LAKings.com Presents 4 on 4 - Week 10
Week 10: Four writers answer the biggest questions surrounding hockey.
Welcome back to 4 on 4! Here is week 10 of our weekly feature on LAKings.com. Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance of Canucks Army will answer 4 questions pertaining to the sport we all love.
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Give your own answers and pose questions for future weeks in the comments.
1. Which team does a shortened season help the most? Hurt the most?
John Hoven @mayorNHL - It's going to hurt teams with lots of changes at key positions, regardless of if that's because of off-season moves or current injuries. Conversely, teams that largely feature the same look from a year ago will have an inherit advantage. With so few games, there's little time to waste over the first month getting to know your teammates and creating on-ice chemistry. Additionally, the 48-game schedule will also help young, skilled teams. Youth and fresh legs when playing three games in four days will only get you so far. There needs to be some skill there too. Out West this helps Chicago, Edmonton and Los Angeles; it hurts Dallas and Phoenix. A bigger question may be what this all means for Detroit. Could this finally be the year they take significant steps backwards?
Bryan Reynolds @hockeywildernes - Clearly, the Minnesota Wild will be helped the most, since they only have the ability to play the first two and a half months of the season. By the time they realize they are supposed to be losing, the regression to the mean won't have time to kick in.
The Detroit Red wings will get the most help, though. Their aging roster will enjoy the fact that they do not need to play those extra 30 or so games, giving their legs and bodies the edge they might just need to pull out another season before calling it quits. As for hurting, it hurts any team that is mediocre. There is always a glut of teams vying for 4-8, and now there are even fewer games to try to find wiggle room. It could hurt teams like the Flames pretty badly.
Derek Tanabe @fearthefin - As James Mirtle pointed out in The Globe & Mail earlier this week, despite this season being a shortened one, the schedule isn't all that compressed so injuries and fatigue may not play as increased a role as you would expect in a 48-game, January-to-April sprint to the finish. I really believe the most significant difference is one of sample size (insightful analysis, right?) in that there's a much better chance of short-term luck winning out over talent when you're dealing with a 48-game schedule rather than a full 82. Looking back just a season ago, Minnesota was the toast of the town about halfway through the year thanks to some favorable percentages and a lot of one-goal victories but imploded over the remainder of the campaign and finished well outside the playoffs. About a year ago to the day, Toronto looked to be on their way to the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade before collapsing in on themselves, leading eventually to the dismissal of Brian Burke earlier this week. In the broadest sense, any team you'd reasonably expect to make the playoffs in a full season can really only have their chances hurt by a shorter schedule while the opposite applies to consensus non-playoff clubs. Slicing it a bit further, elite conference powers like Vancouver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Boston are probably safe either way but more middling playoff teams like, say, San Jose and Detroit in the West or Philadelphia and Washington in the East, might be done for courtesy an ill-timed cold streak or two. On the other hand, teams like the aforementioned Leafs and the Oilers (who have the added advantage of their top line having played together for months) might see an uptick in their chance at playoff glory.
Thomas Drance @CanucksArmy - I tend to think the younger teams will benefit the most from a shortened season, and in particular probably the Edmonton Oilers. Almost their entire top-six was active during the lockout in the AHL or the KHL and I suspect that'll be a big advantage in the early going. Expect the Oilers to get off to a fast start, and then fall off a bit when their shaky goaltending and permissive defensive play catches up with them.
As for the team that is hurt the most by a shortened season, I'll pick a couple of major contenders. For one, the Los Angeles Kings, who had a couple of players like Alec Martinez and Anze Kopitar suffer injuries while playing overseas during the lockout. I also wonder if the old Stanley Cup Hangover might be exacerbated by the long layoff. On the one hand, they'll be the best rested defending champions in recent memory; on the other, I wonder how high their collective motivation level was during that extended time off. The Canucks, who only sent four players to Europe and are getting a wee bit long in the tooth are another club that I think could underperform their true talent in a shortened season. Finally, teams with a lot of new faces, like Reynolds' Minnesota Wild, could be negatively impacted by an abbreviated training camp.
2. Who's name gets put on the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) this season?
John Hoven - I'll take a bit of a long shot here and say Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Most years, a goalie wouldn't get real consideration for the award, as it's typically reserved for forwards. In fact it's been more than a decade since Jose Theodore snatched the hardware and stood tall for goalies everywhere. So, why this year? First off, the writers love King Henrik, he's a media darling playing in one of hockey's biggest markets. Second, most of the talk heading into the season so far has been about the value of goaltending during a much shorter sprint to the playoffs. That favors a guy like Lundqvist, who will likely help the Rangers secure the top spot in the Eastern Conference. If goalies aren't your thing though, put some money on Claude Giroux. There's no denying that last year's playoff push by the Flyers was his coming out party (17 points in 10 games) and he's become the heart and soul of a scrappy Philadelphia team. The bitter disappointment of last year's loss to the Devils will be the fuel he uses to push his game to greater heights this season.
Nathan Eide - Rick Nash. Nash will be reborn with the Rangers as he is finally surrounded with top-flight talent. A line of Rick Nash - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik should cause the rest of the teams in the East to cower in fear. In a 48 game season, I forsee 225 points from these three. With Nash leading the way, I predict a Presidents Cup, Hart Trophy, Richard Trophy, Pearson trophy, Conn Smythe trophy and Stanley Cup all residing in Madison Square Garden.
Derek Tanabe -There are a ton of names that should be in contention for this award. Jonathan Toews will be leaned on pretty heavily by the Blackhawks with their goaltending situation still largely a mess, Claude Giroux likely still has room to improve after a fantastic 2011-12 and Sidney Crosby will be beginning a season healthy for once. But I really think the shortened season makes it much more likely a goaltender catches fire and sweeps the awards show. Kings fans know all about how Jonathan Quick went into superhuman mode during the playoffs last year, posting an impossibly high .946 SV% over 20 postseason games. Well, even the most overworked starters in the league this year are probably only going to play twice that number and some of them should be able to catch a break here and there to compile some sparkling statistics. Seeing as he's the best goalie in the NHL and playing behind what should be an impressive team (and he has the weight of the East Coast media behind him), I'm going to go with Henrik Lundqvist as your 2013 Hart winner.
Thomas Drance - I'm not just sucking up to Kings fans when I say this, but I really think Anze Kopitar might make a Hart Trophy bid this season (I'm assuming that he's healthy to start the season here).
Lost a bit amidst some of last years story-lines: Doughty's re-emergence as one of the game's best blue-liners, Dustin Brown's brash play and Jonathan Quick's complete dominance; was the fact that Anze Kopitar may have put together one of the most dominant playoff performances in recent memory. Certainly against the Canucks in the first round, he was quite clearly the straw that stirred the drink. If the Kings see their shooting percentage regress this season (after the Kings were the second worst offensive team in the entire league last season) - Kopitar could make the leap, morph into a point-per-game plus forward, and make a serious MVP bid.
3. True or False. The U.S. Team's gold medal win means that U.S. Hockey is a rising power.
John Hoven - True - they are a rising power and growing stronger every day. If you look at the sheer numbers involved in USA Hockey, it's going to be frightening come 2020 to see how many kids are registered and playing. In 2011 they eclipsed the 500,000 mark and it continues to build. Also, the 'Gretzky effect' has more and more kids from California being drafted nearly every year by NHL teams. Finally, just look at the IIHF tournaments the last few years. It wasn't just this year at the WJC where Team USA found success. They've taken home gold medals at the Under-18 tournaments too. So, the strength of the NTDP is only just starting to scratch the surface. They may have a ways to go to catch up to the excellence of the Hockey Canada program, but the gap is closing quickly. As all these players continue to age up, the strength of USA hockey will continue to be felt on the international stage.
Nathan Eide - False. The U.S. always was a power. Next question.
Derek Tanabe - True, but I think the win is more a symptom than a cause. USA Hockey has been ballooning in reach and influence for a while now and it was really only a matter of time before it led to an indelible mark being left on the world stage. The percentage of American-born players in the NHL has steadily risen over the past decade as have participation rates in youth hockey across the nation. Say what you want about the league's southern expansion strategy (I know I certainly do) but it's hard to argue that it hasn't fostered a level of interest in hockey unmatched in the history of the United States, particularly in areas of the country where kids may have otherwise never had the chance to try their hand at the greatest sport on earth. Four players on the gold medal team were from Ohio and all of them cited the arrival of the Columbus Blue Jackets as a reason they picked up a pair of skates. With Russia's signature high-end forward talent somewhat dwindling (although Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko may have something to say about that) and Canada not having developed a decent goalie since Carey Price, this kind of thing is going to keep happening. Expect to see Team USA win another gold soon.
Cam Charron - No. The last two times America won the gold medal, they followed it up the next year by finishing out of the medals. It's impossible to make proclamations about the future of the game based on one small tournament where the team played just seven games. That said, the now-established USA National Development Team Program has reached the point where its new recruits were born after the program was founded back in the late-1990s. Canada still has more registered minor hockey players, and Canada is still considered the team to beat at every international tournament save the U-18s, when most of their best players are still playing in major junior playoffs. Certainly the US being considered in that top tier with Russia, Sweden and Canada is good for hockey, though I'd like to see the two North American programs take the senior men's World Championships more seriously.
4. Tell us about this Connor McDavid kid.
John Hoven - What people should know is he's 15 years old. That alone should be enough to tell everybody to back off and let the kid be a kid. Sadly, sports fans and media rarely work that way. They always want the inside track on the next big thing. And it didn't stop Reebok to signing him to a big endorsement deal either. So... McDavid, who will turn 16 this coming Sunday, is a 5-foot-11 center. He's been granted an Exceptional Player Status in the OHL, which pretty much means that he's seen as a franchise player in the making. Now playing with the Erie Otters, McDavid is set to receive all the same hype and attention that was thrown at Stamkos, Crosby and Lindros in years past. But what you really need to know, he's just a kid. Relax.
Bryan Reynolds - Connor McDavid is the first ever first round pick of the Seattle Oilers in 2015. The face that will put hockey on the map in the Pacific Northwest, something the region deserves after being overlooked by the NHL for so many years. How does such a hockey mad area have no hockey team? It's crazy.
Seriously, though, McDavid is a snot nosed teenager who couldn't find his way through a real life situation with a map and compass. He's also the richest person I can name who was born five months before I graduated from high school. Lesson of the day: learn to shoot a puck, don't be a snarky hockey writer.
Derek Tanabe - When a 15-year-old is signed to a multimillion dollar endorsement deal by Reebok, it probably means we should have a conversation about the seemingly ever-diminishing age at which our society has decided it's okay to brand and sell child athletes. But it also means the kid can play. McDavid is a 15-year-old currently dominating an Ontario Hockey League in which he's at least two years younger than almost all of his teammates and opponents. He's scored 18 goals and 42 points in just 36 games as an OHL rookie, which is particularly impressive because he's playing for a dreadful Erie Otters squad. Just the third player after John Tavares and Aaron Ekblad to be granted exceptional player status by the OHL, McDavid is still years away from his NHL draft day but is easily an early favorite to go first overall in 2015. Seriously, this kid was born in 1997 making him a full ten years younger than Sid the Kid. You probably feel really old right now.
Cam Charron - I had a chance to watch McDavid play against players his age group during the summer. He was playing on a team opposite last year's No. 1 pick in the Western Hockey League draft, Mathew Barzal, and the two put on a show. You could see a clear gap between the things those two could do and everybody else. McDavid's success in the Ontario league this year ought to have been expected. The amazing thing about his performance this year is that he's scoring at more than a point-a-game with relatively little powerplay time compared to his top-scorer peers. Of his 18 goals, just 1 has come on the powerplay and the majority of his points have come at even strength. It's a shame that he had to wind up on such a poor squad in Erie, but his OHL rookie season can't be considered anything less than a success.
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - selected as 2012's Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports. As a credentialed writer based in LA, his hockey insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Nathan Eide is the managing editor of Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild fan community. Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude surrounding the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.