With a summer full of discussion of various RFA’s remaining unsigned far, far to long, and of course the saga of the unsigned Jaromir Jagr, people have left out the other future hall of fame inductee. This particular winger is younger, still faster, and despite the years still more pugnacious. Obviously I’m talking about Jarome Iginla.

The last few years of Iginla’s career have been spent entombed in the Colorado Avalanche roster. His numbers tailed off. That’s undeniable. What’s also undeniable is that Colorado Avalanche have been the worst team in the NHL for most of the last half decade and beyond. Amazingly, they are getting worse. They don’t have a defense worth naming, their goaltending, which would be uninspired behind a good six pack, can’t pick up the slack, and the forwards… the less said about the defense of the forwards as a collection the better.

Iginla had just eight goals in 61 games for Colorado before being traded. The eyeball test will tell you that’s ungood. No need for fancy stats. What happened when he got to a team that was also struggling enough to fire the coach who brought them two cups? Well, he stretched the twine six times in 19 games. Taken over a an 82 game season that’s on pace for 25 goals (no rounding).  And that’s on a team who’s offense was carried all season by Jeff Carter and the equipment guy who made sure #77 had his skates and sticks.

So right now, 31 NHL clubs are sitting about staring off into space while a guy who has no character issues, is physical, a sniper, a leader, and hungry for a Stanley cup is still unsigned. Based on last years goal totals, if the Arizona Coyotes had gotten 25 goals from Iginla they’d have likely picked up another seven or eight wins on the year, meaning they slide even with or even pull ahead of last years Kings. The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each finished within a win of the playoffs. One win over the course of 82 games. A motivated, experienced veteran goal scorer could be exactly that difference maker.

The Carolina Hurricanes finished just seven points behind the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs last season. they had 15 overtime losses. With a little more leadership, and a little more attitude, not to mention the scoring touch, even they could have seen the playoffs last year. For reasons that can’t be explained, the Calgary Flames when in search of a right wing earlier this summer signed Kris Versteeg. Versteeg may be younger, but he’s not nearly as healthy, has never had a better offensive season than Iginla and seems determined to play for every team in the NHL before he retires.

For all that they had a record winning streak, and finished with their best point total in franchise history last year the Columbus Blue Jackets finished fourth in goals for in the Metropolitan Division. Number 12 would add an incredible element of consistency to a team that had great highs and equal lows last year. Someone, anyone tell me why in a summer where loads of guys were overpaid on long term deals there hasn’t been even a short term deal for Jarome Ignila? Someone let me in on the secret please.

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.

The internet is almost certainly the most fascinating tool mankind has ever invented. On it I’ve learned more about genetics, hockey, medicine, politics, history and other topics than I could ever have imagined knowing. Today I learned something new. Seth Jones is depth defenseman. I’m pretty sure it’s been a long time since Seth Jones was dismissed as being the fourth or fifth most interesting player on a blueline. It wasn’t last year, it likely wasn’t the year before, and even when he played in that scary, scary Nashville Predator’s defensive unit he still got lots of talk.

Sure it’s possible to undervalue Jones, I mean the Avalanche, Panthers, and Lightning all passed him over in 2013. The Avalanche are searching for defense still, the Panthers over spent two years ago on free agents, and the Lightning had hold out issues with, and finally traded Jonathan Drouin who they took over Jones, for a defenseman.

Among his draft year only Sean Monahan has played more games to date, and that’s just by four.

But Jones is a depth defenseman if one writers it to be believed, I mean I heard it on the internet so it must be true. You’re not allowed to lie online.

So let’s look at the proof Seth Jones is a depth defensemen.

In the most recent season 200 defensemen skated in thirty five or more games.

Jones ranked:

  • 36th for total minutes (75 games played) that’s top 18%
  • 26th for time on ice per game, that’s top 13%
  • 77th for shorthanded time on ice, that’s 38th percentile with 2:07 per game
  • 65th for powerplay TOI for top 32%

Fancy Stats:

  • of the 68 defensemen to skate in 35 games and cross 1301 minutes he was .01 behind Victor Hedman and .04 behind Erik Karlsson in goals against per 60
  • in goals for per 60 he was about a third of a goal better than Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, or Keith Yandle in that same high minute 68 defensemen
  • Jones was 5th among defensemen to play 35 games or more in even strength points, with every player above him having played more games
  • in points per game among those same defensemen, he was 19th, good for top 10%

So with the help of NHL.com and Puckalytics.com I now completely understand how someone could believe Seth Jones is a depth defenseman. 

And as much as I like the Blue Jackets defense, I’m not sure they’re even in the top 5 in the NHL right now. The Ducks, Predators, and Minnesota would easily be above them, and one can make strong cases for other teams including the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

 

Before you start reading, take a moment and start listening to this week’s Two Man ForeCheck.

The three things that define the best of the best are:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Complimentary elements

The winner of the Vezina trophy is a player who can arguably carry a team into the playoffs just about single handedly. The Norris, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, and even the Selke are all very important players for a team to have. A Norris caliber goaltender is even more important. A top forward who plays 18 minutes a night might not play as much time as a goaltender who plays just 35 games in a season. A Even a top defensemen playing 23-25 minutes a night won’t be on the ice anywhere near as much as a top or even average goalie.

Two of this years nominees are The Guy on their team. There is no bigger name.  Each of the three faces slightly different pressures in their market.

Carey Price is probably the best known. Both by virtue of his tenure as the number one in the market that pours more scrutiny on netminders than any other. Having to follow in the footsteps of hall of famers like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy is bad enough. Given that he’s been the man in the crease for a good portion of a very, very long Stanley Cup drought in Montreal. There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys to this man’s game. He is probably the most consistent of the Vezina nominees. He does however play behind Tom Plekanec who should have at minimum two or three finalist appearances as a Selke nominee, but Shea Weber who has been likewise denied his due for the Norris. The biggest counter-weight for Price is that he was the most consistent, and had to play and win with the least scoring support of the three finalists.

Brayden Holtby had the best season of any member of the Washington Capitals. Yes Oshie set a new career high in goals, yes Ovechkin and other were good too, none were a top two or three in their position type player this year. What Brayden Holtby has is perhaps the most capable bottom to top defense of any team in the east. They don’t have a Norris quality defenseman (and neither do the Sharks), but they have six defensemen who could find roster spots on just about any other team in the NHL.

Segei Bobrovsky was the man, the myth, and has to build the legend in Columbus. They are a team who has never seen the playoff success, never had a dominant player good enough to take the team to the promised land when playing well, and never won a Cup. “Bob” is the type of player who if he can find a little more consistently will take a team to the promised land. He has several really good players in front of him, but the Blue Jackets don’t have the depth at either forward or defense of some of the top handful of teams in the NHL.

The eyeball test, and

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.

I finally return to my favorite feature column.

If I told you in September that

Teams:

  • on 2/12 there would be three teams in playoff spots, including the Canadiens, Senators, and Leafs with the Calgary Flames knocking on the door
  • the best penalty kill in the NHL would belong to the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • the Montreal Canadiens would be 2nd in times shorthanded, with 197 times through 57 games
  • the Dallas Stars would not only have a worse powerplay than the Boston Bruins but be in the bottom third of the league
  • the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the only team in February with zero shorthanded goals allowed.
  • three of the top five NHL teams in five on five goals for would be outside the the playoffs
  • nearly one quarter of the teams holding a playoff spot including the Saint Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators would have an even or negative goal differential.

Players

  • Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators would be tied for second in blocked shots per game.
  • Brayden Schenn would lead the NHL in powerplay goals
  • that Sidney Crosby would tied for 86th in powerplay assists
  • Jeff Carter would lead his team and the NHL in game winning goals, including one third of the tallies for the Kings
  • three of the top five rookies in the NHL in scoring would all play on one team: Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander
  • Peter Budaj would have his best career save percentage, the Kings in a playoff position, 26 wins, and the lead in shutouts.
  • two goalies would hold 30 win seasons, Devan Dubnyk and Sergei Bobrovsky, in less than 45 games played and also both be in the top 5 in total saves.

 

If I told you any of this in September would you have believed me?

Look for the next episode of Two Man Forecheck soon!

We’ll talk: Mike Illitch and his legacy, Claude Julien, expansion, the New York Islanders and more. Give my co-host @TheOffWing a follow and catch up on what he’s writing at TheOffWing.com .

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

 

Players;

  • Among all defensemen with more than five games played there are still six with a perfect on ice save percentage; Ian Cole, Kevan Miller, and Erik Gudbranson, and three teammates Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon.
  • That Jay Harrison of the Carolina Hurricanes would lead the entire NHL in PIMS with 27, higher than the top three PIMs pilers from last season put together, all from a guy who’s never topped 72 PIMS, in just 6 games this year.
  • That six games into the season Carl Alzner would be finishing up in the offensive zone at a rate 24.4% less than his starts there, while still maintaining a positive plus minus.
  • That Daniel Carcillo, would lead all forwards in penalties drawn per sixty minutes and only have two himself.
  • Two plus weeks into the season there would be two defensemen playing over 28 minutes a night, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
  • That Chris Stewart would have the most shots on net without a goal standing at 26 shots and eight games with no goals.
  • At nearly the end of the first month of the season Evgani Malkin, Sami Vatanen, Trevor Daley, Claude Giroux, Johnny Boychuk, David Backes, Linden Vey, Brad Boyes, Scott Hartnell, Mark Giordano, Tyler Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, Teddy Purcell, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larson (among others) would all have something important in common, they have all only scored a goal(s) on the powerplay.

Teams

  • Seven games into the season the Detroit Red Wings would be the final team not to have allowed a powerplay goal.
  • The Chicago BlackHawks would lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with two in just six games played.
  • the last two teams not to have scored a powerplay goal would be the Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres.
  • the Carolina Hurricanes would be winless, a minus 29, and still have scored more goals per game than the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres.
  • The Boston Bruins would be 13th in the NHL in goals against.
  • Three teams, the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes would all be winless when scoring first.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets would have the best differential between powerplay and penalty kill time after finishing 17th in the NHL last season.

The NHL season is here, and its time to take a quick look at all 30 teams and how they will start the season.

Anaheim Ducks: On paper, if their goaltending can be sorted out they might just be the best regular season team in the NHL. That said, the regular season is nearly meaningless when you start off this damn good.

Arizona Coyotes: Maybe the return of the distractions that hung over this team for half a decade will push it back into playoff position. Ekman-Larsson may be getting better every year, but Shane Doan isn’t getting any younger.

Boston Bruins: This is a solid team but the entire right side of the team is questionable, and with the trade of Boychuk the defense becomes much less steady.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are working very hard at getting better while getting worse, the addition of Josh Georges makes the defense better, the loss of Ryan Miller leaves two goalies shaped question marks in the crease. Almost certainly a lottery team.

Calgary Flames: This team could have two legitimate All-Star’s this year and still be 10+ points out of the playoffs, no matter how good Giordano and Monahan are the rest are not.

Carolina Hurricanes: With Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner down and out, things look grim for this season’s point total. Last year they hit 34 ROW’s, the same as the Detroit Red Wings, might not be achievable. Noah Hanflin or Oliver Kylington might not be the distant dream they seemed just a few weeks ago.

Chicago Blackhawks: Take a good long look at the core opening night, unless the cap goes up about ten million, they are really likely to be broken up, Hossa is almost 36, and Seabrook only has this and one more year left on his contract.

Colorado Avalanche: Regression to the mean is what all the advanced stats folks are expecting this season. I’ll just say that the new additions to the team, are going to slow it down…

Columbus Blue Jackets: With Johansen starting late, Horton’s career is in doubt, and Dubinsky is on the injured reserve, that said they still have a solid shot at the playoffs.

Dallas Stars: The off season fairy was kind to the Dallas Stars forward depth but their defense and goaltending could still use a gift or two.

Detroit Red Wings: Injuries, aging players, and a coach who might not return next season, what a recipe for success.

Edmonton Oilers: The Nikitin injury should accelerate the development of Darnell Nurse, add in the other injuries and it makes starting the season off on a good note difficult, on the plus side they only play three road games in October.

Florida Panthers: Willie Mitchell,, Roberto Luongo, and Jussi Jokinen are nice adds, I’m not sure the team escapes the bottom five but games will be closer.

Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blackhawks, this team is likely to be very different at the start of next season, is that enough to push them over the top into being the first team to repeat in the salary cap era? They didn’t add anyone, but this year, they also didn’t lose any of the core.

Minnesota Wild: Only four of the nine October games are at home including an opening night rematch with the Avalanche, and a visit to the defending Kings early on will tell people more about the healthy version of this team than anything else.

Montreal Canadiens: No captain, contract years for two key, young forwards, a reliable member of the defense gone, the much relied upon backup gone, this year could indeed be interesting times for the men in the CH.

Nashville Predators: For the first time in team history the Predators will have a new head coach and a new playing style, to compliment that James Neal, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy were added up front. General Manager David Polie has to hope he’s found the right way to make sure he’s not the next out the door.

New Jersey Devils: The End of The Brodeur Era is what is being talked about, some interesting additions have helped mask the other question; How much longer will the Lamoriello era last? On October 21st he’ll be 72 years old.

New York Islanders: The additions of Boychuk and Leddy at the end of training camp are the single most disruptive preseason moves in recent history. Fans, players, and executives have to hope upsetting balance in the standing follows.

New York Rangers: Depth and balance helped the blue shirts make the finals last year, this year they start off without Stepan, Pouliot, Richards, Dorsett, and Stralman are gone. An argument can be made that those voids are all filled, but that doesn’t mean the team is as good.

Nashville Predators: Rinne is healthy, Weber is ready, Neal and Roy are part of the squad, a better year is  ahead.

Ottawa Senators: If this team gets great goaltending they likely finish eight to ten points outside the playoffs, if they get average or bad goaltending they are in for a very long season. There just is much depth here to work with.

Philadelphia Flyers: This is a team with a lot of opportunity to change peoples minds. Mason, Simmonds, Giroux, Voracek all had solid seasons last year, but the rest of the squad is more question marks than answers.

Pittsburgh Penguins: In the off season they lost a third of their defense, a top six winger, and will enter the season with at least one of their best players below 100%.

Saint Louis Blues: The Blues have a really interesting team, and have a really good good shot at playing in the second half of April and beyond, the big question about this team is goaltending as it has been for years.

San Jose Sharks: This team is imperfectly mixed concrete. With all the outside pressure, maybe, just maybe the team will come together and like that imperfect concrete hold for just long enough.

Toronto Maple Leafs: In the first 10 games we’ll see if the team has fixed their penalty kill, if they have they are a notably better team they were last year on that alone.

Vancouver Canucks: More stability in net is great, but up front this team is clearly not as good as last year, GM Benning still has a long road ahead.

Washington Capitals: Picking up a solid pair of defensemen is good, taking them off the hands of a division rival is better. Wrapped up in that is the addition of someone who can arguably improve their mushy penalty kill.

Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane is the only player on the team making over four million a year without a no trade clause, if he’s there at the end of the season is anyone’s guess.

For the second year in a row, the Metropolitan is the weakest division in hockey and it isn’t even close. Some teams are better than last year, others are worse, and anyone who tells you what the others will do is just a bit out of their mind.

Top shelf:

New York Rangers

The Rangers are a safe bet for the playoffs and likely for the division title as well. Lundqvist will be entering the season with a quality backup, and most of the key players in front of him healthy. Despite an injury to top center Stepan that will keep him until around Halloween, the Rangers have otherwise good health up and down the lineup, McDonaugh, Staal, Girardi on the backend, St. Louis, Nash, Brassard and Hagelin up front will do the heavy lifting for the team again.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Rangers, the Blue Jackets have a high quality goalie, this one who just happens to be in a contract year. They also have an underrated defense group. Jack Johnson, Ryan Murphy, James Wisniewski and the rest will contribute at both ends of the ice. The forward group is unheralded as well, Brandon Dubinsky rarely gets the recognition he deserves, Scott Hartnell is a legitimate scoring threat who should be entering the season with something to prove. If Johansen can be signed, and retained, and Horton can have a healthy season, this team is going to be more than a handful.

Wild Cards

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have a lot of chaos factors to contend with this year. A new coach is one. Their putative number one goaltender is on an expiring contract and unlike Crosby, Malkin, and Letang was not extended early. They lost two of their top four defensemen from last year. Matt Niskanen was their top points producer and Brooks Orpik led the team in short handed time on ice. To replace them they brought in Christian Ehrhoff. Aside from the top 3-4 names, it would be hard for an observer to guess where the rest of the forward group sits as most of them look a lot like bottom line players.

New York Islanders

The Islanders actually made some smart moves this summer. They picked up and locked up Grabovski giving them a compelling one two punch at center. Their defense is a whole lot of young and learning with Visnovsky and Carkner for contrast. On the backend they have two goalies new to the system, the up, then down, then sideways Jaroslav Halak and the surprising Chad Johnson. I will be equally unsurprised if this team is in the playoffs, or in the bottom five in the league.

Washington Capitals

The Capitals are the east coast equivalent of the San Jose Sharks. On paper they’ve had the talent to win the Cup at lest once in the last decade, on ice, not so much. They too have a new coach, and possibly more importantly they have a coach who recognizes what he’s dealing with. Barry Trotz did what was probably the smartest thing a Capitals coach has done in several years and put Ovechkin back on left wing where he is most comfortable and had several pretty good seasons. The defense could shake out into pairings of Carlson-Greene, Niskanen-Orpik, and Alzner-Erskine, which as top six defense units go, is better than many can boast.

The Rest

Philadelphia Flyers

Even allowing for the Pronger/Timonen money once the season starts and he can be placed on LTIR, the Flyers are still in cap trouble. The roster genuinely looks like the team is trying to tank but just doesn’t know how. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jacob Voracek are all top end players, the rest of the forward group and much of the rest of the roster feels like the punchline to an inside joke that you’re not quite inside enough for. That said, this is largely the group that managed to make the playoffs last year.

New Jersey Devils

On the plus side the added Mike Cammalleri and finally admitted who their number one goaltender is. On the other side of the balance they added Martin Havlat who is generally good for one bizarre injury and twenty or more man games lost. The defense is rather bland, no one makes over Zajac’s $5.75m and yet they are still only three million from the cap, all without their seeming to have found a backup goalie.

Carolina Hurricanes

The season will kickoff on a sour note with Jordan Staal down-checked for an unknown amount of time with a broken leg. Even assuming Jordan Staal and he rest of the top six forwards were healthy and productive all season, Caniacs were still in for a long slog. The teams defense has high water marks that are merely average followed up by players who are at historical drought levels of talent. It would not be a surprise to see this team draft in the top three next June. The only real hope in season for this team is for the coach with the enthusiastic backing of management to go with whichever goalie is playing better and not with the one they’ve been trying to pass off a a franchise goalie for half a decade.