Hockey

There probably isn’t a team that will be checked in on Gamecenter by non-partisans more than the Colorado Avalanche. After sneaking into the playoffs and then pulling out the Flames’ organs one-by-one in alphabetical order before giving the Sharks everything they wanted, the Avs have added a genuine center and are going to have a full season of Cale Makar. But they’ve also lost Tyson Barrie, and Bowen Byram won’t get his audition until at least March or April, though likely next season. They seem poised to rise among the top of the Central. But are they?

2018-2019

38-30-14  90 points (5th in Central, out in 2nd round)

3.15 GF/G (10th)  2.98 GA/G (16th) +14 GD

50.0 CF% (13th)  49.8 xGF% (16th)

22.0 PP% (7th)  78.7 PK% (25th)

Goalies: Once again the reins will be handed to Phillip Grubauer, only this time the Avs are a little more sure of what they have. The first half of last year saw both Grubs and the now-departed Semyon Varlamov stake a claim to the job, and then hand it back about seven minutes later to the other one, and then the whole cycle would start all over again. But the second half saw Grubauer take the job by the throat and keep it. Grubs went .929 in February, .955 in March, .937 in April, and a .925 in the playoffs. It’s what the Avs had wanted from the get-go, and had they gotten it they wouldn’t have been messing around with the rabble like the Hawks until the season’s final week.

He’d better be good and healthy, because his backup is some Vaudevillian named Pavel Francouz, which is clearly a mash-up of the things the unwashed hate most to make a cartoon villain, and that’s the French and Russians. This sounds like something out of Bullwinkle. Needless to say, the Avs do not want to have to be counting on a 29-year-old journeyman with two games in the NHL for any length of time. It’s Grubauer, live without a net!

Defense: The headline here is a full season of Cale Makar, who stepped into the playoffs for the Avs and not only didn’t look out of place but ran the show at parts. He was clearly college hockey’s best player and the mind reels at what he can do behind MacKinnon’s line. Still, it’s a lot to ask for a rookie d-man to come in and dominate from jump street, so at least at the start of the season he’ll be sheltered somewhat with Golf Cart Titan Erik Johnson and others taking the more dungeon shifts.

And after the way it’s shaken out, this actually isn’t that impressive of a unit. There was a moment when they looked like they would roll with Barrie, Makar, and Byram on three different pairs to be able to push the play every minute of every game. Well, Barrie went to Toronto and Byram didn’t make the team, so now it’s only Makar as a genuine puck-mover here. That’s never been Erik Johnson’s game. Maybe Samuel Girard has more to show in that category, but it doesn’t really look like his game either.Maybe you keep Makar and Mac K separate and let the latter do it himself for the 20-25 he’s on the ice anyway. Maybe fellow neophyte Connor Timmins has it in him from a third-pairing spot? We know for sure it ain’t Ian Cole (bay-bay!).

This outfit could have had a lot of verve. Now it really doesn’t. Feels like they missed out on something here.

Forwards: But I can’t argue with the Tyson Barrie trade too much, because it brought back Nazem Kadri who is just about perfect for this team. Yes, he’s a raging penis at times who is a danger to himself and his team at his worst moments. He’s also a unique center in that he can take on the toughest assignments while still scoring 50-60 points. The Avs had nothing behind Mac K last year down the middle, and now they have one of the rare Swiss Army knives in the league.

That should leave Tyson Jost with some of the cushier shifts around, which he’ll need to produce more than the 25-odd points he got last year. They’ve also brought in Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi to try and bolster the support scoring, which they were badly in need of. Donskoi always seemed like he flattered to deceive in San Jose, and probably isn’t much more than a water-carrier. Still, they bolster the ranks.

J.T. Compher will still score 17 goals against the Hawks this year.

They’re taking a flier on Valeri Nichushkin, who just could never get quite right in Dallas but seems to have all the physical tools to be a contributor. But no goals last year is no goals last year.

As always, it’ll come down to just how much of a star destroyer the top line can be, and they just brought Mikko Rantanen back into the fold for a cool $9.25M per year (Alex DeBrincat just passed out). They were among, if not the, best lines in hockey last year and there’s no reason to think they can’t match that. MacKinnon will benefit from having Kadri around to take the other teams’ top lines on, so he could produce even more if you can believe it. As if the 99 points last year weren’t enough or something.

The Avs will remain top-heavy, but not quite as much as they were. ;

Prediction: Even with just a full year of Grubauer playing well, this team would move on from the 90 points it delivered last season. I’m skeptical of the defense but if they can find someone other than Makar to move the play, they should be fine. Otherwise they’re basically what they were last year in this spot. Kadri is a big boost, and if a youngster like Jost pops or they can shake something out of Burakovsky the Caps never could, so much the better. They could have three lines instead of one and a half. Are they ready to roll out of the West? That might be a bridge too far, but then again the West doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite anymore. And the Central has its own issues. Easily can see them at least asking questions about winning the division.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

 

 

Hockey

The only team that matters. Don’t believe it, just ask them. The Leafs got Mitch Marner into the fold before the season, which was something of a minor upset. They’re going into the season with a better defense than they did last year, now a full year of Jake Muzzin, along with Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci arriving this summer (the latter already causing hilarious furor). And yet, this collection of players still doesn’t have a playoff series win to its name. The thinking is that if they get the first a whole bunch more will follow. Problem with that is they’re still in the same division with Tampa and Boston. And we know if they don’t get past them, it’ll be a national disaster and you all have to have a week of mourning. Is this the time? Could be, but it’s no guarantee.

2018-2019

46-28-8  100 points (3rd in Atlantic, out in 1st round)

3.49 GF/G (4th)  3.04 GA/G (20th) +37 GD

51.7 CF% (8th)  51.7 xGF% (10th)

21.8 PP% (8th)  79.9 PK% (17th)

Goalies: So here’s the thing. The Leafs can dress up their changes, acquisitions, and experience gained all they want, but they’re still counting on Freddie Andersen. And Freddie Anderson is the very definition of “good enough to break your heart.” It’s what he does. It’s what he’s always done. He’s certainly more than enough to rack up points in the regular season, especially when you score a ton of goals as the Leafs do. And he wasn’t even bad in the playoffs last year, with a .922 SV% in the series against Boston. But it wasn’t enough in Game 7. It never is. That’s what happens. And the Leafs seem to think they can break through the same wall this time. They don’t have a good enough defense to shield him. They need Freddie to make the saves. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a team that just scores its way through four rounds. Freddie has yet to do it. I’m not betting on him to do it now.

Anyway, Michael Hutchinson is backing him up. There’s not enough time for all that I want… to say about him.

Defense: It’s new look, and if it doesn’t work everyone here is a free agent after the season except LGBTQ spokesman Morgan Rielly. You would think that would create some urgency, which could help. I’m bigger on Tyson Barrie than most, and provides someone who can get the puck up himself or to the forwards better than anyone they had last season save Rielly. Cody Ceci is already causing Alka-Seltzer sales to go up in Ontario, as everyone expects Mike Babcock to use him way too often. They’ll get a full season of Muzzin, who was surprisingly good last year after arriving from LA. But beyond those four it is ugly, which is probably where the Ceci fears are springing from. Martin Marincin, Justin Holl, The Other Schmaltz, Ben Harpur, you don’t want any of these idiots skating more than 10 minutes a night. Which might leave the top four exposed and exhausted by the time the games really count.

Forwards: If any unit can counteract what the defense can’t do, it’s this forward group. Everyone’s locked in now, so they don’t have that hanging over them. There’s still no team rolling out a better top six than this, with Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and whatever other jokers you want to pair with them. Nylander should rebound after getting a full training camp and having Marner take all the recent-signee pressure off of him. They’ve lost some depth in trading Nazem Kadri for Barrie, and Kadri did a lot more for this team than people realize.

There isn’t anyone around to take up that role, and you don’t want either of Tavares or Matthews to do it. Nick Shore? Nic Petan? Those are huge steps down from Kadri, who was a shutdown center who could also score a lot. Nobody is going to replace him on either side of that ledger, and the Leafs downfall might be either having some top line go off on them in the playoffs (again) or having to use Matthews to fight fire with fire and losing his production. It’s an issue.

It’s not much different on the wings. where only Andreas Johansson looks like a useful bottom-six piece. Jason Spezza is dead. They’ll be hunting depth via trade.

Prediction: With all the pieces locked in now, one wonders how much patience they’ll have under Mike Babcock again. He’s not a soft sort to play for, and now the Leafs have made their commitments. What happens when Marner and Matthews start rolling their eyes at Babs in January or December even? That’s one iceberg they’ll have to avoid, and it might help that Babs is going to have to play his top six a ton. But if Ceci ends up being a disaster, there’s not much anyone can do about the defense.

And there’s not much Babs can do about Andersen, either. There’s more than enough talent here than make a run…and there’s enough holes to eat it in the first round to any of Tampa or Boston or any surprise like Montreal or Florida as well. Whatever it ends up being, there’ll be far more noise than is warranted.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

 

Hockey

Gritty means clicks. Everyone knows this.

For the past seven years, the Flyers have been bouncing back and forth between a rebuild that never seems to get past the blueprint stage or a love affair with the #7 seed that always ends in a quick first-round exit that you have to be reminded happened in the first place. The Flyers don’t even generate nearly the amount of empty noise they used to, where they would get coverage and media love simply because it was a natural reflex from the past. Suddenly, the Flyers have become a team that’s just kind of there. And it looks like they’re going to be that again this year. Philadelphia never sinks into irrelevance in anything, simply due to the look-at-me obnoxious and yelling of any of their fanbases. But if any team can manage it, it just might be the Flyers. Let’s take a walk…

2018-2019

37-37-8  82 points (6th in Metro)

2.94 GF/G (18th)  3.41 GA/G (29th)

48.2 CF% (21st)  48.7 xGF% (18th)

17.1 PP% (23rd)  78.5 PK% (26th)

Goalies: If nothing else, the Flyers actually might have stability in net for the first time in a generation or six. Last year, the Flyers used eight goalies. Eight. Ocho. Acht. Huit. Their crease was almost literally a clown car, and definitely clown shoes. Things smoothed out when top prospect Carter Hart got the call, simply because he was a life-preserver in a rollicking sea of incompetence and silliness, and now he gets the con full time. And hopefully for the foreseeable future.

Hart put up a .917 while seeing almost 32 shots per game behind an porous defense, and he might have to do the same again. Still, at evens he was behind his expected SV% (.917 to .923), a difference that was only a touch better than Mike Smith‘s. If you’re in Mike Smith’s neighborhood on anything, baby you gotta move. But Hart did manage a .906 on the kill, even with the Flyers defensive problems, so that’s where they’ll hope roots grow out from. Clearly all the promise in the world, but life with young goalies can be treacherous. Remember they nearly chased Carey Price out of Montreal once upon a time, though in Montreal they chase just about everyone out of town in between drags of filterless cigarettes and a disdain for life.

Backing him up will be Brian Elliot, who’s been a backup for at least five years now but kept I Dream Of Genie’ing coaches and GMs into thinking he was a starter. Elliot has been pretty mediocre for three seasons now, but with a reduced workload and expectation, he probably can get the Flyers out of 20-25 starts. They’ll take it, considering what they’ve been through.

Defense: Clearly an issue last year as it feels like Shayne Gostisbehere has stalled out and to a lesser extent Ivan Provorov has too. Though Provorov is still only 22, and still needs re-signing as an RFA. The Flyers added Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun (who would have looked pretty all right here, but I digest) to smooth out things and provide an easier runway for their kids like Ghost Bear (if he’s a kid anymore), Provorov, Hagg, Sanheim, Morin, and Myers. Not all of them can play obviously, but all will probably get a look.

Ghost Bear had something of a strange year, struggling defensively and not totaling anywhere near the power play assists he had in the 60+ point season he had the year previous. His metrics were ok, though he gives up better chances than he creates, which might be a reason his name came up in trade rumors over the summer. That is if the Flyers were an organization that paid attention this kind of thing, not one that makes prospects fight to the death in a dark room to decide whom to draft.

Sanheim might be the real treasure here, as he put up the same points as Ghost Bear with glittering metrics and worse zone starts. Niskanen and Braun are clearly around to shield him, and with that sort of assistance this could be a real breakout season for him.

Forwards: The Flyers, in the most Flyers thing ever, traded for the negotiating rights to Captain Stairwell, then handed him $7M a year from here until Global Heat Death to watch him pile up 47-point seasons. The fascination with the younger and quite possibly dumber Hayes has always eluded this blog, though as a #2 or #3 center he probably doesn’t completely murder you.

The headliners are still Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, who will always pile up the points and the latter can still mark any opposing center out of the game (Toews only sees him twice a year and probably wants to murder him). Jakub Voracek will continue to bounce between the first and second lines and continue to pile up secondary assists, leaving it a mystery to what he actually does. As is their way, the Flyers are paying premium for James van Riemsdyk‘s decline.

What they need is a leap forward from any of Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, or Nolan Patrick (or Patrick Nolan, I’m not sure it matters), to lessen their dependence on the Garbage Bag Warrior. Konecny has taken a run at 50 points the past two seasons, and with just a nudge and better teammates he could probably get over 60. Though one or two of them might have to move to wing to accommodate Hayes. Konecny, like Provorov, still needs re-signing (we keep writing that. What a strange league).

There’s also Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Isaac Ratcliffe, all candidates to make the team out of camp though more than likely to start in Allentown (what a fate) and perhaps be midseason reinforcements. All of huge promise, and perhaps as soon as next season make the Flyers really dangerous.

Prediction: Niskanen and Braun aren’t dead yet, but are getting up there so depending on them for shutdown or top-pairing roles is a stretch. However, if they can provide shelter for Sanheim and Provorov, and Ghost Bear can find the scoring touch again he has flashed, suddenly this blue line looks pretty tasty. The forward corps looks short, though a leap from one of the kids and a contribution from one of the trio mentioned above and suddenly it might not, even with Claude Giroux definitely on the back nine of his career. They need a full season from Carter Hart, and the Philly crease has swallowed many a kid before and spit back out a smoldering husk of an indistinguishable form.

It’s a lot of ifs, but none are complete fantasy. As stated before, this is a funny division with no truly dominant teams and a few teams that could be just about anything. They would need a 10+ point improvement to make the playoffs, but that’s not asking for the moon given the conditions stated. They’re highly unlikely to grab one of the automatic spots, but fighting for a wildcard down to the season’s last is hardly beyond them.

But again, this is the Flyers. Logic and reason died here long ago, and all we’re left with is a surreal and vulgar landscape. Your guess is as good as mine.

Everything Else

We wrap up our team previews with perhaps the class of the Central Division. There is no forward group you can love more than the Jets’. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re skilled, and when Paul Maurice finally woke up from his neanderthal nap last season and ceased to have the Jets be the dumbest team in the league and focused on merely skating every team out of their building and into the cold and unyielding Manitoba night, the Jets took off. Didn’t hurt that they finally got some goaltending, as Connor Hellebuyck finally lived up to the billing.

Sadly for the Jets, even though I will argue they were a superior team by some distance than Vegas last year, their seven-game Last Man Standing with the Preds left them softened up for the Knights. They may have outplayed Vegas in four or all five of those games, but Fleury was simply too much. It’s a fate they’ll look to avoid this time around, though it’ll most likely be an even more formidable Sharks team waiting should they escape the torture dungeon of the Central Division.

But they can do it. Let’s do it one last time before we kick this pig for real.

2017-2018: 52-20-10 114 points 277 GF 218 GA  51.5 CF% 52.7 xGF%  8.5 SH% .925 SV%

Goalies: When your goalie last year is 25 and coming off a Vezina-finalist run, there’s little reason to change much. Hellebuyck will look to back up his imperious season of last, and there’s really no reason to think he can’t back it up. His pedigree has always suggested this is what he should be, and the only fear would be fatigue. 67 games isn’ the heaviest load you’ll see, along with 17 playoff starts. He’d made 58 and 56 appearances in the seasons before though, either all in the AHL or splitting time between the bus-league and the plane-league. So it really shouldn’t be too much for him. Obviously, a lot hinges on Hellebuyck, because you can’t go anywhere with bad goaltending. The Jets know, they tried for like five seasons. Still, they’re one of the few teams in the league who can sleep pretty easy about their goaltending.

Laurent Brossoit, which is not a dessert, is going to back him up. Brossoit flashed being a competent goalie at this level in Edmonton two years ago, but with a bit more work last year he was terrible. Then again, being Cam Talbot‘s backup leads to a lot of nights staring at the lights contemplating what existence really means. Clearly, Hellebuyck’s health is paramount.

Defense: If there’s one minor complaint I would have about the Jets, is that their defense just quite isn’t there. It may improve a bit because Jacob Trouba is going to be in fuck-you-someone-will-pay-me mode all year, as he’s in the last year of his deal and previous negotiations with the Jets have been cantankerous. He’ll take on the hard stuff as usual with Josh Morrissey. Which leaves Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot to get cherry-er starts and opponents, which is a reason why Buff racks up the points he does. And yet you’ll never convince me. I know what the points say. I know what the underlying numbers say. I’ll always think Buff is just dumb and lazy enough to burn you in your own zone, and the only hits he looks for is when someone significantly smaller (which is just about everyone, to be fair) isn’t looking. And he’ll run out of position to get them. Against a fast team in a series this could be a problem, and it was something of one against Vegas but not Nashville.

The third pairing is rounded out by Dimitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers. This is where Myers should always be and Kulikov seems to take more shit than he deserves. Hmmm, wonder why that could be? Certainly not because he’s a good Ontario bo….oh, right.

Clearly, it’s not a bad unit. It’s good, even. Trouba might enter Norris discussion this year, though that would take a leap. It’s just not San Jose’s or Nashville’s. And maybe that’s fine. It was sort of last year.

Forwards: Whatever deficiencies there are are clearly made up by this group. It’s got front-line scoring in Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and his bewildered face, and Kyle Connor hinted at being that last year as well. It’s got defensive solidity in Mathieu Perrault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and Brandon Tanev. Nikolai Ehlers is on the third line for fuck’s sake. Bryan Little has been underrated for so long. Jack Roslovic moves to center full-time. Kristian Vesalainen, their first-round pick last year who tore up the Finnish league at 18, joins the ranks now. It’s the best crop in the league. They’ll get you from everywhere. There’s not much more to say.

Outlook: Cup or bust, it’s that simple. As the game gets faster and teams move more and more away from asking their defensemen to do the pushing of the play, the Jets can get away with not having a blueblooded blue line. Because if they’re just getting the puck to these forwards as quickly as possible, they’re fine. More than fine. Sure, maybe some teams can throw out a top line better than the one the Jets have, though you can count them with Jason Pierre-Paul’s fingers. Maybe there are teams that can somewhat match the top six. But you can’t do that with the third line, much less the fourth. There’s just too much. Unless Hellebuyck backs up, you’ll probably find them in the West Final at worst again, But anything short of a parade on one of the three warm days Winnipeg has will be a failure.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Everything Else

Every season we hear that. And sometimes, I’m suckered into believing it. And I think this year more than most. And then I remember it’s the St. Louis Blues, and it can’t possibly be true. Maybe one day the laws of the universe will change, and we’ll all feel even more unmoored than we do now. But until that happens, the only structure we have that keeps us from unending madness is the rules we’ve always known. And one of those is that the Blues will always fuck it up. They will never get out of their own way. Until they do, we cannot reason anything else. Were we to, we would simply bend the world in a way it was not meant to go and the pillars of society and life would indeed crumble and all there would be is chaos and limitless abyss.

What’s dispiriting though is that the Blues this past summer showed the urgency that we ached for the Hawks to show. They knew they were weak down the middle, so in came Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak. Those were two players we wished the Hawks would make a run at. The Blues didn’t hang on to prospects that looked like they had over-ripened. So away went Tage Thompson and a couple high draft picks, because now is the time for the Blues. We stared at Dylan Sikura’s vacant gape on its way to Rockford. They treated missing the playoffs last year like an insult and something to be eradicated immediately and thoroughly. The Hawks signed Cam Ward and Brandon Manning. You see the problem here.

Anyway, let’s get in up to the elbow, which if you do in St. Louis leaves you with tuberculosis.

2017-2018: 44-32-6 94 points  226 GF 222 GA 51.7 CF% 51.4 xGF% 7.1 SH% .928 SV%

Goalies: And yet it doesn’t matter how you redo your bedroom or living room of your house if you keep introducing various insects and rodents and sharp weapons to your foundation. So here we are again with Jay Gallon in net. The Blues are so determined to make it work with him for the 24th year in a row that it’s gone beyond Tin Cup hitting his ball from the fairway instead of taking a drop. Except this might be the time the Blues run out of balls in the bag.

Jake Allen was bad last year. .906 SV% is bad. Carter Hutton was better. And yet it’s Carter Hutton who goes, just like any other goalie that’s dared to play alongside Allen. He can’t be moved. He’s a southern congressman at this point. No amount of incompetence or bewildering actions will ever remove him.

Allen has been above-average in exactly one of his now five NHL seasons. At this point the Blues must know what he is, which is not enough. It’s not that the physical tools aren’t there. They most certainly are. He’s big, he’s athletic. But he’s always going to do just enough to kill you. Shame they put in all this work to end up where they always do. Really is.

Anyway, backing him up this time around with certainly an eye on usurping him is Chad Johnson. Johnson was woeful in Buffalo last year but serviceable or more in Calgary the year before that and Buffalo again two years ago. Maybe Johnson is just non-threatening enough to get Allen to relax while being able to take 15-20 starts without throwing up all over everyone. I don’t know. But this looks to be Problem Area #1 again for St. Louis, who just seemingly never learn. This time it will be different.

Defense: I don’t know how many different ways we can phrase this for however many years, but the Blues defensive unit just isn’t as good as “experts” will tell you. Alex Pietrangelo somehow conned the world into thinking he’s a Norris-level defender–probably by being big, a decent skater, and Canadian–but that’s utter horseshit. He’s fine. He’s there against the best competition, but he doesn’t roll them over. He never has. He’s a rhythm guitarist miscast playing solos. And paring him with Joel “Assuredly Has Had A Bug Caught In His Ear Before” Edmundson isn’t going to change that.

Colton Parayko is the only puck-mover they have, and his game in his own zone is somewhere around DEFCON Dumbass. I still don’t know what it is Carl Gunnarsson does, and neither do they. Jay Bouwmeester is dead, has been dead, will continue to be dead, and the Blues will continue to play him more minutes until even the worms peaking out from his eye sockets ask to be left alone finally. Vinnie Dun (HEY GABBAGOOL! VINNE DUNN OVA’ HERE!) could be another puck-mover they need, but Mike Yeo apparently can’t escape the stench of Ken Hitchcock and still won’t trust him with more than 13 minutes per night.

It’s probably not as bad as we make out, but it’s certainly nowhere near great. Considering the crops of forwards one sees most nights in the Central, that’s an issue. This time it will be different.

Forwards: Ok, so the center-depth is greatly improved. Brayden Schenn was a steal from Philly, and now they’ve added Bozak and O’Reilly. Bozak really flourished behind Matthews and Kadri in Toronto, and here he’ll get to be behind ROR and Schenn. It’s really a swift move.

However, looking deeply at it now and the winger situation….ooooh boy. Vladimir Tarasenko will still score a ton, whether running with Schenn or O’ Reilly. Jaden Schwartz is still their most creative player. Fabbi Robbry or Robbry Fabbi is back from injury, providing more dash. But that’s just about it. They’re brought back David Perron, and they’re going to have a quizzical look on their face in January when he’s on the bottom six with 17 points and taking the most mystifyingly dumb penalties imaginable. Alex Steen was in need of hospice care at the end of last year and that’s not going to get better now. Patrick Maroon is here, which is just so St. Louis Blues I don’t think I can stand it. It’s a less than impressive group, so the centers and Tank are going to have to have premium years.

Outlook: Overall, they’re just a touch short of Nashville and Winnipeg. But they’re pretty much ahead of everyone else in the division, which sets them up to get thwacked by one of the aforementioned in the first round. Same as it ever was. The wingers don’t look like they provide enough, the defense is slowish and not all that skilled, and even if those things reverse there’s always Jay Gallon walking around with his gasoline can, a book of matches, and a vacant look in his eye. They made the right moves this summer. They just didn’t make enough of them.

This time it will be different…it was ever thus.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

Everything Else

It was all lined up for the Preds last year. Coming off their first Final appearance, and after a big trade that supposedly landed them the #2 center they’ve always needed (even though they don’t really have a #1), and a career-season out of Pekka Rinne at 35, this was their moment.

And they fluffed their lines.

They ran into a team that did what they did but better. They ran into a team with four genuine centers and two that could claim to be #1s. Rinne looked his age. Sure, it took to a Game 7, but the Preds only got to that by having to revert from their style and basically trap the Jets. It could only work for so long, because Pekka Rinne for his whole career save one playoff run has been just good enough to get you beat. And so it proved.

Oh, and the summer had yet another Predator proving to be nothing more than a shitbag, which of course they’ll welcome back with open arms because that’s what they do in Music City. AW HERE IN THE SOUTH WE THINK HITTIN’ YOUR WOMAN IS A SIGN OF LOVE. YOU YANKS JUST WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND WITH YOUR FANCY COMPASSION.

Anyway, the Preds are just going to roll it back, with essentially the same team and Rinne another year older. Funny thing though, the Jets haven’t gone anywhere, the Blues suddenly look a little spiky, and the Sharks await whoever survives this cage match. The Preds very well may have missed their boat.

2017-2018: 53-18-11 117 points  267 GF 211 GA  51.5 CF% 50.9 xGF% 8.1 SH% .935 SV%

Goalies: This could be the start of something big. And by “big” I mean a controversy. The Preds have seemingly wanted to hand the job to Juuse Saros for a while now. But they watched Rinne have a renaissance starting in the ’17 playoffs and all through last season. They can’t exactly just dislodge him due to policy.

And yet he’s turning 36 in a month. He has the Game 7 full-body dry heave during the Preds’ best chance for a Cup hanging over him. It won’t take much for their to be a whiff of a switch. They nearly did it two seasons ago before Rinne discovered Ponce De Leon’s secret.

Which in one sense is great for the Preds. Saros has been excellent whenever called upon, even though he’s small and small goalies really struggle in today’s league. If Rinne stumbles, their season won’t be torpedoed.

On the other hand, you’re talking about an organizational legend, the longest-tenured Pred by some distance, and a fan favorite. A team leader, and there’s no telling what kind of effect turning things over to Saros could have. This seems to be a team that has cohesion, but you’ve seen it rip teams apart before. It’s one fissure everyone has to keep an eye on.

Most likely, Rinne is just good enough during the season to keep these questions at bay. But in the spring if something should go haywire, it’ll take quite the tap-dance for Peter Laviolette to negotiate.

Defense: Well, they had the best defense in the league, so no reason to not return with it. Or they did until the Sharks traded for Erik Karlsson. But this is still the strength of the team. They added Dan Hamhuis again to fill out the third pairing, and even though he’s a million years old now he can probably take 12-15 minutes a night and do it well. It’s still the top four that’s the envy of most of the league.

It’s actually only middling defensively, as they give up an average amount of attempts and chances. But with Ellis, Josi, Subban, and Ekholm, they create far more than they surrender. You can’t find a team that has more players that get the team up the ice from the back themselves. Ellis is here for the full run this time, which will help them stay at the top of the division. Sure, they need some bailing out from their goalie at times, but they also keep the Preds on the right side of the ice enough.

Forwards: We’re the only ones who think this, and no matter how much we shout it from the rooftops no one seems to listen. When Ryan Johansen is not playing for a contract, he’s playing for a lava cake. As I said in the Preds’ eulogy, he had the same amount of points as Jonathan Toews last year and everyone tells me Toews is clinically dead. Mark Scheifele kicked his ass up and down the ice in that series last year, mostly because RyJo was still digesting the family size bag of M&Ms he ate at intermission. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue.

The Preds backed that up by acquiring Kyle Turris, whom reports suggest did play in last year’s playoffs. I’m not sure where there’s evidence of that. Maybe I need decoder glasses for it or something.

Turris and Johansen will do enough in the regular season to make you think the Preds are strong down the middle. And then they’ll run up against the Jets or Sharks or Blues, who actually have real center-depth, and the Preds will have a real damn problem.

Other than that, it’s still the same crop of quick forwards who never stop working and basically run most teams out of the building most nights. They’re probably looking for more from Kevin Fiala this term, who had something of a breakout with 23 goals last year. If they get it they’re more than fine. If they don’t, they’re just a touch short on scoring.

Outlook: Here’s another thing to watch with the Preds this year. Lavvy is almost certainly past his sell-by date. He wore out his act in Carolina and Philly well before this, and his intense ways can grind on players. If things go just a little sideways early in the season, they could pull the rip-chord on him. The goalie situation won’t help.

But other than those two maybes, there’s a lot more certainties with Nashville. One of the best blue lines in the league. Two good goalies. Maybe not the forward corps most people think, but certainly one good enough to cash in on the puck-movers they have at the back. They’ll be at the top of the division and conference again.

But there’s also no reason to think that an encounter with Winnipeg will go that much differently. If they survive that, there’s still San Jose, who won’t be nearly as tested in the Pacific, likely. It looks like it’ll be too much for Treat Boy and the gang to overcome.

 

Everything Else

As the season draws nigh, we land on the team in the Central Division that I become more and more convinced are the only ones the Hawks can actually catch. The Minnesota Wild will show up to make up the numbers, because that’s really all they do. Sure, there was that weird one a couple seasons back where they almost won the division, and then surrendered meekly in the playoffs.

And that’s all the Wild ever really do. The height of their accomplishment is that they almost did something. They like, almost beat the Hawks in 2014. They almost won the division. And they almost mattered anywhere beyond that.

This is a team that if it has a true, top-line player it’s either the pretty damn old Eric Staal or the permanently crocked Zach Parise. If it has a truly top-pairing d-man it’s the pretty damn old Ryan Suter. It will once again rely and Devan Dubnyk to bail them out of just about all the things they can’t do, as he barely clings on to the platform of top-echelon goalies. Again, he’s an almost. He’ll almost get you there. But he won’t. And they won’t.

2017-2018: 45-26-11 101 points  253 GF 232 GA  47.8 CF%  53.5 xGF%  8.1 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: You know the story here. Doobie Brother is going to be in net and he’s going to be better than you ever think he is, because we don’t associate him with the Prices and Holtbys of the world, perhaps just because he’s so damn goofy looking. But last year’s .918 SV% overall was something of a small step down for him, And over the past four seasons, only Price has a better SV% than he does. He’s a tick ahead of Corey Crawford in that span as well. He’s just that good, and without him the Wild would essentially be the Canucks.

He’ll be backed up by Alex Stalock again, who was just about serviceable last year. Stalock spent three seasons being woeful or being in the AHL before last year, and he’s certainly not anyone the Wild are going to want to have to ride if Dubs were to get hurt. But he’ll do a job. This whole fucking team is guys who’ll “do a job.” It’s why they don’t do anything.

Defense: Christ, is there a team with less turnover than this bunch always seems to have? Dumba, Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon. It’s been that way for seemingly 89 years. And none of these guys are bad, and in fact all are quite good. Even if the Wild have been trying to trade Brodin for three seasons. Suter has aged better than his contemporary Duncan Keith because his game is more efficient. There’s no wasted movement. Dumba put up 50 points last year and I bet you didn’t know that. Spurgeon has been one of the best puck-movers and possession d-men in the league for years even though he’s not getting on any roller coaster. As far as top fours go, there are plenty of teams doing way worse than this (leading off with the one in town).

The third-pairing is looks to be Greg Pateryn, who is a broken toilet, and rent-a-stiff Nick Seeler. There’s a couple kids in the AHL in Menell and Belpido who could come up somewhere during the season to bolster this, but in the meantime they’ll get by with the top four they have.

Forwards: Again, you know this crew. Eric Staal somehow came up with 42 goals last year, though somehow I doubt he’ll shoot 17% again. As he hadn’t scored more than 30 since 2011 before that, you can look for 25-28 goals again. And where the Wild will make up the difference, I can’t tell you. Mikael Granlund is still here to not be a center and a top line winger with a whole lot of “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” Jason Zucker got rich and will still score 10 goals annoying goals against the Hawks, and that’s it. His 33 goals last year aren’t the anomaly that Staal’s totals were, because he’d scored at that rate before. But you see him and think, “If he was on the second line, that team would be good. But he isn’t, and they’re not.” Zach Parise is here for 50 games and then he’ll have some injury that will cause you to have to take a moment to yourself while kneeling. Charlie Coyle is a synonym for disappointment. Mikko Koivu needs his food turned into mush. Nino Neiderreiter will be undervalued by everyone, including his coach. “Joel Eriksson Ek” is something you say while booting. Marcus Foligno is always a sign that your roster needs work.

We have written this preview for them for like four straight seasons. I’m just fucking cutting and pasting next year, assuming the Hawks haven’t caused me to turn the lyrics of “High Speed Dirt” into a performance art piece.

Outlook: The thing about the Wild is that the roster isn’t anywhere near bad enough to be bad. That would at least be interesting. They’re a team full of the middle skater from the Nintendo hockey game. Just fast enough to not get killed, but not skilled enough to surge. Dubnyk gets them to the playoff platform if he performs. If he falls off or gets hurt, this is the definition of an 88-point team.

But they’re not going to do anything memorable. They’re not anywhere near the Jets or Preds. They’re nowhere near bottoming out to get a top pick to actually get a player you’d recognize one day. They’re in that limbo-hell that teams in other sports actively try and avoid (except for the Bulls). They’re not gong to win anything, they’re not going to rebuild. They’re as bland as the state they come from. Seriously, how did that place produce Prince? That seems like a crime.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Everything Else

Everything went just about pear-shaped as it could for the Calgary Flames last year. Coming off a playoff berth and having two supreme lines and maybe the best blue line in the conference, the Flames watched Mike Smith be hurt and bad, every other goalie be terrible, every d-man who wasn’t playing with Dougie Hamilton or Mark Giordano turn into baby food, and simply had no scoring beyond their top six.

So they decided to rectify that by trading away Dougie Hamilton, adding a forward the forward-starved Canes didn’t want while at the same time hiring their coach who couldn’t find the playoffs with a GPS and a sherpa, and doubling-down on Mike Smith with a coach famous for a system that makes it impossible on a goalie. It’s…a choice.

2017-2018: 37-35-10 84 points  218 GF 248 GA 53.4 CF% 52.6 xGF%  6.7 SH% .919 SV%

Goalies: Do you think going back to a starting goalie who is 35 and hasn’t been anything above league average in seven years is a good idea? No, you don’t, because you didn’t put paint chips in your coffee this morning. Well, that puts you ahead of the Flames, though paint chips in coffee is an Alberta tradition BECAUSE IT’S RUGGED AND GRINDY AND GRAB YOURSELF AND SNORT.

It’s not that Mike Smith was a disaster. His .916 overall and .923 at evens are almost exactly on the average line. It’s just nothing more than that, and he’s unlikely to improve on that at his age and with a defense shorn of Dougie Hamilton, however good Noah Hanafin might be. More worryingly for the Flames is that Smith was absolute toast in February and March last year, when he was healthy which wasn’t a lot, which is when they would have liked to be moving for a playoff spot and instead got the ol’ mud in the tires. Smith went .883 in 13 starts after Feb. 1st, which is definitely getting put in the bin marked, “Used Diapers.” And he’s also not going to get more durable now that he’s closer to 40 than 30.

Backing him up is David Rittich, which is not the name of an antagonist in an action movie who used to be a green beret but has now gone rogue even though it definitely should be. He was bad last year, but has one decent season in the AHL before that. Let’s just say the Flames have way too many eggs in the very achy-breaky Mike Smith basket.

Defense: It was a weird season for the Flames’ blue line. Before the season, most in the know thought that T.J. Brodie was a down-ballot Norris candidate every season. Then he spent last season following Travis Hamonic around with a bag or two, and that illusion has been scrapped.

If Dougie and Giordano weren’t on the ice, the Flames got slaughtered. Hamonic was a complete disaster, for reasons no one has really been able to identify. And now Dougie is gone, which means Brodie gets to go back playing with Giordano which apparently masked all of his problems, and the rest can figure it out. But if neither Hamilton nor Brodie could make Hamonic anything other than a toxic waste site, what chance does Hanafin have? Hanfin comes from getting some hammock-y (get it?) shifts in Carolina as Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin did the heavy lifting there. He’ll get the same treatment at The Saddledome, but it’s a major step down from Justin Faulk to Hamonic.

Rounding out the third-pairing is Michael Stone and Brett Kulak. They keep telling me Stone is good for something. I keep waiting. We both keep not getting what we want. The cosmic ballet goes on. There are two kids who could make a splash in Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson. They had better hope so. If one or both do then the Flames could have a real mighty look on the blue line. If they don’t it’s the top pairing and duck.

Forwards: The Flames picked up Elias Lindholm in a bid to have anything beyond their top six. Now if you’ll excuse me for a second…

WHO WANTS TO WALK WITH ELIAS?!!!

Thank you. Lindholm is a pretty nifty little player, as long as you don’t ask him to do too much. Slotting in behind Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund seems just about perfect for him. He put up 45 points in Raleigh last year over-slotted on their top six. He might not have the talent around him with Derek Ryan and and whoever else, but it might work as well.

And it might be Michael Frolik, as the Flames just might break up the 3M line, at least to start. That line was simply a silly-successful unit, as it took the dungeon shifts in both zone and competition and crushed whatever was out against them. The Flames signed James Neal to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan, and even though I think Neal is massively overrated and an ass-rash he’d have to go out of his way to not score with those two. Michael Ferland managed it and he’s basically a thumb.

Austin Czarnik seems to be a player who could carve out a role after being a point-per-game in the AHL for a few years in the Bruins’ system. But he’s a high-motor, try hard guy and the Flames need less of those. Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski seemed destined to anchor the fourth line.

Outlook: The Flames are lucky that they’re in such a crap division. If Hamonic isn’t doing performative dance to represent Three Mile Island again, and one of those young kids pop, they have the best blue line in the division, non-Sharks category. If Lindholm can provide a little more spark on the bottom six and not make the Flames so top-heavy, they have more depth than most.

We’ve always liked Bill Peters around these parts, and secretly suspect he’s who Stan Bowman wanted to coach the Hawks a while ago if possible. His struggles in Carolina were pinned on goaltending. But after a few years it started to look like he wasn’t helping his goalies out much with his d-men shotgunning all over the ice and a talent-short crop of forwards.

Well, Mike Smith isn’t going to bail him out. He’s got more talent at forward than he ever had with the Canes here, but the defense is no better, and probably worse, than the one he had in Raleigh. If his possession-heavy ways can result in more goals with the Flames than it did with the Canes, who had a massive finish-deficiency, they can eye a wild card spot. If it doesn’t, they’ll be in the abyss again.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Everything Else

Longtime guys on this blog will know that there really isn’t a team I hate more than the Anaheim Ducks. Their team is chockfull of shit gibbons and deutsche banks and it’s being watched by a bunch of buzzards and mouth-breathing giblets in the stands. And the whole area really could go away and I doubt anyone would miss it. It’s the most hellish suburbia one can imagine, and if you actually met a Lucille Bluth in real life you’d firebomb her house within seven minutes. I’ve met a real life Gob Bluth in Orange County, because everyone there is one, and believe me it wasn’t funny.

So you know I’d love to sit here and spend 800-10000 words telling you how much the Anaheim Ducks will suck. Sadly, I’m not going to be able to do that. Let’s get through this together.

Anaheim Ducks

’16-’17 Record: 46-23-13  105 points (1st in Pacific, lost to NSH in conference final)

Team Stats 5v5: 49.6 CF% (19th)  50.5 SF% (13th)  50.9 SCF% (11th)  7.7 SH% (15th)  .930 SV% (5th)

Special Teams: 18.7 PP% (17th)  84.7 PK% (4th)