NHL Playoff Predictions At The Quarter Mark

With most NHL teams at 20-22 games played and American Thanksgiving only days away, the league has officially hit its quarter mark.

Most pundits and past years’ statistics say that at this point in today’s NHL, the playoff teams have already come into focus.

In other words, if you’re not in a playoff spot now, it’s going to be difficult to do over the next five months, despite about 75 percent of the games left.

But that isn’t a certainty. Anything could happen in the next few months when injuries, slumps and other misfortunes are always possible.

Here’s my playoff predictions (who makes it from each conference) with their current record and position and reasons why they’ll end up there, at the quarter mark:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Montreal Canadiens (16-4-2 34P, 1st in Atlantic) – The Habs have built too much of a lead in the Atlantic to be caught and with Carey Price they’ll continue to fly.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning (10-9-3 23P, 4th) – The Bolts may be in fourth in the Atlantic currently, but they only trail the second-place Senators by two points. This team is too good to fall into Wild Card contention, let alone missing playoffs.
  3. Detroit Red Wings (11-8-2, 24P, 3rd) – This will be a heavily contended spot between the Wings and Sens but I’m going with the veteran savvy team.

Metropolitan Division

  1. New York Rangers (16-3-2 34P, 1st in Metro) – Henrik Lundqvist is playing out of his mind, the offense is still deep and Keith Yandle has looked better this season. Also wouldn’t be surprised if they added a marquee name at the trade deadline.
  2. Washington Capitals (14-5-1 29P, 2nd) – This team was built for the playoffs, but the Caps will still excel in the regular season. The postseason is where they’ll do more damage.
  3. New York Islanders (10-8-3, 23P, 4th) – They may lose Travis Hamonic at some point this year, but the Islanders showed last year how skilled and tough they are. That will continue farther into this season.

Wild Card

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins (12-8-0 24P, 3rd in Metro) – This team has had some problems over the last few years. This year, Sidney Crosby isn’t scoring, but the Pens are deeper than they’ve been lately and that will at least earn them a playoff spot.
  2. Ottawa Senators (10-5-5 25P, 2nd in Atlantic) – The magic from late last season has continued and Erik Karlsson is playing better than ever. As long as the goaltending hold up, they’ll be in the postseason.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Dallas Stars (17-4-0 34P, 1st in Central) – With Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, the two-headed monster in net and a revamped defense, the Stars will continue to hold onto control of the Central.
  2. Chicago Blackhawks (11-8-2 24P, 5th) – Chicago may be sitting low right now, but they’ll rebound. The new additions haven’t had much trouble adjusting to playing with the Hawks.
  3. Nashville Predators (11-6-3 25P, 4th) – The Preds are struggling with scoring lately, but once that’s fixed — and it will be — Nashville will be hard to stop with its defense and goaltending.

Pacific Division

  1. Los Angeles Kings (13-8-0 26P, 1st in Pacific) – The Kings are looking like their old self. They’re fast, tough and skilled and there’s no reason to believe they won’t beat out the rest of the Pacific.
  2. San Jose Sharks (13-8-0 26P, 2nd) – San Jose has shown what it can do this season. They’re in the middle of a six-game winning streak and Martin Jones has been an answer in net.
  3. Anaheim Ducks (7-10-4 18P, 5th) – After a slow start, the Ducks are only four points behind the Canucks for third in the division. Them and the Coyotes won’t be able to keep up once the Ducks are back, no matter how slowly it takes.

Wild Card

  1. St. Louis Blues (14-6-2 30P, 2nd in Central) – The Blues are dealing with a lot of injuries and I believe eventually that will catch up with them. They’ll still make the playoffs, but maybe not in the spot they’d like.
  2. Minnesota Wild (11-5-3 25P, 3rd in Central) – The fifth Central team to make it from the Central in my predictions, Minnesota has looked much better than at some points last season. I don’t know if they’re good enough to run with the big dogs of the West, but the postseason is definitely in contention.


Follow Bottom Line Hockey on Twitter at @bottomlinehocky. Also follow author Wes Herrmann at @Wes_Herrm.

Martin Jones Experiment Working Out For San Jose Sharks

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, saying goodbye to middling goalie Antti Niemi and a slew of publicized locker room problems, the San Jose Sharks brought in former Los Angeles King netminder Martin Jones to try and right the ship in net and further out.

The latest NHL First Star of the Week has met those wishes and more as the Sharks have navigated themselves to a 13-8-0 record and first place in the Pacific Division.

In this past week, Jones posted three wins, a 1.63 GAA, .951 save percentage and no losses.

But it’s not just this past seven days that the North Vancouver native has impressed in. Of the 13 wins the Sharks have Jones has 11. He also leads the league with three shutouts and is in the top seven in save percentage and goals against average.

All of this comes a year after Jones had a total of four wins with the Kings.

As a backup to Jonathan Quick, Jones showed potential to eventually become a regular starter, but with Quick in front, his oppurtunity wasn’t going to come in Los Angeles, a la Jonathan Bernier.

As the whole Kings team struggled last season so did Jones, which accounts for his low wins total.

In the offseason he was dealt first to the Boston Bruins in the Milan Lucic trade. Instead of keeping Jones as a backup or having him share the net with incumbent starter Tuukka Rask, the Bruins traded him to the Sharks three days later for a 2016 first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly.

At the time most thought the Sharks were crazy to give up so much for an unproven goalie, but so far things have paid off where it hasn’t for other teams.

The Edmonton Oilers acquired Cam Talbot under the same manner as the Sharks and Jones, but Talbot has struggled with a 3-8-0 record so far. The Buffalo Sabres added Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators, but was injured halfway through his first game with the team.

On top of all this, the Sharks have been lauded for strong underlying advanced stats. With a goalie they can finally trust, maybe the Sharks will finally be able to get over the playoff hump that’s bothered them so much lately.


Follow Bottom Line Hockey on Twitter at @bottomlinehocky. Also follow author Wes Herrmann at @Wes_Herrm.

NHL To Institute Five-Day Bye Weeks in 2016-17

As part of the NHLPA’s deal to agree to a 3-on-3 divisional all-star game this season, the NHL will grant each team a five-day “bye” week in the 2016-17 season according to a report from ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun.

The bye week will fall somewhere between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, or right around the middle of the season. Besides games, the players and coaches will also not be allowed to practice, except for on the fifth day if there is a game on the sixth day, allowing players to heal, go home, go on vacation, etc.

The break should be a nice change for the players. A five-day break during an 82-game, six month regular season in the middle of the season will be greatly appreciated. And that’s not to mention it will happen during a season that includes the World Cup of Hockey where the NHL’s top players will be playing in the offseason.

However, I don’t think the bye week is perfect.

During a five-day period, an NHL team will play about two to three games, so without games during that bye week, two or three games will be crammed in somewhere else in a team’s schedule.

Most teams have random periods with four or five days without games so that may not be a huge issue, but it’s still reducing the amount of days in a season while keeping the same amount of games.

If this was really a perfect idea, personally I think the NHL should have reduced to an 80-game regular season along with the bye week.

That means the two games a team’s missing during the five-day break isn’t moved somewhere else in the schedule making it busier at a different period.

Most people believe the schedule should be shortened and two games isn’t much, but it’s also not enough for the people that still want an 82-game season to complain about.

So the five-day break is a step in the right direction for the NHL, but not a leap.

In The Rumor Mill: Bernier, Enstrom, Daley

The rumor mill across the NHL is starting to heat up.

For some it’s mainstays like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets, but others include the Chicago Blackhawks.

Here are some of the biggest rumors turning up this week:

Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have a problem in net. Once thought to be a savior, Bernier has instead turned into more of a backup.

He even let in a center-ice goal over this past week:

Chris Johnston, of Sportsnet, reported that two teams have had internal discussions about trying to acquire Bernier.

The former Los Angeles King has always had a ton of potential after being drafted 11th overall in 2006, but has failed to nail down a starting role since heading to Toronto.

The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers would make sense as teams that could have had internal talks about Bernier. The two clubs have problems in net and a reclamation project with potential would make sense.

Tobias Enstrom, Winnipeg Jets

The longtime Thrasher/Jet has officially hit the rumor mill amidst Winnipeg’s five-game losing skid.

The Jets are 3-6-1 in their last 10 and falling in the tough Central Division. A trade of any nature could be a wake-up call to the team.

Enstrom will be coveted but acquiring a top-six forward will take some tinkering by the Jets and any other interested team.

Trevor Daley, Chicago Blackhawks

Just acquired this summer in the Patrick Sharp trade, Daley’s name has already popped up in rumors.

According to Bruce Garrioch, of the Ottawa Sun, the Ottawa Senators have approached the Blackhawks in an attempt to acquire the defenseman.

The Blackhawks have reportedly asked for a lot back. Garrioch says the team is requiring Matt Puempel or Shane Prince and a second round draft pick back.

The Blackhawks are obviously trying to sell high. It will take some discussion to get a deal like this done or the Senators may look elsewhere with the amount of defensemen supposedly on the block.

Mid-Season PTOs

Former Pittsburgh Penguin Tim Kennedy has joined the New Jersey Devils on a PTO (professional try-out). Kennedy participated in the Devil’s training camp, also on an invite, but returned home afterwards to deal with a personal issue.

He may find a contract still available as he practices with the team.

Kennedy wasn’t the only one to land a PTO. Tim Gleason is back with the Carolina Hurricanes on a tryout.

The Canes are already missing James Wisniewski and Ryan Murphy to injuries on the blueline and are already using young d-men like Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce.

Gleason may be in store for a third stint with the Hurricanes if injuries keep bothering the team.


Teams That Need To Make A Trade

With a good portion of the NHL season already put away, some contenders have already started to become clear.

On the other hand, struggling teams have already become evident also.

There are usually two options if those teams want to get a jumpstart and  better cement themselves as playoff hopefuls. The first is a coaching change, which takes time, research and patience.

The other, and more common option, is a trade. Here are a few teams that may want to look into that rout.

Calgary Flames

The addition of Dougie Hamilton hasn’t paid off as some had thought it would, but Dennis Wideman has also regressed.

The offense is still capable of doing damage, but goaltending is where the Flames are really lacking. The team waived Karri Ramo, but no one picked him up and Jonas Hiller hasn’t been better.

Finding a goalie through the trade channel is difficult, but something needs to be done to get this young team going.

Philadelphia Flyers

After a strong start at 4-3-2, the Flyers have dropped to 6-8-3 and are 2-6-2 in their last 10. Their number one defenseman Mark Streit is injured and stars Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek are having slow starts.

But if those two get going and something is done to shore up the defense a bit, the offense and goaltending could carry them into the playoffs.

The problem is the salary cap. Philly’s right up against the cap ceiling and moving deadweight contracts like Vincent Lecavalier, Andrew MacDonald and R.J. Umberger are impossible.

The Flyers may have to find the answers within their own organization before a trade is possible.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Only months after a Stanley Cup Finals run and very little change on the roster, the Lightning are 8-9-3 and fourth in the Wild Card race in the East.

Steven Stamkos has just 14 points in 20 games, but the ‘Triplets’ line is struggling even more. Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have 10 points, while Ondrej Palat has seven.

Tampa Bay could use someone to help in secondary scoring and a little weight off the blueline, but like the Flyers, are right up against the cap. They also have to worry about what’s happening with Stamkos and his contract situation.


Follow Bottom Line Hockey on Twitter at @bottomlinehocky.

Who Is The Second Best Goalie In The NHL?

For the past year, the unchallenged best goalie in the NHL has been the Montreal Canadien’s Carey Price. A Hart Tropy, Vezina and carrying your team into the playoffs does that.

But the better question for NHL fans isn’t who’s the best goalie, it’s who’s the best after Price.

Here are some candidates and reasons why they should be:

Henrik Lundqvist

For a while, Lundvist was top dog in the NHL netminding world and it wasn’t his play that knocked him from the top rank. Price was simply too good.

Similar to the Canadien goaltender, Lundvist has shown the ability to carry his team during scoring droughts. He led them to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, and had he got some scoring help the Rangers-Kings series would have been much closer.

Since then, he’s done more of the same, but his team has had less accolades, almost diminishing the spotlight on Lundvist.

Pekka Rinne

Through the first quarter of the 2014-15 season, Rinne challenged Price for the Vezina, but then Rinne got injured and Price never slowed down.

Rinne plays for an offensively challenged team, but gives them a chance to win almost every night. He had a .923 save percentage last season. This season’s a tad lower at .918, but he already has eight wins under his belt.

Braden Holtby

An up-and-comer, Holtby has only started gaining attention last season as a top-notch goalie. He had a .923 save percentage last season, but his 41 wins are a more impressive stat.

The Washington Capital never gives up on a play, but is prone to some mistakes or a soft goal every now and then. He may be more likely to take this title a little later in his career.

Cory Schneider

The New Jersey goalie is probably the most underrated goalie in the league. He struggled at the start of last season, but finished with 26 wins on a bad team.

This year, Schneider has eight of the Devils’ nine wins and they’re in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Given the little talent on the rest of the Devils’ roster, most of that credit has to do with Schneider and his .924 save percentage.

My Money

In my opinion, Henrik Lundvist is the second best goalie in the league. He doesn’t fold under pressure, he’s the most skilled goalie behind Price and he’s shown the ability to carry his team.

What do you say? Comment and share if you think it’s one of the goalies I mentioned, or even someone off the board.

Colorado Avalanche Filling Up Rumor Mill

With the start the Colorado Avalanche are having, it’s no surprise that some of their bigger name players are finding themselves in the rumor mill.

Adrian Dater,an NHL columnist for Bleacher Report and a former Avalanche beat writer, tweeted this about veteran Jarome Iginla:

But perhaps the bigger news was TSN’s Bob McKenzie saying that Matt Duchene’s name has popped up in trade chatter.

The third overall pick in 2009, Duchene’s had up and down years lately. He put up 70 points in 71 games in 2013-14, but only had 55 last year as the whole Avalanche squad struggled.

But the center still has sublime skill and at 24 years old should be a part of any team’s future.

If the Avalanche, however, feel that Duchene isn’t an integral part of their future, now would be the time to trade him. He would garner a ton in a trade as the Avs continue their rebuilding process.

Eklund, of HockeyBuzz, reported a rumor on Duchene also, saying the struggling Philadelphia Flyers were interested in the center.

It’s also worth noting that Duchene has been on fire of late. He has five points in his last two games, both wins for the Avalanche.

As for the Iginla rumors, it only makes sense. The team is struggling, playoffs don’t look likely especially in the ultra-tough Central Division and Iginla will want a shot at the Cup.

The tough part is the former Calgary Flame captain has a year left after this season and wouldn’t be a “deadline rental.” Getting any team to take on Iginla’s $5.33 million contract will be hard, but it’s worth taking on for the middling Avalanche.

Columbus Blue Jackets Still Struggling

After an 0-7 start, the Columbus Blue Jackets did what any team would do — replace their head coach.

The team fired Todd Richards and replaced him with John Tortorella, who last coached the Vancouver Canucks for a year during the 2013-14 season.

After another loss to bring their record to 0-8, the Blue Jackets got their first win of the season by defeating another lowly team, the Colorado Avalanche, 4-3.

The team rattled off another win in the next game against the New Jersey Devils, but since then Columbus has won only two more, while settling for four more losses.

Eastern Conference standings as of November 13.
Eastern Conference standings as of November 13 from NHL.com.

The Blue Jackets now sit in last in the Eastern Conference with a 4-12-0 record and eight points, two behind the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tortorella doesn’t seem to be the savior Columbus was hoping for.

He’s gone back to his old ways, such as calling out players, including his captain Nick Foligno, publicly after he was asked if he thought Foligno was snakebitten:

That’s great. Snakebit. We need a big play out of him. He had a couple of chances to score. We’re going to say, ‘Nick, his game is coming.’ But to me, he needs to make a big play.”

Maybe that’s fair to say of a player you rely on for goals during a rut, but Tortorella has been criticized, incidentally, for the way he criticizes his players in the media.

But not everything can be blamed on the coach.

Sergei Bobrovsky is still struggling. He may have all four of Columbus’ wins, but he’s also let up the most goals in the NHL this season and has a 3.64 GAA to go along with a .882 save percentage. Both are easily the worst of his six-year career, which included a Vezina win in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

This was not how the year was supposed to go at all for the Blue Jackets. Laden with injuries last season, Columbus found itself out of the playoff mix early, but in the last two months finished with a 16-4-1 record.

The team then added Brandon Saad in a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Blue Jackets looked like playoff locks.

Through 16 games, Columbus has looked like anything but and even a coaching change couldn’t help that.

Follow Bottom Line Hockey on Twitter at @bottomlinehocky

Detroit Red Wings Extend Justin Abdelkader

The Detroit Red Wings made some noise late Wednesday night and into Thursday by signing forward Justin Abdelkader to a seven-year/$28 million dollar extension.

Abdelkader’s $1.1 million contract was ticking off the clock as unrestricted free agency loomed, but the American-born player can now expect a much larger pay check starting next year.

Despite not being a household name, Abdelkader has been a strong foot soldier in Detroit. He can play the penalty kill and fits in perfectly on any third line in the league.

Last season, his sixth in the league, Abdelkader broke out offensively, contributing 44 points (23 G, 21 A) in 71 games. He’s off to another hot start this year with seven points in 15 games.

Despite being mostly known as a defensive presence in the bottom six, Abdelkader has been utilized in the top six before. In fact, this season he’s playing on Detroit’s top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Kyle Larkin.

When I first saw the contract, the thing that stuck out to me he most was the seven-year deal, not the $4.25 million cap hit.

Abdelkader’s a strong player and if he hit free agency, there’d be plenty of suitors, there’s no denying that. But is he a player you need locked up for seven years? I don’t think so.

The Michigan State alum is 28 years old. When this contract is over, he’ll be 36. Likely he’ll start to decline, like most NHL players, around age 31, 32, 33. But his $4.25 million deal will continue to count against the Wings even if Abdelkader isn’t worth that money.

Right now, the money’s not bad. Maybe it could have been cheaper. Abdelkader’s only had one strong offensive season, but not enough to complain about too much. However, years down the line, this is not going to be a good deal for the Red Wings.

Which Team Is This Year’s Calgary Flames?

Last year, the Calgary Flames surprised the NHL world by proving they were steps ahead in their rebuilding process and qualified for the playoffs.

They went even farther than that, knocking off the Vancouver Canucks in the first round before falling to the Anaheim Ducks in the second.

With most teams already playing 15 games, or almost 20 percent of the season, who could be the Calgary Flames of the 2015-16 season surprising fans by being a step ahead in the rebuild?

Buffalo Sabres

The team that finished dead last in the standings last year did a lot to improve for this season. The Sabres added Ryan O’Reilly and Cody Franson through a trade and free agency, drafted Jack Eichel, and Evander Kane took to the ice as a Sabre for the first time after the team acquired him last year while he was injured.

They currently sit at 7-8-0, good for sixth in the wild card hunt, but only three points behind the Ottawa Senators for third in the Atlantic Division. If there’s one thing working for this team, it’s the fact they play in the weaker Eastern Conference.

The bad news is that Kane is injured again along with Zach Bogosian, the team’s number one defenseman. Making it to the playoffs will be difficult without two key players for an extended amount of time.

Arizona Coyotes

It’s been the young guns and Martin Hanzal for the upstart Coyotes this season. Rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have 13 and 8 points, respectively, but Hanzal leads the team with 15 despite missing two games.

Mike Smith has also looked better after a horrid 2014-15 season with a 6-4-0 record. However, Smith also has a 3.11 GAA and a mediocre .904 save percentage. A young team needs a sure-fire goalie if it wants to make the playoffs.

The Flames and Anaheim Ducks have also gotten off to slow starts in the Pacific Division. Staying in front of them will be tough for the young ‘Cotes.

Edmonton Oilers

At 6-10-0 and with 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid out for several months, this may seem like an unlikely pick.

But the Oilers have put together one of their strongest teams in a while. Andrej Sekera is an underrated defenseman and Leon Draisaitl has done a great job in place of McDavid with seven points in five games. Imagine if he keeps up a point-per-game pace until and after McDavid returns.

The biggest issue for the Oilers is goaltending, which seems to be a tradition at this point. The Cam Talbot project hasn’t taken off. The former New York Ranger is 3-7 and has a 3.00 GAA along with a .893 save percentage.

Or…No Team Duplicates The Flames

At this point last season, the Flames had a 9-6-2 record. Their 20 points were good for third in the Pacific.

Only the Coyotes are in a playoff position and they’re in a division with the slow-starting Ducks who were predicted as Stanley Cup winners by a good amount of people before the season started.

But crazier things have happened and all three teams’ playoff hopes are very alive and intact still.