Early Candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy

Posted: May 22, 2013 by smittz101 in Uncategorized

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Pittsburgh Penguins – Sidney Crosby

 It didn’t take long into these playoffs for Sid the Kid to start making headlines.  The hat trick in game 2 against the Ottawa Senators says it all.  Despite various injuries interrupting his career, he is ready to go for his second ring and will try to lead the Penguins to the promise land.  He was a little bit timid returning to game action after his broken jaw, but he is getting stronger each day.  His playmaking and hockey IQ are second to none in the league and if you want to see flashy passes and extreme poise then tune into the Pittsburgh Penguins ASAP.   Sidney Crosby, the face of the league, is surrounded by talent and will not disappoint.

 Boston Bruins – David Krejci

 Krejci is proving once again that his best performances are during playoff time, leading the league in assists and points so far.  This is a good sign for the big bad Bruins as this follows a similar trend to the 2010-11 playoffs.  Krejci has collected 12 goals and 11 helpers for 23 points in 25 games on route to a Stanley Cup.  He is looking very dangerous around the blue paint and has shown confidence to shoot when given the opportunity.  He is an essential component for the Bruins because he is the central player on their top line.  If Krejci is not playing well, then you can expect other players, such as Lucic and Horton, to suffer also.  Boston depends on a well-balanced attack and that line needs to be contributing.

 New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist

The Rangers have struggled to find the net, much like their regular season, and they rely heavily on their goaltending to win games.  They are lucky to have one of the best, if not the best, goaltender in the league in Henrik Lundqvist.  Although he showed signs of rust at the start of the season, King Henrik is more than warmed up at this point and steady as they come.  As I’m typing this, he just completely stoned Tyler Seguin on a break away in the second period of game 3.  He is always in great positioning to make high percentage saves and never gives up on a puck.  This is a guy with a lot of heart, passion for the game, and deserving of a Stanley Cup.

Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson posted a 1.80 GAA and 0.950 SV% in the opening round against the division champs Montreal Canadiens.  He definitely has a more difficult task in front of him now, with the explosive Pittsburgh offence.  He let in 4 goals in game 1 and then another 3 goals in game 2 before being pulled.  However, he had a nice bounce back game in game 3 that silenced the critics and allowed Ottawa to sneak back into the series.  It is clear that the hopes and dreams of Senators fans coincide with the play of their star goaltender Anderson.  He has the ability to steal games and they will need him to in order to go deep.  Karlsson doesn’t have his usual swagger, Spezza is returning from injury, and the pesky Sens will need #41 more than anyone.

Chicago Blackhawks – Patrick Sharp

With all the talent on the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Sharp sometimes gets overlooked.  In fact, he went down with an injury during the regular season and the team was relatively unfazed.  They were in a winning groove for most of the shortened season and their overall team depth was on full display.  Now its playoffs and Patrick Sharp is carrying the Blackhawks, while the usual suspects Toews and Kane have regressed.  He is tied with Sidney Crosby for the lead in goals, averaging over 17 minutes in ice, a +5, and has a great shooting percentage.  As Pierre McGuire would say “Patrick Sharp is the real deal”.  He may be overshadowed by bigger names, but he is a crucial part of a very good team.

Los Angeles Kings – Jonathan Quick

There were a few hiccups in the first 2 games against the St. Louis Blues, but Jonathan Quick has to get consideration for MVP.  He immediately turned his game around and won 6 straight playoff games before the recent OT loss to San Jose.  He is a man on a mission right now, 1st in GAA and 2nd in save percentage.  He has collected two shutouts along the way and the Los Angeles Kings are in great shape to dispose of the Sharks.  As said in an earlier article, he is an extremely flexible and acrobatic goaltender that can make ridiculous saves.  His performance in last years playoffs were one of legend and Quick wants to add more hardware.  The Kings style of hockey is based around team defence and goaltending.  The only way they win is if Jonathan Quick continues his dominance and wins the Conn Smythe for the second year in a row.

San Jose Sharks – Logan Couture

It is a changing of the guard in San Jose.  Logan Couture will be the top dog going into next year and the aging veterans will take a back seat.  Since the season started and the playoffs commenced, he has been sending this message and getting it done.  After an awkward battle on the boards with the Kings’ Jeff Carter in game 3, Couture limped off the ice to seek medical attention.  He later returned to the game without complaint and netted the game winner in overtime.  The series is now 2-1 in favour of the Los Angeles Kings, but if he did not make that shot then the situation is much worse.  For a young kid in a big spotlight, he doesn’t shy away from the pressure and has proven to be a big game player.  Logan Couture currently sits 5th in playoff scoring and 1st on the San Jose Sharks.

Detroit Red Wings – Jimmy Howard

I thought long and hard about an MVP candidate for Detroit.  Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are stepping up to the plate and making all the right decisions on the ice.  They would seem like your typical choice for the Conn Smythe when all is said and done.  I would disagree this time around; Jimmy Howard is playing out of his skin and rewarding GM Holland for extending him.  The Detroit Red Wings did not want to pay top dollar for a goaltender, preferring to spend that money on the rest of the roster.  Holland finally caved and gave Howard a new contract this season for approximately $5.3 million per over 6 years.  I assure you the Red Wings would not be where they are today without this outstanding netminder.  In games 1 and 3 he faced over 40 shots from the most proficient offence in the Western Conference.  Howard was always rated as a sub-par goalie in the league, but he is gaining more recognition and continues to grow.

By: Andrew Smith – Lead Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: The Hockey Hall of Fame (www.hhof.com)

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NHL_2013_StanleyCupPlayoffs_English_Primary

If you are Canadian, I do not think anything in the sporting world tops the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. My friends and I do not say Merry Christmas to each other in December; we say it when the first puck is dropped in the round of 16. This first round had it all: a laughable sweep, line brawls, fat walrus accusations, Alex Ovechkin immediately flying overseas to play for Russia after another early exit (again), and of course, game sevens.

For most of us, our hockey teams run for Lord Stanley is over and we must accept, move on and pray that next year will be the year. There is another thing that you should be focusing on for the start of the 2013-14 season, and that is the future of your fantasy hockey teams. Chances are that you will not remember the second half Mats Zuccarello performances, but for your future fantasy purposes, you should. If you have been a fantasy GM for a while now, you know that it is the late round picks that will win you championships and even more importantly, ultimate chirping rights.

Eight teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s take a look at what players could serve as a potential fantasy break out for the 2013-14 NHL season.

Marcus Johansson, Washington Capitals: Johansson saw his productivity increase this year in the shortened season, posting 22 points in 34 games and +3 rating. He was essentially invisible for the first two months of the season, but let’s be serious, so were the Washington Capitals. Take a look at his March and April; the kid recorded 21 points in 25 games. He is only 22 years old and will now head into the prime years of his career.  He should be considered as a late round add to your roster for next year.

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild:  Before the season began, I highly doubt anyone could name the starting six defensemen for the Wild. I do not even think Mike Yeo could. There was nothing sexy about Brodins stat line this year (11 points in 45 GP), but there are fantasy implications that need to be considered going forward for the 10th overall pick in the 2011 entry draft. For starters, he is only nineteen. Secondly, look at the box scores in the first round. If we forget about Ryan Suter for a moment, Brodin led the way in ice time and on the man advantage showing how much trust the Wild have in the youngster. If an NHL organization can trust the kid with that much workload, so should you.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues: I make this pick because everyone has already heard of Vladimir Tarasenko and know that he is going to be a force. Schwartz posted 13 points in 45 GP this year, but really found his stride in the second half (10 pts in 29 GP). I am not expecting Schwartz to break out to begin the season next year, but once the annual injuries of Andy McDonald and Alex Steen occur, Schwartz could spring into a top six role and shine. Go check out Hockey’s Future, he’s got game.

Kyle Palmieri, Anaheim Ducks: He did not really play in January and had a lackluster March, but his February and April have me intrigued. When you are playing under Bruce Boudreau’s system, you are going to have chances to put up points in bundles. His fantasy status for next year will depend on whether or not he can crack the top six. If he can, draft him late in deep leagues and enjoy the return.

Raphael Diaz, Montreal Canadiens: Chances are you picked Diaz to start the season as he and Andrei Markov tore it up on the man advantage. I laughed when I saw him 100% owned in ESPN leagues, but hey, production is production. If he did not suffer a concussion, then I do not think we would be having this discussion. Diaz will head the 2nd unit for the Canadiens going forward, who seemed to re-kindle their power play success after last season. Diaz’s upside here will depend on whether or not Markov can stay healthy, which is always in question. Diaz should be a fifth or sixth d-man on your team next year with upside to be a potential top four.

Josh Bailey, New York Islanders: If we learned anything from the Penguins and Islanders series,  it is that the Isles might actually be for real for the first time since… Alexei Yashin? Was he relevant? Who knows. They will not be worth noting for long, as they have too many vital pieces that are just too old (Streit, Visnovsky, Nabokov). Bailey has always had the talent but has been known to have attitude issues. He is now 23 and headed into the prime of his career. The isles looked good this season, I expect that to continue for a season or two with Bailey providing the secondary scoring they so desperately need.

Zack Kassian, Vancouver Canucks: Kassian was a nice surprise to start the season, racking up five goals in seven games in January. As for the rest of the season, well, you would probably rather have Scott Gomez over him. The 13th overall pick in the 2009 entry draft has everything that the Canucks need: size, grit, skill and scoring potential. The Sedins need a player like Kassian to protect them, as we all know Jannik Hansen does not fit that profile. With Alex Burrows seemingly on the second line for good, a lackluster pool of prospects, and the need to get stronger, I see Kassian getting every possible chance to break out, which I believe he will. Draft him late and laugh at those who didn’t.

Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs: I should not have to tell this to any Maple Leafs fan, but for the rest of you I will be blunt: this guy is legit. He is patient, smart with the puck, breaks into the offensive zone with ease and finally won over Randy Carlyle. Wherever he is projected to go next year in the fantasy rankings will more than likely be low, and thus a gift for those who wait on him to take him late. For keeper leagues especially, get him.

That is it for now, enjoy the second round and always be alert for possible fantasy surprises, it is what makes all the difference.

By: Alex Rodgers – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Mug: Part 3

Posted: May 14, 2013 by ajaysharma18 in Uncategorized

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Round one of the 2013 NHL Playoffs is complete and boy was it ever amazing!  From unexpected outcomes, to nail-biting finishes, the first round definitely delivered a great start to the post-season.  Now we shift our attention to the remaining eight teams as they continue their fight towards the cup.  Lets take a look each of the four match ups remaining to see who has the best chance of advancing to the Conference Championships.

Pittsburgh Penguins(1) vs. Ottawa Senators(8)

The biggest surprise in the Eastern Conference first round was Ottawa dismantling Montreal with relative ease.  I for one did not expect such a lopsided score line.  Ottawa dominated for long stretches throughout the series, backed by exceptional goaltending by Craig Anderson.  Here is where they will have to reach an even higher level if they want to compete with the Penguins.  Pittsburgh has no issues offensively, however between the pipes it is a different story.  Marc-Andre Fleury is still suffering from post season meltdown, a trend that started last year against Philly.  He had a very poor first round which led to back up Tomas Vokoun taking his spot and ultimately out playing him.  It will be interesting to see whether Fleury returns to start game one or whether the Pens stick with the hot hand.

On paper this series is a mismatch.  Pittsburgh has the advantage in almost every category, especially intangibles and experience.  If Pittsburgh can figure out their goaltending situation, they should be able to come through.  Ottawa can carry momentum from round one and surprise many, but Pittsburgh and Montreal are two very different teams.  I feel Pittsburgh has too much fire power and depth for the Sens to handle however Ottawa can be stingy at times and capitalize on their chances.  Should be a fun series to watch. Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6

Boston Bruins(4) vs. New York Rangers(6)

An original six matchup takes place in this series.  Both teams are coming off game 7 triumphs, with Boston generating one of the biggest comebacks I’ve ever seen.  As a Leaf fan I really don’t want to dissect any further….*insert tears.  Both teams are very deep, and the key here will definitely be turnovers and special teams.  Boston can be very sluggish at times, which was evident in the first round.  Where Boston excels is on the fore check.  Their best chance to score against New York will be to get the puck to the point and get traffic, otherwise King Henrik will have no problem with pucks that he can see.  At the other end of the ice is Tuuka Rask, who also played well in round one.  The Rangers are really good at getting pucks deep and creating turnovers which could pose a problem for Boston if they’re not careful.  The Marian Gaborik trade is certainly paying off for New York as Derrick Brassard was their best forward throughout round one.  This will be a very tough series, with not much separating the two teams.  The Rangers seem to be firing on all cylinders, and with a red-hot goalie, I give the slight edge to New York in this one.  Another potential seven gamer.  Prediction: New York in 7

Chicago Blackhawks(1) vs. Detroit Red Wings(7)

Chicago is the more rested team coming into the series, as they played two fewer games than Detroit.  It is a pretty lopsided series on paper, however counting a team like Detroit out is illogical.  The Wings are coming off a game 7 road win, and come in with full confidence.  The difference….Chicago is scary good.  They can score in bunches and Detroit will be in tough trying to control all the firepower.  If Detroit can frustrate Chicago and withstand going down early in games they definitely have a chance.  The Wings may be young, but they still have seasoned vets that know what it takes to win.  Mike Babcock has done a great job getting the best out of his young players and it showed during the first round. For the Hawks, Corey Crawford leads all playoff goalies with a minuscule 1.32 GAA.  But its easy to put up great numbers when your team is continuously giving you a lead to work with.  I have to give Detroit serious credit.  Year after year they just seem to get it done come playoff time.  This series will be exciting to watch, however I believe Chicago is just too strong for Detroit this time around.  Prediction: Chicago in 6

Los Angeles Kings (5) vs. San Jose Sharks(6)

California Dreaming is the tune that comes to mind here.  San Jose was definitely the biggest surprise in the first round. I always thought that they would win, however no one would have predicted a sweep.  Both teams are coming in with four straight wins.  Los Angeles has been playing the kind of hockey that won them the cup last year, and San Jose is playing the kind that could win it for them this year.  With the pressure off of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they can both relax and play their game.  Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture continue to impress, making the Sharks offence more than a one trick pony.  Jonathan Quick is starting to play the way he did last year, which is bad news for any opponent.  After big mistakes in game one and two, Quick bounced back with four great games.  Los Angeles plays a very tight defensive game which the Sharks will have to figure out sooner rather than later.  The goaltending matchup will determine the winner of this series.  Both Quick and Niemi have won the Stanley Cup, so experience is no issue.  Look for a hard-fought battle in the state of California.  Tough one to predict.  Prediction: Los Angeles in 7

By: Ajay Sharma- Hockey Writer

Photo credit: http://www.NHL.com     

Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Mug: Part 2

Posted: April 30, 2013 by ajaysharma18 in Uncategorized

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Here is part 2 of our opening round predictions.  For part 2 we will turn our attention to the Western Conference, where the match ups are even tighter than in the East.  The West is stockpiled with highly skilled teams and it will be very intriguing to watch the opening round as it will give the fans a well deserved treat.  Let’s see if we can identify certain factors that give teams an upper hand.

Chicago Blackhawks(1) vs. Minnesota Wild(8)

Chicago had an unconscious start to their season.  It seemed as if they would never lose, and when they did lose, it was not by much.  This team has an abundance of talent throughout their lineup.  What has changed this year as opposed to last is their goaltending.  Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were the best goaltending tandem in the league.  They helped backstop the Hawks to a Presidents Trophy.  There is too much to write about how good this team really is…Minnesota will soon find this out.  The Wild made strides in the offseason by signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, and during the season trading for Jason Pominville.  They are a solid team, however I just don’t see them matching up to the Hawks in a seven game series.  The Hawks, led by premier centre Jonathan Toews and sniper Patrick Kane, have been a force all season and I suspect that they will continue marching on through round one.  Prediction: Chicago in 5

Anaheim Ducks(2) vs. Detroit Red Wings(7)

Anaheim, much like Chicago, had a great start to the season.  They looked like a complete 360 of the basement dwellers that they were last year.  Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have had fabulous years, leading to them signing max contracts that will more than pay for their beachfront houses in Cali.  Goaltenders Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth have been really good, with Fasth taking the NHL by storm for a portion of the season.  On the other hand there is Detroit, the most consistent team in the NHL since I can remember.  They clawed their way into the playoffs and now can be considered a threat.  Their not as good as past seasons, but with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg anything is possible.  Offensively I would say the matchup is pretty even, however the slight edge goes to Detroit in the defence column.  Special teams will be a key component to this series, as I feel the team who stays out of the box will inevitably win the series.  Jimmy Howard has been solid between the pipes for Detroit down the stretch, and will be relied upon heavily to withstand the Ducks juggernaut offence.  One of many tough match ups in the West.  Prediction: Detroit in 7

Vancouver Canucks(3) vs. San Jose Sharks(6)

Both these teams are in familiar territory.  They have been playoff mainstays for the past few seasons and are always expected to do great things.  Vancouver added depth to their team by adding veteran Derek Roy from Dallas at the deadline.  Offence is not an issue with the Nucks, but Defence definitely is.  The Loss of Christian Ehrhoff has been a hole that is yet to be filled.  Goaltending is always the talk of the town in BC, which is an unnecessary distraction come playoff time.  On the other side of the ice is a team that is well known as a regular season team.  So much talent, yet can’t crack the code to making it to the finals.  The Sharks matchup well against the Canucks, evident by their regular season record against them.  Despite the negatives, Vancouver is still a really good team, with allot of depth and experience.  Antii Niemi had a Vezina type year, and if he continues his hot streak it’s quite possible the Sharks win this series.  Logan Couture continues to grow as a player, and in this series he will definitely leave his mark.  Vancouver narrowly won their division this year, and their flaws will surely be exposed.  Another one of those toss up series.  Let’s be adventurous. Prediction: San Jose in 7

St. Louis Blues(4) vs. Los Angeles Kings(5)

The Defending champs open up their title defence against the stingy St. Louis Blues.  The Kings have virtually the same roster as last year, with the addition of defenders Keaton Ellerby and Jake Muzzin.  Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick had a rough off season, but judging by his playoff performance last year, one would think his best hockey is yet to come.  What makes LA so good is their sound team defence and ability to limit their turnovers while forcing an opponents turnovers.  Anze Kopitar, in my view, is the most underrated player in the league, and he will be break out of his mini cold streak that he has had going on.  St. Louis took a giant step forward last year, coming within just a few points of the Presidents Trophy.  This year was a step back.  Goaltending issues plagued this team for much of the season, and GM Doug Armstrong looked to revamp his blue line…boy did he ever succeed.  Trading for Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold has given the Blues one of the best top 4 defence pairings in the NHL.  It will be tough for LA to crack the wall, but they are more than capable.  In terms of goaltending, Brian Elliot has solidified the starting job come game 1, however a slip up could lead to Jaroslav Halak or Jake Allen taking over.  I believe this is the hardest series to call.  Both teams are very disciplined and have a wealth of coaching experience.  The Kings will win if they can cause havoc along the boards in the Blues end and get pucks at Brain Elliot as often as possible.  St. Louis will have to capitalize on any good scoring chances they get, as LA does not give up many of them.  Jonathan Quick will surely bounce back. and if he doesn’t then there’s always Jonathan Bernier.  It can go either way, but it’s hard to bet against the defending champs.  Prediction: Los Angeles in 6

By: Ajay Sharma- Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

Hunt for Lord Stanley’s Mug: Part 1

Posted: April 30, 2013 by ajaysharma18 in Uncategorized

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived!  It is an exciting time for those organizations that have endured the shortened season.  Starting on Tuesday April 30th, 16 teams will engage in fierce competition for the privilege to hoist the ever coveted Stanley Cup.  The Sports Posse, much like all hockey fans across the world, is continuously in debate as to which team, or teams, have the greatest chance at hockey glory.  Here I will briefly breakdown the first round matches in the Eastern Conference and attempt to garner which team will advance based on some key factors.  Here we go!

Eastern Conference:

Pittsburgh Penguins(1) vs. New York Islanders(8)

The Penguins come in as the number one seed in the East.  They are a powerhouse.  If they weren’t already good enough, they went out and grabbed Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and of course Jarome Iginla.  On paper this is a huge mismatch.  Pittsburgh is superior in every category you can think of.  A healthy Crosby spells nightmares for the Isles.  The only way New York can manage a couple of wins or even a monumental upset, is by getting to Marc-Andre Fleury.  Fleury was the worst goaltender during last year’s playoffs, as Philadelphia made his jock strap hang from the rafters game after game.  John Tavares will get his first taste of the post season, and as good as his line with Brad Boyes and Matt Moulson is, they will be hard pressed to do any real damage to the Penguins.  Lost in all this talk is Evgeni Malkin.  He has had a tough year but lets get serious…it’s Malkin.  He can take over a game whenever he desires.  Look for the Penguins to win this series comfortably. Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5

Montreal Canadiens(2) vs. Ottawa Senators(7)

Two Canadian teams go at it in this series.  All eyes will be on Erik Karlsson, and whether his surgically repaired achilles will be able to holdup in the rigors of playoff hockey.  Ottawa has been a great team all season, even with the major injuries to their all-stars.  There are a couple of key stories to follow here.  A) Can Carey Price bounce back from his late season woes? B) Can P.K. Subban refrain from taking bonehead penalties? C) Can the young Sens team build on their regular season success and continue to click? I think Carey Price will bounce back and outplay Craig Anderson throughout the series, however Anderson is more than capable of stealing a few games on his own.  It will be a tight series, however I feel Montreal has a slight edge in the series. Prediction: Montreal in 7

Washington Capitals(3) vs. New York Rangers(6)

Ovechkin and company have been the hottest team in hockey for the past month or so.  Ovie sky-rocketed himself up the scoring ladder and finished with a league best 32 goals.  These two teams have created quite a playoff rivalry in the past few years.  Because of how Washington and Ovechkin have been playing, many are counting Rangers out…foolish.  The Rangers are a very skilled team.  The combination of Rick Nash-Derek Stepan has done wonders down the stretch for New York as they were able to solidify the number six spot.  Henrik Lundqvist started the season slowly, however has elevated his play.  It’s hard to pick against Washington, however this writer believes otherwise.  New York has more depth, better team structure, and there’s very few better than King Henrik when he’s on.  The Rangers will win this close and contested series. Prediction: New York in 6

Boston Bruins(4) Vs. Toronto Maple Leafs(5)

The Leafs are playing postseason hockey…but it’s against the Bruins.  Leaf fans were holding their breath on the last day of the season when Boston played Ottawa.  As the final buzzer sounded, you could hear the shouts, the screams, and even the occasional cry..(probably me).  Boston was the last team Toronto wanted to face, however we shouldn’t sell this team short just yet.  Like always, spotlight goes on Phil Kessel.  Stage fright, for lack of a better term, is what everyone believes consumes Kessel when he plays Boston…Chara’s a scary dude! This is more of a series for the media than it is for the hockey fan.  Boston has the experience, and in a seven game series they definitely have the advantage.  The Leafs can pull out a monumental upset if the whole team can contribute, Phil Kessel can be a plus, and James Reimer can stand on his shoulders like he has all season long.  The Health of Patrice Bergeron is important for Boston, as he has been their best player while in the lineup. For Toronto, Tyler Bozak will be relied upon for critical face offs, one matchup that Boston surely wins.  Getting 15 shots on goal just won’t cut it for Toronto in the playoffs.  It hurts to say the Leafs won’t advance, however the logical pick here is Boston.  Boston advances..Leafs fan’s empty their wallet,  Simple math. Prediction: Boston in 6

Stay tuned as later today we will give our take on the Western Conference matchups.

By: Ajay Sharma – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: http://www.NHL.com

TML Playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are a playoff team once again!  After years of disappointing seasons Leaf Nation can rejoice once again as the Toronto Maple Leafs are heading to the post-season.  Before I discuss each season where the Leafs did not make it to the post-season, it is important to note that for any sports team making the playoffs is much more than a continuation of games played.
Making the playoffs means that not only are fans excited but so is the organization as a whole, along with the NHL. The NHL and MLSE will be able to generate massive profits from television ratings and commercial advertisements. MLSE will also generate from the minimum of two additional home games, which will sell out. Playoff ticket prices have been raised on average 75% for the Leafs home games, which is going to continue to generate huge profits for MLSE. The Leafs in the playoffs will also help local businesses (hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions) as they will generate massive profits due to increased volume of customers.
From a player development standpoint, with the Leafs being in the playoffs it gives the younger Leafs a chance to gain some valuable playoff experience which is key in not only developing these players but also developing team unity.
It should be very clear why the playoffs are so important.  Now imagine missing the playoffs every year from 2005 until 2012.  In this article we look back at the squandered Leaf’s seasons that left Toronto’s team without a playoff bid for 7 years.

2005-2006 season:
Following the NHL lockout which cancelled the 2004-05 season, the Leafs returned in September of 2005 with Pat Quinn back as the head coach for the Leafs. The 2005 draft had the Leafs picking goaltender Tuukka Rask in the first round, 21st overall as management hoped that he would be the team’s starting goaltender of the future. The Leafs also had new players in their lineup including; Jason Allison, Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood, Jeff O’Neill, Eric Lindros, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White. The Leafs had many new faces in their lineup after losing veterans Alexander Mogilny, Brian Leetch, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tom Fitzgerald, Bryan Macrchment, Trevor Kidd, and Ron Francis in the off-season. The Maple Leafs supported a 41-33-8 record at season’s end, missing the playoffs by only 2 points.

2006-2007 season:
In the off-season coming into the 2006-2007 season, Eric Lindros signed with Dallas after an injury filled season with the Leafs. The Leafs lost their second line center in Jason Allison and defenceman Aki Berg and Luke Richardson to free agency. With Ed Belfour leaving the team by signing with the Florida Panthers, the Leafs needed to find a starting goaltender. They traded 2005 first round pick Tukka Rask to Boston for the 2003-2004 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft would go onto have a very disappointing season with the Leafs sporting a record of 37 wins and 25 losses with a 2.99 GAA and .894 save percentage.  The Leafs would go onto a 40-31-11 record led by captain Mats Sundin and Head Coach Paul Maurice.
What Leafs fans care about with regards to the 2006-07 season is who they drafted. Four current Leafs were drafted in the 2006 draft; Nikolai Kulemin (2nd round 44th overall), James Reimer (4th round 99th overall), Korbinian Holzer (4th round 111th overall- currently with the AHL Marlies), and Leo Komarov (6th round 200th overall).  These draft picks would end up becoming major aspects of today’s Toronto Maple Leafs.

2007-2008 season:
Prior to the 2007-2008 season many believed that the Leafs were beginning to look in a new direction for their General Manager. Ferguson attempted to save his job by trading three draft picks for goaltender Vesa Toskala and forward Mark Bell. It was believed Toskala would solidify their goaltending situation, while Raycroft was demoted to the backup role. The Leafs also signed Jason Blake in the off-season, after scoring 40 goals for the Islanders the previous season.

The season got off to a rocky start for the Leafs, leading to the team firing GM Ferguson early in January, and bringing back former GM Cliff Fletcher as the interim General Manager. Fletcher was given the “interim” tag because many believed that the Leafs were simply waiting for Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke’s contract to expire so they could make a play and hire him.

The season was another disappointment for the Leafs as they finished 36-35-11, which lead to many discussing the status of Captain Mats Sundin. As Sundin’s career was winding down, many believed that the Leafs would trade Sundin to another team in order to acquire draft picks to assist in building for the future. The problem was that Sundin used his no-trade clause to remain with the Leafs.

A positive thing to look back on about the 2007-2008 season was the Leafs draft. The Leafs drafted two players who are currently important members of the Leafs; Matt Frattin (4th round 99th overall) and Carl Gunnarsson (7th round 194th overall).

2008-2009 season:
The Leafs used the 5th overall pick in the 2008-2009 draft by selecting defenceman Luke Schenn who jumped directly into the Leafs lineup and had a productive season. Prior to the season, the Leafs also lost fan favourite Darcy Tucker and Raycroft as they were bought out. Leafs management also brought back former goaltender Curtis Joseph to serve as their backup goaltender.

The Leafs were also able to sign defenceman Jeff Finger and Niklas Hagman prior to training camp and continued to alter their roster by acquiring tough guy Jamal Mayers and forward Mikhail Grabovski.

With the young Maple Leafs out of the playoff race early in the season, new GM Brian Burke began to leave his mark on the Maple Leafs team by shipping out long time Leafs Alexander Steen, Carlo Colaiacovo and Nik Antropov throughout the season in order to acquire prospects and picks to clear cap space moving forward. Burke signed college free-agent Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson to contracts late in the season.

The Leafs would go on to sport a 34-35-13 record which had them finish 12th in the Eastern Conference for the second season in a row.

2009-2010 season:
Burke began to change the makeup of the Leafs at the NHL draft by selecting Nazem Kadri with his 1st round pick, 7th overall. Burke wanted to add “pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence” to his roster, and looked to free agency by signing Mike Komisarek, Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill, and Francois Beauchemin. Burke also signed Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson who many thought of as the best goaltender not playing in the NHL at the time. Gustavsson was coming to the team to backup Toskala as Curtis Joseph retired in the off-season.

The teams biggest move was trading two first round and a second round draft pick to the Boston Bruins for forward Phil Kessel. This was a big risk for Burke, as Kessel was viewed as a one-dimensional player who would score a lot of goals but was very limited in the rest of his game.

Burke would continue to revamp his roster throughout the year including moving Juri Tlusty to the Hurricanes. He also traded 4 players; Matt Stajan, Jamal Mayers, Niklas Hagman and Ian White to the Calgary Flames for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Keith Aulie. While Sjostrom and Aulie are no longer with the Leafs, Phaneuf has gone on to become the Leafs captain and best defenceman.

Burke was also able to trade Blake & Toskala despite their bad contracts to the Anaheim Ducks for goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. With all of these moves, Leafs Nation seemed to be optimistic heading into the future despite having  the worst record in the Eastern Conference at 30-38-14.

2010-2011 season:
In the off-season the Leafs didn’t make a ton of significant moves to their roster despite the retirement of Mike Van Ryn. Burke began to boost the depth of the organization by signing younger free agents in the off-season including; goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas, and players; Marcel Mueller, Matt Lashoff Joey Crabb, Mike Zigomanis, and Clarke MacArthur. Burke also acquired gritty forward Colby Armstrong and traded three prospects to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Kris Versteeg.  Wilson and Burke decided to name Phaneuf as the 18th captain in Leafs history.

The team was heading in the direction winning their first four games of the season. However, the Leafs lost Colby Armstrong and starting goaltender J.S. Giguere to injures which lead to the team falling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. With backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson struggling in his second season with the Maple Leafs, the Leafs called up Reimer. Reimer played well in goal, playing 37 games with a record of 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and a .921 save percentage, earning a NHL Rookie of the Month award for March.

Lead by Reimer, the Leafs had a late season push towards the playoffs, going 8-2-4 in February and 9-5-1 in March, before a poor April where they only won one of four games, leaving the Leafs three points out of the playoffs.

Knowing his current roster needed to be improved Burke traded Beauchemin back to the Ducks for Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul who is a major facet of the organization today.

The Leafs climbed out of the basement of the Eastern Conference competing for a playoff spot late in the season finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 37-34-11 record.

2011-2012 season:
The Leafs selected right-winger Tyler Biggs (22nd overall) and defenceman Stuart Percy (25th overall) late in the first round of the 2011-2012 draft.

Burke traded defenceman Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney to Nashville for Matthew Lombardi and defenseman Cody Franson. Burke would also trade a second round draft pick to the Colorado Avalanche for offensive defenceman John-Michael Liles.

The Leafs went  4-1-1 through their first 6 games. However, in an overtime loss against the Montreal Canadiens in their fourth game of the season, the Leafs lost Reimer to a concussion when Canadiens Brian Gionta ran over Reimer.

The Leafs had several problems with their team as they headed into December including Connolly once again being injured, leaving forwards Kessel and Lupul without a center. Bozak was moved back up to the first line and the Leafs relied too heavy on the Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line failing to get continued production out of the MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin line.

Reimer returned in December but struggled and played poor in net making Gustavsson the number one goaltender. However, both goaltenders and the team began to play poor in February which lasted throughout the remainder of the season.  The Leafs went 4-9-1 in February, 5-8-2 in March and 1-1-3 in April effectively removing themselves from the playoff race.  They finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 35-37-10.

With the Maple Leafs sliding in the standings in late March, Burke fired Head Coach Ron Wilson. Wilson was replaced by former Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle who had worked with Burke when Burke was the Ducks GM. Many believed that Carlyle’s structured style of physical hockey, attention to detail and special teams systems would re-vamp the team.

The last move that Burke made before the trade deadline was trading Dale Mitchell to the Ducks for Mark Fraser. This move never received any notice at the time but looking back now was a steal for Burke and the Leafs. Fraser has played extremely well for the Leafs this season alongside Cody Franson and has certainly become a great addition to the team.

2012-13 Season:
Prior to the NHL lockout, Burke traded Luke Schenn to the Philadelphia Flyers in order to acquire James van Riemsdyk which gave the Leafs another top six forward.

Burke’s only important signing in the off-season was forward Jay McClement. Burke was hoping to add a forward who is responsible defensively and can play on the penalty kill. This signing has paid dividends for the Leafs as McClement has been one of their most reliable forwards the entire season.

After the conclusion of the lockout, management fired Brian Burke from the General Manager and President position and promoted assistant General Manager Dave Nonis to the GM position. Nonis has made a number of smaller moves which has greatly helped the hockey club. He demoted Connolly and Komisarek to the AHL, clearing up cap and roster space. Nonis picked up fighter Frazer McLaren off of waivers from the San Jose Sharks, and shipped out Lombardi, Mike Brown and Steckel throughout the season. At the NHL trade deadline, Nonis was able to acquire depth defenceman Ryan O’Byrne for a 4th round draft pick.

The Leafs have finally qualified for a post-season position, largely because Carlyle has been able to get the most out of his team. Based largely on the structured physical brand of hockey that the team has played Carlyle has forced the Leafs to become one of the toughest teams in the NHL.

The Leafs have received huge performances this season out of several players. Kessel is in the top ten of the NHL scoring race, Kadri has performed extremely well in his first full season with the Leafs and when healthy Lupul has been an emotional leader for the Leafs scoring big goals and being extremely physical every shift.  Phaneuf is in the top ten of the defence scoring race, while playing his best defensive hockey of his career. McClement has been great for the Leafs as he is an affective checker and is one of the reasons why the Leafs penalty kill has risen from the bottom of the league in past seasons to third best in the league this season. The combination of Fraser and Franson has been a great shutdown pair of defenceman for the Leafs. Komarov has become a fan favourite in Toronto as he is a hitting machine and the Reimer-Scrivens combo have been outstanding in goal this season. Reimer has solidified himself as the Leafs number one goaltender for years to come with his stellar play this season, as he has single-handedly won games for the Leafs down the stretch.

All of these players and their contributions, along with the stellar coaching of Carlyle have led to the Leafs first post season berth since 2003-2004. In the first round the Leafs will be matched up against the Boston Bruins.  Enjoy it Leafs Nation, as this is a time to rejoice and enjoy watching Toronto’s team attempt to win the Stanley Cup!

By: Danny Amodeo – Hockey Writer

Photo Credit: Toronto Maple Leafs

NHL Awards Preview

Posted: April 22, 2013 by dannyamodeo in Uncategorized

NHL Awards

In the article below, we are going to look at who we feel should be the NHL award winners for the 2012-13 NHL hockey season.

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)

This category will most likely be the most debated award this season, because of whom could potentially win it. My vote would be for Pittsburgh Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby, which right away will create controversy due to the number of games that Crosby has played this season. Crosby has only played 36 games this season due to a broken jaw injury that he suffered on March 30th in a game against the New York Islanders. Despite the few amount of games played, the way Crosby was playing prior to his injury put him once again as the best player in the NHL. Crosby had put up an impressive stat line of 15 goals and 41 assists for 56 points, to go along with a +26 rating.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender)

There is little doubt as to who should win this award this year, as Sergei Bobrovsky has brought the Columbus Blue Jackets from the basement to a playoff contender in only one season. The former Flyer goaltender has been impressive in goal for the Blue Jackets, as he has almost got the Blue Jackets in a playoff spot by his stellar play alone. After last night’s game against the San Jose Sharks, Bobrovsky sports an incredible Goals Against Average of only 2.06 with a .930 save percentage and four shutouts. What has been key for the Blue Jackets and their attempt to get into the NHL postseason is that Bobrovsky has won numerous amounts of 1 goal games for the Blue Jackets, as they have relied on his goaltending due to their inability to score.   Not only has Bobrovsky been so impressive in goal, but he forced the Blue Jackets management to make trades at the deadline in order to boost their roster for a playoff push. For a goaltender that had been given up on by his previous team Bobrovsky has turned heads this season.

James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenceman) 

The NHL’s award for Best Defenceman should go to Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban. Subban has been a rock on the blue line for the Habs since returning to the lineup after starting the season in a contract dispute with Canadiens management. This caused him to miss the first 6 games of the season for the Habs. Since his return, Subban has racked up 11 goals and 25 assists for 36 points in 39 games for the Canadiens.  What has been even more impressive with Subban’s game this season is how responsible he has been in his own end.  In previous seasons he was a high risk, high reward type of defenceman who had some problems defending in his own end. He has worked hard to correct his defensive shortcomings, which is shown in his +9 rating this season.

Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)

This is going to be the hardest award to give out this season, as there are three high end forward that could win this award being Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers, Cory Conacher of Ottawa and Brendan Gallagher. All three have had excellent rookie seasons this year, however I feel that Gallagher should be awarded the Calder this year. What Gallagher has done in Montreal this season is simply amazing, as he has been a large part in the Canadiens resurgence this season. Gallagher has scored 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points this season. What has been more impressive is that he is +7 for the season. While there are a few rookie forwards with both better scoring and plus/minus stats, Gallagher has been playing with not as skilled players on the Canadiens, and has still be production. Gallagher also plays with an edge, and has been a force physically for the Canadiens despite being only 5’9, 178lbs. Gallagher has also been clutch for the Habs this season, as he has potted 3 game winning goals for the Canadiens as well.  What makes the extremely impressive is that when the Canadiens drafted Gallagher back in 2010, there was not much expectations for Gallagher to one day even make the NHL, as he was a 5th round pick (147th overall). Gallagher has exceeded all expectations and now everyone should expect Gallagher to have a long and successful NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, who are lucky to have him.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Sportsmanship)

This award is very hard to define, but it seemly is given out to the player with the fewest penalty minutes during a season from a player that fans have actually heard of. With this being the definition of the Lady Byng award, New York Islanders forward Matt Moulson seems to be the front runner for the award. Moulson has played 44 games so far this season, and has only committed two minor penalties this season. The fact that Moulson is a top 6 forward for the Islanders and plays an average of 19:08 minutes per game and has only two penalties (4PIMs) this season is simply remarkable. Combine this stat with the fact that Moulson has been an offensive threat for the Islanders, scoring 15 goals and 27 assists for 42 points for the Islanders is simply amazing and award worthy.

Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)

If this award was to be given out today, it would have to go to Chicago Blackhawks forward and captain Jonathan Toews. What Toews does for the Blackhawks is simply amazing. He plays on the power play and yes puts up impressive offensive totals (21 goals, 25 assists for 46 points) but his defensive game is what defines him as the league’s best defensive forward. Toews had a + 27 rating so far this season, which is simply amazing considering he is a number one center who not only plays against the opposition’s top defensive pair each night but also lines up against the opposition’s top forward line as well.

Jack Adams Award (Best Coach)

This is another award this season where there should be no doubt as to who wins this award. Ottawa Senators Head Coach Paul MacLean. The Senators have been fighting for a playoff spot without 2011-12 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, first line center Jason Spezza, and starting goaltender Craig Anderson for most of the season. Although Karlsson has recently returned to practice with the Senators he has not played since tearing his Achilles tendon and in turn missing 29 games for the Senators. Spezza has missed 38 games for the Senators as he has not played since January 27th after having to have surgery in order to repair a herniated disc in his back. Anderson missed parts of the season with a high ankle sprain after starting the season on fire with a 1.48 GAA and a .950 save %. MacLean has also been without steady defenceman Jared Cowan the entire season as well. What MacLean has been able to do is simply remarkable, as he has used AHL players to fill out his roster and has found a way to continue to battle for a playoff spot.

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (Perseverance, Sportsmanship, Dedication to Hockey)

The Masterton is primarily given to a player who shows dedication and perseverance in the game of hockey. Nazim Kadri is worthy of this award based on how much he has went through before finally cracking the Maple Leafs roster this season and having the remarkable year that he is experiencing right now. Kadri has scored 18 goals and 24 assists for 42 points for the Leafs this season, and has also been a physical force for the Leafs. Two things that Kadri has done extremely well this season beside score is draw penalties and play defense. It seems every game this season Kadri is drawing a penalty for his team and his rating of +15 has shown that under new Head Coach Randy Carlyle Kadri has shown dedication to the defensive aspect of the game.  With every team allowed to nominate a player for this award it is obviously very difficult to predict but Kadri is certainly deserving.

Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award (Exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice)

This award should be given to Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews. He always says the right things in the media making sure never to call out his teammates and always stand up for them. On the ice he sets the tone for the Blackhawks as he is the driving force to all of the success that the Blackhawks have had this season. He plays on the powerplay, penalty kill, and is consistently the clutch guy for the Blackhawks. Toews is one of the best captains in the NHL and has had a simply remarkable season this year.

General Manager of the Year

Even though he won this award last season, I am still giving the General Manager of the Year award to Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues currently sit in 6th place in the Western Conference and Armstrong deserves a lot of credit. Armstrong has made the most out of the small budget that has been placed on him in terms of contract spending.  The Blues have the second lowest total cap value in the NHL. Armstrong has been able to build a team with a mixture of young players (T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, and David Perron) with a cast of veterans as well.  Even though there is a tight budget for Armstrong to work with, he was able to address his team’s defensive needs at the NHL deadline acquiring Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold to help improve a struggling blue line. What was impressive was how little Armstrong had to give up to acquire these veteran defenceman as Armstrong only gave up 1 pick and 2 prospects for Bouwmeester and a second round draft pick for Leopold. The fact that Armstrong has been able to maneuver around and improve his roster while continuing to have the second lowest payroll in the NHL makes him the 2012-13 General Manager of the Year.

 

By: Danny Amodeo- Hockey Writer