Hello, TJ McAloon and Kyle Warne here, NHL analysts at Place to be Nation, presenting the first of a monthly series. Every month we’ll look at some of the most intriguing storylines in the NHL, and predict what the future might have. Each month we will look back on our previous predictions and bask in the glory of being right! (hopefully)
1) Who will win the job as the Maple Leafs’ starting goaltender?
Kyle: The 2012-13 season saw the Toronto Maple Leafs end an eight year post season drought. The epic defensive collapse that saw Toronto squander a three goal lead with less than eleven minutes remaining in game 7 against the Bruins left the club’s fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. Despite that, many were convinced Toronto had found the star goaltender they had been seeking for nearly a decade. Obviously management was less convinced, trading for L.A. backup Jonathan Bernier. Common belief around the league is that Bernier has had what it takes to be a #1 guy for at least the last couple seasons, but he was given little opportunity to play behind Quick.
Despite all that, I’m still going with “Optimus Reim” in Toronto. Reimer’s slightly better save % (.925 vs .917) and greater NHL experience makes it his job to lose. The race could be very close, but Bernier hasn’t proved he has anything more than potential. It’s easier to predict the status quo then a grand change. It’s not all bad news for Bernier however, as great as Reimer is for the Leafs, he is not Jonathan Quick; Bernier will have a fair shot at the job—so it’s up to him to prove he deserves to take away Reimer’s job.
TJ: This whole goaltender situation comes down to which player gets off to a hot start. During the preseason James Reimer had the better stat line posting a 2-1-0 record with a 2.56 goals against average compared to Jonathan Bernier’s 1-1-0 with a 3.75 GAA.
He should, and probably will, get the start when Toronto opens their season against the Montreal Canadiens. Plus, you have to go with the guy who brought you to within one game from advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs last year, Reimer.
He has proven that he can lead Toronto to the playoffs, and this season he will take them to the second round.
2) Is Andrew Ference being named captain a sign that Edmonton is still too young and underdeveloped to be an elite force in the NHL?
Kyle: Yes. Yes it is. New head coach Dallas Eakins and new general manager Craig Mactavish have been telling anyone who’ll listen that the Oiler’s have turned a page—that their youngsters are “in their primes” and ready to be “impact players”. Despite this, none of the kids are worthy of leading the team? A relative outsider in Ference was handed the job because despite flashes of brilliance, none of Edmonton’s youngsters have bloomed into league wide superstars. I don’t know whether it’s lip service, or if Edmonton management have deluded themselves into thinking that their team is any better this year than last year, but the end result is not envying Ference. Either way, if the organization ACTUALLY believed in the core they’ve built, one of them would be captain.
TJ: No it wasn’t. Is he a proven leader that will bring that veteran voice to a young team, yes. However, you do not put the “C” on a guy who is new to your team when your franchise’s core is built around established young players.
The Oilers should have made Taylor Hall their captain and let him be the face of their franchise. Hall is the guy who will be around for the next seven years and, next to Jordan Eberle, is the highest paid player on the team.
3) The New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks essentially traded coaches in the off-season, which team will show more improvement early on?
Kyle: The Rangers are a team with elite offense from the likes of Rick Nash and Dereck Stepan that played under their potential when their coach lost their faith. Alain Vigneault will be a relaxing force in the locker room, and he’ll be happy to unchain the talent on his roster. The Rangers also have room to improve in the standings, having finished 6th in the conference and not coming anywhere close to winning their division. Contrast this with the Canucks; despite their poor playoff performance the Canucks won their division for the 5th straight year in 2013. There is almost nowhere to go but down, and there are plenty of reasons to believe it could. Looking beyond the questioning of Roberto Luongo’s mental state, Tortorella will demand his new team changes everything about their style of play. Defensive hockey is the only thing Torts knows. Daniel Sedin, who blocked 9 shots last year, will be expected to do that every night! Multiple members of Vancouver’s roster have acknowledged that they will not have mastered the new systems by the season opener. I’m not so much saying that Vigneault wins the comparison, Tortorella just losses it. New York is better just by the virtue that he’s not there, and I’ll believe that Kesler and the Sedins are capable of playing gritty hockey when I see it.
TJ: The obvious answer is Torts in Vancouver. His team has the better scorers, defenders and the guy who will win the Veznia at the end of the year, Roberto Luango.
When Torts was in a city where there was little media pressure he took the Tampa Bay Lighting to the Stanley Cup Finals and won. This year, away from the spotlight of the New York Media, he will have the better year than the Canucks former head coach, Alain Vigneault.
4) The Winnipeg Jets, Detroit Red Wings, and Columbus Blue Jackets have moved into new Conferences. Who benefits the most?
Kyle: Not Winnipeg. The Jets couldn’t make the playoffs last season in a division that featured an abysmal Carolina Hurricanes and two irrelevant Florida clubs. Now they play with Chicago, St. Louis, and Minnesota. Time zone issues be damned, Re-alignment sucks for Jets Fans, no way around it. As for Columbus and Detroit, both teams will benefit from playing in their own time zones and are moving from one competitive division to another. I’ll give the toss up to the Wings, because betting against Detroit hasn’t worked out for two decades of straight playoff appearances.
TJ: Well, let me go in reverse order to give my answer.
First, the poor Blue Jackets go from a tough division facing Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis to the Wings, again, and the entire Atlantic Division. Secondly the Red Wings have more talent than the Blue Jackets, but are in the same pickle of going from one tough division to facing Sidney Crosby more than just twice a year.
That leads me to the Jets. They go from a horrible Southeast Division to a so-so Central. The Blackhawks are tough, but Colorado, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas are teams that the Jets can hang and contend with.
5) Which First round pick from the 2013 NHL draft has the biggest upside as an 18-year old rookie?
Kyle: While several rookies are likely to make the big club in their first year of eligibility, many of them were drafted by teams that will limit their effectiveness. They are either so pathetic the only thing they’re good for is losing to get MORE top 5 draft picks (Shawn Monahan in Calgary) or don’t do anything to suit the team’s needs (Why did Tampa pass on picking a the top rated defenseman to add another forward again?). That leaves Seth Jones as the stand out. Nashville has always played a defensive style, and will fit in nicely on the Predator’s back end. The kid also proved he could score at the junior level, and with the one goal games Nashville will hope to squeeze out, any contribution to the offense will be appreciated. Nashville is poised for a bounce back season, and Jones might just ride that to a Calder nomination.
TJ: I like the number one pick of the draft, Nathan MacKinnon. He will get a lot of playing time on a young Avalanche team that will go through growing pains this season. Because of that it will allow MacKinnon time to flourish in regular strength as well as the power play.
Now he won’t be putting up 80-points, but a solid season of 20 goals, 30 assists wouldn’t be too much to expect from the kid.
6) Will Chicago suffer from a cup hangover in the early season?
Kyle: The Blackhawks are facing the shortest gap between Cup final and season opener as a result of last year’s shortened season. It won’t matter. Even if Chicago only wins 50% of the games they did in the first month of last year…it’s still .500 hockey. Chicago won’t get off to the same record setting, undefeated start, but they’ll be near the top of the standings. They are just too damn good to be anywhere else.
TJ: No they won’t have a “cup hangover” in the sense of they won’t miss the playoffs in the NHL’s new playoff format. But they won’t repeat as Stanley Cup champions. And that doesn’t mean that they can’t be considered a “cap era dynasty.”
Their team is built, and has been this way, around a solid core of Patrick Kane and Sharp plus Jonathan Toews. Throw in the solid goaltending of Corey Crawford and this team will be contenders for a long time.
And that is a dynasty.
7) Will Marc-Andre Fluery be traded if he struggles in the early season?
Kyle: No, for better or worse the Penguins are all in on Fleury, I do believe that a bad season/post season choke results in an offseason trade (he’s signed through next season as well). It only makes sense for the Pens to dump him if they get an elite goalie in return—and I don’t see them throwing In Malkin or Crosby as a bonus to make that even remotely possible. What team would actually give away a star for damaged goods like Fluery?
TJ: I think they will. Fluery has had the look of a Peyton Manning type player in that he’s looked great during the regular season, then awful in the playoffs.
The one thing that has saved him during his time with the Penguins is that he’s posted 35 or more wins since the 2008-09 season.
But, because of those post season shortcomings if he does struggle out of the gate I’d expect the Penguins to be putting his name out there especially with how well Tomas Vokun played during last year’s playoff run.
8) Will Hybrid Icing do well enough to warrant it’s continued existence.
Kyle: Hybrid icing is stupid. If you want to illuminate the injuries, just use no touch icing, all this half-assed solution gives is more blown calls by the refs that’ll piss the GM’s off. The rule might not even survive into the playoffs. Next
TJ: Yes, it was announced today that it will stick and it will be a good thing for the league. No more will we see players racing to beat out an icing call risking blowing out a knee or messing up an ankle. It’s good for the game and what’s best for business.
9) Which coach is most likely to be fired first?
Kyle: John Tortorella; for reasons I’ve already covered. Mike Gillis is already on thin ice, and he fired Vigneault to save his own ass. If the Torts experiment doesn’t work out and the Canucks find themselves in the basement, BOTH could be wished well on their future endeavours.
TJ: This one is easy in that it’s Peter Laviolette in Philadelphia. The Flyers struggled last year, missing the playoffs, they went out in the second round of the playoffs in his two other seasons after making the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year with the club.
The Flyers are a mess in its cap situation, they have no goaltending and the defense is a group of aged players trying to keep up with the young skaters of the league.
Editors Note: This article was written before the Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette on Monday. Great call TJ!
10) Will Jaomir Jagr be traded to the Islanders, thus completing his tour of the Atlantic division.
Kyle: A question asked by my writing colleague. Jagr will be traded before the deadline this season. Jagr is hanging around to try and get his name back on the Stanley cup, and New Jersey is in no position to give it to him. Remember the Stars—Bruins Jagr trade last year; I figure it happens again with New Jersey and someone. As a bubble team the Islanders might be a good fit, but since it’s *technically* a 1 in 29 chance (assuming I’m right and he’s traded) I’ll go with no.
TJ: Sigh, no. But wouldn’t it be awesome if Jagr does get traded to the Islanders thus completing his tour of every Atlantic division club? It would be full circle for the future hall of famer.
That’s all for T.J. and myself, we’ll be back in November to check in on our predictions and see who is smarter (It’s the handsome one named Kyle). Until then, let’s just enjoy another season of Hockey!