We promise we will try to get some of these right. Our final 8 thoughts below…
AVS vs STARS
Personally, I have been expecting that this older Stars roster to falter but they keep ticking away. Their President calls out their best players. Tick on. They lose their coach, Rick Bowness in. Tick on. Arguably left with the leagues best goalie this will be a tough bunch to beat. I’ve been converted but can they beat the high flying, very deep Colorado team? Is it Nate McKinnon’s time? He has to end his career with a Stanley Cup (I think). Two weeks ago I would easily have picked the Avs. Now it comes with great difficulty but I will stay with it. AVS in 7
VEGAS vs CANUCKS
No series is easy to pick. Vegas is big, strong, fast & deep. Peter DeBoer has been there before. This team plays with a confidence that is hard to bet against. Not to mention we agree with Coach that Robert Lehner is on a different level. Is there any better goalie in the league? If there was one it would be the crazy play of Jacob Markstrom. Seems like a goal is never easy to get by this guy. Playing on an expiring contract, he sure is proving his worth. A young strong, fast group of forwards and a lot of heart throughout this line up and the underrated (maybe) outstanding coaching of Travis Green. We are still on the bandwagon…Canucks in 7
LIGHTNING vs BRUINS
The Bruins look unstoppable. No Pasta and no Rask? No problem. Bruce Cassidy is working his magic. Dispatching a very strong and very well coached Hurricanes team in 5 was surprising to say the least. Enough is enough. Can they beat the mighty Tampa team that has always faltered in playoff’s past? Unfortunately a team needs to lose in order to win (could say the same thing about the Bruins). I just think that the Lightning have been around too long at the top of the league to not get to the final. Maybe in pandemic/bubble conditions is what the Lightning need to play with the utmost focus and get over this hump. This has to be the year. Tampa in 6
ISLANDERS vs FLYERS
Is there a better feel good story than the Islanders getting to the final eight teams? Their best player/center leaves for the hated/filthy rich Maple Leafs. Arguably the leagues best goalie doesn’t sign a contract and moves on. Arena problems? No problem. Let’s go out and get the leagues best coach, off of a Stanley Cup championship and pick up a recycled number 1 goalie. Naturally the formula to advance far into these playoffs. The Flyers are well coached (a theme in these last group of 8 teams), tons of depth, can play any style of game and dispatched a Carey Price team that were on a tidal wave. I thought the Islanders would lose the last round. There is this old New Jersey Devils thing going in on the Island and sweet Lou knows how to win playoff games. Islanders in 6
Vegas vs Hawks – No doubt that past Championship glory will be tempting to take here. The likes of Toews, Kane & Keith is always hard to bet against. The problem, they are facing a Vegas team that traded for the Hawks 1.(b) goalie and are seasoned with veterans hungry to win. Without the pandemic this series would have never happened. Lehner the former Vezina finalist gets his revenge. Vegas in 5
Avs vs Coyotes – Is there anyone better than the Avs? Colorado full of speed, top flight talent at forward and on D for this writer is the team to beat. Do we need to keep mentioning the kid from where Sidney Crosby is from? We like the blend of talent and all that Rich Tocchet inspired play drawn out of this feisty Arizona team but the Coyotes already have won this year by upsetting the Predators. Colorado in 5
Stars vs Flames – It’s easier when no one sees you coming. After a disappointing season last year where the Flames had so much promise finishing on top of the league, there is no pressure on the back of their young stars. This is always a formula for a great playoff run. The Stars are very strong defensively, great goaltending, couple of “stars” up front but we have seen this team be overrated all year long. Flames in 7
Blues vs Canucks – The young flying Canucks backstopped by a hot goaltender seems like the perfect formula to upset the defending Stanley Cup champions. Perhaps aging tired legs combined with a goaltender that doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. This one is a tough pick but we are going with the upset. Canucks in 7
Flyers vs Habs – Can Carey Price and these group of underrated forwards and competent back end upset probably the hottest team in the league pre-pandemic. Something about the Flyers and their mix of high end offence, gritty forwards and very well coached team that puts an end to the Habs season. The Flyers finally have goaltending. This is the biggest change for this team. Flyers in 5
Lightening vs Jackets – Can the Blue Jackets defeat the Lightening again? Is any team better coach than the lovable Torts? Lovable was sarcastic. Say what you want but his players love him. Great goaltending, a solid D core and gritty forwards is the perfect formula. But Tampa can’t lose again in the first round? Especially to the same team and especially with their depth and coaching. Tampa in 7
Capitals vs Islanders – This is a real tough series. The obvious is the Caps are big, tough and more talented than the Islanders. The Islanders seem to be a band of believers similar to what I saw in Carolina last year. I can easily see an upset here for New York. My head tells me Ovi and Oshi will be too much. Caps in 6.
Bruins vs Hurricanes – After a rough qualifying round, the Bruins should come back strong. Or will they? The Hurricanes seem to be destined and really don’t get their due as to how deep and how clutch this team is. That Bruins top line will have their hands full with this tenacious bunch. Hurricanes in 6
NHL playoffs mean the world to us unless of course there is a pandemic going on. So who really cares about the NHL playoffs? Don’t burst our bubble! Here is our annual breakdown of the NHL playoffs of the final 16 or wait a minute…I think it’s 24 this year. Nonetheless we will start with the first round “Qualifiers”.
Eastern Conference Qualifiers
PIT vs. MTL: As much as I think Carey Price can steal a series, this isn’t the series he can steal. With Penguins overall depth not to mention the 1-2 Center depth of Crosby and Malkin (stating the obvious) but this year it seems like the winger depth is healthy and padded thanks to the trade deadline. It’s not like their goalie (Matt Murray) hasn’t won before. As fo the Habs, if you are going to upset a team like Pittsburgh a 5 game series is ideal. The race to 3 could favour a high intensity, fast forward group backstopped by the legendary coolness of Carey Price and the leadership of Shea Weber. Not this time. Penguins in 4
CAR vs. NYR: Since everyone and their dog is picking the Rangers to win this series, something must be wrong. What gives? I get that the Rangers were hot and they have 3 possible starting goaltenders but something tells me that Rod Brind’amour’s band of underdogs can sure check. They are aggressive, fast, young and have a trio of centers in Aho, Trochek & Jordan Staal. Did Justin Williams retire yet? We are going against the grain. Hurricanes in 5
NYI vs. FLA: Bobrovsky! Will he he show he is worth his $10 million dollar contract? We love Barkov & Huberdeau. Here is the thing. When sweet Lou brings a team to the playoffs things happen. We like this defensive minded band of gritty forwards and an underrated group of big defencemen and a goalie tandem that flew under the radar all season. Islanders in 4
TOR vs. CBJ: Can the Blue Jackets do it again? This team has a lot of heart. Timely scoring and solid defensive play with a little nastiness is always a good formula for the playoffs. The best part of this series will be the many faces of Torts. Just can’t see with all those young legs in Toronto how the Jackets can contain the overwhelming offence that the Leaf forwards will provide. It’s painful but…Leafs in 5
Round-robin order of finish: 1. Lightning; 2. Capitals 3. Bruins 4. Flyers
Western Conference Qualifiers
EDM vs. CHI: If anyone is picking Chicago for past glory, I have an empty arena in Florida to sell you. Oilers are too young, too fast and now too well coached for this series. Though goaltending is in question still, we see Miko Koskinen’s 6’7″ frame standing or rather kneeling tall in this one. It will be interesting to see if Mike Smith gets the start with Coach Tippett’s history. I suppose you can’t go wrong either way. No one loves Toews and Kane and their past glory as much as we do. But this is all on Corey Crawford. Oilers in 4
NSH vs. ARI: This will be a fun pick. Turmoil in Arizona. A John Hynes led Predators team. I really think this is a toss up. It’s hard to bet against that Preds defensive core. They have such an impressive list of forwards (talent wise) but are they playoff wise. My head tells me to take the Predators but for some reason the goaltending depth and the underrated D core of the Coyotes will come to play. All this turmoil is perfect for a Rick Tocchet us against the world rallying cry to produce the biggest upset in the first round. Coyotes in 5
VAN vs. MIN: There is a theme going on with our picks. Young legs will win in a long layoff, playoff type quick series. The Wild are stingy smart and have good goaltending. With timely goals this can surely upset the young Canucks. We just think there is to much of an upward trending curve in this youthful Canucks roster. Lead by their Trever Linden type leader Bo Horvat, we like the supporting cast of gritty playoff guys like JT Miller, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli etc. If Markstrom shows up to play like we know he can. This will be the Canucks series to lose. Canucks in 5
CGY vs. WPG: This is the toughest series to call in our opinion. We don’t think just because one team has likely the Vezina winner in Hellebuyck and the other team doesn’t know who their starting goalie is. For the record we are going with Rittich as we believe acrobats & luck (see M.A. Fleury a couple of seasons ago) will be needed to win this series against the potent Jets offence. The Flames tenacious group led by Tkachuk, Lucic and Mangiapane will need to get on the Jets D in order to have a chance. Though we think this will be tough, the likes of Scheifele, Wheeler, Connor, Laine & Ehlers will be to tough to handle especially with questionable goaltending. Helle will not let them lose. Jets in 5
Round-robin order of finish: 1. Golden Knights 2.Avalanche 3. Blues 4. Stars
Your comments are welcome at @frankzappia1, @spinohockey
With the NHL Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the race for a playoff spot is closer than ever with only a few teams out of playoff contention. This is what would typically be called a seller’s market. However, as we get closer to the deadline more teams will drop off and turn their focus on turning players they have on expiring contracts into draft picks and/or prospects. Buyers will be looking for that difference maker that may get them closer to the Stanley Cup, as all it might take is a minor deal to put a contending team over the top..
Here are my predictions the destination of players who have been rumored to be traded and match them up with the teams who I think will be the buyers:
The Ghost could use a fresh start
The Coyotes dove in early and got a head start on the trade deadline by acquiring Taylor Hall. They have slipped recently, putting them back in the tight race in the Pacific. They may need some more help if they want to secure a playoff berth down the stretch.
Possible Match: Michael Frolik (BUF), Patrick Marleau (SJS)
Long Shot: Tyler Toffoli (LAK), Craig Smith (NSH)
The Flames are in a dog fight in the congested Pacific Division. They have been rumored to be interested in a top six forward heading into the deadline. However, with the recent injury to Mark Giordano, who may be out for an extended period, they will also need to try to acquire a defenceman.
Possible Match: Tyler Toffoli (LAK), Ilya Kovalchuk (MTL), Sami Vatanen (NJD)
Long Shot: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (OTT), Matt Dumba (MIN), Jeff Petry (MTL)
The Blackhawks surprisingly find themselves in the playoff hunt, thanks to a strong second half of the season. GM Stan Bowman may not be a big player in the trade market though, and have been rumored to be listening to offers for Brandon Saad and upcoming UFA D Erik Gustafsson.
Possible Match: Melker Karlsson (SJS), Vladimir Namestnikov (OTT)
Long Shot: Ryan Donato (MIN), Kasperi Kapanen (TOR)
GM of the Year candidate, Joe Sakic, did his trade deadline shopping this past offseason with the acquisitions of Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, and Andrei Burakovsky. Look for Super Joe to focus on trying and shore things up on the back end heading into the post season.
Possible Match: Brendon Dillon (SJS), Craig Anderson (OTT)
Long Shot: Derek Forbort (LAK), Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
The Stars have continued their strong play after the surprise firing of Jim Montgomery. Likely in the market for some depth scoring at forward.
Possible Match: Wayne Simmonds (NJD), Chris Kreider (NYR)
Long Shot: Patrick Marleau (SJS), Mikael Granlund (NSH)
The Oilers have a new lease on life this season after Dave Tippett has taken over and so have McDavid and Draisatl. They have been rumored to be in the market for a top six forward.
Possible Match: Andreas Athanasiou (DET), Jesper Fast (NYR)
Long Shot: Conor Sheary (BUF), Mike Hoffman (FLA)
The Preds have been a big disappointment thus far, after finally believing they solved their centre issue with the signing of Matt Duchene. Duchene has had a forgettable season and so has Kyle Turris, who they recently extended. Injury to Ryan Ellis, who has been sidelined since early January doesn’t help. Preds could turn out to be seller.
Possible Match: Jesper Fast (NYR), Ryan Donato (MIN)
Long Shot: Melker Karlsson (SJS),
The defending Stanley Cup Champions are looking for some scoring punch after losing Vladmir Tarasenko early in the season, and there is no guarantee he will be available come playoff time.
Possible Match: Chris Kreider (NYR), Conor Sheary (BUF)
Long Shot: Jason Zucker (MIN)
It’s been a tough year in Sin City as the 3yr expansion team find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Only thing more surprising than the firing of Gerard Gallant was not a huge shocker, was the hiring of Peter DeBeor.
Possible Match: Sami Vatanen (NJD), Alec Martinez (LAK)
Long Shot: Jeff Petry (MTL), Erik Gustaffson (CHI)
One of the surprising teams in the West find themselves fighting for 1st place in their division. Young team likely looking for some experience and grit going into the playoffs.
Possible Match: Craig Smith (NSH), Trevor Lewis (LAK)
Long Shot: Gabriel Bourque (WPG), Melker Karlsson (SJS)
The hometown bubble team is currently on the outside looking in and could be both buyers, if they can find a defenceman to help them next season, and sellers as they have a few players who are scheduled to be UFAs by the end of the season.
Possible Match: Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI), Matt Dumba (MIN), David Savard (CLB)
Long Shot: Josh Manson (ANA), Jeff Petry (MTL)
Jeff Petry of the Habs
The Bruins are looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final after falling a little short last season. If they want to get past the likes of Lightning and Capitals, they will likely need add some scoring depth.
Possible Match: Jason Zucker (MIN), Tyler Toffoli (LAK)
Long Shot: Chris Kreider (NYR)
The Bunch of Jerks are in a fight for a playoff spot and after losing Dougie Hamilton, it won’t get any easier. Looking for some depth on defence.
Possible Match: Alec Martinez (LAK), Derek Forbort (LAK)
Long Shot: Ron Hainsey (OTT), Matt Dumba (MIN)
Surprise team of East. Coach John Tortorella is getting the most out of his players and they are the hottest team in the second half of the season.
Possible Options: Michael Frolik (BUF), Wayne Simmonds (NJD)
Longshot: Jimmy Vesey (BUF), Jesper Fast (NYR)
First year for Coach Q and he has the Panthers surging for a playoff spot in the crowded Metro Division. Dale Tallon has let it be known
Possible Match: Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI), Erik Gustaffson (CHI)
Long Shot: Alec Martinez (LAK), Marco Scandella (MTL)
New York Islanders
After a hot start to the season, the Isles have cooled off and are on the edge of a playoff spot. Scoring has dried up and that’s what they will be targeting at the deadline.
Possible Match: Mikael Granlund (NSH), J-G Pageau (OTT)
Long Shot: Jason Zucker (MIN), Mike Hoffman (FLA)
The Flyers have remained in the hunt for a in the ultra-competitive Metro division. They have been rumored to be offering Shayne Gostisbehere for some scoring up front.
Possible Match: Mike Hoffman (FLA), Ilya Kovalchuk (MTL)
Long Shot: Andreas Athanasiou (DET), Jimmy Vesey (BUF)
You never know what Jim Rutherford has up his sleeve as he is not scared of making a big move. Sid and Geno are not getting any younger and like he did in the beginning of the season, Rutherford may want to kick-start the Pens again as they are fighting for a playoff spot.
Possible Match: Jason Zucker (MIN), Chris Kreider (NYR)
Long Shot: Brandon Saad (CHI)
After an early exit in last year’s playoffs and a slow start this season, the Lightning appear to be back on track. They also added Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason, so don’t expect them to be very busy as the trade deadline approaches.
Possible Match: Mark Borowiecki (OTT), Derek Forbort (LAK)
Long Shot: Dylan DeMelo (OTT)
The Leafs got the trade deadline started by addressing their need for a backup goalie, mainly due to the injury to Freddie Andersen, by acquiring G Jack Campbell and LW Kyle Clifford from the LA Kings. They have slid in the standings and will need to turn things around quickly if they are going to make the postseason. Defensive depth might be what they focus on now.
Possible Match: Marco Scandella (MTL), Luca Sbisa (WPG)
Long Shot: Erik Gustafsson (CHI), Dylan DeMelo (OTT)
The Caps appear on the verge of another Stanley Cup run as Alex Ovechkin roars up the all-time goal scoring chart. This could also be their last run with Braden Holtby. Probably looking for some depth on the back end.
Possible Match: Brendon Dillon (SJS), Dylan DeMelo (OTT)
Long Shot: Dimitri Kulikov (WPG), Luca Sbisa (WPG)
With less than two months left until the trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Unlike the last two seasons where the team position in the standings left them quite comfortable that they would make it into the postseason, it’s a different story this year as they ain a dog fight for a playoff spot.
Unlike the past two seasons, a second line center is no longer their biggest need. With Blake Wheeler moving to center (as we have been promoting for the past 2.5 seasons), the defence needs some help even if Dustin Byfuglien returns. Also some grit/depth to the bottom lines wouldn’t hurt either.
The following players are scheduled to become UFAs at the end of this season and should, for the most part, cost the team no more than a 2nd round pick and/or prospect which is very palatable just in case the fall short of the playoffs…
1) Kyle Clifford, LW (LAK) – Clifford is tough-as-nails forward that can help with the PK and has Stanley Cup winning experience with the LA Kings. He would bring much needed energy and grit to the 4th line.
2) Alec Martinez, D (LAK) – Martinez will always be remembered for scoring the dramatic Stanley Cup GWG for the Kings in 2014. He is a stay-at-home defenceman, who would bring much needed stability to the blue line for the Jets. A Martinez-Byfuglien pairing would look really good going into the playoffs.
3) Wayne Simmonds, RW (NJD) – The Jets were rumored to have been interested in Simmonds at last year’s trade deadline, who instead went to Nashville. While Simmonds has lost a step or two, he could still be a valuable depth forward, with a nose for the net and can help on the PP, and may not cost as much.
4) Erik Gustafsson, D (CHI) – Gustafsson scored 17 goals last season for the Black Hawks. He would provide some much needed offence and puck moving ability on the left side of the defence for the Jets. A player like this could come at a premium cost, even for a rental. Maybe Chevy can pull some strings with his old team.
5) Jesper Fast, RW (NYR) – Just as his last name alludes, Fast is a speedy, versatile forward who can play all three forward positions. He could help some of the void left after the departure of Brandon Tanev. TFC line, anyone?
6) Brendon Dillon, D (SJS) – At 6’4, Dillon would add some toughness and size on the bank end for the Jets. He is a defensive defenceman, who led the Sharks in hits last season and can log some big minutes.
7) Vladislav Namestnikov RW (OTT) – A solid two-way forward, who can score goals and could really help the Jets on the PK. Had 20 goals with Tampa Bay two seasons ago.
8) Trevor Lewis LW (LAK) – A hard working, energy player, Lewis would fit in well on the 4thline and has valuable playoff experience, having played for and won the Stanley Cup. Could be backup option if the price for Clifford is too high.
The suspension of Dustin Byfuglien has raised many eyebrows around the league but few have noticed that the move essentially guarantees that the Jets will be signing someone soon. With about 15.5M in cap space(thanks Cap Friendly!), the Jets are in tight to sign star wingers Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine. The problem however is that they need to sign both at the same time. If for example they sign Connor to a 7.5M deal for 8 years they would only have 8M left in cap space for Laine, enough in most peoples’ eyes to sign the sharp shooter, but not enough to protect against a 9.5 M offer sheet. With Byfuglein’s salary not on the books at the start of the season even if they were to sign Connor to a lucrative 8 year deal, they would have plenty of cap space to fend off any offer sheet from Ottawa or Anaheim (Columbus is likely out of the picture, not having their own second and third round picks). That sure works out well, but what if both Connor and Laine hold out past the opening day puck drop? In that situation, with Connor, Laine and Byfuglein’s salaries all not on the books, the Jets are below the minimum salary cap expenditure. Which means they would probably need to sign someone. Even with Gabriel Bourque, Mark Letestu and Logan Stanley playing in the big club, they would still be below the minimum. In essence, why would the Jets take Dustin Byfuglien’s salary off the books unless they were planing on signing a player imminently. Byfuglien wears an ‘A’ for a reason. We may end up owing a lot to him as Jets fans in the end. I expect the Jets to sign someone soon.