Monthly Archives: January 2013

It’s time for random NHL predictions

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

Reading all of the NHL predictions can leave you wondering what to believe. Some predictions are conservative, others completely off the wall. What it comes down to is no one has a magic 8-ball, it’s basically educated guess work – some more educated than others.

With that in mind, here are some predictions for the 2013 NHL season, both conservative and going out on a limb.

Stanley Cup Champion:

Who I think will win – Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ve got arguably the two best players in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, another top 10 scorer in James Neal and a potential Norris candidate with Kris Letang. The Penguins were ousted in the first-round of last season’s playoffs by the Flyers, thanks, in large part, to horrendous goaltending.

Marc Andre Fleury cannot be that bad again, a full season of Crosby and Malkin, and a strong supporting cast including new addition Brandon Sutter will be too much for any team to handle.

Dark Horse – St. Louis Blues. On paper the Blues might be the most balanced team in the league. A strong core of forwards will be bolstered with the addition of Vladamir Tarasenko. The rookie Russian winger was averaging a point-per-game in the KHL before coming to Blues training camp.

The biggest question for the Blues is if the goaltending duo of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak can repeat last year’s brilliance in the crease. There’s got to be some regression, but if one of them gets hot heading into the playoffs, the Blues could be in the Cup final.

Hart Trophy:

Who I Think Will Win – Evgeni Malkin. The Russian sniper will make it back-to-back MVP campaigns. He’s in game shape having played in the KHL and will reunite with Neal on Pittsburgh’s top line. The duo had great chemistry last year and that should continue.

Dark Horse – Jordan Eberle. Of all the players in the NHL, Eberle strikes me as the one ready to breakout and advance to the superstar level with the likes of Crosby, Malkin and Claude Giroux. Eberle will be the captain of the Oilers in a few seasons and the undisputed leader of the team. I think he has a legitimate chance to win the scoring race this season. He’s been playing in the AHL alongside linemates Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the trio will start the season together. I think the Oilers ascendance back to NHL relevancy will coincide with Eberle’s rise to dominance.

Norris Trophy:

Who I Think Will Win – Shea Weber. A season like Erik Karlsson’s in 2011-12 doesn’t happen very often, which is the reason he won’t be repeating as the Norris Trophy winner. Instead, Nashville’s Weber will take the honour as the league’s top D-man. Playing without Ryan Suter, Weber will take on an even bigger role in Nashville and prove the Predators were right in matching the offer sheet Philadephia signed him to in the offseason.

Dark Horse – Alex Pietrangelo. The St. Louis blue-liner had an excellent season in 2011-12 and had some pundits talking about a Norris nomination. He will continue his emergence as a top tier d-man and cement himself as a franchise cornerstone for the Blues. A shiny new trophy would help in contract negotiations.

Other predictions:

  • Despite having heard Roberto Luongo’s name pronounced correctly, Don Cherry will continue to call him La-Longo.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs fans will continue a decade’s long tradition of believing this is the year their team wins the Stanley Cup – it most certainly is not.
  • Pierre McGuire’s head will explode on air after getting too excited about a big Dion Phaneuf hit. NBC will get him put back together for the second period.
  • TSN’s Gord Miller will continue to talk about goaltenders being in the midst of a shut out during games, bucking the hockey tradition of not mentioning a goalies shut out while the game is happening. Several old men will threaten to never watch TSN because of Miller’s antics, then realize they’re in a room by themselves and no one is listening.
  • The smile on Rick Nash’s face will remain for an entire season as he keeps looking at his jersey and realizing it has no Blue Jackets.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers will continue to pursue ginger-haired players via trade to compliment Giroux and Scott Hartnell. It’s all part of GM Paul Holmgren’s plans to weird everyone out with a team of Epic Gingers.
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What kind of defense wins championships?

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

Defense wins championships.

It’s an adage drilled into the minds of football fans for decades, but what if we’re looking at defense the wrong way in this era of the NFL.

Rule changes have led to increased scoring and the play at the quarterback position is staggeringly great at the moment. Despite changes to the game, we still evaluate defense the same as 20 years ago.

On ESPN radio Friday morning, Herm Edwards spoke about the defensive numbers that are more important in today’s NFL than the usual rankings based on total defence.

On most NFL websites, the major categories – at least the ones that pop up when you go to the stats page – are total defence (which amounts to yards allowed per game) and a breakdown of rushing and passing yards allowed.

It would make sense that the team that allows the least amount of yards would therefore have the best defence, but the most basic premise of football is to end the game with more points than your opponent. In this sense, the team that limits the opposition’s chances to score (takeaways, ie. interceptions and fumbles recoveries) and allows the fewest points should be crucial factors when ranking defences.

The top 10 defences – based on total defense – for the regular season, as per the numbers on NFL.com, shows only six of the top 10 teams had a winning record. Four of the teams remaining in the playoffs were among the top 10 in total defense while the four others finished 11, 17, 24 and 25.

However, looking at scoring defence and takeaways tells a much different story.

When it comes to the teams who allowed the fewest points per game, six of the remaining playoff teams are in the top 10 with the other coming in at 11 and 12. As for takeaways differential (the team that created more turnovers than it allowed) seven of the teams remaining ranked in the top 10 while the other was ranked 19th.

So what does that mean for this weekend’s playoff games? Here are the defensive rankings taking into account total yards allowed, turnover differential and scoring defence. With eight teams remaining, each squad was given a number of 1-8 in all three categories with the lowest score equaling the best remaining defense:

1. Seattle

2. San Francisco

3. Denver

T-4. Houston

T-4. Atlanta

6. New England

7. Green Bay

8. Baltimore

This is in stark contrast to the rankings at the end of the regular season. Here’s how NFL.com ranked the teams in terms of total defense:

1. Denver

2. San Francisco

3. Seattle

4. Houston

5. Green Bay

6. Baltimore

7. Atlanta

8. New England

The numbers change even more dramatically if the teams are ranked using scoring defence and takeaway differential as the only two determining factors:

1. Seattle

T-2. New England

T-2. Atlanta

4. San Francisco

5. Houston

6. Denver

7. Baltimore

8. Green Bay

So given the different ways of looking at things, what’s the overall impression of the defenses lining up this weekend. The first point is that the best remaining defensive squad is the Seahawks. Second point, the Broncos defense is somewhat overrated given they’re the only team with a negative turnover differential (-1) remaining in the playoffs and Denver’s ranking slides when other factors besides yards per game are considered.

The third point to take from this is New England gives up a lot of yards, but limits opponents in other ways such as turnovers. New England is +25 in turnover differential and created the second most turnovers on defence with 44.

Yards per game are an important stat, but it’s not truly indicative of an overall defense. More than one factor is should be considered when ranking teams, with scoring defense and turnover differential high on the list.

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Consider this before you draft

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

With a little more than a week to puck drop, there’s no shortage of interesting story lines for the shortened NHL season. Poolies are busy cramming in advance of their hockey pool drafts, so here are a few things to keep in mind as your draft date rolls around.

Young Guns in Edmonton

Two factors to consider when drafting players in a shortened season is age and conditioning. Age is obvious as there won’t be as many off days in a condensed schedule and younger legs should be able to handle the wear and tear better than those of a 10-year veteran.

Conditioning really means have they been playing during the lockout either in the KHL, other European leagues, junior hockey or AHL. Three Edmonton Oilers meet these criteria perfectly: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The trio have been skating together this season with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL and Nugent-Hopkins also played for Canada at the World Juniors.

The trio is in game shape and should have a leg up on a lot their competition – even the ones who have been playing during the lockout – as they’re skating, often times, on the same line in Oklahoma City. Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov also meet the criteria, but being rookies lends a bit of uncertainty to their game, however, they could be good players to gamble on in your draft.

The key player for Edmonton is Eberle, he’s coming off a great year and looks poised to be the top star on this young, exciting Edmonton team.

Staal to the top six

The numbers Jordan Staal can potentially put up as a top six forward with the Carolina Hurricanes should be enough to make poolies drool. As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past few seasons, he was behind all-world centres Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

In Carolina he will get a chance to be a top six forward and benefit from first-line power play duties and increased ice time. The opportunity gets even better when you realize he could be flanked by the likes of his brother Eric, Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin. Jordan Staal has the chance to have a breakout season even in an abbreviated 49-game schedule. He could be the steal of the draft if you can score him after the second round.

Rookie to Watch

While most of the eyes will be trained on the Edmonton duo of Yakupov and Schultz, one guy to gamble on having a solid rookie campaign is Mikael Granlund. When it looked like the lock out was coming to an end, the Wild pulled him from the lineup of the AHL’s Houston Aeros to ensure he’d be healthy and ready for camp.

Granlund has adapted well to the North American pro game registering a point-per-game pace with 21 points in as many games this season with Houston. He’s well versed in playing against older competition as he’s competed against much older players the past few seasons in the top pro league in Finland. The forward should find a home in Minnesota’s top six.

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Burke by the Numbers

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

The timing of the Brian Burke firing by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was curious at best, but the numbers back up the organization’s decision.

The former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs was gruff with the media, had no idea how to keep a neck tie tied, was constantly spitting in a Tim Hortons cup through all Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts and actually made the team worse by three points than the regime before him.

Only one of the above got him fired.

Burke was hired in November of 2008. To determine if he made the Leafs better during his tenure, compare the seasons of 2007-08 (the last one of the pre-Burke era) and 2011-12 (the last of the Burke era).

In terms of record, the Paul Maurice coached squad of ’07-08 finished the season with a record of 36-35-0-11. The ’11-12 version coached by Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle ended up with a mark of 35-37-0-10. The Leafs were slightly worse last season under Burke than the final season before his arrival. For all the bluster and talk, the Leafs are a very similar club to the one he took over. There’s only a differential of four points in terms of the team’s top scorer from each season (07-08 Sundin: 78; 11-12 Kessel: 82).

Each team had one 30-goal scorer. The top scoring defenceman in 07-08 was Tomas Kaberle with 53 points while current captain Dion Phaneuf was the top point-getter on the blue line last season with 44.

The pre-Burke era team had four players score more than 50 points while the ’11-12 version had three.

The only area on the offensive side that showed improvement under Burke was in terms of point-per-game players and 20-goal scorers. Joffrey Lupul and Kessel averaged a point-per-game last season while Sundin was the only one to do so in ’07-08. The Leafs of last season had four players score more than 20 goals, only two guys did that in the final season of pre-Burke Toronto.

On the team statistics side, the Leafs scored the exact same amount of goals in both seasons, but surrendered four fewer in ’07-08. Last season’s power play was just over half a percentage point better than pre-Burke, but the penalty kill was worse by about three-quarters of a percent.

While the Leafs did get younger under Burke’s tenure and acquired several prospects, the numbers at the NHL-level show virtually no improvement during his time as GM. All of this wouldn’t have mattered had the Leafs made the playoffs under his direction, ultimately that’s all that matters.

Unfortunately for Burke and Leafs fans, that stayed the same as well.

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Let the Games Begin

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Andrew McGilligan | Out of WriteField

With the shortened NHL season looming, there’s a few things that need to change in order to give fans the best experience possible. Call it a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and its loyal viewers.

So here, in no specific order, are some ideas to make this short season one to remember.

The David Steckel Rule:

If you cheap shot one of the best players in the game, which in turn results in fans not being able to enjoy one of the best to ever skate in the NHL for a long period of time, then you don’t play until he returns to health.

I’m still bothered that a marginal player like David Steckel thought it was OK to cheap shot Sidney Crosby and rob hockeyfans of what was potentially an epic season for 87. I can do without ever watching Steckel again, but I would like to see one of the best take to the ice on a regular basis. I understand some injuries are unavoidable given the speed and style of hockey, but cheap shots like Steckel’s need to go and indefinite suspensions should help get the message across.

The BizNasty/Malkin Show:

One of the most entertaining parts of the offseason and lockout was the twitter dialogue between Penguins superstar Evegeni Malkin and Phoenix Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette (aka BizNasty2.0).

From inquiring about whether Malkin need a winger in the KHL – the Penguins star reply was ‘Not You’ – to Bissonnette retweeting Malkin’s Russian language missives and asking when they will hang out, the duo are the NHL’s new odd couple.

This leads me to Ray Shero and HBO. The Pens GM needs to get BizNasty in his lineup. I will not try and defend this transaction as a sound hockey trade, but one solely for entertainment. Without a chance for the great HBO 24/7 series this season, fans need a docu-drama fix and the Malkin/BizNasty Show would be perfect.

They can live together, argue about who controls the remote and be forced to room together on the road. Just thinking about Malkin berating Bissonnette in broken English and the inane chatter Biz Nasty is sure to direct at his Russian buddy would be comedic gold. I haven’t even thought about what the two of them lurking at a nightclub would be like, but it couldn’t be anything other than awesome. So make the trade Penguins and Coyotes and let the best NHL buddy comedy begin.

LA Kings Twitter Feed:

It’s safe to say the twitter feed of the LA Kings is by far the funniest of all teams in the NHL.

Here’s a few samples:

From Dec. 31 – New Year’s resolution: Be more like the @LAKings Twitter

From Dec. 13 – What is the best combination of guys in NES Ice Hockey?

From Nov. 21 – We know there is some confusion, but we are not playing the @Lakers tonight. Sorry for any inconvenience.

From Nov. 14 – The dressing room had questionable plumbing…which old arena is Bob Miller describing? Read Bob’s latest post at http://LAKingsInsider.com .

From Nov. 10 – Which team did you most enjoying slaying on the way to the Stanley Cup? #VAN #STL #PHX #NJ

From Nov. 6 encouraging American fans to vote – Remember, your vote could decide who congratulates us at the White House.

From April 12 after eliminating the Vancouver Canucks from playoffs – To Everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome

Trash talk, questions that pertain to nothing, stories about questionable plumbing, baiting West Coast Canadians into an online feud, this twitter feed has it all. So for the rest of the teams in the NHL, please follow the first example.

World Championships:

This one has nothing to do with the NHL, just an idea that could be interesting. Instead of the world championships where players from teams not in the NHL playoffs and European leagues compete for the title, let’s get the juniors involved.

The champion of junior leagues in Russia, Sweden, Canadian Hockey League and a host team would face offs against one another in a yearly tournament similar to the CHL’s Memorial Cup. The world junior championship during the holiday season is a tremendous success and I’m willing to bet, hockey fans would watch this tournament as well.

Sunday Night Football Introductions:

This one is for you CBC and NBC. Have the starting lineup of players for each team introduce themselves in the same fashion as Sunday Night Football. You know the ones where there’s a close up of the players face and he says his name and what college he attended. Players have fun with it as guy say they’re from THE Ohio State University, the U and some take it a step further and say the name of the kindergarten they attended.

In the NHL version, a player would say his name and where he played junior or minor hockey. Example: Sidney Crosby, Rimouski Oceanic. Mike Richards, THE Kitchener Rangers. Joe Thornton, The Soo.

Just imagine Ovechkin grinning from ear-to-ear without his front tooth telling you he’s from Moscow all while wearing that cowboy hat from the All-Star game. This needs to be done just to see the different ways Ovechkin can introduce himself.

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MVP Race: The Tebow factor

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Andrew McGilligan| Out of WriteField

The debate surrounding who should be the NFL’s MVP – Adrian Peterson or Payton Manning – can be decided by the two most overused words in the NFL lexicon: Tim Tebow.

He barely threw a pass this season and only ran with the ball a few more times, but Tebow is the reason Peterson should win the MVP. The Vikings were not good last year, in fact, they were awful finishing the season with a record of 3-13, good enough for last place in the NFC North.

Peterson started 12 of those games racking up 970 yards and 12 touchdowns. This season, AP produced a season in which he amassed the second-highest total rushing yards in league history (2,097) and did the bulk of it in December, helping the Vikings get into the playoffs with a record of 10-6.

With a 6-5 record heading into Dec., the Vikings – on the back of Peterson – posted a 4-1 record and recorded wins against two of the NFL’s elite in the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers as well as division rival Chicago.

In that five-game stretch, Peterson amassed 861 yards, 41 per cent of his season rushing total, and five touchdowns. When it matter most, Peterson was the most valuable player in the league.

Peyton Manning was fantastic this season, leading his brand new team – the Denver Broncos – to a second-consecutive AFC West title. This is where the problem lies for Manning’s MVP candidacy, the guy who led the Broncos to last season’s division title – Tim Tebow. The guy who Rex Ryan didn’t believe was better than Mark Sanchez, Greg McElroy or even Joe McKnight, took essentially the same team as Manning to the playoffs.

Without Manning and with a guy not many people believe can play quarterback in the NFL, the team still makes the playoffs. Without Peterson’s historic season, the Vikings are hard-pressed to win a game. Even strength of schedule (based on final records) favours the Vikings. The winning percentage of teams faced by the Broncos was .450 (117-139) while the Vikings faced a schedule with a .510 winning percentage (132-122-2). The Broncos faced five teams with a winning-record while the Vikings faced nine. The Broncos won two games versus teams above .500, the Vikings won four.

Both players came back from what could have been career-ending injuries, so that’s a wash. Manning put up the second-best season of his career. Peterson put up the second best season ever by a running back. Peterson did this against stiff competition and in the division with the highest overall winning percentage. Manning did it against mostly sub-.500 teams and the weakest division in the NFL.

Without the season of Peterson, the Vikings would have stopped playing meaningful games in late Oct. Without Manning, the Broncos make the playoffs.

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