It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

There are more than a couple players being speculated about right, left and center in video, radio, Twitter and by writers all over the globe. Here’s my list of the guys someone really should be smart enough to grab at a respectable price.

Matt Duchene is a gimmie. He’s proven he can play at the highest levels as both a center and winger. If I were a team like the Ducks or the Islanders and wanted a forward who can move, pass, and score, I don’t think I’d let Sakic off the phone.

Evander Kane is among the most underrated players in the NHL this year. If the Sabres had managed to stampede into a playoff slot, that might not be the case. More even strength goals than anyone since December 3. Not powerplay goals, but five on five. That’s playing 90% or more against better teams and the top defense because he is playing with Eichel.

Jaroslav Halak is frankly abusing the AHL, a league he doesn’t belong in, and has a very strong NHL playoff record. Maybe the Saint Louis Blues should consider a second visit for him? Or perhaps the Dallas Stars or Winnipeg Jets jump on the opportunity to get him now, both need goaltending badly. Both should be free of worries about disrupting team chemistry.

Michael Del Zotto, in Episode 0005 we talk a little bit about him. I think on a team that needs a guy and can give him clear, firm, direction without screaming it, and pairing him with a consistent partner, he might just be a player who pushes a team one more round, two more wins. Maybe Edmonton is a solid destination, he can play on a team with little pressure and bring his playoff experience as an asset.

Matt Beleskey isn’t getting a lot of attention, and that’s partly due to a run of horrendous luck and iffy chemistry on ice with the Bruins this year. Realistically, he’s done everything that is asked of him. And when he hasn’t been shackled to Jimmy Hayes, or the inconsistent Ryan Spooner, he’s contributed offensively. If the Nashville Predators or Calgary Flames want a little more belligerence and physicality, they could do much worse.

Anthony Duclair had 20 goals last season on very, very few shots, only 105 in fact in the 81 games he played last year. This year he’s been banished back to the AHL. If he can be induced to shoot more, he’s got 30 goal man written all over him. Forty isn’t out of reach either. I’m not confident the Coyotes believe they can get that from him. The former New York Ranger might just find himself somewhere out east again. Maybe as an Islander playing with Tavares, or in Ottawa on a team that could use a tiny bit more scoring.

The seeming inevitability of Ben Bishop being evicted from Tampa Bay is about as inevitable as Joe Sackic ending up reassigned to a new duties for the Colorado Avalanche sometime soon.

At age thirty, Ben Bishop has at least five to seven years of NHL quality goaltending left in him. The Tampa Bay Lightning have just about zero chance of keeping him. He could be lost to the expansion draft, he’ll likely be lost to free agency. Now is the time to move him. So off he should go.

The list of teams that have cap space and need for a top shelf goaltender isn’t very long. While the Colorado Avalanche have an ignoble goals against average, they have Varlemov for two more years at almost six million, and more importantly its apparent that the biggest issue with the team is the their defense is no more than theoretical, especially with Johnson shelved. Yes, this would be a homecoming for the Denver native, but it would require a good amount of movement. It is hard to imagine the Coyotes getting out from under Mike Smith’s contract, assuming they want too. Both being western conference teams, it would have to ease the mind of Steve Yzerman to hip check the departing goalie out of the path to the eastern conference.

But the best, most logical teams for him to land on are not in the west. They are in the east. One of them is the New York Islanders. This is a team that has had a very up and down relationship with the guys in the crease. The most recent exemplar of this is Jaroslav Halak; in the 2014-15 playoffs he put up a staggering .926 sv% in a seven game series the team lost against the scoring machine known as the Washington Capitals, and he faced more than 30 shots, with a high of 39 (a win), in four of those games. This year he was waived.  Rick Dipietro; need I say more?

But for all the Islanders would dearly love to stop thinking about who their number one goaltender is for the next five to eight years, they don’t have quite as many assets as one of their divisional rivals.

No one is surprised that the Philadelphia Flyers need a goaltender. What might surprise people is that not only do the Flyers have every single one of their own draft picks over the next three drafts, they have three additional picks for the 2017 draft that once belonged to the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and New Jersey Devils. What they also have is a wide open crease as of right now. Both Steve Mason, and Michal Neuvirth will be UFA’s as of July 1. The other key factor that would make Bishop king in the City of Brotherly love is that the Flyers have a strong core with only one of those central players unsigned, and given that Shayne Gostisbehere is just wrapping up his entry level contract, big disruptions aren’t in-store unless there is a change in the front office.

Bishop landing in Philadelphia would give them a goalie who has two very strong playoff tours in his back pocket, lots of years ahead of him, and who is well respected and young enough to play at least as long as current captain Claude Giroux, and maybe a bit longer. If I were Hextall I wouldn’t wait any longer than three games after Bishops return, not just to steal a march on the competition, but because the Flyers could use the adrenaline shot of having tier one goalie added to the mix.

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.

There are four teams who have set themselves apart  from this season. They play different styles, are split in two different conferences and have accomplished their dominance in different ways. The real question is, can they keep it up, and are they legitimate contenders?

The Chicago BlackHawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks have had the most spectacular season to date, they’ve attacked the league and gotten even non-hockey fans and media to take notice.

Facts:

  • Fifth in goals for.
  • Second in goals against.
  • Sixth in penalty kill.
  • Fourteenth in powerplay.

How they can get better:

  • Powerplay is only mediocre.
  • Patrick Sharp is injured, when he returns at anything like his normal self the team is instantly deeper and instantly more dangerous.

How they can get worse:

  • Emery and Crawford are playing way outside the zone of their normal skill set. Emery’s career save percentages is .908%, and his only season over 910 with more than 30 games played was back in 2005-06. Currently He’s at .917% Crawford in his previous two seasons has had sv%’s of .917% and .903%, for a career number of .912%, this season, with most of his numbers coming prior to the injury he’s at a.925%.
  • No injuries to date on their defense.
  • They can regress to something like last years road record where they were a .500 team.

Are they contenders:

  • Yes, they’ve won with worse goaltending, the west is weaker now than it was then, and the short season means if they stay healthy they’ve got a better than 50% chance of being in the Western Conference Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens:

Many people are surprised the Canadiens are this good and that the Northeast Division is very good this season. On the first one they shouldn’t be, last season was the perfect storm of disasters for Montreal.

Facts:

  • Fourth in goals for.
  • Tenth in goals against.
  • Ninth in powerplay.
  • Fifteenth in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Special teams are only average.
  • They are quite bad at faceoffs at 23rd.
  • Prust, Bourque, Diaz, can come back and contribute.

How they can get worse:

  • Essentially a one goalie team with no real depth in the system, as goes Price goes the Habs.
  • They are getting solid contributions from rookies, if Galchenyuk and Gallagher hit the wall, particularly i it is at the same time the team could suffer more than some expect.
  • The NHL or officials could get serious about diving/embellishment and take a long hard look a the team that has had more than twice as many powerplay opportunities as their nearest rival in the division.

Are they Contenders?

  • Maybe, not many of these players have been deep into the playoffs. More importantly, the goalie who last took them deep is no longer on the roster.

The Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim has been mighty this season. They added defense, they pulled a goalie surprise out of their back pocket, and they’ve not been shy about playing hard and fast.

Facts:

  • Third in goals for.
  • Ninth in goals against.
  • First on the powerplay.
  • Twenty-Eighth on the penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Penalty kill, penalty kill, penalty kill.
  • Hiller needs to play better, a sub .900s% isn’t gonna cut it.
  • At 25th in faceoffs, they absolutely need to get closer to 50%.

How they can get worse:

  • Their scoring depth could vanish, they only have 1 player with 10 goals or more, but have eleven with more than five.
  • The league could finally put together a book on Victor Fasth.
  • Management/Ownership could panic on the Corey Perry front and drop him for little, no, or the wrong return.

Are they Contenders:

Probably, Selanne is awesome, Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan together are more to handle than most teams have the blueline talent for. On the other hand, a lot of their team are either rookies or have no NHL playoff experience.

The Boston Bruins

New year but not much has changed in Boston, same coach, same top forward in Patrice Bergeron, same legitimate Norris contender in Zdeno Chara, and same physical, puck control style.

Facts:

  • Tenth in goals for.
  • Third in goals against.
  • Twenty-third in powerplay.
  • First in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Milan Lucic and their third line could show up and start scoring.
  • Their powerplay could get better.
  • They need to get better when trailing.

How they can get worse:

  • They’ve been phenomenally lucky on the injury front.
  • Rask has not been the healthiest goaltender in team history.
  • Scoring could decay.

Are they Contenders:

Yes, the goaltending remains a question but there is very little difference between this team and the one that won the Cup not so long ago.

 

Recently some interesting and oh-so-timely news came out of one of the Boston newsies regarding one of the Bruins goalies possibly being traded. While there was certainly a reason behind that article, I’m not sure it was a reasonable writeup.

If you look at the way goalies are developed and handled across the NHL, both now and over the last decade or so there is an absolutely explicit path to stability in the crease. One older veteran goaltender, one young goaltender. The Montreal Canadiens tried going with two youngsters in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak and abandoned the model pretty quickly. The Washington Capitals spent a couple seasons with Varlemov, Neuvirth and Holtby, and quickly jettisoned a youngster for a veteran.

The Saint Louis Blues had great stability with the veteran Elliot and the young Halak this season. The Minnesota Wild, health aside, have enjoyed stability in the crease with their goaltending duo. Jimmy Howard in Detroit has been nurtured in his development by a series of elder statesman.  It’s pretty simple, two veterans can work, like in New Jersey, an older and younger goalie can work, but no one ever relies on two young goalies.

So when we look at the Boston Bruins goaltending assortment, we see a pretty clear mix in the system We have the elder statesman, who has been there and done that, and is still able to do so; Tim Thomas. We have a young, and goaltender who can play well in the regular season in a limited role but hasn’t ever played more than 60 games or performed well in the playoffs; Tuukka Rask. Then there’s Anton Khudobin, only a handful of NHL games to his name, just one professional playoff appearance to his name, and ten months older than the player immediately ahead of him on the depth chart.

After that things get murkier. Lars Volden and Zane Gothberg will both turn 20 this year, and both are college boys.  It is unlikely either will be playing anywhere professionally in the next year or two and three years is a more likely break in point. Michael Hutchinson made some impressive strides in limited duties for the Providence Bruins. Next up is Adam Couchraine who’s entry level contract expired on July 1 and has not managed to claim much playing time in the AHL or even the one NHL callup.

Adam Morrison and Niklas Svedberg have both been signed this season. Morrison bad his pro debut for the Providence Bruins this spring, and Svedberg has some Euro experience but neither is much closer to the NHL than Gothberg and Volden. A further spanner in the mix is Karel St. Laurent who played in 21 games for the Reading Royals and four for the Providence Bruins in his first year pro last season.

So, the question to ask yourself is:  If you’re an NHL club in win now mode, where do you put your trust? Do you break the trend that has been successful for teams and go with a 20-22 year old and one or two guys in their middle twenties who haven’t established themselves as winning playoff goaltenders? Another option would be bringing in one or more free agents. Of course any new player in the system, free agent or promotion especially in goal, the most important position in the sport, will have a shakedown period and the margin between a division win and deep playoff run, and having team breakup day in the middle of April isn’t as wide as it used to be.

The most surprising series in the NHL playoffs this series is the LA Kings vs the St Louis Blues. Not only is the series more high scoring than anyone expected but one team is up 3-0. Game one should be highlighted and underlined on every hockey lovers list of games where depth players make the difference. Slava Voynov was on some people’s Calder worthy list throughout the season, but it’s unlikely many people outside Orange County and Chelyabinsk Russia knew who he was  before he popped open the Kings scoring seven minutes after what proved to be the Blues only goal. Dustin ( @DustinPenner25 ) Penner would pick up a goal and an assist, while Matt Greene picked up a shorthanded goal. Since then the Kings have won two games outscoring the St Louis Blues 9-4 in a physical, grinding series. With no Halak to step out and shake up the vibe for the Blues, each player is going to step up or play golf.

The New York Rangers have only needed to score four goals to win two of their first three games against the Washington Capitals. The last game the two teams played was long enough the teams might as well have played two games. Some of the defensemen were approaching sixty minutes of ice time and forwards were in all up in to the 30 and 40 minute range. There’s a lot of people who expected this series to be interesting, but I don’t think anyone expected the Rangers and Capitals to combine for the lowest goal total this round.

Phoenix Coyotes have been impressive against the team many expected to represent the west in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators have perhaps for the first time in their history made headlines for players behaving badly. The goaltending has been worth watching, some gaffes, but two exciting guys in grills to watch. The teams play solidly, but they haven’t created as much on ice drama as some of the other series.

The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers have danced the fandango up and down the ice and in both buildings. The New Jersey Devils have picked up the second and third games of the series after dropping the opener. The formula for winning has been pretty simple: 4 by 30. Four goals scored on Bryzgalov in each of the last two games. Parise, Kovalchuk and company have done the job, Giroux, Bryzgalov and company have not. The Flyers are clearly suffering Rival Elimination Syndrome and need to get over it posthaste or figure out where they are vacationing this summer. I’d be surprised if this one was over in five, but I think this series goes to the team whose goalie plays better.

Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.

16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)

15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)

14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)

13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)

12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)

11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)

10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)

9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)

8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood.  (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)

7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)

6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)

5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)

4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)

3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)

2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)

1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)

I feel like this post should start with Kool Moe Dee slangin’ lyrical crack on the mic. The west was as wild as it gets with the last playoff spots not being known until the final moment, of the last of the NHL’s 1230 regular season games.

1: Vancouver Canucks vs 8: Los Angeles Kings

This is opening round show down isn’t going to be quite as volatile as the Flyers/Penguins match, but make no mistake about people will be hitting hard enough someone will be told go see the doctor before the series is over. The two teams were both in the bottom five in blocked shots this season, the Kings have slight PK advantage, and the Canucks hold title to a better powerplay. The Kings own a better defense and goaltender and the Canucks generated more overall offense.

The important part though is what’s happened in the last 45 days. The Kings added a top six forward to their team, and the Canucks had one sent off with a concussion, as well as losing defenseman Keith Ballard, and Zach Kassian’s physical element.

The skill edge outside the crease belongs to Vancouver, inside to the Kings, the will edge is something you can debate amongst yourselves.

2: St Louis Blues vs 7: San Jose Sharks

This series features two teams with a lot of contrasts. The Sharks haven’t failed to be a top four team in a while, the Blues haven’t won the division in quite some time. The Blues are getting contributions across the board from a solid cast of stars without any true superstars, and no one in the league has put more points on the board since October 8, 1997 than Joe Thornton, the Blues have just two twenty goal scorers, while the Sharks have three thirty goal men.

If the Blues get the goaltending they’ve gotten all year from their dynamic duo of Elliott and Halak they go on to round two, if they continue the funk that left the drifting into the playoffs going just 4-3-3 in their last ten things are unlikely to be sweet music.

3: Phoenix Coyotes vs 6: Chicago Blackhawks

First congrats to the Coyotes on winning their first franchise Pacific Division title. While the Nashville/Detroit series will get the hype, this one may have the heat. The Blackhawks have better talent a the top of their roster, but in the bottom half it’s not even close, the Coyotes are much better on their 3rd and 4th lines and lower defensive pairs. More importantly is the quality of goaltending isn’t even close. Mike Smith has had a Vezina worthy season, the guys in Chicago would be lucky to win top goaltender in the AHL.

The Coyotes proved they can win both home and on the road, the Blackhawks struggled on the road at times and finished just .500 on the road this season. Neither team has a powerplay worth mentioning, in fact it’s entirely possible we could see this series close without a single powerplay goal for either team, but the Coyotes have a much better penalty kill. Edge: Coyotes.

4: Nashville Predators vs 5: Detroit Red Wings

The biggest surprise to everyone outside Detroit this season is not that they finished outside the top four, but how much their goaltending helped them. Jimmy Howard bounced back in a big way after being flat last season, which is possibly they only reason they made it into the playoffs. I’m not sure when the last time the Detroit Red Wings entered the playoffs against a better powerplay, better penalty kill, better road record, than their own. Much like the St Louis vs San Jose series, you’ve got a younger team with the talent spread out vs a team with a handful of aging ringers.

With the Blue winning the division, and the Predators getting the last home ice slot, it looks like the guard in the central division is changing.