Thursday, June 17, 2010

Post Season Grading...

Anaheim Ducks F The Ducks missed the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. Expectations are always high in Anaheim after they won the Stanley Cup. The Ducks did have several key players that suffered injuries during the season and if you are a Ducks fan I wouldn't worry too much. The key pieces are in place but the tough Pacific Division and Western Conference are your biggest enemy.

Atlanta Thrashers
C- The Thrashers once again failed to make the playoffs however showed some promise at the end of the season, coming together after the trade of Kovalchuk and playing some very meaningful games down the stretch. GM Don Waddell traded the face of the franchise and although he was under scrutiny for the move, it looks like the return of solid defensemen Johnny Oduya and rookie Niklas Bergfors will pay off for the Thrashers as Kovalchuk might make a run home for big money in the KHL. The Thrashers, despite their glum history are a team on the rise. A solid draft and a couple of free agent signings this summer could see the Thrashers make the playoffs in 2011.

Boston Bruins B The Bruins and their fans will probably spend the summer lamenting on what could have been. A game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins found a way to lose 4 straight to the Flyers including a blown 3-0 lead in game 7. The Bruins however found a way to beat the Sabres in the first round of the playoffs and be two periods away from a trip to the Eastern Finals. The Bruins must find a goal scorer this offseason as they were last in the NHL in goals this past season.

Buffalo Sabres
B- The Sabres exceeded expectations by winnings the Northeast Division and having the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They fell short of overall expectations by getting bounced out in the first round. The Sabres are a very deep team forward wise but lack a superstar that can score at anytime. Tomas Vanek has lost some of his scoring touch and too much pressure is put on the defense and in our opinion over rated Ryan Miller. The Sabres could be a team that looks for an explosive offensively player this offseason.

Calgary Flames F
The Flames were a team that many had in the elite of the Western Conference. Now ironically enough, their 40 wins and 90 point season put them ahead of the Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers, however the Flames seemed to have locker room turmoil all season and it led to the trading of star defensemen Dion Phaneuf. The Flames have changed coaches several times this decade and expect more changes in Calgary as a missed playoff season doesn't sit well with fans and management. We also question Mikko Kipprusoff. He seemed to quit on his team in the Olympics and refuses to ever take a game off without making a stink. Should be an interesting story that develops in Calgary.

Carolina Hurricanes Incompelte Carolina got off to a brutal start this season and then got ravaged with injuries. When the team got healthy, so did their winning ways. They went 25-14-3 in the calendar year 2010 and played up to their capabilities. Hurricane fans should throw this season out the window and be excited for next year.

Chicago Blackhawks A+
Congratulations to this storied franchise. One of the leagues original six, the Blackhawks fell on hard times for many years and stayed committed to rebuilding. Their vision became a reality this season as they hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. The current Hawks might look a bit different next year as some of their players will become salary cap casualties.

Colorado Avalanche B-
The Avalanche posted a 29 point improvement from the 08-09 season and that was good enough to find the 8th playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Avs took San Jose to six hard fought games in the first round of the playoffs. Matt Duchene had a solid rookie season and the young talent on the Avs will have them back to being playoff regulars.

Columbus Blue Jackets F The Blue Jackets were unable to feed off the momentum of making the playoffs for the first time the previous season. The Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff game and fans of the young franchise are becoming restless. Coach Ken Hitchcock defense first attitude was lost among the young players this season and the direction of this team has been questioned again. Lots of work to do to fix this team.

Dallas Stars D The Stars looked their age this season as many as their star players were aging. Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen weren't the same as in years past and Marty Turco might have played his final game in a Stars sweater as he had a brutal year. The Stars have decisions to make as to rebuild or give it a go with free agents and compete for the playoffs.

Detroit Red Wings B+ The Red Wings once again found a way to have a very successful season. The Wings started out slow and even fell below the playoff line at the Olympic Break but turned it on to fly into the playoffs and beat the Cinderella story Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. The Red Wings know how to win and we fully expect them to be a top team in the West again next season.

Edmonton Oilers F
The Oilers finished last in the NHL by a whopping 12 points this past season. The Oilers were out of it from the beginning and in our opinion have too many guys that are exactly the same player. The Oilers have a lot of rebuilding to do and we question if the right management is in place.

Florida Panthers D- The Panthers missed the playoffs for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. Florida always seems to be in the same spot every season, either 3rd or 4th in the Southeast division but never really seems to get better. The Panthers have trouble keeping their talented young players and until they are able to do that, the Panthers will remain irrelevant.

Los Angeles Kings B
The Kings met expectations by making the playoffs and gave the Canucks all they could handle for most of that series. Vancouver was probably the toughest matchup for Los Angeles and the eventually fell in 6 games. The Kings are miles under the salary cap and are loaded with young talent and even more prospects waiting in the wings. The Kings will try to increase team speed and add one dynamic scorer to the solid core of wingers. Look for Los Angeles to continue to get better.

Minnesota Wild D- This was the 3rd straight season where the Wild had fewer points then the previous season. The Wild lack any superstar talent and have plugged holes with players outside the organization rather then up through their minor leagues. The Wild have a way to go in the tough Western Conference before they find their winning ways.

Montreal Canadiens A
The Canadiens get an A for a couple of reasons. The first is that Montreal had 12 different players in their opening night lineup from the previous season and the second and bigger reason is there playoff run. The take-down of Washington and the defending Cup Champs in back to back rounds was very impressive. The Canadiens today traded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis and we doubt highly that Montreal is for real. Look for a down year in 2011.

Nashville Predators B
The Predators had 100 points and qualified for the playoffs for the 5th time in the last 6 years. The Predators just run into better teams every post-season and haven't found a way to bring in that top free agent or haven't finished poor enough to draft a future star. Barry Trotz in our opinion is the most under-rated coach in the sport as he has the Predators going toe to toe with every top team in the league barely falling short. The Predators should remain a playoff team and hopefully can find themselves a star sniper that could get to the 2nd round for the first time in their history.

New Jersey Devils C+ It's tough to give a team just a C+ grade that finished with over 100 points. However the majority of the Devils quit on their now retired coach and got bullied in a quick ousting at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Kovalchuk trade now looks like an absolute bust and the Devils start the offseason looking for someone to compliment Zach Parise. Every year we say the Devils are do for a down year and every year they get 100 points. So until they miss the playoffs, the Devils have to be considered a top Eastern team.

New York Islanders C It's amazing how the team that won the Atlantic Division gets a C+ and the team that finished last gets a C. However, the Islanders rebuild continued taking positive steps as just about all their young players got better and the team played some of the best hockey the fans have seen in years. John Tavares finished with 24 goals and the final 13 games showed why he could be the 40 goal scorer the team has need for years to come. The Islanders now have some solid prospects coming along the way, including 2 goalie prospects. If the Islanders can work out the Rick Dipietro situation or he somehow gets healthy and regains his form, the Isles can be a dangerous team the next couple of seasons.

New York Rangers C-
For a team that has won just two playoff series since 1998, their fanbase has extremely high expectations going into each season. However on paper, the Rangers are a borderline playoff team and that is exactly what we saw this season. The Rangers got their money's worth from Marion Gaborik and goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist stood on his head most of the season as a weak and overpaid defense didn't do the job. The one highlight on the blueline is Marc Staal. The young d-man did his share and got better as the season went along. I still see the Rangers attempting to buy their way out of their hole. Until they draft better and bring young players along slowly, the Rangers will struggle to be an elite team.

Ottawa Senators C+ The Senators are trying to regain their spot as an elite Eastern Conference team and took a step closer to that this season. Ottawa had 94 points and finished the season flying into the playoffs only to lose to the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Ottawa will need to sure up their defense and maybe find a better goalie to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Philadelphia Flyers A
The Flyers underachieved all regular season while battling throughinjuries and coaching changes. The Flyers got into the playoffs on a shootout in the last regular season game of the season against the rival New York Rangers. They then took out the Atlantic Division winning New Jersey Devils in relatively easy fashion, and for an encore became the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3 games to 0 deficit including a 3-0 deficit in game 7. The heavy underdog Flyers gave the Blackhawks all they could handle in 6 hard fought games in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers are a team built for the playoffs and Peter Laviollete might be the next all time great coach. His resume speaks for itself.

Phoenix Coyotes A-
The Coyotes were this years true Cinderella story. A team playing to less than 5,000 a night in the early season that was doomed to move found a way to stick together and create one of the best and heartwarming regular season runs in NHL history. 50 wins were by far the most in Coyotes history and they took the Red Wings to a hard fought 7 game series. The Coyotes are young and have a nice mix of veterans to be a solid team for the next few years.

Pittsburgh Penguins B The Penguins once again had a solid season winning a playoff round after going the distance the previous two seasons including a Championship in 2009. After all the hockey the Penguins have played, it would have been a lot to ask of them to return to the Cup Finals. The Penguins lost some depth due to salary cap restrictions and will have to find another winger and another defensemen if they want to win again.

San Jose Sharks B The Sharks finally got out of their own way in the playoffs with two good series wins against Colorado and Detroit. The Sharks however were outclassed and outworked by the Cup winning Hawks in the Western Finals. The Sharks will make some changes this offseason as they only have 12 players under contract for next season. Will the Sharks continue with this core of players or has enough chances been given to this underachieving team?

St. Louis Blues C+ The Blues got off to a poor start but found themselves playing well down the stretch to finish the season with 90 points. The young Blues took another step forward today acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak from Montreal. St. Louis will be on our list to make the playoffs next season.

Tampa Bay Lightning C Tampa Bay found a way to take a positive step this season through the turmoil of ownership changes. Steven Stamkos is as dynamic as any scorer in the league and the Lightning have many offensive weapons. Tampa needs to overhaul their defense and find a true #1 goalie before they take the ultimate step back to the Stanley Cup.

Toronto Maple Leafs D+ Brian Burke made some bold statements and bold moves acquiring Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguere via trade. The Leafs will not be able to take advantage of a high draft pick because they traded it to Boston for Phil Kessel. Still, Brian Burke will have all the resources available and will be bold enough to do anything he has to to make the Leafs rebuilding process a lot quicker than most teams would have to go through. The Leafs will continue to get better but we question if they will ruin their organizational depth by trading away picks and prospects along the way.

Vancouver Canucks B Vancouver did everything they could for their fans to be satisfied although they probably aren't. The Canucks were 3rd in the West and in reality probably 3rd best on paper. They beat the 6 seeded Kings in the first round after have a 103 point season which included a 14 game road trip because of the Olympics. The Canucks were then knocked out by eventual Cup winners Chicago. The good news is that Chicago and San Jose both have lots of questions with salary cap and players unsigned this offseason while Vancouver has their core intact. The Canucks could find themselves being the team to beat in the West next season.

Washington Capitals B-
How can a 121 point season be disappointing? When you get knocked out in the first round by losing 3 straight (including 2 at home) to the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens. The Capitals dominated at home going 30-5-6 and scored 85 more goals then they gave up. The Capitals still need to toughen up as their 17th ranked defense was exposed during the playoffs. The Capitals might want to look at a free agent goaltender to work with Semyon Varlamov as it would surprise us to see Jose Theodore back with the team.