Today marks the opening of free agency in the NHL and while the Draft has evolved into the far more interesting swap-meet, the opening of free agency still promises plenty of exciting deals and the opportunity for teams to revamp their rosters.
Here in Great Skate’s neck of the woods, the Buffalo Sabres are expected to remain active after pulling off a pair of big trades on draft day while coming away with Jack Eichel who ought to become the face of their franchise almost overnight.
The Sabres are still in need of help along the blueline and perhaps even up front. They’ll also need to secure some depth and help for their minor league team in Rochester, but the primary focus will be placed on the free agent market. Here are a few names the Sabres will (or should) be considering.
He’s been on the lips of many Sabres fans recently as his time spent with Dan Bylsma isn’t being discounted one bit. He made $5m last year and still offers a quality two-way element that if deployed on Buffalo’s second pairing could be a fine addition to the team.
The challenges on Martin are two-fold. He’s creeping up on his late 30s which means he will likely want to go to an established competitor while also securing his established market rate. For the Sabres, offering him a longer deal to potentially buy him away from a contender could put them in cap jail in a few years if Martin sticks around. However, Martin has shown the ability to carry significant minutes the last few seasons with very little side effects. Bet on a two or three-year deal at $5m for the Sabres to be in the running for Martin.
Oduya is going to be a very popular option on the free agent market as he’s collected a pair of Stanley Cups in the last three years and managed added minutes very well in the playoffs. While he’s starting to age a bit, he’s still shown the ability to be a quality contributor.
Oduya is a terrific skater who would slot in well on Buffalo’s second pair. He likely has a similar point of view as Martin as he may prefer an established contender. While his deal this year was below $4m annually, I would expect the Sabres need to push to that $4m floor to ensure they could grab him for three years.
Alec Martinez (trade)
This is more of a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it’s something I’m very keen on. At one point, some were discussing that Martinez could be moved in order to accommodate for cap concerns in Los Angeles. That’s not likely the case anymore and attempting to snag Martinez in a trade could be a challenge.
Martinez is a solid two-way threat who could not only fill a vital role for the Sabres next year but his age would keep him in the fold for the foreseeable future. I’d expect the Sabres would need to dangle a young forward like Marcus Foligno or Johan Larsson along with a mid-round draft pick to land the man who scored the Cup winning goal in 2014.
The 2009 Columbus first rounder hasn’t really found his way in the NHL, but he’s carved out a role as a bottom pair contributor who can skate like the wind. Moore is more of an offensive threat than a stout defender, but in sheltered minutes he could offer the Sabres a fair bit of offense from the third pair.
As a lefty who was just allowed to walk by the Coyotes, Moore could combine with the likes of Mike Weber and perhaps Mark Pysyk on the third pair to form a quality pairing that could offer a bit more offense when Moore was dressed or a bit more grit if Weber was dressed. A two-year deal at $1m would be a significant raise for Moore and would give the Sabres a smart, third pair signing.
Much in the mold of Paul Martin, Williams would be a terrific signing but it may be tough to lure the aging, three-time Cup winner away from a contender. Williams will likely need a contract north of $4.5m and at least three years from the Sabres to come east. If they landed him, Williams would offer the Sabres’ top six a terrific veteran presence as the group begins to mature.
Williams is a terrific option who may be tough to land simply because he’s coming off two Cups with the Kings and may prefer to stay in the Stanley Cup hunt. As improved as the Sabres have become they still need to go a little further to start really becoming a free agent destination.
A personal favorite, Frolik is an impressive middle-six winger who could flip to the left or right side (in a pinch). His possession numbers are terrific and he’s coming off of a playoff run with the Jets. He’s a terrific penalty killer and would be a nice addition for the Sabres.
Frolik also happens to be the most attractive free agent option this year. He’s likely going to get a long, lucrative deal and while the Sabres have the space to grab him, I’m unsure if they want to devote a five year deal to any free agents.
Also, take a look at what these guys wear on the ice, you can find every piece of equipment worn by the pros at Great Skate.
A number of intriguing storylines greet the Sabres as they open training camp and preseason for the 2014-15 season. The Sabres are deep within a rebuilding phase that took a massive step forward at the 2014 NHL Draft. The selection of Sam Reinhart followed by a trio of skilled forwards in the second round continued a trend of building through the draft for the franchise.
Reinhart is going to be a carefully watched and cultivated asset who will be a focal point for much of, if not all of the preseason slate. The expectation is that he’ll see plenty of ice in the team’s tuneup games and perhaps into the first nine games of the regular season. Sending Reinhart back to junior appears to be the preferred path for most fans and pundits as the best course of action for the season. Given that the Sabres aren’t expected to contend this year and allowing Reinhart to improve in a situation where he will not only play big minutes but also at a level where he’ll most certainly dominate.
Another highly touted Sabres prospect that has been garnering plenty of attention through the first few practices is Mikhail Grigorenko. A well documented change to his offseason program has yielded a heavier, more defined frame for the former first round pick. WIth it has come an improved work ethic and skating skillset. While Grigorenko was more a victim of poor asset management in the last two years, his skating did need improvement. He had a strong initial showing in Washington and dressed for a second-straight night against Carolina.
The plan for Grigorenko may again be hazy as his improved play has started to garner some attention for NHL minutes to start the year. After finally clearing his junior eligibility it was believed that Grigorenko was destined for a quality season in the AHL. Now, he could potentially be in line for yet another opening weekend in the NHL, which could be a blessing or a curse. At this point it seems that the safe route is the smarter one for Grigorenko as the ability to play important minutes in a more controlled setting is probably best for his development. However, if he’s able to finally break out of his shell at the NHL level, the Sabres will have yet another blue chip prospect in their stable.
My opinion is to at least start Grigorenko in Rochester while Rienhart gets his obligatory nine-game tryout. Once Reinhart is returned, Ted Nolan can determine if Grigorenko is capable of filling a top-nine role for the Sabres. Playing in the top-nine is an important distinction as Grigorenko and the Sabres simply aren’t aided by the young Russian filling a fourth line role.
Beyond the two young prospects, the Sabres forward corps should be fairly easy to fill out. Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno and Cody Hodgson will all have roles in the top-nine for the Sabres. Beyond that sits a large group of players vying for no more than five roster spots. Matt Ellis, Torrey Mitchell, Nicolas Deslauriers, Patrick Kaleta, Brian Flynn and Cody McCormick are all battling for a fourth line role and it’s more likely the Sabres keep only one extra forward as opposed to two.
Should Reinhart start the season in Buffalo, one of those players will be the odd man out. Upon being returned to Kootenay, that spot could either be filled by a player from Rochester or one of the many forwards the Sabres already boast. Ultimately, at least one player from that latter group will be sent to Rochester to start the season but it isn’t unrealistic to see a pair sent down together.
Ellis may be the most likely to be sent back as his mentoring skills translate well to the minors and his skill set provides the Americans with a quality two-way player. Mitchell, Flynn and McCormick should be safe and Deslauriers debut last season and a strong preseason could cement him in the line up. That leaves Pat Kaleta as a borderline player who I would ultimately keep in Buffalo. He serves a role as a grinder and is a superb penalty killer no matter where he’s playing. He’s in a contract year and will serve a role for the Sabres. If and when Reinhart is sent back, a player like Mitchell or Flynn could easily slide up to a third line role which would clear the log jam on the fourth line.
Defensively the Sabres have plenty of names but few spots. Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Mike Weber are all but assured to be playing in blue and gold this season. It seems likely that Andre Benoit and Weber will split duties as the team’s sixth and seventh defenseman throughout the year. That leaves two or three empty spots for prospects.
Pencil in Rasmus Ristolainen for one of those spots, likely alongside Meszaros. Additionally, Mark Pysyk will probably play the season in Buffalo with Chad Ruhwedel serving as the first recall from Rochester. Nikita Zadorov could also see a nine-game tryout like Reinhart before being sent back to London. Ultimately I don’t see Zadorov (or Reinhart) benefitting from playing a full season in Buffalo, especially if Connor McDavid is to remain in their crosshairs all year.
The roster is fairly well shaped already and there are a host of quality prospects expected to debut in Rochester this season. Grigorenko ought to be a key player for the Americans as should William Carrier (acquired in the Ryan Miller trade). Additionally, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Johan Larsson will all receive big minutes for the Americans on a team that will likely be winning many more games than the Sabres.
Nathan Lieuwen, Andrey Makarov and Matt Hackett will split time in the Rochester crease as Jhonas enroth and Michal Neuvirth are set in stone to anchor Buffalo’s crease.
The remainder of the preseason is set to appear on TV locally which will give fans a chance to see the future Sabres in action alongside those players who will play a major role this season. The roster should be trimmed again quite soon, but there will be plenty to keep an eye on even as Ted Nolan gets closer to naming his 23-man roster.
Change is coming to the NHL. Recent reports indicate that expansion could grace the league as early as the 2016-17 season. Depending on which report you’ve read, as many as four teams could be added to the mix.
Bringing the league’s numbers to 34 teams would result in a terrific financial windfall for the owners but would likely result in a watered down product for a period of time. While it may not take the league (and sport as a whole) nearly ten years to bounce back in terms of on-ice quality, adding four more teams would almost certainly result in a significantly watered down product.
Considering the last round of expansion came in the midst of the dead puck era, the NHL struggle with an inferior product up through the second most recent lockout. While the game has certainly enjoyed a nice surge in popularity recently, I wonder what the addition of that many jobs would do to the talent pool. It stands to reason that lesser skilled players could result in a surge in goal scoring should the rules be enforced properly, but I’m not overly interested in seeing the league try and fill upwards of 130 more jobs with AHL-level players for the next few years. It seems far more feasible to add a pair of teams to not only limit the impact on the player pool but to also ensure the league isn’t spreading itself too thin.
As of now cities like Toronto, Las Vegas, Seattle, Quebec City and Kansas City have been floated as potential homes for an NHL franchise. Many reports say that Seattle is atop the league’s wish list and Toronto’s size and corporate presence all but ensures financial stability. Further, Quebec City’s new NHL arena will be done soon and there are some deep pocketed owners ready to bring a team back. Vegas has received a ton of press in recent rumors and it appears Sin City will be the next city to host a club while Kansas City sits well apart from the rest of the candidates.
I, for one, don’t see Las Vegas as a horrible option. Their minor league team saw fair support during their existence and if marketed properly I’m willing to be they would receive fair local support. Selling tickets won’t be an issue there as the casinos will be sure to gobble up most, if not all, of the suites along with plenty of normal seats as well. So long as a decent local following can be cultivated I could see Las Vegas as a viable option.
What works in Sin City’s favor is the lack of another big four franchise to pull eyes and interest from a potential hockey club. While it’s about as non-traditional as you can get, I think hockey could take hold in Vegas if the marketing is done right.
Seattle seems like a no brainer at this point. Their football and soccer fans follow their respective teams with rabid intensity and I wouldn’t be surprised to see hockey receive similar support as the on-ice product improves. The lack of a viable building makes things awfully complicated and may set Seattle up better for a relocated franchise as opposed to a new expansion club. Should the arena issue get solved soon, then perhaps the league will work to fast track Seattle and Las Vegas in an effort to balance the conference alignment.
Quebec is another option and a safe one, at that. Media giant Quebecor is backing the new arena and it seems like just a matter of time before the league is bringing back the Nordiques. Like Seattle, I could see Quebec as a strong candidate for a relocated franchise as well as expansion. However, I think Quebec makes more sense for relocation simply because expanding by two teams out west (Seattle and Vegas) would ensure the conferences are balanced.
I think the most ideal scenario for the league would be to relocate one of their struggling franchises while awarding expansion to two owners in each of the cities described above. This way Seattle, Las Vegas and Quebec City each get a team in some combination of expansion and relocation. It matters little who ends up with the relocated team so long as the ownership and conference balance is worked out properly.
Without much more to go on other than reports from anonymous sources, it’s hard to say how legitimate all of this is. Perhaps the league is going to stand fast and wait for Seattle’s arena. Perhaps they’ll make Seattle sit out until their building can be completed while other cities like Vegas and Quebec win new clubs.
Either way, the game is almost certainly set to grow in the next few seasons which marks an exciting time for hockey fans.
With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.
The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.
Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.
Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.
Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.
Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.
Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.
Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.
Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.
Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.
Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.
Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.
Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.
Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.
Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.
Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.
Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.
Now that the season has finally wound down the real fun can begin. The NHL Playoffs begin on Wednesday evening as three different series kick off the 2014 postseason.
While the Boston Bruins claimed the President’s Trophy this year, the Western Conference boasts four of the league’s top five teams based on the final point standings. The West has been regarded as the stronger conference this season, but there’s a strong possibility that the team coming away with the Clarence C. Campbell Cup will have taken a savage beating to get there.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild
The Avalanche used a late run and a backslide by St. Louis to sneak into the top spot in the Central Division. The surge not only lifted the Avs to a division title but also out of a first round showdown with Chicago. They’ll face Central Division rival, Minnesota, who finished with a stranglehold on the first wild card position in the West.
Minnesota worked through a goaltending carousel in order to capture what would have previously been considered the seventh seed under the old playoff format. They finished seven points clear of Dallas and wound up with a nice cushion in the standings as Dallas and Phoenix fought for the final position.
What to Watch For
Colorado has been powered by their young core that features three top-three selections. Matt Duchene (3rd overall 2009) is on the shelf with an injury but captain Gabriel Landeskog (2nd overall 2011) and Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall 2013) have kept the ship on course over the last few weeks. While Duchene won’t likely factor in this series, the Avs have solid scoring depth and have received stout goaltending for much of the season.
Minnesota features a more veteran laden lineup with a few elite talents that power their engine. Ryan Suter is their minute eating stalwart and his fellow free agent classmate Zach Parise headlines a forward group with plenty of offensive pedigree. There may be some question marks in the crease, but the players playing in front of Ilya Bryzgalov can skate with just about anyone in the league.
Colorado is the favorite entering the series despite Duchene’s absence. While I think that Suter’s ability on the backend and Minnesota’s ability to match a great deal of Colorado’s lineup will keep the series close, I think that the Avs have enough depth to really give Minnesota fits. If the Wild’s scorers are able to get free it could be a long series. But if cast behind Landeskog and MacKinnon
Edge: Colorado. Varlamov is going to get some votes for the Vezina and could potentially be a finalist. Bryzgalov’s resurgence in Minnesota has been nice to see after the rough ride he got in Philadelphia the last few years. While his play has improved, his countryman has been a rock for the entire year.
Colorado in six
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues
Things couldn’t have ended much worse for the Blues as they’ve seen a bevvy of injuries underscore an ugly losing streak that knocked them from the top spot in the west and into an incredibly challenging series against the defending Cup champs.
Chicago enters the series a little banged up as well with both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are nursing injuries of their own. The Blackhawks dropped the season series against the Blues but seem to have had their number lately, winning their last two meetings quite decisively.
What to watch for
This series is going to hinge on two things for the Blues: their goal scoring and goaltending. Ryan Miller has had a rough streak to end the season and has plenty of Blues fans questioning why they spent so much to acquire him. He hasn’t gotten much goal support despite the incredible puck possession the Blues exhibit each night. St. Louis has been shutout in three of their last six and they’ll need superhuman goaltending from Miller or Brian Elliott if they expect to get by the Hawks. But hoping to win four 1-0 games wouldn’t work if Dominik Hasek was in net.
As for the Blackhawks, they have the depth to be a very scary team even when Toews and Kane aren’t at 100%. If those two return and dominate this will be a very short series. If they remain hobbled the onus will fall on Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to carry the load. Given their collective skillset it shouldn’t be an issue.
The Blues will need to hope they heal up quickly if they plan on advancing past the first round. Should they get healthy prior to the series I could see them matching Chicago player-for-player should Toews and Kane not see considerable minutes. Depth scoring will likely drive the series as I expect each team’s top guns to be locked down for the duration of the series. If that is the case I’d say the Hawks come away winners.
Edge: Chicago. On paper you might choose Miller over Crawford but the former has hit the skids hard as of late and Crawford is the proud owner of a Cup ring. Whether or not both teams return to full health, Miller will have far more to prove in the series and I expect the Blackhawks to be victorious.
Chicago in six
Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars
This is expected to be a series that advanced stats fans watch very closely. The Ducks finished the year with below average possession numbers while the Stars were quite respectable in that department. Many who track advanced stats closely see the Stars as a legitimate threat to the Ducks in the first round despite how the standings shook out.
Anaheim has a solid blueline and a pair of world-class scorers in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf is probably going to finish second to Sidney Crosby in the Hart Trophy voting while Perry continues to pour in goals like it’s going out of style. Bruce Boudreau will have a tough choice to make in net as Jonas Hiller has been okay but not tremendous this year. Meanwhile Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are both viable options to roll with. However, the youth of the latter two makes them tough to roll with right off the bat.
Dallas saw a major roster overhaul kickoff last summer and the result is a playoff berth. Pairing Tyler Seguin with Jamie Benn has created a scoring duo that can run with any team’s top line across the league. Seeing if they can outscore Getzlaf and Perry will be fascinating although their success may hinge on Kari Lehtonen’s performance. If he’s on, I expect the Stars to pull the upset.
What to watch for
Anaheim needs sound goaltending and I suspect that Hiller isn’t the solution to that particular issue. While he’s started the majority of their games this season, it would appear as if Andersen or Gibson could be the direction to follow. I would assume that Hiller starts but is given a very short leash to operate on. Goal scoring won’t be a problem for the Ducks as they have a very deep lineup, but they’ll be relying heavily on their netminders to advance.
What could serve as Dallas’ Achilles Heel is their depth. It’s not so much that it’s lacking but I don’t know how well it matches up with what Anaheim will roll out. If Benn and Seguin are locked down, I’ll be interested to see where their goal scoring will come from.
This is setting up to be a home team series as line matching and locking down scorers will likely drive each team’s respective game plan and success.
Edge: Dallas. Lehtonen is always one wrong move away from injury but he’s been very steady for the Stars all year. While Hiller could be described as dependable, he hasn’t been outstanding and, in turn, hasn’t inspired much faith with his play. Lehtonen is the constant here while the Ducks are in limbo.
Ducks in seven
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings
It’s safe to say this series is precisely why the NHL switched back to the divisional format. The opportunity for the Sharks, Ducks and Kings to see each other in the postseason along with other rivalries like the Canadiens and Bruins and Penguins and Flyers were the blueprint. It’s safe to say that this one shows they might have gotten things right.
The Kings did their thing yet again, cruising through the regular season and locking up a playoff spot relatively early on. Their goaltender captured the Jennings Trophy and they made some adept moves at the deadline to strengthen their depth, particularly up front, and they appear to be poised for another run.
San Jose isn’t easy to ignore as their up and coming stars have taken over from the old core that couldn’t get over the hump in the early 2000s. The fact that the old core still remains adds to the ridiculous talent pool the Sharks boast as Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski compliment Joe Thornton, Partrick Marleau and others.
What to watch for
The Sharks talent up front features two lines that would be the top line for a majority of the teams around the league. The fact that they are able to spread that talent over not two, but three lines speaks to the roster they’ve built. I think they are left wanting on the back end to an extent and while they have some elite talent on the blue line (see Vlasic, Marc-Edouard) that might be the only weak spot they have.
Los Angeles has the talent to completely blow games open with their dominant puck possession style. They boast a likely Selke Finalist in Anze Kopitar, an explosive scoring winger in Jeff Carter and a number of complimentary pieces that rounds out their top nine. They also have Justin Williams, who has proven to be beyond clutch come playoff time. Their blueline is sound and I’d definitely give their group the edge over San Jose’s blueline in terms of a head-to-head comparison.
This has all the makings for a knock down, seven game series which the winner will likely crawl, not walk, away from. I really have no idea who I’d favor between the two teams, although a recent Cup and the edge in net likely favors the Kings.
Edge: Los Angeles. While Niemi has had a great year, Quick’s has been better. He captured the Jennings Trophy (with some help from Martin Jones) and already has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his record. He’s been terrific yet again this year and there’s no reason to think he isn’t good for at least one series win this spring.
Los Angeles in seven
Eastern Conference playoff preview and prediction
A pair of Eastern Conference series kick off this year’s postseason and while the East may not be as deep or talented as the West, their best teams can run with anyone in the league.
Boston and the Penguins are the favorites to come out of the East but I won’t be surprised to see one, or both, upset along the way.
Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit extended their impressive playoff streak to 23 seasons despite battling a ridiculous number of injuries down the stretch this year. While most of their walking wounded are preparing to return, the level of health the team will be playing at is certainly going to be a focal point.
Boston, meanwhile, captured the President’s Trophy and steamrolled the East on their way to a 117 point season. The Bruins bully their way around with an impressive combination of size and skill throughout their lineup.
What to watch for
Patrice Bergeron is going to win the Selke Trophy again and he’s going to garner votes for the Hart Trophy as well. He’s not an offensive powerhouse but his positive puck possession numbers make his line a lethal trio to handle. Offseason acquisition Loui Eriksson was beat up a bit this season but if he can return to full health for the playoffs he’d present the Bruins another tremendous scoring option. The obvious story along the blueline is Zdeno Chara but his countryman Andrej Meszaros has proven to be a terrific deadline acquisition for Peter Chiarelli and has shored up what was already a strong group.
The Wings get a nice treat in their first year in the East with a berth against last year’s Cup finalists coming off a stretch run where their playoff streak was in jeopardy due to a number of injuries. Pavel Datsyuk is back on the ice but isn’t likely back to full strength just yet. Henrik Zetterberg appears to be somewhat close to a return. However, even if he does make it back for this series, what sort of condition will he be in?
Detroit’s youth will have to carry them to victories as players like Gustav Nyqusit, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will be looked to as important cogs to any success the Red Wings will have. The key for Boston will be to lean on the Red Wings defensive corps. They’re a youthful bunch who could be targeted by the Bruins, especially at the TD Garden when Claude Julien has the last change.
Edge: Boston. Jimmy Howard is a terrific goaltender but Tuukka Rask happens to be better. Rask is a lock to win the Vezina and I expect him to steal at least one game on his own this series.
Boston in five
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
If the San Jose/Los Angeles series is the perfect example of the division format I’d argue that this series is the antitheses of that. Both teams are talented groups with a handful of exciting players dotting each roster. However, there’s no real meat to the matchup itself.
The Canadiens feature a tremendous goaltender and nice depth up and down their lineup. They might be a little thin on the blue line and their five-on-five scoring leaves you wanting but when you have a forward group that features Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek on the same line, it’s likely that you have something working in your favor. Finding scoring beyond those two could prove to be a challenge.
Tampa Bay suffered what could be a major blow at the end of the year as Ben Bishop went down with an injury and is a question mark for this first round series. Steven Stamkos is on a level that few other NHLers can reach and will be a major factor for the Bolts in this series. Like the Canadiens, Tampa will rely on their secondary scoring to advance past the first round.
What to watch for
Montreal’s power play is tremendous. Vanek and Pacioretty are both lethal scorers and PK Subban is equally potent from the point. However, if that top line gets shut down by the Lightning, the Canadiens could be in a lot of trouble. However, their special teams are phenomenal and could certainly wind up as the difference maker in this series.
If Ben Bishop doesn’t come back in time to make a difference in this series the Lightning could be cooked before the first puck drops. Even if he does return, his physical condition could make him more of a hindrance than a benefit. Tampa will need to match Montreal on special teams and their young stars will need to shine.
I believe Tampa Bay has a little more depth than Montreal up front. Should that depth start producing early I could see the Lightning coming away with the win. However, Bishop’s status likely condemns the Lightning to an early exit which is unfortunate considering the season they enjoyed.
Edge: Montreal. If Bishop was at full health this would be a dead heat. Both Price and Bishop are going to garner attention for the Vezina and have been two of the league’s best goalies this year. Lindback has been quite streaky and represents a significant drop off when compared to Bishop.
Montreal in five
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
At some point the Blue Jackets will catch a break. Their first playoff appearance in franchise history saw them face the Red Wings who were in the middle of a run where they played for back-to-back Cups. Columbus was overmatched by a Red Wings roster that is starting to tail off when compared to this year’s team. Now the Blue Jackets are treated to a showdown with Sidney Crosby and co. in the 2014 first round.
While the Blue Jackets have some nice pieces, Ryan Johansen immediately comes to mind, they don’t have that cornerstone talent you can look to for a big performance. They score by committee and are a team that defines the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. They have a number of exciting young talents to keep an eye on, but lacking that big gun could hurt them in the end.
The Penguins come as advertised. They have one of the best forward groups in the league that is top heavy with offensive dynamos like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and others. They’re blueline is a little thin and Marc-Andre Fleury is surrounded by question marks. Their shortcomings are well documented but they’re often overshadowed by their strengths.
What to watch for
If Columbus hopes to compete in this series they’ll need to have all four lines rolling with their top nine chipping in on a regular basis. If they’re able to quiet one of Pittsburgh’s top units they’ll have a punchers chance based on the overall depth they possess.
The Blue Jackets certainly have the edge in net and the mental makeup of Fluery heading into this series is going to be something to focus on. He is likely operating on a short leash even with an unstable situation behind him. However, even if Fleury struggles, Tomas Vokoun was part of last year’s Eastern Conference Final appearance. I find it hard to say that they don’t have enough talent and fire power to get past Columbus.
Pittsburgh will wind up taking this series simply because they have too many heads to contain. While the Blue Jackets feature a lineup with more than one line that can score, the Penguins take that to a whole different level.
Edge: Columbus. While I’m not the biggest fan of Bobrovsky, he’s shown much more promise and success than Fluery this season. While Fleury benefits from playing behind what almost equates to an All Star team in some respects, Bobrovsky handles a more difficult workload. While I see the Penguins taking the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in spite of Fleury.
Pittsburgh in six
New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers
It may not be the Flyers and Penguins, but this series still boasts some nice background to build on. While neither squad started the year well, each rallied hard to not only qualify for the post season but avoid a serious push at a wild card position.
The Rangers come in with the edge in net but I’d argue that the Flyers have the edge in terms of talent up front. I suspect that a lot of New York’s success will come from the ability to match Ryan McDonagh and friends against Claude Giroux. If Giroux’s line is stymied the Rangers will have a lot of success in this round. If not, watch out.
Philly doesn’t necessarily live and die with Giroux, of course, but he’s clearly their MVP. While the Rangers probably have the stronger blue line, I don’t think the Flyers will be outdone with their ability to shutdown New York’s top scorers thanks to Sean Couturier. It sets things up for a chess match of line matching and shutdown players as both coaches have specific targets they need to hone in on.
What to watch for
The Rangers are an interesting case as they have a number of recognizable names but don’t boast the scoring depth like many other teams in this year’s playoffs. Martin St. Louis hasn’t caught on as of yet and his struggles highlight a forward group with big names but lack big numbers. If Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello are shutdown, the Rangers may struggle to score goals.
Philly has the most dynamic line between the two teams and Giroux, Jakub Voarcek and Scott Hartnell are a lethal trio who will be difficult to contain. They’ll see a whole lot of McDonagh and Craig Berube will need to be clever to try and work them away from that matchup. They also have a potential question mark in goal. While Steve Mason seems to have shaken the poor play that chased him from Columbus, exactly how well he will play remains in limbo.
The Rangers may luck out with the question marks in goal and the thin blue line the Flyers will ice. If they can get players not named Nash and Zuccarello scoring this could be a quick series. If not, watch the Flyers advance.
Edge: New York. Lundqvist probably won’t walk away with any hardware this season but he’s a perennial Vezina Candidate for a reason. Mason happens to be good but that’s probably where the scale stops. While Lundqvist can be relied on to steal a game it’s more likely that Mason will be relied on not to lose a game.
Rangers in seven
Stay tuned here for more previews and predictions as each series progresses.
Just over seven days separate 30 general managers from the feeding frenzy that is the NHL trade deadline. Of course, recent years have resembled a salad bar more so than an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the blockbusters that fans and media love have become rare, the action at the deadline will still be there.
There are already a host of names floating around the rumor wires as real and make believe insiders and sources report on the whispers they hear about the players who will end up being moved in the coming days. Marquee names like Ryan Miller and Ryan Callahan are making the rounds with fans of contending teams are waiting to see what their GM can poach from the annual swap meet.
The 2014 deadline ought to provide a few fireworks specifically because of teams like the Sabres, Islanders and Oilers. All three are sliding towards the draft lottery in hopes that they win the right to pick first overall and each will likely unload some stars prior to the deadline.
Based on many reports, Edmonton appeared to be very close to dealing Sam Gagner to Los Angeles prior to the Olympic break and Gagner is still said to be on the block along with Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky. The Oilers could certainly market a few of their other young stars in hopes of shoring up their blueline, but their five-year rebuild will likely continue into yet another draft lottery where their number of top-3 selections will grow to four after winning the draft lottery three years in a row (2009-2012).
Losing John Tavares will likely ensure that the Islanders begin playing for 2015 as they’ll try to get a king’s ransom for Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald as the two pending free agents will attract plenty of attention from teams battling for playoff positioning. Moving the two may also allow Garth Snow to protect his 2015 first round pick as Vanek and MacDonald could potentially net a first round pick each, giving Snow a security blanket, of sorts, for this year when he may need to give up his potential lottery pick to the Sabres as part of the Vanek/Moulson deal.
Buffalo is expected to be very busy as Miller, Moulson and Steve Ott are all expected to be moved and each has their own market value as the deadline approaches. A few teams are said to be interested in Miller, although the number who will likely make a legitimate offer won’t likely eclipse five. My gut tells me he ends up in Washington where George McPhee is on the hot seat and his team’s goaltending has kept them from playoff contention this year.
Ott and Moulson are said to have many more suitors and exactly where they end up is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Moulson end up in Ottawa where Tim Murray not only knows the prospect pool that he’d be gaining talent from, but his time with the organization may make negotiations go a bit quicker. Ott’s landing spot could be quite literally anywhere as his game can adapt to a number of different styles and any contender would be interested in adding an energy player like him. My money would be on a Western team, but that’s about as far as I would go in terms of guessing his destination.
It’s also rumored that Ryan Callahan will likely be skating in a new city after the deadline and he’d also add the two way element that so many teams find valuable. While trading Callahan may be expected, I’m fully expecting to see at least one big trade that catches everyone off guard. It could be something similar to the Marian Gaborik trade last year that saw a host of players swapped between New York and Columbus. Regardless of who is moved, count on at least one of those to catch you off guard before the day is out on the 5th. Also keep an eye on the trade wire in the days leading up to the deadline as a few moves could easily come prior to next Wednesday.
A pair of very familiar faces are back in prominent positions with the Sabres organization as Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought back in the fold after a massive shake up at First Niagara Center.
LaFontaine takes over as the team’s President of Hockey Operations with Ted Nolan stepping in as the interim head coach. Both Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier were relieved of their duties prior to LaFontaine and Nolan stepping in.
Ousting Rolston seemed like an inevitable choice given Buffalo’s woeful record and the ugly way they went about earning it. Exactly when the axe was to fall on Rolston was left to guesswork due to Buffalo’s current campaign for the first overall pick. The heat was rising fast, however, as Buffalo’s string of first period flops and ugly losses was punctuated by an inability to draw any sort of redemption from the progression of the team’s young players. When a coach lauded for his ability to develop players isn’t even doing that, obviously there is a problem.
Regier’s departure is only shocking when you consider the scope of this shakeup. The construction of the roster left plenty to be desired and his quest to mimic the toughness of the Bruins ended up sacrificing the overall skill level of Buffalo’s forward group. Like Rolston, Regier’s departure was something that was expected at some point in the coming calendar year, the timing is what comes as something of a shock, as were his replacements.
Pat LaFontaine strikes me as a solid, sound choice as the team’s new President of Hockey Operations. His lack of front office experience doesn’t make him a glowing candidate for the position of GM and he said as much during today’s press conference. What LaFontaine brings is a fresh set of eyes to evaluate and hire the general manager who will guide the team through this rebuilding process.
His choice on the new GM will have a trickle-down effect on the team’s current interim head coach, Ted Nolan. The interim tag given to Nolan indicates that the new GM will have the ability to make the final choice on the coach and should the two not see eye-to-eye, the GM will be able to replace him. Given that the chain of command has yet to be completed, this makes a lot of sense.
Nolan’s success could certainly dictate whether or not he drops the interim tag, but there is no doubt that the new GM will have final say on his tenure this time around. Given that LaFontaine is ensuring the new chain of command falls as it should, I’m not reading too much into Nolan’s hiring at this point. In fact, I’m willing to wait to not only see who the new GM will be, but what his choice of head coach will wind up being. At that point it will be slightly easier to pass judgement. Nolan will simply be keeping the seat warm for the time being with the opportunity to earn a full time role should he prove capable.
This decision also allows the Sabres to continue forward with a clean slate. There was a growing trend of negative comments made about the culture in Buffalo – namely from Jordan Leopold, Andrej Sekera and even Jason Pominville. What they were specifically referencing can’t be confirmed as they could just as easily have been referring to the entire hockey department or just the attitudes in the locker room.
No matter where it stemmed from, there certainly seemed as if there was a recruiting problem at First Niagara Center; starting fresh in the hockey department should aid in erasing that stigma. By cleaning house, Terry Pegula and his staff are taking strides to eliminate any sort of negative perception that had become attached to the organization under the Regier’s regime. That may serve as the most important aspect of this decision.
Not only is LaFontaine a familiar face and Sabres legend, he has no connection to Regier’s management team. In fact, there are indications that LaFointaine (and Nolan to an extent) wouldn’t have returned has Regier stuck around. So clearly there was some disconnect between how Regier operated and how it was embraced league-wide. With LaFontaine clearly separated from that modus operandi, there should be some positive results when recruiting a new general manager, coach and perhaps even free agents.
That’s not to say that hiring LaFontaine will magically make every free agent want to play in Buffalo, but I have to think it will give them more confidence than they may have had in a GM who held his post for nearly two decades.
The long term results of this hiring won’t even begin to bear results for some time. But the time for a drastic change at the top of the Sabres hockey department seemed to be long overdue. Today marked a big first step forward with the next step hopefully to come soon in the form of a new GM.
Now that I’ve taken a look at the forwards who I expect to make the US Olympic team for the 2014 Olympics, let’s take a look at the group of players who will be keeping the puck out of the net.
I feel like there is going to be a ton of turnover between 2010 and 2014 on the blueline. A boatload of young Americans have come up through the ranks and are ready to take on a major role in Sochi. Gone will be guys like Tim Gleason and Ryan Whitney to be replaced by young stars who will move well on the big surface:
Ryan Suter (A) Ryan McDonagh Brooks Orpik
Keith Yandle Kevin Shattenkirk John Carlson
Ryan Suter returns to my roster with an increased leadership role from 2010. He was a minute hog in Vancouver and certainly will be again in Sochi. Pairing him with Ryan McDonagh is a no brainer for me. McDonagh might just be the best defenseman of this group and should only get better with another year under his belt. This will be the shutdown pairing for the United States.
Brooks Orpik happens to be one guy who I’m on the fence on. He’s a guy I love to watch and a player who holds a lot of value in my opinion. I also think that he’s a quality defender who won’t get caught in the wash on the big ice. However, I could see his footspeed as an issue to the decision makers.
Regardless, Orpik and Keith Yandle make up my mixed second pairing. Yandle, a straight-ahead puck mover should be complimented well by Orpik’s steady, stay-at-home style quite well. Unlike my top pair who has the ability to contribute at both ends, this is a pairing which will need to feed off each other to be successful.
Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson make up my final pairing of quality two-way defenders. Shattenkirk is more of an offensive threat but Carlson has an all-around game that is perfect for the short Olympic tournament. He also happens to be a seasoned international participant (remember his WJC triumph?) which helps his resume.
Paul Martin is penciled is as defenseman number seven for now as he has really rounded back into form these past few years. I think he has the mobility to be effective on the big ice and will bring a very nice presence to the roster because of that.
In net the Americans are stacked. Vezinas, playoff veterans and a Conn Smythe dot resumes of American keepers that will be eligible for a spot. How Dan Bylsma plans to sort this out is anyone’s guess, but I have a good feeling about the guys I take.
You’re probably wondering why I have Howard over Quick. I just feel that Quick is better suited to play the type of teams the US will be seeing on a big surface. Quick is such an aggressive goaltender that I worry his tendencies will be exploited while playing on an Olympic surface.
Howard plays a slightly more measured game which seems to have less of an opportunity to be hurt by rebound or back-door opportunities. That isn’t to say that Quick isn’t deserving of the starting job, but I just have a sneaking suspicion that Howard may fare better on the big ice (he’s also seen a couple World Championships).
Ryan Miller makes my roster on the darkhorse ticket. His numbers have fallen off but he’s played his best hockey in Olympic years. I have little doubt that this trend will continue in the 13-14 season and he may even steal the starting job again if he has a stellar opening to the year as he did in 2010.
As for the watchlist on the backend, here’s a few names to keep an eye on:
Cam Fowler – A young prospect who could certainly steal a spot if he catches fire this season. I doubt that he’s a primary target but I wouldn’t doubt if his play merits consideration.
Jake Gardiner – Same boat as Fowler in many respects. He’s a great puck mover who might garner attention with a strong start to the season.
Justin Faulk – If the United States management team is looking for an offensive x-factor, Faulk will be it. Paul Martin is a nice two-way player as the seventh defenseman but Faulk could certainly make the team as a power play specialist defenseman.
As round two begins I’d like to offer my prognosticating skills up to you all once again for the four series that will set the stage for the Conference Finals. After missing only two series in the first round (ignore that I lost both of my Cup predicted teams) I fully expect to go 0-for-4 with my second round predictions.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators
The Penguins sudden issues in goal have made them quite vulnerable. Their six-game triumph over the Islanders only lasted that long thanks to the stumbling play of Marc-Andre Fleury. While Tomas Vokoun provided enough stability to close out the series, he can’t be instill all that much confidence in Penguins fans.
Ottawa rolls in off a five game drubbing of the Canadiens in which they received brilliant goaltending and timely scoring from all over their lineup. They face a scary, deep, talented Penguins team which creates matchup nightmares on both sides of the puck. I don’t expect the Alfredsson line to be nearly as effective as they were against Montreal, nor do I expect the Senators to be able to effectively shutdown Pittsburgh’s scorers. However, Craig Anderson provides a decided advantage in net. Penguins in 6
Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers
Fresh off a pair of grueling six-game series, both of these teams will be fighting some major fatigue in the second round. One interesting thing to watch will be the durability of each team’s top defensemen. Zdeno Chara was run well over 60 minutes over the past two games out of necessity while the Rangers trot Dan Girardi (and Ryan McDonagh) out for a million minutes by choice.
This series will be all about who is conditioned better and who is capable of surviving beyond another physically grueling series. Goaltending will play a major role here and I like Henrik Lundqvist better than Tuukka Rask. However, I think the Bruins have more firepower than the Rangers and that might just give them the edge. Bruins in 7
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
The second Original Six showdown of the second round pits a pair of heated rivals against one another. This is a nice treat for hockey purists as the Wings will be heading east next season and severing many of their former divisional rivalries.
To be Frank, the Blackhawks are nearly impossible to matchup against and they’ve been getting steady goaltending along the way. While the Wings have been riding a nice wave of positive momentum, the Blackhawks are a much different beast than the Ducks were. While Jimmy Howard has been sensational, I’m not sure the Wings will be able to insulate him the way they did against Anaheim. Blackhawks in 6
Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks
A nice little regional matchup that pits a perennial playoff disappointment against last year’s Cup champs. The Sharks have flown under the radar this year but have opened plenty of eyes after sweeping the Canucks. While they have plenty of question marks around them, San Jose has two solid scoring lines and have gotten great goaltending from Antti Niemi.
The Kings scrapped their way through the first round and will need to find some more offense if they hope to get back to the Conference Finals. Jonathan Quick has been stellar yet again and Los Angeles did a great job stifling the Blues. I wonder how they’ll deal with an impressive offensive lineup like the Sharks boast, however. Sharks in seven
Today marks the opening day of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. This begins a month-long saga that will lead to one team hoisting the Stanley Cup. While most expect the Blackhawks and Penguins to cruise through to the Cup Finals, don’t count any team out. This is the best tournament in all of sports and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of each period, game and series makes it such.
Pittsburgh vs. New York Islanders
Pittsburgh is on the top of the heap of everyone’s favorite to advance to the Cup Finals. Looking at their roster as it compares to the Islanders (specifically in this series) you can see why so many are expecting them to advance. Last year, on my personal Sabres blog (twointhebox.com), I expected the Islanders to
make the playoffs. I was one year off but I think this is an organization on the rise. However, I don’t think they’re deep enough to run with the Penguins. Simply put, the Penguins have too many horses. Pens in 5
Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
A very interesting matchup and the first of two Northeast Division showdowns. Ottawa has begun to tail off lately as I believe their injuries are beginning to catch up. This could be a very interesting series to track but I wonder if the Senators youth could bite them here. This will certainly be a battle and I do believe that Montreal will be in for a dogfight. Montreal in 6
Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers
A week ago the Rangers were staring a first round series with the Penguins square in the face. Fast forward to the start of the first round and they’re looking at the Southeast Division winner, a much more comfortable matchup. The Caps are talented but I feel that the Rangers have built the momentum they’ve been searching for and will roll through the first round series. Don’t count out Ovie & Co. but I don’t see them advancing. Rangers in 6
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto has started to skid and skid hard. I don’t think they’re as talented as their finish showed and I don’t think they will fare well in a seven-game series with the Bruins. Boston’s struggles shouldn’t be ignored but I think they will have at least one more round to work them out. Bruins in 4
Eastern Conference Champion: Montreal over Pittsburgh in seven games.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
Minnesota made the postseason by the skin of their teeth and are rewarded with the league’s best team. While the Blackhawks goaltending is the only looming question mark, I don’t think the Wild will have the depth to truly test the Blackhawks. Blackhawks in 5
Anaheim Ducks vs. Detroit Red Wings
All playoff series rely on goaltending, so it is hard to say that one will need better goaltending than another. However, if Anaheim’s tandem is off they are a very average team in net. If Hiller or Fasth are on top of their game, then it is an entirely different story. This will be a very interesting series to track. Wings in 7
Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks
It seems like these two teams are perennially meeting in the postseason. Fans in San Jose keep waiting for this franchise to take the next step but opening with the Canucks probably isn’t the way to do it. The Canucks are deep and talented. I think the Sharks are preparing to retool in some areas of their roster and may make a quick exit. Canucks in 5
Los Angeles Kings vs. St. Louis Blues
The Kings swept the Blues last year when Brian Elliott fell apart in the second round. I like the Blues – and as a Sabres fan I’d like the pick in the Leopold trade to be a fourth – but I wonder if they can hold up this year now that they’ve shored up their depth in many areas. At the end of the day this is the defending champs and I think that gets the job done in this room. Kings in 7
Western Conference Champion: Vancouver over Chicago in seven games
Stanley Cup Champion: Vancouver over Montreal in six games