The new Metropolitan division combines all five of the teams from the old Atlantic Division, two teams from the thoroughly shattered Southeast division, and one former central division team. After last season this will hands down be the hardest division to predict.

Carolina:We know that with a healthy backup the team is already better than it was last year. We know that adding Mike Komisarek (assuming he can stick to the NHL) will add a touch of belligerence. We know that the defense as a whole is suspect. We know it will be a lot of fun to watch a full season of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Semin as the teams nucleus.

Columbus: We know that they decided to take their move into the eastern conference seriously. With the addition of Nathan Horton and Marion Gaborik in the last several months, the team added to a solid defensive foundation. We know teams that underestimate them are in for a rough night. We know that even with the two year contract he signed that there is no certainty Bobrovsky will finish the deal in Columbus. We know if Ryan Murray makes the squad he’ll be in the perfect position to garner Calder consideration.

New Jersey:We know The Devils had the sort of negative off season attention that can sink the sales of a team. We know that the additions of Clowe, Jagr, and Ryder will give the team a different look than it had last season. We know that since Kovalchuk and Clarkson couldn’t drag the team into the playoffs this might not be a bad thing. We know someone has their head up their backside because Adam Henrique is still unsigned.

New York Islanders: We know this team made the playoffs last year, kept all its major components and added the physicality of one Cal Clutterbuck. We know that with defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart, Calvin De Hann, and Scott Mayfield waiting in the wings the guys currently on the roster should keep one eye on the puck and the other looking over their shoulder. We know the team really needs to figure out a long term solution in net.

New York Rangers: We know the Rangers will have new coach this year. We know the new coach has an entirely different persona than the last coach. We Brad Richards needs to have a banner year while there is still time. We know sooner or later someone will figure out you don’t go deep in the playoffs playing your starting goalie 65+ games a season.

Philadelphia: We know that with the injection of Lecavalier and possibly Laughton into the lineup fans might be excused an excess of hope. We know the defense is still without an impact player. We know Ray Emery will battle his heart out between the pipes. We know no one knows what to expect out of Steve Mason. We know the Flyers will likely miss the playoffs.

Pittsburgh: We know the team didn’t do anything to correct its playoff attitude issues; same coach, same captain, same mix of ‘leaders’. We know that having the goalie see a sports psychologist is a step, but we also know complete rebuilds of a persons psyche can take years if they occur at all.

Washington: We know the Capitals have a limited window to win with the current core of Ovechkin,  Backstrom, Laich, Greene, Alzner, and Carlson, We know some of them might not be in D.C. if/when the Cup is hoisted by the local boys. We know Adam Oates is still on a short leash because in any sane universe George McFee is on an even shorter one. We know that the Capitals (probably don’t operate in a sane universe.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Blake Wheeler’s new contract with the Jets makes him the teams highest paid forward. Overall, this isn’t a bad deal. Its the first major deal under the new CBA for the team, and Wheeler has over the last two seasons put up good numbers, and stayed healthy. The soon to be 27 year old has missed just five games in his five seasons. With the Cap likely going up again in 2014-15, the only real question is will Wheelers recent roll in scoring keep turning into the post season (should the Jets ever get there).

Billy Jaffe the busiest man in hockey broadcast took time out to coach Team USA at the Maccabiah tournament in Israel. After smooth sailing in the preliminary rounds the boys ran into a tough team Canada and came home with the Silver.

Two hockey personalities recently got contract extensions. Joel Quenneville got a three year extension. Dave Nonis got a five year deal. In case you’re wondering the the good deal belongs to the coach of the Chicago Blackhawks who won two Stanley Cup’s in four years. The deal means the Blackhawks get to keep the bench boss three more years. The deal no one with any sense understands is the one belonging to the guy who’s first major moves were to smash flat a playoff team that only needed tweaking to become a contender.

Colby Armstrong who has played for the Montreal Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Atlanta Thrashers is taking what will at least be a break from his NHL career. Armstrong who was traded from Pittsburgh in the wake of a night out on the town with Sidney Crosby, is known for strong two way play and is off to play in Sweden for Vaxjo.

Realignment brings together four fifths of the old pacific division,  and three fifths of the former northwest division. These seven teams are tied together for the next three seasons and barring expansion or relocation, the short term future beyond that.

Anaheim: Rumor has it this franchise which is soon to leave its teenage years behind will revert to being the Mighty Ducks. The interesting part is it appears to be for just one game. If this is a market test for occasion based team gear it could be the precursor to seeing the Ducks in a Winter Classic game, likely as the visitors. With any luck Emelio Estevez’s career will be resurrected as well.

Calgary: Barring direct divine intervention, the Flames are not going to burn much hotter than it takes to make smores. The biggest move since their season ended was to pick up the enigmatic David Jones. Yes, signing Sean Monahan, and Corban Knight might help address their abysmal lack of depth at center but even if both young men turn in Calder quality campaigns, this Flames team will struggle to escape the lottery.

Edmonton: For the first time in years, the team might just be on the right path. They addressed a weakness that has been glaring and debilitating both in the draft and free agency, and it appears to be the result of Scott Howson’s handiwork. How else do you explain a team that failed to make a useful defensive free agent acquisition in years suddenly do so and draft Darnell Nurse in the zone he was projected? They might not quite make the playoffs, but they have a better chance their Battle of Alberta rivals.

Los Angeles: While mostly a summer of taking care of their own, the Kings did also grab Dan Carcillo for their bottom six, or likely bottom three. We know Jordan Nolan will have to fight for ice time, and probably still have Sidney Crosby’s picture put up in his place. We know the Kings goalie tandem won’t have the same first name for the first time in years and that Ben Scrivens is unlikely to surpass the twenty starts he had in a season in Toronto.

Phoenix: We know the Coyotes will be in town for years to come. We know Doan, Smith, Ekman-Larsson and company are anxious to get back to the playoffs. We know the team is one of the top three in the new division, as long as they stay healthy.

San Jose: We know that we don’t know anything about who this team really is. We know that this team doesn’t know anything about who they truly are. We know adding Raffi Torres is a positively confusing move as most teams don’t feel they have a dearth of suspensions due to ill advised hits to opposing players. We know the team needs to move some salary somewhere to become cap compliant. We know Tomas Hertl will need to make big adjustments to the way the game is played in North America. We know those last two items might be related.

Vancouver: We know this teams fans are in for a rough season. Even with a full training camp to shake down with the new coach, the radical interpersonal and coaching differences between the new coach and the old are going to make waves. We know the team is no longer in a division where they can mail in 50 games a year and still win the division without much of a challenge. We know they still haven’t solved their issues at center, and that which Roberto Luongo we see this year is anyone’s guess.

Summer is here and the time to restock, rejuvenate and reevaluate teams and staffs is here again. Some teams get better, others stay about the same, and some get worse.

Worse:

The Toronto Maple Leafs are inarguably worse than they were at the end of last season. They took the group that got them to within one goal of the second round and gutted it. They bought out a forward who played 22 minutes a night, they traded away three picks for a guy who has never hit the 20 goal mark. For a team that is clearly trying to reforge itself, that is highly curious. Worse, with all the movement of players in and out, a group that finally played well enough to perform like a team is likely back to being a gaggle of individuals. What is Dave Nonis thinking?

Better:

The Edmonton Oilers have two things they didn’t have last year. The first is a veteran blueliner who had won the Cup recently. The second is someone who was solid defensively, but also know show to get the puck out of the zone. Both of those attributes reside in one Andrew Ference. Reacquiring Denis Grabeshkov will only add to the strength of their blueline. Up front the added playoff tested forward David Perron. He’s a little bit older than the youngest forwards on their team, but close enough in age for him to blend in. Better still, they managed to extend Sam Gagner who has been their best center for at least two or three years without breaking the bank. The addition of veteran Jason Labarbera to their crease only makes a playoff spot that much more likely.

Worse:

For the Calgary Flames adding Karri Ramo and Kris Russell just isn’t enough. Even if they have three rookies break camp with them and garner serious Calder attention, they are not any closer to a playoff team than they were last year. Ramo had a poor start to his NHL career with Tampa Bay and the Flames defense is about equal to what Tampa Bay had then with the benefit of having fewer superstar forwards in the conference to play against he may only be slightly better than he was then.

Better:

The Phoenix Coyotes got better just by stabilizing ownership. They then added Mike Ribeiro as their top center. They added depth forward Brandon Yip, and it is likely Henrik Samuelsson and Max Domi will compete for roster spots at training camp. Adding either of the youngsters to  Vrbata, Ekman-Larsson, Yandle and Ribeiro,  who slid into a roster with Ovechkin and the other highly skilled caps could finally vault the Coyotes offense into the top third of the league.

 

One of the numerous ways casual observers and mental lightweights have decided is the perfect way to make the scoring easier in the NHL is to reduce the size and protectiveness of goalie equipment. Given all the safety concerns in professional sports, this just seems like a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Today’s idea is a slightly different application of physics. From the NHL rulebook:

The puck shall be made of vulcanized rubber, or other approved material, one inch (1”) thick and three inches (3”) in diameter and shall weigh between five and one-half ounces (51/2” oz.) and six ounces (6 oz.). All pucks used in competition must be approved by the League.

This is the puck size used up and down the hockey ranks in North America. Kids use it, and your favorite NHL star probably has a couple hundred at home for shooting at their favorite wall, net or old dryer. As athletic as today’s goaltenders are, I suspect changing pad sizes and thickness would do little to increase goal scoring and might even decrease it as net minders would have greater freedom of movement.

But what if the NHL went with a puck that wasn’t the size we’re all used to? With all the technological changes to equipment in the last century of play, why are they still using the same old puck? Making the puck smaller and heavier would likely produce more goals than making changes to pads.

If the size of the puck is dropped from three inches around to 2.75 inches it will fit through more gaps in pads. The positioning of goaltenders to cover the post, close their five hole and maintain a snappy glove will become paramount. Yes the surface area of the puck does help it stay flat, but that’s why the change in weight would be the second element.

By inserting a small weight at the center of the puck you can counteract the lost mass, and increase it. Rubber isn’t the densest material in the world, and it fairly easy to mold around other materials. How far up you want to go with the puck weight will tell you what material to use. Bronze, ceramic, or nickel are all dense materials and a small disc or ball shape in the the middle of the puck would add the mass handily, but other materials are options.

With the loss of surface area, and the increase in weight pucks will have greater inertia. This means goalies with leaky pads will have to work harder. Pucks that hit the crossbar are a bit more likely to land in the net or even bounce off the goaltender and drop. There will probably be a slight drop in pucks that go just over the net as well. The lowered surface area would mean it had less ability to keep air under it, and longer shots from the tops of the circles out to the points would be more likely to stay at or below crossbar height.

Click here and here for parts one and two in the series.

Yesterday we looked at the surprises the preliminary rosters had given us. Now, its time to look at who should be there over who is.

Forwards:

  • Jason Pominville, with a roster that will struggle for offense, at least compared to some, leaving out a the guy who finished seventh among American scorers last season, and second the season before is unabashedly embarrassing.
  • Brandon Dubinsky is one of the best two way forwards in the league. He’s capable of throttling the life out of opposing powerplays, winning faceoffs reliably, and will play physically against anyone. He’s well over a point a game internationally.
  • John Gaudreau makes the most sense of any non-NHL player for this Team USA squad to field. He’s money in the bank scoring goals, and is over a point per game at every level he’s played, USHL, NCAA, WJC and others.

Defense:

  • Alex Goligoski had his most productive season in points per game, despite having two of the top forwards traded mid season and no describable NHL quality centers on the team.
  • Torey Krug, unlike certain invitees, Krug played a significant number of his teams playoff games and managed to make the Bruins walking dead powerplay look like it had a pulse. Speedy, great passer, plays well against larger opponents (nearly everyone).
  • Matt Greene while offense is undoubtedly needed, a shut down defenseman who can hit like a freight train is never something to be without. Arguably the best American shutdown defenseman in the NHL, certainly top 3.

Goal:

  • Jack Campbell has international experience and even if he doesn’t make the final roster the organization should take a good look at him for next time around. It is unlikely Howard, Anderson or Miller will be at or near their top form as goalies in four years.

 

The Canadian talent pool is deep enough to field two teams and have both of them medal most years. That said, some names being left off even the initial roster are baffling.

Forwards:

  • Jaime Benn is an enormously talented winger who was forced into the center slot last season and still came close to dragging his team into the playoffs.
  • Jarome Iginla is a head scratcher, unless he said he didn’t want to be there, or is going to be having a surgery that require a long recovery, he’s got all the tools anyone could want on their roster why he isn’t listed is at best curious and at worst an embarrassment.
  • Nathan Horton he was the leading Canadian scorer on the right wing in the playoffs, he’s won a Stanley Cup and even if he’s not due back from injury at the start of the season he’s still a big game force.
  • Pascal Dupuis, another talented right winger who led all Canadian right wings in goals in the regular season and plays in all situations. He’s never had a chance to play for his country, and has more than paid his dues in the NHL.
  • Matt Moulson is probably being snubbed for going to an American College and not playing Canadian Junior, but three 30 goal seasons in a row isn’t something you leave aside lightly.
  • Evander Kane if you want to upgrade the teams aggression without sacrificing skill there are few better names to insert.
  • Wayne Simmonds might just be one of those pugnacious wingers you take over Kane, but it’d be a close thing.

Defense:

  • Francois Beauchemin is a pure workhorse capable of playing gigantic minutes, staying disciplined, and willing to sacrifice his body for the team.
  • Cody Franson was third among Canadian defensemen in scoring this season, and fifth for the playoffs despite only playing one round. He’s young, talented and mobile.
  • Dan Girardi in any sane universe he’s going to be one of the first three names out of the mouth of someone reciting the list of the NHL’s best shutdown defensemen, apparently that isn’t good enough for Team Canada. He was also fifth total minutes played among Candian NHL defensemen last year. Go figure.

Goal:

  • Devan Dubnyk has played for the his country several times, including this years Spengler Cup, and turned in service that ranges from strong to exemplary. How he’s not invited at all is the single biggest mystery on of the whole years roster.

One thing that stands out right away when looking at the roster is the number of guys who have yet to play their first NHL game. Jacob Trouba is highly touted, but as the Vancouver Olympics showed us the national rosters with the most NHL players will win, and that’s a lot of talent for someone who might still not have an NHL game to their credit. Not long ago, I went over the old roster and looked at the potential new one.

Dan DeKeyser was the most talked about college free agent this spring, and yet he got into just two of the Detroit Red Wings playoff games this spring. If he’s not yet at level to play regularly against NHL competition it is curious to see him on even a preliminary Olympic roster. Jake Trouba and Seth Jones are a surprise because unlike DeKeyser they don’t have even a single NHL game to their credit. It is unlikely that even if all three make it they will play huge minutes for Team USA, but there are other NHL defensemen with a little more creditability as a possible Olympian.

The forward group shows that as always Team USA will be a team designed to win games in a complete manner, and not simply by scoring for dear life. TJ Oshie is a little bit surprising given the occasional questions about his conditioning. Trevor Lewis as a bottom six forward is surprising because he hasn’t shown any strong offensive upside in the NHL yet. Justin Abdelkader’s hits are enough to get anyone attention, but offensively, he’s had just two 20+ goal seasons in his hockey career, one for the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and once in the AHL. Paul Stastny is surprising, well only if you fail to look at his international numbers. His NHL numbers arguably do not justify a spot on the roster, but his international game is quite solid.

In goal, there isn’t an a team that can match the depth of the Americans at least on paper. Craig Anderson and Jonathan Quick in whichever order you care to list them are the easy picks as first and second goalies. But they probably shouldn’t be, even with strong performances in the last two seasons because Miller and Gibson are both en fuego  Miller, Howard and Schneider should spend their time at camp and early in the year looking over their shoulder at John Gibson who has a career 9.35sv% in international play including tours-de-force of .951 and .955 in separate tournaments this year. Of all the goalies there, Jimmy Howard probably has the least pressure on him.

The biggest surprises on the Team USA roster are who isn’t there. But that’s for tomorrow’s snubs post.

All of the surprises for the Canadian roster fall under the heading of either oh wow he’s still being considered or hmm, so they finally stopped snubbing him.

In goal, there is no Martin Brodeur. The iconic New Jersey Devil’s goaltender isn’t a part of this team, and it probably comes as a limited surprise given his age. With the questions surprising the Canadian goaltending pipeline it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him on the list at all. Mike Smith is there and that’s a genuine surprise, not based on talent, but just for the fact that he now 31 years old and never played a game of international hockey. Courtesy of the pipeline questions, Roberto Luongo, and Carey Price were invited, and given that the position is probably Crawford or Holtby’s to lose, inviting a younger goaltender like Jake Paterson, Malcolm Subban or one of the others who have competed at the World Junior Level for Canada.

At wing the included surprises include Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Both are high quality players who opponents disenjoy playing against, but Lucic even with his improvements in skating isn’t the fastest man in the NHL, even at left wing, Marchand occasionally looses his cool and takes dumb penalties. With their head coach on the staff, and Marchand’s usual center Bergeron a returning gold medalist I give both a higher chance of making the team than they otherwise might count.  While listed as a center in the NHL, Logan Couture has to be a bit of a surprise, as at center he’s not even in the top eight or nine, and the wing depth is strong, and contains players who have played with various centers likely to be on the final roster. Taylor Hall’s inclusion is a no surprise to anyone, but Rick Nash’s steadily declining productivity makes him worthy of at least a slightly raised eyebrow.

Jordan Staal is quite a valuable talent, but on the orientation roster he’s superfluous. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Mike Richards are all more than equipped to play a shutdown roll, as can Eric Staal. One assumes the people putting together the roster value his ability to play both center and wing, which still doesn’t make him unique. John Tavares is a bit of a surprise for two reasons. Number one is the depth at center on the team, you can argue up and down where he’d sit in that list, but with a double digit list of players who take faceoffs, he’s not going to be in the top four or five on a lot of people’s depth charts. Second is foot speed, John Tavares has enormous passing ability that places him in the top 10 to 15 passers in the NHL, but his ability to get to pucks doesn’t keep company that is nearly as heady.

On defense, there’s a whole bunch of talent and while it is hard to argue that any of the names should be in the discussion, there are a good half dozen names many would place ahead of Dan Hamhuis. Mike Green however talented he may be is horribly injury prone. For a short tournament like the Olympics where everyone is running out flat, it just doesn’t make sense to include a guy who has only once in his 8 season NHL career. Alex Pietrangelo has to be a little bit of a surprise, especially with 8 previous Olympians on the roster just on the blueline, but he’s got a lot of talent and some playoff polish.

The outright snubs will come soon.

The Canadian Orientation Camp Roster.