Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.

The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers

Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey PriceAlex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.

For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?

For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?

Biggest Strength

  • Canadiens: Goaltending
  • Rangers: depth of scoring

Biggest Weakness

  • Canadiens: goal scoring
  • Rangers: coaching

 

Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues

This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.

In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.

Biggest Strength

  • Wild: balance
  • Blues: momentum

Biggest Weakness

  • Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
  • Blues: Scoring depth

 

Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks

This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.

For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.

For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.

Biggest Strength

  • Oilers: Offense
  • Sharks: Experience

Biggest Weakness

  • Oilers: Penalty Kill
  • Sharks: Depth

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets

This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.

This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.

Biggest Strengths

  • Jackets: Defense and goaltending
  • Penguins: Offense

Biggest Weakness

  • Jackets: Inconsistency.
  • Penguins: Dinged up defense

 

Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames

The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.

Biggest Strength

  • Ducks: John Gibson
  • Flames: Balance

Biggest Weakness

  • Ducks: Scoring
  • Flames: Netminding

Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.

In life, in business, in relationships and in the NHL, neither success nor failure are instant. On occasion it appears that a team or business has succeeded or failed in the blink of an eye, what you are seeing is that iceberg tip those final twenty stories of a skyscraper that bring it above the rest. On July one, Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely swept over the horizon and promptly fell flat on their faces. They made exactly one move on the day. They signed a no name plugger who will likely never see NHL action in a Bruins uniform.

But where does this spectacular failure stem from? Last season yes they went over the cap by about 4.7 million. Yes, with that money they could have kept Jarome Iginla, but they’d still have needed to come up with money for rookie sensations Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, and likely Matt Bartkowski and or Matt Fraser. But why did they get to this place? How? When they won the Stanley Cup they had more depth than last year at every position, they had as much youth, they were just as close to the cap (they went over that year too).

The answer lies in the composition of the roster. There is exactly one player on who played most or all of last season in Boston who was drafted and developed since Peter Chiarelli took over, and that’s Dougie Hamilton. One of 23. You can add in Ryan Spooner if you’re feeling generous since he was exceptional at the AHL level and held a place for a good stretch of games mid season as well. If you go back to the Cup year, Tyler Seguin was the lone player to be drafted and developed here and well, he didn’t last long.

Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, are all players that were drafted before he took the helm. Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Loui Erikssn, and all the rest were either brought in via trade or free agency. The player not named Seguin (Dallas Stars) and or Hamilton to be drafted since Chiarelli took over is Jordan Caron. He of course has produced less points than Shawn Thornton during his tenure.

What does this mean? It means the Boston Bruins have overpaid for free agents from Michael Ryder,  Steve Begin, and Joe Corvo and spent too much to get under achievers like Tomas Kaberle in trade. It means that instead of bring up young players like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they brought in guys who no one will remember fondly like Peter Schaefer, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jay Pandolfo because the draft has been largely an excuse for other teams to laugh down their sleeves at consistently inept drafting.

The overpayment on free agents has translate into what can conservatively be figured at a 10% increase in the salary many of the Bruins developed players have received since. It means that instead of drafting players who fit the system, Peter Chiarelli and company have waited until two or even three years of RFA status of a player have been burned meaning not only will they over pay these players  who have little to no loyalty to the team, it means that even if they aren’t overpaid they will likely hobble the team with an unneeded no trade or no movement clause for a player who is a nice fit but is eminently replaceable.

This level of personnel mismanagement also means bafflingly bad trades that give up guys like Vladimir Sobotka and Kris Versteeg for guys no one remembers the names of. After half a decade and what most regard as a flukey Stanley Cup win the Bruins attempted a course correction with a change in scouting directors. The first run with the new leader shows he probably has as deft a touch in his current position, as his more famous brother had at coaching in the desert.

Cap mismanagement, inability to draft and negligible ability to recognize which players can be got without a no movement or no trade clause, and an over devotion to player like Caron and Hamill who consistently fail to live up to expectations that’s a hell of a dossier for his next position.

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.

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

Since arriving in Boston Peter Chiarelli has made moves that rewrote the franchises future history, and others that merely changed the roster. Today the Boston Bruins extended their general manager for another four years. With seven seasons behind him, there is more than enough to look at to evaluate him as general manager and hockey mind.

Coaches:

The Bad:

Upon landing in Boston Chiarelli’s first verifiable move was to pill the bench bosses job. For that position he picked arguably the worst coach in Boston Bruins history. Dave Lewis came in, glued the gloves on Zdeno Chara, left him on the ice too long, and designed a defensive scheme that led to the worst GAA in the Tim Thomas era. Fortunately for Bruins fans, and likely several players this would prove to be a mistake that lasted just one season.

Power play coaching. The Boston Bruins powerplay has been a disaster for years. Not since before Matt Cooke nearly killed Marc Savard has the team had a viable powerplay. The team has shuffled several (recent) 30 goal scorers through the power play including Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton to little or no effect. It has used guys with enormous slap shots like Chara and Boychuk, and guys who zip around the offensive zone like Marchand, Kessel and Seguin. There hasn’t been any change in this area, and it reflects one of the fundamental components of Peter Chiarelli’s personality.

The Good:

Claude Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for the last several seasons. He’s rehabilitated guys like Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille. He’s taken rookies like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci and given them a chance to play up to their full potential while bringing them along slowly. He’s also recognized who the teams core guys are and used them to the teams best advantage. His campaigning for Patrice Bergeron’s inclusion on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team was notable, his support of Zdeno Chara for Norris candidacy and wins likewise. Further he’s show the ability to adapt as needed and make the right calls in the playoffs.

Drafting:

The Bad:

There hasn’t been much good to come out of the 2007-present drafts. Tyler Seguin failed to live up to the hype, and is now gone. While Tommy Cross’s injuries were not something anyone could predict, the rest of the 2007 draft was horribly unimpressive. Zach Hamill has all of the NHL games to date for the Bruins that year. Denis Reul played just five AHL games, Alain Goulet hasn’t escaped the ECHL for the past two years, Radim Ostrcil hasn’t played a minute in the Boston system at any level, and lastly Jordan Knackstedt departed the system almost before anyone learned who he was. Most subsequent drafts have been little better. The 2008 draft saw two NHL games in return for more than a years labor, one to Jamie Arniel and the other to Max Sauve, no one from that draft is in the system any longer.

The Good:

Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. That’s pretty much it. Yes, I and others hold out hope that Jared Knight, Zane Gothberg, Colton Hargrove, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner, Rob O’Gara, Malcolm Subban and the several others will turn into legitimate NHL players, but that’s all we can do at this point. O’Gara, Hargrove, Grzelcyk, and countless others are college kids who will be a long time getting to the NHL, if ever. If you’re feeling optimistic you can count Jordan Caron in the “win” column, if not ad the 25th overall pick in the 2009 column to the other end of the ledger.

Free Agents:

The Bad:

Derek Morris counts as possibly the biggest miss of the Chiarelli era for free agents. He wasn’t a horrible Bruin, but he was not what was needed. From the same year if one must nitpick there is Drew Larman. While Josh Hennessy and Steve Begin weren’t unmitigated successes, they hardly grew legions of fans. The second tenure of Shane Hnidy.

The Good:

Torey Krug is the most recent player who has worked out, at least short term in the system. Remaining open to Jarome Iginla is another one that has to count as a win. Shawn Thornton is one the very quiet successes that no one ever talks about as a good free agent signing. The late season signing of Miroslav Satan was a master stroke. He didn’t have to be great, but he made people feel he was in being pretty good.

Trades:

The Bad:

Manny Fernandez wasn’t picked up for a bad price, but between his various injuries and Tim Thomas solidifying his hold on the starting goalies job, he was paid about $290,000 per game. Brandon Bochenski was brought in for Kris Versteeg. Versteeg would go on to be a contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup win and remain a valued NHL commodity, Bochenski would have trouble sticking to the NHL and end up in Europe. Vladimir Sobotka for David Warsofky, the Saint Louis Blues got the guy who led them in playoff scoring and hits last spring, and Warsofsky has yet to see a single NHL game.  Traded Petteri Nokelainen for Steve Montador who along with Wideman would eventually help cost the Bruins a playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Good:

Moving good guy with bad luck Chuck Kobasew for Alexander Fallstrom, Alexander Khokhlachev and Craig Weller. Kobasew was on the roster as part of a sluggish team and the Bruins would then flip Weller along with Bitz for Seidenberg and Bartkowski. Dennis Wideman and a 1st round pick were traded for immediate help, and possibly attitude in exchange for Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton, Florida would jettison Wideman for glass trinkets, the Bruins would win the Cup with their new boys. Picking up Danile Paille for essentially nothing was one of the sneakier good moves in his tenure. Adam Mcquaid and Johnny Boychuk were picked up in similar trades.

Draws:

Phil Kessel for the picks that turned into Seguin, Knight and Hamilton. Seguin was on a cup winning squad but hardly a huge factor, Hamilton was displaced for AHL callups, Knight has yet to have a healthy season. It is hard to say Chiarelli had a choice in trading Kessel, but the direct return has yet to be better. The Tomas Kaberle trade might count as win, but the Bruins gave up a 1st round draft selection, Joe Colborne, and a pick they would eventually trade. Kaberle failed to distinguish in his tenure, was not extended, and actually hurt the already woeful Bruins powerplay arguably making their path to the Cup harder than it would have been without him.

The two biggest hallmarks of the Chiarelli era to date have been his loyalty to the people he picks, and being more comfortable with low and midlevel deals than the franchise shaking ones. Those less charitable than myself would count conducting media availability as if each word he spoke cost him a $5 deduction from his salary as one of those hallmarks, but given the mental perambulations of certain elements of the local media, it is hard to be surprised this happens. With a Cup win, and a second team that took a juggernaut to six games despite being hobbled by injuries it is hard to call his tenure anything but a success.

The NHL playoffs always seem to feature some players who have good even great performances and still lose. This year is no different. Who the unfortunate losers are this year is a bit different. Many are either playing in the post season for the first time, or playing with a new team since the last time they saw the second round.

Vladimir Sobotka was a certified force for the dearly departed St Louis Blues. He tied for the team lead in points, he leads the entire western conference in hits, went 55.8% in the faceoff circle, and despite being on the losing team was a +4.

Travis Hamonic had a job that no NHL defenseman looks forward to without serious concerns about how best to accomplish it; facing down Sidney Crosby. When that NHL defenseman has to take on Sidney Crosby in their very first taste of professional playoff hockey, and their first taste of playoff hockey since the 2009-10 Memorial Cup tournament, they’ve got a big job. Hamonic kept Crosby from scoring a goal in three of the five games he played in and helped leave Crosby a minus player while averaging 25 minutes a night.

P.K. Subban, love him, hate him, you damn sure should respect him. The first time Norris Trophy finalist is one of those players who draws the eye and even those new to hockey notice his play instantly. He played over five minutes of special team time per game, had two each of goals and assists, along the way. No matter how dismally his depleted squad played he didn’t give up.

Cody Franson, smooth skater, great passer and went into game seven against the Bruins ready, willing an able to kickstart a team that was in its first playoff round in a decade. He waltzed onto the ice and scored two goals in that game, and finished the playoffs with six points,. The 6’5  defender was part of a trade of some very forgettable pieces back in 2011, and will likely be the only player in that trade anyone an name in two years.

Emerson Etem, you have to wonder how the series would have ended if Etem and the rest of the young guns were allowed even another two minutes a night. Etem was a +4, had three goals, two assists and did it all in just 12:50 a night.

 

#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

 

Hockey fans and worse the media who cover the NHL tend to focus entirely too much on a small handful of players, and in a league with six hundred or so high end athletes that’s just a shame. Here’s today’s list of players you should take the time to watch.

Jiri  Tlusty:

You’d think that on a team with Semin, E. Staal, J. Staal, that if someone were going to be in the top ten in the NHL in goals, it’d be one of those three, in about that order. Nope Jiri Tlusty has 19 goals this season, Perhaps more interesting is that on a team with a good shot at winning the draft lottery, whose scoring is upside down by 24 goals is a plus 14.  At 18 minutes a night, and playing in all situations, Tlusty will give you plenty of opportunities to watch and appreciate.

 

Vladimir Sobotka

Best known for the type of physical game that you might expect from a guy six inches and forty pounds heavier, the Trebic, Czech Republic native is putting up his offensive season to date. A 2005 draft pick in the 4th round he’s 19th overall in games played in his draft class has always played a smart two way game and can be counted on for an aggressive penalty kill.

Sergei Bobrovsky

A .932sv% across 32 games would be impressive in any NHL goalie. For a guy to rebound from an .899Sv% last season to that is simply staggering. The only guy ahead of Bobrovsky in save percentage is Craig Anderson, who has played half as many games. Arguments for a more important goalie in the NHL, or one who has played better are really tough to make, and even tougher to believe. If you don’t believe in goalie as MVP’s, it might be time to change that belief.

John Tavares

This man is literally more valuable to his team than Malkin or Crosby are to the Penguins, than Toews is to the Blackhawks, or either Sedin is to the Canucks. He might not have the complete game of Toews, or the pull with the referees of Crosby. There is simply no argument that can be made for the Islanders being in playoff position without Tavares playing like Tavares. If you pull him from the lineup for any five game stretch this year they are a lottery team.

Alex Goligoski

When the NHL’s top defensemen are named this guy somehow never comes up. People look at the trade for James Neal he was a part of and dismiss him. This is a bad, bad thing to do. Take a look at who he’s skating with in points among defensemen, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Francois Beauchemin, Kevin Shattenkirk, and then look at how much more efficient he is. Some of those men play with much better forward corps, and almost all of them play several more minutes a night.

The Phoenix Coyotes, currently owned and administered by the National Hockey League signed young star blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a sweet, sweet deal worth $33 million over six years. Of note is that the heavily backweighted nature of the contract means whoever  buys the team (may it be soon) will pay him two times as much in 2018-19 as the NHL will pay him next season. As long as he continues to improve it should still be a good price.

Don’t look now, but the Minnesota Wild are just two points out of the Northwest division lead. Sure, for the past ten decades that’s been a lot like finishing second in the Special Olympics, but this year staying close means even if the don’t overtake the flat in their last ten Vancouver Canucks, the 6-4-0 in their last ten Wild on the other hand are trending in the right direction and have allowed 8 less goals in the 26 games each has played. The Xcel Energy center will be quite juiced up in May if the return of native son Zach Parise helps spark the team to a playoff berth.

Vladimir Sobotka will play in his 300th career game tonight. #stlblues
@StLouisBlues
St. Louis Blues

 Sobotka was traded to the St Louis Blues from the Boston Bruins for David Warsovfky after the 2009-10 season and has appeared in 165 regular season games for the Blues. Warsovsky has yet to even get a cup of coffee in the NHL, Vladimir Sobotka has played an additional 9 playoff games. Currently Sobotka is fourth on the Blues in goal scoring.

The Tampa Bay Lightning waived, and their division rivals the Carolina Hurricanes, who happen to read lead the division, claimed Adam Hall. The Michigan native has played for the Nashville Predators, the New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins since coming into the NHL in 2001. Canes fans should expect Hall to slide into the penalty kill. It is interesting that the Lightning who are 13th in the NHL on the penalty kill should waive him, unless one looks down form their position rather than up. The Hurricanes on the other hand are 22nd in the league as of today and will likely give the UFA to be a workload similar to the 2:11 of shorthanded time on ice he had with the Lightning.

Monday evening, Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers will play his 1000th NHL game. The bastion of the blueline has been in a Flyers uniform since the 2007-08 season and will be celebrating his birthday as well. The Finnish native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings whom he never played a game for.

Mike Milbury thinks Mike Ribeiro of the Washington Capitals will be available at the deadline. Long his favorite team, Milbury had little more than “buyer beware” to say of the former Dallas Star and Montreal Canadien.