Archive for November 2011

The playoffs are ready to roll

The playoffs are now here, and for sixteen teams, it's a chance to show they are the elite force in the WCHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins will try to do what only one other team has ever done; repeat as cup champions, but it won't be easy. The sixteen team field features seven teams which at one point have won the WCHL Cup, including the past four winners and the mighty San Jose Sharks, who have won four WCHL Cups in their history.
But to get to hoist the cup, the first step is getting out of the first round alive. Many teams have been upset in the opening round of the playoffs, while many a cinderella team showed their true colors right about now.
Who will win and live on, and who will fade out early? Read on to see my predictions for the first round of the 13th WCHL playoffs.
Western Conference
(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (8) Dallas Stars
The Sharks have long been the class of the WCHL, and their four cup rings shows that. They look to be back there again, as the club topped the WCHL standings again this year with a 132 point season. The Sharks have been streaky. however, twice posting winning streaks of 15 games or more. Take away those winning streaks and the clubs record is 33-14-2; still impressive but not unbeatable. The Sharks just ended a 17 game winning streak, so it's possible they are on the downswing now, perfect timing for the Stars.

The Stars will be motivated to go out in style as well. Entering their first playoff in a while without Roberto Luongo between the pipes, the Stars will also be witnessing the swan song of long-time Star Mike Modano, who announced he will be retiring after the season is over. Alexander Ovechkin meanwhile will also be out to prove something after a regular season that saw him post just 69 points.
It will be a much closer series than the Sharks want, but they will be hard to stop right now. The Stars won't fade out into the night, but midnight will strike pretty quickly for this cinderella candidate.
Regular season: Series tied 1-1, San Jose outscored Dallas 7-3.
Prediction: San Jose in six games
(2) Calgary Flames vs. (7) Anaheim Ducks
If there is an upset potential in the West Conference, this series is it. The Ducks this season what they did last year; struggle for the first 50-plus games of the regular season, only to turn it on down the stretch and enter the playoffs hot. The Ducks were 15-6-1 down the stretch and have far to much talent to be a run of the mill depth playoff squad. Like last season, when the Ducks came into the playoffs hot and bestest the Sharks in the first round, the Ducks will be looking to do the same to a Flames squad which has been very solid all year long.

In Calgary though, expectations are much higher. After winning it all in Season 11, the Flames bottomed out in Season 12, coming in as the fifth seed and being bounced far to easily by the Detroit Red Wings in five games in the first round. This team, loaded with arguably the most depth of any team in the league and 101 point scorer Steven Stamkos, is looking for a much better post-season than last year.
Despite the Flames depth, the Ducks have the defense and goaltending to get it done this year. If Broduer can steal a game, the Ducks likely will have enough to push the Flames over the brink.
Regular season: Series Calgary won both games, outscoring Anaheim 12-6.
Prediction: Anaheim in seven games.
(3) Colorado Avalanche vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks
If the Colorado Avalanche players enjoy playing together, they want to win a cup this year.
The Avalanche are likely the hardest-luck team in the Western Conference, having not made the finals in WCHL history despite having some of the best teams in the regular season most years. This season is no different, as the club posted a 54 win season and 116 points, but all of that matters little as the playoffs are now here.
Craig Anderson Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Chicago Blackhawks misses his shot in the eighth round of the overtime shootout against goalie Craig Anderson #41 of the Colorado Avalanche during NHL action at the Pepsi Center on November 6, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 4-3 in an overtime shootout.
The Chicago Blackhawks meanwhile have always been the team that hangs around; sometims getting into the playoffs and other years missing out. In or out, the Hawks have rarely made much noise in the post-season, but they have the ability to do so this year. Star netminder tim Thomas is looking to guide the team to a cup, just like he did with th Flames two years earlier.
It will be a good effort from Thomas, who always brings his A-game, but the Avalanche just have to much for one player to manage.
Regular season: 1-1-1 with the Avanlanche winning one game in a shootout. Colorado outscored Chicago 10-9.
Prediction: Colorado in five games.
(4) Edmonton Oilers vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings
The Oilers were one of the biggest surprises of Season 13, rocketing back from a dismal season last year to post 106 points this year and earn home ice in the opening round. Rookie GM Keith Foster and netminder Tomas Vokoun have led the Oilers rebirth, and will be seeking to advance the oilers to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in WCHL history.

The Red Wings though know all about surprises, having rocked the WCHL world last year. After knocking off the defending cup champions in the first round last season, the Red Wings went on to beat the Avalanche and Stars before finally losing in seven games in the WCHL finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Having come one win away from WCHl glory last year should serve as motivation for the Wings this year.
Two GM's who obviously know how to get the most out of a line up which features more grit than talent should be an entertaining series. The Wings experience could be the winning factor, however.
Regular season: Detroit won the series 3-1, outscoring the Oilers 18-10.
Prediction: Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
Eastern Conference
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) New Jersey Devils
After a so-so first half by their standards, the Rangers absolutely destroyed the opposition in the second half of the season, going 32-5-3 in the final 40 games. After a second round defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers last year, the Rangers are ready to step up and prove they are the force of the Eastern Conference.

The Devils on the other hand are just glad to be in the playoffs, having secured their berth on their final game of the season. They are hardly entering on a hot strecth though, having gone 6-6-1 in 13 games after a six game winning streak. Now the club has to work on beating the Rangers who only lost 21 games all year. Hardly an easy task.
This series will likely be the closest to a sweep that will happen in the playoffs this year, unless the Devils have some of their old playoff magic stuck away someplace.
Regular season: New York rangers won both games, outscoring the Devils 9-5.
Prediction: New York Rangers in five games.
(2) Atlanta Thrashers vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers
The Thrashers, with rumours of their departure swirling around they, may be the second seed in the eastern conference, but only due to winning a very week conference. Their 97 points would have placed them sixth otherwise, just five points ahead of the Flyers, making this series much closer then the seeding would appear.

If there is a motivated team for playoff success, it should be the Flyers. After missing out on a cup finals berth by one win last year, the Flyers looked lost at times this year, and had to get a bit hot down the strecth to even make the playoffs. Clinching their playoff berth on the final game of the season, the Flyers lucked out potentially in lining up with the Thrashers and still have the horses to pull their team that led them to the third round last year.
Both teams have looked unmotivate this year, so whichever one finally shows they have a pulse is likely to be the winner of this matchup.
Regular season: Atlanta won all three games, winning two in a shootout. Atlanta outscored Philadelphia 14-10
Prediction: Philadelphia in six games.
(3) Pittsburgh penguins vs. (6) Montreal Canadians
After years of playoff disappointments, the Penguins finally came into their own last year, winning their first WCHL Cup. Now tasked with repeating the feat, the odds are stacked against them and they will try to do better than last years defending champions, Calgary Flames. The Flames won just one game in the series, losing in five games.
Marc-Andre Fleury Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save on a shot by Travis Moen #32 of the Montreal Canadiens on November 25, 2009 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Habs have to best the best in this series, and the Penguins are the best. After a great start, the Canadians have really settled down and will need to ramp up their efforts in a hurry or this series will be a blow out quickly. Montreal will have the benefit of the playoff hangover from Pittsburgh, but it will take more than that to beat the Penguins.
This series will be closer than it should be on paper, but it will be hard for Montreal to keep Pittsburgh from advancing to the second round.
Regular season: 1-1, with Pittsburgh outscoring Montreal 10-8.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in six games.
(4) New York Islanders vs. (5) Boston Bruins
There is little to seperate the Islanders and Bruins, who each posted 107 points and 40 regular season wins. The islanders though did it after a season last year that ranks as one of the most disappointing in league history. Despite having nearly the exact same team, the Islanders finished as one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, so they have a lot of motivation this year.

In Boston, they have nearly no identity, having gone through three General Managers this year. After long-time GM Cole Wilkinson stepped down, Pat Blais was around long enough to have a cup of coffee before also stepping down. Now Roman Chrencik is in place, and is still introducing himself to his players. Talk about having to hit the ground running.
How fast Chrencik and his players can get on the same page will likely determine who will take this series.
Regular season: 1-1 with the Bruins outscoring the Islanders 4-3.
Prediction: Boston in seven games.

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Three's company

                             Who stays and who goes?


With one game left on each of their schedule's, the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are engaging in a winner takes all of epic proportions.
"We can't fail; we mustn't fail," said Sabres General Manager Jordan Snyder, hammering his fist down on his desk after suffering a 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
All three teams were in the post-season dance last year, with Buffalo and Philadelphia actually playing each other in the first round. While Buffalo succumbed to the Flyers and the Devils were also ousted in the first round, the Flyers actually made their deepest playoff push to date, advancing to the third round before finally bowing out to the eventual cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven hard-fought games.
Expectations were as high as Cheech and Chong in Philadelphia as a result. But one year later, the club may need help just getting into the playoffs.
"This is a big, stinky pile of fermented hog $h!t," Flyer GM Doug VanStrepen sounded off when questioned Friday morning. "But we still control our own destiny and if we get in, anything can happen."
Indeed, the Flyers are in the driver's seat between the three clubs. Sitting with 90 points, if the Flyers win, they are in; it's that simple for them. They can also suffer a loss and get in, as long as that loss is in overtime or the shootout. The Devils, who are one point back, will also be in if they win their final game. Buffalo, who has 88 points, will make the playoffs if they win and New Jersey loses or if Philadelphia loses in regulation.
Philadelphia also gets in if New Jersey loses in regulation or if Buffalo loses in any manner. If Buffalo wins, New Jersey gets a point and Philadelphia fails to get a point, the Flyers will miss the post-season.
Confused yet? The GM's are.
"So we get in how?" questioned Devils GM Trevor O'Neill. "I really wish we hadn't lost to Tampa Bay three times this year, I'm not good at math and this is starting to give me a headache."
New Jersey started out hot, going 8-2 to start the season, but losses in six of their next seven brought them back to earth. Since then, their season has been filled with more streaks than a mid-70's prom night.
"If consistency was the key, we'd be locked out of our home by now," said centre Vincent Lecavalier, who is pointless in 15 straight games.
The playoff chase caused at least one major deal, as the Flyers sent long-time Flyer Henrik Zetterberg packing to conference rival Montreal Canadians in a deal which netted the Flyers Clarke MacArthur and Matt Bradley. The deal hasn't boosted the Flyers much, if any.
New Jersey wraps up their season tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus. While Columbus isn't a playoff team, don't expect this to be an easy one for the Devils. New Jersey is 1-1 against Columbus this year, and is a paltry 17-21-2 on the road this year.
Tomorrow night is the final game of the season, and nothing officially will be decided for the Flyers and Sabres until then. While a Devils win over Columbus assures them of a playoff berth, a Flyers regulation loss tomorrow coupled with a Sabres win puts the Sabres in the playoffs. Anything other scenario puts the Flyers in the post-season.
Philadelphia is taking on the New York Islanders, who have rebounded after a brutal season last year. The Flyers, who are 14-5-1 in their last 20 games, are at home where they have gone 24-15-1 this season. The Flyers are just 1-3 against the Islanders this season, but their lone win came at home. The Sabres meanwhile are in Anaheim to take on the Ducks, who have had another last season resurgence. Buffalo is 17-18-5 on the road, but they won their only other encounter with the Ducks at the mid-way point of the season, besting Anaheim 7-5 in a shootout in Anaheim. Anaheim is 24-14-5 since that defeat, however, including 20-9-4 in their last 33 games.
How will all play out though is anyone's guess, as this game isn't played on paper. By tomorrow night, everyone will finally know who is in and who is out in the Eastern Conference.

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Relocation looming? Jets soar once more?

Could the Atlanta Thrashers be moving to Winnipeg?

While league sources have been tight-lipped, there are rumours the WCHL has come to terms with a group of investors to help salvage the struggling Atlanta Thrashers franchise.
Citing a source close to the negotiations, the league is expected to announce the Thrashers will be moving from their southern home to another city. While several options were being considered, such as Las Vegas, Quebec, Kansas City and the Portland, Oregon area, as well as possibly even adding another team in New York or Chicago, it appears the WCHL is returning to Winnipeg.
The source declined to be identified as the deal has not been finalized and as such has not been confirmed.
Trent Allen, WCHL Commissioner, declined to speculate on the rumour, but did confirm Atlanta has proven to be a hard sell.
"I mean come on. This is the second time around in Atlanta. you guys f*%&ed it up the first time, b!*$%ed and moaned until the lague came back, and still don't show up? We have about 14,000 towns across Canada that could draw more fans than Atlanta, so for a rumour like this to come out is not surprising," Allen ranted.
While Atlanta team officials originally were claiming incredible numbers through the gates -estimating 20,405 fans per game this season, or nearly 95 per cent capacity- that estimate was shot down last week by a member of the Thrashers front office.
"We made that up," said Phil McGroin, Director of Marketing for the Atlanta Thrashers. "A lot of those were give away nights. We even dropped tickets from a Good Year blimp once, and another game was attended by inmates from Folsom Prison on a sort of day parole thing. Even then, we had to tell them Johnny Cash was coming or they would have rather stayed in their cells. They've been in Folsom so long, they didn't know he had died."
Tits McGee, the WCHL Ice Girls Management Team Co-ordinator, said it's likely a good thing the team is slated to move.

Did you know this is a man?
"You ever see women from Atlanta? It's hard enough to get three girls that aren't so badly inbred they can't skate. I think from this years girls team of 14 skaters, we have eight that can't even spell hockey. Five girls' had such bad gingivitis we had to pay them in teeth," said McGee, who later refused to confirm or deny that three members of the Thrashers Ice Girls team were in fact really skinny men who liked to wear their mom's make up.

It'll be a big deal if the Jets return to Winnipeg
Allen said a further update would be made on the Thrashers franchise at a better time, so as not to take away from the appeal of the playoff push and the WCHL trade deadline.
"It's an exciting time of year, lets keep it that way," Allen said.
Allen didn't shy away from labelling Winnipeg as a viable market for the WCHL to return.
"I wasn't the A-hole who helped move the Jets to a f^&*ing desert, so you won't catch me saying some bull$h!t about how the league was different back then like that Bettman guy," sad Allen. "The WCHL should never have left here. Winnipeg is awesome. they love hockey, and more importantly they get hockey. They know when to cheer and when not to cheer. They started the whiteout which has since gone around the world as a hockey symbol. This place went ape$h!t for hockey once before, it will again," attested Allen.
According to the inside source, the league won't simply move Atlanta to Winnipeg, but rather a third team could be involved. The source was unclear on how that other team would be implicated in the transition if one does happen, however.

"Us leave? That's unpossible," said Thrashers diet guru Dustin Byfuglien.

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Caps hire new GM; Thrashers post now open


The GM carousel continues to spin in the WCHL. Just days after filling the Washington Capitals front desk, the WCHL once again finds itself with five teams open as Braydn Ericckson stepped down from his position with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"It was disappointing to see Braydn go, especially after a great regular season last year, but he choose to move on," stated WCHL Commissioner Trent Allen. "It's a sad day."
But the positive was the fact the Capitals have a new front man, as Steven Bruce was introduced as the newest GM for Washington.
"We're excited to have Bruce here," said Allen, noting Bruce prefers to be referred to by his last name. "We look forward to seeing him work with a team that has a lot of intriguing parts which could be a good team if molded properly."
The Capitals are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, but still sit with a record of just 29-37-6, leaving them 14 points out of a playoff position. As such, there are plenty of names on the trade block.
While the club is expected to try and shed some veteran players like Todd Bertuzzi, rumours persist that younger forwards such as Brandon Dubinsky and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are also available to be had for the right price.
Bruce would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
"We are looking to make moves that nenefit our hockey team first and foremost," said Bruce. "If we can do that, we'll look at making the move, regardless of who it involves."

Could Brandon Dubinsky be New York bound? Rumours have it the Capitals would like to move the young power forward, who has long cited a love for the New York Rangers.

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