NHL Happy Hour: Summer Cocktail Predictions
Sometimes life hands you lemons and sometimes life hands you a Mao Hound - vodka, mint, grapefruit, soda and ginger mixed together for a headache-reducing specialty drink. A really fancy treat, but am I turning soft with these drinks? Some purest might yell at me for once again tainting high quality vodka with mixed juices, well, it tastes good and don’t judge me, okay? I respect vodka, trust me, because you really ought to respect vodka; if you do not you will have a bad time.
Today is another day where I get to visit a peaceful bar and write something about hockey, and since it has been a little dry in the news department, lets take a look ahead to our ‘maybe happening’, ‘maybe not happening’, 2012-2013 NHL season.
Today’s topic of my Happy Hour is my pick of NHL teams that I think will make the jump into the playoffs next season. I know it might be early still to write about next year’s playoffs, but the news is slow and my drink is cold, so why not get to some predictions.
And, in the eventuality that you come back to me a year from now and say “Hey, you were totally right… this drink is really good, but too bad you were wrong about those teams”, my prompt and well-timed retort will be “I was drunk, so eat me”. Stay classy, San Diego.
Every year we see many disappointed fans during the playoffs due to their team not making them. And every off-season those same fans are filled with renewed hope as various transactions fill their minds with the possibility of enjoying playoffs again, and all the bragging rights within. The 2013 playoffs will feature a couple of new teams, in my humble opinion, which include the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabers.
My favorite part about drinking the creative drinks that my bartender makes is the looks from the manly men at the bar; the old guys. You know, the guys with the permanent whiskey face and the sweat-stained shirts. The ones that have a permanent bar seat spine arch and who drink cheap beer with cheap whiskey. If your bar don’t got’em, it ain’t a good bar – sorry, comrades. They do not appreciate the vibrant color of my sexy alcoholic beverage and do not care for the flavors of ginger and lime. I am guessing I will get a similar reaction from the fans of the teams I see not making the playoffs, but as I always try to make peace, I offer a drink. Everyone loves free drinks. Umm, spot me, will you?
So now that I am in good graces with you, I can proceed.
The Carolina Hurricanes will make the playoffs and there is a very simple reason why: the Staal brothers. Oh yeah, also Jeff Skinner (who may or may not be 12 years old still). I am a strong believer of a team needing depth down the middle to win and now this team has three top-tier centers. One of them will most likely play wing, but nevertheless. Last year’s power play will without a doubt improve with addition of Jordan Staal, and look to Jamie McBain to improve as pivot at the point for them. This will help an already fairly-talented squad of guys to bring the powerplay parentage up to near twenty percent. Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo can both put up offense from the back-end as well. A good healthy and productive season from Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, who both have 30-goal potential, and Carolina is looking very much improved indeed. Skinner did not seem to have any sort of sophomore slump and should continue to grow offensively. A good idea is also to win more games vs the Atlantic division, as 16 loses came from that group with only 3 wins – ouch! This team only has 21 players signed and needs to spend about $4 million more to reach the cap floor. There are rumors of Jim Rutherford (who has lots of green to spend – I mean cash, not the other “green” as far as I know) is trying to sweet talk Alexander Semin into a one or two-year deal and I am sure he would not mind picking up Doan to lead this young squad. Make it rain, Ruther…Make it rain.
The Southeast division to me is not the strongest to begin with; think of this division as a virgin margarita while the Atlantic could be a long island iced tea. I can see Florida ending up in last this year, and Jets goaltending is not as good, so bummer there, too. Carolina and the Capitals are looking like the winners for me here, although, depending on the goaltending, Tampa Bay might make some noise as well.
I think my drink is perfect for that Southeast division, indeed. I should be somewhere in Florida drinking this orange goodness. Instead of beaches, all I get is the concrete jungle with its constant NYC heat wave and not-so-refreshing cars’ exhaust. To me a bar with air conditioning is an oasis for the body and the mind, except this one is substituting AC with 3 or 4 fans that make about as much noise as the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. The pleasant scent of my drink, which hits my nose as I drink it, briefly, cancels out the slight smell of tightly squeezed sweaty human beings – you remember those old guys? The fans are struggling to compete with the humidity and general “New Yorkness” of the folks. More sips.
The Dallas Stars went on a shopping spree and I thank them for it. In this dry off-season (dry season?) we have not had too much to write about and I sorta like this team. The moves Joe Nieuwendyk has made do not come free from criticism. I am sure the fans are split on his decision to ship out Steve Ott (a fan favorite, right?) and Mike Ribeiro. To replace the creative playmaker and the angry human being, I am sure you know which one is which, he signed a couple of old guys. Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney – who both are spitting in Father Times’ face, and combined for 131 points last season. Whitney would have been the highest scorer on the young Dallas team and 40 is the new 20, right?. Was that enough? Nope and nope. He also decided to add a talented center, whose time in Buffalo was over and done with, Derek Roy. I think this deeply improved the offensive punch this Dallas team sorely needed. With Benn (He is humongous good) and Roy down the middle and Loui, Jagr, Ryder, and Whitney on the wing you have some potent offense. The powerplay should improve as both Jagr and Whitney made a living last year on the powerplay. A healthy Galigosky should get back to his 40-45 point pace, if he can play more than 70 games. I look for them to crack the top eight and squeeze out Phoenix and maybe even San Jose.
Oh, and yes… I think the Minnesota Wild will not make the playoffs. Sorry, Wild fans, you can egg Parise’s and Suter’s house during playoffs instead.
Buffalo Sabres are my last dark horse. You know they missed last year’s playoffs by 3 points; if only they could have played two fewer games vs Lucic and company. The bright spot is that they beat the LA Kings, but the bad news is that it was in October of last year. So what is new with this squad? The Sabres have a respectable payroll that they will be rolling out this year, even after they shipped out Derek Roy and Brad Boyes (23 points, good riddance?). What Buffalo was missing was some toughness, but boy did they fix that. With Steve Ott, John Scott, and Cody McCormick they got plenty of muscle to make sure no one messes with their team again… forever and ever. The main reason I have the Sabres cracking the top-eight is that Ville Leino and Tyler Ennis were huge disappointments for them (Ennis only played 48 games and Leino only had 25 points) and they still barely missed the playoffs. With these two guys having even a 20% improvement, and with Steve Ott being a greatly superior player than Brad Boyes, I see this team making the playoffs – bet on it! Their defense coupled with Miller in net is as solid as you get in the East, assuming Weber stays in the West of course. This is why I did not expect for Buffalo to miss the playoffs last year at all. But hey, Buffalo was a bit inconsistent and it was mostly due to terrible secondary scoring, as Vanek and Pominville tore it up. Look for the other team in New York to have a more consistent season and a healthy Tyler Ennis to break 60 points (fantasy pro tip for free).
Unfortunately these drinks do not last forever, which is borderline criminal. I hope everyone who reads this goes out and enjoys a nice summery drink during their next happy hour because it feels nice to order one, trust me (As Marshal pointed out in How I Met Your Mother Season 2 Episode 10, “Single Stamina”). Do not feel embarrassed as your co-workers say silly things and be forced into drinking another boring beer as these summer days do not last forever. Enjoy these hot, hot days with cool, refreshing and tasty drinks while you still can. And to my friends in Canada, who may still be shoveling snow from their driveways (or so the stereotype goes – hey, I hear it about Russia all the time) there’s no shame in adding some Irish Cream to a warm mug of coffee on a cold day.
The hockey season will start soon, and it will start god-dammit, Gary…by god it will! Keep your cup half-full, Buffalo, Carolina, and Dallas fans.
Bottoms up, comrades.
If you missed last week’s Happy Hour, find it here: “NHL Happy Hour: How the NHL can be Compared to Vodka”
You can always ask for the free drink and follow me on Twitter @maximus91