For the last several months, I've been playing in a simulation fantasy hockey league at WebSimHockey.com, where 24 people can form a league, draft and sign players to their respective teams, and manage their lineups and game strategies, while the simulation engine determines the outcomes of their games, including full boxscores, injuries, team spending and income, and so on. The league I'm playing in is the EIHL. The team I took over is called the Calgary Panthers, and they were a complete mess when I became their General Manager.
I've spent the last several months trying to get my team on the right financial path, but we're still going to lose over $10 million this year. Hopefully I've got things set up a bit better for the next few years so we can start making a profit, allowing us to sign better players and spend closer to the salary cap again.
But this season isn't over yet! We have one game left to play, and it's a huge one. I thought I'd share the article I wrote for my sim league's newspaper section to set the stage for the game, which will take place tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 15, at 6 PM PST.
One Game Left: Win or Go Home
The Calgary Panthers watched nervously last night as the Detroit Horsepower played the 82nd game of their regular season schedule. They were hoping the Horsepower would falter and make their path into the playoffs a little easier, but it wasn't destined to go that way: Detroit pulled off a smooth 3-1 victory over the Long Island Skulls to go up two points over Calgary in the Gretzky Conference standings.
That leaves Calgary in a difficult position. They have to win their final game, against the San Francisco Spiders, to make the playoffs. If they manage to do so, they will be tied in points with Detroit but will have an advantage in the overall Wins column, which should earn them the tiebreaker victory and earn them a playoff berth, pitting them against the Colorado Icehawks.
"Our fate is in our own hands," says General Manager Tim Sevenhuysen. "We wouldn't have it any other way."
Despite the confident words, however, it's clear the team would have preferred to see Detroit lose rather than go into their last game with quite so much pressure on their shoulders. Better yet, Calgary would have liked to win against Minnesota on the 15th instead of being humiliated 6-0.
Regardless, it's a minor miracle that the Panthers have any chance at all to make the playoffs, when considering their lacklustre 33-41-7 record on the season so far. A relatively strong second half to the season has allowed them to hang around and stay in the playoff picture. The Panthers seem to be taking that in a positive light and using it as encouragement to put their best effort on the ice this Wednesday.
That best effort may exclude one of their top-4 defenseman. Radek Martinek is questionable for Wednesday's game, with a lower body injury.
I'll update Wednesday night after the game has been simulated to let everyone know whether we made it into the playoffs or not. Wish us luck!
Edit: Noooo!! My team lost the last game 5-4, with the other team's winning goal coming late in the third period. So close! We'll get 'em next year.
It's the most wonderful time of the year.
The NHL playoffs start tomorrow, and I can't wait for this baby to pop out so I can change its diapers instead of watching the games.
Here are my predictions for the results of the first round matchups.
1) NYR vs. 8 ) OTT -- Rangers in 7
2) BOS vs. 7) WSH -- Bruins in 5
3) FLA vs. 6) NJ -- Devils in 6
4) PIT vs. 5) PHI -- Penguins in 6
1) VAN vs. 8 ) LA -- Canucks in 6
2) STL vs. 7) SJ -- Blues in 5
3) PHX vs. 6) CHI -- Coyotes in 7
4) NSH vs. 5) DET -- Red Wings in 6
All of that said, here are the teams I would prefer to see win:
I can't wait to see how it all plays out! Hopefully baby will enjoy sitting on the couch and watching with me. :)
If you're a Canucks fan, you've probably heard about the trade Mike Gillis pulled off today with Vancouver's favourite trading partner, the Florida Panthers. Here's a breakdown of the trade, and my thoughts on it. (If you aren't a hockey fan, feel free to ignore this post! You won't hurt my feelings.)
2013 third-round draft pick
The question that always gets asked after a trade is, "Which team won?" In this deal, I think both teams have reason to feel that they've gotten what they wanted and paid a fair price for it. If I had to give an edge to one team, I'd say the Canucks are the slight winners, but that will depend on how David Booth plays over the next year or three.
Read on for more details of what each team gets out of the trade.
My two favourite NHL teams had awesome seasons last year: the Canucks were one game away from winning the Stanley Cup, and the Tampa Bay Lightning were one game away being in the Finals. Vancouver and Tampa Bay are still my Western and Eastern teams of choice, but my interest in the rest of the league has shifted a little bit, as players have moved around.
Here are a few teams I'm paying special attention to during this NHL season, and why.
I've been a Coyotes fan for a couple of years, now, and I'm going to stay loyal this year. It pains me to say this, but I think the team has gotten a lot worse over the summer. They lost Ilya Bryzgalov via free agency, and replaced him with Mike Smith. I'm not saying Smith is a bad goalie, but he isn't a proven starter; he hasn't shown that he has the consistency and endurance to carry a team. Where would the Calgary Flames be without Mikka Kiprusoff? Well, that's where the Coyotes are now that they've lost Bryz.
The rest of the team has taken some hits, as well. Ed Jovanovski went back to Florida, hurting the Coyotes' depth on defense. Keith Yandle will have to shoulder even more of the load, now. He's capable of it, but one Grade-A defenseman isn't enough. It's hard to say what will happen on offense, but Shane Doan isn't getting any younger. Raffi Torres is a solid third-liner, but I worry that this team will really struggle to put up goals again.
Prediction: Inconsistent goaltending and low goals-for numbers mean the Coyotes are going to miss the playoffs this year.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I'm a big fan of the work the Blue Jackets did over the summer, bringing in Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. Neither of these players is exactly a "face of the franchise," in my opinion, but Carter is the best centre Nash will have ever had in Columbus, and Wisniewski did some really great things on Long Island before injury troubles. Both of these guys should help the power play a lot, as well.
For these moves to really be considered successes, I think Carter is going to have to put up 70 points, Rick Nash is going to have to score 40 goals, and Wisniewski will need to be in the 50-point range. Just hitting those individual goals won't be enough to get the Blue Jackets into the playoffs or make them contenders, though; they're also going to need goaltender Steve Mason to return to the form he had during his rookie year, and they need young Ryan Johansen to turn the second line into a true scoring threat. They don't have the strongest defensive group, either, so a lot of things need to go right this year.
Prediction: The Blue Jackets will make the playoffs in 7th or 8th.
New York Islanders
I find the Islanders fascinating. Here's a franchise that has done so many things wrong for so long. They can't hold on to good players, they make terrible trades, and their goalies keep getting long-term injuries. Finally, though, I think some things are starting to improve on Long Island. Michael Grabner's 30 goals are maybe the most positive story to come out of last year for the Islanders, and it'll be really interesting to see if he can have another season that good. I'm crossing my fingers for him. John Tavares needs to be better; he's getting there. Maybe this will be the year he breaks out, like Stamkos did a couple of years ago. Travis Hamonic has been a really good story for the past couple of years on the blue line. If Mark Streit can stay healthy, the Islanders should actually have a decent blue line.
There are still some big questions, in my mind, around the contributions of some of the names often mentioned as part of the Islanders' "youth movement." What will the team get from Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Nino Neiderreiter, and Ryan Strome? The latter two can't have much expected from them, but Bailey and Okposo need to step up this year if the team is going to have any real chance at success.
Evgeni Nabokov finally agreed to play this year, sounds like, so if he gets back on form that will really solidify the goaltending scene for the Islanders. Is 36 too old for a comeback? Islanders fans hope it isn't. Nabokov will definitely be interesting to watch: will he be motivated enough to win, playing for a team he never wanted to be a part of?
Prediction: The Islanders are going to fight for a playoff spot this year, but fall just short. No lottery pick for them this year, though!
I'm not sure why, but the Flyers have really intrigued me for a couple of years, now. I think Mike Richards had a lot to do with my initial attraction to the team. I love the two-way, physical player; that's why I have a Ryan Kesler jersey hanging in my bedroom. Beyond Richards, though, I was impressed by the amount of top-tier talent the Flyers were able to cram into their forward lines, a mixture of kids and veterans. High-scoring teams are always fun to watch.
When the Flyers traded away both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter during the summer, I was shocked. I had to take a step back and decide whether I wanted to give the Flyers any of my attention after that. How could they give up two of their best players and still hope to have any success? But now, seeing what they've done with their roster beyond those moves, my curiosity keeps continuing to grow.
Philadelphia still has a ton of talent in its forward lines. They were able to trade away Carter and Richards because they still have Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and one of my personal favourites, Claude Giroux. There is plenty of youth coming up to fill in the holes, between Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk--who many people think is ready for a breakout year--the newly acquired Brayden Schenn, and high draft pick Sean Couturier. On top of that, the Flyers went out and signed Jaromir Jagr, one of the great scorers in NHL history. Even if he's a total flop in his NHL comeback, he'll be a solid veteran presence, and he'll force the other team to pay attention to him, opening up some ice for his linemates. Wayne Simmonds is a pretty good depth addition, as well.
The defense has stayed intact, and there's nothing wrong with that group of players. Behind them, though, the team brought in Ilya Bryzgalov, and you'll know from my comments above how much I respect his abilities. The only question with Bryz is his attitude, which showed through as somewhat negative during last season in Phoenix. As long as the coaching staff is able to get the best out of their new goalie, this will be one difficult team to score against.
Prediction: The Flyers will start off a little bumpy as they sort out their new chemistry, but they have way too much talent. They'll finish 4th or 5th in the East.
Yesterday the Philadelphia Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov and traded away both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
Those moves were huge. Really big. They got a great goalie, which is something they've needed for years, and the packages they received for Carter and Richards hold some very good pieces, most notably Brayden Schenn and an 8th overall pick in this year's draft.
But I have to be honest: this is forcing me to reevaluate whether I want the Flyers to be my second favourite team in the East.
Last summer I decided to devote a bit more attention to a few more NHL teams, rather than just the Canucks. I picked the Tampa Bay Lightning as my #1 Eastern Conference team, due to their youth, speed, and star power, and they rewarded me handsomely. I picked the Phoenix Coyotes as my #2 team in the West, after the Canucks, and they once again made the playoffs despite a pretty noticeable lack of starpower. I waffled on my East #2, initially thinking about the New Jersey Devils or even the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I eventually went with the Flyers, because of their great depth, especially at forward, and the number of exciting two-way players they had.
Now I have to rethink my choice.
To be clear, I haven't become totally disillusioned with the Flyers just because they traded away my favourite player on their team (Mike Richards). I think they made good, smart hockey moves, and I can respect that. But it does kind of feel like they ripped a little piece of my heart out.
I still love Claude Giroux, and I respect James VanRiemsdyk. They still have Briere and Zherdev and Hartnell, and you have to believe they're going to do everything they can to re-sign Ville Leino. That's a lot of great forwards, and plenty to be excited about, especially if Schenn can make the jump and join them. But who is going to center their top two lines? I have to think they're going to make a move, either via trade or in free agency, to find a number one center now, and that means more shaking up, either to clear cap space to sign a Brad Richards type, or to make a deal for a Mike Richards replacement. EDIT: I'm a bad fan. It seems both Briere and Giroux play Centre, despite the Flyers website listing them as wingers in their bios.
Ultimately, I think July 1 is probably going to be when I make my decision about who to follow in my East #2 spot next year. It may still be Philadelphia, or maybe it'll be the Devils (especially if they can re-sign Parise and keep him healthy). The Hurricanes and the Islanders have some pieces I'm interested in, too.
When I make my choice, I'll let you know. And I'll stick to it for at least a year.