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?

 

Toronto Blue Jays Got What Washington Capitals Did Not Get

In trying to explain what happened to the Washington Capitals in my previous article, I put forward the theory that the players, particularly Alexander Ovechkin, simply are not good enough, that fans, ownership, management, coaches, and maybe even the players themselves are believing myths that cannot come true. Ovechkin of course is the up-front guy. He has never had a big performance either in the NHL playoffs for Washington, nor for his Russian teams in major tournaments like the Olympics and the World Cup.

As to why it never happens for him, I don’t know. I once read that a quarterback of the Oakland Raiders, Darryl Lamonica was frightened about being hit and that all his teammates knew and that silently to themselves knew that Oakland would never win the Super Bowl as long as he was at quarterback. The problem was human fears that probably everybody has in one form or another. What is wrong with Ovechkin? A fear? Does he freeze under pressure? Does he try too hard? Does he concentrate on offense too much which means that after almost every playoff round he has a horrible plus/minus statistic? I am not there so I don’t know. Someone with some inside knowledge will have to write those articles.

Right behind him is goaltender Braden Holtby, a Vezina Trophy finalist. He was not good enough against Pittsburgh last year and this year there were two games of 3 goals on 19 shots and 3 goals on 14 shots. He was pulled in that game. Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have been around as long as Ovechkin. Neither of them have ever been a difference maker, who have carried Washington at least to the Eastern Conference Final. And the new guy, prized acquisition Kevin Shattenkirk failed to impress, failed to put Washington over the top. All are now candidates to be traded.

Washington and Minnesota are the champion wheel-spinners of the NHL. Every year now it seems, for at least the past half-decade they have met in the Stanley Cup playoff final of wheel spinning. Minnesota’s problem can easily be explained. General Manager Chuck Fletcher signed Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, figured that was enough to be a Stanley Cup champion and has not added any significant talent since. This state of affairs finally caught up to his coach Mike Yeo who was fired when he could not take the Wild deeper in the playoffs. This year, Fletcher and the Minnesota ownership and management were punished in the worse way when the Wild was humiliatingly ejected from the playoffs in only 5 games by the St. Louis Blues coached by none other than Yeo. I have already written an article about their need to be shaken up, to have more top talent added.

But the Washington situation cannot be explained so easily. General Manager Brian MacLellan added T.J. Oshie last year and Shattenkirk this year and it still has not been enough. So it is not that ownership and management are walking around with blinkers, stuck with their heads in the sand. Washington has changed coaches too during the Ovechkin era and that has not helped either. Certain players are not rising to the occasion, to perform at the peak when they are needed the most. One just needs to see the unheralded Jean-Gabriel Pageau, of the still-playing Ottawa Senators, who has never been a star, who has low scoring statistics but a good plus/minus record, who is now coming through big when the pressure is on, when his team needs him the most, to see the kind of the player Washington has never been able to get.

So are wheel spinners always doomed? Not necessarily, and the best example that comes to my mind is the story of the baseball Toronto Blue Jays. This is what should have happened to the Capitals, what the Washington ownership, management, and coaches were trying to do, what the Capitals fans envisioned.

The Blue Jays were formed in 1977 and in 1983 fielded their first division-contending team. Two years later they won their first division title and then lost in the American championship series to the Kansas City Royals who would win the World Series. No problem. That was the new kid learning the ropes, paying his dues. Great things were projected for Toronto in the future.

But then came the wheel-spinning years lasting from 1986 to 1991, just like they have been for Washington. Toronto would win its division or just fail to do it. Somehow the chemistry of the team was wrong. Detroit, Oakland, and Minnesota would regularly fatten up on these kings of playoff chokers. Toronto would move to the SkyDome and set American League attendance records. Manager Jimy Williams would be fired and replaced by Cito Gaston. (Does this sound like the Washington Capitals?) Nothing worked.

General Manager Pat Gillick acquired an unfavorable nickname, “Stand Pat”. The fans all knew the Blue Jays were not good enough and demanded changes. Gaston was brought in and then Gillick tried a block buster equivalent trade. He sent top shortstop Tony Fernandez and slugger Fred McGriff to San Diego for Roborto Alomar and Joe Carter. It still was not enough. Then (unlike Chuck Fletcher) Gillick added more top talent. Pitchers like David Cone and Jack Morris would be signed. And frustrated wheel spinners Dave Winfield (labeled cruelly “Mr. May” by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner) and Paul Molitor would be installed as the designated hitter.

Then with this added talent came the turning point. In the 1992 American League Championship series, Oakland brought in top reliever Dennis Ekersley to mop up the Blue Jays as usual. But Roberto Alomar hit a home run and the whole Oakland stadium went silent. Suddenly the Blue Jays were no longer wheel spinners, no longer chokers, could no longer be counted on to be a loser who would self destruct, players who never came through when the pressure was on. They were over the hump. Dave Winfield would no longer carry the label “Mr. May”. Paul Molitor would be the MVP of the next World Series in 1993. Tony Fernandez would be reacquired and win a World Series.

That is what the Washington Capitals have been trying to do. Are there any lessons for them here? Can they get over the hump and turn things around like Toronto did? Will there be the moment where the guy comes through when his team needs him the most; do it like Alomar did?

And by the way, after the Alomar home run, the Blue Jays lived happily ever after.

But the Washington Capitals…?

 

Washington Capitals Defeat Should Mean The End Of An Era

How much longer can this go on? How much longer will the Alexander Ovechkin era in Washington continue? The ugly truth is that it should be ended now. Cold, hard, and sober. Alexander Ovechkin cannot win a championship, at least as the leader for either Washington and Russia. And probably he can take long time loyal Capitals Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik, goaltender Braden Holtby, and new guy Kevin Shattenkirk with him. Coach Barry Trotz is 50-50.

Let’s review the ugly facts. Pittsburgh was playing without its best goaltender, Matt Murray, its best defenseman, Kris Letang, and Washington even got the bonus of having the best player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, cross-checked with a concussion and missing one game. And Pittsburgh still won.

Meanwhile Washington added T. J. Oshie laat year. They added Kevin Shattenkirk this year. And Pittsburgh still won. Not even Pittsburgh having to play erratic playoff goaltender, Marc Andre Fleury could save the Capitals. In fact Holtby outdid Fleury and gave performances that Fleury used to give Pittsburgh in the playoffs since the 2009 Stanley Cup victory. 3 goals on 19 shots, 3 goals on 14 shots. He was pulled in that game. Holtby is as unreliable as Ovechkin.

For those who believe in these things, and there may be some truth to it (especially over the long decades I’ve watched sports) there may be a hex by one team over another. For example Montreal beat Boston in the playoffs consecutively for over 40 years. Not even Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito could change it.

The problem with the “hex theory” in the Ovechkin story is that there have been many years when Washington never played Pittsburgh in the playoffs and still lost. And Ovechkin’s Russian teams have a dismal record with Ovechkin as leader. He is the common denominator. Washington has changed coaches. Ovechkin has had different Russian coaches. None could make him a winner. Management should remember that if they have a hankering to dump Trotz.

In fact Trotz in desperation, mindful of Ovechkin’s self-admitted poor play, demoted him to the third line where he could do less damage. The ugly truth is that every playoff season, Alexander ends up with a bad plus/minus statistic. That means he is actually a liability, not an asset to a team in the playoffs, both internationally and in the NHL.

It’s a sad thing to have to write this, but I have been writing about Ovechkin’s limitations for several years now on different blogs. Billed as the equal of Sidney Crosby when he entered the NHL, the first international player who could be the best player in the league, he has lots of pretty individual statistics but a horrid team record. Crosby has 2 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, a World Cup victory and a Conn Smythe Trophy to Ovechkin’s none. The score in direct playoff meetings is Pittsburgh 3, Washington 0. This so-called “rivalry” has been a dud. And it could be argued that Crosby’s colleague, Evgeni Malkin has been the best Russian player in the NHL all along. He has 2 Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and is leading this year’s playoff scoring.

This defeat is even worse because with all the player additions and subtractions, Ovechkin’s limitations became more clearly focused for all to see. By his own admission he was playing poorly. That he had an unrevealed injury cannot be used as an excuse either. Erik Karlsson of Ottawa is playing with a more serious injury and Crosby came back after a concussion. As noted above, Trotz demoted Ovechkin to the third line, a open admission about Ovechkin’s performances in the playoffs.

The problem of such an open admission is that it makes Ovechkin harder to be traded. The most obvious solution it might seem is to trade him to a contender where he might be “the last piece of the puzzle”. The problem with this is that when one scrutinizes Ovechkin’s playoff record, he becomes someone to be avoided. Why would any contender want to get an aging player, with a huge salary, who consistently fails to come through for his team when he is needed the most? There are no records of Ovechkin – and for that matter Backstrom, Orpik, and Holtby – being the difference maker in the playoffs. I have no memory of Alexander playing so well that it can be said he put his team in the next round.

From the NHL’s viewpoint, the best thing that Ovechkin can still do is sell tickets. So the best place for him to go is to a city that is not worried about icing a winning team, but increasing attendance. The Capitals do not want to trade him to an Eastern Conference team, so that rules out Carolina, the New York Islanders, Florida, and Columbus. So by default, the best place for Alexander to go is the Arizona Coyotes.

Before concluding this article, it is wise to put things in perspective. I, the critic, the blog writer, am telling maybe the truthful thing that Alexander Ovechkin and the others are not good enough and have to be traded for the good of the Washington Capitals. But it must be remembered that I am talking about humans. NOBODY likes to be told that they are not good enough in their job. It means the end of their of the dreams, their hopes. It means an admission of failure, hurt pride, which is hard to swallow. Being traded means having to move to a new city. What about their children’s education, their friends? They get uprooted and lose them all.

I don’t like writing an article like this. I’d rather believe in “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles, where everybody wins and gets in. But Ovechkin chose sports as his profession, where sometimes one player is chosen to win consistently and another is chosen to lose consistently. That is the ugly side of sports, part of its nature when a person chooses that occupation. Ovechkin’s career closely resembles Marcel Dionne who also never made it to even a conference final. They would be fully justified to go to a bar together, order a beer and then sob in each other’s arms.

Writers go through a phase too. I don’t dislike Alexander Ovechkin. But you start out saying, “Wait until next time”. Then it is, “He still hasn’t done it.” Then it becomes “When is he going to show something?” Disillusionment comes. Now it is, “He is not what they say he is.” Finally it becomes, “He should be traded.”

If things had gone the way happily ever afters go, I would be writing, “They finally overcame…” “At last he rose to the occasion…” “They overcame adversity and past history…” “At last, over the hump…”, etc. (That last line can be said about this year’s Nashville Predators.) But as the second President of the United States, John Adams said when he was defending in court, the British soldiers being tried for the Boston Massacre, “Facts are stubborn things.” So I can’t write any of that.

Sometimes the story has a happy ending. Phil Esposito was consistently overshadowed in Boston by his teammate Bobby Orr, until the 1972 Canada-USSR series when he, probably more than any other player saved Canada’s bacon. It was the type of performance under pressure that Alexander Ovechkin has never given in any playoffs for either Washington or Russia.

 

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.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Recap

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are over with the Pittsburgh Penguins returning to the top again. But what does this year’s result mean for now and for the past and future? It is the purpose of this final installment of this year’s series of predictions to clarify and make sense of it all…

The Winner Of The 2016 Stanley Cup Tournament Is...

It is my sad duty to announce that the winner of the 2016 Stanley Cup actually ended in a tie between the Coronary Heart Disease team and the World Health Care Industry team which has been concealing a cure for coronary heart disease for at least two decades. The way that coronary heart disease was allowed to significantly affect this year’s NHL playoffs is a disgrace that only people like myself who have been cured of this dreadful scourge years ago without any open heart surgery know. I have published three articles on this blog so far about how this killer has recently significantly affected hockey and I hope to publish more to make as many readers as possible aware of what is really going on. First this disease forced the unnecessary retirement of Pittsburgh Penguin Pascal Dupuis. It followed up that success by forcing Tampa Bay star forward Steve Stamkos to accept unnecessary surgery to remove blood clots, the same problem that forced Dupuis’s retirement. Stamkos never appeared in the playoffs until the desperate game 7 with Pittsburgh when he probably still should have been kept out. Finally the world’s worst killer struck again in the Final by killing living legend Gordie Howe with a series a strokes over the past three years. The joy of the Final is now clouded over.

And all the while a cure existed that I took eight years ago and which others took before me and which thousands more have discovered after me. The chelation remedy which I and thousands of others have taken that has saved our lives is officially condemned by governmental bodies like the FDA and Health Canada to be “alternative medicine” which means that it can never be legally prescribed by state doctors or Heart Associations. To get it, a person has to have the courage to fly in the face of official denunciation and ridicule, to have the courage to be one’s own doctor and buy it directly over the Internet, or to try the privately established chelation clinics and get the heart plaque removed under a doctor’s supervision. Pascal Dupuis would still be playing; Steve Stamkos would not have missed a single playoff game; and Gordie Howe would still be alive. That is the triumph of coronary heart disease and the corrupt health care industry. Step forward and collect the Stanley Cup. This year it is rightfully yours.

Team At The Top

Who else but the Pittsburgh Penguins who have returned to their projected future after floundering in the wilderness for the past seven years. Pittsburgh owes its return to the top to goaltender Matt Murray who replaced the erratic Marc Andre Fleury and to coach Mike Sullivan who stressed defensive commitment to which the entire team including star players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dedicated themselves. Suddenly after being lost for so long Pittsburgh is back and if they continue to get the same goaltending and defensive commitment, they are going to be very hard to dethrone.

The Real Conn Smythe Winner

With all due respect to Sidney Crosby, the real Conn Smythe Trophy winner of this year’s playoffs was his goaltender Matt Murray and Crosby would be the first to say so. The big difference between this Pittsburgh team and the chokers who succeeded the champions of 2009 was the improved defensive play of the team and that starts with Murray in goal. As soon as Murray was installed as the starting goaltender instead of the erratic Marc Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh roared down the finish of the regular season and never looked back. Coach Mike Sullivan’s one attempt at bringing back Fleury resulted in an overtime loss against Tampa Bay and he never gave the matter any consideration again.

Players Who Made A Breakthrough

The 2016 playoffs marked the emergence of Matt Murray, Martin Jones, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, John Tavares, and T. J. Oshie.

Teams On The Way Up

Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers all showed that if the right off season moves are made, they have the potential to advance farther than they did in this year’s playoffs.

Spinning Wheels Stuck In The Mud Of The Same Old Round

The Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild remain mired in the same old first or second rounds. Minnesota seems to think that by acquiring Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to escape missing the playoffs altogether is also enough to be a true Stanley Cup contender instead of upgrading its talent still further. Washington with  the same old Ovechkin-Backstrom-Orpik core that it has had for nearly a decade probably needs a good shakeup and fresh blood. Also Anaheim’s first round defeat was a severe setback that cost coach Bruce Boudreau his job.

See Ya

1. Brooks Orpik’s play was a significant reason why Washington suffered its usual first or second round choke. Three direct or indirect Orpik actions led to situations in which Pittsburgh took full advantage. Should Washington give him one last chance out of loyal service over the years or is time to give him a gold watch and bid adieu?

2. After years of trying to give away his job by his erratic playoff play, particularly a horrible series against the Philadelphia Flyers which may have been the worst goaltending performance for an entire playoff series that I have ever seen, Pittsburgh Penguin goaltender Marc Andre Fleury finally succeeded in watching his backup, Matt Murray take his job from him. Pittsburgh will no longer keep Fleury with his large contract and erratic playoff play. The one game coach Mike Sullivan allowed him to start saw him give up his usual 4+ goals including the overtime winner to Tampa Bay. The only question is which teams still believe in Fleury to give him a chance to start his career again?

Deja Vu

Coach Peter DeBoer took the underdog New Jersey Devils all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost. Then he took the underdog San Jose Sharks all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is going to be a difficult off season for the San Jose Sharks. On the one hand, they made significant breakthroughs by getting all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they had never been before. On the other hand, they were outclassed by Pittsburgh. The offense that was getting contributions from almost everybody was almost completely shut down and when that happened, Martin Jones, their goaltender of the future was not enough. How much longer do they continue with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau despite their wonderful contributions this year? What will it take and what do they need to get them over the top? Next year might see a returned Chicago and a retooled Los Angeles. And if Dallas, St. Louis, and Nashville make the right off season moves, they could be significantly improved next year. Returning to the Stanley Cup Final will not be easy for the Sharks. In some ways, they had win this year while they had the chance. It is not easy to see and find an answer for what they need.

Partly Over A Hump

The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and New York Islanders all got through rounds where they usually lose or choke. They did not win the big one but it was progress.

Marriage Made In Heaven – Birds Of A Feather Flock Together

Bruce Boudreau was fired by both the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks because in the playoffs his teams were able to beat equal or lesser teams than themselves but could never beat true Stanley Cup contenders like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. Now Boudreau gets to be coach of the wheel-spinning Minnesota Wild, a team that can beat lesser teams like Colorado but always loses to true contenders like Chicago and Los Angeles. One can hardly wait to see the result.

Will They Return?

Chicago and Los Angeles were alternating as Stanley Cup Champion the past four years. It was supposed to be Los Angeles’s turn to win the Cup this year but they were put out quickly in the first round by the inspired San Jose Sharks. Will some inspired off season retooling bring back the Kings and the Blackhawks? It will not take much to return these teams to glory status.

Most Anguished Defeat

When Pittsburgh closed out the Washington Capitals 4-2, it left one the worst chokers in the NHL along with Minnesota stuck behind its mound. To add salt to its wounds, the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders made playoff progress by getting through the rounds where they usually lose or choke. Washington won the President’s Trophy by a country mile but to show real progress they HAD to get to at least the Eastern Conference Final. Alexander Ovechkin, once Sidney Crosby’s main rival still has never played in a Conference Final, let alone contend for the Stanley Cup. His international Russian team Olympic record is just as dismal. He has loads of individual trophies and honors but his team record is horrible. He is the successor to Marcel Dionne who had a similar career. What is even more galling is that Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom outplayed their rivals Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and got an outstanding effort from T. J. Oshie and it still was not enough. Brooks Orpik played like a bonehead and Braden Holtby failed to deliver difference-making goaltending. The coming off season in Washington is going to be critical about where they go from here.

The 50-50 Team

The Nashville Predators made progress when they beat superior opponent Anaheim to win their first ever 7 game series. Nashville was ready for that game 7 but when the same situation came up again against San Jose, they were shamefully shut out, causing goaltender Pekka Rinne to smash his stick in frustration at his team’s lack of preparedness.

Best Team Not In The Playoffs

The Boston Bruins were the only team that had a plus goal differential and somehow did not qualify for the playoffs while the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Redwings who had minus goal differentials did.

The What If Playoff Series

What if Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop did not get injured?
What if Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos had been given the same “alternative medicine” that removes coronary heart disease blockages that I took to save my life, instead of being operated on to remove blood clots that kept him out of the playoffs until Tampa Bay’s final game?
What if the NHL started trying “alternative medicine” instead of always towing the government line set by the FDA and Health Canada?
What if the corrupt health care industry had been exposed for what it is?
Would Tampa Bay have beaten Pittsburgh?

Best NHL Playoff Feud

You can bet the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to be steaming after losing the Eastern Conference Final because their number one goaltender and best forward were out with injuries. Currently Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are the best teams in the Eastern Conference and this was only round 2 of the Crosby-Malkin era which is now squared 1-1. There will probably be many more Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay playoff match-ups in the immediate future so each team will get to know each other very well in the coming years.

You Should Have Been Here – Where Are You?

With all the high draft choices that have been nurtured and stockpiled for over half a decade, the Edmonton Oilers should have been a Stanley Cup contender – long ago. In a year when Canada did not ice a single playoff team and despite the acquisition of Connor McDavid, the alleged heir to Sidney Crosby on Canada’s Golden Hockey Chain that stretches back to Maurice Richard, Edmonton never even threatened to make the playoffs. Instead they finished near the bottom of the league as they usually do. There is some undiagnosed rot eating away at this team and until it is properly investigated and removed, Edmonton will remain a joke.

Hurry Up And Make It 8

For the first time since 1970, Canada did not have a single team in the playoffs. The odds are stacked against them 23-7 and this result may occur many more times in the future. So Canada is praying that the NHL opens the door for Quebec to join in the near future.

What The Washington Capitals Defeat Means

When Pittsburgh Penguin forward Nick Bonino scored in overtime in game 6 to eliminate the Washington Capitals, he caused the greatest anguish of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Washington HAD to win this series no matter who their opponent was, no matter how good their opponent is. Pittsburgh was the hottest team in the league at the end and they may well be the Stanley Cup champion. It doesn’t matter. Washington HAD to win this series.

It all goes back to the year both Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby entered the NHL and were projected to be rivals for best player in the league until their careers ended. But their paths widely diverged since then. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin’s Russian rival, have won the Stanley Cup with Malkin also winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player. Crosby has also won 2 Olympic Gold Medals to Ovechkin’s none.

Ovechkin has piled up individual trophies but as a team player, his record is horrible. He has never even been to an Eastern Conference Final, never mind winning the Stanley Cup. Just as dismal is his international record. The Russian team used to be second to Canada, if not the favored team in international competition. But in Ovechkin’s heyday, the Russians have been horrible, first in Vancouver in 2010, and even worse, on home ice in Sochi in 2014. He has never been the difference-maker, the player who lifted his team above everyone else.

Ovechkin and the Capitals were expected to match their rivals, the  Pittsburgh Penguins, to win in head-to-head matches in the playoffs at least 50% of the time. But not only have the Capitals failed to match Pittsburgh, they get put out of the playoffs in the first or second round by lesser teams – Philadelphia, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and the New York Rangers. Many times the Capitals would be ahead in a series only to squander it and find a way to lose. The Ovechkin era Capitals are wheel-spinners, the worst chokers of the Eastern Conference.

For Ovechkin, and long-time teammates, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brooks Orpik, this year may have been their best and last chance to finally get over the hump. Washington won the President’s Trophy and finished ahead of everyone by a mile. Now all that means nothing, all is in ruins. To show real improvement, that Washington really had improved, that there was hope for the future, the playoff wheel-spinning Capitals HAD to make it to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time during the Ovechkin era. Now once more Washington failed to win AGAIN when they had to.

What is particularly agonizing about this defeat is Ovechkin and Backstrom badly outplayed their direct rivals, Crosby and Malkin who were mostly silent in this series. Washington also got a big contribution from T. J. Oshie who came through in critical times for the Capitals, something that was so sorely lacking in the playoffs during the Ovechkin era. But Orpik stupidly got himself suspended, just when his team needed him the most.

It did not help that the hockey gods in their wisdom unkindly removed the erratic, Jekyll and Hyde Pittsburgh playoff goaltender Marc Andre Fleury and replaced him with the steady Matt Murray who has given Pittsburgh the kind of playoff goaltending they have been searching for since 2009. Fleury might have been counted on to blow a couple of games as he has so often done since 2009. If Murray does not get injured and continues to play well, Fleury has probably played his last game as a Penguin.

But on the flip side, Washington goaltender Braden Holtby had to significantly outplay Murray and he failed to do so. The question of goaltender will be an issue in Washington’s future.

Even more frustrating is that Washington changed coaches during the Ovechkin era AGAIN, bringing in Barry Trotz who had some success with the under-talented Nashville Predators. Now twice he becomes the latest of a string of coaches who failed to get an Ovechkin-led team into the Conference Final or the equivalent Olympic Medal round.

The biggest problem is where do the Capitals go from here? Some speculators might be smug and say that nothing can diminish the Capitals outstanding regular season and that they ran into an unfortunate playoff opponent. But Pittsburgh will be around again next year. So will Tampa Bay. The New York Rangers are still around. Even up-and-coming Philadelphia started to smell the Capitals blood, winning two straight games, and it took a gritty 1-0 win in Philadelphia to get Washington to the next round. There is also the improved New York Islanders, plus any team that did not make the playoffs, particularly the Boston Bruins if they draft and trade well in the off-season. The likely-hood of Washington repeating its outstanding regular season and finding playoff success next year is doubtful.

Ovechkin and Orpik are in the 30s, past their prime, on the downside of their careers. They will not improve as players. There is the question of goaltending. There is the fact that the Capitals got an outstanding effort from T. J. Oshie and it still was not enough. And the excuse of changing the coach should be over and done with.

The ugly truth may be that the Washington Capitals, that Alexander Ovechkin, is not good enough. The facts speak for themselves; Ovechkin’s international record and that Washington has never even made it to the Eastern Conference Final during the prime of Ovechkin’s career.

When Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton in 1988, the excuse was made that he was a “wasting asset”. But Gretzky was only 27, still in the prime of his career, and Edmonton was still winning Stanley Cups. He was hardly a “wasting asset”.

But surely that term more properly belongs to Ovechkin, despite getting a significant contribution from him in this round. With Crosby and Malkin mostly silent, Ovechkin’s, Oshie’s, and Backstrom’s contributions were still not enough. The time has probably come to trade Ovechkin, Orpik, and Backstrom while Washington can still get something for them. Their career playoff records speak for themselves. They are not good enough.

Washington is now at a crossroads. The team can pat itself on the back and rest on its regular season laurels or make a significant, deep reappraisal about the talent and future of this team.

Whether they make a significant move or do nothing at all, anything Washington does or does not do in this off season will be controversial. That is the result of this defeat by Pittsburgh, off season anguish and turmoil whether they do something or not. The future that might have been clear if Washington had at last, at least made the Eastern Conference Final is now in doubt.

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.

All The Pressure Will Be On Washington/Ovechkin/Trotz

As the NHL season ends and anticipation for the playoffs begins, there are some teams that will have more than the average pressure on them to do well in the playoffs and the runaway leader of this group is the Washington Capitals. The President’s Trophy winner MUST make it to the Eastern Conference Final and do well in that round before bowing out. That is the MINIMUM goal that will be acceptable. Chicago and Los Angeles can put their feet up and not win for another decade. They have won their Stanley Cups and have exceeded expectations. Even Pittsburgh (the team with the second most amount of pressure on it in the coming playoffs, seeking to regain the future that was predicted for them when they drafted Crosby and Malkin) will not have as much pressure on them as Washington. Crosby and Malkin can retire knowing that they have won at least one Stanley Cup, which puts them on the level with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita of the 1960s Chicago Blackhawks glory teams.

But a similar future was predicted for the Washington Capitals when they drafted Alexander Ovechkin. It was a unique situation, the first in NHL history. Never before had a non-Canadian player been drafted who was predicted to be as good or even better than the current best Canadian player. There was expected to be a personal rivalry between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby from the start to the finish of their careers. But Sidney Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and two Olympic Gold medals. He can retire with some sense of achievement.

The same cannot be said for Alexander Ovechkin. His Washington Capitals have never even made it to the Eastern Conference Final, never mind competing in the Stanley Cup Final round. Just as humiliating is the poor performance of the Russian team during the peak years of Ovechkin’s career. It was bad enough to have a poor performance in Vancouver in 2010, but to be knocked out by Finland in only the quarter finals on your own home ice in Sochi in 2014 really stings. Ovechkin wins scoring titles, not championships. His true rival is no longer Sidney Crosby but Marcel Dionne, currently the greatest NHL player never to even make the Conference Final.

Ovechkin has now reached the age of 30, usually the starting point for the decline of hockey skills to retirement. Time is starting to run out for him. Oh he will still be unanimously elected to the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame, there’s no danger of missing that, but it will not be on the level he wants, not if his Washington and Russian teams do not win. He will be judged great, but overrated. And this may be the most pressure year he has ever faced. The glories of the regular season including the President’s Trophy will mean nothing if they bow out in the first two rounds to a team of lesser talent like they have so often in the past. The Capitals MUST make the Conference Final for this season to be judged as a season of progress.

Also under the magnifying glass will be Washington coach, Barry Trotz. He has done a wonderful job during the regular season as he did a similar competent job in guiding the under-talented Nashville Predators into the playoffs in previous years. But this is the first time he will enter the playoffs with a really talented team. Its playoff confidence will be shaky. The veterans on this team like Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Orpik, etc., know only too well how they have failed in the past to lift this team to the heights expected of it. If this team starts to lose to the upstart, eighth place, mouse-that-roared, playoff team, morale and confidence could disintegrate very quickly and the situation would be like trying to plug too many holes in a crumbling dam. Trotz’s coaching savvy could be very sorely tested in the coming weeks.

So it will not be an envious position to be a Washington Capital in April. It will be far more relaxing to be a Chicago Blackhawk, a Los Angeles King, or a member of a playoff underdog team with nothing to lose. Even if the Capitals make the Stanley Cup Finals, they will be underdogs if their opponents are either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings, two teams that have won it all recently and know how to win it again. All the way it will be tough on Washington because they have failed to win and meet expectations in the past. Will this be Washington’s year of glory or the Capitals’ and Ovechkin’s last chance?

Metro Teams Preview- Isles, Rangers, Caps, Devils

New York Islanders 

The Islanders finished the 2013-14 season with a total 79 points and a  record of 37-37-11, good for 13th out of 14th in the Eastern Conference and dead last in the Metropolitan Division.  It was a season of little highs but mostly lows for the Islanders who were coming off of a playoff berth in the season prior.  While the season left much to be desired, the Islanders had one of if not the best off seasons this summer.  In the draft they took Michael Dal Colle with the fifth overall pick and later in the first round took Josh Ho Sang with a picked acquired from Tampa Bay.  Later round picks saw the drafting of goalie Illya Sorokin, who was taken with an eye towards the future allowing him to continue his development in the KHL before coming to North America.  Free agency was the cherry on top for the team who looked to address certain areas, in particular the situation in goal.  The first move was accomplished early on with the acquiring of the rights to Jaroslav Halak from St. Louis, later signed to a four year deal and then the signing of former Bruins back up goalie Chad Johnson to a two year deal.  Finally creating a solid tandem in net.  The splash move though was the acquisition of Mikhail Grabovski from the Capitals and Nikolai Kulemin from Toronto, bringing their pairing back together.  In all the Islanders made the moves necessary to be competitive this season, they just now have to put it altogether on the ice.  It is not out of the realm of possibility that they’ll be in the playoffs this season, especially as John Tavares will be back and this year will more prospect development as well.

 

Washington Capitals

This season will mark the beginning of the Barry Trotz era in Washington, as the Caps fired Adam Oates two weeks after the end of the regular season.  General Manager George McPhee was also let go as his contract was not renewed with the club.  With changes at the top, it begins a new era in Washington.  Last season the Capitals can up short as they missed out on the second wild spot by just three points and third place in the Metropolitan Division by four points.  For a good portion of the season, they had a playoff spot, but the collapse looked ever looming in the rear view mirror for the team, especially as the Flyers came surging up the standings following their dismal start to the season.  What killed the Caps were a number things, from a flawed defense to an offensive attack that lacked bite.  They were more or less listless for the second half of the season.  Some of the moves that the team made in the off season was the interesting signing of Brooks Orpik to a five year contract and Matt Niskanen to a seven year contract to solve the defensive woes.  How Trotz handles this season will be interesting as he’ll have to start where Oates left off.

 

New York Rangers

Coming into this season, the Rangers are reigning champs of the Eastern Conference and looking to get back to the Finals, this time for a much different result.  This off season among the things that the Rangers needed to address are the power play, but also to prove that last season’s run was not just a right place in the right time run, but there’s more gusto as well.  In the off season, the team was extremely active on the first day of free agency.  Joining into the frenzy along with the rest of the league.  They lost Benoit Pouliot to Edmonton, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle to Tampa Bay, and were able to move on from Brad Richards as well.  On the other side, they brought on Dan Boyle from the San Jose after the Islanders failed to sign him on even though they owned his rights.  The other signing of note was Tanner Glass from Pittsburgh, who was signed to a three year contract.  It should be interesting in the second year of the Vignault era, especially after last season’s run.

 

New Jersey Devils

Much like Washington, the Devils came up short last season as they fell short of the second wild card spot by a difference five points behind the Detroit Red Wings.  They also finished six points behind the Flyers who took home third in the Metropolitan Division.  The biggest issue for the Devils last season was staying healthy, and with the moves made this off season along with the continued development of the younger players.  If they can have a healthy Elias back, that will be an added boost for a team that came close last season, but were missing a few major pieces.  In the off season, Anton Volchenkov was bought out by the team.  The additions that were made, was Mike Cammaleri from Calgary and Martin Havlat from San Jose.  It should be interesting to see what New Jersey can put together this season.