While enjoying the balmy weather here in Oxford, I decided to catch up with PSB’s own Dave Gutzman. Dave was busy on vacation but agreed to take the time to discuss some puck with me. This is what we discussed.
1. Who is the dark horse in the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs?
Dave: I would say the dark horse out in the East is Boston assuming they get
in. I haven’t seen much from them to suggest they will go far in the
playoffs, but one thing they do have is goaltending which everyone knows in
the playoffs can make or break a team. If they maintain their #7 position,
they would run up against New Jersey. Now, the real question is which
Brodeur will show up? Brodeur’s shutout on 4/3 was the first shutout in over
2 months and he has given up 3 or more goals in 6 of his last 15 games. If
Boston can Catch Brodeur in a bad stretch, they could put up just enough
goals to sneak a 1st round knockout. The problem, though is that they would
then have to play Washington which is a bigger challenge. But if Tuukka
Rask gets on a hot streak, Boston, with its limited ability to score goals,
might ride Rask to the 3rd round.
Chris: Not sure if they are really a “dark horse” but I gotta say those Ottawa Senators have looked dangerous this season. This team might not have elite goaltending, but they have excellent scoring depth and most of their players have been in the playoffs before. Veteran experience is certainly not overrated during the playoffs. Guys like Spezza and Alfie will come up big for them during the playoffs. If Milan Michalek can ever get healthy, he will have a key role in the Senators’ playoff push. Of course the main question is goaltending. While Brian Elliott has been good, I don’t know if he will be able to carry this team in the playoffs. If he can, look for the Senators to give the Pens a run for their money in the first round. If I had to choose a team who was going to be the most dangerous team in the East next year, I gotta go with the Carolina Hurricanes. They have been playing playoff hockey for the past couple of months. I think those guys have to be looking at this season and wondering what the season could have been.
2. Who is the dark horse in the Western Confrence?
Chris: Assuming the Avalanche make the playoffs, I am going to say the Avs. While they have looked awful since the Olympic Break, they are still a bunch of skilled forwards with a goalie with game-stealing potential in Craig Anderson. Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly might be the future, but in Colorado the future is now. With the addition of Peter Mueller, the Avs are a deep team with a mix of veterans (Hejduk, Foote, Tucker) along with a young core (Mueller, Statsny, Stewart). Speaking of the young core, who would have guessed Chris Stewart would be THIS good! The kid has 28G and 34A this season, putting him at 62 points (only behind Statsny on the team). The Avs also played the Sharks pretty well this year, including the first game of the season and a critical game a week ago. I could see them shocking all of us and beating the Sharks in the first round.
Dave: If I failed to ignore how impressed I am with the Nashville Predators, I
would not be doing this answer any justice. Yes, I do believe Nashville is
the dark horse from the West. Not because I cover Nashville, but because I
feel this team is built for the playoffs. For the most part, we are clear
of any major injuries unlike recent years. Assuming Arnott can come back
and play up to his level, the rest of the talent on the team will follow.
But if I stepped away from Nashville, Vancouver would have to be my biggest
concern. I think Vancouver is built for any type of series the playoffs
throw their way. If they need goaltending, strong D, offensive firepower,
rough and tough, or any other aspect of the game, they can provide it. I
think with the Sedin twins, Samuelsson, Kesler Burrows, and Raymond, they
have all the firepower they need. If Luongo gets hot, they could go all the
3. Can Pekka Rinne maintain his level of play?
Dave: Pekka Rinne is the wildcard for any hopes of success Nashville achieves.
If he continues the play of the last month or so, Nashville could beat any
team in the West. The problem with Rinne is that he often doesn’t react as
good as he could when there is a defensive let down. He covers a lot of
ground with his size, but his speed isn’t all that impressive. If the
defense in front of him isn’t playing smart, Rinne is prone to let in 2 or 3
goals as a result. The other problem is his history of not preventing
rebounds. If he starts letting rebounds bound 3, 4, and 5 feet in front of
the net, his chances of success drop significantly.
Chris: I wish I could answer this question. Sadly, Pekka is predictably unpredictable. While he does have game -stealing ability, he has a tendency to have brain farts in some games. If he can keep of this level of play, the Predators will be nearly unbeatable.
4. Who is the MVP of the Predators season?
Chris: Is this even a question? Patric Hornqvist. The man has been a machine this season, posting 30 goals (first Predators’ home grown 30 goal getter). While Hornqvist has been able to score on ANY line he is placed with, Hornqvist has found a home with Steve Sullivan and Marcel Goc these past ten games. This line has a combined for a total of 20 pts the last 10 games. That is a very good line right there. Hornqvist, aka “Swedish Super Viking” also leads the team with 51 points as a second year player. The other thing about Hornqvist is his ability to score while only averaging 15 minutes a night. That is pretty darn impressive if you ask me.
Dave: There is really only one choice….Patric Hornqvist. That isn’t to say
there haven’t been major contributions from others like Franson, Wilson, or
Rinne. But while Rinne may be the MVP for since the Olympic break, it was
Hornqvist who kept Nashville in the games during the first 4 months of the
season when our goaltending was in shambles. If Hornqvist didn’t have the
year he had in October, November, and December, Nashville would be 15 games
out of the playoffs.
5. Will Jason Arnott retire at the end of this season?
Dave: I think the only way Arnott retires is if he gets another major
concussion during the playoffs. Next year is his contract year so I fully
expect him to play unless his health concerns become an issue. The real
question is whether next year is his last year. If he plays hard, and gets
back to a 25-30 goal season and over 60 points, you have to assume he is
positioning himself to sign a new contract for the 2011/2012 season. The
other prediction is that Nashville trades him at the trade dealing next
year. If he has value, and we know we wouldn’t sign him again, why keep
Chris: I am going to have to disagree with you this time Dave. I have a gut feeling Arnott retires if the Predators make it past the first round. That might be a big “IF” but consider this. Arnott has had a bad history of concussions, including two serious ones the past two seasons. Arnott is 35 and has kids and a wife. I’m no doctor, but my brother has had three concussions and I can tell you the doctor was non too happy when my brother was lacing up his skates again. I can’t imagine what it would be like trying to come back from a concussion at 35, but if Arnott can he will. I wonder if we will see a Kurt Warner type of situation where Arnott knows he can still play, but he doesn’t want to risk the rest of his adult life. While it seems probable he will be back next season to finish out his contract, I question what will happen if the Predators get past the first round.
6. Who has been the reason for the failing pairing of Kevin Klein and Dan Hamhuis?
Dave: I am not sure you can put the blame solely on their shoulders. Coach
Trotz has to take a big portion of the blame. It isn’t like he didn’t have
plenty of film to watch before he FINALLY made the switch. It isn’t as
though they are bad players. They just don’t gel together. That should have
been obvious by the end of October. Why it lasted longer I will never know.
I think Trotz just felt that having Franson paired with Bouillon (rookie -
veteran) would benefit Franson. As for Klien and Hamhuis I do blame them
for not working together to figure out how to get better. Not sure if it is
a personality issue, or just a technique issue, but for some reason, they
never seemed to work and communicate out on the ice. I have heard it from a
number of players that Hamhuis is not very communicative on the ice. And
Klien isn’t that talkative either..Maybe it is just a matter of pairing both
up some someone who is a vocal leader on the ice. Bouillon has been
mentioned as communicating well on the ice. That is probably why is a
Chris: I gotta go with Kevin Klein. While I thought Dan Hamhuis was the reason earlier in the season, it just seems like bad luck followed Klein this year. I don’t think that is a coincidence. I didn’t like the Klein extension earlier this year and I still don’t like it. I actually am hoping for Klein to get moved during the trade deadline in order to bring Hamhuis back for a couple more years.
That’s all for now Preds fans! Predator’s play tomorrow night against the Coyotes. Should be great one! Puck drops 9PM. I won’t be able to do my usual format but fear not! I shall have a write up about the game shortly after. Ya’ll come back now ya hear?
About the Author
Written by Chris Rydburg
Chris currently attends my Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He hopes to one day be a high school teacher.