Previewing the path to the NHL Postseason for Canadian teams
HOCKEY -- We all know that hockey is Canada's sport. If we haven't proved it over the past few winter Olympics, we certainly made a statement after crushing the World Cup of Hockey.
While we keep winning on the world stage, the Stanley Cup hasn't come home to a Canadian team for a few decades.
Here we preview exactly what each team has done over the postseason, what they need to do to improve, and whether or not we think one of our seven teams have a chance at NHL glory.
Last Season: 35-40-7, 77 PTS
5th in the Pacific & 12th in the Western Conference
One of the leagues youngest and most exciting teams to watch, the Flames have all the speed and skill needed to be a playoff contender, but lacked the maturity needed last season. Any player or coach will tell you that in order to be successful in this league a team has to excel on special teams. Sacrificing the body on the penalty kill and moving the puck effectively on the power play comes with experience and it was clear that Calgary lacked that experience last season. The Flames ranked dead last in 2015/2016 in penalty kill effectiveness, successfully defending on the PK on just 75.5% of penalties. They weren’t a whole lot better on the power play, despite being so talented on an individual level, Calgary ranked 22nd in the league capitalizing on just 17% of their extra man opportunities. Surely these stats are a direct result of missing their captain and rock on the blue line Mark Giordano. However its numbers like these that cost 2015 Jack Adams winner Bob Hartley his job as the teams head coach.
The Flames added some key veterans this offseason which should help address these problems as well as aid in the development of the teams young guns. First was Troy Brower, the gritty Vancouver native scored 7 times on the power play last season and added 3 assists. A big body who knows what it takes to win; Brower is an excellent two way player who will be used in all situations including both special teams. Calgary also acquired Brower’s teammate from St. Louis, goaltender Brian Elliot. There is an old adage in hockey that your best penalty killer should be your goalie. Well Elliot is primed to fill that role and then some. Since 2011/2012 Elliot has not posted a G.A.A higher than 2.28 and has twice been below 2 during that span.
Calgary finished just 10 PTS back of the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference, with another year under their belt, and the aforementioned veteran additions as well as journeyman Kris Versteeg and the much anticipated arrival of rookie Matthew Tkachuk could be all they need to close the gap. Add to the above the return of team leader Mark Giordano, and I think their chances of making the post season are as good as any Western Conference Canadian team. The unknown variable is the man on the bench. The Flames hired a young inexperienced coach to lead this group of young inexperienced players. Maybe he will be able to relate to them better than Hartley was but this team has high hopes so the pressure is on for first time coach Glen Gulutzan.
Last Season: 31-43-8, 70 PTS
7Th in the Pacific & 14th in the Western Conference
Death, taxes and the Oilers being bad have been grantees for about decade now, ever since the 2005/2006 season when they lost in the cup final to Carolina, Edmonton has been fighting to find a successful recipe. Last season brought with it more promise and optimism than any in recent years. The reason for the excitement was first overall pick Connor McDavid, the predicted air apparent to Sidney Crosby. However the hype was short lived when McDavid went down with a broken Clavicle just 13 games into his first campaign. The talented forward was sidelined for 37 games and with him the hopes of The Oilers. I realise one player does not a season make but with a goals for/goals against differential of -42, 3rd worst in the league, having arguably your best offensive player miss half of the season is more impactful than one might think. Heck his significance to this team was illustrated this offseason when he was named team captain, the youngest player in NHL history to receive said honour.
Yes part of correcting their disgusting goal differential is getting Connor back however preventing goals is as important if not more and the team worked hard to correct that this offseason. First was the blockbuster and controversial trade of Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson to bolster the blue line. Next came the additions of Kris Russell and Jonas Gustavsson which only further bolster the Oilers back end. On forward the team signed a physical force in Milian Lucic who will add some much needed grit and a big body whose net presence will come in handy on the power play.
Much like the Calgary Flames, Edmonton has a new bench boss calling the shots in 2016/2017. That said the man the Oilers choose has a littler more experience and a rather impressive track record to boot. Former Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan will be the man responsible for the maturation of Conner McDavid and righting the ship in The City of Champions. Personally I don’t think this team will find its way into the post season but I do see them getting out of the cellar and making a charge. This will be the year that they turn the corner and show that they are on track to being the Tampa Bay Lightening of the West.
Last Season: 31-38-13 75 PTS
6th in the Pacific Division & 13th in the Western Conference
2015 was a rough year for a Vancouver squad who is so use to playing in the second season. Not only did the Canucks not make the post season but they weren’t even close. The Canucks struggled to put the puck in the net only scoring 186 times in 82 games which ranked them second last in the league, just 4 goals more than the last place Devils. With a goals against in the bottom third of the league, being able to score is imperative for this team to be successful in 2016/2017. Vancouver attempted to address this by adding Swedish born right winner Loui Eriksson to pair with fellow countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Eriksson was a 30 goal scorer in 2015/2016, adding 33 assists for a total of 63 PTS. The Canucks have long been in search of a talented winger to partner with the Sedin twins and Eriksson fits the bill. Not only is Eriksson a proven point getter but he has international experience playing along side Henrik and Daniel which adds to the excitement surrounding his signing.
The Canucks struggled almost as much preventing goals as they did scoring them and tried to address this issue by trading for Erik Gudbranson. The big physical D-man was shipped to Vancouver from Florida for Jarred McCann a 2nd and a 4th. The Canucks would not have risked this much if they didn’t have high hopes for the 6’5 220lbs Ottawa native. Gudbranson is not known for his offensive prowess but will bring a much needed physicality that was missing last year after the departure of Kevin Bieksa.
With these additions the Canucks have all the pieces in place to be successful, depth, experience, grit, goaltending and hopefully an uptick in scoring. I am going to go out on a limb here and say if Miller stays health this Vancouver squad will play more than 82 games in 2016/2017.
Last Season: 35-39-8, 78PTS
7th in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference
What a difference a year makes. The Jets were coming off an incredibly successful 2014/15 campaign, where the team from Winnipeg made their first post season since moving North from Atlanta in 2011. The hopes were high for this team to at least finish in or around the same seeding as the year previous. Their roster was largely unchanged and they were expected to actually grow as they were seen as young and inexperienced the year before. Unfortunately injuries seemed to plague the team all year long, losing forward Brian Little for much of the year. The team also cut ties mid season with veteran leader Andrew Ladd which was an impactful loss.
Along with injuries and trades, Winnipeg shot them selves in the foot all year long posting a league worst power play, capitalizing on just 14.8 % of extra man opportunities. That should change this year with the drafting of Patrick Laine who is known for his PP goal scoring success. Laine is known for duplicating a successful blue print currently being utilized by Steven Stamkos and Alexander Ovechkin, hitting one timers from the top of the circle with pin point accuracy. Along with Laine the Jets added depth on the blue line signing Brian Strait and should gain some secondary scoring with the signing of centre Shawn Matthias.
I believe that last year was a perfect storm of bad luck for the Jets; this team has too much talent and depth to finish below some of the rosters that topped them in 15/16. I will go out on a limb and say that this years Jets squad will put it all together and return to the team we saw 2 years ago. The return of the white out is coming so get on board the bandwagon now and ride all the way to the second season station!
Last Season: 38-38-6, 82PTS
6th in the Atlantic Division & 13th in the Eastern Conference
Let’s not kid ourselves, the only reason this team didn’t make the playoffs last season is because Carey Price, arguably the best goalie in the word right now, missed almost the entire season. This team has the depth, the speed and the experience needed to be successful in this league but when your best player and team leader is out, it’s tough to compete night in and night out at the level you are capable of. Price showed at the World Cup of Hockey that he is back healthy and in fine form going into the 2016/17 campaign which bodes well for the Canadians.
Montreal was part of arguably the biggest blockbuster this offseason which saw PK Subban leave town for the bigger and more physical Shea Weber. A lot has been made of this exchange but for a team that has long been criticized for being small and soft, adding Weber’s size and strength will help to correct that. The counter point has been made that the Canadians are sacrificing too much on offense as well as Subban’s youth and speed. That said the 2 blue liners are separated by just 4 years, and both posted 51 points during last years campaign. Much like PK, Weber too possesses an incredible slap shot which is often a focal point on the power play and will help to keep some consistency in the team’s strategy moving forward.
Along with Weber, Montreal added the grit of Andrew Shaw, Al Montoya as an insurance measure for if Price were to go down again as well as the unpredictable but extremely talented Alexander Radulov. This Canadians team is poised to return to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and make a deep playoff run as long as Price remains in net. Last year was a weird off shout that would surprise more than just my self if it were to repeat it’s self in 2016/17.
Last Season: 38-35-9, 85PTS
5th in the Atlantic division & 11th in the Eastern Conference
2015/16 was a roller coaster for Senator fans as their team seemed to be in every game and in playoff contention right up until the end of the season. They’re a fast team that moves the puck well and has a lot of youth and depth but they struggled in limiting goals against. The Senators boasted the 2nd worst penalty kill and the 5th worst goals against, posting a goal differential of -11.
Going into the offseason the Senators didn’t have a clear cut position need and thus predicting what they might do during free agency was a little tough. That said it wasn’t much of a surprise to see how quiet they were, making just one splash, trading Mika Zabanejad and a 2nd to the Rangers for centre Derick Brassard and a 7th. This trade is much like the Weber for Subban deal in that it was two players of the same position being swapped relatively straight up for one another. In this case I think the Canadian team lost the deal as Mika Zabanejad was really starting to come into his own, continuously increasing his point total since entering the league, where Brassard who is 6 years his senior took a slight step back last year and I believe has shown his ceiling.
The fact that Ottawa didn’t address their issues on the back end has me worried that this team will take yet another step back in 16/17. Having seen the ceiling of their stars, Ryan, Karlsson and Anderson I don’t think this team has another gear to reach and knock off other power houses in the east like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh or Washington. I think they will compete hard yet again but ultimately I believe that Ottawa falls short for the second season in a row.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Last Season: 29-42-11, 69PTS
8th in the Atlantic Division & 16th in the Eastern Conference
Last year was one to forget for Leaf fans. A team and fan base that’s no stranger to disappointment or failure, last year was new low and a bit of a surprise. You don’t finish last having just one aspect that requires improvement and Toronto is no exception. They were among the worst in both goals for and goals against, finishing second last in goal differential at an astonishing -48. They posted the second worst power play and won just 14 games at home all year. Numbers like these often position a team favourably in the draft and fortunately for Toronto they secured themselves the number one overall pick and the most highly touted player available in Auston Matthews.
Matthews’s fills a role The Maple Leafs have needed for years and that’s a big body centre with both vision and finish. Unlike other number ones who have come before him, Matthews has experience playing against men, competing last season for Zurich of the Swiss Elite league and has proven to be able to produce regardless of the size and strength of his competition. The number one pick posted an impressive 46 PTS in 36 games at the ripe age of 18 while playing over seas!
As previously mentioned, Toronto’s struggles weren’t just limited to finding the back of the net so the addition of Matthews, while nice, isn’t enough to make the drastic changes necessary to compete. That might be why the Leafs didn’t stop there adding goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Jonas Enroth as well as bringing back former Leaf Roman Polak and adding grit in Matt Martin. 4 players who should make their presence felt immediately, this team will look drastically different as several standout youngsters from The Toronto Marlies will also get their shot this year.
Toronto will have youth, depth and speed in spades but I fear that a lack of maturity, discipline and chemistry will lead to some of the same issues that plagued the buds during last years campaign. That said I see this team getting out of the basement and putting together stretches of promise and success which they can build upon in the future but as for the post season, that’s just wishful thinking at this point.