2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division

Written by :
Published on : October 6, 2015

 

 

Hot damn, thanks for reading ScoreBoredSports 2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Pacific Division edition. What a nice ride it’s been, but things are bound to get shakier. The Pacific division is one of the NHL’s strongest, or maybe, one of the weakest. It might be sending six teams to the playoffs, or two. Very hard to tell with so much movement going on in San Jose and Calgary, a new era in Edmonton, and the ever-burning question of why in the name of great Satan there is a hockey team in Arizona. But luckily, you have good old Antoine to guide you. Sure, I may be a handsome genius who has a great record making NFL picks, but hockey will set us all free. Let’s get started with the Pacific.

 

Pacific NHL
Image by Roger Pretzel

 

Pacific Division:

  • Ducks 
  • Coyotes
  • Flames 
  • Oilers 
  • Kings
  • Sharks 
  • Canucks

 

Falling

Vancouver Canucks:

Twinsies!

 

Another year goes by in the prime of the Sedin twins’ career, and they continue to produce at high levels.  Last year, Henrik set them up, and Daniel knocked them down, with the help of high-efficiency winger Radim Vrbata.  The Canucks will have to rely on an aging leadership core of the Sedins, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler (Edler is, in fact, only 29 but his output has diminished quite a bit since his heyday), and goaltender Ryan Miller.   There’s some good depth with forwards like Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins, as well as offseason acquisitions Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust.  It’s all a bit underwhelming, though, and the Canucks will have to rely on the ongoing development of Bo Horvat for that extra spark.  Yet there’s enough chemistry between the Sedin twins and Vrbata, a traditionally excellent player in possession, that they have a realistic shot of putting together solid offensive numbers with that supporting cast.  I see them coming into the playoffs at a lower seed than last year.  I remain cautious, however, about any team that pins its hopes on Ryan Miller to make a playoff run, when he’s really never been effective in the playoffs.  After the debacle with the Blues two seasons ago, and last season’s surprising upset at the hands of the Flames, I’m not any more confident in Miller’s resumé.

 

Falling OR RISING

Calgary Flames:

Flame on!

 

I want to feel really confident that this is a team destined for regression, that their run to the second round of the playoffs was a sign of things to come rather than a result of statistically anomalous excellence. They had the third-highest PDO number in the NHL last season, which is a red flag; they were poor in possession, with the fifth-worst team Corsi For percentage, and had the second-highest Team Shooting Percentage in the league. Jonas Hiller has had an up-and-down career, and the flames goaltending situation is tenuous past him, with Karri Ramo never really stepping out and distinguishing himself. All that said, I can’t help but take notice that they sustained much of their winning play last year without their best player and one of the best defenseman in the NHL, Mark Giordano. They have a deep defensive corps with the newly-signed Dougie Hamilton boosting their potential for developing into the NHL’s most elite defensive unit.  The flames relied heavily on their defense for offensive production, with players like TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Kris Russell each scoring on a regular basis, and Hamilton should comfortably join those ranks. I recognize that Johnny Gadreau may be in for a sophomore slump;  is it possible Johnny Hockey takes a leap instead of step backward? If his shooting percentage is any hint, the answer to that question will be “probably not”; at 14.4%, his shooting percentage was about 5% above the league average.  Here’s the thing: that slump just didn’t happen to Sean Monahan, the Flames’ top center, who nearly doubled the output from his rookie campaign with a strong, 31-goal season.  Perhaps they’ve found the right recipe for development in Calgary.  Or perhaps they found some good luck and took it to the second round of the playoffs. Or, moments before suiting up on opening night, the Flames players might all decide to abandon the game of hockey, and instead explore their masculinity together in a remote cabin in Manitoba for the next two years. Only the snow knows the answers.

 

Rising OR FALLING

San Jose Sharks:

Jawsome!

 

The second of two inscrutable teams in this division, the San Jose Sharks, are just as replete with uncertainty. Most pressing question: is new hire Peter Deboer even a good coach? He’s 217-200 in his career, and missed the playoffs in 6 out of 7 of his seasons at the helm of an NHL team in Florida, then New Jersey. The only time he made the playoffs, he took New Jersey on an improbable run to the finals, and lost. The second giant question mark is in net: is newcomer Martin Jones a starting NHL goalie? Some might become alarmed at the fact that Martin Jones’ career numbers may be buoyed by some artificial inflation, as he faced the fewest shots per 60 minutes in the league last year. Then again, the Sharks have a veteran defense with Brent Burns and Paul Martin, a shrewd summer signing, that may be able to aptly shield Jones and keep those shots on goal around 25 a game.

 

The third and final question is, perhaps, the funniest one: who is the Sharks’ captain? For those who don’t know, there’s been a years-long, buffoonish shadow-war being fought “behind the scenes” (yet, somehow, quite publicly) in San Jose between General Manager Doug Wilson and former Captain and All-Star, Joe Thornton. Essentially, Wilson implied (to the media) that Thornton couldn’t handle being in a leadership role, then went a whole year without naming a captain after demoting Thornton; old Joe finally told him (through the media) to shut his mouth and that he didn’t know what he was talking about. They still don’t have a captain.  In and of itself, that’s not so uncommon, but the way this has unfolded has just had a touch of Théâtre de l’Absurde.  It’s like if you had one of those scenes in a crime drama where the police captain tells the rogue detective, “turn in your badge and gun. You’re done in this department.” Then the detective complies, only he remains seated in the captain’s office for the next year, just staring, and that’s the rest of the movie.  At least the Sharks also picked up Joel Ward over the summer, who is a canny playoff scorer that can provide some physicality and timely finishing. Who knows with this team. 82-0.

 

Rising

Edmonton Oilers:

Cam Talbot doing work.

 

Easy enough, but drafting a generational talent like Connor McDavid with a first-overall pick will usually cause a team to rise. Combine that with new front-office blood in former Cup-winning architect of the Bruins, Peter Chiarelli, and new coach Todd Mclellan, and I see this team coalescing into a much more competent unit. On offense, it’s pretty straight-forward. They have tons of marquee talent after spending the last decade taking lottery picks in the draft, including last year’s 3rd overall pick, Center Leo Draisaitl. Now is the time for some of the stragglers among those picks to truly step up and become relevant players. This means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have to find that next level of consistency, and Nail Yakupov will have to take advantage of having the coolest first name in hockey. Question marks are, of course, all over this team, which has had one of the shakiest defenses in the NHL over the past few seasons. Edmonton’s faithful are hoping that Cam Talbot is the new answer in net after acquitting himself with high efficacy during his run filling in for Henrik Lundqvist in New York last year. If highly-touted pick Darnell Nurse can slot into the lineup as a reliable top-six defender, and summer signee Andrej Sekera provides consistency, their defense will hopefully take a step up. They have solid veterans in Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference, but have lacked defensemen with two-way effectiveness. With so many questions to ask, the key one remains: will the Oilers somehow find another way to screw this up? I don’t think that’s in this team’s future.  I see them contending for a playoff spot but coming up short in a respectable season that may just be a precursor to much bigger things.

 

Los Angeles Kings:

Hail to the king.

 

It’s hard to imagine a squad this laden with Stanley Cup-winning talent will remain outside of the playoff picture another year.  Belying their narrow miss, the Kings boasted the second-best Corsi For percentage in the NHL last year, but suffered from pretty bad puck luck with a PDO in the bottom 10 in the league.  The Kings used the off-season to jettison controversy in the form of Slava Voynov and Mike Richards, and hopefully the cloud won’t be hanging over that team’s head for much longer.  Questions remain on the contract of Anze Kopitar, but I’m not especially worried about that.  I bet they just want to see him work hard in a contract year after an uneven campaign last year, with his production taking a dip, scoring only 16 goals and 64 points, his fewest in a non-injured season since he was a rookie.  The Kings re-loaded with some interesting pieces in Milan Lucic, a cup winner himself in Boston, and Christian Erhoff.  Erhoff didn’t have a particularly productive campaign last year with the Penguins, but he’s looked sharp in the pre-season and seems to be able to fill a need for a second power-play unit anchor and a skilled third-pairing defender.  I’d also look for increased production from Tyler Toffoli, who looked commanding and lost at different times last year.  But with their top lines looking to be set, there’s some scary potential if Anze Kopitar can get back on track, and Marian Gaborik can stay healthy.  If it breaks right, they are a true dark-horse contender for a run to the Cup; until we see how the new pieces jell, it’s safe to say the Kings will be dangerous foes in the playoff race.

 

Contenders

Anaheim Ducks:

Quack, quack, quack!

 

Loaded roster.  High-caliber leaders that are willing to go the extra mile (and by “the extra mile,” obviously, we’re referring to heinous acts of goonery).  Middle-of-the-road team possession and PDO numbers, indicating there will be no obviously-indicated regression.  New assistant coaches with experience and talent.  That’s just a recipe for success.  However, there was also a lot of turnover, losing key players like François Beauchemin and Matt Beleskey.  Luckily key replacements are there to slot into the lineup, like Kevin Bieksa, who offers the same kind of stalwart leadership, grit, and timely offensive play as Beauchemin. Newcomers like former Michigan Wolverine Carl Hagelin and former Northern Michigan Wildcat Mike Santorelli offer potentially new and exciting looks as the team made a point to incorporate a ton of speed in the off-season.  Even in spite of such a roster shakeup, the core remains intact in proven Cup-winners Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.  The goaltending situation seems to have settled with Fredrik Andersen taking the reigns and performing with enough confidence that young John Gibson will have time to develop his craft before taking over permanently.  Anton Khudobin provides an interesting safety net in the meantime should Fredrik Andersen falter, though Andersen was a steady performer last year.  They’ll need to figure out who will play on Perry’s opposite wing, but there are lots of options.  My bet is that Hagelin stands out and benefits from a supply of well-timed breakout passes from Getzlaf, streaking his way to a 30-goal year.  Theoretically, the last major hurdle was Chicago, a team significantly weakened by controversy and attrition, who would now have a tough time competing over 7 games with this Ducks team.  Pit them against any other team in the West, and I see them breaking through.  Without obvious weaknesses, and power and speed aplenty, I believe this Ducks team will get to the Stanley Cup Final, but ultimately won’t hoist the hardware after a competitive series.

 

Other Thoughts: 

  • Arizona Coyotes… give me a break.   Instead, here’s a snapshot of my screenplay “the Redemption of Quack City,” a sort of NHL fan-fic if you will.  Notes are welcome but PLEASE BE GENTLE.

INT. Day: Rinkside, Anaheim Ducks Practice Facility.

A hulking RYAN GETZLAF waddles on his skates, trying to get to the ice (Think: Taylor Kitsch / Josh Hartnett / an Unknown could work).  He looks up and sees that COREY PERRY (think JASON STATHAM) is in his way, but not wearing his PENDANT.  GETZLAF shoots  him a strong glance, but PERRY is focused on trying to get the door to the rink open with his gloves on.  GETZLAF approaches PERRY and confronts him by GRABBING HIS ARM.

Perry: 
Bro, Wha Fuck?

Getzlaf:
WHY YOU NO WEAR SHITHEAD PENDANT.  SHITHEAD PENDANT MAKE STRONG AND MAKE ENEMY WEAK.

Perry: 
OH I NO… I … fuck, I can’t do this, Ryan.  I’m a peaceful man. I can’t be taking cheap shots and making all these opportunistic, borderline hits.  I’m not that guy.

Getzlaf: 
BUT… NO… NO SHITHEAD?

Perry: 
No… let’s just try to win by playing hockey.

GETZLAF falls to knees and weeps. 

Getzlaf (screaming to heavens):
LAST SHITHEAD! NOOOOOOO!!!!!

[cut to black].

 

Stay tuned for the conclusion of ScoreBoredSports.com’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview, coming soon on this very tube!  

 

 


2015-16 NHL Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

Written by :
Published on : September 27, 2015

 

 

Greetings, and welcome to ScoreBoredSports’ first annual NHL Season Preview. It’s an honor to be tapping out a few words on the state of mankind’s greatest game: hockey.

 

I wasn’t born on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, as the game itself was, but I am originally from the suburbs of Detroit (which is kind of close). I’m from a wintery land that sprawled across great distances of strip-mall flatness, but united under the banner of Hockeytown. So there is no need to mask this great love I have for the Detroit Red Wings, the most consistently excellent sports franchise of the last quarter-century.

That being said, I will either lay aside or lay bare my biases; it’s the game itself we love in the end anyway, dammit. So let’s break down this upcoming season, division-by-division. There will be a vague method to the madness. Important factors to consider will include roster movement, player development, goaltending, a glance at the advanced stats, and other observations.

 

*A quick note about those advanced metrics: I’m not an expert. I can barely count.  Yet I find many advanced metrics are useful, and quite reliable in predicting trends such as “regression towards the mean,” otherwise known as “not getting lucky all the time.” But context is vital. For example, some statistics, such as War-On-Ice’s Goalkeeper Adjusted Save Percentage, might suggest that Jonas Gustavsson (92.52) is a better goalie than two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick (92.50).

 

GustavsonFail

 

Jonas Gustavsson is not a better goalie than Jonathan Quick. We know this because we have eyes (see above).  And brains, which we will never forget to use. Just look at how out of position he is on this play.

We’ll begin by discussing the Metropolitan Division, mainly so I get writing about Crosby out of the way as soon as possible, that knave.

 

NHLMetroPretzel
Image By Roger Pretzel

 

  • Hurricanes
  • Blue Jackets
  • Devils
  • Islanders
  • Rangers
  • Flyers
  • Penguins
  • Capitals

 

Rising

 

Blue Jackets:

Can Foligno repeat his all-star worthy 2014-15 campaign?

 

Interesting situation in Columbus, and no, I’m not talking about Ohio State graduates’ curious behavior of eating paste — Columbus is a team with some indicators for serious progress. Yet, as with anything that happens in Ohio, the franchise has a cyclical history of failure.  I’m always curious about players that possess the puck as well as Brandon Saad, a recent outcast of Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawk dynasty that emphasizes speed and puck control (I liked Coach Q better when he was choking against Scotty Bowman every year, for the record). Their overall team PDO — combination of shooting percentage and save percentage, and frequently-reliable indicator of luck — was below average last year. With the inclusion of a player like Saad, perhaps the team will find a more potent and fluid offensive game, and maybe more puck luck.

The major question is whether Nick Foligno can sustain the kind of offensive production we saw last year in his breakout campaign, and what kind of progress is made in the defensive corps. Jack Johnson never turned out to be a world-beater, but he’s a competent first-pairing defenseman, and David Savard looked to be able to put up numbers, scoring 11 goals and racking up 105 hits on the year. Beyond those two, Fedor Tyutin hasn’t played a full season since 2011, and there’s not much else to speak of in terms of talent. The cupboard is fairly barren in the organization’s depth, too. There may be some room to sneak into the playoffs in the Eastern conference, as Ottawa is unlikely to repeat their miracle run another year, Boston has molted, and questions abound in Pittsburgh.  Yet another riser in the Buffalo Sabres may present new challenges.  I see this team rising, but only enough to squeak into the playoffs and likely lose to whoever they face in the first round.

 

Islanders:

The Islanders have a stable of young talent, including the electrifying, Jonathan Tavares

 

Speaking of underlying advanced metrics, it surprised me greatly to discover that the Islanders, a playoff team that narrowly missed a second-round berth, tied for the sixth-worst PDO number in the NHL last season. The logic follows in some senses, as many of the Isles key skill players were injured for stretches, and a lot of highly-skilled but inexperienced youth, such as Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, played heavy minutes. But there’s no real evidence that shooting percentage increases with age, and those kids made the playoffs! Look at Halak’s save percentage, too: it checks in at a reasonable .914 in a highly successful, 38-win campaign. This tells me that with a healthier stable of elite skill players (Okposo, Leddy, Boychuk), this is a team poised for continued excellence.

Looking at the roster, nearly every important player on the team is around 25 years old, including perennial Hart Trophy candidate Jonathan Tavares. Add the recently signed, offensively-gifted octogenarian Marek Zidlicky, and you have an experienced and versatile defensive corps.  Depending on their progress, the inclusion of high-level talent from the team’s development system may provide that extra spark in a tight playoff series.  First-round draft prospects such as Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, and goal-scoring D-man Ryan Pulock (who led the Isles AHL affiliate defenders in scoring despite missing a quarter of the season) have all sorts of talent, but may have trouble breaking into a deep lineup.   I’d dare even call them… Contenders?

 

Contenders

 

Rangers:

Rick Nash. Talk about punchable faces.

 

Until the day he’s not, Henrik Lundqvist is the handsomest most charmingly reminiscent of a younger Bradley Cooper is a reliably brilliant net minder. Only recently has the question of his health, with a scary throat injury, come to the fore. But if he’s healthy, this team looks like it could return to the top echelon of the Eastern conference yet again. There’s room to grow in their possession numbers; I wonder what sort of effect the transition from former coach John Tortorella’s block-everything mentality to Alain Vigneault speed-oriented breakout game has had on the team’s mediocre team Corsi figure. The most interesting layer may be if Keith “the Candle” Yandle will start to affect what was a surprisingly lackluster power-play last year, which connected on only 16.8% of its opportunities (good for 21st in the NHL). The team will conversely have to cope with the loss of tiny legend Martin St. Louis, whose salt & pepper wisdom was surely a locker-room boon. Yet there’s enough young or emerging talent across the team boasting speed and skill, like Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and the surging Derrick Brassard, that the loss may prove to be addition by subtraction. Otherwise, this is a team with an elite defensive corps and my least favorite NHL player, Rick Nash.

 

Capitals:

I see more celebrations in Ovechkin’s future.

 

They continue to add talent to a roster that was already full of high-level talent. Losing Mike Green won’t hurt so much in a Barry Trotz system that emphasizes responsibility, defense, studious back checking, and fiscal planning. Bringing on Justin Williams to replace their own playoff producer, Joel Ward, is a smart move at a relatively low cost, even though we all know Williams won’t be scoring 30 goals during the regular season. This is still a team with Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, and a top-flight defensive crew, with tremendous younger talent in players like Johansson, Kuznetsov, and Burakowsky. My one sticking point with this team’s summer is the trading of Troy Brouwer for TJ Oshie, which I found to be un-needed as Brouwer seems as likely to plop in 20 goals as Oshie, only he brings hits and plays more games. Nonetheless, Trotz is a good coach and I could see this being the year he sneaks into the finals.

 

Other Thoughts:

  • Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world, I understand. But is there any more sniveling, dirty, hot-headed star in recent memory? Sure, he’s the best player, but how can you root for Crosby? He routinely slashes his opponents on weak spots like ankles, wrists, and crotches. He loves to face-wash opposing players, even tough guys, as if anyone in the NHL wants to be the guy that turned the Face Of The League into a pile of quivering viscera, snot, and tears. Crosby knows this, yet he dangles his untouchability in front of everyone, flaunting the fact that his brain is probably one jolt away from retirement in front of dudes who would relish the chance to pummel him. So, you can’t touch the league’s proverbial money-maker, even as it shakes in your personal space. It makes me hugely hopeful for the success of Connor McDavid; that, Lord Stanley willing, he turns out to be less of an arrogant penis.
  • I do wonder what will happen with the pairing of Crosby and Kessel in terms of interviews and TV presence. It already sounds like the most unwatchable buddy sitcom pairing, but I just feel for the people of Pittsburgh’s overall entertainment quotient. My advice? Just mute the games and watch the hockey, because it may be very fast and full of a lot of goals, but not charisma.  I’m sure they’ll survive.
  • The growth of Philly’s first line over the last few years would be more pleasurable to watch if the Flyers weren’t an evil organization of haggard witch-trolls. But I can’t help but glance at the foundation of Giroux and Voracek as championship-caliber. Giroux is easily one of the five best all-around players in the league, and Voracek has improved every single year, and is young enough to continue that pattern.  Wayne Simmonds is a wrecking ball that just happens to wreck up the other team’s plans for a shutout about thirty times every year.  Can anyone else step up to fill in the secondary scoring roles on a consistent basis?  The defense, while brimming with burly players, seems to have an odd fulcrum in Michael Del Zotto.  He had a decent year in 2015, and is still only 25 despite being in the league for a while.  Might he be an unlikely candidate to rise?
  • The New Jersey Devils and The Carolina Hurricanes are NHL hockey teams featuring some players. Corey Schneider is a very good goalie.  They are neither rising nor falling, because they were and are bad.  That’s about it.

 

Stay Tuned for Part 2, Coming Soon! 

 

Stats and info courtesy of NHL.com, hockeysfuture.com, rotoworld.com, and war-on-ice.com.

 

 


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