The first round of the AHL playoffs just completed. In their first round teams play a best of five series as opposed to the best of seven series in the NHL. Here are first round results:
Manchester Monarchs defeat Portland Pirates three games to two. Manchester is the Los Angeles Kings farm affiliate and Portland belongs to the Arizona Coyotes. This was a back and forth series where both teams looked to be in control at different times. All games were won on home ice. Manchester had the top two players in first round scoring in Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal. Vincent LoVerde led their defence. Jean-Francois Berube played in goal for them but was a weakness. Brendan Shinnimin and Henrik Samuelsson led Portland in scoring. Brandon Gormley has been their top defenceman and Louis Domingue was their top goaltender.
In the first round I picked \Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues as the early playoff MVP. While Tarasenko had a good first round, his St Louis Blues have been eliminated from the playoffs. Therefore I am picking a new playoff MVP. I see two strong candidates right now - Corey Perry of Anaheim and Duncan Keith of Chicago. Though Perry is scoring at a better than two point per game rate, I think Duncan Keith is the best playoff MVP pick at this point.
Keith is tied for second in points in the playoffs with nine points from defence- only Perry is ahead of him. Keith has played 31 minutes per game - which is twelve and a half more minutes per game than Perry. Keith is the Blackhawks MVP at this point. Given that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are playing well in Chicago that is a strong claim.
I think we can make a strong argument that Duncan Keith has been the best defenceman of the last five years. I think his success has fallen beneath many people's radar. He is showing his value in the playoffs so far. If that success continues and Chicago has a good run, maybe more people will recognize how good Duncan Keith is. Many people see him as one of the best handful of defencemen in hockey when he is more likely the best of that group.
The first round of the playoffs is now over so that makes it a good time to look back at my first round predictions and look ahead to the second round. My predictions were pretty successful in the first round. I went 6-2. My incorrect calls were Vancouver over Calgary and Pittsburgh over the New York Rangers. Another interesting pint is that I made the claim that the Tampa Bay vs. Detroit series might be the closest first round series and was told by several Red Wing fans that I was wrong and Tampa was a significantly better team than Detroit. I think the seven game series did a pretty good job of showing that prediction to be a good one.
Here are my second round predictions:
Anaheim Ducks defeat Calgary Flames. Calgary is the weakest team that won in the first round. They barely made the playoffs. They have been a team that has largely defied their poor puck possession numbers and succeeded. Their best player Mark Giordano is injured, although he may be back in the second round though he will not be 100% healthy. Anaheim is a much better team. With Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, Anaheim has the three best players in the series. Ducks should win.
The goaltender with the top saves percentage among those who have been the clear number one goalie in the playoffs so far is Scott Darling of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is posting a 1.67 GAA and a .950 saves percentage. These are outstanding numbers. He is the latest in a string of unknown goalies who has a significant hot streak at the start of their careers before regressing to more average numbers. This season there has been Michael Hutchinson of the Winnipeg Jets and Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators who have fit that pattern. Both are significant reasons why their teams made the playoffs.
Darling is a 26 year old who has only 14 games regular season experience. In fact he has only 28 games AHL experience. Most of his career has been played in lower level professional leagues and in the NCAA.
It is always a bad sign when the guy you just fired becomes the top candidate to be hired by an opponent. That is the situation the Boston Bruins find themselves in when they fired Peter Chiarelli. The Edmonton Oilers are the lucky recipient of the Bruin mistake. They just announced the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as their president of hockey operations and general manager. Chiarelli will have a chance to run the Edmonton Oilers.
I have argued many times that the best way to build a good hockey team is to hire a good hockey man and get out of his way and let him run the show. It looks like Edmonton has finally done that. The incompetents who have been running the Oilers will hopefully be phased out. Kevin Lowe is transitioning out of hockey operations. That will be good. The Oiler record with Lowe around has not been good. Craig MacTavish, the previous GM, is for now still with the franchise. That may change in the future. Todd Nelson finished last season as the Oiler interim coach. Likely he will be replaced with Chiarelli's coach.
The Oilers have been one of the worst franchises in hockey in the last few years. A new competent GM will provide a fresh start and a path to respectability. Add this to Connor McDavid who will be the Oiler's first overall draft choice and there may actually be a reason to be optimistic in Edmonton.
A big reason the Minnesota Wild made the playoffs is that Devan Dubnyk played extremely well after he was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes. He will likely be a Vezina Trophy nominee and will likely get some Hart Trophy consideration. The problem is he doesn't have much of a track record as a top NHL goalie. Last summer it looked like he had nearly played himself out of an NHL job.
In the playoffs, Minnesota has a chance to make a deep run if Dubnyk can play as well as he has in the regular season. The problem is he hasn't. Among goalies who have appeared in all of his team's playoff games he has the worst numbers in the league. He has a 3.06 playoff saves percentage and a .864 saves percentage. Those numbers are looking like the guy who almost played himself out of the league again. Granted it is a small sample size but it is a significant problem for the Wild. Last night was particularly troubling. He allowed six goals on 17 shots before being pulled in the second period.
Minnesota is in trouble without great goaltending from Dubnyk. They are not getting it. That is the problem that can happen when you are riding on the successes of a goaltender who is playing above his expected level. It is likely that he will revert to his mean. Unfortunately it appears that is happening in the playoffs.
Now that teams are beginning to play their third game in the playoffs, I think it is a good time to make my first pick as a playoff MVP. I select Vladimir Tarasenko of the St Louis Blues. He has three goals and four points in two games played. Both of those numbers place him in ties for the league lead.
Tarasenko is an interesting player. He has appeared to develop into a Hall of fame track player this year. His offensive totals have been continually improving in his three year NHL career. He scored 19 points as a rookie, 43 points in his second year and 73 points this year. That is a remarkable annual improvement. Is it possible that he can continue that improvement next season and beyond? Is it more likely that a player who takes such big steps forward is due for a regression?
As a rough guess, Tarasenko has scored .75 points per game in his NHL career. There are 82 games played in a season. As a rule of thumb, a player's best season is about 25% better than his peak. If we assume 80 games played a season (with a couple missed games) a player's best offensive season will be approximately 100 times his career points per game. That would suggest that Tarasenko is playing near his peak - assuming he doesn't continue to improve. When we look back on his career, Tarasenko will probably have a career best offensive total that is around 100 times his career points per game, however I think it is likely that his points per game improves in his career. Thus I would argue that Tarasenko does not have the ability to make another big jump in his offensive totals in the future but he will likely show some improvement into the near future.
At any rate, Vladimir Tarasenko is the best player in the playoffs so far. He is a developing young star. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up this level of play into the playoffs and how long he will continue to improve his regular season numbers.
The Boston Bruins missed the playoffs this season despite a 96 point season. That is the most points ever achieved by a team that missed the playoffs ever. They posted a 41-41 record with 14 regulation tie points. A big part of the reason they missed the playoffs is because the Bruins took a run at the Stanley Cup in 2014 and thus put themselves into salary cap problems. They were forced to trade Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders. Undoing that move alone would likely have placed the Bruins in the playoffs. Despite this the Bruins fired GM Peter Chiarelli.
Chiarelli was given a raw deal. I think Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald makes this case very well.
This leaves coach Claude Julien twisting in the wind. Likely a new GM will want to bring in his coach. Until then he remains the Bruins coach - at least on paper.
One end of the regular season story is the Toronto Maple Leafs firing much of their front office. Gone is GM Dave Nonis. Gone is Peter Horachek and the entire coaching staff. Gone is the amateur scouting staff. Toronto finished fourth last in the league. It didn't have to be that bad but it appeared Brendan Shanahan wanted it to be bad so that he could bring about the changes he wanted whether they were needed or not.
The last rebuild began in earnest when Brian Burke was hired in 2008. The rebuild was slow but Toronto slowly became a playoff team by 2013. Burke was fired during the stretch run of that season and replaced by Dave Nonis. Toronto fans had grown impatient with the rebuild even though it was starting to work. There wasn't a plan to replace Burke, so they replaced him with Brian Burke light. Dave Nonis had worked with Burke in the NHL headquarters as well as in Vancouver, Anaheim and Toronto. They have very similar philosophies regarding team building. The main difference is Burke maintains more of a media profile and appears to have a better skillset. There probably was no reason to fire Burke, but if you think one exists you don't fire him and replace him with somebody who will have the same philosophy. Nonis was the replacement for Burke largely because he was available. That doesn't mean that Nonis failed as GM. He had the Leafs looking like a playoff team this year until Randy Carlyle was fired as coach. Toronto was in seventh spot in the East Conference at that point. Everything fell apart under coach Peter Horachek. Toronto had a horrid finish to the season and finished near the bottom of the league.
The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins on Wednesday, so I am giving my predictions today. While I usually manage to predict more playoff series correctly than incorrectly, I am well aware that predictions are not reliable and many NHL games are decided based upon luck. I expect that some of these predictions turn out to be wrong but they are the best choices I can make at this point.
Anaheim defeats Winnipeg. I see the Jets as a team that is happy just to have made the playoffs. Anaheim is the team with something to prove. With Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler leading their offence, the Ducks have offensive talent that the Jets cannot match. That alone should make this a one-sided series.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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