The first round of the playoffs may have been the best opening round as a whole in years. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded blows and goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Metropolitan division winners looking just a bit weak. The loss of David Backes due to a suspend-able hit by Brent Seabrook was clearly the tipping point of the series between the Saint Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks went from unmitigated domination of the Los Angeles Kings to going into the night with a whimper.

The Philadelphia Flyers played a pretty even series with the New York Rangers that came down to a memorable game seven decided by one goal; the series was also the coming out party for Steve Mason who put up a stellar 1.97 GAA and .939 sv%. The Alex Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff led Dallas Stars put a two game scare into the Anaheim Ducks before succumbing to a focused and superior team. In the battle between snowy Montreal and snowbird heaven Tampa Bay, the Lightning went down in the opening rounds only sweep, minus Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. In the opening round the Boston Bruins lost the opening game to their Original Six rivals, and then laid them in the dust in four straight wins.

Biggest surprises of the first round:

  • 169 players having more goals than Sidney Crosby, including Luke Schenn, Bryan Allen, Raffi Torres, Jordan Caron and Devante Smith-Pelly
  • How much Jonathan Quick struggled in the first few games, and that Sutter didn’t go to Jones full time.
  • Paul Stastny ending a playoff run with well deserved accolades like “heroic performance” being thrown his way, even around all the love for the shiny new rookie.
  • Paul Martin weighing in at over a point per game. Yes, that Paul Martin.
  • Alex Goligoski gaining zero attention while playing 28:30 a night, putting up 4 points and being a +7 in a six game losing series.
  • How well the very young Colorado Avalanche held together through some very tough games.

Top 3 series of the opening round:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins, the pure drama in this matchup was amazing to watch.
  2. Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche; There is so much young potential in this series it is staggering, Coyle, Neiderrietter, Brodin and Spurgeon we’ll see more of this year, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Hishon, and Duchene we’ll have ot wait until fall for more from.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Saint Louis Blues, as far as the best hockey played game in and game out this series wins, but the drama level wasn’t quiet as high as the other two series.

This series could be described as “A Tale of Two Cities In Freefall” by someone who particularly loved Dickens. That writer would no doubt treat their readers to a wordy, drawn out description of the teams records fillled with references to the a book most people never bothered to suffer through; that writer isn’t me. Neither the Blues who ended the season on a zero for six slide, nor the Blackhawks who played mediocre hockey have much to shout about coming into the post season.

Saint Louis Blues

The list of players dinged up over the last month of the regular season for the Blues reads like a who’s who of the team. David Backes spent time on the shelf, Olympic sharp shooter T.J. Oshie was down-checked, faceoff stud and defensive stalwart Valdimir Sobotka is down and out. Vladimir Taresenko hasn’t taken the ice since mid march, and both Brenden Morrow and Patrik Berglund found themselves in need of time to heal. Which makes it remarkable that the team was still within striking distance of the President’s Trophy until the final games of the regular season. This is a very talented team when healthy, who work hard and are coached well.

Best Players

On a team this deep, it is hard to winnow the list. Backes and Steen have gotten a lot of attention, but Oshie was second on the team in scoring. On the backend, it is hard to argue that the a more talented group has hit the ice for a playoff run since Bourque and Roy were in Colorado together. This team has three defensemen who could be considered number ones in Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk. In net they have Vezina winner and Olympic medalist Ryan Miller who is having one of his better years despite how much of the year he spent on the woeful Sabres.

X-Factor

This team has all the talent in the world, how well the execute and stay focused will determine how deep they go. Two years in a row they ran into the Kings and produced two brilliant, beautiful series which they lost. This year its the Chicago Blackhawks on the agenda.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

The defending champions had a very fast, very talented roster. Where the Blues thrive in games that are ultra physical and play a counter punch style many nights, the Blackhawks are quite happy to win on pure skill and determination. This team can make lots of great passes, the core group has been together a long time, and know each other very well. Of that core, Hossa, Toews, and Kane have all missed time due to injuries.

Best Players

Like the Blues, this is a pretty deep roster. Sharp led the team in scoring in the regular season, Seabrook is a very effective defensive-defenseman, Keith might be on the shortlist for the Norris, and not many GM’s would take too long thinking about a trade package coming their way that included Toews or Kane.

X-Factor

How much will fatigue and the physicality of the Blues affect this team? The Stanley Cup finals didn’t end until just before the draft in late June and most of this roster was part of that win, many of their top players played in the Olympics, and they do not have home ice advantage in this series.

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

The most engaging opening round series game for game last spring was the Saint Louis Blues squaring off with the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately for the Blues the series ended with them breaking down and not packing for another series. The bottom line was a lack of scoring, their regular season average was cut almost in half when the playoffs rolled around. In a six game series they scored just nine goals, and only TJ Oshie and Alex Steen had more than one.

In the off season they took care of some business. Alex Pietrangelo was extended, as was the new guy Jay Bouwmeester. One look at the roster, and with one exception, it becomes clear the team is looking to improve from within. The most notable change for fans will be the absence of David Perron who was moved for Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and a draft pick. Also new to the lineup is former Buffalo Sabre, Dallas Star, and Vancouver Canuck Derek Roy. Those players were brought in to augment David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Stewart, and maybe, just maybe drag the teams offense into the top half of the NHL.

As an opening fistful, the Blues can’t complain. They have their first five games spread out over twelve days, and are home for all five. Games one and two are against the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. As of right now the goal situation for both franchises is iffy. Next up are the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they know well even if they now have several new faces on their roster. Rounding things out are the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks. All five games are at home.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 1

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 5

Projected points: 5+

These first five games are a great opportunity for the Blues. If they can get manage to get three goals in three or four of their first five, they are aimed straight at the post season, and arguably challenging for the division crown. With their three netminders and stringy defensive style, they don’t really have an excuse not to be in the playoffs. Of the other teams in their division, only the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks were in the playoffs last season, and while the other teams have made changes it is hard to say any of them are better teams than the Blues.

This is probably the most asked, least answered question in Boston sports. The answer is complex, and involves more than a few moving pieces.

Health:

The Bruins have certainly had less than average amounts of injuries, and unfortunately the two most prominent injuries have been to their top scorer, and their most important skater. Brad Marchand’s speed, ability to agitate, and his zero delay shot release are game changing. He is at this point one of the two or three best forwards in the division. Patrice Bergeron is the teams most important player. Not only is he the most skilled faceoff man in the NHL, he’s stunningly reliable, the number of non injury bad games he’s had in his career can be counted without exhausting one’s fingers, possibly without reaching a second hand. When both are out, the team is missing speed, scoring, puck control, leadership, and winning attitude. Chris Kelly’s  loss was crucial to the galloping inefficiency and creeping malaise, but that’s is something that has its real impact in the next section.

Depth:

When the Bruins won the Cup, they rolled four solid line, and had a defensive unit they could rely on. They were very much a Top 9 team with a fourth line capable of contributing at a level that many teams struggled to get their third line to impact the game at. This year they are very, very much a Top 6 – Bottom 6 team, and they have a similar issue with their bottom six to the year after Chicago won their Cup. Some pieces that are the same, but not having career years all at once, and some players who are either playing way under their expected level or who were out for an extended period.

When Chris Kelly went down, the already anemic third line flatlined. Chris Bourque, Jay Pandolfo, Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, Kaspars Daugavins, and Jamie Tardiff all trooped in and out of the line. Part of the problem is that when Peverley slid over to center he started trying to do too much in a year where he was already struggling. Part of it the problem is that the most promising players weren’t given legitimate opportunities. And part of the problem is just how many moving parts have been involved, especially as the lines were frequently shuffled trying to get players like Sequin, Lucic, Horton, and Krejci going as well.

Defensively, the team rushed Dougie Hamilton to the NHL before he was ready, this is a management failure, but speaks to a dearth of passable defenseman available in the off season. Hamilton certainly hasn’t been a disaster, but he’s experienced the peaks and valley’s of a rookie, and despite his size has been overpowered and beaten one on one for pucks. The question of if this would have been less serious in full season with more games and travel versus the current high compression is unanswerable, but either way another year of physical growth would have ameliorated some of the valleys in his play and freed up other defensemen from keeping an eye on him in addition to playing their own game. With McQuaid’s injury, Aaron Johnson was pulled into the lineup. While he’s possibly more skilled and a better puck handler than Mcquaid, he doesn’t have the raw aggression of McQuaid, and that means opposing players don’t slow up and look for support going to his corner.

Scoring:

When your top paid forward, David Krejci, has the same number of goals as a guy getting six minutes less of even strength time on ice a night and plays most games on the fourth line you have a genuine problem. There’s no doubt you have an issue. Nine goals isn’t a bad total for the season thus far but either of them is in the top four on the team.

Milan Lucic has gotten the most attention for scoring decline, and deserves it. He doesn’t look like himself most nights. But this dip in his scoring isn’t nearly alarming as Johnny Boychuk year over year decline since he spent his first full season in the NHL. In thirty nine games he has one more point than Shawn Thornton who has played less than half as many minutes. Part of the issue is that he’s just not shooting the puck much, Boychuck has just 64 shots to date, Thornton in the same number of games, and significantly less shifts has 46.

And yes, the powerplay is unenviable at just under 15%, but they haven’t been good at that in years.

Coaching:

Claude Julien has earned the right to a very, very long leash in his coaching tenure. But his fetish or veterans over rookies or young players is again strangling the teams creativity, and energy. Jay Pandalfo’s heart and professionalism are unquestionable. The rest of his body is not really fit for NHL action any more; and yet 18 times he has gotten the call to play over a younger, fitter, more skilled player who likely figures into the teams long term future. In those 18 games he is scoreless, based on his career total of 226 points in 899 NHL games, the expectations certainly were not high. Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron, or Jamie Tardiff could just as easily have filled those games, and likely out performed him, Spooner and Tardiff were having very respectable years in the AHL at the time of their recall. For that matter when Chris Bourque was sent down his 19 game stint produced points, just four of them, but combined with his speed there was at least a going concern each shift for opposing defense to deal with.

And even on the veteran front, just as Corvo and Wideman and Ryder deserved to be scratched in favor of other players in the past, so too have several players this season. For all that he’s slowly starting to rebound in his own end, Ference could have used a breather, Boychuck likewise, and with so many healthy bodies circling the ice and the cap space the entire Krejci, Lucic, Horton line could and probably should have been sent to the pressbox more than once this season as there were more than a few nights all three were on the ice but not in the game.

Management:

One of the biggest issues with this team is complacency. This starts at the top. Players who know training camp is jut a formality and they can go on with the drudgery of the regular season don’t star the season in right state o mind. It isn’t just about having nothing to win with a good effort in training camp, and the off season leading to it, it is that the having nothing to lose in either time period.

This goes way beyond just this season. Part of it is a drafting tendency. The team has too many nice guys, and maybe two intermittent fire eaters. Regardless of what you think about his politics, you only had to watch one period of Tim Thomas playing to know he was one thousand percent in the game. It didn’t matter if it was policing his own crease, smashing his stick on a shot even he had no chance on, or skating out to check an opponent taking liberties with one of his team mates, he was all in from warmup until the game was in the books.

Who can you look at on the team and say that about? Which of the prospects likely to hit the roster in the next year or two does that describe? Does that describe Redden or Jagr? The same answer applies to all those questions; No and no one. This has been true for years, the last palyer to say anything not in the mold of generic athlete mutterings, or whatever the front office was saying was Steve Kampfer, and he was deported about as fast as the Brain Trust could find a dance partner.

Where’s this teams Wayne Simmonds or David Backes? Apparently the front office is either blind to that need of the teams, or doesn’t want it.

Just about four years ago the US and Canada put on two of the best hockey games of the last quarter century. But, like all teams that team USA is not the one we’ll see in a few years. If I’m playing general manager, there are some players I do bring back, and others I just say no to, at least as of now.

The No’s:

  • Ryan Malone would not be on the short list today. His production has trailed off, he’s not been especially healthy the last few seasons, and he’ll be thirty four before this year is over. Great guy, if he hangs up the skates before the Olympics, he might get tapped for an assistant coaches spot.
  • Chris Drury, nice guy, already retired.
  • Tim Thomas, while its nice to think he’d be back to world beating shape after a year off, it is unlikely.
  • Ryan Whitney, hasn’t played even when healthy for a woeful Oilers club this season.
  • Jamie Langenbrunner, has experienced a notable decline in the past few years, will turn 38 this summer, and has had injury issues,
  • Brian Rafalski, retired.

The Maybe’s:

  • Erik Johnson, is admittedly playing on a poor team, but not especially productive offensively which isn’t how offensive defenseman earn their pay.
  • Phil Kessel enormously hot and cold, not a great two way player and has struggled to score goals this season which is what he’s paid to do.
  • Ryan Kesler, good faceoff man, good passer, physical, good skater, can’t stay healthy to save his soul.
  • Ryan Callahan, well above average for two way play, but prone to long slumps offensively, and injuries as well.
  • Joe Pavelski, seems to have declining returns in the playoffs. That could be the team, that could be his doing, but I lean towards team.
  • Paul Stastny, did not impress me during the last Olympic’s, has had declining production since them, but did have solid World Championship numbers in 2011-12.

The Shortlist:

  • Ryan Miller, while his heroics a the last Olympics seem ot be the last time he played at an elite level, you have to take into consideration the quality of the team in front of him. A quality that has gotten the longest tenured coach in the NHL booted this season.
  • Jonathan Quick, anyone who needs to know why should simply look at last seasons record, both his individual stats, Cup win and the number of games he only gave up one goal in.
  • Tim Gleason, anyone who can be a plus player with all the years he’s spent on the defensively woeful Carolina Hurricanes.
  • Jack Johnson has a boatload of international experience, will probably have been named Captain of the Blue Jackets by then, offensively talented.
  • Brooks Orpik solid two way defenseman with a double handful of physicality, some international experience and would be among the teams elder statesmen.
  • Ryan Suter a top ten defenseman in the NHL, no-brainer.
  • David Backes, certainly one of the best American forwards in the league.
  • Dustin Brown, great mix of skill and physicality.
  • Patrick Kane almost certainly the best pure goal score from the USA, and has a maturing game away from the puck. Knows how to win.
  • Zach Parise versatile, talented and lots and lots of international experience.
  • Bobby Ryan perennial thirty goal scores do not grow on trees, willing to play physical, willing to shoot.

That would be my starting point based on the 2010 Olympic roster. The next post will focus on filling the roster out. I’ve counted out as many as twelve players I expect to put together a pool of about twenty players including at least two or three goalies.

The season was a long, long time coming and it seems amazing that we are one third of the way done. We know the Western Conference is never easy to predict. Today, we know which teams are better than we thought, which teams are worse, and which ones just don’t have a clue.

15: Columbus Blue Jackets: We know the more things change the more they stay the same. We know the team has a new General Manager. We know the new GM has a reputation as a great evaluator of draft-able talent.  We know that despite all the changes, the roster is still a lottery team.

14: Calgary Flames: We know this is one of the most hamstrung teams in the league in terms of farm system and with no movement and no trade clauses. We know Jarome Iginla isn’t getting any younger, and that this is the last year of his contract. We also know he might just be their best player at faceoffs, which would be great if he were a center and not one of their numerous grindline centers.

13: Edmonton Oilers: We know they still don’t have a defense. We know they probably have the assets to trade for defense. We know if they end up drafting first they probably won’t be smart enough to draft Seth Jones. We know from watching Oil Change that Daryl Katz is more interested in being seen as the owner of a hockey team than he is being seen as the owner of a winning hockey team. We know that sooner or later Ralph Krueger will be scapegoated so that Tambellini and Lowe can keep their jobs.

12: Colorado Avalanche: We know the AVS are still as a collective head cases.Their win two lose two, rinse and repeat record says their is more wrong with this team than questionable defense, and an offense that really should be better than it is. We know Sacco will likely get sacked because he ran out of gold stars and lollipops for his collection of kids.

11: Los Angeles Kings: We Know the Stanley Cup Hangover is only part of the problem. They still haven’t fixed their deficient offense.

10: Detroit Red Wings: We know they lost Lidstrom and Stuart. We know Datsyuk isn’t as good as he used to be. We know this team should be blown the hell up and rebuilt while no one in Detroit can afford to come to games anyway. We know two or three years of tanking and recreating the team with top talent is preferable to adding mediocre talent to a team that has possibly three above average players.

9: Dallas Stars: We know the Stars were a bubble team last year. We know they are a bubble team this year. We know that when you add Old Dudes, no matter how good they are simply because of how good they were in the 90s, you probably need to re-prioritize and figure out the real holes in your team.

8: Minnesota Wild: We know they added more salary and years to their roster than anyone else over the long, long offseason. We know they had a ton and a half of injuries last year. We know Josh Harding deserves a standing ovation before every game. We also know this team isn’t playing to their potential with that much talent on the roster.

7: Phoenix Coyotes: We know the NHL still hasn’t settled an owner into the corner office. We know the team will get to hold onto Shane Doan a while longer. We know that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is pretty damn good.

6: San Jose Sharks: We know they aren’t as good as their 7-0-0 start, nor as bad as the six game losing streak that followed. We know you can’t ignore the contributions on the backend or count this team out of the playoff hunt no matter how far they fell last season.

5: Saint Louis Blues: We know last year wasn’t a fluke. We know that Alex Pietrengelo needs to be accounted among the top five defensemen in the NHL. We know the team has a talent for identifying goalies about to hit the zone. We know that its unlikely anyone will ever think of the names of any forward other than Taresenko or Backes without prompting, no matter how many goals the team scores.

4: Nashville Predators: We know Weber is every bit as good as everyone said and that he was for more deserving of the last two Norris Trophy’s than either guy who collected them. We know the team is third best in goals against. We know that despite being 30th in goals for, they are still a damned dangerous team.

3: Vancouver Canucks: We know they are once again leading the weakest division in the NHL. We know Kesler is back from his yearly injury. We know it could be years before anyone knows who the real starter is in the crease. We know they aren’t all that impressive on the road.

2: Anaheim Ducks: We know Teemu is Forever. We know adding Bryan Allen to this team made their goaltenders job easier. We know Victor Fasth could steal Hiller’s job as the number one netminder. We know this team is a lot more like the squad we expect than last year’s  nearly identical roster.

1: Chicago Blackhawks: We know this team is incredible. We know the team is deep. We know the team isn’t playing 100% to their potential. We know they will never keep this pace up because guys are playing so far outside their normal range. We know they are incredibly fun to watch.

Tonight the NHL’s oldest American NHL franchise will faceoff against their division rivals the Buffalo Sabres:

  • The Bruins Brass have purged all the Americans they could from the roster, Chris Bourque is the son of a Canadain, Jay Pandolfo is the 13th forward, so take your pick.
  • For the Buffalo Sabres, Nathan Gerbe and Ryan Miller lead the way with Marcus Foligno, Drew Stafford, Patrick Kaleta, TJ Brenna, Jordan Leopold,Tyler Myers, and Mike Weber filling out the roster.

The Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins will duel,

  • Dustin Byfugelien, and Blake Wheeler are part of a large of a very American crew that includes Mark Stuart, injured goalie Al Montoya, Zach Bogosian, Zach Redmond, Ron Hainsey, former Pittsburgh Penguin Eric Tangradi,  and Jim Slater.
  • Facing them will be Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Joe Vitale, Brandon Sutter for the Penguins.

When the Flyers and Devils square off, they’ll have their own American compliment

  • First round draft pick Stefan Matteau and Stephen Gionta will be joined by Bobby Butler, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, and Peter Harrold are the Devils Americans.
  • In Orange and Black are Tom Sestito, and Sean Couturier.

The Red Wings and Ducks will also play tonight.

  • Jimmy Howard leads the Red Wings Americans, and travels with Brian Lashoff, Drew Miller, and Justin Abdelkader.
  • Bobby Ryan and Nick Bonino will be in the lineup for the Ducks and Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri, will be out there with Nate Guenin and Ben Lovejoy.

The Sharks look to get back on track against the Blackhawks.

  • Patrick Kane highlights the Chicago side, with Nick Leddy and Brandon’s Sadd and Bollig.
  • Missing from the Shark tank are Justin Braun, Tommy Wingels, Scott Gomez and Adam Burish.

Despite recent news coverage, the Blues have stars other than Taresenko, and the Flames have the odd American of their own.

  • Lee Stepniak steps up under the red white and blue and brings Chris Butler, and Tim Jackman with him.
  • David Backes is the Captain of the St Louis squad, TJ Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Ian Cole are on the ice as well while Jamie Langenbrunner is on the shelf.

The Canucks and Stars will square off on the left coast.

  • Expected to return real soon now is Ryan Kesler, David Booth is down and out, Jordan Schroeder is however enjoying some ice time with Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard and Cory Schneider for Vancouver.
  • The Dallas American element is a three man threat with Alex Goligoski, Richard Bachman, and Eric Nystrom.