Thursday, May 31, 2007

Conn Smythe Race

With Anaheim up 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, it is possible that the finals are half over already and I have not seriously discussed the Conn Smythe race. In fact, I haven't named a single player who is still in the playoffs as the playoff MVP yet. This is largely because the players who have been the best in earlier rounds are now eliminated.

The two best goalies in the playoffs so far have been Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars. On defence, nobody has been better than Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. There is yet to be a forward who has been as valuable to his team in the playoffs as any of those three. The problem is none are still around for the finals.

In the finals we do have Chris Pronger who has been playing very well for Anaheim despite missing a game to suspension and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere has played well (though not at Turco or Luongo level) and wasn't played in the first few Anaheim games. They would have to be the Anaheim Conn Smythe leaders, with Pronger leading the way.

In Ottawa, it has been the big three forwards who have been most valuable in Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. It is hard to pick one above the other two and given the way the Anaheim checking line has handled them so far, its probably not a good pick.

If the finals continue to go the way they appear to be going, likely Anaheim will win and Chris Pronger will be Conn Smythe winner. However, at this point in the playoffs it is hard to make the case that he has been the best defender so far. Nicklas Lidstrom may be eliminated, but he has played one more game then Pronger and scored 4 more points. The only people in the playoffs with more points then Lidstrom are Heatley and Spezza (Alfredsson is tied). If it was up to me at this point (and this opinion may change with more games played) I would call Nicklas Lidstrom the playoff MVP. The Conn Smythe Trophy goes to the "player most valuable to his team in the playoffs". Nobody said that team has to go to the finals. Quite likely another few games in the finals could change my mind as Lidstrom won't be playing in them.

Should there be no surprises the rest of the way, I think the Conn Smythe will go to Pronger whether he is better than Lidstrom or not. However, I think Pronger was more deserving of the Conn Smythe last year but didn't win because Edmonton didn't win the cup. Instead it went to Cam Ward of Carolina who was a poor choice.

It is an interesting year when the finals may be half over and the playoff MVP may have not even made it as far as the finals, but that is where we are right now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hall of Fame Media Inductees

Yesterday, the Hockey Hall of Fame announced their two media inductees for the year. The will announce several more inductees including players after the playoffs end (Here are my predictions for this season). They announce one person from radio or television (who is given the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award along with his induction) and one journalist (who is given the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award along with his induction).

This year the honoree from television was Bill Hewitt. He is Foster's son and was a Hockey night in Canada commentator from 1955 to 1982. He died in 1996, so this award is posthumous.

The journalist honoree is Dave Fay, who writes for the Washington Times and has covered the NHL since the early 1980's.

Both are deserving inductees.

Here is the TSN story on the inductions.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Phoenix Hires GM Don Maloney

The Phoenix Coyotes have selected Don Maloney to replace Mike Barnett as their GM. Barnett had been fired earlier after Phoenix missed the playoffs.

Maloney is possibly a solid choice as GM. He was the New York Islanders GM from 1992 to midway through the 1995/96 season when Mike Milbury replaced him. His term as GM was uneventful for the Islanders. He didn't make any huge positive or negative moves. His biggest success was at he draft when he selected some talented players including Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and Wade Redden, who Milbury promptly traded away. Since then, Maloney has been in the New York Rangers head office, most recently serving as assistant GM and director of player personnel. He is given a lot of credit for the Rangers recent successes (if you consider a 15th place finish this season a success).

The problem in Phoenix had not been the identity of the GM. He wasn't the man making many of the decisions. The man in charge had been part owner and coach Wayne Gretzky who has stocked the team and front office with his friends instead of the most qualified choices. If that trend continues, it doesn't matter who is the GM because Phoenix will not succeed.

Maloney may be another friend of Gretzky hiring. He was in the Rangers front office when Gretzky was playing there. He has been an assistant GM on some of the Gretzky-ran Team Canadas. Hopefully, for Phoenix, Maloney will be in charge instead of Gretzky. If he is, then he might succeed. If he isn't then Phoenix should fail.

Here is the TSN story about Maloney's selection by Phoenix.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

AHL Playoffs: SemiFinals

The semi-finals in the AHL Calder Cup playoffs have completed. Look back at the first round and second round results. Here are the semifinal results:

Hershey Bears defeat Manchester Monarchs in four games straight The defending Calder Cup champion Hershey, Washington's affiliate, has been led by a deep offence including Scott Barney, Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Green, Dave Steckel and Matt Hendricks with strong goaltending by Frederic Cassivi. Manchester, the LA Kings affiliate, fell short despite Patrick O'Sullivan and Marty Murray leading the offense and Jason LaBarbera and Barry Brust sharing goaltending duties.

Hamilton Bulldogs defeat Chicago Wolves four games to one Hamilton, the Montreal affiliate, has been led by Corey Locke and Kyle Chipchura with some strong goaltending from Carey Price. Chicago, the Atlanta affiliate, fell short despite Darren Haydar and Jason Krog leading the playoffs in scoring. Fred Brathwaite and Michael Garnett shared their goaltending duties.

Hershey and Hamilton will meet in the Calder Cup finals.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

So far this post-season I have done alarmingly well in my predictions having picked 13 out of 14 series correctly. Here are my first round, second round and third round predictions. The biggest shock of the playoffs is how predictable they have been. In a good year, I would normally get 10 or 11 series right and be very happy. In a bad year (like last year) I might get more series wrong then I get right. This year I am guaranteed to get 13 or 14 series right. The playoffs so far have been inexplicably predictable. Only one series (Vancouver and Dallas) has gone all seven games. All others were decided before that point.

Onto my final prediction:

Anaheim Ducks defeat Ottawa Senators I see Anaheim as the only team in the NHL that is potentially elite. Ottawa is not elite. They are lacking a top goalie and a few Hall of Fame track stars. I think the difference in goal (J.S. Giguere is quite a bit better than Ray Emery) could be a deciding point. Ottawa is a solid contender but I don't think they have what it takes to be a strong Stanley Cup winner. That said, anything can happen in a short series. It should be a fun one to watch.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Future Hall of Famer Brian Leetch Officially Retires

Yesterday, future Hall of Famer Brian Leetch officially announced his retirement. This is the first retirement by a player I consider a future Hall of Famer since Joe Nieuwendyk.

Brian Leetch was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on March 3rd, 1968. However, he was raised in New England. He first came to prominence in 1983/84 playing high school hockey for Cheshire High School in Connecticut. As a player who was 15, he scored an amazing 101 points in only 28 games. He attracted the attention of a high school with a much more elite hockey program and transferred to Avon Old Farms for his next season. Playing against a higher level of competition, he scored 76 and 84 points in 26 and 28 games respectively in his final two high school seasons. This success attracted the notice of NHL scouts and he was drafted in the first round ninth overall by the New York Rangers in the 1986 entry draft. Leetch then went on to play college hockey at Boston College. In his season there he was the Hockey East rookie of the year, player of the year and made the Hockey East first team all star. He also made the NCAA East First All American Team. The following year, being an Olympic year, Leetch was recruited to join the US National Team program where he scored 74 points in 50 games. He also played on the US Olympic Team adding 6 more points in his six Olympic games.

This success was enough to earn him an NHL job. After the 1988 Olympics he made the New York Rangers and scored 14 points in the 17 remaining games and added 5 more in four playoff games. In his first full NHL season (1988/89) Leetch again scored at better than point per game rate from defence. He scored 71 points in 68 games. This won him a spot on the NHL All Rookie Team and the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He followed that up the next year with his first of nine All Star Game appearances. In 1991, he made the NHL Second Team All Star for the first time. In 1992, he had his best offensive season with 102 points. This earned him a First Team All Star spot and the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman. Unfortunately he could not follow that season up as injuries limited him to only 36 games. But his full season in 1993/94 made up for it when his regular season placed him back on the second team all star and his playoff run with a league leading 23 assists and 34 points placed won him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP as he led the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. In 1996, he made the second team all star again and in 1997, the first all star team and won the Norris Trophy for a second time. When professional players were allowed into the Olympics he was chosen to be one of the key players on the 1998 and 2002 US Olympic Teams. Leetch remained the Rangers top defenceman and regularly led the team in ice time for many years.

In 2003, when Leetch was an unrestricted free agent, his rights were traded to Edmonton on the eve of his free agency in exchange for Jussi Markkanen and a 4th round draft choice in 2004. The Rangers resigned Leetch and his career remained in New York until the 2004 trade deadline.

Leetch was traded along with the same fourth round pick involved in the Edmonton trade (Toronto selected Roman Kukumberg with it - I think this is the only case of a player being traded twice involving the same yet to be used draft pick) to Toronto for Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a first round pick (traded later to Calgary- Kris Chucko) and a second round pick (Michael Sauer). That's a steep price to pay for the 15 regular season games and 13 playoff games Leetch played in Toronto, though that potential is not yet in the NHL.

After Leetch's brief stay in Toronto came the lockout. He did not play during it. He signed as a free agent in Boston once it completed. Injuries limited Leetch to 61 games, but when he played he was a key contributor finishing second in ice time per game on the Bruins.

Leetch was a victim of the CBA, in that it is a dangerous move to sign 35 plus players to longer than one year contracts and this forces them to possibly move to a new city annually as a free agent. The CBA pushes legends of the game to retire early. Leetch wasn't willing to travel wherever for a one year contract. He wanted to stay in the northeast, but the contract never happened at he sat out the entire season waiting. After having sat out two of the last three years, Leetch officially announced retirement.

Leetch goes down as one of the all time great offensive defencemen and one of the best American players of all time. Leetch's 1028 career points make him the seventh highest scoring defenceman ever. That career success coupled with two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe make him a future Hall of Famer.

With Leetch's retirement, there are 15 currently active NHLers I consider future Hall of Famers regardless of what they do for the rest of their careers. Here they are:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Joe Sakic
Teemu Selanne
Brendan Shanahan
Mats Sundin

There remain a handful of games this season for another player to possibly be added to this list, otherwise it may shrink a bit with this summer's retirements.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Balsillie At It Again In Nashville

A few months ago, Jim Balsillie made an offer to buy the Pittsburgh Penguins. It fell through when Gary Bettman stepped in at the last minute and forced him to agree to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh. It seems Balsillie wanted to move a team to Southern Ontario.

Pittsburgh is a relatively strong NHL market that was having trouble blackmailing a new arena from local taxpayers. That problem has been solved so Balsillie has to look elsewhere for a team to move. Fortunately for him there are several teams in the non-traditional American markets that are having trouble drawing fans.

One of these teams is Nashville. They are a team that finished with fourth seed in the West Conference and even added Peter Forsberg for their short playoff run. However, they have done this with a significant amount of revenue sharing money and since they have not been able to get attendance about 14,000 per game (despite some success on the ice) this revenue stream is likely to dry up. Thus their owner Craig Leipold, who has done a good job of hiring a good GM in David Poile and letting him build a good team, is looking to move on. Balsillie has entered into an agreement to buy the Predators for $220 million (which represents a tidy profit for Leipold who paid an $80 million expansion fee and claims to have lost $70 million over nine years).

This would give Jim Balsillie a good team that he could move to southern Ontario.

The question is how will the NHL react. Will they admit that the southern US expansion is a failure and let the teams begin to move north to where they are wanted or will they continue to fight for a national US TV deal and maintain these teams that are failing financially Will the lockout and CBA, which was apparently done to help teams like Nashville survive, be shown to be a failure in that goal this quickly into it?

Here is the TSN story on the potential sale.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anaheim Makes The Stanley Cup Finals

With a 4-3 victory over Detroit last night, the Anaheim Ducks made the Stanley Cup finals. They won their semi-final series by a four games to two margin. They will face the Ottawa Senators.

I have been attacked by many commenters for saying that Ottawa is not an elite team and would make a weak Stanley Cup champion. I am using two necessary but not sufficient conditions for a team to be elite in making that judgement. An elite team must have a top goalie and an elite team must have several players who are having Hall of Fame careers. How does Anaheim stand up by those standards?

Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a top goalie. He has already won the Conn Smythe Trophy in his career (in 2003) and he should have played in the All Star Game this season were he not injured. He is not the best goalie in the NHL, but he is good enough to be called a top goalie. In fact, Anaheim has the best two goalie system in the NHL with Ilya Bryzgalov backing up Giguere (although that is likely a trivial point since most likely Anaheim will only use one goalie in the finals).

As for having several players who are having Hall of Fame calibre careers, they have three who deserve induction should their careers end today in Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. Likely that is an exhaustive list of Hall of Fame tracked players on the Ducks. The most likely next candidate is probably Giguere, who will need a couple Vezina calibre seasons for further consideration.

Does that make Anaheim an elite team? No. Not necessarily. The conditions I am using to judge them are necessary but not sufficient. For a team to be elite they must have elite players. Elite players are players who make the Hall of Fame. They must also have a very good goalie. It is not necessary that he be Hall of Fame calibre (though that helps), but he cannot be too far off of a Hall of Fame track career. Elite teams have some good players and those players play well together. It is certainly not enough to put together a random list of elite players and you are guaranteed an elite team (this obvious point is one some commenters feel the need to point out when they attempt to argue with me despite the fact I clearly agree with it). It depends on the success of those players together and on the contribution of the rest of the team. That said, Anaheim is the only team in the NHL that has a shot at being an elite team this year.

The big test is can they play well enough to win the Stanley Cup. In a couple weeks we will know the answer to it.

How does the rest of the team stand up? Does it look like it could be elite? On defence they rely strongly on three guys (Pronger, Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin). While this is not an ideal situation, as long as they are capable of playing the bulk of the ice time it can work. It is a problem if injury or suspension depletes this big three. Their depth defencemen are rather lacklustre including the likes of Joe DiPenta and Kent Huskins. Their forward unit is pretty deep. In Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant they have a group of three defensive forwards that is better than any other any team currently has in the NHL. They have a line of good young kids in Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner who are solid contributors and should have long successful NHL careers. They have a couple more players who have been very valuable in Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz, who were picked off of scrap heaps but turned out to be good players. This team has the talent that it could be an elite one. There is one more test it must pass (Ottawa) to cement that status.

In an NHL built for parity as long as the salary cap remains low enough to be affordable for all, how could such a team be built? Basically, it was built through the genius of Brian Burke. Burke is a man who has proven himself to be the best general manager in the NHL. Getting rid of him was a huge Vancouver mistake and grabbing him was the best thing Anaheim could do.

Is Anaheim proof that you can build an elite team in the NHL with the current CBA? Probably. Does this mean we will see more elite teams and not get stuck watching Carolina vs. Edmonton Stanley Cup finals? No. It doesn't mean that. However, as the salary cap rises and more and more good young players become available to be bought through free agency we will likely soon develop another route to build an elite team. Buy it. In the right market that is far easier than building it the old fashioned way that Burke seems to have done. However, we see that it is possible with a good enough GM and a good enough minor system and past draft record. The elite team may not be a thing of the past. We may even have one this year.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

SemiFinal TV Coverage

CBC pays the most for NHL TV coverage and delivers the biggest audience with their Canadian coverage. On Saturdays, they would like to see evening games for Hockey Night In Canada. NBC holds the American TV rights and would like afternoon games on Saturdays. The NHL has chosen to support NBC with afternoon games. That includes yesterdays, semifinal game where Ottawa beat Buffalo to win their way to the finals. However, NBC was unwilling to give good coverage to the game. When it went to overtime, NBC cut away to go to the pre-race talk about the Preakness Stakes horse race. This forced the overtime coverage onto Versus the NHL's American cable network, which is not shown in nearly as many homes as NBC. The horse race had not even started, but the pre-race talk pre-empted hockey. If the NHL is going to overlook the Canadian market for the American one, they should at least have support of the American broadcasters, but clearly they do not. The NHL has real problems if they side with broadcasters that would rather show the pre-race for a horse race then an overtime that determines a Stanley Cup final participant. This kind of short-sighted ridiculousness clearly shows the desperation to break into the US market of Gary Bettman's league. If the NHL bends over backwards to accommodate a TV broadcaster, at the expense of another, they should at least be promised to show the entire game on that broadcaster.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ottawa Makes The Stanley Cup Finals

The Ottawa Senators have just defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in overtime to win their semi-final series 4 games to one. Now that they are in the finals, it is reasonable to ask just how good a team are they?

Last year, I argued that there were no elite teams in the NHL playoffs last year. I outlined two necessary but not sufficient conditions for an elite team. First, the team must have a top level goaltender and second they must have several players who are having Hall of Fame level careers. Now not every team in the NHL that fulfills these conditions will be an elite team that wins a few cups, but those that do will.

Ottawa fails in the first condition. Ray Emery is not a top flight goaltender. He has never had an all star season. He has never been considered for a Vezina Trophy. As recently as the beginning of this season, he was considered the backup to Martin Gerber. This has been a sticking point for Ottawa throughout their history. Though they have had several good seasons - and many times been picked as a serious Stanley Cup contender, they have never had a first class goalie in a playoff run in their history. The closest they ever came was Dominik Hasek last season, but he was injured and didn't play in the playoffs. Ottawa's goaltending history doesn't include any other great goaltenders. Ray Emery, Patrick Lalime, Damien Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt are hardly a who's who of great NHL goalies, but Ottawa has used all of them in playoff runs of the past.

In the second condition, it's not so clear. Ottawa doesn't have any players who would clearly go to the Hall of Fame if they retired now. The player who is most clearly on a Hall of Fame track is likely Dany Heatley. He is 26 years old and coming off his second straight 50 goal 100 point year. He has scored at above point per game rate throughout his career. He has won a Calder Trophy and last year made second team all star (and should this year as well). That said, Heatley has to keep up this level of play for several more years to be a full-fledged Hall of Famer.

Another player with some Hall of Fame potential, who has a less clear track then Heatley, is captain Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson is 34 years old. He has one career 100 point season. He has a Calder Trophy and is a one time second team all star. He is not too far behind point per game scoring over his career. However, at 34 he has probably played the best years of his career (most players do by his age). That said his last two years have been the best of his career. Daniel Alfredsson is a serious Conn Smythe candidate should Ottawa win the cup. That would go a long way toward making a case for him as an elite player. Alfredsson despite being in his mid 30's is not too far along in the all time NHL scoring leaders. He could have another season as productive as this one and still not have cracked the 100 top point scorers of all time (not that that would be enough to make him a Hall of Famer). There are a few reasons for this. He turned 23 in his first NHL season and hence missed out on a few years of potential scoring. During the first few years of his career he always seemed to suffer an injury which kept him from playing the whole season. Like everyone else, he missed a season to the lockout at a time when his productivity was at a peak. These are all excuses, but the point is Alfredsson is only now beginning to show signs that he is an elite player (though he has been an all star for a while) and his career numbers are not impressive enough for a player of his age. This may change if Alfredsson continues to play at a top level, but a true Hall of Fame track player should have accomplished more by age 34.

Another potential Hall of Famer is Jason Spezza. Spezza is 23 and has had two seasons as a good scorer. He will have to continue to score at this rate and likely continue to improve to have a Hall of Fame career, but the potential is there.

The fourth (and only other player worthy of serious Hall consideration on the team at this point) is Wade Redden. Redden has been an all star level defenceman for a while, though he only has one All Star game appearance (in 2002). He is 29 years old and would have to make a jump to elite level and win or at least contend for a couple Norris Trophies to make a leap to Hall of Fame level, though it is not unprecedented for a defender of Redden's calibre to make that jump at his age.

All told, Ottawa has a few players who might have Hall of Fame careers, but none are sure things. Ottawa does not have a top goalie. In the pre-lockout days, this is a team that might be a Stanley Cup contender but it is not the kind of team that wins the cup. In the post-lockout days when it is much harder to keep a successful team together this is quite possibly what a Stanley Cup winning team looks like. I think they are better than Carolina in 2006. However the question that matters is are they better than either Detroit or Anaheim this year?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pronger Suspended

One of the unwritten rules that has been established over the years in the Stanley Cup playoffs is that the referee is not supposed to decide the outcome of a game. That is often why we see multiple overtime playoff games with no power plays after the third period completes. To take this a step further, you definitely do not want to decide a playoff series by suspending a key player in it. Sometimes, it is impossible to keep to this maxim and maintain order in the game or series. Sometimes an event occurs that forces disciplinary action because of its violent nature.

One such event occurred in the second period of game three of the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings playoff series. Tomas Holmstrom of Detroit was hit from behind into the boards by both Chris Pronger and Rob Niedermayer. Pronger hit Holmstrom the hardest of the two and was clearly aiming for Holmstrom's head. Holmstrom fell to the ice bleeding from his head. Strangely, the referees gave Rob Niedermayer a five minute barding penalty and a game misconduct and left Pronger unpunished. To Holmstrom's credit, he had the strength to get stitched up and then return in the third period with an assist (And I thought Don Cherry told me only Canadian kids could do that).

The NHL has a problem with hits to the head that has led to several unnecessary concussions. Many of these hits are "legal" according to NHL rules but are unsafe to the players on the ice and rules should be changed to eliminate these hits and punish those who persist in headhunting.

The NHL has announced a one game suspension for Chris Pronger for the hit. This suspension could easily be a big reason why Detroit wins this series. Anaheim is an extremely strong team when they can have a Norris Trophy calibre defenceman in either Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer on the ice at all times. They have been too dependant upon their big three defencemen (Pronger, Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin) this season. When injuries happened to these players in the mid-season, Anaheim started to lose games. Its rather likely that Detroit will capitalize on the lack of Chris Pronger in game four and take a 3-1 lead in the series. If that happens, it will be hard to defeat the Red Wings when they have such a commanding lead.

I cannot help but wonder if the suspension being only one game long is a function of the fact that it is playoff time and Chris Pronger is extremely important to the Ducks. Had it been a lesser player or a regular season game (or both) wouldn't it have been a multi-game suspension? Still, I applaud Colin Campbell for having the guts to make a potentially series altering suspension announcement when it was deserved. This is a step in the right direction for the NHL's disciplinary system and hopefully a step in the right direction in the elimination of hits to the head.

Here is the TSN story on the suspension.

NOTE: It turns out that this suspension did not turn the tide in the series. Anaheim won game 4 5-3 without Pronger in the line-up. The series is now tied 2-2.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Playoff MVP So Far

Since we are well into the semi-finals there have been enough games played to make meaningful statements about who has been the MVP of the playoffs so far. On a per game basis, the most valuable players have been Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars. Both had a huge influence on the successes of their teams and played some dominant games in goal. However, both have been eliminated from the playoffs. Although other goalies are playing well (Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim and Dominik Hasek of Detroit especially) they are poor choices because they have not reached the level that Luongo and Turco did.

I think the MVP so far is Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit. He has been a dominant defenceman. He leads Detroit in ice time so far in the playoffs and is a tower of strength on their blueline. He also leads the Red Wings in points with 17 (only one point back of the league lead).

I find that I gush about how good a player Lidstrom is relatively frequently. He should have been nominated for MVP but wasn't. He is a player who is establishing himself as one of the all time greatest defencemen to play the game and little has been written in the mainstream media to point that fact out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

AHL Playoffs: Round Two

The second round of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs has completed. Look back at round one here. Here is a second round update.

Manchester Monarchs defeated Providence Bruins 4 games to 2 Manchester, the LA Kings affiliate, won on the strength of forwards Patrick O'Sullivan and Marty Murray and defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky. Providence, the Boston affiliate, couldn't keep up despite second highest scorer in the playoffs so far David Krejci and Sean Curry scoring for them. In many ways, it was goaltender Hannu Toivonen who let them down, for a player once thought to be a Calder Trophy candidate, he has failed to live up to his initial billing.

Hershey Bears defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4 games to 1 Hershey, the Washington affiliate, was led by Scott Barney, Thomas Fleischmann and Dave Steckel. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Pittsburgh affiliate with some Edmonton players as well, came up short in an overtime filled series despite the offence from Robert Nilsson, Micki DuPont and Marc-Antoine Pouliot.

Hamilton Bulldogs defeated Manitoba Moose 4 games to 2 Hamilton, the Montreal affiliate, relied on strong goaltending from Carey Price and offence from Corey Locke to beat Manitoba, the Vancouver affiliate, who was led by Jason Jaffray and Lee Goren.

Chicago Wolves beat Iowa Stars 4 games to 2 Chicago, the Atlanta affiliate is led offensively by Darren Haydar (playoff top scorer), Jason Krog and Brett Sterling, with a strong goaltending performance by Michael Garnett. Iowa, the Dallas affiliate, relied on Junior Lessard and Joel Lundqvist to provide offence.

In the semi-finals, Manchester will face defending Calder Cup champs Hershey and Hamilton will face Chicago.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Semifinals Predictions

My playoff predictions have been inexplicably good this year. I picked all four second round series correctly and seven of eight first round series for a record of 11-1 at this point. I doubt I have ever picked more than eleven playoff series correctly in any year and am very willing to admit that there is some good luck mixed in with my predictions to get that record. On the whole these playoffs are stunningly predictable. I know of others who have had the same success (and got overly cocky after an 8-0 first round). I have not found anybody with a 12-0 record at this point, but if you know of anyone with documented predictions that came out before the series began who is 12-0 please leave me a comment with a pointer to them.

Here are the semi-final predictions:

Anaheim Ducks defeat Detroit Red Wings The Ducks have the one two punch of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer that gives them the best defence left in the playoffs. This is Anaheim's biggest advantage as Detroit has only Nicklas Lidstrom (only - and he's amazing) who plays at that level. Offensively, both teams have some guns. Anaheim has a slightly better group of defensive forwards in Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson vs. Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. Both have goalies that can steal games. I think Anaheim wins a close series.

Ottawa Senators defeat Buffalo Sabres The advantage here is defense. Ottawa has a better team defence and more go to guys in Wade Redden, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov (compared with Brian Campbell, Teppo Numminen and Henrik Tallinder). Ottawa also has the most explosive offence with Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson all in the top five playoff scorers so far this year. Buffalo has the goaltending edge as Ryan Miller is a better bet than Ray Emery, but that's not likely enough.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hall of Fame Predictions

When the season ends, the Hockey Hall of Fame will make its annual selections. Over the past few years some of their selections have been questionable (such as Dick Duff and Cam Neely). This has left a few players who are Hall of Fame worthy being overlooked (Doug Gilmour, Dino Ciccarelli, Mark Howe, Sergei Makarov and Manon Rheaume are all examples). This season will be three years since the lockout began, so players who played their last NHL game in the season before the lockout (2003/04) are eligible. That leaves a large group of worthy players getting their first shot. This group includes Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, Adam Oates and Igor Larionov. I imagine that they will induct the maximum of four players and they will all be first time eligible players. I would select Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis. I think they are clearly the cream of the crop of potential Hall of Famers. The Hall has made some questionable choices in the past, but these are too obvious to miss ... right?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

AHL Playoffs: First Round

The first round of the AHL playoffs have completed are here is an update.

Manchester defeated Worchester 4 games to 2 Manchester, the LA Kings affiliate won with top goaltending from should be NHLer Jason LaBarbera, with Oleg Tverdovsky, Patrick O'Sullivan and Brian Boyle leading the way offensively. Worchester, the San Jose affiliate also had good goaltending from Dmitri Patzold, but their offence lead by Mike Iggulden and Graham Mink was not as strong.

Providence defeated Hartford 4 games to 3 A hard fought offensive series where Providence, the Boston affiliate, won with some offence from David Kredjci and Ben Walter and despite a lacklustre goaltending show from Hannu Toivonen. Hartford, the New York Ranger affiliate has the two top scorers in the first round in Nigel Dawes and Alex Bourret as well as Jarkko Immonen, but lost when goalie Al Montoya managed to play even worse than Toivonen (Montoya put up an .873 saves percentage).

Hershey beat Albany 4 games to 1 Hershey, the Washington affiliate were led by Scott Barney and Kyle Wilson as they easily beat Albany, a joint Carolina and Colorado affiliate who was led by Matt Murley and Ryan Bayda.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton beat Norfolk 4 games to 2 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton are the Pittsburgh affiliate, but they were led by Edmonton Oiler farmhands Robert Nilsson and Tom Gilbert as well as Micki DuPont. Nolan Schaeffer provided strong goaltending. Norfolk, the Chicago affiliate, was lead by Jonas Nordqvist offensively.

Mantoba Moose beat Grand Rapids Griffins 4 games to 3 This was a hard fought seven game series. Manitoba, the Vancouver affiliate, was led offensively by Jason Jaffray and Brad Moran. Drew McIntyre played an outstanding series in goal. While Grand Rapids, the Detroit affiliate, was led by Matt Ellis and Jimmy Howard in goal.

Hamilton Bulldogs beat Rochester Americans 4 games to 2 Hamilton, the Montreal affiliate, was led offensively by Corey Locke and in goal by Carey Price. Rochester, a shared Buffalo and Florida affiliate, was led by Clark Macarthur and Mark Mancari.

Iowa Stars beat Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights 4 games to 2 Iowa, the Dallas affiliate, was led by the goaltending of Dan Ellis as well as Joel Lundqvist ad Junior Lessard. Omaha, the Calgary affiliate, was led by goaltending of Curtis McElhinney, but had troubles getting their offence going.

Chicago Wolves beat Milwaukee Admirals in four straight Chicago, the Atlanta affiliate, was dominant behind the goaltending of Michael Garnett and the offence of Darren Haydar and Brett Sterling. Milwaukee, a Nashville affiliate with some Edmonton players was outplayed with Pekka Rinne in goal.

The teams have moved on to the second round with Manchester facing Providence, Hershey meeting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Manitoba facing Hamilton and Iowa facing Chicago.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

NHL Award Nominees Announced

Today, they announced the nominees for the NHL awards. Here are my picks for who I would have voted for. Today, I will give my reactions to the nominations and who I think will win.

Selke Trophy Rod Brind'Amour Carolina Hurricanes, Sami Pahlsson Anaheim Ducks, Jay Pandolfo New Jersey Devils. I picked all the nominees on my ballot, which surprises me. I expected somebody who had a good offensive year but is defensively responsible (like Chris Drury or Henrik Zetterberg) to get a nomination, but they did better and picked the actual defensive forwards. I think Brind'Amour should win.

Lady Byng Trophy Pavel Datsyuk Detroit Red Wings, Joe Sakic Colorado Avalanche, Martin St Louis Tampa Bay Lightning. I picked Tomas Kaberle of Toronto as a nominee instead of Sakic. Sakic's 46 PIMs should be too much for serious Byng consideration when Tomas Kaberle put up only 20 while tying for eighth in scoring among defencemen. I guess nobody notices the defencemen when they are not among the overall scoring leaders. St Louis should win.

Adams Trophy Lindy Ruff Buffalo Sabres, Michel Therrien Pittsburgh Penguins, Alain Vigneault Vancouver Canucks. What an awful job of picking nominees. None should be there. I wrote something about why Therrien is a poor pick. Vigneault is only nominated because of the year Roberto Luongo had in goal. I guess Lindy Ruff should win because he is the most qualified of a bad bunch. If they stop picking the coach of the most improved team instead of the best coach, they should be looking at Jacques Lemaire of Minnesota and Ted Nolan of the New York Islanders. It's a crime neither are even nominated.

Calder Trophy Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins, Jordan Staal Pittsburgh Penguins, Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche. Staal is a very interesting rookie but Anze Kopitar is a better nominee. He was forgotten on the West Coast in Los Angeles after the Kings fell out of contention. Malkin should win.

Norris Trophy Nicklas Lidstrom Detroit Red Wings, Scott Niedermayer Anaheim Ducks, Chris Pronger Anaheim Ducks. These three defencemen were far out in front of the rest of the field. Lidstrom should win.

Vezina Trophy Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils, Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames, Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers, Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks. Four nominees because there was a tie for third in the voting (likely between Kiprusoff and Lundqvist). I only picked three nominees and did not have Lundqvist. I feel Kiprusoff had a better year in that he was much more heavily worked than Lundqvist (facing 263 more shots) in a similar games played with the same saves percentage. I think Brodeur wins.

Hart Trophy Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils, Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins, Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks. I think the goalie vote splits and Crosby wins by a large margin. I am disappointed that nobody saw fit to nominate Nicklas Lidstrom or Joe Thornton who had better years than the goalies.

Pearson Trophy Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh, Vincent LeCavalier Tampa Bay Lightning, Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks. I would pick this along the same lines as the Hart with Crosby winning. Surprised Luongo gets nominated over Brodeur in this case. I think LeCavalier was chosen over more deserving Thornton and Lidstrom due to leading the league in goals.

Here is the TSN story on the award nominees.

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