Welcome back to 4 on 4! Here is week 19 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. What trade deadline acquisition has made the biggest immediate impact?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - Marian Gaborik would likely vote for himself and we'll give him the nod too. Sure, he's just happy to be out of John Tortorella's doghouse and that has something to do with it. But, placing a skilled player in position to be the focal point a team's offense is exactly what was needed for both Gaborik and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their new toy gives them a dynamic option on offense and their most lethal weapon since, ironically, Rick Nash. In the short term, Gaborik is helping the Jackets with their playoff push. If they make it, it's a huge win for a franchise in need of some positive momentum. In the long term though, the Rangers may win out on the deal, as Derek Dorsett is a tough customer and a solid checking forward - something the Rangers have been missing since dealing Brandon Prust. Plus, New York picked up Derick Brassard (better suited on the third line) and raw prospect John Moore (who should wind up as a top-four defenseman).
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - Jason Pominville. The Wild traded two top prospects and a couple high picks for him, and he has certainly made an impact. The Wild went from scoring 19 goals total in the five games preceding the trade to scoring seven goals total in the six games following. If that's not an impact, I'm not quite sure what is.
Unless, of course, you meant positive impact, in which case the answer really is no one. Big trades at the deadline rarely bring the kind of return fans, players, or GMs actually want. The Penguins bringing in Jarome Iginla simply brought them from Cup favorites to Cup favorites that Boston hates even more. If your team is good enough to challenge for the Cup all year, bringing in one or two more guys likely makes little difference. If your team wasn't good enough to contend for the Cup all year, bringing in one or two guys really isn't going to do much at all.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - Derek Roy has given the Canucks more center depth than they've had in recent memory, Jay Bouwmeester now constitutes one-half of the most fearsome top pairing in the Western Conference alongside Alex Pietrangelo and Jussi Jokinen, who the entire NHL decided wasn't worth a pickup from the waiver wire, has had a terrific start to his Penguins career. But I'm going to go with the homer vote here and say the San Jose Sharks' acquisition of not-Douglas Murray has made the most significant impact. Murray's precipitous decline in effectiveness over the past two seasons was exacerbated by the Sharks coaching staff's insistence on pairing him with the one player on the San Jose blueline incapable of masking his deficiencies, Brad Stuart. That tandem proved incapable of consistently moving the puck and spent a lot of time chasing in their own zone as a result. The Sharks have gone 8-1-1 since trading Murray to the Penguins, ascending from a 37% chance of making the playoffs following Murray's final game in teal to a 96% chance following last night's win over Detroit. Certainly dumping Murray isn't the only reason but it's played a major role in transforming the Sharks into a team that's quicker in transition than it's been in years.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - San Jose's jettisoning of Douglas Murray and Ryane Clowe seems to have paid immediate dividends for the Sharks somehow, but I think I'll go with a homer pick and take Vancouver's acquisition of Derek Roy.
Bear with me, because I have legitimately good reasons for this. First of all, it's worth remembering that Vancouver spent much of this season limping along with, in effect, a one-line team that was reliant on goaltending and low-event defensive play for wins. With Derek Roy in the lineup, and Ryan Kesler's return to action, Vancouver has as much centre depth as anyone in the West. Its changed the entire way the team looks to play.
Want some more objective evidence than that? How about this: since Vancouver added Derek Roy they've outscored their opponents by an aggregate score of 15-3. That's an immediate impact, my friends.
2. Is the Top 8 for the East and West set? If not, what team(s) jumps in and falls out?
John Hoven - The Easter Conference is likely more 'set' than out West. Fans in Winnipeg are still clinging to hope they'll get it, but it probably won't happen. The Islanders and Rangers have been hot over the past 10 games and could be gaining their stride at just the right time. Buffalo? No. New Jersey probably had the best shot of sneaking in, but with just one win in their last 10, they're done. Where things are much more interesting - as they have been for the last few seasons - is on the left side of the map. The top six spots are pretty much set, they'll just shuffle around a bit over the final two weeks of the regular season. Seeds seven and eight look very shaky, leaving the question of which team could bow out first, Minnesota or Detroit? Although ninth-seeded Dallas has played surprisingly well since dealing Brenden Morrow and Jaromir Jagr, they've become the NHL standard for buckling in the season's final days. They won't make it. Which leaves those scrappy Blue Jackets to slip in through the back door. Only one problem, or perhaps five problems, they close out the regular season with five of their six games on the road. So, while the Wild might be circling the drain, they still have two games to play with Calgary. Thus, by the time Columbus hosts a pathetic Nashville team on April 27th, their playoff dreams could long be gone.
Nathan Eide - The 3 point game has given the appearance of tighter races and more teams having a chance to make a late run to get into the playoffs, the fact is that we've seen time and again how difficult the 3 point game makes it to really make a push. Overtime and shootout losses keep teams earning the loser point and unless a team on the outside rips off five or six wins and the teams above them lose in regulation, the gap never closes quite enough. Now in a shortened season, it is limited a bit as the logjam doesn't have enough time to spread some teams out. But I'd be surprised if more than one team on the outside actually sneaks in.
In the West, the Wild have withstood two significant slumps, are getting healthy, and have a lighter schedule the rest of the way. The Red Wings are coming on and will likely move up out of eighth place. I don't see Dallas or Columbus winning four of the final seven. I'd say the West is set.
Over in the Eastern conference, the best chance is probably either for Washington to fall apart, Winnipeg to get hot and take the division or for the Islanders to slip again and for Winnipeg to overtake them. But again, it's unlikely.
Derek Tanabe - I'd be surprised if the current top 8 in the West aren't the ones that make the postseason, although the Coyotes will likely finish strong and give Detroit a run for their money. The East is tougher to gauge because of the uncertainty with the Southeast Division which is currently in the process of letting out its last gasp as the most consistently awful division the league has ever seen. Winnipeg appears to still have an outside chance to unseat Washington regardless of Ovechkin's heroics but they are running out of games. The Devils are probably cooked but I think they're better than about half the teams that will end up making the Eastern Conference playoffs, for whatever that's worth.
Thomas Drance - I think it's possible for a team in each conference to jump in and fall out, but that's obviously looking less likely as we get closer to the finish line. At the moment (editors note: as of last Friday) sportsclubstats.com has the Phoenix Coyotes hovering around a 1 in 4 shot of making the dance, while the Stars have slightly better than a 1 in 5 shot of crashing the ball (and those chances would be even better if they had more games against the Kings over the balance of the schedule). I could see either Detroit or more likely Minnesota - who are sneakily still not a particularly good club - falling out in the West.
Over in the East, the Devils are running out of room in a hurry but are a quality club. Sportsclubstats.com seems to think the East is all but sealed up with New Jersey possessing only a 7% chance of making the postseason. That seems about right, the Devils are quality but so are the Rangers - either will make for a nightmare first round matchup for the Penguins...
3. What first round potential match ups are you most/least excited for?
John Hoven - In the Eastern Conference, Penguins-Rangers could be much more interesting than people may first think. Anytime you have Henrik Lundqvist in net, your team has more than just a puncher's chance. But, of course, a Canadiens-Leafs series would be just about all Canada could handle. The hype machines would be working double time trying to put their spins on two of the most polarizing teams in league history. One possible Western Conference match-up could include LA v San Jose, and who doesn't love a little SoCal v NoCal hate? Another intriguing possibility is Chicago taking on St. Louis. There's a long history there and anything that gets us back to division rivals meeting in the playoffs is a great thing.
Bryan Reynolds - Leafs vs Habs has to have your maple syrup laced blood pumping a little harder, doesn't it? Two Original Six (yippie!) teams that absolutely cannot stand each other, and two fan bases ready to riot at a moment's notice? This has all the makings of an instant classic both on the ice and off. Of course, the NHL will likely pretend it doesn't exist because TV ratings in the US won't even be measurable, let alone leave much of a mark. That said, this matchup is looking less and less likely, but a good hockey fan likes to dream. As a second pick, the Oilers vs Derrik Golf & Winter club could be epic.
As for being the least excited, is there anyone on the planet that gets up for a Capitals vs Islanders series? Anyone at all?
Derek Tanabe - The more compelling matchups in terms of the caliber of hockey played are all going to be in the West, at least for the first round. Vancouver/St. Louis and Los Angeles/San Jose, if they happen, will almost be unfair given that two of those four teams won't make it to the second round. In the East, there's a good chance we see quite a few upsets. I think the Rangers are much better than the record they've compiled this year would indicate and wouldn't be shocked if they can topple the Penguins.
Thomas Drance - Canucks - Kings rematch anyone? WIth Daniel Sedin healthy this season and Vancouver built to match up better with Los Angeles, I think the third first round series in four years between Vancouver and L.A. - the rubber match, if you will - could be a classic if it happens. I'd also look forward to a Leafs versus Habs first round series because it has been way, way too long since that happened and the buzz surrounding that series in Canada would just be nuts. Also, I think Pittsburgh and New York could be an extremely hard fought series that I'd watch pretty much every minute of.
The series I'd be least excited for, by far, would be Anaheim versus Minnesota - two overvalued teams benefitting from a lockout shortened season to make the postseason. But even then I'd probably watch most of the games because it's playoff hockey!4. Who should win the Hart Trophy? Who will win the Hart Trophy?
John Hoven - Let's start with who will win the Hart. If Crosby can get a few games in before the playoffs, get a few points, get the Art Ross trophy, sure - he'll win the Hart. BUT, even without all that, Crosby will still most likely win the Hart based on what he's already done. Now, there may be two guys in Florida, Stamkos and St. Louis, who can still win the Ross - even by a wide margin - but that won't be enough. Ovechkin could keep up his torrid pace, win the Richard trophy and carry the Caps into the playoffs, but he's not going to generate enough votes for the Hart. Some have stated that a goalie's best chance to win the Hart is in a shortened season, where every game is magnified. So, there may be chatter for Sergei Bobrovsky, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price or even Corey Schneider. But, it's not going to happen. Just like it won't for Patrick Kane, Ryan Getzlaf or John Tavares. Crosby. Crosby. Crosby. Some things never change.
Nathan Eide - Who should win? Sidney Crosby. Who will win? Well with Crosby sidelined, Tampa Bay out of the playoffs (pushing St. Louis and Stamkos out of the race) and Alex Ovechkin's Capitals being a middling team winning a horrible division, the stage is set for a Western player to take the honors. The best team I've seen all season are the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrick Kane is having another great season. He won't win it, but I'll pick Kane anyway.
Derek Tanabe - Sidney Crosby, and Sidney Crosby. This is a fairly easy decision to make and the fact that Crosby's jaw injury has kept him out of action for the past two weeks should only strengthen his candidacy considering how the Penguins have fared in his absence. Crosby was asked to take on a greater share of the defensive burden this season following Jordan Staal's departure and has responded by scoring at historic rates and dictating play to a dominant degree at even-strength. He's turned Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis into Rocket Richard contenders and simply does it all for a poor defensive team backstopped by a mediocre goaltender.
Thomas Drance - Even though he's missed a whole whack of time, Sidney Crosby should win the Hart Trophy. This isn't even that difficult to figure out, I mean he's only played 36 games and he's leading the league in scoring by five points...
Another worthy candidate who probably won't even be nominated is PK Subban. Subban is having a phenomenal year, albeit one shortened by both a lockout and an early season holdout. The Habs were widely counted out in advance of the season, but they've not just been a playoff team - they've been one of the league's best five-on-five clubs. So much of the credit belongs to PK Subban on that front - he's really come into his own as a super elite defenseman in the class of a Drew Doughty, Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber.
As for who will win the Hart Trophy, I'm guessing it'll be either Patrick Kane or John Tavares.
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.