Washington Capitals

It’s playoff time, and rather than lead off with some clever transition from nothing, I’ll mention that I don’t need to do that and that you don’t need another vanilla, clichéd-up version of some dude picking all the favorites to win in 6 or 7 games and act like any value was added to your Stanley Cup playoff investment.
What we are going to do today is look at the “experts’ picks” from three of the most visible hockey media companies, compare their hunches to the series prices currently offered by the sportsbooks, and see if we can’t take a stab at predicting some things that won’t happen in the first round of the playoffs.
The three sources that I tallied to compile the 35 “experts’ picks” figures were, (I know, I know), and The series price betting lines were taken from
Eastern Conference
#1 New York Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa Senators – For all the talk that I seem to be hearing amongst the hockey world about a lot of people picking Ottawa to win this series, it sure didn’t show up with regard to the experts. Of the 35 to vote, 33 took the Rangers to advance, making New York the most sure thing to win a round amongst all NHL teams. At -240, the Rangers are also the most expensive bet. No matter how we slice it, NYR is the most favored team of any in the first round of the playoffs.

I think that suits Ottawa just fine, what with their Roland Deschain attitude both in net and throughout the roster. Craig Anderson lives for big games, and is the kind of goalie that almost guarantees his team won’t get swept out of any series. Unfortunately, the flipside is a lack of consistency at mundane times, which leads to a lot of doubters. I am unsure if Ben Bishop is in the team’s plans as far as playing in this series, but I am confident that what won’t happen is Ottawa getting swept out by New York. Their offense is too dynamic at the top and Anderson is going to have at least a pseudo-Game 3 moment at some point.
Photo found here
Sir Craig Anderson, F.M. (Fuckin’ Man)

But, I also don’t believe Ottawa would go into New York and win a Game 7 against such a deep, physical team with the best goalie in the world. Game 7s are typically only lost at home by uber-talented, smooth skating offensive teams that get the yips when everything is on the line in front of their demanding fans. The Rangers are not this type of team. They are too physical and deep, and whedn the moment gets as big as it can get, I like teams that base their games around the simple things to be most likely to close out a home Game 7.
I want to put this out there right now: there is only 1 way that Ottawa can win this series, and it basically looks like the blueprint for any underdog in a seven-game series. The Sens must split the first two games, then bring it home and ambush the Rangers. If Ottawa can grab the coveted 3-1 lead, then I would expect they can close it out at home in Game 6. Let’s also point out that New York is not as seasoned as the stereotypical #1 seed, so there is always the possibility that MSG eats its young in Game 5 when the chips are down, whether the series be at 2-2 or 1-3 against the Rangers.
My ones of loyal readers know that I do not like picking “good” teams to get eliminated at home, but I’m struggling to pick against Ottawa winning two games in a series against a team that has truly no playoff success to speak of. I can’t deny that I feel the most likely (safe?) outcome is that the Rangers will do enough to take a 3-2 lead back to Ottawa and find a way to play a grinding, shutdown road game to knock the Sens out in 6.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 33-2 NYR; Series price NYR (-240) OTT (+190); What Won’t Happen: NYR in 4, OTT in 7.
#2 Boston Bruins vs. #7 Washington Capitals
This one smells like a rat. A cheese eater. Another member of that nation that Frank Costello so resented toward his end.
Let’s play a game called “go back twelve months.” It’s fun. You can often spot forests through trees. Here we go.
Twelve months ago, people were giving the Washington Capitals one last chance to make things right and get to the finals (or at least the conference finals). The Caps came into the playoffs on fire and grabbed another #1 seed. They would even go on to casually handle the New York Rangers in an albeit contested five-game series with playoff rookie Michal Neuvirth in nets. Washington then got swept by Tampa Bay, and all of us proverbial Ned Starks dropped our proverbial Ices through the necks of Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau and everyone involved with the Capitals’ organization.
We were pissed. Much like Mrs. Bobby Petrino, we all knew we were looking the other way on a team that had not under its current makeup seriously challenged for a spot in the eastern final. And don’t give me “’09 Game 7,” because I watched that damn game. I said “seriously.” But we went ahead and picked them anyway, and if we didn’t, it’s because we picked them to lose in the second round to Pittsburgh, who actually lost in the first round to Tampa Bay. Once the second round was set, everybody was back on the bandwagon and unafraid to admit it. We weren’t sure Washington was going to win it all, or even get past PHILADELPHIA in the east, but they were damn sure not losing to a division rival who plays in the state of Florida.
Then the Caps got swept, and we got embarrassed. “We’ll never back you again,” we said. And from the looks of it, we haven’t reneged on that promise yet.
Boston, meanwhile, was still having to deal with questions about their most recent playoff collapse — that of blowing 3-0 series and Game 7 leads at home to the Flyers. Boston squeaked past a Montreal team that most had pegged for what actually happened to them this season. The Bs entered the second round on the road at the team that had not only done them dirty the season before, but had led the eastern conference for much of the season. I don’t remember Boston being a consensus pick to beat Philadelphia, but maybe I have amnesia. Or maybe all the rest of you do. That’s why we’re playing this game.
Then Boston swept the Flyers en route to two more series that had to end with victories in deciding seventh games. Kudos to the champs, they earned it. But that’s what happened. Boston won a 16-team, 4-round tournament in which 3 of those 4 rounds saw them pushed to the brink, and that’s having the league leading Vezina-in-waiting goaltender backstopping every game. Tim Thomas is still there, but he’s only shining out the string with regard to that trophy.
So, what are the numbers, you ask? Of the 35 “experts,” 32 of them have picked the Bruins to defeat the Capitals. In other words, this is the second-most surefire bet in their eyes. I get that it’s a 2-7 matchup, but this 32-3 vote still raises my eyebrows. This whole thing stinks of revenge. If you don’t believe me and are countering with, “Yeah, but Boston will win this series and almost anyone would think so,” let me get to the rest of the tallies here in a minute. And remember, it’s the Washington Capitals here. Despite all of their transparent playoff problems, it never stopped the majority of people from picking them to win before. So, what’s changed so drastically? Our egos, maybe…
The betting line represents Boston as tied for the second biggest favorite, along with Vancouver, at -225.
I’m not going to pick Washington to win straight up, and I certainly have never liked some of their key players, but if you’re looking solely for value, the Caps on the money line has to be a candidate.
Here’s what won’t happen: Caps’ goalie Braden Holtby will not get deer-faced and give up terrible goals to get the team eliminated. It’s funny, Neuvirth was a playoff rookie until he looked incredibly solid last year against the Rangers. Most people think Holtby is more talented than Neuvirth, and has been pretty good in limited big league action over the past two seasons. Yet, Holtby’s assumed status as fill-in starter is cited as a big reason why Washington will lose. Seriously? The Caps might lose because they are not as well set up to enjoy playoff success as the Bruins are, but it won’t be because Holtby shits the bed.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 32-3 BOS; Series price: BOS (-225) WSH (+188); What Won’t Happen: Caps lose because of Holtby.
#3 Florida Panthers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils
This one’s just comical. I understand it’s the Florida Panthers. I understand it’s the Southeast Division. I understand it’s a traditional power with the winningest goalie ever. But the degree to which the Panthers are being written off as glorified sparring partners for a team that has accomplished exactly nothing over the last four seasons can only be explained by the “name on the front” theory.
See, it doesn’t matter that the New Jersey Devils have won only two first round series (and zero beyond that) since the lockout, or that the Panthers have home ice in this series, or that until upgrading the size of his pads, Marty Brodeur looked like he might not be able to start in the ECHL. None of that matters, because this series is between the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils.
Who cares that the best defenseman in the series is Florida’s Brian Campbell, or that six of the eight points that the Devils have on the Panthers this year are via the six extra shootout wins that New Jersey “earned,” or that, again, Florida has home ice in the series. None of that matters, because New Jersey is going to pound their asses and it’s unfair that all of us have to sit through such an undeserving playoff qualification (never mind that we love watching the Capitals… who lost the division to Florida…).
New Jersey ought to be the favorite, but the gap is too wide for a road favorite that led the league in shootout wins. If they play their cards right, the Devils will be lucky enough to bring a 3-2 lead home, where they would logically close it out. But this is far from a sure thing.
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 30-5 NJD; Series price NJD (-210) FLA (+170); What Won’t Happen: Devils in 4, as projected by a few of the experts (including Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek, who I tend to agree with on most hockey arguments).
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers
It’s really too bad. This one could have been so badass. The league could have went and let everybody believe that this was a true grudge match, that no holds were going to be barred and that the face would have to go through hell to get past a very worthy adversary just to advance to the second round.
Then the league went and started fining anyone and everyone who used anything relating to Pittsburgh in a paragraph with anything relating to a putdown. You aren’t reading this for information on the league’s clear “no shit talk on the Pens” directive, so I won’t go into detail, but over the past few weeks no fewer than three fines have been levied at three separate entities who may have used words to call into question basic things like fairness, toughness or a propensity to bitch and moan.
Lots has been said recently on the matter, and I don’t have much to add except that the complaints by fans, coaches and all those around the game are very warranted and on point. Quite simply, the first rule of the NHL is that you do not talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins (unless it’s to select roster players as either award candidates or all-time great fodder). The second rule is that you do not, under any bleeping circumstances, talk about the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The whole situation is pretty sad, and not the least of which for the Penguins themselves, who through league memos regarding unfair practices that they went on to use themselves, medical incompetence that was masked as the need to give special officiating for special players, and the public silence regarding these ridiculous, arbitrary and capricious fines that are getting levied against any and all dissenters, have adopted the roles of Craig Kilborn in Old School or Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers — men who have all the tools and do not need to win by cheating or having others cheat for them, yet go down that route nonetheless.
It’s embarrassing to the league, it’s embarrassing to the Pens and it makes a mockery of notions of justice. But, the rules are the rules, and the commissioner’s office makes the rules.
Of course, there’s no way that office would let an anti-shit-talking directive leak over into an on-ice anti-shit-officiating directive that would screw the Pens’ opponents. Not after losing Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs last year. Not a chance.
Don’t like the conspiracy theorist? Then don’t give him all the reason in the world to believe in the likelihood and practicality of the conspiracy.
Notice I haven’t even mentioned a player in this series yet. It’s because I don’t have to. Sorry Flyers fans, there’s no way you’re winning this series. I’m surprised the votes and line are as close as they are. The sad thing is, I think the Flyers actually match up alright with the Penguins. Oh well, what could have been…
Quick Reference – Experts’ picks: 27-8 PIT; Series price: PIT (-220) PHIL (+180); What Won’t Happen: Philadelphia winning the series… or the penalty minute battle… or the lowest fine competition…

WIth a half dozen or so games to go for most teams, the playoffs are starting to take shape. Although many possibilities still exist, what would be the most interesting first-round matchups that appear as likely as not to fall into place?
Eastern Conference
New York Rangers – If NYR wins the #1 seed, the obvious opponent from a perspective of intrigue is the Washington Capitals. The intrastate argument can be made for a Rangers – Sabres series, but the recent history exists between the Rangers and Caps. The last two times the Rangers have made the playoffs, their season has ended in first-round defeats in the home-seeded Capitals’ building.
Prior to their memorable second-round series with eventual champion Pittsburgh, the #2 seed Capitals had to survive a seven-game series with Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. New York fell behind 3-1 in the series before forcing the seventh game. This was a feat they could not duplicate last year, when they dropped that road elimination Game 5 in Washington as the #8 seed. If this matchup is to happen, it would be the Rangers who would have home ice and possibly even the Presidents’ Trophy.

If NYR is caught by Pittsburgh, the almost certain first-round pairing would be with Philadelphia in the 4-5 series. That would be a high-profile intradivisional matchup that might have HBO reconsidering its decision to not renew 24/7. The possibility exists for a Rangers – Devils series, but Philly would have to tank it to allow New Jersey to make up a six-point gap with only six games to play.
Boston Bruins – I’ve never taken the “Boston better be careful or they’ll drop the division” talk seriously, and I’m willing to assume that Boston is going to place into the #2 seed in the east. Of all the teams they could face in the first round, I think the most interesting series might be against New Jersey, who sits only two points ahead of Ottawa for the sixth spot. Some would argue that Ottawa or Buffalo are the best opponents for Boston because of the divisional aspect, but I would much rather see a contest between similar-minded teams with very contrasting expectations and recent playoff showings.
Florida Panthers – It’s going to be hard to argue that the Florida series will be interesting no matter who they face simply because nobody cares about hockey in Florida. But if we’re going to pit them against any potential #6 seed, I would personally love to see them face Ottawa. These two teams finished 13th and 15th in the Eastern Conference last season, respectively. But the manner in which they would get to this potential 3-6 matchup is very different.
Florida went out and overspent last summer just to reach the salary cap floor, and had been targeting July 2011 as the month in which the franchise would be able to begin to turn the whole thing around. So far, nobody can argue with the results.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ottawa was supposed to be in rebuilding mode. Filip Kuba was supposed to have been dangled in February and shipped off to a playoff contender for yet more young talent and/or draft picks. Everyone of consequence besides Spezza and Anderson were either really old or really young. Alex Auld was the backup goalie.
But the Sens’ veterans ran the show, the rookies were solid and Craig Anderson was nothing if not reliable. Number 41 is never going to be the most consistent tender in the league, but dare I say consistency isn’t really the thing a “crap team” needs in net. Teams that are supposed to suck often have a decent enough, consistent goalie who always faces more shots than his counterpart and usually puts up a respectable 2.60 – 2.75 GAA while getting no goal support. This leads to a good amount of one-goal losses and not enough points in the standings.
A goalie like Anderson, however, is going to miss a lot of fairways and make some double bogeys. But when he’s feeling it, that same top-of-the-crease, gambler attitude is going to steal some games as well. And at the end of the year, that inconsistent style might lead to more wins and overtime/shootout losses, along with some more blowout losses. This leads to more points in the standings, and a better shot at playoff qualification.
Throw in the “goalie against his old team” thing with Anderson against the Panthers (which almost nobody knows or thinks about), and the idea that nobody takes either Ottawa or Florida seriously as eastern conference contenders, and what’s not to like about #3 Florida against #6 Ottawa? At least that leaves more “big boy” series for the rest of you.
Pittsburgh Penguins – This is obvious. If the red-hot, playoff favorite Penguins finish behind New York and get the #4 seed, everyone will want (and almost certainly get) the no holds barred Pennsylvania state title series against the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. It is entirely possible that the Flyers catch the Pens and get home ice for this series.
If Pittsburgh ends up grabbing the top seed, as most people have felt that they will for a few weeks now, the glaringly obvious NHL wet dream is that Washington finishes in 8th. You don’t need a lecture on the hype that would surround another Pittsburgh – Washington series.
Philadelphia Flyers – The revamped Flyers are probably going to finish third in the Atlantic and get the #5 seed, although the #4 is certainly within reach, and other than the location of a potential seventh game, it doesn’t really matter. The Flyers are probably going to face whoever doesn’t win the division, and whether it’s Pittsburgh or New York, the rivalry exists and doesn’t need manufacturing. The east’s 4-5 series should be one to watch.
I’ve laid out my desired opponents for New Jersey, Ottawa and Washington, and I think Buffalo would be happy to play anyone. I don’t really see a jaw-dropping opponent for the Sabres that would place in the east’s top two, although that’s not to say a series involving Buffalo would be boring.
Western Conference
St. Louis Blues – The Blues are closing in on a rather unforeseen division title and possible Presidents’ Trophy, and their 147 goals allowed this season are best in the league by a laughable margin. St. Louis’ most gimmicky opponent out of the 7 or 8 hole would be Colorado based simply on last year’s trade, but regular readers know what I think of the Avalanche’s front office and general leadership. Because of this void in direction and the fact that Colorado has only four games left to play and are already trailing the 8th spot, I don’t see the Avs getting in.
This would leave the Blues list of potential opponents as the entire Pacific Division with Anaheim swapped out for Calgary. As much as I love the Red Mile and the passion of the Flames’ fans, and as cool as it would be to see what San Jose could do with a #8 by their names (just think, Washington and San Jose as the EIGHT seeds), the most interesting opponent for the Blues from a style of play standpoint might be the Los Angeles Kings.
Sure, it might be a snoozer for the scoreboard operator, but I think the irony of this series would be worth at least five games. Just think, there’s this midwestern squad that doesn’t spend to anywhere near the salary cap, but has figured out a way to master the exact style of play that the team from Hollywood has been trying to play for some time now. Both teams fired their head coaches during the season, but only the small, red-state Blues have seen the kind of ludicrous uptick in results that followed.
Unlike most pundits, I do not think an early exit is inevitable for St. Louis. On top of that, I think the Blues match up with the Kings very well — much in the same manner the ’08 Red Wings did with the Penguins. Similar systems and styles of play, but one team just seems to be doing it better. Despite the studliness of Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick and the ability of most fans to name more skaters for L.A. than for Dallas or Phoenix, I believe the Blues should actually welcome a first-round series with the Kings, lest they go up against an offense that can actually hurt them.
Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are either going to get the #1 or #2 seed, and since I think the top six are already determined, I’m not going to waste time dreaming up another first-round series against Chicago. Vancouver’s potential opponents are pretty much the same as those for St. Louis, and of those teams I’d like to see the Canucks face the Dallas Stars.
Dallas is a quiet team that nobody feels they need to pay attention to, but a series with the Canucks would be akin to a #13 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament finally getting on TV. Nobody knows your players’ names until you start canning threes and D’ing up on a team that everybody assumed would advance to the next weekend. It happens every year, and a highlight series with the desperate Canucks might be what it takes to get trending topics in North America like “Jamie Benn” or “Lehtonen.” Dallas has a roster that clearly is highlighted on the blue line, but aren’t those the types of teams that are able to surprise higher seeds in the playoffs?
There’s always the possibility that San Jose slides back into the 7th or 8th seed, and this would make for the highest profile opponent that Vancouver could face in mid-April, but forgive me for not being all that excited to see another shockingly short series between these two.
San Jose Sharks – Chicago. Chicago. My kind of matchup.
This can only happen if San Jose wins the division and Chicago completes its BlackSawks plan of diving for the 6th seed, which looks to be fully operational, but there is absolutely no opponent that would be more salacious for the rest of us third parties.

Gary Bettman’s search history: 2012 Sharks – Blackhawks first round + British accent

Yes, we all want the Sharks to fail and finish ninth or something, but in the interest of eyeballs, a San Jose – Chicago series in the 3-6 matchup is another one of those “NHL google images Kate Beckinsale” type scenarios. Let’s get it done. Plus, one of them has to lose!
Nashville Predators – It looks for all the world like the Chicago BlackSawks are going to win the race to the bottom for the 6th seed, and so we’re left with the near certainty of a Nashville – Detroit series in the first round. This is cool, although as a Red Wings fan it’s a bit depressing. There is the whole contrast of styles thing, as well as the contrast of urgency. Detroit did next to nothing transactionally all year despite having all of this extra cap space that team owner Mike Ilitch dumped right into the pie hole of Prince Fielder. Nashville, meanwhile, went out and paid a crazy price at the trade deadline for Paul Gaustad, must have made Alex Radulov some sort of offer he couldn’t refuse to get him back over from Russia a couple weeks ago, threw the cash at goalie Pekka Rinne and hope to be able to do the same for defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
The Preds are coming off their first playoff series win in 2011 and are clearly gunning for the Cup right now. The Red Wings look more like an organization that is owned by an 82 year-old man who has already won four Stanley Cups and has that one last thing to do before he dies: get his baseball team a world series title. Look at the change in salary expenditures and policy and tell me I’m wrong.
Detroit Red Wings – Again, it looks like Detroit is going to lose the race to the top to St. Louis and the race to the bottom to Chicago, and will be stuck in the undesirable 4-5 series against Nashville. A series win would get the “see, we’re up there with the best and the struggles were only due to injury” bandwagon up and rolling, while a series loss would kinda, sorta disgrace Nick Lidstrom’s final year. And make no mistake about it, if the Red Wings lose in the first round after two consecutive second-round exits and failing to bring in any personnel help despite having a considerable amount of salary cap space for the first time in years, I highly doubt GM Ken Holland will be able to convince Lidstrom that the team is close enough to a Stanley Cup to warrant another year of unrelenting work. But then, I don’t think or live like Nick Lidstrom. Unfortunately.
Chicago Blackhawks – There’s that dream matchup with San Jose for the rest of us that I mentioned earlier, but I’ll tell you who Chicago shouldn’t want to play: the Dallas Stars. I’m not necessarily calling for a Dallas “upset” over Chicago at this moment, but come April 9th I might be.
The Hawks obviously are hoping for the return of captain Jonathan Toews, and therefore should want to delay any headlining matchups as long as possible. But what seems easier from a physicality perspective: playing San Jose or playing Dallas or Phoenix? To me the answer is obvious, and the Hawks seem like a team that needs to be kicked into gear anyway. Dallas or Phoenix just might lull Chicago to sleep. There’s no way anyone sleeps through a series with San Jose.
So Chicago, San Jose, let’s just see it already.
The Most Interesting (Possible) First Round in the World
Eastern Conference
#1 Pittsburgh v. #8 Washington
#2 Boston v. #7 New Jersey
#3 Florida v. #6 Ottawa
#4 N.Y. Rangers v. #5 Philadelphia
Western Conference
#1 St. Louis v. #8 Los Angeles / Calgary (L.A. for style, Calgary for fandom)
#2 Vancouver v. #7 Dallas
#3 San Jose v. #6 Chicago
#4 Nashville v. #5 Detroit
Apologies to fans of Buffalo and Phoenix, as well as L.A. and Calgary for only putting them halfway into the playoffs. I don’t apologize to any other team, because I don’t believe any other team can get to the playoffs. Except of course the Leafs…

Every now and then, an idea comes along that revolutionizes a company, an industry, or even the world. I’d like to present you with an idea that will probably never come to fruition, but is worth a minute or two of contemplation based simply on the possibility that it could.
There has been a lot of talk regarding the situation on the Nashville blue line this season. More specifically, everyone is wondering when and where Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will sign on the dotted line.
One of my favorite hockey people, Jeff Marek, recently brought up an interesting possibility on his and co-host Greg Wyshynski’s podcast regarding the fates and futures of the Preds’ two young defensive studs.
All of the upcoming speculation is entirely dependent upon the mindsets and personal preferences of Weber, and to a greater extent, Suter. Since nobody who will talk really knows, all we are left to do is speculate.
The majority view is that Ryan Suter probably does not want to sign a contract with the Predators for a single cent less than Weber’s. Perhaps Suter has been the good sidekick long enough, and wants to be paid in a way that reflects the quality of player that he knows in his mind that he has been and will continue to be. Maybe there’s even a little excitement at getting away from “big brother,” in the same fashion that I believe exists with Bobby Ryan in his relationship with Anaheim Ducks teammate and fraternity president Ryan Getzlaf.
To take it a step further, maybe Suter thinks about legacy. The man is already the son of a man who helped to perform the Miracle on Ice, as well as the nephew of NHL great Gary Suter, who tallied an impressive 845 points in 1,145 big league games as a defenseman. Gary’s 1,349 penalty minutes don’t foster a legacy of Suters playing second fiddle to a big, bad caveman force of a blue liner either.

It could be that Ryan Suter wants to win Stanley Cups, which many people argue probably will not be accomplished in Nashville given the Preds’ paltry payroll policies. It could also be that he wants to go down in history as a number one, which many more people assert can never be achieved as long as Weber is on the same roster, let alone pairing. If this is the predominant emotion going through Suter’s head, then he probably will not be playing with Weber next season.
But regardless of how perpetual man’s need to be perceived as a top dog and remembered through the generations might be, not all people are governed by such insecurities. What if instead of going all Anakin Skywalker and crying about Shea Kenobi holding him back, Suter instead is moved by being half of a whole? What if he realizes how the pairing is in many ways the perfect pairing for today’s NHL? Suter shoots left; Weber shoots right. Both skate flawlessly. Weber drops the hammer to the tune of 89 hits through 42 games this season. Suter is slightly the more technical defensive player. Both have 15 points on special teams this season. Weber has 63 blocked shots; Suter has 60. They each have a responsible 26 penalty minutes this year. They both register in the plus department regularly (each has had just one minus season since being in the show, and both are scheduled to go plus again this time around). They were even drafted within hours of each other in 2003 — Suter went 7th, while Weber went 49th. And as is indicative of his slightly more threatening offensive game, Weber has 9 goals and 23 assists to Suter’s 5 and 20. The gap isn’t nearly what the “Shea Weber is by far the better player” camp would lead you to believe.
So despite being the son of a man on the 1980 Miracle team and the nephew of an all-time great, being drafted ahead of his now-more-coveted playing partner and putting up extremely similar numbers, Suter remains subservient to Weber in the minds of all the people that don’t matter. Hell, he even deferred to Brian Rafalski whilst the U.S. was cruising to the gold medal game in the 2010 Olympic Games largely behind Suter’s lockdown defensive play and smooth transitions to offense.
But what if Suter doesn’t care? What if he’s able to see the forest through the trees and decides that he rather enjoys playing with another great defenseman who is as talented and dedicated to his craft as Suter himself? Perhaps most importantly, what if Suter decides that his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup is making the move that also ensures he’ll never be nominated for a Norris? After all, playoff hockey shrinks the rink, and the teams that win are the ones that are able to play a tougher style than those that perenially flame out to lower seeded teams. What better way to keep the puck out of the net than to roll with a stud like Weber?
If Suter and Weber are open to the possibility of playing together for many more years, the question then becomes where. The first and most obvious answer is Nashville. For one, Weber is only scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer, meaning it would be more difficult to get out of town if he wanted to do so. But secondly, the Preds have more than enough cap space to sign both players to whatever contracts they reasonably wanted. The real question revolves around whether the Predators actually have the cash to make the deals, and also whether they would want to. They have young defensemen to restock the shelves with, and it would be hard to imagine a franchise that perennially hovers around the salary cap floor to up and give $24 million or so to three players every year (goaltender Pekka Rinne of course being the third).
If the Predators can’t or won’t pay Weber and Suter like kings, and for argument’s sake we are assuming that the two would like to play together, what team could and would sign them?
At this point, many fans write this Miami Heatles-esque scenario off as not within the framework of the honor of the hockey player, but I disagree. First of all, this league is a business. Second, to go to separate teams in the name of garnering that maximum contract amount and top dog on the blue line status would actually be less “honorable” the way I understand it. It would be putting money and perception ahead of winning and professional or even personal friendship. 
Third, we’ve seen this before. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne became so intertwined that “Kariya & Selanne” became an actual phrase in the late ‘90s while the pair sunburned opposing goalies’ necks by turning the red light on so often for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Pairs like these exist throughout the sporting culture — Kareem & Magic, Shaq & Kobe, Michael & Scottie, Montana (or Young) & Rice, Freeney & Mathis, Brady & Belichick, Xavi & Iniesta, or even Henrik & Daniel if we’re especially lazy. But Kariya & Selanne were a real thing; such a real thing that after Anaheim traded Selanne to San Jose in early 2001, Kariya skipped town in the summer of 2003 to chase a Cup with his bestie for a season in Colorado despite having just been to Game 7 of the Finals with a Selanne-less Ducks team. The Avalanche experiment didn’t work out for the pair, and they were both on separate teams the following season and never played together again, but deciding to take a pay cut to join forces with Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and your former flame is a story that lays the foundation for a possible Weber & Suter tag team signing this summer.
So if both Weber and Suter decided to do this, where would they go? It would have to be a team that could win it all immediately and have sustained short-list relevance. It would have to be a team that not only had the cap space, but also the desire to spend to the cap while also being able to field the rest of its roster. And given their success as the liaison between a limited offense and one of the best goalies in the world, it would probably have to be a team with both its goaltending situation in good standing and substantially more offensive potential than the current Predators.
You could play around on CapGeek to try to find the perfect match, or just go the lazy route and assume that Philadelphia is the one and only team that would fit one or the other (or both, if they could just move that Bryzgalov contract…), but I believe there is one glaring match for all of these characteristics: the Washington Capitals.
If your response is anything like mine, you’re probably saying “shut up guy, you obviously haven’t done your homework as the Caps have a ton of long-term, big money contracts and there’s no way they could add two more and stay within the confines of the salary cap.” Well, actually it’s very doable. Let’s look at how it would get done.
As far as those long-term deals go, Alex Ovechkin is signed forever at a $9.5 million cap hit. Nicklas Backstrom checks in at $6.7 million for a similar time period. Brooks Laich will cost $4.5 million for five more seasons. Joel Ward is on for three more years at $3M per. After those four forwards, only Jason Chimera and Jeff Schultz are locked up beyond next season. That’s for the whole team.
The players who are coming off the books this summer are Alex Semin (who costs $6.7 million this season), Mike Knuble ($2M), Jeff Halpern ($825K), Jay Beagle and Mathieu Perrault ($1M combined), Mike Green ($5.25M), Dennis Wideman ($3.94M), John Carlson ($845K) and Tomas Vokoun ($1.5M). I know that looks like a lot to lose and/or replace, but the Caps are in the fantastic position of having 17 players under NHL contract for next season while still being just more than $19 million under the cap ceiling.
There are some questions that would need to be answered before the Weber / Suter coup could be pulled off: 1) Is Vokoun willing to play another season while being severly underpaid; 2) is Vokoun even in the Caps’ plans beyond this season, or is Braden Holtby ready to be a full-time backup to Michal Neuvirth; 3) how much do the Caps love Mike Green; 4) are the Caps crazy enough to make Semin a priority; 5) will new coach Dale Hunter force GM George McPhee (fellow Falcon, what up) to bring Wideman back; 6) how much of a raise does Carlson want, and how highly do the Caps value him; 7) are the Caps willing to force themselves to fill out the rest of the forwards on a budget akin to the wintery stages of the Oregon Trail; and perhaps most importantly, 8) do Weber and Suter believe in Alex Ovechkin?
These are a lot of questions to answer, and the mere existence of them may cause this article to look more like something that should have been published by Eklund, but I’m basing this analysis on math, reason, opportunity and absolutely no proclaimed inside information.
Let’s try to answer those questions. First, Vokoun signed with Washington last summer at an extreme discount. Most people assumed $5 million per season was a realistic price for Vokoun’s services, and that number even looked low after the Flyers inked Bryzgalov to that outrageous $5.6M-for-the-next-9-years contract. Instead, the Czech netminder took a 74% pay cut in the name of trying to do something he has yet to do: win in the playoffs. One could argue that Vokoun would probably be happy to come back and do it again next year, especially being a 36 year-old whose hourglass is getting bottom-heavy coupled with the prospect of signing the two beasts who have each blossomed since played their rookie and sophomore seasons in front of Vokoun in Nashville.
The question of whether Washington will actually welcome Vokoun back depends almost entirely on how this playoff season goes. If the lefty buckles or is usurped by his teammate and countryman Neuvirth, it could spell Czech-mate for the old guy in D.C. Perhaps the bigger issue will be whether Holtby is seen as a partner for Neuvirth or more of a tradable asset in the final year of his entry-level contract. Only the Caps know the answer to that one, but a capable and willing Vokoun can help to answer the one about Holtby in the latter.
On to Mike Green. The stocky defenseman was once hailed as the surprising new point scoring blue liner, in the likeness of Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey. Then the watchful eye of playoff scrutiny focused on Green, and it became obvious that his lack of defensive responsibility (or maybe even ability) was costing the Capitals when it mattered most. And now, we’ve moved from the “Green can’t play on a responsible, winning team” to “Green actually can’t play.” The guy has worked on his all-around game and actually gotten a little better at keeping opponents off the score sheet, but now he can’t seem to keep himself on the ice. Green has only managed to appear in 59 of a possible 126 regular season games over the last year and a half, and just yesterday underwent sports hernia surgery, which is expected to sideline him for a rather optimistic reported time frame of just 4-to-6 weeks.
I’m not trying to pile on Mike Green or act like I’m the first to say that his defense has contributed to the Caps’ recent playoff disappointments, but at some point Washington may want to decide to move in a different direction. That point would logically be in the next six months, since Green’s contract is up July 1.
Ah, the Semin thing. Just when it was universally decided that the winger is a bum, he goes and plays inspiring hockey that has some Caps fans second guessing whether telling him to take a hike is the right move. Let me answer this one: if he wants anything close to his usual $6.7 million, thank him for his services, shake his hand, and move on. If we’re considering the possibility of the Weber / Suter splash, there’s really no money for a guy like Semin, and that’s okay. In fact, if winning is the goal, I’d argue it’s perfect. And Caps fans, as much as you’re coming around on Semin right before decision time comes up, how would you feel about him knowing that bringing him back killed any chance of pulling what could be a historic defensive coup? I’m giving you this one chance to get a grip and decide if you truly want to shift the identity of the Washington Capitals hockey club. This stuff is time-sensitive too, so decide quickly and choose wisely.
Now onto the Hunter – Wideman issue. First off, Dennis Wideman has been good for the Capitals this year. In fact, he’s been very good. The D man seems to have taken past criticism to heart and actually improved his game markedly, and is no longer putting up disappointing point totals following his 50-point campaign in 2008-09, nor is he playing the crap defense that allowed him to go -33 the past two seasons. On top of his resurgence (31 points in 44 games this year, for those wondering), there is also the connection with new head coach Dale Hunter, who coached Wideman during the defenseman’s last three seasons with the OHL’s London Knights. The two seem to be good for each other, and the argument can be made that signing Weber and Suter while losing Wideman and most of the rest of the free agents might not even be that good of a trade off for the Caps. The Caps’ blue line would be rather thin after the top pairing if they were to pull the Nashville coup while losing Green, Wideman and Carlson.
Carlson himself remains a question mark moving forward. On the one hand, he’s far outplayed his entry-level contract, which expires this summer. On the other hand, he’s sort of not that amazing defensively and it’s not the Capitals’ responsibility to pay players for past performance. While Carlson is always highlighted by NBC during Washington’s numerous nationally televised games, there is the sense that the front office might be more wed to Karl Alzner, whose game falls more in line with what the Caps claim they want to become. Alzner is signed through next season, but after that the decision will have to be made on him.
Assuming Weber and Suter take about $15 million in salary cap hits, Washington would be left with about a million bucks a piece to fill out four roster spots. Additionally, they would already have Roman Hamrlik, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Alzner under contract, in addition to Weber and Suter if our fantasy land becomes reality. That’s seven right there, albeit possibly not as deep a seven as a team would love, but certainly a serviceable corps. If they were able to move any of the other contracts, especially Hamrlik or Schultz, that would free up some more cap space to sign either Wideman, Carlson or a better forward. But it isn’t totally necessary. Besides, GMGM can surely pawn some bad contracts off on Colorado, right?
Okay, we’re almost there. We’ve parried most of the attacks on the possibility of inking both Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to contracts in the nation’s capital. Now we have that issue of having not a lot of money to fill out a few forward spots. In reality, I don’t think that would be a problem that Washington couldn’t overcome. For starters, they already have the big boys locked down. Ovechkin and Backstrom are taken care of, as is Laich, Ward, Chimera, Marcus Johansson, recent hero Matt Hendricks and Cody Eakin. Of that crew, only Johansson is a real concern, as the second-year center is stepping up large for the Caps and scheduled to become RFA in the summer of 2013. A pay raise for him is all but certain, but the possibility exists that Washington values the opportunity to bring both Nashville big boys in more highly than they do locking down a player with only second-line opportunity given the existence of Backstrom on the roster.
As far as the rest of the forwards go, it’s funny how you can usually find a solid team guy willing to play for a million bucks under the premise that his team should be awesome. They don’t have to be all that offensively talented either, as coach Hunter is renowned for his willingness to “play the shit out of” his star players (a Wyshynski quote). If fewer minutes per game are required, all of a sudden players that are lower on the NHL totem pole become acceptable fill-ins.
The numbers work themselves out. Washington signing Weber and Suter can be done. It cannot be done without making some tough decisions, but pointing that out is not exactly a counter-argument. This is life. Tough decisions have to be made all the time. McPhee has shown an ability to do just that, and it doesn’t hurt that his job security is being warmly debated. Making a move like the one we are talking about guarantees a couple of things. One, it buys you a year or two. Two, it guarantees your spot in the unemployment line if it doesn’t work out quickly. Like the great Jim Rome is always saying on his radio show, “Give me an A, or give me an F.” A coup like the one I’m talking about could turn out to be an A or an F for the franchise, but it certainly wouldn’t be a lazy C.
Speaking of which, the man wearing the C in Washington hasn’t exactly gone unnoticed or without lots and lots of criticism. In my heart of hearts, I believe that Alex Ovechkin is a winner. I’m just not sure he’s a captain. While I’ve talked about the possibility of Ryan Suter putting his pride aside and continuing with his pal Shea Weber, I wouldn’t expect the same out of Ovie in voluntarily relinquishing the C on his sweater. But it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing he could do. It also may convince the Nashville duo that he is committed to winning above all else in this league, and might even be the catalyst to the formation of one of the great squads of his time. But like I said, let’s use math and reason to analyze this game we love. No rational bone in my body feels like this is an action that Ovechkin will actually take. Therefore, we are left to wonder and speculate as to what is going through the minds of all of these individuals acting out the drama that we call pro hockey. Suter may not even want to play with Weber, let alone actually pack up the car and hit the road with him. But as interested observers, wouldn’t it be something?
I’m not going to lie, when it came time to write about the NHL’s Southeast Division, I considered moving right along to the Western Conference and hoping that none of you would notice. None of you probably would have, but in doing the preparation for writing this piece, I realized that I’m actually a little excited about watching these five teams play hockey. There’s a lot of solid youth in this division, as well as a relocated franchise, a team that flung money at the salary cap floor and eventually got there, a recent Cup champ looking to get back to playoffs, a returning conference finalist, and the Washington Capitals. Considering we don’t have to watch any more Atlanta hockey crowds, this division might not be a bad product this year.
We’ll start with the obvious.

1st: Washington Capitals 2010-11: 107 points, 1st in division
The Caps have won the Southeast four years in a row, and I’m picking them to run it to five this year. Washington started last year with a dud — so much so that they were actually the “can this talented group turn it around” team during the lead up to the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. The Caps won that game, and sprinted to the conference’s top seed.
But gone is the goaltender who shined on that day. Semyon Varlamov was shrewdly dealt to Colorado, or the goaltenders’ Bermuda Triangle, in exchange for a first and second round pick, which was amazing considering an offer sheet would have only cost the Avs a second rounder. But yet again the Avalanche did what they do, and I’m still laughing. Losing Varlamov isn’t a positive for the Caps this year, but the loss was offset by the free agent acquisition of veteran Tomas Vokoun from Florida. Vokoun signed a one-year deal for $1.5 million, which is far less than many assumed he would get on the open market. Vokoun cited winning and playing in the playoffs as reasons he wanted to join the Caps, and he should do a bit of both for them this season. Backing him up / competing for the starting job will be last year’s starter, Michal Neuvirth, who was solid all the way around in his first full NHL season. The Capitals have to be considered as having one of the three or four best goalie tandems in the league, and that’s before we even consider likely AHL starter Braden Holtby, who seemed to rock a subzero GAA last year for the big club.
Forward Eric Fehr and defenseman Scott Hannan are both continuing their careers elsewhere this season, as well as a few other bit players. Brought in to “replace” Hannan is Roman Hamrlik, who spent the last four seasons in Montreal and placed fourth in the league last season in blocked shots. Also new to the Caps is fourth line center Jeff Halpern, who played last season in Montreal with Hamrlik. Halpern is solid on faceoffs and should give the Caps a solid 12 minutes a night. Washington also added two wingers who should be able to contribute in different roles. Troy Brouwer played his first three full NHL seasons in Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup in 2010. He now gives the Caps another top ten hitter in the league to add to Alex Ovechkin. Ovie ranked 10th in the NHL last season with 241 registered hits; Brouwer came in 5th with 262. Brouwer chipped in with 36 points for the Blackhawks last season after scoring 40 points in the 2009-10 Cup year.
The final free agent addition for Washington so far was winger Joel Ward, who like Brouwer, is entering his fourth full season in the NHL. Ward came over from Nashville and is now scheduled to cost the Caps $3 million for each of the next four years. Surprisingly, he hasn’t outscored Brouwer in either of the past two seasons. Instead, Ward made his money in the 2011 playoffs, where he registered 13 points in 12 games to help Nashville win its first playoff series in franchise history. Ward appears to be pretty strong and fast when he gets going, although I think he lacks the agility and puck command of a top-level forward. But Ward won’t be expected to be a top-level forward in Washington, and he should be a great fit for a team that needs playoff success in a bad way. Ward and Brouwer both have shown the grit needed to help their teams achieve in the playoffs, and should fit well into their likely third line roles for the Caps.
Offensively, the Caps boast two of the most dynamic players in the entire league in center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s “full speed ahead” offensive mentality has won him many fans, but Backstrom possesses a more creative, finessed approach that gives Ovie the freedom to do what he does. Both stars had their point totals drop last year, but neither of them had bad seasons. The team decided to go with a more defensive approach in an effort to set up postseason success, and the change was looking good right up until the Caps were swept by division rival Tampa Bay in the conference semifinals. Backstrom could have done more in the playoffs, and should live up to heightened demands in his fifth NHL season.
On defense, the Capitals appear to be pretty deep. Everyone knows about Mike Green, who likes to pretend he’s a winger and has taken a lot of flack for that over the past year. Green blew up in 2008-09, scoring 31 goals and adding 42 assists in a season that moved him to the head of the class of fantasy defensemen. Green tacked on 76 points the following year before facing scrutiny for his lack of defensive awareness and accountability throughout Washington’s blown 3-1 series lead against 8th-seeded Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Green struggled with injuries last season, and has essentially been taken off the radar as far as “great defensemen” go (which Green never was to begin with). It is interesting to me that the Washington team as a whole was able to shift its playing style and still achieve the east’s top seed last year, and yet nobody seems to think Green can practice some defense and change his own game. I’ve been very critical of Mike Green in the past, but now it seems everyone has figured it out and overcompensated on the hate. Let’s see if Green can’t put the work in this summer and come back as a more complete defenseman.
Aside from Green, the Caps have a lot of options on the blue line. They resigned Karl Alzner to a relatively cheap deal. Alzner will be 23 throughout the upcoming season, and was tabbed by some of the sharper hockey minds as one of the few restricted free agents that could have actually been worth an offer sheet. Alas, no offer sheet was given, and the Caps now have Alzner back in the fold. Younger and skating even more minutes will be 21 year-old John Carlson, who has shown the offensive potential in his 120 NHL games that has Capitals fans less concerned about Mike Green than they otherwise might be. Carlson has shown flashes while quarterbacking the Caps’ power play, but he still needs to hone his game, which can be said of almost any 21 year-old player.
Washington isn’t all youth on the blue line, as aside from adding Hamrlik, they also bring back Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine and Dennis Wideman, who once upon a time was the next big thing on the Bruins’ back line. Wideman had a solid year in 2010-11, scoring 10 goals and adding 30 assists. All four of the latter mentioned players should compete for playing time on the Caps’ defense. It is very possible that the Capitals shed one of these contracts in order to get under the cap and move a player that may not get much playing time. Of course, the easiest way to get under the cap is to move winger Alex Semin, who I did not address earlier because I get bored talking about one-trick ponies who don’t play defense and turn the puck over constantly. Semin’s hands seem to only be soft when he’s shooting the puck, as he reverts back to an ECHL puck-handler most other times. Semin’s goal-scoring can’t be argued with, and he fits in a particular role, but for $6.7 million the Caps could do better. I think they know that, but the problem is, so do most other teams. Semin could be a rental for some other contender, but teams like Washington who are out to win the Stanley Cup rarely are the ones selling the rental players.
2nd: Tampa Bay Lightning 2010-11: 103 points, 2nd in division
The Lightning had a playoff run last season that sets the bar pretty high in GM Steve Yzerman’s and head coach Guy Boucher’s second season in charge. Tampa Bay came back from a 3-1 series deficit at Pittsburgh and followed that with a series sweep of Washington. The Lightning then took a scoreless tie into the third period of Game 7 in Boston before surrendering their season-ender to Nathan Horton. It’s hard to tell a fan base to expect second place and that a trip to the second round of the playoffs would be a good encore, but that’s the way I feel about Tampa Bay right now.
Tampa Bay’s forwards are extremely talented at the very top. Steven Stamkos was second in the league in goals, while Marty St. Louis was second in the league in assists and points. However, after those two, one must wonder where the offensive consistency will come from. Teddy Purcell caught fire toward the end of the season and through the playoffs last year. Vinny Lecavalier continues to be enigmatic as everyone continues to wonder if he’ll ever up his game to his pre-concussion level. He has nine more years left at $7.27 million per, so the Lightning better hope to get some consistency out of him.
After that it’s rather thin. Gone are Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim, the former actually being a consistent offensive contributor, while the latter showed grit in the playoffs and was rewarded with a nonsensical contract by the Florida Panthers, who needed to overpay to get to the cap floor. In to replace those two are Tom Pyatt and Ryan Shannon, who are limited offensive players but can help a team win games.
On the blue line is where I’m interested to watch the Lightning this year. They have a budding star in Victor Hedman, the 20 year-old who was the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 entry draft. The 6’6” Swede is entering his third NHL season and will anchor this defense someday soon. I say “someday soon” because the Lightning locked down Eric Brewer to a new four-year contract in July. Brewer was the captain of the St. Louis Blues last season before being traded to Tampa Bay and playing a key defensive role in getting the Lightning to the brink of the Stanley Cup Finals. Two new additions to the Lightning defense are Matt Gilroy and Bruno Gervais, who both are physical and probably third liners for this Tampa Bay squad. Ahead of them should be finesse guys Mattias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina, and competing for dressed spots should be Brett Clark and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Of course, things will change from now until October 6, but those are the eight that Tampa Bay has right now. Of them, Hedman and Brewer are clearly the ones to watch.
The Lightning’s once vomit-inducing goaltending situation got more aesthetically pleasing with the trade acquisition of Dwayne Roloson last year, and the team signed the soon-to-be 42 year-old goaltender to a fresh one-year deal before letting Mike Smith walk to Phoenix. Tampa brought in Mathieu Garon from Columbus to serve as Roloson’s backup. Garon started out last season about as hot as Tim Thomas, but faded to a .901 save percentage while being beaten out by the crowned prince of Columbus’ nets, Steve Mason. Roloson and Garon make for one of the least sexy goalie tandems in the league, but assuming Roloson can stave off aging for another year, the Tampa crease should be alright.
3rd: Carolina Hurricanes 2010-11: 91 points, 3rd in division
Picking Carolina to finish ahead of Winnipeg after losing big, goal-scoring winger Erik Cole seems ill-advised, but it is based largely on two players: Cam Ward and Eric Staal. Ward led all NHL goalies last year in games played, shots against, and saves (by over 200). His .923 save percentage tied Carey Price and was only bested by three goalies who had 50+ games played: Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo, who were the three Vezina finalists in 2011. I think Ward is a tremendous NHL goaltender who can be counted on to carry similar peripheral numbers this season while potentially getting more than 8 games off, which is what he got last season while starting 74. The Canes signed Brian Boucher from Philadelphia, who no longer had need of the player after signing Ilya Bryzgalov to his big nine-year deal. Boucher is much-maligned, but he gives the Canes a veteran presence at the backup goalie position that they didn’t have last year. Youngster Justin Peters started the eight games that Ward didn’t, and Peters did not progress at all in having an .875 save percentage. Even with Boucher though, I would expect Ward to start 65 games this season.
Staal gives Carolina an elite center that Winnipeg and Florida do not possess. If hockey teams are built through the middle, as the old adage goes, then Carolina is building well. After Triple Gold Club member Staal, Carolina has Brandon Sutter and Tuomo Ruutu, both of which contribute offensively while Sutter continues to develop as an NHL center. Behind them Carolina has new addition Tim Brent to center the fourth line. The Canes hope that center prospect Zac Dalpe can get some action with the big club as well this year, but he’ll only get an extended opportunity if he can help the team win, as the Canes are coming off a 9th place finish in the east last year, and are only three seasons removed from making the conference finals (and six removed from winning the Stanley Cup). So while building for the future is very important, the Canes definitely want a return to the playoffs in 2012.
On the wings will be newly-signed Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jussi Jokinen and returning rookie-of-the-year Jeff Skinner. The Canes also brought in the older brother of St. Louis Blues stud forward Chris Stewart, whose name is Anthony. The elder Stewart appears to be a JV version of Chris, but can contribute offensively at times. Younger but more talented are prospects Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk, who like Dalpe, the Hurricanes would love to be able to develop at the NHL level this season as well. It all depends on how the youngsters play and what the team’s goals are as the season moves on.
The Hurricanes are led on defense by Joni Pitkanen, who skates, scores, hits and blocks. Carolina signed recent Cup winner Tomas Kaberle, who said that his brother Frantisek’s advice played a role in signing with Carolina. Frantisek Kaberle scored the game-winning goal for Carolina in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Carolina has three more D men to compete for top-four spots in Tim Gleason, Bryan Allen and Jamie McBain. All three blocked at least 103 blocked shots last year, while Gleason recorded 215 hits. McBain had the most offensive success last year, and is only 23 years old. My best guess is that Gleason and McBain join Kaberle and Pitkanen on Carolina’s top four.
A playoff appearance is possible for the Hurricanes this year, but so is a regression after the loss of Cole and the difficulty that Cam Ward will have to repeat his awesome 2010-11 season.
4th: Winnipeg Jets 2010-11: 80 points, 4th in division
This is just exciting. Winnipeg has an NHL team again. In fact, it had been about as long that Winnipeg had been absent from the NHL as it was that they were around (1979-1996 as the Jets; 1996-2011 absent). But it’s good to have them back, mainly because they provide another venue where the people care a lot about hockey. No matter how well the Thrashers played or who was in town, it was hard to watch their home games on the NHL package for more than five minutes. If nobody in the building cares, why should I from my living room? That problem is now solved for one franchise.
On the ice, the Jets should have the opportunity to compete. For one, they play in the one division in the east that could yield some easier victories. I think the Southeast should get better, but it certainly isn’t the division the Atlantic is. It could compete with the Northeast, but if we had to say one of the two divisions would get three teams into the playoffs, I think more people would go with the Northeast than the Southeast. If Winnipeg can take their divisional opponents and find a home-ice advantage that they lacked in going 17-17-7 in Atlanta last year, then the Jets can post a solid point total this year.
The most important swing player for the Jets this year is goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. Pavs memorably fainted a few minutes into the season last year against Washington, but came back and played pretty well for a good stretch of the season. Pavelec didn’t free fall a la Mathieu Garon, but he did end with a .914, which was only good enough for 23rd in the league. When the Thrashers traded super-talent Kari Lehtonen to Dallas near the end of 2009-10, they did so with the thought that Pavelec had talent close to Lehtonen’s, and could figure out the mental and consistency parts of being a starting NHL goaltender. As Pavelec enters the final year of his contract, this is the year that he has to put it together. He’ll be given every opportunity to start ahead of backup Chris Mason, and I think Pavelec is the key to helping this Jets team establish an identity early and push for third place in the division in year one. Ultimately, I have them coming up just short, but Pavs is the one guy who can up his level of play and get Winnipeg over an important hump.
I like Winnipeg’s defensemen. Tobias Enstrom is shifty and provides the offense a lifeline, while converted winger Dustin Byfuglien set the league on fire early last year before petering out. Byfuglien needs to improve his fitness level to be able to play over 20 minutes a game while not costing the Jets too much defensively. The Jets should have Zach Bogosian back on D, and he helps more defensively than the two offensive-minded blue liners in front of him. Winnipeg will have other options defensively, including Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey, Mark Stuart and the newly-acquired Randy Jones, who comes over from divisional opponent Tampa Bay.
Winnipeg’s forwards lack superstar talent, but they are solid and can succeed playing the right kind of hockey. First off, Andrew Ladd is a hell of an NHL player. I was happy to see him get off of that Chicago team that was disgustingly good in 2009-10. Ladd captained the Thrashers last year and should do the same for the Jets this year. He is a banger who creates goals through hard work and a physicality that Southeast defensemen were unwilling to match last season. That softness should largely go away this year, and Ladd will have to do even more to develop his offensive game and help the Jets score goals. Ladd has Evander Kane, Nik Antropov and Blake Wheeler to help fire some goals home. Alexander Burmistrov should be exciting to watch in his second NHL season. The 19 year-old was the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and played 74 games last season as a true rookie. If he can speed up his development into the player that the Jets think he should turn out to be, there’s no reason he can’t be a contributor for Winnipeg this season given the rookie successes of Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner and others from that 2010 draft class.
5th: Florida Panthers 2010-11: 72 points, 5th in division
This is sad to do, but I have to take Florida fifth in the division at this point. They went out and added ten players in the last month, and while many of them are overpaid, it doesn’t really matter when you’re around the cap floor anyway. The Panthers have the roster to finish third in this division; I have no doubt of that. But I don’t love them at goalie this season, and I think it should take time for a team full of new faces to find their identity and jell as a squad.
Defensively, the Panthers have a couple big names and a couple young guys who they hope can earn their way into increased roles this season. GM Dale Tallon brought in Brian Campbell from Chicago and Ed Jovanovski from Phoenix to anchor the blue line, and in doing so actually gave Florida one of the better top-twos in the league, should they play together. Dmitry Kulikov was the 14th pick in 2009 and is entering his third season. Kulikov now has a couple of really solid guys to learn from, and these acquisitions should only bring Kulikov along faster. The Panthers also gave a big entry level contract to Erik Gudbranson, who was the 3rd overall pick in 2010. They expect Gudbranson to compete for a spot on the roster in camp, and there’s little doubt that he’s a big part of Florida’s future. But as far as this year goes, we’re looking at a rookie defenseman who has increased his per game output in both points and penalty minutes in his three seasons with Kingston in the OHL. The Panthers also have Mike Weaver and Keaton Ellerby on defense, but the player I like more than either of them is Jason Garrison, who enters the final year of his contract and looked to me like a guy who can succeed in the NHL last season when he skated 22:17 per game and totaled 136 hits and 127 blocks.
The Panthers weren’t able to score any forwards with the talent that would equate to a Campbell of Jovanovski, but they did bring in some guys who should be able to give them something. But in my opinion, their best offensively player is David Booth, a guy they already had on the roster. Joining Booth are Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc and Matt Bradley. Returning for the Panthers are Booth, Stephen Weiss, Mike Santorelli and a few other players of expected lesser consequence.
In net, the Panthers are expected to roll out another new acquisition: 2002 league MVP Jose Theodore. Also on the roster is Scott Clemmensen, who certainly can be seen as competing with Theodore for starts due to the fact that Clemmensen has a heartbeat. In the long-term, neither of these players should have a huge role in the future of the team thanks to the fact that they are just keeping the throne warm for super-prospect Jacob Markstrom. The young Swede is returning from injury but should be fine for the upcoming season. It is conceivable that Markstrom could make the Panthers this season, but I’m not sure that Florida brass will want to have their future sitting on the bench rather than starting in the AHL. It would be fun to see Markstrom at the NHL level this year, but I think it’s unlikely that they will want to trot him out behind a group of skaters that have no experience together. Expect Markstrom to be the starter in 2012-13, but maybe not until then. Of course, if things go south again for the Panthers, they may let the kid take the reigns late this season.
Conclusion — While the Southeast may not carry the year-to-year intrigue of most other divisions in the NHL, this season might be a good one to start paying more attention to these teams. But when all is said and done, I’m picking an order of finish that mirrors 2010-11.

Yesterday’s blog post was entitled “Red Wings, Flyers, Capitals Look to Get on the Board.”  Well, none of them did, and thus we have the least interesting second round in hockey history.  At this point, all we have is the Vancouver / Nashville series to provide us with any drama whatsoever from the NHL’s conference semifinals.  Game 4 in that series is tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET, and is being televised live from Nashville on Versus in the U.S.  The Canucks lead 2-1 of course, and will be looking for a knockdown blow tonight.  All three games in the series have been decided by one goal, and two of those have gone to overtime.  But instead of looking at this from a “half glass full” perspective and break down tonight’s game, I’d rather bitch about how empty our glasses are now that three of the four series have splattered to the pavement.

First, Washington getting swept is problematic.  I hate to play the blame game or use words like “choke,” but losing all four games to a team that has been inferior for the last four years goes beyond just bad luck or a tough matchup.  For the Capitals to not be able to grind out a single game shows that all their supporters’ remarks about the team growing into a playoff-type team were wrong.  I’m as guilty as anyone, as I thought this was the year that the Capitals would walk through that wide open doorway that is the 2011 eastern conference.  But alas, another year, another shocking exit.  It’s not that the Caps lost the series to the Lightning; I think many people thought that was possible after seeing what Tampa Bay did to Pittsburgh in Games 5 through 7 in the first round.  It’s that the Caps got swept.  And maybe I saw it wrong, but it didn’t look like the fighting spirit was there in the last 8 minutes of last night’s eliminator.  I understand frustration, and I understand trying to remain calm in the face of elimination, but maybe gripping a little too tight would have at least quieted today’s critics, who point to the Caps’ lack of effort as part of the problem.  I think the Caps try as hard as most teams, but it can no longer be denied that they lack some components needed to even threaten for the Prince of Wales Trophy. I’ve killed Mike Green lately, just as I did all of last season, and it’s starting to feel old.  But his position is one that needs upgrading badly.  Washington clearly lacks that big time defenseman that we see progress every year in the playoffs, whether it be Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, now Dan Boyle, Zdeno Chara, or any of the Blackhawks’ big three of Keith, Seabrook and Campbell.  The Caps may have that guy in the making with John Carlson, but it’s too early to tell, and they need their best defenseman to be a bit older if they want to win at the present time.  Which is of course to say, if they want to win a year from now.

While the Flyers do have that guy in Pronger, he’s been injured and was scratched for Game 3’s loss in Boston.  Some people will point to the fact that Philly made this same 0-3 comeback on this same Boston team last year, but that had a different feel to it.  First off, Philly was a road seed, and nobody expected anything from them.  Second, they had Pronger.  The guy’s playoff record is unmistakable, and his departure from a team doesn’t usually yield good results for that team.  Since teaming up with Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson to take the Oilers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, Edmonton has been in the toilet.  Since leaving Anaheim, Cup winners in 2007, the Ducks can’t keep any opponent off the scoreboard.  And now, his pseudo-departure from the Flyers has left the team without that aggressive, steadying force that almost led them to the Cup last season.  I don’t see any reason to believe that a similar comeback is in the works in this series, but I also know that hockey, above all other sports, is to be taken one game at a time.  Philly can’t come back from a 3-0 series deficit, but any team can come back from a 3-2 series, and it’s certainly possible that Philly can get it to 3-2.  So while it’s not “over,” it certainly looks bad for the Flyers.  It looks great for the Bruins, conversely, who can exorcise 2010’s demons and actually host the eastern conference finals against Tampa Bay.

And now, it seems we’ve come to it.  The third team to make sure this was the worst second round in hockey history is none other than my Detroit Red Wings.  Since I pointed out my mistake in picking Washington to win the east, I’m going to toot my horn here to try to get the score even close to even.  I posted that this series would be a great one to watch, but that people would soon come to the realization that San Jose is just a little bit better of a hockey team than Detroit is.  I also wrote prior to Game 3 that this series was unfolding exactly like last year’s, and that saw San Jose take a 3-0 series lead on the back of three one-goal victories.  Well, here we are.  It’s 3-0 San Jose, and all of the games have been one-goal wins — two of them in overtime.  But oftentimes that’s the difference between good and great teams — the ability to collect wins via the extra session.  San Jose has been remarkable thus far in the sudden death frames.  They are 7-2 in these playoffs, but five of those seven wins have come in overtime.  Also, they have not lost in overtime yet.  So that’s 2-2-5 in 60 minute hockey games, and 5-0 in overtimes.  Some may call this lucky, but we know from watching playoff hockey for years that it’s much more than luck.  The Sharks have made their own breaks, and deserve to be back in the western conference finals for the second year in a row.

Detroit, on the other hand, has failed to retool with young impact players outside of Jimmy Howard, who has been fantastic in net against the Sharks.  But the only young players up front for the Wings play extremely limited minutes, and that is based on their extremely limited talent.  Drew Miller and Justin Abdelkader, both Michigan State Spartan alums, don’t seem to have developed any scoring threat that needs to be taken seriously.  Darren Helm’s speed is appalling, but the Red Wings don’t seem to want to use him enough, despite his record of timely goals and his ceaseless checking.  And Valtteri Filppula acts like a child from Barcelona who thinks he can just develop his idol’s brilliance through sheer osmosis.  While the Messi reference may have gone over some heads, what I’m talking about are these ridiculous stick handling attempts that so clearly are meant to mimic the great Pavel Datsyuk, but Filppula possesses neither the softness nor quickness in his hands to beat a defender while still actually possessing the puck.  It is laughable how much Filppula has changed his game in an effort to appear more like the Russian wizard, and it doesn’t help the team in any way.  And as far as the back end goes, Detroit is still completely reliant on Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski to carry the bulk of the weight, as Jonathan Ericsson continues to lose track of opposing forwards and make the wrong passes that fail to clear the defensive zone.  I’m not saying the Red Wings are a bad team, just that they have not developed much young talent recently, and it has shown for the past two seasons.  This reliance on older players is juxtaposed with San Jose’s young players taking on huge roles in the team’s success.  Joe Pavelski has been a Red Wing killer over the last two years, and last night Devin Setoguchi scored a hat trick in the 4-3 overtime win.  Rookie Logan Couture has played a big part in San Jose’s success this year as well. The Red Wings young players have not been able to come close to matching their Shark counterparts, and that is mostly due to the fact that they cannot.

And so we’re left with one series to even remotely worry about.  After tonight’s Game 4 in Nashville, the Bruins and Sharks will see if they can’t wrap up their sweeps tomorrow night.  Here’s hoping tonight’s game is good, and the series is interesting, because it ain’t coming from anywhere else.  The conference finals cannot be worse than this round, and therefore, we should look forward to them.  Happy hockey everyone.

The NHL schedule tonight is interesting, as the first games of the night start at 7 p.m., and the last game starts just an hour later, which makes for not a lot of complete television coverage nationally.

First, the Flyers travel to Boston to try to right the ship and chip away at this 0-2 deficit they find themselves in.  Plenty of people will make the joke that the Flyers don’t need to start playing until Game 4 against the Bruins, but that’s just not true.  Sure, they made the 0-3 comeback last year, and given that hockey is the ultimate “one game at a time” sport, I wouldn’t argue that any team has ZERO chance just by being down 0-3.  But these series are a race to four wins, and you can’t be spotting teams a huge head start and expect to escape consistently.  Some have pointed to Philly’s shaky goaltending situation as the reason they have not clicked in these playoffs, and I would have to agree, but the reason that the future doesn’t look bright for the Flyers has more to do with the absence of Chris Pronger.  He has been ruled out for Game 3, and it is sounding like a longer absence is expected.  Philadelphia certainly has the skaters to win games, but the problem is that the Bruins do too.  Boston has been on the shortlist in the east all season, and up until the Montreal series, were lauded for their physical play.  That play seems to be returning, and it comes in conjunction with Tim Thomas continuing his regular season Vezina form.  Add to that the home ice tonight, and the Flyers will have to really hunker down and limit Boston’s shooting space, something they didn’t come close to doing in Game 1, and barely improved in Game 2.  One positive note is that Philadelphia is leading shots on goal by 7 per game, but of course that was from inside their own building.  They will have to try to keep that average going in order to grab a big road win tonight.  Otherwise, they will be looking up from the same 0-3 hole as last year.

Also starting at 7 p.m., and being shown on the NHL Network, is Game 4 of Washington – Tampa Bay.  The Lightning lead the series 3-0 after last night’s win, and the defeatist, Boudreau-bashing has begun from the Capitals’ followers.  Many are questioning Boudreau’s tactics — specifically his choosing Alex Ovechkin to serve a bench minor for too many men on the ice.  But for all the validity of the points made by Washington’s detractors, worrying about the past will do the Caps no good tonight.  People will say that they need to win four in a row, and that’s true, but they really just need to win two.  If they are able to do that, as we’ve seen as recently as round 1 with Chicago – Vancouver, then the perception will change on the series, and Washington will be clear of the panic mode that 0-3 teams find themselves in.  If we accept that Washington is still a good hockey team and should have a decent chance of winning a Game 5 at home, then all they should worry about is tonight.  There’s not a lot to say about the actual game, except that Mike Green played another gem of a game last night, if anyone paid attention.  Not that I called for his healthy scratching before last game…

At 8:00 p.m. ET tonight, the Red Wings will try to avoid following last year’s blueprint for elimination and set up an actual Game 4 with something hanging in the balance.  Last year, after losing both games in San Jose by one goal (just like this year), the Red Wings came home and took a quick 1-0 lead in Game 3.  They couldn’t keep up with the faster Sharks though, and ended up giving up an odd man rush in overtime to fall behind 0-3 in the series.  Supposedly Detroit is better rested this year, but it hasn’t shown in this series. San Jose has dominated puck possession and scoring opportunities so far, and if Jimmy Howard had played just above average, this series would be a blowout.  But Howard has been incredible in giving up only 4 goals in over 126 minutes in this series, despite dealing with defensive breakdowns and quality chances seemingly every two minutes.  Detroit keeps saying that they are fine, and that tonight’s home game will be different.  But, as I wrote the other day, there is statistical evidence to back up this claim.  The Red Wings are asking fans to simply have faith, as the team has won only 2 of the last 12 games against the Sharks.

One thing that we’re supposed to have faith in is the splitting up of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, in an effort to create two lines that can come close to threatening Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, instead of just one.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.  But what needs to happen is the rest of the team stepping up and playing Game 3 as if it’s an elimination game.  The urgency and execution in Games 1 and 2 were unacceptable.  I hope to see a change tonight, if for no other reason than to see an actual series, instead of a moping admission that the Wings have been passed by.

The Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals have been pegged by a good portion of hockey followers to win their respective conferences for the past four years.  Of course, Detroit has had this status for much longer, as they have made the playoffs for 20 straight seasons now.  But since 2007-08, when the Capitals first qualified for the playoffs in the post-lockout (a.k.a. Ovechkin) era, the Capitals have had a block of support from those predicting the eastern conference.

Both teams found themselves back in the mix in 2011, scoring division titles and sporting an 8-1 record in the first round, collectively.  But now the rock is sliding toward each team, and their backs are up against the proverbial hard place.  Both teams trail their conference semifinal series two games to none, and both teams have something of a “final go at it” feel to them.

This last ditch effort mentality in Detroit is obvious: the team’s age is frequently cited, and almost as frequently exaggerated.  Nick Lidstrom seems likely to head home to Sweden after these playoffs are over, and the general feeling is that if these Red Wings can’t win the west with Lidstrom, they almost certainly can’t do it without him.  His $6 million in salary would open up, but not many (if any) general managers would sell Lidstrom for $6 million, because it’s impossible to use that money to fill the gap left by his departure.  So while most of the team’s important players are locked up at least through next season, it would be hard to foresee a 2011-12 that would not include Lidstrom on the Red Wings roster, and yet see the team compete for a conference title.  Hence, the time is now.

And while Washington’s youth makes it seem like they should have many more chances, this season has to have a little bit of a now-or-never element for head coach Bruce Boudreau.  I do not think that Boudreau’s job should be in danger this offseason.  Boudreau helped the Capitals pick themselves up after a forgettable first half of this season, and he did so while changing the entire squad’s mindset from free-flowing, lamp lighting offense to accountable and gritty two-way play with an emphasis on defense.  And it worked.  The Capitals again gained their one seed, but this time showed the focus and mettle to dispatch of a team that had previously torched them on many occasions in the New York Rangers.

But now, we’ve come to the same point.  Despite all of Washington’s supposed responsibility and playoff readiness, they still find themselves staring up from an 0-2 hole and having to travel to a division rival’s building, where they will play on two consecutive nights (nice scheduling, NHL).  It wouldn’t add much insight to say the Caps need to win one of these next two games, so I won’t bother saying it.  The biggest game of the Caps’ season comes Tuesday night, because like any team ever, you don’t want to fall down 0-3.  On top of that, a Game 3 win would set the table for the opportunity to even the series and create some doubt in Tampa’s minds, much like Boston did by going into Montreal and taking Games 3 and 4 to even their first round series.  And while I think momentum has become extremely overrated in today’s NHL, it is worth considering that most home seeds who host Game 5 of a tied series after falling behind 0-2 end up winning the best of seven.  Most of this is probably due to the higher seed being a better team, but perhaps part of it is the deflation of the upstarts blowing their 2-0 golden goose.

In order to win Game 3 and make all of this relevant, Washington needs to avoid panic mode and simply play the responsible, hard-nosed hockey that took them into the east’s top seed.  Another move that many people would scoff at, but Boudreau should consider, is making defenseman Mike Green a healthy scratch.  Most people are aware of his fantasy value, due to Green personifying the Capitals’ shoot first, watch your goalie try to make saves by himself second mentality of the past few years.  But while the team has reinvented itself, Green has not.  In Game 2, Green was directly responsible for the overtime goal by neither playing the shot nor the pass in a 2 on 1 against him.  This is the kind of defense that doesn’t make it out of college or juniors.  On top of this laughable display of “defense,” Green also was the one who kicked in Tampa’s second goal of the game, albeit partly due to bad luck.  Green was racing to get back to cancel out the recipient of a centering pass when the puck found his skate and redirected past goalie Michal Neuvirth.  That play alone isn’t bad enough to warrant a benching, but when it’s added to Green’s body of work, I think the team would be better off not having to worry about accounting for Green’s lack of ability to pull his own weight defensively.  Part of being able to play an aggressive style in the neutral zone and in both ends hinges on the idea that a player has full confidence that his teammates are doing their jobs.  I don’t see how the other four players on the ice with Green can have that confidence in him, although nobody would ever admit it.

As bad as going on the road down 0-2 seems, I actually think the Detroit Red Wings are in worse shape coming home with that deficit than the Caps are.  Why, you ask?  Because San Jose has established themselves recently as simply better than Detroit.  Following last year’s 4-1 series victory for San Jose, many in the Detroit camp, including myself, were offering the same stats and excuses.  First, the Red Wings were too tired.  Well, that kind of plays into who is a better team, wouldn’t you say?  Second, the Red Wings won the total goal count of the series by 1, due to their 5-goal victory pinned between four 1-goal defeats.  Again, it’s best of seven games, not total goals in 300 minutes, and everybody knows the rules coming in.

This year was supposed to be different.  The fresh and rested Red Wings were supposed to show the playoff choking Sharks how it’s really done, and that last year San Jose was just lucky not to get Detroit’s best shot.  Well, what’s our excuse now?  I’ve got one actually, and it’s simple: San Jose is a little bit better hockey team than Detroit is.

The numbers don’t lie either.  In the last 12 games between these two teams, San Jose has won 10 of them.  The definition of insanity with the widest acceptance is now “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Well, then I guess all of us Red Wing fans are insane, because we’re seeing the same dispatching of our squad, but we still can’t come out and say why it’s happening.  Some blame the refs.  Please.  Others point to the fact that this series is not in crisis for Detroit yet, because they’ve only lost two road games, and each by a score of only 2-1.  I agree, this does point to the fact that Detroit and San Jose are close to each other in ability to win, but Detroit was in the same exact position last year, and laid an egg at home in Game 3 to blow a lead and lose in overtime to more or less end their season.  So I’m confused as to why there is so much optimism surrounding the Red Wings this season.  It could be that coach Babcock and the veteran leaders have the right level-headed mindset that puts any listener at ease.  It could be that we’re buying in to the old adage that a series hasn’t really started until a road team wins a game.  And it could be that we still believe that San Jose will “choke” when it counts, or that their fans know nothing of hockey — both of which are based more in humor than reality.

But, it could also be that people still haven’t realized that San Jose is an elite NHL team, and that Detroit is in the unfamiliar position of needing to overachieve in order to prevail in a series.  The Red Wings have not been in this position since the 1999 and 2000 playoffs, when they were defeated by superior Colorado Avalanche teams.  One could point to the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, and I would lean toward agreeing, but even that year saw Anaheim and Detroit pretty close to evenly matched.  The same Wings team did go on to win the Cup in 2008, and almost in 2009.

This is something different.  This is the first time in a decade that the Red Wings find themselves banging their heads against the wall two years in a row as road seeds against the same superior opponent.  Whether or not the Red Wings realize their inferiority is irrelevant.  In fact, it’s probably better that they don’t.  But what’s unacceptable is their lazy, we-know-something attitude that they’ve played with in the last two games.  This disinterested, “everything’s alright because no matter what happens we still know we’re better and we create so many pretty opportunities that it doesn’t matter if anyone actually buries the puck in the net” mentality is complete nonsense.  And if it doesn’t turn around before Game 3, we’re going to see just another example of insanity to go along with a 3-0 San Jose lead.  You can’t do the same thing and expect to see different results.  Something needs to change.  That something is this attitude and mentality.  Carry yourselves like professionals — professionals who are at home down 0-2.  Play like you need to win.  If something changes, maybe the results will too.  And they better for the Red Wings’ sake, because 2 of the last 12 isn’t likely to yield the required 4 of the next 5 now.