2016 NHL Draft: Top 20 Prospects (Pre Lottery)

0118-draft16About an hour to go before the 3rd most anticipated draft lottery in NHL history.  Crosby and McDavid lottery’s were obviously a bigger deal, but with the new lottery rules it makes for a lot more intrigue and will be pretty fun to watch unfold.

 

So with that being said, I did my new list of top prospects.  A top 50 list will be done up real soon, but I couldn’t get it done in time for tonight.  But since this only affects 14 teams, a top 50 list isn’t really that necessary for tonight’s proceedings.

 

Why top 20 and not top 14?  Mainly because of who I have at 17 in the newest rankings.  A kid who’ll certainly be back in the 1st round discussion for a lot of scouts.  But also because no two lists are going to be the same, and this isn’t a mock draft.  Maybe you can do your own mock draft using this list to compile who fits where?  Or maybe you’ll laugh at it and call me names?  Dick.

 

In these new rankings I’ve added my tiers.  Basically I put players in tiers to select based on need in the top tier of players left…if that makes sense.  So many people are dinosaurs and think you just need to go BPA.  A few people will tell you that need is the way to go.  I like a hybrid.  I have become more of a “pick based on need” guy in the last 5 seasons or so because of how difficult it has become to make a trade in the NHL anymore, but if you need a D-man and Connor McDavid is starring you in the face, you aren’t passing on him.  Lots of teams in this draft will really need a kid like Olli Juolevi, but you aren’t taking Juolevi if somehow Patrik Laine has fallen to you.

 

Ok, I’ll shut up now.

 

Tier 1

635873478224268717-AP-Finland-Ice-Hockey1. Auston Matthews  Zurich  Suisse A

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1.5  Wt: 194  Shot: L

Comparison: Anze Kopitar

All this talk of Laine making a push for 1st overall is absurd.  Laine is amazing, but you don’t take a potential elite sniper over an elite 1st line centre.  Even looking at a situation like the Oilers or Sabres.  If they the top pick tonight, there is a chance that those are 2 teams who may prefer Laine, but neither would take him at 1.  You move back, load up, and take Laine because an elite 1st line centre is just such a valuable piece to have.  So is a sniper like Laine, but as I’ve said a million times you NEED a centre like Matthews to win, you don’t NEED a guy like Laine.  Matthews will come in as one of the most polished all around 1st overall picks.  His talent isn’t up there with McDavid, but he’s

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Tier 2

etupate3112SP_nu2. Patrik Laine  Tappara  SM-Liiga

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 206  Shot: R

Comparison: Ilya Kovalchuk

CHILL with the Ovechkin comparisons!  He’s damn good, but other players have played this style not just Ovechkin.  Everyone is in love with him and Puljujarvi, but it is a must you keep in mind that teams simply do not win with these wingers.  Everyone always falls in love with them.  Rick Nash, Kovalchuk, Thomas Vanek, 3 years ago some were clamouring for Valeri Nichushkin to go as high as 2nd overall.  The myth is that these players can do it all and will be unstoppable.  The fact is that they are so physically gifted that they’ve never had to think the game.  And if they could think the game at a high level, they would be centre’s, not wingers.  It doesn’t mean they can’t learn to think it, but that is a talent too.  I hope they both have a 2 way game like Marian Hossa, but most wingers of this ilk never become more defensively then they have to be.  Having said all this, there are a limited amount of players in the league who have a shot like his, and even less who have a one timer like his.  Ovechkin, Stamkos, Subban, Burns, maybe a few others but those are the ones that come to mind and the point is there are VERY few.  He moves up to 2nd on my list more because of Chychrun proving to be less of a sure thing in my mind, and it’s something I’m guilty of forgetting when ranking these kids is that a players certainty needs to be kept in mind.

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Tier 3

0f8f40bd-3c2e-4760-8b55-3856be63946e_JDX-NO-RATIO_WEB3. Pierre-Luc Dubois  Cape Breton  QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2.5  Wt: 202  Shot: L

Comparison: Shane Doan

I love my power forwards and I love my centres.  So all season I was of the understanding that Dubois, one of my favourites, was projecting as a LW.  I knew he played some centre, but didn’t know it was a lot.  Kyle Woodlief from the Redline Report however says Dubois is a full fledged centre and won’t have a problem playing the middle.  So that, combined with his continued tremendous play this season, has him shooting up my rankings yet again.  And Bob McKenzie said it, Dubois plays a pro style game.  For me, that’s huge.  That means he’s willing to get his nose dirty and go to the tough area’s on the ice.  Really has no holes in his game, just doesn’t have a skill that he possess at an elite level.  Then again, that might be his competitiveness.  Call me nuts, but I’m taking the do it all centre over the highly skilled winger.  And even if Dubois ends up only playing the wing, while he likely won’t have the points Puljuarvi will have, he’ll be more of a player teams crave.  Think Toews v Kane, not that either play like them, but I would take Toews over Kane anyday of the week.

 

Jesse%20Puljujärvi4. Jesse Puljujarvi  Karpat  SM-Liiga

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3.5  Wt: 203  Shot: R

Comparison: Jakub Voracek

I decided to come up with a new comparison since Craig Button and Damian Cox were both using Blake Wheeler, but you get the idea.  A winger who can carry a line and has a great all around game.  Anyway, like Laine, Puljujarvi is a stud prospect whom my only concern is being able to think and process the game, because he has all the tools imaginable just like Laine.  Make no mistake though they do play different games.  Puljujarvi uses his size and will lean on defenders much like Peter Forsberg used to do, but don’t expect him to ever put anyone on their ass.

 

635811302260340869-GTY-4900609205. Matthew Tkachuk  London  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 195  Shot: L

Comparison: Andrew Ladd

He’s more of a playmaker than the old man was, and he’s a little smaller than the old man was, but that’s about it.  The game is pretty damn similar.  Unlike Laine and Puljujarvi, he’s going to do it with grit and toughness just as much as skill.  He’s the type of winger who is the exception to my rule, because this type is nearly impossible to find.  In the 90’s, every team had 1 or 2 guys like this.  Today, I’m not sure there are 3 guys like that in the league.

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Tier 4

jakob_chychrun_sarnia_sting_36. Jakob Chychrun  Sarnia  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 215  Shot: L

Comparison: Rob Blake

He’s been over scouted, without a doubt.  He had nowhere to go but down this season, yet he still had a great year, just not a year that left scouts wanting to see more.  And at the end of the day you still have to look at what the upside is, and it’s incredible.  6’2, 215, Craig Button calls him the best skater in the draft, high IQ, can run a PP, has a big shot (loves to use it too), plays mean in his own zone, there is nothing this kid doesn’t bring to the table.  Chychrun has the tools to do it all in every situation.  I feel like Juolevi and Bean have limitations, Sergachev is a Russian and the fact is Russian players are massive wildcards in the draft.

 

Mikhail+Sergachev+CeCK7oxNcXdm7. Mikhail Sergachev  Windsor  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2.5  Wt: 206  Shot: L

Comparison: Dougie Hamilton

As much as I love Chychrun, the only thing that separates him and Sergachev is that historically it is a higher bust rate with Russians.  There really isn’t anything different with the way either guy plays the game.  Both great size, both LH shots, both play physical, both are terrific skaters, both love to shoot the puck, both can move it well, they’re just very similar in skill sets.

 

Olli+Juolevi+NAPsrAuj9rcm8. Olli Juolevi  London  OHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’2.5  Wt: 179  Shot: L

Comparison: Oliver Ekman-Larsson

He’s closing the gap on Chychrun for most people.  For me however, I still like the all world guy better, and the offensive numbers are very similar.  Still, should Juolevi end up near the level of Ekman-Larsson…whoever picks him won’t be complaining!  Smooth skater, great breakout pass, great stick defensively and takes great angles.  Offensively he’s just so smooth.  Walks the line as good as any 18 year old you’ll see, and his passing ability is elite.

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Tier 5

Apr18_OHLplayer9. Michael McLeod  Mississuaga  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 188  Shot: R

Comparison: Ryan Kesler

I still like McLeod better than most, because I just fully believe you win in the NHL with a kid like McLeod.  Can play in any situation, size, RH shot, this is the type of centre every team craves.  Unlikely he becomes a number 1 guy, but a great number 2 guy, and even if he doesn’t meet expectations he’s still going to be a valuable guy to have.  I realize he had a poor U18’s, but it’s 1 tournament.  Much like Dubois I believe he plays more of a pro game that will translate very well and leave a lot of teams and scouts looking foolish.  And if I’m wrong….I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again.

 

bean_jake210. Jake Bean  Calgary  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 173  Shot: L

Comparison: Tyson Barrie

He continues to be a riser in this draft.  He put up great numbers, but there is just a lot of work to be done.  Still though, the numbers are absurd for playing in the WHL as an 18 year old D-man.  64 points in 68 games.  I worry about his defensive game, and it’s simplistic to say that can be learned.  It can, but the player has to want to learn it.  In a way though he looks to be a very safe pick because even if he can’t be reliable defensively, that didn’t hurt a kid like Gostisbehere this season.  If you can run a PP like that, all is forgiven elsewhere.

 

Keller NTDP311. Clayton Keller  USA NTDP  USHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’9.5  Wt: 168  Shot: L

Comparison: Tyler Ennis

Corey Pronman has Keller 4th on his list.  Pronman….I listen to what he has to say and respect his opinion, but man we just see things different.  Not to speak for him, but he seems to base everything completely on point projections on the next level.  I prefer players who’ll have the biggest impact on the team and that doesn’t always show up on the stat box.  If it’s a perfect situation, then it makes sense to draft him.  But rarely does a team ever have a need for a 5’9, sub 170 pound centre.  Also, while other area’s of the game can be taught, I think some scouts get caught up in that and simply assume the player will learn, but he has to be willing to do it.  I’ve softened my stance on him a bit as you can see by my ranking this time around, but I still just look at players like Keller as final pieces to the puzzle, and teams drafting in the top 10 normally need to finish building the house before they buy the 60 inch 4K TV.

 

Barrie+Colts+v+Mississauga+Steelheads+_3jDcRCjYQRl12. Alexander Nylander  Mississuaga  OHL 

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0.5  Wt: 179  Shot: R

Comparison: Milan Hejduk

Nylander is the same deal as Keller.  We aren’t talking about him having Patrick Kane type talent.  And again, I don’t HATE Nyalnder at all, an extremely talented kid who can put up a lot of points in the NHL.  But I wouldn’t take him top 10 in this draft unless you have a situation similar to the Jets in 2014 when they took a similar guy in Nik Ehlers.  They were pretty loaded everywhere and had grit and size, so that’s where it made sense.  There are teams who can really use a guy like Nylander, like Keller, I just would want to make damn sure I had the more important holes filled first.

 

Logan Brown13. Logan Brown  Windsor  OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 222  Shot: L

Comparison: Nick Bjugstad

I’m proud that I had Brown higher than most back when I did the first list, and he proved me right at the U18’s.  He and Jost really separated from Kunin at that tournament (in my eyes, though Kunin obviously wasn’t at the U18’s) and Rubtsov but that could be a messy situation for the Russian.  Anyway, no chance NHL teams won’t love the package that is Logan Brown.  This kid can SKATE despite his massive size!  That is tough to pass up if you need a centre. Could be up there with McLeod, but for me right now even though McLeod is smaller he still has real good size and is quicker, maybe plays a grittier game.  But obviously with this size Brown gives a team literally a lot to work with.

 

Jost3-CM14. Tyson Jost  Penticton  BCHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 191  Shot: L

Comparison: Claude Giroux

He answered the doubts I had about him.  I still don’t like him as much as Brown for the pro’s, not just because Brown is so much bigger but I have a tough time loving centre’s under 6’0.  But Jost is a kid that can play in any situation.  I won’t be shocked if he exceeds this ranking and becomes a number 1 centre at some point in his career.  So then why have him ranked here and McLeod ranked 9th?  Because at the end of the day Jost isn’t as big, isn’t as fast, and might end up being put on the wing in his career.  Just a little more doubt with Jost in my eyes.  Loved what I saw in Grand Forks though.

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Tier 6

orig-mediaitemid19992-526915. Dante Fabbro  Penticton  BCHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 189  Shot: R

Comparison: Kevin Shattenkirk

Same deal as Jost, the teammates answered a lot of my concerns at the U18’s.  Fabbro was outstanding, and even though he isn’t THAT big he plays a very complete game.  Add to that, he and Charlie McAvoy are the only 2 D-men…at least as of late April, who are RH shots that could go in the 1st round.

 

McAvoy U1716. Charlie McAvoy  Boston University  NCAA

Pos: D  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 208  Shot: R

Comparison: Keith Yandle

Full disclosure, I get sick of doing write up’s on a lot of the D-men who come out of the USHL/NCAA.  They are all SO similar.  Smooth skating, puck movers who have big questions about playing in traffic and playing with the type of toughness it takes to play in the NHL.  Now don’t get me wrong, we see a LOT of Canadian D-men like this, European D-men like this, but the States produce a ton of the same type of D-man.  McAvoy is one of these guys.  Does a great job quarterbacking the PP, does a nice job of jumping in the play when the time is right, and while he’s not physical he takes good angles and has a good stick.

 

Kale Clague17. Kale Clague  Brandon  WHL

Pos: D  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 177  Shot: L

Comparison: Matt Niskanen

Massive jump!  And again, I might be just being very biased.  But Clague has just gotten better and better as the season has gone on.  His game elevated after the prospects game, elevated even more when the playoffs began.  He has maybe been the Wheat Kings best player in the playoffs.  Remember, they have Ivan Provorov, Nolan Patrick, etc.  Again I’ll say, he has a ways to go with his defensive game, but he is back on track after a rough start to the season that saw his draft ranking plummet.

 

julien-gauthier-600x33818. Julien Gauthier  Val d’Or  QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3.5  Wt: 225  Shot: R

Comparison: James Neal

Upside is great, but the motor is the big question with this kid and a lot of kids seemingly keep passing him on the rankings.  I still can’t help but think how valuable he’s going to be if he puts it together.  For this comparison I completely admit I’m echoing what Craig Button said.  The comparison to Neal is just spot on.  He won’t put guys on their ass very often, but he is great down low and on the wall, has real good wheels and an awesome shot.

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Tier 7

Hamilton+Bulldogs+v+London+Knights+Lhmt7IUo1Bhl19. Max Jones  London  OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 205  Shot: L

Comparison: Scott Mellanby

Much like with the other power forwards, I love how Jones game SHOULD translate.  Also, it has to be tough for him in London playing behind so many guys like Marner, Tkachuk, Dvorak, etc.  He plays an old school power forward game, he has a nasty streak.  Combine that with the way he can skate and shoot, I have to think he’ll be capable down the line of being a complimentary top 6 player.  Not a driver of a line, but a perfect guy to pair with your skilled players.

 

Kunin20. Luke Kunin  Wisconsin  NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 193  Shot: R

Comparison: Derek Stepan

He falls by a spot, but it is not to do with me liking him any less than I did.  Plays a very smart game.   I don’t know if I like a comparison better than Kunin to Stepan and while I did come up with that, I’m sure I can’t be the only one making this comparison.  Great speed, great shot, and a great motor (I’m using motor now instead of compete level, easier to type).  He’ll be one of the safer picks in this draft.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2016 NFL Draft Preview

2016_NFL_Draft.0.0I wish I had time to do a full on NFL mock draft, but I don’t.  Despite garbage oil prices, I find myself pretty busy the last few weeks.  But I do have time to talk about it, so I damn well will!

 

This is like Christmas for diehard football fans.  The NFL draft is right up there with the NHL draft as my favourite drafts (although there are only 4, 5 if you include Vietnam).  For the 2nd year in a row, this draft isn’t great.  But for the 2nd year in a row, you do have 2 pretty good QB’s at the top of the draft, and I believe these 2 QB’s are much safer than Winston and Mariota were last season.  Neither have off field issues, neither play a style which has rarely ever succeeded in the NFL.

 

Jarred Goff is going 1st and I love what the Rams did moving up.  Loved that trade for both the Rams and Titans.  The Titans got a boat load of picks that they really needed to help surround Marcus Mariota with elite talent.  But the Rams are one of the few teams who it made sense for them to do a deal like that.  They’ve loaded up during the Jeff Fisher era, they just needed a QB.  And they didn’t need a potential hall of famer, they just needed a guy who can make some throws for them at key times.  Jarred Goff isn’t a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, etc.  Goff is more of a Matt Ryan type where he will elevate his team, just don’t expect him to get you playoff wins or a Super Bowl if he doesn’t have much around him.  In L.A. he will have a ton around him.  People are saying this was more of a PR move by the Rams, I really don’t see it that way.  I believe they saw this as their best chance to get a franchise QB to complete their roster and they capitalized.

 

Then you have the move for the 2nd overall pick and I wasn’t really liking it for either team.

 

HATE it for the Browns.  I realize you get a lot of picks to only move back 6 spots, but you finally had your franchise QB.  After all the Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Spurgeon Wynn, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCowan’s (there are like 24 of them and I pulled all of those off the top of my head, not bad) of the world you finally had a guy who looks like the real deal, and you trade back.  And trading back has worked for teams who can pick, but the Browns can’t pick!  They did this in 2014, 2011, and 2009 and it didn’t work any of those times so why will it now.  New front office, but it’s a new front office every year for the Browns.  As for the Eagles, I like it better for them because they understand what a franchise QB is worth, and that you can’t win in the NFL without one.  But I felt like they could have waited until next year.  Essentially call it a rebuilding year and if you go 5-11, you’re picking higher next season and you can get your QB then.  And they aren’t desperate for that QB in Philly like Browns fans have been.  They should have been the team cool with picking 8th.

 

As for the rest of the draft, it feels much more this season compared to others like a total crapshoot from the 3rd pick on.

 

Chargers seem to be going with LT out of Notre Dame Ronnie Stanley, but most seem to believe they can go any direction.  The Cowboys pick 4th, and the latest seems to be that they love Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott.  If they are going to do that, trade back.  This seems stupid to me if they simply stay at 4 and pick a RB when they have an offensive line that can make an average RB look great.  Then again, when you hear rumours in the final month leading up to the draft it is almost always complete horse shit.  I’d go with Joey Bosa the DE out of Ohio State, or Jalen Ramsey the DB out of Florida State.

 

Back to the Browns for a minute, it is possible that they simply fell in love with Memphis QB Paxton Lynch and knew they could get him later on.  I don’t want to go as far as to credit the Browns, but I will say that Lynch has the most arm talent out of all the QB’s in this draft and the one thing you need to play in Cleveland come November and December is a massive arm.  Lynch could sit behind RGIII for a few seasons and they now have a great offensive mind running the show in Hugh Jackson.  Could be a great situation for the kid, but the Browns doing the right thing would shock me.

 

The biggest wildcard in this draft is UCLA OLB Myles Jack.  Torn meniscus ended his season, and the talk is that he may need another surgery after this season or his 2nd season, and the question seems to be how long will this kids career be?  But if we are just talking about talent, he might be the best player in this draft.  I think a good team will end up getting him, because they’ll be able to take that home run swing on him.

 

Mike Mayock said last night during his mock draft show on NFL Network that this draft is the best ever for DT’s.  He was told by some football people that as many as 20 interior D-linemen will be available as free agents following this draft who normally would go in the 6th or 7th round.  Why do you care about this?  You likely don’t, most fans don’t care about O-linemen or interior D-linemen.  For me, I’m going to keep my eye on it.  Do teams hold off on taking them because they’re all over the place in this draft?  Why take Sheldon Rankins or Robert Nkemdiche high when you can get a guy who’ll start for you in the 2nd or 3rd round?

 

NFL draft tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, then NHL draft lottery Saturday night, draft season is officially here and for a draft geek like me it’s GLORIOUS!  Hopefully you share this feeling and if you don’t well then you’re a complete loser.  Get a life loser, I’m sitting on my couch watching kids walk across a stage tonight!

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

 

2016 NBA Playoffs Preview

2014 NBA Finals - Game FiveBeing nice is stupid.  I’m a nice guy.  Some might disagree with this, but I’m a nice guy.  I’m probably not a great guy because I’m discussing this on my blog, but I’m a nice guy to people until they give me a legit reason to be a prick to them.  So I have this neighbour, and he believes that because I’m nice to him that we’re friends.  Nope.  I’m just nice.  But because I’m nice and don’t want to be a dick to the guy, I don’t come out and tell him “hey man, quit coming over to my place, I’m not going to come over to your place for a beer, we are just neighbours.”  Do people actually have these conversations?  I prefer the tactics I’m taking now which is looking to avoid him at all costs and hope that he sees me do this a few times and maybe he gets the picture.  I’d rather him start to hate me than have that conversation.  Of course he would hate me if I wasn’t nice, hence…being nice is stupid.

 

Well the Stanley Cup playoffs aren’t the only playoffs getting underway this week.  Tomorrow is the start of the NBA playoffs.  Obviously in this country the big story is the Raptors and whether or not they can finally get over the hump.  I don’t think just 1 round will satisfy the fan base either.  They need to go to the East finals this season, simply because it should be a relatively easy road to get there.  A 56 win team should handle an average Pacers team and either the Heat without Bosh or an inexperienced Hornets team…right?

 

The big story around the league though is whether or not the Warriors can backup their amazing 73 win season?  The Spurs will be tough to beat.  The Cavs despite a rocky season are still really talented and will have a much easier road to the finals.

 

At it’s best, there are few things better in sports than playoff basketball.  I’ll be the first guy to admit, the first round of the playoffs can be boring.  This season, the first couple rounds of the playoffs really don’t look like they’ll produce many compelling series.  But when the Warriors meet the Spurs and the winner of that meets the Cavs, that’ll be the sport at it’s absolute best.  So let me lay out what’ll happen to get us to that point.

 

Western Conference

1 Golden State vs 8 Houston

Can there be such thing as a 2 game sweep?  Seriously, the Rockets shouldn’t even bother showing up.  They’re a mess, the Warriors are riding high after the pressure of 73 is now off, and I have zero doubt this will be done in 5, and I’m betting it’s a sweep.

Warriors sweep

 

2 San Antonio vs 7 Memphis

Much the same in this series although the Grizzlies at least have their act together.  But the Spurs will be looking to sweep because it’s all about getting their rest.  Again, a max of 5.  Max.

Spurs sweep

 

3 Oklahoma City vs 6 Dallas 

OKC will take this series but because of Rick Carlisle I could see this one going 6.  No way the Mavs pull this one out of their ass, but I remember when they played the Spurs 2 seasons ago.  They had no business taking that one 7 and they did.  Could be the final playoffs for Dirk.

Thunder in 6

 

4 LA Clippers vs 5 Portland

The Blazers really overachieved this season.  Very few had them as a playoff team after they lost LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.  Damian Lillard vs Chris Paul could be real fun to watch, but much like the other 3 in the West I just don’t see this series being close.  It is as if there are 3 tiers of teams in the West playoffs.  The Warriors and Spurs are in the first tier, the Thunder and Clippers are in the 2nd tier, and then you have everyone else.

Clippers in 5

 

1 Golden State vs 4 LA Clippers

This will be a good series.  I don’t know if it’ll be a long series, but if the Warriors lose later on in the playoffs this might be where the wheels start to come off because this is a true rivalry and the Clippers will play them tough.  Still though, the Warriors are just so good, especially in tight games.

Warriors in 5

 

2 San Antonio vs 3 Oklahoma City

OKC might have the 2 best players in this series.  But the Spurs are insanely deep.  Kwame Leonard will make life miserable for Kevin Durant, which allows the Spurs design the rest of their D around getting the ball out of Russell Westbrook’s hands.  I really like the Thunder, but I just don’t see it happening for them in this series.

Spurs in 5

 

1 Golden State vs 2 San Antonio

Barring injuries, this is going to happen.  Top 2 teams in the league.  The Spurs had one of the best seasons in NBA history, and were 2nd.  The Spurs lost 3 of 4 to the Warriors.  If they are the team that goes 3-1 in the season series, they are only the 3rd team in NBA history to win 69 games and STILL finish 2 games back of the Warriors for first in the West!  But man, I just don’t buy the Warriors ever saw the Spurs best this season.  Gregg Popovich is just too damn good of a coach and is so focused on the playoffs from day 1 of the season that you know the Warriors will see some stuff from the Spurs they haven’t all season.  Having said all this, this will be a tremendous series and I believe the Warriors will simply have too much fire power.

Warriors in 7

 

Eastern Conference

1 Cleveland vs 8 Detroit

I think the Pistons will give the Cavs a series.  They’re really young, really talented, and have nothing to lose.  They also win the coaching matchup.  Stan Van Gundy has been a great coach everywhere he’s been.  Tyronn Lue has been stepped over by Allen Iverson in the NBA Finals.  Cavs will win, but like their season it’ll be a bit of a struggle

Cavs in 6

 

2 Toronto vs 7 Indiana

Well it’s time to shit or get off the pot for the Raptors.  They’ve lost 6 straight in the playoffs since going up 3-2 on Brooklyn.  Last year was humiliating.  But they brought in DeMarre Carroll for this reason and having him to guard Paul George is big.  The Raps have an advantage just about everywhere else on the floor, so they SHOULD take this series but as a Raptors fan I worry.

Raptors in 6

 

3 Miami vs 6 Charlotte

I actually think this will be a real good series, maybe the best of the first round.  Both teams are pretty deep, the Heat have the experience but the Hornets matchup well with a lot of big’s who could give the Heat problems down low with Chris Bosh obviously out.  Even though this is 3 vs 6, these teams had identical 48-34 records, so this is a pick’em series to me.  I have to take an underdog at some point don’t I?

Hornets in 7

 

4 Atlanta vs 5 Boston

I immediately think Celtics here, but I thought that with just about every series the Hawks had last season, and they made it to the Eastern Conference finals.  And there is a lot more experience with the Hawks than with the Celtics.  Still, have a ridiculous amount of depth and there aren’t many coaches in the league right now better than Brad Stevens

Celtics in 6

 

1 Cleveland vs 5 Boston

Mike Wilbon says this is the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East.  But this is my feeling about the Cavs is that they haven’t given a damn this season.  It has been all about building towards the playoffs.  They finished the regular season strong, and while I feel like the Pistons might give them a bit of a series, I think it’ll actually help the Cavs a bit.  They’ll be ready for the Celtics.

Cavs in 5

 

2 Toronto vs 6 Charlotte

The Hornets NBA title would be knocking off the Heat.  The Heat have a lot of experience, but the Raptors have a lot more talent.  That size advantage the Hornets have against the Heat won’t exist against the Raptors, and while Walker vs Lowry will be fun to watch I don’t see the Hornets as much of a threat to the Raptors should this matchup happen.

Raptors in 6

 

1 Cleveland vs 2 Toronto

I said it a few years back that if the Raptors were to get to the Eastern finals it would be like winning an NBA title for the franchise.  Well, here we are.  As I said above, I think the Cavs are going to get better and better as the playoffs go on.  Carroll is a guy who could make life tough for James, but then I would guess LBJ would adjust and that’s when you would see Kevin Love get more involved and the Raptors don’t really have an answer for a stretch 4 like him.

Cavs in 6

 

NBA Finals

Golden State vs Cleveland

This is obviously the matchup most are expecting.  Most would expect the Warriors to blow them out I’m sure, but let’s not forget…the Cavs took them 6 games last year without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving.  The Cavs have been building for this matchup all season.  Some think they were a mess all season, I really believe this team was bored.  And as I said earlier, if they have to go through a war with the Clippers, and it will be a war with the Spurs, are the Warriors built to take 3 punishing rounds of basketball?  I don’t know.  I’ll say the Warriors complete the dream season and win their 2nd straight, but I think it’ll be a lot tighter than anyone believes.

Warriors in 7

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Plenty of Options

Peter-ChiarelliLet’s use our imaginations today boys and girls.  I know I hit on this a few weeks back but I’m going to again.  Let’s imagine Connor McDavid missed only 7 games, not 37.  And let’s imagine Oscar Klefbom only missed 12 games, not 52.  That still leaves Eberle missing 13, RNH missing 25, Pouliot missing 27, Davidson missing 22, etc.  Still a ton of injuries, but let’s just say McDavid and Klefbom play most of the season.  Is McDavid worth another 8 points in those 30 games?  Probably.  Is Klefbom worth another 8 points in those 40 games?  Probably.  16 more points right there.  That puts them at 86 points. Now let’s add another point because they win that game on Saturday in Vancouver if it means something.  They also don’t lay an egg against the Flames on that dreadful Saturday night, so that’s likely 89 points.  They’re playing Dallas tomorrow with 89 points.

 

Now why am I starting with this you might ask?  Not because I don’t think changes are needed.  I’m starting with this to establish that while 29th is unacceptable and things desperately need to change in Edmonton, the standings don’t reflect the fact that the Oilers were decimated by key injuries this season.  Fourth in man games lost, second in what could be described as key players man games lost (the website mangameslost.com has a metric they use called IIT).  Toronto leads the league in man games lost, Vancouver leads in ITT for skaters (obviously Montreal had the most crippling injury of any team this season with Price).  Notice the trend here that these are the 3 worst teams in the league?  The Oilers had a better team this season then what the standings showed.  So the key is to not overreact.

 

But the fact is that this club still has major holes.  Namely on the blueline, but also the backup goaltender, still could use a bit more size, and then in whatever trades will be made you need to find replacements for the players on the move.  Yakupov is essentially gone, and for Oiler fans it’s just better if you assume they’ll get nothing more than a 2nd round pick for him.  If they get something better than that, call it a win.  You also have to accept the fact that one of Hall, Eberle and RNH will be gone.  I would say it’s 50/50 that second of those three could be gone, and I would also say it’s at least a possibility all three could be gone.  Nobody thinks they are bad hockey players, but it is very clearly not working.  So beyond the fact that they can be used to help plug some holes on the roster, getting some of the losing mentality which has clearly set in with these three needs to be gone from that dressing room.  None of them will be dealt just to be dealt.  It will be in a deal or deals which will improve the team.

 

Now I can’t have a four part series on different possibilities for what could happen this offseason, I only get a blog a week to write on here. So I’m going to attempt to knock out the options that could be available to the Oilers this summer in one write up, so settle in.

 

We’ll start by looking at Peter Chiarelli’s most vital need, the backup goaltender (if you thought I was serious right there, please quit reading, we won’t be friends).

 

Travis Hamonic

He might be the most obvious target for Oiler fans.  Can you get him for Eberle?  I don’t think so, but Eberle packaged with something might fetch you Hamonic.  They are also a little handcuffed here in that the Islanders obviously won’t want Griffin Reinhart and he might be the best chip the Oilers have to play on the blueline.  I know the analytics guys still like Mark Fayne a lot, does eating half of Fayne’s salary intrigue Garth Snow?  That would still mean the Islanders are taking on nearly four mil in salary.  Then again, they look like they’re about to lose Kyle Okposo.  You also could dangle Hall, but you would need more than just Hamonic coming back.  Maybe Hamonic and Michael Dal Colle?  It might be a real tough deal to make, but it does feel like a deal can be made.

 

Tyson Barrie

A perfect fit for the Oilers if they can get him.  Why the Avs seemingly want to run off their top guys I don’t know, but Barrie’s name has been out there for a few months now. Quietly the Avs have been one of the worst run franchises in the league the last seven seasons.  You would think they would want defencemen for Barrie should they move him.  They are pretty good on the wings, centre will be sketchy if they part with Matt Duchene, but if Chiarelli were to give up RNH for Barrie it would have to be a lot more than Barrie coming back (and even then I highly doubt he would do that).  Like the Islanders, it doesn’t seem to me like the teams fit well as trade partners, but he is a guy the Oilers will take a serious look at if he is in fact available.

 

Sami Vatanen

This is also a tricky situation because why would the Ducks want to improve a team in their own division?  I don’t think Vatanen would cost as much as some people are claiming he would because every GM in the league knows they need to move someone out on the blueline.  Yakupov, a 2nd this year (32nd) and a 3rd next year?  I don’t know if that gets it done, but that’s the type of deal I believe Vatanen would cost, but again it might cost the Oilers more seeing that the Ducks would be moving him in division.

 

Jacob Trouba

The fit is there a lot more than it is for the previous three mentioned.  The Jets can use help up front, and a kid like Reinhart would fit the Jets mold of a player and is a LH shot that they can use.  Reinhart won’t get the Oilers Trouba by any means, but Reinhart packaged with Jordan Eberle might get Chiarelli Trouba and maybe a kid like Joel Armia.  I’m spit balling here but if the Jets are still worried about what Trouba might want for his new contract and look to move on from him the Oilers might be the perfect trade partner.

 

Justin Faulk

This one is different because Faulk’s name isn’t out there (not from any of the legit insiders, maybe some of the rumour mongers have him out there).  But Carolina is a perfect trade partner for the Oilers because they have an overabundance of puck movers and they need wingers.  So there is a trade to be made here.  Is it a guy like Yakupov for a prospect like Trevor Carrick?  Or is it bigger names like Faulk for again…Eberle?  That to me feels like a very even swap.  I’m not the biggest Justin Faulk fan, but a RH shot puck mover like him is the need.  Maybe Carolina is a third team in a deal for some of those guys I mentioned earlier?

 

Jonas Brodin

Don’t sleep on this happening.  It was rumoured at the deadline that the Wild weren’t so much shopping him, but open to dealing him.  I’m not his biggest fan, he reminds me a lot of Nick Schultz who got wildly (see what I did there?!) overrated in Minny.  And as much as the Oilers need to be better in their own zone, the lack of offence coming from the blueline is just as embarrassing.  Brodin’s career high is 19 points and this season only had 7 in 68 games.  BUT…he has one of the best sticks in the game, moves the puck extremely well, and is very familiar with Klefbom as the 2 were partners during the 2012 WJC.  He’s far from my first choice, but I believe the option will be there if the Oilers want to pursue it.

 

Shea Weber

Now we get into the long shots.  I am far from an insider so please don’t take this with much legitimacy, but I did hear a rumour that the Preds would still like out from under Weber’s contract which I don’t think is farfetched because that is an awful contract and he is entering the back 9 of his career.  Bob Stauffer has also hinted at this still being a possibility this summer.  I also don’t think he would cost as much as you’d think.  But still, it’s a long shot in my mind because the Preds are pretty close to being a serious contender and with Seth Jones now gone, dealing Weber would leave a pretty massive hole.  Add to all this, if you haven’t noticed David Poile is a petty guy and he gets cranky when he hasn’t had his juice or when people suggest he move Shea Weber.

 

Brent Burns

In division is the big problem here.  It isn’t that I can’t see it happening, I can.  Just not to Edmonton.  But Burns is a UFA after next season, and with the Sharks trending down I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t want to sign an extension there, and if he doesn’t then I’m guessing Doug Wilson moves him while he still has value.  But Wilson would need a lot from the Oilers to deal him in division.  I mean that’s the type of deal that might put the Oilers ahead of the Sharks in the division.  So if I were Wilson, Edmonton’s offer would have to be something big compared to an offer from perhaps the Red Wings, Flyers, or Leafs.

 

Keith Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Brian Campbell

These three are in the same category for me because they’re all kind of the same guy.  All UFA’s, all LH shooting, none are that good in their own zone, but any of them would improve the Oilers blueline.  Still, these are weak options.  The Oilers need high end RH shooting guys.  I know Yandle’s numbers on the PP look impressive, but he’s sheltered in New York.  I’ve never been a Keith Yandle fan.  I think all three are soft and very average in his own zone and the Oilers have had too much of that here the last 7 years or so.

 

Jason Demers

His name has been mentioned, and he did play for Todd McLellan in San Jose, and he has been solid in Dallas.  But doesn’t he feel like another Mark Fayne?  Moves the puck better than Fayne, but a guy who doesn’t do anything special.  He’s just a guy, and the Oilers have wasted far too much time signing players like this.  Could be a great get for another team, but the Oilers need more.

 

Dan Hamhuis

I’m a big Hamhuis guy.  But he’s a LH shot, he’s 34 in December, and he doesn’t bring a lot of offense.  It’s a lot like Demers.  I probably like the idea of Hamhuis better than Demers even though Demers is a RH shot, but the thought of Hamhuis doesn’t thrill me UNLESS they end up moving Klefbom, Nurse or Davidson which I really highly doubt will happen.

 

To sum up the defence, they need two guys, I think we all agree with that.  For me, one of Hamonic or Trouba and one of Barrie, Vatanen or Faulk would be ideal, but maybe unrealistic.  Obviously one of Weber or Burns would be amazing but as I said, those are more pie in the sky scenarios.

 

To get two of those guys, you’re looking at Eberle for sure going and probably Hall.  That’s a tough pill to swallow, but look at the upcoming UFA class.  If you can fix your blueline to that extent with wingers, you can replace those wingers through free agency.  I’m only going to focus on top 6 guys for now, there are others who I believe they could have interest in, but in a bottom 6 role.

 

Milan Lucic

Without a doubt in my mind Chiarelli is going to make a big push to bring in Lucic.  They were together the entire time in Boston, he is the type of player Chiarelli loves, Edmonton is close to home for Lucic, and I think the Oilers are a strong candidate to get him.  But, he’ll be coveted by most teams, especially by the team to the South.

 

Andrew Ladd

Not as scary of a guy as Lucic is, but as you all know Ladd is a heart and soul type guy who is in his prime.  He’s also a better skater than Lucic.  The issue with Ladd is the way he plays, he runs the risk of the same career path as Brendan Morrow.  Morrow was one of the top power forwards in the game and then his body broke down.  This also happened to Trevor Linden.  The price tag is likely going to be five or six years and 5-6 mil per.  I know he wanted 6×6 from the Jets, but even on the open market I don’t think anyone is going to go that high for him.  The cap has flatlined and David Clarkson is still fresh in most GM’s mind.

 

David Backes

This is the guy who is never talked about for the Oilers, perhaps because people believe he’ll want nothing to do with a Canadian market.  Maybe people see him as a centre and the Oilers don’t need centres.  But Backes could be a great fit for the Oilers.  Remember, he had a 30 goal season playing the wing in 2009.  He would be another big body that Chiarelli craves.  And he’s another centre that Todd McLellan craves.  I don’t know what kind of contract Backes would want, but if he is interested in the Oilers, I would think the Oilers would have big interest in him.

 

Eric Staal

A lot like Backes.  A natural centre who has played a lot of LW and while playing LW he’s never had an elite centre to play with.  Can still skate, has size, has experience, and like Backes if you need him to move to the middle because of injuries or matchups he can.  I have a feeling he will stay in the East, maybe simply re-signing with the Rangers.  But I do think Chiarelli will have interest in him.

 

Loui Eriksson

This is one is right up there with Lucic due to Chiarelli’s history with Eriksson.  Also Eriksson is still one of the top 2 way wingers in the league.  He isn’t the thickest guy in the league but he’s 6’2.  He wouldn’t be one of my top choices, but should a guy like Hall be moved, Eriksson would be a nice short term replacement for the right price.

 

Kyle Okposo

Interesting one here.  Okposo is much more of a playmaker than a finisher.  I believe the Oilers need guys who can finish for McDavid, Draisaitl, or should he stay RNH.  But Okposo is thick and plays a power game.  Isn’t overly physical but is tough to move off the puck and goes to all the tough areas on the ice.  It’s a bit like Eriksson for me in that I would be interested, but he’s not at the top of the list.

 

David Perron

Would he possibly return?  He seemed to like the city quite a bit, and with the change in management, behind the bench and likely the roster (not to mention the move to the new rink) he might have some interest in coming back.  Then again, maybe he hated it here and just put on a good act while he was here?  I don’t know, but he’s well worth inquiring about.  I don’t need to sell you on the player as I never talked to an Oiler fan who disliked Perron’s game.

 

Lee Stempniak

He had a nice season as a dirt cheap pickup for the Devils (who of course dealt him at the deadline to the Bruins).  Experienced, good wheels, plays with some grit, responsible defensively, and can put the puck in the net.  If you’re moving Eberle, this is the kind of guy who could be a solid replacement and even though he had a good season I still can’t see him getting more than 2 years/2.5 mil per season.

 

Radim Vrbata

I’m in no way suggesting this be a guy you target.  What Vrbata could be is a real cheap signing after a brutal season.  63 GP, only 27 points on the season (13 goals, 14 assists) and a horrific -30.  He’s also 36.  But he can still skate, and will likely only cost 800-900k.  Just an idea.

 

Chris Stewart

Same thing as Vrbata.  And he is coming off his cheap season where he had a chance to get his career going again in Anaheim and it didn’t happen for him.  But I put him on this list because when he was in Buffalo Chiarelli reportedly wanted him pretty bad, and he’s a Chiarelli type of guy.  We saw Maroon come from Anaheim and impress, so perhaps Stewart could do the same, and he would be cheap.  But, he would be a late July-early September type of signing.

 

So if both Hall and Eberle are gone, and we can pretty much assume Yakupov will be gone, that’s three spots open up front.  As always with UFA’s, it completely depends on what you can get these guys at.  What the cap hit will be and how many years you have to give them.  I believe Chiarelli will get one of Lucic, Ladd or Backes, and then look to bring in one of Perron or Okposo should both Hall and Eberle be dealt, but I say this without knowing what these guys will command and it isn’t as though the Oilers have an insane amount of cap space.

 

This is getting LONG, I hope it hasn’t bored you to death quite yet!

 

Another possibility is trading RNH.  It doesn’t sound like they have interest in playing that card, but it is a possibility.  I’m ok with that for the right deal.  If he goes though, you need to get a centre to fill that 2nd/3rd line role.  I just discussed 2 guys in Backes and Staal who are possibilities, but there are a couple others.

 

Martin Hanzal

There is definitely word out there that the Coyotes would possibly move this guy, but was that more of a Don Maloney possibility? Should RNH go he would fit the bill for a Chiarelli type guy. 6’6, 230, decent skater, experienced, in his prime, only a 3.1 mil cap hit for next season. Durability is a concern though as he has not played more than 65 games since the 2010 season.

 

Tyler Bozak

Some of my friends hate this idea, I personally think he’s a great fit.  Bozak got a little overrated at times in Toronto, but as a second or third line role I think he would be one of the best in the league.  RH shot, great skater, he is great in his own zone, he’s 53.1% for his career in the dot (a career best 56.37% this season), he’s not a great playmaker but he can create offence by putting pucks on and driving the net.  I’ve said this a lot, he’s a lot like Shawn Horcoff in his prime.  What would the Leafs want for him if they dealt him?  I really don’t know.  But I do like the idea should Peter Chiarelli move RNH.

 

As for the backup goaltender issue, I really don’t know where that could go. Nobody could have guessed Anders Nilsson would be brought in last offseason. The only guy I see as a good replacement for Brossoit is James Reimer, and I can’t see him taking a one year deal or being that cheap. This might come via a small trade with a target perhaps being Michael Hutchinson?

 

Then of course you have the draft.

 

I would be open to moving the pick as long as it’s not the 2nd pick.  I would be willing to move Auston Matthews, but that would be a massive deal, something that would set the franchise up for a decade.  But that second pick, Patrik Laine couldn’t be a better fit for the Oilers on McDavid’s wing and on his off wing on the power play.  The perfect draft lottery scenario for the Oilers in my opinion would be to win yet again, with the Coytoes winning the second pick.  The return Chiarelli could get for moving back one spot and still getting Laine…WOW!  But that’s a pipe dream.

 

Let me say first that other than winning and keeping Matthews, I wouldn’t put anyone in the league to start next season.  Laine and Puljujarvi either can either play another year in Finland or go to the AHL.  Matthew Tkachuk can use another season in London where he would run the show so to speak a lot more than he has this season with Dvorak and Marner gone.  No need for any of the high end defencemen to make the jump, especially with the Oilers situation.

 

I did the piece about a month ago about how I would rank the top five of the draft specifically for the Oilers.  I haven’t changed that stance.  I still got it Matthews, Laine, Chychrun, Tkachuk and Puljujarvi.

 

I love Jesse Puljujarvi’s game, but I just see him as more of what the Oilers already have.  He’s without a doubt the third best prospect in this draft, but he’s not physical, he doesn’t have a big shot, and he loves to carry the puck and create which I don’t think would work playing with McDavid the same way Hall doesn’t work with McDavid.

 

As for those of you screaming at your phone or lap top right now saying “YOU HAVE TO GO BPA!!!”  You’re a dinosaur.  It is so tough to make trades in this league anymore and part of the reason the Oilers are where they are is because they always simply went BPA rather than attempting to build a team.  Of course you could look to trade down from three to four or five and I believe it would be a pretty nice return.  I won’t be pissed if the Oilers pick third and take Puljujarvi, but for me I would look to trade down or out of the pick.

 

I’m as big of a Jakob Chychrun guy as you’ll find and really believe he is dropping because scouts are getting fatigue from seeing him so much.  I’m bigger on IQ than most around hockey seem to be, especially when it comes to defencemen, so the interview would be a big part of the process for a kid like Chychrun.  But for me, if the interview were to check out, he’s going to become a number one in this league.  His skating is phenomenal, he has great size, is physical, and has a bullet of a shot and LOVES to shoot it (third in the OHL for SOG by a defenceman).  The kid had eight points in seven games for Sarnia in the playoffs.  Add to all this…value.  While people are quick to point out how D-men are more of a crap shoot in the top five, the value that kid has in a trade is amazing.  Look at Yakupov, you can’t get anything for him right now.  Where you look at a kid like Luke Schenn and while he was in the midst of busting the Leafs still got James Van Riemsdyk for him.  The Oilers cupboard is actually pretty full after the season they had with D-men developing, but you can never have enough and while I say you can’t trade in this league anymore, you can if you have D-men.

 

Tkachuk ahead of Pulijarvi is a lot more self-explanatory.  Obviously it’s to do with the grit.  Matt isn’t going to beat the piss out of guys like his old man did early in his career, and he doesn’t quite have the same size (though he’s not small). It’s that grit he has along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net.  And I think he could work well with McDavid down the line.

 

Make no mistake in this draft, picking top five as the Oilers are guaranteed to do is pretty sweet.  Top three would be even sweeter, second would be amazing, and first again would not only be hilarious to watch the Eastern media throw a fit but would have this squad loaded for a very long time.

 

I try when writing about the Oilers to be a realist, not a homer.  Obviously it’s tough to not be a little bit of a homer watching the team on a nightly basis.  But I really believe all the pieces are in place for Peter Chiarelli to turn this into a playoff team next season.  The right guys are going to be available, he’s had a season to examine the club, he has the balls the previous GM’s seemingly never had, and third place in the Pacific division is going to be up for grabs next season.  A lot of the recent offseason’s I’ve hoped they could get it turned around. This offseason I actually believe it’ll happen.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

stanley-cup-playoffsThere are probably a lot of reasons I like the show Vinyl.  Set in the 70’s, based around the music industry, lead character has a coke problem, but above all else I have to go with seeing Olivia Wilde get naked often.  11 years ago I dreamed of seeing newest O.C. character Alex and Marissa Cooper get it on, which wasn’t far off happening since they were a bisexual couple and there for doesn’t make me a total pervert.  Well I feel like we are moving towards this being a reality.  If only Mischa Barton could now get a recurring role on Vinyl.  Hell, let’s get Rachel Bilson a role while we’re at it.  California here we come indeed!

 

What this has to do with the playoffs is absolutely nothing.  But that’s what today’s piece is about, hence the title.  I could go on and on about no Canadian teams, amped up for these playoffs, every series is going to be incredible, same shit you always here.  Let’s just get after this.

 

Western Conference

P1 Anaheim vs WC1 Nashville

DO NOT SLEEP ON THE PREDS.  This is a team that would have challenged for 1st in the Central had they not been so awful in 3 on 3.  Well you won’t see 3 on 3 in the playoffs, and this team is a threat.  I would not have won that final game if I were Bruce Boudreau’s squad.  Also, Boudreau’s teams are challenged in the playoffs.  Last year it felt like they broke through.  But now you look back on it, and they beat 2 teams in Winnipeg and Calgary who were just happy to be there.  When they faced a contender, even with how gassed the Blackhawks blueline was they couldn’t put them away and lost yet another game 7 at home.  I won’t lie, I’m pulling for the Ducks here.  But I just think the Preds have a big advantage between the pipes and matchup really well with the Ducks, enough to take the series.

Preds in 7

 

P2 Los Angeles vs P3 San Jose

Is there any question here?!  Who in the hell is picking the Sharks?  This years Sharks reminds me of last year’s Canucks.  New coach, same team, started good but haven’t ever looked overly impressive at any point and are only here because the rest of the division is weak.  As much as I mock the Eastern Conference (and for good reason, watch the games), there is no denying the Pacific is weak from teams 3-7 right now.  So basically the Sharks are spot fillers.  I don’t see them giving the Kings any kind of interesting series.  Hopefully they do, but I can’t see it.

Kings in 5

 

C1 Dallas vs WC2 Minnesota

Maybe I’m nuts.  Ok, I know I’m nuts.  Anyway unlike most, I had a lot of trouble picking this series, as I really don’t like either team that much.  I don’t trust Dubnyk, but I trust him more than either Lehtonen or Niemi.  I’ve wrote about this before, but Tyler Seguin plays far too much of a perimeter game to have success in the playoffs.  Jason Spezza also has this issue.  In the playoffs you have to get your nose dirty and until these 2 prove they will I’ll never trust them to lead teams anywhere.  John Torchetti can use Mikko Koivu against Seguin, or Suter and Spurgeon.  I’m interested to see if Torchetti continues going with Suter/Spurgeon and Scandella/Brodin, because I like that.  Lindy Ruff can’t get either line away from a shutdown D-man.  But while that’s nice, the Wild likely won’t have Zach Parise this series.  So the bottom line is it’s the Minny defence vs the Stars offence.  I’m going to call the upset.

Wild in 7

 

C2 St. Louis vs C3 Chicago

What’s changed since 2014?  The Blues have virtually the same team.  The definition of insanity, you’ve heard it a million times.  This team is simply no different.  And had it not been for a lucky Alec Martinez goal, the Blackhawks might be going for their 4th straight Cup.  I don’t love the Hawks blueline and felt Stan Bowman really dropped the ball in not acquiring a D-man like a Dan Hamhuis, and here we are with no Duncan Keith for the first game of the series.  Then again…it’s only 1 game and Keith comes into the playoffs pretty well rested.  The Hawks have a big advantage between the pipes.  Team that can score will trust their goaltender, team that can’t score won’t trust their goaltending.  But the Hawks also have the better high end guys.  Toews over Stastny or Backes, Keith over Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk, Seabrook over Bouwmeester, Kane over Tarasenko, Hossa over Steen, and then of course the Hawks know they can win and the Blues don’t.  The Blues have a much more well rounded team, but I don’t care.  They finished the season strong, but I don’t care.  The Hawks finished the season weak, but I don’t care.  The Blackhawks win in the playoffs and the Blues don’t, I care.  Since the Blues always lose in 6…

Hawks in 6

 

Eastern Conference

A1 Florida vs WC1 NY Islanders

I have loved the way this Panthers team was being built long before it all came together this season.  The big difference in this series is Luongo vs Greiss.  I like the way the Islanders play, but Luongo quietly put together a fantastic season and with a career backup at the other end of the ice it’s just a complete mismatch.  A LITTLE more experience for the Islanders having gone through the 7 game series with the Caps last spring, but it won’t be enough.  I feel like the Panthers kids are built for playoff hockey.  Add to this, while he is back skating with the team, as I type this Travis Hamonic’s status is still questionable.

Panthers in 5

 

A2 Tampa Bay vs A3 Detroit

This pick changes if Tyler Johnson can’t go, but as of right now we have no clue whether or not Johnson can go in game 1, or even the series.  He is back practicing though.  I’m not meaning to piss on what the Wings have done but could this franchise get any more lucky?!  The Bruins have their goaltender go down the day of the biggest game of the year, the Wings still shit the bed in the last 2 games of the season, and yet Boston still loses so the Wings get in…and they get a Lightning team that is without their star (and as grossly overrated I believe he is, he’s still great), might be without their 2nd line centre, and the Wings are perhaps the favourites in this series.  Unreal.  But this isn’t a good Red Wings team.  Who is the starting goaltender?  The blueline is weak.  Dylan Larkin after a great start looks as though he hit that rookie wall hard post All-Star break.  Datsyuk and Zetterberg are on their last legs.  I don’t think it’ll be an upset if the Wings win this series, but even without Stamkos I believe the Lightning will have enough to get past them…as long as Johnson can go.  If he can’t, Wings in 6.  I’ll say he can though, so in that case…

Lightning in 7

 

M1 Washington vs WC2 Philadelphia

I see a lot of people talking about how this is going to be a great series.  Have these people noticed that the Caps have had nothing to play for in about 2 months or so?  They’ve been going through the motions.  And what do the Flyers have that make you think they’ll beat the Caps?  Experience?  Size?  Speed?  Goaltending?  Coaching?  Where do the Flyers have 1 advantage?  Hey, maybe they’ll make me out to be a jack ass.  Won’t be the first time.  But I have to say what I see both on the ice and on paper.  It’s a tremendous accomplishment that THIS Flyers team made the playoffs, I expect them to bow out quickly.  They’re last year’s Jets.  They’ve played over their heads all season, I don’t see this series being as close as others.

Capitals in 5

 

M2 Pittsburgh vs M3 NY Rangers

The Pens come in as the hottest team in the league.  Crosby is playing as good as he ever has, he is at his peak right now.  Kessel is playing a lot better, Letang is playing as good as he ever has, Malkin is still one of the best centres in the game (we’ll see if he plays), and I still believe the Rangers will win this series.  The biggest reason is Lundqvist.  We don’t even know as I type this if Fleury will be able to play in this series, but even if he can and as much as I defended Fleury while everyone was pissing on him a few years back…he’s not Lundqvist.  Add to that, the Rangers have a much better blueline, the Rangers match up well with the Pens down the middle with Eric Staal, Brassard and Stepan.  And what is often forgotten is the coaching matchup.  Mike Sullivan has done a good job turning the Pens around, but Mike Sullivan was also owned by Claude Julien in 2004 playoffs.  Alain Vigneault is a top coach in the league.  2 Stanley Cup final appearances in 5 seasons.  I think it’ll be a close series, but this Rangers team is built for the playoffs and I’ve said it for 3 years now that the Pens simply aren’t.

Rangers in 6

 

Western Conference Final

Chicago vs Los Angeles

So obviously I have the Hawks knocking off the Wild and the Kings getting past the Preds, setting up the rubber match between the Hawks and Kings.  And meeting this late in the playoffs, as much of a Blackhawks guy I am, I just can’t see them going 2 pretty tough rounds with that thin blueline and THEN getting past the Kings in the 3rd round.

 

Eastern Conference Final

Washington vs Florida

I do NOT feel comfortable picking the Caps to knock off the Rangers.  But they have to eventually get over that hump don’t they?!  As for the Panthers, I just think the road is too easy for them whether it’s Tampa or Detroit.  So the Panthers get all the way to the East final, but barring an outstanding performance from Luongo, the Caps will go through them easily.

 

Stanley Cup Final

Washington vs Los Angeles

It pisses me off that TSN had this as their pick, pissed me off even more that Craig Button had this as his pick.  But it is how I see this whole thing shaking down.  This would be an awesome final matchup if it went down this way and finally I believe we would see a final that isn’t a Western Conference ass kicking.  But the Kings are simply built to win in the playoffs.  They have the experience, the size, the goaltending, the high end talent, and the coaching.

Kings in 6 win the Stanley Cup

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

The View From Section 122, Row 8, Seats 7 & 8

620w_414h_800w_rexall_full

I did it!  Aren’t you all pumped for me?!  Sunday morning came, and I said nothing.  Monday morning came, and I still said nothing.  Tuesday morning came, just in case maybe you thought I was having problems with my website, and STILL I said nothing!  Yes it’s true, I said nothing about Saturday night’s abomination.  Why bother?  I’m of the strong belief this team is getting overhauled this offseason, that was the final nail in the coffin for a lot of these guys in Edmonton.  Don’t let the door hit you in the ass…a F*** I’m talking about it!!!

 

Well as you all know, tonight is the last night for Rexall Place.  I grew up going to the rink.  Much like the Marwayne arena, the Lloydminster Civic Centre, the Dewberry arena, and the Paradise Valley arena, Northlands/the Coliseum/Skyreach/Rexall really is a massive part of my hockey life.  So needless to say I have a TON of memories from the old barn as we are about to witness the final NHL game in it.

 

I’ll start with the games I’ve been to.  I BELIEVE I can remember every game I ever went to, despite some years going to over 20 games a year.  There was 1 team I never saw live and that was the New Jersey Devils.  For some reason I never had an urge to go see the Devils play….

 

In fairness, one of the best regular season games ever played in Rexall was on St. Patrick’s Day 2001 and saw the Oilers on their 10 game unbeaten streak, points in 11 straight vs the Devils on a 9 game winning streak.  The defending champs came back to beat the Oilers 6-5 in OT.

 

But back to me and what I saw go down.

 

Originally I had the idea of telling a little something about each game I saw, because I do remember a little bit from all of them.  I have an insanely good memory.  But then I totalled it all up and figured out I had been to at least 115 of these things, and you have a life that I’m certain you want to get back to at some point today.  But I’m going to tell some tales.  Not all of them from section 122, row 8, seat 7 or 8 (mostly 8 because it had a little more room since it was on a bit of a corner), but a hell of a lot of them were from that view.

 

Feb. 17, 1989 vs Washington.  This was the first game for me.  Oilers lost 8-2, my mom was scared shitless that I was going to make an ass of myself.  Esa Tikkanen scored 2 goals to cut the 7-0 lead to 7-2 in the 3rd, but that was where the comeback bid ended.  An embarrassing blowout loss and Kevin Lowe was horrible (-5), this game was god showing me the movie trailer for my adult life.

 

Apr. 6, 1990 vs Winnipeg.  Otherwise known as game 2 of the Smythe semi-final.  Mark Lamb sniped the winner in OT after the Oilers came back from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd to even the series at 1 with a 3-2 win.  6 year old me nearly got kicked out for dropping the Punkies that I didn’t want on people (our seats were first row of the 2nd deck at the time).  Some elderly couple ratted me out, I was certain I was done for, but I played it real cool and the ushers could never figure out that the Punkies were dropped by the only 6 year old in the front row.

 

Apr. 14, 1991 vs Calgary.  Game 6 of the Smythe semi-final in one of the best series in NHL history…although what is never remembered is that this was far and away the worst game of the series.  If you’re an Oilers or Flames fan, I don’t THINK I need to tell you who got the winner in the 2-1 OT win for the Flames.  Me though, I got a new pack of hockey cards, was pretty pumped about that.  I loved that playoff run for some reason, maybe because it was the last for that core.  The theme was “route 6”, and if I recall right they came out to “Let it Roll” by BTO and also used that as their goal song.

 

May 10, 1991 vs Minnesota.  This is the North Stars, not the Wild for all you kids out there (man I’m so old).  Game 5 of the Campbell Conference final, and the Oilers fall 3-2 and are eliminated.  They lose to the lowly North Stars after bouncing league powers Calgary and L.A.  This was really the final game for the 80’s core.  Mess, Fuhr, Huddy, and Steve Smith all played their final game with the club that night and Anderson was moved in the Fuhr trade too, although he did comeback for a 17 game stint in 96.

 

Apr. 8, 1994 vs Anaheim.  3-1 loss for the Oil on this night.  There was nothing significant about this game, but I got in a scrap with “Critter” the CFCW mascot.

 

Feb. 25, 1998 vs Ottawa.  Oilers win 5-2 in the first game back from the 1998 Olympic break.  I was to go downstairs with Gord and Pat Redden to say hi to Wade in the little greeting area they used to setup between the visiting team’s bus and dressing room.  So by accident my buddy Harvz and I wondered downstairs after the game thinking we were to meet them down there and figured out we could simply wait around and get the Oilers players autographs.  Wade eventually came and found us.  Wade Redden, good guy.

 

Apr. 28, 1998 vs Colorado, game 4 West Quarter final, 3-1 loss.  Cujo was awful on the GWG, why the hell didn’t Slats move that guy?!

 

May 2, 1998 vs Colorado, game 6 West Quarter final, 2-0 win.  Slats is a genius for keeping Cujo!  Boris Mironov scoring to make it 2-0 in the middle of the 3rd, that moment gets underrated as one of the loudest moments in the buildings history.

 

Dec. 4, 1998 vs Tampa Bay, 2-1 loss.  I was not a paying customer for this game, I was there as a member of the media…kind of.  I got to job shadow Rod Phillips for the day.  Massive deal to me, Rod was one of my idol’s growing up.  Got to attend practice with him, go in the room and meet a lot of the team following practice, everything went AWESOME…until the game.  2-1 loss to the worst team in the NHL.  Everyone was PISSED after the game.  I was pretty damn uncomfortable going into the dressing room after the game.  I’ve never seen a person vacuum with the rage that Joey Moss was that night.

 

Mar. 26, 1999 vs St. Louis, 2-1 win.  The game isn’t too memorable, but some guy pulled out in front of my dad while driving to the game, and Bruce likely wasn’t in a good mood to begin with because he had to drive yet not go to the game because my mom wanted to come with me.  Anyhow, the guy pulled out making Brucie hit the brakes.  I’ve never heard someone say “you asshole” and proceed to flip off a guy with such distain.

 

Apr. 18, 1999 vs WWF…ok so there was no game this day but my buddy Lowrie and I went to see wrestling.  Stone Cold, the Rock, it was awesome.  And hey, it was in the building!  Wasn’t just hockey there, I went to the CFR and a Kayne/Rihanna concert there too just so you know!

 

Apr. 25, 1999 vs Dallas, game 3 West Quarter Final, 3-2 loss.  3 goals called back, 2 because of the foot/toe/toenail/some form of DNA in the crease rule.  The other was a completely BS call on Pat Falloon when Ed Belfour wondered 10 feet outside his crease to play a puck.

 

Apr. 27, 1999 vs Dallas, game 4 West Quarter Final, 3-2 loss.  Gretz was in the building, fresh off retiring.  Much like the Mironov goal the year before, this is an underrated moment in the history of the building.  Heartbreak though as the Oil would lose in triple OT, the longest game ever played at Rexall.

 

Oct. 1, 1999 vs NY Rangers, 1-1 tie.  This was the night Gretz’s number went up to the rafters.  This was one of the highlights for me without a doubt.  This was “our guy” coming home.  I don’t remember watching too many games Gretz played as an Oiler, but I vividly remember all the different times I balled my eyes out in August of 1988 because he was gone.

 

Dec. 19, 1999 vs Ottawa, 3-3 tie.  Like a year earlier, I did not use a ticket to go to this one.  This time, Gord and Wade Redden set it up for me to job shadow Dean Brown and Gord Wilson on the Senators broadcast.  I met Mike Fisher that night.  So my hand shook his hand and his hand has been on Carrie Underwood A LOT….so it’s BASICALLY like I get to touch Carrie Underwood all the time.

 

Jan. 14, 2000 vs Toronto, 3-2 loss.  I got on the big screen that night.  Well, the people behind me did, and I was that d-bag who maneuvers to get in the shot.  How do people live with no regrets?!  I have MANY, and that is definitely one of them.

 

Apr. 16, 2000 vs Dallas, game 3 West Quarter Final, 5-2 win.  Dougie Weight’s finest hour as an Oiler.  Got a hatty, and the Oilers completely dominated the Stars…for once.

 

Apr. 18, 2000 vs Dallas, game 4 West Quarter Final, 4-3 loss.  Bill Guerin’s finest hour as an Oiler.  Got a hatty, and the Oilers completely…blew it.

 

Mar. 30, 2001 vs Dallas, 5-4 loss.  I sat in Bill Comrie’s luxury suite for most of this game.  Didn’t say a word, scared too.  Just watched this 5 year old blonde kid run around with a mini stick and thought “this kid will never be a Winnipeg Jets goaltending prospect”.  Real random I know.

 

Apr. 21, 2001 vs Dallas, game 6 West Quarter Final, 3-1 loss.  I came back from a school trip to Spain thinking “no way this series doesn’t go 7, everyone has been talking about how great it’s been, Oilers have controlled it a lot of the time, no way they don’t win”.

 

Jan. 19, 2002 vs Pittsburgh, 1-0 loss.  The only time I ever got to see Mario play live.

 

Mar. 30, 2002 vs Dallas, 3-1 win.  Comrie scores with a minute left and a LOOOONG video review to break a 1-1 tie.  I meet Greg Millen and Chris Cuthbert after the game.  Cuthbert was total class, Millen was a dick…just like the other 2 times I met him.

 

Oct. 10, 2002 vs Philadelphia, 2-2 tie.  They were really pushing Mike Comrie as the face of the franchise at this point and doing this “it’s magic” theme for opening night and they did a bunch of magic tricks throughout the night.  I hope whoever came up with that got fired.

 

Dec. 3, 2002 vs Minnesota, 2-1 OT win.  First night I ever met my good friend Peter Loubardias.  Hit it off, he came and sat with me for the game which was not the plan.  Peter is having some issues at the moment so I figured I’d take this time to publically wish him the best and hope he’s 100% real soon.  Anyone in sports media who knows him will tell you he’s one of the best people in the business.

 

Apr. 13, 2003 vs Dallas, 3-2 win.  Again, underrated for being amongst the loudest that Rexall has ever been.  That 3rd period was incredible, at least for the dead puck era it was.  The Stars just didn’t blow leads, and in this one they blew two of them before Radek Dvorak scored the goal of the year.

 

Feb. 11, 2004 vs Atlanta, 5-1 win.  So this was the infamous line brawl game.  It was also infamous for me as I told my roommate at the time that I had to go to the game with a relative, yet I was actually going to the game with my buddy whom he didn’t like.  Of course the Sportsnet camera’s had to show all the celeb’s in the crowd…

 

Mar. 2, 2004 vs Phoenix, 5-4 win.  Mike Comrie’s 1st game back in town since the falling out with the organization.  How DARE Comrie question Kevin Lowe and the way he ran this organization!!!

 

Apr. 25, 2006 vs Detroit, game 3 West Quarter Final, 4-3 win.  Double OT, the first playoff game in the building since 03.  I remember thinking at the time “man, I can’t imagine having to go through another 3 year dry spell from the playoffs”.

 

May 23, 2006 vs Anaheim, game 3 Western Conference Final, 5-4 win.  This was the first game Paul Lorieau dropped the mic for lack of a better term.  The craziest 3rd period I’ve ever seen.  When Pronger scored to make it 4-0 early in the 3rd, THAT is my bet on the loudest the building ever was.  It got very hot in the stands, because for about 20 minutes of real time (5 minutes of game time) the fans were going insane.

 

Jun. 17, 2006 vs Carolina, game 6 Stanley Cup Final, 4-0 win.  Best game I ever saw any Oilers team play.  Total domination, the building was loving life all night long.  It was just a party from early that afternoon until late that night.  I don’t think anyone felt like the Oilers may lose the game at any point.  And I’ve told this story on here before, but I remember shaking hands with all the people who also had season tickets around us.  Like we were all congratulating each other.  Trust me that NEVER happened in the 19 other years we had season tickets!

 

Nov. 28, 2006 vs Anaheim, 3-2 OT loss.  Pronger’s return.  Going in, the Oilers were leading the Northwest, the Ducks were leading the Pacific, I remember thinking going in that night that the Pronger story overshadowed that this was a Western Conference finals rematch and 2 of the top teams in the West.  But the Oil blew a 2-0 lead and this seemed to send the team into a tailspin they wouldn’t pull out of no matter how hard Patrik Stefan didn’t try.

 

Now those are some of my favourite memories with me in attendance.  But very obviously there are so many more that are so much bigger for Oiler fans.  The 4 Stanley Cups won on that ice, 50 in 39, Gretzky returning for the first time, Gretzky returning for the 89 All-Star game, Gretzky breaking Gordie Howe’s points record, the comeback against Dallas, the Gagner 8 point game, like there are just so damn many!

 

The truth of all of this is that nobody is really going to miss the building.  The move from this building is overdue.  But there have been an insane amount of famous moments that happened in that building that deserve to be celebrated.  And man…is it going to be one heck of a celebration tonight!

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

2016 MLB Season Preview/Prognostications

NSD107_BBA_Yankees_Blue_Jays_20140404I won’t be spending much time talking about other teams this time around.  Some years I’ve done an in-depth season preview, I’m never doing that again.  Took about a month to do.  I believe last year I did a more streamlined season preview, that was cool.  But this is Canada.  Pretty sure I don’t get many American readers (and if you are one, let me know!)  So with that being said, let’s focus on the Jays.

 

The Troy Tulowitzki trade is one I won’t forget.  I’m in bed on a Tuesday night I believe (it was either Monday or Tuesday, and the date is shady because it was made on a different day in Toronto than it was here or in Denver).  Anyway, I was laying in bed and had been texting with my buddy about what moves the Jays would make and I remember about 10 minutes before the news breaking I said “I don’t think they’ll end up doing much of anything”.  Boom, Tulo and it completely changed everything.  From that point on the Jays have been a top team in the majors.

 

Had Ryan Goins caught a blooper in game 2 of the ALCS, who knows how things would have unfolded.  But he didn’t, and the Jays were gone in 6.  All of a sudden days later the GM was gone, wasn’t long before the staff ace whom everyone knew was likely out the door but the reality of it sunk in.  And the new management seemed as though they could care less about getting this club over the hump.

 

I was one of those people who wasn’t real jacked about the job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins had done this offseason.  But then I was just thinking about it one day.  The staff is 7 guys deep, the bullpen is at least as solid as it was to end last season, and the lineup remains intact.  They didn’t do that much this offseason, but they didn’t have to do much this offseason.  This was a club that tore apart the American League in the 2nd half of last season.

 

Now the way Aaron Sanchez has emerged has definitely helped.  It isn’t just the Jays staff and the Canadian media who are excited about the guy.  Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal, J.P. Morosi, there are A LOT of people who think he could make the jump.  Not from reliever to starter, but to a frontline starter.  If he can, the decision to let David Price walk sure looks a hell of a lot better.  And let’s not forget that they likely can’t have Sanchez in the rotation unless Shaprio/Atkins do the Ben Revere for Drew Storen trade to shore up the bullpen.  I still believe it’ll need an addition or two, but definitely looks solid going into the season.

 

I have my reservations about Marco Estrada.  He proved last season that he has a ton of balls and a ton of heart.  This hockey mad country LOVES a guy like that.  Everyone does, but up here more than anywhere else.  But was it a one off?  A career year?  This time last year the thought of having to use him in the rotation was terrifying.

 

I’m also not much of an R.A. Dickey fan, but people forget how strong he was from June on last season.  We tend to just remembering the outing against the Royals in game 4, but prior to that the guy had been extremely solid.  Regular season, I got little problem with him.  He’ll eat a ton of innings and when he’s on he’s lights out.

 

I don’t expect J.A. Happ to do what he did in the 2nd half last season.  If he does, wow the Jays got a steal!  If he doesn’t and reverts back to what he was, that’s a horrific signing.

 

But while I can pick apart the staff all day, the biggest part is the littlest guy.  If Marcus Stroman can take 1 more step and officially become the ace of the this ball club, everything else falls into place.  He doesn’t have to be a Cy Young candidate, but he does have to take another step.

 

He has one of the best defensive squads in MLB playing behind him to help him out.  It is amazing how Tulowitzki transformed this club, and it wasn’t with his stick.  Going from the unpredictability of Jose Reyes to the gold glove calibre fielding of Tulo just made a world of difference for this club.  All of a sudden you look around the diamond and you see gold glove candidates everywhere.

 

Then that lineup…

 

What else can I say about it?  The x factor is Kevin Pillar.  We’ll see how he does in the leadoff role.  I have my doubts honestly.  His OBP was .314 last season.  A great leadoff man needs to have that up around.  When Derek Jeter was leading off his OBP was always up over .350 and that is where I like a leadoff man’s to be.  Ben Revere was at .354, so those are big shoes to fill.  Even if Pillar can get it up to .335 I would take that as a win.

 

You can’t expect THAT again from Josh Donaldson.  I would say a reasonable expectation is still 33 HR’s, 100 RBI, .290 AVG, .350 OBP.  He exceeds those numbers, AWESOME.  He doesn’t, he’s still elite.

 

As for the other big bats, I’m expecting monster years from Bautista and Encarnacion as most are since it’s their walk year.  Tulo has everyone thinking big after an outstanding spring as well.  The only hole offensively is maybe Ryan Goins.  I had said for a year or more that if he just hit .250 he was a perfect 2B for this team, and that’s what he did last season.  But should he fall back to being a .200 hitter, Devon Travis will be back at some point.  Some of you may have forgot that type of season Travis was having before being injured.

 

Now maybe you’ve read this and thought “he’s just a Jays fan boy, they suck”.  Fair enough.  Don’t take my word for it then.  Check out what ESPN’s Jayson Stark has to say about them.

 

http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/page/seasonpreview_wsbluejays/why-toronto-blue-jays-win-world-series

 

As you’ll see below, I don’t have them to win the World Series, or even get there.  But they could.  I believe 3 holes that might need addressing as they approach the trade deadline are the leadoff spot, a 2nd left handed reliever (NOT Aaron Loup), and last but not least a top of the rotation starter.

 

This team is a real contender.  It’s nice to enter a season knowing that rather than hoping that.

 

AL East

1. Toronto Blue Jays – I don’t want to pick them, mainly because I don’t want to jinx them.  But I can’t make a rationale case for anyone but them.

*2. Boston Red Sox – On paper they are ahead of the Jays, but after burning me for two straight seasons I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little gun shy.

3. Tampa Bay Rays – The bottom 3 in this division can go in any order.  I like Tampa’s staff better than the Yanks or O’s, and they have the highest ceiling of the 3.

4. NY Yankees – Don’t THINK the Yanks can repeat last year, but I didn’t think last year was possible.

5. Baltimore Orioles – The lineup is REAL good, the D is REAL good, the pitching is pretty scary bad.

 

AL Central

1. Kansas City Royals – They’re the champs and I see zero reason to go away from this pick.  Also, this division is pretty bad after them.

2. Detroit Tigers – There is just no way THIS team is as bad as they were last season.  Verlander will bounce back, and I’m a big Zimmermann fan.

3. Cleveland Indians – I keep thinking about how they gave the Jays fits last season when the two played.  Need some bats to emerge, pitching staff is great.  They are always the baseball experts darlings.

4. Minnesota Twins – I don’t think there will be a big difference between 2nd and 4th in the division, but someone has to be 4th.

5. Chicago White Sox – No Drake LaRoche this season will hurt.  But seriously, they have some great talent.  But where they’re weak, they’re REALLY weak.

 

AL West

1. Texas Rangers – Feels like everyone loves the Stros, and I get that.  But the Rangers won the division, and the Rangers have a ton of great young talent too.

*2. Houston Astros – Everyone’s favourite for the division, you have to expect a few guys to come back down to earth this season though.

3. Oakland A’s – This is a bit of an upset pick and I even had the A’s to win the division for a while!  I just think you can’t ever count this team out.

4. LA Angels – They feel like such a mess to me, yet on paper they still look formidable.  But with me liking the A’s to get back in the mix, someone has to fall.

5. Seattle Mariners – Weren’t they everyone’s World Series pick last year?  If not to win it, at least to get there.  Mariners fans have been teased enough the last 15 years.

*AL Wildcard Winners

 

AL Cy Young – Chris Archer.  I’ve been a massive fan of his since day 1.  Picked him for ROY a few seasons ago.  He takes the next step this season.

AL MVP – Jose Bautista.  Can’t you see this happening?  This guy already plays with a massive chip on his shoulder, and now we have the contract situation on top of that, and the more pissed he is the better he plays.

 

Wildcard Game

Astros vs Red Sox – Like hell I’ll know who the hotter team will be.  I’ll guess Houston.

ALDS

Blue Jays vs Astros – I guess I got the Jays finishing 1st this time around.  The Astros being a year older…they’ll be too tough to handle.

Royals vs Rangers – No way I’m picking against the Royals.

ALCS

Royals vs Astros – No way I’m picking against the Royals.

 

NL East

1. Washington Nationals – Too much talent not to pick them to at least win the division, plus Dusty Baker is a great manager….until he burns through the staff.

2. NY Mets – Amazing starting staff, and they still have Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings.  I didn’t pick them for a wildcard spot, but without a doubt they’ll be in it for the division and wildcard.

3. Miami Marlins – A lot of talent on this roster, but it’s a shit show of an organization so they’re a tough team to figure out.

4. Atlanta Braves – They’re no better than the Phillies, but I just trust the Braves to compete more than I do the Phillies.

5. Philadelphia Phillies – It’s still going to be a LONG climb back for the Phillies.  They just held on a few years too long and are in the process of paying for it now.

 

NL Central

1. St. Louis Cardinals – The Cubby’s are the darlings coming into this season.  The Cards haven’t been quiet about feeling disrespected by this.

*2. Chicago Cubs – On paper, they’re a powerhouse.  I still am not in love with this starting pitching, I have trouble imagining Jake Arietta can do it again.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Man I feel bad for the Pirates being in this division.  They are so well run, such a good team, stuck in the toughest division in baseball.

4. Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew crew and the Reds are nowhere close to the top 3 in this division.  Tough to say anything nice about either.

5. Cincinnati Reds – The tear down isn’t yet complete with this squad.  I feel bad for their fans, all been downhill since being up 2-0 coming home against San Fran in 2012.

 

NL West

1. LA Dodgers – For all the upgrades the Giants have made, even with the loss of Grienke, this is still a regular season juggernaut.

*2. San Francisco Giants – This is it.  It’s an even year.  Giants always win in an even year and with Cueto and Samardzija they’re looking to ensure that.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks – All of a sudden they have a real good top of the rotation!  Solid team, but I believe it’ll be another year or 2 before they overtake the division.

4. San Diego Padres – All the moves they made last offseason that gave Padres fans hope…there is zero hope this season.

5. Colorado Rockies – It’s a pretty major rebuild as they head into their 1st full season since 2006 without Troy Tulowitzki.

*NL Wildcard Winners

 

NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw.  Say what you will about his postseason track record, he’s the best in the game today.

NL MVP – Bryce Harper.  I picked him for the last few years and finally got it right, so I’m doubling down!

 

Wildcard Game

Giants vs Cubs – The Cubs are REALLY talented, but somebody has to go home and I’m not picking against the Giants.

NLDS

Nationals vs Giants – Nats are REALLY talented, but somebody has to go home and I’m not picking against the Giants (notice the theme?)

Cardinals vs Dodgers – The Dodgers just aren’t going to get over the hump, at least not this season.

NLCS

Cardinals vs Giants – Yeah, I’m still not picking against the Giants

 

World Series

Kansas City Royals vs San Francisco Giants – I know it’s a lot of repeating here.  It’s the same 4 as last year in the ALDS, and that’s not likely and if it does happen it’s not exciting.  In the NL it’s the same 4 in the NLDS as 2 years ago and if that happens it’s not exciting.  The good news is that it is nearly impossible to predict how the MLB season will go and I’m never close on these.  I do feel real good about this World Series pick though.  These 2 organizations have built perfect postseason teams, and I fully expect to see the rematch of the 2014 classic between these 2, but this time, the Royals come out on top and go back to back.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Setting the Record Straight

Curry v JordanWelcome to the latest edition of the Soups on Sports “get off my lawn!!!” series.  In today’s episode I layout why the Golden State Warriors…while one of the best teams all time…would get destroyed by the 1996 Chicago Bulls.

 

What the Warriors are doing this season is awesome!  In a salary cap/luxury tax era, this team has blitzed the rest of the league.  And they are doing it with a ton of flash.  It’s been awesome to watch.

 

But while they’re tremendous, and they are going to set a new NBA record for wins in a season, they simply aren’t that 96 Bulls team.  I watched both these teams a lot, and I know what I saw.  But since you can’t see what I saw, here are the 3 main reasons why the Bulls are the better team.

 

1) Physicality

While many will argue about the league having more parity today, it really doesn’t.  The 76ers are a joke, the Lakers are awful, the Nets, the Suns, there is a TON of suck in the NBA right now, no more than there was in 96.  But what is much different is how physical the game used to be.  That was still the era where the way to build was around a 7 footer, and you bang down low.  So just about every team in the league played a very physical style.

 

Today, it’s the complete opposite.  In 2004, the league implemented new rules to open up what had become a terrible product.  No hand checking, defensive 3 in the key, no more illegal defense, the game is A LOT different now then 20 years ago.  There for, no team in the league plays or is built like what would be the least physical team in the league back then.  Now it’s all about the 3 ball.  The Warriors are the highest scoring team in the league, averaging 115 points per game.  The 96 Bulls were the highest scoring team in the league, averaging 105 points per game.

 

Anyway, the main point here is that the Bulls got beat on a lot more than the Warriors have.  An 82 game schedule 20 years ago was a lot more of a grind then it is today.

 

2) D beats 3

That Bulls team would have been kryptonite for the current day Warriors.  Let’s assume you are playing by today’s rules.  The Bulls would simply put Toni Kukoc at the 5 instead of Luc Longley, and Phil Jackson could have Jordan on Curry…or Pippen…or Harper…that was the greatness of the Bulls.  Probably the greatest defensive squad of all time.  4 of their 5 starters were able to guard any position on the floor.  When he was in Detroit, the Pistons would use Dennis Rodman to guard Jordan.  I don’t know who Jordan would be on and Pippen would be on, but both would lock down either Curry or Thompson, and then Green would be eaten alive by Rodman.

 

Then if you go the other way down the floor, my guess is that Steve Kerr (who is coming off the bench for the Bulls but still coaching the Warriors here) would use Draymond Green to guard Jordan, but Jordan would eat him alive just like he did everyone else in his day.  John Starks, Gary Payton, Byron Russell, these were ELITE defenders, and Jordan would have his way with them.  Andre Iguodala v Scottie Pippen is interesting, but I really don’t like Andrew Bogut trying to guard Kukoc.  This is a solid defensive squad in Golden State, but they aren’t great.  They aren’t the Bad Boy Pistons, they aren’t the Pat Riley coached Knicks.  This is why I’m not so sure the Warriors can even get by the Spurs should they meet in the WCF.

 

3) The benchmark is different

The Bulls weren’t trying to get to 73 to set the record.  They were trying to get to 70.  And it was crystal clear by March that they were setting that record, so they put up some absolute stinkers.  Those stinkers were all 1 point loses, but 2 of them were against non playoff teams (to the expansion Raptors, and at home to the Hornets), and then I remember watching the last loss of the season.  It was a Saturday afternoon on NBC, the Bulls had already set the record and Phil Jackson only used Jordan for 31 minutes, Pippen for 30, so they clearly weren’t concerned with getting to 73.

 

The Warriors are.  And again, they’re going to.  But that Bulls team, if the benchmark they had to get to was 75, they would have got to it.  No loses in Toronto, no home loses to the Hornets and Pacers.  The Warriors are going to get to 73 because they have to.  Simple as that.  And that’s not to say that it’s not extremely impressive!  But to those people trying to make the claim that the Warriors will be the all time greatest team, you’re out of your mind.

 

I mean, a lot basketball people will likely favor the Spurs in a series against the Warriors.  And then if they get past the Spurs, even though the Cavs have been a shit show this season they took the Warriors to 6 last year without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  With 2 major weapons this season (should they stay healthy), I’m not sure the Cavs wouldn’t knock them off.  In 96, as great as the Sonics, Magic, and Knicks were, nobody thought any of those teams were even a threat to the Bulls.

 

I have no way of proving this point, so I’ll have to live with it being just my opinion.  But in my opinion, the 96 Bulls are the greatest NBA team of all time and would dominate the 2016 Warriors, and my opinion is right…

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups