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

Saint Louis Blues

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

Best Players

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

X-Factor

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

 

Chicago Blackhawks

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

Best Players

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

X-Factor

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

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

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

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

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 1

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 5

Projected points: 5+

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

#1 Vs #8

The Chicago Blackhawks seemingly have everything going this season. They have two goalies putting up top flight numbers. they have an upgraded defense that has allowed Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to reclaim the form that helped the team win the Cup a few years back. Better still, they have arguably the best forward group in the NHL; Toews, Kane, Hossa, Saad and Sharp.

The Minnesota Wild are that new kid in playoff town no one knows quite what to make of. On paper the Wild have every tool they need to be dangerous, and even contend. In reality, they lack playoff experience, especially with Pominville and Heatley on the shelf. Add that to five of six blueliners who have never seen the NHL playoffs, and you have a recipe for a dicey playoff series.

Players to watch:

For the Wild, don’t be surprised if rookie Charlie Coyle comes up big in spots, Setogouchi is a threat, and Mikko Koivu is never to be underestimated.

On the other side of the puck for the Blackhawks, Kane, Hossa and Toews can all take over games individually.

Edge:

Chicago, it isn’t purely the quality that they lead in, it is the playoff experience, particularly on the blueline that will decide this series.

#2 vs. #7

Anaheim Ducks have almost no pressure this year. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are drawing an inexplicable amount of attention, and Chicago was start to finish the best team in the NHL. The Ducks simply have to get on the ice and execute. They have savvy older veterans in Koivu and Selanne. They have high quality younger veterans still in their prime in Ryan, Getzlaf, and Perry. They also have a surprisingly strong backend in net and on the blueline. They don’t have any dominant or elite players there, but they do have several really good ones.

The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs again keeping their two decade long streak intact. They have Jimmy Howard who again very quietly put up impressive numbers, they have Datsyuk, and Zetterberg. These are not your Dad’s Red Wing’s though, they just don’t have even one elite talent on their blueline, much less two or three as they have had in years past.

Players to watch:

If the Wings don’t have Howard playing top notch goaltending, they don’t have anything, For them to win,  guys like Tootoo, Smith, and other role players will have to elevate their game.

The Ducks need to have their defense continue to smother their opponents, and have at least one of their goaltenders show up and never take their eyes off of Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Edge:

Wings can’t win this if the Ducks show up and execute. It’s just that simple.

#3 vs. #6

Vancouver Canucks, it is put up or shutup time in Vancouver. They drama in their net has covered up the fact that this isn’t as good a team as it was in years past. They only won their division by four points, by comparison the Washington Capitals won by 6, and of the six division winners this is the team that scored the least this season. The Sedin twins combined for less goals than Jiri Tlusty. They put up the mediocre season numbers with three of the bottom four teams in their conference playing in their division.

San Jose Sharks are also at the point where if they don’t win the Cup it is tie to break up the band. Marleau, Boyle, and Thornton don’t have many more years left in them and behind them there isn’t much to write home about. What gives this squad a bit of believability is that Niemi, who was part of the Chicago cup run, has turned in the best regular season of his career and played in 43 of the teams 48 games.

Players to watch:

Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa are two guys you should never ever count out, for the Canucks to do well, these two will likely be the biggest impact players.

Joe Thornton appears to have learned how to play big in the playoffs, and Raffi Torres (when he plays clean) is a surprisingly good playoff player.

Edge:

This series is almost a push, but I give the edge to San Jose, Thornton, Marleau, Couture are are better right now than any three forwards you can name for the Sharks, and with Schneider’s injury and the general chaos in British Columbia I don’t like the Canucks chances.

#4 vs. #5

The Saint Louis Blues boast some damn fine players no one talks about because the team is too far south. David Backes is a game changer, Pietrangelo is one of the best defensemen in the game, and Chris Stewart turned in more points in 48 games this year than he did in 79 last year. Goaltending is clearly this teams weakness, but with Oshie coming back the team gains immediately in two way play.

The reigning champions the Los Angeles Kings have to get scoring from more people than just Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, if for no other reason than Jonathan Quick is not as good this year as last. They’ve gotten a slight refresh adding Regehr and injecting Muzzin into the lineup, but the roster is really almost identical. You have to question the teams hunger a little.

Players to watch:

Drew Doughty emerged as an elite two way defenseman during last year playoffs establishing his bona fides in his own end in addition to the offensive ability he’s always displayed, he and Mike Richards who is frequently overlooked on this team will be crucial to this team going anywhere.

For the Blues, Vladimir Sobotka just finds an extra gear in the playoffs and he can tilt the ice, but he won’t be enough, Bouwmeester, Oshie, and Perron will have to show up and put in work.

Edge:

This is a push, the Blues I think have the edge in hunger, the Kings have the edge in knowing how to win in the post season.

Total Wins by eliminated teams this round; 9

 

Filling out the Team USA roster will require a mix of youth, international experience, and attitude. The Russians, the Canadians, and the upper echelon of European teams will not be intimidated by half the roster returning, or even two thirds. Part of what will be needed is a bit of familiarity, so anyone who has played with likely players wins the tie breaker over complete outsiders.

Top Priority:

  • Craig Anderson, he’s played with Erik Johnson, he’s the best goaltender in the NHL this season, and he’s got enough of a different style from both Miller and Quick that if the coach has to make a change, the opposition will have to make adjustments.
  • Dustin Byfuglien, big body, can play defense and forward, has won the Stanley Cup has played with Patrick Kane.
  • Jason Pominville, an infusion of skill is needed and this guy has it.
  • John Carlson, is highly talented, knows the tendencies of several of the big names from some of the other national teams.
  • Max Pacioretty has turned into one of the most interesting players in the NHL. Almost a point per game player on a team that has been injury prone over the last two seasons.

Priority:

  • Kevin Shattenkirk, has played well in the very defensive system in St Louis, has also played in the more free wheeling Colorado system in the past.
  • Seth Jones, has won World Junior gold, will likely be part of team USA for years to come, even if he only plays seven or eight minutes a game, good experience for the future.
  • Alex Galchenyuk, has played with Jones internationally, and plays with Pacioretty on the Habs.
  • Rob Scuderi, no international experience, but has won Stanley Cup’s in two radically different systems, the Los Angeles Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, among the leaders for US born defenseman in shorthanded ice time.
  • James van Riemsdyk has had solid international experience, currently playing with 2010 Silver Medalist Phil Kessel.

Possible:

  • Alex Goligoski, the Dallas Defenseman gets overlooked a lot, but it should be noted he’s putting up almost identical offensive numbers on the far less talented Dallas team as he did with the Penguins. Has a small amount of international experience.
  • Justin Faulk, great young defenseman burdened by a poor defensive team. Has played under the flag, plays in all situations, like Jones will likely be around for the next three Olympic cycles, has played with Gleason.
  • Drew Stafford, scored 52 points in 62 games including 31 goals two seasons ago, plays with Pominville, some international experience.
  • Erik Cole, former Olympian, World Championship experience, two time thirty goal scorer, played briefly with Galchenyuk, and a season with Pacioretty.
  • John Gaudreau, speedy little pure goal scorer,
  • John Gibson, WJC tournament MVP, stud goaltender.
  • Rocco Grimaldi, speedy, agile, had two goals in the WJC win over Sweden.
  • Blake Wheeler, great reach, good speed, plays in all situations.
  • J.T. Miller, played in on the WJC gold team with Gibson, Gaudreau, Grimaldi, Jones, playing for the Rangers and getting compliments from John Tortorello.

Long Shots:

  • Emerson Etem has proved himself at the junior level in the WHL, he’s yet to make a big mark in the NHL, but he’s got speed to burn and plays on the same team as Bobby Ryan, some games for the NAHL national team.
  • Tyler Myers if he can somehow get his grove back he’s undeniably talented, has developed some aggression, and is both a good skater and puck handler.
  • Brandon Dubinsky, has had a downturn in production lately, but had a good World Championship and is a great two way player.
  • Jack McCabe, captain of the gold team, solid defender, but the defense is the area where the team is likely to have the least turnover.
  • Jimmy Howard no slight on his talent, but he’s about the fourth best American goaltender in the NHL right now. National development team veteran.
  • T.J. Oshie, depending on how the top lines shake down he might find himself tapped to captain the penalty kill effort, also plays with Backes, some national experience, plays physical.
  • Kyle Palmeri has a hat trick this season, and half of his goals have been game winners, national experience, and plays with Bobby Ryan.
  • Paul Gaustad, incredible faceoff man, great penalty killer, like Oshie could end up as a “role player”, team guy.

Given the eventual composition of Teams Canada and Russia, ensuring there is a viable penalty kill, players at all positions who can skate, and guys who won’t wilt under physical play or the bright lights of Olympic play take priority over pure skill with questionable fortitude. With a deep enough team, playing against the weaker teams gets easier because you can use your whole bench and stay reasonably fresh for the games where one bad five minute stretch can bounce you from the metal round.

 

 

The post I wrote because I refuse to speculate about trades today. Sorry Rick Nash fans.

In the west:

1: Detroit Red Wings vs 8: Calgary Flames

  • This clash would be interesting primarily because Iginla, Bouwmeester and Kiprusoff would have done the near impossible: drag a team without a legitimate top center, and limited depth at wings into the playoffs. Neither the team is especially good on the road. But guess what, this matchup won’t happen. Why? The Calgary Flames will be higher in the standings when all is said and done. Also interesting is that neither of these teams is all that good on the road. The reason the Flames will be a position or two higher? 15 home games remaining and only 8 road games left.

2: Vancouver Canucks vs 6: Phoenix Coyotes

  • If I had to pick a matchup for an upset, this is the one.  The goaltending and defense are a dead heat. With Mike Smith’s confidence riding high, I might even give the edge to the Coyotes in that regard, but hey when your lowest save percentage in a month is .914% you can be a little confident. The Coyotes are a lot more physical than the Canucks as well, and that was the Canucks downfall against the Bruins in the Cup finals last year. The Canucks might escape this matchup before it happens, with less than half their remaining games against playoff teams they could edge the Red Wings and Rangers for the Presidents Trophy.

3: San Jose  Sharks vs Chicago BlackHawks

  • This serious could go either way, and Canucks fans would be cheering for the two teams to lay waste to each other. Chicago’s got the better offense, but the Sharks are a better balanced team. The Sharks can win on the road, the Blackhawks are a bit challenged in that regard. This would likely end up the western series with the most offense per game as neither team has spectacular goaltending.

4: St Louis Blue vs 5: Nashville Predators

  • This all central division matchup would by any reasonable expectation be the lowest scoring of the first round, and probably the entire playoffs. But that’s no excuse to miss Erat, Weber and Suter of the Predators rolling into the playoffs with their new running buddy and Stanley Cup Champion Hal Gill (@Skillsy75) . The chance to watch TJ Oshie teleport across the ice, see David Backes run a few people over and pot a few goals while Alex Pietrangelo shows how well he can put points on the board against Rinne.

 

Fair market value is one of those wonderful terms that means nearly whatever the user wants it to. In my case it means: What are comparable players making on other teams, and when were they signed? And also what are they doing now vs what they did previously?

Chris Kelly is in his first full season with the Boston Bruins, last season he played 24 regular season games, and the fun little playoff run we all remember so well. Here’s some of the key facts.

First long term view.

  • Is 31 now (November birthday)
  • Has been in the NHL since 05-06 season,
  • Is very healthy. Only 20 regular season games lost to injury since entering the NHL.
  • Has been equally effective at home or on the road throughout his career.
  • Career highs: Goals;15 (twice) Assists; 23 Points; 38
  • Career average points per game: .387.
  • Career plus player.
  • UFA in June.

Short term, current role:

  • 3rd line center
  • top penalty killing forward 75th out of 463 NHL forwards for average SHTOI
  • Currently tied for league lead in short handed goals: Mike Richards, Cal Clutterbuck, Brandon Sutter, TJ Oshie, Patrick Dwyer, Dave Bolland also have 2 shorthanded goals through 11/28.
  • 3rd among Bruins forwards in SHTOI
  • Current average points per game: .727. (Higher than the career average for either Bergeron or Krejci.)
  • Good at faceoffs.
  • Best takeaway to turnover ratio of Bruins top six forwards.

Comparables:

  • Adam Pardy (defenseman) has a cap hit of $125,000 less, has played no more than sixty NHL games in a season, career high of 10 points in the NHL in four seasons. Pardy is younger and larger, playing slightly more total minutes, about a minute less short handed, and hitting more. 1st year of a 2 year deal.
  • Andrew Burnette, of the Blackhawks is 7 years older, on a 1 year contract with a cap hit lower than Kelly’s. Last three seasons were 50, 61, 46 points with the Wild.  Is a career minus player. Does not kill penalties.
  • TJ Oshie on a one year contract, has had serious injuries, seven years younger, higher offensive peaks. RFA at end of current contract. Worst (of 3 and current) NHL seasons is a -1.
  • Manny Malhotra, same age, very similar offensive numbers, has had multiple injuries, better faceoff man, plays about 40 seconds more shorthanded per game. Current cap hit 2.5m, year 2 of 3 year contract.
  • Tomas Kopecky Cap hit 3mil, signed this off season, plays about the same number of PK minutes, not as offensively gifted, in first full season playing PK.
  • Martin Hanzal: Starts new contact next season at 3.1 per year, plays more minutes than Kelly, roughly 7 years younger, giveaway to takeaway fairly similar to Kelly. Very similar offensively.

Given his current numbers, age, and role with the Bruins, I’d say that at a low ball or long term deal $2,850,000 for five plus years or up to $3,333,000 for three years or less would be a appropriate. Given that he’s wearing an A, has played through facial injuries, was a good part of the Stanley Cup win, and seems genuinely well liked by his team mates if I’m sitting in the corner office and its $3.5 a year or he walks for less than five years, I take it and consider myself lucky assuming no no-movement or no-trade clauses.

One benefit to signing him past thirty five if you think he can keep handling the minutes and penalty killing at that age is that it would be a more moveable contract than resigning him then if need be.