What do you think of the NHL's new playoff format?
Brad Denny: I think it's fine. Most importantly, they didn't do anything drastic. As is scientific fact, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best, so going with something major-expanding the field or just taking the top 16 regardless of conference-would have been awful. Instead, I think that the most deserving teams will still get in even with the conference imbalance, and the new emphasis on divisional opponents will add a little bit more juice to the first few rounds by basically creating a "divisional championship" round before the conference finals.
Carl Putnam (Alpha): I'd prefer they had gone back to a true divisional system, but at least there is improvement over the previous conference format. The old divisional system stoked rivalries over a period of years. I think this one will help, but not as much as the old format did. The way they've named the new format is going to cause unnecessary confusion for causal fans, but of all the complaints I have about the league the branding of the new format falls far down the list.
Carl Pavlock (Beta): While I would like to see it in action first before my final judgement, I do like it in theory. I think the wild card spots are cool, and to be honest, I don't mind the fact that a non-division team can advance and win the "division." I don't think it is nearly as confusing as people make it out to be, and I'm still not sure why people don't seem to understand how things work with the wild card spots.
Brendan Porter: I'm okay with it. I think they need a better way of naming it because calling them "divisional playoffs" doesn't really make things easier to understand insofar as two teams from the same division can make the playoffs. I do however like that idea, because there are certain divisions that are going to have better teams than others, and not strictly making it four and four increases the chances of the best teams getting in. Once expansion happens things will get much simpler.
Are Seattle and Las Vegas the right choices for NHL expansion?
Brad: When the league makes the expansion decision, something I'm not currently in favor of, Seattle is clearly one of the places that will get a team. Placing a team makes sense on a number of levels, with the one stumbling block being that meddlesome city council. As for the other location, I'm just not a fan of the Las Vegas idea. People continue to clamor for Vegas as a location for an NBA or NHL team, but I just don't see it as working from a market and fanbase perspective. It would be just another bad idea made on the Strip. While I'd love to see another Canadian team or a return of the Whalers first (relocation?), I think the best second fit for an expansion franchise would be Kansas City to balance out the conferences.
Brendan: There's very little arguing at this point about Seattle's suitability for an NHL franchise. It is a major league city with a built in rivalry with Vancouver. The fanbase there is also rabid for all kinds of sports, as anyone who's gone to a Seattle Sounders home game can tell you. I think there would be very little trouble in getting Seattle fans on board with hockey. The NHL would also love to have a Pacific Northwest presence, and I would love having an excuse to visit Seattle more often.
I'm not nearly as convinced about Las Vegas as a future expansion destination. The major problem is in terms of divisional alignment. The whole reason the divisions got reorganized was so teams would play more divisional and conference games within their own time zone. Detroit and Dallas had plenty of 9 PM and 10 PM starts local time when they had to go out West late in the year. That's not a good way to get people watching the game. Someone has to go into the Central Division, and Las Vegas is not in a good position for that. That leaves a few options. One, welcome Las Vegas into the Central and watch them play all of their divisional games one or two time zones back. Two, expand to Las Vegas and move the next closest US (because the league is not breaking up the Battle of Alberta) franchise to the Central, which just so happens to be Phoenix. Or three, expand somewhere like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or my dark horse pick, Houston.
Alpha: Without having the benefit of extensive economic analyses in front of me and if we are assuming the Leafs and Sabres would block any attempt for the league to add an expansion team in Ontario, then I do think a number of U.S. cities go to the front of line ahead of Quebec. I think Quebec is a viable opportunity, but it's on the fringe due to corporate and population concerns.
In a perfect world, I might prefer Houston and Atlanta. Both have metro area populations larger than Seattle or Las Vegas and have significant corporate interests headquartered in their cities. Atlanta has never been given a true chance to have a hockey franchise succeed due to ownership issues. The problem for both cities is there doesn't seem to be anyone interested in owning a club in either town at the moment. Therefore Seattle and Las Vegas make perfect sense.
Washington State already has plenty of minor hockey and the Pacific Northwest seems like it could easily sustain another team along with the Canucks. If the city builds an arena I suspect they will be the next expansion city.
Similar to Phoenix and the NBA, I've thought for years the first league which puts a major league franchise in Las Vegas is going to be extremely successful. If the NHL gets in first they will be able to build loyalty in a fanbase which is hard to match in cities with 3 or 4 major league sports franchises. The town now has the population base to sustain a club without a large focus on trying to sell tickets to out of towners.
Beta: There are a lot of factors to consider when creating a multi-million dollar sports team, so I can't say definitively if those cities are the right choices, but both seem to make a lot of sense and have a lot of positives with them. Seattle seems like it could be a slam dunk for a lot of reasons. There seems to be a real demand for a hockey team and business support for that potential team.
Las Vegas is going to be an interesting market because, while it does have a local population that will drive sales, it's also very much a tourist destination and I'm not sure if that will translate into a successful business.
When looking at expansion destinations, Toronto isn't going to get another team while the Maple Leafs are as successful financially as they are; they have a monopoly on that area which is good for them and the NHL. Quebec City is a possibility, but with the Canadian dollar down, I'm not sure it has the potential to be as successful as when there was parity between the two countries. Kansas City was a name that was thrown out for a while, but I'm not sure if the interest is still there.
How many points can Phoenix reasonably expect to pick up the rest of the way?
Brad: I think a safe baseline is 10. Games against the Devils, Jets, Oilers should be as "safe" as an NHL team like the Coyotes can get. On the flip side, I really don't like the Kings game the day after that Jets game, nor the Stars in the finale (although it's at home). Outside of the huge Wild and Stars games, I really think this team needs to come away with, at worst, three points on the Columbus/Nashville road trip. Anything less could make for a nervous time, while four could give them some breathing room over the tough final two games.
Beta: If the Coyotes got 12 points down the home stretch, I wouldn't be too surprised. I think the games against New Jersey, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Columbus and Nashville are extremely winnable games and should put them in good position for the playoffs. As dramatic as it would be, I don't think the team wants their playoff position to be decided on the final night against Dallas, so if the Stars start streaking, I wouldn't be surprised if the Yotes up their game and pull out a few upsets against the better teams like LA or San Jose.
Brendan: Good question. (Editor's note: Thank you) This team has an annoying tendency to play up or down to their opponent. The Coyotes play games against Winnipeg and Edmonton at home, which are games they should win in theory. Of course Phoenix hasn't beaten the Jets this year, and the Oilers seemingly give the Coyotes fits at home every season. I don't think it's unreasonable to say the Coyotes pick up 11 or 12 points down the stretch, which based off current point projections, would probably be enough to get them in. How big does that final home game against Dallas look now?
Alpha: They likely need 10 points minimum to make the postseason. I think 12 points is somewhat reasonable. They currently have a mark of 11-8-2 against the nine opponents left on their schedule.
Who ends up leading the team in points when it is all said and done: Keith Yandle or Radim Vrbata?
Brad: While it would be nice for Vrbata or one of the other forwards to end of topping the list, I think that Yandle will hold on to the team's scoring title. While Vrbata could go on one of his two-game scoring benders and put up six or seven quickly, there's just too many zeroes on his game log for me to have confidence that he will overtake Yandle. Given his success on the power play this year, I see Yandle notching a few more helpers to finish with 55
Brendan: Keith Yandle probably will, since he factors in on so many power play goals and the Coyotes continue to produce those at a prolific rate. I know a lot of people think of a defenseman leading the team in points as a bad thing, but when the Coyotes have eight players with 40 points or more, I'm not terribly concerned. Phoenix spreads its offense around, so a defenseman racking up assists is not a horrible thing.
Beta: At the end of the day, I think Yandle leads the team in points this season. Vrbata is great and I love him on the team, however this season really illustrated the fact that he is only as good as his other winger. Most of this year he hasn't really had the opportunity to play with top-6 wings, and that definitely handicapped him a bit with regards to scoring. Maybe now that he has Erat on his line, he will be able to produce more. But because he was cold for a lot of the season, I think Yandle has a better chance of being the top point guy this year.
Jaime: With nine games remaining, Yandle holds a three-point lead over Vrbata. I think Yandle maintains that lead, because he plays so many minutes on the power play, and finishes with around 57 points. I expect Vrbata to finish with about 54.