Tuesday, April 28, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: New York Islanders

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The New York Islanders

Our prediction: We thought the Islanders would make the playoffs this season in a wild card spot because they finally seemed to have the ingredients to make an impact. Once they were in though, we liked the Washington Capitals a hair more and felt the Islanders would be eliminated in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in seven games. (

The truth: The team did slightly better than a wild card spot in finishing third in the Metropolitan Division. But true to the prediction, the team was out in seven games against the Capitals.

So what was good?: The Islanders finally have a team that can not only compete, but can contend as well. At the ripe old age of 24, John Tavares has legitimately established himself as an elite forward in the league. Further, Kyle Okposo was relatively on-par with what he did last season despite injuries, showing that he can be a sufficient compliment to Tavares. The youth movement was definitely served this year, as Ryan Strome and Anders Lee established themselves as bonafide top-six forwards for the team. When you factor in the production the team generated from Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey, it's clear to see that solid secondary scoring was essential in keeping the team competitive this season.

The defensive aspect of the team wasn't too shabby either. Though the team's top defender looked to be Lubomir Visnovsky at the start of the season, the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy (in addition to the emergence of Travis Hamonic as a legit Top-4 defender) meant that he could play the role of veteran defender instead of being the guy who was called upon to drive the team. Nik Kulemin may not have had the same level of offensive production that he had with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he provided the team with a solid penalty killer with or without Mikhail Grabovski (who suffered through injury issues during the season.) Jaroslav Halak finally has a bonafide starting position and he didn't disappoint (even if the performances of Chad Johnson and his replacement, Michal Neuvirth, did.)

So what happened?: Playoff teams aren't born overnight. So while the young guns playing on Long Island showed more swagger than they have in the past two decades, they ultimately had to face off against a Capitals team that wants to do more than underachieve (and are likely also tired of being reminded as such by fans and the media.) The Islanders gave the Capitals everything they had and took them to the limit, but experience (if not better defenders for the Capitals) played a difference here.

So what's next?: The biggest move the Islanders are going to make in the off-season is relocating from Long Island's Nassau Coliseum (the only arena they've ever known) to the far more modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While Lee, Nelson, and young defender Thomas Hickey will need to be re-upped (with the former two likely in line for a nice raise), the team doesn't need to do anything crazy other than find solid compliments for their core. Would Visnovsky take a lower-paying deal to stay with a club who could use him as a Top-4 defender? It would be nice if both sides could find a way. Otherwise, the Islanders have options, and will be a better destination for free agents and trade interests than they've been in the past.

Monday, April 27, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Ottawa Senators

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The Ottawa Senators

Our prediction: We thought the Senators would miss the playoffs, but still had them as a Number 9-10 spot in the Eastern Conference. Though they did make the playoffs by virtue of wild card, we predicted the Montreal Canadiens would eliminate them in seven games. (

The truth: The team had a storybook run to the playoffs, going from being third-from-last in the Eastern Conference to securing the first wild card spot on the final day of the regular season. However, their reward was facing a fresh, relaxed, and dominant Canadiens squad, who eliminated them in six games during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

So what was good?: First off, the Andrew Hammond story was amazing. Again, here was a team who was all but considered down and out in the standings when their Number 3 goaltender assumes the starting position when the two guys in front of him (Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner) are out with injuries. The end result was that he not only became the guy they rode to the end of the season, but he did so with a record of 20-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and a .941 save percentage. Regardless of however the season ended, Hammond should be absolutely proud of himself and, if anything, has proven he has the will to win that an NHL player should have.

The rest of the team was pretty capable, too. Offensively, the team had it where it counted. It's usually a dubious thing when the offensive production is led by a defenseman, but that shouldn't be a surprise on a team that features Erik Karlsson. Both Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman blossomed into pleasant surprises for the club this season while Kyle Turris is realizing his potential as a formerly coveted first-round selection. Though Bobby Ryan seems comfortable as a top-six forward, it would be nice for him to finally prove that he can be a solid Top-2 forward in the league. Mika Zibanejad was a solid secondary scoring option for the club, as were Clark MacArthur and Milan Michalek (even if the latter two suffered injury issues during the season.) The team had solid toughness as well, with Matt Borowecki, Erik Gyrba, and Alex Chiasson proving more than capable of handling the rough goings (we'd give a nod to Chris Neil as well, but needs to do a better job of showing his age instead of playing like he's still in his 20s.) Usually a mid-coaching season change spells doom for a club, but Dave Cameron was fantastic in relief of the out-going Paul MacLean (though it would be nice for him to use the media less to get through to his team.)

So what happened?: Ultimately, these guys played playoff hockey for the two months leading up to the playoffs, which left them worn out by the time they faced off against the Canadiens. Even if Hammond was could be replaced in net by Anderson, that wasn't going to rejuvenate the offense and defensive squads sufficiently enough to get them past the Canadiens. Even though the second period "no-goal" in Game 6 was controversial, it doesn't excuse the fact that another goal couldn't have been mustered up with over 30 minutes of play. All things considered, they should be more gracious that they made it as opposed to downtrodden that they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

So what's next?: Considering Ottawa's core and cap space, they're actually in prime position to make some serious improvements in the off-season. Sure, there's some guys like Zibanejad who'll be in line for a raise (as well as Hammond if he sticks with the Senators), but they should still have more than enough room to acquire an impact player if they choose to. Though Lehner remains injured, it wouldn't be bad for either he or the organization to see him resume his NHL career for another club once he's cleared to play.

2014-15 Season Review: St Louis Blues

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The St. Louis Blues

Our prediction: We thought the Blues were a bubble team when the season started but felt they would still be good enough to make the playoffs via a wild card spot. Once the team drew the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, we didn't believe they'd succeed and figured they'd be out in six games. (

The truth: The team did make the playoffs, but clinched the Central Division in the Western Conference (admittedly, a far cry from the wild card spot we forecasted.) Yet our playoff prediction was spot on, as the Wild did eliminate the Blues in six games.

So what was good?: The team had an offensive attack that came from all directions. Vladimir Tarasenko was a beast on offense and is due for a serious raise in the offseason (Barret Jackman's contract is coming off of the books at the right time.) Alexander Steen was also adept and producing points prolifically while Jaden Schwartz is making a case to be paid like a top-line winger once his current deal expires. Both T.J. Oshie and David Backes lived up to their Olympic hero reputations and were able generate above-average offense while fellow American Kevin Shattenkirk put up amazing point totals for a forward... as a defenseman. Both Jori Lehtera and Paul Stasny were complimentary point producers for the club (you'd like to see more out of Stansy, which'll hopefully come with time) while Alex Pietrangelo was a respectable scorer in his own right (even if his production came back to Earth a bit in relation to last season.) Factor in solid team defense along respectable goaltending (which even included Martin Brodeur's final games in the NHL) and you have a team that's worthy of contending for the Cup.

So what happened?: The series was ultimately a tale of two goaltenders. On one end of the ice, you had Jake Allen starting for the Blues - Though he did well in his first full rookie season in the NHL, it's a bit much to expect a rookie to make the same transition into the postseason (though he was given the nod because the guy backing him up, Brian Elliott, has a tendency to collapse in important games.) On the other end of the ice, you had the Minnesota Wild's Devan Dubynk, whom the Blues were only able to solve twice (with only once of those times being truly decisive.) Dubnyk is hungry for not only a Stanley Cup, but also for a better salary, a long-term home, and finally proving himself to be worthy of being drafted in the first round - That level of hunger led to the Blues' undoing.

Also, you know how Jay Bouwmeester's seasons can either be glorious or horribly mediocre? It was definitely the latter this year. It's maddening how inconsistent he can be as a player (especially when you consider his salary.)

So what's next?: One thing's for sure, coach Ken Hitchcock is most likely on his way out of town (rightly or wrongly) since the team failed to leave the Quarterfinals this season. Nevertheless, the components are there for them to do well while Allen gets to feel "the sting" (which will perhaps push him harder next season.) If the team can get Tarasenko under contract without having to rearrange the entire team, then their fortunes should be for the better next season.

2014-15 Season Review: Vancouver Canucks

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The Vancouver Canucks

Our prediction: At the top of the season, we felt the Canucks were on the bubble, but didn't have "it" to make it to the playoffs. Though they proved us wrong, we still believed that the Calgary Flames would end their season in five games. (

The truth: To the team's credit, they managed to capitalize on the misfortunes of their divisional rivals long enough to secure a playoff spot; finishing second in the Pacific Division. However, the Flames came into the Western Conference Quarterfinals hungry and ended Vancouver's season in six games.

So what was good?: The team had a very decidely-stingy approach under coach Willie Desjardins, which put more value on a defense first approach instead of running up the scoreboard. Don't get it wrong: The Sedin twins were rather productive playing with in-coming offensive winger Radim Vrbata (who hit point totals unlike which he had seen with the Arizona Coyotes.) But the secondary scoring was unremarkable (if not average) at best, leaving the other teammates to focus more on controlling the opposition as opposed to generating scoring chances. This was a boon for the goaltenders, however. While Ryan Miller did rather respectable in his first campaign with the Canucks, it was really Eddie Lack who made the strongest case to become the team's Number 1 goaltender; both goalies worked rather well together in tandem, which worked to Vancouver's strengths.

So what happened?: The problem with team-defense is that it doesn't exactly transition well to playoff hockey. The Canucks simply weren't able to produce enough points to extinguish the Flames. The team only scored more than two goals in a game twice during the series: One was their victory in Game 3 while the other was their loss in Game 6 (where it could be argued that they were playing Calgary's game instead of their own.) Further, the Canucks would've been more heavily favored at the start of the season over the Flames, so there could be an air of complacency to explain why the Canucks are now done for the season.

So what's next?: Though they have detractors in the media, the Sedins are still more than capable of being first-line producers (especially with Vrbata.) Further the goaltending is pretty solid and could be maintained both from a coaching and financial perspective. Rather than blow the team up, it would be best to find secondary scorers (and perhaps another offensive-minded defenseman) to help transform Jannik Hansen, Bo Horvat, and Alexander Edler into bonafide point producers (or push Chris Tanev and Luca Sciba to be the same.) Cap space is a significant problem for the Canucks, however, so they'll have to be creative in how they handle their assets during the off-season to make this possible.

2014-15 Season Review: Nashville Predators

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The Nashville Predators

Our prediction: At the top of the season, we felt the Predators weren't going to make the playoffs because the guys they brought in to round out the center position in Mike Fisher's absence (Mike Ribiero, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy) had a history of behavioral or performance issues. Though they proved us wrong in the regular season, we felt the Chicago Blackhawks were better assembled and could dispatch the Predators in seven games. (

The truth: The team had a very strong showing during the regular season and finished second overall in the Central Division. However, a re-energized Blackhawks squad was able to show their reknown postseason form by eliminating the Predators in six games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

So what was good?: The team managed to put it together this season and did well as a defensively responsible squad that scores by committee. Pekka Rinne may have had problems last season, but he showed he was back to his usual dominant self through the regular season, which has him in contention for the Vezina Trophy; his backup, Carter Hutton, did rather well in relief when Rinne needed time off to address injury issues. Though both Roy and Jokinen were shipped off before the trade deadline, Ribiero played rather well from the squad and helped youngster Filip Forsberg elevate his game to a level many expect to see it at. Further, Fisher, James Neal, Craig Smith, and Colin Wilson were all very capable and respectable point producers for the club (even if Neal seems capable of doing more than he does.) The defensive combo of Shea Weber and Roman Josi did as well as expected and proved to be reliable point producers from the blueline. Though even the best coaches may have an expiration date, coach Peter Laviolette's voice obviously connected with the Predators locker room if he was able to take them from being an also-ran to re-assuming the role of Western Conference playoff team.

So what happened?: Aside from losing their star defenseman in Weber due to knee problems, the team simply didn't show enough killer instinct against the Blackhawks. After Game 1's comeback victory by the Blackhawks, it was evident that the Predators didn't have the psychology necessary to overcome the Hawks. Yes, they did eventually chase opposing goaltender Scott Darling out of the net, but that's not good enough if they can't capitalize on this instead of allowing the Blackhawks to change the momentum of the series.

So what's next?: The team will need to make more investment in the roster if the team ever wants to break out from being a playoff team and ascend to being a Stanley Cup Champion. Even with increased parity, the only small market team to win in recent history is the Carolina Hurricanes, and that was almost 10 years ago. With Fisher's and Matt Cullen's deals coming off the books this season (and with Wilson and Smith needing new deals as RFA's), now could be the time for the Predators to find a few more pieces that know how to win (though the team should totally do everything to retain Fisher.) Otherwise, the Predators look better now than they did a year ago, which should bode well for the future of the team.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Pittsburgh Penguins

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The Pittsburgh Penguins

Our prediction: At the top of the season, we felt the Penguins could be a cup contender if they were managed properly. Yet once the playoffs began, we predicted the New York Rangers would dispatch them in 4 games.

The truth: Due to a myriad of circumstances, a team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin managed to limp into the playoffs with a final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Though they did win a contest against the Rangers, they were done in five games and eliminated in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

So what was good?: All and all, the Penguins are a team that's average at worst, and even their worst finish still results in a playoff spot. Though they were befallen by injury woes (as usual), Crosby and Malkin were still dominant point producers for the club. Kris Letang showed that his injury issues haven't affected his talent, but you have to wonder about his long-term availability if they'll continue to interfere with his playing ability. Patric Hornqvist has looked well as a #3 forward while David Perron, Chris Kunitz, and Blake Comeau were serviceable compliments for the top forwards. Marc-Andre Fleury did admirable through the regular season and was respectable in the playoffs.

So what happened?: Injuries still remain a significant concern for seemingly everyone on the club. The team led the playoff teams in man-games lost during the off-season, so it's not unreasonable to say that a rookie coach in Mike Johnston wasn't properly prepared for that level of adversity. Pascal Dupuis was limited to 16 games this season, and there's no telling how the team may have done had he been healthy. The same can be said for both Olli Maata and Letang, who would've been more dominant had they not had to deal with their health concerns. Evegni Malkin may have been pointless during the season, but he too was barely cleared to play come playoff time and needs to be at 100% to be at the top of his game.

At the same time, there were plenty of management blunders during the season that led to this as well. Yes, injuries affected the team, buy Dan Bylsma-driven teams generally did better even when adversity was staring them in the face. The team sacrificed their first-rounder in a relatively deep 2015 NHL Draft to land Perron, who was good but not great for the team. For whichever reason, GM Jim Rutherford saw it fit to trade promising young defender Simon Despres to the Anaheim Ducks for Ben Lovejoy, who was respectable but doesn't have anywhere near the up-side Despres has. Yes the Penguins needed a new vision from the team Ray Shero had crafted, but are the guys in charge really the right ones for the task?

To be fair there were some issues with production on the squad for what they offered. Though Brandon Sutter and Nick Spalding managed to avoid the injury bug, both were very average point producers despite commanding a salary north of $3M, respectively. Paul Martin and Christian Erhoff may have faced injury woes but you would've hoped they could've done more while they were there. Thomas Greiss wasn't bad as a backup to Fleury, but doesn't offer any notable advantage that Jeff Zatkoff couldn't provide for the club.

So what's next?: Despite making the playoffs, expectations for the squad should be considered higher and may see some notable changes during the off-season. The team has a slew of depth forwards with expiring deals while both Martin and Erhoff's contracts will come off the books, which means they'll be in the market for a bona-fide Top-3 defender. Though it's reasonable to expect that Comeau and Dan Winnik will likely be retained by the club, it may not be a bad idea for the team to find a creative way to upgrade some of their Top 9 forwards since there's a lot of committed salary there. The question is, can Rutherford and Co. prove capable of getting the right pieces?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Winnipeg Jets

Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.

Now the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The Winnipeg Jets

Our prediction: We didn't think they would make the playoffs due to their meat-and-potatoes roster. Once they made the playoffs, we predicted they'd be out after a four-game sweep seeing as how they were going up against the Ducks.

The truth: Despite our preseason predictions, the Jets managed to snag the final wildcard slot in the Western Conference (partially owed to the fact that the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings were rather average this season.) True to our postseason predictions, however, the Jets were swept by the Anaheim Ducks in four games during the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

So what was good?: First off, the team's "score by committee" formula worked out rather well for them. The team's top scoring forwards (Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little) were well complemented by Mark Scheifele, Drew Stafford, Mathieu Perreault, Michael Frolik, and the best rover in the game, Dustin Byfuglien. Further, Evander Kane's production wasn't lost on the squad, as the incoming Tyler Myers has since started looking like a true top defender - The change of scenery has looked well for him thus far. Considering that the team as a whole wasn't defensively irresponsible, it was refreshing to see them play to their strengths and find a way to win more often than not. It's the first time since 1996 that playoff hockey's been in Winnipeg but only this time, they know the team will be coming back next season.

The other thing that worked out was that their goaltending situation was finally better than expected. Ondrej Pavelec started off as his usual, lackadaisical self this season. However, Michael Hutchinson's play not only helped the team persevere through the middle of the season, but also served as a wake-up call for Pavelec to get it together. once Hutchinson began to falter as a result of this being his first full season in the league, Pavelec assumed the crease and began playing the way everyone had believed he could all along. Though he'll need to prove it's not a fluke, it was still good for him to have a season where he won't start smelling like a bust.

So what happened?: They drew the last wild card going into the playoffs and subsequently faced a team that was prepared to be better in every other way. Whenever the Jets had 20, the Ducks had 21. Whenever the Jets had a straight flush, the Ducks had a Royal Flush. Give Winnipeg credit for actually churning out a hard-fought series, but this was Anaheim's series to lose instead of theirs to win - The Ducks weren't built to ensure the former.

So what's next?: For the first time in a while, it looks like the Jets are actually building a team that can compete, if not spoil another team's season. Though most of their big guns are locked in for next year, Michael Frolik and Drew Stafford will need new deals in the off-season. Though they might sniff around for upgrades via free agency, it wouldn't necessarily be bad to see how Stafford would do with a full year with the team (while a financially sound contract with Frolik wouldn't be bad for either the player or the club.)