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.
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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.
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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!

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NHL: Top 10 Pre-Playoff Headlines

While the Capitals may be the only team to clinch a playoff birth a few other things are certain when it comes to the last 3 weeks of the NHL’s Regular Season.  Here’s Whitsport’s Top Ten Headlines leading up the NHL Playoffs:

#10 – The races for the final playoff spots are slightly less exciting than in previous years. Typically this time in March we discuss three or four teams that are close, or have battled it out for that last playoff spot all season long. That doesn’t appear to be the case this year, sure the B’s and Thrashers are separated by the slimmest of margins, but outside of that, not much else we didn’t expect. Rangers tanking in March? Check! Red Wings going on a run and tying up a berth? No, really?! Fortunately, the predictability will vanish once April 11th rolls around.

#9 – The Phoenix Coyotes will make their playoff debut. Probably the most problematic situation in sports. The Phoenix Coyotes had no fans, no owner, and possibly no home just a few months ago. Now, they share a lead for the top spot in the Western Conf, and they look poised to challenge many of the top guns in the West. Behind Bryzgalov in net, and a nice mix of veterans and youth, the ‘Yotes might continue to surprise people who say “The Coyotes?!… made the playoffs?!”

#8 – Buffalo, New Jersey, and Nashville look to be in good shape headed into the playoffs. When it comes to winning a Cup, most people would agree that Goaltending can win you one. As long as that holds true, teams like Devils with Marty Brodeur and Sabres with Ryan Miller like their chances. Others like the Coyotes and Predators, are blazing hot right now, with win streaks of 9 and 6 games respectively. Both teams would love to keep the pace heading into April.

#7 – Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Chicago should worry about their goalie situations. In Philly, it’s an injury bug… in Chicago, it’s two inconsistent goalies who have done little to impress in the post-season. A handful of NHL teams are going to have to make some major decisions in net next month. Goalie by committee has never won a Cup, and this year likely won’t be the first. Washington’s likely the top contender in the East, but Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a huge decision to make… Theodore or Varlamov… who starts in net? San Jose may be the reigning President’s Trophy winners, but their net-minder has a history of dropping the ball (or puck rather) in the second season.

#6 – What happened to the star power? Guys like Ovechkin, Crosby, and Joe Thornton have cooled down a bit since the Olympic break, and who can blame them. Add a handful of games, and intense games mind you, to the schedule, it’s no wonder some of the game’s biggest names are slowing down a bit this late in the season. Teams like Phoenix and Atlanta, who had very few Olympians playing in February, are fresh and playing well. Will the NHL’s stars rise when the games really count?

#5 – It’s all about the match-ups! The Blackhawks could lock up the #1 seed in the West, but if that means having to play the #8 Red Wings in the first round, they might rather be seeded 2 or 3. Sure ‘Hawks fans would love to get revenge for last year, but wouldn’t they rather see a team like Colorado or LA in round 1? Same goes for a team like Buffalo, who are close to being paired up with the Senators in the playoffs (they are 0-3-1 against Ottawa this season, and would likely prefer to face anyone else). Teams like Vancouver, on the other hand, love their current seeding, which would pair them with the Kings (against whom they’ve allowed just 3 goals in 3 meetings).

#4 – Parity seems evident between the East and West. Right now one could easily make the argument that the Western Conference looks a bit more competitive than the East. Judging by the #8 seeds alone, the Wings have 85 points to the Bruins 76. This means that if teams like Calgary, St. Louis and Anaheim were all in the East, they’d have playoff births. It’s not to say that whatever team that prevails from the West will be handed the Stanley Cup, but they will sure have to earn it on the way there. After the top 3 or 4 teams in the East, the talent pool declines a bit more rapidly than in the West.

#3 – The race for 8th in the West is practically over. The Red Wings put on a show on Monday night, and further distanced themselves from the floundering Flames at the cusp of the Western Conf playoff race. With Franzen, Zetterberg, and Howard playing really well, it looks like Calgary would need a miracle to squeak into the playoffs. Heck, the Wings might even catch a 6 or 7 seed in the West, thus putting the Chicago match-up on hold…

#2 – The race for 8th in the East is heating up! The Bruins and Atlanta may not have the biggest names or the flashiest stars, but their race for eighth in the East warrants some attention. The Bruins have struggled to score goals, but have really picked up the physical play, as was evident against New York on Sunday. The Thrashers handled Philly in a home-and-home over the weekend, and appear to have an easier schedule down the stretch. This one could go down to the wire

#1 – Will the rules change for the playoffs? It seems like everyone is talking about this story. Matt Cooke may not have been the first one to throw a cheap shot and someone and knock them out for the rest of the year, but he certainly started the debate of the season. Will the NHL change the rules regarding head shots just in time for the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Most experts, and people in the know seem to think this is a highly possible scenario. Most hockey nuts will tell you that the hitting and fighting subsides a bit during the playoffs, but the NHL supposedly has a rule drawn up that will be reviewed by the Players Association and could be enacted just in time for the playoffs. What effect will this have on the way the game is played? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

2009 NHL Predictions

Happy October everyone! As you may or may not know, the greatest month in sports is finally back. So many things to watch, so little time. The NFL season is fresh, the MLB playoffs are upon us, the English Premier League is in full swing, NHL hockey is back, and the countless highlights of Lebron James dunking over inferior opponents are nowhere to be seen. Sounds like utopia to me. As I mentioned, Hockey has returned. So after completing my fantasy NHL draft and reading up on what all 30 teams have been doing this summer, I roll out the official…

2009/2010 WHITSPORT NHL PREDICTIONS

In years past I have gone a long way on pure luck, guessing, and gut feelings. This year, I put a tad more research in and attempted to make more logical predictions for what to expect this upcoming season. Therefore, you can expect them to be dead wrong… regardless, on we go:

Playoff Bound: Stanley Cup

EAST WEST
1. Capitals
2. Penguins
3. Bruins
4. Flyers
5. Rangers
6. Devils
7. Hurricanes
8. Sabres
1. Red Wings
2. Sharks
3. Flames
4. Canucks
5. Ducks
6. Blue Jackets
7. Blackhawks
8. Wild

While the art of selecting teams seems easy, it is not. Looking back at last years standings I attempted to figure out which teams that missed out on the playoffs could make a climb this year. The only newcomers on this list are Buffalo and Minnesota. I think that Ottawa and Los Angeles both have a chance at surprising people, but I played it safe and did not go out on a limb… story of my life.

Coming this Summer:

If my predictions for final standings were to hold true, some interesting first round playoff match-ups would be created, including Philly vs N.Y. and the Sharks vs Blackhawks. Overall, things probably won’t play out this way, so I won’t even humor you…

Kings Capitals HockeyMy money is on two teams in the Eastern Conf., the Caps and Pens. Gary Bettman dreams about this Conference Finals matchup, but we’ll have to see how things play out. The West is a bit trickier; the top 5 teams all have a great shot at making a Cup run, and it’s a definitely a toss up. Who will get hot at the right time?

My picks for the Cup will be the Capitals and the Sharks. Both teams really bolstered their lineups in the off season and have fewer question marks than the other teams in the mix. Expect the Red Wings to return with a vengeance, but fatigue could play spoiler as it did last season. The well balanced Flames will also likely contend, but fall short in the highly competitive western conference playoffs.

Expect a drop in performance from a few teams that were highly touted not long ago. The Devils may still have Brodeur, but they also lost a lot of offense in the offseason. The Blackhawks’ youth played extremely well last year, but I see a slight fall in the mix, after losing some key role players. Alot of people are picking the Bruins to fall from grace, but I see them as a contender still. The loss of top scorer Phil Kessel may hurt them slightly, but their team is built on defense, which they have no shortage of.

Award Show:

Back this year to claim individual awards are a few familiar faces:

Hart Trophy (MVP)- Alex Ovechkin (WAS) 84623042JM015_NEW_YORK_RANG

Art Ross (Most Points)- Joe Thornton (SJ)

Vezina (Best Goalie)- Henrik Lunqvist (NYR)

Calder (Rookie of Year)- Matt Duchene (COL)

Norris (Best Defender)- Niklas Lidstrom (DET)

Jack Adams (Coach of Year)- Mike Babcock (DET)

Rocket Richard (Top Goal Scorer)- Alex Ovechkin (WAS)

As for team awards, I think we’ll see one team return to their normal place and one surprise…

Presidents Trophy (Most Points) – Red Wings

thortonSTANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS- San Jose Sharks

The addition of Heatley will be huge; the Sharks deep lines and experience should be their greatest assets. Washington will be really impressive and expect another awesome year from Ovi, but I’ll give the goaltending edge, and therefore the Cup, to San Jose.

For more details and a team by team break down of what to expect this season, check out the NHL OUTLOOK 09/10 tab, or click here:

https://whitsport.wordpress.com/nhl-outlook-0910/

2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs

stanley_cup

While Gary Bettman had nothing to do with it (can’t give the guy credit for anything really), the NHL has done it again; another spring, and another 8 playoffs series to die for. The matchups are splendid and even though some of us hoped things would play out a little differently, the first round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs look to be exciting.

Last year the Red Wings marched off with the Stanley Cup, and look just as strong this season but will they repeat as champs? There are 15 other teams that have something to say about it. On we go….

In the East, teams like the Penguins, Bruins, and Hurricanes are red hot. While the Capitals and Devils looked poised to make a Cup charge earlier in the year, both teams have slipped since then. I may have picked 7 out of the 8 teams correctly in my Pre-season predictions blog, but picking the right teams to advance in the playoffs might prove to be more difficult.

The Boston Bruins have owned the Canadiens this year, a cosmic 180° compared to this time last year when these teams met in the postseason. Look for solid play from the B’s goaltender Tim Thomas.

Bruins in 5

The Capitals have the best player in the league (Alex Ovechkin), there’s little doubt in that; but there are those that think their lack of experience on defense may cost them greatly. However, goalie Jose Theodore has been in the playoffs and played well before. Look for the Caps offense to be too much for a stingy Ranger defense.

Caps in 6

At one point in February, the Devils and a rejuvenated Marty Brodeur looked primed to take the Eastern conference by storm en route to the Cup Finals. But the Carolina Hurricanes have looked more like the team to beat as of late. They’ve put up some ridiculous goal tallies as of late (9 goals twice!), and could ride a hot Cam Ward deep into the playoffs.

Canes in 6

The Penguins and Flyers will be matched up earlier than last season when they met in the Conference Finals. Philly fans are cursing heading into this series after blowing home ice advantage in the final week of the regular season. With a Pittsburgh lineup that includes a healthy Crosby and Gonchar, the Penguins have been scoring 5 on 5 goals lately (something they struggled with last year). Look for another hard-fought battle for supremacy in the Keystone State.

Pens in 7

Last years Cup favorites San Jose and Anaheim meet in the playoffs’ first round this season. Expect lots of goals from both sides with two inexperienced goaltenders in net. Anaheim is not the same team as the one that won the Cup two years ago.

Sharks in 5

The Red Wings look as dangerous as ever, with the same questions as last year regarding who to put between the pipes. Osgood should be fine, but what about the Wings’ matchup with Columbus. The Jackets put up 8 goals against the Wings in their last meeting, and split the season series 3-3. The pesky Jackets may be young but will certainly give Detroit a run for their money.

Wings in 7

In an under the radar series, the Canucks and Blues will both look to ride solid goaltending into the second round of the playoffs. Play down the Mats Sundin hype, but play up the role Henrik Sedin will have. The Blues are a little short on scoring options, and goaltending typically prevails in playoff hockey.

Canucks in 5

The battle between Chicago and Calgary might be the best playoff series in the West. While the Flames have seemingly been doused at the end of the regular season, they are still a team with tremendous playoff experience, and can ride Mikka Kiprusoff deep into the playoffs. The Blackhawks seem to be the Penguins of this year. With lots of youth up front and a few vets on defense, the Hawks will rely on their firepower to push them through to the next round. It should be closer than most people think.

Flames in 7

That gives us Bruins vs Hurricanes, Penguins vs. Capitals, Sharks vs Flames, and Red Wings vs Canucks.

I’ll take the Bruins to meet the Caps, and the Wings to meet the Flames in the Conference Finals, with the Red Wings and the Caps headed to the Cup Finals. Ovi will make his Stanley Cup debut just one year after Sidney Crosby, and will likely have the same result. The Red Wings will rely on consistent play from 3 deep lines and a solid defense en route to their second straight Cup. Enjoy hockey nuts!!!

Baseball season?! no no no, it’s NHL Playoff Season

April comes each year, as do the hoards of crowds at baseball parks across the nation. But aren’t we forgetting about where the real excitement in sports is… It’s not where the green grass grows, but actually where it often snows. Many cities across the US and our neighbors to the North will be hosting NHL Playoff games. Mainstream America and the media majority have been talking about things like MLB’s opening day, the NFL Draft, and who should be the MVP of the NBA. With all of these other topics dominating the headlines and taking up space on Sportscenter, the NHL Playoffs are moved to the back of the closet, and in essence, totally forgotten about. Well, I’m not forgetting about it!

Next to the NCAA tournament, and the World Cup of soccer, the Stanley Cup playoffs are the most exciting sporting event in the world. Yet it receives little publicity. This might seem like a bad thing, and it probably is, but even though major sports networks and local TV sports guys won’t mention the NHL on the evening sports editions, we can all still enjoy the glory of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The best teams are all stockpiled into a tournament, the pace of the game picks up, and the most talented players from across the globe are showcased. Each year surprise teams take out a major contender, lesser known players propel their clubs to glory, and never ending games go to multiple overtimes thus giving “puck heads” a reason to stay up to 2 in the morning.

All that said, the NHL gives us 8 playoffs series to salivate over for a few weeks, and we all weigh in on who is “a lock to win”, who “doesn’t stand a chance”, and which teams “could surprise people”. That being said, even the experts don’t see certain things coming. Last year the two best teams squared off in the Stanley Cup finals, but there were plenty of surprises along the way. The red hot Capitals and Canadiens were both derailed by a surprise Flyers team. Out West, a Dallas Stars team, relying on veteran experience, took down Cup hopefuls San Jose, and Anaheim.

This season things should shake up a little differently, but either way, we can still enjoy the games, and the action. While the NHL might not be shown on major networks every night, we can enjoy weekend battles on NBC, and those of us with the VS channel can enjoy two games a night during the week (we will miss Sports Soup a little though).  Check back on Wednesday for some Stanley Cup playoff predictions