Around the NHL: Western Conference Playoff Edition

The latest installment in a weekly series from NHLHotStove.com President Alexander Monaghan  that examines teams, players, and issues from around the Western Conference. In this issue:  Feaster Officially Appointed GM in Calgary; Who Retires in Detroit?; The Real Sedins; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Will Go #1?

By Alexander Monaghan
President

FEASTER GETS VOTE OF CONFIDENCE IN CALGARY

Yesterday, no-longer-acting GM Jay Feaster re-signed Curtis Glencross for what is believed to be a four-year contract worth $10.2 million. Later in the day there was a press conference which put him in the driver’s seat for the considerable future. While Feaster will be seen as a much less abrasive boss to the media, his track record outside his Stanley Cup victory is rather mediocre, including his drafting where not one of his first round picks became an impact player with his tendency to only find role players like Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby, Dana Tyrell and Blair Jones. When your best draft pick happens to be the now-forgotten Paul Ranger it should be less-than-inspiring to Flames fans who desperately want another impact player.

However, with a clean slate and an important player locked up, Calgary can move onto reworking their core and growing together with a new generation of players. Yes, they will have to deal with the aging Robyn Regehr, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff but they also shown some promise with Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund, the somewhat disappointing Rene Bourque and now Glencross at the helm that next movement. Combine them with youngsters Lance Bouma, Tim Erixon and Greg Nemisz and the Flames have a shot as soon as next season.

Clearly Feaster did not build the Lightning, but he didn’t burn the house down either. Staying the course on an improving team which should only improve with a top-15 draft selection this June will keep fans in their seats. As Kent Wilson of Flames Nation points out, “the fairest thing I can do is wait and see how the Flames summer unfolds before offering judgement on Feaster’s ascendency.” So now we play the waiting game, just like with…

WHO RETIRES IN DETROIT?

Photo Credit: Dan4th / Flickr

Nicklas Lidstrom is the big name on the block with regards to retirement but there are plenty of older guys who could bow out like Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Chris Osgood or even Ruslan Salei. Nevertheless, Lidstrom’s departure would surely create the biggest hole on the blue line as he continues to lead the Western Conference powerhouse on the back end. In fact, without him as their defensive stalwart, one would have to imagine the Red Wings trying to make a big splash either via trade or free agency (Andrei Markov, anyone?)

While it may be easy to brush aside Draper, Modano, Osgood, Salei, etc., their roles will still need to be filled next season. Draper has essentially alternated with Drew Miller so his role is set. Salei could get replaced by the younger Jakub Kindl and Modano essentially only subbed in for Valtteri Filppula, only drawing into the playoffs due to various injuries. That leaves Osgood, who was replaced with Joey MacDonald for the majority of the season but could still outplay the journeyman if he has any legs left.

Nevertheless, Lidstrom remains the guy to watch and Mike Babcock told Ansar Khan of Mlive.com he can can field another competitive team next season with his star defender directly in the mix:

“I think if our team was no good, Nick wouldn’t even consider coming back. But I think having the kind of year he did and the kind of playoff he did and the kind of playoff our team had, it’s given me confidence he’ll be back. We felt we were a very competitive team in the playoffs. We’re getting good growth out of our young guys. (Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg) are in the prime of their careers. Mule (Johan Franzen) is a guy we think can be way better next year with health.”

The time in now for the Red Wings and if they are to get back to the Stanley Cup, they will be getting there with Zetterberg, Datysuk and Franzen in their prime. Funny how Babcock particularly singled out Franzen, as he is a player that definitely can improve in postseason following this year’s disappointing run, much like…

THE REAL SEDINS

Photo Credit: Mafue / Flickr

If you take a glance at the leading scorers this playoffs, you will have to go down 15 slots before you see the last name Sedin. Their struggles have been discussed amongst the media ad nauseum as they each sit slightly below their normal above point-per-game pace. However, a quick glace into their quality of competition will dictate that nobody has faced a stronger opposition amongst the Canucks. In fact, they sit in the top 16 amongst all players this postseason with most forwards actually the shutdown type (ie. Draper, Tyrell, etc.). If we limit it to forwards, we eliminate six other players. In other words, these guys are dogged all over the ice as soon as they step on. We witnessed this with the fine shutdown work of grinder Dave Bolland, we noticed this in the Nashville series when David Legwand and Joel Ward gave them everything they had.

Considering most teams are not nearly as deep as the Canucks, Ryan Kesler has faced considerably worse competition. Regardless, we are discussing the best players in the League or arguably the top 5. It was only a matter of time until they found their stroke and against the defensively challenged San Jose Sharks they should be able to once again show that elite offensive flair. Game 1 was only the beginning of what should be an exciting series where the Sedins once again find their mojo. They combined for two points (actually only Henrik) but overall there should be no problem with finding the back of the net with Antti Niemi sporting a GAA over three and SV% barely north of .900.

In all fairness, this topic has been harped on by many so we are not the first to discuss it. In fact, Ryan Porth of RLD Hockey predicted this series being their turning point for the talented Swedes. Speaking of things I can’t take credit for…

RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS WILL GO #1

Photo Credit: leafschik1967 / Flickr

The reasoning is of course less than scientific but essentially every pundit views Nugent-Hopkins as the consensus number one pick. Don’t take my word of advice on the subject, DC Sports Report’s NHL Mock Draft Database clearly puts him as the front-runner from ESPN to TSN to NHL.com. When drafting at such a lofty position going best player available is always the safe choice which states the Edmonton Oilers would rather gamble on Nugent-Hopkins than take a stab at Adam Larsson. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney even told The Edmonton Journal that would be they guy he takes.

If the Oilers have their guy then the Colorado Avalanche also have their man in Larssen. Our on-site reporter Bill Whitehead then explained recently that the Florida Panthers will quickly take Gabriel Landeskog as he holds leadership characteristics and would be a fine player to build their team around. Getting back to the Avs, Larssen seems like the logical guy even though they have a system completely built around offense. According to Adrian Dater of All Things Avs, there are contradictory views on the young Swede:

“He’s a kid who has been on the radar for three years now and people are all turning on him. But he never makes a bad pass and he’s a really smart player.”

Smart player sounds good but I keep seeing this underlying tone of safe player. With the current configuration based around speed and breakout offense it may be an indication that Joe Sacco could get the sack next year after another inevitably poor season. That, or the Avs could swing a deal for Nugent-Hopkins because we know all the Oilers really want is Sean Couturier aka a center with size!


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