An open seat at the playoff table
Previewing the Honda NHL West Division
When the Honda West Division was announced, the first thing I thought of, was Thanksgiving dinner. Mom and the ladies had been cooking all day. They set the table, putting everything in its place, and counted heads. Just then they realize crazy uncle Joe is missing.
Normally not a problem but not at this dinner. You can not have an open chair at the main table. Someone from the Kiddie table is getting to move up, the question is who?
The Honda West Division was in trouble even before Covid hit. The Pacific division was the only division that had three teams miss the 24-team return to play. Arizona was on the cusp but not sure they would have made a normal playoff. Minnesota was in last-place in the Central Division. That is five of the eight teams already starting behind the net.
Vegas was the big boy in this group. Not anymore. Placing St. Louis and Colorado into the mix creates a big three and an empty seat at the playoff table.
The hardest thing about this ranking is putting aside my biases. I mean I am the Hawaii Blue Fan after all. I am looking at this division through the eyes of an avid hockey fan.
So here goes my shot.
The Honda West Division.
8th – San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks are paying the piper. After years and years of going for it, the cupboard is bare. This team has not recovered from the beat down they received in the 2019 Western Conference finals from the Blues.
Mainstay Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are no longer in the mix. Eric Karlsson and Brent Burns are still part of the Blueline and are two of the top three scores. Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, and Timo Meier can light the lamp. Bad guy Evander Kane should be able to stir up the pot.
The Biggest problem for them will be in the net. The Sharks picked up veteran Devan Dubnyk from Minnesota via free agency. He is Bringing a 3.35 GAA and a .890 S% from last year. His career numbers are better, but this is a “what have you done for me lately.” He joins Martin Jones and his 3.00 GAA and .898 S%. they will be pulling pucks out of the net at a breakneck pace.
San Jose could move up if they take advantage of the other California teams.
7th – Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are just 6 years removed from their second Cup. The questions for this team do not end Toothless Drew Doughty at age 31 had one of his worse seasons since 2011-2012. Anza Kopitar led the team in goals, assists, and points with 21, 41, 62. Alex Lafallo followed Kopitar with 43 points.
Dustin Brown and Tyler Toffoli can put a few pucks in the net. Just like with the Sharks the net is a big problem here. Jonathan Quick is aging and finished last season with an average stat line. The Backup is still in question and could rotate.
The reason I have them 7th is they might be a bit more of a team than the Sharks.
6th – Anaheim Ducks
This comes down to just one thing. GET TREVOR ZEGRAS IN A DUCKS UNIFORM NOW!!!! Plain and simple. According to the Orange County Register, he and Jamie Drysdale to the Ahl to start the season. Elliott Teaford stating “The decision came down to long-term growth versus short-term gain. Like any wise investor, the Ducks determined long-term growth was a priority.”
I so disagree when it comes to Zegras. He showed so much bravado and maturity. Before the Gold medal game, he made a statement “[Canada] has not yet been tested, hopefully, we can bring it to them tonight.” (could not find the exact quote). What matters is he backed it up with one goal and an assist in the matchup.
He was named the World Junior Championship MVP and lead all scorers. This man is ready, and you need the help. A short season playing only division teams is the perfect time to get this man his ice time!!!!
5th– Arizona Coyotes
Want to match what the team is wearing on the ice while you cheer us on? 🙌— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) January 13, 2021
Our Uniform Schedule is here to help you do just that: https://t.co/3rBOTNUaWg
The “Yotes” are a mystery to me. Sorry, Cori Crenshaw. This is an incredibly young team. Letting Taylor Hall walk away after a short-term rental was a mistake. His loss will mean more in the locker room than on the ice. Elder Statesman Phill Kessel, a two-time Cup winner with Pittsburg, will need this young group to buy into what he is selling.
Hall got it. With his departure, it is now on Clayton Keller to be that guy. Not sure he can be that type of rally cap.
The one thing the Coyotes have going for them is they have St Louis’ number and they have been good against Colorado. If Kessel can go from a used car salesman to a dealership type, he just might lead this team to a spot at the table.
If not, GM Bill Armstrong has his work cut out for him.
The Playoff Table
4th – Minnesota Wild
This is a tough slot to fill. This is almost like picking the kiddie table troublemaker to sit with the adults. Now you can watch him, and the other table will be a lot easier to deal with.
The wild Designated forwards Marco Rossi and Mats Zuccarello and goaltender Alex Stalock as injured non-roster players. This from a post on NHL.com/Wild. Chopping a leg out, right from the beginning. Goaltender Cam Talbot will have his work cut out for him. Kaapo Kahkonen at 24 years of age has a grand total of five, that is right five, NHL games. His @.96GAA and .913 S% are not bad but the sample size is.
Why fourth then?
Well, simply this no matter how bad they are. They are still better than the other four.
The backend with Matt Dumba and Ryan Suter at the helm should help shore up the goaltending. Kevin Fiala led the team in points last year with 54. Eric Stall the number three in points is in Buffalo. “Zukes” is hurt and Zach Praise netted 25 goals last season.
This Team was slated to be in the Central. They got smart. Figured they would get left for dead in the Central, so let us convince Dallas to take our place. Smart Move. The Kid making all the trouble at the Kiddie table.
Ok, here it gets tough!! You can put the head of a pin over these three teams.
They are that good and that close.
3RD – Vegas Golden Knight
We asked Mark Stone questions about himself. His answers were all about the team.— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 13, 2021
That's what a captain does. pic.twitter.com/ZtOFjdE3uw
For the last three seasons the Knight’s Mantra has been we are an Island of Mis-fit toys.
The other teams did not think we could play so they sent us here. Well, it worked!! Two division regular-season championships, two WCF’s and one trip to the Cup Finals. Not bad for a three-year-old.
Things were looking up, but the one big move could backfire big time. Bringing in Cup Champion and former St Louis Blues Captain Alex Pietrangelo. “Preto” is not the misfit toy. He is that hot new thing everyone wants and only a few are going to get. He is “Tickle-Me-Elmo.”
The question is will he upset the apple cart instead of driving it.
Pietrangelo is well-liked around the league, but his tune could be sour here. The rumor was he and tough guy Ryan Reaves did not see eye to eye. Mark Stone, Alex Touch, Max Pacioretty, William Karlson, and Johnathan Marchessault all bought into the mantra. The “Petro” effect will be fun to watch.
In the net forget-about-it. The Flower, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Robin Lehner arguably the best tandem in the league. They can steal games on their own night after night.
This team can and should make some noise.
2nd St. Louis Blues
Well, here it is. I may have to turn my True Blue, love my team at all cost, card. But I get to keep my I am trying to be a journalist card if they ever give me one.
Many are counting the Blues out thinking the loss of Pietrangelo will take this team down a notch. It would have it GM Doug Armstrong was not also a magician. “Army” reached deep into his bag of tricks. Told “Petro” thank you but no. hope the door is kind to you on the way out and snagged “D” Torey Krug away from the hated Boston Bruins. Krug, known as a power-play specialist, has been chided for his defensive skills.
During camp, those skills have shown up and he has worked well in different pairings.
The Loss that really hurt this team, was letting Jake Allen go to Montreal for nothing more than a third-round pick. No Matter Allens faults, and he had a few, he was a solid guy in the net when he had to be in 2019-2020. New Back-Up Ville Husso and his one-way contract stuck it to the Blues. Sorry Army your magic has not worked on that one yet. Husso has no, I repeat no NHL experience. this trial by puck fire could backfire big time.
Superstar and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko will start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve. His being on LTIR after having third shoulder surgery is both a blessing and a curse. The Blues Defense creates the Blues Offence. Tarasenko is a major cog in the offense.
The magician did it again. Early in the Free agency signing period, Army Reached out to Trevor Hoffman. He let Hoffman know the Blues were interested and put the Blues in Hoffman’s sights, not just on his Radar. Hoffman wants a clean start and I think he knows how to play defense. His career -7 is from his last three years in Florida. Not in his years with Ottawa.
Army got creative and used his hockey sense to give what was the third-best power-play in the league, even more weapons. The majority of this team has rings from this team.
The Blues want to win, and Armstrong kept the window open just a bit longer.
1st – Colorado Avalanche
Now this one just hurts. For me to say anything good about a team own by Stan Kroenke is making my fingers ache just typing it. They are a good F#@ing team. No way to get around that.
Nathen MacKinnon could be lifting the Hart trophy at the end of the year. They Could win the Honda West Division outright. Getting Brandon Saad was a masterful move. So was stealing Devon Toews.
How good they are is not the question for this team. so much good has been written about them I don’t think I could write something you have not already read. so what is the question or questions that surround them?
The question that remains to be answered is can they win with a target on their backs. Prior to this season, the expectations were tempered. Not this season. Most pundits are picking them to hoist Lord Stanley’s Prize at the end of the season. Those are some lofty goals to live up to. Just ask the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning.
How this team can handle those expectations of “cup or bust” might just be the biggest question mark of the new NHL season. The Avalanche and the Blues play four of their eight games in the first three weeks of the season.
They even open the season with two in Denver. If St Louis gets two points out of these two games, it is a win. The Avs need at least three. Buckle up and get your popcorn ready.
This is going to be a show!!!!!
The Season Will Be amazing
Till next time Hockey FANS.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing