Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ten key insights that we have learned so far from these Playoffs.

The NHL Playoffs are back, and have been as exciting as ever. We have had memorable games, memorable moments, sorry Phoenix fans, and constant excitement that constantly has left me on the edge of my seat. But with every game played, new lessons have been taught. Playoffs are a time when the empirical truths come to light. While we have always known that Nashville lacks the star power to pull out a series win, (the jury is still out on them this year) the 2011 Playoffs have given us a number of new hockey insights. 

10: Thomas Kaberle is not that good. Peter Chiarelli, a GM that I hold in extremely high regard,  expressed his frustration over the play of Kaberle. In an interview that he held with 98.5 Sports Hub, he proclaimed, "He hasn’t played up to the level that we expected. There have been parts of his game where he hasn’t played in the playoffs for a while and some of those [bad] habits have stuck with him. We expected better." This is his way of saying, I cannot believe I gave up prospects and picks for a player off of the Leafs roster. We torch them when we take THEIR prospects and picks, "cough cough Rask, Seguin." He has not helped their power play, which has been an anemic 9% since he arrived, and has not potted one yet in the Playoffs. The Leafs hope that Boston re-signs him for the sake of their second round pick, but if he continues to play like this look for Chiarelli to cut his losses and look for that puck moving defenceman elsewhere. 

On a side note, something I did not think would happen, but Rich Peverley has been an awful pickup, and it looks like they miss Wheeler's size and skill on the third and fourth line. The trade deadline pickups, did not work out nearly as well as they looked earlier this season. 

9: The success of the San Jose Sharks, rests upon the shoulder of....... Logan Couture and Ryan Clowe.
Just like they supported this team throughout the struggles of the first half of this season, they will have to pick up the slack for their choking teammates again. After three games  this post season, Clowe has the same amount of points as the three "stars". Even last season, making the conference finals, Heatley and Thornton were a combined -18. It is time to accept that they are not the kind of players that elevate their games for the post-season.  The success of last season- thank you Joe Pavelski.

8: Dan Bylsma is an absolute coaching wizard. He has his team up 3-1 in a series, where they are at such a significant talent disadvantage. They tied Philly in points in the regular season, through hard work, and a commitment to defence. Bylsma knew exactly what he was doing when he handed the starting job to Brent Johnson at the beginning of the season: he was lighting a fire under his star goalie, and has him playing the best hockey of his young career. While the Lovejoys, Letestus and Kennedys continue to make an impact up front, this team looks like the team to beat if they can ever get their top players healthy again. Wouldn't Pittsburgh and Washington be such a downer if Crosby cannot play. 

7: Steven Stamkos is a talented goal scorer, who does not rise to the occasion in the big games. If we needed any more proof that Martin St. Louis is the heart and soul of this team, we have seen it in these Playoffs.  Stamkos has yet to score in the post season, and is stuck on only one assist through four games. His diminutive teammate on the other hand has 4 goals and 6 points and continues to be the driving force for this young team. While Stamkos has been a remarkable goal scorer for their team, (aside from the final 20 games, when they were pushing for home ice advantage) Steve Yzerman is going to have to think long and hard about signing him to the big big bucks he will be looking for. With St. Louis being 35 years old, and the albatross contract of Lecavalier, Stamkos will not be with a star playmaker in Tampa in two years from now, and the question is how will he produce. He has disappeared this postseason even with St Louis in the lineup, is he worth the Ovechkin-Crosby money? Not with performances like this...

6: Bruce Boudreau knew exactly what he was doing all season long. Two words that I never thought I would hear in the same sentence: Capitals and defence. All season long this is what their coach has been preaching. Even mired in a seven game losing streak, Boudreau refused to change his course. Taking all the heat for Ovechkin, and Bakcstrom's poor offensive performances this season, he simply did not care. He understood that as long as they did not know how to play defence, they would not be able to win in the Playoffs. With this new commitment to defence, the Capitals are looking primed for a long playoff run. We are also seeing determination from this group, as they battled back from a 3-0 deficit to win in OT, after a beautiful chip pass from Gaborik to Jason Chimera, to set him up with a wide open net.( You think a Gaborik, Stamkos combination would get shutout four consecutive games in a tight playoff series?)

5: One of the best tweets of the post-season: @Sportsnetbroph yesterday that Dan Girardi is deserving of the Vezina. Through four games the guy has 23 blocked shots, a very similar number to Illya Brzgalov. In all probability, the Rangers made the playoffs because of their ability to block shots. This is where they miss Ryan Callahan the most. He is the best shot blocking forward in the NHL by far. He blocked 1.28 shots per game. The second best amongst forwards that played sixty games is Adam Burrish with 1.11. While Girardi has proven to be a great goalie alongside King Henrik, the Rangers miss the leader of their team, on the defensive side just as much as they miss him offensively. In such a tight series, that has featured two games in OT, and the other two very close as well, with Callahan in the lineup, the series could easily be 3-1 in favor of the Rangers.

4: The Blackhawks are not suffering from post-winning syndrome, they just are not that good. The entire season, everyone was waiting for them to break out, and it simply never happened.  With a top heavy team of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook and Campbell, there is no money for them to pay for depth. What may have turned out to be the biggest off-season news, (after Kovalchuk decided to relax with his career-long paychek) is the offer sheet that the Hawks matched for Hjarmalsson. The Sharks offered 4 yr/14 million dollars and completely cash-strapped the defending champions. After their game 4 dominance with Dave Bolland returning with a 4 point night, it summed up the issues that have been plaguing the Hawks all season. They must find a way to re-sign Brouwer in the off-season, or look for mediocrity to settle once again in the Midwest. 

3: Some of the oldest players in the league are still having remarkable seasons. I tweeted yesterday, that I am not sure what is more impressive, Teemu Selanne at 40, or Mark Recchi at 43. Teemu is leading the league in goal scoring with 5 in the post season, and Recchi is tied for the team lead with 3 points in three games. Along with Roloson, Thomas, St. Louis and Lidstrom, some of the oldest players have been making the largest impact this post-season. The post season has been dominated by players 30 and over, or 25 and younger. Offenceman that are in their so-called "prime" are few and far between this post-season, with Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards really being the lone exceptions. It really highlights the importance of experience in the post-season, and the remarkable amount of young talent that is coming into the NHL these days. 

2: Since the beginning of the millennium the Flyers have been dealing with goaltending issues in the post-season. This was supposed to be the year where they finally break through and go all the way, on the shoulders of the infamous Bob. That plan has failed, and badly. He has broken down in the second half of the season, and the duties of leading the angry Flyers fans rests upon the duties of the epitomize of backup goaltending: Brian Boucher. Unless Boucher learns from his AHL-demoted buddy Leighton, "how to lead a team to the Cup, when I have no business there" this is going to be another exit for the Flyers. Perhaps they should learn from there opponents: Get a goaltender, and hope the rest works out, seems to be working okay for the offensively challenged Sabres.  

1: Phoenix does not deserve an NHL team. With the news out that they were most likely moving to Winnipeg, tickets were still available the day of their home Playoff game. How does that happen? They have a team that is 6th in the ultra-competitive West, and they still do not have the support of the city? Never mind going to Winnipeg, they should come to Toronto, and they will get the treatment they deserve, from the corporations that make the ACC sound like a morgue, rather than a hockey game. But in all honesty, with the travelling Quebec fans, begging for another franchise, and the people of Winnipeg still desperate, it is time to move them outta the clutches of corrupt owners and city officials, back to the Great North, where the game is loved. 

As the post-season goes on, I am sure that many more exciting stories will come to light. Anymore great insights, would love to hear of them in the comments section!

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