With the Hawks’ issues and trajectory pretty clearly mapped out now that the exhibition season two-thirds over, this week the focus will turn external to see what in the hell the rest of the league is doing. And today starts with the Hawks’ most direct competition, the Central Division.
15-16: 50-23-9, 109 Points
Projected $5.9 million cap space
- Acquisitions – Jiri Hudler, Dan Hamhuis
- Losses – Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell (hah), Valeri Nichushkin
- 16-17 Outlook – After winning three consecutive Off Season Championships, GM Jim Nill’s boys finally won something of actual value last year, or at least kind of did, in winning the Central. They did so by outscoring their horrific Finnish goaltending which they did nothing to correct this off season. Alex Goligoski was effectively swapped for Dan Hamhuis as Kris Russell was always going to be a rental, and that’s at best a lateral move. There’s no telling what Dan “Got This” Hamhuis has left considering the the clusterfuck he was playing in in Vancouver over the last couple years, but he and Johnny Oduya play a similar game anyway, and both are in their mid 30s. If Hamhuis can play free safety for Klingberg or babysit for Johns then Oduya will probably pair with the other, but that still leaves not a whole hell of a lot on Dallas’ third pairing. Jamie Oleksiak has played nearly 250 professional games, so this is about what he is at this point, and Jordie Benn is Jordie Benn. This is where trading Jyrki Jokipakka (it’s the thing to say) hurts, as he looks to have serious promise as a third pairing bum-slayer.
But the Stars dirtiest secret is that they’re pretty goddamn old aside from Seguin, Benn, Eakin, and Klingberg. Jiri Hudler’s value was well documented this summer, and everyone knows exactly what Patrick Sharp is at this point, and both are in their mid 30s. Jason Spezza is now 33. So is whatever Ales Hemsky provides. Even Patrick Eaves is 32. And on the blue line Hamhuis and Oduya have serious mileage into their 30s as well. Even the goalies are both north of 30, which means they’re not getting any better magically. This is where Nichushkin telling Jim Nill to go screw could hurt. Yes he’s been hurt and under-produced, but he’s still a physical monster and only 21. Even Jamie Benn is now 27, and his style of play doesn’t exactly lend itself to longevity. If he and Seguin are hurt for long stretches of time (as they are now), this season could go balls-up in a hurry. And even if they’re healthy, there’s a very real potential for a step backward here barring a trade for Ben Bishop or MAF.
St. Louis Blues
15-16: 49-24-9, 107 Points
Projected $3.957 million Cap Space
- Losses – David Backes, Brian Elliott, Vlad Sobotka, every assistant coach
- Additions – Vlad Sobotka, Mike Yeo
- 16-17 Outlook – It appears that the window is finally slamming shut on the booger encrusted fingers of the St. Louis Blues, who finally got past the first round for the first time in 14 years, and still have fewer total playoff victories than the Oilers post-2005 lockout. In the wake of that successful failure, GM Doug Armstrong allowed captain and All-American Shithead David Backes to take his pandering bullshit to Boston, and traded Brian Elliott to Calgary where he will be appreciated, allowing Jay Gallon to finally fulfill some kind of prophecy about middling goaltending.
The real hilarity however is that this year will be Ken Hitchcock’s farewell tour. And on top of it being hilarious that the Blues will have employed the four winningest coaches in NHL history (Bowman, Q, Arbour, Hitch) and walked away with fuck-all in silver, is the fact that a coach who has underachieved for 15 years and the game has long since passed by is being allowed an apprentice and a victory tour. Talk about some cornpone, low-rent, podunk, collegiate ass bullshit. While there are far worse choices than to have Mike Yeo in waiting, there have to be better ways of getting a job besides being put through the Gene Kady/Matt Painter treatment. On top of boning this coaching situation, Armstrong continues to do an endless Ross-and-Rachel, will-they/won’t-they dance with Vladimir Sobotka, who appears now to be stuck in the KHL as his two year deal does not have an out clause. Even if Sobotka were here though, the Blues still don’t really have enough to get anywhere meaningful even as fun as Vlad Tarasenko is, especially if Jaden Schwartz is always going to be hurt.
15-16: 41-27-14, 96 Points
Projected $6.026 million cap space
- Losses – Shea Weber, Barrett Jackman, Carter Hutton
- Acquisitions – P.K. Subban
- 16-17 Outlook – Well GM David Poile finally found his balls and traded an aging and declining face of the franchise Shea Weber, even if he should have done it instead of trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, but getting P.K. Subban in return is quite a haul. This is as big of a win in a trade as the Jones/Johansen one was a loss, as Subban is one of the top 5 best defensemen on the planet (Doughty, Karlsson, Keith, Hedman are the other four in no particular order), and kudos on him for capitalizing on the fact that the Montreal braintrust has gone completely stupid and racist. With Subban now here, the Preds have unarguably the fastest and most offensive-oriented top 4 in the league with Josi, Ekholm, and Ellis already here. Matt Carle has been given one last shot to catch on in the league on Nashville’s bottom pair, which shows how far the drop-off is, and there is a concern about Ellis and Ekholm taking on bigger responsibilities as they always set bums afire from the third pair. But this group gives Laviolette the horsepower from the blue line to play the game he wants and that almost no one can keep up with.
Up front the Preds forward corps remains unchanged, except for Women’s Rights Advocate Mike Fisher now wearing the captain’s C after Weber’s departure. Mike Ribeiro is still an irretrievable piece of shit who is now 37 and has never produced at the level that warranted Poile bending over backwards to acquire and re-sign him. Filip Forsberg is awesome and James Neal is a red-ass who will still pot 30. Ryan Johansen will put up fine numbers, but it’s clear why John Davidson drove such a hard bargain and why Torts hated him – it’s because Torts was 100% right in what a loafing turd he can be, and is soft as hell on the puck for being such a big guy. Being a dead ringer for Eugene on the Walking Dead doesn’t help his cause either.
Pekka Rinne remains in net for the Preds, and based on his current trajectory, he is probably going to get Laviolette fired. Ol’ Shit Hip hasn’t been the same since that injury/infection, and big, tall, lanky guys don’t tend to maintain their flexibility as they age. He will be Nashville’s undoing in the second round.
15-16: 38-33-11, 87 Points
Projected $2.168 million cap space
- Losses – Tomas Vanek, John Torchetti
- Acquisitions – Eric Staal, Zac Dalpe, Bruce Boudreau
- 16-17 Outlook – Well, maybe another new coach will solve it. But it’s really just a matter of time before Zach Parise gets Bruce Boudreau fired too. Not that Gabby shitting his pants at any possible juncture doesn’t expedite the process, and at least there’s no chance of them even playing a game 7 at home for Boudreau to fuck up this time. This is the same team of middle-pairing defensemen and middle-6 forwards that needs everything to fall just right in order to even get into the playoffs, especially in this division. Bourdreau has always had 50 goal, Ross/Hart caliber players at his disposal to play an uptempo game, so the results probably aren’t going to be the same as they were when he took over both the Caps and Ducks. Make no mistake, Bruce Boudreau is a moron and it will finally be exposed fully in Minnesota despite a mountain of facts already submitted in evidence and barbecue sauce smeared all across his face.
15-16: 39-39-4 , 82 Points
Projected $2.459 million cap space
- Losses – Nate Guenin, Patrick Roy
- Acquisitions – Patrick Weircioch, Fedor Tyutin, Eric Gelinas, Joe Colborne, Jared Bednar
- 16-17 Outlook – Prior to a month ago, the hope here at TCIHQ was that Patrick Roy would keep the Avs bad and stupid enough to make Jarome Iginla available as a rental come February. But since Roy quit in a manner designed to maximize attention on himself as usual, Avs President Joe Sakic got the opportunity to hire a non-imbecile as his coach. And even though the Hawks did in fact dodge a bullet (at least for this season) by having Kevin Dineen stick around, Jared Bednar has won ECHL and AHL championships in the last 3 years, and appears to have at least a clue behind the bench. Literally any defensive structure is a step up from Roy, and this is still a team whose speed gave the Hawks fits even with a raging asswipe of a coach. So much for that Iginla dream. Also Semyon Varlamov is still a piece of shit criminal who should be deported.
15-16: 35-39-8, 78 Points
Projected $9.368 million cap space
- Losses – Andrew Ladd (in February), Jacob Trouba (probably)
- Acquisitions – Patrik Laine
- 16-17 Outlook – The Jets were pretty terrible last year, but got lucky enough to get the #2 overall draft pick and take Patrik Laine, who basically projects to be Rick Nash minus the purported wiener-tucking. Adding that to the physical and possession juggernaut that is Blake Wheeler, a soon-to-be prime Mark Sheiefele, the dependable Bryan Little, the under-appreciated Mathieu Perrault, and whatever the hell Marko Dano is going to be, there are some nice pieces for Paul “Baseline of Competence” Maurice to work with up front. Add that to what finally seems to be the swan song of Ondrej Pavalec in favor of the young Connor Hellebuyck, and this team isn’t totally helpless. But if Jacob Trouba wants out not necessarily for money but for what side of the ice the organization wants him to play, things look pretty fucking dire on the blue line. Dustin Byfuglien will always be a liability in his own end, and only Toby Enstrom can really cover for his wanderings, but Toby Enstrom is always hurt. Tyler Myers is the biggest of big nothings after his fluke Calder win, and the game has long passed Mark Stuart by. And every sellout at the MTS Center just keeps the Jets in Hockey Hell.