Check in on what's happening and with your questions about NHL action with Puck Prospectus' Tom Awad.
Tom Awad (Hockey): Hi everybody, we're ready to go!
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Matt (Edmonton): Hey Tom,
Vancouver is getting alot of credit for having the best overall team in the league, and looking at their results over the past two months it's hard to argue.
What are the main areas of improvement for the Canucks from the team that went out in the second round last year, and are there any weaknesses that have to be addressed before playoffs?
It seems to me that Vancouver has a big oppurtunity this year based on the strength of their own team and the relative lack of top quality teams in the Western Conference compared to previous seasons.
Tom Awad (Hockey): Hi Matt,
The main difference is that they have added depth down the middle with Manny Malhotra, and Kesler is even better than he was. Having two really good defensive center allows Alain Vigneault to use the Sedins in a purely offensive role, in which they excel. This has been one of the big reasons for the Sedin's point jump over the last two years.
I don't think the team has any real weaknesses to speak of, but that doesn't mean anything; the playoffs are a crapshoot, even if you have the best team, but you're right that there's no team like Detroit in 2008 that's so good that it's not worth it to bet big for other contenders.
Ben Wendorf (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): Do you project Dwayne Roloson to be below-league average, league-average, or above-league-average for the remainder of the year?
Tom Awad (Hockey): I think he'll be much better than Smith and Ellis have been so far! Seriously, Tampa has been really good this year, but abysmal goaltending has done them in. I had Roloson as the 31st of 40 "#1 goalies" over the last 3 years, but that basically means he's league average. Tampa would be my sleeper pick to go far in the playoffs, though at this point I'm not sure they're sleepers anymore.
Ben Wendorf (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): Was the Dion Phaneuf of two-three years ago a mirage, or does he have a chance to regain his form?
Tom Awad (Hockey): Barring insane linemates, a player's performance is rarely a mirage. He's been getting far less power-play ice time than he was, which is part of the reason his point totals have been down so much, but I think we all agree he's not the same player. Unless he's hiding an injury, I don't really have an answer: sometimes players never regain their form, sometimes they do.
Ben Wendorf (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): What's up with Ovechkin?
Tom Awad (Hockey): That's the 120M$ question, isn't it? Ovechkin is either injured or really rattled. There was a fear, after he was suspended twice last season for reckless play, that he would lose his edge, and there may be some of that going on. The power-play numbers are the craziest: the Capitals are shooting under 10% on the PP, and Ovechkin's been on the ice for over 80% of that. I see the Capitals as primed for a Pittsburgh 2009 / Philadelphia 2010 coaching change, where an underperforming team suddenly discovers its mettle.
Ben Wendorf (Milwaukee): Who is the biggest surprise for you so far at each of the positions?
Tom Awad (Hockey): On defense, I'll have to go with John-Michael Liles. He's really improved his game this year; Gabe Desjardins correctly qualified him as a "sieve" last year, and his even-strength numbers are way better, not to mention his points. Honorary mention to Byfuglien, obviously.
On offense... does the entire Devils team count? No way I (or anybody) saw such a poor shooting performance. It may be all shooting percentage, but how does a team sustain such a miserable shooting percentage for 40 games?
In nets, Carey Price (Pavelec doesn't count, we knew nothing about him). The problem with goaltending is the variability, so it's hard to judge half a season, but there are some signs that Price it at least developing some maturity (we still remember his temper during last year's playoffs), if not actually raising his skill level.
Tom Awad (Hockey): Guys (and especially Ben!) thanks for coming!