|The Memorial Cup|
Not going to waste your time trying to go through 24 different playoff series spread out through the 3 leagues that make up the CHL. Instead I will talk about those teams with Ranger or Islander prospects on them and the chances they have at making a trip to Saskatoon in May.
The Baie-Comeau Drakkar with Ranger prospect defenseman Samuel Noreau (2011 5th) go into the QMJHL playoffs as the 2nd seed which is a huge jump from being the 13th seed last season. They face the expansion and 15th seeded Sherbrooke Phoenix in what on paper should be a huge mismatch.
The Drakkar have the advantage of having last year's Memorial Cup winning coach Eric Veilleux behind their bench and he will make sure the Drakkar don't take the Phoenix lightly. The Drakkar have been in the QMJHL since 1997 and never won the QMJHL championship.
Having Veilleux behind the bench is a huge advantage for the Drakkar as both coach and franchise have something to prove. That they don't have to face the Halifax Mooseheads until the QMJHL finals works for them.
The key to the QMJHL finals might be which team shows up healthy but also which coach gets the most out of his entire bench. I like the job Veilleux can do behind the bench not to give the Drakkar a chance to win their first QMJHL championship in their franchise history.
The Barrie Colts have Mitchell Theoret (NYI 2011 7th) and they finished 2nd in the OHL's Eastern conference. Adding Mark Scheifele to their lineup (39-40-79 in 45 games) turns a middle of the pack team into a serious OHL contender.
The Colts have what it takes to make it to the OHL Finals but it is doubtful they have what it takes to defeat whichever team comes from the OHL's Western Conference. The Western Conference has been owning the OHL championship the last few years and that is not changing.
The Niagara IceDogs have Ryan Strome (NYI 2011 1st) and Jesse Graham (NYI 2012 6th) on the roster but they just don't have the talent to get out of their first round series against the Oshawa Generals. If you are an Islander fan, the good news is that Strome can join Bridgeport for the rest of their season.
On the western conference side is Andrey Pedan (NYI 2011 3rd) leading his Guelph Storm up against the Kitchener Rangers. While most are predicting Kitchener because of their 12-2 record against the Storm over the last 2 seasons; this will a series decided by goalies and which team can maintain their composure the best.
IF Pedan plays under control then the Storm could steal their first round series but if not then Pedan will be joining Strome in Bridgeport sooner rather than later.
It is really this simple, no matter how Saskatoon does in the WHL they will be in the Memorial Cup but they still could have a say in which other WHL team joins them at the Cup. The way the rules work is if Saskatoon were to reach the WHL finals that no matter the outcome, the team they face also earns a berth in the Memorial Cup.
The Edmonton Oil Kings with Michael St. Croix (NYR 2011 4th) and team captain Griffin Reinhart (NYI 2012 1st) have played this regular season as a means to get back to what they call "unfinished business" at the Memorial Cup. They have played the 2nd half of this season with an almost machine precision and there is no reason why they can't get that chance to take care of unfinished business.
The one possible roadblock just might be the expected rematch in the WHL finals against the Portland Winterhawks. Last year it was the Oil Kings who had Game 7 in their house; this year it is in Portland and don't think for a moment that might just wind up being the deciding factor.
For the heck of it
Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL-- Coach Eric Veilleux proved himself to be one heck of a coach last year. He coached a team that defied the odds last year but this year he has a much more talented team to work with.
London in OHL-- London wants to host the 2014 Memorial Cup in their house and have assembled a team that can win now and tomorrow. If they get past Plymouth it won't matter who they face in the OHL finals as they won't stand a chance against the Knights.
Edmonton in the WHL-- I know I have been saying that for Portland "Third time is the charm" but I saw a couple of things when I watched Edmonton rally to defeat Portland in the last minute that changed my mind. Yes I know I am biased because I have a self-interest with the Oil Kings but I can live with that.
I also get accused of being biased for the Portland Winterhawks since they are by right my home team. I can live with that too but Portland is not the only ones playing with a chip on their shoulder.