2015-16 NHL Predictions

2015-16 NHL Predictions

I guess it’s that time of year, to make ridiculous predictions in relation to how the National Hockey League will play out this season, and to make an attempt at guessing the order of finish for the four divisions in the league.

The new year always promises excitement, with questions to be answered, and results to be seen.

Here we go!

(x- denotes playoffs)

Atlantic Division

  1. x-Tampa Bay Lightning: No reason to see any regression in one of the more exciting, young, teams in the league. Goalie health will always be the main question; the rest of the team is solid.
  2. x- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price. PK Subban. That is all. Will all lead to another playoff flameout because of lack of grit and secondary scoring.
  3. x- Detroit Red Wings: It has become impossible to not pick them to make the playoffs. They always find a way.
  4. Boston Bruins: Weird off-season, no signs of improvement.
  5. Florida Panthers: A team on the rise, but there are still too many teams to overcome to be a serious threat.
  6. Buffalo Sabres: A lot of excitement around the changes to this bottom-feeder, and rightfully so. Should be entertaining to watch, at least.
  7. Ottawa Senators: Goalie regression. That is all.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s great to have Babcock at the helm, but he is basically trying to coach a raging tire fire of a roster.

Metropolitan Division

  1. x- New York Islanders: They are one of the more entertaining teams in the league, filled with a ton of offense. There will be a lot of 5-4 games. Which is awesome. Time for them to take the leap.
  2. x- New York Rangers: Becoming a perennial contender. Good looking roster, with plenty of depth.
  3. x- Columbus Blue Jackets: A team destroyed by injuries last year. Their top line will rack up the points this year. An underdog, but should not be overlooked.
  4. x- Pittsburgh Penguins: I still see the same problems with the Pens: very top heavy, with very little depth once you get past the first line and a half of players.
  5. x- Washington Capitals: A trendy Cup pick that I don’t see doing much more than it usually does.
  6. Philadelphia Flyers: Not enough change on a roster that failed next year. They will be playoff contenders, however, and should make it interesting down to the end.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes: The team that most people forget even exists in this league. Nothing to really report on here. Just become the Quebec Nordiques already.
  8. New Jersey Devils: A weird looking roster filled with dinosaurs. The lone bright spot is Cory Schneider.

Central Division

  1. x- St. Louis Blues: So much depth. Need to break the playoff curse against the ‘Hawks.
  2. x- Minnesota Wild: Underachieved for most of last year because of terrible goaltending. The problem seems to be fixed, and it is time they made an upwards move instead of simply being a fringe team.
  3. x- Dallas Stars: The Islanders of the West. All offense, questions on whether or not they can actually prevent goals. Upgrades all around during the off-season. Tyler Seguin for the Art Ross?
  4. x- Chicago Blackhawks: They have to get tired after all the playoff games at some point, right? Right?
  5. x- Winnipeg Jets: A solid looking team (as long as Ondrej Pavelec gets fewer and fewer starts in net) stuck in a very good division.
  6. Nashville Predators: How many off-seasons can they have where they do nothing to improve their middling offense?
  7. Colorado Avalanche: Probably better than they were last year, with bounce-back years from their kids. But not good enough to take over from any of the teams above them, all of whom have playoff potential.

Pacific Division

  1. x- Anaheim Ducks: Just a strong team all around. They will grind their way to the top.
  2. x- Los Angeles Kings: The roster is too good to miss the dance for a second year in a row.
  3. x- Calgary Flames: All heart, wanting to prove that last year was no fluke. Many are calling for them to drop in the standings because of poor fancy stats. I don’t see much of a drop.
  4. San Jose Sharks: Maybe one of the tougher teams to get a read on. Questions in goal will doom them.
  5. Edmonton Oilers: After nearly a decade at the bottom, they will finally begin to rise. Should be entertaining to watch, and oh yeah, I see McDavid as a legitimate threat to win the scoring title in his rookie season.
  6. Vancouver Canucks: There is basically nothing to like about this roster. They have done very little from their heyday a few years ago, and now they look old and boring.
  7. Arizona Coyotes: A ton of potential and young talent with this team, and should be scary. In a couple of years.

Insane Stanley Cup Prediction

In the West, I see the Blues finally breaking through, beating the Kings in the Conference Final. On the other side of the continent, I’ll go with a crazy prediction and take the Islanders to top the Blue Jackets in the semis.

Blues vs. Islanders final. The Blues win the Cup, and the Islanders re-establish themselves as legitimate contenders for years to come.

2014-15 NHL Predictions

2014-15 NHL Predictions

Hockey is back. So that means it’s time for me to make some wild guesses as to how the regular season will play out over the next 82 games. Maybe even make a way-too-early Stanley Cup prediction that will surely not come true, if only because I guessed it.

*denotes playoff team

Western Conference

east2

Central Division

st-louis-blues-logo1. *St. Louis Blues: Looking at that roster, it is just so deep. Their top-6 are among the best in the league, and that D is impressive. I think Elliott and Allen can get it done in net.

2. *Chicago Blackhawks: They are going to be Cup favorites again. Another incredibly deep team. No reason to think there is any drop off in them this season.

3. *Dallas Stars: Ok, I’ll bite. All offense, very little D. But that can work in the regular season.

4. *Colorado Avalanche: I don’t think the drop off will be as huge as the advanced stats say. This is still a young, fast, exciting team.

5. *Minnesota Wild: Made some good moves. Still a lot of questions in net, where not much has been done to improve themselves. They seem doomed to always be battling for a playoff spot.

6. Nashville Predators: Same old, same old. Solid D. No offense. I don’t know that James Neal makes that big a difference without Malkin on his line. There will be some good stories here, like a possible Ribeiro comeback, but that’s about it.

7. Winnipeg Jets: Still, nothing has been done to improve this team. They need to blow it up, if their GM realized that making trades was allowed. Horrible goaltending will sink the potential of the forwards and young D again.

Pacific Division

1. *Anaheim Ducks: Deep, big, strong. A regular season beast of a team again, even with the changes in net.

kings2. *Los Angeles Kings: The champs will coast through the regular season again, waiting to make their move in the playoffs, as usual.

3. *San Jose Sharks: Despite the weird off-season, they are still a strong and deep team. There is absolutely enough there to be a good regular season team again.

4. Vancouver Canucks: I hated the Ryan Miller signing, but this team will bounce back a little bit after the debacle that was the last year. Still not a ton there, and I feel this team needs some massive changes to get back into the race.

5. Phoenix Coyotes: Always underestimated. Strong D and goalies will carry them, but who knows who will score goals for them?

6. Edmonton Oilers: Blah, blah, blah, youth. They will be better, especially with actual NHL goalies on their roster this year, but there is too much ground to make up to be much of a threat in this scary conference.

7. Calgary Flames: They worked their butts off last year, and probably over-achieved. They will be in the running for Connor McDavid this year.

Eastern Conference

east

Atlantic Division

bruins1. *Boston Bruins: They remain the class of the East. Best goalie, best D, deepest forward crop.

2. *Tampa Bay Lightning: Another exciting team. Biggest question mark for me is in net. Is Bishop a one-year wonder?

3. *Montreal Canadiens: Mostly put them here because I don’t know who else I reasonably could. A decent team, but nothing special here, in my opinion.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Once they fire their terrible coach, they might be a decent team. Still, no playoffs.

5. Florida Panthers: I guess the only surprise pick so far. There is something going on here, and with a real goalie and a ton of youth, they could be pretty decent for once.

6. Detroit Red Wings: 25 years in the playoffs is a long time. The run ends this year. The forwards are either too old and frail, or too young and inexperienced.

7. Ottawa Senators: There just isn’t much to like here, except perhaps a nice bounceback year for both goalies.

8. Buffalo Sabres: I actually think they will be significantly better than last year. They are doing their rebuild right, and there is a lot to work with here, as they move forward.

Metropolitan Division

1. *Pittsburgh Penguins: I’m already going to pick another playoff collapse, but with two of the best players in the world, they will probably run away with this division.

Yup, I'm using the fisherman.
Yup, I’m using the fisherman.

2. *New York Islanders: Yup, you read that right. The Islanders. I feel they made a ton of improvements over the summer, and are ready to get back into the dance. I feel there is some serious potential on this team, and if Halak can be semi-competent in goal, they have a real shot at being a special team.

3. *New York Rangers: They lost a lot since the Cup finalists last year, but they will still be respectable. Especially since Lundqvist is still their goalie. That alone gets them in in this messy division.

4. *Columbus Blue Jackets: Quietly a respectable team again. They work hard, and have some skill and nice building blocks. Hopefully there isn’t too much of a drop off in net, or with their won’t be named training camp holdout forward. He needs to shake off the rust, and fast.

5. *Philadelphia Flyers: I really like a lot of the talent on this team. If someone like Giroux decides to play the whole season, I could see them finishing as high as third in this division.

6. New Jersey Devils: I don’t really get this team. But they will hang around for most of the year.

7. Washington Capitals: Where have you gone, Southeasy Division? Getting Trotz as a coach was the right move, but there are far too many gaps in this roster, and you have to wonder how long they will buy into his system.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: I predict that they will win the lottery, and sadly, will get McDavid. Which is too bad, because let’s be honest. Not many people care that Carolina even has a team. One of hockey’s most forgotten about franchises. They are going to be bad, I feel. Sabres bad.

Randoms, and Playoffs:

  • Hart Trophy (MVP): John Tavares, Islanders. It’s time. And with a better team around him, he will shine.
  • Art Ross (scoring): Sidney Crosby, Penguins. Betting against this is basically betting against him being healthy, or getting injured. He is by far the best in the game.
  • Norris (best D): Alex Pietrangelo, Blues. Changing of the guard. The potential is there. With a little more offense, he will be in the conversation again.
  • Vezina (best goalie): Tuuka Raask, Bruins. Such a good team. He benefits from that. Oh, and being really good as a goalie.
  • Stanley Cup Final: St. Louis vs. New York Islanders. Not only do I think the Isles will make it back to the playoffs this year and win their first series since 1993, I think they will go all the way to the finals, shocking absolutely everyone. This is how wide open, and weak, I feel the East is this year. There will be at least five teams from the West that could beat the Isles in a series, but that’s what happens when geography occurs. I will pick the Blues to do it this year.

Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

Expanding by Four: Should the NHL Get Bigger?

Over the past week, there have been a bunch of rumours regarding the National Hockey League’s plans to expand their league by another four teams by 2017. This stemmed from a report stating that the idea of an NHL team in Las Vegas was a done deal, and that there were other deals on the table to bring teams to Seattle, Quebec City, and the greater Toronto area (or GTA, for those who live around there). 

Opinions have been going back and forth on why this is a great idea, and why this is a horrendous plan. Expansion is always dicey, but going all in with a plan of four teams is a huge risk, especially in a league that already has more than one floundering franchise (looking at you, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, and Carolina Hurricanes). 

I’ve had time to digest the ideas of expansion, and have some opinions, just on the general effects it could have on the league, and on each individual city that has been named. 

The NHL Expanding by Four–The Good

  • massive expansion fees means more money for the owners- that they don’t have to share with the players. They have to be drooling over that a little bit. 
  • Balancing the league. With unbalanced conferences right now, this plan would enable the NHL to even things out, assuming Vegas, Seattle, and the GTA team would play in the West, and Quebec City would play in the east. 
  • New/renewed rivalries. Seattle vs. Vancouver would become a natural rivalry, as would the two Toronto teams facing off against one another. And bringing back the legendary Montreal/Quebec rivalry would be great. 
  • Cities getting something they deserve. Quebec deserves an NHL team. They never should have lost the Nordiques to Colorado in the first place, but the doom of the terrible Canadian dollar at the time sealed their fate, as they were unable to compete. Seattle seems like a good fit for hockey, and always has. It is surprising to me that it has only been in the last while that they have started being mentioned as a possible destination. And Toronto is more than able to support another team, which I will expand on more later on. 
  • Expansion drafts. I have to admit, these are really fun. It is amazing to go through the process of who will be protected by their team, and who will be left to hang in the winds. And then it is interesting to see the picks, as the new teams choose from a pretty good selection of players, only to select cheap plumbers who make us scratch our heads. Maybe with rich new owners, they won’t be afraid to pick up a couple of high priced players to put some butts in the seats, and give their new teams a chance to compete right off the hop.

The NHL expanding by Four– The Bad

  • The product will become diluted. There is no doubt that the NHL is the greatest hockey league in the world. But where are we getting another 120 players to play on these expansion teams? The lure for many players to come over from Europe would have to get much stronger. There would be plenty of more AHL players who would have to make the jump up to the big league, and prove their worth on the largest scale. Looking around the league as it is, there are players all over NHL rosters who don’t deserve to be here (looks in the direction of John Scott). With a massive four more teams, this number will increase dramatically. 
  • Going back to the trap. Expansion teams need to compete in order to create a foothold for fans in their new city, and the best way to do this is to win. And the easiest way to win, with a lackluster roster, is to play defense. And this could mean the return of the trap. Think of the haunting memories of the first years of the Minnesota Wild, and how incredibly boring they were to watch. We could see that type of era return. Play for low scoring games, and hope to keep it within one until the very end. Or play for loser points. It could mean the return of some pretty boring hockey, which the league has tried to eradicate over the past few years. 
  • What happens to the failing teams we already have? Having these cities around now is good, for the day when the inevitable announcement comes along that the Coyotes are going to move. If the NHL expands, it is left with nothing, aside from perhaps Kansas City, to serve as an escape plan if a team needs to relocate. 
  • Even more rare chances of dynasty teams. Teams winning the Cup, or even competing for it, for several seasons in a row has become pretty rare. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have alternated Cup wins recently, and this may be the closest we will ever see to dynasty teams again. Having even more teams in the league, and more roster shakeups with an expansion draft will surely affect this.

The Cities #1: Las Vegas

nhl2
Las Vegas- Hockey Town?
  • Another team in the desert? Haven’t the Coyotes proven that this is a bad idea from the start?
  • Vegas is very much a transient city. Can we expect a solid enough fan base from the citizens of Vegas to keep this team afloat, while they hope for tourists to come from all over the country and shell out money for something they can often see at home? Would you go on vacation from Montreal, where you can see the Canadiens play all the time, and shell out the same money to see an expansion team play the Blue Jackets? 
  • Is it really a good idea to have a professional sports team play in the gambling capital of the world? How long would it take before there are controversies with things like game fixing, sports book controversies, players gambling, players partying too hard, etc? Vegas seems like a problem waiting to happen. 
  • If Vegas is such a good place for a sports team, why haven’t any of the Big Three leagues put a team there already? Wouldn’t basketball or football do better there? Why has the NFL and NBA shied away from this city as a destination?
  • The idea of a team in Las Vegas reeks of gimmick. The NHL has long been the ugly cousin of the pro sports leagues in North America, and has always been fighting for credibility. Going to Vegas, in my opinion, does nothing but hinder their credibility. 
  • Surprisingly, minor league teams in the city have done…okay, when it comes to attendance. 

The Verdict on Las Vegas: It seems inevitable that the NHL will end up here. I feel that this city is better suited as a place for relocation, instead of expansion. This way, they will be able to get a team that is more ready to compete, and quickly, instead of going through several painful years of building. I don’t think the town has the patience for that, and I think the tourist draw is overrated. People won’t specifically be going there for hockey, and the team will be fighting with literally thousands of other fun ways to spend your money in that town. Overall, this isn’t a great idea.

The Cities #2: Seattle

Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
Hockey deserves to be in the Pacific Northwest. I would cheer for a Seattle team.
  • Seattle is a great North American city. It is a beautiful place to visit, and by most accounts, a good place to live. They have a strong sporting tradition. They love their Seahawks, have generally remained interested in their Mariners, despite years of poor teams, and really did support their SuperSonics, until the owner pulled the rug from beneath their feet over an arena deal. They have a history as a good sports town, making it feel right for the NHL to be there. 
  • Geographically, they are a good fit, bridging the gap between Vancouver and the Alberta teams, and the southern teams of California and Texas. 
  • Could develop good rivalries with Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Flames and Oilers need new rivalries.
  • The arena thing is a problem here. The current spot, the Key Arena, is outdated. They were trying to have a new one built for the return of an NBA team, but all of this fell through when the Sacramento Kings decided to stay put. The NHL won’t go here unless there is something in place to build a new rink, something modern and state-of-the-art. This could also help lure basketball back to town, so could work out quite well for the city, if something can get worked out. 
  • Seattle has a hockey history, as there have been junior teams in Seattle and Portland forever. They are well supported.
  • Would an NHL team mean the death of junior hockey in the area? The Thunderbirds would be in big trouble, and a big league team could even filter off some fans from the always successful Portland Winterhawks as well. There are plenty of places that can support major and junior hockey at the same time, but I don’t know if Seattle could do it. 

The Verdict on Seattle: While this may seem like another city better suited to a relocated team than an expansion one, I would like to see hockey in the Pacific Northwest. I feel that it is a geographical fit, and in a city that is desirable for people to live in. Seattle is not a place in the boonies, that people can barely find on a map, like Columbus. It is a major center, and a pretty large media market. I envision Seattle as being a good, strong organization from the get go. Put a team there. 

The Cities #3: Greater Toronto Area/Markham

The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
The blue collar, affordable Toronto team would play here.
  • Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and there is very little doubt that they could support a second team, and that there is a rabid desire for another team in the area.
  • The Maple Leafs, and probably the Buffalo Sabres, will fight tooth and nail against this, but the league will not be able to resist the millions upon millions that could be made from a team here. 
  • In such a crazy hockey market, the Leafs will always rule. But going to a Leafs game is nearly impossible for the regular fan, as they have been priced out of tickets, and the games are mainly attended by business types. A second team would give Toronto a working class team, one that could become loved by the regular fan. Would that mean they would abandon their Leafs allegiance? Probably not. But the new generations of fans coming up, with little to no allegiance to the team their parents loved, and never having seen a good Leafs team, could flock to the new team. Seeing kids at a Toronto NHL game would be something different, instead of the dull, silent crowds that attend the Leafs now. 
  • Another team in the area would force the Leafs to do everything possible to become a better team. Instead of floundering, as they seemingly have been since the 1993 playoffs, they know that they could lose fans for the first time if they continue to be bad. 
  • Of course, this would be an amazing rivalry, in the same way that the Rangers-Islanders is, even if the teams are in different stratospheres of success. It would be the underdogs against the Leafs every time, and it would be fantastic, especially once the team takes hold and has a loyal fan base of its own. 
  • Another team in Canada just means more revenues for the league. No question about that. The current seven teams basically carry the rest of the league as it is. Why not add more to the pot. 

The verdict on GTA: Nothing to think about here. Just do it. There is nothing but positives here. 

The Cities #4: Quebec City

I'll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
I’ll line up for a jersey if they come back as the Nordiques, with something like this look.
  • When the Nordiques left, it was perhaps the saddest relocation of them all. A dedicated fan base had their team ripped from them, and just as they were getting good. How heartbreaking it must have been as they built up for years, and then won the Cup in their first year in Colorado? 
  • I only want them back if they will still be called the Nordiques, and will still have those incredible blue and white jerseys. Even though they have been gone for a long time, those are still some of the best threads in the league. 
  • They are building a brand-new arena, that will be ready to go as soon as they are awarded a team. 
  • The Habs-Nords was one of the best rivalries in the league, and Montreal has never been able to replicate it. Sure, there is some hate between Montreal and Toronto, but nothing like the in-province rivalry with the capital city. Montreal-Ottawa has never really taken off, considering how close those two teams are to one another. The league wants it to be amazing, but it isn’t. Problem solved with the return of the Nordiques. 
  • This is a fan base that would be patient as they built themselves into winners once again. Giving them an expansion team would be fine, as they fans would follow them with passion until they were good. 

The Verdict on Quebec City: This is my #1 choice for a new team. Bring them back, sign them up now. Being someone who can’t find any reason to cheer for any of the Canadian teams, I would instantly become a Nordiques fan the second of their return. 

Gary Bettman has stated time and again that the league is not thinking of expanding just yet, but we all know that there is probably something in the works. I think if the league is going to do it, then it should do it all at once, to put the new teams on level playing ground, and so that they can grow together. Make it a big shock for the league, all at once, instead of dribbling out new teams over a few years, as they did with their two-at-a-time expansion of the 90’s and 00’s. Make it happen, establish them, and let them grow. 

And then we can worry about contraction.

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.

Kings Up 2-0

Kings Up 2-0

With another Los Angeles Kings overtime victory, they have gone up in the Stanley Cup Final 2 games to none over the New York Rangers. So far, the series has been extremely entertaining, with the Kings leading the games for exactly zero minutes, as their only leads have come when they have scored the overtime winners.

brownThe main story from Game 2 may be the non-call on a possible interference on the Kings third goal, which of course allowed them to crawl back into the game and eventually tie it before winning it in the second overtime on Dustin Brown’s deflection.

Regardless of whether the call should have been made or not, the Kings won the game.

Now, can the Rangers respond when the series shifts back to the Big Apple?

The Kings have shown that they will give up series leads so far in these playoffs. After their stunning comeback from 3-0 to the Sharks in Round 1, they went up 2-0 on the Anaheim Ducks before coughing up that lead, eventually falling behind 3-2 in that series. Against Chicago, they had a 3-1 lead in games before being forced to a Game 7 after a couple of losses. They are a team that will allow a team back into the series, and it is not like the Rangers are being severely outplayed here. They have led throughout the series, and have been keeping pace with the Kings since the first puck drop. Maybe it is misfortune that has them in this spot, but they need to show how they can recover, and they are a team that can do it.

They need to hope that the old adage is true, that you aren’t really in trouble in a series until you lose your first game at home. They haven’t done that yet, so there is still hope.

There have been a couple of recent examples of teams coming back from 2-0 for the Stanley Cup. Most recently, the Boston Bruins did it against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. It can be done. And in these playoffs, there have been comebacks galore.

The Rangers aren’t done, but they are in a bad situation. The Kings have demonstrated their ability to win, even when they aren’t at their best, and they have had the uncanny ability to come back in games all through these playoffs. There is a lot of work to be done by New York, and they’ll need to dig deep to find the resiliency that got them this far in the tournament.

We’ll see how it all plays out in New York.

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. 

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.