Spoiler alert, this one ends up being over 2,000 words. What is wrong with me? I started doing this article in particular to just write about 1,000 words each week on what’s going on in hockey, mainly the NHL. Here I am doing 2,200 words on a Sunday night when I’m exhausted and just want to go to bed! So you better damn well enjoy this!
I want to start off with Nashville, and they look amazing. Won eight in a row. Best blueline, four real solid centres, a terrific group of wingers, Pekka Rinne has been back to form this season, they look like the best team in the league….and I’m not sure they’ll even make it out of the first round. It’s the same as Chicago last season, Washington just about every season, Boston in 2014, where you think there is just no way they’ll get bounced in the playoffs. But it’s coming too easy for them, and as I said on Twitter Thursday night, they’re continually flipping a switch in their games and winning. When you’re playing L.A. or Anaheim in the first round and you go to flip that switch, they won’t let you. Especially the Kings. This isn’t to say they can’t win it all, very obviously they can. But right now I’m thinking that this team is fools gold, where last season I loved them going into the playoffs because they had to struggle through an inconsistent regular season.
Of course with the Preds, it’s not just that they’ve cruised through the season. A lot of my thinking with them being primed for an upset is because of how brutal their division is. They’re looking like they’ll get one of Anaheim or L.A. in the first round as I mentioned, but it’s still very possible it’s Minny or Dallas, and then they could get Winnipeg or Dallas (I think that ends up being the 2-3 matchup) should they get to the second round. I along with most other Western Canadian hockey fans will be a massive Jets fan come playoffs, and the Stars are currently my dark horse pick to come out of the Western Conference. I just think the Stars have everything you need to matchup with any team in the West. Minny…well…Minny could win a round, but they aren’t going anywhere.
Minny might have the league MVP though. I recall Bruce Arthur taking to Twitter two years ago and making fun of the Rangers for giving up next to nothing for Eric Staal at the trade deadline. Yep, great call Bruce. And sure, it didn’t work out for Staal with the Rangers, but I never felt like he was done because he still had great wheels. Here we are two years later and the Wild have had him for a bargain the last two seasons. Having said all this, I don’t think he’s the MVP for me. But it’s tough because this is a year with no clear cut guy. Taylor Hall is getting a lot of the love for it right now, but how does this work?! You have a player in Hall who has only one more point then a guy who is also a Selke trophy candidate, and his team is higher in the standings. Patrice Bergeron? Nope! Anze Kopitar. And literally not one person is mentioning Kopitar!! Kopitar is 12th in the league with 71 points, and as I said is one of the top two way players in the league, the next highest scoring King is 8 F’N 4th!!! Dustin Brown with 45 points. How is he not THE guy for everyone right now?!? And again, he’s not even mentioned!!!
The media is just so ridiculous with how they view this thing anymore. They all want to vote for the best story, not the right guy. Last year at this time if you recall, Brad Marchand was getting into the mix with Crosby and McDavid. Marchand had less points than Patrick Kane and the Bruins were nowhere near the Hawks in the standings, yet Marchand was the hot take pick while literally nobody mentioned the defending Hart trophy winner who was better than Marchand in every way you would view a Hart candidate. This one isn’t going to be simple for anyone, so I won’t pretend to have the answer. But my top three at the moment would be Nathan MacKinnon (I don’t care if the Avs get in, he should be in Vegas as a top three, unreal this season), Kopitar (would be my winner right now) and Taylor Hall.
Another guy who deserves MVP love right now and outside of his town is getting zero is Claude Giroux. I can’t believe how completely non descript this Flyers team is. Probably because they aren’t the most exciting team in the league to watch, and with Brian Elliott in goal nobody believes they’ll make it out of the first round. But remember where that team was earlier in the season? Fans wanted Dave Hakstol out, they lost 10 straight, it was a mess. Ron Hextall stayed the course and now the Flyers are fighting for first in the Metro. Pretty damn impressive.
It really is amazing the job that Hakstol has done when you consider that his starting goaltender is Brian Elliott with a .908 Sv%. Everyone knows how vital good goaltending is in this league, yet it still gets drastically underrated. It’s amazing how much we miss it when teams have unexpected seasons. The first thing that should be looked at when you want to fire a coach is how the goaltending was. We should also be looking at it when looking at Jack Adams candidates. It’s 90% of the game. If your goaltending is great, your teams confidence is going to go through the roof. If it’s terrible, it’s likely they’ll fall apart because they won’t have the confidence to do anything.
Case in point, the Calgary Flames. With Mike Smith this season, they’ve been right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Since Mike Smith went down, the team has slid and it’s looking like the end is near for the Flames playoff hopes. Crushing loss to the Rangers at home Friday night, they now sit four points out of the second wildcard spot, no games in hand on anyone, facing the Penguins in Pittsburgh tonight. Talk about must win, though they do play the Pens very tough, they matchup well. And this isn’t to say that they’re done yet, but it’s looking bleak at the moment. I’ve harped on it a few different times in this piece throughout the season but I’ll say it again: If they miss the playoffs and that first round pick (not to mention the second rounders that they gave up both this year and next) is a lottery pick for a player who has just been a complete disaster for them in Travis Hamonic, I really wonder if it’ll cost Brad Treliving his job. Now, you might say that it’s ridiculous, and you also might say that I’m always talking about how much I love the job Treliving has done. Both very accurate. But I’m looking at how the Flames upper management has operated . Remember all last season when it was very bizarre how Treliving was left without a contract extension? And remember how I was seemingly the only person even mentioning the possibility of Bob Hartley being on thin ice with Flames management late in the 2016 season? Which isn’t to pat myself on the back for that one (maybe a little…) as it is to bring up that it wasn’t being discussed at all. Neither is this. I think it would be ridiculous, and even though it was a disaster to do the Travis Hamonic deal, and I know I didn’t like it for them as much as I would have for other teams, it was tough to not think it was a good deal at the time. But Treliving had the ability to do a lot more homework on Hamonic than you or I did, and you wonder if he did everything he could? If I’m Brian Burke, or someone above Burke in management, I know I’m asking how much homework Treliving did? Because it didn’t seem like they were asking themselves “why is Garth Snow so eager to dump a top four D like this AFTER the expansion draft and while he’s looking to keep John Tavares in the fold?” Now we know. All his injuries seem to be catching up to him, and at 28 years old he’s looking like he’s shot and the Flames just gave up a lottery pick, a high second, and a 2019 second (if they miss the playoffs this year) which is currently expected to be a terrific draft, all for that shot defenceman. Can you imagine having a GM do such a terrible deal? Oh wait, Peter Chiarelli has done two of these…
That pick and having their own is going to soften the blow of this season for the Islanders a little, but its been a disaster for them as well. Again, why the hell would John Tavares stay? They aren’t going anywhere! This is why I’d re-sign if I’m Tavares: They fire Garth Snow after the season (which unfortunately for Doug Weight would likely mean he’d be canned too), and they win the top pick with one of what’s looking like their two lottery picks. If Snow stays and they end up picking about 8th and 12th, it’s just not enough. They seem destined to be a fringe playoff team the way they’re currently constructed, and as I said a few weeks ago he could go to seven or eight teams this off-season who are at least that good if not better…without Tavares.
I haven’t had much Flyers Ethnic Club hockey to talk about lately, and last night was perhaps the worst performance of the season losing to the Cocks…well…Roosters. No excuses, but star players Sam Sayeed and Cody Chickeness no showing the game was a massive blow. The nine of us who did show probably made a better effort mowing down Jimmy Rogers delicious apple crisp in the post game snack than on the ice. Even in defeat though, you guessed it, I once again sniped the game winning goal.
I actually don’t have much to say on the Oilers this week. It’s stunning, and Chiarelli and McLellan both badly need to be fired and I worry that they won’t be. So I won’t touch on that again, but I do have a few thoughts on some shit.
One is that Connor McDavid is going to get 50 goals next season…maybe 60. Why? He’s finally shooting. He’s up to 30 snipes on the season, and the way he’s rolling he’s got a chance at 40 (only needs 10 in 17 games). Elliotte Friedman had it in 31 Thoughts earlier in the season that he was told that once McDavid starts shooting the puck that the Oilers PP will be unstoppable, because all teams have done this season is take away any of his options. With him, it won’t surprise me if he works like mad on his shot in the off-season so that not only will he have a game plan to shoot a lot more, but have a much harder and more accurate shot while doing so. It’ll be interesting to look back at this in a year and see how accurate this will or won’t be.
Second…of all people, I’m going to ask this question….is it time to start getting worried about Jesse Puljujarvi’s development? Remember the game against Vancouver on a Saturday night back in January and the team was fresh off the bye week. Puljujarvi looked incredible that night. Three points, and he could have had two or three more, far and away the best player on the ice. Since that night, he’s been a ghost. Some of that is opportunity, and as we’ve seen with Todd McLellan he seems to hate giving kids real opportunity. He used Darnell Nurse on the top PP unit for literally one game, he’s hardly used Anton Slepyshev this season until lately, and Puljujarvi has not only been bounced around the lineup but still hasn’t had a real chance to be on the top PP unit. Having said this, it was the case prior to his dry spell too, and you could see him progressing practically with every game. I’m far from ready to give up on him, but earlier in the season I was thinking that he’d be ready to carry his own line (soft minutes line) heading into next season. Now, I’m starting to wonder if he might end up being a kid who is just content being a 40-50 point guy every season? Obviously, hope not because the talent is there to dominate.
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