Sporting Charts

2013-14 NHL Preseason Suppositions

Suppose (verb) ~ To consider for argument’s sake; to believe to be true; or, to hold as an opinion.

With two minutes to play in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, could you have ever imagined what would take place? If you were on the ice, behind the bench or in the stands of the TD Garden, could you have believed that the fate of your team would change in a heartbeat? And not simply for a moment; or for a night. But the legacy of the Boston Bruins within the NHL history books would turn on a dime and forever be irreparable.

61 seconds later, the Chicago Blackhawks were set to become champions. They were poised to lift the Cup for the second time in four years. An unfathomable consideration until Bryan Bickell tied the game at 2-2 with 76 seconds to play. But a feeling so real once Dave Bolland potted the eventual winner 15 seconds later. Who could have supposed this?

Perhaps those on the ice could have imagined it. Consider that the Bruins and their faithful standing in the TD Garden had seen such an unbelievable ending exactly six weeks before. It was Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the heavily favored Bruins. With 10 minutes to play, the Leafs were up 4-1 and well-positioned to eliminate Boston. In a blink of an eye, the Bruins stormed back, electrified a city and advanced to the next round with an improbable 5-4 overtime comeback.

Suppose a puck bounced left and not right. Suppose Dion Phaneuf could clear Milan Lucic from the front of the net. Does James Reimer make that one save? What becomes of Boston’s eventual victims in New York and Pittsburgh?

Suppose Bickell doesn’t slide the puck behind Tuukka Rask as one minute to play is announced to the crowd. What happens two nights later in Game 7 on the ice at the TD Garden? Does Jaromir Jagr hoist the Cup and ride off into the sunset? Does Tyler Seguin receive his second ring in three years on the way to becoming the centerpiece of the National Hockey League’s newest dynasty?

SUPPOSITIONS FROM AROUND THE NHL

Suppose there was never a lockout. Suppose the new divisional alignment had been in place a year earlier. Suppose Tim Thomas had not found religion, or politics, or Facebook. Suppose Sidney Crosby hadn’t tried to catch a puck with his face, or suppose Matt Cooke hadn’t stepped on Erik Karlsson’s Achilles, or suppose that Roberto Luongo had been traded. The lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season could have taken many turns. You could argue all day and night as to how the season would have played out.

What about the upcoming 2013-14 season? Suppose I make some assumptions for argument’s sake. What can be supposed for each team entering this season? What can we believe to be true? The following is a list of my suppositions ranked in descending order based on each team’s likelihood of lifting the Cup at the end of the playoffs.

30. Nashville Predators - Suppose Seth Jones had been taken in the top three picks of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

Prior to the draft, Colorado had already announced that their object of affection was Nathan MacKinnon. But Florida and Tampa Bay hadn’t shown us their hands. In a surprise turn, the Panthers selected Alexander Barkov second and the Lightning added MacKinnon’s junior linemate, Jonathan Drouin, with the third pick. All of a sudden Jones landed in Nashville’s lap. The Predators now have a huge 1-2 punch on defense when pairing their rookie with veteran Shea Weber. But is this what the Predators needed? Their future offensive producers are relatively non-existent. Nashville’s forwards are led by decent thirty-somethings Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher and David Legwand, but their most promising twenty year olds are an underachieving Viktor Stalberg and two unproven forwards, Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque.

29. Florida Panthers - Suppose the Panthers regain the form of the 2011-12 squad that captured the Southeast Division banner.

Florida’s fans were deflated by last season’s underperformance after the team reached the playoffs the season before. Despite the lockout, there was so much to look forward to. One poor season after another had filled the Panthers dressing room with top prospect after top prospect. Defensemen like Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson were disappointments but remain hopeful works in progress. The sky is the limit in Sunrise if you add Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, the ever-improved Shawn Matthias, and rookie Alexander Barkov. Time will tell if these touted stars can convert promise into Panther playoff success or whether they will be succeeded by further high draft picks.

28. Calgary Flames - Suppose Miikka Kiprusoff hadn’t made the Calgary Flames more competitive than they should have been.

The Flames narrowly missed the playoffs after underachieving in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. After recycling players like Olli Jokinen, Alex Tanguay and Michael Cammalleri, the Flames found that they weren’t building a formula for success. In fact, it wasn’t until Kiprusoff hit the wall last season after seven years of 70+ starts that the organization realized a rebuild was necessary and that Jarome Iginla wouldn’t be winning his elusive Cup in Calgary. Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester were dealt. Kiprusoff retired. And a new breed of Flames is set to take the ice for a franchise that is finally being honest with themselves.

27. Colorado Avalanche - Suppose Patrick Roy isn’t brought back to Denver to be the team’s next head coach.

The Joe Sacco era had run its course. The young Avalanche squad was just not improving. Matt Duchene rebounded last year, but Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly all took steps back. Everything appeared settled when Colorado landed the 2013 NHL Entry Draft’s number one pick – the Avalanche would select defenseman Seth Jones. However, Roy was hired and brought to the table his impetuous opinions including his thoughts on Nathan MacKinnon from his time coaching in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Avs proceeded to select MacKinnon first overall and have added the centre to Colorado’s young and potent cupboard of offensive talent.

26. Buffalo Sabres - Suppose Buffalo doesn’t trade for Cody Hodgson at the 2012 trade deadline.

The Buffalo Sabres have been led by Ryan Miller since the 2005-06 season, but fans still search for that young sniper that can fill the net. Nearing the end of the 2011-12 season, the Sabres exchanged rookie Zack Kassian for Cody Hodgson of the Vancouver Canucks. Hodgson flourished with the Sabres and recently signed a multi-year deal that will keep him in Buffalo until the end of the decade. On the other hand, Kassian has struggled to find an identity in Vancouver. Hodgson is here to stay and is at the forefront of a youth movement in Buffalo that includes Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers and Marcus Foligno.


25. Phoenix Coyotes -
 Suppose hockey fans outside of Arizona knew how good Keith Yandle is.

You would toss me names like Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and Ryan Suter if I asked you to reel off a list of NHL blueliners who log big minutes and contribute offensively. What about the desert’s best kept secret, Keith Yandle? Last season, Yandle logged 22 minutes on average per game and added 30 points. Sure these other guys average about 25 minutes per game, but only Erik Karlsson averages more points per every 60 minutes played. Last season marked the fifth consecutive year that Yandle has consistently contributed for the Coyotes.


24. Dallas Stars -
 Suppose the Boston Bruins felt they had the cap space to keep Tyler Seguin long term.

The loss of Loui Eriksson will be felt in the Big D. The Swedish left winger has potted 130 goals over the past five seasons; however, his points per game has started to drop over the past two seasons and it isn’t every day you can land a player with Tyler Seguin’s promise – a young, 21 year old centre with solid playoff experience and ample upside. After being relieved of duties with the Sabres last season, Lindy Ruff quickly found a new gig coaching the Stars. But Ruff will have his work cut out for him as Seguin joins Jamie Benn as the only two bright lights currently illuminating the future in Dallas. As opposed to his experience in Beantown, the Stars will be able to provide Seguin with the ice time he needs to take his game to the next level.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets - Suppose Columbus never sent draft picks to Philadelphia before last season for a young netminder named Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky emerged last season after previously falling ill to the contagious Philadelphia goalie virus. His Goals Against Average (GAA) dropped by one whole goal and his save percentage increased from 0.899 to 0.932. Not only did Columbus send Steve Mason packing to the Flyers mid-season, thereby essentially replacing Bobrovsky, but the fortunes of the Jackets also reversed. Columbus completed the 2013 season with a 24-17-7 record and 55 points. Bobrovsky backstopped his team to 48 of those 55 points in only 38 games in his first season in the Ohio capital. This led to an unlikely Vezina Trophy and promise for a moribund franchise.


22. Tampa Bay Lightning -
 Suppose the Lightning could ever find a goalie to back up the offensive firepower from Steven Stamkos and company.

The oldest tenet in hockey is simple – success is derived by scoring more than the other team. The Tampa Bay Lightning take such basic doctrine to the extreme. Over 20 seasons, the Lightning have outscored the opposition over a full season only three times. In 2002-03 and 2010-11, Tampa Bay had more goals for than goals against (albeit, the excess was under 10 goals). Each of these seasons saw the Lightning extend playoff runs past the first round and into the second and third rounds, respectively. In 2003-04, the Lightning outscored their opponents by 53 goals in the regular season and captured the Stanley Cup. Coincidence? Tampa Bay either missed the playoffs or were first round exits in the 17 seasons in which their goals against exceeded their goals for. I guess the pressure is on for Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback heading into the coming season.


21. Winnipeg Jets -
 Suppose the Winnipeg Jets were still playing in the Eastern Conference.

It’s much harder to make the postseason from the West than from the East. Right? Sometimes, but not last year necessarily. Both 8-seeds, the New York Islanders and the Minnesota Wild, completed the abbreviated season with 55 points. The Islanders were four up on the 9th place Jets who had the same points as the Western Conference’s 10th place team in Phoenix. The better comparison for Winnipeg is to look at division placement. The Jets were in 2nd place in the Southeast after falling short to Washington. This division battle was much closer than the six point difference indicates on paper. However, Winnipeg would have finished 5th in the Central last season and 5th in the reshaped Central under the new divisional alignment.

20. New Jersey Devils - Suppose Ilya Kovalchuk hadn’t “retired” from the NHL to return home and play for SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL.

There was plenty of speculation that Kovalchuk’s retirement was a mutual decision between player and Devil management. This would seem odd to many considering Kovalchuk had nine straight 30-goal seasons between 2002-03 and 2011-12 (note he had 29 in his rookie campaign in 2001-02). But was there concern after he notched a mere 11 goals last season. At a closer look, Kovalchuk’s goals per game have been on the decline since he last notched 50 with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2007-08. Without the Russian sniper, where will the team’s production come from? It seems unlikely that it will come from an aging Patrik Eliáš or budding stars like Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique who are not quite ready to take that next step.


19. Carolina Hurricanes -
 Suppose the Hurricanes can find some secondary scoring.

Carolina has not only tied up most of their salaries in a small group of highly-skilled players, but their offensive output is tied up with them too. The Staal brothers, Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner contributed 43% of Carolina’s goals last season. Would you be surprised if I told you that none of these big names led the Canes in goals? Would you be shocked if only one player had a 20-goal season and led the team with a +15? 2013 was Jirí Tlustý’s breakthrough season and the Hurricanes will be looking for him to contribute with the same frequency. If Carolina expects to make the playoffs out of the competitive Metropolitan Division, they will need further secondary scoring from an improved Patrick Dwyer and a young blueliner with a bright future named Justin Faulk.

18. Edmonton Oilers - Suppose Anaheim signed Justin Schultz after he finished his career at the University of Wisconsin.

The Oilers have become infamously known over the past few seasons for stashing high point producing draft picks in their system year after year with little to show for it in the standings. The list of skilled forwards includes Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. Now you can add 25-year old David Perron who they picked up in a deal with the St. Louis Blues. But where is the help on the blue line? Who is stopping the pucks? Schultz is a start at heading in the right direction. Prior to last season, Edmonton became the beneficiary of Anaheim’s inability to sign the defenseman who showed great promise (27 points, 21:27 in average ice time) after his first year in the bigs.

17. Montreal Canadiens - Suppose the Canadiens weren’t able to reach an agreement with P.K. Subban on a contract a few games into the abbreviated 2013 regular season.

Imagine a deal couldn’t be worked out and Subban winds up sitting out a season. Or does a trade see him playing for someone other than the bleu, blanc et rouge? Either way, this wouldn’t have sat well with the Montreal supporters. Now imagine that either situation occurs and Subban has a season like he did last year – 11 goals, 38 points (of which 26 are with the man advantage) and a Norris Trophy. Without Subban, and the oft-injured Andrei Markov, the Canadiens would be left without a single defenseman with a nose for the net.

16. Minnesota Wild - Suppose Minnesota’s best (and highest paid) players showed up in the playoffs.

I’m not supposing by any stretch that the Wild were contenders last year. Nor am I offering the slightest possibility that Minnesota could have knocked off the mighty Blackhawks in a seven game series. But this doesn’t mean we can ignore the disappearance of Minnesota’s best when all the chips were on the table. Last season, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter led the Wild in regular season scoring and were three of the four biggest salaries in their dressing room. However, their performance took a nose dive once the postseason rolled around. All three combined for one goal, no assists and a -18 in Minnesota’s first playoff appearance since 2007-08.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs - Suppose Toronto made a deal for Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline.

We’ll never know if Luongo would have made just one more save than James Reimer in Game 7, but we do know what impact a Luongo acquisition would have had on Toronto’s offseason. The Maple Leafs appear to have made some shrewd off-season signings by bringing in Stanley Cup hero Dave Bolland and the gritty David Clarkson. In addition, the Buds resigned their promising restricted free agent centre Nazem Kadri to a necessary bridge deal. But these contracts would have been all but impossible to swing if Luongo’s cap hit was on their books. The Leafs are poised to take that next step and Reimer is their number one tender after posting a 2.46 GAA and 0.924 save percentage last season.

14. New York Rangers - Suppose the Rangers hadn’t dealt Marián Gáborík to Columbus for several players with barely any playoff experience.

The Blue Jackets surprised many when they landed Gáborík at the trade deadline. But was it Columbus, or was it New York, that was bolstering their playoff roster in hopes for a spring run at the Cup? The Rangers received Derek Dorsett and John Moore in return for Gáborík and some prospects. But the Rangers also acquired Derick Brassard in the deal. Brassard doesn’t have the same upside as Gáborík did at that age, but he has shown improvements every year while playing for an underperforming franchise. In his 12 playoff games with the Blueshirts last season, Brassard was the Rangers only point per game player. In fact, the next highest Ranger was Mats Zuccarello with seven points. And what about Gáborík? The former Wild and Ranger failed to tally, and managed only two assists, in the Blue Jackets final eight games and Columbus narrowly fell short of the postseason.


13. Philadelphia Flyers -
Suppose Philadelphia’s youth movement gets one year older.

What does having one more season under your belt mean to a young hockey star? Imagine if your team is loaded with 20-somethings with an abundance of potential. Alongside Claude Giroux, the Flyers couldn’t be more pleased with the consistent improvement of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Add Matt Read and Sean Couturier to the mix that includes veterans like Vincent Lecavalier and Scott Hartnell and Philadelphia will surely rebound from last season’s unexpected disappointment.


12. New York Islanders -
 Suppose Matt Moulson never found himself along the left side of John Tavares.

After his freshman season at Cornell, Moulson was drafted in the 9th round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Penguins and was never earmarked for the big leagues. However, he strung together three more productive seasons for the Big Red and eventually found himself pushing for an NHL roster spot within the Los Angeles Kings organization. Moulson arrived on Long Island at the same time as Tavares and the two became inseparable successes. The left winger eclipsed the 30-goal mark in his first three seasons with the Islanders and has slowly crept up to averaging a point per game.


11. Washington Capitals -
Suppose Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals gave up on their new head coach, Adam Oates, 11 games into last season.

Jim Anderson was the first head coach of the Washington Capitals back in 1974. Let’s just say things didn’t go so well. Anderson went 4-45-5 until being replaced midseason and never having another NHL head coaching gig. Can you compare Anderson with Washington’s latest head coach, Adam Oates? To start his head coaching career, Oates went 2-8-1 and more questions were starting to circulate about who the right bench boss was for Ovechkin and company. Then it clicked. Washington went 25-10-2 over the remainder of the regular season. And for Ovechkin, he had three goals and four assists after the first 11 games, but ended up with 32 goals and a Hart Trophy by season’s end. More importantly, the Capitals earned a playoff berth by winning the Southeast Division and the team looks to be heading in the right direction.

10. San Jose Sharks - Suppose the Sharks hadn’t selected Logan Couture with the 9th pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Following the 2006-07 season, San Jose was surprisingly looking for help down the middle. The Sharks were already loaded at centre including veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau alongside, up and comer, Joe Pavelski. Could you pass on Couture? Central Scouting didn’t even have him among the top ten North American skaters. However, since breaking into the NHL in 2009, Couture has tallied 106 goals and notched 200 points over the regular season and playoffs – almost equivalent to the combined efforts of the next seven forwards taken in the 2007 draft (109 goals, 236 points). Last season, San Jose’s quartet of centremen were the top four point producers on the team.

9. Anaheim Ducks - Suppose Jonas Hiller didn’t have Viktor Fasth backing him up. And vice versa.

The Ducks have one of those “good problems to have”. Not only do they boast two goaltenders that believe they can be the number one guy, but both deliver. Anaheim struggled out of the gate in 2011-12 and their last place finish in the Pacific Division resulted in uncertain expectations for last season. With very few changes up front, last season’s Ducks squad emerged as a frontrunner due to their stellar goaltending. When Hiller struggled, Fasth stepped up. When Fasth’s performance dropped, Hiller was waiting. Looking back, each goalie had remarkably similar statistics.

Name

Games Played

Record

Goals Against Average

 Save Percentage

Jonas Hiller

25

15-6-2

2.36

0.913

Viktor Fasth

26

15-6-4

2.18

0.921


8. Vancouver Canucks - Suppose Cory Schneider repeated his 2011-12 performance last season.

Actually he did. Schneider might have looked downright brutal in a couple of Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada telecasts, but his overall performance rivaled that of the year before. He played close to the same amount of games as the prior season with only a slightly higher GAA and a tad lower save percentage. Schneider also blanked the opposition five times. On the other hand, Luongo’s performance continues to suffer including a save percentage that has dropped to a low not seen since his rookie season with the Islanders. But, once again, a contract has handcuffed a franchise into trading away the player with the largest upside.

Cory Schneider

Season

Games Played

Record

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

2010-11

25

16-4-1

2.23

0.929

2011-12

33

20-8-1

1.96

0.937

2013

30

17-9-4

2.11

0.927


7. Detroit Red Wings -
Suppose Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg never bought into Mike Babcock’s system.

Babcock joined the Red Wings for the 2005-06 NHL season after one successful and one less than successful season coaching the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The Red Wing brass trusted the raw but promising coach with a lineup of veterans (such as Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan and Chris Chelios) and a couple of immensely talented Europeans representing the future in Hockeytown. In the eight seasons with Babcock behind the bench, Datsyuk and Zetterberg have ranked in the top two in points for the Red Wings every season with the exception of 2010-11 when Datsyuk missed 26 games due to injury, still managed a point per game and finished third on the Red Wings ledger in points.


6. Ottawa Senators -
Suppose the Senators resigned Daniel Alfredsson and said no to the Bobby Ryan deal.

Ottawa had trouble scoring last season. But who could blame them with two of their best (Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza) sidelined for most of the regular season. The Senators needed secondary production to carry them in case of injury and Alfredsson is no longer the answer. The Anaheim Ducks were in tough with contracts coming due for two of their superstars – Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. It was time for a change of scenery for Bobby Ryan especially now that the coffers in Anaheim were bare. Ryan would always play third wheel to Getzlaf and Perry and this move will give him an opportunity to play a significant role on a team with a solid core of young players and high expectations.

5. St. Louis Blues - Suppose the Blues hadn’t drawn the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

St. Louis jumped out to an early 2-0 lead at home in the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Kings. The series would go six and the Blues would find themselves on the losing end once again. Each game was the hard fought hockey that epitomizes the NHL playoffs. They were all decided by only a goal. The Blues were unlucky to draw the Kings, but this is the penalty in the NHL for not winning your division. And no one was catching Chicago in the Central. During the abbreviated 2013 regular season, St. Louis lost all three regular season matches to L.A. by a combined score of 14-7. But what about the 6-8 seeds in the Western Conference last season? Could St. Louis have fared better if they won their division? The Blues played these three teams (Vancouver, Detroit and Minnesota) on 11 occasions last season and had an 8-3 record.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins - Suppose Marc-André Fleury had the confidence to backstop the Penguins in the playoffs.

The Penguins have carried three goalies since last winning the Stanley Cup in 2008-09. There is their backup and then there is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Or as he’s commonly referred to – Marc-André Fleury. Dr. Jekyll has been a solid regular season performer with a GAA ranging between 2.30-2.65 and a save percentage between 0.905-0.920. On the other hand, Mr. Hyde has scared Penguin fans with an inconsistent GAA and a horrifying save percentage. It isn’t all on Fleury as Pittsburgh’s team defense could step up too; however, Dan Bylsma will need to find an answer by season’s end and Fleury could be the scapegoat. But how do you give up on a goaltender who continues to produce like Fleury does in the regular season.

Marc-André Fleury

 

Regular Season

Playoffs

Season

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

2009-10

2.65

0.905

2.78

0.891

2010-11

2.32

0.918

2.52

0.899

2011-12

2.36

0.913

4.63

0.834

2013

2.39

0.916

3.52

0.883


3. Los Angeles Kings - Suppose Jonathan Quick could elevate his game in the regular season to the level he does in the playoffs.

By no means am I suggesting Quick to be a slouch during the dog days of the regular season. However, the man between the pipes for the Kings has found a way to elevate his game to new heights come playoff time. The Kings lifted the Cup following the 2011-12 season as an eight seed and made a deep run last season as a five seed. Could L.A. better their postseason chances if they improved their regular season standing? Could they do this if Quick translated his playoff success to the regular season?

Jonathan Quick

 

Regular Season

Playoffs

Season

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

Goals Against Average

Save Percentage

2011-12

1.95

0.929

1.41

0.946

2013

2.45

0.902

1.86

0.934


2. Boston Bruins -
Suppose Zdeno Chara wasn’t anchoring the Bruins defense.

Claude Julien has enjoyed some success since landing the Bruins job for the 2007-08 season. Of course, it helps when you inherit a 6’9”, 255 lb workhorse like Chara. The Slovakian blueliner joined the Bruins the season before and struggled with a -21 and Boston failed to make the playoffs. With Julien under the helm, Chara has become a team leader, has been +136 over six seasons (445 regular season games) and won the 2008-09 Norris Trophy. And, oh yes, he hoisted the Stanley Cup three years ago and came so very close again last year.

1. Chicago Blackhawks - Suppose the Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks hadn’t won the Stanley Cup.

Between the 1997-98 and 2007-08 seasons, the Blackhawks only advanced to the playoffs once in ten tries. How soon do they forget? Dirk Graham failed. Lorne Molleken wasn’t the right guy. Neither was Alpo Suhonen, Trent Yawney or Denis Savard. A winning culture didn’t come to the Windy City until Joel Quenneville took over behind the bench from Savard early into the 2008-09 season. Sure Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane help, but Quenneville has had success in every stop along the way. Then why was there rumblings of job insecurity after two early exits following Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup championship? Chicago’s coach has amassed a career regular season record of 660-389-77 and has failed to make the playoffs only twice in 16 seasons as a head coach.

Bob Sullivan writes periodically for SportingCharts.com and can be followed on Twitter at @mrbobsullivan.