First Round Musings

Well, the first round's just about over by the time that I'm starting this blog, and while I don't have the time to recap every series, here are some interesting things to note (get out a sheet of paper, really):

-Of the 8 first round series, only two have made it to seven games (NJD vs CAR, NYR vs WAS). However, 3 of those series made it to the intense mark of six games, meaning in those three match-ups, the teams were fairly equal, but one gained more momentum and won it all.

-The leading scorer of the post-season so far is Evgeni Malkin. Interestingly enough, it's not very common to see the regular season scoring leader top the playoffs in scoring, for whatever reason. However, with the experience of a Finals appearance last year, Malkin's Penguins could go all the way again this year, leaving the possibility of the top regular and post- season scorer being the same man.

-Detroit's 4-game sweep marked the first time since 2002 that the team who won the Cup made it beyond the first round the next year, while Pittsburgh's 4-2 series win over Philadelphia marked the first time since that same year that both finalists made it past round 1.

San Jose vs. Anaheim
Result: Anaheim wins series 4-2
Perhaps the most surprising, yet not fully unexpected, upset of the first round, eighth seeded Anaheim, who struggled to even stay in playoff contention, took down the top seeded, President's Trophy-winning, San Jose Sharks, who are annually expected to go the distance and win a Cup, and annually disappoint the league and their fans.
Series difference-maker: Jonas Hiller (Ducks goaltender) Hiller was shifting between backup and starting goalie throughout the year as J.S. Giguere suffered through numerous inconsistencies, but was always rock solid when called upon. He kept the Sharks' goal total low enough to allow the Ducks a victory every night.

Boston vs. Montreal
Result: Boston wins series 4-0
Coming into the playoffs in their 100th season, the Canadiens had a year of many struggles, but were expected to contend fairly well. Instead, they went up against a Bruins team that had dominated the Eastern Conference all year and weren't ready to slow down just yet. In a crushing sweep, the Bruins took down the Habs like lightning, leading many to wonder just what challenge actually awaits Boston.
Series difference-maker: Michael Ryder (Bruins winger) Ryder came back to haunt his former team in the first round, scoring 4 goals and 7 points in 4 games for Boston.

Detroit vs. Columbus
Result: Detroit wins series 4-0
Perhaps the only series that ended exactly as predicted, the first-time-post-seasoner-Blue Jackets entered the playoffs hyped up, but with a poor match-up that resulted in a crushing defeat at the hands of defending champs Detroit. However, the supposed parity increase in the NHL has finally played out, as the Blue-Jackets, previously the only team in the league to have never made the playoffs, finally tasted the first round. And if the fans in Ohio are any proof, the Jackets want more.
Series difference-maker: Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings Center/Winger) Although the entire Wings team was balanced out in terms of scoring and defensive play, there's no denying that Zetterberg is one of Detroit's ultimate leaders, and with 3 goals to lead the team, not to mention his outstanding defensive play, he'll lead the Wings wherever they go.

Washington vs. New York Rangers
Result: Washington wins series 4-3
One of the NHL's 7-game series, the Caps pulled off an upset, coming back from a Rangers 3-1 series lead to upset the boys in blue. After the Rangers chased goalie Jose Theodore from the Washington net, rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov came in and stole the show, and the comeback ended on Washington ice in game 7 with a 2-1 win.
Series difference-maker: Simeon Varlamov (Capitals goaltender) With Alex Ovechkin being harassed by Marc Staal and Alexander Semin and Nick Backstrom proving ineffective without him, it was up to the rookie Varlamov, who changed the series momentum in game 5 when he shut out the Rangers 4-0 for the second time. Comparisons to Mr. Cam Ward have already begun, and while it's a bit early, it looks good for Washington. Next up? Pittsburgh.

Vancouver vs. St. Louis
Result: Vancouver wins series 4-0
The first series to end (Boston's sweep of Montreal and Detroit's sweep of Columbus ended only a few days later) proved that while an underdog team can carry plenty of momentum, consistent goaltending will take you all the way. That was the story, as the Blues could not rely on the scoring of David Backes and Brad Boyes to get past the wall of Roberto Luongo. And surprisingly balanced scoring made sure that the Canucks topped the Blues in only four games.
Series difference-maker: Sedin Twins (Canucks center and left winger) It's practically impossible to seperate these two in any way. They duo dominated the series along with right winger Alex Burrows, making precision passes and sniper-like accuracy on net turn into goals. While Burrows had three goals, Daniel Sedin led with 2 goals and 5 points, while Henrik Sedin had a goal and 4 points.

New Jersey vs. Carolina
Result: Carolina wins series 4-3
There might not have been a more dead-locked series in the first round than this 7-gamer between the Devils and the Hurricanes. The Devils had Zach Parise to pour in goals, a world-reknowned defense to shut down the Canes, and star goalie Martin Broduer in net in case all else failed. The Canes had Eric Staal to lead on offense, a somewhat inexperienced, but still strong defense, and former Conn Smythe winner Cam Ward in goal. Through the first six games, it was literally a back and forth series. Two games went into overtime, with New Jersey winning one and Carolina winning the other. Although the Canes dominated in game 6, winning 4-0, it appeared that the Devils had the series locked up with a 3-2 lead going into the final period of game seven. However, goals by Jussi Jokinen and the heroic Eric Staal gave the Canes a 4-3 win and a chance in the second round.
Series-difference maker: Eric Staal (Hurricanes center) With 5 goals and 7 points, the Canes future captain stayed on a point-per-game pace throughout the series and was the leading goal-scorer as well. Although counterpart Zach Parise played perhaps as heroicly as Staal, the Canes came out on top thanks to their leader.

Chicago vs. Calgary
Result: Chicago wins series 4-2
The story of this series was toughness and experience (Calgary) up against energetic youth (Chicago). The Flames were led by gritty veteran Jarome Iginla and solid netminder Miika Kiprusoff, while the Blackhawks had the goal-scoring and leadership of Jonathan Toews and the netminding of former Stanley Cup winner Nikolai Khabibulin. Many people gave the series to Calgary because of the lack of experience (17 players never having played in the playoffs) that Chicago had in their lineup. However, the Hawks managed to overwhelm the defensive efforts of the Flames and moved on to the second round.
Series difference-maker: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Center) Despite being so young, the future Chicago captain dominated the series with his gritty play. He had 2 goals and 6 points to tie for second on team scoring, and kept up the morale of the team even as they lost games 3 and 4 in Calgary.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia
Result: Pittsburgh wins series 4-2
The series with the most heated rivalry already in place became intense right off the bat. Both teams relied on scoring, as Pittsburgh had the dynamic duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while the Flyers relied upon Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, among others. In the end, though, the superb goaltending of Marc-Andre Fluery bested the efforts of Martin Biron, and the Penguins came out on top. Next up, the dream series of Pittsburgh vs. Washington.
Series difference-maker: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins center) Despite the hype surrounding Sid the Kid, Malking quietly lead the playoffs in scoring through the first round, and potted 4 goals and 9 points total.


We didn't sign you for THIS

Every team has its flop signings/draftings/tradings, maybe even annually. Here's a list of each team's "We didn't sign you for THIS" player for the 08-09 season.

Anaheim Ducks:
The Ducks flop of the year actually wasn't a new addition. Goaltender J.S. Giguere was expected to be a solid No. 1 this year, but through each game he's played, he's been inconsistent. With a 19-18-5 record, and alleged "backup" Jonas Hiller going 22-15-1, Giguere definitely didn't live up to expectations this season.

Atlanta Thrashers: Other than the entire team consistently playing as a flop, the Thrashers signing of Jason Williams didn't play out as expected. Following a season in which Williams scored 36 points in 43 games, the Thrashers signed him as a free agent expecting him to help lead the attack along with Ilya Kovalchuk. However, Williams never panned out, only managing 7 goals and 18 points in 41 games before being traded to Columbus. However, where Williams failed, Todd White (22 goals, 72 points) and Brian Little (31 goals, 51 points) picked up their game.

Boston Bruins: As hard as I try, I can't seem to find a player for the Bruins that really failed. Marco Sturm's stats are a low, but that's because of a long-term injury that had nothing to do with his level of play while healthy. Mark Recchi has a rating of -17, but was on a poor Thrashers team for the majority of the year and has only been a -2 in Boston. The entire team has risen beyond expectations to clinch the Eastern Conference, and should have quite the playoff run.

Buffalo Sabres: The season as a whole has been slightly disappointing for the Sabres, but a particular disappointment has been backup goalie Patrick Lalime. Signed to be a steady presence if Ryan Miller went down with an injury or needed a rest, he's only managed a 5-13-3 record in 21 games.

Calgary Flames: Most of the players on the Flames have played fairly well this season, but Jamie Lundmark hasn't been able to secure a job with the team. He's managed 15 points in 25 games this year, but hasn't been a consistent presence.

Carolina Hurricanes:
Scott Walker's point totals have been steadily declining over the past three seasons and injuries this year haven't helped. Through 38 games, Walker only had 5 goals and 15 points. His importance to the team is slowly waning.

Chicago Blackhawks: Brent Sopel signed on with the Chicago crew last year in hopes of helping return the team to glory. While the Hawks will finally make the playoffs this year, Sopel has turned in a disappointing 08-09 campaign, only playing in 23 games, with a goal, an assist, and a -4 rating.

Colorado Avalanche: The entire year has just plain sucked for the Avs, but it's interesting to note that the Darcy Tucker signing completely failed. He's only managed 8 goals and 16 points in 60 games, played to a -13 rating, and hasn't even fought a lot, with only 67 PIM's.

Columbus Blue Jackets:
The Jackets are finally in the playoffs after clinching a spot a couple days ago. In the summer, they'll be looking to re-style their roster to fit the style of play that has gotten them this far, and a likely casualty of that change will be center Jiri Novotny. Novotny has never been able to consistently hold an NHL job, and only managed 3 goals and 6 points in 40 games with the Jackets this year.

Dallas Stars:
This may be the most obvious pick of the league—Sean Avery. The Avery experiment in Dallas was a complete disaster. The team went on a downward spiral with Avery in the lineup, and was only able to somewhat reverse the tailspin after kicking Sean off the team. Interestingly, Avery re-joined the New York Rangers later in the year, and has sparked them into fighting for a playoff spot.

Detroit Red Wings:
The Red Wings are yet another team who seems to have no bad decisions this year. The only real issue has been the play of goalie Chris Osgood, who, despite his outstanding record of 25-8-7, has been fairly inconsistent. Osgood's GAA is currently 3.10, and has hovered around that mark all year. He must improve if the Wings want to repeat.

Edmonton Oilers:
Fernando Pisani has been unable to recreate his magic of the 2006 post-season, during which he went on a goal-scoring rampage. This year he's only managed 7 goals and 14 points in 36 games.

Florida Panthers:
The play of Nick Tarnasky hasn't contributed to the Panthers' hopes of a playoff berth this year. In his 44 games so far, he's only managed 6 assists and a -2 rating.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings probably wish Denis Gauthier had played a little better this year. The veteran defenseman didn't provide all that great of a presence, and had a string of suspensions mid-season that messed with the team's chemistry.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild probably would have liked a bit more production out of Craig Weller. The ex-Coyote only managed a goal and two assists in 36 games and was a -3.

Montreal Canadiens: The entire Canadiens team went on a downward spiral in the second half of the year, so every player underachieved in one way or another. However, I still can't find the point of Montreal keeping Mathieu Dandenault on the roster. Once again, he only played half the year, and managed 4 goals and 12 points this time. The Canadiens have so many young players that could be using that playing time instead.

Nashville Predators: Patric Hornqvist needed more AHL seasoning than the Preds thought. Unfortunately, they ran out his Calder game-limit (28 games this season) and he won't be able to contend for rookie of the year next year, that is, if he can pick up his play (2 goals, 7 points) by next year.

New Jersey Devils: Nicklas Bergfors has been unable to secure a spot with the Devils. Despite getting 9 games over the past two seasons to prove his worth, Bergfors has only scored one goal and has played in the AHL the rest of the time.\

New York Islanders: Seeing as the Islanders finished last, every player could be considered a flop. However, a particular letdown was the play of Brendan Witt. Despite still being a veteran leader for the Isles, Witt was a -34, a team worst, and definitely not helping the club.

New York Rangers: Everyone's talking about how Wade Redden has been a huge disappointment for the money the Rangers gave him, but another strange season came out of Aaron Voros. Voros was at the top of league scoring during October, but hit a slump much worse than the rest of the Rangers, and ended up with only 8 goals and 16 points and went scoreless during the month of February.

Ottawa Senators: Shean Donovan has certainly slowed down at this point in his NHL career. Expected to be a role player, Donovan's totals of 5 goals, 10 points, and a -2 rating are still fairly disappointing.

Philadelphia Flyers: Despite an upswing in the latter half of the year, Claude Giroux's play at the beginning of the season was way below what was expected of him, and earned him a trip to the AHL. His expectations will be just as high next season, however, as the Flyers faithful expect him to only need one learning season.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Desert Dogs are certainly upset that the sophomore slump hit Peter Mueller so bad. The (still) future captain of the Coyotes on managed 36 points this year after breaking the 50 point barrier last season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins definitely aren't happy with the play of Miroslav Satan. After recording just 17 goals and 36 points through 65 games, he was assigned to the AHL, a tough blow on the reputation of the veteran winger.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks wish that veteran leader Jeremy Roenick had brought last season's magic. Despite winning more games than ever, San Jose had no help from Roenick in that department, who only scored 4 goals this year, none of which were game-winners.

St. Louis Blues: Barret Jackman was expected to be a solid veteran backbone for a relatively young defense corps. However, his play wasn't the best; a -17 rating looks really bad for the experienced defender, especially when compared to counterpart veteran Jay Mckee, who finished the year at +11.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The entire Tampa team was the biggest disappointment in the NHL, from expected top rookie Steven Stamkos (who still managed a respectable 23 goals and 46 points) all the way down to ex-coach Barry Melrose, who lasted 16 games. However, a lot will be made out of the poor play of Noah Welch, who only managed a goal and an assist with a -9 rating. Welch, through a series of trades, was the replacement of star defender Dan Boyle.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs actually improved this season, somehow. However, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that Jeff Finger's numbers (23 points, -7 rating) match up to the ridiculous contract he was given over the summer.

Vancouver Canucks: Winger Taylor Pyatt was expected to return to the 20-goal plateau this season, but due to his limited ice time with the Sedins, he only managed 10 goals this season. Fortunately, the unexpected goal-scoring prowess of Alex Burrows relieved most of the disappointment.

Washington Capitals: Michael Nylander did nothing near living up to his expected role as a top center. He only managed 9 goals and 33 points for the Caps and was a letdown.


Climie's Debut A Win; Looking Towards the Future

Well, there’s nothing like seeing the newest Stars rookie get a win in his NHL debut.

Matt Climie was in net for Dallas yesterday when they played the St. Louis Blues. Although he let in a few goals that he certainly would like to get back, I’m sure he’s pleased with the 5-4 OT win.

Climie was supported very well by a Stars defense who was quick to knock away rebounds and block key shots. Had Brad Boyes had his way, the game would likely have finished with a score of 6-5 or higher.

But thanks to the efforts of Loui Eriksson, who scored twice, Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott, each with a goal, and Trevor Daley, who clinched the game in overtime.

Tom Wandell got his first two NHL assists and proved that he’s ready for at least the AHL, if not the NHL. He was a strong presence for the Stars throughout the game.

James Neal continued to show why he’s one of the top rookies in the NHL. Despite not scoring a goal, he managed an assist on Eriksson’s second goal and had several huge hits that drew cheers from the crowd.

A worrying note for Stars fans were the words of Mike Modano after the game:
The 38-year-old Modano said was unsure whether he’ll be back for his 21st season with the Stars. “I don’t know if it’s my last home game ever,” Modano said. “It crossed my mind. I’m too aggravated right now to make that decision. I’ll spend a long month on the beach and make a rational decision about what’s next.” (nhl.com game recap)
Modano certainly has enough credentials to retire respectably. He’s the top scoring American in the NHL ever, and despite a rough season, he’s managed 15 goals and 46 points in 77 games so far.

Although the Stars have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, they can use their last three games to get a look at how ready their young prospects are for the NHL. Climie will most likely get at least one more start because the Stars should let Marty Turco rest. Defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy was called up from Peoria and will likely see action in the final three games of the year while one of the non-injured veterans takes a break. The Stars could also bring up Jamie Benn for a few games and see how much longer he’ll need to develop in the AHL. Tom Wandell will also probably see action in the final 3 games.

If all turns out well, the Stars will draft either 8th or 9th. According to the three mock drafts NHL.com writers Brad Holland, Shawn P. Roarke, and Adam Kimmelman, the Stars should pick either Jacob Josefsen, a Mike Modano-type, Zack Kassian, a Brenden Morrow-type, or Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, a speedy Swedish winger.

My personal favorite would be Paajarvi-Svensson. The Stars could use some speed on the wing, and fellow Swede Fabian Brunnstrom could be a good mentor once he himself is accustomed to the NHL. Plus, you can’t go wrong with two last names.


Long Hiatus; The Stars' Demise

I haven't blogged since about a week after the trade deadline; that's largely due to immense amounts of important schoolwork.

The trade-deadline analysis blogs will restart once the season ends, starting over from the beginning. This is so I can include the impact that acquired players may have had on the playoffs-or-non playoffs status of the team, as well as how well that player did in the playoffs if the given team did make it.

This article, however, will focus on the fate of the Stars that likely won't be changed within the last 5 games of the season.

Firstly, the Stars would have likely have to win each of their last 5 games, and have several other teams go on losing streaks, in order to reach the playoffs. They currently sit in 12th, with 78 points.

The Stars have definitely had a strange season; they started out the year with a Conference Finals "hangover", and dropped as far as 15th in the conference at one point. They played without captain Brenden Morrow, who was injured after 18 games, and defenseman Sergei Zubov, who started the year on injured reserve and has only gotten into 10 games this year. Often going Lose-Win-Lose-Lose-Win, it was only after superpest Sean Avery, having made comments about former girlfriends and fellow NHLers, was suspended and officially kicked off the team, that the season began to turn around. The Stars then went on a relatively good streak, rocketing up the standings into a playoff position, and managed to hold onto either the 7th or 8th spot for the better part of the year until approximately the trade deadline.

It was a few games before the deadline that things began to fall apart once again. Already without Morrow and Zubov, the Stars lost the services of Brad Richards, Toby Petersen, and Fabian Brunnstrom within a matter of days. Richards suffered a fractured arm, made it back to the lineup for one game, and left partway through that game due to a broken hand, which has kept him out since. Brunnstrom has made it back and stuck in the lineup, but Petersen, perhaps the Stars' hardest worker, has yet to make a return.
The Stars attempted to offset those losses with the acquisitions of Steve Begin (from Montreal for Doug Janik) and Brendan Morrison (waivers). While each player has done his part and contributed (Morrison scored two goals including the game-winner last night against the Kings), the Stars have yet to snap out of their slump.

If the pattern continues, Dallas will most likely finish the year out of the playoffs in what might be the worst possible position.

Finishing 12th in the conference means the team doesn't make the playoffs, but has a poor chance of getting a good draft pick, likely picking 7th or 8th. While that isn't normally too bad of a spot (THN Blogger Mark Seidel ranked Magnus Svensson-Pajaarvi 7th and Landon Ferraro 8th last year), rankings change quickly, and players that have been drafted that high have still turned out to be busts on occasion.

The Stars will also have to clear some roster space over the summer; they have potential overcrowding at both center and defense once players return from injury.

The most pressing issue right now is UFA defenseman Sergei Zubov. Zubov's been a great defender since his first season in the NHL, and has been a Stars veteran since before they won the Cup. However, he's been injury riddled for the past two seasons, minimizing his contributions and making his salary seem too high for what he's done. If he doesn't retire to avoid more injury issues, I think the Stars should let Zubov test the UFA market.

However, the defense will still be crowded even with the departure of Zubov. The Stars who deserve a roster spot next season line up like this:

Stephane Robidas - Trevor Daley
Matt Niskanen - Nicklas Grossman
Darryl Sydor - Andrew Hutchinson
Mark Fistric - Ivan Vishnevskiy

Hutchinson is the most likely candidate for a trade, seeing as he doesn't have very many ties with the team. However, he played well for the Stars when he was in the lineup and his contributions are highly valued.
Vishnevskiy will likely have to play another year in the AHL, although he'll be among the first to get the call when an injury comes up. Garrett Stafford is another defenseman who could hold his own in the NHL if there were more space available for him.

The Stars will also soon find themselves to have quite the crowd at the center position. Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, Mike Modano, Brendan Morrison, Toby Petersen, and Brian Sutherby have all performed well for the Stars, although Sutherby has spent a fair share of time playing wing due to the crowding. But still, Petersen doesn't deserve a year in the AHL after all he's contributed this season, and Morrison probably wouldn't be happy on the fourth line anyways. My guess is that Morrison gets traded and Sutherby plays wing on Petersen's line; the Stars were at their most consistent when the line up went Ribeiro, Richards, Modano, Petersen.

So depending on whether or not the Stars draft an out-of-nowhere-NHL-ready kid, and depending on who they trade, the ideal line up would look like this:




The goaltending most likely won't change. Turco's had his ups and downs during the year, but management probably has enough faith to let him rule the crease next year. Richard Bachman will almost definitely be the top AHL goaltender for Dallas next season.

Steve Begin's spot on the team will also likely fall into question after all the injuries are through. He was essentially hired to take the place of Toby Petersen.

Despite Begin's addition, though, the Stars are in need of a little more wing depth. The Richards-Eriksson pair has no solid left winger, and the Neal-Modano pair has no solid right winger. Richards and Eriksson could potentially get help in the next two years, when Jamie Benn decides to make the jump to the NHL. The Stars could also trade Hutchinson or Morrison for an experienced right winger to join Neal and Modano, or they could wait for Colton Sceviour to develop.

Three prospects to look for in the next two or three seasons: Jamie Benn, Colton Sceviour, and Richard Bachman. All three will be entering their first AHL seasons, and the Stars will be looking for them to develop into the leaders of the franchise's new AHL team, the Texas Stars.
Benn is the most natural scorer of the group. He's said to have lightning fast hands, and has the potential to become a Dany-Heatley-style player, although perhaps just consistently in the 30-goal range, not the 40-50 range.
Sceviour's game is similar to that of Daniel Alfredsson when it comes to the numbers game–this season, Sceviour's most productive, has him with a total of 29 goals and 51 assists for 80 points. However, Sceviour also likes to play the rough-along-the-boards game, putting him in the range of Jarome Iginla as well. While his NHL numbers and leadership might never reach that high, his potential is definitely there.
Richard Bachman is most likely the Stars' future in net, if numbers and awards can tell anything. In 2007-08, Bachman won 25 of 35 games and won player of the year and rookie of the year for the WCHA. While his 08-09 numbers aren't quite as impressive (14-11 in 35 games), he's still the top goaltender for his team and could be an AHL starter as early as next season.

To sum up the general feelings of the Stars fans, and, most likely, the Stars organization, Dallas just needs this season to be over so they can begin fresh next year.