Thursday, April 30, 2009

2nd Round Predictions

Bruins vs Hurricanes

The Bruins have a very good set of forwards with balances scoring in their top 9:

Axelsson – Savard – Kessel
Lucic – Krejci – Ryder
Kobasew – Bergeron – Recchi

The Canes were great against the Devils. Eric Staal was a force and Cam Ward shut the door in net. Joni Pitkanen also had a great series. The Canes can skate and hit well and have good playoff experience but the Bruins are just too good.

Key matchup: Chara vs Staal
Prediction: Bruins in 5

Pens vs Caps

This series is gonna be dynamite! Crosby and Malkin vs Ovechkin (and Backstrom/Semin). The Caps seemed lucky to win in 7 but if not for Henrik Lunquist the caps would never have been in that position. Pittsburgh has been a much better team since Blysma became coach plus the return of Gonchar and the additions of Guerin/Kunitz improve their skill/depth. Malkin was better than Ovechkin in the first round and I'll take Crosby in the playoffs against anyone not named Datskyuk. Despite this, I expect a better second round from Ovechkin and Green.

Key matchup: Crosby vs Ovechkin
Prediction: Pens in 7

Ducks vs Red Wings

The Wings are the class of the NHL again this year and I think the only teams that can stop them are the Canucks or the Bruins. Its hard to discount a team with Pronger and Neidermayer however and the games will be close. Getzlaf is going to have his hands full with 2 of the best two-way centres in the game. Detroit also has a much deeper lineup.

Key matchup: Datsyuk vs Getzlaf
Prediction: Wings in 5

Blackhawks vs Canucks

There are tons of interesting battles in this series. Canucks employ a very defensive system but Chicago just might have enough depth to crack it in Ladd, Versteeg, Bolland, Sharp and Byfuglien. The Canucks have 2 under-rated players in Kelser and Borrows and the battle between Toews a beauty. I expect the Canucks to hold on if their injury concerns from last series have been remedied. Flip a coin.

Key matchup: Seabrook/Keith vs The sisters
Prediction: Canucks in 7

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Forget Marion, Get Marian

Now that the Flames are out of the playoffs I can start enjoying hockey again. All that I need now is a sweep by the by the Wings and Blackhawks. The last season for the Oilers was a bust. But I'm not going to comment on that any more at this time. Instead I'll focus on the team going forward. Last night Lowetide posted his Oilers offseason plan and he brought up a move that I completely agree with.

The move? Target Marian Gaborik.

Fortunately last summers bold move to overpay Marion Hossa into playing here didnt work. Hossa is an amazing player but 9 years and 81 million for a player who would be 39 by the end of the contract would not have covered the bet. Instead of trying the same move, I think Marian Gaborik is the guy I'd go after this year. He should be cheaper and given his injury history, the term would be much shorter. Gaborik is an excellent player but his knock as been that he has been injury prone.

Here are Gaboriks stats since the lockout:

On a PPG basis, Gaborik is an elite performer. Being a PPG player on Minnesota is harder to do than most teams especially playing in one of the more defensive NW divisions. Gaborik hasnt played a full-season since the lockout - last season being his worst. Make no mistake, however, Marian Gaborik is one biggest impact players in the game.

2006-2007 - The Wild got off to a 10-1 start with Gaborik healthy and playing. After that, Gaborik went down with a groin injury and started to slide. Gaborik missed 34 games and the Wild went 15-17-2. Overall with Gaborik in the lineup the Wild went 33-9-6.

2007-2008 - Gaborik played in 77 games - and the Wild won the division.

2008-2009 - Gaborik plays 17 games and the Wild miss the playoffs despite a late season push with Gaborik in the lineup. As of Feb 25, 2009 - over the past 27 games in which Gaborik has scored a goal, the Wild were 23-0-4 (dating back to the previous season).

Kevin Lowe has been targeting a star player since Chris Pronger left town. I think its the right approach to build from the top down but to Lowe's defense, its not easy getting stars to play in Edmonton. The odds of Gaborik actually signing here are slim. Nevertheless, Gaborik is the kind of impact player that with a couple healthy seasons could help the Oilers gain traction. Confidence is contageous and players like Hemsky, Gagner and Cogliano would IMO thrive off Gaboriks influence and the impact would be residual.

Steve Tambellini has a list of items to address this season such as goaltending, team competiveness and toughness. But they've been looking for a winger to play with Hemsky for 3 years. Despite Gaboriks injury history, I think he is best case scenario.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oilers Fire MacTavish

The email from the Oilers pipeline had the subject line "Oilers relieve MacTavish of head coaching duties" but Tambellini painted it as a mutual agreement between MacT and the management. Whether on not he stepped aside or the Oilers fired him doesnt matter anymore. After 8 seasons the Oilers will have a new coach next season.

Overall I am happy with the outcome. MacTavish is a decent coach who had a bad year. Sure his wit and quality post game interviews will be missed but his record over the past 8 seasons wont. Surely the Oilers wont average 9th place in the conference for the next 8 years too. The Oilers were built to be a skill team and needed to be a dominant on special teams to be a good team. The power play and penalty kill were 22nd and 27th in the league respectively. MacTavish can shift the blame all he wants but thats reason enough for change.

Despite this, MacTavish is likely the scapegoat for a team with some serious potential but equally serious problems. The lack of a 2nd centre who could play tough minutes and win draws hurt the team. All in all MacTavish was right when he says the Oilers have size and competitiveness issues. Trading away our only top 6 forward (Cole) with size and grit at the deadline for another small player in O'Sullivan left a hole in the team and it showed down the stretch. After inheriting a team last season, this will be Tambellini's chance to show his moxy and put his stamp on the team. While the roster has holes, the Oilers arent far from being a playoff team. A topic we'll have all summer to discuss.

My vote for a replacement is Pat Quinn or Brett Sutter. Even though many of the old boys have the knowledge of what it takes to win championships there aren't many with a coaching background. The Oilers aren't a championship calibre team and need to hire a teacher not a ex-Oiler, something MacTavish was fairly proficient at.

Steve Tambellini welcome to the spotlight.