Monday, March 30, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Philadelphia Flyers

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The Philadelphia Flyers

Our prediction: We figured that the Philadelphia Flyers would be on the bubble and perhaps missing the playoffs altogether. Though the forwards looked good and the defense looked like it would work, we were concerned about consistency in the crease

The truth: They were one of the first five teams from the Eastern Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention. They'll probably be neck-and-neck with the New Jersey Devils as to whom finishes where.

So what happened?: To give the Flyers some credit, they certainly had some bright spots both up front and on the blueline. Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn offered quality production up front while Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto were capable point producers from the blueline. However, the other guys who were expected to put points up (namely Vincent LeCavalier and R.J. Umberger) were nowhere to be found while Andrew MacDonald got a nice contract in the off-season to be an average (and unspectacular) shutdown defender. Matt Read wasn't exactly terrible, but he was expected to produce a bit more than he did this year. Same could be said for Luke Schenn and Nicklas Grossman, who are paid handsomely but can barely muster .2 PPG production. While Steve Mason was able to contain the team's defensive deficiencies, Ray Emery and Rob Zepp were not able to carry the load as effectively in Mason's absence (which occurred due to injuries.) Once Wayne Simmonds broke his leg, however, the writing was on the wall.

So what's next?: Frankly, things look like they're going to get worse before they get better. The team's still stuck with Umberger's and LeCavalier's contracts for at least the next few seasons (barring a buyout) while they don't exactly have a whole lot of wiggle room to re-sign Michael Del Zotto to a nice raise or bring promising offensive forward Petr Straka up to the main roster. While this is now GM Ron Hextall's team, he's not going to expect a pass simply for his role in Flyers' lore (and from the way it sounds, isn't expecting one, either.) Though the onus of blame may not fall entirely on Craig Berube, he's not going to have a whole lot of slack going forward, either. Can they find ways to either move underperforming pieces off the squad or get them to work to their advantage, or will they be stuck with ineffective components for the foreseeable future?

2014-15 Season Review: New Jersey Devils

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The New Jersey Devils

Our prediction: We figured that the New Jersey Devils would be on the bubble, if not missing the playoffs altogether. We were concerned about inconsistency on offense, immaturity on defense, and lack of depth in the crease. It would've taken a collective effort for the team to get itself over the obstacles that will come up over an 82-game season.

The truth: They were one of the first five teams from the Eastern Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention. They won't finish at the absolute bottom, but they won't factor to have a Top 5 draft pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Talk about a lose-lose.

So what happened?: When the team can't win while goaltender Cory Schneider is posting a .928 save percentage and a 2.19 GAA, then you have to assume that there's offensive deficiencies up front (and boy, where there.) In fact, only five players managed to provide .5 PPG production - And one of them, Jaromir Jagr, was dealt away at the trade deadline (the others who are still with the club are Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Adam Henrique, and Patrik Elias.) Michael Ryder and Martin Havlat were absolutely disappointing in contract years (this may be Havlat's last season in the NHL as a consequence to this) while Travis Zajac hasn't come close to providing top-six production despite having the ice time and contract to do so. Danius Zubrus put up 9 points in 68 games and is earning $3.1M annually to do so. Ryan Clowe was expected to provide top-six power forward presence, but is now in danger of seeing his career jeopardized due to repeated concussion issues. Damien Brunner couldn't offer the same type of production that he gave as a member of the Detroit Red Wings and has since left the NHL to resume his playing career in Europe. Throw in the fact that the team's top producing defenders (Adam Larsson and Damon Severson) couldn't hit .4 production, and you have a team that's absolutely starved for offense (former defender Marek Zidlicky was good, but not great in this regard, and ultimately was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings.)

So what's next?: The team will have some flexibility since Ryder's and Havlat's contracts will come off the books this summer (along with the fact that Ryan Clowe will likely be a candidate for the long-term injured reserve.) The question now, however, is that whether or not Lou Lamoriello still has what it takes to ice a competitive team now that the game has changed drastically from the "dead puck" era. Two lockouts following the Devils era of dominance (1995-2003) have seen the Devils reduced to being an also-ran despite higher expectations. Though Pete DeBoer lost his job in December, the coaching tandem of Adam Oates and Scott Stevens has been far from inspiring, so you can't help but wonder if heads will roll there as well. While the Devils may not necessarily need a full-on rebuild, perhaps a fresh braintrust would benefit in taking the components which work well for the club and finding compliments that would take them from also-ran to extraordinary.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Carolina Hurricanes

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The Carolina Hurricanes

Our prediction: We figured that the Canes could be a dark horse contender for the playoff spot, but didn't exactly have them picked as a playoff team. However, we did figure they'd have finished a little better than they did, given some of the names on the team.

The truth: They were the third team from the Eastern Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention. Though they won't finish at the absolute bottom, they'll still factor to have a Top 5 draft pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

So what happened?: The team's top-heavy salary system has the organization paying several hands a lot of money while paying everyone else modest sums, and those top-earners aren't delivering. When Jordan Staal went down with an injury going into the season, it was a bad omen for things to come; no one was able to capably replace his absence until he returned. Though waiver-claim Andrej Nestrasil did well reunited with coach Bill Peters, Justin Faulk is the team's leading point producer (with .66 point production) while Eric Staal's production - though respectable - isn't nearly as elite as perhaps the hockey media, the team, or he is to believe. Alexander Semin battled injuries, but his performance was bad enough to the point where he was scratched; his "bad" stretches seem to take a season to figure out. Jeff Skinner's certainly disappointing after his pay raise, as he's getting paid $6M a season to post sub .5 point production (we know he's 22, but if you're making that money, it's because you're supposedly capable of carrying out the job.) Jiri Tlusty and Andrej Sekera weren't able to improve upon their previous campaigns and were ultimately dealt to the Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings, respectively, before trade deadline. Neither Cam Ward or Anton Khudobin were necessarily bad, but they didn't demonstrate the ability to steal a game when the team in front of them floundered (which is a shame when you consider Cam Ward's salary is almost $7M while Khudobin gets north of $2M to post a backup's save percentage.) The rest of the cast were either role players (like Jay McClement), evolving (like Elias Lindhom or Victor Rask), or simply had an unremarkable campaign (Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles, Nathan Gerbe, or most of others.)

So what's next?: Granted, it's not GM Ron Francis's fault that his predecessor Jim Rutherford handed out so many contracts that kept the team financially top-heavy, but it is now his problem to deal with. What the team needs badly (by hook or by crook) is solid secondary scoring. Seeing as how most of the big contracts for Eric Staal, Ward, and Liles will come off the books at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, the team may be forced to ride another season out before they can have some sense and sanity in their cap management. They still have their draft picks though (and may get L.A.'s first rounder if they make the playoffs this season), so they should be able to stock the cupboard with prospects for the time being. Peters will get a pass (for now) but needs to guide the team onto a better path than the one they traveled this season if he's going to remain an NHL coach on a long-term basis.

Friday, March 13, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Toronto Maple Leafs

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The Toronto Maple Leafs

Our prediction: We predicted that the Toronto Maple Leafs would be on the bubble, if not out of the playoffs altogether. They didn't have a roster that wowed us and figured everything would have to go right for them to have a chance.

The truth: They were the second team from the Eastern Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention. Despite a few talented players, they'll look to finish the season near the bottom of the barrel.

So what happened?: Despite being one of the most lucrative teams in the league, the Maple Leafs are seemingly dysfunctional - On and off the ice.

On the ice, a team that scores by committee needs to be defensively responsible; the Toronto Maple Leafs' top scoring forwards weren't that. Despite a slightly-above average performance from Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, the offensive group of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, and Tyler Bozak weren't even close to generating the type of offense needed for them to play effectively at one end of the ice. Out of the three forwards who were actually effective for them this season, two of them were dealt prior to the trade deadline (Leo Komarov - Who returned after a stint in Russia - is still with the team while Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik were dealt to the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively.) On the blue line, Dion Phaneuf went down with injury at a critical time in the season, which didn't leave Morgan Rielly (who recently turned 21-years-old) with anyone else who could come close to producing points at the blueline.

Off the ice, Randy Carlyle was relieved of his position at the start of 2015, but Peter Horachek isn't making a case to steal the job. Further, the media still plays head games with the players (one of the more notable ones was the Phaneuf trade flap with the Detroit Red Wings), which caused Phil Kessel to lash out at the press. Though Nazem Kadri hasn't had a bad season for a second liner, the Leafs had to scratch him for three games to send a message that there wouldn't be any tolerance for his irresponsibility. Put it all together and it was a recipe for failure.

But hey, the Leafs divested of David Clarkston's contract by trading him to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the injured (and probably retired) Nathan Horton so that's... something, right?

So what's next?: All signs point to there being a fire sale along with a rebuild (which will be much to the chagrin of the Toronto faithful.) Dion Phaneuf will likely be dealt while Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak will probably be used as trade bait (whether or not they can find a taker remains to be seen.) Their ultimate off-season acquisition would be Mike Babcock, but would he be willing to take the money to go to a team with that much baggage? (Ed. - Our resident Red Wings homers say "No!") While time may be on President Brendan Shanahan's side (for now), GM Dave Nonis had better make the right moves, because he might not have a whole lot of rope left.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Arizona Coyotes

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The Arizona Coyotes

Our prediction: We predicted that the Arizona Coyotes would be on the playoff bubble due to the fact that they weren't going into the season with a true goal scorer. We never expected that the team's system would fall off a cliff.

The truth: They were the second team from the Western Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention and will likely finish in the bottom three of the league.

So what happened?: At the end of the day, the Coyotes were still trying to play their pre-2012-13 lockout game in a league where fighting was in the decline and puck possession became the rage. The main difference between them and their former 2012 Western Conference Final opponents (the Los Angeles Kings) is that the Kings kept their championship nucleus together. Once the Coyotes finally stabilized their ownership situation, they barely had the roster from their good seasons to stay competitive (Radim Vrbata went to a more stable environment playing for the Vancouver Canucks while Mike Riberio was unceremoniously bought out.) Though Mike Smith has had abysmal performances this season, the defense in front of him has been unable to contain opposing teams' offense on a consistent basis (and on the nights they do, Smith usually falters.) This ultimately lead to top scorers Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette to be shipped out of town for high draft picks and prospects (most notable of which being Anthony Duclair) in addition to dealing second-time Coyote Zbyenk Michalek for a prospect. Though Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal had noble campaigns, they're likely done for the season with injuries while the team uses a cast of forwards with top-nine production (Top be clear: Top-nine production, not first line production or even top-six), checking forwards, perennial waiver-wire pickups, a defensive corps with no experienced leaders, and newly-introduced rookies to finish out the season with an aging Shane Doan. Seeing as how he's going on 39, he cannot be expected to carry the club like he used to. GM Don Maloney said they're going to hit the Reset button; he'd probably rather it happen sooner than later but sooner might not come fast enough.

So what's next?: The good news is that the team has a glut of young players (not to mention 5 or 6 picks in the first three rounds of a deep draft) that they could potentially build a contending team around. The bad news is that the team lacks veterans (or even prime-aged players) who are capable of taking the pressure off the young guys - And Arizona isn't exactly a hot-button destination for free agents. Even worse, the team is going to have to confront the reality about what they're paying Lauri Korpikoski and Mike Smith to underachieve. If the Coyotes continue their tight-fisted ways, the progress through a rebuild could be a slow, painful one - One in which they'd be calling another city home by the time it's all said and done. Though staying in Arizona isn't guaranteed once they get back to contendership, finding ways to cut out bad contracts while bringing in quality players could accelerate their fortunes for the better.

In Memorandum: Steve Montador (1979-2015)

We here at Bruise Brothers have an affinity for the guys who play the game with true grit. Steve Montador was certainly one of those guys. He was more of a journeyman instead of a guy who could be identified as part of a singular team, but the reason for this was that there were plenty of teams in the NHL who had use for a physical, hard-nosed defenseman who was still capable of putting up 20-30 points from the blueline. Nevertheless, death doesn't discriminate who it takes in the night, and one of the NHL's more memorable defensemen passed away February 15th at the age of 35. Though he last skated in the KHL for the 2013-14 season, many of his NHL compatriots still remember him fondly.

In what's becoming a scary reality that most hockey fans are beginning to acknowledge, fighting in the game is leading to long-term problems with former fighters (which includes death, as we've seen with the passing of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak.) Montador knew that his time on earth would likely be shortened by his role in hockey, so he made arrangements prior to his passing for his brain to be examined in hopes of preventing brain trauma in future hockey players. The premonition of an early death never prevented him from backing down from challenges, which is all the more reason to respect how he not only understood his reality, but embraced it for the betterment of his team. This is why many who've ever met the guy are absolutely devastated by his passing

Rest in peace, Mr. Montador. And thank you for your selflessness to keep your teams competitive, the fans entertained, and the future of hockey protected. You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Edmonton Oilers

Now that teams are preparing for playoffs, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from playoff contention (followed by those 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 playoff contention: The Edmonton Oilers.

Our prediction: We predicted that the Edmonton Oilers would miss the playoffs because their apathetic management wouldn't find new brains to run the operation.

The truth: They were the first team from the Western Conference to be eliminated from playoff contention and will likely finish last in the conference.

So what happened?: Exactly what we predicted: The team continues to be run by idiots. You can't blame Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for giving the Edmonton faithful something to cheer for with above-average point production, but what was the point of burning a year of Leon Draisaitl's contract and was that considered to be a good idea by anyone? Nail Yakupov, who looked like he was going to set the league on fire his first season in the NHL, has since been relegated to a third-liner who doesn't get enough ice time to produce, but isn't defensively sound enough to properly handle checking abilities - This, above all else, is likely what cost former coach Dallas Eakins his job with the team. David Perron and Jeff Petry were bright spots for the club, so the Oilers at least acknowledged their perpetual rebuild state by sending them to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens (respectively) for first round and second round selections in the upcoming draft (respectively); maybe they did something right there. The goaltending tandem of Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth didn't scare anyone on paper, so they certainly didn't scare anyone in reality (though it's surprising there were not takers for them when Buffalo was able to unload their goaltenders for assets.) All and all, the team had a few young, talented forwards who were complimented by a rather underwhelming support cast around them. All of that usually adds up for a recipe for failure, which it did here.

So what's next?: Connor McDavid has a pretty solid chance of ending up in Edmonton, but at this point, it's debatable as to whether or not the league should step in and prevent the Oilers from having another Top 10 draft pick; seeing as how they're almost to the point where they're ruining the careers of the young men who join them (they've had three first overall picks, one top 5 pick, and two top 10 picks in the last 6 drafts.) If Katz wanted to stop being popular and start trying to win, he'd get rid of GM MacTavish and President Lowe and instead look for a new voice and new direction to go with the club (preferably someone who can see the value in the players they have already and make Edmonton a more desirable place to play without initiating another rebuild.) Seeing as how the place is essentially a no-go zone for high-value free agents, they'll need to continue to build through drafts, trades, and the occasional key signing.