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 SEASON PREVIEW, 2016-17

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Morganwigge
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PostSubject: SEASON PREVIEW, 2016-17   Sun Oct 09, 2016 4:13 pm



The 24th FHL season is upon us. Play begins on Wednesday, October 12th. As such, the league has once again employed the services of FHL beat writer Morganwigge. Following is his take on each of the 12 teams and rates their chances of hoisting the coveted FHL Cup at the conclusion of the season.

BADGER BOB
FIRST SIX PICKS: G-D-F-D-G-D
Overview
The current trend suggests you don't win the FHL Cup without a solid defense. Second year GM John Chester took note, selecting three defensemen with his first six picks. The Bob's first blueliner could be the leagues best as Kris Letang was handed a Badger Bob jersey in the first round. Carey Price will anchor Badger Bob in net while Blake Wheeler was the first forward selected for Double B duty, nabbed by GM Chester in the second round. Other notable selections include John Klingberg (2nd round), Marc-Andre Fleury (2nd round) and Matt Murray (4th round).
Why Badger Bob will win the FHL Cup
Carey Price is the best goaltender in the NHL. With no NHL-worthy backup, the Montreal net-clogger will flirt with 50 wins. Kris Letang oozes offense and could supplant both Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns as the FHL's top d-man point-getter. With both Pittsburgh goalies in Chester's stable the Bobs will harvest all of the Penguin points, which will be many. Blake Wheeler was the NHL's 7th best forward last year, quietly amassing 78 points. Now in his prime, Wheeler will be even better in 2016-17 as he skates for an improved Winnipeg squad. Youngster Sean Monahan - 63 points last year - will finally achieve star status.
Why they won't
GM Chester rolled the dice in the first round, selecting two of the most injury-prone players in the league. The question is not "will Price and Letang be sidelined with injuries?" but "when?"  If GM Chester craps out it will be impossible to recover. No GM has ever won the FHL Cup after their teams first two draft picks went belly-up. Sean Monahan is good but unproven. Jaromir Jagr is good but old. With only 61 points in the year prior, Blake Wheeler's 2015-16 campaign might be labeled a fluke. Wheeler's name has never before been uttered in the 2nd round of any FHL draft, for good reason. Wheeler is a good player, not great - and good doesn't win FHL Cups.

BETWEEN THE PIPES
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-F-F-F-F-F
Overview
A balanced team is for pussies. So GM Miller suggested on draft day as the second year gunslinger selected forwards with his first seven picks. Jamie Benn was the first forward to be labeled a Pipe, nabbed by GM Miller with the 5th pick in the opening round. The six forwards to follow: Barkov, Panarin, Johansen, Eberle, Bergeron and Duchene. Keith Yandle was the first rearguard to don a Pipes jersey while the Between the Pipes net will be protected by after-thoughts Michal Neuvirth and Ondrej Pavelec.
Why Between the Pipes will win the FHL Cup
Many an FHL Cup has been won by hoarding forwards. The Wild Ducks have won seven championships - a lot of them the result of a pond stocked with early-round centers and wingers. Jamie Benn is arguably the most reliable point-getter in the league while Barkov and Panarin are both standing on the edge of "great." Keith Yandle could prove to be the steal of the draft. Selected in the 4th round, the power-play quarterback is now slinging pucks for the Florida Panthers. His numbers will soar. If goalies Neuvirth and Pavelec don't secure the starting jobs in Philly and Winny, no problem as FHL history has proven there is always a goalie to be had.
Why they won't
Beyond Yandle the defensive corp is paper thin. Both Goligoski and Gardiner have an upside but it's not a skyscraper upside, more like a two-story loft upside in a sorta bad neighborhood. In goal, Between the Pipes have two part-time goaltenders; neither tagged with the label "starter." With the bottom half of the roster listing, the forwards will have to bear the brunt of the load - a load that will be simply too heavy for the Benn-led corp to carry.

BLULINERS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-D-D-G-F-F
Overview
Patrick Kane was the best forward in the NHL last year, winning the scoring title by a healthy 17 points. That fact didn't carry much weight with the first three GM's as Kane fell into the Bluliners lap, GM Hamilton snagging the sniper with the 4th overall pick. P.K. Subban would follow as would John Carlson, Jake Allen, Phil Kessel and Ryan Getzlaf. Veteran Craig Anderson would later take a seat next to Allen in goal.
Why the Bluliners will win the FHL Cup
At 27-years-old, Patrick Kane is entering his prime. The windy city winger will be even better in 2016-17, producing numbers that will keep the Bluliners Cup-worthy over the long haul. It's rare that a first round selection is labeled a "steal," but that could be the case with P.K. Subban, the now-with-Nashville defender projected to enjoy a point-heavy year. Drafted in the 3rd round, former first-rounder Phil Kessel could also be branded a "steal," the Penguin puck-slinger arguably the league's best forward in the closing weeks of last season. Backstop Jake Allen is now the clear-cut starter in St. Louis and will pocket 40 wins.
Why they won't
Patrick Kane got off to a fast start last year, however his numbers over the second half of the season were merely good, not great. Alas, Kane might only be good; a designation not worthy of a 4th overall pick. P.K. Subban doesn't score enough goals (only 7 last year) and with other teams housing goal-scoring blueliners, the Bluliners simply won't be able to keep pace. John Carlson could fill the goal-scoring void but he'll likely spend more time in a hospital ward than he will on the ice. Jake Allen is also prone to injury and could also spend a significant amount of time on the shelf. In short, it's impossible to win games and accumulate points when you're being spoon-fed by a nurse.

BOULDER FLYERS
FIRST SIX PICKS: G-D-D-G-F-F
Overview
With his eye on a defenseman (both eyes actually) GM Morgan couldn't help but select a goaltender when Braden "48 Wins" Holtby unexpectedly slipped south, nabbed with the 9th pick in the first round. The Boulder Flyers quickly jumped on their defenseman horse, selecting Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Shane Gostisbehere with their next two picks. With the draft screaming "FORWARD!," GM Morgan harnessed another goaltender, signing Cory Schneider late in the 2nd round. Finally turning their attention to the forward position in Round 3, Claude Giroux and Logan Couture were each given an orange and blue Boulder Flyers jersey.
Why Boulder Flyers will win the FHL Cup
As undisputed starters, the tandem of Holtby and Schneider will combine for 85 wins; numbers alone that will keep the Boulder Flyers in the hunt for the elusive FHL Cup. Goals aplenty will be launched from the Boulder Flyers blueline as Ekman-Larsson (21 goals) and Gostisbehere (17 goals) should be even better in the new year. A first-rounder last year, Claude Giroux will shine once again to pace the Boulder Flyer forward attack. When it comes to draft day steals, there will be none bigger than Tyler Johnson. Selected in the 6th round, the now-healthy center - skating between Kucherov and Palat - will bag 80 points.
Why they won't
With no bonafide sniper, the Boulder Flyers won't be able to keep pace with the teams captained by goal-hogging forwards. Jason Spezza pocketed 33 goals last year but the Dallas center is also 33 years-old. As viewed in the rear view mirror, Spezza's best years are getting increasingly smaller. While the Boulder Flyers appear to be set in net, it'll be near impossible for Holtby to duplicate last year's numbers - while Schneider and his career .925 save percentage have never won more than 27 games in a season. Labeled "the next Brian Leetch" by some, the jury is still out on Shane Gostisbehere - a young defender who could be nothing more than The Knack, a one-hit wonder (cue My Shaneona).

CENTRAL RED ARMY
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-G-D-F-G-F
Overview
With the 8th overall pick, the Central Red Army were quick to select Vladimir Tarasenko; a greased-elbow winger who netted 77 goals over the past two seasons. Jonathan Quick was chosen to stand between the pipes while the first defender snatched was Roman Josi. Comfortable with an anchor at each of the three positions, GM Buker then signed Evgeny Kuznetzov, Devan Dubnyk and Mark Scheifele. Other notable selections included Sami Vatanen and Wayne Simmonds in Round 4.
Why the Central Red Army will win the FHL Cup
At only twenty-four-years of age, the best is still to come for Tarasenko. That "best" could place the shifty Russian on top of the goal scoring charts at the conclusion of the season. Both Evgeny Kuznetzov and Mark Scheifele are studs in the making; Kuznetzov finishing 8th overall in scoring while Scheifele torched the twine for 29 goals - many of them coming in the final month of the season. Jonathan Quick is as close to a sure thing as they come, another 40 win season in the offing. Roman Josi's game is still on the upswing, the Swiss sensation poised to deliver another 60 point season.
Why they won't
The lack of production from the defensive position will derail the Central Red Army's FHL Cup chances. Shea Weber held Roman Josi's hand for most of his career. With Weber now in Montreal - the apron strings now cut - Josi will be cast adrift. New partner P.K. Subban will hog the spotlight while Josi numbers take a turn for the worse. Beyond Josi there is little help. Sami Vatanen had 38 points last year while Colton Parayko summoned only 33. Defenseman Zdeno Chara sits on the bench but the over-the-hill veteran is more likely to die of natural causes before he benefits his Central Red Army team.

ICE CATS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-F-F-F-F-F
Overview
While not quite in the same league as forward-loving Between the Pipes, the Ice Cats drafted forwards with their first six picks; GM Cutshall opting for Connor McDavid with the second overall selection. McDavid was followed by Gaudreau, Kucherov, Eichel, Pacioretty and Kopitar. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov was inked in fourth round. Mike Smith would later join Varlamov in the crease. The first defenseman wasn't signed until Round 5. At the bottom of the FHL Bargain Bin, GM Cutshall found Ryan McDonagh, Nick Leddy and Seth Jones.
Why the Ice Cats will win the FHL Cup
Connor McDavid! Period. Okay, maybe not that simple, but Connor McDavid could very well be a one-man-wrecking-crew. If the 19-year-old Oiler can somehow channel Wayne Gretzky, in any way, shape or form, the Ice Cats will be competitive for the duration. Johnny Gaudreau is another youngster with a monster upside, the diminutive sniper collecting 78 points last year. The icing on the forward cake: both Kucherov and Pacioretty are goal scoring machines. The net is more secure than it looks on paper; Semyon Varlamov is only two years removed from an FHL record 148.5 point season while an in-form Mike Smith is backstopping a much-improved Phoenix team.
Why they won't
The last three FHL Cups have been awarded to teams with a very good defense. The Ice Cats defense is a wreck - and we're not talking SS Edmund Fitzgerald wreck, we're talking RMS Titanic - as the infamous passenger liner looks now - after sitting on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean for 105 years. Combining their numbers, Ryan McDonagh, Nick Leddy and Seth Jones collected just 17 goals last season. That's 10 fewer goals than Brent Burns scored all by his ownsome. In addition to a Swiss-cheese defense, the Ice Cats could be undone by a slow start. Kucherov and Gaudreau are unsigned - both out-of-shape after reportedly biding their time at Tim Hortons, gobbling donuts and drinking lukewarm coffee.

ICE HOGS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-F-G-D-G-D
Overview
A lot of fuel was added to the Ice Hogs goal scoring tank in the first round, GM Henry putting his faith in snipers Tyler Seguin and Steven Stamkos. The Hogs then addressed the other two positions, securing the services of Ben Bishop and Justin Faulk in Round 2; Cam Talbot and Dougie Hamilton in Round 3. Additional forwards weren't signed until the 4th round, both Jonathan Toews and Auston Mathews donning the red and blue threads of the two-time champion Ice Hogs.
Why the Ice Hogs will win the FHL Cup
Very few forwards, if any, are as explosive as Tyler Seguin. The 24-year-old isn't afraid to launch the puck, a fact that typically results in a bevy of bonus points. Steven Stamkos can be placed under the same header, the still only 26-year-old winger having scored as many as 60 goals in a season. Ben Bishop brings rock solid play to the table, the former Polar Bears backstop having a FHL championship ring on his finger. While Connor McDavid was the talk  of the town last summer, Auston Matthews has quietly slipped under the radar. The 19-year-old might be just be as good as McDavid, depositing 116 points in just 60 games for the U.S. National Development Team.
Why they won't
While Seguin and Stamkos will keep GM Henry's head above water, the franchise will be dragged to the bottom by a wonky defense. Justin Faulk doesn't have much of a track record. The record he does have involves a fair amount of goals and a fair amount of time sitting in a doctors office. Beyond Faulk, the Hogs will be relying on the services of Dougie Hamilton and Anton Stralman. Hamilton has the potential to be better than average but the 23-year-old is wildly inconsistent. Stralman's game doesn't have much pop, the Tampa rearguard collecting only 34 points last year. The play of Cam Talbot could also unhinge the Hogs. The Oiler backstop brought a little bit of everything to the table in 2015-16; some good, some bad, some ugly.

MISCONDUCTS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-F-F-G-D-D
Overview
Like a number of teams, the Misconducts jumped on the forward bandwagon early, GM Smalley selecting John Tavares, Joe Pavelski and Nicklas Backstom with his first three picks. Henrik Lundqvist was the first goaltender to be handed a Misconducts jersey. Two defenseman would follow, GM Smalley securing the services of Tyson Barrie and Kevin Shattenkirk in the 3rd round. Other notable inkings include Petr Mrazek and Jakob Voracek in Round 4.
Why the Misconducts will win the FHL Cup
There are few better forwards than John Tavares. The Islander wasn't himself last year but don't be fooled, Tavares is a point-munching machine. His seemingly points-every-game play will complement the goal eruptions of Joe Pavelski, an underrated winger who has scored 41, 37 and 38 goals the past three seasons. Jakub Voracek will earn a "draft day steal" label at the conclusion of the year. Understandably ignored in the early rounds of the draft, the hard-nosed winger is just once season removed from an 81 point campaign. Voracek will return to glory in 2016-17. Henrik Lundqvist will start 65+ games and is a lock for another 35+ win season.
Why they won't
Henrik Lundquist has little to no help in net. Both Petr Mrazek and Steve Mason are still scrambling to secure the starting job with their respective teams. If Mzarek does win the job, points aren't guaranteed as his Wings team will be win-hungry for much of the season. While the goalie position used to be an easy fix, with a 12 team league, a hole in the goalie boat can now capsize a team. The shallow depth of the defense will also provide GM Smalley with some sleepless nights. Andrei Markov is a fading star while Kevin Shattenkirk - having flirted with stardom - hasn't had much to brag about in recent years.

POLAR BEARS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-D-G-D-G-D
Overview
The Polar Bears rode a great defense to the FHL Cup last year. To ensure his defense would shine again, GM Elya used three of his first six picks to nab a defenseman: Mark Giordano, Victor Hedman and Aaron Ekblad. Prior to padding his defense, GM Elya grabbed Sidney Crosby with the 3rd overall pick. The goal crease will also be heavily guarded, the Bears filling the position before the 4th round, both Pekka Rinne and Brian Elliott signing a one year contract.
Why the Polar Bears will win the FHL Cup
Though maligned in FHL circles, Sidney Crosby is the cream of the forward crop. At only 29 years of age, Crosby is still in his prime; another huge season on tap. Erik Karlsson is no longer a Polar Bear but there is enough defensive putty to fill the hole. At 33 years of age, Mark Giordano is on the back nine of his career. His numbers however say otherwise, the puck-launching defenseman ripping 21 goals last year. Giordano will score as many or more in the new year, skating for an improved Calgary team. Pekka Rinne will contend for the Vezina trophy and could be this years Braden Holtby - a play every day netminder who will flirt with a 50 win season.
Why they won't
Brian Elliott was a stud in St. Louis. He could be a dud in Calgary, his true worth yet to be revealed. Victor Hedman's name has been mentioned in a number of post-season trophy conversations but his FHL tree doesn't bare Norris-worthy fruit.  Hedman's noggin is also an issue as a seemingly harmless check has often landed Hedman on the shelf. The forward depth, or lack thereof, will also derail the Polar Bears chances of repeating. Underneath Crosby there are a lot of holes. Zach Parise isn't a kid anymore; his health also cause for concern. Andrew Ladd instils a sense of fear in no one. Rick Nash is washed up and T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen are average at best.

SC COBRAS
FIRST SIX PICKS: D-F-G-D-G-F
Overview
The SC Cobras bring a balanced team to the table, the result of GM Murphy drafting two forwards, two defenseman and two goalies with his first six picks. Brent Burns was the first player to don a SC Cobras jersey, the ridiculously good defenseman selected with the 6th pick in the opening round. Corey Perry would be next, followed by Martin Jones, Drew Doughty, Tuukka Rask and Tyler Toffoli. A California resident, GM Murphy will rely heavily on local talent as five of the first six players drafted all skate for left coast teams.
Why the SC Cobras will win the FHL Cup
If you look at the numbers - both FHL and NHL - Brent Burns should have been the first player drafted. The forwardy defenseman blistered the twine for 27 goals and 75 points in 2015-16, a performance that placed him in front of every FHL defenseman and almost every forward. His San Jose team now as good or better, Burns will improve on those numbers, keeping the SC Cobras in Cup contention. Martin Jones is just getting started. A winner of 37 games last year, Jones should see his wins total reach the 40+ level in the new season. Goals won't be an issue as Perry is a lock for 35+ while Tyler Toffoli - only 24 years-old - will flirt with a 40 goal campaign.
Why they won't
The depth of the defense is cause for concern. Drew Doughty is solid but unspectacular while Tory Krug scored only 4 goals last year; a number than places Krug near the slimy bottom of the FHL talent pool. Tuukka Rask is a fading star. Backstopping a below average team, Rask won't eclipse the 30 win mark. With only a part time goalie on the bench (Antti Niemi) the goalie slot will eventually spring a leak. While a boat will still float when taking on water, it can't keep up with the others - and it certainly won't be fast enough to claim the championship trophy.

SILICON VALLEY SLASHERS
FIRST SIX PICKS: F-D-G-G-F-D
Overview
The Silicon Valley Slashers opted for sheer firepower in the opening round, selecting Alexander Ovechkin and Dustin Byfuglien with their first two picks. GM Murphy then turned his attention to the crease, signing both Corey Crawford and Roberto Luongo to one year deals. Round 3 saw the Slashers securing the services of Filip Forsberg and Duncan Keith. Taking a page out of the Badger Bob playbook, GM Murphy would later convince both Daniel and Henrik Sedin to skate with this Silicon Valley Slashers team.
Why the Silicon Valley Slashers will win the FHL Cup
Ovechkin will once again score 50+ goals because that's what he does. Few defenseman light the lamp more than Byfuglien. The 31-year-old defenseman has potted 20, 18 and 19 goals the past three seasons. With goals from the blueline at a premium, Byfuglien alone will keep the Slashers defense viable. Duncan Keith and Ryan Suter only have to be pretty good. Filip Forsberg will take another step toward superstardom and will eclipse the 40 goal mark for the first time in his career. Cory Crawford is a lock for 40 wins.
Why they won't
Alexander Ovechkin is human (I saw him bleed once) so sooner or later his production will fade. It could be this year as the stick-always-raised winger is now 31-years-old. Even if his numbers remain steady, Ovechkin doesn't accumulate bonus points like the others, the goals-only sniper collecting just 21 assists last year. Beyond Ovechkin and Forsberg the pantry is bare. The Sedin's are well past their prime while Krejic and Sharp are serviceable at best. Help will also be needed in net. Roberto Luongo is 37-years-old and Jarolsav Halak is one sneeze away from the disabled list.

WILD DUCKS
FIRST SIX PICKS: D-F-D-F-G-G
Overview
The Wild Ducks also opted for "balanced," drafting two players at each position with his first six picks. Erik Karlsson was selected with the first overall pick. GM Collard favorite Evgeni Malkin would be added to the Ducks roster with the last pick in the first round. Shea Weber would be the next player selected. Weber was followed by Taylor Hall, John Gibson and Sergei Bobrovsky. Round 4 saw the Wild Ducks ink Joe Thornton and James Neal.
Why the Wild Ducks will win the FHL Cup
The GM who drafted Erik Karlsson has won the FHL Cup the past three seasons. Not much more needs to be said. The fleet-footed, always healthy defenseman has recorded 74, 66 and 82 points the past three seasons. Goal scoring is not a problem, Karlsson depositing 20, 21 and 16 over a three-year span. Shea Weber is also no slouch when it comes to potting goals, netting 20 last year; 23 and 15 in the years prior. With the departure of Fredrik Anderson, John Gibson is now the undisputed stater in Anaheim. The youngster will start 65 games, winning 40.
Why they won't
Evgeni Malkin is a beast when he plays however doesn't play often enough, much of Malkin's talent wasted as he sits at home nursing injuries. Sergei Bobrovsky, like Malkin, is also good when he plays. Again like Malkin, Bobrovsky spends an inordinate amount of time on the shelf. When Bobrovsky goes down there's little help as Ryan Miller and Andrei Vasilevskiy are laying in wait. Dispatched by Edmonton over the summer, Taylor Hall's numbers will take a step back, the New Jersey Devils never known for their up-tempo, score-a-ton game. Joe Thornton is ancient at 37-years of age. Last season's 82 point performance was an exception, not the current norm.
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PostSubject: Re: SEASON PREVIEW, 2016-17   Tue Oct 11, 2016 4:53 pm

Great job Paul.

# # #

I know the risk with Letang. Clearly rolled the dice there. Hoping to get 60 games out of him.

Price was injury-free in 2014-15. So I am hoping he can turn back the clock to that season when he won the Vezina.

But I figure we can all agree that having your horses stay healthy is KEY to success here.
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