Every week, the FTR crew will review the biggest hockey news from the previous week.
-With the regular season behind us, what has been your biggest pleasant surprise of the year?
Cory Lavalette: Without a doubt, the Phoenix Coyotes. Both Dave Tippett and Shane Doan deserve huge amounts of credit — especially when you consider all of the off ice distractions — for taking a relatively young roster and steering near the top of the Western Conference.
Mike: I think we're all agreeing that Phoenix takes the cake here, right? As a runner up, I thought Steven Stamkos would have a good sophomore season with probably 30 goals and 70 points. I would have never possibly guessed that he'd be the co-winner of the Rocket Richard trophy.
Derek: Calgary's complete collapse. The shine is off of the Sutter family, especially those in management, and the moves that the Flames made this year really burdened this team moving forward. Watching a team that wanted to challenge for the Cup as the year began crumble into dust was fun.
Bob: My biggest and most pleasant surprise was how well Team USA played in the Olympics this year. Most pundits said that they would be lucky to qualify for a medal, yet one could argue that they had a better overall tournament than Canada did. Once again, kudos to USA Hockey.
-And your biggest disappointment?
Cory Lavalette: Probably Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward. The two teamed up last season and Ward proved a perfect fit for Chara, propelling the B's to the top of the standings and Chara to a Norris Trophy. But Chara had a not-as-dominant year without Ward, and Ward struggled immensely in Carolina before being moved at the deadline to Anaheim.
Mike: After Columbus' success last season, it's really hard to see that market take a step backward, especially since several players had career years. I hate to put the blame solely on Steve Mason, but when you look at the softies he let up and the way that his stats dropped from his rookie year, it certainly seems like the downward spiral started there. Plenty of players hit the sophomore jinx, and for Blue Jackets fans, I hope Mason returns to form. There are good fans in Columbus, and the area has a pretty strong college hockey background. They deserve a reward for sticking with that team for so long.
Derek: The complete lack of game in the Southeast. The Southeast has become the laughingstock of the league and it's not getting better. After the Capitals, there is...ownership issues. If the league ever wants to have a true fanbase in the Southeastern U.S., those teams have to remove their heads from their behinds.
Bob: The way the Edmonton Oilers tanked this season is disgraceful. They made no attempt to improve themselves at all and management seemed perfectly content to ice a team they knew would not be competitive. For instance, when Cam Ward was injured the Hurricanes signed Manny Legace to help out. When Khabibulin was injured, the Oilers platooned two youngsters whom they knew would struggle, and struggle they did. Devan Dubnyk SV% .889, GAA 3.57, Jeff Deslauries SV% .901 GAA 3.26
-Will the lack of a goaltending acquisition hurt Chicago and Washington during their playoff runs?
Cory Lavalette: I think so. I don't think anyone's scared of the Blackhawks or Capitals netminders and the intimidation factor a top-rank goalie can bring to a series is immense. Sure, Niemi, Theodore, Huet or Varlamov could get hot, but I'd the chances of that are slimmer than several other team's getting excellent goaltending.
Mike: The going theory is that you need your goalie to make the stops he's supposed to make. After that, it's up to the rest of the team to finish the job. The problem is that you've seen the netminders on both teams have meltdown games where they couldn't stop a beach ball. (Fun fact: For whatever reason, FTR gets search engine hits for "Huet beachball" and "Theodore beachball") It all comes down to the opposition defense. If they do a good job playing steady shut-down hockey, then the goaltending has to keep them in the game. For the first round, I think Chicago's going to have a much harder time with that.
Derek: I have more trust in Niemi than I do in Theodore and I think that should worry Capitals fans. The Caps are loaded and they look unbeatable, but they've got a goalie that is prone to mental implosions and that's not a recipe for a Cup.
Bob: I also have my doubts about the goaltending of both these teams, but Theodore has had a much better year than I thought he would. He could do well, especially if he can seemingly continue to transform the grief from his personal loss over the offseason, to a source of strength.
-Looking back, is there a particular trade that benefited a team more during the push to the playoffs?
Cory Lavalette: I think one trade that benefitted both teams was the best: Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix in exchange for Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter going to Colorado. Wolski stepped into the Yotes lineup and was a point-per-game player down the stretch, while Mueller finally cashed in on all his potential and had 20 points in 15 games after the trade. Unfortunately for the Avs, Mueller is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion. Regardless, both with her perfect with their new squads.
Mike: Who would have thought that Lee Stempniak would be a point-per-game player? We knew he was capable of being a 25-goal guy, but if he comes anywhere close to this pace next season, he'll be a bargain.
Derek: Wojtek Wolski heading to Phoenix was amazing for Coyotes fans and a bit crazy for the Avalanche. By the underlying numbers, Wolski was a killer at evens and could generate offense on his own. Phoenix still lacks the stout defenders on the back end to make a deep run, but their forwards are excellent and should give Detroit fits.
Bob: Washington really beefed up with the additions of Corvo, and Belanger, while Walker and Jurcina will probably come in handy at some point. No doubt the Caps would have won the Eastern Conference even without those players, but the newcomers do give the team more quality depth than anyone else in the playoffs.
-Which team holds the best chance of a first-round playoff upset?
Cory Lavalette: While I wouldn't necessarily give them an edge in the series, I like how Nashville matches up against the Blackhawks. I'd give the Preds the edge in net, and their defense, top to bottom, is among the league's best. Of course, they'll have to find a way to either slow Chicago's offense or match them goal for goal. But I think they have a shot.
Mike: There are no easy match-ups in the West, but I like Cory's pick of Nashville. Pekka Rinne was the hottest goalie after the Olympic break and their defense is stacked with Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, and Shea Weber. Now, if only Weber could stop injuring his own players with his monster slap shot.
Derek: I'm going to go with the Kings. Their goaltending is really shaky, but they have depth at forward and defense and they have the ability to match up with Vancouver when necessary. If Quick/Bernier/Hrudey can catch lightning in a bottle, Vancouver is going to find this team difficult to deal with.
Bob: Would it be considered an upset for number 5 Detroit to beat number 4 Phoenix? There's my pick.