The Anaheim Ducks have swept the Calgary Flames. The Ducks were the better team, and that’s the big story. They look to have all the tools to go into June playing hockey. John Gibson played well enough to win four games in a row against a tenacious opponent. Getzlaf and Bieksa had big offensive contributions. There’s nothing to complain about for the Ducks.

But Sean Monahan is the story. This guy is the real deal.

All due respect to Giordano, Getzlaf, Bieksa, and Gibson who made big time contributions to their teams, Monahan was better. Sean was anything but boring. Four goals, five points, faceoff percentage over 55%, scoring in all four games? Those are the types of numbers you usually don’t even see in Conn-Smyth winners. Those numbers are better than Justin Williams. They are better than Ovechkin or Matthews, and with far less support. Sam Bennett is the only other player on the team to score more than one goal, and only three defensemen even managed a point. p

It’s a shame no one will see him play in the NHL again until this fall. Six three, one-ninety-five, and twenty-two years old? Pass the man some shades. With luck Brad Treliving and Brian Burke have something up their sleeves for the off season to bring some depth to this team.

With the deadline looming, and about a bakers dozen games left for many team, it is time to take a look at what we know about all the teams in the NHL.

Pittsburgh: We know Ray Shero likes to make deadline trades, we know health is sorta returning for this team. We also know that with a current cumulative cap hit higher than next years cap, and Morrow’s decline and questionable health that this is likely a one shot deal for the guys currently in uniform.

Montreal:  It’s kinda hard to figure out why more people aren’t excited about his team. They are fifth in goals for, ninth in goals against, there only real bad component is their penalty kill. While we’re at it, Tomas Plekanec deserves way more attention than he gets, if he could drag the penalty kill into respectability, or even just score a shorthanded goal or two he’d be on my Selke shortlist.

Winnipeg; We know this team needs desperately to buy quality defense at the deadline. Adding offense wouldn’t hurt at all, but the backend needs to come first they are one of just two top eight teams in the east to allow triple digit goals already.

Boston: This team needs an attitude adjustment. They do not have the raw focus or hunger they did in their Cup winning year, what body they add isn’t the solution, the size of the fight in that dog is.

Ottawa; Clearly this is a team made up of undercover superheros, or at least the guys left on the ice. They might not go to far this year, but oh man this team has some good young talent and might even lead the conference if they were healthy. A cheap rental forward who can add to the scoring would be nice, but this team could easily produce an upset or two.

Toronto: The fact that no real changes have been made to this team since Brian Burke was fired, and it has just about locked up a playoff spot means he shouldn’t have too much trouble landing his next GM job, and probably trading for Kadri, Gardiner, and Grabovski or pennies on the dollar.

New Jersey: The Devils have spent all season proving last season wasn’t a fluke. How they’ve done this is anyones guess. They are winning right now even without Kovalchuk, It would not surprise me if they became sellers at the deadline, but in a very limited sense.

New York Rangers: We know this is either the Eastern Conference’s best bad team or worst good team.  We know time is running out on the current off ice leadership for this team. We know in order to get this level of under-performance elsewhere in sports you’d have to threaten professional cycling with accurate testing and jail time for violators. We know that if the Islanders and Devils make the playoffs and the Rangers don’t the angst in Blue Shirt nation will be legendary

New York Islanders: We know John Tavares should be getting way more attention than he does, he is after all over a point per game, second in goals, and seventh in points. If the Islanders make the playoffs, he has to be on the Hart shortlist. We know that Brad Boyes would be a frickin’ idiot to sign anywhere else next season given that he has more points in 34 games this season, than in 65 last year.

Carolina: With several games in hand their current 10th place position is deceiving, we know however they need to win those games. We know that Cam Ward isn’t nearly as irreplaceable as the faithful would have you believe. We know that Jeff Skinner (signed to a big endorsement deal by Dewey, Slewfoot and Diver) will probably not like the attention he receives night after night from top defenses.

Washington: We know that Adam Oates deserves a boatload of capital for turning the ship around on the fly without the benefit of a training camp, stable goaltending, or a team with any confidence in itself. He’s also got Ovechkin back to a point per game by using that weird thing called logic and letting him play more minutes. We also know that this team still isn’t built right and that problem still resides at a higher level than Oates.

Tampa Bay: We know that Yzerman is just as good at constructing a defense as he was at fighting.

We know he needs to fix that if he’s going to make it to his fourth year as general manager. He’s clearly good at identifying offensive talent, so swapping some of the current stable to rebuilding or needy teams for a veteran defenseman or two shouldn’t be completely impossible.

Buffalo: We know Terry Pegula can’t be pleased with the state of his hockey team. We know that with next years realignment no one with an ounce of hockey sense would pencil this team into next years standings about sixth place without major changes. We know if they blow up the team right they could have a pretty good chance at drafty both Seth Jones and Connor Mcdavid.

Philadelphia: We know the keep defenseman healthy the same way The Real World finds the mentally unbalanced to film every season. We know that no to long ago the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals, and have regressed further and further every year. WE know this is another team that’s due for some administrative housekeeping even if the health problems make things look worse than they are.

Florida: We know that last year despite an absurd amount of injuries the team went toe to toe with the eventual Eastern Conference champions. We know that this year, another absurd amount of injuries and dramatically poorer goaltending from the guys not named Markstrom have lead not to the Southeast division title but once again to the eastern conference basement. We know they have a couple more solid prospects in the pipeline. We know there is tons and tons for Dale Tallon and company to do.

Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hot mess. Certain members of the family care way more about where players are from than how good they are. Some players just don’t show up very often. Then too, there is the question of what sort of maturity (if any) the roster possess as a whole.

Good News

  • Phil Kessel will almost certainly turn in another damn good October.
  • All of last years youngsters gained valuable NHL experience, and several of them got AHL playoff experience playing for the Marlies,
  • Their most important forward, Mikhail Grabovski is locked up long term.

Bad News

  • Goaltending is more than a question it’s a problem.
  • The issue of consistency for the whole team is still up in the air,
  • The defense needs to tighten up dramatically.

Forecast

High: Bubble team, finding some equilibrium in the neighborhood of their best play and shifting three of their overtime losses to regulation wins, and three regulation losses to wins would be a nine point swing. It’d be easy to point out six close games they could have done better in.

Low:  Afterthought/lottery. Injuries to Kessel or Grabovski up front, or Reimer failing to improve or getting worse will doom this team.

X-Factor

Neither the Sabres nor the Canadiens improved much, if at all this off season, and with the young players coming in a little more confident and experienced, this team could see a big bounce if Reimer returns to the .921sv% he put up over his first half season in the NHL. How much pressure Burke feels to make a good impression on the new ownership and keep his job will also be important. You also can’t forget the possibility of a big trade that improves the goaltending.

Way back in September and October as I was evaluating teams I had this to say about the Maple Leafs:

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Which made the early third of the season very entertaining as Phil “Mr October” Kessel did his normal explosion out of the starting gate and Dion Phanuef held up his end of the bargain on the backend. The team was healthy, motivated and many players were competing for jobs. Then there were the injuries. Then the holes in their game got exposed as other teams got rolling. As November turned to December, the team as a whole began its slow backslide. December first they were one point behind Boston for the division lead, but their leaky goaltending and under skilled defense began to show. The scoring was fine, and has remained so, but through 25 games they allowed 80 goals. As of December 1st only two teams had allowed more goals.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have three fundamental issues no coach can fix.

  1. Bad, fragile goaltenders. Both physically and mentally the goaltending in Toronto is well below championship caliber. James Reimer is up and down, but is in no meaningful way a better goalie than Steve Mason, he is playing on a better team with slightly more capable defense, but that’s about it. Health issues and the name on the back of the jersey seem to be the only difference between Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson the only consistent thing about his play is that whatever mode he’s in lasts about a month.
  2. Youth. The Toronto Maple Leafs are the second youngest team in the NHL. On the current roster there are only three players over the age of thirty. This is particularly bad for defense as it really does take a good 200 games to figure out how to play defense (well) at the NHL level.  Coming into today Franson, Gunnarsson, Gardiner are all under that number.
  3. Weakness at center. If you look at the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup about the only thing they all had in common was strength at the center position. Aside from Grabovski who just doesn’t seem to mesh with Kessel and Lupul, I can’t think of another center who could legitimately be considered at least a strong #2 center. Connolly you can make a case for but with his health issues, I can see coaches shying away from trying to build their offense around him.

Until at least the goaltending and center position are shored up, hitting the playoffs is fighting well out of the teams weight class. It can get there with a hot streak, and playoff experience is good for young players but expecting to climb as high as sixth and avoid Boston or New York in the first round is a stretch with so few games remaining  Against those two team a moral victory could be declared if they play a fifth game. Ron Wilson was not the problem with this team. On the ice there are a couple players who just don’t get it, and some who don’t have NHL talent. Randy Carlyle may or may not prove to be a better coach for this team, but simply ousting Wilson isn’t a solution.

If one didn’t know better they’d think Rick Nash was the only player available at this deadline.  Hence this extra special edition of Rattling The Boards

To no ones surprise the New York Rangers are among the (29) teams reported to be pursuing Rick Nash. North Jersey

Die By The Blade thinks that Nash might not be the perfect fit in Buffalo.

Apparently the Rick Nash talk is over the top. Who knew? Apparently  Silver Seven.

It must be nice to be Leafs GM Brian Burke and have several million personal assistants:

@ just letting you know Rick Nash is available

There are reasons (even good ones) for the Dallas Stars to get Rick Nash. The Hockey Writers

Unless of course the Dallas Stars decide to go after Jeff Carter instead. Defending Big D

You’d never know it to ask around, but apparently one or possibly two people are of the opinion that the sticker price on Rick Nash is a little bit high.  Blue Shirt Banter

Lyle Richardson offers of a hot plate of who’s in and out of the race over on THN.

Someone dared suggest that there might be downsides to acquiring Nash. Go scold him here. Elliott Friedman

You can’t fight city hall, other players potentially in play at the deadline and what they think of the Nashstakes 2012. Mayor’s Manor

From Columbus fan, the only Rick Nash trade they could handle. Jackets Cannon

Gasp! More folks who don’t want Rick Nash. Shocking!! Infamy! Canucks Army

Tonight the Boston Bruins throwdown with the Ottawa Senators. Just days ago Tim Thomas, Tyler Seguin and Zdeno Chara faced Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Ottawa Captain Daniel Alfredsson in the All Star game and skills competition. Tonight the goals count for more than bragging rights, the win will either provide separation or leave the division rivals in a points tie at the top of the Northeast division.

Tonight is the third of six games between the clubs this season. Thus far the magic number is “5′. The Bruins have scored five goals in each of the first two games. The Senators have scored a total of five goals in those two games. Boston Will be without Nathan Horton who continues to recover from his second concussion in a year, this suffered on an unpenalized hit against the Flyers. The Senators are missing Jesse Winchester and Peter Regin, both out indefinitely since December 21st.

Horton’s concussion, has fueled trade speculation with desired club acquisitions including the New York Islanders Kyle Okposo and the Phoenix Coyotes Ray Whitney. Zach Parise who can of course be had for a pair of 3rd year AHL nobody’s is also on the radar. Any of the three is as likely as the other at this point, but one name I think bears thinking about is one that was linked to the Bruins for three or four straight years. The biggest holdup on Carter escaping the host city for next years All Star extravaganza isn’t his desire to get out, unhappiness with the city or even his play. Players like Steve Montador, Joffery Lupul, Kris Versteeg and other frequent travelers not to mention every goalie who isn’t in the top five or six prove most organizations believe they can fix any problems with a player. Magical coaching is a belief held as commonly as not stepping on the logo on the locker room floors, even if no one is willing to admit it.

I think the tide has turned on the forever contracts. The ten years left on his contract will carry him past his 37th birthday. While he’s probably worth the slightly more than five million dollar cap hit he’s on the books for, it is hard to imagine dedicating that much cap space, regardless of actual salary to a 34 or 35 year old s fraught with tension for any general manager.  A cap hit as high as Carter’s would make him the highest paid forward in a lot of cities, while unquestionably talented it remains to be seen if he has the ability to be the type of impact player generally associated with being the top paid player at a position.

Later this week, the Bruins will host the Carolina Hurricanes including much rumored blueline reinforcement Gleason has just signed a contract that should have Boychuk and Corvo’s agents laughing themselves silly. The Hurricanes sit 15th in the east and 27th overall, but have taken the previous meetings this season with the Bruins. Saturday the Pittsburgh Penguins skate in for a matinee. The potentially Crosbyfied Penguins will arrive in Boston with days rest off of a back to back home and home set against the Toronto Maple Leafs where Brian Burke (@LeafsBB20) will probably kvetch about Don Cherry some more.

Across the month of February the Bruins play 13 games in 28 days including three back to backs sets. Five of this months games are against teams not currently in playoff position.  Six games are against teams currently in the top five in their conference including two games against the Senators, games against the Penguins and Rangers, and a tilt with the Predators.

Yesterday’s top tidbit on twitter was the release of the NHL’s anonymous player survey by Sports Illustrated detailing the player voted most overrated players in the NHL. While some of the players on the list were there unfairly, like say Bouwmeester who’s stats have slipped, but a look at his minute distribution reveals a big difference in how he’s been used in Calgary vs Florida. Others likes Scott Gomez or Jay-Bo teammate Olli Jokinen there’s not much defense for.

Oddly, the man listed as most overrated is also in a Toronto Maple Leaf’s uniform. In fact the Maple Leaf’s captain Dion Phaneuf, Phaneuf is one of the few players on the team who is finally having the type of season his booster club thinks he has every year. Perhaps most injurious to Komisarek was the right hook Maple Leaf’s General Manager Brian Burke through in defense of the Captain via Twitter:

Dion overrated? Are you kidding! Players who voted in this poll can meet w/Dion in Ottawa at the All-Star Game, where he's a starter!
@LeafsBB20
Brian Burke

No mention is made of Komisarek. No defense at all. Is this a not so subtle indication that Burke too has noticed the spiraling and consistently sub-par and sub-paygrade play. To console himself, Komisarek too mounted the Twitter pulpit and had this to say:

Two different polls...which is better #10 or #4 lol? http://t.co/NJzDjFuZ or http://t.co/lNUtprSm
@mkomisarek
Mike Komisarek

in which he provided a (broken) link to a womens magazine article that says he’s cute. He later corrected it. But like his disastrous and one sided feud with the Milan Lucic, perhaps this shrill attempt to distract from his play and the missing esteem of his peers is something he should just leave alone.

Every NHL season has its shocks. No matter how well you research, no matter what history says each season is its own mind searing, jumbled, chaotic, riveting orchestra of excitement. The biggest surprises are sometimes whole teams, other times single player and in other cases its a whole division.

5: Goalie madness. Not a single person predicted that the three hottest net minders of the first quarter would be the well traveled Mike Smith, seasoned number two man Brian Elliot and elder statesman Nikolia Khabibulin. None of the three has a save % under .936, with Elliot leading the NHL with a .947% on the equilibrium challenged, already made a coaching change St Louis Blues.

4: QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! The once mighty Ducks of Anaheim are looking more fit for orange sauce than great deeds. They are led in scoring by a guy who was drafted before most of his teammates were allowed to cross the street by themselves. The man drafted by Brian Burke who quipped that this guy was still there at #2 has points in just six games, maybe just maybe if he were less busy reviewing movies he’d stop playing like #2.

3: Unfamiliar Faces. Who would have predicted Erik Karlsson the skinny, smooth skating blue liner from Canada’s capital city team would be tied for the NHL lead in assists? Not Joe Thornton, no Steven Stamkos in sight, just a guy who showed up at the All Star draft last year and no one outside the few that haunted the Senators barn last season had a clue about him. I suspect when he goes this year, he’ll be a bit better known. James Neal, Phil Kessel and Milan Michalek atop the goal scoring chart? Not one or two but fifteen players ahead of Alex Ovechkin in shots taken? Insanity.

2: Black gold in blue and orange. There are some really, high skilled forwards on he Edmonton Oilers. Some of those talented forwards can not only drink (legally) in the US of A, but can even get decent car insurance rates. But anyone one outside the Oilers pay structure who said that on November 20th they’d have scored more than the Detroit Red Wings, and be fifth in the entire NHL in goals against with a 2.26 would have been laughed out of hockey.

1: Occupy Youth failure. With the NHL, and its adjacent medias general love fest for young players it’s more than a bit shocking that some of the newest lights in the constellation aren’t getting more attention. Sure Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and some of the other picks in this years draft got a bunch of attention in the first two weeks of the season. But where’s the love for Craig Smith, Jared Cohen, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Luke Adam, Roman Horak, Adam Henrique and the rest?