2010 NHL playoffs: Western Conference Round 2 predictions

1 Comment

heh.jpg

Another round, another set of darts. This time, we’re taking a look at Round 2 of the 2010 NHL Playoffs (also known as the Conference Semifinals, if you’re a stickler for details). I think the question is: which team will torment us with their upset special this round?

Since the East got first dibs last round, we’ll go with the West first today.

[1] San Jose vs. [5] Detroit

Brandon: The Red Wings were taken to the brink of elimination in the 1st round, but they showed they still know how to play dominating team hockey. The Sharks will need more than just Joe Pavelski to have their own shot. Red Wings in 6.

James: I picked the Sharks to win the Cup last summer, so I figure it’s best to lay in the hockey bed I made. This will depend (gulp) on San Jose’s big dogs waking from their typical summer slumber. I cannot see the Sharks winning a Game 7 against the Red Wings, so six games it is? Yikes. Sharks in 6.

Joe: I tried to look at this one in some sort of logical formulaic kind of way. San Jose had issues containing the spunky play of Colorado while Detroit had a couple of games where they couldn’t stop a pee wee team, never mind and NHL team, on the power play. Add in some homer-iffic glasses in which to view this series and… Voila! Truth be told, Detroit showed signs of some killer instinct in parts of their series that haven’t been shown in some time from this team and that should scare the chum out of the Sharks as they’re already a team that has issues handling the Wings. Red Wings in 6.

[2] Chicago vs. [3] Vancouver

Brandon: It’s the contest of “our goaltending is more consistent than yours.” Will the suspect defense of Vancouver be able to sustain the offense of Chicago? Can the Blackhawks find some way to slow down the Sedins? Whatever happens, this will be the series to watch. Vancouver in 7.

James: This is a really tough one. On paper, Chicago’s offense can go toe-to-toe with any in the league but Vancouver was the West’s leading goal producing team. I like the talent of the Blackhawks’ D better than the banged up Canucks blueline, but commitment-wise? Eh, not so sure about that. Plus, Roberto Luongo really showed me something in Game 6. Antti Niemi was great in Round 1, but going from facing the Predators offense to squaring off against the Canucks offense is like defending against bows and arrows and then running into a tank. Vancouver in 7.

Joe: I think this will be the best series of the four remaining and a lot of that is based upon how crazy their series was in last year’s playoffs but more than anything it’s based on Vancouver being a better team than they were last season. Does Vancouver have issues? Yes. Does Chicago have issues against defensive-minded teams? Yes. Can they both fill the net if need be? Definitely. I am just running with a gut feeling here that says Vancouver is going to get it done. Nothing more, nothing less. These teams are extremely even. Vancouver in 7.

With Lehtonen’s strong finish, is Niemi done in Dallas?

Getty
Leave a comment

The Stars have spent the last two years working with their oft-criticized two goalie setup.

Could the experiment soon be over?

Over the last month, the club has played Kari Lehtonen almost exclusively — he’s been the goalie of record in 10 of 12 games, including six straight — and has performed well. On Monday, he was named the NHL’s second star of the week, and has a .926 save percentage in March.

According to the Morning-News’ Mike Heika, this might be foreshadowing Antti Niemi‘s departure.

I think they have lost all faith in Antti Niemi and they want to see if Lehtonen is worth keeping next year.

I’m still not sure if this is proving they should keep him, but it makes the decision to get two new goalies more difficult.

A lot will depend on whether or not they acquire a goalie in trade before the NHL buyout window (which opens June 15) closes June 30. If they make a trade or two, that will possibly push them to buy out Lehtonen and Niemi.

I think it would be tough to buy out both and have no goalies in house on July 1.

The guess here is Niemi will be bought out for sure.

Niemi is in the second of a three-year, $13.5 million deal, one that carries a $4.5 million cap hit. Per CapFriendly, a buyout would cost Dallas $1.5 million against the cap through 2019.

This season has been a struggle for the 33-year-old. He’s posted an 11-11-4 record with a 3.35 GAA and .892 save percentage, and that came after a fairly mediocre first year in Dallas. Though he won 25 games and appeared in five playoff contests, Niemi never posted a save percentage above .905.

If the plan is to keep Lehtonen and move on from Niemi, it’s fairly safe to assume GM Jim Nill will acquire a goalie to work in tandem with the former.

And this is where things could get interesting.

This summer’s UFA goalie market will be flush. Ryan Miller, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason, Brian Elliott, Mike Condon, Scott Darling and Chad Johnson are all currently without contracts for next season, and the prospect of joining the Stars has to be enticing. There is playing time to be had, and Lehtonen — who turns 34 next season — only has a year left on his deal.

Report: U.S. women to vote on deal to avoid worlds boycott

Getty
Leave a comment

USA Today, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that USA Hockey has struck a tentative four-year deal with members of the U.S. women’s national team that would avert a boycott of the upcoming world championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

The players are expected to vote on the deal today. No financial details were reported. The players have been seeking a living wage.

The U.S. is scheduled to play Canada on Friday at USA Hockey Arena.

Read more:

USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage

U.S. women say they’ll boycott worlds

Selanne: Ducks want Kariya back in fold, but he’s ‘very bitter about hockey’

Getty
8 Comments

Paul Kariya hasn’t played hockey in over seven years, since a series of concussions forced him into retirement.

He’s been out of the limelight, too.

After sharply criticizing the league during his retirement announcement — he said every hit that ever knocked him out was an illegal one — Kariya has virtually disconnected from the hockey world, save the occasional report alluding to his bitterness towards the NHL.

But there have been efforts to connect with him.

Including those from the team he rose to prominence with.

In a recent interview on Ray Ferraro’s Pulp Hockey podcast, Teemu Selanne — Kariya’s longtime running mate in Anaheim — shed some light on how the Ducks would welcome Kariya back… and how Kariya’s consistently rebuffed the idea.

More:

“It was kind of a shame how his career ended. He’s very bitter about that. He always thought that the NHL was not looking after the players the way they should. So that’s why he doesn’t want to be involved with hockey at all, and he almost kind of like disappeared from the hockey world, which is very sad.

“What he has done for hockey, and especially here in Anaheim and California, it’s unbelievable. He was an unbelievable hockey player, and I had a great time with him. It hurts me that he doesn’t want to be part of hockey, because I think he has a lot to offer and give. Hopefully one day he will come back, for some reason. I know the Ducks have really tried hard to get him back and into the program.

“But he’s very bitter about hockey, which is very sad.”

Drafted fourth overall by the Ducks in ’93, Kariya was the franchise’s first true superstar. He scored 50 goals and 108 points in his sophomore campaign and, the year following, finished second in Hart Trophy voting for league MVP.

In 2003, he led Anaheim to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance. That series, of course, is perhaps best remembered for the lethal hit Kariya took from Devils d-man Scott Stevens.

The Stevens hit was just one in a series that derailed Kariya’s career. There was the infamous Gary Suter crosscheck to the head in ’98 — Suter received a two-game suspension — and the last one, an elbow to the head from Patrick Kaleta.

Kaleta avoided suspension entirely.

Many have wondered where Kariya would’ve ranked among the greats had he stayed healthy. He finished with 989 points in 989 career games, and was still a really productive player at the end — despite the concussion problems, Kariya, then 35 years old, scored 18 goals and 43 points in 75 games during his final season in St. Louis.

With the annual Hall of Fame debates and the recent NHL 100 list, Kariya’s name has come up quite a bit. Which again circles back to Anaheim.

Selanne’s number is already in the rafters (Kariya wasn’t in attendance for the ceremony), and the organization has close ties with alumni, as both Scott Niedermayer and Todd Marchant both have front-office gigs. So one would think Kariya, who served as team captain for five years, would be embraced with open arms.

PHT reached out to the Ducks for comment on Selanne’s remarks. They replied that Kariya is always welcome in Anaheim, and he’s aware of that.

Keller debut garners praise from coach Tippett

Getty
Leave a comment

Clayton Keller didn’t score — in fact, he didn’t even register a shot — but his NHL debut last night in St. Louis garnered high praise from Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett.

“He looks like a good player,” Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “He’s got good skill. He’s certainly not worried about getting into any confrontations. He plays hard along the wall. He’s not a big guy, but he competes hard. He looks like a hockey player. He’s got great hockey sense. You watch how he manages a game between line changes, just managing the puck, it was a good start for him.”

The Coyotes lost the game, 4-1, but Keller finished with an even rating in 12:21 of even-strength action. The 18-year-old also logged 1:48 on the power play.

Keller grew up in suburban St. Louis, so debuting against the Blues at Scottrade Center was doubly special.

“It’s pretty cool growing up coming to games here,” he said. “It was really special to have the first one here.”

Related: Coyotes ready for prized prospect Keller to go pro