bracket

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Minnesota (4) vs. Colorado (1)

Prediction: Colorado in 6

Why: My biggest question mark with the Wild is in net. They’re heading into the post-season with a plan to lean on Ilya Bryzgalov, who’s been very good for them since they acquired him from Edmonton. Unfortunately, Bryzgalov is a career .913 goaltender (just below average for a starter), and that’s thanks in no small part to three seasons in Phoenix behind a tight defensive system that saw him post a .921, a .920 and another .921. Since then he’s played 101 games and has been borderline awful on the whole, which I tend to think is probably the goalie he actually is. His .908 save percentage in the post-season (38 games) isn’t all that stellar either.

The Colorado Avalanche are the NHL’s 4th highest-scoring team, scoring an average of three goals a game (okay, 2.99, whatever), which doesn’t bode all that well if your team isn’t super-comfortable with who’s between the pipes.

I do believe that the Avs are a gettable team. Certainly their abysmal possession numbers are concerning, and I’m not a huge fan of their d-corps (quite the opposite actually), but if Varlamov can give them the saves they need, I think they’ve got the grit and talent up front to get through the Wild in the first round. I particularly like that their core is so young. When that puck drops Thursday in Colorado, the Wild are going to need to weather what I think is going to be a pretty overwhelming initial storm.

Chicago (3) vs. St. Louis (2)

Prediction: Chicago in 6

Why: The St. Louis Blues are going to be brutal to play in playoffs. They have one of the NHL’s finest d-corps, legitimately good-to-great goaltending, and enough talent up front to make them tough to deal with.

But, they just happened to draw the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues “collapse” down the stretch really hurt their odds of winning the Cup.

Read the rest of this entry »

rinaldo22

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(As is the case every time the NHL playoffs start up, it’s time to evaluate the matchups on a very deep, complex level: based purely on jersey aesthetics.)

This may not be the case for all hockey fans out there, but when I turn on the TV to watch a hockey game, my enjoyment of said game is affected by the uniforms being worn, the way they work together, and how they work with the crowd around them. I can barely watch the Panthers (sorry), for example, regardless of opponent.

A couple simple things matter:

* Contrast: Oilers/Flames is going to be better than Senators (white/red/black)/Hurricanes (white/red/black).

And…

Simplicity: Clean, two-coloured jersey matchups – say Red Wings/Leafs – is going to be better than busy, multi-colour jersey matchups – say Florida/Colorado or something. (Oof, the thought of that.)

We all have our personal preferences – for me, I find red-on-red matchups less pleasurable than cooler colours. So we might not agree entirely on the order of the list below, but that’s only because you probably have bad taste and I don’t.

Without any further ado, here are this year’s eight playoff match-ups, ranked by jersey aesthetics. Obviously it differs depending on which team is home or away, so take the rankings to mean a general take on any combination of the main uniforms:

8) Pittsburgh/Columbus

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Having Penguins/Blue Jackets as the worst jersey match-up does sort of contradict my own rules, I admit that. The contrast between the two sweaters is nice. But, there’s sharp contrast in every series this year, and let’s be real: the Penguins need to go back to their simplier, more-yellow, Lemieux-era jerseys, and the Blue Jackets do as little with a red/white/blue color scheme as possible.

There’s no real terrible match-ups this year. This one is just kinda blah. Read the rest of this entry »

HC Davos' Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011

HC Davos’ Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011 / REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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There are literally thousands of reasons why some amazing young hockey players never make it. Some are from the genre of BS that your Dad’s buddies tell you to explain why they fell short (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), some are legit (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), and some just…are. There’s a lot of luck involved with fringe players, and sometimes the dice roll comes up snake eyes.

Whatever the case, we all have dozens upon dozens of stories of players that we thought were virtual locks to make it to the bigs, and for whatever reason things just didn’t go as planned.

I was thinking about a couple of those guys the other day when I threw it out on Twitter: who’s the best player you’ve ever seen in major junior or college hockey that didn’t make it? I got a ton of feedback, so I thought I’d compile a list. (If you’ve got a name that’s not on here, add it in the comments.)

Obviously my bias is going to be skewed towards more recent years (if you go back too far points get way skewed), and in my case, heavily from the WCHA (NCAA), so again: I call on you to help us fill in the blanks. Also, I’m going to be using the definition of “never made it” loosely. While impressive in its own right, I’d say under a 100, 150 games or so total is a decent loose definition of a guy who never established himself in the NHL.

Notes:

* The list is predominantly forwards, because nobody has any idea how to judge d-men and goalies without watching them and #points are #neat

* You know how to read stat lines, but a reminder:

Games Played Goals Assists Total Points Penalty Minutes Plus-Minus

* The list starts with more recent players that I’m more familiar with, and gets older (and more major junior-centric) as you work downward.

* Teams like Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Toronto seems to come up a lot amongst players who fell just short, for whatever reason.

* This isn’t to embarrass the guys who were so close for not making it, or to call them out – it’s more to admire how great these players were/are, and to drop our collective jaws in awe at the incredible things they did in the sport and it still wasn’t good enough. It’s just good context for how hard it is to really make it.

Lets dive in.

Robbie Earl

Best season:

2005-06 U. of Wisconsin WCHA 42 24 26 50 56

Career peak: 47 NHL games with the Minnesota Wild.

Current status: Playing for Zug, Swiss-A league. Point-per-game guy there.

Comment: It’s mind blowing to think that Robbie Earl didn’t make it. He might be the best skater I’ve ever played against, he had a great shot, and even hit hard. I would not have predicted Joey Crabb having a longer NHL career than Robbie Earl back in college (no offense to Joey). Read the rest of this entry »

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The Columbus Blue Jackets may be closing out the year on the road, but Tuesday night’s roller coaster game against the Phoenix Coyotes all but guaranteed they won’t need a monumental finish to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They now find themselves four points up on the Washington Capitals with the tiebreaker squarely in their back pocket, and five up on the Devils, also with the tiebreaker. That’s pretty much all she wrote.

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The most exciting part for them is that a few wins in their final three games in which they’re at Dallas, at Tampa Bay, and at Florida, and they could give the Red Wings a run for the top wild card spot, which would mean NOT facing the Boston Bruins. That’s a pretty big prize right there.

The goal that put them in this comfy-cozy position was a Ryan Johansen breakaway snipe – his 32nd(!) of the year – in overtime past Thomas Greiss. He’s still 21, bee tee dubs.

So, what went wrong for the Coyotes? What went right for the Blue Jackets?

 ***

The play starts when both teams are making a change – Columbus gets theirs in first, and like a NASCAR driver first out of the pits, they’re off to the races. Well, NASCAR drivers are already at the races, but whatever, you get the point.

Boone Jenner pressures Zbynek Michalek, who has solid, solid possession of the puck on the back-end. Ekman-Larsson is being aggressive, jumping up to give Michalek a passing option by skating across the blue-line a zone ahead, while Antoine Vermette presents his stick on the boards.

Lauri Korpikoski completes the Coyotes change, and also presents for Michalek. In short, Michalek has options, man.

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Then, he makes the bad, terrible decision to try to beat Jenner as the last man back. Even if he sees an easy way to do it, there’s no point in taking a risk in this situation. Just move it early and hard to one of your teammates that’s attacking the Blue Jackets. You’ve already got your partner going for the gusto, somebody’s gotta play Spock here and think logically.

Read the rest of this entry »

Avs Ducks

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I’ve said this numerous times throughout the second half of this NHL season, but I believe the Boston Bruins are the Stanley Cup favorite–not because I believe they’re head and shoulders above every team in the league, but because they’re head and shoulders above every team in the East, and whoever gets out of the West will have to fight multiple wars before dragging the remainder of their one-legged battle-weary troops to the Stanley Cup Final.

For a team from the West to win the Cup, they’re going to need to get out of a playoff series or two in less than six or seven games. Every extra game you lace them up with the physical play of the post-season, the pace, the necessity of shot-blocking and all the rest, you’re taking a little off your players video game-like health meters, and are risking more team-crippling injuries.

So, naturally, playoff seeding in the first round matters. And boy-oh-boy, are things getting tight atop the Western Conference standings.

Let’s look at the three (almost four) teams who have the most realistic shot at winning the Western Conference and drawing Minnesota/Dallas instead of the slightly-more-terrifying Los Angeles/San Jose/Chicago.

The St. Louis Blues

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The St. Louis Blues are currently first in the Western Conference with 111 points. As you can see, they have three remaining games.

Remaining schedule: At Minnesota (7th), at Dallas (8th), Detroit at home (7th, East)

Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Gillis

While Mike Gillis was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, the team prospered. He took over a pretty good roster (Luongo, the Sedins, Kesler, Schneider, Bieksa, Edler, Burrows), and mostly managed not to mess things up – something many GMs aren’t able to claim after trying to put their fingerprints on their new franchise. They had a .627 winning percentage over his six years, made playoffs five times, won two President’s Trophies and lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Then, things started getting ugly.

The hiring of John Tortorella was the launchpad on which the Canucks season failed to take off before crashing into the Pacific. I like Eddie Lack, but the goaltending situation went to pot (though some would argue that ownership had some hand in that). There was some disagreement about the playing style of the team, and with it came passive aggressiveness in interviews until it became clear that someone had to go. With four full years and eight million left on Tortorella’s deal, Gillis was sort of the odd man out. And once you know you’re going to fire a guy, you might as well do it. No point in waiting for some imaginary milestone. Cut the tension early, get looking for a new guy, and let him start to prepare for the draft.

There’s also this sentiment: Read the rest of this entry »

Scotty Bowman

My junior hockey career started out a little rough. I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers, and I immediately struggled to adapt. Our coach Mike Vandekamp, to me anyway, seemed like a crazy person. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful for the player he made out of me, but at the time, I thought there was a pretty real chance he might tomahawk me in practice.

I’ve still never asked him about the night he called me into his office to send me down to junior B, listened to my counterarguments, let me call my parents to make plans (quit and college? More Jungle B hockey?), then grabbed me before I walked out the door to say the staff had changed their mind. I’m pretty sure I was being emotionally manipulated.

This sort of thing went on over the course of two years, albeit at less preposterous levels, until Vandekamp, the Vipers and I had been to two BCHL finals (winning one), I had a college scholarship, and we were more or less buddies.

Some people need a pat on the back, others a kick in the ass. If you don’t think coaches intentionally keep players on “Holy hell I need to be at my best tonight” eggshells with their words and actions daily, you’re naivé. It’s why I’ve mentioned comments in the past from Mike Babcock to the media about certain Red Wings players – these are usually calculated comments, as he’s speaking to his players indirectly. 95% of players who say they don’t read what the media is writing about them are full of it. They watch SportsCentre every night, just like everyone else.

Here’s what Ken Dryden wrote in The Game about how Scotty Bowman handled his Montreal Canadiens roster. This followed a blurb on Guy Lafleur and his unwavering ability to self-motivate… Read the rest of this entry »