NHL Lockout update and outlook

NHL Lockout

NHL LockoutThe NHL announced yesterday that the entirety of the 2012 Preseason is canceled, fueling more speculation that the start of the season October 11th is in real jeopardy. The NHL and NHLPA are set to meet this week to try to save the start of the season, but the outlook is bleak. Currently, the biggest point of contention is the revenue split, where the owners are asking players to cut their share of revenue from 57% to 46%. Many players have expressed deep concern with this split and have threatened to sit out the entire season is necessary This has subsequently prompted a mass signing campaign overseas as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, John Taveres, Erik Karlsson, and the like look for a home to play for possibly the duration of the 2012-2013 NHL season.

When you look deeper at the lockout, it is clear that revenue sharing is far from the only major issue. Another big issue at hand is contracts and free agency. The post 2004 Lockout NHL has featured some of the more insane contracts in NHL, if not sports, history, be it the length (Ovechkin, Suter, Kovalchuk, et al) or the distribution of money (ie Pronger’s front loaded deal and many like it). This has led the owners to ask for restrictions on salaries, including eliminating signing bonuses, uniform distribution of money, and maximum five-year duration for a contract. In addition, owners are seeking to control their drafted players for more time at less cost, as they have asked for entry-level deals to be extended from 3 to 5 years and for a player to become an unrestricted free agent after 10 seasons instead of the current 7 years.

Is the NHL’s proposal fair? In terms of revenue, I have always felt a 50-50 split is the way to go. There is no function NHL governing body with the owners, but there are no games without the players. It is a perfect 50-50 partnership and the revenue split should be obvious and logical. I realize there is a lot more that goes into that, but from the layman’s perspective, both groups are dependent on each other and should simple split the money. The contracts are another story. Owners and general managers should not be allowed to handout insanely front loaded contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars and then call foul and poor. If the argument is for competitive balance, then the league’s proposal is a bit stronger since many contracts signed in recent years have attempted to circumvent the salary cap designed to create balance. But the increase in entry-level deals and unrestricted free agency is garbage. The NHL is essentially trying to force young talent to have no negotiation rights at all for the first 10 years of their career, since the teams hold all the power until unrestricted free agency. Then, with a max 5 year deal, a player is in his 15th season and close to retirement and has only had one chance to cash in on his talent. There is no denying that the previous contract arrangement was flawed, but to handcuff the players like they want to is criminal.

So, what is going to happen? The NHL should really feel a need to act fast. The league’s popularity was on the upswing before this current lockout, finishing a long road to recovery from the previous lockout. Another lockout would be catastrophic for the league. The NFL and other sports are more popular than ever and the new fans of the NHL that came after the last lockout are not guaranteed to return to the ticket office. Also, more so than any other sport, the NHL has real competition from overseas leagues, particularly the KHL. NHL players do not need the NHL as badly as, for example, NFL players need the NFL.   What this all means is the NHL is in dangerous waters now in terms of fans and player participation, and in reality, the future of the league is at stake.

NHL Free Agency: 2012 Wrap up

zach-pariseWhile calling it a “frenzy” might be a bit inaccurate, the first two weeks of NHL Free Agency have been eventful. Here are a few thoughts about the signings and lack thereof.

1) The Minnesota Heat

The two biggest prizes of the free agent class both headed North in the hopes of revitalizing a hotbed of American hockey. On the 4th of July, both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed identical 13 year contracts with Minnesota Wild totalling $98 million (and a $7.5 million cap hit). The move instantly makes the hockey crazed state of Minnesota relevant again as both players are young difference makers and strong leaders in the locker room. The moves though do not make the Wild Cup favorites. Offensively, the Wild can put together a great top line of Parise-Mikko Koviu-Dany Heatley, but after that there are questions as the rest of the offense is full of youth and depth players. Suter will also anchor a very young defensive corp. So the Wild will eventually be good, but do not expect a Stanley Cup run next year.

The other interesting story here is how these deals got done and the parellels to the 2010 NBA off-season. Reportedly, Parise and Suter were in communication during the negotiations and work together to get deals done, à la Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. It was reported other teams made stronger offers to each player, but both chose to go to the same spot, which happens to be Parise’s hometown. Much like Bosh and James going where James wanted to go, with friend Wade. It will be interesting to see whether this is an isolated situation or a new trend in the NHL.

2) What About Semin?

We are officially two weeks into the free agent period and arguably the most talented player avaliable is still without a home. Alex Semin, formerly of the Washington Capitals, is a former 40 goal scorer and is thought by many to have the talent to be a Top 5 player in the NHL. So why is he unsigned? Semin is reportedly seeking a multiyear deal and teams are unwilling to give the enigmatic Semin term. Despite improved 2 way play under Hunter, Semin has a reputation for being lazy, only playing when he wants to, taking bad penalties, and disappearing when the games matter the most. He was also famously ripped by the TSN Canada panel as a “coach killer” and “complete loser”. There is also the KHL question, where he reportedly has a $10 million per year offer.

So when and where does he go? Semin will land somewhere, but if he wants term it will be in the KHL or for a lower tier NHL franchise, like the Islanders or Blue Jackets (although the idea of Semin with Taveres could work). Look for Pittsburgh, who reportedly offered a deal, to be in the mix for a 1 year deal after missing out on Parise and the always offense starved Rangers to make a bid. And do not count out Detroit, where Datsyuk could provide an example and leadership for the Russian star.

3) Who Improved the Most?

The easy, and likely correct, answer here is the Minnesota Wild. But besides the Wild, the Colorado Avalanche had a nice yet not flashy FA haul. Their big signing was former Islander PA Parenteau, who will add upwards of 40 assists and 20 goals to the Avalanche attack. Some will argue they overpaid, but the Avs were in the playoff race early last season and were willing to pay to improve their staying power ths year. The Avs also added former Ranger depth forward John Mitchell, who played important minutes in the playoffs last year and can add some goals here and there. Mitchell is a very good under the radar signing for a team looking to make the playoffs. On the back-end, Colorado resigned young defenseman Erik Johnson and added veteran stay a home defender depth in Greg Zanon. Again, not flashy, but solid moves.

Other “A” signings included:

– Mikael Samuelsson back to Detroit: Maybe the steal of FA. If he’s healthy, he scores 20 easy.

– Joe Corvo back to Carolina: Corvo has always had success in his previous runs with the Canes and will now QB a powerplay with Staal, Staal, Skinner, and Cole. Not too bad.- –

-Jason Garrison to Vancouver: The Canucks continue to bolster their defense corp year after year and Garrison will work the powerplay point well with Edler. And kudos to Garrison taking less (although still a lot) of money to play in his hometown for a contender.

– Wojtek Wolski to DC: The shootout specialist has had 2 straight down years, but the Caps signed him for 1 year just north of the leage minimum. Even a 10 goal year and this is a steal with little risk.

4) “Knock, Knock, Anyone Home?”

With the Wild landing the 2 biggest names, there are a lot of teams usually near the top in terms of salary that are over $10 million under the cap, including the Red Wings, Penguins, Capitals, and Rangers. We know the Pens are low after being shut out of the Parise sweepstakes, but the others are surprising considering all had needs that could have been met. The Capitals need a Top 6 forward, and Wolski does not count yet (and with Green and Carlson as RFA, their salary will grow). The Rangers need an offensive boost as usual, and even the Wings need help on the backend after the retirement of Nick Lidstrom. This inaction coupled with cap space could mean some big in season trades for these perennial contenders.

5) What are the Stars doing?

When the Dallas Stars sent center Mike Riberio to the Capitals on draft day, it signaled to many that the Stars were beginning a rebuild. Less than a week later, they added the 2 oldest forwards on the market in Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. Not quite the standard rebuild model. These deals would seem to say the Stars think they can compete this year, despite trading away their top playmaker in Riberio. Others have suggested the Jagr was a “name grab”, as attendance was low last season. Still, very curious moves in Big D.

NHL free agent preview and predictions of the 2012 off season

Zach PariseMuch has been made of the 2012 Free Agent class being a very thin group, but that will not stop teams from spending big money on July 1st. The overpayments have already begun, headlined by the insane $5.25 million per year given to Denis Wideman. One cannot talk player movement without mentioning the very cap friendly 12 year deal given to Sidney Crosby, who was still a year away from the open market. This sets the stage for a wild free agent frenzy. Here is a look at where some of the top free agents could land.

Elite Group

1. Zach Parise- Resigns with New Jersey Devils

Parise is the prize of this year’s free agent class. He will be the target of teams such as the Rangers, Kings, and his current team the Devils and he will get money and term. Parise is a gifted goal scorer, hard worker, and great leader. What everyone wants. When push comes to shove, look for him to stay put and finish what they started.

2. Ryan Suter- Signs with the Pittsburgh Penguins

While overshadowed by partner Shea Weber, Suter is one of the top defenseman in the NHL and looking to get paid and win. The Penguins cleared a lot of money over the weekend and will outbid the Red Wings. And the 12 year Crosby deal will only makes this deal more likely.

3. Alex Semin- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Semin is the enigma of the NHL. All the talent in the world, but he does not the work ethic to maximize the talent. The Wings seem to get the most out of players and Semin meshed well with Datsyuk at the World Championships.

No Surprises Here

1. Temmu Selanne- Resigns with the Anahiem Ducks

No shocker here. The Finnish Flash will either resign or hang em up. He can still score with the best of them and likely loves playing in the uptempo Boudreau offense.

2. Olli Joikien- Resigns with Calgary Flames

Joikien could get paid big this offseason as maybe the top center avaliable. But, the has often struggled outside of Calgary and always seems to come back to the Saddledome. He enjoyed a resurgence last year and will stay where he is comfortable.

3. Shane Doan- Resigns with the Phoenix Coyotes

This one will be interesting, as it was announced that Doan would test the market and possibly could leave the only organization he has ever known. Doan can still score and his experience and leadership is what every team needs and he will get offers. In the end though, the Captain stays put.

Welcome to the Penthouse

1. PA Parenteau- Signs with the New York Rangers

Parenteau is a crafty winger who would look good in  just about anyones top 6. And he put the numbers up on Long Island, which means he might do better on a better team. PA has 25-40 potential and will cash in on the thin market. And the Rangers will foot the bill to add some more offense to their impressive lineup. Watch also for the Blues and Senators who could use some offensive punch.

2. Jason Garrison- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

The Wings will target Suter but settle for Garrison. Garrison exploded onto the scene last season with the Panthers, scoring 16 goals (3rd after Karlsson and Weber), 9 of which were on the power play (2nd to Weber). While he is nowhere near the defender Lidstrom is (and who is really) but he can help replace his point production as he comes into his own.

Goal Scoring Help in the Top six.

1. Ray Whitney- Signs with the Detroit Red Wings

Another Wing signing. Detroit has the cap space and will pick up another veteran looking for a home. The difference is Whitney can still play and is a power play wizard hungry for another Cup late in his career. The Blackhawks, Penguins, and Capitals could also be interested, as well as the Coyotes.

2. Dustin Penner- Resigns with the Los Angeles Kings

Penner had a rough start to his career and has never really lived up to his lofty expectations. But he seems to have found a home in LA and really stepped up in the playoffs.

3. Mikael Samuelson- Signs with the Washington Capitals

With Semin gone, the Capitals will need a new winger for newly acquired Riberio. Samuelson has had durability issues, but when healthy he can score and could thrive with a skilled center, whether its Riberio or Nick Backstrom. McPhee is a fan of short deals for FA if possible, and with the injury history Samuelsson provides the best opportunity for that with a good chance of top 6 production.

4. Jiri Hudler- Signs with the St Louis Blues

Hudler had an incredibly successful return to the NHL in Detroit with 25 goals and 25 assist last year. He is an excellent option for a team needing offense and the Blues fit that bill.

5. Andre Kostitsyn- Resigns with the Nashville Predators

The Kostitsyn’s have been more of a headache than a help over their career, but Andre is a 20 goal guy who will play better with his brother now in town (Sergei is restricted). As long as they stay out of the organized crime scene in Nashville, two Kostitsyn’s are always better than one on the ice.

6. Jaromir Jagr- Signs with the Edmonton Oilers

This one is a shot in the dark. Edmonton is poised to finally become relevant this year with an extremely talented core of Hall, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, and the newly drafted Nail Yakpov. Jagr wants top 6 minutes and cannot be guaranteed that in Philly. Jagr could provide offense and an example for the young stars in Edmonton. Mike Knuble could be another excellent fit in Edmonton.

Blueline Help

1. Matt Carle- Resigns with the Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers always look for help on the backline and Carle has been a steady balanced defenseman since his arrival from San Jose. The two sides have already started talking, so expect a deal to get done.

2. Bryan Allen- Signs with the Nashville Predators

Bryan Allen is one of the more underrated defenders in hockey. He does not provide a lot on offense, but is a solid defender. With the impending departure of Suter, the Predators will be quick to get a replacement. Allen will not provide the offense, but could be a good candidate to play with Weber.

3. Joe Corvo- Signs with the Florida Panthers

Arter losing Jason Garrison to a mega deal, the Panthers will need a shooter to replace him on the Power Play. Corvo is a defensive liability, but has one of the hardest shots in the league from the point. The Panthers success last year was dependent on the man advantage and Corvo will help offset the loss of Garrison a bit.

4. Sheldon Souray- Signs with the Washington Capitals

This one makes a lot of sense at the right price. Souray saw a rebirth last year as a viable defenseman in Dallas and is still a powerplay threat. The Capitals could use a replacement for Wideman, but this deal makes sense because of Dimitri Orlov. Souray was in Hershey when Orlov began his professional career and was vital to his early development. Reuniting them, in Orlov’s first year as a full time player, could really solidify the blueline in DC.

5. Bryce Salvador- Sign with the Anahiem Ducks

The Ducks are thin on the blueline and Salvador should cash in somewhat on his strong postseason. While not an offensive defenseman, he does have good offensive instincts, which is needed in Boudreau’s system. Rosival, Kuba, and Kubina are also options for the Ducks.


This Free Agent class is absurdly thin in goaltending. In fact, one can argue that with the top available being Dwayne Roloson, Dan Ellis, and Antero Nittymaki that there are little to no starter quality goalies on the market. As a result, most teams have addressed their needs through trades, with Tomas Vokoun, Andres Lindback, and Sergei Bobrovsky being moved in recent days. Look for the last big trade to be Roberto Luongo, who will end up in Florida or Toronto.

And news broke Friday morning that Martin Broudeur is going to go to free agency if no deal is in place by Sunday. Most did not even consider him available, yet the chances he leaves New Jersey is slim to none.


The thin class has made trading a bigger possibility this offseason than normal with the likes of Jordan Staal, Mike Riberio, and the goalies already being dealt. Look for Rick Nash, Luongo, and possibly Bobby Ryan to be dealt over the next week or so.

Capitals tab Adam Oates Head Coach

Adam OatesThe search for the next head coach of the Washington Capitals came to an end Tuesday with the news that Adam Oates would become the 16th coach in franchise history. The former Devil’s assistant reportedly beat out former Hawks Assistant Mike Havelind and Norfolk Admiral Head Coach John Cooper for the job. Oates has no head coaching experience but has been an assistant coach in both Tampa Bay and New Jersey, culminating in this past seasons run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Oates also had a stellar playing career, ranking 6th on the All Time list for career Assists and 16th overall in Points. And like his predecessor Dale Hunter, Oates is a former Capital, spending 6 years in DC, which continues the recent trend in Washington of bringing old players back into the fold. He was also a key component to the Capitals only trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.

General Manager George McPhee’s decision to hire Oates will surprise some who maybe expected him to opt for a more experienced coaching, but in reality it was predictable. McPhee has hired 4 coaches before Oates, none of which had any previous NHL head coaching experience. And despite saying he wanting to bring Hunter back, McPhee recently has made comments that seem to say he was not as enamoured by Hunter’s style of play as we thought. Oates has never been a head coach, so it is difficult to judge what his style is but we can look at for a clue is his playing style and the systems he has coached in. As a player, Oates was known as a cerebral player, which manifested itself on the ice as he was one of the most élite playmakers in the league during his career. As a top center, Oates also needed to be and was defensively responsible, which is also a hallmark of cerebral hockey players. In terms of system, the previously trapping Devils became a much more offensive and balanced under DeBoer and by association Oates, while still stressing defense. All this seems to point to the Capitals hiring a down the middle coach, which seems to be what is needed following the extremes of Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, while acknowledging the offensive tendencies of the roster. Oates has also been described by past teammates and players like Petr Bondra, Jeff Halpern, and Danius Zubrus as being a brilliant offensive mind, a man’s man coach, and an excellent communicator. All good signs for a first time head coach.

Another interesting angle to take on this hire is the Ovechkin factor. As an assistant in New Jersey, Oates had at least some role in transforming Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russian Kovalchuk had always been a goal scorer, but saw his numbers drop as his career went on. He also had a stigma for being lazy on defense. Sounds a lot like the criticisms of Ovechkin. But, as a Devil, Kovalchuk learned to play a more complete game on the entire ice surface and even saw time on the penalty kill. Kovalchuk also started to use his teammates more in the offensive zone rather than going one on one all the time. One has to assume that Oates had a role in remaking Kovalchuk into a complete player and that he can to do the same for Ovechkin who finds himself in almost the exact spot Kovalchuk was in. And if that happens, look out.

There are some question marks though with the hire. Oates has never won a Stanley Cup in any capacity and the Capitals are desperate. Maybe it would have made more sense to bringing someone who has done it before (although his run with the Devils last year should ease that concern a bit). In addition, all accounts from former players about how great a coach he is relates to him as an assistant. The assistant is always he favorite coach and no one knows how he will operate as the head man. For all the deserved accolades, there’s no doubt there is a great deal of uncertainty in this hire, which could spell trouble for a team with the aspirations of the Washington Capitals.

With that said, Oates track record would seem to say he can do the job as he has seen success as a player and assistant. And to make McPhee look even better, he can now say his new Head Coach is a Hall of Famer, since about 2 hours after he was hired, Adam Oates was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Safe to say Oates and the Caps have had a better day than you have had.

Penguins, Capitals win the NHL Draft; Columbus the big loser

NHL Draft Class 2012With the CBA looming, the Pittsburgh Penguins both hosted and were maybe the biggest player at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Here are some of the biggest winners and losers of the 2012 NHL Draft.

Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguin’s GM Ray Shero continues to prove he is one of the best in the business. For years now, the Penguins have had the greatest luxury in hockey, a 2nd (or even 1st) line center playing on the 3rd line in Jordan Staal. News broke just before the draft that Staal had turned down a 10 year contract in Pittsburgh and the race was on to try to land the center in light of a thin free agent class. Now, Shero could have kept Staal for the upcoming season, which many thought was possible given his skill and the Penguins ambitions for a Stanley Cup. The only way Shero would make the deal is if it did not hurt those ambitions. And despite knowing he would be available next offseason, Shero found a buyer, moving Staal to Carolina to join his brother Eric for center Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin, and the 8th overall pick in the draft, an extremely impressive haul for a player who wanted out. While Sutter is not as gifted offensively as Staal, he is arguably better defensively and has not yet reached his potential as an offensive player (and it’s not as if the Pens are short on talent down the middle). He is a more true 3rd line center than Staal and really creates balance in the Penguins offensive attack. The Penguins used the 8th pick on defenseman Derrick Pouliot (14th ranked North American skater and 8th best defenseman) before somehow adding the 4th highest rated North American defenseman Olli Maatta at 22. That’s two top 8 North American defenseman in a draft where almost everyone picked defenseman. And to top it off, Shero moved the overpaid Zybnek Michalek back to the Coyotes, clearing cap space for a run at Ryan Suter. An impressive weekend for the host Pens.

Loser: Columbus Blue Jackets
If Shero is the best, Scott Howson is one of the worst. While their 2nd pick Ryan Murray is one of the few NHL ready prospects in the draft, Howson reported turned down EVERY ISLANDER PICK, including the 4th overall pick, for the 2nd pick. While the immediate dropoff from Murray to the 4th pick (Griffin Reinhard) is big, it will not be in the longterm. And the Jackets are supposedly trying to rebuild. An addition 6 draft picks could have moved that rebuild up a year. Howson’s decision defies logic. And this was after he traded 3 picks (2 this year including a 2nd rounder) to the Flyers for the wildly inconsistent Sergi Bobrovsky. Top that off with there still being no resolution to the Rick Nash saga and it was not a good weekend for the Blue Jackets.

Winner: Washington Capitals
Capitals GM George McPhee made his most aggressive move yet to fill one of his teams biggest needs when he traded prospect Cody Eakin and a 2nd round pick for center Mike Riberio. For the last 5 years the Caps have been searching for a legitimate 2nd line center and Riberio is the most skilled player to try to fill the role yet. He routinely tops the 50 assist 70 point mark and should flourish playing either with Ovechkin or on the 2nd line with lesser defenders. He also has a tough streak for being such a skilled player and is great in the shootout. Huge improvement. And the cost was low for a player of Riberio’s caliber as Eakin projects as a 3rd line center and they kept both their 1st round picks. And it is good that they did, since the top rated European skater Filip Forsberg fell into McPhee’s lap at number 11 due to the run on defenders early. With the impending departure of Semin and the uncertainly surrounding Kuznetsov, the big and mature for his age goal scorer with one of the hardest shots in the draft will prove valuable. They later added the toughest player in the draft in Thomas Wilson, which is another type of players the Capitals routinely are looking to trade or sign. All in all a solid weekend for the Capitals.

Loser: Detroit Red Wings
Thee Wings do not do much wrong, but with an old roster and needing to replace Lidstrom, the weekend could have gone better. The Wings again had no 1st round pick as they traded it for Kyle Quincey and had a new horse enter the race for Suter (Penguins). The Red Wings always find late round gems, but someday they are going to need a high draft pick and in a deep draft, this would have been the year to have that pick.

Other Notables:
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Oilers made the right choice at the top, selecting the ultra talented Nail Yakapov. Yakapov will made an immediate impact and unlike other Russians is Canadian trained and is unlikely to ever consider the KHL.- The Bruins also did well, adding the best goalie on the board, Malcom Subban, to replace Thomas down the road. Subban is the brother of Canadien defenseman PK, which will only add more intrigue to one of the most heated rivalries in hockey.- Interesting trade between the Flyers and Leafs went down after the draft with James Van ReimsDyk moving North for Luke Schenn. Nice move by Burke as JVR should thrive with more ice time.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com.


NHL Atlantic Division: Offseason checklist

With the NHL Entry Draft and NHL free agency not too far away, we here at Daily Shootout have set up an offseason checklist for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Atlantic Division.

New York Rangers
1) Sign a backup goalie: Martin Biron, who is the current backup on Broadway, is a free agent on July 1st and the hole needs to be filled. Granted, Biron is 34 years old, which in hockey terms is slightly getting up there in age, he was still able to get 12-6-2 in 21 games last season with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist backup. There are a number of goalies available in free agency this summer, with the big names being the likes of Dwayne Roloson, Martin Brodeur, Cristobal Huet, and so on. If the Rangers really want to get the best bang for their buck for a reliable backup, they can either re-sign Biron or try looking into somebody like an Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg or Scott Clemenson. Bottom line is they need a backup for King Henrik and they have about $21 million in cap space to work with.
2) Get rid of Sean Avery: Avery has been nothing but a thorn in the sides of everybody in the NHL from team management all the way down to his own teammates. Nobody in the Rangers organization, it seems, really wants anything to do with this guy who, last season, played in only 15 games. With Avery let go they cut over $3 million off the payroll.
3) Re-sign the role players: Rangers already have locked in their major players like Lundqvist, Richards, Gaborik and so on. Three of their top four defensemen are signed through next season. Michael Del Zotto is the lone top D-Man who needs to be re-signed on Broadway as he is hitting restricted free agency. Once they lock him in everybody else should fall in. I would also consider watching the Rangers make a strong run at picking up Zach Parise, when he hits the market July 1. It won’t surprise me none, as the Rangers have done stuff like this in the past.

NHL offseason: CBA, coaching, free agency, Crosby and predictions

While the Kings continue to celebrate their organizations 1st Stanley Cup, the rest of the NHL is set to begin what is sure to be an interesting off season. As hockey enters the dog days of summer, here are some storylines to keep an eye on and stay tuned for updated storylines throughout the summer months:

1) The CBA

September 15, 2012. That is the deadline for the NHL to get a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in place before the old agreement expires. For the lay fan, the CBA is a fancy way of saying the contract between the owners (NHL) and players (NHLPA). Historically, the NHL has not handled reaching these agreements very well. The 1995 renewal resulted in a shortened campaign and everyone is well aware of the cancelled 2004-2005 season. This time around, the NHL faces more uncertainty than in the past. The NHL has had issues with viewership as a result of the last lockout, but has been recovering over the last few seasons (despite the low ratings for the 2012 Finals). One has to question whether the league could bounce back from another lockout this year. And the issues are not easy this time around. In addition to needing to establish a new cap agreement, there are issues such as contract length, suspensions, and escrow agreements to consider. Look for the Olympics in Sochi to be a topic as well. The good news this time around though is that they do not need to discuss the need for a salary cap, which was the major stumbling block last time. The latest news is the NHLPA is trying to move the void date of the current agreement up to June 30 to help facilitate a quicker deal and avoid a lockout.

2) Coaching Search

The part of the offseason that interests fans the most are personnel moves, and the first moves to happen will be for the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals to name their new head coaches. While there are only two openings and many available coaches, neither team is likely to compete with each other for their head man. The Oilers are looking for a teaching coach, one that can mold their talented young core into a competitive team, while the Capitals are in search of a coach who can take their talented roster to the next level. Some the names that will likely be flying around over the next few weeks are some old faces such as Brent Sutter and Marc Crawford while new names such as Assistant Coaches Adam Oates (NJ), John Stevens (LA), and Mike Sullivan (NYR) will likely get calls. Look also for Norfolk Admirals Head Coach Jon Cooper and Canadian Junior League Coach Patrick Roy to be popular interviews. If I had to guess, I would say the Oilers take a flyer of Cooper or Sullivan while the Capitals take Oates or Crawford (also, do not sleep on current Assistant Dean Evason in DC).

3) Free Agent Frenzy

Assuming a deal is signed, there is sure to be a fierce battle for the top names in a thin free agent class. The three prizes of the class are Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Alex Semin. Each will be seeking a long term deal for big money. Look for Parise to stay in Newark to finish what they started this season. And do not be surprised if Suter and Semin both end up in Detroit of they can make the numbers work. Suter is the logical replacement for Lidstrom and Semin had a good deal of chemistry with Datsyuk at the World Championships. If not Detroit, look for Semin to get offers from LA, the Rangers, and the KHL. The thin FA class also means an increase in trades is likely, so keep an eye on the ever evolving Rick Nash saga.

4) The Decision NHL Style in 2013?

While still a year away, four big name free agents are set to hit the market in 2014, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry from the Ducks and Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal from the Penguins. In the case of Crosby and Perry, look for the Ducks and Penguins respectively to lock up their stars this offseason as soon as the new deal is in place. That means 2 big name centers will likely be available next year in Getzlaf and Staal, which might affect how money is spent by teams this offseason. Rumor has it that Crosby is looking for 9 million and term in his new deal. I would suspect both will get a deal done, but if Crosby is unsigned by the All Star break, look for some teams to start unloading contracts to make room for the Kid. And if he hits the open market, look for a Lebron James like frenzy to woo the superstar from Pittsburgh. Although do not expect a cable special to announce his decision from the reserved Crosby.

5) Predictions, Predictions, Predictions

A favorite past time of experts, fans, and bloggers alike is to use the offseason to make bold predictions for the upcoming season. Here are a few:

1) Claude Giroux will lead the NHL in scoring for the 2012-2013 season. This might not seem too bold, but it would mean he out produces the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin, Crosby, Stamkos, and the Sedins. Look out for the crafty Giroux.

2) Alex Ovechkin returns to form and wins the goal scoring title– One has to assume that any interview for the Capitals job will center on getting the most out of the talents of the falling star. Trust McPhee to make a hire to bring that star back to life.

3) Tuukka Rask wins the Vezina– With Tim Thomas taking the year off; it is time for the much hyped Rask to shine. He has a great team in front of him and will make the Bruins forget about the suddenly troublesome Thomas.

4) The Edmonton Oilers win the Northwest Division– Armed with the likes of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, and the most likely newly drafted Nail Yakapov, the Edmonton Oilers will finally return to the postseason as the 3rd seed in the West.

5) Down falls the hammer- In light of the carnage that was the 2012 NHL Postseason, look for supplemental discipline to be a big factor next season. In all likelihood, some formalization of suspension rules is likely. Formalization could be bad news for stars who have sometime been given light suspension, so look for a big name to be hit hard by Shanahan next season.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

NHL Southeast Division offseason checklist

Carolina HurricanesThe draft and free agent signing period is almost here and we here at Daily Shootout have decided to prepare a 3-4 point offseason plan for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Southeast division:
Carolina Hurricanes:
1) Draft or Trade for a defenseman: The Canes are looking at possibly losing both Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek in free agency. While the loss of Allen might be easier to compensate for filling the shoes of Spacek, both offensively and defensively, it could prove to be more difficult.
2) Trade for a top-notch forward to play alongside Eric Staal: OK. We know Staal has a boatload of talent and can produce when needed. Unfortunately, he spent the past season trying to do too much offensively, thus the defensive part of his game suffered to the tune of a minus-20. Staal needs a forward that can help take the offensive pressure off of him. The Canes do have 2011 Rookie of the Year, Jeff Skinner, but he missed time during the 2011-2012 season with concussion issues. Past that, there’s Jussi Jokinen but he’s getting up there in age and has been battling injuries also. Staal needs someone to play with for much of the season, therefore creating some chemistry with them.
3) Give Kirk Muller a full training camp with the team: The Canes fired Paul Maurice around midseason of the 2011-2012 campaign. Shortly thereafter Muller was named the Canes’ head coach. Muller didn’t have much time to turn things around as the Canes were floundering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference but he did what he could, at least making the team competitive again. He would benefit from an entire training camp with his players though, just to get to know them a bit better. Read more here…

Los Angeles Kings win 1st ever Stanley Cup

To think some started to say this was becoming a series. The Los Angeles Kings put to rest any notion of a collapse with a 6-1 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to claim the franchise’s 1st every Stanley Cup. And they did so in convincing fashion, with a 16-4 overall record, including an insane 10-1 record away from Staples Center. Much has been said and written about the stars and role players who made this Championship possible, but four player’s stars were either born or intensified this postseason. Leading the way, as he has all year, was Conn Smythe winning goaltender Jonathan Quick. Quick has been sensational all playoffs, but few realize he was historically sensational as the ultra-athletic American’s GAA of 1.41 is the best for a 16 win Cup Champion.  Center Anze Kopitar, previous thought of as a rising star in the league, and Winger Dustin Brown, the gritty leader of the team, ended the playoffs tied for the leader in every major offensive category (each finished with 8 Goals and 12 Assists), solidly placing them among the NHL’s elite. Also solidifying himself in the upper echelon of the sport was smooth puck handler Drew Doughty. Doughty led the Kings in ice time and in points among defenseman while playing a perfectly balanced offense and defensive postseason run.   (On a side note, the Devils also had a star born, as clutch rookie Adam Henrique looks poised to become a perennial All Star).

The story of the 2012 LA Kings does not end though with Quick, Brown, Kopitar, and Doughty. Let’s not forget, Head Coach Darryl Sutter was a midseason hire. The no-nonsense aggressive coach was exactly what the King’s needed and his impact cannot be ignored in helping the Kings become the 1st ever 8th seed to win the Cup. In addition, just this past offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers, as starved as anyone for a Cup, decided that the core of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter could not win a Championship. Less than a year later, as members of the Kings, Mike Richards finished behind only Kopitar and Brown in assists for the playoffs and Jeff Carter scored 2 goals, including the winner, in the deciding Game 6. And as a symbol of their journey from Scapegoats on Broad Street to Cup Champs in Tinsel town, Richards handed the Cup to his good friend Carter in the post game celebration. And no discussion of the Cup Celebration can be had without discussing the order of the Cup handoff, a longtime tradition that speaks to the respect teammates have for each other. After Brown became the 2nd American to lift the Cup as Captain, he handed the Cup off to defenseman Willie Mitchell, who then handed it to Simon Gagne (another Flyer). Why were they first? Mitchell and Gagne were the two Kings who had played the longest without a Championship. Rounding out the first five to skate with the Cup were Assistant Captains Kopitar and defenseman Matt Greene, speaking volumes of the importance of leadership to a Championship. And while many might have tuned out after a while, the moment of the evening might have been when longtime King and current executive with the team Luc Robitaille finally lifted the Cup before the city of Los Angeles.

Alas, no wrap up of a Championship is complete without taking a look at the agony of defeat. Midway through the 1st period, Steve Bernier, member of the valuable Devil’s 4th line, was given a 5 minute Major Penalty and Game Misconduct when he ran defenseman Rob Scuderi in the back behind the King’s net. On the ensuing 5 minute power play, Brown, Carter, and Trevor Lewis all scored, sending the Staples Center into bedlam and essentially ending any chance of a historic comeback to force a Game 7 in Newark. While Bernier’s hit was clearly illegal, one cannot help but feel for the AHL call up who has joined the likes of Marty McSorely and Esa Tikkanen in NHL playoff lore misery. When Bernier raced towards the boards, Scuderi was in fact on his forehand. Had he stayed like that, Bernier likely would have only been called for a minor penalty (or even none at all). But at the last second Scuderi turned and it became a hit from behind. Now, some have blamed the play on Scuderi, but the fact remains that Bernier is responsible for his own actions. But when it comes down to it, Bernier was doing what he was supposed to do, playing at 110% effort in a game his team had to have. A split second changed that effort from positive to detrimental. Bernier’s hit did not lose the Devils the chance to win the Cup, but it sure did not help, and just under 2 hours later, Dustin Brown was lifting the Stanley Cup.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

NHL Central Division off-season plans

The draft and free agent signing period is almost here and we here at the Daily Shootout have decided to prepare a 4 point offseason plan for each team, organized by division. Today we look at the Central division:
Chicago Blackhawks:
1. Upgrade their goaltending situation – It doesn’t look like a Corey Crawford and Ray Emery platoon is going to get the Blackhawks back into the upper echelon of Western Conference teams. This can be done by bringing in someone like Josh Harding or making a trade of either Patrick Kane or Brent Seabrook.
2. Decide what to do with Patrick Kane – speaking of Kane, he is an unrestricted free agent next summer and had only 66 points last year despite a career high in ice time. He has also had photos posted of his partying antics online more than once. Kane would be a heck of a trade chip that could provide 2 or more pieces to help Chicago’s depth.
3. Integrate a couple of prospects into the lineup – The Blackhawks have two or three forward prospects (Saad, McNeill and Pirri) that could bolster the bottom 6 and maybe take some pressure of Toews, Kane, Hossa etc.

Devils extend the finals, low ratings, and an uncertain future

Adam HenriqueIf there has been one flaw for the L.A. Kings this post season it has been closing out series at home, which thus far has always been Game 4. Last night proved to be the same as the Kings fell 3-1 to the New Jersey Devils before a crazy Staples Center crowd allowing the series to shift back to Newark. The first two periods were a defensive slugfest culminating in a wild 3rd with the first markers being scored just over a minute apart. Late in the period clutch rookie Adam Henrique scored another huge goal to win the game and Ilya Kovalchuk finally got on the board with an empty net goal. In all likelihood this is just a bump in the road for the suddenly mighty Kings, but the Devils victory added some much-needed drama to the Finals.

And the way things are going, everyone outside of LA will likely be rooting for the Devils Saturday night. A New Jersey win officially makes this a series and will hopefully help the low viewership numbers thus far. Game 1 and 2, both of which were overtime thrillers, drew 25% and 12% lower than last years Finals. And with a 2-0 series lead, Game 3 saw a 37% drop from last year and was beat soundly by the NBA Conference Finals (and narrowly edged out by Cupcake Wars on the Food Network).  This is particularly troubling for NHL Executives since it could be argued that the two biggest sports markets in the nation are in the Finals as the Newark area is included as a part of the New York market. And all signs had been pointing to a historic year for the NHL Playoffs.  For the first time the NBC Networks were set to broadcast every game and opening round games, such as Game 6 between the Capitals and Bruins, were drawing record numbers. Such a precipitous fall is surprising and might speak to the overall popularity of the League, which many thought was on the rise.

There are a lot of possible reasons for the low viewership. One could simply be the lack of a marquee team or player. The Kings are not a traditional hockey market and despite their new goal scoring style, the Devils are still thought to be a boring trapping team by most. There also are not a lot of compelling individual storylines for the casual fans. Alex Ovechkin is not looking for his 1st Cup, Sidney Crosby is not overcoming his injuries to win again, and beloved vets like Daniel Alfredsson, Jarome Iginla, or Shane Doan are not seeking their 1st Cup. Another issue is that many of the games, including Game 4, are not being shown on NBC, but rather their cable station NBC Sports, limiting potential viewers. While it is nice that NBC gives hockey the top shelf treatment, numbers would be higher if the games were on traditional sports powerhouses like ABC or FOX or even the cable king ESPN. Another possible issue is other options for sports fans, as the NBA Playoffs are in full swing now. So, while it was believed the NHL was officially back following the lockout, the numbers for the showcase event seem to tell a different story.

The NHL needed a strong finals this year as the collective bargaining agreement is up. There is a lot to be discussed before any deal is signed, such as contract lengths, hits to the heads, supplemental discipline, and what the new cap will be. There is even discussion of the potential of another lockout, with former player and NHLPA representative Trevor Linden going as far as saying to prepare for a lockout.. One has to wonder what kind of impact the low ratings will have at the negotiating table. The hope would be that the owners would feel a sense of urgency to get a deal done, because they would have to question whether the league survives another lockout.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Bliz and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

Nick Lidstrom retires after 20 years: Is he the best ever?

Nicklas-LidstromThe NHL got it’s next surefire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. In Detroit Thursday morning, Nicklas Lidstrom announced that he will retire after 20 NHL seasons, all played with the Detroit Red Wings. With Lidstrom’s retirement, the NHL loses arguably one of the best defenseman of all time. Drafted 53rd overall by the Red Wings in 1987 out of Sweden, Lidstrom played 1,564 games in Detroit, good for 10th on the all time list and 5th among defenseman. In terms of personal performance, Lidstrom is the 6th highest scoring defenseman in NHL history with 1,142 career regular season points, and had an additional 183 career playoff points, trailing only Paul Coffey. Lidstrom has also won the Norris Trophy, given to the NHLs top defenseman, seven times, six of which were won between 2001 and 2008. His 7th Norris was won last year, at the ripe age of 41. He also is an 11 time NHL All Star. Lidstrom also had a great deal of success on the team level. As a member of the Red Wings, Lidstrom was a key component to four Stanley Cup Championships, 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008. Lidstrom was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner on the 2002 team and became the 1st European player to Captain a team to the Stanley Cup in 2008. On the international stage, he won the Gold Medal at the World Championships in 1991 and scored the gold medal winning goal in the 2006 Olympics in Turin.

There is no doubt with the hardware and the statistics that Nicklas Lidstrom will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. But, is he the best defenseman to ever play the game? Lidstrom faces some stiff competition when it comes to that discussion, mainly from the likes of Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson, and Bobby Orr. In terms of points, Lidstrom is around 400 points off the pace of the top two scoring defenseman all time, Raymond Bourque and Paul Coffey. In fact, he trails Bourque and Coffey in just about every offensive stat category, although both played more games. The ultimate wild card in the point discussion is Bobby Orr, who scored an incredible 915 in only 657 games. In terms of Norris Trophy’s, Orr leads the way with eight trophies followed by Lidstrom with seven, Bourque with five, Coffey with three, and Larry Robinson with two. When it comes to team accomplishments, Larry Robinson blows everyone away with six Cups playing in Montreal. Lidstrom (all with the Wings) and Coffey (three with Edmonton, 1 with Pittsburgh) each won the Cup four times while Bobby Orr won it twice as a member of the Boston Bruins. And Ray Bourque famously won 1 Stanley Cup in his last of his 21 NHL seasons as a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

So, who is the best? Really any of the above players could be number 1. In fact, the list leaves off greats like Denis Potvin (four Cups as Captain), Larry Murphy, and Chris Chelios. There are also players of past generation like Doug Harvey who played in an era when defenseman were not offensive players at all.  But, here is an attempt using the five discussed above:

1) Nicklas Lidstrom- Call it a sentimental pick with his retirement, but Lidstrom has the most balanced resume of the bunch. He played at a high level his entire career and while his offensive numbers trail Bourque and Coffey, his Norris wins would imply he was a better defender (he is also 4th all time in +/-). He is well known for making those around him better (see Ian White just this season) and was incredibly durable throughout his career as the centerpiece to one of the class organizations in hockey. And if you need a tie breaker, he is second all time in playoff points and is the only one of these four to win the Cup as a Captain (and the 1st European).

2) Bobby Orr- Many would put him first. He revolutionized the game by creating the idea of an offensive defenseman and his point production is incredible. He has a full mantle of awards and championships and could easily be considered the best all time. Injuries and a shortened career keep him off the top of this list.

3) Paul Coffey- Maybe the only player listed here to really challenge Orr for best offensive defenseman. He trails Bourque by a mere 48 points for the all time lead and did so in 197 fewer games. His four Stanley Cups match Lidstrom, but he is off the pace when it comes to +/- and Norris Trophies. He was better offensively, but not a better defenseman. He was also traded multiple times in his career.

4) Ray Bourque- If he won more Cups he could have been first as well, although not all that was in his control. He played the 3rd most games among defenders all time and rightly so leads the way in points as well as many other offensive categories. He is also 2nd all time in +/-, ahead of Lidstrom. The lack of a Cup until his last game keeps him at four.

5) Larry Robinson- Most Stanley Cups among the group makes up for being off the pace slightly in terms of points as he did not break 1000 in his career. He is the career leader in +/- as well to go along with his two Norris Trophies.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz.  He can be contacted at MRagghianto@TheSportsBlitz.com.

LA Kings Postseason Run

Avid LA Kings fans have been waiting nearly 20 years for the chance to see their team compete for the Stanley Cup. The crowd is also taking notice of an incredible playoff run that started in Vancouver and eventually led to the sweeping of the St. Louis Blues. And now the Phoenix Coyotes can’t seem to find an answer as they’ve spent a lot of time on their heels. The Kings have proven to the rest of the hockey world that they’re no joke.

Even though they barely landed the final slot in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season, they’ve managed to knock off the two top-seeded teams while matching an NHL record for playoff road wins. Confidence and chemistry mixed with talent and true grit didn’t simply happen overnight; a long season filled with bumps and bruises, a coaching change, and the inability to put pucks through the net consistently raised a lot of questions throughout the season. On the flip-side, recent reviews from analysts and fans alike can now agree that the Kings are legitimate contenders.

A total team effort on offense and defense includes the outstanding play of Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dwight King, Slava Voynov, Mike Richards, Jordan Nolan, and the rest of the squad bearing down and coming together as a unit. The puzzle pieces are finally fitting into place, and it took the stellar net-minding abilities of Jonathan Quick all season long to get them deep into the playoffs.

The late additions of Carter, King, and Nolan have given the Kings a great deal of size and depth to complete their four-line rotation. Coach Daryl Sutter seems to have pushed the right buttons at the right time to motivate his players by getting them to crash the net and swarm in on defense.

The staff at HockeyMonkey is trying to keep pace with the Los Angeles Kings as their merchandise is skating off the shelves: sticks, gloves, blades, helmets, and Los Angeles Kings jerseys are in high demand as the finals approach. With a reputation for being the best online hockey equipment store, rave reviews from repeat customers are a testament to their dedication. They also offer coupons on their already everyday low prices, and now is the time to take advantage of these offers. Much like the Los Angeles Kings, they’re willing to go the distance.

10 things to know about the 2012 Stanley Cup

Mike Richards KingsFew predicted the 2012 Stanley Cup Final would feature the oldest team in the league, the 6th seeded New Jersey Devils, or the offensively inept 8th seeded Los Angeles Kings. But that is what we have when the puck drops in Newark, Wednesday Night to kick off the 85th Stanley Cup Finals.

Here are 10 things to know about this years match-up, ending with MVP and Champion Predictions.

1. An Unlikely Final: In the history of the Stanley Cup Finals, only one 8th seed has ever made the Finals, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, and they lost. In fact, no team seeded lower than 5th had ever won the Cup. That trend will be broken this year. And to highlight how unlikely this match up is even more, Vegas oddsmakers had the Kings and Devils each at 40-1 to win the Cup. But here we are.

2. Road to the Finals: The Devils needed 7 games to dispatch the feisty Panthers and did so in overtime. They then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers in 6 games. They were the lower seed in every matchup, yet will host the 8th seeded Kings. The Kings meanwhile had seed wise the hardest possible route to the Finals, needing to beat the top seeded Canucks, then the 2nd seeded Blues and finally the 3rd seeded Coyotes. And they did not let any series go more than 5 games.

3. Top Guns: To win the Cup your best players need to be at their best. Ilya Kovalchuk led the Devils in the Regular Season and is leading the way in the Playoffs with 18 points. Zach Parise and Adam Henrique also have produced like they did in the Regular Season, with Henrique scoring 2 overtime series winning goals. Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, and Dustin Brown led the ways for the Kings throughout the season and have been the top producers in their Cinderella Run as well.

4. Unlikely Heroes: While the Kings and Devils have both been led by their Top Guns, no run can be accomplished without some Grinders chipping in. The Devils have been led lately by their impressive 4th line of Ryan Carter-Brian Gionta-Steve Bernier. Carter and Gionta both scored in the deciding Game 6 v the Rangers and have played big minutes of late for a 4th line. The Kings have seen players such as Dwight King double their regular season goal total in only 14 game. The Kings PK has also been the best in the playoffs thanks in large part to the play of little known players like Willie Mitchell and Trevor Lewis.

5. Similar Styles and Not Your Dad’s Devils: In many ways, the Kings and the Devils are almost identical teams in terms of style. Both teams feature an aggressive forecheck that leads to a very physical style. Look for this series to feature a lot of turnovers in the defensive zone and not a lot of fancy offense. Both teams also activate their defenseman well, as the statistics of Drew Doughty and Bryce Salvador show. Those who have not watched the Devils this year will be very surprised to see that Peter DeBoer has abandoned the conservative style of past runs to the Cup and that the Devils are now a very high scoring team, led by Kovalchuk and Parise. Look for the best matchup of the series to be the Kovalchuk line v the Mike Richards line and the defense pairing of Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell.

6. Movers and Shakers: Fans, experts, and even GM’s always want to trade the star when things are tough or the money is tight. The Devils and Kings chose to acquire those stars and they are the ones still playing. Three years ago the Devils made a blockbuster trade with the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk and then signed him to a lucrative contract extension with a big cap hit. Many questioned the move, but he is now the leading scorer for the team. The Kings this past summer moved multiple players and picks, including young stars like Brayden Schenn and Jack Johnson, to add former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to the line up, adding a needed two-way center and scoring punch on the wing. Many could argue those three moves were the biggest in the salary cap era and you can bet each would do it again.

7. Captain America and Co.:  Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars is the only American born Captain to lift the Stanley Cup. That too will change this year as both Zach Parise and Dustin Brown are American born. Not only are they Captains, but they are among the top 3 in-goal scoring for their teams. While the Kings are mostly Canadian and the Devils are a mixed bag, Americans are making big contributions all over the ice. Goaltender Jonathan Quick and defenseman Rod Scuderi have been key to the defensive effort of the Kings and the Ryan Carter and Brian Gionta have both scored big from their 4th line spot for New Jersey.

8.  Quick v Broduer & the “No Names”: Jonathan Quick’s numbers and performance has been well chronicled thus far in the playoffs (see LA Kings-History Might (Will) Be Made) and if the Kings win could well win the Conn Smythe. The bigger story might be the play of his elder on the other end of the ice. Martin Broduer is suddenly 40 years old and is about to appear in his 200th NHL Playoff game, trailing only the great Patrick Roy. Brodeur seemed to be slipping over the past few seasons, but was sensation against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals and his 2.07 GAA and .923 S% is solid, despite being well off the pace of Quick. Brodeur no doubt has been helped by the famed “No Name” Devil defense that features few stars, but plenty of solid defenders looking to make an impact, led by the likes of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchekov.

9. Special Teams: The Special Teams battle will be an interesting story to watch in this series. The Devils have been very good on the power play in the playoffs as five of Kovalchuk’s seven goals have come man up. The Kings meanwhile have been the best penalty kill team in the playoffs and have even scored quite a few shorthanded. With the aggressiveness of the Kings 5 on 5 will mean the Devils will need to solve the Kings PK to have a chance to win the series. The Devils were the best penalty kill team in the regular season but have been less than stellar this postseason. Lucky for them, the King’s power play has been as bad as their penalty kill is good, operating at 8.1% effective, worst in the playoffs.

10. Kings in six: This series will not be as easy as other for the Kings, but ultimately the Kings will add a banner to the Staples Center to offset all the Lakers titles a bit. The difference in the series will be Quick. The Devils were held scoreless by Lundqvist twice in the ECF and really benefitted from Lundqvist being overworked late in the series. Quick and his defenders meanwhile are well rested and have been nearly unbeatable and the Kings aggressiveness and forecheck will help to negate the Devils attack. Look for Mike Richards to pay huge dividends in this series as he will be key in stopping Kovalchuk and Parise. The Devils on the other hand simply do not have a line or defense pairing that will be able to successfully shutdown Kopitar-Williams-Brown. Every game will be close, but the Devils will make more mistakes than the Kings. The Devils will win the series if they can win both in New Jersey to open the series as the Kings have not faced much adversity this postseason and could stumble.

The Kings will win both games in New Jersey, like they have all playoffs, and will drop Game 3 in LA before winning Game 4. The Devils will stave off elimination on home ice with a big goal in OT by David Clarkson in Game 5. But the Kings get it down on home ice with a 2-0 win with Jeff Carter scoring the winner and Dustin Brown icing the Cup with an empty net goal. Brown takes the Cup, Quick takes the Conn Smythe.

Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz Network and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com

Blowing the lid off fantasy sports

“Life is just a fantasy.  Can you live this fantasy life?”- Aldo Nova

I don’t play fantasy football.  I don’t play fantasy baseball.  I don’t play fantasy golf.  Between work, sleep and some semblance of a social life, I just don’t have the time.

Every so often, a friend will ask me to join his fantasy league for either this sport or that, knowing full well that I’m not interested, but telling me it will help promote the website, so I’ll appease.  For me, committing to a full season of fantasy sports simply requires too much time, effort and definitely, too much luck.

Read more here…