2014-15 NHL Predictions

For the third year in a row and the fourth time in five years, the Western Conference won the Stanley Cup as the Los Angeles Kings took out the New York Rangers in five back in June. With the 2014-15 NHL season kicking off this week, can the Kings repeat? Will their nemesis in Chicago find their revenge and get back to the Cup Finals? Or will the somebody from the Eastern Conference win Lord Stanley’s Cup? Here are my predictions.

Should The Bruins Stay With Simon Gagne?

Simon Gagne hasn’t played an NHL game since April 2013, but he has an honest chance at playing one again in the future. The 34 year old forward was invited to attend the Bruins training camp this summer and has done his best to impress those who would possibly give him another chance on NHL ice.

Injuries Altered Simon Gagne’s Career

Gagne has had an interesting career in the NHL thus far. Drafted 22nd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1998, Gagne spent a majority of his playing years in the orange and white. In his rookie year he scored 20 goals and garnered 28 assists leading him to be named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. Gagne was also named to the NHL All Star Team in both 2001 and 2007 as well as a received a few other awards from the Flyers organization during his tenure in Philadelphia including team MVP for two years in a row (2005-2007 inclusive). While these awards and accolades are all well and good, Gagne also had a major injury in Philadelphia that somewhat changed his career path.

In October 2008, Gagne was on the ice in a Flyers/Flames game and while being checked his jaw smashed into the shoulder of Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. The resulting concussion caused Gagne to miss 4 games and his injuries began to compile. He was injured on November 7th of that year and missed 26 games, only to be reinjured upon his return to the ice. It became a bothersome issue for the former All-Star player and he met with a specialist to figure things out. Dan Gelston, AP Sports Reporter, states that:

Gagne was told by a specialist that he didn’t suffer three concussions, but that the first one in October never properly healed and was aggravated with each additional blow. Gagne originally complained of vision problems and dizziness, but was not first diagnosed with a concussion, one reason why he returned so quickly after the first hit.

 

Gagne returned to the ice and was healthy for a few seasons until he was sidelined once again with a double hernia in 2009. He missed another 24 games after having the hernias surgically repaired. In 2010, he was on the ice again as the Flyers made it to the playoffs and defeated the Bruins in the second round. Gagne himself scored the game winning goal in game 7 of the series.

Gagne was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 and spent a season with them before becoming an unrestricted free agent. He signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings and won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2012. It was during the offseason before the 2013-14 season that the injury bug hit Gagne again as he was diagnosed with a 5cm mass in his neck that was causing him chronic pain and needed to be surgically removed.

Gagne played his last game in the NHL as a member of the team that drafted him after being traded from LA to Philadelphia in the 2012-13 season.

Gagne Joins the Bruins Camp

Patrice Bergeron had a hand in Gagne being invited to the Bruins training camp on a professional try-out agreement. The two met at a charity golf tournament and struck up a conversation. Zack Cox (NESN) reports:

“He kind of asked me where I was in my training and asked what I was looking for,” said Gagne, who sat out last season as he recovered from neck, head and groin injuries. “At first, he thought I was looking more for a contract, but I told him no, I was looking to go for a tryout this year — something I was not willing to do last year.”

 

One thing led to another and soon Gagne was on his way to Boston to participate in camp where he is presumably working hard to gain a spot with the organization. His situation differs from almost everyone on the ice at camp. While he is attending the camp, he is not a part of the Bruins organization where a majority of the other players are either Bruins players or prospects under contract to the organization. Gagne will have a tough time proving he’s worth a roster spot, especially since the money for him may not be there. It is no secret that the Bruins are having severe cap problems and have yet to sign two key players (Torey Krug and Reilly Smith). Should the Bruins want to sign Gagne, they will be adding another part to their cap dilemma.

Is Gagne Worth It?

This is a tough question to answer to be honest. He has accomplished a great many things in his career, but has had many injuries. Another factor going against his hopes to make the team would be his age when the Bruins have younger players that they can invest more time into developing. On the other hand, his age and experience may also be viewed as a benefit to the Bruins decision makers as he would likely be willing to sign for just a year based on that factor as well as his injury history. Giving him a contract is not necessarily the best option out there, but he has clicked with his training camp linemates, Daniel Paille and Ryan Spooner, and this may play a factor into the decision on whether or not to sign him. Zack Cox (NESN) reports:

“I think we’ve started clicking,” he said. “We try to talk between each shift and in practice to try to find ourselves on the ice. (Paille) has been here for a while, so he knows the system that Claude likes to play, so we try to take advantage of that, me and Spooner. I thought we had a pretty good game, even though we lost the game 6-1 and we didn’t score a goal, but I thought that things went pretty good. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to play a real preseason game together (Tuesday) night.”

 

Bruins head coach, Claude Julien, also appears positive about Simon Gagne’s ability on the ice and his improvement in his play.

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I’m not exactly okay with Gagne being in a Bruins jersey, but I don’t necessarily outright hate the idea. I think it’s something I could warm up to provided that he, Spooner and Paille stay together and mesh well on the ice. I’m going to just say though that he will not be a Boston Bruin next season. I could be wrong, but there appears to be too many variables in play when it comes to the decision. While the argument could be made that he would add another veteran presence to the locker room, there are already other Bruins players that can provide that experience and advice to younger players, most notably captain  Zdeno Chara. Gagne’s age, his injury history and his having not played for a while all work against him, at least in my eyes. Add to it that there are still players to sign and a major cap issue and I just don’t see how this is Simon Gagne’s year to wear the black and gold.

 

When Will Boston Bruins Address Free Agents Reilly Smith, Torey Krug? & More

The Boston Bruins made some small signings in the past couple days, bringing back Jordan Caron and Matt Bartkowski with one-year contracts. Both have shown flashes of potential, and will likely get the chance to prove whether or not they’re worth further consideration this year.

While that’s all well and great, the team still needs to address two restricted free agents who both individually contributed more than Caron and Bartkowski combined: Reilly Smith and Torey Krug. Both players need to be resigned, but the process of doing so is further complicated by the sliver of cap space Boston has remaining. Right now, the Bruins have a measly $390K left to spend.

Should NHL Owners Ban International Play?

With the news of Alexander Ovechkin leg injury, at the IIHF World Championship, it makes you wonder when NHL Owners and General Managers will finally wise up and forbid their players from playing in these tournaments. Not only are they doing nothing for the teams that pay them, it’s hurting those organizations when they suffer season ending injuries while representing their countries.

Ovechkin’s injury isn’t the first time a face of an NHL franchise has gotten banged up during this tournament. Eric Staal, of the Carolina Hurricanes, suffered a third degree MCL sprain while playing in this tournament last season. The injury put his availability for the start of the 2013-14 season in jeopardy. For a short time, before the MRI, it sent a shockwave of doubt that Staal could have been lost for a big part of the season; if it was a torn ligament.

If Ovechkin did tear a ligament in his knee, it wouldn’t be the first time in 2014 that a team has lost it’s captain due to an international tournament. During the Sochi Olympics, the New York Islanders saw their captain, John Tavares, fall to a season ending MCL and meniscus tear in his left knee. Islanders general manager Gareth Snow spoke out afterwards on his disappointment of having his star player in the Olympic Tournament saying: “Are the (International Ice Hockey Federation) or (International Olympic Committee) going to reimburse our season-ticket holders now?” Snow told Newsday. It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in the Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt. It wouldn’t matter if we were 10 points up on a playoff spot or 10 points out. We lost our best player and he wasn’t playing for us.” (H/T NY Daily News)

Snow is right. Those people have already spent thousands of dollars on the team didn’t get to see their star player for the rest of the season, after being injured in a non-Islanders game. It cheats their fans out of money they’ve already spent to see their best player. It’s not Tavares’ fault he tore his knee. But, it is the fault of the the league and organization for allowing him to play in this tournament.

Hopefully, when the 2018 Winter Olympics come around the NHL doesn’t elect to participate. Before the ’14 games the NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league isn’t commited to the next winter games saying: “It was a big challenge coming to Sochi and it certainly would be a big challenge if we were to go to South Korea. Player insurance is always a factor with the magnitude and length of player contracts these days, an incredible number of assets at risk. So we haven’t really given any serious consideration to South Korea at all.” (H/T TSN.CA)

From Staal, to Tavares and now Ovechkin, the NHL needs to smarten up and keep their players from these tournaments. They’re not doing anything for the league, and its owners. Plus, they’re robbing their fans from seeing the players they pay to see at the games and on television.

Penguins Fire Shero; Keep Bylsma For Now

After another premature exit from the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins have started housecleaning after firing General Manager Ray Shero. Earlier reports had Coach Dan Bylsma getting his pink slip, but he’ll be “evaluated” by owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle. Jason Botterill will take over on an interim basis while a search for a new general manager. The new general manager will decide Bylsma’s fate when he takes control.

This shakeup comes as the result of another early ouster from the Stanley Cup playoffs. This time the Penguins had their season ended with a loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh had a seemingly insurmountable three games to one lead before the Rangers rallied to win game seven.

Penguins President and CEO said the firing of Shero wasn’t on the loss to the Rangers.

”This is a decision that’s been in the works for a long time since we’ve won the Cup,” Morehouse said. ”We wanted to get back to the Stanley Cup finals and we haven’t and we’re going to make some changes.”

The playoff run was capped by the offensive struggles of Sidney Crosby and the rest of the star offensive players not performing. The Pens had a harder-than-advertised series first round series against a plucky Columbus Blue Jackets squad before losing to the Rangers.

This isn’t the first time the Penguins lost a 3-1 series lead as they were eliminated in the 2011 playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Once is unusual, but twice seems to be a problem.

Pittsburgh lost three games at the CONSOL Energy Center in the conference semifinal, and did not do Marc-Andre Fleury any favors despite him doing a lot better than against the Blue Jackets. The Pens also had trouble clearing the defensive zone after Fleury stymied the Rangers in games two-four.

Pittsburgh has always had success in the regular season after winning another division title. The Penguins did hoist the Stanley Cup in 2009, but have gone 4-5 in playoff series since then. Last year, Pittsburgh was swept in four games by Boston in the Eastern Conference final.

Shero came into the organization in 2006 and was tasked with trying to give Sidney Crosby the talent that he needed in order to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh. Shero and Bylsma put together a roster that got the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup in 2008 and finally over the top in 2009.

The Penguins now face a murky future after another disappointing season, and have to replenish their roster with draft picks and some free agents. An interesting statistic that came up was that draft picks be Shero since 2008 has been 240 games. Shero also tried making moves for big names at trade deadlines, but some of those deals may have left the cupboard a little bare for a future run.

Both Pittsburgh and Shero could be better off. Pittsburgh still has plenty of talent to reload and make a run at the Stanley Cup in the East. It’s also a great spot to land for potential free agents. Heck, who wouldn’t want to play with talented guys like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Shero has his pick of open jobs. (Washington comes to mind.) He’s had proven success at putting together a roster.

Whatever the case, things have gotten interesting in the Steel City.

Disrespect the Handshake Line? Disrespect the Game

What should have been a memorable moment in NHL history quickly turned into a disgusting act on the center stage of the hockey world.

After what seemed like the entire NHL fan base had picked the Boston Bruins to return to the Stanley Cup Final, the Montreal Canadiens handed their Atlantic Division foes a seven-game loss to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for only the second time since 1993 — the year the Canadian team won its last Stanley Cup.

Not only that, this was the first time that goaltender Carey Price led his team through the first two rounds of the playoffs — not to mention against formidable foes who know how to put the puck in the net. Defenseman P.K. Subban is having a remarkable playoff run and forward Danny Briere is on a quest to win his first career Stanley Cup at the age of 36.

Nobody is talking about that, though. The discussions have revolved around a few moments that slander the good name of the sport.

After the grueling final moments of Game 7 played out, the Canadiens gathered in their zone for the usual celebration after a series victory. Tradition looked to play out, as Boston skated single file to center ice to exchange pleasantries with the team that bested them. One player decided that the game was not over and continued to run his mouth long after the final whistle.

“I’m going to [expletive] kill you next year,” was a phrase uttered by Bruins forward Milan Lucic toward Canadiens forward Dale Wiese. He had some more choice words for defenseman Alexei Emelin, which have not surfaced to the NHL media as of Friday morning.

After the game, Lucic continued to show his true colors, calling out Weise for discussing the choice words with reporters.

That’s said on the ice so it’ll stay on the ice, so if he wants to be a baby about it, he can make it public,” he said.

The handshake line is a sacred tradition that displays one thing to the audience watching in the arena or at home: we may not like you, but we respect you.

The handshake at the end of a series is respected across the sports world (photo property of Pam Rodriguez)

As a fan of all things hockey, I can understand the frustration and anger that can come from battling a team for seven games. However, the handshake line encapsulates the game of hockey as a whole. If you decide to take your personal vendettas out during these final moments of the series, you are disrespecting the game that we hold so dear.

Think about it. Of all the friends you have that do not enjoy the NHL, what’s the one thing you always hear them say that they respect about hockey?

Think Blue, a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball blog, posted a story earlier this season about how baseball could use something like hockey’s greatest tradition. This taken directly from writer Harold Uhlman: “It’s something all sports fans can appreciate and hockey fans expect. After a long hard fought series comes one of the sports world’s greatest shows of sportsmanship and respect. Players line up to shake hands, putting the pride and integrity of the game and of their franchise above their own. The winning team takes some time to celebrate while the losers simply wait out of respect until the celebration is finished.”

The sign of sportsmanship can be seen in every series, even the ones that you think there should be bad blood. For example, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhwaks from Rd. 1 featured a hit that was scrutinized and debated over for well over a week. Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook caught Blues forward David Backes with a headshot that resulted in the injured Backes missing two games and Seabrook sitting out three games with a suspension. However, when the series ended after Game 6, it was a different scene on the ice.

Backes and Seabrook met at center, exchanged pleasantries and it even looked like an apology was made. Backes ended the quick conversation with a few pats to Seabrook’s shoulder and the two continued through the line.

(courtesy NHL.com)

If those two can find a way to let bygones be bygones (at least until next season), it’s hard to believe that anyone else can hold a grudge.

However, it seems like we hear about some bad blood year after year as of late. In 2009, Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby reportedly snubbed Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom in the handshake line. His reason? “I just won the Stanley Cup, and I think I have the right to celebrate with my teammates,” he told reporters a few days later.

Two years later, the Penguins and Washington Capitals broke the Winter Classic handshake tradition, after the Capitals won the up-and down contest, 3-1.

There’s a bit of a hate for each other,” said Capitals defenseman Mike Green after the game.

One of the shining moments of every series is when the goalies meet in the line (Scott Stewart-USA TODAY Sports)

We’ve seen arguments. We’ve even seen handshake brawls. It’s these types of distasteful performances that provide haters of hockey the gun with which to shoot us down whenever we talk about the grace of our sport.

There are many speculating as to whether Lucic deserves a suspension for his actions. The real punishment, though, will come from within. The Bruins star now has to think about his defacement of the game until he hits the ice again next season.

He won’t have the opportunity to rectify his unjust actions until next postseason, either. If he has any respect left for the game he plays at all, this is a sanction that will go far beyond anything the league can hand him.