And just like that, the 2013 NHL season is over with. Quick, right? I know, but that’s what you get when a lockout threatens to cancel another season under the reign of commissioner Gary Bettman. But alas, there was a season played after all consisting of 48 games and after all the hubbub and chaos, the first round playoff match-ups are set. There are some good ones and of course there are some that will end horribly, and I am here to straighten them out for you and get you informed heading into the postseason. Let’s get to it…
Wait, a fun fact before we get started: This is the first time all “Original Six” teams qualified for the playoffs in the same season since a long time ago.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild
The Blackhawks enter the playoffs as President’s Trophy winners after finishing with the highest point total through the season. They are a dangerous folk top-to-bottom with great players in all areas and have showed it throughout the year. They started off 21-0-3 and though they kind of went through a rough patch through the middle of the season, they regained their composure and come into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all.
Meanwhile, the Wild are one of those teams you look at and say “What is going on?” They acquired the two biggest prizes on the free agent market this past off season in forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, they have a solid goaltender (Niklas Backstrom) and have a bunch of other talented pieces that should have made them a title favorite. But alas, they were as inconsistent as any playoff team in recent memory and limp into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. They are not a confident group right now in my eyes and are staggering.
While both of these teams were prohibitive favorites entering the season, only one appears to be gelling at the right time and that’s Chicago. They score at will and shut down opposing teams with a ruthless defense, and those are bad signs for slumping Minnesota.
• WINNER: Blackhawks in 5 (more…)
May 5, 2009 and November 27, 2012. Two separate dates that in the 3 years, 6 months and 23 days in between spawned years of turmoil, uncertainty, cheap shots, internet arguments, and countless other immature, childish and un-endearing incidents.
I’m of course talking about the Phoenix Coyotes and their recent struggles off the ice. The two dates are very closely related. The May 5 date is when then-team owner Jerry Moyes plunged the financially-troubled franchise into bankruptcy and created a maelstrom of everything listed above. Fast forward to the November 27 date and the dust has now appeared to settle after the City of Glendale approved a 20-year lease agreement with prospective, and likely, owner Greg Jamison, hopefully ending years of unpredictability.
Its amazing that it took just over three-and-a-half years for a professional sports team to finally be on the brink (and not yet) sold, but the situation with the Coyotes was not exactly what one would call normal. First off, Arizona, mainly the Phoenix-Metro is not exactly a hockey hotbed due to the desert climate. Secondly, the NHL were caught up in numerous legal battles with Moyes, previous Blackberry CEO Jim Balsillie (who wanted to move the team to Canada way back in 2009), the hacks at the Goldwater Institute (a watchdog group with an interest to protect taxpayers, but yet weren’t elected…). Third, potential deals with sports mogul Jerry Reinsdorf (owner of Chicago’s Bulls and White Sox), the Ice Edge Holdings group (still a laughingstock on numerous message boards) and Matthew Hulsizer (who actually had an agreement ready to go, but was summarily blocked by the aforementioned Institute) collapsed faster than the WWE SmackDown ring when Brock Lesnar superplexed Big Show in 2002 (see below).
Ownerless. Starless. Penny-less.
All words, or variations of words, that describe the Phoenix Coyotes. And they never rang more true than this year, a season which saw a ragtag team of role players, veterans and second-chance seekers thrown together in the hopes of achieving something magical.
What transpired was unlike anything ever seen before in the Phoenix-metro area, the state of Arizona and the sports world across the board. A team that absolutely nobody picked to even make the playoffs mustered their way to not only a postseason spot, but a Pacific Division championship to boot.
Sure, the Desert Dogs have a few players on their roster that would be much more heralded and well-known in bigger markets, but you can count them on one hand. But for the others, this was the chance to be part of something bigger, something that would grab attention and something that analysts, fans and casuals look back on say, “Damn, that was fun.”
For nearly 100 games this season, regular season and playoffs combined, the Coyotes busted their ass in their search for glory, coming up just short as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the Western Conference Finals. The final game of the season was as good as they get, with end-to-end action, big hits, controversy and a lively, enthusiastic crowd all thrown into the mix, creating a combustible element that seemed ready to explode at any second. (more…)
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer
What are the odds of Shane Doan being recognized if he walked into any random supermarket around Phoenix at any point between 1996 and 2011? I’m not sure, he’s a big guy, but you could find plenty of 6-foot-2, 220-pound bros at your local gym. If you lined him up with Luis Gonzalez, Steve Nash, and Larry Fitzgerald, who do you think an average Arizona sports fan would gravitate to first?
Maybe at this point his popularity has increased incrementally, but over the past 15 years, given the amount of coverage the Phoenix Coyotes have received, I doubt Arizona fans have given Doan his proper due.
He’s the longest tenured professional athlete in Arizona sports today, and a last remaining member of the original Winnipeg Jets when they moved to downtown Phoenix in 1996, but I’m wondering how much he’s really appreciated overall. To give his time here some perspective, there are no current Expos with the Washington Nationals, and it’s been around seven years since that franchise moved from Montreal. You seldom get players to stick around in the same city for an extended period of time, and Doan has done it with the least popular franchise in Arizona.
How overshadowed has Doan been? Let’s think about the other three sports teams in Phoenix.
BY IAN PALMER, Feedcrossing.com contributor
The Edmonton Oilers haven’t lived up to expectations on the ice the past few NHL seasons even though they’ve had the first overall draft pick the last two years. The Oilers will now get a chance to improve their team once again this summer as they will once again draft first overall due to winning the NHL’s draft lottery on Apr. 10.
The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the current regular season in 30th and last place in the league and had a 48 per cent chance to hang onto the number one pick overall. However, the oilers, who finished in 29th place, had an 18.8 per cent chance at winning the lottery and hit the jackpot with it. Oilers’ general manager Steve Tambellini was obviously happy with his team’s stroke of luck and will be able to add another excellent top prospect to his roster or trade the pick for an established NHL player or two.
The Oilers already have some of the best players in the league, such as Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins thanks to the last two drafts as well as youngsters Sam Gagner and Jordan Eberle. Tambellini said if you’re in the draft lottery and have to travel to Toronto you might as well win it. He added that the franchise and its fans are really excited about the outcome and the chance of adding another young star to the squad.
A couple of days ago, you witnessed the unveiling of my first round preview for the Western Conference playoffs. Now you have the grand opportunity to indulge in my Eastern Conference preview. Enjoy.
(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators
The Rangers have looked like one of the NHL’s elite teams all season, and who could blame them? They have outstanding goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, offensive firepower in Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan and a consistent blue line presence with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. They are a solid team all around and have the “New York” aura around them.
The Senators, after missing the playoffs last year, are back and looking to play spoiler. Led by the always dangerous duo of Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa will always look to their mainstays to guide the team. Defensively, Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar hold down the fort while goalie Craig Anderson has had a decent season in net (2.84 GAA, .913 save percentage).
In order for the Senators to at least stay competitive, they will need superb play from Anderson and have a point-per-game pace from their gunners, Alfredsson and Spezza, along with Milan Michalek. And that is just not happening. The Rangers are too good on all three fronts and should pepper Anderson with enough shots from all angles to make his head spin.
Rangers in 5