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My NHL playoff predictions

Tonight is the start of the NHL playoffs.

Orlandkurtenbach photo, via Wikimedia Commons

If the puck is behind Roberto Luongo, you know he's in playoff form.

Before I get on to my series picks, I thought it would be fun to have some bold predictions.

So here are 10 slightly-off-the-wall predictions:

There will be at least three goaltending controversies

I figure there are five teams that could see fans start screaming for the backup: Vancouver, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, and all for different reasons.

St. Louis, for example, has two number one goalies. So if one struggles and the Blues are down two games in a series, I could see fans yelling for the other goalie.

In Philly, I could see Ilya Bryzgalov pitching two shutouts in the first two games. I could also see him being pulled after allowing 11 goals on 45 shots.

In Vancouver, there’s already speculation about Cory Schneider getting some playing time.

Last year, there was a small bit of talk about Tukka Rask being the starter for game three after Boston lost the first two games on home ice to Montreal, even though it wasn’t Tim Thomas’ fault.

And in Washington, I don’t even know who the #1 goalie is.

The seeds are already planted for at least three of those teams will have a goalie controversy.

No player will get more than 30 points

I understand with so many superstars in the playoffs, most people think 30 points is easily available. I’m less sure.

With so many good goalies and defensive teams, goals will be harder to come back. You’ll see more third- and fourth-liners winning games than the top two lines. That means scoring will be more spread out, and less points for the top players.

There will be no sweeps in the first round

I think the Blues-Sharks has the best chance for one, but I think every team wins at least one game.

There will be at least one major upset (7 or 8 seed winning)

I’m looking at Washington for this one. But I could easily see Ottawa beating the Rangers. But I don’t think the top two seeds will lose in the western conference.

Ilya Kovalchuk will not score in the first round

I think the Devils advance, but I think he’ll be snakebitten for the first round for some odd reason.

One team will not score a powerplay goal in the first round

This goes back to my earlier point about the defensive teams being so strong this year. New Jersey’s penalty kill is dynamite, so I think they’ll be the ones to do it.

Roberto Luongo will have a game where he lets in at least seven goals

Okay, so this one isn’t so off the wall, as he seems to do it every year.

There will be two suspensions in the first round

Pittsburgh and Philly, I’m looking to you guys to help me out on this one.

Nick Backstrom will lead the league in points after round one

Last year, the leading point-getter was Michael Cammalleri. So while Crosby, Malkin, Giroux, Sedin, etc. may be the top picks by a lot of people, I expect Backstrom to get at least eight points.

There will be one four-overtime game

We haven’t had one in a while. Last year, there were hardly any double-OT games. I think we’re due.

As for my series predictions:

Rangers over Senators in six

Capitals over Bruins in seven (upset special!)

Devils over Panthers in five

Penguins over Flyers in six

Canucks over Kings in six

Blues over Sharks in five

Blackhawks over Coyotes in six

Red Wings over Predators in six

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33 NHL thoughts

Once again, my 33 NHL thoughts, including my playoff predictions. I also list my choice on who is going to win the Stanley Cup.

Marcusvfx photo, via Wikimedia Commons

When the opposition scores, it's a good bet Chris Phillips is on the ice.

1. Bryan Murray was re-signed with the Sens. Some believe he deserved to be brought back after the trades he made this past half a season. Of course, it was his fault he had to trade away bloated contracts that he gave players, but that’s besides the point. Or so some would have you believe.

2. One thing I don’t understand. If Murray was able to fix his mistakes and the team competitive in the latter half of the season, why was his job safe and not Cory Clouston? Shouldn’t Clouston have also been rewarded for making a team of AHLers competitive?

3. Remember Murray giving Chris Phillips that bloated contract at the trade deadline? The one that will see Phillips get a little more than $3 million a year for the next three years? Since that deal, Phillips has been a minus 10, despite the Sens posting a winning record of 11 wins, eight losses and one overtime loss.

4. Phillips finished last in the league with a minus 35. That’s what $9 million gets you nowadays.

5. In the Habs-Sens game, Chris Neil challenged Scott Gomez to a fight. It seemed strange to me, considering he was getting a facewash from Hal Gill at the time. But that’s what Neil does. Instead of going after the other team’s tough guys, he decides to go after guys he knows he can beat. Of course, if my fights against tough guys went like this, I’d probably stop challenging them too.

6. I know the playoffs start today, and the Habs series starts tomorrow, but is it too late to fire coach Jacques Martin? I don’t get what the appeal is with him. He seems to get outcoached many times. He doesn’t even get credit for the playoff success last year, as a lot of the accolades went to Kirk Muller.

Tim Thomas should win the Hart trophy, but he won't be nominated.

7. Lots of talk about the Hart trophy, and about whether Daniel Sedin deserves it over Corey Perry. But as much as I hate the Bruins,  Tim Thomas put on a show that deserves the trophy this year. Perry finished with 50 goals, and Sedin just over a 100 points. But that’s not actually too rare. Thomas dominated this season, and had numbers that goalies haven’t had in more than a decade.

8. There’s actually been a lot of talk for various goalies being nominated for the Hart trophy (Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist), but I don’t think any of them get nominated. Not even Thomas, despite my previous point.

9. Coach of the year has got to be Penguins coach Dan Blymsa. He lost Jordan Staal for the first half of the year, and then Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby for the second half. Yet they still finished fourth in the conference, and was actually making a push towards the division title down the stretch. That’s unbelievable.

10. Compare that to other teams, and think of their coaches. Could Vancouver have had the success they did if they missed Ryan Kesler for the first half, and the Sedin twins for the second half? Does Tampa make the playoffs if Vincent Lecavalier misses the first half of the season, and Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos the second half? I don’t think so.

11. I understand injuries play a role, but I’ve never understood why Jacques Martin likes to break up lines when they’re working. Case in point, the PhD line. Benoit Pouliot, Jeff Halpern and Mathieu Darche played great when they were on the same line. But they were broken up way too early. Hopefully, we’ll see them back together in the playoffs. 

12. No one got 60 points in Montreal? Not good. And there’s not a lot of cap space to go out and get help.

13. The Habs aren’t the only ones with that problem. Despite the “new” NHL leading to more scoring, there are plenty of teams without a 30-goal scorer or a 60-point guy.

14. What is Andrei Markov worth this summer? After three major injuries in the last two years, I’m not sure what the market will be like for Markov this summer. A team like Colorado might go after him, but really, I think Markov needs to sign a one-year deal with the Habs, have an awesome season, and then look to sign a big contract the following year.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Nazem Kadri won't be eligible for the Calder trophy next year because he played an extra four games this season.

15. Nazem Kadri won’t be eligible to win the Calder trophy next year. I understand the Leafs wanted to get the kid some games, but playing him in 29 games is a little silly, especially when the cutoff for rookie of year candidates is 25. They could have sat him out of an extra five games, and he would have had something extra to play for next year.

16. Scott Gomez finished the season with seven goals, meaning he is getting paid $1 million per goal. I wouldn’t mind if he was an Adam Oates type of player, getting tons of assists. Or if he was a hard hitter. Or if he actually contributed anything to the team. But he doesn’t. But because he makes so much money, he’s always on the top two lines. His minus 15 doesn’t help matters either.

17. The question now becomes, should the Habs buy Gomez out this summer? Of course they should. According to CapGeek.com, if the Habs buy him out, they would save $5.5 million next season. For that price, they could sign five guys who could score only seven goals a season.

18. I love PK Subban, but his penalty minutes need to be lower. Getting 42 minor penalties is way too much. That’s the worst in the league, and it’s way too much for such an important player on the Habs.

19. Don’t like the fact that Andrei Kostitsyn has more hits on the Habs than anyone else. Even though the Canadiens play a speedy game, they still need to have a couple of grinders that can help wear the other team down.

20. Leafs fans should curb their optimism about next season. Career year from certain guys helped, and so did a rookie goalie. But you can’t expect everyone to meet those same numbers next year.

21. Sens finished one goal ahead of their lowest scoring regular season in modern history. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of offensive help coming. Can you count on Bobby Butler over the course of 82 games? History says no.

Moe photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Having Zach Parise for a full season will help the Devils next year.

22. If all the Devils do is re-sign Zach Parise this summer, they’ll be a playoff team next year. There’s no way guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Martin Brodeur start off the season as bad as what they did this year.

23. Is there any hope of Florida ever being a playoff team? Things look bleak there. I’m a huge NHL fan, but I don’t think I could name five Panthers.

24. It feels like there are more coaches than ever being fired right now. So far, Dallas, Minnesota, Ottawa and Florida have all fired their coaches already, and the playoffs haven’t even started yet. If there are a couple of first round upsets (Washington, for example), then there could be a couple of more coming, plus more from teams already eliminated. Not sure what the record is, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there was a new one set for coaches fired in a single offseason.

25. It’ll be interesting to see how many playoff teams have trouble in the postseason thanks to the shootout inflating their points. Both the Kings and the Pens won 10 shootouts, with the Rangers winning nine. And the Kings, for example, only one won game in overtime during the whole season. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to postseason success.

26. Interesting to note: Only one team has a winning percentage when losing after the first period. The Washington Capitals. So never count them out of a playoff game.

27. Way back at the start of the season, I tried to make some crazier predictions (see them all here). Some of them, I was way off, especially when it comes to the trades. Probably the worst prediction was saying Kris Versteeg will finish with 80 points. He had 46, and was traded once it became apparent he couldn’t be a top-line player.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Who would have guessed Michael Grabner would have such a good rookie season? Oh right, I did.

28. My favourite prediction that I came close on?  Michael Grabner for the Calder trophy. He probably won’t win, but he should be a nominee.

29. Other predictions I was right on: ” Daniel Sedin gets more points than his brother, Henrik.” Most people had it the other way, considering Henrik won the Hart trophy and the Art Ross last season.

30. “Despite all their rookies, no one on the Oilers will be nominated for the Calder trophy.” The nominees haven’t come out yet, but I feel pretty confident in this one.

31. My first round Eastern playoff predictions: Capitals over Rangers, Sabres over Flyers, Canadiens over Bruins and Lightning over Penguins.

32. Playoff predictions for the West: Blackhawks over the Canucks, Sharks over Kings, Wings over Coyotes and Ducks over Predators.

33. Stanley Cup finals will be between the Ducks and the Sabres, with the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup.

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33 NHL thoughts

I tried this once before, and I liked it way it turned out. I have a lot of different thoughts about the NHL, and this is a chance to get all of them out in one quick column.

Mark Canter photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Why would Chris Phillips want to stay in Ottawa?

So once again, here are my 33 NHL thoughts for the week.

1. There’s been rumours that Chris Neil may wind up in Montreal. That’s not a good fit though. The Habs play a fast speedy game. Taking one allegedly “tough” player and putting him in that system wouldn’t scare teams like the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. If anything, it weakens Montreal’s style, since Neil is neither fast nor speedy.

2. Sens defenceman Chris Phillips wants to stay in Ottawa and be part of the rebuild. Isn’t this just like Tomas Kaberle? For years, some in the media have thought Kaberle just didn’t care to win, and wanted to stay on a losing team instead of accepting a trade elsewhere. Now Phillips is saying the same thing.

3. Just noticed that James Wisniewski’s stick is half white. I wonder if that gives him an advantage when shooting as goalies may not see it winding up as quickly as normal sticks. Also, would it give an advantage to Wisniewski’s shot blocking?

4. I’ve been really impressed with Benoit Pouliot this year. He’s probably the only Habs player that hasn’t played a bad game. He plays well, no matter what his linemates. He forechecks well, plays strong in the defensive zone, and makes plays. While he may not score in every game, he gives it his all, and that’s all you can ask of him.

5. Not understanding the love for Ryan Kesler for the Hart trophy. He’s not even one of the top two choices on the Canucks, much less one of the top three in the league. Yet there are plenty of stories being written about him having a shot at the trophy.

6. If I had a vote, my pick for the Hart would be Steven Stamkos. My second choice would be Tim Thomas (he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done when it comes to the Hart voting). Third is Daniel Sedin.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Grabner should win the Calder trophy.

7. While everyone has been talking about Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture and Michael Grabner for the Calder trophy, I think Rangers rookie Derek Stepan is a dark horse choice to be nominated.

8. That being said, Grabner is my call to win the Calder. He’s a plus-11 on a horrific Islanders team, has three shorthanded goals, leads all rookies with 25 goals and has only six penalty minutes. And he gets about three minutes less of ice time per game than most other rookies.

9. Would love to see a rematch in the playoffs with the Bruins-Flyers. A hard-hitting series with the Bruins looking for revenge for last year’s playoffs, when they lost a 3-0 series lead to the Flyers.

10. What has happened to Jonas Gustavsson? He went from being the Monster, to #3 in the Leafs organization. He was supposed to be a stud goalie, but he’s quickly turned into a dud.

11. Chicago’s penalty kill is going to give them trouble in the playoffs, if they make it in. They’re 27th in the league om the PK. In the playoffs, when special teams matter, that’s going to give them trouble.

12. Craig Anderson in Ottawa is not a good thing. Sure, he looked good against the Leafs, but that’s not really telling anything, since the Leafs have traded more talent away in the past two weeks then the Sens have completely. But it would be a mistake if Ottawa GM Bryan Murray signed Anderson. The Sens should have learned from the Pascal Leclaire fiasco: do not go after goalies who have only had one great year. You’ll be disappointed.

13. By the way, shouldn’t the new Ottawa GM be making these decisions? Murray will be gone this summer, so why saddle the new GM with Anderson?

14. Congrats to Dave and Holly. Two of my good friends got married a couple of weeks ago. Dave reads this site regularly, and is a big Habs fan. Even though we don’t agree on everything, he’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to the NHL. And Holly is also a huge Habs fan, and a pretty solid defenceman on our co-ed team to boot. Congrats again guys!

15. Marc Savard’s injury is the only reason the Bruins could trade for Tomas Kaberle. That cap space saved from him being on the injured reserve cleared the way for the Bruins to make a big move.

Bridget Samuels photo, via Wikimedia Commons

Colorado overpaid for Erik Johnson.

16. Colorado overpaid for Erik Johnson. Kevin Shattenkirk is probably not too far behind Johnson in development, and Chris Stewart is a dynamite young forward who was tearing up the league before injuring his hand earlier this year. Bad move on Colorado’s part.

17. Not sure why Colorado would want Brian Elliott. The guy hasn’t proven to win, yet they’re hoping he can bring them to the playoffs? Colorado has made some bad moves lately.

18. The trade deadline will be dead this year. With so many teams already making their deals, there won’t be a lot of dynamite deals left. Take Montreal, for instance. They have already made their moves to shore up their defence, first getting Wisniewski, and then Paul Mara. Unless they decide to trade for more offence, there won’t be any more major deals coming from them. 

19. Less and less no trade clauses should be coming in the next few years. Teams have found it extremely difficult to get rid of players they don’t want because of no trade clauses. Kaberle, Phillips, Gonchar, etc. All tough to move if they won’t waive their clauses.

20. Something that would be nice to include in the next CBA: a chance for teams to pay for salaries of traded players. For example, Wade Redden. If the Rangers could trade him, and agree to pay half his contract, both teams are happy. The Rangers would save $3 million in cap space each year, while the team trading for him would only accept $3 million in cap space. It would also do away with a lot of drama that comes with players and whether or not teams could afford them. It could make way for more trades, as teams near the cap could make more deals.

21. Joe Thornton is getting old, and look for this season to be a sign of things to come. He’s having an off year, and I don’t think he can get 100 points again. He’s 31, about to become 32 years old. You know how many players had 100 point seasons at the age of 32 or over? Only 10 (Gretzky, Esposito, Howe, Dionne, Jagr, Francis, Bucyk, Ratelle, Sakic and Alfredsson).  I don’t think Thornton will join them. The Sharks should probably trade him before his value dips too much.

22. If the NBA and the NFL don’t have seasons next year (or delayed ones), the NHL is in a great spot to capture new fans. Baseball had trouble getting fans back after the cancelled World Series in 1994, and hockey was only able to come back so quickly thanks to the new rules. If either the NBA or NFL are out for a while, then hockey will be one of the only sports to watch, once the World Series is over.

23. Everyone’s been blasting Mario Lemieux recently, and I think it’s well deserved. It’s crazy that he comes out, when his team leads the league in fighting and penalties, and talks about how bad the Islanders were during the brawl (and that’s not even including the fact Matt Cooke is the dirtiest player in the game). But the worst is the end of his statement, when he threatened to take his ball and go home. Look Mario, the league survived fine without you for years, and if you don’t want to be a part of it, then leave.

Connormah photo, via Wikimedia Commons

The problem with Ovechkin's scoring is simple: he's not as dirty.

24. The problem with Alex Ovechkin this season is simple. Last year, he was one of the dirtiest players in the game. This year, he’s changed his style so he’s stopped injuring people. That means he’s not as aggressive, and it’s showing. But, it’s a lot better he play this way than his reckless style that he used to do.

25. Even though the Penguins keep winning without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, they won’t get far in the playoffs with a top superstar. Every team needs a player that is required to come through when it counts. Pittsburgh doesn’t have that right now, and would be lucky to win a round with the squad they have.

26. Sens fans need to be patient with a rebuild. Look at the Oilers now. Despite young top level talent from good draft picks thanks to bad seasons, they’re still one of the worst teams in the league. It’s the same with Chicago, Pittsburgh, Tampa, etc. When you’re rebuilding a team, you need quite a few years to turn things around.

27. Anaheim has shown this season what can happen when you overwork your #1 goalie. Jonas Hiller needed to take time off for fatigue, and the Ducks have suffered since. Montreal and Buffalo are a couple of teams that should pay attention to that.

28. My picks to miss the playoffs in the West out of the logjam: Nashville, Calgary and Dallas. Nashville because they don’t have that top level talent at forward to carry the team on his back, Calgary because their players will have to come back to normal sooner or later, and Dallas because of the fact Brad Richards is out for a bit with a concussion. Crosby has shown that there’s no such thing as a mild concussion.

29. In the east, I don’t really see anyone catching Carolina. The Rangers would be my only guess as to who has a chance to miss the playoffs, but as long as Marian Gaborik stays healthy, they should be okay. (Note, I wrote that line hours before Gaborik received a concussion in the Rangers game yesterday, but thought I should keep it in).

30. It still amazes me at how good Detroit is. They’re the highest scoring team in the league right now (per game average). And that’s with a lot of injuries to a lot of key guys. It’s crazy how good that team is, from top to bottom.

31. At the same time, Montreal needs more scoring help. They’re 25th in the league in goals for per game, and 28th in shooting percentage. Sure, injuries to guys like Andrei Markov and Mike Cammalleri hurt, but every team deals with injuries, so that can’t be used as an excuse. It’ll be hard for them to sneak up on teams in the playoffs this season and create upsets. Teams will be ready for them.

32. Since the all-star break, no team has scored more goals than the New York Islanders. Once they get Mark Streit back next season to help man their powerplay, the team should be playoff-contenders, especially since their young guys will have more experience. They still need a top goalie, but teams have done more with less.

33. Is there a curse of the Kraft Hockeyville? Since having a competition where an NHL exhibition game would be played at a community arena in a small town, teams participating haven’t had a lot of success. If the Sens and the Sabres miss the playoffs (both are out of a playoff spot right now), that means only three of 10 teams participating in Kraft Hockeyville made the playoffs in the season they participated in.

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Boston Bruins preview

The Bruins will be a much better team this year.

In fact, I can see them coming first in the division. Their only real weakness is in goal, but the rest of the lineup is solid from top to bottom.

Forwards: The team automatically became better even without any offseason moves, as Patrice Bergeron is now healthy after a horrible injury last season. Bergeron is one of the best young talents in the game. He had seven points in 10 games last season, and scored at least 70 the two seasons before that.

In the offseason, they signed Michael Ryder. Many say for too much: $4 million a year for three years. But in a year or two, it will be seen as a steal. Yes, Ryder had a bad year last year. But he scored 30 goals a season the two years before that. If he manages to play on the top line with Marc Savard, he’s a good threat to get 50 goals.

Why would he be a top line player? Simple, Claude Julien is his coach. Julien coached him in junior, in the AHL and gave him his break in the NHL. Ryder responds to him, so look for him to have a huge season.

The other guy to watch out for is Milan Lucic. He stepped up in the playoffs last year, and should have a great year with more confidence because of it.

Defence: Two words: Zdeno Chara. The guy is a beast. He is a physical presence, and makes other coaches have to alter lineups for him. The rest of the defence is solid, but with Chara eating up 27 minutes a night, they don’t have to be spectacular.

Goaltending: The real weakness of the team. Would you want to go into the NHL season with Tim Thomas as your number one goalie? Probably not. He’s more of a stopgap measure anyways, until rookie prospect Tuukka Rask is ready to take over the starting duties.

Pool picks: Patrice Begeron and Michael Ryder can probably be picked up in the third and fourth round. Look for them to have huge years. Chara will also see lots of powerplay ice time, so if you need to draft a defenceman, he’s your guy. Be wary of Phil Kessel. Unless it’s a deep draft, he shouldn’t be selected. He’ll be good for 40 points, but is a year or two away from his breakout season.

Miscellaneous: The best thing the Bruins did in the offseason was to get rid of Glen Murray and his contract. He’s on the downside of his career, and was taking up space better reserved for someone who could, I don’t know, score. His spot will be taken up by a young player who could use the ice time.

Expected finish: First in the northeast division, second in the Eastern conference.

Overall: One of the reasons why they’ll finish higher this season is their record against the Montreal Canadiens. Last season, Montreal won all eight games they played. If they split the series instead, Boston would have finished second in the conference. There’s no way Boston can lose all the games again, and just in case they do, they actually only play six times this season.

This shows that Boston can play against all the other teams. They can play a gritty style, thanks to Chara and Milan Lucic. Or they can play a finesse game, thanks to Savard and Bergeron. They can get involved in a defensive battle, or a donnybrook. They’ll find a way to win.

Look them to surprise quite a few people this season.

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