Paddy’s Impressions: 2

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“Paddy’s Impressions” are the random musings of what is going on around the National Hockey League according to one misinformed and misguided Irishman who’s still trying to get to grips with the game while living in the biggest hockey market in the free world.

It’s been a while! Howya doin? While the frequency of writing has tailed off a bit, the level of frantic hockey-watching has shown no such downturn. As we approach the holiday period, the season has well and truly began to take shape.

Edmonton: Suck Town, USA

Oh, Edmonton. Woe is thee.

If there’s one thing the Oilers can do better than anyone else, it’s tank. Continuously. Forever. And then some more. Three first overall draft picks in a row, followed by another one and a half inept seasons? That’s impressive tanking. Of course, the problem with tanking that effectively is that eventually you need to come out the other side of it a better team. Instead what we’re witnessing now is season after season of terrible hockey punctuated by an unforgiving Western Conference schedule that is sticking the knife in repeatedly. Six years after tanking, the Oilers are now in pole position for Conor McDavid, the prized of prized possessions.

Last week, they fired beleaguered head coach Dallas Eakins, a competent chap who clearly was the wrong man at the wrong time. Craigy McT, Oilers legend and current GM, has decided to dip his toe behind the bench alongside their minor league head coach on an interim basis to get a closer look at the steaming pile of crap he has inherited and assembled. Conversation has shifted towards trade talks, with one notable rumour being Taylor Hall deemed “un-coachable”, much to delight of the circling Boston Bruins, but the general consensus is that no major changes are coming with their trade assets unless someone blows their socks off with an offer. Inexplicably, Edmonton are now positioning themselves for another top draft pick…and McDavid/Eichal should be very, very afraid.

What’s up with Boston? 

A team with the pedigree of Boston probably shouldn’t need to panic, but with a couple of months of sub-par performances under the belt, and one of their key players beginning to show his age, there are some concerns that the Boston Bruins as they currently stand are going to struggle to make an impact in the East like most pre-season prognosticators thought they would. Tyler Seguin’s rebirth in Dallas is beginning to make GM Peter Chiarelli look bad, and the effective salary-dump of Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders has not only dropped their defensive depth, but has elevated a fellow Eastern to boot. Principally, it’s the goal scoring that has taken a hit. Being solid at the back-end stands to teams in the post-season, but ultimately the Bruins are amongst the lower scorers in their conference and need to think about this going forward. Rumours are Taylor Hall is in play and the Bruins are interested, but you get the feeling their one top player away from propelling themselves into cup contention again for another run.

No longer on an Island

The Islanders stayed under the radar this off-season as they prepared for their last season on Long Island before moving to Brooklyn, and they’ve somehow managed to position their franchise remarkably well in so doing. The pundits more astute than I were smitten with the additions of Kulemin and Grabovski (two former Leafs that I am rather familiar with) while Leddy and Boychuk at the back-end significantly upgraded a blue-line that now calls itself one of the strongest in the East. Their excellent home record has them where they are today, which may be troubling considering it wont be their home for much longer, and they’re beginning to look like the surprise package of the 2014-15 season. Still a long way to go, but they’ve got a solid core that would be a difficult out if they make the post season.

TnT: Tyler & Tarasenko

Two hyped young stars of the 2010 NHL Draft Class have risen to the top in the 2014 part of the 14/15 season: Tyler Seguin of the Stars and Vladamir Tarasenko of the Blues. As if the Western Conference didn’t have enough star power, why not add these two players in the list who are likely to cause havoc from the mid-West onwards for the next ten to fifteen years. Seguin’s reputation in Boston lead him to Dallas where concerns for unmatched potential were very legitimate, but it seems the trade was the reality check he needed in order to flourish. He now stands with 25 goals, five ahead of his nearest rival, and is legitimately in the conversation for MVP as we approach the halfway point of the season. Vlady Tarasenko has also landed on his feet with his performances in a St. Louis Blues team that are well able to support his push for top team honours this year, and his 20 goals this season keeps him in touching distance with Seguin as he is preparing to take his team deep in to the play-offs. Top draft pick that year Taylor Hall, please see above.

That’s all for now folks, enjoy the holidays and watch some hockey!

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Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

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    Bottom’s Up! Is Tanking Fair?

As I’ve eluded to in recent posts, the NHL 2015 rookie draft is destined to be one of the most anticipated since Sydney Crosby’s in 2005. The reason? Connor McDavid. The kid’s good. Need another reason? Jack Eichel. Also pretty good.

The term “Generational Talents” is what has been bandied about amongst pundits in North America for the last few months, and if you check these kids’ credentials over the past few years, you can see why.

Of course, these talents haven’t just sprang out of nowhere. In Canada, McDavid has been spoken about for years as “The Next One”. 2015 was always threatening to be a banner year, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. He has made a mockery of the Ontario Hockey League playing against men with far greater experience than he. All this is to say that if you were going to have a bad year, then let it be now.

Enter the Buffalo Sabres.

When Puck Paddy sat down and watched them get abused by the Toronto Maple Leafs, only then did he realize the extent to which this team has attempted to “rip the hole out of their arse” for 2015. To get dominated by the Leafs is bad situation, because the Leafs are not a particularly good team. Of course, it’s just one game so there’s no point in getting too excited….but they took 10 shots. 10. Against a team that habitually give up 40 against average teams.

While this particular level of ineptitude is a little surprising, Buffalo has been positioning itself since last season for this draft. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago when they bailed on their interim coach and GM to bring in Pat Lafontaine as President, who subsequently hired Ottawa’s Assistant GM Tim Murray to lead them in to what was promising to be a big rebuild. Lafontaine only lasted a few months, but Murray began a massive asset-stripping exercise by off-loading former all-star goalie Ryan Miller, Captain Steve Ott and perhaps their most prized forward, Thomas Vanek, all for first round picks in 2015.

Hmmm….2015 you say? Interesting…

Who can blame a team like Buffalo for doing this? Despite being a dwindling city in terms of influence in the United States, it has always been a solid hockey market with a good fan base. They’ve also had a pretty good team during the Ryan Miller years, and although they didn’t cement it with a cup, they have been in the cup conversation up until relatively recently. Now they’re going through the infamous “rebuild” that North American sports teams can do thanks to the glorious social equalization process that is known as the Draft.

This rebuild, or “tanking” as they say ‘round here, has long been seen as the most effective way to take a franchise to glory. Sure, you could go other routes such as trades and free agency, but there are inherent problems with both of these alternative approaches: a bad team generally can’t trade because they don’t have much worth offering to another team, and the reality is very few (if any) top players ever make it to free agency because franchises just don’t let these guys out the door without offering them the mega bucks. Both trades and free agency can certainly fit nicely in to a franchises short-to-medium term frame, but the foundation has to come through the draft.

The thing about drafting in the NHL is that you have control of your asset from anywhere from 6 to 9 years. They’re restricted from signing elsewhere without heavy compensation, and generally you can get them at vastly reduced wages that can free up all-important cap space. You can develop their abilities, promote them, empower them, and make them key cogs in the future of your franchise. Sure, a free agent may not be enamored with kicking it in Buffalo when he’s got LA knocking at the door, but the young draftee doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. He has to learn to love his new home.

Of course drafting is not an exact science. To develop a prospect and project how good he’s going to be is pretty hard to do. 2015 sounds like it’s different, though. McDavid, Eichel, and a host of other youngsters are flooding this years’ draft, and even if you aren’t “lucky” enough to land yourself with one of the big two, your likely to have yourself a fine prospect.

There are a number of problems with tanking, though. It demeans the competition, the opposition and, most importantly, the fans. It’s the fans that pay to support their team and they’re clearly being offered an inferior product. It is the great conflict of supporting a bottom-feeder. One step back to take two steps forward. There’s no fear of relegation like you would have in soccer, for example, so there are no major ramifications besides damaging consumer sentiment. In a hockey market like Buffalo, where there aren’t much alternative forms of sporting entertainment, sentiment is not likely to take a dramatic dip. That might be harder to sell in the likes of Chicago, Pittsburgh or New York.

Buffalo is an ideal candidate to tank. A small city, under the radar, with not a huge amount to lose. They’ve proven they’re loyal as they’ve continued to follow their Bills through NFL obscurity, and while being a good hockey town, they’re not about to go insane at a terrible season and implode internally. It’s on the cards. Everyone has spoken about it. And everyone’s ok with it.

That is hard to do in other markets, most notably the one I am currently living in. The idea of Toronto throwing away a season in the hopes that they can win the draft lottery and rebuild around Connor McDavid is laughable, even if that is the right thing to do. Toronto has too much to lose. Revenue, viewership, consumer sentiment. Toronto has to compete. They’ve had bad years alright, but they’ve just been poorly run. They are not afforded the opportunity that Buffalo has in 2015.

Talk of rule changes and alternatives have been thrown around by the league, and I would expect that to happen at some stage. At the moment, the draft lottery gives the team that finishes last the highest percentage chance of winning the number one pick, but I would expect that lottery system to evolve in to something that reduces the chances of the worst team to get the best player. It’s not within the leagues interest to allow a race to the bottom amongst ailing franchises, because the reality is some of the “non-traditional” hockey market teams may not care about McDavid or Eichel. And the last thing the league wants is for a future star to end up in Florida where nobody cares.

Paddy’s Impressions: 1

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Paddy’s Impressions

“Paddy’s Impressions” are the random musings of what is going on around the National Hockey League according to one misinformed and misguided Irishman who’s still trying to get to grips with the game while living in the biggest hockey market in the free world.

The First Ten

A lot of talk across the hockey world after the first three weeks of games is surrounding how we are expected to assess teams after the first ten games, and whether there’s any real merit to it. While the consensus seems to be that you really shouldn’t come to too many conclusions and we’ve still got another 72 to go, the fact of the matter is that a win counts for the same in Game 1 as it does Game 82. Points on the board are important, and while you’d have to be hesitant about writing off any more than two or three teams, the reality is some on the bubble come March may look back at October and wish they could have had a few more (see Toronto, Washington, and Colorado.)

The Injury Bug

Almost every club goes through a bit of an injury crisis at some stage, and after a slow start we’re beginning to see a few teams get bitten rather hard. Two of those teams are playing out of the East and are 2013/14 play-off teams, St. Louis, Columbus and Boston. While most would expect Boston to be strong enough to ride it out and keep in contention, Columbus aren’t in the same league from a pedigree standpoint and have arguably suffered more than most. What’s worse, Columbus were projected to be one of the bubble teams that would have had to be fighting for a wildcard spot in the East, and may find themselves in trouble after what’s been a below-par start. After their off-season woes with the Ryan Johansen contract saga, you’ve got to wonder if it’s going to be the Blue Jackets year, which is a real shame after a spirited play-off performance last year.

Western Dominance

Surprise surprise, the Western Conference is rocking the shit. Much like last year, Anaheim have raced off to a delightful start and look like a team that’s primed to sit perched atop the West for the first half of the year, and I’m sure the wily cup veterans that are Chicago and LA will be happy to let them have it as they pace themselves for the marathon. The feisty starts of Nashville and Vancouver have caught a few people off guard, and Calgary has proved that they may be a tough out if they’re indeed going to be the whipping boy down the road, but the reality is that if you watch the heavyweights of the West battle it out compared to that of a big Eastern conference tilt, you can see the difference in intensity. I can’t imagine that the Western conference doesn’t take the cup back this year.

Race to the Bottom

So in case you didn’t know, all of the NHL is abuzz with the talent on offer in the 2015 rookie draft. North of the Border, Connor McDavid is giving pundits and GM’s alike a wet dream with his hockey excellence. Puck Paddy has heard this name for the past three years, so he’s been on the radar around these parts for a long time, and with good reason. He had been given underage exemptions (much like John Tavares) to play in the OHL and he has yet to find his level because he is putting on a hockey clinic with the Ere Otters right now. And if you aren’t lucky enough to get the winning ticket for young McDavid, word on the street is that Jack Eichel of Massachusetts is potentially of the same class. I suppose this is quite good news for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres, because these teams are, in a word, terrible. Buffalo isn’t necessarily a surprise and they’ve be positioning themselves for this draft since last season, but Carolina’s dramatic decline has caught people a little off guard. Sure, we figured they’d be in the lower third of the league, but no regulation wins in eight games…that’s bad hockey.

Sedin’s, Baby!

Today, I sit in Bicerin on Baldwin St, downtown Toronto. A sedin look-a-like just walked past the window of the coffee shop I sit in. It reminded me to speak of Vancouver’s resurgence, and most notably, the Sedin’s beginning to get the magic touch back. The Torteralla experiment was a terrible idea from a desperate GM, but early signs are good from the new regime and Vancouver are playing themselves in to contention in what is an extremely competitive Western Conference play-off race. Colorado’s “sophomore slump” may be more dramatic than we were expecting given their patchy opening, so we may have a spot open for someone like Vancouver to sneak back in. Of course, Ryan Miller will let them down when it matters and they’ll be unceremoniously dumped out by, oh I don’t know, let’s say St. Louis #revenge.

Up For the Match – Puck Paddy visits Air Canada Center

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In a move that was both equal parts pathetic and a sign of my hockey fandom, Puck Paddy purchased a single ticket to go see his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs home opener in the Air Canada Center on Wednesday October 8, all whilst describing the situation in his blog in the third person. Why did I purchase a single ticket and go alone I hear you ask? For two simple reasons: 1) the tickets are ridiculously expensive and so most seasoned Leafs fans I know wouldn’t dare be so foolish to pay it and 2) even if they were foolish enough to pay it, the odds of finding two cost price tickets side-by-side were more or less impossible. Personally, I had made my peace with the decision to sit alone and enjoy the game surrounded by 22,000 of my new friends as I cheered on Hogtown against, as they say in French, Les Enemy.

This game was not my first jaunt to the Air Canada Center to watch the Leafs. In fact, I was fortunate enough to go three prior times over the course of the last four seasons. Unfortunately for me, the three previous occasions were all damp squib of games as the buds’ season outcome had already been played out. You guessed it, no playoffs. But this time would be different! Home Opener! First game of the season! Renewed Optimism! Analytics! Puck Possession! Brendan Shanahan! Culture Change!

Sort of….

For some reason, the atmosphere outside and around the Air Canada Center is often a lot better than in the actual arena itself. Because it’s attached to Toronto’s Union Station and right beside the main downtown highway, it’s already a hive of activity at 7pm at the best of times. As I entered the arena at 6:30pm and began my long ascent to the 300’s where my $150 solitary seat awaited, I was excited by the buzz around the kiosks as people lined up for beer and snacks. Feck it, I’ve already dropped a boat load on my seat, why not top it off with an overpriced beer to supplement the two I pounded before entering? This was me getting in to the spirit and getting ready to be rowdy for puck drop.

A favoured technique of mine is to get to my place early and start soaking in the atmosphere, and let the excitement build. So a full thirty minutes before the start of the game, I took my place where I was happy to see a white Maple Leafs towel waiting for me. Ok, it had a couple of Scotiabank logos on it too, but still I was pretty pleased with this gesture. I envisioned one of the great sites of my sporting lifetime, swirling my scarf proudly as the game began as Tyler Bozak wins the face-off and begins a long rally of Leaf possession in Montreal’s zone resulting in a Kessel wrister to beat Carey Price. What a moment!

Unfortunately my scarf remained shackled to my neck for most of the game.

So here’s the deal about the Hockey Mecca that is Toronto, and specifically going to a Leafs game: the atmosphere is practically non-existent for the most part. It’s Toronto’s dirty little secret, except that it’s not a secret to anyone. If you watch a game on TV, the sounds of the players cutting the ice and sticks swiping at each other kind of over-shadows generally how dull it can be in there. Once the game starts, that’s the end of it. There’s a hum of people talking amongst themselves, and general movement of fans to and from their seats, but the only time you’re likely to hear any sort of fan reaction to anything is when there’s a shot, a hit or a goal. Otherwise, that’s it. Nothing. No encouraging chants, no pre-faceoff cheering. Nothing.

What’s the problem then? Well, as far as I can tell, there are a few. First and foremost, the games are generally a corporate sporting event rather than the true sporting occasion. That’s the reason why the Leafs have so much money, their corporate sponsorship is unrivalled. I am very sure that a very significant portion of the fans in attendance (probably more than half) did not actually pay for their tickets. They were corporate tickets and they were invited by clients or colleagues or whomever. This results in, for example, the Montreal fans that I ended up sitting beside who were both drinking WINE AT A HOCKEY GAME! (damn French) Not only that, but they had no more interest on what was happening on the ice than they did texting their friends who were sitting in the lower bowl, also presumably drinking wine. My point is that they didn’t care about the game, they weren’t emotionally invested and they clearly just turned up because they could. I have no doubt that this can be said of a lot of people at that, and every Leaf game.

Which brings me to my second problem. Because Monseuir and Madame Vino had two corporate tickets instead of four, it meant that they couldn’t be beside their friends in the lower bowl to maybe talk a little bit more about the game, or maybe feel a little bit more excited about cheering on Montreal, or even anything remotely more interactive than how they were with each other. Their problem was that there was just two of them, side by side. That’s it. And that’s because the tickets are ludicrously expensive, and the corporate entity that forked out for these season tickets could only justify two for the season. That’s ok though, because there’s 41 home games, that’s plenty to dish out to clients! Two tickets is better than nothing! But the problem with everyone turning up in pairs is that it’s just that bit harder to build a group camaraderie. When you’re cheering on your team and you’re getting excited, there can a safety in numbers. If you can generate a cheer or a chant or celebration with seven of your closest friends, instead of just the one person beside you and not the weirdo Irish dude sitting by himself on your other side, then that can be infectious. That is just a lot harder in groups of two, or in my case, one.

And lastly…and possibly most importantly…is that the team just isn’t that good. And they haven’t been for a pretty long time. The product that is presented to Leafs fans has not only been sub-par from a hockey standpoint, it’s actually leaving fans bitter because they’re paying such exorbitant sums to watch such mediocre performances night-after-night. The town is bitter. They want to see their team work hard and perform like a Chicago or LA, but they just can’t. They’ve specialized in collapses, in folding, in fizzling out, in meekness, in excuses.  The Leafs can’t be accused of not trying to fix the problem, but they just can’t get it right because ultimately the market makes too much money to actually tank for a couple of seasons. The Leafs try to rebuild without knocking down the terrible foundations year after year. Never the worst team, but never good enough. These years of sub-par performances have left everyone wondering why they should bother forking out ludicrous sums.

And really, who can blame them?

The game itself was none-the-less enjoyable. 7 goals, a late equalizer followed by a late Montreal winner. Toronto nearly did enough to just about escape with the minimal acceptable standard before falling short at the end. Again. As for my solo run to the Air Canada Center, my scarf didn’t wave for any other time except for the three goals, and the despite the crowd being relatively hyped by the late equalizing goal, the experience was more eye-opening than it was memorable.

Until this team gets better, spend your money elsewhere.

A Day Late & A Buck Short – GambleBlog Season Preview

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Something you must know about Puck Paddy….he likes to gamble away his hard-earned currencies on sporting events of all types. Currently, he has money tied up in golf, soccer, NFL, basketball, baseball, rugby…and hockey. Below is GambleBlog, a betting preview on the NHL’s upcoming 2014/15 season, and where you might find some value this season.

GambleBlog

Being one of only but a relative few Hockey fans hailing from Western Europe, I feel compelled to flex my muscle and pretend like I know more than you about the NHL just because I understand Icing. And, you know, it’s probably true that I do know more than you, but it’s only because you probably don’t care about Hockey. Where I make my mistake is that I feel like prominent sports books from the British Isles are as ignorant about the game of Hockey as your bog-standard Joe Soap, thus making me think that I am capable of beating the bank.

As you can probably tell by the fact that I’m actually writing a blog instead of sitting on a beach somewhere in South-East Asia basking in my millions, that this is something I am not capable of.

So how can I help you? I will do it the way I help myself: by watching copious amounts of hockey and listening to analysts discuss the potential outcomes for the upcoming season, and try to identify gaps between North American discourse and Europe book-makers.

Easy.

Furthermore, if I do end up getting things wrong (and by “if” I mean “when”) I can at least look back and blame the analysts for not knowing what they’re talking about. Of course, if they did know what they were talking about, they too would be on a beach in South-East Asia basking etc. etc. etc.

So without further ado, here is my gambling season preview!

Eastern Conference

Euro Sportsbooks love themselves some Boston Bruins to chalk down the East, and with good reason. The team has been a consistently solid performer for the past five years and have the pedigree of champions. Goaltending, a key ingredient to any top-tier team, is up there with the best as Rask continues to demonstrated, and the blue-line, lead by the beastly Zdeno Chara, has been solid for a number of years now. They’re a team built for the play-off’s and have great depth across all four lines, but the best price you’re going to see right now is 7/2. To me those odds are not great and would rather wait it out and see if they stray to about 6’s during the season.

The reason I say wait and see if they stray is because of Pittsburgh. The allure of Sid and Malkin lighting up regular season opponents every couple of days will result in heavy betting from those who see the big stars and think “who can beat them??”. Frankly, until Pittsburgh show they can get down and dirty with teams in the play-offs again, I want nothing to do with them. But they are a classic regular season superpower, and their current 5/1 price will certainly come in if they do what they are very capable of doing, and start to dominate their conference. That will push the value elsewhere.

Speaking of value, I like two value picks to start the season: Montreal at 8/1 and Tampa Bay at 10/1. Montreal could, and probably should have made the Stanley Cup finals last year but for an unfortunately-timed Carey Price injury. However, Carey Price may have been the top goaltender in the play-offs to that point, and with the gold medal of Sochi 2014 around his neck, he has proven top-tier talent. PK Subban is now signed on and committed, and although the team hasn’t made many significant additions over the past year, they’re a solidly built franchise moving in the right direction. Perhaps crucially, they may have Boston’s number, and for a legitimate top 3 or 4 team in the conference, 8/1 looks like a pretty good deal to me.

Tampa Bay is a team a lot of analysts like the look of this year, and at 10/1 they are nicely priced, but you would probably prefer a little more value here. A year of fully-fit Stamkos would be a welcomed addition, and they’ve made some nice additions through free agency that should offer a bit more depth to their roster. Stamkos’ goals and Bishop’s goal tending will be what really counts, though, and we’ll have to see if they’ve learned anything from last years whipping from Montreal in the first round of the play-off’s.

Want an outside bet? Why not the Blue Jackets? A lot of the league fell in love with their rousing effort against the Penguins in round one last year, and if Bobrovski and Ryan Johannsen keep their high-standards, they should be able to continue making an impact this year. Scotty Hartnell, noted Pittsburgh agitator, will also add a veteran presence to the team, and so those are a couple of feisty moves to get excited about, so at 16/1 CBJ could be worth a punt.

Eastern honourable mention needs to go to last years conference champion NY Rangers, but nobody is getting too excited about them this year. I love their coach and I love their goaltender more, but I also can’t help but feel they over-achieved last year and could regress to the mean in 2015. Rhyming, bitches.

Safe Bet: Boston 7/2 (but wait on it a bit)

Value Bet: Montreal 8/1

Western Conference

The Western Conference….Fuck Me.

Pardon my French.

It’s a behemoth. The talent is so disproportionate that there’s almost no point in betting on a team to win this conference directly because you might as well just bet on them to win the Cup. Of the last five years, Boston are the only team to have broken the cycle of Western dominance. Of course they’re capable of doing it again, but it might be worth your while going all-in, in that case. While Chicago and LA are 4/1 and 5/1 respectively to win the West, both teams have won the cup twice in four years, so perhaps the 8/1 and 9/1 available prices are what you want.

Last season, the Anaheim Ducks looked mighty during the regular season and play-off’s. They raced off to an impressive start and kept a tidy pace throughout an extremely difficult division. Perry and Getzlaf ascended to top 10 talents in the league, and each played integral roles in winning Gold at Sochi for Canada. They are, and presumably remain, Beasts. The recent signing of Ryan Kesler, a proven performer down the years for Vancouver, is a big name addition that may be one of the keys to their season. The unknown of goal tending is potentially the major concern, but Gibson is a highly-rated young stopper who showed great promise when drafted in during the post-season run last year, so at 13/1 for winning the cup, I think you’ve got to like that price, especially if they start hot again this year. Lest we forget, they took the eventual champions to Game 7 last year too. This team has a lot to prove and might be well positioned to do it in 2015.

If you want an outside hot tip then why not try Minnesota? Like Tampa Bay, Minnesota have made a few under-the-radar moves (if you call signing top-tier free agent Thomas Vanek under the radar) and could be nicely positioned to cause a bit of a ruckus in 2015. The last two years their progress has been halted by Chicago, and so that is an obvious hurdle they will need to overcome if they do want to progress, but in saying that this is a team that may be building towards a crescendo of success, slowly building quality talent and gaining invaluable experience. The West is a very hard conference to win, no doubt, but at 12/1 to progress three rounds, and 20/1 for the overall honours, I’d be tempted by that. Like Anaheim, the questions are primarily centered around goal-tending, which is problematic. But that’s why they’re 12/1.

The honorable mentions can extend almost to every play-off team from last year with this division. My American Father, Puck Daddy, sounds like he is interested in St. Louis for 2015 success and it’s hard to doubt they’re credentials, but for me the value isn’t there for a team that’s yet to beat a prominent team. Not saying it can’t happen, but just saying there’s no value there. San Jose are obviously a contender as well, but how can anyone feel good after their post-season collapse last year? Consensus on Colorado is that there’s a possibility of regression this year, which is very possible given their exception 2013/14 year, but the reality is there’s something to be said for about six of the Western Conference teams this season, so pick your poison.

Safe Bet: Toss a coin between Chicago and LA

Value Bet: Minnesota Wild at 12/1

Top Goal-scorer

The Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the top Goal-scorer in the NHL yearly, could be changed to the Ovechkin award if he keeps at his current clip. The man has won it four times, including twice in a row, putting him second favourite behind one Stephen Stamkos to chalk it down in 2015. Either are solid bets to be honest, and if you expect Tampa Bay to be even better this year (like I do) then perhaps betting on the favourite isn’t a bad idea.

But where’s the fun in that!? Personally, I would be interested in Sidney Crosby at best priced 12/1 to take the award as it’s a good price for a man largely considered the best in hockey. Of course, what should give you pause is that he has never actually won the trophy outright by himself (tied with Stamkos one year) but with doubt surrounding his status as an all-time player, I would be interested taking a punt.

If you’re looking for a real outsider, as someone who watches Phil Kessel score a consistently large amount of goals, you get the feeling that he has a 50 goal season in him. Rarely injured and takes a heck of a lot of shots, at 25/1 you’re looking at a potential top 5 goal-scoring talent who tailed off towards the end of last year.

Safe Bet: Ovechkin 4/1

Outside Bet: Crosby 12/1

Best Defenseman

The Norris trophy is awarded to the best Defenseman, who according to Wikipedia “…demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the season”. This award has been a bit all over the map since stand-out Red Wing Nik Lidstrom surrendered the aware in 2008 (although he did nab it back for one last go around in 2011) with Duncan Keith the only other man to take it twice in the last six years. Duncan Keith is again going to be a top contender this year, with Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara always there or thereabouts.

For me, you can look no further than Drew Doughty. He is absolutely unquestionably going to win a Norris Trophy at some stage, and with the LA Kings still a super-power, it’s just a question of whether they are going to do enough in the regular season to win the award. Anyone who watches him play cannot deny his ability to go forward, and with an extremely strong supporting cast around him, he’s only going to look better this year. 7/1 is a nice price for such a good player.

Former champion P.K Subban is another guy I expect to have a strong year. He won the award two years ago, earned himself a beefy new contract and will excel in the Eastern Conference if he continues to lead a strong Montreal team towards the top of the standings. He’s a bit better at marketing himself and 14/1 for a recent for winner is another tasty figure.

The reality is this award is a bit all over the map and there’s a lot of potential contenders, so if you like the cut of someone’s defensive prowess then go for it.

Safe Bet: Doughty 7/1

Outside Bet: Subban 14/1

Vezina Trophy

In many ways, this award can generate the most heated debate as goal tending metrics have not advanced the same way other positions have. There’s a bit more interpretation as to what constitutes a great goaltender and who actually deserves to win it, and recent trends have been towards some of the biggest names in goal-tending, between Tukka Rask, Lunqvuist, Miller and Tim Thomas (when the latter two were actually good)…

The obvious candidates are two prior winners, Rask and Lunqvuist, who again benefit from being in the favourable conference to save many shots. Jonathan Quick, a goal-tender I love, has got to be under consideration as well. For me, the main man needs to be Carey Price. For the year 2014, there has been nobody better in my estimation, beginning with the Olympics and going all the way to his injury in the play-offs. He was the main reason the Bruins went no further, and if he continues at this pace then I can’t see anyone beating him out at 15/2.

My slight outsider again comes from the East, and also focuses around a slightly under-the-radar pick. My feelings towards Tampa Bay are now out there, and if they’re to have the season that some analysts project then their goaltender Ben Bishop needs to be strongly considered. Last season he was probably in pole position until his injury, so at 8/1 I’d like my chances again. Honourable mention to Miller in Vancouver…although I don’t know why….

Safe Bet: Carey Price 15/2

Outside Bet: Bishop 8/1

MVP

Look, people love themselves some Sidney Crosby. I get it. He’s pretty good. He romped to the award last year and is prohibitive favourite again for 2015. It could be a very safe bet. Center’s do have a strangle-hold on this award, unless they perform great feats of scoring (see Ovi & Corey Perry) so there’s a formula for success here. But here I go again getting on the Tampa Bay bandwagon…

Look, I don’t think Tampa Bay are going to become the NHL’s next great superpower. Far from it. I’m just saying they’re playing in a weaker conference, they have a couple of big names and they’re building towards something. Stamkos is a top 5 player in the league, though. People are ready to crown him after last season’s return from injury. 6/1 for Stamkos to win the Hart Trophy, I like it. He fits two key criteria for the aware: he’s a center and he scores a heck of a lot of goals.

There has been a buzz about Anze Kopitar in LA recently too which has to be acknowledged. He doesn’t grab many headlines but he is a really excellent player. 14/1 isn’t a bad shout but he’s kind of the hockey hipster pick. Am I a hockey hipster? I suppose I want to be, I write a hockey blog and I’m from Ireland, where we call it Ice Hockey…

Want a real good player at a real good price? Then consider this scenario: Sidney Crosby, notorious for getting headaches, get’s a headache. He misses a few weeks. Weeks turn to months. Pittsburgh’s headline-grabber out of the picture for various reasons. But wait…the Penguins are still winning games? How is this possible without their best player? Oh that’s right, they have that great player Evgani Malkin dragging them towards success.
I’ve just described 2011/12 to you. Geno won the Hart that year. This year he’s 40/1. Tempting…

Safe Bet: Stamkos 6/1

Outside Bet: Malkin 40/1

Puck Paddy Series – Picking Your Team, Part 4

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The “Picking your Team” series is the uneducated views of Mr. Puck Paddy helping you, the uncommitted/new hockey fan, find the new love of your life. It’s like tinder, except with less pictures and more terrible analysis….

Cal-if-orn-iaaaa, Knows How To Party

Now we’re talking! Expansion franchises out West weren’t always the toast of the hockey world, but the Anaheim/LA/San Jose triumvirate are where it’s at in 2014. Granted, the “East Coast Bias” may be in affect throughout North America , and for European’s those extra 3 hours are a bit of a killer, but if you can stay up that late to watch these guys…well, you’ll be happy you did.

22) Anaheim Ducks

To those of us not au fait with Hockey, the Ducks are obviously attractive thanks to the work of Coach Bombay. Re-branded, yes, but their success has been tangible of late and despite not being able to kick back to the heights of a few years ago when they won the cup, this team could be on the cusp this year. Get excited people.

Likeability Rating: B Plus

23) San Jose Sharks

If Anaheim are rising, then San Jose will be sinking in their place. Their downfall might be a bit premature, and certainly exaggerated, but they suffered the indignity of throwing away a 3 game play-off lead to the eventual champion LA Kings, and now are firmly planted with the Choker tag. Hard to argue given their recent history, but they’re still a good team with top, if not aging, players. They are gritty and grizzled, though.

Likeability Rating: B minus

24) Los Angeles Kings

Ok, I know they are the champions right now, and so like Chicago it might not be fair to get on board after a couple of parades, but damn this is a slick team. You like a hard-working, grinding style of hockey? They’ve got it. You want some slick puck handling? Oh baby, wait til you see Drew Doughty. Never say die attitude and a will to win? See their 2014 Stanley Cup playoff run. They’ve sweet jerseys, too. They’ve got it all. Bastards.

Likeability Rating: A plus

Somewhere in Middle-America

I guess this is the bucket that fits “everyone else” in to. When I was a new fan, a lot of these teams flew as under-the-radar as it got, which in theory could have made them a little bit less desirable to follow than some of the aforementioned hotter spots in the league. What you have below, however, is a relatively solid group of decent hockey clubs that may raise the eyebrow of intrigue amongst a hockey fan if you’re a random follower of one of these teams.

25) Colorado Avalanche

Maybe the best case for supporting the Colorado Avalanche could start from behind the bench instead of on-the-ice. As a new fan, there aren’t many old names that really resonate with me in the hockey world, but Patrick Roy was one of them that did attain some notoriety to the casual observer. A hall-of-fame goaltender with a hall-of-fame temper, Roy’s first season behind the bench turned out to be an exciting one where he brought a young team to a surprise play-off berth, and oversaw some great play along the way. Experts predict a potential regression to the mean this year, but the Av’s are a tasty prospect going forward with young MacKinnon leading the way.

Likeability Rating: B Plus

26) St. Louis Blues

Do they play the Blues in St. Louis? Who cares! They (sort of) wear blue! But they also (sort of) don’t get the job done in the play-off’s, which is something to care about recently. A recent perennial play-off contender, you can’t help but feel they’d take a little bit more heat from the press if San Jose didn’t up the ante on the underachievement stakes year after year. They’re positioned nicely again for another shot at the big time, and they’ve got a lot nice players (including the magnificently named T.J Oshie) but there’s something about them that’s kinda uninteresting that I can’t quite put my finger on…

Likeability Rating: B minus.

27) Minnesota Wild

A hockey hot-bed such as Minnesota is an interesting team to get behind these days, and after securing the services of two top-end free agents a couple of years ago in Parise and Sutter, this team propelled themselves in to Western conference relevance. Last year was the first time they really started to show their potential, and the addition of Thomas Vanek this year could be a nice one to help them push on. A team on the up.

Likeability Rating: C plus

28) Nashville Predators

Ok, don’t hate but I just do not care about this team one bit. Shea Weber could be a top 3 defenseman in the league, and they have exciting American prospect Seth Jones also on their blue line, but I’m sorry, I just don’t care. I don’t really know where Nashville is, I don’t really like their sweaters, and I don’t ever watch their games. But why would I? It’s a hockey team in Nashville.

Likeability Rating: D

29) Carolina Hurricanes

The ‘Canes are a little bit more of an interesting prospect, but frankly, not by a whole lot. The Staal brothers (a big family of hockey players in Canada) added a little bit of weight to this franchise a couple of years back when they joined forces, and with the backbone of Cam Ward in nets this team was teetering on the brink of something worthwhile, but…it just didn’t really happen. Now they’ve loaded their roster with players hardly good enough to play for the Leafs, so the future does not look too bright…

Likeability Rating: C

30) Columbus Blue Jackets

The best until last? Well…no, not really. But to be fair to Columbus, their most recent jaunt in to the Stanley Cup playoffs opened a lot of pundits eyes to the measure of their franchise, as well as the atmosphere they created in their arena against the Penguins. It could be argued that some of CBJ’s home games were as raucous as they came in the play-offs, and their series with Pittsburgh ended up being one of the most compelling of the season. Tragically they were ousted by Sid the Kid’s men, but they’ve made a few interesting additions in the off season that definitely have me interested. This is a small market team for sure, but they’re moving in the right direction and while you may not see any immediate success on the horizon, there are certainly worse places to hitch your wagon.

Likeability Grade: C

Puck Paddy Series – Picking Your Team: Part 3

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The “Picking your Team” series is the uneducated views of Mr. Puck Paddy helping you, the uncommitted/new hockey fan, find the new love of your life. It’s like tinder, except with less pictures and more terrible analysis….

Canada’s Wonderland

Hockey matters in Canada. It matters a lot. That can cause problems for some players seeking the easy life as a C-list sports start in the United States, where the government is less likely to capture your hard-earned dollar bill. However, it seems to me if you want to be the big fish in a real pond, and you want a fan base that really cares, a Canadian team might be right up your street.

14) Winnipeg Jets

Hockey’s newest franchise (sort of) has had it’s re-acquaintance period with the league and now needs to push on, but it has yet to do so. In theory, a new fan should seek out it’s newest franchise (sort of) as both are seeking a fresh start, but this team doesn’t exactly make it easy for you on the ice right now. Great support, great atmosphere at games, a few nice players but no goaltender. That’s a current problem.

Likeability Rating: C

15) Calgary Flames

Another team fallen on hard times, Calgary is a couple of years in to its “rebuild” mode. Headed by former Leaf GM Brian Burke, they’re looking to brand themselves as 2014’s “Team of Truculence” which doesn’t bode well, unless you like watching cumbersome hockey and goons trying to pick a fight. The Flames are like people with Ginger hair, in many ways. Take that however way you please.

Likeability Rating: D

16) Edmonton Oilers

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s always been something more likeable about Edmonton compared to their more southerly neighbours Calgary. Perhaps it’s those glorious years in the 80’s lead by the Great One that just adds weight to their history as a team. Either way, those days are long, long gone. The good news is, they should be coming out of a big rebuild (although we’ve been saying that for two years now) with some very exciting young attacking players. The bad news is they still cant seem to get their shit together. They’ve got to turn it around some time soon though, right?

Likeability Rating: B minus

17) Vancouver Canucks

Being a new hockey fan, I’ve sort of missed the reason why a lot of people hate the Canucks, but rest assured, people do hate them. To be fair, they seem to have a relatively apathetic fan base and had a few whiney players, but it’s been their overall mismanagement that’s hamstrung them recently. Hard to advise someone to pick up a team on a clear downward trend, unless you have a thing for demonic Swedish twins.

Likeability Rating: D

Do They Even Have Ice There?

We’re beginning to go into the realms of “Oh…do they have a hockey team?” with this grouping of cities, and sadly these franchises wouldn’t necessarily be described as hockey hot beds….unless you were to literally be speaking about their beds, which would be usually quite hot due to the average temperatures of these cities…

18) Tampa Bay Lighting

While every part of me would like to cast off Florida hockey franchise and tell you to roundly ignore them because they’re not worth your time an effort, I would find a hard time doing that to this team. Stamkos is arguably a top 3 player in the league, they seem to have a general manager who’s building a competent franchise, and they are my “hot tip” for Eastern Conference success this season. They’ve had a nice off-season, but without much of a recent history of success, this would be a nice time to get on the train. Seems to be goodwill for them around the league as a rising underdog.

Likeability Rating: B plus

19) Arizona Coyotes

On the other hand…Arizona have been a mess for a long time, and continue to attract no fans to watch their boring and irrelevant franchise. It is unfortunate because they’ve traditionally been decent on the ice and residually appear to be a hard out, but their lack of tanking has resulted in no franchise players to really get excited about. Sorry, but just don’t bother. Nothing personal.

Likeability Rating: F

20) Dallas Stars

Dallas are hard-charging right now, and getting a lot of respect in so doing. Historically this franchise has a decent reputation for a non-traditional hockey market, and after really making a significant break through last year, they’ve made some lofty moves that will but them in the mix. Some exciting young talent, playing against some great teams in their conference, this is a nice group to get on board with.

Likeability Rating: A minus

21) Florida Panthers

Florida are the leagues other tumultuous franchise who are having many of the same problems Nashville are, which immediately puts them on the back foot from a new-fan’s perspective. While this year they have new ownership who seem relatively committed to get the ball rolling in the right direction, there are more than a few skeptics as to whether they can transition to relevance this year. Luongo in net offers improvement, and there are some interesting young prospects to take a look at, but other than that it’s hard to get excited…

Likeability Rating: D