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Who Will Win the Conn Smythe Now?

by chewy 19. June 2013 07:45

With just a few games left to be played in this year's playoffs, the field for the MVP honors has narrowed itself down a bit; however, this may be one of the toughest seasons in recent memory to pick a clear-cut winner.  The choice obviously depends most upon who wins the Cup.  After that, there are a number of candidates on both side worthy of consideration.  Here are the front-runners at this point, heading into Game 4:

 

1. Tuukka Rask (BOS)

If there is such thing as a front-runner in this MVP race, it would have to be Rask.  He has been unbelievable in net, largely making up for the paltry goal-scoring of the Bruins over the past 2 series.  His GAA of 1.64 and save percentage of .946 are best in the league by a long shot.  Without his brilliance in round 3, the Bruins couldn't have so easily dispatched of the Pens.

 

2. David Krejci (BOS)

Krejci leads the league in playoff scoring with 23 points.  He's tied with Patrick Sharp for tops in goal scoring with 9.  The production has slowed down in the finals.  He has just 2 assists and no goals in the Finals through 3 games.  Even without his scoring, his puck control and overall play have been outstanding.  The Bruins are a well balanced team, but Krejci has emerged as the go to guy in the playoffs.

 

 

3. Marian Hossa (CHI)

Sometimes the best way to gauge the value of a player is in their absence.  With Hossa out in Game 3 of the Finals, the Hawks struggled to generate opportunities.  His 2-way play has surpassed that of captain Toews, who has been somewhat absent during this postseason.  If Chicago is to come back and claim the Cup, they will need a healthy Hossa to do that.

 

4. Corey Crawford (CHI)

Despite being perceived as a potential weak link, Crawford has been outstanding throughout the playoffs.  Were it not for the overshadowing brilliance in the opposite net, Crawford may be the front runner in this column.  His numbers speak for themselves: GAA of 1.73, Save Percentage of .936.  If he can add 3 wins to that total, Crawford may have a Trophy on his shelf.

 

5. Zdeno Chara (BOS)

His offensive production has been very good (12 points in 19 games), but it is his hulking defensive presence that has him in the running for the MVP honors.  He has owned the region in and around Rask's crease, helping the Bruins keep some of the best offensive talents in the league in check.

 

Other possibilities, should they do something special in the last few games:

  • Nathan Horton (BOS) - like Hossa, he was missed greatly when absent from his lineup.  His +22 is tops.
  • Patrick Sharp (CHI) - leads the Hawks in points and goals
  • Milan Lucic (BOS) - 85 hits are best in the league.  He came up clutch early in the playoffs.

 

And in the category of unsung hero, as much as it pains me to say this… Jaromir Jagr (BOS) has been everything and more the Bruins had hoped for.  Had just one or two of his 55 shots on goals gone in the net, he may have made the conversation above.  He has been dominate on both ends of the rink, despite his advanced age.

 

Correction

by chewy 12. June 2013 19:12
So, turns out, I was wrong.

Tags:

Which Penguin Will Win the Conn Smythe?

by chewy 31. May 2013 14:07

So, two rounds in the books and despite some interesting twists, it should come as no surprise at who the final four contestants will be.  All four teams have been there and won it and are looking for their 2nd go at the Cup in 5 years. 

Despite the presence of four worthy teams, I'd have to go out of my way not to recognize that the Penguins are still heavy favorites here.  And from those Penguins come at least 7 worthy candidates for the title of Playoff MVP.  Normally, at this time of year, I present the top 10 contenders for the Conn Smythe, drawing a few from each squad; however, given my belief that Pittsburgh will likely wrap this thing up with relative ease, it's pointless to go through that exercise.  Instead, I will focus on the most likely scenario:  Who should get the trophy when the Penguins win the Cup. 

 

 

1. Thomas Vokoun

It's hard to fathom now, but the Penguins truly were in trouble in that opening round series with Fleury between the pipes.  Thanks to off-season Shero brilliance, Coach Bylsma had an obvious answer.  And it worked.  With so much fire power up front, what this team needed more than anything was for someone to just stop the bleeding.  Vokoun did that and more.  He has arguably been the best goalie in the playoffs, and the one indispensable piece in this Penguin lineup.  He's going to have to be good versus the Bruins, and potentially great against the Hawks (should that happen), but that just means he'll have to keep doing what he's been doing his whole career.

 

2. Kris Letang

Letang is currently one point away from leading the league in points this post-season.  Should that hold true through the end of June, it may be an easy choice.  To have a team this loaded with talent be led in scoring by a defensemen speaks volumes of Letang's presence, yet it just scratches the surface of what he brings to this team.  It didn't always show in Round 1, but nobody was better in Round 2 than Letang.

 

3. Sidney Crosby

Had he suited up to start the playoffs, he would likely be at the top of the scoring.  Having only played 10 games, he trails by a few points.  But that will change, should he stay healthy.  Crosby is the heart of this team and undisputed best player in the world.  It's almost too easy to give him this trophy.

 

4. Evgeni Malkin

The last time the Pens won the Cup it was Malkin, not Crosby, that held this honor.  Through 2 rounds, he's certainly making a good case for a repeat.  Provided you don't consider the blind passes to no-one, dumb penalties, and other mental lapses at all areas of the rink, his every-other-shift offensive brilliance may be enough to make up for his shortcomings.

 

5. Jarome Iginla

It feels like Iginla is just building momentum with each round, to the point where he may single-handedly dominate the Finals.  Should they face any serious adversity in the final two rounds, it just may be the new guy that bails them out.

 

6. James Neal

Before the playoffs, I picked the Real Deal to hold this trophy.  He made me look silly for a while there, as the goals just wouldn't come.  But alas, the sniper has awoken.  5 goals in the last 2 games.  If the pace continues, he'll climb this list quickly.

 

7. Pascal Dupuis

For most of the post-season thus far, it's been the underrated winger Dupuis that led the team, and the league in goals.  He now stands tied with Crosby and Patrick Sharp with 7 for tops.  Aside from Crosby, Dupuis has been the best all-around player for the Pens this spring.  Seems a long-shot, but he deserves consideration.

 

8. Kris Kunitz

A sane argument could be made that Kunitz is the one piece to the offense that this team cannot afford to lose.  Simply put, he makes things happen for the stars.  He's the enabler.  That's why both Malkin and Crosby have been vocal in stating they prefer to play with Kunitz.  He opens space.   He lets them do their magic.  And he has shown plenty of magic of his own.  He would have to go on a pretty good goal scoring tear to leapfrog the big guns, but it could be done.

 

9/10. Jonathan Quick or Corey Crawford

Splitting the vote.  Truth is, with the top 6 forwards on this team going at equal pace, they just may split the vote.  That leaves open the odd scenario where the losing team gets the trophy.  Should that happen, it typically only goes to a goalie.

 

2013 Playoff Preview

by chewy 30. April 2013 08:35

In the Spring of 1992, after saving my paper route money for weeks, I skipped school one day, woke up at 3AM and camped outside of Greengate Mall to be first in line for playoff tickets.  Roughly one week later, I sat with mixed emotions, front-row tickets in hand to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, as I watched my favorite player, Ronnie Francis, dismantle the Blackhawks in Game 4.  I was left holding a meaningless ticket to a game that would never be played.

 

Now, 21 years later, if all goes to plan, the Penguins and Blackhawks seem all but certain to meet once again in those Stanley Cup Finals.  If all goes to plan.  Which it obviously never does in the NHL playoffs.  Which is why predicting what will transpire over the next 2 months is perhaps the most challenging task a hockey writer can undertake.  Of the 8 opening round series, only the Pens and Hawks can be thought of as heavy favorites to advance.  Each of the other 6 series could be decided on a coin flip.  And as I witnessed up close in 1993, even an unbeatable Penguins squad could in fact lose to an eight-seeded Islanders…

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs New York Islanders (8)

Speaking of which… could it  happen again?  Could the most talented team in hockey stumble in the opening round against an Islanders team that is seemingly just happy to be there?  Despite the fact that history is on the Islanders side, it's just not going to happen this time around.  The '93 Pens were built on raw talent alone and had below average  goaltending in Tom Barrasso, particularly in 1993.  While Fleury's performance last year was strikingly similar, he seems to have righted the ship.  And even if he is distracted by becoming a new daddy this week, Pittsburgh can safely turn to veteran Thomas Vokoun and barely miss a step.  Make no mistake.  With all the talent and grit added to an already talented and gritty team, the one thing that can mess up the parade plans in Pittsburgh is goaltending.

 

On the other side of the rink, the Islanders are in fact a fun team to watch.  With John Tavares officially arriving as a legit superstar this season, and with the team boasting a variety of speedy forwards that can turn a game around in seconds, it should be an entertaining series to watch.  Against any other opponent in the East, New York would have a fighting chance.  But against this all-star team, they should just be happy to be there.

 

Prediction: Penguins in 5.

 

 

Montreal Canadiens (2) vs Ottawa Senators (7)

The Habs defaulted into the Division Champ slot, despite a late-season collapse.  The hockey world was drooling over a certain Montreal-Toronto first round matchup, but will have to "settle" for the first Senator-Canadiens playoff meeting since the 1920's.  This one has all the makings of an epic storyline and could easily go either way.  On one hand, Montreal took an impressive storybook rebound season and scarred it with some downright awful play as the final weeks played out.  They had just enough to hang on to the #2 seed, but left plenty of questions, starting with the mindset of Carey Price.  If he falters, as he clearly did in the final weeks, the Habs have no one to lean on.  This is where a guy like Jaroslav Halak would be a nice card to play. 

 

The Senators are the team that won't give up or go away no matter how many people believe they will or should.  Despite losing their most significant pieces, the Sens persisted and played a team game to keep themselves from sliding.  Kudos to the coaching squad and the leadership of Alfredsson to get them here.  Now what are they going to do with it?  In a series like this, it will likely be decided by goaltending.  In which case, with recent history in mind, the edge clearly has to go to Ottawa.

 

Prediction: Senators in 5.

 

 

Washington Capitals (3) vs New York Rangers (6)

As the Kings demonstrated last season, getting hot at the right time can be all it takes to roll your way through the NHL playoffs.  A month ago it seemed impossible that the Capitals would even qualify for the post-season.  Today, it's not uncommon to hear predictions of their first Stanley Cup party.  The turn around has been awesome to behold.  Mike Green, Niklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have turned the calendar back a few years and are once again a trifecta of skill that no team seems capable of answering.  So can Lundqvist be the one to end this run?  Of all the series, this one may be the most difficult to predict.

 

The Rangers are a very different squad than the one that started the season with high expectations, only to fall upon hard times very quickly.  The team clearly missed the elements that left in the off season, such as Prust and Callahan.  Callahan is back now, which helped New York compile 10 wins in April to salvage the season.  However, without Staal in the lineup, the Rangers may not have enough to shut down the top unit of the Capitals.  Then again… there is Lundqvist. 

 

Prediction: Rangers in 7.

 

 

Boston Bruins (4) vs Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

It's hard to fathom how the Bruins fell to the fourth seed.  Despite playing in a division that sent 4 of 5 teams to the playoffs, Boston clearly  was the team to beat in this group.  They faltered greatly in April, and struggled to score goals.  With just a week left in the season, Milan Lucic was watching games from the press box.  These are not good signs for a team preparing for battle.  They will face a team with whom they share much recent history.  Kessel, Seguin, Rask, Hamilton… the storylines surrounding trades will be told, but the bottom line here is that the Leafs look good right now and the Bruins do not.

 

Toronto brings an imposing lineup of forwards, including the unstoppable-when-healthy Lupul/Kessel combo.  Youngster Nazim Kadri was one of the biggest surprises of the season, blossoming in the wake of the coaching/GM changes to find his way into the top 25 for points in the NHL this season.  James Reimer has also surprised many, giving the Leafs no reason to sell the farm for a shot at Luongo at the deadline.  That may change this summer if he falters, but for now, the Leafs look like a good bet to advance to Round 2 for the first time in many, many moons.

 

Prediction: Leafs in 6.

 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Minnesota Wild (8)

Congrats to the Wild for making the playoffs.

 

Prediction: Hawks in 5.

 

 

Anaheim Ducks (2) vs Detroit Redwings (7)

Congrats to the Redwings for… no.  I can't bring myself to complete that sentence.  Though, truly, just to be there for the 22nd straight season is something to behold.  But will it be enough to get them past the most underappreciated good team in the NHL right now?  The Ducks have put together an amazing rebound season, but have received very little attention in the wake of Chicago's epic winning streak in the West.  Nevertheless, this is a very good team having a very good season.  The Ducks are rolling three quality lines and getting scoring from each.  Selanne and Koivu, while playing on the third line, have combined for 20 goals alone.  Francois Beauchemin has re-emerged as a top-end and potential Norris Trophy nominee defenseman.  Anaheim also has 2 top-notch goalies on their hands should they need to choose.  And I haven't mentioned the resurgence of captain Ryan Getzlaf. 

 

The Wings have pulled off the unthinkable by clawing their way into the 7th seed, despite the decimation of their defense.  And they did it with impressive defense.  Jimmy Howard put up perhaps the best season of his career, at the most needed time.  But make no mistake.  This team belongs to Zetterberg and Datsyuk.  It's on them to determine how far the story can continue.

 

Prediction: Anaheim in 5.

 

 

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs San Jose Sharks (6)

There are a hundred ways to break down this series, but no matter how you approach it, it comes out a tie.  On offense, the edge has to go to San Jose.  Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Havlat, etc. hold a slight edge over the likes of the Sedins, Kesler, Burrows and newcomer Roy.  The difference maker here may end up being defenseman turned winger Brent Burns.  On defense, Vancouver can boast of the advantage.  San Jose parted ways with Douglas Murray to make room for more speed and agility, but leaves them in envy of the like of Edler, Bieksa, and Hamhuis.  In net, it's a tie.  Niemi put up a quietly outstanding season, while Vancouver can turn to either Luongo or Schneider as the mood fits.  Either way, it's looking like a good series and a tough one to call.

 

While the Canucks have more or less rolled towards another division title, the Sharks have been on a roller coaster ride.  They started the season on fire, fell flat on their faces in March, and dominated in April.  At least they're hot at the right time.

 

Prediction: Sharks in 6.

 

 

 

St. Louis Blues (4) vs Los Angeles Kings (5)

If these teams played 100 more games this season, they would probably still finish within a point or two of each other in the standings.  Both teams boast of significant depth, great goaltending, and a bit of grit, which should make this the most interesting series to watch in the West. 

 

The Blues enter the playoffs in complete control on defense.  Elliot is stopping everything, thanks in large part to the stacked defense and stifling system that Coach Hitchcock brings wherever he goes.  No team can match the 3 pairings on the blue line that St. Louis can serve up.  Up front, the Blues can roll their lines with ease, with scoring threats on the ice at all times.

 

The Kings will have a tough go at defending their crown, but come with basically the same set of weapons that dominated last spring.  Their top two lines can match up evenly with anyone in the West, but they do get a little thin in terms of scoring beyond that.  On defense, Drew Doughty could ultimate be the factor that gets them past the first round. 

 

Predictions: Blues in 7.

 

 

 

STANLEY CUP PREDICTIONS

 

I'm typically uncomfortable going with the crowd with my picks.  After all, I did name the Sabres as my pre-season selection to hoist the Cup.  However, in this case, I can find no plausible piece of evidence to suggest that anyone can defeat the Penguins in a 7-game series.  All that's left to be decided is the name on the other end of that history.  To me, it will come down to the Central Division.  Hawks or Blues.  Ultimately, I see St. Louis getting to the finals.

 

Penguins over Blues in 5 games.  MVP honors this season will go to the Real Deal James Neal.  With Iginla, Malkin, Crosby, and Letang finishing 2nd through 5th in voting.

 

 

SORTING THROUGH THE ODDS

 

If you're still reading, most likely, it's because you're about to fill out your selections for a playoff pool.  So while you've gained nothing by reading one more article picking Pittsburgh to win it all, I will offer up my rankings from 1-16 of the teams in terms off their likelihood to hoist the Cup in 2003:

 

1. Pittsburgh - could sit their top power play unit for the game and still be the most talented team in the league

2. St. Louis - depth wins in the playoffs and this team has no weak line.  Deep at offense.  Deep at defense.  Deep in goal.

3. Chicago - that winning streak happened for a reason.  This team is the most talented in the West.  If Crawford can stay hot, they have a shot.

4. Toronto - time for crazy.  The Leafs just feel like a team ready to make a run.  I see them reaching the Conference Finals and becoming the only team to give the Pens a slight scare.

5. Anaheim - this is a different team since Boudreau took over last year. 

6. Boston - if they survive the opening round with the Leafs, it will be by rediscovering the scoring.  If that happens, they will make a run.

7. LA - they are the defending champs.  All comes down to Quick.

8. San Jose - Their biggest test may come in the opening round.  This team has to feel like the window is nearly closed.

9. Vancouver - see above.  If they can overcome San Jose, they have a shot at advancing.

10. New York Rangers - if they do go a few rounds, Lundqvist will be the hands-down MVP

11. Washington - if they can keep the magic rolling, this is a talented group of players

12. Ottawa - go ahead, keep doubting them.  If they go far enough, they may just add Spezza at some point.

13. Montreal - all about Price.

14. Detroit - the streak is a alive.  Just be happy with that.

15. Minnesota - back in the playoffs for one week.

16. New York Islanders - sorry about that first round draw.

 

 

Revisiting the 2013 Forecast

by chewy 23. April 2013 13:29

As the season draws to a close and we prepare for the playoff run, it's time to take a step back and revisit this year's pre-season predictions to see how well the Crystal Ball performed in the shortened season.  Clearly, it was a mixed bag.  If you want the whole thing, here's the Original Post: http://www.landsharkhockey.com/post/2013/01/21/NHL-2013-Preseason-Predictions.aspx

 

 

 

TEAMS ON THE MOVE

We tried to predict teams that would move up and down.  We possibly nailed it on the Down part.  Failed miserably on the up…

 

GOING UP:

 

Buffalo Sabres - Truly thought they were on the right track.  This team needs to start playing with some passion in the first half of the seasons.

 

Carolina Panthers - Seems like every season, they miss the playoffs by a point or two.  At least they should have a decent draft position this time around to show for their troubles.

 

Edmonton Oilers - Biggest shocker of all.  When is this team going to win?

 

 

GOING DOWN:

 

Detroit Redwings - Fared much better than I expected with the franchise retiring last year.  Still, looking like the streak will end this spring.

 

New Jersey Devils - My prediction of "No chance this team makes the playoffs." looked silly after the first month of games, but this team came down to earth when Brodeur was injured.

 

 

 

FINAL STANDINGS (by points)

 

Not even close...

 

Starting in the East:

 

1. Pittsburgh *

2. New York Rangers

3. Buffalo Sabres *

4. Boston Bruins

5. Carolina Hurricanes *

6. Philadelphia Flyers

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

8. Tampa Bay Lightning

--------------------------

9. Washington Capitals

10. Florida Panthers

11. Ottawa Senators

12. Montreal Canadiens

13. New York Islanders

14. Winnepeg Jets

15. New Jersey Devils

 

Besides nailing Pittsburgh to finish first (big stretch there), the only other right predictions:

"Yes, once again, it looks like the "winner" from the Southeast Division will unjustly claim 3rd seed"

"The Leafs will end their playoff absence, while the Caps will be on the outside this time around. (TBD on that last one) "

 

 

Now, on to the West:

 

A little better.  Way off on Columbus.  Hands up if you saw that turn around coming.  Also missed the boat on the Ducks.

 

1. St. Louis Blues *

2. LA Kings *

3. Nashville Predators

4. Edmonton Oilers *

5. Vancouver Canucks

6. Chicago Blackhawks

7. Phoenix Coyotes

8. San Jose Sharks

--------------------------

9. Dallas Stars

10. Detroit Redwings

11. Minnesota Wild

12. Colorado Avalanche

13. Anaheim Ducks

14. Calgary Flames

15. Columbus Blue Jackets

 

 

 

 

THE HARDWARE

 

Mixed bag on these calls:

 

MVP / Art Ross

Crosby.  End. Of. Discussion.

Still think he's got this in the bag.

 

Rocket Richard

Despite a handful of worthy competitors, Stamkos will be holding on to this one for a few years.

Still has a shot to prove me right.

 

Norris

Shea Weber will claim his first of many this year.  Expect some votes for Letang and Karlsson.

Shea misses Ryan.  Who knew? 

 

Vezina

The committee always seems to be a year behind in naming the winner here.  Jonathan Quick gets his due in 2013.

No idea who's going to claim the Vezina at this point, but it's not going to be Quick.

 

Presidents Trophy

The Blues will be so good defensively, they'll win this with a week to go in the season.

Did I say the Blues?  I meant that other Central Division team.

 

Stanley Cup

Last year, I predicted a California / Pennsylvania matchup in this space.  I was right on one end. 

My vague, cloudy crystal ball shows me the winner this time will emerge from either PA or NY state and will take on a team from the Central Division.  {pause while I crumble up papers.  Place them in the hat…}… and the gutsy prediction is:

 

OK.  Let's pretend like I stopped there, and a Penguin / Hawks 1992 repeat isn't out of the question...

 

 

The Buffalo Sabres will claim their first Cup over the St. Louis Blues.

 

Ouch. See where being bold gets you.

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