NHL Leaves Itself With No Choice in All-Star Game Selections

Ah yes, the annual ritual is upon us today, complaining about the NHL All-Star Game selections

Well, at least we don’t have any worries about John Scott showing up and, you know, having fun this year.

But, as usual, we have complaints, lots of them. Mostly about who got snubbed, but also about Johnathan Toews, probably rightfully so.

Here’s the thing about the picks. By the time the NHL switched around the format, put more teams in some division than others, and tried to get one representative from each team, there’s not much they can do.

Take, for example, the division I follow most closely, The Metropolitan.

There are 8 teams in the division. Each team has to have one players selected. There are 11 spots on the roster. So, really, there are 3 spots that are up for grabs. Three….

There are over 160 “other” players in the division after you take one from each team, so yeah, go ahead and pick three.

Seriously, think about it, especially if you’re a forward in the division. Fans are going to want to see Crosby, Ovechkin and Malkin, so that’s three spots. John Tavares was always going to be the Islanders representative. So there’s really only 2 forward spots open. If your team has a legit defensemen or goalie who could be entered instead, or already has a forward spot taken, you have almost zero chance of being named an All-Star. I’m looking at you Phil Kessel, Nicklas Backstrom, Cam Atkinson, Michael Grabner (Seriously, Michael Grabner?), Nick Foligno, Chris Kreider, Jeff Skinner, and so on. There’s simply no way for any of those guys to get squeezed onto the team. This year, the get squeezed out by Taylor Hall and Wayne Simmonds. Not because those guys are having demonstrably better seasons, but because the Devils and Flyers have to have someone, and their own teams already have someone else in.

It’s that simple. In the current format, the NHL isn’t being mean, it just doesn’t have a choice. It’s not rewarding the best players of the first half of the season, it’s giving the fans they “big names” they want to see, and making sure every fan base as someone to root for.

If you’re looking for fair, this is not the place.

What to Expect From the Islanders in 2015-2016

Islanders BannerHonestly, I have no idea what to expect from this team, and not because I don’t know that they’ll be a good team. I just don’t know where they’ll finish.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”?
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

Hartnell to Columbus Umberger to Philly

When I first saw the news about this trade I thought, wait, what? The Flyers traded a guy who scored 52 points last year and was plus 11, for a player the same age, making a similar salary next year, and who was benched at the end of the year after struggling to amass 36 points, and demanded to be traded?

Seriously, I think most people who follow the NHL fully expected the Blue Jackets to buy out R.J Umberger this year. Why would you give up a valuable player like Scott Hartnell for him?

Then I saw that Hartnell just completed the first year of a long term deal with Philadelphia, and while Umberger doesn’t give them salary cap flexibility this year, he will eventually because he’s on a shorter deal. So ok, the Flyers are banking on getting a healthier Umberger this year, which would make him better than he was for the Jackets last year, maybe more like the guy who became a fan favorite in Columbus in previous years. More importantly, they get off the hook for the later years of Hartnell’s deal.

Because, signing players to a long term contract, and then having buyers remorse and trading them is a thing in Philadelphia. (see, Richards, Carter, Van Riemsdyk)

This all leaves me with a question for you Flyer fans out there. What are you doing? Have you considered just not handing out long term contracts to everyone? 😉

For Columbus, this is a pretty good deal. They don’t have the same salary cap issues and Hartnell is a good fit for the tough as nails, but speedy, type of team that they want to build there.

NHL Playoff Preview

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?