Sunday, April 29, 2012

Panther's Roster: Stay or Go, Prospects and Free Agents to Look at

With all the hoop-la of the playoffs continuing without the Panthers, it is time to focus on next year's run. And what better way to do this than to go up and down the Panther's roster and give our assessment on if Tallon should keep or boot a player, what prospects can make the squad next year, and what Free Agents should be considered?

To get you in the mood, here is some "Spring Cleaning" music....

Krys Barch 21 RW
   Barch was a serviceable pickup during the middle of the regular season. However, I don't see Tallon re-signing him for next year. He just isn't good enough.

Sean Bergenheim 20 LW
    Bergenheim had a career high 17 goals this year. Even better, he was the most consistent forward in the post season. He settled in nicely as a Panther this year and earned every penny of his contract. He will be back.

Matt Bradley 22 RW
     Didn't think Bradley was overly effective when he wasn't hurt this year. With a year left of his just south of $1m cap hit, Bradley will either be an extra forward or relegated to the AHL. With an influx of prospects looking to make the jump, players like Bradley need to leave.

Brian Campbell 51 D
    Soupy was inspiring this season. What more needs to be said? Played every game, quarterbacked the PP and made everyone on the ice better. Leader.

Scott Clemmensen 30 G
   Clemmensen was average in his starts for Florida this year, despite his high number of wins. His contract is done, and with Markstrom clearly ready for NHL duty, Clemmer will be out of here.

Keaton Ellerby 4 D
   Ellerby is an RFA this offseason. While his progress has slowed, if not stopped (most likely because of DeBoer's handling) he still has potential. I would hope Tallon uses his RFA status and potential to move him for assets this offseason, whether letting him get an offer sheet and taking compensation or moving him on Draft Day for a pick. I just don't see Ellerby in the plans for the Cats. For his development, he may need a change of scenery.

Tomas Fleischmann 14 RW
   The most talented forward on the team, Flash played as I knew he could. Tallon was one of the only GMs that was confident in his abilities with his rare medical condition. However, there was really nothing to worry about as Flash played all 82 regular season games, putting up 61 points. He'll be back.

Jason Garrison 52 D
  The trickiest one. Garrison was a beast for the Panthers this season. But with his impending UFA status and the crazy market for Dmen, the Panthers may lose Garrison or be forced to part with him due to dollars and cents. Garrison could make upwards of $4.5m a year, an amount he might just not be worth (flash in the pan?) if he hits the UFA market. Expect the Panthers to really explore every avenue with Garrison. If they feel the Cannon is pricing himself out of their range, they may look to trade his rights at the draft to get back some return.
     Garrison would be welcomed back, but only at the right price. This could be another Ville Leino.

Marcel Goc 57 C
    OMGoc was excellent this year, and really surpassed all expectations. He has great puck control, and knows how to play D and win draws. He has come up big when they have needed him to. He is a good 3rd line option for Panthers next season. Keep.

Erik Gudbranson 44 D
    The best defensemen in the playoffs for the Cats. He really became a stud in front of our eyes. Ken Daneyko said similar words after Game 7, and he knows good D. I see Gudbranson having a similar career to Chris Pronger. He might not be as good, but he will fit that style. Easy keep.

Ed Jovanovski 55 D
    While his skill has gone down, he still is a great 3rd pairing D, and ol' greybeard is a great mentor for Gudbranson and every young Panther. Vets like him are much needed. Keep.

Tomas Kopecky 82 RW
   Kopecky was the whipping boy for us at Zele this year. His year was average for him, but unacceptable for his cap hit. He makes unbelievably stupid plays. However, the Panthers game announcers and Twitter love the guy. He is a hard worker, but he really just is not good enough warrant his current deal. Not close.
    However, in the playoffs he was real good. He played smart and fast, finally using his strengths.  Kopecky will most likely be back next year. I just hope he plays how he did in the playoffs, and not like the regular season.

Dmitry Kulikov 7 D
    Kulikov's contract is up. But don't fret, he will be back. The young Russian is going to be a force in this league once he figures out how to balance offense and defense. This year he really solidified his defensive game, and I feel next year he will tack on more offense to it. He will be a stud in no time flat.

John Madden 10 C
    If Madden decides to return, I believe he will be welcomed back. He is a good 13th forward, 4th line center. He is a playoff performer and gave the Panthers a real chance. He is a leader and a guy you want teaching the newer guys. His gutsy performance in Game 7 speaks volumes about his character. I hope he stays around for one more year.

Jacob Markstrom 25 G
   He will see a lot of starts next year. If he can build on his excellent play in the AHL and NHL this year, he may be looking at the starter role next playoffs. He's a beast- 6'7'' and quick. He needs to improve rebound control but will be a vital assest to the team's success next year.

Shawn Matthias 18 C
     Matthias has the talent, and he has the size. He just hasn't been able to find consistency in the league yet. I really don't know what to do with him. I have a feeling he will have next year as a final season to prove himself to the organization, that he can take the next step. His contract is done after next year and he will be an RFA. Hopefully he brings it all together and has a break out year.

Mikael Samuelsson 26 RW
    UFA to be. Sammy was a great addition to this squad. However, I think resigning him may be a last priority for the Panthers. They need roster space for their young guys, and I think the reason he came back in the Booth trade was to create that space at year's end. Good year from him though.

Mike Santorelli 13 C
    Had trouble staying in the lineup, it is clear that Santorelli had a bad year. I am a big advocate of trying to move him as part of a package or for a prospect or something. Panthers could use his roster spot and cap hit more appropriately. Santorelli may need a new organization for him to find his game again, much like Ellerby.

Jack Skille 12 RW
   Skille had injury problems all year. Skille was finally coming into his own, but couldn't continue it this season. Skille is Tallon's big draft pick from his CHI days, and I doubt Tallon moves Skille. However, I think it is safe to say he doesn't fit here in Sunrise. I have long been a pro-Skille guy but the writing is on the wall. He should go.

Jerred Smithson 25 LW
    Smithson was a good pickup at the deadline, and he came in handy this playoffs. He has one more year on his deal, but think his future won't be decided until after training camp. If he doesn't appear to be in position to make the squad they will then decide what to do with him.

Marco Sturm 16 LW
    Sturm was a body this year. He started off solid but faded quickly and became an iffy 4th liner. He did nothing for me. He shouldn't be resigned.

Jose Theodore 60 G
    Theodore was good and he was bad. He played a heck of a lot better than I thought he would. He is a big reason they were able to win the division. With one more year on his contract, Jose will split with Markstrom next year. He will be good in this role.

Scottie Upshall 19 RW
   Upshall was brought in to be a top 6 winger with a scoring punch. Too bad he fought through injuries all year. Once he got healthy in the playoffs he earned his way onto the top 6, and by the end of the playoff series was one of the best forwards for the Panthers. Tallon and company are hoping Upshall can stay healthy this summer and next year. He will be back.

Kris Versteeg 32 RW
    The Panthers are very happy Versteeg was able to be the scoring threat he was all year. They went a little off the plan trading draft picks for him but he made the risk worth it. He was one of the most dominant Panthers in the offensive zone. Hopefully the Panthers can re-sign him close to what he made this year. Fan favorite and a must-have to keep this offense potent.

Mike Weaver 43 D
   Weaver is a blue collar D. He is undersized but makes up for it with grit and heart. He blocks a ton of shots and has a high compete level. Weaver just signed a new deal and will be back with the club as a 6th or 7th Dman next year.

Stephen Weiss 9 C
   Oh Captain, my captain. It is pretty clear that Weiss will be getting the "C" next year as he led by example all year. He is good for about 60 points a year, and with a better team next year may get close to 70.

Wojtek Wolski 8 LW
   Polski was a solid pick up at the end of the year. He came in and gave a spark. His shootout expertise was the only reason the Panthers were able to grab a few extra points down the stretch. It is unclear what Tallon will do with him as his contract is up, but I don't foresee him coming back unless he is willing to take a huge pay cut.

Based on my assumptions this looks to be the returning core for the Panthers:
Weiss, Versteeg, Upshall,  Matthais, Madden, Kopecky, Goc, Flash, Bergenheim
Campbell, Gudbranson, Garrison, Jovo, Weaver, Kulikov
Theodore and Markstrom

That leaves 3-4 forward spots and a D spot open for prospects and UFAs. That is a good balance to have room to improve the team and bring in younger guys, while keeping a good core.

Prospects that will be looked at to fill the void:

Jonathan Huberdeau 11 C
   He is a lock to make the squad next year. His scoring was sorely missed at the end of the year. His domination in the Q and World Jrs. this year despite his broken foot shows he will be an immediate impact player in Sunrise next year.

Quinton Howden LW
  Howden was unable to compete for a spot this year due to concussion issues. That shouldn't stop him this year. The power forward put up over a point-per-game in the WHL this year and should make the squad next year. Depending on roster size, he may get a few games in the AHL while Tallon decides on who to move/showcasing a player for trade.

Drew Shore  C
   Shore signed a contract and joined the Rampage for their playoff run once his Denver Univ was eliminated in the Frozen Four. He has 5 points in 13 games in the AHL, which shows he is getting adjusted to pro play fairly well. He might not be NHL ready next year, but he could be a call up next year and produce in that role. By 2013-2014 season he should be a full timer.

Alex Petrovic D
  The 20 year old Defensemen has shown the ability to put up points and stop the other team from doing so. Assistant GM Santos says Petrovic is the most complete Dman in the Panthers organization. He may fight for that 6th Dman spot with Weaver, but if he cant beat Weaver out, outright he should be back in the AHL. Petrovic will not gain much from a spot duty 7th Dman role. My guess is he matures another year before he joins the Cats. But you never know.

Colby Robak D
  The freshly turned 22 year old may be another guy who can overtake Weaver for the 6th spot. He has played well for the Rampage and was an All-star. He has potential to become a big minute eater in the NHL if he reaches his potential. Much like Petrovic, he may not be on the squad if it is only for the 7th spot, as he needs a lot of ice time to keep him on his developmental track.

In all likelihood, Huberdeau and Howden will be the only ones to make the team right out of training camp. The Panthers have a full well to pull from if they need be, but should look to fill the rest of the openings via Free Agency.

Big name Free Agents this year may not find their way to Sunrise, especially the likes of Parise, Weber and Suter. These guys will be highly coveted and may be looking to get into a more traditional hockey market. Suter is rumored to be a favorite in Detroit if ageless wonder Lidstrom hangs up the skates.

Unfortunately the Free Agent pool is weak this offseason, and there are not too many awesome options.

Here are a list of some potential and (realistic) Free Agent signings:

Brad Boyes F
   It was rumored that the Panthers had interest in Boyes at the trade deadline. Boyes would give them a good 3rd line scoring option. If they can get him for a little less than he was making this year and on a short term contract, Boyes has potential to be a good pick up. He had 23 points in 65 games for the struggling Sabres this year, but 54pts in 83 games last year for the Blues and Sabres.

Zenon Konopka C
  Konopka is a 4th line center. He's a grinder. No doubt about it. But he brings the ability to play a lot of penalty kill minutes and win a lot of draws. His snarl is another thing the Panthers could use if they lose Madden and Smithson. He won't get you many points, but he is a character guy every team could use.

Jarret Stoll C
   Stoll has an underrated wrister that packs a lot of boom. He wins draws and until the Kings went and got a few centers, was good for 40 points in the 3rd (sometimes 2nd) center spot. He is more known for his defense than his offense, but given the right wingers could get you 45-50 points.

Matt Carle D
  Carle has been a great puck mover in Philly. When he was paired with Pronger, the two of them were possibly the best pairing in the league. His shot leaves something to be desired for, and he isn't overly physical. He could be expensive in the market since teams that don't win the Suter sweepstakes may over pay for Carle. But if he could be brought to Sunrise for about 4-4.5 million a year, the Panthers would be better for it. This would push Weaver to 7th and give the Cats two smooth puck movers. And if Garrison does not stay, Carle will be needed to pick up the blueline offense. Carle had 38 points in 82 games this year and skated in all 82 games for the second straight year.

Sami Salo D
   Salo has a helluva shot. He has plenty of playoff games under his belt and isn't afraid to take the body. He would be a solid addition to the bottom pairing with Weaver and Salo splitting time as the 6th. He had 25 points in 69 games for the Canucks this past year. His age will help keep his cap hit and years down, making this a good move to solidify the blueline until Petrovic and Robak are ready.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Round 2 Predictions

After Round 1, O'Brien and I are all tied at 7 for our predictions. Here are our Round 2 predictions.


(2) St. Louis vs. (8) Los Angeles.  STL in 6
(3) Phoenix vs. (4) Nashville. NSH in 5

(1) New York vs. (7) Washington. WSH in 7
(5) Philadelphia vs. (6) New Jersey. PHI in 4


(2) St. Louis vs. (8) Los Angeles.  STL in 6
(3) Phoenix vs. (4) Nashville. NSH in 7

(1) New York vs. (7) Washington.  WSH in 6
(5) Philadelphia vs. (6) New Jersey. PHI in 5

This round scoring-

2 points for winner, 3 points for game length (if you choose winner as well).

Every year, it seems that the 2nd round both Matt and i have similar picks. I think the 2nd round is the easiest to predict out of all the rounds.

Panthers' Season Ends in Heartache, First Round Exit

Fifteen out of the sixteen teams that enter the playoffs end their season with a loss. However, for the Florida Panthers, theirs was of the ever more painful Game 7 double overtime variety.

By all measurements, this season was a success for Florida.

At the beginning of the year, I predicted the Panthers would finish 8th in the East with 92 points. Winning the division and coming inches away from moving on to round 2 surpasses that. A successful team this year was supposed to fight FOR a playoff birth, not to win a division. 

It speaks to the ability of GM of the Year nominee Dale Tallon, who was the architect of this rebuild, to turn a team of fresh faces thrown together in the summer into a real player in the East.

Today, the Panthers had locker room clean out. All the players speak to the media for the last time and grab a set of their equipment and a few twigs for summer conditioning.

@FLAPanthers Pic Tweet 
With the cleaning out of equipment and the close of this year's season for the Panthers, it means one thing: the future is here in Sunrise.

For the first time, the franchise's promise of "a better tomorrow" is going to happen. This offseason is not about rebuilding or having to clear house again. It is about finding a few pieces to make the team better and which young guys will make the squad. It is about taking that final step to become a playoff threat.

This off-season, much like last year's, is paramount. This is the beginning of the final stage. The 2011-2012 team showed us what exactly Tallon needs to do in the offseason.

There were one main issue for why the Panthers didn't win as many games and didn't get to the second round.  That is roster depth. Granted, the Panthers had a lot of capable bodies, but the extra layer of scoring was not there. They relied too much on a few guys to carry the load. Priority one this offseason will be to try to bring in more scoring depth.

What is really needed, but may not happen this offseason, is for the Panthers to get an elite player. 

While Stephen Weiss is a gamer, and showed so in the playoffs this year, he is not talented enough to carry the team in the post season. Most teams that make it far into the playoffs have an elite player, the Panthers do not. Since elite players just don't fall off trees, the chances of the Panthers snagging one in the offseason are slim. They may have to wait until Huberdeau can become that player.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Flyers vs. Penguins Game Two

If game 1 was any indication of how the rest of the series will go, I think I may have a coronary.

The Flyers were "lucky," in Timonen's words, to pull out a W in game 1. I agree. While the Flyers owned the play for the final 40 minutes of the regulation plus overtime, the bad habit of falling behind by a few goals early will kill any team, even one as good as Philadelphia.

This game is huge for the series. 1-1 or 2-0. That is a huge difference. The Flyers have to do what the Penguins failed to do on Wednesday, put a team away. The Flyers can start putting the Penguins away by grabbing game 2. The Penguins would then have to take both games in Philly to make it interesting. After blowing game 1 up 3-0, and then losing two straight home games, the Penguins may effectively be done.

On the other hand, if the Flyers fail to win they give all the life and momentum back to Pittsburgh. Yes, they did split Pitt's home ice advantage which is something needed by every lower seed. However, It would be a disappointment to let this opportunity slip them by.

A 2-0 lead could make this a shorter series, making it less toll on their bodies. This could lead to a longer playoff run.

A 1-1 tied series going back to Philly will most likely result in Philly being in a long, hard battle. If they win, they may be worse for the wear. Something that will affect them come the later rounds.

The Flyers showed, quite repeatedly, that their rookie centers can shut down the Pens' superstars. Both Schenn and Couturier were huge in the winning effort. Look for that to continue in Game 2. Even if Malkin or Crosby get on the score sheet, the rooks can still shut them down and make them less of a factor. 

If the Flyers play as physical as they did in Game 1, and come out ready to go, they should steal another win in Pittsburgh tonight. 

Here is the Flyers' TV Game Preview

Florida Panthers End 12 Year Playoff Drought Tonight

Florida Panthers


New Jersey Devils

They didn't make it easy for themselves. 

It took all 82 games of the regular season but the Panthers finally secured their franchise first Southeastern Division Title with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes. This cemented their match-up against the New Jersey Devils and home ice for the first round.

Now the team finds themselves on the verge of the first playoff game since 2000, a year where they also played and lost to New Jersey in the first round. The Panthers had to wait a little longer than everyone else; their series is the last one to start.

But it is finally here. At 7:00pm on the NHL Network and MSG the Panthers will go for their first playoff win in 15 years. A fact both Florida fans and players want to forget. 

The Panthers come into tonight's skating with a limp. The team was  2-3-5 down the final stretch. A stat that only dampens your spirits more when you notice how easy the Panthers schedule was in those final games. 

However, the Panthers managed to draw the Devils, a team that gives the fans plenty of match-ups to watch. 

The Devils are coached by Peter DeBoer, ex-coach of the Panthers. From the beginning of the year, the Panthers have had a lot of passion playing against their ol' bench boss. From the outside looking in, it seems that the players really want to stick it to DeBoer. Here is their best chance.

The Devils have always been a defense first organization. Panther's fans know of DeBoer's "pull 'em back" style. The Panthers have a free flowing offense, that starts from the puck moving defensemen and ends with their electric powerplay. 

The Devil's sport an impressive PK unit and one of the story lines of this series will be who can win the special teams battle. 

The Devils hold the edge in star power. Parise and Kovalchuk up front far eclipses anything the Panthers have. Look at David Clarkson's 30 goal campaign this year. Without the star power of the Devils' forwards, that does not happen.

Both the Panthers and the Devils have four lines. The series will see both teams using all four of their lines throughout most of the game. The depth and versatility upfront from both teams is something to keep an eye on. Whoever can get the most secondary scoring will most likely come out on top.

Florida needs winger Kris Versteeg to bury all his chances. He has the magic stick, and when he is finding the twine, the Panthers win. Also, Stephen Weiss finally makes his playoff debut. The Panthers need him to be the on-ice leader and to have a great series, in points and in the intangibles. 

If Florida can fix their late season problem of burying chances, they have the ability to match New Jersey's star power. 

The Devil's defense corps consists of hardworking grinders. They rely heavily on the defensive system and Martin Brodeur to shut down the other team. The Devil's have benefited from almost all of their defensemen playing consistently physical. The Panthers will get no cushion in the offensive zone. 

However, the Panthers' D is more skillful. Brian Campbell fell one assist shy of 50, a team best. His puck moving and slick skating makes him critical in every situation. It is clear he will have to be (and most likely will be) the best defensemen in this series if Florida wants to move on to round two. 

A major part of Florida's D is made up of rising stars like Kulikov, Garrison and rookie Gudbranson. This group has done well to not only start the offense from the back end, Garrison had 16 goals, but pound the opposition's forwards every chance they get.

Florida will have to match New Jersey's physicality and add extra offense from the blue line this series.

Always in the discussion for best goalie of all-time, Martin Brodeur will be 40 years old by the time the playoffs are over. How he performs will go a long way to decide whether he will be on the ice or on the links come his birthday.

Since he entered the league, so much of New Jersey's success is contingent on Brodeur's success. This won't be different. At this point in his career Brodeur can steal a game or single handedly lose a game. His experience, skill and competitive attitude would make you believe that this playoffs he will play strong. But his recent play over the past two to three seasons shows anything can happen with Brodeur in net. It is always an adventure, now. 

In the other crease, the Panthers will live or die on the performance of Jose Theodore. Lately, he has been one of the reasons for the Panther's struggles. The shaky play has come after a long stretch that some would argue was his best stretch of his career. Theodore will look to re-channel that focus and drive. Without it, the series may be a lot shorter than once thought.

For every team in the playoffs, goaltending is crucial. In this series, for these teams, it is even more so. New Jersey and Florida are good teams that need goaltending to make them great. The edge obviously lies with the three time cup champ Brodeur, but on any given Sunday...

Florida is new to the playoffs, but their players aren't. Florida has done a good job of bringing in playoff vets and Stanley Cup Champions. Many of the Panthers are ex-Blackhawks from the Cup winning team: Campbell, Versteeg, Kopecky, and Madden. Madden has also been a Stanley Cup champion in New Jersey. Sturm and Samuelsson, who came over in the Booth trade, have over 150 playoff games and a cup ring between them. Jovanovski was a veteran leader on the Coyotes' playoff teams and made the long run with Florida back in his younger days. 

The key to this series for the Panthers is Theodore and the first line. If Weiss and Versteeg can play with Fleischmann's consistency and finish, and Theodore saves the pucks he is supposed to save I believe the Panthers win this series in 7 games.


Go Panthers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Playoff Predictions- Round 1

Matthew O'Brien's Predictions

(1) Vancouver vs. (8) L.A. Kings  - Vancouver in 6
(2) St. Louis vs. (7) San Jose Sharks  - St. Louis in 5
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks - Chicago in 5
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings - Nashville in 7

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators  - Senators in 7
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals  - Boston in 5
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils  - Florida in 6
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers - Philadelphia in 6

Thomas Krulikowski's Predictions

(1) Vancouver vs. (8) L.A. Kings - Vancouver in 5
(2) St. Louis vs. (7) San Jose Sharks - St. Louis in 5
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks - Chicago in 6
(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings - Detroit in 7

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators  - New York in 5
(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals - Boston in 6
(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils - Florida in 7
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers - Philadelphia in 6

Scoring: Each series winner for Round 1 is worth 1 point. The correct number of games for the series, if the correct winner is picked, is 2 points.

Flyers Face Penguins in First Round

(5) Philadelphia Flyers                                    VS.                            (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

The fifth seeded Flyers begin their journey to the cup in Pittsburgh tonight (7:30pm on NBC Sportsnet). 

The Flyers need this series. More than just about moving on in the post season, this is a defining series for the Flyers' new core.

The Flyers are a young team, pieced together this summer. Throughout this season there have been two main stories: the goaltending, and the youth of this team.

Goaltending will be answered on the ice, there is nothing I can say that hasn't been said five times already, in multiple languages. The youth of this team though is important. Much like the first round game 7 OT win against Washington Capitals years ago, this series has the potential to bring massive amounts of confidence and experience to a young core that promises to be dominant in the near future.

A win against the cross-state rivals,  the apple of the league's eye, the already cup winners, the "offensive dynamo," could be the catalyst that grows this team into a Cup winner.

If you look at past cup winners, The Anaheim Ducks had a long run, overcoming adversity only to fall short in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the maturation of that experience, they won a cup not too much after with the same core. Same with the current enemy, Pittsburgh. 

The Flyers were recently in the Cup Finals, but the impact of that experience goes out the window when you look at the fresh names on the roster who were not a part of that run.

If the Flyers manage to shut down the Penguins and beat them in the first round, I think you see their young core take the next step and become better hockey players. 

Now onto the preview...

The Penguins may have the best group of centers in the league. Crosby, Malkin and Staal are all constant offensive threats. However, the rookie duo of Schenn and Couturier have done well to match up with Crosby and Malkin. The teen aged Couturier has played especially well locking onto the much bigger Malkin. 

The performance of Schenn and Courturier will be a determining factor in this series. If they can keep up their superb defensive play, the center match up may be a wash, as Claude Giroux and Danny Briere are no slouches in terms of playoff performance. 

I believe that the Flyers centers will not be out-shined by Pittsburgh's despite the glowing media coverage the Penguins' pivots get. 

Rounding out the forward corps, the Flyers have the better depth of wingers. From first line to fourth, the Flyers can ice more talented wingers. Besides James Neal, the Penguins do not have top line wingers, more so a compilation of grinding forwards. Voracek, Simmonds, Hartnell, Jagr and Read have enough talent to create match up problems. 

If the Penguins centers can't spark the offense, their wingers most likely won't either. The Flyers clearly have the advantage on paper when it comes to wingers, but they have to keep it when the puck drops.

On the defensive side, the Flyers address the concerns on the backend when captain Chris Pronger went down for the year. Adding recently extended defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (4 years, $3.5m/year) has beefed up the blue line.  The tandem of Grossmann and Coburn have become a top shutdown pair which can help eliminate Pittsburgh offensive threat. In addition, Timonen and Carle are the puck movers in the top 4, but can also play odd man rushes well. The Flyers' D sees much more depth than Pittsburgh, with Kubina as a 7th.

Pittsburgh has depth issues on the blueline. Letang is their far-and-away best defensemen. However, his offensive presence sometimes leaves gaps in his own zone. The drop off to Brooks Orpik in talent level, their number 2, is big. And after Orpik, it is even bigger. Michalek and Martin owned the worst +/- rating for the Penguin's team and have underwhelmed since their arrival.

It is fair to say that the Penguins need to play tighter defense in the playoffs, as their run and gun offense won't keep them afloat by themselves. However, in relation to the Flyers roster, they just don't have the talent to do so. They will need to rely on a  great series from all of their blueliners if they want to keep Philadelphia from scoring.

And the goalies. Both Fleury and Bryzgalov have faltered this year. Bryzgalov is the bigger question mark as he has a questionable playoff resume and Fleury has a cup. However, by the numbers this year, Bryzgalov and Fleury are pretty close.

It comes down to who plays better on the ice, as of right now I would consider them a toss-up on paper. Bryzgalov has picked it up so far as the games got tighter in March. Fleury may have the nod over Bryz, but I don't think it is by wide enough margin to impact the series.

I think the Flyers surprise many in the hockey media by pulling out a 6 game series win. It will be a brutal series, and injuries may play a big part in it. However, I think the match-up favors the Flyers for one reason: Defense. The Flyers have the better defensive corps, and with their young centers focusing on shutting down the Penguins, the Flyers team D may steal them the series. 

I hope the officiating in this series allows the teams to decide the outcome on their own. It is not without precedent and merit that the Penguins have been considered "favorites" of the league and refs. If the refs try to take out the passion of the series by giving lots of roughings and 10 minute misconducts, it favors the team on the right side of the calls. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bauer One.9 LE Skates Photo Leaked

Bauer will be releasing a One.9 LE skate sometime in the future. Since the updated TotalOne line of skates doen't hit stores until mid-April, my guess is an August-ish release for the LE.

However, I can stoke your excitement with a picture of what the LE skate will look like. All I can say is, "Holy snowstorm, Batman!"

Bauer has really whited out this skate, and the white toe cap is the pièce de résistance. 

Bauer may strike gold with this LE. Reebok for the first time in many years is not releasing a top of the line white skate. The White K falls around mid-range of their lineup. Therefore, Bauer's One.9 LE may just take a lot of the white skate market.

Price point will most likely be $650.00, equal to the One.9 regular skate.  The APX LE last season had the X7.0 and X3.0, so do not be surprised to see them do this for the One.6 as well, to hit a lower price point. 

I'm not a big Bauer fan but I like the look of this skate, oddly enough, and think they picked a good time to sell it, as Reebok ditched their high end white skate.