It’s September 1st.

Some teams are still trying to destroy their futures. The NHL, like any ecosystem is a delicate entity. There are many moving parts, and the ratio of one part to another will impact things two or three steps removed from either. You need players on the rise, players at their peak, and ones who are on the decline. They all contribute just as moths, and blue jays, and red tailed hawks all play their parts.

Marcus Foligno is a great example of a middle six forward who gives much, and is well regarded. The Chuck Fletcher thought it was more important to sign aging Penguins discard Matt Cullen, than to secure the return for trading Scandella. CapFriendly and others currently project Landon Ferraro and Joel Eriksson Ek as making the roster, with either of them back in the AHL the Wild would have right around three million in cap space. If they decide to carry just twelve forwards it would give them an additional cushion for injuries. The issue here is do you pay him better or the same as other left wings who had similar point totals like Justin Abdelkader and Carl Hagelin who both made more than four million last year? Or do you simply try and cram him into a roster that is unlikely to go far in the playoffs?

In the last two season Bo Hovart has increased his point total year over year, jumping from third two seasons ago to first last year, and has a better faceoff win percentage in that time than team captain Henrik Sedin. Somehow with training camp close enough to feel, he is without a contract. He’s scored shorthanded, powerplay, and even strength goals. He’s played over 18 minutes a night. He’s done just about everything a setup man can do on a roster that is 80% ECHL and alumni quality to help the team win. Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Jason Spezza all produced less points last year with far, far more help and hugely better compensation.  Ondrej Palat was on a non-playoff team and produced the same number of points, Logan Coture had the same points total, as did Anze Kopitar and Aleksander Barkov. With all or most of the $14,000,000.00 set on fire at the feet of the Sedin twins coming off the books next year, and no other player in the system in need of a big raise cash should not be the issue. Not when they have close to nine million in cap space to work with.

David Pastrnak has been covered in depth over the summer and all that’s worth adding is that the team president said there haven’t been any talks in months.

With all the glory of last season, the Columbus Blue Jacket’s seem to have gotten a pass on Alexander Wennberg not having been hog tied to their roster yet. Year over year ye’s increased his points total twenty points twice in a row. He played in 80 of the teams games last year. Last season he stepped into the gap created by trading Johansen and ended up the team’s second leading scorer, putting up just two less points than the Nashville Predator’s second most famous Ryan. While the Blue Jackets do have a pretty dynamic cap situation with the number of impact players due contracts in the next two years, they do have to be careful. But in the ultra competitive Metropolitan division who can afford to be without their number one center?

The Detroit Red Wings roster is as run down as the Joe, and while Andreas Athanasiou isn’t the level of impact player the other forwards on the list are. That said, you don’t improve by continuing to leak talent. All players are ultimately replaceable, but alienating players for little good reason when you have a new arena to fill, and pay off is senseless. The optics are also poor when it’s time to get free agents into town, or when the next RFA is due a contract.

Damon Severson is one of three men to crack the top fifty among defensemen in scoring while playing less than twenty minutes of ice time. The other two Brady Skej, and Dmitry Orlov were both on playoff teams. The New Jersey Devils were needless to day, not quite that good. His point total eclipsed Noah Hanafin, Jake Muzzin, and Jonas Brodin. So why is a team with unlimited growth potential wasting time dithering with a solid young defensemen? It’s not like they have 299 other defenders ready to hold the line against the Persians and other NHL teams.

There are a lot of people who should be happy in the wake of the latest “best on best” tourney. The players, coaches, and fans of  Canada shouldn’t lead any well drawn list, especially as they were outplayed for both final games.

The Columbus Blue Jackets should be very happy to see Bobrovsky healthy and looking to be near his peak.

The New York Islanders should be thrilled to get Seidenberg at a good rate, who even if he never plays a shift will be a steadying impact in a locker room that saw a lot of turnover.

The Boston Bruins, most obviously for the performances of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but also for their captain Zdeno Chara who while he didn’t look ten years younger, was still skating, passing, and shooting better than the first three months of last season. If that translates to just three additional wins over that same time they can make the post season.

Fans, coaches, players, and management of the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, and Edmonton Oilers who saw their players; Nino Niederreiter, Tobias Rieder, and Leon Draisaitl go through a complete playoff like run with multiple Stanley Cup champion team mates like Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara and more and see how they prepare before a game and compose themselves through the good and the bad in game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, because Milan Michalek had himself a great tournament turning in a point per game over the three games. If the young players are going to make the leap into the playoffs and winning once they get there they need veterans who know how its done.

It’s going to be very, very interesting to see how the various players respond to their World Cup performance. The American players will hopefully return to the ice upset, focused, and maybe a little bit ticked off. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a vexed Patrick Kane. Last season saw him rack up 46 goals if he comes in a bit hot under the collar can number 88 hit sixty goals? Can Dustin Byfugelin and hit 30 goals or turn himself into the juggernaut defensively he is offensively? Can newly minted captain Blake Wheeler pilot the Jets back to the post season?

What about those Finns? Teuvo Teravainen has had a double header of dejection, first he was exiled from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Carolina Blackhawks, and then they washout of the Cup. The Canes finished ten points out of the playoffs last year, and it can be argued the Red Wings and Flyers aren’t as good as they were last year, is Teravainen enough to raise the Carolina Hurricanes back to a real threat?

With the number of Minnesota Wild players at the World Cup, why aren’t they better?

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

This may be the best first round matchup for hockey. The Kings have won a cup recently, as have have the Ducks. The Sharks spent half a decade as the favorites to win it and still haven’t. A first round meeting of two California teams where the winner will quite likely play the third California team is likely to catapult the youth hockey enrollment numbers. And yes, seeing guys like Carter and Richards go toe to toe with Thornton and Pavelski will be more than a bit fun to watch too.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks a very interesting mix of household names and guys no ones ever heard of. They have arguably the deepest six defensemen in the NHL, without having a guy currently at an elite level back there. Thornton and Marleau will get most of the media attention, but Vlasic, Pavelski, and Couture have worn out some boots this season getting them here.

Best Players

While Joe Thornton is still the best pure passer in the NHL, he’s not getting any younger, Joe Pavelski is a different case. They younger Joe is clearly at, or possibly just reaching the height of his powers, and Marleau just keeps trucking along.

X-Factor

Do they want it? This team has not ever reached its potential. Some years they went into the playoffs very damaged, others they got hurt early, and some years they just showed up and expected to win. This year they need to go attack the ice like it is their last chance at glory and their only hope at salvation, because it just well may be.

Los Angeles Kings

Same story, different year. The Kings enter the playoffs this year with bottom tier scoring and top end defense. The backup goalie could be a starter on many teams, and the late season trade piece (in this case Gaborik) are expected to scare up offense for the whole team. If you’re looking at recent history, that was what happened their Cup year. Can it happen now? Who knows?

Best players:

Jonathan Quick is having a solid, if not spectacular year, Drew Doughty is still improving in his own zone, and Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar are the only two players who managed to break 20 goals this season. For the team to make a deep run, they are going to need help from all over the roster.

X-Factor

Goaltending. If Quick can regain his cup winning form, or Martin Jones goes in and makes people look as foolish as he did in the regular season, the Kings will likely be playing in May. They will still need to score goals however and that has been a problem in LA for at least half a decade.

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

 

Players:

  • that Joe Thornton would be in the top ten in the NHL in scoring when he last finished a season there in the 2009-10 season.
  • of the top five goal scores, Ovechkin, Steen, Perry, Kane and Kunitz, Ovechkin would have both overtime goals in the quintet.
  • the leagues three leaders in PIMS Derek Dorsett of the New York Rangers, Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, and Antoine Roussel would combine for more penalty minutes (275) than the New Jersey Devils (251) or San Jose Sharks (271) and each be playing 11:35 a night or more.
  • Brandon Dubinsky would be the only player over 20 points and 60 PIMS, and have a 56.1 FO%.
  • Mike Santorelli of the Vancouver Canucks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings would be tied for the NHL lead in overtime points.
  • last years Masterson Award winner Josh Harding would be dominating the league and have the best save percentage of any goalie with more than 1000 minutes on the season and be sitting pretty with a .938 sv% and a 16-5-3 record.
  • undrafted rookie goaltender Cam Talbot with ten games played would have a significantly better sv% (.934 vs .910) than teammate and the NHL’s highest paid netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Teams:

  • a month after losing Steven Stamkos to injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning would still be holding a top 3 spot in the Atlantic division.
  • on December 13th the spread betwen the 1st and 8th place teams in the east and west would be 10 in the west with 3 teams tied for 8, and 13 in the east.
  • to date, no team in the east would have scored 100 goals.
  • Of the teams in the bottom five (tie for 5th) last year in the NHL, only two would currently be in that place.
  • the Buffalo Sabres who are dead last in the NHL in points would have allowed just one more goal than the Chicago Blackhawks who have the most points in the league.
  • the Edmonton Oilers would be the only team to allow more than 4 shorthanded goals.
  • there would be no apparent pattern to the four teams yet to score a shorthanded goal as to date the Coyotes, Penguins, Panthers and Sabres would all be on the outside looking in.
  • four teams in the west would have scored 100 or more goals.
  • under offensive minded coach Alain Vigneault the New York Rangers would be producing over half a goal per game less than under the blueshirt’s previous bench boss in prior two seasons.

The Western Conference has run over the east so far this year. The odd thing is how concentrated the losses are, so many of the east’s teams are in complete disarray while most of the weakest of the western teams are either over performing or have finally started to turn the corner on rebuilds that their is an imbalance.

Anaheim Ducks: We know that despite injuries to Sheldon Souray, Matt Beleskey, Viktor Fasth, Jakob Silfverberg, Saku Koivu, and Sami Vatanen, no team has wracked up more points or an equal amount of wins in the six week old season.

Colorado Avalanche: We know the Avs may be led by Matt Duchene, but they are getting contributions deep into the forward pool. In 14 games (or less for some) seven forwards have at least 9 points. Matt Duchene’s 10 goals are complimented nicely by five each from Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, PA Parenteau, and Ryan O’Reilly. We know the goalies are beating the competition with silly ease in wins, neither Giguere nor Semyon Varlemov have allowed more than 2 goals in a win.

San Jose Sharks: We know that two regulation losses in sixteen games is pretty damn spiffy. We know that a certain player might be tempted to celebrate this with his rooster out. We know the Sharks defense is going to be overlooked when people point out why the team is succeeding this season. We know not to get our hopes to high about this team and the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks: We know that even with Toews and Kane at just under a point per game this team has another gear.  We know it is nice not to be talking about the team’s powerplay. We know they team would rather not talk about their rather dismal penalty kill.

Phoenix Coyotes: We know the media stopped paying attention to this team when the arena deal went through. We know they have as many regulation or over time wins as the San Jose Sharks. We know that their powerplay is just .4 behind their Pacific division rival Sharks. We know that this team won’t get any real attention until the second round of the playoffs, and then only reluctantly from certain media outlets.

Vancouver Canucks: With 18 games played and 11 ROW’s the team is currently in the first wild card spot in the west. We know they have either played well after their adjustment to a new coach or that they are getting good puck luck with four of their last ten games going more than sixty minutes and victories in three of those.

Saint Louis Blues: We know the off season moves, and maturity (and health) are playing a big part in this teams success. We know that this should be the season Alex Pietrangelo becomes a household name. We know Vladimir Sobotka is on pace for a career season. We know Alex Steen will remember every moment of this season.

Minnesota Wild: We know that if this team were allowed just a little more offensive freedom they might just move into one of the divisional playoff spots and avoid the wild card chase. We know that Nino Niederreiter must be enjoying his escape from New York given that he’s played all 17 of the Wild’s games this year. We know being 16th in goals for and 3rd in goals against is very traditional Wild hockey and makes for a lot over very tight games.

Los Angeles Kings: We know this is one of just three teams without an overtime loss. We know that Jonathan Quick and Tim Thomas present a pretty good case for a curse of the Conn-Smythe, at least for American goaltenders. We know that hovering low in the playoff picture has been just about perfected by this team. We know Anze Kopitar’s point per game pace is pretty surprising for this team and will be ignored, again.

Nashville Predators: We know 14 points in their last 10 games should tell us a lot about how bad the Preds first few games were. We know the team is a very uncharacteristic 19th in goals against. We know that having done nothing to improve their forward pool in the off season that no one is surprised they are 21st in goals for. We know that the forward group’s lack of offensive zest will likely cost Shea Weber another Norris and could cost Seth Jones the Calder.

Dallas Stars: We know that despite adding Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin in the off season the team is still being outscored by their opponents. We know that Valeri Nichushkin is the only draft pick from the last four drafts on the roster. We know a Lindy Ruff coached team is never going to be more than mediocre offensively so the rest of the team has to be high end and that this roster doesn’t qualify.

Calgary Flames: We know that a 6-8-2 is about where most people expected this team to be. We know Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler are doing what heavy lifting is getting done in Calgary. We know those same two players are probably preventing the team from locking up the first overall pick that has to be the aim of the front office. We know that as bad as other teams are playing the return of Mark Giordano means management will have to come up with a better plan for tanking.

Winnipeg Jets: We know that this teams lack of a number on center and arguably of a number two center are making the shortcomings on the back end even more apparent. We know the time to burn this roster to the ground and spare no one over the age of 25 is coming real soon.

Edmonton Oilers: We know there’s just no excuse for this team to be this bad. We know they’ve had all sorts of high draft picks. We know Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner are legitimate NHL talents. We know goaltending is a big, big issue. We know that the defense as a whole can’t get out of its own way much less get the goaltender a clear view or move the puck out of their own end. We know that unless they overpay one or three of the pending UFA defensive defensemen in July, hopes should not be high for improvement any time soon. We know that less than twenty games into the season injuries have played a big part with only seven skaters playing all 17 games.

The Los Angeles Kings were cheated of much of their time in the limelight by the dragging, soul sucking lockout. They made their return to the ice with a strong regular season. Finishing seventh overall in the NHL, in a very top heavy western conference. To the surprise of no one Anze Kopitar again led the team in scoring. Jeff Carter racking up 26 goals in 48 games was eye opening and clearly signals good things to come. Dustin Brown played his usual game popping in 18 goals and dishing out 156 hits. Slava Voynov garnered further attention leading the blueline in scoring, and Drew Doughty erased the last of the viable criticisms of his defensive game.

The post season saw them and the Saint Louis Blues batter each other to bloody and bruised ruin for six games. When the first round ended it was time for a dance with the San Jose Sharks. This back and forth series sent the rivalry to a new level, and went seven games. In the western conference finals they faced the retooled Chicago Blackhawks, and were dethroned in double overtime. Very little has changed for the Kings. Jonathan Bernier was traded away while Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi were lost to free agency.

The first five games for the Los Angeles Kings don’t contain any juggernauts, there aren’t even any trap games. They’ll open up in Minnesota against the Wild, then fly north to face the Jets. The next two games are at home against the Rangers and Senators, and they finish the opening five with a trip to Raleigh to square off with the Carolina Hurricanes. No back to back games anywhere in the opening set, and only one team with a fair chance of winning their division this year.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities:

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

The Kings don’t have a particularly difficult October schedule. If they can integrate the new additions quickly, they have a better than even chance of leading the division when the month is over. Tyler Toffoli had his baptism by fire late last season and in the playoffs, but with Simon Gagne gone, and Dustin Penner elsewhere as well, he Matt Frattin, and anyone else who can earn a roster spot in camp will have an open door to making themselves a fixture of the game time roster.

I noticed a curious trend in the last decade. Few of the young players, say twenty five and under who won the Cup seemed to be major impact players later on. At the same time, players who won a bit later were contributing again and again to at least deep runs. Take Rob Scuderi and Mark Recchi as players who won the Cup towards later, and we’ll look at a few of the players who won young below.

While injuries have played a big part in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, its hard to argue that Marc-Andre Fleury is not playing well below the level he did when they last hoisted a banner. Oddly, the Cup win represents only a mediocre set of numbers for Fluery. The year before in a loss he finished with a save percentage of .933. In winning the cup he dipped to a pedestrian .908sv% and that represents the last time he was above .900sv% in the post season the trend in games played in the post season and overall performance is not pretty either, this season his save percentage was .834 and that’s about as unlovely as it gets.

Eric Staal was in his second NHL season when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. In that season he crushed out 100 points. On special teams he was magic, 19 powerplay goals and 4 short handed goals are more goals than most players will total in a season, the rest of his 45 goals that year came at even strength. In the playoffs he had 28 points in 25 games. Since then he’s only been in the playoffs once more, and has never again been over a point per game.

Patrick Kane peaked in the year the Chicago BlackHawks ended their drought. He had 30 regular season goals and 88 points in the regular season. In the post season on his way to sending the Philadelphia Flyers home with heads hung low he had an eye popping 28 points in 22 games. In the two seasons since he too has trended downwards. He didn’t score a single goal in this years playoffs, this isn’t what was expected when the Blackhawks brain trust drafted him.

For the Los Angeles Kings, the players who entered this season under twenty five are, Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Andrei Lokitinov, Kyle Clifford. New Jersey Devils fans may or may not want to be a bit more relaxed about the question, with just Mark Fayne, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson having entered the season under twenty five.

Am I 100% convinced that winning the Cup at a young age is bad for players? No, but it does factor in. And you really have to ask yourself how could it not sap the motivation at least a little? You aren’t even old enough to rent a car in some states or get good car insurance rates, all your friends are still in high school or college or maybe working some entry level job and you’ve just taken home the hardest trophy to win in sports. Having won a cup you’re assured of getting multimillion dollar contracts until at least two years past the point anyone else would have been forced to retire, and you’ll have a nice piece of bling for your hand to remind you of how great you were once.

Despite the short duration, the Coyotes and Kings put on one of the best shows of this post season. This is what division mates are supposed to look like. The pace was great. The action, physical, crisp , relentless and for the most part clean.

While it will offend some folks in tinsel town, Mike Smith was the better goalie in this series. Smith had to face almost twice as many shots and still ended up with truly impressive numbers. Quick was spectacular making the flashy and the routine saves night in and night out. This one series, he was merely the second best goalie on the ice.

The biggest impact on the outcome of the series was the fact that the Kings simply have everything going right for them. The two teams split the regular season series. The Coyotes finished above the Kings by only a couple points. Both teams skated well, both teams defended smartly and attacked the net.

When it came down to crunch time in game five the Kings best players stepped up. Drew Doughty played, and expressed his (well justified) opinions to the officials, and along the way got a goal and an assist in more than 30 minutes of ice time. Mike Richards had five shots, won twelve faceoffs, and got a goal. Anze Kopitar put in over thirty minutes of ice time, blocked a shot, got five on net and one in. Jeff Carter teed up two for teamates to put past Smith.  Jonathan Quick’s closest competition for the Conn-Smyth, Dustin Brown continued his What Can’t Brown Do For You? tour with ten attempted shots, one block and five hits.

That’s a hellacious amount of talent to try and contain. The Coyotes had to be beaten in overtime. You can’t help but wonder how deep the pockets of the new owners will be, and if they will try to keep this core together for another year or two and use their first few months at the reigns to go big game hunting and bring in a top forward or two to deepen the scoring.

The Kings are now faced with the unenviable task of facing the Stanley Cup finals as the avowed favorites, without the advantage of home ice. They will also be flying all the way across the country to start the series against a still unknown opponent. Of the teams staff, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi have hoisted the Cup. Penner as an Oiler, and Scuderi as part of the Penguins most recent win. While there has been no sign of folding under pressure in Coach Sutter’s squad to date, this is the big dance and with just three players over the age of thirty (Mitchell, Scuderi, Williams) on the entire roster there is a heightened chance for unhelpful emotional swings.