2013-14 NHL season: A fearless forecast

crystal-ball-base--hockey.jpg

2013-14 NHL season: A fearless forecast

If I owned a crystal ball, this would be about the time I’d pull it out.

I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to try and predict the way the NHL standings will look six months from now.

Remember: Things work a little differently in the post-lockout era. The top three teams from each division will clinch a spot in the playoffs, as well as the two teams from each conference with the highest points total outside those six teams (doesn’t matter whether there’s one from each division or both come from the same division).

Let’s get down to business …

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division
Predicted winner: Boston Bruins
The Bruins, of course, lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in last season’s Stanley Cup Final. They also lost some talent this offseason (the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr come to mind), but they’re still dangerous. It will be interesting to see how they fare in their new-look division, but right now, it seems like it’s theirs to lose.

The rest of the pack
2. Detroit Red Wings
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. Buffalo Sabres
8. Florida Panthers

Metropolitan Division
Predicted winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have proven they’re a tough team to beat -- during the regular season, at least. They’ve still got the depth they had in 2013, and if they can get over whatever has plagued them during the postseason over the past few seasons, they should be in for a long playoff run too. The caveat? Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who not only is currently lacking a solid backup option, but has, well, imploded in seasons past.

The rest of the pack
2. Washington Capitals
3. New York Rangers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. New York Islanders
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Columbus Blue Jackets

(Note: I’m really, really sorry Flyers fans. If things were to play out like this … your Philadelphia Flyers would likely miss the postseason for the second consecutive year.)

Western Conference

Central Division

Predicted Winner: Chicago Blackhawks
Last year’s Stanley Cup winning team has still got it. They’re not going to repeat their crazy win streak that started their 2013 campaign, but they should also have little problem staying at the top of their division. Yes, the Hawks lost Ray Emery to the Flyers, but the bulk of the team’s key players remain. Also, Corey Crawford proved that he’s able to carry a bulk of the work -- including through the postseason.

The rest of the pack

2. St. Louis Blues.
3. Colorado Avalance
4. Dallas Stars
5. Minnesota Wild
6. Nashville Predators
7. Winnipeg Jets

Pacific Division
Predicted Winner: Los Angeles Kings
Two years after their ride from eighth seed to Stanley Cup champion, the Kings are still the team to beat on the West Coast. They’ve got the goalie, they’ve got the offense, they’ve got the necessary depth and they’ve definitely got the leadership. Remember, this was the team who sat Simon Gagne as a healthy scratch before trading him back to the Flyers.

The rest of the pack

2. San Jose Sharks
3. Anaheim Ducks
4. Vancouver Canucks
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Edmonton Oilers
7. Calgary Flames

Who’s in the Stanley Cup: Let’s have some fun here, and say it’s the St. Louis Blues vs. the Detroit Red Wings, with the Blues bringing home the hardware.

It’s a tough call -- part of me thinks it’s smarter to pick the Blackhawks to do it again instead of the Blues, but where’s the fun in that? I like Ken Hitchcock as a coach, and the Blues have been steadily improving over their last few seasons. They’ve got a pretty balanced lineup and solid goaltending, too. Plus, after living in St. Louis for a few years, I can tell you the city could use it.

What do you think? Am I way off? How do you see things playing out in each division? Let’s take the debate to the comments section.

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

Flyers ramp up intensity, physicality on Day 2 of training camp

VOORHEES, N.J. — Radko Gudas was so hyped up, he was having great difficulty trying to communicate his excitement after having crunched two players during battle drills.
 
“This is the fun where it starts … where the fun starts?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody wants to get the feeling of game-like situations. Everybody is trying their hardest.”
 
After two days of mostly drills with gradually advancing intensity, the Flyers wrapped up Saturday’s training camp with two-on-two battle drills.
 
Two guys going to the net and shooting, getting the rebound, all the while fighting off another player.
 
Gudas wants to demonstrate he can still maim guys along the boards with a taped-up right wrist (stress fracture). And he did.
 
“I haven’t used the wrist for a couple weeks so it’s nice to get a touch with somebody else and get into the battle situation with someone else and know I can still do it,” he said.
 
“This is more for the older guys who weren’t here for the rookie [camp] to get in there, get a feel for it.”
 
All this aside, Gudas might not participate in Sunday’s full squad scrimmage only because he has not been cleared to shoot pucks yet.
 
“I have to stay as much as I can off the heavy slapper,” he said.
 
The Flyers have two split-squad games Monday — one in New Jersey, the other in Brooklyn.
 
“The guys are anxious to have a scrimmage,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Couple good, hard workdays and they handled it really well. It’s time to get into a scrimmage situation, which leads into a game the next day.”
 
Hence the battle drills to get players to take their energy to that next level.
 
“You got to slowly keep moving toward game readiness,” Hakstol said. “There’s a difference from practice to a full preseason game.
 
“Today was a little more battle in practice than yesterday but some subtle detail mixed into each of the drills.”

Broadcast notes
Monday's game in New Jersey will be broadcast on radio on 97.5 The Fanatic, while the Islanders' game is slated to be a video webcast on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com.

Tuesday's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center and Wednesday's game against the Devils in Allentown, Pennsylvania, will both air on TCN and 97.5.

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

Brayden Schenn motivated to build off career season in 2016-17

VOORHEES, N.J. — What a difference for Brayden Schenn to walk into Flyers training camp and feel as if he’s arrived.
 
The forward is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59), which earned him the team’s Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the most improved Flyer. 
 
Best of all, he was rewarded with a four-year, $20.5 million contract in July.
 
“I feel good coming into this year,” Schenn said. “The Flyers showed some trust and confidence in me by signing me for four years. Coming in here, I’m excited to get the season going and build off last year.”
 
At least he won’t have to begin camp on the fifth line like he did last fall after general manager Ron Hextall had challenged him to take his game to another level and new head coach Dave Hakstol made him work to advance himself in the lineup.
 
“You hope it won’t be like that [fifth line], especially with [seven] guys gone,” Schenn said jokingly, meaning the Flyers playing in the World Cup of Hockey.
 
The big question for Schenn is whether he plays left wing on Claude Giroux’s line or plays wing on Sean Couturier's unit. He proved to everyone last season he can play all three forward spots now and be effective on the ice.
 
“I finished on the left,” he said. “I said forward or center but I played so much left wing, right wing a little center in the playoffs. So I feel comfortable now all over.
 
“Wherever the opportunity is to play with great players and make the most of the situation is where you want to be right now.”
 
These first two days of camp, Schenn has been very aggressive and motivated on the ice.
 
Schenn, Giroux and Wayne Simmonds represented the top line much of last season, especially in the second half. That was partly because Jakub Voracek had slumped so badly from his breakout season the year before and couldn’t hold his spot on the first line.
 
“It’s tough to say because lines change throughout the year,” Schenn said. “When you are trying to find chemistry and this and that. Wherever I start, I just have to make the most of every opportunity.
 
“We have a lot of top players around here to play with … to pencil my name into one spot is hard to say. Wherever they place me at the start, I’ll to try with it.”
 
It’s expected he’ll start the season again at left wing on Giroux’s line after he serves his three-game suspension for a hit against Capitals forward T.J. Oshie in the playoffs.
 
“It’s good to have guys who can move around because you never know what you are gonna need in a top six,” Hextall said. “You like a left-hand Brayden on the left side with skill.”
 
Hakstol said he wants guys “who fit well” together, so that may be the answer right there.
 
There was talk last season whether the Schenn Brothers were having negative impacts on each other. Luke Schenn, the veteran defenseman, came to camp and was demoted to eighth on the depth chart. He was angry from Day 1. Brayden Schenn was angry at the fifth line.
 
Both would huddle with each other every day. Both cared so deeply about the other, they acted as each’s confidante. Yet when Luke Schenn was traded, it seemed to benefit both players.
 
“Probably a better question for Brayden, but a lot of people have pointed to that,” Hextall said. “When Luke got traded, Brayden had played six or seven really good games ahead of that.
 
“Whether that was coincidence or not I don’t have an answer. I do think what he said there, there’s obvious reason based on personality and it probably could do you good or do you harm.”
 
Brayden Schenn said he always dreamed of playing with his brother, but it adds other pressures.
 
“When you come to the rink [as brothers], you are so tight and so close, you tend to worry about each other more than you have to, just because it’s family and he’s your brother,” he said.
 
“Now that Luke’s gone, he’s in a good situation in Arizona, I hope he gets a good opportunity. Now you tend to worry about yourself a little more. Come to the rink and focus on what you have to do and not to worry about Luke or vice-versa.”
 
Schenn said it’s obvious that the club has made a commitment to himself, Giroux, Simmonds, Couturier and Voracek with the long-term contracts handed out in recent years.
 
To that end, he said, the window of opportunity for some of these Flyers is fast approaching. Some are in their peak years now. Schenn, 25, and Couturier, 23, are the youngest among that group.
 
“They will challenge us again this year to get better,” Schenn said. “They have invested in us. We all got to step up. Parts on the back end like 'Ghost' [Shayne Gostisbehere] and Gudy [Radko Gudas]. Everyone has got to get better year by year.
 
“I hate to say it. We’re not old by any means, but our core group of guys are in their prime now and we have to try to make it happen.”
 
It starts in training camp.