yankee hockey

NEXT YEAR IN ZION

As of tonight the playoffs are pretty much set (with the seven and eight spots in the West coming down to the final two games). Some teams deserved a spot but couldn’t find one, some teams couldn’t fight through the rough patches, and some teams apparently were brought into the league from the ECHL without any of our knowledge. The year is over for 14 teams, but that doesn’t mean those teams should be out of our minds. Let’s see what non-playoff teams have in store for the off-season leading into next season.

NY Islanders:

The Islanders are a team mired in mediocrity. It’s sad that a team that dominated the late seventies/early eighties is now the laughing stock of the league. What with a 15 year contract for DiPietro (how’s that going Mr. Wang?), along with years of teams consisting of youngsters without mentors, there’s not much to look forward to. If GM Garth Snow is smart he’ll forego the siren song of Tavares and go for big defensemen Hedman who they need more. With Kyle Okposo, Bill Guerin, and Mark Streit leading the scoring department, Richard Park leading the heart department, and Viktor Hedman leading the defense they sure to finish better then last next year.

Tampa Bay:

They had a hickup this year. This team is much better then it’s record. What they really need is defense. They may be better off trading their early pick for a load of big NHL ready defensemen. If they can shore up their back end then they’ll be back in the playoffs next year.

Colorado:

Everything in Colorado depends on what Sakic decides to do this off-season. It’s my belief that he wants one more full year and won’t let this year be his last. Still, a year lost to injury could convince an older player that it’s time to hang ’em up. Even with Sakic back, there’s not much Colorado can do to make it back to the post-season next year, unless there’s a cave in the Rockies where a goalie and a defense is hiding.

Atlanta:

Like Colorado, there’s not much they can do in Atlanta to make it to the post-season next year. This is a team that requires a couple of years of building before it gets back into the playoffs. It all starts at the draft where they need to be smart, not popular. They need a Rick Nash or Shea Webber like player, not another Kovalchyuk.

Los Angeles:

This    team    is    so   good. Too bad there are at least seven teams in the West who will still be better next year, so it will still be a battle for them to make it into the playoffs. Still, you gotta think they’ll fight for Anaheim for that spot all year with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Jonathan Quick.

Phoenix:

Like LA, Phoenix is a very good team. They have a very strong defense, they’ll have an older Kyle Turris, and hopefully they’ll still have Shane Doan. I’m not sure what happened to Bryzgalov this year, but he could get it back next year. I think they’ll be fighting for the eighth spot.

Toronto:

It’s another rebuilding year in TO. Unfortunately they have nothing to build with., especially since they traded almost all of their tradeable players before the deadline this year and really only managed to replace their second round pick. We’ll see if Brian Burke can prove he didn’t just inherit a champion team in Anaheim.

Dallas:

Things are looking old in Dallas. They need to get young and they need to get young fast. I expect them to be amongst the busiest traders come draft day. Will Modano stay another year? Will Turco flop again next year? They’ll need to improve a lot to make it back to the post-season, I expect a couple of years of rebuilding.

Ottawa:

Ottawa is a weird one cause they can score a metric butt-load of goals, but somehow they couldn’t score more then the opposition. They need goaltending and a puck moving defensemen. They can probably get both through trades alone. With those two things in place they should be able to squeeze into one of the bottom three spots in the East.

Edmonton:

For years now Edmonton has been the whipping boy of the Northwest Division, and that’s not likely to change. Their number one goaltender ends this season at 39 years of age, their young players aren’t playing well enough, and their defense is error prone. What they really need in the off-season is a Michael Peca-type leader, the kind you used to have in Ryan Smyth. If they can address that need (instead of trying to poach some untested RFA again) then they have a good chance to improve in the standings.

Minnesota:

One of the teams that may still make it into the post-season, Minny doesn’t stand a chance. In the off-season they will lose their most gifted offensive talent in Marian Gaborik, not that he ever could reach his potential because of injuries. That leaves them with talented, but not nearly talented enough Mikko Koivu. The Wild do not have the firepower to get back into the post-season, nor will they be able to find it in one off-season. I see in their future, the NY Islanders.

Buffalo:

They really shouldn’t be on this list, but they are going to be playing golf this Spring instead of hockey so here they are. All they need is a full season from Tomas Vanek and Ryan Miller and they are good to go.

Florida:

Like Buffalo, they didn’t necessarily belong on this list. They will, however, next season if they can’t replace Jeremy Bouwmeester. This was their year and they just couldn’t pull it off. They’re going to need to get some tough defenders and some flashy forwards in the off-season.

There will be one more team to miss the playoffs, but at this point there are three tied at 88. Each of those teams has what it takes, for the most part, to make it. And all of those teams, for the most part, are primed to improve next season. Nashville found a great starting goaltender in Pekka Rinne. St Louis has an incredibly potent offense. And Anaheim… well if Niedermayer doesn’t retire and they keep Pronger there’s no reason to doubt they won’t be right back in the thick of things come 2010. The biggest question is who is in this year that will get left behind next year. Look out Montreal, at the end of the season all but ten of your contracts run out, and you barely squeezed in this year.

Advertisements
Tagged with: , , ,

LOOKING BACKWARDS

This weekend a illness floored your friendly neighborhood Yankee Hockey. It wasn’t too bad to keep me from watching the games, but my brains ability to function has been severely hampered. So today is going to be an easy one, I’m going to take a look at my early season predictions and see just how well I did (cause there is nothing like patting yourself on the back). With the season not exactly finished, some of the results may change, but I think I got it covered.

Western Conference

(preseason):

1. Detroit

2. San Jose

3. Calgary

4. Anaheim

5. Vancouver

6. St. Louis

7. Chicago

8. Edmonton

9. Los Angeles

10. Dallas

11. Columbus

12. Minnesota

13. Phoenix

14. Colorado

15. Nashville

(actual)

1. San Jose

2. Detroit

This particular battle has been going on all season long with Detroit and San Jose jockeying for position. I’m going to call this a win because, really, they’re like 1A/1B.

3. Calgary

This looks like it’s gonna stick, even though Vancouver made it super interesting (including beating them 4-1 last night to remain in the running for the third spot), but with two games left Calgary would have to lose more then Vancouver won and I’m not sure they will blow their last two games.

4. Chicago

I underestimated the goaltenders here. I knew the team was good, but I didn’t think Christobel Huet would play as good as he has, and I certainly never believed Khabibulin would return to form. They even threatened Detroit for a moment before falling back to earth.

5. Vancouver

Spot on!

6. Columbus

Good for Columbus. I’m glad they proved me wrong here. They can thank Steve Mason for that one, I think if they had stuck with Denis they may not have made it.

7. Anaheim

I’m actually a little surprised they’re even this high up after the season they have had. I guess when you have two Niedermayers, a Pronger, and a Selanne you can kind of tip-toe your way into the playoffs.

8. St Louis

Well, I was wrong about their position, and the play of Manny Legace, but I was right about their powerful offense.

9. Nashville

Look, I’d never heard of Pekka Rinne. Give me a break please.

10. Minnesota

You heard it here first folks. I’m the one who jumped off the Minnesota bandwagon this year while others put them as high as third in the conference. Of course Gaborik is going to get hurt, of course they aren’t going to score goals, so of course they are outta here!

11. Edmonton

Edmonton almost proved me right as the season wore down, but then they had to go and self destruct as they always do. They’re like the Mets of the NHL.

12. Dallas

You heard it here first again! Some “experts” even picked Dallas to win the cup this year. Thanks in part to Sean Avery, and in second part to Turco’s off year, Dallas will be playing golf this Spring.

13. Los Angeles

I really thought LA would be fighting for a spot at this time of the season. Still, they showed a lot of spunk and I look forward to putting them at number nine again next year. (Actually, this Jonathan Quick guy may move them up to eight).

14. Phoenix

15. Colorado

Phoenix almost made things interesting just after the All-Star break, but returned spiritual balance to the NHL again by falling down the standings like a comet. Colorado probably would have done much better had Stastny and Sakic not been out almost the entire year, but Budaij would have made sure they weren’t higher then 11 I’m sure.

All in all i’m rather proud of myself. Got about 30% right on, and the rest (except for a couple) were pretty close. What more could you expect from preseason predictions…. ok, expect for preseason predictions that are not paid for by a sports organization. Get off my back.

Eastern Conference

(preseason):

1. Pittsburgh

2. Montreal

3. Washington

4. NY Rangers

5. New Jersey

6. Ottawa

7. Philadelphia

8. Carolina

9. Boston

10. Tampa Bay

11. Buffalo

12. Florida

13. Toronto

14. NY Islanders

15. Atlanta

(actual)

1. Boston

Way to go Boston. Man I screwed up the East so bad.

2. Washington

I was close! You gotta give me this one at least.

3. New Jersey

I don’t know why I ever doubted New Jersey. Even with Brodeur out most of the season they still kicked everyone’s butt. Actually… now that I think about it, it was after Brodeur went down that the butt-kicking really began.

4. Philadelphia

A very well played season from Philly. They really won me over with their defensive work this year.

5. Carolina

Well, I knew they’d make it to the post season at least. Man they’ve been hot lately.

6. Pittsburgh

Damnit Pittsburgh! If you won’t be kind enough to win the conference like I thought you would, at least be decent enough to miss the playoffs. I hate these guys.

7. Montreal

So what was last year? Some kind of tease? I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys were out of the playoffs by the end of the week.

8. NY Rangers

How is it that two of my top five are struggling to even make the playoffs. The Rangers, especially backstopped by Lundqvist are just too good to be barely holding on to eighth spot.

9. Florida

I knew Florida was going to be better then people expected… but this good? They deserve a playoff spot, if only to justify not trading Bouwmeester.

10. Buffalo

Losing Miller really hurt. They were better then their record presents. Next year boys, nest year.

11. Ottawa

You know, it’s teams like Ottawa that screwed up my predictions this year. They’re getting an angry letter.

12. Toronto

One off, dang! Well, with Burke as their GM they’ll be back here again next year.

13.  Atlanta

Atlanta really benefited from the absolutely horrible play of Tampa Bay and the Islanders. Otherwise they’d be right where I put them.

14. Tampa Bay

See what happens when you fire Barry Melrose?

15. NY Islanders

They’re only here cause they are desperate for Tavares.

So my Eastern Conference predictions were a little of, but hey, my Western Conference predictions were pretty good right? It’s nice to get a little West Coast bias for once.

Come back because in the coming weeks we’ll have a ton of playoff discussion, including who I think will win it all.

WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF?

Well folks, the best time of the year is nearly upon: playoffs! For those of you who have never experienced the wonder that is playoff hockey (and if you are one of those people… why are you reading a hockey blog?), playoff hockey is the greatest sporting event on the planet. Better than any Olympic event, better then any other pro-sporting event, better even then the World Cup of soccer. Playoff hockey is the pinnacle of sports, the Platonic ideal, the Paradise of Dante, only more exciting.

While I won’t say who I believe will win it all yet, I will make one prediction; there will be upsets. Oh yes folks, unlike the NCAA basketball tourney, upsets are the name of the game in hockey. Give any team seven games and they can pull off an upset. The thing about hockey is that hard work can sometimes trump skill, and you’ll never see harder work then in the playoffs. Why, just a few years ago the Edmonton Oilers went into the playoffs as the eighth seed and managed to fight their way all the way to the finals, and there’s a chance they could do it again this year (as in, there’s a chance that ever other team in the powerhouse Western Conference will resign from the playoffs giving Edmonton an automatic birth in the finals).

If you take a look at the top of the Western Conference you can already see it happening. San Jose has gotten injury prone at the worst possible time and has been showing how weak they are in defensive depth. Detroit, while obviously skilled in the forward and defensive positions, has been getting shoddy goaltending all year. Calgary probably won’t even be the third seed by the time you are reading this! And even if they are Kiprusoff has been so unpredictable this year I wouldn’t bet on them going to far into the post-season.

In the East the only real solid top three team is New Jersey, and only because with Brodeur back they are pretty much unstoppable. Boston has had a great year but has become susceptible to rough play recently and has shown just how undisciplined their young players are. It’s hard to count out any team icing Alexander Ovechkin, but after him Washington’s line-up reads more like a seventh or eighth rather then a division winner.

Yes sir, upsets are the name of the game. You wanna know the two teams that no one wants to play in the post-season? Columbus and Pittsburgh, currently both sitting in the six spot in their respective conferences. In Columbus you have rookie of the year (and probable Vezina candidate) Steve Mason in goal, and nothing beats a brick wall in front of the net in the playoffs. In Pittsburgh you have a couple of guys named Crosby and Malkin to contend with. Even though Fleury has hardly proved himself to be a great goaltender, with two hundred regular season points standing in front of him, who cares.

As for the four/five spots, everyone knows there is no such thing as an upset there. In the West it’ll be Chicago versus either Vancouver or Calgary, and in the East it will probably be Philly, maybe playing Pitt, or maybe Carolina or the Rangers. Both of those series should be fun to watch.

And the 7/8 spots? Well, there are a lot of teams vying for those spots. In the West I think it will be Nashville and St Louis, or Nashville and Anaheim, or St Louis and Anaheim… some combination there-in. Edmonton is close but I just don’t think they have enough talent to pull it out. Dallas and Minnesota just aren’t good enough this year for a final run. In the East I hate to take Montreal out of the post-season, but they just can’t compete this year. In the end I think they will back their way in, unless Buffalo goes on a major tear with Miller back in net. Florida has a good chance too, Montreal has control of their destiny this year. As of this writing the Rangers hold the seventh spot, and unless they completely implode they will probably keep it. They are a good team, better then they’ve been playing lately, and have a lot of post-season experience to help them out.

With less then ten games left in the season, some teams are already planning their strategies against their likely opponent, some are frantically trying to put together wins, and some are making reservations at the golf course. As for us fans, we’re trying to keep our blood pressure down as we anticipate the best time of the year.

Tagged with: , , , ,

NOT-SO-HARDY BOYS

Posted in Chicago, Minnesota, Players, This Weeks Questions by yankhockey on December 22, 2008

Don’t worry readers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Sorry about today’s entry being late in coming, but events conspired last night to prevent me from getting this article up until now. I hope you still enjoy it, and expect an extra long one on Wednesday.

The oft-injured star is a common theme in hockey. Whether it’s greats of years past like Bobby Orr, not quite so past like Eric Lindros, or very present like the subjects of today’s entry.

There are a number of NHL players who make a huge difference on the ice… if they could be healthy enough to actually play. None are more enigmatic then Marian Gaborik who finally came back from injury this like week and immediately started racking up points. Gaborik is a very special player this year because he has gigantic scoring potential, and he’s going to be a free agent at the end of this year. Though he hasn’t said anything publicly, it’s pretty well known that Gaborik wants out of Minnesota. That really shouldn’t be a problem since there’s not a team in the league that wouldn’t love to add a forward with the scoring touch of Gaborik, except that he’s never been able to stay healthy. The price Minnesota asks in return for Gaborik is likely to be steep. They really don’t care whether he stays or goes this year. They’ll more then likely be in the playoffs, and they know he doesn’t dare play anything but his A-game in fear of not getting a large contract next year. Either way he’ll be helping Minnesota make it deep into the playoffs (they hope). But what team will be willing to fork over a large chunk of players, prospects, and probably draft picks, for a player that hasn’t shown any ability to stay on the ice for an extended period of time? Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that someone will try.

Gaborik is a very good player, and will probably get a long term deal from some team willing to ignore the past. He’s an enticing player much like Peter Forsberg continues to be. The difference is that Forsberg had many very productive healthy years before his foot fell off and had to be put back on with a hot glue gun. Gaborik has been injured annually pretty much since he came into the league, and certainly every year since he’s become a star. If there was any one player I expected to have a career shortened because of injury it would be Gaborik.

Meanwhile on the other side of the ice in Vancouver, defenseman Sami Salo is injured for the fourth time this year! This guy is snake bitten… literally. While still playing for Ottawa, he was bitten by the poisonous snake in Finland and had to miss a bunch of games. It’s crazy how many times this guy gets injured. In fact, this latest injury came during the first game back from his previous injury. Salo used to be one of the best defensemen in the league. His shot was so powerful the called him the “Finnish MacInnis” after Al MacInnis whose shot routinely was over 100MPH. Now he struggles to be an effective blueliner on a team that really needs him to be a productive blueliner. The long string of injuries he’s suffered has really put a kabosh on a what was a very fine career. Like Gaborik, I expect the end of his career to be injury driven.

In other news injury-ridden forward Martin Havlat, who the phrase “missed most of the season due to injury” was coined for has so far… played the entire season! That’s great news for a forward who hasn’t been described as 100% once in his career. If he can actually stay healthy we might be able to finally see him at his best. He’s got the potential to be one of the top scorers in the league, if he could only get a good number of games under his belt. So we here at Yankee Hockey wish him best of luck with that.

THIS WEEK’S QUESTIONS:

Was two losses last week the beginning of the Sharks’ downfall? Will Phoenix or Los Angeles sneak into a play-off spot? Will the Rangers make a horrible deal to over-compensate for losing Mats Sundin? Is Chicago poised to take over top spot in the Central Division?

WESTERN CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS 08-09

Posted in Minnesota, predictions by amanoidopera on October 7, 2008

12. Minnesota Wild:

The team most known for its inability to score will live up to its reputation again this year. With significant losses up front and no one to replace them, don’t expect this team to score more then 200 goals. In a place like the Northwest that is likely going to send three teams to the playoffs, the Wild just won’t be able to compete. This may be Lemaire’s swan song in Minny, he’s had the benefit of the doubt as long as he made it to the post-season, but a losing season will finally prove that his style just won’t cut it in the NHL.

The Forwards:

Yes, Marian Gaborik has the potential to be the best forward in the West, but what else do they have? They lost Demitra, they lost Rolston, Andrew Brunette just isn’t going to be enough to replace them. Owen Nolan hasn’t had a good point production season since he left San Jose. Mikko Koivu is the only player other then Gaborik I see getting more then 20 goals, and that’s assuming Gaborik both stays healthy and stays with the team. If either of those two things change the Wild will lose roughly 20% of their goal scoring… ouch.

The Defense:

Marc-Andre Bergeron was a good pick up for the blueline, but when the best offensive weapon you get in the off season is a defenseman… you gotta wonder what this organization is thinking. The rest of the defense is powerful, and with Lemaire behind the bench you know they’ll be responsible, but it’s just not exciting enough. This team really needs a Niedermayer or Chara if they want to win by defense alone. Not this year Minny, not this year.

The Goaltending:

Backstrom is good, especially in overtime. But can he be good in all the games they’ll be needing him to play (60+)? Remember, this is a team that will be on the losing end of a lot of 1-0 games. Like the other teams that want to try to win by keeping the puck out of their net, rather then put the puck into the other net, they just don’t have a goaltender who can really carry the team. Backstrom is going to have a great numbers season, except in the wins/losses column. Is there any other team out there who’s goaltender’s GAA will be less then 2.5, and who’s win/loss be less then .500?

The Fans:

Sorry Canada, but the best hockey fans in the world are in Minnesota. Maybe it’s something in the air, or in the many thousands of lakes in the state, but this place lives for hockey. That they lost the North Stars is sacrilegious, that it took them so long to get another professional team is even worse. They’d love this team if it went 0-82. They’d love this team if it was full of ECHL players. They’d love this team if it was full of Disney on Ice rejects. They just love hockey, and I love them for it.

Tagged with: