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Tag:Eastern Conference
Posted on: August 29, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: August 29, 2011 2:59 pm
 

Eastern Conference spots seem set for some time

By Brian Stubits

Sometimes simple and obvious things just hit you. Things you had realized before but for some reason they jump to your attention again. It tends to happen a lot more often during the lazy hockey days of summer.

That's exactly what happened when I began to think about the makeup of hockey markets/organizations, particularly in the Eastern Conference. What popped into my head was the fact that the contenders this season are likely to be the same as they were last season, and for the most part the same they were the season before that. And it's likely they will remain the contenders for the season after next, too.

At that moment I realized the NHL is starting to resemble the NBA in a way. And that's not good. One of the biggest reasons the NBA is in a lockout that seems to have no end in sight (Ken Berger and the Eye on Basketball guys have that covered) is the very issue that only a handful of teams enter every season with a chance to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Everybody's favorite stat about the (lack of) parity in the NBA is the simple fact that since 1984, only eight different organizations have won the championship. That's eight teams in 28 seasons.

Now look at the Eastern Conference in hockey. The Capitals have been atop their division for four straight seasons. The Penguins and Flyers are perennial contenders. Same goes for the Bruins while the Rangers, Canadiens and Sabres are regulars in the 5-8 range in the standings.

Of course that leaves teams like the Islanders (four-year playoff drought), Maple Leafs (six-year drought), Jets/Thrashers (one appearance in franchise history), Hurricanes (perennial contender for first runnerup these days) and the Panthers (10-year drought) to fend at the bottom.

So where do these teams fit? When you have a team like the Islanders seeming ready to step up and compete for the playoffs, who are they going to surpass? The Eastern Conference is full of traditional hockey markets in the American northeast and Canada, big markets either in hockey-crazy cities and ones with rich histories. The West has a few of those as well -- namely Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago -- but not as many as the East.

But have a look at the chart below detailing the past four seasons. Five teams have made the playoffs in each of those seasons and four teams have failed to advance beyond the regular season even once.

Last four seasons
Team Average finish (Eastern Conference) Playoff appearances 2011-12 payroll (capgeek.com)
Capitals 1.75 4 $65,190,128
Penguins 3.5 4 $62,737,500
Bruins 4.5 4 $56,682,976
Flyers 5 4 $64,124,761
Devils 5 3 $58,429,167
Canadiens 5.75 4 $59,770,510
Rangers 7.25 3 $62,935,334
Sabres 7.5 2 $67,895,357
Hurricanes 8.75 1 $49,775,000
Senators 9 2 $51,845,834
Lightning 11.5 1 $59,326,083
Maple Leafs 12.25 0 $59,115,000
Jets/Thrashers 12.25 0 $48,284,166
Panthers 12.25 0 $49,882,042
Islanders 13.75 0 $45,970,166

You get the feeling that at least five spots are locks in the East this year with two more almost assuredly the same. In the lock category you start with four of the five teams that have been staples: The Capitals, Penguins, Flyers and Bruins. Add in the up-and-coming Lightning for good measure. Hard to imagine any of those five not making it this season. In the next two spots I think you can add the Rangers and Sabres. With new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres seem destined to become another playoff regular. These are teams that all improved (or in the case of Boston, didn't have to improve, but more or less stay in tact after winning the Stanley Cup) and were already playoff caliber.

By my stellar mathematical abilities, that leaves one spot essentially up for grabs. Among the group fighting for it will be the Canadiens (the other team to make it each of the past four seasons), Devils and, well, the rest of the conference. Outside of the Senators who are building for a few years from now and maybe the Jets, every team in the conference looks to be better now then they were at the end of last season.

And here's the thing: I don't see how it will be easy to unseat these teams at the top of the conference. Sure, you will have the occasional team slipping through like the Lightning. To extend the analogy back to the NBA, that's like the Oklahoma City Thunder building after years of struggle to a competitive level. But they still have to fight through the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs, all of which are almost guaranteed to be in the hunt. It's hard to imagine a time when the Lakers won't be contenders, and when they have been (post-Shaquille O'Neal) they rebuilt in a hurry and won the title shortly thereafter.

That's what I'm seeing for the Eastern Conference, that kind of perennial favorite similarity. It makes sense, obviously. The best free agents will want to go to the best teams in the best hockey cities and the biggest pay checks. That's to be expected. And that's a huge reason why these teams are able to stay above the equator. It doesn't hurt to have the infrastructures they all have at their disposal, too. From fan support to smart organizational minds and moves, they win more often than not. Success begets success. It's no coincidence that these are also the teams most heavily featured on national TV.

Let's look at the Capitals. Owner Ted Leonsis has been mentioned his 10-to-15-year plan ... not a plan that calls for 10-to-15 years to win the Cup (although it's starting to look that way) but instead to keep the Caps a Cup contender for that time. And because Washington D.C. has shown itself to be a strong hockey market and is appealing to free agents, it's easy to see how the Caps can sustain that. You have a young Alexander Ovechkin on your roster? Lock him up! Just throw a 13-year contract in front of one of the sport's best players and he's aboard for the long haul. Try and do the same when you're in Tampa Bay and you have a situation where you are only able to secure Steven Stamkos for five seasons.

The reasons are obvious, much the same as the Yankees in baseball (and now the Red Sox). You can pen each of those teams into the playoffs before the season even starts and you are most likely going to be right. But this isn't supposed to happen in hockey, not with a supposedly game-evening hard salary cap. It's just the inherent advantages are too tough for a lot of teams to compete with. Essentially, the margin for error is razor thin for the lesser markets/organizations.

Toronto is the exception (sorry Leafs fans) to the big-market success model. It is probably the best hockey market in the NHL, has an incredibly devoted fan base and has not been afraid to spend. But even the Leafs are struggling these days to break that glass ceiling and butt their way into the playoffs. They couldn't beat out the Rangers for Brad Richards' services in free agency.

Now this is why they play the game. You can't lock in these teams to the playoffs. After all, who saw that Devils season coming last year? You still have to earn your way into the postseason. But if you are a fan of one of the bottom-feeders in the East, I'd suggest you cool your jets. The East's upper echelon is pretty well full of NHL aristocrats. The competition will be better and the spots will likely be more fiercely fought for, but it will be hard to break through.

In the West you can hear the mid-level teams saying "welcome to our world."

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: June 7, 2011 10:08 pm
Edited on: June 7, 2011 10:23 pm
 

Flyers recognize (again) net situation not ideal


The Philadelphia Flyers acquired the rights to a would-be free agent goalie for the second consecutive year, although this time it’s for one in his prime.

The Flyers have the exclusive rights through July 1 to sign Ilya Bryzgalov, acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday in exchange for forward Matt Clackson plus, third-round pick in 2012 and a conditional draft pick. Bryzgalov, a runner-up for the Vezina Trophy a season ago, went 36-20-10 this season as he recorded seven shutouts.

Bryzgalov, 30, is just the type of goalie the Flyers need to solve the Flyers’ biggest hindrance to playoff success this season.

“We’re going to give it our best shot,” Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told CSN Philadelphia. “You give up an asset to get in early so we have every intention of trying to get a deal done.”

Holmgren acquired the rights to Evgeni Nabokov from the San Jose Sharks before free agency last year. At the time, the Flyers were coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final where they leaned on journeymen goalies Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. Nabokov, 35, and the Flyers could not come to terms and he eventually left for the KHL.

This postseason, which ended in a second-round defeat to the Boston Bruins, those two goalies were in the mix as was rookie Sergei Bobrovsky. None were impressive and the goalie carousel whirled constantly before the Bruins prevailed in four games.

As Bryzgalov’s agent Rich Winter tells CSN Philadelphia’s Tim Panaccio, it won’t come cheap as Winter seeks a four-year deal:

“If you study his performance the last couple of years, the only Flyer goaltender to have a statistical performance like that was Bernie Parent,” Winter said of his newest client.

“Look at the best two seasons a Flyer goaltender ever had and the only one who ever had a performance like that was Parent in back-to-back seasons when the Flyers won the Stanley Cup.”
-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images 
Posted on: April 11, 2011 6:34 pm
Edited on: April 13, 2011 12:13 pm
 

Preview: No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay

Minus Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the last few months of the season didn’t stop the Penguins from securing home ice for the first round. It speaks to the job Dan Bylsma and his coaching staff have done in working with their healthy assets. First-year Lightning coach Guy Bucher deserves credit as well for returning the Lightning to the playoffs for the first time in four years. Two cogs --- Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis --- are still around from the team’s 2004 Cup title team and Steven Stamkos continues to be a threat in his third season in the NHL. The home team won each of the team’s four meetings this season. 

Here's the breakdown:

Forwards:   James Neal (Dallas) and Alex Kovalev (Ottawa) were brought in before the deadline by Pens GM Ray Shero. Neal has only had one goal in his 20 games since the trade and Kovalev has two tallies since his return to Pittsburgh, but it hasn’t much mattered. It’s more about defensive responsibility and making the most of other team’s mistakes these days for the Pens. That could change, however, if Crosby (concussion) is cleared to play. Stamkos was surpassed by Anaheim’s Corey Perry for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (most goals), but he still finished with 45, the most by any Eastern Conference player. One wildcard could be Lightning (and former Pens) forward Ryan Malone, out nearly two months with an abdominal injury. He returned March 31 and scored three goals over his last four games.

Edge: Tampa Bay. 


Defense: The only playoff-bound team that allowed more goals per game in the regular season than the Lightning was the Detroit Red Wings. Tampa (2.85 goals per game) finished tied for 21st in goals-against average.  Eric Brewer was the Lightning’s top player in plus-minus (plus-5) and a good portion of Tampa’s blueliners are in the minus category. The Lightning could get Randy Jones, out the final month of the season with a high ankle sprain, back for the series. With Brooks Orpik back from a broken finger, the Pens have a solid group of defenders to rely upon. Kris Letang, who played in all 82 games, had his best year offensively in the NHL (50 points) and was a plus-15. The team also didn’t stumble when it lost Alex Goligoski, who was traded to Dallas in the Neal deal.

Edge:
Pittsburgh

Goalies: Marc-Andre Fluery is front and center when it comes to the Pens’ chances to advance. He had a slow start, losing six of his first seven decisions this season, but rebounded with a 14-game streak where he was unbeaten in regulation. Dwayne Roloson, at 41, is the Lightning’s best option net. It will be his first venture into the playoffs since he led the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. His best days of goaltending may behind him, but there's a chance he could steal one.

Edge:
Pittsburgh. 

Special teams: Tampa Bay did a solid job drawing penalties, finishing second behind the Carolina Hurricanes in power-play opportunities. Team speed, led by Stamkos and St. Louis, will do that. The Lightning finished second in power-play goals (69) and were sixth overall in percentage (20.5 percent.) But they are going up against the league’s best penalty-killing team at 86.1 percent. That certainly could make up for the fact the Pens’ power play minus weapons Crosby and Malkin has fallen to 25th, the worst among playoff teams.

Edge:
None.

-- A.J. Perez
Posted on: April 10, 2011 2:05 am
Edited on: April 10, 2011 2:12 am
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Posted on: April 8, 2011 4:44 pm
Edited on: April 8, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Playoff Watch: 'Canes, Stars face crucial tilts



WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Washington Capitals will repeat as Eastern Conference champs if the Philadelphia Flyers lose to the Buffalo Sabres in regulation, overtime or a shootout.

The Philadelphia Flyers will clinch the Atlantic Division title with either: 
  • a victory over the Sabres combined with Pittsburgh Penguins loss to the New York Islanders
  • an overtime loss to Sabres and a Penguins loss. 

The Buffalo Sabres can secure a berth with either:
  • they net a point against the Flyers
  • the Carolina Hurricanes fall to the Atlanta Thrashers in regulation, overtime or a shootout.


The Nashville Predators will clinch a berth if either:

The Phoenix Coyotes can clinch a berth one of three ways:
  • a victory or a shootout/overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks
  • the Stars lose to the Avalanche in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
  • the Stars beat the Avalanche, but it’s in a shootout. 


The Anaheim Ducks can secure a berth three different ways:
  • the Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings
  • the Ducks get one pints against the Kings AND the Stars lose to the Avalanche.
  • the Stars lose to the Avs in regulation. 

The Chicago Blackhawks advance to the postseason with either:
  • a victory over the Detroit Red Wings in regulation or overtime coupled with a Stars loss or if the Stars need a shootout to beat the Avs. 
  • the ‘Hawks beat the Wings in a shootout coupled with a Stars loss. 


ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Montreal, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Washington.     

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Carolina Hurricanes (39-30-11) at Atlanta Thrashers (34-34-12), 7:30 p.m. 

Any kind of victory will move the Hurricanes into the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, although they may want to take care of things in regulation or overtime. Sure, a shootout win will give them two points and that’d be enough to boot the New York Rangers out of eighth. That would, however, still leave the Hurricanes and the Rangers with the same amount of regulation/overtime wins (34) heading into Saturday. (The Rangers finish up against the rival New Jersey Devils, while the ‘Canes play Tampa Bay.) The ‘Canes still hold the second tiebreaker, a better head-to-head record against the Rangers. 

All of the first five meetings between these two Southeast Division rivals have been one-goal games with four contests reached overtime. (One of the games also went to a shootout.) The Canes’ have won four of the five games with forward Erik Cole netting the game-winner Carolina’s three regulation/overtime wins. The road team has won nine of the last 11 meetings. 
The Thrashers showed with their 3-0 victory over the Rangers Thursday that they don’t mind playing the role of spoiler. Of course, they could just as easily help the Rangers with a victory tonight. Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec made 29 saves Thursday for his fourth shutout of the season. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Dallas Stars (41-28-11) at Colorado Avalanche (29-43-8)
The Stars can either rein in their playoff destiny or get eliminated tonight. No pressure. Dallas will probably know by sometime during the second period of their game how the Blackhawks-Red Wings contest turned out. A ‘Hawks regulation loss coupled with a Dallas regulation/overtime win puts the Stars back  in control heading into their finale against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. (In that scenario, a Stars victory in the finale would mean an entry in the playoffs and would mark the first time a division has gotten all of its teams into postseason at once.) The Avs have one two of the first three meetings between these two clubs. 

GOLF WATCH: The Stars will be eliminated with a loss combined with a regulation victory by Chicago. Calgary, Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, New Jersey, Minnesota, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated.  

-- A.J. Perez

Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: April 7, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: April 7, 2011 2:38 pm
 

Playoff Watch: Thrashers still have role in East


WHO CAN CLINCH:  Three teams can clinch tonight without even being on the ice. The Nashville Predators can secure a playoff berth if the Dallas Stars lose to the Colorado Avalanche (regulation, overtime or a shootout). The Phoenix Coyoteswill clinch a playoff berth if Stars lose or if the Stars win in a shootout. The Anaheim Ducks are in if the Stars lose in regulation.

ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Montreal, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Washington.     

GAME OF THE NIGHT: Atlanta Thrasher (33-34-12) at New York Rangers (43-32-5), 7 p.m. ET

The Thrasher may have been eliminated a few days back, but they still have a major say who gets the final couple playoff spots in the East. Atlanta, which is on a two-game skid, faces the Rangers tonight and the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. The Thrashers have won two of the first three meetings. 

This will be the first game for the Rangers since Ryan Callahan went down with a broken ankle suffered in Monday’s 5-3 victory over Boston. Defenseman Matt Gilroy will be moved to the wing to fill in for Callahan, the Rangers’ second-leading scorer. The Rangers enter with wins in back-to-back games 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Colorado Avalanche (29-42-8) at Dallas Stars (40-28-11), 8:30 p.m. ET

The Stars, who have won two in a row after a six-game slide, can pull to within three points of the idle Chicago Blackhawks with a victory. While the Avs have been at or near the basement much of the season, they have won the two previous meetings between these two clubs. The Stars also face the Avs on Friday. 


GOLF WATCH:  No new teams can clinch tonight. Calgary, Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, New Jersey, Minnesota Columbus, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated.  

-- A.J. Perez
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: April 7, 2011 1:41 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 2:28 am
 

Morning Skate: 'Canes, Stars only 2 chasers left

And then there were two.

The Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes are the only teams outside the top-8 in each conference who remain mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot after Wednesday night’s action. Despite a 6-1 victory over the rival Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames didn't get the help they needed elsewhere. Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks -- one of which needed to lose -- both won, although Chicago's OT victory over the St. Louis Blues wasn't without controversy.

Line Changes
  • Eye on Hockey: Torres to speak with NHL
  • Eye on Hockey: Edmonton moves on new arena
  • L.A. clinches playoff berth
  • CBSSports.com playoff tracker

  • Carolina pulled to within two points of the idle New York Rangers with a 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. It was Cam Ward’s fourth shutout of the season and captain Eric Staal assisted on all three goals. Both the Hurricanes -- Atlanta (Friday) and Tampa Bay (Saturday) -- and the Rangers --- Atlanta (Thursday) and New Jersey (Saturday) -- have two games remaining. 

    The 'Canes and Rangers are currently even in the first tie-breaker, regulation and overtime wins (34). The Hurricanes have the edge in the second tie-breaker, points head to head. Carolina has picked up six over their four meetings to the Rangers’ four points. 

    "Up to this point, no team has done us any favors," Derek Joslin, who scored a power-play goal in the second period, told The News & Observer. "If we can get two more wins we definitely give ourselves a shot at making the playoffs.

    "I know the Rangers are peeking over their shoulders, especially after a big win tonight against a team like that. Maybe they'll be gripping their sticks a little tight."

    Neither the Flames nor the Stars were done any favors either by the referees or the replay officials in Toronto. The Chicago Blackhawks used an iffy  second-period tally to help force overtime, where they eked out a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues. 

    Trailing 2-0, replays appear to show Chicago forward Marian Hossa kick the puck across the goal. (Hossa may very well have tipped it with this stick after he booted it to make it a legal play, but it was hard to tell in the replays.) Even more difficult was determining whether the puck indeed crossed the goal line since Blues goalie Ty Conklin’s catching glove was over top of it. 

    Judge for yourself:




    Here's what Calgary Sun's Scott Fisher, who was live blogging the game, had to say: 
    After a lengthy review, Hossa’s goal is upheld — even though he appeared to kick the puck, which went off the post and never conclusively crossed the line. Considering the Flames’ recent dealings with the NHL’s war room, conspiracy theorists are given added ammunition.

    Either way, the game’s in the books and the Blackhawks finished the night tied for seventh place points-wise with the Anaheim Ducks. Both teams are four points up on the Dallas Stars, who finish with games against the Colorado Avalanche (Thursday and Friday) and the Minnesota Wild (Sunday). 

    PERRY REACHES 50: Corey Perry’s third career hat trick in a 6-2 rout of the San Jose Sharks pushed the Anaheim Ducks forward over the 50-goal mark on Wednesday. 

    He became the third player in franchise history to reach that plateau -- joining Paul Kariya (1995-96) and Teemu Selanne in 1996-97 and 1997-98) -- and extended his points streak to 10 games in the process. 

    Perry, one of the leading candidates for the Hart Trophy, is six goals ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.

    WEDNESDAY'S RESULTS
    Washington 5, Florida 2
    New Jersey 4, Toronto 2
    Boston 3, NY Islanders 2
    Carolina 3, Detroit 0
    Chicago 4, St. Louis  3 (OT)
    Calgary 6,  Edmonton 1
    Anaheim 6, San Jose 2
    Los Angeles 3, Phoenix 2 (SO)  

    -- A.J. Perez
    Posted on: April 6, 2011 5:25 pm
    Edited on: April 6, 2011 5:27 pm
     

    Playoff Watch: Carolina faces another test

    WHO CAN CLINCH: The idle Buffalo Sabres will seize a playoff berth if the Carolina Hurricanes lose to the Detroit Red Wings tonight (in regulation, overtime or a shootout). The Phoenix Coyotes will clinch a playoff berth with a victory over the Los Angeles Kings in regulation, also by any means. Conversely, the Kings can secure a playoff berth with a victory. 


    ALREADY IN:  Vancouver, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, San Jose, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Washington.     

    GAME OF THE NIGHT: Detroit Red Wings (46-23-10) at Carolina Hurricanes (38-30-11), 7 p.m. ET

    The ninth-place Hurricanes can’t let many more points slip away. The 'Canes enter with 87 points, four behind the idle, eighth-place New York Rangers. Both the Rangers and the Hurricanes will have two games left in the regular season after tonight. 

    This is the one and only meeting this season between these two clubs and the Red Wings have an edge in the series, 32-25-8-0. Detroit has bounced back from a 10-3 beat down by the St. Louis Blues last Wednesday and has netted two wins in a row. 


    ALTERNATIVE VIEWING: Phoenix Coyotes (42-25-12) at Los Angeles Kings (45-28-6), 10:30 p.m. ET

    One of these two teams can clinch a playoff berth with a victory tonight. The Kings are looking to bounce back from an ugly 6-1 loss to San Jose, the first game since both Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar went down to injury where Los Angeles was out-classed. 


    GOLF WATCH:  The Calgary Flames can be eliminated couple different ways tonight. They’re out if the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the St. Louis Blues in regulation combined with a Flames loss. The Flames can also be ousted if they lose in regulation and the Blackhawks lose in overtime or a shootout. Toronto, Atlanta, St. Louis, New Jersey, Minnesota Columbus, Ottawa, Florida, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado and Edmonton are already mathematically eliminated.  

    -- A.J. Perez




     
     
     
     
    The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com