Around the NHL in 30 Thoughts

With the Canucks on a little road trip and some down time before tomorrow’s game I thought that it was time I released my first “Around the League in 30 Thoughts” blog for The Checking Line. Hopefully you enjoy! Please leave your thoughts on your team in the comment section below. Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?

Anaheim Ducks:
Yikes! The Anaheim Ducks’ season is quickly turning into an utter disaster. Only two teams in the league have a lower point total than the lowly Ducks do right now. For the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders, it’s pretty understandable that they are doing poorly. For the Ducks, who many experts predicted to win the Pacific or at least challenge, it’s really unacceptable. I understand that Randy Carlyle had done a lot for the franchise and everything, but come on, how has he not been let go. What is it now? 2 wins in the last 16 games or something ridiculous like that. Really, how can a coaching change not help?

Boston Bruins
Oh how the mighty have risen once again. After starting the season with a terrible record, the Bruins have managed to turn it around and rattled off 10 straight victories. In today’s NHL, that’s relatively unheard of. That being said, I’m not sold on this Bruins team. At some point, all of the antics will catch up to them. Lucic running Miller was an embarrassment for the game. When the time comes, guys like Lucic, Marchand, and even the mighty Chara, won’t look so tough. There’s always a bigger fish; it just hasn’t found the Bruins yet.

Buffalo Sabres
So, all the money in the world can buy you a seventh place (in the east) hockey club. I can’t imagine what fans of the Sabres are feeling right now. Look at the summer and what Terry Pegula did with his money. He signed Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and traded for Robyn Regehr. Ehrhoff and especially Leino have been unspectacular while Regehr has managed to play his game. Why are the Sabres even remotely successful right now? It’s the core that was already in place. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff know how to run a hockey team; no amount of money can substitute for that fact. That being said, I really like the culture Pegula brought into Buffalo. It should make for a great, passionate hockey market in a couple years.

Calgary Flames
One would have thought that a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets would have lit a fire under GM Jay Feaster. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Feaster, who continues to drink the kool-aid that the Flames on ice product is mixing, is establishing himself as an incompetent manager. Why haven’t changes been made? It would be understandable if this was just a one-off sort of situation where it was known that the Flames would bounce back (Ex. Canucks), but this is ridiculous. The Flames have been on a slippery downhill slope since their SCF appearance in 2004.

Carolina Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner is the real deal. Man, is this guy great and exciting to watch. Few young players can capture fans like he can with skill, determination and hard work. That’s the thing I love about Skinner; we all know he’s talented, but his work ethic is off the charts. That being said, things aren’t all rosy for the Hurricanes are they? Captain Eric Staal has been a huge disappointment with speculation regarding his hit on brother Marc causing a rather obvious distraction. Over the past few years the Hurricanes have been somewhat of an enigma; analysts never really know whether they will challenge for a playoff spot or be a bottom dweller. Well, I think this season speaks for itself. On a side note, how does Toronto’s return on Tomas Kaberle (via Boston) look now?

Chicago Blackhawks
Up until this past week, the Blackhawks were probably the cream of the crop in the NHL. Despite still leading the Central Division, the Hawks have rattled off three straight losses. On top of that, one of the losses was a 9-2 thumping by the offensively challenged Edmonton Oilers. It will be interesting to see if consistency is the thing that plagues such a talented roster. People seem to have the Hawks pegged as a real Stanley Cup contender. Personally, I just don’t see it. When they won the cup, they did so because of depth that complimented top end talent. If you ask me, it’s just not there anymore. Combine that with spotty goaltending that’s been seen so far and the Hawks don’t strike me as a real threat.

Colorado Avalanche
If there’s one thing that the Avalanche have to offer fans it’s that there is a future in the Mile High City. With a record of 2-7-1 in their last 10, the Avalanche have been struggling to get back into playoff contention. The team has a lot of really good players on the roster in all positions. However, in my opinion, they need that extra little bit of depth everywhere in order to be a true contender. Also, Semyon Varlamov needs to be better for this team to be successful. The Avs gave up too much to be let down by his inconsistent play.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Could someone please send out a memo to Scott Howson and tell him that he needs to wake up from his nap? Downright terrible play is one thing, but for there not to have been any changes made is unacceptable. Heck, if I were the NHL I would go in and start managing that team. The National Hockey League has been trying to build up the Columbus market for years. One playoff appearance isn’t exactly a great building block. At this point, a total rebuild is probably necessary. Ship out Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and everyone else that can fetch a first round draft pick; Yakupov would look really good in blue.

Dallas Stars
Where did the Stars find Glen Gulutzan? Simply put, this team is well coached. He knows how to get the most out of every single player on that roster night in and night out. The Stars have a lot of feel good stories going on right now. From a new ownership group coming in, to Sheldon Souray’s revival as an NHL threat, the Stars’ future is bright. If they can string together a couple winning seasons, the NHL could be very happy with that Dallas market.

Detroit Red Wings
The ageless wonder is at it again. Niklas Lidstrom has got to be drinking some magic energy drink to do what he’s doing right now. With 16 points in 20 games and great numbers across his stat sheet, Lidstrom is probably the best D-man in the NHL right now. He is a true gentleman and one of the great leaders in NHL history. Combine his play with solid performances from Datsyuk and Franzen and you have another year of playoffs in Hockey Town. What’s more incredible is that the Wings are doing all this with Henrik Zetterberg playing at a meager 0.5PPG pace.

Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the real deal, folks. If I had to pick any young player off that Oilers roster to have on my team, it would be him over Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and whoever else the Oilers have. He just brings such a calming presence to every shift. Few young players in the league have the poise that he has shown over his young NHL career. While I wouldn’t expect him to carry on at a point per game pace, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. This kid is the most complete first overall draft pick since Sidney Crosby.

Florida Panthers
The south-east leading Florida Panthers? Sounds a little odd when you know that division boasts the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. Does anyone really think that it was Dale Tallon’s plan to make the playoffs this year? His off-season game plan was to essentially sign other teams’ cast-offs in hopes that they would play well in Florida. Well, it looks like everything he ever dreamed of and more is coming true. The Panthers should be in contention for a playoff spot this season. For a franchise that has gone 10 years without a berth, this could be the year.

Los Angeles Kings
Terry Murray has got to go. I’ve never seen a coach who is so reluctant to make changes during a game. Read Matt Barry’s blogs over at HockeyBuzz and you will see that he is on the exact same page. Murray’s reluctance to make changes has cost the Kings countless times. Give him credit for developing a young team, but his time is up. On a side note, Mike Richards has been unbelievably good for the Kings this season. He has something like 8 goals in his last 10 games and he has been one of the great leaders in that locker room. I wonder how Philly is liking that trade now.

Minnesota Wild
Who thought that the Minnesota Wild were going to be leading the NHL right now? Their play has been downright boring and trap-like all season, yet, here they are leading the NHL. You’ve got to give them credit; they are playing a style that is allowing them to put up points. At the end of the day, how you make the playoffs doesn’t really matter; just get there. Nobody on the roster has been overly impressive yet consistency seems to allow them to win games on a really regular basis.

Montreal Canadiens
Regardless of what people say, the Montreal Canadiens are better than their record indicates. Carey Price is one of the top young goaltenders in the game and he is playing behind a very underrated roster. Are there holes in the roster? Absolutely; but, overall this is a solid team that shouldn’t have any trouble making the playoffs. If the team could just stay healthy for any lengthy stretch of time, people would be very happy with their performance.

Nashville Predators
Nobody on that roster puts up superhuman numbers, but everyone works hard. Barry Trotz is one of the best, if not the best coach in the National Hockey League. He consistently produces results with an unspectacular roster. Once again the Preds are hanging out around that 8th seed in the West. Would it surprise anyone if they were to jump into the playoffs once again? This team has what it takes to do something in the post-season with guys like Suter, Weber and Rinne. They just need to put it all together and good things will come.

New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are going to need more out of Kovalchuk and Parise, their supposed most offensive players, if the team wants to have any success going forward. Since coming back from injury, Parise just hasn’t looked like the same player, while Kovalchuk just hasn’t been the same since coming from Atlanta. It’s a shame that their record isn’t better as lots of people, including myself, believe that Peter DeBoer is the right guy to coach this team. Right now, the onus is on the players to step up and start playing the way we all know they can.

New York Islanders
Is it possible for any team other than the Islanders to get so many top five picks and never move up the standings. I’d love to get TCL writer, Rob McGowan’s take on the situation going on in Uniondale. Things just never seem to get better for a team that has drafted guys like Tavares, Strome, Niederreiter, De Haan and signed guys like Streit. How is it possible to have such a wealth of young, exuberant talent and remain at the bottom of the standings?

New York Rangers
It’s doubtful that Glen Sather was expecting an 8th place team and 13 points in 18 games when he signed Brad Richards to a monstrous contract this past summer. After the signing it was immediately thought that the Rangers were going to be the cream of the crop in the East. It just hasn’t materialized. Richards doesn’t seem to fit in with the Rangers’ style and it’s definitely showing on the ice. Of course, the problems are compounded when you consider that Marc Staal is out for the foreseeable future. This team will truly be judged when it is completely healthy.

Ottawa Senators
Paul MacLean has got to be one of the best rookie coaches this league has seen in a long time. The presence he has along with his hockey mind have gone a long way in ensuring that the Ottawa Senators are no longer the joke of the Eastern Conference. He seems to pride himself on knowing that his team works hard every single night. Win or lose, you know that the effort is going to be there for the Ottawa Senators. Give credit to Bryan Murray for hiring this guy and giving him a chance when many were calling for a more experienced replacement for Cory Clouston. Anybody doubting Murray now?

Philadelphia Flyers
So, the Flyers sacrifice Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to keep Chris Pronger, an aging D-man nearing retirement? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, the Flyers are hovering around the top of the Eastern conference, but come on, where is the offense going to come from? Outside of Giroux and JVR, both rising stars in their own right, you have an aging Jagr, and inconsistent Voracek and many other enigmatic forwards. I’m just not sold on what the Flyers are selling right now. Giving up so much just to get a goaltender may work out to be a bad decision.

Phoenix Coyotes
Could someone please hand Dave Tippet the Jack Adams Trophy right now please? After losing Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers and signing Mike Smith to share the number one goaltending duties with Jason LaBarbera people had this team written off. Well, fast forward almost two months and Mike Smith has some of the best goaltending stats in the league. He boasts a 10-3-3 record with great numbers in both the save percentage and GAA categories. So, perhaps it’s fair to assume that it wasn’t so much Bryzgalov that made the Coyotes good as it was Tippet’s system making Bryzgalov look good.

Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins were one of the few cup contenders before getting Sidney Crosby back into the line-up. Now, with Crosby in the line-up, one has got to think that the Pens are in for a great season. Don’t go expecting huge numbers from Sid the Kid, despite his 4 point showing against the Isles. He has been out for 10 months and it’s pretty clear that he may have had a little adrenaline built up for his first game back. The Penguins should sit comfortably atop their division come season’s end.

San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are battling with the Dallas Stars (?!) for first place in the Pacific Division right now. It’s not really a shock that the regular season titans are back in familiar territory. What is surprising is the lack of offensive production they are receiving from key sources. Martin Havlat, who was acquired in the Heatley trade, has a whopping 1 goal and Ryan Clowe has an astounding 4. So why are the Sharks sitting atop the Pacific? Well, they are riding hot goaltending from the tandem of Niemi and Greiss. Can it continue? Time will only tell.

St. Louis Blues
Ken Hitchcock takes over and the Blues are now 6-2-2 in their last 10. That’s a pretty good clip for a team that was struggling to find any consistency earlier in the year. It’s great to see Hitch in a position where he can show what he is good at. There is no doubt that he will be a great coach to bring in a systematic approach to the Blues game. With solid veteran leadership combined with youthful flare, the Blues look like they could be in good shape this year.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Something is seriously wrong with the Lightning right now. How can a team with so much front end talent be doing so poorly in the standings? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Dwayne Roloson is nearing age 85 and the defense is showing a weakness not seen through last season’s great run. Making problems worse, a team that boasts names like St. Louis, Malone, Stamkos and Lecavalier has MA Bergeron as their second leading scorer. Anybody else see that as a problem going forward?

Toronto Maple Leafs
Like them or hate them, you can’t deny that the Leafs are entertaining to watch. It bodes well for the game of hockey that Brian Burke and Ron Wilson have built an exciting product that can easily be marketed to our neighbors to the south. It’s hard to emulate the sheer emotion and enthusiasm that the Leafs bring every time they score or make a big hit. As a Canucks fan, I wish that our team was a little more like the Leafs in that sense. After starting the season red hot, the Leafs have cooled down since Reimer has been injured. When he’s back, look out! This team could be really scary to play against.

Vancouver Canucks
Ah, what to say, what to say. Plagued by inconsistency, the Canucks need to be hungrier for victories this early in the season. It’s easy for fans to sit back and say that the team will turn it on come playoff time, but let’s be realistic; if the team continues to play like it has been, there won’t be a playoff time this spring. 2 points in October are just as valuable as 2 points in April; simple math would dictate that to be true. It’s time that the Canucks woke up and started playing like the team we know they can be before it’s too late. On a good note, Cory Schneider is turning into a real top notch goaltender.

Washington Capitals
The time for change in Washington was….probably three weeks ago. Bruce Boudreau is another one of those coaches who should be feeling the heat right now. His inability to win with Alex Ovechkin as a superstar is only less confusing than his inability to win with Alex Ovechkin the average player. Someone needs to get this team going and it’s becoming abundantly clear that Boudreau won’t be the guy to do it. A team with that roster in 6th place isn’t acceptable. Think about what it took to rebuild the Washington market. If I were Ted Leonsis and George McPhee, I’d be making sure all that doesn’t slip away.

Winnipeg Jets
It’s hard to say anything bad about such a good story, but let’s be realistic here. The Jets need to get better quickly. Ever since that franchise was placed in Atlanta it has had an inability to win. That streak needs to end in Winnipeg. True North Sports and Entertainment will throw everything it can behind this team in order to make it a contender. In a few years, with solid drafting and free agent signings, the Jets should be able to make the playoffs. That being said, right now, the Jets are a team searching for an identity.

Well there you have it, 30 thoughts taking you from coast to coast. As stated in the introduction, please share your thoughts on any team or issue in the league. Do you agree with my thoughts?

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Follow me on Twitter: @michaelstuart93

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8 Comments

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

I agree that the Wings have had stellar play from Lidstorm, but Howard really has been the MVP so far. As for Datsyuk, he's had one good game (against CGY) and Franzen has been very inconsistent. Hopefully their roller coaster effect stops soon.

Michael Stuart's picture

Thanks for the comment, Kyle!

I guess what I was trying to get at with Franzen and Datsyuk was that the point totals are there. Same situation with the Sedins here in Vancouver. You have two guys who have solid point totals yet their play seems rather inconsistent. That's much more than you can say for Zetterberg and I can say for Kesler.

The talent in Detroit is most definitely present as in Vancouver. It's high time that the rosters figure out the inconsistency and get back to the style of play fans know is possible.

If you ask me, Howard is one of the truly underrated superstars in the league. We always hear about Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward and whoever else, yet Howard remains under the rader.

Kory's picture

Winnipeg is definitely having a hard time finding their identity. That being said, 3 wins in the past 4 games against hi caliber Eastern Conference opponents has the city buzzing. This team can win, and the offensive disability that seemed to be present through the first 5 or 6 games of the season has seemed to have gone away.

Michael Stuart's picture

Agreed Kory. Though, I think that Noel is going to establish himself as a great coach in this league once he has better players. I like where the Jets are going right now. It's pretty obvious that there is a core developing; it will just take time to find players that compliment that core.

Once offensive consistency is found, this team could surprise some people.

Rob McGowan's picture

Michael, you wanted my take...here it is.

It's a rough situation on the Island. The arena issues provide a huge level of uncertainty in regards as to where this team will be playing after 2015, when the lease expires. This easily steers top UFA's from wanting to sign here. The owner has shown a willingness to spend as Garth Snow has reportedly offered more money to top UFA's than some of the teams that these players have signed with. But an old building with a questionable future has definitely caused problems for adding that extra talent.

Most of the young guys, (Tavares, Grabner, Nielsen, Hamonic, MacDonald) have been solid and fun to watch. Diamond in the rough players like Parenteau and Moulson are good to have as well. But players like Bailey seem to be a bust. Okposo is having a rough year that was definitely unexpected by everyone, including him. DiPietro has yet to find his game after managing to stay healthy for most of this year so far. But for whatever reason, the offense isn't scoring goals.

Part of the reason is that Snow hasn't been able to find those veteran leaders to push these young guys over the hurdle. Rolston, Pandolfo, Reasoner and Staios are passed their prime and not the type of guys that this team needs.

I personally think that Snow needs to explore the trade route and see what he can find that way since the UFA market hasn't been kind to this organization. But until that happens, the future of this team remains to be seen.

Michael Stuart's picture

Thanks for weighing in, Rob. It's much appreciated.

There is a great young core that is really entertaining to watch. Even for a first round draft pick, I feel like Tavares goes under the radar of the rest of the league.

Is there any chance that Snow is removed from his position? Only so many years of inferior play can be tolerated by Wang.

George Prax's picture

RE: The habs, you're definitely right that they're not playing as well as their roster should indicate. A lot of that has to do with injuries, as well as the wrong mix of roster with coaching style. The latter of which being the big change that's needed. But the way this roster plays on the ice, they're destined to play .500 hockey on the nose for the rest of the season. Frustrating is the word for the Habs season.

Anyway, great job Mike.

Michael Stuart's picture

Thanks, George. Hopefully things pick up soon. Cole's play has improved as of late and it's hard to disagree that Price is one of the great young goaltenders in the game.