The Shootout: September 11 Roundtable Discussion

Mike Colligan, Anatoliy Metter, James Neveau, and Jeff Angus will answer a few burning questions related to the game of hockey – on and off of the ice.

Here are today’s questions:

  • Which NHL goaltender is under the most pressure in 2012-13?
  • Which NHL coach is under the most pressure?
  • Which player would benefit most from a delayed start to the season?
  • Who is one player that will seize an opportunity this season?

Let’s get to it.

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Which NHL goaltender is under the most pressure in 2012-13?

Metter:

Without Tim Thomas’ services, Tuukka Rask will be the goalie that the Bruins put their faith in. Rask illustrated some flashes of brilliance during the 2011-2012 NHL season, but he went through his fair share inconsistent play as well. Rask reeled off seven straight victories from December 10th to January 16th last year, but couldn’t catch a break after, as he went the rest of the NHL season without a win. Anton Khudobin might be able to relieve Rask if the latter goalie is too inconsistent, but the pressure will certainly be on Rask if and when the 2012-2013 NHL season starts. While Rask sported a .929 Save Percentage and 2.05 GAA in 22 games started, the Finnish goalie could have used another year as Thomas’ backup before he was handed the reigns to full-time starting duties in Boston. Rask might be the goalie of the future for the Bruins, but there will certainly be a considerable amount of pressure on the young netminder to be the goalie of the present, as well.

Colligan:

Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pittsburgh Penguins were bounced by Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs last year and it wasn’t pretty on the defensive end of the ice. The Penguins and Fleury allowed 30 goals in just six games (by comparison, Los Angeles allowed the same amount in their entire Stanley Cup run). Fleury guided Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2009 but hasn’t gotten his team past the second round since. This offseason, GM Ray Shero acquired and signed veteran co-starter Tomas Vokoun as a not-so-subtle wakeup call to his franchise goaltender. If Fleury struggles out of the gate this season, don’t be shocked if the Penguins ride Vokoun and entertain the thought of trading Fleury next offseason. That idea was impossible to imagine a few short seasons ago, but Shero knows Stanley Cup windows don’t last forever.

Neveau:

If you want to talk about a guy who is constantly the center of attention, and the compass that points his team toward greatness, it has to be Mike Smith in Phoenix. Not only is he the cornerstone of Dave Tippett’s defensive-oriented system, but he also has to deal with the pressure now of losing a scoring threat in Ray Whitney, meaning that he is going to have to step up in even bigger fashion. With (presumably) a new owner in place, Smith is also going to be responsible in a big way for getting a new era of Coyotes hockey in the desert underway in the right way, and that would mean making the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.

Angus:

Michal Neuvirth’s comments about his teammates earlier this summer may have been taken out of context, but that doesn’t change what he said. Not only did he lose his starting gig to Braden Holtby last spring, but he now has some amends to make with his current teammates. Neuvrith is a very good goaltender (he was the main reason why the Hershey Bears won back-to-back AHL titles), but he hasn’t seized the opportunity in front of him in Washington. He and Holtby will likely split starts until one of them delivers on a consistent basis. If that is Holtby, Neuvirth may find himself on the chopping block.

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Which NHL coach is under the most pressure?

Metter:

Mike Yeo. Since Minnesota got off to a hot start at the beginning of the 2011-2012 NHL season, the additions of Suter and Parise has put all eyes on the Wild. With a plethora of top prospects such as Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin potentially vying for a full-time stay with the Wild, the pressure will be on Yeo to set the correct lineup and make the necessary tweaks during the course of the regular season. Being the NHL’s biggest spenders during free agency definitely put the Wild on the map, but Minnesota will have to earn a playoff spot as they compete with the likes of the Canucks, Avalanche, Oilers, and Flames in the Northwest Division. After spiraling out of control during the second half of the previous NHL season, and promptly adding the most sought after free agents during the off-season, the pressure will be on Yeo to make sure his team is more consistent.

Colligan:

Guy Boucher. Another name we would’ve never expected to see on the hot seat, Boucher set himself up for disappointment after overachieving two seasons ago. The Lightning’s shocking trip to the Eastern Conference Final left nowhere to go but down and that’s exactly what Tampa did. Boucher has to hope newly acquired goaltender Anders Lindback can become a legitimate starter or he could find himself in hot water this season. GM Steve Yzerman is stockpiling young talent but reinforcements are still a few years away. Boucher has to find a way to win in Tampa now.

Neveau:

There is going to be plenty of pressure on guys like Mike Yeo and Mike Babcock, but one guy who could be on a very hot seat this season will be Chicago Blackhawks headmaster Joel Quenneville. He has to deal not only with a fanbase that is expecting great things after their Cup title in 2010, but also with an unstable goaltending situation, and a defense that needs Duncan Keith to look more like his Norris Trophy winning self, rather than the elbow-throwing shell of that guy that he has been. The answers to those queries will determine whether there will be a midseason changing of the guard in the Windy City, or whether another huge parade will need to be planned for the Loop this summer.

Angus:

The Washington Capitals have been a team without an identity ever since getting bounced by the Montreal Canadiens in the postseason a few years ago. Bruce Boudreau was fired last season after his player-friendly coaching style started to fall on deaf ears. Taskmasker Dale Hunter was brought in, and he drilled home the fundamentals. Hunter’s Capitals made it to the second round of the playoffs, so to call him a failure wouldn’t be fair or accurate. However, like Boudreau, Hunter failed to get the most from his star players, and he never was really embraced by the team (outside of a few players). Adam Oates is one of the most respected voices in hockey, and he was one of the best playmakers in the history of the game, as well. The Capitals didn’t hire him for his fiery personality or attention to detail like Hunter (not to say he doesn’t possess either trait, mind you) – they want him to get the most from the star offensive talents. The Capitals may not outscore their problems like they used to, but Oates needs to get the focus back on offense in the nation’s capital.

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Which player would benefit most from a delayed start to the season?

Metter:

At 40 years old, a delayed start would undoubtedly benefit Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur and the Devils made an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Finals and the veteran goalie could use a bit of extra time off. During the offseason, he signed a two year contract extension with the Devils and probably committed to a contract that he thought he could fulfill completely. After appearing in 24 post-season games, some extra rest would be useful for a goalie that played 1,471 minutes in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last time Brodeur put up comparable minutes was during his 2002-2003 championship winning season with the Devils. While Brodeur continues to amaze hockey fans across the world, a lesser amount of wear and tear wouldn’t be such an unwelcomed scenario in Devils Nation.

Colligan:

Jaromir Jagr.  At the age of 40, Jagr is going to need all the help he can get in Dallas this year.  A shortened season (likely beginning in late November or early December) would make the NHL season more in line with the 54 games Jagr is used to playing in the KHL.  Jagr kept up with Claude Giroux in Philadelphia last year until his nagging groin injuries started to give him problems around the Winter Classic.  He said he lost substantial weight in the second half of the season but that left him too weak on the puck and softened his wrist shot.  I think Jagr will train more effectively this summer/fall and will be ready to produce over a 60-game stretch when the time comes.

Neveau:

Older guys like Brodeur are obviously going to salivate at the notion of getting some extra time off this summer and fall, but one guy who could benefit quite a bit from a work stoppage is new Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. He is the youngest captain in league history, and even though it would be nice to get him into practices with his new teammates, the time off could help quell some of the furor, and the condensed schedule that will result from any stoppage will also keep his mind active on game action rather than having to deal with a bunch of practices.

Angus:

Ryan Kesler underwent surgery back in April to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder. A few weeks later, he had his wrist cleaned up in a more minor procedure. This is the second consecutive summer that Kesler has been rehabilitating from a serious injury (he suffered a torn hip labrum last spring in the postseason). He is one of the best two-way players in the league, and he relies on his skating and physicality to be an effective player. He was slow out of the gate last year after coming back too soon, and a delayed start to the season would remove the option of another premature return.

Kesler the good:

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Who is one player that will seize an opportunity this season?

Metter:

After signing an entry level contract with the Minnesota Wild, hockey fans should expect to see Mikael Granlund getting a shot at cracking the Wild’s NHL roster. Granlund is considered by many to be a future franchise player and the forward will take his invite to training camp very seriously. Many of Minnesota’s top prospects seem to be a couple of years away from being NHL-ready, but Granlund is definitely the closest of the lot in terms of being prepared for full-time NHL duties. The Finnish forward was drawing praise from his older teammates in the SM-liiga, and received quite a bit of playing time and responsibility in a league that is considered to be dominated by the older members of the hockey league. If Granlund is invited to training camp for the 2012-2013 NHL season, then fans should expect to see the young Finn run with this opportunity and do everything in his power to stay on the Wild’s roster.

Colligan:

For a guy that’s scored at a 70-80 point pace over the last 5 seasons, it’s hard to find a more underrated center than Mike Ribeiro.  A draft day trade sent the 32-year-old to Washington and Caps GM George McPhee finally filled that gaping hole at center that’s plagued his team for seasons.  Ribeiro will likely start the season in a second-line center role, somewhere he’s shown the ability to produce from in the past, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a crack with Alex Ovechkin at some point.
 The Capitals lost Alex Semin to free agency this season and need to make sure their scoring lines are balanced.  Niklas Backstrom is an elite playmaker but can disappear at times when Ovechkin decides to take over a game.  I’d like to see what the creative Ribeiro can do with Ovechkin.  If he gets the chance, I think he’ll make the most of his opportunity, rack up 85 points, and finally get the recognition he already deserves.

Neveau:

Rask and others will be looking to make names for themselves this season, but one guy who will likely be looking to take advantage of a fresh start in a new place will be Roberto Luongo. He has certainly worn out his welcome in Vancouver, but he is still an elite goaltender and could benefit hugely from a change of scenery. Whether that ends up being Florida or somewhere else, look for the technically-sound Luongo to have a renaissance year away from the intense spotlight he found in Western Canada.

Angus:

Brad Boyes scored 76 goals from 2007 to 2009 with the St. Louis Blues. Since that time, he has scored only 39 goals in three seasons. What changed? For one, he was traded to Buffalo, where his skills were wasted in a depth role. Boyes is an offensive player who is great at finding the open ice. In New York, he will get an opportunity to skate on the top line with Moulson and Tavares, replacing PA Parenteau. Boyes should be the odds-on favorite for the spot, as the Islanders don’t have any right wingers in the system who fit the position as well as he does (on paper, at least). He may not score 40 again (or even 30, for that matter), but expect Boyes to be hungry this season (especially with only a one-year, $1 million contract in hand), and he will benefit tremendously from skating with two highly skilled offensive players.

Have a great topic or question you want debated in our next roundtable discussion? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.

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