THN’s pre-season prediction debates underscores how parity has made the NHL unpredictable

Adam Proteau
Roberto Luongo (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Every year around this time, THN’s editorial staff convenes in a boardroom to hash out our pre-season NHL predictions. The predictions meeting is a raucous couple of hours in which, after consulting with coaches, scouts, and our larger network of contacts, we debate the merits and flaws of every team before we slot them into divisional finishes. And by its conclusion, we’ve established some semblance of probability for each franchise’s fortunes.

But this year’s meeting had some particularly interesting aspects. For one thing, a majority of staffers liked one team in particular to win the Stanley Cup – yes, you’ll have to wait until our annual Yearbook is released in mid-August to find out which team that is – but the more intriguing development was the astonishing range of opinion on the grand majority of teams.

Now, there wasn’t much differentiation in what we thought of the league’s very best and worst franchises (nobody was willing to argue the Ducks would miss the playoffs, nor that the Sabres would win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season squad), but once we stopped talking about a handful of teams destined for the penthouse or outhouse, our expectations varied drastically.

Take the New Jersey Devils, for instance. Read more

The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

Three playoff teams who could miss in 2014-15, and three non-playoff teams who could get in

Datsyuk nailed

If only the puck bounced this way or that way. If only Wade Dubielewicz hadn’t stood on his head in a random shootout performance on the last day of the season. Making or missing the playoffs often comes down to a few chance occurrences. It’s thus reasonable to forecast a few teams falling on the reverse side of the coin a year later. Toronto, Ottawa, Washington, Vancouver and the Islanders swapped spots with Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Colorado this past season.

Here are three 2014-15 candidates to slide from in the big dance to out – and three to slide from out to in.

Read more

Cory Schneider signs for seven-year deal with $6 million cap hit – terrific value for the Devils

Rory Boylen
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Cory Schneider has never played more than 45 games in an NHL season. But starting in 2015-16, he’ll be one of eight (possibly nine) NHL goalies who will make at least $6 million against the cap.

Wednesday, shortly after the Kane/Toews signings were announced, the New Jersey Devils signed Schneider to a seven-year extension, in which he’ll get paid $6 million against the cap. Schneider could have become UFA eligible after 2014-15 and when you consider what he got in relation to other goalies, this deal is an absolute steal for the New Jersey Devils.

Lou Lamoriello’s magic. Go figure.

Schneider will make $4 million against the cap for one more season before his new deal kicks in. Is $6 million worth it for a goalie who has yet to get a starter’s workload over a full season? Consider this: Read more

Hey Hockey Hall of Fame: Induct Pat Burns. NOW

Pat Burns (Lou Capozzola /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s annual induction announcement is slated for 3 p.m. Monday afternoon – and, as usual, there will be a debate over the players who made the cut and the ones who didn’t. But there’s one debate, about one prominent hockey figure who still hasn’t been honored by the HHOF, that was over long ago – and one injustice that deserves to be corrected today.

Pat Burns should be in the Hall of Fame. No doubt, full stop, end of story.

The fact is, Burns should’ve been inducted as a builder before lung cancer took his life in November of 2010. He won more Jack Adams Trophies (three) as the NHL’s best coach than anyone in history. He coached three Original Six franchises; amassed a 501-353-151-14 record; is currently seventh all-time in playoff games coached (149) and tied with Mike Babcock for ninth all-time in playoff coaching wins (78) and won a Stanley Cup in New Jersey. If previous bouts with colon and liver cancer hadn’t forced him out of action in 2004, Burns would have even more impressive credentials.

This it was why it was such a black mark on the HHOF’s reputation when Burns passed away without being honored. It’s bad enough the organization’s selection committee operates with zero transparency when there’s consensus on an HHOF candidate, but when there’s no valid explanation for keeping out someone respected as universally as Burns was, it borders on revolting.

The best thing the HHOF could’ve done was inducted Burns when he was still with us. Nearly four years later, they have rationalized ways to avoid doing so and it is just as indefensible as it was then. Read more

Seven centers who could move this summer – and where they’ll end up

Joe Thornton

It’s an unusual year for centers. When you build a team these days, this is a position you really need to be strong in. The Kings are deep down the middle, just as the Hawks were when they won and the Bruins in 2011. It’s a key spot on the depth chart, so when you get a good center, you tend to want to hang on to him.

This summer, though, there are more than a few pivots who are potentially available. Whether it’s by trade or free agent signing, if you’re looking to fill a center spot on your roster, there are actually options this off-season. They’re not all equal, but they’re all available.

Here is a look at seven centers your team may be able to acquire this summer and the most likely destination for each.

Jason Spezza: He’s already requested a trade and since he’s one year away from unrestricted free agency, he’ll be gone somewhere this summer. Where is the most likely landing spot for the Senator? Even though I think Ryan Kesler is the better fit in Anaheim, I think the Ducks are the most likely destination for Spezza. They’re in the West, well away from Ottawa, and they have piles of young assets with which to barter. Exactly what the Sens need. The Ducks have a pile of cap space and it’s no secret they are going to chase after a second line center this off-season. A 1-2 punch of Ryan Getzlaf and Spezza would make up one of the better playmaking center combos in the league.

Joe Thornton: A lot could happen in San Jose this summer and Thornton has been at the forefront of those rumors. A superior playmaker and solid possession player, Thornton may be 35 at the start of next season, but he’s coming off a 76-point year. He’s also got a fresh new three-year contract kicking in that, inconveniently for the Sharks, has a no-movement clause. So even if you did want to trade Thornton, you’d have to do it on his terms – and he’s not likely going to want to go to a team that won’t win the Cup in the next three years. The Sharks committed to Thornton and Patrick Marleau when they re-signed them this season. If a big shake up is what needs to happen in San Jose, GM Doug Wilson should explore trade options for Brent Burns and even Joe Pavelski first. But Big Joe needs to stay for a ton of reasons, not least of which is that the market would be narrow. Most likely destination for Thornton? Right back in San Jose. Read more

Fantasy Pool Look: Devils and Predators off-season outlooks

devils-453764101

It’s the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Next up, the New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Do the Calgary Flames want Jason Spezza?

Jason Spezza (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

The NHL’s buyout period has begun and runs to 5 p.m. EST June 30. This year is also the final one where teams can use compliance buyouts to shed contracts without the calculation counting against their salary cap.

The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin recently summarized the details of the buyout calculation and provided a listing of teams that have one or both compliance buyouts remaining. Only players under contract prior to Sept. 15, 2012 are eligible for such buyouts.

It’s expected Buffalo Sabres winger Ville Leino will receive such a buyout. The Buffalo News’ John Vogl reports Leino’s agent, Markus Lehto, has had a “few very short discussions” with Sabres GM Tim Murray regarding his client. Vogl notes Murray has said it’s a “very good possibility” the two sides will part ways.

Over the course of the playoffs there was growing speculation the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings could respectively buy out Brad Richards and Mike Richards. Of the pair, Brad is the most likely candidate. The New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis believes the center will “almost assuredly” be bought out to free up cap space to re-sign several notable free agents, including Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Anton Stralman.

Other compliance buyout candidates could include Columbus’ R.J. Umberger, Dallas’ Erik Cole, New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov, San Jose’s Martin Havlat, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Malone and Vancouver’s David Booth.

SPEZZA-TO-FLAMES RUMOR BURNS OUT QUICKLY
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reports the Calgary Flames made a pitch for Spezza, offering up Jiri Hudler, Mikael Backlund, possibly defenseman Dennis Wideman and one of their second- or third-round picks. Garrioch considers that offer insufficient and cites sources claiming the Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are on Spezza’s 10-team “no-trade” list. Read more