Welcome to Week 4 of our weekly feature on LAKings.com, 4 on 4. 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.
CLICK HERE to read Week 1 of 4 on 4.CLICK HERE to read Week 2 of 4 on 4.CLICK HERE to read Week 3 of 4 on 4.
Feel free to give your own answers, and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1.One team in each the East and West that missed the playoffs last year but will make it this year, and why.
John Hoven @mayorNHL - In the Eastern Conference, look for Tampa Bay and Carolina to make a push for a top-8 spot. Clearly the Hurricanes snagged the bigger name this off-season, getting Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Lightning added goalie Anders Lindback in a trade with the Nashville Predators. Normally, picking up another team's back-up netminder isn't that big of a deal. However, here, it should be the deciding difference. Tampa Bay finished in 10th place, even though they had a minus-46 goal differential (goals for minus goals against). That was second worst in the Eastern Conference and fourth worst in the NHL! Hence, the reason for the trade. Both Carolina and Tampa play in the same division, so there's no advantage there. When picking between two teams, go with the better goaltending, giving the playoff edge to the Bolt. Out West, Dallas has been so close the last few years and come up empty each time. Although many of their off-season moves make you scratch your head (i.e. the signing of Jaromir Jagr, trading Mike Ribeiro, etc.), look for them to pile up enough points to sneak into the post-season.
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - Well, in week one, I picked the Wild to make the playoffs, and I still think that happens. For the sake of new content, though, let's go with the Ducks. Bruce Boudreau will have a full season working with the likes of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and crew. This isn't likely to be a popular pick with Kings fans, but I truly believe the Ducks under performed to their talent level last year. If they can get some goaltending out of Jonas Hiller, the should be dangerous.
Of course, the Ducks also signed Sheldon Souray, who couldn't make it with the Edmonton Oilers, and Brad Staubitz, who brings about as much value to an ice hockey game as a hair dryer. So who knows, maybe the weakness overwhelm the strengths, but I doubt it. The Ducks certainly should make a push back into the playoffs.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - Carolina - The Hurricanes may have improved more than any other team in the Eastern Conference this offseason. Even before the summer began, GM Jim Rutherford was able to retain some of Carolina's most important players like Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu before going on to add two supremely talented forwards in Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal. As reliable as Brandon Sutter was for them in a checking role, Staal does everything Sutter did better and should help Carolina spend more time in the offensive zone, easing the burden on goaltender Cam Ward who has faced more shots than any other goalie in the league over the past two seasons. The defense is still a question mark considering Joni Pitkanen's health, Justin Faulk's inexperience and UFA signing Joe Corvo's...Corvo-iness but with a formidable group of forwards, many of whom are capable of dominating in all three zones, and one of the better netminders in the conference, the Hurricanes should contend for the Southeast Division title and have a very good shot at making the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
Colorado - Although I did like the addition of P.A. Parenteau, who was driving the car at least as many nights as he was riding shotgun on John Tavares' line with the Islanders, the Avs' offseason isn't really why I'm picking them to make the dance next year. Colorado was a fundamentally solid hockey club that suffered from some pretty atrocious luck last season. The Avs scored on just 6.8% of the shots they took at even-strength last year; only the Kings posted a lower shooting percentage. Los Angeles' luck turned around in a big way down the stretch and into the playoffs and I think it's a safe bet Colorado's will do the same heading into 2012-13. With a full year of having Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie in the fold, the Avs' top-nine forward corps matches up favorably with just about anybody in the NHL. Like the Canes, I still think they could use help on their blueline but it's probably a shrewd plan to see whether youngsters Stefan Elliott or Tyson Barrie can contribute out of training camp before making a move. Assuming they can agree on a contract with standout center Ryan O'Reilly, I think the Avalanche have the inside track to one of the final two playoff spots in the West.
Jeff Angus @CanucksArmy - In the East, Carolina should contend for a playoff spot. Not only did they improve their forward situation significantly with the acquisition of Jordan Staal and the signing of Alexander Semin, but their young defensemen are all poised to take a big step forward. Keep an eye on prospect defenseman Ryan Murphy – he skates like Scott Niedermayer and has top pairing upside. The Hurricanes should be the favorites to emerge from the Southeast Division. Out West, I think Dallas is a team to watch. The big question mark surrounding the Stars right now is Derek Roy, who looks to be out until November with a shoulder injury. However, the Stars have all of the pieces in place (and most importantly, a new owner willing to spend money) to get back to contention in the Western Conference. Kari Lehtonen is one of the better goalies in the entire league, and Jamie Benn is ready to take the next step to superstardom. Dallas also boasts a deep (and underrated) crop of prospects, especially on the back end. Keep your eyes out for Brenden Dillon, Jamie Oleksiak, and Patrik Nemeth in the coming years.
2.One team in each the East and West that made the playoffs last year but will drop out of the top 8, and why.
John Hoven - The Pacific Division sent three teams to the playoffs last year and it's unlikely all of them will return in the spring of 2013. San Jose struggled last season - call it age, talent mix, chemistry, whatever - it's not working in San Jose the way it used to. They're probably a bubble team again. However, the Coyotes would have to be considered even more suspect. Many predicted their demise following the trade of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov last summer. Obviously, it didn't happen this past season. Yet, the loss of Ray Whitney (tops on the team in points and second in goals) will prove to be too much for a team that didn't have much offense to begin with. If they lose Shane Doan and/or Keith Yandle, as rumored, forget about it. Similarly, look for the New Jersey Devils to be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start up again. Losing their captain and one of their top offense weapons (Zach Parise) was a big blow. Plus, you're asking for trouble when you're looking for older players like Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora to haul the mail most nights.
Nathan Eide - East: Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby will miss 60 games. Evgeni Malkin will miss 65 games and their defense is fraudulent. Karma has to come to Pittsburgh, right?
West: Detroit. Ding, dong, the Wings are dead. Too many holes, not enough aging Europeans to fill them.
Derek Tanabe - Florida - I don't believe the Panthers had a disastrous offseason or anything (although replacing Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson with Filip Kuba and Peter Mueller is a definite downgrade) but this really just wasn't a good team last year despite the division title. Florida finished with a terrible minus-24 goal differential as they relied on a lot of luck to scrounge points last season; 18 of their standings points came from overtime or shootout losses while an additional 34 were scooped up in one-goal victories. And this was with Jose Theodore playing well over his established level of performance from recent seasons. Every other team in the Southeast has made strides this summer (Carolina by adding Semin and Staal, Tampa Bay by adding Matt Carle and a competent goalie, Washington by getting rid of Dale Hunter, Winnipeg by adding to their forward depth with Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky) but the Panthers have treaded water at best, and it's unlikely the stars will once again align for them as perfectly as they did last season. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest they stand a good chance of finishing last in their division.
Nashville - The Predators have been proving the naysayers wrong nearly every year of their existence so it's with great trepidation I pick them to miss the postseason next year but I think that, especially after losing Ryan Suter, they're the weakest of the Western Conference teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2012. Only the Bruins and Lightning posted higher even-strength shooting percentages than Nashville last season and no team in the league scored on a higher percentage of their power play shots. Both of those percentages are likely to take a bit of a tumble in the coming year. The Predators have one franchise defenseman coupled with a whole lot of nothing on their blueline and don't have anything resembling elite talent up front. They were woefully outshot over the course of the 2011-12 season and relied heavily on both the all-world talents of Pekka Rinne and some good fortune in finishing their chances, especially on the power play, to make the playoffs. I just don't think they'll be able to repeat the feat.
Jeff Angus - Florida is a team with a lot of young talent (the Panthers possess the best prospect group in hockey), but the will be in tough to repeat as Southeast Division champs. Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen provided excellent goaltending last season, but it would be a stretch to expect the duo to repeat that performance in 2012-13 (a Roberto Luongo trade would represent a significant upgrade at the position). The Panthers lost Jason Garrison on the back end, replacing him with Filip Kuba. In a few years, once the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson are more experienced NHL players, the Panthers will be a very good club. However, they will have to overachieve once again if they hope to make the playoffs. Tampa Bay is better, Carolina is better, and Winnipeg is better. The division will be more competitive. In the West, Nashville would be the easy answer with the loss of Ryan Suter, but I have learned to never count out a Barry Trotz-coached hockey club. The Predators still possess a balanced offense, Shea Weber, and one of the best goaltenders in the league. Detroit will struggle to stay in the top eight. The Nicklas Lidstrom retirement will hurt immensely – how will Jimmy Howard perform without one of the greatest defensemen of all-time in front of him? Brad Stuart, who ate up a lot of tough minutes on the Detroit back end, has also left the team. A lot of pressure will be placed on Niklas Kronwall to lead the defensive corps. Brendan Smith is a top prospect, but is he ready for a top-four role right out of the gate? The Red Wings missed out on all of the big fish in free agency. It would be foolish to count out such a successful franchise, but the Wings have been leapfrogged by several Conference rivals this summer.
3.What changes to the game on the ice would you make?
John Hoven - We've all heard it for years - the players are bigger, stronger, faster and there's less room on the ice. Well, the NHL isn't likely to adopt the bigger ice surface used internationally anytime soon. So, let's try taking a body off the ice. No, not a player, but an official. The league should adopt a three referee system, without any linesmen. Without going into a long explanation, you have one referee assigned to each zone. However, any official on the ice can call an infraction - major or minor. This would allow for many improvements, including more space on the ice and fewer penalties going uncalled. It's also time for the trapezoid to go away. If your goalie is athletic enough to play the puck, let him roam free.
Bryan Reynolds - Bring back the rover and eliminate the forward pass! After all, everything that is right and good with the world happened in the "good old days," right? Imagine how long a game could last with all the whistles. It would be awesome, and could rival college football for longest sporting event.
If we can't have the rover, then why not eliminate the instigator rule, remove the trapezoid, and for the love of everything holy, get rid of the puck over the boards penalty. All three rules were meant to serve a purpose, and have done exactly nothing.
- The instigator rule is not called correctly, and when it is, is generally overruled by the league anyway. If we're going to have enforcers, let them do their job.
- The trapezoid is ridiculous because it does nothing to do the one thing the league wants to do, which is create more scoring. They put it in place to stop Martin Brodeur, and didn't accomplish much else. I miss the days of watching goalies misplay pucks.
- Finally, the puck over the boards rule has resulted in little more than a puck flying over the boards unintentionally, and five grown men all raising their hands up in the air like they are throwing a penalty flag in football. I find it hard to believe that NHL players were purposefully throwing pucks into the crowd, and it doesn't speed up the game. Rather than a whistle and a face off, now we have a whistle, a guy arguing for ten minutes, a conference with the refs, a conference with the coaches, a penalty call, and line changes, then a face off. It just makes no sense.
Derek Tanabe -I strongly believe the current on-ice product is as entertaining as it's ever been and I'd be wary of taking a meat cleaver to the rulebook or anything close. I think that if any rule changes are proposed they should be with an eye toward player safety rather than drastically changing the way the game is played. I'd be in favor of a no-touch icing rule, perhaps involving a footrace to the goal line rather than a requirement to make contact with the actual puck. Reverting to the pre-lockout two-line pass ban seems like a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to me; I'm not convinced that there's a lot of evidence concussions disproportionately stem from open-ice collisions in that area of the rink and, at least in my opinion, the lack of a red line has made the game appreciably more exciting and more conducive to entertaining transition play. One minor change I would make is to no longer award a penalty to players who flip the puck over the glass and into the stands from the defensive zone. Instead, I'd institute the same punishment for that play as an icing; a defensive-zone faceoff for the offending team without the benefit of a line change.
Jeff Angus -I’d remove the shootout, first and foremost. It contributes nothing to the game, asides from the appearance of parity (and more spin-o-ramas than ever before). As for the overtime situation, I’d go with a 10 minute extra frame – five minutes of four-on-four, and five minutes of three-on- three. Three-on-three hockey is a joy to watch, especially when defensemen like Drew Doughty are out on the ice. I’d go with three points for a regulation win, as well. As for the on ice product itself, I’d get back to the tighter obstruction restrictions that we saw during the first few seasons after the 2004-05 lockout. I am still on the fence with no touch icing – a hybrid system may work, but a complete transition to no touch icing would interrupt the flow of hockey. The game was very good from 2007- 2011, but the league has gotten away from its mandate of calling obstruction and limiting the interference, holding, and hooking that was allowed.
4. What city currently without a franchise would you like to see get a team?
John Hoven -Kansas City has the arena. Seattle has the geographic preference. Yet, if Gary Bettman was smart, he'd push for an NHL team in Las Vegas. Sure, the financial stability of the region is questionable, the worries about gambling interests impacting the game are there and the lack of any real sports history are all valid points. But, flip the script and look at the positives. Vegas is going to get a professional team at some point. Business history shows there is usually a clear advantage in moving first. So, be the first league to buck the worry and go for it. The publicity for the NHL would be off the charts. Plus, entertainment mogul Jerry Bruckheimer is rumored to have serious interest in putting a team there. He's a guy they should be aligned with. He can help attract the 'cool factor' and has the deep pockets necessary to make it all work. On top of all that, it's great to have another team in the Western Conference for travel reasons. Need more? How about the visiting teams and their fans? Who doesn't want to take a roadie to Vegas? Putting a team in any non-Canadian city or outside the northeastern United States is risky. But, better to be a leader than a follower. Take the gamble, put a team in the Nevada desert.
Nathan Eide - Quebec City. Bring back the Nordiques. Nobody "deserves" a team until the Nordiques are back in the NHL and I can wear my 1992 Joe Sakic Nordiques sweater with pride.
Derek Tanabe - For purely nostalgic purposes, I'd love to see Hartford in the NHL again. I also wouldn't mind a so-called "non-traditional" market like Seattle or Kansas City getting a shot either. Unfortunately, if we're keeping the league's best interests in mind and attempting to build as financially stable an NHL as possible, none of those three options seem even remotely as attractive as adding a second team in southern Ontario, likely Markham or Hamilton, or giving Quebec City big-league hockey back. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens generate substantially more revenue than any of the other 28 teams in the NHL and it's a virtual certainty they would be raking in even greater profits if their arenas could seat significantly upwards of 20,000 people. Form a second club in either of those two teams' provinces (well, third in the case of Ontario) and there will be a stable fanbase that should consistently contribute to a profitable franchise and a healthier NHL as a whole.
Jeff Angus - Seattle. Selfishly, it would be great to be able to drive a few hours to see an NHL road game. Personal reasons aside, the Seattle market is ripe for a professional hockey team. The base of support for hockey is there, a rivalry with Vancouver would be tremendous for the league, and there appears to be parties interested in bringing the proper infrastructure (arena) to the Seattle area. Quebec City should also have a team. Not only is it a beautiful city and one rich in hockey history, but the Nordiques had awesome jerseys. Bring them back!
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - a full multimedia site, including exclusive on-ice video interviews from the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. As a credentialed writer based in LA, his hockey 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). 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.
Jeff Angus delivers his thoughts on news relating to the Canucks to the CanucksArmy a few times each week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey, The Hockey Writers | Overtime, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. If he isn’t writing about hockey, Jeff is a fitness fanatic who enjoys playing a variety of sports. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.