NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The 2013-14 NHL season is going to look a little different, in terms of teams, divisions and players, all of which have undergone major change. For the upcoming season, the realignment of the NHL is in full effect and there are new divisional names and a new playoff system.  The biggest change in the realignment is the shift of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. There will be new rivalries that were never able to exist in the past. The playoffs will take 16 teams, eight from each conference, and seed them. Under the new alignment, Eastern Conference teams, now consisting of the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions, will have 30 games against their division opponents and 24 games against conference opponents outside of their division as well as 28 interconference games. To start our season preview, lets take a look at the Atlantic Division.

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BOSTON BRUINS

The Bruins skated their way last year into the Stanley Cup Final facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks, but lost in six games. The Bruins had a bit of a wild offseason in terms of players coming and going. The Bruins traded young forward and former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars after a disappointing year on and off-the-ice. His return netted the Bruins a natural goal scorer in Loui Eriksson, who will likely be paired on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Eriksson has been a reliable source of offense, producing three consecutive 70-plus point seasons before a subpar shortened season last year. Gone are Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton, but Boston went out signed 36-year-old Jarome Iginla in place of Jagr. Iginla is on the downside of his career, but he should fit in nicely with Boston’s style of play. The Bruins also lost defenseman Andrew Ference to Edmonton, which is their only notable loss on defense. Zdeno Chara will continue to lead the Bruins blue line as veterans Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are dependable. Dougie Hamilton had an outstanding promising rookie year and could become a top pairing defenseman soon. Also in the mix are Torey Krug , who made a name for himself in the playoffs, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid  and Joe Morrow, who also came over in the Seguin trade. In goal Tuukka Rask looks to build off a career year and strong playoff appearance as he is now the long-term solution in net for the next eight years. If Rask goes down, Boston will be in trouble as backups Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg have little, to no NHL experience.  Boston should be the favorite for this division.

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BUFFALO SABRES

Buffalo is basically in a rebuilding mode as it has a very weak team and little depth on its roster. Thomas Vanek is the veteran and big name who is looking to lead and carry the team after having his most productive season last year. The forwards for Buffalo are less than ideal and more promise and future hope than what can you do for me now.  Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are two of Buffalo’s most optimistic players as the youngsters combined for 65 points in 2013 and should be looking for a breakout year in a full season. Mikhail Grigorenko, who was looked at as a promising hope of offensive production last year as a rookie, struggled to find his game and managed just one goal in 25 games. He does have the size and skill to be productive if given a full season to play.  Other forwards include Ville Leino, who signed a $26 million contract two years ago, who needs to stay healthy and produce as he has been nothing but a bust thus far. Buffalo will also have the likes of Steve Ott, who is used to create space and open play for guys like Drew Stafford who had the one of the worst seasons of his career last year.  Once promising youngster Tyler Myers, a 6-foot-8 defenseman, saw his minutes drop as he became nothing but a problem every time he was on the ice. The Sabers need improved play from him moving forward to have any chance of success this year. In net, Ryan Miller who many thought would be dealt last year, is back. Miller has been in steady decline since 2010 and his backup, Jhonas Enroth, didn’t look very promising either last year. It looks like it is going to be along year for Buffalo and fans can expect trades to happen and wins hard to come by.

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DETROIT RED WINGS

The Original Six team joins the Eastern Conference this year and enters as an already formidable opponent. Detroit has wanted this switch for years and it finally has it now, as it has a time schedule that is much more suitable for the team.  Detroit will have a much easier conference than years past, but still play top division teams like Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. Detroit was expected to have a down year last year, but went beyond expectations. Detroit has an abundance of forwards but is $2.5 million over the cap, which it will need to get down to before October 2. They added long time Ottawa  Senator, Daniel Alfredsson, as their top free agent signing as well as Stephen Weiss who will be replacing Valtteri Filppula. Alfredsson should be motivated to win a Cup as Detroit is a legitimate contender and practically quit on Ottawa last year after going down in its series to Pittsburgh. Weiss escapes a bad Florida team and can finally just be the play maker he is, and not the go-to guy he was expected to be.  Having Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg should help him finally be himself on the ice and see his creativity go to work. Darren Helm will start the season on the IR and has had trouble staying healthy. Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Mikael Samuelsson can all be depended upon and know what their roles are on the team. Their defense was a question mark heading into last season but this year, it should be a sound defensive unit. The defense is young, a change from years past and features Danny DeKeyser and Alexei Marchenko as players to watch. Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Kronwall are the veteran leaders on defense.  Jimmy Howard has a chance to be a top goaltender in this league and his playoff success from last year shows he can carry them deep into the playoffs. Detroit will be fighting with the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic this year.

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FLORIDA PANTHERS

There is not much to say about this team other than they are going to need a miracle to even sniff the playoffs this year. They have lots of high ceiling guys, but all offered minimal production. In 2012 they were the best team in their division, but are nothing more than basement dwellers now. They have the 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who is their top young forward trying to lead Florida back into hockey relevancy. They signed veteran Scott Gomez, who is nothing more than a wasted paycheck anymore, during the offseason and have invited goaltender Tim Thomas to camp for a tryout. Thomas took all of last year off and even if he does make the team, he is nothing more than a backup and mentor.  Florida is led by forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on the first line. As I said before, hope is bleak in the SunshineState. A few other notable forwards will be Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc as bottom-tier players.  Jacob Markstrom is expected to be the team’s go-to goalie and Florida needs him to be its future goalie. It’s going to be a long year in Florida, not that many will notice, as the Panthers have one of the lowest attendance figures in the league. Count on them to finish last.

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MONTREAL CANADIENS

The Habs didn’t really do much in the offseason in terms of getting better, as they only signed Danny Briere, George Parros and Douglas Murray. None of those three are expected to be game changers for this team. Montreal is banking off its late season surge last year, and feels it already has the necessary pieces in place to compete. Its division gets a little tougher this year but it has the skill and speed to keep up. It needs size and toughness which is what Murray and Parros are for. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque are expected to be the point producers while the bottom two lines expect to wear you down. Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Brandon Prust are very tough bottom-six names who can give you problems and chip in on the score sheet.  Montreal has a lot of depth on its team and remains solid overall. PK Subban will be his usual self on defense scoring goals and creating problems for other teams, as he is one of the best agitators in the league. Alexei Emelin will also be a name to look for as a key on Montreal’s blue line. Carry Price is signed for another five years and he has become a reliable goalie after showing signs early in his career that he couldn’t handle pressure. Expect Montreal to be a top 3-4 contender in this division.

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OTTAWA SENATORS

Daniel Alfredsson shocked a lot of people in the NHL by leaving Ottawa. It was a true blow to the fans to see the sides only $1 million off and not get a deal done. Maybe he didn’t really want to come back? Either way, it can be argued the Senators made the biggest offseason trade, going out and getting high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan from Anaheim for Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen. Ryan had been dealing with trade rumors the past few years and he can finally just relax and know it is over.  Ryan will be playing top-three minutes every night and has play-making ability to open space and make his linemates better. Ottawa fans should be excited about this trade because Ryan brings a wealth of talent to an already highly-skilled team.  He should be on a line with (who I assume to be the new captain) Jason Spezza. Spezza is a great passer and there should be a lot of chemistry between the two. Rounding out that line will be Milan Michalek. Kyle Turris will play with newly signed Clarke MacArthur and possibly Cory Conacher or Mika Zibanejad. Erik Karlsson is looking for another nomination for the Norris Trophy this year after being injured for most the year on a play by Matt Cooke last year. The Sens also went out and signed Joe Corvo to play with guys like Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips on the backend. If Craig Anderson can stay healthy, he is a Vezina-type goalie who should be able to backstop this team into a playoff spot. Look for them to be fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the division.

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TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Longtime face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier is gone. His offensive production won’t be missed, but his leadership will. This team is looking to rebound from being one of the worse teams in the league last year, something no one in the NHL saw coming. Valtteri Filppula was their notable free agent signing and was given a lot of money after a disappointing season in Detroit. General Manager Steve Yzerman believes he will have a bounceback year centering the second line with either Teddy Purcell, Alexander Killorn, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Drouin or veteran power forward Ryan Malone. My guess would have to be Drouin because he seems more like a natural fit for that line, However, if Drouin struggles early, could he be returned to junior after nine games? I could see Killorn on the top line after he was one of Tampa’s most productive scorers in the AHL. Head coach John Cooper, who took over late last year, should have had more time to establish a system that uses a combination of speed and skill. It could lead to a tougher time for the defense, but their strength is going to be on offense.  Tampa needs to be more consistent this year, after starting last year hot and then resembling a team that forgot how to play. It could score goals, but it could not hold onto leads. In goal, the completion between Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback provides no clear cut favorite for now. Both are big goalies and have the skill set to be number ones, but Tampa is usually a revolving door of goalies. I expect Tampa to struggle this year defensively, and be a brink playoff team thanks to its offense.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The Leafs have what might be their best team in more than 10 years, and they are deep with talent. Their top two lines will be Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk as line one and Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and newly-signed David Clarkson on the second. I love the addition of Clarkson to this team because he gives them another big body on the top two lines and has proven he knows how to use his size around the net. Kessel is playing for a new contract and as the old adage goes, guys in contract years are motivated and should produce. The bottom six brings new addition Dave Bolland, fresh off a Stanley Cup with Chicago, and talented Russian Nikolai Kulemin. Dion Phaneuf is the team’s best defenseman and had an up and down year last year, but was still a reason for Toronto making the playoffs. He was top 10 defenseman scoring and was often paired against teams’ best players. He may not be a true shutdown defenseman, but he knows how create problems for setting up plays. Jake Gardiner is also a defenseman who will be the Leafs go-to offensive defenseman. Toronto’s biggest concern is its overall defense, as it are often facing a barrage of shots each game. Shots lead to scoring chances and this is something it needs to improve upon. In net, James Reimer is the starter while Jonathan Bernier will push for starting duties. Bernier was the Leafs trade acquisition from the Kings in June and is considered a future No. 1 if Reimer is not capable of fulfilling his duties. I expect Toronto to be a playoff tean this team year, somewhere in the 5-7 seed range.

The Atlantic Division will see the return of some of the sport’s best rivalries with Detroit joining the division again, and it will be a fun division to watch. We are only getting started here at the Cover 4 with our NHL season preview, and tomorrow we shift our focus out West to the Central Division. Today, we will leave you with our three choices to secure the divisional playoff bids:

Boston

Detroit

Montreal

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NHL Season Preview Part 4:Metro Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 4:Metro Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

In  the final installment of our season preview, we swing back to the Eastern Conference and take a look at the newly formed and named Metropolitan Division. The Metro is a star-studded division featuring the likes Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.  This division figures to be the most intense, keeping great rivalries such as Flyers-Penguins, Flyers-Rangers and Rangers-Islanders together, while adding new, great divisional rivalries like Flyers-Caps and Pens-Caps. Let’s take a look at how the division figures to break down.

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CAROLINA HURRICANES 

The Hurricanes are one of those teams you look at on paper and wonder just why they were so bad last year? The answer is goaltender Cam Ward. He is the key to this Carolina team and when he went down last year, so did the team. Their top=six forwards are strong, and include two Staals, Eric and Jordan, as well as Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin. The No. 5 overall pick this summer, Elias Lindholm is also supposed to make the team. Offensively this team should be ok. Where it really went wrong last year was trying to stop the puck from going in the net. In the offseason the Hurricanes lost defensemen Jamie McBain and Joe Corvo, not that they were helping out much with the defense last year, and picked up Mike Komisarek and Andrej Sekera. The Hurricanes allowed the second-most goals last season (159), ranking at the near top of list of teams who faced the most shots. It is easy to see why this team was bad. Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Jay Harrison and Justin Faulk, all return and are not exactly names that make teams think they are going to be running into a lot of problems. The Hurricanes made some improvements to the blue line, but I don’t see enough of an improvement here to be talking playoffs. The potential to be wrong with that prediction is there, but I feel they did not do enough to help themselves.

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COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

Columbus is one of my favorite up-and-coming teams in this league and it has finally found themselves in the Eastern Conference where it belongs.  It has what is essentially the same roster back and barely missed the playoffs last year. It is in a much tougher division this year however, and will need to play its best hockey every night to have a chance at making the playoffs. With that said, the Blue Jackets will need to ride Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky throughout the year to succeed. Bobrovsky was practically given away from the Philadelphia Flyers two years ago and last year blossomed into what he was supposed to all along. He was out to prove many wrong, and he did just that. Their biggest off season signing, Nathan Horton, is recovering from shoulder surgery but his offensive production is expected to help when he returns. Marian Gaborik, who is in a contract year, will look to lead the team offensively, but like always with him, he will need to stay healthy.  Artem Anisimov was re-signed and is also expected to score and be a top-six forward while R.J. Umberger, Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are also secondary scorers. Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski are all veterans who can fill big defensive roles for this club. The No. 2 overall pick in 2012, Ryan Murray hopes an injury from last year is behind him, and he is ready to go for this season. If they can replicate everything that went right for them last year, the Blue Jackets should be in the mix for a playoff spot.

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NEW JERSEY DEVILS 

Who exactly is supposed to score goals on this team? Over the last two years it has lost any resemblance of a team that knows how put pucks in the net. The Devils lost Ilya Kovalchuk to his “retirement” to the KHL, David Clarkson to Toronto and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who was never really that great to start with. They added Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder doing themselves no favors trying to get younger and still being as equally goal challenged as before. These are hard times for the Devils as they are now owned by the NHL, and Martin Brodeur fades into retirement after this season. Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac get the call to light the lamp, but don’t expect staggering numbers. If one thing went right this offseason, it was finding an eventual replacement for Brodeur via Vancouver. Cory Schneider will be the backup, but he should also get a bulk of the starts as well. The Devils likely will have their worst season in years and finish last in the division.

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NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Over the last four years, it may not have looked like it at the time, but the Islanders were building a team with a lot of potential. Last year, that team finally came out. A team built from newly-named captain John Tavares  features the young talent of Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner , Kyle Okposo Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome and soon-to-be NHLer Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders are one of the fastest teams in the NHL and can hang and wear teams down over the course of a game. See the Pittsburgh series from last year’s playoffs. The Islanders should have beaten the Penguins, but go no help from their goaltending. Okposo had an awful year last year scoring just four goals, and will be needed this year to help contribute. The team lost defenseman Mark Streit, which hurts their power play but Lubomir Visnovsky can fill that role. Among their other defensemen, the Islanders are in trouble. There is not much there in terms of overwhelming talent and will be a weakness for them this year.  Evgeni Nabokov is 38 and played OK in the regular season, but his postseason was one to forget. Backup goalie Kevin Poulin provides no hope. Expect the Islanders to be fast and sexy, but I think this team needs some help on defense and in goal before talking playoffs this year.

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NEW YORK RANGERS

Out is head coach John Tortorella and new bench boss, Alain Vigneault formerly of Vancouver, takes over. Vigneault should be the right coach for this team, finally freeing the players from the defensive-minded vice grip Tortorella had on them. That means Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Derick Brassard have their handcuffs off and should be ready to fire at will at the net.  Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, two of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, will also have an easier time playing more to their game, although not much is expected to change with how they produce. New addition Benoit Pouliot is also an ideal third-line player and should be interesting to watch on this team as he can score if paired with the right players. On defense, Marc Staal is recovered from a career-threatening eye injury. It will be interesting see how he approaches stepping in front of a puck now. Also in that group is Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto who are all sound NHL defensemen.  Goaltending, we all know what to expect from Henrik Lundqvist, but with a less defensive sound team now, it will interesting to see how he responds. Expect for the Rangers to compete for the top of the division.

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PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

We hear it every year, they have the two best players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The team around them is built to win and score, as the Penguins were NHL’s highest-scoring team at 3.38 goals per game during the regular season. They lost all those shiny new “old” toys in Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray they acquired last year as well as gritty forward and fan favorite Matt Cooke, and Tyler Kennedy to a trade. Instead of going out and signing new players with high upside, they put all of their money into known commodities Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis. The top six will look the same, minus a potential rotating door of Beau Bennett  and Jussi Jokinen on the Malkin and James Neal line. Where the Penguins will really be hurting is the lack of size and grit from their bottom six forwards. Brandon Sutter and newcomer Matt D’Agostini will try to help with lower line scoring. On defense, they kept Kris Letang around, which is huge and signed defenseman Rob Scuderi, an old familiar face, back to the team. The Penguins are beyond loaded with organizational depth on defense and once again it should not be much of an issue (although it was during the playoffs). The biggest question mark is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who once again fell apart in the playoffs. He saw a sports psychologist during the offseason to help, but this is a make or break year for his career. Backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun is out indefinitely with a blood clot. Vokoun carried the Penguins through the playoffs last year, so Fleury will really need to be on top of his game. Expect this Penguins team to be at the top or finish second in the Metro.

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PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 

When I look at the Flyers, I see a team who has top tier offensive talent, but lacks the overall fear I would normally have in a Flyers team. There is no question their talent at forward is one of the better looking ones in the division.  Claude Giroux is one of the most talented and gifted players in the NHL and will be the team leader in points. Jakub Voracek had a breakout season recording 46 points in a short year while Scott Hartnell will look to bounce back after breaking his foot and only scored 16 points. Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read had nice years, while Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn need to improve after producing well below what was expected of them last year. Newest addition Vincent Lecavalier, who is replacing the departed Danny Briere, should be the second line center and if healthy, he will have a similar role he shared in Tampa over the past few years. On defense, the Flyers had more injures than they could have imagined and were never able to recover. Kimmo Timonen had 29 points on defense and Luke Schenn was nothing special. Their biggest addition was Mark Streit who will ease the pressure of Timonen and become the quarterback of the power play. Health will be a huge determent again as to how well this team does. It’s never the Flyers unless they are having goaltending issues, and always, they are. Gone is head case Ilya Bryzgalov, and a tandem of sub-par goaltending in Steve Mason and Ray Emery will be called upon to play well beyond their better years.  I expect the Flyers to finish either third or fourth in the division.

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WASHINGTON CAPITALS

The Capitals were the Southeast Division winners last year, but this year they join the Wild West run-and-gun Metropolitan Division  where they will need to learn how to defend.  Adam Oates needs more credit for revitalizing Alex Ovechkin’s career, forcing him to right wing where scored a league-high 32 goals and won his third Hart Trophy. Ovechkin seemed lost and many were starting to wonder if this was beginning of the end to his career as an elite player.  But Oates brought out in Ovi what he had been missing for the last two seasons, and Ovi seems to have responded. Mikhail Grabovski was a big pick up and should be the second line center after losing Mike Ribeiro. He has a scoring reputation that the Capitals love and top to the bottom, the Caps have four sound lines. Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom should have no problem putting up their expected point totals for another strong Washington offense. The Capitals defense is a big question this year. The big names; Mike Green, Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be fine, but it is the other three remaining defensemen who bring a lot questions. Green obviously will need to stay healthy, as this has become a re-occurring problem for him. The final three defensemen will be names like John Erskine, Tomas Kundratek and Dmitry Orlov. Erskine is the name that many will recognize and is someone the Capitals will need to perform as bottom type defenseman. The goaltender job is Braden Holtby’s to lose, but seems to have finally answer the call as to who should be starting. He had a strong end to his season, but struggled in the playoffs leading to questions if he was the right goalie. He is, but will need to show it was not a fluke. It can be said the team in front of him did not play well, but this is a team effort and he deserves equal blame.  I predict the Capitals will finish somewhere around third or fourth in the division, competing with Philadelphia for one of those spots.

As you can see, the Metro Division is going to be a tightly contested division, with tons of star power battling for supremacy. The headlines are there, the stars are there, and the excitement will surely be there. For our money, here is who we expect to receive the automatic bids out of the Metro this season:

Pittsburgh

Rangers

Capitals

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NHL Season Preview Part 3:Pacific Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 3:Pacific Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Today, we have our next installment of our division previews, and again we head out west, this time to the Pacific Division. This division should be one of the most competitive divisions, and solid goaltending is a theme for most of the teams in the Pacific. Another common theme of this division is the story of a successful regular season, followed by playoff disappointment. Let’s look at the ins and outs of the Pacific Division.

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ANAHEIM DUCKS

The Ducks, under the tutelage of Bruce Boudreau, had a surprising second-place finish in the Western Conference last year. But there’s a big piece missing from last year’s team. Bobby Ryan was shipped to Ottawa in exchange for Jakob Silfverberg, a very young and talented forward. Returning are veterans Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. Selanne has already designated this as the last season of his Hall of Fame career. Former Cup champion Dustin Penner is back in town as well, joining old friends Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf both of whom signed long-term deals with the Ducks. Defenseman Cam Fowler will look to rebound after a sophomore slump, and Bryan Allen and Francois Beauchemin will both be rocks on the blueline. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Ducks is the group of five young, extremely talented players. Forwards Matt Beleskey, Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Emerson Etem all had their coming out parties last season and look to build off of that. Goaltender John Gibson is possibly the best young goaltender in the game, and he may not even start the season in the NHL. Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller look to backstop the Ducks out of the gates.

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CALGARY FLAMES

Dark days are here for the Flames. After the very heart and soul of the Flames, Jarome Iginla, was moved to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last year, any hope for the Flames began to fade. Since then, franchise goalie Miikka Kiprusoff has called it a career. Defenseman Mark Giordano was named captain this offseason, and he is deserving of the honor. Veterans Lee Stempniak, Curtis Glencross and Mike Cammeleri will lead the way to a presumably awful season for Calgary. An interesting player to watch is Sven Baertschi, who enjoyed moderate success as a rookie last season, and he comes in with a pedigree. Expectations are high for the kid, but let’s be serious, the Flames top two goaltenders are Joey MacDonald and Karri Ramo. Yikes.

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EDMONTON OILERS

The future is now for this Edmonton Oilers team, and they need to seize it. It seems like over the past few seasons, we have come into the year thinking this is the year the youthful Oilers emerge, and we come out of the season wondering where it went wrong. Injuries to star players like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall have severely hampered Edmonton over the past few seasons, but inconsistent goaltending has ultimately sunk them. Unfortunately for Oilers fans, the goaltending situation has not been resolved. Devan Dubnyk has shown some flashes of his skill, but has yet to develop into a consistent NHL goaltender. The good news is Dubnyk is another year older, more mature and confident. The same goes for RNH, Eberle and Hall. The Oilers have high top-end talent with those three, supported by Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov. In addition to talent, the Oilers have taken steps to solidify their bottom six as well, bringing in underrated player Boyd Gordon from Phoenix. Gordon is the type of guy that excels defensively at even strength and on the penalty kill. You won’t see him on the power play unit, but he will log of ton of minutes short-handed, and he can pitch in the odd goal on occasion. Ben Eager, Mike Brown and Ryan Smyth provide the grit and toughness that the star players need in order to create space. On the blueline, the Oilers are very underrated. Franchise defenseman Justin Schultz looks to take the next steps in his progression, and free agent signing Andrew Ference will help solidify their top-four that also features hard hitting Ladislav Smid and skilled puck-mover Denis Grebeshkov. The Oilers could sneak into the playoff hunt, but only if they stay healthy and get consistent goaltending.

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LOS ANGELES KINGS

The beat goes on for the Kings as they should be in contention for the Stanley Cup yet again this year. Last year, the Kings lost to the eventual Cup champion Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, a year after winning the Cup themselves. There are many holdovers from the past two seasons. Captain Dustin Brown is the heartbeat of the team, and he brings it each night. He’s a true warrior of the game.  The forward ranks boast the skill of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams, supported by the grit of Mike Richards and Trevor Lewis, along with the power forwards Dwight King, Kyle Clifford and Jordan Nolan. The well-rounded group of forwards needs to find more consistent scoring, but the Kings do not need to find too many goals to win every night, as their backend may be the best in hockey. The defensive corps has some tight competition among their ranks as there are eight legitimate top-six NHL defensemen on their roster, led by franchise defenseman Drew Doughty. We know what it comes down to every playoff series, and that is goaltending, and the Kings have the best goalie in the world right now. Jonathan Quick nearly single-handedly won the Stanley Cup for his team two seasons in a row. His performances the last two playoff years have been as good, if not better, than those of Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur in the past, and Quick is still considered young. If the Kings can develop a consistent scoring touch, without sacrificing defense for it, they could be a dominant team in the league and should contend for the division title.

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PHOENIX COYOTES

It seems that financial stability has come to Glendale, and that should benefit the on-ice product tremendously. Phoenix hopes to return to the form of two seasons ago, and put a rough year last season in the past. Franchise goaltender Mike Smith has been locked up long-term, and that should make things better for the Yotes, as their success depends squarely on his shoulders. Smith battled injury last season and did not have the year he wanted in a lockout-shortened season, but he should be able to bounce back splendidly this year. Gone is Boyd Gordon, who is a vastly underrated player, but standout center Mike Ribeiro joins the club, and adds some needed skill. Ribiero will join Antoine Vermette, Mikkel Boedker and Radim Vrbata in leading the offense, supported by the likes of Martin Hanzal and captain Shane Doan. The Coyotes play a simple, solid, well-rounded game, and feature an abundance of players that play that style, like forwards David Moss, Lauri Korpikoski, and defensemen Zbynek Michalek, Derek Morris, and Rusty Klesla. Phoenix’s top two defensemen, Oliver Ekman-Larrson and Keith Yandle, rival any team in the NHL’s top pair. Goaltending will tell the tale of their season.

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SAN JOSE SHAKRS

Led by one of the best netminders in the game in Antti Niemi, the Sharks have the potential to contend for the division this season, but it stands to reason that the Sharks are skating on thin ice. For the better half of the last decade, the Sharks have put together great regular seasons, only to be ousted in the playoffs, without even reaching a Stanley Cup Final. Granted, it seems like every year they are eliminated by the eventual Cup champs, but no matter, they still lose. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are nearing the points in their careers where it’s time to you-know-what or get off the pot. The money the two command is extensive, but as long as they produce, that is no problem, but both tend to be streaky. Thornton is a power play wizard, dishing the puck all over, but is marginal at even strength. Young stars Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns are the future of this team, and have showed that they can carry the offensive load. The Sharks brought in a clutch playoff player in Tyler Kennedy from the Penguins (Kennedy has more career playoff winning goals for Pittsburgh than Sidney Crosby does) to help address their playoff struggles. The defensive platoon includes Cup-winning veterans Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart, and is supplemented by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Jason Demers. The story has been the same for the Sharks, regular season success, followed by post-season disappointment, and I see no reason to believe that regular season success won’t be the story again this season. The trick will be changing their playoff fortunes.

John Tortorella

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

The 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks will be a vastly different team from last season. Gone is goaltender of the future Cory Schneider, who was shipped to the Devils at the draft, leaving embattled Roberto Luongo to carry the load between the pipes. Bobby Lu’s struggles are well documented by the intense Vancouver media. Speaking of which, that media has their wet dream of a coach in John Tortorella, who swaps cities with former Canucks coach Alain Vingeault, who heads to the Rangers. Torts is a task master on the players, and often a little too candid during his media time. Torts will do what he does, and that is take the public pressure off of his players and place it on himself, while in turn upping his pressure on the players behind closed doors. It will be a big change, but after playoff disappointment after playoff disappointment, it may be a good change for the organization. One key for the Canucks will be keeping Ryan Kesler healthy. Kesler is a world-class player at his best, but has not come close to being healthy the past three seasons, spending an enormous amount of time injured. The Sedin twins will put up their points, and Alex Burrows will too. A lot of pressure will rest on David Booth, Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins, who will have to supply the crucial secondary scoring. I believe free-agent pick-up Mike Santorelli could wind up playing an important role for them by the end of the season, but he first needs to develop consistency. Kevin Bieksa anchors a solid defensive corps with the likes of Jason Garrison and Dan Hamhuis behind him. The Canucks, more specifically Tortorella, will probably still look to upgrade the defensive corps, but Torts has a way of getting a lot out of his young players.

We will see if the teams of the Pacific will be able to shake their ever-growing history of playoff failure, and match LA is the Cup win column. Thanks for reading, and please stop back tomorrow as we finish our season preview with the newly formed Metropolitan Division. For now, we leave you with our picks for the three automatic division playoff bids:

Anaheim Ducks

Los Angeles Kings

San Jose Sharks

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NHL Season Preview Part 2:Central Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 2:Central Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

In round two of our 2013-14 season preview, we are going to head out west, to arguably one of the tightest divisions in the NHL, the Central Division. The Central is one of the most different divisions after realignment as longtime division champ Detroit and the Columbus Blue Jackets have both been moved to the Eastern Conference.  In come the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars who are both going to benefit tremendously from their division alignment this year. Let’s break it down for you, starting with Chicago.

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CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

Well, not much to say about the Blackhawks. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they were fortunate to not have much turnover this offseason. The extended their goaltender Corey Crawford long term, and although backup Ray Emery left Chicago for the greener goaltending pastures of Philadelphia, they brought back Nikolai Khabibulin to fill that void. Viktor Stalberg is gone too, but the Hawks were able to resign playoff hero Bryan Bickell, and bring in rugged Theo Peckham on defense. They also retained crucial second-line center Michal Handzus who will attempt to offset the loss of long-time Hawk Dave Bolland. With a bevy of established star power in Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, along with the emergence of rookie Brandon Saad, the Hawks will be a force to be reckoned with again this season.

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COLORADO AVALANCHE

It is a bounce-back season for the youthful Avs, as they finished last in the Western Conference last season, and sported the second-worst record in hockey, earning them the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, with which they chose Nathan MacKinnon. With such a young team, the Avs certainly suffered from a lockout-shortened training camp, and the Ryan O’Reilly holdout didn’t help, nor did the extended absence of their young captain Gabriel Landeskog. Both are in camp and ready to go this year, along with MacKinnon and budding superstar Matt Duchene. Combined with gritty power forward Steve Downie, underrated winger PA Parenteau, and former No. 1 . overall pick Erik Johnson, as well as the Avs goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere the Avs should be competitive and fighting for a playoff spot.

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DALLAS STARS

The Dallas Stars will be an interesting team to watch this season. Along with a re-branded logo and image, the team that takes the ice will be quite different from last season. For starters, longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is the new bench boss. In addition to Ruff, their heart and soul and face of the franchise in captain Brenden Morrow was dealt to the Penguins at last season’s trade deadline, and his leadership will be sorely missed. In addition to the departure of Morrow, the Stars shipped perhaps the most underrated player in the league in Loui Erikkson to the Boston Bruins, but in exchange, they received Tyler Seguin, who has superstar potential, and Rich Peverley who will solidify their bottom-six forwards and their top PK unit. Jamie Benn had a tough season last year after a contract holdout that followed the league lockout. Benn will look to have a bounceback season, and my money is on him to receive the captain’s C to replace Morrow. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen continued his evolution into a top netminder, and will look to pick right back up where he left off. In addition, realignment has benefited Dallas more than most as they will now play in the Central Division, which will help TV ratings when the team is on the road, which will go a long way to financial security, something this club really needs.

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MINNESOTA WILD

The Wild enjoyed a ride back to the postseason last year on the backs of free agent signees Zack Parise and Ryan Suter (who finished as a Norris Trophy finalist) and longtime goalie Nicklas Backstrom. Unfortunately for the Wild, they finished eighth  in the West, drawing the eventual Cup champs in the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, and to make matters worse, their goaltender was hurt in warm ups of Game 1, and missed the entire series. The Wild will look to bounce back this year with the majority of the same team from last year. The loss of underrated center Matt Cullen will hurt along with the physical presence of Cal Clutterbuck, who was dealt to the Islanders at the draft for top prospect Nino Neiderreiter. Matt Cooke was brought in to replace Clutterbuck’s physical presence, and he adds a tad more skill, along with the highly skilled Neidereiter. They added depth on the blue line with the addition of Keith Ballard from Vancouver. Parise and Suter, with one year of leading this team together under their belt, will look to pick up where they left off and with second-year stud Jonas Brodin and longtime captain Mikko Koivu, the Wild will be right in the thick of it this season.

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NASHVILLE PREDATORS

The Predators will look to rebound after a disappointing season last year. Unlike last offseason, the Preds won’t be reeling from a free agency loss as they were with Ryan Suter. Nashville will ice a slightly more talented team than last season. Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen join the mix along with young star Filip Forsberg. First-round pick Seth Jones who surprisingly fell to the Preds at No. 4 overall in this summer’s draft, will be on the team and will add a dimension on the blueline that the Preds have not had in some time, and that is a legitimate offensive defenseman. In addition to the talent, Nashville solidified their character players by signing Matt Hendricks and Eric Nystrom, both of whom will go along way in a playoff series. As always, it will boil down to goaltending, and Nashville boasts one of the league’s best in Pekka Rinne. Look for Nashville to sneak into the playoff hunt again this year.

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ST. LOUIS BLUES

The Blues suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the first round of last year’s playoffs, but that shouldn’t sour anyone on this team. They still have one of, if not the best, goaltending tandems in the league with Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. Veteran Brenden Morrow signed late in the preseason at a discount because he believes they have a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup. Young power forward Magnus Paajarvi was acquired from the Oilers in exchange for oft-injured, yet talented winger David Perron. Franchise defenseman Alex Pietrangelo just extended his contract for seven more years, and center Derek Roy was brought in for depth. Agitator extraordinaire Max Lapierre was brought in to help provide some grit and sandpaper to the lineup. The Blues have a diverse line up of skill, grit, and speed, and should be another contender for the Cup this year.

New York Islanders v Winnipeg Jets

WINNEPEG JETS

The Jets will benefit from a vastly reduced travel schedule, and are arguably the biggest winners of NHL realignment. The former Atlanta Thrashers played the last two years in the Southeast Division, but now will play in the Central. It could be argued that the team’s late season breakdown last year was caused by the grueling post-lockout schedule mixed with their insane travel schedule. The Jets should contend for a playoff position this season if they can stay healthy. Led by Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets should provide a pretty potent offense. Bryan Little is getting better each year, and Evander Kane is a bonafide star. The acquisitions of Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi will help solidify the secondary scoring, and depth players like captain Andrew Ladd, Matt Halischuk and Olli Jokinen will help stabilize the Jets in all three zones, and youngster Mark Scheifle has star written all over him. Tobias Enstrom helps QB the power play and Mark Stuart is an every situation type of defensemen. Goaltending will ultimately decide the Jets fate, as Ondrej Pavelic has shown a lot of potential over the past few seasons.

The Central Division looks to be one of the tightest and most contested divisions in the league this season, as it always is. Don’t be surprised if the maximum number of playoff teams (5) that a division can send to the playoffs comes from the Central this year. With Detroit out of the picture in the Central, the throne at the top is vacant, and these guys will all be battling for supremacy. Thanks for joining us for the Central Division breakdown, please stop back tomorrow to check out the Pacific Division preview. For now, we will leave you with our three picks for the divisional playoff bids:

Chicago

St. Louis

Minnesota

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NFL Power Rankings: The Race for the Lombardi

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Well, the NFL season is almost upon us. In 2013, you would have to try really hard to avoid any type of coverage on upcoming season. This season looks to be a doozy (as always) with a bunch of storylines that are both extremely interesting and extremely annoying because it has been replayed over and over again (the Robert Griffin saga and the New York Jets sitcom).  Before I present to you my nfl power rankings, I should mention that the entire team’s preseason play had no effect on their placement. However, I do pay attention to individual performance and think that is something tangible that carries over to the regular season. So without further ado, here we go:

Seattle-Seahawks-Wallpaper1. Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks claim the metaphorical throne of the inaugural 2013 NFL Power Rankings. They may have lost Percy Harvin before he actually got to see real action on the field for them, but almost all of the teams in the top 5 have suffered significant injuries/suspensions before the season even started. Speaking of suspensions, let’s hope the Seahawks stingy defense stays away from the deer antler spray and other performance enhancers. Just blame it on the Adderall, though. That little tangent aside, Russell Wilson should look to improve in his second season at quarterback, even if he might not put up as good of numbers he did in his rookie campaign. This team is solid all the way through.

49ers-Logo-Red2. San Francisco 49ers

What a competitive division. I gave the Seahawks the slight edge because I think their defense is a little bit better well rounded. San Fran lost their safety Dashon Goldson to free agency and cornerback Chris Culliver to injury, depleting their secondary. Additionally, the 49ers are in a similar predicament with their star wideout, Michael Crabtree, who is also out for an extended period of time. I am expecting Colin Kaepernick to develop into a better, more complete quarterback just like Wilson. Don’t get me wrong, the 49ers are an awesome team despite me picking nits with their secondary. On paper Seattle might be the better team, but if these two teams come face to face in the playoffs, it will be a toss up.

download (2)3. Denver Broncos

I thought the Broncos were overrated last season. After having the toughest first five games in the league, they had a ridiculous cupcake-y schedule the rest of the way through. But this is 2013, and I think Denver is going to be really good. No matter how much Wes Welker has left in the tank, that signing was great. Their running game should be better also, because I think Manning knows the ideal times to rush with his amazing ability to read defenses and adapt. If he can make Knowshon Moreno look good, I’m pretty sure Montee Ball/Ronnie Hillman will be fine. The big problem I have with them is their defense. Even if Champ Bailey continues to defy Mother Nature’s aging process, losing the NFL’s second best defender (Von Miller) for six games is a glaring hole; not to mention the whole Elvis Dumervil contract disaster. Even though I like the Kansas City Chiefs as a bounce back team this year, the Broncos have a very easy road to another division title and possible first round bye.

Atlanta-Falcons-Fantasy-Football-Podcast4. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons just re-signed quarterback Matt Ryan, who is in the prime of his career. Needless to say, their window to win is now. The knock on Atlanta is that they can’t win the big game, which they somewhat proved wrong last year but not completely. People tend to forget San Francisco got just a couple more breaks to go their way to make it to the Super Bowl. Everyone knows how potent and capable this offense is, so I won’t go into that with much detail though I will say I liked the Steven Jackson signing. The offense will have to lead this team to the big game, because the defense certainly will not. They took a step back this year; losing their best pass rusher (John Abraham) and losing a serviceable corner (Dunta Robinson) which depletes their already suspect secondary. Asante Samuel is nice, but he can barely tackle a scarecrow. This team is almost a 100% guaranteed playoff lock, but it will be up to Matt Ryan to see how far they go once they get there.

download (3)5. Green Bay Packers

Notice a trend? The NFC is stacked. The conference has three out of the four most promising young quarterbacks in the game, and they also boast the best one in the league. Aaron Rodgers should look to have another MVP caliber season. Everyone knows Randall Cobb is the new breakout star, softening the blow of losing Greg Jennings to the division rival Minnesota Vikings. They also drafted running back Eddie Lacy, who unfortunately slimmed down after training camp and limited my ability to draw comparisons with my ‘Eddy Curry is overweight’ jokes. No matter, now that they have some semblance of a running game, this offense should be better than their 2012 version. Another NFC trend: great offense, mediocre defense. Of the four teams in the top five, the Packers have it the worst. Who knows if they’ll be able to stop the vaunted read option after sending all their personnel to Texas A&M to be better acquainted with that type of offense. We’ll see if they improve, but this defense doesn’t impress me.

New_England_Patriots6. New England Patriots

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Pats fan. But it should be known that I was trying to decide rankings it was basically a coin flip between them and the Baltimore Ravens, until I realized this was the regular season power rankings. The Ravens always seem to have the Patriots’ number, but I think New England is ultimately the better team. Everyone loves to talk about their offense, so you probably already know the details about it. My two cents: people are overreacting to letting Welker walk, and New England’s offense will adapt as they always do. Their rookie wide receivers will hit a few speed bumps as expected, but with Tom Brady under center they will be just fine. To their defense, real quick: I think they will be better than people expect. The lynchpin of this is Alfonzo Dennard, however. If he misses time due to violating his probation, it moves Devin McCourty to 2nd corner (he’s much better as a safety) and forcing either incompetent Tavon Wilson or unproven rookie Duron Harmon to safety.

download (4)7. Baltimore Ravens

At first glance, you think their defense has taken a big step back. Granted, they let Darnell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger go and the loss of their two defensive leaders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are obviously huge. But they still have Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata and lost amidst their Super Bowl run was the massive blow of losing Ladarius Webb early in their season. Additionally, the Ravens are known for having bench and situational players step up big when they’re promoted to full time. Know how I know that? Because Kruger and Ellerbe just got a ridiculous amount of money to play for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, respectively. For their offense, people are overreacting to the loss of Anquan Boldin. Not taking away from his fantastic postseason, but his regular season was remarkably average. The loss of Dennis Pitta is huge because he was Joe Flacco’s security blanket, but the offense as a whole should be fine assuming there are no significant injuries.

download (5)8. Houston Texans

Again, this is regular season rankings. I like the Texans, but they aren’t going far if Gary Kubiak doesn’t stop being stubborn about sticking to his offensive gameplan regardless of how the game is going. That aside, Houston drafted DeAndre Hopkins who should look to finally compliment All-Pro Andre Johnson lined up across from him. Owen Daniels is a good tight end and Arian Foster is Arian Foster. Matt Schaub is an above average QB. I’m not sure he can win you a Super Bowl, but he can certainly lead this team to 11-12 wins in a weak AFC South. Their defense is still above average, even though they lost Glover Quin. Ed Reed is obviously a big name but it is unknown how much he has left in the tank. JJ Watt will still continue to wreak havoc, which will always make this team dangerous on the defensive end.

download (6)9. Chicago Bears

I like the Bears a lot this year and will be a very strong wild card team (same division as Packers). I think Jay Cutler is primed for a big year this year for a couple reasons. One is that he’s in a contract year, but also he has a new offensive coordinator (and head coach). I’m assuming that means Brandon Marshall won’t be targeted 194 times, which is absurd. Everyone knows how good Chicago’s defense is, even if less intelligent people are convinced they won’t be the same without Brian Urlacher. He was a shell of his former self the last couple years, so it’s not that big of a loss. The biggest question mark of this team is if their offensive line can improve to even be a league-average line.

download (7)10. Cincinnati Bengals

Yep, the Bengals! Did you know they had the 8th best scoring defense last year? You already know they have Geno Atkins (who is threatening to be overrated because of how many people love to call him underrated) but they also have a solid secondary and an underrated linebacker core. However, Andy Dalton needs to step up in a massive way. This organization surrounded him with enough weapons to make it out of the first round of the playoffs at least, and if can’t show he has what it takes, this team isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The-Washington-Redskins-Whats-In-A-Name11. Washington Redskins

By the time I started writing this, Robert Griffin III is confirmed a go for Week 1. Obviously he is the entire key to this team, so let’s move on. Alfred Morris is a great story, but he is definitely a product of Mike Shanahan’s running scheme. Regardless, that is incredible value at the 6th round. Their defense is average, but they virtually played the entire season with elite pass rusher Brian Orakpo. Paired along side Ryan Kerrigan, this pass rush is one of the best in the league.

Tampa_Bay_Buccaneers12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I love this team. Couple reasons: Josh Freeman is in a contract year, and I think he has some serious potential. An overlooked storyline last year was that Tampa Bay lost their two best lineman early in the season, making Doug Martin’s already impressive rookie year last year even more legitimate. A certainly well discussed storyline was their acquisition of Darrelle Revis, a trade I would make 100 times out of 100. Also they signed Dashon Goldson, albeit at a pretty high clip but give them credit for fixing the weakest spot on their team.

download (9)13. New Orleans Saints

Man, another stacked conference in the NFC. Sean Payton is going to make a huge difference to this team and Drew Brees and all his awesomeness doesn’t need to be rehashed here. This defense is pretty miserable, but I am also pretty confident that their offense will be able to cover for their mistakes and missteps.

 

new_york_giants_wallpaper_by_pasar3-d2xuv6014. New York Giants

The reason this team isn’t higher is because they are not a good a regular season team, historically. Eli Manning will be his normal, hot & cold self. This defense, who has an above average defense line and secondary, also has an atrocious linebacker core that could end up being their Achilles heel.

 

download (8)15. Indianapolis Colts

This team is a popular pick for a regression season, for good reason. They exceeded their Pythagorean expectation by 3.8 wins (you can read more about that here) and should fall into the 8-8, maybe 9-7 category. Pushing stats aside though, this team does have a fight in them, winning numerous close games last year because Andrew Luck is the real deal. Despite the evidence pointing towards a regression, they certainly didn’t help their case by making questionable free agent signings (Erik Walden and the marshmellow man LaRon Landry)

images16. Kansas City Chiefs

Alas, we are halfway through the rankings. Are you surprised by my pick of the Chiefs? Don’t be, I think this team is legit. Everyone points to the Andy Reid signing as a big event, which it is, but I think this is a secondary point. The upgrade from the Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn debacle to slightly above average Alex Smith could be potentially huge (as Bill Barnwell explains). Besides, he has Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe. The defense is really good also, their 2-13 record was more of a product of their quarterback play, or lackthereof.

17. Minnesota Vikings minnesota-vikings

The Vikings season hinges on Christian Ponder. He’s a tough read as a signal caller, considering Minnesota handedly beat Green Bay last year as Ponder scored all their touchdowns that game. And then there’s the other Ponder that we are typically used to. He doesn’t have Percy Harvin this year, who was an early MVP candidate before he got hurt. Adrian Peterson is great, but there is almost no way he replicates his year from last year. For the defense, long time cornerback Antoine Winfield isn’t there anymore, and their linebacking core is spotty. We’ll see if they hold up.

download18. Dallas Cowboys

Ah yes, the Cowboys. What a miserably run franchise. Anywho, let’s push their playoff drought out of our minds for a second and focus on the regular season. Although the new 100 million man Tony Romo led the league in interceptions last year, he also led the league in comebacks in 4th quarter with five. Jason Witten is still his same old All-Pro self, and Dez Bryant is emerging as a legitimate top 5 wideout. Their defense is another story, though. Sean Lee is back, who is an underrated linebacker. DeMarcus Ware is also a premier pass rusher, but that’s where the praise stops. The rest of this defense is bloated with bad contracts and replacement level players at critical positions. I think America’s Team misses the playoffs again this year though.

Pittsburgh-Steelers-Emblem19. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are one or two seasons away from being a full blown mess. We saw last year how abysmal they can be without Ben Roethlisberger, and even if I believe that Mike Wallace is badly overrated his loss is still big. As of right now, Heath Miller is on the PUP list also; a favorite target of Big Ben’s in the redzone. Can Emmanuel Sanders be a number one receiver? I don’t think so, but Steelers fans should certainly hope so. Even worse than their offense is their rapidly aging defense. Troy Polamalu is a shell of his former self and their once feared linebacker group is also showing its age. Bad times this year, but even worse years in the future for the Steel Curtain.

St_Louis_Rams20. St. Louis Rams

I like the Rams, but they are stuck in a very good division. Tavon Austin is as safe of a bet as you can get for a rookie playmaker, but we know what we’re getting with Sam Bradford: a slightly above average quarterback. Their running game has the chance to be good or be really bad with two young guns platooning.

 

Miami-Dolphins21. Miami Dolphins

Miami went on a big spending spree this offseason, paying big bucks to the previously mentioned Wallace and Ellerbe. Interesting decisions to say the least, because they let Reggie Bush walk to free agency and he was big for them last year. Their defense is better than people give them credit for; Cameron Wake is a beast but they did lose Sean Smith, a pretty reliable cornerback.

DetroitLions22. Detroit Lions

The Lions were absolutely putrid last year for all the talent they have. Obviously we all know about Charles Rogers Roy Williams Mike Williams Calvin Johnson, but they also finally got a running back (Bush) to help out Matt Stafford. Their defensive line is awesome but the rest of their defense is pretty bleak. This team doesn’t move up in the rankings until they smarten up and stop taking dumb unsportsmanlike conduct penalities.

Carolina_Panthers23. Carolina Panthers

This is a tricky team. As always, their success or lack thereof depends on their quarterback, Cam Newton. The talent is there, but the intangibles are not. He’s not a leader on the field, and that inevitably grounds the Panthers from being successful. On top of that, this team is bloated with bad contracts and that hinders them from being more successful. Like Newton, you can see the potential in this team but it isn’t going to come to fruition this year.

download (1)24. Philadelphia Eagles

Oh boy. I don’t necessarily hate the Eagles, but I know a lot of people like to make a hobby out of it. I will admit though they deserve everything they got last year, after that bonehead Vince Young painted a target on his team’s back with the “dynasty talk”. The nightmare of Nnamdi Asomugha is over, but their defense is still awful. Worse yet, that’s not even their Achilles heel. That would be their offensive line; and if it’s not improved this team is going absolutely nowhere. Chip Kelly is probably a good offensive coach, but if the line can’t block it doesn’t matter what offense he has the Eagles run.

arizona-cardinals125. Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals’ record this year will not reflect the talent of this team because the division they are in is so good. But much like the Chiefs, the fact that even a competent quarterback is under center instead of the train wreck of last year is a big jump. However, the Chiefs have a great offensive line while the Cardinals are the complete opposite. Arizona’s defense is top notch, and will keep them in a lot of games and not force Carson Palmer to play above his talent level.

Tennessee_Titans26. Tennessee Titans

As we get to the bottom feeders of the NFL, you start to see a pattern. Much like the Panthers, this team has some bad contracts. Chris Johnson is a good running back, but I can assure you he’s not worth $13 million a year. The Shonn Greene signing was just an atrocious decision, excuse me because I just threw up my lunch thinking about it. I like Jake Locker as a QB, but he’ll never be anything more than a league average signal caller.

Cleveland_Browns_PHelmet27. Cleveland Browns

Surprisingly, Brandon Weeden had a pretty good end of the year last year. I’m not trying to vouch for him, because anytime you can draft a 29 year old quarterback in the first round you have to pull the trigger (kidding). Regardless, they’re under new management and are off to a solid start. They admittedly overpaid for Paul Kruger; but when you are the Browns you don’t have much say in free agents to start rebuilding with.

SanDiegoChargers28. San Diego Chargers

Alright, last five. Philip Rivers fell off the map fast, and the team did as well. Ryan Mathews is a walking porcelain doll, and despite some well known names, the wide receivers produced terribly last year. Their defense is entirely forgettable save for Eric Weddle who is criminally underrated. Thank me later for sparing you a Manti Te’o joke.

 

Buffalo_Bills29. Buffalo Bills

Not much to say here. Their pick of EJ Manuel was curious, but it wasn’t as preposterous as people made it out to be. CJ Spiller is a nice player, but I am dubious of him replicating his great year last year. Their defense has some bright spots (Mario Williams and Jairus Byrd) but as a whole the unit is below average.

 

NewYorkJets30. New York Jets

I hope everyone is as sick of the Jets as I am, so let’s power through this. The Jets are straight up awful. A once respectable defense has lost their top cornerback, and they resigned above average players to salaries that paid them like stars. Now they’re old and slow and overpaid with no end in sight. Obviously it gets worse, because their offense is almost impossible to watch. Everyone loves to bash Mark Sanchez; but seriously can New York throw him a bone and get him some weapons to work with? They’re under the impression that Santonio Holmes is actually good, and Dustin Keller (Sanchez’s security blanket) is gone. This is going to be another miserable season for them.

Jacksonville_Jaguars31. Jacksonville Jaguars

This is Blaine Gabbert’s year. If he’s successful, then it will be his job for the future. If he plays like, well, Blaine Gabbert, then we’ll probably be seeing Teddy Bridgewater suit up for the Jags next season. Besides that little storyline, I can’t think of one other topic involved with this team that warrants a mention.

 

oakland-raiders32. Oakland Raiders

Jadeveon Clowney, step right up! God, where to start? By all accounts Matt Flynn should be charged for robbery because his 480 yards 6 TD passes on the Packers was the biggest fluke of the century. So Terrelle Pryor step right up as the Raiders QB? Sorry you are being subjected to this. All joking aside, GM Reggie McKenzie is doing the best he can, by signing cheap veteran players and rebuilding through the draft which is the right way to do it. This team is going to be bad for a while, but if McKenzie can push all the right buttons, relevance could be in the future for Raider Black.

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So that concludes the 2013 NFL Power Rankings. There was some praise for the top organizations, but definitely more uncalled for jokes about teams. The NFL is the definition of parity so after a couple weeks there could be some major moves either up or down on this list. Anyways, let’s hope this upcoming season is one to remember and thanks for reading.

 

 

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Your Quarterback is Which Actor?

Your Quarterback is Which Actor?

There are always comparisons between quarterbacks, ranging from Andrew Luck to Peyton Manning or RG3 to Cam Newton. It is quite popular to compare an incumbent to their contemporaries to paint a picture to the public for the future.

Are we going to do that here?  Nope.  In lieu of comparing current NFL quarterbacks to their predecessors, we are going to compare them to actors.  Yes, actors.

For a little appetizer, think of Jamarcus Russell like Lindsay Lohan with all the potential and tools, but caught up in out-of-work trouble. Purple Drink!

Here we go:

NFC East

Eli Manning – Joaquin Phoenix

Both are extremely eclectic people that find ways to put on great performances in crucial times.  They are recognized as the most important person in their biggest career moments.  In Gladiator, Phoenix supported the role of Russell Crowe, much like Manning managed the Giants to their first Super Bowl win.  Next, each person rose to the starring role with Manning guiding the Giants over the Patriots for a second time and Phoenix presenting a remarkable performance in Walk the Line.

Tony Romo – Mark Wahlberg

Ever see someone begin from nothing but, when given their first shot, show such immense potential? Much like Romo, Wahlberg began great with the Italian Job, and continued to show prominence in Invincible and Shooter, but follows up with Ted and The Other Guys.  It is head scratching as much as Tony Romo, but it is undeniable that both men expose themselves to seriously low moments in their career that make you question them.

Michael Vick & Nick Foles – Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker

We have a flashy stunt man, who really does not know how to hone or master his craft (whether it be either acting or quarterbacking).  Their counterpart is serviceable, by carrying the traditional acting techniques, and although either are unproven or average, both Tucker and Foles show flashes of having potential.  Ultimately, neither actor nor quarterback is taken seriously in their profession.

Robert Griffin III – Justin Timberlake

Each person was successful in the early phase of their career, and transferred that into the next level of exposure and immediately succeeded.  RG3 won the Heisman at Baylor and JT went from the front man of Nsync to a prominent solo music career.  At their transition phases, RG3 led his Redskins to the playoffs in his rookie year, and Justin hit the big screen with a splash in The Social Network.  Great things are still to come from these two.

NFC North

Aaron Rodgers – Leonardo DiCaprio

Both of these men are at the top of their respective profession right now and are a must see on the big screen or the football field.  Rodgers continues to get better and better playing the position at such a consistent high level.  Concurrently, Leo manages to remain in elevated form by rolling out Catch Me If You Can, The Departed and Inception just to name a few.

Jay Cutler – Robert Downey Jr.

The overall “I don’t give a $h*!” attitude resemblance between these two is very uncanny.  At the same time, when focused and motivated, Downey and Cutler can put together stretches of absolute brilliance that remind you they are formidable in their respective fields.

Christian Ponder – Josh Hartnett

Essentially, both of these men peaked way too early.  Ponder was drafted well before he should have ever been considered and Hartnett has been on a steady decline since Black Hawk Down.  However, they both have capabilities to present manageable performances with Ponder being efficient and Hartnett with 40 Days and 40 Nights.

Matthew Stafford – Ben Affleck

Affleck and Stafford flourish with talent around them and in the right setting.  Stafford has been fortunate to have Calvin Johnson and numerous weapons to generate his massive yardage seasons.  As much as Affleck has captured us with Good Will Hunting and The Town, he has released some big flops like Gigli and Daredevil, resembling the disgusting sidearm sling Matthew Stafford continually resorts to.

 NFC South

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Matt Ryan – Jeremy Renner

Matt Ryan revitalized a struggling franchise with his first NFL pass going for a touchdown and he has not looked back since.  The same can be said for Jeremy Renner, who really hit us with The Hurt Locker and continued to get better with The Town.  Each of these men is on the rise and aimed for greatness with their professions.

Cam Newton – Gerard Butler

Utterly mind-blowing physical specimens from their initial roles from 300 or Cam’s rookie year, but their dropoff cannot be argued.  It seems both get complacent with their initial success, and relies on their physical tools rather than developing their craft.

Drew Brees – Brad Pitt

Brees’ career began very prominent and flashy in San Diego, which is very reminiscent of Brad Pitt in Fight Club.  Although, each of them went through a dry spell or injury span, they both developed their potential into either a Super Bowl winner or hits with Benjamin Button and Inglorious Bastards.

Josh Freeman – Chris Hemsworth

The physical traits of both men naturally set them above the rest from the beginning. Additionally, they have displayed moments of brilliance in key moments.  Hemsworth separated himself from the bottom feeders of the comic remake world, and lined up multiple runs of Thor.  Freeman has shown to be more than clutch in critical moments leading the volatile Bucs to come from behind wins and fourth quarter drives.

 NFC West

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 12.44.04 AM

Alex Smith & Colin Kaepernick – Tobey Maguire & Jesse Eisenberg

Smith came in as a number one overall pick with the expectations to revive a franchise, but failed to do so.  The same result can be seen from Tobey Maguire’s attempt at the Spiderman series; an utter disaster.  Maguire was capable of carrying a movie throughout with Pleasantville or Seabiscuit, but failed to present anything spectacular.  Conversely, Colin Kaepernick has come in a thrived as an absolute star much like Eisenberg in The Social Network.  Look for both Kaepernick and Eisenberg to entertain us for the next generation of professionals.

Russell Wilson – Joseph Gordon Levitt

Levitt’s respectable beginning in TV started with 3rd Rock from the Sun and that can be comparable to Wilson’s stint in minor league baseball, but their adaptation to the professional level has better utterly amazing.  Whether it be Inception, Looper, or leading a Seahawks franchise to the playoffs with utter poise and composure; both of these future stars will be around for a long time to come.

Sam Bradford – Chris Pine Can

Chris Pine showed he was capable of supporting Denzel Washington in Unstoppable and left the public wanting more for the recreated Star Trek franchise.  Similar to Pine, when Bradford gets comfortable and gains weapons around him, the Rams will continue their positive direction to a reputable franchise again.

Kevin Kolb & Crew – Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell

Coach put Uncle Rico in and we saw how that went….

 AFC East

Tom Brady – Denzel Washington

Thriving in roles with good looks and masterful performances symbolizes these two dynamic personalities perfectly.  Denzel began his career being acclaimed in a supporting role and prospered into a top leading man for an extended duration from Training Day to recently released Flight.  Brady stepped in for an injured Drew Bledsoe and never looked back creating a decade of dominance for the New England Patriots.

Ryan

Ryan Tannehill – Zac Efron

With a limited sample size with one year in college and a rookie NFL year, Ryan Tannehill has shown to have immense potential with absolutely no talent around him.  Looking past Efron’s High School Musical days, he has displayed some notable performances with 17 Again and Charlie St. Cloud by showing he can exceed expectations and carry a movie throughout.  It is early, but both Tannehill and Efron have shown glimpses of having a reputable future in their industries.  Plus have you seen their girl friends or wife?  Bonus points!

Ryan Fitzpatrick – Vince Vaughn

Vince Vaughn’s natural sarcastic humor resembles the intelligence of a Harvard graduate like Fitzpatrick.  Essentially both are serviceable in their industry with spotty high moments, but won’t produce anything award winning.

Mark Sanchez – Colin Farrell

They try so hard but it does not work.  We can equate SWAT to Sanchez’s early years with nice playoffs runs, but it has been a steep decline ever since.  Sanchez tried to be an efficient manager but failed.  Farrell tried to match Brad Pitt’s Troy with Alexander, but that was a disaster.  They will remain in their industries, but will never prevail to anything special.

 AFC North

JoeJoe Flacco – Matt Damon

Damon’s character in the Ocean’s Eleven series represents Flacco beyond a reasonable doubt.  Damon struggled to be acknowledged as a main contributor, but gradually was given more respect as each movie continued.  At the same time, Damon carried an entertaining Bourne series for almost a decade and, although it wasn’t award winning, it was very entertaining.  Flacco has shown utter moments of brilliance in big moments, much like Damon in Good Will Hunting and The Departed.

Andy

Andy Dalton – John Cho

You may know Cho has Harold from the Harold and Kumar series, but he quietly has strung together a few noteworthy performances with American Beauty and Star Trek.  He looks to still be a constant within the revitalized Star Trek series, resembling Dalton’s potential lengthy and serviceable NFL career.  It is hard to tell what each person will ultimately become, but each has shown potential that they can be taken seriously looking forward in their future.

Ben Roethlisberger – Christian Bale

Bale and Big Ben can cause some controversy outside the office, but when focused, they compete to be the best in their fields.  Bale transformed the Batman series and was outstanding in The Fighter, while Roethlisberger led the Steelers to Super Bowl appearances and a victories after years of Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart.

Brandon Weeden – David Caruso

This one may be self explanatory.  Both were given a shot at an older age and it may work out for Weeden, but if it does expect nothing more than a Lieutenant Horatio Caine performance in CSI: Miami.

AFC South

Matt Schaub – Alec Baldwin

Neither was intended to take on a leading role at the highest level.  Baldwin is perfect at 30 Rock and Schaub was an effective back-up for an injury prone Michael Vick in Atlanta.  Schaub has never quite lived up to a franchise starting quarterback, much like Baldwin in the main character role of a major motion picture.  Both have had memorable moments from big games to priceless lines in The Departed.

Andrew Luck – Tom Hardy

Luck and Hardy came in with all of the physical and mental tools to be successful from the beginning, and lived up to the hype.  Luck led a 2-14 Colts team to the playoffs and Hardy thrived inInception, Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises.  Future success exudes from both of these professionals in such a short sample size already.

Blaine Gabbert & Jake Locker – Taylor Lautner & Robert Pattinson

Gabbert & Locker have proved they are products of the combine hype and beneficiaries of tremendous arm strength, as their on-field product has not been worthy of first-round draft picks.  Translate the aforementioned sentence to motion pictures, and you have Twilight.  The CFL and ABC Family cannot wait for these guys.

AFC West

Peyton Manning – Tom Hanks

Starting as the number one pick in the NFL draft and winning best actor in a children’s movie just conveys the early success of the methodical and surgical (Trent Dilfer talk) careers for Peyton Manning and Tom Hanks.  Both men bring extremely dedicated and intellectual approaches to their roles transcending generations that made up for any physical deficiencies.

Phillip Rivers – Sam Worthington

Has anyone hit the big screen faster and harder than Sam Worthington?  In the blink of an eye, he starred in Terminator and Avatar, but then dramatically took steps down with Clash of the Titans and Man on a Ledge.  This sounds eerily similar to Chargers’ quarterback Phillip Rivers, with his tremendous start under Marty Schottenheimer to his most recent two season decline.  Both began to enter the “elite” conversation, but have quickly entered the above average.

Carson Palmer – Nicholas Cage

This is one of my favorites.  Cage showed some flashes of brilliance when next to Sean Connery in The Rock similar to Carson Palmer surrounded with weapons in Cincinnati.  Both of them believed themselves to be far more talented than what they really are, but show their true worth either in Oakland or anything Nicholas Cage does.  Cage is veteran garbage like Palmer.

Matt Cassel – Seann William Scott

Do you remember Steve Stiffler from the American Pie series?  He was barely in the first one, but his roles progressively grew in an entertaining fashion.  Unfortunately, Seann William Scott cannot be a lead actor. He was amazing in Role Models because he fed off of Paul Rudd.  The Chiefs gave Cassel the keys to the car and how did that turn out?

 Note from the Chief : I believe this to be one of the coolest and funniest articles I have ever seen. I would appreciate it if you would help us spread the word on this article more-so than others. With the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl upon us, this is a perfect time to bring some excitement to the game. Thank you

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NHL Fantasy Preview!

Where does Malkin sit on the list of top centers for 2013?

Where does Malkin sit on the list of top centers for 2013?

With the lockout now over, the NHL is prepping for a marathon sprint of a season. With a 48-game schedule in the works and due to be released in the next day or so, the wheels of hockey are once again churning, and it is almost time to drop the puck. For those of us who play fantasy hockey, if you’re like me, you’ve probably not kept up with any of the players playing overseas, and have not had a chance to make your “big board” for your draft. Since autopick is never an option, here is your crash course for your top picks for your fantasy drafts. Please keep in mind these rankings are for standard scoring leagues.

Claude Giroux

Claude Giroux

Center

1. Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh

*Coming off of an MVP season in the NHL last year, Malkin has continued his dominance overseas in the KHL posting 65 points in 37 games during the lockout. With a healthy Sidney Crosby back in the fold, look out.

2. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh

*Speak of the devil, Crosby is primed to terrorize the NHL like he did prior to suffering multiple concussions. The best player in the world is back and healthy for the first time in two-and-a-half years, and with the short season, his point production heavily outweighs the risk of injury for your team.

3. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay

*Stamkos is working his way to the prime of his career, and the goal scoring machine is usually a fast starter during the season, if he’s around when your pick is up, he’s a pretty safe pick.

4. Claude Giroux – Philadelphia

*While Giroux will push Crosby, Malkin and company for the scoring title and MVP, he was injured with another concussion while playing in Germany. He left his team a month or so ago to go seek help from Dr. Ted Carrick, the same doctor who helped return Sidney Crosby for good. While Giroux should be good to go, the injuries are a point of concern.

5. Henrik Sedin – Vancouver*Either Sedin is always a good pick up in fantasy. They always post globs of points and Henrik is terrific at faceoffs, but hits and PIMs are going to be hard to come by.

6. John Tavares – New York (Islanders)

*A budding superstar in the NHL, Tavares is a fantastic all-around talent and plays in every situation. He is the type of player that can keep your team competitive when you’re having the fantasy-dreaded “off week”.

7. Eric Staal – Carolina

*Staal has been around seemingly forever, but at age 28, he is in the prime of his career. Always a top fantasy player, the Hurricanes’ lineup will be bolstered by the addition of Jordan Staal, and that may energize Eric as well.

8. David Backes – St. Louis

*Backes could be a great sleeper pick. Not too many casual hockey fans know about him, but he makes a great addition to any team. While he won’t be pushing 100 points, even in an 82-game season, Backes is consistent point producer and plays with an edge helping out your hits and PIMs.

9. Brad Richards – New York (Rangers)

*Don’t let the addition of Rick Nash to the Rangers fool you, this is still a John Tortorella coached team and defense comes first. Thank being said, Richards is one of the premier passers in the league and is playing with Nash and Marian Gaborik.

10. Anze Kopitar – Los Angeles

*Kopitar burst on to the national scene last season during the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup. Kopitar though has always been a valuable fantasy player and looks only to continue that trend this season.

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin

Left Wingers

1. Alex Ovechkin – Washington

*The great 8 will be looking to burst out of the gates the season and one can expect that first year Caps coach Adam Oates will unleash Ovechkin without restriction. Looking to return to form and just oozing with talent and skill. Despite previous down seasons, Ovi is still a good choice as a top pick.

2. Ilya Kovalchuk – New Jersey

*Kovalchuk really came into his own as a Devil last season, and despite losing team captain Zach Parise through free agency, Kovalchuk looks to pick up right where he left off for the Eastern Conference champion Devils.

3. James Neal – Pittsburgh

*After a dreadful late 2010-’11  with the Pens after coming over from Dallas, Neal enjoyed a terrific full season with Pittsburgh last year posting 40 goals and 81 points. Oh yeah, he’ll be working a power play unit with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.

4. Daniel Sedin – Vancouver

*See Henrik Sedin, subtract faceoffs

5. Milan Lucic – Boston

*Lucic is coming into the season healthy and that is huge for the style that he plays. Lucic will be a force at even strength and on the power play and will add to your fantasy teams toughness stats such as hits and PIMs

6. Zach Parise – Minnesota

*I wouldn’t expect Parise to come out of the gates hot. He spent his entire career with Jersey and now that he is in his first year with the Wild, you have to account for an adjustment period. With Parise’s talent and work ethic, don’t pencil in TOO much time to adjust, he will be a solid pick for any team sooner rather than later.

7. Taylor Hall – Edmonton

*With the shortened schedule, young guys like Hall and his Oiler teammates could be surprise names at the top of the scoring charts. Hall has improved his play every year since being the first overall pick in 2010. If Hall can stay healthy, he has the potential to be one of your team’s top players.

8. Scott Hartnell – Philadelphia

*The long-maned Hartnell will miss departed future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr from his line, but playing with Claude Giroux still bodes well for Hartnell’s fantasy line. Hartnell also isn’t afraid of  a little confrontation  and gets significant power play time.

9. Rick Nash – New York (Rangers)

*While the newly acquired Nash could be a force in the stats, his attitude (at times) mixed with coach Tortorella’s attitude (at times) may not be a good mixture and with Torts running an extremely defensive minded team, the fantasy points by Nash may come at a slower clip than expected.

10. Loui Eriksson – Dallas

*Eriksson is bar none the most underrated player in the NHL today. With a ton of size and a great skill set, he will flourish offensively with the additions of Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr to the Stars and the emergence of Stars’ star Jamie Benn

Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane

Right Wing

1. Phil Kessel – Toronto

*This may be the year that Toronto finally reaches the postseason,and Phil Kessel will be a big part of that. After finding his scoring stride early last year, he anchored the Leafs top line through a tantalizing three-quarters  of a season before the Leafs collapsed and fell out of contention. Look for Kessel and the Leafs to come out of the gates hot again.

2. Patrick Sharp – Chicago

*Sharp has the ability to play any forward position and is a consistent point producer. He will add to your team’s entire offensive stat line and plus-minus as well.

3. Corey Perry – Anaheim

*Entering a contract year, Perry will look to get off to a great start. If you can overcome the plus-minus stat that is sure to be lousy from playing on Anaheim’s lousy team, Perry will be a great draft choice. A 50-goal scorer and former MVP, he should still look every bit of each of those.

4. Tyler Seguin – Boston

*Another budding superstar in the league, the blazing fast Seguin sees time in every situation for the Bruins. Look for him to be a consistent producer of every good stat your fantasy league has to offer.

5. Jarome Iginla – Calgary

*While entering the twilight of his career, Iginla can still play at a high level. He may be a good investment pick seeing as he will still produce with Calgary’s OK team, but should the Flames fall out of contention, Iginla may be moved to a contender.

6. Jordan Eberle – Edmonton

*While he hasn’t put his skills together to the fullest yet and pushed the Ovechkins and Malkins of the league for a scoring title, Eberle has still been a consistent young star with the upstart Oilers. With the likes of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakapov, and Ryan Whitney playing with Eberle, the point potential is there.

7. Patrick Kane – Chicago

*After an off season, Kane looks back to return to his dynamic form  from the Cup winning season. Loaded with talent and playing with Jonathan Toews, Kane is another safe, proven pick for your team.

8. Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay

*A perennial fantasy stud, St. Louis is getting older, however he still provides valuable production for any fantasy team even in the most competitive of leagues. Playing with Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier won’t hurt either.

9. Jeff Skinner – Carolina

*Skinner is another young emerging star that the NHL boasts, however he has had injury trouble the last couple years. Being a smaller player, he faces that risk, but the additions of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin to the Hurricanes should offer more time and space for Skinner.

10. Joe Pavelski – San Jose

*A type of under-the-radar player, Pavelski has seen better and better seasons each year he has been around. Although he is listed as a winger, he also sees time at center, adding to your squad’s faceoff stats.

Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson

Defense

1.Erik Karlsson – Ottawa

*The defending Norris Trophy winner, and deservedly so, Karlsson is primed for another great season. Although Ottawa’s season was somewhat of an overachievement last year, a lot of its  success hinges on Karlsson. He will see plenty of ice time and will put up a ton of points.

2. Kris Letang – Pittsburgh

*After an injury-derailing season last year, Letang looks to get back on track as an elite defender in the NHL. Before concussion issues sidelined him last year, Letang was neck-and-neck with Karlsson for the defensive scoring lead and Norris consideration. As far as fantasy goes, Letang may not put up as many points playing on a star-studded Penguins team, but Letang plays with more of an edge than Karlsson, so his PIMs will help, and his +/- will probably be better as well.

3. Dustin Byfuglien – Winnipeg

*All around talent aside, Byfuglien brings versatility to your lineup, as well as Winnipeg’s. In most leagues, he is listed as a defenseman and a winger. Although he will see the occasional forward shift with the Jets, he is a top pairing defenseman. This bodes well for your team if he is on it because you can slot him in a forward position, while he is playing defense, therefore he sees more ice time. His style of play sees him stock up on a ton hits and shots, along with working the point on the power play.

4. Brian Campbell – Florida

*A solid overall pickup every year, expect a pump in Campbell’s numbers coming off of a solid year last season. The Panthers were an underrated squad last year, and took the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils to double OT of Game 7 in their series. Campbell’s fantasy numbers dropped late last season, so as a veteran, he may benefit from the short season.

5. Zdeno Chara – Boston

*Chara is a fantasy stud year after year and this season should be no different. One of the safest picks on D as his production is consistent and being a behemoth, his durability is of little concern.

6. Shea Weber – Nashville

*While Weber is still the premier total package defenseman in the league today, the loss of Ryan Suter via free agency could hurt Weber’s fantasy numbers. Don’t be surprised if, in typical Predators’ fashion, the next man steps up (Kevin Klein), and Weber and the Preds don’t miss a beat.

7. Alex Pietrangelo – St. Louis

*This will be the year that Pietrangelo solidifies himself as a top-tier defenseman in the NHL. Benefitting from the great coaching of Ken Hitchcock, the Blues rode Hitch all the way to the playoffs last season. In a jam-packed Western Conference and Central Division, the young Blues team is primed to make a run this season, and Pietrangelo will be a catalyst for that. A wildcard in terms of fantasy players, Pietrangelo sees a ton of ice time for the Blues in all situations, but the Blues have been inconsistent in the scoring department winning a lot of goaltending duels.

8. Dan Boyle – San Jose

*Another perennial fantasy producer, Boyle is in good position to put up another good season with the Sharks. Boyle is not an overwhelmingly physical player, but he puts a ton of pucks on net, works the point on the power play and has a great outlet pass that can set some of the younger Sharks’ players up to score off the rush. Expect his plus-minus, assists and power play Points to compete for best in the league, however don’t expect a ton of goals.

9. Ryan Suter – Minnesota

*Suter is finally out from the Shea Weber shadow he played his entire career under and is now the top dog on the Minnesota Wild blueline. While he may not see too much of an increase in time on the power play, expect an increase in shots, goals and assists, now that he won’t have to defer to Weber. The only caveat to his fantasy numbers maybe his plus-minus seeing as the Wild are not nearly as sound defensively or in net as the Predators were with Suter.

10. Drew Doughty – Los Angeles

*Doughty is looking to build off of an impressive run to the Cup with the Kings last season, that saw him provide some splash plays. Doughty’s offensive numbers will be there as he quarterbacks the Kings top power play unit, but defensively he is not on an elite level yet. While still young and learning the position, Doughty’s fantasy value can vary from offensive specialist to all-around stud.

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Quick

Goalies

1.Henrik Lundqvist – New York (Rangers)

*Coming off an exceptional year that saw him win the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender and garner serious MVP consideration, look for more of the same from King Henrik this season. The Rangers play a stifling defense-first system and sport an impressive core of young defensive talent who gained some valuable experience last year with the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals. The addition of Rick Nash will also help Lundqvist as it will be hard for the other team to get quality scoring chances on him while they are playing more defense in their own end.

2. Jonathan Quick – Los Angeles

*Last year’s Conn Smythe winner, Quick was no doubt the single biggest reason that the Kings not only won the Cup, but even made the playoffs. Quick backstopped an abysmal Kings’ offense by posting shutout after shutout last season and keeping every game within reach for the Kings to win. Once the Kings found their scoring touch, well the rest is history. Look for Quick to see less shots per game this season behind a defending champion Kings team that is only getting better.

3. Pekka Rinne – Nashville

*Although the Preds lost a top-pairing defenseman in Ryan Suter, expect this season to be more of the same Nashville Predators perseverance against all odds type of year. Although, aside from Shea Weber, the Predators lack superstar power up front, Rinne is a superstar caliber player, destined to toil in the anonymity of Nashville in the NHL. Rinne will be available in many leagues for a while, while bigger names come off the board. Don’t be afraid to take Rinne over the likes of Ward, Fleury or even Luongo.

4. Mike Smith – Phoenix

*Another leader of a band of misfits, the Phoenix Coyotes will go as far as Mike Smith takes them. From a fantasy perspective, Smith may not post the most shutouts, but his goals against average and save percentage will be tough to match. Smith could even compete for the Vezina this year if Phoenix has another outstanding year.

5. Jaroslav Halak – St. Louis

*Halak is another solid overall choice and shutout machine playing in a defensive system. Halak has proven himself as a big time goalie in Montreal and St. Louis, single-handedly shutting down the likes of Malkin, Ovechkin, and Crosby in playoff series. One problem that presents itself with Halak is the stellar play of his goaltending partner, Brian Elliot. The tandem posted outstanding numbers last year and although Halak’s stellar play earned him the starting gig, Elliot’s play earned him significant playing time, even in a backup role.

6. Cory Schneider – Vancouver

*Schneider is in line for his first season as a starter in the NHL after overtaking the much maligned Roberto Luongo as the starter in Vancouver. Although Luongo’s play has been wildly inconsistent, Schneider’s outstanding play down the stretch last season cemented his role as starter this season and forcing the Canucks hand in probably dealing Luongo. With amazing talent himself while getting the majority of the starts, Schneider will be playing behind one of the best defensive corps in the game, so expect his wins to be near the top of the league along with his goals against average.

7. Ryan Miller – Buffalo

*Buffalo’s only hope at a successful season, Miller is looking to rebound off a sub-par season for himself. Miller is one of the most talented goaltenders in the league and arguably the most valuable to his team. If Miller’s save percentage and goals against numbers are in good standing, so will his, and Buffalo’s wins. You can also expect Miller to face a lot of shots playing behind a less than overwhelming Sabres offense.

8. Carey Price – Montreal

*Price is a phenomenal talent that has people drawing comparisons between him and Patrick Roy. Although he isn’t quite in the same breath as Roy, he is a fantastic goalie on an average team. Price’s shots faced and save percentage look to be quite high, although his wins and goals against average may leave a lot to be desired playing behind the Habs skaters.

9. Tuukka Rask – Boston

*After losing his starting job to the enigmatic Tim Thomas and seeing Thomas post one of the best seasons from a goalie in recent history, Rask has his starting job back with Thomas sitting out the year because he’s a complete weirdo. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that Rask is a terrific goaltender playing on a great team. Rask’s stat line probably won’t feature one mind-blowing stat after another but will see a solid line all the way across. Rask is not an ideal workhorse for a fantasy team but can be a tremendous compliment to your main keeper.

10. Marc-Andre Fleury – Pittsburgh

*Ok, forget about the redonkulous playoff series loss to the Flyers last year. Fleury is a perennial  regular season stud. Last season, many of the Penguins players were pushing for Fleury to receive MVP and Vezina consideration. While teammate Evgeni Malkin won the MVP and Fleury wound up with consideration for neither award, he still posted a fantastic regular season. This season, Fleury has the privilege of playing behind the likes of Crosby, Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang, just to name a few. Fleury may be a fantasy trap though as he will not put up too many shutouts and his save percentage and shots faced will not be overwhelming, however his wins, and goals against average may be too good to pass up.

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Pat Davis
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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Week 11 NFL Predictions!

Can Andrew Luck lead the Colts to an impressive road victory in New England?

A tie, really? Can you believe it? Mind the ghetto video I found on youtube but..

Well don’t think we saw that coming between the 49ers and Rams (any given Sunday at its finest). This week wasn’t great for some starting quarterbacks who left their games due to injuries; Jay Cutler, Ben Roesthlisberger, Alex Smith, & Michael Vick all left their respective games and did not return. Big Ben & Vick will be on the shelf this week so it is up to the backups to lead these two teams to victory.

What a call on Bengals/Giants! How many people read that and said “he is an idiot”. Yup, I’m talking about you and the rest of the 95% of people who thought I was crazy. The Bengals were poised to win that game and it showed. Now I am 2-0 versus the spread. Will this week be three in a row?

I’m very fortunate for how things have gone for The Cover 4 this season. Not only have winners been accurately predicted but the analysis, key players & fantasy studs have been on point. Turning non-believers into believers and consistent readers; I promise you this will continue!

Another theme of last week is how I can’t accurately predict the Dolphins & Titans; I just can’t get it with these two teams. The presences of Locker and the re-emergence of Chris Johnson helps solidify this Titan squad. If only they figured out how to get Kenny Britt and Jared Cook involved more.

Results speak for themselves: 11-2-1 last week.

I’m expecting a wild week as some dogs are looking good (especially versus the spread). Let’s look at this weeks matchups.

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Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills
Analysis: Two of my favorite teams right now (insert sarcastic emoji here :p.. Haha). I’m gonna say it again, I like Tannehill’s potential but I think he belongs on the bench this year. The guy can make all the big throws in the NFL but I’m more on the Moore bandwagon (like that?). The Dolphins were eaten up by the Titans last week while the Bills kept it close with the Patriots. I expect the Bills to take advantage of the Dolphins coming off a bad loss on a short week.

Key Players: Reggie Bush & Ryan Tannehill. Bush needs to find his game after being benched last week. As for Tannehill, he needs to limit his turnovers to keep the Dolphins offense on the field.

Fantasy Stud: Bills Wr Stevie Johnson. Expect the burner to be open all day.

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Arizona Cardinals @ Atlanta Falcons

Analysis: The nonsense of the Falcons going undefeated is now out of the way with last weeks loss to the Saints (you liked that score prediction though right?- right score, wrong teams). The Falcons defense will be the key for the rest of the season as this unit has been overachieving. I believe this defensive unit should be able to get things together this week versus Arizona. As for the Cardinals, who are coming off a much needed bye (as every struggling team is), they must establish some sort of a running game. This team ranks dead last in rushing and has been very one-dimensional.

Key Players: John Skelton. The quarterback must keep this offense moving and convert on third down for the Cardinals to hang with the powerful Atlanta offense.

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Cleveland Browns @ Dallas Cowboys

Analysis: The Cowboys are heavy favorite in this matchup after a solid game against Philadelphia last week. The Browns used the bye week to recover from their heart breaking loss to Baltimore two weeks ago. Quarterback Brandon Weeden must limit his turnovers after throwing 2 ints two weeks ago. Look for Trent Richardson to have another solid game in this one.

Fantasy Stud: Jason Witten. I think Witten has another solid game as Romo is looking Wittens way more after his 18 catch effort a few weeks ago. The Browns are allowing tight ends to have average days but they haven’t faced a tight end of Wittens caliber.

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Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions

Analysis: The Packers are winners of four straight and things are slowly coming together for this team. The Lions are the number one passing offense in the league and should continue to throw the ball around in this one. The absences of Clay Matthews & Charles Woodsen is big for this Packers defense. I expect a high scoring game with the Packers taking this one.

Players to Watch: Matthew Stafford & Calvin Johnson. After a slow start, the dynamic duo is starting to click again (forget the Madden curse). Megatron is putting up mega numbers and propelling one of my fantasy teams into the playoffs.

Score Prediction: Packers 31 – Lions 27

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Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
Analysis: The Bengals are coming off an impressive (cough called that cough cough) win against the Giants. Dalton looks terrific passing the ball as his offensive line is giving him ample time to sling the rock; it also helps that his weapons are making plays. Kansas City is coming off a devastating overtime loss to the Steelers. I think this game will be close but the Bengals pull it out.

Key Players: Matt Cassel. I don’t know how to put it any other way except that this team only goes as far as Cassel can take them. His career (including college) has been an up and down roller coaster but something needs to give.

Player to Watch: Vontaze Burfict. The undrafted linebacker is thriving in Cincinnati. Character issues were a concern but a player of his caliber is too hard to pass up. Burfict is second on the team in tackles and watch him have another nice game this weekend.

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New York Jets @ St. Louis Rams

Analysis: It’s funny because I had a dream I was talking with Rex Ryan over some beers about how he is losing control of the team. It dawned on me that if he keeps riding Sanchez and the team keeps underperforming, he is going to go down with the ship. It may not be this year but Ryan could be on the hot seat (I think GM Mike Tannebaum is the first one to go). The Jets are just in a free fall mode right now as Sanchez and the rest of the offense continue to fail the team. Rex Ryan has his hands full with defending this team against the media. On another note, the Rams are coming off an impressive tie against a tough 49er squad. I expect the Rams to take full advantage of a defeated Jets squad.

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Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Redskins

Analysis: The Redskins are coming off a bye as the team started hot and is cooling off a bit. RGIII has been named a team captain and they say he’s “hungrier than ever”. The Eagles will rely on rookie Nick Foles to lead them into Washington for a much needed victory. Andy Reid is going to need to rely on his running game to take the pressure off his rookie QB.

Key Matchup: Eagle Wr Desean Jackson versus Redskins Cb DeAngelo Hall. Both tiny speedsters are known for being feisty players on the field, especially after the whistle. I expect these two to be battling all day. This will be an exciting matchup to watch!

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers

Analysis: This is a good ole’ fashion division rivalry game right here. These two teams will be in a seesaw battle as both teams will get things going on offense; Newton vs Freeman is going to bee fun to watch. In the end, I like my boy Josh Freeman (and all of his offensive weapons) to lead the Buccs to a victory.

Fantasy Dud: All Carolina Panther running backs. Just avoid them!

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Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

Analysis: This one could get ugly between the battle of 8s (1-8 v 8-1). You have to feel bad for the Jaguar team as they just can’t put it together. Hopefully the long week (and much needed rest) gives them ample time to pregame for the red-hot Texans, who just came away victors in a defensive battle against the Bears.

Fantasy Stud: Arian Foster. Expect a monster day on the ground and in the air from the league’s top running back.

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New Orleans Saints @ Oakland Raiders

Analysis: Someone call the Sheriff because we have a shoot out brewing!! Oh I think this is going to be a game right here. The Saints are starting to gain some steam but so are the Raiders (at least on offense). Expect a very high scoring game with long touchdown after long touchdown. I wouldn’t doubt if this game torches the over (54.5) and heads into the 60s.

Fantasy Studs: Every quarterback and receiver on both teams! Both secondaries are weak and being exploited by passing offenses. Look at what Baltimore did to the Raiders last week.

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Pick Center of the Week: San Diego Chargers + 8 @ Denver Broncos

Analysis: There are a number of games I want to use as pick center this week but I believe this to be the strongest one. The Chargers, well, are the typical Chargers (very inconsistent) thus you never know which team is coming to play. These two teams were in a dogfight earlier in the season with a Rivers meltdown that led to the Bronco victory. I can’t see this division matchup being a two score game. Expect a tight game in this one with the Chargers definitely covering 8 points.

Fantasy Stud: Danario Alexander. Who you ask? The Charger wide receiver is getting a few more looks his way with Malcom Floyd playing well this season. Expect close to 80 yards and a touchdown.

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Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots

Analysis: This game will be a nice matchup of quarterbacks showing off their finest skill sets. Brady has more weapons than the US Military while Luck is playing with subpar talent (besides Reggie Wayne of course). The Patriot offense will be too much for Indy to handle in this one. Expect some points on the board when this game is said and done.

Key Player: Andrew Luck. Luck has the potential to put up some monster numbers in this game and lead his 6-3 Colts to an impressive road victory. We all know he doesn’t have much talent around him but he will have to make play after play or this is gonna be real ugly.

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Game of the Week: Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis: There is nothing like a division rivalry game between the Ravens and Steelers as both teams despise each other. Unfortunately the Steelers won’t have Big Ben due to multiple injuries. Bryon Leftwich is a solid backup but I don’t think this matchup really works to his favor. The Steelers will be getting the ground game going early and often in this one. I hate to say it but I do believe the Ravens will squeak this one out.

Key Players: Rashard Mendenhall, Issac Redman & Jonathan Dwyer. Whoever is in the game at running back for the Steelers must get things going against a depleted Ravens defense. If the run game isn’t established, it will be a long day for this Steelers offense.

Score Predictor: Ravens 24 – Steelers 20

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Chicago Bears @ San Francisco 49ers

Analysis: As of now, Jay Cutler is yet to be cleared to practice while Alex Smith participated in non-contact drills Wednesday. This defensive battle (every week is a defensive battle against the Bears) will be interesting if both starting quarterbacks are held out of the game. I am going to predict this matchup as if both quarterbacks are healthy and starting. If so, I expect the 49ers to take care of business against the Bears (Sorry Bears fans- I know, I know). Jay Cutler relies heavily on the passing game, which plays into the 49ers defense strategy.

Key Players: Matt Forte & Frank Gore. These two running backs are going to have a tough time getting things going against stellar defenses. Whichever running back has a better game will result in his team getting the W.

If the status of one of these quarterbacks change, expect a nice large REVISED by the title.

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Finally, video of the week. I know some of you out there are struggling in your fantasy leagues. We understand your pain….so does this guy!

Top 10 Players Affected By NHL Lockout

The Cover 4 will feature a number of writers to cover a variety of topics. This article is by our very own Rick Davis, NHL insider.

Talks have picked up again between the NHL and the NHLPA in an attempt to salvage any season that they can. By no means do things looks good for the league but progress is progress. As fans, we are becoming numb to this whole process, but I am sure it is not much easier for some NHL players. With a sport as grueling as hockey, you have very limited time to begin with, and for many of the league’s players, this is the second long lockout of their career sucking precious time away from them.

Here is a look at the top 10 players affected by the lockout.

10. Evgeni Malkin – PIT

Ok, I know, Malkin is a Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe winner, reigning MVP and scoring champ, what more does he have to prove? Plenty! The big Russian is a proud player, and one of those players whose genuine love of the game exudes from him every time he laces the skates up. Malkin is currently tearing up the KHL right now, riding high off of his 50-goal, 109-point MVP season last year, but as with everything in Malkin’s NHL life, there comes the mention of Crosby. Crosby missed the majority of the season last year, and in his absence, Malkin flourished with a dominant season, but the Penguins suffered a humiliated series loss to arch rival Philadelphia in the playoffs with both Crosby and Malkin healthy in the lineup. The question that has hovered over Malkin his entire career; Can Malkin play at his top, MVP level WITH Sidney Crosby in the lineup. Playing the best hockey of his career right now (that has already seen him win a Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP) and with Crosby back, Malkin is primed to silence his critics for good, and truly enter the conversation for best player in the world, separate of Crosby.

9. Ilya Bryzgalov – PHI

Whoa, talk about pressure, there may not be a single player in the NHL under more pressure, and scrutiny than Bryzgalov. Philadelphia is vying with Toronto for the toughest home city in hockey, and may have even surpassed them (now that the expectations in Toronto for playoffs every year are lofty at best). Philadelphia is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, make no mistake about that. In the 2010 playoffs, they rode Michael Leighton (who is now backstopping their AHL team, adequately at best) to the Finals before falling to an absurdly good Chicago Blackhawks team. The knock on the Flyers for years has been their lack of a franchise goalie, and have not had one since Ron Hextall. The Flyers signed Bryz to a 9-year, $51 million deal in the summer of 2011, and officially placed a gigantic target for the fans on his back, and a microscope in place of the overhead net cam. Every mistake this guy makes is magnified because, with the like of Giroux, Briere, Hartnell, the Schenn brothers, Talbot, and many more young talented players, the Flyers truly believe (as well they should) that each year could be their year. If you talk to anyone in the game of hockey, the number one thing they will tell you needed to win a Stanley Cup is goaltending, and the Flyers are going to lean on Bryzgalov for it. After an insane playoff series last season against Pittsburgh, in which everything you thought you knew about either team was thrown out the window, the Flyers fell quite easily to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Devils. Bryzgavlov must be dying to get back in between the pipes at the Wells Fargo Center and prove that he was worth every penny they gave him.

8. Alexander Ovechkin – WSH

The Great 8. Without a doubt, in my mind the most raw skill and talent of any player in the league today. He is a large man, measuring in at 6’ 3”, 220 lbs. with blazing speed, quick hand, a nasty edge, and an other-worldly shot. He has shown it throughout his whole career what a once-in-a-lifetime type of player this kid it. For whatever reason over the past couple seasons, the Washington Capitals have tried to take focus off of Ovie, and focus more on their team AS a team. They have asked Alex to buy into a more defensive minded system which has seen his production “plummet” from 60-goal seasons to the 38-goal season he posted last year, still god enough for top 5 in the league. Since the Capitals heart-breaking 7-game series loss to Pittsburgh, on Pittsburgh’s route to their Stanley Cup victory in 2008-09, the Capitals have not been the same team. That series loss eliminated the swagger that the team, and namely Ovechkin had as the top young-guns team in the league. I feel losing head to head vs. Sidney Crosby and the Pens that season was a bit of a blow to the ego of Ovechkin and the whole Caps organization. They have put together some pretty good seasons since, but have not really put too much fear into the league as a top Cup contender, and with the talent of their team, it is only a matter of time before this Caps team is playing some serious hockey in early summer. The one thing missing that will be needed for them to do so is the reemergence of Ovechkin back in to his truly dominant form, in which everyone else in the league shoots for second in goals. Ovie is a proud player, and he knows this, and I doubt he will need much more motivation once a new CBA is signed. He is entering the prime of his career and with the past few “off seasons” and this work stoppage cutting into the early prime of his career, I would expect a scary version of Alex from the drop of the puck of the new NHL season, whenever that may be.

7. Sidney Crosby – PIT

The easiest choice to put on this list, Sidney Crosby is ready for training camp for the first time in the longest time. Perhaps in the eyes of Pens fans, Crosby is benefitting from this lockout in the sense that he has more time to put his last concussion and next hit further away from each other. The golden boy of the National Hockey League may be one of the most seriously competitive players the game has ever seen, and I can assure you that the Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory in 2009 is a distant, distant memory for him. Since that victory, the Penguins lost a tough 2nd round series to the Canadiens the following year, dropped a 7-game opening round series to the Lightning the next year (without Crosby or Malkin), and dropped a redonkulous opening round series to the Flyers last season, that may have sucked every last molecular drop of confidence from both goalies involved in that series. Sidney Crosby IS the Penguins, no doubt about that, and the Penguins have gone from darling child of the league to underperforming playoff team year-after-year lately. Couple the pressure of trying to get the Pens back to the promised land with the uncertainty of Crosby’s recent concussion history, and the pressure to stay healthy, the 25-year old mega star has a lot facing him the next time the pucks drops on an NHL season. If there is one thing that fans and detractors know all too well about Crosby, is that he brings it night in and night out, and I’m sure is the most eager player to get back to his pre-concussion form in which he was on a scoring streak for the ages, and one of the most dominant streaks the league had seen in decades. If Sid can stay healthy, the Penguins will be one of a handful of teams along with their archrival Flyers, expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup.

6. Roberto Luongo – VAN

There is probably not another player whose future is being held up by this lockout more than Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lu is currently situated as one of the most expensive back ups in the league. Luongo has 10 years remaining on his huge 12-year, nearly $64 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks, but his inconsistent play has opened the door for Cory Schneider, and Schneider has taken control of the crease in Vancouver. The Canucks have all but said publically that Schneider is, and will be their starting goaltender moving forward, so an obvious move would be to move Luongo to not only avoid distraction, but to clear cap space as well. During the work stoppage, no trades can be made, and Luongo has already come out in the media and telling them about his time in Vancouver “I had 6 great years”, but “It’s time to move on”, so from the outside it appears that his departure is all but certain. Toronto and Florida are rumored to be pursing his services, but until a new CBA is reached, Luongo is in Limbo.

5. Rick Nash – NYR

Free at last, free at last, thank god almighty he’s free at last. Rick Nash has been put out of his misery brought on by his commitment to being a team player when the Blue Jackets traded him this offseason to the New York Rangers. The 28-year old is just entering the prime of his career, and has toiled dedicatedly and honorably in Columbus since being drafted first overall in 2002, with ZERO playoff wins to show for his hard work. Even when it was clear he wanted to play on a competitive team, he was very professional in the public eye, and let the Jackets get what they could for him. His reward: A top line role on an extremely talented and dangerous New York Ranger squad. If Nash can smoothly transition from playing in the relative obscurity of Nationwide Arena, to the unblinking eye and bright lights of Madison Square Garden, he may begin to reap the rewards he deserves sooner rather than later.

4. Alex Semin – CAR

Perhaps the most enigmatic player of the past few years, Alex Semin possesses the most intriguing skill set of any player on this list. He just oozes with talent, has a shot that rivals former teammate Ovechkin, has the hands to compete with Malkin, and skating sleeker than Crosby, but Semin had a tough time finding ANYONE to take him in the NHL this season. After the Capitals declined to resign the winger, he made it clear that he would not sign a 1-year contract or a contract that paid him less than his previous $5.5 million per season contract with the Caps. After no offers late into July and with the lockout looming, the rejuvenated Carolina Hurricanes took a chance of Semin, signing him to a 1-year, $7 million contract. That sharpshooting Russian’s work ethic is constantly in question and his desire to be a factor on a nightly basis is lacking at best. Semin’s production also varies drastically; starting with the 2006-07 season through last, Semin’s goal totals fluctuated from  38,26,34,40,28,21. Of the 21 goals he scored last season, 12 of them were scored in 4 different games, meaning Semin scored only 9 goals over 73 games. With a fresh start in Carolina with a vastly improved team in a relatively weak division, Semin will look to silence his detractors, and post a huge year, after all, it will be a contract season.

3. Jarome Iginla – CGY

One of the most well respected and admired players in the NHL, Jarome Iginla is a fading star. A personal favorite of mine, Iginla personifies everything you want in a hockey player. He has toughness, grit, a laser beam for a shot, pretty good wheels, pin point precision, and some of the best leadership skills in the game. One thing Jarome Iginla does not have is a Stanley Cup ring. He came within 60 minutes of one, but has been nowhere close since. He is beloved in Calgary and respected in nearly every city he plays in, but at the age of 35, his time for being THE GUY on a team is extremely limited, and his career is beginning to slowly wind down. Offensively he is a consistent force, but he cannot do everything himself. Calgary has made a few moves this offseason bringing in a proven commodity in Jiri Hudler, along with Mike Cammeleri, a noted sniper who was acquired last season in a trade with Montreal. Iginla loves Calgary and if he had his way, he would finish his career there with a few championships, but rest assured, if the Flames start of slow or begin to fall apart during their next season, the front office will move Iginla, and begin to rebuild. Hopefully, if that happens, he will be moved to a legitimate contender a la Rick Nash.

2. Corey Perry – ANA

The pesky Perry has one of the best silent resumes in the league. Making up part of Anaheim’s big 3 alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, Perry has put together a pretty good career. Picked 28th overall by the Ducks in 2003, Perry has a Memorial Cup championship in the CHL to his credit, along with a 2007 Stanley Cup Championship with the Ducks, and a Hart Trophy for MVP on record as well. Now it is time for Perry to get PAID, thus why he is ranked second on our list. With Anaheim being moderately competitive on the ice, and posting $32 million in losses last season, logically thinking I would say Perry will be taking his talents elsewhere, as he is an Unrestricted Free Agent after the next hockey season. Perry must be on pins and needles waiting for the lockout to end to add to his body of work, which also includes a 50-goal season. Perry’s current contract is a 5-year $26.625 million deal, and with his resume, he could expect a significant pay bump from a contending team looking to add his skill set and sand-paper style of play to their team.

1.The Old Guard of the NHL

When the last lockout wiped out an entire season, when the league came back, they featured a mix of some of the top players of the past generation and the stars of tomorrow (today). Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby played together on a team with Mark Recchi, Sergei Fedorov and Alex Ovechkin were teammates. At the age of 24, and being a lifelong hockey fan, there are few players left playing still that have been playing as long as I can remember. In addition to Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla, the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Brodeur, Teemu Selanne, Shane Doan, Chris Pronger, and Ray Whitney are all former (and some still current) All-Stars , pushing 40 and in the twilights of their careers, some of which may never play another second in the NHL if this current lockout takes the whole season. In addition to the stars, the character guys that have forged commendable NHL careers like Dwayne Roloson, Sean O’Donnell, and Mike Knuble may also never play again. This as an avid-lifelong fan, is the saddest part of this lockout. While some of the “old-guard” are surely not household names, and others are sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers, they have all built a career upon personal sacrifice, dedication, and hard work. It would be a shame if they do not get one more shot to play the game they love because of the dispute about money.

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Honorable Mentions

Jordan Eberle – EDM – Eberle is poised for a breakout year. Perhaps one of the best young players in the game today, Eberle, surrounded by an embarrassment of young talent and #1 picks, Eberle is emerging as THE GUY in Edmonton. In my opinion (feel free to write this down now) Eberle will give Crosby, Malkin, Stamkos, and Ovechkin in the conversation for best player in the world in the next 2-3 years.

Joe Thornton – SJ – Playing on a contending team with a good mix of young players and veteran leaders, Thornton’s time to reach hockey’s highest point is running out. The former MVP is clearly on the downslope of his career, but still has some top tier hockey left in him, and a good team around him.

Patrick Kane – CHI – Two years removed from scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal, Kane has had a couple rough, injury and inconsistency-plagued seasons. The speedster has tons of talent but some may argue he hasn’t reached expectations (seeing a Chicago had to tear apart their cup team because of the salary cap, so the likes of Byfuglien, Ladd, Campbell and others were moved to keep Kane a Hawk). Kane is a great talent and I would bet he has a bounce back season.

Marc-Andre Fleury – PIT – Fleury is coming off a complete meltdown of a playoff performance with the Penguins last season. After a solid regular season that saw him post 42 wins, one win short of tops in the NHL, Fleury gave up 30 goals in 6 games and for the most part, looked lost at BEST. The Penguins rode the former number 1 overall pick to back to back Stanley Cup Finals, and one victory, in 2007-08 and 08-09, but since then, a woefully inconsistent “flower” has factored heavily into poor playoff performances by the Penguins. Despite having Malkin, Crosby, Neal and company, the Pens will only go as far as Fleury takes them.

Rick Davis

The Cover 4 Featured Sports Writer

http://www.facebook.com/patrick.d.riley.1?fref=ts

Locked Out: The State of the NHL

The Cover 4 will feature a number of writers to cover a variety of topics. This article is by our very own Rick Davis, NHL insider.

As October passes and changes to November, the only thing that will be changing for hockey
fans is the page on their calendars. As we all know, the NHL is currently bogged down in its second
extended lockout in 8 years, the third since 1994, and the fourth lockout during Gary Bettman’s 19 year
stint as commissioner of the league. With each passing day, the glimmer of hope for a full 82 game
season(and any season at all for that matter) that briefly shined not long ago is fading fast.

As the news broke of the NHL’s offer to the Players Association on Oct. 16, hope spread
throughout the hockey world, and it seemed that there was a light appearing at the end of the dark,
dingy tunnel that this lockout has become. Sadly, the light wound up being a train, hitting hockey fans
head on. After expressing cautious optimism through their leader, Donald Fehr, the NHLPA presented a
trio of counter proposals that were quickly dismissed by the league and since then, all has been quiet.

Even as an avid hockey follower, the reasons for this lockout become distorted and muddled as
the NHL and the NHLPA spin the PR machine to increase their negotiating advantage. As sports fans, it is
in our nature to pick sides; Team vs. Team, Player vs. Player, or even Owners vs. Players, but in the case
of this lockout, it is really hard to pick a side.

I personally find it hard to pick a side because of one simple fact: I usually pick my “favorites”
based on what they represent. For example, most people’s favorite team is their favorite because they
represent their city, or in some cases, like those of the fans whose city does not have a team, the team
represents a storied history. Likewise, people grow found of certain players because of the individual
qualities that they represent, such as toughness, skill, perseverance, or selflessness. But the truth of the
matter of this lockout is that both sides are representing one thing: MONEY!

It’s that simple, and as passionate as hockey fans are, that is a bitter pill to swallow, but the fact
remains that the key issue in these Collective Bargaining negotiations is the division of Hockey Related
Revenues (HRR). Since the 2004-05 season was completely wiped out and the NHL was banished to the
Outdoor Life Network, the league has been on the comeback trail. Slowly but surely the league started
to regain its footing, and eventually made their way back into the mainstream, despite not having the
advantage that the other Big 4 sports leagues in America had; extensive national coverage on ESPN.

Before this lockout transitioned from threat to reality, the NHL was flying high, posting another
year of record revenues, roughly about $3.2 Billion, which was a $1 billion increase from the season
before, and in great position to continue their economic growth, having just signed a 10-year, $2 billion
television contract with NBC and Versus to continue broadcasting nationally (even though there were
serious negotiations at the time with ESPN, NBC presented the best deal for the league).

At the end of the day, the players and owners are both going to have to compromise on a deal
that splits HRR 50/50. That is going to be a very hard concept for the players to grasp, seeing as in the
last CBA, their split was 57%. The NHLPA, realistically, would have to consider any agreement that gives
the players more than 50% of the revenue split a massive success. Roughly translated, using last year’s
financial figures, the players’ share of HRR would be cut by $224 million if a 50/50 split were to be
enacted. Even to professional athletes, that is not chump change.

In addition, the owners also want to close salary cap loopholes, such as limiting term length of
contracts (therefore these absurd 15-year deals would not be around to lower the salary cap hit of a
front loaded contract), and pushing back the beginning of Unrestricted Free Agency from 28 years of
age to 30. There is also word that the owners would use salary roll-backs as a way of not honoring in
full, the massive contracts signed by players over the past couple of off seasons (see: Ryan Suter and
Zach Parise). The HRR split and the honoring of signed contracts are the key points that the players, as of
now, are refusing to budge on.

As we have all heard a million times when it comes to contracts and financial negotiations, at
the end of the day, this is a business. The owners own this business, and as a business owner, who puts
up the financial risk of fielding an NHL club, it would be bad business to not try and capitalize on the
sport’s soaring popularity and increasing your revenue. While much of the PR machine and some
media focus has, purposely or not, made the owners out to be soulless, money-grubbing monsters, the
fact remains that it is their time and money invested into these clubs, and they want the best return on
that investment that they can get. That sounds like good business to me; however they must make
concessions as well because no business at all is never good business.

So here we are hockey fans, fully engulfed in yet another lockout, with no end in sight for now,
having to watch old playoff series and notable games (with a ridiculously loose title of “classic” attached
to them) on the NHL Network to quench our hockey thirst. If you are like me, at first you were angry,
and wanted to do anything you could to get hockey back, such as heartfelt YouTube videos, threats of
boycotting the game upon its return, and wild notions of not giving ANY money to the teams once they
return, but now I have come to realize that there is, in reality, nothing we can do as fans. We wouldn’t
be fans if we boycotted after or didn’t invest our money into our clubs (ultimately that helps the teams
be competitive). So for now we just have to sit back, relax, keep our fingers crossed, and hope that NHL
13 can satisfy our hockey cravings for now.

Rick Davis

The Cover 4 Featured Sports Writer

http://www.facebook.com/patrick.d.riley.1?fref=ts

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