As I always say I am far from an expert – but the following (in no particular order) are ten things I expect to see this post season in the NHL. Be sure to hold on for a big one at number 10 because I know its one of the best parts of the postseason.
1. Right off the top… The Chicago Blackhawks are going to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. I have to say that because it’s my blog and I can say what I want without any sense or reason. That being said, there are a lot more outlandish statements that I could make than saying that we will see Jonathan Toews hoist the cup again this summer. They have the returning cast and everyone appears to be getting healthy at the right time. I think that despite a tough first round opponent the Hawks will be aided by the new division alignment that allows them to play two teams that lack playoff success (St. Louis) and experience (Colorado) – then go on to face whatever crawls out of the crater of an all out war in California in the Conference Finals. From there it’s anyone’s game and I think in a biased toss up, I’ll take the defending cup champs.
2. The MVP of the 2014 NHL Playoffs will be Corey Crawford. Even if at times last playoff I was haunted by memories of this commercial… I think it can’t be denied that Crawford was still able to clutch up down the stretch. He has a lot to prove as the goaltender for a very good team. In a lot of ways I think he’s this generation’s Chris Osgood. I think he should have been given some consideration for the third goaltender spot on Team Canada’s Olympic team, if only because you know he can play in big game situations and because Mike Smith seemingly played 80 games for the Coyotes this year.
3. My first round predictions:
Chicago in 6 over St. Louis Blues
Colorado in 5 over Minnesota
L.A. in 7 over San Jose
Anaheim in 6 over Dallas
Boston in 5 over Detroit
Tampa Bay in 7 over Montreal
Pittsburgh in 4 over Columbus
Philadelphia in 5 over New York
4. One goaltender will propel his team to a conference final that they may or may not have any business being in. I think that goaltender will be Jonathan Quick. I know the popular pick here would be Team Canada standout Carey Price. But I think Quick is going to outshine everybody to lead the Kings through an out of a war in that division and then into the Western Conference finals before he runs out of gas (if he does).
5. One rookie NOT named Mackinnon is going to have people double checking their playoff pool picks and his name is Ondrej Palat or Tyler Johnson. This is me fence sitting as I can’t legitimately say that both of these players will be better than Nathan MacKinnon. But I really wanted to include their names here to make a point about that upstart club in Tampa Bay. Both these young rookies who finished second and third in the rookie scoring race this season are NOT first round draft picks. They aren’t even second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth round draft picks. Palat, who tallied 59 points and 23 goals this season, was selected in the seventh round and Johnson who tied MacKinnon with 24 goals to lead all rookies was never drafted. This should be a lesson to all young franchises on building from within as the strong play of these two players not only supplemented the team enough that they felt they could trade Martin St. Louis – But kept them in the race this season even after the loss of Steven Stamkos for 40+ games.
6. The first round will remain the best round but just barely this year. Think about it, there is nothing like the first round of the NHL Playoffs. Meaningful games on every night, each team setting tone for their playoff run, everyone reasonably rested and hopefully playing their best hockey of the year. With the new playoff format have some dynamite match ups in the first round out west that could easily have been a conference final last season. The Chicago/St. Louis and L.A./San Jose series are my picks for games not to miss with the Montreal/Tampa Bay series out east perhaps one of the most intriguing. Even better are the potential second round match ups under my predictions where we could see bitter rivalries: Boston/Montreal, Pittsburgh/Philadelphia and L.A./Anaheim. As well as a Chicago/Colorado series that might only see 3 whistles a game.
7. This one is a long shot but in keeping with the TSN panel I predict there will be a trend in penalty calls this year that the NHL will choose to crack down on. That call will be any call which warrants a penalty shot. I think (like we saw the other night with the call on the Gionta OT winner) the officials will be encouraged to award penalty shots as opposed to 2 minute minors like one would normally expect during playoff hockey. Kerry Fraser made a great point on his TSN special when he spoke of how the rule book doesn’t change in the playoffs and I think he was foretelling this. Whether for better or for worse I believe we are going to see multiple games in which the officials are not going to take the situation into mind and instead make the calls directly by the book. My bold prediction is that we will end up with 10 games in this year’s playoffs in which we see a penalty shot awarded. (I love betting long shots)
8. The following are my nominees from each team for the “Fernando Pisani” playoff performance of 2014. That is a playoff performer who you may or may not have had on your radar. Before the trolls tear me apart, let me be clear that this list is not meant to predict the Playoffs leading point scorer, but more so a dark horse who may find himself with a career post season in scoring or simply plays a big role in his team’s success.
– Patrick Maroon (ANA) – Big body – could be this year’s Bryan Bickell depending on where he slots into the lineup.
– Loui Eriksson (BOS) – It speaks to your depth then this guy is on your third line.
– Kris Versteeg (CHI) – Versatile – can play on your third line and second power play and has the playoff experience. Loves being back in Chicago.
– Max Talbot (COL) – Mr. Clutch in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Does anyone else wonder how he ended up in that Reebok training commercial with Matt Duchene and John Tavares? He must have a very good agent and I respect that.
– Cam Atkinson (CBJ) – Marty Baceda’s favorite player… Was instrumental in the Marquette Superiors 3rd WWHA fantasy hockey title this season.
– Cody Eakin (DAL) – A very talented player who led the Kootenay Ice to a WHL Championship in 2011.
– Darren Helm (DET) – The Canes Killer when he was in Medicine Hat – Great two way player who has carved out a great career in Detroit and should be clutch this time of year.
– Tyler Toffoli (LA) – Playing on a great line with Dustin Brown should give the youngster plenty of opportunities.
– Jonathon Blum (MIN) – Over shadowed by Ryan Suter but will have to be good to give them a chance.
– Josh Gorges (MON) – Another player over shadowed by the likes of Subban and Markov on the Montreal blue line but key to their success.
– Brian Boyle (NYR) – I had no idea how big this guy was until I played him in NHL 14.
– Sean Couturier (PHI) – Way too good to be a third line center except he has Giroux and Schenn ahead of him in Philly.
– Kris Letang (PIT) – Ok so he’s not exactly a dark horse but could easily be the comeback player of the year and could put an exclamation point on it in the playoffs.
– Tomas Hertl (SJ) – Good skilled forward that will be great if he stays healthy.
– Jaden Schwartz (STL) – Will need to come up big in the first round if Oshie, Backes and co. can’t go.
– Tyler Johnson (TB) – Mentioned before but I just love the way he plays – Undersized, but with a ton of speed to burn.
9. You will catch me briefly cheering for a team other than the Blackhawks when I see a former Lethbridge player on Hockey Night in Canada. Honestly, I just want to say good luck to some former Lethbridge Hurricanes – Colton Sceviour (DAL) and Luca Sbisa (ANA) as they push for their first Stanley Cup rings and also good luck to Kris Versteeg (CHI) and Dwight King (LA) who are in the hunt for their second. and of course Brent Seabrook who is chasing his third!
10. CBC will wrap things up with their version of One Shining Moment and it will be spectacular. Just over a decade ago I began my writing career at the University of Alberta Gateway. I was in my writing prime at the University – pumping out what felt like endless 2,000 word essays; but never getting the chance to write about anything I actually enjoyed. So it came to pass that joined the Gateway staff and immediately began covering everything from Bears and Pandas volleyball to the Women’s rugby team capturing their fifth straight national title. My very first editorial didn’t come until late in my final year. It was an article that I wrote on the “sports montage” and how it was going to save sports as we knew it. Unfortunately the U of A Gateway archive has been shut down but essentially my article was a 600 word diatribe on why the little extras are so important to the average sports fan. On a side note, I think its part of the reason I am so into the WWE… There is never any shortage of “Did you see that?” moments.
Think about it though. There are hundreds of thousands of fans who each year watch the NCAA Final Four on CBS. We now have a “Billion Dollar Bracket” contest that receives upwards of 9 million entries. Despite a large percentage of that audience being devoted basketball fans, you also have a large audience of “once-a-year” fans or “I only watch during March Madness” fans and the “I hope I win the office pool” fans. For these fans the tournament exists only in exclamation points. What better way to package all the emotion and passion of the NCAA tournament for them, then with a 4 or 5 minute montage to recap these moments?
A little history for those who aren’t following… (from Wikipedia)
“”One Shining Moment” is a song written by David Barrett about the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship. One Shining Moment is traditionally played at the end of CBS Sports’s coverage of the championship game of the tournament. The song is played as the winning team’s players cut down the nets, to a montage of highlights from the tournament.”
I will come out and say it… I enjoy watching the NCAA tournament (and I like gambling on it). But – I LOVE watching “One Shining Moment”. Every year the formula is pretty much the same:
The obligatory cheerleaders/band/mascot shots… Players in the huddle… Insert dunks and three pointers… Sound up on a couple buzzer beaters called by Jim Nantz… But no matter what, every year it manages to stir up a reaction for me. It’s actually part of the reason I love editing video so much because when you add up all those little moments you come out with something huge.
Let me just add that this year’s winner of the Ohashi March Madness nearly tearing up moment comes at about the 1:00 mark of the video when we see Doug McDermott (the recipient of the 2014 Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year Award) as he walks off the NCAA court for the last time and is hugged by his father and coach at Creighton Greg McDermott. Like I always say: You can’t write this stuff, you can only sit back and watch it unfold.
BTW here’s a link for some of the past One Shining Moment montages.
It’s easy for us here in the Great White North to say that March Madness has it’s “niche” and that this kind of thing wouldn’t have the same effect here in Canada. But does any of what I am describing here sound familiar to you?
Every year, thousands of people across Canada are treated to some amazing work by the CBC and a lot of it is done by a fellow named Tim Thompson. Tim is an editor and producer for a lot of the amazing work you see every Saturday on a little program called Hockey Night in Canada. Over the past few years, his work has either set the table for a key match up or it has been the exclamation point at the end of the NHL Playoffs. It’s a part of the tradition of watching the playoffs. (There is a great little section of this article from SI.com dedicated to him in the NOISE REPORT)
Some of my favorites from the last year include:
2013 Playoff Opening – Baba O’Riley by The Who
The 2013 Playoff Recap – Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
2014 Winter Classic Intro – Wonderwall by Oasis
Last year following the Cup finals Tim tweeted this:
So when it comes to predictions we are left to ask ourselves what will this years real life drama play out to in song? Only Tim and the CBC Music department know for sure. Check out his twitter feed: @b0undless and be sure to let him know what you think of his work!
With the recent purchase of the NHL rights by Rogers… My understanding is that Tim can’t tell us what the future holds at HNIC. I have a lot of suggestions for changes I hope to see from the new Rogers NHL deal but the loss of these roll outs is certainly not one of them. Tim is an incredibly talented individual and I am sure that Rogers can always find a place for that kind of talent. If nothing else it will definitely up an appreciation for his features this post season. Wherever you are good luck sir and keep up the amazing work!
That’s it for my 2014 NHL Playoff predictions… I do have one last request however for everyone. If you’re a Dad or a Mom who loves hockey – take the time to sit down with your kid this weekend and watch at least one game together. Even better make it after or before a game of road hockey. I can still remember some of my fondest memories of my youth were spent watching the NHL Playoffs on Easter Weekend spring skiing in Banff. We’d all watch the late game – I would tire out and when I woke up early the next morning there would be a giant chocolate bunny waiting for me. So yeah, pretty much the best weekend ever.