2013-14 NHL season: A fearless forecast

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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.

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

We begin our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the goaltenders. This is the first part of a four-part series.

What should have been a genuine competition in net for two players to win the prize of a long-term contract never did pan out for the Flyers this season.

Coming out of training camp, general manager Ron Hextall said goaltending was going to be the club's biggest strength with two goalies -- Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth -- essentially being 1-A and 1-B.

Instead, they both failed terribly with inconsistent performances that mirrored the skaters in front of them.

With Neuvirth already locked up for next season, all signs point to Mason leaving via free agency. That means Hextall has to find a replacement for Mason.

"We'll use the best option that's realistic for us," Hextall said recently. "Obviously, you've got salary cap, you've got term. There's a lot of factors that go into this. It's not just one. It's not just OK, let's go out and get the best goalie, whoever that might be.

"If we can get him, there's more to it than that. We'll work through our process here and in the end, we'll figure out what's our best option for next year, and the following year and after. We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it. 

"I don't have a lot of interest in getting into a long, drawn-out deal with a goaltender, but again we'll look at our options and move when we feel is our best option at the appropriate time."

Here's our look at the goaltenders (alphabetically) this past season.

Steve Mason 
Age: Turns 29 on May 29
Record: 58 GP; 26-21-8
Stats: 2.66 GAA; .908 SV%
Cap hit: UFA who earned $4.1 million

We've got to give Mason this much credit: For a guy dealing from the bottom of the deck, he has a lot of guts. How else can you explain how he went into Hextall's office on breakup day and asked to know his status ASAP and oh, one more: I didn't like Dave Hakstol's goalie platoon idea, and if you want me back, that's a dealbreaker. This was Mason's poorest season among the four full ones in Philadelphia. He, like Neuvirth, was maddeningly inconsistent right from the get-go until the final 17 games, when he produced some impressive numbers as the club's true No. 1 -- 10-5-2 record, 2.14 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and two shutouts. In between, anything else was possible. There's a reason why the Flyers didn't re-sign him in-season like they did with Neuvirth. They feel he's going to want more term, more money and they have a slew of talent in the minors and Europe itching to get a chance to play in Philadelphia. At least one of the four goalie prospects will be NHL-ready within two years. Mason talked like a goalie going out the door down the stretch and yet, he played like one deserving of a new contract over the final month-plus. His unedited yet honest criticism of the team on a nightly basis earned him the respect of the media but did little to gather support within the room from teammates. Many felt he needed to shut his mouth. There are two kinds of goalies: those you play for and those you play in front of. The feeling was more than a few Flyers would choose the latter and those are not the type of goalies teams rally around to win Stanley Cups. It appears management realizes that could be a problem. He'll most likely go to free agency.

Michal Neuvirth 
Age: Turned 29 on March 23 
Record: 28 GP; 11-11-1
Stats: 2.82 GAA; .891 SV%
Cap hit: $2.5 million (re-signed in-season)

After a strong playoff performance in 2016 in which he showed he could be a No. 1 goalie again, Neuvirth came into the season much like Mason, knowing a good year would mean a new deal. Well, he got a two-year contract at a reduced price because of injury. A left knee strain caused him to miss 24 games this season. His start was poor -- e.g. four goals against on 16 shots vs. Chicago -- and despite a few wins, he continued to give up too many goals, showed some promise in February, but never really gained his footing in the crease. To his credit, he doesn't pout when he's not playing and he almost never criticizes the club in such a way as to offend his teammates. And teammates respect him for that. Near the end of the year, he collapsed in net from a sinus infection and dehydration and then concussed himself by passing out backward onto the ice. Hextall is convinced he'll have a bounce-back season next year, but the bottom line is that he'll never survive a full season and 30-32 games played is the most you can count on from him. Given the club chose him over Mason to re-sign, it's unlikely he'll be exposed in the expansion draft.

Anthony Stolarz
Age: Turns 24 on January 20 
Record: 7 GP; 2-1-0
Stats: 1.93 GAA; .936 SV%
Cap hit: RFA, who earned $753,333 (pro-rated)

Remember the movie There's Something About Mary? Well, if the Flyers produced such a movie, it might be titled, There's Something About Stolie. As in, there's something about this 6-foot-6 giant that the organization doesn't like. Maybe it's his mechanics, which seem awkward at times. Or maybe it's because some in the Flyers' organization feel he makes the tough saves but gives up the easy one down low, or whiffs with the glove hand. He only had seven appearances this season. Hakstol flatly refused to play him when Neuvirth was injured -- Mason got 22 starts -- and that showed a lack of confidence. That apparently extends to Hextall as well. When asked during his after-the-season press conference whether he would be comfortable with Neuvirth as his starter and Stolarz as his backup next season, Hextall didn't answer the question in affirmative fashion. With Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstorm all vying for the same opportunity Stolarz got in limited doses, the position of backup on this club remains unsolved. The door is not shut on Stolarz yet, but it's not fully open either. Stolarz suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee at season's end with the Phantoms and will miss up to four months. All meniscus tears require surgery. This is worse than an MCL sprain. The 23-year-old needs to have a great training camp to change people's minds in the organization that he's the real deal. And that's complicated by the fact his injury now sets him back. Expect him to be exposed in the expansion draft.

Up next: A look back at the defense.

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).