Hello all. Two weeks from today we'll be talking playoff match-ups. Can't wait. So, where were we?
Vegas has the caps at 4 to 1 for the cup, blackhawks right behind them - does that seem about right? How would you rank the contenders?
steve; Apparently the odds makers missed Cristobal Huet's performance against Columbus last week. Or Antti Niemi's performance yesterday. I think Detroit and San Jose have to be the top teams to consider in the west right now with Vancouver and Chicago perhaps a shade behind them. But it's all close in the west. In the east the Caps are definitely the creme de la creme with Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo in that order. The bottom end of the bracket is all junk for the most part.
Scott,As a sabres fan I am a little biased but I want to ask about the awards. Miller isnt a front runner for Hart because he is a goalie (and can win the Vezina). Without Miller the Sabres don't make the playoffs. Now with the Calder, the argument being used for Howard to win over Myers is the same argument that should help Miller win the Hart over Ovie, Crosby and Sedin..... but Miller won't win Hart ....Am I missing something?
Andrew; I make the argument that Jimmy Howard, like Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov should be considered for the Hart although I am among that group of writers/voters that believe the goalie has to be so spectacular to be considered in the Hart category because there is the Vezina. I know, splitting hairs, perhaps. I think Miller has made his case for the Vezina and I think a lot of people will like him for the Hart, too. Me? Will be hard to put any goalie ahead of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Henrik Sedin.
Can my Jekyl and Hyde Thrashers find a way to get in? They sure have played some solid road games of late...
Tom; Thrashers need to beat Carolina tonight and Toronto tomorrow as they finish with two against Washington, two against Pittsburgh and one against New Jersey. Ouch. Figure even with wins tonight and tomorrow still going to need, what, seven or eight points out of those final five games (3-1-1 or 2-1-2 at worst). That's a lot to ask. Let's see where the Thrash are a week from now.
Scott, I am a little worried about my Colorado Avalanche. 4 points up on Calgary with a game in hand, not the easiest schedule of games remaining (though many are at home), and a critical game against the Flames this week. Will they hold on or do you see a Calgary surge coupling with a Colorado free fall?
Jason; I think what many people thought would happen to such a young team is actually happening. They just can't close the deal. The schedule is on their side but agreed that Friday's game looms large. Would love to see the Avs make it just to prove that we critics know nothing at all when it comes to start of the season predictions. But they're going to have to get Paul Stastny going and suck it up.
Where will the Bruins finish in the East? If they do make the playoffs, How far can they go?
Rob; I think the Bruins will hang on to one of the last couple of playoff spots but after that I fear it will be one and done for the Bs and in a hurry. They don't match up well against Washington or Pittsburgh. New Jersey might be the best they could hope for in a 2/7 match-up as the Devils play it pretty close to the vest as do the Bruins.
Is it wrong that I'm more interested in who wins the Rocket Richard trophy than who ends up claiming the last playoff spots in the East and West? It's a great story, what with Crosby and Ovy trying to outdo each other and Stamkos coming out of nowhere to join the NHLs elite in just his 2nd year.
Gavin; I don't think it's wrong especially given that there is almost no chance that whoever grabs the final spot or final two spots or frankly final three spots has any shot of getting out of the first round. The west is a little different but your point is well-taken. I think the Crosby/Ovechkin/Stamkos race is great although I am likewise curious about Henrik Sedin and Ovechkin's duel at the top of the points race. Sedin is in many ways under the radar in spite of his fabulous season but is still going to make things interesting come MVP voting time.
You hockey journalists are funny. One day it is Chicago is the best team in the NHL and Detroit is old and done. Today it is that Detroit is the team to beat. When will everyone understand...you can NEVER count Detroit out!
Nic; Yes, we are a mercurial lot. Was in Nashville Saturday for a pretty good game against the Preds and the Wings remind me a lot of, well, the Wings for the first time this season. That's what makes the west so compelling. None of the top seeds are safe because they could all draw Detroit in the first round. Or Nashville or an interesting Kings team.
I was just looking at defensemen stats yesterday and realized how well Nicky lindstrom is doing. Considering he is turning age 40, how amazed are you that he is still easily among the elite defensemen in the league? His +/- rating is higher than his team by more than double. Where do you think he ranks among current defensemen?
Jonathan; This goes to the previous point about not counting the Wings out. For most of the first half of the season Lidstrom looked like an aging defenseman and now he looks like a 30-year-old just coming into his prime. Got to imagine he gives it one more go given how well he's played int he second half of the season. Again, a function of playing with or for a team that wasn't really a team until the last couple of months.
Assuming both Rask and Thomas play well the rest of the way and Boston makes it in the playoffs, will we see from Boston something similiar to what Washington did last year in going with Theodore at first but then throwing Varlamov in at the first sign of trouble?
Clint; I think you may see that in a number of NHL cities this spring; Detroit, Chicago, Washington, and yes, Boston, too. Hard to imagine that it won't be Tuukka Rask to start assuming the Bruins hang on and make the playoffs. But when you can go to the defending Vezina Trophy winner for a Plan B I'm pretty sure Claude Julien won't wait too long before making that move if Rask struggles.
Scott, I know the bottom teams in the East don't look that great right now, but don't you think you're being a little harsh not giving the Flyers, with all the talent on that team, at least a fighting chance at knocking off one of the top 3? (remember where the analysts placed the Yotes to finish this season...)
Pete; You are absolutely right. And of course now Boston, Montreal, Philly and Ottawa will all win through to the second round just to spite me. As for the Flyers they do match up pretty well against New Jersey (see yesterday's tilt as Exhibit A)but with all due respect to Brian Boucher I just don't see it happening over the course of a seven-game series no matter who the Flyers end up playing. And that's if they don't fall right out of the bracket completely.
How can we impeach Glen Sather?
Tony; Sadly the Rangers do not exist as a democracy or that would have happened long ago.
Who is Jimmy Howards biggest competion for the Calder? Is he the runner up for the Vezina to Ryan Miller?
Ryan; I think Tyler Myers who has been terrific for Buffalo and Matt Duchene are the two guys that will end up on the final ballot. My good friend and colleague Pierre LeBrun sent me a blast this morning saying it wasn't even close between Howard and Myers because playing defense at the level Myers has at his tender age is a more significant accomplishment. He is wrong, of course, but it's going to be a great debate and I think a real close vote.
The Road to the Stanley Cup in the...West Goes Through:East Goes Through:
Jonathan;West; Through Detroit simply because they remain the standard bearers and they're healthy and hungry.East; Pittsburgh because that's the Cup's home right now and someone is going to have to prove when it counts they can control Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal down the middle.
I see that the Sharks are giving out very little information about Thornton's "injury". Is it safe to say that we've entered the stretch of the season where teams will be even more vague than usual about injuries? Do you ever see the NHL doing something like the NFL to force teams to be more candid about who is hurt and what the nature of the injury is?
Prahlad; Yes, the NHL has been circumspect at the best of times when it comes to releasing information. The bottom line is that until the NHL becomes a huge betting property like the NFL there will be little external pressure on the NHL to honestly discuss injury issues. I think it's a joke and makes the NHL look backward but try and get GMs to get on board with opening up about injury and it's like you're asking for the Colonel's 11 herbs and spices.
Who in the East Buffalo-Washington-New Jersey-Pittsburgh has the best chance of being shown the door by the likes of Boston-Montreal-Ottawa-Philadelphia?
Bill; I think a Philly/NJ match-up could be problematic for the Devils if Boucher doesn't spring a leak. And as much as Ryan Miller has been The Man in Buffalo this is a Sabre team that is going to be pretty thin on any significant playoff experience given the turnover since they went to the East final in '06 and '07. Also, Ottawa has some crazy strange record against Buffalo that might also come into play if those two teams meet in the first round.
Why have the winter classic in pitt when theyve already had one i mean shouldnt ovie and the caps get it in dc?
Nate; I don't think the Caps had any interest in hosting the event. Not sure if it's an issue with the Redskins or Nationals but if our information is correct they wanted no part of the hosting end of the Winter Classic but will be happy to be the visitors.
Which team has more to prove in the playoffs - Washington or Chicago? It seems like it should be an easy question, but I keep going back and forth.
Carl; I think it's a great question that doesn't have an easy answer. Yes the 'Hawks have been shut out of the Cup since '61 but they've been to the final since and they were in a conference final a year ago. For the Caps it's about showing they are in the same class as Pittsburgh and that they can get it done when it matters. A Caps/'Hawks final would be pretty darned dramatic if it turned out that way. I am guessing, though, that at least one of these teams is going to end up disappointed when all is said and done this spring.
What are your thoughts on the movement to get Pat Burns in the Hall of Fame before, well, you know? It seems like a noble cause that has a lot of support, so will it get done?
Aaron; I think it is, indeed, a noble cause, but the Hall of Fame is a tricky thing. Big committee with lots of politics involved. I honestly don't have a sense whether there is enough momentum to see Burns honored in a timely fashion. Certainly his healthy issues make it a compelling story. We'll know more in a couple of months when the 2010 class is announced. If there is a complicating issue it's a push to see Fred Shero honored as well and I wonder if there will be a split on the panel about which of the two great coaches should be honored in which order.
After a season, do you think the Kessel deal was worth it for the Leafs? They have a shot at earning the first draft pick, which I'm guessing Brian Burke was not counting on.
Neal; A lot of people hate this deal for the Leafs but I know one current NHL executive whose opinion I really respect who loved the deal because Kessel is a proven commodity at a very young age. Could the number one pick this June turn out to be a Steven Stamkos or a Drew Doughty? Maybe. But the Leafs got a product they knew could score 30 to 40 goals a year for the next decade. No such thing as a sure thing but the Leafs got something pretty close as Kessel's numbers suggest. At least that's the logic the Leafs employ. The answer, of course, may not be known for three or four years either way.
What do I do if I lose in the Finals, again?
Mariona; Have a good cry and then cash another check.
I understand Tyler Myers has been phenomenal as a rookie this year, but given the fact that Ryan Miller has backstopped the Sabres all year, does that hurt Tylers chances on Calder, where as Jimmy Howard has had to deal with a depleted Red Wings line up?
Pat; I think these are all factors that will go into the hopper. Myers' numbers are fantastic and playing defense as a rookie is a tall order. But it helps when Ryan Miller is your goalie, no doubt about that. Howard shook off a slow start and Ken Holland told me the other night in Nashville he's been the team's MVP through the first 60 games and is likely the difference between making the playoffs and not.
Scott, Bill Guerin has been my favorite hockey player for a long time now and was thrilled when the Penguins added him last season at the deadline. His experience was crucial for our young guys. When his career ends, where do you see him fitting in on the list of top U.S. born players of all time?
Travis; I think Guerin's presence in Pittsburgh was even more than GM Ray Shero imagined when he acquired him from the Isles at the '09 trade deadline. Great in the room, contributed some timely scoring. If he helps the Pens repeat this year and then calls it quits (not sure what his plans are) he will be among the top U.S. players of all time. Not as prolific, obviously, as Brett Hull, and probably not as talented as Mike Modano, but still in the top four or five I would think.
Scott do you think that Ovi is out of the Hart running because of his suspensions this year?
Bernie; Not at all. I don't think it will have any bearing on the voting. It won't be a factor when I vote, I know that.
Let's say the best offer Kovalchuk gets this offseason is from a team which seams like a bad fit for him. Do you think he might take his NJ experience and settle for what isn't the best offer, or will the almighty dollar win in the end?
Ty; Hard to tell. I think a lot depends on how the Devils fare in the playoffs and how Kovalchuk fares himself. No one is going to pay him what he turned down from the Thrashers. Not even the Thrashers. In the end I wouldn't be surprised if he actually ends up coming back to Atlanta. Of course if the Devils win a Cup he might find that Newark is a pretty good place after all.
It seems like lots of young players are taking strides toward becoming elite players in the last quarter of the season. Do you see guys like Hornqvist, Voracek, Kulemin, McBain (or others?) becoming real forces in the NHL next year?
Max; It's almost a cliche but it truly is a young man's game now but sometimes young players get a burst in the second half of a season because veterans have been traded or they get more opportunity once a playoff spot is out of the question so it sometimes skews their real value. It's the art of consistency that often elludes young players that sets the good ones apart from the flashes.
Wait, I thought Boston has Toronto's #1 pick. Pretty important factor in answering Neal NJ's question, no?
Glenn; They do. Did I suggest something other? The Leafs will likely be a lottery pick meaning they'll have a shot at the number-one pick in June although Edmonton will have the odds heavily stacked in their favor.
What happened to the Hawks heart?? How do they go about getting things straight before the Playoffs??
Chris; I'm not sure it's a heart thing necessarily. This is still a very good hockey team and they are playing games that don't really matter right now. The issue, I think, is one of confidence in goal and being able to ramp up the energy or urgency level when they'll need it in the first round. As I mentioned before they're not going to be able to tune up in the first round, work themselves into a groove, because the teams in the west are too good. I still think they'll get there, though. Good coaching, great depth and leadership.
Can Kovy go back to the thrashers? I thought there was a rule that stated a player can't be traded to a team and then after the season sign back up with his old team? Was I dreaming that rule?
Josh; Some GMs would like to see that rule but it's happened a number of times recently with Doug Weight being dealt from St. Louis to Carolina and re-signing with the Blues in the summer. Keith Tkachuk did it too, traded to Atlanta and returning to the Blues that summer.
The more I see of Luongo, the more it seems like he's detined to become another Ed Belfour - a player with a long, successful career but something missing that prevents him from being the guy who leads a team to a Stanley Cup. Is it too soon to say that, especially given the Gold Medal this year (although he looked shaky there at times), or are you seeing this too?
Luke; Difference with Ed Belfour is that Belfour did win a Cup with Dallas in '99 which is one reason he'll go to the Hall of Fame. But your point is a good one; what has Luongo really accomplished thus far in his career? He was fine for Canada in the Olympics but he didn't stand on his head (didn't need to I suppose but you get the point) and he has yet to deliver a team beyond the second round. Now he's talking about his mental fatigue. Yikes. I think this spring will be crucial to determining just what kind of mental make-up Luongo has because the Canucks have the potential to go on a long run.
Scott, Do you think the Caps can hold on and win the President's trophy? They have a lot of games left against playoff teams and teams jockeying for playoff position.
John; They have a five-point lead over San Jose with a game in hand. I think they're good.
I feel like anyone traded from the Hurricanes goes back after the season ends.
Charlie; The Hurricanes are like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.
Who is the worst team in the NHL in 2009-2010?
Chris; No question it's the Oilers. They're in another league in their futility.
do you see the pens getting past the caps again this yr? or does back to back trips to the finals kill them
jeremy; I think that's going to be the issue for the Pens; does two trips to the finals finally catch up with them? As for the Caps, if the two teams meet (and who, apart from Sabres and Devils fans) doesn't want that to happen, can the Caps not get too wound up about beating Sidney and the boys and simply let it happen? It would be a great dynamic for sure.
What team do you think has missed expectations the most this season?
Paul; I think Calgary has been a big disappointment. Carolina after going to the Eastern Conference final a year ago. Philadelphia although injuries have been a contributing factor. For me, though, both Anaheim and St. Louis I thought would be forces in the west and they've both stutter-stepped their way out of the playoffs. Disappointing as they're both fun teams to watch.
Chances that the last regular season game for the Coyotes in San Jose decides the Pacific Division?
Ryan; 60-40. If it comes down to that I say Adrian Aucoin with the shootout winner to give the Coyotes the Pacific crown by a single point.
Okay folks. Next week I think I'll be on Tuesday so look forward to catching up then. Cheers.