Sports by Randy Charles Morin.
Copyright 2005-10 Randy Charles Morin
Owned by Rapid Spiral Development Inc.
A series by series predictions for the 1st round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and a glimpse into the next 3 rounds. The NHL playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout has been a unpredictable beast. You make the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and you find your way to the Stanley Cup finals. What makes a good regular season team is clearly not what makes a good playoff team. Here's my sense of what might happen this playoff season.
The Minnesota Wild have badly underperformed and scratched their way into a playoff spot. That said, a hot goalie and some timely scoring might give them a chance. But goaltending and scoring have not been their forte this season. They do have some grit with Cal Clutterbuck, but on the whole this team is soft. Not a recipe for winning the Lord Stanley's mug. An underdog to win a series and a longshot to win it all.
And the Wild are playing the recent Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks are loaded with talent; Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane. Their was the question of goaltending at the start of the season, but Corey Crawford has been great. The consensus is that the Hawks are the team to beat in the West.
This isn't the Red Wings we knew in years past. There's no Nicklas Lidstrom. End of story. It's just not the same team.
The Ducks have been an off-and-on team for years with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They even won a Stanley Cup a few years back. I don't think this team has the depth to make it far in the playoffs, but I do think they have enough to handle the Wings. Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are getting older by the day.
For the 1st time in a long while, the Sharks aren't expected to do anything this playoff. They're suppose to boy out to the much better Canucks. And with perenial non-playoff performers like Joe Thornton, they have every excuse. But remember, they are very deep in talent and someday, if Joe is willing, they might surprise in the playoffs. And don't forget, that's a Cup winning goalie between the pipes; Anti Niemi.
The Canucks are very much like the Sharks of a few years ago. Some playoff success, but everybody expected so much more. And because of injury, they'll be starting the playoffs with long-time playoff disappointment Roberto Luongo in net. Whichever team loses this series, will cement their reputation as playoff losers.
An extremely talented team that should have little problem taking care of the Blues. But I'm not sure a team led by the party boys (Jeff Carter and Mike Richards) can make it two years in a row. I'm thinking the hangover from last summer hasn't quite warn off yet.
The Blues are... well... a blue colar team. No stars and a lot of names even I don't recognize. Just a lot of hard work. Their goaltending load was split between three goalies. It's very rare that teams with no talent advance in the playoffs.
The worst run organization in the NHL made the playoffs on the back of their one superstar John Tavares. That's about as far as they'll get. I doubt they could handle an injury riddled Penguins lineup in a seven game series. And the Pens are getting healthy.
The Canadiens are looking back between the pipes and putting their faith in Carey Price. A career 8-15 playoff record. This might be Price's last chance. If he falters again, then the fans in Montreal might start calling for a change.
I really liked the makeup of the Rangers at the start of the season. Things didn't go as expect and the team was rebuilt mid-season. Mid-season of an already short season. Henrik Lundqvist could put the team on his back lead them thru a few playoff rounds, but I doubt it. Teams rebuilt mid-season rarely go anywhere in the playoffs.
Alex Ovechkin is on fire and we're heading into the playoffs. This team is gonna live and die on his stick. I don't see much problem dispensing the Rangers. Then... in the 2nd round, it's OV time or bust.
As a long-time Leafs fan, what a relief. Playoff games. Everything sits on James Reimer's shoulders. They're a tough and fast team that can score. Can they keep the puck out of the net? Reimer did it all year.
The Bruins are either the toughest team in the playoffs or the 2nd toughest. And the Leafs are either the toughest or 2nd. Expect a lot of hitting. Fighting. Injuries. Whomever wins is likely gonna get beat the next round anyway. This is war.
Here are my choices with a couple games left in the NHL season for the individual award winners. In a couple cases, my choice is partial based on the assumption that the team will or will not make the playoffs and if that changed, then my opinion would change. But I doubt it. You'll find my choices a little different that the conventional people who think they know hockey.
Had Craig Anderson not been injurred, his sneeking the Senators in the playoffs with a 1.71 GAA and .941 SV% would've won him the Hart, but I can't give it to a goalie that only played half the season? Can I? Without Anderson's heroics early in the season, this injury riddled team could very well be competing for the 1st overall pick in this summers entry draft instead of being in the playoff race. Still, I can't believe
How about a forward that played only 3 quarters of the season? Sidney Crosby was still leading the NHL in scoring and 2nd in assists with 3 games left in the season. His linemates are #1 and #2 in the plus-minus leaders (he's currently 4th) and he's in the top 15 in faceoff wins.
Can you give it to two forwards, Martin St Louis and Steve Stamkos, who may win the Art Ross for most points while leading their team to a lottery pick instead of a playoff spot? These two players rank last and 2nd last on their team in plus-minus for forwards. This isn't new territory for this pair. These are two players that I would absolutely not consider for the Hart. In fact, I doubt this team will ever make the playoffs until they break up their core group of offensive players who don't skate in their defensive zone.
Alex Ovechkin is by far the Hart winner in the 2nd half of the season, but is that enough to overcome a very bad start? Remember 2 months ago when everybody was saying OV was washed up? Now he's gonna win yet another Rocket Richard trophy and is a prime candidate for the Hart as well.
Other players I would consider voting for are Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares. All four elevated their teams to new heights this season, but none stood out as much as Crosby or Ovechkin.
Winner: Sidney Crosby
Let me start by repeating the same argument that Craig Anderson would've won here too had he not been injured.
That said, people are starting to talk about Sergei Bobrovsky as the prime candidate for the Vezina. And I agree. Without Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets would not be in the playoff picture.
I'm also gonna make a case for another goalie that took a team that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade into the playoffs this season; James Reimer. In the game that clinched the playoffs for the Leafs, they were outshot 50 to 22 by the Senators, yet won the game 4-1 on 49 saves by Reimer. Getting outshot isn't a rarity in Toronto these days (years).
Winner: Sergei Bobrovsky.
He's hated, just as much as he's loved, but this year he became a true all-star and Norris candidate; P.K. Subban. He hits hard, he leads all d-men in goals and points and has a nice plus-minus to boot.
How about Brooks Orpik? If he could only score. But how about 10th in hits and 6th in blocked shots? This guy is a true unsung warrior.
And then there's Dion Phaneuf. Twenty-sixth in blocked shots, 6th in hits, 6th in points, 3rd in goals, 5th in ice-time. Now those are some impressive numbers.
Ryan Suter is another possibility, but his team has under-performed even with Ryan playing his best season yet and they don't look playoff bound.
My finalist are Phaneuf and Subban.
Winner: P.K. Subban.
Jonathan Huberdeau leads all rookies in goals and points and he's nearly leading a bad Florida offense in both categories as well.
Justin Schultz leads all rookie defensemen in goals, assists and points, but he does have a lot of offensive help on a very talented Oilers team.
Cory Conacher is a nice story and does lead all rookies in assists and points. That said, he accumulated most of those points playing along side the offensive-minded Lightning.
I'm deciding between Huberdeau and Schultz.
Winner: Justin Schultz.
I don't really care.
This is by far my favorite award. Mostly because I think it's histerical that the most recent winner of the award doesn't even play much on his teams short hand unit. Pavel Datsyuk may very well win this award again, but in my opinion he isn't even in the top 20 best defensive players in the NHL. If he's so good defensive, then how come he only ranks 3rd on his team in short-handed ice-time per game for forwards? And how can you even give the award to a player that isn't played much in defensive situations like power plays?
Let's look are real defensive players, not just great offensive players who are reasonable defensively. The real great defensive players are those that hog most of the short-handed ice-time and are on the ice in the last minute when your team is winning by a goal.
This guy should've won the Frank J Selke most every year he's been in the NHL. No other player even needs to be named. He leads the league in short-handed ice-time by a forward with 163 minutes. No other player has more than 131. In those 163 minutes, the power-play has only 11 goals. His new team joined this season had their penalty kill go from 24th last year to 3rd best this year. He plays every shift against the other teams best offensive players and maintained an even plus-minus. And does he play in the final minute in one goal games? He must. He has 3 empty net goals this season. No player since Michael Peca has scored such a high percentage of his games into empty nets (just saying, didn't double check that stat).
Winner: Jay McClement.
The Ottawa Senators have been devastated with key injuries, yet the team still managed to stay in the playoff hunt. Paul MacLean deserves consideration for the Adams for holding this team together all season.
John Capuano deserves a gold medal for managing to put the worst managed hockey organization in the NHL into the playoffs. His team has Tim Thomas, Alexei Yashin and Rick Dipietro accounting for $11-12 million of the cap space. Without these players, who aren't even on the team, they wouldn't meet the CBA team salary floor for 2012-13.
The Columbus Blue Jackets suck. If they make the playoffs then Todd Richards is another candidate for coach of the year. This team is made up almost entirely from players unwanted otherwhere in the NHL.
All three coaches have taken a bad team to the promised land.
Winner: Paul MacLean.
The Penguins added Jarome Iginla, Jussi Jokinen, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow to an already stacked team. Ray Shero must be using a different math then the other General Managers in order to fit so many stars into the same salary cap every other team struggles with. Their backup goalie Tomas Vokoun is better than most NHL starting goalies and he signed him for next to nothing.
Not as impressive as the Penguins, but the Bruins added Jaromir Jagr and Wade Redden at the deadline. Peter Chiarelli also managed a very skillful trade to free up salary room by trading Tim Thomas to the Islanders. The trade was clearly made to circumvent the salary cap for both teams, as the Islanders were under the salary floor and the Bruins needed some room to work with.
I can't put my finger on a 3rd GM that stood out as much as these two.
Winner: Peter Chiarelli
We just updated all the AHL rosters for the 2008-09 season.
We just updated all the NHL rosters.
Assuming Sundin comes back in the next few weeks and only wants to play in the East, then he's either gonna play for less or the acquiring team is gonna have to off-load salary or he's gonna play for the Leafs or Sabres. Senators don't have enough salary room. Ranger/Flyers have none. Most of the teams with salary room aren't expected to compete for the Cup. Can you see Sundin in Sabres blue? Do the Sabres want him? They have nearly $6M of salary room and adding Sundin would make them a favorite to win the Cup. Leafs suck! They just broke a 5 game losing streak.
The Ottawa Senators have acquired to of the pieces of the 2007 Hurricane Stanley Cup winning puzzle; Commodore and Stillman for Corvo and Eaves. Both Commodore and Stillman will be unrestricted free-agents and Corvo and Eaves have longer-term rights. This is a now for tomorrow trade and likely a good one for both teams. The Sens are trying to improve on last season's Cup final lost. The Canes have struggled since a quick start and are adding a bit of youth and talent for the longer-term.
I love reader what people are writing about the Steve Downie situation. Total bandwagon jumping. I have to wonder if some of these guys have even seen the hit. MG Franklin of Canada.com writes "Senators' centre Dean McAmmond suffered a concussion after being hit from behind and into the glass by Steve Downie of the Flyers." From behind? Into the glass? Canada.com is a major publisher here in Canada. I reponded in Franklin's comments that it wasn't from behind or into the glass. He chose not to publish my comment. Others, including the NHL seem to be claiming the hit was late, yet it occured less than 1 second after McAmmond passed the puck. What happened to two steambolts (2 seconds)?
Northeast Preseason Preview
A great live broadcast today.
I talked about 5 teams.
Sabres vs Rangers
The Rangers really don't have much chance here. They will need an amazing performance by Lundqvist to stand any chance. The key is gonna have to be Avery running Miller in the first 5 minutes of game one. The Rangers can't win this series straight up.
Senators vs Devils
The Devils played really bad against the Lightning and Brodeur bailed them out. The key to the series will be Emery. If Emery plays well, then the Senators should win, because the Devils simply don't compete outside of the crease.
Goaltending: +2 Devils
Offense: +2 Senators
Note: In the six series decided to date, I'm 6 for 6 in my predictions.