are on a huge roll.

Buoyed by the goaltending of Devan Dubnyk (who could have seen that coming) the Wild are 8-0-2 in their last 10 games and may overtake the Winnipeg Jets in the Central Division.

Winnipeg has a 5 point lead but Minnesota has 3 games in hand and could close that gap pretty quickly.

The 4 Pacific teams vying for a post season berth, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Los Angeles are within 4 points of each other and all are playing around .500 hockey in their last 10 GP.

If forced to make a wager right now, I would go with this for the top 8 teams in the WC:

1) NSH

2) STL

3) ANA

4) CHI

5) CAL

6) MIN

7) VCR

8) WPG

Wow. The 1st round of the playoffs should be epic.

Evander Kane

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The interwebs are buzzing today with word that the Winnipeg Jets may have seen enough of the Evander Kane Show.

***Breaking*** Sportsnet is reporting that Kane didn’t show up for the Vancouver game after an altercation with team mates:

Multiple sources familiar with the situation have since indicated that Kane was not on the team’s bus to Rogers Arena and then missed a pre-game meeting. Repeated attempts to reach him were unsuccessful until approximately an hour before puck drop, when Kane answered his cellphone and said he wouldn’t be playing against the Canucks that night.

Earlier in the day, the 23-year-old winger is said to have had a run-in with teammates.

Kane wore a track suit when the Jets players gathered that morning — a violation of team policy. Following a brief workout and stretch, Byfuglien is said to have thrown those clothes into the shower to send a message to his teammate, according to sources.

That was the last the Winnipeg players saw of Kane until the team’s charter flight home

Apparently Kane showed up for a team meeting dressed in sweats, violating the teams dress code and Kane was scratched in that night’s game in Vancouver despite him having flown in friends and relatives to watch him play in his hometown. And, he was also a no show at this mornings Jets’ practise.

One would think Kane is very aware of the consequences of his actions so it’s possible he was trying to force management’s hand.

Kane has been playing mainly on the Jets’ 3rd line this season and has 10G and 22P in only 37GP so he is still producing at a pretty good rate but he has made it pretty clear over the past couple of seasons that he doesn’t like playing in Winnipeg and has a couple of times expressed a desire to play in his hometown of Vancouver.

Scott Cullen has an analysis of Kane’s Production here.

That raises the question of whether or not the Canucks, or any other team, are willing to take a gamble on the problem child.

Kane would be a perfect fit as the Canucks 2 LW but it’s unknown if the Canucks would be willing to move the assets needed to acquire him.

Kane brings size, speed and youth…exactly what GM Jim Benning has been saying the Canucks need but I’m not sure they have the desire to babysit another Cody Hodgson.

If the Canucks were to make a move on Kane, it would likely require them to make a package deal…perhaps Eddie Lack, Jannik Hansen, Zack Kassian and a pick or prospect.

Another team that has the cap space and assets to put in a strong bid for Kane is the Calgary Flames.

The Flames are loaded at centre, a Jets’ weakness, and also have a very strong prospect pool they could dangle.

Another team that comes to mind that might also entertain a multi player deal is the Colorado Avalanche. The Av’s sorely need defensemen and Winnipeg is stacked at that position. Maybe a deal involving Ryan O’Reilly and another piece for Kane and a D might work.

I would imagine 29 other GM’s are thinking about Kane today but there are only a few teams with the cap space to make it work unless major salary goes the other way…but according to Sportsnet, the asking price for Kane may have gone down in the wake of this latest episode.

Jets management is scheduled to meet media on Friday to address things but I would wager Kane won’t be a Jet for very much longer.

The question is…will the Jets regret moving Kane as much as the Bruins do after moving Tyler Seguin?

Snap Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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