ITPST: October 24th, 2019

It’s the second edition of the gimmick that keeps on giving. Hey, we’re almost across the board with teams playing double-digits games– which means we’re getting closer to that sweet, sweet playoff push.

Keeping it in the East to start, the Buffalo Sabres’ hot start (8-1-1) have them at the top of the Atlantic Division. Right behind them are the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (5-4-2). Who can’t wait for another round of Bruins/Leafs in the first round?!? Yeah– I could wait for a good long while. In the Metro, the Caps (7-2-2) and John Carlson are on a big streak after a rough start, putting them atop the Metro. Carolina have a little bit of a stall after a torrid start (6-3-0), with the Penguins right after them (6-5-0). The Wild Card spots head to both Florida teams in the Lightning (5-3-1) and the Panthers (4-2-3).

Therefore it’ll be the Sabres vs. the Panthers, the Bruins take on the Leafs, the Caps will take on the Lightning, with the Hurricanes and Penguins going at it to round it out.

Out West, the Colorado Avalanche (7-1-1) are ripping it up and are atop the division, with the Predators (5-3-1) and Blues (4-2-3) rounding out the tough Central Division. Getting rid of Milan Lucic has helped the Edmonton Oilers (7-2-1) put themselves ahead in the Pacific, as the Golden Knights (7-4-0) and Canucks (6-3-0) round out the top three. The Wild Card spots will be headed to Anaheim (6-4-0) and the rejuvenated Coyotes (5-2-1).

And as we see it– the Avalanche will duel with the Coyotes in the relocation bowl, with the Blues and Predators being the other match-up, as the Oilers will take on the Ducks and the Golden Knights battle the Canucks.

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.

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.

Takeaways and Looking at the Second Round

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The first round is over and it was….something. Here’s some takeaways from it:

-As much as I hate to say it, the Penguins look like they’re world beaters. Sure, they beat the Flyers who were beat-up themselves and not all that great when you look at their goaltending, but to put up 28 goals in six games is impressive regardless of how you look at it. For a team that’s played from top to bottom for two straight seasons, they look like they’re gonna make a bigger push to get to a third.

-Man, those Western Conference series were a bit of a snooze, huh?? Two sweeps, both in the Pacific and the only real big deal series maybe showed the defending Conference Champs showing some vulnerability against a definitively weaker opponent. That said, at least the also-rans are out of the way for the new crop of powerhouses to take control of the division for a bit.

-The question is does this powerhouse really include the Vegas Golden Knights or are they just a mirage. They’ve already overcome the expansion blues and really took the league by storm. The question is whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury can really take the reins of this team and prove his playoff mettle. While defensive teams often take over the playoffs, a little goal support like how they managed this season could really help their cause as this dream season continues.

-Andrei Vasilevskiy will hopefully enjoy this break. For a guy who was talking about how he’s been worn down the entire season by playing so much, this time off will help him get a little recharged and focus. Though, he did look solid in those last two games, only letting up two goals total in them. If Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn can keep the offense up, the Bolts could take advantage of a worn down Bruins team.

Now, with that stuff out of the way– what to look for in the second round.

-The Jets aren’t the Avalanche, so the Predators better not let up early goals like they have been. While Pekka Rinne and the squad have been solid, a team like the Jets and the offensive prowess they have will jump all over the Preds and not give the lead up so easily. You have to believe the best is yet to come for Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler– and what better way to do it than now.

-While I’m a Caps fan and know what could come next, the fact they are going to start Game One without having to face Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin is a good thing. Yet, the Caps are 8-2 in Game Ones against the Penguins and have gone 1-9 in those series by the end. Alex Ovechkin has been scoring and the depth on the Caps is solid– they just have to get the boulder from off their back (and between their ears) if they want to succeed.

-Despite big-upping Vasilevskiy earlier, the Bruins are a team that could very well grind out some wins. It seems no matter what– their depth is chipping in and taking some pressure off Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. However, whether or not Tuukka Rask can withstand the barrage of firepower that Tampa has remains to be seen. You can expect the best out of Steven Stamkos this round, too.

-Someone get the pumpkin ready, because Vegas’s Cinderella season could be at it’s end. It’s nice to believe they can get to the Finals, but when you look at how this Sharks team is performing and how Martin Jones is looking back to form, it’s hard to say they’ll have a cakewalk like they did against LA. With Marcus Sorenson and Melker Karlsson leading the fresh group of Sharks, the Golden Knights could finally see their season end without a fairytale ending.

Are the Admirals Going Down With the Ship in Norfolk??

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It’s never good when a NHL team terminates an affiliation with an ECHL franchise. It’s even worse and weirder when it happens two months into the season. However, that’s what the Nashville Predators did when they terminated their affiliation with the Norfolk Admirals on Tuesday only six months into their affiliation.

This move is in a long line of troubling happenings for the Admirals– first was firing their long-time broadcaster because they didn’t want to have a radio feed for their games. The second happened two weeks ago when they fired their president, Mike Santos, who was reportedly the only person in the management position with any kind of hockey executive experience (it’s also a rumored reason why the affiliation was terminated). Also, the Admirals have drawn nothing in terms attendance this season, with one game reportedly having only 545 in attendance while, as a whole– they have only filled 22.8% capacity of The Scope this season.

While the owners of the team say that the team is not going to move and will finish out the ECHL season– should the team fold up, they would be the first team since the 2013-14 San Francisco Bulls to disband mid-season– as the Bulls had to fold up shop 40 games into the season.

It’s hard to believe that the team is spinning this as a good decision and one in the right direction. Since the team has been bought, they have been terrible and you can pin most of that on the ownership group– who is not in the vicinity of Norfolk. They ownership also went so far as suing the previous ownership saying they were misled when buying the team. Hard to feel sorry for a group who failed to do due diligence or doesn’t know how to run a sports organization overall.

The sad part of this is that Norfolk and the Hampton Roads area has always been a staple of minor league hockey. The Admirals were a founding member of the ECHL and were a force to be reckoned with in winning three Kelly Cups in 1991, 1992, and 1998. They moved up to the AHL when the Chicago Blackhawks saw value in their area as being good for development and solid placement for them.

Yet, things made a turn later on when the Blackhawks moved their affiliate closer to them in Rockford– Norfolk would then affiliate with the Tampa Bay Lightning– which brought them the Calder Cup in 2012, then to the Anaheim Ducks for a few season before the Ducks bought the team in 2015. That move was only to leverage it a move to San Diego for the Ducks and Edmonton turning Norfolk into the ECHL affiliate again. The fans there probably took this as a slap in the face and would rather have nothing at all than to watch the ECHL– which is understandable. Couple that with ownership issues and lack of talent brought into the team; people are revolting at a rapid pace.

Power Play 1, which is a part of Chesnut Holdings, which bought the team from the Edmonton Oilers is now responsible for the whole ordeal and really making it a shell of its former self. While they lauded former owner Ken Young, they also seemed to blame him for trying to have one staff work with two teams— which may or may not have led to the demise of the team or the team being overlooked. That said, at least the owner was familiar with the market and not someone who is coming from the outside trying to do something in New York that may not work in Norfolk.

The move to bring in the Predators seemed to have things moving in the right direction and it seemed that the ownership may have turned a corner in gaining trust. Boy, was that wrong.¬†While the fans deserve better– them not showing up or supporting the team isn’t going to help them stay or move up in the ranks. Of course, it’s hard to support a team that is making you feel like you’re wasting money going out to see them. It’s quite the dilemma that they have in Norfolk and one you hope doesn’t lead to a team disbanding– but seems to be going in that direction overall.

One has to wonder if or when the ECHL will step in to work this out. While the fans may not like being moved down, the fact the ECHL is a better brand than when the original Admirals started in 1989 seemed to be missed around those parts. If people gave it a chance and not worried too much about labels of the league– the market could be better off. That, or get some owners or executives in there that actually know the market they are putting a team at.

EDIT: As noted by the comments, the Admirals in the ECHL at the start wasn’t original and they won two Riley Cups and one Kelly Cup.

PODCASTS: FOHS, SB, and ITD

Here’s the weekly dump from me about my podcasts

Face Off Hockey Show: The Jon and Scott show happens where we rambled about people not checking their DMs, the Carolina Hurricanes, and other ramblings.

DOWNLOAD HERE


The Soderstrom Bubble: Jen and I talk about the evolution of hockey equipment through the years. From skates to pads to sticks. We ramble on about it all.

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DOWNLOAD HERE


In The Draft: Wilson and I talk about the big news about Dale Jr.’s replacement in the 88, what it means for the sports, the recap on New Hampshire and Eldora, plus what domino could be the first to fall in Silly Season.

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TEPID TAKE: Jerseys Aren’t THAT Bad

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Look– the Nashville Predators jerseys are bad. Like…Sears Christmas Catalog looking bad. But, for me, it’s really the only one that stood out as truly awful in the new Adidas Adizero jersey reveal. The rest of the looks are pretty much the same, but the design of them brought about pretty big reactions. Of course, the Vegas Golden Knights finally getting an identity was a huge get, too.

There are some things I’m annoyed by already by Adidas, one of which is the designers calling them “tops” instead of jerseys. I know it’s just a lingo thing, but if we’re going to try to keep some tradition, let’s keep it at jerseys. Also, some teams stealing the NBA gimmick and putting the Stanley Cup years into the collar just doesn’t sit right– looking at you, New Jersey.

However, there were improvement to me. The Avalanche going back to their old design is a massive upgrade over the tripe they’ve had to deal with the past couple of years. Only when the third jerseys are back will they have a chance to ruin their identity again– but for now, they get a nice pass. The Hurricanes also reverting back to the old school and reintroducing the storm flags is a nice touch.

The biggest thing going in was the Vegas Golden Knights uniforms. Overall, they look like something the German National Team would wear. It’s a nice look, don’t get me wrong, but doesn’t scream Vegas to me. The white gloves with gold cuff and fingers does scream Vegas to me, which I’m glad they were brave enough to make that change and make white gloves not just for All-Star Games anymore.

Overall, the jerseys are kind of buy the book, with the exception of the Minnesota Wild hacking onto the Canadiens mid-stripe look. The biggest thing to overcome for me is going to be collar area, which everyone got a preview to in the World Cup of Hockey. I’m sure they’ll look better on the ice and grow on me as the Reebok Edge eventually did.

PREDICTION: Stanley Cup Final(s)

When I was growing up, it was called the Stanley Cup Finals and sometime along the post-lockout world it became the Final; but whatever. Everyone is in the prediction business, so why not go for it myself??

Short and sweet, too.

As much as I loathe the Pittsburgh Penguins, this year they’re trying to be the first back-to-back team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998, which is made especially difficult in a salary cap world. Without Kris Letang and without Sidney Crosby at 100% (and even then he’s 2nd in playoff scoring),¬†guys like Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel have stepped up in a big fashion, while I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Phil Kessel yet. Hell, Matt Murray is trying for his second Stanley Cup in his rookie season, which is just wacky as hell when you say it out loud like that. However, the Penguins have really showed their depth and showed how their system really could be a model for most teams in the league going forward.

On the other side, the darling of the hockey world has been the Nashville Predators and the fans of Nashville who people are just discovering. While they don’t have the offensive fire-power, they do have some of the top defensemen in the league in Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and PK Subban. Upfront, Filip Forsberg has truly blossomed to the player people thought he was going to be, while Colton Sissons is going to get paid this summer because of his John-Druceian performance this playoffs. Luckily, Pekka Rinne has also came to play for the Predators after an up and down season for him this season. The loss of Ryan Johansen is a big one, but it’s a “next man up” mentality for this team who have really bought into Peter Laviolette’s message.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the Penguins react to having played so much since October 2015, as this is their second straight run of this magnitude. They aren’t the young guns they were back in 2008 and 2009 when they made this kind of run themselves. Coming off of two Game 7s in the past two series, the Pens could be running on fumes; but you can bet they have some gas in their tank saved up just for this.

The Preds, on the other hand, are amazing in team stats in having a +18 goal differential and only have let up 29 goals this playoffs. They’ll be very tested against the top scoring team in the playoffs, but Rinne will probably be equal to the task. As the second Wild Card in the Western Conference, this team is playing with house money. They don’t know they shouldn’t be here and are going to play the next however many games with as much enthusiasm as they did leading up to this.

PREDICTION: It’s really a “head vs. heart” for me because I know what the Penguins can do, but I think the Predators could really pull it out because they have the defense-first mentality that usually gets teams very far in the playoffs.

Predators in 7. Rinne will continue to be hot, the Preds defense will rule the day again, the Pens will feel the effects to all the games in the past two season and not have that extra juice needed to win.