Why Not Nashville?

Why Not Nashville?

Jason Spezza has demanded a trade from the Ottawa Senators, and with his limited no-trade clause, he was able to submit a list of 10 teams that he would not be willing to be traded to.

Most of the teams on the list make sense. He no longer wants to play under the microscope of a Canadian market, so there are six teams that make up the list. And that is fair. Not just because he wants out of Canada, but because all of the Canadian teams are in pretty terrible shape on the ice, and he would not be able to challenge for a championship with any of them in the foreseeable future.

spezzaThe one team that I was surprised to see on his list was the Nashville Predators. With the stories coming out that there was a deal in place to send him there, and that he refused to waive his no-trade to go there, Spezza is being made out to be the bad guy in the situation, handcuffing his GM by not allowing him to get the best deal out there for the Sens. Well, that is neither here nor there, as Spezza is just exercising the rights afforded to him in the contract that his GM created for him. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, that’s fine. Then it is up to the GM to not trade him to the very place he said he wouldn’t go, and then try to throw him under the bus to the media.

But I wonder why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville? Sure, the team has always struggled offensively, which is exactly why they would want to trade for the proven scoring center. But they have a strong foundation down there, with some good young players and a tremendous defensive corps, starting in net with Pekka Rinne and on D with Shea Weber and Seth Jones. With some punch on the offensive side, they are a team that is not far off from competing. And they showed that they are willing to make some changes in order to get better, as demonstrated by their acquisition of James Neal from the Penguins on Friday.

Spezza could have been a star in Nashville, the leader of the offense. But, perhaps, this is not what he wants. He has been in the spotlight for so long in Ottawa, I could see him wanting to end up on a team where he isn’t “the man.” Where he can be a secondary piece, on the second line, and not have to deal with the constant scrutiny that has followed him for his whole career.

Nashville seems like a fun place to play, to be honest. For being a non-traditional hockey market, they have a ferocious fan base, a great building, and from everything I have heard, it is a really fun place to live. Nashville has a great nightlife, and a great music scene, and could definitely appeal to the young millionaire as a place to settle for a few years. I don’t think that Spezza didn’t want to go there because of the city, but because of the situation.

Now, we are forced to wonder who is left for him to be traded to? The only team that really makes sense is the St. Louis Blues, who were rumoured to be involved in trade talks about him from the moment he said he wanted a trade. What other team could afford him, have the pieces to trade for him, and offer him the protection of better talent and a diminished on-ice role? If he wasn’t so expensive, I could see Chicago being involved. Maybe even Minnesota. What about the Red Wings or the Rangers?

The options are definitely limited for him now, which brings me back to the question of why he wouldn’t want to go to Nashville. If anything, it could have helped him out, because there may not be anywhere else to go.

LA Kings Win Stanley Cup

LA Kings Win Stanley Cup

The heavily favoured Kings completed their two-month long quest on Friday night, taking home the Stanley Cup with a thrilling double-overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the final series. Justin Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, coming through as one of the league’s leading playoff scorers and one of several Kings that were deserving of the award.

kings3Perhaps the Rangers deserved a better fate, having had two goal leads in three of their losses, only to lose the leads, and the games, to the resilient Kings, who have been battling and scrapping since their first round series against the San Jose Sharks. This Kings team never quit, and it always felt that when they fell behind, they would assuredly find a way to come back, and to end up winning the game. By the time they had made the Finals, it had the feeling of inevitability that they were going to win the Cup. They had taken such a difficult road to get there, perhaps the most difficult journey to the Finals ever, that it seemed like nothing was going to stop them once they got there.

New York was a good team, and deserved to be playing for the championship. But in the end, they were over-matched. There was too much depth on LA’s bench, too many good players that could get the job done.

So, many of the still young Kings were able to raise the Cup over their heads for the second time in their careers. Drew Doughty, at only 24, has now won two Cups and two Olympic gold medals. Controversial captain Dustin Brown has now been the first to hoist the grail over his head twice now in his career, something not too many captains have been able to say over the past 20 years.

At the beginning of the playoffs, perhaps the Kings were not the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, but they were never dismissed as a team that didn’t have a chance. We all knew they did, and that they were a significant threat to all those they would be facing. They were not really underdogs, but the teams lined up against them would be a daunting task, even for the best teams out there.

Well, they proved that they were the best, and conclude the 2013-14 NHL season as the Champions.

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Here we go. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings for the Stanley Cup. The two biggest markets in the NHL, and a coast to coast battle that has never been seen before in the playoffs.

The Kings have become a semi-dynasty in the Western Conference, along with the Blackhawks, as they are going for their second Cup in the last three years. They had been in the conference finals for three straight years, which, in the cap-era, is incredibly consistent. The Kings are good, all over the place. They have the goalie, the D, and the forwards to get it done, as they already have.

rangers3The Rangers are probably more of a surprise to be here than the Kings are, given that the majority of people had the Bruins or Penguins going to the finals from the East (Note: I correctly predicted both conference final outcomes, so…yay me!).

kingsHere are my thoughts on the series:

  • Can’t ask for much of a better goalie match. There is gold and silver winning, all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Widely regarded as the best goalie in the league (and for good reason), Henrik has done it all, except win a Cup. He is already a legend in NYC, and if he wins the Cup, he will be an immortal there. On the other side, Jonathan Quick has risen to the top ranks of the league, having won a Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and serving as the US starting goalie in the Sochi Olympics. He has a fat contract from the last time he won the Cup, and now he is again proving that he is a money goalie. Even though he didn’t have the greatest regular season, he has been beyond good in the playoffs. Even though this is a pretty even battle, I have to give the edge to the hungry Lundqvist. 
  • On defense, this is another great battle. Both teams are stacked. The Kings have the best d-man in the league with Drew Doughty. They also have great depth, with guys like Martinez, Voynov, Greene, Mitchell, and Muzzin. These guys can score, along with playing a tight defensive game in front of their goalie. They did show vulnerability against Chicago, and they will show some breakdowns now and then. The Rangers don’t have the same firepower as the Hawks, and will have a tougher time breaking down the tough Kings D. The Rangers can respond with up-and-coming elite D man, Ryan McDonagh, along with an equally formidable stable of depth with Girardi (one of the best defensive defencemen in the league), Staal, and Stralman. I have to give the edge to the Kings here, just because they can get more goals and points from the back end than the Rangers will.
  • On offense, the teams are built in a similar fashion. Some high end talent (Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik against St. Louis, Nash, Zucharello, Richards) in front of a bunch of tough guys who can also put the puck in the net. The building of these teams is very similar. There are guys that can put the puck in the net. There are guys who can crash and bang, and make you regret going into the corners. There are third and fourth liners who can also contribute on both ends of the ice. I call this a slight edge to the Kings, because of how good Kopitar is in both ends of the ice.
  • What about the exhaustion? The Kings have played 7 games in each series. Incredibly, they have won game 7 on the road each time around. The teams they have played are bruisers, and even though they have come through, they could be pretty beat up by this point. Can they keep it up after such long, gruesome battles?
  • The Rangers, while playing fewer games, and having more rest between series, had some tough battles as well. But I don’t think that playing the depleted Habs is anything like the ringers the Kings have been through.
  • New York has some karma going for them. 20 years have gone by since their last appearance. The city is electric for the Rangers. Are they a team of destiny?
  • As I mentioned above, the Kings are kind of a dynasty at this point. In the playoffs, they seem as though they are unbeatable. They beat their nemesis in Chicago. They need to be sure to not overlook the Rangers, however. King Henrik can steal more than just a game, but an entire series.
  • Now that LA has home ice advantage, will they play differently? They have a great, desperate game on the road, and they haven’t been the same at home. Have to wonder if their us against the world mentality will be affected by being the favorite, and having home ice advantage for the biggest series.
  • This is really a closer call than I thought it would be. I figured that whoever came out of the West would stomp the Rangers, but now I’m not as convinced. And if this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that these series are closer than we might ever expect.
  • I hope for a good series, as do all. Best of luck to the Kings and the Rangers. Whoever wins, they will have earned it.

Prediction: I’m going with the Los Angeles Kings to take home another Cup. In 6 games. 

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

The Best Defenceman in the NHL

Since the retirement of the incredible Niklas Lidstrom, there has been a vacancy in the National Hockey League in the position of the best defenceman. There are a ton of worthy candidates, and many of them have staked their claim with awards, acclaim, and defining moments.

Keith, Chara, Weber, Pietrangelo, Subban, Karlsson. All are excellent. But the NHL has a new best D-man, and he is showing it in these 2014 playoffs.

Drew Doughty, of the Los Angeles Kings.

doughty2Four years ago, I was taken by the incredible presence that Doughty came up with during the Vancouver Olympic Games. Just a kid (20 years old), he looked like he belonged among the very best that the world had to offer. Despite his young age, he already has a Norris Trophy nomination under his belt, a Stanley Cup, and two Olympic Gold medals. One can only assume that there will be more of these in his future.

During the current playoff run that the Kings are enjoying (but are in danger of ending, after their game 6 loss to Chicago), Doughty has shown time and again why he is nudging himself ahead of the rest when it comes to being the best. He plays incredible minutes on a strong team (around 27 minutes per game), against the toughest opposition that teams have been able to throw against him (the Sharks, Ducks, and Blackhawks). He has been an stalwart in his own end, but is also contributing offensively, to the tune of 16 points in 20 games. Pretty impressive for a forward in the tight Western conference, let alone a guy who plays the point. Nine of his points have come on the powerplay that he quarterbacks, and he has amassed 50 shots over those 20 games. He is all over the place, and his offense has never taken away from his important play in his own end.

Doughty has the ability to do everything, in all three zones. He also has size, at 6’1″ and 213 pounds, so he isn’t simply a finesse player, either. He can be tough on you.

In a league where goalies are always considered to be the playoff heroes, if the Kings win the Cup again, it would be tough to overlook his contributions when it comes to the Conn Smythe voting.

Drew Doughty is emerging from the pack of young D that are taking the league by storm, and he has shown himself to be the best that the league has to offer. Look for him to pile up more awards as his career moves forward. Scary to think that he is only 24, and he has not yet reached his prime. This is a kid that will be among the best for the next 10 years.

Rangers to the Finals

Rangers to the Finals

After 20 years, the New York Rangers will be back in the Stanley Cup Finals, with a chance to win it all since their legendary run in 1994. They dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in six games, with a 1-0 victory on Thursday night, cementing their berth in the final round of the NHL playoffs.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings semi-final, and they will be decided underdogs with whichever team they will be facing for the holy grail of hockey.

For the majority of the series, the Rangers seemed to be in control, and with the damaging loss of the red-hot Carey Price, the Habs were doomed from the moment of his injury. The main slip by the Rangers was a 7-4 loss in Game 5, as they looked like a team that knew they had more than one shot to close out the series.

New York is a deep team, and they will be competitive in the finals. They are getting production from all over their lineup, and the standard great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. As usual, he will play a major role in determining the fate of his team in the next round.

The MVP of the series must be Dustin Tokarski, the third string netminder for Montreal that was thrust into an impossible situation with the injury to Price. With fewer than a dozen NHL games under his belt, Tokarski jumped up the depth chart over regular season backup Peter Budaj, and did an admirable job of keeping the Habs in the series. He has definitely cemented himself as a solid #2 for next season. If he had managed to win this series, he would have quickly become a legend in Montreal. He was facing a team that was hot and on a roll, and he did a great job in leading his team to two wins. He should be commended for his determination and prowess in this series.

Dustin TokarskiI’m personally pleased that the Rangers have made it to the final, as they were my pre-season pick to make it to the finals. Looks like I can pretend to be reasonably smart when guessing NHL games for a little while.

Best of luck to New York, where it will be an incredible party if the Blueshirts are able to bring back the Cup to the Big Apple.

The Stanley Cup Finals will begin on Wednesday.

Carey Price Out

Carey Price Out

Definitely the worst nightmare for fans of the Montreal Canadiens is leaving the fate of their team, and a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1993, in the hands of their backup goalie. Especially since their starter, Carey Price, has been absolutely amazing in the playoffs, he being the primary reason the team advanced past the favored Boston Bruins, with his incredible play.

Carey Price is the backbone of the Habs, and a leg/knee injury will apparently keep him out of the rest of this series, according to the reports released today.

This is absolutely terrible news for Montreal, already down 1-0 to the Rangers after being smashed in Game 1. Does it mean that they are totally doomed?

No.

Carey Price is at his best right now, and the Habs were flying with confidence because of him. But, at least Peter Budaj is a reliable backup goalie, one who is more than capable to man the nets. He will have some serious rust to shake off from a long break of games Price played, but he can get in there, and make some of the saves that are required. Budaj isn’t going to steal any games the way that Price did, but this definitely does not mean that the Habs are sunk. If they keep playing with tons of energy, and Budaj can make a couple of key saves here and there to give his team confidence in him, things could keep rolling along smoothly.

Could.

It's up to this guy now.
It’s up to this guy now.

The Rangers are a team that struggles to score goals (although it didn’t seem that way in Game 1), and this could be a crack in the door that opens things up for them.

In the end, I don’t think the Habs win this series with Budaj in net. Bu I don’t necessarily think that they lose it because of him.

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

kings2

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

rangers2

I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.