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#1 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
There isn’t a team with as much top end talent backed with great depth as much as the Lightning. Their forwards are fast, skilled and very opportunistic, especially with Kucherov and Stamkos leading the way up front. They were first in scoring with 296 goals last season. That was the highest amount of goals recorded in a regular season since the Washington Capitals filled 318 pucks in the net during the 09-10 season.
Their defense is filled with workhorses as Hedman, Sergachev and newly acquired McDonagh are in for a full season. They can each run the powerplay and cover their man in the defensive end very well. Most teams are lucky to have just one of those guys as good as they are. Tampa has three. That will be very scary for opponents to deal with.
Great goaltending from Vasilevskiy will once again vault this team over the top. He was outstanding for the Lightning last season and is likely going to do work his magic again this year.
Overall Tampa will be one of the best teams in the league with a very dangerous team up and down the roster. Their weakness is the penalty kill as they just averaged 76% last season and was a direct result as to why they lost the very few games they did lose last season. Other than that, they’ll be a deadly team all season long.
#2 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Fans have been gushing over the John Tavares signing in early July of this year. Why not? This is a great times to be a Leafs fan. The turn around of the team started with great management as Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Mike Babcock turned water into wine with their consulting, drafting and signings they’ve made in the last three seasons. Rookie GM Kyle Dubas made a great first impression by landing the big fish in John Tavares. Dubas hasn’t even been GM for a month and he already signed him for 8 seasons on contract to play for the Buds.
Toronto is a team that boasts a great top 6 forward cast with Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, Marner, Kadri and Marleau as the main scoring weapons up front. With a group like that, you’ll have a solid chance of getting 3+ goals per game average and score one out of every four powerplays (25%) which will most likely make you a top 3 scoring team in the league.
On paper, their defense doesn’t have a bonafide powerplay quarterback or even a defensive stalwart but they’re still alright as they averaged over 80% on the penalty kill. They were slightly above average in goals allowed (232 GA, 12th in league) which is still good considering the weapons they boast up front. Having a goaltender like Frederick Anderson saving your butt combined with Mike Babcock’s excellent coaching will boost the team’s defensive prowess too.
Overall, you’ll see the Leafs in high scoring games, they’ll be fun to watch, but they will need an additional defenseman at the trade deadline. They will get their man next Spring if they want to push for a deep playoff run.
#3 FLORIDA PANTHERS
Ok, so this a gamble and some of you will say I’m crazy for writing this but there is a lot to like about the Florida Panthers being a playoff team this year. My reasoning is that the Panthers young nucleus of Ekblad, Barkov, Dadonov, Huberdeau and Bjugstad still have the best years ahead of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Huberdeau, Barkov and Trochek all had 80 point seasons and they are talented enough to make it happen. They made a terrific late season push last year and were just one point away from making the playoffs.
Florida doesn’t have a ton of depth but they do have Borgstrom and Tippett on the verge of making the team and if they do, they’ll have a chance to make a great impression on the checking line and even special teams as well.
Goaltending is a bit uncertain as Luongo is getting up there in age and James Reimer still needs to post better numbers to be a solid #1 goaltender. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out.
The Panthers are not known to be strong starters but they tend to play better late in the season. That’s the best time to watch them play.
#4 BOSTON BRUINS
There is no doubt that everything worked out for Boston last season. They were scoring, defended well, plus they were converting powerplays and killing penalties at a high-caliber rate. Sometimes, I wonder about Boston because they’ve had some great seasons with the same core of players. Sometimes, they’ve had some mediocre years where they’ve finished 9th in the conference two years in a row. Finishing 9th is really bad because it not only means you’re not in the playoffs, you don’t get a high draft pick either.
Boston is still a really good team and they definitely do have talent but I think they over-achieved last season. We might see a correction in their stats. Marchand is a slippery player and hard to play against but it wouldn’t amaze me if he drops 10-15 points. Same goes with Pastranak and Chara. I can see the team trending sideways or even down because of how much better teams like Florida is getting plus with division rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto making strides in the off-season.
Boston will be at least be a wild card team but their path to the playoffs will be inconsistent especially if Rask has a few off games but overall, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.
#5 BUFFALO SABRES
The Sabres will not focus on making the playoffs this year, they will focus on development. What’s positive about the Sabres is that unlike the other teams not making the playoffs in the Atlantic Division, they’re trending up, not down. Buffalo boasts the best prospect pool in the league with Rasmus Dahlen, Casey Mittelstadt, Alex Nylander and Brendan Guhle all projecting to make the team next season.
The Sabres already have Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen on the team showing great play and excitement but the issue will be how they will gel playing with new players making the cut.
I believe they’ll have a great nucleus in the future. They might surprise with a couple winning streaks this year, especially once the kids find their way playing in the NHL. They’ll show a huge improvement between now and April of 2019 but they’ll be golfing after that time.
#6 OTTAWA SENATORS
Let’s not talk about last season. That’s a topic for another day. This prediction is made assuming Erik Karlsson is finally out and it was a sad ending for him in Ottawa. They still have some good players in Stone, Duchene plus up-and-comer Chabot but the atmosphere in the locker room needs to be addressed. There are still controversies and issues that haven’t been settled since last season and that can affect the team this season. Some more moves on the roster will have to be made in order to clear the air to start fresh and no team needs it more than the Sens.
Despite their shortcomings on the current roster, Ottawa does have a few good prospects. Brady Tkachuk is their top gun that can make camp this year as well as Logan Brown. There are spots available so look for them to make an impression right out of the gate.
The Sens might be in for another fiasco if the garden hose is still kinked but I think it’ll be a little bit more stable this season, but just a little.
#7 DETROIT RED WINGS
If there was a word that would describe Detroit right now, it would be ‘underwhelming’. Nobody on Detroit was an impact player last season. Forwards like Larkin and Mantha are good, but they are better suited for secondary scoring roles, not top line duties.
If this team gets one or two studs that can plug and play into the lineup(most likely won’t happen), the whole dynamics of this team will change for the better but it’s wise to go for the rebuilding strategy since Detroit is excellent at drafting. They got Pavel Zadina at the draft this Summer. He’s a pure goal-scorer who can make the team but he won’t a impact right away. Michael Rasmussen is very intriguing as well. He will most likely make the team with a great impression but overall the Wings won’t be taken seriously this season. They don’t have any established elite players at this point in time.
Give it another year for Detroit be a much better team who can quietly make a massive leap forward if the development of Zadina and Rasmussen goes well.
#8 MONTREAL CANADIENS
I wish I could say that the Habs have something going for them but I’m afraid they don’t have much at this point, at least for now. The team on paper looks like it’s rebuilding especially with Pacioretty recently traded to Vegas for Nick Suzuki, Tatar and a 2nd round pick. Looks like a type of trade for a rebuild to start but GM Bergevin says otherwise. He still wants to keep Weber and Price on the club despite the club going on a downward trend. Drouin and Gallagher still had good seasons despite how poorly the team performed but they need a wealth of support around them if they want to improve their numbers.
If the Habs want to trend upward, they have to focus on developing their current prospects. They have a long list of centers that are in development and that’s an area where they need top get much better at. They do have Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling aa their top center prospects but they won’t be ready for awhile yet. Now that they have Suzuki, it should be interesting where he slots in if he makes the club. Nikita Scherbak is talented and will challenge for a wing position as well.
Victor Mete and Noah Juulsen saw some action last season and made an impression to the coaching staff. They’ll have an advantage in training camp because of the experience.
The Habs have a much better prospect pool than what most people think and they still have decent pieces in place to make a good team down the road but their locker room is filled with distraction. The media always puts a spin on the team’s affairs which makes it difficult to focus on playing hockey. Because of that, they’ll have a rocky season ahead of them.
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Rink Report - brad Burud
Welcome --- First post in a new section that I will be doing weekly this season. I am Brad Burud the owner of Inside Edge Hockey News. Many call me the NHL opinionist…. well that is what this section is all about. I will throw at you my thoughts, opinions, or my gripes every week. Some are controversial, some are common sense, and some might frustrate you. I am open to all of your thoughts and comments. Fire away in the comment section below. I love talking hockey with fellow hockey fans.
Is it just me or is the Central Division getting way too much hype heading into this season. Really, are they as strong as they used to be… I don’t think so. Winnipeg, probably the best team in the NHL, and I am not arguing with Nashville either. As for the rest, are they really that good? Minnesota, well they seem to make the playoffs every year, but this year I think that will end. Colorado, who knows with this team. They shocked the hockey world last season but there is lots of questions this year, the first being between the pipes. St. Louis to me looks like a better team on paper but seem to falter. I do think they will be good this season. Dallas, will the real Dallas team please stand up. Your guess is as good as mine. They honestly could be a top three team in the league or miss the playoffs (they proved that last year. Chicago’s golden days are gone..they will be golfing early.
I am tired of the Erik Karlsson saga, how much longer can this go on. I think we all need to stop talking about this…he is not going to Vancouver (or Canada for that matter). I think he is only worried about $$$$$, and that bothers me to say that because any interaction I have had with him has been more than positive. I think Vegas is the frontrunner, but the list of teams lined up is very long. I think Karlsson will start the year in Ottawa and will be the talk of deadline day. I also predict that he struggles this year. Yes – that is bold, considering the fact that I think he is one of the best defensemen in the league.
I have been plugging the Winnipeg Jets for three years now. This team is for real, I honestly feel that they have more top end talent than any other team in the NHL. I guess The Hockey News thinks so too... four Jets players in the top 50 players list.
9. Mark Scheifele C
15. Blake Wheeler RW
19. Patrik Laine RW
22. Connor Hellebuyck G
That is some real firepower… big things on the prairie this winter….
#1 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The perennial offensive powerhouse is back and ready to attack once again for another exciting season coming our way! It was a relatively quiet off-season for the Pens but they didn’t need to make many moves. They signed Jack Johnson to a multi-year deal to shore up the blueline which is one of the team’s weak spots.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Pens make it to another Stanley Cup Final and what’s different this year compared to the last couple of seasons is that they’re on the outside looking in. They were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals, in 6 games of the Eastern conference semi-finals.
The Pens will be fresher because of the extra rest compared to years before when they won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. There’s no doubt Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and company will still be at the top of their game to cement another great season in the best era of Penguins history. They have the deadliest powerplay as they were ranked #1 in that department last year plus they were #5 on offense. There’s no reason why that won’t change as of right now. Look for some exciting, high-flying games by them, especially against the Flyers and the Capitals. Mark it on your calendar when they play!
#2 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
This might come as a surprise to some but I think the Flyers have a team that is a force to be reckoned with. Giroux, Voracek and Couturier had outstanding seasons last year. With Nolan Patrick on the verge of a breakout plus the signing of James van Riemsdyk, they now have a very scary offense that has great mix of skill, physicality and speed.
On the back end, Ivan Provorov has established himself as a solid two-defender for years to come and Gostibehere (aka Ghost Bear) had a terrific season as well. Ghost Bear’s numbers might see a dip but he’ll still put up big numbers from the back.
The Flyers aren’t as deep as the top contending teams but from what they lack in depth they make up for in prospects. Carter Hart is arguably the top goaltending prospect in the league and he’ll get a shot at training camp. Defenseman, Phillipe Myers has a great shot at making the team as well as centerman, Morgan Frost, a very explosive skater.
Penalty Killing and goaltending are Philly’s weak spots but with an improved roster from within, they will get better in those departments. Their offense should make up for those deficiencies.
#3 WASHINGTON CAPITALS
The 2018 Stanley Cup champions had a year to remember! After many disappointments and early playoff exits, they finally made their mark in history and Alex Ovechkin got his Stanley Cup; he hasn’t let the cup out of his sights or been sober ever since, haha.
The Caps earned their first Stanley Cup by having the presence of two elite centers in Kuznetsov and Backstrom. In the past, the Caps didn’t have this luxury, which is why they too often eliminated early in the playoffs. Their rivals, the Penguins, always stacked themselves down the middle with Malkin and Crosby. That’s why the Penguins have 3 cups since 2009.
The Caps still have their main core intact and they’ve signed D John Carlson to an extension this summer. They’ll be gunning for a second straight cup and their odds are terrific.
#4 CAROLINA HURRICANES
It was a down year in Carolina and another missed opportunity to make the playoffs. That has been the case for the last 8 season ever since they made the Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins in 2009. But that was a long time ago and none of the guys that were on that team are here today.
There was no distinguished strengths of that team as they ranked in the mid 20’s in goals for, goals against, powerplay and penalty killing against other teams in the league.
What they did have right was their shots for/ shots against ratio. They peppered 2780 shots on goal while having 2367 shots against. Do you realize how good that is? They had 413 more shots on goal than against. That’s huge! The problem is that they couldn’t finish opportunities and Scott Darling did not play well for the Canes last season. They easily would of been a playoff team if Cam Ward simply played more games. Now that Ward is gone, Darling will get a second chance to see if he is worth the starter’s job. We’ll see how it goes but I think he’ll improve. I believe in second chances for opportunities like what Darling has, except for getting back together with your ex. I don’t believe in that at all.
Carolina’s strength by far is their defensive core from #1 to #6. They just got Dougie Hamilton who is very gifted offensive from the backend. Jaccob Slavin is a defensive stalwart plus Faulk, Pesce and van Riemsdyk round out a pretty solid backend.
The Canes lack star power and they’ve especially missed it last year. Now with Svechnikov in the picture, he’ll most likely make the team. He’s the Cane’s main weapon for the future and he’ll get his feet wet this season. If he turns out to be any good, he’ll make the Canes a better team immediately.
This team is closer to being better than what a lot of people think and it won’t be surprising if they contend for a wild card spot in April of 2019.
#5 COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
If it wasn’t for Panarin (aka Pan Bread) or Bobrovsky (aka Boobtitsky) the Jackets wouldn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Consistent scoring was a struggle for them last season despite Seth Jones had an outstanding year from the backend. A lot of players experienced big drop offs including Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno. Luckily Pierre-Luc Dubois had a nice rookie season for them and played really well with Pan Bread late in the season.
Ever since Tortorella has taken over the head coaching job in 2016, he turned this team around and established an identity by getting his team to play a gritty, hard-nosed, in-your-face brand of hockey. Although they have depth and character, they lack someone who can score all season long. Only Pan Bread can do it and the rest of the team has streaky scoring.
Although I like this team on paper, they are one distraction or injury away from having a bad losing streak faltering their chances on missing the playoffs. Speaking of distractions, Panarin needs a contract and he won’t likely stay with the club. They’ll miss the playoffs, but just barely.
#6 NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils made a terrific run in the season to make the last wild card seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s how Taylor Hall won the MVP trophy this season as he shouldered this team to the playoffs. Much like Columbus, Hall is the reason why the Devils made the playoffs just like how Panarin was the reason the Jackets were successful. The depth chart falls immediately after Hall. Nico Hishier is good and will be an elite center in a couple of seasons but he isn’t at his prime yet.
The defensive core is probably the most average in the league. Will Buthcer had a great rookie season but he may have been over-acheiving just a bit. He could drop a few points but that’s ok, he’s still a lte round steal for the Devils. Vatanen looked good for the Devils last season but he won’t be carrying this club from the backend.
The Devils were probably the luckiest team when it came to their goaltending situation. As Cory Schneider struggled, Keith Kinkaid bailed him out and played way above expectations earning himself the starter job.
Much like the stock market when things go much better than expected, a course correction is in Order for the Devils.
#7 NEW YORK RANGERS
In a letter published in a local newspaper to Rangers fans from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton on February 8th, 2018, they basically told fans that they’re rebuilding from the ground up and that marked a significant change in the Ranger’s destiny for the coming years on that day. Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T Miller and Michael Grabner were shipped out at the trade deadline for prospects and future considerations.
The full rebuild is in effect at the Big Apple. They were loaded with 10 picks at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas including three first round draft picks. They selected forward Vitali Kravtsov with the 9th overall pick, defenseman K’Andre Miller with the 22nd overall pick, and defenseman Nils Lundkvist with the 28th overall pick.
With those picks, they’ll have the deepest pool of prospects in a couple of years. As of now, the Rangers are in transition. Henrik Lundqvist needs an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup and they’ll most likely have him shipped out somewhere by the trade deadline in 2019.
The Rangers won’t be good but they now a have a direction and that will bode well for their future.
#8 NEW YORK ISLANDERS
I’m not going to hold back on this one. The Islanders had a wasted season that could of been completely avoided. The Isles needed to chooses a path for the club while they still had a shot at the playoffs. They either had to buy or sell. Instead, they didn’t make a single move. The Isles were in desperate need of goaltending near the trade deadline. They easily could of snagged Cam Ward. He was available. A defensive stalwart would of made a difference as well. Their penalty kill was horrible as they ranked dead last in the league. Ryan McDonagh would of been terrific in fixing that problem. He was available.
Islanders were even better off to sell than to do nothing. They didn’t even trade Tavares away while they still could of got some value from him and now he’s moved on with the Maple Leafs for nothing in return for the Isles.
The team had these problems because of colossal mismanagement from Garth Snow and now he’s fired. Thankfully, Lou Lamiorello took over the General Manger role. Even with him at charge of operations, the Isles won’t recover from what happened last season. Now they have to suffer a painful season trying to figure how they can get back to being a playoff contender. Time to get to work.
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#1 WINNIPEG JETS
It wasn’t a matter of how, it was a matter of when. When the Jets will finally play as a great hockey team. Many years of building a prospect pipeline is finally paying dividends and they are ready to contend for a Stanley Cup for years to come.
In the most competitive division of the NHL, the Jets have what it takes to be #1 in the Central. Their offense is oozing with speed and skill. They play an aggressive up-tempo game and they have size to win key puck battles in the corners.
The X-factor for the Jets will be goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who had an amazing 17/18 season. He had a really good playoff showing as well. Not many goaltenders make the conference finals in their first full season and there isn’t a reason why he can’t do it again.
The Jets are poised to be a Stanley Cup contender this season and as long as distractions or the injury bug keep away, they’ll have a great chance to go the distance.
#2 NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Arguably the most well structured team in the league, the Preds had a disappointing playoff exit against the Jets in the Western conference semi-finals last season. They’ll look to bounce back and if they want to go anywhere in the post season, they’ll most likely have to go through the Jets again. They have the team to do it but they do have to keep themselves in check and make sure they’re prepared to match the up-tempo game the Jets like to play.
Nashville’s strength by far is their blueline. They have the best defensive core in the entire NHL with Josi, Subban, Ekholm and Ellis rounding their top 4. They all play sound defensive hockey. With Rinne as their goaltender backing the defense, it’s very difficult to score 3 goals in a game against them.
Their offense is really good but it’s not at the same caliber as their defense and that’ll be their weakness if they start scoring in streaks. Forsberg, Turris, Arvidsson and Johansen are solid contributors offensively but they are not at the same level as the Penguins, Capitals, Leafs, Lightning and Jets when it comes to fire power up-front.
The Preds will most likely be a playoff team and maybe a Stanley Cup contender if their scoring gets hot at the right time but it’ll be a wait-and-see approach from here on in.
#3 ST. LOUIS BLUES
It was a disappointing season for the Blues as they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011. It’s the Central we’re talking about so it’s tough for every team to get an advantage over their divisional rival. Blues management knows how hard it is to play in the Central so that’s why GM Doug Armstrong acquired Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak and David Perron in the off-season. That’s a nice score for any team in an off-season, but it’s extra sweet for the Blues because those players play Blues style hockey; a blue-collar, chip-and-chase brand that’s very aggressive on the forecheck.
The Blues aren’t very good on the powerplay as they ranked 30th in that department last season. That’ll still be a concern when the season starts on October 3rd and will be their biggest weakness. None of the guys they acquired in the off-season are true powerplay specialists but their 5-on-5 game will be a huge plus. They’ll be much better even-strength.
With a nice rest in the off-season, they’ll have a fresh start to what looks to be a promising campaign for the Blues in the 18/19 NHL season.
#4 DALLAS STARS
The Stars are an interesting case to look at because what you think the Stars are known for, their offensive talent, wasn’t their strength last season. The Stars were remarkably ranked 6th in goals allowed last season and that wasn’t expected from them whatsoever, but that was with Ken Hitchcock as coach. He’s retired now so Jim Montgemery will takeover. He’ll have an improved team to coach because Valeri Nichushkin is back with the team and they could have talented defensive prospect Miro Heskanen making an impact right away.
Ben Bishop was a great goaltender with his first season with the Stars last season but injuries limited him to just 53 starts in 17/18. If he has a full season, he can push the Stars to the playoffs and that’s very achievable.
The Stars will compete for a wild card spot next season and if their off-season acquisitions can improve their depth, they’ll make some noise this season.
#5 COLORADO AVALANCHE
Besides Vegas, the Avs had the best Cinderella story of last season. Mackinnon was a beast and Rantanen played his role as shotgun perfectly for Mackinnon. The Avs had the best comeback season in recent memory after having a dreadful season in 16/17.
The Avs established themselves as playing very explosive hockey and Mackinnon thrived in that environment. He carried this team to it’s first playoff birth since 2014 and although they were defeated by Nashville, they show promise for the future. Tyson Jost is primed for a breakout season and they’ve added defenceman Ian Cole to shore up their blueline.
The Avs are in a very good situation with how they are growing and they still have an elite prospect with defenceman Cale Makar primed for the future. As for this season, they’ll build off their success they had last year and will compete for another playoff spot this year.
#6 MINNESOTA WILD
The Wild had a good season last year. They made the playoffs and were contending to advance once again. The problem is more teams in the Central have improved are in the toughest division in the league because of it. The Wild have a good team and have got the most out of Eric Staal and Devan Dubnyk, who performed way above expectations. Good for them but the team didn’t improve at all in the off-season while other teams were making moves. That’ll hurt the Wild this season.
The Wild aren’t great at any particular part of their game but they’re not terrible either. What’s bad is that they are average in special teams and 5 on 5 play. While that may have worked in the past, it won’t cut it this season. Will a rebuild be in order after next season? Let’s hope for the Wild, that’s not the case.
#7 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
The main core of the team is still in tact as Kane and Toews still play good hockey. Seabrook and Keith had seasons they want to forget but their play was severely hampered because of the lack of depth they used to when they were on top of the hockey world with 3 Stanley Cups in 5 seasons. The depth drops off very fast from their first line and had to use their 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines as a season long tryout camp for their prospects, with most of them not ready to make the leap. Alex DeBrincat was a diamond in the rough and was the only bit of good news the Hawks had all year. He led the Hawks in goals in his rookie season and is looking to build off that.
If the Hawks want to make an impact this season, Corey Crawford needs to overcome vertigo plus Kane, Toews, Seabrook and Keith need to have monster seasons. In a division like the Central, it isn’t likely.
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#1 SAN JOSE SHARKS
Coincidence is funny sometimes. A few hours before I was writing this article, news broke out that Erik Karlsson gets traded to the Sharks. I also had San Jose slotted in to go #1 even before the announcement of the blockbuster trade so this was mean’t to be.
This team keeps finding ways to get good players on the team whether it’s trade or drafting, GM Doug Wilson gets the job done and he is the reason why the Sharks have been a consistently great team. Even with Thornton, Pavelski, Burns and Couture getting older, the Sharks keep drafting excellent talent that will back those players up and provide a great future for the club. Tomas Hertl, Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi and even Kevin Labanc have provided great secondary support for Couture and Pavelski, who had average seasons compared to what they can achieve.
The Sharks now have Evander Kane for a full season as well. He came in as a late season pick up from Buffalo and was able to fit in like a glove in Northern California.
This is easily the best team the Sharks had on paper in many years and I’ll bet this team is better than the one they had in 2016 when they went to the Stanley Cup finals against the Penguins. Expect them to take advantage of a very weak Pacific division and tear up the Western conference.
#2 CALGARY FLAMES
The Flames I see as a team that can come together and play well as a cohesive unit if they put their mind to winning. The Flames have a very good team on paper but last year they had no emotion nor spark to drive them to a playoff spot. That prompted a shake up in the off-season as the Flames acquired two players who feel they have something to prove in Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. They’ll provide the fire the Flames need as it’s their last chance to prove they can play up to their potential. Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland were subsequently shipped to Carolina as a result of the trade. The Flames also signed James Neal, who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals in two straight seasons, offers character and an insight of what the finals are like. He’ll be an asset going forward.
The Flames have a very good defensive core plus a fast, skilled, and speedy top 6 forward group. If they can find chemistry and get a good rhythm going, they’ll easily be a playoff team. I think they’ll struggle early on in the season but will find their groove from there on in.
#3 VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
The best expansion season from a major league sports team in history is under the books and what a thrilling journey it was for the Vegas Golden Knights. The team of “Golden Misfits”, a team that had players that were outcasted by their former NHL clubs came together and played an incredible brand of hockey that nobody expected.
Now we’re in year two and already this team is going through a shakeup. Perron and Neal are gone but they now have Pacioretty and Statsny. If you ask me, I think the latter is far more valuable than the former. Patches needs a rebound year and he’ll get one with Vegas without question.
Fleury needs to continue to be his superstar self if Vegas wants to make the playoffs this season and I think he’ll be successful. He’s been better in the last 3 seasons than he has been his entire career. Signs point that he’s one of guys who goes through his prime later than most athletes. Luckily for Vegas, that time is now.
It’ll be a tougher year for Vegas, as they can’t sneak on opponents anymore plus Nate Schmidt is suspended 20 games for a supposed drug violation. Schmidt was a valuable asset for Vegas last season and his services will be missed for the first quarter of the season. That’s unless they prove the suspension was unjust and reversed during training camp.
#4 EDMONTON OILERS
Last season, a lot of people have claimed high expectations that the Oilers were going to be a force to be reckoned with last season. Sadly for the Oilers, it didn’t come to be. McDavid was the only bright spot the Oilers had last season as he won the NHL scoring title even on an under-performing team. Not much has changed since the off-season and the same glaring holes in the Oilers weak spots are still there.
The special teams were dreadful for the Oilers the prior season placing dead last on the powerplay and 25th on the penalty kill. Goaltending isn’t where it’s supposed to be and the defencemen for the club give opposing forwards too much space on the ice.
A big positive is the fact that the Oilers have the best player in the world in Connor McDavid and studs such as Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Regardless, this team still needs a few areas improved if they want to be a playoff team and I doubt this year will be their year.
#5 LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Kings pride themselves by playing very sound defensive hockey. They were #1 in both goals against (203 GA) and penalty kill (85%) last season. When you’re the best at both of those categories, your defense is like a wall that can’t be run through or climbed over. Goaltender Jonathon Quick has been outstanding plus the coaching structure contributed to the success on defence.
L.A. will continue to be great defensively but not as good as they were a year ago. It’s hard to see Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown continue their amazing play as they age. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk signed to a 3-year deal in July, teams like Calgary, St. Louis and San Jose have made strides ahead of L.A. this summer as they’ve acquired more impact players than the Kings. The team itself isn’t worse, but they did get 1 year older and in today’s game, age means a lot and is more crucial than ever before as players are having shorter careers because of how fast the game is played. Unfortunately, the Kings are not a fast skating team so that could be a problem for them. Signs indicate that this might be a trying time for the Kings this season.
#6 ANAHEIM DUCKS
The Ducks were one of the better defensive teams last season. They’re usually in the playoff hunt more times than not but were easily dismantled by the Sharks in 4 games last season during the Western conference quarter-finals last season. Fast forward 5 months and the Ducks haven’t changed their team very much. Their outlook isn’t overly favourable because Getzlaf and Perry are already 33 years old. Their best years are behind them. Kesler has a brutal hip injury he may not ever recover from. He may even miss the entire 18/19 season because of it.
Their defensive core is in good shape and are a tough group for forwards to compete against but their depth up front is an issue. Rickard Rakell is Anaheim’s only bonafide goal scorer and besides Getzlaf, nobody on the Ducks scored over 50 points. The scoring won’t go up with the current group and that lack of offensive punch is what will bite the Ducks during the season. Goaltender John Gibson has to be outstanding in order to give the Ducks a chance but he is simply not a brick wall. Expect a downward trend for the Ducks this season.
#7 ARIZONA COYOTES
Another year, another chance of scoring a draft lottery pick. I want to be excited for the Coyotes. I really do. But, even for a rebuilding team, they don’t have a lot of high-end prospects. Dylan Strome is the exception and he has a fantastic opportunity to make the team this season. Clayton Keller can build off his successful rookie campaign plus Alex Galchenyuk is away from the drama that’s happening in Montreal. He has a chance at a fresh start and be an integral part of the Coyotes in the future.
If the Yotes can get a win in their first 10 games of their regular season this season, they can consider themselves more successful compared to the same stage of last season. It took the Yotes 12 games to get their first victory and it took them 21 games to get their first win in regulation during the 17-18 campaign. Surely they can do better right? Let’s pray for them.
#8 VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Let’s face it, the Canucks suck. But, it’s not all that bad. Unlike bottom-feeders like the Coyotes, Habs or Senators, the Canucks have an amazing list of prospects that tell the tale of what the future is in store for them. Elias Petterson is an insanely great talent and will make the team out of camp (pending injuries of course) and Thatcher Demko is arguably the best goaltending prospect in the NHL. They also have a great defensive prospect in Olli Joulevi as well. They have players currently on the roster that are still growing in their own too. Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat shined last season and have a great opportunity to be the leaders of this club as the Sedin twins are now retired.
The 2019 draft is in Vancouver next June and consensus is that the Canucks will be very involved in that draft. They might even score a lottery pick and draft Jack Hughes as their new franchise centerman.
Regardless how Vancouver performs this season, the future is bright on the West Coast and they’ll be a great team once again.
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Thirteen NHL teams are still playing in the playoffs for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. This means that 18 teams have already moved into their off-season process, which will include the NHL Entry Draft and free agency.
Several top story lines have emerged already this "summer" for some of these clubs already in off-season mode.
Much has been made about the Islanders captain John Tavares as he approaches unrestricted free agency on July 1st of this season. I wrote about Tavares late in the season, but the story keeps growing.
The New York Islanders would obviously love to keep their captain and top offensive weapon. Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists for 84 points this past season. The 27-year-old has 621 points in 669 career NHL games, and is one of the biggest free agents to possibly hit the open market in a long time.
A couple of season ago the Tampa Bay Lightning were in a similar position with captain Steven Stamkos, but he ultimately ended up signing a contract with the Lightning before he even hit free agency.
That does not likely appear to be the case with John Tavares and the Islanders, and the team missed the postseason again this season. The Islanders, as documented in my previous piece, struggle to play defense. They can score tons of goals, but simply cannot keep the puck out of their own net.
If Tavares wants a chance to win a championship, the Islanders don't appear to be the team to be on. Teams like the Montreal Canadiens or San Jose Sharks make sense as teams who are closer to a Stanley Cup.
San Jose will likely not bring back superstar Joe Thornton, and Tavares could be a natural replacement. The Sharks are still in the postseason, and have a strong group of young forwards, a good corp of defensemen, and a good goaltending tandem in Martin Jones and Aaron Dell.
The Canadiens struggled this season, but the addition of Tavares to that group would give Montreal a bona-fide #1 center they have been craving for a long time. Plus, they have one of the best goaltenders in the world in Carey Price (assuming he returns to his Vezina form). Questions rise when you talk about Montreal's depth and defense, but that team would appear to be closer to the ultimate prize than the Islanders.
There have been rumors that the St. Louis Blues could be involved. There is a natural fit with the Blues after they traded Paul Statsny earlier this season. There is plenty of cap space in St. Louis this summer, who should have around $12 million to play with this summer (thanks CapFriendly!) and only depth players in need of new contracts.
I find it hard to image Tavares will end up with the Los Angeles Kings. They simply have two solid centers in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. The Kings would be better off trying to persuade a winger like Evander Kane or James van Riemsdyk to join their squad.
The fact that Tavares isn't signed to a long-term deal is scary for Islander fans. Losing an elite player like John Tavares would be a significant blow to a woeful team, and it looks like that might happen.
Stay tuned for more.
The Senators' captain Erik Karlsson might be another player on the move. While he is under contract for one more season, the Ottawa Senators don't appear to be anywhere close to competing for a Stanley Cup.
After making the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the wheel came off the Senators, who finished with the second worst record in the NHL. While there has been talk of a new coaching regime (see below), Erik Karlsson might not want to be around if the team needs a lengthy rebuilding process.
It definitely appears that way after the 2017-18 season. The Senators struggled to score goals and to keep the puck out of their own net. While they have some good pieces like Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, etc., this team doesn't have the strong defensive group to.
Their offense is also lacking. I'm still baffled at the idea of trading Kyle Turris for Matt Duchene (I know there was more involved then just those two players). For me, they are very similar players, although Duchene probably has a higher offensive upside. Either way, it seemed like a lot to give up for a guy that isn't much better than they guy you gave away.
There's also the question on if this team has enough offensive firepower or a good enough goaltending situation to be a top team in the NHL.
My instincts are telling me that Karlsson wants out of this situation. He has been made the fool by management and ownership, and the team is honestly pathetic at times on the ice. If he wants to win a Cup, Erik Karlsson might want to demand to be moved this season, something that might be easier said that done.
There are currently four open coaching positions in the NHL, but their could be a few more depending on what happens with the rest of this NHL postseason.
Alain Vigneault was fired by the New York Rangers, but might be the front-runner for the Dallas Stars opening. Ken Hitchcock retired after one season back on the Stars bench. Bill Peters just resigned as the Carolina Hurricanes coach, and many have penciled him into the job with the Calgary Flames, where head coach Glen Gulutzan was relieved of his duties a few weeks ago.
These all seem like natural fits, but then who would jump on the Hurricanes and Rangers jobs? Right now, the word out of Carolina is that Rod Brind'amour might be the guy to step in and take over, but that isn't certain. No front-runners have emerged in the search by the Rangers.
While I don't have answers, coaches like Guy Boucher in Ottawa might be on the way out simply because their teams weren't very good this past season. The coaching carousel is always exciting in the NHL offseason, and I image if there aren't as many coaching changes this year, the excitement will still be there.
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Day 10 of the Stanley Cup Playoff featured three games where each of the series could have ended in Game 5 on Friday night. Check out the entire playoff picture here.
Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Facing elimination, the Philadelphia Flyers headed into Pittsburgh with a goalie controversy against the Penguins. Michal Neuvirth would make his first start of the series after Brian Elliot could not get the job done in the first four game of this series.
Neuvirth has dealt with injury issues throughout his career, and wasn't even able to back up Elliot in the first few games.
But Neuvirth's return to the net tonight gave the Flyers the boast they needed to pick up the Game 5 win, which forces a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux scored in the first period to give the road team the 1-0 lead. Giroux's first of the playoffs was the result of the Penguins not playing to their full potential in this game. They were sloppy and didn't seem very interested in this game.
That was until midway through the second period, when the Penguins flipped the switch and dominated the play for much of the middle frame. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel scored for Pittsburgh in that second period. The Penguins threw 14 shots on Neuvirth in the period.
Neuvirth did hold the Penguins' powerplay off the score sheet in this one. He did not allow a goal in five PP opportunities, including four powerplays in the second period.
While you never want to take penalties, this time it paid off. Valtteri Filppula score a late shorthanded goal that really turned the momentum in favor of the Flyers going into the second intermission.
The Penguins came out in the third period with the same attitude they had to start the game. They had trouble connecting on passes, and didn't really seem engaged in a game that could have eliminated the rival Flyers from the playoffs.
They did pick up their play later in the period, but the difference in the game was the Flyers' Sean Couturier, who grabbed a puck at the blueline of the Penguins zone and banked in a goal off of a Penguins' defender.
That goal made the score 3-2 in favor of the Flyers. Matt Read would pick up an empty net goal to reach our final score of 4-2 in this game. With the win, the Flyers force a Game 6 at home. Pittsburgh now lead 3-2 in the series.
Minnesota Wild @ Winnipeg Jets
Much could have been said about the Winnipeg Jets had they lost this game at home to the Minnesota Wild. Without three of their regular defensemen, as well as impact forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Mathieu Perreault, everyone probably would have given the Jets a pass for losing this game, especially when they held a 3-1 series lead entering the tilt.
But from the drop of the puck, you could tell the Jets didn't want to play in a Game 6. The Jets dominated the first period with their speed and physicality. The Wild, on the other hand, looked like they had just woken up from their pregame naps.
If you missed the first period, you really didn't need to tune into this game at all. Along with their hard-hitting play, the Jets racked up four goals on start Devan Dubnyk in the first 12 minutes of the opening period.
While I don't particularly blame Dubnyk for the loss in this game, he definitely wasn't his elite playoff goalie self in the first period.
Jacob Trouba scored 31 seconds into the period on a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle. That is the goal Dubnyk needs to save for his team, but the puck finds the top left corner of the net.
With that goal, the flood gates opened for the Jets. Bryan Little picked up his first of the series at 5:42. Brandon Tanev also scored his first, and Joel Armia knocked Dubnyk out of the game with his first of the series at 11:59 of the first period.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau pulled Dubnyk in favor of backup Alex Stalock in hopes that his team would get a jolt from realizing they left their All-Star goaltender down in this game.
But the move was too little, too late, as the Wild would not muster a single goal in this game, despite outshooting the Jets 30-26. The Jets won Game 5 5-0, and ended the series 4-1 for their first ever playoff series victory in franchise history. They now await the winner of the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.
Colorado Avalanche @ Nashville Predators
Speaking of the Avalanche/Predators series, they also played Friday night in Nashville. With a 3-1 series lead, the defending Western Conference Champions could eliminate Colorado with a win tonight.
This was a spectacular goalie battle, however. Andrew Hammond got the start for the Avalanche, who were looking to avoid elimination for the first time in this series. Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne got the nod once again for Nashville.
Andrew Hammond was great in this game. The Predators peppered Hammond with 45 shots in the game, including 19 in the third period, but the 30-year-old stood tall, allowing just one goal on all of those Nashville shots.
The Predators goal didn't come until 10:18 of the first period, when Nick Bonino deflected a shot past the Colorado netminder. After a review, Bonino was credited with his first playoff goal as a Predator after it was determined he did not kick the puck into the net.
Pekka Rinne was also solid in this game. He stopped all 16 Avalanche shots through the first two period of this one, and looked to take home another playoff victory after the Bonino goal.
It wouldn't be that easy for Rinne, however, because the Avalanche pushed back as they tried to avoid elimination. Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog would tie the game with a little over four minutes left in the game. Nathan MacKinnon skated the puck through the zone and pulled Rinne away from the net. MacKinnon found Landeskog in front, who simply tapped home the pass from MacKinnon to tie the game.
Then, the nightmare set in for Rinne and the rest of his Predator teammates. Sven Andrighetto would score with just 1:28 remaining to give the Avalanche the 2-1 lead. Andrighetto was part of a 2-on-1 coming at Pekka Rinne. After a J.T. Compher shot, the rebound came right to Andrighetto for the easy goal.
That would be all the scoring we would see in this game. The Avalanche shock Nashville for the 2-1 win, and force a Game 6 on Sunday night. Nashville still leads the series 3-2 as it shifts back to Colorado.
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The 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue with four games on Wednesday night. Check out last night's action here, and the entire playoff bracket here.
Pittsburgh Penguins @ Philadelphia Flyers
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers face off in Philadelphia for Game 4 of their first round series. After winning Game 1, 7-0, and Game 5, 5-1, the Penguins hold a 2-1 series lead.
The Penguins would add to that lead with a strong defensive performance. Goaltender Matt Murray made 26 saves of the Flyers. Murray recorded the shutout of Philadelphia, his second shutout of the series.
Matt Murray has played a strong series. Despite giving up four goals in Game 2, Murray has only surrendered five goals total in this series, with a .948 save percentage.
The Penguins also generated a significant amount of offense. Evegni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Sidney Crosby scored and recorded an assist as Pittsburgh put up five goals on Brian Elliot and the Flyers.
Sidney Crosby leads the NHL playoffs in goals with five, and his nine points are tied for the league lead. His second period goal stretched the Penguin lead to 4-0. He picked up a loose puck behind the net and quickly brings it in front and stuffs it home before backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth recognizes the play.
The different in this game was Matt Murray. The Penguins were the fast, more aggressive team for lots of this game, but when they game up several breakaway or dangerous scoring chances, Matt Murray cam up with the big save to keep the Flyers scoreless.
The Penguins, with the win, now have a commanding 3-1 lead in this series as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay Lightning @ New Jersey Devils
If you recall, the story of the night on Monday was that teams that lost both games on the road to start the postseason came home and won on home ice in Game 3. The New Jersey Devils were one such team, winning 5-2 in Game 3 over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils got out to a good start in this game when Kyle Palmieri scored his first of this series on the powerplay. The goal, at 8:23 of the first period, came off a big slap shot by Palmieri with the Lightning down to just three skaters thanks to two separate penalties.
Unfortunately for the Devils, that would be all they could muster in this game. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored at 11:30 of the first period. J.T. Miller picked up the goal when he roofs the puck over the shoulder of goaltender Cory Schneider as the Lightning broke into the zone.
The Lightning would pick up two more in this game. Nikita Kucherov would get his third of the playoffs in the first period when he flicks home a rolling puck while he fights off a Devils defender.
Kucherov would add an empty netter in the third to push the score to 3-1. Ironically, the Lightning improve to 3 games to 1 in this series with the victory in New Jersey.
The Devils had a remarkable season after finishing so poorly last season. New Jersey finished 8th in the Eastern Conference this season after finishing 16th last year. It seems like this run will come to an end soon, however, as the Lightning possess a much deeper team. I expect the Lightning to close out this series in Tampa on Saturday afternoon with a dominating performance.
Nashville Predators @ Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche were another team that benefited from returning to home ice in Game 3 of their series with the Nashville Predators. The Avalanche scored five goals on Monday to take a 5-3 win in that contest.
Nashville, however, looked like the better team tonight. The Predators built a 3-0 lead by the 11:49 mark of the second period. They held on for the 3-2 win after Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Kerfoot were able to find the back of the net in the third period.
It was a little bit of redemption for Pekka Rinne, who was pulled in Game 3 after allowing four goals in less than 25 minutes. Rinne stopped 31 shots in this one to pick up his third win of the series.
The Predators will return home with a 3-1 lead for Game 5 on Friday evening. I would again expect the Predators to close out their series in Game 5, but I think that the Avalanche have a better chance of lengthening this series than the Devils do against Tampa Bay.
Anaheim Ducks @ San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks were able to win the first two games of this series in Anaheim. The Sharks won 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-2 in Game 2. San Jose then exploded for an 8-1 win in Game 3 on home ice.
After the Vegas Golden won on Tuesday to capture their first ever series win, the Golden Knights await the winner of this series.
The series returned to its early form of low-scoring, tight hockey games like the first two games of this series.
The Sharks jumped out to the 1-0 lead when depth player Marcus Sorensen scored his third of the playoffs. Sorensen, who has five career regular season goals in 32 games, grabbed the 1-0 lead when he finds himself alone in front of goaltender John Gibson after Gibson made a save off of a shot from the point. Sorensen had enough time to attempt a shot, re-collect his balance, and roof the puck over Gibson on his second shot of the sequence.
After the Ducks lost two goals, it was Andrew Cogliano who scored to tie the game. Ryan Getzlaf scored, but it was determined that the puck wasn't in the net until after the first period and concluded. The Ducks also beat goaltender Martin Jones to open the second period, but that was overturned do to an offsides.
Cogliano did score at 7:53 of the third period. His redirection of a Ryan Kesler pass was just the fourth goal on Martin Jones this series.
Sharks forward Tomas Hertl would get his second of the series just 1:16 later to up the score to 2-1 in favor of San Jose. Hertl deflected a point shot over the Ducks' Gibson for the lead halfway through the final period.
Much like Vegas, the Sharks success in this series was because of great goaltending. Martin Jones stopped 128 of 132 shots in this series for a .970 save percentage. He would not allow another goal in this game, as the Sharks win Game 4 2-1, and the series 4-0. San Jose will meet Vegas in the next round.
The big difference in this series was depth. Logan Couture led the way with 5 points in these four games, but Tomas Hertl, Evander Kane, and fourth-liner Marcus Sorensen each had three goals in the four games. 15 different Sharks picked up a point during the series, compared to just seven Ducks skaters.
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 24
Stanley Cup Incidents and 2-0 Series Leads
Debate 1 |Stanley Cup incidents – We review five incidents that took place in week one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs
Debate 2 |Eastern Conference Series Recap
Debate 3 |Western Conference Series Recap
Brad Burud and Blake Friars are all fired up about week one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They review five questionable incidents, a few of which resulted in suspensions. They also run down each first round series and breakdown who has been good and who has not been good. They also discuss the amount of series that got off to a 2-0 start.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out the latest coverage from the world of hockey at www.belowthegoalline.com.
Before the 2017-18 season, Ken Hitchcock returned to coach the Dallas Stars. Hitchcock coached the Stars from the 1995-96 season until he was fired in the 2001-02 season. Hitchcock went on to coach the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and St. Louis Blues before returning to the Stars for just a single season before announcing his retirement from coaching a couple of weeks ago.
Hitchcock left the NHL coaching ranks as the third winning-est coach in NHL history. He captured the 1999 Stanley Cup with the Stars, but failed to repeat that success in future seasons.
Now with their legendary coach leaving the bench, the Dallas Stars begin their search for their next coach. There will be a number of candidates out there that should be considered, but one stand above the rest in the early search.
The New York Rangers fired head coach Alain Vigneault after their season ended with the Rangers out of the playoffs. Vigneault makes perfect sense as the replacement for Hitchcock.
Vigneault began his coaching career with the Montreal Canadiens in 1997-98. After four seasons with the Canadiens, Vigneault moved to the Vancouver Cancuks, who he took to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. After two more season with the Canucks, Vigneault took the job as head coach of the New York Rangers, where he has spent the last five season.
After 16 season, two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and three franchises, Alain Vigneault is again looking for work after missing the playoffs for just the fifth time. The Dallas Stars fit the mold of a successful Alain Vigneault team.
There are only two head coaching openings at the moment: the Stars and the Rangers. Vigneault is the best coach available right now, so it makes sense for the Stars to want the best coach available.
Dallas also boasts two prolific scorers in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. Vigneault has had a lot of success with two high end players on his teams. The Sedin twins, who retired at the end of this season, highlighted the Vancouver Canucks roster during Vigneault's tenure with the team. Many expect Vigneault to be able bring the most out of the two All-Stars on the Dallas roster.
Many also believe the Stars are just a few components away from competing for a Stanley Cup. While they don't have the deepest lineup, the Stars do have quality pieces in Seguin, Benn, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg. With some successful drafting and developing, the depth this roster needs will come in time.
The next question becomes who else would be available to coach the Stars. Dallas strikes me as a team looking for a coach with prior NHL experience. Names like Todd Nelson, Dan Bylsma, and Bill Peters (if he is let go by the Carolina Hurricanes) would all be on the radar of the Stars, but Vigneault tops that list for sure.
The Stars are a strong offensive team, which is a strength of Alain Vigneault's coaching. With a healthy Ben Bishop, this team would have arguably been a playoff team this season. A quality coach like Vigneault would help this team grow next season, and with that healthy goaltending, the Stars could return to the playoffs in 2018-19.
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As the NHL regular season is over, it's time to think about who deserves to win the prestigious awards handed out by the league to its outstanding players.
We'll start with the automatic award winners.
President's Trophy - The President's Trophy is awarded to the team with the best overall regualr season record. This year winner is the Nashville Predators. On the strength of great goaltending from Pekka Rinne and a deep forward and blueline lineup, the Predators finished 53-18-11 with 117 points.
Art Ross Trophy - The Art Ross is awarded to the league's leading point scorer at the end of the season. This would be Connor McDavid for the second consecutive season. McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers captain, recorded 41 goals, 67 assists, and 108 points in the 2017-18 season.
Maurice Richard Trophy - The "Rocket" Richard Trophy is awarded to the leading goal scorer each NHL season. This year, Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin scored 49 goals to win his eighth scoring title.
William M. Jenning Trophy - The Jennings Trophy is awarded each season to the goaltender(s) who played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals allowed. The Los Angeles Kings allow just 202 goals this season, lowest in the NHL. That would mean All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick won the Jennings Trophy.
Then, there are seven NHL trophies I want to go through to discuss and pick the winners for the 2017-18 season.
Calder Memorial Trophy - Awarded annually to the NHL's best rookie, the Calder Trophy is often predicts each year's top NHL player for the years to come. While the trophy is awarded for just the rookie season, winners of the Calder Trohpy historically go on to long, successful hockey careers.
There are a few candidates for the award this year. Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes), and Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets) represent this year's top rookie forwards in the NHL, While Mikhail Segachev (Tampa Bay Lightning), Will Butcher (New Jersey Devils), and Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) had strong first season on the blueline.
The top three rookies this season for me were Barzal, Connor, and McAvoy. The other rookies mentioned showed significant promise in the NHL, but were simply outdone by their fellow first year players.
Mathew Barzal lead rookies with 63 assists and 85 goals. He was electrifying at times for the Islanders, who missed the playoffs due to poor play in their own end. Barzal is currently the second line center for the Islanders, but that could change based on what John Tavares decides to do this summer.
Kyle Connor record 31 goals this season, tops among rookies. He is part of a deep and talented Jets corp that is looking to make a long postseason run this season after finishing second in the NHL in points this season. Connor's 57 points were fourth in the NHL among rookies this season, and the forward spent time on all four lines this season.
Charlie McAvoy play in just 63 games this season due to injury, but do log 22:08 per game when he was healthy. This is tops among all rookies who played more than 30 games, and second only to partner Zdeno Chara on a strong Boston Bruins team who looks like they can do some damage in this year's playoffs.
For me, the choice is obvious. While McAvoy will be the best defender out of this group for the next decade, and Kyle Connor will score a lot of goals with the Jets, Mathew Barzal is my winner for the 2018 Calder Trophy. Not only did he have a strong offensive season, he was the reason I tuned into Islander games over other games at times. He is a very fast skater, and incredible talented. Barzal is very deserving of this award.
Vezina Trophy - The Vezina is awarded to the top goalie in the NHL each season. This years race comes down to a couple of strong candidates.
Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellybuyck led the NHL with 44 wins, which is the new record for US-born goalies. He was fifth among starting goalies with a 2.36 GAA, and was a huge reason for the turnaround of the Winnipeg Jets into the second-best team in the NHL this season. Hellybuyck had six shutouts, and a save percentage of .924.
Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators is another good choice for the award. He was second in the NHL with 42 wins. He was third among starters with a 2.31 GAA, and his eight shutouts led the league. Rinne's .927 save percentage fifth in the league among starters as well.
The list of contenders stops here for me. There were other guys like the Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had 42 wins as well, but some of his other numbers didn't match the numbers of Hellybuyck and Rinne.
For me, I have to go with Pekka Rinne. He led Connor Hellybuyck in almost every statistical category, and would have likely lead the NHL in wins if he started more than 59 games. Hellybuyck started 67, so the winning percentage tips in favor of Rinne. I also think Pekka Rinne has deserved much more consideration in the past, and that will add to his votes for the award.
James Norris Memorial Trophy - The Norris Trophy is awarded annually to the top defenseman in the NHL. While some years have had a strong front-runner, this year's Norris race is actually pretty difficult to decide.
Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson led NHL defensemen with 68 points this season.
John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars was first among defensemen with 59 assists.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have the leading goal scoring among defensmen. Victor Hedman tied for the lead with 17 goals. Hedman also had a +/- of +32, which was second in the NHL.
Defenseman like Nashville's Roman Josi don't boast the top-end offensive numbers like a Klingberg, but play a strong game in both ends of the rink. His 53.61 Fenwick percentage (unblocked shot attempts percentage) ranked first of those player mentioned so far in this list.
Then, there is the "eye test." Due to his strong play down the stretch, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones led the Jackets to the playoffs, even though he didn't lead the NHL in any major statistical category. He has entered into the Norris conversation with that strong play this season.
My winner is Victor Hedman. Not only was he a strong offensive player, he was a very good player in this own end. Hedman had a 51.66 Corsi Percentage (total shot percentage). He also played 25.51 minutes per game, fifth most in the NHL. His 63 points were fifth in the league, and only 26 of those points came on the powerplay. Victor Hedman was the best defensemen this season among a host of other strong candidates.
Hart Memorial Trophy - This trophy's winner is another difficult award to hand out this season. Like the Norris, there are several strong candidates for the Hart, which is given to the player most valuable to his team each season.
Connor McDavid led the NHL in points, but his Edmonton Oilers didn't make the playoffs. That almost certainly disqualifies him from the award.
Evgeni Malkin had 98 points this season, fourth in the NHL, but the Pittsburgh Penguins team is deep with talent, and arguable could have made the playoffs without him. Sidney Crosby, who recorded 89 point this season is met with the same argument, as well as Phil Kessel, who had 92 points for the Penguins.
Taylor Hall has my vote for the Hart Trophy this season. Not only did he finish sixth in the NHL with 93 points, he led the New Jersey Devils by 41 points. Hall's 39 goals were tied for ninth in the NHL.
The New Jersey Devils were 28th in the NHL with 70 points last season. Taylor Hall helped the Devils just up 27 points and into a playoff spot.
You can argue that other players deserve consideration as MVP of this NHL season, but Taylor Hall has to be the MVP of the New Jersey Devils. Without Hall, the Devils score just 204 goals. That would be better than only the Buffalo Sabres this season. The Sabres were 25 points out of a playoff spot this season.
Taylor Hall had seven game winning goals this season. Without those seven wins, the Devils would be without 14 points, and 83 points would not have been enough to make the playoffs.
Strong cases can be made for other NHL players for the Hart Trohpy, but Taylor Hall deserves the award this season.
Frank J. Selke Trohpy - The Selke Trophy is awarded to the beset defensive forward each seasons. Patrice Bergeron will win the award again this season. Bergeron is apart of one of the top offensive trios in the NHL playing with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the Boston Bruins.
Bergeron is also one of the elite defensive forwards in the NHL. He won 57.3% of his faceoffs. He was also second in the NHL with a 57.56% Fenwick rating. This means that he was on the ice when his team controlled 57.66% of shots. This is a strong indicator that Bergeron was a strong force in preventing scoring chances from opposing teams.
Jack Adams Award - The Jack Adams is award to the NHL's best coach each season. While I would make a strong case for the Colorado Avalanche's Jared Bednar, who pulled the Avalanche from 48 points last season to 96 and a playoff spot this season, the coach of the year is Vegas' Gerard Gallant. Gallant took a bunch of castoffs to one of the most memorable season's in NHL history. Gallant is the coach of the year for the 2017-18 season because of his ability to transform a group of NHL players from different teams last season into the top team in the Pacific Division.
Ted Lindsay Award - The Ted Lindsay Award is awarded to the NHL's most outstanding player. The fellow members of the NHLPA vote on this award, so this is an award that allows the NHL players to pick who they see as the best NHL player each season.
My money for this award is on Connor McDavid. While he didn't get his team to the playoffs, McDavid led the NHL in points, and was a dominant player on a team that couldn't keep with the rest of the NHL competition. Connor McDavid is one of the three or four top NHL players, and will be awarded with this trophy for the 2017-18 season.
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As the 2018 NHL Playoffs continue into their third night, three teams will look to take a 2-0 series advantage, while three team will look to even up their series at 1-1. These three match-up are Game 2s of Wednesday night's action. Check out the other five series here.
Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins
After losing Game 1 by a score of 7-0, the Philadelphia Flyers needed a strong effort to even up the series in Game 2. The Pittsburgh Penguins looked like they would run away with the series with how they dominated the scoreboard in Game 1.
The Flyers would respond, however. Goaltender Brian Elliot finished with 34 saves and the victory over Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. After being pulled in the first game of this series, many wondered if he would even start tonight, but he played extremely sharp in Game 2.
Shane Gostisbehere would get the Flyers on the board late in the first period with a powerplay goal. He lasers one from the point that deflects off a Penguins in front of the net and just squeaks past goalie Matt Murray for the 1-0 lead.
Sean Couturier would add to that lead in the second with his first goal of the series. At 0:47 of the first, Couturier throws the puck in front of Murray. The puck bangs of a Penguins and into the net.
The Flyers picked up three more goals in the third, and give up just one to Patric Hornqvist, for the 5-1 victory. The Flyers played a strong game, but I think the end result was more about the Penguins not being as sharp as they were on Wednesday. Maybe overconfidence set in, but the Penguins will look to bounce back on Sunday in Philadelphia with the series tied 1-1.
Minnesota Wild @ Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets continue to find ways to win hockey games. Winnipeg held Minnesota to just 17 shots on goal in this game, but poured 44 of their own on Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk. That shot differential resulted in a 4-1 win for the Jets, who take a 2-0 series lead into Minnesota on Sunday.
Goaltender Connor Hellybuyck was sharp for the Jets. He held the Wild off the board for the first two periods, and only allowed the single powerplay goal to Zach Parise in the final minute of the third period.
The skaters for the Jets took their game to another level, however. They pumped 44 shots on goal, which resulted in four goals from four different players. They also tried to impose their physical will on the Wild, blasting them for 38 hits in this one.
I think we can tell that the loss of Ryan Suter is really starting to hurt the Minnesota Wild. The loss of their best defenseman is leading to a tough time trying to get out their zone. Their neutral zone play was also a little sloppy.
It's going to be hard for this time to get back into this series without their big defenseman simply because of all the things he does right for them every night. The Wild team just can't get the puck put of their own end at times, and that is how you lose hockey games, not win them.
Los Angeles Kings @ Vegas Golden Knights
The nightcap of the third day of NHL playoff action was a great hockey game. For any of you who didn't stay up for this one, it went into double overtime before Golden Knights forward Erik Haula scored to end the game 2-1 in favor of Vegas.
Easily the best player of this game was Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick. Quick stopped 54 shots in this one, and almost stopped the Haula goal. The Kings netminder saw the Vegas forward breaking in the right side of the zone and sprawled out to break up the puck from Haula's stick. Erik Haula just threw the puck at the net, which found its way under Quick for the game deciding goal.
The Kings were without All-Star defenseman Drew Doughty, who was serving his one-game suspension for his hit on William Carrier in the first game. It was Oscar Fantenberg up pick up the minutes for LA, playing 41:03 in this one. That was second on the team next to Alec Martinez (44:51).
The series now shifts to Los Angeles, where the Vegas Golden Knights will look to improve to 3-0 in this series. Los Angeles desperately needs a win, and maybe the home ice will spark a good game for them on Sunday.
The Instigator |Episode 12
On Friday, April 6, 2018 the hockey world changed. It changed forever. A horrific bus accident that left 16 people dead rocked the hockey world. The Humboldt Broncos SJHL junior hockey team has been devastated. The tragedy has weighed heavily on the hockey community, but to their credit the support for Humboldt has been amazing. Humboldt you are in our prayers. We are there for you.
INSIDE EDGE HOCKEY NEWS – RADIO SHOW | EPISODE 8
Canucks Legends Retire and Humboldt Broncos Tragedy
Brad Burud is joined with guest Blake Friars to discuss Vancouver Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Sedins announced their retirement two weeks prior to the end of the regular season, and the final games were very exciting and the tribute was amazing. We also discuss the horrific tragedy that the Humboldt Broncos suffered. Sixteen members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team lost their lives in a horrible bus accident. We discuss the hockey communities response and support.
LISTEN - PODCAST
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 23
2018 Stanley Cup Preview and Predictions
Debate 1 |2017-2018 Regular Season Prediction Recap
Debate 2 |2018 Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Preview/Predictions
Debate 3 |2018 Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff Preview/Predictions
Brad Burud and Blake Friars are pumped and ready to get the Stanley Cup Playoffs underway. First off we review the NHL regular season and discuss our predictions from opening night. We nailed some and we look like fools on some other picks. Then we dive into the Western Conference and Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoff matchups. We breakdown and argue each matchup, and most importantly tell you who will win and why.
PODCAST - LISTEN
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The NHL Playoffs getting underway this Wednesday, so it's time to take a look at the Eastern Conference match-ups.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the East's top team. They won the Atlantic Division and play the New Jersey Devils, the second Wild Card team from the Eastern Conference.
The Lightning led the NHL with 54 wins in the regular season. Their 290 goals during the season also lead the league. Offense was their main focus this season, which was event by the Lightning sitting 19th in the NHL with 234 goals against this year.
On the other hand, the Devils were around the middle of the NHL in both categories. New Jersey finished 15th in goals against with 240 and 15th with 243 goals. The Devils will look to play decent in both ends in order to have playoff success, unlike their first round opponents who will look to out gun their competition.
The offensive edge has to be with Tampa Bay. Not only did they led the NHL in goals, but their lineup is littered with high scoring potential. Nikita Kucherov lead the team with 100 points, but 11 Lightning players had 10 or more goals and nine players had more than 40 points.
The Devils boast Taylor Hall, who recorded 93 points this season, but don't have the depth scoring that the Tampa Bay Lightning have.
I look to see the Lightning win this series in five or six games. The Devils will put up a fight, but the overall offensive power of Tampa Bay will overpower the Devils, who will be definite playoff contenders next year.
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
With their loss to the Florida Panthers on Sunday, the Boston Bruins finished second in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins will face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the third team out of the Atlantic, in the first round.
Boston put on a huge surge late in the season in an attempt to take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division. While they weren't successful in overtaking the Lighting, the Bruins finished 4th in the NHL with 112 points. What was most impressive this season was the depth the Bruins showed.
The Bruins dressed 35 skaters this season, and 18 of those skaters hit double digits in points. That does not include Ryan Donato, who had nine in 12 games since graduating college. They also had just one player, David Pastrnak, play all 82 games this season. Boston just have so many different players who contributed to their regular season success. If the Bruins can stay healthy, they have a chance to make a deep playoff run this year.
The Maple Leafs also boast a deep forward corp. The issue for them has been their defense. While they were 11th in the NHL with 230 goals against this season, the Maple Leafs gave up 33.9 shots/game. That was 4th worst in the NHL. If the Bruins, who were a strong possession team this season, can have long stretches of offensive pressure, goalie Frederik Andersen may have trouble keeping the Maple Leafs in this series.
Toronto will give the Bruins some struggle in this series, but the Bruins will win in six games. The Bruins are simply a stronger defensive team, and their depth will show up more on the scoreboard.
Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
After a strong regular season, the Washington Capitals won the Metropolitan Division title. Their reward for their successful season is a match-up with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets were the first Wild Card team in the East.
No team enters the postseason in better form than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Over their last 17 games, the Jackets were 13-2-2. They compiled that strong record with strong play in their defensive end and depth scoring from 18 skaters who recorded 10 or more points this season. Ten different players recorded more than 10 goals this season for the Blue Jackets.
Washington did boast similar depth of scoring that the Blue Jackets had. The Capitals did have four players over 65 point this season, including Alex Ovechkin, who lead the NHL in goals with 49.
Interesting news today, though, as the Capitals announced that Philipp Grubauer would start Game 1. The Capitals employ Braden Holtby who won the Vezina Trophy just two season ago.
The Capitals will win this series in seven games. The difference will be the goaltending, where the combination of Holtby and Grubauer will be better than Sergei Bobrovsky, the Columbus netminder.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
The final first round series in the Eastern Conference features two in-state rivals. The Pittsburgh Penguins finished second overall in the Metro, while the Philadelphia Flyers finished third in that same division.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins had the NHL's best powerplay this season with big time players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. With Matt Murray in goal, the Penguins have to be a favorite to win the Cup again this year.
The Flyers have a big-three of their own in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Sean Couturier. The trio combined for 85 goals and 263 points this season, and will have to be equally impressive if they hope to advance to the second round.
I expect the Flyers to win this series in seven games. I think the Penguins will be a tough team to eliminate, but the Flyers will catch some puck luck over their in-state rival
Now, it's time to take a look at the Western Conference.
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
The President's Trophy winning Predators draw the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. The Avalanche, if you recall, were the last place team in the NHL last year. They actually set the record for lowest number of points in a season in 2016-17.
The Predators held the best record in the NHL this season. They accomplished this feat by boasting a depth in all aspects of their lineup that is unmatched by any other NHL team.
The blue line features all-world defenders Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, and Ryan Ellis. They also trot out guys like Mattias Ekholm and Alexei Evelin.
The Predators have one of the best goalies in the NHL in Pekka Rinne. Rinne finished tied for first with eight shutouts and won 42 games, third most in the NHL. Along with a couple other goalie, Rinne is a Vezina Trophy favorite this season as the best goalie in the NHL.
Also in-goal for Nashville would be Juuse Saros. Saros is one of the best backup goaltenders in the NHL with a 2.44 GAA, 13th overall in the league.
Nashville also boasts a deep offense, with 13 different double-digit scorers.
The Avalanche had a good season, especially compared with their struggles a year ago. While the enter the playoffs as the team with the worst record, we saw the Predators win 14 games a year ago as the last seed in the playoffs.
Forward Nathan MacKinnon had an MVP season this year for Colorado with 97 points. He leads an Avalanche that isn't as deep as Nashville in scoring. If the Avalanche want to have any success this season, MacKinnon has to been their best player.
I believe the Predators will win in five games. The Avalanche are trending in the right direction, but aren't ready to compete for a Stanley Cup this season. The Predators are, and will overwhelm the overachieving Avalanche in this series.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
The high-flying Winnipeg Jets finished second in the Central Division and face the third place Minnesota Wild in the first round. The two have not met in the playoffs before, but will meet for a good series this year.
Winnipeg was second in the NHL with 273 goals this season. They boast forwards like Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine who were both in the top 35 in scoring. Laine was second in the NHL with 44 goals this season.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Los Angeles Kings
The Golden Knights won the Pacific Division in their first year since entering the NHL. They draw their division rival, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round.
It has definitely been a historic year for the NHL's newest member. Goalie Marc-Andre Fluery set personal bests in GAA and Save Percentage this season. William Karlsson finished third in the NHL with 43 goals. The team finished fourth in the league in scoring.
This has been just an incredible year. Most people expected the Golden Knights to be terrible this season. While they will not doubt regress next season, the Golden Knights have a legitimate chance to accomplish something no other expansion team in sports history has done: win a championship in their first season.
They could not have drawn a more difficult opponent in the first round, however. The Kings have won two Stanley Cups with their current core of Anne Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, and Jonathon Quick. That playoff experience might be too much for the young Vegas team.
I think the Golden Knights will prevail in this one in seven games. This was one of the hardest match-ups to decide on because on one hand you have the grizzled veterans who know what it takes to get to the ultimate prize, while on the other hand you have a team that no one expected to even be in this position. Vegas will win this series because they have home ice advantage.
Anaheim Ducks vs. San Jose Sharks
The Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks will renew pleasantries in the playoffs once more in the first round of the 2018 tournament. The Ducks finished second in the Pacific, while the Sharks finished third.
Anaheim has dealt with injuries all season. Ryan Kessler was hurt to start the season. Goalie John Gibson has been in and out of the lineup. Cam Fowler can't play in this series.
But after all that, the Ducks find themselves in a great position to succeed, and have the quality players to make a deep run in the playoffs. While they haven't been able to achieve the success of their 2007 championship, the Ducks are a strong team in both ends of the rink.
The Sharks are a good team as well, although they are dealing with their own injury woes. Joe Thornton has been out for months with a torn MCL, and could return to this series, but isn't a sure thing to appear against the Ducks.
The goaltending tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are equally as strong as Gibson and Ryan Miller for the Ducks. The addition of Evander Kane has boasted the offense for the Sharks.
In the end, the health of John Gibson could impact the result of this series. I think the Shark will win in six games if Gibson can't stay healthy. Gibson will push the series to seven games if he can play and play well, but in the end, the Sharks will prevail.
Be sure to return to Below the Goal Line for continued coverage of the 2018 NHL Playoffs.
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In St. Paul, Minnesota, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took on the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth in the finale of the Frozen Four. Both teams got through two regional match-ups and defeated their Frozen Four semifinal opponents to meet for the national championship. Check out the full tournament bracket here.
The Bulldogs jumped out to the early 2-0 first period lead. After defeating Ohio State in their semifinal game, Minnesota-Duluth showed off its speed in the first period by winning the majority of puck battles.
Senior captain Karson Kuhlman would get the Bulldogs on the board with a wicked wrister from the faceoff circle. Kuhlman broke into the zone and shot around a Notre Dame defender's stick to beat goaltender Cale Morris.
Minnesota-Duluth's young defense played a strong game in the first period. The blueline corps, which consisted of five freshman and one sophmore, smothered Notre Dame's attack in the first period.
But the Bulldogs tenacious forecheck would lead to their second goal of the opening period. A Bulldog forward fought off three different Irish defenders for a shot that snuck past Morris for the 2-0 lead.
Notre Dame picked up their play in the second period. After killing off two penalties, the Fighting Irish got on the board with a powerplay goal. Andrew Oglevie scored his 15th of the season. The goal went five-hole through the Bulldogs goalie off the Oglevie deflection in front of the net, with an assist coming from team captain Jake Evans.
The story of the second period was Hunter Shepard. The Minnesota-Duluth goalie made several incredible saves, including some big saves on the penalty kill to keep the game 2-1 in favor of the Bulldogs at the end of the period. After making seven saves in the first period, Shepard made only allowed the one Irish goal on eight shots in the second period.
Minnesota-Duluth won their only national championship in school history in 2011 over Michigan. Notre Dame is looking for their first ever national championship.
The Bulldogs picked up their play to start the final period. After allowing Notre Dame to control the pace of play for the second half of the middle frame, Minnesota-Duluth came out with a good number of scoring chances, but it was Cale Morris who was aggressive to keep the Fighting Irish in the game. Morris stopped Kuhlman on a breakaway with four minutes left to keep the score 2-1.
Minnesota-Duluth felt comfortable trying to hold a 2-1 lead late in this game. While Notre Dame was the harder hitting team in this one, the Bulldogs were confident keeping the puck deep in the Irish end and away from the their goalie.
In the end, that confidence by the Bulldogs was the difference. Minnesota-Duluth outskated Notre Dame in the final period to keep the score 2-1 to win their second national championship in school history. In the end, it was the relentless pressure by the swift skating Bulldogs that lead the last team to make the tournament to victory.
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Thursday, April 5th featured a number of compelling hockey games around the world, but none more exciting than the two NCAA Men's Ice Hockey National Championship Semi-Final games. St. Paul, Minnesota hosted the two games that would determine the competitors for the national title, which will be held on Saturday.
If you missed the preview of the NCAA tournament, be sure to check out the full tournament preview, or the Frozen Four preview.
In the first game Thursday night, The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs squared off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Minnesota-Duluth, representing the NCHC, are the only team not from the Big Ten left in the tournament. The Bulldogs were in the finals last year, losing to conference rival Denver.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking for their first national title. After tying Michigan with the most goals in the first two round, the Buckeyes will hope to outscore their opponents in two more games to capture that elusive championship.
The Bulldogs would get off to fast start. Louie Roehl and Jared Thomas would each score in the opening four minutes, giving the defunct "home" team an early 2-0 lead. Minnesota-Duluth won their one and only national championship in the same building, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is just two hours from their campus.
Ohio State would score one of their own midway through the third period. Tanner Laczynski deflected a shot off a Bulldog past goalie Hunter Shepard to get the Buckeyes on the board at 10:33 of the final frame.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, this would be the only goal they would score Thursday night. The Bulldogs would not score again, but would hold on to the 2-1 win to advance to their second straight Frozen Four Championship Game. Hunter Shepard made 19 saves in the win.
The Michigan Wolverines would take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the second game. The winner will meet Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday for a chance to win a national title.
Notre Dame competed this year for the first time in the Big Ten. After becoming the conference's seventh team, the Fighting Irish dominated the league, winning both the conference regular season title and the playoff championship. This team has its sights on the school's first national championship after such a successful regular season.
It would be the Michigan Wolverines who would jump out to the lead in this game, however. Michigan, who hasn't qualified for a national championship game since the 2011 game against Minnesota-Duluth, came out hungry for a chance at a rematch.
Tony Calderone would score the lone goal of the first period for the Wolverines. That lead would be doubled by Dexter Dancs just 17 seconds into the second period.
Notre Dame would roar back with three straight goals. Captain Jake Evans would pick up two points in the second period. With an assist on Andrew Oglevie's powerplay goal at 2:41 and a goal of his own skating 4-on-4, Evans stands as the leading scorer among players remaining in the tournament.
At 1:35 of the third period, Notre Dame would score again to take its first lead of the game. That lead would last just 13 minutes, as Michigan's Michael Pastujov added his fifth goal of the season to tie the game.
A dramatic third period would finish with an incredible ending. Notre Dame senior Jake Evans was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the 7th round in 2014. While his professional future might not be certain, what is certain is Evans will go down as a legend in Notre Dame hockey history with his 13th of the season with just six second remaining in the final period.
With that goal, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish finish off a 4-3 victory over Michigan. This sets up a fantastic final between Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth. Check back for a review of the national championship game coming up Saturday at 6:30 pm CT on Saturday. Watch the game on ESPN, but come back to Below the Goal Line for everything need to know about the game.
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The brightest story in the NHL this season is the Vegas Golden Knights. An expansion team this season, the Golden Knights were expected to be among the league's bottom feeders. Most people, including myself, thought Vegas would finish outside of the playoffs, and would look to the 2018 Entry Draft to continue growing towards the future.
It wasn't until the season began that these predictions were proven incorrect. Vegas is in fact heading to the playoffs, and will face a wild card team after clinching the Pacific Division title over the weekend.
This is an incredible feat for an expansion team. No expansion team in NHL history has had more than 83 points in a season. The Florida Panthers were the best expansion team until this season with a 33-34-17 record, and made the playoffs in their in their third season.
But Vegas is a legitimate good team this year, and after building a team of players other teams thought they didn't need, the Golden Knights have a real opportunity to to something else no expansion team in NHL history has ever done: win a Stanley Cup in their first season.
So how did we get here? Can Vegas really win the Cup this season? And what are they Golden Knights going to look like next season?
I'll answer the second question first: yes. Vegas plays a fast, tenacious brand of hockey. If Vegas can keep playing the way they have played in the regular season, there is no reason to suspect they won't challenge for a championship. This year comes with little data to suggest the Golden Knight will or will not succeed. How their players handle the playoffs will dictate how far they go.
How this Vegas team got here is a different story. The Golden Knights were assembled in an Expansion Draft where they acquired one player from every team. They picked up a star goalie in Marc-Andre Fluery. Vegas picked up some talented, young defensemen like Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore. And then, some of their forward acquisitions have played very well, like William Karlsson who sits third in the NHL with 42 goals.
But is their success sustainable into next season? Over the last few years, we have seen teams like the upstart Colorado Avalanche of 2013-14 who won 52 games, struggle to be consistent year-to-year. The following season, those Avalanche missed the playoffs by nine points.
It's really hard to bet against Vegas right now, but I have to believe they will regress a little bit in 2018-19. They received excellent goaltending this season from a number of different players. You simply cannot expect goalie Marc-Andre Fluery to career best season next year. Fluery's 2.14 GAA is below his career average of 2.56, while his save percentage this season is much better than his career average of .913. This year, he's at .931.
I don't believe the Golden Knights will fall off a cliff like the Colorado Avalanche example, but the idea that we are witnessing the next great dynasty is a little far-fetched at the moment.
I simply don't expect William Karlsson to shoot 23.3% next season. He will likely not his 42 goals again, but I do see him as a 30-goal scorer. It's just so hard to score 40 in a season, and Karlsson is just riding the Vegas first year experience with the rest of the club.
What happens to David Perron? The forward sits third on the team with 66 points, but it might be difficult for Vegas to bring him back. I don't know if they want to invest the kind of money he will command this summer in free agency. James Neal's 25 goals this season could also leave town this summer.
The Vegas Golden Knight have the right build for the modern game. They have a fast, physical team capable of playing all styles of hockey. They can outskate you, something they do quite often. They can outscore you. They sit fourth in the NHL with 3.29 goals/game. They also play a strong game in their own end, only giving up 2.66 goals/game (6th best in the league).
I like the Vegas team going forward. I think they have a lot of the ingredients of a Nashville Predators team. They aren't deep down the middle in big-name players like a Pittsburgh Penguins, but they play well in all three zones, and haven't looked overmatched very many times this season.
My guess would be the Vegas Golden Knights will regress next season. How much all depends on how their top players this season play next year, but they likely can't replicate the incredible success they had this season. But at the same time, if you're looking at the Pacific Division, it's their division to lose.
The San Jose Sharks are an older team that isn't going to win any scoring titles. The Los Angeles Kings don't have enough secondary scoring in my opinion. The Calgary Flames are in the same boat as the Kings, and they need to get deeper in goal. The Edmonton Oilers would be a great team in the early 2000s. The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks are rebuilding. The Anaheim Ducks present the toughest competition in my mind, and would be an early favorite of mine to win the division (depending on the health of the team, of course).
No matter what, this season is a great one for the Vegas Golden Knights, and only time will tell how far they go this season. I think they will be a very competitive team for years to come, something I would not have predicted this time last year.
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A Saturday night special, as Below the Goal Line visits the Rockford Icehogs again as they take on the San Jose Barracuda in an AHL game. The Barracuda, fresh off a shootout loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins, travel to Rockford to take on the Icehogs, on of the AHL's hottest teams of late.
The Icehogs have been playing some inspired hockey lately as they push for a playoff spot. The Icehogs look to top of a successful month of March, where they went 8-2-1-1 before this contest. That success has propelled the Icehogs into a playoff spot, but they need to keep accumulating points to clinch a playoff spot.
The San Jose Barracuda, on the other hand, have had a trying year. After making the playoffs last season as the Pacific Division champions, the team sits tied for last in the division.
This was a very strange game. The teams traded goals and penalties in the first period. Chris DiDomenico, who I wrote about from the last Icehogs games I attended, received a double minor in the first period. The Barracuda took a penalty during their powerplay opportunity, but scored a 4-on-4 goal when Noah Rod found Sam Warning in alone for his second of the year.
The Icehogs would come back with a powerplay goal late in the period. The Icehogs won the faceoffs, and Adam Clendening ripped home a shot from the point on goalie Stephon Williams.
The Barracuda grabbed the only two goals in the second period. Brandon Mashinster scored his 11th of the season on the powerplay, and Caleb Herbert scored just 32 second later to make it 3-1 for the visitors.
The Icehogs looked flat in the second period. The Barracuda, who played the night before in Grand Rapids, were winning races to pucks and looked like the hungrier team in the second. I'm not sure if the Icehogs assumed they could walk through this game because San Jose has been so poor this season, but they definitely needed the second period wake up call.
And boy did Rockford respond. The Icehogs scored four goals in the first 4:25 of the third period to open up a 5-3 lead. Lance Bouma, Henrik Samuelsson, Luc Snuggerud, and Matthew Highmore scored to down the visiting Barracuda.
A couple of notes: the Barracuda definitely look like a depleted team from last season. While they have some good components like defenseman Julius Bergman, they just don't have the scoring power they had last year.
I was impressed with Rudolfs Balcers for playing a strong game tonight. While he didn't record a point or a shot on goal, he was in the right spots in the offensive zone and he playing a good physical game despite standing just 5'-11". I'm not sure he will be an NHL player, but he has the best shot among the Barracuda forwards will his hockey smarts and creativity.
Check back on Monday for a look into the AHL playoff races!
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NHL Game Updates:
Toronto Maple Leafs @ New York Islanders, Auston Matthews scores with less than four minutes left to break a tie game. The Maple Leafs, who clinched a playoff spot, won 5-4.
Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Rangers, The Lightning score five straight goals to win 7-3 over the Rangers. This was a homecoming of sorts for Lightning players Ryan MDonagh, Dan Giardi, and J.T. Miller, but it Cederic Paquette and Brayden Point who each had two goals in the winning effort.
Carolina Hurricanes @ Washington Capitals, The Capitals are in the playoffs, but they lose a big game against the Hurricanes. While this had little playoff implications for Carolina, the Caps could had added to their Metro Division lead.
Chicago Blackhawks @ Colorado Avalanche, Not as good of a night for the Blackhawks as Thursday night (where emergency goalie Scott Foster came in and stole the show). Colorado continues their playoff push with a 5-0 victory. Bad news: Semyon Varlamov gets hurt with just a few minutes remaining.
St. Louis Blues @ Vegas Golden Knights, Vegas inched closer to a Pacific Division crown in this one, winning 4-3 in overtime. A loss by the San Jose Sharks tomorrow and the Golden Knights clinch their first ever division title. They did it again on the strength of William Karlsson (41st goal) and Jonathan Marchessault (2 goals, 75th point).
Los Angeles Kings v Anaheim Ducks:
The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have been fighting for the third spot in the Pacific Division all season. Tonight's match-up features two teams from southern California facing off in what might decide which team takes on the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs.
John Gibson made the start for the Ducks. He has had a real strong season for Anaheim when healthy. Gibson sits 8th in the NHL among goalies who have played more than 20 games this season with a .926 save percentage. The Ducks, who at times struggle to score, will look to lean on their talented goalie to make the playoffs and hopefully make a deep run.
The Ducks goalie was superb in this one, as the Ducks won to maintain their playoff spot. Gibson stopped 28 of 29 shots. The lone goal against was on a first period shot by Drew Doughty. Doughty gets the puck at the point, and is able to skate in to the faceoff circle and fire a puck that John Gibson never sees thanks to a huge screen in front.
The Kings, who occupy the third spot in the Pacific Division, also rely on their goalie for their success. Jonathan Quick was equally as good in this game for the Kings. Quick made 31 saves, including several strong scoring chances when the Kings turned the puck over.
The biggest save of the game by Quick was a sprawling save off Jakob Silfverberg in the second period. Quick makes an initial save off a Ducks' shot, and the puck find Silfverberg all alone just a few feet outside of the Kings' crease. Quick slides over and gets his catching glove on the puck to thwart the Ducks scoring chance.
The Ducks were able to tie the game in the second period, when Nick Ritchie is able to put home a rebound. Francois Beauchemin takes a shot from the point. Quick makes a good save, but leaves a rebound in front that finds Ritchie, who out muscles a couple of Kings players to tap the puck into the Kings' net.
The whole play starts with a great effort by Ondrej Kase. Kase, a second year forward for the Ducks, is strong on the puck below the goal line against several Kings defenders and gets the puck safely to his teammate Beauchemin at the point. Kase really impressed me with his speed and strength on the puck this season, and I think his role on the Ducks will only increase moving forward.
Neither team would find the net in the third period, so we head to overtime. Both teams would pick up a point by heading to overtime, but it would be the Anaheim Ducks who would pick up the extra point. Rickard Rakell darts into the zone and lasers a puck past Quick to win the game.
I'm excited to see both of these teams in the playoffs. Both are fast and physical, and have lots of playoff experience. Either team could make a deep run in this year's playoffs.
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The Instigator |Episode 11
GOAL! Are you Kidding Me!
Cam Ward allowed one of the weirdest goals ever last week. The puck was rung around the boards by Arizona Coyotes Alex Goligoski. Ward exited his net to stop the puck. The puck stuck in his skate, and Ward (not knowing where the puck was) slid to the front of the net in order to defend his foot slid into the net. The whistle sounded and the officials counted it as a good goal. I have a big problem with this one counting.
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It was a wild weekend in college hockey for the opening two rounds of the men's national tournament. We started with 16 teams, and now we are down to four. On April 7th, we will be down to just one college program remain, the team that will be this year's NCAA champion.
The tournament fot underway with eight first-round matchup. In the West region, Air Force took down top-see St. Cloud State by a score of 4-1. The Huskies offense didn't show up in this contest, but the Falcons were able to race out to the early lead and the eventual victory.
A battle between in-state rivals went to overtime, as the Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth scored to advance by a score of 3-2. The WCHA's Minnesota State jumped out to the 2-0 lead, but Minnesota-Duluth came roaring back in the third to force overtime. The Bulldogs also eliminated the highest scoring team in college hockey with this comeback victory.
Ohio State of the Big Ten also advanced from the first round. The Buckeyes beat the Princeton Tigers by a score of 4-2. Ohio State was the top team in the Midwest region.
Last year's champion the Denver Pioneers beat first-time participants in the NCAA tournament, the Penn State Nittany Lions 5-1.
Up in the Northeast region, Boston University was able to defeat the top team in the region Cornell. Cornell, who goalie Matthew Galajda lead the NCAA with a 1.49 GAA, gave up three to the upstart Boston squad, but could only generate one goal in the loss.
NCAA leading scorer Adam Gaudette was not able to keep the Northeastern Huskies in the tournament. Michigan outscored Northeastern in the second game of the Northeast regional 3-2.
The highest ranked Big Ten team in the tournament, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, needed overtime to dispatch the Huskies of Michigan Tech. The WCHA tournament champions were close to an upset, but lost 4-3 in the East regional first round.
The Providence Friars recorded the only shutout of the weekend in the final first-round match-up. The Friars shutout Clarkson for a 1-0 win in the second game of the East regional.
The match-ups for the second round were as follows:
West: Minnesota-Duluth vs. Air Force
Midwest: Ohio State vs. Denver
Northeast: Michigan vs. Boston
East: Notre Dame vs. Providence
In the second round of the tournament, two games were high-scoring affairs, while the other two games were solid defensive efforts by the teams involved. Notre Dame captured a 2-1 win over Providence. The 2008 runner-up will be looking for their first ever NCAA tournament championship in St. Paul, MN next weekend.
Of the teams that made it to the second round, the Michigan Wolverines had the strongest offense, with a 3.41 goals/game mark. Michigan exceeded that against Boston by scoring six in a 6-3 win. The Wolverines were last in the championship game in 2011 when they lost to Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs from Minnesota-Duluth could be facing those Michigan Wolverines again in the championship game thanks to a 2-1 victory over the Air Force team who defeated the #1 seed St. Cloud State Friday night. The Bulldogs will count on Hunter Shepard to continue his strong play in net. Shepard only surrendered two goals on the weekend for Minnesota-Duluth.
Last, the Ohio State Buckeyes clinched a berth in the Frozen Four with a 5-1 win over Denver. Ohio State has never been to a title game before, but they must go through Minnesota-Duluth to get there.
Coming up, we have match-ups between Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State at 5:00 pm CT and Michigan and Notre Dame at 8:30 pm CT on Thursday, April 5th. This gives us three teams out of the Big Ten in the Frozen Four this season. At least one of them will be going home on Thursday, but ultimately only one team can win the NCAA championship. Look for three fantastic hockey games next weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm sticking with my original pick, Notre Dame, to win the tournament.
THE DEBATE – Hockey Podcast | Episode 22
Hart Trophy Race, Burning ELC Contracts, and In or Out of Playoffs?
Debate 1 | The race for the Hart Trophy.
Debate 2 | Should teams burn a year on an entry level contract by having players play games after their college season ends.
Debate 3 | In or Out? The Playoff Race is on.
Brad Burud and Blake Friars discuss the race for the Hart Trophy. Is McDavid the leader or does another player deserve it. Should teams burn up a year of players entry level contracts this late in the year? Or, should they save that player and contract year by waiting until next season. The NHL regular season is coming to an end. Who will be in and who will be out of the playoffs?
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NHL Game Updates:
Buffalo Sabres @ Toronto Maple Leafs, The Sabres are victorious in this one 3-2. Toronto is comfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division, but hopes of moving up into second place are almost gone.
Florida Panthers @ New York Islanders, The Panthers are now just one point behind the Devils for the final Wild Card spot thanks to a 3-0 win. The frustrated Islanders were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
Ottawa Senators @ Carolina Hurricanes, The Ottawa Senators look like they are all focused on the summer and not the rest of this season. I can't blame these guys for that, as their dreadful season continues with a 4-1 loss in Raleigh.
Detroit Red Wings @ Montreal Canadiens, Two non-playoff teams duked it out in this one, and it was the home Canadiens who were victorious 4-2. Brendan Gallagher now has 30 goals this season after potting two tonight.
Arizona Coyotes @ Tampa Bay Lightning, The roller coaster ride that is the Tampa Bay Lightning continues as they lose 4-1 on home ice to the Coyotes. The Lightning are in coast mode right now, as they have been atop the standings for most of the season. That won't get it done, even against and NHL bottom feeder.
San Jose Sharks @ Chicago Blackhawks, The Sharks get shootout goals from Logan Couture and Kevin Labanc to win their eighth straight game, their longest since the 2008-09 season. Evander Kane, who will be a free agent this summer, scored again for the Sharks. 4-3 (SO) was the final here.
Colorado Avalanche @ Vegas Golden Knights, Vegas needed just one point to clinch a playoff spot. They got two with a 4-1 victory. I don't know what's more impressive, Jonathan Marchessault with 72 points in 73 games this season or William Karlsson with 40 goals on the year.
Calgary Flames @ Los Angeles Kings, Calgary has been falling out of the playoff picture for weeks, but they were officially eliminated tonight thanks to a 3-0 loss to the Kings.
Washington Capitals v New York Rangers:
The Metropolitan Division leading Washington Capitals visit the New York Rangers tonight as they look to continue their push towards the playoffs. The Capitals have a comfortable three-point cushion on the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Rangers do not have the opportunity to qualify for the postseason.
The Capitals started fast in this one. T.J. Oshie scored less than three minutes into the opening period. Oshie is left alone coming down the right-wing side and fired a puck past rookie goalie Alexander Georgiev from the right face-off circle.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen would add to the lead at 5:13 with his seventh of the year. Niskanen was again left alone, and Georgiev has little chance to make a stop after Niskanen has several seconds to perfect his shot.
The onslaught continued when Alex Ovechkin scored his 45th of the season at 8:54. Ovechkin blasts the puck past Georgiev on the powerplay, and the Rangers decided to go with goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the rest of this contest.
Pavelec didn't fare much better in the first period, as Evgeny Kuznetsov got his 24th of the season on a Rangers powerplay. The Capitals took this 4-0 lead into the second period.
Fortunately for the Rangers, the Capitals' offense goes quiet the rest of the way. Lias Andersson would score his first NHL goal in the second period, and Mats Zuccarello would beat goaltender Philipp Grubauer in the third. The Rangers would only muster two as they fall 4-2.
The Capitals open up a five point lead for the Metro Division lead with the win tonight. The Caps surged through the first period, but looked tired in stretches in the second and third periods. Look for some players to take maintenance days the rest of the way, especially if Washington locks up a playoff spot in the coming days.
It is just a matter of time for the Capitals, as teams have around six games left on their schedules. The Florida Panthers sit in ninth place in the East with 85 points, 12 less than Washington. A few wins or a couple of losses by the Panthers and New Jersey Devils, and the Caps will qualify for the playoffs.
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This summer, some big name hockey players are set to hit the free agent market. No one is bigger than John Tavares, who we will watch closely. Evander Kane is another big name teams will think about to bolster their team's offense.
Kane has a checkered past. He has had his run ins with the law, and he has been a locker room nightmare, specifically in Winnipeg. Evander Kane comes with a lot of history, and that will cause some teams to stay away from him come July.
But Evander Kane undoubtedly bring offense with him wherever he goes. Yes, he doesn't score in the top 10 or 15 goal scorers, but he will consistently score goals for your hockey team.
Since being traded to the lowly Buffalo Sabres before the 2015-16 season, Evander Kane has 75 goals, good for 36th in the NHL. That averages 25 goals per season, a very respectful number. This is same number of goals as T.J. Oshie over that span, and more than guys like Brandon Saad or Blake Wheeler. You can argue that Kane has a poor history as a teammate, but it cannot be argued he brings the offense.
On a Buffalo Sabres team the last three years, Kane actually had decent possession stats. He was third on the team over those three season with a 49.79% unblocked shot attempts percentage. That's better than solid two-way forward Ryan O'Reilly on the same team.
I said that the Buffalo Sabres are a bad team. They currently sit in last place in the NHL this season. Last season, they finished 26th. The previous season, Kane's first with the team, Buffalo finished 23rd. The Sabres just haven't been good in several seasons.
You might think that Kane has contributed to the struggles of the Sabres, but consider last place finish the season between Evander joined the team, and I don't think you can expect his presence to reduce his team's chances of winning too much. Kane also is second on the team in goals since joining the Sabres with 68 goals.
There will be a market for Kane, even if some teams will shy away from a player with a questionable history. The question is who will be interested. The San Jose Sharks would definitely be interested in bringing back a scorer like Evander Kane.
Since joining the Sharks, Kane has 12 points in 12 games. He has seriously strengthened the Sharks offense since the trade deadline. Before the trade, the Sharks were averaging 2.83 goals/game. Since trading for Kane, that number is 4.17. He would obviously be a welcome contributor next season, especially if Joe Thornton returns next season.
Other teams struggling for offense might be interested in Evander Kane. The Dallas Stars, who struggle mightally to get secondary scoring, might be an option. Teams like the New Jersey Devils or Los Angeles Kings might be interested in Kane's services.
The market value for a player like Kane seems pretty simple to figure out. T.J. Oshie might be a good comparable. Oshie has 75 goals and 149 points in 217 games over the last three seasons. Kane has 75 goals and 130 points over that time. Oshie makes $5.750 million a season on a deal he signed over this past summer.
T.J. Oshie was 31 when he signed that contract, but Evander Kane will be 27 to star t next season. That is likely to generate a little bit more cash for Kane, who should contribute more offensively over the next couple of years due to his youth and lack of mileage compared to Oshie.
Scoring forwards Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, and Kyle Okposo might be better comparables. These forwards were closer to Kane when they signed long-term contracts in unrestricted free agency. These wingers are making between $5.500 and $6.000 million a season. This seems to be a good target for Evander Kane.
I think you can be comfortable with around $6 million a season for a scoring winger like Evander Kane. I think the Sharks remain a strong contender to retain Kane's services, but don't be shocked if there are a number of different suitors this summer. Look for Kane to sign with a team in a smaller market so he can remain out of a lot of the NHL spotlight. I would image his days in a Canadian market are over.
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NHL Game Updates:
Philadelphia Flyers @ Pittsburgh Penguins, The Penguins win a 5-4 game in overtime. The Flyers sit six points ahead of the Florida Panthers for a playoff spot, so if they keep getting points, they will make the playoffs.
Vancouver Canucks @ Dallas Stars, The Dallas Stars, who I tried to fix on Sunday afternoon, are in a free fall. This time, the Stars lose 4-1 on home ice to the lowly Vancouver Canucks.
Boston Bruins @ Minnesota Wild, Both of these teams will be in the playoffs, but the Minnesota Wild still need to punch their ticket. Getting an overtime points helps for the Wild, but Boston gets the extra point for the win, and the Bruins now sit just two behind Tampa Bay for the Atlantic Division lead.
Anaheim Ducks @ Edmonton Oilers, Connor McDavid did not get the memo that the Oilers stink this year. He has a goal and two assists, strengthening his point total on the year to 99. The Ducks, however, pick up two big points in overtime to move them into third place in the Pacific.
Nashville Predators v Winnipeg Jets:
I'm not sure if they NHL schedule makers knew that the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets would be fighting it out this late in the regular season for the top spot in the Central Division, but the schedule has given us some great hockey lately. The two have clashed twice since the trade deadline (February 26th), and meet again tonight to argue over who will play a Wild Card team instead of the third-place team in the division.
When these two teams get together, they play fast and physical. The Jets looked like the more aggressive team with the body registered 29 hits in the game. Both teams looked like they didn't like each other, and those feelings of resentment will only get strong if they meet in the playoffs.
This was another high-flying, high scoring affair. The Predators would score twice in the opening frame with a 4-on-4 goal by Roman Josi and a powerplay goal by Kyle Turris.
Jets rookie Kyle Connor would score his 29th of the season on the powerplay 3:47 into the second period. This goal ties Connor with Vacouver's Brock Boeser for the rookie scoring lead.
Ryan Ellis would make it 3-1 for the Predators three minutes later. Ellis has eight goals and 26 points in 37 games since returning to the lineup after missing the first half of the season due to injury.
The Jets tie to the game at 13:53 of the second after goals by Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little. That tie would only last a couple of minutes because Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson would score his 28th of the season to make it 4-3 after two periods.
Blake Wheeler made it 4-4 just 0:59 into the third period. The Jets captain now has 85 points on the season, a career high.
No one would score during the rest of regulation, and neither team could get it done in the overtime period. The Jets looked like the hungrier, faster team during that stretch, and looked like they could overwhelm Nashville for a game winner.
But in the end, the game went to a shootout, where Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck stopped all three Nashville shooters for the victory. Mark Scheifele beats Predators goalie Juuse Saros for the win.
With the win, the Winnpeg Jets qualified for the playoffs. They sit five points behind the Preadators in the Central Division, and will likely play the third-place team in the division to open the playoffs. Right now, that team would be the Minnesota Wild.
I think the Winnipeg Jets are a team to watch this season. If the Pittsburgh Penguins can win two straight Stanley Cups by playing a faster run-and-gun game, the Jets could use the same strategy to try to replicate the feat. I don't know that the Jets have that playoff experience needed to close out four playoff series, but they certainly have the ingredients to score with anyone in the league.
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NHL Game Updates:
Vegas Golden Knights @ Colorado Avalanche, With a win, the Golden Knights would capture a playoff berth. It was Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog who would deny them of that with his lone shootout goal. In a potential first round playoff match-up, Colorado was victorious in this one 2-1 (SO).
Calgary Flames @ San Jose Sharks, The ice-cold Calgary Flames lose 5-1 to the red-hot San Jose Sharks. Evander Kane has 12 points in 12 games since joining the Sharks, who have now won seven in a row.
Detroit Red Wings @ Toronto Maple Leafs, If you didn't see the magic of William Nylander and Auston Matthews, you should here. It was Nazem Kadri who scored at 12:34 of the third to provide the difference in a 4-3 win for the Leafs.
Washington Capitals @ Montreal Canadiens, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom had four assists to help Washington to a 6-2 lead early in the third period. The Habs would get two back, but could not complete the comeback. Washington wins 6-4.
Carolina Hurricanes @ Ottawa Senators, The problem for the 'Canes is the teams in front of them keep winning. Sitting nine points out of a playoff spot, they need to almost win out, and get a lot of help against the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers. They took care of the first part of that formula by winning 5-2 tonight.
Arizona Coyotes @ Florida Panthers, Devils fans were excited when the Coyotes jumped out to the 2-0 lead through two periods. Florida would roar back with four in the third to win 4-2. Florida still sits three points back of New Jersey (see below), but still hold two games in hand over the Devils.
Chicago Blackhawks @ New York Islanders, The Islanders are officially eliminated from the playoff race thanks to a 3-1 loss to Chicago. All eyes turn to the John Tavares sweepstakes now.
Buffalo Sabres @ New York Rangers, The Rangers win a game between two non-playoff teams 5-1.
St. Louis Blues @ Columbus Blue Jackets, The Blues continue to push for the playoffs after playing some poor hockey near the trade deadline. I wrote the Blues off earlier, but Jake Allen has been solid since then, winning 2-1 again tonight. The Blues jump back into the final Wild Card spot in the West.
Nashville Predators @ Minnesota Wild, The flat Predators have already secured a playoff spot. The Wild inch closer to doing the same with the 4-1 win.
Los Angeles Kings @ Edmonton Oilers, Connor McDavid scored twice to improve to 96 points this season, taking over the scoring lead from Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning. His second of the game, the 38th of his campaign, pushed the Oilers over the Kings, who fell out of a Wild Card spot with the loss.
Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils:
Assuming the New Jersey Devils get a little bit of help keeping the Florida Panthers down, this was a possible first-round playoff preview against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils sit in the final Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference, while the Lightning look like the top team in the East.
Unfortunately for the Devils, they will need a little bit of help to stave off the Panthers, who sit three points behind for their playoff spot. Florida also has two games in hand over the Devils, so without any help, the Panthers could pass the Devils by simply winning those two extra games left to play.
All the Devils can do is gather points for themselves. Lately, it has been goalie Keith Kinkaid that has been picking up the wins for New Jersey. He was excellent again in this one, stopping 35 of 36 shots.
Kinkaid kept the Lightning off the board through the first two periods, but goals by rookie Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri propelled Kinkaid and the Devils to the 2-1 win.
The Lightning, who have already clinched a playoff spot, played a decent game, but were unable to solve Kinkaid until it was too late. Tampa Bay has been criticized for their lack-luster play lately, were strong in this one.
Devils rookie Nico Hischier gives New Jersey the lead in the first when he taps in a rebound of a shot from the point. Kyle Palmieri makes it 2-0 at 10:59 of the second when skates into the slot and fires a puck past the Lightning goaltender.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is that Tampa Bay goaltender. He has had a strong year, leading the NHL in wins with 42. Vasilevskiy was strong in this game, turning aside 31 and keeping the Lightning in the game.
It was Tampa's high-flying offense that failed to show up in this one. Although they had a lot of chances and shots, the Lightning could only muster one goal, an Ondrej Palat tally in the third period.
The Devils, who have now won two in a row, pick up the two points from the visiting Lightning in this one. They are now just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the first Wild Card spot.
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