NHL 2017-18 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately halfway through the current season and the second quarter of this year was much different from the second quarter of last year which was characterized by long double digit winning streaks by a few teams. Nobody has had a double digit winning streak this year though the amazing Las Vegas Golden Knights have come the closest so far. Here is a summary of those who won and lost during the second part of the season.

Biggest Winner

New York Islanders

Actually it should be the Knights but the Islanders ended over 30 years of frustration when New York State agreed that a proper, new arena which will seat over 18,000 will finally be built for them. The Islanders are currently in a slump and out of the playoffs but thanks to this news, they could lose every remaining game and still be the biggest winner of the year except for Las Vegas and whoever wins the Stanley Cup. Getting a new arena means that the Islanders ownership and management can at last concentrate on building a true, contending team, starting with the resigning of John Tavares. It also means that the would-be returned Hartford Whalers will have to find either a new potential expansion franchise owner or get another NHL team to consider relocating.

Runners Up

Las Vegas Golden Knights

That the expansion Knights can actually win a playoff spot is a true miracle. That they can actually win the whole Western Conference and be a true Stanley Cup contender might be described as a miracle of miracles. This team had one of the longest winning streaks in the whole NHL during the second part of the season and have yet to have a slump. Do the new Las Vegas fans think this is normal? Their current season and fast development will be the model for every new future NHL expansion team.

Winnipeg Jets

Nobody expected the Jets to be this good. Unless they go into a horrendous slump, it’s likely they will make the playoffs and be regarded as a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup. They have been winning, lost one of their best players, Mark Scheifele and are still winning. But if they make the playoffs, all the improvements that most of the other top contenders have made will make it tough to take the next step.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins had not done anything noteworthy during the first part of the season largely because the hadn’t played many games. But during the second part of the season they have blossomed and now have a comfortable playoff position. Like the Jets, unless a horrendous slump occurs, expect to see Boston, now regarded as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender back in the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils

Unlike last year, the Devils have not gone into decline after a good first quarter. They are still holding on to a playoff position and top pick Nico Hischier has been everything they had wanted. Their playoff position is precarious but at least they are showing some staying power which they did not have last season.

St. Louis Blues

The Blues are still responding to Mike Yeo’s coaching and have a real shot at winning not only their division but the entire Western Conference. If they make the playoffs, have they improved enough to not only win a playoff round but get over two humps and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, something they have not done since being coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1960s?

Tampa Bay Lightning

They have been the best team in the NHL for the entire year. One big question mark, their goaltending looks solid. But the other big question is can this team stay healthy for once? As was shown last year, this true playoff contender can be undone if certain players get injured.

Nashville Predators

The Stanley Cup runners up of last year actually got better when they got Kyle Turris from Ottawa through Colorado and he has been making a significant contribution since he arrived. Is Turris enough to finally take them all the way? They will have tougher competition in the playoffs this year so their new asset is certainly needed.

Los Angeles Kings

Are they finally back? Have they finally found the chemistry again that won two Stanley Cups during the past decade? They are in position to win not only their division but their conference. If they are indeed back to what they once were, they could be the team to beat in the Western Conference this year.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Boy did he ever get a good second quarter. In fact it is possible to say that he got a better second quarter than the Islanders and the Knights. He was in trouble when he set a $500 million expansion fee and only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec agreed to pay it. To make matters worse, Quebec’s bidder was unacceptable and only Las Vegas was considered good enough to join the NHL, leaving the league with 31 teams, one short of being able to realign into a more comfortable NFL structure (still unannounced). It seemed that if the NHL were to expand again in the immediate future, Bettman would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley and set a lower, more realist expansion fee that the investment world would accept.

Then Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman of Seattle appeared and actually set a new $650 million expansion fee record. The Seattle “approval process” is now a mere formality. And then there was Tilman Fertitta of Houston who said he would like see an NHL team in his arena which will mean another NHL expansion fee of at least $650 million if not higher. That’s probably an unannounced “done deal”. And finally the New York Islander 30 year arena problem got solved. That’s not like getting icing on the cake, that’s like getting three large iced cakes for your birthday. The two main problems left are Quebec and Phoenix.

Biggest Loser

Matt Duchene

Question: When did the Ottawa Senators go into the tank?

Answer: When they got Matt Duchene from Colorado.

How would you like to be the answer to that question? Not even P. K. Subban of Nashville, who at this time of year, last year was playing with a bag over his head because his old team, the Montreal Canadiens, were leading the Eastern Conference while the Predators were struggling to get the last playoff position, was in this kind of trouble. Ottawa traded for him because he was supposed to have the talent of number ones like Crosby, McDavid, Toews, Laine, Matthews, etc. He was supposed to be a step up from Kyle Turris who was let go to Nashville. Now after being in the shadow of Nathan McKinnon of Colorado, he was being given his own NHL team to lead. Instead of moving upward, the Senators are now out of playoff contention with almost no chance of turning things around and Duchene has contributed almost nothing. The vital team chemistry is gone and somehow Duchene is a big part of it. No one can explain why. This subject probably merits a full article.

Dishonorable Runners Up

Buffalo Sabres

At the start of the second quarter, they still had a chance of making the playoffs, but instead of going upwards in the second quarter, they plunged down toward the depths of the Arizona Coyotes. Last year, owner Terry Pegula got impatient with the Sabres when he saw the progress that teams like Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton were making and fired his coach and general manager. But “cleaning house” only made things worse and the Sabres are left vying with the Coyotes for the number one draft pick.

Arizona Coyotes

They played better than they did in the first quarter but remain the most horrible team in the NHL. Actually the only interesting thing about the Arizona Coyotes is if there is going to be an Arizona Coyotes at the end of next season. The horrendous play of this season will ensure that there will be no public money coming to build a new downtown Phoenix arena for a franchise that has iced only one contending team in its entire history. Even the NBA Phoenix Suns publicly insulted the Coyotes by refusing to be partners to build a new arena. I’ve advanced the idea that the best solution will be to add two more Western Conference expansion teams besides Seattle and then shift the Coyotes with its current ownership to Quebec to get rid of the unsuitable Pierre Karl Peladeau. A new Houston expansion team would be part of the process. Whether the Coyotes get the number one pick is irrelevant. The existence of the team is now the main factor.

Ottawa Senators

This is just a continuation of the Duchene problem that seems to be at the heart of the issue as to why the Senators are so bad. Is it coach Guy Boucher’s fault? But he had the Senators in playoff contention before Duchene came and Ottawa was Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh’s toughest playoff opponent last year. Is it General Manager Pierre Dorion’s fault? But he was not the only general manager to believe that Duchene was a number one talent. It also hurts him to know that the Nashville Predators are getting significant contributions from the traded Kyle Turris while he gets almost nothing from Duchene. He is probably in shock just like everybody else. Everything points to Duchene. It is not a happy place to be in.

Florida Panthers

They actually played respectable hockey during the second quarter but nothing, short of making the playoffs can cover up the bonehead decision of getting rid of coach Gerard Gallant even though he had a winning record with the Panthers last season when he became the first NHL coach to be fired. Every time the Las Vegas Knights win, it is a blow to the Deathwish Panthers who like the Coyotes have a horrible history, seldom making the playoffs. And if Las Vegas is the model of how a desert team should be run for the Arizona Coyotes, the Tampa Bay Lightning are the model of how a Florida team should be run for the Florida Panthers. The success of both Tampa Bay and Las Vegas only emphasizes how badly these two losing franchises have operated.

Montreal Canadiens

Both the Canadiens and the New York Rangers started out with horrible records, but while the Rangers recovered and have a chance to make the playoffs, the Canadiens are virtually out of the picture. They needed to start moving upward during the second quarter but have at best been just wheel spinning. They lost two veteran defencemen during the off season, goaltender Carey Price is a good international goaltender when he plays for team Canada, but is a suspect NHL playoff goaltender, and General Manager Marc Bergevin guessed wrong about P. K. Subban.

The Bubble Burst

Detroit Red Wings And Vancouver Canucks

At the start of the second quarter, both these teams which had been playing well had a chance to make the playoffs. But during the second quarter, reality caught up with them. Neither of these teams which had been Stanley Champions or contenders for so long have the talent any more to contend and now need top draft choices to rebuild. Most of Detroit’s old stars have retired and the Sedins of Vancouver are in their declining years. At least they have a legitimate excuse for why they out of contention, not like the teams listed above.

When Are You Going To Wake Up?

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mysteriously, the two time defending champion Penguins have been playing stumblebum hockey. The playoffs are certainly attainable but Pittsburgh needs to start putting together some of the long winning streaks that have characterized the past two seasons. It is too early to panic but some of the teams above them are starting to pull away and some teams from below are starting to challenge them. Maybe it is time to get a little uneasy.

Edmonton Oilers

If it is not time to panic for Pittsburgh, it almost is for Edmonton. They played well during the second quarter but not well enough to make up for their bad first quarter. And what I warned about in my first quarter report is starting to happen. At least seven Western Conference teams pulled away and cannot be caught up to and two others are poised to become that way. Only the last playoff spot is now available to them and that is now fast flickering away. They need long winning streaks during the next quarter to have any chance to make playoffs.

We’ve Seen It Before

Washington Capitals

Yes, the Capitals had their usual long regular season winning streak and now have a chance to win their usual President’s Trophy. And yes, Alexander Ovechkin has his usual pretty individual statistics. But nobody should pay attention to what the Capitals do during the regular season. In the Marcel Dionne (whoops!) Ovechkin era, the Capitals have never even made the Eastern Conference Final. So now (yawn) that they have had another great second quarter, it means almost nothing. In fact the best thing that they may have going for them is that Pittsburgh is currently out of a playoff spot leaving the door open for the Capitals to finally get to at least the Eastern Conference Final.

Minnesota Wild

The western playoff wheel spinner Minnesota Wild played well too during this quarter and now precariously have the last playoff spot. But as long as ex-coach Mike Yeo is coaching the Blues who humiliated the Wild and General Manager Chuck Fletcher with an easy playoff victory last year, it is not enough to just make the playoffs, but to go deep into the playoff picture, especially surpassing Yeo’s Blues. Every year the Washington Wild and the Minnesota Capitals play for the wheel spinning Stanley Cup. Will that ever change?

 

Analyzing The Few NHL Trades

There were not many NHL trades this time around. Reading why, most general managers blame the salary cap and the admission of Las Vegas and its expansion draft. I will not analyze every trade but some of the more significant ones.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington by St. Louis

This was the big blockbuster trade. I have read that Alexander Ovechkin had been pressuring General Manager Brian MacLellan to do something significant and he obliged but Ovechkin may be signing his own death warrant and that of coach Barry Trotz in Washington if this does not work. Ovechkin has never been able to lift ANY of his teams (no matter who coaches them), Washington or Russia to the championship level in significant tournaments. The latest flop was Russia making the semi-finals in the World Cup where Canada fired 47 shots at overworked, heroic goaltender Sergi Bobrovsky.

Washington has yet to make the Eastern Conference Final during the Ovechkin era, never mind winning the Stanley Cup. Last year they added T J Oshie and ran away with the President’s Trophy but still flopped in the playoffs. Now they have added Shattenkirk but is it enough? There are formidable opponents who know how to win it all, Pittsburgh and Chicago lurking, plus the danger of any improved teams. It was a bold and brave trade for MacLellan to make, a firm commitment that Washington wants to be a champion. The heat is off MacLellan. He has done his best at the trade deadline. But now the heat is really on Ovechkin and Trotz. If there were few excuses last year, there are none now. Washington MUST win at least two playoff rounds. And if they do not, it may be time to recognize that Ovechkin is not what he has been billed to be, keep Shattenkirk, and the next blockbuster Washington trade will involve him.

As for St. Louis, it seemed that last year they had finally made the breakthrough that Washington had failed to do by making the Western Conference Final. Now all they needed to do was add one or two more significant players to get them over the final hump. Instead they lost significant talent in the off season, fired coach Ken Hitchcock, and have now traded Shattenkirk in the prime of his career. They have gone back to where they were, in a rebuilding situation. Obviously they did not have much faith in the team they built last year that did so well. How committed are they to building a championship team?

2. Johnny Oduya from Dallas to Chicago

If the pattern remains true, Chicago wins the Stanley Cup every other year. Chicago is currently on a five game winning streak including a decisive victory over defending champion Pittsburgh. By reacquiring Oduya from Dallas, one of the most disappointing teams this season, Chicago has added significant depth to its defense and has served notice that it intends win the Stanley Cup again this season. Despite Minnesota’s improvement, Chicago is still the team to beat in the Western Conference.

It is not much of a trade for Dallas, which still has to pay part of Oduya’s salary and only gets small financial relief. It is an admission that the team has to be rebuilt and that more changes will be coming in the off season.

3. Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles

A swap of goaltenders, Ben Bishop for Peter Budaj. I rate this as a clear win for Tampa Bay and secondarily for Budaj. Tampa Bay has Andrei Vasilevskiy whom the Lightning believes will be their goaltender of the future and now Budaj who had done an admirable job filling in for Jonathan Quick. Bishop was a number one goaltender but had an unfortunate knack of getting injured at key moments when Tampa Bay needed him most. And when Steve Stamkos got injured earlier this year, the team failed to rally and Bishop’s goaltending has proved to be insufficient to keep Tampa Bay in a playoff spot. Now they have got rid of his large salary and are giving Budaj a chance to battle Vasilevkiy to become Tampa Bay’s number one goaltender.

It is hard to see what Los Angeles gains by this trade. They have got Jonathan Quick back and will undoubtably use him for most of the games during the rest of the season and probably all the playoff games if they make it. Why do you want to pay a large salary to a number one goaltender like Bishop to sit on the bench? The Kings must think that Quick is brittle and will get injured again so they needed some insurance. Right now they are battling the St. Louis Blues for the last playoff spot. But the Blues did Los Angeles far more of a favor by trading Kevin Shattenkirk and admitting they were in rebuilding mode than Los Angeles did by getting Bishop. All this to get the last playoff position in the Western Conference. If teams have money to throw around, Los Angeles is doing it.

4. Jerome Iginla from Colorado to Los Angeles

Again I have to give Colorado the edge over Los Angeles. Iginla is a great player but he is 39 and well past his prime. In the long term Colorado is happy to be rid of his large salary. This is merely a short term deal for Los Angeles to get that last playoff position based on the logic that Iginla played so well for coach Darryl Sutter when they were together in Calgary. He can probably help Los Angeles make the playoffs but again it comes across like a deal made by a franchise with money to burn. For both the Bishop and Iginla deals, Los Angeles had better make the playoffs and get its money back in playoff revenue or else they have wasted a lot of money for nothing.

 
In other trades:

Detroit after being successful for so long began dumping salaries to clear the way to build a new successful era. So did Dallas and New Jersey. Toronto and Columbus added some experienced players to help them either make a playoff run or cope with the pressures of the playoffs. Florida still believes they can make the playoffs by acquiring Thomas Vanek. So does Boston which got Drew Stafford from Winnipeg. The Flyers got Valtteri Filppula from Tampa Bay. Something has to give between Toronto, Florida, Philadelphia, and Boston. Add in Ottawa, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay who are all battling for the last three playoff spots and some of these teams are going to be disappointed with the trades they made. But now these are the final rosters that are going to be competing for the playoffs. The outcome and the verdict begins this evening.

Hitchcock Pays For Management’s Mistakes

Ken Hitchcock was supposed to retire from NHL coaching at the end of this season and Mike Yeo take over next year. Instead the St. Louis ownership and management speeded up the process by firing Hitchcock after the Blues tumbled out of a playoff position.

What was not said was that during the off season, the St. Louis Blues like the New York Islanders lost significant talent and therefore could not play at the level of last year. When the two coaches could not repeat last year’s breakthrough success, they lost their positions, becoming the second and third coaches after Florida’s Gerard Gallant to be fired during the current season.

There is a similar parallel in both the Blues and Islanders story. Last year for the first time in eons of seasons, the Islanders won a playoff round. Last year for one of the rare occasions in their history, the Blues won two playoff rounds and made it to the Western Conference Final where they put up a good struggle against the San Jose Sharks.

It seemed that all management had to do was add some significant talent to take the Islanders into the ranks of the true contenders in the Eastern Conference and to get the Blues over one more hump and into the Stanley Cup Final, a round they had not reached since the first three years of their existence. Instead both teams lost talent and now are struggling to make the playoffs. That is hardly the coach’s fault.

Additionally for the Blues, management decided to trade Brian Elliott and hand the goaltending job to Jake Allen who has given the Blues subpar goaltending. That is not Ken Hitchcock’s fault either.

The Blues took Hitchcock’s firing out on the Toronto Maple Leafs, ironically the team they are tied with for longest streak without winning the Stanley Cup, 50 years. The St. Louis Blues are the only team from the first six-team expansion; Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas (Minnesota) Stars (California-Oakland Seals no longer exist), to not win the Stanley Cup. But whereas the Maple Leafs with new ownership, management, a Stanley Cup winning coach, a new young star in Auston Matthews, look like a team on the rise, the Blues with their established stars with whom they failed to build a champion, look like a team going downhill and will have to be rebuilt.

How close were the Blues to being a champion? They finally broke through to the third round last year. Admittedly they would have to add more talent to get beyond San Jose and San Jose was no match for Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh. Obviously management and ownership did not believe that they were close with last year’s roster and allowed significant talent to leave. That left Hitchcock to play out the string this year which management saw fit to shorten by three months.

San Jose Showed What St. Louis Lacks

So far, I am 50% right in my predictions for the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the San Jose Sharks ousting the St. Louis Blues in six games – and significantly for the reasons why I said they would. I said that the main difference between the two teams were two factors, goaltending and offence.

San Jose goaltender Martin Jones outplayed two far better goaltenders in the early rounds, Los Angeles Kings’ former Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick, and steady Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne. No matter who St. Louis put in the net, Brian Elliott or Jake Allen, they were no match for Jones. Two convincing back-to-back shutouts were the back-breaking, demoralizing factors that broke the spirit of St. Louis and sapped their will to win.

And that points to the second reason why St. Louis lost, they have no hot playoff shooters whom San Jose would have had to cool off. St. Louis has Vladimir Tarasenko, and got a modest contribution from Paul Stastny… and nobody else. In contrast San Jose is getting contributions from everybody, particularly Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joel Ward, and even Patrick Marleau. St. Louis may have a better defense on paper but there were too many hot shooters for them to contain.

This is a bitter defeat for St. Louis, who like San Jose have choked so many times in the early rounds and who, like the Sharks thought they were the team of destiny, finally breaking through to the Western Conference Final and ousting long time nemesis Chicago along the way. On the positive side, this defeat should make plain what St. Louis has lacked and continues to lack. They have to get themselves a shut-down goaltender and add hot shooters who consistently come up big in the playoffs.

Like the Islanders and Capitals, this off-season will be a key one for the Blues to determine which direction they will go. They have made significant gains in the playoffs this year but if they want to go farther, they have to add more. The pressure is now on the St. Louis ownership and management to come up with a positive answer.

As for the Sharks, this convincing victory should give them more confidence and strengthen the belief that they are the team of destiny. They will be the underdog in the Stanley Cup Final, whether it is Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay. But if they keep getting the contributions they are getting from Jones and  the San Jose offence, maybe a destiny upset might be in the cards.

2016 NHL FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

So now that playoff time has arrived again and after 82 games, 14 teams have been removed from Stanley Cup competition, including all the Canadian ones, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty. When I wrote for another blog I always listed first certain teams and players who will have extra pressure on them when the playoffs begin. I will continue the tradition in NYAHB. Some of them I have already mentioned in previous articles.

PLAYERS

1. Alexander Ovechkin

As mentioned in a previous article, nobody will have kind of pressure on them that Alexander Ovechkin will have, especially through April. He was expected to have the same type of career Sydney Crosby is having but instead it closely resembles Marcel Dionne, the best NHL player never to make even the Stanley Cup Conference Finals. Ovechkin and his Capitals have always been bounced out of the playoffs in the first two rounds, sometimes to teams of considerably lesser talent. Even more dismal is his Russian team international career with two ignominious Olympics finishes in Vancouver and even worse on home ice Sochi. He is now 30 years old and starting the downward side of his career. This may be his last chance to show he can lead a team – any hockey team – as the main man to a championship.

2. Marc Andre Fleury

Ever since Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has been struggling to find themselves in the playoffs again and the prime suspect in the struggle has been Fleury’s goaltending. Like Washington, Pittsburgh has sometimes lost to teams of considerably lesser talent. What sticks out in my mind is a horrible playoff loss to arch-rival Philadelphia in which Fleury provided the consistently worst playoff goaltending for an entire series that I have ever seen by a supposedly top goaltender. If the same thing happens in ANY round this time, his Pittsburgh career could be over.

3. Joe Thornton

Okay, the pressure is really over. He’s 37 years old and way past his prime but somehow he is still San Jose’s main guy. Somehow he is still expected to lead this team to a championship when he should be a good support player by now. But now the pressure is off because it is asking the impossible. San Jose should be rebuilding around young star players, not hanging on with Joe. Joe is an anachronism now. I used to flay him regularly in the playoffs when he was younger because he was such a disappointment. Now it will be sad to see what will happen.

4. Zach Parise

When Zach Parise returned to his native Minnesota, he was expected to put the Wild on the level with Chicago and Los Angeles. The truth is that by himself, he is simply not enough. Depending on the opponent, Minnesota is good enough to win a playoff round on occasion but they are not good enough to beat the big boys. Like Joe, it will be asking the impossible from Zach.

TEAMS

1. Washington Capitals

As mentioned in a recent main article, this is the team with the most pressure on them. Ovechkin/Backstrom was supposed to produce a championship like 2009 Crosby/Malkin. All the players on this team who have been around for awhile are now much older, on the brink of the downward part of their careers. For any hope, any remaining belief that this core of players, that a team led by Alexander Ovechkin has ANY chance of winning a Stanley Cup in the future, they MUST make at least the Conference Final. If they get put out in an earlier playoff round – especially to a team with much lesser talent – AGAIN – the core of this team including Ovechkin may have to broken up and a complete rebuilding done. Coach Barry Trotz will face his most difficult coaching task yet if the Capitals start to lose to a mouse-that-roared team.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

When they drafted Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh was expected to win championships, not championship. Since the victory of 2009, Pittsburgh has struggled to find itself in the playoffs, several times losing to lesser teams. The two men who were at the helm in 2009, coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Ray Shero are gone. Somehow the formula that had blossomed in 2009 has been sabotaged and nobody knows why for sure. Prime suspects have been bad overall defensive play and the goaltending of Marc Andre Fleury. Still worse, they will not have Malkin in the early rounds. Pittsburgh roared down the stretch like a good team, moving up from 7th to 2nd. But if they get put out in an early round by a lesser team when they are supposed to win, there will be anguished, gut searching in Pittsburgh and perhaps a shakeup with a key trade in the off season.

 
3. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota used to miss the playoffs regularly and then added Zach Parise and other talent to get up the scale. But the best they can do in the playoffs is win against lesser teams like themselves, not beat the big boys, Los Angeles and Chicago. Minnesota is stuck at a plateau, not moving up. If they lose again, especially to a team that is neither Blackhawks or Kings, a close examination of the structure of this team should be ordered and maybe an upheaval in the off season will occur.

4. St. Louis Blues

When they first got a team back in 1967, St Louis was the best expansion team and made the Stanley Cup Finals their first three years. Since then they seldom make even the Conference Final. They are stuck at the first two playoff levels despite sometimes finishing first in their conference overall. St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and break through this rut. Despite the promise of their first three years, they are the only 1967 expansion team never to win the Stanley Cup, tied with Toronto for the longest current streak without a championship. They have been sorely lacking players who rise to the occasion when the playoffs begin. This year is no exception. It is win – especially if the team is neither Chicago or Los Angeles – or face possible serious team chemistry changes in the off season.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. Washington-Philadelphia

This should be a no-brainer choice but is it? There is something about this chemistry, Washington Capitals-Philadelphia Flyers that I don’t like. The Capitals 2016 record against the Flyers is 2 wins and 2 overtime losses. Washington versus Buffalo, Ottawa, Florida, Carolina, Toronto, Detroit, etc., would make it an easy choice but against some teams including Philadelphia, the choice isn’t so automatic. If this team starts to lose to the Flyers, their morale will start to plummet rapidly. It will be the same old Ovechkin, same old Backstrom, same old Orpik, etc. New coach Barry Trotz will have a horrible time trying to plug all the leaks and rally the troops. All the pressure is on the Capitals and the Flyers have nothing to lose. The Capitals cannot lose to this team like they have done so often to lesser teams in their immediate past. Can they? CAN THEY? Yes they can. Not even new coach Barry Trotz can save this group from themselves. Philadelphia will win in 6 or 7 games and there will begin a deep rethink of building a championship team with Alexander Ovechkin as its leader, supported by Backstrom, Orpik and others. Washington is playing for its future as well as the present.

2. Pittsburgh-New York Rangers

There are several teams in the Eastern Conference that the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team struggling to find the proper playoff chemistry that has been lost since the 2009 Stanley Cup victory, did not want to face and the New York Rangers might be at the top of that list. New York has established a winning tradition against the Penguins in recent years and this year the Penguins are even weaker than before because they have to play this round without the injured Evgeni Malkin. New York knows how to beat Pittsburgh and it will be the same result as before. New York in 6 games, then a lot of anguish and soul searching in the off season for the Penguin organization and possibly the end of Marc Andre Fleury’s career in Pittsburgh.

3. Tampa Bay-Detroit

A few years ago this would be a great match-up: up-and-coming Tampa Bay against the dynastic Red Wings. But almost all the players from the Detroit glory years are gone and only Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyk remain. No more Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom. Detroit also has a negative goal differential.  Tampa Bay made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last year and put up a good struggle against Chicago. They will win in 5 games or maybe even a 4 game sweep.

4. Florida-New York Islanders

There is more at stake than appears in this match-up. Not only are these two teams playing for moving on in the playoffs, they are playing for establishing a winning tradition in the playoffs, something that is vital for potential future Stanley Cup champions. Both these teams have not won a playoff round in eons so this is their big chance. But there are many factors that are tilting this series in New York’s favor. The only edge that Florida has is that they have home ice advantage, whatever that is worth. But the Islanders have playoff experience as opposed to the new-kid-on-the-block Panthers. And they are led by a young, up-and-coming superstar, John Tavares, in the prime of his career while the Panthers best player is legendary, soon-to-be hall of famer, Jaromir Jagr, well past his prime. He’ll give Florida some valuable experience and leadership but it is not enough. Finally there is the desperation factor and Tavares desperately wants to prove that this Islander team is a contender not only this year but for the immediate coming seasons. They have more to lose in this series than the Panthers do and they will play with more desperation. Islanders in 6 games.

 
WESTERN CONFERENCE

5. Dallas-Minnesota

Dallas picked up Chicago Blackhawks core player Patrick Sharp in the off season and the result is a first place finish in the Western Conference. If you get a player who knows how to win the big one, his effect could spill over, hopefully on to perennial underachievers Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, and possibly Tyler Seguin. They also have Johnny Oduya who knows how to win the big one and goaltender Antti Niemi who has won a Stanley Cup too, along with a competent backup, Kari Lehtonen. Minnesota simply does not have enough talent, particularly winning players. It will be Dallas in 5 games… and a big shakeup coming in the off season for Minnesota.

6. Anaheim-Nashville

If there is one team that has come close recently to breaking the Chicago-Los Angeles monopoly in the Western Conference it is Anaheim. Nashville has improved and will put up a good fight but still does not have the overall talent and experience of the Ducks. This is not a mismatch and even an upset could occur but it will not. Anaheim in 6 games.

7. St. Louis-Chicago

As mentioned above, St. Louis desperately wants to be on the level of Chicago and Los Angeles and now they get the chance to directly prove it themselves. If they can do it, they will deserve all the plaudits for dethroning a defending champion. The problem is that they will not. Chicago has had St. Louis’s number in the playoffs for several years. The Blues still have to prove they are good enough to beat this team. Until they do, it will be Chicago in 6 games and more off season chemistry tinkering in St. Louis that may not be just limited to the players.

8. Los Angeles-San Jose

Two time Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings against anachronistic San Jose Sharks led by the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau combination that has been around forever and cannot win the big one??? As long as there is life there is hope and the fact that San Jose will be lining up on the ice against Los Angeles means they still have a chance to win. But the Kings are too good to lose to a team based on a tried and untrue formula. Los Angeles in 5 games.

Let’s Meet Nick Walters!

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We recently had a chat with Nick Walters! He is part of the St. Louis Blues organization after being drafted by the Blues in 2012 with the 116th pick. He was assigned to his WHL team, Everett Silvertips, where he played 35 games, scoring 1 goal and 9 assists with 70 penalty minutes. At the trade deadline, Walters was dealt to the Brandon Wheat Kings, where he played 29 games, earning nine assists and 36 penalty minutes. His strong season led to a promotion to the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen after the WHL season. He’s a great nice guy, and a great follow on Twitter. You can follow him on Twitter: @NickWalters3. He has Instagram as well! Follow him there! His Instagram account is: @nwally3. You can follow me on Twitter: @HkyBlogger and “like” our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/notyouraveragehockeyblog

Without further to do… Here’s our interview with Nick Walters!

As per usual, we are in bold.

So first things first, how’s your day been?

It’s been going haha just finished my training for the day now. I’m just going to go home and rest 

So people know your name but may not really know things about you, whats something cool most people don’t know about Nick Walters? 

Hmm well let’s see I don’t know. Pretty much just hockey in the summer I like to wakesurf like behind the boat I don’t know, be out at the cabin. On weekends hang out with friends and family nothing too crazy

So what kind of player do you consider yourself to be?

Um more like a solid two way dman, look after my own zone but put up the odd point here and there

Growing up, was there a player you looked up to?

 Well I grew up playing with and against Dane Phaneuf and when we played together in the spring his older brother Dion would come out and Skate with us and help us out so I started looking up to him at a young age

Growing up in St. Albert, were you a Flames fan or an Oilers fan? 

Hahah well I just played my minor hockey there but I did everything else in the big city Edmonton so definitely an Oiler hhah

Take us back to when you were drafted, where were you, what were you feelings, how did you react?

Well I never went to the draft I stayed with my friends and family, and I was very excited I mean it’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL and the draft is the first part of that so yeah I was very happy and I don’t remember exactly. I think I just smiled and gave everyone hugs lol

What’s one thing about St. Albert that you’ll miss? It can be, but doesn’t have to be hockey related.

Oh I don’t know just my friends most of all

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Well at the end of this year we as the Brandon Wheat Kings didn’t make playoffs so St. Louis called me up to their AHL team and I got to play my first 4 pro games which was very exciting and cool to me

What about your lowest point?

Oh I don’t know. Probably my 17 year old year when I hurt my knee and couldn’t play the last 10 games of the year and I tried to play Game 1 of the playoffs like 85 percent and I shouldn’t of haha

Oh man. Haha. So the next part is sort of a lightning round. Don’t think! Just answer! Ready?

Shoot

Favourite food?

Roast beef

What’s on your iPod?

Rap, RnB, Dubstep, House, Techno, country, and etc.

Can you cook?

Yes basics

Biggest fear?

Not being able to play hockey

Scariest experience?

Hurting my knee

Fancy dinner or backyard barbecue?

Fancy dinner

Something you’re looking forward to?

St.Louis training camp because we never got to go last year because of the lockout

Last question:

Any advice for aspiring hockey players?

Just to have fun enjoy your time and opportunity and make the most of it

Thank you for your time!

No problem thank you
Photocreds: bobhuntphoto.com