I didn’t watch the All-Star game because, well, it’s a freaking exhibition game, but this is just such a great story. Good for Scott, there’s nothing like embarrassing the league after the way he got treated.
Last year, the Islanders came into the season with a bunch of new faces. Over the Summer, they brought in a couple of free agents, and then made the September deals for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk that completely remade the defense. The team then went out and piled up over 100 points and a playoff appearance that ended a bit sooner than many of us had hoped, in the first round against the Caps.
This year, the Islanders made precious few changes to the roster, obviously expecting that a return to health of some key players, and improvement from a bunch of core, young, players would leave them even better than last season. I have no doubt that will happen, but can we really expect them to repeat, or improve, on last season’s results? I’m not so sure.
The reality is, the Metro Division boasts 5 of the top 10 teams in the entire NHL, arguably. The Penguins, Rangers, Blue Jackets, Caps and Islanders are predicted to finish in some order in the top 5 spots in the division, and take 5 of the 8 Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Islanders could, quite frankly, wind up anywhere in that mix. They could be on top, they could be the 5th team and have a first round date with a team like Tampa Bay.
Heck, if the team suffers a few key injuries, we could even see them lose out on a playoff spot altogether, while still being a very, very good team. Think about it, the Flyers, if they can keep Mason healthy, could be better, and that will close the gap between 5 and 6. Also, in order for the Metro to get 5 playoff teams, the Atlantic will only have 3. We can assume Montreal and Tampa will be 1-2 over there, but 3rd will be competitive, with a quality Ottawa team along with perennial playoff team Detroit and an up and coming Panther team all involved. For the Metro to have 5 teams qualify, two of those last three won’t make it.
So, while the Isles should be an improved team this season, there are a whole lot of other teams that also improved themselves coming into the season. That makes the whole thing a gamble, but I think there are some keys that will decide the Isles fate:
- Division record. – Simply put, with the top 5 of the Metro as talented as it is, the record against each other will determine the order of finish. Win those games, and they’ll be fine. Struggle against those teams, and it could get dicey.
- Home Ice Advantage? – The Islanders move to Brooklyn this season, into a new arena. Will the atmosphere from the last season in the old barn, follow the team? Will it turn home games into an advantage with a raucous crowd, or will it be a little too quiet, a little too “hipster”?
- Health and Greiss – I have already mentioned how much key injuries could derail a season. It appears the Isles will head into the season with Jaro Halak missing a couple of games. Last season, the Isles did not get very good play in goal when Halak was sitting. Will Thomas Greiss improve on that? How many points will that be worth compared to last season? We’ll find out early, as the team opens with a home and home against the defending champs, without Halak. A full season from Grabovski and Okposo will also help a lot.
- Improvements – The Isles will be counting on consistent efforts and improvements from their core group of young players. Can Strome, Nelson, Lee, Pulock, Mayfield, etc. provide that? Will Petrov eventually be in Brooklyn when there are injuries, and can he continue to impress? If they don’t, I don’t think they can keep up in this hyper-competitive group. Will the special teams actually be half way consistent? They have to be better than they were last season if they expect to go further than they did last season. The future is now for this club, time to keep moving forward.
Will they do it? Again, I don’t really know. My gut says to expect this to be a year where the team improves slightly, but takes a step back in results. But I would not be surprised by anything at this point. The team is talented enough to win the division, and inconsistent enough to not make the playoffs. It all comes down to how well they can execute. My best guess is that they will fall somewhere in the middle, finishing 3rd in the division and hopefully winning a playoff series, but that will also be tough. Whether they win or not may just come down to who they play and how well they match up.
Either way, it’s hockey season. Let’s get it on!
Photo by slidingsideways
Every year, as the NHL winds down the regular season and the races for playoff seeding come to a close, I like to take a look at how much the “loser point” reeks havoc with the standings. Usually I do it before the final week of the season, but traveling out of the country for work has left me without access to games, or decent wifi, so this is it.
To keep it simple, I take a look at what OT and the shootout have done to the standings, comparing it to what it would look like if the NHL magically went back to ties after regulation and OT.
In the East the current standings look like this:
Montreal 48-22-10 (42 ROW)
Tampa Bay 48-24-8 (46 ROW)
Boston 41-25-13 (37 ROW)
Detroit 41-25-13 (37 ROW)
Ottawa 40-26-13 (34 ROW)
Florida 36-29-15 (28 ROW)
NY Rangers 50-21-7 (46 ROW)
Washington 44-25-11 (39 ROW)
NY Islanders 46-27-6 (39 ROW)
Pittsburgh 42-26-11 (38 ROW)
Columbus 39-35-4 (31 ROW)
Actually, adjusted for counting OTL and shootout wins as ties, the playoff spots wouldn’t change much. The big change would be Tampa being clearly ahead of Montreal, Florida and Columbus would have been out of the playoff picture much earlier, and Ottawa would not be still be alive. So you could make the argument that the loser point is creating a playoff race that wouldn’t be there in the East. You could also argue that the extra points are artificially inflating the point totals of teams that don’t deserve to make the playoffs too.
In the West, however, where there is truly a race ridiculous race for playoff spots, the shootout rules are clearly having an impact.
St. Louis 49-23-7 (40 ROW)
Nashville 47-22-10 (41 ROW)
Chicago 48-25-6 (39 ROW)
Minnesota 44-26-8 (40 ROW)
Winnipeg 40-26-12 (33 ROW)
Dallas 38-31-10 (34 ROW)
Colorado 36-31-12 (27 ROW)
Anaheim 50-23-7 (42 ROW)
Vancouver 45-29-5 (40 ROW)
Calgary 43-29-7 (39 ROW)
Los Angeles 39-25-14 (37 ROW)
San Jose 39-31-9 (35 ROW)
The Central is being decided by shootout wins. Nashville has the most ROW, but find themselves second to St. Louis, and with Chicago right on their heels mostly due to those teams having 9 SO wins. At the edge of the playoffs, Winnipeg is clearly benefiting from both their 7 SO wins, and their 12 SO/OT losses. Their 33 ROW should have them out of the running (in fact, it’s one less than Dallas has and two less than San Jose, yet Dallas sits 6 points behind the Jets and the Sharks are 5.), but those extra points have them right there. Ironically, they are battling Los Angeles for the final wildcard spot, a team who’s real record is exactly .500. They’ve won 39 games and lost 39. But, they managed to get 14 of those losses to OT, so they sit with 92 points. Colorado is the team that should have been out of the playoff picture much earlier.
Oddly enough though, as of right now, the shootout rules appear to be a non-factor. The top 8 teams in ROW in each conference are, in fact, in the top 8 positions. The exact positioning is being altered slightly, but no one is missing the playoffs, as of right now. However, Ottawa and Winnipeg are still alive, so that could very well change.
Yes, sure, the Islanders aren’t in the playoffs this year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some great hockey and intriguing story lines to follow.
To whit, will the Blue Jackets get their first ever playoff game victory? Will the Pens self destruct again? Are the Blues the team that flirted with the first seed in the West, or the one that lost their last 6 games? Can anyone on the Avs actually grow a beard?
In the East, I think it’s clearly a two team race. The Bruins and Penguins have been far and away the two teams to beat in the East and I don’t see that changing, especially in the first round. Obviously, you never know if Bobrovsky or Howard will catch fire and steal an entire series, but I just don’t see it happening. I do think the Jackets get over the “never won a playoff game” hump, because somewhere in there the Pens will mail in a bomb, like they always do, but if the Pens don’t, it might be another 4 and out for the Jackets. (I’d increase their odds of stealing a couple of games if Nathan Horton were playing, but alas…)
The Rangers-Philly and Montreal-TB series are absolute toss ups to me, but if anything could stop the Pens-Bruins conference final, it would be the Pens having to face the team that is most in their heads, the Flyers, in round two.
Prediction- Boston wins the East. They are just too deep and too steady.
In the West, it’s like the inverse of the East. I think there are at least 5 teams who could win the Cup. In fact, a couple of the first round match ups will eliminate a couple of teams who probably could win it all.
Anaheim should take care of business, as should Colorado. The Kings-Sharks and Blackhawks-Blues series will be ridiculously good. They will be the kind of series that make you wonder if the winner has anything left for round two. They will, so don’t get comfy Ducks and Avs fans.
At the end of the day though, I like the Ducks and the relative ease of their first round will matter in comparison to the bloodbaths the other teams will face.Like Boston, they’ve just been too steady all year long to not pick them, but I could also see the Kings, Blackhawks or Blues as well. They just have one or two more question marks than the Ducks do. The Avs, as young as they are, I suspect they are due for a playoff flame out. One to learn and grow from, like many of the great teams.
Besides, who doesn’t want Teemu playing in the Cup finals this year, and winning the whole thing?
So, who you got?