Time travel, Covid-tracking, and an undying love for the Maple Leafs. Steve McConnell returns to give unabashed opinions on the first BEARD Hockey season.
(This was sent to our shared BEARD Hockey email address - what follows is mostly unedited, straight from the source...)
I once was a young man. Some of you may remember me. I found the old PFHL in a random drunken search for Toronto Maple Leafs fan sites back in 2002, when I was a young lad.
I offered those GM's unbiased (and often harsh) predictions totally unsolicited. It became a bit of a tradition. I even managed to follow some of them to the new PFHL, and then to Skyward Hockey. And I still contributed - for reasons no one but Jack Daniel really knows (least of all, me).
Fast forward to 2020. A year that has changed perceptions on many levels. Most of all, mine.
You see, I am no longer Steve McConnell, 40-something stat nerd and hockey enthusiast. Oh sure, you can still find me in a Google search, and that Steve McConnell still plies away, now using his analytical prowess to track Covid-19 cases.
I am Steve McConnell, 67 years old. And I come from the future.
Don't ask me why, or how. In 2021, let's just say things get a bit...haywire. I can't divulge much in fear of rupturing the space-time continuum. But suffice it to say, I along with a handful of others escaped to the distant future. We were called 'specimens' of a time when humanity was on the brink, and...
Well, I've already said too much.
Having come from the future, what follows ought to be instantly treated as the gospel truth of what's to come in your precious sim league. Of course, by me revealing this information, I've already altered the past. Your present. And because you all like to intervene with concepts of 'free will', my factual presentation will be labeled as 'predictions' and they may or may not now come true.
But hopefully, this give you an escape from what you know to be the 'real world'. Oh, if you only knew the future...
1st Place: Montreal Canadiens
Top notch defence, top-flight goaltending, and lethal goal scoring ability. GM Lennart Westmantooth - still kicking after all these years, eh? - has built himself an arsenal.
2nd Place: Tampa Bay Lightning
Going to compete with the Habs for the division title, but Anton Khudobin is going to be the reason the Bolts fall just short. Don't be surprised if Mackenzie Blackwood plays a few more games than GM Tyler Hetheringtonsonvillelanemanorroad originally intended.
3rd Place: Ottawa Senators
Solid top four on the backend with some decent talent on offence. Jacob Markstrom should be adequate enough to get the Senators to the playoffs. But don't expect much beyond that.
4th Place: Detroit Red Wings
They aren't going to wow you with overwhelming skill, but the hard-nosed defensive corps and eternally underrated Thomas Griess should be enough to keep the Wings in the playoff mix. Good to see Mathias Lundgren too - still smarting from that King Carl XVI slash in the 2012 GM Game?
5th Place: Florida Panthers
This may look like a misread, as the Cats have some sneaky good players in tow. But leaving their success up to Philipp Grubauer will prove to be an oversight by GM Trevor Cook.
6th Place: Boston Bruins
A team with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Mike Hoffman is destined to be playing golf come playoff time? If the Bruins were to outscore their opponents 6-5 every game, maybe not. But defence wins in the end, and the B's are a bit short in this department. Is that...is it really Tye Graczyk? Boy I wish I could tell you your future - you wouldn't believe it.
7th Place: Carolin...um...Buffalo Sabres?
Sacrilege. Thomas Gidlow has angered the sim hockey gods by turning his back on his usual Carolina posting for...Buffalo? Well, that's close to my beloved Toronto, but not close enough. Other than Carey Price, who will have to stand on his head most nights, this team is built for tomorrow...too bad that in November 2021, when ******* *********** starts, he's going to wish he...(McConnell trailed off here).
8th Place: Toronto Maple Leafs
Well, I must say...my hometown Leafs are built to be basement dwellers. Shame. GM Sean Hanley seems to be planning for better days ahead, but they may be a long way off...a long way off. At least Mitch Marner is still wearing the blue and white.
1st Place: New Jersey Devils
A shade thin on the backend, but with Darcy Kuemper in net and a plethora of offensive options up front, the Metro is New Jersey's to lose. Hard to believe young Corey Chernuka is back in this league - didn't he get lost in a Manitoba excursion to one Aaron Sanderson's house in like 2004?
2nd Place: Carolina Hurricanes
GM Jay Williams running his favorite team and stacking it with homer picks is a sight to see. It's a good sight, though. An exciting team on offence will need Sergei Bobrovsky to play at his best to reach this lofty height, because that defence leaves a lot to be desired.
3rd Place: New York Rangers
Going with the youth movement, but with some high-end youth paired led by Connor McDavid. The veterans around their young guns will make this team a lot more dangerous than some opponents think.
4th Place: New York Islanders
A little top heavy with some question marks on defence and in net. But the sum will be greater than the parts with the Isles, who should make a modicum of noise come playoff time.
5th Place: Washington Capitals
Sleepy Shawn Davis is back again, eh? If memory serves, the last thing I remember about him was being passed out next to a few beer bottles. Maybe he's older and wiser, but his club is still built on hopes and dreams. Depth issues will prevent the Caps from playing extra hockey come playoff time.
6th Place: Philadelphia Flyers
Seemingly a common theme in the East, the Flyers shunned defensive and goaltending needs in the Dispersal Draft for a smattering of decent scorers and youth. That youth is promising, so it's up to GM Eric Wolf to develop them. Just don't develop a belief that Philly will be playoff bound for a while still.
7th Place: Columbus Blue Jackets
Long term, GM Tommy Barr seems to have the right mentality to led the Blue Jackets to consistency down the road. But that road will be bumpy for at least this year. Don't be surprised to see Patrick Kane dangled as a big piece come deadline time that accelerates Columbus' rise next season.
8th Place: Pittsburgh Penguins
Frederik Andersen will certainly keep the Pens in more games than they deserve. But GM Matt Smackwhammer...I mean Matt Sledgehammer...no, Matt S'wack,hammertime...you know who I mean...is definitely thinking long-term with tons of youth on the development line.
1st Place: Nashville Predators
First, let's get one thing straight. I've read GM Scott Davidson's manifestos posing as team articles. This guy was a decent GM back in the day, but now he's gone full-blown Zuckerberg in terms of egomania. And this won't help - he'll win the Central Division. So congratulations. But hate to break it to ya, greatest of all time. The Cup will elude you in 2021.
2nd Place: Arizona Coyotes
Pretty solid depth at forward and defence, but Pavel Francouz is certainly a question mark as to whether he can truly led the Yotes to the promised land. This is certainly a playoff team, but probably not much more than that.
3rd Place: Dallas Stars
With a solid defensive corps and top-notch goaltending in Tuukka Rask, the Stars are aligned for a run. But behind Mika Zibanejad and William Nylander, there isn't many who can consistently put the puck in the net. If Dallas can force a lot of 2-1 games, they could get far. If not, well, there's always next offseason to retool.
4th Place: St. Louis Blues
Not sticking to solely the youth route despite netting the coveted Alexis Lafreniere, GM Todd Snider has built a team of intrigue. Perhaps a couple years still from being a true contender, there is enough here for a surprise run. I guess saying that makes it less of a surprise, because...well, you know...from the future and all. But you heard it here first.
5th Place: Chicago Blackhawks
Well, well, well. Daniel McBaconBits is still hanging around sim hockey. The fortunate son who inherited a dynasty in the PFHL, then conned a few hapless souls in the new PFHL to build a juggernaut there, is of course preparing to contend again here in this...wait, what?!? He tore it up before a single game was played? In this division?!?!?!?! Talk about shooting your shot and coming up short. Still decent enough to compete, but...how weird is it to see a Bacon team and 'not in the playoffs' in the same sentence?
6th Place: Winnipeg Jets
Another Western team it seems priding themselves on defence and goaltending. That will get them down the road. But relying on Jonathan Marchessault to carry your whole club offensively just isn't enough, sadly. Here's hoping the currently rudderless Jets find a GM to balance the scales a bit.
7th Place: Colorado Avalanche
Aiming for the long game here, it seems GM Vince Gibbons is content with sitting at the back of the pack for a while. There's some decent talent in place, but there just isn't enough collectively for Colorado to compete for much this season - save for escaping the basement in the division.
8th Place: Minnesota Wild
Any club that carries Spencer Smallman on their pro roster is going to have some trouble putting together wins. Seth Jones is going to be wishing he was in a Tibetan treehouse 10 games in. It's too bad, too. Considering Corey Crawford decided to flash retire the moment the buzzer sounded in the last game of the season, throwing off his uniform and equipment, running 'wild' into the stands with fury and...oh, right. Can't talk about the future. Sorry.
1st Place: Vancouver Canucks
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Big A, Aaron Sanderson, back behind the post of Canucks GM. Wow. Memories indeed. I remember back when my sister disowned me (too long a story to tell, truly) and I was homeless and hungry, with enough money to spare to make one phone call from a pay phone barely lit enough to see the numbers on a dark night, I called Big A. I practically begged him, pleaded with him, for just one bottle of JD to be shipped over to the whore house I was forced to stay in (another lengthy story, for another time perhaps). I didn't want food, I didn't want money. But this was an ex-Catholic nun-turned-whore-house and they prevented me from any booze while under their roof. I had the plan all figured up to sneak it in, but Big A...he refused me. Wanted me to clean my life up. Thought I was going to end up in a ditch somewhere. Well, you were wrong pal. I ended up being one of only a SMALL HANDFUL of humans saved from the END OF TIMES, buddy! And I'm going back again, soon. Soon I will be rid of this 21st century and its "needing jobs to pay bills" and "you can't smoke that here" and "if you're going to drink, for the love of God man, at least use a clean boot". Take that, Sanderson!
Good team, though. Gonna do great things.
2nd Place: Anaheim Ducks
Then there was another time, when Big A asked me to 'tone down' some criticism of a few of his GM's in the old days. He said I was being "outright mean". Mean? Like when I tracked you down and showed up to your door some years ago, a glass in one hand and the other extended as an olive branch, and you said "sorry Steve, I'm a family man now." Like, what does that even mean? For all I did for him, to be turned away like a common vagabond. I never forget, Big A. Never.
Oh, right. The Ducks. Well, aging team here with a limited window. Better grab a Cup now before these guys age out or walk.
Editor Note: There were five more diatribes about "Big A" included in these reviews, but even I could only take so much. I try to give McConnell a wide berth, but let's get back on track here.
3rd Place: Los Angeles Kings
Finding consistency is going to be the biggest issue for GM Dave Covin. There are paths to glory for the Kings, but resting the house on David Rittich and Cam Talbot may not be the best way to get there. For now, they will compete and get close, but some upgrades are needed to grab hold of the brass ring.
4th Place: San Jose Sharks
Fortunately for me, I do know the way to San Jose. GM Owen Rimmer seems to know the way to building an average club, at least for now. There's certainly reason for optimism down the line, but for now, the Sharks will need some bounces to go their way to be anything but a spoiler candidate.
5th Place: Calgary Flames
Fringe. That's what seems to be the case for the Flames. On the fringe. Not quite good enough to crack the playoffs, and not quite bad enough to ensure a sure-fire top player in the next Entry Draft. The sparks seem to lie on the defence, but the goaltending and offence leave a lot to be desired.
6th Place: Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers would be far higher in their division if not for the leaky faucet that is Braden Holtby. Far past his prime - if he ever had one to begin with - it's more likely Elvis Merzilinskyins will emerge as the go-to for GM Dean 4-on-the-Richter Scale.
7th Place: Vegas Golden Knights
It's hard to imagine a city like Las Vegas and a player like Alex Ovechkin could end up toward the bottom of the Pacific Division. But it seems while GM Keith Evans built himself an offensively charged power, he forgot to add the defence. Look for a ton of wild west shootouts for the Knights this season.
8th Place: Seattle Kraken
Speaking of being at the bottom of the Pacific, here comes the Kraken. With a roster caught somewhere between a 1990's era expansion team and a semi-rebuilder, GM David Springing In The Rain is back to dumpster dive at the 'barely above the cap' store. I hear that Jack Hughes kid is going to be good, though.
In classic sign-off fashion, I shall simply leave you and say...