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:
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.
Catching a Vancouver Canadians nooner has been a summertime treat for decades. (And hey, those evening games ain’t bad, either.) The weather we’ve had for the past couple of weeks has translated into numerous sellouts at Nat Bailey Stadium, and it doesn’t hurt that the team has been pretty damned good to boot. Okay, the parent Blue Jays club hasn’t lit it up the way they’d promised to, but the Cs are playing .600 ball right now, and have won five straight series — the latest with none other than Wayne Gretzky in the building to watch his son play for the Boise Hawks.
Still need convincing? As I’m writing of this post, the Cs are in the middle of shellacking the Everett Aquasox down in WA-state. In the top of the eighth inning, it’s 11-bagel for the good guys, with LB Danzler hitting a two-run shot and a whole lot of small ball scoring nine more times. On the mound, Eric Brown has tossed seven innings of near-perfect ball, allowing just three hits while counting nine strikeouts. (Note: the final score was 13-1.)
First baseman / designated hitter Jordan Leyland currently holds the Single A Northwest Division batting lead, going.342 at the dish with a slugging percentage of .465. On the other side of the ball, Jeremy Gabryszwski and the aforementioned Brown are 1-2 in league ERA, and have gone a combined 6-1 in 67 innings pitched. (For the uninitiated, the technical term for those numbers is pretty durned good.)
For crying out loud, they’ve got fireworks after every Saturday game! Like, dude, they send bombs full of fancy coloured powder up into the air and they go boom all over your eye sockets. Get your tailbones out there, people.
Hit up www.canadiansbaseball.com for scheduling and ticket information.
Chicago Blackhawks prospect Maxim Shalunov delivered a wicked cross check to the face of Slovakian defenseman Tomas Nechala in Russia’s opening game at the WJC, prompting a one-game suspension from the IIHF. On the ice, Shalunov was assessed a double minor penalty (four minutes) for the incident. Nechala received medical treatment for a facial laceration, but continued play in the game.
Russia ended up winning the game 3-2 in overtime after the Slovakians tied the game with less than a minute remaining in the third period. Surprisingly, the host Russians did not manage to sell out their team’s opening matchup — some observers on Twitter suggested there were as many as 2,000 empty seats out of the 8,000+ available for the game.
The good news: the offensively-challenged Vancouver Giants scored five times against the stingiest defense in the WHL. The bad news: the Portland Winterhawks scored nine goals themselves, catapulting Vancouver into the league’s worst goals-against position and embarrassing the G-men in front of 7,318 fans who packed the Pacific Coliseum on Friday night.
It’s not an altogether surprising result: the Winterhawks have lost just three games in regulation this year, and sit tied for second in the W with the Eastern Conference-leading Calgary Hitmen. They came into the game riding a nine-game win streak, where the Giants were considering a 3-3 split in their last six games a moral victory. On paper, then, Portland should win this game.
The NHL’s justice system is broken. It’s gotten so bad that a lengthy suspension to a career predator who may have ended the season of a superstar is seen as laughable because of the suspensions that have gone before (or in the case of Shea Weber, the ones that have not gone before). Despite much acclaim early in the season, Brendan Shanahan has now clearly shown that, when the games really matter, he’s no better at meting out punishment than his predecessor, Colin “My Son Plays for the Bruins So I Won’t Suspend Bruins and Miraculously They Just Won the Cup How About That” Campbell. If the NHL wants to regain any measure of credibility it needs to look to (and I’m holding my nose as I type this) the Conservative Party of Canada. It needs to establish clear and consistent rules (not guidelines, rules) for what constitutes a suspension and the length of that suspension. It needs to establish mandatory minimums.
Finally. After 301 days, 1230 games and eleventy billion unfunny Vancouver riot jokes, Wednesday will bring the return of NHL playoff hockey. Having learned absolutely nothing from the annual debacle of our regular season predictions — Leafs sneaking in, bah. Sabres winning the East, HA! — Pucked in the Head presents 2012 NHL Playoff Predictions… because dammit, that’s what loudmouthed fans with self-published blogs do.