Re-Visiting the Demise of the Atlanta Thrashers

Last week, I took a trip to North Carolina to visit family.  But much like my other trips, I had to get in my sports fixes.  Most of the time I will get my fix through baseball (Majors or Minors-and yes I saw the Durham Bulls play), football (college and pro), and college basketball.  Hockey hasn’t been on my list of spots to see.  However my son wanted to try a hockey game on for size, so we went to see a Carolina Hurricanes game, the final one of the year against Tampa Bay Lightning.  For him, it was his first ever hockey game in person.  For me?  First game I’ve attended in 7 years.

Why?

I live in the Atlanta area.

Obviously, the Thrashers have been gone for the last 6 years up to Winnipeg to become the Jets.  I considered a few times of driving to Nashville to see a Predators game but never took a chance (was really close this year when the Preds hosted my favorite team the Red Wings-I’m from Detroit originally, what can I say?) large in part because tickets were expensive.  But I was able to score some reasonable tickets at PNC Arena to see the Hurricanes to play the playoff-bound and home-ice driven Tampa Bay Lightning.  What I got was a great game to watch as it went into overtime and the Hurricanes won, thus giving the Carolina faithful a happy ending to another sad season of failing to make the playoffs (9 straight seasons now), though a large portion of fans had to have driven up from Tampa as there were plenty of blue jerseys with the bolt (or as my son called it, the Flash Gordon logo).  But I realized how much I missed going to hockey games for sure.

However, what stuck out was actually when I was leaving PNC Arena as a lady Carolina Hurricanes fan (must have been a season ticket holder) saw one of the ushers she knewand said “I’m sick and tired of saying see you in 6 months in early April!  9 years has been long enough.”

I HAD to chime in and said, “at least you have a team….I’ve gone 7 years without ANY hockey as the team I was near flew to Winnipeg!”

The Canes fan laughed and said “and sadly, we have the blueprint of the guy who sent the Thrashers to Winnipeg.”

Well, aside from Gary Bettman, it was Don Waddell, who holds the same title as President of the Carolina Hurricanes like he was the Atlanta Thrashers.  So obviously, it got me thinking:  What were the reasons why the Thrashers failed in Atlanta?

Living in Atlanta, I’m tired of the nonsensical drivel from outsiders that say Atlanta isn’t a good sports town, and the fans are superficial.  And when the Thrashers moved, the Canadian fans really dumped on the Atlanta fan base over & over (thus building inside of me the wish that the Stanley Cup never resides in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and ESPECIALLY Winnipeg ever).  Atlanta is similar to most towns: when the home teams win, fans pack it in.  When the home teams lose, plenty of empty seats galore.  Just look at it all over.  It happens in the hardcore places of New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, etc.  But when you have an expansion team that fails to make the playoffs in 10 of 11 years where it is not INCREDIBLY hard to get in, you’re bound to be in massive trouble.  So let’s look at the key reasons why the Thrashers did not make it in Atlanta…..and no, it WASN’T because of the fans.

ASG

1ST REASON: ATLANTA SPIRIT GROUP, THE OWNERS:  Atlanta Spirit Group, or ASG bought the Thrashers and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks from AOL Time Warner in 2003, which many thought wasn’t a bad thing as it got out of the doldrums of having a corporation running it.  However, the owners bickered with each other and caused rifts (mostly brought out with the Hawks than the Thrashers, but it probably didn’t do wonders for the Thrashers either).  However, one report after the Thrashers moved was that the ASG wanted to sell the Thrashers immediately after they bought them.  How true that is, I honestly don’t know, but it would make sense that Atlanta never really became a player on the free agent market especially when the NHL installed the salary cap 3 years later.  And I don’t want to hear about how the Thrashers ran out and got Bobby Holik when the free agency started with the salary cap, given how he flopped with the Rangers.  But the do-nothing ownership kept Atlanta from making big signings, keeping players (though they tried to keep Ilya Kovalchuk, but he rejected a huge contract), and kept certain inept front-office guys who was not cut out for the job to keep their jobs (or in some cases REWARD the guys for their poor jobs).  And then of course when the announcement was made the Thrashers left Winnipeg, some of the ASG owners acted like they were going to cry for letting the team walk.  I’m sure they were very upset….

Don

2ND REASON:  GM DON WADDELL:  Waddell served as GM of the Thrashers for the first 10 seasons before being rewarded for his 1 playoff in 10 seasons as executive VP and co-chair of the executive committee in Atlanta’s final season.  Now, for any expansion team, a GM probably does have a grace period to set up the franchise for a run.  Now we see Vegas start off on fire, but it is definitely a rarity.  The Lightning, Senators, Predators, and Blue Jackets all had to take a while to dump the “expansion” moniker.  The Thrashers were no different.  But many pointed out to the drafts early on that helped.  Yes, Patrik Stefan was a flop, but let’s face it, unless your last name was Sedin in the 1999 Entry Draft, it was one of the worst drafts in this time.  But then it was Heatley, Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen (though I wanted Jay Bouwmeester instead), and Braydon Coburn were all good picks.  In the 2002-2003 season, the Thrashers made strides as Kovalchuk and Heatley were starting out and becoming stars including Heatley’s amazing All-Star Game performance (which netted him popularity and his own EA Sports cover for NHL 2004) and things looked great going into 2003-2004.  A tragedy struck (more on that in a minute) and then the Thrashers struggled to build off the 2002-2003 season.  The drafts started to become sketchy as Atlanta drafted the likes of Boris Valabik, Alex Bourret (who?-I really cannot remember this and had Atlanta not traded down they could have ended up with Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, or I’d settle with Devin Setoguchi, which San Jose drafted at Atlanta’s original spot), no 2007 first rounder for rental Keith Tkachuk, Zach Bogosian (could have had Tyler Myers there), Alex Burmistrov (could have netted Vladimir Tarasenko instead).  So poor drafts by Waddell stung.

And then came the trades.  The one that was just beyond awful even then and I still cannot figure out why they made it despite being in the playoff chase in 2006-2007 was trading Coburn to Philadelphia for an aging and underachieving Alexei Zhitnik.  Coburn was a reliable force for the Flyers while Zhitnik bombed out in Atlanta and did not do a single thing memorable and bought him out one year after.  Instead of making a push to get better after their lone playoff, Waddell gutted the Thrashers save for Kovalchuk, fired Bob Hartley and named himself head coach.  The Thrashers had the third worst record in the NHL that year.  2 years later, Waddell traded Kovalchuk for pretty much scrapheap led by Johnny Oduya.  It wasn’t until Rick Dudley actually made decent moves in the team’s final year in Atlanta netting Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and a couple of others as Atlanta looked to have a quality team ready before the move to Winnipeg.  But what bothered me is that Waddell’s ineptitude and the ownership allowing him to remain that inept for a long period of time was a key reason why the Thrashers were never any good save for 2006-2007.

And after being in Carolina and overhearing fans talk about Waddell, they’re worried he will end the Canes tenure in Raleigh since he looks to be in full control of that franchise.

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3RD REASON:  THE TRAGIC ACCIDENT OF DANY HEATLEY AND DAN SNYDER:  One thing about Atlanta sports is that Atlanta fans believe the city itself is cursed with its sports teams.  The Braves with only 1 World Series win in that major run from 1991-2005.  The Falcons with Super Bowl LI.  The Hawks for being the Hawks.  The Thrashers really got hit hard with theirs early.  Heatley was supposed to be the next big thing in the NHL after the 2002-2003 season.  He got into a car accident with teammate Dan Snyder in the car.  Both suffered injuries, but Snyder’s were fatal.  Despite Heatley being able to recover, he wasn’t the same player for Atlanta and probably was haunted by being responsible for the death of his friend, requested a trade when the 2005-2006 season began (2004-2005 was a lockout).  Atlanta traded him to Ottawa for Marian Hossa and Greg deVries.  Both were great players for Atlanta, but it did take wind out of the sails.  2 years later, Atlanta traded Hossa to Pittsburgh for another crummy Waddell trade.  And the bottom just fell out.

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4TH REASON:  INABILITY TO KEEP ILYA KOVALCHUK IN THE 2010 SEASON:  To be fair, it may not have been Don Waddell’s fault on this one in part because if the rumors of the contract offers were true, Kovalchuk would have been one of the league’s highest paid players.  However, once again, Waddell made a crummy trade with the Devils.  And when the trade was made, the first thing that crossed my mind was “in three years we will be calling this team the Saskatoon Thrashers.”  I was right on the country, just wrong on the province.  It was the last gate attraction the Thrashers had for the fans.  I also remember when Kovalchuk was about to be traded, that I bought a couple of upper level seats at Philips Arena for $3 each, and after the first period, the Blue Crew (the Thrashers girls) took the dozen of us in the upper level and put is in the lower level for the remainder of the game.  It was getting bad.

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5TH REASON:  THE LOGO & UNIFORMS WERE FLAT-OUT COMICAL:  Of all of these, this is obviously the most petty and superficial.  Yes, I hold the original Thrashers home jersey and the blue jersey, but Atlanta wanted to keep up with the bird-themed team names of the Hawks and Falcons and gave it the state bird (to which many fans would give the bird for that idea after) for the team name.  But the logo looked something more of a Saturday Morning cartoon show with a Superman shield of what looked more like a character from the Sonic the Hedgehog game than an actual bird.  The away jersey was the “alternate” logo, which I still don’t know what it is supposed to look like: I guess they wanted to make it look like a Batman signal more than anything.  It was supposed to be a T, but to me it actually looked like a Y and the color pattern for that jersey was hideous.  For the 2003-2004 season, they debuted the sky blue color jersey as teams were trying to make the “alternate” unis cute.  One sleeve had the city name while the other was blank.  It would have looked good if they didn’t have that and made a logo change with it.  Then came the “red” uniforms that evidently inspired to be like an NBA jersey (though Dallas also did one similar which was bad too).  It looked too much like a comic book and much like the last run of Atlanta, it felt like a joke.  And nobody wants to buy a joke of things.

Bettman

6TH REASON:  GARY BETTMAN:  Bettman is a pure crook and I cannot wait until this egomaniac is no longer associated with the NHL in any manner.  End of discussion on that part.  He went above & beyond for a dying franchise in Phoenix that had been in the doldrums far longer than Atlanta had been (and still a dying franchise now).  He ran out and saved the Coyotes from moving back to Winnipeg.  For Atlanta?  Nah.  He scolded the Atlanta fans who didn’t want to pay tickets for consistently losing and paying to watch a garbage product on the ice.  Yet somehow he praised the city when the Thrashers were born as they were a hot ticket early on, and even outdrew the Chicago Blackhawks who were really down in that same time period.  But he opted to do everything in his power to keep the Coyotes from leaving Phoenix.  But nothing for Atlanta.  It sounded like a company headed by former NHL player Anson Carter had a legit offer to keep the Thrashers in Atlanta but it just fell apart without any real explanation.  Could it have been Bettman’s prints pushing to get the team to Winnipeg and True North?  Smelled like it.

 

There are probably more reasons why the Thrashers failed in Atlanta, but those are the key ones to me.  I like to think had Atlanta got rid of Waddell after the 2007-2008 season and replaced him with Rick Dudley after that, there may be playoff hockey in Atlanta starting tonight given with how he added key players in the final season.  But obviously, the truth is and we see it even today, that any professional sports team that has an ownership that cares with a front office that is competent, they will succeed.  But in the Thrashers case, they didn’t have that.  And it is unfortunate.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Pre Postseason NHL Rankings

With the NHL playoffs set to begin on Wednesday Night, there are only 16 teams remaining. Who is the worst team in heading into the playoffs and who is the best team heading into the playoffs?

16. Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9, 95 points): Colorado is by far the worst team in the NHL playoffs. They do have a couple of good players like Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but Colorado doesn’t have much depth. The Avalanche are going to run in a buzzsaw in the first round against the Nashville Predators.

15. Philadelphia Flyers (42-26-14, 98 points): Philadelphia has a lot of talent and they have a punchers chance to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one because of their offense. However, the Flyers have a big problem with their goaltending situation and they can’t seem to stop Pittsburgh’s offense. If Philadelphia wasn’t playing Pittsburgh in round one, I might have ranked them higher.

14. New Jersey Devils (44-29-9, 97 points): Taylor Hall played at an MVP level during the regular season. They have very good depth even though New Jersey’s second leading scorer in Nico Hischier didn’t even have 60 points. If the Devils are going to make a deep run, they need goalie Keith Kinkaid to stay hot or Cory Schneider to step up if needed, but I don’t expect that to happen.

13. San Jose Sharks (45-27-10, 100 points): The Sharks limped into the playoffs and I think they have a bad draw in the first round against the Anaheim Ducks. Even though the Sharks have good depth scoring, there defense hasn’t been exactly sharp and it could be there down fall early in the postseason.

12. Minnesota Wild (45-26-11, 101 points): The Wild are banged on defense, but they have enough depth to still be reliable. Devan Dubnyk will be one of the keys in order for the Wild to have post season success. The Wild can’t be trusted because head coach Bruce Boudreau never gets it done in the postseason.

11. Anaheim Ducks (44-25-13, 101 points): The Ducks usually play well at the end of the season and it carries into the postseason. I don’t expect Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf to have a mediocre playoff like they did in the regular season. Richard Rakell and Adam Henrique need to play even better in the postseason. Goaltending will be an interesting commodity for the Ducks. Will John Gibson be healthy? If he is, I don’t trust him between the pipes. Ryan Miller is a good backup, but he won’t lead the Ducks to the promise land.

10. Los Angeles Kings (45-29-8, 98 points): Jonathan Quick and Anze Kopitar are ready to lead their team to another championship run. They have been there before and the Kings are set up perfectly to go to the western conference finals. Los Angeles plays an inexperienced Vegas Golden Knights team in round one. The Kings would face either the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks in round two if they win the series. Los Angeles also matches up well with either of those teams.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets (45-30-7, 97 points): Columbus is getting their wish by not facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets have a great chance to upset the Capitals in round one. Columbus has a solid defensive pairing in Seth Jones and Zack Werenski. Sergei Bobrovsky is looking to redeem himself in the postseason.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (47-29-6, 100 points): Pittsburgh will be tough to beat four times out of seven, but they are not the favorites to win the east and they may not even be a top-three favorite to win the east. The Penguins have the best power play in the NHL and they still have the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby. Pittsburgh also has Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Goaltender Matt Murray is ready to prove himself once again in the postseason.

7. Vegas Golden Knights (51-24-7, 109 points): This is the first time ever an expansion team made it to the postseason. Vegas will be battle tested right away. They have a tough draw in the round one against the Los Angeles Kings. Will goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury be a proven veteran and stay calm or will his old playoff meltdowns return?

6. Washington Capitals (49-26-7, 105 points): The Capitals starting Philipp Grubauer is game one over Braden Holtby is was an interesting decision made by head coach Braden Holtby. Grubauer’s record during the regular season was 15-10-3 with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA, along with three shutouts. Holtby’s record during the regular season was 34-16-4 with a .907 save percentage and a 2.99 GAA.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (49-26-7, 105 points): Toronto might have the best offense in the NHL playoffs. They scored 277 goals during the regular season which is the second most in the NHL. The Maple Leafs need to hope goaltender Frederik Andersen doesn’t get tired or hurt.

4. Winnipeg Jets (52-20-10, 114 points): The Jets are in position to win it all because of Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, and Connor Hellebuyck. Wheeler had a quietly dangerous season with 23 goals and 68 assists. Patrik Laine scored 44 goals and 31 of them were on the power play. Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding between the pipes during the regular season and he was clearly Winnipeg’s MVP during the regular season. His record was 44-11-9 with a .924 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA, along six shutouts. Winnipeg also had the second best goal differential in the NHL at 59 (277 goals scored/218 goals given up). The Jets are the second favorites to win the west, but they would have to possibly face the Nashville Predators in round two and that’s not an easy task.

3. Tampa Bay Lighting (54-23-5, 113 points): Even though Tampa Bay finished with the best record in the east, they lost to Boston twice in the regular season. The Lightning won’t have an easy matchup out of the gate against the New Jersey Devils. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are ready to make another deep playoff run. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy needs to take control when his team needs him. His record during the regular season was 44-17-3 with a .920 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA, along with eight shutouts. They have a great chance to win it all for the first time since 2004.

2. Boston Bruins (50-20-12, 112 points): The 2018 Boston Bruins might be better than the team that won it all in 2011. The Bruins have the most dangerous line in the postseason in David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand. They combined for 228 points during the regular season. If Rick Nash is ready for the start of the postseason, that will be a huge bonus for them. They have rookies like Ryan Donato, Charlie McAvoy, and Danton Heinen. Boston might have the best defense in the playoffs. Their defense doesn’t do much offensively, but they get after opponents and they don’t give up many odd man rushes. The playoffs will fall on the shoulder of goaltender Tuukka Rask.

1.Nashville Predators (53-18-11, 117 points): Nashville may not have a weakness on their roster. They are on a mission to win it all after falling short last season. The Predators was the lowest seed in the west in the 2017 postseason and they are now the highest seed in the 2018 postseason. Pekka Rinne is the backbone of this team. His record during the regular season was 42-13-4 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.31 GAA, along with eight shutouts. The Predators defenseman finished with 208 points during the regular season. Head coach Peter Laviolette will keep his team focused and hungry.

 

Possible Hart Trophy Candidates

With the NHL regular season set to aside, the focus is not only on the Stanley Cup Playoffs which begins Wednesday Night, but also who will also win the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP).

This is the first time in a while where it will be tough to decide even who be a finalist for the award. There are around seven to 10 players who make a compelling case for the award:

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: For the second consecutive season, Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy and also finished a season with over 100 points. McDavid scored 41 goals and recorded 67 assists during the regular season. The Edmonton Oilers didn’t make the postseason, but the Oilers would have been the worst team in the league this season if it wasn’t for McDavid. He can’t do it by himself. It is very possible McDavid wins the Hart Trophy for the second consecutive season, but whether or not they want to give it to someone on a team who didn’t make it to the postseason is another story.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux moving from center to wing helped the Flyers causes and himself. Giroux was the only other player in the NHL to score over 100 points during the regular season. He scored 34 goals and recorded 68 assists during the regular season. Giroux scored a hat-trick against the New York Rangers on the final day of the regular season to help the Flyers clinch a spot in the postseason.

Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils: Hall was one of the main reasons why the New Jersey Devils improved in the 2017-2018 campaign. He scored 39 goals and recorded 54 assists during the regular season. There was a major gap in points between Hall and rookie Nico Hischier, who was the second leading scorer (20 goals 32 assists 52 points) on the Devils during the regular season. New Jersey wouldn’t be in this position without Hall and he has made other players better.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche only had 48 points last season in the standings and they had 95 in the standings this year and it was enough to get them back to the postseason for the time since the 2013-2014 season. Colorado didn’t have much scoring depth throughout the regular season and at times MacKinnon had to carry the Avalanche on his back. MacKinnon scored 38 goals and recorded 57 assists during the regular season.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Tampa Bay was the best team in the eastern conference for most of the regular season and they will have home ice throughout the entire eastern conference playoffs. Kucherov started off really hot and then he cooled off a little bit, but he finished with 100 points (39 goals and 61 assists). The last time at least three NHL players had a 100 points or more in a season was in 2006-2007 when seven players accomplished that feat.

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin seems to be the least talked about superstar in the NHL. He scored 42 goals and recorded 56 assists during the regular season. Malkin is a freak of nature and he can take over a game at any moment. Malkin has one Hart Trophy in his career. He feels like he is the better player in the NHL and Malkin feels like he has something to prove despite playing with Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel on the same team. Malkin won’t be a happy camper if he isn’t a Hart Trophy finalist and he will even be more motivated, just like not being named to the all top-100 NHL players of all-time list.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: Kopitar had a bounce back season and he is one of the reasons why the Los Angeles Kings are back in the NHL postseason. He scored 35 goals and recorded 57 assists during the regular season. Kopitar is the key offensive player in Los Angeles.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets: Blake Wheeler might have the most quiet dangerous season in the NHL. He scored 23 goals and recorded 68 assists for Winnipeg. Wheeler led by example all year long. He is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, but Wheeler probably won’t get any MVP votes.

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators: Even though the Predators have a tremendous hockey club, it starts with goaltending. Pekka Rinne is the backbone of this team and he had not only a Vezina Trophy like winning season, but also an MVP like season. His record was 42-13-4 with a .927 save percentage a 2.31 GAA and eight shutouts.

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets: I don’t think Hellebuyck is going to win the Vezina Trophy, but if you want to know the true definition of MVP, Hellebuyck fits into that category. Without him this season, the Winnipeg Jets wouldn’t have sniffed the playoffs. He is the backbone of this team and Winnipeg has a chance to win it all because of him. Hellebuyck’s record was 44-11-9 with a .924 save percentage and six shutouts.

If I were a betting man, the three finalists for the Hart Trophy will be Connor McDavid, Claude Giroux, and Nikita Kucherov. I think McDavid will win the award for the second consecutive season. You make the argument!

 

 

 

2018 NHL Playoff Predictions

The NHL playoffs are FINALLY here, and we’ve got some absolutely incredible matchups. Who’s going to win what series? What team’s got the best chances to go to the Cup? Will the Penguins 3-Peat? We here at PSF have got you covered. Without further ado, the 2018 NHL Playoff Predictions.

Eastern Conference

Atlantic #1 Tampa Bay Lightning vs Wild Card #2 New Jersey Devils

If I’m at all spot on with my analysis on any series, this one will likely be it. The Devils slipped into the playoffs by one point and have been riding a hot goaltender in backup Keith Kinkaid into the playoffs. If they hadn’t gone 7-2-1 down the stretch, they likely wouldn’t have even made the playoffs to begin with. While they’re being carried by a likely Hart Trophy finalist in Taylor Hall, I don’t think the team around Hall will be able to pick up the slack whatsoever, which leaves them in a tough position against a high flying Tampa Bay Lightning roster.

Now, onto the Lightning. This is an incredibly well put together roster, ending up with the top record in the entire Eastern Conference. This comes with many, many reasons. The Lightning have six 20-goal scorers on their roster, including Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, both of whom ended up over a point-per-game during the season. On the back end, they have Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, and Mikhail Sergachev, all of whom are incredibly talented assets who all have two-way abilities and can shut down the opposing team when asked. That’s a scary sight for any opponent. Then, counter in the fact that goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a .920 save percentage this season… oh boy.

So, the prediction. I’ll take the Lightning in 5, although I wouldn’t really be surprised to see the series go 6 with how often home games are won. I’d guess that the Lightning don’t have many issues with the Devils, with just sheer firepower and team ability having a major gap in this series.

Atlantic #2 Boston Bruins vs Atlantic #3 Toronto Maple Leafs

The rivalry continues, and boy, oh boy… this is going to be incredible. The Bruins ended up just one point behind the Lightning for the top record in the East and their punishment was to face one of their biggest rivals in the Maple Leafs. This series may be the toughest to pick, for a multitude of reasons.

First things first, goal scoring should be at a premium in this series. Not because either goaltender is bad, but because both offenses are super fluid and both teams produce at a crazy high level. The Bruins have one of the best top-lines in hockey, with three 30-goal scorers in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. That in itself is scary, almost guaranteeing that the Bruins top line will score on you at least once, maybe more. Throw in talented players like David Krejci, Danton Heinen, Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, and Ryan Donato… that’s a hell of a lineup.

The Leafs are no slouch either. The top three point-getters on this team are aged 20 (Mitch Marner), 20 (Auston Matthews), and 21 (William Nylander). These three studs are are all incredible talents and are super, super hard to contain, making this a task for the top line of the Bruins who may be more concerned in stopping the high-powered offense that the Leafs are known for. With guys like James Van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau, and Nazem Kadri behind the three young guns, we could see a series here with an incredible amount of scoring chances created, and that takes us to the goaltending.

Goaltending may end up making the difference in this series. Which goaltender can make the big saves? With Frederik Andersen of the Maple Leafs at a .918 save percentage and Tuukka Rask of the Bruins at a .917 save percentage, we’ll really have to see who the star of the series is. Both of these goaltenders are known for being rock solid and consistent, and both make crazy saves on a pretty game-by-game basis,

Picking a winner is easier said than done, and the old adage “you’re not in trouble until you lose at home” may end up being key for this series. With two evenly matched teams, the Bruins having home ice advantage may sway the series, so I’ll take the Bruins in 7, winning a nail-biter at TD Garden in front of the sold out crowd of 17,565.

Metro #1 Washington Capitals vs Wild Card #1 Columbus Blue Jackets

The curse of Washington looks to be broken for yet another year, with the Capitals facing off against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In my eyes, there’s a clear winner of this series. Not knocking the Blue Jackets, but having to face against the league leading goal scorer with a goaltender who’s usually not great in the playoffs is a scary thought. CBJ’s Sergei Bobrovsky has had some issues in the playoffs throughout his career, posting an .882 SV% last year, a .908 SV% in 2013-14, and an .877 SV% in 2010-11. While this could change easily with how good Bobrovsky is as a goaltender, I’d say the chances are he may struggle a bit.

This series will come down to the star-power, and both teams have players who’ve been in the playoffs before and can lead by example. The Capitals have Alex Ovechkin, who’s the league’s leading scorer yet again, on top of Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, TJ Oshie, star goaltender Braden Holtby, and Norris-contender John Carlson. Compare that to the Blue Jackets having Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and stud rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois. Edge… Capitals.

Personally, I’ll take the Capitals in 6. I just feel like this Columbus team is still a step or two behind the top dogs in the conference and Alex Ovechkin is hungrier than ever to finally get the monkey off his back and make a deep run into the playoffs. Either of Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky can steal a game with their stellar goaltending ability, but I feel as if the Capitals are much more built for a series and they should win.

Metro #2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs Metro #3 Philadelphia Flyers

As the previous tweet says… buckle up. This is going to be a hard-fought, nasty series between on of the best rivalries in hockey. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this series, but it seems like the consensus has the Penguins winning this series easily… I’ll tell you why that’s wrong.

The Penguins SHOULD win this series. Let’s face it, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and more studs from top-to-bottom, this Penguins team should be a strong bet to make the Conference Finals again. The one area that scares me about the Penguins more than anything is goaltending. Matt Murray’s finally shown weakness and posted just a .907 save percentage in the regular season, and as a goaltender commonly referenced to have a weak glove hand, that’s not a good sign against the Flyers.

The Flyers have a tremendously high powered offense, lead by Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux. The beauty of this Flyers team is their depth. The Flyers had 11 players who scored 10 goals this season, including five over 20 goals. That should frighten Penguins fans, especially with players like Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and Wayne Simmonds all able to grind out close to the net and get into the dirty areas to score. This will be a nasty series on the back end too, and Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have shown to be two of the best young two-way defensemen in the NHL. Could the Flyers provide an upset for the ages of the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Penguins?

This series will likely go seven. The realistic, “crowd-sourced” opinion would likely tell you that the Penguins will win in 5 or 6, but I’ll go with the Penguins in 7. Home ice is huge in the playoffs. Having that crowd behind you can make all the difference. Both arenas are known for being generally tough to play in and both fanbases are extremely supportive and strong. This should be one for the record books.

Western Conference

Central #1 Nashville Predators vs Wild Card #2 Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche have made an incredible run from worst-in-the-NHL to a playoff team, lead by my Hart Trophy pick Nathan MacKinnon. What a shame that they’ve run into the reigning conference champions and current best team in the league in the Nashville Predators. Can the Avalanche pull off an upset? That remains to be seen.

Before getting into things, I will say this… the Avalanche have a better shot at winning this series than any other wild card team does, in my eyes. This is a team with an incredible passion and excitement, running on fumes to get to this point as is… and they don’t want to be done just yet. This is the Nathan MacKinnon show. He is an absolutely electric hockey player who has benefitted on having a bigger role with the mid-season departure of Matt Duchene, and he’ll look to ride that into the sunset and bring some playoff wins back to Colorado. With Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Barrie, and Gabriel Landeskog all having tremendous years around him, this Avalanche team is not as deep as most playoff teams, but they’re as talented up top as most if not all.

Now, the Predators. I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. That’s a fact. This Predators team is fun to watch, skilled, exciting, and just overall an extremely talented bunch. With just 29 losses all season, including only 18 in regulation, this Predators team is TOUGH to beat. This team doesn’t have many high powered scorers, but what they do have is 13 10-goal scorers. Talk about depth. Lead by Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, P.K. Subban, and Roman Josi, this Predators team is extremely defensively sound as well. They’ve helped their goaltender Pekka Rinne have a career year, with a .927 save percentage and potentially a Vezina going his way. With that scoring depth and incredible defensive play, I find it’s going to be hard to pick against the Predators. For that reason, I’ll take the Predators in a very hard-fought six games.

Central #2 Winnipeg Jets vs Central #3 Minnesota Wild

This will be the shortest series of them all. I’m pretty convinced on that one. As much as I’d love to see a hard fought seven game series, I think that’s unlikely. Sad to say, but the truth may hurt.

Winnipeg! Back at it again in the playoffs with the white out crowd, and this season you have something to be thrilled about! 114 point season, 52 wins, one of the most high powered offenses in the NHL… can the Jets make a run? 110%, they can. Patrik Laine is a beast. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler are STARS. Kyle Connor’s turning into something extremely special. Dustin Byfuglien’s one of the scariest defensemen in the league. Oh, right, and Connor Hellebuyck with a .924 save percentage… oh boy, Minnesota, you’re in for one.

Now, the Wild. This Wild team has a lot of tier-2 talent, but outside of guys like Eric Staal and Mikael Granlund, can someone who’s a bit less prominent pick up the slack? We know Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba can all play at a high level, but with Ryan Suter missing the entire postseason with surgery, will they be able to get over the hump and really figure it out? Devan Dubnyk’s had another good year with a .918 save percentage, but can the Wild match the Jets speed and skill?

The answer to that is probably not. The Jets should win this series in 5. Maybe 6. I don’t see any way it goes over 6, unless the Wild get random production from guys like Jared Spurgeon and the oft-injured Zach Parise. Winnipeg should win this series.

Pacific #1 Vegas Golden Knights vs Wild Card #1 Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are probably thrilled about this matchup, but should they be? Long story short, no. Not one bit.

Vegas has shown the entire hockey world that they are absolutely, positively for real. This team of ragtag misfits who were all abandoned by their teams in the expansion draft have come together and had one of the most incredible seasons of any team in professional sports, breaking records along the way. This team is no joke. William Karlsson scored 43, yes, 43 times this season en route to an almost point-per-game season. Jonathan Marchessault had 75 points in 77 games. Even afterthought David Perron put up 66 points in 70 games, all thanks to incredible coaching from Gerard Gallant. Veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put up a .927 save percentage on the year, just furthering the idea that Vegas is for real.

Now, the Kings are a playoff team. We all know that’s the case. We’ve seen them take wild card teams on runs and win the entire Stanley Cup within the last few years… but can they do it this year? Anze Kopitar’s been incredible, with 92 points on the season. Drew Doughty put up 60, right below Dustin Brown’s career resurgence with 28 goals and 33 assists (61 points). This series will go straight down to Jonathan Quick’s ability to steal a game. Quick’s known to be an acrobatic, “different” goalie. He was one of the best this season, but the need for him to be sharp is extremely, extremely prevalent if the Kings plan on making a run.

The Vegas Golden Knights will win this series in 6. It’s a cinderella story. It’s something you can’t really put your finger on how this happened, but you don’t want it to stop. I certainly don’t want to see it end here. Vegas in 6.

Pacific #2 Anaheim Ducks vs Pacific #3 San Jose Sharks

This series really just screams “meh” at me. I’m not excited yet, but I’m sure that’ll change when they get on the ice and get physical, as you’d expect a series between these two teams would.

Anaheim. What can you say about the Ducks other than that it’s kind of surprising they’re getting home ice in the playoffs after so many close games all season. Having that experience winning tight games will help a ton come playoff time, and you’ll need experience against the extremely experienced Sharks. The Ducks have a new scoring leader in Rickard Rakell, with the usual suspects in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry behind him. Can John Gibson (potentially Ryan Miller if Gibson’s injury is serious) buckle down and stop the Sharks offensive firepower?

The answer is yes, but it won’t be easy. This Sharks team has the efficiency thing down pat, with several players shooting over 13% on the season, including Logan Couture and Joe Thornton. With Brent Burns always willing to throw pucks on the net and generate the rebounds in tight, I think the Sharks are a formidable opponent for the Ducks tight style of hockey.

Who wins? I’ll take the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in this showdown of California’s finest teams, simply because I feel as if John Gibson is going to outplay Martin Jones and help steal a few games for the Ducks. The scoring should likely be even, but I’ll give the Ducks the nod defensively and in net.

Rest Of The Way

Here’s how my bracket fills out the rest of the way…

2nd Round:

Nashville over Winnipeg in 7

Vegas over Anaheim in 6

Tampa Bay over Boston in 7

Washington over Pittsburgh in 6

 

Conference Finals:

Nashville over Vegas in 5

Tampa Bay over Washington in 6

 

Stanley Cup Finals:

Tampa Bay over Nashville in 7

 

X-Factors for each NHL Playoff Team

With the playoff field set in the NHL, it’s time to determine who will be an x-factor for each playoff team not in the first-round, but beyond.

Washington Capitals: Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana: Washington has elite scorers like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and Nicklas Backstrom, but in order to get over the hump, they are going to need scoring from other sources. Players like Andre Burakovsky and Jakub Vrana hit the spot. Burakovsky can play on any line and he only scored 12 goals and recorded 13 assists in 56 games, but Burakovsky has talent to get hot in the postseason. Vrana is a very similar player to Burakovsky, but Vrana will most likely be on the third line. He scored 13 goals and recorded 14 assists in 73 games with Washington. Vrana also has the talent to get hot.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Derick Brassard and Jamie Oleksiak: Pittsburgh traded for Brassard to help their chances for a three-peat. Brassard has been quiet ever since he was acquired, but he is known for stepping up in the playoffs. In 14 games with Pittsburgh, he scored three goals and recorded five assists. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Brassard scored 18 goals and recorded 20 assists. Oleksiak scored goals in two of the three meetings he played in against the Philadelphia Flyers. He is a big banger and can be a dangerous offensive weapon as a defenseman. Oleksiak scored five goals and recorded 12 assists in 68 games this season.

Philadelphia Flyers: Nolan Patrick and Robert Hagg: Nolan Patrick could be the difference whether or not the Flyers advance. They have a solid first two lines and he will provide depth on the third line. Patrick scored 13 goals and recorded 17 assists in 73 games. He was the number two overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. Robert Hagg will be an x-factor because of his defense, not because of his offense.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Sonny Milano: In 55 games, Milano scored 14 goals and recorded eight assists with Columbus. He has offensive potential. Milano can provide a spark if one of the key players doesn’t step up.

New Jersey Devils: Patrick Maroon: Maroon played in the postseason in 2017 with the Edmonton Oilers. He won’t be a stranger to playoff hockey in 2018 either. When his name is called upon, he will rise to the occasion. Maroon was acquired by New Jersey for his depth scoring. He had 17 goals and 26 assists in 74 games played this season, but Maroon scored three goals and recorded 10 assists in 17 games with New Jersey.

Boston Bruins: Ryan Donato: If you have been paying attention to the Boston Bruins lately, Ryan Donato is a no-brainer of a pick for the x-factor come playoff time. He just signed an entry-level deal a few weeks ago with Boston and in 14 games, Donato has scored five goals and recorded three assists. He can play on the second power play unit and Donato can play on the second or third line. Donato will be huge because Boston still has some key injuries.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Mikhail Sergachev: Tampa Bay’s defense hasn’t been to great as of late. If Victor Hedman goes down with an injury, Sergachev would get Hedman’s minutes and he would also be the first defenseman option on the power play. Sergachev scored nine goals and recorded 31 assists as a rookie, but he is going to have to play like a veteran in the postseason.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Zach Hyman, Frederik Andersen: Zach Hyman is an offensive player who isn’t talked about much on Toronto. He scored 15 goals and recorded 25 assists during the regular season. Hyman can play on the second or third line and he could be dangerous anytime he touches the puck. He is very underrated. It isn’t often I mention a goalie as an x-factor but Frederik Andersen will be. It’s because if he gets hurt, the Maple Leafs chances are finished. Andersen’s record was 38-21-5 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.81 GAA, along with five shutouts.

Nashville Predators: Ryan Hartman: In 21 games with the Nashville Predators, Ryan Hartman scored three goals and recorded three assists. He was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline. Hartman has offensive potential. If he starts to get rolling, the Predators might become impossible to stop.

Winnipeg Jets: Paul Stastny: Winnipeg acquired a solid two-way player at the trade deadline in Paul Stastny. He is a good penalty killer and scored four goals and recorded nine assists in 19 games with Winnipeg. Stastny is also the energizer bunny inside the Jets locker room.

Minnesota Wild: Jared Spurgeon and Zach Praise: The Wild have a solid defensive unit and Jared Spurgeon could be one of the x-factors for Minnesota. He scored nine goals and recorded 28 assists in 61 games this season. Spurgeon is very good defensively and he could take his offensive game to another level. Praise is an x-factor because of the regular season he had to deal with. He didn’t start the 2017-2018 season because of back surgery. Praise only played in 42 regular season games and he scored 15 goals and recorded nine assists. If Praise finds his rhythm at all, Minnesota will be very tough to beat.

Colorado Avalanche: Alexander Kerfott and Tyler Jost: In order for Colorado to pull off a monster upset, they are going to need more offense than just Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Kerfott and Jost have offensive talent to give Colorado that boost. Kerfott scored 19 goals and recorded 24 assists during the regular season. Jost scored 12 goals and recorded 10 assists during the regular season.

Vegas Golden Knights: James Neal and Nate Schmidt: James Neal got off to a hot start during the regular season, but he has been the forgotten man in Vegas because off the season William Karlsson had. Neal scored 25 goals and recorded 19 assists during the regular season. He is an offensive weapon and Neal is dangerous enough to carry the Golden Knights. Defenseman Nate Schmidt scored five goals and recorded 31 assists during the regular season. He is very good defensively and Schmidt could be a secret offensive weapon for the Golden Knights.

Anaheim Ducks: Rickard Rakell and Ryan Miller: Even though Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in scoring during the regular season (34 goals and 35 assists), he is going to have to continue his success because Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry did not have a great regular season. If Rakell gets shut down, the Ducks offense could be in a whole lot of trouble. If John Gibson (upper-body injury) isn’t ready to go for game one, Ryan Miller’s name will be called upon. He has playoff experience before with the Buffalo Sabres. His record during the regular season was 12-6-6 with a .928 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA, along with four shutouts.

San Jose Sharks: Justin Braun: Braun might be the second best defenseman on the Sharks and he is going to continue playing like one. He only scored five goals and recorded 28 assists during the regular season, but Braun might need to shoot more from the back end in the postseason. San Jose did score 252 goals during the regular season, but they will need more production from the defensive unit.

Los Angeles Kings: Adrian Kempe: Kempe has the potential to be the Kings next star this postseason. Other than Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter, they are going to need another scoring source somewhere. Kempe scored 16 goals and recorded 21 assists during the regular season. He is just 21 years old and a rookie. Kempe needs to play like he has been there before and he has the speed and offensive capability to cause problems for opponents.

 

Someone Will be Victimized by the Playoff Format again this Postseason, but Stats Show This Format is Better than People Think

The NHL postseason begins in a week from Wednesday. This will be the fifth consecutive postseason under the new playoff format. The top three teams in each division get in, along with two wild cards. It isn’t the same as it was when the top three division winners were rewarded the 1-3 seeds and the teams with the top points remaining were 4-8.

It isn’t the case here and it will victimize another NHL this team postseason. I am not saying there is anything wrong in how exciting the Stanley Cup Playoffs are, the problem is their is a flaw in the current system.

If the season ended right now the (WC1) New Jersey Devils (43-28-9 with 95 points) would play the (1) Washington Capitals (48-25-7 with 103 points), the (3) Columbus Blue Jackets (45-29-6 with 96 points) would play the (2) Pittsburgh Penguins (45-29-6 with 96 points), the (WC2) Philadelphia Flyers (40-26-14 with 94 points) would play the (1) Boston Bruins (49-18-12 with 110 points), and the (3) Toronto Maple Leafs (48-25-7 with 103 points) would play the (2) Tampa Bay Lightning (53-23-4 with 110 points).

The only two matchups that make sense in the east for the first round is Philadelphia vs Boston because it is a true 8 vs 1 matchup and New Jersey vs Washington because it is a true 7 vs 2. Otherwise, there are issues that come into play. Why is Columbus who in realty should be a six seed would play a five seed Pittsburgh in the first round?

How about Toronto, who should really be a four seed and get home ice in the first-round isn’t going to because they are playing a team is technically a three seed in the Tampa Bay Lightning? In reality, Columbus should face Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh should face Toronto.

Here’s another issue: in the old format, there would be reseeding after the first round. In this format, it is just bracketed in. You’re going to tell me Pittsburgh vs Washington should face each other in the second round and not the conference finals? But the same case can be made this season for Tampa Bay and Boston.

The Lightning and the Bruins have the top two records in the eastern conference and one of those teams will be eliminated in the second round. Heck, Tampa Bay could be eliminated by Toronto in the first round as well.

Columbus and Pittsburgh shouldn’t be on a collision course to play against each other in the first-round again this season. The Blue Jackets could be very well victimized by this bracket once again and so could the Penguins.

How about the western conference? The (WC2) Colorado Avalanche (42-29-9 with 93 points) would play the (1) Nashville Predators (51-18-11 with 113 points), (3) Minnesota Wild (44-25-10 with 98 points) would play the (2) Winnipeg Jets (50-20-10 with 110 points), (WC1) Anaheim Ducks (41-25-13 with 95 points) would play the (1) Vegas Golden Knights (51-22-7 with 109 points),  and the (3) Los Angeles Kings (44-28-8 with 96 points) would play the (2) San Jose Sharks (44-26-10 with 98 points).

There is nothing wrong with all of these matchups in the first-round because of how spread out the points are, but the 6 vs 3 matchup would be Los Angeles vs Winnipeg and the 5 vs 4 matchup would be San Jose vs Minnesota.

However, there would be another problem in the second round in the Central Division. Winnipeg and Nashville would be on course to play each other in the second round. They are by far the two best teams in the western conference and one of them is going to be bounced before the conference finals.

Some people might be complaining about the format and some people might think the second round series might be the conference finals, but ever since this playoff format in 2014, a second-round series goes seven games 50% of the time and a conference finals series goes seven 62% of the time.

A series goes at least six games 81% of the time since this format since 2014 and a conference finals series goes at least six 100% of the time.

Eric Jensen’s Final NHL Power Rankings Of The NHL Regular Season.

1.  Nashville
2. Boston
3. Winnipeg
4. Vegas
5. Tampa Bay
Nashville continues to dominate and look like the favorite for the Presidents trophy though the Bruins aren’t far behind. Brad Marchand has been hot the last few games and Boston are legit cup contenders. Tampa falls as of a rough stretch over the last two weeks going 5-5 in there last ten games.
6. Washington
7. San Jose
8. Minnesota
9. Toronto
10. Columbus
Washington is heating up at the right time. The caps are 9-1 in there last ten games and I still believe this is the year. I’m getting sucked into this Washington team. San Jose has been playing at an elite level since the beginning of March. They could catch up with the Knights if Vegas falters down the stretch.
11. Pittsburgh
12. Los Angeles
13. Saint Louis
14. Philadelphia
15. Anaheim
Pittsburgh looks really good. Don’t let 11 deceive you they are ready to dominate the playoffs. Matt Murray needs to improve his play but I believe he will take care of it. Saint Louis has rebounded in a way I don’t think anyone saw coming and are playing excellent even though the weak link in that team comes if Vladamir Tarasenko gets injured.
16. New Jersey
17. Colorado
18. Florida
19. Carolina
20. New York Rangers
21. New York Islanders
22. Calgary
23. Edmonton
24. Dallas
25. Chicago
26. Arizona
27. Vancouver
28. Ottawa
29. Montreal
30. Detroit
31. Buffalo

What NHL Coaches are on the Hot Seat?

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With the NHL regular season coming to an end next Saturday Night, it is time to think about which coaches could potentially be fired.

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers: Despite signing a two-year contract extension with the Rangers during the middle of the 2016-2017, it is possible the New York Rangers decide to go in a different direction after the season. The Rangers are going to go through a rebuilding process and I am not sure if Vigneault will be the guy leading this team in the near future. Lindy Ruff certainly won’t be the new head coach if Vigneault is gone.

Doug Weight, New York Islanders, The Islanders have been a major disappointment in the 2017-2018 season. They were supposed to be a playoff team, but they will be on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season. The New York Islanders have had goaltending and defensive problems all year. In order for John Tavares stick around, they are going to have to make coaching and general manager changes this offseason, or they can kiss him goodbye since Tavares is a free agent.

Bill Peters, Carolina Hurricanes: This will be interesting how the Hurricanes decide Peters fate. If Carolina feels they have another level to get to and Peters is not taking them to it, then the Hurricanes will probably fire him. If they feel goaltending is the issue, then they will decide to keep him. Carolina will finish the season once again on the outside looking in and the Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since the 2008-2009 season. Carolina would be one of the best jobs available if Peters is let go. Maybe they would hire Doug Weight since he played there, if the Islanders decided to fire him. How about the possibility of him as the general manager and Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Mark Recchi as the head coach.

John Hynes, New Jersey Devils: Hynes is in his third season as the Devils coach and he has gotten them within grasp of making it to the postseason for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. However, he has to becareful that New Jersey doesn’t somehow miss the postseason. If the Devils do miss the postseason, it is most likely Hynes will be canned. If New Jersey makes it, then he will be safe. If the Devils job were to get opened up, it would probably be snatched in a second because of the promising young players they have in Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, along with veteran caliber players like Taylor Hall, Marcus Johannson, Kyle Palmieri, etc.

Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals: It is very rare a coach who has a very good team is in the hot seat. Trotz’s contract is up at the end of the season and it is going to depend on how far the Washington Capitals go in the playoffs. If they are a first-round exit, I am not sure if they will keep him around. If they go to the second-round or go to at least the conference finals, I think the Capitals will keep him around.

Claude Julien, Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens haven’t had a very good season and Julien’s system hasn’t worked well in Montreal. The Canadiens have only scored 192 goals so far this season and they have given up 243 goals so far this season. Montreal needs to start a rebuild process and they need a different voice behind the bench. Julien is 58 years old and a younger guy would suit better for them. It doesn’t help that Montreal signed goaltender Carey Price to a 8-year deal worth $84 million. His contract will expire after the 2025-2026 season.

Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings: Blashill made it to the playoffs in his first season with the Detroit Red Wings, but he will have Detroit missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Detroit isn’t used to missing the postseason after making it 27 years in a row. Blashill is going to probably get another chance at redemption next season, unless management decides otherwise. The Red Wings aren’t far away as people think they are and maybe that’s why they will give Blashill another shot.

Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers had expectations heading into the season after making it to the playoffs in 2016-2017. Edmonton was one win away last season from heading to the conference finals. McLellan will be the downfall guy for the Oilers disappointing season, but the one to blame for this season is general manager Peter Chiarelli. He messed up chemistry with this team from a season ago. Chiarelli decided to let Benoit Pouliot walk in the offseason and trade Jordan Eberle in the offseason, which proved to be costly. He also traded away Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu at the trade deadline. If McLellan gets fired, so should Chiarelli. McLellan shouldn’t lose his job, but he will because of the mess Chiarelli left for him in the 2017-2018 season.

NHL Power Rankings: Vegas Back In The Top 5.

1. Nashville
2. Tampa Bay
3. Winnipeg
4. Boston
5. Vegas
Nashville continues to be the best team in the leauge. Tampa has a few slight Achilles heels. For instance, defensive depth isn’t what it could be for this team. That doesn’t make them any less of a contender though. Winnipeg and Boston are still smoking hot but won’t catch their perspective division leaders. Neither team can let up though as the Leaf’s and Wild are hot on their tails. After a short rough patch Vegas is back up and about. 6-4 in there last ten days.

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6. San Jose
7. Washington
8. Toronto
9. Colorado
10. Minnesota

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San Jose continues to quietly look like a true Stanley Cup contender. Washington has gotten hot late and let me tell you, I know we say this every year but this might be the Caps year. They just don’t have the buzz they normally do and I feel like they can make a deep playoff run. Colorado has been incredibly hot and Nathan Mackinnon looks like the league’s MVP and the Aves feel like a sleeper playoff team that could knock off the Golden Knights and go on a run.

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11. Columbus
12. Florida
13. Pittsburgh
14. Los Angeles
15. Anaheim
Columbus and Florida are suddenly two very hot eastern conference teams battling for a wild card spot. Pittsburgh is up and down and Los Angeles is points away from falling out of a playoff spot while the red hot Ducks sit right behind them.

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16. Philadelphia
17. New Jersey
18. Saint Louis
19. Calgary
20. Dallas
21. New York Rangers
22. New York Islanders
23. Carolina
24. Arizona
25. Edmonton
26. Chicago
27. Buffalo
28. Ottawa
29. Montreal
30. Vancouver
31. Detroit

 

Will Nathan MacKinnon Be Considered for MVP?

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The NHL MVP race is one of the tightest it has been in a long time. There is an argument for at least five-to-six players to win the Hart Trophy, including Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon.

MacKinnon has 35 goals and recorded 50 assists, in 62 games played so far this season. He is one of the reasons why the Colorado Avalanche have a 38-28-4 record with 84 points so far this season. Colorado is currently in fourth place in the Central Division and they are one point back of the Minnesota Wild for the third spot in the Central Division.

The Avalanche are currently in the first wild-card spot in the western conference and Colorado has 12 games remaining. MacKinnon has astronomically put the team on his back. The Avalanche were porous in the 2016-2017 season and ever since Matt Duchene has been traded from Colorado on November 2, MacKinnon has been a totally locked in player.

Nathan MacKinnon is fourth in the NHL in points. Connor McDavid (86, Edmonton Oilers), Evgeni Malkin (89, Pittsburgh Penguins), and Nikita Kucherov (91, Tampa Bay Lightning) are all ahead of him. Kucherov and Malkin will be finalist for the Hart Trophy because Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh will be in the playoffs.

The case for MacKinnon to be the third finalist will depend on a couple of things: 1.) Will the Colorado Avalanche make it to the playoffs? If they make it to the playoffs, then he deserves to be on it.

2.) It depends what Connor McDavid does from now until the end of the season. If McDavid continues to light it up, he might be a finalist because McDavid won the award last season and even though the Edmonton Oilers won’t make it to the playoffs, his reputation alone will get him on the ballot.

3.) Will MacKinnon actually be favored to be on the ballot with Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov over Evgeni Malkin? In Malkin’s career, he has been over looked many times and this could be another case here. MacKinnon has carried a team on his back and Malkin has Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel on his team.

This should be a year that the NHL allows four candidates for the Hart Trophy instead of three. MacKinnon belongs to be a Hart Trophy finalist, but the right dominoes have to fall in place.