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NHL Preview: Pacific Division

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to part four of the flawless 2014 NHL preview. We end our divisional looks with the Pacific Division. Who’s new to the West? What playoff hopes are there? Well, it is a surprisingly strange place. Some teams have a lot of turnover, others are bad, some stayed exactly the same.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

How will things shake out in the Canafornian division? Lets start at the bottom last year…

Edmonton Oilers
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Needs: Second and third line centers, actual depth players, actual defenceman, suitable team system
In: Benoit Pouliot, Nikita Nikitin, Teddy Purcell, Mark Fayne, Leon Draisaitl
Out: Sam Gagner

The team: is the best the Oiler’s have had in a while. Except at center where they employ two NHLers, a rookie and an AHL stud.

Pouliot and Purcell provide two good new wings. Pouliot is one of the best possession wingers in the NHL and Purcell has been a good second line and power play producer for most of his NHL career. The first line will be good considering Taylor Hall is the best left winger in the NHL.

Out are the buckets of #8 and #9 defenceman expected to masquerade as competent NHL players. In are Fayne and Nikitin who should be able to competently fill out the defence to at least have 6 NHL players on it. Fayne could be a steal or another Andrew Ference.

The goaltending should at least be league average this season and could provide the team with the best goaltending they’ve had since the days of Dwayne Roloson. That in itself will bring a few extra wins.

The biggest question mark is probably behind the bench with coach Dallas Eakins. He needs to find the right situations to get the most out of his players. Something he hasn’t nailed across the roster yet.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
Getting better but that center ice is paper thin now, let alone once Draisaitl or Mark Arcobello blow out a shoulder to become a true Oiler.

Calgary Flames
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Needs: Not laughably terrible depth wingers and defenceman, Starting goaltender
In: Mason Raymond, Brandon Bollig, Devin Setoguchi, Deryk Engelland, Jonas Hiller
Out: Michael Cammalleri, Shane O’Brien

The team: They Flames boast a handful of really good players, some regular good players and a bunch of terrible players.

The good players like Michael Backlund, Jiri Hudler, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are excellent. Players like Hiller, Raymond, Sean Monahan, Kris Russell, Lance Bouma, Dennis Wideman and Matt Stajan are perfectly fine NHLers.

But the rest of the roster boasts a whole lot of not good. Setoguchi might be able to reclaim some form, but players like Bollig, Engelland, David Jones, Brian McGrattan and Ladislav Smid are straight garbage. You can’t win in the NHL without actual depth, and bad players aren’t depth.

Jonas Hiller is a pretty good goaltender and is certainly providing an upgrade to last season.

On the bright side, Backlund, Brodie and Giordano are truly excellent players and will be able to push wins out almost by themselves. The team will probably win a few games just on sheer effort alone.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
You can’t punch pucks into the net no matter how well Bob Hartley coaches and deploys this group of players.

Vancouver Canucks

Needs: 1B goaltender, two top-six forwards, top players to regain form
In: Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Ryan Miller, Luca Sbisa, Linden Vey, Willie Desjardins (coach)
Out: Ryan Kesler, Jason Garrison, David Booth, Mike Santorelli, John Tortorella (coach)

The team: The Canucks still aren’t a bad team, but they aren’t a great team anymore. They just about had everything go wrong that was possible last year.

You have to wonder if Vancouver ownership believes that the best way to sell tickets is to always have goaltending drama. First, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Second, Luongo and Eddie Lack. Now, Lack and Miller. A lot of people are skeptical of Miller’s abilities and Lack showed a lot of promise last season. Recipe for drama.

The defence still looks to have a real solid top-four, assuming Alex Edler doesn’t spontaneously combust or pretty well does anything but what he did last year. Chris Tanev is emerging as one of the better unknown defenceman in the NHL.

The first line looks fine with the Sedins flanked by Vrbata. The third and fourth lines look to be in good shape as well. But the second line is a mess. It appears to be Alex Burrows, Bonino and Zack Kassian. It is mainly that middle position occupied by Bonino that is cause for concern. The wingers are okay, but Bonino was a bottom sixer until a season of powerplay time with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Colour me unconvinced he’s got what it takes.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They might be able to do it, and there is some uncertainty in Anaheim as well as some of the teams that may compete for a wild card. They may have a young kid or two surprise. Ultimately, the offence isn’t enough.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

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NHL 2014 Preview: Central Division

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,  welcome to part three of the flawless 2014 NHL preview. We find ourselves in the Central Division today. Who’s new to the mid-West? Who has playoff hopes? What about Stanley Cup chances? This is by far the best conference in hockey after all the real teams in the division went and made themselves better.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

Holy moly is Conference III ever the best conference in hockey.

Winnipeg Jets
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Needs: Staring goaltender, bottom-six depth players
In: Mathieu Perrault, T.J. Galiardi
Out: Olli Jokinen, Al Montoya, Devin Setoguchi

The team: This team is so mediocre its bad.

The forwards have potential. Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele could be something special together one day, but after that it is only five players deep: Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little for offence and Michael Frolik and Mathieu Perrault as quality depth players.

The rest of the forwards are pretty embarrassing though. Galiardi could be a decent depth forward.

The defence actually isn’t that terrible but it depends where Byfuglien plays. If he’s on defence, he’s a difference maker and they have a great top four. If he isn’t on D then its a little thin. Jacob Trouba and Tobias Enstrom are studs.

The goaltending is awful though. Just abhorrent. Ondrej Pavelec is an embarrassment to the city of Winnipeg and anyone who likes hockey. He single-handed cost the Jets the playoffs every season.

Will they make the playoffs? Not a chance.
They’re in a deep division and an equally deep conference. They’d need a godsend of a goaltending performance to make the playoffs. Almost by default they’ll find themselves in the McEichel sweepstakes.

Nashville Predators
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Needs: First line center, first line winger, second pairing defenceman
In: Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribiero, James Neal, Peter Laviolette (coach)
Out: Patrick Hornquist, Nick Spaling, Michael Del Zotto, Mike Fisher (injury), Barry Trotz (coach)

The team: How many NHL teams do you know that have nine centers? Because the Predators do, and you don’t go anywhere in this league without quality centermen. And they have some skill now with Roy, Ribiero and Jokinen.

Neal gives them a talented finisher on the wing. Filip Forsberg will likely make the team in a scoring role. The top six in Nashville might actually be able to reliably score for a change.

The defence can’t be bad. It has Shea Weber. Roman Josi is a solid top four option and Seth Jones is dripping in potential. The d-core is rounded out nicely  by Mattias Ekholm in the remaining minute eating spots.

A new coach and a new system is going to be something to pay attention to in Nashville. After the adjustment period, a lot of guys could have some serious offensive numbers and you have to assume they’re breakout will be less garbage.

A full season of Pekka Rinne is a full season of Vezina goaltending.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’ve got the deepest set of offensive players since the days of Paul Kariya. The only issue is how quickly it takes the team to adapt to a new coach and system.

Dallas Stars
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Needs: A second line,  top-three defenceman
In: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback
Out: Alex Chaisson

The team: GM Jim Nill has done an excellent job. He’s taken a team without a top six set of forwards and built one of envy in two off-seasons.

First it was Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin to play with Jamie Benn. This year he has Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to back them up as the Stars have a second line for the first time in ages. They already had a dynamite third line and a respectable group of grinders on their fourth line. Nice offence.

Kari Lehtonen gives Dallas the goaltending to win games every night. He’ll have to be as good as ever with the non-existent puck stopping abilities of Lindback in the backup position.

The defence is okay, but Brendan Dillon needs to be signed to give their top four any oomph. They’ll be looking to acquire another player to take some minutes from Goligoski. He played the role of a #1 defenceman well, but you want to support him. If Sergei Gonchar can regain any sense of previous form then offence from the defence won’t be as big an issue.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They’ve addressed one of their two glaring weaknesses by having an actual second line. The defense still needs work but they can quite possibly slide up a spot in the standings with these moves and GM Jim Nill won’t be scared to make another move improve the team.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

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NHL 2014 Preview: Atlantic Division

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you part two of the the flawless 2014 NHL preview, now for the Atlantic Division. Who’s came and gone? What does the playoff picture look like? Well, its a four tiered division of good, alright, okay and garbage teams. It makes things simple.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

So who will rule the Flortheast? Lets start at the bottom of last year…

Buffalo Sabres128753008_slide
Needs: Everything
In: Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrei Meszaros, Sam Reinhart
Out: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff

The team: This is a bad hockey team.

They’re rebuilding, so being bad is to be expected. And they have a host of promising young players working their way up: Sam Reinhart (C), Mikhail Grigorenko (C), Marcus Foligno (LW), Joel Armia (RW), Mark Pysyk (D), Nikita Zadorov (D), Rasmus Ristolainen (D), and Matt Hacket (G) are the core of their future. If even half those players can reach their potential then Buffalo will eventually have one heck of a team.

Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Myers lead the veteran-youth movement. Hodgson and Girgensons both have futures in the NHL as number two-three centermen, Ennis can play in the top-nine, and Myers looked to be reclaiming some of the form he showed earlier in his career.

But the rest of the roster is just so bad. Gionta, Moulson and Gorges are still capable hockey players, but many of the other “veterans” and players filling out the roster aren’t much above replacement level players. And the goaltending looks like it could contend for worst in the NHL.

Will they make the playoffs? Lord no!
This team sucks. They have some marginal improvements, but they’re really counting on a whole bunch of recent draft picks to complete the roster. That isn’t a recipe for success – at least not this season.

Florida Panthers
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Needs: Everything but goaltending and more bad players
In: Al Montoya, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie, Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, Aaron Ekblad, Gerard Gallant (coach)
Out: Tom Gilbert, Peter Horacheck (coach)

The team: Well, it’ll be hard to be worse than last year so I guess they have nowhere to go but up.

Roberto Luongo, despite what anyone says, is an elite goaltender and the best goaltender of his generation. He’s still excellent and should be able to steal more than a few wins this season on top of providing wins just by being better than what the Panthers called goaltenders last year.

The defence and forwards aren’t much improved, which means they’re hoping for development progression. Last years first overall Ekblad stands to make the roster out of camp and will learn the NHL in a bit of a trial-by-fire situation, but he should have enough rope to make mistakes. Brian Campbell will continue to be one of the best and most ignored NHL defenders.

Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathon Huberdeau are all going to have to take leaps forward to help the team. They’ll be cushioned by Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes, who are both criminally underrated. Thomas Kopecky isn’t terrible either.

All of their other fancy new signings suck.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They have actual NHL level goaltending. Thats important. If their younger players can continue development and Gallant doesn’t play big minutes to all the bad players he was given, maybe they aren’t completely hopeless. But they look pretty hopeless.

Toronto Maple Leafs
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Needs: New coach, first line center
In: Leo Komarov, David Booth, Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, Roman Polak, Stephane Robidas
Out: Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, Carl Gunnarsson, Tim Gleason, Mason Raymond, Jay McClement

The team: This is a team that should be better than it is on paper. They’re pretty well sunk by terrible coaching and systems play that amplifies their deficiencies instead of hiding them.

Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri make up 2/3rds of a really solid top-six. Komarov, Booth, Winnik, Santorelli, Matt Frattin and Peter Holland make for a strong bottom half of the roster. But David Clarkson makes anyone he plays with awful, and Tyler Bozak had a career year and still was only average.

The defence made a lot of lateral moves. If the top-four this season is Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardner then the Leafs will be able to play fast hockey, and actually get out of their own end. Neither Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak are as good as Carl Gunnarson, but they should be better than Tim Gleason.

They’ll be relying heavily on James Bernier having another near Vezina season and James Reimer continuing to be one of the best “back ups” in the NHL. The Leafs got some of the best goaltending in the NHL last year, but couldn’t do anything with it. I’d be worried about things in Leafland if things don’t improve defensively and the goaltending falls off even a little.

Will they make the playoffs? No-ish.
If they can bring in a coach that is good to replace their bad one then they stand a solid chance at the playoffs. The pieces are there, but they need someone who knows how to use them.

Continue reading the full article at Talking Baws

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NHL 2014 Preview: Metropolitan Division

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the flawless 2014 NHL preview for the poorly named Metropolitan Division. Who is new? Who is gone? Who will make the playoffs? Its tough to say. You could honestly tell me that every team, but Pittsburgh, would miss and I wouldn’t be shocked nor surprised. Luckily, I know who will be in.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

Seriously though, what a stupid name for a division.

New York Islanders
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Needs: Top 4 defenceman, one top-nine forward, goaltending
In: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan
Out: Evgeni Nabokov

The team: Things look really promising for the soon-to-be-relocated-to-Brooklyn New York Islanders. They boast 12 actual NHL forwards up front, with an exceptionally deep center ice. Running John Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Frans Nielsen, and Casey Cizkas is good enough. Then they also have Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee capable of playing minutes at center. Daaayyummm.

GM Garth Snow has also admirably reconstructed their goaltending, which was league worst last season at an .898 save percentage. Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johsnon are a capable 1-2 punch in net and, if both players can perform to league average at about .915, it could be good enough to get them as many as 15 extra points in the standings, assuming plus or minus every 3 goals for/against is equal to one point in the standings.

The problem area remains on defence but they stand to improve. Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky are both quality top-four defenceman, but after that a lot falls on Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey. Hickey is better than he gets credit for, but de Haan is still raw.

The wildcard on defence is new signee T.J. Brennan. If he can prove to be a quality NHLer and not just an AHL Allstar then the Isles could actually have a six player deep defence. That’s a lot of maybes.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
I mentioned this division is basically a crapshoot, right? I think the Isles additions are good enough to help them bridge the gap. Plus, I think the franchise will try to make their last season at Nasseau memorable and I see GM Garth Snow picking up a defenceman by Christmas.

Carolina Hurricanes
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Needs: 2 top-four defencemen, top forwards to play like top forwards
In: Jay McClement, Tim Gleason, Brett Bellemore, Bill Peters (coach)
Out: Mike Komisarek, Manny Malhotra, Kirk Mueller (coach)

The team: At the top of the roster they are able to compete with anyone in their division. Staalx2, Skinner, Semin, mixed with Tlusty and Lindholm is pretty good. However, a preseason broken leg to Jordan Staal really throws a wrench in things.

Its the depth, especially on defence, that concerns you. Gleason and Komisarek are about equal, and Bellemore stands to be a good pickup for cheap, but the top end of the defence is where they’re missing.

Faulk and Sekera are quality top 4 defenceman. But the ‘Canes are more or less left filling out their pairs with #5s. A lot of them just aren’t good enough.

The goaltending will at least be good enough to keep them in most games, but I wouldn’t expect a Vezina season from either Cam Ward or Anton Khudobin.

If the Hurricanes can improve their awful powerplay they could compensate for some defensive deficiencies. They have the personnel to do it and new coach Bill Peters sounds intent on rectifying it as the entire teams powerplay numbers plummeting under Kirk Mueller.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
There is some cautious optimism for the ‘Canes. Progress of youth and new coach/GM points will help. More Khudobin and less Ward will also help. But a largely unchanged roster, key injuries already and a lot of teams to jump past will make things difficult.

Washington Capitals
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Needs: Second line center, top 3 defenceman, consistent goaltending
In: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Barry Trotz (coach)
Out: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Adam Oates (coach)

The team: The roster, apart from the defence, is largely unchanged. That isn’t a bad thing. Any line with Alex Ovechkin on it will be a good first line and they have a dynamite third line. The second line looks to be some combination of Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. Something there should be able to work.

The defence should be improved as well. Niskanen isn’t the top defenceman he looked like last season, but he proved to be a reliable second pairing guy who can munch minutes and not put your team in trouble throughout his time in Pittsburgh. Orpik is… well he’s better than John Erskine I guess. Returnees Mike Green, Carl Alzner, and John Carlson can make up the rest of a top 4 with Niskanen.

They’ll be looking for Brayden Holtby to at least play consistent. Having a .915 save percentage isn’t bad, but when its mixed between performances of shutouts followed by 5 goals against regularly, it isn’t quite as nice.

However, the biggest thing to have an impact this season in Washington won’t be new additions or player development, but how well new coach Trotz manages to get the team to play his trademark defensive system. He needs to strike the perfect balance of letting his offensive guns play creative, but still regimented defensively.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They employ the hockey equivalent of a nuclear bomb on their powerplay, and a surprisingly solid roster. They missed the playoffs by only three points last year and they should benefit from new coach voodoo points in the standings, and a stiffer defensive system should lead to better numbers in net.

Read the full article on Talking Baws

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Automatic berth for South Korea olympic hockey teams, in 2018

Mens and womens teams will compete against the likes of Russia and Canada at home at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. Last time the IIHF granted the host nation an automatic berth was in 2006, in Turin. The home team went 0 and 3 together with two respectable ties vs Switzerland and Germany. The game against Team Canada ended in a 2:7 loss. Not too shabby for a team that now isn’t good enough to qualify for world championships these days.

Since Turin, the host nation had to qualify. Canada and Russia easily did that in 2010 and 2014. So why did the IIHF do an about face? Like with most things it probably came down to money. If the host nation invests in the sport and fosters interest in hockey during the four years leading up to the Olympics and possibly beyond, it is a win for the IIHF. South Korea isn’t a traditional hockey market by any means, and this may be a chance to change that.

What would the games vs Canada, USA and Russia look like for South Korea mens and womens teams? Blowouts and embarrassment to the host nation in this event will do little to further the aims of the IIHF. You can’t pay for respect, you must earn it. It took Switzerland twenty, plus, years to become a fixture of international hockey. The world isn’t going to end if South Korea is not in the Olympics for hockey.

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VIDEO: British Announcer Delightfully Delivers Play-by-Play of Line Brawl

A good announcer is a gift to sports. The power to be able to take a miraculous play and give it a perfect play call. It is a talent that too few have. Lucky for us, the 2nd tier of the English Premiere Ice Hockey League has one of these gifted announcers.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde via TalkingBaws

In a recent bench clearing brawl between the Basingstoke Bison and the Peterborough Phantoms, a delightful chap narrates the highlights and has become to only voice ever worthy of calling another bench brawl again.

[Video]

The best lines are undoubtedly:

  • “‘[The netminder] takes a bitter exception to this.”
  • “[The goalie] wants more than words, creating a nice little mel-aye…”
  • “[The referee needing] his extended notepad.”

In North America we’re used to far more of a “Fight! Fight! Punch! Fight! Punch! Wow! Oh!” style play call. Much less eloquent.

European announcers also seem more willing to let the video do the talking, resisting the urge North American’s have of describing every micro-action to happen. I really appreciate that.

Rule Changes to the Upcoming 2014-15 NHL Season

The game is constantly changing. This year we’ll see some changes which will definitely be noticed by fans and some will create discussion.

Some of the changes coming this season include;

1. No more spin-o-ramas in the shootout

2. Coaches not having to release first 3 shootout player names

3. Fines for coaches for repeat diving offenders ($2000 for 4th diving offence and $1000 for every other offence)

4. Touching the puck before tripping a player will no longer cancel out the trip. You’ll get 2 min in the box for that.

What are your thoughts on these and all the other changes made?

 

For a full list of changes check out NHL.com

Player Tracking Systems and the NHL

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The last decade has been a period of statistical enlightenment within the sports world. Baseball, soccer, football, and basketball now utilize a combination of software and cameras that are able to track player’s movements around the diamond, pitch, gridiron, or court.

SportVU is currently the official player tracking system of the NBA. SportVU uses six cameras that track every movement of players and the ball on the court. SportVU has the ability to quantify touches, shot selection, and even how long a player holds the ball. It can also tell you the distance a player has traveled in a game and who failed to cover their man during intricate defensive schemes. In the SportVU promotional video which can be seen in the link below you can get a sense of how this technology currently works in the NBA.
SportVU NBA

The NHL will be testing similar technology this upcoming 2014/2015 season. If the testing proves successful, player tracking systems could be implemented in all NHL arenas as soon as the 2015-2016 season.

One of the companies vying to put a mark on player tracking in hockey is PowerScout. PowerScout uses three cameras to track every player’s and the puck’s movement on the ice. With this data, PowerScout can deduce speed and distance skated, both pass and shot speed and percentage, takeaways, shot attempts and has the possibility of much more.

Some potential issues for player tracking systems such as PowerScout is that hockey is much more complex than other sports like basketball and baseball. With line changes, swinging sticks, and the puck flying all over the place at high speeds, hockey presents a new set of challenges not seen in other sports. Basketball would be the most similar in its “organized chaos” within the game, but in hockey players are changing on the fly and there is also the issue of the puck moving at upwards of 100 mph.

Eventually there will be a technology that can produce an accurate player tracking technology for hockey. When this happens it will be interesting to see which teams embrace the technology and which teams will fall behind. On another level it will also be exciting to see how the knowledge gained from these systems will sway future decision making both in the boardroom and on the ice.

Do you think the data produced from this type of technology will have an influence on the game? Or is number crunching just a fad? Let us know what you think!