Archive for September 2017

First round features interesting matchups

For the WCHL, Season 25 marks a milestone few fantasy leagues ascend to. It also marks a post-season which some teams are looking to use to overcome playoff failures. How will those teams fair in round one?

Vancouver vs Colorado

In the 1-8 matchup in the west, we see an annual playoff team, versus a team that seems to be on the bubble each season. Colorado had an extremely impressive 123 point season, finishing 2nd overall in the WCHL standings. They are led up front by Mikko Koivu, who eclipsed the 100 point plateau in his first season as an Av. The Av's boast an incredibly deep forward group, which almost every team in the WCHL is envious of. Vancouver's defence will be in tough this series, and the burden will be placed on their top pairing of Colton Parayko and Ryan Murray to stop the Av's attack. However, the Canucks also employ a goalie who is capable of stealing a series in Devan Dubnyk. When all is said and done though, the Av's should breeze into round 2. Prediction Colorado in 5

Nashville vs St. Louis

A team that is consistently in the playoffs, but is consistently written off, the Blues won't be catching anyone off guard this season. A veteran laden team, with loads of playoff experience the past few seasons, the Blues are ready to take on the role of contender. Led up front by Artemi Panarn, on defence by Kris Letang, and in goal by Craig Anderson, the Blues do have the star power to match up with most teams. The Predators are making their first playoff appearance under new GM Phin Liew, who has been putting his stamp on the team throughout the season.The Preds have an extremely deep blue line, but their weakness may be in goal. Scott Darling will be a real good goalie in the coming years, but he isn't quite where the Preds need him to be just yet, in order to make some noise in the playoffs. Prediction St. Louis in 5

Los Angeles vs Anaheim

The Ducks were the #1 team in the WCHL for most of the season, but faltered down the stretch. On the other side of things, the Kings were dead last in the WCHL near the halfway point of the year, but sizzled in the 2nd half of the season, to be arguably the best team in the WCHL in that stretch. The Kings had 6 regulation losses in their final 31 games thanks in large part to a balanced attack led by Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little. The Ducks however have much more offensive firepower and a much deeper blue line. This series will come down to how well Kings goalie Tuukka Rask plays. Rask had a subpar year, and the Kings made the playoffs despite him. Prediction Anaheim in 6

San Jose vs Calgary

The young Sharks are finally starting to creep up to contender status, but they have drawn a terrible matchup in round 1. The Flames are arguably the best team in the WCHL, and they proved that by destroying the WCHL offensively this season. The Flames deployed 3 of the top 5 scorers in the WCHL this season in OEL, Jamie Benn and Nicklas Backstrom. If the Flames have 1 weakness this season, it is in goal. They have used a platoon in the pipes with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schenider. Schneider almost played double the games Luongo did, but Luongo had the far superior stats. For the Sharks, they will easily be able to match the Flames firepower in their top 6, with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin and Jonathan Huberdeau. The Sharks weakness is on the back end, which will be their undoing, as they will be over matched facing the potent Flames offence. Prediction Calgary in 4

Philadelphia vs Florida

The Flyers have been a team which has flown under the radar a bit this season, over shadowed by the top 3 teams in the division, the Rangers, Capitals and Penguins. This team is not to be taken lightly, as any team which possesses the likes of Connor McDavid, Henrik Zetterberg and Ryan Johansen as it's top 3 centers, is a serious piece of business. On the other side of things, Florida is at the point of their rebuild, where they can start competing for cups. They won their division by 3 points over Tampa Bay, in what has become a much improved division over the past few seasons. Long gone are the days when the division winner was actually the 7th best team in the conference. Florida bulked up for this post season run by making probably the biggest splash around the deadline, acquiring #1 defenseman Zdeno Chara. Chara will likely draw the task of McDavid, which will be a great battle to watch. Up front Florida will be led by the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Nathan MacKinnon. This will probably be the closest series, but the Connor McDavid factor should push the Flyers into round 2. Prediction Philly in 7

Ottawa vs Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay has been the class of this division for the past few seasons, reaching the East finals 3 times, the cup finals twice, and winning the title back in Season 22. The Lightning are a veteran laden squad, with arguably the best top 4 defense in the entire WCHL. This team will go as far as Duncan Keith, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jay Bouwmeester and Niklas Hjalmarsson will take them. The Senators are the complete opposite end of the scale from the Lightning. They are very youthful, and still gaining playoff experience. The team doesn't necessarily have any stars outside of Corey Perry, but the team has been coached well this season, and if it wasn't for Henrik Lundqvist, Robin Lehner may be taking home the Vezina. In the end, the Lightning's top 6 forward group and top 4 will prove to be too much for the Sens. Prediction Tampa Bay in 6

Toronto vs New York Rangers

The youngest team in the WCHL makes their return to the playoffs versus the President's Trophy winners, and reigning WCHL champions. This Maple Leafs team is full of young stars, who one day may be superstars. Unfortunately they run up against a team that has been there and done that too many times, and know how to make inexperienced teams pay in the playoffs. These games will be close, as the speed and youthful exuberance of the Leafs will cause the Rangers to have fits at times, however, there is still the calming influence of Henrik Lundqvist behind the Rangers. At the other end of the rink, the Leaf's young defence and goaltending will be in tough against one of the best groups of top 6 forwards in the league. Not only is the group skilled, but they are hulking, and are excellent 2 way players. The Rangers also have an extremely deep defense, who are very mobile, and as a group put up the most points as a defensive unit in the entire WCHL. This will be a good series for the Leafs to get their feet wet with playoff experience, but the Rangers are too deep. Prediction Rangers in 5

Pittsburgh vs Washington

In what seems to be a 1st round matchup year after year, the Penguins and Capitals play each other again. The Capitals will be looking to avenge the sweep the Penguins laid at their hands last season. The Capitals come into this playoffs with a Martin Jones, who is much better than a season ago. They also boats arguably the best 1st pairing in the league, with Brent Burns and Shea Weber. Up front, a deal around the deadline to bring in Steven Stamkos has given Vladimir Tarasenko another star to play with. The depth of the Capitals will be severely tested, as the Penguins are the one team in the league who can throw 4 lines of star players at you. Where the Capitals may have the upper hand, is the veteran experience their forwards possess over the Pens. On the Pens side of things, their key move this season was bringing in veteran goalie Pekka Rinne. Years of Marc-Andre Fleury in the playoffs hampered the team, as he seemed to struggle year after year. The Penguins again are stacked with superstars, but the question surrounding them every year is, "where is the veteran playoff leadership coming from". Hopefully this season that question will be answered with a stable veteran presence between the pipes. Prediction Pittsburgh in 7

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Rangers take second straight Presidents Trophy

For a second consecutive season, the New York Rangers have reached the pinnacle of the WCHL's regular season standings. The Ranger's finished Season 25 with a record of 61-17-4 for 126 points. A record almost identical to last season's record of 62-16-4 for 128 points. The Rangers went into the final game of the season vs the Philadelphia Flyers with a chance to tie last year's record, but fell 5-2, falling 2 points short of last season's record. This was an unexpected finish to the season to say the least, as GM Andrew Don expected a fall back in the standings after losing 4-5 key contributors to last season's team. The Rangers got younger and cheaper this season, but some unexpected performances carried the squad.

To start off, Henrik Lundqvist, again, was the backbone to this squad. Lundqvist finished first in wins (61), first in shutouts (8), first in GAA (2.30) and first in save percentage (.914). To say he is a lock to win the Vezina trophy, is an understatement. Henrik was expected to start taking a step back in his play, as he enters the twilight of his career. This may happen in the near future, but it certainly didn't happen this season.

Next, it was the defense that carried the squad. The Rangers had 4 defensemen finish with at least 18 goals and 59 points. Off season acquisition Trevor Daley led the way with 21 goals and 78 points, finishing just outside the league's top 10 defensive scorers. Daley also led the team with a +40 mark. The Rangers relied heavily on their top 4 defensemen of Alex Pietrangelo (who led the league in minutes played), Rasmus Ristolainen (who led the league in Penalty Minutes), Cam Fowler (who was the only defenseman to finish over a PP and the aforementioned Daley. The bottom pairing defensemen, Dennis Seidenberg, Matt Hunwick and Damon Severson also played admirably, just with a lot less icetime.

Up front, the team was carried by their top 6 of Mark Scheifele, Jakub Voracek, Mike Cammalleri, Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Landeskog and Patrick Eaves. The bottom 6 left something to be desired, and can be looked upon as the team's weakness heading into the playoffs.

The team will be looking to win their 2nd back-to-back titles in franchise history, and add to the 4 titles they have, which are tied with the San Jose Sharks for most in WCHL history. The Rangers currently do not know their first round matchup, as the battle for the final playoff spot in the east will come down to the final day of the regular season. It is simple, if Boston wins, in any fashion, the Rangers will draw them in round 1. If the Bruins do not win, the Rangers will face the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers will look to use their vast playoff experience in the matchup with either of these teams.

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