Monday, January 21, 2013

The NHL is back: A fair and balanced recap of the first weekend


I had this blog like, a thousand years ago. Pretty sure people never read it unless I specifically asked them to; luckily, I now have many more Twitter followers than I did in the time of the dinosaurs, thus I can specifically ask *many more* people to read this shit. Hence, blog entry. Okay? Okay. We'll see if this becomes a regular thing (probably not).

So if you haven't heard, this funny thing called the NHL came back this weekend (hashtag HOCKEYISBACK reply NOWAI HOCKEY NEVER WENT ANYWHERE RABBLE RABBLE WE'RE SUPERIOR). Fans everywhere apparently celebrated by spending all the moneys in the world. Although that link is to Fox News so I guess that's probably wrong. Anyway.

Given that I watched probably at least a minute of every single game that aired this weekend (related: I have no life and I'm flunking every college course WOOOO #HOCKEYISBACK oh god), I figured I would try and run you through the highlights. Of all of them. And it will keep you from checking my last post, which is my hilariously wrong 2011 predictions that I don't think I ever finished. Please don't read them. Read this instead!



So this happened:

(stick tap to @nickaresee who you should totally be following, go do that I'll wait)

It was the day you thought would never come. It was the day that made you cry. But enough about San Jose Sharks fans.

Anyway, I legit died of happiness and have been a walking, talking zombie ever since. RIP me killed by joy of buncha rich dudes I've never met getting expensive rings.

Oh and NBC were total dicks. That kind of sucked.

There was a hockey game played somewhere in here too I guess. Let's not talk about that.

After nearly killing each other while simultaneously forgetting how to play anything resembling defense in one of the most memorable playoff series of all-time, the Flyers and Pens trolled us all with a kinda boring 2-1 game of whatever. Giroux's goal was pretty nice. Crosby was held pointless but GUESS WHO THEY TALKED ABOUT ANYWAY?! NHL Network's crack graphics team attempted to balance this out by listing him as a -3, which was kind of funny given the Flyers scored A GOAL. +/- is a pretty nonsensical stat, but I'm still pretty sure that's not how it works guys.

I had this game on my TV muted most of the afternoon with Kings-Hawks on my computer, mostly because my BFF is inexplicably a Jets fan (and a Coyotes fan but we'll get to that later promise; I know that makes a sense that is not), and as that game became more and more out-of-control watching this one became my salvation. Think about THAT for a while. That Erik Karlsson dude looked like he spent the entire summer reading Leaf fan tweets mocking his contract and the idea of him having a 78-point season again. Now he'll probably do it again, this year, in a 48-game season, because there is a god and he really fucking hates fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pretty sure the Sens won but again, no sound so who knows really.

I thought Rick Nash looked pretty cool at times, especially on the PK. I'm sure the Rangers got murderized in the #fancystats department. Henrik made an amazing save if you ignore the fact that the puck was probably across the goal line. Fuck the Boston Bruins.

Every time I turned this game on I wanted to cry. The Bell Centre is holy ground you fucks, and you played terrible, boring hockey there on this day of celebration. The crowd sounded like they all took sleeping pills mixed with booze mixed with warm milk mixed with more booze. I didn't get to hear a single OLE, OLE chant. The Leafs didn't even play Reimer who is funny and makes me laugh. It ended 2-1, the most boring score in hockey (at least with a shutout you're like WHOA HE HAS A SHUTOUT GOING CAN HE KEEP THIS UP?!) So yeah this game seemed pretty bad two thumbs down etc.

Okay so maybe I didn't watch EVERY game....

When everyone was talking about "post-lockout hockey" this is like the exact game they all imagined in their adorable little heads. In the time it took me to write that sentence, someone in this game would have taken another tripping penalty. Both teams' penalty kills looked like they spent all of five minutes on them. Mike Riberio looked good for the Capitals. Braden Holtby looked the opposite of that. It was a fun game to flick on every five minutes because something was probably happening. Also I totally forgot they play "Louie Louie" whenever St. Louis scores a goal. I laughed.

"Everyone is picking the Hurricanes to make the playoffs and the Panthers to go right back to missing, hmm? We'll show those fucks!" -xoxo hockey gods

In a desert full of games going literally the exact opposite way I would have predicted, this game was my oasis. "The Red Wings will probably be bad without two of their top four defensemen, but the Blues look really good this year." said me and like every other person ever. Yep. Tarasenko ripped right past Kyle Quincey as if he was a white-and-red traffic cone, which is probably going to become a theme this season me thinks. This is hilarious to say, but Quincey is definitely nowhere near as good as Colin Fraser (but is probably still better than Ryan Smyth, so I guess Edmonton are the real losers, as usual).

Are you sitting down? Okay. Guess what? The Jackets won their first game. Artem Anisimov, who came over from the Rangers in that Rick Nash deal everyone pretty much liked (for the Rangers), made this totally sick play leaning on Paul 'hey fun fact Nashville gave Buffalo a 1st rounder for me, no seriously' Gaustad and beating him to the net like he wasn't even there en route to backhanding it right over Rinne and under the bar to tie the game up and send it into overtime. I typed all that out only because it was like 500000x cooler than anything Rick Nash did this weekend so I think we all know what THAT means. And if you haven't figured it out yet, Artie scored in the shootout too. So that's TWO more things than Nash has done all weekend. And no Rick, scoring pointless goals in the third period of games that are already over doesn't count. Sit your ass down, bust boy. Yep, you're already a bust, tough shit deal with it THIS IS NEW YAWK

BTW not sure but think I heard Shea Weber sobbing gently to himself a few times. Fourteen years is a looooonnnngggg time, big guy.

As I mentioned earlier, my BFF loves the Coyotes for reasons totally indiscernible to me. Naturally, I became the biggest Dallas Stars fan in the known history of the universe. JAGR SHOOTS....HE SCORES! 4 POINT NIGHT! WHITNEY YOU'RE A RAY OF SUNSHINE! awwwww better luck next time Yotes : (

(I don't have that many friends.)

After Colorado went up 1-0 like two minutes in I was all "lol same 'ol Minny right guys?" on my Twitter. Then Minnesota scored three unanswered goals. So uh sorry Avs fans, my bad.

This was the only late game and again no life etc. so despite hating both teams with the passion of a million red suns I was watching it. And thank god for that, because I got to see the makings of a TV movie: new starter Schneider gives up five soft goals and leaves in shame, the previously reviled but now beloved Luongo comes in as the new conquering hero to a standing ovation, and then up two more goals in a 7-3 loss. So I guess the ending could use a little work. LUUUUUUUUUU~


Like halfway through the first period I was all "wait, why did I get up for this game again? I could be sleeping and having weird dreams about ex-girlfriends and Twitter and something about a roller coaster, I hate both these teams and this game is pretty boring." It picked up in the 2nd & 3rd though. If we're gonna be totally honest here the Flyers got jobbed big-time; first Ryan Miller embarrassed all of America with his thespian antics and somehow got a totally legitimate Flyer goal waved off for "contact", and then a quick whistle robbed the Flyers of ANOTHER goal late in the 3rd that would have at least made it interesting. Still, if you think I'm gonna be sad that the fucking Philadelphia Flyers have started 0-2 you've got another thing coming, bucko.

 I enjoyed this game while the Sharks were losing. Then they woke up, scored two quick goals, and I was all "lol bye". Calgary looks to be pretty terrible so tough to judge if this is a "good in the regular season, terrible in the playoffs" year or a "just terrible" year for San Jose.

I don't hate the Penguins anywhere near as much as 99% of Rangers fans out there, but I guess that's probably because I'm a fake Rangers fan anyway sooooo.....whatever. This was a game that happened. The Rangers looked pretty good for a while and then got slaughtered. MSG was really mad. I bet some fights broke out. Hopefully no one dumped beer on some Pens fan's children or something (but no promises, again THIS IS NEW YAWK etc)

I watched this one for a little while just to confirm that my one-night Dallas Stars luv had totally evaporated. Yup. I guess the Wild won 1-0 and I bet it was still less boring than that Leafs-Habs game. Seriously, if you have Gamecenter go put that game on and watch as time itself begins to move more slowly (that's relativity kids. I think. maybe.)


So Luongo started, which was kinda funny on its own, but unfortunately for people who love ridiculous drama and stupid newspaper articles nothing outrageous really happened. Bobby Lu didn't turn in a 41-save shutout, or get lit up for five goals and get pulled, or break a finger sending out a pregame tweet. He put in a pretty good performance and then lost in a shootout. Okay whatever I give up trying to predict what's gonna happen here. How about: Luongo becomes the de facto starter once again after Cory Schneider is abducted by aliens, given anal probe, out 6-8 months from the date they find his prone and naked body? Works for me.

Holy shit this game. I haven't confirmed this yet but I'm pretty sure this was like the greatest ever. Okay first you have the crowd, which was full of Blackhawks fans. You also had Dave Strader, noted Coyotes homer, calling it and doing his best to ignore this fact (examples: Strader noting that a Hawks goal made a "few" Hawks fans in attendance happy, even though they were clearly louder than the Yotes fans in attendance; Strader saying that the crowd was "stunned" at another Hawks goal when they were cheering at the top of their lungs, etc.) Comedy.

Also funny: two terrible goaltenders. Mike Smith is either having a poor start to the season and will ultimately rebound and find his 2012 form, or he's suddenly remembered that he's really fucking terrible. At one point he gave up one of the funniest goals I've ever seen: Dave Bolland got a pretty beautiful feed from Patrick Sharp, tapped it towards Smith, who looked to have stopped it while simultaneously falling down. HOWEVER, the puck in fact bounced up and over him, and he reached up with his glove while falling down, trying in vain to reach it. He failed, and the puck literally went over him and into the net. I seriously can't tell you how many times I re-watched Mike Smith reaching up to the sky with one arm while falling, laughing harder and harder each time, but it was definitely "a lot".

Anyway other than that goal nine other ones were scored, much Twitter hilarity ensued, and everyone had a good time. Except Coyotes fans I guess but who gives a fuck about them. This was some damn entertaining hockey, easily the highlight of my weekend. Oh and the Coyotes unveiled a really ugly Pacific Division Champions banner that also appeared to be hung kinda crooked, which incidentally is also how one could describe Shane Doan's penis. OR SO I HEAR.

Anyway so. Hockey! I enjoyed it. I will probably never write one of these again because it turns out I had absolutely nothing to say about anything and I think I managed to give myself carpal tunnel syndrome in the process. Fun times. Goodnight internet.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Super-Early Eastern Conference Standing Predictions: 2011-2012 Edition

So I will more than likely change my mind like 7 or 8 times between now and the upcoming NHL season, but fuck it, I'm bored so I put this together. Of course these rankings are assuming all the teams involved get their RFAs signed and the like, but barring anymore surprises (OH HEY HAVLAT/HEATLEY TRADE) the teams should look pretty much the same whenever training camps finally open.

I'll just give some brief thoughts on each pick, full previews will come in September. Here we go:

Eastern Conference

1. Pittsburgh- assuming Crosby & Malkin are both ready to go, of course. love the Sullivan signing. they're probably still the class of the East.

2. Washington- GMGM probably needs to win next year's GM of the Year award just for what he's done already: traded away an injury-prone whiner for a possible lottery pick, signed the best goalie on the market to a ridiculously low contract (that made Philly's deal with Bryz look even stupider, something I didn't think was even possible), and added some real grit and timely scoring to their bottom-six with Joel Ward & Troy Brouwer. is this FINALLY the year they get it done in the playoffs? I think it just might be.

3. Boston- I'm not sold on Buffalo just yet, so I'm giving Boston the edge in the Northeast almost by default. yeah, Thomas will be another year older, but they still have this Tuuka Rask fellow who I heard was pretty good too.

4. New York Rangers- yes, I am being a bit optimistic with this pick. don't care. I really think Brad Richards is gonna fit in wonderfully in New York and make Gaborik a 40-goal scorer again. plus, their young defensemen will all be a year older, and Tim Erixon might not only make this team, but have a season that puts him in the Calder discussion (he's already doing it in the SEL).

5. Montreal- they didn't realize lose anyone from last year's good team, save the rapidly aging Roman Hamrlik, and added Erik Cole (albeit via overpayment). if Markov can have a healthy season and Cole can contribute on an everyday basis, maybe they can even challenge Boston for the division crown. but at the very least they're a playoff team, I think. Price has proven he can carry the load.

6. Tampa Bay- I really don't like the idea of going into this season with Dwayne Roloson & Mathieu Garon as your goaltending tandem; I understand the two dudes know and like each other from their time together with the Oilers, but Roloson has to get caught up to by age eventually (doesn't he?) and Garon has never been able to run with the ball as a #1 starter. but they still have that explosive offense and that annoying system, so I'm sure they'll be a playoff team. maybe they're in the market for a goalie at the deadline and then make a run at a higher seed that way.

7. Buffalo- as someone who's seen a lot of Christian Ehrhoff over the years, I kind of almost died when I saw the contract Buffalo signed him to. I mean, alright, I guess the cap hit isn't too bad, but TEN YEARS?! okay then. and the Ville Leino signing was pretty much equally ridiculous. this is a 19-goal scorer, folks. regardless, they're still a playoff team, but I don't get all the proclamations that this team is ready to contend. yes, Robyn Regehr is a good defenseman; he's also old as fuck.

8. Philadelphia- here's what I'd like to say to all the people who think Philly will be just as good without Carter & Richards as they were last year: BWAHAHAHAHAHA. sureeeee they will. I loved Wayne Simmonds when he was an LA King, but replacement for Carter & Richards he is not. Braydon Schenn is probably going to be good at some point, but who knows when that will happen. I think Philly will probably still sneak in just because there's a lot of bad teams in the East this year, but they will not be anything even resembling a powerhouse.

9. Carolina- I don't know what the hell is going on here anymore. on one hand they've got some nice kids and blah blah, on the other hand it's suddenly turning into like an ex-Maple Leafs reunion party. I guess they'll be a bubble team again, and if the ex-Leaf dudes really feel like trying they can probably squeeze past Philly or Buffalo.

10. Toronto- sorry guys, I picked you to make the playoffs last year and you made a total fool out of me. not making THAT mistake again. I like the Tim Connolly signing but who knows if this is one of those rare years where he actually plays more than 50 games or so, and saying their center position is weak beyond him is almost a moral affront to things that are actually just weak.

11. New Jersey- oh hey look, it's another team that I have no idea what to make of! I think it was Wysh on Puck Daddy who said the Devils will either be contenders or 15th. I'm gonna pussy out and just put them 11th. right now they have no coach, they didn't upgrade that awful blueline, and their goalies are like a combined 725 years old. but maybe a full year of Parise & Kovalchuk together is some kind of magic, who knows.

12. Florida- ask the Oren Koules-era Tampa Bay Lightning how well building a team through free agency works. the answer: not very. they've got a bunch of NHL second- and third-line dudes, some overpaid and some not, who will certainly be better than last year's glorified AHL team. but I don't see how this is anything resembling a playoff team.

13. New York Islanders- poor Garth Snow. every summer, the man tries, he really does. this time he trades for Ehrhoff's rights only to have to ship those same rights off to Buffalo the very next day (my interpretation of the negoitations: Snow called Ehrhoff's agent to tell him about the trade, Ehrhoff's agent asks "Wait, who is this?'re from..." and then almost dies laughing before hanging up the phone). apparently he made plenty of other attempts at signings that, shockingly, all failed. so here we are again with the Isles: how good are the young kids? good enough to overcome a massive disparity in payroll with EVERY OTHER TEAM in their division? good enough to overcome goaltending that, quite frankly, doesn't really exist? probably not, I'd wager.

14. Winnipeg- boy what a fun year in the Eastern Conference it's going to be for the city of Winnipeg. this looks like a fantastic formula: take a middling Atlanta Thrashers team that overachieved to start the season before falling back to Earth faster than the speed of sound, remove their well-liked and respected head coach, and add more travel than any other team in the East (and it's not even close). oh and don't forget to sign or trade for virtually no one. holy crap this team is gonna be bad.

15. Ottawa- but not as bad as this team! do I even have to explain this one? they're rebuilding folks. they sold off most of their veterans at the deadline and replaced them with no one. Jason Spezza's agent is trying desperately to find a team dumb enough to actually take his contract. this team will be really, really awful.

Alright I'll do the West later, I ended up writing WAY more than I planned. Holy crap.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pre-Season Predictions: Western Conference

You should know the deal here. We did the East a few weeks ago, now it's Western Conference time. I'll list the picks of my CIA Radio co-hosts again first, then my picks with a bit of explanation for all of them. You can hear the three of us discuss the picks in detail on tonight's edition of CIA Radio.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Nashville Predators
7. Phoenix Coyotes
8. Colorado Avalanche
9. St. Louis Blues
10. Calgary Flames
11. Dallas Stars
12. Minnesota Wild
13. Anaheim Ducks
14. Columbus Blue Jackets
15. Edmonton Oilers

1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Phoenix Coyotes
7. St. Louis Blues
8. Nashville Predators
9. Colorado Avalanche
10. Calgary Flames
11. Minnesota Wild
12. Anaheim Ducks
13. Dallas Stars
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Columbus Blue Jackets

John (YEAH BABY~~)
1. Vancouver Canucks
Why They'll Finish First: As much as it pains me to write this, Vancouver should be, at least in theory, a juggernaut this season. It's similar to me to how Washington came into last season: they clearly were not just a great team, but a great team in a terrible division. As I've said before, I really feel that the Northwest will be this year's version of the Southeast of the past few seasons. Colorado will struggle with some sophomore slumps and take a slight step back, Calgary & Minnesota should be varying degrees of awful, and Edmonton will be extremely young. That means Vancouver should get a ton of easy points this year, just like Washington & Detroit used to in the weak Southeast & Central divisions, locking up first place in the Conference fairly easily (and possibly the franchise's first President's Trophy).

Why They Could Finish Higher: They can't.

Why They Could Finish Lower: I'm not a huge believer in Vancouver's rebuilt defense just yet. The theory behind it is that since they lack that real first-pairing, stud blueliner, they decided to load up on very good second-pairing types instead. Hence the trade for Ballard & the signing of Hamhuis. There's no doubt they'll be stronger from a depth standpoint, but I still don't think this is a back-end that's built for a long playoff run. We'll see if they prove me wrong. I think they'll be fine in the regular season, but maybe Hamhuis, Ballard, or one of the guys already there under-performs and they fall a few spots to 2nd or 3rd. Don't see how they aren't winning that Northwest, though.

2. Los Angeles Kings
Why They'll Finish Second: I know, this is a highly optimistic pick for a team that just finished sixth last year and clinched their first playoff spot in eight years. I don't care. I really believe in this team, and I feel like this is their time to shine. Yes, San Jose will be in the running to win the Pacific, as they always are (and I definitely think this is one situation where the Sharks, who I have at 4th, will probably finish with more points than who I have third). But I really believe in the Kings' defensive corps and their goaltending a lot more than San Jose's. I love LA's blueline with the addition of Willie Mitchell. When you look at a blueline that has Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, AND Matt Greene (once he comes back in November), not to mention all the kids in the system who may step in and contribute this season, you're looking at the best defense in the entire NHL. Goaltending wise, they have two very talented young goalies (who both have the same first name, how weird is that by the way?) who will push each other all year long. While it's true that San Jose has more forward talent up-front, I don't think the difference is so huge that it makes up for LA's huge advantages on the back-end. Plus, I think Kopitar is taking another step forward this season. Without that wacky mid-season slump he had, he would have been a 90-point player for sure, maybe even a 100-point player. I think he gets to that magical 90-to-100 point mark this year. The Sharks will be good, maybe even great, but the Kings are the class of this division.

Why They Could Finish Higher: There are rumblings that Dean Lombardi is looking to fill the only real hole the Kings have: a high-scoring left-winger. Of course, Kovalchuk would have fit in nicely there, but I think one reason why Lombardi didn't feel the need to throw huge money at him is because of the organization's incredible depth prospect-wise. If the Kings get off to a good start and Lombardi feels like they just need one more piece to contend, there isn't a single GM in the league with more options at his disposal to go out and get that one final piece. They're also one of the few teams in the league with a good amount of cap space that actually will be willing to spend it, so they don't necessarily have to wait until the trade deadline to make that kind of move, either.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Like I said already, the Sharks will still be very good this year, as they are every year (in the regular season, anyway). If that left wing hole is too big of a hole for a prospect like Lokitonov (who has looked great there in pre-season) to fill, at least early on, the Kings could struggle a bit and end up losing out the division. But I think an improvement on last year's finish is still pretty much guaranteed: I don't see the Kings finishing anywhere lower than fifth, and probably fourth is more likely.

3. Chicago Blackhawks
Why They'll Finish Third: The Blackhawks have lost a ton of depth at almost every position, that's undeniably true. What's also undeniably true is they still possess some of the most talented young players in the NHL today. Names like Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa will still dot the two forward lines, and Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmmerson, and Campbell will still man the back-end. I have the Hawks dropping a tiny bit down to third just because I think the Central will be a real dogfight this year; while everyone's focusing on Detroit, St. Louis & Nashville have the ability and youthful talent to really surprise people this year, and I think both teams at times will challenge the Hawks for the division crown. But in the end, the Hawks should be able to pull this one out despite their salary-cap woes.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If some of the young-slash-new players really click well and play better than people are expecting, the Hawks could be just as dominant again. The two ex-Oiler refugees Pisani & Potulny look very good in pre-season and could find the back of the net with some frequency (especially with opposing teams having to concentrate on shutting down Chicago's big two lines, which remain two of the best lines in the NHL). Throw in young guys like Jack Skille and (maybe, if he gets a call-up later) Kyle Beach and there's potential here for this team to really surprise people. That sound weird to say about the defending Stanley Cup champions, but there you go.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Brian Campbell being out for 5-6 weeks to start the season is almost certainly going to hurt them, as they have less depth at that position now that shot-blocking machine Brent Sopel has gone to Atlanta. Perhaps that will be enough to put them in a big hole to another Central team early on that they can't dig out of. I think people claiming this team could miss the playoffs are completely out of their friggin' minds, but I could see them falling as far as fifth or sixth if things really go wrong for them.

4. San Jose Sharks
Why They'll Finish Fourth: Rob Blake's retirement is going to hurt this team quite a bit more than people may think. First of all, there's the obvious problem of the huge hole on their back-end that they've done nothing to replace, as Blake played very well for the team last season and logged bigger minutes than you might have guessed for someone that old. But there's also the lesser-discussed problem of his captaincy. The Sharks have long been criticized for being wet between the ears, so to speak; Blake did a fantastic job as captain last year and allowed ex-captain Patrick Marleau to flourish without the added responsibility. Talk is that Dan Boyle is capable of stepping up to make up for it, but after that, who else is there? Respected veterans Jed Ortmeyer and Manny Malhotra were both allowed to walk at the end of last year in free-agency. This roster seems long on enigmatic scorers (no one will ever confuse Joe Thornton or Dany Heatley with great off-ice leaders) and short on character guys. And ultimately, I think that will hurt them this year when the going gets tough in what's sure to be a close race for the Pacific crown with the LA Kings.

Why They Could Finish Higher: With all that said, this is still a team that will score a lot of goals, and in the regular season, that's still enough to get them a lot of points. They could beat out LA for that division crown easily if things go right for them. I still don't think this team has the mental make-up to make another run even back to the Conference Finals, though, even if they do win the division yet again.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the goalie situation implodes, this team might be in real trouble. Niemi was good for Chicago last year, but as any Hawks fan could tell you, he was also a product of playing behind one of the best defensive corps in the entire NHL. The Sharks' blue-line is solid, maybe even very good, but no one will confuse it with being one of the best in the West, let alone the whole NHL. And Nittamayki is the very definition of a hot-and-cold goalie. At times he will look like a world-beater, and at others he won't be able to stop a beach ball.

5. Nashville Predators
Why They'll Finish Fifth: I know, fifth seems awfully high for a team that finished seventh last year and lost several key players (Arnott, Hamhuis). But re-think your gut reaction for a second and think about what the Predators gained. First of all, I've talked to many a Preds fan who thought Arnott was awful last year. And this was long before he was traded, not post-trade retconning. There's an argument to be made that losing Arnott is actually addition-by-subtraction, if only because of the spots it opens up for young players, not to mention allowing Shea Weber to step in as captain. Losing Hamhuis hurts, but not as badly when you figure that they gained Ryan Parent (who will have a bounce-back year after losing the coach's confidence in Philly and getting virtually no minute) for his negotiation rights, an incredibly shrewd move by one of the best GMs in the business in David Poile. Up front, the Preds will be boosted by speedster Matthew Lombardi and the enigmatic Sergei Kostitysin. I'm expecting big things out of Sergei this season; honestly, I think he'll have something to prove and will get every chance to prove it in Nashville. As long as Hornqvist wasn't a one-hit wonder and Colin Wilson is ready for primetime, this Nashville team will continue to shock people.

Why They Could Finish Higher: That blueline depth sure is impressive. It's amazing that a cash-strapped team like the Preds lost a guy like Dan Hamhuis and still boasts a Top 4 of Weber, Ryan Suter, Cody Franson, and Parent. I don't know if they can necessarily wrestle the Central crown out of the Hawks on their own, but if the Hawks struggle, Nashville may pull off the shocker of the year by winning their first division crown.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Hornqvist is huge here, as he must pot at least 25 goals again, and a return to 30 would be optimal. If he regresses back to the player everyone thought he was when he was the final player picked in the draft, Nashville will struggle to replace his scoring and could drop closer to that 7th-thru-10th bubble.

6. Phoenix Coyotes
Why They'll Finish Sixth: It's hard not to look at last year's incredible fourth-place finish as not being a bit of a fluke. After all, they won no less than 14 games in OT/SO (most of those in the shootout where Bryz & co. were positively lethal). On the other hand, taking the Red Wings to the seven-game limit was no easy task, and as we all know there were no shootouts in the playoffs. So obviously there was something to this team last year. Unfortunately, losing Lombardi & Michalek will hurt them, even with some of the guys they've brought in. But don't get me wrong, this is still very much a playoff team. They're gonna drop back a little bit, but not out of the playoffs, thanks to some shrewd free-agent moves (Ray Whitney coming here honestly shocked the hell out of me, and Eric Belanger is a great pick-up too) and some young guys who have gone through the system properly and look ready to contribute (like Kyle Turris up front and Oliver Ekmon-Larsson on the back-end, who apparently didn't get Magnus' memo to drop half of his last name).

Why They Could Finish Higher: This all depends on their kids. If Turris is ready to be what the Coyotes thought he was going to be when they took him third overall in 2007, i.e. a 60- to 80-point performer and a legitimate top rookie (though I don't think he's eligible for the Calder anymore, actually, because of that horrid 2008 campaign under Gretzky), then the Coyotes are suddenly back in the conversation with the Kings & Sharks for a Pacific crown. Don't forget folks, NHL Central Scouting had Turris ranked No. 1 over Patrick Kane (who actually did go No. 1) and JVR (who went No. 2 to the Flyers and had an up-and-down but still solid rookie season last year). But then again, there's a reason the Hawks & Flyers didn't agree, too, so who knows.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Losing shot-blocking machine Michalek will hurt the Coyotes enough already, as they made it by last year largely on the strength of their defense. But if Ekmon-Larsson isn't ready for primetime (and to be fair, he appears to be in pre-season, but that's pre-season), that will hurt their blueline even more. Of course, should Bryzgalov regress at all from his Vezina-nominee season (and one would expect he might, at least a little), that will be horrible for the 'Yotes as well, and maybe they could miss the playoffs after all.

7. Detroit Red Wings
Why They'll Finish Seventh: This is going to be a bit of a controversial pick for me too, and I'm sure fans of the Winged Wheel will hate on me for it, but I don't care. I really don't see where all the hype for this team going into this season as a Cup contender is coming from. Most people are saying they think the Wings have "one more big run" in them, and I think the logic behind that is fundamentally faulty. Is it safe to expect the Wings to have less injury problems this year? Sure, I guess so, considering how bad things got last year logic says it won't be THAT bad again. But anyone expecting perfect health out of one of the oldest teams in the league is kidding themselves, and when pointing out the Wings' injury issues last year, you're also missing the fact that the Wings let several of the players who stepped up during those injuries walk as free agents. Yes, the return of Jiri Hudler will help too, but how much remains to be seen. And the back-end, long a strength of this team, is looking REALLY long in the tooth at this point. I'm sure Wings fans are happy to have Nicklas Lidstrom back for one more year, but let's not forget that he looked like he simply lost a step at times last year. To expect that not to continue is kidding yourself, and I find the number of mainstream hockey writers suggesting that Lidstrom is going to be a Norris candidate this year utterly hilarious. I'm not sure if they're expecting him to find a magical fountain of youth or what, but he's getting older, not younger. Finally, I'm counting on some sophomore struggles from Jimmy Howard, as has been the case for many young goalies who have great rookie seasons, and we all saw how little there is behind him in the form of Chris Osgood.

Why They Could Finish Higher: It's very possible everything I just said doesn't come to pass and this team does indeed find it in them to make one more big run to the Finals. Hudler could have a breakout year back in the NHL as well, which would certainly help too.

Why They Could Finish Lower: It all comes down to the goaltending. Like I said, I think Howard will struggle a bit, and I think the suggestion that Howard will defy the trend of rookie goalies simply because he's a little bit older holds SOME merit (I think he'll be good, just not as good as he was last year and maybe not as consistent). But if he has a Steve Mason-like disaster and CHRIS OSGOOD is getting a lot of starts in 2010-11, yeah, that has disaster written all over it. 8th seed disaster? Yeah. Unthinkable, Detroit-misses-the-playoffs disaster? Maybe.

8th. St. Louis Blues
Why They'll Finish Eighth: This is the easiest preview I'll ever have to write: the Blues will be back to a good, young team who sneaks into the playoffs on the strength of their kids, who should mostly bounce back from disappointing sophomore slumps. I don't think they'll be quite good enough to battle for a higher spot, as I think the kids will still have some slumps and at times people will question whether or not this is really a playoff team. But as long a Halak can play at least half as well as he did in the playoffs last year, they'll ultimately come out of it with a playoff spot (albeit by the skin of their teeth).

Why They Could Finish Higher: If Halak can play as well as he did for Montreal in the playoffs all season long (which is not a sure thing, don't get me wrong), St. Louis could very well be this year's Phoenix: a team that comes out of nowhere largely on the strength of their goaltending and overall team defense to challenge for the division crown. I don't think they get the Central, but they could make it all the way to 4th just like the 'Yotes did if enough things go well for them.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Of course, if Halak is a bust and the kids don't bounce back (or at least, not enough of them do), the Blues could easily be on the outside looking in for yet another season. That's life on the playoff bubble.

9. Calgary Flame
Why They'll Finish Ninth: The only thing worse than being one of the league's oldest teams (like Detroit) is being one of the league's oldest teams while also coming off a year you missed the playoffs (not to mention having not won a single playoff round since that 2004 run to the Cup finals). This is a veteran team pressed up against the cap that isn't particularly strong anywhere. Do they have a good back-end? Sure, but plenty of teams in the West have a stronger blueline, unless Jay Bouwmesster is finally willing to play up to his potential. Do they have some nice wingers? Yeah, but as the Sporting News said, their lines look like "donuts" with the deep holes down the middle. Even enthusiasm about their goaltending must be tempered; yes, Mikka Kippersauf had a fantastic year last year, but that shouldn't overshadow the fact that it broke what had been a steadily downward trend as far as his play went. It's a shame that the Flames wasted what was undoubtedly a stellar year from Kipper, but one has to question whether or not we'll see him play that well again. The fact that they're such a veteran squad and so good defensively makes one assume they'll at least be in the mix for one of those last few playoff spots in the West, but I don't see how this team can beat out the younger and flat-out better St. Louis squad.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Bouwmesster will undoubtedly play better this year than he did last year, and Brent Sutter has already made it clear that he'll be allowed to join the rush more (though we'll see how long that lasts when they start giving up odd-man rushes). If he can really get back to form and score 15-20 goals, that'll be a huge step towards a playoff berth. And who knows, maybe Darryl will be proven an unheralded genius and get huge bounce-back years from Jokinen & Tanguay, too. I wouldn't count on it happening, but I suppose it's possible.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the Flames get off to a poor start, I firmly believe that Darryl's replacement is already in town in the form of Jay Feaster, signed as an assistant GM by CEO Ken King back in July. And Feaster is a smart guy, so he will likely move to position the Flames to bottom-out and restock their beyond-empty cupboard. The best way to do that? Trade Jarome Iginla. Oh believe it folks, it could very well happen.

10. Colorado Avalanche
Why They'll Finish Tenth: Another easy explanation: the Avs are to 2010-11 what the Blues were to 2009-10. Like the Blues, they powered their way into the playoffs last year largely on the strength of their kids, and like the Blues now it's time for them to take a small step back. They'll be competitive and in the mix for a playoff spot in the West, but I think they'll fall very slightly short thanks to some sophomore jinxes. Peter Mueller out indefinitely with yet another concussion doesn't help matters, either.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If the dreaded sophomore slumps never come, this is a good, young team with room for improvement. I could easily see them sliding into one of the final playoff spots in the West again if things pan out for them. The other wild card here is goalie Craig Anderson, who looked great last year until fatigue finally set in. This is his contract year and he'll be gunning to prove last year wasn't a fluke (and hopefully earn a huge pay raise from the Avs from his relatively meager salary for a starting goaltender), so he could theoretically play as well or (as impossible as this seems) even better.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Anderson falters or the kids play even worse than I'm expecting, they could find themselves joining the Columbus Blue Jackets, who went from playoff team in 08-09 to draft lottery team in 09-10 after their own big breakthrough.

11. Edmonton Oilers
Why They'll Finish Eleventh: Is eleventh a reach for this team? Sure. But I'm caught up in Oiler pre-season fever, and I think this young and dangerous team will surprise people. Everyone has written at length about how great Hall, Eberle, and Pajaavri will be (and have already been in the pre-season), but let me throw a couple more names at you for why I think they'll be better. First, Kurtis Foster. He has a booming shot and had a great season points-wise with Tampa on the power play last year, and I think this was a vastly underrated (and cheap) pick-up by the Oil. Next, Tom Renney. As a Rangers fan I know Renney very well and he excelled on Broadway in a couple of key areas: working with and teaching the young guys (he did wonders for guys like Dubinsky, Callahan, Staal, & Girardi) and getting the entire team to buy into a defensive concept. He is a systems guy and a player's coach and I have no doubt he will cut down on the goals-against. With all that said, the Oilers aren't in for the playoffs quite yet. But this is NOT a bottom-of-the-barrel team.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If everything goes really well, if the Sam Gagners & Andrew Coglianos of the world are re-energized by the youth movement and finally ready to contribute, and if Ales Hemsky has a huge bounce-back year after "the injury", maybe the Oilers can sneak into the playoffs. MAYBE. I wouldn't bet on it, but we did see a team that finished 15th in the West the year before make the playoffs last who knows, right?

Why They Could Finish Lower: If the kids aren't ready, it'll be another long year in Oil Country. But picking up another draft lottery pick wouldn't have anyone in Edmonton crying. Whether this year or in a few years, this team WILL be very good. They simply have too much young talent not to be.

12. Anaheim Ducks
Why They'll Finish Twelfth: The Ducks are a team that are honestly in a weird spot right now. After being a cap team for most of this decade, they've drastically cut payroll over the past two seasons. While that leaves them with plenty of space to be flexible in the future, and surely makes the owners happy after the team didn't exactly pack the house last year, it also leaves the Ducks heading into the season with some gigantic, gaping holes on their back-end. Losing Pronger hurt the Ducks enough last year, but losing Niedemayer to retirement could be downright crippling. They still have the firepower to win some games, but I see this year looking very similar to last: they'll be good at home, bad on the road, and simply won't have the kind of consistency you need to be a playoff team in the Western Conference.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Maybe Cam Fowler has a huge rookie season and helps make up enough for the loss of Niedemayer, in which case the Ducks could move closer to the playoffs. I still don't think they could unseat the likes of a St. Louis, Detroit, or Phoenix, but I could see them sliding up to 9th or 10th. They certainly still have a great group of forwards there who can put the puck in the net.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Ryan, Getzlaf, or Perry are out for significant time this year, this might just be a draft lottery team. Which won't sit well at all with Anaheim's dwindling fanbase; especially when there's a crosstown rival looking so good right now.

13. Dallas Stars
Why They'll Finish Thirteenth: The Stars are in a precarious position heading into the 2010-11 NHL season. They obviously need a great deal of improvement in several areas, especially on defense where they are very, very young. However, there is simply no money available to improve this team due to the ongoing financial problems of owner Tom Hicks. So the Stars enter this season without much hope other than some very good top-six forwards like veteran Brad Richards (coming off the quietest 91-point campaign in franchise history) and youngsters like Jamie Benn. With Richards entering the final year of his contract, it's very likely the Stars could shop him around at the trade deadline since it looks doubtful they'll be able to afford him.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If the young defense really takes a step forward and gels and Kari Lehtonen is finally ready to stay healthy and live up to the promise the Atlanta Thrashers felt he had when they drafted him first overall, perhaps the Stars can be this year's version of the Coyotes and shock a hockey world that's expecting them to be awful. But the fact is, they'll have to go up against the *actual* Coyotes, along with the powerhouse Kings & Sharks, in the very tough Pacific Division. Thus even if they're better than I'm expecting, I can't see them sliding up into the playoffs. 10th seems to be the ceiling for this team, at least to me.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If/when Brad Richards is traded, this team may struggle to score goals, and that was the one thing they actually did fairly well last season. In that case they could compete for last in the conference.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets
Why They Could Finish Fourteenth: It's interesting that I'm suddenly hearing a wave of optimism from some parts of the hockey world for this team. A few people are basically saying that this team might not be nearly as bad as everyone thinks, pointing to new head coach Scott Arniel as well as possible bounce-back seasons from Steve Mason & Derick Brassard. However, Arniel was not even the Jackets' first choice for the job, as the team was first turned down by Guy Boucher (who went to Tampa Bay instead), so that argument seems a little bit disingenuous to me. I'm not saying he's necessarily a terrible coach or anything, but if he wasn't even the team's first choice for the position then I can't see his hire as a huge plus or anything. The fact is, Columbus plays in the incredibly tough Central division, and when it comes right down to it, what does this team do better than the four other teams? St. Louis has a younger and, arguably, better core. Nashville is better defensively. And Detroit & Chicago are usually powerhouses that Columbus can't touch. The fact is, this team has drafted horribly over the years and is paying for it with a complete lack of top-end talent other than Rick Nash. Even if Mason & co. return to their 2009 form, I don't see how this isn't another long year in Ohio.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Like I said, if Mason is back for real and the team buys into Arniel's system then perhaps they'll slide up a few spots. But I don't see this as a playoff team with four other teams in their own division that are almost undeniably better than Columbus at this point.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Well, jesus, I suppose they could very well finish 15th instead of 14th. Not a big slide there.

15. Minnesota Wild
Why They'll Finish Fifteenth: The Wild are a rudderless ship, a team that is going nowhere, and fast. For the first time since hockey first returned to Minnesota, the Wild will not play before sellout crowds every night, and the fact is that they don't deserve to, either. They are just like Columbus- mediocre at everything, not necessarily terrible at anything (though their offense from the back-end was almost non-existent last season, and teams who don't get scoring from their blueline almost never make the playoffs), but destined to fail. The reason why I see the Wild falling even farther this year is simply that I think most of the other teams in their conference have gotten better while they have stagnated. Finishing last in the conference is actually a good thing for the Wild since it will allow them to finally draft their first real blue-chip prospect since Marian Gaborik. But good luck telling them or their long-suffering fans that while they're losing all season long.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If Martin Havlat has a huge bounce-back season and really drives this offense, they could be a little bit better. Again, like with Dallas I'm thinking that around 10th is probably their ceiling, which long-term for the team is worthless. If I'm a Wild fan I'd rather see my team bottom-out and get a draft lottery pick then finish around 10th for seemingly the ten-millionth time for this franchise.

Why They Could Finish Lower: They can't. This is as low as it goes, baby.

So there you are. As always, these predictions are 100% un-guaranteed. Now that we've got all that out of the way, I'm even more ready for some hockey!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pre-Season Predictions: Eastern Conference

With training camps just around the corner, now seems like a good time to start jumping into the shark-infested waters that are pre-season predictions. Of all the years to try and predict finishes in both conferences, this year easily feels like the most absurd. We're coming off a year where Phoenix & Colorado, almost unanimously picked by everyone to finish 14th & 15th in the Western Conference, finished 4th & 8th, respectively. I'd like to sit here and tell you that I was the one guy who picked them to make the playoffs last year, but I'd be lying.

So let's go ahead and admit to ourselves this very well may be a pointless exercise. As long as we get that out of the way, it's still fun to try and see how close we came to picking the final standings, even (or maybe especially) when we're hilariously wrong.

I'm not going to go into a ton of detail on these picks, as we'll have episodes of CIA Radio coming up (season 3 starts very very soon!) to go into detail on each conference. I'll just briefly state why I think they'll finish at that spot, and what could happen to make them finish higher or lower instead. We'll have both an Eastern Conference preview show and a Western conference preview show before we get the season rolling, so there will be plenty of time to go in lots of detail. I also collected picks from my co-hosts Emily & Quinlan, and I'll share those first; though you'll have to wait until the shows to get any explanations out of them.

Eastern Conference


1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Buffalo Sabres
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Boston Bruins
7. Ottawa Senators
8. New York Rangers
9. Carolina Hurricanes
10. Montreal Canadiens
11. Tampa Bay Lightning
12. Atlanta Thrashers
13. New York Islanders
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Florida Panthers

1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Boston Bruins
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Ottawa Senators
6. New York Rangers
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
8. New York Islanders
9. Philadelphia Flyers
10. Montreal Canadiens
11. Carolina Hurricanes
12. Buffalo Sabres
13. Atlanta Thrashers
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
15. Florida Panthers

John (THAT'S ME!!!)
1. Washington Capitals

Why They'll Finish First: San Jose East will roll through another ho-hum regular season of 115-120 points and a flawless home record, and it won't matter one bit. It's all about the playoffs for this team, and unless Carlson & Alzner are ready to take a huge step forward and take ownership of their defense ahead of proven playoff zero Mike Green, I don't know if things will change too much. But as far as the regular season goes, it'll be another easy road to first overall in the East.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Uh....they can't. Yeah.

Why They Could Finish Lower: It's impossible for me to come up with any scenario where this team doesn't win the Southeast Division. Like if you told me last year that Phoenix & Colorado were both going to make the playoffs, I would have found that more possible than Washington not winning the Southeast. So they can't finish any lower than third. I could see a Pittsburgh or Boston overtaking them for first overall if they come out of the gates slow with their shoulders drooped, but honestly this team is so young and hungry I don't see that happening. But I suppose it's possible.

2. Boston Bruins
Why They'll Finish Second: I really like the moves the Bruins made this off-season. Nathan Horton sounds rejuveniated at the idea of playing in a traditional hockey market like Boston, and should hit the 30-goal mark easily. 35 to even 40 goals should not be out of the question, especially if a healthy Marc Savard is feeding him the puck all year long (remember the chemistry he had with Kessel two years ago?). Obviously that was the one thing Boston was missing last year; they were 2nd in the league in goals-against average (GAA) but dead last in goals per game (GPG). Tyler Seguin could be an impact player in his first year, even on the wing. And even if Tuuka Rask has a Steven Mason-like sophomore jinx, 2009 Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas is waiting in the wings.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If Horton hits 40 goals, Seguin has a Calder-worthy campaign, and Rask and/or Thomas are as good as they were the past two seasons, they could get back to first overall. Remember, they were just there in 2009.

Why They Could Finish Lower: I don't like a lot of the moves the rest of the Northeast Division made, but I suppose the Bruins might have trouble winning the division if Horton is at his Panthers worst; i.e. oft-injured and rarely looking like he gives a damn on the ice. The defensive corps also look like they're another top-4 NHL defenseman away from being a real good unit; while Dennis Wideman played pretty badly last year, his minutes will still need to be replaced, and none of the top 6 in Boston after Chara really look like sure things.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Why They'll Finish Third: It's amazing to think that the Penguins haven't won the Atlantic Division since 2008. That trend should end this year. Their defense looks even better than the 2009 Cup-winning team's blueline with the additions of smooth puck-mover Paul Martin and the shot-blocking prowess of Zbynek Michalek more than making up for the loss of Sergei Gonchar (who looked downright bored at times last season, when he wasn't on the IR that is). Throw those two in the mix with young and yet already Pens veterans Brooks Orpik & Kris Letang, as well as the even younger talents like Alex Goligoski, and you have what has gone from the Penguins' weakness in 2009 to a huge, huge strength in 2010. And of course, that Sidney Crosby guy still plays here too. I hear he's pretty good.

Why They Could Finish Higher: I'm thinking they'll battle it out with Boston for the second seed right down to the wire, but I see Boston just barely pulling it out (thanks mostly to the Bruins playing in the far weaker Northeast Division). But they could conceivably get all the way to first place in the conference for the first time in almost 20 years if the blueline is even better and Malkin has a huge bounceback year. Another guy to watch out for is Mike Comrie; he's coming off a disappointing year in Edmonton, but who was good in Edmonton last year? There's serious potential there if he gets to play on Crosby or Malkin's wing, which he probably will.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Marc-Andre Fleury melted down in Game 7 of the second round with Montreal last season, putting an exclamation point on what was a pretty terrible year for him after the Cup win. His dedication was questioned as well when he showed up almost a half-hour late for a pre-game meeting during that same playoff round. If he hasn't rededicated himself over the summer, it could conceivably cost the Penguins not just the Atlantic, but home ice in the first round as well with division rivals Philadelphia & New Jersey sure to be hot on their heels.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
Why They'll Finish Fourth: There's no doubt that the Flyers wildly underachieved last year in the regular season, then overachieved during the playoffs. So which team will show up for the 2010-2011 NHL regular season? It's questionable how much they've improved during the off-season, as longtime (yet oft-injured) sniper Simon Gagne was sent to Tampa to make room for the talented (yet enigmatic) Nikolai Zherdev. Replacing the awful third defensive pairing of Krajicek & Parent, who were so bad and fell so far out of favor with the coaching staff that they were playing around six-to-eight minutes a night by the time the Cup finals rolled around, is a huge plus. Veteran Sean O'Donnell was good in a limited role for the Kings and provides more locker-room stability to a team that probably needed it at times last season, and Andrej Meszaros will come over from Tampa with a chip on his shoulder. They have probably the best top 6 in the Eastern Conference, and are a strong contender for best defensive corps in the entire NHL as well. I think it will be a very close race between the Flyers, Penguins, and possibly the Devils, but I see the Flyers falling just a tad short of their cross-state rivals. Still, this will be a very, very good team.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Zherdev is the ultimate X-factor here. If he's come back from the Kontential league in Russia (and it's important to note that while he was okay there, he didn't exactly tear it up, either) foaming at the mouth in anticipation of his last real shot in the NHL, the sky could be the limit for this team. At the very least you would expect him to be ultra-motivated whenever they're playing the Rangers, but if he can put up a 70- to 80-point campaign (and he has the talent to do it, no doubt about that), they will almost certainly win the Atlantic division.

Why They Could Finish Lower: One word- goaltending. After how the Stanley Cup Final ended, with Michael Leighton allowing that infamous goal by Patrick Kane from that awful angle, everyone expected the Flyers to go look for a veteran like Nabakov or Turco. Instead, the Flyers have stuck with Leighton & Boucher and will hope they can take them at least as far as they did last season. It's a risky chance to take, and it could come back to bite them very badly if Leighton returns to his pre-2010 form and Boucher can't pick up the pieces this time.

5. New Jersey Devils
Why They'll Finish Fifth: It's a little hard for me to fathom that the addition of a full year of Ilya Kovalchuk will actually see the Devils *drop* three spots, but when I look at what Boston, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia have done, I have to put them here. I also don't really like what the Devils have done with replacing Paul Martin with Volchenkov & Tallinder. Neither is anywhere near as good as Martin at moving the puck up the ice, and if a guy like Andy Greene takes a step back from his career year last season, then they'll really be in trouble. And let's not forget they still have to shed around $3.5-4 million dollars of salary (they're $3 million over the cap right now, and they have to have at least league-minimum replacements for whoever they do decide to move) thanks to the Kovalchuk deal. But this is still the New Jersey Devils, and I'm still not picking against them to finish well inside the top 8 of the very weak Eastern Conference

Why They Could Finish Higher: A full year of Kovalchuk could be an even bigger boost to the Devils than I'm anticipating. Plus, Zach Parise is in a contract year. That could be an off-season headache for the Devils, but as far as this season goes, it should be a huge positive. If the new defense gels and Marty plays like Marty, they could easily climb back to their third straight Atlantic Division title.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Does Kovalchuk really want to win, or is he content with his $100 million? Could the loss of Paul Martin hurt even more than we're anticipating? Is this FINALLY the year Marty starts to play like his age? It would take an awful lot of bad things happening for me to see the Devils missing the playoffs, but a drop into the 6th-8th range seems possible if enough things go wrong for them. Make no mistake about it, there are question marks about this team, big-time.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning
Why They'll Finish Sixth: Stevie Y has done an admirable job since taking over as GM in Tampa. He practically robbed the Flyers for Simon Gagne and then made a pair of very astute signings in bringing in goalie Dan Ellis to push the often-underachieving Mike Smith as well as bringing back former playoff hero Pavel Kubina to help Tampa's weak blueline (and replace the wildly ineffective Andrej Meszaros). Adding Gagne to what they already had up front should make for one of the most dynamic and exciting top-six forward groups in the entire NHL.

Why They Could Finish Higher: I don't expect Vinny Lecavailer to have a monster bounce-back season or anything, but if he does then Tampa could climb up even higher. And there's also Victor Hedman, who could build off a so-so rookie campaign with a very good sophomore season. If one or both of those thing happen, maybe they'll be in the mix for the fourth seed and home-ice in the first round.

Why They Could Finish Lower: The blueline, although improved with Kubina, is still not going to be confused with anything resembling a defensive powerhouse. This is a team that will live and die by its goal-scoring, and if Steven Stamkos can't build on his huge sophomore season, the Lightning could struggle mightily. Goaltending is still a huge question mark as well, as Dan Ellis has been good, even great at times with the Predators, but the fact remains that he lost his starting job in Nashville. And Mike Smith has been nothing short of a disaster since coming over from Dallas.

7. New York Rangers
Why They'll Finish Seventh: I know I'm going to be accused of homering here (and wait until you see my West picks!), but I really think this is a playoff team. Frolov should be a man possessed on a one-year deal with a spot in the NHL on the line, and as non-committed and checked-out as he may have seemed at times with the Kings last year, people forget that he scored his 19 regular-season goals while largely in a checking-line role. On a first- or second-line role with the Blueshirts, he could easily get back to being a 30-goal scorer. Even at 25, this team could sneak in. The way blueliners Marc Staal & Michael Rozsival played during the Rangers' frantic race to the finish line is very encouraging; if they can translate that over and play that way consistently this year, the Rangers should be in good shape to avoid a second straight season without playoff hockey.

Why They Could Finish Higher: It's all about the kids. The Rangers have quietly amassed a pretty decent crop of young talent, probably the best group of kids this organization has had in almost two decades. If one or more of the Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev, or Ryan McDonaghs of this team can grab a roster spot and have a great rookie campaign, this team will be surprisingly good and may even battle for home-ice in the first round. Michael Del Zotto will need to avoid a sophomore slump and continue to improve his all-around defensive game for that to happen too, but there's a lot of young talent who could surprise people.

Why They Could Finish Lower: There's still a lot of question marks here. If Frolov underwhelms and the offense stays cold, they will miss the playoffs for a second-straight year. And if Marian Gaborik's dreaded injuries return, this is almost undoubtedly a draft lottery team.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Why They'll Finish Eighth: Ah, and now for my first real ballsy prediction. The prediction that has gotten the exact same reaction from everyone I've told it to so far ("WHAT?!")- the Toronto Maple Leafs, after five long and horrible seasons, will finally return to the playoffs. I'm making this prediction assuming that, like Colorado & Phoenix last year in the West, something wacky and unexpected will happen. And I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest that a full year of new captain Dion Phaneuf & goaltender J.S. Giguere will help improve the Leafs' defensive fortunes drastically. Sure, they're gonna have trouble scoring goals, but they've made progress there too with the additions of guys like Kris Versteeg & Colby Armstrong. I really think Phaneuf will have a huge, bounceback year; maybe not quite to the level of his Norris-nominee early Calgary years, but at least closer to it than his last couple of seasons were. Also helping the Leafs is that I believe the rest of the teams in the Northeast, outside of Boston of course, have all taken significant steps back (but we'll get into that later). Playing in a weakened Division never hurts your playoff chances. So with all that said, I think this team will surprise people.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If any of their forwards catch fire and gives them more goals than I'm expecting, they could conceivably climb up a few more spots. Realistically speaking, sixth is about as high as they're probably capable of, but I'm sure even that would have people doing backflips in Leafs Nation. Kris Versteeg, with all the ice-time he's likely to get, may have enough talent to be a 30-goal scorer. And Nazem Kadri may have a Calder-type season.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Of course, it's very possible that none of those things happen and the Leafs are still awful. Maybe Versteeg pouts, or Kadri is a training camp bust, or Phaneuf takes another step back (or even sideways; he must be better than last year if this team is going to make the playoffs). The Leafs are, of course, far from a lock, and if none of the pieces come together they will be out of the playoffs yet again.

9. Montreal Canadiens
Why They'll Finish Ninth: Everyone seems aware that the Habs grossly overachieved last season in the playoffs and that they traded away playoff hero Jaroslav Halak. What's getting less press, at least to me, is the number of other performers the Habs let walk as free agents. Glen Metropolit, he of the 10 regular-season power play goals, ended up in Europe. Why you wouldn't re-sign a guy who was tied for the team lead in PP goals, especially when almost all of your offense came from that 2nd-place power play (they were one of the worst teams in the league at scoring 5-on-5), I honestly have no idea. It couldn't have cost you very much if he ended up having to take a European deal. Also allowed to walk were useful center Dominic Moore and power play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron. The Habs are counting on young players being able to step in and fill those roles right away. I personally think there will be some growing pains. Andrei Markov being out until at least November and possibly into December will hurt too; the Habs are 195-115-41 with him in the lineup, but just 19-35-7 without him. So I think this team will just barely miss the playoffs, obviously hugely disappointing to the fans of Montreal after the run they had last season.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If PK Subban is ready for prime-time and can step up and fill the early void of Markov, as well as the void of Bergeron on the power play, then the Habs will make the playoffs. Of course, Carey Price must play better too, but that's not as big of a factor as people think. While Price's win-loss record was bad last season, he still had a 2.77 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Neither are bad numbers. If the team gives him some goal support this year, he'll probably be fine.

Why They Could Finish Lower: Now with that said, Price could still be a complete disaster, crumbling under the immense pressure of the Halak trade. If that happens, the Habs could be a draft lottery team.

10. Carolina Hurricanes
Why They'll Finish Tenth: The Hurricanes are going young and cheap out of necessity, and it's disappointing to see one of the NHL's few Southern markets where you can really say there's usually a sense of excitement for the team have to go in this direction. Still, there's good pieces in place in Carolina, obviously starting with Eric Staal and Cam Ward. But the Canes' defense is ultimately too heavy on offensive types without any real defensive studs to shutdown the other teams' top players, and that will probably be what costs them a playoff spot.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Well, picking the Canes to miss the playoffs this year is dicey if only because they've followed a pretty specific good year-bad year-good year-bad year alternating pattern for the past few seasons. If the pattern holds up, they'll make the playoffs this year. And it wouldn't shock me to see this team get hot enough to do it with some of the great young talent they have, especially up front with guys like Brandon Sutter & Drayson Bowman. By picking them tenth I think they'll be in the mix right up until the end, so I could easily see them squeezing out a playoff berth.

Why They Could Finish Lower: That blueline really is terrible. Tim Gleason is a #4 defenseman on 25 or 26 other teams, and yet he's playing #1 minutes for Carolina. Joe Corvo looked positively awful for the Capitals in his own end at times last year after he was traded, so I'm not so sure re-signing him is a positive. And Anton Babchuk will be great for the Canes' power play that was 20th in the league last year, but he is an adventure in his own end. Throw in Cam Ward's recent injury troubles and you have a recipe for a possible draft lottery team if enough things go wrong.

11. Buffalo Sabres
Why They'll Finish Eleventh: I think a better question to ask is, how did this team ever finish third last year? At times in their first-round playoff series, they looked completely out-matched and out-played by a sub-par Boston Bruins squad. They have a collection of forwards who have largely underachieved- not a single one of them strike fear into opposing goalies' hearts (maybe Thomas Vanek on his best days, but those seemed to be few and far between last season). They got things done largely on a solid, if unspectacular, team defense. So of course they allowed 2 of their top 4 D-men to walk in unrestricted free-agency. And they replaced them.....with 1 guy. Whose name is Jordan Leopold. Yeah. Good luck with that, Buffalo. This is not a playoff team....

Why They Could Finish Higher: ....unless Ryan Miller stands on his head again. Which is, of course, always possible. But I'm one to think he might take a slight step back this season. How could you not, if you're Ryan Miller, be incredibly disappointed with what the team has done this off-season? How could you feel amped up to play behind this team? Especially after the exhausting year he had last year, I would not be shocked to see Miller look positively uninterested. But if he really does decide to stand on his head again, the Sabres will be right back in the playoffs and maybe even back in Northeast contention (though I really don't think they can keep up with the Bruins).

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Ryan Miller gets injured for any serious length of time, this is a draft lottery team.

12. Ottawa Senators
Why They'll Finish Twelfth: The Senators were another team that wildly overachieved last season, at least as far as the regular season goes (they put up a decent fight against the Penguins in the playoffs, but I wouldn't call that overachieving per say). Their off-season was an interesting one, losing several spare parts that came over at the trade deadline and did have a positive impact (C Matt Cullen & D Andy Sutton), as well as the massively disappointing Jonathen Cheechoo. But perhaps no loss will sting as much as losing shot-blocker extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov. Remember, this is an Ottawa team that has a lot of question marks in goal. Neither Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott was consistently able to play well for the team last season; both had serious up and down swings. Having the huge Volchenkov out there blocking shots like a madman was only a positive. Without him, the goalies will be asked to do even more, and that's asking too much of them at this point. The addition of Sergei Gonchar will probably help last year's anemic power play, but one needs to only look at how horribly Gonchar played defensively for the Penguins in last year's playoffs (at one point he let a Habs forward literally walk around him, like in slow-motion) to see why that could be a complete disaster in Ottawa. They won't know how important Volchenkov was to this team until it's too late and they're back to being a non-playoff team.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If the other defensemen step up and play well enough defensively to make up for Volchenkov's loss, the Senators could be back in the playoff mix. Good, consistent goaltending would also go a long way to making them a playoff team again.

Why They Could Finish Lower: There's a lot of injury-prone guys on this roster. Alfredsson is getting up there in age now, Jason Spezza hasn't been able to stay healthy. Neither have Kovalev or Michalek or Gonchar. Injuries could make this team fall even further in the Eastern Conference then I'm anticipating.

13. New York Islanders
Why They'll Finish Thirteenth: So the Islanders want to copy the Washington/Chicago model of building through the draft, the same model that LA & Phoenix are currently using to great success. Let's assume there's a handbook out there, "How to Build Your Team Through the Draft". Apparently when they got to the chapter titled "Now You Augment Your Core With Some Outside Players", they stopped reading at the title, put down the book, and started frantically calling every player they could think of....that was still unsigned on July 3rd. They didn't bother to get into the actual paragraph, which would have explained to them the utter pointlessness of signing guys like Rangers washout PA Parenteau, practically immobile slug Zenon Konopka, Milan 'The Blue Jackets kept the receipt' Jurcina, or rapidly aging veteran Mark Eaton. That's not augmenting your core, that's embracing a role as the NHL's witness protection program (hat tip to the Puck Podcast's Doug Stolhand for that one). As great as John Tavares may be this year, there's almost nothing else here around him.

Why They Could Finish Higher: Maybe some of their kids are ahead of schedule. If Calvin de Haan is ready to make this team out of training camp, that would give the Isles at least a playoff-caliber top 3 D-men, behind veteran Mark Streit and recent pick-up James Wisniewski. And if Swiss junior wunderkid Nino Niederreiter is a year ahead of schedule too, they could make one young and dangerous top line with Tavares & Matt Moulson. But I tend to believe these kids are still another year away. I know, Isles fans, it must suck to be told "wait until next year" year after year. But they're getting there. Just very, very slowly.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Matt Moulson's 30-goals were a mirage after all, this team could be even worse than I'm expecting.

14. Atlanta Thrashers
Why They'll Finish Fourteenth: I have no idea what's going on in Atlanta. You pick up one of the best young power forwards in the game from the defending Stanley Cup champions because of their salary cap issues, and then you immediately move him back to defense?! Ridiculous. One only needs to watch Brent Sopel's interview after getting traded to Atlanta to figure out that these ex-Blackhawks are not exactly happy to be headed south, either. And lost in all the Blackhawk bonanza is all of the players from last year's near-miss squad that are gone, many of them huge offensive contributors. Long-term this team is headed in the right direction, but one has to wonder just how long they may even have left in Atlanta.

Why They Could Finish Higher: If I'm wrong about the ex-Blackhawks and the Byfuglien-to-defense experiment ends quickly, maybe they can get back in the playoff race. I still don't think this is a playoff team, though.

Why They Could Finish Lower: I need to give a reason why they could finish 15th instead of 14th? Uh....because they're not a very good hockey team, maybe?

15. Florida Panthers
Why They'll Finish Fifteenth: Dale Tallon has done a remarkable job tearing apart this team of underachievers in record time. Now comes the hard part: asking these poor fans to sit through another year of losing hockey. At least it's for a good cause this year, and at least they know it's coming.

Why They Could Finish Higher: I guess they could move up a few spots if Chris Higgins finally finds his long-lost scoring touch, Steve Bernier remembers what a "power forward" is, and Michael Grabner plays better after he's taken out of the Vancouver fishbowl. But even if everything goes right for this team, I can't see them possibly making the playoffs. Then again I'm sure people said that last year about Phoenix & Colorado, so I guess anything's possible.

Why They Could Finish Lower: If Tomas Voukon gets injured, this team is in so much trou....oh, uh, nevermind.

Back with the West soon!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Absurdly Early Predictions on the 2010-2011 NHL Season

Here are the absurdly early predictions from CIA Radio's season finale, in which myself, Ms. Gee, and Mr. Williams picked all the division winners, the conference finals, and the Stanley Cup champion. This way in case any of us are right we have RECORDED PROOF~! that we did, in fact, call it first.

I got Quinlan's off the phone with him a few hours later. And swear to christ he did in fact pick the Islanders to win the Atlantic and go to the Eastern Conference finals. He wasn't kidding. He really believes this will happen.

I should also note that we did all these predictions under the assumption that Kovalchuk is going to the Kings. I still think that's going to happen until he officially signs with another team, but should it not I would imagine our next round of predictions on the eve of the regular season will look very different. But considering 3 out of 4 of us picked them to win the Cup next year (oops, spoiled it!) it looks like we all agree: adding Kovalchuk to the Kings will make them a superpower. Not that they're far off to begin with; in their excellent posts comparing the "core" of the Blackhawks to the other big Western Conference teams, the Kings were the team that Second City Hockey was most worried about. It'll be interesting as we get closer to the season to see if our consensus matches up with the consensus of the rest of the hockey world.

Alright, here's all the picks. And then after I make my Cup pick, I'll tell you why I DIDN'T pick some other teams.

Atlantic Division
John, Emily, & Sean- Penguins
Quinlan- Islanders

Central Division
John & Emily- Blackhawks
Sean & Quinlan- Red Wings

Northeast Division
John & Quinlan- Bruins
Emily- Canadiens
Sean- Sabres

Northwest Divison
John & Quinlan- Canucks
Emily & Sean- Avalanche

Southeast Division
John, Emily, Quinlan & Sean- Capitals

Pacific Divison
John & Emily- Kings
Sean & Quinlan- Sharks

Eastern Conference Finals
John- Penguins over Flyers
Emily & Sean- Penguins over Capitals
Quinlan- Capitals over Islanders

Western Conference Finals
John- Kings over Red Wings
Emily- Kings over Blackhawks
Sean- Red Wings over Avalanche
Quinlan- Kings over Canucks

Stanley Cup Finals
John & Emily- Kings over Penguins
Sean- Penguins over Red Wings (god help me if I have to watch that shit again)
Quinlan- Kings over Capitals

So that's everybody's picks. Really quick, now I'm gonna say why I DON'T think these teams will win the Cup:

Blackhawks- Might as well start with the defending champs. Lack of depth, Pat Kane looking like he's not going to be sober by training camp, etc. will all combine to do in the Hawks, probably in the second round. But don't worry, Hawks Nation, they'll be back.

Penguins- My Eastern Conference winners due to their much-improved defense, I don't think they have the goal-scoring to compete with LA, especially on the wings. Crosby is great and all but last year proved that one man can't do it alone. And as great as their much-improved defense is, they still don't have that one "superstar" defender like Drew Doughty.

Red Wings- My Western Conference runners-up, I just think they're too old to get past the young, hungry Kings. I honestly see this year going pretty similar to last year for them; an OK regular-season hurt by injuries, gets hot down the stretch but not hot enough to catch the Hawks for the Central, etc. Difference this year is I think the team pulls closer together to try and get Nik Lidstrom one more Cup before he retires next off-season, so that gets them past the second-round and back into the Conference Finals this time. But no further.

Flyers- My Eastern Conference runners-up, there's no question they're still a great team. But goaltending and having too many centers who can't play wing will ultimately do them in against the deeper, better Pennsylvania team.

Devils- Assuming they don't re-sign Kovalchuk, they won't win the Atlantic this time. They'll get in because they always do, but Jason Arnott? Really New Jersey? Another first-round exit's in the cards.

Canucks- I flirted with giving them the conference final position over Detroit, but I'm not buying into that defensive corps just yet. Like SCH said, they've got the deepest pool of #3 defensemen in the league, but no real elite top-pairing guys. Dan Hamhuis was a #3 on a good Nashville team, but Keith Ballard was a #3 on a bad Florida team. So I'm not buying in. And obviously Luongo still has done nothing in the playoffs yet, so that doesn't help.

Sharks- Kicking Nabakov to the curb in favor of a guy who's never, ever been playoff-tested does not suddenly mean they're on their way over the hump. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Capitals- Like the Canucks, I flirted with giving them the Eastern runner-up spot over Philly, but like the Canucks I'm not ready to buy in yet either. They flamed out in the playoffs in epic fashion and are now basically San Jose East, and their brilliant plan to change all that appeared to be.....well, nothing, actually. Great plan. Until Mike Green realizes he has to change his game in the playoffs and/or John Carlson steps up and makes him irrelevant, they're destined to first- and second-round exits.

Bruins- This is my dark horse. I love the Nathan Horton move; he seems legitimately excited to be there and if he can stay healthy and put up between 30-40 goals, they will be a contender. They were the #1 defensive team in the NHL last year, all they were missing was some goal-scoring. Yes, the Philly collapse will sting for a while, but you can also point to some key injuries and kind of explain away at least a bit of it (obviously not all of it). Plus, the real X-factor here is what, exactly, will Tyler Seguin (who I still maintain will be better than Taylor Hall) bring to the Bruins in his rookie season? It will be fun to watch, and I think if it all comes together the Bruins could be a serious Cup-contending team, but at this juncture I still feel like they're another year away. We'll see.

Oh god, I got so excited for this season just writing all that. Can we all just pretend it's October now? Please?

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 NHL Entry Draft Live Blog

Alright folks, welcome to CIA's live blog of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft! This is the first time I'm trying this whole live blogging business so if it sucks, there you go. But if you want to hear from someone who has roughly 7,000 favorite teams (to go with another 7,000 he hates) on draft day, well then I'm your guy. So let's get to it!

6:28 pm: We're about a half-hour away from the start of the draft, watching the NHL Network's draft preview which so far is just a rehash of all the draft profiles they ran throughout their playoff coverage. Way to go, NHL Network.

6:31 pm: For point of reference, my six favorite teams, in order of how much I love them: 1) Rangers, 2) Kings, 3) Blackhawks, 4) Oilers, 5) Capitals, 6) Habs. The top 3 have been the same in the exact same order since I was like 8, but the bottom 3 can (and often will) flip-flop in my luv rankings. In this case, the Oilers jumped from 6 to 4 in draft excitement and naming Tom Renney (who I have a personal soft spot for from his Ranger days and I really feel is a great coach) the new head coach. The Habs, meanwhile, dropped from 4 to 6 due to trading away my man Halak. As far as my most hated teams, well, pretty much all their major rivals, so that covers a lot of ground. Having the Flames & Leafs on my list of "most hated" today means I have something in common with fans in Calgary & Toronto, oddly enough.

6:40 pm: Hey Edmonton, have I mentioned (TYLER SEGUIN!) who I want you to take (TYLER SEGUIN!) with the first overall pick (OH GOD PLEASE LET IT BE TYLER SEGUIN!). No, you're right, you can't go wrong either way (UNLESS YOU TAKE TAYLOR HALL!). I leave you with these thoughts- Tyler Seguin, Tyler Seguin, and Tyler Seguin.

6:50 pm: After the foregone conclusion that is the Maple Leafs Bruins' second-overall pick, the real intrigue starts with Florida's #3. There's the Big 3 D-Men, the bionic wonder Brett Connolly, and the rising stars from the Portland Winterhawks of Ryan Johansen & Nino Niederreiter all having a case to go in the top 5. Obviously, only three of them will. 10 minutes to go!

6:57 pm: Speaking of the Big 3 D-Men, I would be remiss to not mention my friend Aaron, who lives in Windsor, sees the Spitfires play all the time, and is very convinced that Cam Fowler will be a gigantic bust. Considering he's seen a hell of a lot more of him than I have, I will defer to him. If I was a GM I'd take the defensemen who actually show at least a passing desire to, you know, play defense, but what do I know?

7:00 pm: Yeah Versus, way to pick up that TSN coverage again! I was actually a little worried they might try their own hand at it this year; thank god they didn't. Also, a source on Twitter says Keith Ballard to Vancouver for Steve Bernier & the 25th overall pick. In unrelated news, Roberto Luongo was seen crying, although in fairness to Keith Ballard that's not exactly a rare occurance.

7:04 pm: Hey, let's cover the Oilers laughable attempt at picking up the 2nd overall pick like it's a real story!

7:05 pm: McKenzie and McGuire say it's got to be Taylor Hall going first overall. Apparently their moms never told them if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all.

7:07 pm: As if the Oilers needed another reason not to take Taylor, he just gushed over seeing Jennifer Love-Hewitt at the Twilight premiere last night. That's 1996 calling, Taylor, and they want their crush back.

7:09 pm: Apparently TSN has been watching reality TV contests and taking notes, because we're going to have to wait through our first commercial break of the evening before we get to see Tyler Seguin picked first overall. Come on guys, that's not exactly a cliffhanger.

7:12 pm: Eklund thinks something will happen with a top 5 pick, because apparently someone he was talking to had to leave suddenly. Not true, and I know that because I have an exclusive source that tells me this person had a plan in place: if caught talking to Eklund for longer than 2 minutes, fake a phone call to get him out of it.

7:14 pm: Wow, they did a great job filling up these stands in LA. Even I didn't think it would be this full. Yay hockey in socal!

7:16 pm: Some loud boos for the Oilers confirms that, yes, there are in fact some Ducks fans in attendance. Or maybe it's Kings fans who still remember that awful game where the Oilers somehow beat us via shootout in our own building this year. Yes, the Oilers won a road game.


7:19 pm: Hey Steve Tambellini: fuck you. Just fuck you. How many goddamn wingers do you think the Oilers need?

7:25 pm: Brian Burke Count is at 1. Here comes Peter to take the better player.

7:38 pm: Dale Tallon adds to the Panthers' bounty of young defensemen with big, physical Erik Gudbranson. Having Dimitri Kulikov as a puck-mover allows him to go for the hard-hitting but offensively limited defenseman. Good, safe pick. Now let's see if Columbus goes for one of the other two big D-men or they go off the board with a risky pick on Connolly.

7:40 pm: Panthers have to be considered an up-and-coming team. Finally.

7:43 pm: Some speculation the Jackets may opt for the Winterhawks' center Ryan Johansen just based on need, which would make Steve Yzerman very happy as he's hoping either Fowler or Gormley will still be there at #6. We're about to find out.

7:48 pm: And indeed, the Jackets take Ryan Johansen in our first off-the-board pick. TSN had him 6th, Central Scouting had him 10th, Hockey News had him 12th. Jackets may have a minor bust on their hands with this one; he's physically immature, he benefitted from playing with Swiss wunderkid Nino Niederreiter on his line in Portland, and he went 150th overall in the OHL draft as a 15-year-old. Risky pick to be sure. Next up is the Islanders, who also have a need at forward to get Tavares some support, so who knows if they'll go off the board as well.

7:49 pm: Twitter source says the Kings are making a last-minute push for the Islanders' 5th overall pick, so they must really want either Gormley or Fowler with both still available.

7:51 pm: I'm starting to wonder if Cam Fowler might be this year's first round slider. Gormley is a better all-around defender and there's still a lot of top-end forward talent available (Nino, Connolly, Skinner).

7:53 pm: Alyssa Milano is on the set, apparently she's a big hockey fan. Her brother, who did play junior, called Taylor Hall for first overall, and I'm just going to assume that Alyssa Milano's Brother was the tie-breaking vote on the Oilers draft table, because why not?

7:55 pm: Kevin Connolly from Entourage is up there with the Islanders. A signal they will take Brett Connolly? STAY TUNED!

7:56 pm: And the slide for Gormley & Fowler continues, it's back-to-back Winterhawk picks as the Isles take Nino Niederreiter, shattering the record for highest-drafted Swiss player (Michel Risen 14th overall by the Oilers in 1997). As a Rangers fan who really wanted this kid, this hurts. Good pick by the Isles to compliment Tavares. Now Yzerman goes from just hoping one of Gormley or Fowler will be available to getting to make his pick of the two of them, stunning.

8:01 pm: Well, nevermind all this defensemen shit, Yzerman takes Brett Connolly. My god. He was ranked 8th by TSN due mostly to injury concerns. Not sure I get this pick, they have enough forwards. Maybe it means St. Louis & Lecavailier's time in Tampa could be drawing to a close. So the slide for Gormley & Fowler continues. Will Carolina break their tradition of always taking forwards at 7th with those two both still available?

8:12 pm: Carolina is up for the 7th pick....and they take Jeffery Skinner. Fucking shit, I really really wanted him for the Rangers. So now Gormley & Fowler just keep on sliding, and I'm starting to worry the Rangers will end up taking Fowler at 10th. Like I said, I think he's gonna be a bust, bigtime.

8:19 pm: Here comes Rick Dudley for the Atlanta Thrashers. At this point I'm just hoping they leave us Gormley for 10th, so here he comes to pick Brandon Gormley. Nevermind, Thrashers take TSN's 15th ranked player, Alexander Burmistrov. He's a good center, probably should have been ranked higher if not for the Russian factor, but if he actually does stay in the NHL this will be a good pick for a team that desperately needs offensive talent with Kovalchuk gone. So now we could be seeing a situation where one of (or both!) Gormley or Fowler fall from being ranked in the top 5 in virtually everyone's rankings to out of the top 10.

8:23 pm: Brian Burke Count- 2. Wow, pretty low actually. Burke looks bored.

8:24 pm: Wild continue the apparent strike against draft defensemen in the top 10 with Mikael Granlund from the Finnish Elite League. Very smart player, very good playmaker, but tiny at 5'10. Wild had an offensive need that was desperate, so now it's confirmed: either Gormley or Fowler will slide out of the top 10. Alright Sather, here we go, DO NOT DRAFT CAM FOWLER.

8:34 pm: Rangers take big, tough defenseman Dylan Mcilrath. He's 6-4, could get up to 240 lbs, nicknamed "the Undertaker". Off the board a little bit, 15th ranked in TSN, voted toughest player in the TSN draft poll with 19 fighting majors. So Gormley and Fowler are still on the board. I would have rather had Gormley but I don't mind this pick.

8:38 pm: Dallas Stars take the 9th ranked pick according to TSN, goaltender Jack Campbell. So Cam Fowler isn't even the first American to go, wow. As McGuire pointed out, weird pick considering they just traded for former 1st overall pick Kari Lehtonen. But he could be a legitimate franchise goalie, so whatever I guess. Someone might want to tell Fowler & Gormley to grab a Snickers, 'cause apparently they're not going anywhere for a while.

8:44 pm: The Ducks are up next for the first of their two first-round picks. The Kings fans serenade them with boos that are severely drowning out whatever Ducks fans are here.

8:46 pm: And finally the Ducks take Cam Fowler, who slid from 5th on the TSN & Central Scouting and 3rd on the Hockey News list all the way down to 12th. I would have gone with Gormley but I guess they wanted a pure offensive d-man with Neidemayer retiring. Does Gormley finally go next to Phoenix?

8:53 pm: As Phoenix goes up there to take probably Brandon Gormley thanks to Calgary's dipshit pick, let's all take a moment to laugh at the Sutters.

8:55 pm: Phoenix takes Brandon Gormley, proving they have a brain. I'm really wishing my Rangers took him, but I like the 'Yotes so I'm happy for them and their fans. Never thought in a million years he would drop all the way down to 13th.

9:01 pm: St. Louis continues the trend tonight of going WAY off the board, taking TSN's 29th ranked center from the Tri-City Americans of the USHL, Jaden Schwartz. Interesting pick, he's undersized but he still led the very defense-heavy USHL in scoring last season.

9:08 pm: The Kings traded up, probably to grab a Cali boy. They get Florida's 15th overall pick (that they got from Boston in the Horton trade) for the Kings' 19th & 59th picks. And the crowd is very very VERY happy.

9:11 pm: Nope, turns out they wanted Derek Forbort, who was ranked 11th by TSN and still available at 15th. LA already has plenty of defensemen already on the team and in the system so they have plenty of time to be patient with this huge, 6'5 American. He's on his way to North Dakota in the fall which is a decent hockey program. Great pick by my Kings- pretty sad it was a much better pick than my Rangers at 10th. Senators are up next at 16th.

9:15 pm: Nevermind! The Senators trade the 16th pick to the Blues for....uh....a defenseman. David Rundlad, apparently "a physical defenseman with mobility" according to Pierre McGuire. He went 17th overall in 2009, so it's pretty much a wash. Blues heading up now.

9:17 pm: In probably the first guy to go where TSN predicted him, Vladimir Tarasenko goes to the Blues. Great pick from St. Louis to add to their offensive skill, and the Russian factor isn't as big of a deal here since it's their second first-round pick of the draft.

9:25 pm: Off the board night continues as Colorado takes Joey Hishon, ranked 46th in the TSN list, 17th overall. Bob McKenzie had to search for his papers. Very tiny center from the Owen Sound in the OHL, listed at 5'9 1/2 but looks even smaller than that. Weird pick.

9:33 pm: Nashville takes Austin Watson, ranked 14th by TSN, with the 18th overall pick. He went on a scoring tear this year for Peterborough after Windsor traded him at the OHL trading deadline. Good pick for the Preds and nice to see them not take a defenseman for the first time in like, forever.

9:34 pm: Brian Burke Watch: 3. He's STILL defending the Phil Kessel trade. Okay then.

9:36 pm: Florida GM Dale Tallon up next with the 19th pick that belonged to LA, which they traded for Florida's pick that belonged to Boston. They take Nick Bjugstad, this year's "Mr. Hockey" from Minnesota high school. A huge, six-foot-five center who is very raw right now, Florida could end up with a great pick down the line here. And like the Blues' pick earlier, since this is Florida's second pick of the first round they were able to go with a riskier pick here. Depending on whether Vancouver wants to take their pick this year or not, they could get a THIRD first-round pick at 25th.

9:43 pm: Pittsburgh takes California kid Beau Bennett 20th overall, ranked 18th by TSN. He's a 6'1 right winger who is definitely a project, but you can afford to wait for a project when you're the Penguins I guess. He's heading to a very, very good University of Denver program in the fall.

9:47 pm: Pierre LeBrun reports that according to Bryan Murray, there is "no market" for Ottawa center Jason Spezza and he will remain a Senator.

9:49 pm: Detroit Red Wings up to make the 21st pick, to pockets of boos from the Ducks. They take Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan, a very rare pick that matches up with his TSN ranking. He only had 6 goals playing with the VERY defensive-focused Irish team, and he had an underage drinking violation.

9:56 pm: Phoenix traded their 22nd & 113th picks to Montreal for the 27th & 57th picks. Apparently Montreal sees someone they really want to take and don't think he'll be around much longer. Good deal for the 'Yotes though, they give up a 4th rounder and move their second 1st rounder down 5 spots to pick up another second rounder.

9:58 pm: Montreal goes for 6'3 1/2 US defenseman Jared Tinordi with the 22nd pick, ranked 24th overall by TSN. He was captain of one of the best Under-18 teams that the USA has ever had, that helped America win the Under-18s and the World Juniors in the same year for the first time ever. Good pick considering the Habs desperately needed some size and grit.

10:01 pm: So far we're up to 7 Americans in the first round, below the projected record number of 11 due to some teams going off the board early on. Six picks to go and at least 4 of them have to be Americans to break the record, which probably won't happen, but with the quality of Americans left you could still get 3 to tie it.

10:11 pm: Buffalo takes Mark Pysyk 23rd overall. He was ranked 20th by TSN so another slider here, he's a solid 6'1 1/2 defenseman for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.

10:15 pm: Apparently whoever the Canucks wanted to take at 25th is gone now, because Darren Dreger just reported that the Ballard deal is done. So Dale Tallon comes back up at 25th. Now here comes his former employers to make this very well-traveled pick (New Jersey--->Atlanta--->Chicago). And now the Hawks go completely of the board to take 6'2 1/2 Kevin Hayes from Boston high school, ranked 49th by TSN. Definitely a long-term future kind of pick.

10:24 pm: Florida becomes the first team to pick 3 first-round picks in one year since Edmonton in 2007 (before that, Washington in 2004). Florida stays on the board, a rarity for this draft, taking Quinton Howden (ranked 26th by TSN) at 25th with Vancouver's pick. Projects to be a fast third-line center, a decent pick-up for Florida's rebuild.

10:33 pm: Washington Capitals are up next at 26th. And they decide to keep going Russian, bring in Evgeny Kuznetsov (ranked 24th by TSN). Apparently he really wants to be an NHL player due to growing up in poverty. He has an inconsistency factor but he's got some really good offensive talents. Apparently he's staying with the KHL for at least the next two years.

10:37 pm: Here comes Phoenix to make their second first-round pick, which is basically a bonus pick after they picked up Brandon Gormley, who was shockingly still there at 13th. And Phoenix goes totally off the board with Mark Visentin from the Niagra Ice Dogs, who was ranked deep in the second round by TSN. Wow, what a strange draft.

10:42 pm: Up next are the San Jose Sharks at 28th as we're really starting to get down to the wire here. Do they take SoCal native Emerson Etem, ranked 17th at TSN who is in the midst of a freefall? We're about to find out.

10:45 pm: Nope, they go a little off the board to take Charlie Coyle, ranked 32nd overall. He's from the same Boston high school as Jeremy Roenick, he's a big, physical winger who's going to Boston University this fall. Alright Ducks, you're up next with the Pronger/Philly pick at 29th, will you take poor Emerson Etem or is the hometown boy going undrafted in the first round?

10:50 pm: Finally Emerson Etem gets picked, by the Ducks at 29th. He was ranked 17th overall by TSN so thank god he didn't get passed over completely, that would have been embarrassing for the league. Etem is the 10th American-born player picked in the draft, which ties the record from 2006 & 2007. It'll be up to Chicago at 30 to break the record.

10:56 pm: The New York Islanders will pick 30th, as they send the 35th & 58th picks to the Blackhawks for the last pick of the first-round. Seems like an extra second-round pick is a steep price to pay, maybe they're looking for John McFarland.

10:59 pm: So the Islanders take a high school player, Brock Nelson, who was ranked by TSN at 34th anyway. Big kid at 6'3 3/4, especially for a center. 73 points in 25 games is damn good for Boston high school, but this is definitely a long-term project. This pick means that Americans offically break the record, with 11 picks in the first round this year (along with 5 Europeans and 14 Canadians). And that seems like as good of a place as any to wrap this thing up. Thanks for reading folks.