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Franchise Stability: NHL vs. “The Big Three”

Right Wing Conspiracy – 29 AUG 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

Much has been written of late about the long-awaited sale of the Phoenix Coyotes, the lightning-quick sale of the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders’ planned move to Brooklyn.  These developments got me to thinking about franchise stability in the NHL compared to the NFL, NBA and MLB.  A bit of research turned up some rather interesting facts regarding franchises in North America’s major sports leagues.

The four major pro sports leagues are quite different in many respects (season length, arena/stadium size, fan base, etc.).  For a fair comparison of apples to oranges, pears and canteloupe, the definition of franchise stability must be very narrow.  In this case, I chose to look first at the number of defunct franchises in each league.  Here’s the breakdown:

DEFUNCT FRANCHISES:

  • NFL – 49 (Includes APFA franchises and those AAFC clubs which joined the NFL)
  • MLB – 22 (Includes those National Association and A.A. teams which joined the NL and later folded)
  • NBA – 15 (Does not include ABA franchises)
  • NHL – 8 (Does not include WHA franchises)

Why does the NHL have significantly fewer defunct franchises than any other league?  In the NHL’s formative years, the scope of the league was smaller.  The NHL came into existence in 1917 as a small, regional circuit, featuring two clubs in Montreal and one each in Toronto and Ottawa.  Compared to other sports, NHL expansion was quite deliberate:  By 1926, the league had grown to just ten clubs, including six in major northeastern United States cities.  In contrast, the NFL in 1926 had twenty-two teams, many of which were in extremely small markets, such as Racine, Wisconsin, Duluth, Minnesota and Pottsville, Pennsylvania.  In those days, financial success or failure was determined by tickets sold, as the tremendous revenue streams of TV contracts and team-branded merchandise sales were as-yet undeveloped.  As a result, many NFL teams failed after just a few seasons of play.

Major League Baseball’s twenty-two defunct clubs all came and went between 1876 and 1899, a time when professional sport was in its infancy.  As with football, attendance and travel costs were factors in franchise survival, as was the determination and professionalism of club management.  Since 1900, however, no Major League Baseball franchise has folded, a testament to management as well as the sport’s status as “America’s National Pastime.”  Though the NBA is the youngest of the major pro leagues, their early struggles indicate failures both to learn from the (too-small market) mistakes of their predecessors and to properly vet prospective owners.

In the four major pro leagues, folding a franchise simply doesn’t happen anymore.  As mentioned above, the last MLB franchises to fold did so in 1899, while the NFL’s Dallas Texans ceased operations following the 1952 season and the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets disbanded fourteen games into the 1954-55 campaign.  Of the NHL’s “Infamous Eight,” three franchises folded prior to 1926, three more fell victim to the Great Depression and one, the New York Americans, barely survived the Depression, only to become a casualty of World War Two.  Since 1942, only one NHL franchise has failed:  The Cleveland Barons, in 1978.

Overall, television and the passenger jet have placed pro sports in expansion mode since the mid-1950’s.  Thus, comparing the number of defunct franchises fails to produce an accurate view of franchise stability today.  My next step, then, was to look at franchise relocation, and more specifically, the number of active franchises which relocated after winning a league championship.

RELOCATED CHAMPIONS (ACTIVE FRANCHISES ONLY):

  • NHL – 0 Cup winners relocated.
  • MLB – 6 World Series winners relocated.
  • NBA – 6 NBA Champs relocated.
  • NFL – 2 Super Bowl winners relocated, 4 NFL Championship winners (pre-Super Bowl) relocated (NOTE: Baltimore Colts won both Super Bowl and NFL Championship but are only counted here as Super Bowl winners).

Many factors are involved in franchise stability.  As seen above, winning a championship is no guarantor of long-term success for franchises in the NFL, NBA or MLB.   For the NHL, however, winning the Stanley Cup would seem to be the one factor which overrides all others.  In fact, even losing the Stanley Cup is significant:  Only one active club has lost in the Stanley Cup Finals and then relocated (the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars).  Whether this can be attributed to hockey fan loyalty, a reluctance on the part of the NHL to move Cup-winning teams, or hockey’s supposed “niche sport” status limiting relocation prospects for franchise owners is a debate for another day.  For now, hockey fans can take comfort in the knowledge that, win or lose the Cup, their team isn’t going anywhere.

2013-14 NHL Division Battle Analysis: The Atlantic Division, Part II

In our last blog, On Goal Analysis analyzed the 2013-14 schedules of Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Florida in the Atlantic Division. We were looking for stretches where the tough points will have to come, something we call Division Battles.

We now cover the last half of the Atlantic Division’s Battles for Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. At the end, we will also summarize the entire Division for its impact on potential, intra-divisional outcomes.

This is the second of a multi-part series as we will look at all of the Division’s schedules in this manner leading up to the season.

Montreal Canadiens

Late November / Early December:

NOTES: While there were no large groupings of Division Battles in October or early November, there is an interesting stretch of games from 27 November to 7 December. Two games with BUF, and home games versus TOR and BOS are peppered by one game at WSH and a Black-and-Blue (B&B) home-and-away pair against NJD. Prediction: 1 – to – 2.5 Division wins

January:

NOTES: January may be a tough month. Only six of 13 games are in the division. But they are surrounded by games with PHI, CHI, NJD, PIT and WSH amongst others. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

12 – 22 March:

NOTES: This period brings four-of-six games against Division rivals with games home and away with BOS, versus OTT and at TOR It leads into a long intra-divisional stretch to close out the season. Prediction: 1.5 – to – 2.5 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Seven of the final 10 games are against the Hab’s division rivals. From 24 March until 5 April it’s all division, all the time. Two with DET and singles against BOS, BUF, FLA, TBL and OTT means they see everyone except the Leafs. And just for fun, their last three are at CHI and versus NYI and NYR. Make no mistake about it, this last stretch will decide whether or not the Canadiens see post-season action. Prediction: 2.5 – to – 4 Division wins

Ottawa Senators

December:

NOTES: After a quiet opening two months division-wise, BAM! December hits Ottawa like a ton of divisional bricks. Six of the first seven games beginning on 1 December are: versus DET; at FLA and TBL; versus TOR; and following a home game against PHI, they get a B&B special with BUF. The last eight games of the month include another game versus FLA and a second B&B pair with BOS. A tough stretch by any one’s count. Prediction: 4 – to – 6 Division wins

February:

NOTES: Games right around the Olympic break include roadies to TOR and BOS and homers with BUF and DET. For fun, a back-to-back road trip to PIT and STL is thrown in. Prediction: 2 – to – 2.5 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Other than what is mentioned above, the rest of the Sens’ divisional games are scattered well throughout their schedule. The final 10 games only includes home games against MTL and TOR. Prediction: 1 – to – 1.5 Division wins

Tampa Bay Lightning

October:

NOTES: Fifty percent of the Bolts’ opening 12 games are fought within their division. In these six games, they are both home and away against BOS, BUF and FLA. The rest of that schedule is no cakewalk as they get both of their inter-Conference CHI games out of the way and catch PIT and the LAK amongst others. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

9 – 12 November:

NOTES: Just a note here that the Lightning get a wonderful road trip to DET, BOS and MTL over a four-day period here. Those three games all depend on how good Tampa Bay is firing at that time. Prediction: 0 – to – 1.5 Division wins

Before the Olympic Break:

NOTES: Five of six games from 28 January to the Olympic break are divisional. Twice they play TOR and once each get OTT, MTL and DET. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

March:

NOTES: Six out of 10 games between 6 and 24 March are in this Division Battle. Two are with OTT, and there are singles against BUF, BOS, FLA and TOR. PIT and VAN show up as two of the out-of-division games in this stretch to boot. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Four of Tampa’s last 10 games are divisional to round out 50% in their final 20. Here they have a two night road trip to BUF and DET, followed by a six-game home stand that includes contests with MTL and TOR.  Prediction: 2 – to – 2.5 Division wins

Toronto Maple Leafs

Mid-December to the Winter Classic:

NOTES: Leading up to the Winter Classic, Toronto does not have any real periods of Division Battle abuse. But four of seven from 16 December through New Years’ Day are intra-divisional. Games at home against FLA, DET and MTL lead up to what will likely set the record for single hockey game attendance at The Big House with the Red Wings again to ring in the new year.  Prediction: 2 – to – 2.5 Division wins

End Of January / to the Olympic Break:

NOTES: From 28 January to 6 February, the Maple Leafs have five straight games inside their Division. A home stand against TBL, FLA and OTT dovetails into a road trip to Florida at FLA and TBL. This outcome depends on how the two Floridians are playing at the time. Prediction: 2 – to – 4 Division wins

Final 13 Games:

NOTES: Interestingly, Games 70 – 82 look like bookends/ For 18 – 22 March, games ensue at DET and versus TBL and MTL. Home games against DET and BOS are sandwiched amongst the middle seven contests. And the season closes out away to TBL, FLA and OTT.  Prediction: 4 – to – 5.5 Division wins

Summary

So what did we learn this time about the Atlantic as a whole?

Firstly, all team experiences three – to – five of these Divisional Battles. This seems about fair to all teams.

Going back to our previous post about the other half of the Atlantic Division, stacking up all eight teams by the maximum estimation of their output in these Division Battles brings the following order:

Boston: Wins 12.5 – 17 of 23 games / .544 – to – .739 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule.

Toronto: Wins 8 – 12 of 17 games / .471 – to – .706 Hockey for .567 of their Divisional schedule.

Detroit: Wins 11.5 – 16 of 23 games / .500 – to – .696 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule.

Ottawa: Wins 7 – 10 of 15 games / .467 – to – .667 Hockey for .500 of their Divisional schedule

Florida: Wins 8 – 13.5 of 22 games / .364 – to – .614 Hockey for .733 of their Divisional schedule.

Buffalo: Wins 5 – 11.5 of 20 games / .250 – to – .575 Hockey for .667 of their Divisional schedule.

Montreal: Wins 7 – 12 of 21 games / .333 – to – .571 Hockey for .700 of their Divisional schedule.

And Tampa Bay: Wins 9 – 14 of 25 games / .360 – to – .560 Hockey for .833 of their Divisional schedule

Those are our predictions for those stretches of games played. None are 100% of the prediction of outcomes within the division. But they are an indicator of how well teams may do in gaining these invaluable points toward a playoff berth.

Are we wrong about Montreal? Might they show better than that? Sure, we could be. Are we overzealous on Toronto? Possibly. The question here will likely not be if Boston and Detroit represent the division at the beginning of the post-season. The question should be if Toronto or Ottawa (and Montreal) might possibly make it in as well.

The next analysis blog examines the first four teams of the newly dubbed Metropolitan Division, the one many pundits are calling the strongest in the NHL. We’ll begin with Carolina, Columbus, New Jersey and the New York Islanders, and then finish the Eastern Conference with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

More Division Battle analysis is yet to come…

Right Wing Conspiracy – 14 AUG 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

Return of the NHL Weekend Roadie

It’s that time of year, hockey fans:  time to start planning your road trips in pursuit of puck.  Maybe your goal is to visit all thirty NHL barns, or maybe you just want a hockey-centric weekend getaway; either way, the NHL Weekend Roadie fits the bill.  In it, you’ll find a game itinerary, info on where to sleep, eat and get tickets, and tips on getting around.  Back after a lengthy absence from this blog, the NHL Weekend Roadie will be a periodic feature going forward.

Opening Weekend:  Of Pucks and Fried Foods

The opening faceoff of the 2013-14 NHL season takes place Tuesday, October 1.  Plan on burning two vacation days, as your best bet for an opening weekend roadie is in Big D.  Fly into Dallas early on Thursday, October 3.  And so it begins…

THURSDAY, 3 OCTOBER:  FLORIDA @ DALLAS.  It’s a new season, so why not check out the new-look Stars?  New sweaters, new GM, new coach and new faces, including Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Sergei Gonchar.  On the other side of the ice, this will be 2013 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau’s first visit to Dallas.  Though we can’t say for certain at this point (much depends on performances in training camp), this game could feature the NHL debuts of 2013 first round draft picks Valeri Nichushkin (DAL) and Aleksander Barkov (FLA).  All in all, it’s a fitting way to kick off the 2013-14 campaign.

FRIDAY, 4 OCTOBER:  FRIED FOOD EXTRAVAGANZA.  There’s no NHL game within driving distance tonight, so take the day to experience the State Fair of Texas.  Imagine your favorite food; now imagine it deep-fried and on a stick.  At the fair, your dream (or nightmare) will come true.  Fried Snickers bar?  Check.  Fried cookie dough?  Check.  Fried butter, alligator or bacon cinnamon roll?  Check, check and check.  Before you avail yourself of the heart-attack-on-a-stick of your choice, though, be sure to try the granddaddy of ’em all, a Fletcher’s Original Corny Dog.  In between bites of unhealthy goodness, you can check out livestock shows, new cars and trucks on display, and a multitude of musical acts.  Did you know Molly Ringwald (of Sixteen Candles fame) has launched a singing career?  It just so happens the woman Grandpa Fred called “Sammy Baker Davis, Junior” and her jazz quartet will be performing on the fair’s Main Stage Friday night (free with State Fair admission).

If you absolutely must get your hockey fix Friday night, leave the fair early and cruise 2.5 hours up I-35 to Oklahoma City for the Barons’ (Edmonton’s AHL farm club) season opener.  As of this writing, the AHL schedule hasn’t been released, so their opponent is unknown.  It’s an easy drive, though, and OKC is home to Mutt’s Amazing Hot Dogs, which lives up to its name.

SATURDAY, 5 OCTOBER:  WASHINGTON @ DALLAS.  Unless you live in the greater DC area, it’s not every day you get to see “The Great 8,” Alex Ovechkin, in person.  It’s also not every day one player alone is worth the price of admission.  October 5th is not every day.  ‘Nuff said.

SUNDAY, 6 OCTOBER:  GO HOME – YOU’VE GOT WORK ON MONDAY!

IMPORTANT INFO:

HOTELS – As a rule, I recommend checking Hotwire.com first.  Currently, 3- to 4-star hotel rooms in the Dallas area can be had for $60-$120/night on Hotwire.  TIP:  Don’t book anything under three stars.  Ever.  Unless you’re okay with haunted showers and bedbugs, of course…but that’s a story for another time.

FLIGHTS – Early October in North Texas is generally warm and sunny, so weather-caused delays shouldn’t be an issue when flying into DFW.  As a general rule, though, if you must fly in on game day, catch an early morning flight.  You can always take a pre-game nap at the hotel.  For the best deals on flights, Airfarewatchdog.com can’t be beat.  Also, two one-way tickets can sometimes be cheaper than one roundtrip fare, so check that angle, too.

FOOD – State Fair aside, Texas is known for two kinds of food:  barbecue and Tex-Mex.  For the best ‘cue in the Dallas area, head to the suburb of Coppell to experience the joys of Hard Eight BBQ.  Gaze directly into the pit and make your selection(s); the pitmaster will happily carve the myriad of meats any way you please.  Want a half-pound of this and a slice of that?  No problem.  Save room for the jalepeño cream corn!

For Tex-Mex, Dallas-centric D Magazine has a Top Ten Nine list.  The only reason I haven’t been to any restaurants on their list is because I’m quite happy with both Anamia’s and Esparza’s.

If you won’t take this Native Texan’s word for it, you can’t go wrong with either Roadfood.com or FlavortownUSA.  These folks know food.

TICKETS – Tickets are available through the Dallas Stars website, as well as resale vendors like StubHub.

GETTING AROUND – The Metroplex is rather spread out, so a rental car is highly recommended.  To get to both the American Airlines Center and the State Fair, however, save yourself both traffic headaches and parking fees and take the cheap and convenient DART rail.  At just $5 for an unlimited-ride day pass, the train can’t be beat.

There you have it:  a quick roadie to kick off the new season.  Two games.  Stars, superstars and future stars.  The State Fair of Texas.  Fletcher’s Corny Dogs.  Molly Ringwald.  What more do you want?  It’s time to make reservations.

2013-14 NHL Division Battle Analysis: The Atlantic Division, Part I

In this blog, On Goal Analysis analyzes the 2013-14 schedules of Boston, Buffalo, Detroit and Florida in the Atlantic Division. Here at OGA, we are looking for stretches where the tough points will have to come, something we call Division Battles. Some stretches seem cruel. And these Battles will end in seasonal peaks and valleys that range anywhere from periods of potential dominance to playoff elimination.

This is the first of a multi-part series as we will look at all of the Division’s schedules in this manner leading up to the season.

Boston Bruins

October:

NOTES: Six games of their first 10 fall against Division rivals. Three each are at home and on the road. In particular, all four games between 14 and 23 October are in the Division. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

7 – 15 November:

NOTES: Four – of – five games versus the Division. Three are at home and one on the road. The first three games are played in five nights during a lengthy home stand. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

December:

NOTES: Short sprints, here. From 5 – 8 December, they play at MTL and TOR with a game vs PIT sandwiched in between. They then maneuver around the short Christmas break with two of what we here at OGA like to call ‘Black & Blue Pairs’ (B&BP) – two games home – and – away against the same team with no distracting games in between. These are 19 & 21 December against BUF and 27 & 28 December against OTT. Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

March:

NOTES: March 4 – 12 brings a four – in – five – game draw against the Atlantic Division. Three of the four are versus Florida teams and one is against Original Six rival MTL. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Only three games within the Division. They are at DET and TOR on 2 & 3 April and versus BUF at home on 12 April. The question here is how tired are they? Along with FLA, this is the second most advantageous ending in the Division as far as having to fight for final Division points. This is the Bruins, right? No prahblum… But will they need to fight after last year’s long season and the second highest increase in travel mileage in the League? Quite possibly. Prediction: 1 – to – 2 Division wins

Buffalo Sabres

October:

NOTES: Let’s take this in two chunks. Buffalo plays their first 10 games of the season between 2 and 19 October. They open with three of their first four games in the Division at DET and versus OTT and TBL with PIT shoved in there to boot over seven days. Ouch. And then Games 11, 12 and 13 are versus BOS and at FLA and TBL in four days before the month ends. Clearly a scheduling conspiracy. Prediction: 1 – to – 3 Division wins

November:

NOTES: November is a bit chunky, too. They have a B&BP against TOR 15 & 16 November, and then pick up three home games versus DET, MTL and TOR again around Thanksgiving. This is all about how well both BUF and TOR are playing at that point in the season. So… Prediction: 1 – to – 3.5 Division wins

December:

NOTES: Mid-month to Christmas, BUF nets two B&BPs against OTT and then BOS. They also pick up their fourth of five games at TOR on 27 December coming out of the break. B&BPs tend to be very competitive unless a team is in injury distress or outright collapse. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Four games within the Division, two at home and two on the road AND split up with non-Divisional games. While they get TBL at home, the other three are a pair against DET and one versus BOS. If Buffalo is sitting on the verge of a playoff position, these four games will either kill or secure their chances. Prediction: 1 – to – 2 Division wins

Detroit Red Wings

October:

NOTES: Two of their first three games are in their new Division and Conference. (Versus BUF to open the season on 2 October and at BOS three nights later.) Although this is the dreaded three – games – in – four – nights run, it is also the Red Wings’ chance to announce their presence. Prediction: 1.5 – to – 2 Division wins

23 November – 1 December:

NOTES: Four – of – five games within the Division ensue here. They have a three – games – in – five – nights stretch versus OTT and at BUF back – to – back, followed by two nights off before they have BOS into The Joe. They then embark on a short road trip to Long Island before they land in OTT on 1 December. If BUF is on a hot streak and the Red Wings get caught looking ahead to BOS this might end in a split. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Before the Winter Classic:

NOTES: It might be painful here to say from 7 – 28 December the ‘Wings play six – of – 10 inside their Division. The amount of friction here, however, will depend on how the state of Florida is playing at this time. That is because three of these games are against FLA and two against TBL. The other Division contest is at TOR before Christmas to get things warmed up for 1 January and the WC. Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

Around the Olympics:

NOTES: Interestingly, Detroit bookends the Olympic break with a pair in Florida at FLA and TBL before, and at MTL and OTT back – to – back right after the break. Roll the dice here. Prediction: 1 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: Just look at Detroit’s last 10 games and your question might be whether or not the League was trying to see if they could break the ‘Wings playoff appearance streak. Games 73 – 79 on the schedule are all played within the Division. They are: versus MTL, at TOR and versus TBL in four nights; a two – night break; versus BOS and BUF and at MTL in four nights; another two-night break; and then at BUF (followed the next night at PIT). This makes you wonder if DET will not attack the season by trying to kill everyone early on in order to enter this period in the mid – to upper–80 points area so they can rest wounded warriors before the Playoffs.  Prediction: 3.5 – to – 4 Division wins

Florida Panthers

December:

NOTES: Did you notice there was no mention of any streak of Divisional games for the Panthers in October and November? There are indeed six Division engagements spread out over those two months. But the real fun starts in December. Similar to Detroit’s ending, Florida nets nine – of – 13 games from 3 – 29 December within the Division. They have: three DET’s; two OTT’s; two MTL’s; and one each TOR and TBL. And a partridge in a pair tree. Depending on how the boys are playing and whether or not they are underestimated… Prediction: 3 – to – 5 Division wins

End Of January / Early February:

NOTES: From 21 January to 6 February, the Panthers land six – of – eight games inside their Division. They open this stretch at BUF after playing at PIT the night before. After a one game home stand versus COL, they are on the road to DET, BOS and TOR over five nights. They close out this stretch at home against TOR and DET on the front of a three – games – in – four nights run. Prediction: 3 – to – 4 Division wins

Early March:

NOTES: From 4 – 14 March, Florida nets four of five games with Division foes. Twice they play BOS, once against BUF and another at cross-state rival TBL. The good news here is there are no back – to – back nights in the stretch, so plenty (sort of) recovery and preparation time is there to potentially do well. Prediction: 2 – to – 3 Division wins

Final 10 Games:

NOTES: And the scheduling Gods were kind to close out the season with only three Divisional games. They are all versus Canadian teams, so this will all depend on the fight in their northern opponents here. Prediction: 0 – to – 1.5 Division wins

Summary

So what did we learn here?

Firstly, each team experiences four – to – five of these Divisional Battles. We were not present to see the NHL build the schedule, so we do not know if this was purposeful, or simply a product of arena availability coupled with inter-Divisional game requirements. Either way, it seems about fair.

By team, our estimation of these Battles in order of maximum gain indicates teams could win as below:

Boston: Wins 12.5 – 17 of 23 games / .544 – to – .739 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule.

Detroit: Wins 11.5 – 16 of 23 games / .500 – to – .696 Hockey for .767 of their Divisional schedule

Florida: Wins 8 – 13.5 of 22 games / .364 – to – .614 Hockey for .733 of their Divisional schedule

And Buffalo: Wins 5 – 11.5 of 20 games / .250 – to – .575 Hockey for .667 of their Divisional schedule.

Clearly here, Boston and Detroit have to be pre-season favorites to be in the Top 8 teams in the Conference. This aided them when analyzing the low-end of predicted Battle wins. These lower end predicted Wins will not sink their battleship as long as they are better than those percentages throughout the rest of the season. Florida and Buffalo, simply put, will have to win in the higher end of their predictions to retain a shot at a Playoff spot.

With the above Battles netting at least 2/3 of Divisional schedules and 1/4 or more of their entire season, there are other places teams can make up points. But you would be hard-pressed to find times that are potentially more decisive.

The next analysis blog examines the second half of the Atlantic Division in Montreal, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Toronto. At the end of this blog, we will give you our ranked order of the top five potential Atlantic Division teams as they play through these Divisional battles.

 

Right Wing Conspiracy – 7 AUG 2013

Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.

The 2013-14 New York Rangers:  What’s the Worst That Could Happen, and Why it Won’t

As the New York Rangers enjoy the last few weeks of summer, fans and pundits alike begin to ponder the possibilities of the upcoming campaign.  In these, the so called “dog days” of August, let us examine the Rangers’ worst-case scenario and, so we can all sleep soundly tonight, why it won’t happen.

As the Blueshirt Faithful are aware, team captain Ryan Callahan and speedy winger Carl Hagelin both had shoulder surgery at the conclusion of the 2013 season.  Barring a miracle, both will be out until (at least) November.  Their absence for the first 4-8 weeks of the season leaves two gaping holes in the Top Six.  If negotiations with top line pivot and RFA Derek Stepan drag on into September (as they did with Brandon Dubinsky in 2009), the centerman will have to play catch-up, both in learning new head coach Alain Vigneault’s system and conditioning-wise.  If Stepan holds out longer or suffers a leg/groin injury as is common with players who miss training camp (coughDubinskycough), the Rangers could start the season with lines like these:

Kreider-Brassard-Nash

Zuccarello-Richards-Pouliot

Miller-Boyle-Dorsett

Pyatt-D.Moore-Kristo

If Chris Kreider has a good September, that first line will be feared around the league.  As for the second line, well…Zucc is a wonderfully creative player with good hands and vision.  If Richards can rediscover his mojo, he’s one of the top centers in the NHL, but he needs a sniper to whom he can dish the puck.  Newcomer Benoit Pouliot might fit the bill (with Montreal in 2009-10, he scored 15 goals in 39 games while averaging 16:44 TOI/night), but he and Richards will have to develop chemistry fast.

Derek Dorsett is a heart-and-soul guy and a heavy hitter, perfectly suited for the third line.  As long as J.T. Miller’s wrist continues to heal and Brian Boyle clicks with Dorsett like he did with the sorely-missed Brandon Prust, this could be a solid checking line with offensive upside.  The fourth line, however, is wobbly (at least on paper):  the lumbering Pyatt, a rusty Moore attempting a comeback from personal tragedy after a year away from the game, and in Kristo, a skilled rookie with nine games of pro (AHL) hockey under his belt.  The fourth line will have to be protected moreso than normal, at least until Dominic Moore shakes off the rust.

At this point, some of you may be asking, “What about Darroll Powe?  Arron Asham?  Jesper Fast?”  Though Powe and Asham are currently on the roster, they’ll be on waivers/on the way to Hartford as soon as Stepan signs a contract, as the Rangers are just $2.18mil under the salary cap right now and the center’s annual cap hit should fall in the $3-3.5mil range.  As for Fast…if he has a better September than Kristo, pencil him in on the fourth line instead.  Unless the Rangers are plagued by additional injuries to their forward corps, don’t expect to see both rookies on Broadway this season.  Speaking of additional injuries, worst-case scenario would see the Blueshirts begin the season sans Callahan, Hagelin, Stepan, Kreider (if his ankle problem flares up again) and Miller (if he reinjures his not-quite-healed wrist).  If that comes to pass, expect a patchwork quilt of forward lines like this:

Zuccarello-Brassard-Nash

Pouliot-Richards-Kristo

D.Moore-Boyle-Dorsett

Asham-Powe-Fast

In a word, UGH.  The good news, though, is that both Kreider and Miller expect to be at or near 100% by the start of training camp.  The final area of concern among the forward corps is:  What if Brad Richards doesn’t bounce back from the disaster that was last season?  Though the tandem of Stepan and Brassard has made Richards redundant, what if the Rangers are without Stepan and Richards’ level of play is only worthy of fourth line minutes (or a seat in the press box)?  Chew on that for a moment (and maybe chew an antacid or two)…then put it out of your mind, because it’s not going to happen.  Brad Richards is a proud professional and last season was an anomaly.  He’s got something to prove in 2013-14, and he’ll do it; bank on it.

The biggest question facing the Rangers defensive corps is, of course, Marc Staal’s vision.  Will he be 100%, and if not, can he adjust and still be effective?  If he can mount a successful comeback, the Blueshirts blueline will again be solid, with probable pairings of:

McDonagh-Girardi

Del Zotto-Stralman

Staal-J.Moore

If Staal is unable to return to an NHL level of play, his ice time will be filled by (pick one) Justin Falk, Aaron Johnson or Stu Bickel.  Suddenly, that third d-pair starts to look unsteady, like Bambi on ice.  Unless John Moore can fill Staal’s skates in a hurry (and make no mistake, Moore was the biggest surprise of the Gaborik trade), GM Glen Sather will have to start working the phones to find a solid #5 defenseman.

Last, but not least, with a new system/coach to learn and a nine-game road trip to start the season, won’t the Rangers fall behind early in what is expected to be an ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division?  Nope.  On the contrary, with a new system and coach, a long road trip is an ideal way to kick off the campaign.  Away from the distractions of home life and the bright lights of Broadway, the team will have plenty of time to bond and focus on hockey.  As a bonus, they get their Pacific Time Zone games out of the way (with the exception of Vancouver) in the first week of the season, while the team is fresh.  By early November, the Rangers should be closer to mid-season form than most of their opponents, to their distinct advantage.  Consider this:  The Blueshirts began the 2011-12 season with a seven-game roadie (including two games in Sweden), stringing together a record of 3-2-2, then played seven of their next ten at MSG, going 7-2-1 over that span.  Don’t be surprised if the start of the 2013-14 campaign brings with it a strong sense of deja vu.

Twitter Updates

  • ...This suggests that the LAK will defeat CHI in Game 6 to play the NYR for the Stanley Cup 3 years ago
  • Since 2005/6, when a Round 3 team wins Game 5, they lose Game 6 66.7% of the time; also, Western series are determined by Game 5.889... 3 years ago
  • ...So those stats point to the NYR claiming victory tonight and playing the winner from the Western Conference in the Finals 3 years ago
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  • 4. Top 4 in each DIV play 2 rounds seeded within the DIV, 1 round versus other DIV champ and then the Finals between the Conference champs. 3 years ago

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