Here we are only a week away from the playoffs and we have a 3 horse sprint to the finish on our hands for the Presidents’ Trophy. It seems there are quite a few people out there who think the Presidents’ Trophy doesn’t matter. I’m not one of them. A trophy is a trophy and a banner in the rafters is nice to look at it when you’re falling asleep at a Wild vs Canucks game.
The 3 horses in this race are the New York Rangers, St Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks. All 3 teams have played 78 games and the standings look like this:
At a quick glance it looks like the Rangers are in the box seat. They have the most regulations wins, they are already in front and they are a damn good team. Let’s give this a slightly longer glance though, shall we?
The Rangers run to the playoffs looks like this:
Not exactly an easy run. The Bruins are tough as hell and will want revenge after the Rangers have had their measure all season. The Flyers are good enough to beat anyone when they are on. The Penguins are more on fire than an Iraqi oil well and hungry for the division lead. In the last game of the season it is possible the Capitals will still be fighting to clinch a playoff spot and may be hard to beat. These games will not be easy for a team that has already clinched and is just trying to stay healthy.
The Blues run to the playoffs looks like this:
vs Blue Jackets
vs Red Wings
The only gimme in this run is against the Blue Jackets – the Blues should dominate them. Red Wings will want to secure home ice advantage for the playoffs and will be fired up to score lots of goals against the stingy Blues. Coyotes are still fighting for a playoff spot and this game could come down to a lucky bounce thanks to the defensive nature of these teams’ games. The Stars could still be looking to secure a playoff spot, or maybe even still looking to win their division. This will be a tough game.
The Canucks have the following matches remaining this season:
On paper this is the easiest run of the 3. All 4 games are against non-playoff teams and 3 of the 4 are at home. Thing is, the Canucks have been known to back right off when games don’t really matter. Case in point, their performance through February and most of March. Second case in point – those 2 games against the Oilers at the tail end of last season. All 3 of these teams have been known to give the Canucks headaches. The Flames still cling on to the old divisional rivalry and the Oilers are young and dumb and want to beat the best teams in the league. This won’t be a cake walk for the Canucks.
So who will win? You’ll probably jump on me for being a stupid Canucks fan but I’m going out on a limb and I’m saying the Canucks will win their 2nd straight Presidents’ Trophy. They will win all of their remaining games while the Rangers will go 1-3 and the Blues 2-2.
You heard it here first….
I watched the Buffalo Sabres beat the New York Rangers 4-1 this morning (Australian time) and I took a few things from it.
1. I watched the MSG feed and they have a super slow-mo camera. I’ve seen these cameras used in cricket and it never occurred to me how perfect they would be for hockey. The super slow-mo shots of Lundqvist’s and Miller’s saves were awesome. Seriously Sportsnet or Canucks or whoever controls the cameras, get a couple of these for Rogers Arena in time for the playoffs.
2. Lindy Ruff is using Cody Hodgson in all situations and the kid looks good. Ruff had him out on the powerplay, on the penalty kill (where he was great) and, shock horror, taking defensive zone face-offs and he didn’t miss a beat. For the record, Hodgson finished 11-21 at the dot, including a 5-7 performance in the closely fought 3rd period.
3. If I was to write a game review of this game it would go something like this: Rangers block lots of shots. Rangers get hurt. Rangers lose game.
John Tortorella obviously wants all of his players to step in front of shots. It seems to work for them given the strong season they’ve had so far. Thing is, despite the recent lull, the Canucks have had a strong season too and blocking shots is something the Canucks aren’t particularly good at. Alex Edler leads the Canucks with 120 blocked shots, good for 45th in the NHL. The Rangers have 2 players in the top 10 (McDonagh with 169 and Girardi with 165).
It seems NHL players listen to their coaches (unless they play for the Capitals). If they get told to go and block shots, they don’t think about it, they just do it (as described by Dan Girardi in the 1st intermission on MSG yesterday). If Alain Vigneault wanted his Canucks to block more shots they would. He hasn’t.
Here’s why: it’s dangerous. It’s a long regular season and if you get hit with a puck in the wrong place you could be out for a while. Just ask Mats Zuccarello. Last night he skated across almost the entire rink to get in front of a shot. It hit him in the wrist, fractured it and now he’s out indefinitely. I don’t understand that play. It was gutsy, yes, and showed lots of heart. But it was a shot from the point with a clear line to the net, which was completely covered by one of the best goaltenders in the world. Henrik Lundqvist had that shot covered, just like he did the other gazillion times the Rangers blocked a shot. Now the Rangers are down a player for no good reason. Why do it so much when you have Henrik freaking Lundqvist in net? If Dan Hamhuis or Alex Burrows had their wrist broken making that play I would be furious.
I’m not saying don’t block shots at all. What I am saying is that I understand that if the Canucks reluctance to block shots this regular season is a directive from the coaching staff. It’s all about the playoffs for Vancouver and after injuries and fatigue slowed them down last year I think it’s a great idea to save the big blocked shots and relentless physical play for when it matters – the playoffs.
Some folks are bemoaning a boring trade deadline day. Obviously those folks are not fans of the Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabers or Nashville Predators. Jebus what a crazy day. Here’s my take on some of the more interesting trades to go down on the trade deadline day 2012.
Nashville Predators acquire Andrei Kostitsyn from Montreal Canadiens for a 2013 2nd round pick & condition 2013 5th round pick
The first sign today that Nashville are going for it. They already have stellar goaltending and a super beefy defence but they need scoring. Who better to go for that Sergei Kostitsyn‘s older brother Andrei? Ahh… Yeah. Maybe? We’ve seen this show before. The Kostitsyn brothers are not the Belorusian answer to the Sedins. That said, the Preds have made something out of Sergei. He’s playing much better in Nashville than he ever did in Montreal and I suspect David Poile and Barry Trotz think they can invigorate Andrei’s game in a similar way. He doesn’t bring Rick Nash level talent to Nashville’s top 6, not by a long shot, but look out for Andrei to pot some timely goals come playoff time.
Nashville Predators acquire Paul Gaustad & 2013 4th round pick from Buffalo Sabers for 2012 1st round pick
So, not ready to call it a day, Nashville give up a 1st round draft pick for Paul Gaustad. If that was the asking price for a defensive centre like Gaustad no wonder the Canucks traded for Sami Pahlsson (see below). Gaustad is big (6’5″ 212lb) and from what I’ve seen of him, plays defense first. I don’t really understand the Predator’s need for a player like him given the existing make up of the team, except to say that they must be really keen to beat the living crap out of the Canucks in the playoffs this year.
Vancouver Canucks acquire Samuel Pahlsson from Columbus Blue Jackets for 2 2012 4th round pick (one from the Islanders) and prospect Taylor Ellington
In retrospect, this should have been the harbinger of doom for Cody Hodgson fans in Vancouver. Instead, it spawned blog posts like this one. I mean really, another centre? We should have seen the writing on the wall. Anyway, enough Hodgson (for now). I have a theory on the Pahlsson trade. The Canucks wanted to trade for him so that no other team could acquire him and then play him shift after shift against the Sedins in the playoffs. Pahlsson trained with the Sedins in the off season before his 2007 Stanley Cup winning season with Anaheim (he also played with them years earlier for MODO Hockey in Sweden). In the playoffs that fateful year the Canucks came up against the Ducks in the 2nd round and Pahlsson completely shut them down, almost single handedly. He went on to finish the playoffs 3-9-12, +10 and with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. Many people considered him to be one of the most important reasons for the Ducks’ success that year. Since then Pahlsson’s value has dropped significantly after so-so outings with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. With Hodgson gone I can see Pahlsson sliding into the 3rd line centre role and the Canucks will be hoping that he can regain his 2007 playoff form this year.
I know technically these were 2 separate trades but I can’t help but believe they are intrinsically linked. You don’t just trade Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian straight up. You just don’t. To me, these 2 trades actually equal Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
This was the big daddy of trades this year. The one that shocked everyone, from the fans to other GM’s to the players themselves. It came so late that the trade was announced quite a while after the deadline had passed. The press and fans were so keen for something exciting, something bold, that the second there was even an inkling of Hodgson getting traded, Twitter almost exploded. News got out so fast that Chris Tanev read it on his phone while he and Hodgson were out walking, even before Mike Gillis could get to the phone to tell Hodgson himself.
Hodgson is in the running for the Calder this year. He’s proven himself at the NHL level. Kassian has not. He’s only posted 7 points in 27 games with the Sabres this year. But Kassian is a big boy, plays a really gritty game from the right wing and has put up decent offensive numbers in lower levels of the game (77 points in 56 games for Windor in the OHL in 2010-2011). He could be the second coming of Milan Lucic. He could also be the second coming of Steve Bernier. Gulp. But I think not. Kassian to me is blue chip, the real deal, and if not this year then in years to come he will be a beast next to Kesler or the Sedins.
Gragnani is the dark horse in this deal. I truly believe Mike Gillis has been looking hard at this guy for a while. There’s mixed reports out there about him and I’ve personally never seen him play, but +10 on a shitty Sabres team this year has to mean something. All I hope from him is that he fills in nicely for Ballard and somehow helps to reduce Salo’s ice time down the stretch.
Hodgson meanwhile gets to move back east, much closer to home and (probably) will get top 6 time on a team that will give him every chance to be their franchise cornerstone. I think Cody will flourish with Buffalo and in years to come will be a great captain for them.
Most laughable trade of the day has to go to the Rangers and Blackhawks:
New York Rangers acquire John Scott from Chicago Blackhawks for a 2012 5th round pick
John Scott is the absolute true definition of a pylon. Not only can you skate around him like he was one, but he’s so big you could probably use him as a pylon. Not often you can say a team overpaid for a player by giving up a 5th round pick, but the Rangers certainly did here. I hope for the Rangers’ sake they never have to play him this year.