NHL Playoff Look Ahead

There’s two weeks remaining to the end of the regular season in the NHL. Every week, we’ll take a look at the first round matchups as they currently stand and rank them from most to least interesting.


1.) Pacific Division Semifinal- 2) San Jose Sharks vs. 3) Los Angeles Kings

A revitalized Kings team looks like it’s headed to the playoffs and if they get a matchup with the Sharks, the NHL should be drooling over the matchup. This has been an underappreciated rivalry as these two teams met in the playoffs four times in the span of six years between 2011-2016 with each team winning two apiece. There have been classic moments in each series as both have used this series as a launching point to a Stanley Cup final appearance. Don’t forget the Kings comeback from 3-0 in 2014 which sparked the team’s second cup in three years. There are plenty of storylines that would exist in this series. The health of Joe Thornton looms large as he has been a Kings killer in the playoffs. Can the Sharks forwards keep up with the Kings potent offense? Finally there is always the Jonathan Quick factor who has stolen games from the Sharks in the past.


2.) Atlantic Division Semifinal-2) Boston Bruins vs. 3) Toronto Maple Leafs

An original six matchup in the first round? Yes please. This is a matchup that has been teased for several months now as Boston and Toronto have been stuck in these places for most of the season. The last time these teams met in the playoffs was 2013 and with all apologies to Maple Leaf fans, we all know what happened as they blew a 3 goal lead with 10 minutes to play in Game 7 and lost in overtime. A chance to see Auston Matthews and company introduced to the intensity of the rivalry with Boston in the playoffs is can’t miss TV along with seeing Boston’s veteran core that is supplemented by some great young players. Not only is their Brad Marchand who’s fun to watch in the playoffs but to see their great young players such as Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak duel Matthews and Mitch Marner would be fascinating as it could be a preview of many years to come.


3.) Central Division Semifinal- 2) Winnipeg Jets vs. 3) Minnesota Wild

It’s been three seasons since Winnipeg was in the playoffs but the Winnipeg Whiteout will be back. This is a great young core that is probably a year ahead of schedule. To make this matchup even better, they get to take on the team that is the closest to them distance wise in the division. But Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele along with Dustin Byfuglien will get their chance to shine against a veteran Minnesota core that has made a habit out of upsetting young talented teams in the Central division as they have played the division champ the last four seasons upsetting the division winner in 2014 and 2015. With players like Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Minnesota could be capable of pulling off an upset.


4.) Metropolitan Division Semifinal- 2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 3.) Columbus Blue Jackets

This is a matchup that we have seen a couple of times already and it has not turned out in favor of Columbus. They have met in the division semifinals in two of the past four seasons with Pittsburgh winning both series. But this is a Columbus team that is trying to break through and has more scoring this year with the addition of Artemi Panarin. These two cities are separated by three hours and Interstate 70 which creates hatred. And who doesn’t like a personal rivalry like the one that exists between Sidney Crosby and Brandon Dubinsky? In addition, there is the battle of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel against the talented top defensive pair of Columbus. Last time the series didn’t go so well for Zach Werenski who while blocking a shot received a facial fracture that resulted in one of the worst black eyes ever. The guarantee for this series is that it would be physical, nasty and feature a mixture of high and low scoring games.

5.) Pacific Division Semifinal- 1) Vegas Golden Knights vs. W1) Anaheim Ducks

It’s hard to believe but within the next week, it’s likely that Vegas will win the division title in their inaugural season. A team of players that were cast aside and not wanted by their original teams, Vegas has bonded and seen breakout seasons from William Karlsson, Erik Haula along with others. Players talk about how crazy it is in the regular season, imagine the arena in the playoffs. But Vegas would have their hands full with Anaheim in a team that is battle tested and quite frankly built for the playoffs. They are built on physical play with big bodies and have been through the playoff wars before. Being the underdog in this series would not faze Anaheim one bit especially with their center depth with players like Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. In fact, Anaheim might relish it and would give Vegas all they could handle and more for a young team that nobody knows how they will handle playoff pressure.


6.) Metropolitan Division Semifinal- 1) Washington Capitals vs. W1) Philadelphia Flyers

A classic rivalry that goes back to the Patrick Division days and has grown since realignment with the two teams meeting two years ago in the playoffs with Washington taking the series 4-2. It’s a weird year for Washington with them at their usual spot on top of the division but it’s not a sure thing they’ll win it. They’re a team in transition and this could be the last run for this current group of players. Meanwhile they would face a team in Philadelphia that is young and talented and has taken 3 of 4 games from them this year. Philadelphia has scored 19 goals in the the 4 games this year against Washington although to be fair in the two games that they scored 14 of those 19, Braden Holtby was not in net. A chance to see Alex Ovechkin versus Claude Giroux is must see TV as well.


7.) Atlantic Division Semifinal- 1) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. W2) New Jersey Devils

The Lightning have been among the best teams in the NHL for the whole season. They are bringing a consistency that is scary and have a talented core led by Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. This is a team that is deep and can roll four lines with ease. The biggest question is goaltending. There isn’t much history between these two teams as they’re not in the same division but New Jersey is intriguing as they have a Hart Trophy candidate in Taylor Hall who is having a fantastic season to go along with Brian Boyle who has been a great veteran presence and an inspiring story after battling cancer earlier this year. And there’s the small fact that New Jersey is 2-0-0 against Tampa Bay so far with their final meeting coming tonight. The speed of New Jersey could create some problems for Tampa Bay if they meet up in the playoffs.


8.) Central Division Semifinal- 1) Nashville Predators vs. W2) Colorado Avalanche

This is not a knock on Nashville at all. It’s a division matchup and there is the added drama of the fact that Nashville helped Colorado get rid of Matt Duchene earlier this year; however, this would be a case of that trade coming back to haunt Colorado as Nashville has Kyle Turris and is a balanced team that will wear Colorado down with their depth. They boast the best defense in the NHL and Pekka Rinne is making a serious case for the Vezina, all of these pieces result in an awful mix for a Colorado team that would go up against them. Colorado has had a fantastic season and the rejuvenation of Nathan MacKinnon has been fun to watch. But Colorado doesn’t have the depth that Nashville has and this just feels like a quick series win for Nashville to me.



NHL Trade Deadline Primer

Tomorrow is the trade deadline in the NHL but the action has started to heat up with Rick Nash moving to Boston and Tomas Plekanec being traded from Montreal to Toronto. Let’s look at some teams that have to make a move in order to make a run at the Stanley Cup, in no particular order.



  1. New Jersey Devils- In the wide open Metropolitan, there is a chance for the Devils to capture a top three spot as they are only 4 points out of third place. They are in the top wild card spot right now but they could use a little veteran depth, faceoff guy to help with penalty killing. A perfect candidate for the team would be Matt Cullen who knows the Pittsburgh Penguins very well and could be an invaluable resource if they meet them in the playoffs.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning-They have been the best team all year long but that doesn’t mean they can’t add a piece or two to fortify themselves for a playoff run. Tampa Bay could use another top four defenseman especially when you consider they will potentially have to go up against some offensively talented teams such as Boston, Toronto, Washington and Pittsburgh. Having a defensive defenseman who could be a lock down piece should be the target here. Niklas Hjalmarsson is someone who fits that bill and prefers to play on his off side where he excels despite being a left handed defenseman.
  3. St. Louis Blues-In the uber competitive West, the Blues have really struggled lately and are currently being blown out in Nashville stretching their losing streak to six. Currently on the outside looking in by one point, St. Louis needs some snarl and scoring punch to their game along with goaltending as Jake Allen seems to be regressing. St. Louis needs to make a big move to wake up their team and give them a jolt of energy as this team could go deep in the playoffs if they play their cards right. Max Pacioretty or Evander Kane would be a great fit for a team that needs to be more physical and can help out in all areas.
  4. Dallas Stars-It has been a great season for Dallas as well which is thriving under Ken Hitchcock’s defensive style. Now what Dallas really needs is a jolt of offense to help out the stars so that they are more than a one line team in the playoffs. A winger or center that could provide some help on the second or third line that would be a pure rental. The one player that comes to mind is Tomas Vanek, he would be someone Mattias Janmark or Jason Spezza to provide some more depth to a thin lineup which will be needed when they go up against the deeper and talented teams in the West such as Nashville, Vegas and Winnipeg.
  5. San Jose Sharks-I was tempted to put Washington here as I believe they have to make a move to try to keep up with Pittsburgh after they acquired Derick Brassard. But San Jose is stuck in the race for second place in the Pacific with Calgary, Anaheim and Los Angeles all within three points of San Jose. But if a team is going to challenge Vegas they are going to have to be a veteran laden team with a lot of potential. This is a team that has some space and could use some speed to keep up with teams like Vegas and they could use a second or third line defenseman. Again, Hjalmarsson would look great in San Jose just eight years later than when they tried to get him along with someone like Kane.



  1. Buffalo Sabres-They have pieces to dangle out to contenders but there is no reason that Evander Kane should be on the roster when the deadline passes tomorrow. They should sell high on Kane and get a first or second round pick for him and then could try to trade Robin Lehner to a team that needs goaltending.
  2. Montreal Canadiens-The other big prize resides in Montreal with Pacioretty. He should command a huge haul and get several draft picks along with young players in return. Another forward that could be on the move is Alex Galchenyuk who would get another huge package that could reboot Montreal.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks-It feels weird to be typing this about the Blackhawks who have fallen from their elite status. If they want to restart their rebuild, they could trade a few players for draft picks or prospects. A few players that could be on the move are Ryan Hartman, Patrick Sharp, Tommy Wingels and Artem Anisimov who is probably more likely to move in the offseason.
  4. Detroit Red Wings-Another team that has fallen on hard times. For Detroit they have an impossible task with their salary cap situation even more so than Chicago. Trading Mike Green would be a good first step, Washington could use him but would probably need a third team to get involved, maybe Vegas? Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist could being some serious assets as well.
  5. New York Rangers-It seems like there’s a theme going here with Original Six teams. The Rangers made their intentions apparent in a letter to their fans a couple of weeks ago and got started earlier today making a great trade getting five assets for Rick Nash. McDonough would get some serious assets back as well as he is the top defenseman available. Other players on the move could be Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller.


Top Players Available


  1. Max Pacioretty-Pacioretty has scored 30 or more goals in four straight years and five of the past six. He’s a goal scorer and has 17 this year, he would look great on a team that needs scoring depth such as Nashville, St. Louis or Calgary.
  2. Ryan McDonough-A right handed shot defenseman with some durability concerns but is only 28. He is a minutes eater, can play in all scenarios and has offensive firepower to his game. Tampa Bay or Toronto will be the top suitors for him.
  3. Evander Kane-There is so much untapped potential when it comes to the surly winger. Kane has scored 20+ goals in three straight years but has durability concerns. Kane’s physical game would look great in St. Louis, Los Angeles or Anaheim.
  4. Niklas Hjalmarsson-A playoff warrior who would bring a ton of leadership and experience from his playoff battles in Chicago. Hjalmarsson plays on the right side while blocking a ton of shots. He would look good in Tampa Bay, Toronto or San Jose
  5. Mike Green-An offensive defenseman who could bring some serious help on the power play (13 points this year) and will skate 20+ minutes. Green would bring veteran help to Washington, Tampa Bay or Toronto.


Dissecting whose to blame for the Blackhawks debacle this season

An unprecedented run of excellence is coming to an end in the NHL. After nine years of playoffs and three Stanley Cups, the Chicago Blackhawks have officially become a mess and are going to miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade.


The big question looking at this team is who is to blame for this mess. Well as usual there are multiple people to blame. In this article we will look at a couple of entities from the coaching staff, front office and players and assess a percentage to define their responsibility in this decline


Currently at the two-thirds mark the Blackhawks are way on the outside looking in as they are 8 points out of the playoffs having to climb past four teams. This is a team that has lost four in a row and six in a row at home.


The Players


The first group that has to be looked at is the players. To put it simply, they just aren’t getting it done on the ice. It’s clear that seven years of long playoff runs and short offseasons have sapped this team of a lot of the legs and energy that they had in the past. And while Patrick Kane continues to get better and show that he is going to have many big years ahead of him as he continues to be a point per game player.


However, it’s the other core members that have taken a drop, some small but others a big drop. Duncan Keith is still a number one defenseman but he is no longer among the top five defensemen in the NHL. That’s a minor problem if you have up and coming defensemen that are able to fill the gaps and show they have potential to be permanent fixtures in the top two pairings but there are no clear candidates besides Jordan Oesterle who only has 54 games under his belt and has career highs in points (11) this year in his 29 games.


It’s a bigger problem that Brent Seabrook continues to decline at a rapid pace along with the captain Jonathan Toews. Seabrook doesn’t produce as much offensively anymore and continues to see the game past him by as he gets slower. More on Seabrook below when we get to the general manager. But the biggest problem on this team is that Jonathan Toews continues to see his game fall off of a cliff and begs the question, where in the world is Jonathan Toews’ game because it certainly isn’t in Chicago.


In his first nine games, Toews shot had a career shooting percentage of 15 percent. Between last year and this season, Toews is shooting 10.2 percent. For this season, Toews is shooting 9.7 percent. This is a huge drop and while not unprecedented as Sidney Crosby went through something similar in the dead period of his career with injuries and when his team sucked as well, Crosby was shooting at times 2.5 to 4 percent below his career average before the Penguins won back to back Stanley Cups. The past two seasons, Crosby has shot 14.5 percent in 2015-2016 (his career average) and 17.3 percent. Toews has never been an offensive juggernaut like Kane but the Blackhawks need him to have more of an offensive game if they are going to go anywhere.


And that’s not to say that core is all to blame for the woes. Brandon Saad, the big acquisition in the offseason, is having an awful season which saw him demoted to the fourth line earlier this week. Patrick Sharp is showing that he’s at the end of his career and the defensemen have been awful in zone coverage as well. And the back goaltending has been horrid with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass with 8 wins in 27 games started this year. They simply do not remain in their positioning and never come up with the big save that you need in order to win some of these games.


And what this team lacks is that killer instinct and heart. Sometimes the most impactful players are the ones that stick up for others like a Jamal Mayers, Daniel Carcillo and Adam Burish. That’s not to say that you have to get a guy who is going to punch a guy in the face. But the right role players bring togetherness and camaraderie to a locker room. The absence of heart on this team leads them to looking lifeless. It can’t be all on Toews and Kane to provide all of the heart. You need the role players who make the team feel like a family and right now there isn’t that anymore on this team.


There have been failures up and down the lineup which have cost the Blackhawks dearly this year and the players deserve a share of the blame especially as this was a team that with most of these young players on the team last year had the best record in the Western Conference. Simply it’s the players on the ice that do the job and have to perform up to expectations which they are not doing.


Percentage of Blame: 30 percent


Joel Quenneville


First of all let me preface this with the fact that Joel Quenneville for my money is the best coach in the NHL. And he has consistently gotten excellence out of this franchise. He has his thumb on the pulse of this team like no other and knows when to ride them and when to let off.


For my money this is not his fault. Yes, the power play sucks, which it always does, it’s currently ranked 29th in the NHL. Surprisingly only two years ago the Blackhawks were 2nd in the NHL on the power play. Part of the decline of the power play is that nobody goes to the net except for Artem Anisimov.


But there are other factors that are out of Quenneville’s control such as the fact that Corey Crawford, who was having a Vezina caliber season, has been out for two months now and that his backup goaltenders are awful.


Another thing that Quenneville can’t control is that his team is shooting at an awful percentage. Seriously, they’ve outshot opponents at almost 2 shots per game and they’re shooting 8.5 percent which is what they were shooting a month ago when we went over that with some more puck luck, they could turn things around which hasn’t happened.


The one thing that Quenneville can control though is playing time and he has tried to get Saad turned around and nothing has worked. Give him credit, he benched Seabrook who responded with a goal the next game. The only option that he hasn’t tried yet is to go “nuclear” which I’m surprised he hasn’t yet by putting Toews and Kane together with whomever he chooses. With their season on life support Quenneville should consider putting the two of them with Saad and seeing if they can drive possession. It could allow younger players the opportunity to grow even more by putting Nick Schmaltz, Alex Debrincat and Anthony Duclair together.


And Quenneville while given a younger team has allowed these players to grow. Schmaltz is second on the team with 39 points and Debrincat is second in goals with 19. Quenneville has shown that the future does look bright given that the team can make the right decisions to bring in additional talent.


The fear that I have is that they will get rid of Quenneville as the front office needs a scapegoat for a third consecutive flame out in the season. And again I’m not saying that Quenneville is to blame, he shoulders the least blame in my eyes but I wonder are the players tuning out his message? Remember the Penguins tuned out Dan Byslma and Mike Johnston before Mike Sullivan came into the picture and resurrected the franchise .


Quenneville has been the coach of the Blackhawks for a decade and sometimes a new voice is needed to get players back up to their potential. Again, I don’t think that the Quenneville deserves to get fired because he doesn’t control the injuries and that this team has played below expectations. In the grand scheme of things, it’s up to other people to perform and should not fall on Quenneville when they fail to live up to expectations.


Percentage of Blame: 5 percent


Stan Bowman


The lion’s share of blame falls at the feet of one man and that is the general manager of the Blackhawks. If there is one man who assumes the majority of blame, it’s Bowman. Remember last year when he said he would have to be better and that he would be better.


Yeah not so much Stan.


Let’s look at all of the moves that have backfired so far on good old Stan. He traded away the best defensive defenseman on this team in Niklas Hjalmarsson, a three time Stanley Cup Champion, for Connor Murphy who while he hasn’t been bad isn’t the caliber of Hjalmarsson yet. He made the team weaker defensively all in the name of getting younger and faster. He traded Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad another trade that is looking worse by the day as Saad looks more and more lost in what should be a familiar system.


Those are just the ones this year along with not replacing Scott Darling with a competent backup goaltender as Forsberg and Glass have looked horrible. In addition, Bowman never used the injury relief that he got from Marian Hossa being placed on LTIR to upgrade the defense. This a defense that has gotten slower and more inexperienced over the past several years.


And if you wanted to make a radical change to this team you can’t because Bowman has handcuffed the Blackhawks with bad contracts. Do you really think that anybody was going to pay Seabrook $7 million a year for 8 years? At age 31 to take a lumbering, slow defenseman who was only going to get slower at he ages to his mid-thirties? Oh and on top of that Bowman gave him a full no movement clause through the 2022 season which becomes a 5 team trade list in 2023 and 10 team in the final year of his contract.


Good job Stan, that’s really brilliant to give an old, slow defenseman who is no longer a top line defenseman and will soon become a third pairing defenseman a huge contract that nobody will take. I’m all for loyalty to your players but part of being a good businessman which a general manager should be is to show restraint and not paint yourself into a corner.


The Blackhawks have 8 no movement clauses on their roster if you count Marian Hossa’s. While the Blackhawks were winning Cups, Bowman was handing out no movement clauses like Oprah was handing out cars to members in her audience.


If it wasn’t no movement clauses, too often Bowman has been bidding against himself when negotiating extensions with players. Seabrook is overpaid, you can make the case that he added an extra million a year for Toews and Kane although they were the top two players in the NHL at that point and the cap was supposed to go up along with those extensions which didn’t happen. Also to be fair, nobody saw Toews game falling off of a cliff.


But how about Bryan Bickell who was paid $4 million a year solely based off of his amazing 2013 playoff or Richard Panik getting almost $3 million a year because he had a decent season after being a fringe NHL player for his whole career? He has routinely been hamstrung by deals like these that have cost him players routinely.


After the 2015 Cup, he had to trade Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt along with Stephen Johns to alleviate him mismanaging the salary cap. And my goodness, did he really trade this year’s second round pick along with Phillip Danault for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale “Punching” Weise? He gave up a first round pick for Andrew Ladd.

There have been repeated instances of being up against the cap and having to fill out the roster with minimum guys. You want to know why this happens, it’s when you pay $63 million to 14 players and have only $12 million for 9 players that you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel.


You should only have to do that for a few players but the Blackhawks continuously find themselves in peril against the salary cap because Bowman has put them in bad positions over and over in addition to trading away future draft picks which puts the Blackhawks in a bind because they don’t have a constant flow of youth into the roster.


The lack of flexibility and overpaying of players is finally catching up to an aging roster which is trying to do a massive youth movement while at the same time retooling on the fly as they maintain their standing in the hierarchy of the NHL. Quite simply, those two goals just don’t match up. But if you want to look at one man who is responsible for the Blackhawks falling off of a cliff and quickly fading to irrelevance in the NHL, look at the man who has built this roster over the past couple of years and seems to not be able to figure out how to hand out appropriate contracts which then hinder your ability to build a team. It’s clear that Bowman is the man primarily responsible for this disaster.


Percentage of Blame: 65 percent


Meet the Metropolitan the NHL’s most competitive division

Every year we try to sift through what is the best or most competitive division in hockey. As we exit the all-star break and play starts up again tonight, it’s time to look at a division that is going to be sending 5 teams to the playoffs.

With all due respect to the Pacific and Central divisions which have some great races going, there is no doubt that the best division from top to bottom is the Metropolitan division. Ironically, the top two East teams and three of the four best records reside in the Atlantic division. But think about the Atlantic division so far which has seen several teams hold the top spot at some point in the season and currently has all eight teams within 11 points of each other.

The unpredictability of the division is going to ensure a wild race for the top five spots. Right now with Washington in the lead six points clear of Columbus and Pittsburgh at 63 points. Here’s a look at the craziness to come starting tonight

Washington-13 (4 of 5 games coming out of break are in division)

Columbus-13 (10 of 12 games starting on Saturday are in the division)

Pittsburgh-14 (7 of last 12 games are in division)

New Jersey-16 (6 of last 9 games are in division)

Philadelphia-17 (8 of last 12 games are in division)

New York Rangers-12 (10 of last 13 games are in division)

New York Islanders-13 (7 of last 13 games are in division)

Carolina-14 (6 of 8 games between end of February and beginning of March are in division)

Washington has a nice cushion right now but that can change at a moment’s notice. However below Washington is a logjam of teams. Columbus and Pittsburgh are tied for second in the division at 57 points. Right on their heels New Jersey and Philadelphia are tied in fourth and hold both wild card spots at 56 points. The Rangers and Islanders are tied in sixth place with 55 points and Carolina which is in eighth place has 52 points.

With just 5 points separating seven teams, we are in store for a great finish. Combine with the fact that every team will play each other at least once over the final two months. A hot streak can make a huge difference in the race over the next two months. Carolina is capable of getting hot and making a run as they only have to make up five points to get to a guaranteed playoff spot.

The one thing that all of the Metropolitan teams have in their favor is that Detroit and Montreal, two teams who are tied for fourth in the Atlantic have 46 points which is nine points out of a playoff spot. So most likely both wild card spots will come from the Metropolitan which is good news for the competitive fight that lies ahead for all five playoff spots.

Any team could win this division. Pittsburgh has been hot winning 7 of 9 as Sidney Crosby has 19 points in that span. Don’t forget about Philadelphia either as they have won 8 of their past 10. And if Columbus can settle down and find a way to score more goals, they too could make a run at trying to catch Washington.

One thing is for sure, the standings will always be changing and flipping every week which should make for a memorable race where anything can truly happen.

NHL Midseason Recap

As we enter 2018, we also approach the halfway point of the NHL season. It’s time to look back and forward with 10 observations so far of the NHL season.


1.) Vegas is for real


It seems unfathomable that an expansion team can be doing this good but the Vegas Golden Knights have been great all year long. Entering Sunday, they had won six in a row, are leading the Pacific Division and the Western Conference as well. They have won 25 of their 36 games so far and are a staggering 16-2-1 at home as teams are obviously struggling to adjust to the Vegas road trips. But the balanced scoring throughout the lineup with James Neal, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault has allowed Vegas to survive the injuries to Marc Andre Fleury and company. Vegas has shown that they’re not just a team that got off to a hot start but that they are here to stay.

2.) The craziness of the Metropolitan Division

Is there another division that is crazier in the NHL this year? With all due respect to the Central which is again very strong, there are no more than three points between any spot and all eight teams in the Metropolitan are separated by eleven points. Every week it seems that all of the teams are switching positions. It makes for a fun race for the top three spots in the division as well as most likely the two wild cards. As the Islanders who are in the second wild card position are five points ahead of the Florida Panthers who are in fourth place in the Atlantic. It’s going to be a fun battle to the end as the teams such as Hurricanes, Islanders, Rangers and Penguins are going to have to earn a top three spot in the division if they’re going to catch the top teams.

3.) What the heck is going on with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames?

It was expected that the Oilers and Flames were going to take the next step but they have fallen flat so far. Two areas of concern for both teams are that they both struggle at home and are playing below .500 as well as having negative goal differentials. Another area where both teams struggle is the penalty kill where Calgary is sixth worst in the NHL and Edmonton is dead last in the NHL. Calgary has only scored 104 goals in 38 games and the problem for them has been that they don’t score enough goals to make up for an awful penalty kill. For Edmonton it’s been the opposite problem as Cam Talbot has taken a step back as his save percentage is down to .906 after being .919 last season and his goals against average is up to 2.93 after being 2.39 last year. For both teams the issues are fixable and they have time to correct them as third place in the Pacific division is obtainable but for both of them to be out of playoff position at this time is shocking.

4.) The surprising New Jersey Devils

One of the pleasant surprises this year has been the New Jersey Devils, who currently find themselves in second place in the Metropolitan division. Taylor Hall is leading the way in goals, assists and points but this is a deep, young and fast team that creates havoc for a full 200 feet on the ice. Nico Hischier has been terrific as a rookie with 7 goals and 17 assists in 38 games along with Will Butcher who has 23 points. With an influx of young talent in the rookies, it’s Brian Boyle who has been the catalyst for the Devils. After returning from treatment for Leukemia, Boyle has been an emotional lift for the team and has 10 goals in 28 games so far. If New Jersey can continue to get contributions from everybody in the lineup and strong goaltending from Corey Schneider they have a good chance of making the playoffs.

5.) Nashville looks to be on a mission

One of the scary things for the Western Conference and the rest of the NHL is that Nashville looks to be even better than they were last year. Nashville has a +19 goal differential which is good for top in the Central division along with Winnipeg. But ever since acquiring Kyle Turris, Nashville has been on fire. Turris has 18 points in his 23 games along with a filthy power play goal Thursday against Minnesota. The thing that makes Nashville scary for everybody in the West is that they can roll four lines with ease and matchup with everybody. They have plenty of scoring depth as they have nine skaters with 20+ points already. Their defense is the best in the NHL and they’ve done all this without Ryan Ellis who should be back within the next week. Nashville is not a flash in the pan, they’re for real and they’re here to stay.

6.) Tampa Bay continuing to roll through the NHL

One of the best stories this year has been the Tampa Bay Lightning and their assault on the rest of the league. They’ve been at the top of the league since the start of the year. They have the best record in the NHL at 28-8-2 to go with the best goal differential at +51. They can play on the road (best record in the NHL) or at home (2nd best record in the NHL). In addition, they have the top ranked power play in the NHL. They are loaded everywhere, Nikita Kucherov has been phenomenal again as he leads the NHL in points (56) and goals (25). In addition, Steven Stamkos is healthy and has 49 points in 37 games. To go along with their top ranked offense, they lead the NHL in goals per game with 3.7, is stellar goaltending as Andrei Vasilevskiy has a goals against average of 2.08, save percentage of .934, 25 wins and 5 shutouts so far. Tampa Bay either leads or is top five in almost every statistical category so far and have established themselves as the clear favorite as they have matured since their 2015 loss in the final to Chicago under Jon Cooper.

7.) The teams that would miss the playoffs if they started today

It’s stunning to believe but if the playoffs started today, there would be no Montreal, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary or Edmonton participating. That’s seven teams that made the playoffs last year that wouldn’t make them this year. Three of those teams won at least a round last year and both Eastern Conference Finalists would be out as well as the defending Stanley Cup champion. If I had to say who would make the playoffs today, I would guess that no more than three of those teams make the playoffs. Ottawa is too far back to make a move now as well as Montreal. I have a hard time seeing Pittsburgh miss the playoffs, they’re just too talented, I think they’ll find a way in and then it’s one of Chicago/Minnesota and one of Calgary/Edmonton.

8.) The Perplexing Cases of Pittsburgh and Chicago

These two have been mired in mediocrity all season. For Pittsburgh it’s understandable as they have had two long seasons and eventually the wear and tear of two short offseasons catches up to you. As for Chicago, after scoring 15 goals in their first two games, they have scored 94 goals in the last 35. It’s been puzzling for the two premier franchises in this era that they have struggled so much. However, there is one positive number to look to if you’re a fan of these teams that could suggest better things to come offensively. Both teams are shooting at a subpar level, Pittsburgh is ranked 27th in the NHL at 8 percent and Chicago is ranked 21st in the NHL at 8.5 percent. At some point, some of those shots and deflections start to find their way in and if the teams have a little more puck luck, they might score a few more goals which should translate to wins. If Pittsburgh is going to get back, it’s going to have to be the goaltending that improves as they are 28th in the NHL in save percentage (.897). I find it hard to believe that Matt Murray is going to have a case of the stinkers for the whole year. For Chicago it’s the offense that has left them. There are only five players with 10 or more goals. Jonathan Toews is struggling yet again with 10 goals and 13 assists in 34 games. If both teams can fix what has been plaguing them, there is no reason with their pedigree that they can’t find themselves in the playoffs at the end of the year.

9.) The Rookie Race

As usual there is another fantastic group of rookies in the NHL as the youth movement continues to shine as it has for the last several years. Brock Boeser of Vancouver leads all rookies in goals (21) and points (38). But that’s not all as Mathew Barzal of the Islanders has 36 points and Clayton Keller has 32 points in 41 games for Arizona. In fact, 11 rookies have 10 or more goals so far. And it’s not just forwards but defenseman also who are impressing such as Mikhail Sergachev for Tampa Bay who leads rookie defenseman in goals (8) and points (25). Butcher as detailed above has been great and is second in assists (21) for rookies. It’ll be a great Calder trophy race that takes place over the second half of the season as usual.

10.) Revisiting preseason predictions

As always there are some predictions that I’m happy with and some that I wish I could take back. I would like to take back Florida and Montreal making the playoffs as I think Boston and New Jersey are going to make the playoffs and I still think that Pittsburgh and Carolina will make the playoffs. In the West, I would like to take back Edmonton winning the Pacific division and put Vegas into the playoffs as well as Los Angeles for Calgary, with Los Angeles winning the division. And I think Winnipeg will make the playoffs although that’s less of a certainty now with Mark Schiefle out for 6-8 weeks. In terms of Stanley Cup final picks, I think it’s more likely to be Tampa Bay versus Nashville instead of Tampa Bay versus Chicago with Tampa Bay winning in a tight series against Nashville. That would be a great series to see and one that would be great for hockey fans.

Blackhawks pull out a much needed win

It was a struggle on Friday night for the Blackhawks as they took on the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center but ultimately they were able to pull out a 3-2 victory in overtime snapping their five game losing streak. Here’s how they did it.

Make no mistake if you look at the shots on goal numbers for the Blackhawks, they controlled the play outshooting the Sabres in each period. But after one period, it was the Sabres scoring a late power play goal when Jason Pominville scored his eighth of the season with 18 seconds remaining.

It was a choppy start to the second period where neither team seemed to get any momentum. But it was the Blackhawks who tied the game at one when Alex Debrincat rescued a lifeless power play by scoring in the waning seconds when he beat Robin Lehner with a beautiful wrist shot at 8:30 of the period for his 12th of the season. The game did not remain tied for long Kyle Okposo scored his fourth goal of the season when he beat Crawford high glove side just two and a half minutes later.

It appeared that the Blackhawks were heading to another loss when they were rescued on the penalty kill. Gustav Forsling started the play when he took advantage of a bad Buffalo substitution as the had six players on the ice. Forsling had an open lane and instead of shooting he looked for a pass. Forsling found a cutting Tommy Wingels who was crashing towards the net. A tape to tape pass by Forsling found the stick of Wingels who redirected it to tie the game shorthanded with 3:22 remaining.

After a clunky start to overtime where neither team could take control. Jack Eichel was taken down by Forsling on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. In his first game back from after missing three, Corey Crawford stoned Eichel by closing the five-hole to keep the game going. The game appeared to be heading for a shootout but Forsling threw a puck from the just inside the blue line that somehow beat Lehner through the five-hole with 4.9 seconds remaining in overtime, his third goal of the season, to give the Blackhawks the win. Forsling finished the night with 1 goal and 2 assists while playing a 22:04 to get a well earned first star.

First and 10: Observations from the NFL season so far

We’ll be debuting a new column every week during the NFL season going over quick hits. Today, we’re emptying out the notebook from the whole season so far.

1.) Jerry Jones is Jerry Jones which is a hypocrite

It’s no secret that Jones likes to bring the dramatics in Dallas. From his staunch stance on that he doesn’t condone domestic violence to his pursuit to remove Roger Goodell as commissioner of the NFL. If there is someone who has been a defender of his players and what they do on their own time, it has been Jones. From the signing of Greg Hardy to his confusing defense of Ezekiel Elliot, Jones has been on the wrong side of his argument. If there is someone who has condoned domestic violence and other criminal activity in the NFL, it has been Jones. There are disturbing stories of what the players on Dallas did in the mid 90s during their heyday. For Jones to be running his mouth about how he doesn’t condone domestic violence and that Dallas is the toughest team in the NFL, is laughable based on him sweeping everything under the rug and then signing Hardy and defending Elliot when he was caught red-handed. And the power play to stop the extension of Goodell, reeks of a spoiled billionaire crying because he’s not getting his way because Elliot was rightfully suspended by Goodell.

2.) The surprising resurgence of the Rams

It’s stunning that through week 10, the Los Angeles Rams are at 7-2. After struggling mightily in his rookie year, Jared Goff has been spectacular this season and has increased his efficiency, completing 61 percent of his passes,  throwing 16 touchdowns to 4 interceptions along with 2,385 yards so far, more than doubling his average per game from last season. It’s no secret that a lot of the success goes to new coach Sean McVay and that the reemergence of Todd Gurley II has been a huge factor for the best offense in the NFL so far. Oh and they’re stingy too, allowing the third fewest points in the NFL and the least in the NFC.

3.) The new kids on the block

It’s not just the Rams who are thriving this year. How about the Philadelphia Eagles who have the best record in the NFL at 8-1 with a dynamic passing attack? Right now Philadelphia looks like the team to beat in the NFC as Carson Wentz has made a huge leap in his second year and is leading the NFL in passing touchdowns with 23. The addition of Alshon Jeffery and Jay Ajayi has made them incredibly deep. On the AFC side, the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are vying for the AFC South crown. Tennessee has relied on the running attack of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to lead the way while Jacksonville is getting it done behind Leonard Fournette and a great defense that leads the NFL in sacks (35), tied for third in interceptions (11), tied for ninth in forced fumbles (10) and tied for first with 4 defensive touchdowns. It’ll be very exciting to see how new teams react to the pressure of a playoff race.

4.) New England keeps on rolling

The sky seemed to be falling when the Patriots lost two games at home in the first month of the season. A leaky defense was going to cost the Patriots from repeating along with Tom Brady turning 40. However, all New England has done during their 5 game win streak is average 25.6 points per game along with a now stout defense that has allowed 13.4 points per game. Meanwhile, Brady seems to get better as he ages as he has thrown for over 300+ yards in 5 games this year. With a schedule that features only three games against winning teams, the Patriots have a great chance of getting home field throughout the AFC playoffs.

5.) Rookie quarterbacks getting their chance early and often

No longer do teams seem to be willing to be patient with their rookie quarterbacks. In what was originally considered a weak class, DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky sat on the bench for a combined 5 games before their first NFL starts. This was mostly due to the ineptitude of Tom Savage and Mike Glennon who were both awful along with the fact that Cleveland hasn’t had a decent quarterback since George H.W. Bush was in office. Watson was spectacular until he tore his ACL in practice after the Seattle game, Trubisky has taken tiny steps forward each week and Kizer has been up and down. The only first round pick to not play so far is Patrick Mahomes III who has been behind Alex Smith, who has played really well, in Kansas City. And yet another rookie quarterback will be making his debut on Sunday in Buffalo with Nathan Peterman taking over for Tyrod Taylor who has been ineffective in the past few games.

6.) The curious case of Andrew Luck

It was originally thought that Luck would be back sometime in training camp but he was shut down again with the shoulder that bothered him last season. Then it was a few weeks into the season that Luck would be cleared for practice, which he was only to be shut down after two practices. Now Luck is in Europe trying to get treatment on his shoulder to at this point you would have to say, save his career. Luck played through the injury last year throwing for 31 touchdowns in 15 games and there is no basis for Jim Irsay’s comments that he made to Tony Dungy that Luck needs to play through the pain when he did that last year. The last thing that teams should be encouraging players to do is embrace a macho culture and playing through injuries that will affect them long after their playing days. But by the end of this year, Luck will have missed 26 games in the last three seasons and next year could be a make or break year for him if he can come back from his shoulder injury.

7.) NFL concussion protocol

Speaking of Luck, why does the NFL concussion protocol continue to fail spectacularly? Twice last week, the concussion protocol was made into a complete farce. First it was Russell Wilson going into the tent for three seconds after fighting the medical staff who was trying to examine him for a concussion. Wilson went into the tent and then promptly left as soon as he stepped into it to go back out on the field a play later. Meanwhile, Jacoby Brisset was stumbling around as he was dazed from a hard hit, yet the independent spotter did not stop the game and remove him. It reminded me of the 2016 opening game in where Cam Newton was a human target for the Denver defense and was walking around stumbling or holding his head in pain on the ground but was never taken out. In one case, the player refused and in another the procedure that was in place failed when nobody took out a visibly injured player to assess him for a concussion. It makes what Ben Roethlisberger did last season when he removed himself from a game because he felt concussion symptoms more courageous. Here’s a solution to get the players to buy in and take head trauma more seriously. Any player that doesn’t comply with the concussion protocol and get a proper examination, will be automatically suspended for one game without pay which should get players to be more willing to take their time to get properly examined.

8.) The curious case of the free agent quarterback market

Several teams are in catastrophe mode with their quarterbacks currently. Denver hasn’t had a quarterback since Peyton Manning left two years ago and have three different players start for them at the position. Meanwhile Houston started with Savage then to Watson only to go back to Savage after Watson injured his knee and don’t get me started on the carousel at the position behind center that has been moving nonstop for over a quarter of a century in Cleveland. The point is these are just three teams that have a need for a quarterback. Yet these are just a few of the quarterbacks that have been brought into Denver and Houston this season: Brock Osweiler, Josh Johnson, Matt McGloin (who was released after a week) and TJ Yates. Yates will be the third started for Houston this year. Buffalo in the midst of a playoff race is starting Peterman this week over Tyrod Taylor and Arizona is on their third starting quarterback now as well with Blaine Gabbert replacing the injured Drew Stanton after he replaced Carson Palmer. That’s four teams with legitimate playoff hopes and Cleveland who have not signed Colin Kaepernick. And don’t forget about Green Bay which could win their division if they had a legitimate quarterback instead of Brett Hundeley. I’m not going to get into a whole discussion about my thoughts on Kapernick which were summed up in a post a couple of months ago; however, to say that Kapernick isn’t on an NFL roster meanwhile ten quarterbacks who have flamed out are is a disgrace to the NFL and lends evidence to Kapernick’s assertion that the owners are colluding against him. If you’re looking at a football argument, Kaepernick deserves to be on an NFL roster especially based on his 4:1 TD-INT ratio last season.

9.) New Orleans has a different look this year

It’s odd to say but the Saints have been marching on to the tune of seven wins in a row with Drew Brees just being a role player. No longer do the Saints rely on him to throw for 300 yards per game and 2-3 touchdowns in order to win. Now New Orleans has a running game and a defense. Their running game has been fantastic led by Mark Ingram and rookie, Alvin Kamara, who have combined for close to 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns so far. In fact in 2 of the past 3 games, Brees hasn’t thrown a touchdown but the Saints have won both and last week they had 6 rushing touchdowns in their victory.  Along with a strong defense, New Orleans is winning games in a different manner and being a more complete team gives them a great chance to go deep into January and try to get Brees that elusive second Super Bowl.

10.) The surprising decline of the Chiefs

Remember when the Chiefs were world beaters and were going to waltz their way to the Super Bowl? They were 5-0 before losing 3 of their last 4. Kareem Hunt was tearing up the league as a rookie sensation, however, in his last 4 games, he has rushed for less than 50 yards three times and has not found the end zone in his last 6 games. Meanwhile, Alex Smith has completed less than 70 percent of his passes in three consecutive games before the last game. The silver lining for the Chiefs is that the schedule lightens up as they have only one game against a team with a winning record and four of their final six at home. There’s plenty of time for the Chiefs to turn it around and make a run at a first round bye.


NHL Season Preview

The time of the year where the air gets cool and crisp, means it’s time for the NHL to start up again. Unless you live in the northern part of the US where it’s been 80s and 90s over the past few weeks. However, with the nice weather, it’s hard to believe that the three and a half months have already passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year becoming the first team to repeat since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

Below you will find a primer to each division along with predictions for all of the major awards and playoffs.

Atlantic Division

This is a division that seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard over the next couple of years. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked everybody last year by coming out of nowhere, led by the first pick of the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews, to grab the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and challenge Washington before losing in 6 games in the Metropolitan Divisional Semifinal. With another year, Toronto looks to build with their promising young core led by Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

However, reigning divisional champs, Montreal will have something to say about that as they have the best goaltender to never win anything in Carey Price leading them again along with Shea Weber quarterbacking the power play.

Meanwhile, Ottawa will try to build off of their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final, but can they survive the loss of Marc Methot? And will Craig Anderson be able to avoid a slump after his phenomenal year?

Tampa Bay looks to be finally healthy with Steven Stamkos returning from injury. If he’s healthy watch out, as Tampa will be contending for the divisional crown assuming that they get good goaltending play from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Boston could struggle if they don’t get more secondary scoring to support Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, they will need a huge year from Tuukka Rask.

An interesting team to watch is Florida, they have proven that if they can stay healthy they have the talent to make the playoffs. If Aaron Ekblad has a strong year they will be in the mix for sure.

A big question for Buffalo is can Jack Eichel stay healthy and elevate his team? If he can stay healthy he should have a monster season but do they have enough around him?

Sadly the Detroit Red Wings will remain in their rebuild after 25 years of excellence; however, the future is bright for them as they have exciting pieces in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

Metropolitan Division

As is always the case with this division, the two biggest intriguing storylines will revolve around the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The biggest storyline in the NHL is can Pittsburgh three peat for the first time since the 1980s New York Islanders? The answer to that will revolve around the healthy of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray.

For the Capitals after losing yet again in a Game 7, this time to Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Divisional Final, will they be able to get over the hump after losing several key defensive pieces in Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Nikisen? This is not as deep of a team anymore and Alex Ovechkin will need to raise his game to another level to get Washington over the hump.

The New York Rangers bolstered their blue line corps with the addition of hometown boy Shattenkirk, but they lost a lot on offense with the departure of Derek Stepan and do they have enough scoring to get by?

Meanwhile, Columbus continues to add more talent as they got more dangerous offensively with the addition of Artemi Panarin who will have a chance to prove he can be the guy as he plays without Patrick Kane. They’re a nasty, physical young team that hopes with more offense they can take another step forward.

Meanwhile the New York Islanders hope to retain John Tavares and the addition of Jordan Eberle certainly doesn’t hurt but the Islanders didn’t get substantially better in the offseason.

The New Jersey Devils added first overall pick Nico Hirschier but he alone will not fix what is wrong with New Jersey which continues to waste the prime of Corey Schneider’s career.

Philadelphia has Nolan Patrick in the fold now; however, much like New Jersey they haven’t been able to fix their goaltending woes either which prevent them from challenging for a playoff berth.

Finally, Carolina is an intriguing team as they try to become Chicago East with the additions of Marcus Kruger, Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling. These additions along with a young core led by Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Sebastian Aho have the potential to surprise some people.

Central Division

In a division where it seems that it’s never good to be the division winner, that history continued last season. The Dallas Stars who won the division in the 2015-2016 season, didn’t make the playoffs as they were ravaged by injuries. Additions of Ken Hitchcock, Ben Bishop and Marc Methot should make this team more defensively focused and tougher to play.

Chicago surprised everybody by getting swept by Nashville in the Central Divisional semifinal after gaining the number one seed in the Western Conference. A mini retooling of the roster brought Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp back to help Jonathan Toews and Kane which should help the Blackhawks with scoring depth.

The Nashville Predators were the trendy pick at the start of the season but struggled to adapt with the addition of PK Subban but from midseason on they were humming along. Nashville had an amazing run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final.

Minnesota surprised everybody last year with a strong regular season. But again the struggles of Bruce Boudreau teams in the playoffs happened as they lost in the Central Divisional Semifinal. If Eric Staal can have another big year, Minnesota should be right there at the end of the season.

Mike Yeo got his revenge as he took over the St. Louis Blues in the middle of the season to lead them to the playoffs and upset his old team Minnesota. Injuries are a huge concern on the blue line already and they will only go as far as Jake Allen takes them.

Offense isn’t the problem in Winnipeg. They are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Mark Schiefle and Patrick Laine lead the way and had monster years last season. But can the defense and Steve Mason in goal do enough to get Winnipeg back to the playoffs?

And in Colorado they continue to be a dumpster fire that seems to be directionless. They still haven’t traded Matt Duchene and seemed destined to be the worst team in the league again this season as they struggle on defense and putting the puck in the net.

Pacific Division

The other big story in Canada last year was the ascension of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers who burst onto the scene and made the playoffs while McDavid took home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. However, Edmonton isn’t just McDavid, they have Leon Draisiatl and Cam Talbot as part of a dangerous young core. Talbot was superb in the playoffs after playing 74 games in the regular season.

But before that they will have to go through the bully of the Pacific in the bruising Anaheim Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf had a great second half of the year and then teamed up with Ryan Kesler to shut down McDavid and company in a classic 7 game Pacific Divisional Final. Anaheim is loaded on the blue line and seem poised to make another huge playoff run.

It’s rare to see in this day and age that a team doesn’t make any moves in the offseason to bring back the same team but that’s what the San Jose Sharks did. But San Jose is still talented with Brett Burns bringing a ton of offense from the blue line and Martin Jones in net; however, this feels like the last run with this aging core of players who only lost Patrick Marleau in the offseason. .

The Calgary Flames added several veterans to help the young kids along the way. The additions of Mike Smith and Jaromir Jagr bring veteran leadership to a team looking to recover from a shellacking in the first round of the playoffs. If Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan continue to grow, Calgary will be good for a long time.

Meanwhile the other team in western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks, seems to never want to pick a direction. The Sedin twins are past their prime but the additions of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto appear to be win now moves when Vancouver should be looking to the future.

Another team that seems to be in between is the Los Angeles Kings who got rid of Darryl Sutter as their coach. But this a team that seems to be slower and not adapting to a faster NHL. If they are to get back to their glory days, they will need Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty rebound and be excellent along with good health for Jonathan Quick.

One team that is going to be at the bottom but actually does have a direction is the Arizona Coyotes who are in a youth movement. There are the pieces for the future with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair leading the way and the addition of Niklas Hjalmarsson will bring veteran leadership to a young locker room.

Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights enter the league with a mish mash of parts. But they have talent in goal with three time Cup winner, Marc Andre Fleury and the presence of him should keep Vegas in a lot of games. With Fleury, Nate Schmidt, James Neal and others, will that be enough to keep them out of the basement?


Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs-They are loaded with Matthews and company and the addition of Marleau brings veteran leadership and scoring to make them even more dangerous and win their first division title.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning-One of these years they have to be healthy right? With Hedman and Nikita Kucherov leading the way, this is a team that no longer relies on just Stamkos to thrive.
  3. Montreal Canadiens- Can Jonathan Drouin elevate his game in Montral with top line minutes? If Price goes down, they are in trouble but his play in net will allow Montreal to secure a guaranteed playoff berth
  4. Florida Panthers-The Panthers are a team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Luongo has played well and they will get bounce back performances from Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau to sneak in as a wild card team.
  5. Buffalo Sabres-It will be a positive step forward for Buffalo as Eichel shows he is a star in the making. The goaltending of Robin Lehner will prevent them from making the playoffs
  6. Boston Bruins-A team in transition, they need Rask to be sensational to get into the playoffs. However, without a true superstar among the forwards or defense, Rask won’t be enough for them to get in the playoffs.
  7. Ottawa Senators-The darlings of last season fall to earth as the loss of Methot will hurt the team defensively along with the anticipated regression of Craig Anderson.
  8. Detroit Red Wings-The glory days are over and the long rebuild begins for Detroit but the promise is there with Larkin, Athanansiou and Anthony Mantha, a last place finish is assured.

Metropolitan Division 

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins-The Stanley Cup champs are the class of their division and with Crosby, Malkin and Letang leading the way, they should barely win their division.
  2. Columbus Blue Jackets-John Tortorella has changed the culture of this team and the addition of Panarin bring more offense to a defensive team that has stellar goaltending in Bobrovsky.
  3. Washington Capitals-They won’t win the division while they retool. Holtby will need to be great in net with new pieces on the blue line in front of him but again the playoffs will be key for them.
  4. Carolina Hurricanes-Loaded with young talent such as Jaccob Slavin, Faulk, Hanifin, they have the potential to surprise. Having Justin Williams back as a veteran forward will give Carolina the boost they need to return to the postseason.
  5. New York Rangers-Lundqvist is still there and they have a good blue line that will provide points. However, the lack of elite offensive talent will cost them this year as they barely miss out on the playoffs.
  6. New York Islanders-Eberle will be a great running mate for Tavares; however, they struggle in goal and with secondary scoring and defense. They will be in the running for a spot but fall short.
  7. Philadelphia Flyers-They’re in the middle between being competitive and rebuilding. Nolan Patrick should be fun to watch as swell as their blue line but they don’t have enough pieces.
  8. New Jersey Devils-Schneider keeps them in games and it should be fun to watch Hischier but they are another team that doesn’t have enough on the blue line to win consistently.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Nashville Predators-Ryan Johansen is healthy and Pekka Rinne is still in net. They should be more consistent after their incredible run next year and win a tough division with the best blue line in the West.
  2. Dallas Stars-Hitchcock’s system will bring discipline to a great offensive team. That along with no debate about the number one goalie with Bishop in tow will have Dallas back in the playoffs.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks-Did the retooling help? Saad back with Toews should make the line dangerous and Nick Schmaltz should have a break out year with Kane. The key will be the blue line where there are unknowns after Keith and Seabrook.
  4. Minnesota Wild-Minnesota thrived under Boudreau last season and they should make the playoffs again. Parise should stay healthy and help Minnesota which returns every contributor snag a wild card spot.
  5. St. Louis Blues-After Yeo took over, they were spectacular. Getting Brayden Schenn to play on the first line gives them some serious offensive power. Expect Allen to regress but do just enough to get the second wild card spot.
  6. Winnipeg Jets-They will be able to outscore teams with their tremendous offensive talent. But the lack of an upgrade in net will cost them a playoff berth as they’ll be just on the outside looking in.
  7. Colorado Avalanche-They don’t have enough defense and not enough offense. Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have regressed and that’s not good for them as they stare at another last place finish.

Pacific Division

  1. Edmonton Oilers-McDavid leads the way again as they take another step forward while Talbot will show that he is the ironman in goal. They will lead the league in goals and get home ice which will be crucial early.
  2. Anaheim Ducks-The bully of the Pacific, they will jell later in the season and make a late run. Getzlaf and a resurgent Perry will lead the way for Anaheim as they look to make their 3rd conference final in 4 years.
  3. Calgary Flames-They have a lot of great young talent and that will continue to mature as Jagr shows them how to handle increased expectations. Mike Smith is an upgrade in goal and will solidify their weakest position as they make the playoffs.
  4. San Jose Sharks-They will fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end but another year for a core that didn’t add anything will cost them. But don’t be surprised if they wind up in the playoffs as their experience counts for something.
  5. Arizona Coyotes-Arizona will take another step forward and continue to improve and play meaningful games late. Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan show that they’re serous about winning and will help a young core grow.
  6. Los Angeles Kings-Another team that is long in the tooth, they need Kopitar and Brown to bounce back in order to make the playoffs. Their lack of depth will cost them a playoff spot in a tough division.
  7. Vegas Golden Knights-The expansion team won’t finish last thanks to the performance of Fleury. A young team that will get better as the year goes along and show the potential to make the playoffs in the next few years.
  8. Vancouver Canucks-The real question will be if they’re out of it by the middle of December if the Sedins get traded to chase that elusive Stanley Cup. There’s not enough talent for them to compete with everybody else.


Eastern Conference

Divisional Semifinals


1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. W1.) Carolina Hurricanes-Toronto in 6

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Montreal Canadiens-Tampa Bay in 5


1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. W2.) Florida Panthers-Pittsburgh in 5

2.) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. 3.) Washington Capitals-Columbus in 7

Divisional Final


1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 6


1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Columbus Blue Jackets-Pittsburgh in 7

Conference Final

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 7

Tampa Bay is a team that has been bit by the injury bug the past two seasons but they’ll be healthy this year entering the postseason and will beat a tough Toronto team and also Columbus will put Pittsburgh through a physical series the round before that they won’t be able to recover from. Vasilevskiy will outduel Murray in an incredible series that will see the impact that new addition Chris Kunitz has on both his new team and old team.

Western Conference

Divisional Semifinals


1.) Nashville Predators vs. W1.) Minnesota Wild-Nashville in 6

2.) Dallas Stars vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6


1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. W2.) St. Louis Blues-Edmonton in 5

2.) Anaheim Ducks vs. 3.) Calgary Flames-Anaheim in 7

Divisional Final


1.) Nashville Predators vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7


1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 2.) Anaheim Ducks-Edmonton in 7

Conference Final

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6

The Chicago team that you see to start the season will not be the same team at the end of the season as they’ll use the cap space available from the departure of Marian Hossa. Edmonton will get their revenge against Anaheim in another memorable series. Chicago with improved depth will get their revenge on Nashville as they’ll have the speed to skate with them this year. Edmonton is still a year away and will learn another important lesson on their journey to the Cup when Toews and company prevail over them.

Stanley Cup Final

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7

Never discount what an angry Toews can do. He’s been embarrassed before when the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012. However. the sweep last year against Nashville embarrassed him again. To add insult to injury Crosby won his third cup and completed something that Toews wasn’t able to by repeating as Stanley Cup Champion. Toews and company want to prove that they should be mentioned among the elite franchises of all time and the last time they were eliminated in the first round twice? They won the Cup the next year. With the radar not on them and a deeper supporting cast, they will sneak up on everybody and win on the road in a Game 7 to win their fourth cup in nine seasons.


Hart: Sidney Crosby

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Patrick Laine

Norris: P.K. Subban

Vezina: Matt Murray

Calder: Nico Hischier

Jack Adams: Bill Peters



Looking at NBA Expansion possibilities

Minds were intrigued over the past weekend when Adam Silver said that while expansion is not imminent it is inevitable. So could it be within the next five years that the NBA expands to 32 teams? With that thought in mind, let’s look at some of the possibilities and how an 82 game season would work with 32 teams.

It’s no secret that the balance of the NBA has been out of whack over the past decade with the West being the powerhouse conference while the East is the sisters of the poor. This is more evident when looking over the past seven years during the superteam era.

One way to balance out the leagues could be to put two expansion teams in the Western Conference which would balance things out a little more while two teams are trying to grow and become competitive.

The other reason that the NBA will expand? It’ll bring more money into the league. If the NHL could get $500 million from Bill Foley and the Vegas Golden Knights then why couldn’t the NBA get a similar fee if not more as they have a much better television deal.

Now for some of the cities that could be in the mix for a team.

The first city that has to come to mind is Seattle. It’s been a long decade since Kevin Durant was playing games for Seattle before they moved to Oklahoma City. With Clay Hansen and company looking to bring the NBA back to Seattle they would be the prime candidate.

Another city that is going to be a prime candidate is Las Vegas. The NBA will wait to see how the NHL performs in the market first before expressing any interest but if the Vegas experiment works, you can bet the NBA will be calling.

There’s several other interesting candidates including Mexico City. The NBA has put on several regular season games with great success in Mexico City which can open up other revenue streams and a new and exciting market.

With the Chargers out of town, San Diego could be looking for a new pro league team to fill winter days when the Padres aren’t playing. Or perhaps, St. Louis or Kansas City could be other candidates.

Now what would a league look like? Well the NBA has two options with either an 8 division setup or a 4 division set up. The challenge is trying to make equal scheduling for each team. Seattle has been told by the NBA that they have first rights to any expansion that the NBA does. So let’s assume that the NBA becomes intrigued by the success that Vegas shows as an NBA market. An 4 division set up with 8 teams would look something like this:

Division Atlantic Central South Pacific
Team Name Atlanta Chicago Dallas Golden State
Boston Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Brooklyn Detroit Houston Los Angeles Clippers
Charlotte Indiana Memphis Los Angeles Lakers
Miami Milwaukee New Orleans Phoenix
Orlando Minnesota Oklahoma City Portland
New York Toronto San Antonio Sacramento
Philadelphia Washington Utah Seattle

Divisional Games: 4 games each (2 home, 2 away)-28 games

Intra divisional games within conference: 3 games each (alternate 2 games home, 2 away)-24 games

Inter conference games: 30 games (2 home, 2 away with 14 teams, 1 home with 1 and 1 away with 1, rotating through a 8 year time period where it will balance out with 15 games against each team in an 8 year period).

The first thing that you will notice is that the Minnesota comes over to the East which makes sense since they’ll be paired with teams in their geographical region and Toronto was a logical fit for the Central as well. The trickier challenge was deciding the eighth team in the Central but Washington makes the most sense as it’s at least not too far to Cleveland and Philadelphia pairs better with New York, Brooklyn and Boston.

In the West, it’s a lot smoother as with Minnesota going to the East, Oklahoma City, Utah and Denver can be in a division with the Texas teams and other Southern teams. It allows Portland to seamlessly go with the Pacific division. The only issue is scheduling and whether or not the NBA would like to go with every team playing a home and home with each team in the other conference. By rotating them, there is only year in an eight year span that there would be one game with one team in each division of the other conference.

But what if the NBA were to go to a radical 8 division, 4 team model? It actually works out better from a scheduling standpoint.

Division Atlantic Central South Coastal
Team Name Boston Chicago Dallas Golden State
Brooklyn Indiana Houston Los Angeles Clippers
New York Milwaukee Oklahoma City Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia Minnesota San Antonio Sacramento
Southeast North Mountain Pacific
Atlanta Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Charlotte Detroit Memphis Phoenix
Miami Toronto New Orleans Portland
Orlando Washington Utah Seattle

Division Games: (4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-12 games

Inter conference games: (3 games each, 2 home and 1 away for 10 teams, rotating every year; along with 2 designated rivals where you play 4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-38 games

Cross Conference games: (2 games each, home and home with each team)-32 games

Besides some wacky names and travel issues, this has the potential to be very intriguing. The scheduling works out great with still 4 games against each team in the division and playing each team in the other conference twice. The interesting thing in order to get to 82 games is having designated rivals outside of the division which would allow for preservation of those rivalries.

For example, Chicago would have Cleveland and Detroit as their designated rivals. Or New York could have Indiana and Miami as their designated rivals. There are two ways to do this, you could match up divisions so both rivals come from that division or you could split them up between divisions.

The 8 division setup allows there to be more focus geographically. The only question is does it devalue division championships? There would be 8 automatic berths into the playoffs and then the top 4 teams that don’t win their division would advance into the playoffs.

There may not be a perfect answer to expansion in the NBA but it’s fun to look at these possibilities and see what would fit.

If you have any expansion ideas, let us know in the comments below or email MRosenberg@wrlr.fm

Colin Kaepernick deserves better

There are some things that are just head scratching to think about. And the fact that Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned is disturbing and unfathomable for teams that want to win football games.

In the past week, the Baltimore Ravens have debated whether or not to sign Kaepernick as a backup quarterback. However, they have been hemming and hawing including reaching out to fans and sponsors to see if they would be okay signing him.

Now let’s be clear, we all know this isn’t about his football ability because there are about half a dozen teams that Kaepernick could be starting for and at worst should be a backup for almost any team in the league. Kapernick threw 4 interceptions in 331 pass attempts and had a 4:1 TD/INT ratio last season.

Yet because Kaepernick has the courage to take a stand and speak up about a growing problem in America regarding social inequality, he is unfairly punished. It all started with Kaepernick and him sitting during the national anthem which started a ruckus about how he was disrespecting his country. In fact, after the initial protest, Kaepernick spoke with several retired veterans including Nate Boyer to see how he could show respect to themselves while protesting, resulting in him kneeling during the national anthem.

This is not unpatriotic or disgusting; in fact it’s far from it and the notion that people think that is completely misguided. To say it’s unpatriotic would mean that any time anybody took a stand would be unpatriotic which would mean that everybody would get punished for saying their thoughts on social media. My definition of patriotism is going to be different from your definition of patriotism and everybody else’s definition of patriotism which is a good thing. Yes we are grateful for others who have risked and sacrificed their lives for our freedom which is why it’s more important to exercise our right to freedom to speech to further discussion on issues in the United States because otherwise nothing gets solved

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that instead of growing, we are going backwards as a society in the United States. Instead of promoting discussion, our society has become inclined to go against anybody that doesn’t conform to their beliefs and fit in our neat and tidy square box of a definition of an American citizen. Conformity doesn’t promote discussion, it squashes it and allows situations to become worse.

When you look at this situation, it has become a prime example of the hateful rhetoric that goes on in this country. The country has never been more divided and those who don’t conform to the narrow minded visions of some are penalized. Nobody pays attention to the fact that Kaepernick donated suits to parolees in New York or any of his other charitable efforts.

Kaepernick didn’t commit a crime or hurt anybody. All he did was exercise his first amendment right which has been around since the founding of this country. But what Kaepernick did was wrong and he doesn’t deserve to make a living; however, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, Riley Cooper and others who have committed crimes are forgiven and better human beings than Kaepernick? Seriously is that the backwards type of country that we live in nowadays? There is perhaps no one who has better summed up this situation than Sarah Spain yesterday during an appearance on Around the Horn on ESPN.

It’s inconceivable that someone who didn’t commit a crime is treated worse than athletes who have. This isn’t saying that they athletes who committed a crime are bad people, but somehow Kaepernick has been made out to be a villain in a situation that has no villain.

How is this different than the Black lives matter protest that NBA and NFL players did several years ago? It’s not except that it’s easier to pick and single out an individual rather than a group. Perhaps it’s because Kaepernick isn’t a “star” player so nobody cares if they ruin his career and livelihood because they won’t miss him while consuming the product that he plays in.

When it’s all said and done, Kaepernick is an NFL quarterback who is being blackballed by the NFL and society because he took a stand and one that was not unpopular. He doesn’t have a job because everyone wants to live in their ideal world and not rock the boat. And somehow he is the source of the problems in society. Sorry Ray Lewis the answer isn’t to shut up and keep your head down, that just allows the situation to stay the same.

Kaepernick deserves better from the NFL, fans, society and everybody. He took a stand and that should be applauded not vilified. Kapernick has been failed by everybody for speaking up for his beliefs. He deserves our respect and he should be held in esteem for standing up for his belief like everybody else is encouraged to. Kaepernick was extremely brave for what he did and as a whole he deserves better from everybody.