Friday, January 18, 2013

Poison Pen Preview: Western Conference

If you missed it, I previewed the Eastern Conference on Monday. You're already here, so go read it.

Now, for our friends in the Western Conference. Gosh, you're such a swell bunch of rivals, and I have SO much respect for each and every one of you. Let's take a look at key players at each end of the spectrum, what the teams are doing for their fans to welcome them back, and prognosticate where each team will find itself at the end of this truncated, bastard cash grab of a season.

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks
Best Player: "Captain Serious", Jonathan Toews. Toews is, by all accounts, the most respected young player in the NHL with a really shitty nickname, edging out "Sid the Kid" and "The Great 8".
Worst Player: How does Sheldon Brookbank keep falling into NHL contracts? Also, if you're Chris Campoli and you see that your former team would rather have Brookbank on their roster than's time to start thinking about a new line of work, right? Like, he sees this, yeah?
Wait, they're counting on who? Chicago is going into it's THIRD season with a core good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup...and Corey Crawford standing between the pipes. If Stan Bowman is ever in charge of your night out, DON'T GO, because Billy Joel will end up your designated driver.
Gimmick to win back the fans: The Hawks fired their best bullet in the chamber a few years ago when they really reached out to their fans and rewarded them for their loyalty by...deciding to show the team's home games on television. This year, don't put it past the Hawks to give their fans permission to record those televised games on their VCRs.
Prediction: 2nd place
Columbus Blue Jackets
Best Player: It's probably not a good sign that I had to visit the team's roster on their website to figure out an answer to this question. It's probably an even worse sign that I wondered if I could just skip this category for the Jackets. After careful consideration (I drew a name out of a hat) I decided on Fedor Tyutin, because that's the name I drew out of the hat.
Worst Player: I so desperately wanted this to be one of the players they got from the Rangers for Rick Nash, but alas, I couldn't in good conscience NOT say Derek MacKenzie.
Wait, they're counting on who? "Hey, remember that guy who was good for us like 4 years ago and ever since then has been an inconsistent headcase that hasn't been able to even approach his former level of play? Let's give him another chance!" Welcome back, Steve Mason!
Gimmick to win back the fans: A few years ago, the Jackets installed a Civil War cannon that's fired after every goal. This year, lucky fans will be selected at random to fire the cannon after each Columbus goal, which means by the end of the season, at least six fans will have gone home happy.
Prediction: 5th place
Hockeytown (Detroit Red Wings)
Best Player: Even a hater like me can't deny that Pavel Datsyuk is pretty great. Datsyuk occupies rarified air in my esteem, standing beside only the now-retired Nick Lidstrom and Sergei Federov as the only Red Wings players I had grudging respect for. Oops, sorry, I forgot to bolden, italicize, underline, and jack up the font on that one really relevant pertinent and important part:
okay, that's out of my system.
Worst Player: I feel like I may be a little unduly pessimistic about Mikael Samuelsson. Hell, maybe this, his 14th stint in Detroit, may be the time he finally figures out how to hit the net.
Wait, they're counting on who? Is it possible that the dropoff between Nick Lidstrom and Ian White is really all that much? I mean, people slightly downgrade from a Maybach to a station wagon with woodgrain paneling and it works out fine ALL THE TIME WITHOUT EXCEPTION.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Fans in attendance and watching at home on opening night will be treated to a spectacular laser show designed to hypnotize them into thinking Damien Brunner is Brendan Shanahan, they're in the year 1998, and the whole octopus thing isn't dated and stupid.
Prediction: 4th place
Nashville Predators
Best Player: This is an easy one: Shea Weber, the cute girl that all the rich jocks (Philly, Detroit, the Rangers) want to date, but ends up going to the prom with the bucktoothed hayseed. That's you Nashville. Oh, and you're paying her $110 million to go with you, you perverts.
Worst Player: Know who else has a job? Brian McGrattan. Hey, he's got a family to feed too, I guess. His family is definitely ashamed of him.
Wait, they're counting on who? Hey, remember when David Poile gave up a first round draft pick for Paul Gaustad? Well, they kept Paul Gaustad, whose biggest contribution to any team in his career was the time he stood and watched Milan Lucic truck Ryan Miller as though he had a camera in his hand and a press pass around his neck. We brought Paul Gaustad here to win faceoffs, ladies and gents, and maybe he'll do it.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Four words: "Faith Hill Panties Giveaway".
Prediction: 1st place
St Louis Blues

Best Player: Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, the best player in the league whose surname has a pastry in it. He is really, really good. If he really was a pie, he'd be Huckleberry.
Worst Player: Hey, Jeff Woywitka's not in the AHL, which is probably why the Mayan apocalypse couldn't happen the way it was supposed to.
Wait, they're counting on who? This one isn't so much a "who" as it is a "what". That "what" is, they're counting on Ken Hitchcock not getting strangled to death by one of the players. You see, because Ken Hitchcock is a pain in the ass, and nobody likes him, and why does he look like that? So lumpy.
Gimmick to win back the fans: The Blues have gone the charitable route, reaching out to fans and communities of all 30 NHL franchises by donating enough food to fill the food banks in their areas, and they did it simply by raiding Keith Tkachuk's refrigerator.
Prediction: 2nd place
Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks
Best Player: Sorry, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Come see me when youre 40, when you've scored over 600 goals, when you shoot your glove out of the air with your stick to celebrate those goals, and when you're from Finland. It's Teemu Selanne.
Worst Player: Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, captain of the Starship Suck.
Wait, they're counting on who? Jolly Bruce Boudreau injected life into the struggling Ducks when he was brought in to replace Randy Carlyle last season, but once giggling players discovered "Bruce Boudreau" was the name Elmer Fudd was using to conceal his identity, the team fell off the pace.
Gimmick to win back the fans: During their January 26th home game against Nashville, Anaheim will ice an entire team of actual ducks to play against the Predators. Paul Gaustad will stand and watch the biggest one peck at Pekka Rinne.
Prediction: 5th place
Dallas Stars
Best Player: Sniper Loui Eriksson is a threat to score every time he's on the ice. Eriksson has a knack of finding spots where no one sees him. In that sense, he's a perfect fit in Dallas.
Worst Player: Defenseman Jordie Benn, who also drinks the milk out of brother Jamie's cereal bowl when he's done eating it, dates women that his brother has dumped, and still wears his brother's hand-me-up skates.
Wait, they're counting on who? Guys named Tomas Vincour and Colton Sceviour, that's who. I've never seen either one of them, but if they don't wear matching ascots when they go to dinner, then they're not the men they could be.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Some teams will choose a night or two to honor legends of the sport. The Stars will be hosting legends night every night of the season after signing What's Left Of Ray Whitney and What's Left Of Jaromir Jagr.
Prediction: 3rd place
Los Angeles Kings
Best Player: Conn Smythe trophy winner Jonathan Quick will lead the defending Stanley Cup champs into their lockout-shortened title defense. Goalie Quick, captain Dustin Brown, and former King and current broadcaster Jim Fox will be jumping over the lazy dogs of the Western Conference on a nightly basis once the season is underway.
Worst Player: The defending champs don't really have a "worst player", per se, but I'd want to punch a guy named Kyle Clifford right in the dick on principle alone. You can't be named "Kyle Clifford" and still be a good person.
Wait, they're counting on who? The West Hollywood Two, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, likely spent the better part of the last 6 months drinking Jose Cuervo and crushing the dreams and vaginas of waitresses just looking for a break into the business. What shape will they be in once games start? Will Coach Sutter notice their Gatorade bottles smell like Mad Dog 20/20? Does gonorrhea affect the accuracy of your shot? Many unanswered questions.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Kings fans and Ducks fans have been invited to take a group road trip to San Jose to pretend they're looking for those three Stanley Cups Sharks fans figured they would've had by now before laughing and laughing and laughing
Prediction: 1st place
Gary's Orphans
Best Player: I know you want me to say Shane Doan. Don't lie. You want me to say Shane Doan because you don't know who any of the other players on the Coyotes are, so you want me to say Shane Doan so you can nod sagely and rub your chin. But I'm not playing along, it's NOT Shane Doan. Shane Doan sucks. Phoenix doesn't have a best player.
Wait, they're counting on who? Jerry Moyes  The NHL  Jim Balsillie  Jerry Reinsdorf  The NHL  Matthew Hulsizer  The NHL  Greg Jamison (?)
Gimmick to win back the fans: "Hey guys, uh, you know there's a hockey team that plays in town, right? Yeah, only it's about 45 minutes outside of town, but that's still pretty close compared to having to drive to Anaheim or LA or the Yucatan Peninsula or" *realizes they're talking to saguaro cactuses*
Prediction: 2nd place
San Jose Sharks
Best Player: Patrick Marleau. Haha, just kidding, said that just to piss Jeremy Roenick off. It's Logan Couture.
Worst Player: I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that not one of you has ever heard of Bracken Kearns. "Bracken Kearns" sounds like a Scottish euphemism for jerking off.
Wait, they're counting on who? Joe Thornton, hahahahahahahaha. You can also count on daddy to come home when he says he's just going out for a pack of cigarettes.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Sharks management has decided to reward longtime season ticket holders by informing them they can do a "LETS GO SHARKS" chant in three quick beats rather than the droning "LETS GO SHAAAAAAARKS" that makes them sound like they're on quaaludes.
Prediction: 4th place
Northwest Division
Calgary Flames
Best Player: Easily, Jarome Iginla. In fact, Iginla will remain the Flames' best player long after he's been traded for pennies on the dollar to a team that isn't run by Jay Feaster.
Worst Player: I'm going over this roster and I feel like Ben Roethlisberger at a sorority mixer. I want ALL of them. Why can't I pick Krys Kolanos and Matt Stajan and Chris Butler? Oh hey what the hell I WILL pick Krys Kolanos and Matt Stajan and Chris Butler.
Wait, they're counting on who? Uh, Dennis Wideman? I guess? I mean, they gave him $25 million, so I guess it's Dennis Wideman. I really hope Flames fans can talk themselves into Dennis Wideman, for their sake. Heh.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Remind them that the last time there was a lockout, the Flames had just come off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, and they can do it again! And then hope none of them figure it out.
Prediction: 5th place
Edmonton Oilers
Best Player: For all the good young players we keep hearing about on this club, are any of them regarded as "the best" of them? I really like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but it could be any of the RNH/Hall/Eberle trio. Edmonton is the only team in this division I can't work up a bunch of hate for. Yet.
Worst Player: I am so, SO sad that I can't write Zack Stortini in this space, but then I realized Andy Sutton still plays here so, nice! Also, if you're on a team with Ben Eager and he's not the worst player on the team, your team may be in trouble.
Wait, they're counting on who? The Oilers have three choices: 40 year old Nikolai Khabibulin (40!), Devan Dubnyk , or another karmically friendly lottery ball. We all know how this is ending, don't we?
Gimmick to win back the fans: Threatening to move the team to Seattle! REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY.
Prediction: 3rd place
MinneSuter Parises
Best Player: Clearly a two-horse race between Zach Parise (who spent his summer curing the common cold) and Suter Trophy favorite Ryan Suter, the man who they re-named the Norris Trophy for. Co-best players!
Worst Player: Haha, THE REST OF THEIR ROSTER. Look at it! Gaze upon it. Actually, Mikko Koivu is pretty good, but the rest of them are very Nate Prosser-esque. This roster is the Nate Prosser of rosters.
Wait, they're counting on who? Oh, Dany Heatley is your scoring depth? Or Pierre-Marc Bouchard? Mikael Granlund is nothing more than a Youtube highlight right now.
Gimmick to win back the fans: The Wild went out and spent close to $200 million on two players to get their boring fans all excited, and promptly locked them out for being overpaid. Wait, that was their gimmick to drive their fans away, sorry, got that one mixed up. Um, FREE BLOND HAIRED, BLUE EYED PUPPIES FOR EVERYONE!
Prediction: 4th place
Vancouver Canucks
Best Players: Jesus Christ, I can't wait until the Ginger Twins are gone so I don't have to keep playing the "haha theyre the SAME" game. Ask a Canucks fan who the best player on the team is and they'll say it's Cory Schneider, because they're still suffering smoke inhalation from their legendary Stanley Cup Loss Celebration With Fire Parade in 2011.
Worst Player: "VAN - Signed D Cam Barker..." was as far as I made it before I got the giggles. Barker is keeping this space warm for future multi-time "worst player" winner Zack Kassian.
Wait, they're counting on who? Nobody special, just that one goalie they had a couple years ago that got them to the Stanley Cup Final and have been trying to give him away ever since. What was his name? Ah well, it doesnt matter anyway, once they dump him they have something named Joe Cannata backing up Cory Schneider, so stay healthy Cory!
Gimmick to win back the fans: "Tyler Bozak Jersey Tshirt Night" to take place on January 23rd, celebrating the newest member of the Canucks organization.
Prediction: 1st place
Colorado Avalanche
Best Player: Are we talking "best player that's currently signed to the club" or "best player that's being squeezed by an increasingly cheap ownership group being fronted by a bean-counter GM"? Because there are two different answers based upon that. The best player currently on the roster is Matt Duchene. Yes, I like Landeskog. Yes, I love Landeskog. Yes, he's only played one season. One more like last year, his name is in this spot next season.
Worst Player: @AnthraxJones You misspelled "sucks" "RT @MChambersDP: Chuck Kobasew sick, won't travel. Looks like Bordeleau will make NHL debut vs Minnesota”

Wait, they're counting on who? Yeah, who's gonna be taking Ryan O'Reilly's place while he's getting paid as he deserves over in the KHL while Stan Kroenke's wallet is tucked inside his prostate over here? John Mitchell? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
Gimmick to win back the fans: "Hey Avs fans, thanks for being patient with us while we rebuild with young talent! By the way, don't expect us to PAY the young talent when their contracts are up! Oh, and fuck you!"
Prediction: 2nd place. O'Reilly signed by this time next week. And I'm still a bitch.
Go Avs go.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Poison Pen Preview: Eastern Conference


Yeah, despite the best efforts of NHL owners and Little Gary Bettman, we have NHL hockey back. Lots of people are still pissed, and rightfully so; after all, we lost an entire season eight years ago so we'd never have to deal with labor strife again, at least as the story goes. Obviously, that wasn't the case, as greedy ownership looking to strangle nickels out of the necks of their on-ice product locked the players and fans out yet again. Part of the reason ownership vultures know they can keep pulling this stunt is because they know we simply can't quit them. Fans will fill the same buildings that were full for the past 8 seasons, Twitter will still explode at the sight of a goddam podium, and the San Jose Sharks will still tickle your dick for 90% of the season and then shit themselves in cinematic fashion. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I'm back too, and because I really hate your teams almost as much as I love mine, I'm gonna write stuff about them. Eastern Conference preview is today, Western Conference preview is tomorrow or Wednesday or Thursday or something. Namaste.

Atlantic Division
New Jersey Devils
Best Player: If he feels like showing up to play in North America this season, it's Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk should be a real draw that all 24 Devils fans in the entire world can get halfheartedly excited for since they all kinda hate him.
Worst Player: Meatbag Cam Janssen, who sucks dick in the most figurative sense. It's nice to know there's still a place in the NHL for a no-talent punching bag like Janssen so Don Cherry can sleep at night.
Wait, they're counting on who? The Devils are considering Bryce Salvador to take up the captaincy in Zach Parise's wake. Roll that one around on your tongue for a second. Now spit. Tastes awful, doesn't it?
Gimmick to win back the fans: On opening night, the Devils will be allowing the first 10,000 fans in the arena a chance to put on a number 9 jersey and maybe take a shift and hey, wanna do this every night for $20 and all the Gatorade you can drink?
Prediction: 5th place

New York Islanders
Best Player: John Tavares is legit. The Islanders need to start surrounding this kid with guys who can help him to keep him from Nash-ing himself. The Islanders may be a sneaky good team.
Worst Player: Eric Boulton is on this roster. Really. No, I'm not kidding, go look, I'll wait.
See? Haha, me too! No, it's not a different Eric Boulton than the doorknob that played for Buffalo.
Wait, they're counting on who? The Islanders are like Pepe LePew, chasing after pretty little polecats that want absolutely nothing to do with them. This time, it's Lubomir Visnovsky, a good player that apparently would rather slam his nuts in a car door than play for them.
Gimmick to win back the fans: The Isles are raffling off the opportunity to be one of 300 lucky fans they can fit into a bunch of equipment bags and stuff into a box truck headed for Brooklyn.
Prediction: 4th place
New York Rangers
Best Player: The King, Henrik Lundqvist. I like this guy, because I can identify with him. As an avowed summer-hater, I always disappear around the beginning of May too.
Worst Player: I didn't realize the Rangers brought Matt Gilroy back. Do they realize they brought Matt Gilroy back?
Wait, they're counting on who? That'd be sexy offseason acquisition Rick Nash, who scored the same number of points Pascal Dupuis did last season.
Gimmick to win back the fans: The Rangers are offering select season ticket holders the opportunity to stand behind a podium and call Larry Brooks an asshole after every weekend home game.
Prediction: 2nd place
Philadelphia Flyers
Best Player: The best player in the world for two weeks one warm spring, Claude Giroux. Flyers fans believe Giroux is the heir apparent to Bobby Clarke, the 14th different player that's held that title since Clarke retired to a life of GM trolling in 1984.
Worst Player: Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, which sounds like handbag designer. He's probably the Flyers' #2 or #3 defenseman, because the other 18 defensemen they have on the roster are all guys I played with in a beer league last summer.
Wait, they're counting on who? WELCOME BACK, BRYZ!!! PLEASE DON'T LEAVE US EVER AGAIN
Gimmick to win back the fans: Prior to the home opener, Flyers players will throw batteries at the fans. They'll love it.
Prediction: 3rd place
Pittsburgh Penguins
Best Player: Cry all you want about it (I know I do), but it's still Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin is better than Crosby when he's at his best, but he isn't always at his best. Crosby is ridiculously consistent at his level, so he gets the nod.
Worst Player: What the hell is a Jayson Megna? Because there's one on the Penguins' roster right now. Honorable mention to Matt Cooke, who could donate all his money to orphaned kids and still be a colossal asshole. People don't forget, fucker.
Wait, they're counting on who? Domesticated swine Tyler Kennedy will get to play fantasy camper alongside Malkin and James Neal yet again, since the Penguins Still Haven't Gotten A Winger For Sid or something like that.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Penguins fans will threaten to revolt as coach Dan Bylsma holds Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury out of the lineup until the organization reveals it is *wink wink* REBUILDING prior to drafting Nathan MacKinnon in June's entry draft.
Prediction: 1st place
Northeast Division
Boston Bruins
Best Player: Tyler Seguin is getting there, but no player separates the Bruins from the rest of the division like Zdeno Chara does. Also, he's like standing RIGHT BEHIND ME right now so yeah, you're handsome too Zdeno.
Worst Player: Bad form for me to say so, but if Chris Bourque's name was Chris Smith, he'd be playing for some team in Uzbekistan.
Wait, they're counting on who? Milan Lucic is about 500 pounds right now. Seeya in September, big fella, and cut back on the DiGiornos.
Gimmick to win back the fans: "Fine, if it's REALLY what you want, go ahead and call Joel Ward whatever you want. Hear no evil. But ONLY the first time the Caps visit, and that's it. Deal?"
Prediction: 1st place
Buffalo Sabres
Best Player: Ryan Miller in both of his forms: upright, and flat with a Milan Lucic-shaped footprint on his chest.
Worst Player: Jesus Christ, John Scott got someone to sign him? Did he tell Terry Pegula he has Leino blood in him?
Wait, they're counting on who? The Sabres wanted to trade Derek Roy for a guy who would make the team tougher to play against, but all they got was Steve Ott.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Terry Pegula is offering every fan the opportunity to play "owner for a day", where you will have the chance to, among other things, set giant piles of your own money on fire while you weep and mark off one more day until Ville Leino's contract runs out.
Prediction: 2nd place
Montreal Canadiens
Best Player: Nobody likes him, but PK Subban is great. I'd watch a Habs game just to watch Subban play. PAY THE MAN, BERGEVIN.
Worst Player: The Habs send Scott Gomez home during a season that promises to be more wide-open and feature less obstruction and more power plays, and they sign Brandon Prust. Alrighty then!
Wait, they're counting on who? I wouldn't trust Rene Bourque to gas up my car, much less provide consistent scoring depth for my hockey team.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Habs management will be retiring a different number during every home game, and by the end of the season will feature the first players in NHL history to wear three-digit uniform numbers.
Prediction: 3rd place
Ottawa Senators
Best Player: I know we just spent an entire offseason treating Erik Karlsson as though he was the second coming of Bobby Orr, but I need to see him do it again. Until then, the Sens best player is still human cartoon Jason Spezza.
Worst Player: Chris Neil can blow me. He's probably not the worst player on the team, but he's close enough for me.
Wait, they're counting on who? Hey, it's Craig Anderson's second season with a team after a stellar first season! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
Gimmick to win back the fans: They're going to build a SECOND road to the arena! And maybe even put a stop sign or something somewhere on it!
Prediction: 5th place
Toronto Maple Leafs
Best Player: Some guy that Brian Burke traded for and everybody was like "Wow, great move, Burke!"
Worst Player: Some guy that Brian Burke signed and everybody was like "WTF, they gotta fire Burke!"
Wait, they're counting on who? I don't know, but I can tell you who they're NOT counting on: Brian Burke, because they just fired him.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Wendel Clark, GM-for-life. Brian Burke Brian Burke.
Prediction: 4th place
Southeast Division

Carolina Hurricanes
Best Player: Whichever one of the Masked Staal Brothers is the legal man in the ring at the time. Seriously, they need to wear luchador masks.
Worst Player: I was gonna say Joe Corvo without really thinking twice until I noticed they have Bobby Sanguinetti on the roster. "Sanguinetti" sounds like it'd be delicious if it was an entree menu at Lucianos.
Wait, they're counting on who? Alex Semin, that's who. And you know what? I think he's gonna be pretty good.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Two lucky fans will be drawn at the home opener, and they will get to marry Bill Cowher's other two daughters during a ceremony between the 2nd and 3rd periods.
Prediction: 1st place

Florida Panthers
Best Player: Stephen Weiss. As far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely no excuse for why "Miami Weiss" didn't catch on as this guy's nickname. WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU, CHRIS BERMAN
Worst Player: I know he was a high pick, I know he was in a high profile trade. I also know it feels like he's played for about 12 teams in the past 3 years. Scottie Upshall, you do suck.
Wait, they're counting on who? Yeah, just because Ed Jovanovski is your second-best defenseman doesn't mean he's a #2 defenseman.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Panthers owner Michael Yormark has enlisted a team of supervillains to blot out the sun and cover the beaches in ash. Going to the hockey game suddenly sounds GREAT now, doesn't it?
Prediction: 4th place
Tampa Bay Lightning
Best Player: Well, I was talking to Barry Melrose the other day, and he knows way more about hockey than I do, and he said it's Ryan Malone. Who am I to argue with a former coach?
Worst Player: I had wondered which team drew the "Benoit Pouliot" card this season. Apparently Tampa did.
Wait, they're counting on who? If Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund play 48 games COMBINED I'll eat my hat. Eric Brewer is going to look like Doug Jarvis next to those two.
Gimmick to win back the fans: Throughout the arena concourses, the Lightning have set up 8 "Guy Boucher Kissing Booths", featuring guest kissers during every game. Guest kissers will include an angry dog, a barracuda, a food processor, and a helicopter.
Prediction: 3rd place
Washington Capitals
Best Player: As much as Caps fans want you to believe that Nick Backstrom or Karl Alzner or Braden Holtby or John Carlson or Mike Green is the REAL best player on the Caps, it's still that fat guy that everybody picks on, Alex Ovechkin.
Worst Player: One of my favorite things about the Caps over the past few years has been the fact that they consider themselves legitimate Stanley Cup contenders yet still dress John Erskine in a team jersey and let him play ice hockey for them.
Wait, they're counting on who? So, like, if Braden Holtby is legitimately good, they're gonna trade him because Michal Neuvirth is better, right? They're gonna talk themselves and their fans into it, and it's gonna make PERFECT SENSE, right?
Gimmick to win back the fans: Caps owner Ted Leonsis has commissioned banners to be hung around the arena with each season ticket holder's name on it, as well as banners for every season ticket holder the Caps have ever had, as well as banners for fans who bought single game tickets once or twice, or even just had a passing thought about the Caps at some point during their lives. All the banners are red.
Prediction: 2nd place
Winnipeg Jets
Best Player: Haha hey everybody, let's play a trick on the Jets fans and media and not tell them Evander Kane is their best player and they can keep being a crazy girlfriend and eventually he's gonna snap and demand a trade and maybe one of our teams will get him for next to nothing, sound good?
Worst Player: Wow, hey, Derek Meech is still in the NHL. Sorta.
Wait, they're counting on who? I just looked at the Jets roster, and I swear to god some of these guys were invented by the NHL13 name generator they use to make up player names for future drafts. Maxime Macenauer? Spencer Machacek? Paul Postma? Ben-Jarvus Green-Clitsome?
Gimmick to win back the fans: Jets owner Mark Chipman will announce that this will be the final season in Winnipeg, as he's sold the team to a group from Seattle. He will then announce that 2015 will be the inaugural season of the NEW New Jets, as he has purchased the Florida Panthers and plans to move them to Winnipeg.
Prediction: 5th place
Western Conference preview between now and Saturday, not sure when. When it's up, I'll be pushing it all over Twitter, so you won't miss it, promise!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Western Conference

Yesterday, we took a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. Today, we delve into matchups featuring our good friends in the Western Conference. Once again, we will be assisted in our puckish prognostications by fabled Tonight Show guru and soothsayer, Carnac The Magnificent. These previews have NOT been sealed in a mayonnaise jar on Funk And Wagnall's front porch since noon today.

(1W) Vancouver Canucks
(8W) Los Angeles Kings

The Matchup: This is a rematch of a 2010 series between these two teams that absolutely nobody remembers. I'm assuming the Canucks won, because losing to the Kings wouldn't have been nearly painful enough for Canucks fans. This year has a different feel from the Kings' standpoint, as they have imported nearly 74% of the Philadelphia Flyers' roster in an attempt to make it to the finals and lose. Meanwhile, the Canucks are back to defend their Western Conference title. Giggle. If this series comes down to goaltending, the Kings may have the edge in Jonathan Quick, who racked up 10 shutouts this season. The Canucks will be backstopped by Roberto Luongo until they're backstopped by Cory Schneider, until they've decided that Luongo is ready to give it another shot, until they see he isn't and Schneider is re-inserted, until the Canucks remember they're basically married to Luongo until 2022 and put him back in for good. By that point, the second period of game 1 will be underway.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: All eyes will be on Mike Richards, the former Flyers' captain for whom the Kings paid a... well, a Them Ransom. Richards is looked at as a prototypical playoff player, a leader who can hit, score, fight, and make plays. Richards figures to see time matched up against Ryan Kesler, which will tie an NHL playoff record for the least amount of charisma between two opponents at one time.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Canucks forward Dale Weise, who missed the cutoff for NHL players named "Dale" by 25 years.

Carnac Says: "Twin Peaks".

"What does one Sedin do when the other Sedin is having sex?"

Prediction: Canucks in 7

(4W) Nashville Predators
(5W) Detroit Red Wings

The Matchup: The Nashville Predators are on a mission to finally take that last step in their journey to win the Stanley Cup, and fittingly, their first obstacle is their previously insurmountable rival Detroit Red Wings. David Poile's carefully crafted 15-year plan is finally coming to fruition, and that was never more evident when he threw caution to the wind and traded their first round draft pick, Paul Gaustad. Alrighty then. Meanwhile, the Red Wings and their fans are more excited for the playoffs this season than usual, as they won't be inconvenienced by late game starting times against opponents on the west coast this season. YOU CAN GO TO BED BEFORE 11:30 NOW, WINGS FANS. Think of how nice it will be to have that extra two hours of sleep when you go in the next day for your 4PM-10PM shift at McDonalds.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Prodigal son Alex Radulov returned to the Predators after nearly four seasons playing in the KHL. Radulov and the Preds had each other by the short-n-curlys, as Radulov wanted the free agency that playing the last 10 games of this NHL campaign offered, and the Preds needed the dynamic gamebreaker they have under contract with Radulov for the most important playoff season in franchise history. A productive Radulov will raise the blood pressure of rival GMs, coaches, and fans who don't understand the concept of a player that's "under contract".

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Expect game announcers and Red Wings fans to be force-feeding you the "Valtteri Filppula has matured into the next dominant Detroit forward" storyline. Don't buy it. Filppula is a milquetoast player that benefits from playing with Henrik Zetterberg. Without Zetterberg, Filppula is Josef Beranek.

Carnac Says: "Mathieu Dandenault."

"What's the answer when Mathieu Dande asks you if the Red Wings are going to win this series?"

Prediction: Predators in 6

(2W) St. Louis Blues
(7W) San Jose Sharks

The Matchup: Everybody has that one moment they wish they could go back and do over. For Blues fans, it's the 2000 first round series against the Sharks. The Blues were the President's Trophy winner that season, Chris Pronger won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, but the team stumbled and gagged away their first round series against the up-and-coming Sharks. This time, the Blues are the up-and-coming team, and the Sharks are the ones who get the lump at critical moments. A very real question to be asked: if the Sharks aren't able to upset the Blues, have we seen their window close on a suddenly aging core?

Most Interesting Player In This Series: The Blues allowed blueliner Alex Pietrangelo to bake properly until his game was golden brown and crispy, and have been rewarded by two consecutive stellar seasons. As big as Pietrangelo looks on the ice, that's how smooth he looks as well. This will be his first taste of playoff action, and it will be interesting to see how the young Blues defender holds his ground against a veteran Sharks group that is big enough and experienced enough to feel comfortable attacking Pietrangelo directly.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: I wish I could get behind Joe Thornton. I really do. He seems like a nice enough guy, he is supremely talented and blessed with elite on-ice vision, and has put up eye-popping stats over the years. The problem is, we've seen this movie before, over and over and over again for nearly 15 years. Joe's a deadbeat dad of a hockey player, one with far too much to offer to have such a spotty track record. Like the Sharks, the Blues play a physical style, and they won't be shy about getting in Thornton's face, hitting and agitating him at every turn. Until Thornton proves he can thrive in a playoff hockey setting, it will be easy to dismiss what he brings to the table.

Carnac Says: "Hitchcock".

"Name a painful way to tow a boat."

Prediction: Blues in 6

(3W) Phoenix Coyotes
(6W) Chicago Blackhawks

The Matchup: The Chicago Blackhawks replace the Detroit Red Wings as the co-stars of the now annual Phoenix playoff passion play. The Coyotes get into the playoffs on the NHL's dime, the cloud of relocation hangs over the series, the Coyotes lose the series, the Coyotes are spared for "one more season". Lather, rinse, repeat. Hard fact: NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THE COYOTES IN THE PLAYOFFS TO BEGIN WITH. I'm openly rooting for the Blackhawks in this series.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: A bit overshadowed by Sidney Crosby's late-season return has been the ongoing concussion saga of Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the final 21 games of Chicago's regular season and is sketchy as a candidate to play early in this series. The Blackhawks may have the depth to replace Toews's scoring production, but there's no one on the roster that will be able to replace his lustrous playoff muttonchop sideburns. Ex-Hawks GM Dale Tallon's failure to submit a qualifying offer to former US president Chester A. Arthur in 2009 could come back to haunt the franchise.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Phoenix plugger Boyd Gordon, a fine defensive forward, may be the most nondescript player on the most nondescript team in the NHL. Plus, he's another one of those guys with "Last Name First" disease. Stop bullshitting us, Gordon Boyd, there's supposed to be a comma in there somewhere.

Carnac Says: "Coyote Ugly".

"Describe Dave Tippett's gameplan."

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

May Brian Burke loosen the ties on your sister's undergarments.

Enjoy the first round!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Eastern Conference

Does it suck that the Colorado Avalanche failed to make the NHL's annual postseason party? It sucks hard, real hard, sucks big giant rocks. But does that mean there isn't still hockey to be played? Of course it doesn't, and with that in mind, let's take a look at the 8 playoff matchups, where we test our powers of prognostication with an assist from Tonight Show legend Carnac the Magnificent. Today we start with the Eastern Conference, and tomorrow, we preview the Western Conference.

 (1E) New York Rangers
(8E) Ottawa Senators

The Matchup: The top seeded Rangers somewhat improbably emerged as the survivor of the Atlantic Division battle royal, earning home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Aside from star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and porcelain sniper Marian Gaborik, the Rangers are a mostly anonymous bunch led by media expert godd--n motherf---ing head f---ing coach John F---ing Tortorella. Meanwhile, the Senators somewhat improbably emerged from a division with arguably more talented teams like Montreal and Buffalo, to secure a playoff berth. The Sens attack is led by captain Daniel Alfredsson and giggling idiot Jason Spezza. The surprising Spezza-led Sens sparkled this season, suffering some setbacks and sliding from sixth to seventh and soon eighth. If GM Bryan Murray speaks that sentence out loud in your vicinity, wear a raincoat.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who will be leaned on to keep the dangerous Spezza and Milan Michalek from getting to Lundqvist and using their dual powers of "Creepy" and "Injury" as an attack.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sens goalie Craig Anderson, who has been known to build small ice barriers in front of the goal line using nothing but his own tears.

Carnac Says: "A John Tortorella press conference...Hugh Jessiman...and a goon."

"Name a gust, a bust, and a Prust."

Prediction: Rangers in 6

 (4E) Pittsburgh Penguins
(5E) Philadelphia Flyers

The Matchup: Finding information on this series has been kind of difficult, as both of these teams have been largely ignored by fans and media.

Fine, we'll try. The Pens and Flyers spent this season shadowboxing with each other, without much real doubt that they would be the 4/5 matchup in the East. Pittsburgh was led by the Terminator-like Evgeni Malkin and underrated goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, while Kris Letang was the engineer of a sometimes-frightening attack that AVERAGED over four goals a game through March and April. The remodeled Flyers successfully integrated newcomers Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and uberprospect Brayden Schenn into a lineup that already featured superstar Claude Giroux. The Flyers lost Chris Pronger to a concussion in November, and have scrambled at times to ice an NHL-caliber defense. Niklas Grossmann revealed to the world that they've been spelling his name wrong for years, and he STILL can't find one of those little license plates with his name on it for his bicycle.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Former Penguin, current Flyer, alltime troll Jaromir Jagr. Jagr was a pipebomb to start the season, but tailed off statistically in the second half of the season. I honestly have no idea what to expect from the now 40 year old Czech; he could score 5 goals in game one, he could wear a hoodie under his jersey in game two, or he could have that bizarre vertical mustache he grew in the 2008 playoffs by game 7. One way or the other, Jagr will be in the spotlight as he leads the charge against his former team, who he cockblocked over 9 months ago.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sounds silly, but Sidney Crosby is about the least compelling character in this series, in the same sense that Superman wasn't compelling. You KNOW what's going to happen, right? Crosby will get his points, pout his lips, and drive all non-Pittsburgh fans into a rage every time his mug shows up on the TV screen. Not at all boring, but there's no real suspense either.

He IS going to obliterate the Flyers, though. Sorry guys.

Carnac Says: "Superstar treatment".

"What's the name of the triple penicillin shot at all the free clinics in Pittsburgh?"

Prediction: Penguins in 5

 (2E) Boston Bruins
(7E) Washington Capitals

The Matchup: Tim Thomas vs Washington DC? Sure, why not? The Caps and the Bruins are a classic-ish matchup, one that preseason geniuses would have expected to see in the conference final. Alas, while the streaky Bruins accrued enough points to gain home ice advantage, the Caps were uneven, to put it politely. To be fair, who would have guessed that a team that traded its best goalie in order to sign a veteran with three career playoff wins would struggle? When Tomas Vokoun was unable to shoulder a lion's share of the games due to injury, Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby filled in to varying degrees of success. Holtby looks to be the starter to begin the series. Meanwhile, Alexander Ovechkin probably would not have selected Zdeno Chara to be his prom date for the first round. Ovechkin struggled against the rangy Hal Gill in the 2010 playoffs as the Caps were unceremoniously dumped by Montreal. Zdeno Chara is, uh, slightly better (and bigger!) than Gill. Ruh roh.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Will Alex Semin stain his reputation heading into unrestricted free agency? Or will he rise to the occasion and go on a spurt? With Ovechkin and Chara likely trading musky European cologne scents with one another for the entirety of the series, Semin could be the difference between a spirited Caps upset bid, and a meek "Thanks for the invite" dismissal at the hands of the defending champs.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Bruins ogre Milan Lucic is interesting in the same way that Nelson Munz is interesting. A one-dimensional rockhead, he's a perfect fit in Boston, where one-dimensional rockheads have been revered since the days of John Wensink. Milan Lucic has done exactly one productive thing in his life, and that's piss off Canucks fans. Lucic will find at least one opportunity during this series to drag his knuckles down the ice and give that dumb dog look to a frightened Capital.

Carnac Says: "Catch-22".

"Name something any average fan wearing ice skates for the first time could do in a race with Mike Knuble."

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 (3E) Florida Panthers
(6E) New Jersey Devils

The Matchup: Wow. Devils and Panthers, you say? And it's the playoffs? Well, Florida has that one guy... uh, he scored some goals for them. And their goalie must have been pretty good, right? Or did they have more than one goalie? Wait, who's Florida's goalie? Bouwmeester doesn't play for them anymore, right? Hmm. Okay. Dave Lowry, he's gotta be retired by now. We'll come back to the Panthers. Hah, just kidding, we won't. Isn't it just precious that they made the playoffs though?

The Devils are still the Devils. Even though Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin have moved on, every time I watch a Devils game, I hear "Zach Parise", "Ilya Kovalchuk", and then Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin dubbed over every other name, and I hear it in Gary Thorne's voice, even though Gary Thorne is out sailing a boat somewhere or something. I suppose that's a compliment for the Devils, who are basically a package of hockey Saltines. Lou Lamoriello looks like what Stewie Griffin would look like in about 60 years if he was a real person.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is doing his damndest to give us the answer to the "So why dont they just get a really fat guy to play goalie?" question that every non-hockey fan asks. Marty The One-Man Party, very quietly, has been really stinky in the playoffs since the lockout ended. The only way Brodeur can top his spectacular implosion in the final two minutes of Game 7 against Carolina in 2009 would be to strip naked and run one off on his ex-wife's mother in the postgame interview after the Devils are again eliminated in the first round. This needs to happen.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, the 2011-12 recipient of the "wait a second, he's still in the league???" trophy, annually voted on by newspaper writers. Wait a second, they still make newspapers???

Carnac Says: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten".

"How many NBC affiliated networks begged not to be stuck showing this series?"

Prediction: Panthers in 7

COMING WEDNESDAY: Poison Pen previews the Western Conference