Back in the pre-season one last time, Cole and I sit down the discuss the excitement of the season and take a look at some of the divisions around the league and what we expect to see. Let's get started :)
Welcome back from Vegas AJ. In case you've lost track of what day it is (not that we'd blame you) it's Wednesday (well actually Tuesday when we wrote this) and that means that we are just one long day away from Avalanche hockey. How's that sound to you?
AJ: We've spent the last few months listening to what terrible management we have, how bad the majority of our players are, and clueless our organization is to the problems that plague it. Am I ready for our guys to get out there on the ice and start sticking it to all these fuckin guys and proving everyone wrong again? Fuck yes I am. Fuck yes. PUMPED.
Cole: Well said. In about 24 hours all the stats go out the window, all the talk about last year can be thrown out too. It's just about these 82 games and making the playoffs
AJ: Need to take a step forward this season. Win the division again? Cool. Lose in the first round again? Uncool. I want to see us in the second round of the playoffs. I want to see these guys take the anger from losing last year and turn it into something positive. Second round. That's where my head is this year. Second round.
Cole: Second round? I'm aiming for a cup. If last year's Rangers squad can be in a cup final....
AJ: So is my wallet after dropping some coin on the Avs to win it all. So let's just agree to let that Islanders-Avs final happen so I ensure I'm making some nice cash next June, okay?
Cole: Sure sure AJ. Calvin de Haan Smythe amirite?
AJ: Doesn't have the same ring to it as Nathan MacKinnon Smythe
So now that the season's actually starting these Watercoolers are going to take a slight change in direction. After all, there's a whole league to think about. Before we get to talking about the 29 less cool teams, let's talk about Dennis Everberg. 3 guys battling for 1 spot, did Patrick Roy make the right call?
AJ: I definitely think he did. Everberg showed up, flaws and all, and played the same way everyday from rookie camp all the way through Frozen Fury. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance for all of rookie/training camp and several of his pre-season appearances and Roy had to love the consistency Everberg played with. With Rendulic seeing some PP time, Roy decided to tinker with Everberg on the PK and seemed to find some success there. Ultimately, I think this is what put him over the top because the Avs are a team filled to the brim with guys who can play PP minutes. They lack any real depth on their PK units, especially at forward, and Everberg only seeks to give the team more of that flexibility moving forward. I'm happy with the choice Roy made but he could really seek to drive it home if he makes the bold choice to actually play him this weekend. I would love to see Cliche sitting in the press box and Everberg taking his spot on the PK.
Rendulic and Agozzino did everything asked of them (especially Agozzino moving to center and winning multiple faceoffs against Kopitar/Stoll in Frozen Fury) but ultimately weren't the right fit for the kind of player we needed right now. Everberg will excel at the playing hard/hitting everyone he can/PK energy role the team will ask of him. Unfortunately, I'd be surprised to see him stick very long because once Mitchell/McGinn/Winchester are ready to go full-time, he's probably headed for Cleveland even though it should be Cliche.
Cole: As much as it pains me to say it...... I agree with you on Everberg. I've been a credentialed member of the Borna Rendulic fanclub since the day we signed this guy and I was rooting so hard for him to find a spot on this team, but Everberg is the better choice for that role at this time.
The nice thing (if there is one) about Roy's 4th line usage is that Everberg is going to get a taste of the NHL, but he definitely wont get enough time on ice to hurt this team if he's not quite ready.
From what I saw in the preseason though, Everberg brings some good qualities to the bottom six and is going to be a positive contributor in the limited minutes he gets out of the gate.
AJ: During Frozen Fury, there were times the Everberg-Agozzino-Rendulic line was the only one making anything happen. I think they were consistently the Avs best or second best line line in that game. A big part of that was Everberg's physical play. I'm hoping we see him show well with the big club this weekend.
Cole: I'm hoping he shows at all... meaning McLeod doesnt do something stupid/Cooke related and get tossed or put in the box - negating his line's minutes for the night
AJ: I hope Cody drops 'em with Cooke. I don't even care if he wins or loses it. Taking Cooke off the ice for 5 minutes is good for everybody.
In other Avs pseudo-news Josh Kroenke announced today that the Avalanche have been pushing the NHL for an outdoor game next season to celebrate 20 years of Avalanche hockey. It's never to early to speculate, so what's the #1 thing you want to see out of the Avs celebrating their 20th season?
AJ: Raising a Stanley Cup banner? Bring back all the guys with retired jerseys and other significant contributors for an alumni game? Maybe save the Hejduk jersey retirement for that? A Winter Classic with 24/7? I honestly haven't really given it any thought.
Cole: As much as I would love a Winter Classic next year I recognize that it's out of the Avs' control. One thing that isn't, and is absolutely essential for the 20th season is a new set of home and away sweaters. The Avs are one of the only teams left in the NHL that hasn't adopted a new sweater since the switch to Reebok and worse, they're one of the only piping heavy sweaters left. What better time to bring the Avs back to their classic look than a year that celebrates their inaugural season. 20th anniversary patches belong on a brand-spankin-new jersey, it's as simple as that
AJ: Talked me into it, Cole. I'm in.
All right, Cole. Let's talk some non-Avs hockey for a bit here. Starting in the Western Conference, give me two teams from last year's playoffs you think realistically could miss the playoffs and two teams who missed last year's playoffs to make it this year.
Cole: Everyone knows the Avs regression talk, yadda yadda yadda, is it possible they miss? Sure, but I'm going to take them out of the equation and pick two other WC teams for arguments sake. First up is the Minnesota Wild: When you're top scorer is best known for being an Olympic disappointment, and your top goalie is... wait who's their top goalie again? Anyway you get the point. There's a lot of good but now great in Minnesota and a little bit of bad goaltending and low scoring could take a significant chunk out of their point totals. Next up I'll go with the the Dallas Stars. For all the problems that pundits see with the Avalanche's lineup, I see a lot of the same ones with the Stars. One injury or stumble from Lehtonen and that hype train could derail in a hurry. Jason Spezza was a good add, but I don't believe in Ales Hemsky and I don't see why it's a given, league-wide that Seguin and Benn will be world-beaters carrying this team to greatness while Duchene and MacKinnon do what exactly?
On the other side of the coin... I'll go with Vancouver, who had a hilariously bad season in part, im sure, due to the number of guys who did not want to be a part of the team. Radim Vrbata was a sneaky good addition and Miller will be good, but not as good as he was last time he played in Vancouver. My other darkhorse is the Edmonton Oilers. They made some very solid additions this summer, albeit at laughable cost to their salary cap moving forward. But for now, additions of Fayne, Nikitin, and Pouliot help the Oilers improve substantially.
AJ: I honestly don't have anything to add. You touched on all the points I wanted to.
You can take the Eastern Conference first.
AJ: In the East, I can see Columbus failing to make a return trip to the playoffs. It's not because I don't think that's a good hockey team because it is, it's just that they've already had so many injuries and so many distractions that I can easily see that team coming out and putting up a terrible October/November and putting themselves so far behind the 8 ball that when they finally get healthy and get everyone on the same page, even the comically weak East will be too far ahead for them to catch up. It saddens me to say it, but I think we're looking at a BJ-less playoffs.
Next up I think is Detroit. They had GLARING issues this off-season that had to be taken care of and the team was rejected so consistently by the free agents they were targeting that they had to scramble to give Kyle Quincey a RAISE in order to get him to come back. This is no longer the top 4 strong two-way Quincey we saw in Colorado. This version of Quincey has taken a few too many beatings from the nerf bat and he's a shell of his former self and he was only one of two players to play all 82 for them last season. They only got a combined 90 games out of Zetterberg and Datsyuk last season so a full season with them around would make a big difference but...does anybody believe either guy can go an entire year without suffering an injury? Oh, Datsyuk is already hurt? Well then. That shoddy defense is all that's protecting the weak goaltending they throw out on a nightly basis as they went out and doubled down on their Jonas Gustavsson bet by re-signing him. Granted, he's coming off a career best season but he only had a .907 save percentage! Were these guys not fortunate enough to be in the East, they wouldn't even be playoff contenders. As it is, I think they're in the mix for the wild card spots but I think they'll ultimately fall short because fuck them.
As for the two teams that I think break into the playoffs this year, I think Washington with it's ultra deep defense, improved goaltending (y'all can worship at the altar of Allaire but Mitch Korn is top dog in my eyes) and dynamic offense will find a way to get into the postseason mix. That's still a really talented roster and even with their recent coaching nightmares they still almost made it last season. I have them as an easy in out East. The other pick is going to surprise nobody but I think my sleeping giant Islanders are going to begin awakening this year. They significantly improved their goaltending in the off-season, they get John Tavares back from the knee injury he suffered in the Olympics, they added a high-scoring second line when they brought in Kulemin and Grabovski and then they continued rolling the dice when they brought in Boychuk and Leddy a couple days ago. That's a young, deep, talented team all across its roster and they'll benefit by playing a lot of weak teams on a nightly basis out East and for the first time in many years they should be the more talented team the majority of nights they step onto the ice.
Cole: You took my picks for teams making the playoffs, but I've got to disagree on the teams that miss them. Yeah the BJ's have some injury woes now, but Johansen is back and people continually forget that they added Hartnell (a good addition for that team)
AJ: Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Nathan Horton, Ryan Murray, and Brian Gibbons all are hurt already. Johansen still hasn't even played a game and he's going to be expected to go out there and play 1st line minutes? They could be in for a real troublesome start to the season.
Cole: It could definitely be a hard start, but I think in the end they'll come out ahead of my playoff miss - Philadelphia Flyers. That team lost Hartnell and Timonen, two really important guys to their squad in recent seasons. Their whole team (defense especially) is old and getting older, and while I think Claude Giroux is one of the league's best talents, he's going to be asked to carry that team harder than ever before
AJ: I could absolutely see the Flyers missing out. They have plenty of issues on their roster but that goaltending remains a question mark. Like the Avs, the Flyers are dependent on their goalie having great success.
Cole: And Mason? I mean.... He's ok, but I don't think he's a guy who will annually carry a team. Otherwise I agree, Detroit gets the boot, Islanders and Washington for a spot, and I'll also include New Jersey in the running for a playoff spot. They've ditched their biggest anchor in Marty Broduer and added Mike Camalleri to the lineup, that combined with some improved luck in the shootout could give them a substantial boost in the standings
AJ: I thought about NJ pretty hard but even counting the 0-13 record in SO losses last season, something that's going to be extremely difficult to replicate, they still have to find a way to handle those 18 loser points they received. That's an awful lot of games that team lost. The addition of Cammy is solid as he's still productive and the loss of Brodeur will definitely help...but will it be enough?
I'm not really sold on them improving significantly. They lost some pretty good defensive players in Volchenkov and Fayne and while Larsson and Gelinas will have increased roles on the team, I'm not sold on that being enough to get them over the hump. NJ is a perfectly example of why the East is so hard to predict, though, because they have talent and you can easily see them with 95 points or 75 points. So much volatility over there.
Cole: Very true.
One last question. Your cup finalists and pick.
AJ: It's hard every year because you can't predict all the crazy shit that's going to take place every year like...a pretty blah Montreal team beating Boston in the playoffs? Bleh. But let's go with a Kool-Aid Cup and say Tampa Bay-Dallas with Tampa Bay winning in 5. lol jk. I've got Boston and San Jose with San Jose in 6.
Cole: Lol. I've got Tampa for real, they'll lose to the Kings in 6. That's right, Kings will be the first to repeat in a looong time.
AJ: I don't see LA making a lot of noise this year. I think they're going to be their typical solid but unspectacular regular season team but I think they get smoked in the playoffs. Call it a gut feeling but that hangover feels very real.
That's all we have this week. We're extremely excited that this time next week when we sit down we'll finally be talking about actual hockey games that count.