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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010-11 Season Keys in Threes

It's Hockey Time again, boys and girls! As we OGA Boys prepare for puck droppage on our third season of prescient prognostication, statistical analysis and semi-literate blogging, we're changing our focus somewhat: In 2010-11, we'll be concentrating more on the NHL's non-traditional market clubs. You see, Frozen Pill and Big Tex live in the Dallas area, while The Colonel currently resides in Louisiana (where the NHL "market" consists of...The Colonel's house), so we have a certain affinity for non-trad teams. Besides, they don't get no respect, and we love underdogs.

Though the majority of our blogging will be related to the non-traditionals, we reserve the right to opine on any team in the NHL, at any time, for any reason. For example:

Even though Dallas icon Mike Modano now skates for The Hated Red Wings, they're still just as Hated...and we'll always love ya, Mike, but we don't like you very much right now.

See that? A post about Detroit - a non-traditional market team. We just blogged it. And we'll do it again, as the need arises.

Also, our pride and joy, the PQC, will still be running for the entire NHL, and we'll still be calling all 30 teams IN or OUT of the playoffs as they earn those designations. So there's no need to worry, as things ain't changin' all that much around here.

With that in mind, we humbly offer our Three Keys to the 2010-11 Season for the non-traditional market teams:

Frozen Pill's Teams: Carolina, Dallas, Phoenix and San Jose

Carolina Hurricanes - For CAR, the first thing I am looking for is to see if Staal, Ruutu, LaRose and Ward can stay healthy for the whole season because they are key to a strong Hurricane team. With them healthy to start the season, I am then looking for six-to-seven wins in the team's first 10 games to erase the memory of last year's dreadful start. And finally, I am looking to sneak Brandon Sutter under everyone's nose in my fantasy hockey draft because I think he is going to be hot on the puck this season.

Dallas Stars - For the post-Modano, post-Turco, post-Lehtinen(?) Stars, there’s nowhere to go but up. THE key, without which all others are meaningless, is the health of goalie Kari Lehtonen. If Lehtonen can stay on the ice (and off IR), the Stars have a very good chance of reclaiming a spot in the postseason. Next, Dallas needs a bounce-back season from d-man Matt Niskanen, who slipped from 35 points in 08-09 to just 15 points last go-round. The Stars’ third key to success this campaign is, essentially, the first two keys. Dallas must cut their Goals Against dramatically. Consider this: In 09-10, the Stars scored more goals (237) than 9 of 16 playoff teams. Unfortunately, they allowed more goals (254) than any of the 16 playoff teams. If Dallas can shave 20-25 goals off last seasons’ total Goals Against, they’re back in the playoffs.

Phoenix Coyotes - And with PHX, I want to see if they can continue to dominate with that 6.5-wins-in-10-games average clip they produced last year that brought them into the playoffs. I also want to see a healthy Scotty Upshall who was averaging better than a point in three of every five games before last year's injury. And, I cannot help myself, I have to keep following @biznasty2point0 on my Twitter account.

San Jose Sharks - Let's be honest: These aren't the three keys to San Jose making the playoffs; these are the keys to the Sharks going deep in the playoffs. First and foremost, it's a simple equation: Niemi + Niittymaki must be > Nabokov. If not, well...as Simon and Garfunkel so eloquently put it, "Hello, Darkness, my old friend...". Next, the Sharks must fill Rob Blake's skates, either through current d-men stepping up or via trade. Last, they must shift their focus from defeating last seasons' champs to this seasons' primary threats - Vancouver and Los Angeles.

The Colonel's Teams: Anaheim, Atlanta and Tampa Bay

Anaheim Ducks - For ANA, I want to know what kind of defense we will truly have because I know it is a magnitude weaker without Scott Niedermayer. I also am highly interested to find out if Emerson Etem and Cam Fowler can make the cut this season or not because of their potential. And finally, no matter who is on the blueline, I am looking for about a .600 winning percentage.

Atlanta Thrashers - As far as the Atlanta Thrasherhawks go, I am interested to see the entire team just hit the ice because they seem to have improved on paper in order of magnitude over the off-season. Also, since ATL gives us a 'tell' into their season's end early on, I am interested how they fare in the two back-to-back pairs of vs WSH/at TBL and vs TBL/at WSH they face in their first 10 games. And finally, I am going to be watching and hoping they are healthy in mid-December as some OGA Staffers and their boys take a road trip to ATL on 18 December to see his old team bang on Kovalchuk, a.k.a., the $100M Man.

Tampa Bay Lightning - And finally, for TBL I begin with wanting to see them with 23-25 wins (in combination) by Game 40 because that may just see them set a playoff-making tempo. I am also highly intrigued with a report from Damien Cristodero stating the Lightning's #1 PP unit is Stamkos - Lecavalier - St. Louis with Gagne and Kubina on the points and what that might do on the scoreboard. And I also want to see this squad healthy just before Christmas as that road trip beginning in ATL includes trucking south to see the all-non-traditional matchup of CAR @ TBL on 20 December.

Big Tex's Teams: Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville and Columbus*

Florida Panthers - Along with the rest of the Southeast Division, the Panthers spent the summer working on “home improvements”. Florida’s future success now rests on the shoulders of one Dale Tallon, architect of the Chicago Blackhawks Cup-winning team. Rome (or in this case, Sunrise) wasn’t built in a day, but Tallon’s Panthers could compete for a playoff spot next spring, IF…David Booth can regain his pre-concussion form of two seasons ago…Rusty Olesz plays up to his $3.125mil cap hit (early word from camp is good)…and if the Cats can get off to a better start than the 2-7-1 debacle which derailed the 09-10 season before Halloween.

Los Angeles Kings - Ask for Kovalchuk, settle for…Ponikarovsky? Actually, from a numbers standpoint, Poni is a replacement for Frolov, not a Kovy consolation prize. I want to see if the Big Boy from Kiev will still be good for 20 goals, playing on the third line. Speaking of the third line, I wonder if Wayne Simmonds will build on last seasons’ success (78GP, 16-24-40, +22), or was his 5.5-point increase in shooting percentage over 2008-09 a fluke? Last, but not least, will the Kings take the Pacific Division Crown from San Jose? If Jonathan Quick gets more nights off and both Willie Mitchell and Justin Williams are at 100%, that’s a very real possibility.

Nashville Predators - For five of the last six seasons, the Nashvillians have made the playoffs. In 2009-10, they were the only team in the NHL to tally 100+ points without a positive goal differential (they were exactly even). The theme in Music City is “Win Small, Lose Small”, and the Predators accomplish this with stifling defense. Thus, the three keys to a Preds playoff push next April are: 1. Pekka Rinne AND his backup (a goalie to be named later). Rinne has to stay healthy, and Nashville must find a backup solid enough to allow their No.1 a few nights off. 2. Pivots: Matthew Lombardi must be a more effective/consistent top line center than Jason Arnott was last season, and Colin Wilson must provide the Predators a desperately-needed 2nd line scoring threat. 3. Patric Hornqvist must meet or exceed last seasons’ performance. If all the above comes to pass, Nashville could very well capture their first divisional title.

(Ed. Note: The Colonel says Columbus is too far north to be considered a "non-traditional" market. Big Tex says if any negative team news, whether on- or off-ice, causes Canadian journalists and fans to crank up the POSSIBLE RELOCATION ALERT!!! sirens, it's a non-traditional market. Frozen Pill is wisely silent on the issue.)

Columbus Blue Jackets - For the Jackets to return to the playoffs this season, three things must happen: First, the team must adapt quickly to new head coach Scott Arniel's up-tempo system. Next, goalie Steve Mason has to return to his Calder Trophy-winning form (he showed signs of doing so late last season). Finally, the enigmatic Nikita Filatov must live up to his potential, as doing so will provide Columbus with a franchise first: TWO legitimate scoring lines.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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