Author Archives: Thomas Waind

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 13. Toronto Maple Leafs

Part 19 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 40-27-15 (95 points) 4th in Atlantic (14th)
GPG:
3.05 (5th)
GAPG:
2.85 (22nd)
PP%:
23.8% (2nd)
PK%: 
82.5% (10th)
Corsi For %: 50.1 (14th)

Coming off of a dizzyingly bad 2015-16 season, one that saw the Leafs finish with a league-worst 69 points and Leo Komorov as their only All Star representative, it all paid off when the Leafs locked up the first overall pick in the draft. The selection of Auston Matthews turbo-charged Toronto’s rebuild and the Leafs rocketed up the standings because of revamped young roster. The acquisition of Freddy Andersen in net and contributions from a huge and talented group of rookies went a long way in the Buds jumping up 26 points and grabbing a Wild Card spot.

The Leafs received an unprecedented amount of scoring from their rookies. Matthews led the way with 40 goals, Nylander and Marner each had 61 points, Connor Brown had 17 regular strength goals (Ovechkin finished with 16 last season), Nikita Zaitsev seamlessly stepped into a second pairing role, Hyman showed-off his elite puck-retrieval skills on Matthews’ left wing and Leivo, Soshnikov and Kapanen were very effective in limited action. The future is definitely bright.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 16. Boston Bruins

Part 16 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres#24. Winnipeg Jets#23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames

2016-17 Recap

Record: 44-31-7 (95 Points) 3rd in the Atlantic Division (13th Overall)
GPG: 
2.83 (13th)
GAPG:
2.55 (9th)
PP%:
21.7% (7th)
PK%:
85.7% (1st)
Corsi For %: 54.3% (2nd)

Six years after their 2011 Stanley Cup the Boston Bruins were thought to be slowing down. Last season they put those doubts to bed. Backed by yet another solid season from Finnish goalie Tuuka Rask, who is now 30(?!), the Bruins were surprisingly good at keeping the puck out of their net given their shaky blueline. You blink and this guy goes from the fresh-faced teen traded for Andrew Raycroft to an absolute veteran.

At forward, Bergeron put together yet another spectacular season at both ends of the ice and really was the backbone of this playoff team. The Bruins scoring punch was spearheaded by 21 year-old winger David Pastrnak’s 34 goals and super-pest Brad Marchand with his 39 goal, 85 point campaign.

After the team had started off to an uninspiring 26-23-6 record under Claude Julien, they were able to rally to a playoff spot with a 18-8-1 record with interim coach Bruce Cassidy. Despite losing to the eventual conference finalist Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, last season had many positive notes for a Bruins team in transition.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 19. Philadelphia Flyers

Part 13 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres, #24. Winnipeg Jets, #23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. LA Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes

 

2016-17 Recap

Record: 39-33-10 (88 Points) 6th in the Metropolitan Division (19th Overall)
GPG: 
2.59 (21st)
GAPG:
2.82 (19th)
PP%:
19.5% (14th)
PK%:
79.8% (21st)
Corsi For %: 52.0% (4th)

In the last five seasons the Flyers missed the playoffs three times and were quick first round outs the two years they did make it. Since their fluky Cup run in 2010, the Flyers have been in playoff purgatory with unsettling mediocre results. It’s especially disappointing given that you don’t have to squint too hard to see a talented roster. On paper, a team consisting of a forward core of Giroux, Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, Couturier could be the backbone of a contending team. But over the past half decade, because of a blueline that has been in flux since Chris Pronger retired (?) and carousel of mediocre goalies doing their best to slow down the goals, successful seasons have been few and far between.

Last season there were some positive signs in the disappointing playoff-less campaign. Despite a stagnate offense and uninspiring goaltending, the Flyers were actually a very strong possession team. They had the fifth-most Shots For per game with 31.5 and the seventh-best Shots Against per game with 28.5. They also were sixth in the NHL in USAT% (Unblocked Shot Attempts Percentage: team shots on goal + team missed shots (excluding empty net). Also called Fenwick for) with 51.33% while having very favourable zone starts with 1233 offensive zone faceoffs and 1098 defensive zone faceoffs.

So, as weird as this sounds, the Flyers are a near elite team in terms of applying pressure on the other team, swarming the offensive zone and getting pucks toward the net. All they need to do now is figure out how to actually put the puck in the net… well and I guess keeping it out of the net… what a mess.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera, Nolan Patrick,

List of Key Departures: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Mason, Brayden Schenn

The biggest transaction of the offseason involved the Flyers winning a lottery. No they didn’t land the first overall pick in the 2017 draft, but they did jump 11 spots in the draft to take Nolan Patrick with the second pick. The big center has drawn comparisons to Eric Staal because of his powerful skating and soft hands. He’s one of the most NHL-ready players from the draft and looks to center a second line that will hopefully score some goals and take some scoring pressure off of Giroux and Voracek.

The acquisition of Patrick made it possible to trade Schenn to the Blues for Lehtera and a first round pick. While Lehtera is a downgrade, to the point where he might not make the team out of camp, his contract is around $500,000 cheaper AAV than Schenn with one less year. This gives the Flyers much more flexibility when their youngsters start to get expensive. After signing veteran goalie Brian Elliott to a two year deal, a move that brought Philadelphia just $2,424,107 below the salary cap, the Flyers are attempting the nearly-impossible task of trying to rebuild and contend at the same time.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Claude Giroux

Giroux’s offense has been in a steady decline since the 2013-14 season. In the last four seasons he has had point totals–in chronological order–of 86, 73, 67, and 58 last season. Not counting the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, last year’s point total was Giroux’s lowest since he put up 47 points in his 2009-10 sophomore  season.

Despite plummeting offensive output, Giroux is still Philadelphia’s most important player. He led all Flyers forwards in ice-time with a TOI of 19:07, powerplay ice-time with 307:05 and assists per 60 minutes with 1.68. He is also the team’s premier faceoff man winning 459 offensive zone faceoffs (57.7%), 250 defensive zone faceoffs (59.5%) and 268 neutral zone faceoffs (50.3%).

While at 29 years old Giroux is on the cusp of being an “old” NHL player, I have no doubt that he will bounce back from last years 14 goal output. He is still supremely skilled and his name still carries the weight to draw the other team’s toughest matchups.

Team’s Strength: Depth down the middle

The Pittsburgh Penguins have won three Stanley Cups in the past decade and their strength for each one happened to be their supreme talent and immense depth at centre. Crosby and Malkin are enough to give any team fits, but once you follow them up with the likes of Nick Bonino, Jordan Staal, Matt Cullen, Max Tablot and Tyler Kennedy you really start to force the other team’s hand.

The Flyers seem to have taken a page out of the book of their in-state rivals and have a nice collection of centremen of their own. Despite a dropoff in scoring, Giroux is still one of the most talented forward in the NHL. Nolan Patrick is NHL-ready with a good shot at developing into a very effective No. 2 centre.

One guy who just doesn’t get the same buzz as Giroux and Patrick is 2011 eighth overall pick Sean Couturier. He has quietly developed into a very capable second option at centre. He gets plenty of powerplay and penalty kill time and his strong zone-entry play has gone a long way in making the Flyers one of the strongest possession teams in the NHL.

Sean Couturier

Beyond their core three, the Flyers have some other centre options. Veterans Filppula and Lehtera can spot some time at the centre pivot. Youngsters Travis Koenecny and Scott Laughton have impressed early in their careers and could look to centre one of the bottom six lines if there’s no room on the of one of the top two lines. The Flyers have options upfront and if they’re firing on all cylinders the team should be a matchup nightmare all season long.

Team’s Weakness: The crease

Since Ron Hextall’s last season as a starter in 1997-98 the Flyers have seemingly thrown anyone and everyone in the net to see if they can stop some rubber. John Vanbiesbrouck, Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Antero Niittymäki, Martin Biron, Brian Boucher, Michael Leighton, Ray Emery, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ilya Bryzgalov, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth round out two decades of two-ply soft goaltending. Keep in mind that Bobrovsky didn’t become Vezina Bob until he was flipped to Columbus for three non-first round picks (a trade made to make room for Bryz) and it looks even more bleak.

With Voracek and Giroux in their prime and making big money with a young and talented supporting cast on entry level deals, this team needs to win sooner rather than later. This is why it’s integral that Brian Elliot is the one to backstop the Flyers to the next level. At age 32 on a two year deal with an AAV of $2,750,000, the Flyers hope that Elliott can bounce back from a disappointing 2016-17 season. If Elliott plays like he did with the St. Louis Blues, where he posted a .925 save percentage over three seasons, Flyers fans will be ecstatic.

Rookies/Farm:

Along with Nolan Patrick, rookie forward Taylor Leier and defenseman Robert Hagg are breaking camp with the Flyers. Leier was a Flyers fourth round pick in 2012 and turned some heads in preseason with a 3 points in 4 game performance. 22 year-old Hagg is a stay-at-home blueliner who doesn’t move the needle to much. But he’s solid enough to step into the lineup and give some of their project players some time to develop.

As of right now defensemen Travis Sanheim (17th overall in 2014) and Samuel Morin (11th overall in 2013) are still on the bubble to make the opening night roster. Sanheim is a well-rounded defenseman who has outgrown the AHL and Morin is a 6’6″ mammoth who has developed into a strong-skating shutdown guy during his time in Lehigh Valley. They’re both knocking on the door and should add to the Flyers’ young and mobile defense.

Key Player: Ivan Provorov

Just one year ago Philadelphia entered the season with Shane Gostisbehere as the present and future of their blueline. Gostisbehere had just finished second in Calder voting behind Panarin (ahead of McDavid). Gostisbehere’s high octane play and impressive scoring numbers excited fans and Philadelphia management alike.

But last season Provorov was able to leapfrog the Ghostbear on the Flyers defensive hierarchy. Philadelphia’s 7th overall pick in 2015 broke out in a big way last year and became an absolute horse for the Flyers. He led Philly defensemen in ice-time with a TOI of 21:58 playing in all situations. Provorov was leaned on heavily on the PK and scored at a relatively high clip despite riding shotgun to the Ghostbear on the powerplay. As Philly develops into a contender, Provorov will be tasked with stabalizing a young blueline that will almost assuredly go through some growing pains.

Our Rankings

T. Waind: 21st

C. Burgess: 17th

B. Ballantyne: 17th


 

A lot has to go right for the Flyers to fight their way through the suddenly deep Eastern Conference. Voracek and Giroux need to rediscover their scoring touch, the young blueline needs to play above their age and, most importantly, they need a goalie to consistently stop the puck. I’m actually a big believer in this team’s talent. They just have so many blue chip guys on the backend and more than enough playmakers at the top of their lineup that they shoud be knocking on the door of contention. Don’t be shocked if they grab a wild card spot this year.

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 22. Florida Panthers

Part 10 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team. It’s not the most exciting system, but neither is Jacques Lemaire’s neutral zone trap.

Check out our other previews:

#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils , #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres, #24. Winnipeg Jets, #23. New York Islanders

2016-17 Recap

Record: 35-36-11 (81 Points) 6th in the Atlantic Division (23rd Overall)
GPG: 
2.50 (23rd)
GAPG:
2.82 (21st)
PP%:
17.0% (24th)
PK%: 
85.3% (2nd)
Corsi For %: 51.7% (5th)

Last season was a huge letdown in Sunrise, Florida. A year removed from a 103 point Atlantic-winning 2015-16 season, the Panthers dropped out of the playoff conversation altogether in 2017. Despite being third in the league shots on goal with 32.2 shots per game, their scoring fell off of a cliff due to their 28th ranked team shooting percentage of 7.8%. This drop in shooting percentage could be explained by poor shot selection, but I tend to think that the team was just incredibly unluckly last season. It certainly didn’t help that Huberdeau was only healthy enough to suit up for 31 games.

The disappointing showing in the standings ended up riding shotgun to the circus that become of the Gerard Gallant firing and the front office purge at season’s end. This team became the battleground for the analytics crowd versus “old-school hockey guys” as the respected Gallant became a martyr for the “old boys club”, while the reinstatement of Dale Tallon as GM irked the analytics community. This whole gongshow weirdly enough made the Panthers more relevant in the media than they had been for years.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 25. Buffalo Sabres

Part 7 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team. It’s not the most exciting system, but neither is Jacques Lemaire’s neutral zone trap.

Check out our other previews:
#31. Colorado Avalanche 
#30. Vegas Golden Knights
#29. Vancouver Canucks
#28. Detroit Red Wings
#27. New Jersey Devils
#26. Arizona Coyotes

2016-17 Recap

Record: 33-37-12 (78 points) 8th in the Atlantic division (26th overall) 
GPG:
2.43 (24th)
GAPG:
2.82 (20th)
PP%:
24.5% (1st)
PK%:
77.6% (25th)
Corsi For %: 47.2 (28th)

After jumping from 54 points in 2014-15 to 81 points in 2015-16, there was a lot of buzz surrounding this young Sabres team last season. A core of Eichel, O’Reilly, Ristolainen, Reinhart, Okposo,  Kane and Lehner seemed like it had the jam to breakout in the Eastern conference and challenge for a playoff spot. While it wasn’t really out of left field for the Sabres to underwhelm their way to a 78 point season, the utter and complete dysfunction that got them there was a surprise.

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2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 28. Detroit Red Wings

Part 4 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. We’re delivering each team’s preview in the order that we collectively power ranked them. This isn’t an exact science, but unlike like Bryzgalov’s musings of the universe, it’s not a humangus big deal.

Check out our other previews:
#31. Colorado Avalanche 
#30. Vegas Golden Knights
#29. Vancouver Canucks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 33-36-13 (79 points) 7th in the Atlantic division (25th overall) 
GPG:
2.41 (26th)
GAPG:
2.98 (26th)
PP%:
15.1% (27th)
PK%:
80.8% (16th)
Corsi For %: 48.5 (23rd)

Last season was a bit of a let down in the Motor City as the Red Wings ended Detroit’s famous record breaking playoff streak at 25 seasons. Their legendary core from earlier this decade has slowly but surely decayed to the point that 36 year-old Henrik Zetterberg is now the last man standing. The underwhelming Wings seemed to struggle at both scoring and preventing goals which is generally not a recipe for success. Read more

2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 31. Colorado Avalanche

Part 1 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. We’re delivering each team’s preview in the order that we collectively power ranked them. This isn’t an exact science but, just like ex-Leafs GM Dave Nonis, for better or for worse you’ve gotta go with your gut.

2016-17 Recap

Record: 22-56-4 (48 points) 7th in the Central division (30th overall) 
GPG:
2.01 (30th)
GAPG:
3.37 (30th)
PP%:
12.6% (30th)
PK%:
76.6% (29th)
Corsi For %: 48.6% (23rd)

You can’t sugar-coat it, last season was an unmitigated disaster in Colorado. Their 2016-17 season was the worst that any team has had in the post-2005 lockout era. The Avs got career worst performances from their core of MacKinnon, Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie and Johnson. An injured Varlamov was limited to 24 games and posted an abysmal 0.898 save percentage when he did play. Their lineup was just terribly ineffective from top-to-bottom with next to no offensive support from secondary players like Soderberg, Iginla, Grigorenko, Bourque, Comeau and Colborne. The season spiraled out of control both on and off of the ice with the team playing its worst hockey since leaving Quebec, with behind the scenes turmoil that led to the alienation of Matt Duchene. The Avs will have a tough time topping the lows of last season… Read more

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