2010 NHL playoffs: Eastern Conference first round predictions

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This is what everyone loves to do as we gear up for the first of four
rounds of playoff hockey: throw a dart at the wall and hope we can come
close to predicting the outcomes of each series.

So we are, Pro Hockey Talk’s predictions for 2010 NHL Conference
Quarterfinals:

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (8) Montreal
Canadiens (
full
preview here
)

Season series (Tied 2-2)
Nov. 20:
Montreal 3 @ Washington 2
Nov. 28: Washington 4 @ Montreal 3
(SO)
Jan. 5: Montreal 2 @ Washington 4
Feb. 10:
Washington 5 @ Montreal 6 (OT)

Brandon: You have to feel bad for the
Canadiens, who have a decent shot of scaring the Capitals. But
Washington is too hungry and too talented. Washington in 5.

James: I have to admit that I’m surprised so many
people are picking the Habs. Is this just for attention? Did someone not
get hugged enough growing up? Washington in 5.

Joe: This will be Washington’s test, at team that has great goaltending, a semi-adherence to defensive hockey and some scoring touch. Caps will still win but it’ll be annoying for them. Washington in 6.

(2) New Jersey Devils vs. (7) Philadelphia
Flyers (
full
preview here
)

Season series (Philadelphia won 5-1)
Oct.
3:
Philadelphia 5 @ New Jersey 2
Nov. 16: New Jersey 2 @
Philadelphia 3
Dec. 12: Philadelphia 1 @ New Jersey 4
Feb.
8:
New Jersey 2 @ Philadelphia 3
Feb. 10: Philadelphia 3
@ New Jersey 2 (OT)
March 28: New Jersey 1 @ Philadelphia 5

Brandon: If the Flyers had any sort of
reliable goaltending, I’d be seriously tempted to go with the fellas
from Broad St. Yet Boucher has been too inconsistent; is Michael
Leighton better? New Jersey in 6.

James: The Devils haven’t been a great
playoff team since the lockout, but thankfully the Flyers are an
absolute mess. That being said, don’t discount the Flyers’ overall
talent in this one. New Jersey in 6.

Joe: I don’t trust Brian Boucher in the playoffs, but I do think he can steal a couple of games. New Jersey in 6.

More after the jump.

(3) Buffalo Sabres vs (6) Boston Bruins (full
preview here
)

Season series (Boston won 4-2)
Nov. 7:
Buffalo 2 @ Boston 4
Nov. 20: Boston 2 @ Buffalo 1
Jan.
29:
Boston 1 @ Buffalo 2
Feb. 9: Boston 3 @ Buffalo 2
March
29:
Buffalo 3 @ Boston 2
April 8: Buffalo 1 @ Boston 3

Brandon: Of all the teams for the Sabres
to get, it had to be Boston. The Bruins match up perfectly with Buffalo,
in what will be an extremely low scoring series. Buffalo in 7.

James: Nothing makes more sense to me than
the Bruins ending their season at home; they barely went over .500 in
Beantown (18-17-6). People assume that the Sabres lack firepower because
they don’t have a big name star, but they have too much offensive depth
for Boston. Buffalo in 6.

Joe: This
will be a slow, bleeding death for the Sabres against a dreadfully
boring team that can get by with one or two goals a game. Unless
Olympics Ryan Miller shows up, the Sabres are going to struggle. Boston
in 7.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Ottawa Senators (full
preview here
)

Season series (Tied 2-2)
Oct. 12:
Pittsburgh 4 @ Ottawa 1
Nov. 19: Pittsburgh 2 @ Ottawa 6
Dec.
23:
Ottawa 2 @ Pittsburgh 8
Jan. 28: Ottawa 4 @
Pittsburgh 1

Brandon: Upset special! The Penguins were
too inconsistent at the end of the season, while the Senators finally
pulled it together in front of Brian Elliott. The Senators get first
round revenge for 2008, against a tired and pressured Penguins team. Ottawa
in 7.

James: If I were to pick an upset in the
East, it would be this. The Senators are frisky and the Penguins are
tired. That being said, Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been right all year
(dropping
from 113 points to 77 points), so if he gets things together the
Penguins are dangerous. Again. Pittsburgh in 6.


Joe: Everyone
that wants to pick a sweep never does and says it’ll end in five games.
Screw that noise. Pens in four over a brutally over matched Sens team. Pittsburgh
in 4.

Flyers not ‘focusing on or looking’ to trade Neuvirth, Mason

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One of Philly’s areas of strength this year was in goal, where Steve Mason and Michal Neuvrith both enjoyed solid seasons and, at times, held the No. 1 gig.

That’s led some to suggest that a trade could be in the works — y’know, deal from a position of strength.

But that’s not what GM Ron Hextall is thinking.

“I don’t believe that’s a strength that you want to weaken,” Hextall said, per CSN Philadelphia. “The old saying, Wayne Gretzky got traded, right? So I’m not going to sit here and say no I wouldn’t trade anybody on our team, because the reality of it is, if the deal was right, it’s my job to strengthen our team and the organization.

“It’s certainly not something we’re focusing on or looking to do.”

In fact, Hextall suggested both goalies would head into next season in a similar situation to this year, and platoon the starting job. Mason was the busier of the two — 53 starts to Neuvirth’s 29 — but some of that had to do with Neuvirth’s late-season knee injury, which saw Mason play exclusively down the stretch and at the start of Philly’s opening-round playoff series against the Caps.

Neuvirth was the one that finished the Washington series, however, and finished it strong. He posted a ridiculous .981 save percentage over the final three games, allowing just two goals on 105 shots.

Now yes, Neuvirth’s appearance came after Mason struggled, allowing a horrific long-range goal in Game 2 before getting beat six times in Game 3. But that didn’t take away from his body of work this season — “Mase played the last month-and-a-half and was terrific,” Hextall said — and Mason is under contract for one more year, at $4.1 million.

Finances matter for the cap-strapped Flyers, and that’s probably why Hetxall is comfortable keeping the status quo in goal. Like Mason, Neuvirth is also under contract for one more year — with a tidy $1.625M cap hit — which makes for a much more affordable goaltending duo than in, say, Dallas, where the Stars have over $10 million tied up in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi.

Both Mason and Neuvirth have expressed their desires to be the No. 1 guy. Hextall seems content to let them battle for it.

“To have inner competition is a good thing,” the GM explained. “So we get two good goalies and I think as we saw this year, it’s nice to have.”

Good news for the Senators, who move one step closer to building a new arena

OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Owner, governor and chairman Eugene Melnyk of the Ottawa Senators walks the red carpet and greets fans during the Senators' 20th anniversary pre-game ceremonies prior to the start of the NHL home opener against the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Place on October 11, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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The Ottawa Senators got some very good news today in their quest to build a downtown arena.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

The plan from Eugene Melnyk’s RendezVous LeBreton team has emerged as the highest ranked of two competing proposals for the redevelopment of 21.6 hectares of vacant land on LeBreton Flats.

RendezVous LeBreton’s plan focuses on a new downtown arena that would house Melnyk’s Senators and major events. It also includes a restored “heritage aqueduct” lined with shops and cafes and an Abilities Centre catering to disabled and able-bodied athletes.

The Sens were one of two bidders to develop LeBreton Flats and build an arena on the vacant land. The other proposal came from the deep-pocketed Devcore Canderel DLS Group — a group that was bidding despite Melynk’s insistence that 1) the Sens weren’t for sale “at any price” and 2) he had no interest in moving into an arena he didn’t control.

According to the Citizen, the DCDLS bid was “rated lower but will remain in contention as a second choice,” meaning the Sens will still need to deliver on their proposal.

From CTV Ottawa:

This is one major step in a long process, but the Senators group promised in their bid that a new arena would be ready for the puck to drop by September of 2021.

The big question for Kanata residents now: what are the plans for the Senators current home the Canadian Tire Centre.

Melnyk says he has plans for that site too, and will reveal them soon.

Colton Orr — one of the last enforcers — has retired

Florida Panthers' George Parros (22) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Colton Orr (28) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Monday, Feb. 18, 2013.  (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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After 477 games, 12 goals, 12 assists and — most notably — 1,186 penalty minutes, Colton Orr has retired from the NHL.

“I feel privileged to have played for a decade in the NHL and to have had the support of four great organizations in Boston, New York, Toronto and Calgary,” Orr, 34, said, via the NHLPA. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play with great teammates and against great players, many of whom have become great friends.”

Undrafted out of the WHL, Orr was a prototypical enforcer, the kind that few teams carry anymore. In 2009-10, he fought 23 times in 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, piling up 239 PIMs in the process. That was the most he ever fought in a single NHL season. But he dropped the gloves 36 times for the Providence Bruins in 2003-04 and 33 times in 2004-05, per hockeyfights.com

In the NHL, Orr had a couple of infamous bouts with fellow tough guy George Parros — one that ended with Orr going face-first into the ice and suffering a season-ending concussion, another with Parros getting knocked out and leaving on a stretcher.

“I look forward now to the next chapter of my life which I could not be happier to share with the two loves of my life — my wife Sabrina and daughter, Charlotte,” Orr said. “They are the two consistently bright lights in my life who have made the darker parts of my journey a very bright part of a very fulfilling career.”

Related: ‘The game has changed’

No chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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Reflecting on a year in which pundits saw mostly regression and a lack of team cohesion, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher took to the podium on Thursday to reflect on what he called a “disappointing” campaign.

Among the key takeaways:

There’s no chemistry issue on our team.

Not surprising Fletcher had to go here.

In mid-February, the club was forced to fire head coach Mike Yeo amid rumblings the players had tuned him out — which, not coincidentally, came amid a horrific losing streak.

There were also major, season-long issues with veteran players like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, both of whom woefully underachieved.

Vanek, in particular, was a healthy scratch under Yeo and interim bench boss John Torchetti. The 32-year-old’s effort level repeatedly came into question, and now buyout rumors loom.

Elsewhere, team leaders Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were embroiled in controversy when, following his dismissal, Yeo took issue with the two working with skills coach Adam Oates during the season.

The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo noted that Oates showed up at a Wild morning skate in January, so he asked Yeo about it:

When you say things never felt right, did this start with the Adam Oates stuff? “Yeah. I thought we dealt with it. We talked with Zach, and we had no issues with it after that. And talked with some players, and … Whether it’s something like that, whether it’s the trade rumors, whatever it is, when there’s things that might cause a little unrest, they kind of sit there and they hang out. When things are going well, they’re forgotten and pushed to the side. But when things don’t go well, quite often they come back.”

Did it bother you that Oates came to the Buffalo morning skate? That was at the start of the tailspin? “I’m not going to even comment on it. But I would say, that I would not do the same thing.”

Yeo went on to add he felt there was a divide in the Wild locker room.

“It just felt like there were almost two groups,” he explained. “There were younger guys and there were the older guys. It wasn’t just a group.”

He’s definitely a very serious candidate for the head coach position.”

That was Fletcher on Torchetti, who’s currently holding the interim tag. The Wild GM praised Torchetti for being “able to push and pull this team into a playoff position,” but stopped short of promoting him to full-fledged head coach.

Why?

Well, the Wild weren’t that good under Torchetti.

They went 15-11-1 during the regular season and bowed out to Dallas in six playoff games. Granted, they showed some fight and spirit at times, and a few players definitely played better under Torch than Yeo (Erik Haula was exhibit 1a).

But there were also some alarming moments of apathy and poor play, like a late-season drubbing in Winnipeg which led goalie Devan Dubnyk to remark, “we’re going to get throttled if we’re going to play like this.”

This is probably why Fletcher fielded so many questions about his team’s character and chemistry on Thursday.

He’s done almost everything within his power as a GM with this group — big trades, coaching changes, free agent splashes — yet the club is still potentially headed in the wrong direction.

That’s why it was time to start questioning the group.

Related: Wild owner says Fletcher’s not on the hot seat