You've got pucks on the brain, so what better time to take your hockey questions off ice than Timo (Seppa) time?
Timo Seppa (Hockey):
Matthew Coller (Rochester, NY): Who is the best instigator left in the playoffs? Cooke? Pronger? Boychuck?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): This is a great question, making me think back to when my favorite instigator of all time, Esa Tikkanen tried to give Keith Jones of the Capitals (now Versus) a kiss in the 1994 playoffs.
Intimidation? I'd go with Cooke. After causing the injuries he has recently to both Savard and Markov, opponents have to be thinking about everything but their game when he's on the ice. And the guy is a useful offensive player, so he's going to have that much more room and success because of the intimidation factor. Annoyance? Pronger probably still wins there. Injuring potential? Boychuk's right up there with Cooke after his dirty stickwork against Vanek (please stop with the excuses on that one) as well as running over Ellis in the Buffalo series. Pretty darn close between the three of them.
robmcangus (Dallas): can the Canadiens do it two series in a row???
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Of course! The Habs are my pet project here in the playoffs, as I'm sure you've been reading all along. Halak makes a big difference, and they were starting to get healthy... The Markov injury hurts them more than Staal does to Pittsburgh, but at least it's close. Even though losing Markov will likely put a damper on their dark horse run at a Cup, the fact is that Pittsburgh's not as good as they were last season. The Pens were on fire going into last postseason after getting Gonchar back in their lineup; this season they've been a below average team for over half the season. I know...it's hard for me to believe that myself when I'm watching them. We're all brainwashed.
rawagman (Toronto): Timo - thanks for chatting - On an individual player level, who has surprised you most so far - for good and bad?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): I'll throw a few out there, stream of consciousness style: Thomas Vanek of the Sabres--who by conventional stats was having a down year--really showed how vital his scoring was at playoff time; Matt Cooke, for the intimidation and injury factor - but we knew his hitting was huge in wearing down the Wings last playoffs; Pascal Leclaire! for not being awful in parts of three games against the Pens; Hal Gill, for again seeming important at playoff time even though he seemed a questionable signing for Montreal. Negatively? Bryzgalov, for being hot and cold. Btw, I'm not surprised by Boucher...I'm sure that save percentage will come back down to earth over the course of this series.
Jmadeja (Chicago): Any thoughts on all soft calls in last nights Detroit-San Jose game?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): You win some and you lose some? People didn't like the hook on Vlasic for instance, but it seemed okay to me. Come on, Detroit should be battle-tested enough to beat this bunch of chokers anyway...right?
By the way, is Joe Pavelski clutch or what?! A team that could easily have some doubt creep into their heads with all that negative history is lucky to have a player like him.
Matthew Coller (Rochester, NY): Timo, if you had to drop one Sabres player, who would it be? I say Stafford goes first!
Timo Seppa (Hockey): I suppose you can cut the recently concussed Stafford some slack for taking the critical Too Many Men penalty in the 2nd OT of Game 4, that led to Boston's game winning goal. Sort of. But he was a generally useless player in the latter stages of the regular season and playoffs. Even overall, he was 10th among Sabres' skaters with a measly 3.4 GVT. But where's he going? He's signed for 2010-11 and an RFA after that...Can you trade him?
And I'll continue to defend Tim Connolly. If the Sabres truly want to ship him out of town, I foresee weeping and gnashing of teeth when he's a key producer on a Stanley Cup winner elsewhere.
R.J. (Washington, DC): What was the most important (and most easily fixed) Blackhawk problem Saturday? Can they be fixed before tonight?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): As you probably know, the Blackhawks were Puck Prospectus' number one ranked team going into the season by our VUKOTA projection system. They did not disappoint, coming within a few points of the number one seed in the Western Conference. They're a really strong team. But then again, so are the Sharks, Canucks and Red Wings.
Chicago's biggest problem could have been fixed right around...March 3, 2010. Like the recently departed Capitals, their most glaring deficiency was in net. To have a top 2 or 3 team in the NHL, missing one piece, and not take a win now approach borders on incompetence. Sure, the Blackhawks have cap issues, money locked up in Cristobal Huet, and a potentially good? decent? netminder in Antti Niemi, but how would you like their chances if you could have had Tomas Vokoun or Tim Thomas in net? Can you say Stanley Cup favorite?! Throw in enough young prospects/draft picks in a swap for Huet and Vokoun or Thomas and that would have been a done deal (And it would have been even easier for the Caps to pull off, given cap space).
For now? Chicago's going to make this a long series. The Blackhawks are--repeating--a great team. Luongo is good, but can implode. This looks like 7 games, one way or the other, folks.
Joe Thornton (San Jose): Why do I fall apart in the playoffs so often? Is there a tangible reason, or is it just a matter of time that I figure things out like Barry Bonds and A-Rod did in baseball?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Looking at post-Lockout numbers, Thornton's been an elite 1.26 point per game player over 406 games. In 49 postseason games...0.84 points per game. Ruh-roh, not a mirage. Joe's goal scoring rate drops to about half of his regular season rate, but the assists fall too. Got no magic bullet answer here, but I'd say it's both player and team.
Vandelay (New York): What is the chance that Kovulchuk sign with an NHL team? Prediction for his contract (years/total $)?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): It's been rumored for quite a while that the former Thrashers' captain has been looking for a multiyear deal for over $10 million per. The problem is that, while a gamer and even a leader, it's tough to tie down your franchise for years to come to an offense-first (offense-only?) player for his age 27-33 seasons. For comparison, Joe Thornton, whom we just mentioned, is a few years older, but producing more points per game; Kovalchuk's high water mark was 1.26 P/GP, as a 22 year old in 2005-6. That said, there's an NHL team that will give him a contract, at least close to the $ and years he's looking for. A team like the Sabres (not the Devils) should have killed to pick up his kind of a rent-a-scorer, and someone will bite the bullet for that type of need, long term. I doubt the KHL as it seems the Russian league has enough financial issues to only be attracting NHLers past the useful ends of their careers at this point. I don't see them making the Joe Namath splash here.
Bill Duke (Calgary, Alberta): With Washington and New Jersey out, are the Penguins now the only Eastern team with a chance to beat SJ/Chi/Van/Det?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): I'm going to keep dissing the Bruins...so watch Tuukka Rask lead them to the finals, a la John Vanbiesbrouck (.932 save percentage) and the Panthers in 1995-6. But they're not going to win three series.
I'd like Philadelphia better without the Carter and Gagne injuries, because their offense is formidable when they're on. As well as Boucher's played so far, the Flyers would also have a better shot with the likes of a Vokoun or Thomas picked up at the deadline.
The Red Wings-Penguins would be a fascinating re-rematch. I'd give Detroit the edge, now that they have Howard in net, but...
..I'm sticking with my pick of Montreal. It would be great if they could somehow get Markov back--though I highly doubt it--but you have to love the complete and mature game that P.K. Subban is giving them, which takes a small bit of the sting away. This 20 year old kid is going to be a great defenseman for the Habs for years to come. Read my various columns on the Canadiens - "They're better than you think". Nous croyons!
Matthew Coller (Rochester, NY): What percentage of the Habs win over the Caps was Halak and what percent was the defens? 50/50?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): As everyone's been saying, Hal Gill and Josh Gorges in particular have been great. Gill had 31 blocked shots in the series, while Gorges had 20 blocked shots - ranking 2nd and 4th through the first round. For what it's worth, Tom Awad has his "Conn Smythe watch" GVT's out in today's column - Halak leads all players at 5.1 GVT, though Sidney Crosby and...Mikael Samuelsson?? are right behind. To answer your question, there is a big defensive component here to the Habs' success thus far - maybe not 50/50, but close. Clearly...clearly...for the Canadiens to somehow win the Cup, Halak must win the Conn Smythe. I can't fathom another possible Conn Smythe winner should Montreal win. Incidentally, should they win...who gets the handoff of the Cup from Bettman, given the fact that they don't have a captain?
Timo Seppa (Hockey): Thanks for all the questions - going to cut this one short. Time to grab a quick bite to eat before tuning into the games tonight! See you all next time.