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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Looking ahead: A Duck fan’s perspective on potential playoff opponents

Sorry, Kings fans, but some of us bloggers have some bigger topics to cover than regular season futility and your awesome plans for the entry draft—this interlude is known as “postseason”, or as you may know it, “golf season”. Right now, it is fairly well set which eight western teams will be in the playoffs; what is still being determined are the match-ups.

The western playoff wheel—spin it and see who you might play!

Now I am really hoping Anaheim holds the top spot in the Pacific and the likely 2nd seed that comes with it—but even if that doesn’t hold, I’m a bit perplexed as to how to think about possible playoff opponents. It feels weird, but I don’t have an opponent I’d especially prefer the Ducks to play. Just like last year, there appear to be no cakewalk teams out west; all teams are capable of seizing a series (or seizing up in a series, for that matter).

So, while we’re in that season of waiting things out, here’s a quick listing of possible opponents for the Ducks (season series in parentheses), including:
  • blogs I read that cover each team (to varying degrees),
  • top Duck scorers against each opponent,
  • one reason I want the Ducks to play that team,
  • and one reason they scare the fuck out of me.
Really, just putting some preliminary thoughts about these opponents, no matter which round we might face them.

Detroit Red Wings (2-1-0, 9 GF, 5 GA)
  • Recommended Blogs: Abel 2 Yzerman, Behind the Jersey
  • Top Scorers (3 gms): Getzlaf 3-1-4, Kunitz 1-2-3, Perry 1-2-3
  • Why I want to play Detroit: This team reeks of fragility, from their aged netminders, to their older Chelios, to their bad-back Bertuzzi, to their mystery-ailment Zetterberg. If there’s one thing that the Ducks can do, it’s prey on the sick and weak; win or lose, the Red Wings will be a broken team.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Detroit: Red Wings will be ultra-motivated by 2003, when they became the first defending champs to get swept. Detroit is a scary puck control team; they can flat-out control a game/series while the opponent chases the puck all night. It would be interesting to see Coach Babcock on the other bench, though, contemplating how to beat playoff phenom J.S. Giguere.
Vancouver Canucks (3-0-1, 14 GF, 6 GA)

  • Recommended Blogs: Canucks & Beyond, Waiting for Stanley, Canucks Corner, Orland Kurtenblog, Canucks Hockey Blog, Stick in Rink, Jes Golbez, Hockey Numbers
  • Top Scorers (4 gms): Selanne 2-4-6, McDonald 3-1-4, Getzlaf 3-1-4
  • Why I want to play Vancouver: I would love to see the media jump all over Luongo if he starts his postseason career on a sour note. Will the people of Vancouver call for Danny Sabourin to step into the nets? After all, Sabourin is the only Canuck netminder to beat the Ducks this year (in fact the Ducks one of only two teams he’s beaten all year).
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Vancouver: I’ve seen too often the power of playoff debuts (Giguere ’03, Bryzgalov ’06), and Luongo is an awesome x-factor—he definitely has the skillset to overpower a series. Plus I’m tired of my heart stopping every time those two twins have the puck and Dipenta’s the lone guy back.
Nashville Predators (2-1-1, 10 GF, 10 GA)

  • Recommended Blog: On the Forecheck
  • Top Scorers (4 gms): Kunitz 2-4-6, Selanne 4-1-5, McDonald 0-4-4
  • Why I want to play Nashville: Nashville’s got a lot of chemistry-mixing going on, mostly because of injury timetables. Guys who might float in and out of a series include Forsberg, Sullivan, Erat, not to mention the goalie-switching of Mason and Vokoun. Their roster instability could work against them; that said, I think if I could I’d prefer to play this team in the first round, if possible, rather than later when they have things more settled.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Nashville: The forward names are pretty frightening, if and when they show up—Forsberg, Kariya, Arnott, Sullivan, Erat, Radulov, Dumont, Legwand, and I’m probably forgetting somebody. Plus, god knows what I might do to my Vishnevski jersey if the series turned sour.
San Jose Sharks (5-2-0, 27 GF, 17 GA)

  • Recommended Blogs: Sharkspage, From Behind the Mask, Sharks Hockey Odyssey, Bart’s Hockey Musings, Shaved Ice
  • Top Scorers (7 gms): Penner 6-2-8, Getzlaf 3-4-7, Pronger 2-5-7
  • Why I want to play San Jose: Blog traffic, for the most part. Really, the entire reason this blog exists is for the long-awaited day when two California teams might play something more meaningful than a regular-season game. We thought we’d achieved it when both the Ducks and Sharks were up 2 games to 0 in the conference semis last year, but I guess one freak accident upset the Sharks' karma.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by San Jose: Forget what I said about Nashville—check out this list of scary forwards: Thornton, Marleau, Michalek, Guerin, Cheechoo, Bernier, Pavelski, Bell. Shit, Burke! We need one more Norris defenseman!
Dallas Stars (3-2-1, 17 GF, 11 GA)

  • Recommended Blogs: Razor with an Edge, Andrew's Dallas Stars Page
  • Top Scorers (6 gms): McDonald 3-5-8, Selanne 4-2-6, S. Niedermayer 3-2-5
  • Why I want to play Dallas: Marty Turco, everyone’s favorite fall-apart goaltender. I think the reputation is a bit overplayed, but certainly it is something that can be exploited and fed upon.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Dallas: They were a good enough team (when healthy) before, but then picked up the services of Nagy and Norstrom to boot, from two teams within their own division!! Hey, thanks a lot, Kings and Coyotes! Just because the other guy’s in a different time zone doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing him 8 times a year!
Minnesota Wild (2-1-1, 10 GF, 9 GA)

  • Recommended Blogs: Wild Puck Banter, Puck Wild
  • Top Scorers (4 gms): S. Niedermayer 3-3-6, Selanne 2-2-4, McDonald 1-1-2
  • Why I want to play Minnesota: Oh, the legend of J.S. Giguere hit its all-time high against the Minnesota Wild, by allowing one goal on 123 shots in more than 13 periods of hockey. They haven’t been to the postseason since.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Minnesota: Well, other than the obvious “vengeance” thing, I think the Wild team is pretty damn consistently good and whoever plays their nets has always had good numbers. I don’t know if I’ve come clean about this on the blog, but I am somewhat of a closet Wild fan—their system is pretty fascinating to watch, and it can generate glorious chances.
Calgary Flames (2-2-0, 11 GF, 10 GA)

  • Recommended Blogs: Battle of Alberta, Five Hole Fanatics, double d(ion), Real Deal Hockey, Open Ice Hits, Completely Hammered, Hit the Post
  • Top Scorers (4 gms): Pronger 0-4-4, Pahlsson 2-1-3, Selanne 2-1-3
  • Why I want to play Calgary: Well, this will have been the only team we’ve bested in the postseason with Carlyle behind the bench, and even though I think both teams have improved since a year ago, there are chinks in Kiprusoff’s armor now.
  • Why I’m scared shitless by Calgary: This team no longer scores seldomly any more; they have (quietly?) become the second-highest scoring team in the western conference. I could definitely see this series once again getting fought to a seventh game, except this time the tables would be turned—now they’re the ones with Jeff Friesen.
One thing to note: more than half these teams (and even Colorado, should they manage a Rocky Mountain miracle) lost their last postseason game against the (Mighty) Ducks. There may be a lot of vendetta ahead, Duck fans.

Question for anybody: who in the west (including Anaheim) would you want as a preferable opponent? And which team is it that scares the shit out of you?


RudyKelly said...

Oh yeah, well I don't golf, so there.

I guess it's a good thing you won't have to play the Blue Jackets.

Temujin said...

I think a Canucks/Ducks WCF would be the sweetest thing ever. But for Canucks fans, the thought of Bertuzzi in a Wings jersey facing the Canucks is quite intriguing as well.

First round match-up for Vancouver? Give me the Flames, dammit. Every series they have played has been a classic, and this one would be no different.

VeryProudofYa said...

to be honest, I'd prefer seeing them play the Flames. Especially if Kipper continues his lower-than-normal numbers. Also, it'd be interesting to see if Dion would fall apart entirely.

Plus, I like Pronger's chances of containing Iginla and Niedermayer tackling whomever the second line consists of.

And, come on, who doesn't want to to see Frenchy put 'em up again?

The scariest team would probably have to be the wild, since they'll most assuredly play the usual snore hockey until Gaborik and Demitra rip the ice apart and leave the red light spinning.

PJ Swenson said...

Damn, look at all those blogs for Vancouver and Calgary. Andrews Stars Page is another good one for Dallas.


Whoever upsets a San Jose vs Anaheim playoff grudge match this season will have negative karma for 10 years, you hear me Edmonton?

Earl Sleek said...

(added Andrew's link to the listing) Thanks, PJ, and I second that last statement.

Alexander Dubcek said...

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Ducks hitting the links behind the Kings in the second round (though I'm not sure any of the Kings players are pathetic enough to play golf). I also wouldn't be shocked to see the Quacks advance a couple of rounds, but I just don't see them making the finals let alone winning it all this year. Nothing about this team makes me think, "there's no stopping them" While they've shown they can get on long hot streaks, they've also shown a more disarming ability to relatively lackluster .500 hockey for even longer stretches.

And, as you pointed out at the beginning of the post, the Western Conference is just incredibly deep. Any team of any seed could easily win one round, let alone two or more. I wouldn't expect the top four seeds to all lose in the first round again this year, but it wouldn't shock me to see lots of lower seeds advancing. The West is just too wide open to confidently predict a team to come out of there.

By contrast, I think the Eastern Conference is much more top heavy, or at least has clearer superiority in the case of its higher seeds. There's just no way Buffalo or New Jersey is losing in the first (and quite possibly the second) round. The 3-6 matchup seems most likely to yield an upset, if only because it may well pit the top two teams from the Southeast Division. But you also have to think it's not so farfetched to think Buffalo or New Jersey will have a comparatively easier road to the finals, with the toughest test likely to come only in the conference finals, whereas the champion from the West will have to survive a three-round slog that might leave them too low in the tank.

But, my general impression of the playoffs, and especially out West, is that this would be a bad game to jump in were I a betting man.

That said, I like Dallas as a dark horse to make a run at the Cup. The deadline additions they made (giving up a lot for Nagy even though he can walk at the end of the season, and giving up even more for Matty Norstrom, who'll be around next season but will cost them a huge cap hit) really said to me that the Stars believe they can win it and that this season might be their last best chance for a while.

Maybe the same's not true of the Ducks, but you also have to consider that the window of opportunity is closing fast on the Quacks, given some of the salaries and the ages of their stars (it's hard to imagine them keeping this team together either at these salaries or at this level of production for many more years), you'd think they ought to show a little more urgency.

Brian Burke may really like his club, but when he was allegedly in on discussions involving Rivet, Guerin and possibly others (Norstrom and Bertuzzi), then could land anything more than Brad May and a bag of pucks (have to wonder which was the more valuable piece), it doesn't exactly overwhelm me with confidence. Nor, for that matter, would I expect the boys in the room to have felt that way as well. Perhaps if the word had been all along that Burke was standing pat, then it might've given them a boost. But hearing all the rumors about what the GM was trying to do and what might have been, that's gotta be a letdown even for a bunch of veterans.

Earl Sleek said...

Good stuff, AD. Just to comment on one thing, I don't know how concerned I am about Burke and the do-nothing deadline, but maybe because I have a different view as to the 'window of opportunity' for this squad.

Of course, I also think the price for rentals was ridiculously high in a lot of cases, and that factors in as well.

As to the Ducks' "window", you gotta look at the guys signed long-term:
Pronger: 3 years (after this year)
Niedermayers, Pahlsson, McDonald, Beauchemin, Kunitz, Marchant: 2 years

Yeah, these guys will be aging, but I think there's plenty to work around the next couple of years, especially once you put Getzlaf / Perry / Penner into the mix.

Selanne's shelf life is running out, and that will be a concern, but that's also a fair amount of coin freed up at some point. Maybe the biggest x-factor is Giguere and his immediate future, but again, no Giguere means an extra $4 MM to play with.

So I guess my point is I do think Burke has to play this hand as a three-or-four-year longer-range plan (not so much a 'must win this year' mindset), and I'm not that concerned that we didn't get a Guerin or Smyth or Forsberg.

Again, the prices were really high to be in that game, and I'm not sure who really enhanced their cup chances terribly (a lot seems to cancel out).

Good responese, though.

Alexander Dubcek said...

Yeah, I don't think that window is closing as rapidly for Anaheim as it might be for Dallas. But, you have to think economics are going to make the Giguere/Bryzgalov tandem difficult to keep together much longer. Maybe they sign Giguere to a fat extension and deal Bryzgalov for other parts. Maybe they let Giguere walk and hand the reins over to Bryzgalov to free up cap space, though they then lose Giguere without anything in return.

And checking out the Ducks' cap hits and salaries for the future at NHL numbers, I see that Selanne's a UFA after this season, Bryzgalov's a UFA after next season (so they're going to have to pay heavily for goaltending sooner rather than later), and the entire defensive core save for Niedermayer, Pronger and Beauchemin can walk at the end of this season.

At the moment, the Ducks cap hit for players currently under contract for next year is $27.769 mil, and $23.9 mil for 2008-09. For reference, this years salary cap is $44 million, and the number is projected to rise to $46-47.5 million. That would leave Anaheim with roughly $18-20 million in cap space for next season. But, they'd probably like to bring back Selanne and Giguere (which will eat up a good chunk of that space alone), they have to sign Penner, Shannon and Moen (all of whom are RFAs and likely due for raises about the $450,000-475,000 they're making this season), and they still have to find four defensemen to round out the defense corps. So, potentially as soon as this offseason Burke's going to have some difficult decisions to make. I'm not doubting his ability to get creative and make some deals or figure out something. However, it's likely the complexion of the team is going to change a bit after this season, and two years from now will look quite a bit different from the current edition.

For comparison's sake, Dallas is currently looking at a cap hit of $36 million for next year, with a lot of players not under contract (Ribeiro, Barnes, Stefan, Nagy, Jokinen, Barnaby, Miettinen, Sydor, Klemm and Smith). So, they'll have to get especially creative there, or just suck a lot more, or both. From that perspective, it's eminently understandable why the Stars opted to take such a gamble and roll the dice for this year.

RudyKelly said...

I tend to look at the Stars' moves as indication that they think this is their last year of relevance. I actually wouldn't be surprised if their first-round pick next year was lower (meaning they pick earlier) than the Kings'.

I hate to say it, but I think that the Sharks and the Ducks are probably going to be the most dangerous teams in the West. I don't like Nashville and Detroit because their records are inflated by playing Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis 24 times a year, and nobody in the Central terrifies me.

Even scarier? Both the Ducks and the Sharks will probably be better next season. I need a drink.

Earl Sleek said...

Even scarier? Both the Ducks and the Sharks will probably be better next season.

Well, it probably goes without saying, but I don't see how the Kings could get any worse than they were this year.

Oh, what's that, L.A. Times? Cloutier is working out on the ice again?

Never mind :)

peterboroughpete said...

Great stuff Earl...

Rick said...

Here's one advantage of the 2-seed. Assuming 1,2,3, and 4 win (as strange as that sounds), you get the weak 3 team instead of the strong 4 team.

If it goes 1,2,4,6, then, yeah not so hot.

I really don't see Dallas doing anything. Turco has proven to be a terrible playoff goalie, and they can't score. They can defend, yes, but I don't think they have the firepower to do much.

I'd say the Ducks and Sharks have just as much chance to come out of the west--it's wide open.

In the east, Buffalo? Firewagon hockey rarely works in the playoffs. If Miller shines they'll go deep, but they need to shore up their neutral zone. NJ has that covered, but I'm not sure they have two-non-streaky scoring lines.

It's wide open there, too. I think the lower seeds have a chance to punch through. I wouldn't be shocked to see Atlanta come out of the East.

Doogie2K said...

I think that if Nashville reclaims top spot, they dust the Flames in four, and Dallas is fucked regardless, since Marty Turco suddenly becomes Pete LoPresti each April, like clockwork. Beyond that, rock-paper-scissors, depending on who draws whom and who gets injured first..

Earl Sleek said...

Here's one advantage of the 2-seed. Assuming 1,2,3, and 4 win (as strange as that sounds), you get the weak 3 team instead of the strong 4 team.

I think this is overstating the importance of point totals--the third seed in the west will be pretty damn solid, best of a tight northwest division.

It's not that you're wrong, but I think applies as a better reason to be the #2 seed in the east than it does for the west.

Anonymous said...

Canucks/Ducks thing would totally rule!

Ted said...

My 2 cents: yeah the Ducks are strong, but right now I would be afraid of the Canucks too. They've been playing very well for a long time now.

There are obviously a lot of pretty even teams this year. The Sharks and Nashville would be in my 2nd tier.

I don't think Dallas or Detroit can last, but they certainly have the power to knock someone out.