NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

NHL Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Here are some vague guesses for round 1 of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. I am really liking the new playoff format, as there are some really, really good matchups in the first round. A couple of them could end up being blood baths, and that is all that NHL fans can ask for. There is nothing better than the first round, in my mind, where upsets happen, and teams who move on get beat up. It’s an exciting time to be a hockey fan.

crystallWestern Conference

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

  • This has quickly become the trendy upset pick, with a lot of people choosing the Stars to take down the hot-starting Ducks, who traditionally fade over the course of the season.
  • Ducks are top heavy. Not much beyond the Getzlaf-Perry line.
  • Anaheim seems to have endless stud goalies, so whether they end up with Andersson, Hiller, or Gibson, they are in good shape.
  • Love, love, love the combo of Benn and Seguin in Dallas. They will be good together for a long time.
  • Surprising depth on the Stars. They are pretty underrated across the board.

Prediction: Stars in 7. I’m going with the trends here.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

wild

  • Hugely surprising year for the Avs. Are they ready to make the next step?
  • Biggest question in Colorado is that unknown D corps. Can they stop a consistent Wild team?
  • Huge disadvantage for the Wild in net. Bryzgalov is the ultimate wild card here. He could be great. He could be awful.
  • Big bonus for the Wild: their D is very strong, led by Ryan Suter. He will be a difference maker.
  • I’m smelling upset here.

Prediction: Wild in 6. Avalanche not ready to be great just yet.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

kings

  • This would be a worthy Western Conference Final matchup.
  • It’s too bad one of these teams has to go home, they are both Cup contenders. But that’s the beauty of the new playoff format.
  • Great rivalry. This is one of those series that will be an all out war. It’s going to go 7, no matter who wins. Winning team will be battered and bruised by the time they get to the 2nd round.
  • Biggest advantage is for the Kings in net, with Quick over the under-appreciated, but inconsistent Antti Niemi.

Prediction: Kings in 7. Too deep. Too relentless. Sharks love to choke. 

St.Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

st-louis-blues-logo

  • Ugly 6-game losing streak for the Blues leading into the playoffs.
  • Ryan Miller has come back to earth after hot start after his trade to St. Louis.
  • Battle of injured teams. A lot of banged-up guys on both teams. Hawks are getting Kane and Toews back, the Blues should get Backes and Oshie back. Big difference if they are fully healthy.
  • Another bruising series. The Blues play mean, and I wonder if the Hawks have enough to fight back with.
  • It’s so hard to repeat as champs in this league.

Prediction: Blues in 7. I think they can turn it around. They are just infinitely deep and tough to play against. 

 

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings

bruins

  • 23rd straight year the Wings are in the dance. Incredible.
  • Important injuries on the Red Wings, including Zetterberg, who won’t be back. Datsyuk always seems to be banged up now.
  • Bruins are a monstrous team. They can score, defend, and beat you up. Wings can’t match them in any department.

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

pens

  • Maybe the most unappealing first round matchup?
  • Constant worry over Fleury in the Pens net. Bobrovsky is an advantage for Columbus.
  • Columbus has only been to the playoffs once before, and they were swept. Going against a team that can explode offensively.
  • Will Malkin be back?
  • Crosby has had an incredible season, and there is no reason to believe that he won’t continue it in the playoffs.

Prediction: Penguins in 7. I really want to take the Jackets in an upset, but they just aren’t there yet. If Malkin is back, they take it. 

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

  • The biggest coin flip of the first round. Both teams are evenly matched.
  • Biggest impact is Ben Bishop’s injury. Huge downgrade to have Anders Lindback in net.
  • Carey Price has had a good year. He can/will be a difference maker.
  • Love the young guns of the Bolts. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Callahan.
  • Big year from Victor Hedman, largely not discussed over the course of the year. Big breakout for him.

Prediction: Lightning in 6. I feel the Habs will disappoint, and not give Price enough support. 

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers

rangers

  • Another great rivalry, both teams are real contenders coming off a terrible start to the season.
  • Huge plus having Lundqvist over Mason in net.
  • Will be a tough series, both teams can hit and mix it up. Will be a bruiser of a series.
  • Not terribly sold on the Flyers D. Not that the Rangers set the world on fire on offense, but there is enough depth to do some damage.

Prediction: Rangers in 6. 

 

There we have it. Now we can sit back and enjoy the games, as they start tomorrow night. NHL playoffs are the best time of year, after the long, grueling season. Time to get to the real games!

 

 

End of Season NHL Thoughts

End of Season NHL Thoughts

With the year coming to an end in the National Hockey League tomorrow, I figured I would jot down a few thoughts I’ve had on the season that is wrapping up. It has had a ton of interesting stories, none being bigger than the Olympics (which really isn’t about the NHL, but at the same time, really is).

Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let's pretend it doesn't have the Thrashers on there.
Hahah, not exactly a new map. Let’s pretend it doesn’t have the Thrashers on there.
  • Congrats to the Bruins on winning the President’s Trophy. They are definitely the class of the East, and have been all season. It is really tough to pick anyone but them to make it out of the East to the Stanley Cup Finals.
  • Could the team to challenge the Bruins be the Flyers? This season was a pretty incredible comeback from what was a terrible beginning to the year, for a team that always seems to be involved in some turmoil.
  • About the Flyers, I am shocked that Steve Mason has led them to the playoffs and regained some of his form.
  • Interesting that the two teams who really wanted to move East, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings, both made the playoffs in their new conference. The team moving the other way, the Winnipeg Jets, did not.
  • Strange, but not surprising, that there will only be one Canadian team in the playoffs.
  • The Edmonton Oilers have to be the worst team in the league this year. The other miserable franchises, the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers, were not expected to be anywhere close to good, and their expectations were to be bottom feeders. The Oilers often showed no effort or care, and this is why they are below teams like the Calgary Flames.
  • Great to see Sidney Crosby healthy and playing a full season. He has of course, shown what he can do, leading the league in points by a mile and probably on his way to the Hart Trophy as well.
  • Tough call to choose a Norris (best defenceman) Award. Weber, Chara, Keith, Pietrangelo, Vlasic, Doughty, Karlsson, are all worthy candidates.
  • I picked the Blues and Rangers to make the Finals at the start of the year. They are both in the dance, so I guess there is a shot that I’m right?
  • Should we be worried about the Blues, and their end of the season slump? It is poor timing on their part, but it just seems like they are too deep a team to have another early exit.
  • It seems impossible to decide who will come out of the West. Seems like every team who is in the playoffs has a legitimate shot.
  • Do the Oilers need to look at the Avalanche as a model of how to rebuild quickly and successfully? Part of the Avs getting to where they are was from making big trades. Something that doesn’t happen in Edmonton.
  • I have to give it to the Flames. They over-achieved purely based on heart.
  • Breakout season from Mark Giordano. An excellent defender in Calgary. And worthy of being their captain. Exploded offensively, unfortunately he missed some time with injuries, or he would be in the Norris conversation.
  • I have been ranting for years to friends about Alex Ovechkin being overrated and generally terrible when it comes to everything hockey that is not scoring goals. His league worst plus/minus and obviously giving up on plays is making him look really bad. He will never be a defensive specialist, but he is a poor leader, and the ways in which he coasts when not in the attacking zone is pretty embarrassing. Sure, the guy can score, but would anyone choose him to build their team around? When there are so many quality, all-around players out there? I doubt it anymore.
  • Countdown to the Penguins falling flat in the playoffs begins very soon.
  • Thank god the Islanders are up for sale. They need a change, and it begins with the owner. It is sad to watch so many bad things happen to one franchise. Poor choices mixed with bad luck equals another pathetic year on Long Island. Sad.
  • How crazy good were the rookies this year? MacKinnon, Palat, Johnson, Maata. Impressive.
  • What happened to Martin St. Louis in New York? Wonder if he regrets wanting out of Tampa, and not getting to play with Steven Stamkos anymore. Stamkos is one of the best, and makes everyone around him better.
  • The Lightning had better hope that Ben Bishop can play in the playoffs. He has been a revelation. And they are done without him, I think. Although the Canadiens aren’t the toughest first round match up.
  • Love Ryan Callahan in Tampa. Hope they get to keep him. Good all around player, solid leader.
  • Tuuka Rask for Vezina.
  • Enough with the outdoor games. If you want to keep doing it, make it one per year. It seemed like they kept coming, and like nobody cared. The Heritage Classic in Vancouver was a sham, being indoors. Feel bad for the fans who thought they were getting something special.
  • Incredible that the Red Wings have now made the playoffs for 23 straight years. Seems impossible.
  • I’m bored of shootouts. I’m sure the New Jersey Devils are as well, being the worst ever at them.
  • How many more career points would Jaromir Jagr have if he hadn’t gone to the KHL for those three years? You could probably pencil him in for an extra 160-200 points. Amazing career.
  • Goodbye, Teemu Selanne. You were always fun.
  • Is it fair that the Anaheim Ducks have 3 quality starting goalies? And they traded another of them, so they had 4 at one point. That is smart drafting.

Enough of this regular season business, let’s get the playoffs going! It’s always an exciting time of year, in what is the most gruelling tournament to win a championship in any of the major sports.

NHL: Ryan Miller to the Blues

NHL: Ryan Miller to the Blues

With the trade deadline approaching in the NHL, we as fans are always glued to all of the rumours that swirl around the league prior to the day that is an inevitable disappointment.

There are some huge names out there this year, which has fans salivating at an active day and not a complete waste of many hours of TSN coverage: Martin St. Louis, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Miller.

Well, there will at least be one big trade this year, as Miller and Steve Ott were traded to the St. Louis Blues for Chris Stewart, Jaroslav Halak, a prospect and a couple of picks, including the Blues’ first rounder in 2015 (the Connor McDavid draft).

millerMy thoughts on this trade is that both teams win. The Sabres get a handful of pieces that they can hang on to, or turn around and trade again for more picks and prospects. Buffalo seems to be doing this rebuild thing the right way. They have a ton of first and second round picks in the next two drafts, and this will help them build to a much brighter future. They are not a better team today than they were yesterday, but that’s not what we are expecting them to do, anyways. The players they got back aren’t scraps, as Halak has numbers similar to Miller’s, and has been a pretty solid goalie in the league the past few years. Granted, that was playing behind the Blues’ mighty D, but he’s no slouch in the crease. Stewart is a solid power forward, who has the ability to put up points if he is in the right situation. He was up and down in St. Louis, and I think Buffalo will be a better fit for him, as more will be expected of him.

As for the Blues, many people have argued that getting Miller is only a marginal upgrade over Halak, and if you are purely looking at the numbers, this is true. But the fact is, Miller was playing in Buffalo, where they are simply awful. Now, he is on a strong, contending team, with a stellar defence in front of him (the best in the league, I would argue). He will turn out to be strong for the Blues, and in my mind, is a definite upgrade. If anything, it will give the team some confidence with him back there, something they obviously lacked by trying to get him in the first place. Now the D doesn’t have to be as concerned with making a mistake, because they have a solid stopper to cover up some mistakes.

As for Steve Ott, he is a good depth addition, who makes the Blues even tougher to play against. He is a pest with some offensive upside, and he does well to fill in the void left by Stewart.

The Blues gave up a lot for two guys who could merely be rentals, but for a team that needs to get into the deeper round of the playoffs for the first time in forever, it was a move in the right direction. I am excited to see how Miller does once he settles into his new surroundings, and if this team becomes the true Western powerhouse I believe it to be.

St. Louis was my Stanley Cup pick at the start of the year (beating the Rangers, I figured), and this move does nothing, in my opinion, but help that.

Quick Thoughts: Team USA Olympic Hockey Roster

Following the Winter Classic game in Detroit today, the US announced their Olympic hockey team for the upcoming games in Sochi, Russia. Immediately, we look to the players that didn’t make the cut, such as Bobby Ryan, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, or my most surprising omission, Keith Yandle.

usa-hockey-2014-jerseysHere are the players (from cbssports.com):

Left Wing: Dustin Brown, Max Pacioretty, Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk. A little bit of everything here. Brown is tough, Parise is fast, and Pacioretty can finish. I like this group.

Center: David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stasny. Backes has become a favorite of mine, and there is good toughness here with him and Kesler. Not sold on the Stasny pick. It seems like the high point of his career is past him, and he is no longer an offensive force.

Right Wing: Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, TJ Oshie. Love the inclusion of Oshie. Kane is one of the best, and Callahan has grit and leadership.

Extra Forwards: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler. This is where it is surprising that Bobby Ryan didn’t make the cut.

Defense: Cam Fowler, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk. Big youth movement here! I like these picks, although Orpik sort of sticks out like a sore thumb to me. It’s important to have defensive-minded players, but it seems to me that Orpik isn’t the best at doing this. I foresee him struggling on the bigger ice in more wide-open situations. Not a ton of size and definitely missing some angry with these picks, but that’s not the most important thing on the big ice. The team was going for speed, and they will get it with these D. There will be a ton of pressure on these young guys, and it will be interesting to see how they react. The worst-case scenario is that they do poorly, but Team USA is set up for the next couple of Olympics with this group able to grow together.

Goalies: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard. No surprises here. Won’t be surprised if Miller comes in and takes over the starter’s role. He still has a ton of fight left in him, and has been doing his best in a bad situation in Buffalo this year. Plus, a big Olympics could boost his trade value even more. A little concerned with the Quick injury, but he will be back on the ice soon enough and will be able to get plenty of action in before going to Russia.

Overall, I don’t know that this team has near the same depth that Canada will once it reveals its roster. But something the US has been good at doing in the last couple Olympics is put together good teams, not necessarily just a collection of the best players. With this team, I feel they will be in the running for the medals. The US always seems to step it up, even when they are not expected to (see 2010 Games in Vancouver). I don’t see them as a gold medal threat, but I can easily picture them playing for bronze. Really, this tourney comes down to who has the hottest goalies (and I will call Finland as being a good dark horse pick, because their goaltending situation is amazing). Most glaring weakness for me is on the back end, and that could expose their goalies a little too much in such a short tournament.They also seem that they will struggle to score goals, because outside of Kane and maybe Kessel, they lack some true snipers. There is plenty of grit up front, and we will see how that works out for them.

Only a few weeks and we’ll get to see!