Sunday, March 29, 2009

Final Two Weeks - Storylines to Watch

Two weeks left in the regular season and there's some really interesting things to watch for...

1. Teams "sending a message" to potential playoff opponents. As evidenced by the recent pugilism in the March 29 Vancouver-Calgary game and March 26 Calgary-Columbus matchup.

2. The race for the #1 seed in the West. Detroit is certainly trying help San Jose with them having two straight losses, but the Sharks are still going through a world of injury hurt (which won't be getting any better should Captain Patrick Marleau miss any time).

3. Battle for the final playoff spots in the East. Looks to be three teams for two spots remaining...

- 7th spot: New York Rangers - 87 points. 6 games left.
- 8th spot: Montreal Canadiens - 86 points. 7 games left.
- 9th spot: Florida Panthers - 85 points. 6 games left.

Prognosticating this race, I gotta think that the Rangers and Canadiens hold their playoff spots (Montreal's game in hand should help a lot). Anything's possible, though... and in that category, Buffalo is only 3 points back of Florida).

4. Battle for the final playoff spots in the West. Assuming that Columbus is safely in, that leaves five teams for two spots...

- 7th spot: Nashville Predators - 84 points. 6 games left.
- 8th spot: St Louis Blues- 83 points. 6 games left.
- 9th spot: Anaheim Ducks - 82 points. 6 games left.
- 10th spot: Edmonton Oilers - 81 points. 6 games left.
- 11th spot: Minnesota Wild - 80 points. 6 games left.

Lots of interesting things going on here. Out of this quagmire, I'd love to see St Louis make it as they've fought hard to reach a level this season people wouldn't have expected and would love to see Anaheim not make it. Just don't like them... and they're a scary opponent.

With where things stand right now, the playoff matchups would look like this. Under the "teams in the hunt" category, note the Anaheim at Edmonton game this Tuesday night... a pretty big one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Power Rankings Revisted

It's been almost two weeks since I posted last so I might as well jump back in easy with links to the newly posted power rankings from Ross McKeon at Yahoo! Sports and those from Allan Muir at CNNSI.

My thoughts on some of the teams (with first their Yahoo! and then CNNSI ranking)...

New Jersey Devils (1/1) - Looking really good right now. Should be nice having a rested Martin Brodeur in net come playoff time.

Detroit Red Wings (2/2) - Great playoff team last year, probably going to be great again this season.

San Jose Sharks (3/3) - Scuffling a bit in the last month, but still has the horses needed. Just gotta get them back running in tandem.

Pittsburgh Penguins (5/7) - Don't have the talent they did after the trade deadline last season, but opponents should be very afraid of any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Calgary Flames (4/10) - Good team, got better at the trade deadline, but seem a bit dysfunctional with Coach Mike Keenan playing Captain Hook with all-star goalie Mikka Kiprusoff.

Washington Capitals (9/4) - Not surprising to see a disparity in the two sets of rankings. Hard to know what to make of a team with such offensive talent (see: Ovechkin, Alex) and inconsistency in net (see: Theodore, Jose).

Philadelphia Flyers (7/8) - Good team, entertaining to watch what with the short-handed stylings of Mike Richards and frequent mayhem contributed from Daniel Carcillo.

Columbus Blue Jackets (12/9) - Anyone want to play this team (including Steve Mason in net) in the postseason?

Vancouver Canucks (8/6) - Not sure what it is, but I just don't like this team much.

Boston Bruins (6/5) - Haven't heard much about them lately, but should be an intriguing team to watch come playoff time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Now We Poke Through the Rubble

With the NHL trade deadline come and gone, it's time to take stock of what's left... and who made the best moves. Really, you have to group the teams into buckets based on spot in the standings to see who made out well on their big trades (I don't bother listing some smaller moves like Kyle McLaren from the Sharks minor league system to Philadelphia)...

First bucket: elite teams (who also happen to be the division leaders)

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks - Acquired Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from Anaheim. I like it a lot. Helps in the depth and enormously in the grit department. To that point... I think Claude Lemieux played his way out of any postseason role with his non-response to Joe Thornton being checked from behind in the last Red Wings game.

Detroit Red Wings - Didn't do anything, but didn't seem to need anything (yeah... always nice to have more, but not at any price).

Calgary Flames - Big step forward with the acquisition of Jordan Leopold and Olli Jokinen. Wouldn't have thought so at the start of the season, but this is a dangerous team.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins - Got a bit tougher and more battle-tested with the addition of Mark Recci and Steve Montador. Looking good going into the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils - Good team, a bit better with the addition of Niclas Havelid.

Washington Capitals - Nothing doing, but still a high-level team. Might have benefited from investing a bit (not a lot, just a bit) in a solid backup goalie should Theodore have a rough go of it.

Second bucket: good teams that could do some playoff damage

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks - I certainly like the pickup of Sammy Pahlsson, but question whether the Hawks will be good enough this season to come out of the West. Best seasons are likely in front of this team.

Columbus Blue Jackets - I don't see the Jackets being able to get far in the playoffs, but it is the proverbial "time" for this club to make the postseason. Getting Antoine Vermette from Ottawa for a big-contract backup goalie doesn't give them the top-line center needed, but does help.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Flyers - Always a fun team to watch for the mayhem they bring to the ice.... so, no surprise that they would bring in a personal favorite in Daniel Carcillo from Phoenix. Kyle McLaren won't hurt to have as depth at D... and good for him making it back to the NHL this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins - They certainly aren't messing around. Fire the coach, ship out the hot young defensemen, put the superstar on the shelf to heal. All of it seems to have worked thus far and the addition of Bill Guerin shouldn't hurt (may not help a lot, though, as the Sharks found with Guerin two years ago).

Third bucket: everyone else

Well, the Rangers, Hurricanes, Sabres and Oilers among other teams gunning for the playoffs did a bunch of stuff. Will it matter (even if they do make the postseason)? Me don't think so at this point, but ya' never know.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

T Minus One Day to Trade Deadline

One day left till the deadline and... it's still all pending. Let's take a look at what's happened thus far...

- Mathieu Schneider to Montreal for... someone: An important deal by Les Canadiens as they were floundering badly and needed to do something (course, that something also involved switching seemingly indifferent goaltender Carey Price out for Jaroslav Halak).

- Chris Kunitz & top prospect to Pittsburgh for Ryan Whitney: Similar to the Canadiens situation... a move made by the Pens who desperately needed something, in this case to get a wing to play with (now injured) Sidney Crosby. Also a good deal by Anaheim as it both gives them a good young defensemen and lets them seriously consider trading Chris Pronger if the right package gets offered.

- Niclas Havelid to New Jersey for... someone: Not a huge trade, but solidifies the Devil blueline. A good team just got better.

Is that going to be it for trades this year? Not even close... there's an interesting story from Allan Muir at CNNSI titled "Playing Trade Deadline Matchmaker" with his suggestions / predictions. Props to him for already nailing the Havelid deal.

So... with the benefit of having already seen Muir's piece and knowledge of Nicklas Backstrom having signed an extension with Minnesota, here's my thoughts of what teams might look for:

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks - Would benefit tremendously if Muir's idea of Chris Neil from Ottawa came to pass... and would also effectively end the Claude Lemieux experiment (Ian Laperriere would also be very welcome here). Another interesting move would be recently out of favor in Florida and Joe Thornton buddy Nick Boynton coming over from the Panthers to shore up the D. Final thing about the Sharks is there's a new rumor I just heard which would have Ryan Smyth coming from Colorado... likely with Jonothan Cheechoo going the other direction. Personally, I would rather not take on Smyth and his huge long-term deal at the cost of Cheech... much rather get our grit more cheaply.

Chicago Black Hawks - Not sure if it would be at the front or backline, but could use some veteran presence.

Detroit Red Wings - Nah... they're good. Goaltending could be better, but probably no move now would accomplish that.

Calgary Flames - Could benefit greatly from someone else who could put the puck in the net. Maybe it is the Jordan Leopold idea put out by Muir.

Columbus Blue Jackets - This really does seem to be the year for them to make the playoffs. Big need is a top center to play with Nash. Again, will steal Muir's idea... Tim Connolly from Buffalo.

Anaheim Ducks - Sort of in the driver's seat. If either Boston, New Jersey (less likely) or St Louis (really, St Louis) knock their socks off they could trade Chris Pronger, but don't have to.

Eastern Conference

Boston Bruins - Would of course love Chris Pronger, but if that doesn't work out... perhaps Tomas Kaberle could be had. Tough, though, because it would come down to asking price... don't think that it would be a good move for Boston to move Phil Kessel (as rumored) even to get a Pronger.

Florida Panthers - They hold a big card in soon to be unrestricted free agent Jay Bouwmeester. However, like Columbus they're close to the playoffs and should probably do everything possible to get there. I would expect to see Bouwmeester traded only if they got excellent able to play now talent back. Heard a rumor yesterday of Braydon Coburn coming from Philly, but if I'm the Flyers I don't give up such good young talent for a rental player.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Seems like they gotta be able to find to pull Crosby's buddy Colby Armstrong back from the Panthers.

Washington Capitals - Same as Detroit, would like to have better goaltending, but I don't think a trade is the way it would get done. Better to continue with a combination of hoping either Jose Theodore plays better or a young kid takes the role from him.

There's also some good spare parts out there like Oli Jokkinen and Keith Tkachuk.

Will be fun to watch the whole thing shake out.