Who will win the Central Division in 2014?

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AP Photo/Dave Sandford, NHL Images

Like the Pacific Division, the Central division is not a strong one from top to bottom. However, every team in this division brings it’s own intrigue and you can talk yourself into having each one of them make the playoffs. Every roster is very young with Winnipeg (26.47 years old) being the youngest and Dallas (29 years old) being the oldest. There are teams that have a shot of breaking out while others still have a long way to go. In the end, Chicago and St. Louis easily separate themselves from the rest of the division as they will duke it out for a spot in the Western Conference finals and potentially a Stanley Cup final appearance.

7. Colorado

  • 16-25-7, 39 points, 15th in the West
  • -36 Goal Differential, 41.8 expected points (10th unluckiest)
  • 29.3 Even Strength SF60 (13th), 29.6 Even Strength SA60 (20th)
  • 48.9% Corsi (19th), 51.1% FO (9th), 985 PDO (27th)
  • 15.0% PP (24th), 80.3% PK (20th), -43 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 26.85, Playoff Experience: 243 games

After another miserable season, Colorado won the hearts of NHL executives and won last summer’s NHL draft lottery. As a result, rather than devoting time and energy into developing the next great defenseman in Seth Jones, they selected the next great offensive wizard and leader from the front in Nathan MacKinnon. There is no shame in picking one over the other, but it can not be overstated how shameful the Avalanche were at not stopping their namesake’s worth in goals. After that major decision, one new member shook hands with another new member in the organization in head coach Patrick Roy. Avalanche management will hope that Roy and Joe Sakic’s promotion into executive vice president of hockey operations can bring back Colorado’s glory years of the late ’90s and early 2000s with this year’s edition. Unfortunately, that may not happen right away as the Avalanche still carries one of the youngest lineups in the league. Another season in the bottom will not be surprising, but there is now a core group of players that are in place for this franchise.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Gabriel Landeskog (21, 74-19-24-43-46-3.21, 1 yr/$3.575 million, then 7 yrs/$5.571429 million)
  • C: Matt Duchene (23, 80-27-32-59-22-2.60-54.6%, 1 yr/$3.5 million, then 5 yrs/$6 million)
  • RW: Ryan O’Reilly (23, 74-15-37-52-10-2.25-52.8%, 1 yr/$5 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Alex Tanguay (34, 74-18-41-59-38-1.25-39.3%, 3 yrs/$3.5 million)
  • C: Paul Stastny (28, 71-16-25-41-28-2.00-52.4%, 1 yr/$6.6 million)
  • RW: P.A. Parenteau (31, 74-20-36-56-56-2.20, 3 yrs/$4 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jamie McGinn (25, 81-22-18-40-42-2.75, 1 yr/$1.75 million)
  • C: Nathan MacKinnon (18, 62-13-18-31-62-1.32, 3 yrs/$3.775 million)
  • RW: Steve Downie (27, 58-11-17-28-140-1.43, 1 yr/$2.65 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Cody McLeod (29, 76-9-6-15-164-1.29, 2 yrs/$1.15 million)
  • C: John Mitchell (29, 68-7-14-21-26-1.31-49.7%, 1 yr/$1.1 million)
  • RW: Patrick Bordleau (28, 79-3-5-8-120-0.50, 3 yrs/$1 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Marc-Andre Cliche (27, 57-4-4-46-1.18, 1 yr/$537,500)

In Colorado’s top line are three players that haven’t turned 24 yet in Captain Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. While Landeskog and Duchene have signed multi-year contracts to stay until their late 20s, O’Reilly is facing the last year of a very controversial twoyear deal. Feel free to look at the links as it may take too long to explain how fascinating O’Reilly’s season will be this year. Long story short, whether O’Reilly or the public likes it or not, he will be perceived as a punk that asked for too much money at too young an age.

The second line is just as fascinating with potential regression-to-the-mean candidate P.A. Parenteau, veteran pickup Alex Tanguay and perceived draft bust Paul Stastny. Tanguay returns to the Avalanche after a seven-year hiatus and hopes to win a 2nd Stanley Cup with the team he started with. Despite Parenteau’s dramatic increase in scoring the last three years, his 17% shooting from last year was easily a career high. Despite Paul Stastny not living up to the billing as a captain of the future, he is still a great possession player with not the best usage, and is 4th amongst 2005 draftees in games played and 3rd in points scored. Remember that Stastny was only taken in the 2nd round, ten spots below fellow Avalanche draft pick Ryan Stoa.

The third line can be a fun one to watch as Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn will hope to assist Mackinnon with big hits and goal scoring. The key will be Downie to stay healthy, as he only played two games last year because of a torn ACL. In fact, Downie has missed a possible 132 games in his six-year career. If things go pear-shaped for the Avalanche, do not be surprised if he is among the first names on the trading block.

Finally, the fourth line consists of heavy hitters and 1970s-style pugilists in Cody McLeod and Patrick Bordleau. One hopes that Mitchell can stay with the Avalanche long term as his playing style was crucial to an 18-game playoff run with the 2012 New York Rangers. Overall, this is a fascinating and exciting group of forwards that should terrorize the Western Conference. However, the same can not be said for the rest of the team.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jan Hejda (35, 72-3-14-17-36-0.94, 2 yrs/$3.25 million)
  • D: Tyson Barrie (22, 67-3-17-20-16-1.74, 1 yr/$900,000)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Ryan Wilson (27, 66-4-18-22-48-1.45, 2 yrs/$2.25 million)
  • D: Erik Johnson (26, 72-6-22-28-46-2.04, 3 yrs/$3.75 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Matt Hunwick (28, 62-3-11-14-26-1.10, 1 yr/$1.6 million)
  • D: Andre Benoit (30, 78-6-20-26-26-1.63, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • G: Semyon Varlamov (26, 1 yr/$2.833333 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Nick Holden (26, 19-1-2-3-6-1.20, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • Nate Guenin (31, 19-0-1-1-25-0.88, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • G: Jean-Sebastien Giguere (36, 1 yr/$1.5 million)

Pardon me while I throw up inside!!! As stated before, Colorado had the chance to select Seth Jones and that would have resulted in placing him on the top pair, immediately. It has been mentioned in this blog that the acquisition of Erik Johnson could be one of the worst in the NHL’s salary cap era, but that can not be mentioned enough. Did you know that since Erik Johnson’s debut season, he has scored the least amount of goals amongst all players that have played 300 career games and have averaged over two shots a game. If that is your defenseman that will be counted on to put pucks on the net, that is not a good sign. Youngster Tyson Barrie will be counted on to step up his production as a result. Andre Benoit could be a possible offensive blue liner, but he is a 30-year old journeyman, so expectations should be set pretty low. Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick and elder-stateman Jan Hejda round out the unit with their shot blocking ways, but not resigning Greg Zanon, no matter how fast he was aging, could make the blue line slightly weaker. One thing to watch out for is Wilson starting the year with a knee injury after missing all but 12 games with an ankle injury last year.

The goaltending should not be a major weakness for Colorado, but Semyon Varlamov has been counted on to become an elite netminder for the last three years. Whether it is because of his own development or the players around him, that has not come to fruition. However, the potential is still there as he will not turn 26 until April.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Tanguay-Parenteau-Duchene-Stastny-Barrie
  • 2nd Unit: Landeskog-McGinn-MacKinnon-O’Reilly-Johnson

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Duchene-Stastny-Wilson-Hejda
  • 2nd Unit: Landeskog-Mitchell-Hunwick-Johnson

Along with both units having poor performances last year, one thing that stood out about the special teams was their gastly -43 penalty differential. In fact, only the Philadelphia Flyers faced more penalty kill situations than Colorado. Adding Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay should help a power play unit be better than 1% away from last place, but nothing has changed at short handed situations. This is where one hopes the coaching staff can help improve that portion of the game, especially amongst the group of forwards that will be assigned shorthanded time.

Best Case Scenario: The Avalanche shock the world and make the playoffs. Players like John Mitchell, Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn become cult heroes and Semyon Varlamov makes the leap as one of the better goaltenders in hockey. Mackinnon wins the Calder trophy and proves to the organization that selecting him, instead of Jones, is the right one in the short term and long term.

Worst Case Scenario: Colorado will have to trade many players like Downie, Mitchell, McGinn and maybe Alex Tanguay in order to improve the blue line or continue to rebuild through the draft with “Patrick Roy’s players”. Gabriel Landeskog is stripped of the captaincy and GM Greg Sherman will not be able to resign Ryan O’Reilly, ending one of the nastiest front office-to-player relationships in recent memory.

6. Nashville

  • 16-23-9, 41 points, 14th in the West
  • -28 Goal Differential, 43.9 expected points (9th unluckiest)
  • 25.2 Even Strength SF60 (29th), 27.2 Even Strength SA60 (10th)
  • 46.7% Corsi (27th), 49.7% FO (18th), 996 PDO (17th)
  • 17.1% PP (17th), 75.5% PK (29th), +1 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.42, Playoff Experience: 518 games

After seven playoff appearances in the last eight years, Nashville’s 2013 season was a disaster. The lack of offense finally caught up to them, resulting in GM Dave Poile having to make some major renovations to the roster. Out goes veterans Sergei Kostitsyn, Matt Halischuk, Brandon Yip and Hal Gill and in goes Matt Hendricks, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom. The biggest acquisition, however, could be selecting Seth Jones #4 overall in the draft. Once again, this will be another Barry Trotz style team with a stalwart defense and full of players that are hard working and understand their roles, but a lot is left to be desired in the skill department. Will this make, or break Nashville’s season?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Colin Wilson (24, 70-15-21-36-16-1.42, 2 yrs/$2 million)
  • C: Mike Fisher (33, 65-13-18-31-50-1.75-48.8%, 2 yrs/$4.2 million)
  • RW: Patric Hornqvist (27, 75-21-23-44-42-3.17, 5 yrs/$4.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Viktor Stahlberg (28, 79-15-24-39-44-2.39, 4 yrs/$3 million)
  • C: David Legwand (33, 73-13-26-39-30-1.60-50.2%, 1 yr/$4.5 million)
  • RW: Filip Forsberg (19, 68-21-25-46-28-3.00, 3 yrs/$1.460833 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Nick Spaling (25, 78-9-9-18-20-1.17-46.3%, 4 yrs/$2.5 million)
  • C: Matt Cullen (37, 75-13-26-39-26-2.00-54.7%, 2 yrs/$3.5 million)
  • RW: Craig Smith (24, 73-11-19-30-32-2.20, 2 yrs/$2 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Eric Nystrom (31, 77-8-7-15-76-1.10, 4 yrs/$2.5 million)
  • C: Paul Gaustad (32, 70-7-14-21-70-1.52-59.7%, 3 yrs/$3.25 million)
  • RW: Matt Hendricks (32, 71-7-7-14-99-1.26-56.8%, 4 yrs/$1.85 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Gabriel Bourque (23, 23-4-5-9-2-1.42, 2 yrs/$775,000)
  • Richard Clune (27, 22-2-2-4-50-0.87, 1 yrs/$537,500, then 2 yrs/$850,000)

Last year’s leading scorer amongst forwards for Nashville was David Legwand…with 25 points and is facing his age-33 season. That is all you need to know about the state of Nashville’s offense. Let’s dive into this predicament more. Did you know that amongst the ten best point scoring seasons in Nashville Predators history, only the same David Legwand was able to join the club before he turned 28. Seven of those ten seasons involved players who were 30 years or older. Most importantly, only two players hit the point-per-game season mark. One of them was a 32-year old Steve Sullivan in only 57 games, and another was a 31-year old Paul Kariya. At least younger franchises have had exciting goal scorers in the primes of their careers (like Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu in Minnesota and Rick Nash in Columbus), but it is shocking how Nashville has never had an offensive superstar.

Predator fans will hope that Filip Forsberg can become that player. In his five-game stint, he showed his nerves, but Forsberg was able to collect an assist and he will be counted upon to step up his production. This is, after all, a player that Nashville acquired from a transaction that was so shocking, a certain writer thought it was his civic duty to spew over 3,000 words about it. Along with Forsberg, young players such as Patric Hornqvist, Colin Wilson and Viktor Stalberg and veterans Legwand and Mike Fisher round out a top-six that frankly, is simply not good enough on paper.

The bottom six on the other hand, is all that you could ask for in a Barry Trotz coached team. Eric Nystrom and Matt Hendricks will not only come into Nashville and increase their toughness with their hitting, but they also contribute on the penalty kill. Matt Cullen will come in as one of the better faceoff specialists in the NHL and, along with Craig Smith will hope to add some scoring punch. Nick Spaling and Paul Gaustad round out the group of forwards that are expected to contribute defensively and on the penalty kill.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Roman Josi (23, 66-9-20-29-14-2.15, 7 yrs/$4 million)
  • D: Shea Weber (28, 76-15-28-43-60-2.50, 13 yrs/$7.857143 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Seth Jones (19, 72-5-15-20-36-0.88, 3 yrs/$3.225 million)
  • D: Kevin Klein (29, 70-3-16-19-18-1.22, 5 yrs/$2.9 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mattias Ekholm (23, 68-5-11-16-34-1.75, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • D: Ryan Ellis (23, 65-6-12-18-30-1.50, 1 yr/$840,000)
  • G: Pekka Rinne (31, 6 yrs/$7 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Victor Bartley (26, 37-2-11-13-10-0.79, 3 yrs/$666,667)
  • G: Carter Hutton (28, 1 yr/$550,000)

The defense and goaltending of the Nashville Predators is nothing short of the backbone of their hockey team. GM Dave Poile did not even need to take Seth Jones to have one of the best blue lines in hockey. Shea Weber is about as well rounded of a defenseman as you will get in hockey. After losing former teammate and fellow Norris Trophy candidate Ryan Suter to Minnesota, Weber formed a strong partnership with Roman Josi and made Josi one of the up and coming stars in his position. Partnering Jones will be stay-at-home specialist Kevin Klein, arguably one of the most underrated blueliners in the NHL. The third line comprises of two more standouts in Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis that will finishing the last year of their contracts. One thing to watch this season will be the performance of Pekka Rinne. He has been among the five best goalies since he played his first full NHL season in 2008-2009. However, Rinne was subpar last year and one wonders if he is wearing down after playing the most games of any goaltender in the last three years. Since, he has the most expensive contract amongst NHL goaltenders, it is nothing short of critical that Rinne continues to live up to past performances.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Hornqvist-Fisher-Wilson-Weber-Josi
  • 2nd Unit: Forsberg-Legwand-Stalberg-Ellis-Jones

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Gaustad-Spaling-Klein-Weber
  • 2nd Unit: Nystrom-Hendricks-Ekholm-Jones

Nashville’s power play was very average in all phases and should be expected to stay that way. Expect Viktor Stalberg to come in and take the minutes lost from Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. Despite being in the middle of the pack in shots against per 60, the Predators gave up the 2nd worst save percentage on the penalty kill. As stated before, the additions of Nystrom and Hendricks, along with additional playing time to Kevin Klein, Mattias Ekholm and possibly Seth Jones will hopefully make this unit significantly better.

Best Case Scenario: Nashville will be in the playoff hunt from day one and it will entice GM Dave Poile to upgrade their top six forwards at the trade deadline. Pekka Rinne regains his form and Filip Forsberg wins the Calder Trophy.

Worst Case Scenario: Nashville are not even close to being a playoff team. Despite being a hard working bunch that never gives up, Poile shocks everyone by firing long-time head coach Barry Trotz and looks for a head coach that is more of the offensive-minded variety.

5. Winnipeg

  • 24-21-3, 51 points, 9th in the East
  • -16 Goal Differential, 48.9 expected points
  • 27.9 Even Strength SF60 (15th), 29.5 Even Strength SA60 (18th)
  • 49.5% Corsi (15th), 48.9% FO (22nd), 995 PDO (19th)
  • 13.8% PP (30th), 79.7% PK (24th), +7 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 26.47, Playoff Experience: 252 games

Last year, Winnipeg came out of nowhere to almost claim a very weak Southeast division title. However, the Jets would go on to have their division lead slip away to the Washington Capitals and miss the playoffs entirely. This was a team that is hard to measure, as there were not a huge amount of long term peaks and valleys. It was just a mediocre team with a fantastic offense, but a team that lost it all on porous goaltending. The additions of Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik will hope to replace the forward depth lost by Alexander Burmistrov and Nik Antropov. Meanwhile, the promotions of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba will make prospect nerds excited to watch this team all season long. Overall, this is a team that hasn’t changed outside of the fact that it has gotten younger and more exciting to follow. However, the pressure will be on head coach Claude Noel to make Winnipeg into a consistent playoff team in the long term.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Andrew Ladd (28, 74-21-30-51-42-2.55, 3 yrs/$4.4 million)
  • C: Bryan Little (26, 78-19-31-50-24-2.00-51.2%, 5 yrs/$4.7 million)
  • RW: Blake Wheeler (27, 81-24-36-60-48-2.75, 6 yrs/$5.6 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Evander Kane (22, 73-29-24-53-74-4.00, 5 yrs/$5.25 million)
  • C: Mark Scheifele (21, 68-22-23-45-51-1.75, 3 yrs/$1.563333 million)
  • RW: Devin Setoguchi (27, 73-21-20-41-26-2.35, 1 yr/$3 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Matt Halischuk (25, 64-12-12-24-16-1.50, 1 yr/$650,000)
  • C: Olli Jokinen (35, 76-15-28-43-42-2.00, 1 yr/$4.5 million)
  • RW: Michael Frolik (26, 76-12-12-24-26-2.20, 1 yr/$2.333333 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Eric Tangradi (25, 63-1-6-7-38-1.10, 1 yr/$675,000)
  • C: Jim Slater (31, 66-9-9-18-48-1.45-54.3%, 2 yrs/$1.6 million)
  • RW: James Wright (24, 77-4-5-9-44-0.66, 1 yr/$675,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Chris Thorburn (30, 24-2-3-5-30-0.98, 1 yr/$866,667)
  • Anthony Peluso (25, 24-1-4-5-60-0.80, 2 yrs/$562,500)

The top two lines for the Jets are about as perfect as you can get for a head coach. Last year, Winnipeg’s top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler were amongst the best lines in hockey last year they had a combined 44 goals and 119 points in 48 games. The second line consists of Scheifele, new signing Devin Setoguchi, and long awaited breakout star Evander Kane. Scheifele has gone on to have a very productive junior career and silenced all the critics that thought he was picked too high in the 2011 NHL draft. Setoguchi was picked up in a trade with Minnesota for a 2014 2nd round pick, but this is his third team in four years. Scouts argue that his production is too inconsistent for him to be relied upon every night and he is more suited as a hard-checking third line player. Entering his age-22 season, Evander Kane is shooting and getting paid like a top of the line player. However, among all players that have averaged over 3.75 shots per game in the last two seasons, Kane is the only one to shoot below 10%. Add the fact that he is coming from the same draft class as John Tavares and Matt Duchene and you understand why he is underrated.

The bottom six forwards are a mixed bunch. Olli Jokinen was expected to be the missing piece for Winnipeg’s chances of making the playoffs. But considering that he has only played 6 career playoff games and is entering his age-35 season, Jokinen is running out of time to have a positive resume for his NHL career. Matt Halischuk and Eric Tangradi were players that Nashville and Pittsburgh could not wait to get rid of respectively, as neither present any offensive skills or substantial roles on special teams. At least Tangradi can bring some physical presence, but only Vladimir Zharkov and Tyson Strachan has shot at a lower percentage than Tangradi since he has debuted in the NHL and those two players are not in the league anymore. Jim Slater and James Wright had really poor possession numbers last year, despite the fact that Slater was very strong on the faceoff dot. This is where Michael Frolik comes in as the former Blackhawk will hope to bring his winning ways to the group.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Tobias Enstrom (29, 76-7-36-43-40-1.35, 5 yrs/$5.75 million)
  • D: Zach Bogosian (23, 66-8-15-23-54-2.50, 7 yrs/$5.142857 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Grant Clitsome (29, 68-6-19-25-34-1.34, 3 yrs/$2.066667 million)
  • D: Dustin Byfuglien (28, 76-15-34-49-80-3.30, 3 yrs/$5.2 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mark Stuart (30, 71-3-6-9-88-0.77, 1 yr/$1.7 million)
  • D: Jacob Trouba (20, 67-9-13-22-100-1.75, 3 yrs/$1.8275 million)
  • G: Ondrej Pavelec (26, 4 yrs/$3.9 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Paul Postma (25, 17-2-2-4-2-0.95, 2 yrs/$712,500)
  • Adam Pardy (30, 17-0-3-3-14-0.60, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • G: Al Montoya (29, 1 yr/$601,000)

Like the forward lines, the defensive corps has some good and some bad. Winnipeg’s top pairing of Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian are good puck movers, but had bad seasons from an advanced stats standpoint. What doesn’t help is that Bogosian was given a 7 yr/$36 million contract last summer. Bogosian has been expected from day one to be a defensive stalwart for years to come from a 2008 draft that also had fellow blue liners Tyler Myers, Michael Del Zotto, Slava Voynov, Roman Josi, Jake Gardiner, John Carlson, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, Erik Karlsson, Travis Hamonic and Alex Pietrangelo. Three of those players are top-50 trade value assets and Bogosian isn’t close to looking like one of them. That’s not a good sign for the former #4 overall pick.

Last year’s second line however, was fantastic as Dustin Bufyglien did Dustin Bufyglien things while Grant Clitsome had the best year of his career. The man with the most unfortunate name in hockey may not be able to produce the way he did in Columbus during his debut 2010-2011 season, but if he can have a positive corsi with solid competition, he will do his job and be a bargain for the Jets. There would be loads of hype surrounding Trouba after winning the gold medal for team USA at last winter’s World Junior Championships. He will team up with heavy hitter Mark Stuart.

Last year, Ondrej Pavelec was an absolute disaster and his play might have costed the Jets a playoff spot. However, if we are going to get in the subject of Pekka Rinne being overused, the same has to be said of Pavelec. In the last two years, he has played in 112 out of a possible 130 games, second to Rinne’s 116. It will be critical for Claude Noel to trust Al Montoya to get the job done in at least 25-30 games in order for Pavelec to have some substantial success.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Ladd-Little-Wheeler-Enstrom-Byfuglien
  • 2nd Unit: Kane-Jokinen-Setoguchi-Bogosian-Trouba

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Frolik-Slater-Stuart-Bogosian
  • 2nd Unit: Little-Wright-Enstrom-Clitsome

Even with all the offensive fire power amongst the top six forwards, Winnipeg had the worst power play unit in the NHL. Adding Setoguchi and possibly Trouba will hopefully make this unit more substantial, but it has to get better in order for this team to have any shot at the playoffs. The penalty kill unit was also a group that wasn’t all that strong, but the addition of Frolik should help improve upon that.

Best Case Scenario: Evander Kane finds his accuracy and Jacob Trouba becomes one of the more exciting young defensemen in hockey. Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian, “Big Buff” and Tobias Enstrom form a strong puck moving group of blueliners that scare any team lying in it’s wake and the top line continues to produce

Worst Case Scenario: Claude Noel is fired before the trade deadline as Pavelec either picks up a long term injury or becomes the latest in a line of young goaltenders that age too fast too soon. Bogosian and Kane still don’t live up to lofty expectations and one of them might have to get traded in the next year or so. Jokinen’s contract rears it’s ugly head as he will either sign with another team during the offseason or retire with the Jets getting nothing in return.

4. Minnesota

  • 26-19-3, 55 points, 8th in the West
  • -5 Goal Differential, 50.6 expected points (6th luckiest)
  • 27.1 Even Strength SF60 (21st), 27.1 Even Strength SA60 (7th)
  • 49.5% Corsi (16th), 52.4% FO (3rd), 990 PDO (23rd)
  • 17.9% PP (16th), 80.7% PK (18th), +16 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 28.26, Playoff Experience: 517 games

Last season, GM Chuck Fletcher took a major risk in signing two of the biggest free agents native Minnesotans Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 14 year/$98 million contracts. Even though both players did not disappoint, their contracts limited Minnesota’s cap space to use for other free agents and the chance to resign some of their own. This situation also did not help when the Wild picked up former Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville at the trade deadline. While also picking up a 4th round pick for next summer’s draft, Minnesota had to give up prospects Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, the draft rights to Nikita Zadorov and a 2014 2nd round pick. They may be players that won’t replace Pominville in Buffalo, but those could be potential cheap role players Minnesota could have used in the long term.

This summer, Minnesota decided not to bring back Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Matt Cullen and Tom Gilbert and traded away for Devin Setoguchi. With the cap space needed to make the team better, Fletcher went on to sign Keith Ballard, Matt Cooke, Nino Neiderraiter while prospects Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Matthew Dumba will either join the NHL ranks for the first time or be given bigger roles to help out the team. Despite all the moves, Minnesota was a terrible goal scoring team last year, and to let many veteran forwards go is very concerning. Even if Granland and Coyle can add some relief from all the losses, it will still not be enough for Minnesota to have one of the dumbest off-seasons last summer.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Zach Parise (29, 81-32-35-67-28-3.60, 12 yrs/$7.538462 million)
  • C: Mikko Koivu (31, 71-17-37-54-40-2.60-54.0%, 5 yrs/$6.75 million)
  • RW: Jason Pominville (31, 78-23-37-60-14-2.50, 1 yr/$5.3 million, then 5 yrs/$5.6 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Dany Heatley (33, 74-22-19-41-24-2.50, 1 yr/$7.5 million)
  • C: Kyle Brodziak (29, 77-14-17-31-38-1.65-49.4%, 2 yrs/$2.833333 million)
  • RW: Charlie Coyle (22, 73-13-12-25-56-1.50, 2 yrs/$975,000)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Matt Cooke (35, 73-13-16-29-54-1.37, 3 yrs/$2.5 million)
  • C: Mikael Granlund (22, 65-10-18-28-16-1.50-47.1%, 2 yrs/$2.1 million)
  • RW: Nino Neiderreiter (21, 69-10-8-18-32-2.11, 1 yr/$2.795 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Torrey Mitchell (29, 75-6-11-17-38-1.00, 2 yrs/$1.9 million)
  • C: Zenon Konopka (33, 68-2-4-6-204-0.55-60.7%, 1 yr/$925,000)
  • RW: Mike Rupp (34, 67-4-5-9-93-0.75, 1 yr/$1.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Justin Fontaine (26, 57-7-10-17-16-1.30, 1 yr/$600,000)

On paper, Minnesota’s top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville is one that you can count on for the playoffs. However, every other line looks like there is either a weakness or looks below league average. Even though Parise did not even make the honorable mention of my trade value rankings, he has what it takes to make me one of the biggest idiots in sports blogging. Only Evander Kane and Alex Ovechkin had more total shots than Parise last year. Pominville returns to the Wild with plenty of leadership after captaining the Buffalo Sabres. However, Pominville was resigned to a five year deal worth $28 million that he hopes to live to until he reaches his age-36 season. Rounding out the first line is captain Mikko Koivu, who is a solid top line player, but is paid at least $1 million too much.

If the top line looks so dependable, the second line is an absolute disaster. The hockey world rejoices this year because Dany Heatley is on the last year on his disgusting $7.5 million cap hit. At the very least, he will never see that money ever again as his 2.33 shots per game from last season was a career low. The rest of the line consists of two players that should be on the third line if Minnesota was really a Stanley Cup contender in Kyle Brodziak and Charlie Coyle. Since Coyle is out the next 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee, fellow youngster Jason Zucker will take his place.

Pressure will be on Mikael Granlund to live up to the billing of being a top tier skill player. He will center a third line with new addition Matt Cooke and another underachieving young player in Nino Neiderreiter. To Cooke’s credit, he has limited the number of cheap shots he has thrown in the last two years, but he will be counted upon to be the biggest hitter on the team after the losses of Clutterbuck and Setoguchi. After not being able to make a rebuilding New York Islanders team, Neiderreiter will hope to make the most out of his second chance, just like Kyle Turris did two years ago and Thomas Hickey did last year.

The fourth line could be among the most useless in hockey. Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka are the Wild’s top fighters, but none are expected to have any major totals anywhere else (however, Konopka did have an amazing 60.7% faceoff percentage last year). Torey Mitchell is one that can lead the line with his scoring, but nobody from this line is expected to help the team in the penalty kill and only Mitchell averaged more than 10 minutes a game.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Ryan Suter (29, 78-7-39-46-44-1.90, 12 yrs/$7.538462 million)
  • D: Jonas Brodin (20, 77-5-10-15-20-1.25, 2 yrs/$1.441667 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Clayton Stoner (29, 70-1-10-11-90-0.80, 1 yr/$1.05 million)
  • D: Jared Spurgeon (24, 72-8-18-26-8-1.80, 3 yrs/$2.666667 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Keith Ballard (31, 72-2-7-9-72-0.85, 2 yrs/$1.5 million)
  • D: Matthew Dumba (19, 80-6-12-18-104-1.50, 3 yrs/$1.6025 million)
  • G: Nicklas Backstrom (36, 3 yrs/$3.416667 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Nathan Prosser (27, 12-0-2-2-10-0.58, 1 yr/$825,000)
  • Marco Scandella (24, 12-1-2-3-6-1.30, 2 yrs/$1.025 million)
  • G: Josh Harding (29, 2 yrs/$1.9 million)

While the offense is expected to be a disaster, the defense will, at the very least, look respectable. Ryan Suter has done everything and more since coming to Minnesota and, arguably, should have won the Norris trophy last year. Not only does  he have the mantle of best all-around defenseman, but he has been a great role model to a rising star in Jonas Brodin. Jared Spurgeon had a very solid year being the team’s second offensive defenseman. Highly touted prospect Matthew Dumba made the 23-man roster and the 2012 #7 overall pick will be mentored by new addition Keith Ballard. Ballard had such an awful season last year with Vancouver, that his $4.5 million per year salary had to be bought out. Now with a much cheaper 2 year, $3 million contract, Ballard hopes to rebuild his reputation. Clayton Stoner rounds out the rest of the group.

Goaltending will be major question mark for the Wild as Nicklas Backstrom had a mediocre regular season and is entering his age-36 season. To make things worse, Backstrom was injured before game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals and back-up Josh Harding had to replace him for the rest of the playoffs. Harding was an absolute inspiration during that five game stint. Despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November, Harding played valiantly and helped keep Minnesota in some close games during their five-game series with the Blackhawks. Do not be surprised if a goaltending battle occurs as a result of these previous events. If Harding can not go any further because of his condition, expect prospect Darcy Kuemper to get some playing time.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Koivu-Parise-Heatley-Spurgeon-Stoner
  • 2nd Unit: Pominville-Granlund-Brodziak-Coyle-Brodin

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Cooke-Brodziak-Suter-Brodin
  • 2nd Unit: Koivu-Parise-Stoner-Spurgeon

Despite having the 6th best shot rate with the extra man, the Wild finished with the 16th best power play unit. Not much has changed with this team, and unless the luck changes, expect more of the same. Matt Cooke hopes to improve a penalty kill unit that only finished 18th last year. While shorthanded, a 13th best shot rate, but 20th best shooting percentage proves that Minnesota’s efficiency was not a fluke.

Best Case Scenario: All the young players step up and join Parise, Suter and Brodin as Minnesota’s core. Backstrom has one more great season and the Wild return to the playoffs. Ryan Suter has another fantastic season and, this time, wins the Norris trophy. GM Chuck Fletcher pulls a miracle and picks up major assets in exchange for Dany Heatley’s contract. Is Ryan Miller one of them?

Worst Case Scenario: Once again, Minnesota can not score any goals. Zucker, Coyle and Granlund need at least another year to develop and Niederreiter never returns to the NHL. Minnesota fails to make the playoffs and Backstrom will have to retire after this season. All the issues surrounding Minnesota’s roster construction cost Fletcher and head coach Mike Yeo their jobs.

3. Dallas

  • 22-22-4, 48 points, 11th in the West
  • -12 Goal Differential, 50.3 expected points
  • 26.1 Even Strength SF60 (27th), 29.9 Even Strength SA60 (22nd)
  • 48.9% Corsi (20th), 47.2% FO (27th), 1012 PDO (7th)
  • 17.0% PP (18th), 81.0% PK (17th), -8 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 29.00, Playoff Experience: 530 games

While Minnesota had one of the more inexcusable offseasons, Dallas had one of the best. They definitely pulled one of the biggest trades of the season by sending Loui Eriksson and prospects Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser to Boston for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and prospect Riley Button. With that, Dallas received a top of the line forward and a budding, but troubled superstar in Seguin. Along with the blockbuster trade, the Stars signed Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole and Sergei Gonchar and are promoting Alex Chiasson and 2013 first round pick Valeri Nichushkin to give them the chance to play in their first full NHL seasons. The last move was to hire former Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff to lead a brand new nucleus. All these moves could not have been done without the work of new GM Jim Nill, Detroit’s former long-time director of scouting. With all these additions, Dallas is expected to be a team to be reckoned with for the first time since Mike Madano was at the peak of his powers.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jamie Benn (24, 73-24-37-61-54-2.70-46.1%, 4 yrs/$5.25 million)
  • C: Tyler Seguin (22, 79-28-28-56-26-3.50, 6 yrs/$5.75 million)
  • RW: Rich Peverley (31, 75-14-26-40-30-2.00, 2 yrs/$3.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ray Whitney (41, 70-18-36-54-24-2.00, 1 yr/$4.5 million)
  • C: Shawn Horcoff (35, 71-13-21-34-45-1.50-49.0%, 2 yrs/$5.5 million)
  • RW: Valeri Nichushkin (19, 70-13-8-21-20-2.00, 3 yrs/$2.125 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Erik Cole (35, 71-16-23-39-46-1.75, 2 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: Cody Eakin (23, 76-12-23-36-34-1.45-48.6%, 1 yr/$637,778)
  • RW: Alex Chiasson (23, 72-10-9-19-72-1.75, 2 yrs/$900,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ryan Garbutt (28, 67-6-9-15-66-1.55, 1 yr/$575,000)
  • C: Vernon Fiddler (33, 80-7-18-25-54-1.330-51.5%, 1 yr/$1.8 million)
  • RW: Antoine Roussel (24, 72-6-8-14-160-1.18, 1 yr/$612,500)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Lane McDermid (24, 25-1-2-3-42-0.71, 1 yr/$660,000)
  • Chris Mueller (28, 25-1-4-5-6-0.89, 1 yr/$600,000)

Before we dive into analyzing this group of forwards, let me show a very fascinating list for you guys. Since Dallas played their last playoff game in 2008, here is a list of all the forwards Dallas had for a short stint that either put up 40 points or were on pace for 40 points for at least one a season, but are no longer on the team: Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Mike Madano, Niklas Hagman, Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr, James Neal, Brad Richards, Steve Ott, Eric Nystrom and Michael Ryder. That’s a lot of skill players that never had the time to build any long term cohesion. The only type of player that has stayed throughout that time is Jamie Benn, who is on the second year of a five-year contract. At 24, Benn should be a mainstay with the Stars and is the key piece of the first line with new signings Seguin and Peverly.

The second line could be a line that has some question marks. Can Ray Whitney maintain his production at the age of 41 and on the last year of his contract? At age 35, is Shawn Horcoff good enough to be a second line center, or is he best served as a two-way third line center? Finally, can Valeri Nichushkin make a smooth transition from the KHL to playing an 82-game NHL season?

The third line is one that has a shot at being really impressive. Despite being 35, Erik Cole can still bring the noise with his hits and score goals. Cody Eakin is one of the more underrated young players in the game and could break out even further since he is on the last year of his rookie deal. These two will help rookie Alex Chiasson transition nicely into the NHL.

The fourth line is a stereotypical one as Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt are among the top heavy hitters. Meanwhile, Vernon Fiddler helps bring some scoring punch while being among the top forwards on the penalty kill.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Alex Goligoski (28, 74-9-28-37-28-1.71, 3 yrs/$4.6 million)
  • D: Brenden Dillon (23, 79-5-8-13-105-1.65, 1 yr/$900,000)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Sergei Gonchar (39, 71-6-31-37-42-1.80, 2 yrs/$5 million)
  • D: Stephane Robidas (37, 3-16-19-58-0.95, 1 yr/$3.3 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Trevor Daley (30, 77-5-15-20-36-1.31, 4 yrs/$3.3 million)
  • D: Jordie Benn (27, 77-5-19-24-26-1.25, 3 yrs/$700,000)
  • G: Kari Lehtonen (30, 5 yrs/$5.9 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Kevin Connauton (24, 10-1-1-2-12-1.28, 3 yrs/$700,000)
  • Aaron Rome (30, 10-1-1-2-8-0.60, 1 yr/$1.5 million)
  • G: Dan Ellis (33, 2 yrs/$900,000)

Despite all the excitement in the forward group, there is some concern along the blueline. Alex Goligoski has slowly developed into one of the more underrated puck movers in the NHL after being traded from Pittsburgh. Him and youngster Brenden Dillon formed a nice partnership last year and hope to continue that this season. After that, who else can perform at an elite level? Sergei Gonchar can still score goals and make plays while joining the rush, but can he and fellow veteran Stephane Robidas play solid defense while both are in their late thirties? Trevor Daley is another one that is looking a little past his prime, while Jordie Benn currently holds the final spot, for now. AHLer Kevin Connauton, veteran Aaron Rome and top prospect Jamie Oleksiak could see some major playing time if things start to not look rosey. Kari Lehtonen is a very solid starting goaltender since coming over in a very one-sided trade with Atlanta in 2010. Now all that is missing is for him to have an elite season. Can he do that at age 30, while starting a five-year contract worth slightly less than $6 million a year?

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Whitney-Benn-Cole-Seguin-Goligoski
  • 2nd Unit: Peverley-Chiasson-Eakin-Daley-Robidas

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Horcoff-Fiddler-Robidas-Daley
  • 2nd Unit: Peverley-Eakin-Dillon-Goligoski

As a whole, Dallas’ special teams units were very fortunate to be as mediocre as they were. The Stars will hope their new additions will help a power play unit that shot the pick at the 6th lowest rate in the league. The same additions will also hope to help out a penalty kill that had some very odd statistics. Despite giving up the 3rd worst shots per 60, the Stars were able to have the 17th best penalty kill thanks to the 7th best shorthanded save percentage.

Best Case Scenario: Dallas makes the playoffs for the first time in six years. Lehtonen, Benn, Seguin and Goligoski are house hold names, Eakin and Dillon have breakout seasons and Alex Chiasson wins the Calder trophy. Lindy Ruff wins the Jack Adams trophy.

Worst Case Scenario: Dallas misses the playoffs again because the older members of the team look old. Concerns in the offseason will be to avoid overpaying Dillon and Eakin while Ray Whitney retires and Stephane Robidas does not come back. Tyler Seguin will get arrested in the first of many times during his tenure as a Star and questions will continue to be asked about his lack of maturity.

2. St. Louis

  • 29-17-2, 60 points, 4th in the West
  • +14 Goal Differential, 57.0 expected points (9th luckiest)
  • 27.5 Even Strength SF60 (19th), 23.6 Even Strength SA60 (2nd)
  • 52.2% Corsi (8th), 50.7% FO (13th), 994 PDO (24th)
  • 19.5% PP (12th), 84.7% PK (7th), -1 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.16, Playoff Experience: 432 games

Throughout the last few years, St. Louis has gone from being one of the laughing stocks of the NHL into one of the more up and coming teams in the league. With an average of barely 27 years old, the Blues have no limits as to what they can do and GM Doug Armstrong believes his team is ready to win a Stanley Cup run. From an advanced stats standpoint, last year could have been that year, but an unlucky match up with Los Angeles in the first round prevented them from advancing past the first round. In order to prevent this from happening again, Armstrong traded David Perron to scoring fourth liner Magnus Paajarvi. He also added Maxime Lapierre and Derek Roy in free agency and brought in Brenden Morrow for insurance. All the pieces are in place, but can lady luck finally bring this 46 year old franchise its first Stanley Cup?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Patrick Berglund (25, 78-20-21-41-14-1.98-46.3%, 1 yr/$3.25 million)
  • C: David Backes (29, 80-22-32-54-107-2.30-52.3%, 3 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • RW: T.J. Oshie (27, 68-16-29-45-34-2.11, 4 yrs/$4.175 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Vladimir Tarasenko (22, 70-16-23-39-18-2.25, 2 yrs/$1.75 million)
  • C: Derek Roy (30, 74-18-37-55-38-2.00-45.6%, 1 yr/$4 million)
  • RW: Chris Stewart (26, 74-21-24-45-74-2.15, 2 yrs/$4.15 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jaden Schwartz (21, 77-13-10-23-8-1.25, 1 yr/$1.166667 million)
  • C: Vladimir Sobotka (26, 70-6-14-20-46-1.30-56.5%, 1 yr/$1.3 million)
  • RW: Alexander Steen (30, 73-20-26-46-30-3.10-46.1%, 1 yr/$3.3625 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Magnus Paajarvi (23, 76-10-15-25-28-1.60, 2 yrs/$1.2 million)
  • C: Maxim Lapierre (29, 78-7-10-17-78-1.05-50.6%, 2 yrs/$1.1 million)
  • RW: Ryan Reaves (26, 70-5-3-8-140-0.55, 1 yr/$600,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Brendan Morrow (35, 32-5-9-14-40-1.00, 1 yr/$1.5 million)
  • Adam Cracknell (28, 16-2-3-5-4-1.04, 1 yr/$600,000)

Like their division rival Nashville Predators, St. Louis has plenty of forwards that don’t cost that much and their most expensive player only receives a cap hit of $4.5 million. Unlike Nashville, the Blues have enough forwards that can put the puck in the net. In terms of how much and when is a question that needs to be answered during the playoffs. Captain David Backes leads a top line with Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie that brings plenty of skill and physicality, but is it good enough to score big goals when it counts? There is no true 60-70 point scorer on this team, yet the depth is still very strong. The second and third lines prove that as new signing Roy leads a second line with second year player Vladimir Tarasenko and an inconsistent, yet skillful Chris Stewart. The third line consists of two way star Vladimir Sobotka, high scoring Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwartz, a player on the last year of his rookie deal and has yet to live up to his potential. The fourth line consists of plenty of diversity. Whether it is the heavy hitting Ryan Reaves, the multi-talented Maxime Lapierre or the rising scorer in Magnus Paajarvi, the fourth line has a bit of everything. If the Blues need a bit of scoring, they can bring in Brenden Morrow to the lineup. If they need a bit more physicality, they can bring in Adam Cracknell. Overall, outside of top tier scoring, the Blues have all the pieces of being a top-tier group of forwards. The Blues offense will not show you they are a top-tier group statistically, but remember that head coach Ken Hitchcock is known for his conservative approach, despite a few wrinkles .

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jay Bouwmeester (30, 80-7-25-32-40-1.78, 1 yr/$5.4 million)
  • D: Alex Pietrangelo (24, 80-11-35-46-32-2.25, 7 yrs/$6.5 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jordan Leopold (33, 69-8-15-23-30-1.38, 2 yrs/$2.25 million)
  • D: Kevin Shattenkirk (25, 78-9-34-43-46-1.84, 4 yrs/$4.25 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Barret Jackman (33, 69-3-14-17-95-1.01, 2 yrs/$3.166667 million)
  • D: Roman Polak (28, 70-2-11-13-50-0.97, 3 yrs/$2.75 million)
  • G: Jaroslav Halak (28, 1 yr/$3.875 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Ian Cole (25, 23-1-3-4-22-0.75, 2 yrs/$825,000)
  • G: Brian Elliott (29, 1 yr/$1.8 million)

This leads us to the Blues defense, who was the second best team in hockey based on even strength shots against per 60 minutes. Despite being one of the more expensive blue lines in the NHL, St. Louis also has one of the most complete groups. Are you looking for attacking defenseman that can join the rush? Alex Pietrangelo, Jordan Leopold and Kevin Shattenkirk can do the job. Are you looking for stay at home defenseman that can block shots and level the opposition to the boards? Jay Bouwmeester, Barret Jackman and Roman Polak can do the job. The previous three did have some poor possession numbers, but they also played solid competition.

One thing to watch out for, however, is how well the goaltending can perform this season. After having a fantastic 2010 playoffs, Jaroslav Halak fell off the face of the earth last year and the same applied to backup Brian Elliott after having a fantastic 2012 regular season. Somebody has to pick up the slack as both goalies are on the last years of their contracts. Could Jake Allen be the wild card in this dilemma?

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Steen-Oshie-Berglund-Pietrangelo-Shattenkirk
  • 2nd Unit: Stewart-Backes-Roy-Bouwmeester-Leopold

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Sobotka-Backes-Pietrangelo-Jackman
  • 2nd Unit: Oshie-Lapierre-Bouwmeester-Polak

The special teams for the St. Louis Blues were fantastic last year. The core from the 12th best power play unit remains intact. Derek Roy hopes to come in and make the unit reach elite status. Maxim Lapierre will come in to help a penalty kill unit that is already amongst the best in hockey. One reason for that is being the number one team in shot rate while being shorthanded.

Best Case Scenario: The St. Louis Blues follow my prediction and win the Stanley Cup. Jaroslav Halak rebounds his career by winning Conn Smythe Trophy. They dethrone the Blackhawks in the second round and the two teams create the biggest rivalry in the next couple of years. Ken Hitchcock retires as a winner, but not without his help in finding a perfect replacement for him.

Worst Case Scenario: St. Louis collapses in round one again to such a devastating effect, that their generation of players never recovers (see the 2010 Washington Capitals as an example). Head Coach Ken Hitchcock retires for good and the Blues struggle to find a true replacement. The Blues lose Derek Roy to free agency and do not have a true second line center coming into the 2014-2015 season. Bouwmeester, and the entire third line get overpaid and St. Louis’ soon to be lack of cap space becomes the biggest reason to all their problems.

1. Chicago

  • 36-7-5, 77 points, 1st in the West
  • +53 Goal Differential, 69.5 expected points (2nd Luckiest)
  • 30.5 Even Strength SF60 (6th), 25.1 Even Strength SA60 (4th)
  • 54.1% Corsi (4th), 50.8% FO (11th), 1019 PDO (3rd)
  • 16.7% PP (19th), 87.2% PK (3rd), +9 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.84, Playoff Experience: 1044 games

In 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks not only won the Stanley Cup, but became the first team in the salary cap era to win multiple Stanley Cups. So what did GM Stan Bowman do to turn his team into a potential dynasty? He let key role players Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland leave and resigned Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford to potentially outlandish contracts. These deals may not affect them now, but this is something to remember within two to three years time as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brent Seabrook will become free agents during that time. Bowman will hope that the losses of Stalberg and Bolland can be replaced by AHL lifer Jimmy Hayes and tough guy Brandon Bollig. Like the last time they won the Cup, Chicago are relying on their draft picks and players from their AHL affiliate Rockford Icehogs to step up, learn the Blackhawk way, and become the next generation of Champions. All in all, this group of players has 1,000 playoff games and are STILL one of the younger teams in the NHL.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Patrick Sharp (32, 71-25-36-61-36-3.25, 4 yrs/$5.9 million)
  • C: Jonathan Toews (26, 73-33-37-70-40-3.00-59.9%, 2 yrs/$6.3 million)
  • RW: Patrick Kane (25, 80-28-50-78-34-2.94, 2 yrs/$6.3 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brandon Saad (21, 79-17-27-44-20-2.10, 2 yrs/$925,000)
  • C: Andrew Shaw (22, 78-18-16-34-78-1.62-44.0%, 1 yr/$577,500)
  • RW: Marian Hossa (35, 75-27-37-64-28-2.75, 8 yrs/$5.275 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Bryan Bickell (28, 71-13-16-29-40-1.50, 4 yrs/$4 million)
  • C: Marcus Kruger (23, 77-8-23-31-32-1.17-46.2%, 2 yrs/$1.325 million)
  • RW: Jimmy Hayes (24, 67-10-11-21-26-1.35, 1 yr/$875,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brandon Bollig (27, 67-1-1-2-170-1.16, 1 yr/$575,000)
  • C: Michal Handzus (37, 71-9-11-20-26-1.00-55.3%, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • RW: Ben Smith (25, 68-15-11-26-24-1.18, 1 yr/$562,500)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Joakim Nordstrom (22, 44-2-3-5-14-0.45, 2 yrs/$766,667)

The Blackhawks will come into next year with almost the same forward lines, but with a bit more tinkering. The top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are still expected to bring in an elite level of production as there have been no signs of anyone of them tapering in the near future. Andrew Shaw joins the second line with rising star Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa. It is too early to judge the 2011 NHL draft, but despite losing the Troy Brouwer trade, in which they sent Brouwer to Washington for 1st round pick Philip Danault, the Blackhawks drafted Saad in the second round and Shaw in the sixth round!!! Currently, Shaw and Saad are in the top six in games played and points scored in their draft classs. If that is not a job well done by Stan Bowman, I don’t know what is? Despite being 36-years old, Hossa could be one of the most underrated forwards of his generation. Bryan Bickell will hope to continue his scoring ways on the third line with Markus Kruger and newcomer Jimmy Hayes, while the fourth line consists of Brandon Bollig, veteran Michal Handzus and Ben Smith. This will be Smith’s first full NHL season while Bollig also hopes to receive more playing time.

If there is one major criticism for this team, it is the lack of talent at center. When Jonathan Toews missed 23 games to a broken hand in 2012, it was evident that the Blackhawks had no one to replace him. Patrick Sharp could come in and do the job, but that’s still not enough if Chicago misses Toews again to injury. Handzus came in and became the missing piece for Chicago’s second Stanley Cup, but he is hitting his age-37 season. Expect some trades if they are looking to upgrade that position.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Duncan Keith (30, 80-8-40-48-54-2.00, 10 yrs/$5.538462 million)
  • D: Brent Seabrook (29, 79-8-25-33-40-1.50, 3 yrs/$5.8 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Niklas Hjalmarsson (26, 73-3-12-15-26-0.93, 1 yr/$3.5 million, then 5 yrs/$4.1 million)
  • D: Johnny Oduya (32, 78-4-16-20-36-1.01, 2 yrs/$3.383333 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Nick Leddy (23, 82-9-25-34-12-1.50, 2 yrs/$2.7 million)
  • D: Michal Roszival (35, 70-1-19-20-44-0.30, 2 yrs/$2.2 million)
  • G: Corey Crawford (29, 1 yr/$2.666667 million, then 6 yrs/$6 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Sheldon Brookbank (33, 15-0-2-2-20-0.79, 1 yr/$1.25 million)
  • Mike Kostka (28, 15-1-4-5-12-1.40, 1 yr/$625,000)
  • G: Nikolai Khabibulin (41, 1 yr/$1.75 million)

Like St. Louis, Chicago’s blue line is a very dependable and complete unit. Last year, they had the fourth best unit on even strength shots against per 60, but their goaltending also had the eighth best save percentage at even strength. Corey Crawford will hope continue his strong production from last year and live up to his new contract of six years and $36 million.

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead the way in the scoring department, but their possession numbers were poor for their standards. As mentioned in the trade value rankings, Keith is now hitting his age-30 season, and he hasn’t come close to producing at the level he did in during his Norris trophy winning season in 2010. Is this the beginning of the end, or are we seeing the signs that Keith is the stay-at-home partner while Seabrook is the one joining the rush?

Nicklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya form the more defensive second pair as both performed valiantly under tough competition. Hjalmarsson will be with the Blackhawks for another six years, but the 32-year old Oduya is on the second to last year of his contract. Stay tuned to see what his future holds as Adam Clendening seems to be the only prospect that has any form of a shot of cracking the lineup during that time period.

Nick Leddy and veteran Michal Rosival round out the blue line as both produced strong numbers while facing weak competition. Both players are in the beginning of two year contract extensions.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Sharp-Kane-Toews-Hossa-Keith
  • 2nd Unit: Shaw-Bickell-Saad-Smith-Leddy

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Kruger-Smith-Hjalmarsson-Oduya
  • 2nd Unit: Toews-Hossa-Keith-Seabrook

For the exception of Bryan Bickell, all of Chicago’s key players on the power play from last year are still around. Despite the huge amount of skill, the power play only finished 19th in the league last year, with the 10th worst shooting percentage and the 5th worst shots per 60 minutes. On the other hand, the penalty kill was the 3rd best in hockey, giving up the 12th least shots per 60 minutes and the 3rd best save percentage. One thing to watch out for is the loss of Michal Handzus to free agency. Despite only being a rental for the Blackhawks, Handzus led the team in minutes amongst forwards on the penalty kill and they will need to find someone that can replace his production.

Best Case Scenario: The Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup again. Duncan Keith has a rebound season and wins the Norris Trophy. Hall of fame questions arise for Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane wins the Art Ross Trophy while Jonathan Toews wins the Hart Trophy.

Worst Case Scenario: The Blackhawks lose to the Blues in the second round of the playoffs. Questions arise about Duncan Keith’s production for the long term. Kruger and Shaw can not handle their new roles and it takes longer for Jimmy Hayes to get used to the NHL style of play. Kane, Toews and Seabrook demand that they both get paid over $7 million per year or they will jump ship when their contracts run out.

One comment

  1. Hi Ben, Awesome analysis!!!!! Paul & Carol in Rockford

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