Welcome back to 4 on 4 for the 2013-14 season! Our weekly feature on LAKings.com. Four prominent hockey writers; Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide (formerly of Hockey Wilderness), Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, Dimitri Filipovicof Canucks Army and our new LAKings.com writer Alex Kinkopf will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
Give your own answers and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. Predictions. Who wins the west? Who wins the east? Who wins the cup?
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - Clearly the Minnesota Wild are the team to beat in the West. After running out to a great start last year, they fell apart and barely made the playoffs. This, in a similar fashion to being the top team in the NHL in December of the year prior and then missing the playoffs completely. Obviously, that makes them the team to beat, right? No? Oh. OK. I don't see another team dethroning the Blackhawks. Unless this mythical curse that is winning the Stanley Cup and being "tired" because you only got three months off instead of four is true. The Hawks remain the best team in the NHL from top to bottom. Nothing has changed from last year, at least nothing major. I just don't see how anyone is built to take them down.
In the East, I think we see a resurgence from the Penguins. Their fans like to complain about how terrible their players are. You know, like Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. How terrible we all feel for you. The Bruins are going to be right in the think of it, too, but I think Sidney Crosby returns to health, puts in a whole season and the Pens dominate in the East. With this, you now know Crosby will be hurt, and the Pens will finish dead last.
The Hawks, as mentioned above, look as unstoppable as last year. They complete the back to back over the Penguins in 5 games.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - For someone who spends as much time writing about hockey as I do, you'd think I'd have given more thought to NHL predictions for this season but I can't say I have. The way I see it there are four top-flight contenders in each conference with the Blackhawks, Kings, Blues and Sharks in the West and the Red Wings, Bruins, Rangers and Penguins in the East. Ottawa, Montreal, Anaheim and Washington all have a chance at moving into that upper echelon but it remains to be seen whether those teams have the defensive depth to cut it. I could really envision any combination of those eight teams meeting in the Final (I'm admittedly iffy on the Penguins but I know better than to bet against Sidney Crosby) and I've waffled on my Cup pick quite a bit, even jumping on the Senators bandwagon at one point. Ultimately, I'll bite the bullet, slap on my teal-colored sunglasses and pick the Sharks. It's obviously a long season, and as such their remarkable start doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but the fact that they'll eventually add two top-nine forwards in Martin Havlat and Raffi Torres to an already-potent offense over the course of the year makes the springtime incarnation of this team all the more enticing. I've been burned for believing in them before but I don't care. Joe Thornton gets his name on the Cup, prevailing over the Bruins team that traded him in the Final, and you're going to want to stick around for the celebration.
Dimitri Filipovic @CanucksArmy - Ah, predictions. I guess it’s about time for me to give mine since it seems like everyone and their grandmother has already done so.
For the West, I’m very tempted to go off of the board and take the St.Louis Blues. They’re so tough to play against, and they’re as deep as it gets. But I’m weary of Halak staying healthy (don’t trust Brian Elliott one bit), and I’m not sure they have enough scoring to keep up with the big boys in the West. Those “big boys” being the Kings, Sharks, and Blackhawks. I think a very legitimate case can be made for both California teams, but ultimately I have to go with the Hawks. I know that getting back there is tough and what not, but they’re so very good. I just feel stupid betting against them.
As for the East I like the Bruins to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, and make a rematch of it. I know that the Senators, Red Wings and Capitals are trendy picks, and as long as Crosby is around the Penguins will have a legitimate shot, but barring injuries, I still think the Bruins are the cream of the crop. This time around I think they’ll actually win it. I know, I know - I’m not exactly all that daring. Predictions are kind of stupid, though. People usually make bold statements with these because they want to be able to point back to them and say “ha, told ya so!” in the odd chance that it actually comes to fruition. I’m okay with just picking the two best teams, even if there’s no credit that comes along with it.
Alex Kinkopf - It’s safe, and very reasonable to say that the Kings are a definite contender to win the Western Conference and the Stanley Cup. I’ll keep them out of this. The St. Louis Blues could be a very serious threat because of their growth stages the past two seasons, and the solidity throughout their lineup. They’ve made the postseason the previous two years, but have been ousted by a very strong Kings club both times. The growing pains may be over, a Western Conference Championship could be the next step.
As for the East, I’m stuck between Boston and Detroit. Pittsburgh has the skill, but they don’t have the toughness. Chicago has the firepower, but they can be quite streaky. Postseason success comes with character and consistency, which both Boston and Detroit have – and even more so than last season with offseason veteran acquisitions.
Detroit, because I thought Daniel Alfredsson going there was absolutely perfect. I’ll take the Red Wings over the Blues in the Cup Finals. It’ll be like Steve Yzerman over Jon Casey all over again! Except, it’ll be Datsyuk undressing either Brian Elliot or Jaroslav Halak.
2. How will the new Pacific Division affect your teams?
Nathan Eide - It means that the Wild won't have as many Pacific time zone games and I won't be as sleep-deprived at work, so I'd have to say that my employer thanks the NHL Board of Governors for their support. Other than that, honestly, not much.
Derek Tanabe - Well, it certainly doesn't reduce the Sharks' travel the way I thought it would as they'll fly 13,618 more miles this season than they did during the NHL's last 82-game campaign. But presumably most of that has to do with the balanced schedule that sees every team travel to every other city. More importantly, as a function of its competitiveness (or lack thereof) the new Pacific Division likely makes the road to the second round much easier for San Jose. I'm not sure if the Sharks or Kings will be the ones to win the division but, regardless of how it shakes out, both teams are pretty clearly superior to the remaining five. The Sharks should claim one of the top two seeds and draw the 3rd- or 4th-place team in the first round for an easy out. Granted, it's debatable whether or not any of this matters since it's always been the second round and beyond that's given San Jose trouble.
Dimitri Filipovic - The Northwest Division was a blessing for the Canucks, there’s no denying that. The Oilers, Flames, Avs, and Wild have all been rather laughable over the past few seasons, and the Canucks sure took advantage of the weak competition. Over the past 4 seasons there was an average 14 point difference between the Canucks and the 2nd best team in the division.
Now they’ve lost the Wild and Avs as divisional rivals (both of which seem to be trending upwards, though), and replaced them with 4 teams that I view as ranging from pretty good to dominant. I think that is balanced by the fact that they’ll be seeing a lot more of the Eastern Conference, though, which is good for them. There has been a lot of consternation in Vancouver about the ‘tough new schedule’, but I don’t think there’s really all that notable a difference this year compared to years past.. at least not as much as people think.
From a fan’s perspective, I love it. It’ll be awesome to see every team in the league at least twice. It’s great for the league to expose all of their stars to every market possible.
Alex Kinkopf - I think we’ll see more affect with how this new realignment sets up the postseason – which I believe the Kings will qualify for without any question. I think the new Divisions will factor more into teams who are on the edge of making the playoffs, especially with the new wild card format.
It’s still set so that the top teams in each Division won’t have unfavorable first-round matchups.
Other than that, I can’t complain about the Kings seeing Calgary and Edmonton a couple of more times this season.
3. Is Patrick Roy behind the bench the missing piece the Avalanche need to make the playoffs?
Bryan Reynolds - Avs in the playoffs. That's a good one. Try the veal.
Patrick Roy behind the bench is going to be a distraction all season long. He's not a good coach, he's a hot head that just likes to scream at people and make everything about him. Keep in mind I worshiped the ground St. Patrick walked on growing up as a goalie, but then you grow up and you realize your favorite player is a... well... it's not nearly PG enough for this space. What the Avalanche need to make the playoffs is not a guy pushing over partitions and yelling at one of the most respected coaches in the game. They need a leader, not a bully. If they make the playoffs, it will be despite Roy, not because of him. That said, he will certainly be good for entertainment value.
Derek Tanabe - Maybe if he manages to seriously injure every other coach in the division, which I wouldn't put past him at this point. Colorado is an intriguing team in that their forward depth is pretty close to unmatched in the NHL, particularly if Nathan MacKinnon has the kind of standout rookie season we haven't seen in a while but that he's entirely capable of having. Their defense, on the other hand, might be the weakest in the league and Varlamov is far from a sure thing in goal. I think Roy is a step up from Joe Sacco in the sense that an upturned mop would have been a step up from Sacco but I don't know if he's enough to prevent this team from giving up a boatload of goals on a nightly basis. But I'd love to be proven wrong because it would be a treat to watch MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly in playoff action.
Dimitri Filipovic - Heading into last season, the Colorado Avalanche were my ‘super duper fun team to watch’. Then Ryan O’Reilly held out, Steve Downie tore his ACL, Gabriel Landeskog suffered a concussion, and Tyson Barrie got yo-yo’d around by the organization. Flashforward a year, and now all of those situations have been resolved. And oh yeah, all they did was add Nathan MacKinnon to the bunch.
I think they’re going to make for great GameCenter viewing, but I’m still not sold on their ability to keep the puck out of their own net. Semyon Varlamov is a better goaltender than he showed last season, and they’ve got some intriguing pieces on the way on the back-end, but for now their defense still gives me pause. Andre Benoit, an AHL lifer, played nearly 23 minutes for them in the opener. Things are dire back there.
I definitely wasn’t a fan of Joe Sacco, who I think was one of the worst coaches in the league. Even if Patrick Roy struggles in his first foray into NHL coaching, I think he’ll be hard-pressed to be worse than Sacco. Unless he can effectively log 20+ minutes on the back-end, though, then I’m not sure all of that matters.
I wouldn’t be shocked if they made the playoffs this year as a wild card – or even as the 3rd team out of the Central, since there isn’t really a lock beyond Chicago and St.Louis – but their fans may need to remain patient for one more season. Until then, they’ll be exciting as heck to watch.
Alex Kinkopf - No, and I don’t think he’ll be manning Colorado’s bench for more than two seasons, if that long. Not only will his antics be a distraction to the team, but his antics will play into the advantage of opposing coaches – who will figure out which buttons to push to get under Roy’s skin – and ultimately his team.
The Anaheim Ducks and Bruce Boudreau are already familiar with this, and Patrick Roy’s heavy outburst toward them showed nothing but weakness and a lack of discipline, rather than a solid coach sticking up for his team for a reasonable cause, and in a reasonable way. I consider him a sideshow for the time being, not the guy to catapult the Colorado Avalanche into the postseason.4. Bryzgalov...
Nathan Eide - If he can't stick around in Philly, even at a lower amount, then I cannot see him sticking with an ECHL team. He'll end up in the KHL making huge cash and living the dream of playing in front of tens of hundreds in Vladivostok or some other awful place.
Derek Tanabe - I was convinced the Coyotes would pick him up following the Flyers' buyout this summer rather than re-up Mike Smith for big money, but here we are. It certainly sounds like this Vegas thing is actually happening although, knowing what we do about Bryzgalov, there's always a possibility it's some sort of elaborate practical joke. I don't think Bryzgalov can realistically be considered NHL starter material at this point, not that there's a team desperate enough to consider that option in the first place. He could make a serviceable backup behind an established veteran somewhere like Boston, Nashville or Pittsburgh. But I'm really hoping he signs with Detroit or Toronto so we get another edition of The Bryzgalov Show on 24/7.
Dimitri Filipovic - You’ve got to envy Bryzgalov, don’t you? He’s getting $23 million from the Philadelphia Flyers to not play for them, and now he gets to go and hangout in Vegas? That’s a decent life, I guess.
I have a hard time believing that we’ve seen the last of Breezy in the NHL. There’s no denying that he’s a loose cannon, and his performance the last two years has been shaky, but he’s still only a 33-year old goaltender who has a handful of excellent seasons to his name. He’ll just have to wait for a team to get desperate after their goaltender either gets injured, or struggles. We just saw the Panthers take a no-risk shot on Tim Thomas, which makes me believe that the baggage that comes with Bryzgalov won’t be an issue when the opportunity presents itself.
Alex Kinkopf - I think Bryzgalov signing with the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers would be a beautiful thing. For himself, it’s an avenue back into professional hockey in North America – and in a unique way. For the sport, and in the minor leagues especially, it couldn’t get any better.
This will not only boost the attendance in Las Vegas, but in every opposing arena the Wranglers play in this season. When a well-known NHL name drops down the ladder so far as to play in the ECHL, it’s a BIG deal to the team and it’s fanbase.
This is when minor league teams strike gold. And with Bryzgalov, we’ve seen weirder.
I think this is great. He’s allowed to do whatever he pleases. At least he didn’t immediately flee for the KHL. Let the guy have a good time playing minor league hockey in Vegas.
Bryan Reynolds is the former editor of Hockey Wilderness, retiring in June 2013 to get a real job, smoke cigars, and spend time with family. He now can be found giving sarcastic commentary about the NHL and Minnesota Wild on Twitter @BReynoldsMN, while continuing his quest to become the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings.
Nathan Eide is a recovering hockey blogger. After 6 years on the job, he's spending the year relearning how to be a fan. In addition, Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude associated with the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Dimitri Filipovic (please triple check the spelling, people often mess it up) is the Managing Editor at Canucks Army, and you can follow him on Twitter @DimFilipovic