Friday, May 28, 2010

Why we think the Chicago Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup

One of the most exemplary postseasons in years culminates with the Stanley Cup Finals beginning on Saturday night. Both teams enter the series hungry for their first championship in some time. Philadelphia last won the cup in 1975, and Chicago has the NHL's longest cup drought, by not winning since 1961.

(7) Philadelphia vs. (2) Chicago

The Flyers will look to keep the momentum going from their improbable playoff run. Since clinching the playoffs on the final day of the season, Philadelphia has shocked the hockey world. It began with a surprising series win over the second seeded Devils in five games. All the Flyers did in the second round was come back from an 0-3 hole to defeat Boston, even after starting goalie Brian Boucher was injured in Game 5. Philadelphia made quick work of Montreal in the conference finals and have won 8 of their last nine games this postseason.

Philadelphia is not only winning with quality goaltending by Michael Leighton, but the team is also supplying the scoring punch they lacked at certain times this regular season. They may not have the same offensive talent as Chicago, but they are pretty close with Mike Richards leading the charge. If they continue to get offense from Danny Briere(leads team with 9 goals), Claude Giroux, Ville Leino, Simon Gagne, and a healthy Jeff Carter, than this series has the potential to go the way of the Flyers.

On defense, when the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger, they specifically got him for the playoffs. He has teamed with Matt Carle to form a dynamic shutdown defensive pair. Dustin Byfuglien of Chicago, had his way with Vancouver and San Jose, but you can expect Pronger to slow him down. Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Colburn give the Flyers a very solid second pair of defensemen, which will be necessary to match the explosive Blackhawk forwards.

For Chicago their game is simple. They are the fastest team in the league, the deepest team in the league, and are riding a hot goalie. Antti Niemi allowed only 7 goals in four games against San Jose in the conference finals. The defense in front of Niemi has played much improved as the postseason has moved on. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook log most of the icetime for the Hawks and are two of the leagues best. Brian Campbell is another Hawks defensemen that has enormous offensive potential, but has only registered 3 points thus far. Brent Sopel and Niklas Kjalmarsson have been rock solid in their own zone.

Offensively, the Blackhawks spend lots of time in the other teams zone, win faceoffs at a high percentage, and have showed more grit than they get credit for. In our opinion Marian Hossa is going to be needed for offense and we expect him to supply that for Chicago. He signed a huge contract this summer with Chicago, after losing the last two Stanley Cup Finals, and should be motivated to have a huge series. With Pronger expected to be on the ice to match the Hawks best line of Toews-Kane-Byfuglien, they will need Hossa and others to add offense. Dave Bolland had a huge series against the Sharks, by chipping in goals and being a pest towards Joe Thornton. Patrick Sharp has averaged a point a game this postseason, and plays on a line with the talented Kris Versteeg.

Both team have tremendous home ice advantages as both buildings will be bona fide madness. The Hawks struggled at times at home, but seemed to remedy that by beating the Sharks twice at United Center. The Flyers have turned Wakovia Center into an actual horror show for opposing teams. On paper the Blackhawks are better, but the Flyers have something special going on right now and are hitting their stride at the right time.

Prediction: We felt all along the the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey and although it is tempting to pick the Flyers, we are not jumping off the Chicago bandwagon. We feel that Philadelphia will score some goals on Niemi, but we also think that Chicago will get to Michael Leighton just like they did to Luongo and Nabokov. Philadelphia will play spirited and physical, and probably will give Blackhawk fans a scare at certain points in this series. However, with players like Toews, Keith, Seabrook, Kane,Byfuglien, and our pick for leading scorer this series, Marian Hossa, its hard to pick against Chicago.

Chicago in Seven

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Timeout

Stanley Cup Finals begins Saturday

Thank you Gary Bettman for starting the Cup Finals on Saturday night. I was afraid we were going to get an afternoon tilt on NBC. Thank goodness for that! My initial thoughts on this series is that this will not be a walkover as many are predicting. Everyone will bring up how strong the Western Conference is, which I agree with, and the fact that the Flyers were a 7th seed in a bad conference. But I say throw all of that out the window. This is a different Philadelphia team from the regular season. They are healthy and very talented with young players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Claude Giroux. The Flyers are a faster team than San Jose, and in my opinion they have better depth than the Sharks. This promises to be a very entertaining final that may go six or seven games. HockeySureShot will have an in-depth preview of the Finals in the next day or two.

The Hossa Curse?

2008 Stanley Cup Finals Marian Hossa's Penguins lose to Detroit.

2009 Stanley Cup Finals Marian Hossa's Red Wings lose to Pittsburgh.

2010 Stanley Cup Finals Marian Hossa's Blackhawks ?

If you believe in curses you probably should bet the Flyers. Marian Hossa is in our opinion one of the keys for Chicago to win. He has only registered two goals this postseason and will look to improve on his flimsy three points in last years Stanley Cup Finals. We expect him to be motivated and compliment the Kane-Toews-Buf line very well. One would expect to see Pronger on the ice every time Byfuglien jumps off the bench, so Chicago will need Hossa to produce.

Steve Yzerman named new GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning

With Ken Holland firmly assuming the GM duties in Detroit for as long as he wants, Steve Yzerman had to go to another organization. The man who was responsible for putting Canada's gold medal winning team together, will face a big challenge with the Lightning. First and foremost is goaltending. Mike Smith is signed for next year, but it is very questionable if he is a true #1 goalie in this league. Backup, Antero Nittymaki is an unrestricted free agent. When looking at Tampa's salary cap, lots of money is locked into, Ryan Malone, Mattias Ohlund, Andrei Mezaros, and Vinny Lecavalier, who is signed through 2020 at $7.7 million per year. There is a load of talent on the roster led by Steve Stamkos as it will be very interesting to see what they do this summer and who will coach the team.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What do the Sharks do from here?

The San Jose Sharks have once again disappointed fans in the post-season. It's not shameful to lose to the current Chicago Blackhawks team, but to go out in 4 straight, and get out worked in every aspect of the game is. The Sharks were consistently outworked in front of their own net, behind the net, beaten to loose pucks, and Antti Niemi seriously outplayed Evgeni Nabakov. Since the lockout, the Sharks have failed to reach 100 points only once, a 99 point season in the 05-06 campaign and have finished 1st or 2nd in the Pacific Division. Yet only this season have the Sharks advanced to the Conference Finals. San Jose was ousted in the first or second round the previous four seasons.

When most fans look at the Sharks, they seem surprised as to why this team hasn't won more in the playoffs. Let's break apart this team and see what went wrong:

1. No depth. As good as the Sharks top 6 players are, their bottom six are so weak (Malhotra excluded) that Sharks coach Todd McLellan went with 7 defensemen and 11 forwards for their playoff series against Chicago. You can't trot out players like Logan Couture, Jamie McGinn, Torrey Mitchell and expect to be able to roll four lines with the NHL's best.

2. Poor defense. The Sharks have very good defensemen. Rob Blake, Doug Murray, Dan Boyle and Marc Vlasic can match up with just about everyone in the NHL. However, the drop off after that is staggering. Kent Huskins, Jason Demers (give him the benefit of the doubt only 21 yrs old) and Niclas Wallin are brutal. And coach McLellan dresses all of them? We will get to him later. As good as the top four are, outside of Murray, the Sharks defense and team is very reluctant to get to the dirty areas to prevent the opposition from scoring. Chicago's series clincher was a perfect example. Vlasic didn't even attempt to put a body on Byfuglien and take nothing away from Dustin, but that was a goal my cat could have swatted in with his paw.

3. Evgeni Nabokov. Once again, Nabokov was heavily outplayed in a series. Nabokov gave up 2 softies in game 1, another in game 2 and Antti Niemi was flat out better. For a guy that rumor has it, whines like a child when he isn't the starter for the Sharks, his play hasn't backed it up. Nabokov now, especially in big games can be labeled as an underachiever. Just ask people in Russia how the Olympics went. The other issue with Nabokov is the amount of games he plays. He played 71 games during the regular season, then played in the Olympics. It would be very impressive for Nabokov to feel his best after such a rigorous schedule. Playing that many games is ultimately on the coach. We'll get to him soon.

4. Todd McClellan. McLellan is known for his offensive knowledge. As assistant coach with Detroit, the Red Wings reeled off impressive power plays during his coaching tenure. I'm not sure McLellan has the Sharks playing tough enough or if his defensive structure is playoff tested. Let's be honest, after winning the President's Trophy last season, they lost in the first round to the 8th seeded Anaheim Ducks and this season's Conference Finals drubbing, the Sharks are missing some important pieces and a better coach could be one of them.

5. Joe Thornton. When watching Thornton play for the Bruins, and hearing the rumblings that he wasn't the best locker room guy I immediately thought the Sharks were doomed when the acquired him. Now the Sharks and Thornton have had their regular season success, No Show Joe proved himself once again. A whopping 1 assist in the series against the Hawks and a -11 for the playoffs. -11??!?! Nice job Joe. Way to step it up. In 91 career playoff games, Thornton has 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points. For a player that averages over a point a game during the regular season, these numbers are alarming for any Sharks fan that still holds hope he can lead them to the Stanley Cup.

6. Dany Heatley. After Heatley held out in Ottawa, the Sharks took a chance with this star's me first attitude. Heatley put up 39 goals and 82 points during the regular season but scored only twice in 15 playoff games. He was also a -7 during the playoffs and looked disinterested during the 4 game sweep.

So where do the Sharks go from here? Three major players become UFA's this offseason. Rob Blake, Evgeni Nabokov and Patrick Marleau. That's 16 million in cap space. All together about 20 million is coming off the books for the Sharks this offseason. They have many options on where and how to spend this money. Will Evgeni Nabokov come back? I wouldn't give him 6 million a year again to put up average numbers in games where it matters most. What about Patrick Marleau? For all the negative bashing we have done to the Sharks in this post, one positive has to be Patrick Marleau. Here is a guy who got his Captaincy stripped from him and yet was the only player outside of Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski to show up for the Sharks during the entire playoff run. Marleau has been unfairly blamed as the scapegoat during the past few seasons and has done everything this fan base and team could have asked him for.
Rob Blake? Does he retire? Does he have enough left?
If the Sharks fill their needs by re-signing Marleau and Nabokov, and adding 2 tough, stay at home defensemen would it still be enough to win the West? The Western Conference and Pacific Division is getting tougher. The Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are two teams that will look to improve next season. The Canucks, Blackhawks and Red Wings will all be thinking they can reach the Stanley Cup Finals next season as well.
Is the current Sharks run over? Do they learn from their mistakes and rebuild for the future or do they give it another go with some tweaking? Bottom line, the great fans of San Jose deserve better. Although the Sharks don't have the storied history like Montreal and are still a young franchise, the fans show up every night in that Tech driven city to root on their team. I hope the powers at be get things right and their fans witness some post-season success.

If you were Sharks GM Doug Wilson, what would you do to fix the Sharks?