Archive for the ‘2013-14 Team Previews’ Category

Tavares Moulson

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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Added: Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Subtracted: Mark Streit, Nino Niederreiter, Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin

The Islanders are going to be good

The Islanders suffered for a long time to get where they are, but they’ve finally got the pieces to the puzzle. Their new captain, John Tavares, is coming off back-to-back point-per-game seasons, which is only made more impressive by the fact that he just turned 23 this week. When you look at the career arc of goal-scorers, it’s pretty clear he’s about to enter his most productive few years, meaning you can expect him to push past PPG status and end up in the NHL’s top-10 point-getters no problem. He’s flanked by one of the game’s most underrated offensive superstars in Matt Moulson, who in the last three full seasons has put up the following goal totals: 30, 31, and 36. He was on pace again last year, with 15 in a half-year. One-time waiver claim Michael Grabner has put up a 30-goal season of his own, and was on pace for another during the last shortened season. His speed is impossible for d-men to deal with, so he gets a ton of breakaways, which results in a bushel of goals.

The rest of the garden they’ve planted is starting to bear fruit. Josh Bailey showed signs of being a quality offensive producer towards the end of the season, getting himself on 20-goal-season pace in the shortened year. Kyle Okposo is a nightmare to handle – he’s a big strong-bodied forward who’s put up 20 in the NHL in the past, and is still in his own most productive years at age 25. Frans Nielsen is one of the League’s best two-way players, earning himself Selke votes last season, while owning the NHL’s all-time highest completion percentage in the shootout. They’re adding great young power forward Brock Nelson to the mix this year to go with their other two absolute bangers in Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Those guys are #1 and #2 in hits over the past few seasons. Not fun to play.

On the back-end they’re look pretty darn good too. Lubomir Visnovsky came to the Island reluctantly before moving all-in and signing for more years. Travis Hamonic has a new seven-year deal and is on the verge of introducing himself to fans everywhere as one of the toughest defenseman to play around. And the perenially underrated d-man Andrew MacDonald is coming off a year in which he lead the Islanders in ice time (23:31) thanks to his poise, vision, and savvy defensive positioning. That’s more minutes than guys like PK Subban, Francois Beauchemin and Victor Hedman. If they can even get league-average goaltending, the growth of their young players and smart additions should be enough to push this team to new heights.

 The Islanders are going to be bad

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Datsyuk 2

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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Added: Stephen Weiss, Daniel Alfredsson
Subtracted: Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner, Dan Cleary

The Red Wings are going to be good

You can’t be truly successful – as in, Stanley Cup winning successful – without elite talent, and the Detroit Red Wings have it in spades. Pavel Datsyuk is pretty universally revered around the NHL for a reason. He scores some of the slickest goals while winning defensive player of the year awards while winning gentlemanly player awards. I mean, combining those things is almost unheard of in hockey. He gets to line up with point-per-game skillmonster Henrik Zetterberg too, which kinda makes them a lot to handle. They’ve added to their firepower by bringing in multi-season 40-goal-scorer Daniel Alfredsson and all that goes with him. They brought in Stephen Weiss, whose been scoring over 20 goals a year consistently while playing with a bucket of Playdoh and a Raggedy-Ann doll for linemates. Johan “The Mule” Franzen has scored over 27 goals four times in his career (all since ’07), and scores them in a way that creates space for his linemates. Which is to say, he lives in the dirty areas. And their forward depth is remarkable – guys like Helm, Abdelkader and Samuelsson can all chip in consistently. If some of their young forwards like Gustav Nyqvist and Tomas Tatar pan out (and it looks like they will), this team will be able to score at will.

Backstopping this group of studs is an all-star in Jimmy Howard, still in his mid-20s and starting to emerge as one of hockey’s best. And with the League’s hardest hitter and offensive threat Niklas Kronwall in front of him, he’s probably not going to be challenged that often. Some of the Wings talented young d-men (Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser) are ready to take the next step, and the underrated Jonathan Ericsson rounds out a pretty versatile d-corps. This team has all the tools to be one of the top teams in the league, if not the top team.

 The Red Wings are going to be bad

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Yakupov Hall

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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Added: Dallas Eakins, David Perron, Andrew Ference, Jason LaBarbera, Richard Bachman, Denis Grebeshkov, Linus Omark
Key subtractions: Ralph Krueger, Ryan Whitney, Shawn Horcoff, Magnus Paajarvi, Nikolai Khabibulin

The Oilers are Going to be Good

The Edmonton Oilers could be nearly impossible to handle this season. The years of frustration paid huge dividends for this group, as they now find themselves with some of the best offensive talent in the league. Taylor Hall finished in the top-10 in NHL scoring last season, and he’s still 21. There’s no reason to believe he’s not going to be even better this campaign. He was accompanied to Team Canada’s Olympic Orientation Camp by fellow superstar Jordan Eberle, one of the league’s slipperiest players. They also have #1 overall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a kid who put up NHL numbers during his teen years that rival some of the greatest superstars hockey has ever seen. And oh yeah, they also have Nail Yakupov, one of the game’s most electric players, who threatened 20 goals as a rookie in a shortened season.

That young group is complimented by show-stopper Ales Hemsky, another supremely talented offensive player. Sam Gagner is another young stud who finished second on the team in points last year with 38 in 48 games. They’ve ensured they’ve got guys who can win draws and play responsible defense by grabbing Boyd Gordon in the off-season. Last year rookie defenseman Justin Schultz poured in 27 points in a 48-game season after damn-near leading the AHL in scoring during his time there. He’s a star. And these guys all play in front of one of the league’s most – if not the league’s actual most – underrated goaltender in Devan Dubnyk (he pitched a .920 last year, for those wondering).

If the supporting cast is even average this year, this team is going to push the play so much in the offensive zone they’re going to break teams. And with that youth, good luck keeping up for 60 minutes. This team is going to be good.

 The Oilers are Going to be Bad

doan ekman-larsson

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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-by Thomas Drance

Added: Mike Ribeiro, Ice Arizona (actual owners!), Brandon Yip
Subtracted: Boyd Gordon

The Coyotes are Going to be Good

Last year’s listless performance was an aberration. In the wake of Ray Whitney’s departure the Coyotes just didn’t have that extra offensive oomph, and it cost them.

But this is a Dave Tippett coached team, and Dave Tippett could make lemonade out of stones. Mike Ribeiro more than replaces Ray Whitney’s offense and the hiring of former Canucks assistant and power-play x’s and o’s master Newell Brown will help. Good goaltending, solid defense, and just enough offense is the Coyotes way. They’ll get back to it this season probably too, mostly because they’re among the best coached clubs in the league.

Phoenix is deep right through the line-up. Just look at their centers: you start with Ribeiro, have a couple of two-way aces in Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal on your second and third lines, and have Kyle Chipchurra holding down fourth-line duty. That’s a strong, well balanced group.

Shane Doan is pretty much ageless, Radim Vrbata is perpetually productive and under-rated, Mikkel Boedkker is coming into his own, and Lauri Korpikoski and David Moss are the quintessential useful third line wingers. And for that matter, fourth-line winger Rob Klinkhammer is looking increasingly like a player.

Combine a deep forward group with Phoenix’s ridiculously loaded blue-line group, and you can begin to understand the (non-economic) optimism in Glendale. Even if Rusty Klesla is out of the lineup to start the season, Phoenix’s blue-line should be among the league’s best.

It starts with Oliver Ekman-Larsson who is already a top-5 NHL defenseman and under-garment mogul. Rookie defenseman David Rundblad has been a revelation in the preseason and will help on the power-play at the very least. Keith Yandle is arguably the single best offensive defenseman in the league not named Erik Karlsson. Beyond that there’s a nice mix of veterans like Derek Morris, and young guys with upside like Michael Stone and David Schlemko.

Throw Mike Smith into the equation, and you’ve got a team that will be very tough to score against, even if they’re bound to be in the bottom-third of the league in goals for.

 The Coyotes are Going to be Bad

weber rinne

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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-by Thomas Drance

Added: Matt Cullen, Viktor Stalberg, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks, Seth Jones, Carter Hutton
Subtracted: Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt Halischuk, Jonathon Blum, Brandon Yip, Hal Gill, Chris Mason

The Predators are Going to be Good

In four of the past five seasons, everyone has counted the Predators out ahead of the season. And in three of the past five seasons, the Predators proved the experts wrong.

Last year educated observers nailed it, and the Wild struggled mightily. For once a massive loss in free-agency proved too much for the Nashvillians. As it turns out, Ryan Suter’s defection was more than “just a flesh wound” for the NHL’s Black Knight.

Still  we’re talking about one of the smartest, best run organizations in professional hockey. At the end of the day, I suspect smart guys like Barry Trotz and Dave Poile won’t be kept down for long.

The Predators made a fair bit of addition by subtraction this summer, jettisoning passengers like Mason, Kostitsyn, Halischuk, Blum, Yip and Gill. Less minutes for those guys, and more minutes for the likes of Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Craig Smith, Matt Hendricks and Colin Wilson, may make the Predators better on its own.

Of course Poile didn’t stop there. The Predators snapped up seemingly every available above average second and third line forward on the market. They’ve got a serious surplus of quality forwards, which will allow them to run four lines and beat up on tired opponents late in games. In a league with increasing parity, depth rules, and the versatile Predators forwards have that in spades.

On the back-end Shea Weber remains the second best defenseman on planet earth, Roman Josi is coming into his own and learning how to control games, and Seth Jones is probably going to be ready to handle big minutes right off the bat. And just imagine how good Jones is going to be with the “Nashville Predators elite defenseman assembly line(TM)” showing him the ropes. What serendipity for the team and player that selection was.

In goal the Predators still employ a certain freak of nature named Pekka Rinne. Rinne is unequivocally the most unique, dominant force in goal in the entire NHL.

Rinne combines the best glove hand in the league (by a country mile), with Brodeur-quality puck-handling. When he’s down in his butterfly, he’s a giant (stands 6,5). He’s also faster and more agile than any man his size has any right to be. Scoring on Rinne is tough enough, doing so with Weber in front of him is a nightmare.

The Preds are going to play a 200 foot game They won’t score too much, they’ll grind out wins with polish and professionalism. Same as its always been in Smashville.

The Preds are Going to be Bad

Parise Suter 2

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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-by Thomas Drance

Added: Keith Ballard, Nino Neidereitter, Matt Cooke.
Subtracted: Devin Setoguchi, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen, Cal Clutterbuck, Tom Gilbert.

The Wild are Going to be Good

Forget Matt Cooke, Nino Neidereitter and Keith Ballard: the biggest addition the Minnesota Wild made this off-season was the calender flipping from 2012-13 to 2013-14. This is a young team on the rise after all, with a handful of quality young players who will only improve with age.

Jonas Brodin was a legitimate first-pairing defenseman in his rookie year. So how good will he be this season? Charlie Coyle is an emerging power forward, and the NHL experience he got last season will help him adjust as he moves back to his natural position at center. Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella aren’t just quality, young NHL defenseman, but they’re locked up and cost controlled for several seasons.

Beyond internal improvements from the young guns and Dany “best shape of my life in a contract year” Healtey, the Wild managed to deal Cal Clutterbuck for value (Nino Neidereitter) while also upgrading their third-line with the addition to Matt Cooke. Between Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and whatever winger earns the other spot on that third-line – the Wild are going to have a dynamite checking line to back up one of the league’s best top groups.

The Parise, Koivu, Pominville line? One of the league’s best already. If they’re not already in Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams territory – and they’re not in terms of reputation – then they’re close in actual quality. You want a top-group that can control 55% of shot attempts against tough competition while shooting an elevated percentage? Look no further.

The Wild are Going to be Bad

Dallas Stars

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

Click here for the previews you may have missed.

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Added: Lindy Ruff, Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Shawn Horcoff, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Ellis
Subtracted: Glen Gulutzan, Loui Eriksson, Eric Nystrom, Philip Larsen, Richard Bachman

The Stars are going to be good

This team easily took the biggest stride in the off-season. They added intelligent disciplinarian Lindy Ruff as their bench boss to take control of a group with a ton of potential. All the sudden they’re loaded down the middle, which is a big change. They traded for budding superstar Tyler Seguin, who is on the verge of a huge year. They got him just in time to suck the maximum value out of him after Boston spent a few years teaching him to play all 200 feet. They just named Jamie Benn their new captain, a huge body with a massive shot who’s nearly impossible to contain. They added Shawn Horcoff to their list of underrated players to go along with their other new centerman, Rich Peverly. They’ve got proven offensive talent in Ray Whitey and Erik Cole to go along with one of the Calder Trophy front-runners in Valeri Nichushkin. That kid is going to be a legit star in this league, and immediately makes them better. And man-child Cody Eakin is just about to become a household name.

All that talent plays in front of one of the league’s best goalies in Kari Lehtonen, who has the luxury of playing behind breakout experts Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski. That kind of skill means less turnovers, less time in your own zone. This team has a flashy new set of duds, a new attitude, and the talent to change the balance of power in the West.

The Stars are going to be bad

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