2015 NHL Playoff Predictions

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It feels like this season just flew by! There are only two weeks left of the 2014-15 NHL regular season, including this week. With remaining playoff berths still at hand, I make my predictions for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Match-Ups

Western Conference Eastern Conference
Minnesota Wild vs. Nashville Predators Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens
Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Los Angeles Kings vs. Anaheim Ducks Detroit Red Wings vs. New York Rangers
Calgary Flames vs. Vancouver Canucks New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions via Challonge.com

Got any predictions of your own? Leave them in the comments below!

Follow Felix on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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Jokerit in Russia – Overview of a debut season in the KHL

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On the 19th March the final buzzer sounded on Jokerit’s pioneer season in the Kontinental Hockey League, following a 4-1 series [4-2 CSKA on the night] lost in the Western Conference Semi-finals to Regular season champions CSKA Moscow. The numbers show the correct team won the series and advanced to the conference finals to battle SKA St Petersburg, which should be a fantastic battle. Nonetheless, let’s return to the subject of Helsinki’s season.

“I’m really proud of these players. Jokerit had a decent first season in the KHL.”

 

– Jan Kurri, GM of Jokerit.

This viewpoint is rather accurate as the movement from the Liiga to the KHL was not going to be an easy task, especially coming up against teams such as SKA, CSKA and Dynamo, but the Finns were successful in this endeavour within the Western conference with a 4th placed finish and an overall 5th placed position in the entire league.

They finished the Regular Season with a record of 40-16-4 for 119 points, one shy of AK Bars Kazan who finished atop of the Eastern conference. Thus, statistically Jokerit’s league position and overall league play was superb alongside them competing towards the upper echelons of the KHL in the first season. A remarkable regular season which saw fantastic indvidiual successes.

One key success within the first season is the role played by American forward Steve Moses, who grabbed the role of goal scorer firmly with two hands. In only his third fully pro season, his natural goal scoring ability was prominent as he lead not only Jokerit in goals but also broke the KHL goal scoring record – 36G in 60 games, breaking the previous record held by Jan Matek [Metallurg Magnitogorsk 2008-09] and Marcel Hossa [Dinamo Riga 2009-10].Moses fell one point short of becoming a point-per-game player as he finished the season on 59 points [36 G and 21A]. The closest rival to his title was Barys Astana’s Nigel Dawes with 32G.

However, a primary concern for Helsinki is the potential move of Steve Moses to the National Hockey League. “His goal and his dream is to play in the NHL,” Moses’ Agent Markus Lehto has been quoted saying. This has been somewhat backed up by GM Kurri: “About Steve Moses. We don’t know yet if he’ll get an offer from the NHL. But if he does, he will surely take it,” growing a feeling of expectation in regards to losing him. These expectations have come true as Moses’ confirmed he would not return to the Finnish Capital club.

Another statistical plus for Jokerit was Defenceman Ryan Gunderson, who has been a favourite in rumours over a move to Dinamo Minsk in recent days, placing 5th in points for defenceman with 36 points in 58 games played [7G and 29A]. Strong positioning for the the Jokerit in regards to establishing players challenging the high end players who have produce within the KHL for the past seasons. This is a fantastic positive heading into the 2015-16 regular season.

Background of the move to the KHL

With this piece I believed I couldn’t write it without going over the process of the movement to the KHL following the 2013-14 SM-Liiga season. The idea came around before the 2013/14 season as the sale of Hartwall Arena to a faction of Finnish-Russian businessmen who consisted of HC SKA president Gennady Timochenko, chairman of Dynamo Moscow Arkady Rotenberg and the co-owner of HC SKA Boris Rotenberg who announced the move and sale on the 28th of June 2013. The team would, from the 2014-15 season, compete within the KHL, ending 29 seasons of competition within Finnish hockey, [27 seasons in the SM-Liiga and 2 seasons in the I-divisioona].

Hartwall Areena

It would provide a substantial boost towards the resilience of the KHL following a turbulent offseason for the entirety of the league. The off season saw the withdrawal of 3 teams, predominantly due to financial troubles. All keep the intention to return, Lev Praha [Gagarin Cup finalists 2014 playoffs] with Prague a priority, Spartak Moscow – who’s intention is make a reappearance to the league in 2015-16 – and HC Donbass who originally fell out of the league due to financial problems which has since almost become obsolete following the Ukrainian war.

The boost of a new team would keep the league interesting but would also see the inclusion of an already sustainable team within the league, without the newbie team having to drum up a fanbase for the team with that already being constructed.

Fan Reaction.

A potential worry was formed with the movement stemming around the excitement of the fans in regards to the new competition and difficulties this would entail. However, the fears felt by few people within ice hockey were profoundly put to bed by the fans of Helsinki. A record was created by the fans with 325,000 people attending the 30 regular season games which broke the record within Finland despite worries of a lack of excitement with freezing of the rivalry between Jokerit and HIFK.

The annual IIHF report on average attendance of European clubs highlights further positive gain for the ownership group as Helsinki successfully move up two places in the ranking to seventh place, with the added bonus of boosting the KHL’s attendance ranking up by 8.8%, improving the league to 3rd place.

Top 15 from the attendance figure report

 

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Top 18 leagues within Europe based on attendance, KHL in 3rd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In conclusion, the debut season of Helsinki within the evergrowing Kontinental Hockey League has provided various benefits within the organisation and the league. The positives within the organisation highlight that the team constructed was successful and that they have a significant platform to build upon for next season with fantastic placing and a spirited performance within the 2015 Gagarin cup.

It also proved many doubters wrong in the context of attendance and building on the support already held by Jokerit.

The goal for next season would simply be to push on from the successes of this season to better them in the 2015-16 Kontinental Hockey League season.

Follow Gareth on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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EIHL League Title: A Fight to the Finish

Sheffield Steelers

The Elite League title returns to Sheffield this season, but the title race was down to the wire.  It was a fight to the finish for the Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils and Braehead Clan.

Heading into the weekend of 14th March, Sheffield knew that if they won their remaining four games they would take the league.  Braehead similarly needed to win their remaining games, but had to hope the Steelers fell down in just one of those four.

Cardiff, coming from behind to challenge Sheffield and Braehead, had the same hope.  Of those four games left for each team Braehead had the easier run; Sheffield and Cardiff were to meet twice in what could have lost the league for both teams.

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The Cardiac Kids

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With over 80% of the 2014/15 NHL season complete, its getting to the time when we find out who the real playoff contenders are. The usual suspects of the Rangers, Anaheim and Montreal look to have once again secured another post-season run, but its a ‘rebuild’ team who currently have all the attention.

Surprising to many, currently sitting 3rd in the Pacific division lies Bob Hartley and his Calgary Flames. Rated 29th by Sportsnet before this campaign began, not many outside of Calgary would have expected such a successful year.

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NHL GM Meetings: 3-on-3 OT, Goalie Interference, & Video Review Among Discussions

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The NHL’s General Managers, for the past two days, met in Boca Raton, Florida for the League’s annual GM Meetings to discuss the possibility of implementing 3-on-3 OT as a way to reduce the number of games going to a shootout as well finding more ways to resolve the issue of whether or not certain goals should be counted due to goaltender interference.

3-on-3 OT

An idea brought up by Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, 3-on-3 OT as I pointed out in the overview is supposed to be a way to reduce the amount of games going to a shootout since we all know the League and its players are unwilling to eliminate the skills competition altogether. This season, the American Hockey League reformatted its overtime system to include 3-on-3. The way it works is that instead of OT being five minutes, they extended the duration to seven. Once the first three minutes of 4-on-4 hockey have been played, the first whistle would be blown and the remaining four minutes would be played 3-on-3.

According to NHL.com, of all 912 games played in the AHL through Saturday (this past Saturday), 221 were extended to overtime. About half of those games were decided in OT, a 43.1% rate. Last season, 42% of the 307 games that went to extra time were decided before the shootout. Also through Saturday, the AHL had 18.6% of its games decided in OT, up from 8.5% last season. It had 5.6% of its games decided in a shootout, down from 15.6% last season.

As for the NHL, the OT/SO numbers have been static for each of the past two seasons. This season, 10.7% of its games were decided in OT, before the shootout. Last season, it was 10.4%. This season, 14.1% of its NHL games have been decided in a shootout, which is down slightly from 14.47% last season, perhaps due to the changes in the rules this season requiring teams to switch sides for OT to factor in the long-change which also happens in the second period. Still, not much of a difference.

Although we don’t exactly know what the format of 3-on-3 OT will be, this should be interesting should it eventually be approved before next season throughout the NHL. Personally, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. A lot of comments I’ve read on social media are split between “yes, it’s a great idea” and “no, I don’t like it but at least it beats having a shootout” and “no, I hate it, bring back the tie”.

I didn’t start following hockey until five years after they started implementing the shootout. At first, being the new hockey fan I was, I didn’t mind it. Of course, I didn’t really know much of what was going on. I just thought it was entertaining as hell to watch. I mean, who wouldn’t? Right? The players get to showcase their stick handling skills and try to deke and dangle their way past the goalie to score, or the goalies would make a great save to keep their team in it and win. It’s tough pressure on them. However, now that I’ve seen more than enough games and plenty of shootouts, I have to admit it’s getting old. I’ve heard constant arguments and complaints against the shootout despite the fact that commissioner Gary Bettman has said before that the fans enjoy the skills competition. In the All-Star Break, I would agree with him. In general, where points are on the line, no I don’t.

Hockey’s a team game. Everyone’s involved in it no matter what. Every shift matters. Every shot counts. Every decision is essentially make-or-break, unless you’re lucky and your team mates bails you out when you turn the puck over unintentionally. The goalies do what they have to do usually, and the players give it their all, whether it be blocking shots, taking away the passing lanes, or winning the races and the battles. That, to me, is a lot of competition and hard work. Again, I’m not going to downplay the efforts by the goalies in the shootouts. I’ve never been a goalie, much less played the sport myself, but I can’t imagine the type of pressure they go through every game in the skills competition, trying to read the player’s every move and make the stop when it matters, especially when they’re dealing with a sniper like the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. For the players, however, they make it look easy, like a walk in the park. There’s barely any effort except planning their moves and trying to execute them.

Look, I don’t mind skills competitions. I do still think they are fun as it’s amazing to see every time what the players and goalies are capable of. I just don’t think it’s the right way to decide the final score of a game, especially when the points really matter.

Also, I don’t agree with the notion of bringing back ties. At all. Sure, that might be due in large to the generation I was born in. Different generations like and prefer different things. We all have our own tastes. Ending games in a tie does not satisfy mine. What if you have an outstanding as hell game where the players, and goalies especially, have worked their butts off and it’s still a tie game in the final seconds of the third? Do you really want to just have all that hard work to end in a tie? Lame. In my mind, no matter how great a game may be, there always has to be a winner. I like rewards. I like seeing others getting rewarded, and I certainly would love to still see teams who have worked hard to get rewarded with a win. For those who lose the game… well, this is where I kind of fight with myself because this brings up the whole argument that the points system in the NHL is flawed. But that’ll be for another time for when the GMs decide to reformat the points system as well, which will hopefully be sometime in the near future.

Going back to the 3-on-3 suggestion, like I said, it’ll be interesting to see how it’ll work and how the players, coaches, and GMs like it. I’m certainly open to it.

Video Review & Goalie Interference

The reason why I put these two topics together is because they kind of should go hand in hand along with other calls that involve video review, and the GMs are talking about expanding it for goalie interference calls.

The topic of goalie interference has been marred with controversy, not necessarily because of the rule itself but more so the calls being made on the ice. Like 95% of all penalties called in the NHL by the referees (although they are hard working individuals as well), a lot of the goalie interference calls are — pardon my French — absolute bullshit. My team, the San Jose Sharks, has been victimized COUNTLESS and I mean COUNTLESS of times, especially last season. I’ve seen sure goals waved off because of just one slight contact to the opposing goalie. Even the slightest contact. Now, I’m not accusing the officials on the ice of blowing every single goalie interference call, but there’s a good amount of them that have been either called incorrectly, or should’ve been called but they for some reason either decided to put their whistles away or didn’t see a penalty that happened literally a feet or two away from where they’re standing (more likely the latter).

According to the NHL Rule Book, Rule 69.1 (Interference on the Goalkeeper) clearly states the following:

69.1 Interference on the Goalkeeper – This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed. Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.

 

 

For purposes of this rule, “contact,” whether incidental or otherwise, shall mean any contact that is made between or among a goalkeeper and attacking player(s), whether by means of a stick or any part of the body.

 

 

The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

 

 

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

 

 

If a defending player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by an attacking player so as to cause the defending player to come into contact with his own goalkeeper, such contact shall be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, and if necessary a penalty assessed to the attacking player and if a goal is scored it would be disallowed.

 

I forget what I’ve heard people say, but there’s been confusion as to whether or not players can be in the blue paint in order to screen the goalie, deflect the puck, and basically just attack the net. According to the first paragraph of that rule, it doesn’t matter if the player is in the blue paint or not. The positioning itself should not matter so long as it does not impair the ability of the goaltender to move around freely and make a save when needed.

Okay, now that we’ve established that, we move along, still in the paragraph but the second instance of the rule which says “(2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgement of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.”

That, my friends, is the issue here. Keep in mind that every penalty and every call called in the sport is at the ref’s discretion, although in various cases the final call is made by the Situation Room up in Toronto. The ref can only keep track of so much, although there are cases where they do miss and get the calls wrong. Basically, it’s a judgement call. Whether or not the fans, players, and coaches like it is another story, but that story is something the GMs are working to improve on, because obviously the refs aren’t going to get it right half the time. That’s where the video review comes into play. With video review, Toronto can make whatever call they deem is correct per the Rule Book, just like they do with other calls in the NHL that require video review such as whether or not the puck enter a net off a high-stick (above crossbar level) and whether a goal was scored off a kicking motion. Also, they get a better vantage point than the refs do at ice level. They can have a better look at whether or not a player was only slightly touching the goalie (which should not count as goalie interference, in my opinion) or if he was pushed into the goalie, or if the goalie’s teammate fell onto him, etc.

Also, a Coach’s Challenge could be implemented for goalie interference. Basically, if the coach has a timeout or two, they can use it to challenge a ref’s call and they can go to video review to determine whether or not the call was right. If the call on the ice still stands, the coach will lose the timeout. If it’s overruled, then he keeps it. If the coach does not have any timeouts remaining, he can’t challenge the call. This system, if adopted, will also be used for the puck-over-glass (Delay of Game) penalty.

The Bottom Line

A few other topics such as diving and embellishment are also in discussion, but let’s just say it’s going to be a busy five months in the League moving forward. Will these changes harm the League and the sport or help them? A lot of people have varying opinions. I’m definitely looking forward to see what the consensus will be when the time comes.

Do you agree with these changes? Feel to give us your thoughts in the comments below! We’d love to hear what you think.

Follow Felix on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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EIHL – The Challenge Cup – Match Reports

Steelers Devils

The Challenge Cup may well have been named the Panthers Cup, given that the Nottingham Panthers have won it seven times, and for the last five years.  In a change to the format of previous seasons, the Final was to be one game, rather than the aggregate home and away matches of old.

The Final was set for the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield on March 8th.

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