Sunday, April 12, 2015
Two other division winners are paper tigers, the Pens barely squeaked in and to add to the confusion for the first time in nearly a decade the Eastern Conference has a couple of clubs that match up with anyone from out west straight up. Goaltending matters but with the influx of new blood and failure of the old guard one could say that with the vast majority of playoff clubs their goaltending is iffy. I love Devan Dubnyk and this year is more like him than last year (though still not 'really' him imo) but I could see him falling apart in the first round easily. Same as whoever starts for the Blues, Falmes or Ducks and do you really trust Eddie Lack or Pavelec? And Corey Crawford has had his hiccoughs over the years and Rinne has been decidedly average for months and you get the picture right? And Fleury has cost me more money than I remember, Andrew Hammond was a disaster in the minors just short months ago, Jimmy Howard has gone to hell and so you are left with Bishop, Price, Holtby and Lundqvist and then you say hmmm maybe this is an Eastern team's year.
In the past I have divided clubs up as follows - true heavyweights (so last year that was the aforementioned five teams), good teams with a shot (iirc that was Anaheim and the Rangers last season) and darkhorse clubs with a slim chance (I'm thinking Dallas from last year but don't quote me on that. I certainly didn't rate anyone from the East as having a real shot other than Boston and New York).
This year, well I have no 'true heavyweight' clubs if I am being honest but I have to pick someone so if you are asking me which teams have the best shot to win it all I'd say St. Louis, Minnesota Wild on Jack Lemaire and the Rangers. I think the Blues or Wild come out of the west and the Rags come out of the East but there is no doubt in mind that this could all be blown to hell very quickly. As for the next tier I'm going with Chicago, who have been rotten since Christmas or so, but with Oduya and probably Kane healthy if they get rolling they might run the table. So them, Winnipeg, who have a sweet draw, and Tampa. But really other than Vancouver, Calgary and Pittsburgh (assuming their D don't get healthy) I can see anyone winning it and that is absolutely nuts.
Nuts I tell you.
So here goes nothing. 53 and 19 in the first round over the years but I could see myself easily going oh fer with these picks. Oh well here are my Soupy Campbell Conference selections.
God help me. I honestly believe that whoever wins this series is going to win the Cup unless Chicago finds their mojo in which case it's all over. Just two years ago a green Wild team pushed the eventual champs from Chicago to the limit with their speed and they are a better team now, never mind the upgrade in goaltending. For St. Louis this is their year, their chance to avoid being the next Ottawa or San Jose. They had Chicago dead to rights last season, up in the series and Seabrook suspended and they promptly dropped three straight.
The big issue for St. Louis these past few years is the game breaker. The Hawks had Kane and Toews and Hossa and Sharp and LA for all of their defensive stylings had Kopitar and Carter and then Gaborik. The Blues had a bunch of 23 goal scorers which is great and all but when things tighten up you need a guy or two who can make something out of nothing.
And now the Blues have Tarasenko and Schwartz and a team so deep that for some reason Paul Stastny is apparently down way further on the depth chart than he should be. So yeah I think they may be ready for prime time.
Only four teams had more goals than the Blues and only Dallas in the West. And only two teams had a better goal differential.
But .... the Wild had the same amount of regulation wins as St Louis and their GD over the past few months blows everyone away. If the season goes another few weeks or if they pick Dubnyk up earlier then they likely win the division. I like their depth at F more than the Blues although remember that whole 'bunch of 23 goal scorers' thing - yeah that's the Wild. And the Blues' D is unreal, it's so deep.
This is a coin flip and if you had asked me a few weeks ago I would have picked the Wild no doubt. I think the Blues are better up front and on the blue and while the Wild have the edge in net I think St. Louis has enough to win a bunch of 2-1 games. That said I am going to go with the team that has been the best in the league over the past few months, that and my gut, which is dumb because rule one is never pick with your gut. It's a pick em though and so here goes.
Wild in 7
Two teams that roared out of the gate, Chicago's start was reminiscent of their 2010 season but at some point things went off the rails for them. Was it boredom? Are they just no longer that good? On paper they're as stacked as they ever were but Sharp and Oduya, to name two, had off years and if it weren't for Crawford they may have ended up as a wild card or worse. Brad Richards was never the answer at 2C, anyone who saw him play the last two years could have told you that, but then again he was an upgrade over Michael Handzus and the trade for Vermette gives them a guy to play in his place anyhow. The question for Chicago (other than will Kane be back and word is he may be back for G1) is whether or not they can find their game. I'm not a big believer in the whole idea of a team 'being able to turn it on', things don't work that way, but Chicago is the same team as last year, if anything on paper they may be better and for me Nashville is the perfect matchup for them in the first round. The Hawks have a slightly better GD and I think the goaltending is a wash but in the end I think Chicago is the better team, plain and simple. Josi and Weber are a great top pairing but the Preds' forwards are pretty pedestrian for the most part (Mike Ribiero, really? He had a very good year but does anyone think he's not going to get eaten alive by Toews.) and I don't think their D is as good either after that top pairing.
Hawks in 6
Everybody hates the Ducks. Well not really but certainly nobody respects them. They, like the Sharks and Hawks, went seven with the Kings last year but still nobody looks back and says 'oh for a bounce or two here or there the Ducks would have advanced'.
Why? Because this year, like last year, there is the odour of smoke and mirrors, if mirrors had an odour, about this club. 109 points and they have a GD of 10. 10! 16 teams have a better GD than that. 16!
And that's playing in a junk division!!!!
The Ducks have a solid blue but lack the big stopper and up front they are top heavy, which frightens me as well but when it comes down to it I think they are just not that good a team.
The Jets have been quality most of the year, they had brutal luck with injuries which ravaged their blue and then their centres in turn and yet they held it together. They are big and fast and deep up front and on the back end. Ten players with 14 goals or more and a blue with Byfuglien, Enstrom, Trouba and Meyers which outshines that of the Ducks. For me it comes down to Pavelec who is either unbelievably lights out or just the worst of the worst. I think he is enough to get the Jets by a team which I frankly think is inferior to them by quite a bit.
Jets in 6.
This is a real dog's breakfast of a series with two teams that somehow made it in. The Canucks are on their way down but bounced back from the Tortorella fiasco of last year, thanks mostly to Eddie Lack who they probably should have run with from day one. Note to GMs out there (especially St Louis and Vancouver) Ryan Miller has been more famous than good now for a long time. Anyhow no matter because Lack picked up the sLack (AHAHAHHAHAH) and to be fair with the Sharks imploding and the Falmes this year's version of the Avs from last year and the Leafs from the year before that and the Oilers and Yotes also being in the division it's possible that the Canucks might have playoff berths until the Sedins get taken out to the back forty. These aren't the Dys of old though. Sure the Sedins are still freaks and Vrbata was terrific but the drop off from those guys to the next echelon of forwards is huge. Bonino, Matthias, Burrows, Hansen and Higgins are all decent foot soldiers though but man their depth is not what it once was up front or on the back end.
As for the Falmes well a lot has been said about how lucky they were and they have been, there is no doubt about it at all. They've laid the foundation for a nice future, helped along by an actual legitimate top pairing D but Giordano's absence is going to kill them here and much like Vancouver the drop off from their big three up front is enormous. They get a ton of offence from the back end which is a good thing because after that top line there isn't anybody scoring, you have a pile of guys barely breaking double figures in goals.
In a lot of ways this is a pick em. The Falmes are lucky but the Canucks are no hell either. Nobody works 'arder than the Falmes work for their coach Bob 'Artley but while they have an enormous amount of gumption and character and leadership and all that, unlike the Canucks who have a bunch of Euros and Frenchmen on their roster, I still like the Canucks barely.
Canucks in 7
Posted by Black Dog at 8:37 PM