Category Archives: Canucks

westplayoffs

NHL Playoff Preview: Western Conference Matchups

I love NHL playoff hockey. Best teams versus the best teams. Teams going all out because all the chips are down. Players leaving it all on the ice. Shooting, hitting, saves, scoring, blood, sweat, tears, emotion. And the Western Conference is going to be absolutely brutal this year.

Even better is that I do not think you can positively say that any team that loses in the first round would be the victim of an “upset”. Every team in every division is so close it almost is not fair to you gambling folk out there.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

So to prepare for the best two months of NHL hockey, why not make predictions? I mean, no one gets these right. Ever. TSN used to have a monkey spin a wheel and it nailed more correct outcomes than the “experts.” And I’m not an expert, nor am I a monkey which leaves me in between somewhere so obviously I know more than people who get paid.

Anaheim Ducks (1st in Pacific)
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Winnipeg Jets (Wildcard 2)

Poor Anaheim. You bust your butt all season to win the division to clinch home ice for at least 2 rounds, assuming you make it, and you have to fly all the way to Winnipeg for your first round match up. #travelwoes

Why Anaheim can win: They were the best team in the Pacific this year and it wasn’t necessarily close. They also made a number of smart improvements to their team at the trade deadline with James Wisniewski, Simon Despres, Jiri Sekac and Tomas Fleischmann. Those additions allowed for a whole lot of increased depth to a team that was relying maybe a little too heavily on youth. They play some of the best “big boy” hockey in the NHL and have some of the best center depth among western playoff teams. Winnipeg cannot match their top two centers, Ryans of Getzlaf and Kesler, in terms of ability.

Why Winnipeg can win: There are very few teams in the NHL that can match up and play big boy hockey with the Ducks, but the Jets are one of them. Dustin Byfuglien has the ability to take over a game and a series, and the rest of the Jets’ defence is also filled with behemoths like Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba. Offensively they are quite deep with 6 different forwards scoring more than 41 points this season. Hot goaltending goes a long way and Ondrej Pavelec closed the year with three straight shutouts. Also, Anaheim’s goal differential was only +7 this year and they were 33-1-7 in one goal games. That makes the Ducks look vulnerable.

Pick: Jets in 7 games
This is the only real “upset” I can see this year. The Jets match up well in terms of size and depth. The only thing holding the Jets back may be goaltending. A lot has been made about the Jets’ disciplinary issues, but since when do they call penalties in the playoffs? It’s going to be that series what has four games go into overtime. The ‘Peg will go absolutely nuts. That’s fun.

To see the full picks, including the Canucks and Flames series, click here to head on over to Talking Baws

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Checking Up With Predictions: Pacific Division

We’re getting closer and closer to the unofficial midway point of the NHL season with the All Star Weekend in Columbus. That means it is as good a time as any to go back in time and check back in on my pre-season predictions.

I said I was going to be 100% right at the time and as time has told, I sure wasn’t. However, I wasn’t totally out to lunch either. Goes to show that I’m just about as good at this kind of thing as all the fancy people making big money in the mainstream media.

Actually, I’m a bit better because I’m willing to admit I’m wrong instead of throwing a temper tantrum and blocking 100 people on Twitter every time I’m wrong.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

So first lets take a look at how I had the Pacific shaking out, where the team actually is, what I thought about them in the pre-season, and what I think of that team now.

Calgary Flames
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Pre-season ranking: 7
Current ranking: 5 (47 points, no wildcard)

What I said then:

You can’t punch pucks into the net no matter how well Bob Hartley coaches and deploys this group of players.

What I say now:

Well they’ve been less scrappy and punchy than I had anticipated and all the better for it. Goes to show just how much a hot start can do for you. They banked enough points to be in the playoff conversation for a decent chunk of the year, though I doubt they have the guns to make it into a wildcard spot.

Johnny “Hockey” Gaudreau has been dynamite. He’s been the best Flames player at making something out of nothing. Glad to see he isn’t having the creativity stifled out of him. When a player is that talented you have to accept the mistakes and turnovers or you won’t get the gamebreaking plays. When healthy, Mikael Backlund has been great and Sean Monahan is taking steps. Jiri Hudler continues to be one of the best scoring wingers that people don’t know exist.

TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano are a dynamite duo on defence and even Dennis Wideman has been able to contribute offensively, although he cannot do much else reliably. Kris Russell has continued to play well but the third pairing of, generally, Deryck Engelland and Ladislav Smid is a gong show. There is “tough to play against”, but you must have the ability to play for that to matter. Those two are just bad. The Flames are being outscored by about three-to-one when they’re on the ice. That is AHL level.

Goaltending has been solid for the Flames. Kari Ramo isn’t anything to write home about, but Jonas Hiller has been admirable. Although they aren’t really winning any games on the backs of their netminders.

The possession numbers aren’t kind to the Flames at all, but it isn’t so much from a shots-against stand point (8th in the NHL) as much as the teams inability to generate offence outside of a few players (27th in shots-for per game). That can make it hard to win those one goal games and even harder to continue those miraculous third period comebacks that have disappeared as of late.

Arizona Coyotes
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Pre-season ranking: 6
Current ranking: 6 (36 points)

What I said then:

They weren’t good enough last year, and they aren’t really any better this year. They really need everything to go right to have a shot.

What I say now:

For a team that made its identity on defensive hockey, they’re not so great at it this year. You can just see when you’re watching the games that the positioning and systems have fallen off a bit amongst the forwards and defenceman. Its uncertain why this is happening exactly. The personnel is largely the same.

Usually a strong veteran forward core lends itself to strong systems but it isn’t working, much the same as it isn’t working in New Jersey this year.

The root of the problem lies in goaltending, but is it a bit of a chicken and the egg argument? Are the systems falling apart because the players are forced to overcompensate for goaltending, or is the goaltending exposed because the systems are falling apart. I don’t think a lot of people like to credit how deeply connected the two facets of hockey are interconnected.

My vote goes to the goaltending letting the team down though. Mike Smith has proven to be the goaltender he was for much of his career and not the guy with a great season and two okay ones. When, the now traded, Devan Dubnyk was in net he put up starting goaltender numbers and the team was able to go 9-5-2.

Looks as if this team is going to be entering wholeheartedly into the McEichel sweepstakes as they just traded Dubnyk and are exploring trade options with two-way center Antione Vermette and offensive defenceman Keith Yandle, among others.

Edmonton Oilers
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Pre-season ranking: 5 (no wildcard)
Current ranking: 7 (29 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

Good news: Neither Arcobello or Draisaitl blew out a shoulder.

Bad news: I have managed to run a blog post fittingly titled “This Guy Scored” where I track all the times the Oilers forgot what they were doing. Lets take a looksy at some stuff I posted after a loss to the Flames…

tgsflamestgsflames2tgsflames3

Yeah that basically sums up the season. It happens every gameBelieve me. If you want to read something more in-depth you have this article.

Vancouver Canucks
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Pre-season ranking: 4 (no wildcard)
Current ranking: 4 (49 points, wildcard)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

They are what everyone thought they were. A team that is pretty average that doesn’t have the depth to really be more than average. The offence comes and goes and goes and goes and goes with 1.6 goals per game from December 1 to January 14.

Up front, the forwards are kind of messy. The talent is there to be good but streaky good. The first line is always going to produce because the Sedins and whoever is with them are wizards. The third line has been a bright spot for most of the season with Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson and Linden Vey/Zack Kassian at least breaking even. The fourth line is a bit of a disaster at times but can usually hold its own.

The second line is just a black hole though. Alex Burrows is still a good hockey player. When he’s on the ice, the puck typically is going towards the opposing net and he’s good at winning board battles and creating havoc in front of the net. But Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino are not second line players. Currently, they’re fighting it out for the David Booth “Where Offence Goes To Die” Memorial Trophy. If the Canucks can ever get that line figured out, they might actually be able to win a round.

The defence has been pretty average as a group. Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are dynamite as a pairing, but Kevin Bieksa without Dan Hamhuis (groin injury) is a disaster and the third pairing of Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber is equivalent to two random fans getting to play defence in an NHL game. The biggest issue though is the lack of any player possessing rushing ability to help diversify the breakout and create offence from the back-end.

The biggest issue for the Canucks may actually be goaltending. Ryan Miller has not been good and for $6 million a year you would hope he would be. He hasn’t been awful either, but he has been coming off at times as selfish and a bit moody. By all accounts, he gets to pick his starts and seems to avoid the top teams in the NHL and feast on the poor teams. Not sure how well that bodes for playoff success.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

worst contracts

NHL 2014 Preview: The 10 Absolute Worst Contracts

The NHL season is thankfully underway! What better way to celebrate than passing judgement on which players are bad and signed to the worst contracts this season? Dash a little optimism and break a few hearts before your team has a chance to do it for you!

Trust me when I say picking out the 10 worst contracts in the NHL was a lot harder than you think. I had a list of 22 and got seriously stumped at 18. And that was after I decided they needed to have at least 3 seasons remaining.

I feel like I Nathan Horton might be #1 on next years edition.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

Author’s note: Don’t hold a player being on this list against them. Hold it against the dumby manager who thought it was a good idea. If Talking Baws wanted to grossly overpay me then you can sure bet I’d accept it!

10. Ryan Callahan, 6 years left, $5,800,000 annually.

General Manager Steve Yzerman has done such a good job in Tampa Bay that you want to forgive him of the odd misstep, but you really can’t in a salary cap world. Or at least not for long.

High cap hit. Lots of term. Brand new contract for a player with a body continually breaking down. Callahan has only played three of his six big league seasons at anything close to resembling a full year. His level play was already showing signs of falling off for the Rangers to boot.

Maybe removing him from New York where they’ve played a more grinding, heavy system in his career can shave some of the miles off his legs and keep his joints glued together. If not, this contract is going to look even worse before you know it when he’s bouncing between the third and fourth lines as a 31-year-old.

9. Ryan Miller, 3 years left, $6,000,000 annually.
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Reason #1: He’s been on the decline since 2011 and couldn’t even be average behind a team as good as the St. Louis Blues, a team that is significantly better than the Vancouver Canucks.

Reason #2: He’s getting 6 million a season in a market where the Canucks essentially bid against themselves to drive up the price they paid for him while a better, or at least equal, goaltender in Jonas Hiller signed for significantly less in Calgary.

Reason #3: There will be trade talk and buyout chatter before this contract is even a year old once Eddie Lack outplays him by Christmas.

Reason #4: Lack, the better goaltender, will end up being traded. All for whatever reason this signing made sense.

8. Vincent Lecavalier, 4 years left, $4,500,000 annually.

Ray Ferraro thought teams were high when they were fighting to sign him. Why would teams be high to sign a player who put up 20-17-37 in 69 games?

He just completed the first season of his contract and the Philadelphia Flyers were already desperately trying to trade him this summer. When they realized he was damn-near untradeable, they considered buying him out.

After one season.

That one season came where they signed him after he got bought out by his previous team.

He stands to be a buyout candidate after this season for financial details and cap implications, which will make him the first player to be bought out twice. Woof.

7. Dennis Seidenberg, 4 years left, $4,000,000 annually.

The biggest danger with “defensive” defenceman is that once they lose even a bit of mobility, they’re hooped. It’s a steep decline once their legs start to go. Did I mention that he’s a 33-year-old coming off surgery to repair the MCL and ACL in his right knee. He wasn’t fast before, and he won’t be any quicker now.

Whats worse though, is that the contract for an aging, slowing, defenceman with limited puck skills has cost the Bruins a quality player in Johnny Boychuk because of the cap crunch that his contract helped to largely contribute towards (well, Chris Kelly’s absurd contract too. At least the NHL is being gutless and not penalizing them for Marc Savard as well).

Lucky for him, he’s likely to play significant minutes with Zdeno Chara. That’ll make people think he’s better than he is for at least the next two years. Thats about it.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

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NHL 2014 Preview: Top 5 Change of Scenery Players

This off-season roughly 90 full time NHL players have switched teams. That is a lot of players to change scenery. So why not profile which ones will benefit the most? That sounds like fun. Who is going to make the biggest leaps forward or regain their form in their new city?

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

Honourable Mention: Olli JokinenDerek RoyMike Ribeiro - Nashville Predators, Centers
royribsolli
I was considering giving a couple of these guys their own spots, but decided to lump them together since they are all on the same club and will be stealing minutes from each other. Makes it tricky to predict who will boom.

It’s safe to assume that at least one of them will be the new first line center and will play with James Neal. Likely one of Roy or Ribiero, and they stand to get a lot of minutes and opportunity to produce. The other two centers will likely anchor the second and third lines in some capacity, with some time on special teams.

New Predators coach Peter Laviolette has been known for more of an open system, and anything in comparison to Barry Trotz’s system will be more open, so you can expect to see some more offence coming out of Nashville. Ribiero and Roy should have extra motivation as well considering they are on one year contracts.

5. Radim Vrbata, RW, Vancouver Canucks

Things that the Canucks have desperately needed: right handed right winger with shooting ability.
Things that Vrbata, 17, brings to the table: being a right handed right winger with shooting ability.

The gameplan in Vancouver is to play him alongside the Sedin twins which should bode well for him. He’ll also get every opportunity to help improve Vancouver’s dreadful powerplay that was missing right handed options last season.

If he was able to score 20+ goals in Phoenix, he should be able to flirt with 30 this season. He just needs to learn to keep his stick ready and in preseason he has been doing just that.

He’d be higher on this list if he wasn’t coming off an okay offensive year.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

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NHL 2014 Preview: Top 5 Breakout Players

The NHL Preview series continues with the players most likely to have break out campaigns. The kind of seasons that launch them from a regular player to a star player. Go from “a guy” to “the guy”.

So I set a little criteria for this. First, the player has to have not scored 20 goals or cracked 40 points in a season. Second, they had to be 25 or under.

By: Adam Pyde - @Adam_Pyde

Time to rock’n’roll.

Honourable Mention: Nail YakupovEmerson EtemRyan Strome
hmbreakout
Yakupov: Had the Oiler’s felt so inclined to drop a few spare pennies on someone like Derek Roy then you could pencil Yakupov in for a solid season. Right now, the second line centre looks to be Mark Arcobello or Leon Draisaitl. Mixed with a coach who seems to have no idea how to properly deploy the talented forward and you don’t have a recipe for success.

Etem: He hasn’t quite been able to break through and prove he’s got the scorers touch he showed in junior and the minors. Anaheim lost almost the entire middle of their forward roster this off season so a spot on Ryan Kesler’s wing would provide him with a great opportunity in the top six, but Kesler’s not known for sharing the puck. Things just don’t quite appear to be falling into place yet this year.

Strome: The talent and the ability is there but unfortunately for him, the Islanders added some quality players to their forwards with Mikhail Grabovksi and Nikolai Kulemin. All of a sudden playing time in the top nine has become a bit more sparse. Its not impossible to see Strome start the season in the AHL again and that keeps him from making the list.

5. Zack Kassian
kassian
He proved last year to be a positive possession player, even without any real playing time with good players. He posted a points per 60 minutes and an individual points percentage that had him as one of the top players on the Canucks, and well ahead of former centre and “star” player Ryan Kesler.

On paper, the Canucks look to have only one other right handed shot in their top six, and with the proven futility of Jannik Hansen anywhere but the third line, you can pencil Kassian into the second line and second powerplay unit on opening night.

All that with a coach more committed to an open style should be indicative of success. If new Canucks’ head coach Willie Desjardins is willing to let Kassian go wild, even if it means some giveaways and bad penalties, then the stage is set for Kassian to prove why the Canucks traded for him.

Read the full article at Talking Baws

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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