A WAY Too Early Playoff Projection – 2017-2018

To be honest, I’m just bored waiting for hockey season to finally start again. What better way to pass the time than making longshot projections. There should be a few changes to who makes the playoffs this upcoming season, let’s see how close I can get to what really happens this season.

Eastern Conference

Let’s start with how I see the Eastern Conference playing out. Here’s who I have making it, in no particular order, and a quick hit on why:

Returning Teams:

Pittsburgh Penguins – The defending Champs are a lock to be near the top of the standings again. There are some people predicting a three-peat, which I think is a bit of a stretch, but they should be in contention at the very least.

Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price will have his work cut-out for him again this year, as the blueline takes a big hit in my opinion. They added some much needed scoring with Drouin, but still didn’t fix for me to consider them a contender for the Cup at this point. They should still make the postseason, but likely another early exit.

Washington Capitals – The Caps are poised to take a step-back this year, but not far enough to drop them out of the playoffs. Ovechkin is still a goal scoring force, but has slowed in recent years. Can Kuznetsov take that next step? Is Oshie really as good as he was last year? They also lost both Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt this offseason on the backend, but with Braden Holtby arguably the best goalie in the past two seasons, they should be fine.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs took a major step forward, with big seasons from their rookies, and great seasons from their veterans. They upgraded on forward this year adding Patrick Marleau, and you can definitely put Ron Hainsey as an upgrade over both Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak. They added some size to the backend in Hainsey, something they lacked big time this past season. They should compete for a top spot in the East this year.

Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets had a better year than most expected, and they’ll likely take a step-back this year. They traded Brandon Saad and brought in Artemi Panarin, which is an upgrade in scoring for them. They’re still a young team, but should find a way to make the playoffs.

Boston Bruins – The Bruins, in my opinion, are a bubble team. Their defense corps is weaker than it’s been in years, and while they still have Rask to man the crease, and the likes of Marchand and Bergeron up front, they’ll be in a battle all year to make the playoffs.

Teams Jumping In:

Tampa Bay Lightning – No one would have predicted Tampa to miss the playoffs last year, but with the amount of injuries they suffered, it wasn’t a surprise. The two question marks going into this season for Tampa are the health of Stamkos, and is Vasilevksiy truly a number 1 netminder. They’re built deeper than almost any other team in the East, and should find their way back into the playoffs this year.

Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes are built deeper on the blueline than maybe every other team, save maybe Nashville. They have a good group of young forwards, and should continue to improve next year. The biggest question for Carolina is goaltending, and while the acquisition of Scott Darling helps, is it enough? Time will tell.

Falling Out:

Ottawa Senators – For Sens fans, they’ll argue “We were one game away from the Cup finals last year!”, but that was a big over-achievement for the Sens. They lost Methot on the backend, and while rookie Thomas Chabot should see a lot of ice time, they don’t have a deep enough group on the backend to push their way back into the playoffs. Up front, they lack goal scoring more than most teams going into next season. They’ll be on the bubble, but likely on the outside looking in.

New York Rangers – I picked the Rangers to fall out of the playoffs last year, and they ended up winning their first round matchup against Montreal. Signing Shattenkirk will help, but losing Stepan down the middle will also hurt. I think it’s about time King Hank starts to show decline, and if that does happen, the Rangers are screwed.

Western Conference

Not as much movement in the West, a lot of teams remain strong, while some didn’t do enough to change their fortunes. Here’s who I have making it, in no particular order:

Retuning Teams:

Chicago Blackhawks – The Hawks are a perennial powerhouse, and should continue to make the playoffs. Losing Hjalmarsson will hurt them defensively, and they’re likely to drop down the standings a bit. They added good depth scoring in Patrick Sharp, while shipping out Kane’s bestfriend and linemate Panarin to bring Brandon Saad back in. Losing Hossa for the season will hurt them as well, but not enough to make them fall out of the playoffs.

Nashville Predators – Last year’s runner-ups are almost as sure of a pick as any team at this point, stacked with the best blueline in the NHL. Adding Scott Hartnell and Nick Bonino up front helps improve their depth scoring as well. Nashville will continue to be one of the better rounded teams in the NHL today.

Minnesota Wild – The Wild had a big season from Eric Staal and Mikael Grandlund, as well as another good season from Devan Dubnyk. They added Marcus Foligno, which improves their bottom 6 forward group, and should have a full season from Eriksson-Ek, which is a big bonus. The Wild should be a lock to make it again next year.

San Jose Sharks – The Sharks were a toss-up for me this year. They lost Marleau and his 27 goals, which I think impacts them more than they think it will. How much does Jumbo have left in the tank? Can he still be the number 1 centre they need? We shall see, but they’re a team I’d keep an eye on early in the season.

St. Louis Blues – The Blues made some good additions this offseason, adding Brayden Schenn into their top six, as well as Beau Bennett as a good depth addition. Jake Allen proved he can be the goalie they need, and their blueline didn’t look any less formidable after removing Shattenkirk at the deadline. The Blues have a good shot at coming out of the West.

Edmonton Oilers – McDavid will continue to carry this team forward, backed-up by the likes of Leon Draisaitl and Cam Talbot. This team still is not deep enough to make a serious run, and their blueline isn’t built like a champion by any means. If McDavid happens to get injured for a long period of time, I can’t see this team making the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks – The Ducks have a great blueline, and still have a decent forward corps. The question mark for them resides in goal, as Gibson has never been able to stay healthy. They brought in Ryan Miller, but he’s nothing more than a backup at this point in his career. They should still be able to push their way in, but it will be a battle.

 Teams Jumping In:

Dallas Stars – Losing Patrick Sharp doesn’t help Dallas, but adding in Martin Hanzal, Marc Methot, Alexander Radulov and most of all Ben Bishop pushed them further up the standings than anyone else going into next season. Their top-9 forward group is great, and adding in Methot gives them more stability on the backend as well. Look for the Stars to be one of the better teams this year in the West.

 Falling Out:

Calgary Flames – Mike Smith is hardly an upgrade in goal, which was a big issue for the Flames for most of last year. They’re still not good enough up front to be considered a lock for the playoffs, but they did upgrade their backend with Travis Hamonic. Adding someone like Jaromir Jagr would help their biggest need, so if they can add some additional scoring, they could make the push.

 

There are a few bubble teams in each Conference that could push their way into the playoff picture and should be in the fight to the bitter end. In the East I could see Buffalo, both New York teams, and even Philadelphia making a push. In the West, there are less teams I can see genuinely making an impact. Winnipeg could improve enough to stay in the hunt all year, but past them, other than Calgary I don’t see any other team with a legitimate shot at making a big enough impact.

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Drafting Skills: Calgary Flames

Recent Draft History – Evaluating the first 3 rounds of the last 5 Drafts for each team. I’ve left out 2016, as it’s way too early to tell on 95% of the picks. Instead, this will be examining drafts from 2011 to 2015.

Calgary Flames

2011 NHL Entry Draft

Round 1 – Sven Baertschi (LW) 13th overall – He never materialized into an NHL star, or even a top-6 forward for that matter. He struggled to find top-6 minutes on one of the worst teams in the league in Vancouver. Brutal pick by the Flames, with much better

Round 2 – Markus Granlund (C) 45th overall – Calgary traded their own 2nd round pick (used on Brandon Saad), and received this one in a different trade from the Rangers in an exchange of prospects and Tim Erixon going to the Rangers. He was traded out of Calgary to Vancouver, where he’s had better luck, but is likely a 3rd line centre at best. Another weak pick, mind you Calgary would have been better off keeping him in the fold, as he’s better than some of their depth centres.

Round 2 – Tyler Wotherspoon (D) 57th overall – Received this from the Rangers in the same trade as above. Wotherspoon is barely an NHL depth d-man, with rare call-ups throughout his career. The worst part, is Nikita Kucherov was taken right after him… big miss for the Flames.

Round 3 – Pick was traded to Edmonton for Steve Staios. Staois was at the tail end of his career, and wasn’t very effective in his parts of 2 seasons there, being injured most of the time. The Flames would have been better to stay away here, and add another prospect.

Note: Johnny Gaudreau in the 4th round. He’s the only true bright spot in this draft for the Flames, and is easily their current best player. Top 5 winger in the game today, nicknamed ‘Johnny Hockey’, solid steal in the 4th round.

2012 NHL Entry Draft

Round 1 – Mark Jankowski (C) 21st overall – Jankowski has played in exactly 1 NHL game, but had a good year at the AHL level with 56 points in 64 games. It’s now or never for him however, as he’ll have a chance to play his way onto the team at camp next year. The Flames need him in their lineup, and as a former first round pick, he needs to be effective. Olli Maatta was taken right after him, and would have been a much better selection.

Round 2 – Patrick Sieloff (D) 42nd overall – Another miss by Calgary, as he played the season in the AHL for Ottawa’s farm team, after being traded for Alex Chiasson. Chiasson wasn’t much better, with all of 24 points in 81 NHL games.

Round 3 – Jon Gillies (G) 75th overall – It’s believe Gillies is the goalie of the future in Calgary, but they just traded for Mike Smith, so it’s likely another year or more before he gets a shot. Meanwhile, two-time Cup champion goaltender Matt Murray was taken 8 picks later.

2013 NHL Entry Draft

Round 1 – Sean Monahan (C) 6th overall – Monahan is one of the lone bright-spots of this list, as he’s developed into a true #1 centre for Calgary. He has great chemistry with Johnny Hockey, and hit the 300+ games played mark this year. Great pick here by Calgary.

Round 1 – Emile Poirier (LW) 22nd overall – Received from St. Louis along with Reto Berra, and another prospect for Jay Bouwmeester. Awful trade for Calgary, and awful pick to boot. Poirier had 17 points in 43 AHL games this year, which is brutal. The Capitals picked Andre Burakovsky with the next pick, who is 4 games shy of 200 played. Big miss by Calgary.

Round 1 – Morgan Klimchuk (LW) 28th overall – Received from Pittsburgh for Jarome Iginla. This was a deal that had to be done, as Iginla was sent out in hopes of getting him a Cup. The Flames missed again in round 1 here, as they really had a chance to build a great team with 3 picks in round 1. Klimchuk hasn’t played an NHL game yet, and scored only 43 points in 66 AHL games this year. Not what you expect from a 1st rounder, 4 years after being drafted.

Round 2 – Pick was traded to Montreal with Rene Bourque and Patrick Holland for Michael Cammalleri, Kari Ramo and a 2012 5th round pick. Good trade for Calgary, as Cammalleri was great for them in his short time there.

Round 3 – Keegan Kanzig (D) 67th overall – Surprise, another miss. He played this year in the ECHL, and had 5 points in 40 games. Not good numbers, not promising at all.

2014 NHL Entry Draft

Round 1 – Sam Bennett (C) 4th overall – While Bennett has played a lot of NHL games, I still consider this a bad pick by Calgary. William Nylander was available, as was David Pastrnak, Dylan Larkin, and so many more that are better players today.

Round 2 – Mason McDonald (G) 34th overall – Didn’t put up great numbers in the ECHL in his first year as a pro, but will have plenty of time to grow his game with Mike Smith recently being brought in. It’s always a good bet to take a goalie in the middle rounds, as they take a while to develop and Calgary has been searching for a true #1 for a while now.

Round 2 – Hunter Smith (RW) 54th overall – Received from Colorado for Reto Berra. Doesn’t look like a future NHLer, which is alright when you look at the trade, as Berra couldn’t cut it either. The Ducks took Brandon Montour with the following pick, who looks like a promising young defender, and would have been a much better pick.

Round 3 – Brandon Hickey (D) 64th overall – Hickey was traded to Arizona with Chad Johnson for Mike Smith, which is a strange move as Smith is 35 years old. The Flames are not ready to push for a Cup, so this move makes no sense to me. Hickey is coming off a good 3rd year NCAA season, another reason why I wouldn’t move him for an aging goaltender.

2015 NHL Entry Draft

Round 1 – Pick was traded with others to Boston for Dougie Hamilton, and the pick turned into Zach Senyshyn. While Senyshyn shows great upside, Hamilton is top-pairing D-man on Calgary, and one they needed. I think this trade benefited both sides.

Round 2 – Rasmus Andersson (D) 53rd overall – Received from Vancouver for Sven Baertschi. Andersson had a good year at the AHL level, and got the call for 1 game this year. Good signs that he’s close to being considered for an NHL spot, something which Calgary needs, as their prospect pool doesn’t run very deep.

Round 2 – Oliver Kylington (D) 60th overall – Great season in the AHL, and looks like he’s ready for the NHL level. Should push for a spot on the blueline full-time next year, great pick to close out round 2 for Calgary.

Round 3 – Pick was traded to Arizona for their pick used on Kylington, as Calgary had traded their second as well to Boston for Dougie Hamilton.

Overall, the Flames have been bad at drafting quality players. They’ve hit on a couple, but missed on so many. They had a great chance at the 2013 draft to really build their team, and look more and more like they failed. They’ve got to hope to be better soon, as their core is hitting their mid-20’s shortly.

Sources: www.hockeydb.com ; http://www.prosportstransactions.com/hockey/DraftTrades/Years/index.htm

2017 NHL Playoffs Predictions – Round 1

Cup 2017

Let’s take a stab at predicting round 1 of the 2017 NHL Playoffs

Eastern Conference

(1) Washington Capitals vs (WC2) Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto snuck into the playoffs in the second last game of the season and are set to take on Goliath. Can they play the role of David? I don’t think so. Washington is battle tested and hungry. Many have picked them to win the Cup in the past few seasons and they always seem to falter on the big stage. Will this be their year? They have possible the strongest team they’ve had yet. They will be too much to handle for the Leafs d-core, which is the weakest of all 16 playoff teams. I believe Toronto will steal at least one game, especially if they have a healthy Frederik Andersen. Auston Matthews and co will do their best to play the role of spoilers, and stranger things have happened. If Andersen gets hot, Toronto has a powerful offense, which has made up for their weak d-core most of the season.

Series Result: Capitals in 5 games

(2) Ottawa Senators vs (3) Boston Bruins

Boston comes into the playoffs playing extremely good hockey. Ottawa limps into the playoffs. Is that enough to decide the series? No, but Ottawa will be in serious trouble with the red-hot Bruins. The big/mean Bruins will be handful for the Senators, who have been dealing with multiple injuries on their backend over the past couple of weeks. The big matchup to watch will be Patrice Bergeron and Erik Karlsson. Only 3 other defensemen log more minutes than Karlsson, and surely Bergeron can’t play upwards of 26 minutes each game. If Karlsson is healthy, he could be the deciding factor in this series. I still think the Bruins will be too much for Ottawa to handle.

Series Result:  Bruins in 6 games

(1) Montreal Canadiens vs (WC1) New York Rangers

This was a tough one for me to pick ending so early, as the Rangers have been a powerhouse on the road this year. That being said, Montreal has been the better team all year. Carey Price has been playing well, and looks to carry the team again. Radulov has provided some extra offense for the Habs, and even with the Rangers high-powered offense they have to be considered heavy favourites. King Hank has been struggling lately to say the least. In his 6 starts since coming back from injury, he’s gone 1-3-2 with a combined SV% of just 0.886. They’ll need Lundqvist to be a lot better than that if they hope to win this series.

Series Result: Canadiens in 6

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (3) Columbus Blue Jackets

There aren’t many players who get under Sidney Crosby’s skin more than Brandon Dubinsky, and you better believe he’ll be a thorn in Crosby’s side all series. The Jackets surprised everyone this season, they were a bubble team for a lot of people, and ended up 4th in the entire league in points. They draw the unfortunate luck of playing the defending champs in the first round. Crosby looks to have taken his game to another level this year, which looks like disaster for Columbus. I feel their luck will run out early in the first round.

Series Result: Penguins in 5

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs (WC2) Nashville Predators

A lot of people are picking the Hawks to win the Cup, or at the very least come out of the West. They draw a tough matchup in the Nashville Predators in round 1. This is one series that could change the entire results of the playoffs. Chicago has that winning pedigree, and stars like Kane and Toews who live for these big game moments. Nashville doesn’t have nearly the star power up front, but they sure do on D. PK Subban, Roman Josi , and company will look to shut down the Hawks top 2 lines, and hope to get continued goal scoring from Filip Forsberg. Can they upset Chicago? Absolutely.

Series Result: Predators in 7

(2) Minnesota Wild vs (3) St. Louis Blues

I’ve picked the Blues in each of the past 2 seasons to win the Cup, and have come up empty. I truly believe this team has what it takes to make a run. They have a tough test in the first round in the Minnesota Wild. Many view the Wild as a defensive team, however only the Penguins scored more goals than the Wild in the regular season. Couple that with the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and friends on D, and Devan Dubnyk in net? This is a Stanley Cup team if there is one. They are built with both veterans and youngsters. They are built deep. The Blues have a great team themselves, led by one of the best pure goal scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko, and they will give the Wild a tough fight – I just don’t think it will be enough.

Series Result: Wild in 7

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs (WC1) Calgary Flames

Another interesting matchup, with the younger Flames taking on the seasoned Ducks. Both have great goaltending, which neither can really take the advantage from. The Flames have struggled at times this year, while Anaheim has remained consistent, despite injuries to John Gibson. They’re battle-tested in the playoffs, whereas the majority of the Flames core are not as experienced. They matchup well in terms of offense, but the Ducks have one of the deepest d-cores in the league today. They will have their hands full with Johnny Hockey, but I like their chances of shutting down the Flames big line.

Series Result:  Ducks in 6

(2) Edmonton Oilers vs (3) San Jose Sharks

Connor McDavid is arguably the best (second in my opinion) player in the world today. That being said, he hasn’t yet experienced playoff hockey at this level. His first matchup will likely be dealing with the brute that is Brent Burns. He’ll have his moments, but Burns has shut-down the best of them. He is a beast, and will impose his will as he pleases. The Sharks are hungry to avenge their Stanley Cup loss last season, and the team is too experienced to get bounced in round 1. The Oilers have some toughness of their own in Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon to name a couple, but they aren’t deep enough to fully challenge the Sharks. This will be a good experience for the young Oilers, but the Sharks are the favourite here in my eyes.

Series Result: Sharks in 6 games