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2013 NHL Preseason Revelations


“…out of the jaws of death.” ~ Antonio from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

EPIPHANY

The word epiphany has the three following definitions:

  1. 1. An annual Christian festival, observed on January 6th;
  2. 2. A sudden, intuitive insight into the meaning of something;
  3. 3. A literary work presenting such a moment of revelation and insight.


ON THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS…

Drum roll, please – I happen to have twelve drumming drummers at my disposal. I present to you the moment when the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) had their epiphany.

We were facing the end. The 2012-13 NHL season was on the brink. All parties knew it. A deal needed to get done. The NHL and the NHLPA knew what cancelling another full season would mean. They knew what it would mean to the past: the game’s history. They knew what it would mean to the present: a spectacular on-ice product. They knew what it would mean to the future: a legacy that would be inoperably damaged.

Centuries ago, Christians would gather on January 5th. They would celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas long into the night. The festivities would culminate the following day with the Feast of the Epiphany. There had not been much cause for optimism for the NHL season as January 5th began this year. However, the mood on the unassuming Saturday changed as the two sides met in the afternoon.

Unlike the Christians in times gone by, there wasn’t a whole lot of revelry in the air where the NHL and the NHLPA bargained, but the two sides finally broke bread and hammered out an agreement in the early hours of January 6th. The NHL and NHLPA had their epiphany.

REVELATIONS FROM AROUND THE NHL

All of a sudden players and coaches are reporting to camp. The NHL will resume later this month. The pressure is on for all 30 teams. This will be a race to the finish and there will be no time for second-guessing.

I have tried to place myself in the shoes of each team’s management, players and fans. What would have been their sudden insight or realization the moment they heard the labor issues had been resolved? I have provided below my revelations, or should I say my epiphanies, for each team entering the abbreviated season. The list is in descending order of importance to a meaningful, electrifying and successful lockout-shortened 2013 NHL regular season.

30. Columbus Blue Jackets

This team will have trouble emerging from the league’s depths without a bona fide superstar anywhere to be found. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a superstar. I’m not picky. I would like to see who the Blue Jackets are expecting the play first line and power play minutes. With the departure of Rick Nash, Vaclav Prospal defaults to their top point producer, but he is now 37 and his production is bound to decline. Prospal has been consistently around 50 points for the better part of the past ten seasons. Derick Brassard (41 points) and R.J. Umberger (40 points) are the only other Blue Jackets with more than 40 points last season. I am curious if the 24-year old centre Artem Anisimov, acquired in the deal for Nash, will breakthrough given the added ice time expected in Columbus.

29. San Jose Sharks

This could be Todd McLellan’s last chance to put together a winner in San Jose. The Sharks are in the middle of two streaks: They have the second longest tenure (20 seasons) of any team to never compete in the Stanley Cup Finals (the Jets/Coyotes are sitting at 32 seasons) and they have the second longest current streak (8 seasons) for making the postseason (only Detroit has more with a staggering 21 seasons). However, the Sharks have slid down the Western Conference standings each year since McLellan took over in 2008.

San Jose Sharks

 Season

Record
W-L-OTL

Points

2008-09

53-18-11

117

2009-10

51-20-11

113

2010-11

48-25-9

105

2011-12

43-29-10

96

 

28. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets will play at least one more year, and a condensed one to boot, in the Southeast Division. It’s approximately 1,900 miles (or 3,050 kilometers) from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Miami, Florida. That’s a long way to travel for an important battle with your divisional foe. The Jets were 14-22-5 away from their new home suggesting that they may not enjoy the additional travel. However, the Jets were 7-3-2 on the road within their division and 14-6-4 in the division overall. This is a great sign for a team that will be stuck playing a shortened season loaded with divisional matchups almost two thousand miles away.

27. Colorado Avalanche

The past two lackluster seasons are an indicator that the surprise 2009-10 season was an outlier. The 2008-09 Avalanche squad was looking to improve on the prior year’s Western Conference Semi-Final exit. However, things took a turn for the worse during the 2008-09 campaign and Colorado decided it was time to rebuild. Someone forgot to tell them that as they entered the following season. The youth movement in Denver, led by Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, unexpectedly took the team to the playoffs. Since then, as expectations increased, the Avalanche have failed to make the playoffs; however, they did improve their point total by 20 points between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons with the addition of Erik Johnson and their newly appointed captain, Gabriel Landeskog.

26. Buffalo Sabres

Questions remain as to whether their 2011 preseason acquisitions and signings will finally pay off in year two. The Sabres made a run at the big dance last season, but came up too little, too late. Prior to the start of the 2011-12 season, Terry Pegula opened up his wallet and signed or traded for key players in a fashion that was unprecedented for Buffalo in recent years. The new players included Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. Leino’s point production dropped from 53 points with the Flyers in 2010-11 to 25 with Buffalo, Ehrhoff was -2 on the blueline for the Sabres after being a combined +55 over the two preceding seasons with the Canucks, and Regehr only suited up for 31 games due to injury.

25. Dallas Stars

This year, everyone will realize just how good Loui Eriksson is. Dallas features some great young talent, but has missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons. Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley were both draft picks within the organization and have been key contributors to the Stars. Benn has notched 20+ goals in each of his three seasons and Daley has produced at least 20 points and a positive plus/minus over the same period. However, no young draft pick has had more of an impact than Eriksson. The left winger has been top two in the team in scoring in each of the past four seasons.

Loui Eriksson

Season

Games

Goals

Assists

Points

2008-09

82

36

27

63

2009-10

82

29

42

71

2010-11

79

27

46

73

2011-12

82

26

45

71

 

24. Phoenix Coyotes

Mike Smith will emerge as the rightful successor to Martin Broduer and Roberto Luongo as Canada’s goaltender of the future. Finland, the USA and Russia are producing many of the top young goaltenders in the NHL which has left me wondering who will be Canada’s next international backstop. Martin Brodeur, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jose Theodore are winding down their careers and Roberto Luongo and Carey Price have been inconsistent over the past few years. And, we can all agree that the Steve Mason conversation has ended. This leaves Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward and Mike Smith as options for the brass at Hockey Canada. Up until last season, Smith’s best year was 2008-09 with Tampa Bay where he established modest career bests for Goals Against Average (GAA) (2.62) and Save Percentage (0.916). Phoenix signed Smith in 2011 and immediately put him to work. Smith pulled through by playing 67 contests, winning 38 times, and blowing away his career bests with a 2.21 GAA and a 0.930 Save Percentage.

23. Ottawa Senators

The Senators will be challenged to succeed under higher expectations despite continuing to dress a relatively young team. Jason Spezza did match his career high for goals (34) last season and Daniel Alfredsson was rejuvenated; however, the Senators are full of so many young budding stars that they may not have realized how good they were until being ousted in a tightly contested opening round playoff battle with the Rangers. 22 year-old Erik Karlsson has already emerged as a key cog in the team’s future. But, how will the other youngsters do? Forwards Kyle Turris, Nick Foligno, Zack Smith and Colin Greening all had career years last season and are still learning. However, the 20-somethings may miss the veteran presence of Filip Kuba who signed with the Panthers in the offseason. Kuba improved his plus/minus by 52 points last season alone.

22. Toronto Maple Leafs

Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul need to dispel notions of being a one-hit wonder and emerge as one of the top duos in the league. Kessel was drafted 5th overall by Boston in 2006 and Lupul was drafted 7th overall in 2002 by Anaheim. Kessel was exactly at a point per game level last season. Over the prior three seasons, Kessel was consistently between 0.78 and 0.86 points per game. Lupul’s career has been far from consistent. The Maple Leafs are Lupul’s fifth team. He had two stints with Anaheim: But, one with the Mighty Ducks and another with the “post-Mighty” Ducks. During the 2011-12 season, Lupul hit the 25 goal plateau for the 3rd time in his career – a surprise considering he had only combined to score 24 over the previous two seasons.

21. Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginla desperately wants to prove his worth to the organization and play out the final year of his current contract prior to signing a deal that sees him stay in Calgary until his retirement. The Flames have given every indication that they prefer to keep Iginla as a Flame for the entirety of his career, but there are no guarantees that a deal will be done following the 2013 NHL season. Iginla stepped onto the ice for his first taste of NHL action during the 1996 playoffs and has stuck with Calgary ever since. He is noted for his ability to launch the puck past goalies and his achievement of 11 consecutive seasons with 30+ goals. This feat could have been even more remarkable if he hadn’t scored a mere 28 and 29 tallies during the two seasons prior to the streak. Iginla’s career in Calgary has lacked consistent team success. He has led the Flames to only five playoffs during his 15 full seasons and only once has made it past the opening round.

Jarome Iginla

 

15-year Career

Games

Goals

Assists

Points

1,188

516

557

1,073

 

20. Nashville Predators

The Predators enter the 2013 season as a team in flux and Shea Weber may not have a good thing going in Nashville. Weber made a splash in the offseason by signing an ultra-long term offer sheet with the Flyers. The Predators matched the offer and Weber remains in Music City. Barry Trotz will need to continue getting the most out of a squad full of character guys and grinders. The player Weber and Trotz must lean on is their all-star goaltender Pekka Rinne. Rinne led the NHL in wins last season with 43 and was in the top ten in Save Percentage for the second straight season.

19. Florida Panthers

Brian Campbell must continue to change the culture of the Panther franchise. Of all the players Florida added at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, it wouldn’t surprise me if Campbell was the primary catalyst for the team’s turnaround. Campbell had a career high 53 points and the Panthers vaulted 22 points in the standings from the year before, won the Southeast division and made the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Campbell has a history of success: The Rochester Americans made it to the Calder Cup final in his first year in the American Hockey League; the Sabres made it to the Conference Finals in his first two years in Buffalo; he was traded the following season to San Jose and helped the Sharks into round two; and signed with the Blackhawks and led them to the a Conference Finals and Stanley Cup championship in his first two years with Chicago.

18. New York Islanders

John Tavares is ready to breakthrough to become the elite player the Islanders expected when drafting him 1st overall in 2009. With three seasons under his belt, Tavares has seen his statistics consistently increase one year after the next. After producing 54 points as a rookie in 2009-10, he upped his total by 13 points the next year and then followed with a 14 point improvement the season following that. If the trend continues, Tavares would see his point total reach the mid-90’s over a full 82 game season.

John Tavares

Season

Goals

Assists

Points

2009-10

24

30

54

2010-11

29

38

67

2011-12

31

50

81

 

17. Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings won’t easily fill the hole left by Niklas Lidstrom when he retired. Lidstrom played 20 seasons for the Red Wings – the past six as the team’s captain. Over that period, Lidstrom averaged 57 points from the blueline and was +23 on average. These figures will be difficult to replicate from just one player; however, Niklas Kronwall (36 points last season) and Jonathan Ericsson (+16 points last season) can elevate their game to fill some of the void left by Lidstrom’s departure.

16. New Jersey Devils

It is undecided whether their trip to the Stanley Cup finals was an early sign of things to come or one last hurrah. The Devils are now Ilya Kovalchuk’s team – a 29 year old, highly skilled sniper with ten NHL seasons on his résumé. Zach Parise has moved into the Wild and Martin Brodeur will soon be riding off into the sunset. The future does looks bright with Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson coming off their rookie seasons, but New Jersey’s success is dependent on Kovalchuk’s ability to score. He only notched 31 goals in a disappointing first full year with the Devils during the 2010-11 season. However, this appears to be an aberration as opposed to a trend as he rebounded in 2011-12. If you ignore the disappointing 2010-11 season, Kovalchuk has scored at least 37 goals per year since his second year in the league.

15. Montreal Canadiens

There is pressure on Montreal’s superstars to earn their contracts. There are currently five Canadiens earning over $5 million per season: Scott Gomez, Carey Price, Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta and Thomas Plekanec. Of all the forwards, Plekanec has brought the most value despite his points dipping below his career high of 70 points during the 2009-10 season. The production for Gionta and Gomez has significantly decreased even after factoring in that they missed 96 combined games last season. On that note, no Canadiens player has missed more games than Markov who has only played 65 regular season games over the past three seasons. Price continued to be the Habs’ workhorse for a second straight year, but he finished 2011-12 with a 26-28-11 record.

14. Carolina Hurricanes

Big name off-season signings will give the Hurricanes a shot at heading back to the playoffs. Eric Staal had 24 points more than the next closest teammate at the end of the 2011-12 season. Therefore, it made complete sense to bring in some potential top-liners. So, during the off-season, Carolina signed Eric’s brother Jordan Staal to a long-term deal and they weren’t finished there. The Hurricanes also added Alexander Ovechkin’s former DC running mate, Alexander Semin. Jordan Staal is a legit two-way centre who, when healthy, can notch 20 goals per season, kill penalties and take important draws. Semin lit the lamp only 21 times last season, but scored more than 25 per campaign in the five seasons prior to that.

13. Anaheim Ducks

We can expect continued success behind the bench from fiery Bruce Boudreau. Last season, the Ducks were 7-13-4 when Boudreau took over from Randy Carlyle. Boudreau struggled at first, but eventually had the team rolling to a point where an impossible playoff berth was within reach. In 2007, Boudreau similarly took over a 6-14-1 Capitals team from Glen Hanlon and proceeded to put together a 37-17-7 record over the final 61 games on the way to a division crown. The Capitals followed that season with three successful regular seasons in which they won between 48 and 54 games each year.

12. Edmonton Oilers

Some of their burgeoning superstars will emerge as the go to guys in Edmonton, but they may not be any of their successive top overall picks. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov look to be the stars of the future for the Oilers; however, could the 22-year old elder statesman, Jordan Eberle, be the best among the three? Better than Hall and Nugent-Hopkins (the first two of three consecutive first overall picks)? Eberle distanced himself from the others last year by leading the Oilers with 76 points – 23 and 24 points ahead of Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. However, the first overall picks both missed over 20 games. It’s still too early to foretell the future, especially with Yakupov (the latest first overall selection) and the highly touted U.S. college prospect, Justin Schultz, joining the fold. All but Yakupov played with Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City during the lockout. Eberle was averaging 1.5 points per game and Schultz was averaging over 1.4 points per game while being well ahead of the other budding stars in points.

11. Vancouver Canucks

Canuck management won’t rush to make a decision on whether to trade Roberto Luongo or keep him as insurance. Luongo has served as the heart of the Canucks since he was traded by the Panthers to Vancouver following the 2005-06 season. Luongo’s GAA hasn’t been spectacular, but he has battled for wins behind a solid Canucks squad since his tenure on the West Coast began. Twice in the past three seasons, Luongo’s GAA has been north of 2.40 – a level long associated with his frustrating seasons in Florida. The offseason signing of backup Cory Schneider to a 3-year, $12 million dollar contract gave indications that the powers-that-be want to start heading in a new direction. It wasn’t much of a surprise considering Schneider had a tremendous GAA (1.96) and Save Percentage (0.936) during the 2011-12 season and Luongo is locked-in until 2021-22 with a heavily front-loaded deal.

10. Chicago Blackhawks

The immensely talented power play unit will rebound. Joel Quenneville can throw out Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. Unstoppable, right? As much as you would think so, the Blackhawks dropped from being the 4th best power play (23.1%) during the 2010-11 season to the 5th lowest (15.2%) in 2011-12. It wasn’t as if these superstars struggled five-on-five last year. Kane, Sharp and Hossa averaged 71 points per game and Toews averaged slightly below a point per game in an injury shortened season.

9. Philadelphia Flyers

This exciting team will unlikely be able to solidify their perennial goaltending struggles. The Flyers upset the Penguins in a wild opening round playoff series last year averaging five goals per game. Despite the series win, many remember the Penguins 10-3 Game 4 shellacking that affirmed everybody’s questions between the Flyer pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov was given a long-term deal in 2011 and will be back for Philadelphia. During the 2011-12 season, he had the 21st best GAA and 32 other goalies had better save percentages.

8. St. Louis Blues

The stingy Blues will continue to frustrate their opponents. Does anybody remember when Dominik Hasek flipped and flopped his way to a remarkable 13 shutouts and a 2.09 GAA in 1997-98 for the Buffalo Sabres? Now consider that the Jaroslav Halak/Brian Elliott tandem combined for 15 shutouts and a 1.78 GAA. As super as these goalies performed, the Blues can attribute much of their success to their defensive core led by two young stalwarts, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. These two defencemen flew under the radar of many.

2011-12 Regular Season

Player

Age

Points

Plus/Minus

Alex Pietrangelo

21

51

+16

Kevin Shattenkirk

22

43

+20

 

7. Minnesota Wild

The additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will translate into success, but it may not be immediate. The Wild finished out of the 2011 playoffs with only 86 points. During the 2011 offseason, Minnesota made a deal with San Jose to bring in Devin Setoguchi and all-star and gold medal winning superstar Dany Heatley. The Wild finished the 2011-12 season out of the playoffs with 81 points. So, that didn’t work. During the July free agent frenzy, the Wild not only landed the biggest fish in the free agent market, they landed the top two fish: Parise and Suter. Minnesota finished dead last in goals for the 2011-12 season and are counting on Suter to move the puck up to the likes of Heatley, Parise, Setoguchi and Mikko Koivu. Suter is coming off a career year with 46 points in Nashville. Parise missed most of 2010-11 with a knee injury, but rebounded with 69 points in an injury free 2011-12 campaign; however, this was below his 94 and 82 point seasons with the Devils prior to the injury.

6. New York Rangers

Rick Nash will add scoring depth to a Rangers team built on defense first. The Rangers finished 1st in the Atlantic Division during the 2011-12 season and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. They do feature Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards; however, they were only able to net four goals in a game once during three playoff rounds. Nash has scored at least 27 goals per season over the past eight seasons in Columbus although his production has gradually declined. Nash hit the 40 goal plateau in 2008-09 and has since stepped down each year to a 30 goal season last year.

5. Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin will rebound from a relatively poor 2011-12 season. Recent hall-of-fame inductee, Adam Oates, is the new head coach in Washington. If Oates did one thing very well in his day, it was getting the puck to his team’s sniper in the position that would lead to the greatest success. This will now become Oates’ role as head coach. Ovechkin’s tallies dropped significantly over the past two seasons. Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005 all guns blazing. He averaged 54 goals per season over his first five campaigns. Starting in 2010-11, former head coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to make some changes to the Capitals attack in order to turn them into a more consistent two-way team. Consequently, Ovechkin saw his goal-scoring plummet over the last two seasons.

Alex Ovechkin

Season

Games

Goals

Assists

Points

Plus/Minus

2005-06

81

52

54

106

2

2006-07

82

46

46

92

-19

2007-08

82

65

47

112

28

2008-09

79

56

54

110

8

2009-10

72

50

59

109

45

2010-11

79

32

53

85

24

2011-12

78

38

27

65

-8

 

4. Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos is scoring at a clip more recognizable in the previous century than this one. Last season, Stamkos potted 60. Back in the high-flying, Gretzky-dominated 1980’s NHL, the big 6-0 was ho-hum. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but three snipers did notch 60 in the same season twice (1981-82 and 1988-89). Over the whole decade, there were 19 60-goal seasons. This dropped to a mere ten in the 1990’s. However, during the 1992-93 season, a remarkable five players hit the magic number: Teemu Selanne (76), Alexander Mogilny (76), Mario Lemieux (69), Luc Robitaille (63) and Pavel Bure (60). Since that season, the 60 goal mark has only been reached four other times until Stamkos joined this elite group and only once (Alexander Ovechkin’s 65 in 2007-08) since the 1995-96 season.

3. Boston Bruins

The Bruins are unlikely to take a step back during Tim Thomas’s sabbatical because Tuukka Rask has the potential to live up to expectations given a full workload. During the 2009-10 season, Rask and Thomas pretty much split goaltending duties down the middle for the Bruins. Then came the team’s incredible run to the Cup led by Thomas and his league best GAA and Save Percentage. Rask was thus relegated to back-up until this past offseason when Thomas inexplicably took a personal leave. Much like the 2009-10 season, Rask did have better statistics than Thomas last season; his GAA was lower and his Save Percentage was higher.

 

Season

Tuukka Rask

Tim Thomas

Games
Played

Goals Against
Average (GAA)

Save
Percentage

Games
Played

 

Goals Against
Average (GAA)

Save
Percentage

2009-10

45

1.97

0.931

43

2.56

0.915

2010-11

29

2.67

0.918

57

2.00

0.938

2011-12

23

2.05

0.929

59

2.36

0.920

 

2. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings will be hard-pressed to be as dominate during the regular season as they were in one of the most astounding and successful Stanley Cup runs in history. However, Los Angeles likely will remain one of the top teams in the NHL. The Kings went 16-4 in the playoffs last year. That translates to about 130 points over the course of an 82 game regular season. That standard would be a stretch, but Los Angeles is deep. They are loaded with top talent like Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter and they have an abundance of point-producing gritty players like Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. Much of their success will be dependent on whether Quick can come anywhere close to repeating last season’s success in which he finished with 10 shutouts and a GAA of 1.95.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby is healthy. When he has played, Crosby has been unstoppable. Crosby has averaged 1.4 points per game since he entered the NHL. This converts to 115 points over a full 82 game season; a total that hasn’t been accumulated in a season since Crosby himself had 120 points during the 2006-07 campaign. But, can he overcome his history of concussion and neck issues? He certainly has had time to rest. Crosby didn’t play during the lockout and he has missed 101 games over the past two seasons.

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



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