Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Washington Capitals

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: Washington Capitals

Our prediction: We thought the Washington Capitals weren't going to finish atop of the standings, but had the capability of being a Cup Contender if they could play their cards right. We predicted they'd get out of the opening round of the playoffs, but waited with bated breath to see if they'd emerge from the Conference Semifinals.

The truth: The Capitals finished second in the Metropolitan Division and ended up defeating the New York Islanders in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They'd go to seven games in the Conference Semifinals against the Islanders' cross-town rivals, the New York Rangers, but found themselves on the losing end after seven games in their series.

So what was good?: Any team that has Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Bacstrom playing for them is (or at least, should be) going to perform well. In any case, the off-season addition of coach Barry Trotz was simply a good one - He knew how to properly tap into the players' potential and get them into the post-season. Jeff Carlson was fantastic from the blueline. Mike Green wasn't terrible either, but one may have expected a bit more for him as he's going into a contract year. Braden Holtby arguably had a great season for the team - Appearing in 71 games while showing flashes of absolute brilliance at times.

So what happened?: The team, as a whole, was inconsistent all year. No team with consistency issues should be expected to go far into the postseason. Though big things would be expected of them with Ovechkin on the team, the reality of it is that Trotz probably still needs a season to get the team at it's maximum capacity. Plus Ovechkin probably jinxed himself by saying they'd win Game 7; only to deleiv

So what's next?: Green's all but out the door unless he takes a steep cut from what he'd probably get as a free agent. That might not be a bad thing, however, if they can find a way to manage a capable top-six forward or two to round-out their otherwise industrious group of forwards (with Ovi, Backstrom, Marcus Johannson, and Evgeny Kusnetsov seemingly being the guys who are driving the scoring.) Otherwise, they're still going to come back with many of the same parts, but will need to overcome the "underachiever" tag if they're ever to be taken seriously as a Cup Contender.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Montreal Canadiens

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: Montreal Canadiens

Our prediction: We thought the Montreal Canadiens were a decent playoff team with the potential to go deep (and even had them finishing first in the Atlantic Division.) Once they advanced to the playoffs, we figured they'd defeat the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In absence of having made official prediction prior to the start of the Conference Semifinals, we would've figured that the Canadiens had a bit more swagger in the crease and on the blueline, thus picking them over the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

The truth: The Canadiens did in fact finish first in the Atlantic Division and also dispatched the Senators in six games. Once they got to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, however, the Lightning managed to outscore them on most nights and sent Montreal home after six games.

So what was good?: When you have, arguably, the best goaltender and best defenseman in the Eastern Conference, than your team should be playoff-bound. As such, Carey Price was remarkable during the season while PK Subban is certainly living up to his contractual obligations as the highest-paid the player on the team. Subban was well-complimented by veteran defender Andrei Markov, who put up 50 points over 80 games during the regular season. The team also enjoyed regular offensive contributions from their forwards as well: Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec led the charge with campaigns in excess of 60 points (Pacioretty almost hit 70) while David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk were each solid contributors who could be counted on for secondary point production. Further, supplimental point production wasn't that hard to come by, as Dale Weise, Lars Eller, and PA Parenteau were capable of providing the necessary point production to complement the top forwards (and top-pairing defenders.) Factor in a better than average group of checking forwards and you have a formula for success (as far as making the playoffs goes.)

So what happened?: Price is a fantastic goaltender, but he cannot be expected to score goals. That said, any semblance of Montreal's offense left them once the playoffs started (frankly, they were fortunate to have gone over Ottawa with how little offense they produced.) Out of all of the people Montreal relied on during the regular season to score, only two - Subban and Pacioretty - managed to be a regular contributor who could put up top-six point production. Gallagher? 5 points in 12 games. Plekanec and Galchenyuk? 4 points in 12 games. Desharnais? 3 points in 11 games. Perhaps the most disappointing was Markov, who only mustered two points during the entire playoff campaign. And while Parenteau battled injury issues during the season, his decline in production can't help but be construed as a red flag that he's starting to decline as a player.

So what's next?: As far as player personnel goes, the team has little over $10M to use towards retaining Galchenyuk, Brian Flynn, and young defender Nathan Beaulieu while also having to pick up two depth forwards and two depth defenders (though the team should make an effort to retain Torrey Mitchell, the trio of Manny Malhotra, Jeff Petry, and Sergi Gonchar will likely not be retained in the off-season.) Otherwise, their bed is made as far as their "key" players are concerned and as far as the young ones are concerned, may simply need more time to grow. As far as coaching personnel goes, Michel Therrien's future with the team is up in the air. If the Habs can end up winners in the Mike Babcock sweepstakes, Therrien will be sent packing after three seasons with the club.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Calgary Flames

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 Calgary Flames

Our prediction: We thought the Calgary Flames weren't quite ready for postseason contention in the stacked Western Conference. Once they advanced to the playoffs, we figured they'd defeat the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. In absence of having made official prediction prior to the start of the Conference Semifinals, we would've figured their series against the Anaheim Ducks was Anaheim's series to lose as opposed to Calgary's series to win, leaving the Flames to be dispatched in four games against the Ducks.

The truth: The team did advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in five seasons due to dogged determination (and excellent leadership from their captain, Mark Giordano.) Though the team defeated the Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, they were defeated in five games against the Ducks in the Western Conference Semifinals.

So what was good?: The team's tenacity and cohesiveness proved effective at all levels of the roster. Giordano was amazing for the squad, but when he went down with injury, TJ Brodie used it as a reason to step up instead of using it as a reason to slouch. Further, Dennis Wideman finally showed some return to form this year after having a rather forgettable 2013-14 campaign. The youth movement was served this season, as youngsters Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau made their presence felt (and with Sam Bennett waiting in the wings, the trio should eventually go on to become some of the most feared forwards in the NHL.) Jiri Hudler put together an astonishingly effective career season, nearly meeting a 1 point-per-game mark over 78 games played while Mikael Backlund made his presence known whenever he wasn't dealing with injury issues. The goaltending platoon of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo were rather effective, as the duo gave Calgary that 1-2 goaltending punch that teams need in today's NHL in order to get over the hump. Regardless of whatever happens next, coach Bob Hartley will likely remain with the club now that he's proven capable of getting the roster to compete effectively on a regular basis.

So what happened?: You gotta learn to crawl before you can walk, and while Calgary's run was nothing short of amazing, to say they were favored to win it all would've been a bit of a stretch. Without an air of experience amongst their two top forwards, going into the semifinals without their star defenseman, and with a goaltender who's secrets were well known by their opponent, the Flames didn't have the answer to solve Anaheim. Give the Flames credit for getting as far as they did, but the Ducks were simply the more experienced club as a whole.

So what's next?: Though the Flames will be facing some significant extensions for Monahan and Gaudreau following the conclusion of next season, they have a ton of cap space going into next season while having most of their important components locked down already (suddenly, the contract they gave Deryk Engelland looks a little less ridiculous than it did the day they offered it to him.) Though Backlund will need an extension (and hopefully Ramo can come back on a deal that works for he and the club), the team not only has money available to target quality bottom-six forwards, but also land a major player or two should they feel the need to do so. Whatever Calgary chooses to do from here, their future looks far brighter now than it did at the start of the season; which should be delightful for a Calgary fan base who've been made to suffer in recent history.

2014-15 Season Review: Minnesota Wild

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 Minnesota Wild

Our prediction: We thought the Wild were initially a playoff team who could spoil to be a Cup Contender. Once they advanced to the playoffs, we figured they'd defeat the Blues. In absence of having made official prediction prior to the start of the Conference Semifinals, we would've figured that the goaltending situation for the Chicago Blackhawks would've given out on them, allowing the Wild to advance in six games (no "hindsight" quarterback here, only the surprised.)

The truth: The Wild were good enough to advance out of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Blues as predicted. They were rewarded by advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals against Chicago, where they were summarily swept in four games.

So what was good?: Devan Dubnyk came rolling into town mid-season and managed to effectively quell the goaltending woes the team had suffered through for most of the season (Darcy Kuemper started off hot but then regressed badly, Niklas Backstrom is starting to show is age, and Josh Harding's ongoing health issues prevented him from making an impact at any level.) His performance was Masterson worthy when you consider that he went from being a first-round selection from the Edmonton Oilers to joining the Arizona Coyotes on a six-figure "show me" deal when it looked like he was being given his last chance in the league. His play managed to compliment the relatively defensively sound play that the rest of the team demonstrated. Zach Parise led the charge offensively and while the top-six scoring wasn't exactly elite (which sucks when you consider what the team's paying Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu), it was certainly serviceable and did well to give the team enough scoring oomph to get buy - With special props to Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Zucker for their contributions for the club. Young power forward Nino Niederreiter took significant steps forward this season to remind everyone why he was a former first round selection and is set to take it up another level next season. Though the defense wasn't spectacular in terms of production, the squad was still stingy more often than not, which made victories easier to come by (Ryan Suter led the defense in terms of production while Jonas Brodin led the defense in terms of shutdown ability.) Put that all together with a decent system implemented by coach Mike Yeo and you have a team that was certainly worthy of being a playoff team.

So what happened?: At the end of the day, you have to wonder about the competitive culture of a franchise that has largely made moves so friends could play with each other. Parise and Suter signed deals together so they could play with each other, while Vanek joined up with the Wild to play with Pominville. Throw that in with the factor that Yeo leaned far too hard on Dubnyk and Suter for most of the season, and it should show why two of the more important players for the team were burned out by the time the second round of the playoffs had arrived.

So what's next?: The good news (if you'll call it that) is that the Wild have their big guns locked up for next season (meaning they have guys on big contracts who needs to start living up to their contractual obligations.) With the retirement of Harding being considered imminent, the team should look to retain Dubnyk. The question is whether or not they can afford him for next season. The team has little over $8.5M in cap space for next year while needing to retain RFAs Grandlund (who's due for a raise), Christian Folin, and Erik Haula on top of adding three depth forwards and a depth defenseman. If the players want to avoid being trade fodder, then they better demonstrate how much they love playing for the Wild pretty quickly (lest heads start rolling next season.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

2014-15 Season Review: Detroit Red Wings

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 Detroit Red Wings

Our prediction: We thought the Red Wings would make the playoffs through the wild card spot. Once they got in, we thought they could solve the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. (

The truth: The team did slightly better than a wild card spot in finishing third in the Atlantic Division. Yet against our prediction, the team was out in seven games against the Lightning and thus the final team eliminated from the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

So what was good?: When there's a will, there's a way, and the Red Wings managed to find that dogged determination to prove their legacy the premier team in the league. Even without Pavel Datsyuk (who himself was amazing when healthy), Henrik Zetterberg was still able to shoulder the load in his absence and has proven himself worthy of being Niklas Lidstrom's successor. Tomas Tatar has always been a reliable two-way option, but did anyone expect him to develop the scoring touch he displayed this season?. Perhaps the blueline hasn't been as prolific as they'd like for it was in the past, but that didn't stop Niklas Kronwall from amassing 44 points. Factor in the production from an industrious Justin Abdelkader and two trade pick-ups (Erik Cole and Mark Zidlicky and you had a lot that was good on offense.

Even Detroit's problem areas weren't as bad as they could've been. Though a plodder defensively, Johan Franzen wasn't bad when healthy while Gustave Nyqvuist just needs more experience defending against NHL forwards so his defensive game can match his offensive one. Stephen Weiss still needs to show he can return to form, but had a much improved campaign this season as opposed to the last. No, the offense wasn't prolific, but they were defensively sound, which kept the team on the proper end of the scoresheet. Though Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson befell injuries, Petr Mrazek finally graduated from the AHL mid-season and established himself as a bonafide starter.

Ultimately, a lot of the success falls at the feet of not only to the Red Wings fantastic front office (featuring owner Mike Illitch and General Manager Ken Holland) but also coach Mike Babcock as well. Despite Detroit's exit from the playoffs, he's the most coveted coach in the league and is due for a nice raise in salary.

So what happened?: The Red Wings have a tendency to have "showdog" syndrome and choke in situations that seem winnable for them. With the series in hand 3-2, they couldn't manage to win consecutive games against the Lightning once they were in striking distance. Further, the "power forward" position was one that could never be properly case this season - Both Franzen and Cole befell injuries while Abdelkader lacks the true scoring touch desired for a power forward. Put that up against a Tampa Bay squad who's relatively talented, and it's not going to end well for the Wings.

So what's next?: Today, Detroit's biggest concern is whether or not they're going to get a star player, but rather retain their star coach. If Babcock retains, things will go well. If Babcock doesn't retain, then things will probably still go well. Why? Though Todd McLellan opted to leave the San Jose Sharks (and seems like a favorite), Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill is beyond ready for an NHL coaching job. He's won the Clark Cup in the USHL (America's top junior league) in addition to the Calder Cup with the Griffins in the AHL. That's not a fluke, and while Babcock's amazing, the Red Wings developmental system will produce another NHL ready member like it always does - Only he'll be behind the bench instead of sitting on it.

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.