Once again, for the fourth straight season, the New Jersey Devils are not involved in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. They missed it by a mere 38 points. However, that does not mean that you, one of the People Who Matter, should necessarily ignore the postseason. The NHL playoffs always brings the drama, the intensity, the action, and the excitement that all fans want and/or dread in a sport. If you want to see hockey at its best and/or most primal, then the playoffs will have it. Especially if games go to overtime.
To that end, now that the weekly Division Snapshots are done for the season, this is a preview of the 2022 NHL Playoffs skewed for the perspective of a Devils fan. They begin tomorrow, so this is a good time to get ready for them. Strengths, weaknesses, notable pending free agents, and how much Devils fans would want or not want them to succeed. All 16 playoff teams will be touched on. All matchups will get a prediction that will likely be wrong. There may even be some Player Hating. In fact, let us get right into it.
The One Team That Must Fail This Year
Our Hated Rivals. I will not accept arguments otherwise. They are literally Our Hated Rivals.
The New York Rangers finished second in the Eastern Conference. For a team that stated they would re-build in 2018, they finished the season with over 50 wins and gave Carolina a scare for the top spot in the division. Given how the other Metropolitan Division teams now have questions of health for their goaltending and it is a position of massive strength for New York, the Rangers may be in a position to succeed. Which I absolutely hate.
Strengths: Igor Shesterkin; Chris Kreider - especially on a power play given his league leading PPG count; Artemi Panarin - especially in space; Adam Fox leading the defense; their power play with a staggering success rate of 25.8%; and their penalty kill is effective with a success rate of 82.2%. The pick up of Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano strengthens the forward depth a lot more than gritty dudes who have not helped the Rangers a lot this season.
Weaknesses: Team play at 5-on-5 (a ~47% CF% and xGF% is not good. That’s on par with Montreal); depth - especially if Panarin, Kreider, Mika Zibanejad are having quiet nights; the defense past Fox; and the reality that playoff hockey tends to not be filled with whistles. Anyone who has tape from the March 22 loss to New Jersey or Wednesday’s last-minute loss to a hopeless Montreal team and figures out the issues will have an edge.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: New York’s UFAs include Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Justin Braun. RFAs include Alexandar Georgiev, although NJ should look to improve their goaltending and not make a lateral move.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: The Rangers to lose immediately. Any extended stay in the postseason will be beyond annoying.
Teams that Some of You May Want them to Fail (Maybe)
The Carolina Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division. They played their final game of the season against New Jersey. The Canes have become a force in recent seasons. After years of having great 5-on-5 on-ice rates and not-so-great other things, they have success in multiple areas. Goaltending has been good for them - although that’s now a question mark due to recent injuries that could mean third-stringer Pytor Kotchetkov has to see some playoff action. The defense is strong; Tony DeAngelo has apparently played nice enough behind the scenes and just stuck to hockey on the ice for success. The offense is deep and productive from Sebastian Aho to Andrei Svechnikov to Vincent Trocheck to Nino Neiderreiter to even more. The time is now for the Canes to make a run.
Strengths: Carolina is a top tier team when it comes to 5-on-5 play (~56 CF%, ~55% xGF). They have an astounding penalty kill with an 88% success rate. Plus, they have an effective power play with a success rate over 20% (22.3%). They also have depth in scoring with 11 players with at least 10 goals, 5 with at least 20, 2 with at least 30). Andersen and Raanta have been quite good - when healthy.
Weaknesses: Two come to mind. Carolina is shorthanded a lot. Only one team has been shorthanded more than them this season. More seriously: goaltending when Andersen and Raanta are not healthy. Pytor Kochetkov may have to raise his game in a crucial time.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Carolina’s UFAs include Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Max Domi, Ian Cole, and Derek Stepan. RFAs of note include Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear, and Martin Necas.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: As much as 2009 stung (I was there, I know), that was over a decade ago. Better Carolina to move on than New York, Pittsburgh, or Washington. Those still unhappy about it or would like Eric Tulsky to explore other options would prefer an early exit.
The last team to defeat the New Jersey Devils in the playoffs was the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018. The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to three-peat. While Florida and Toronto bested them in the season, I do not think anyone is really doubting the Bolts. I would not, at least. Steve Stamkos dropped a 100+ point season, Victor Hedman has been a force from the blueline again, Nikita Kucherov is healthy and remarkably productive (1.47 points per game!!!!), the depth is strong as led by Brayden Point and Alex Killorn, and Andrei Vasilevskiy and Brian Elliott have made a fine tandem. The cap crunch will be real for Tampa Bay in this offseason. A third Cup run will make it all worth it and more.
Strengths: Power play generation (over 3 PPs per game) and success rate (over 23%); a deep blend of skill, grit, and top players in their best positions. Their PK is also good too. Experience in various playoff situations will give them an edge, especially over a first round opponent that hasn’t seen beyond the first round in nearly 20 years.
Weaknesses: Not so much a weakness but their 5-on-5 on-ice rates are good but not great. This could be a problem if the games become about who owns the puck more. While they generate plenty of power plays, they are also shorthanded at a rate of three times per game on average.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Tampa Bay’s UFAs include Ondrej Palat, Jan Rutta, and Nick Paul. Tampa Bay’s roster is pretty much set for next season, really.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: I do not think many hold 2018 against them. The Devils barely got in that season and Tampa Bay was a top tier team. More importantly, their success would mean much more hilarity. They have to win a round. The memes alone demand it.
The team to end the New Jersey Devils’ 2012 run was the Los Angeles Kings, who won their first ever Stanley Cup at the cost of Our Favorite Team. The Kings hit a lull from 2018-19 through 2021 with three straight bottom-ten finishes. They rebounded in a big way and clinched their first playoff appearance since 2017-18 this season. Their old mainstays, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, had decent-to-good seasons Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson turned out to be a fantastic pickup. Adrian Kempe had a big season; and younger players like Arthur Kaliyev, Sean Durzi, and Quinton Byfield are starting to make their mark. Few expected a third place finish in the Pacific. Now they’re here.
Strengths: Keeping pucks out of the net in 5-on-5 (148, just inside the top ten fewest in the NHL), good on-ice rates in 5-on-5, experienced veterans leading the way for younger players. They are not burdened by expectations, too.
Weaknesses: Scoring goals in 5-on-5 (149 is a bottom-ten amount, league worst 5-on-5 Sh%); a below-median penalty kill success rate (76.4%), an even less successful power play (16.5% - this is close to New Jersey’s, which is bad). The Kings do not finish a lot of their shots in general.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Los Angeles’ UFAs include Dustin Brown, Andreas Athanasiou, Alexander Edler, Olli Maatta, and Troy Stetcher. RFAs include Adrian Kempe, Sean Durzi, Lias Andersson, Carl Grundstrom, Gabriel Vilardi, and Brendan Lemieux.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: A guide from L.A. management to hand to Tom Fitzgerald that explains how to make the playoffs with a fairly young hockey team. With respect to these playoffs, an upset of Edmonton would be very funny - but I do not think there’s a lot of ire or desire for the Kings to do anything this year. 2012 was a decade ago, too.
Some fans may be irked by former Devils head coach John Hynes finding so much success with the Nashville Predators. It helps that Juuse Saros put in a near-Vezina-caliber season. Filip Forsberg had a fantastic season (and in a contract year, not coincidentally) with a 42-goal season; and Matt Duchene joined him with a 40+ goal season of his own. Roman Josi was a point-machine and took l;oads of the minutes among the blueline. Rookie Tanner Jeannot broke out in a big way and there was plenty of others putting up good numbers like Ryan Johansen, Mikael Granlund, and Yakov Trenin putting up 17 goals. Nashville took a wild card spot in a competitive Western Conference in a Central Division with three strong squads.
Strengths: Juuse Saros has been outstanding this season. The team’s top scorers have been super productive and the blueline is still commanded by Josi. Nashville’s power play has been a top-ten squad in terms of success rate and they generate plenty of man advantages.
Weaknesses: Their 5-on-5 on-ice rates are pretty much “mid” as the kids would say these days. They also have took more shorthanded situations than even Carolina, so they are on the kill quite a bit. Which is not great given that their success rate is a bit below the league median.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Nashville’s UFAs include Filip Forsberg, Nick Cousins, Ben Harpur, Matthew Benning, and David Rittich. Their RFAs include Luke Kunin, Matt Luff, Yakov Trenin, and Jeremy Lauzon.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Calgary’s Darryl Sutter and Colorado’s Jared Bednar out-coaching John Hynes for a series would be a nice sight. Juuse Saros can only stop so much.
I do not think too many people in general like Brad Marchand. Marchand alone has cheap-shotted several Devils in past seasons amid him scoring a heap on them. So the Boston Bruins are a team that I think some fans would enjoy seeing taken down a peg. Good luck. The B’s may be a wild card team, but they are by no means a bubble squad who just got in. No, the Bruins can hang with anyone up front with their Perfection Line. The team is well coached and can boast of being one of, if not the best 5-on-5 team in the NHL this season - up there with Carolina and Florida. Their long-term future may be a question, but the B’s have not done a full on rebuild since the 1960s, so I would not count on that happening anytime soon.
Strengths: The unit of Patrice Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak earned that Perfection Line nickname as they can cycle anyone to oblivion. They have been one of the league’s best in 5-on-5 as a whole; their penalty kill is fairly successful; and their power play is a bit below league median but nothing too heinous. In other words, they are a balanced squad that can give anyone a tough time.
Weaknesses: Finishing. Their team shooting percentage was near rock-bottom in 5-on-5 hockey this season. While they rebounded from a mid-season swoon, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark remain a question mark in terms of how they can perform in the postseason. If they keep current form, then they’ll be fine. If not, well, it could be a short run this season.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Boston’s UFAs include Patrice Bergeron (like he would leave), Josh Brown, and Curtis Lazar.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: I do not think anyone would complain if Brad Marchand suffers a bad first round. I also do not think that will happen. Sometimes the bad guys win in life. Boston taking down Carolina may appease those who are still holding onto the 2009 Debacle (again, I was there) and want the Canes to suffer for it.
Given world events, I’ve received plenty of messages, comments, and communications decrying Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. I agree with the criticism. Artemi Panarin may play for Our Hated Rivals, but I have infinite more respect for him than the PutinTeam founder. But, like with Marchand, the game doesn’t care about morals or being a good person. Ovechkin still lights up the lamp. The Capitals are still built around that and has loads of talent to support him. Older Devils fans may remember the penalty-laden battles of playoff series against them in decades past. Newer fans may want Washington’s window to finally close and open up for, say, a young team filled with potential that we all like more. Alas, they are here and now, once again.
Strengths: Alexander Ovechkin remains an elite scorer as one of the few to crack the 50 mark this season. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Conor Sheary lead the way at forward for support and loads of production. John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov are threats from the back. The team is also pretty good on the PK.
Weaknesses: Believe it or not, the original 1-3-1 team has not had a very successful power play this season with a rate below 20%. The Capitals’ 5-on-5 on-ice rates are OK but not amazing. There is also a question as to which goaltender they should go with based on their form - which is not a thing a team should have to question on the even of the playoffs.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Boston’s UFAs include Patrice Bergeron (like he would leave), Josh Brown, and Curtis Lazar.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: If Washington ends up against New York, then Washington to beat the snot out of them. If Washington ends up against Florida, then its a wash. For those who have a lot of respect for the face of the Capitals franchise, few will lament an early exit for Ovechkin.
This may be more of a reach, but between being a divisional opponent for many years and a team that is seemingly always in the way like Washington, I will throw the Pittsburgh Penguins into this bucket. I do not think anyone is really bothered by Sidney Crosby. It has been accepted that he is great and not the whiny (especially to the refs) young player he was once. There is a quiet respect, at least from me, as to how their organization continues to find supplemental talent as to not solely on their stars. The Penguins’ window will not be open forever, but they have another shot at a run in the postseason.
Strengths: The team has plenty of talented players to produce all over their lineup. Their top guys of Sidney Crosby (over 80 points), Jake Guentzel (40 goals and over 80 points), and Evgeni Malkin (1 point per game average). Kris Letang remains a dominant force from the backline. The depth includes Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter, Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, Danton Heinen, and Teddy Bleuger. Matching up against Pittsburgh is a challenge. Confirming that are their good on-ice rates in 5-on-5 hockey. Their penalty kill has been very successful this season.
Weaknesses: Tristan Jarry has had a very good season. And he got hurt late in this season. If he cannot come back in time, the team will need Casey DeSmith to play fantastic. DeSmith has been good this season but in far less action than Jarry. The Penguins’ power play success rate finished around the league median, which is not weak but also not ideal either. The Penguins have also slid into this postseason with one of the poorer records in the NHL in April. All signs of things coming apart at the worst possible time.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Pittsburgh’s UFAs include Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, Evan Rodrigues, Brian Boyle, Kris Letang, and Casey DeSmith. Their RFAs include Kasperi Kapenen and Danton Heinen.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: If Pittsburgh gets Our Hated Rivals, then they want to see the Penguins of old just drop goals all over Manhattan. Against Florida, well, it is more or less whatever.
The last team for this section is not so much out of hate, but out of love. A love to laugh. The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2002. It is not that the team has been bad. They have been quite dangerous. They have a team that would please all kind of hockey fans. Want high-end skill and top scorers? They got that. Want players with a high work ethic and character in the depth? They got that. Want some grit and veteran presence? They got that. Want a big-money team to spend like they have a lot of money? They have done that. They even had the easiest on paper match-up in last year’s playoff against an over-achiving Montreal team. They blew that series in 7 games. What do you even change at this point if you’re the Maple Leafs? Apparently, not much and they’re back with home-ice in the first round. But it would be oh so funny for Canada’s biggest team to faceplant one more time, cause Steve Dangle to yell at a camera for 11 minutes in the midst of an existential crisis, and make it an even 20 years since the Leafs did anything in the playoffs.
Strengths: Again, Toronto has a lot going for it. Auston Matthews is a Rocket Richard winner and easily a Top 10 All-Time Leaf in terms of talent. Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares alone can lead an offense on other teams and they are all on this one. They have the leading rookie scorer in Michael Bunting. They get a lot of help from a lot of people to get on the scoresheet. The squad is a very, very good 5-on-5 team. Their power play has the highest success rate in the league, burying teams who take calls against them. They have a top-ten success rate on the penalty kill and have scored an impressive 13 shorthanded goals.
Weaknesses: If there’s a noticeable flaw with Toronto, then it is with the goaltending. Jack Campbell has been good but not great. With Petr Mrazek on LTIR and Erik Kallgren backing him up out, it is all on Campbell to carry the team when needed in the playoffs. Even if he does well but the skaters do not help him, I can see him getting the blame if the Maple Leafs fail yet again.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Toronto’s UFAs include Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza, Colin Blackwell, Mark Giordano, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Jack Campbell. RFAs include Pierre Engvall and Timothy Liljegren.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Come on. Another early exit for Toronto would be entertaining on its own. It would also increase the possibility of Maple Leaf management flipping out and making panic-like moves to change something, anything for a hint of playoff success. Moves that could be to the benefit of teams like New Jersey. Go Bolts!
Playoff Teams Which Don’t Really Bother Too Many Devils Fans in General
OK, New York is a clearly a team no Devils fan wants to succeed. Pockets of the People Who Matter may have reason to want to see Carolina, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, or Toronto to suffer. Obviously, they all cannot crash out the first round, but some would like it if one (or more) of those teams did. That’s 9 teams What about the other 7? They are in this bucket.
Let us start with the one Eastern Conference team that does not garner a lot of heat with the Devils faithful: the Florida Panthers. You may also know them as the best in the East and the President’s Trophy winners.
Strengths: Yes. Florida is a top-tier team in 5-on-5 play this season. They have a top-ten power play success rate. Jonathan Huberdeau has a staggering 85 assists this season and over 110 points; he has been on another level. Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett, and Carter Verhaeghe each has 20 or more goals. And they just added Claude Giroux. Aaron Ekblad is back and leading this defense in both minutes and production. Even Sergei Bobrovsky has has had a good season in net with adequate support from Spencer Knight. Want one more strength? Home games: they’re 34-7-0 in them this season. They have home ice throughout the playoffs.
Weaknesses: The penalty kill success rate is around league median. That’s all I really got. OK, here’s one more. If Bobrovsky cracks like he has in the past and Knight cannot fill in, then Florida becomes much more vulnerable. Although they could probably win in a who-can-keep-scoring kind of game.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Florida’s UFAs include Claude Giroux, Noel Acciari, Maxim Mamin, Mason Marchment, Joe Thornton, Ben Chiarot, Robert Hagg, and Petteri Lindbohm. RFAs include Aleksi Heponiemi, Eetu Luostarinen, Matt Kiersted, and Lucas Carlsson
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: If someone has to come out of this dog-fight that will be the Eastern Conference playoffs, then why not Florida? There have committed no crime or caused great harm to New Jersey. There is no rivalry factor. This is easily the best the franchise has ever been. I would not mind it at all. Go for it, Panthers. P.S. How would you like Newark, Mason Marchment?
The Western Conference was clinched by the Colorado Avalanche. A team the Devils made a stunning comeback on earlier this season at the Rock and a team that just flatlined the Devils in the return game in Denver.
Strengths: This team scores a lot of goals. Over 300 in this season. The core of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar (!), Valeri Nichushkin, and Andre Burakovsky. Each has at least 20 goals, all combined for around 200 goals total. That’s six forwards and a defenseman; good luck matching up with them. The Avs have a top ten power play success rate with one of the highest power play goal totals in the NHL. Their goaltending tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz has been excellent.
Weaknesses: The Avs are like Washington in that they have OK to good 5-on-5 on-ice rates but they are not among the best in the NHL. Likewise, their penalty kill success rate is around the league median. These are not bad but if they come across someone who is a top tier team in 5-on-5 or has a hot and/or great power play, then these facts are problematic.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Colorado’s UFAs include Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, Darren Helm, Nico Sturm, Andrew Cogliano, Josh Mason, Ryan Murray, Jack Johnson, and Darcy Kuemper. RFAs include Artturi Lehkonen and Nicolas Aube-Kubel
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Unless you’re still mad about 2001, an Avalanche run would cause no issues. Colorado has not gone past the second round since 2002. Do not laugh, Maple Leafs fans, they have won a round multiple times since then. Still, this is the team to do get them on a run.
Since Toronto is seemingly haunted, the Calgary Flames may be Canada’s best hope of a team bringing the Stanley Cup to the Great White North this year. They are a quality squad. Given their free agency list, this may need to be the year, too.
Strengths: Like Boston, Florida, and Carolina, Calgary is a top-tier 5-on-5 team. They score quite a bit and do not allow very much. For the latter, Jacob Markstrom has been an outstanding goaltender for the Flames this season. For the former, Johnny Gaudreau has over 100 points with nearly 90 in even strength play; Matthew Tkachuk has broken triple-digits points too; Elias Lindholm has broken out in a huge way with 40 and 80; and Andrew Mangiapane has a stunning statline of 35 goals, 20 assists, 55 points. The Flames have a top-ten power play unit in terms of success rate and a top-ten penalty kill unit in terms of success rate too. They also have Blake Coleman - something else most other teams do not have.
Weaknesses: Um...? Hmm. I’m not really sure. Leave it in the comments if you can think of one?
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Calgary’s UFAs include Johnny Gaudreau, Ryan Carpenter, Calle Jarnkrok, Brett Ritchie, Trevor Lewis, Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, and Michael Stone. RFAs include Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Oliver Kylington.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Their own version of Matthew Tkachuk. Possibly Johnny Gaudreau to come home. As for these playoffs, again, the Flames have Blake Coleman. You do want to see Coleman succeed right? Well, there’s your answer.
Once they had earned the reputation of working hard but not having the flash and flair to get to the next level. This Minnesota Wild team has done well to shake that reputation with over 300 goals scored and winning a whole lot of games in a tough Central Division. Can they win a round for the first time since 2015 and two rounds since 2003? We shall see.
Strengths: Kirill Kaprizov has been a monster, doubling his rookie point total to break the 100-point plateau and not being too far from 50 goals on his own. He led an attack that featured a lot of contributions from Kevin Fiala, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Matt Boldy among others. The Wild are very good team in 5-on-5 play. Related to that, goaltenders Cam Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury have been good at even strength.
Weaknesses: The Wild have not been all that successful on the penalty kill; the team’s success rate is the worst among all playoff teams and sixth from last. Given that they average over 3 shorthanded situations per game, that is a Problem. The Wild’s power play success rate is close and below the league median. Special teams are not a strength; certainly not for the goalies either.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Minnesota’s UFAs include Marc-Andrew Fleury, Jordie Benn, Nick Bjugstad, and Nicolas Deslauriers. Their RFAs include Kevin Fiala, Connor Dewar, and Jacob Middleton.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Kevin Fiala, probably. In the post-season, it should be an enjoyable time. If you have love for GM Bill Guerin from his early days as a Devil, then why not cheer for the Wild? You could do a lot worse.
They made Laura Branigan big in Missouri when they won it all in 2018. Now the St. Louis Blues are back in the mix after a strong campaign and trying to get back to the top of the mountain.
Strengths: The Blues have a very, very good power play. Their success rate ranks second in the NHL with plenty of contributors, led by David Perron’s 11 PPGs and 25 PP points. The Blues also have a top-five penalty kill in terms of success rate and do not take a heap of penalties to go shorthanded a lot (relative to other teams). St. Louis also has a lot of players who can light it up. They have four players with at least 70 points, led by Vladimir Tarasenko with Robert Thomas, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jordan Kyrou following him. Ivan Barbashev, Bradyden Schenn, David Perron, and Brandon Saad each have 20 or more goals with Saad just shy of 50 points. Justin Faulk and Torey Krug have been the most productive from the back end. The depth is real in terms of scoring.
Weaknesses: The Blues have not been a good 5-on-5 team; their on-ice rates are only better than the Rangers among playoff teams this season. Goaltending has been an issue as Ville Husso has out-performed Jordan Binnington throughout the season. Husso has been great but the moment he gets into trouble, a worse-performing goalie will replace him.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: St. Louis’ UFAs include David Perron, Ville Husso, Nick Leddy, Calle Rosen, and Tyler Bozak. The lone RFA of note is Niko Mikkola.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: Ville Husso may be worth the bet. As for the playoffs, one can go either way. A run for the Blues led by Husso may bump his potential price up even more. An early exit may depress it a bit. If you want Husso in Newark next season, then you may want St. Louis to lose early but not get wrecked. Unfortunately, Minnesota may not care about the last bit.
The best hockey player in the world and arguably the best German hockey player ever both play for the same team. After a coaching change, the Edmonton Oilers look more threatening than other to compete for something. Which is what you expect when the best player in the world and arguably the best German hockey player ever are in the primes of their careers.
Strengths: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the elite of the elite in the NHL. McDavid has a 120+ point season, Draisaitl is second to Matthews in goals with 55 and has a 100+ point season of their own. You cannot really stop either; you can only hope to contain them. Since the decision to replace Dave Tippett with Jay Woodcroft, the Oilers have become a good team overall in 5-on-5 play. Mike Smith turned his season around and has very good save percentages on his own, nevermind for a 40-year old. The Oilers’ power play is particularly potent, as they have the third highest success rate in the NHL. Draisaitl, in particular, has been a power play machine.
Weaknesses: The Oilers’ penalty kill is around the league median when it comes to success rate. That is not bad, but also not a strength either. A bigger issue is the team beyond McDavid and Draisaitl. There is talent; Zach Hyman and Evander Kane have each put up over 20 goals each. But the scoring depth drops significantly past McDavid and Draisaitl. If either are kept in check somehow, the Oilers are an easier team to contain. Also, relying on a 40-year old Mike Smith in the crease is a risk. His save percentages have been good, but it remains as a risk.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Edmonton’s UFAs include Evander Kane, Josh Archibald, Derick Brassard, Kris Russel, Brett Kulak, and Mikko Koskinen (Kyle Turris too, but he’s on LTIR). RFAs include Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan McLeod.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: I do not think Devils fans think of McDavid as overrated or anything like that. And if they do, they are very, very wrong. McDavid is the best player in the world. With a matchup against the Kings looming, Edmonton should at least prevail in the first round. If they do or do not, it is no skin off the back of the People Who Matter.
Last is the team who was the last to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Thanks to yet another shootout loss by Las Vegas, the Dallas Stars are the final team in the Western Conference to get in. It is a team with a mix of veterans and players for Dallas’ near future. I do not know what to expect, but I would say, like Los Angeles, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Strengths: The Stars have been getting good goaltending throughout the season from Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby. Even with Holtby on LTIR, Scott Wedgewood was acquired and he has been good in spot duty for Oettinger. The Stars have also benefitted from Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz having monster seasons. Robertson, 22, and Hintz, 25, will definitely lead the way for the Stars in the future. 37 year old Pavelski putting up 81 points is both impressive and inspiring. Dallas’ power play is just outside of the top ten in terms of success rate (it’s 12th) and they do draw a good number of power plays per game.
Weaknesses: Dallas is around where Washington and Nashville in 5-on-5 stats, which is OK compared to rest of the league but not a strength for the playoffs. The team’s penalty kill is below the league median; not awful, but not a strength and could be a problem against, say, Colorado or Calgary. It has not been the best of seasons for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn compared to past campaigns; that could be an issue if teams can slow down Joe Pavelski, Jason Roberson, and Roope Hintz. (Not to mention a long term issue.) It is not like their scoring has a lot of depth. Worse than all of this, the Stars have a sub .500 points percentage on the road at 19-20-2. It is the worst of all of this year’s playoff teams. This is bad for a team that will not have home-ice in the playoffs.
2022 Free Agents to Keep in Mind: Dallas’ UFAs include John Klingberg, Alexander Radulov, Michael Raffl, Vladislav Namestnikov, Andrej Sekera, Braden Holtby, and Scott Wedgewood. RFAs include Jason Robertson, Jake Oettinger, Marian Studenic, Denis Gurianov, Frederik Karlstrom, and Marian Studenic.
What Would the Devils Fans Likely Want?: A Dallas upset would be fun. But I do not think most would expect it. But if they do it, hey, good for them.
Be Strong, Be Wrong: It’s Time for Predictions
Finally, after all of those words, some predictions. No game amounts, just winners.
I can believe that any of the 8 teams in the East can go all the way. Even Our Hated Rivals have a reasonable case to go all the way. None of them will surprise me if they do it. Whoever does make it to the Stanley Cup Finals would have absolutely earned it. It’s a group of eight really good teams.
First Round: Carolina over Boston, Pittsburgh over Our Hated Rivals, Florida over Washington, Tampa Bay over Toronto
Divisional Finals: Carolina over Pittsburgh, Florida over Tampa Bay
Eastern Conference Finals: Florida over Carolina
I think Dallas and Los Angeles are in over their heads. But the Central division playoff series will be tough and the second round onward will be fierce.
First Round: Colorado over Nashville, Minnesota over St. Louis, Calgary over Dallas, Edmonton over Los Angeles
Divisional Finals: Minnesota over Colorado, Calgary over Edmonton
Western Conference Finals: Calgary over Minnesota
Stanley Cup: Florida over Calgary. Welcome to your first ever Cup, Panthers. Hope this post doesn’t jinx it. (I don’t believe in jinxes. You, well, I don’t know about you.)
What do you expect to happen in this year’s playoffs? Which pending free agents in the postseason are you interested in as possible targets for the Devils? Who do you want to win? Other than Our Hated Rivals, who do you want to lose? Please leave your answers and other playoff thoughts in the comments. When the playoff dates are set, I will make a general Open Post for the postseason discussion.