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Morning Skate: Bear Season

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson

Janet Eagleson is a four-time winner of the Hockey Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Wednesday, April 9
Subject: Buds Take Bishop, Orca Hunting

What's going on,

Following the news in Vancouver the last two days has been quite entertaining with all the details surrounding the firing of Mike Gillis, stemming from Monday's chanting of "Fire Gillis." Aquilani's press conference today didn't really reveal that much Between that, the cease and desist letter sent to media outlets insinuating the owners hired Torts and the fact that someone asked Trevor Linden how long he would have the president's job. As if Vancouver needed to get any muddier. This team is a long way from okay. It'll be interesting to see how it breaks down.

Crazy injury to Ben Bishop in Tuesday's Tampa Bay-Leafs game, although it looked worse than it actually appeared. If he is out for any stretch of playoff time, their hopes of beating Montreal are simply done. Pittsburgh's limping into the playoffs while the Jackets and Wings are all but in it seems. I feel bad for the Leafs, but considering how the Devils crashed out this past week (two points from three games against Calgary, the Islanders and Sabres...pretty much sums up their season), it still looks bad, just not as bad.

It'll be interesting to see how the Phoenix-Dallas final plays out on Sunday, but my money is on Dallas heading into the next few days. The San Jose-Anaheim tilt has some significance tonight as the Ducks can sew up the division. Considering the Kings await the team who finishes second, that's some great incentive for the Ducks but I will not be complaining about another Sharks-Kings series.

We talked briefly the other day about Mark Giordano and Calgary. The Devils announcers were bending over telling Devils' fans about how good this guy is and his goal won the game. His point-per-game numbers are outstanding and the broken ankle, as you noted, likely cost him Norris consideration and possibly a Team Canada nod. He's not going to sneak up on poolies next year, but I'm wondering if he doesn't credit for how good he is in his own zone because he's on the Flames.

Central Scouting Rankings are out....what can we expect from Samuel Bennett? Aaron Ekblad?

What's been one of your biggest regrets of the fantasy season? Triumphs?

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Thursday, April 10
Subject: 2 Sams and An Aaron

Vancouver really is fascinating, isn't it? I don't know what to make of the Aquilini involvement -- are they headed toward the Harold Ballard level of meddling? Of course it isn't that bad, but when you send a text to a Globe and Mail writer that said, "I read your article. You are a prick." ... YIKES! It's clear that Mike Gillis made some strange moves. A year ago, the Canucks had Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider as their goalies. Today, they have Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. I've heard that Francesco Aquilini was on the phone to Gillis just about every day and that the Aquilinis, not Gillis, hired John Tortorella. I like the hiring of Trevor Linden as President of Hockey Operations, but ...

Here in the shadow of the great blue and white, the Canucks' story is far in the rear-view mirror. Brendan Shanahan is about to be named the President of the Toronto Maple Leafs. All hail the boy from Mimico (a "neighborhood hamlet" inside Toronto). Holy smokes. I wonder if he'll bring YouTube to the Leafs. In all seriousness, this is a high-profile signing that, all of a sudden, casts a shadow on general manager Dave Nonis. Nonis has done good work and done that work quietly. How soon before he's out of favor (despite that contract)? Will he get to fire Randy Carlyle? Oooo baby, the Leafs will have lots of leadership in the front office -- when will it arrive on the ice? Isn't it funny how Bolts' general manager Steve Yzerman got a sudden contract extension just before Shanny's signing. Hmmmm ...

Ben Bishop's injury concerns me -- it's an elbow and the mechanism of injury leads me to believe it's a ligament. That type of fall can lead to an UCL (ulnar collateral ligament) injury and dislocation. You're probably more familiar with pitchers and UCLs, but falls can rip them, too. I don't think they make it through round one regardless. It's been nice knowing you -- see you next year. And by the way -- don't feel bad for the Leafs. They played with smoke and mirrors all season. People keep saying they don't have a system. They do -- they just won't follow it. Last year's first round push of the Bruins was the anomaly, not the norm. I'd love to see Kevin Bieksa in Toronto beside Dion Phaneuf.

Now to the kids (not that Aaron Ekblad looks like a kid). I have liked Ekblad since the first time I saw him skate at the Molson Centre in Barrie. He was 15 years old and he looked draft-eligible then! This guy is a stud in the mold of a Shea Weber. His on-ice maturity cannot be understated. He played in last season's playoffs against the London Knights and Olli Maatta. Advantage: Ekblad. It wasn't even close. And you know how good Maatta has looked this year.

Samuel Bennett is talented and plays with a sharp, sharp edge. He has no issues driving the net. I'd like to hope he's a better Mika Zibanejad, perhaps Buffalo's Ryan Kesler.

Sam Reinhart is a smart, hard-working, two-way player who is going to be a top-line player. Remember how much Canada relied on him at the World Juniors this year? He got the tough defensive matchups as an underager and was delivering some key offence by the end of the tourney.

Now don't forget Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals. He might actually be the most consistent of all of the top forwards in this draft. And he could end up on the top when we do one of those five-year redrafts of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Yep, he's that good. He's going to be a power forward like Patrick Marleau.

Leon Draisaitl rounds out my top five. Admittedly, I haven't seen much of him, but I do like his size, skill and desire to get to the net. His vision and playmaking are the things that leap out to me, but don't fall for all those Wayne Gretzky comparisons you'll read on the interwebs. He did put up a Getzky-esque 118 goals and tallied 248 points in 64 games as a 16-year-old in a German junior league seasons. But he's not the next Great One. He will be a great power center/winger.

Regrets? I've had a few. Like keeping Niklas Backstrom as one of my three keepers in the THL, the H2H league you and I play. It's goalie-heavy and some guys keep two netminders. Backstrom never delivered. I regret believing in Nail Yakupov. And Bobby Ryan. But I regret releasing Joe Pavelski in another keeper league -- I thought he was just another 55-point, two way center. He might be, but I could have owned him through this run.

Triumphs? I got a ninth-straight nomination for Hockey Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Every year, we see better and better writers in the hockey biz, so even a nomination is truly amazing. And there's the Rotowire Staff League (keeper H2H) where I'm currently leading the finals. It's not a triumph for that. Not even close. I consider it a triumph because I drafted and traded all year in a way that was completely counter to my usual pattern/approach. In doing so, it reinforced that we can never rest on the successes we've had in the past. We need to challenge our thinking, not only in life, but in fantasy, too, where we can become painfully predictable.

So, what are your triumphs and regrets? And what do you foresee for the postseason?

Eagle out.

From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Friday, April 11
Subject: Go-Go Gaudreau

The discussion on Hockey Central today about Brendan Shanahan was interesting, a bit long, but interesting nonetheless. What exactly is his role going to be? There are rumors around the Devils' media that Peter DeBoer, whose contract is up this season, could be in line to go to the Leafs, but it's a great point you make about the Leafs not playing their system. It's not like Randy Carlyle has a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy and knowledge about playing well defensively. Leafdom seems like it needs to change and maybe acknowledge some statistics, even basic ones like goal difference and shot totals, that most people are seeing as harbingers foretelling a collapse like the one we saw in March.

I'm hoping for Edmonton's sake that the Oil can land a potential foundational defenseman like Ekblad, but at the same time, throwing a kid to the wolves like Florida was forced to do with Erik Gudbranson and Winnipeg with Zach Bogosian isn't the kindest thing to do to a budding star. (Ed. Note: Florida won Tuesday’s draft lottery with Buffalo picking second and Edmonton third).

Heading south in Alberta, the Flames get Johnny Gaudreau into their system after BC's rough loss to Union the other night in the Frozen Four. You remember Gaudreau from the 2013 World Junior Tournament right? I think he did decently well in the semifinal win over Canada before the US won gold. I heard Malcolm Subban is still having nightmares.

A friend and fellow teacher at my school is a Caps' season ticket holder and he's been laughing about how the team does things like beat Chicago and St. Louis now that they’re out of it. It's always amusing to me to see teams out of it start to do the things they needed to do when there was still a shot at the playoffs. I know with some teams they call up the kids from the AHL and NCAA so you have determined players looking for a job next season, but playing without any weight on them seems to do wonders. (cough…Calgary…cough)

-I'm hoping Sunday's Dallas-Phoenix tilt will be for the West's final spot. The last spot in the Metro Division is getting interesting too as Columbus can sneak up and grab it over Philadelphia. The loser of that battle likely gets a floundering Pittsburgh team. I don't see Pittsburgh doing well and St. Louis has not been playing well of late, now looking at Oshie potentially being out after the Rupp hit. David Backes is just resting, but you can tell is his presence is missed.

Triumphs this season....I'm in the finals and winning currently in The Hockey Writers Live Keeper League on ESPN (Ed. note: lost in finals to Chris Wassel). My money league with Rotowire colleague Jan Levine is again proving to be a good investment as I'll finish second to one of our readers, Craig Bernes, aka quails144 in the comments section. In that league, I had the good fortune of opting for Antii Niemi over Pekka Rinne in Round 1 simply because San Jose was a better team and had some solid mid-round picks to give the team some consistent offense. I am quite sad I'll have to return Tuukka Rask into the player pool after having him for the last three seasons per league rules in a rather favorable draft position. I've started writing more and it's been enjoyable and I feel like l finally got a sense of how our THL Daily League works as my team was more competitive, not great, just more competitive and I'm eager to see how next season goes.

Regrets...nights in the THL where I had a shutout on the bench or played the wrong player. Some of my recommendations at the beginning of the season may have steered readers a bit astray, but we're making some of the same picks they are, so it affected us too. Also, having to watch the Devils this season. You'll hear a lot of talk about them winning half their shootouts and that would have put them into the playoffs, but some of those games only went to overtime because the Devils couldn't hold a lead in the waning moments (late January against Colorado and Dallas) or it's games where they couldn't put a team away. Had they been able to get that next goal a bit more, some of those games don't even go to a shootout, but this team was going to have scoring issues this season and it showed as they squandered way too many games where Cory Schneider played well.

-DAN-

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent: Saturday, April 12
Subject: The Power Of Wings

Geez, a Gaudreau dig. Where did your U.S. boys finish this year? Weren't they relegated? Hahaha. And yes, teams that are out of the playoff often loosen up and become dragon slayers in games that are meaningless. I've always figured it was more a function of reduced pressure -- they gripped their sticks too tight when they had a chance to prove their mettle. I learned a long time ago to never overestimate excellence when it doesn't matter.

Sorry you didn't get your wish with Dallas-Phoenix duking it out on Sunday for all the salami. Phoenix spit the bit; there's no other way to describe it. I agree with you - the Philly/Columbus battle for who gets Boston/Pittsburgh is now a three-way battle. Columbus has the better match up over Detroit, but Philly has two games. I dunno. My gut says Columbus-Detroit-Philly. The bottom two finishers are just bear and penguin food any way, although the never say never with the Wings.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the Wings react to Henrik Zetterberg's return mid first round. Other teams might hit a speed bump; I thing Detroit just keeps rolling. And that Gustav Nyquist -- damn, that guy is good. I hope reports are right and Ben Bishop doesn't have a torn ligament in his elbow. And Evgeni Malkin's foot -- what to make of that? I suffered a severe bone bruise from a slap shot in beer league -- I didn't play for three weeks because I couldn't get my skate on. Three weeks later, there's still pain. The Pens might be had if he doesn't return fast.

Let's lay out our predictions for the postseason. Cool?

Eagle out.


From: Dan Pennucci
To: Janet Eagleson
Sent: Tuesday, April 15
Subject: East The Least?

I'm excited with the playoffs beginning that the Devils will not lose a game this postseason. Three of the last four years now they are unbeaten in the playoffs...that's a run.

The Craziness ensues tomorrow evening. I'll list my picks and a blurb for the East, and just picks for the West and you follow by telling me how right I am. List your picks and analysis for the West and your Eastern Picks.

Metropolitan Division
1. Pittsburgh vs. WC Columbus- Yes, Pittsburgh is getting healthier at just the right time, hello Geno. Yes, Pittsburgh won the season series 5-0 over the Blue Jackets. Yes, Pittsburgh has Sidney Crosby and a healthy Kris Letang. But, there is no matchup that worries me more for the Penguins than this one. Columbus can grind a team down and they'll have to do that against the Penguins simply because they can't keep up with the Pittsburgh's offensive potential. No Nathan Horton hurts, though. If the Jackets can grab a goal early in Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh, I like their chances. You also have to wonder about the psyche of Marc-Andre Fleury after the last two postseasons. I'm eager to see what Sergei Bobrovsky will do in a playoff situation and if the Jackets can build any momentum. I legitimately see a split heading back to Ohio, but I'm saying Columbus in 7 for the series.

2. Rangers vs. 3. Philadelphia- This going to be a knockdown, drag out battle. Philadelphia is a difficult team to deal with and the Rangers' ability to score consistently worries me, but having Mighty Mite is a plus, despite his lack of production since heading North from Tampa Bay. The Flyers are no strangers to surrendering scoring opportunities, so we'll have to see how Steve Mason holds up. Henrik Lundqvist covers up a lot of holes in the Rangers and I like the Rangers’ defense more than Philadelphia's (Andrew MacDonald is a richer man now too, 6 years, $30 million). Claude Giroux is one of the league's best players and can prove too much. That said, I'm still taking the Rangers here, in 6 too.

Atlantic Division
1. Boston vs. WC Detroit- The Wings getting into the playoffs wasn't a miracle, just a testament to the team's depth, especially when you consider all the injuries they endured at center. Gustav Nyquist is a tremendous story and Jimmy Howard's play down the stretch was remarkable considering the lack of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. However, Boston is Boston and I can't see Detroit overcoming the nasty that is Boston in the playoffs. Tuukka Rask is arguably the league's most consistent netminder in front of the Eastern Conference's best group of players. Boston will be too much. Bruins in 5, but a hard-fought 5.

2. Tampa Bay vs. 3. Montreal- The Bolts' injury to Ben Bishop worries me but this team was still able to secure home ice without Steven Stamkos for more than half the season. Tampa Bay will give the Habs a good matchup, but I can't see Montreal losing this series. The duo of Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek is going to be a headache for Victor Hedman and having to account for P. K. Subban will make life very difficult for Tampa Bay. Obviously, John Cooper knows how to navigate a postseason, but Montreal's power play (in theory) can make them pay. Also, the whole Carey Price thing should worry Tampa Bay. Offensively, I just don't know about Tampa Bay. Habs in 6.

Divisional Championship Round
Rangers over Columbus 4-2
Boston over Montreal 4-2

Eastern Conference Final
Boston over Rangers 4-1.

West

Divisional Semis
Anaheim over Dallas 4-1
San Jose over Los Angeles 4-3
Colorado over Minnesota 4-3
St. Louis over Chicago 4-2

Divisional Championship
San Jose over Anaheim 4-2
St. Louis over Colorado 4-3

Western Conference Final
St. Louis over San Jose 4-2

Stanley Cup Final
Boston over St. Louis 4-2

Cheers,
-DAN-

From: Janet Eagleson
To: Dan Pennucci
Sent Wednesday, April 16, 6:30 PM EST
Subject: King Makers

Dan, Dan, Dan ... you're close. But not completely right. That was a nice try, though.

I threw down some predictions over a week ago based on those standings, but the teams stacked up differently by season's end. So I'll take a moment to set you straight.

Pittsburgh will beat Columbus, and then spank the Rangers. Boston will struggle with Detroit and Montreal, but will prevail. They won't go seven, but the games will be extremely tight. Boston will spank Pittsburgh.

The best hockey will happen out West and some very good teams are going to bite the dust prematurely. Some day, we should take a look at what might happen if the 16 best teams played each other with no divisions. Just 1-16, 2-15, etc.

Central Division

1. Colorado vs WC. Minnesota. The clock strikes 12 on the Avs' Cinderella season. Don't get me wrong -- I love what these guys bring. And I don't think they actually know they're supposed to be scared right now. That might mean I'm proven wrong, but I don't think so. Ilya Bryzgalov is the wild card here -- he has to be as good as he's shown, with no frosted flakes on the side. It's hard to go against Ryan Suter who'll play half the game. Jonas Brodin is remarkably effective. There's a lot to like with Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, but Suter will dominate. Minny in six.

2. St. Louis vs. 3. Chicago. Chicago has scuffled at times this year -- where, oh where did Patrick Kane go after the Olympics? And the goaltending has been up and down at times, too. I have loved St. Louis all year, but I can't help but remember their lack of offence last season. Ryan Miller was great to start, but I think his eyes have opened a little over the last couple weeks -- he'll need to be better. The wild card for me is Ken Hitchcock, who can get over wound like a cheap Chinese knock-off toy and I don't think there's a guy on that team that can go into his office, shut the door and calm him down. He overcoaches when he gets wound up and that will cause complete havoc. Chicago in six.

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim vs WC. Dallas. Thanks for coming, Dallas, but here's your parting gift. You'll win one game. See you next season. I will watch the goalie controversy in Anaheim, though. It will come of a head at some point this postseason. And it'll be ugly. Anaheim in five.

2. San Jose vs. 3. Los Angeles. It's really too bad that one of these exceptional teams will be on the golf course in two weeks or less. I desperately want to say it's San Jose's year, but I really don't like the way Antti Niemi backed into the playoffs. Yikes -- he's not even the guaranteed starter. How did that happen? Alex Stalock is a fine goalie, but c'mon -- he's not ready for prime time. And Los Angeles plays a grinding, suffocating style that will put pressure in all the wrong places for the Sharks, who'll have a hard time defending against the surprising forward depth in La La Land. It's remarkable how much of a difference Marian Gaborik has made there. I can't believe I said that. Los Angeles in seven.

Central Division: Chicago over Minnesota in six. Bryz flakes out. 'Nuf said.

Pacific Division: Los Angeles over Anaheim in seven. Remember the goalie controversy? Bingo.

Western Conference final: Los Angeles over Chicago in six. The Hawks will have played far too many games in the last 12 months.

Stanley Cup?
Boston over L.A in six. The Kings will have played too many games and be too beaten up to stand up to the Bruins.

Eagle out.