Friday, March 26, 2010

All Things Hockey, March 26th, 2010

Gambling is, of course, illegal in the vast majority of our great country. There are of course, some exceptions, including Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Since I once wrote a large portion of a column in the Las Vegas airport, and I went to a Devils game last night, I am perfectly willing to declare Obstructed View Sports enough a part of those two states that I can, with a clear conscious, promote sports betting in this space.
With that in mind, most teams in the NHL have about 10 games remaining. It is time to figure out who has a chance to win it all, so let’s break this down power-rankings style, and go 30-1 and take a look at the odds of each team winning the Cup.
Group 1—Off the board, Officially Eliminated
30. Edmonton Oilers- OFF- The Oilers are, as of today, the only team that has been officially mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously you would have no trouble getting a casino to take your money on an Edmonton bet, but no one is going for that one.

Group 2- Why Bother? Out of the Hunt

29. Toronto Maple Leafs- +2 Billion
28. Columbus Blue Jackets- +2 Billion- These two are, for all intents and purposes, eliminated, but for the sake of mathematics, we will make them slightly more viable than the mathematically eliminated Oilers. Since both of them should be gone by the end of the week, we will essentially be a pick your own odds.

Group 3- You must believe in miracles

27. New York Islanders- +2000000
26. Carolina Hurricanes- +2000000
25. Tampa Bay Lightning- +1750000
24. Florida Panthers- +1600000
23. Minnesota Wild- +100000
22. St. Louis Blues- +50000
21. Anaheim Ducks- +20000
20. Dallas Stars- +20000

These guys make up the bulk of the teams that will miss the playoffs, but aren’t all-together dismal. The odds against any of them making the playoffs are long, as they make up 11 seeds and lower, and are at least 7 points out of a spot right now. The Western Conference teams are actually further from the 8 seed Red Wings, but they are getting the slight nod in the odds department, because they are stronger teams, and would have a much better chance to actually go somewhere in the playoffs in a chaotic west, whereas if New York, Carolina, Florida or Tampa Bay sneak in, it will only be to get swept by Washington, New Jersey or Pittsburgh.

Group 4- Uphill Climbers

19. New York Rangers - +20000
18. Atlanta Thrashers- +20000
17. Calgary Flames- +8000

Now, we get into bets that would a, actually be on the board, and b, you might actually take. Of the four teams that are in contention for a playoff spot, the Flames are the one that would seem to have a realistic chance. They are just three points out of 8th, and have an elite goaltender and a pretty decent roster. They could absolutely put it together and make a run if they get into the playoffs. The Thrashers also have plenty of time to grab 3 points on Boston, but they don’t seem to have the talent to make a run. New York will have a tough time getting in, although if they do jump the Thrashers, I like their chances in the playoffs better, hence the toss-up odds.

Group 5- Cinderellas

16. Boston Bruins- +3000
15. Nashville Predators- +2350
14. Philadelphia Flyers- +2100
13. Ottawa Senators- +2000

Now, we are seeing a drastic drop in the odds, from the guys on the outside of the playoffs to the guys on the inside. That is for the simple reason that the 8 seeds are playing great hockey right now, and there has been a bit of spacing at the bottom over the last couple of weeks. The takeaway from this is that, to keep it in gambling terms, the over/under for teams that are currently in to make the playoffs has to be about 15.5, and to be honest, I’ll take the over.
As for the bottom of the bracket, there are a bouple of teams in the 6-8 spots that look tough. Boston won’t get by Washington, so they get considerably steeper odds than the other playoff teams, and are only that low on the “anything can happen once the playoffs start” clause. Nashville just plain isn’t good enough to go deep, they also look to me like a pretty surefire first round exit. Philly doesn’t have the goaltending to make a serious run, and while Ottawa has the five seed, that means (if they keep it) they get Pittsburgh or New Jersey in the first round, and likely Washington or the other one of the Atlantic division teams after that. They don’t have the depth to win two series like that in a row.

Group 6- Contenders. Sort of.

12. Montreal Canadiens- +1800
11.Colorado Avalanche- +1750
10. Phoenix Coyotes- +1600
9. Los Angeles Kings- +1600

These three Western Conference teams are at least a year away. Tippett has done a great job in Phoenix, and Colorado and Los Angeles have overachieved with young talent, but it certainly isn’t their time yet. I could see any of them making it out of the first round, but I don’t see any of them getting further than that.

Group 7- In the Hunt

8. Detroit Red Wings- +1250
7. Vancouver Canucks- +1050
6. Buffalo Sabers- +1000

Neither of these teams could be considered the favorite, but Detroit is the hottest team in the NHL. They probably won’t get higher than the six seed, even if they keep up their torrent pace, but believe you me, no one wants to face the healthy Wings in the playoffs. Vancouver, on the other hand, is thisclose to being among the favorites. I wouldn’t bet against Luongo, and their roster is certainly talented enough to make a run. Same goes for Buffalo, they are right there, and could easily ride a hot goalie to the top. We are getting right into the guys who could win it, starting with this group.

Group 8- The Elites

5. Pittsburgh Penguins- +550
4. Chicago Blackhawks- +450

This may seem low for the defending champs, and it is, maybe, but they have struggled too much against the top teams in the East to consider them a favorite. As for Chicago, as I said, every team has goaltending issues, but without a top defenseman (even one who is a liability in the D zone), the problems bother me with what the Blackhawks have the most. They are also the shallowest team of the serious contenders, and depth seems to usually play a role come playoff time. No one, including myself, would be surprised to see a repeat, or a championship for Chicago, but I think that the next group is a small step ahead.

Group 9- The Favorites

3. New Jersey Devils- +350
As of last week, they would have been in the group before this. They cemented their utter dominance over the Penguins, though, a team that they could very well meet in the playoffs, something that cant be overlooked. Watching them twice in person in the last few weeks, though, I saw that the scariest thing is that as great as the top end talent is on this team is, their depth may be their biggest strength. Lines 1-3, they realld don’t have a hole, and their D core is rock solid with Paul Martin back. As strange as it sounds, the biggest question mark really is Brodeur as they head into the playoffs.
2. San Jose Sharks- +325
This seems low, for a team that has had massive goaltending issues the last couple of weeks, and that has had trouble getting it done in the playoffs, but I still think that Nabokov can get it back and be elite. If he does, as good as the Capitals have been, this makes the Sharks the hands down favorites in my book. As for the playoff thing, I haven’t ever really bought into the ‘can’t get it done’ thing. Hockey is hockey, and Joe Thornton doesn’t cease to be skilled at the end of March. They haven’t done it yet, but I still think that the Sharks are as likely to play up to their potential as they are to fold in the playoffs. Also, I am a homer. Sue me.
1. Washington Capitals- +300
Right now, they are a juggernaut. They are going to run away with the President’s Trophy, with a 9 point lead on Chicago as I type this. Having said that, it seems unlikely that they will cruise to the cup with 6-4 wins. As some point, if they are going to win it all, they will need Varlamov to step up. He won’t have to steal games and be great, just be good and get the job done. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, I think that he can. That doesn’t mean he will, or that the Caps can’t be beaten, but it does mean that they are the favorite right now.

Homer Note of the Week- Shuffling the Deck

Three things stick out as the themes for the Sharks since the Olympic break. The first is that Nabokov has been horrible. I covered that at great length the last couple of weeks, and I don’t want to dwell on it.
The second is that they have struggled for the last, say, week and a half. Let’s take a look at that.
They sucked. It is a long season, it happens.
Glad we covered that, let’s move on.
The third thing is somewhat less obvious, particularly if you haven’t been watching the games, only checking scores and stats. Coach Todd McLellan has been very willing to shuffle lines since the three week hiatus. I’m not entirely sure what to think of this.
It is certainly fun to watch the Sharks roll the tables with the best top unit in the game, when Thornton, Heatley and Marleau are paired up. Can that create matchup problems with the rest of the team? Maybe but it also creates a matchup advantage for anyone who tries to counter that particular trio. I would like to see them together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the shuffle is bad.
The main reason it doesn’t bother me, breaking up the Heatley-Marleau-Thornton, Pavelski-Clowe-Setoguchi combos that looked so good before the break. First of all, I’m not convinced that the shuffle is permanent. I think that, come playoff time, we could very well see those combos, or something similar, back together. There is a method, and a purpose, though, to the shuffling madness.
The first is probably the most common reason for changing up lines, particularly in the NHL, but really at almost any level. That is to say, the Sharks have struggled pretty badly the past couple of weeks, and a well timed shuffling of the lines can do wonders as a wakeup call. That is the main purpose behind this particular shuffling.
McLellan also seemed to have other ideas, though. Two players on the Sharks have had a tough time getting into it this year, and as a result have seen production drop offs. Those two guys were Ryan Clowe and Torrey Mitchell (who hasn’t been the same since the broken leg). What was the second line against the Stars…Mitchell, Clowe and Thornton. Mitchell had a tally against Minnesota, and Clowe looked energized against Dallas.
So that is the second purpose, as I see it. Mac knows he needs more guys on their game as we head down the stretch, and he is trying to get them going with different combos. I don’t know if I’m crazy about the lines that we end up with for now(although I like Couture getting to play with two guys who’s main job isn’t to fight, something he hasn’t gotten much, but the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what happens between now and the end of the regular season.
The Sharks are going to make the playoffs, and they will be judged by what they do there. Whatever McLellan has to do between now and then to get ready, he should do, even if it means the product isn’t as good in the mean time.

Section Idea that Probably Won’t Last of the Week- Mailbag

I am, on occasion, inundated with upwards of zero tweets, e-mails and texts asking me hockey questions to answer in this column. Since I want to run this section even though there is no demand for it, I am going to solicit questions from friends and family (or anyone else at, and answer one a week. I will do this literally every single week that I remember and can be bothered to, which should be as much as sometimes. Anyways, as Adam Carolla would say, GET IT ON.

Explain why the Canucks will win the cup. Address Quinville’s tendy issues for him. When did Stamkos become a superstar? Also, maybe an extra on how Mason Raymond is the best player you have never heard of.
- Austin, Ketchum, ID

First of all, Austin, I asked you for one question to answer. That is like 5. Anyways, here we go.
The Canucks won’t win the cup, but if they do it will be because of Roberto Luongo.
Stamkos became a superstar this season.
Quinville should go with Nemi.
I have heard of Raymond, making him ineligible for the best player I have never heard of.
Anything else?
(OK, I guess I could get a little bit deeper.)
I genuinely don’t think that the Canucks will win the cup. I got into this above, and I don’t want to repeat myself. Instead, I will take a look at the reasons they could. Obviously, their chances are on the shoulders of Luongo. The argument for them is that Kessler and the Sedins are capable of being good scorers, and they have a solid D core that can get the job done.
For the Canucks to win it all, two things need to happen. Henrik Sedin needs to be the best player in the series with whoever they are playing, and Luongo needs to be the best goaltender in the world. Both things can happen, but even if they do, I think that the Canucks are a little bit short of being a genuine cup contender.
Sticking with the Canucks, Raymond is certainly becoming a very good NHL player. It isn’t the first time that I have heard him called the ‘best guy you haven’t heard of.’ I don’t know if that is fair, Raymond is a guy that I think most hockey fans have at least heard of, but he is certainly an underrated player. He is going to get 50 plus points this year at just 24. His ceiling definitely is at an all star level.
Moving on, Stamkos is clearly establishing himself as a special player. The 19 year old has a shot to score 50 goals this year, and he finds himself tied with Crosby and Ovechkin with 45 goals coming into tonight’s play. Playing with a rejuvenated Martin St. Louis, Stamkos has made himself perhaps the best finisher in the NHL. He has a shot that is unparalleled, making him a demon on the powerplay, and instincts that get him in a scoring position a few times a game. Stamkos is an absolute sniper, and may well be up there with Crosby and Ovechkin as the uberstars of hockey.
Finally, I really don’t think that Quinville, the Chicago coach, has a goaltending controversy. Huet had been horrible. Antti Nemi is not exactly a Vezina candidate yet, but he gives them the best chance to win at this point. Goaltending is definitely their biggest issue, but I don’t think that there should be any question who they need to go with.

What I Like About- The New Jersey Devils

This may very well be the least likely section ever to appear on this blog. I have never been a fan of the Devils, and in fact I have considered them to be the antithesis of my Sharks fandom for a number of years, the NHL antagonist if you will.
This team, though, is hard not to like. These are not your father’s ‘dump and chase, trap, make Marty look good and vice versa’ Devils team. This is an up tempo, dangerous offensive team, and despite keeping their defensive mantra, with the lowest goals per game against, unlike the 90s teams they also have as much offensive firepower as anyone in the NHL.
Really, it is impossible for me not to like the Devils a little bit, outside of the jerseys that they wear. They have the guy who has long been by favorite San Jose Shark. That is deadline pickup Ilya Kovalchuk, who before this month had been the guy that I needed to see in person, having gotten to see Ovechkin and Crosby. I have had the chance to see him twice in the past month, and he has not disappointed. He is one of, if not the, most skilled player in the NHL, and is a pleasure to watch.
On top of that, a couple of weeks ago, at the end of the Olympics, I said that I never would be able to root against any of the Team USA guys again. That was no joke. Chief among those guys was Zach Parise, a guy I already had trouble rooting against, and since the tournament has become one of my favorite guys in the league. Beyond Parise, Paul Martin and Jamie Languenbrunner are guys who will be and have been, respectively, key members of the stars and stripes squad.
It goes deeper than the two guys. Clarkson is fun to watch. Zubrus is extraordinarily skilled. Elias is great. Marty is, I begrudgingly admit, a legend. Most importantly, they are allowed to play. I never thought I would admit it, but they are terrifically fun to watch, and that is what I like about the New Jersey Devils.

Goal of the Week

I was lucky enough to see this one in person, Tuesday night in North Jersey. It is amazing how fast Parise is able to get from what was a bad pass, to a scoring position, and then to put it top shelf on Mason. It was perhaps the prettiest goal that I have seen in person.

Save of the Week

It was for naught, as the Isles were already down 4 at the time, but Dywayne Roloson gets the save of the week for a beautiful toe stop on the Rangers’ Eric Christienson, after Christienson had made his move on the Long Island tendy.

Hit of the Week

This is the only hit that I am going to talk about this week, and it is legal! Anyways, you always get bonus points for laying out Corey Perry, Sean Avery, or Steve Ott. The Flyers’ Kimmo Timonen got those this week for putting down #29 for Dallas, giving the little prick what he deserves (sorry).

(It was sort of a weak week)

Pass of the Week

Just a fantastic play by Crosby, weaving through the Caps and finding Billy Guerin in a losing effort Wednesday night.

(Video coming soon, is having trouble at the moment)

Shorter Hockey Thoughts
- Great move by Crosby in the shootout against Washington, a game that featured 3 or 4 highlight real goals. Unfortunately, that cemented the Pens as a second tier contender right now. They have to be wondering if they can get it done against the elite teams.
- It is never good when you are surprised that your team gave up less than 4 goals. That is where I am with the Sharks right now.
- No idea if I should call the goal by Sedin where he flipped it over Hiller’s shoulder soft, heads up, flukey, or what. Just a crazy play, and if he meant to do it, an amazing one by Daniel. Or Henrik. I didn’t see which one.
- I have seen Steve Mason twice this year in person, and he has looked terrible both times. He fights the puck, doesn’t look confident or comfortable, and doesn’t give up overtly soft goals, but doesn’t make any big saves either. The Jackets better hope it is just a sophomore slump, as he should be the future of that franchise.
- The Prudential Center is as nice as Newark, New Jersey is ugly. Unfortunately, with less than 15 games left for a great team, in a division race, there were entire sections that were almost empty.
- I’m not sure what changed between the NHL owner meetings and now, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, making sure that hits like the Richards and Cooke ones are punishable for the rest of the season.
- I am currently sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, flipping back and forth between the Cornell-Kentucky game and…Sharks / Stars! Unbelievable! In West Chester! I don’t know how this is happening, or why, but it is awesome. My ghast is officially flabbered. I am borderline speechless, I love this particular Holiday Inn!
- I’m not saying that Todd McLellan reads this blog. I’m not. I’m just saying that tonight against Dallas they have Logan Couture, who I have been pushing to get more ice time all year, is playing with Heatley and Setoguchi tonight, while Nichol is scratched, and Jody Shelly is a New York Ranger. Just sayin’.
- You can’t help but get a sick feeling watching David Booth go down with another head injury.
- I have no idea if a shutout will turn Nabokov around just like that, but it is certainly a great thing for a goaltender that has appeared to have massive problems with confidence the past couple of weeks.

Award Watch

Vezina- Ryan Miller
He is still in the top 2 or 3 for the major stat categories, and has a Buffalo team that doesn’t crack the top 10 in goals per game with 90 points and the division lead.
Honorable Mention- Ilya Bryzgalov, Tukka Rask

Adams- Dave Tippett
Don’t expect the Coyotes to take the division lead like they did a couple of nights ago, going into the playoffs, but Tippett has this team of guys you (mostly) probably haven’t heard of in 4th place.
HM- Joe Sacco (COL)

Hart- Sidney Crosby
He has carried the team when Malkin has been down with injuries. He has upped his game by scoring at an elite pace. Ovechkin has more points, but also more help. I’m giving this one to the kid.
HM- Daniel Sedin, Alexander Ovechkin

Norris- Mike Green
With 71 points and just 8 games to play, Green looks like he will fall just short of becoming the first player since Brian Leetch to score 82 points in a season from the point. He will likely finish above a ppg pace, and will run away with the defensive scoring lead.
HM- Duncan Keith, Tyler Myers

Calder- Tyler Myers
He is third among all rookies with 42 points, and has been a shut down defenseman. I know that is basically what I said last time, but what more could you need to say?
HM- Matt Duschene, Johnathan Tavares

Just for fun, here are the predictions for who will get the statistical awards.

Richard- Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Marleau

Art Ross- Ovechkin, Sedin, Crosby, Backstrom

Jennings (fewest goals allowed)- New Jersey (Brodeur),

Mike Ratje Trophy (Most Give-Aways by a Defenseman in his Own Zone)- Jay Leach

What I’m Watching For
I have been slacking, and haven’t put anything here for the last few All-Things Hockey editions. It is high time, though, to bring it back as we head down the stretch, and there is plenty to watch out for.

This weekend features a number of nice matchups, including the Sharks going into Vancouver in a battle of two division leaders, and Vancouver looking to keep a shot at the 1 or 2 seed, 6 points back of San Jose on HNIC. Saturday afternoon, the Penguins take on Philly at the Igloo, with the Flyers looking to grab a playoff spot, while Pittsburg battles with New Jersey for the Atlantic division crown. The game with the most on the line though, for the week ahead, would be one with two teams fighting for different things. The Bruins, looking to hang on to the 8 seed, will take on the Devils, looking to surpass the Pens, on Tuesday night in scenic North Jersey. There really isn’t a battle with a divisional or 8-9 seed on the line, so that will have to do as the game I have highlighted on my calendar next week.

I hate to name them again, but it is the Detroit Red Wings. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they got passed by the Flames and missed the playoffs. I wouldn’t be that surprised if they passed Colorado, Nashville and Los Angeles for the 5 seed. I wouldn’t want to face them (and the Sharks would, if the season ends today). It will be interesting to see where they end up.

I haven’t given up on the 82 points for Mike Green yet. He will be interesting to watch. Also, as I write this, it isn’t Crosby or Ovechkin who leads the scoring race. It is Henrik Sedin. It would be huge if he could finish the season at the top. Finally, Crosby, Ovechkin and Stamkos all have a shot to hit 50 goals, in what is a very tight Rocket Richard race. That’s something to keep an eye on for sure.

No comments: