Quest For the Stanley Cup First Update

Once the Dallas Stars have played 10 games I will look at the NHL Standings in Both conferences.  There will be 8 updates during the regular season prior to the NHL playoffs this is the first.

I will list the leaders in the standings breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  I will start with the Eastern Conference Teams before breaking down the Western Conference Teams.  I will list how well each team is doing and how far they would go in the Playoffs if the Season ended today.

I know I picked the Kings over the Capitals in the preseason.  I don’t plan on changing that pick until either team loses in the playoffs.  This is just pure speculation with the current NHL Standings on my part in case I ever remotely considered the possibility of flip flopping.

Eastern Conference Standings

1 Seed Pittsburgh Penguins 18 Points The Pittsburgh Penguins have an NHL best 18 points at the moment.  Marc-Andre Fleury is tied with Kari Lehtonen for a league best 7 wins.  James Neal leads the Penguins in points plus Malkin and Staal are playing.  The Penguins are the #1 team in penalty killing and are tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the most goals scored in the NHL right now.

Fleury recorded a shutout against the New York Islanders the other night silencing more critics who continue to question his ability to win.

The scary thing is Sidney Crosby isn’t back from his injury yet.  You think this team is scary now, just wait until next year when Crosby, Malkin, and Staal are at full health with Crosby and Staal entering contract years.  I could see the 2012-2013 Penguins playing so well in a year from now that I could realistically see them going 72-10 like the Chicago Bulls did way back when.  I am not trying to sound obnoxious or unrealistic its just the Penguins are that good when Crosby is fully healthy while the team as a whole plays this well.

Pittsburgh ranked near the bottom of the league in power plays.  They rank 8th in that area so far in 2011 making major strides.  Those numbers should continue to improve when Crosby returns.

I picked the Penguins to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals back in the preseason.  I am not changing my picks because only flip floppers change their picks.  If I could change my pick I probably would pick the Penguins though.

We have only seen a glimpse of the NHL Regular Season, but you have to think that the Pittsburgh Penguins are the early favorite to win a 2nd Cup.  Ben Roethlisberger won his 2nd Super Bowl 3 years after he won his first.  This year will be Crosby’s 3rd year since he first lifted the Stanley Cup. Coincidence?  I think not, this team is legit if Crosby recovers.

How far would the Penguins get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? At this point I would have to say that the Penguins are the favorite to win the Eastern Conference.  They may even be the favorite to win the Cup.

2 Seed Washington Capitals 14 Points Their is the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to the Washington Capitals.

The good news with the Capitals is that their making me look smart for picking them as my preseason Stanley Cup Finalist.  Tomas Voukoun is playing well at goalie and the Capitals are 3rd on the power play.

The bad news is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to be a potential roadblock for Washington’s quest for home ice.  Pittsburgh was #1 in penalty killing last season and they have picked up right where they left off.  Washington has dropped from 2nd to 20th in penalty killing to start the year despite the fact that Voukoun has helped tremendously.  Plus Washington has a history of early playoff exits as Ovechkin has never reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

I have always emphasized that playmaker centers make left wing snipers better.  The Capitals may think they have that line 1 sniper for Ovechkin with Niklas Backstrom.  I realize Backstrom has tallied 65 or more points each of the last 4 years during the regular season.

The problem is Backstrom has tallied less than 10 points in 3 of the Capitals last 4 playoff appearances.  Some NHL players step up in the playoffs.  Backstrom goes into a shell once playoff mode arrives.  He had 0 goals and 2 assists in last years playoffs.  That’s simply unacceptable when you play on a first line with a left winger with Ovechkin’s talent.

I hate asking the Nations Capital this question.  Why did your hockey team pay a playoff choke artist 67 million dollars over 10 years?  I realize Backstrom had 101 points in 2009-2010.  He deserved an extension, but 10 years when he hasn’t even proven himself in the playoffs is just fiscally irresponsible.

The Capitals may choke once again in the postseason given Backstrom’s track record and their significant drop off in penalty killing which has dropped from 2nd to 20th.

The ugly is that I picked 2nd overall in my fantasy Hockey League and took Ovechkin.  He only has 3 goals on the year and my fantasy hockey team is ranked 7th out of 8 teams.  And yes, Sidney Crosby fell to round 7 in our league and no one managed to tell me.  The lesson here is if you play fantasy hockey do it on ESPN or NHL.com because Yahoo let Crosby fall to the 7th round and failed to notify me.   I was 5-6 last week, but now my team is 9-11-2 on the year and yes I released Jason Spezza to sign Ryan Nugent Hopkins after his hat trick and now its come back to haunt me RATS.

Ilya Bryzgalov is my goalie and Mikka Kipersoff are my goalies that’s probably another reason my team sucks this year.  Alright I’m done with my Fantasy Hockey Rant good to get that off my chest lets move on to the 3rd best team in the East.

How far would the Capitals go in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Capitals would even the score with the Lightning then they would play Buffalo in the 2nd round before losing.

3 Seed Toronto Maple Leafs 13 Points Brian Burke looks pretty smart trading for Dr. Phil Kessel.  Who are we kidding he dealt 2 first round picks to the Boston Bruins which turned out to be Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton two future NHL players.

Kessel’s goal scoring ability is just what the doctor ordered in Toronto as the Maple Leafs look like an early candidate to make the playoffs.  Kessel leads the NHL with 9 goals

Even though the Maple Leafs lead this division I think their overrated to a certain extent and will blow the lead at some point.  Toronto is 21st on the power play and 25th in penalty killing.

The Northeastern Division in the Eastern Conference is up for grabs at this point.  The Buffalo Sabres who I mention next are only 1 point behind the Maple Leafs at this time and the Ottawa Senators have 10 points so far in 10 games.  The Montreal Canadians have 8 points through 10 games and the Boston Bruins have 6 points through 9 games.

Right now it looks like the Penguins and Capitals control their own destiny in their divisions as long as they keep winning.  We have to watch more hockey and see how the Northeast shakes up because its too early to tell who has this division.

The Bruins were my pick to get the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference during the preseason.  While that may be an unrealistic expectation at this point they could still realistically bounce back into contention just like Montreal with a few wins.

How far would The Maple Leafs get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today?  If the Maple Leafs got a first round matchup with the Florida Panthers I would be inclined to pick the upset.  The Panthers have some veterans from free agency who have experience plus the Panthers were a top 8 PK team last season and their 5th on the power play this year. The Maple Leafs are relying on Kessel the same way the Ducks relied on Corry Perry last year.  I picked the Predators over the Ducks and look how that turned out?

4 Seed Buffalo Sabres 12 Points Left Winger Thomas Vanek has 7 goals and 14 points which is 2nd. Right Winger Jason Pominville has 9 assists and 13 points which is 3rd in the league.  The Sabres have one of the leagues best goalies in Ryan Miller plus they spent a ton of money in free agency on veteran role players.

Buffalo ranks 7th on the power play and 2nd in penalty killing they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3 to 2.  This is a team with a goalie who has the talent to win the cup.  He just has never had his supporting cast step up and produce at a high level.

Right now the way the Sabres are playing I think their the biggest threat to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference because the talent surrounding Miller is finally producing plus the Sabres just like the Penguins are ranked in the top 10 in power play and penalty killing.

How far would the Sabres get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Sabres would get to the Eastern Conference Finals pushing Pittsburgh to a 7 game series before losing at Consol Energy Center.

5 Seed Philadelphia Flyers 11 Points The Flyers are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for an NHL best 11 goals.  The problem is they have allowed 35 goals through 10 games which is simply unacceptable.

The other issue is that the Flyers have been shorthanded 51 times this season.  You have been shorthanded at least 5 times a game.  Teams usually convert 1 out of every 5 power plays so your practically handing an opponent 1 point

What’s interesting about the Flyers is that they have a penalty killing percentage of 74 at home while they have a penalty killing percentage of 90 on the road.

The Flyers are overrated and if they meet the Sabres in round 1 of the playoffs I have to take Buffalo.

How far would the Flyers get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Flyers would earn the honor of having a rematch with Buffalo after defeating them in 7 games last year.  This years Sabres team is much stronger and this years Flyers team is much weaker so the series would be much quicker with Buffalo winning in 5.

6 Seed Florida Panthers 10 Points The Florida Panthers had more cap room than any NHL team.  They stockpiled up on free agents.  The Panthers were awful on the power play, but were good at penalty killing a year ago.  Now its vice versa as the Panthers are good on the power play while struggling on the PK.

I thought the Panthers would pick #1 overall before the season started.  Florida has exceeded my expectations so far.  I could realistically seeing the Panthers make the 2nd round of the NHL playoffs if they are lucky enough to get a matchup with Toronto.

How far would the Panthers get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Panthers would knock off Toronto as a 6 seed before losing to Pittsburgh in 6.

7 Seed Tampa Bay Lightning 10 Points The Lightning have an aging goaltender in Dwayne Roloson who is showing signs of declining.  Tampa Bay was a top 8 team during penalty killing last season.  Now they are 14th.  People expected this Lightning team to match last seasons expectations.  Bergenheim is on Florida now while 2010 1st round pick Brett Connolly is learning the system trying to take his place.  This will be a regressing year for Tampa where they take a step back trying to discover themselves.

How far would the Lightning get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Lightning knocked of Washington last year.  In a rematch between these teams I see the Capitals getting out of the first round hoping to silence their critics.

8 Seed Ottawa Senators 10 Points Jason Spezza has helped Ottawa out.  This team has dominated on the power play, but they are terrible at penalty killing.  The Senators have some of the leagues best upcoming offensive defenders, but they cannot kill penalties to save face.  If the Senators make the playoffs they will likely get swept.

How far would the Senators get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Senators would get swept by the 1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins.

Western Conference Standings

1 Seed Dallas Stars 14 Points My favorite team the Dallas Stars who I first started watching in Kansas have first place for the moment.  Glen Gulutzan is a very good coach who has developed and improved the defensive aspects of this team.  Kari Lehtonen is having a good season and the playmakers are making plays without Brad Richards.

The downside to the Stars is that they lack a goal scorer who has more than 5 goals and that they are regressing on the power play dropping from 14th to 23rd thanks to the departure of Brad Richards.

How far would the Dallas Stars get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? I love this Dallas Stars team, but we still have a lot of work to do.  The Los Angeles Kings have had our number the past 2 games so they knock us off here and proceed to the Western Conference Finals.

2 Seed Chicago Blackhawks 12 Points The Blackhawks had issues on special teams last year regressing on the power play and penalty killing.  The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 when their penalty killing unit ranked in the top 8.  The Blackhawks currently rank 4th among teams with penalty killing units.

3 Seed Edmonton Oilers 12 Points In my preseason picks I had the Oilers getting an 8 seed and making it to the divisional round.  This team has shown excellent promise early.

How far would the Blackhawks get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today?  I think Chicago would get to the 2nd round before their former goalie comes back to haunt them.

A year ago the Oilers entered the season with a divided locker room.  Jordan Eberle forgot to pass the puck to Shawn Horcoff and ended up scoring a goal and diving to celebrate.  Everyone on the Oilers got pissed off about it and as the season progressed the team showed signs of maturing.  Still the Oilers finished with the worst record due to a lack of talent.  The Oilers were the only team in the Western Conference that failed to score 200 goals.  The Oilers were 27th on the power play and 29th in penalty killing.

Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have both managed to put their differences aside this offseason and have matured significantly as players.  Hall even believes that Nugent Hopkins has exceeded expectations in Edmonton making his job much easier.

I knew that Ryan Nugent Hopkins was NHL ready.  I had no idea that he would soar up the depth charts becoming the line 1 center so quickly.  The Oilers have a line 1 for the next two decades with Taylor Hall at left wing, Ryan Nugent Hopkins at center, and Jordan Eberle at right wing.

The Edmonton Oilers have skyrocketed from 29th to 3rd in penalty killing so far.  This PK Unit is really making things easy for the offense Edmonton hangs in games.

Nikolai Khabibulin has had his best year so far with a 0.97 Goals Allowed Average which is a league best in addition to a league best .964 save percentage.

I thought this team would contend for a playoff spot.  Its kind of shocking that their playing this well this early.

How far would the Oilers get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Oilers have the deadly line 1 for the next 2 decades with Hall, Hopkins, and Eberle assuming no one leaves, they are 3rd in penalty killing, and Khabibulin is having a monster year having his best season since he guided the Lightning to a Stanley Cup.  If the penalty killing and goaltending holds up the rest of the season the way their playing now it wouldn’t shock me if the Oilers got to the Stanley Cup.

4 Seed Los Angeles Kings 13 Points The Kings PK unit is struggling right now compared to last year, but it will improve when Doughty recovers.  Jonathan Quick is having a career season for the Kings at goalie and the free agent additions that Los Angeles made make the Kings very deadly on the power play.

The Kings rank 6th on the power play and 9th in penalty killing despite Drew Doughty’s early absence.

I picked the Kings as my preseason Stanley Cup winner.  Its too early to tell if the Kings live up to my prediction.  Things look promising in Los Angeles so far though.

How far would the Kings get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today?  The Kings will make a run at the cup.  If they end up playing Edmonton for the Western Conference Title then I think they could lose.

I know the NHL hasn’t had a Stanley Cup Winner from Canada since Betman’s first year as full time commissioner.  Still, the NHL owes the fans of Edmonton a huge favor after their owner royally screwed the Oilers franchise by trading Gretzky to the Kings to pay off the debts of other businesses he works with.  I think the NHL would fix this series in Edmonton’s favor for a few reasons.

First, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was a senior vice president for the NBA under NBA Commissioner David Stern.  There have been alleged reports that the Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers were fixed in Los Angeles’s favor when NBA official Tim Donaghy was under investigation for betting on Basketball games.

If Bettman and Stern are good friends then he realizes that the Lakers generate more revenue than the Los Angeles Kings when it comes to attendance.  Commissioners say sports is about making tough decisive decisions.  At the end of the day though its really only about one thing behind closed doors.  That’s the benjamins.  Genrating profit from Economics plays a huge role in Sports Management as well and sometimes powerful figures in sports only look at generating revenue.

Second, The NHL owes the Oilers after their fan base had to endure a deal that sent the greatest player of all time Wayne Gretzky packing.  The Oilers have drafted well and their becoming an exciting team in the eyes of the fans.  The Oilers are generating more revenue because their team is a young upstart squad that has great potential moving forward.  People are saying this Oiler team could be like the ones in the 80′s down the road.

Bettman realizes that the Lakers fan base will always be greater than the Kings fanbase even during the NBA Lockout because Bettman worked for Stern prior to being the NHL Commissioner.  Bettman knows about the history of the Lakers and their following in Los Angeles.  The Kings have a following, but no history from winning the Cup in recent years.   It would be a real shame if the NHL decided to fix this series because I think Los Angeles could beat the Oilers with fair officiating.

Third, Karma always comes back to bite you.  Karma struck in Sacramento when the Kings were robbed of an NBA Championship due to bad officiating.  This officiating in Game 7 led to the Lakers winning it all.

Sacramento fans will still be mad at the Lakers, but will not be as enraged because the hockey team in Los Angeles will have experienced the same thing as the Sacremento Kings.

If the Kings play anyone besides Edmonton in the Western Conference Finals I say they get to the Cup.  Edmonton is the exception though due to the famous trade involving Gretzky.

5 Seed Colorado Avalanche 12 Points Ironically enough I had the Kings and Avalanche meeting in the opening round of my playoff predictions for the preseason.  I had Los Angeles as a 3 seed and Colorado as a 6 seed though.  The Avalanche have made impressive strides on the power play this year and their focused more on penalty killing better.  Despite this I still expect the Avalanche to get swept because their a young team.

How far will the Avalanche get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Avalanche would get the 5 seed before getting swept by the Kings.

6 Seed Anaheim Ducks 11 Points The Ducks have the front 6 of offensive players in addition to a penalty killing unit that’s improved to 10th in the league.  There is something about the Ducks that I am selling at this point.

How far will the Ducks get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Ducks would make the opening round before losing to Edmonton.  Anaheim would be that popular upset pick that fails to deliver come playoff time.

7 Seed Detroit Red Wings 10 Points The Red Wings need more youth on their team despite their competitive nature as a team.  The fact that their a 7 seed for the first time in a while pretty much shows that.

How far will the Red Wings get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Red Wings would get swept by Chicago if the playoffs started today.  Chicago lost in the opening round last year and Detroit got to the Western Conference Semifinals.

8 Seed St. Louis Blues 10 Points I really do not see what the Blues have to offer as a hockey team.  I think someone will jump them at some point since there is a lot of hockey left to be played.

How far will the Blues get in the playoffs if the playoffs started today? The Blues would make it to the opening round before losing to Dallas.

Based on what I have seen at this point I have to believe that Pittsburgh Penguins would defeat the Oilers in 5 games if the playoffs started today.

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