2013 NHL Preview

Ok, we’ve all gotten the lock-out bitterness out of our systems right? ok, well if you’re still angry, please read elsewhere because WhitSport is moving forward! I’m proud to present a quick look at what to expect for the 48 game season that the NHL will conduct in the coming months.

The last time the NHL salvaged a strike-shortened season (1995) there were also 48 games played, with the Devils taking home the Stanley Cup in the end. Many teams think their teams can get hot and make a run at the playoffs this year, despite disappointing results in 2012. Back in ’95 this was not the case, as only 3 teams who made the playoffs in ’94 failed to do so after the lockout. This does not bode well for teams like the Maple Leafs, Oilers, and Islanders who are looking to end long playoff droughts. Last year saw tons of drama with more upsets than ever before in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The LA Kings took home Lord Stanley’s trophy, and in the process, became the first 8th seed to win the Cup.

With the amount of craziness that continues to go on display once the Playoffs roll around, it becomes nearly impossible to predict who will be vying for the Cup in June. Nevertheless, let’s have a go!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Penguins– with Crosby healthy, and Malkin already warmed up after playing in Russia, the Pens, who finished just 1 point behind the Rangers for the top spot in the East last year, look to avenge their early post-season departure with a deep run this season
2. Bruins– the B’s are a fairly young team and showed some consistency last year after winning their division for the 2nd straight season. Plus, with Tim Thomas on sabbatical, it’s Tuuka time!!
3. Capitals– with new coach Adam Oates around, the culture should improve in Washington. Ovechkin seems to be returning to normal, and may be given a longer leash than he had under Dale Hunter.
4. Rangers– John Tortorella certainly won’t let his foot off the pedal now. The Rangers have the personnel to make a great run, only questions surround whether Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and company can all live up to their billing.
5. Devils– it’d be hard to put the reigning Conference Champs any lower, with Brodeur back and rested, this young team could prove why last spring was no fluke. Watch out for emerging young stars like Henrique and Larsson.
6. Sabres– Nice additions in the offseason. If Ryan Miller steps back up to the level we know he can play, Buffalo has a shot to make some waves.
7. Flyers– with the goaltending situation at a crossroads, there could be bumps along the road. A solid scoring department may barely save them
8. Lightning– I’m expecting a big year from Stamkos. If the defense can improve, even just slightly, they’ll be in the mix.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
9. Panthers– they’re just one of those teams who played well last year, but a shortened season could prove fatal, only saving grace is their division
10. Jets– I like what they’re doing here. Their young consortium of talent is progressing nicely, but might be a goaltender away from the playoffs
11. Senators– I just don’t see enough here to warrant another playoff run, especially since the odds of Eric Karlsson putting up similar #’s to last year are slim
12. Canadiens– slight improvement over last year, but seriously need some scorers to contend for the playoffs again.
13. Islanders– this high? really? I think Tavares has his break out season, but a hefty schedule against the rest of the Atlantic keep the Isles humbled.
14. Hurricanes– the decline has been quick, and shows no signs of turning around this year. Contracts like Jordan Staal and Alex Semin have bad news written all over them.
15. Maple Leafs– goaltending is too flaky, and scoring is too thin behind Kessel. Bottom of the barrel here.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Blues– Ken Hitchcock was St. Louis’ savior a year ago, and they aren’t about to turn back now. Expect the Blues to continue stifling defensive play throughout the year.
2. Canucks– Roberto Luongo is as good as gone, but Schneider is more than capable, and all of the offensive weapons are back. They should contend for the President’s Trophy again
3. Coyotes– this team continues to impress despite a major lack of star power. I like Mike Smith to have another great year in net.
4. Blackhawks– I think the Blackhawks, now healthy, should put together a nice season. Patrick Kane is poised for a bounce-back campaign.
5. Ducks– yep this is my sleeper pick. Bruce Boudreau had this squad playing back up to their potential last year, but ran out time to snag a playoff berth. Look for bounce back years for Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf
6. Red Wings– losing Nik Lidstrom might take more of a toll than some people think. I like their young talent a lot, but it’d be crazy to put them too much higher.
7. Predators– With Rinne back, they’re pretty much a lock for a playoff spot. Some worries about loss of Suter, but signing Hal Gill and re-signing others will help.
8. Stars- could repeat last year and get off to a red-hot start, but this time, a shortened schedule means they make the cut in April.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
9. Kings- what?! how could I leave the defending champs out of the playoffs? First off, they sneaked in as an 8-seed, and secondly, they’ve still got some major questions on offense
10. Sharks– we saw the decline begin last year, they have some good young players, but not enough depth.
11. Wild– two huge signings, but you need 4 full lines to make a decent NHL team. They could make things interesting if net-minder Niklas Backstrom stays healthy.
12. Avalanche– lots of good young talent, but really just too young for a playoff sprint (their Captain is only 20 years old!).
13. Oilers– just too much talent to finish any lower. Looking forward to seeing Yakupov and his new friends in action, even if the wins aren’t plentiful.
14. Flames– last year they did their normal routine and limped out of contention as the months dragged on. With an aging squad I don’t see much improvement on the horizon
15. Blue Jackets– just nothing here to think they’ll finish above bottom. With Nash gone they can begin to rebuild

In terms of pre-season Cup picks, I have never even been close to correct, but I’ll made some silly picks anyway…

Rangers fans hope to light em up with King Henry this summer

Stanley Cup: Rangers over Blues
Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP): Henrik Lundqvist
Hart (Reg Season MVP): Claude Giroux
Art Ross (Most Points): Claude Giroux
Rocket Richard (Most Goals): Steven Stamkos
Vezina (Best Goalie): Mike Smith
Norris (Best Defenseman): Kris Letang
Calder (Best Rookie): Nail Yakupov
Jack Adams (Best Coach): Adam Oates

Any comments, disagreements, praise, questions, quips, queries, and quandaries are all welcomed here. Looking forward to the puck finally dropping!

2010 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Here’s what we know about the Stanley Cup playoffs:
– Teams that get hot are the ones that move on. (Hurricanes last year, Flyers two seasons ago, Edmonton in ‘06)
– Sometimes, top teams flame out after a long season (see the #1 seeded Sharks last year falling to Anaheim in round 1)
– Only ONE #1 seed has made it to the Finals since the lockout (really!)
– Goaltending wins Stanley Cups (Fleury, Osgood, Giguere, and Ward last 4 seasons)

Here’s what we don’t know:
– Which teams will catch fire
– Which top teams will continue elite levels of play
– Where the upsets will come from
– What goalie will burst into the spotlight
– Who will take Lord Stanley’s Cup home…

If history has taught us anything it’s that playoff predictions are typically wrong. I thought filling out an NCAA bracket was tough. The 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs were a testament to how difficult it can be in pro hockey as well. This year I’ve gone with reason and gut instincts, but I’ve mixed things up a bit for fun. Here’s my take…

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Cup Contenders: Right now, the Capitals look poised to make a Cup charge, with New Jersey and Pittsburgh as the next two contenders. All three teams have a few questions marks, but most people’s money will be on these top 3 in the East.

Sleeper Alert: Boston Bruins – behind a solid net minder in Tukkaa Rask and a core of players who were one goal from the Conference Finals last season.

Series Breakdowns:

The Capitals showcase the best young talent in the league (Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green), but they have yet to get over the hump, and only boast one player (Mike Knuble) who has won a Stanley Cup. The Capitals scoring alone can win them a close game, and can get them back in a series even if they fall behind. Coach Boudreau showed last year that he’s not afraid to mix things up with his net minders. It seems like Jose Theodore would be the logical choice, as he’s gone undefeated in regular over his last 23 starts. One problem… he’d be facing his old team (and their rowdy fans) in the first round. Montreal hockey-goers hide no feelings; they’ll do whatever it takes to make the former Canadien goalie as uncomfortable as possible. The Habs themselves boast the second best power play in the league and beat the Caps twice in the regular season. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has been solid since the Olympics, but only has about 90 minutes of playoff experience.

Verdict: Capitals in 6

Despite a goal tally that continues to plummet each year, the Devils know that on the shoulders of Brodeur alone, they can achieve their ultimate goal; no other NHL team has as much confidence in their goalie. The Flyers are in the opposite end of the boat, they’ve scored goals lately and have had to turn to their 3rd string goaltender to keep pucks out of the net. Philly beat New Jersey 5 times in the regular season, which may show that they’ve learned how to beat one of the league’s stingiest defenses of all time. They’ve got plenty of guys that can score; unfortunately many of them are on the shelf with injuries.

Verdict: Devils in 6

The Sabres and Bruins is one of the more intriguing match-ups on the postseason slate. Both teams boast a solid net minder who looks capable of taking his team to the promised land. Buffalo’s Ryan Miller is more proven than Boston’s Tuukka Rask, but the Bruins defense showed up big time late in the season. Buffalo’s team is much younger and may run into problems when facing guys on the B’s who have been around longer (like Recchi, Chara, and Satan). Overall the edge may have to go to the Bruins, who took home 4 wins in 6 games against the Sabres in the regular season.

Verdict: Bruins in 7

The Penguins and Senators will be matched up in the playoffs for the third time in 4 seasons. Don’t expect the Sens to roll over and get swept like they did in 2008. Ottawa’s Brian Elliot looks strong and beat the Pens earlier in the season. A Pittsburgh lineup that features most of the team that won the Cup a season ago, looks to get back to the Finals for a third straight year. The targets are affixed to their backs, but the Pens seem to welcome the pressure that goes along with playing alongside the league’s most publicized player. The Sens may not be favorites, but they’ll play a closer series than most are expecting

Verdict: Penguins in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Cup Contenders: the Red Wings look like the hottest team in the West right now, but the top 3 seeds in San Jose, Chicago, and Vancouver are all legitimate threats to the crown. Goal tending points won’t go to the Hawks or Sharks, and experience has to make the Red Wings a favorite despite being the #5 seed.

Sleeper Alert: Coyotes – they’ve defied the odds to this point and seemingly have one of the top 3 goalies in the league, I’d say it’s not out of the realm of possibilities.

Series Breakdowns:


It seems like San Jose is that team that can’t get over the postseason hump. Aside from winning Western Conference regular season titles, they’ve got little else to brag about.

While the Avalanche appear to be young and vulnerable, don’t expect a thrashing in this series. Young players like Stasny, Stewart, and Duchene could bounce back from an ugly ending to the regular season and win a game or two. Craig Anderson has been good for the Avs, but I believe San Jose actually has the edge with Nabokov in net.

Sharks in 5

The battle between Chicago and Nashville might end up being one of the more lopsided playoff series in the West. While the Predators have played fairly well all season, they are still a team that fails to match up well with their opponents in this case. Pekka Rinne played well at times, but his losing skids were endless at some points. If Chicago can get on the board early, they won’t have to worry that their goalie’s name is Neimi. I expect Sharp, Toews, and Kane to light things up, their newly added veterans to assist with the experience factor, and the Hawks to cruise into the second round.

Blackhawks in 4

In the undercard series, the Canucks and Kings will both look to ride balanced attacks into the second round of the playoffs. Neither team is very deep, and both rely on stars like the Sedin twins, Luongo, Kopitar and Doughty. I think this series could be closer than anticipated. The Canucks have the edge in net, with Canada’s golden goalie. LA looks to have the edge in experience (Modin, Scuderi, and Williams all have won Stanley Cups). If recent play is factored in, the Kings late season slide does not bode well for their chances of advancing.

Canucks in 6

The Red Wings appear to be playing at the same dangerous level as always. Aside from their struggles earlier in the season, they hung around the playoff hunt, and found a star in Jimmy Howard. Goaltending wins championships, and although Howard is just 26 years old, he is playing like a veteran, and has plenty of vets across the lineup to back him up. The pesky Coyotes will grab most headlines to start out, as this is their first playoff appearance in almost a decade, and the team almost folded a few months ago. But the series will be played on the ice, where the Red Wings are on fire lately. Although Bryzgalov is probably the most deserving of the league MVP award, and despite the fact that the ‘Yotes played Detroit close this year, the Red Wings look too good right now to warrant a different result.

Red Wings in 6

FINALS

I’ll take the Devils to meet the Capitals in the East; both teams owned the defending champs in the regular season, and I think the Pens run will finally come to an end. I’ll give the Devils the edge in this match-up, due to their stingy defense and the guy they have blocking pucks in front of goal. Ovechkin will fail to make his Stanley Cup debut again. I also have a hunch that Washington’s goalie situation will take a troublesome turn.

In the West I believe the Red Wings will oust the Sharks and meet the Canucks in the Conference Finals, but Canadians will have the last laugh again, as Henrik Sedin and the boys in Vancouver march on to the Finals. Howard will be good, but I’m seeing a change up this year in the final two…

So, it’ll be the Canucks and the Devils in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks will rely on stellar play from its top line, but it won’t be enough to overcome the Devils, as Brodeur claims his 4th Cup. Enjoy!!!

NHL Regular Season Wrap-Up

With just a few game remaining in the regular season, it’s time to start talking playoff hockey. But before we cloud our minds with how the games brightest stars will fare during the second season, we should probably take a look at who deserves what in the year end Award Show:

Only one thing has basically been wrapped up in terms of NHL awards:

Presidents Trophy (Most Points) – Capitals

As for the rest of the gang:

Hart Trophy (MVP)
Who will win it? Alex Ovechkin (WAS) probably the frontrunner, however looking at his team’s record without him, some people may consider his less “valuable” than in previous years
Who Should win it? Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX) without him the Yotes are a pedestrian 7-5-1. He the glue on that team.

Art Ross (Most Points)
Who will win it? Henrik Sedin (VAN)  His passing touch and play around the net one of a kind and something to truly marvel at.
Who Should win it? Henrik Sedin (VAN), despite having a clone… I mean twin that can do pretty much everything he can, Henrik really put up the most solid numbers this year.

Vezina (Best Goalie)
Who will win it? Martin Brodeur (NJD) the likely choice, with a slight edge over Bryzgalov in most stats.
Who Should win it? Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX) should win it because he plays for the COYOTES! He’s also one the the greatest waver-wire pick ups of all time.

Calder (Rookie of Year)
Who will win it? Tuuka Rask (BOS) or Jimmy Howard (DET), 3 goalies have won this award in the last 8 years
Who Should win it? Matt Duchene (COL), really consistent all year long, and scored a few big goals for the Avs.

Norris (Best Defender)
Who will win it? Mike Green (WAS) hugely inflated stats by playing on the PP with guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom… I saw a recent stat that said close to 80% of his assists are secondary
Who Should win it? Duncan Keith (CHI) drastically improved his offensive game and really anchored the ‘Hawks defense on a team with poor goaltending

Jack Adams (Coach of Year)
Who will win it? Bruce Boudreau (WAS), led the Caps to all sorts of franchise records and built quite a juggernaut
Who Should win it? Bruce Boudreau (WAS), but Joel Quennville (CHI) also deserves a mention

Rocket Richard (Top Goal Scorer)
Who will win it? Sidney Crosby (PIT), with games remaining against the Islanders and Thrashers he’ll likely notch another goal or few to overtake the pack
Who Should win it? Alex Ovechkin (WAS), missed a fair # of games to injury and suspension, would have likely scored 55+ goals

All that being said we can turn our focus onto the teams who will be playing at least another week or two:

Playoff Bound:

EAST WEST
1. Capitals
2. Devils
3. Sabres
4. Penguins
5. Senators
6. Canadiens
7. Flyers
8. Bruins
1. Blackhawks
2. Sharks
3. Canucks
4. Coyotes
5. Red Wings
6. Predators
7. Kings
8. Avalanche

**

I expect the Rangers to miss out narrowly, as Philly seems to have turned things around. A few potential first round match-ups really excite me, like Chicago vs Colorado… two really young unproven teams going at it. In the East, I’d love to see the Flyers against the Devils or Capitals and think the Broad Street Bullies would give both teams more than they’d like to handle. Check back for Whitsport’s Post-season picks on Monday when everything is all set.

**