In case you missed the first edition of the hotstove under my tenure, Travis Yost has moved on from Hockeybuzz to pursue other endeavours, so I have taken over.
With the 2014-15 season just a few weeks away, I’m going to be using this space to preview the upcoming season. My first post predicted a couple surprise teams – one from each conference – that I think will legitimately contend for playoff spots this year.
Once again I will be looking at a couple surprise teams, but this time on the other side of the spectrum. These will be teams that I think will disappoint and fail to meet expectations and/or accomplish what they did last season. Western Conference disappointment team: Colorado Avalanche
After last year’s outstanding regular season where the Avalanche won a very tough Central Division and finished 3rd in the league in points, they suffered a disappointing playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild.
While it surprised many, the analytics community had done plenty of work that suggested the Avalanche weren’t as good as their record indicated, which is partly why I successfully predicted a Wild upset in the 1st round.
Nevertheless, with a plethora of young players that should continue to get better, the popular opinion is that the Avalanche will build on last season’s success and finish near the top of the league standings once again.
I’m not buying it, though. What was already a horrid possession team lost two of their better players in that regard in possession driving two-way center Paul Stastny, who was exceptional last year in the regular season and playoffs, as well as underrated winger P.A. Parenteau.
While Jarome Iginla will help replace some of the offense lost, he himself isn’t a great possession player. As he ages and continues to slow down I’m skeptical he can keep pace with the Avalanche’s young forwards, and fit in their up-tempo style. I think Danny Briere is on the decline as well, and his defensive woes likely exceed the offense he’d bring.
An already mediocre defense lost an underrated player in Andre Benoit, and added a defenseman on the decline in Brad Stuart. At this point in his career he’s a guy who doesn’t bring any offense, and spends most of his shifts chasing opponents around in his own zone. That’s hardly a recipe for success.
The Avalanche won a lot of games last year because of their extremely high team shooting percentages (likely to drop) and Semyon Varlamov playing Vezina-worthy in goal. They were consistently outshot and out chanced, which is an unsustainable way to win over time.
I think they’ll crash down to earth this season, and on top of their inevitable decline, Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas all got better within their division.
Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Tyson Barrie and some of the young stars they have should keep them in the playoff race, but don’t expect them to finish anywhere near the top of the conference (or league) this season. Eastern Conference disappointment team: Philadelphia Flyers
After a solid campaign where they finished 6th in the Eastern Conference in 2013-14, I think the Flyers will struggle to repeat that success in 2014-15.
While I like the low-risk move of signing Michael Del Zotto to help shore up their defense, I think the loss of Kimmo Timonen and, to a lesser extent, Erik Gustafsson will be a lot for them to overcome.
The Flyers defense was filled with immobile ‘defensive defensemen’ that spend most of their shifts pinned in their own zone as is, so those losses will sting. For whatever reason their defense is often praised for being on their heels and forced to block shots/rack up hits (things you can only do without the puck) but that’s not a recipe for winning hockey games. Without Timonen and Gustafsson, we’ll see even more of that.
As you can see, though the Flyers were a playoff team in 2013-14, only three of their defensemen had positive goal differentials at even strength, and they lost two of them.
I also thought the R.J. Umberger for Scott Hartnell trade is a downgrade up front. It may pay off down the road (Hartnell has two more years on his deal) but a strong case can be made they lose in the short-term.
Even with that deal, their forwards are still quite impressive. Claude Giroux is a superstar, Jake Voracek is a star who doesn’t get near enough credit, and they have some other quality players to round out that group. They also have an excellent power play, and Steve Mason seems to be figuring things out, but their defense has too many holes for me to pencil in as a playoff team.
Agree or disagree with my picks? Who do you see as disappointment teams in 2014-15? Feel free to share your thoughts. I’m also open to suggestions for future hotstove topics, so if you have any ideas you’d like to see covered please let me know. Recent posts Surprise teams Are negotiations between the Devils, Gelinas about to get ugly? Blue Jackets, Ryan Johansen set to resume contract talks
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