NHL

NHL: first round predictions

Western Conference:

(4) Winnipeg VS (1) Anaheim

Anaheim in 6

The Anaheim Ducks are once again the top seed in the Western Conference after totaling 109 points this season. In fact, they have been Pacific Division Champions three years running. Alarmingly, they have not reached the Conference Finals since the 2006-07 season, the same year in which they won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup. While Anaheim clearly has a history of early exits from the postseason, expect the experience of veterans Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to carry the Ducks over the Jets, a franchise that has not been in the playoffs since 2007 (then the Atlanta Thrashers).

(3) Calgary VS (2) Vancouver

Vancouver in 7

This battle for supremacy in Western Canada is a tossup. Both teams finished the regular season 6-3-1, and they were only separated in the standings by a margin of 4 points. The Canucks come into postseason play behind their star twin duo Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who tallied 76 and 73 points, respectively. The Canucks’ biggest question coming in is who will be the starting goalie, Eddie Lack or Ryan Miller. Similarly, the Flames have a question mark at goaltender as well. Jonas Hiller appears to be the starter come game 1, but it is important to note that he lost his starting job in the postseason with Anaheim last year. Goalie trouble aside, if the Flames wish to keep their surprise season going, they must get continued production from rookie sensation Johnny Gaudreau.

(4) Minnesota VS (1) St. Louis

St. Louis in 6

The St. Louis Blues tout the best goal differential in the Western Conference. Accomplishing this feat has come via a combination of solid play on both ends of the ice, as the Blues are top 5 in the league in both goals scored and goals against. Vladimir Tarasenko is one of the best offensive talents in the league, and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are two of the finest blue-liners you’ll find. While Minnesota put together a solid 100 point season, the star-studded lineup that the Blues bolster will prove to be too much to handle for the Wild.

(3) Chicago VS (2) Nashville

Chicago in 7

The Nashville Predators are coming into the postseason for the first time in three years as the third best team in the Western Conference in terms of points. From Filip Forsberg’s breakout season to the standard solid play of goalie Pekka Rinne, the predators have put together quite the season. Unfortunately, they pair with the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of 2 of the last 5 Stanley Cup Championships. In addition, star forward Patrick Kane is expected to play for the first time in nearly 2 months since he suffered a clavicle injury. Kane, Toews and company will be too much for Nashville.

 

Eastern Conference:

(4) Pittsburgh VS (1) New York (Rangers)

New York in 5

During the first half of the season, this is not a matchup we would have expected to see in the first round. Ravaged by the injury bug, the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled mightily in the second half of the season, only edging Boston for the final Wild Card spot by 2 points. You have to be at full strength to beat the President Trophy winning New York Rangers, and the Penguins are far from it. The Rangers will keep up their exceptional level of play and will have some time to rest before the next round after a quick ousting of Sidney Crosby and the Pens.

(3) New York (Islanders) VS (2) Washington

Washington in 6

A lot has been made of the potential “Battle of New York” in the second round if both the Islanders and Rangers advance. However, with Alexander Ovechkin playing the way he has this year, fans in the Big Apple will have to wait for an intrastate rivalry for at least another year. Ovechkin, scorer of 50 or more goals in one season for the sixth time in his career, has evolved as a better two-way player. Taking his absurdly awful plus/minus of -35 last season to +10 this year is evidence that Ovechkin has accepted the burden of leading his team to previously unattainable postseason success.

(4) Ottawa VS (1) Montreal

Montreal in 6

The Montreal Canadiens’ season went relatively according to expectations: star defenseman P.K. Subban displayed his offensive talent by notching 60 points, solid forward Max Paccioretty led the team in total goals and points, and Carey Price had himself a Vezina Trophy caliber season by leading the league in just about every goaltending statistical category. The Senators, on the flipside, trailed in the wild card standings by a double-digit point margin less than two months ago.  However, don’t expect Ottawa’s season ending surge to translate into first round success as the Canadiens are simply too sound in all facets of the game.

(3) Detroit VS (2) Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay in 5

Home ice has been kind to the Tampa Bay Lightning this season, as they have accumulated the best home record in the NHL at 32-8-1. Center Steven Stamkos helped his team to the highest goals per game average in the league, and starting goalie Ben Bishop recorded 40 wins on the season. When Bishop was injured for the first round last year, the Lightning were swept by the Canadiens. With a healthy net-minder and a ferocious offensive attack, the Lightning will close out the inconsistent Wings on home ice in game 5.  

Stadium Series provides excitement for fans, players

The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks clashed in an inter-state rivalry game a few weekends ago, and the reigning Stanley Cup Champions emerged victorious with a 2-1 victory over their enemy to the north.

However, the game had a different venue than usual. Rather than the Staples Center in Los Angeles or the SAP Center in San Jose playing host to the matchup, the battle took place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the home of the San Francisco 49ers.

The temperature during the day in Santa Clara was in the 70s, and the puck-drop temperature was 57 degrees Fahrenheit-- not quite typical hockey weather.

Although not completely commonplace, this is not a particularly new spectacle for the NHL. The most familiar locations for Stadium Series games are cold weather cities such as New York and Chicago. Recently, however, the NHL has experimented with playing regular season games in more temperate climates.

The successes couldn’t be better.

Bringing hockey to hotter outdoor climates is not the only enticing feature of the Stadium Series.  Live intermission performances by California’s own John Fogerty and the Grammy-winning Melissa Etheridge kept fans entertained even when the greatest game on ice was momentarily paused.

The NHL has played 15 outdoor games since the 2003-04 season primarily to engage current fans and to create new ones. Levi’s Stadium filled beyond capacity for this year’s tilt with more than 70,000 people in attendance.

Yet, the memories made at outdoor games are not just owned by the fans. The players that compete in front of these record crowds will certainly never forget their experiences, either.

"It was incredible. From start to finish, what an atmosphere," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton after the game. "It was a once in-a-lifetime-type thing for us.”

Sharks coach Todd McLellan also enjoyed the experience. 

“You talk about moments where the hair stands up on your neck," McLellan said, "and tonight was one of those moments.”

The fact that both teams are tied in the Western Conference standings and are currently battling each other for a playoff birth did not seem to matter that Saturday night. Getting the opportunity to play hockey outdoors in front of a large number of passionate fans is something that even professional players and coaches cannot take for granted.

"The fact we lost was disappointing," McLellan admitted. "But to be part of it, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Stadium Series provides excitement for fans and players

The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks clashed in an inter-state rivalry game last weekend, and the reigning Stanley Cup Champions emerged victorious with a 2-1 victory over their enemy to the north.

The game was not played at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, nor was it played at the SAP Center in San Jose.

Rather, the battle took place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Indeed, a hockey game was played outdoors in the Californian Bay Area. The temperature during the day in Santa Clara was in the 70s, and the puck-drop temperature was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Although not completely commonplace, this is not a particularly new spectacle for the NHL. The most familiar locations for Stadium Series games are cold weather cities such as New York and Chicago. Recently, however, the NHL has experimented with playing regular season games in more temperate climates.

The successes couldn’t be much greater.

Last year, the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 at Dodger Stadium. Yes, an ice hockey game was played in Los Angeles, California.

Bringing hockey to hotter outdoor climates is not the only enticing feature of the Stadium Series.  Live intermission performances by California’s own John Fogerty and the Grammy-winning Melissa Etheridge kept fans entertained even when the greatest game on ice was momentarily paused.

The NHL has played 15 outdoor games since 2003 primarily to engage current fans and to create new ones. Levi’s Stadium filled beyond capacity for this year’s tilt with more than 70,000 people in attendance.

Yet, the memories made at outdoor games are not just owned by the fans. The players that compete in front of these record crowds will certainly never forget their experiences, either.

"It was incredible. From start to finish, what an atmosphere," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the game. "It was a once in-a-lifetime-type thing for us.”

Sharks coach Todd McLellan also shared his thoughts on the scene. “You talk about moments where the hair stands up on your neck," McLellan said, "and tonight was one of those moments.”

The fact that both teams are tied in the Western Conference standings and are currently battling each other for a playoff berth did not seem to matter Saturday night. Getting the opportunity to play hockey outdoors in front of a large number of passionate fans is something that even professional players and coaches cannot take for granted.

"The fact we lost was disappointing," McLellan admitted. "But to be part of it, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

 

What Seguin's injury means for the Stars, Spezza

Last Friday, the Dallas Stars’ All-Star forward Tyler Seguin was injured in a brutal collision when Florida Panthers’ defensemen Dmitry Kulikov delivered a hard hit.

The NHL announced Kulikov will be suspended four games for the illegal blow; however, the Stars’ will be without their leading scorer for 3-6 weeks as Dallsas placed Seguin on the injured reserved list over the weekend.  

Seguin leads the team in both goals (29) and total points (59). Adjusting to life without their top offensive player will be challenging for the Stars as they currently sit outside the playoff picture even with Seguin playing every game he has been eligible for this season.

The first game that Seguin missed all year came on Saturday, a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche are currently one point behind the Stars in the standings and are one of several teams in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff birth.

The Stars, who are still alive in the playoff race, must figure out a way to score goals without Seguin and last night they did just that as they came away with a huge 4-1 road victory over the St. Louis Blues. Center iceman Jason Spezza had three assists in the game as all three helpers were to captain Jamie Benn, who scored the first hat trick of his career.

Dallas aquired Spezza, an eleven year NHL veteran, last summer to help the Stars offensively. With star forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin leading the team in goals last year, Spezza was poised to likely be the Stars’ third scoring option this year.

Indeed, Spezza has fit in nicely with his new team, as he is third on the roster in total points and first in assists. He is doing exactly what he came here to do-- help facilitate the offense by setting up others to score.

Now that Seguin is out for potentially over a month, someone must help Jamie Benn, who is second on the team with 22 goals, with the goal=scoring duties. Yes, Erik Cole has done his part by netting 15, and defensemen Trevor Daley is having a career year with 14 of his own. But Jason Spezza, with 12 goals on the year, has the experience and most certainly the talent to transition into a prolific scorer for the Stars.

With three goals and nine points in the last five games, it seems Spezza is ready to be a leader for the Stars in the wake of Seguin’s absence. 

Three stars of the NHL

There is no holiday better than Thanksgiving. It's a simple fact.

You got football, family, and food with the food being the best of all. I'm not going to bore you with a list of Thanksgiving food here, but rest be assured, I love a good pumpkin pie, some stuffing (not dressing), and a turkey leg. It's just the perfect holiday, so gluttonous and mellow. It is this holiday spirit that has compelled me to take a look around the league and find the plumpest of turkeys in the NHL.

Turkeys are the star of the Thanksgiving show. While your side dishes can be excellent role players, a perfectly roasted and seasoned butternut squash is worthless without a plump and juicy turkey. Keeping turkey's part in the Thanksgiving play in mind, I picked out three rotund stars of the NHL.

Dustin Byfuglien is a defenseman for the Winnipeg Jets who is 6-foot-5 and weighs 260 pounds. He's a big dude. But, he has also been an All-Star twice and played for a Cup. He's always been a solid player, playing an offensive-minded defensive game with that big body of his. At times, he's also played the power forward position, intimidating opponents with his strong shot. He's a scary sight on the ice as well as in a Google image search.

Two-time All-Star Phil Kessel is one of the best offensive players in the league. He has been a top-10 scorer three years straight, the only player to do so. He's also 6 foot and weighs 202 pounds. We all know that he's one of the best snipers in the game capable of taking on the best in world. His world-class reputation was affirmed when in 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics, he was named the best forward of the tournament after leading everyone else in scoring. So, yes, he's a bit bigger than most, but he's also a fantastic player.

This last one is a former three-time MVP. He's 6-foot-3, 230-pound Alexander Ovechkin and he's wants to be formal, but he's just here to party. The big Russian has had an illustrious career. While he hasn't played for a Cup yet, he's won almost every major award and given Sidney “The Chosen One” Crosby a run for his money. His size has allowed him to be a hard-hitting scorer, a rare combination in the league. His size has also allowed him to look like he was wearing a few too many Kosovorotkas underneath his uniform. But, no matter his size, Alex Ovechkin is a one-of-a-kind player who already has a hall of fame resume.

These stars are the Thanksgiving turkeys of the NHL. They rule their teams and deserve your attention, just like that big bird in the middle of the table.

NHL season causing chaos early

Editors Note: All stats current as of Nov. 8

If the regular season ended today and the playoffs started, everyone would freak out because it's only November and the NHL season just started last month.

But, in addition to everyone freaking out, four of last year's eight Western conference playoff teams would be out. Those teams include the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks, the star-studded Minnesota Wild, the young Colorado Avalanche, and the bromantic Dallas Stars.

With all of those teams struggling, people start wondering why that could be. Well, no worries, I got some answers. In fact, I am going to identify a problem and the solution for all of these teams.

Chicago Blackhawks

Problem: With 2.43 goals scored per game average, the Blackhawks just aren't scoring enough goals.

Solution: Mix up the line combinations and put 6' 4'' left-winger Bryan Bickell on the top line so he can screen the goalie and give Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews better goal-scoring opportunities.

For the Chicago Blackhawks, they are just outside of the top eight with a 7-6-1 record that is good for 15 points. A record like that indicates mediocrity and that's just what the Blackhawks haven't been. Instead, they've been a team that plays great defense with a brickwall (Corey Crawford) for a goaltender. The Blackhawks have been so good on defense that they lead the lead in goals against per game with 1.86.

That being said, they have an exceptionally hard time scoring the puck. They've been shut out twice in a row at home this season, against the Anaheim Ducks and the Winnipeg Jets and they're also a paltry 2-7 in non-shootout games decided by one goal. So, when the Blackhawks win, they win big, which is the reason why their goals scored average exceeds their goals against average, despite their record.

My solution of putting big power forward Bryan Bickell in front of the net would distract opposing goaltenders and make seeing the puck almost impossible. This in turn would mean more goals for all-stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Let's make it happen head coach Joel Quenneville.

Minnesota Wild

Problem: The Wild have a 5.3% success rate on the power play, good for 29th in the league. That's a spot away from last people!

Solution: Play a more conservative, dump and chase style instead of the possession-based style they have been playing.

The Minnesota Wild's 7-5 record would be good enough for eighth in the Eastern Conference. But that's a totally meaningless statement since they're in the Western Conference in 10th place. The more you know, you know? Anyway, the Minnesota Wild have been a top 10 team in both goals per game, at 2.92, and goals against average, at 2.08. With numbers like that, you would think that the Wild would have a better record than 7-5. However, their power play has been holding them back.

In the NHL, where every player has talent and a good ethic and games come down to the bounce of a puck, excelling when you have a one-man advantage is extremely important. And as I said earlier, the Wild just haven't been doing that with their 38 power play opportunities. So far, they've only found the net on two of those PP chances thanks to some bad luck plus poor strategy and play.

Playing a more conservative dump and chase style would allow the Wild to keep the puck and get into position on the power play. With great offensive players like left-winger Zach Parise (who is currently out with a concussion), fellow left-winger Thomas Vanek, and offensive-minded defenseman Ryan Suter, one would think that a possession-based style of play would be better. However, that has clearly not been the case. So, maybe going conservative would be the Wild's best bet because something has to be done if the Wild want to make the playoffs again this year.

Colorado Avalanche

Problem: In almost every major team statistic category, the Avalanche are ranked in the bottom third of the league.

Solution: Mix up the line combinations so that the struggling sophomore Nathan Mackinnon has less pressure on him, while paying attention to what made last year's team successful.

Last year's Colorado Avalanche exceeded everyone's expectations last year when they made the playoffs by winning the Central Division with 112 points. This year, they have yet to discover the magic they had last season. Their record of 4-6-5 this year illustrates that fact. From goals per game (2.40) to goals against per game (2.93) as well as their power play (14.6%), the Avalanche have struggled through almost every facet of the game.

The Avalanche could just be regressing to the mean after their incredible success last year. However, that doesn't mean that head coach Patrick Roy should just stand pat and expect failure from his team. In interviews, Patrick Roy has stated that he wants his team to continue playing fast, offense-minded hockey, so their last resort appears to be changing up the lines.

Last year, Nathan Mackinnon scored 63 points on 24 goals and 39 assists as a rookie, which was good enough to win the Calder Trophy. In addition, last year's Avalanche had completely different lines that depended more on chemistry than ability. I suggest that the Avalanche should go back to the lines that made them successful last year while at the same time allowing Mackinnon to play against second and third line centers of the opposing teams.

Dallas Stars

Problem: Their 3.38 goals against average is 28th in the league. That number indicates poor defense and terrible goaltending.

Solution: Find better backup goaltending, whether from current backup Anders Lindback, their AHL team, or the waiver wire.

Out of all of these teams, the Dallas Stars have the worst record at 4-5-4. They're currently 14th in the Western Conference, which is one measly spot above the beyond atrocious Edmonton Oilers. The Stars have only won once at home and are only .500 on the road at 3-3. Their team statistics point to a team that has been able to score, at 2.8 goals a game, but not do much else. Their 17% success rate on the power play is 19th in the league and their 77.1% success rate on the penalty kill is even worse at 25th in the league. All of that being said, their defense has been atrocious with 3.4 goals given up per game. That number is 27th in the entire NHL.

That's a lot of numbers in one paragraph. But the Stars have all the pieces needed to succeed in the NHL. So, using numbers helps me comprehend just why they've lost so many games early in the season. Center Tyler Seguin continues to score and Jason Spezza has dished out the assists. The defense hasn't been that good, but the Stars have been a team focused on offense, so that's to be somewhat expected. Really, the only explanation for the Stars' terrible record has been the goaltending.

Kari Lehtonen, the Stars starting goaltender, has lost five games straight with a 2.94 goals against average that is 49th in the NHL. That being said, Lehtonen is the starting goaltender and those aren't exactly easy to come by. Especially when your backup hasn't exactly picked up the slack. Anders Lindback, former Tampa Bay Lightning starting goaltender, has not been able to stay in front of the puck this season. He has played in only two games this season, but he has given up nine goals already. These goaltending issues signal a team that needs to find a goaltender that can give this team a chance to win.

Are the Florida Panthers' days numbered?

Do bears poop in woods? Do the San Francisco Giants win the World Series in even-numbered years? Is the Pope Catholic? Are the Florida Panthers a terrible NHL team?

Obviously, the answer to all of those is yes.

For the Florida Panthers, struggling on the ice is nothing new. They’re currently 14th in the Eastern Conference with seven points in seven games. They have scored exactly 10 goals as a team which is only one more than the nine goals that league leaders Corey Perry and Rick Nash have. But perhaps most notably, the Panthers have yet to win a game at home.

And home for the Panthers has not been so welcoming this season. In their second home game, they set a franchise record low for attendance at 7,311. Photos taken that night illustrated the scantily attended NHL game that looked more like a local club hockey meet-up. But one night doesn’t explain the attendance problems of an entire team, does it?

Well, in the case of the Florida Panthers, they have been experiencing attendance woes for the past few years. For the last three years, they have averaged an attendance of 15,932 that puts them squarely within the bottom ten teams of the NHL. These attendance numbers could just be bad attendance numbers with no meaning attached to them. However, thanks to a lack of Sunbelt support for the NHL in the United States and the move of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg, there is some fear that the Florida Panthers could be relocated.

This relocation fear is very real. Since the Florida Panthers were established in 1993, they have made the playoffs only four times and have finished with a winning record just eight times in 19 seasons to date. So, they have an ugly history and they have poor attendance, which makes them a prime contender to move to a Canadian city that is thirsty for an NHL team. 

Maybe, their potential relocation would be for the best. Although they have some exceptional young talent highlighted by former Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau and 2014 first overall draft pick Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers have struggled. Despite the young talent and the team’s veteran additions from the off-season, the Panthers will most likely not make the playoffs, making it three years in a row.

The Florida Panthers days as an NHL team are numbered.

Rask, Nash among reasons you should pay attention to the NHL

There's too much to pay attention to when you're a sports fan.

Right now, you got the start of the NBA, the middle of the college football season, the ever-ubiquitous NFL, and, of course, the NHL. While the NHL just began its season three weeks ago, it has been worth paying attention to.

Why has the NHL been worth your attention? Well, this season has had just enough surprises to balance out the expected monotony of good and bad teams. The surprises range from the struggles of reigning Vezina winner Tuukka Rask, Rick Nash looking like Rick Nash again, and two unlikely teams (Montreal and Nashville) dominating the league.

For goaltender Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, the start to his season has been a mess. His current numbers, a .880 save percentage and a 2.91 goals against average, are ugly. He even had the misfortune of getting pulled against the Bruins' rival, the Montreal Canadiens, after giving up five goals and getting tormented by a fan's laser pointer.

So, clearly, it's been a rough season so far for Rask. However, there's still hope for him. Thanks to a capable backup in Niklas Svedberg and an improving Bruins defense, Rask will be able to get rest and face fewer good shots.

After two seasons of disappointment with the New York Rangers, Rick Nash is finally becoming Rick Nash again. Right now, he's leading the league in goals with eight goals on team that has won its last three games.

Rick Nash figures to be a huge factor for the Rangers this year, especially with star center Derek Stepan being out a few more weeks with a broken jaw and veteran defenseman Dan Boyle losing a month with a broken hand. For Nash, however, he has a chance to step up his leadership, score goals, and put his name into MVP consideration.

The biggest question for the Montreal Canadiens and the Nashville Predators is whether or not they can keep it up. For the Canadiens, they're at the top of the Eastern Conference with 12 points through seven games. They haven't dominated these early games (they only have a plus-one goal differential), but they have won close games when needed to, with two shootout wins and a thorough 6-4 beating of their rival, the Boston Bruins.

The Canadiens won't be able to keep up this pace of winning through the season, but they have the firepower and late-game heroics to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings.

The Canadiens were supposed to be at least somewhat decent entering the season. That's what makes the Nashville Predators such a surprise so far this year. Currently, they're tied with the Anaheim Ducks with 10 points in the Western Conference and they've yet to lose a game.

It's quite impressive for a team that fired its longtime head coach Barry Trotz after missing the playoffs last season. However, they still have all-star defenseman Shea Weber and a potential Vezina winner in Pekka Rinne. Thanks to those two pieces, the success of the Predators can last, but in a tough Western Conference, we will just have to see.  

Look past the fights of the NHL

There’s a popular joke, “I Went to a Fight the Other Night and a Hockey Game Broke Out,” and I hate it. It’s a hackneyed joke about a sport that has evolved past its pugilism. Well, I should reword that last phrase. Hockey is a sport that is trying to get past its boxing-like nature.

Last year, 29.76 percent of the 1,230 NHL games had at least one fight occur. This follows the pattern of decline that the NHL has seen over the past 13 years. Through rules changes like Rule 46.6 which states, “No player may remove his helmet prior to engaging in a fight. If he should do so, he shall be assessed a two-minute minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Helmets that come off in the course of and resulting from the altercation will not result in a penalty to either player,” and the mandatory visor rule, the NHL is doing its part to decrease on-ice violence and the numbers show this.

That being said, will the NHL ever abolish fighting altogether? Probably not. At least not in the next few years. Currently, there is too much friction coming from the players’ side in order to enact such a major rule change. For them, both job security and job safety is at stake. For less than skilled players like Shawn Thornton of the Florida Panthers, he provides leadership in the enforcer role. As an enforcer, he protects his teammates from vicious hits on the ice by ensuring that something worse, such as a fight, will come for the offenders later. And, without fighting, a player like Thornton probably wouldn’t have a job in the NHL despite his fantastic leadership ability.

Teams, however, have been phasing out the enforcers role themselves. Thanks to advanced statistics, the ongoing concussion debate, and salary cap constraints, having a player who is solely dedicated to fighting and nothing more is impractical. Especially when considering playoff hockey, a time when overall team depth is so important and fighting is virtually non-existent, having a roster spot for a player without skill is a waste.

As weird as it sounds, fighting in hockey has a place. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think fighting should be first on the NHL’s marquee. But, I do think that within a regular season team construct, fighting is a valuable way to ensure that more physically minded players on the ice do not destroy skill players. The enforcer role will eventually be eliminated, as I think it should, but I do believe players should be able to retaliate as they see fit in such a physical sport. With all of that said, hockey should always be seen as the sport it is and not for the fighting that has been occurring less and less often.

Predictions on the NHL award winners

Just as Nostradamus prophesied the end of times (with the help of misinterpretations and mistranslations by us), I will skillfully predict the end times of the NHL. 

No, just kidding. After covering five NHL veterans who will make a big impact with their new teams last week, my NHL season preview will wrap up today with predictions on the award winners of this upcoming season.

Calder Trophy: Jonathan Drouin, left winger, Tampa Bay Lightning

Coming into this season, Drouin possesses both hype and a proven track record. While playing with the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last year, he scored 29 goals and 79 assists, while proving himself to be an offensive threat. This year, he'll have to prove himself to be capable of producing at the NHL level. I think he'll be able to do that next to All-Star center Steven Stamkos on the first line.

Selke Award: Patrice Bergeron, center, Boston Bruins

Bergeron winning another Selke would be no surprise. This award, given to the best two-way forward in the NHL, was won by Bergeron last year. He posted 30 goals and 32 assists while having the best overall season of his career. On a team where some of last season's offensive production was not replaced, Bergeron will have to bear the brunt of the goal scoring. Thanks to this, I foresee him having an even better season than last year with a full-season of Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith on his line.

Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, center, Pittsburgh Penguins

Despite being regarded as the best player in the league, Crosby has only won two Hart trophies (the NHL's MVP award) through nine NHL seasons. His health has hampered him at times, but his production has not suffered a decline. Last year, he finished with 36 goals and 68 assists, leading the league in both assists and points scored. Crosby's performance and team record (51-24-7) were good enough for Crosby to win his second Hart trophy last year. I think he'll be able to win another this year thanks to good health, continued production at the highest level, and more responsibility as the leading scorer on the Penguins.

Vezina Trophy: Carey Price, goaltender, Montreal Canadiens

Along with defenseman P.K. Subban, Carey Price was integral to the Canadiens (and the Canadians in the Olympics) success last season. He had his best statistical season last year with a .927 save percentage and a 2.32 goals against average. While I don't think he'll surpass those numbers, thanks to continued high production on a great team, he'll get more recognition as a top goaltender. 

Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, defenseman, Los Angeles Kings

Through Doughty's six NHL seasons, he has four top-10 finishes for the Norris Trophy. But this year, I'm predicting he'll finally get over the hump and win the trophy for himself. Last season, Doughty's performance as an offensive-minded defenseman was integral to the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup win. He held his own and proved that defensemen don't need gaudy offensive statistics to be hugely effective for their team. Thanks to Doughty's incredible 2014 performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, he'll have the momentum necessary to be recognized as the top defenseman in the NHL.

Stanley Cup: Boston Bruins

Last season, the Bruins were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. For the winners of the President's Trophy (the NHL's best regular season team), being knocked out of the playoffs so early was a disappointment. Due to salary cap constraints, the Bruins were unable to retain right winger Jarome Iginla and were forced to trade defenseman Johnny Boychuk this off-season. However, I think the Bruins will come back strong this year thanks to their Holy Trinity (center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Zdeno Chara, and goaltender Tuukka Rask) and a weak Eastern Conference.

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