(Now we’ll take a look at the division the Canucks win every year in a cakewalk and managed to feature exactly one playoff team last year.)
#1 Vancouver (111) Calgary (90) Colorado (88) Minnesota (81) Anaheim (80)
New guys: Jason Garrison (I wanted him), Cam Barker (you’re all horrible people for making fun), Jim Vandermeer (?) and Derek Joslin.
Gone: Samuel Pahlsson (yup, that one), Sami Salo (one ball joke) and Aaron Rome.
Not yet gone: Roberto Luongo
Young players to keep an eye on: There really isn’t a whole lot here. With injuries to guys like Ryan Kesler and David Booth, hulking winger Zach Kassian will get a shot to play in the Vancouver top six. Chicago Wolves defenseman Kevin Connauton scares the shit out of me – but at least it looks like he’s at least another season away from leaving Rosemont. Should Kesler or Booth miss more time than expected, puny 5’8 center Jordan Schroeder could be called upon to fill the void. Due to all the injuries, 2011 1st round pick Niklas Jensen will get a shot to make the roster out of camp, but that appears to be a long shot.
Outlook: Think a team with Barker and Vandermeer can’t make the playoffs? Think again. Edmonton and Minnesota aren’t pushovers anymore, sure, but the Northwest still belongs to the Canucks. Their depth looks questionable, but as soon as it *really* starts to hurt, they can pull the trigger on a Luongo deal and probably improve multiple spots. Garrison should more than make up for the loss of Sami Salo and I can’t imagine the Sedin’s letting this team nose-dive. As much as you don’t want to hear this, it looks like Vancouver probably gets home ice for at least the opening round.
New guys: Nail Yakupov (clearly a cancer in the dressing room) , Justin Schultz (this guy could have played anywhere in the NHL and chose Edmonton), and Mark Fistric (became an Oiler just the other day).
Gone: Taylor Chorney.
Young players to keep an eye on: All of them. Yakupov, Schultz, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the list just goes on and on. All of these damn guys are probably going to be superstars (if they aren’t already) and constitute a fine young core for Edmonton. How the hell they plan on paying all these #1 picks in the future is beyond me – but that’s their problem. Should injury strike their defense, 6’3 Swede Oscar Klefbom (a fine hockey name) could see his first NHL action. 2011 2nd rounder David Musil would be another option here.
Outlook: Is this team closer to the ’07-’08 Blackhawks or the ’08-’09 Blackhawks? It’s impossible to say. Some analysts have suggested that the lockout could benefit younger teams. If that’s the case, then the Oil should be in decent sharp – even with Nikolai Khabibulin in net. In my view, the weakest area on this team is the blue line. Yes, Schultz is a great young prospect, but this isn’t a unit many teams are going to fear as they move into the Oilers zone. The offensive potential is pretty much unlimited. If the trio of #1 overall picks click right away, those defensive problems may not matter much. Edmonton is one of the tougher teams to judge this year. Could go either way. Sorry, total cop-out.
New guys: Zach Parise (now sporting a Mr. Monopoly monocle at all times) , Ryan Suter (ditto Parise), Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell and Torrey Mitchell.
Gone: Guillaume Latendresse, Erik Christensen and Mike Lundin.
Young players to watch: The Wild have a pool of prospects that should make any Blackhawks fan who supports realignment strongly reconsider. They are stocked pretty much everywhere. Center-icemen Mikael Backlund and Charlie Coyle, along with defenseman Jonis Brodin and Matthew Dumba, are elite prospects. While it’s unlikely any of them except Backlund (and maybe Dumba) see time in the NHL this year, all are worth keeping an eye on in the future. Guys that have seen NHL time like Brett Bulmer and Jason Zucker could be called upon again if needed. Mario Lucia, Zach Phillips, Johan Larsen and Matt Hackett round out their prospect poll. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying.
Outlook: As good as this team may one day be, expectations are probably set a little too high for this season. While you can’t blame Minnesota fans for being excited with the arrival of Parise and
Konopka Suter, there are still a lot of question about this teams defensive depth and nobody knows how quickly this semi-overhauled roster will take to gel. The improvements are impossible to ignore, but this is still a team that looks scarier for what they might one day become – as opposed to what they currently are.
*We should mention that their owner, Craig Leipold, was a big driver of this lockout on the owners side. So fuck him and his team. Hating Minnesota is going to be a lot of fun.
New guys: PA Parenteau (the rare player who wants to leave the Islanders), Greg Zanon and John Mitchell.
Gone: Peter Mueller (getting a second chance with Dale Tallon) and Jay McClement.
Young players to keep an eye on: Colorado’s defense is a disaster, so guys like Ty Barrie, Stefan Elliott and/or Duncan Siemens could get a look once this team is out of the playoff race – which will probably be about three weeks from now. Often injured prospect Joey Hishon may finally get a look if they can’t lure back Ryan O’Reilly from Russia. Mark Olver went to Northern Michigan University, which makes him awesome.
Outlook: This team sucks and will be even suckier if they can’t re-sign O’Reilly. Sure, Gabriel Landeskog is a monster and they have a number of talented forwards, but like we mentioned already, that defense is just terrible. The goaltending behind it is almost as bad. Not a playoff team. Moving on.
New guys: Sven Bartschi (remember this name), Roman Cervenka, Dennis Wideman (contain your laughter) and Jiri Hudler (condolences to Hudler on the recent passing of his father).
Gone: Olli Jokinen (obligatory waffle gif), David Moss and Scott Hannan.
Not gone because Jay Feaster is delusional: Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff.
Young players to keep an eye on: Bartschi and Markus Granlund (coming over from Finland). The Flames also drafted John Gaudreau, but he’s a few years away. T.J. Brodie is an option on the blue line if they don’t want to torture themselves with Anton Babchuk and Corey Sarich.
Outlook: This team has some talent, yes, but still drag around entirely too much dead weight. The guys over at Hockeenight are always making fun of Flames for giving out no-trade clauses to any and all comers – and its’s completely true! It’s like this roster was carefully booby trapped to guard against any and all rebuilding efforts. Even if they wanted to give up the chasing the dragon and start over, they couldn’t do it.
Oh, and Mike Cammalleri is still a douche.
Western Conference playoff picks:
Los Angeles-St.Louis-Vancouver-Chicago-Phoenix-Detroit-Minnesota-San Jose
(That concludes the Western Conference portion of our season preview. We’ll be back in the next day or so with a look at the East.)
November 19th was a low point, to say the least. Allowing 9 goals on 34 shots, the Blackhawks humiliated themselves in front of a giddy Edmonton crowd that, despite the cliche of Canadians’ courtesy and good manners, took to taunting the ‘Hawks in the 3rd period.
Apparently all bets are off when the puck drops.
So thousands of television sets all over Chicagoland were damaged by flying objects hurtled by frustrated fans, and the Blackhawks left Alberta having left their egos, their confidence, and any illusions of dominating Western Conference opponents splattered all over the Rexall Place ice. It took a crime scene remediation team four days to clean it up.
It’s a team we should beat. Giving up two on the 5-minute penalty kill changed the momentum of the game. But we still shouldn’t (have) lost to a team like that.
– Patrick Kane
It’s hard to pin a loss on one player, but Monday’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers is the closest I can come.
Dan Carcillo not only set himself up for a suspension with his crushing and unnecessary hit on Tom Gilbert, he may have seriously injured his knee in the process.
The ensuing 5-minute major penalty led to two Edmonton goals that ended up being the difference, as the Blackhawks fell once again to the Oilers only two three days after a big home win over rival Detroit.
For one, I’m going to go into full honesty mode here and say that I told the vast majority of people to calm down when the ‘Hawks signed Carcillo. I then continued to defend that signing when he showed some slick offensive skills we never thought we’d see. I don’t necessarily believe I was wrong, either.
Then Monday happened.
At least his suspension/potential injury will give another prospect a chance to play some minutes.
Quick thoughts ….
♦ It didn’t help Niklas Hjalmarsson got clipped with a high stick prior to Taylor Hall’s goal – the second on Carcillo’s major. It sucked, but it happens.
♦ After all the Carcillo shit and the two goals allowed, the Blackhawks still had a chance to win this thing. Then, they went 0 for 5 on the power play, including a four-minute double-minor on a high stick to Jonathan Toews, who was an absolute beast and didn’t miss a shift after getting fixed up.
Ryan Jones got called for a goaltender interference penalty, and the ‘Hawks looked like dog shit on that power play, too. The Blackhawks played with a man advantage for six of the final 8:46, and they came away with absolutely nothing.
Before ALL the blame lands on Carcillo, let’s realize the ‘Hawks had chances to win this game despite that. The awful PP unit and a weak goal from the well-known Ben Eager ended up doing the Blackhawks in.
♦ Speaking of that weak goal, Corey Crawford could’ve played better. Thinking about it a little bit more, Crow will probably be back in net Thursday in Philadelphia before Ray Emery gets the nod Friday at home against Colorado. Sunday against Detroit will likely depend on how each plays in these games. We’ll see.
♦ For the second straight game, Patrick Kane left the center of the ice open as he trailed the play, allowing the opposition an easy goal. Tonight’s came from Andy Sutton. With Carcillo out, it may be best to get Kaner back to the wing and bring up Brandon Pirri, unless Marcus Kruger is ready to play. Either way, I think Q needs to get Kane away from the center spot. He’s clearly not playing the same as he did when he started the season there.
I’ll do the rest of my talking in Boxing…Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The last time we were talking about the Oilers we were licking our wounds and wondering how the hell a mediocre team like Edmonton had managed to put 9 (yes, NINE) goals behind our goalies inside the span of just 60 minutes. We were wondering how we could possibly give up 3 power play goals against in a single period, 4 total on the night. We marveled at the fact that our heretofore adequate backup goaltender had allowed 7 goals on just 27 shots, and also that statistically he was the better of our two netminders that night. And we wondered if the confidence we had allowed ourselves to feel after manhandling hated Vancouver 5-1 in their own rink just 3 nights prior was merely wishful thinking.
Had the Blackhawks’ success to date been just an illusion? Had they simply been playing teams that hadn’t gotten in the groove, but that were about to start making them look like the third-place finishers in the Glen Ellyn Bantam A house league? Were we about to see the Blackhawks’ season self-destruct in a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of Conference opponents, putting us out of playoff contention by January 1st?
As it turns out, not so much. And as the Blackhawks’ fortunes have turned for the better in the last 45 days since that game, the Oilers’ fortunes have gotten exponentially worse…
The Edmonton Oilers are going to be playoff contenders, though the jury is still out on when that time will come. The Blackhawks showed them glimpses of what it’s going to take to get there.
The ‘Hawks captured a 6-3 victory Sunday night at the United Center, sending themselves off on a good note heading into the annual Circus Trip – kind of.
Brent Seabrook hit the boards hard and suffered the always-vague lower-body injury which could prevent him from traveling with the team for its six-game jaunt. Q said Seabrook will be evaluated more Tuesday and is going with a “day-to-day” amateur diagnosis.
This could present a multitude of problems for a defense already dressing John Scott. The onus will fall on Sami Lepisto and Sean O’Donnell to fill the void left by the absence of one of the NHL’s best defensemen. That means two players who couldn’t even crack the lineup ahead of a no-talent gorilla will have to attempt to do enough of a Seabrook impression to help anchor the blue line.
I guess we’ll find out more soon if that’s the case …
♦ Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: These kids are good. Hall took advantage of mistakes by both Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy to win the puck and create scoring chances with hard rushes to the net, and also was robbed by Corey Crawford after putting himself into a scoring position in the slot. Eberle’s goal was a pretty move just after coming out of the box, and RNH showed exactly why he was the No. 1 overall pick and stuck with the big club.
The Oil remind me greatly of the 2007-08 Blackhawks – Lots of young talent and not enough veteran support which left them teetering on the brink of breaking out. Nikolai Khabibulin was in net – for 49 starts, anyway – for those ‘Hawks, who got it together the next year when Khabi put together a 25-8-7 season. While Edmonton won’t be getting home-ice advantage in the postseason no matter Khabi’s solid play so far, I fully expect the Oilers to be contending for the No. 8 seed if they can manage to avoid 2-4 road trips like this one down the line. The talent is there.
♦ The ‘Hawks moved to 7-1-2 at home, earning 16 of a possible 20 points at the UC. Part of last season’s shitfest had to do with the fact the Blackhawks were less-than-stellar on home ice, even when the schedule seemingly was doing them favors. Not the case this season – so far.
♦ Another power-play goal. I think I’ll wet my pants.
Onto Boxing….Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
There are only two names you need to know to understand the meteoric performance of the Edmonton Oilers this young season. Both of these names have taken the team, and the league, by near-complete surprise; and in one case, has most people scratching their heads.
The names are: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nikolai Khabibulin. The 18-year-old rookie and the inconsistent netminder 20 years his senior have been the catalysts for Edmonton rising near the top of the Western Conference standings.
The Edmonton Oilers’ patience has paid off. They come into the United Center tonight sitting atop the Northwest Division, and eager for some payback against a Chicago team that has manhandled them over the past several years.
Fear not, faithful readers of Jeff Bartl’s “Boxing” feature here on Cheer The Anthem; Jeff will crank things up when the regular season gets underway. Until then, we’ll tell you what we can from the games we can see, and last night was one of those times.
The Blackhawks took a 21-man roster with only 8 proven veterans aboard to the mighty plains of Saskatchewan to take on the Edmonton Oilers in a game shown streaming live from the Blackhawks web site. Despite allegedly being restricted to the Chicago hockey market, reports were coming in from as far away as Pittsburgh and Minnesota that fans were able to see the game. Damned computers…