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.

Last season was one of those years for the Colorado Avalanche where fans just covered their eyes and waited for it to be over. Matt Hunwick logged the most ice time, Stastny was not quite mediocre and missed 8 games. Tyson Barrie led the Avs defense in scoring, and Parentau and Duchene tied for the team lead in scoring. That was just about all. And then the inexplicable happened. Patrick Roy was signed to take over Coaching duties and seemingly anything else that amused him.  They cut, and then kept Hunwick, they traded for past glory in Alex Tanguay. After that they did the absurd, they passed on the projected number one pick a projected franchise defenseman in Seth Jones for a high quality forward to add to the depth they already have in high end picks at forward.

This season doesn’t project as much better than last. The biggest plus side is not any moves they made, but the fact that the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets who are both better teams are no longer in the conference. On the plus side there will be more of Gabriel Landeskog, more Tyson Barrie, and possibly even the debut of Duncan Siemens and Nathan MacKinnon. Patrick Roy is going into his first year an NHL coach, and perhaps his ability, force of personality, and legacy can push some of the more complacent members of the team into better performance. Don’t be surprised if the team has a very different roster after the trade deadline than it does opening night.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 4

Best Opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest Opponent: Nashville Predators

Home Games: 2

Projected Points: 2

This will be a tough season for a team with so little quality on defense, and they open it up in an ugly manner. The suddenly deeper Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators at home before three straight road games. The Maple Leafs are easily a better team, the Capitals are better at forward, better at defense and about equal in the crease. If they can open the season and get five points in their first five games they should count that as progress. If they do it will give the team something to build on. It is unlikely they will be as bad as last season, but they are still going to struggle in the competition for a playoff spot. Much of the Avalanche’s mystique this season will center around seeing if the rebuild plan is short term or long term.

 This is a feature that will run about every two weeks (during the regular season)with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
The off season’s changes restack the decks for teams and make forecasting each season equal parts intriguing and infuriating. With the NHL draft and the bulk of NHL free agent signings done, we have a passable idea who 15 or more of the names penciled into the opening night lineup of each team will be.
Players:
  • … that Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Senators, and not go to one of the top contenders at the deadline but to the once again division rival Detroit Red Wings in free agency, even knowing Bobby Ryan was being traded to the Sens.
  • … that of Simon Gagne, Nathan Horton, and Rick Dipietro, right winger Nathan Horton would be the one set to begin their season late due to major injury.
  • … over two weeks into free agency Thomas Hickey and Dustin Penner would be signed to NHL deals and Mikhail Grabovski would not.
  • Matt Duchene who has won nothing, would sign a contract for more than Dustin Brown who has his name on the Cup.
  • … Tuukka Rask who coughed up a lead in the dying minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game seven would sign a contract making him the highest paid goalie in the NHL.
  • … Seth Jones would actually get passed on by three different general managers at the NHL entry draft.
  • Tyler Seguin‘s twitter problems and eviction from the Boston Bruins locker room to the Dallas Star’s would be eclipsed so quickly by the exit of Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • … Sam Gagner would be headed towards arbitration with the Edmonton Oilers who has only been their best center the last four seasons.

Teams:

  • … on July 22nd the Columbus Blue Jackets would have the 8th highest cap hit of an NHL team.
  • … after years of saying that Jonathan Bernier was a big part of their team for years and years the Los Angeles Kings would trade him for an unproven Ben Scrivens, and a fringe NHL’er in Matt Frattin.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would be retaining portions of two salaries, and have bought out two new players in addition to the ones they entered the year having b
  • ought out recently and the general manager who did all four of those things would still have a job.
  • … the Colorado Avalanche’s off season accomplishments would include, passing on a consensus franchise defenseman at the draft, waiving the defenseman who lead their team in TOI last season, and only ‘improving’ their defense with the importation of Cory Sarich.
  • … The Winnipeg Jets, a Canadian team, who have the most cap space would also have the most players elect arbitration.
  • … that with the additions of Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov and the addition by subtraction of others the Edmonton Oilers would have the NHL’s most improved blueline.

The Winnipeg Jets are in a tough position when it comes to their restricted free agents. On one hand they just were not a playoff team in the Eastern Conference even with everyone of them in uniform. On the other hand some of them were pretty productive last season, one even having a career year. On the third hand with the Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets promoted to the Eastern Conference the west is likely to be a lot easier sailing than they had it last season. And on the gripping hand, with the cap coming down and uncertainty about how well the market will support the team in this its third season in town with the team finishing out side the playoffs each of the previous two years spending a lot might not be wise. Of the 21 players to elect salary arbitration this summer, a quarter of them were Jets, and two have now reached a deal prior to their hearing.

Of the remaining three, we have Blake Wheeler who has been second and then first on the team in scoring over the last two seasons. Bryan Little an average center, Zach Bogosian a solid defenseman. All three were first round picks. Bogosian and Little are home grown products for the transplanted Atlanta Thrashers. Blake Wheeler declined to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes and upon completing his college career at the University of Minnesota was signed as a free agent and sent to the then Thrashers with Mark Stuart as part of the deal that sent Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik to Boston. Last year after a brief stop in Europe during the lockout Wheeler turned in his best career numbers with a .854 ppg. His career number is notably at .623 which includes his time with the much more defensive minded Bruins where he received less ice time. In the two years he and the team have been in Winnipeg his ppg is .820, over the same period of time Matt Duchene was a .676 per game, barely higher than Wheeler’s career number and far lower than the comparative time. Duchene’s new deal was five years at six million.

For Bogosian, the numbers that matter are pretty plain to see. He’s averaged over 23 minutes a night for the last three seasons. On any team in the league that’s a top two or three defenseman slot. Over the last three seasons he’s been able to finish in the offensive zone at least as often as he finished there. Essentially he both gets the puck out of his zone, and keeps it move forward. Better still, there’s been a solid progression. In the 2010-11 season he started and finished in the offensive zone the same percentage of the time, during the 2011-12 campaign he was a best among all regulars with the second highest increase in offensive zone finishes over starts.  The 2012-13 adventure saw him double the previous years gains, and again finish behind only Ron Hainsey.

A quick look at his On Ice Save Percentage might lead you to believe he’s a defensive liability, but keep in mind he plays as much as three minutes of shorthanded ice time a night, and the teams goaltending isn’t spectacular. Some of the players who play a similar amount of time shorthanded are Bryan Allen formerly of the Carolina Hurricanes and now of the Anahiem Ducks, Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers, Johnny Boychuk of the Boston Bruins, the Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, and Vancouver Canuck Kevin Bieksa. When look at last season’s points totals, Bogosion kept company with Matt Niskanen Lubomir Vishnovski, and Dan Girardi while playing less games than any of them.

Over the past three seasons, Bryan Little has finished above fifty percent in faceoffs just once. That pleasant occurrence was this past season. Among NHL Centers he finished tied for the bottom of the top 30 with Vincent Lecavalier, and Mike Richards. Not elite company offensively, but not the bottom of the barrel by any stretch of the imagination. In terms of Time On Ice Little did play a huge number of minutes, finishing 10th among NHL centers playing well more than better known names like Sedin, Toews, Thornton, and Krejci. His powerplay time puts him in the top half of the NHL’s centers, but the teams powerplay finished an embarrassing 30th. For the “fancy stats” he does finish in the offensive zone more than he starts there by a very solid margin of almost 9%, he takes very few penalties and draws them better than most of his Winnipeg Jets forward teammates.

 Salary wise nailing down where any of these guys lands is difficult. Little plays top end minutes and can get the puck to where it is supposed to be, Bogosian’s stats are murky to interpret, and Wheeler has clearly found his game in Winnipeg. At 25 years old heading into the season Little has accumulated six seasons and 404 regular season games of experience. He’s about he same age David Krejci was when his current deal was signed, Duchene at 22 signed a deal that will kick in when he’s 23 for $6m per, Tyler Bozak who is two years older and a bit less productive inked for $4.2 a year under the current CBA. A fair range for Little is $4.5-5.6 average annual value depending on length of deal, signing bonuses, and things like no trade or no movement clauses.

Blake Wheeler is harder to nail down. Yes last year was a career year and he did indeed finish ninth overall in scoring for right wings on a team that was 16th in scoring for the year. A lot of the guys he finished ahead of are or should be household names, Jordan Eberle, Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, and Bobby Ryan. Two seasons ago he finished 15th among right wings, meaning he might have the staying power to finish in the top 15-20 right wings in scoring for the next several years. Comparable contracts of players in that range are Jason Pominville, Bobby Ryan, Nathan Horton and Jakub Voracek. Again we’re looking at a range of $4.5-5.6 AAV.

Bogosion is probably the guy who will have the most brutal arbitration session if it comes to that. Hammering out the stats you can make a case in a certain light that he’s an elite defenseman, you can equally make the case he’s a liability, the truth per usual, likes somewhere between those two. Defensemen who bring a similar toolkit to the rink include Johhny Boychuk, Kevin Bieksa, and Brent Seabrook. When you weigh in all the stats and the eyeball test you come to a range of anything from $4.4m as a low ball figure to a $5.8 as a long term deal if you expect him to keep progressing.

The long term deals under the still drying CBA are rolling in. Some of them make great sense, some make no sense. But given how hard line some of the owners were on not signing anyone longer than five years just a few short months ago, the deals are a bit eye opening when taken en-mass.

Matt Duchene is among the newest names to ink a lengthy deal. His five year deal starting July 1, 2015 will be his third contact and see him an unrestricted free agent at age 28.  The second forward taken in 2009, and the third pick overall he is second in scoring only to John Tavares in his draft class. The soft spoken forward out of the Brampton Battalion and Haliburton Ontario has had an up and down career.

A six million dollar contract is certainly not outside the zone of similar players, but it is a bit high and perhaps risky. The two forwards nearest him in scoring from that 2009 draft will both make less when this contract kicks in. Evander Kane in five less games has only two less goals than Duchene, and plays a much more physical game on a team less rich with high draft picks at forward. John Tavares handily leads Duchene in goals, assists, points and has been notably healthier, missing just 3 games since both debuted in the 2009-10 season. In the playoffs Duchene mustered just three assist in what is his only playoff appearance to date. With a lack of consistency, a scary series of injuries that include games lost to knee, ankle, and groin issues, and an inability to separate himself from the pack, a five year six million a year contract before Duchene even enters the final year of his second deal seems poorly thought out by the front office.

Dustin Brown is one of the better know players in the Western Conference, and perhaps the NHL as a whole. Well known both for playing physically and an ability to draw penalties that has earned him a derisive soubriquet “Fall Down Brown” from fan bases other than that of the Los Angeles Kings. While not an explosive scorer, and playing on a defensive minded team Brown taken 13th in the 2003 draft is tenth in scoring, and second in games played eclipsing the next several skaters by more than forty games.

At twenty-eight years old we know who Dustin Brown is, and what to expect of him in any given season. 22-26 goals, 25-32 assists. Add to that more than 275 hits a season, about two minutes of short handed time on ice per night, and a durable body and the Kings captain’s 8 year signing is a bit less risky. It is unlikely. The new deal will keep him locked up until he’s 37, while some might argue he’s slightly overpaid in the early years of the contract that will about even out over the final two or three years. Overall, a reasonable deal. Offensive production might fade towards the end of his deal, but he does enough on the ice that his offense isn’t his primary contribution.

One of the most difficult positions in hockey, in fact the most difficult position to project is goaltender. They take longer to develop than even defensemen and aside from healthy in their teens and early twenties there is nothing that will indicate if a player will play a long time in the NHL or not. This makes signing a goalie to an eight year contract a risk that is hard to even grant “calculated” status. Recent history has shown us Dwayne Roloson go from All Star quality play one season to saying his NHL goodbyes the next year. Steve Mason broke into the NHL and won the Calder on the strength of a 61 game season with Columbus, and a .916sv%.

Tuukka Rask’s contract makes ties him for top paid NHL goalie with Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne. Rask was drafted the same year as Quick and has played less than half as many regular season games, and a third less playoff games. Quick has also notably won a Cup, and been his team key contributor in that crusade. Rask has also worked a very light workload in his NHL career serving mostly as a backup and being sidelined by break downs to a frame that can only be called “spindly”. For some reason the Boston Bruins front office saw fit to give an enormous contract to a goalie who has a serious groin injury on his resume, has tossed teammates under the bus, and had perhaps the most notable temper tantrum in the last decade of AHL hockey.

The normally shrewd Peter Chiarelli made a curious move here. The Bruins aren’t completely without goaltending. Svedberg has adjusted to the North American game quite well, even bringing a level of aggression that would do Ron Hextall proud with him, Malcolm Subban, Zane Gotherberg, and Adam Morrison are all part of the system. And the team has recently found itself to be rich in NHL quality defenseman with the emergence of Krug, Bartkowsi, and Hamilton, not to mention the acquisition of Morrow and other blueliners in the system. I’m a bit baffled by a contract that is about 20% high and long.

If goaltenders are the hardest to project even after they hit the NHL, defenseman are probably the easiest by their mid twenties. That makes the New York Rangers locking up Ryan McDonagh almost a no brainer. The 12th pick of the 2007 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, McDonagh never played for the Habs as he was traded to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez fleecing of the Canadiens.

Since breaking into the NHL in his first year out of college he’s played just about every game, and all three of his first seasons under a harsh and demanding coach. How well he’ll adjust to the new head coaches system is anyone’s guess, but head coaches are more easily replaced than star defensemen. The contact will leave him a UFA at age 30.With a cap hit of less than five million a year for defenseman who was averaged 25 minutes a night for each of the last two regular seasons and 26.5 in the last two post seasons, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that Sather and company got a good deal.

The rumor mill insists that Peter Chiarelli is trying to move Brad Marchand. The Boston Bruins drafted Marchand 71st in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft. Taken ahead of him were Phil Kessel in the first round, Milan Lucic in the second, Yuri Alexandrov who has even sniffed the NHL. Kessel is second in scoring in that draft, Milan Lucic is sixth in scoring, and Marchand is 16th.

When looking at Marchand it is important to note he’s played about 190 less NHL games than Lucic and almost 300 less than Kessel. Kessel has recently been flipped for Eriksson, Smith, Knight, Hamilton. Lucic has turned into a solid two way player who’s skating is so improved over his first year in the NHL he’s almost unrecognizable. Lucic has also been put on the teams top offensive line for the past four seasons. Marchand started on the fourth line, and has worked his way to the teams premier two way line alongside Patrice Bergeron. In the past three years he’s played with the ‘still maturing’ Tyler Seguin, and two grey beards; Jaromir Jagr and Mark Recchi. Neither of whom managed even respectable speed two shifts in a month.

Pure points wise, there is so little reason to move Marchand it is absolutely silly to even discuss it.

Using the past three seasons his points per game start at .532 ppg over 77 games with 21 goals, 2 of them powerplay and five shorthanded. This is the season he spent the first 20 games or so on the fourth line.  Two season ago with regular time on Bergeron’s wing he jumped to .732 points per game, and 5 powerplay goals. In the lockout shortened season he again jumped up the points per game meter even though he spent the tail end of the season with Jagr and a couple games without Bergeron, this tail off left him with a slim and disturbing .8 points per game. This in a year where the compressed schedule brutalized players across the NHL.

Career wise, within the same system, Marchand handily beats Lucic. Lucic is a solid .59 ppg taking all regular season NHL games played into the measure, and Marchand is at .61. When you add in speed, the ability to play both shorthanded and on the powerplay, and a willingness to play physically clearly he has value. At 25, he’s in about the prime of his career, his .8ppg this year were probably among the most efficient in the NHL as he played just under 17 minutes a night.

Price wise he’s making a middling $4.5m. Other players in the range are Ryan Malone, David Legwand, Vincent Lecavalier, Erik Cole and Tomas Fleishmann

  • Marchand produced a point about every 21.19 minutes of ice time including over 57 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Malone produced a point about once every 47.125 minutes of ice time including 19 minutes of short handed time.
  • Lecavalier produced a point about every 21.78 minutes of ice time including over 7 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Cole produced a point about every 36.384 minutes of ice time including over 38 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Legwand produced a point about every 35.36 minutes of ice time including over 51 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Fleishmann produced a point about every 25.586 minutes of ice time including over 41 minutes of short handed ice time.

Of the players perpetually rumored to be available, some just don’t make sense even if you take theoretical off ice issues into consideration:

  • Evander Kane; very talented but has a cap hit that’s three quarters of a million dollars higher, just is as good defensively. And then there’s the Winnipeg media’s ever expanding repertoire of maneuvers to discredit him or drive him out of town.
  • Bobby Ryan; he was just moved and it highly doubtful the Senators would trade him within the division. He’s also a right wing where as Marchand has played his NHL career at left.
  • Dustin Byfuglien; a unique talent who can impact the game from defense or right wing. He’s got a larger salary than Marchand, and I just don’t see Julien configuring the lineup to play him at both wing and defense.
  • Kris Versteeg; a solid NHL forward who seems to wear out his welcome in short order, his salary is $100k smaller than Marchand’s.
  • Sam Gagner; while still unsigned, and a solid NHL player, I don’t see the Bruins trading for a player who is due a larger raise and hasn’t played in a system with a viable defensive element.
  • Keith Yandle; with ownership and the arena nailed down it is unlikely they start moving central pieces, especially not with the teams heavy reliance on their blueline.
  • Thomas Vanek; if the Sabres are really going to push their rebuild, he’s a logical player to move, but with one season left on a contract worth more than $7million, he’d create almost as many problems as he’d solve with just his contract.
  • Matt Duchene/Paul Stastny: both are solid offensive centers but neither fits the Bruins system, both need new contracts next year and both have question marks.

Is it possible to move Marchand and remain a contender? Yes of course. Is the return on him likely to be better at the same price or less? No, certainly not in terms of immediate NHL impact. If he is to be moved, there are only about five or six reasonable return, but it is unlikely anyone parts with them. Wayne Simmonds plays hockey perfectly to fit in Boston, Ryan Kesler shifted to wing would do well but Kesler’s injury history is long and distinguished, the Los Angeles Kings Matt Greene would be an instant fan favorite, and Marchand would give the Kings some much needed speed.

Is this a stupid rumor? Probably yes. But hey, when the hockey rumor mill gets boring, and you’ve analyzed stats  until your eyes cross there’s always People of Walmart, it is no better or worse than (most of) the NHL rumors but it is different.

The fact that the Boston Bruins powerplay is mostly useless has been as well kept a secret as Pittsburgh hosting the 2012 NHL All-Star game. The Bruins powerplay has been dissected here, and elsewhere ad nauseum. Something I haven’t seen, and wonder why not is what a former keystone of the Bruins powerplay brought that the current centers and top forwards don’t.

While Tyler Seguin is undoubtedly a faster skater, and more willing shooter than Marc Savard there is one important things he’s not. Patrice Bergeron is getting the lions share of powerplay time for the Bruins this year which has brought it well above the level it performed at over the playoffs, but neither he nor Sequin possess the trait that might just help get the Bruins into the top ten (or higher) powerplays in the leauge. Guess what, even though he’s capable of some nifty passes David Krejci, like Bergeron and Seguin is a right handed center.

Marc Savard is a lefty. While it’d be nice to get him back in the mix on a lot of counts, it’s unlikely it will happen soon. Than means the Bruins need to look at options other than Bergeron, Krejci and Seguin to be able to get shots and passes from the same angles as Savard provided. Rich Peverley who is irregularly slotted into the center position is a right handed shot as well. Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand are both lefties. Marchand while frequently listed as a center hasn’t taken regular shifts in that position while in a Boston uniform Kelly is a lot of things, most of them of high value to his club, but offensively explosive is not on the list. Zach Hamill while a solid passer is again a right handed shot, everyone else in the system is either two or more years from the NHL or injured.

Elsewhere in the NHL, there are a couple possibilities. Dale Tallon has shown a great deal of shyness in turning over the roster of the Florida Panthers. Stephen Weiss is a left handed center about the same size as David Krejci, is one of the last Panthers who is a legacy of the previous management, and has put up pretty solid numbers despite lacking talent around him.  His cap hit is more than manageable, but with his and the teams good start he might be reluctant to waive his no movement clause even to be reunited with Campbell and Horton even if it means moving to a slightly more hockey focused market.

The Colorado Avalanche have a great powerplay,  have some difficulty five on five, and possess two remarkably similar left handed centers. Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny are within about an inch of each other in height a couple pounds in weight, and produce similar results all across the stat sheet. The two biggest differences are in salary and age. Despite better goaltending this year, they are again in the bottom third of the league for goals against and penalty killing. A deal between Boston and Colorado that brought back one of these centers, and sent over a penalty killer should benefit both teams.

A possibility that has a few more faults built into it is a trade with the Capitals.  Washington is already a power house regular season team that has put a lot of work into adding players who get it in the playoffs as well. It is highly likely that head coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee could have the opportunity to explore new positions if the team can’t make it at least to the Stanley Cup finals, something the franchise has never done. For them, adding a player who has succeed not just against them, and won the Stanley Cup but led the NHL in post season points in David Krejci if he were exchanged for Brooks Laich. If that’s what McFee and Chiarelli decided on, the Bruins gain their left handed center, finally gain a top three center over 200 pounds, get a left handed player who plays in all situations (as Krejci has), and the Capitals gain a playoff performer, cap space and possibly gain the missing element needed to go deep in the playoffs.

One of the few annual stories that is always interesting is the race for the Calder trophy. There’s always a high draft pick or two from the summers draft in the mix. A couple guys from the AHL or Europe who made the jump to the big show, and a few 2nd round or later picks who might just steal the show.

Some of the guys to watch this season:

  • Adam Larsson has two nearly insurmountable handicaps in the Calder race, first he’s a defensemen, and second he doesn’t project to be a big goal scorer. On the other hand he’s averaging more time on ice than Lidstrom, Pronger, Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo, Hedman, Vishnovsky and Seabrook.
  • Devante Smith-Pelly hasn’t quite hit his stride yet, but the coaches in Anaheim must like the six even two eleven winger as he’s picked up his first assist and earned more ice time in each of the Ducks three games. With Jason Blake out for a couple months there will be more ice time available.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is either the second coming of Wayne Gretzky and Jesus or not yet ready for the NHL, it just depends on who you ask. The scrawny Burnaby native has four of the five goals for the Oilers this season without a single assist. Unfortunately he’s got a faceoff percentage that’s equal to his age and less than half his shooting percentage.
  • Luke Adam of the Sabres is currently leading all rookies in scoring with solid 3-3-6 +2 line. The 202lb left shot is like Smith-Pelly probably handicapped by not being either a first round pick or in a market the media pays a huge amount of attention too.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is off to a nice start with two goals and an assist as the the Avalanche start the season with some momentum. The likely-former Kitchener Ranger is good at most of the game and skating beside Matt Duchene, another recent high pick.
  • Craig Smith is another player handicapped by market who is off to a good start. The Predators young gun is a fourth round pick in 2009. A product of the USHL, at 22 he’s the oldest of the rookie skaters to separate himself from the pack thus far.

It will be interesting to see if any goalies can insert themselves into the mix this season. I don’t yet see any on the horizon but the NHL is frequently unpredictable.

The Western Conference has quite a few storylines to keep the NHL’s scribes busy this year, most on the ice, some off. Ownership issues reign supreme in Coyote territory, the Blues and Stars are likely to change hands soon, and several major players are entering their walk year.

Northwest Division:

The northwest is pretty clearly divided between the haves and have-nots, of all the western divisions I expect my predictions here to hold up best.

Calgary Flames. As long as Iginla is healthy this team always has a shot. If they somehow managed to get some scoring depth the sky is the limit. They’ll likely finish second in the division.

Edmonton Oilers, still a so young the squeak. They will win about any game that their opponent allows to become a track meet and shootout, and lose any time they have their perilously thin backend exposed.

Vancouver Canucks. While not as talented as last season, two of the additions bring a higher level of mental toughness than was seen on the ice from this team last year. Marco Sturm and Byron Bitz probably don’t have a shot at the Conn-Smythe next June, but they can sure as hell support whoever of their teams leading lights gets closest to it. They should win the division again, for what it means.

Minnesota Wild. Unless one or more of their prospects turns out to be a stud this season they appear to have shuffled the deck chairs and done little else this off seasons. The trades weren’t bad but did they address the problems and not create other problems just as pressing? A bubble team that could as it stands finish anywhere between 7 and 11.

Colorado Avalanche. Fans in Denver and surrounding area should take advantage of the opportunity to watch Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog play without the pressure of making the playoffs. This team drafted well, but the current defense and likely penalty kill will drag this team into the lottery abyss.

Central Division:

This is honestly the  most interesting division in the west to forecast.  You can make a reasonable argument for any of the five teams to win the division. Unfortunately for the teams in the division this isn’t because any has an overwhelming strength at all positions.

Chicago BlackHawks, like the Wild, they did a great deal of deckchair shuffling to questionable effect. Having had the opportunity to watch Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell, not to mention Jamal Mayers live and over the course of several season I’m not sure how they push this team over the top or even nearer it. On the other hand the cup hangover should be long over for the talented young core who are still hungry. Probably in the playoffs.

St Louis Blues What has been a combination frat party and hospital ward for the past two or three years could turn into an uptempo hard checking playoff team if it can tone down either of those aspects. Talented yes, focused, sometimes, healthy, in spurts.  If you really want to know where the team will finish, pull out your d30 and roll it a few times that should be just as accurate as anything anyone else can tell you.

Nashville Predators. Same Preds different year. Great defense, top notch goaltending and a giant question mark about where the goals will come from. This year there is the added question of which if any of Suter, Weber and Rinne will return next season. Fun times in Music City.  Almost certainly a playoff team, and possibly the division winner.

Columbus Blue Jackets. What an interesting off season. They imported a sniper. They imported a powerplay quarterback, and they (in theory) lowered their overhead. If things gel, and certain new defensemen can avoid multiple suspensions they too have the weapons to make the post season.

Detroit Red Wings, will this be the victory lap for Lidstrom? Who knows. The odds of this team making the playoffs come down to a flip of the coin. They have some huge talents, huge liabilities and huge unknowns.

Pacific Divsion

Far and away the strongest division in the conference it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see the conference finals come down to two teams in the division.

Phoenix Coyotes. With the departure of Bryzgalov in the off season they are the weakest link. Not a playoff team, and possibly a lottery team.

Dallas Stars. With last seasons renaissance in goal, a mostly stable roster, a team that learned to play without a superstar forward, and the infusion of a seemingly rejuvenated 30+ goal scorer they might be the sleeper in the conference to make it to the post season. I’d be surprised if they didn’t flip positions with the Coyotes and make it in to the playoffs over them.

Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks had their most important player move happen when Jonas Hiller came off the injured reserve. With a full season under his belt and having managed to be a plus player in the post season after 75 games in the red Cam Fowler should be an even more important piece of the roster. Devante Smith-Pelly may end up in the Calder conversation. Oh yeah, they’ve got these guys named Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry, and Ryan Getzlaf up front who are supposed to be pretty good too (if anyone can confirm this leave a comment) to play with Vishnovsky. All this will likely lead them to third in the division.

LA Kings. If this team can gel as a unit and put up more goals they are likely to be finish around the 110 point mark.

San Jose Sharks. This is one of those teams that seams to own the regular season without even a signed offer sheet on the playoffs. They have a very good chance of winning the division if they can keep their goaltenders from having to be any better than average.