So You Want to Win the Stanley Cup?: A 2017 NHL Playoffs Preview

Oh, this is Christmas. But instead of running down stairs to open presents, we are sitting on our couches for up to 12 hours watching the NHL playoffs. What a wonderful time of the year.

This year was almost filled with intense rivalries to open up the first round. In the West, there was such a close chance to seeing both Calgary and Edmonton duke it out in a series, as well as San Jose and Anaheim play in what I assume would be a fantastic series between the two Californian rivals.

Over on the East coast, there was almost a rejuvenation of the Battle of Ontario, having Toronto and Ottawa face each other in the first round of this year’s playoffs.

But I shouldn’t focus so much on my dreams too much, because this is the NHL, where whenever you want something glorious to happen, it doesn’t happen.

Now, let’s see what series are actually happening in the first round of the 2016-17 NHL playoffs and stop this fantasy.

649392502.0.jpgWESTERN CONFERENCE

NASHVILLE PREDATORS VS. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

In this series, we see two somewhat evenly-matched teams go at it. Now of course one team has much more recent success (or any success at all), but Nashville is not a team to take for granted.

With a killer first-line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, this is an offence to not underestimate.

Mentioning the Predators without mentioning their top-4 defencemen is not seeing the whole picture of this team. Their top-4 is still arguably the best in the NHL. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and P.K. Subban can take on any offensive threat, and create offense on their own stick as well.

The only worry from the position of the Predators, is the team and mainly the offense, being too top-heavy. Sure, they have James Neal and Mike Fisher on the second-line, but is that enough to battle the Blackhawks?

On Chicago’s side, they are used to being a top-heavy team, but they always have key players playing down the lineup. Marcus Kruger being a great fourth-line centre to have on your team. But has Chicago ever gone into the post-season with so many questions? With so many rookies and some players with no playoff experience, it is hard to see how the Blackhawks will play in this series.

What I have learned in recent history, is to never doubt the Blackhawks. This season they were supposed to take a step back because of all the cap troubles they have had and having to have so many rookies or budget players in the lineup.

But somehow, they were the team that finished the regular season with the most points in the Western Conference, (not the best team in the West, the one with the most points).

This series is probably the closest of all eight. So what do I know? It’s the playoffs, anything can happen with two teams like this.

MINNESOTA WILD VS. ST LOUIS BLUES

Broadly looking at these two teams, you really don’t know what they are. A fast team? A slow team? A young team? An old team? One has a little star? One has a little car?

Seuss aside, these teams are hard to figure out. Don’t get me wrong, both are very good. Both have a great group of defencemen. But one team did trade away their best of their group. So maybe that was a bad idea if they really wanted to try and win.

With the group of defenceman that each team has, both also have a balanced offense. Minnesota have a great run of centres down the lineup. Staal, Koivu, Hanzal and Swedish rookie Joel Eriksson-Ek create a steady diet of offence and defensive responsibility down the middle.

For the St. Louis Blues, their offence is Vladimir Tarasenko. Sure, Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz have some good production. But without someone else getting insanely hot in this series, it is all up to Tarasenko.

He is a Russian god, but we’ll see if the great defenseman, with as much personality as a piece of cardboard, Ryan Suter can shut him down and therefore their whole offence.

ANAHEIM DUCKS VS. CALGARY FLAMES

Hey! A Canadian team! This is one interesting match-up. The Ducks are a fairly heavy favourite, but the Flames are a team that can cause an upset.

It looks like it can go Calgary’s way if everything works out for them though. Brian Elliott has been killing it as of late, and the line of rookie Matthew Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, have been one of the best possession lines in the league for the entire season. Not to mention Johnny Hockey himself, Mr. Gaudreau.

With those offensive weapons they can take full advantage of the Duck’s recent problems with keeping a healthy blueline together. Just as possession-monster Hampus Lindholm comes back from injury, they lose former trade-bait, Cam Fowler, to a knee injury that required season-ending surgery.

Guess what team injured him? The Calgary Flames. Not only that, their captain Mark Giordano caused it himself. I am really hoping for some revenge in Game 1. Which then Gaudreau will probably score the game-winning goal on the following powerplay.

But hey, Kevin Bieksa is going to get some great slaps on the back because he crosschecked Giordano in the face. You do you K.B.

EDMONTON OILERS VS. SAN JOSE SHARKS

Ok, everyone in the Greater Edmonton Area settle down. McDavid is going to look great leading your team finally to the playoffs again. But it is tough having to face the reigning Western Conference Champions.

It is the Sharks though, so they’ll probably choke.

It also doesn’t help that Logan Couture and Joe Thornton have both been out with injury recently and there is no guarantee when they will be back in the lineup.

We’ll see how a red-hot but inexperienced Oilers team, will faceoff (HA!) against a Sharks team that are used to playing hockey after the 82nd game.

This will be one to watch. McDavid vs. Vlasic. Oh, what joy!

2017-stanley-cup-preview-washington-capitals-vs-toronto-maple-leafsEASTERN CONFERENCE

With all that Western Conference nonsense out of the way, let’s look at the match-ups on the better side of the continent.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! The Leafs are back in the playoffs, what a wonderful sight to behold for a team that deserves it. Congratulations Toronto, sports are looking up for you. I wonder what team they have to face in the first round? Maybe they can even make it to the 2nd round, wouldn’t that be fun? …oh, nevermind.

I love how this Leafs team is built, they are no doubt one of the most fun teams to watch in this boring league right now. But it’s the President’s Trophy-winning, Ovechkin-wielding, Holtby-fortifying, Backstrom-running, Shattenkirk-outletpassing, Washington fucking Capitals.

I’m sorry Leafs fans, seeing Washington this season and their performance, it would be a success to not get slaughtered.

Matthews may score a goal-a-game, with Nylander creating plays out of nowhere and Marner entering the zone speeding past Brooks Orpik. But looking down the full roster of both teams, on paper at least, there is a slim chance of Toronto being able to win four games against this team.

Cheer up kid, miracles happen sometimes.

MONTREAL CANADIENS VS. NEW YORK RANGERS

They definitive goalie showdown of the first round. I love a good 2-1 game won in the 3rd OT.

My head says the Rangers aren’t as good as they showed this season, but the playoffs are built for well-performed runs by overachieving teams. Depending on Michael Grabner to perform well in your offence for the post-season is worrying. Any team that still employs Tanner Glass to play hockey is deserving to lose.

On the Northern-side of the border, Montreal has an interesting team this year. The firing of Therrien and replacing him with an elite-level coach in Claude Julien was a smart decision in a year that started with a very, very, very dumb one.

The hiring of Julien does not at all cancel out their horrific trade deadline. For some reason an actual employed GM thinks that Steve Ott should play on a team that wants to win.

I suppose Tanner Glass and Steve Ott cancel each other out.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Oh wow, the only somewhat rivalry in the first round this year. The only reason that they even have a slight hatred for one another is because of them facing each other in the same situation in the first-round of the 2014 playoffs.

Even then, it was only a heavy series because the Penguins didn’t just stomp all over the Blue Jackets and go on to the next round. I mean, they did eventually beat them but it took a whole six games. That was two more than anyone else thought would happen.

This year is a different story, Columbus is actually believed to be a good team this year.

They are definitely exciting to watch with all their young talent. Werenski and Jones on the blueline, Bjorkstrand and Wennberg up front. Those are some young boys.

What worries me for Columbus is being dependent on 35 (is that right?! Has to be a typo)-goal scorer Cam Atkinson. I mean, there is a chance he just magically found out how to score an impressive amount of goals. But let’s be realistic.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. They were last year, and probably still this year, the best team in hockey. They just have it figured it out. An actual balanced offence and a well-run defence wins games. Who would’ve thought?

Phil Kessel is magical and I don’t care.

OTTAWA SENATORS VS. BOSTON BRUINS

The series of two teams that are just missing their window to actually win the thing.

Boston has already been there and done that with their current core. But somehow they got better? Chara is getting slower and his age is showing. But despite his lack of offence, Bergeron is still Bergeron. The main story is how Marchand has dragged this team to the playoffs.

Ratboy Marchand has found a new level in his game this season. I dare say, a Hart trophy-deserving season. Despite being on one of the most dominant possesion lines in the NHL, he is scoring like a madman with 39 goals in the regular season. I feel bad for Dion.

Ottawa are wasting a generational defenceman’s best years. Erik Karlsson deserves better than this team.

I love some players on the Senators and believe that 30 other teams would want players like Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman. Beyond that and Karlsson, who is really needed on this team?

This team has just been so poorly run over the years that it is just so hard to attract players anymore. Karlsson has dragged this team to the playoffs consistently but they never are seen as actual contenders ever, like forever and ever.

There is hope in the young prospects that the Senators have in the cupboard. Colin White, Logan Brown and Thomas Chabot are players that have potential to be formed into an important core. But if you keep on shipping out any decent prospect for Human Garbage Burrows, you deserve to lose.

Boston is cool I guess.

CONCLUSION

This first round of the 2017 NHL Playoffs are built to be an interesting one. Most series have a clear favourite that no one would be surprised if they won, and a clear underdog to overcome the odds. But this is hockey, a game meant to be won by a weird bounce that the fans will hate no matter what.

So who knows? I certainly don’t.

 

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