And it is a glorious thing, the western conference has a lot of interesting parts that make it hard to say who will be buyers or sellers. Some of the bottom teams have improved a lot, some of the middle teams aren’t as good as they look, and some of the top teams are just scary.
Chicago: If there’s anything this team could use other than better centers not named Toews, I’m not sure it really matters, they are scoring lots, allowing little, and beating people on a regular basis (at least the ones who aren’t from Anaheim). Extra depth for the playoffs wouldn’t hurt but how do you tinker with a team that’s lead the league since the word go?
Anaheim: With just one player in the top 40 in the NHL’s scoring race, and a defense where the TOI split between #1 and #6 is about four minutes, one wonders how this team has been the the second most consistent team in the NHL this season. This team doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses, unless it is a lack of playoff experience up and down the roster.
Vancouver: We know the Canucks are desperately trying to win he very last northwest division title. We know they have less ROW’s than Minnesota who also have a game in hand. We know the team traded away the talented young Hodgson even though Kesler is rarely healthy and they don’t have a viable 2nd center without them. We know after year of being at the top o the NHL’s scoring race, the Sedins who sat on the couch during the lockout are behind guys like Sam Gagner, Patrice Bergeron, Mikko Koivu, and Chris Stewart in the scoring race.
Minnesota: We knowWild will be the word for the emotions of fans in the state of hockey when they get to see their first playoff game in a few years. There’s still a good chance they win the division. We know that Mikko Koivu might finally get some of the adulation and national attention he deserves if they win a round or two in the playoffs. We know they need to do something pretty damned extreme to get their goalie and a respectable roster put together by opening night this fall. We know it is a crying shame Jonas Brodin won’t even make the long list for the Calder.
Los Angeles: We know the Kings who weren’t notoriously good at scoring last year are very quietly number seven in goals for this year. We know that their number one goaltender has had a performance dip year over year. We know this team will be a different variety of difficult to beat in seven games than last spring.
Detroit: With the trade of Huskins for a conditional 2014 draft pick, and hometown boy Danny DeKeyeser, we’re starting to get a look at what the team will look like in a year or two. We know that with 27 skaters having taken the ice in 34 games and just two players with 10 or more goals, long term answers need to be found.
San Jose: 82 goals for, 82 goals against tells us this team is rather mediocre. I can’t see a high price on some of their middling talent, but I can’t see this team selling big before the deadline, ownership has apparently decided to drive this core group into the ground, meaning Sharks fans can expect another year or two of making the playoffs and getting made into chum in the second season.
Saint Louis; Good news, bad news. We know the team is scoring better than last season, we also know the team is allowing more goals than last season. We know the team needs to find an identity, and see if they can get more recognition for Pietreangelo.
Dallas: We know this team needs to find defenders who can get the puck out of their own zone. We know this team has lots of old guys left and the team wouldn’t be made worse medium term to get rid of every forward over thirty.
Columbus: We know if this team won half their games on the road instead of one fourth they’d not only be a playoff team, they’d be poised for home ice advantage at least through the first round.
Nashville: What ails this team isn’t just the loss of Suter, they are missing some of the same drive the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins lack. They also still don’t know how to score.
Edmonton: We know the Oilers defense is made out of wet tissues, we know the offense is struggling despite the nearly point per game production of Sam Gagner, we know the team isn’t going to be fixed until the leadership is changed.
Phoenix: Like the desert they play in, this team is hot and cold, last season they won the division and went to the conference finals last season, and this season they are in the basement. We know the ownership drama may never end. We know the Coyotes need both depth and quality.
Calgary: We know handing out too many no movement clauses makes rebuilding difficult. We know failing to acquire good young talent makes rebuilding difficult. We know being publicly shown to have no clue, and no ability to make deals makes rebuilding difficult.
Colorado: We know if this team was playing in a top tier hockey market the media bludgeoning would make their record and team stats look pleasant. We know this team will probably draft a high end talent and then fail to develop them.
This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
that the Anahiem Ducks, the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes would all lead their divisions as we crept up on the halfway mark.
that the Vancouver Canucks would lead the Northwest division and the Washington Capitals would be in the basement of the east with identical goals for per game at 2.74.
the defensive minded Phoenix Coyotes would have have a goals per game advantage on the star studded San Jose Sharks of .59 goals per game.
the Tampa Bay Lightning would lead the league in goals per game and be in 11th place in the east.
of the top five powerplays by percentage, only two would belong to division leaders; Pittsburgh and Anahiem, while two more belong to teams outside the playoffs; Washington and the New York Islanders with the Saint Louis Blues leading the race for second in in the central division.
the New Jersey Devils who finished last season wit the best penalty kill at 89.6% would be 25th on March 2nd with a 77.4% kill more than 2% lower than even the Columbus Blue Jackets of last season.
on March 2nd three teams would be .500 or better when trailing after 2 periods; Chicago, Anahiem, Boston.
four players would have drawn at least three penalties per 60 minutes played; Patrick Kaleta of the Sabres, Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, Mark Fistric of the Edmonton Oilers and Torrey Mitchell of the Minnesota Wild. (minimum of 10 games played)
Jay Bouwmeester would finish 10.1% more shifts in the offensive zone than he started there while Shea Weber would finish 2.4% less shifts in the offensive zone than he started.
Kevin Klien of the Nashville Predators would have played the most games without getting a single penalty at 21 while playing more than 20 minutes a night.
of all players with at least 200 faceoffs, Paul Gaustad would lead the NHL in winning percentage at 63.8%.
of the top ten points producers, only six would be on teams currently out of the playoffs: #1 Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning #3 Thomas Vanek of the Buffalo Sabres, #4 John Tavares of the New York Islanders #7 Martin St Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning #9 Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers #10 Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders
Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers would have more powerplay points than; Nicklas Backstrom of the Capitals, Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks and Teemu Selanne of the Anahiem Ducks.
two time Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings would lead the league in shorthanded time on ice per game at 4:24, an 11 second per game heavier load than last season leader Francois Beauchemin
The season was a long, long time coming and it seems amazing that we are one third of the way done. We know the Western Conference is never easy to predict. Today, we know which teams are better than we thought, which teams are worse, and which ones just don’t have a clue.
15: Columbus Blue Jackets: We know the more things change the more they stay the same. We know the team has a new General Manager. We know the new GM has a reputation as a great evaluator of draft-able talent. We know that despite all the changes, the roster is still a lottery team.
14: Calgary Flames: We know this is one of the most hamstrung teams in the league in terms of farm system and with no movement and no trade clauses. We know Jarome Iginla isn’t getting any younger, and that this is the last year of his contract. We also know he might just be their best player at faceoffs, which would be great if he were a center and not one of their numerous grindline centers.
13: Edmonton Oilers: We know they still don’t have a defense. We know they probably have the assets to trade for defense. We know if they end up drafting first they probably won’t be smart enough to draft Seth Jones. We know from watching Oil Change that Daryl Katz is more interested in being seen as the owner of a hockey team than he is being seen as the owner of awinning hockey team. We know that sooner or later Ralph Krueger will be scapegoated so that Tambellini and Lowe can keep their jobs.
12: Colorado Avalanche: We know the AVS are still as a collective head cases.Their win two lose two, rinse and repeat record says their is more wrong with this team than questionable defense, and an offense that really should be better than it is. We know Sacco will likely get sacked because he ran out of gold stars and lollipops for his collection of kids.
11: Los Angeles Kings: We Know the Stanley Cup Hangover is only part of the problem. They still haven’t fixed their deficient offense.
10: Detroit Red Wings: We know they lost Lidstrom and Stuart. We know Datsyuk isn’t as good as he used to be. We know this team should be blown the hell up and rebuilt while no one in Detroit can afford to come to games anyway. We know two or three years of tanking and recreating the team with top talent is preferable to adding mediocre talent to a team that has possibly three above average players.
9: Dallas Stars: We know the Stars were a bubble team last year. We know they are a bubble team this year. We know that when you add Old Dudes, no matter how good they are simply because of how good they were in the 90s, you probably need to re-prioritize and figure out the real holes in your team.
8: Minnesota Wild: We know they added more salary and years to their roster than anyone else over the long, long offseason. We know they had a ton and a half of injuries last year. We know Josh Harding deserves a standing ovation before every game. We also know this team isn’t playing to their potential with that much talent on the roster.
7: Phoenix Coyotes: We know the NHL still hasn’t settled an owner into the corner office. We know the team will get to hold onto Shane Doan a while longer. We know that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is pretty damn good.
6: San Jose Sharks: We know they aren’t as good as their 7-0-0 start, nor as bad as the six game losing streak that followed. We know you can’t ignore the contributions on the backend or count this team out of the playoff hunt no matter how far they fell last season.
5: Saint Louis Blues: We know last year wasn’t a fluke. We know that Alex Pietrengelo needs to be accounted among the top five defensemen in the NHL. We know the team has a talent for identifying goalies about to hit the zone. We know that its unlikely anyone will ever think of the names of any forward other than Taresenko or Backes without prompting, no matter how many goals the team scores.
4: Nashville Predators: We know Weber is every bit as good as everyone said and that he was for more deserving of the last two Norris Trophy’s than either guy who collected them. We know the team is third best in goals against. We know that despite being 30th in goals for, they are still a damned dangerous team.
3: Vancouver Canucks: We know they are once again leading the weakest division in the NHL. We know Kesler is back from his yearly injury. We know it could be years before anyone knows who the real starter is in the crease. We know they aren’t all that impressive on the road.
2: Anaheim Ducks: We know Teemu is Forever. We know adding Bryan Allen to this team made their goaltenders job easier. We know Victor Fasth could steal Hiller’s job as the number one netminder. We know this team is a lot more like the squad we expect than last year’s nearly identical roster.
1: Chicago Blackhawks: We know this team is incredible. We know the team is deep. We know the team isn’t playing 100% to their potential. We know they will never keep this pace up because guys are playing so far outside their normal range. We know they are incredibly fun to watch.
Tonight in God’s waiting room the Sunshine State the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning will square off, no word on early bird specials at the concessions:
Seeing Red are Scott Clemmensen, Peter Mueller, George Parros, Drew Shore, and Jack Skille
Flashing across the ice in White and Blue are, Ryan Malone, Nate Thompson, B.J. Crombeen, Adam Hall, Matt Carle, Brian Lee, and Matt Taormina.
Toronto’s home squad are hoping to be inhospitable hosts to their fellow Ontario team as the Karlsson and Speazza deprived Senators roll into town. The twoWant will be looking to leapfrog Montreal and tie Boston in points for a share of the Northeast lead.
Casting a vote is likely team USA goaltender Craig Anderson, backed up by Ben Bishop, Mike Lundin owns a piece of the blueline while Jim O’Brien and Erik Condra make their way as forwards.
Toronto’s Americans are rearguards John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek, the forwards are Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, David Steckel, and Mike Brown.
The Philadelphia Flyers will be bringing a very Canadian squad to Montreal:
The only American on the Flyers roster is Tom Sestito, the pride of Rome New York (we’re not counting the traitor Couturier who plays for Canada internationally.)
The 20% American roster of the Habs includes possible Olympians Alex Galchenyuk and Max “Tweets At The Movies” Pacioretty, team captain Brian Gionta, Eric Cole, and blueliner Francis Bouillon
Rick Dipietro is on pace to pass last years total games played, Joe Finley and Brian Strait will skate in front of the crease, Kyle Oksoso leads the American presence with Marty Reasoner as its elder statesman, and Colin McDonald and Keith Aucoin round out the roster.
First round draft pick Stefan Matteau and Stephen Gionta will be joined by Bobby Butler, Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, and Peter Harrold are the Devils Americans.
Anaheim will stop to roost in Nashville for the night.
Bobby Ryan and Nick Bonino will be in the lineup for the Ducks and Patrick Maroon, Kyle Palmieri, will be out there with Nate Guenin and Ben Lovejoy.
Hal Gill stands on the blueline for the Predators, the nearly as tall Paul Gaustad plays pivot, and with them are Colin Wilson, Craig Smith and the teams longest tenured American David Legwand.
The Blue Jackets are looking to look their best for their new General Manager, while the Coyotes hope to slip past the idle Wings.
Jack Johnson leads the blueline with James Wisniewski, John Moore and Tim Erixon, while the forwards are missing the injured Cam Atkinson, RJ Umberger, Brandon Dubinsky, Jared Boll, and Nick Foligno will all look to make their presence felt.
Keith Yandle, a probable Olympian, Chris Summers and David Moss are the American contingent for the desert dogs.
In a battle of bottom feeders the Oilers and Avalanche will square off.
Erik Johnson leads the Avs blueline, assisted by Matt Hunwick while Aaron Palushaj represents the forwards.
Edmonton occasionally lets Ryan Whitney on the ice along with blueliners Core Potter and Jeff Petry and forward Chris Vandevelde.
I’m a bit baffled by some of the remaining free agents. As weak as this free agent class is, the number of useful players who haven’t either taken off for the KHL or signed with an NHL team is pretty surprising.
As likely the best center left Kyle Wellwood‘s unsigned status is just baffling. He had more points last season than any other remaining center, and had the third most points of any forwards remaining unsigned. The two ahead of him are Shane Doan and Alex Semin. Doan only beat him by three points and played two additional games, Semin who beat him by seven points. Based on total time on ice, with similar distributions, and having played in the same division last year Wellwood was more efficient than Semin in producing points picking up each point about half a minute quicker than Semin.
Brian Rolston after being traded to Boston at the deadline Rolston showed there’s still something left in the tank. Points in the first three playoff games, three multipoint games in the last month of the season, including a four point night. He clocked as many as 19:58 a night, and showed his versatility playing up and down the lineup in all three forward positions. He manned the point on the powerplay put in some shorthanded time and looked like he’d rolled the clock back a few years. He probably won’t command the same money as his last contract, but for teams like Colorado, Buffalo and Winnipeg who don’t have much playoff experience on the roster and have very young teams he could be that elder statesman that helps push a team over.
Daniel Winnik could help any of the several teams that desperately need to improve their penalty kill do so. His 2:44 of SHTOIG is tops among this UFA class, and he chipped in more than twenty points.
Michal Rosival is a right shooting defenseman, he played nearly 20 minutes a night for the Coyotes, at 33 he’s still in his prime. He gained ground on most shifts, and in the playoffs he picked up about two hits and two blocked shots per game.
Carlo Colaiacovo good corsi, probably can be had for under or about four million. Good points production and solid contribution in the playoffs. Former 1st round pick, and a solid sized body.
Matt Gilroy popped in twenty points on 17:30 a night. He split the season between the Senators and Lightning, good depth player who should come along fairly cheap and continue to grow.
Curtis Sanford he put up better numbers than several goalies who made it to the playoffs, for the Columbus Blue Jackets last year. He might not be a starter on some teams, but as a heavy use #2 he’s probably going to be one of the better goalies available.
Change and unequal cycles of it are a constant in the NHL. The vogue for over a decade was to draft goalies in the first round, sometimes even very high or first overall. Drafting for need is now frowned upon. And in the last decade we’ve not seen more than two or three major trades. But that trend was almost certainly broken when Ilya Kovalchuk went north.
Since last summer two of the major names from “the golden draft” were traded by one team. One of them was traded a second time. Now the rumor mill is swirling around names from border to border and coast to coast. Jay Bouwmeester is one of the best (and most misused) defensemen in the NHL. There are four defensemen who I’ll accept flat statements of defensemen being better than him, and another four or five who with a different tool set are as good, no more. He’s likely the odd man out on the Calgary Flames roster.
The Nashville Predators have not traditionally been big spenders. A year ago they went to arbitration with one of the best defensemen in the game. This year if they don’t sign him long term it is quite likely he’ll disappear over the horizon next summer. On top of the very real possibility of losing this year’s (and last year’s) rightful Norris trophy winner Shea Weber, their other franchise quality defenseman has decided to test the free agent market. If the Predators can’t find a way to keep both they may just decide a radical rebuild is in order and trade their captain while they can still get something for him instead of letting him walk as a free agent for no return. Without Weber and Suter the Predators would be lucky to win 20 games, and that’s with Renne stealing at least six or seven. With one of them if they manage to get some help up front and a passable replacement they arguably have the balance to go far.
Jordan Staal has more rumors swirling around him than a Hollywood starlet the morning after an serious bender. Most of them are Hurricane shaped rumors. But given the 23 year old stars prowess, even the denial of his availability by Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero probably won’t do much to dampen the rumors. As long as those rumors persist, the 30 goal scoring “defensive forward” is going to generate a lot of attention. If there are two teams in the NHL that don’t at least kick the idea of adding him to their roster around their warroom, I’d be saddened greatly.
With all the excitement around the fresh chum in the water its almost possible to forget the #Ranson4Rick saga is entering its sixth or seventh month. Rick Nash is unarguably a high end talent who had the misfortune of being drafted by a team with nearly a thimble full of clue. Some might say he’s been stewing in organizational failure so long he’s never going to have that extra juice to be successful in the playoffs he’s seen exactly once in nine seasons. Depending on who you disbelieve least, the rumors have him going anywhere and everywhere including the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and a couple of basement dwellers not much better than the Blue Jackets.
There are conflicting reports on the truth of Evander Kane refusing to sign in Winnipeg, but honestly how many rugged, physical, 30 goal scoring 20 year olds come across the trade market? On a sign and trade there’s no conceivable way he’d fetch less than two first round picks or a pick and player. A team like the Los Angeles Kings who may lose some bodies to free agency could certainly slide him into the mix and improve themselves. The Anahiem Ducks would likewise become a much more formidable opponent. As for the Phoenix Coyotes with the aging core that they have been built around, a youngster who has a similar rugged playing style to Captain Shane Doan and more offense isn’t a bad way to pass the torch. If the ownership situation is resolved there I’d be shocked if there were no major moves in the first few months.
So is this the summer scribes across the continent get to write about things that have or are happening? Will we see more posts on how lineups project and a reordering of the standings than on fighting or contracts that are too long? Maybe just maybe the hockey media will stick to hockey and not TMZ like personal life stories of players? Could we get a trade or two that redefines the next decade of hockey? Please??
Despite the short duration, the Coyotes and Kings put on one of the best shows of this post season. This is what division mates are supposed to look like. The pace was great. The action, physical, crisp , relentless and for the most part clean.
While it will offend some folks in tinsel town, Mike Smith was the better goalie in this series. Smith had to face almost twice as many shots and still ended up with truly impressive numbers. Quick was spectacular making the flashy and the routine saves night in and night out. This one series, he was merely the second best goalie on the ice.
The biggest impact on the outcome of the series was the fact that the Kings simply have everything going right for them. The two teams split the regular season series. The Coyotes finished above the Kings by only a couple points. Both teams skated well, both teams defended smartly and attacked the net.
When it came down to crunch time in game five the Kings best players stepped up. Drew Doughty played, and expressed his (well justified) opinions to the officials, and along the way got a goal and an assist in more than 30 minutes of ice time. Mike Richards had five shots, won twelve faceoffs, and got a goal. Anze Kopitar put in over thirty minutes of ice time, blocked a shot, got five on net and one in. Jeff Carter teed up two for teamates to put past Smith. Jonathan Quick’s closest competition for the Conn-Smyth, Dustin Brown continued his What Can’t Brown Do For You? tour with ten attempted shots, one block and five hits.
That’s a hellacious amount of talent to try and contain. The Coyotes had to be beaten in overtime. You can’t help but wonder how deep the pockets of the new owners will be, and if they will try to keep this core together for another year or two and use their first few months at the reigns to go big game hunting and bring in a top forward or two to deepen the scoring.
The Kings are now faced with the unenviable task of facing the Stanley Cup finals as the avowed favorites, without the advantage of home ice. They will also be flying all the way across the country to start the series against a still unknown opponent. Of the teams staff, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi have hoisted the Cup. Penner as an Oiler, and Scuderi as part of the Penguins most recent win. While there has been no sign of folding under pressure in Coach Sutter’s squad to date, this is the big dance and with just three players over the age of thirty (Mitchell, Scuderi, Williams) on the entire roster there is a heightened chance for unhelpful emotional swings.
The great injustice of the post season is that there are only two awards that count. The Stanley Cup for a team, and the Conn-Smyth for one individual. In most post seasons there are at least two people who could be given the latter. This season there are more. Given the dynamics of the post season, at least one of them will get to lift the Cup and the day I hear a NHL star say they’d rather have an individual award than a Stanley Cup, I’ll finally have seen a player I don’t even want to watch play any more.
Dan Girardi is a revelation this post season. He leads the post season scoring race among defensemen by two points. And he has done it with remarkably similar fashion to the quiet defense first style he plays with all season. Even more than Lundqvist the regular season and post season star of this team is Girardi.
Arguments for Ilya Kovalchuk to be on the Hart shortlist were met with scorn all season. This despite his leading the league in ice time for forwards by miles, having more short handed goals than anyone else in the top twenty point scorers, playing a lot of minutes on a top penalty killing unit, the post season hasn’t looked much less different. This despite his missing a game with an injury.
Dustin Brown has simply dominated the post season like no other forward. Skating, hitting, scoring drawing penalties and keeping coolly composed and not taking stupid penalties himself. He’s every bit the engine to his team that Toews is to the Blackhawks, Doan is to the Coyotes. You can make arguments that the Kings would be in the same position as they are now without him, but you’ll excuse me if I laugh in your face while you do so.
Mike Smith, hands down the most skilled individual on his team. You could swap out the other three goalies left for any other above average goaltender and that team would be in about the same place. Agent Smith has faced more shots than any goalie this post season. Despite having played one less game than Brodeur he’s made 129 more saves, Quick who has played two less games has had to make 158 fewer saves.
The John Tortorella press conference are kinda hilarious. Never known for wanting to breathe the same air as media members Tortorella takes it to a special place each post season. Complete sentences disappear faster than ice time for guys not living up to his expectations. The number of things he’s willing to discuss goes from nearly two teaspoons worth in March and the first week of April to just enough to see in the bottom of a single spoon by the middle of April. It’s clockwork, it might as well be tax day.
And yet the media is shocked and appalled it’s happening. This is when the laziest, most venal members of the media reveal themselves for what they truly are. It’s not the job of any athlete or organization to provide good copy and hand out stories in sippy cups with a side of goldfish crackers. Writers should write. If were in charge of a news organization and saw one of my staffers kvetching all over social media about someone “not giving them enough”, I know who’d be getting the warmest pink slip the next time layoffs rolled around.
Raffi Torres had his appeal hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman today. This is to appeal the hit that ended Marian Hossa’s post season. For those who missed it or need a refresher:
It was without a doubt a bad, brutal, unneeded and suspendable hit. It was a head shot, which last post season earned Rome a four post season game seat. Torres is a repeat offender so doubling that is still appropriate. If you want to tack on four additional games for leaving his feat again, no problem. Even 15 games would be acceptable, reasonable and in line with previous suspensions. 24 however is not. 24 games, especially given the number that are/could be playoff games is just absurd. It bares no resemblance to the suspensions given out even to other repeat offenders and puts this up there with players who have done unspeakably stupid things that don’t even marginally have a place in hockey, like for example Dale Hunter’s well documented suspension.