Archive for 2013

Saturday Night Special

Flames burn up Penguins

It was a gritty affair between the Flames and Penguins
Calgary Flames (7) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (5)......
The Flames came into Pittsburgh, losers of two of their first three games of the season, most recently a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the LA Kings. Calgary came out firing, scoring twice in a span of 1:53, both goals by Dustin Byfuglien, his 2nd and 3rd of this young season. Patrick Marleau (2nd) scored just four seconds later to cut the lead to one. Later in the period with the score at 3-1 Calgary, the Penguins would strike three straight times to close the first on goals by Patrick Kane (3rd) and the ageless Teemu Selanne (1st,2nd) putting Pittsburgh up by one with just over a minute and a half remaining.
Patrick Marleau scored his second of the game (3rd) just thirty-six seconds in to put the Pens up by two on a gorgeous cross-crease pass by Patrick Kane. Now it was the Flames turn to score two to close a period as this two squads traded offensive attacks, goals by Andrew Ference (2nd) and Travis Hamonic (1st) five minutes apart would pull the Flame even with Pittsburgh.
Calgary's Jamie Benn (2nd) would score on a back-hand shot assisted by Byfuglien (Dustin's 4th point of the night) at 7:14 of the third to take a one goal lead. The Pens tried to get the equalizer and pulled out all the stops as they yanked goalie Daniel Larsson for the extra attacker, it however back-fired as Adam Hall whalloped Kevin Shattenkirk with an open ice hit and Flames Matt Greene picked up the loose puck and fed it up to a streaking Mike Richards who was on a two on one with young Sean Couturier, Richards dropped the puck back for Couturier and he put it in the gapping six by four for the insurance marker with just forty seconds remaining.
Rookie tender Daniel Larsson was seeing his first action of the season and stopped 24 of 30 Flames shots. Cam Ward would make 28 saves for his second win of the season.
1 - Andrew Ference (Cal)..... 2 goals, +1, 2 shots, 4 hits.
2 - Dustin Byfuglien (Cal).... 2 goals, 2 assists, 5 shots
3 - Patrick Marleau (Pit)...... 2 goals, 5 shots, 24:58 TOI
Steven Stamkos (Cal)..... 4 assists, 4 shots.
Pittsburgh's top defensive unit of Dan Hamhuis and Jack Johnson who went -4 on the night.

The Penguins will hope to get back on track as they host the Dallas Stars in their next game, which on paper would look like a sure win for the Pens, but if we've learned anything in the WCHL, there are no sure things. Dallas is 0-4 to start the season and will be looking for any spark to rekindle their drive to get back in the win column. David Clarkson leads the struggling Stars with nine points in four games.
Calgary is right back at it Sunday night as they are home to host the Wild of Minnesota. The Wild won their only other road game, their season 18 opener versus the Winnipeg Jets 4-2. The Wild are led by center Tyler Bozak who has four gaols and nine points in four games.

Reporting for the WCHL Network this has been........
Peter Puck

Happy New Years from the WCHL reporters office and until next weekend," Keep your head up and your stick on the ice."

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Saturday Night Special

Avs dump Rangers in high scoring affair

The Avalanche celebrate one of their eight goals on the night.
Colorado Avalanche (8) vs New York Rangers (5).........
David Krejci scored a natural hat trick for the Avs as they embarrassed the Season 17 Eastern Conference Champs by the tune of 8-5, thanks in large part to a six goal first.
The Rangers got on the board first with a shorthanded goal just 1:11 into the game on a goal by Gabriel Landeskog (2nd of season). Then cue the Krejci show, as he scored his first three of the season in just over one minute (1:02), his third on the powerplay as Dennis Seidenberg was serving a major misconduct penalty for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who was subsequently ejected from the game (apparently video of Lundqvist throwing his goal stick in the vicinity of referee Dan O'Haloran was seized by WCHL Office officials.) . It was not known at press time if the ejection would carry any further suspension. The six goals in the first by Colorado was scored in a span of 9:05. The Rangers closed out the scoring in the wild first with two goals in sixteen seconds, first Shane Doan (2nd) and then Tomas Fleischmann (1st).
Fleischmann would score the lone goal in the second with the extra skater with the Avs hat trick man serving a slashing minor. The Avs outshot the Rangers 20-17 through two periods of play.
Colorado would widen their lead to four goals in the third on consecutive goals by Filip Kuba (1st) and Max Pacioretty (3rd). Kimmo Timonen got one back for New York with just seven seconds remaining in the game, his goal was another shorty for the Rangers.
Craig Anderson stopped 24 of 29 for his second straight win while Leland Irving made 25 saves on 31 shots in relief of Lundqvist.
The Games 3 Stars:
1. David Krejci (Col).......... 3 goals, 2 assists, +2, 5 shots
2. Martin St. Louis (Col).... 1 goal, 3 assists, +2, 4 shots
3 - Filip Kuba (Col)............ 1 goal, 2 assists, +1, 2 shots
Honorable Mention:
Kimmo Timonen (NYR)...... 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 shots
Game's Goat:
Josh Bailey (NYR)...... 0 pts, -4, 2 PIM

The Rangers will hope to get back on track as they visit Landover Maryland to face the Capitals on Monday night, which is the last game before the Christmas break. Washington has yet to lose in regulation and are 1-0-1, they are led by Mike Ribeiro (2-4-6), while Mike Smith has both of Washington's wins thus far in the season.
Colorado will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Toronto is 2-0 and Rich Peverley is the leading scorer (1-5-6) while Jonas Hiller is unbeaten in both his first two starts.

Reporting for The WCHL Network this has been.......
Peter Puck

The Offices of The WCHL Network and all of their employees and families would like to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas.
Until next week, "Keep your stick on the ice."

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A year to look forward to

Season 18: A look from Lawson
Calgary Flames General Manager Lawson Cham has done an extensive look at all 30 WCHL teams and is set to determine who is -and who isn't- a likely playoff candidate for Season 18 of the Western Canadian Hockey League.

Who will come out on top of the pile this season? Time will tell, but Lawson Cham has his opinions.

Season 18 is here. After Logan Couture's over-time goal against the New York Rangers in game 7 of Season 17's WCHL Cup finals, a flurry of off-season activity, and a handful of meaningless pre-season games, we are finally here. Who will win it all this year? Will Anaheim repeat, or will the Rangers continue their quest in earning 'dynasty' status and win for the 3rd time in 4 years? Here's the Season 18 preview:


Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 127 points (1st)

Key additions: Jake Gardiner, Marty Reasoner
Key losses: Milan Lucic

A rival scout's take:

The reigning champion is the team that everyone will be gunning for. The Season 18 Ducks look almost identical to the Season 17 Ducks, so what's not to love? They had to deal Lucic due to cap reasons, but got a more than generous return for him. Top to bottom though, they're still one of the deepest teams in the league. It's very tough to find a single weakest on the entire team. They play offense, they play defense, and they'll hit when they need to hit, and Tuukka Rask is quietly establishing himself as one of the premier goalies in the league. It'll be interesting though to see what they do with Mikkel Boedker, can't imagine he'd be all that happy with being kept on the farm for another season. 



 Can the Ducks repeat? Lately, it hasn't been much of a challenge to win back-to-back titles in the WCHL.

New York Rangers

Last season: 119 points (4th)
Key additions: Mike Santorelli, Steve Sullivan, Sami Salo
Key losses: Carl Gunnarsson, Colin White

A rival scout's take:

They're very clearly built from the back-end out. Lundqvist is easily the best goalie in the league this season and that defense is going to make it tough for opposing teams to even direct shots on net. Cam Fowler will have a big bounce-back season, you heard it hear first. They can't really score as a team, which was also a slight knock on them last year, but with that back-end, they just need to score enough to win 1-0, 2-1, 3-2. They have to ask themselves if that's sustainable though, because if Lundqvist gets hurt (he's super-human, so he probably won't), they go from being an elite team to an above average team.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 124 points (2nd)

Key additions: none
Key losses: none

A rival scout's take:

Crosby-Kane-Marleau is just unfair. I would actually rate their offense a tick above Anaheim's, but give Anaheim the edge on D. The Pens will score a ton; I expect them to lead the league in goals scored. If they get any sort of goaltending from Fleury, they'll cruise through the regular season like they usually do. The playoffs is a different animal though so they'll need to find a way to score on Lundqvist. If I were Voynov, I'd be pretty pissed. They just signed him for $4+ million and it looks like he'll start on the farm. Looks like vodka sales will see a huge spike in Wilkes-Barre.

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 98 points (10th)

Key additions: Dustin Penner, Martin St. Louis, Marian Hossa
Key losses: Paul Gaustad, Zack Smith, Blake Comeau, Troy Brouwer, Ilya Bryzgalov

A rival scout's take:

They stole St. Louis and Hossa from Chicago and signed one of the most under-rated forwards in UFA in Dustin Penner, further strengthening that offense. They're right up there with Anaheim and Pittsburgh as one of the best offenses in the league, but the difference between Colorado and the other 2 is that Colorado, at least in my opinion, is lacking a sniper. I don't think Hossa will score as often as they'd like him to. Pacioretty is good, but he's still transforming into a star, maybe this will be the year that he scores 30-40. They had a bit of an off-year last year finishing 6th in the West, but I expect them to finish as one of the top 2 seeds in the West, if not winning it. I have no idea how they did it but Filip Kuba looks reenergized


Calgary Flames

Last season: 94 points (13th)

Key additions: Brad Richardson, Scottie Upshall, Daniel Alfredsson, Matt Greene, Josh Harding
Key losses: Kris Versteeg, Ryan Whitney Nate Thompson, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin Biron

A rival scout's take:

They've added quite a bit to the backend. Claude Julien is known for his defensive-minded systems, so this summer they went out and got Matt Greene, which is I think a very underrated pickup for them. Up front, they've improved a little bit. Alfredsson was a good pickup, as were some of the other veteran depth guys. The biggest question mark is in goal. Can Cam Ward do it? He's still very good, but he's no longer viewed as an elite goalie and he looks unmotivated at times. Seeing them go out and pick up Harding can be read in two ways: they either want to bring in a veteran goalie to challenge Ward, or they see Harding as the guy to take over if Ward were to falter this season.

New York Islanders

Last season: 87 points (19th)

Key additions: none
Key losses: Corey Perry

A rival scout's take:

They were awful last year and they subtracted Corey Perry. Why should Isles fans be optimistic? Because they have the best group of 2-way defensemen I have ever seen. They're still very strong up front and Carey Price will be better this year. They're definitely a force to be reckoned with even in the East, but their depth is a huge concern. They're so tight against the cap that they can't afford to ice anybody for their bottom 6. This means their top-6 will be worked super-heavily, or opposing teams will essentially be playing an AHL team every time their 3rd and 4th lines roll out.
It's about time the Islanders show some grit and determination to go along with their skill and finesse. Dealing Corey Perry likely wasn't a good start.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 99 points (9th)
Key additions: Jonas Hiller, Zack Smith, Vinny Prospal, Tomas Vanek, Jan Hejda, Paul Martin, Andrei Markov, Mark Stuart, Dan Ellis, Jerred Smithson
Key losses: Ondrej Pavelec, Andrew Cogliano, Jarome Iginla, Gabriel Bourque, Benoit Pouliot, Mikael Samuelsson, Jay Harrison

A rival scout's take:

They made a name for themselves this off-season due to their outspoken GM who was by far the busiest in the league. Half the team and their mothers got traded, but the new look Leafs are definitely stronger (at least on paper) than they were last year. A lot of people will point to Hiller and say that was their best move, but for me, they over-paid for a slight upgrade over what they already had, which is a 1A goalie. You can make the argument that Hiller is better than Pavelec, and he certainly is as of right now, but can you honestly say that Pavelec was what was separating them from being in the group above? If they are successful this year, it'll be largely due to the pickups of Jan Hejda, Paul Martin, Vinny Prospal and Tomas Vanek. 4 professional, veteran guys who won't let the fact that their GM is the Rob Ford of the WCHL affect the team's play. I had Martin on my list as the best available UFA defenseman, and Vanek gives them someone to play alongside Mikko Koivu and Chris Kunitz. The Leafs have improved significantly, they'll be one of the more interesting teams to watch this season.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 98 points (11th)
Key additions: none
Key losses: Scott Hartnell

The Flyers have been, and remain the grittiest, hardest hitting team in the league. Between Corey Crawford, one of the best defense corps in the league, and their savvy group of two-way forwards, they'll grind the shit out of your team for 60 minutes. They play a similar style to the Rangers, but like New York, their biggest question mark is where will the secondary scoring come from. That's the piece that's separating them and the top 4 teams on this list in my opinion.

Nashville Predators

Last season: 123 points (3rd)
Key additions: Mikael Backlund, Sheldon Souray, Hal Gill
Key losses: Vinny Prospal, Daniel Alfredsson, Jordie Benn

A rival scout's take:
They shocked everybody last season by outperforming the fuck out of expectations and emerged as a cup contender. I don't expect them to come close to last season, but they proved me wrong last year. On a side note, halfway through last season, I got a message from their dirtbag GM Marco Castillo asking me if his team's strong play was real. I guess he didn't either. This season, they should still make the playoffs, but Jonathan Quick hasn't looked as 'quick' (pun intended) as he did in prior years, and he was a big reason for their success last year. I like the Gill and Souray pickups for them, good veteran guys who are responsible in their own end. They 'll see a decrease in secondary scoring without Alfredsson and Prospal, but if they get a full season of Gaborik, it should off-set some of that; and that's a big 'if'.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 102 points (7th)
Key additions: Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla, Luca Sbisa, Raphael Diaz
Key losses: Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, Jay Bouwmeester, Kris Russell

A rival scout's take:
They've very deep up front, and very thin on defense. It was puzzling why they dealt Bouwmeester, because now they're left with Erik Johnson and Cody Franson as their top pairing. There are bottom-feeder teams with a better group of defensemen than Carolina has. Aside from their strong group of forwards, they also have one of the best (rated) goalie in the league in Jimmy Howard. On top of that, they play in the weakest division in the league, so they're almost guaranteed a playoff spot unless Mad Mike trades half the team away for Jon Matsumoto.


Washington Capitals

Last season: 95 points (12th)
Key additions: Brent Burns, Francis Bouillon, Mike Komisarek, Kris Russell
Key losses: Vincent Lecavalier, Mike Weaver, Nick Schultz, Dan Ellis, Jake Gardiner

A rival scout's take:
'Will Acton-gate' is one of the strangest controversies surrounding one of the most irrelevant players, and overshadowed what was an interesting off-season for the Caps. Brent Burns was a good pickup, and it'll be interesting to see where he lines up to start the season. My guess is as a 2nd line right-winger because they have a lot of depth on defense. They're a very well rounded team, but there isn't an area that they excel in. Mike Smith has a new contract, and they'll need him to be near mistake-free because the Eastern conference has so many great teams. If they were in the West, I'd immediately rank them 2 seeds higher.
Can Washington go from a playoff team to a cup contender?

San Jose Sharks

Last season: 107 points (5th)

Key additions: Alex Steen, Gabriel Bourque
Key losses: Eric Staal, Matt Frattin, Nikolai Kulemin, Andrei Markov

A rival scout's take:
And now the team that's been hurt the most by the salary cap. The Sharks had to off-load Eric Staal and Nikolai Kulemin in trades because of their lack of cap space. This is on top of already losing Markov because they couldn't afford to bring him back. They did well getting Steen, an emerging all-star back. They're no longer the Sharks of the past, but they still have Toews, Chara, and Rinne, three of the hardest competitors in the league. They have to hope Seguin and Skinner step up and break-out if they want to have a shot at winning the cup.

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 92 points (14th)
Key additions: Corey Perry, Ryan Whitney, Mark Eaton
Key losses: Ryan Malone, Paul Martin

Corey Perry was a huge addition up front. He's the franchise forward that Ottawa's never really had. They'll score more goals this year with him, but losing Paul Martin will hurt them a lot. They're now left without a true shut-down guy who'll give them the tough minutes. I know they shopped around for a defenseman in the off-season, but Ryan Whitney was the best they could do. I think they need to upgrade on defense if they want to keep up with the Pittsburghs and the Carolinas because while Ottawa's offense is good, they won't be able to outscore those teams. Corey Schneider has looked dynamic though in the pre-season, but how many saves will he need to make a night to win?

Edmonton Oilers

Last season: 101 points (8th)

Key additions: Dan Cleary, Mike Weaver, Ilya Bryzgalov
Key losses: David Jones, Ron Hainsey, Tomas Vokoun

A rival scout's take:
The Oilers also outperformed expectations last season, finishing 8th in the WCHL and advancing to the Western finals before losing to the eventual champs. They're like the Washington of the West, very well-rounded team, but no one signature aspect of their game. I'm excited about Alex Chiasson, I think he'll be very good in a few years and he might even make the team to start the season. They're not a team that'll be very active in trades, so what they have right now will most likely be what they're going with throughout the season. Based on what they have right now, I don't think they're better than Anaheim, Colorado, or even Calgary .

Minnesota Wild

Last season: 105 points (6th)

Key additions: Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau, Scott Hartnell, Jay Bouwmeester
Key losses: Tuomo Ruutu, Justin Williams, Shane O'Brien

A rival scout's take:
They gave up a ton of youth to get Bouwmeester and Cogliano to try to build on a very successful last season, but I'm not sure they'll get the effect they're hoping for. Bouwmeester was a good add, and will strengthen their defense, but Cogliano is a fringe 2nd liner at best. They'll be challenged to score, even with Cogliano and Hartnell, but Antti Niemi is so good that he'll be able to steal a game or two for them, and that might be enough in the West to make them relevant.

St. Louis Blues

Last season: 92 points (15th)
Key additions: Alex Burrows, Simon Gagne
Key losses: Ryan Smyth, Francis Bouillon

A rival scout's take:
I liked what they did in the off-season. Burrows is a very defensively-responsible two-way forward who can score a little bit; a perfect match for Ales Hemsky (passer, no defense). Simon Gagne, if he can stay healthy, is still a very good playmaker, I'm surprised there wasn't more interest in him. If Kopecky, Setoguchi, and Zajac play well, I think they might surprise some people. Andrej Sekera has looked very good in the pre-season, maybe this is the season where he puts everything together.
Will there be reason to celebrate in St. Louis this season?

Los Angeles Kings

Last season: 88 points (17th)

Key additions: Brad Stuart
Key losses: Mark Fistric
A rival scout's take:
The only real change they made was adding Brad Stuart and subtracting Mark Fistric. That's a net win for sure. Malkin-Neal-Parenteau is a very underrated line, and their lineup is actually very solid, but they're tight against the cap even with Matt Carle unsigned at the moment. Bobrovsky will need to be very good again if they want to go past the first round of the playoffs. I would label them as another team that could surprise, especially if their first line connects.

Florida Panthers

Last season: 86 points (20th)
Key additions: Chris Higgins, Benoit Pouliot, Mikael Samuelsson, Ron Hainsey
Key losses: Tomas Vanek, Mark Stuart, Sergei Kostitsyn

A rival scout's take:
There are enough pieces on the Panthers to put them in the playoff race at the very least. I think they could've gotten more for Vanek, but cap flexibility is an undervalued thing in this league, so they made out probably even. Their first line of Ovechkin-Wheeler-Carter is still elite, and they picked up a few solid veterans in trades and free agency which makes a huge difference because they're deeper than they were last year. After Orpik, Hainsey, and Myers, I'm not sure about their defense. At this stage of his career, I would also label Nabokov as a question mark for this time. If he can get hot, I'd bet Florida makes the playoffs, if not, they'll finish right around where they did last season.

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 78 points (24th)
Key additions: none
Key losses:  Marco Sturm

A rival scout's take:
The Devils were surprising awful last season, finishing 24th in the league. Aside from the retirement of Marco Sturm, nothing's changed for them, so they'll be looking at the same group to propel them back to where they were just a couple of seasons ago – a playoff contender. David Perron looks like he's turned a page in the preseason. I expect him to have a very good year, especially if he can stick with Pavel Datsyuk and Ryan Callahan. Ryan Suter is arguably the best defenseman in the league today, and him and Beauchemin are capable of playing 25+ minutes a night and shut down the opposition's top line. With a little bit of goaltending from Kari Lehtonen, the Devils should be one of the WCHL's most improved teams.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 75 points (25th)

Key additions: Eric Staal, Mike Cammalleri, Matt Frattin, Justin Williams
Key losses: Alex Steen, Brent Burns, Nick Grossman, Raphael Diaz

A rival scout's take:
It's very confusing what their plan is. The start of UFA, I thought for sure they were making a run for it, but I've heard rumblings that they're thinking about blowing it up. Whether or not it's true, we'll never know because GM Trent Allen is so unpredictable. They benefited from San Jose's cap troubles and picked up Eric Staal. They gave Cammalleri and Williams identical 5 year, 25 million dollar deals and added a couple of other good bottom 6 guys. I think they can use another shutdown defenseman, but their defense is otherwise pretty solid. Their biggest question mark is in goal. James Reimer is streaky, but he has Viktor Fasth, who is a decent 1B backing him up. Whether or not that duo is good enough remains to be seen, but the talent is there for the Habs to finish in the playoffs.


Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 58 points (28th)
Key additions: Roberto Luongo, Tuomo Ruutu, Clarke MacArthur, Nick Grossman, Johnny Boychuk
Key losses: Nick Spaling, Mikka Kiprusoff, Jan Hejda

A rival scout's take:
The Sabres were the third-worst team in the league last season after being very successful in the previous few. Mikka Kiprusoff's retirement prompted them to go out and pay Luongo big bucks to sign. Maybe a change of scenery will benefit Roberto. They also committed $20 million over the next 4 years to Tuomo Ruutu, overpaid for Johnny Boychuk, and essentially gave away Nick Spaling. After all of that though, they do have enough pieces to challenge for a playoff picture. Joffrey Lupul is a very good goal-scorer and Joe Pavelski is the prototypical two-way player.  Boychuk isn't the answer on defense, but if Luongo can regain his old form, the Sabres will have a chance to make the playoffs.
The Sabres may not get a lot of love from the pundits, but fans still believe in their team.

Winnipeg Jets

Last season: 81 points (22nd)

Key additions: Martin Brodeur, Shawn Horcoff, David Jones, Guillaume Latendresse, Jay Harrison
Key losses: Nikolai Khabibulin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Todd Bertuzzi, Dennis Wideman

A rival scout's take:
Rumour has it GM Darren Mathieu had to be escorted out of a local Denny's when he found out Ilya Kovalchuk was bolting for the KHL. On top of losing Kovalchuk, the Jets also lost first-pairing defenseman Dennis Wideman to free agency. Mathieu was unable to make a big splash during free-agency , but did improve the team's goaltending situation by bringing in Martin Brodeur. Still, they're average on offense and average on defense. The good news is they're in the Western conference now, so they just might have a chance to sneak into the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 56 points (29th)

Key additions: Nate Thompson, Carl Gunnarsson, Colin White
Key losses: Josh Harding, Matt Hendricks

A rival scout's take:
The Jackets were another Season 17 disappointment, finishing 2nd last in the league. I expect them to be better this year, although I think Varlamov would benefit from having a 1B goalie behind him to push him (see team preview above). Giroux and Spezza are two of the most creative playmakers in the game, but they have nobody to finish their plays in Columbus. They have a good group of defensemen, led by Brent Seabrook, but until they can score or get goaltending, they won't make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 90 points (16th)

Key additions: Paul Gaustad
Key losses: Sheldon Souray

A rival scout's take:
The GM-less Lightning were only able to add Paul Gaustad, albeit a grinder-extraordinare, in the off-season. Ray Emery looks to have the upper hand in the goalie controversy, but one of Steve Mason or Anders Lindback will be the goalie of the future. Right now, I'd say they have three 1B goalies. I'd say currently, they're below average in most categories, and might be better off selling than competing this season. They are lacking in prospects and future picks, but they have a lot of pieces that will be attractive to opposing GMs. The new GM has a lot of work to do ahead.

Boston Bruins

Last season: 89 points (17th)

Key additions: Vincent Lecavalier, Mark Fayne
Key losses: Clarke MacArthur

A rival scout's take:
I think Lecavalier still has a lot to offer as a player, but $8 million a year is really steep for a 33 year old. With that said though, I think they're hoping he can take Nazem Kadri under his wing and better Kadri as a professional. Aside from their first line and Ryan Miller, they don't really have much else.  When Johnny Oduya is your top defenseman, you know you're in trouble. I wonder if they're better off trading Ryan Miller, because how happy will he be if they keep losing.

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 83 points (21st)

Key additions: Ondrej Pavelec, Nikolai Kulemin, Mark Fistric
Key losses: Jonas Hiller, Dan Boyle, Hal Gill

A rival scout's take:
They actually have a very good offense with the Sedins, Tavares, and Kulemin. Unfortunately for Canucks fans, it stops there. John-Michael Liles is their no.1 defenseman. Yep, that John-Michael Liles. Taking a gamble on Pavelec was a very good move because realistically, the drop-off from Hiller to Pavelec won't make a difference because they weren't planning on winning anyway. Picking up Khabibulin in the waiver draft to backup Pavelec was another smart move. It'll be interesting to see what they do with the Sedins. If they're willing to waive their no-trade, I can see teams taking both of them on in the next season with the cap going up. 
The Canucks may not be a playoff team this year but certainly appear to be on the right path.

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 79 points (23rd)

Key additions: Matt Hendricks, Tim Gleason, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Dennis Wideman
Key losses: Alex Burrows, Johnny Boychuk, Taylor Pyatt

A rival scout's take:
The Wings are tasked with moving from the conceivably softer Western conference over to the shark-filled Eastern conference. To make matters worse, they lost their best forward and a key defenseman to free agency. Detroit did manage to convince Dennis Wideman to sign for a year, but their first line of Fisher-Ryder-Zubrus leaves much to be desired. They have a slightly above average defense, anchored by Volchenkov and Ericsson. Jaroslav Halak is not a top 15 goalie for me and is notorious for being inconsistent, so until he changes, the Wings will find it very tough to make the playoffs.

Phoenix Coyotes

Last season: 75 points (26th)

Key additions: Greg Campbell, Ryan Smyth, Todd Bertuzzi, Kris Versteeg, Nick Schultz, Jack Hillen, Jordie Benn, Tomas Vokoun
Key losses: Roberto Luongo, Mike Cammalleri, Sami Salo, J.S. Giguere

A rival scout's take:
Phoenix lost both of their goalies and their first-line left-winger to free agency and was active in the off-season looking for ways to fill the void. They made a bunch of moves (overpaying in nearly all of them), but quantity doesn't always equal quality. I do like their signing of Tomas Vokoun, I think he's a great short-term fix for that team. Paul Stastny and Radim Vrbata have good chemistry and I believe Kris Versteeg will bounceback, but they just don't have enough fire-power up front to be able to score consistently. Their defense is also below average. The guys they added are currently 3rd pairing defensemen, but I do believe Jordie benn can develop into more.

Dallas Stars

Last season: 66 points (27th)

Key additions: none
Key losses: Brad Stuart

A rival scout's take:
Another GM-less team in the league that was practically inactive in the off-season. Ryan Kesler and Brandon Dubinsky are two of the best two-way centers in the entire league. The two Nicks, Foligno and Bonino, are also good young pieces that they'll enjoy having in the next couple of years. On defense, they have Klesla and Jackman who are decent stay-at-home guys, but nothing else after them. I'd argue and say they have the worst goaltending in the league, but I know both Scrivens and Elliott can get hot and win a bunch of games in a row. I think the Stars really have to align for, well, the Stars, to make the playoffs. I wouldn't hold my breath though.

Chicago Blackhawks

Last season: 46 points (30th)

Key additions: Matt Cullen, Ryan Malone, Troy Brouwer, Dan Boyle, J.S Giguere, Shane O'Brien, Derek Morris
Key losses: Martin St. Louis, Marian Hossa, Chris Higgins, Adrian Aucoin, Martin Brodeur

A rival scout's take:
It came as a surprise to many around the league when the Hawks traded away both Martin St. Louis and Marian Hossa – to the same team. They got a couple of decent draft picks back, but this team is in full rebuild mode. I'm surprised Dan Boyle decided to sign here, but I guess money talks. If the salary cap were to go up to the rumoured number, Chicago will have the most to gain, as they'd be able to unload guys like Boyle and Stempniak  and some of the other older guys they signed this year and get some assets back.

Once again it appears the Hawks have more talent on the ice crew than they do on the ice.

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New and old in WCHL Finals

From ugly ducklings to Cup champions? Not if the Rangers have their way

The WCHL Finals feature one team running for the third straight WCHL title, and another seeking to complete a dramatic run up the standings.

The New York Rangers are just four wins away from doing what no other WCHL team has ever done; win three straight WCHL Cup titles. The Rangers, winners of Season 15 and 16, have prevailed through three tough series this year, needing seven games to oust each of the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, then six more to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins. While they figure to be the favourites for the cup title, going 12-8 in 20 post season games thus far doesn't bring confidence.

Anaheim meanwhile cruised through the first round in five games, and then took six more to defeat the Calgary Flames. Five more games were needed to defeat the upstart Edmonton Oilers, resulting in a 12-4 post-season record thus far.

To be fair to the Rangers though, they have had to face much tougher competition. The Capitals were a sixth seeded team, the Flyers fifth and the Penguins were the top seed in the East and second overall in the league. Anaheim meanwhile has been challenged by the eighth seeded St. Louis Blues, seventh seeded Calgary Flames and the fifth seeded Oilers. The three opponents of the Rangers had a combined regular season record of 147-76-23, or a winning percentage of .644 during the regular season. The Ducks three opponents meanwhile had a combined record of 133-92-21, good for a .583 winning percentage.

So maybe things aren't so rosy for the Ducks or so tough for the Rangers?

Stats don't tell the entire story, and really the only stat that matters is who wins the next four games. The Ducks are also the regular season champions, finishing with a record of 60-15-7, slightly better than the fourth overall Rangers, who compiled a 58-21-3 record. Both teams clearly know how to win, and in Anaheim they have been backing up the mouth of their General Manager Terry Danton, who has repeatedly, and successfully, wagered publicly on where his squad would finish the past two seasons.

Now, Danton has issued another call for bets on how well his team will do in the cup finals. While not actually saying his team will win, Danton has stated he'll bet as much as $30 million on his team winning the cup, effectively stating he expects to win it all, a bet he issued before he even knew who won the New York Rangers/Pittsburgh series.

That's a lot of swagger for a team entering a series against the best playoff team in the WCHL the past two seasons, and one which has time and again went on deep playoff runs the past seven seasons now, counting the current playoff in that total.

For Anaheim, the strength this post-season has been their offense. Averaging 3.31 goals per game, the Ducks are far and away tops in the playoffs with that number. Only one other team in the league is averaging more than 2.50 goals per game these playoffs, and for the Rangers, they rank 13th this playoff, managing a paltry 1.95 goals per game.

One of the biggest reasons for that difference is the powerplay, where Anaheim is 18.99 per cent successful on, third in these playoffs. The Rangers sit 13th at a pretty weak 7.26 per cent. Even in shots, Anaheim averages 27.06 shots per game, while the Rangers manage a playoff worst 17.80 shots per game.

With offensive numbers that bad, you know the Rangers are as far as they are because of the success of their defense. The Rangers outrank the Ducks in both goals against average and on the penalty kill, but even then, only by a little. The Ducks defense, led by Shea Weber and netminder Tuukka Rask, has been solid, and that's all it needs when you have an offense like this.

The question is, how long will it be that potent? The Rangers have a knack of stymieing offensive teams, the latest being the Penguins. Pittsburgh entered the series averaging 3.18 goals per game in the first two rounds, but the Rangers held them to just seven goals in six games, with one of those games going into a sixth period. Can Anaheim be the team to solve the enigma that is the Rangers defense?

They may not have to if the Rangers continue to have a difficulty scoring goals. The three teams the Rangers have played thus far rank in the top six amongst defenses this post-season, but the question is, where those teams that good defensively, or where the Rangers just that bad?

When you have the likes of Anze Kopitar and Johan Franzen, you shouldn't be, but these Rangers don't have the run and gun abilities of other teams, or even past Rangers teams. Salary cap crunches and diminishing skills have reigned in a once lethal Rangers offense. Even on the farm, the team's best assets are on defense and in net, so there are no reinforcements available from the minors.

This series will likely be fairly low scoring, but not low enough to contain the Ducks offense completely. Expect the Rangers to win games 2-1 and 1-0, and expect the Ducks to blow one game wide open someplace. Odds are this series will comedown to finding out just how good Henrik Lundqvist is. New York Rangers in six games.


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One of these things is not like the other

Oilers aim to grease up the WCHL playoffs
Nail Yakupov Goal Celebration Nail Yakupov Game Tying Goal Celebration
An Oilers forward celebrates against the Avalanche, only at the end realizing the team now has to face the Presidents Trophy winning Anaheim Ducks.
Reading the script of who is in the third round, it's obvious one team stands out.
The Anaheim Ducks? Hardly, they did claim the Presidents Trophy after all.
Pittsburgh Penguins? Top team in the Eastern Conference.
New York Rangers? Two-time defending WCHL Cup champion. Enough said.
Edmonton Oilers? Umm.... what?
Yes, the Edmonton Oilers are bucking the odds, and are the only team that didn't finish in the top five in total points. In fact, the Oilers barely finished fifth in their own conference. For them to make the third round involved bucking a higher seed and a top end contender, including the Minnesota Wild in round one, after the Wild had amassed a 3-1 series lead, and the Colorado Avalanche, a perrenial WCHL Cup contender who had a 2-0 series lead. Do the Oilers have it in them to better another team that in one way or another -or several- is better than them on paper? If they are able too, it'll be the tallest task they've faced to date.
Below are my predictions for round three:
Western Conference
(1) Anaheim Ducks vs (5) Edmonton Oilers- The Ducks have ran the gambit those far in the WCHL, claiming top spot in the league and pushing through the first two rounds with not much competition in the process. The Calgary Flames did, in round two, give the Ducks a bit of a push, but Anaheim stayed one step ahead all the way and eventually extinguished the Flames in six games. For a team that has made a habit of making things look easier than they should be this season, the Oilers could prove to be an easy challnge for Anaheim.

For the Oilers meanwhile, they have proven to be anything but easy. Rallying from two games down in both series, the Oilers have bent, but didn't come close to breaking, simply getting better as the series rolled along. Falling behind by two games to the Ducks might be much more difficult to rally from than the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche.
The Oilers can't flirt with disaster a third straight series and get away with it...can they? Anaheim Ducks in five games.
Eastern Conference
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs (3) New York Rangers- In recent years, the Penguins have followed up great seasons with great big stinkers in the playoffs, but this year is not following that script. The Penguins knocked off a pesky Lightning squad in six games and then dispatched the Ottawa Senators with surprising easy in round two, showing that they can play to their level, and not the level of the opposition. With the Senators for example, they were the third stingiest team in the WCHL in regular season -allowing well under two goals against per game along the way- and only allowed five goals in five games against the Carolina Hurricanes in round one.  Pittsburgh however rattled off 17 goals in five games to dispose of Ottawa.

The Rangers meanwhile have made it look very hard this post-season. Coming in as the two-time defending WCHL Cup champions and allowing a league low 139 goals against, the Rangers barely snuck by the 6th seeded Washington Capitals and the 5th seeded Philadelphia Flyers, needing seven games both times just to advance. Doing that against lower seeded teams is one thing, but a juggernaut like Pittsburgh has is another. Pittsburgh finished with by far the most goals scored in the entire Eastern Conference, so if New York can't get their offense rolling, they could be done in in short order. The Rangers have outscored their opponent 30-29 in 14 games, needing to win three of four overtime games along the way to just get this far. That's a lot of smoke and mirrors for a very talented and deep squad.
If the Rangers don't get busy scoring, they'll get busy packing. Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
Western Conference
(3) Portland Pirates vs (4) Manchester Monarchs - Manchester in six games
Eastern Conference
(1) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins vs (2) Hershey Bears - Hershey in seven games 

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Repeat performances

Same name likely to be on the cup


If anyone was hoping to see a new WCHL Champion, they may be disappointed.

Of the eight teams still in the hunt, five have won a championship before. Those five are the Colorado Avalanche, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, and those five have combined to win the past seven WCHL Cups, with the Rangers having won the past two and still seeking the first three-peat in league history.

The Edmonton Oilers rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the Minnesota Wild to punch their ticket to the second round, while the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators also join the ranks of teams seeking their first title.

If a Cinderella is going to emerge, this will be the round to do it. If not, it's going to be a lot of the same old, same old in store for rounds three and four.

Here are my predictions for who advances in round two:

Western Conference

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Calgary Flames- Everyone expected a cakewalk in round one for the Ducks and that's exactly what the five game series against the St. Louis Blues was. Anaheim roared to a 3-0 series lead and didn't look back. The top team in the league didn't have a pause in the post-season, but that could change this round.

That's because they are facing the Flames, and the Flames aren't just any 7th seed. After stumbling through the regular season in less than stellar fashion, the Flames rebounded nicely, dropping game one to the Nashville Predators before storming to four straight wins and a second round birth.

If Calgary can get a more spread out offensive production and find a way to push the Ducks diversified attack back, then they could easily push themselves into round three. But the odds of that aren't great. Anaheim in seven games.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (6) Colorado Avalanche- The Oilers looked dead and gone just a few days ago, but three straight wins pushed them past the Minnesota Wild and into round two. Led by the solid netminding of Tomas Vokoun, who well could be playing his final games in an Oilers uniform, the Oilers could have what it takes to continue their post-season surge.

Standing in their way is the Colorado Avalanche. If there is a WCHL team built for the playoffs, it's the Avalanche, who have parlayed mediocre regular seasons into lengthy playoff pushes year after year. Colorado is starting off shorthanded, with defenseman Dmitri Kulikov likely out for the series and beyond do to an injury, while fellow blueliner John Carlson is set to miss game one due to a suspension. Centre Paul Gaustad is also playing banged up, something which could factor in over a long series.

The Oilers need Vokoun to steal a game or two and rely on Jason Pominville and Brad Richards to post the numbers they have in the regular season. Failing that, the Oilers will fail to move onto round three. Colorado in five games.

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators- The Penguins again rolled through the regular season, and again captured the Eastern Conference crown. Yet it took a close six game series against the GM less Tampa Bay Lightning to get to round two. Is it another post-season flop for the Penguins, who haven't had a great deal of success since rolling through the league in Season 12?

Unlikely, but it's also unlikely the Penguins will cruise through these playoffs, especially against a solid team like the Senators. The Sens were one of the stingiest teams in the regular season, and they carried that over to the playoffs, where they limited the Carolina Hurricanes to just five goals in five games in the first round. Two of those games were shutouts and the Senators allowed only two goals in their four wins. Since they can't run and gun with Pittsburgh, expect the Senators to try and form a bomb shelter around netminder Cory Schneider.
If Pittsburgh's offense can peel back the Senators defense, there's only so much that Schneider can do. If not though, Ottawa has a good chance in this series. Ottawa in seven games.

(3) New York Rangers vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers- The Rangers are one step closer to winning their third straight WCHL Cup, but they came so darn close to not getting out of round one. The Washington Capitals pushed them hard, extending the Rangers to seven games before dropping a 2-1 decision in game seven despite outshooting the Rangers 28-12. The Rangers also needed two overtime wins to advance past the Capitals.
Needless to say, the Rangers have a lot to prove.

So do the Flyers. After several seasons of coming close to cracking a WCHL final, the Flyers undertook a semi-rebuild and are just now starting to see the fruits of those labours. Knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a tight seven game series was a big step forward, but afforded the Flyers no help in tangling with an equally tired Rangers team.
The Flyers will make their fan base proud, but they just don't have the guns and the goaltending to compete with the Rangers. New York Rangers in five games.


Western Conference

(1) Norfolk Admirals vs. (4) Manchester Monarchs - Norfolk in six games.

(2) Chicago Wolves vs. (3) Portland Pirates - Chicago in five games.

Eastern Conference

(1) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton vs. (4) Binghamton - Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in six games

(2) Hershey Bears vs. (3) Hartford Wolfpack- Hershey in six games


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