Football season is over but fear not for there is actually hockey being played this year at this time. In fact half a season has already been played and I am here to catch you up on what has happened so far and look ahead to the rest of the season.
Get Caught Up
1. Olympic Rosters have been named/Bobby Ryan vs Brian Burke: Here is the American roster and please take time to read Scott Burnside’s inside look at the team. Biggest snubs were Bobby Ryan, Keith Yandle and Jack Johnson. There has been some fallout over Burke’s comments in the article about Ryan and some (Don Cherry) can’t believe they would allow such type of access. This is a reminder of why hockey can’t have nice things because as soon as something interesting happens (Burnsides article) it gets shot down. (Also there will be injuries in the next month prior to the Olympics so some of the snubs will end up in Sochi.)
I will breakdown the Olympics as we get closer but here are the Canadian and Russian rosters as well. I am excited for Kunitz to make it. While some will give kickback that he only made it because of Crosby I think it is valuable to bring a tandem who has chemistry in a short tournament with basically three practice days. Also it will be hard to root against Malkin but I will do it for America. (Here is a breakdown of all countries.)
2. The Olympics are going to be a disaster: Nice work Russia.
3. Winter Classic was classic: If you were too busy watching the Outback bowl here are the highlights and photos. The game took place in the Big House and the weather was glorious even if it provided some sloppy play. Also here is a link to part 4 of HBO’s 24/7 leading up to and covering the game. (Here are some winners and losers, I still think Babcock came across as better than Carlyle.)
4. The Butt goal: The NHL’s answer to the butt fumble. Never forget the butt goal
Western Conference Review: Central Division
1. Best team(s): Blackhawks/Blues. Not much has changed for Chicago. Their roster is still loaded with offensive skill and they currently are 1st in the league scoring 3.6 goals per game. There have only been two problems, goaltending and the St Louis Blues. The Hawks are in the middle of the pack giving up 2.6 goals per game but the issue has been goaltending with Crawford/Khabibulin being injured. That problem can be solved though once they get healthy but the Hawks are struggling to beat the Blues. St Louis has also been fantastic and have the best goal differential in the league (+58) and are 3-0 versus Chicago. The Blues have had a problem in recent years of scoring goals but not this year led by Alexander Steen. A potential 2nd round Hawks vs Blues matchup looms for both teams and they play two more times before the season is up.
2. Surprise team: Colorado Avalanche: The Avs hadn’t made the playoffs in three years but brought back Patrick Roy to be coach and added first pick Nathan MacKinnon to an already impressive group of young forwards. Roy made an impact in the first game and the Avs have been playing well ever since. While they haven’t gotten the absurdly good goaltending they got earlier in the year the Avs haven’t wavered and should provide a quality 1st round opponent for whomever finishes 2nd in the Central.
3. Disappointing team: No one really: I guess the Wild haven’t made a leap forward after making the playoffs last year but they are still in contention. Even the Preds and Jets aren’t that bad. Of all the divisions this makes the most sense so far.
4. Team to look for in the 2nd half: Dallas Stars: Dallas started a new last offseason and hired Jim Nill from the Wings and he has made the Stars an interesting team. They acquired Tyler Seguin and he has started to make that leap to stardom that never happened in Boston. While they are no lock to make the playoffs there is actually a reason to pay attention to them which hasn’t been the case for the last few years.
5. Best player: Patrick Kane: My drinking buddy Patrick Kane has been electric all year for the Hawks and will be fun to watch in the open ice in the Olympics.
6. Best move: Stars trading for Seguin: As mentioned above he has been great and he and Benn make a nice group of young forwards.
7. Worst move: Jets move West: I have mentioned this before but the move has basically eliminated the Jets from playoff contention. That is okay with me though because it makes them prime trade partners with the Pens.
8. 2nd half move: Ryan Miller to the Blues: This has been mentioned a lot of places and it makes sense. Miller will be moved and the Blues need something to put them over the top against the Hawks.
9. Prediction for finish: 1. Hawks 2. Blues 3. Avs 4. Stars 5. Wild 6. Preds 7. Jets
1. Best team: Anaheim Ducks: Quack, quack, quack Mr Ducksworth. Anaheim is in its first full season with Bruce Boudreau and the results are very similar to that of his time with the Caps. The Ducks are scoring goals and are almost impossible to beat at home. (They have an 18-0-2 record on the Pond. Only lost 2 points at home, insane.) Both Getzlaf and Perry signed long term deal last year and so far have rewarded the Ducks with MVP caliber play. While there are other quality teams in the division, the Ducks will be the favorite to win it.
2. Surprise team: Vancouver Canucks: This isn’t that big of a surprise given the Canucks recent success and roster loaded with all stars but when they hired John Tortorella as their coach I expected the ship to crash and burn. Instead this team has bought into his system and should be a playoff team again. The Pens played the Canucks on Tuesday evening which was highly entertaining hockey which I never remember from any of Torts’ Rangers teams. (Crosby did Crosby things at the end and the Pens won. He like playing hockey in Vancouver.)
3. Disappointing team: Edmonton Oilers: Another season and another terrible effort from the Oilers who are the worst team in the conference. They have three #1 picks on their roster and are still terrible and sometime they bench on of them. (Yakupov) I have no real answer here other than the whole organization must be incompetent for this to happen. The Pens play the Oilers Friday night, after that game I will not think about the Oilers again for the rest of the season.
4. Team to watch 2nd half: Phoenix Coyotes: I doubt anyone will actually take the time to watch the Coyotes play, not even people in Arizona but still they have a decent roster and could provide a tough out for one of the big boys in the 1st round.
5. Best player: Ryan Getzlaf: He and Perry have been dynamic together and while he probably won’t win MVP unless Sid gets hurt (which could happen, it can always happen) he has been the elite player they gave a big contract to
6. Best move: Teemu coming back: Obviously
7. Worst move: Anything the Oilers do: Obviously
8. 2nd half move: Canucks trade Luongo: That is a joke (Altho they probably will now because it makes no sense.)
9. Prediction for finish: 1. Ducks 2. Sharks 3. Kings 4. Canucks* 5. Coyotes* 6. Flames 7. Oilers (* Wild card berth)
Eastern Conference: Atlantic Division
1. Best team: Boston Bruins: Not really that shocking here as the Bruins have the best record in the division. While they had a bit of a roster makeover they still have Chara, Lucic and Rask so they do what they do. Biggest question will be can they stay interested enough to win the division? Last year they fell asleep near the end of the season and the Canadians actually won the Atlantic. They will get pushed again by the Habs and the Bolts.
2. Surprise Team: Tampa Bay Lightning: Steven Stamkos went down with an injury on November 11th and everyone, including me, expected the Bolts to go in the tank after losing their best player. That hasn’t happened at all. TB is currently 2nd in the Atlantic and probably most surprising is they are playing defense this year and are 5th in goals against. New coach Jon Cooper has done a good job of getting this team to play solid hockey and they will get a major boost when Stammer returns prior to the Olympic break.
3. Disappointing team: Ottawa Senators: The Sens had a pretty good year in the lockout shortened 2013 season despite major injuries plus they added Bobby Ryan in the offseason so I expected them to be near the top in the Atlantic. Instead they are somehow below the Leafs in the standings and have had major goaltending issues. Craig Anderson hasn’t been the same goalie as last season and now the Sens are on the playoff bubble. I don’t think they are out of it but clearly not the start for a team I thought would be one of the better teams in the East.
4. Team to look for in the 2nd half: Detroit Red Wings: O yea, you are in the East now. The Red Wings have come over to the East and have had an up and down year so far with many, many injuries. Their struggles were documented in 24/7 but they seem to have righted the ship with Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Howard back in the lineup that has plenty of youth. I don’t know if they can actually contend to win the East but I know that they will give people fits in the playoffs. (See against the Ducks and Hawks last spring.)
5. Best player: Ben Bishop TB: I am surprised he didn’t get a look at team USA goalie given Quick and Howard’s injuries. Bishop has been the solid goalie the Lightning need but he did recently just get hurt. Hopefully for them it is nothing serious.
6. Best move: Buffalo trading Vanek: Buffalo is doing it right, if you are going to tank, then tank hard. They flipped Vanek to the Islanders for their 1st round pick. Plus they will still flip Miller, Moulson and Ott. They are stockpiling for this draft as well as the 2015 draft which features Connor McDavid.
7. Worse move: David Clarkson to the Leafs: Everyone saw this coming a mile away. The Leads signed Clarkson away from the Devils to a seven year deal. He has been suspended 12 games and has 8 points. Meanwhile former Leafs MacArthur and Grabovski are more productive elsewhere. The Leafs=Knicks of hockey. (I still can’t believe Clarkson got that much money. The Pens play the Devils a bunch of times a year and I never remember Clarkson doing anything good against them in that time. Not one thing.)
8. 2nd half move: Bruins add a D man: Dennis Seidenberg is out for the year with a torn ACL, the Bruins will make a move to replace him
9. Prediction for finish: 1. Bruins 2. Lightning 3. Habs 4. Red Wings* 5. Senators* 6. Leafs 7. Panthers 8. Sabres
1. Best Team: Pittsburgh Penguins: The only team in the division to not suck for an extended period of time. They started off decently but since late November have won 17 of 20 games and have done so with an absurd number of injuries. All top 4 D men went out, Malkin missed 3 weeks, Neal and Engo got suspended and Dupuis tore his ACL and is done for the year. Despite all of this the Pens keep clicking mainly due to their superstars, especially Crosby. Good part is the defense is getting healthy but the bad part is the Pens are too top heavy in scoring. They should get both young wingers Megna and Bennett back by March but expect the Pens to get at least one winger before the deadline. Despite all the injuries they are quite a fun group to watch even if the expectations are crazy high. (It will all come back to goaltending anyway. MAF has been solid but unfortunately for him it doesn’t matter what he does in the regular season.)
2. Surprise team: Nobody: Everyone else has been bad. Even the Flyers who have been playing better started 1-7. If I had to pick a team it would probably be Carolina because I thought they would be worse. All in all the division has been horrible and yet two teams for sure have to make the playoffs.
3. Disappointing team: New York Islanders: Last year the Isles pushed the Pens to 6 games and John Tavares was a finalist for MVP. This year Tavares is still awesome but his team is a mess. The Islanders are in last place and only Edmonton has given up more goals per game. They also gave up their first round pick for Tomas Vanek which seems like a pretty stupid move at this point. (Again, they can protect it but then give up their 1st next year.)
4. Team to look for in the 2nd half: Philadephia Flyers: There I said it. Yes they are a decent team alright. I hate them but Giroux has turned up his game and more importantly Steve Mason has given them quality goaltending. I was going to put the Caps in here but they seem to be a mess at the moment.
5. Best Player: Sidney Crosby: He is good at hockey
6. Best move: Devils signing Jagr: The man is timeless and currently leads the Devils in goals and points. I am worried the Devils will sneak in and play the Pens in the 1st round
7. Worst move: Islanders trading for Vanek: Will probably end up trading him again for less
8. 2nd half move: Pens get a winger: Shero will work his wizardry.
9. Prediction for finish: 1. Pens 2. Flyers 3. Caps 4. NYR 5. NJD 6. CBJ 7. NYI 8. Carolina
2nd Half Look Ahead/Predictions
West hierarchy: This one is cut and dry
Cup Contenders: Hawks, Blues, Sharks, Ducks, Kings
Playoff teams: Canucks, Avs
Bubble teams: Stars, Coyotes, Wild
Lottery teams: Preds, Jets, Flames, Oilers
East hierarchy: This is all over the place
Cup Contenders: Pens, Bruins
Playoff teams: Bolts, Red Wings, Habs
Metrocluster bubble: Flyers, Caps, Devils, Rangers, CBJ, Hurricanes
Canadian team bubble: Leafs, Sens
Lottery teams: Panthers, Isles, Sabres
MVP Race: 1. Crosby 2. Getzlaf 3. Kane.
Meaningless Cup Prediction: Blues over Bruins