Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Playoff Implication Trends-Western Conference

I did the Eastern Conference yesterday, here is the Western Conference. Same thing, who is getting hot and who is slowing down and what that may mean for the playoffs.

Trending Up

Jonathan Toews: At the midpoint of the season, it looked as though the summer salary purge had crippled the Chicago Blackhawks. Their goaltending was inconsistent without Antti Niemi and the teams lacked the character and grit that took them to the Stanley Cup last season. They appeared ready to become just the third team since 1995 to win the Cup and miss the playoffs the next season until Toews decided to go on a tear. In the 20 games since Feb. 1, Captain Serious has 13 goals, 18 assists and 31 points and has played to a +18 over that span, leading them to a 12-4-4 record. They are now in sixth place in the Western Conference, just one point out of fourth where I predicted them to finish in the summer. The 22-year-old, who has already won the Conn Smyth Trophy as playoff MVP and named the top forward after winning the gold medal at the Olympics, has entered the Hart Trophy debate as well. With Toews playing so well and Corey Crawford settling in as the team’s netminder, a third consecutive trip to the Western Conference final could be in the cards.

Vancouver Canucks: It’s a scary idea that the best team in the league is actually getting hotter, but such is the reality in southern British Colombia. An 8-2-0 record in their past 10, the Cancuks have an 11 point lead over the Detroit Red Wings in the West and an eight point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for the Presidents Trophy. Whether or not that ends up being a good thing remains to be seen, but Roberto Luongo is having his best season, Ryan Kesler is getting hot again and their secondary scoring is giving support to the Sedins. Defencemen Kevin Bieksa, Andrew Alberts and Alex Edler could all be back by the playoffs, making the league’s top defensive team even better. The past two Presidents Trophy winners have lost in the first round, but I feel this Canucks team is deep enough and has all the right pieces to become the eighth team since 1989-90 to reach the Stanley Cup final after recording the best regular season record and not one of the fie teams to go out in the first round.

Trending Down
Henrik Zetterberg/Johan Franzen: Zetterberg’s production has come to a near halt recently. One goal and four points in his past ten games and zero points in the past six, the usually defensively responsible Zetterberg has also played to a -10 over that span. Franzen scored five goals against the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 2 and has just one since then. The Mule has started picking up points recently, but needs to return to the form that has seen him go through stretches as one of the top goal-scorers in the league. His points-per-game is much higher in the playoffs (59 points in 51 games, 1.16 PPG) than the regular season (118 in 170, .69 PPG) the past three seasons, so maybe the Wings just need to wait until the end of April rolls around before he really catches fire. Detroit is just 4-4-2 recently while giving up 30 goals and are now just six points above the surging Blackhawks for the Central Division lead. Going into any sort of slump can cause a team to fall fast in the ultra-tight Western Conference, so Zetterberg and Franzen need to regain their form before the Red Wings squander their home-ice position.

Nashville Predators: This is a scrappy team that always seems to over-achieve, but if they keep going the way they are now, they may miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. They are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and have been for years. They have three wins this month, two by shutout and one against the Colorado Avalanche, and four in the past 12 games. Five of the eight losses in that stretch have come by one goal. They need more goal support as Pekka Rinne can’t brig them to the playoffs by himself. In the past 10 games, Sergei Kostitsyn has one assist, Patric Hornqvist, David Legwand and J.P. Dumont have one goal each and Colin Wilson has two points for a team that is already ranked 26th in offense. Missing out on the playoffs may also make it tougher to re-sign stud defenseman, franchise player and captain Shea Weber who is an RFA at the end of this season. Unless he signs before July 1, it is a safe bet one team will get his signature on an offer sheet at a price the Preds may be unable to match.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Playoff Implication Trends-Eastern Conference

It's my estimation the best thing for a team going into the playoffs is to be riding a hot streak. Every team goes through hot and cold streaks during the year and going in limping may spell doom for your favorite team. This is not a perfect formula, but you can bet the Philadelphia Flyers rode the momentum of their season-ending shootout win over the New York Rangers pretty far in their run to the Stanley Cup final last year. Here are some teams and players who are trending in a certain direction and how it may affect their playoff chances. I'll do the eastern Conference today and the West tomorrow.

Trending Up
Thomas Vanek: With Derek Roy done for the year just 35 games into the season, the pressure has been on Ryan Miller more than ever. After posting amazing numbers last year (41-18-8, 2.22 GAA, .929 SV%) he has become more pedestrian this year (29-20-7, 2.70 GAA, .912 SV%) leaving the Buffalo Sabres in a fight for one of the bottom seeds. In come the notoriously streaky Vanek who has two goals and eight points in his past five games, four of which have been Sabres wins. They are currently tied with the Rangers for eighth, four points over the Carolina Hurricanes. With six of their next thirteen games, including tonight's game against the Hurricanes, against teams within six points of catching the Sabres, it is important Vanek keep this hot streak up. they have seven games remaining against teams in the top-half in goals against and five (Nashville Predators, Montreal Canadiens , New Jersey Devils, the Rangers and Washington Capitals) are in the top 10 meaning goals are going to be very difficult to come by for the rest of the season. Should Vanek stay at at least a point per game, the Sabres should be in good shape to lock down one of the final spots.

Washington Capitals: The best thing that could have happened to the Capitals this season did. They struggled. They haven't been able to score, they faced a number of important injuries and their goaltending has been inconsistent. The transition towards a defensive game in the beginning of the season didn't go quite as smooth as planned, but they have righted the ship and are ready to soar in the playoffs. Winners of their past eight and 10 of 11 allowing only 19 goals (13 taking away their 6-0 loss to the Rangers) in that span, the Caps are playing well at the right time of the year. They have been so dominate the past two seasons, it may have caused them to think the playoffs would be a breeze, but they were sadly mistaken both times. A 50-24-8 record for 108 points (fourth overall in the NHL) and 54-15-13 record for 121 points (first overall) the past two seasons was followed by just one playoff series win and two Game 7 losses on home ice. Alex Ovechkin has seven goals and 17 points in his past 12 games and after facing adversity for the first time in three seasons, he appears ready to play a complete game and dominate in the playoffs.
Trending Down
Tim Thomas: Throughout most of the season, Thomas was on pace to obliterate records for goals-against average and save percentage. At the end of January, he was on pace for the third lowest GAA since the modern era began in 1947 with a 1.81 GAA (only Miikka Kiprusoff, 1.69 2003-04 and Marty Turco, 1.72 2002-03 have been lower) and the highest save percentage by far at .945 (Dominik Hasek, .937 1998-99). Those numbers, while still the best in the league by far, have slowly been dropping the in month-and-a-half since. His stats since the beginning of February are a 5-4-2 record, .915 SV% and 2.73 GAA. Unless he allows eight goals every game from now until the end of the season, he is all but guaranteed the Vezina Trophy. At the same time, the Bruins are starting to struggle to score goals, potting more than two just once in the past six games. It becomes even tougher to score in the playoffs as they found out last year when their offense suddenly went dry after game 4 against the Flyers in the second round and if Thomas' 2.73 GAA since February keeps climbing, the Bruins could be in trouble. Right now they are set to face the Canadiens, a team who has given them trouble throughout their long rivalry and has at least three goals in eight of their past nine. Thomas is still having a phenomenal season, but now is not the time for his game to start slipping.

Philadelphia Flyers: As I stated above, each team goes through slumps and the Flyers are in theirs right now. A 4-4-2 record in their past 10 isn't terrible until you see who they are losing to. Three of the losses are against teams out of a playoff spot (Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Thrashers) and two of them are against the two teams tied for eighth (Sabres, Rangers). Two of those losses are really embarrassing, dropping a 7-0 decision against rival Rangers and blowing 3-0 and 4-2 leads in the third period to lose in overtime to the Thrashers. Their 4-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers doesn't really count because, well, its the Oilers. This does not bode well because since the lockout, four of the five Stanley Cup winning teams (assuming they make it that far) have had a better record in their last 10 games than their counterpart. Last season, only three of eight series was won by the team that had a worse record in their last 10 games. The team with the worst record to win a playoff series was the Canadiens who went 3-4-3 before upsetting the Capitals. It took them overtime to beat the Islanders and the two games against the Leafs were close and not very well played. They still have 14 games to get this trend turned around, but with their goaltending starting to falter and their history with that position, it doesn't look so good right now.

Week 7 Work






Saturday, 12 March 2011

Best Seat In The House

When you're sitting on the glass, shelling out $400 per seat per game, you're thinking you have the best seats in the house and wondering why anyone one would willingly sit in the seats just an arms length from the retired number and championship banners hanging from the rafters. But then you're near the roof, looking Bill Barilko right in the eye, you know there is no better place to watch a hockey game and you never really want to sit anywhere else ever again. There is a good reason all the press, scouts and coaches sit up there

I've been to two games in the press box so far, a 6-5 shootout win for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 26 and a 3-2 Philadelphia Flyers win on March 10. Watching from hundreds of feet above the ice, almost looking straight down at the play, i can see everything perfectly from the breakout and fore-check strategy to the guy wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs Wayne Gretzky jersey in row eight.

Sitting down low and watching from up high, you are really at two different games. Watching down low, you get a tremendous appreciation for the speed and power of the game. You can get speedsters Marian Gaborik, Phil Kessel and Michael Grabner skating by so fast you can get whiplash trying to watch them. It's almost impossible to understand how they think, let alone make plays at such high speeds. The power and aggression is also very evident down low. You can see the action on TV, but watching just how pissed off Chris Pronger is as he battles his opponent in front of the net is something else.

As good as those seats are for entertainment purposes, you do not beat sitting in the press box for hockey purposes. Up high, the game becomes a slow-motion ballet where each pass is made with the precision of a surgeon and each breakout blooms like a flower on Planet Earth. It is so fun watching a play develop and seeing how much room the players actually have out there, where down low, you don't get that. Another major difference is i don't have to switch from watching live-action to watching the video board whenever the play is not directly in front of me, missing valuable milli-seconds of action. In the press box, I barely have to turn my head to take in the entire rink.

The subtleties of the game are so clear from this vantage point from rookie Keith Aulie's hesitance in the offensive zone to Blair Betts' mastery on defense. That room I mentioned was evident watching Claude Giroux's patience while the Flyers keep the puck away from the Leafs on a delayed penalty. The gaps can close quite quickly though and it is incredible they can see the game as it is up high while playing it at the speed down low.

I am able to easily follow the Dion Phaneuf blast that deflected off Mikhail Grabovski's face and into the top corner of the net and I have a great angle on Mike Brown's amazing rush (that's probably never been typed before) that led to a Joffrey Lupul goal to pull the Leafs within one goal. The fore-check is an aspect I really enjoy watching as the strategy is hard to see from down low. I can clearly see the Flyers switch to a 1-2-2 late in the game as they try to hold on to their slim lead. In short, this view allows me to see everything except why Jody Shelley is in the NHL.

There are other perks to having a media pass other than the great view. Being able to go behind the scenes in the ACC and get into the locker rooms in pretty cool too. The game against the Flyers got off to a good start before the game even began. I drove to the rink with Ken Campbell straight from the office and on our way to the media room, we ran into the injured Pronger. He and Ken got into it a little bit, throwing some jabs at each other with Pronger mocking his size. All in good fun of course and it was really funny, say what you want about Pronger on the ice, off it he really is a great personality and the NHL could certainly use more guys like him.

Sitting in the press box is just a great experience, not just because of the view, but because of all the amenities as well. I'll start with the free food. It's nothing special at the ACC compared to others arenas (so I've been told), but there is still popcorn, pretzels, soda, water, ice cream and a few other snacks. Saturday games are great as everyone gathers for Coach's Corner with Don Cherry and I gotta tell you, it's not just Americans who aren't used to him who think he's out of his mind, everyone there did as well. During the Flyers game, I sat right in front of the Leafs play-by-play man and got to listen to his commentary the entire game. Those people do an absolutely incredible job. Even with the game slowing down, their ability to call all the action so clearly is stunning. There is a line of TVs so I get to see a replay almost instantly, bringing the best part of watching sports at home to the rink. I also get to share space with some well-known people in the hockey community including Brad May, Nikolay Zherdev and the great Chris Therien.*

Then there's going into the locker room after the game. The first game against the Penguins was just about getting my feet wet and getting used to the experience of being in a media scrum. I joined in on interviews of Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang, Alexei Kovalev and coach Dan Bylsma. The game against the Flyers, I had to get quotes from a few players  about summer hobbies for THN's Fully Loaded, a hockey lifestyle magazine that comes out a few times a year. I was able to talk to Brian Boucher, Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell while I tried heard not to let my admiration for these guys show.

It is a strange feeling to go from shouting my lungs out as an anonymous voice in a crowd of 18,000 to saying "Hey Brian, can I talk to you for just a minute?" Asking the same of Hartnell and having him respond "You have a minute, 30 seconds" because he was in a rush, but still answering my off-topic questions was another eye-opening experience. Talking to these guys I grew up cheering for and getting to know them, even in the slightest and just for story, on a first-name basis is just a small part of why this is the greatest internship and will be the greatest job imaginable.

*Please note there is some serious sarcasm at the end of this sentence. 

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Week 6 Work, March 21 Issue and Future Watch

A few new interns as well as work on upcoming special issue magazine Draft Preview and book Hockey's Greatest Records means not as much editing this week.




March 21 Issue
I think it's fitting the first issue to feature a lot of my work also has a good amount of articles on the Flyers. 
  • Pg. 7-From The Philadelphia Flyers Locker Room: Settlymyre Gets The Flyers Geared For Success, As part of an ad for Blademaster, Flyers equipment manager Derek Settlemyre discusses his job and the Blademaster.
  • Pg. 9-Fun & Games For A Reason, How the Canucks are using animations of their mascot, Fin, to teach fans proper etiquette at a hockey game.
  • Pg. 13-Chilled Out, The end result of a fan making a $50,000 charity shot that was waived off.
  • Pg. 26-Larger Market Rookies In high Demand, As part of the Memorabilia & Collectibles section, I look at how rookie jersey and autograph sales are affected by the market they play in.
  • Pg. 12-Shooting Left The Right Way, A look into the lefty vs. righty debate.
  • Pg. 20-Undaunted, The cover story about Flyers forward Danny Briere and how he has overcome adversity to become one of the league's elite snipers and playoff performers.
  • Pg. 35-Fisher's Rent-To-Own, How Nashville's trade for Mike Fisher may be the best and most important in their history.
  • Pg. 42-Beyond The Spotlight: Climb Was Tough For 'King' Kwong, A look back at Larry Kwong, the first non-white player in the NHL.
Future Watch
With all these articles, I made them fit into the space they are in now, came up with the headings and sub-headings and wrote all the captions that aren't quotes.
  • Pg. 4-Editor's Notebook: The Grisworld & The Kitsyns, A look at one of many interesting draft stories.
  • Pg. 6-Up Front: Pipeline Prodigies, The teams with the most Top 50 Prospects in the past 10 years.
  • Pg. 8-Top Prospect: Brayden Schenn, Ken Campbell takes an inside look at King's prospect Brayden Schenn.
  • Pg. 14-Representation: Sign Here, Young Man, What young players should look for when deciding on an agent.
  • Pg. 15-From the Atlanta Thrashers Locker Room: Stewart Into Third Decade Of NHL Career, Thrashers equipment manager Bobby Stewart is in his second tour of duty in the deep south.
  • Pg. 16-No. 1 Team Edmonton: Quick Fixes No More, How the Oilers fortunes are turning around due to the draft.
  • Pg. 20-Team Grades: Report Cards...And More, Ranking the teams prospects and handicapping the system.
  • Pg. 22-Anaheim Ducks, Each team's story profiles their top 10 prospects.
  • Pg. 23-Atlanta Thrashers
  • Pg. 25-Buffalo Sabres
  • Pg. 26-Calgary Flames
  • Pg. 28-Chicago Blackhawks
  • Pg. 30-Columbus Blue Jackets
  • Pg. 31-Dallas Stars
  • Pg. 32-Detroit Red Wings
  • Pg. 33-Edmonton Oilers
  • Pg. 34-Florida Panthers
  • Pg. 35-Los Angeles Kings
  • Pg. 36-Minnesota Wild
  • Pg. 37-Montreal Canadiens
  • Pg. 39-New Jersey Devils
  • Pg. 40-New York Islanders
  • Pg. 41-New York Rangers
  • Pg. 42-Ottawa Senators
  • Pg. 43-Philadelphia Flyers
  • Pg. 49-Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Pg. 50-Vancouver Canucks
  • Pg. 52-Sneak Peek: 2011 Draft, A profile of Kitchener Ranger Gabriel Landeskog.
  • Pg. 54-Sneak Peek: 2012 Draft, An inside look at Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray.
  • Pg. 56-Sneak Peek: 2013 Draft, Darnell Nurse of the Don Mills Flyers is featured here.
  • Pg. 58-NHL Talent Pipeline, The London Knights are the leading producers of NHL talent iun the junior level.
  • Pg. 60-Free Agent Watch, A look at the top college free agents.
  • Pg. 62-Rewind, Looking back at the 2001 and 2006 Future Watch classes.
  • Pg. 64-Rewind, A review of 20 years of Future Watch.