Something, something, not a lot of blogging, something, something, whatever.
Now that is cleared up, let’s get to the meat of this post. The NHL regular season ended last night in great fashion with EVERY TEAM playing. Thank you schedule makers for providing the possibility of high stakes drama on the last day of the year. I guess. I dunno, I didn’t see a lot of it. I ate turkey and it was delicious. I saw snippets of the Habs-Leafs game (I’m sure that looked great on paper to CBC at the start of the season, but man, what they would have given to show a meaningful game, amirite?) and watched the first period of the Canucks-Oilers game (yawn). I heard Steven Stamkos got his 60th goal of the season, but never saw the highlight, just a post-game interview with shaving cream pie remnants on his face as he spouted typical hockey-speak (thanks the fans, his teammates, etc.).
The point is that the real season starts now. The Stanley Cup playoffs are exciting and frustrating and an annual ritual of self-mutilation (Vancouver fan, here.). Nothing can be worse than getting so close to winning the Stanley Cup, then watching it all implode, and then to top it off see your hometown smashed to bits by hundreds of drunk idiots.
Fresh start, new life, Easter, et cetera. This year will be different. Maybe.
Anyways, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the first round matchups, some silly predictions, and then let’s reward the regular season for getting us to this point.
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 8) Los Angeles Kings
Vancouver is the President’s Trophy winner for the second year in a row (though not the runaway winner this year as a handful of teams had a chance to lay claim to the best record). Last year’s finalists are looking to win after being embarrassed by the Bruins last year. Expect some early butterflies (and shaky butterfly goaltending), but ultimately for the Canucks to make it through. Vancouver in 6.
2) St. Louis Blues vs. 7) San Jose Sharks
The Blues play a style of hockey suited for the playoffs. It’s tight defensively, scoring comes by committee, without relying on one line (who might have been shut down in playoffs), so expect them to grind out the Sharks who are inconsistent, but still have relative playoff pedigree (conference finalists last year), despite their low seeding. Even though the Blues have a 4-0 record versus the Sharks, I’m going to expect a few hiccups along the way. St. Louis in 7.
3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. 6) Chicago Blackhawks
NHL division winners end up with the top three seeds, such is the peculiar circumstances where the best team in this matchup is the lower “ranked” team, Chicago. It was all up in the air for the last two weeks which of FOUR Pacific division teams (Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose) would end up with the 3rd, 7th and 8th playoff spots. Phoenix pipped out the rest, winning the division by one point (Dallas basically gave up on the playoffs the moment they had a chance of winning the division with a terrible five consecutive losses to close out the season). Having said all that, the Blackhawks are recent Champions and have an offensive nucleus (Hossa, Kane, Sharp and a possibly healthy Toews) that overwhelms the Coyotes with basically Ray Whitney and spare parts. Phoenix hasn’t had great playoff performances recently coming up against more experienced opponents and though they might squeeze in three home games in this matchup, they may be the last the citizens of Glendale, AZ see. Chicago in 5.
4) Nashville Predators vs. 5) Detroit Red Wings
I love it. This is going to be a battle between division rivals who do not like each other one bit. Their regular season record is split, with 3 wins a piece. I want to flip a coin on this one, but I’m just going to lean towards Nashville because something feels different this year for them (though I’d never underestimate Detroit). Nashville in 6.
1) New York Rangers vs. 8) Ottawa Senators
This is a strange one because New York was predicted to be a bubble team and Ottawa was predicted to be last in the conference. Instead, we find a team that nearly won the President’s Trophy playing a group of overachievers. The Rangers boast one of the most cohesive units in the league, with a solid D-corps and possibly the best goalie in the world. Add in some offensive studs in Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik and it looks like this group could go far. Ottawa has firepower up front (Spezza, Alfredsson, Michalek) and the most offensively dynamic D-man in the league (Karlsson), but may not have enough of everything else to make it past the Rangers. New York in 5.
2) Boston Bruins vs. 7) Washington Capitals
I really want the Capitals to do well in the playoffs, but they’ve choked early every year in recent memory when they were the scariest offense in the league. And then there is this year, where it’s been no guarantee they’d even make the playoffs. My crystal ball is telling me not to bet against the Stanley Cup champs. Boston in 5.
3) Florida Panthers vs. 6) New Jersey Devils
Quick, name the leading scorer on the Panthers. No, seriously, name him. Give up? Go ahead, take a look. I’ll be right here. Yup. Surprised? I was. All credit is due to this group of ragtag career underacheivers and overpriced cast-offs. Well done. Let’s give them a round of applause. And watch the New Jersey Devils break the spell. Because, really, who would you rather have in net, Brodeur or Clemmenson? Who would you rather be your go-to guy, Kovalchuk or Fleischmann? This will be fun. Bring out the brooms. New Jersey in 4.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5) Philadelphia Flyers
Someone might die. Pittsburgh in 7.
2011-2012 NHL Regular Season Awards
“Awarded to the league’s most valuable player”
Who will win it: Evgeni Malkin (led the league in scoring, led his team without Crosby, transcended the level of us mere mortals)
Who should win it: Jonathan Quick (led a team that was 2nd last in scoring to a playoff birth, is owed a lifetime of steak dinners from so-called scorers Kopitar, Richards and Carter)
Dark Horse: Steven Stamkos (scored 60 goals in a year where only one other player – Malkin – reached 50, did it on a non-playoff team, scored majority at even-strength)
“Awarded to the player who exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”
Who will win it: Pavel Datsyuk (he’s Pavel Datsyuk, widely regarded as one of the “good guys”, high point totals, low penalty minutes, previous winner)
Who should win it: Jordan Eberle (one of the new guard, led a struggling team in scoring, only ten minutes in penalties, classy)
Dark Horse: Matt Moulson (SIX penalty minutes. SIX. 22nd in scoring, next player with single digit PIMS is 85th in scoring)
“Awarded to the league’s top goaltender”
Who will win it: Henrik Lundqvist (top five in wins, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts; previous nominee, “due”, led the top team in the East – the two best teams in the West used a platoon system, East Coast bias, etc.)
Who should win it: Jonathan Quick (top five in wins, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts AND seriously, his team can’t score!)
Dark Horse: Pekka Rinne (led the league in wins and played games, previous nominee, people have trouble naming who his backup might be)
“Awarded to the league’s most outstanding rookie player”
Who will win it: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (tied for most points, but only played 62 games, exciting young player, former first overall draft pick, media buzz, etc.)
Who should win it: Gabriel Landeskog (“complete”, ton of ice time, tied for most points, scored clutch goals, fantastic plus-minus, didn’t miss a game)
Dark Horse: Justin Faulk (led all rookies in minutes per game, poor team leaned on him, D-man)
“Awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”
Who will win it: Zdeno Chara (points, plus-minus, intangibles, previous winner)
Who should win it: Erik Karlsson (had TWENTY FIVE more points than the next best D-man, had an okay plus-minus, really isn’t as bad defensively as people say)
Dark Horse: Shea Weber (Chara-lite, previous nominee)
“Awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey”
Who will win it: Joffrey Lupul (returned from a series of injuries in the past couple years to be in the Top-30 in league scoring and have a career year riding shotgun with Phil Kessel, also traded TWICE for Chris Pronger – has to hurt the ego)
Who should win it: Max Pacioretty (recovered from a devastating neck/concussion injury to lead his team in scoring)
Dark Horse: Miikka Kiprusoff (continues to play hockey despite looking at his team’s roster in front of him)
“Awarded to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success”
Who will win it: Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis was the second-best team in the West after a terrible start before Hitch took over, turned career back-ups Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott into a “World Class Goalie Tandem”)
Who should win it: Dave Tippett (Phoenix, on paper, is terrible, but won their division; their top scorer – little Ray Whitney – is turning 40 in May; Mike Smith is their goalie – and he was surprisingly outstanding; oh, and the team might fold and leave town at any moment’s notice)
Dark Horse: Kevin Dineen (led Florida to their first playoffs since the Clinton administration – with a division banner to boot)
“Awarded to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”
Who will win it: Patrice Bergeron (led the NHL in plus-minus, had tough assignments every night, responsible, responsible, responsible, 2nd on Bruins in scoring)
Who should win it: Seriously, Patrice Bergeron.
Dark Horse: Any of the following: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Kesler, Jordan Staal, Toews, Malkin and Pavelski.
Steven Stamkos – 60 goals.
Sidney Crosby – Has anyone ever made 22 games played look so good?
Phil Kessel – 82 Games Played, 82 Points, and Leafs fans still would prefer Tyler Seguin.
Matt Moulson/P.A. Parenteau – I keep waiting to see you two come back to earth, but I’m beginning to consider this “for real”.
John Tavares – Imagine what you could do if Moulson/Parenteau weren’t your linemates.
Bobby Ryan/Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry – Let’s call this one a mulligan and see you in 2012-2013.
Nicklas Lidstrom/Ray Whitney/Teemu Selanne – All class from the vets.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Did anyone notice how good you were this year?
The Great City of Winnipeg – Welcome back.