You know as I write this I’m watching the end of Rocky V, and I’m thinking this movie got underrated. Maybe it was a little ahead of it’s time. At one point Tommy “Machine” Gunn is outside a bar challenging Rocky. Some fat guys in the bar ask Rocky if he wants their help and Rocky says “Come on guys this ain’t no pie eating contest.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA it’s because they’re fat!!! CLASSIC!
Anyway, I’ve had some thoughts on a bunch of NHL teams lately, so I’m just going to do a paragraph (or a sentence, depends) on each team. It was officially the midway point of the season on Saturday, so it actually made sense to do a write up like this. It’s long, so let’s say I just get to it.
I’ll roll through this alphabetically and start with the league’s biggest disappointment, the Anaheim Ducks. I haven’t been so sure of a conference champ in a long time and had little doubt the Ducks would face the Caps in the final. Seriously, I’ve never felt more confident in my pick for the final to start the season. I’m not moving off the Caps anytime soon, but I might have to start moving off the Ducks. Then again, they play in a terrible division that won’t take a heroic effort to land a playoff spot in. The win against the Blues was the type of win that turns teams season around. It’s never a 5-0 win, it’s a tight win against an elite team like the Blues, which is what they did Friday. A strong 2nd half still should have them as a favorite to come out of the West.
Meanwhile you have another stunner in the Pacific in the Arizona Coyotes. No Mike Smith moving forward, but Smith was playing awful when he went down. Louis Domingue has stepped in and looked good of late. I could see this guy getting on a serious roll. Dave Tippett’s system as I’ve laid out many times increases goaltenders confidence and with such a big and athletic guy like Lindback you would think he could thrive in that situation, just like he did in Nashville in Barry Trotz system, but for whatever reason he has struggled. I still wouldn’t bet on this team making the playoffs though, they have had a lot of puck luck this season.
You know, Don Sweeney didn’t do that bad after all last offseason. Sure, he could have got more for Dougie Hamilton, and he reached on two of the three 1st rounders they had. But the Lucic deal netted two 1st’s (and with the Sharks looking ready to fall apart that pick could end up really high). The B’s are only in a wildcard spot at first glance, but when you look at games played they have 3 in hand on Montreal and 1 on Detroit and sit on 2 points back of both. So for all the heat he Sweeney took, things look pretty good in Boston.
Then at the bottom of the division you have the Sabres who are primed to move into the basement. They started ok, but they’re just too young to expect much more yet. Jack Eichel has come on strong again of late after struggling for most of December. What concerns me with the Sabres is they play in the East. You’re a bad team if you can’t get out of the basement in the East.
The Flames have moved out of the basement in the Pacific after a terrible start. I’m impressed with the Flames! They started the way I thought they would this season, and I did say in my prognostications that I liked the Flames to make the playoffs because of the division being down, not because I liked them a lot. And even when they started winning they were LIVING off 3 on 3 OT. At one point, they had 5 regulation wins and 9 thanks to 3 on 3. But as of late they have gone to another level. Goaltending has been great, the D has been great, and the first line is unstoppable. No crazy puck luck lack last season either, they’ve been much improved analytically. I still got them getting the 3 seed in the Pacific.
Bill Peters has the Carolina Hurricanes playing solid, albeit boring hockey. That blueline is looking tremendous moving forward. I’m starting to find myself being on the fence about Ron Francis moving Eric Staal. On one hand, he’s not the same player he was, you’ll still get a big return for him, and I’m with Elliotte Friedman who believes he needs a change of scenery because he’s become too comfortable in Raleigh. But on the other hand, he’s only 31 (just turned) and there is a good chance they get a high end winger with their top pick in the draft. If dealt, the obvious candidates are Montreal, I personally believe the Blues would have interest, and the Lightning could if they move Stamkos (who will bring back much more than Staal will cost and Tampa could re-sign). But I’m keeping my eye on Chicago. Atrem Anisimov is fine, but at the deadline if the cost is right, Staal between Kane and Panarin and behind Toews could be lethal. I’m intrigued to see what Francis decides to do.
Did I just hit on two teams at once? I had no idea the Hawks would pickup where they left off. Not that I expected them to be bad, but I expected more of an adjustment. But it helped that before the season began the Kane situation and Seabrook contract situation got resolved. Artemi Panarin has been an unreal find. Doesn’t hurt he’s playing with the best offensive player in the world right now, but he’s still damn good.
The Avs completely live and die with Seymon Varlamov. When he’s red hot, they win. If he’s not, they lose. Obviously most teams live and die with their goaltending, but this team more so than any other. It’s not a good hockey team and with the amount of talent that is there, it should be. They made a bad trade with Buffalo for Ryan O’Reilly. I said it at the time, you need to get a defenceman, and I know TECHNICALLY they did, but Nikita Zadorov is a massive project. Now they have 1 less piece to dangle to improve that blueline and their depth down the middle is weakened. Still though, they find themselves tied with the Predators for the final wildcard spot in the West.
Ask the Blue Jackets about how important goaltending is. Bobrovsky started horribly this season, and there for the Jackets fired Todd Richards and still haven’t been able to find a way out of 30th in the league. Torts being hired will prove to be a disaster…then again it already is thanks the Ryan Johansen mess. For a team like Edmonton who have three potential 1st line centres it makes sense to move one for a potential top end D-man. The Jackets have a lot of depth at center, but they don’t have a guy close to what Johansen brings and those guys are nearly impossible to find. You’re filling one void by creating another as I wrote about the other day. Good luck to the Jackets in what will now be their hunt for a 1st line centre.
Dallas could use an upgrade on the blueline too if they want to go anywhere in the playoffs. They are this year what I thought they would be last year. It would be great for hockey if this team went on a deep run and won playing this style. But don’t let the record fool you, this team won’t go anywhere in the playoffs. You don’t win without a clear number 1 goaltender, you don’t win as a soft perimeter team, and you don’t win with a weak blueline. Things can and will change, but right now Nashville is a strong possibility in the 1st round. That would be a matchup nightmare for Dallas. Preds in 6.
The Wings have surprised me this season, but I guess the injury bug hasn’t hit them yet and I fully expect it to. Datsyuk and Zetterberg going, they’re still a playoff team. But if one of them goes down again they’ll be in big trouble. They’re in 2nd in the Atlantic, relatively comfortable. Can we slow down about Dylan Larkin though? I loved the kid going into the 2014 draft, but now because he’s a Red Wing he’s getting talked about as the 2nd coming and anything he does is applauded by the media. He’s a good rookie guys…that’s it. Settle down.
Then we have my Oilers, who were just trying to keep their heads above water in the Pacific until McDavid and now Klefbom get back. Looking at it now and how this home stand went, I would say they’re done. Too many teams to jump, neither guy is back until after the all-star break (at least), and while they were doing ok without McDavid, the loss of Klefbom has been crippling. In 13 games without Klefbom they are now 4-9 with only 1 win in regulation which was against Winnipeg. They were completely dominated in that 1 regulation win. 1. I said it the night he got hurt, JUST when the team was starting to roll (won 5 straight), their most vital player goes down. As we seen Friday night, this team can’t catch any breaks either. They’re the anti Seattle Seahawks.
The latest loss for the Oil was last night 2-1 against the hottest team in the league, the Florida Panthers. This is the team I’ve been looking forward to hitting on the most for a few weeks now. Then, the Toronto media has to ruin it all for me and make me want to bring everyone back down to earth on them. I have LOVED what Dale Tallon has been doing down there. I was big on the Barkov pick when everyone thought they were crazy to pass on Seth Jones. Ekblad was a no brainer from a hockey standpoint (it got dicey, but they made the right move in the end). So I’ve liked what the Panthers have been doing for a while now. Well now that the win streak has happened, others have noticed and now others want to say, having paid zero attention to the Panthers for about 15 years, “this is how you do it, vets with kids, I knew it all along”. No you didn’t. Where were you on the Panthers in 2013, 14 or 15? Jackass. The Panthers are winning now because Luongo is still one of the best goaltenders in the world and they were able to get him for nothing. They’re winning now because their young bluleine is coming of age, because Barkov is emerging. THEY AREN’T WINNING BECAUSE THEIR VETS ARE SO GOOD! As an Oiler fan, F*****G SPARE ME Bryan Hayes on how Willie Mitchell has been the answer down there. The Oilers have had just as many vets in their room over the years. It’s not because of the vets, though Jagr putting up good numbers obviously helps. They’ve built a big, fast, physical team through the draft and their kids are coming of age. Lets not forget too, this hasn’t been some 3 year rebuild. They’ve made the playoffs once in 15 damn seasons!
Ok, rant over. Onto LA. They’re amazing and in line to win the Cup for the 3rd time in 5 seasons.
Ok, rant over. Onto Minnesota. They’re good not great and I believe they’re going to be stuck as that team. Never truly contend for a Cup.
Then you have the Habs and the Habs have really started to feel the effects of losing Carey Price the last month or so. Brendan Gallagher going down really hurt their offence too, but Price is the obvious key to them getting out of the East. If Eric Staal is available, the Habs have to get him. He is exactly what they need. An upgrade on the blueline wouldn’t hurt anything either. Currently 3rd in the Atlantic, but Boston, Tampa and Ottawa are all right on their heels.
I talked last week about how much I loved the Johansen deal for the Preds. Apparently they’re hot after Jonathan Drouin as well. This is pretty smart by David Poile, and lucky too. Not too often that young offensive talent like this becomes available and even luckier when you have the pieces that fit. I’m guessing the offer for Drouin is 2014 1st rounder Kevin Fiala. They’ve struggled lately with Pekka Rinne having some struggles, but you would think an elite goaltender like that won’t be struggling for very long. If he does, all these big moves will be for not…this season anyway.
The Devils are ok, but I don’t think they’re making the playoffs. Cory Schneider is great and keeps them in every game, but I believe this is going to be a big overhaul for Ray Shero in the next few years. John Hynes is doing a great job with what he has to work with, but they’re just a very flawed team. If they do happen to get in the playoffs, Hynes deserves Jack Adams consideration.
Not much to say about the Islanders right now. The Travis Hamonic thing is on hold probably until the trade deadline because of the Johnny Boychuk injury, and even then I can’t seem them pulling the trigger. Garth Snow wants too much and I don’t really blame him. At the draft he can adjust the ask. Not lower it, but he can target some UFA’s on the blueline and then accept picks/prospects packages for Hamonic. As for now, 4 up on the Pens though the Pens have a game in hand. I expect them to add a few vets at the trade deadline as they obviously lack experience.
Islanders and Rangers are tied in the standings, though the Rangers have a game in hand. As good as the Caps are, they still have yet to get past the Rangers in the playoffs and you know they’ll see the Rangers this year too. The Rangers have really turned into an under the radar team. Not much flash, don’t make any noise, just go about their business and win hockey games. I didn’t list them earlier, but they might go after Eric Staal too. Derek Stepan is struggling offensively this season so it might not hurt to add a guy like Staal if they can to give them that extra scoring down the middle.
It is starting to feel like I’ve ran into a glut of teams that I just have nothing to say about them. Maybe I’m getting sick of writing this piece. Anyway, the Sens are solid, right in the middle of the wildcard race in the Eastern conference. Their system is stocked pretty good, they develop their prospects well, and it’s a real good young roster. Because they aren’t real interesting to talk about, they don’t get the love they deserve from the national media. But they’re setup to be real good for a long time.
The Flyers are setup that way too, and I never thought they would be just 3 points back of the Sens with 2 games in hand at this point in the season. Playing much better than I expected this season. Doubt they’ll make the playoffs, but won’t be in the hunt for Auston Matthews…not sure if that’s good or bad long term.
The cross state rivals in Pittsburgh shockingly are only 2 points up on Philly and the Flyers have a game in hand. But I would put my money on the Pens. Look, they’re a tire fire off the ice. Jim Rutherford, David Morehouse, they’re a couple of guys who have proven to be incompetent. But the talent is still there and while I’m not a big believer in Mike Sullivan he does have them pointed in the right direction, Crosby in particular. No doubt Rutherford will be shopping for help along the blueline between now and February 29th, but having dealt his 1st round pick already, and the Pens having dealt every 1st since 2012 (selected Kapanen in 2014 but he went to Toronto in the Kessel trade), Rutherford would be hard pressed I would think to move their 2017 1st.
The Pens window in closing, and the Sharks window likely has already closed. They’re in the cluster f*** known as the Pacific division, and despite the impressive looking 7-0 win Saturday night, I wouldn’t be shocked if they end up selling by the deadline. Is now the time? Marleau has asked for a trade, Thornton would still have a bit of value and be in high demand if he were out there. Then if they both get moved, would Brent Burns be available? 1 year out from free agency. They would obviously want to keep him for a rebuild, but if he doesn’t want to re-sign in San Jose, he would never have more value then at this year’s deadline with a year left on his deal.
The Blues window is closing, but it’s still open. This could be the last crack for this group. Kevin Shattenkirk is now in play according to Elliotte Friedman. David Backes is a UFA after this season. Things could look a lot different in St.Louis next season so now is the time. They HAVE to upgrade the goaltending. How can they not know that Jake Allen is just a product of the Hitchcock system? I would check in with the Oilers and see what Cam Talbot would cost, with the Flames and see what Kari Ramo would cost, and I would check in with the Lightning to see if you can pry 1 of their 2 netminders. I would guess all 3 are likely dead ends, but you have to try. The Blues just can’t go into the playoffs with Allen and Elliott yet again.
It looked as though the Lightning were on the verge of completely falling apart before their 1 goal, 2 win performance in Edmonton and Vancouver over the weekend. I’ll tell you, they had no business winning in Edmonton with how awful they looked in the first 2 periods, and the bounces they started to get were insane (at least on the tying and game winning goals). Then to have similar luck on Saturday in Vancouver on the goal that gave them a lead late (though the Canucks sent it to OT), that’s a LOT of luck in a short amount of time. Could it turn their season around, or is it a mirage?
That has to be what Leaf fans are asking. Is this legit or is this a mirage? Saturday suggested it’s the latter, but I think this is very real. They won’t make the playoffs, but it is clear that in a short period of time, Mike Babcock has changed the culture in that room. They’re now one of the hardest working teams in the league and I believe all the wins against the power houses in the West is a result of them not taking the Leafs seriously. If you aren’t ready to work hard, the Leafs will embarrass you, much like the Flames did the previous 2 seasons. The system is loading up, still have a long ways to go but I would say the rebuild in Toronto is off to an awesome start.
Rebuild and start. That’s what a lot of Canuck fans are asking. When will the rebuild really start. They’ve been trying to do it on the fly, but as we’ve seen in the past that never really works, just delays the inevitable. Is it crazy to suggest they eat 6 million a year over the next 2 seasons on the Sedin contracts to not only deal them but get a lot of value for them? If you’re rebuilding you won’t need that cap space anyway. At 4 mil per, the Sedins would be pretty attractive to a lot of teams, even though you are taking on 8 million per season. Having said all this, they sit in a playoff spot today. 3rd in the Pacific, 1 up on Anaheim, though the Ducks have 2 games in hand. Personally, I think it’s the perfect time. Eat money on the Sedin’s contracts, get a nice haul for them, and officially kick off the rebuild.
No rebuild needed in Washington. Man, if they don’t do it this season, they never are. They are just LOADED, and then on top of them being so LOADED, Braden Holtby is getting Hart trophy consideration. They could stand to add a veteran D-man at the deadline (Dustin Byfuglien?), and depending on how Mike Richards does they likely will need to upgrade down the middle in the bottom 6. Jay Beagle has been their 3rd line centre this season, and in the playoffs that’ll be heavily exposed. Again though, maybe Richards solves that problem. If he doesn’t, then they need to go shopping.
FINALLY we have the Winnipeg Jets, and the 2nd favourite team of most in 2015 is looking like a seller if they don’t get things turned around soon. Andrew Ladd is a pending UFA, nobody knows why that hasn’t been done yet. Dustin Byfuglien is a pending UFA, it doesn’t sound like they want to give him the term he wants (I wouldn’t want to either). This team is very much in danger of falling to 13th in the West, already last in the Central. I would pull the pin and sell. They aren’t going to have to rebuild. This is still a pretty young team with key pieces in place. But this season looks as though it’s lost and in the long run it might not be a bad thing at all. I’m a huge Andrew Ladd fan, but if they move on from him now with the way he plays, he may only have 2 or 3 quality seasons left before his body breaks down. They would get a lot for him, and even more for Byfuglien. Couple that with a top 5 draft pick (a decent shot at landing Auston Matthews…how ironic would that be if Winnipeg landed the Phoenix kid?) and things look even brighter in Winnipeg.
So there you have it. I’m sure I made a lot of spelling mistakes. I didn’t proof read much of it seeing how I’ve gone over 3,700 words. My fingers hurt.
Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups