Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NHL Playoffs: Western Conference 1st Round Wrapup

*Eastern/Western Conference 2nd Round Wrapups will appear Friday, May 15.
*Eastern/Western Conference Finals Schedule and Preview will appear Saturday, May 16

Western Conference - 1st Round Preview
Western Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Western Conference - 2nd Round Preview

Eastern Conference - 1st Round Preview
Eastern Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Eastern Conference - 2nd Round Preview

With a pair of Game 7's on tap for this evening in the Eastern Conference, let's take a quick look back at the four who are no longer with us in the Western Conference. Tomorrow afternoon we'll review the Eastern Conference losing squads, and Thursday SportsJudge will release 2nd round previews and schedules for both conferences.


SportsJudge Prediction: Anaheim in 7
Actual Result: Anaheim in 6

A massive/shocking/stunning upset. San Jose, a team which has two first-round wins as a #8 seed on its resume (1994, 2000), found themselves on the wrong end of the Battle of California this year. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the Sharks this summer after squeaking out just 2 playoffs wins after another dominating regular season. The stretch of disappointing playoff appearances is beginning to wear on the once-dedicated fan base and big changes could be on the way.

It's not out of the question that GM Doug Wilson could be seeking a new job this summer, but I think he has enough excuses to buy himself another season in the front office: First, a rookie head coach in Todd McClellan, who was outmaneuvered over and over again by seasoned Ducks head coach Randy Carlisle. When times got tough (like losing the first two games at home), the Sharks needed team leaders or a coaching staff to calm the nerves and right the ship...that never happened. McClellan panicked so badly that he was already mixing and matching lines for Game 2. Second, I was convinced from Game 1 that team captain Patrick Marleau was playing with a significant injury. Marleau missed a handful of games over the last couple weeks of the regular season and he was far from normal throughout this series. Don't be surprised when Marleau reveals a serious knee or lower-body injury in the coming weeks. Third, Evgeni Nabakov was severly outplayed. It's nearly impossible to win a Stanley Cup without your goaltender stealing a few games along the way, and Nabakov never came through. On the bright side (if there is one), Dan Boyle was outstanding. He offensively dominated games from the defensive position in a way I haven't seen since the days of Paul Coffey. Boyle took the team on his shoulders whenever possible and in post-game interviews wasn't afraid to honestly speak his mind. I'm convinced he'll be wearing the 'C' on his jersey next season.


SportsJudge Prediction: Columbus in 7
Actual Result: Detroit in 4

0:00 <---- That's exactly how long Columbus had a lead in this series. Columbus and rookie goaltender Steve Mason, one of the feel good stories in the NHL this season, essentially had a happy-to-be-here attitude one might see from a #16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Columbus made a number of moves at this year's trade deadline to develop a solid second line while Detroit was merely tweaking their four solid lines. That depth was too much for the defensively-minded Blue Jackets to handle. While this season's playoff appearance was obviously disappointing, I like the core in place in Columbus going forward. With Jason Williams (assuming he resigns) and Antoine Vermette joining Nash, Huselius and Umberger for a full season, the Blue Jackets should be able to make a second playoff appearance next year. When it comes to fantasy hockey, be careful with the overhyping of Steve Mason. He's an outstanding goaltender, but not enough credit is given to the system he's a part of in Columbus. As teams begin to get familiar with him, let another owner draft him early and suffer through his sophomore struggles. On the other hand, don't forget about Derrick Brassard. The rookie had hoped to make a playoff return, but instead will have to wait until October to get back into uniform. He had accumulated 25 points in 31 games prior to dislocating his shoulder in a fight on December 18. I think he can push 80+ points next season and will be a nice sleeper in next fall's draft.


SportsJudge Prediction: Vancouver in 6
Actual Result: Vancouver in 4

St. Louis, another young team, with a great core, possibly overwhelmed by the thought of making the playoffs out of the West. Oh, and there's that guy in Vancouver...Roberto Luongo. For as much as I like the future for Columbus, I am overwhelmed with excitement for this Blues' squad. Prior to this season, I felt St. Louis and Edmonton were primed to have surprisingly good seasons. I was wrong on Edmonton, but I underestimated St. Louis. This team is absolutely loaded with young talent. The Blues were well known for their amazing stretch of 24 straight playoff appearances from 1980-2004 and GM John Davidson has this team set up nicely to begin another streak.

Heading into the offseason, St. Louis needs to resign Keith Tkachuk. Even though the veteran didn't have much of an offensive impact on the season, his leadership and experience are invaluable to this young group. When GM Davidson chose not to ship out Tkachuk at this year's trade deadline, he signaled to the players that he felt the pieces were in place to make a run at the playoffs. The players believed, and were the second-hottest team in the Western Conference after the deadline. Don't forget this team was also without the services of former #1 pick Erik Johnson, and sniper Paul Kariya. I'm not convinced Chris Mason is solid enough to carry the team through a full season so expect the Blues to bring in another goaltender such as Scott Clemmensen from New Jersey over the summer.


SportsJudge Prediction: Chicago in 6
Actual Result: Chicago in 6

Both of these teams limped into the playoffs. Calgary limped out. The Flames coughed up a 14-point division lead to Vancouver and wound up with a 5-seed as well as a tough first-round matchup. Unfortunately, the future is not so bright for the Flames. Calgary essentially went all-in this year on a Cup run and fell flat on their faces as injuries and salary cap issues derailed their season.

Former LA King Michael Cammalleri was a pleasant surprise with 39 goals, but he will be one of the most sought after wingers in free agency this summer. Todd Bertuzzi will take his poor attitude and untimely penalties and also head into free agency. Calgary gave up a slew of young talent for Olli Jokinen at the trade deadline and he will be hitting the market after next season along with Wayne Primeau, Rene Bourque, Craig Conroy, and Eric Nystrom. While most of these players are not irreplaceable, losing your third and fourth lines can be tough to recover from when cash is limited. One player that will be around for a while is goalie Mikka Kiprusoff, who seems to be fading into mediocrity. Kipper was always a goalie who would start slow and heat up just in time for a late season surge...yet in recent seasons he's remained lukewarm and terribly inconsistent all the way through. With him locked up to big money through the 2013-14 season, Calgary best days may very well be behind them.

Related Posts by Subject


Jesmi said...

Bullet points for what you missed while having nightmares of becoming extinct ... Not much; Don Cherry's worst nightmare comes true as the Hart finalists are Malkin, Ovie, and Datsyuk. Hawks and 'Nucks get the Round 2 festivities underway tonight. Canada's hopes rest on you, Vancouver.