April 24, 2013

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NHL PLAYOFF RACES

By: Tyler Vespa

With 5 nights left in the 2012-13 NHL regular season, the final spots in both conferences are still up for grabs. 6 teams in the Eastern Conference have clinched playoff berths, as well as 6 teams in the Western Conference.

Can Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers hold on and make the NHL playoffs?

This is where the fun begins. In the Eastern Conference, it’s 3 teams for two spots involving the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers, and the Winnipeg Jets. Ottawa and New York sit 7th and 8th in the conference, each with 52 points. Ottawa has a game in hand on the Rangers.

The story for the Jets took a turn for the worst with their loss last night to the Washington Capitals. Winnipeg must win its final game of the season and hope for the Rangers and Senators to each lose all of their remaining games.

Out West, the game of musical chairs is much more complicated. It’s 5 teams for 2 spots. The Minnesota Wild are 7th with 53 points. With 2 games left, the Wild need at least 2 points to clinch a playoff spot. In the precious 8th spot are the Columbus Blue Jackets. With 2 games left, the Jackets sit 1 point in front of the Detroit Red Wings, who have made the playoffs in 21 straight seasons. The Red Wings have a game in hand on Columbus.

The 4th team still in the mix is the Dallas Stars. However, the stars did not align last night as Dallas lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in regulation to the San Jose Sharks. With 2 games left, the Stars need to win out, and hope Detroit loses 2 of their final 3 in regulation, and Columbus loses their final 2.

The final team will need a miracle. It’s the Phoenix Coyotes. The Yotes’ must win out and have Detroit, Dallas, and Columbus all basically lose out. Except for the Stars, if Columbus and Detroit lose out in regulation and Dallas loses 1 of 2 in regulation and earns just one point in its final game, the Coyotes are in.

Western Conference

7. Minnesota  53 points- 46 GP

8. Columbus   51 points- 46 GP

9. Detroit        50 points- 45 GP

10. Dallas       48 points- 46 GP

11. Phoenix    46 points- 45 GP

Eastern Conference

7. Ottawa        52 points- 45 GP

8. NY Rangers 52points- 46 GP

9. Winnipeg    51 points- 47 GP

April 2, 2013

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Why NHL Realignment Makes Sense

By: Tyler Vespa

With the NHL realignment approved for next season, the league will now feature four divisions instead of six. These would be the Midwest, the Pacific, the Central and the Atlantic. The Midwest and Pacific divisions would makeup the Western Conference, while the Central and the Atlantic divisions would make up the Eastern Conference. The Central and Atlantic divisions will have 8 teams each, while the Pacific and the Midwest will each have 7 teams.

The Red Wings will say goodbye to the Western Conference and move to the East nest season.

Here is what the NHL will look like next season:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Midwest

Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Winnipeg Jets

Pacific

Anaheim Ducks

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

Los Angeles Kings

Phoenix Coyotes

San Jose Sharks

Vancouver Canucks

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Boston Bruins

Buffalo Sabres

Detroit Red Wings

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Atlantic

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

The playoffs will still feature 16 teams, eight from each conference, but will not be division based with a new wild-card feature. The top 3 teams from each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs The final 4 places will be filled in by the next two highest placed teams in each conference, and will be based on regular season points, regardless of their division. This means one division could send 5 teams while another could only send three.

Regular season points will also determine the seeding of the teams. Meaning, the division winner with the most points will play the wild card team with the least points, and so forth.

This plan is exactly what the league needed after two lockouts in the past 8 seasons. Something needed to change. As you can see the only two teams changing conferences will be the Detroit Red Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Detroit has been crying for this move for years.

With that I give you 4 reasons this plan for realignment is a win-win for the league and everybody associated with it:

Geographic simplicity: We will see fewer issues with time zones and travel. Teams in the same conference will enjoy easier travel simply because they are now crossing over fewer time zones.

More Original 6 matchups: Detroit is now in the same division with 3 other teams from the Original 6: Boston, Montreal and Toronto. Also, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers are in the same conference.

New Playoff Format: With the imbalance of teams in each division, there is talk of a “Wild Card Format” being added to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This could mean a play-in game where two teams play one game to become the 8th seed in the Western Conference. Another win or go home game would be genius.

Dream for Television: The Eastern Conference would have a rivalry game almost every night. Teams in Canada will get awesome exposure, with a myriad of Canadian vs. Canadian rivalries. New rivalries and big matchups will be made out West such as with the 3 California teams; San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles. Even more Canadian exposure is bred with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

February 8, 2012

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NHL Takes Center Stage with Hockey Day in Canada

By: Matt Bowen

Hockey Day in Canada is celebrating its 12th anniversary on February 11 as the entire country of Canada dedicates a holiday to its favorite pastime. This year the province of Prince Edward Island will be on display as their culture and love for the game will be shown to the world.

Hockey Day in Canada also means that all seven Canadian NHL teams will be in action throughout the day on CBC. With the NHL gaining momentum this season, HDIC is a great chance for hockey fans in the United States to check out every team north of the border. There are only around 30 games remaining for each team and this season’s playoff races promise to go down to the wire.

Here are some players to pay special attention to during Hockey Day in Canada:

Edmonton Oilers vs. Ottawa Senators:

The Oilers are absolutely loaded with young talent and they have a chance to dominate the entire NHL after they get some experience under their belt. Led by Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are set with top-notch talent for the next decade.

Taylor Hall is one of the many up-and-comers on the Oilers.

Let’s not forget the sudden emergence of 22-year-old Sam Gagner, who’s put up ridiculous numbers since the All-Star Game. Although the Oilers are most likely out of the playoff hunt this year, they are a blast to watch and the future of hockey.

The Senators are holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the moment and should be commended for coming out of nowhere this season. Much of their success this season stems from the play of young defenseman Erik Karlsson.  He leads NHL defenseman in points thus far and is the prototype for the new-age NHL defenseman. His skating is impeccable and he can flat-out score. Expect to hear Karlsson’s name for years to come.

Winnipeg Jets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins:

Hockey is back in Winnipeg and life is good in Peg City. Led by captain Andrew Ladd, the Jets are in contention for a playoff spot. Just the fact that the NHL is back in the city is good enough for the Jets faithful at the moment.

The team has an up-and-coming superstar in 20-year-old Evander Kane, who unfortunately will have to miss Hockey Day in Canada due to a concussion. Be sure to keep your eye on Kane as he rises to stardom.

If the Jets pick up a scoring threat before the February 27 NHL trade deadline they have a legitimate chance at making the playoffs.

Montreal Canadians vs. Toronto Maple Leafs:

The Canadians may be the most storied team in NHL history, but they’re having a down year. Their opposition during Hockey Day in Canada, the Maple Leafs, are looking good and are in the thick of the playoff push.

Putting records aside, the upcoming match between the bitter rivals will be hockey at its finest. The Canadians will depend on goaltender Carey Price to work his magic against Toronto’s Phil Kessel and company. Carey is one of the league’s best net minders while Kessel is a pure goal-scorer.

No love will be lost when these two Original Six squads take the ice.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames:

In the nightcap of Hockey Day in Canada, the Canucks and Flames square-off at the Saddle Dome.

It’s no surprise that the Canucks are near the top of the Western conference after their Stanley Cup run last season. Although they came up just short of the ultimate goal, Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin along with Ryan Kesler are still on the top of their game.

Watching the Sedin twins play is like watching poetry in motion. These guys can’t play forever, so catch them while you can.

As for the Flames, famed captain Jerome Iginla is trying to rally the troops at the moment and sneak into the playoffs. The team is currently on the outside looking in, but with a solid finish the Flames will make the playoffs.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has now started the most games for a goalie in Flames history with 527 and will have to play out of his mind during the stretch if the team is to make the playoffs. Kiprusoff is dazzling between the pipes and a joy to watch. He’s currently sitting on 299 career victories and with a little luck he could celebrate No. 300 at home during HDIC.

The showdown in Cow Town will be the perfect ending to Hockey Day in Canada.

March 7, 2011

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Crosby and Malkin Injuries

By: Anson Whaley

Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pens Championship Hopes Dim

Looking at the overall stats, it’s hard to see why the Penguins can’t make another Stanley Cup run this season. As of Sunday, the Pens ranked tenth in total offense (2.8 goals per game), sixth in total defense (giving up 2.4 goals per game), and first in penalty kill defense (86.7%). More impressively, they sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and their 84 points are only two behind the first place Philadelphia Flyers.

But don’t let that fool you – the Penguins have virtually no chance to win the championship this season. That’s because the team is missing not only their two best players, but two of the best in all of hockey.

The Penguins were flying high after an 8-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 5th. Little did they know that the win would be a costly one. At the time, Sidney Crosby was looking more and more like the league’s Most Valuable Player. Through only 41 games, he had scored 32 goals and had a total of 66 points – better than a point and a half per game. But Crosby sustained a concussion in that contest and has been out with the injury ever since. The early projections were that he would likely miss about a week, but more than two months later, Crosby is still missing in action, and there is a possibility that he could be lost for the rest of the season.

The news only got worse for Pittsburgh when Evgeni Malkin suffered a season-ending knee injury a month later in a 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Malkin wasn’t having a great year, but the Penguins could have really used him with Crosby out. And when healthy, he can be one of the league’s best scorers – Malkin averaged nearly 40 goals per season over the first three years of his career, and, though playing only 67 games, he scored 28 goals last season.

Things have certainly taken a turn for the worse without both players. Pittsburgh has won only four of the 14 games since Malkin went down, and they’ve not yet won one in regulation; all of those victories came in overtime or shootouts.

With the possibility that both Crosby and Malkin will be out for the season, the Penguins made some moves before the trade deadline to try to improve the team. General Manager Ray Shero first traded with the Dallas Stars, sending 2004 second-round draft pick Alex Goligoski for winger James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen. Goligoski was a promising young defenseman, but Neal (who should soon be a 30-goal scorer) will give the Pens some much-needed scoring on the wing.

Shero wasn’t done, though. He then traded a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the Ottawa Senators for a familiar face in winger Alexei Kovalev. No one would argue that Kovalev has seen better days, and at 38, he’s obviously on the downside of his career. But he scored 44 goals the past two seasons, and he’s on pace to score more than 20 this year. Because of his age, he won’t be a part of the Penguins’ long-term plans. But Pittsburgh got exactly what it needed for the playoff run – an experienced player capable of scoring some goals.

Still, while Neal and Kovalev could help, they can’t make up for the production lost by the injuries to Crosby and Malkin. With Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh has a goaltender that’s won a Stanley Cup, but the offensive deficiencies are probably too great to overcome.

So while I expect Pittsburgh to reach the playoffs and even win a round or two, Stanley Cup expectations are going to have to be put on hold until next season.