It’s been four years since I last joined a hockey pool. I’ve enjoyed the game far more in years that I don’t have a horse in the race, you know? This season, though, I thought I’d throw caution to the manure-flavoured wind and join a workmate’s keeper fantasy league. Here’s how my draft went (part one):
Round One – Vladimir Tarasenko (RW), 8th overall pick Even if he plays for the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ St Louis Blues, Vladimir Tarasenko is bloody exciting to watch. He’s an explosive player whose speed and agility recall a young Pavel Bure, and I loved watching Pavel play. This guy can score from just about anywhere, and last year he did — 40 goals was good for fourth overall in the NHL in 2015-16. Tarasenko is on the cover of EA Sports NHL 17, and ranked at #6 overall by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy. Picked 8th overall, just after Steven Stamkos — how the hell does Stammer go 7th?!?!? — and one before Joe Pavelski.
Round Two – Erik Karlsson (D), 17th overall pick Karlsson’s 82 points was good for fifth in the league last year (well, tied for fourth but Joe Thornton had three more goals than Karlsson). Buddy had 66 assists despite playing on the woeful Ottawa Senators. Again, a joy to watch this guy play the game. It’s easy to cheer for someone who makes plays like this. Picked 17th overall, just after Carey Price and one before Ben Bishop.
Round Three- Artemi Panarin (LW), 32nd overall pick Artemi Panarin was lightning with Patrick Kane last season. Sure, there are rumours the Blackhawks might split them up to start the year, but he’ll still be on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. How , oh how will he ever score 77 points again with those losers on his line; huge loss for the plucky sophomore. Yes, I just wrote ‘plucky sophomore’ — mainly because of this:
The Stanley Cup final promises to be one of the most entertaining in years. The Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of their third Stanley Cup win in six years, which would put them as close to unlocking the dynasty achievement badge as we’re likely to see a team get in our lifetimes. Good lord, look at the roster: there are four legitimate Hall of Fame candidates in their top six alone. Across the ice, Steven Stamkos wants to cement legend status by winning his first; it may be surprising scoring machine Tyler Johnson, and not the suddenly clutch goaltender Ben Bishop, who gets him that ring.
Both teams had ten players score in double digits in 2014-15, and both teams had dominant goal differentials (Tampa was second overall at +51, while Chicago’s +40 was fourth). The season series was split at a win apiece, with the Hawks taking an overtime 3-2 decision and the Lightning shutting out Chicago 4-0. Keep in mind that second game took place just after Patrick Kane fractured his clavicle; Bishop likely won’t be earning many more shutouts in this series.
Forwards — advantage Hawks
The Bolts were the top team in scoring this year. Stamkos had 43 goals by himself, while Johnson and Nikita Kucherov each added 29. After the top line, fans outside the Atlantic Division may ask themselves, “Who the hell is that?” — Cedric Paquette and Alex Killorn aren’t exactly household names — but suffice it to say that this is a team with a few mid-grade weapons at its disposal. That said, the bottom six has contributed just one goal out of the past 20 for the Lightning.
The Hawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to throw over the boards. They’re tired? How about Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, or playoff performer extraordinaire Andrew Shaw? This team may not have led the league in scoring — they were 16th overall, in fact — but they know how to score when it counts, and they’ve only gotten stronger as a unit as the playoffs have gone on. Witness the complete Game Seven shutdown of the vaunted Anaheim Ducks roster. Check Toews’ insistence upon dominating important games.
#Blackhawks Jonathan Toews:
GM 7 vs Ducks: 2 Goals
2014 Gold Medal: Goal
GM 7 vs Kings: Goal
GM 7 vs Canucks: Goal
2010 Gold Medal: Goal
Duncan Keith was insane in the final two games against the Ducks. He saw nearly 28 minutes of ice in that exhaustingly intense Game Seven, and remember this is a series that saw two looooooooong overtime games early on. Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn’t far behind at 26:45, and in fact the Hawks rely pretty damned heavily upon their big top four. Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya were both over 23 minutes.
On the other side, Victor Hedmanand Anton Stralman are the only men getting even close to this kind of ice time. Jason Garrison and Matt Carle hover around the 20-minute mark, but lose their effectiveness should they be asked to up that substantially. These guys are good depth blueliners — look at Garrison’s number five spot when he played in Vancouver — but lack the footspeed and game smarts to deal with Chicago’s wave-upon-wave of finesse-laden attack.
Goaltending — advantage Bolts
Herein lies Tampa Bay’s best chance at a second championship in franchise history. Ben Bishop had far fewer hiccoughs than highlights; Corey Crawford, on the glove hand, too often relies upon that stable of scorers to outshine his bad nights. Good grief, he let in nearly three goals a game against the Ducks. If Stamkos & Co. get in his head, this series — and thus the Cup —could go south in a hurry.
Coaching — advantage Hawks
There are cookie crumbs in Joel Quenneville’s moustache that have been behind an NHL bench longer than Jon Cooper. Sure, the latter presents Jon Cooper’s story, but Coach Q’s duster has kissed two Cups and a Jack Adams award. Quenneville is the winningest coach among active bench bosses — not including playoff totals, he has 653 more NHL wins than Cooper. Look, I’m not saying anything bad against the new guy. It’s just that, well, Q has been there. Coops has read about it. You’ve gotta go with the experience.
Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks in 5.
Conn Smythe: Duncan Keith
We at Pucked in the Head don’t hang our heads in shame and tears just because the Vancouver Canucks had their behinds handed to them by the low-down, dirty, rotten, head-shottin’, potshottin’, ball-droppin’ Flames. Nay, we hold our heads high and own our team’s decades-long failure to bring a Cup to the west coast. At least we’re not the bloody Leafs, right?
And so, we put our heads together and prognosticate the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for your scoffing pleasure.
New York Rangers vs Washington Capitals
Jason: Kudos to the Capitals for skirting past the New York Islanders, but even with Alex Ovechkin honouring defensive assignments they won’t have enough to get past the Vigneault-led Blueshirts. Lundqvist outsaves Braden Holtby in a series whose brevity belies hard-fought games. Rangers in five.
Chris: If there’s anything to indicate that Washington can take New York in a best-of-seven, I haven’t seen it. The Rangers steamrolled Pittsburgh and then took the weekend off while the Islanders gave the Caps all they could handle. (That’s right: Eleven shots on goal is about all the Capitals could handle.) Ovechkin may be the best player in this series, but New York is deeper, and Alain Vigneault shouldn’t even need a full pack of lozenges to out-coach Barry Trotz. Rangers in five.
Montreal Canadiens vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris: Should be a barn-burner. The Lightning netted a whopping 41 more goals than the Habs during the regular season, but Montreal’s defence was much stronger. On recent form, my money goes to Tampa. They dispatched Detroit without a single goal from Steven Stamkos, and you can only hold that man off the score sheet for so long. Meanwhile, the Canadiens were lucky to get past Ottawa in a game six where a referee’s untimely whistle cost the Sens a tying goal in a contest they dominated. Lightning in seven.
Jason: Kudos to the Bolts for getting past the ageing wreck of a Red Wings team that barely made the post-season. I mean, the Wings have only been mired in a Mike Babcock will-he-or-won’t-he story all year long, and got to Game Seven on the strength of a handful of nobodies ruddering a ship full of greybeards. The Habs, on the other hand, have been the class of the East for a couple of seasons, boast perennial candidates for the Norris and Vezina trophies, and ride the winds of the most powerfully emotional fan support in North American sport. Individually, what’s not to love about seeing PK Subban flatten Steven Stamkos? These guys have been playing hockey against each other for twenty years already, and damned if it ain’t more fun every year. Canadiens in six.
Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
Jason: Do we really have to talk about this? Where the Canucks and Flames both exceeded expectations by just making the dance in the first place, the Ducks have been promising a deep run for years. Getzlaf, Kesler, Perry, Beauchemin, Fowler… This roster is deeper than any of the wrinkles walking into Botox clinics around the Honda Center. The Flames are hard-working, sure, but they’re just a bunch of Grade Eight boys hanging about in the corner, ogling the good looking seniors across the gymnasium floor. Ducks in two and a half.
Chris: Seeing the Flames in the second round is enough to make me want to vomit like I’d just eaten undercooked fowl. Undercooked, by the way, is exactly what I expect these particular fowl to be at the end of the Pacific Division Final. The Flames are a terrible possession team, and their luck won’t get them close enough to roast the Ducks. The Saddledome crowd helps Hiller steal one from his old team, but Ducks in five.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild
Chris: Devan Dubnyk has been outstanding, but I’m not convinced he can hold off the Hawks’ firepower. Both teams have high-end defencemen that can do a number on the opposition’s top line, but the Wild lack the offensive depth that Chicago has in spades. One ray of hope for Minnesota: Corey Crawford is in net, and Chicago conceded 21 goals to a similarly dubious offensive team in Nashville. The goaltending disparity will keep the series interesting, but Chicago outscores its problems. Hawks in six.
Jason: The Chicago Blackhawks have somehow flown under most people’s radars this season. Jeez Louise, people, this team is full of all-Stars, Olympians and beauties who fuckin’ work their nuts off, and has won two of the past five Stanley Cups. As for the Wild, Thomas Vanek has been promising to do something important in the playoffs for years, but hasn’t helped a team win anything since the 2003 Golden Gophers took the NCAA championship. Maybe it’s unfair to saddle the guy with his teams’ lack of success, but damnation, does this guy ever know how to pull a disappearing act in the post-season. Ryan Suter can’t do everything, man. Hawks in five.
After unanimously anointing the Vancouver Canucks as round two participants in the last podcast — thereby sending the Calgary Flames into the wasteland of central Alberta golf courses — Russell and Jason break down the seven remaining series.
• Shoddy math
• Next World by the Orchid Highway
• Arbuthnit? Arbuthnet? Arbuth… Russell, anyway
• The Seven Deadly Sins
• Montreal Canadiens versus Ottawa Senators
• A little playoff trivia fo’ ya
• New York Islanders vs Washington Capitals
• Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings
• New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins
• Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks
• Jason & Russell make it interesting
• Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets
• St Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild
• Bonus fantasy Anaheim vs Minny, StL vs Jets content
• Russell stopped listening a while ago
• William Tell Overture by Russell ArbuthNOT
• William Tell Overture by random symphony orchestra
• Thanks for listening
Fans in Vancouver are predictably blasé about the NHL playoffs; the Canucks have missed the post-season for the first time since 2008, and YVR hockey fans aren’t exactly renowned for loving the game so much as their team. (Case in point: the Abbotsford Heat are shutting up shop at the conclusion of their playoff run after years of decreasing returns in the Valley. People out thisaway are so scared of Calgary Flames cooties they’ve refused to see professional puck for $20.)
We at Pucked in the Head believe in celebrating the game, even when our local team comes up lame. Here are Jason’s picks for this year’s post-season. He’s so concussed by the ascension of Zack Kassian and the retirements of Teemu Selanne and Ryan Smythe — not to mention the bizarre first-round matchups determined by the NHL’s new wild card system — that he’s thumbing for Stanley Cup supremacy… the San Jose Sharks (!?!?!?!)
After a six-game road swing that saw the Abbotsford Heat play .500 hockey, they return to the AESC in the Valley to host the dirty rotten stinkin’ no-good Rockford Ice Hogs. The games mark the chance for local fans to get their first look at Calgary Flames first-round pick Morgan Klimchuk, who scored 74 points in 57 games with the Regina Pats in junior this year, and Collin Valcourt, an undrafted player who had 72 points as an overaged WHL player with Saskatoon and Prince Albert.
Abbotsford won both games in Rockford earlier in the season, winning 4-2 and 4-3 in OT; recently, however, the Ice Hogs have been on something of a tear, moving from non-playoff contention two months ago into seventh place in the West.
The Heat currently sit in fifth in the Western Conference; if the post-season started today they’d match up with the fourth-place Chicago Wolves, AHL affiliate of the St Louis Blues.
Abbotsford has back-to-back games against the Chicago Blackhawks farm team tonight and tomorrow, followed by a Friday/Sunday doubleheader against the baby Edmonton Oilers from Oklahoma City. They’ll finish the season with three games in three nights the following weekend before opening the 2014 AHL playoffs.
I’m totally stealing most of this information from the Abbotsford Heat website, but everything above is at least paraphrased. In honour of some of my writing students grappling with citation and plagiarism, the following sentence is word-for-word ripped from www.abbotsfordheat.com: Max Reinhart (2-5-7), Derek Smith (0-6-6), and Ben Street (4-4-8) are all riding five game point streaks into this weekend.
Props to rookie goaltender Reto Berra, who picked up a win in his very first NHL start, in overtime over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks no less. He made 42 saves on 44 shots — that’s a .955 save percentage, earned against the likes of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.
Not too shabby, Mr Berra. Keep that up, and something tells me this Abbotsford Heat paint job might need a flaming C or two thereupon.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Glen Healy and PJ Stock make unmitigated fools of themselves using only their words.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch countless people scream blue murder about whatever comes out of Don Cherry’s mouth.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Tukka Rask continue his impressive climb out of Tim Thomas’ borderline racist, definitely bizarre shadow.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Corey Crawford continue his impressive climb out of Antti Niemi’s I-can’t-make-an-adjectival-joke-here-because-I-still-feel-like-“Antti-who?” shadow.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Marian Hossa play like a frickin’ beast.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Zdeno Chara play as a frickin’ beast.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Jaromir Jagr make his first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 21 years.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Dave Bolland — oh wait, no I won’t, because he pulled a disappearing act this post-season.
Because it’s the Cup, I will watch Jonathan Toews attempt to become just the second player, after Wayne Gretzky, to captain two championship teams before turning 25. Yes, Captain Serious was less than four years old the last time Jagr hit the NHL final round.
Because it’s the Cup, I will applaud these two teams even though they are roundly despised by pretty much every hockey fan in Vancouver.
Because it’s the Cup, I will hope and pray that the Hawks manage to score it up against the Bruins, because we as fans desperately need fast, creative hockey — not plodding, grind-it-out 1-0 yawnfests.
Because it’s the Cup, I will predict that the series winner will be scored by Brian Bickell in game 7 at the United Center.
At the Abbotsford Heat game last night, I got some great shots (and some not so marvellous pictures, too, but that’s the way she goes). Here’s something a little different. Check out this pic of Brad Mills drawing a penalty shot in the second period. Then look below to see a shot by Heat photographer Clint Trahan of the exact same moment in the game — there’s me photobombing the shot behind Danny Taylor in the Abbotsford net.
The Rockford Ice Hogs didn’t just beat the Abbotsford Heat on Friday night. They lined up the nails all neat-like, threw what was left of the Heat’s playoff hopes in the coffin, and started hammering away.
The home side tossed 35 shots at Ice Hogs goaltender Henrik Karlsson, but could only beat him twice. Coming the other way, Abbotsford goaltenders Barry Brust and Danny Taylor combined for just 21 saves on 26 shots. Do the math and you’ve got a 5-2 win for the visitors.
Coming into the game, the Heat sat one spot out of the playoff picture with 11 games remaining. That wouldn’t be so worrying if the teams around them didn’t have five games in hand. At this point in the season, with offensive threats like Sven Bärtschi, Ben Street and Max Reinhart all healthy, they just can’t spend all night making opposing goaltenders look good. Those other teams have a possible 10 extra points up for grabs with those additional games, so the chances of making the post-season start to look very slim indeed unless the Heat run the table. With the Ice Hogs win Friday, these teams swapped positions: the Heat now sit in 11th place in the Western Conference, while Rockford moves up to ninth.