Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.

The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers

Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey PriceAlex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.

For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?

For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?

Biggest Strength

  • Canadiens: Goaltending
  • Rangers: depth of scoring

Biggest Weakness

  • Canadiens: goal scoring
  • Rangers: coaching

 

Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues

This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.

In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.

Biggest Strength

  • Wild: balance
  • Blues: momentum

Biggest Weakness

  • Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
  • Blues: Scoring depth

 

Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks

This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.

For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.

For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.

Biggest Strength

  • Oilers: Offense
  • Sharks: Experience

Biggest Weakness

  • Oilers: Penalty Kill
  • Sharks: Depth

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets

This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.

This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.

Biggest Strengths

  • Jackets: Defense and goaltending
  • Penguins: Offense

Biggest Weakness

  • Jackets: Inconsistency.
  • Penguins: Dinged up defense

 

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames

The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.

Biggest Strength

  • Ducks: John Gibson
  • Flames: Balance

Biggest Weakness

  • Ducks: Scoring
  • Flames: Netminding

Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.

Some quick impressions on free agency so far:

  1. Major, obvious mistakes don’t seem to be as common as three or four years ago.
  2. Even though the Coyotes got Goligoski, I expected their aggressive young general manager to do more today.
  3. Did anyone tell Columbus what day it was?
  4. Marc Bergevin seems dead set on proving that the most important part of being the Canadiens General Manager is to speak French because I can’t see how his moves would match up with his stated opinions on players, attitude, and the rest.
  5. The Sharks made a shrewd move in picking up Mikkel Boedker that adds much needed fleetness of foot and a guy who stands and delivers in the post season. Kudos!
  6. My instant winner for worst move for worst move of the day would have been Vanek getting two or more years of term, but the Red Wings short circuited that by getting him inked for one year.
  7. Familiarity breeds good deal? Lucic signed with his former general manager, Eriksson signed to play with his international linemates, Khudobin signed in a city he played in before, Campbell went home to Chicago and Radulov was reunited with Shea Weber in Montreal.
  8. If Connor McDavid really does end up playing with Milan Lucic he should enjoy the hell out of it, Marc Savard enjoyed the hell out of it, David Kreci road him to a Stanley Cup, and playing with a living breathing bulldozer with a 30 goal, Stanley cup pedigree can’t hurt his career at all.
  9. While there have been some really interesting trades lately, and the UFA class had a good number of middle tier players, the RFA class this year is probably where the value is.
  10. Kyle Okposo has traded playing second fiddle to John Tavares to doing the same for Jack Eichel. arguably he falls behind Evander Kane, and Ryan O’Reily too. I’m not convinced he went to a better team now or in three years.
  11. The Oilers are clearly happy to spend money, one wonders however if the current General Manager will be any more successful there than the last half dozen.
  12. Speaking of RFA’s, does anyone else have the sneaking suspicion Monahan and Gaudreau to end up playing with the gritty, big bodied Troy Brouwer?
  13. Unless he stopped answering his agent’s phone calls, Kris Versteeg may just have run out of places to sign.
  14. Yannick Weber signing in Nashville probably spawned a ton of snarky tweets, posts, and headlines… and I have declined to look for them.
  15. New Jersey Devils fans who got all tingly over the trade for Taylor Hall can return to hating their ownership and management as the sexiest signing of the day was Devante Smith-Pelly.
  16. Jonathan Marchessault is clearly a warm weather boy having traded his Bolt in for a Panther.
  17. The twitter poll says Jason Demers is the best available free agent, and he is arguably the best defenseman available, I’m not sure he gets to the $6m plateau he is rumored to want.
  18. I don’t think I understand the goaltending choices made today. Zatkoff was a good get for the Kings, and another familiar face in a familiar place, but Montoya signed while Enroth waits? And Reimer going to play the role of Schnieder in the two goalie mess the Panther’s crease has become as Luongo reprises his waning years in Vancouver. What gives?
  19. Jimmy Vesey is likely to be the bludgeon teams use to negotiate deals with young RFA’s for the next six weeks, but he might just be best off signing in Nashville after all.

10: His agent is still trying to figure out how much he’s worth after seeing Dennis Wideman’s deal.

9: Teams are worried that they will lose advertising revenue during powerplays if they sign a 40 goal scorer who has netted 25% of his career goals on the man advantage.

8: General manages can’t tell him and Alex Radulov apart ’cause all those damn Russians look alike.

7: Marian Hossa and Nathan Horton’s complete recoveries are assured.

6: Flames ownership finally found out how many no movement clauses they have on the books.

5: Teams just don’t want to find out how many Semin jokes local media can shoot out in one season.

4: On the shady side of 40 with a +35 contract and having played all 82 games twice Ray Whitney isreally less risky.

3:  Front offices across the NHL are engaged in a bidding war for Jay Rosehill and will worry about fitting other players into the cap structure after they acquire his services.

2.8: Because it makes much more sense to fork over your top prospects, players off your roster and draft picks for a captain abandoning his team than to sign a player the same age at 65% of the salary who has a higher career points per game.

2: The NHL has declared he can’t be signed until labor negotiations either conclude or go nuclear so no one will pay attention to the double talk of the owners.

1: Marc Crawford’s wisdom on players is worth gold, he’s such a knowledgeable, coveted, and skilled head coach he’s…

10: They were looking for all the people lined up to buy the Coyotes.

9: The shock of falling behind Dustin Penner in playoff scoring caused them to doubt their sanity and seek counseling.

8: They were detained by the Arizona border patrol.

7:  Someone told them there was an Orthodox Easter Egg hunt for grownups.

6: Tyler Seguin loaned them his alarm clock.

5: Because in hockey their are two curfews.

4.7 The service at Denny’s is really slow.

4.6 Carey Price and some old friends were visiting from Montreal, and they were on Moscow time.

3: They were looking for a midnight showing of Avengers.

2: They were desperately looking for an excuse to make no impact on game three.

1: They were getting laminated picture books of all the Paulina Gretzky pictures for the whole team.