Sunday, May 24, 2015

More Overtime, The West Evens Up

Game 4 in Chicago was a game for the ages, especially if you can forget the better parts of the first two periods of the game. The first two periods were definitely known more for the chippiness, the slashing, the high sticks and the penalties, more than anything else.

A late goal for Chicago in the 1st, a late 2nd period goal for Anaheim and that was really all that we saw after all the swinging and misbehaving.  It was a tight playoff game, no one really giving an inch and this game had a bit of overtime written all over it.

Well, there no was no predicting the 3rd period, as the Blackhawks struck early in the 3rd, then again five minutes later and it really looked like Chicago was ready to send this series back to Anaheim tied, right then and there.

Hold your horses!  The Anaheim Ducks had something to say about that, scoring three goals in nearly record time.  It went from Chicago being up 3-1 to Anaheim up 4-3 in 37 seconds and the face of the game changed so quickly.

To Chicago's credit, they had some battle left in them, scoring a power play marker only a few minutes later and this game was, in the end, destined for overtime.

First overtime, there were chances at both sides, but it wasn't until the second overtime until the Blackhawks pushed through, as Antoine Vermette jumped on a loose puck in front of the Anaheim net and then patiently lifted it over Frederik Andersen, giving Chicago the 5-4 win and they evened up the series at 2-2.

Nine more goals in the playoffs, that's a good sign for the pool, right?  Brandon Saad, not taken at all in Box 3, was the most notable player in the pool, picking up 3 points, but no one was around to actually collect them.  Jonathan Toews, Antoine Vermette and Corey Crawford were the only other Blackhawks that picked up 2 points in the game.

No Ducks managed to finish with 2 points in the game, despite scoring four goals in the game.

Game 5 in this series will go on Monday night, a 7pm MT start from the Honda Center in Anaheim.

The race for 2nd place is now the headlining story in this pool season, as Jesse P. has retaken the position from Thor, after the Blackhawks win. Jesse holds on to Crawford for Chicago, while Thor has Andersen for Anaheim, so this will be the key feature of the Western Conference Finals in this race, as the winner of the series will definitely have a leg up moving forward.

The 2nd place race is the better one, as neither Jesse or Thor will have much of a shot at catching Fontanna, as the leader continues to hold a 14-point lead.

On the outside looking in, Stacey M. still has a shot at some money, as she hopes it is an Anaheim/New York Finals, that would just about do the trick for her team, sitting 4 points out, but there is still enough hockey that could make it difficult for her side, while Sean L. could prove to be somewhat sneaky, 6 points back, but he'll need a Chicago/New York Finals.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Rangers Storm Tampa, Go Home Tied

Just when you thought it was going to be another tight game for the New York Rangers in this series, they managed to score a couple of quick goals in the 2nd period, breaking a 1-1 tie, and the 3rd period was a bit of a walk, especially when Martin St. Louis broke his goal scoring goose egg, five minutes into the final period, increasing the lead to three and then it was smooth sailing for the visitors.

Final score: Rangers 5, Lightning 1... series tied at 2-2.

It was a pretty good game, leading up to the 3-1 Rangers lead, as both teams were getting some chances, even though there were plenty of bodies knocking down shots in front of each goalie.  Still, the Rangers were able to dig deep in this one, their best players came out of the shadows to lead in the opposition's building and now they get to go home with the advantage of having two of the next three games at Madison Square Garden.

Five goals for the Rangers means there are points to be had and it was Rick Nash and Keith Yandle leading the way for the blueshirts, each coming away with 3 points each.  Chris Kreider, Kevin Klein and Henrik Lundqvist were the other three players, who were deemed notable, each coming away with 2 points a piece as well.

Game 5 will go on Sunday evening, another 6pm MT start from the East Coast on CBC.

The two best teams in these Conference Finals are now sitting 1-2 in the standings, as Thor usurped the position from Jesse P. with tonight's result and a little help from a missed win from the previous game.

Ben Bishop's Game 3 win was not credited yet and Thor had yet to cash in on it, as well as a few other teams, so that going in the column helped him pass Jesse on the night, who still picked up the win from Henrik Lundqvist.

Thor now holds a 1-point lead over Jesse, but doesn't have the tie-breaker, if Jesse's team does manage to come back in Game 4 of the Western Conference series.

Fontanna still continues to hold the lead, as their team continues to rule the roost with 39 points in these Conference Finals, I dare say that their team will be impossible to beat now.  A 15-point lead and some overlapping players would mean that some players would have to have a monumental effort to change the dynamic of this race.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Player Notes in the Playoffs (May 22)

Tampa Bay's Box 23 defenseman, Matt Carle, left very early in Wednesday night's game after taking a hit from New York's Derek Stepan and didn't return to the game.  On Friday morning, Carle was not on the ice for the morning skate and the coaching staff have confirmed that he will not suit up for Game 4 and if he is replaced, it will be a non-pool player to do so.

In these playoffs, Carle only has 2 points in 16 games thus far and was taken seven times.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Pool Outlook for Nashville

For the Nashville Predators, the 2015 season had a lot of question marks surrounding the club, like: how healthy will Pekka Rinne be or how will the new coaching staff improve this team?

Certainly, the combination of a very healthy Rinne and some new enthusiasm from a coach like Peter Laviolette, helped this team move forward and back into the playoff picture, but the introduction of rookie Filip Forsberg and the acquisition of Mike Ribeiro in the off-season was also quite helpful this year as well.

In total, the Predators jumped up to 2nd place in the ridiculously tight Central Division and they finished 6th overall in the NHL standings, which certainly raised the bar for the team's expectations in the playoffs this year.

The downside to their playoff run, was that they had to play teams within their own division, namely the the surging Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs, who were high on some big returns to their lineup and playing with some serious playoff experience under their belt.  The Predators ended up being no match for the Blackhawks, who just as easily moved past the Minnesota Wild in the second round as well.

In the pool this year, the Predators were somewhat popular, as hockey pool teams are warming up to them, more so than just their blueline and their goaltending.  11 Predators were taken at the draft and by season's end, 14 Preds were touched by the pool, including two drops, which says that they had some help in the Waiver Drafts and they acquired a couple players through the season, who were active pool players as well.

The hip problems that were plaguing Pekka Rinne in 2014 did not appear to be an issue in 2015, as the huge Finnish keeper was able to appear in 64 regular season games, winning 41 of them and finishing the year with 91 points in the hockey pool, which was good enough for 4th overall in pool scoring and 4th among all goalies.  Rinne put up some solid numbers all the way around and the Predators became one of the Western Conference's most dangerous team, although I think you still wouldn't assume that.

The forwards were, by no means, spectacular for the Predators, but they were led by a very impressive rookie, Filip Forsberg, who finished 36th among forwards with 26 goals and 63 points in all 82 games, even if his production did dip a little bit in the second half of the season.  Off-season signing Mike Ribeiro wasn't far behind, picking up 62 points in 82 games.  Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher, James Neal and Mike Santorelli all rounded out the pool worthy forwards, some more effective than others and health issues were also a concern up front for Nashville.  A healthy and excited group would go a long ways to improving their offense.

On the blueline, there is still reason for some excitement, with Roman Josi taking the offensive lead from the back end, 5th among defenders in scoring with 15 goals and 55 points in 81 games, well ahead of the all-around leader of the team, Shea Weber, who had 45 points in 78 games this season.  The value of those two will be very high, come the draft in September/October this year.  That wasn't all for Nashville either, as they re-acquired Cody Franson from Toronto, Ryan Ellis (even with health concerns) and sophomore Seth Jones were all considered to be pool-worthy as well.

With a workhorse like Rinne in net, the Nashville goaltending was not very well-utilized behind him, as Carter Hutton only appeared in 18 games this season, picking up 6 wins and 14 points.  You would really only look to Nashville's back-ups, if you're betting against Rinne's health in the regular season.

2016 Pool Outlook

The Predators have a lot of work to do in the off-season to preserve what they finished the 2015 season with, but with that workload upcoming, it does allow for them to be somewhat flexible down the stretch.  There is going to be some excitement going into the 2016 season, thanks to the Forsberg's and Josi's on this team, Rinne will continue to muster up an early look at the draft and I think you'll see another breakout or two from within the organization.  Today, there are names missing from their list, but they'll all sign on and the pool projections page will be very solid.

The 2016 season may be another good showcase for the team's 2014 1st round draft pick, Kevin Fiala, who has seen a fair amount of games with the men, playing in Europe and in the World Championships with Switzerland.  He did manage to dress in a game in the regular season and a game in the playoffs, failing to register a point, but at least, getting a taste.  There will also be a lot of eyes on 25-year old American Steve Moses, who led the KHL in scoring last season, the Predators won his services as a free agent and he'll be one to watch in training camp as well.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Unrestricted free agency will prove to be very interesting for Nashville, as the have a number of their key players heading to the open market, if they are not taken care of early on in the off-season.  Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson headline the pool-worthy UFA's, while there are a number of players on their roster, who provide that added depth and will also raise some eyebrows on the market.

Craig Smith and Colin Wilson are two of the key forwards heading to restricted free agency, in need of new deals, but once these two are qualified, they shouldn't pose too much of a problem, except maybe to the pocketbook.

The Predators, by my count, have 28 players signed on for the 2016 season and their overall cap hit is around $50.1 million for everyone.  That is an awfully low number, but it has to be taken into consideration that many of the players, of those 28, are likely AHL-bound.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

The Predators will not be using their 1st round pick this year, but they have every other pick in their basket.  Nashville dealt their 1st rounder to Toronto in the deal that brought Franson and Santorelli into the fold for the playoff run, which ended much sooner than preferred.  With that pick, the Leafs now have two on their side in this 1st round.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The basis of a prediction for the Nashville Predators will depend on how much offense they are able to find with the group that they have. The Predators were 9th in the West in goal scoring and besides a kid like Jarnkrok, I'm not sure that I see enough there to help improve that number at all, at least on paper any way. Laviolette will have his hands full trying to find some more offense, but they will definitely be able to win games on their defense, not to mention finding some offense from the blueline. I am going to say that the Predators show some flashes in the 2015 season, but fall short again, as they way they are built right now, they won't show much for improvement on the 2014 season.

The Predators did find some offense in a kid, but it wasn't Calle Jarnkrok, rather it was Filip Forsberg and he sure brought a lot of it.  The Preds also found some more offense in the free agent market, which came long after last year's post, so as they were built, they were not likely to find much more offense, but they did find some in their tinkering.  That and a healthy Rinne, the Predators exceeded my expectations of them at this point last year and rightfully so.

2016 is a new year and I think a lot is bound to happen for the Predators again in the off-season, which will make or break their season.  With all the work that they need to do, they will have to try and maintain their goal scoring levels, possibly even making up for the slump that Forsberg has a chance to go through as a sophomore.  Signing a number of their UFA's will be key, but not impossible and then they will be relying heavily on their number one goalie again to fight for that Central Division title.  It looks like the Central is destined to be very close again in 2016, so a finish anywhere between the title and the last wild card spot, shouldn't be considered out of the question.  I like the Predators to finish in the 2-3 slot again next season.

Ducks Hang On in Chicago

After the triple overtime marathon loss earlier in the week, the Anaheim Ducks were not only having to rebound from a game that drained a ton of energy, but they would have to do so in enemy territory, as the series shifted to Chicago for Game 3 on Thursday night.

In order to rebound, the Ducks were going to need top end performances from their best players and both Ryan Getzlaf and Frederik Andersen stepped up to give them that game.  Getzlaf picked up a pair of assists on two Anaheim goals, while Andersen was on top of his game, making 27 saves for the win, as both players were the most notable for the hockey pool as well.

A late 2nd period goal by non-pool defenseman Simon Despres stood up as the winning goal of the game, as it was the last goal of the game.  The Ducks defense and goaltending not only withstood the pressure from the Blackhawks, they limited them to only 10 shots on goal in the 3rd period, cruising to a 2-1 victory in the game and a 2-1 lead in the series.

Despite the win on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks were still making changes to their lineup on Thursday night, as Box 4 forward Antoine Vermette was made into a healthy scratch again, already having spent some time in the press box in the opening round of the playoffs.  Vermette has not been effective for the Hawks in these playoffs, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist in 10 games, a real disappointment for the two pool teams that picked him up.

Game 3 in the West wasn't nearly as fruitful as Game 3 was in the East, but changes were still abound, as we have a new name holding on to the 3rd place standing.

Thor has overtaken Stacey M. for the position and put a couple points in between, not to mention sitting only 1 point back of 2nd place, Jesse P..

Meanwhile, at the top of the standings, Fontanna continues to pull away a bit, thanks to having the right names on their list from both teams.  Fontanna's team now sits at 211 points and is still the only team in the pool over 200 points, as their lead is now 13 points and seemingly insurmountable.

And just to review, Jesse is now sitting at 198 points, Thor is now in at 197 points, Stacey M. comes in at 195 points, while Sean L. now trails further behind at 189 points.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Pool Windfall in Tampa, Bolts Take Series Lead

The Tampa Bay Lightning are proving themselves as legitimate contenders in these playoffs, as they have looked in the face of the President's Trophy winners and have yet to blink.

The New York Rangers got off to a blistering start on Wednesday night, scoring a couple of times before the midway point of the opening frame, but the Lightning were not phased by this, scoring one shortly after and then three straight markers in the 2nd period to take and assume a good lead.  After the 2nd, it was 4-3 Tampa, and by no means, were these guys done scoring.

An early power play goal in the 3rd brought the Rangers back on level terms, but just when the Lightning thought they could close the game out with a late marker with six minutes left to play, the Rangers tied it up again with less than two minutes left.

Overtime lasted only three and a half minutes and Tampa Bay came away victorious, taking a 2-1 series lead.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner in overtime, sharing top honours in the game with 3 points with Ondrej Palat, while Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop all had 2 points for the Bolts in the hockey pool.

Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Keith Yandle all had 2 points each for the Rangers in the hockey pool, concluding a big night for both teams and a serious windfall of scoring for the pool.

What did all that scoring mean to the standings?

Well, Fontanna continues to pull away at the top, as their team now ranks 3rd in this round of the playoffs with 28 points, bringing their total up to 207 points, the first team to eclipse the 200-point barrier.

Jesse P. continues to hold on to 2nd place in the standings, but his grip on the position is becoming rather shaky.  His team now has 196 points, 5 points up on 3rd place, but his team only has 19 points in the round, good enough for 8th in the round, but the better teams in the round have their sights set on his spot.

In 3rd place, it's just as shaky for Stacey M. at 191 points, as Thor is now at 190 points and climbing, while Sean L. is in 5th place, but dropping with Sairosh, who is in 6th.  Chris M., the round leader at 30 points, sits in 7th and is moving up the ranks quickly.  Chris would be hoping for a long Conference Finals at this point, as his team seems to have all the right answers.

Wes M. is 2nd in the round with 29 points and is now in 10th place, 15 points back of 3rd place.  A couple of 7-game series might do him a lot of good too.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonNikita Kucherov continues to have a huge playoff season, as he scored his 3rd game-winner of these playoffs, becoming a huge help to the seven teams that picked him up in the playoff pool this year.

Of course, our pool leader, Fontanna, has Kucherov and continues to lead the pool in bonus points as well, as their team now has 17 points, 3 points better than three more teams.

Pool Outlook for Vancouver

The Vancouver Canucks were a mixed bag of expectations heading into the 2015 season, especially since there was a lot of new faces in a lot of key positions, anywhere from upper management, down to the starting goalie on the ice.

There was, of course, a lot of familiar faces, which should have helped the transition along and by all accounts, they certainly did.  All of those new faces, mixed with the familiar ones, put the Canucks back in the playoffs after a one year absence, but after that, it looked like it was the brand new team that no one was quite sure about at the beginning of the year.

A first round exit to their division rivals from Calgary was a hasty finish to their season, but it's still hard not to look at the season without noticing their smaller successes.  They certainly were not a lock to make the playoffs and there was some growth in a few of their young players, giving glimpses at the team's future and making some believe that it isn't that bad.

There are certainly some spots where the Canucks can improve and they can certainly address some of those spots immediately in the off-season, but some may come with patience.

The Canucks used to be a popular team to pick from, but they were not nearly as popular as they were before at last year's draft, as only nine players were picked from Vancouver then and the season finished with eight on active pool rosters, give or take a few players picked and dropped in the Waiver Draft as well.  It's a downward trend that may still need another year or two to recover from.

A return to form may be a bit of a stretch for Daniel Sedin, but he did return to the top of the heap for the Canucks, leading the team in points, scoring 20 goals and 76 points this season, good enough for 19th overall in pool scoring.  As a former Art Ross Trophy winner, there may be a few more expectations put upon you to continue to score, but Daniel and his brother have been checked rather mightily, thanks to a lack of depth below them.  Still, 19th overall is still 1st round selection worthy, so that's got to count for something.

Henrik Sedin wasn't too far behind his brother in 2015, picking up 73 points in 82 games, ranking 25th overall, a high 2nd round pick by comparison.  One of the team's newest additions, Radim Vrbata, did well in his first year, scoring 31 goals and 63 points in 79 games, getting rave reviews around the league.  Nick Bonino, Christopher Higgins, Alex Burrrows and Jannik Hansen were all considered to be pool worthy in the year, but were horribly inconsistent to really help one team or another in the year.

The Canucks also didn't really get a great deal of offense out of their blueline, even though they had three defenders in the top 92 and one that was 93rd overall in defense scoring.  Alex Edler topped them all with only 31 points, while Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber and Chris Tanev rounded out those who were worth mentioning here.  Injuries were quite troublesome, but the team lacked a true quarterbacking defender and they will continue to be hard to come by.

The only real problem with the Canucks goaltending in 2015 was that Ryan Miller, their number one, was hurt for the back third of the season, which desperately hurt some of their numbers and displaced him as the starter heading into the playoffs.  Miller finished the year earning 1.6 points per 60 minutes, one of the best scoring rates for a goalie in the NHL, but the third segment of the season was almost completely lost to him.  Eddie Lack tried to fill in and did so admirably, picking up 18 wins and 40 points, but fell short of being a direct replacement of the true number one.

2016 Pool Outlook

At face value, the Canucks, heading into this off-season, have some options, but for the most part, their hands may be tied a little by what the salary cap ceiling may or may not do.  From the goal mouth out, Vancouver remains strong in net, their blueline will rely on their own health, while their forward group doesn't necessarily impress, based on last year's numbers, but they have some youth that may get a good look this coming year.  I could still see a downward trend in Vancouver selections at the draft next season and it will be up to this management team to rectify that situation.

The Canucks have some former 1st round picks waiting in the wings and with some possible salary cap constraints, they may get to show their stuff out of necessity, more than anything.  Nicklas Jensen, by my count, barely scratches into the rookie consideration, having played 24 games in total already, while Brandon Gaunce, Hunter Shinkaruk, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann will all get long looks in camp as well.  After the solid campaign that Bo Horvat put up, maybe their scouting is finally doing something right.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

There are lots of pieces to this year's roster heading towards free agency, but only one of the pool-worthy players that were listed is heading that way, as Yannick Weber is need of a new deal as a restricted free agent.  Unrestricted free agency has plenty of the team's bottom six talent, some of which may be looked towards again, but it wouldn't be surprising if some of them were allowed to test the waters in July.

The Vancouver Canucks may be relying heavily on some of the kids that they have coming up through the system in 2016, as their cap projections do not look all that promising.  Including some retained salary in the Roberto Luongo deal, I currently have a total cap hit for 33 players signed on at $81.5 million.  Sure, we'll take away 10 players from that projection, but that still won't leave much room for any new faces in the lineup.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

With all the rookies coming out the pipe above, none of them are defensemen, so there could be a strong need for a top end defenseman taken in the opening round of the Entry Draft.  An all-round defenseman would be the best course of action, since offensive-minded defensemen are great, but they could struggle making the jump, especially if their play in their own zone struggles.  I would tap Thomas Chabot, as the way to go for the Canucks with the 23rd overall pick.  Chabot has some decent size and some good numbers, something the Canucks could really use from the backend.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

My prediction for the team is somewhat pessimistic, as re-tooling, which is what we'll call this, is not going to be easy and for any new coach coming in at this point, will have a tough time. The team is running with more questions than answers, like where will Kesler play in 2015 and will the goaltending they have step up and be NHL-worthy before too long. The Canucks should be aiming for a Wild Card playoff spot in the 2015 season, but I would be far from surprised if they finished outside of the playoffs, only slightly improving on their poor 2014 season. Things could improve for the team before the puck drops in September, but based on the situation of where they are today, I stand by my prediction about right now.

I stood on a very pessimistic stump and professed that my expectations for (admittedly) my favourite team were going to be very low.  The new coaching kept an even keel through the year, remarkably through some rough patches, but with an okay return in the Ryan Kesler deal to Anaheim and a free agent coup with Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller, the Canucks were able to answer the bell when some stronger NHL clubs in California dropped off the map.  A playoff berth with the 2nd spot in the Pacific was much more than expected and in this case, I was happy to be wrong.

The new Hockey Ops team for the Canucks has shown some moxie in the off-season and the regular season, trying to slide through some deals that may seem unassuming at the time, come back to pay some dividends.  Without another Summer like that, I think the Canucks can certainly regress, especially with the Flames catching fire with their revamped system and the Oilers winning the draft lottery, while the Kings rest up a little longer for a new push.  With the group that they have on today, the Canucks can make the playoffs in 2016, assuming the unexpected doesn't give us drastic situations.  The framework is still there, they could use a few tweaks, including some quality leadership.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pool Outlook for Washington

In Washington, it really seemed like things were coming together, as they had the best goal scorer in the league and the second best goalie in their ranks.  They were definitely poised to be up for a pretty good playoff run.  Unfortunately, the Capitals ran into an even stronger team in the Metropolitan Division, as the New York Rangers were able to dispatch of the Capitals in seven game this year.

Expectation levels were a mixed bag, since they were under new management and operating with a new bench boss, so no one was quite sure what to expect.  Once the team started to string some wins together, expectations rose very quickly and they were meeting those same expectations, as they emerged, until the Rangers had their say.

With everything that was new in place, I would think that this season was somewhat of a success for Washington and now the management team has something to tinker with and build upon in the coming off-season, as they try to improve their playoff finish next season.

The Capitals are usually a very important team at the hockey pool draft, since they have a number of the league's biggest stars and a fairly decent supporting cast.  This season, 11 Capitals players were taken in the draft this year, but some of those players didn't have as great of regular season success as I may have projected, which had shown in the number of players actively picking up points in the pool from Washington, as only 10 remained and one player was picked up through the Waiver Drafts.  Hard to argue with that top end talent though.

In the year of the goalie, it says a lot about Braden Holtby when he finishes 2nd in pool scoring.  Holtby finished ahead of the Rocket Richard Trophy winner from his own team, thanks to 41 wins and 102 points.  Holtby was the busiest goalie in the NHL, leading the league in minutes played and was picking up 1.44 points for every 60 minutes he played, which was an awfully good rate of scoring, given how much he played.  It was that kind of play that helped the Capitals carry on through the Islanders and the Rangers in the playoffs...

It may not have been a banner year for points, but Alex Ovechkin was still scoring goals this year, hence the trophy reference above, as he led the league with 53 goals in 81 games this year and his 81 points had him ranked 12th overall in pool scoring.  In total, the Capitals finished with eight pool worthy forwards, including two in the top 10, including Ovechkin and the other being Nicklas Backstrom, who had 78 points in 82 games.  They were one of the fiercest tandems in the NHL last season.  Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Curtis Glencross, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr rounded out the forward group, showing just how much depth helped Holtby with his 41 wins.

John Carlson was a top 10 defender, Mike Green was a top 20 defender, while Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were also considered to be pool-worthy in 2015, which made for a very reasonable core group of blueliners that could have done you some good on your pool team, if you didn't already have them.  Brooks Orpik also gets a slight nod, as he was ranked just outside the top 92 this year, down in 99th place.  When Orpik is getting points, you know there are lots to be had.

If you were looking for goaltending beyond Holtby, you are likely a glutton for punishment in your pools.  There wasn't very much to be had, as Justin Peters only played in 12 games for the Capitals, earning a 3-6-1 record.

2016 Pool Outlook

The first look at the Capitals off-season roster suggests that there is a lot of work to be done in the US capital, before they can look for any more success in the 2016 season.  From a poolie standpoint, a few of the big pieces are still in place and there should be little worry that a few more will be looked after before they become too much of an issue.  If there is one thing to be said about Capitals management, they do a pretty good job of keeping their squad as a haven for hockey pool picks.

Depending on the direction taken with some of the impending free agents (see below), the Capitals may have some options with some of their young players coming into next season.  Stanislav Galiev saw a little bit of time at the end of the regular season for the Capitals and there are reports that the 2010 3rd rounder is finally coming around.  2014 1st round pick, Jakub Vrana, may be a little too green for the coaching staff, so it might be early for him and it might be a bit too early for Madison Bowey, the standout defenseman coming out of Kelowna.  These three may get their looks, but Galiev, at this point, may have the best shot at being a freshman in the league.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Of course, the Capitals don't have everyone signed and ready to go, but they do have the bulk of it done and it does look somewhat cost efficient.  They have 26 cap hits registered, which would make a full squad, plus one, and their cap hit for the total is $58.7 million, leaving them ample room to take care of most of their key free agents.

With that being said, their restricted free agents will prove to be very costly, especially with goaltender Braden Holtby in need of a new deal, while both Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov each need new deals as well.

As for unrestricted free agents, Mike Green is on the radar for a lot of teams, if he makes it to July 1st, while forwards Joel Ward and Curtis Glencross will also hit the open market, if they are not taken care of beforehand.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

The Capitals have their 1st round pick in this year's draft and they will be picking in the 22nd spot this year.  They have been rounding out their stocks nicely, not over-drafting one position over the other and getting some okay results from them, even if they have to be patient with many of them.  I think the Capitals management has some real flexibility with what they can do with their pick, which can find the best player to fit the mould in Washington.  I can see the Capitals eye Evgeny Svechnikov in June.  Washington has a lot of power with the Russians and if they can continue to persuade some of the younger players to come along, they should be a very fast and skilled team.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

I think the Capitals have everything in place that they'll need to improve and make it back into the playoffs. They have plenty of elite talent up front, they have a coach that can make good defensemen into better ones and even if the team stays with Holtby, they should be fairly sound in net. Rumours are abound that the goaltending may change, but if it does, there is a good chance they could improve there too, but I would still be confident in Holtby. I'm looking to the Capitals to have a solid Summer, make a couple more key moves and then deliver in the 2015 season. With Trotz at the helm, a good playoff run doesn't sound like a crazy idea.

I really wish someone called me crazy about this one.  Holtby rewarded my confidence in him with an amazing season and the team excelled and he helped lead his team well into the playoffs, just short of a Conference Finals appearance.  I think that's a fairly good prediction, given what had happened with the Capitals this Spring.

For 2016, it all begins in the off-season and the potential Holtby deal, which may be tough to get done with a cap-friendly number.  Saying that, the other RFA's will play a big factor as to what kind of depth the team can afford afterwards as well.  If the team's reasonably green management can get everything done with some hometown discounts, goes out and picks the best of what they can from the free agent market, this team is definitely going the right way for a deeper playoff appearance.  It's a lot of ifs and buts, but that's the nature of the beast.  The Capitals will be playoff bound, they should still have plenty of scoring, but their off-season dictates how far they get.

Sens Lock Up Hammond

Have you started your homework yet for next season's hockey pool draft? Well, if you have, you can officially slot Andrew Hammond back into the fold for the Ottawa Senators, as the potential unrestricted free agent signed a contract extension on Wednesday, securing his role with the team for next season.

Highlighted already in my outlook for the Senators last week, Hammond was eligible to hit the open market, but with a great showing with the team at the end of the year and into the playoffs, the team was keen to sign him and they ended up with a pretty good deal, signing the 27-year old to a 3-year deal, with a cap hit of $1.35 million per season.

Hammond finished off the year with 20 wins, 3 shutouts and 1 assist last season and he didn't start his season until the middle of February.  In the end, he finished with 47 points in the hockey pool, but no one was able to claim him in last year's pool.

The Senators are now stacked with goaltending talent, so there will be a filtering out process, I'm sure, when it comes to training camp and that will have a huge effect to how we perceive the pecking order going into next season's draft.  Hammond, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner all took solid reps last season and the team added NCAA standout Matt O'Connor to the mix, but he isn't expected to make the jump right away, but his presence looms large.  There is an expectation that the Senators will move someone and it will be interesting to see what kind of return they get.

Today, Hammond ranks as the 22nd best goalie from last season's numbers, signed to a deal for next season.

Salary CapThe Senators got a very cap-friendly deal out of this as well, which is great news for the organization.  With this deal being less than $2 million per year, there is very little risk of Hammond not living up to his breakout year, as they could demote him with very little weighing against the club.  In addition to my outlook's numbers, the Senators are now standing at 34 signed players in total, coming in at about $70.2 million.

Triple OT Benefits the Hawks

A much closer game in Anaheim on Tuesday night, as some extra overtime periods were needed, nearly three full periods to be exact.

Much like Tampa Bay, the night before, the Chicago Blackhawks showed why they were in the Conference Finals to begin with, showing a ton of resolve and battling through some of the tough spots in these playoffs.  They got off to a good start, scoring a pair of early power play goals, capitalizing on the chances given to them by the Anaheim Ducks, but if you're going to count out the Ducks, you're quacking crazy.  The Ducks managed to get one before the end of the opening frame and then tied it up late in the 2nd.

The deadlocked 2-2 scoreline went through two full overtimes and then another 16 minutes in the third extra period before non-pool forward Marcus Kruger finished it for the Hawks, picking up some trash in front of the Anaheim net and depositing it in the bin.

It was a mish-mash of single points through the lineup and since the winner was scored by a non-pool player, only Corey Crawford was good enough for a mention, as a notable player in this game.  Crawford made 60 saves in the game and was the best player in the game, by a nose.

As expected, David Rundblad was back in the press box for the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night, having only played one game in these playoffs and not having the kind of impact on the game that the coaching staff could have hoped for.  With the win, it seems unlikely that Rundblad will see any more time soon.

The lead was trimmed a little bit on Tuesday night, as Jesse P. took advantage of a Blackhawks win and took Fontanna's lead down from 11 points to 8 points and the race gets a little bit more interesting with the turn of events.

Jesse also opened up a little bit more of a gap on 3rd place with the Crawford win, as his buffer zone increased from 2 points to 6 points and now he sits comfortably in 2nd place.

So, Fontanna leads with 198 points, Jesse follows with 190 and Stacey rounds out the money with 184 points.

The race for 3rd place is still interesting, as Sean L. is at 183 points, Thor is at 180 points, while Sairosh and Grant S. is at 178 points.  I am hoping to have a good breakdown of the money teams here in the next day or so, it may give us some insight as to how the race will finish up.

An updated list of injuries can be found here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pool Outlook for Long Island

The New York Islanders had one of the most interesting seasons, especially after everything was published in the preseason, they went ahead and dropped a bomb on the Metropolitan Division, acquiring Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and picking up Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks, all in the same day and reshaping the look of their franchise in one full swoop.

It's hard to say what exactly that did for expectations when that happened, but as soon as Boychuk hit the ice for the Islanders, the league, fans and poolies alike, were all in shock as to the wonder of what was going to happen on the ice.

Now with a superstar up front, a very decent blueline and newly-acquired starting goalie, the Islanders were not a joke anymore and nor did they play like one.  The Islanders were a competitive team and certainly showed their mettle in the regular season and the fanfare soon followed.

There is a difference between a good regular season team and a good playoff team, most of which stems from playoff experience, which going into the playoffs this year, they didn't really have in some areas.  They did gain a lot of experience in their 7-game series against the Capitals, which likely puts them in a better position for next year, so there have been more gains made and that's a positive.

The Islanders popularity definitely gained in the hockey pool this past year as well, as their year-end roster had 16 players touched by the pool, even though three of them were dropped through the year, mostly due to injury.  I would say that the Islanders are trending the right way and with some positive moves in the off-season, I think all that popularity would be justified.

You can tell that the Islanders were turning into a real team in the 2015 season, because their number one goalie was picking up a boatload of wins.  Jaroslav Halak finished the year with 38 wins and 89 points this past year, which was good enough for 5th overall and among goalies, making him into a legitimate 1st round selection in the hockey pools next season.  Halak was looked upon to be a workhorse in the crease and he did so and succeeded.

Up front, John Tavares was in the race for the Art Ross Trophy, falling just short with his 38 goals and 86 points in all 82 games this season.  He certainly had himself a fantastic year, living up to all of his hype.  In total, the Islanders had seven pool-worthy forwards and then another one on the border, as Kyle Okposo and Ryan Strome were top 100 forwards, while Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey were all strong in the supporting cast.  Nikolai Kulemin was on the outside looking in, just a couple spots out from the top 184 forwards and may get some extra consideration next season.

On the blueline, where we started this post, is probably where the Islanders were most impressive, as they had five players within the top 92, which made their blueline one of the most prolific for points this year.  In order, it was Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey and Lubomir Visnovsky, all doing the business on the island.  Visnovsky was on the bottom end of that total, even by playing just over half of the games in the season, due to injury.

Maybe the biggest issue for the Islanders and the reason why they were not quite division leaders/winners, was the depth in goal beyond their best player this year.  The Islanders acquired Michal Neuvirth for Chad Johnson at the deadline and was able to get some starts before the end of the year, but there were some struggles, as they rested Halak down the stretch.  Neuvirth, even with his time in Buffalo, still wasn't a pool-worthy goalie, ranking 53rd among keepers with only 14 points.

2016 Pool Outlook

The better part of the Islanders' core is signed on for the 2016 season, which has to make everyone very excited, including the team, which moves to Brooklyn and a new building in the Fall.  There is no question that this team has the potential to remain as exciting as they were in 2015 and their popularity at the draft will be quite high.  Last season, 11 players were drafted from Long Island in September and I think we might see something better than that this coming September/October.

Now that we're seeing the cycle of players through the Islanders system work their way through junior, some playing a bit in the AHL and then graduating to the big leagues and it is paying off.  The team's defense should be getting a boost from Griffin Reinhart this season, as he has already seen eight games in the bigs this past year and 2011 2nd round pick, Scott Mayfield, got some playoff time.  I would keep an eye on the 2014 1st round picks, Michael Dal Colle or Josh Ho Sang, but seeing their team's progression for their young players, they may be held back, barring a massive training camp.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Restricted free agency is going to be where the bulk of the work is done in this off-season, as most of the pool-worthy players heading to free agency are going to be restricted.  Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Thomas Hickey headline those who need new deals.  Lubomir Visnovsky is the biggest unrestricted player, but his time may be up, thanks to his health issues.

Having a bundle of youth on board does help the bottom line for the team, as their cap number isn't outrageous... yet.  Currently, I have 27 players with cap hits disclosed on my sheet and they are coming in at $62.9 million, which leaves lots of room for whatever else they need to do to make this team successful.

Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft

With the team becoming more and more successful, their quality of picks at the Entry Draft become lesser and lesser.  That's okay though, it is still a valuable asset in the league, one that they used this year to acquire Thomas Vanek last season.  The Islanders chose to defer their pick in the deal to the 2015 draft, which was a wise decision, as their pick got significantly worse than the 5th overall pick they had at last year's draft.  The organization could always use more young talent, but the Islanders are now in the function of winning now, so moving that pick helps.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

In offering up a prediction for the 2015 season, I would go so far as to say that the season will ride on the lapels of GM Garth Snow and how he can help Tavares and company. Finding a defenseman to guide his youngsters will be key, as Lubomir Visnovsky doesn't seem to be the guy, thanks to injuries and likely a lack of drive at age 37. If Snow can get a piece or two like this in order for the Islanders this Summer, I think we'll see some real excitement on Long Island and likely some good hockey pool draft picks. Oh yeah, and they'll be in the Wild Card race for the playoffs.

Dear Garth Snow,

You can give me credit for the Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy moves at any time now.  Were they the biggest reason why you jumped over the wild card race and into the divisional spots?  I don't think I am the only one to think so.

The Opiated Sherpa

For the 2016 season, I have a strong feeling that John Tavares is only going to get better and he'll be taking this team and pushing it even farther.  The Rangers still appear to be very strong in the Metropolitan Division, but I think with the improvements that the Islanders and their captain can still make, they can really take a chunk out of the 12-point difference in the standings.  I get the feeling that the playoff run, as short as it was, did the team wonders for their maturity and long-term goals and with that kind of leadership, they will put up a reasonable challenge to the Rangers and likely earn home-ice in the first round of the playoffs next year.