There was a nice quiet day of trades in the NHL heading into the Expansion Draft that will allow the Vegas Golden Knights to plump up their organization.

4: In Division Trade

When you make a trade within your division, you’re almost certainly always saying that someone involved is irrelevant. When the Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev went down we learned something. We already knew the Canadiens make goofy trades for frequently non-hockey reasons. So we either learned that Yzerman doesn’t in anyway value the player he spent a year refusing to trade even when Drouin failed to report to the AHL, or that he’s revealed the depth of his respect for the Montreal organization.

It’s almost certainly the latter. Given the lack of skilled, speedy offensive centers who can keep up with Jonathan Drouin in Montreal, and who the head coach is, the math isn’t hard. Yzerman expects Drouin to be less impactful in Montreal than he was in Montreal. Clearing five point five million from his cap didn’t hurt, but sticking a player on a team who you can expect to produce at about seventy five cents on the dollar doesn’t happen often, when it’s a division rival its cheap at twice the price.

3: Commitment?

For years the Arizona Coyotes were wed in holy matrimony to Mike Smith, the Calgary Flames on the other hand had a soured soiree with Chad Johnson. Smith had Vezina quality seasons in a Coyotes uniform, and was also awful With nearly 500 regular season starts, the veteran has seen a lot, but its likely the 35 year still has a few good seasons on the clock.

Johnson has played only about a quarter as many games and is one of the better gents in a backup roll in the NHL. In a starting role he’s untested.

The question is are the Coyotes unwilling to keep their commitment for the final two years of Smith’s contract, or was the newest Calgary Flame wanting out of town due to the uncertainty that seems to be as thick in the wind as the sand?

 

2:  Franchise or Franc-choice?

Nathan Beaulieu was talked up in two languages as the best thing to happen to Montreal’s blueline in a long time just a couple years ago. In the Montreal tradition, like McDonagh, Subban, Weber, and half a dozen others expected to be NHL contributors, he’s moved along, and again to a division rival. The Buffalo Sabres who just added their general manager, add a defensemen picked 17th for a third round pick. Is Beaulieu going to achieve what McDonagh or Subban have? Probably not, but Yannick Webber was let go for nothing by the Montreal Canadiens, and like his fellow recovering Hab P.K. Subban, he just ran to the Cup finals.

With just over 200 games played in the NHL, we’re starting to see who he really is. Was it not speaking French? A lack of faith in him from Julien, or just another Habs blunder.

1: Two Little is Not Enough

The Coyotes did make a move. They should have made more. With teams like the Matt Dumba, and Hampus Lindholm or even Codi Ceci potentially available, the most vulnerable team to losing anyone did themselves a great disservice by not making a second notable move to enhance the defense. Even if they decided not to keep Dumba or another player after a trade, its certain the value he holds would allow them to pick up another piece or two to help them move in the right direction.

The Stanley Cup Finals are over. The hockey season is over. And worse, the NHL Front Office and Pittsburgh Penguins have won.

A team that had numerous favorable calls made for them, and at least as many calls not made against them most notably the debacle of Sidney Crosby slamming P.K. Subban’s head into the ice. Not just for the non call, not just for the non suspension, not just for the racial overtones, not for completely ignoring the concussion protocol, but because it showed explicitly what everyone who has any ability to decipher an NHL game already knows: The front office care more about which market, and player, wins the Cup than it does about what is actually best for the game, the players, or the fans.

As if further proof were needed, the Conn-Smyth went to about the fourth or even fifth most influential player on the Penguins winning the Cup. Matt Murray was stellar behind a banged up defense. Geno Malkin was unarguably better, Jake Guentzal played in hall of fame territory. Brian Doumalin was quietly the best of the Penguins defense from their 83rd game of the season right until the end. Justin Schultz did a great deal to fill the Letang void. Then there was Crosby.

In a season when Crosby should rightly have been suspended for nearly removing the finger of Marc Methot, a playoff suspension, as a repeat offender after Crosby attempted to injure Subban would have taken him out at least two games. But using the marking plan that has been in place since 2005 is far, far more important than doing what is right.

 

The time is now. No one knows how this series will end. History and statistics are on the side of the Pittsburgh Penguins who are up two to nothing. If it gets to three nothing, the team with that lead wins almost all the time. But games aren’t decided by historical statistics, they are decided by the men on the ice.

If Pekka Rinne remembers not the last couple games, but the last couple months and plays the way he did against Chicago, and Anaheim, and Saint Louis, he’ll be a completely different player. If James Neal can recall that he’s capable of thirty and forty goal seasons, and focuses on the game he might, might just score a goal for the first time in seven games. Similarly Victor Arvidsson who ran the board in the regular season hasn’t scored since April, in the first series, against the Chicago Blackhawks. Whatever jitters he has need to die as thorough a death as the notion Nashville isn’t a hockey town.

Arvidsson, Neal, and Rinne aren’t alone on the ice and aren’t even the only problems. The number of penalties the team has taken needs to be addressed. While I’m all for physicality, and on ice leadership and will never complain about two willing combatants going after it, Subban is a huge part of the team’s success both offensively and defensively. He’s not the first guy to punch Malkin in the face, he won’t be the last, but even on a defense as stacked as Nashville’s Subban is not a player you can lose when your back is against the wall, you’re already down your best center and you’re in the fight of your life with no one stepping up.

This team is better than the part time effort they are putting in. They haven’t played a sixty minuted game since maybe game six in Anaheim, and they won’t be winning their last game of the season if they play 37 to 40 minutes a night until the series is over.

Who is Anders Bjork? One of the newest official members of the Bruins organization. As a college player he is probably a little more likely to start the season in the spoked-P than on Causeway. Even for a player who goes into the college post season there is not the density of games a WHL prospect or even a skater in the USHL would play. Because of that conditioning will be a question in everyone’s mind even if he hits training camp in September and destroys every facet of the physicals. The NHL regular season is twice as long as the most regular season games he’s ever played.

At 5 foot eleven and a hundred and eighty three pounds the Wisconsin born forward is about the same size as longtime Bruins center David Krejci. One of the many products of the United States National Development program. Internationally he’s collected a U18 Gold medal, and a U20 Bronze. The Bruins picked up the man with a very well filled out hockey pedigree at 146 in 2014. Only two players taken after him have played in the NHL to date.

What’s to like about him?

Hands and feet. He can skate, he’s got a more than respectable shot, and he passes well. He has also increased his output every single season to date.

What should you worry about?

I wanted about a dozen Notre Dame games over the last two years, and that is not a team that has a strongly structured style of play. The team was typified in my viewings with strong play by individuals. While Cassidy isn’t Julien, to play in Boston he’s going to have to adapt to the system pretty quickly.

What won’t you see?

Lots of penalties, he’s not a particularly physical player, and while he doesn’t initiate a lot of hitting or extras, he also doesn’t let it draw him into stupid retaliatory penalties.

Projection:

Middle six production. Somewhere between 18 and 26 goals a season, and from 55 to 70 points is a pretty reasonable expectation if he sticks in the NHL.

Every game teaches lessons. Sometimes the lesson is subtle, it might apply to just one player, just one matchup. Or it might show the balance between various units on the opposing teams.

What they should have learned:

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Use your speed through center ice.
  • Five men pack in the defensive zone to support the puck.
  • Don’t underestimate the speed of the Predators, especially their defense.
  • Trying to play counter punch hockey with a team faster, and about as offensively gifted is perilous.

Nashville Predators

  • Don’t get distracted by officiating.
  • Never, ever take your foot off the snake.
  • Support Rinne, especially when there are long gaps between shots on net.
  • You can play with the defending champions.

It’s pretty simple at this time of year. You either reset and recover after a grueling loss or you are sure to suffer another one.

Three to Watch:

Predators:

  1. P.K. Subban, he’s hot right now, when he’s on a hot streak he can take over and dominate, and he’s got the perfect complements in the rest of the Nashville defense to do that.
  2. James Neal he said before the series started “they didn’t want me” in regards to his former team the Penguins. He’ll love making them pay in multiple ways.
  3. Pekka Rinne he has not allowed three or more goals in back to back games all post season, and after his last four goal game he only allowed one.

Penguins:

  1. Phil Kessel, zero shots on goal is not a common occurrence, and no one should expect a sequel.
  2. Justin Schultz he had a very quiet sixteen minutes of ice time, well below his normal twenty one range.
  3. Matt Murray, like his counterpart he needs to be better to give his team a shot at winning. An .885% isn’t good, it isn’t even average and on any night the opposition plays respectably it’s a loss.

Check out the most recent Two Man ForeCheck on iTunes & TuneIn.

Every hockey year ends in the greatest spectacle in sports. Each new hockey season begins with teams doing whatever it takes to emulate the winners. This season we are on the doorstep of seeing if the swing towards super-density of talent at forward continues, or if the pendulum swings towards defense heavy teams with great goaltending.

When you look at teams in the Stanley Cup Finals you can’t begin to hope to predict who will win without knowing how the teams compare.

Nashville:

  • 2.94 goal for per game (tied for second)
  • 1.81 goals against per game 1st (only team under 2)
  • PP 14.9%
  • PK 88.1%

Pittsburgh

  • 3.05 goals for per game (1st)
  • 2.32 goal against per game (5th)
  • PP 25%
  • PK  85%

The penalty kill and goals against tell us what is readily apparent to any keen hockey observer. The Nashville Predators have a better backend, goaltending and defense together. The other side of that is the Penguins are clearly, indisputably better at center, and overall at forward. The Predators not only have a defense better at defense, they get more of their goals from the backend.

The five areas I breakdown a team when evaluating the Stanley Cup Finals are goaltending, defense, forwards, coaching and intangibles. Using a ten point scale, it’s a pretty close series. When you come down right down to it this series could be over in four games, each decided by one goal and still be an incredible series.

For goaltending, the Predator’s get the edge and get a 9.5 to the Penguins 8. At defense the Penguins round up to a 7 while the Nashville squad get’s another 9.5. Coaching is a push at 9 a side. Forwards the Penguins get a 10, the Predators get a 7.

The intangibles are the really interesting part. The boys from Music City have been utterly fearless all post season. They went through the Chicago Blackhawks and barely broke a sweat, they went toe to toe with the Saint Louis Blues, and then to top it all off they topple the Ducks in the best series in this years playoff by far, and one of the best series in years. The Penguins have the swagger of being the first team with the opportunity to repeat in a long, long time. They went danced with the Senators and got the lone blowout of the series, they downed the Capitals (again) to follow up a series with the Blue Jackets. I think the Penguins are more distractible, but they also have the experience of getting themselves across the finish line.

Predators final score: 43

Penguins final score: 42

 

It took three series, four number one goalies, two Vernia winners, and a game seven double overtime, but the Ottawa Senators are done for the year.

What we know from watching this team play for the last two months is they are right there at the cusp of winning it all. Craig Anderson isn’t just the best goalie no one talks about, he’s the best player no one talks about. There might be two other goalies in the NHL who could have taken the team this far, I would quibble at three, and laugh uprorariously at four or more. We know a healthy Bobby Ryan is still at worst among the twenty best shooters in the NHL.Ryan displayed whim of steel and the drive of an freight train delivering goals, hits, overtime game winners, and most of all leadership to a Senators team that no one picked to make it any further than round two.

Erik Karlsson has put any and all reasonable doubts into the grave. Is the the best defender in his own zone? No. Is he the skating tire fire he was there through his first four years? No, not even close. His scoring we’ve all come to expect, what many people will have noticed is that he does his best defensive work out at the top of the defensive zone as teams are still working their way in. The fact that he carried the team this far is amazing, add in the heel fractures and you’re talking about the story of player who will be well remembered ten, twenty, and thirty years after his last game.

Guy Boucher pulled off another maestro level concerto. In fact given the roster he had to do it with, what he did was the equivalent of playing world class concert piano while missing three fingers on one hand. The Senators roster had two viable top four defensemen in Karlsson and Phaneuf, two more filling that role, of you squinted hard enough in Methot and Ceci, and aside from Anderson, Ryan, Turris, and Pageau not much else anywhere on the ice. Any time you have to name a guy who would play third line or below on twenty five teams in the NHL as a top three force among your forwards over the course of a three round playoff run you have a seriously, critically deficient roster and only your coach is keeping it afloat.

That’s why this summer Eugene Melnyk needs to step up and add talent to this roster. Guys like Joe Thornton and TJ Oshie who have played demanding systems before and desperately want to win a Cup would slide right into the roster. Carl Alzner would shore up the backend. Can they land all of those players? Likely not. Will they need to make major moves over the next twelve months to be cap complaint two October’s from now? Absolutely. Kyle Turris, Cody Ceci, Zack Smith,  and Mark Stone are all due contracts in that time. J.G. Pageau is going to get paid somewhere this summer. And the window for Anderson, Karlsson, Ryan is not getting wider. 

In three games the Pittsburgh Penguins have allowed six goals and scored three. It’s not surprising that they are a game in the hole to the Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals. Some have blamed the boring  style of play Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher instituted when he took the helm. That’s immaterial, unless Sullivan can force a change in the games, Boucher has no incentive to alter how his team plays.

Others have blames the battered blue line for the Penguins failure to be up three nothing and sixty minutes from a second Stanley Cup Final appearance in the Sullivan tenure. This is a much better culprit. The defensemen on the ice have failed to get the puck out and through the neutral zone with regularity. Given the injuries to Letang and the other top blueliners it isn’t as shocking as it might otherwise be. But it is still a problem. 

It is a huge problem, perhaps an insurmountable one. The question of “Where do I find, skilled, smooth skating smart passing defensemen to help win a Cup?” is not a question that can be answered in May. You either have guys who can carry the load or you don’t. 

What might be a better question is: Why aren’t we using more of our forward depth? Why can’t the Penguin’s dress five, or even four defense and load up the other side of the roster. If they play with four forwards and a defenseman on a regular basis, they are likely to generate more mismatches, more turnovers, and more scoring opportunities. Yes it will make the lone defender more vulnerable, but is that really any different than what we’ve seen through three games?

Is calling up Kevin Porter, or Jean-Sebastion Dea and giving them some extra time going to make matters worse? Is Josh Archibald so bad his 10 games this season where a critical failure for the organization? Be honest, the Pittsburgh Penguins have never been a team built on defense and many of the blueliners they’ve thrown over the boards in the last two decades have been indistinguishable from forwards anywhere other than the media guide. This is just the next step.

The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators. This should be a grave cause of concern for the boys from the steel city. As a whole, Craig Anderson is statistically having his worst playoff run in terms of save percentage. Yet he is still in the Eastern Conference Finals. Lifetime the Park Ridge Illinois native has a .929 playoff sv% and that’s a pretty staggering number considering some of the teams he’s played behind.

This season his total is .920, and there’s been an enormous spike in the last three games where he’s seen an average of 33 shots per game, and had final numbers of .949, .964, and .966. Against the Rangers he had no consecutive games with a save percentage over .900, and he still dragged the Senators past their New York series. The Rangers put a lot more shots on net than the Penguins have managed. The only game of that series in which he faced less than 33 per game was the one he was pulled.

With Craig Anderson heating up, and Bobby Ryan looking like the guy who justified the “still there at two” appellation Brian Burke bestowed on him in his draft year, that’s alarming all by itself. Mike Hoffman has also been a pretty consistent points producer, and him going more than two games without getting on the score sheet is a rarity. Jean Gabriel Pageau has also proven to be an unsolveable riddle for defenses in the second season potting goals against the two previous goaltenders, both Vezina winners, and Fleury doesn’t seem to have an answer either.

Even leaving aside Ryan the three time 30 goal scorer, and both Pageau and Hoffman, the second scariest reason after a hot Anderson the Penguins should be worried comes in two bodies. Dion Phaneuf who seems to finally have learned not to take himself out of position for his earth shattering hits, and Erik Karlsson who has yet to produce a point in this series. Karlsson entered the Eastern Conference Finals one of a handful of skaters and the only defenseman with more than a point per game production. I don’t think it’s likely he’s going to stay off the board much longer.