Stanley Cup Playoff Picks

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

The best time of the year is finally here. On Wednesday night, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs will commence. 16 teams enter with dreams of hoisting the Cup two months from now. But, only one well oiled machine will capture the 16 victories necessary to hoist Lord Stanley’s epic trophy. Below is Skood Sports’ postseason prediction blog. All selections are guaranteed to be unbiased, and equally guaranteed to be dead wrong.

First Round

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(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (1-WC) Minnesota Wild

The Avalanche enjoyed a banner year following a lockout shortened season in which they finished among the worst teams in hockey. New coach Patrick Roy has instilled a fantastic system, and presses his players to play hard for 60 minutes every night. Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, meanwhile, has emerged as a Vezina candidate, and he could prove the difference maker in a series against a very sound defensive team in Minnesota.

The Wild, meanwhile, are going to be dragged down a bit by their goaltending situation. Ilya Bryzgalov has emerged as their starter, and every Philadelphia Flyers (and Phoenix Coyotes) fan knows that can spell certain doom come playoff time. Minnesota has high end talent in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. So, I doubt they end up swept in this series. But, the considerable offensive depth that Colorado enjoys will prove too much for “the universe” to handle. Avalanche in 6

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(2-C) St. Louis Blues vs. (3-C) Chicago Blackhawks

It was only a week or two ago that St. Louis was considered the frontrunner to win the West. However, a string of 6 consecutive losses by the Blues to end the season cost them the division and forced them into a brutal first round matchup against the defending Cup champions.

St. Louis still boasts impressive defensive depth and a strong goaltending situation with Ryan Miller. But, the injuries that the Blues suffered late in the season are the type that typically spell doom to Cup contending teams.

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks return to the playoffs looking to win their third championship in five years. Chicago is getting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back for this series, so their offense should be as potent as ever. Corey Crawford, who won the Cup with the team a year ago, now has more experience and should be a force in this series. Either of these teams could win the Cup. But, only one will even get out of the first round. Something tells me that St. Louis, who has won the second most World Series in history, will continue to wait for their first Stanley Cup. Blackhawks in 7.

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(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (2-WC) Dallas Stars

The Ducks are primed to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, if head coach Bruce Boudreau is finally able to get over the playoff hump that he failed to hurdle with Washington. Anaheim boasts high end offensive talent in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well as impressive defensive depth, most of whom are younger than 25. Meanwhile, 24-year old goalie Frederik Andersen looks like the choice between the pipes. The rookie went 20-5 this season with a sparkling .923 save percentage.

Opposing them will be the Dallas Stars, who return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09. Dallas is led by their premier offseason acquisition, Tyler Seguin. The former #2 overall draft choice notched a career high 84 points this season. He’ll join Jamie Benn to lead a high powered Dallas offensive attack.

While the Stars do have the offense to knock off the Ducks, I just don’t see their defense holding up over the course of a seven game series. Give this team a few years, though. Ducks in 5.

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(2-P) San Jose Sharks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

Foolish or not, many believe that this is finally the year for San Jose to get over the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals. San Jose is still led by Joe Thornton (76 points) and Logan Couture (54 points). But, it’s their further reliance on defense that gives their fanbase added hope. Antti Niemi (who won the Cup with Chicago in ’10) won 39 games this season, and appears primed for the playoffs after stopping 30 of 32 shots in their season finale on Saturday.

The Kings, of course, are never an easy out. Los Angeles possesses a well-rounded roster with two-way players throughout. Back are Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick from their 2012 championship team. Joining that group is Marian Gaborik, who was acquired from Columbus at the deadline. His added offensive skills could be enough to propel the Kings to another Western Conference title. Kings in 7.

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(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (1-WC) Columbus Blue Jackets

The Penguins are back at the top of the playoff bracket, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone if they flame out entirely too early. While Pittsburgh does possess high-end offensive talent in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal; their deficiencies on the defensive end are still far too evident to have confidence in them. Marc-Andre Fleury showed late in the season that he could be in for another postseason flame out, as well.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are headed to the postseason for just the second time in their history. Their first appearance came five-years ago, when the Jackets were swept by Detroit. Columbus saw Ryan Johansen (63 points) break out in 2014, as the former #3 overall pick led the offense of one of the league’s surprise teams. The Blue Jackets also have one of the best young goalies in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky and an above-average defense in front of him.

The problem, however, is that Columbus hasn’t shown an ability to defeat the much faster Penguins, having lost all five of their games to Pittsburgh this season. I don’t see the Jackets having enough momentum to win four out of seven, though I also don’t see them getting swept for the second time in their short history. Penguins in 6.

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(2-M) New York Rangers vs. (3-M) Philadelphia Flyers

Having already discussed this series in a previous blog, I’ll leave this excerpt short-and-sweet. If Philadelphia can get better goaltending from Steve Mason than they have gotten from goalies in the past during the postseason, they’ll have a fighting chance against a Rangers team that has owned the Flyers in recent years. Philadelphia hasn’t won in New York since 2011, so finding a way to take one of the first two at MSG would go a long way to deciding the series.

In the end, I’m not sure that Claude Giroux and the offensive catalysts on Philadelphia are enough to overcome the Rangers’ exceptional defense and the man between the pipes, Henrik Lundqvist. Rangers in 7.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (2-WC) Detroit Red Wings

This is probably the team that Boston least wanted to face in the first round, as they’re the only playoff team that the Bruins didn’t have winning record against this season. Still, the B’s have much greater depth than Detroit, and they also have shown a propensity to rise to the occasion come playoff time.

Detroit is expected to have Pavel Datsyuk back for the series. He instantly becomes the best offensive force on either team. Datsyuk can change a game all by himself, so Boston needs to be wise when he’s on the ice. If Jimmy Howard plays with a chip on his shoulder, Detroit could find themselves pulling off the upset of the year. But, that seems unlikely, as Boston is healthy and ready for a long playoff run. Bruins in 6.

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(2-A) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Tampa Bay earned home-ice advantage in this series with their shootout win on Sunday. But, it’s the Canadiens who may have dodged a bullet. Playing at the Bell Centre, in front of their pressure packed and fickle hometown crowd, can be enough to turn most Canadian Cinderellas into pumpkins. For the Habs, it’s their superiority in net that should prove the difference. Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop was phenomenal all season. He was then injured in the year’s final week and will miss at least game one. Without him, Tampa has to rely on Anders Lindback, who is far inferior to Montreal’s Carey Price, who won the Gold medal with Team Canada in Sochi.

When discussing the skaters in this series, it’s very much even between these two clubs. Tampa boasts top end talents like Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, as well as young phenoms in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. They’re led defensively by Victor Hedman, who has emerged as Norris candidate. Montreal possesses phenomenal talent as well, with midseason acquisition Thomas Vanek combining with American Olympian Max Paccioretty to form one of the top scoring lines in hockey. Former Norris winner P.K. Subban promises to have yet another strong playoff for a Montreal team that believes this is their year. Canadiens in 6.

Second Round

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(1-C) Colorado Avalanche vs. (3-C) Chicago Blackhawks

The ‘Hawks have the experience and the coaching to overcome Colorado’s tremendous offensive talent and Varlamov’s skills between the pipes. I wouldn’t count the Avalanche out of this series because I believe that they have the best goalie. But, I also think that Chicago’s defense is miles better, which always makes a difference come the Spring. Blackhawks in 6.

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(1-P) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

The Duck stops here. While I love Anaheim’s offense and their young depth on the blue line, I think that their youth between the pipes and lack of a playoff proven coach will be the death of them. The Kings have all the ingredients necessary to push them back to the Conference Finals for the third consecutive season, and their names are Doughty, Kopitar, and Quick. Kings in 6.

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(1-M) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

The Penguins have made it a trend of falling apart way too early come playoff time. Will that come prior to the Conference Finals this year, after they were unceremoniously swept by Boston a year ago? Probably. Pittsburgh struggles against physical teams, and while the Rangers haven’t played well against the Penguins in recent years, they have the defense to shut down Crosby and Co. when it matters the most. Rangers in 5.

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(1-A) Boston Bruins vs. (3-A) Montreal Canadiens

Everyone and their mother are picking the Bruins to win the East. If you know Skood Sports, we don’t like to conform to society’s demands. I also know that Boston fans hate it when I pick their teams to win, as it almost always results in a loss via the “SkoodSports Curse.”

I expect the Habs, who got under Boston’s skin in a win against the Bruins the last time they played, to continue that trend. If the Bruins can’t keep their cool and end up shorthanded too often, Montreal will pick them apart. This will be Carey Price’s coming out party, as he leads the Canadiens to their biggest series victory in years by shutting out the Bruins at the TD Garden in game seven. Canadiens in 7.

Conference Finals

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(3-C) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3-P) Los Angeles Kings

I said it before and I’ll say it again: The Kings have the ingredients to win another Stanley Cup. Despite Chicago’s offensive talent, it’s Los Angeles’ advantage in net that will prove the difference in their advancement to the Final. Kings in 5.

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(3-A) Montreal Canadiens vs. (2-M) New York Rangers

Ladies and gents, the Montreal Canadiens are headed to the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 20-years. While New York does have King Henrik, the Canadiens have Prime Minister Price. He may well be on his way to becoming the league’s best goalie with his first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in tow. Canadiens in 6.

Stanley Cup Final

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Montreal Canadiens vs. Los Angeles Kings

Both of these teams had identical records during the regular season (46-28-8), though, Montreal’s 40 ROW would earn them home-ice over Los Angeles’ 38. The series would not only be a rematch of the 1993 Final, which saw Wayne Gretzky’s Kings lose to Patrick Roy’s Habs. But, it would also present us with another matchup of the two goalies who took on each other in Sochi, as America’s Jonathan Quick gets another chance at revenge with Canada’s Carey Price.

In the end, it’s the Kings’ experience and defensive stability that will prove the difference, as Los Angeles wins their second Cup in three seasons. Kings in 6.

Flyers-Rangers Series Preview

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

flyers-rangers1For the first time since 1997, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will meet in the postseason. The I-95 Showdown begins on Thursday, with both teams holding aspirations of Stanley Cup glory. For Philadelphia, a series victory would mean ending a string of futility at Madison Square Garden, where the Flyers haven’t won since early-2011. The Rangers, meanwhile, were among the worst playoff teams at home this season, going just three games above .500 at the Garden.

The two teams split their four game season series, 2-2, with both teams winning their home games. For New York, success will be reliant on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist and his defensive corps. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi make up the top line of that group. New York’s success this season is based in large part on theirs, and the duo will likely see a steady dose of Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia first line for much of the series. That would require the Flyers to find scoring from their bottom-three lines. As the only team in the NHL with seven 20+ goal scorers, it’s certainly likely that someone else will step up for the Flyers.

Steve Mason was enjoying a bounce back campaign before he was injured in last weekend’s game against Pittsburgh. The goalie is rumored to have a concussion. Though, none of that has been substantiated by the team or the league. Craig Berube claims that Mason will start game one. If he does, the 25-year old will be searching for his first playoff win. If it is instead Ray Emery, the Flyers will have more experience. The former Senators and Blackhawks netminder has made two Stanley Cups during the course of his career (three if you count his non-roster appearance on the 2010 Flyers).

New Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault developed a reputation for playoff failure in Vancouver, so he will have those criticisms to overcome over the next month. His success in quickly turning the Rangers into an offensive force cannot be ignored. Despite lackluster campaigns from expensive veterans like Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis, the Rangers still ranked near the top in goals scored in the Eastern Conference this season. New York’s bottom-six isn’t deep. But, they do their job soundly and might be the most consistent forward unit on the roster. Guys like Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Dan Carcillo make for a solid group of checking line forwards who can get under the skin of opposing teams.

Players to Watch:

Ryan McDonagh, Rangers – One of the finest young defensemen in the league, McDonagh was poached from Montreal years ago for Scott Gomez. It will likely go down in infamy in Canada. But, the Big Apple will always relish their chance to acquire the talented two-way blue liner. McDonagh is tops on the team amongst d-men in goals, points, power-play points, and plus/minus. He will be counted on, along with Dan Girardi, to stop Claude Giroux and the Flyers.

Claude Giroux, Flyers – After not scoring a goal in his first 15 games, Giroux exploded for the remainder of the season. The 26-year old went on a 1.5 point per game pace from December on, and finished his stunning renaissance with 86 points. Giroux has long been a playoff performer. In 50 lifetime postseason games, Giroux has 55 points.

Henrik Lundqvist – “King Henrik” may have the Vezina accolades. But, his 2014 season hasn’t exactly been his finest. The 32-year old Swedish netminder’s .920 save percentage, while good, is his lowest since 2008-09. Same with his 2.36 goals-against-average. Now, a lot of that has to do with Vigneault’s more aggressive offensive strategy. But, it also cannot be ignored that Lundqvist, for all his talent, has never made a Stanley Cup Final. The veteran has also lost in the first round more than any other since his career began.

Kimmo Timonen – Flyers fans know how important this Finnish defenseman is to their success. No one knows how much longer Timonen will be playing. But, everyone knows that the team couldn’t do without him right now. With a defensive unit that lacks a real high-end talent, Philadelphia relies heavily on the 39-year old. He plays every facet of the game, and will be required to hold the Rangers’ stars in check.

Prediction

It would be easy to go with my heart, and not my head, in this one. Philadelphia’s offensive depth is impressive on the surface. But, the Flyers have gone into deep offensive droughts at times. They’re also dealing with uncertainty between the pipes. Meanwhile, New York boasts one of the most deep defensive units in the league, and offense that is clicking at the right time, and one of the best goalies in the world to act as a last-line-of-defense.

The Flyers are going to win at least one game in New York, something they haven’t done in over three years. It’s certainly feasible, though unlikely. The Rangers are positioned just a little bit better to win the series. Still, the Flyers could move on assuming that Giroux puts together another spectacular postseason series, like he did two years ago against Pittsburgh. In the end, however, it’s the Rangers who will be moving on to face the Penguins, as they’ll overcome a slow start to advance past the first round.

New York in 7

One of the NHL’s most storied rivalries is about to re-energize itself.

For the first time in 17 years, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will battle in the postseason. With Philadelphia’s 4-3 overtime victory flyers-rangers1over Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, that matchup was cemented in stone. The two teams will begin their seven-game battle either Wednesday or Thursday. With New York earning the #2 spot in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll have home-ice advantage.

Philadelphia triumphed over Pittsburgh thanks in large part due to the play of their first line. Claude Giroux (28 goals, 57 assists) continued his assault on Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, scoring once and recording two assists. Jake Voracek (23 goals, 38 assists) also tallied twice before Mark Streit (10 goals, 32 assists) ended the game with a goal in overtime. The Flyers will need their top scorers to continue their solid play if they have any hope of overcoming their arch-rivals from up I-95. The Flyers will wrap up their regular season play tomorrow against Carolina, in a game that has been rendered moot by this afternoon’s triumph.

New York, meanwhile, concludes their season tonight in Montreal. The Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, having won 9 of 12. They’ve gone 3-2 against Philadelphia this season and haven’t lost to the Flyers at Madison Square Garden since January 16th, 2011 (8 games). They also boast one of the best goalies in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist. Still, the Rangers haven’t exactly been world beaters at home, finishing their slate at MSG a mediocre 20-17-4 (worse than non-playoff teams like New Jersey, Washington, and even Toronto).

The last time Philadelphia and New York met up during the postseason was the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals, when Eric Lindros and the Flyers dumped the Rangers in five games en route to a Stanley Cup sweep at the hands of Detroit. The Broad Street Bullies have won three consecutive series against New York (1997, 1995, and 1987), though none have been recently. The most recently significant matchup between the two teams came in 2010, when Philadelphia slayed New York in the 82nd game of the season to earn their berth in the postseason. The Flyers would go on to win the Eastern Conference, much like they did in ’97 and ’87 after dousing the Rangers’ dreams.

Who will come out on top? That’s a question for another time, as Skood Sports will provide an entire playoff prediction next week.

nhl awards

Hart Memorial Trophy

The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player judged to be most valuable to his team over the course of the regular season.

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1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
3. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
4. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim

Yes, Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. He’s also enjoying the best statistical season of anyone in the NHL. However, the Hart Trophy is not an award given to the player with the most points. Instead, it’s bestowed to the man judged to be the player most invaluable to his team. Without Claude Giroux, it’s not only unlikely that Philadelphia is a playoff team. But, the Flyers are probably one of the five worst teams in the Eastern Conference without their captain.

After a dismal start to his season (4 goals in his first 26 games), Giroux erupted right around the same time that he predicted that Philadelphia would still make the playoffs despite their 1-7 start. “Captain Clutch” scored 7 game winning goals this season. Crosby notched only 5. Keep in mind that the latter also missed major time due to injury in 2011 and 2012, and Pittsburgh still managed to finish near the top of the Eastern Conference in both seasons. Any of the four players listed would be deserving of this honor. But, Giroux is the player that his team could least afford to lose.

Vezina Trophy

The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the best goalkeeper during the regular season.

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1. Tuukka Rask, Boston
2. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
3. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado
4. Carey Price, Montreal

Rask, Bishop, and Varlamov all have serious claims to the Vezina Trophy this season. The Bruins’ netminder is the man between the pipes on the best team in hockey. He leads the league in shutouts, ranks fifth in goals against, and places third in save percentage. Some would argue that he benefits from Claude Julien’s defensive system. But, none of the goalies in consideration for this award suffer from porous defensive systems or corps.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

The Norris Trophy is awarded to the best defenseman during the regular season.

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1. Shea Weber, Nashville
2. Duncan Keith, Chicago
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
4. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay

Weber seems to be considered an also-ran by most prognosticators, and might not even be a nominee once they’re announced next week. But, the fact of the matter is that Weber is the only legitimate star in Nashville. His 21 goals leads the league amongst defenseman, and his defensive skills are as refined as ever. Keith may lead the league in points among blue liners. But, he benefits from playing on a team with numerous prolific scoring forwards. Keith, after all, has just 6 goals to go along with a staggering 55 assists. Either player would be a solid selection. But, Weber’s role in Nashville is much more crucial than Keith’s in Chicago.

Jack Adams Award

The Jack Adams Award is awarded to the best coach during the regular season.

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1. Patrick Roy, Colorado
2. Claude Julien, Boston
3. Craig Berube, Philadelphia
4. Mike Babcock, Detroit

When Patrick Roy was traded to the Avalanche from Montreal in 1995, he immediately turned a franchise formerly known as the Quebec Nordiques into a Rocky Mountain sensation. The Avs’ would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, eventually winning another in 2001 with Roy between the pipes. Now, in his first season at the helm back in Denver, Roy has led the Avalanche from one of the worst records in the NHL to the postseason. That fact alone is enough to earn him this honor, despite spirited competition from the other candidates on this list.

Calder Memorial Trophy

The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player enjoying the best regular season during his first NHL campaign (Rookie of the Year).

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1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay
3. Torey Krug, Boston
4. Olli Maata, Pittsburgh

This is probably the least arguable award at this point. Nathan MacKinnon has emerged as a force during his first NHL campaign. Selected by the Avalanche just 10 months ago in the NHL Draft, MacKinnon has proven his worth to one of the most impressive teams in the league. His 24 goals leads the league amongst rookies, as does his spectacular +24 rating. Palat has put up the points in Tampa. But, he comes nowhere near touching MacKinnon for this honor.

Frank J. Selke Trophy

The Selke Trophy is awarded to the forward who excels best in the defensive aspects of the game.

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1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston
2. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado

This is another no-brainer. Yes, Kopitar and Toews are phenomenal players. But, Patrice Bergeron represents a defenseman in a forwards body. His staggering +37 rating is all the more impressive when one considers how often Boston plays him against the opponent’s top line and on the penalty kill. Without Bergeron, the Bruins would still be a playoff team. But, they’d be nowhere near as dominant a force as they’ve become. In a league where defense is becoming more of an afterthought amongst forwards, Bergeron represents a flash back to the old days, where stars were counted on to be the best player on the ice in every facet and every situation of each game.

070413_girouxFor a team that began the season 1-7, the Philadelphia Flyers have done pretty well for themselves. With a victory against the lowly Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, they will officially clinch a playoff berth for the 16th time in 18 seasons. Still, this Flyers team remains somewhat of a mystery. They’ve played the good teams quite well. But, Philadelphia also has a few stinkers on their schedule in which their offensive struggles were magnified. It remains to be seen whether or not the Flyers that we saw pummel the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday and hang with the Boston Bruins for two periods on Saturday will be the team that shows up come playoff time. This is a hockey team that could conceivably contend for the cup if things break their way. They’re also a club that could be swept by New York in round one. That’s the beauty of hockey and the ugliness that is the erratic nature of this Flyers’ bunch.

Offensively, Philadelphia is way too reliant on their top scoring line and #1 power play unit. While Claude Giroux is one of the best players in the world, he’ll need some help from veterans like Vincent Lecavalier as well as the continued emergence of youngsters Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Schenn had struggled mightily post-Olympic break until his two goal performance against Buffalo on Sunday. More of that type of play from the physical forward would give the Flyers an added dimension, scoring prowess from their second line. Meanwhile, Couturier has been a rock defensively. Counted on to defend the opponents’ best line, the 21-year old Phoenix native is a player than Philadelphia could not do without. Still, his offensive game has yet to develop. Couturier does has 10 goals this season. But, none since March 1st vs. New York (17 games). The goals will eventually come. After all, this is a kid that scored 96 points in back-to-back seasons with Drummondville of the QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). If “Couts” can find a few offensive sparks here-or-there, it would add a valuable piece of the puzzle to Philadelphia’s offense that hasn’t been seen over the past month.

The youngster’s improvement could also fuel the second power play unit, which has been absolutely atrocious this season. Typically manned by Schenn, Lecavalier, and Matt Read (with a cameo or two by Couturier), the second unit has become more prone to giving up short handed goals this season than scoring a few themselves. If Philadelphia is to go anywhere this spring, it will need to become more well-rounded offensively, and that begins with the man-advantage.

Defensively, the Flyers improved wholeheartedly by acquiring Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline. A-Mac has proven to be a valuable contributor, often logging the most minutes of any defenseman on the team since being acquired. The continued presence of he, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn makes up for the average performance of Niklas Grossman this season. While he may be battling through a nagging lower-body injury, Grossman’s lack of any offensive polish really inhibits the team during breakouts, and especially when the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone. One would wonder why Erik Gustafsson, a much more proficient two-way defenseman, hasn’t played much this season. But, that’s a matter to ask Craig Berube, who continues to scratch the young Swedish blue-liner despite his success at times. While Philadelphia’s lack of an elite, number one defenseman in the mold of Chris Pronger is evident, the group as a whole is a lot better than analysts and fans lead you to believe.

maseOf course, all of this could be moot. As it often does, the Flyers’ playoff success will likely hinge on the ability of Steve Mason to perform when it matters most. The young netminder, enjoying a renaissance campaign in orange-and-black, has only played in the postseason once. That was following his Calder Trophy 2008-09 season, when he and the Columbus Blue Jackets were unceremoniously swept in four games by the eventual Western Conference champion Detroit Red Wings. Mason has been steady this season, and Philadelphia should at least feel confident that the 25-year old goalie won’t pull a Bryzgalov. But, the lack of experience between the pipes, coupled with the team’s knack for going into prolonged scoring droughts, could leave the Flyers’ season short of their desired goal.

Whatever happens, one has to consider this campaign a success. Few believed that Philadelphia had a prayer following an 0-3 start that left Peter Laviolette fired and brought in the era of Berube. Even fewer thought the Flyers would be playoff bound after their 1-7 beginning under their new head coach. But, as they often do, the Flyers surprised us all. Just as they did when they upset the Penguins two years ago behind Giroux and a rag-tag group of physical yet talented youngsters. Can they do it again? Maybe, maybe not. That’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tonight, the Flyers can book their ticket for the greatest show on Earth.

murphyOnce upon a time, the birth of a man’s first child was considered a moment to halt reality for. After all, many of us never get to experience the joy of child birth. For some, that joy is quickly met with horror when they learn of a potential defect, or, god forbid, a fatal problem with the baby. Fortunately for New York Mets’ infielder Daniel Murphy, his newborn son is healthy as a horse. Unfortunately, he now has to deal with the criticisms of the New York media.

Upon receiving word at 11:30 on Sunday night that his wife was going into labor, Murphy hopped a red-eye flight from New York to Florida to attend the birth. He made it in time to witness the emergence of his 8 pound, 2-ounce son, Noah at just after noon on Monday. Of course, that means Murphy missed the Mets’ 1:00 PM opener against the Washington Nationals that day. Murphy remained with his family through Wednesday, missing one more game in the process (New York had an off-day on Tuesday).

Most people, when learning of the healthy birth of a person’s child, would react with joy and exuberance. Mike Francesa and the New York media aren’t most people, though. The WFAN 660 host had this blasphemous rhetoric to spew during his daily afternoon show: “You’re a major league baseball player. You can hire a nurse. What are you gonna do, sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

Boomer Esiason, another talking head on WFAN, felt the need to crack jokes at Murphy’s wife’s expense. Upon learning that she underwent a C-section during delivery, Esiason stated that she should have had a “C-section before the season starts.”

It’s not as though the Mets are in the thick of a playoff race, either. New York is largely projected to finish below .500 this season. It’s also games 1 and 2 of 162. It’s no wonder people don’t want to play in New York, where idiots like Boomer and Francesa can spew their vitriol against something as magical and innocent as the birth of a couple’s first son. If this is what talk radio has become, then it’s no shock that companies are going out of business left-and-right.

Do these people have wives? Have they ever loved anything besides hanging up on drunks during their shows? The mere fact that Daniel Murphy has to deflect criticism for his decision to remain with his wife for one extra game in April is absolutely absurd. It once again highlights that American media in the 21st century is an absolute disaster. Gone are the days where the story was covered the right way and without senseless bias. A week after DeSean Jackson was slandered by NJ.com (without much proof, I might add), Murphy has to deal with criticism from the internet tough guys and the radio John Wayne’s.

For members of the media, it’s no longer about covering the story. It’s about being the story, and that is a truly tragic fact.

2014 MLB Predictions

Posted: March 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

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AL East

New York Yankees – 94-68
Boston Red Sox – 92-70
Tampa Bay Rays – 88-74
Baltimore Orioles – 84-78
Toronto Blue Jays – 73-89

AL Central 

Detroit Tigers – 98-64
Kansas City Royals – 89-73
Cleveland Indians – 85-77
Chicago White Sox – 71-91
Minnesota Twins – 70-92

AL West

Texas Rangers – 87-75
Oakland Athletics – 87-75
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 84-78
Seattle Mariners – 79-83
Houston Astros – 62-100

NL East

Washington Nationals – 95-67
Atlanta Braves – 86-76
Philadelphia Phillies – 79-83
New York Mets – 78-84
Miami Marlins – 66-96

NL Central 

Cincinnati Reds – 92-70
St. Louis Cardinals – 89-73
Milwaukee Brewers – 83-79
Pittsburgh Pirates – 81-81
Chicago Cubs – 70-92

NL West

Los Angeles Dodgers – 98-64
San Francisco Giants – 87-75
Arizona Diamondbacks – 82-80
San Diego Padres – 76-86
Colorado Rockies – 73-89

Wild Cards

Red Sox OVER Royals
Giants OVER Cardinals

League Division Series

Tigers OVER Red Sox
Rangers OVER Yankees

Dodgers OVER Giants
Nationals OVER Reds

League Championship Series

Tigers OVER Rangers

Nationals OVER Dodgers

World Series

Tigers OVER Nationals

League Awards

AL MVP
1B Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers

NL MVP
1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

AL Cy Young
RHP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

NL Cy Young
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

AL Rookie of the Year
RHP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

NL Rookie of the Year
OF Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

AL Manager of the Year
Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals

NL Manager of the Year
Bryan Price, Cincinnati Reds