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Thoughts on Western Conference playoff contenders

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02-15-2004, 04:08 PM
  #1
Breck Av
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Thoughts on Western Conference playoff contenders

So, the most highly anticipated season in Avalanche history has only 25 regular season games remaining, plus a hopeful foray into June. The playoff chase is heating up and this year Western Conference depth looks to be the weakest itís been since 1997-'98. There's been a noticeable drop from Colorado/Detroit/Vancouver to the second tier, especially with Dallas and St. Louis not as strong as the past few years. I think we've got a pretty good feel about each team, though that will change after the trade deadline. This is how I see things:

1. Colorado - 57 GP 32 W 11 L 10 T 4 OTL 78 Points

It's been an injury plagued year, the Avalanche has lost the third most man-games to injury and has yet to ice a completely healthy team even once all season. That said, they're leading the President's Trophy race and have gone on the best road streak since the 1978 Canadiens, who are considered by many to be one of the greatest teams of all time.

David Aebischer has silenced all the critics and Alex Tanguay has shed his "leech" tag. Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, Rob Blake, and Adam Foote have all been their usual excellent selves. Steve Konowalchuk was a brilliant pick-up and just the kind of player Colorado has lacked, someone to score the ugly goals in front of the net.

Paul Kariya has played well when not injured, I have a feeling that he's due for a hot streak soon. Teemu Selanne probably hasn't played on a line with Kariya as much as he'd like, his time with Paul come soon enough.

I'm not really sure what more this team needs if it ever gets completely healthy. Maybe a strong face-off guy or a tough 5th or 6th defenseman?

I think they'll stay in first and win their third President's Trophy since moving to Denver.

2. Detroit - 58 GP 32 W 16 L 8 T 2 OTL 74 Points

I'm not going to go into as much depth with the other teams since I haven't watched every game of theirs.

At least Detroit's goaltending controversy is finally over. The Dominik Hasek comeback sure was heartwarming, wasn't it?

After watching the last two Avalanche-Red Wing games, it was noticeable to me that the Wings are missing that explosive player who can change the outcome of a game by himself. Sergei Fedorov was kind of up-and-down the past few years, but he still scared me whenever he was on the ice. Pavel Datsyuk is getting there, though I don't think Detroit can match Sakic, Forsberg, and Kariya. Can Kris Draper keep scoring like he suddenly has this season?

Their defense will scare me if Hatcher comes back and can play like he has in the past. It could be tough to score on a group consisting of Lidstrom, Hatcher, Chelios, Fischer, Schneider, and Woolley. If Cujo can stop the puck in the playoffs this team will be tough to beat in a seven game series.

They already have the Central division wrapped up and will finish either first or second in the conference.

3. San Jose Sharks - 58 GP 27 W 15 L 11 T 5 OTL 70 Points

Where the hell did this team come from? I thought they were going to win the Western Conference last year after watching them play the Avs so tough in the 2002 playoffs. That turned out like my prediction that Alex Tanguay was going to score 50 goals in 2001-'02.

Somebody named Nils Eckman has owned the Avs this year. Jonathan Cheechoo and Niko Dimitrakos are two of my favorite names and they're playing good for the Sharks. I like their defense with Brad Stuart, Mike Rathje, Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, and Christian Ehrhoff.

The goaltending has been the real story. They started off the year with Evgeny Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, and Vesa Toskala, all of whom are playing great between the nets, Kipper in Calgary now. All three have a save percentage over .930 right now (Kipper at .941 ), which is incredible.

I think they'll hold off Dallas for the third seed.

4. Vancouver Canucks - 59 GP 31 W 18 L 7 T 3 OTL 72 Points

The only team to make Colorado sweat during their NHL-record division title streak has cooled off of late. Monday's game is extremely important for the 'Nucks, they don't want to be 8 points back with Colorado having 2 games in hand.

Recent slide aside, I think this is the team that will reach the Stanley Cup Finals if Colorado doesn't. I like how the Sedin twins have played in the past month or two and I think Morrison and the non-diver Bertuzzi will start to help out Naslund a little bit.

This team needs to stop coughing up the puck. It seems like every time I switch to watch Vancouver I see another costly turnover. The turnover by Naslund in Madison Square Garden last week was just terrible. I love when Vancouver gives up a goal and the cameras show an incensed Crawford on the bench, that's worth the price of Center Ice by itself!

I do admire the brand of hockey this team plays, Vancouver should be on TV in the US much more than they are. Get New Jersey off the national telecasts ESPN! Showcase exciting hockey!

I think Vancouver will hold on to the fourth spot, exactly where they ended up last year after the Los Angeles choke.

5. Calgary Flames - 57 GP 29 W 20 L 5 T 3 OTL 66 Points

It's hard to believe that this franchise hasn't been to the playoffs since the days of Theo Fleury, Gary Roberts, German Titov, and Trevor Kidd. That should change this year.

I love their blueline and wish we had given up Marty Skoula instead of Robyn Regehr to get Theo Fleury. Calgary has 5 former Avalanche players who are playing good hockey for them, Shean Donovan, Steve Reinprecht, Stephane Yelle, Dean McAmmond, and Regehr, who never actually played for the Avs but I'm counting him anyway. I can't believe how well Donovan has played so far.

The Flames should just count their losses and cut Roman Turek. Why the hell did they sign him anyway?

I think they'll finish 6th in the conference. I know I don't want to play them in the first round.

6. Dallas - 58 GP 27 W 21 L 10 T 0 OTL 64 Points

The only team Colorado has failed to beat in a playoff series (0-2) has returned from the dead, thanks to Marty Turco.

I don't really have much to say about this team, only that I think they'll finish 5th in the conference and that I would like to see them in the second round to get that monkey off our back.

7. Los Angeles - 57 GP 22 W 16 L 13 T 6 OTL 63 Points

The team everybody seems to feel sorry for, what with all their injuries the fact they haven't totally collapsed like the Penguins. I have respect for what Andy Murray has managed to do this year, though I have not one ounce of sympathy for King fans, it seems all those spleen jokes have come back full circle.

Too bad Colorado didn't take Alexander Frolov in the 2000 first round instead of Vaclav Nedorost.

Another playoff match-up between Colorado and Los Angeles would be a doozy. There's no love lost between the players and fans. I would hope that the Avs could finally put away a Kings team with Cechmanek as goalie and no Allison, Palffy, or Deadmarsh. There's no way the 2001 and 2002 Avalanche should have let inferior King teams to come back from 3-1 deficits, particularly with a chance to win on home ice in game 5 both years.

I do see L.A. getting the 8th seed and the 3rd playoff series in 4 years against Colorado.

8. Nashville - 56 GP 27 W 21 L 6 T 2 OTL 62 Points

Can the Preds hang on for their first playoff appearance? Will Lappy list every game he has watched Nashville play :p . This is another potential Avalanche first round foe that I would not want to face. I can just imagine Marek Svatos being hit by a catfish and injuring his shoulder once again.

Vokoun isn't being mentioned for the Vezina anymore, but I think he could steal a playoff series for the Predators.

Goal scoring is a problem and Nashville has been outscored by 12 goals so far this year. Maybe I would like to see them in the first round.

I think Nashville will finish 7th, setting up an interesting 1st round series against Detroit.

9. St. Louis - 57 GP 27 W 22 L 7 T 1 OTL 62 Points

Sandwiched between Los Angeles and Colorado in man-games lost to injury, the Blues have tumbled out of the top 8 and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979.

Missing MacInnis and Jackman has hurt and now this team can't score goals anymore.

I don't know what the problem is; maybe Lappy could give us the answer.

I have a feeling the slide will continue and Quenneville will lose his job as his team fails to make the playoffs.

I think Minnesota, Edmonton, Phoenix, and Anaheim are all done. Anaheim has the best chance to go on a run to make the postseason out of those 4 teams, IMO.

1. Colorado
2. Detroit
3. San Jose
4. Vancouver
5. Dallas
6. Calgary
7. Nashville
8. Los Angeles


9. St. Louis
10. Anaheim
11. Edmonton
12. Minnesota
13. Phoenix
14. Columbus
15. Chicago

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Old
02-15-2004, 04:29 PM
  #2
Breck Av
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Correction, the Avalanche has obviously never beaten the Wild in a playoff series.

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02-15-2004, 05:14 PM
  #3
Enoch
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I think the the Kings will fall out of the race, and the Blues will make it. Either that or the Preds/Flames will fall out. Otherwise....that seems like the list to me.

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02-15-2004, 05:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Enoch
I think the the Kings will fall out of the race, and the Blues will make it. Either that or the Preds/Flames will fall out. Otherwise....that seems like the list to me.
I think the Flames are for real this season. The Blues will probably make it, leaving the Kings and Preds to duke it out for the final spot.

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02-15-2004, 06:22 PM
  #5
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Avs Playoff Needs

First, a maga-thanks to Breck for the well-thought-out post. Nice work. That's the kind of material that separates this site from the imitators.

As to what the Avs' player needs are, I think we've all debated this to the point of exhaustion. After my own reflection on the various options here, I think whatever additions PL makes, it comes down to this:

Class
Character
Killer Instinct/Desire

Specific skills are nice, but if the added player(s) don't have these unique ingredients, then the addition(s) won't count for spit during the stepped-up grind of the playoffs. When I look back at all the pre-playoff deals Lacroix has made in the past, none quite stand out like the Ray Bourque trade. Those kinda guys aren't always out there, but THAT is the kind of player that really elevates a team's play when "the going get tough".

Last year the Avs lacked the Killer instinct, maybe because they sorta ran outta gas. They've showed glimpses of that flaw this year, despite their stellar record. If they can acquire a Bourque kinda player over the next few weeks, they just may find that magic elixir they need to go the distance.

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02-15-2004, 10:29 PM
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Breck Av
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IceBagadonuts
First, a maga-thanks to Breck for the well-thought-out post. Nice work. That's the kind of material that separates this site from the imitators.

As to what the Avs' player needs are, I think we've all debated this to the point of exhaustion. After my own reflection on the various options here, I think whatever additions PL makes, it comes down to this:

Class
Character
Killer Instinct/Desire

Specific skills are nice, but if the added player(s) don't have these unique ingredients, then the addition(s) won't count for spit during the stepped-up grind of the playoffs. When I look back at all the pre-playoff deals Lacroix has made in the past, none quite stand out like the Ray Bourque trade. Those kinda guys aren't always out there, but THAT is the kind of player that really elevates a team's play when "the going get tough".

Last year the Avs lacked the Killer instinct, maybe because they sorta ran outta gas. They've showed glimpses of that flaw this year, despite their stellar record. If they can acquire a Bourque kinda player over the next few weeks, they just may find that magic elixir they need to go the distance.
Your welcome, Ice, ty.

I agree with you about what "kind" of player we need, I just don't think there's anybody out there that fits the description.

The Ray Bourque deal was a once in a lifetime trade. Bourque was so well respected around the league and in locker rooms, actually probably the most respected player in the league at that point, with Gretzky gone and Mario yet to come back from retirement again. Forget how well Raymond was still playing in 2000, his value in the categories you mentioned above was incredibly high.

We got the second greatest defenseman of all-time, the person who had played the most games in NHL history without winning a Stanley Cup. Every hockey fan in North America wanted to see him win it all, except in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New Jersey, and probably Detroit. There's just nobody out there with those kinds of credentials.

I've mentioned Adam Oates, he has come close to winning a Cup, last year even, plus he's a face-off specialist, something we need.

I think that Peter Forsberg has the most fire in him to win another Cup. I bet he feels like he didn't earn the championship he was part of in 2001. He is such a competitor, I think he's going to carry the Avs on his back, ala Sakic in '96, Roy in '93, Gigeure in '03, etc, to win the Conn Smythe.

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02-15-2004, 11:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Breck Av
I think that Peter Forsberg has the most fire in him to win another Cup. I bet he feels like he didn't earn the championship he was part of in 2001. He is such a competitor, I think he's going to carry the Avs on his back, ala Sakic in '96, Roy in '93, Gigeure in '03, etc, to win the Conn Smythe.
I would be willing to bet money that he feels that way. In fact I think I read somewhere a while ago that, that IS the way he feels. I sure hope he gets the Conn Smythe to go along with the Cup this year. I don't think that any player in the league has played better in the playoffs the last four or five years, and I think this goes very unnoticed by some people, even though most people think he is the best player in the world right now. As good as Peter is in the regular season, he's even better in the playoffs, which is what makes a true champion.

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02-16-2004, 12:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Foppa2118
I would be willing to bet money that he feels that way. In fact I think I read somewhere a while ago that, that IS the way he feels. I sure hope he gets the Conn Smythe to go along with the Cup this year. I don't think that any player in the league has played better in the playoffs the last four or five years, and I think this goes very unnoticed by some people, even though most people think he is the best player in the world right now. As good as Peter is in the regular season, he's even better in the playoffs, which is what makes a true champion.
Most people are too busy making fun of his diving to know how well he's played in the playoffs. Even in the 1st round disappointments of '98 and '03 Forsberg played well.

The guy sat out an entire year and still led the playoffs in scoring for 2002. Most people thought he would take a while to get going, Kings fans thought Norstrom was going to extract another organ. He shoved his spleen right up their ass.

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02-18-2004, 01:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Breck Av
Most people are too busy making fun of his diving to know how well he's played in the playoffs. Even in the 1st round disappointments of '98 and '03 Forsberg played well.

The guy sat out an entire year and still led the playoffs in scoring for 2002. Most people thought he would take a while to get going, Kings fans thought Norstrom was going to extract another organ. He shoved his spleen right up their ass.
That's a very underated thing he did there too. People think that was good, but in reality it was amazing. No other player has ever done that, and every year when players just miss training camp, their season is shot. Just look at this years example in Marion Gaborik. He even got some consideration for the Conn Smyth that year. Imagine if he would have won it without playing in the finals, that would have been one hell of an acomplishment.

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02-18-2004, 05:28 PM
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Well, I can add to the list of Preds games I've seen because I watched Preds-Oilers on Sunday and Preds-Jackets on Monday. Now that I've cleared that up...

The Blues' problems are mostly mental right now outside of the injuries. They have struggled offensively all year and Demitra being out hasn't helped. Personally, I think the Avs-Blues game was a clear indication of how much fight the Blues have left and I'm not referring to the final score. I'm referring to the desperation the Blues played with against the Avs because it signalled to me that the Blues are going to be in the playoffs. They're still taking baby steps right now, but they've won the last two since that Avs game. Another issue is that guys like Mayers are getting the best chances and he has displayed hands that would make Shantz blush at times this year. You need the best chances to end up on the sticks of Weight, Tkachuk and Demitra if you're the Blues and that's not happening the past month or two.

The Predators have slumped recently, but I love the Sullivan acquisition and I think that will spark them. Personally, I think either Dallas or LA misses out on the playoffs. Dallas because I'm not convinced about their heart and LA because I don't think that their work ethic will be enough to get them to the playoffs. LA is doing a stellar job of working through the injuries, but I can't see it continuing down the stretch. I hope I'm wrong about the Kings though because LA really deserves to be in the playoffs considering they are the perfect example of what a hardworking club can do.

I think the top 4 will work out like Breck Av suggested with the Flames, Blues, and Predators bringing up the bottom with one of either the Kings or Stars.

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