Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hawks Dominate in Anaheim, Off to Face Tampa

The Anaheim Ducks had home-ice advantage in Game 7 for all of two minutes and 23 seconds.  With this team's seeming ability to almost score at will, both in the regular season and the playoffs, even when Jonathan Toews opened the scoring before the 3-minute mark of the 1st period, I was still thinking that we were in for a good ol' fashioned street fight, where both teams would come out swinging and scoring.

No, Toews scored again, shortly after the halfway mark of the opening frame and the Ducks were lifeless going into the break, down two goals, in their own rink, in the Conference Finals, in the all-important elimination game of elimination games.

The Blackhawks scored again to open the frame, on a goal by Brandon Saad, which had the combination of a great play to find a winger wide open in space to pot into an open net, and an absolute collapse of defensive ability to mark the men in their zone.  And before the Ducks could make an argument, Marian Hossa scored a somewhat questionable goal, which I thought the officials got the call right, not making a distinct kicking motion for the puck to go into the Anaheim net.

The Ducks show a little bit of life, thanks to their key off-season acquisition, Ryan Kesler, who sniped a great shot along the goal line, which found the space between the post and Corey Crawford's ear and it was 4-1 at the 2nd intermission.

There may have been some level of desperation from the Ducks in the 3rd, but I wasn't convinced of it, like I was earlier in these playoffs or even in this series, when they scored three times in quick succession.  No, between the Blackhawks trying to defend their 3-goal lead and the Ducks lack of a defense-crushing push, trading a few goals in the final frame was all these teams were good for and the game ended in a small cloud of smoke, as the Ducks' engine that could, didn't.

In the end, it was a 5-3 final for Chicago, which played out more like the 4-1 game that it was in the 2nd.  Crawford made 35 stops in the win, including 10 in the 3rd period, and his Chicago team will go on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, starting on Wednesday.

Patrick Kane led all players in the game with 3 points, while Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brad Richards and Corey Crawford all escaped with 2 points each and there is a mighty fine chance that a lot of teams got out of that game with either 6 or 7 points from the Blackhawks alone.

The second of the Conference Finals eliminations is usually a big deal in the pool and it was again this year, as the Ducks had 78 picks stricken from active duty with the loss last night.  They were not the favourites in this series, but there was a lot of pool scoring from this team, which helped define the pool standings.  Cam Fowler and Frederik Andersen were the top two picks from Anaheim, taken 12 times, while James Wisniewski didn't play a single game, a healthy scratch throughout, was taken 11 times.

Andersen led all Ducks players on the Playoff Pool sheet with 24 points, while both Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf each came away with 20 points each, but snake-bitten in the two games that mattered the most.  Sure, Perry scored in Game 7, but not when it counted.  Just saying.

So Jesse P. got his wish and he has a goalie in the fight for 2nd place in the standings, which means he still has life left to keep swinging.  If the Ducks had won, Thor would have likely ran away with the distinction, as he would have had both goalies in the Cup Finals, instead, they each have one.

This race does continue to stay hot though, as Thor has a 2-point lead over Jesse after the second Game 7 of the Conference Finals, so it will be a matter of who has whom in the Finals, which will make the biggest difference.  Something that I will definitely outline in my Cup Finals preview, likely on Tuesday or early on Wednesday.

Fontanna, our runaway leader, finishes the Conference Finals, with the audit complete, with a 14-point lead, unbeatable by these pool standards, having only six players left and likely some repeats between teams.

Sean L. will get outlined in the Finals preview as well, being the last team with a theoretical shot at the money, but 8 points difference will require some heavy lifting from his unique players, if he has any to speak of.

Game-Winning Goals
New Playoffs Game Winner ButtonI haven't spoken too much about the game-winners of late, as that part of the post was getting to be really dull and drab, especially with only one game a night.

Tyler Johnson finishes the first three rounds of the playoffs as the pool leader in game-winners, ending up with 4 bonus points to his name.  Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov and Matt Beleskey were all good, thus far, finishing with 3 each, while seven more players had a pair, three of which are heading to the Cup Finals: Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Alex Killorn.

Fontanna also ran away with this race as well, finishing the Conference Finals with a pool-best, 21 GWGs, leaving Sean L. and Tony C. in the dust, back with 16 each.

Stay tuned for more posts about the Cup Finals and also about the Pool Outlooks for our two newly eliminated teams.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Off-Season Surgeries (May 30)

The off-season injury parade started off with the league's Art Ross Trophy winner, as Jamie Benn played a portion of the last few weeks with a hip ailment, but was still good enough to leapfrog through the scoring race to take the trophy.  Fortunately for Benn, his surgery to both hips came in the middle of April, so he has ample time to recover for the start of training camp next season.  He is expected to make a full recovery for the start of camp and by the look of some reports at the end of May, he has been responding well, so there should be nothing to worry about.

The Devils, another team that didn't make the playoffs this year, had one of their players go for off-season surgery, as forward Adam Henrique went for wrist surgery, not too long after the season had ended.  The recovery time for that surgery was 4-to-6 weeks, which would have him back to being ready by June, so he should be 100% for training camp in September.  Henrique had 43 points in 75 games last season and getting back to normal might mean a slight increase in his scoring next season.

The Winnipeg Jets were one of the first playoff teams to be ousted, which meant that they were the first playoff team to have players lining up for the operating room in the off-season.  Defenseman Jacob Trouba was the first to go, as he underwent hand surgery at the beginning of May, expected to be 100% for training camp in September.  Tobias Enstrom and Adam Pardy were also under the knife, both having to go through shoulder surgeries and both were reportedly successful, so the blueline for the Jets, arguably their best positional feature, should be in good shape for the start of the season.

For the Predators, they were without their captain for the last four playoff games against the Blackhawks, and that was one of the leading factors for their first round exit.  Shea Weber suffered a knee injury, a subluxed knee cap, which needed surgery to repair at the end of April.  The injury was serious enough to keep him out of the lineup for the last few games of the series, but with a 4-to-6 week recovery period, he should actually be close to being ready for his off-season training to begin.

The Ottawa Senators were unable to roll their blueline with defenseman Jared Cowen in the last month or so in the season and at the end of April, it was announced, albeit quietly, that the 24-year old defender would undergo an operation to repair a sports hernia.  Cowen only played in 54 games in the 2015 season, scoring 3 goals and 9 points, nowhere near where his expectations or his projections had him at the beginning of the season.  His status as a potential hockey pool defenseman may have been saved by word of an injury, but there will be a lot of doubt upon him going forward.

Shortly after the Capitals were eliminated by the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs, it was announced that Washington's number one centre, Nicklas Backstrom, underwent an arthroscopic hip procedure.  Backstrom had an amazing season for the Capitals, but fell a bit short in the playoffs and a hip problem could certainly be a good reason for it, although, it was mentioned that Jamie Benn had a good finish to the season with a hip problem, but that wasn't exactly playoff hockey.  Backstrom is expected to be ready to go in September, when camp opens.

Tight Defensive Game Eliminates the Rangers

Before the start of Game 7, if you would have asked me, I would have thought a close game would have benefitted the Rangers and that if the Bolts were going to win, it would have been a shootout at the OK Corral.  Instead, the Lightning were going punch for punch in the defensive zone, if not dominating the ground game and the body blows for the most part, allowing themselves to not only stay in the game, but be the better team in it, away from home.

Lots was said about records going into this Game 7, how unbeatable players and teams were, but those records again meant a whole lot of nothing on the ice, because they still had to play the game.

No score into the 3rd period, but the flow of the game was towards the Rangers net, Henrik Lundqvist was having to do quite the job to keep the Rangers in this one, as his side only had 11 shots on the Tampa goal through two, while he had to make 19 stops at the same time... and his team had two power plays in the middle frame.

In a game where there was so much defense and solid play in each team's end, it should come as no surprise, when the opening goal was of the ugly variety, as Alex Killorn cut to the middle of the ice with the puck on his backhand, letting a low shot go and it got the bounces, all the way through Lundqvist's legs.  It wasn't pretty, but the expectation of pretty wasn't really there, one team just had to get the puck to the net for it to go in and the Lightning were the first to do so, less than two minutes into the 3rd.

Halfway through the frame, as the Rangers started to pick up their offensive game again and try to establish some more zone time at the other end, the Lightning were able to score off the transitional rush and it was Ondrej Palat, who sniped one over Lundqvist's shoulder and the Lightning led 2-0 with just over eight minutes to play.

The Rangers needed a goal, they had the puck, they pulled the goalie with four minutes to play, but the Lightning defense was perfect, as pointed out by Elliotte Friedman in the post-game, the Rangers didn't get a shot in the last seven minutes of the frame and Ben Bishop only had to make a total of 22 saves for the shutout, as the Lightning won Game 7 with a 2-0 score.

Not only did Bishop blank the Rangers, he had his 3rd assist of these playoffs as well, making it a 5-point night for the Tampa keeper, while Killorn had a 2-point night, scoring the winner in this one as well.

The Rangers were only the favourite by two selections in this series, so saying that this was a real upset in the pool wasn't really the case.  Too close to call and you had an argument going each way.  Nevertheless, this is the time of the year where a lot of key eliminations happen and there were 88 picks stricken from the record with this Rangers loss.  Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan were two of the most popular players in the pool, taken 18 and 16 times, respectively, so it works out to be a huge loss for a lot of teams in this way.

You could argue that scoring was an issue for the Rangers, as their leading point-getter was Lundqvist and even with a couple Game 7's, the best forward was Derick Brassard and he only had 17 points in the pool, including one winner.  Rick Nash only scored 5 goals in total, no winners, while Stepan had 5 goals and only one winner.  The Rangers surely could have used more from their big guys, in order to make the move back into the Finals.

Lots of credit to the Lightning though, they really made life difficult for the Rangers on more nights that they had it tough and that's the story of that series, in a nutshell.

After the pool audits for the Eastern Conference teams, the race for 2nd place is still the only one that really exists.  Thor vaulted over Jesse with the win, thanks to the Bishop points.  Thor finished the East Finals with a 3-point lead over Jesse, thanks to the huge Tampa goalie, but it is nearly impossible for either team to possibly catch 1st place, to which the gap to Fontanna is now 15 points.

For 2nd & 3rd, they also appear safe in their own little bubble, as Sean L. is in 4th place and is now 9 points back and will drop to five players with the result of the West Finals game tonight.  Stacey M. is now 11 points back of the money and would need a huge effort by the Ducks to possibly work their way back into contention for 3rd place.

Looks like the concentration will be on 2nd & 3rd place tonight, which will be key going forward.  Thor has Frederik Andersen of the Ducks, while Jesse has Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks and it would be nearly impossible for Jesse to work his way back into 2nd place, if he doesn't have a goalie in the Finals.

The intrigue for one position in the standings mounts... where are you going to be watching the game?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Loading Up on Game Sevens

On Friday night, it will be the first of two Game 7's in the Conference Finals, as the Tampa Bay Lightning will try to upset the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, where they have already won twice before in this series.

Leading the charge for Tampa Bay in this series has been Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop, as they have all registered 9 points in this series for the pool and they will have to be the team's best players in the most important game of their playoffs, to date.

In order for the Rangers to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for a second straight year, Henrik Lundqvist will have to be at his best, while the offense needs to come out swinging as well.  Derick Brassard leads New York in this series with 8 points in the first six games, while Rick Nash and Keith Yandle each had 7 points.

This series has been unpredictable, to say the least, so offering up an idea of who will come out hot or who has an edge in this series is somewhat moot.  The only thing that really can be said is that this series has been better than advertised, since it has been anything but typical playoff hockey.

Fontanna, our pool leader, has a lot of stock in both teams, which means that either way, she'll likely come out on top.  For the Lightning, her team has Johnson, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, while for the Rangers, she has Nash, Lundqvist and Chris Kreider.  It's no wonder why her team has pulled away at the top.

On Saturday night, the powerhouse Anaheim Ducks will play host to the very resilient Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, winner take all match.

In the West, home-ice has meant a little bit more, as these teams are 2-1 in their home rinks, respectively, so the onus will be on the Blackhawks to have their best road game of the season.

In this series, Duncan Keith leads all Blackhawks skaters with 6 points, all assists, while Corey Crawford has 6 points, thanks to his .920 save percentage in the series.

On the flip side, the Ducks are led by Ryan Getzlaf, who has 7 points, also all of his points are assists, while Frederik Andersen hasn't seen quite as much rubber, but still has 6 points to show for his efforts.

Our runaway leader has stock in both of these teams as well, owning Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane from the Chicago side, Andersen, Matt Beleskey and Cam Fowler from the Anaheim side.  Potentially, Fontanna could have both goalies in the Stanley Cup Finals, which would be very beneficial, but there is a whole lot more scoring potential for her team, if the Blackhawks were to move on.

No matter which way you slice it, we've got two amazing games coming up and we'll have to give the boot to a couple very good teams by Sunday morning.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Wild West Gets One More Game

What's better than one Game 7 in the Conference Finals?  A Game 7 in both the East and the West.

The Chicago Blackhawks were not going away without getting their money's worth out of the Anaheim Ducks, but not only that, they will have an opportunity to eliminate the Ducks on Saturday night, after a 5-2 win on Wednesday night.

On the shoulders of Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, each of them coming away with 3 points for the pool in Game 6, the Blackhawks were able to power through the threat of elimination.

A 3-goal outburst in the 2nd period, fueled by Keith's 3 assists, helped pave the way to the win.  The Ducks made it into a tight one, coming as close as 3-2, early in the 3rd period, but a couple of goals late in the final frame capped off the game and we'll see these two teams go head-to-head on the weekend.

Corey Crawford made 30 saves for the win and was the only other player in this game to be considered notable with a couple of points.

Fontanna - 247 points
Jesse P. - 231
Thor - 229

There's your top three teams after Wednesday night and they are now starting to pull away a little bit in the standings.  Thor now has a 7-point gap on Sean L. and a 10-point lead on Stacey M..

With only a couple of Game 7's left to go in the Conference Finals, the mainstay players between the two winners are all likely to be the same through the remaining teams or at least be close enough that there will be very little separation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pool Worthy UFAs: Forwards

In the forwards department, it's a little bit more of a bigger job to comb through the scoring centres and wingers and add them to a list of free agents. Okay, the only real work is giving them their piece in the blog post.  Maybe doing up their picture for the blog.

The highlights will be the top 10 forwards, but from the top 184 forwards from last year's standings, 19 of them are going to the open market, potentially, and I don't really have the patience to do them all.  I'll go through the lot that are very interesting and this is the sort of thing that can persuade you, when you do your homework or at least where they sign will persuade you.

I don't think there is any secret, the free agent market, especially at the forward positions, have any real marquee players, but in a lot of years for us poolies, it isn't necessarily the superstars that make or break our pool teams, it's how we do with our depth players that really make the difference.

The headliner of the UFA class of forwards is Mike Ribeiro, who ended up being one of the biggest free agent signings last Summer, as the Predators took a chance on him and he paid off big time, picking up 15 goals and 62 points, playing in all 82 games.  Ribeiro's fortunes, playing with Filip Forsberg, were drastically improved and he was a key player in Nashville's run through the regular season and into their short playoff run.

I would imagine that the Predators would really like to re-sign Ribeiro, he was worth a bundle for them in the regular season, but coming off a cap hit of just over $1 million, his pay raise might be worth some debate, errrr... I mean, negotiation.  If Ribeiro doesn't like their offer, I could see him hitting the market, just to put some pressure on.

What does Martin St. Louis do in this off-season?  The Rangers are heading to a Game 7 against the Lightning and he could be on the verge of making a pretty big decision or maybe it will come as a very easy decision, depending on whether or not they make it past.  St. Louis is now 39 years old and had scored 21 goals and 52 points in 71 games, but how much more does he have left in the tank?  A Stanley Cup win could potentially mean a storybook ending to a career or if he falls short, does he stick around to try one more time?

If he does stick around, I can't see him playing with anyone but the Rangers, but New York is going to be in the middle of their own little cap crunch, heading into the Summer.  There are plenty of variables in his equation, some of which have yet to happen, but he will be a top end free agent, if he decides to go to market.

If you were reading my outlook for the Winnipeg Jets, I had made mention to Drew Stafford and his likelihood of re-signing with the team, especially since he had such a good back end of the year, after the deal that brought him to town with Tyler Myers and sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian the other way.  Stafford scored 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games between the two sides, finishing 109th among all forwards in scoring.  I think with a bit more familiarity with his new club, he could exceed those numbers next season.

Stafford, a $4 million man last season, should be in the same neighbourhood for his cap hit in any new deal this Summer and I could see the Jets give him somewhere in the area of three or four years, but I would wager they lock him up.

The Winnipeg Jets, with back-to-back UFA's on this list, come back with forward Michal Frolik, who actually had a pretty decent season, scoring 19 goals and 42 points in all 82 games and did it quietly.  In retrospect, I may have added that Frolik could be an after thought for the Jets in the free agent market, but looking a little closer, that may have been a bit hasty.  42 points may not make you look twice at him in your pool list, but when you're digging deep in the draft, you likely shouldn't be afraid to pick him up as a depth player.

$3.3 million is possibly a bit steep for his production, but then again, he is an established player in the league and he does provide good value at both ends of the ice.  I could see him re-signing in Winnipeg and I think it would be beneficial for everyone if he does.

Justin Williams is definitely known more for his prowess in the playoffs, as a clutch performer, but he does put up some respectable regular season numbers, which puts him in the thick of the UFA list at this point in time.  Williams scored 18 goals and 41 points in 81 games, ranking 119th among all forwards.  Without a playoff run in the Spring, Williams' stock may take a tumble in the 'what have you done for me lately?' mindset of the market, but someone is going to go out there and drop some money in his lap.

The Los Angeles Kings are in some more cap trouble, especially if the gains in the salary cap ceiling is only 5%, so there will be a lot of discussion, I'm sure, about who stays and who goes for the Kings and Williams is likely to draw a short straw.  His cap hit of $3.675 million last season will be hard to match for the Kings, let along allow for a raise.

The Detroit Red Wings didn't get a lot of value out of Erik Cole after acquiring him for their run to the playoffs, as he finished the year before the playoffs even started, dealing with a spinal contusion.  Nevertheless, his season between Dallas and Detroit was rather fruitful, picking up 21 goals and 39 points in 68 games.  Cole ranked 6th among UFA forwards in points per game in 2015 and there is a full expectation that he will be ready to go for training camp, wherever he lands.

Cole, now 36, may need to take a bit of a pay cut from his $4.5 million cap hit last season to jump onto a team, especially if he would want to stay with the Red Wings.  With the youth coming up around the league, there will still need to be some veteran help within the league, but it will have to be workable under the cap.

A preseason Achilles injury limited Mike Fisher's season to only 59 games for the Predators in 2015, but his return came with a big boom, as he scored 19 goals and 39 points in that time and is the second-best forward on this list for points-per-game, which may make him into an attractive option on the free agent market.  I would think that the Predators would want to look to keep him around and also given his personal life situation, he'd want to stay in Nashville, but it would seem silly to not see what the free agent market has out there for him, between money and championship potential, it could be a big leap for him.

Fisher was a $4.2 million player in 2015 and has a lot of value as a two-way centre, so his stock should be fairly high in this off-season.  Lots of teams could use a guy like Fisher, but I could also see the Predators looking to make a sly deal to get him to stay.

For years, Antoine Vermette's named had surfaced as trade bait at the deadline, as a solid two-way centre, who would provide some solid 3rd line minutes and faceoffs for a playoff bound team.  Finally, the Coyotes decided that a full rebuild or retooling was in order and they dropped the bomb on moving Vermette, giving him a shot in Chicago.  The Blackhawks are another team in salary cap trouble, so there is a good chance that he'll make it to the open market and he'll be a hot commodity, scoring 13 goals and 38 points between the two clubs in the regular season.

There are going to be a number of teams that are looking to capitalize on Vermette in the off-season and there is plenty of reason to believe that he'll get a reasonable raise or maybe even an unreasonable raise from his $3.75 million cap hit last season.

The cap crunch in Chicago is also likely going to cost Brad Richards his cushy spot alongside Patrick Kane, as his free agent status will likely be too expensive for the Blackhawks.  Richards was a last minute signing with the Hawks, when no one was prepared to take an expensive flyer on him and became a cheap option for the team when the deal was done.  His production, despite skating with some of the best players in the league, still took a hit, as his consistency was an issue.

If Richards is still interested in being paid in the $2 million range, there might be some fit in Chicago, but taking a lesser deal to just play is all well and good, until you want to get paid again.  It will be interesting to see what direction he goes in, especially at age 35.

In 10th place on the list, Chris Stewart, another trade deadline mover, going from Buffalo to Minnesota, scored 14 goals and 36 assists in 81 games between the two clubs and he did see some time in the playoffs, as the Wild eliminated the Blues, but fell to the Blackhawks in the second round.  Stewart brings a great deal of size to an NHL lineup, but his offense has been rather inconsistent.. good, but inconsistent.  I'm sure teams will be targeting him for his size and his desire to get to the front of opposition nets.

For his inconsistency, teams may be in line to pay a hefty amount, as his last deal was in the $4.15 million range in the cap hit department.  He certainly can be better than some of the numbers that he has posted, but I think some teams may be weary of paying him for his potential, rather for what they have seen thus far.

Outside of the top 10, there are another nine forwards that fit into the top 184 in forwards scoring, plus a good number that were on the verge of being worthy to be in the pool, missing out by 3-or-4 points.  Curtis Glencross and Joel Ward headline the best of the rest, coming out of Washington, a team with space, but maybe in need of a revised direction.  Daniel Winnik likely hits the market after a sub-par year in Pittsburgh, while Scott Gomez is a surprise addition to the list, as he had a pretty decent year, considering his career trajectory a year or two ago.  Capitals add another name to the list, as Eric Fehr hits with 33 points last season, being joined at that scoring level by Nashville forward Mike Santorelli.  Steve Bernier quietly finished 178th overall in pool scoring in New Jersey, he'll need a new deal, while Derek Roy should re-sign in Edmonton, following a mentor-ship year with some young Oilers and could be a valuable asset from 179th overall among forwards.  As the Coyotes continue to rebuild, I would imagine that Martin Erat hits the open market after a 32-point season, rounding out the remaining pool worthy forwards.

On the outside looking in, Blake Comeau and Jiri Tlusty each had 31 points, Shawn Horcoff had 29 points in Dallas, while Lee Stempniak and Steve Downie each had 28 points.

This Summer has quite a few free agents to speak of, but the silly season really lacks those players that are soaked in intrigue.

Rangers Travel to Stay Alive

I was only scoreboard watching last night from the ballpark, so I can only give the feeling of what it looked like coming in and checking the phone and that was seemingly like every time I picked up my mobile, someone had scored and more often than not, it was the Rangers.  I was already preparing to use the stayin' alive graphic again, just for them.

The Rangers beat the Lightning, 2-1 in the 1st, were held to a 0-0 tie in the 2nd and then exploded for a 5-2 win in the 3rd period, finishing off a 7-3 game in their favour and forcing a Game 7 for Thursday night.

Derick Brassard was the star of this one, picking up a hat-trick and a pair of assists for a 5-point night, while Rick Nash had a goal and 3 assists for a 4-point night and Keith Yandle was the only other pool skater with a multiple-point night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 36 saves, standing tall for his 11th win of these playoffs, earning another 2 points on his total for the Spring Dance.

On the Tampa side, Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson picked up a pair of points each, which looked good for a number of poolies, but seemed rather futile in the boxscore of the hockey game.

That result was probably one of the best results for Fontanna, who run away with the Conference Finals race, sitting atop of the round's scoring with 63 points, while Thor and Wes are hanging around with 59 points each.

With Thor dropping off a little, this opened the door for Jesse to retake 2nd place, making up the small-ish gap that opened up after Monday night's games and putting a point in between the two sides.

Sean L. also jumped back into 4th place with the big Rangers win, but still sits 8 points back of the money, as he's hoping that New York is able to make it through to the next round, just so he has six players in the pool for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 7 of this series will go on Thursday night, now will we have another Game 7 to go with it?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ducks Almost Blow It, Hawk Now Behind 8-Ball

Another busy day at the office slowed the process of last night's playoff game recap.  Here we go!

The Chicago Blackhawks are behind the 8-ball after Monday night's Game 5 in Anaheim, as the Ducks were good enough when they had to be, even though they were not good enough to close out the game with a 2-goal lead late in the 3rd.

The Ducks appeared to have the game safely in hand, by the end of the 1st period, up 3-0, feeling little push back from the Hawks.  In the 2nd, the push back finally came, as the Hawks tallied twice in the middle frame, making it a little more interesting, going into the 3rd, only down 3-2.

What was thought to be an insurance marker by Patrick Maroon was scored 14 minutes into the 3rd, but a remarkable comeback, headed by Chicago captain, Jonathan Toews, scoring a pair of goals, the tying goal coming with 38 seconds left on the clock.

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, it was all for naught, as Matt Beleskey potted home a big fat rebound, only 45 seconds into the first overtime period, ending the game and forcing the Hawks behind the dreaded 8-ball.

For the Ducks, it was notable games from Beleskey, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg, Sami Vatanen and Frederik Andersen, all picking up 2 points in the win.  A fortunate pool team would have picked up 6 points from the Ducks alone.

On the losing side, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews all picked up 2 points on the selection sheet for the Blackhawks.

This series will now shift back to Chicago to see if the home crowd can help force a Game 7.

After Monday night's win by the Ducks, means that the top two teams in the Conference Finals are now on top of the standings of the pool overall, as both Fontanna and Thor, now with 53 points each in the third round, are now the clear leaders in the pool.  Fontanna still has a 14-point lead over Thor, but now Thor has a 3-point lead over Jesse for 2nd place in the standings.

Jesse only has a 3-point lead over Stacey M., who has only made 3 points on him in total, so it remains close there.  Sean L. has lost ground on Jesse in this round, now sitting 7 points back, while Dale C.'s first team is creeping in behind, but his team might still be too far away with only a few games left to play in these playoffs.

With a possible elimination on Tuesday night, things could get far more difficult for those teams chasing down a money spot.

Pool Worthy UFAs: Defensemen

To continue on with the theme of future unrestricted free agents, the small-ish preview of those who were deemed pool worthy in 2015 are being highlighted in these posts, as you're probably going to look at a few of these names and say 'hey, depending on where this guy is going, he might be someone I will look into for next season's poo l draft.'

There are 62 defensemen, who played in the NHL last season, who are also heading to the open market on July 1st.  Only eight of these guys were deemed pool worthy, but that isn't to say some won't be mentioned after the highlights, because there are some players that could have been worthy, they just may not have had the games played or maybe they were not on the best of teams.

We'll start with the highlights first.

Remember when Mike Green was a top end hockey pool defenseman?  Yeah, me too.  The 2015 season wasn't a bad year for him, but it was nowhere near some of his better days, when he was the top offensive defenseman in the league.  Last season, Green finished 18th among blueliners, scoring 10 goals and 45 points in 72 games with Washington and he heads the list of potential free agent defensemen on this post.

He will certainly be a popular name on the market and from the things I've seen and heard, I think he makes it to market, trying to make it worth his while.  The Capitals are fairly deep on the blueline and likely want more flexibility on their roster, so I think he makes it.  His cap hit last season was just about $6.1 million, but I don't seem to think he'll get there again and where he signs?  Boy, there are lots of options.  My first guess may be Detroit, as they will be hunting for that top end defender.

The Nashville Predators re-acquired defenseman Cody Franson from the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline, but their depth on the blueline may mean that he will try and look for more playing time and responsibility elsewhere.  Between Toronto and Nashville, he was able to play in 78 games, scoring 7 goals and 36 points, good enough for 36th among all defensemen.  With more ice-time and responsibility, he has a real chance to put up some really good numbers somewhere, it will just be a matter of where.

Franson goes into his first year of UFA eligibility with decent numbers, but not great numbers, which would mean a good payday.  He'll certainly try and there are definitely going to be teams that pay him for his potential.  $4.5 to $5 million may not be out of the question and he should be a 2nd place prize to Green.

At 38 years old, it's hard to say whether or not Marek Zidlicky will have much left in the tank to jump into another season, but after finishing the year in Detroit, he may have a new appreciation for playing again.  Between New Jersey and Detroit, he was able to play in 84 games, scoring 7 goals and 34 points.  Being one of two defensemen in the league to play in 84 games, you probably have an argument that he does have some left in the tank for another go, but we'll have to wait and see.

A responsible veteran defenseman in the $3 million range... that does seem right up the alley of the Red Wings, but that will definitely depend on what they do beforehand.  I would think that Zidlicky would like to go to an immediate contender and maybe he has no reservations to taking a little bit less to make sure he gets on to a good team?

Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin isn't far away from unrestricted free agency, but being as though he's still in the playoffs at the time of this post, his value may still climb, depending on where they finish.  Beauchemin had a very good regular season, picking up 11 goals and 23 points in 64 games, not to mention being solid in his own end.  It will be interesting to see where he fits into the Ducks' long-term plan after this season.

In order for Beauchemin to stay in Anaheim, which, if I had to guess, would be the best bet, he'll have to stay in the same range of $3.5 million for his cap hit to do so.  The Ducks are not in terrible shape, when it comes to their cap management, but if they want to get back to where they are in the playoffs, I would think that he'll need to be aware of his cap hit negotiation too.

The fifth of nine defensemen on the list, trade deadline mover, Andrej Sekera, who went from Carolina to Los Angeles in March and really didn't provide the offense, which made him into a breakout star in the 2014 season.  Sekera hasn't necessarily been a slouch, scoring 3 goals and 23 points in 73 games between the two teams, but it was nowhere near his 44 points the year before.  He'll be a good second pairing defenseman, assuming the minutes are there.

Sekera is on the younger side of the UFA class at only 28 years old, so his upside is still there, which probably means that his cap hit will go up, but since he couldn't repeat the feat of 2014, his raise won't be nearly as substantial.  Teams are out there looking for guys and Sekera, since he was likely a rental player, has some real potential on the free agent market.

Another trade deadline pick-up on the list, which shouldn't come as a surprise, since those are the important players in a lot of deals in March, but there has been some word that Jeff Petry may not just be a rental in Montreal, if the Canadiens can swing it, they'll try and sign him to a new deal for next season.  Petry was a steady hand for the Habs in the back end of the regular season and was good in the playoffs, before they were eliminated by the Lightning.  Between Edmonton and Montreal, Petry picked up 7 goals and 22 points in 78 games, ranking 74th among blueliners.

The Habs have already said that they would like Petry back and his usefulness may extend past his 2015 cap hit of $3.1 million, which could make Montreal shy away very quickly.  No matter where he ends up or how useful he is to an NHL team, he's still a bottom-range pool defenseman, so don't get too excited where he ends up.

He may not have been a mainstay when the Islanders made it to the playoffs, which could be because of his age, 38 years old at the time of the post, but Lubomir Visnovsky did enough to make it to the notable defensemen heading to the free market. Of course, given his age, retirement has to be thought of as an option, especially since he and Zidlicky are not exactly getting any younger these days.  With 5 goals and 20 points in 53 games, he was good when called upon, but how much does he have left in the tank?

Can't see the price tag being anywhere near the same, since his limited amount of games played was not helping his cause there.  If I was a guy like Visnovsky, playing on an Islanders team that is bringing along some real talent, he could do really well to take a pay cut to stick around, play when needed and act as a mentor... unless, some team wants to offer him more money.

The nightmare that was the Pittsburgh defense did touch Paul Martin, even if just by eight games out of the lineup, but for the most part, all the injury problems had a greater effect on him when he was in the lineup, as he was one of the few healthy regulars that were a mainstay in the lineup.  Martin didn't have a great year offensively, maybe due to the inconsistency of the lineup, but he did post 3 goals and 20 points, good enough to still be 91st among defensemen in scoring.

Martin is 34 years old as well, so his deal could be in the longer-term variety, especially if he makes it to market.  The Penguins are not necessarily the healthiest, when it comes to cap management, so his previous cap hit of $5 million may need some massaging to stay, so a look at what the market says does seem awfully likely.

Since Martin was the 91st rank defenseman on the list, the top 92 sort of ends there, as Zach Bogosian, #92, is safely signed on in Buffalo for next season and beyond.  What's next, you ask?

Matt Irwin of the San Jose Sharks, he was ranked 96th; Barret Jackman of the St. Louis Blues, available at 112th; Andrej Meszaros missed 22 games, ranked 115th; Christian Ehrhoff had concussion issues, ranked 123rd.  These guys are going to likely get mentions during the Summer, if and when the sign/move, so keep an eye out for those posts coming up.