Welcome back to 4 on 4! Here is week 16 of our weekly feature on LAKings.com. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance of Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
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Give your own answers and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1.Likes/Dislikes on NHL newest realignment and playoff format changes. (View here)
John Hoven @mayorNHL - Likes - The fact that several formal rivals will be put back together again (i.e. LA with Calgary and Edmonton),. Like that Detroit and Columbus will get to play more road games in their natural time zone. Also love the idea of forcing teams to play division rivals for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Fans that have only discovered the sport in the past 10-15 years probably don't have a full appreciation for how much better this made the game in the '80s and early '90s.
Dislikes - Where do we start? The generic names of the divisions and conferences (bring back names that tie to the history of the game - make hockey special, not watered down). The wild card concept is beyond ridiculous (having teams cross over to another division for the first two rounds of the playoffs defeats the whole purpose of an inter-division playoff format). The scheduling isn't that great either (Pacific Division teams don't need to play the other Western Conference teams three times. Instead, give those games back to the division).
Overall, having the NHL and NHLPA 'work together' on this makes for a great sound bite...however, with 30 teams playing across four divisions, it's looking like a tall task to find a consensus until Phoenix is moved and two new expansion teams are added. Even if they find a way to resolve the current concerns, this might only be a three-year fix. So, what are they really arguing about anyway?
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - How can you go wrong with not having to deal with Edmonton Oilers fans as many times a year as we do now? That, right there, makes any realignment worth it.
The real best part of this realignment is that more of each team's games should be on in prime time, rather than the Kings playing at 4PM local time, and the Wild not starting until 9PM. The fact it took the NHL this long to figure out why TV ratings for games outside the team's time zone were lower makes me sad for the management of the league. It also stands to rebuild traditional rivalries that were killed in the last round of realignment, putting the Wild into a division with many teams that had great rivalries with the North Stars.
The negatives are the unbalanced schedules, and the odd pairing of the Florida teams in with teams in the opposite geographic side of another division. It smacks a bit of desperation to keep the North Atlantic teams together, which did not really need to happen. The playoff format is soft, but it is certainly manageable.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - From the standpoint of the Sharks, I like that they no longer have to play many of their conference games outside the time zone and that contests against the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Blues are replaced with additional ones against Calgary, Edmonton and Phoenix/Seattle/Quebec City/Timbuktu. The obvious qualm is that the newly devised playoff format results in an uneven distribution of playoff chances for teams among the conferences. Presumably this will be fixed by imminent expansion although I do wonder exactly how; assuming the Coyotes do move to Seattle, it's hard to imagine where else in the West expansion teams could crop up.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - As a Canucks fan and writer I couldn't be more excited about the Canucks possibly joining some legitimate teams like the Kings and Sharks in a newly formed Pacific-type division. For the past four seasons, the Northwest has been something of a joke - the Canucks have taken well over 70% of available points from the Oilers, Flames, Wild and Avalanche and that type of dominance takes away any excitement regarding division titles or even making the playoffs. Obviously in a division with San Jose, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, there would be no more foregone conclusions and it's hard to be upset about that.
On the con side, more Canucks games against the trapping Phoenix Coyotes doesn't exactly get my blood pumping.
2.5 weeks away from the trade deadline, who is this years “big catch”?
John Hoven - The biggest prizes landed in each of the last two seasons came from Western Conference teams (Dustin Penner in Edmonton and Jeff Carter in Columbus). Look for that trend to continue this year, as clubs will be in hot pursuit of Jarome Iginla and Bouwmeester in Calgary, along with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in Anaheim. However, the reality is all four players could stay where they are. But why let facts and probability get in the way of a good debate? It also won't stop a dozen or more GMs from trying to pry those guys out of their current homes. Clearly the Flames should unload and rebuild - heck, they should've started the process two years ago. It's the Flames though, perhaps the craziest organization in hockey right now. So, look for them to add another over-priced player and go even more 'all in' than they already are. That should be good enough for a ninth seed in the West. Anaheim, as we wrote about here in this space a few weeks ago, is in a tough spot because of how well they're playing. If a Duck jumps ship, look for Perry to leave before Getzlaf.
Bryan Reynolds - It all depends what teams are thinking for their future. If the Sabres are ready to start over, Tomas Vanek could be an extremely attractive trade piece. His contract would only fit so many places, and his extra year will cut off some suitors, but a team with the room and assets to move could go after a strong piece of the puzzle. The deadline, however, will likely be a quiet one. Most teams will still feel they have a chance, especially in a short season. A few grizzled vets may change hands, but this could be the no splash deadline. After all, the Flames trading for another overpriced, washed up former NHLer can only bring so much excitement.
Derek Tanabe - Does Stephen Weiss count as a big catch? Assuming the market is largely restricted to pending free agents, Weiss' name is probably going to find itself on TSN's marquee. But, really, the trade deadline is going to be bizarre and likely boring this season. Over 20 teams will still perceive themselves as having a realistic shot at the playoffs at that point given the dynamics of a shortened season, meaning it's a seller's market. Don't be surprised to see, say, Garth Snow demanding a 1st round pick and top-tier prospect for Lubomir Visnovsky. Circling back to Weiss, as much as I loathe the Ducks, they could benefit immensely from his presence on the second line between Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne. Vancouver might also be interested given Ryan Kesler's injury, and Mike Gillis and Dale Tallon have some trading history.
Thomas Drance - We would've all said Corey Perry before this season, eh? But the Ducks are almost certainly a playoff team - even though they're not nearly as good as their record, the schedule isn't long enough for regression to really kick them in the teeth - so it's hard to see them offloading their top-winger now.
Two guys to look out for, in my view, are Jarome Iginla and Mark Streit. They're both getting up there age wise, but those are two polished, quality players who play for teams that are likely to miss the playoffs. They're both also on expiring contracts so they're your typical rental mercenary types. Also, both Streit and Iginla play positions that aren't easy to fill (power-forward, and right shooting power-play quarterback) so they could net their clubs a nice haul in a trade.
3.Will the Blackhawks ever lose?
John Hoven - No. Never. Even the 1972 Miami Dolphins think this team is ridiculous.
That said, there's a reason why it's been 33 years since the Philadelphia Flyers posted a 35-game unbeaten streak - because it's damn hard to do.
You'd be a fool to predict when the Blackhawks will lose, especially given all that they've already had to deal with in their first 20 games. Plus, Chicago's schedule in March is fairly spaced out, nothing too crazy. So, if somebody is threatening you with bodily harm and needs a date, look at the home-and-home they play with the Nashville Predators on April 6/7 as the spot where they're probably the most susceptible to a slip up.
Bryan Reynolds - Yes, they will, but it won't be for lack of talent. Eventually, they will lock up their playoff spot and they will let off the gas for a couple weeks to rest up. One has to assume that a team like the Canucks or Ducks should be able to match up against them and take them down at least once. It just has to happen. Right?
Derek Tanabe - Yes. I hope. Although if they're intent on finishing the regular season without a regulation loss before dropping a first-round series to the Sharks, that would be fine with me. They've begun to slip from dominating teams to eking out one-goal victories, so that's a start. Realistically, I'm not sure how long their goaltending can hold up. No disrespect intended to Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, but they're hardly likely to keep stopping over 94% of the shots they face at even-strength. There's no doubt the Blackhawks are a fantastic team and the class of the league but the spread in talent at the NHL level is a lot slimmer than the spread in outcomes. Which is to say that while Chicago is probably better than everyone else, it isn't by as large a margin as the standings currently indicate. Pucks will start going in against them and they'll lose games in regulation but they're still a frightening team.
Thomas Drance - Yes, but boy are they good. There's no doubt that the Blackhawks are the best team in the league this season but at some point gravity demands that they'll lose not just a game, but a few in a row. I'm thinking we'll see a Chicago-Boston Stanley Cup Final this spring though, which I'm sure will make Canucks fans happy!
4. Predict what year the Lumbus Blue Jackets will make the playoffs.
John Hoven - Easy, 2018. John Davidson, the team's new President of Hockey Operations is probably like every other hockey executive in one regard - he likely has a five-year plan. So, 2018 it is. It might be sooner, but it won't be any time soon, that's for sure. When Fedor Tyutin is leading your team in scoring, you know you're in trouble. Between a bunch of core players on IR and very mediocre goaltending, it looks like another season down the drain in central Ohio. Looking ahead though, they have some pieces to build around defensively - with a core of Tim Erixon, Jack Johnson, John Moore, Ryan Murphy, James Wisniewski - and the guy with one of the collest names in hockey at the moment, Nikita Nikitin. Up front they're a mess though, without a franchise forward at any level in the organization. Thankfully, they have a new GM (Jarmo Kekalainen) who is a master at the draft table and he'll have three first round picks this June, setting him up nicely to fix what's wrong. He also is said to be a Judas Priest look-a-like. So, let's hope they make the playoffs sooner rather than later because even a heavy metal doppelgänger is better than the real Nickelback. Long-live Lumbus and long-live real rock-n-roll.
Bryan Reynolds - As soon as they fire Todd Richards? No? OK, fine. 2019, at the earliest. They have no franchise players, no franchise players close to the NHL, and need to rebuild through the draft. They made the right step in replacing their GM, who will need to make the right moves and replace the people in charge of drafting for the Jackets. Even when they do have the prospects built into the system, it is going to take years to develop them. Assuming they draft well, and get lucky, they could push for a spot in five or six years. In the meantime, let's just hope the fanbase sticks around, and we don't wind up with a relocation issue.
Derek Tanabe - Next year, of course, when they're led by Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones after the Kings and Rangers flounder, earning Columbus the 2nd and 3rd overall picks in addition to their No. 1. In all seriousness, it's going to be a long and aruduous trip back to the postseason for the Jackets but they've hired a terrific mind to lead the way in Jarmo Kekalainen. There's more of a foundation to build on there than many suggest with a young stable of talented defensemen like John Moore, Ryan Murray, Tim Erixon and David Savard and a pair of forwards in Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson with top-six potential. Of course, there are also still a slew of holes to fill from finding a No. 1 center to fixing the franchise's long-standing goaltending problem to identifying valuable forward depth. When Derek Dorsett is leading your forwards in even-strength ice time, it's pretty clear there's a ton of work to be done. 2016 seems like the safest bet but if they can even work their way up to mediocrity before then, it's possible they roll a few sixes and end up sneaking into the playoffs.
Thomas Drance - I see them as three or four more years away and that's assuming that they clean up their woeful player development and draft a star player or two at the draft over the next couple of seasons. The fans in Columbus seem incredibly loyal (considering) and they deserve a winner. As a Vancouver Grizzlies fan, I just really hope the Bluejackets haven't poisoned the well in that market with inept management.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - selected as 2012's Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports. As a member of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, his insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Nathan Eide is the managing editor of Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild fan community. Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude surrounding 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.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). Works for Engagementlabs. He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.