Saturday, March 15, 2008

The State of the NHL

The State of the NHL

The best thing about the NHL hockey season has to be the length! Fans are treated to the action on the ice from September to June which means a hockey fix is never far away! One of the most exciting contests to watch live, it's also easy to be mesmerized by the action on a big screen at home.

A buddy of mine used to say how much he loved to watch a fight and see a hockey game break out. Fortunately, the NHL has taken steps to curb unnecessary violence in a season where heart-stopping injuries have taken place. There have been at least two suspensions recently and many other warnings dealt.

Due to the fact my Los Angeles Kings are totally stinking up the place and giving me a headache (I think you can get free tickets with a Happy Meal purchase), I have invited someone much more qualified to give you some insight on what to watch for in the remainder of the NHL season. Casey Shea writes about the Pittsburgh Penguins (who have a shot this year!) for and has his own blog – Bringing Hockey Back. He so graciously took the time to come up with some insight for us and for that I am truly grateful. Thank you Casey!

Hello all, it's great to be here. Quick little background on myself so you know I'm at least legit in writing about hockey. I've been following the sport for about 20 years as a fan and have just started the two blogs mentioned above to get back into writing. My current job as a national editor for CBS doesn't leave much time to write, so this is my chance.

I have been crunching the numbers and doing the math to see which teams in both conferences have a legit shot at lifting Lord Stanley's cup in June. What I've come up with are four teams from each, which will give me a 50% chance of being right about this. I'm not much of a betting man, but I like those odds. I must also say that these are not in order of who has the best chance, it's just the four from each with reasons why and why they won't win the cup.

Eastern Conference

Montreal Canadiens

Could this be the year a team from north of the border re-claims the Cup as their own? These same Canadiens were the last to do it way back in 1992-93. The Habs knocked off the Kings (coached at the time by Mr. Mullet, Barry Melrose) 4-1.

Why They Win: This is one of the deepest teams they've put together in years. They have a perfect blend of young talent and veteran players who have the playoff experience that is so valuable at this time of year.

The x-factor for this team so far this season is the play of Alexi Kovalev. This guy never seems to age at all. While his point totals over the years haven't exactly been consistent, the work ethic he brings to the rink every night is only matched be a few other guys in the league.

Why They Don't Win: Two words: Carey Price. In my post-trade deadline post, I chastised Montreal GM Bob Gainey for trading then No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet only for a 2nd-round pick to the Washington Capitals. I also speculated that since they were rumored to be the leaders to obtain Marian Hossa from the Thrashers, that Johan Hedberg would also be going to Montreal in the deal. As we know now, the Penguins won the Hossa sweepstakes effectively killing any deal Montreal had in place.

Anyway, Carey Price is only 20-years-old and playing in quite possibly the most hostile home environment in the league. When you screw up, the fans never let you forget about it. He has all the makings of being a great goalie in the NHL, but his lack of experience may cost the Habs in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins

I feel obligated to throw them in for two reasons. One, they are the only team I've ever rooted for. Two, the guy who runs the Hockey Analysis site will question all of the material I've written for him recently about the Pens.

Why They Win: There is not another team in the playoff hunt with a more explosive group of young talent. None. Guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, and Jordan Staal. I could go on, but those names should suffice.

The talent of those guys isn't all they have either. Injuries have absolutely plagued the Pens all season long. Only two guys have played all 71 games for the Pens. Staal and Malkin, that's it. The farm system has stepped up in an unfathomable way and put the Pens in place to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Why They Don't Win: There's two answers that jump into my head every time this question comes up. Answer one, lack of experience. Yes, most of the guys on this team were around for the 4-1 series drubbing by the Ottawa Senators last year, but it was a quick five games. (Long and painful for me, but I was actually glad when the bleeding stopped for good.)

Answer number two and most importantly, they have failed to put together a full 60-minute game for all but a handful of games this season. By this I mean that the team shows a lack of intensity and goes into a fog at some point during the game and the opposition always capitalizes on this. This needs to stop come playoff time or it will be another early exit.

New York Rangers

My buddy Gopher will be thrilled I'm throwing his pride and joy into this for sure.

Why They Win:
Before the season started I picked this team to win the conference and without really telling anyone for fear of causing a cataclysmic event, picked them to win the Cup. The signings of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez make this team just plain scary on paper. Of late this team has been unbeatable going 8-0-2 in their last 10 games. It looks like they are gelling as a team finally.

Also with a goalie like Henrik Lundqvist, you have to like their chances. If you haven't seen him play much, go to YouTube and just search his name. Sit back, relax and prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor.

Why They Don't Win: I've said this all season long. This team has a hodgepodge defense corps. Lundqvist is a monster in net, but any goalie will tell you that he's only as good as the defense in front of him.

One other reason why I'm a little reluctant to say they will win. This team has had more ups and downs than the stock market recently. This season alone I've had to talk down Gopher from committing fan suicide and giving up on the team on two different occasions. Of course then they turn it around for a month and then take a month off again. They're on a high right now, but is this the real Rangers or is there a quick exit on the horizon?

New Jersey Devils

Every word I type here, the pain inside grows more and more intense. If there is one team I can't stand to watch it's the Devils and their trap system, but despite my personal angst they have a shot.


Why They Win: I honestly don't get how this team has done as well as they have this year. They currently lead the Penguins by one point in the division and sit on top of the conference by the same margin.

Everyone always says defense wins championships. I totally agree when talking about the Devils. Their trap system won them three Stanley Cups. Pair that with one of the best goalies of all-time in Martin Brodeur and this becomes a very tough team to score goals against.

Why They Don't Win: I'll make this short and sweet. If they run into a team that can dictate the tempo of the game and turn it into a fast paced series, the Devils don't stand a chance. Their lack of offense is what will ultimately be their downfall. Their leading scorer is Zach Parise with 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists). Only the New York Islanders have a lower number of goals scored in the Eastern Conference and they're not going to make the playoffs.

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings

Why They Win: This is an easy one as well. This is probably the deepest team in the entire league. They've held a double digit lead in the conference since week 2 of the season and have only had one stumble, which was last month. The only reason for the slip was due to injuries and if anything the adversity made them stronger.

Why They Don't Win:
This is going to be nit-picking here, but hey what else would you expect from me? Goaltending. Yes, they have at least one hall-of-famer in Dominik Hasek and a case could probably be made for Chris Osgood, but these guys are two of the oldest goalies in the league. Hasek will continue to be Hasek in net, but with how Osgood has struggled recently they better hope the Dominator stays healthy and doesn't start to suffer from osteoporosis.

San Jose Sharks

Why They Win: It would be a shame if Joe Thornton never got his name etched on the Stanley Cup. It truly would. The guy is one of the best passers of all-time. Just look what he did with Jonathan Cheechoo after being traded to the Sharks, 56 goals. He hasn't come near that number since, but Thornton was the magician behind that feat.

Plus, they have Evgeni Nabokov in net who just might be the most sought after goalie in my fantasy league every year.

Why They Don't Win: It seems like over the last few years they let the hype around them get to them. Take last year for example. There was much talk (myself included) who thought they could actually win the Cup. They drew Nashville in the first round and breezed by in five games seeming to validate the hype. Only problem was they played Detroit in the second-round and were gone in six games.

So now that I've said they have a shot, it's probably dead. Please don't kill me Sharks fans.

Dallas Stars

Why They Win: The trade deadline deal for Brad Richards increased their chances of winning by an immeasurable percent. Richards struggled in Tampa Bay over the last couple years. I attribute this to the team having only one line with Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Combine that with no goaltending this year and it would be hard for the best players in history to be productive.

Richards still has plenty of good years left in him and has fit in perfectly with the Stars so far. His leadership will go a long way with this club.

Why They Don't Win: Marty Turco. I know he takes a lot of heat for how he's performed in the playoffs, but you have to wonder if this will be the reason that keeps them from glory once again. For the record, I do not blame Turco for their first-round loss to the Canucks last year. The series went the full seven games and was arguably the best series of the playoffs. The Stars did not lose because of Turco last year.

Anaheim Ducks

Why They Win: Again, simple. They won it last year in a completely dominating performance against the Senators. Also, Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer opted out of retirement to come back and help the Ducks defend the Cup. When you can add two guys like that and have a goalie like J.S. Giguere, you are poised to make a long playoff run.

Why They Don't Win: To borrow from the above. They won last year. Only two teams have successfully defended the Stanley Cup since the early 90's. The Penguins did it with their lone two Cup wins in 1990-91 and 1991-92. The other team to do it was the Red Wings in 1996-97 and 1997-98. Other than that it's kind of hard to find a flaw in this team now that the guys mentioned above are back.

Anyway, there you have it. Eight teams who can win the Stanley Cup this summer. I'd just like to extend my thanks to Apryl for bringing me in to do this. I had a lot of fun coming up with these teams and reasons and I hope you all enjoyed it


Ben Dugas said...

Solid picks. Hopefully the Devils and Ducks don't go as far as some are expecting. That would be a snooze fest.
Montreal should take the East as long as their offense doesn't fizzle (this is a much bigger issue than Carey Price). Could be the year for Detroit in the West...

Apryl DeLancey said...

Whatever happens, I hope it's a good series to watch!

Patricia said...

I'm with Gopher, love my Rangers!

Mike D. said...

I'm disappointed - I think the true hockey fans out there are divided into two camps: Hates the trap and Loves the trap. That's not just 29 sets of fans vs 1 set. There are many that recognize that the trap is an effective system, and it is also a lot to do with why the NHL changed the rules for higher scoring.

The NHL isn't popular for two main reasons. #1. Ticket prices for lower level seating are too high. #2. Americans are the most impatient idiots (sometimes) ever, and won't tolerate sports that count points in 1's. Same reason soccer isn't popular - no one has the patience to sit through a 0-0 or 1-0 game and appreciate the tactics. Hockey, and to a minor extent baseball (though that's recovered by being the national pasttime) suffer from the same fate. Not enough scoring = Americans won't watch. Why do you think Not Basketball Anymore (NBA) is so popular? :D

That being said, I'm a defensive purist when it comes to hockey, and I would take a 1-0 game over a 6-5 one anyday, so bring on the trap and Go NJ Devils!

Apryl DeLancey said...

Good points, Mike - I think everyone is missing the boat on hockey and soccer. I really enjoy both (in fact I'm watching GOLTV right now) and totally agree that a good low-scoring game is much better than a big-points fracas in many cases!