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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Connor McLindros (One can hope)

     All of that tanking, all of the pain and anguish of a season deliberately thrown down the drain for... Jack Eichel. Not bad for the Buffalo Sabres, even though their savior has now been sent to hockey's Isle of Elba... the Edmonton Oilers. 4 years out of the past 6 they have had the #1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

    Just to make this absolute ridiculous even more, well, ridiculous, the Oilers owner Daryl Katz is suing Erie Otters owner Sherry Bassin for which Bassin threw the team into bankruptcy to avoid. His gleaming prize is now going to be the gleaming prize for a man that is suing him.

   Connor McDavid sure looks excited about his one way trip to Edmonton, Alberta:
   In theory, McDavid could do what Eric Lindros and Eli Manning did before him, which would be force a trade to somewhere more palatable (which would be anywhere but Edmonton, let's be fair), but since Connor is a "good ol' Canadian boy from Newmarket, Ontario" (said in Don Cherry character), he won't do that. Maybe this will force the Oilers to trade one of their other top draft picks that now will see reduced ice time because the new savior of hockey is going to be handed the keys to the Ferrari (a Mondial 8 because Oilers), or maybe the Oilers will draft a player in an area of need (which to be fair, is everywhere).

    But in every respect, this is... not good. Edmonton is the hockey equivalent of a black hole; good players go to die in Edmonton. He's also well out of any US media spotlight in Edmonton, not the case with Mario, Eric, or Sidney. Instead, he's in about the least palatable place on the North American continent (next to Senor Frog's).

   Winners? Oilers fans who still have the stomach to deal with the garbage they've been given for so long.

   Losers? Everyone else.

  Bill Daly's face said it all:

Photo courtesy twitter user IAmJasonMills

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#SlashGate

    Leaving the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens to their own devices is never a good idea, is it? Here is the major point of madness from last night's Game 1:

      So what are we to make of P.K Subban's slash on Mark Stone? Should Subban be suspended at all? Should he have been given a game misconduct? Was the rule that allowed the referees to toss him from the game a good rule? Should Subban have tipped the Chipotle counter lady on his way back to the dressing room? Let's try to wade through this molasses of a controversy, while gleaning something critical: Everything done here by Steve Kozari and Stephane Quintal was 100%... correct.

    Starting from the basics. This is a slash, no doubt. This is also pretty much a tomahawk chop to Mark Stone's wrists as well. The rulebook states pretty clearly that if a slash injures a player, it's an automatic 5 minute major and game misconduct. So the rule was interpreted correctly. Whether the rule is a bad one or not doesn't even really matter, since when a player skates off the ice as fast as Stone did, one would rightly assume he's injured. 90% of slashing minors in the NHL look fairly benign, with the worst outcome often times being a stick broken in two. It's also impossible to know whether Subban intended to injure Mark Stone, so that too is moot.

   Mark Stone was also not faking being injured. At all. We know from past experiences that hockey players a tough S.O.B's. Gregory Campbell is often lauded for the heroism of playing through a broken leg after he blocked a shot to finish his shift. Sure, there is now a diving hit list but in the playoffs, players will play through ridiculous injury even more than usual. One of the most fascinating stories when a team is eliminated is listening to the GM rattle off the injuries players were carrying and played through. It would take Mark Stone's wrists being held by a single strand of cartilage to keep him out of further action if he can conceivably play, even if he's not near 100%.

   Yes, the Sens want an investigation (a "forensic investigation" if you will) into the play, but Subban isn't going to be suspended even though Stone is now not 100%. The league not only hates suspending players during the playoffs, this situation doesn't even warrant a suspension. One of the biggest issues with the DoPS is suspending not only to the injury but the player injured (see here for evidence), so keeping their finger off the trigger for once is a welcome change. A less than 100% Mark Stone is obviously detrimental to the Senators, but Montreal lost their best skater and promptly conceded 2 PP goals during the major (they did get a shorty, but that's besides the point). As much as one would say the Sens will have a whale of a time beating the Habs without Mark Stone, the reverse for Montreal and P.K Subban is also true.

   As the brilliant Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) points out, the fact that #slashgate happened in a Sens/Habs series is about the worst series this could happen in because of the many closets filled with tinfoil hats in both cities. Both sides are equally guilty of being equally ridiculous and over the top with their views. But after cutting through all of the rhetoric, angry tweets, and NCIS Montreal jokes, the simple fact is the NHL did everything exactly right.

   When the NHL gets decisions like this one wrong, they are absolutely hammered for it. When they get the decision right, they should be praised in equal measure.

    Time to warm up the praise chorus.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Here are my full, official and final 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions. Oh boy, can't wait to see these blow up in my face:

Eastern Conference:

First Round:   NYR over PIT in 5
                       WSH over NYI in 7
                       TB over DET in 5
                       OTT over MTL in 6

Second Round:  NYR over WSH in 6
                          TB over OTT in 5

Eastern Conference Finals: TB over NYR in 6


Western Conference:

First Round: CHI over NSH in 6
                     STL over MIN in 6
                     ANA over WPG in 7
                     VAN over CGY in 6

Second Round:  CHI over STL in 6
                           ANA over VAN in 6

Western Conference Finals:  CHI over ANA in 5

2015 Stanley Cup Finals:   TB over CHI in 6

Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: Tyler Johnson

Sorry to Blackhawks and Bolts fans in advance.

Stanley Cup Playoff 1st Round Blurbs

Here are short blurbs on each of the 8 First Round playoff series. Take note of the Detroit-Tampa Bay one, you can see that also on the Faceoff Circle.

Eastern Conference:

PIT/NYR: If there was a textbook definition of "backing into the playoffs", this edition of the Pittsburgh Penguins might be given as an example. Part of that has to do with their tremendously depleted blue line (some of it self-enforced because of cap mismanagement), but this edition of the Penguins doesn't strike fear into almost anyone. The Rangers are the deepest team in the Eastern Conference, and without trying to sound insulting to the Penguins, this may even end up being a tune-up series for the Rangers. If they are playing their best hockey, they should easily dispatch the depleted Pens and condemn them to a heck of a summer of uncertainty.

NYI/WSH: When the Capitals are in the playoffs, chances are the series will go the distance. After a one year hiatus, the Caps return to the playoffs looking like a far more assured team at 5 on 5, while still maintaining that incredibly lethal power play. They are playing a "playoff brand of hockey" and it seems like there success is sustainable for once. They face an Islanders team on the rise, and yet one that feels like their window might not be open for too long. They are the best possession team in hockey, and they have John Tavares, who you may remember is pretty good. Their issues come in net, and on special teams (26th ranked PK and 23rd ranked PP). If this series stays at 5 on 5 for a good portion of the time, the Islanders have every shot of advancing. But the Caps have the hot goalie, the hot PP, and just enough at evens to push through. But as per usual, it'll go the distance.

DET/TB (This blurb can also be seen on faceoffcircle.ca): In the playoffs last season, these teams went a combined 1-8. But the first Yzerman Cup in the postseason is going to be a study in contrast. Whereas the Lightning have been consistently impressing all season, the Wings hot start has quickly faded and given way to their massive March malaise, compounded by the one thing no team wants heading into the postseason: goaltending questions. The Lightning were the league's highest scoring team this season, and despite having a power play that is less efficient than you might expect, they can consistently outwork you, especially 5 on 5. Their GF/60 (on-ice goals for per 60 minutes) at evens was 2.77. And even if Steven Stamkos isn't at the top of his game, the Bolts could easily throw out the Triplets, or ride a wave from someone like Alex Killorn or Ryan Callahan. Their scoring depth is second to none. For Detroit, the goaltending questions usurp almost everything else for them this series. Petr Mrazek will start Game 1 but could easily get the hook at any point for Jimmy Howard. Despite the Wing's #1 ranked PP in the league, their scoring touch has been lacking of late due to injuries and line blending. If they are healthy, they could easily find their form again. Their concerns are on the blueline, where AHL call up Alexey Marchenko could be in the lineup for Game 1 and possibly beyond, showing how much that unit has struggled despite the addition of Marek Zidlicky.  Last year the Bolts were swept by Montreal because of their inability to get a save. Even though Ben Bishop might not quite be what some thought he could be, he'll give Tampa Bay enough so Jon Cooper's forwards can get back to doing what they do best: scoring. Their speed, scoring depth and top-end talent are just too much for Detroit in a 7 games series.

OTT/MTL: Those pesky, pesky Sens. Their incredible run through March and April has pushed them into the postseason on the backs of 2 fairly amazing rookies and a goalie who will never have to buy McDonalds ever again. On the other side, the Canadiens come in with a goalie who will win the Hart and Vezina trophy going away, but little else going for them. The little engine that could from the Canadian Capital has the ability to score in bunches, and however ridiculous it might be, get a save from Andrew Hammond. The Habs do not play a sustainable style of hockey, get out-shot and out-possessed almost nightly, and rely so heavily on Carey Price to keep them going that their destiny is most certainly an early playoff exit. If it doesn't happen against the Sens, it will against Tampa. But the Sens magic carpet ride will continue for at least another round.

Western Conference:

CHI/NSH: Patrick Kane is made of tough stuff. The clavicle injury that was supposed to keep him out 12 weeks has kept him out less than half of that. With Kane back in the fold, the Blackhawks are scary deep. The Preds have the ability to steal not only games but the entire series because they have Roman Josi, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, Unlike past Predators teams, they can also score goals with some frequency. But with the Blackhawks as deep as they are, and with Kane back in the lineup, this Predators team is going to have to take its lumps despite their impressive regular season. They'll be back, but this possible last hurrah for the Hawks will be too much for Nashville.

MIN/STL: This series will be incredibly close. The talk of how good Andrew Hammond has been has somewhat overshadowed another goaltending miracle: The resurrection of Devan Dubnyk's career. He's been absolutely fantastic since he arrived in St. Paul, and getting saves was the tonic that saved Minnesota's season. The Blues on the other hand, would love a goalie like Dubnyk. Maybe their Dubnyk is Jake Allen, who hasn't yet been given the ball full time. The Blues are scary deep up front, punishing on the blue line, and bitterly desperate to finally exercise playoff demons. The Wild have played incredibly well this season, but it feels like Game 82 when the Blues easily dispatched the Wild is an omen of the future.

ANA/WPG: How awesome is it that the Whiteout and playoff hockey in Winnipeg are both returning? They get a chance to write a fairy tale of their own against an Anaheim Ducks teams with plenty of playoff demons of their own, not the least of which lie on the shoulders of their coach. Bruce Boudreau has never been past the second round of the playoffs, but this feels like a good year for him and the Ducks. The Kings and Sharks are both on the golf course, and the path seems fairly straightforward for Anaheim this season. The Jets are going to be incredibly difficult to beat though, especially at the MTS Centre. It's conceivable that this series will have 7 games all won by the home team. Since the Ducks have 4 games at home and not 3, Anaheim will just be able to get out of this series with their blushes.

CGY/VAN: These teams met last 11 years ago in the playoffs, with the Flames taking that series in 7. Those Flames had their owned charmed existence with crazy endings and OT winners, and the Flames that step into their shadow this season feel very similar. But, there is still a Mark Giordano sized hole on their blue line; one that hasn't needed to be filled up until now but may finally catch up with them here. The Canucks have been solid all season long, and their question will be who gives them the saves: Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack? The Sedins are still the Sedins, and Radim Vrbata has been an incredibly underrated signing, but little else stands out about them. And because of that, the Canucks consistency might well be enough to put out the streaking Flames for good, who have yet to have reality hit them square in the face.

2014-15 NHL Season Predictions in Review

            As the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, it's time for a retrospective on how the preseason predictions went for many an "analyst", including me. As is per custom on this blog, I will now embarrass myself totally and completely by taking a look back on my preseason predictions to see how wrong (or possibly right) I was in October. This gives me a chance to knock myself down before I possibly build myself back up with my Stanley Cup Playoff predictions. Without further ado...

My predicted Metro division order: 1. PIT 2. WSH 3. NYR 4. NJ 5. NYI 6. CBJ 7. PHI 8. CAR
Actual Order: 1. NYR 2. WSH 3. NYI 4. PIT 5. CBJ 6. PHI 7. NJ 8. CAR

Boy did I overestimate the Devils (and the Penguins, but everyone did that). At least I can chew on a crumb of comfort that I did pick the Islanders to make the playoffs, and also called the rise of the Capitals dead on.

My predicted Atlantic order: 1. TB 2. BOS 3. MTL 4. DET 5. FLA 6. TOR 7. OTT 8. BUF
Actual order: 1. MTL 2. TB 3. DET 4. OTT 5. BOS 6. FLA 7. TOR 8. BUF

Not many expected the Boston Bruins to have as big a fall as they did, and boy did they ever. Pretty much everyone understood the Sabres were tanking, and everyone also underestimated the might of the pesky Ottawa Senators.

My predicted Central order: 1. CHI 2. STL 3. MIN 4. DAL 5. COL 6. NSH 7. WPG
Actual Order: 1. STL 2. NSH 3. CHI 4. MIN 5. WPG 6. DAL 7. COL

This division turned out to be murderer's row since the Jets and Preds vastly outperformed many people's preseason predictions, including mine. There really aren't any predictions to be ashamed of here considering everyone in the division finished with 90 points or more.

My predicted Pacific Order: 1. ANA 2. LA 3. SJ 4. VAN 5. ARZ 6. EDM 7. CGY
Actual order: 1. ANA 2. VAN 3. CGY 4. LA 5. SJ 6. ARZ 7. EDM

No one expected the Kings or Sharks to miss the playoffs. No one. Even though I did predict the Canucks to make the dance (and they did), everyone also underestimated those pesky, pesky Flames.

Award Predictions (Original with comments in parenthesis) :

Hart: Stamkos (All Carey Price's to lose, Stamkos was good but nowhere near that good)
Vezina: Rask (Again, Rask was good, but nowhere near Carey Price good)
Norris: Pietrangelo (Karlsson, Subban, Doughty are all up there. I tend to think EK65 gets it)
Calder: Drouin (Swing and a miss. I may never pick the Calder again. Ekblad, Johnny Hockey, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Filip Forsberg, take your pick)
Selke: Kopitar (Might as well rename this the Patrice Bergeron award)
Jack Adams: Willie Desjardins (Not undeserving, but odds are Dave Cameron, Peter Laviolette or the like get it).

So these predictions were pretty... off. Oh well, that's how this business of predictions goes. Look up for my 1st round analyses and overall playoff predictions. So much stuff to digest!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Hawks-Wizards Recap

   Writers Note: This was a game story written for other purposes, but for the sake of adding additional media it was placed here for convenience's sake. If you have wanted to see me write a game story, here you go.         

      If the Wizards home regular season finale was to be a possible second round playoff series preview, the Hawks wanted to avoid tipping their hand to a potential future playoff opponent. In another addition to the “rest or not to rest your starters” debate, the visitors chose the former and it showed in the box score, as the Wizards beat Atlanta’s reserves to pick up their first win in four tries against the Hawks this season, 108-99.  

        John Wall returned to the Wizards starting lineup after resting for the last two games and shaking off the effects of a bum ankle to score 18 of the Wizards’ 66 points in the first half, their third highest scoring first half this season.

          The Hawks rested four of their normal five starters, with Al Horford not even making the trip to Washington and Paul Millsap still sitting out due to an ongoing right shoulder injury, although the Hawks planned this specific arrangement for only tonight’s game.  

          “We evaluate it day by day but the expectation is to play our normal group and our normal starters tomorrow (against the Knicks),” Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. The Hawks clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference on March 27.

         The game was not in much doubt after the Wizards went on a 14-5 run midway through the first quarter, with the Wizards largest lead hitting 25 points with 6:41 to go in the third quarter. The Hawks did manage to close the deficit to nine late in the fourth quarter but were never able to cut into the Wizards advantage further. Wall lead the way for Washington with 24 points and nine assists while Mike Scott lead the Hawks with 19.

         Even though the Wizards are more than likely locked into the Eastern Conference’s five seed, tonight was about wrapping up a wildly successful season at Verizon Center on a high note. A preseason goal for the team was to improve their home record.

        “That’s what these guys talked about all year long, from October on amongst themselves… and I still think they think they can probably do a better job.” Coach Randy Wittman said.

        “It’s a season where we’ve had a lot of ups and downs and let a lot of games slip away… but we’re happy with where we are the direction we’re going in.” Wall said.

        Wizards guard Bradley Beal echoed those sentiments.

        “No one should ever come in here and beat us on our own floor and that is what we want to happen in the playoffs.”

      The Wizards finished the season 29-12 at home, a seven game improvement from a season ago and their best home mark since 2004-05 when they also won 29 games. Overall, the Wizards’ 46 wins are the most since the 1978-79 season when they won 54 and lost in the NBA Finals to the Sonics.  

       Wall said he didn’t feel the effects of rust tonight despite resting the last two games.

      “I was great. I wasn’t fatigued or anything like that, I was fine.”

      “Me and Brad played pretty well except for turning the ball over way too much on my part.” He did have 10 turnovers tonight, which was a personal season high.

      He was listed as a game time decision after the morning shoot around, although Wall knew he was playing anyway. “I play with the media, y’all play with me sometimes” he joked.

     As for whether the Wizards will rest players themselves if they are officially locked into the five seed Tuesday night, Wittman remained non-committal.

     “Indiana’s got a lot to play for. It’s a big game for them. We’ll look at that tomorrow.”

       The Hawks play their home finale tomorrow night against the Knicks before traveling to Chicago for their season finale. The Wizards play their final 2 games on the road, first visiting playoff chasing Indiana Pacers on Tuesday before ending the season in Cleveland to play the Cavaliers on Wednesday. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

2015 MLB Predictions

          One of my favorite parts of writing up this website are the prediction pieces at the start of all the major seasons, and MLB is one of them. It's time now to predict the 2015, complete with everything that I'll inevitably get wrong and the few picks I may look like a genius on. It's a hard life, but hopefully I don't look like too much of an idiot this year. Without further ado, here they are:

AL East: 1. Boston
               2. Baltimore*
               3. Toronto
               4. New York Yankees
               5. Tampa Bay

AL Central: 1. Detroit
                    2. Chicago White Sox
                    3. Cleveland
                    4. Kansas City
                    5. Minnesota

AL West: 1. Seattle
                 2. LA Angels*
                 3. Oakland
                 4. Houston
                 5. Texas

NL East: 1. Washington
               2. Miami
               3. New York Mets
               4. Atlanta
               5. Philadelphia

NL Central: 1. St. Louis
                    2. Pittsburgh*
                    3. Chicago Cubs
                    4. Milwaukee
                    5. Cincinnati

NL West: 1. LA Dodgers
                2. San Diego*
                3. San Francisco
                4. Arizona
                5. Colorado

AL Playoffs:

Wild Card Game: Baltimore over LA Angels
ALDS:  Boston over Detroit, Seattle over Baltimore
ALCS: Seattle over Boston

NL Playoffs:

Wild Card Game: Pittsburgh over San Diego
NLDS: LA Dodgers over St. Louis , Pittsburgh over Washington
NLCS: LA Dodgers over Pittsburgh

2015 World Series: LA Dodgers over Seattle

Awards:

AL MVP: Mike Trout (LAA)
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig (LAD)

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (SEA)
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (LAD)

AL Rookie of the Year: Rusney Castillo (BOS)
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant (CHC)

AL Manager of the Year: Lloyd McClendon (SEA)
NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle (PIT)

Apologies to Mariners and Dodgers fans in advance for ruining your season.