Rankings and Analysis
By Leo Panelli
Content Editor Pucksource.com
Nov. 8. 2005
Having the unique and fortunate opportunity to edit a hockey publication everyday affords me the chance to read a ton of hockey related material. When Trade Sports approached me asking that I write a monthly perspective piece related to their hockey boards and products, considering that I am a huge fan of their format, I felt an immediate sense of privilege.
Before starting, I want to make comment about conversations I’ve had with key management persons at Trade Sports. I can truthfully report that this is a very experienced, broad-minded, well-managed and supportive group. I have been informed by the same that new hockey specific boards are being developed and should roll out shortly and, that additional new trading boards are scheduled to continue to be made available throughout the 2005-2006 season and more are to be developed in the off season, thus evidencing the level of commitment Trade Sports is displaying towards the ends of developing exciting hockey products. Some examples of what you can look forward to are, Eastern and Western overall division winners, player performance based boards, award winners, and more!
For those of you not yet trading hockey, trust me when I say, it is one of the most exciting and under exploited opportunities available. For those of you who are, this piece will hopefully help guide you to a more gainful experience.
The nature of hockey: By now I am sure most of you realize and have read that winning a professional hockey championship is the most grueling, physically and mentally demanding challenges in professional sport. Playoffs alone last nearly two full months (commonly referred to as the "Second Season”). In fact, there is no precedent in all of sports to compare it to. Players and teams finish a mauling 80 game season, and then step up that intensity in their respective playoff runs.
In a game already reeked in inherent physical demand, picking a Stanley Cup Winner can be challenging, to say the least.
That’s hockey, that’s it’s nature, that is a factor you should absolutely consider when trading on the Stanley Cup Winner Board.
Another factor, which should not go unnoticed, is the vast, sweeping, and so-far, effective rule changes implemented by the NHL. How will teams hold up under the new set of rules come playoff season is any-ones guess.
Rankings and Analysis
Teams to Watch!
Upside Analysis: There is so much good to say about this team and their potential, that I’m just simply not going to write much that isn’t obviously already known; but I do have a few insider tidbits that aren’t as obvious: I’ve spoken to a very reliable source who has a close professional relationship with Hasek’s agent who told my source that the year off did him more good than probably any other NHL player. He went on to tell me that he is in great physical condition. This conversation took place right as the season was starting. So far it looks as though Hasek is holding up pretty well. Considering that conditioning is a key factor in injury prevention, this appears to be huge for the Senators.
Downside Analysis: They are really going to have to have a VERY comprehensive playoff strategy and the discipline to stick with it to be successful in the playoffs. Talent alone, more often than not, doesn’t win cups. This team has a very poor relative playoff history and it will be up to coaching and player discipline to turn talent into fruitful results.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 1 - 3
Risk: Hasek’s Health and age. Poor playoff history. Vast talent migration to Eastern Conference. Loses to key rivals early on.
Upside Analysis: This is not simply an over achieving team, as ESPN commentator Berry Melrose stated in his monthly commentary column: "this team is the real deal folks” and every major media source is ranking them in the top three in power rankings. Expect the Canes to trade between 7.0 and 9.0 soon. The Canes are 8 – 0 at home! The Canes should be trading at least equal to teams like the Sens, Flyers, Wings and other top contenders as they appear to have what it takes (strong goaltending included) to make a similar run as the Ducks did in 2003.
Adding key players like Ray Whitney, Cory Stillman and defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky at affordable prices were key moves!
Downside Analysis: Keep a close eye on goaltending. With no clear cut starter, (though Gerber looks to be the man) this team could start to become a bit inconsistent. Doubtful though, but a point well worth review as the season continues to unfold. Martin Gerber looks like a number 1 starter for sure!
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 1 - 3
Risk: Tough eastern competition. Lack of proven playoff goaltending.
Upside Analysis: Not only does
Downside Analysis: Very little downside to write about specific to this team. Lack of proven playoff success, and tough eastern competition should be considered for sure. As always, watch key match-ups and coaching strategies as the season progresses.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 3 - 6
Risk: Lack of playoff experience. Lack of playoff proven success.
Upside Analysis: Come playoff time this team is going to be very tough to beat. They have already taken down some very tough and favored contenders, including the Senators. Add in Forsberg’s proven playoff intensity and leadership, the depth this team has, and their coaching staff, and you’ve got a very well playoff designed team. Look for their trade value to continue to rise as the season progresses.
Downside Analysis: The Flyers do have speed issues that Bob Clarke and Coach Hitchcock need to address. I am not convinced that Bob Clark has the savvy to make the right roster adjustments necessary; he simply doesn’t have a proven history of this sort of mid-season perspective. (I will talk about addressing goaltending issues in a moment). I am however convinced that Coach Hitchcock will distribute situational player ice-time effectively.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 3 - 10
Risk: Forsberg’s Health. Unproven Playoff Goaltending. Lack of Defensive Speed.
Upside Analysis: Eric Lindros is playing with a level of intensity we haven’t seen in a few seasons; in fact that intensity has pushed the Leaf’s into wins against some tough opponents early on. Lindros is certainly winning over nay-sayers. As to Eddy Belfour, he is still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. Look for his numbers to strengthen. Sundin is skating and has a history of strong come-backs. Allison is producing as expected.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 15 – 17
Risk: Injury prone team. Very strong playoff competition. Unbalanced roster.
Upside Analysis: Jagr on fire and a new game custom tailored to his style of play has many Rangers playing at levels before not possible. Simply put, under the new NHL rules, Jagr has the ability to make this whole team play better. The Rangers are also getting moments of goaltending brilliance from their unproven net-minders.*Note: Tom Poti is on the block.
Downside Analysis: Being an explosive yet inconsistent team doesn’t win playoff matches. If the Rangers can win a consistent amount of seasonal key match-ups they might be worth looking at.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 7 – 11
Risk: Defense. Goaltending situation. Tough eastern competition. Youth.
07. Comment Detroit Red Wings: Having followed Many Legacy’s career since way back in the 80’s, I, like probably many other hockey observers, am a bit puzzled wondering why Wing management hasn’t, before now, recognized Manny’s obvious ability to hold a starting position. Legacy has started strong and is an obvious key factor to this team and their potential success. The Wing’s are also getting a lot of expected scoring from both key players, and some unexpected ones as well.
Upside Annalists: Legacy, Legacy, Legacy.
Downside Analysis: As mentioned above Western Conference “contenders” are playing very inconsistent hockey. A true test of
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 1 - 4
Risk: Injuries to key players.
Upside Analysis: A very well balanced team, the Kings lead the Pacific Division at a very impressive 10 and 6. Coach Murray, a strict disciplinarian, is by far one of the best coaches in the NHL, taking much less talented Kings’ teams well into the playoffs in past campaigns. From the net out, this team has talent. Watch for their value to double into December. Also keep in mind, LABARBERA is really starting to look like the real thing. If he continues to play hot, watch for the Kings to be a very serious western threat!
Downside Analysis: Ownership! The Kings, by far, have the worst ownership group in the NHL. (The Blues don't count, there are reasons those owners need to sell). Let me continue on this point. King ownership has a notorious proven history of making a ton of promises that they don’t keep. This is a very sterol bottom line thinking group. That being said, the Kings are clearly only one to three key moves away from a Stanley Cup. The Kings also seem to only bring on enough talent to satisfy (deceive) their fan base and stop at that. Ownership has again made lofty promises this year, and considering their current level of investment, may actually perform as promised. Still a good hedge trade in the uncertain west. Keep a close eye on what GM Taylor is keeping an eye on. A true test will be to watch how they match up throughout the season against teams like
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 5 - 7
Risk: Unproven Goaltending. Offensive depth.
Upside Annalists: This team’s speed is almost unmatched in the NHL. Look for Coach Ruff to push on the puck control issue. Thomas Vanek is having trouble finding the back of the net, but is shooting a lot. Watch for his production numbers to go up. Coaching is also a factor.
Downside Analysis: Youth and lack of experience make this team a bit risky on the board. The Sabres, as already mentioned, have got to get tougher on the puck.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 13 – 17
Risk: Youth. Lack of experience. Inconsistency. Lack of playoff performance. Strong eastern competition.
Upside Annalists: Trading a bit low right now based on disappointing early on-ice play; expect the Bruins to turn things around. This team has plenty of star power just waiting to explode. Also keep in mind; the Bruins have been slow starters in the past.
Downside Analysis: Probably the second worst ownership in the NHL next to the
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 16 – 19
Risk: Lack of proven playoff goaltending. Strong eastern competition.
Upside Analysis: A ton of untapped talent, this team might just see a surge
in the standings, that wouldn’t be a surprise, once the Lightning find their “mojo”.
Downside Analysis: The Lightning struggled with salary cap issues when the new NHL rolled out. As a result they lost a few key players and the negative impact is definitely showing up on the ice and scoreboard. John Graham appears to be off to a slow start as well. If their backstop doesn’t improve his numbers, expect this team to continue to be inconsistent.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 10 – 14
Risk: Goaltending. Inconsistency.
Upside Analysis: With Iginla and Kipper in a grove the rest of the team seems to be following suite. The Flames can be counted on to be a very effective playoff contender. They also seem to be playing much more disciplined hockey than they were for the first few weeks
Downside Analysis: Lacking a bit of defensive depth the Flames forwards must play disciplined and two-way hockey. Early on, we haven’t seen much of either, though the tide does seem to be turning.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 12 – 18
Risk: Inconsistent play. Lack of recent playoff success.
Upside Analysis: Alex Auld has stepped in nicely for the injured Cloutier who apparently suffered a concussion late in October. The Canucks do have a lot of depth and if this team gets its’ act together they should have a strong playoff run.
Downside Analysis: Inconsistency and metal errors are really making this team look like a playoff dud at this point. The Canucks were considered a strong Western Conference contender. Their play of late is making supporter’s second guess. Burtuzzi and almost the entire blue line seem to be out of sync.
And, as been for years now, management builds a strong team and does not address its goaltending issues.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 10 – 14
Risk: Inconsistent play. Goaltending. Lack of recent playoff success.
Upside Analysis: The Panthers are trading low and showing occasional signs of life. Watch and wait. If they start performing, consider trading short. Luongo seems to be the only performer on this team worth mentioning.
Downside Analysis: Aside from goaltending, this team is not performing well at all. Management must be disappointed with the Panthers start thus far.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 20 - 25
Risk: Long shot team at this point.
15. Comment NY Islanders: The Islanders seem to be capturing the attention of a lot of traders and are still a decent bargain buy.
Upside Analysis: The Islanders, at times, are showing they can compete with many eastern teams. Yashin is starting to create some offense. Satan is quieting critics and the team is starting to win some key games.
Downside Analysis: Islander's fans are already calling for Coach Stirling's head! If he doesn't start motivating, he may be the first coach axed this year!
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 10 – 14
Risk: Inconsistent and underachieving play.
16. Comment NJ Devils: If any team was adversely affected by the new rule changes, the Devils were it! This team is struggling to find a new identity. Even Brodeur is not always looking so hot! Prior to his injury, his numbers were at all time lows.
Upside Analysis: Larry Robinson is switching Devil defensive pairs as he tries to find some combinations that click. Coach Robinson, a defensive minded coach, may still find the path to getting this team back to what it does best, namely, win with strong defensive play. My partner, Eklund at hockeybuzz.com, has had many conversations with Philadelphia Flyers Coach Ken Hitchcock who clearly stated that tight games are not necessarily a thing of the past. With the blue lines moved back, trap style hockey can still be played; you just simply have to move the trap back a bit. Many teams have already played the trap, during portions of games, in certain game situations. If Coach Robinson can’t find a way to get this team scoring, watch for the Devils to do what they were designed to do; play stronger defense. If this happens, this team may start to become more effective of a regular basis. Keep in mind, the “trap" was created in
Downside Analysis: As mentioned above, this team is really struggling to find their new identity. Keep in mind, under similar rules in the Swedish Elite League, many Swedish coaches are able to play a trap style game with success. However, their game is not exactly the same as the one being played in the new NHL. Subtle differences do exist, and with no NHL team implementing a full game strategy using this dying system, it is unproven in the NHL thus far. Just look at what happens to team who play conservative in the final minutes of games in the NHL when trying to protect a late lead… in most cases, they are losing!
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 18 - 24
Risk: Wholesale changes needed to make this team effective.
Upside Analysis: Watch for this team to only get better as the season progresses. Alexander Ovechkin and defenseman Eminger are simply awesome talents to keep an eye on.
Downside Analysis: Wholesale roster changes, youth, and the likelihood that Kolzig may be traded to a contender this year make this team a risky trade.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 26-28
Risk: Long shot trade
Upside Analysis: Offensively, both Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk are in a starting to produce. Ilya is starting to score as expected, and is passing the puck very well. Slava Kozlov centered those two last games. This may turn out to be an outstanding bargain buy!
Downside Analysis: CBS Sportsline recently commented: “Things are getting so bad in
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 27-29
Risk: Long shot trade at this point. Goaltending.
Upside Analysis: The Penguins are starting to play better of late. They have a ton of talent and could still really turn things around. Don’t count them out just yet.
Downside Analysis: Coaching. This coaching staff has very real issues to deal with. Considering all the talent on this roster, their record is, so far, pathetic.
Consensus: Media Avg. Rank 21-30
Risk: Coaching. Tea