All NHL teams have 10 or less games to play still in the NHL regular season and now the Western AND Eastern Conference Wildcard playoff races have become a slugfest to the finish. Let's take one more look at the playoff picture, as of right now, with just a handful of games remaining before the playoffs begin on April 15th.
Eastern Conference - IN: Montreal, Tampa Bay, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh, Detroit LAST 2: Washington, Ottawa BUBBLE: Boston, Florida OUT: Buffalo, Toronto, Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey, Philadelphia
Wow has this been fun to watch in the East. Well, maybe not if you are a Bruins fan. But as a fan of hockey in general it has been quite the roller coaster. First it looked as if the Bruins could hold off the Panthers for the final spot down the stretch, then Florida started making a real run for the 8th spot, then fell off and now it's the Senators making their push backed by goaltender Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond. The Sens have been 9-1-0 over their last 10 games including winning their last 7 straight, while Boston has fallen 1 point behind in the 9th spot in the East, going 5-3-2 over the last 10 while losing their last 5 straight. Talk about trending in opposite directions. Also, Carey Price is on a level of his own. If you don't believe me go look at some of the saves he's made the past few days. Insane.
Western Conference - IN: Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville, Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary LAST 2: Minnesota, Winnipeg BUBBLE: Los Angeles, Dallas OUT: Arizona, Edmonton, San Jose, Colorado
I have no clue what to make of the wildcard race in the Western Conference. Is it Winnipeg? Is Calgary for real? Is Los Angeles going to make their usual run into the 8th spot and then win the Stanley Cup? Is San Jose this bad? All questions that I can only answer by shrugging my shoulders as I sit back and enjoy the mayhem in the last few days of the season. The NHL would LOVE to have Los Angeles in the playoffs because, well, duh...Defending Champs = Ratings. But it's looking more likely that they may just have run out of late season magic over the past few years.
It's been an interesting road back to the Milwaukee Admirals for former Captain Scott Ford. A veteran of 366 games with Milwaukee, Ford rejoins the team after playing part of this season with the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL. Ford is second in Admirals AHL history in games played, only behind Mark Van Guilder who passed Ford just a few days ago. He was not signed with the team at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, but was not far from the team being spotted around the home dressing room early in the season. It seems the work has paid off for Ford to return to Milwaukee, a city he has embraced fully in his 6 years with the Admirals, and the city has embraced him right back.
A few comments from the news Ford was returning to the Admirals:
Adrian K. - "It's about time!"
Travis R. - "So glad for you to be back where you truly belong!"
Erin L. - "Our favorite Admiral is back in Milwaukee!"
I was able to talk with Ford a few days after his return to Milwaukee as the Admirals get set for their Wednesday night (3-25) game against the San Antonio Rampage:
Today we unveil the very first installment of The Fan Hockey Podcast! Very excited to have the opportunity to have talked with Steve "Dangle" Glynn earlier today. You can find his work at LeafsNation.com, on YouTube with his Leafs Fan Reaction (or LFR) video series, and for SportsNet in Canada. He was able to spend some time talking about the Leafs season, the NHL Playoffs, and much more. Follow the link below:
Monday kicked off the NHL general managers meetings in Florida with topics like goalie interference, diving, 3-on-3 overtime, and replay challenges to be the main focus of the discussions over the next few days. The main focus will be on the extent of replay in the NHL and the possible expansion of replay to include coach challenges of goalie interference in games, which is currently up to the referees on the ice.
The purpose of the review is always to leave a call without a doubt, and in recent past, interference calls have come under scrutiny. Having coaches be able to make the challenge could slow down the action, which is what one anonymous NHL coach is afraid of, but he is reportedly in the vast minority. The action in the NHL is so fast-paced that to rely on the naked eye of the on-ice referee is becoming harder to stomach when your team is on the wrong end of a game-changing call. Especially when NHL games are televised with some 20 cameras on the action, you can access replays on your smartphone, and every angle of the game is viewed from an NHL replay center. There is too much technology in today's age to not consider an expansion of the replay system.
Another topic on the table is the implementation of overtime rule changes similar to those that happened in the AHL this last off-season. The American Hockey League, the minor-league for the NHL, made changes to their overtime rules this off-season that included a 4-on-4 period for 3 minutes of play, then a 3-on-3 period of play for 4 minutes and if no goal occurred THEN heading to the shootout.
Just yesterday, the AHL released their overtime data through March 15th:
Games ending in Shootouts
2013/14 - 15%
2014/15 - 5%
Overtime games ending in Shootouts
2013/14 - 65%
2014/15 - 23%
It is staggering to see the percentage of games that go to the shootout dip so low after just 60+ games of the new rule being in place in the AHL. Also to see the number of overtime games ending in shootouts cut by over half is insanely refreshing. Do we love the highlight reel dangles and goals that come from the shootout? Yes, but to have the outcome of a game come down to a 1-on-1 situation is not the right way to do it. Watching AHL games that go to the overtime period, you almost hope that nothing happens in the first 3 minutes, just so you can see the 3-on-3 segment. Every trip down the ice becomes an opportunity to end the game, shifts become more important as the ice expands and odd-man breaks are rampant. Talking with coaches, they hate it. Talking with players, they love it for the most part. It would be a lot of fun for fans to see NHL pros playing with so much open ice and if 3-on-3 overtime were to land in the NHL, we'd see some tremendous, throwback style pond hockey with the best players in the world.
It remains to be seen whether or not the fuddy-duddies General Managers, will enact changes for the future of the NHL in these spring meetings. What do you think? What would you change about the league?
About a month ago we took a look at the NHL Playoff picture with less than 30 games to go. Now every team has less than 20 games to play before the end of the regular season, so let's take a second look at what the playoff picture tells us.
Eastern Conference IN: Montreal, Tampa Bay, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, Detroit LAST 2: Washington, Boston BUBBLE: Florida, Ottawa, Philadelphia, New Jersey OUT: Buffalo, Carolina, Toronto, Columbus
It seems as if the Bruins will do just enough to hold off the Panthers for the final spot in the East, while trying to catch up to Washington seems just a bit out of reach for Boston. Florida is facing goalie issues with injuries, nearly having to turn to their goalie coach in an emergency spot after both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya got hurt against Toronto a few days ago. The Rangers continue to head north, Philadelphia looks to make a run (Won't matter), and Buffalo is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
WesternConference IN: Anaheim, Nashville, St, Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, Vancouver LAST2: Winnipeg, Calgary BUBBLE: Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado, Dallas OUT: Edmonton, Arizona
Don't look now but the Predators are trending in wrong direction for the first time this year and they could not have picked a worse time to do so. Anaheim has taken the lead in the West while Minnesota has surged into the top 6 spots thanks to San Jose slumping after the All-Star break. Chicago is still, somehow, deficient on the power-play which will never help your team down the stretch to the playoffs and Calgary continues to be a surprise top 8 team, while the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings are on the outside looking in. Also, Edmonton and Arizona continue to rebuild and hope for some Vitamin McD come June.
It came and went on Tuesday at 2pm local time, the NHL Trade Deadline saw some of the biggest blockbuster rumors NOT follow through, and the major storylines were to tank on one end, and win now on the other.
So here are the best and worst moves of the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline:
Best "Win Now" Deal - Chicago Blackhawks acquire Kimmo Timonen, Antoine Vermette, Andrew Desjardins
For a team that just days before the trade deadline lost their best player, the Blackhawks at first glance have mortgaged their future for a run at the Stanley Cup this year. They trade away Klas Dahlbeck, Ben Smith, and their 2015 1st and 2nd round picks in the process, while retaining veteran winger Patrick Sharp amongst (untrue) rumors of locker room divide. But at a second glance, the Blackhawks will receive early round picks back this summer as Sharp is more than likely going to be traded at or before the NHL Draft as the cap hits of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane kick up after this season.
Best "Awww" Moment - Jordan Leopold traded to Minnesota Wild and Jordyn Leopold's Letter
If you haven't seen or read it yet, go and search it out as Jordan Leopold's daughter wrote a letter in January to the Minnesota Wild, pleading for them to make a trade to bring her father to their hometown team because he was "lonely." It makes you realize that the business of sports and especially the free-agency and trade factors of the business take a toll on more than just the player. Families are involved as well. It was a touching moment and hoping Leopold in no longer lonely and helps the Wild in their hunt to make it into the playoffs.
Worst "Bang for your buck" Deal - Jeff Petry traded to Montreal Canadiens from Edmonton Oliers
So get this, in 2006 the Oilers select Petry with their 2nd round draft pick. Then spend the next 8 years developing him into a serviceable defenseman and a player that they could turn to in their year-to-year rebuild since losing in the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. Then they trade him away to Montreal, the only really respectable Canadian NHL team at the moment, for what...a 2nd round pick. The Canadiens get that much better on their blue-line and Edmonton sinks deeper into the abyss of the NHL.
Worst/Best "Tank Job" deal - Buffalo trades away Brian Flynn, Michal Neuvirth, Torrey Mitchell, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, and Chris Stewart for 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th round picks and Chad Johnson / Arizona Coyotes trade away Keith Yandle, Antoine Vermette, and Zbynek Michalek for Anthony DuClair, John Moore, Klas Dahlbeck, Maxim Letunov, two 1st round picks and a 2nd round pick.
The Sabres have truly gone off the edge. Seriously, who in the hell are they going to put on the ice? They've literally become an AHL team and didn't even walk away with a 1st round pick for it. Oh, and there isn't a guarantee that the great Connor McDavid will land in Buffalo. But enjoy Evander Kane before he gets sick of losing. On the other hand, the Coyotes decided that being bad for the next year will land them either McDavid or Jack Eichel, and they come out with promising youth in DuClair, Letunov, and Dahlbeck as well as extra 1st round picks in the next two NHL drafts. Stick-taps to the Yotes here.
Best "....WHAT?" Deal - Toronto Maple Leafs trade David Clarkson to Columbus for Nathan Horton
David Clarkson has probably the worst return for his contract in recent NHL history. In 118 games with Toronto, Clarkson amassed 26 points (15G, 11A). For his services, Clarkson is making $4.75 million this year, $5.5 next season, $7 million the next 2 years, $4.75 again, and $3.25 in the final year (2019-2020). That is insane money for a guy with a career .36 Points per game percentage, .22 PPG over the past two seasons. They get rid of that for Nathan Horton, a guy who has not played this year due to long-term injuries in recent years. Horton may not play again in the NHL ever again, but if he does get back to full health, his return for the contract that the Leafs would be on the book for ($6 million/year for the next four seasons, $4.5 and $3.6 million between 2018-2020) would be around a .67 PPG for Horton's career. Incredible deal for Toronto as they hold on to players rumored to be shipped out like Phil Kessel, Dion Phanuef, Tyler Bozak, Joffery Lupul, Nazim Kadri...literally everyone, until the summer rolls around.
What do you think? Who won and lost at year's NHL trade deadline?
Tuesday night the Chicago Blackhawks played host to the Florida Panthers with both teams in the hunt for the NHL Playoffs as the Blackhawks sit in 3rd place in the Central Division with 77 points and the Panthers are just 2 points behind the Bruins for the final wild card spot with 65 points. Mid-way through the first period, Patrick Kane played a puck in the corner boards and received a cross-check to the back from Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic that knocked Kane off balance and crashing into the boards. He got up slowly, skated off the ice with the help of the trainers, and now we know he broke his collarbone and had surgery to repair it yesterday.
The worst thing that the Blackhawks could have happen to them at this point of the season is lose their best player for the season. After the surgery, Kane is essentially out for the season UNLESS Chicago can make it deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs as it will take 12 weeks for a full recovery. Kane had tallied 64 points in 61 games, good enough to lead the NHL. On pace for his best season since 2009-10, Kane had a very realistic shot at being the first American-born NHL player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP. That now seems to be a race between Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Pekka RInne, Carey Price, and John Tavares.
So what do the Blackhawks do next? The NHL trade deadline is just days away (March 2nd) and Kane is on Long-term Injured Reserve, meaning the salary cap hit that Kane takes from the Blackhawks ($6.3 million) is off their books as long as Kane is deemed inactive, and once the playoffs begin, salaries don't matter. So GM Stan Bowman has basically been given $6 million dollars of house money to work with.
Chicago is left with 2 options -
1) Do nothing. The Blackhawks still remain one of the deepest teams in the NHL and outside of calling up Teuvo Teravainen from AHL Rockford, the Blackhawks could essentially plug and play their roster until Kane returns. Their options on the wing include Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, and even Brad Richards who had been playing mostly at center for Chicago. Teravainen is expected to play between Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell on the 3rd line moving forward.
2) Make a deadline deal. The more likely avenue the Blackhawks will go down, as it is very rare a team is given such a silver-lining to a terrible situation. With Chicago already worrying about cap space heading into next season, they will only be interested in expiring contracted players like Jaromir Jagr and Antoine Vermette. If the Blackhawks want to go the defensive route as they have been less-than stellar on the blue line since trading Nick Leddy, the Blackhawks could look at players like Jeff Petry or Marek Zidlicky. If the Blackhawks want to try to replace the production that Kane brought to the team (they can't) they should look to Vermette. If they want to implement leadership and basically say "sorry" for taking away his chance at one last Stanley Cup in 2013, they should sign Jagr.
It will be interesting to follow the rumblings from Chicago the next few days as the NHL trade deadline nears, but not as interesting as it would be if Kane were to make a superhero return to Chicago in the Conference or Stanley Cup Finals, should they make it that far. Stay tuned.
In 2013-2014, Alex Ovechkin tallied 79 points, led the NHL in goals and still ended the year as a minus-35. That's astonishing. That means the opposition scored 35 times more against Ovi than he scored against them. That's not even taking account for the times when he didn't register a goal or assist, but was on the ice when his team scored on even strength. A minus-35 over an 82 game schedule makes for a -.426 per game, meaning just about every other game he was costing his team a goal and the Capitals missed the playoffs.
Enter Barry Trotz.
Trotz came to Washington after 15 seasons with Nashville and has instilled a more well-rounded game from the Capitals Star-player and Captain and the results are a league-leading 37 goals through 58 games, and 59 points total. Also, Ovi has tallied a plus +11 this season and the Capitals are comfortably 7th in the Eastern Conference, eight points clear of 8th place Boston with 24 games to play.
Not to say that Ovechkin ever fell off statistically, but that plus/minus stat is a pretty telling sign of a successful team or not. If your best player leads the league for minus, you're not going to go far. Seeing his game this year compared to last, he is seeing the puck better and finding the net in the fashion that he did back in his first 5 years in the NHL where he was a perennial 50+ goal scorer. At his pace now, Ovi will have 84 points and 51 goals, which more than likely will give him the Maurice Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals for the 5th time in his career, unless Rick Nash ups his Goals per game average to .64/Game...ok now I'm getting nerdy.
Ovi never left, but his game is back to full power and then some. Even better than the 2005-2010 version of himself where he was a madman offensively, and a kid on the ice. Nearing 30 years old, Ovi is playing like a kid again and that's good for the Capitals and great for the NHL.
Whether you love him or hate, what are your thoughts on Alexander Ovechkin and the season he is having?
With every team in the NHL having 30 games or less to play in the season and the trade deadline nearing, here is a look at the NHL playoff picture and who is in and who is out.
Eastern Conference - IN: Tampa Bay, Montreal, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Detroit, Pittsburgh, LAST 2: Washington, Boston BUBBLE: Florida, Philadelphia OUT: Carolina, Buffalo
The East is obviously the easier of the two conferences to say who will make the playoffs and who won't as the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers chances are on life support right now. The Flyers just lost Goalie Steve Mason to a freak lower-body injury, and the Panthers, although riding a revived Roberto Luongo's All-Star season, haven't impressed after using free agency in the off-season to bolster what was the worst team in the NHL last year. On top of that, do you really think a team like Boston, who has been the juggernaut of the East for the last 5 years, would have a dip in results where they would be in danger of falling out of the NHL Wild Card spot? Also, sorry Sabres fans but this is season is an absolute joke.
Western Conference - IN: Nashville, Anaheim, St. Louis, Chicago, Winnipeg, Calgary LAST 2: San Jose, Vancouver BUBBLE: Minnesota, Los Angeles, Dallas, Colorado OUT: Edmonton, Arizona
The Western Conference is much more interesting to dive into considering the defending Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings are on the outside looking in at the playoffs right now and teams like Winnipeg and Calgary are in prime positions to lock down their post-season spots. Who would've guessed in October that prior to the trade deadline, Nashville would be in President's trophy contention and L.A., along with Dallas and Colorado would be fighting to make it into the Wild Card spots? Is it better for the NHL to have L.A. in the playoffs? Of Course, but they do not deserve it right now with the way they are playing. Since the beginning of 2015, the Kings have lost 10 of 15 games, and 17 of their last 20. Dallas, Colorado, Minnesota, as well as L.A. were all playoff teams last year and have been pretty much replaced with team who seem to want it more. Colorado had the 2nd highest points total last year and was the 1 seed in the West, where did that all go? Guess Paul Stastny a lot to the Avalanche. But hey, who can't wait for the heated rivalry of Anaheim-Winnipeg in the first round?
Is your team in the hunt? Who do you think is in and out coming down the stretch to the NHL Playoffs?
With less than a month until the NHL's trade deadline, there are plenty of players to be aware of as teams try to build towards the playoffs or build for next year. Here are three to keep note of -
1. Antoine Vermette - C - Arizona Coyotes
Vermette has been a bright spot for a team that has been less than great this season. Posting 33 points (11G, 22A) in 53 games of work, Vermette is on pace for a 50+ point season, something he hasn't done since 2009-10 with Columbus, on a team that, if it wasn't for Edmonton throwing their hat into the Conor McDavid mix, would be bottom feeding in the Western Conference. Vermette has been rumored to be on Montreal's radar to fill Lars Eller's absence, but that doesn't seem likely as he would more than likely warrant a first-round pick for his services.
2. Phil Kessel - RW - Toronto Maple Leafs
Who isn't on the table when it comes to the Maple Leafs? After an up and down season had Leafs fans just begging and hoping for a chance to erase the playoff memory of fumbling away a 3 goal lead in the 3rd period of Game 7 in 2013 against the Bruins, the Leafs hit a historical 11-game losing streak. The Leafs are in the Jack Eichel mix, sitting just 5 points ahead of next-to-last place Carolina (because really, Buffalo is getting that first pick), and are losing games once thought to be winnable on paper. Kessel is the BEST player the Leafs have, but the split in the fan base that Kessel causes between people who love him and people who hate him, may be enough to move him and build for the future. Easily, a first-round pick would be needed in any move involving Kessel as he more than likely will eclipse 30 goals for the 6th time in his career.
3. Eric Staal - C - Carolina Hurricanes
It has been a long time since Staal was a 100-point player in the Hurricanes 2005-06 Stanley Cup season. Since then, Carolina has missed the playoffs every season except in 2008-09. Staal has been the face of the franchise for a long time, but it has been for a franchise that never takes the next step when one would think they would be in prime position to do so. Staal provides leadership, good size, and the ability to produce on both sides of the ice and has done so on a team that has not picked above the 5th pick in the last 5 drafts, so it can't be all his fault. A multitude of picks and prospects would be on the table for Carolina in exchange for Staal, as the Hurricanes look to be primed for the 3rd pick in the upcoming draft.
The NHL Trade Deadline is on March 5th. Who do you think will be on the move?