2019 Playoffs: Conference Finals

Went 1 of 4 last round– batting a total of 25% on the playoffs, so here goes a whole lot of nothing.

BOSTON vs. CAROLINA
Prediction: Carolina in 7
Reason: I’ve been low on Carolina, but they’ve done great. They’ve also got a longer layoff, which would be great this time of the year, especially with the injuries they’ve encountered recently. Even if Petr Mrazek is done, Curtis McElhinney has been stellar, while Sebastian Aho is starting to really turn to form with Justin Williams there. That said, Tuukka Rask has looked better than ever and could very well carry the Bruins onward.

SAN JOSE vs. ST. LOUIS
Prediction: San Jose in 7
Reason: They’ve gone seven the past two series, why not a third?? Martin Jones has really turned it around for the most part, while Joe Pavelski coming back could very well give them the jolt they may have needed. The defense may need to tighten up a bit, while Jordan Binnington could be their toughest foe goalie yet. Also, Jaden Schwartz has been stellar and David Perron could be the thorn in the side needed to maybe rustle the Sharks’ jimmies.

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.

On the Topic Of All-Star Weekend

It’s a thing in every sport and yet it shouldn’t be and that’s an All-Star Game. With media being more prominent now, the idea of the All-Star Game when it was used to see all the stars of a league in one place seems archaic– but yet it goes on. I’ve long been an advocate to make it into more of a three-day Comic-Con– or extended FanFest as it were– but it seems that these leagues feel that the action on the surface will hold people’s attention.

So it went in San Jose, as the Metro Division won the whole tournament 10-5 over the Central. It was what it was– though it was quite the juxtaposition of color. The black-and-white Adidas Parlay jerseys made it feel like an old-time game, while the gradient colored blue line coupled with goalie’s set-ups being much brighter than the jerseys made it feel like these were extra scenes from “Sin City” or “Pleasantville.”

More over, the NHL’s new toy– player and puck tracking— was on full display, making us reminisce about the FoxTrax puck. Obviously, this new toy will be exploited to the cows come home and in no way has to do with the NHL’s deal with bookmakers and the prop bets that will come from it– nope, not at all. That said, NBC and NBCSN really abused it for those two days– maybe to get used to it, maybe to show us what we’re all in store for next season. Either way, too much of a good thing ruins it.

No one got hurt, which was really the most important thing. It seemed the guys had fun and won’t have to serve a game suspension because they missed out on the events. San Jose put on a good showing and all of that, so it’ll be a success.

Though the buzz of the weekend was the Skills Competition and some for the right and some for the wrong reason. The right reason was the inclusion of Kendell Coyne-Schofield to the Fastest Skater event and she did not disappoint with her talent despite not winning the event. For the bad also involved a woman competitor and a bit of a boggle by the NHL.

The Decker situation was when she was demonstrating the Premier Passing drill and many accounted for her finishing in a faster time than eventual winner Leon Draisaitl, though the NHL said her time was in fact around 1:12 (three second short of Draisaitl); as the league went back and checked. Saying they would “do the right thing” if she won was nice– but try explaining that to people who raise hell whenever possible. Luckily for Decker, CCM stepped up and added that $25,000 to her pocket.

When you break it down– this is where the NHL needs to figure out what to do with women’s hockey. Why not include Decker like they did with Coyne-Schofield?? What does it hurt to put the women in the men’s competition and allow them to stack up against the top players in the NHL?? This is where you have the conundrum of the two women’s pro leagues and the NHL stating they won’t favor one over the other. If/when the NWHL and CWHL merge or one becomes obsolete– it won’t only be better for women’s hockey, but it’ll be better for the NHL because you can bet they’ll start financially backing a one-league system as an off-shoot of the NHL and the women’s league will reap the benefit of the NHL marketing team…which isn’t the best, but maybe better than what they have.

Other than that– the Skills Competition seemed to lack things. The Hardest Shot had four players, which seemed pretty lame and looks to be going the way of the NBA Dunk Contest, while there was not much pizzazz with the other events other than skill being isolated for the world to see. Maybe the gimmicks are just done for now.

Either way, this debate will happen again next year with the game going to St. Louis. Love it or hate it, the idea of it continues to generate revenue, so leagues love it. Players and teams….maybe not as much, but they’ll play the company line or sit a game in rebellion.

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.

TEPID TAKE: Senators Put the Func in Dysfunction

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A week has gone by after this Erik Karlsson deal which pretty much killed the Senators’ season for this year and possibly the next couple of years. This after the awkward video with Eugene Melnyk and now #1 defenseman Mark Borowiecki, this after the summer of drama where former assistant GM Randy Lee harassed a shuttle bus driver, Mike Hoffman got dealt after alleged dealings between his girlfriend and Karlsson’s wife, Craig Anderson was tired of the drama, and Bobby Ryan hid out in Idaho in an attempt to avoid a trade. Okay…hid out isn’t the best word, as he does live there in the off-season, but it’s a good storyline to add to this dysfunction.

When you hear the fans wanting Melnyk to sell the team (though that’s not how ownership works, but you do you), it’s hard not to agree with them and hope that the NHL will some how have a change of heart and strip the team from Melnyk and own the team once again. Pierre Dorian takes the fall, but Melnyk meddles in the dealings too much for Dorian to take the full brunt. (Take note Hurricanes fans, this could be you.)

It’s not a wonder why the Ottawa Senators won’t be using the old school “O” as their new alternates– the memes are too easy at that point with the amount of disarray the team is in. While the fans want it, it’s a smart marketing situation….if their marketing team still exists.

Let’s face it, odds are that Matt Duchene will be dealt, Anderson will most likely be dealt, and the landslide will keep coming. It’s going to be years for this team to be one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final again. The prospects they have are…not there yet and may never be there, honestly.  They have a lot of solid defensive prospects, but in a high-tempo offensive system– their lack of offense and goaltending will be the downfall of the future Sens unless a diamond in the rough comes along.

But what can be done?? You can’t fire the GM or coach because the next one will have Melnyk breathing down their throats. Melnyk isn’t going to sell the team because he doesn’t see why he should and won’t get the money he wants for it anyway…unless those Quebec City people really put a big number out there.

So Ottawa fans are there, having seats being taken away from the arena…and it still looks empty. I can empathize with the Senators fans. When the great Capitals Purge of the mid-00s happened, those were lean years. Matt Yeats was the back-up, Chris Clark was the captain, Jason Doig was a top-pairing defenseman…it was weird. Then 15 years later, the Caps won the Stanley Cup and that was all a distant memory.

I remember when the Senators came into the league and they were god-horrible. Now it’s almost a time where it’s going to be the second-coming of that. Hell, maybe even Peter Sidorkiewicz could be the All-Star representation again. It’s going to get better, Ottawa fans. Who knows, they could be a random success story the next few years, they could get that arena downtown and make Melnyk care more about getting fans in, or they could move away.

Something will happen that’ll be either much better or much worse than what’s going on this past summer.

Summer Reading: Barracuda Nostalgia Sparks Idea For Other Retro Nights

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With the announcement of the San Jose Barracuda having jersey/theme nights to honor the affiliates of the San Jose Sharks past, it made me wonder if more teams should go and do it. Nostalgia is a helluva selling point for people, both in-arena and online. A gimmick like this creates a lot of buzz and could move a lot of tickets and a lot of merchandise to help out a team.

On the flip side, it’s a bit morbid. It’s a showing of failed teams, possibly failed markets, and while it’s nice– could rub some people the wrong way if they are bitter enough about losing their team.

Regardless of that, however, and regardless if you asked my opinion or not– but here’s some teams who I’d enjoy seeing honor their old affiliates. Of course, my top pick would be the Capitals to show off the old Richmond Robins, Baltimore Skipjacks, and Portland Pirates jerseys….but a team like the Hershey Bears wouldn’t give up their tradition to honor someone else’s– especially since they have outlasted those teams.

So– in no particular order:

ANAHEIM DUCKS: First in the alphabet, first one on this list. The Ducks have had some great affiliates– the short-lived Baltimore Bandits and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, but they weaved their way through some solidly established teams, like the Syracuse Crunch and Norfolk Admirals. However, if there’s one team I want to see again, it’s the Iowa Chops. One season wasn’t enough and if the San Diego Gulls wanted to move merch, that’s the way to do it. Of course, the Gulls are at the top of attendance and probably merch, so they don’t need that big of a boost.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: While the Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the longest affiliate the Islanders have had, the stops they’ve had along the way has been great and aesthetically amazing. The Thoroughblades are represented again (as seen above), but also the gaudy Salt Lake Golden Eagles jerseys, the early Lowell Lock Monsters jerseys, and the Utah Grizzlies‘ jerseys with a giant shoulder patch would really steer the memories, especially from the IHL fans.

CAROLINA HURRICANES: Including the Charlotte Checkers, the Hurricanes have only had five affiliates– but what affiliates they have been. The Beast of New Haven could have the worst logo of all time, the Cincinnati Cyclones, Lowell Lock Monsters, and Albany River Rats add to the memorable logos of affiliates past for the Hurricanes.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: What’s not to like about the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Baltimore Skipjacks, or the Broome Dusters….jacks. While the motif is pretty much the same in the black and gold, the older logos would be solid in a modern setting.

MINNESOTA WILD: While the Iowa Wild is the third of the AAA-affiliates for the Wild, the Houston Aeros look would be nice– but why not add some ECHL flavor?? The Louisiana IceGators looks would be solid, same with the Texas Wildcatters, Mississippi Sea Wolves, and Johnstown Chiefs; though it seems like a better option for the Allen Americans to do with their new ECHL affiliation with the Wild.

There’s plenty to go around. Minor league teams change like the tide, though thanks to teams owning their affiliates and markets being very solid in the industry– that’s slowed down a bit. Maybe there’s entire weekends that could be “Turn Back the Clock” weekends to bring back a little retro flavor and put some much needed attention onto the minor leagues. Anything in the name of a good gimmick.

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.