NHL Playoffs 2019: Round Two

Photo via the NHL Media Website

All the top seeds are out. The NHL scurried to get a “Second Chance” bracket thing to make people more engaged. Here’s my picks after going two for eight in the first round….so bet against me.

BOSTON vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Boston in 7
Reason: The long layoff will help Columbus, while the old guard will hinder Boston to start. The Bruins may get another life in the middle of the series, especially if Brad Marchand can keep his pace up, while also hoping Patrice Bergeron can find some scoring touch and Zdeno Chara can not break. The Blue Jackets are driven and it’s interesting to see what John Tortorella does to keep his team rolling, but I think the Bruins could be a bit much for them.

NY ISLANDERS vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Islanders in 6
Reason: Another team with a long layoff, but it could help the Islanders focus more and be able to breakdown what the Canes did to beat the Caps, especially with Barry Trotz at the helm. Robin Lehner needs to have a repeat of the first round, while the Canes will need to find an extra gear in their quick turnaround. This will be the series with the worst ice conditions, though.

DALLAS vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: Dallas in 5
Reason: Much like Johan Hedberg before him, the rookie sensation that is Jordan Binnington is primed for a falling and with the Stars looking like world beaters and a healthy Ben Bishop in net, it could be quick work for the Stars moving forward.

SAN JOSE vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Colorado in 6
Reason: As great as the comeback of the Sharks were, you could see there were cracks. With that, it just gives more time for Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and the crew to rest. Though it’ll come down to which Martin Jones shows up for the Sharks and if Philipp Grubauer can keep it going for Colorado.

NHL Playoffs 2019: Round One

Since no one asked– here’s my picks and a reason.

TAMPA BAY vs. COLUMBUS
Prediction: Tampa in 5
Reason: As much as I may no believe in the Lightning down the stretch, the Blue Jackets were too hot going into the playoffs to have much left in the tank. Also, Nikita Kucherov will most likely continue to step-up his game in the second season.

BOSTON vs. TORONTO
Prediction: Boston in 6
Reason: We’ve seen this song before and Toronto isn’t that great against Boston in the playoffs. Goaltending is a disaster for the Leafs, while their defense isn’t much better.

WASHINGTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Washington in 6
Reason: Give the Jerks credit, they clawed back to get in this spot. However, the Caps seem to enjoy feasting on the Canes in life. Plus, the Caps want to get back to the Promised Land to hoist the Cup again, so they’ll do whatever it takes to win it again

NY ISLANDERS vs. PITTSBURGH
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Reason: As much as I want to believe in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss; Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and a somewhat healthy Evgeni Malkin trump that. Only hope is Matt Murray stinking up the joint

CALGARY vs. COLORADO
Prediction: Calgary in 6
Reason: Goaltending aside, the Flames won the Western Conference for a reason. Especially with Mikko Rantanen just coming back from injury– who knows how effective he will be. Though, some pressure may be on Johnny Gaudreau and friends to make an unexpected run.

SAN JOSE vs. VEGAS
Prediction: Vegas in 5
Reason: Playoffs is about defense and as much as the Sharks have Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson to add some punch offensively, Martin Jones hasn’t been great. The Knights enjoyed a nice taste last year and probably want to make people know it wasn’t a fluke.

WINNIPEG vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: St. Louis in 7
Reason: I don’t know why, but the Blues could be a sleeper team to make some noise. They weren’t even supposed to be here, but Jordan Binnington decided that he’d show Jake Allen how to play in net. They’ll be a tough out with JB in net.

NASHVILLE vs. DALLAS
Prediction: Nashville in 6
Reason: With the window for the Preds and all their talent, it could be the perfect time for them to run wild in the West. They probably still feel the sting of the lost to Winnipeg and want to make a statement run at the Cup this year.

Battle of Atlanta Kicks Off Specialty Games for 2019-20

In light of another Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game, the NHL revealed locations for some of their specialty games coming up for the 2019-20 season.

First, the Heritage Classic will come back and take place in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26. In what I’ll be calling “The Battle of Atlanta” the former Atlanta Flames will take on the former Atlanta Thrashers– with the Calgary Flames taking on the Winnipeg Jets. It’ll be the fifth Heritage Classic and first since 2016 in Winnipeg. With both teams on the rise in their divisions, it should prove to be an interesting match-up, especially early in the season.

Second, the NHL put forth next year’s Winter Classic, but this time in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, as the Dallas Stars will host and unnamed opponent– which, if it’s not the Minnesota Wild, it’ll be a huge narrative disrupting event. Surprising that it’s not being held in JerryWorld at AT&T Stadium, as it would go with the NHL wanting a big venue for these events.

St. Louis will be the 2020 All-Star Game host for the third time (1970 and 1988 being the prior ones) through the weekend of January 24th until the 26th. We’ll be waiting with bated-breathe to see if Nelly and the St. Lunatics show up with Fred Brathwaite like they did in the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

Finally, the NHL also announced another Stadium Series game at a military academy, with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. Another game with no opponent, but hopefully the NHL will keep getting closer and closer to their goal of holding a game at West Point after going through two other military academies already.

Is there one better than the other?? Do you even care about the amount of outdoor games anymore?? Leave a comment or something to let me know….or don’t, I get paid the same either way.

2018-19 Season Preview….Kind Of: Western Conference Edition

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Half-assed part 2, let’s go.

The Central Division is an interesting one. For the longest time, it was the Chicago Blackhawks’ playground, but now– it’s almost kind of wide open. The Winnipeg Jets have seemingly found their formula with Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and friends. Their march to the Western Conference finals could have been the coming out party they need. So long as Connor Hellebuyck can keep the good time rolling– maybe this is now a division that belongs to North of the Border for a couple of season.

For the Blackhawks– we’re in the downturn of the dynasty. Despite of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane being there and being in their prime ages– the fact their goaltending in Corey Crawford isn’t always healthy and the depth is suspect at best; the former Dynasty could be in the start of their stagnation moving ahead.

Hard to forget about the Nashville Predators, who are in all-in mode this year as much as they have been. This is pivotal year for the team, especially when they look at what to do with impending UFA Pekka Rinne and how they’ll juggle his time with Juuse Saros’ time in net. Aside from that, they have a defensive corp that one of, if not the tops in the league; their offense is full of top tier talent, and overall– this is a team that’s ready to go and make another big push for the Conference final again this year.

The rest of the division is suspect at best, starting the with Minnesota Wild– who seem to be more of the same. Bruce Boudreau could be on a short leash with new GM Paul Fenton, and with the team in place– I don’t know if that leash could get shorter. Sure, Devan Dubnyk is back, but he can only do so much. The offense is really hit and miss, the star players being in the line-up is hit and miss, and there’s plenty of question marks in the State of Hockey.

Add the St. Louis Blues to that mix, only because of Jake Allen. There’s no Carter Hutton to bail him out anymore and he’ll have to actually show he’s a top goalie in this league. He’ll have a lot of tools in front of him with Vlad Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz with Alex Pieterangelo and Colton Parayko on his defense…there’s no reason why Allen shouldn’t be successful in spite of himself and his own short-comings.

I don’t know what to think of the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. The Stars could be a little easier to explain and deal with, as Ben Bishop– if he’s healthy all season– could help them steal a few games here and there. The offense is steady with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn up there, the defense however, is the question. Stephen Johns is out to start the season, which means Marc Methot and John Klingberg are going to have to shoulder a lot of the load– which could lead to easy burn out. The Avalanche now have Philipp Grubauer as the potential replacement for Semyon Varlamov when he should get injured or have his stats drop off, the team was able to rally around Matt Duchene getting traded, and might have an underrated defense against the rest of the league. The offense is one line, which means they’ll need to find some kind of secondary scoring to actually be across the board successful and get back to the playoffs once again.


Will anyone discount the Vegas Golden Knights this year?? Most likely, yes. The whole “Bet you can’t do it again” crowd will be out, but with the additions of Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny; the depth of offense is much better. While there will be doubters of M-A Fleury’s heroics and William Karlsson’s scoring prowess, the Knights are making sure they aren’t just a one-hit wonder.

Their toughest challenge will probably come from the San Jose Sharks, who have their best shot at getting into the Stanley Cup Finals with the addition of Erik Karlsson. The former Ottawa defenseman bolsters a blue line with Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, while Joe Thornton is back on the ice and probably much quicker without his beard anymore. Martin Jones has seen his win number decline over the past three seasons, but with an upgrade in front of him, you can bet he’ll have another 30+ win season.

With a healthy Jonathan Quick, the LA Kings were a solid team despite getting bounced in the first round again. Anze Kopitar was far and away the best player and may need to be so again to get the Kings back to the playoffs and maybe advance past the first match-up. That 70s Line will have to be a little be more prominent, though to be honest– losing Jeff Carter most of the season didn’t help things as much.

The Anaheim Ducks are going to have to get all they can out of their depth if they want to make the playoffs again. While John Gibson hasn’t been the best at keeping pucks out, the offense didn’t give him much to work with, as they had to lowest goals-for total of any playoff team last season. With Corey Perry out to start the season, as well; old man Getzlaf will have to rally the troops and hope they don’t get run over.

Of the Canadian teams in this division, the one with the most hope could be from Alberta. Whether it’s the Flames or the Oilers is yet to be seen. The Oilers need to figure out which team was the mirage– was it the team who made the playoffs in 2017 or the team that really stunk up the joint last season. Aside from Connor McDavid, there wasn’t much to write home about. However, the hard-on people have for Ty Rattie with McDavid is almost insane levels of silly– it’s almost a Sedins or Crosby situation with how people are infatuated with his play.

The Flames are an odd duck. They have the talent up front to get into the playoffs with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and to a lesser extend Sam Bennett. However, with Bill Peters now at the helm, who knows what can happen. If they’re going to sink to a Carolina level, then it’ll happen quick, but the additions of James Neal and Elias Lindholm up front could bring more attention, while Noah Hanifin could help Mark Giordano on the blue line. If only Mike Smith can get back to some kind of non-sieve form, then they could surprise people.

Not a surprise is the Vancouver Canucks, who really….I don’t know. They have some top-end young talent in Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, and others, but the real key is waiting for offensive defenseman Quinn Hughes to come from Michigan to Vancouver. If the rebuild is going to happen– it will be around Boeser and Hughes, maybe even Thatcher Demko when he gets the go-ahead to be the Canucks starter. It’s a waiting game for this team.

That leaves us with Arizona. The trade for Alex Galchenyuk is going to help them a whole lot, it’s a matter of managing injuries. Antti Raanta going down early last year hurt and it seems like there’s not much for goalie depth just yet for the Coyotes who could come in and stop the bleeding. Michael Grabner will add speed and a forechecking threat, Clayton Keller continues to grow, and Mario Kempe could surprise people if given the chance. The Coyotes may even push for a wild card…if they can stay healthy.

The Deal That May or May Not Happen Ever

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Wouldn’t it be like the Ottawa Senators to not trade Erik Karlsson?? With all the turmoil, all the stuff behind the scenes, the tire fire that continues to rise, the model organization for relocation because their owner is one who should have his franchise taken away from him….this is the thing that would be the most Senators things ever.

Last week, it seems like the wheels were in motion for Karlsson to go to the Lone Star State and become Sheriff Erik for the Stars. Then later in the week, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked to be a late entry into this ordeal, join by a New York Metro team in order to get the deal done and the money to equal itself.

Yet, according to Lightning GM’s Steve Yzerman– there’s no deal to be done. Nothing is imminent and with the long-term signing of Nikita Kucherov– it may not be. With the Kucherov signing, it ties up $65M for 12 contracts in 2019-20, which would be Karlsson’s free agent year and would need a major trade/salary dump to get the long-term deal of Karlsson’s under the Bolts’ cap.

So…are the Stars still in it, because it’s been pretty radio silence since the Tampa deal came out late last week, but you have to think they’re back to the front-runners, no??

It’s eerily quiet on Karlsson. Like that awkward quiet after you haphazardly confess your love to your 10th Grade History teacher after learning about Lewis and Clark….or something that may or may not have happened.

While it’s something that could just be the money people crunching numbers to make sure it works on the contract side of things, this almost seems like it won’t get cured by training camp. Don’t ask me why I think that, but you’d think that teams would be stumbling over themselves to get Karlsson sooner rather than later in order to start their pitch to keep him around on an eight-year extension.

I don’t think this is something even Pierre Dorian and the Senators can fuck up. Sure, it’s your franchise player, sure he’s the only think keeping people in the stands at Canadian Tire Centre, and it’s something you need to be gentle about in terms of not rushing to trading a guy for a subpar return that won’t help this rebuild or whatever the hell it is that the Senators are doing. Let’s be honest, Karlsson is the tip of the iceberg, as Craig Anderson has requested a trade, Bobby Ryan’s contract is an albatross, and there’s not much to be hyped about– even if Matt Duchene plays better and gets to scoring at any kind of responsible clip.

If they don’t trade him by the start of the season, it could be some kind of silver lining and maybe give some hope to a re-signing after a summer/start-of-season-long reconciliation. However, it’s not looking that way. You can assume that Karlsson is packed up, ready to move to wherever he’s getting dealt next and thinking Ottawa is an afterthought for the beginning of the season.

It’s a very lose-lose situation for the Senators overall, but for Karlsson– it’d be a new start in a new place. And a place that hopefully has some direction.

TEPID TAKE: 2018 NHL Free Agency Edition

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The first day of open market in the NHL pretty much brought us everyone waiting for John Tavares to finally decide where he was going. The other signings meant nothing until he signed– it was all about JT today.

-So, JT did sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs– making their fanbase even more insufferable when it comes to players who were born in the GTA coming to their Cup-drought filled team. Good on JT for making this decision, though– to walk into the lion’s den freely to achieve a goal to play in your hometown. It’s a comfort for him…for now. Ultimately– he makes the Leafs that much better despite the lack of defense for now.  Maybe this will take some of the pressure of Auston Matthews of being the first-line center and perhaps help him get out of whatever doghouse Mike Babcock has Matthews in.

-When it comes to Islanders fans, though, it’s natural to feel pissed at this– especially with JT dragging this process on and really making people wait. The problem is that JT doesn’t owe the fans anything and you should really be mad at the dysfunction in the front office for years rather than the player who wanted to play on a contender. The legacy Garth Snow left is being barely mediocre while not really getting Tavares the support he needed. With Lou Lamoriello being at the helm, we’ll see if he’ll build around Mat Barzal or some other wacky stuff to keep the Islanders middling for years to come.

-The move I liked the least had to be Petr Mrazek going to Carolina. We all are aware that the Scott Darling project hasn’t worked out after the first year, but to get a guy who will be a challenger to Darling’s starting spot could go one of two ways– really good by pushing him and making him better or really bad by having two goalies too tense to make a mistake that their nerves get shot. With two goalies who are better off as a back-up coming in to start a string of games rather than be a starter– the Canes are playing with fire in hopes this will really work out this time.

-Bruce Boudreau really loves former Capitals and grit guys that the Wild signed a lot of them. Matt Hendricks, Eric Fehr, JT Brown, and Greg Pateryn are joining Minnesota for the next season. For what reason….character?? I really don’t know what these moves are about, but if grit is the one thing the Wild thing was missing– then they are sure to get further now.

-Most people hate the Jack Johnson deal. I think the tenure of the deal is what gets me, but overall– it’s not HORRIBLY BAD. Especially in Pittsburgh, Johnson could get back into the groove of things with his boy Sidney Crosby around and Mike Sullivan working him until turns it around in a big way. It could turn out to be a very big value deal if Johnson can actually get his game back.

-Speaking of tenure deals I don’t like– Jay Beagle to Vancouver. I’m glad Beagle got paid somewhere. He was a folk-hero in Washington for years, but he couldn’t have been expecting that money in DC. Four years for Beagle at $12M is something I shook my head at for Vancouver. Good on Beagle to get his money, Jim Benning better hope it pans out for the team and gets them closer to another level.

-One of the busiest teams was the Dallas Stars. They picked up Anton Khudobin, Blake Comeau, Roman Polak, and Val Nichushkin. A decent amount of depth there– Khudobin hoping not to be another in the junkyard that is goalies of Stars past, while Nichushkin comes back after a two-season hiatus in the KHL putting up 27 goals and 51 points in 86 games. Polak will be another veteran presence on the blueline next to Marc Methot and help tutor the younger defensemen in the Stars line-up.

That’s the moves that stand-out to me that need talking about. We’ll cover more of these on Face Off Hockey Show Wednesday night live and on podcast that weekend. After Tavares, things kind of cooled down. Which is fine for a holiday week and reporters wanting to actually enjoy it for a change. That said, there’s probably going to be small moves here and there as teams address their depth needs and wants.

TEPID TAKE: Vegas’s Golden Night

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Photo from the @GoldenKnights

It was touch and go for a bit, but the Vegas Golden Knights got it done with a 2-1 victory in their first NHL game as a franchise. Forget that it took them 50 minutes to get their first goal and forget that Marc-Andre Fleury got pelted for 46 shots in total, the night was theirs to bask in and it showed what this rag-tag group of players can do. They also became the first team since the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators to win their first game in franchise history. 

(Tampa Bay won their first game, too, but it was a day before Ottawa’s. Florida tied their first game in 1993.)

First, back to Fleury– he shined in the first game. The only Dallas goal was a redirect off of Tyler Seguin’s stick, but other than that, Flower was sharp in net. He was able to take away great scoring chances by the Stars, he didn’t let the first game jitters get to him, and he looked like he’s ready for a heavy workload, much like he saw in his first NHL season in Pittsburgh. However, with more maturity, I’m sure he’ll be able to adapt as needed.

Second, Vegas’s power play looked okay, though they had nothing to show for it. They created a lot of chances, Brendan Leipsic looked like he was very hungry to get that first franchise goal, and with a few more games and practices under their belt– this could be a solid power play to deal with.

On the Dallas side, Ben Bishop looked pretty good before having to be removed due to taking a puck to the face, which cut him. He was back out on the bench for the end of the game, but Ken Hitchcock kept Kari Lehtonen in the game, probably due to the not knowing if Bishop had a concussion or not and erring on the side of caution…which may or may not have cost him the game.

Antoine Roussel being in the box three straight times could be a problem for the Stars going forward. They were 30th in the PK last season and who knows if Hitch is going to make them better going forward against a more potent power play. They were perfect, but against a team in their first game– it’s a start, but I doubt he wants to keep testing the team’s luck like that.

It was a very hard hitting game, which was a good sight to see as nothing was overtly dirty– though you could say James Neal’s hit on Tyler Seguin at the end of the second was like Lex Luger’s bionic forearm– it was a nice rough game and something that Vegas will probably need to get used to in the Western Conference.

For now, they will take this win in stride and hope that the good times keep rolling for them.