The Matchups: Lightning And Canadiens

16th
Apr. × ’14

At multiple points this season a matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens was unthinkable. Carey Price was injured, Steven Stamkos was injured, and the teams downfalls were predicted at those points and others. Yet here we are, the oldest club in the NHL is facing off with a team that while significantly less steeped in history has etched their names on Lord Stanley’s Cup more recently.

Atlantic Division

To date this has hardly been the NHL’s fiecest rivalry, by virtue of geography, history, and games played against each other the two teams can probably count at least five or six teams with whom they have developed a higher level of passion about. The two teams enter the series very evenly matched. The Lightning finished with 101 points in the regular season and 38 regulation or overtime wins. The Habs take the second season stage having finished the year with 100 points and 40 ROW’s.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts finished 2nd to the Boston Bruins in the division despite losing Stamkos for an extended period and an irreparable rift between General Manager Steve Yzerman and then captain Marty Saint Louis. This years team is not the old style “We’ll win 6-4″ rendition that many fans were familiar with. Cooper’s team finished the regular season 9th in goals for and 11th in goals against.

Best players:

Steven Stamkos is hands down the biggest name in the series, but Eric Brewer must hit household name status for the Tampa Bay Lightning to make a deep run. He’s a key cog defensively, and the road doesn’t get easier if they make it past the Canadiens.

X-Factor:

A lot of how well the Bolts do in the post-season this year will rest on the shoulders of Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. The two rookies have played remarkably well this year but neither has played a single NHL playoff game and they will be facing a team who knows how to get under peoples skin.

Montreal Canadiens

Finishing third in the division this season has to be at least a little bit of a disappointment after winning the division in the lockout shortened season last year. Given the injury to Price, and the need to further reinforce their offense at the deadline by acquiring Tomas Vanek, it is actually something of an accomplishment. As they enter the playoffs, the Habs are a bit oddly constructed. Of they guys who spent all season in the “CH”, two of the top four scorers are defenseman (Subban & Markov), and only two players finished the year with 20 goals or more, Pacioretty and the woefully under appreciated Tomas Plekanec.

Best Players:

Carey Price has finally emerged as the type of goalie that Montreal expects every netminder who pulls on their jersey to be. 59 games played and a career high .927sv% coming as part of a matched set with a career low 2.32 GAA. Subban needs to continue to show that unlike some other recent Norris winners he can get it done in the part of the ice his position was named for.

X-Factor:

Secondary scoring, secondary scoring, secondary scoring. It is a given that the Tampa Bay defense is going to be all over Pacioretty and Vanek, what the other players due to generate goals will determine if the team ends the year with gnarly playoff beards or assertive stubble.


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The Matchups: Rangers And Flyers

15th
Apr. × ’14

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are hear, and the best matchups are always the teams that are closest in talent, health, and drive. In the past that meant the four versus five matchup and the three versus six. With the changes in playoff format, the second and third place teams in each division will square off.

Metropolitan Division:

New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers

As pure dyed in the wool rivalries go, there isn’t another first round matchup that comes close to this. Both teams have a different coach than they did at this time last year, but nothing has changed about how these two teams go at each other.

The Rangers as the #2 team have home ice advantage, they are mostly healthy, with only Kreider out and McDonagh dinged, they have a roster full of men who want to be winning in June.

The Flyers are equally healthy, and have a coach who didn’t even get a training camp. They have a star in Claude Giroux who predicted they would make the second season, an a guy in Steve Mason who has his mojo back.

Best Players:

NYR: Ryan McDonagh and Martin St Louis have to be the guys to carry the mail. St Louis is a first ballot hall of famer with a lot of games left in him. McDonagh is the guy who makes their rather talented backend work and pushes things at both ends of the ice.

PHI: Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds are the men of the hour in Philadelphia. Simmonds for his part needs to play a slightly better two way game, Giroux needs to stay healthy and focused.

Series X Factor: Coaching.

Neither of these coaches has won much. Neither has any professional hockey championship wins. Vigneault has spent more time coaching in the NHL with several playoff runs. Berube played over 1000 NHL games, and 89 playoff games. Whichever coach can control the locker room and bench will win the series.


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Magic Mike Gillis

5th
Mar. × ’14

The Vancouver Canucks are one of the teams that should be a perennial contender. They have everything. They are in a hockey market in British Columbia. They have an owner that allows them to spend to the cap. They have a strong fan base. They even have an arena that is in good shape and has solid ice.

The one thing they don’t have is leadership. Roll the clock back a little bit to the Canucks Stanley cup final appearance against the Boston Bruins. They had a post season run that included more than their fair share of luck, which is true of any team that isn’t a juggernaut. They played their best when they had a gentlemanly game against an opponent who was playing a soft game. As a team, they could not play with both skill and grit. If they got grimy they lost and lost big. When Brad Marchand used Daniel Sedin as a living speedbag, and neither Sedin nor anyone else did a damn thing. In the final game, two skaters showed up for the game. he hobbled Kesler and exhausted Bieksa.

Having seen that game, and that series, Gillis did nothing. Same coach, same roster next year and they get run from the playoffs even earlier. And then Gillis went looking for tough guys who can’t play, and traded guys like Hodgson that can play top six minutes and contribute. It was obvious two years ago that the Sedin’s were on the decline, age, on ice performance, and the general history of offensive production from forwards told you they were at or past peak. What happened? The Sedin’s were given a raise and no movement clauses.

Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks had two number one goaltenders. The juggling and indecision turned them, at least temporarily, into number two goalies. Then they were both traded. Both were traded for far below their market value. The young, athletic and level headed Cory Schneider was flipped for a single first round draft pick. Roberto Luongo was just dealt for pocket change.

How does Mike Gillis still have a job? Do the owners just consider the Canucks a really expensive hobby? Is there no one above Gillis with a lick of hockey sense? It simply isn’t possible to look at the moves made by Gillis lately and say “Yeah, that makes the team better.” John Tortorella is a great coach. He’s also an awful fit for the roster that was in place when he was hired. David Booth, Tom Sestito, Zach Kassian, Yannick Weber, and Zach Hamill are not the acquisitions that are going to put a team over the top. Not with the wrong coach, not with the declining top scorers.

The longer I live and the more of the world i see, the harder it becomes for me to disbelieve in magic. But since I can’t think of any rational reason for Mike Gillis to still have a job; magic it is. Your move Aquilini’s, your move.


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Deadline Sleepers

4th
Mar. × ’14

The trade deadline always has surprises. Sometimes it is who doesn’t gets traded, sometimes it is how lopsided a trade appears to be. Right now all eyes are on Ryan Callahan of the New York Rangers, Ryan Kesler the Selkie winning Vancouver Canucks defenseman and of course the healthy goalie void for the Minnesota Wild. Drawing their own buzz are Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza, future first ballot hall of famer Martin Brodeur, and Matt Moulson the three time thirty goal scorer currently taking line rushes for the Buffalo Sabres.

Some names that could be moved who aren’t getting the attention:

Bryce Salvador:

With one more year left on his contract he’s more than a rental, and given that he’s going to be 39 before his contract expires that might give some teams reasons to hesitate. On the other hand he’s a very savvy stay at home defender who has more than once in his NHL career met or exceeded his regular season goal total in the playoffs. Teams that are looking to add a defenseman before the playoffs could do much, much worse than the Brandon Manitoba native.

Brooks Laich:

The soon to be 31 year old forward for the Washington Capitals has seen better seasons than his last two in the nations capital. The three time 20+ goal man has not cracked that mark since 2009-10 season, and it is curious why that is. The Capitals trail all teams in the playoff structure in ROW and not surprisingly sit third in the eastern wild card race. A team looking for a 2nd or third line scorer might roll the dice on a player who has all the markings of a guy in need of a change of scenery.

Evander Kane:

It has been consistently rumored that the pugnacious winger is unhappy in Winnipeg. The young 30 goal scorer might not be a player you want to trade, but the depth brought back from that sort of trade could be exactly what is needed to right the ship for the Jets. If Kesler’s asking price is a roster player, a first round pick and solid prospect despite greater age and an extensive injury history, what could the return for a younger, grittier player with four years left on his deal be?

Kevin Bieksa:

With all eyes on a potential Kesler deal, it is easy to overlook Bieksa. Both have no trade clauses, and two years remaining on their contracts, both made an impression on fans around the world in their run to the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago as being the only Canucks skaters to put up a fight in game seven of the the finals against the Bruins while the rest of the team just laid down on the job. While he’s lost a noticeable amount of games to injuries, he’s still had solid offensive production throughout his NHL career.  If the Canucks brain trust decide to turn the page on the rosters core group, Bieksa could be asked where he wants to go.

Brad Boyes:

Last year when he put up 35 points in 48 games in the regular season it was assumed that most of the revival of Brad Boyes was due to playing next to John Tavares. This year however he’s playing in Florida on a team much less well structured or talented than last years Islanders and has put up 17 goals in not a great deal of ice time giving him the team lead in goals. He’s second in scoring on the sons of Sunrise, and earlier this year picked up his first shorthanded goal since the 2006-07 season. As a rental or a player with potential to play someplace for two or three years, Boyes is solid option.

Cody Franson:

The 26 year old blueliner has seen a dip in per game production over last years grueling pace. If the Maple Leafs decide to make changes, this pending RFA blueliner might find himself playing in a different jersey real soon. Due largely to highly uneven goaltending, the Leafs have the fifth highest goals allowed per game. Franson might find himself moved for any number of reasons, from a crowded blueline, to the desire for someone better than average defensively to replace him in the lineup


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New Feature: Pull The Plug – New Jersey Devils Edition

5th
Feb. × ’14

The New Jersey Devils are outside the playoff structure. The New Jersey Devils have played more games than most of the teams ahead of them. Lou Lamoriello has assembled a team with a long pedigree, and unfortunately no future. Even with first ballot hall of fame induce Jaromir Jagr on the roster, and three time 30+ goal man Michael Ryder, the team is 26th in the NHL in goals for. The defense, and goaltending is in better shape, but any team with six players over age 35, including their top three scorers and the goalie with the most wins, isn’t fit for anything but the glue factory.

Its time to hit the hard reset and go for it. Adam Henrique is young enough to play all the way through even a five or six year rebuild. Travis Zajac can either stay long term or be used as a mentor in the upcoming transition and then moved for a missing piece if he’s not part of the solution. Jon Merrill, Adam Larsson,  and Cory Schneider all have their best year ahead of them. Damien Brunner is in much the same shape as Zajac.

As for everyone else: Fire Sale.

Last year at about this time Jagr was traded for a first round pick and two prospects. There is no reason he can’t be traded for more value by the Devils when the Olympic break is over. Michael Ryder who doesn’t have the same name recognition but is most of a decade younger with a year remaining on his contract should command a slightly better return. If Elias who has a NMC can be persuaded to go, he could easily fetch even more than Ryder since he lacks the New Foundlander’s reputation for streakiness.

Bryce Salvador might actually be the prize pick, he plays solid minutes overall at about 21 a night, but almost four of those are short handed and there are several playoff teams who could use him to add a bit more stability to the mix, he too has a year left on his contract. Marek Zidlicky is another guy with a reasonable contract, and who has to be asking himself how many more chances he’ll have to win the Stanley Cup.

Just among those five players you’re looking at enough return to reshape the roster, and the future of the New Jersey Devils. At minimum, that haul of resources should net them three first round picks, four to six prospects one or two roster players and two or three second or later round selections. This is completely leaving out pending UFA’s like Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier, Stephen Gionta, and Mark Fayne. They say the future is now, and in some cases that is true. But when you’re talking about sports franchises the future is built now is more true. If Lou Lamoriello, Josh Harris, and David Blitzer want to see a glorius future for their franchise, the time to reshape it is now.


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The Seidenberg Void: Part 2

23rd
Jan. × ’14

Last time we looked at some remedial options, this post is on bigger moves or radical ideas that might fix it.

Brooks Orpik

The Pittsburgh Penguin defenseman was at the center of one of the years early controversies, concussing Loui Eriksson, and getting mauled by a Bruin after he repeatedly refused to drop the gloves. With 2:48 a night of shorthanded time on the NHL’s top penalty kill, he fits the mold as an able defender. He’s a left handed shot as is Seidenberg, and height and weight are officially very close, as is age. He is in the last year of a contract, but its hard to imagine the Penguins jettisoning him where their current roster should win their division and make it at least two rounds into the playoffs as long as the revival of Fleury continues.

Luke Schenn

The Philadelphia Flyers are in an interesting position, they are getting a much better season than anyone expected two or three weeks into the season. Currently they sit in the middle of the pack both in goals for and against, not surprisingly hey are just slightly above dead center in the eastern conference standings and sit dead center for the entire NHL. Next season the team will have to resign or replace several key players. It is unlikely the team has a serious shot at the Stanley Cup this year, and while Schenn may never be an elite #1 defensemen who garners multiple Norris nominations, he’s got grit, defensive savvy, and a sensible about of snarl.

Kris Russell

This 26 year old Calgary Flames defenseman has a better 4 on 5 sv% than any of the guys who play more time than him, and significantly better than any of the Flames goalies total sv%. He’s also spending a lot of time on the powerplay. He’s on pace for 69 games and 205 blocked shots. While a little undersized, he’s clearly versatile and hard working. With an expiring contract, the pending UFA could bring the Flames an additional draft selection or two if flipped right.

Marc Staal

There are several reasons this trade is not as far fetched as it might once have been. Starting with next years cap being $71million, and over $39 of it being tied up in just 9 players. Next up is the string of atrocious injury woes for the only one of the four Staal brothers not playing for the Hurricanes organization. And he’s likely been passed in eyes of management by Ryan McDonaugh, while the Rangers would undoubtedly like to keep him, the odds of their being able to shoehorn him and all their other components into the cap are pretty low.  With a year left on his contract, and his undeniable talent the return on him could be high enough to transform the franchise.

Matt Greene

Some injuries, and the maturation of players like Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov have helped make the 30 year old blueliner a tradeable asset. After a year of honeymoon flying, the Kings are back to their low scoring ways and sit 23rd in the NHL in goals for. Not having reached a deal to extend the stay at home defenseman might indicate he is not a priority for the team. Even with the Kings owning the fifth best penalty kill in the league, and Greene averaging the most TOI for that unit, he’s is still moveable given how many games over the last two years he missed or been displaced in an otherwise healthy career. Flipping Greene for an offensively able forward would fill a need, and allow a clean parting of the ways with a player who has been a good soldier.

Andy Greene

Like the LA Kings the New Jersey Devils lack scoring and have a great penalty kill. Andy Greene has one more year left on his contract with the Devils meaning they can hold out for a more substantial return. The undrafted Michigan native is a career Devil, who is third in SHTOI. As the team languishes outside a playoff spot, adding pieces either for this season, or the future would be good for the Devils while Greene is landing in Boston would put him together with Julien who he played under in the 2006-07 season.

Strictly speaking this is a look at players who could fill the defensive void, with an emphasis on the penalty kill first. Some of them are capable of playing well in 20+ minutes a night as part of a first or second pairing, others could be employed in almost a specialty capacity.


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Byfuglien: The Big Problem?

7th
Jan. × ’14

Gary Lawless and other have decided that the Winnipeg Jets most recognizable defenseman, an All Star, Stanley Cup champion, and Olympian is just not good enough.

When you compare him to some of the defenseman who make a similar amount of money, you can see where some complaints about his defensive struggles can creep in.

  • Brent Seabrook is a consummate defensive defenseman often overlooked because he plays in Duncan Keith’s shadow.
  • Ryan McDonagh is quickly becoming one of the best known defensemen in the entire NHL. Part of that is playing for the New York Rangers, part of it is that he’s just that good.
  • Kevin Bieksa has some deficiencies, but has never been the focus of his team, he’s above average but not elite.

And then there are the players who make about the same who are not notably better than Byfuglien, and likely worse, or at least with questionable consistency and or frequent health issues.

  • Dennis Wideman, known for bobbling pucks at the blueline, and that’s perhaps the most noticeable consistency in his game, it should also be noted that no team with Wideman on it has ever made it out of the second round of the NHL playoffs.
  • Keith Yandle, probably the most comparable in on ice production. The biggest difference between the two is Yandle plays in a highly defensive system where there are several high end defensive forwards and good goaltending.
  • Paul Martin of the Pittsburgh Penguins would be lucky to named in the first ten by anyone not reading off the teams roster, and despite playing in front of a goalie with better stats than Big Buff, he’s got an on ice SV% that’s actually further below the #1 goalies Sv%.
  • Nicklas Kronwall is a bit better defensively, and again playing in front of better goaltending, but offensively? He’s played about 60 more games than the Jets blueliner, but has about half the goals.

No one burdened with glorious clue has ever called Dustin Byfuglien the best defenseman in the NHL. He is however one of he most recognizable due to his size, melanin level, skating ability and offensive prowess. He’s also hands down the most recognizable player on Winnipeg Jets. The same way people you used to say Joe Thornton could or should do more during the Boston Bruins 2000-01 season, there are upper ceilings on everyone’s talent and more importantly the fact that good player, great player or elite player they can only be in one place on the ice.

In the entire history of the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise, the team has never had any real depth. Their top six forwards after one and two, or very occasionally three have been a toss up. The top four in defense has largely been a matter of who had the endurance to play 22 or 26 minutes minutes and who didn’t. While Byfuglien can undoubtedly play better (possibly moving to right wing) he’s not the worst defenseman in the league, or even the worst in his pay bracket.  Whatever is wrong with Byfuglien’s play, and it does certainly have issues, Byfuglien isn’t even in the top 5 problems for the Winnipeg Jets.


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If I Told You In September…

2nd
Jan. × ’14

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Players:

  • Dion Phanuef at a staggering .956 would have the highest on ice sv% of any NHL defenseman with 30 or more games played.
  • that after leading the Ducks in scoring in the 2011-12 season, and finishing fifth in scoring last year, Teemu Selanne would be 12th in points this year.
  • of the top 10 players in PIMs one would be both a first round pick, and a teenager; Tom Wilson.
  • also among the top 10 players in PIMs Radko Gudas would be the only one playing more than 20 minutes per night.
  • US Olympian Cam Fowler would not only lead the Ducks in total ice time, but shorthanded TOI/G as well.
  • despite fewer games and trailing the overall points race Patrick Kane would lead the NHL in road points.
  • of the top to players in points at home, only two would appear in the top ten for road points: Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby.
  • Blake Wheeler would have the highest points total of any right wing against his division.

Teams:

  • the Phoenix Coyotes would be the only team without a shorthanded goal.
  • based on Capgeek.com rankings, the top 10 spending teams would all be in the playoffs, 2 of the bottom ten (Montreal, Colorado) would be in leaving just 4 playoff teams in the middle 10.
  • the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators would be the only teams without even one shootout win.
  • 40% of the Washington Capitals wins would come via the shootout, higher than any other team currently in a playoff spot.
  • the 26th place Florida Panthers would have as many wins in 41 games this season as in the 48 game lockout shortened season.
  • the Nashville Predators would be the only team to not allow a shorthanded goal.
  • the Calgary Flames would be the only NHL team to play three full games without a penalty, and all three would be in November: 3rd against the Blackhawks, 20th against the Blue Jackets, and 30th against the Ducks.
  • the Minnesota Wild would be the only team to make it to the new year without a bench penalty.
  • 4 of the 5 most teams with the most PIMS would be in a playoff position while only three of the five least penalized would be.

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The Seidenberg Void: Part 1

31st
Dec. × ’13

Dennis Seidenberg has been an invaluable bastion of calm, professional competence on the Boston Bruins blueline is done for the year. With any defenseman other than Seidenberg or Chara you’d shrug, examine the depth charts and medical reports and go forward. In this case however, especially with only one other veteran defender, Johnny Boychuk, that might not be an option for a team that in the words of its own leadership should compete for a Stanley Cup every year.

Option 1

Do nothing. Not precisely nothing, just don’t bring in any external talent. With Hamilton mending, and Joe Morrow doing well in the AHL you have high end draft picks waiting in the wings to fill minutes. Both are high end skaters, both have shown their pick wasn’t a waste. On the ice now are Boychuck, McQuaid, Krug, Bartkowski and Miller. The first four of them have seen playoff action under Julien and earned at least that much trust. Boychuck and McQuaid were part of the Stanley Cup win and know the game at the NHL level.

Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski are a little less familiar to fans. Krug is a small, undrafted highly mobile defenseman signed out of college as a free agent who burst onto the scene in the playoffs last year and is now the only defenseman to play in every game for the Bruins. Bartkowski’s journey is equally blue collar if of a slightly different path. Often overlooked is that the Pittsburgh native was a part of the trade that brought Seidenberg to Boston. After a false start or two Bartkowski stake a claim to to a roster spot and has been a solid contributor to the team. An interesting trivia note is that Bartkowski was supposed to be part of the aborted trade that would have brought Jarome Iginla to Boston last year.

Kevan Miller and to a lesser extent David Warsofsky and Zach Trotman are the internal candidates to help fill the roster spot while Hamilton is still recovering. While Hamilton is recovering, it is unlikely any moves will be made unless there is a major setback for the towering second year defender.  Elsewhere on the list are Tommy Cross and Chris Casto who have yet to even earn a recall.

Option 2:

The modest trade. The minutes you most want to fill are the defensive shutdown minutes which are a vast gulf that is just about impossible to fill based purely on talent or similar attributes because of the need for chemistry, and some might say synergy among those defending than pure objective skill. A trade for anyone under four million a year who could play some or all of the 2:36 a night of shorthanded time on ice Seidenberg has left unclaimed.

  • Mark Stuart, as a retread he would be familiar with all of the teams core players from Bergeron, Lucic and Krejci to Chara, Boychuk and Rask. He even played as part of an effective pairing with Boychuk. He’s tough as nails, the Jet’s aren’t going anywhere and would love a talent infusion. A couple middling draft picks for the pending (and inexpensive) UFA would do the trick.
  • Matt Greene, like Stuart is a pending UFA. With the pipeline from the Manchester Monarchs wide open the 30 year old blueliner has found his ice time reduced overall, but is still contributing a good 3:18 a night of shorthanded time on ice. At under 3 million a year, he wouldn’t break the bank and is unlikely to strip the farm bare.
  • Victor Bartley is a name that’s probably a bit under the radar anywhere outside Nashville Tennsessee and Ottawa, but Bruins brass is familiar with the 25 year old who had a ten game tour of duty with the Providence Bruins in the 2008-09 season. His on ice sv% is one of the higher ones on the Predators, and he plays solid shorthanded minutes for perhaps the most conservative minded coach in the NHL.
  • Jared Spurgeon, with 200 NHL games to his name the 25 year old is the 2nd highest paid defender for the Wild, and plays in all situations. I can’t imagine him being traded for picks alone, but for as a team that should be looking to tweak their offense, Spurgeon might find himself in a new zip code if Chuck Fletcher can find the right pieces to turn his collection of forwards into a contending team.

Next up, option 3.


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