Peter Chiarelli: From Boston To Edmonton

Nobody thought that Peter Chiarelli’s career as a General Manager was over when he was removed from his position by the Boston Bruins at the end of the regular season. However, few expected him to take up a new post so quickly.  Less than a month after his firing, Chiarelli has travelled from Eastern USA to Western Canada. It won’t be an easy transition.
When Chiarelli arrived in Boston in 2006, he took over a franchise and a fan base that was fed up with mediocrity. The Bruins hadn’t made any serious noise in the postseason for since the Ray Bourque era, despite having some pretty good teams, and an Original Six franchise had lost its way and its identity.
Chiarelli re-introduced an identity of being a physical, character driven and tough to place against team. The Bruins achieved that and eventually went on a remarkable run winning three game 7s on their way to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011.
For all the criticism that Chiarelli has received, he still built a roster that returned to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013 only losing to the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks, and won the President’s Trophy as the regular season champion in 2013/14.
Ultimately, the Bruins fired Chiarelli for failing to draft and bring through young players and for failing to manage the salary cap.
Neither of those elements are immediate concerns for an Oilers’ team with three first overall picks on their roster and a fourth (likely Connor McDavid) this year. They’ve also got cap room to spare because of the number of young players on their roster.
One of the more interesting storylines related to Chiarelli’s move is the number of young forwards on Edmonton’s roster. Besides winning the Cup, Chiarelli garnered most attention in Boston for a pair of slightly controversial trades moving Phil Kessel to Toronto and Tyler Seguin to Dallas in blockbuster deals.
Those two players had a couple of things in common. Both are among the NHL’s most gifted offensive players in terms of their combination of skating speed, stickhandling and offensive ability. However, they both faced questions about their “character” and they both had deficiencies on the defensive end, which was out of character with the Claude Julien coached Bruins.
It’s probably worth noting that the trade involving Kessel is unanimously considered a great trade. Kessel has faced similar questions about his all-round in Toronto and the Bruins got a couple of first round picks that turned into Seguin and Dougie Hamilton in that deal.
However, it’s hard to see Chiarelli being successful in Edmonton unless he is willing to build a team around some dynamic young forwards that don’t necessarily play elite level defense. That probably rules out a reunion with Julien by the way.
There’s no Zdeno Chara this time. Shutdown defenseman isn’t the most glamorous role and perhaps that’s why Chara doesn’t always get the full credit he deserves. However, there’s no questioning that the veteran defenseman has made constructing a competitive blue-line significantly easier over the last eight seasons. Chara is also a natural born leader and a player who played a big part in that change in identity.
Of course, there could be far worse situations. There are a lot of teams that would love to have just one of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov to build an offense around. That’s all before the likely addition of McDavid, who is highest rated prospect since Sidney Crosby.
Finding the right balance will be Chiarelli’s biggest challenge. It starts with a blue-line that is currently led by Andrew Ference. Jeff Petry was arguably the best defenseman on this team and he was dealt for a second round pick at the trade deadline. There’s nothing wrong with Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefblom, Nikita Nikitin and Justin Schultz, but it’s obvious that the Oilers do not currently possess a well-rounded defensive group.
Dealing some offensive talent for a couple of pillars on the blue line might just be Chiarelli’s number one priority.
Adaptability was one of the other major criticisms of Chiarelli. He was accused of rewarding his cup winners too richly in terms of their contracts and for failing to adapt his roster to the changes in the NHL.
He’ll be forced to demonstrate that immediately in Edmonton with an unfamiliar core group and in a very different organization. The Oilers are a team associated with run-and-gun hockey – not that this fan base wouldn’t settle for a less exciting brand of hockey in exchange for consistent playoff appearances. Still, unexciting mediocrity definitely won’t fly in this city.
Besides the upcoming draft, Chiarelli’s first major decision will be selecting a head coach. Comments about the team’s effort level would already seem to doom interim head coach Todd Nelson. Since removing Craig MacTavish in 2009, Edmonton has had five head coaches in six seasons. There have been some bench bosses with good reputations among that group of coaches as well including Pat Quinn and Tom Renney, and some of the more promising rookie minds to enter the league in Ralph Krueger and Dallas Eakins.
No one has found the right combination for this team. Quinn and Renney tried to make a young group play tough and emphasized defense, while Eakins was supposed to utilize the strengths of the roster offensively.

Chiarelli arrived in Boston with a plan and a vision. He’ll need to bring the same plan and vision. Edmonton needs exactly that now. Just as the Boston fan base was re-invigorated in part thanks to Chiarelli’s work. For the sake of the NHL, we hope he can do something similar in Edmonton.

Chicago’s Captain Serious Leading Playoff Scoring

          If the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs has taught us anything so far, it’s that the game’s stars have come out to play. That includes the names we’ve already grown accustomed to showing up in the postseason over the last number of years, and the young guns who have emerged more recently.
          In one series we had the St. Louis Blues’ Valdimir Tarasenko continue to skate around opponents like pylons even as the stakes grew higher against the Minnesota Wild. Sure his team got bounced in the series, but a one-handed Peter Forsberg-style move in a big game is something nobody can do better than Tarasenko these days.
          In another series we saw Washington’s Alex Ovechkin outduel the New York Islanders’ John Tavares in a 7-game bout where both stars brought their best every night. While neither player finished in the top 10 in league scoring after Round 1, both played leading roles in making the Capitals/Islanders series the best of the opening round hands down.
          And yet, while Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson is on fire and could easily be the league’s leading scorer once Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings is in the books later tonight, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews who currently and quietly holds that title. Toews managed 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points in the team’s 4-2 series win over the Nashville Predators.
          Doing things quietly is exactly how the Hawks’ captain prefers things. He did after all only score 28 times during the regular season, finishing with 66 points, two marks that are respectable but don’t garner Toews the individual regular season accolades that are often associated with the game’s elite.
          The playoffs however tell a completely different story. Consider that Toews is presently only 26 years old, yet he’s a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, captaining his team to the Promised Land in 2010 and 2013. He received the Conn Smythe Trophy following the 2010 victory as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Finals, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history to claim the award at the ripe old age of 22.
          What makes Toews so good is that he’s a true leader, leading by example and not by drawing attention to himself. He’s also a complete two-way player on the ice and does whatever is asked of him. The scary thing about all of his success is that he’s only 26. People forget that given how serious his demeanor is, and what a rich track record of success he’s already experienced in the game.
          Whether he’s the leading scorer in the league following tonight’s final game of Round 1 or not one thing is for sure, Jonathan Toews deserves more hype and credit for what he does for the Blackhawks than individual scoring numbers could ever get for him. That’s evident in the decorated career he’s already put together for himself just by being the ultimate team leaders.

          He’s a rare breed and someone that even more skilled players like Tavares, Ovechkin, Tarasenko and Stamkos can never really match. Toews proves that being Captain Serious can give a player plenty to smile and jump on plexi-glass about, even if he is the type of guy that prefers to put his head down, fist pump his teammates while gliding past the bench, and get right back to centre ice for the next puck drop when he is doing the scoring himself.

Craziest Hockey Fans

Hockey fans are not nearly as nuts as European soccer hooligans but there are still some puckheads out there that are still pretty nuts.
Here is my quick look at some hockey fans that will seriously start to make you wonder about their own well-being.

When your hockey team is as good as Detroit’s, having made 19 consecutive playoff appearances, this team really does redefine the argument whether or not teams ‘deserve’ to make it this far. Watch out for flying octopi.

MELLON ARENA, Pittsburgh
Much the same as Detroit. When you have a team that can win like Pittsburgh does most of the time, the fans are going to come out in droves.

MTS CENTRE, Winnipeg
Since they were awarded their team back a year or so ago, the Jets franchise has resurfaced and has proven to be one of the noisiest arenas in the entire National Hockey League. This apparently is due to the roof being lower to the ice surface than in most rinks. One fan was pictured holding one of those guillotine ropes with a referee doll attached to the neck. It drew a bunch of complaints of course, still ranks high on the crazy list though. It’s too bad they couldn’t do a little more damage this year (as in win a game), had the Jets pulled off a couple victories, who knows what may have gone on in downtown Winnipeg?
After a stellar showing in every way, at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver fans really put on a show the following season during the Stanley Cup, a show in the worst kind of way. People in Vancouver are probably still paying for the mistakes of the soccer-style hooligans that trashed the downtown and other areas when their Canucks lost both Game 6 and 7 of the Stanley Cup final that season to the Boston Bruins. And here we probably all thought those people were saints….

The Leafs have missed the playoffs every year since the lockout, except for the shortened season in 2013. This does not explain why they/we continue to flock to the games like people who have nothing better to do. This even though the average ticket price last year was $123, which is the highest in the league by 50%. It is also more than 151% of what it was 10 years ago. Somebody get this team a good head coach and that 151 will double by 2016.

UNITED CENTRE, Chicago (the Madhouse on Madison):
There is a reason why the United Centre is nicknamed the ‘Madhouse on Madison’. When the Blackhawks win, and that has been usually what they do, it gets loud in there. Blame it on the long rich history of NHL hockey on Chicago, or you could put the blame on guys like Toews and Kane, but for whatever you credit for it being loud in there, the Blackhawks have been a winning team ever since they figured out how to draft properly. If Chicago was not known as a high gun-violence city, I would definitely make more trips to the Windy City.

What continues to bring out hockey fans in Uniondale to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is beyond me. Their owner is whack, their team for the most part has been dysfunctional (except for this year of course), and the arena itself reminds me of something I recall visiting out in eastern Saskatchewan a couple years ago, an arena’s roof was made of tinfoil. The owner of the Islanders (Charles Wang) is the same guy who gave huge contracts to 2 players who couldn’t come close to living up to them (Rick DiPietro and Alexei Yashin). Based on what I have heard, Wang is moving his team to Brooklyn for next season and the team will play in the Barclays Centre.
The Sens Army has become better known since Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley all played for them, in a market such as Ottawa, hockey has to be their #1 sport.

A team like Edmonton that prospered through the 1980s and parts of the 1970s too, the passion from way back then still exists. Now the team is in much different shape but the fanbase is still clearly there. I don’t think there is another team in the National Hockey League with more 1stoverall draft picks that are still playing (Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Hall, and you can add this year’s #1 pick to that list). Despite dismal performances year after year after year, how can these legions of fans continue to support the team?

Whatever Calgary is doing to their team, the Edmonton Oiler seriously need to try, the Flames can win (they did it again last night when they eliminated Vancouver).

There is a good reason why they have been nicknamed the ‘Red Mile’. I have no idea how it got it’s name but they are out in full force right now, and the more the team wins, the bigger they get.

Why The Ottawa Senators’ Season Is About To End

The Ottawa Senators weren’t supposed to find themselves in the playoffs this season. Everyone knows that. But thanks the team’s powers that be finding some true diamonds in the rough and having the good fortune of watching them succeed really quickly, the team is heading into Game 4 of a first round series with the Montreal Canadiens.
Unfortunately for the Senators, the dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup is likely over at least for 2014 as the club finds itself down in the series 3-0. In all of NHL history, only a handful of teams have come back from a deficit that significant and won.
One reason in particular the Sens find themselves in this position is that Carey Price has outplayed Andrew Hammond in the crease. While the difference is minuscule with each game in the series being decided by just one goal, in the playoffs one goal is huge. The end result however doesn’t all fall on Hammond’s shoulders, Ottawa is simply getting beat by better opponents.
The Habs are after all one of the league’s top contenders for the Stanley Cup. It’s not just because they have stars like Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty however. Everybody on the team is stepping up when necessary. Winger Dale Weise is one prime example of that. He was particularly impactful in Game 3, scoring in the third period to tie the game at one apiece, and winning the game in overtime on a wrist shot from just inside the blue line.
In that game, Weise played the kind of hero the Senators could use right now. Maybe a guy that only scored 10 or 12 times in the regular season who finds a way to chip in a big goal or swing some sort of momentum in Ottawa’s direction. They need it now more than ever, and if the team doesn’t play like it in Game 4, they could be booking tee times at the golf course a lot earlier than they had hoped.
However, the fact is that nobody in the right frame of mind necessarily expected the Senators to continue their improbably regular season finish into the playoffs, so perhaps the season is already won in Ottawa. Could anybody really blame them with Mark Stone, player who was one of the league’s leading goal scorers in the latter part of the regular season, playing through a wrist injury and not looking anywhere near 100%? Odds are the team’s front office staff is more likely to get extended in the off-season rather than fired so the answer to that question is no.
That’s exactly how it should be, if only for the simple fact that the Habs are a few years further ahead in the growth of the team than the Senators are at the moment. Montreal is a team stacked with all-stars who would have made the Stanley Cup Finals last year if not for Carey Price getting hurt in Round 3 against the New York Rangers.

Aside from the clear reasons the Habs are outplaying the Senators, it’s important to keep in mind that the future really does look bright in Ottawa. It’s just too bad that the future isn’t now, as it is Montreal and not the Senators that has it’s eyes on a championship at the moment, at least for now.


It is supposedly the most wonderful time of year if you are a hockey fan, particularly of the NHL, but not every city in the league or their fans, are feeling the ‘festive season’.
My team/city is one of them, and has been for some time now.
Nobody in Toronto (or anywhere near the area) should be happy with the way things have gone this season but by no means are we the only ones who are left so badly out in the cold that we actually have to pick another team for whom to follow during the next 2 months or so.
Here is a brief list of some of those teams that need more work than a high-schooler’s resume.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: I thought my Leafs were a mess until I wrote a blog about how messed up San Jose is internally. The players on the ice seem to be fine (sort of), but when you start with the man behind the bench (for now), Todd McLellan, and then everybody behind him, or on top of him however you choose to look at it, the Sharks aren’t biting anyone these days. They did have Stanley Cup hopes last season when they had the eventual champs, LA, down 3-0; then the astonishing thing happened and they collapsed harder than a cheap tent. Some say GM Doug Wilson is the problem and he probably is, especially when McLellan apparently wants to get fired just so he can get out of the mess, which stems around Wilson and former captain Joe Thornton. Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski are just some of the other big shots on the team that has forgotten how to win.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: is this really what Brendan Shanahan knowingly signed up for? This is going to test him in every way imaginable, and it just got a little worse this past weekend, when the Leafs came 4th in the NHL draft lottery. This means they will not only get nowhere near Connor McDavid (Erie Otters OHL) in the summer, but they probably won’t get anywhere near next-in-line Jack Eichel (Boston University Terriers)….or even Dylan Strome (Erie Otters OHL), either.
All this mess is something Shanahan needs to fix up, then he probably needs to do something with 2 stellar netminders in the dressing room (James Reimer, who has actually won playoff games with the Leafs, and Jonathan Bernier), then he needs to trade a couple big-time contracts simply for the sake of doing so (Phaneuf and possibly Phil Kessel), AND THEN Shanahan needs to find someone who actually wants to coach this mess into something respectable again.
On top of all of that, Shanahan also has to replace the other guy he just fired, GM Dave Nonis, as well as most of Peter Hornachek’s assistant coaches, if not all of them.
The Leafs join the Sharks are being 2 teams that are probably going to both need a new head coach and GM.
BOSTON BRUINS: the Bs are probably the only team that I did not think they would ever make a list like this one. They aren’t that bad, are they? Four years following a Stanley Cup victory in 7 games, followed by being one goal away from another Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final (vs Chicago), Boston does not make the playoffs this year, it should be noted that making the playoffs at this level of the game, is never something that should be taken for granted, after all Boston missed on this year’s dance by 2 points, which means that going back to October or November, take one of those losses and turn it into a win and the Bruins are in…
Anyway Peter Chiarelli just got fired, there is a 50/50 chance that head coach Claude Julien will be next, half of the current roster is either broken down, or just tired (Zdeno Chara, Todd Marchand, David Krecji), they do not have the mental batteries to do this hockey-in-the-spring every year. There was plenty of speculation at the trade deadline that Chara may actually be on his way out. He is 37 or something, he’s already got a Cup so it’s been good for him, but he could probably fetch quite a bit in a deal to just about anywhere.
EDMONTON OILERS: where of where on earth does anybody, sane or insane go with this one? The Edmonton Oilers are as bad as the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and I can’t think of a basketball team or baseball team that’s as comparably as bad at their sport as the Edmonton Oilers have been.
They have had 3-4 #1 draft picks at the Entry Draft and they are about to get another one! Taylor Hall was a #1 pick (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was too (2011), and Nail Yakupov was in 2012….and now they are about to choose #1 yet again….when is this going to end? Ales Hemsky was their #1 draft pick in 2001. Jordan Eberle was a first-round pick too, but was selected 22nd overall.
BUFFALO SABRES: They will get what they want with a shot at the No. 1 pick but GM Tim Murray won’t sit still this summer.
They’ll most certainly have a new look behind the bench after coach Ted Nolan was fired less than 24 hours after the season ended. That had been on the table for a long, long time.
The Sabres have been listed as a team that will make a push for Coach Mike Babcock, if he goes to the free agent market.
They likely will because owner Terry Pegula isn’t afraid to spend money. Once a coach is in place, though, he needs some players. Binghamton’s Luke Richardson is another candidate.
Murray’s plan has always been simple: Get a top selection in the draft and then build around him. There are going to be teams — Boston and Chicago to name a couple — who are going to have cap issues and may want to move some top end players. If that’s the case, expect the Sabres to be a player.

The plan isn’t to finish last forever. Pegula and Murray want a winner in fairly short which means they’ll do what it takes to compete for a playoff spot. 

Marc Bergevin – Managing The Salary Cap and Chasing A Stanley Cup

It’s now difficult to recall, but the Montreal Canadiens had hit close to rock bottom at the end of the 2011-12 season. The franchise had finished dead last in the Eastern conference and a calamitous season had seen fan protests over the appointment of non-French speaking interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth and the firing of General Manager Pierre Gauthier before the end of the season.
In the wake of those controversies, Marc Bergevin stepped in and his task was perceived to be one of re-building an organization. 
A little less than three years on and it’s fair to say that Bergevin has been tremendously successful. The Montreal Canadiens are the top seed in the Eastern conference, in control of their first round series against Canadian rivals Ottawa and rightfully one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Bergevin’s intelligent cap management, shrewd deals and talent management (and of course a little luck) have made him one of the most highly regarded general managers in the NHL.
A glance at some of the moves that Bergevin has made so far this season are a pretty good indication of the meticulous thinking that goes into his decision making.
November moves that sent Travis Moen and Rene Bourque away in exchange for Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen may not have caused too much of a stir at the time. Bourque and Moen were bottom six forwards (though Bourque did have eight goals in the 2014 postseason), while Gonchar and Allen looked like little more than veteran depth pickups.
However, it’s pretty apparent that Bergevin was carefully moving assets around. Allen is an expensive AHL player, while Gonchar was relegated to a reserve role later in the year. Both players come off the books at the end of the season, while Moen and Bourque have deals through the end of 2015-16. In its entirety that means that Bergevin is likely to have around $15 million to play with this summer with Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and possibly Jeff Petry is only concerns in terms of re-signing. Galchenyuk and Beaulieu are both only restricted free agents.
If the Canadiens are stopped in the playoffs this season, then Bergevin might have an even better opportunity to build a championship contender in 2015-16 as he attempts to take advantage of the current championship window for the Canadiens..
That window is largely provided by goaltender Carey Price, whose rise from good young goaltender to one of the NHL’s elite net minders has also coincidentally coincided with Montreal’s return to prominence.

Meanwhile, P.K. Subban provides a package of elite physical, offensive and defensive play that is rare in the NHL. He is often at the center of controversy and his overall defensive game probably still needs refining, but he plays an electric brand of hockey that clearly ignites his teammates. He followed up a 53-point campaign in 2013-14 with a 60-point season this year and he’ll be the catalyst for any postseason success that Montreal enjoys.
Price and Subban are 27 and 25 respectively and Bergevin has been fortunate to inherit a roster with a pair of premier players at their positions. You can probably throw this season’s 37-goal scorer into that mix in Max Pacioretty as well. However, that’s not to dismiss the impact he has had on this roster. It is Bergevin who has filled this lineup and has made the “right” decision on a number of players.
All three of Montreal’s top centers have faced questions about their status in the roster over the past couple of seasons. David Desharnais struggled after scoring 60 points in his second season, but appears to have settled as a 50-point man with a gritty streak. Tomas Plekanec’s $5 million salary has been questioned, but a 60-point campaign playing largely with the team’s youngster Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher has put most of that to rest. Lars Eller’s role in the team has been up in the air before finally finding space on the third line as a physical player with some offensive skills and the ability to step up in the playoffs.
Devante Smith-Pelly felt like a better fit than Jiri Sekac, who Bergevin beat many teams to sign and then showed no hesitation in shipping to Anaheim for a bruising goal-scoring winger. Smith-Pelly has hardly set the world alight in a Canadiens’ uniform, but he is currently skating on Montreal’s top line.
Meanwhile, the steal of the trade deadline was picking up Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers for just a second round pick. The trade is likely to do Petry’s new contract as a UFA a world of good too – in a Canadiens uniform Petry has established himself firmly as a quality shutdown defenseman. He has helped to balance out Alexei Emelin’s game on the team’s second pairing.
Bitter rivals the Boston Bruins made the first big offseason move of the NHL offseason firing GM Peter Chiarelli last week. One of the biggest reasons cited was Chiarelli’s failure to draft effectively and to bring Boston’s prospects through the system.
Whatever you may think of that (Chiarelli’s defenders are many and make a strong case), it is clear that in the salary cap era, managing young talent is a vital part of both the coach’s and GM’s jobs. Bergevin scores top marks there (though he has only been involved in two drafts to date) with the lineup reliant upon its core of young talent including Galchenyuk, Gallagher, Pacioretty, Subban, Nathan Beaulieu and backup goaltender Dustin Tokarski.
Bergevin has impressed with his approach and he has brought a stability and belief to the organization of the Canadiens’ franchise, which had previously been lost.
The Canadiens will have some tough competition to reach the Stanley Cup Final in the East potentially facing the President Trophy winning New York Rangers, or tough division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning.
However, Montreal possesses a mix of speed, grit and depth that makes them a formidable postseason opponent. Bergevin surprised a few people by swapping out 10 players from the team that reached the conference finals one year ago, but the core of this team still carries over that valuable playoff experience.

The Stanley Cup winning window is wide open in Montreal and Marc Bergevin is the man who opened it.

The 5 Canadian Teams in the Playoffs

The Los Angeles Kings are out, the Flames are in.
Now I am thinking about the Blues or Flames final. Wouldn’t that be grand?
The team I have loved to hate for the past 4-5 years is officially no better than my Toronto Maple Leafs. Proof that in this wonderful league, anything is possible.
Reason to rejoice for every single team that does make it in, they won’t have to put up with those once-no-name kids from California who weren’t even that good prior to 2011.
I have always thought that pressure was never a problem for that Kings team, now apparently I am wrong. They don’t get a crack at their 3rd Stanley Cup in 5 years.
Now it is officially time to take a look at the Canadian Stanley Cup playoff teams, along with a reason or 2 why each may do what those Kings were able to do, almost at will.
The Winnipeg Jets: where did the Winnipeg Jets even come from? At the start of the season, like Calgary, nobody ever gave them any respect. Now all of the sudden, they are looking like one of those teams that all of the experienced teams do not want to play against. Like the Kings the year they won the Cup in 2012 and 2014, they are going to be one of the teams with zero pressure on them. I think that all they have to do is go out and try and have fun, and they could be having fun all the way to the Final. Winnipeg is so pumped right now they have a playoff anthem recorded to the tune of Eminem’s ‘Without Me.’ Look it up on youtube. Count Winnipeg as one of the few teams with nothing to lose.
First round opponent: Anaheim Ducks
Prediction: Jets, if they don’t play afraid

The Ottawa Senators: the Sens are going to the playoffs. The best news for them? They won’t have to face my Leafs in the playoffs. Technically that means they could win it all. I don’t know much about Mark Stone or Mika Zibanejad, or even the burger guy, but they sure seem to have been playing well lately, plus they have a GM whose health lately hasn’t been great, and it actually seems to be serving as some kind of motivation. Ottawa’s recent tear has been absolutely ridiculous. Twenty wins and three losses and three OTLs is one of the most impressive late-season stretches ever.
First round opponent: the Montreal Canadiens.
Prediction: I don’t think the Habs could lose if they tried to lose. Hopefully the Sens will make an interesting series but I can’t see them beating Carey Price enough to win 4 games.

The Montreal Canadiens: not much more needs to be said other than Carey Price. He plays well, Habs win. Pretty simple. I would love to get a copy of the Senators’ game plan for Game 1.

The Calgary Flames: can we all recognize the season that former Red Wing Jiri Hudler is having? He’s 31 years old and he has the same number of goals. Hudler ranks eighth in the league with almost a point-per-game production (76 points in 78 games) and has been vital in helping the team clinch a playoff berth. Sean Monahan and Johnny Hockey have the ability to light it up. They are playing against a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success in recent years.
First round opponent: the Vancouver Canucks.
Prediction: a Canadian team is going to win this series, that is about the only guarantee right now, but I think the Flames have a slightly better-built team. It’s Eddie Lack, likely for the Canucks vs Jonas Hiller for the Flames.

The Vancouver Canucks: Whether or not Vancouver can survive this series will depend largely on whether or not goaltender Ryan Miller will be able to hold the fort; if he cannot, Calgary will win, maybe even easily. When Miller played for the Blues last year, he lost four in a row.
Vancouver has the Sedin twins but I think I like Calgary’s younger talent (Gaudreau, Monahan, Josh Jooris, Markus Granlund) can probably do more damage. I don’t think either of these 2 teams will have much pressure on them, especially considering how surprised I am that I am writing this at playoff time. I predicted early in the season that Canadian teams will definitely make the playoffs, just not these 2 teams.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin are going to have an impact on this series, if they do not, Calgary win cruise easily. Henrik has 69 points, Daniel leads the team with 72 points.
The last three times the Flames and Canucks have met in the post-season, the winner went to the Stanley Cup final.

Prediction: Flames.

A Special Day In Manitoba: Playoff Hockey Comes To The MTS Centre

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of the playoffs. It’s what all hockey fans wait for all season long. The emotions, the ups and downs and the intensity is all about to get ramped up past 100%. However, there’s one storyline and one city where the excitement will be even greater. For the first time since a 4-1 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings on April 28, playoff hockey will be played in Manitoba.
That game was played with the knowledge that the team was headed to Phoenix. A desperate effort helped the team earn a 3-1 victory at Detroit to take the series to six games and guarantee at least one more contest at the Winnipeg Arena. A passionate fan base was denied an NHL team in an era when small markets were struggling to survive.
Manitoba is still a small market and the MTS Centre seats less than 16,000 people, but this is a passionate fan base. Since returning to the NHL for the 2011-12 season, Winnipeg’s home crowd has been known as one of the loudest.
They haven’t had all that much to root for as the Jets struggled to establish themselves during their first three seasons. They finished ninth in the Eastern conference in 2012-13 during the lockout-shortened season, but appeared to regress finishing significantly adrift from the playoff places last year.
The Jets looked stuck in a perpetual rebuild that wasn’t getting anywhere. Frustrations reached enough of a peak for General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to take one of the biggest decisions he had taken to that point by removing Claude Noel 47 games into the 2013-14 season. Experienced NHL coach Paul Maurice took his place and was charged with the responsibility of leading a young core to the postseason.
Maurice has succeeded. Playing in a tough Central division that includes St Louis, Chicago, Nashville and Minnesota, Winnipeg spent most of the season in playoff position before eventually holding off the Los Angeles Kings/Calgary Flames for the final Wildcard spot.
They’ve done it without excelling in any one statistical category. They are a middle of the road team in terms of goals scored and goals conceded and their special teams are actually below average in terms of success rates.
However, the Jets have excelled at limiting the penalties they take and at locking teams down 5-on-5 – they finished with the eighth best GF-GA record in 5-on-5 play in the NHL last season.
More than that, Maurice’s team consistently found an extra gear. They got goals at important times, won some of their biggest games and were able to lean on goaltending tandem Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson.
The Jets were instantly rooted for upon entering the league and over the last three seasons, this roster has arguably become even more likeable. Andrew Ladd, a hockey player through and through, leads them and there was no place on the roster for the dramas on and off the ice that followed Evander Kane.
Instead, Winnipeg depends upon a solid defensive structure and scoring-by-committee combined with speed and physicality throughout the lineup. Their tenacity is hard not to like and there will be few neutral fans supporting the Anaheim Ducks in their first round playoff series.
The Ducks are Winnipeg’s reward for reaching the postseason. A team coming off a third consecutive division title and a team that expects to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup. The superstars in the series all play for Anaheim – Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler – but when they travel to Manitoba on April 20, these Ducks will be a side-story to the main event. They will become a part of a different kind of history.
A lot goes into assessing the market viability of a franchise. However, even in the salary cap era, making the playoffs and being regularly competitive is still the ultimate elixir for boosting your franchise. It played a big role in the league’s decision to works towards greater parity and it was pretty clear in the regular season finale, a 5-1 thrashing of the Calgary Flames on Saturday, that hockey supporters in Manitoba had been re-invigorated by their team’s recent success.
Of course, every fairytale has to have an ending. This one’s ending is likely to be in five or six games against a deeper and playoff tested opponent. We hope that fans will get a Game 6 and a third home playoff matchup.
Still, Maurice and Cheveldayoff aren’t ultimately paid to write fairytales. They’ll know that however long this postseason run lasts, reaching the playoffs is a critical step in the building and development of this franchise – a necessary step towards the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. That’s something that even the older Winnipeg fans will never have experienced.

On Monday April 20, Winnipeg and hockey fans alike can enjoy an event that few will be remiss to see. Playoff hockey is coming back to Manitoba.

A Breakdown Of The Best Round 1 Stanley Cup Playoff Matchups

          After a long and hard fought 82 game season, the 16 teams that will move on to hockey’s second season and fight for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup have been determined. Every series has the potential to spark a new rivalry or rekindle an old one, and no matter whether your team made the postseason or not, it’s hard not to get excited about the best time of the year. That said, of all the head-to-head matchups slated to get underway as early as this Wednesday, there are definitely some matchups that stand out above the rest.
          One such series features the Montreal Canadiens hosting the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre. The two teams took very different paths to earn their playoff spots to say the least. On the one hand, the Habs finished the season with the second most points in the NHL and played pretty consistently throughout the year, thanks in large part to a banner year by goaltender Carey Price, who set a new franchise record by recording 42 wins.
          On the other hand, the Sens made the playoffs on the last day of the season after topping the Philadelphia Flyers in a win-and-your-in scenario that was only made possible thanks to a remarkable run by goaltender Andrew Hammond, who finished the season with a 20-1-2 record in just 23 starts. The team’s success this year was as improbable as it was amazing, as most analysts predicted that the Senators were more than likely to have a losing year reflective of a team working through a full on rebuilding process. Instead, the club goes into its series against Montreal as perhaps the most feared team in the first round playoff bracket. No matter how this series shakes down it should be a good one.
          Over in the Western Conference, the series between the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames will prove to be equally exciting. At times throughout the year, it was hard to know if the Canucks were indeed a playoff-bound team and well, almost nobody expected the Flames to be in the mix.
          In Vancouver’s case, it wasn’t a complete stretch to picture the team doing well, with goaltender Ryan Miller providing the team with a definitive number one option between the pipes, removing a distraction that had previously plagued the team for years. Outside of Miller the core of the team still featured the Sedin twins a supporting cast that could get the job done.
          As for the Flames, their run was almost as magical as the one the Senators put together in the East, the difference being that Calgary surprised people at the beginning, middle and end of the season. Nobody would have guessed going into the playoffs that the team would boast a player who finished top-10 in regular season scoring (Jiri Hudler), a veteran goaltender playing some of his best hockey ever after seemingly falling out of favour in Anahiem (Jonas Hiller) and a small, speedy forward not named Sam Bennett who would emerge as a future star (Johnny Gudreau).
          Regardless of how both clubs got to where they are now, it’s obvious that neither one is going down without a fight, which should make for a quite an entertaining series in Western Canada.

          As for the other matchups outside of the Great White North, there’s no doubt there are some good ones. Then again, who can resist the Hamburglar taking on Carey Price, and Johnny Hockey trying to lead the Flames past the Cancucks? Do yourself a favour, don’t resist…just watch the NHL in all its glory as the chase for the Stanley Cup heats up.  

Why Watching The Tampa Bay Lightning In The Playoffs Just Got More Interesting

Someone should put the NHL on notice; the Tampa Bay Lightning are dead serious about winning the Stanley Cup this year, and they expect their fans to be too. How serious you ask? So serious that if you buy tickets to the team’s playoff games this year and your credit card doesn’t have a Florida address attached to it, you’ll get a full refund for your purchase and not be allowed inside the building.
          That’s right. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s powers that be are doing everything they can to keep fans of visiting teams from being able to attend the team’s games. Throughout the season, the organization noticed large and boisterous groups of fans from the Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens in the building.
          Lightning fans need not fret though, fans wearing the jerseys of visiting teams in the postseason won’t be allowed to sit in the Chase Club section of the rink. That means if you hope to watch Steven Stamkos and company while sitting in some of the best seats in the house this spring, you’ll need to consider purchasing some Lightning apparel. Of course here at Sports Jerseys Canada, you’ve got tons of options to choose from should you be heading south for a game, whether you’ve got your eyes on Stamkos’ number 91 or you’re a fan of Ben Bishop, Ryan Callahan and the other leaders of the team.
          While it may surprise some that teams are even allowed to invoke such policies, there really is no clear rule against it, so Tampa’s sales staff can indeed refuse to sell tickets to anyone they choose, as long as the reason obviously isn’t related to blatant discrimination.
          Good for the Lightning for taking a stand against tourists and fans of visiting teams who take away from the atmosphere in the arena. Home ice advantage is huge in the playoffs and the Lightning have not iced a real cup contender since 2004. This may indeed be the year that the team gets beyond the first round again and if the club does, the energy inside the Amalie Arena will no doubt play a factor.

          Although Tampa’s first round opponent is still unknown, visiting fans should be prepared to sport a team jersey even if you do plan on rooting for the opposition. At least that will guarantee you access to the Chase Club section of the arena. What remains to be seen is whether this new team policy will translate into playoff success for the Lightning.