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Found 8 results

  1. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and I'm going to say that the Vancouver Canucks will not make it out of the first round... no matter who they play," says Theo Fleury. Soon after Fleury made those comments, he was lambasted on Twitter (@TheoFleury14) and accused of being a misinformed troll. Ah, the beauty of social media and the Internet. Now, before everyone here starts getting their pitchforks and lanterns in a city-wide manhunt, let's step back and discuss this. First, while I disagree with Fleury's prediction, he has made it clear that he's going against the grain. There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it would've been akin to saying that Boston U would've upset Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. You're going to get laughed at, and Fleury clearly knew what he was going to get, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. If the Canucks did indeed bow out in the first round, doesn't that make Fleury a genius? Like it or not, he makes some great points in his argument. He even concedes that the Sedins' skills are mind-blowing. Second, if there's anybody's opinion about this matter that you should respect, it's Theo Fleury's. Very few players have made it to the NHL with a size disadvantage and even fewer have played with the same amount of fire Fleury had back in his heyday. He's an Olympic gold medalist, a Stanley Cup winner, and overcome substance abuse and depression. He's been on league-leading teams, teams that have choked, and teams that have won. If anyone knows about fighting a battles, win or lose, it's Fleury. Expectations are sky high in Vancouver - anything short of a Cup title and the President's Trophy this squad will win won't mean anything. The ultimate prize is still the Cup, so whatever happens between Opening Night and the last game of the playoffs is just all white noise when all is said and done. Jason Botchford isn't sure why there's been so much criticism directed at the Canucks, and more specifically, Roberto Luongo, but it's clearly because the Canucks have never, even been in this position. Think about it. Which team is the most criticized in the MLB? The Yankees, because they're a historically great team with an insane payroll that isn't a reflected on the field. The NBA? The Miami Heat, because LeBron James and his buddies teamed up and have formed one of the most talented nucleus in league history and promised 6 championships yet still struggle to stay atop the East. The NFL? The New England Patriots, because Tom Brady's pretty boy image was front and center along with their historic 16-0 season. The Vancouver Canucks are the best team in the NHL. They sit comfortably atop the league standings and boast the league's best special teams. Luongo is statistically having one of the best seasons in his career. Make no mistake - the Canucks are public enemy number one in all 29 other arenas in the NHL. Every single team wants to beat the Canucks. They're going to get picked apart by fans, experts, GMs, and coaches because they're the team to beat. They're the litmus test. And one of the easiest bones to pick with the Canucks? The fact that they've been blown out by the Hawks in two consecutive years, and in both years Luongo has been less than stellar. Pressure to win in the playoffs comes from regular season success. It's the logical step. What people want to know are the ones at the top. It's an exercise in social psychology as it is about sports. The reason why so many top teams choke (Washington) is because there's much more pressure on them to perform. And so many upsets happen every year (Montreal) because there's less pressure. Some teams thrive off pressure, some don't. So far, it's pretty fair to say the Canucks don't. Some people in Vancouver are up in arms because they can't take the criticism. Well, now we know how the Sharks felt the past couple of years and we know how Sidney Crosby feels on a nightly basis. You want to know why nobody picks apart the Red Wings' game even though Jimmy Howard really isn't that good, Jonathan Ericsson has hit a wall in his development, and Tomas Holmstrom refuses to fight? Because they've won Cups. Stop whining about not getting enough respect. Suck it up, play hard, and win the damn thing.
  2. The trade deadline is tomorrow and in all likelihood the Canucks will not be making any changes. It's understandable, given the status quo with the Canucks atop the league with a healthy 15-point lead over second-place Minnesota in the division. This team boasts some really high-end skill, but given the recent performances of Mason Raymond, the on-and-off play of Mikael Samuelsson, and the general ineffectiveness of the bottom six save Tanner Glass and Manny Malhotra on most nights, you have to wonder if this team is deep enough offensively to win the Cup. I'm not trying to be negative nor am I pushing the panic button, but it certainly a legitimate question to ask. When I envisioned the Canucks winning the Cup, I had imagined that Cody Hodgson, Jordan Schroeder, or some young player on a rookie contract would play a significant role on the team. Given how there is now more emphasis on building through the draft with the CBA, no team can win the Cup without significant contributions from cheap players. When the Blackhawks won, Patrick Kane (3.725), Jonathan Toews (2.8), Andrew Ladd (1.55), Brent Seabrook (3.5), Dustin Byfuglien (3) and Duncan Keith (1.475) all had cap hits under $4 million. The same goes the 2009 Penguins with Evgeni Malkin (3.834) and Jordan Staal (2.2). Even the runner-ups share the same trend: the 2009 Red Wings had Henrik Zetterberg at a $2.65 million cap hit and Johan Franzen was earning a shade over $1 million while the 2010 Flyers featured a breakout from Claude Giroux. The point is, you need cheap players to significantly outperform the value of the contracts. The players I've listed can easily double or triple their original value on the open market. It's not enough for a $3 million player to produce $4 million-type numbers. You need a Zetterberg or a Toews, who both were under $3 million, to give you $6 million-type, MVP-type production to win. Since it's very unlikely that a veteran can outplay the value of his contract due to their relatively older age and lack of upside, the only way to get such "value contracts" is to deploy cheap yet effective young players. Looking up and down the Canucks roster and salary structure, nobody on our current roster fits the bill except Alex Burrows, who is currently struggling. Everyone is at or close to market value and nobody's going to significantly outperform the value of their contracts. Particularly concerning are the forwards, where it often feels as though the Canucks don't have any weapons other than the Sedins and Ryan Kesler. Nobody else scores on a real consistent basis and the Canucks are so close to the cap that adding a significant forward without losing a roster player is out of the realm of possibility. Mike Gillis has already gone on record to say that he doesn't want to move anyone. That's also another way of saying that should anything go wrong, the Canucks will have to look for the answer internally. <img src="http://cache4.asset-cache.net/xc/90321829.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF878921CC759DF4EBAC47D06676A481A1E3B5C1F1C3E993EFDEA9D9664B3929E18EEB79E30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">In steps Cody Hodgson. The highly touted prospect's cap hit is just $1.67 million and I think he does have the ability to make some significant contributions. It may not be this year, but he is signed until 2013. However, it's ridiculous to even think that he can make any sort of contribution, or even begin to, if he's stapled to the bench and playing five minutes a night. How is Hodgson, or any player, going to improve playing five minutes a night? That fourth-line centre spot has been a joke all season (anyone miss Ryan Johnson yet? I do), featuring a handful of call-ups in Alex Bolduc, Mario Bliznak, and Joel Perrault and players playing out of position with Jeff Tambellini, Raffi Torres, Glass, and even Raymond. I'd rather have Hodgson playing significant minutes in Manitoba and bring up a player who is a short-term solution. If not, Gillis better go out and grab someone... like Zenon Konopka. But, of course, Gillis will have to go through Vigneault first, because there's no use acquiring a player Vigneault ultimately is reluctant to use (Ballard). Vigneault is notoriously stubborn, and more often than not he's right, but how long is he going to stick to his guns? The thing with Vigneault is, if he doesn't like you, he's not going to put you in a position to succeed, which makes the odds for the underdog even worse. Even though Max Pacioretty didn't approach the situation the right way in Montreal, he was certainly right when he spoke out against Jacques Martin using him in the bottom six. A talented offensive player, Pacioretty knew he couldn't succeed without playing in the top six. It's a logical argument - you put scorers in your top six and checkers in the bottom six. So what, exactly, does playing Hodgson exclusively on the fourth line accomplish? Sergei Shirokov showed some great hands with Kesler but by the end of the next game he was on the fourth line again. Keith Ballard, who has some nice offensive instincts a kin to Jovanovski's in his ability to jump up on the play (I swear I'll stop the comparison someday), gets less powerplay ice-time than the decidedly average Aaron Rome (0:31 to 0:15 per game - granted, Ballard doesn't have a slapper but still). Tambellini is better than Raymond in a checking role with his physicality, but despite Gillis and Vigneault singing his praises he refuses to move Tambellini from the fourth line. By putting Kesler on the top powerplay unit (not even Vigneault's own idea) the Canucks have the league's powerplay, but the second unit is also suffering. Burrows and Raymond, two (fairly) regulars on the second unit, have just 5 PPG combined (they had 12 last year), one less than Henrik's season total. The Canucks feature three of the league's top 15 scorers this year (costing roughly $17 million combined) but the offensive depth of the team suffers for it. So this brings me to my next point. There's no point in trying to keep Christian Ehrhoff beyond this season. This ridiculous rash of injuries to our blueline aside, with Ballard, Hamhuis, Edler, and Bieksa, who I would re-sign, is a pretty good four-man group growing forward. It's comparable to Pittsburgh's Letang-Orpik-Martin-Michalek group, which I would say may be one of the deepest four-man groups in the league. Seeing as how Seabrook and Byfuglien both signed deals worth more than $5 million per season, the market value for Ehrhoff is extremely high. If he isn't willing to take a salary around $4 million, there's no point in keeping him because this Canucks squad needs another legitimate top six forward. Samuelsson is not the answer and it's becoming increasingly clear that Raymond is not either, despite me having him pegged for 30 goals before the season. Kesler's frustration is written on the wall. It couldn't have been clearer last night. He's tired of carrying the second line. Of course, this doesn't mean Ehrhoff's going to be dealt at the deadline. Far from it, but depending on how well Ehrhoff and the team performs in the playoffs, he could be a huge trade chip at the draft on June 24. For more hockey material, visit my new website, www.armchairhockey.net or follow me on Twitter @jasonchen16. Thanks for reading.
  3. The Canucks finished November with a 8-4-1 record, but there was one game everyone had their eye on: Saturday, November 20, a nationally-televised matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. While Chicago may have lost several pieces to Atlanta and other teams, they were still the team that had eliminated the Canucks two years in a row from postseason play. The Canucks were overcoming two straight losses, a tough 4-3 OTL in Buffalo, extending their winless streak at HSBC Arena to seven-plus years, and a 3-1 loss to the Penguins, which was supposed to be a preview of two potential Cup finalists. The Hawks were coming off a 7-2 loss to Calgary the night before. It certainly was a 'measuring stick' game, a test of resiliency between two very good teams. The result? A 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Chicago, an absolute shellacking in which Roberto Luongo was chased yet again, though at times through no fault of his own. The performance, if you could call it that, raised questions of whether this Canucks squad was truly ready for the same challenges that await them in the playoffs. To answer these questions, my friend Matt Sze (pronounced 'zee'), a fellow blogger who runs SzeSpeak: The Thinking Man's Blog has kindly joined me for this discussion. JC: The Hawks showed great resiliency by bouncing back from a terrible loss in the second night of a back to back. The Canucks followed up that effort with another loss against a hot Phoenix team. Resiliency is a key component of any good hockey team and in both games the Canucks just didn't seem to have any legs. Attitude reflects leadership, so the age-old question is, was Henrik the right choice as captain? It's no secret that for most North American kids, the ultimate dream is winning the Cup. For many Europeans, it's winning Olympic gold. MS: There was no other choice. Kesler's too young and plays an emotional game, something that can work against him. I'm not so sure Daniel was a good pick to wear the 'A' but Bieksa was a great choice. He has had a long tenure with the Canucks and provides some much-needed fire from the back end. And in regards to that Cup vs. Olympic gold argument, I don't buy it. All athletes are wired the same way - it doesn't matter what the prize is, athletes play to win. As former NFL coach Herm Edwards said, "you play to win the game." Getting to the pinnacle of any sport requires hard work, so to criticize the Sedins or anybody for lacking the desire to win is unfair. JC: I'm going to have to disagree, because I still think it makes a difference... Maybe I'm just a traditionalist and perhaps Lidstrom was just an anomaly... But what about Alexandre Daigle? The guy famously said he played hockey purely for the money. MS: Well, he didn't become a number one overall pick on talent alone, but he made some bad life decisions that eventually led to an unspectacular career. JC: The Canucks have been eliminated two consecutive years by the Hawks. Because Luongo and the Sedins are the best players, they have taken the brunt of the criticism, and a lot of it isn't unfounded. It seemed as though fortunes would be reversed in last year's playoffs, but the Sedins then vanished for stretches. Can our top players elevate their play? <img src="http://cache2.asset-cache.net/xc/73882764.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54831A838CD875A9477EF75E5B296482BCE804B3618D4BA3975"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">MS: I don't think Luongo has ever demonstrated that he could elevate his game, except in that 2007 series against Dallas, his first ever playoff appearance. He may never elevate his game to that level again, but most times it's the other guys, the supporting players, that step up their games. Patrick Kane is a key player for Chicago, but prior to that Finals against Philadelphia it had mostly been Jonathan Toews, and Kane ended up with the series winner. When Pittsburgh won the Cup, it was Max Talbot who scored the game-winner. Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke, and Talbot all raised their games. JC: So what's the difference between those players who can elevate their games and those who can't? Is it emotion? Attitude? I think one of the reasons Henrik was so successful last year was because of his swagger. He had that "yeah, I'm the best player in the league" attitude. When Daniel came back, it seemed to have disappeared. MS: Right now - emotion, attitude, swagger - Henrik doesn't have it. But in the regular season I don't think there's any need for it. It's going to build up. The only guy that does show some swagger is Bieksa. The Sedins are quiet players. I think Henrik giving Bieksa the 'A' is a challenge for him to get back to his former level. Those 42, 43 point seasons may be an anomaly but he's still an effective player when his head's on straight. JC: So who's the X factor for the Canucks in the playoffs? MS: Well, obviously it's Luongo. For me, it's two players: Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen. We know that Raymond's got great speed and can put the puck in the net, but but he hasn't elevated his game in the playoffs yet. (In 22 playoff games he has only 7 points.) The other is Hansen, because he has the feistiness needed to make things happen in the postseason. I remember back in that Dallas series, Stars fans were going, "who is this guy?" JC: Gillis made an honest attempt to make this team better this offseason. If there's anything I noticed this year, it's that this team is so much faster. Speed kills, but we don't know how that will translate to playoff hockey. MS: We are faster and bigger, but I don't think we're grittier than we were last year. Torres isn't really an upgrade hitting-wise over Steve Bernier. Malhotra's an upgrade over Wellwood but he's not the sort of guy who'll just lay guys out. We really won't know the playoffs. The playoffs are tighter defensively but the Sedins are good playoff players because they won't necessarily create the room, but they can certainly find the open areas. They make space with their playmaking, not their physicality. They're 30 years old - still relatively young - and are still learning how to play better with each passing playoff series. JC: Alright, the real questions. Do the Hawks have our number? Vigneault hasn't announced who is starting Friday vs. Chicago, but I think you can't not start Luongo. Starting Schneider is a clear white towel message. MS: Ohhhh. Not right now, but certainly last year. We've been blown out only once this season. If the Canucks put up a good fight, what else do you want? Maybe the Hawks will be better in the season but come playoff time their lack of depth will hurt. Vancouver was vastly overrated last year. We were the underdogs in that series - the four best teams were Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, then Vancouver. The thing about the West is, any team can beat any team. The level of parity is so high, if you're off your game one night it can result in a disaster. If there is a mental edge, it's what they've done in the past. The Canucks have to continue to ride Luongo but also depends on how he losses the game. The team collapsed as a whole. Losses means the team has to look at itself as a whole, not just the goalie, unless there were some flagrantly bad goals. The Canucks have one of the best sports psychologists on staff. Chicago's lower in the standings. The Canucks should be better. JC: What about the Wings? We usually play moderately well against them. MS: No, they don't have our number either. We play the Wings tough, all the time. The Canucks just recently won 6-4 against them. That being said, the Wings are still the best team in the West, and in a 7-game series I'd still take the Wings because their best players can elevate their game. So far, the Canucks' players haven't. Guys like Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen are good in the regular season, but great in the playoffs. Kesler, Burrows, and Raymond weren't so good last year. Let's not let the Sedins off the hook - they should elevate their game too, but I do think they were better than Naslund and Bertuzzi. Depth is key. JC: If you look at some of the league's best playoff performers - Crosby, Mike Richards, Datsyuk, Zetterberg - these are guys who play in all situations of the game. The Sedins don't kill penalties. Part of the reason is because they don't have to, and also by blocking shots you're risking injury, but the upside is that when your team can't find their rhythm, you can get your best players more involved in the play. If I were to build a team, I'd like to have a franchise player I can play in every situation. MS: The Sedins not playing PK doesn't hurt them. If they're not on the ice because the team's constantly killing penalties then the team has to be more disciplined. The Canucks aren't built around 2 players, and that gives the Sedins the opportunity to really focus on one thing (scoring). The Sedins are great talents, but the Canucks don't have a standout talent like Ovechkin or Crosby. There is no shining star. The Canucks are built like a football team - you need everyone to perform their specific role for them to succeed. If special teams can't produce then you hope the depth can hold up. <img src="http://cache1.asset-cache.net/xc/86020661.jpg?v=1&c=IWSAsset&k=2&d=77BFBA49EF8789215ABF3343C02EA54809ADCC78F7DA45A9E4E03DA6F564D905B4F7DACE93165AFCE30A760B0D811297"class="imageFloatRightFramed">JC: One thing I really noticed that year was the lack of net presence. Chicago had Byfuglien, Ladd, and Eager in Luongo's face the entire time. The Canucks have trouble against the Blues because David Backes is cemented in front of the net. MS: I agree, and that's my only bone to pick. It certainly adds yet another dimension to our potent attack. We lack that physical element. We're bigger, in fact, we always have been, but I don't think we're grittier than before. Torres can be a perimeter player sometimes too. We are missing a David Backes type. It's demoralizing for teams to have someone in front of the net you can't move. The Canucks defense was torn about by Byfuglien. Edler wasn't strong enough, Bieksa had the strength but not the frame. I think that's why Alberts could surprisingly play a big role on this team when it comes to clearing the crease. Look what Andy Sutton was able to do in Ottawa. He put players flat on their butts all the time. JC: It almost feels like this team is built for the regular season than the playoffs. If you look at how the Flyers were built last year, them going deep shouldn't be all that surprising. They had great veteran leadership and a great mix of size, talent, and grit. I picked the Flyers to upset that year because I knew they could go far. MS: I'm gonna play the devil's advocate and say it depends on who they play. Against almost all the teams they're good. The Canucks have trouble with Chicago, and I know that contradicts with what I said previously, but you just don't know how this team will fare against this version of the Hawks in the playoffs. Last year, Quenneville totally outcoached Vigneault. I think, line for line, other than that top line with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, we have the advantage in regards to the other 9 forwards, so I like how we match up against the Wings. JC: Let's talk Luongo, since he's the biggest X factor. I don't like his contract, and there are people who are already saying Luongo's overpaid, but he's still one of the better goalies in the West. What do you think? MS: Luongo's play has slipped but I think Kiprusoff's play has slipped more. A quarter of the way through the season, my top 5 West goalies are: Bryzgalov, Hiller, Backstrom, Quick, and Halak. But in the playoffs everything changes. I don't like the Luongo extension either - it's pro-rated, but I think if we could get him just a shade cheaper at around $5 million we might be able to afford to keep Bieksa. He brings an element no other defenseman on our team does and maybe he does need a change of scenery but we need players like him in the playoffs. JC: Vigneault says the window for this team to win is between now and 1 or 2 years down the road. I tend to agree with him. Canucks in 5 years - how many Cups? 1? 2? None? MS: I have to disagree with Vigneault. I think the window longer than that. Edler and Raymond are still young. The Moose is well-stocked. Granted, Luc Bourdon's untimely death set this franchise back a little, but it's more like a ten-year plan. Ideally, our top players will be ready to make a significant impact in 5 years. Look at the Red Wings. From 1980 to their Cup win in 1997 (their first in ages), they were eliminated from the playoffs 11 times, and only 4 times did they at least reach the Conference Finals. When you're building a team you're going to fail a lot in the beginning, because that's the feeling you have to know to succeed later on. Vancouver has no tradition of winning and that works against them. Vigneault is no Scotty Bowman, but at least the consistency is there. Would you rather be successful long-term or be a potential one-hit wonder like the Hawks with their cap issues? They still have yet to sign Seabrook and could only afford Marty Turco. Don't get me wrong, Chicago could still end up being competitive but it will be difficult. Maybe it's because I haven't lived through 40 years of disappointment, but we have to be patient. As long as we draft well, we'll stay competitive. It wasn't too long ago people were labelling Hodgson as a bust, but history has shown that the World Jrs. MVP, and it should've been Hodgson, no doubt, go on to have good NHL careers. (Past winners include Eberle, Malkin, Ovechkin, Parise, Cammalleri, and Iginla). The Canucks and Blackhawks face-off Friday night. We'll have to see what kind of team we really have.
  4. "It's the repetition of affirmation that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen." - Muhammad Ali. For the Vancouver Canucks, in their 40th year in the league, there are only four words: "We. Want. The. Cup." <img src="http://vancouverite.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/kesler.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Some wins will come easier than others, but make no mistake, the Canucks are the team to beat in the West. For Cup contenders facing the Canucks, it is a chance to familiarize themselves with a potential enemy in June. For teams looking to re-build, it provides a golden opportunity for young players to play against the league's best. Unlike Colorado or Phoenix last year, the Canucks aren't going to surprise anyone. Henrik Sedin is the reigning league MVP and twin brother Daniel is just as good. Ryan Kesler will see plenty of Selke Trophies on his shelf before his career is over and Roberto Luongo can always show off his Olympic gold when people question his ability to win big games. But let's not get carried away - there are 82 grueling regular season games to be played and three Western Conference teams that the Canucks must show they can beat before they become the last team standing. The San Jose Sharks have been the West's best team for the past two years but like the Canucks during the West Coast Express' heyday, they still can't win the big game. In the five years since the lockout, all the Sharks have done is win the Pacific Division three times, eclipsed the 100-point mark four times, and claimed the President's Trophy once. But the Sharks always seem to lose their bite when the games start to really count, bowing out from the semis in three straight years and an even more abysmal showing two years ago after being ousted in the opening round by the Ducks. It was only last year did the Sharks manage to parlay their regular season success into the playoffs and reached the Conference Finals, even if only to be swept by the eventual Cup-winning Blackhawks. While becoming one of the four teams remaining is certainly quite the accomplishment, to say the Sharks were satisfied would be an understatement. The Sharks' first ever Conference Final appearance may be short, but now this team knows how to get there. Even with losing captain Rob Blake to retirement and swapping Evgeni Nabokov for a cheaper tandem in Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi, this is a team that has finally learned how to win and that's a dangerous thought. What's more dangerous than a team that knows it can win is a team that has already won and for the Detroit Red Wings they have something that no other Cup contender has: a wealth of experience. Since the lockout, the Wings have averaged 113 points a year, dipped below 50 wins just once (last year with a depleted roster), and been to the Finals twice. Nicklas Lidstrom has 247 games of playoff experience under his belt, over 100 more than Daniel and Henrik combined. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are no strangers either, Datsyuk having two Cup rings and Zetterberg a former Conn Smythe winner. Even the Red Wings' newest addition, Mike Modano, brings plenty of experience with a Cup ring of his own and over 150 games of playoff experience. Detroit is my pick to win the Cup (but I'd love to be proven wrong) and any road to the Finals will have to go through them. And the last time the Canucks met the Wings in the playoffs? 2002, when the Canucks were eliminated in the opening round after blowing a 2-0 lead in a series that is now only remembered by this goal. As the saying goes, "three time's the charm," but as the Canucks strive for their third straight division title you can bet that a third consecutive 4-2 semi-finals loss to Chicago won't be happening again. The Canucks simply won't allow it and a weaker Blackhawks squad would be hard-pressed to deal out the same punishment a third time. Make no mistake, the Canucks would love to see the Blackhawks in the semis again, if only just to show that the two previous playoff meetings were merely flukes. Still, the Blackhawks do have the Canucks' number and are the defending Cup champions. Even with less depth don't be surprised if Jonathan Toews wills this team deep into the playoffs. No other team in the West can deal as much psychological damage to the Canucks as the Blackhawks and as any NHL player will tell you, the playoffs are mentally taxing as they are physically. <img src="http://www.showtimetickets.com/hockey-tickets/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Roberto-Luongo-photos.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">All three teams are tough opponents but nothing the Canucks cannot handle. The truth is, the Canucks' toughest opponent is themselves. Since the 2000-2001 season, the Canucks have made the playoffs seven times but have lost in the semis four times and the quarters three times. During that same span the Canucks have been division champions four times but were upset in opening round by Calgary in 2004 and lost 4-1 to the Ducks in 2007 in the semis after escaping Anaheim with a 1-1 record. Then it was losses to Chicago in consecutive years in the semis in which the Canucks allowed an uncharacteristic 12 goals combined in elimination games. Despite his 112-point regular season performance Henrik Sedin was not a major force in the playoffs and neither was twin brother Daniel and both disappeared for stretches. Kesler had just one goal while Mason Raymond capped off what would've been a great season with just 4 points in 12 playoff games. Roberto Luongo had the worst playoff run of his career and his save percentage dropped from .913 to .895 which led to a subsequent ballooning of his GAA from 2.57 to 3.22. Cup-winning teams should not and do not self-destruct. If the Canucks want to win they just simply have to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
  5. With Ryan Getzlaf healthy and Corey Perry's emergence as the West's best power forward, the Ducks boast one of the league's best duos. What should be concerning is their defense. The Ducks are expecting Brett Festerling, Brendan Mikkelson, Stu Bickell, Luca Sbisa, and perhaps Cam Fowler, if he makes the team, to log consistent NHL-calibre minutes, but if they can't then the Ducks' atrocious 251 GA (fourth-worst in West) could look even uglier. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B- Other than Jarome Iginla, the Flames are chock-full of underachievers (Matt Stajan, Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay, Jay Bouwmeester) and good depth players (Rene Bourque, Nik Hagman, Ian White). Given the strength of the Western Conference and the lack of consistent weapons the Flames boast making the playoffs will be a challenge. Miikka Kiprusoff is once again expected to play at least 75 games given the relative inexperience of his potential backups (Henrik Karlsson, Leland Irving). Offense: B-, Defense: B, Goaltending: B Oh, how the mighty have shot themselves in the foot. Dale Tallon's mismanagement of the cap has given Stan Bowman headaches with no outs. It's a good thing Tallon has a good eye for talent with a whole new slew of youngsters ready to make their mark for the defending champs having lost a bunch of good depth. The Hawks are finally under the cap but have a questionable duo of Marty Turco and Corey Crawford manning the pipes. If the goaltending can't hold then forget about a second consecutive Cup title. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/thumbnailfull/craig-anderson-2009-10-15-23-10-58.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Like Phoenix and Buffalo, a big reason for the Avs' success was the play of Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't come with either Ryan Miller or Ilya Bryzgalov's pedigree. The Avs won't catch anyone off-guard this year because there most likely won't be any breakout performances (Chris Stewart) or surprising rookies (Ryan O'Reilly). Kyle Quincey has become the Avs' best blueliner but he's going to have a big workload in front of him and Anderson needs bailing out. Offense: B, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- Columbus was just on the cusp of breaking out before Steve Mason hit the sophomore wall and the whole team imploded. The team has the pieces in place, although they may be one top pair defenseman away, to be a playoff team. All that has to happen is for everybody, especially Derick Brassard, to perform. Rick Nash is slowly growing into his leadership role and Antoine Vermette still has untapped potential. The Jackets are a young team led by rookie coach in Scott Arniel but GM Scott Howson's acquisition of seasoned veteran Chris Clark will help smooth the bumpy ride. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B- One thing about Marc Crawford's squads is that they can really score. That's all great but it's worth nothing if you can't defend and win some games. The six highest paid players on the Stars' payroll have no-trade clauses and none of them, save Loui Eriksson, are entering their prime. With the uncertainty behind the ownership of the Stars, the club has been forced to cut costs. The team has a good group of talented individuals but it's a club that's in limbo. They're not exactly contending for the playoffs and not exactly re-building (which they should) either. Joe Nieuwendyk has provided more stability than the failed Les Jackson-Brett Hull experiment but it hasn't gotten off to a good start. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: C+ <img src="http://nbcsportsmedia.msnbc.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photo_StoryLevel/080515/080515-Nicklas%20Lidstrom-vmed-234p.widec.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Never count out the Red Wings, especially when Nicklas Lidstrom is back to give one last kick at the can. Given the cap troubles of the Hawks and their cost-cutting measures, the Red Wings are in a position to re-take the Central Division crown. It's a golden opportunity for the Wings this season with Jiri Hudler back and GM Ken Holland added some great depth in Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei. Johan Franzen is healthy. If Valtteri Filppula can play like we all know he can, watch out. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- It's hard to get excited about the Oilers' upcoming season but they will feature a bevy of potential superstars: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle, and Linus Omark. If you're going to watch the Oilers don't expect a win but do expect some razzle-dazzle from its youngsters. The franchise is clearly in re-building mode but I'm not sure if they've found the right coach in Tom Renney. With Sheldon Souray most likely gone 27-year old Ales Hemsky is considered a veteran and will have to help these players grow.. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C The Kings have been inching towards the top ever so slightly since drafting Anze Kopitar. There's a good collection of young talent, veterans (Ryan Smyth, Michal Handzus, Rob Scuderi), and prospects (Brayden Schenn, Thomas Hickey, Colten Teubert, Jonathan Bernier) for the Kings to forge ahead. They will be big players at the deadline, looking for that extra piece. While they have no game-breaking winger yet, which was why GM Dean Lombardi went after Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kings still have a very solid group that can compete. Willie Mitchell stabilizes the blueline and Drew Doughty has become of the true elite blueliners in this league. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A- After committing some big dollars to Martin Havlat (with a few parting shots at Chicago) and a promise from rookie coach Todd Richards to implement a more attacking system, the Wild responded by finishing 13th in the conference. The Wild were relatively quiet this summer save for Mikko Koivu's overpriced extension and the signing of Matt Cullen, but the general belief in Minnesota is that this team can play much better. There's toughness up front with this group but a little short on skill. Brent Burns is still the major X factor and if he plays well he's a great spark for the Wild attack. Offense: B-, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ Anyone who appreciates hockey has to appreciate the Predators. Led by GM David Poile and Barry Trotz, one of the league's best coaches, the Preds play a blue-collar game and win on a consistent basis. Never mind that they've never won a single playoff series – that they've managed to even make the playoffs consistently with such a strict payroll budget is astounding. Expect more of the same this year. Some things just don't change. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ If the Phoenix Coyotes can win 50 games again this year Dave Tippett may be the best coach in the league. The roster isn't anything to smirk at but it's not exactly intimidating either. The Desert Dogs' fate will be solely based on the play of Ilya Bryzgalov. Picking up Ray Whitney was a shrewd move for a young team and if they can get Kyle Turris and Oliver Ekman-Larsson to make significant contributions they are a dangerous team. But count me in as one of those doubters, especially after losing shot-blocking machine Zbynek Michalek. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: A- Some people don't think the Sharks can win without Evgeni Nabokov, but with an offense that features at least two 40-goal scorers (Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau) and one of the league's best playmakers in Joe Thornton, there's no shortage of weapons up front for Todd McLellan although the bottom six isn't great. Dan Boyle is best powerplay quarterback in the West and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's production can't dip any further. Whether or not this team can succeed in the post-season is yet another question. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+ Things were looking so good in St. Louis when they took a giant step back. There's enough talent up front even but David Backes and Brad Boyes need to regain their scoring touches. Jaroslav Halak is more than an adequate replacement for Chris Mason. Erik Johnson is a stud defenseman but they still need Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to stay healthy. Easier said than done, of course. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B+ <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3416/3276791653_6041358afd.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Bar none, the Canucks are the best team in the West. This isn't just some hometown bias working here, it's the truth. No other team can match the Canucks' depth, up front or on the blueline, and there shouldn't be any questions in net... unless Keith Ballard knocks out Roberto Luongo. We may see Mason Raymond score 30 this year and while many didn't like the Raffi Torres signing, I definitely did. After losing out on Arron Asham you can't go wrong with a former 27-goal scorer with some sandpaper for only $1 million bucks. Offense: A+, Defense: A, Goaltending: A STANDINGS 1. Vancouver2. San Jose3. Detroit4. Chicago5. Los Angeles6. Phoenix7. Nashville8. Calgary9. St. Louis10. Colorado11. Columbus12. Minnesota13. Anaheim14. Dallas15. Edmonton
  6. <img src="http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/j/ap/devils%20kovalchuk%20hockey--810173562_v2.rp350x350.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Ilya Kovalchuk was all smiles and cracking jokes when he signed a record-breaking 17 year pact with the Devils for $102 million. Even with a declining Martin Brodeur and the future in net uncertain, by signing the Russian sniper the Devils look to remain playoff staples for the next decade. That all came to a crashing halt today. Kovalchuk is now stuck in limbo as the NHL rejected his new contract today citing that both sides are trying to circumvent the cap. The NHL believes that neither Kovalchuk nor the Devils believe that he will play out his contract in its entirety, at which point Kovalchuk will be 44 years old. It's quite obvious that the NHL is making a judgment call on Kovalchuk. The NHL is essentially saying that 1) Kovalchuk can't possibly want to play in the NHL at 44 years old, or 2) that he can't play at the NHL level at 44 years old due to declining skill. It seems as though Gary Bettman has forgotten that up until this year Chris Chelios, at 48 years old, was a NHLer. For comparison's sake, when Chelios was 44 years old in 2006, he suited up in 81 games for the Red Wings, posting 11 points with 102 penalty minutes and a healthy +22 rating. <img src="http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/blackhawks-confidential/gary-bettman1.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">It also bothers me that Bettman is stepping in now. It's absolutely absurd. Where was he for the Marian Hossa contract? When Dale Tallon signed Hossa last summer, he was 30 years old and awarded with a 12-year contract, making him 42 years old when he retires. Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg will be 41 when their contracts expire in 2021. You don't even have to look to far beyond our backyard for another example: Roberto Luongo's new contract, which kicks in this upcoming season, will take him to 2022, at which point he will be 43 years old. Luongo's combined salary for the last three years of his contract? $3.618 million. Kovalchuk's contract isn't the first of his kind. Lou Lamoriello didn't set any precedents. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap by lowering each players' cap hit. If Bettman is calling Lamoriello a cheat then he is also calling out Tallon, Ken Holland, and Mike Gillis, some of the brightest minds in hockey today. All of these contracts were designed to circumvent the cap to a certain degree. I would be very, very surprised if the NHLPA doesn't file a grievance. I would understand Bettman's actions better had this been part of the new CBA, but this is still the one that was agreed on since the lockout. This CBA has proven to be a failure: traditional non-hockey market teams are still struggling, contracts are longer and more lucrative than ever, and there still hasn't been the parity Bettman has been talking about. And what of Kovalchuk? Is he still a free agent? Do the Kings wait for the league investigation to be over or do they move ahead to Plan B? What about the Devils? Does Kovalchuk, one of the league's premier players, head to the KHL for greener pastures now? What's Bettman's plan? Where is this going to go? Kovalchuk's contract may have sent ripples across the league but Bettman's actions and decisions will make waves. This is going to be interesting.
  7. 30. That was Canucks hockey at its finest. Even at the Madhouse, the Blackhawks lacked that extra step all night. But that's what's most frustrating about the Canucks - they can't play their game on a more consistent basis. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/canucks/images/upload/2009/03/mar1909_ob3_b.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">29. I was never a fan of Shane O'Brien, especially in game four when he took two bone-headed cross-checking penalties. No one has ever questioned his toughness but you can't help but notice that his game has improved drastically. His skating and his hockey smarts are two things that have really jumped out at me this season. 28. Will the real Ryan Kesler please stand up? Much like Alex Burrows, Kesler has struggled to find his game in the second round after a fantastic regular season and an even better performance at the Olympics. It's not like Kesler's invisible - that's more Pavol Demitra than anyone - but he hasn't made a big impact in games like we all know he can. 27. Roberto Luongo was better, but not fantastic. He didn't exactly steal the game, although there were more Hawks chances than I'd like to see. It's not exactly like the Hawks are an easy team to play against either. 26. Special teams is vital, especially if it's not the regular season. The Hawks powerplay didn't look nearly as dangerous and Dustin Byfuglien wasn't as noticeable as he was in Game Four. The Canucks didn't allow a single PPG in four penalty kills. A rarity these days. 25. If there was a goat for the entire series, I'm not picking the less than spectacular Luongo. It's Daniel Sedin. Having accumulated only 28 PIM all season, the twin without the 'A' has 12 PIM in 11 games and just one powerplay goal. Daniel was clearly rattled by David Bolland in Game Four and a lot of the penalties he's been taken have just been plain dumb. There was a collective sigh of relief for Canucks Nation when the Canucks came out strong again in the second period after a late hooking call on Daniel. Perhaps this is the reason why Alain Vigneault gave Henrik rather than Daniel the 'A'. 24. Kyle Wellwood can be a blast to watch. He's perhaps one of the best stickhandlers in the league in close quarters, but ask him to do it while skating at full speed and, well, it's probably not going to happen. But either way, I think he was one of the best players out there last night (along with Kevin Bieksa and O'Brien), and I think most will agree. He may be only one of the few returning UFAs and he won't come much more expensive than his current salary ($1.2 million). 23. It's a foregone conclusion that Pavol Demitra is gone after this season. I didn't expect him to be back next year but his overall lack of effort just solidified my case even more. 22. Never mind Patrick Kane - he's a slick puckhandler with great vision and soft hands, but it doesn't seem like he'll be anything more than that. Perhaps it's because his development into a NHL star has paled in comparison to Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews', but even after a couple of seasons in the league I don't think he's improved his defensive game any, if at all. I don't expect Kane to win the Selke, Kesler's going to do that this year, but I know some Hawks fans that cringe when they see 88 loitering around the defensive zone. 21. Kris Versteeg is one of those sneaky fast players that plays hard. If anything, his spirited tilt against Patrick Eaves was a testament to his heart and grit. 29 other teams would love to have him. Asides from Toews, for obvious patriotic reasons, he may be one of my favourite Hawks. Don't shoot me. 20. If the Canucks advance to the finals it won't be because Henrik, Luongo, Alex Edler, or even Christian Ehrhoff elevated their play. It's because of the return of Ryan Johnson, who returns to his regular fourth line spot. The underappreciated centre won 8 of 9 draws (he single-handedly raised the Canucks' FO% by 5%), blocked 2 shots, and dished out 1 hit in 11 minutes of ice-time. One thing that you can depend on Johnson for is quality minutes. Against San Jose defense will be huge, now with Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton (finally) hitting their stride. <img src="http://habsinsideout.com/files/hio/imagecache/littleimage/images/0subban_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">19. How about that PK Subban? The kid oozes poise and confidence on the blueline and with Hal Gill questionable for an elimination game and Jaroslav Spacek's expected to return (although not necessarily at 100%), expect Subban to log 20 minutes. He's already averaging 18:41 and don't be surprised if Jacques Martin assigns Subban to Sidney Crosby. 18. It's funny how much ink Jaroslav Halak is getting, but once the playoffs are over expect the Halak vs. Carey Price debates to continue. Habs fans have fallen head over heels with Halak but I caution against jumping on the bandwagon too soon. One good season does not make for a good goalie. I'm not doubting Halak's ability, but I am a little appalled how fast people throw Price under the bus. But, I guess that's just Montreal for you. 17. The Flyers have always wanted that elite netminder, but ask any Philly fan and they'll say that Ron Hextall was the last good goaltender they had. But what's Hextall's career save percentage? A rather pedestrian .895. What Flyers fans miss is the toughness and pugnacity Hextall brought to the table but those goalies don't grow on trees. In fact, I think a case can be made to jettison Ray Emery (in all likelihood won't be re-signed, anyone else think he has a career in MMA?) and enter the 2010-11 season with Brian Boucher as the number one and Michael Leighton as the backup. Neither come with starting goalie pedigree (Boucher was a former 22nd overall pick), but the Flyers are a team built for the playoffs and all they need to do is to make it. They got lucky and drew the declining Martin Brodeur in the first round, but Boucher has always traditionally played better when it counts. His regular season numbers aren't exactly stellar (.900, 2.72 GAA career) but his playoff numbers are significantly better (.915, 2.17 GAA career). A Boucher/Leighton tandem will save them money and allow them to keep Simon Gagne. If anything, this would be a one season experiment. I've always felt some backups never get the chance to show what they can really do. 16. Everyone's been saying how easy it was to shut down Alex Ovechkin but how about Crosby? He's almost been a non-factor in the series but like Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma will live or die with his best players on the ice. Evgeni Malkin, last year's Conn Smythe winner, has been invisible for stretches of the game. I actually think the best Penguin in this playoffs has been Kris Letang. So much for finding the right wingers - Ruslan Fedotenko has zero points and Alexei Ponikarovsky was a healthy scratch recently. 15. The new Bobby Orr statue that commemorates the 40th anniversary of his goal against St. Louis will be unveiled tonight. The Bruins are looking to eliminate the Flyers at home (they will) and advance to the Conference Finals where in all likelihood they will face Pittsburgh, which will no doubt be a spirited bout. After facing the 6'7" Gill, Crosby will yet again face another giant, this time the 6'9" Zdeno Chara. Expect more frustration and shattered sticks. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to outplay Tuukka Rask if the Pens want to advance. 14. If there were any doubts over Doug Wilson's job security in San Jose, the Sharks' first appearance in the Conference Finals in six years certainly wiped it all away. Joe Thornton, surprisingly, came up huge and he's been playing really well. But the big coming out party is for "Little Joe" Pavelski, who I thought along with Ryan Kesler, Ryan Miller, and Brian Rafalski was one of the best players for USA. 13. Just a little story on Pavelski. After playing two years at the University of Wisconsin, Pavelski signed an entry-level contract at $850,000 in the summer of 2006. Despite his spectacular college numbers (101 points in 84 games, James van Riemsdyk only collected 74 in comparison), Pavelski initially didn't expect to make the team. He was absolutely shocked when he walked into the locker room one day and saw his familiar #8 (his college number) waiting for him at his stall. He knew then that he had made it. Even his mother has often commented about how the entire family was surprised at how good he was at the game. It's this kind of modesty that really makes great players. The kind of modesty that makes you work hard at your game day-in and day-out. 12. That San Jose made the Conference Finals must be great news for Gary Bettman. After interest in hockey in California began to fade after the Ducks' struggles, the Sharks have finally found that playoff success and the Kings are becoming relevant again. If you were to argue for Bettman's side that hockey will work in non-traditional markets, California is a great example. Former Vancouver Giants standout Jon Blum is from California and a big reason he got into hockey was because of Wayne Gretzky. We could see a big boom in hockey interest in California very, very soon. <img src="http://media.scout.com/media/image/63/634544.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">11. Back to college hockey - if anyone gets a chance, watch the NCAA Frozen Four. I personally dislike watching basketball in general, especially the NBA, but March Madness is a different animal altogether. Just imagine the hype, the skill, the determination, and the hard work, but just on ice. It's a spectacular tournament that unfortunately really doesn't garner enough attention. The player that I've been watching all year and think could have a great NHL career? Former Wisconsin captain Blake Geoffrion (whose squad finished second this year to Boston College), the grandson of Hab legend Boom-Boom Geoffrion and wears #5 in his honour. If there was any family that knows how to shoot the puck, it's the Geoffrions. 10. It's about time the NHL made an award for executive of the year, although I wish they would name it. There is no question that this year's winner is Don Maloney, much like this year's Jack Adams should go to Dave Tippett. What they've done together in Phoenix has been incredible. Should the Coyotes move to Winnipeg, they will already have a solid management group in place, a key ingredient to a successful hockey franchise and ensure that the "new" Jets won't be stuck in expansion mediocrity in its infancy. 9. Next award to introduce? How about an award for most assists? There's a minor award for one of the useless stats in hockey with the +/- award, so why not one for helpers? This isn't some sort of ploy to get Henrik another trophy (he will win both the Hart and Pearson) but playmaking is an art form but is somehow less glamorous than goal-scoring. Let's change that. 8. There's little doubt in my mind that the new hardware being handed out this year is somehow tied to the fact that for the foreseeable future the NHL Awards will be held in glitzy Las Vegas. 7. I'm going to refrain from making any predictions about who will come out of the west for fear of jinxing our dearly beloved, but I am going to say that the East won't be winning the Cup this year. Although I'm sure Bettman is just absolutely jonesing for a Chicago-Pittsburgh tilt. Ratings would be through the roof. 6. My avid golfer dad and I enjoyed the brief absence of Tiger Woods from the PGA Tour. It's not that we don't like the way he golfs - his aggressiveness and competitiveness is second to none - but it's the way he carries himself on and off the course (no more needs to be said here). If you remember, it wasn't too long ago when Woods made a little comment about how "no one watches hockey," which prompted "Mad Mike" Milbury to dub him "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9hfH_zGKE," I can't help but think how ignorant that comment is. USA Hockey is providing a new surge of talent and if the Olympics were any indication at all, it's going to become really relevant again. That Tiger Woods, the world's most marketable athlete behind LeBron James (the scandal actually did The Masters a favour), is turning a blind eye towards his own country's feats and accomplishments is downright ignorant and frustrating. This has gone on long enough. Now for a short top five things to watch for. 5. Steven Stamkos at the World Championships in Cologne, Germany. He will be Canada's #2 pivot for years to come behind Sidney Crosby. Stamkos is already better than Eric Staal, Vinny Lecavalier, or Ryan Getzlaf when they were his age. No surprises here, but Matt Duchene is also another player to watch and will end up having a more brilliant career than John Tavares. Which is why the Oilers should go with potential and smarts rather than raw skill by selecting Tyler Seguin over Taylor Hall. In fact, maybe Steve Tambellini can dupe Peter Chiarelli into thinking that the Oilers are going to take Hall and somehow swindle a low pick from them to guarantee them that they'll take Seguin first overall. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/aa/fullj.d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921/d76d2121d550e807b3205e740e4a4921-getty-98570716jj019_detroit_red_w.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">4. Nicklas Lidstrom may have played his last game as a Red Wing and it's a shame that it has to end on a low note, especially after falling to Crosby and the Pens last year. Had the Wings won the Cup Lidstrom's decision to retire would be much easier, but like most veteran players who are on the fence (Mike Modano included), there's always that question of "what could've been." Either way, congratulations are in order for both Modano and Lidstrom. 3. Mark Messier selected the squad for Canada at Cologne and no doubt the Canadians will achieve some form of success due to the abundance of talent. But managing a NHL team is a different. There's salary caps, trades, negotiations, and PR disasters (the Rangers still have Sean Avery). I certainly hope Messier's success at the international level doesn't somehow get translated into a lengthy NHL managing career. On second thought, that might not be a bad idea. 2. The Canucks somehow played better with 4.5 defensemen (sorry, Andrew Alberts). With Sami Salo expected to out with a potentially ruptured testicle (ouch... but follow it on twitter @salostesticle) this will be a test to how the Canucks respond. The home team has the losing record in this series but look for GM Place to be rowdy as ever. 1. The number one thing to watch? Game Six. Duh.
  8. What a wild playoffs. I've been so caught up with everything that I had neglected to add new entries. Apologies. As a gift, here's everything that's been on my mind for the past 2 weeks. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/89/fullj.7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855/7a91908a184526bbb821a5fc3389d855-getty-98063257.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - Colorado just simply ran out of steam. Craig Anderson looked exhausted at times and the game time Peter Budaj saw I'm sure gave Anderson some much needed rest, however brief. Matt Duchene hit a wall and had an obvious difficulty adjusting to the more physical playoff hockey after an outstanding rookie season. Chris Stewart really had a coming out party and could become a legitimate 30-goal power forward. The Sharks almost became another punch line to a choking joke again and even though San Jose can breath a sigh of relief, they still won't make it past the second round. Even Dan Boyle was reluctant to talk about his Game 3 gaffe. If they do, it'd be totally on the shoulders of Boyle, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The Sharks' vaunted Big Three have once again pulled their disappearing act. Joe Thornton has 3 assists in 6 games and is -4. Patrick Marleau has 3 points and is -2. Dany Heatley has 0 goals in 5 games. You really have to wonder how long Doug Wilson is willing to hold on to this core. And you also have to really wonder if Thornton can really be considered a franchise cornerstone anymore. - There's no secret that there's a double standard in the NHL and their failure to remain objective in all their disciplinary actions just makes the joke even worse. Zdeno Chara should've been suspended as per league rules but he wasn't, and you can expect the same with Marian Hossa for his hit on Dan Hamhuis. To make matters worse, Hossa was the Game 5 hero, giving the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead against a Nashville squad. I didn't think Chicago would have this much trouble against a team that pales in comparison in talent, but it just goes to show how far blue-collar hockey can get you. The Hawks will have no problem closing this out on the road or at the United Center. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/capress/d8/fullj.1ee1ab3e17070f7eef2792201806597f/capress-hkn_kings_canucks-232609823.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed"> - The Kings skated with such confidence that it totally disrupted with the Canucks' play and if not for Mikael Samuelsson's (he's been fantastic since the "Sweden Snub") shooting the Canucks wouldn't be in this position. Roberto Luongo still really hasn't found his game while the defense can be criticized, his .882 SV% and 3.11 GAA just won't cut it. The penalty kill has been awful, and for those who wonder how Ryan Johnson and his one-goal season can justify more than a million dollars per year, well, there's your answer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects continue to march on. Henrik and Daniel and Ryan Kesler have continued their great regular seasons. The return of Steve Bernier was big, and the always under-appreciated big forward has caused some havoc in front of the Kings net. I think the last 7-2 thrashing totally shot down whatever confidence the Kings had. Give credit to the Kings - they're a young squad that really exceeded expectations this year, and they're going to be Pacific Division heavyweights for a long time with Anze Kopitar up front and Norris-nominee Drew Doughty on the blueline. If the Canucks can't defend the Kings, they'll have headaches with the Blackhawks. Again. - I think in the Detroit-Phoenix series, experience has really tilt the scales in the Wings' favour. Admittedly I haven't been following this series as closely as the other, but each Red Wing win looks more and more convincing. After an ugly 7-4 win, the Wings have absolutely clamped down on Phoenix's offense, with two goals allowed in their last two games. Pavel Datsyuk's simply a magician on ice and he's led the Wings' attack. Nicklas Lidstrom has remained relatively quiet (as usual) but I somehow expected a little more out of him considering that this may be his last NHL playoffs amidst rumours of retiring or returning to Sweden. Usually, half the teams that make the playoffs one year don't make the playoffs the following year (Edmonton and Carolina being the most extreme examples, no Rangers, Blues, Flames, Ducks this year). I have a feeling Phoenix and Colorado will both fall victim to this because the biggest reason for their success has been their goaltending. Ilya Bryzgalov and Craig Anderson have had outstanding seasons but they'd have to do it again to prove to me they're not one-trick ponies. - There's no way the Habs can limit the Caps to one goal again. That simply won't happen. Bruce Boudreau was noticeably flustered with his team's lack of offense in Game 5, but they'll find their game soon. You can shut down Alex Ovechkin for one game, but not an entire series. I really think the wild card here isn't goaltending, but rather Mike Green. Green has just 2 assists and is the Caps' fourth highest scoring defenseman behind USA World Jr. hero John Carlson, Tom Poti, and deadline pick-up Joe Corvo. Alex Semin only has one assist and is driving everyone crazy - he earns $6 million next year on a one-year contract and if he doesn't perform then he will be trade bait. Much like LA's Alex Frolov, Semin's desire to compete has been questioned. I've been impressed with the Habs' effort despite being a much less skilled and smaller team, but I think for the most part they've responded well. Size wasn't an issue here but look for the Habs to address that need at this year's draft where there's plenty of big-bodied centres. - I called the upset, and it was Philadelphia. They were simply built for the playoffs and the Devils just couldn't overcome their aggressive play. The Scott Hartnells, Mike Richards, and even Dan Carcillos of the Flyers simply outworked the Devils. Ian Laperriere required 60-70 stitches to fix his face after taking a shot and it's the little instances like that that can tell you about what sort of personality the team has. They'll face Washington next round (if they win) and that's a tough match-up. All you need in the playoffs to go far is a hot goalie and the Flyers have just that with Brian Boucher. At the heels of the Devils' elimination, it should be no surprise that the rumour mill has started to turn again. With a third straight first round exit, I think it's a definite sign that Martin Brodeur can no longer be the man. His .881 SV% and 3.01 GAA was awful for his standards and it has sparked rumours that Lou Lamoriello may be going after Carey Price. - The Boston-Buffalo series was certainly one that caught me by surprise. I knew that neither team would score much, and I thought Buffalo could hold off Boston's physical attack before the fatigue would set in the second round, but I guess I was wrong. Both goalies have been incredible and I still can't really pick which team is going to win, but I'll have to stick with Buffalo and hope they can win two straight. If the Sabres do win, it'd make me 8 for 8 in my predictions. The winner of this series won't last past the second. After Lindy Ruff told the media that whether or not Thomas Vanek would play would depend solely on him, it's going to be very difficult for Vanek to say no, no matter how far away from being 100% he is. - The Sens played great despite missing some several key pieces and going against two of the most offensively talented players in the league and Selke nominee Jordan Staal. It's tough enough beating all three of them, but with a strong supporting cast (although not as strong as the Pens would like) they prevailed. The series does put the Sens in a bit of a curious position, as moving forward they'll have to decide if either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott is their number one guy going forward, or if they're just going to split everything 50-50. - Very quickly, that sets up San Jose and Detroit, Vancouver and Chicago, Washington and Philadelphia, and then Pittsburgh-Buffalo/Boston. It's going to be a dandy, because I see Detroit and Chicago in the Conference Finals and another Pittsburgh-Washington showdown before Chicago claims the Cup. Bold? Maybe. - The obsession with getting the right match-ups has set a new record for too many men on the ice penalties. It's going to cost a team mightily in the Finals and it'll have to be pinned on the coach. Poor bench management leads to poor communication and it won't necessarily be the players' fault. - John Tavares didn't make the list of Calder nominees that includes Detroit's Jimmy Howard, Colorado's Matt Duchene, and Buffalo's Tyler Myers. It's not that Tavares didn't have a good season - he did, with 24 goals to tie for the lead with Duchene but it was Tavares' -15 that didn't do him any favours. If it were my pick it'd be Howard. Duchene was one of Colorado's top scorers and Myers was Buffalo's top defenseman, but both I think were real beneficiaries of having Anderson and Ryan Miller in net. In hockey the most important position (arguably) is in net and without Howard the Red Wings wouldn't have made the top 8. He's much older but he's the most worthy of the league's top rookie award. - The race for the Selke essentially comes down to two players: Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Kesler. There's no contest for the third candidate, Jordan Staal. I was a little perplexed by Staal's nomination, but in part because Datsyuk and Kesler are in a class of their own. You could replace Staal with Jonathan Toews, who I felt should've gotten a vote, and it still wouldn't have been a contest. Kesler will be hard-pressed to beat Datsyuk for the award but I think considering Kesler's showing at the Olympics and his offensive breakout it's his time to claim the award. - The Lady Byng Trophy is usually the least respected major award and it's not totally fair to give it that label and but indeed it is less glamorous. Datsyuk gets his second nomination this year while Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis both enjoyed great seasons. However, I think Datsyuk will go empty-handed once again and St. Louis, who was snubbed by Canada, will take the award. <img src="http://cdn.nhl.com/blackhawks/images/upload/2009/01/chi_129_6.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed"> - The most interesting race will be for the Norris Trophy. This year's list of candidates features three first-timers with Duncan Keith, Mike Green, and Drew Doughty. I'm still a little uneasy over Green's nomination because his defensive game is nowhere near Keith's (glug glug) or Doughty's. Someone please make a Bobby Orr Award or something for best offensive defenseman. Anyway, back on topic, has anyone else noticed that none of those 3 players are feared for their hitting? It's clearly a changing of the guard not so much in terms of age, but definitely style of play. All three are incredible skaters. Chris Pronger was never an incredible skater. If it weren't for Green's nomination I think it would've went to Shea Weber. My pick is without a doubt Duncan Keith, no question. - Nashville can't even sell out their playoff games against a division rival. Once again, the futility of hockey in non-traditional American markets should give Gary Bettman an idea of what exactly is going on down there but of course he believes they are still viable markets. Bettman got absolutely lucky with the Coyotes' success this season. It also shows, however, how a successful team, no matter the location, can be with the proper management. It sounds like Tampa Bay is headed in that direction but apparently Martin St. Louis wants no part of it and has reportedly requested a trade. - The draft lottery didn't unveil any surprises, but the Oilers are still shrouded in mystery as to who they're going to pick. They've recently re-vamped their front office by firing assistant GM Kevin Prendergast and a number of trainers, but you have to wonder when Steve Tambellini's going to start touching that roster. If I were the Oilers, I'd draft Tyler Seguin and blow up that entire roster. If Tambellini had to pick one player to not trade regardless of the offer, it'd be Sam Gagner. The kid's a wizard with the puck and competes hard. - It's playoff hockey time and we've already seen our fair share of blood, bruises, and shattered teeth courtesy of Eric Belanger. The winner of this year's playoffs will be the team that has lost the most teeth and pints of blood combined. It's always been like that though. Here's to the Canucks and Kyle Wellwood losing all his teeth. Go Canucks Go!