The Dallas Stars ended the second game of their first playoff series since the 2007-08 conference finals exactly where they didn’t want to be. They are down two games to zero, and the games were not as close as the score in the first game would indicate.  Through 120 minutes they have given up eight goals. Only two of those goals came while on the penalty kill. One more was an empty net goal.

Worse, a look at the number of shots in each game says that it isn’t just pure shot totals getting them in trouble. The first game was a high but not outrageous 35 shots against Kari Lehtonen, but the second was not high at all. Just 19 shots found their way through sprawling forwards and stalwart defenders. His save percentage in the two games this series is .886 and .842. Neither of those numbers can be called anything as glorious as average.

But there are alternatives to Lehtonen. Jack Campbell who played for the US National Development team allowed 1 goal in April playing int he AHL. The former 1st round pick also was named Man of the Year for the Texas Stars. Given how poorly the current netminded has done in his playoff exploits, it might be time to give Campbell a call before the opportunity passes the club by.  Closer to home is two time Vezina winner, and playoff warrior Tim Thomas. Yes, Thomas isn’t having his best year, and yes he did not play in the playoffs or at any other time last year, but his career numbers indicate that when the light shines brightest and people say he can’t, that’s the time Thomas glows.

No matter what option Lindy Ruff goes with, assuming he gets the choice, the Stars do need to figure out what to do with their goaltending. The current situation will make a waste of the hard work, dedication, and determination of players like Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and others all season long.

The western conference will kick off the playoffs with the Anahiem Ducks and Dallas Stars facing off in 1st versus wild card matchup. The Jamie Benn led Stars crossover from the Central Division to face Corey Perry and his west winning Ducks. Of the 1 vs Wild Card matchups this is the one where the first place team should be safest. The Ducks are deeper and have more playoff experience, but showed last season they lacked killer instinct. The Stars are clearly underdogs but I doubt this series is over in four or five games.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks started the season strong and spent the opening months of the season sparring for first in the division without sliding below second. The new year opened with them on top of the division, as did every month after. Their padding waxed and waned as the Sharks got hot and cool, but here we are. The Ducks are a remarkably healthy bunch especially when you factor in the extra games and travel their Olympians played. If there is a weakness to the armor of the Ducks it is their special teams, something they’ll likely point to recent Cup winners of and dismiss calmly.

Best Players:

Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are the Superman & Batman tag team of the NHL. They play physically, pass, skate, cycle, score, and defend at least as well as any two players who normally take shifts together.

X-Factor

D-E-P-T-H. If Bruce Boudreau uses his second and third lines as well as his full defensive compliment the Ducks are a very tough matchup for any team. Nick Bonino, Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Kyle Palmeri are all capable NHL players. Teemu Selanne has already said he’s ending his NHL career, is well rested and knows how to win, he could play a much larger part in the playoffs.

Dallas Stars

Lindy Ruff’s team is a bit of a surprise entry in the NHL playoffs this year. With just 91 points they didn’t amass the most intimidating record in the NHL this year. Offense is where the team shines finishing the season regular 10th in scoring. The team boasts two 30 goal scorers in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but will enter the second season without Rich Peverley lost to a cardiac event and subsequent heart surgery. Alex Goligoski might just have gotten some recognition for a stellar offensive season if Seguin and Benn hadn’t turned in so much offense of their own.

Best Players

Jamie Benn can play any forward position and be in the top tier of the league doing it, but his playoff experience is nil in the NHL. Tyler Seguin has a lot of playoff experience, but we shouldn’t forget the reasons he was traded from the Boston Bruins to the Dallas Stars. Alex Goligoski has seen the playoffs, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and done respectably.

X-Factor

Goaltending. Kari Lehtonen is not a consistent goaltender, he’s put in one his best years to date, but given how often Lindy Ruff saw Tim Thomas when both worked for other teams, might he be tempted to go to the elder statesman  if Lehtonen falters. Comparing the playoff numbers of the two, no one could blame him for doing so.

 

This feature will run approximately every two weeks each season comparing a well known player to leagues newest crop of rising stars.

NHL rookies are making the biggest adjustment to their play, and their awareness of the game since they got their first stick and puck. Making the jump sometimes takes more than one try. While the Calder is almost exclusively an award that goes to forwards, this years crop of talent is intriguing, and blessed with American, Czech, Canadian and other candidates that should make every voter take until the very last moment to set their ballot.  This year a once remarkable rookie who has turned in a hall of fame career was chosen to be the measuring stick. Teemu Selanne stated before the season began that this would be his NHL farewell tour.

Through 11 games Teemu Selanne has a line of 3-4-7 and is a -1, and is averaging 14:34 a night. One of his goals is a powerplay marker. He’s currently on the injured reserve.

 

Forwards:

  • Sean Monahan is making a name for himself in a Calgary Flames uniform. Them 19 year old is one of the bright lights in a season that has the Flames low in the standings but still without a regulation loss at home. His 11gp 6-4-10 line is impressive not just for the pace, but the consistency. Some of the other top scorers for forward had a couple huge games and several very quiet nights. Monahan has just steadily produced.
  • Alexsander Barkov who was taken four spots before Monahan in the draft sits behind him in the points race, but the Florida Panthers player is one of the youngest players in the NHL. His 12gp 3-4-7 points total includes two powerplay goals, and one game winner gives him the team lead or a share of it in both categories.
  • Alex Chaisson is a right wing for the Dallas Stars who has served notice that his patient waiting for NHL ice time is over. He trails only All Star Jamie Benn and trade center piece Tyler Seguin for goals in the lonestar state, and is tied with Seguin for goals with totals of 5-4-9 through 12 games. At over 17 minutes of ice time a night he’s playing a big part for Lindy Ruff and company and doing it in all situations, he averages 1:23 a night shorthanded.
  • Tomas Hertl has had the best single night of any of this years freshman class. His four goal night ignited controversy among the segment who think no one should show signs of enjoying their job. The San Jose Shark leads all rookies in scoring with 8-3-11 +8 in 12 games for the NHL’s points leading team.

Goalies:

  • Frederick Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks has edged his way into an already crowded crease. His three appearances have all been wins. He’s one of a handful of Denmark natives in the NHL, and his .944 sv% is enough to make people sit up and take notice.

Defensemen:

  • Torey Krug leads all rookies and all NHL defensemen in powerplay goals. His 4-2-6 line is complimented by a +3 that his him shouldering aside his larger teammates for ice time. Averaging just under 18 minutes a night the Boston Bruin leads all rookie defensemen in scoring.
  • Seth Jones who was inexplicably passed over three times at the NHL draft is doing a remarkable job for the Nashville Predators. At 24:42 a night in TOI he’s playing more minutes than well known workhorses Zdeno Chara, Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf, P.K. Subban and Mike Green. His 2:55 of shorthanded TIO a night tell us he’s certainly not being playing sheltered minutes. His 2-3-5 have him second in scoring from the blueline among the rookies.
  • Jacob Trouba’s averaging over 4:08 a night in short handed time on ice. That staggering number has the Winnipeg Jets defenseman 3rd in that category behind only Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators and Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings, both of whom broke in to the NHL last century. He owns a 1-12 line with 11 hits and 12 blocked shots in 8 games played. The 9th pick in the 2012 draft is currently on the shelf after being injured sliding into the boards.

The revamped central division is almost impossible to predict. The teams in the current configuration came from the defunct southeast division, the old central,  and even the former pacific division. There are new coaches, radically reconfigured teams, and a whole new attitude in some places.

St Louis Blues:

Good news: The offense has been bolstered for the the first time in recent memmory with an offensive minded center in Derek Roy.

Bad news: Even if they get the contributions they hope from Roy, Tarasenko, and others, they are going to need  a lighter hand at the reigns in the offensive zone to move into the top ten teams in scoring in the NHL.

Nashville Predators:

Good news: No one is paying any attention to them this season, even with Seth Jones part of the squad. No pressure from outside gives them underdog status all year.

Bad news: Management fell on its face in failing to upgrade the offense at all in the off season.

Minnesota Wild:

Good news: The team is well balanced on paper with both solid defense and offense. Mikko Koivu may even get noticed for the Selke he should own at least one of by now.

Bad news: How well they do on the ice will depend on how well coached they are, and how healthy they are. At least one of those is a major concern.

Dallas Stars:

Good news: They have better skill at center than they did last year. Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, and the crew are very, very hungry.

Bad news: Still not a lot of depth. Chemistry might take a while to develop.

Chicago Blackhawks:

Good news: Still the 700lb gorilla in the division. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Jimmy Hayes and Brent Seabrook are all good reasons they’ll be hard to beat.

Bad news: They can’t count on the luck with health they had last year, and it is almost impossible they will be as hungry so soon after winning.

Winnipeg Jets:

Good news: Frolik and Scheifele bring talent to the center position. Jacob Trouba has looked solid on the blueline, and Dustin Byfuglien might just have his best year to date, and is on pace for 246 points.

Bad news: People in the Jets front office still think Olli Jokinen is a top center.

Colorado Avalanche:

Good news: No one ever, anywhere will ever misunderstand how important anything is to their Patrick Roy. Gabriel Landeskog is back to lead his young team upwards.

Bad news: The roster has several very talented players, but how good of a team they are is a complete unknown.

Top three teams:

Chicago Blackhawks, St Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks lead b a wide margin, the Blues have such a strong system and talented blueline it is almost impossible for them not to make it back. Having gotten to the playoffs once, the Wild are practiced and hungry to erace last years drubbing at the hands of the BlackHawks from the memories of their fans.

The lockout shortened season was another year of almost realized playoff hopes. Another year of almost succeeding, another year almost being memorable. February 17th with fifteen games in the record books saw the team glowing atop 7th place. By March 2nd they’d slide beneath the horizon into 10th place. Jamie Benn forced to center, a position he hadn’t played in the NHL struggled and missed 7 games. Ray Whitney missed 16, and the two still led the team in points. Jaromir Jagr would be gone at the trade deadline. Derek Roy was gone on April 2 despite piling up 22 points in 30 games. Michael Ryder who had 35 goals the year before was traded before the season was half over. Brendan Morrow, and Joe Morrow would both exit as well.

Overall, the confusion on ice would spell an 11th place finish for the team. Was it a “bridge year”? Was it a “rebuild on the fly”? Was it just someone wanting to be seen doing something? We may never know. What we do know is that two of the teams that finished ahead of them last year won’t be vying for any of the eight playoff billets in the west this year. In the off season the front office continued to spin the personnel kaleidoscope. They sent Loui Eriksson shooting off to Boston, and in return brought back Rich Peverley an experienced NHL center good in all three zones, and a demon in the faceoff circle, and Tyler Seguin a highly regarded talent who’s off ice life and maturity came into question in a system he never fit into. Shawn Horcoff was brought in from Edmonton as well.  The first five games feature an interesting mix with the Panthers and Avalanche book-ending games against the Capitals, Jets and Wild.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Washington Capitals

Weakest Opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With the turnover in roster talent the team could either come out of the gate energized and ready to fight or tentative and feeling themselves out. Lindy Ruff will still be getting to know most of the players and the questions about if he can coach a team with high end talent is still unanswered. Kari Lehtonen’s health will be forever in question, multiple back and groin injuries make it difficult for him to get and stay in any sort of groove. On the plus side, youth has arrived. Tyler Seguin has speed, a fantastic shot release, and Valeri Nichushkin, and Alex Chiasson. The team isn’t remarkably better or worse than it was last season, it is just different. How well all the moving parts pull together will be the difference between this being a playoff team, an afterthought or a basement dweller.

With the diverse origins of the teams former divisions, the central division might as well be the called “the melting pot”. Two former Northwest teams, a former pacific team, three of the former central division’s teams and an alumni of the southeast division just for good measure. While some teams know each other pretty darn well, the intensity of long time rivalries might just be lacking.

Chicago: We know the Blackhawks didn’t have a fire-sale this time. Who knows, they might escape a cup hangover too. Not likely, not as late as the season ran and as many people as they retained. On the plus side, there were no injuries to key players that will shorten the returning roster going into training camp. We know that with cross conference play, the BlackHawks will have to play more good teams next season than last season.

Colorado: We know Patrick Roy has a new job with the Avalanche. We know this is the longest predicted hiring in the history of the NHL. We know they still have nothing that resembles an NHL defense. We know the franchise has yet to put into evidence a viable plan for a return to relevance. We know Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay are the biggest additions to this team. We know its gonna be another ugly season.

Dallas Stars: We know the team believes they’ve addressed their needs at center. We know the team dumped a first round pick defenseman, an All Star quality forward and some b prospects to get a guy who was playing third line wing, and a guy with epic scoring droughts. We know Jamie Benn is still the best player on the team, and that Alex Goligoski is still the most underrated player on the team. We know that Rich Peverley is likely to improve the penalty kill 2-3% all by himself. We know that Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley are a remarkable uptick in foot speed over Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder.

Minnesota: We know that after a run to the playoffs last year with a very, very young and inexperienced crew the team should be better this year. We know that with little in the way of real losses in players team chemistry should be good. We know the team needs to hit the playoffs and win a round to be financially viable. We know they really, really need to find a goalie who can be healthy for a whole season. We know the team is just about a shoe in for a playoff spot in a bottom heavy conference.

Nashville: We know the teams defensive top four is set well into the next collective bargaining agreement. We know Pekka Rinne will play close to seventy games. We know they still need a backup goalie. We know they haven’t done a thing to improve their forward core group in years. We know they will make the playoffs in Rinne, Weber, and Ellis are healthy and productive. We know that without upgrades to complete a viable top six they will eventually be beaten by a playoff team that can score consistently.  We know most people would be shocked to know the Predators were the prey on the penalty kill last year ending up 29th with a 75.5% effectiveness.

St Louis: We know the Blues traded out odd duck David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi who they still haven’t signed. We know they have 14 forwards signed. We know that despite it being as close to the end of their last season as it is to the beginning of the new one, their franchise corner stone Alex Pietrangelo is still not signed. We know they will return two goaltenders to the crease whose inconsistency is the one thing you can count on.

Winnipeg: We know that with their first season playing as a western conference team many of the teams players will have to get used to a different traveling and playing schedule. We know that with eight defenseman signed, UFA’s Mark Stuart and Paul Potsma may not want to renew their magazine subscriptions too soon. We know that Devin Setogouchi isn’t a big enough offensive upgrade, but that Michael Frolik might be the perfect solution to their penalty kill woes. We know Olli Jokinen will continue to baffle and befuddle people across the hockey world.

The Canadian talent pool is deep enough to field two teams and have both of them medal most years. That said, some names being left off even the initial roster are baffling.

Forwards:

  • Jaime Benn is an enormously talented winger who was forced into the center slot last season and still came close to dragging his team into the playoffs.
  • Jarome Iginla is a head scratcher, unless he said he didn’t want to be there, or is going to be having a surgery that require a long recovery, he’s got all the tools anyone could want on their roster why he isn’t listed is at best curious and at worst an embarrassment.
  • Nathan Horton he was the leading Canadian scorer on the right wing in the playoffs, he’s won a Stanley Cup and even if he’s not due back from injury at the start of the season he’s still a big game force.
  • Pascal Dupuis, another talented right winger who led all Canadian right wings in goals in the regular season and plays in all situations. He’s never had a chance to play for his country, and has more than paid his dues in the NHL.
  • Matt Moulson is probably being snubbed for going to an American College and not playing Canadian Junior, but three 30 goal seasons in a row isn’t something you leave aside lightly.
  • Evander Kane if you want to upgrade the teams aggression without sacrificing skill there are few better names to insert.
  • Wayne Simmonds might just be one of those pugnacious wingers you take over Kane, but it’d be a close thing.

Defense:

  • Francois Beauchemin is a pure workhorse capable of playing gigantic minutes, staying disciplined, and willing to sacrifice his body for the team.
  • Cody Franson was third among Canadian defensemen in scoring this season, and fifth for the playoffs despite only playing one round. He’s young, talented and mobile.
  • Dan Girardi in any sane universe he’s going to be one of the first three names out of the mouth of someone reciting the list of the NHL’s best shutdown defensemen, apparently that isn’t good enough for Team Canada. He was also fifth total minutes played among Candian NHL defensemen last year. Go figure.

Goal:

  • Devan Dubnyk has played for the his country several times, including this years Spengler Cup, and turned in service that ranges from strong to exemplary. How he’s not invited at all is the single biggest mystery on of the whole years roster.

With the NHL draft this weekend we know three things a: There will be trades 2: there will be “off the board” picks and d: all bets are off on sane prices being paid to get starting goalies and top four defenseman. Some of the names being talked about are Scott Clemmenson of the Panthers, Cory Schnieder of the Canucks, and Rich Peverley of the Bruins as trade bait. Your guess is as good as any on which move where.

What We Know (by the new divisions)

Division A:

Anaheim: There are more rumors surrounding the Ducks and Bobby Ryan going to at least 41 other NHL teams than in at least a year. Capwise they can probably afford to keep him, in reality they need a 2nd line center, to resign Palmeri and of course the Ducks aren’t a cap ceiling team.

Calgary: While we’re all sympathetic to the flood devastation in the Flames home arena, it might just be considered a metaphor for what ownership and management have been doing to the team for a decade. Free agency will likely bring one or two more contracts like Wideman’s. They do have a good deal of cap space, and if the move Cammalleri, they’ll gain six million more. What they’d get in return is a mystery but based on recent trades…

Edmonton: They desperately need a viable defense, which is why they’ve been linked to every goaltender on the planet. With the 7th pick of the first round a player like Darnell Nurse would be a great find, if history holds true expect a forward to be drafted. Unfortunately the UFA market doesn’t hold much hope of pulling in a blueliner or two that would help, and the best name linked to Edmonton in rumors is Braydon Coburn.

Los Angeles: They need to get faster, and their cap hit needs to get slimmer. They have 10 forwards and 5 defenseman signed, and only six million in cap space. It’s likely several of he free agents like Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi, Brad Richardson and one or two of the RFA’s have played out there string. With Martinez, Muzzin, and Lewis as yet unsigned and the Kings having no first round pick, a trade or two might be a solid solution for cap and talent reasons.

Phoenix: The more I watch this saga, the less convinced I am the Glendale city council wants a sports team in town. Four picks in the first three seventy five gives a solid chance for moving the roster forward, no matter what happens to the franchise.

San Jose: As the only one of the California teams not to have won a Stanley Cup the pressure on the franchise has to be mounting. With their aging core, leadership should be mighty nervous. They really need to find a way to move a big contract or two, and get back some younger, cheaper talent in return. Talent that doesn’t wilt in the playoffs would be a bonus. It is not unfair to say that if the Sharks don’t extend Couture in the immediate future that they are playing with fire and someone is likely to end up yajibuka.

Vancouver: Never a dead or a dull quiet moment in Canuckville. In addition to the ever present rumors of Luongo being traded or bought out, Cory Schneider’s coffle has been dragged to the auction block as well. With the Sedin’s aging poorly, Kesler unable to stay healthy, only 17 players signed for next year and $47,222* in cap space, this team is ready to be fleeced.

Division B

Chicago: While the celebration continues in the streets, the corner office has to make some tough choices. They have seven million in cap space and no backup goalie, no Bickell, no Kruger, no Stalberg and neither Leddy or Rozsival signed there’s likely to be turnover. It doesn’t project to be as deep at four summers ago when less than half the championship roster returned to the ice in October, but some big names and fan favorites might be pulling on another jersey this fall.

Colorado: Despite deep and pressing needs at defense, the team has said they would not take Seth Jones at number one. This could mean they intend to trade down and take him at 2-4, or it could just be another case of not having a clue. Cap wise the team is one of the few in an enviable state with 22 players signed and over $11 million in space.

Dallas: With three picks in the first forty, it is possible the Stars will find a center to go with high end wingers Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, and maybe just maybe a solid young defenseman to play with Alex Goligoski. They too have a lot of cap space if they are able to spend higher and could end up doing quite well in trades against some of the teams feeling the cap crunch.

Minnesota: The Wild have been rumored up and down the Twittersphere to be moving iconic hit maker Cal Clutterbuck this weekend. Having finally reached the playoffs after a long layoff, the team is loaded with talent, and also high end contracts. They have less than 3.5millon in cap space. Clutterbuck’s qualifying offer would be less than two million, but he’s unlikely to sign for less than 2.5 in my book.

Smashville Nashville: To call last season a disappointment is a bit of an understatement. After making themselves a playoff fixture, the team took two steps back and ended up in the lottery. If the fates are kind, or the general managers ahead of them smart, they will get a much needed dynamic forward in the draft. Respectable centers are needed for the top two lines, and some goal scoring. A trade that saw them land a center for an immediate push back towards contention would be a savvy move for the general manager of team USA and the Nashville Predators, might such a trade involve a Team USA veteran and a cap strapped western rival?

St. Louis: The Blues are in need of more offensive minded and able forwards. They presently have arguable the best defense in the conference, certainly top 3, but just can’t score enough. Vladimir Tarasenko should help the offense, but priority one for this team this off season isn’t the draft or any forwards, it is locking up Alex Pietrangelo for as long as they can. Simply put he’s one of the two or three best defensemen under 25 with  complete game, and his best years ahead of him.

Winnipeg: The Jets need depth. Depth at center, depth at wing, depth at goal, depth in warm winter coats. The honeymoon phase of the midnight train from Georgia is pretty much over and the fans are going to expect production. With both roster spaces and almost thirty million in cap space, the Jets are in good position to exploit the trade and free agent markets for what they possess. The Dustin Byfugelien trade rumors continue which makes zero sense at this point even if he’s stated he will never sign another contract there.

This summer look for my series on increasing NHL scoring without sacrificing fundamentals of the game.

 *According to Capgeek

Joe Sakic is on the record as having said the Avalanche will not take defenseman Seth Jones, who grew up an Avalanche fan with the number one pick. Instead a team with multiple top five picks at forward will take another forward at the first pick.

10.3: The Avalanche have decided to use the Edmonton Oilers as their model for rebuilding a franchise.

9.3: As Sakic can tell you from personal experience the game is played today exactly the way it was in 1995 and having top flight mobile, two way defenseman has never won anyone a championship.

8.3: A secret cabal of owners led by the shadowy and diabolical Jeremy Jacobs have intimidated the Kroenke brothers into keeping the Avalanche a bubble team forever.

7.3: Sakic bets they will easily be able to successfully sign all of Calgary’s RFA defenseman to offer sheets.

6.3: Seth Jones didn’t have the good sense to be born a Canadian so they don’t want him.

5.3: Smooth skating, big bodied, right shooting defensemen have almost no value in the NHL.

4.3: Jones won’t be old enough to go to Vegas with the boys for a couple years and there is no sense in disrupting a locker room that produces so well on the ice.

3.3: Matt Hunwick has threatened to sit out if his status as time on ice leader for the team is threatened.

 

time on ice stats for the 2012-13 Avalanche defense

2012-13 TOI stats

3: Patrick Roy only agreed to coach the team if they drafted exclusively from the QMJHL.

2: The UFA market featuring franchise cornerstones like Mathieu Roy, Cam Barker, and Jordie Benn will more than suffice to push them into the Stanley Cup Finals next season.

1: The plan with a little luck and no improvements on defense this year is to be able to draft Connor McDavid first in 2015.