April 20, 2006

Hockey: The Wars Out West

Where’s the Wild West going to go? Best guesses:


These are two teams who were massively affected by the new CBA, with Detroit having to cut their budget in half and Edmonton actually making noise with free agents.
Offense: The league has done what the coaches and GMs have been hesitant to do: give the youth they have more ice time. It’s worked, though you have a “dead space” in player ages in their scoring, with scorers being 28 or younger or 35+. They have 7 forwards with 20 or more goals, and two of the best shut-down men in the league. Edmonton, on the other hand, is relying on a young, high-energy crop of forwards with all the swings inexperience brings. They have a solid shut-down guy themselves in Peca. Detroit has more scoring and more experience.
Defense: Detroit has had lots of scoring from their defense for years, and it’s showing. Lidstrom led the league again in points while remaining rock-solid defensively, and Schneider had his second 20-goal season, his last one coming 11 years ago. Edmonton has the perhaps the off season’s biggest free agent signing anchoring their blue line (Pronger), and also has a fantastic young D Bergeron. Detroit wins this match up.
Goaltending: The supposed weak point on both teams, Roloson has the best numbers for Edmonton, and Legace will start for Detroit. Legace never faces that many shots, but he’s there when required as his 7 shut outs and .915 save percentage show. Detroit.
Injuries: Detroit has adjusted to the loss of their fine defenseman Fischer, and will have Datsyuk sitting for the first game. Edmonton, of course, has never had any injuries… EVER! Now stop asking!
Special Teams: Detroit has a league-best 22.1% power play and 85.5% penalty kill. Edmonton has a 18.1% power play and 84.1% kill. Detroit wins here.
Anything Else: The biggest wild card is Yzerman. He is warming up at just the right time, and the man is made of iron come the playoffs. The wrong Red Wing got the Conn Smythe award in 2002 – without Yzerman, Detroit wouldn’t have gotten out of the first round. Smyth has that role for Edmonton, and he’s earned it.
Verdict: The Wings are a favorite to take the Cup this year, and this match up isn’t going to change that. Edmonton may get to where Detroit is right now, but not yet.


Dallas is yet another team that was supposed to take a hit with the new CBA, losing a massive amount of experience to unprepared youth. Didn’t work out that way…
Offense: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Modano led the Stars in scoring this year. It was a nice return to form after the horrible aberration that was last season. Arnott finally lived up to his rookie season promise, and secondary scoring filled out nicely. Guerin had an awful year, and will try to make up for it now. Colorado is following the immortal Joe Sakic, and got great seasons out of supposed spare parts Brunette, Laperriere, and Turgeon. They will miss Svatos’ 32 goals and Konowalchuk’s playoff grit. Missing Svatos, the Avs lose to Dallas here.
Defense: Zubov had the second best year of his 13 year career, and Boucher doubled his previous best in goals to 16 this season. Most of the rest are shut-down men, and solid ones at that. With the Avalanche, Blake is once again going to get the first call in every situation, but he can be spelled offensively by the speedy and accurate Liles. Dallas wins the match up.
Goaltending: The “We Have Faith In Aebischer” line held until March, when he got shipped off for the injured Theodore. Budaj was… okay in relief until Theodore got healthy, but they don’t see him a anything more than a back up. Turco had his stats inflated with shaky months in October and February, but otherwise has been solid. He is having the worst season of his career, but that means a 2.55 goals against average and 41 wins. Advantage Dallas.
Injuries: Dallas had two important defensemen sit out the last game of the season (Boucher and Mitchell), but they will be in the line up on Saturday. Colorado is missing three major players in Konowalchuk, Vaananen and Svatos.
Special Teams: The Avs went 18.8% on the power play and 84.6% PK, while the Stars rated a 17.7% power play and 83.7 penalty kill. What was a clear advantage to Colorado becomes a lot closer without Svatos’ 22 power play points.
Anything Else: Special teams could tell the tale here, and Colorado is hoping they do. This is the first time in a while that they’re starting a playoff series as clear underdogs.
Verdict: Dallas.


Anaheim has one of the best minds in the business with Brian Burke as GM, and it shows. On the other side, no one makes a team work harder than coach/GM Darryl Sutter.
Offense: The Flames’ leading scorer finished 51st in the league, and they only managed to get six forwards to 10 or more goals, and only three managed 20. They are fast and tough, but the finish just isn’t there. A reborn Selanne, skating without pain for the first time in years, leads a surprising Ducks offense with 40 goals, followed by McDonald’s 34 which is four more than his previous best season points total. Youth and speed make up the bulk of the team, but the anchors are still the veterans. Anaheim in a walk.
Defense: The other biggest off season signing was by the Ducks, getting Scott Niedermayer. Burke believes in building his teams around a stud defenseman, and Niedermayer is it. After him comes the trade for Fedorov, Beauchemin, and it looks more and more like Burke knows what he’s doing. O’Donnell is a rock solid shut down man. The Flames defensive corps is in the top three of the league, and their best is the amazing rookie Phaneuf, whose 20 goals are the third highest of any rookie defenseman in NHL history. A slew of current and former Olympians follow, including point man Hamrlik. Calgary.
Goaltending: There is a reason why Calgary can have a horrendous goals for and still be their division champions, and his name is Kiprusoff. He steals games with alarming regularity for the Flames, and his 10 shutouts tops the league. Actual quote: “I’m disappointed. Any time your team scores two goals, you should win.” Giguere has been solid all year long, and doesn’t have the pressure to be perfect that his opponent does. If only Kiprusoff would notice… Calgary.
Injuries: Anaheim is only missing defensive forward Fedoruk, and then only temporarily. Calgary has Warrener missing from their defense, but he’ll also be back soon.
Special Teams: Calgary had an 18.2% power play and 84.3% penalty kill, while Anaheim managed 18.1% on the power play with an 83.5% penalty kill. Even.
Anything Else: Calgary hits first, and asks questions (“Which way to the goal?”) later. They grind teams down with a fast, relentless fore check and mean defense. The longer a series goes on, the worse off their opponents will feel. For days.
Verdict: If anyone can get more than two goals against Calgary, they win. The question is, can they? Anaheim’s youth can make them frustrated, so I’ll choose Calgary to win.


In what may be the worst trade in the Bruins 80 year history, Joe Thornton came to San Jose and pulled them from an 8-12-4 record to 36-14-7.
Offense: Three players are the Sharks’ offense: Cheechoo, Marleau, and Thornton, and Marleau’s only here because he plays the power play with Cheechoo and Thornton. Ekman has been blessed with being the left wing on the top line, but anyone could be. The Predators don’t have anyone to match those numbers, but the scoring they have is much better distributed throughout the line up with 5 20+ goal scorers. They also have two of the best face-off men in the league in Perreault and Sillinger, and they love to grind at teams. Even so, having the Richard and Ross trophy winners means San Jose has the scarier offense.
Defense: Not San Jose’s forte. The big name veterans they have (Hannan and McLaren) are shut down guys, not point producers. The scoring they have will come from youth (Erhoff and Preissing). Nashville brings 150+ points from the blue line, led by Timonen, Zidlicky and Hamhuis. Adding Witt makes the front of Nashville’s net a frightening place to be. Nashville.
Goaltending: Vokoun is lost to the Predators for (at least) the playoffs due to a blood disorder, and new starter Mason has been good, but has never seen an NHL playoff game from the ice. Toskala is also a playoff virgin, but has far outplayed Nabokov during the season and should get the start. A draw.
Injuries: The Predators are hoping Legwand comes back in time for Friday, but their big loss is Vokoun. The Sharks are tickety-boo.
Special Teams: Nashville finished with a 18.4% power play and 84.6% penalty kill, while San Jose went 18.2% on the power play and 80.7% penalty kill. Ths Sharks aren’t short handed very often, but that can kill them this year.
Anything Else: Frightening note of the year: San Jose’s 3rd year man Cheechoo managed 93 points – three fewer than Thornton had assists.
Verdict: Missing Vokoun will weigh heavily on the Preds. They allow six more shots per game than the Sharks, and the Thornton-Cheechoo combination can bury them. San Jose.

Now let’s wind ‘em up and set ‘em loose!


posted by Thursday at 11:38 pm


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