Apr 132011

There were some very long, tough deliberations going into a few of this year’s opening round matchups.  Its difficult to isolate a ‘Cinderella’ this year because every one of those teams have gaping holes; major issues.

If the Nashville Predators were facing almost any other team but the Ducks in the first round, I’d pick the Preds to finally solve the first-round victory equation.  The Preds must jump all over Anaheim at Honda Center in games one and two to have a chance.  Pekka Rinne is due for a coming out series and the Ducks will have to get by with Dan Ellis at least for the initial game or two.  It will be a long series though and the Ducks have too much firepower to bet against.  I’m already planning on regretting this, but…. Ducks in 7.

(1) Vancouver over (8) Chicago – 6 games

(2) San Jose over (7) Los Angeles – 5 games

(3) Detroit over (6) Phoenix – 7 games

(4) Anaheim over (5) Nashville – 7 games

The Canucks are deeper up front and their blue line will outperform the Blackhawks defensive six.  Corey Crawford had to start the Blackhawks’ final 27 consecutive games out of necessity and showed signs of wear in the last week.  If the Hawks do get under Roberto Luongo’s hair, the key to the series then becomes Alain Vigneault’s trigger finger.  In Corey Schneider, Vigneault has possibly an equally as good goaltender to Luongo in the back up position.  But if Vigneault waits too long to flip the card, the series’ tide could turn and it could be too late.  The Hawks are 18-10-1-3 versus Western playoff teams and five of those losses overall came to Vancouver and San Jose.  If they can somehow work their Van-magic again and pull past the Nucks, the Hawks could go on another run.  But the Canucks are too deep; special teams are too good and they’re primed to take this series.  In both previous Blackhawks’ postseasons, home ice in the first round was a pivotal factor and they don’t have it here.  Canucks in 6.

Phoenix gave the Red Wings all they could handle last season and now have another chance to pull off the upset.  The difference this year being Detroit has the home ice advantage.  Detroit struggled down the stretch and will start the series without Henrik Zetterberg (knee).  Jimmy Howard has been just ‘okay’ and he stares down the other end of the rink at Ilya Bryzgalov, who is capable of winning three or four games on his own.  Phoenix relies on him and a balanced scoring attack.  The Red Wings need Johan Franzen to get going again and guys like Lidstrom, Stuart, Rafalski and Kronwall must be better than they were in March and April.  Home ice will be a major factor.  Dave Tippett and Mike Babcock are two of the best coaches around.  Experience edge goes to eventual series winner… Red Wings in 7.

San Jose were the league’s best team during the second-half of the season.  Antti Niemi regained his 2010 playoff form and finds himself now behind another deep and top-end talent rich 2-seed.  Los Angeles will be without top center Anze Kopitar.  While Kopitar didn’t do much in the Kings’ opening-round loss to Vancouver last year, his absence is a stinger.  The season-series between these two teams did split 3-3, but the Sharks needed a shootout to win two of those games.  Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi will wage an epic battle, so the games will be tight.  Which is where Kopitar’s loss looms bigger at a position the team isn’t strong at.  San Jose has two lines that can score every night and a third that will pitch in too.  The Kings secondary scoring line is now its first and thus draws the top checking assignment.  If LA is to win this series, they’ll have to do so with a string of 2-1, 1-0 type victories.  They can pull it off once or twice, but the Sharks are too explosive to shut down four over seven…. Sharks in 5.

(1) Washington Capitals over (8) New York Rangers – 7 games

(2) Philadelphia Flyers over (7) Buffalo Sabres – 6 games

(3) Boston Bruins over (6) Montreal Canadiens – 5 games

(5) Tampa Bay Lightning over (4) Pittsburgh Penguins – 6 games


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  13 Responses to “Bold, perhaps foolhardy 2011 NHL Playoff picks”

  1. Chris, I just was on the Hawks website looking for an update on Kopecky and see that Klinkhammer, Pirri, and Morin were added to the active roster list. Do you think they’ve added those guys to the playoff roster, or can they not be recalled at this point?

    • Anyone can be still be recalled at any point.

      Yeah, there’s a misconception mostly I think on what a “black ace” is. Taffe, Cullimore, Exelby and Toivonen were recalled on Monday because they’ll be the on-call reserves. So, it was best to get them with the team asap, into practices, meetings and on the charter to Vancouver on Monday afternoon. None of them may wind up playing, but they’re first in line so its silly to stall on those recalls.

      Black aces are typically young guys who are brought along for the experience. Its nothing to get excited about. Its highly unlikely any would ever find their way into the lineup. Multiple injuries would have to go down. These are usually top prospects the organization thinks its beneficial to get a taste of the playoff grind. Its also a reward to those who’ve had the best seasons in the minors.

      I don’t know the entire list of ‘aces.’ They don’t find out until their exit interviews. Those were held earlier this week.

      I’d expect Pirri, Klinkhammer, Stanton and possibly Olsen to get that reward. Morin is understandable for the ‘experience’ but I highly doubt he’d play.

      Possibly Igor Makarov (missed the IceHogs’ last two weeks with an injury) would get that call unless they’ve convinced him to spend the summer in Chicago and he’s going home for a month or two now. Lalonde, Kyle Beach, Brian Connelly, Jake Dowell, Jack Skille, Danny Richmond along with Cullimore and Toivonen were the recalls last season. Those recalls were made four days after Rockford’s 2009-10 season came to an end. Pirri played his best hockey of the season in the Hogs’ final fifteen games and since he’s the top center ice prospect under contract in the minor leagues at the moment, it could be beneficial to his development to have him around the big club this time of year. Klinkhammer and Connelly will need new contracts this off season. If they don’t get a recall that’s a bad omen for those two. Connelly is likely to be on the move. Morin never did fully recover from his “upper body” injury, though he did stick around Rockford for the duration. He looked well (you’d never tell he was injured if you didn’t know). Decisions on who to recall are made upon season’s end and players are typically informed, and asked, in their ‘exit’ interviews, which I believe were wrapped up Tuesday.

      • Those recalls were just made official

        Rob Klinkhammer
        Jeremy Morin
        Brandon Pirri
        Brian Connelly
        Shawn Lalonde
        Ryan Stanton
        Alec Richards

        These will be the guys kept around to practice with the other healthy reserves.

        • Thanks for the 411. I figure Morin won’t see a lot of contact. I assume they can do this without losing that first year of his entry contract.
          Klink up, Beach not…interesting.
          Looks like Kopecky is out for Friday night. You think Taffe gets a shot or will they go with Scott or Kruger?

  2. Chris, neither Russian on black aces does that bad poorly for both ??

  3. In other words are they done in the hawks organization

    • In Makarov’s case, probably not. Both were injured and missed the last two weeks of the season. Of course in Jeremy Morin’s case that meant zilch. But they probably have Morin penciled in for the big club next season and figure this is valuable experience to him. I don’t think Vishnevskiy will be back though.

      I don’t know the severity of Makarov’s injury. It was never described as serious. Perhaps they’ve convinced him to spend a few months of his summer in Chicago training for next year and in turn are allowing him to go home now, I don’t know. We also don’t know what was said in his exit interview. Its possible he’s home sick or has a situation back home to attend to. I wouldn’t get too wrapped up in his not extending his season as a practice body. That’s all black aces are. Makarov’s played pro hockey since he was 19. He’ll turn 24 in training camp. He was solid most of the season as a penalty killer and his confidence and skill (not high end mind you) started to come into its own in February and March. I’d say there’s a slim outside chance he could improve enough over the summer to make the Hawks in camp, but he could use the time in Rockford next year. He should produce more offense next year. He’ll play on both special teams units in Rockford next year and you’d like to see his five on five game turn up a notch as well before you try to slide him in as a third liner in Chicago.

  4. Are they in giving up on Beach? It seems they’re not too thrilled with his lack of discipline on the ice. What’s your take?

    • If you want to read into it, I suppose anyone could convince themselves of that. I don’t know, I’ve been saying all year Beach will need another full year in Rockford quite possibly before he’d ready to make the jump to the next level.

      I look at it as a motivational move. Beach got to ride along with the team last spring all the way through to the winning the Cup in Philly. He got a ring for tagging along and keeping bodies like Bickell and Boynton warm in case they were needed at some point. That’s all a black ace is. This season he hasn’t made progress as they’d hoped. He’s a big kid. He needs to be pushed off the ice. On the ice its between the ears. Bowman claims to love Beach’s edgier fiestiness. Skating, defense and management of that aggression all need more time to develop. I’m sure, as probably many fans did too, Beach figured he’d get a ‘black ace’ spot this time too. The Hawks are probably serving this as a bit of a wakeup call.

      There’ll be a lot of movement this summer in many areas. If there’s a deal out there that makes the Hawks a better team in 2011, 2012 and 2013 that has to involve Beach, I don’t think there’ll be any hesitation into making that trade.

      Ultimately Beach will be evaluated by how he shows up in September. They want to see improved skating, more conditioned, dedicated athlete. If they don’t get that, he’s doomed.

  5. Chris, do you see cullislug and exelby coming back to Rockford next year ? If not I count Stanton, Connelly, olsen, lalonde, lavin as 5 defensemen in Rockford presumably the hogs will need 2 veterans.

    • I don’t think Cullimore will be back. He wants to play next year but obviously it all depends where and what level the interest is. He wasn’t bad in his time up with the Hawks this year and based on merit, he was the wrong guy to send down. He was upset but that’s business.

      Its really hard to peg the IceHogs roster for next year. There’s going to be a lot of turnover in the organization this summer and some will involve trade and probably prospects. They shouldn’t put themselves in the position they did this year on the 50-man. Although Olsen athletic ineligibility wasn’t planned and had a big impact on it. Because guys like Huet, Carlsson, Danis-Pepin, DiDomenico and even Salak all remain on the books for next year, they don’t have many roster spots to give. Bowman has to be more careful this time. So as far as veteran d-help, you might see them try to get by with seeing whose left out there in September and try to secure them on AHL deals. Like Exelby and Cullimore a year ago. If they work out and you find a spot for them on the 50-man, then you sign them. If not, repeat the process. Exelby worked out okay. But he’s an AHL guy. If there a NHL contract out there for him in a place he’d have a better chance of moving up to the big level, then its probably where he goes.

  6. Excellent analysis. Would the hawks bring back richmond to be one of those vets

    • I could see that happening. I’m sure he’ll be looking for a NHL deal first though. He had a decent year for the Marlies so its not like his career is moving backwards. I’m not a big fan of his work, but its not out of the realm to see him getting a few NHL minutes somewhere next season. Nice AHL player though. Younger Exelby.

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