The Conn Smyth is the NHL’s highest award for an individual player. More times than not the man who hoists the award given to the post season MVP has helped his team win the only team award in the post season. This year each team has a player that is leading the team in what they do, and maybe just a little more.

The Nashville Predators

It’s almost insulting to put anything but the name of the an on this team who is through two rounds the most valuable player. Pekka Rinne is so far ahead of every other goalie to play this year in save percentage it isn’t even worth making comparisons. His goals against average having played two strong playoff opponents is equally eye popping. Seriously, .951 and 1.37 sound like numbers from an exhibition game against a German league team. Add in only 8 skaters on his team having more points than the three assists he’s garnered, and yeah Rinne may just win the Conn Smyth if they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals and lose.

Anaheim Ducks

It’s become something of a truism that when the chips are down and you need a guy to do something special if you close your eyes and pick a guy drafted in 2003 it’s pretty likely to happen. For the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf is that man. His 1.36 points per game average this post season is probably secondary to the terror he has been to opposing players he’s being credited with three hits a game, picking up blocked shots on a regular basis, he’s played more time than any forward or defenseman on the Anaheim roster, and he’s playing in all situations. The 54.6 faceoff % is worth putting him on the ice for all by itself.

The Pittsburgh Penguins

Most people have their Conn Smyth ballot penciled in when the Penguins make it this far. They either put Crosby or Malkin in without questioning who else is still playing. This year you just can’t do that. Malkin does indeed lead the playoffs in total scoring, but his points per game dipped in the second round, and he was held off the score board in the first and seventh games against Washington. The guy you just can’t ignore is Jake Guentzel, he leads the second season in goals, is over a point per game, and put up eight points against the Capitals

The Ottawa Senators

Like the Predators, the Senators have a no brainer pick on their roster. If this player doesn’t play at his best, they have no shot going forward. He’s currently playing through fractures in his heel. In consideration of that injury he’s taking a leisurely 28:56 of TOI a night, despite having missed the entire third period of one game in the second round. He’s the only defensemen with more than a point per game. He delicate condition has him blocking a mere two shots per game, bettered only by Ceci on the capital city squad.

The Dark Horses

Ryan Ellis is producing .90 points per game in the playoffs. That’s the second highest of any defensemen, and higher than nearly every forward. Why is he still an afterthought?

Cam Fowler missed four playoffs games, but has made up for it playing more and longer shifts than any other defenseman on the team. We all know h’s not a physical player, but he’s slick and positions himself well.

Justin Schulz is doing what no one really expected any one to do: Filling Kris Letang’s void. He leads the blueline in scoring with .67ppg and eating up powerplay time at a ravenous 3:35 per night. He’s turned in 5 powerplay points and a game winning goal in the post season.

Bobby Ryan has scored two game winners to hold him even with Karlsson, one of them in overtime against Boston. Hes also scored the first goal of a game. He’s played smart hockey since the playoff’s started and don’t be surprised if we see yet another level from him.

Terry Pegula finally got around to selecting a general manager for the Buffalo Sabres. The rumor mill was a little better than average this time with early word that Jason Botterill was the man who was getting the job. Botterhill comes out of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization where he was a fixture for about a decade. His stated goal is to build a contender every year at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Man is that delusional. In order to build a contending NHL team in the salary cap era you have to be constantly flushing talent out of your farm system. Yes there are exceptions, and Pittsburgh is one of them, but they aren’t common. Further more the biggest factors the Penguins have in their favor simply don’t apply to the Buffalo Sabres organization.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have cache they have the two of the top ten players in the NHL in Geno Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They have two cup wins in the last decade. They have an owner who won multiple cups, multiple MVPs, and who is one of those rare generational talents who actually understand’s the business side of the game as well. The other sneaky thing they do that is the kryptonite of other teams is bring players from their successful AHL franchise to their successful NHL franchise while they’re still young

While there are a lot of players who would like to play in one city for their whole career, the truth is that all of them simply want to play in the NHL the bulk of their career. If they can put a couple seasons with Malkin and Crosby on their resume, they know they will get better offers when it is time to go elsewhere. Those players also know that the next man up mantra isn’t just lip service. Unlike with the Red Wings or Boston Bruins the next roster spot will open up before players drafted into the system at 18 turn 25 or 30.

That window to get into the NHL and play for a bigger salary is longer and closer. This enables them to sign free agent out of the USHL, college, and the CHL. While Pittsburgh is hardly America’s premier metropolis, its total metroplitan area population is larger than that of Buffalo and Rochester combined. All those additional opportunities for entertainment are important when you have two or thee months off every year, and when you just want to take your billet parents or your family to a couple nice places.

Buffalo doesn’t have that winning tradition. While Eichel, Kane, Lehner, and O’Reilly are all well above average players, most hockey observers would rate the star appeal of Malkin and Crosby higher, and some would say that either Penguin outweighs the four Sabres.

Am I saying there’s no one in the world who will want to play hockey in Rochester and Buffalo? No. Just that the pool of talent is so much smaller that building not one but two contenders is likely beyond the ability of anyone, much less a newly minted general manager who like his ownership group has done two things when in the big chair. One of them is ‘jack’ and the other starts with ‘s’.

Kevin Shattenkirk started the year as the season’s must have pending UFA defenseman. He ended the season as a complimentary if unremarkable blueliner. One of the best coaches in the NHL didn’t trust him enough to play a full twenty minutes in any of the seven games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In fact Shattenkirk did not see the high side of twenty minutes after the second game of the playoffs.

Shattenkirk’s minute totals in the series tell us a lot about him: Game 7 18:18 Game 6 15:39 Game 5 19:44 Game 4 15:24 Game 3 16:58 Game 2: 17:35 Game 1 19:01. No one who knows hockey needs to be told that he played mostly third, and sometimes second pairing minutes in that series.

For player comparisons, the other two defensemen with more than six games played to finish with six points were Adam Larsson who is not known for his offense, and Joel Edmunson who is not known. Edmunson got his six points in two less games and was a plus-12 to Shattenkirk’s minus-4.

Among all defensemen in the playoffs Shattenkird logged barely more than fifteen minutes of even strength time on ice that put him in the bottom half of all defensemen. With just two points at even strength in the playoffs he ranks in the 30s among blueliners keeping company with Matt Benning, Marc Methot, and Dan Girardi.

The one area in which Shattenkirk was above average was in powerplay points, where he was tied for second. Five points in thirteen games is nothing to sneer at, but it isn’t enough to compensate for the .896 even strength on ice save percentage, well below Holtby’s .911 sv% and putting him 259th of all players in that number.

Most NHL observers would have put Shattenkirk’s next contract around the seven to even eight million dollar per year range similar to the best players in the league. If you look at the numbers you can’t justify anything more than five and that might be a stretch.

Take a moment and listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and weigh in on a new Twitter poll.

George McPhee as general manager of the Washington Capitals had a well earned reputation for loving Russian players. It’s no surprise there are reports he’s slid his finger into every vatrushka in Russia to see which he likes best. For years it seemed there more Russians than North Americas in the Capitals lockerroom. Don’t be surprised if there are two, three or even five Russian players on the ice when the Vegas Golden Knights go for broke on the very first night they play for real.

But he’s not going to build a cap complaint, or more importantly a competitive NHL team out of KHL dissidents. He needs to take a look at talented players in the NHL right now, who for one reason or another aren’t a fit in the city they are playing now. For all the rumors and swirling talk about players like Eichel wanting out of Buffalo or Kucherov calling out his team in Tampa, no one seriously thinks either of those players is being moved.

But there are a pair of forwards, both on the opposite end of the continent from the Golden Knights that might just be perfect for a team that needs youth, skill, hope, and names the fans and media are familiar with. The elder of the two is a geriatric twenty-five year old who has speed and agility that easily place him in the top five percent in both categories league wide, passing ability that puts him on an even more exclusive, and no end of frustration on the Boston Bruins. The younger of those players reminds many observers of a larger Sergie Samsanov. He’s thickly built without any excess, he’s agile, he’s got a dynamic scoring touch, and speaks with a nearly palpable accent, despite where he was born.

It’s impossible to wander onto any Canadiens or Bruins focused forum and avoid links, rumors, and stories about the imminent trade of Ryan Spooner and Alex Galchenyuk. These two have for varying reasons managed to disappoint in the markets that drafted them. I think the case against Spooner is probably a better one, but even there when he played with guys who could skate with him, and were active shooters and didn’t possess the same pass first (and second, and third, and possibly fourth) mentality he does he did really well. A lot was made over the downturn in Galchenyuk’s production this year. After a 30 goal season I think many expected him to eclipse the forty goal mark in short order. He didn’t, and while his goal scoring was down, his actual points per game production was up.

Then came the playoffs. His first taste of post season action where Galchenyuk had to be considered in the top two or three as offensive threats, and he got smothered by Ottawa, he still produced at half a point per game, but that wasn’t enough to mollify Montreal observers. Spooner who has playing between guys who are more grinders than finesse players and who haven’t a hope of keeping up with him in speed was supplanted by Sean Kuraly in the playoffs and has likely played his last game in a Boston Bruins uniform.

McPhee could do so very much worse than to acquire this pair of forwards. The two have name recognition, playoff experience, are old enough to have passed through Vegas as adults a couple times, and both are almost certainly in need of a fresh start. I can’t imagine GM GM building a team that wasn’t speed and skill based, and these two fit the bill. I doubt the Bruins would expect to get more than a second round pick for Spooner who is an RFA with arbitration rights this summer. A Galchenyuk acquisition might take a little more, but is even a first and a third too much to pay for a 23 year old who leads the 2012 draft class in points and has a 30 goal season on his resume?

Duke Reid and Vadim Shipachyov need team mates, Vegas needs skill, recognition, and youth. Galchenyuk and Spooner likely need to play for their second NHL team. Together they could make beautiful hockey.

The Boston Bruins ended their season against the Ottawa Senators. Some, myself included believe they never should have made the playoffs. Given their lack of quality even taking a team that left them sitting on their Bettman with a fat lip at the end of every meeting in the regular season is an accomplishment. There are a couple reasons they lost, and no, the officiating in the playoffs isn’t it.

5:  Balance

The bottom three were an issue because it should really be a bottom six on a team like this. The MAN line of Moore, Nash, and Acciari was very good. Tim  Schaller was variable, Krejci was useless before he went down to injury, and Spooner was well, Ryan Spooner. The only real strength shown in the depth on the blueline, McAvoy looked as good as anyone could reasonably expect, probably better, Morrow looked like the guy who they hoped he’d be when they traded for him. Cross looked good, and I have to wonder where he’ll be playing next year.

4: Inconsistency

This team was held to less than five shots on goal more than once, including a period without a single shot on goal. They took stupid penalties, like the three delay of games over the board in less than half a period to start game six. Their goaltender had three games with a save percentage under .900.

3: Speed

The speediest players didn’t do much with their speed. The rest of the players weren’t fast enough to break through the slopfest of a neutral zone created by Guy Boucher and the Senators trap. Pastrnak was ineffective, Marchand was largely invisible, Vatrano didn’t make a splash. Colin Miller who was the fastest skater in the AHL a couple years ago was invisible even before someone tried to end is career.

2: Shooting

They barely did. They had the second fewest shots on goal per game of any team in the playoffs. They allowed the Senators the same number of shots per game as in the regular season where Ottawa beat them  each time, and finished ahead of them. You don’t consistently beat a good goalie with low shot totals, you don’t support your own goaltender with very few goals.

1: Communication

I have never seen a team with such bad communication and awareness on the ice. There were collisions between players who have been on the roster for years. There were more passes to no where than to other players. How in the world were there yet more two many men on the ice penalties? Even Bergeron and Marchand who have played together for hundreds and hundreds of games could be seen crashing into each other once below the circles, and Marchand being on the receiving end of a Bergeron blueline check. We know some of the injuries guys were playing through, maybe they were addled by pain killers, but this was not a team in sync.

 

 

Before you start reading, take a moment and start listening to this week’s Two Man ForeCheck.

The three things that define the best of the best are:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Complimentary elements

The winner of the Vezina trophy is a player who can arguably carry a team into the playoffs just about single handedly. The Norris, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, and even the Selke are all very important players for a team to have. A Norris caliber goaltender is even more important. A top forward who plays 18 minutes a night might not play as much time as a goaltender who plays just 35 games in a season. A Even a top defensemen playing 23-25 minutes a night won’t be on the ice anywhere near as much as a top or even average goalie.

Two of this years nominees are The Guy on their team. There is no bigger name.  Each of the three faces slightly different pressures in their market.

Carey Price is probably the best known. Both by virtue of his tenure as the number one in the market that pours more scrutiny on netminders than any other. Having to follow in the footsteps of hall of famers like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy is bad enough. Given that he’s been the man in the crease for a good portion of a very, very long Stanley Cup drought in Montreal. There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys to this man’s game. He is probably the most consistent of the Vezina nominees. He does however play behind Tom Plekanec who should have at minimum two or three finalist appearances as a Selke nominee, but Shea Weber who has been likewise denied his due for the Norris. The biggest counter-weight for Price is that he was the most consistent, and had to play and win with the least scoring support of the three finalists.

Brayden Holtby had the best season of any member of the Washington Capitals. Yes Oshie set a new career high in goals, yes Ovechkin and other were good too, none were a top two or three in their position type player this year. What Brayden Holtby has is perhaps the most capable bottom to top defense of any team in the east. They don’t have a Norris quality defenseman (and neither do the Sharks), but they have six defensemen who could find roster spots on just about any other team in the NHL.

Segei Bobrovsky was the man, the myth, and has to build the legend in Columbus. They are a team who has never seen the playoff success, never had a dominant player good enough to take the team to the promised land when playing well, and never won a Cup. “Bob” is the type of player who if he can find a little more consistently will take a team to the promised land. He has several really good players in front of him, but the Blue Jackets don’t have the depth at either forward or defense of some of the top handful of teams in the NHL.

The eyeball test, and

The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count. 

Last nights Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators was an exciting affair. Seven goals, some tussles, and even bonus hockey. Some people have thrown the young defensemen under the bus already. I’m not sure that’s useful or even viable. The Senators beat the Bruins soundly and consistently all season, and they did that with the Bruins top six defensemen intact. In Game 3, they went to overtime with four regular defensemen out of the lineup. Krug was the highest scoring defenseman on the team by more than a little, and one of the top scorers in the league. Adam McQuaid who owned an on ice save percentage higher than any other defenseman on the team. Brandon Carlo who has turned in a very, very solid year playing against the best of the NHL. And Colin Miller who has spelled Krug on the powerplay, and performed solidly.

What they got Charlie McAvoy who has now played nearly 100 NHL minutes total, Tommy Cross who has played all of four total NHL games, and Joe Morrow who now has two who playoff games to his name after playing just 20 total games all year. The Bruins defense, highlighted by Morrow in this regard blocked eight shots. They only allowed one more shot than the Senators season average, and that is even taking into consideration the overtime.

Some people have blamed the last goal of the night on Tommy Cross. It is almost a logical conclusion. But if you watch closely, Cross is doing everything he can not to take a penalty, and maintained contact with Bobby Ryan all the way in. If there are two guys in the AHL who can make the shot Ryan did I don’t know who they are, and I doubt most team scouts do either. In the NHL, there maybe 15 guys who are as good at shooting the puck as Ryan. That’s it. Without taking a penalty, there isn’t anything else he could have done.

Why did the Bruins really lose the game? If you don’t believe the Senators are a better team despite the regular season record and the series lead, then there are only two options to consider. The first is that Tuukka Rask turned in his second straight game with a SV% of .875 or lower.

The other option, may just be more palatable to many of the Rask’s defenders. A casual look at one of the stats mentioned above shows an even greater issue than any of the issues with the defensemen. The truth is the forwards were not good in this game. Only two forwards had more than one shot on net.  Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron. That is it. Stafford and Moore didn’t even have shot attempts. Over 27 minutes of ice time and not even an attempt.  The team put just twenty shots on net in a game that went into overtime. Over the regular season they had more than 32 shots on net per game. You can’t get winning results on low effort.

This years playoffs have so many interesting matchups it is going to be hard to call a best series even if you see every minute of ever game.

The Chicago Blackhawks vs the Nashville Predators

This is the western conference’s David versus Goliath matchup. While the Blackhawks aren’t quite as formidable as they were when Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Keith first hoisted the Cup, they are still one of the strongest, best balanced teams in the NHL. If the Predators do win this matchup it will be because the team refused to be intimidated, and everyone grabbed the rope and leaned. The Preds do have the players to be dangerous, Subban, Ellis, Arvidsson, and Forsberg are more than a handful themselves.

Biggest Strength

  • Blackhawks: Explosiveness
  • Predators: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Blackhawks: Special teams
  • Predators: Discipline

Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins

This is a first. The Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins have never met in the playoffs. The Sens have been in the NHL 26 years, and they and the Bruins have never gone eye to eye. The Senators ran the tables on the Bruins in the regular season. Both teams will enter the second season with banged up bluelines. Both coaches are relatively new to their posts. Each team has some very gifted players. Marchand, Bergeron, and Chara will need to shoulder the load for the Bruins to have a hope. Karlsson, O’Reilly, and Anderson can just be themselves so long as the rest of the squad shows up. This could be the best series to watch from an “x’s” and “o’s” point of view. This matchup probably has the highest regular season PIM total.

Biggest Strengths:

  • Senators: The ability to triple the gravity in the neutral zone
  • Bruin: Team defense and penalty kill

Biggest Weakness

  • Senators: Special teams
  • Bruins: Wildly inconsistent goaltending

 

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Everything versus nothing. That is this series in three words. The Toronto Maple Leafs are at least two years ahead of projections. The Washington Capitals should have had at least one Cup in the last five years. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen are all years from being able to drink (legally) in the US. Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom are all well into their second half of a decade or more chasing the last win of the season and not even coming close.

Biggest Strengths

  • Caps:  Total package
  • Leafs: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Caps: Mental composure
  • Leafs: Defense

 

Predictions:

Boom or bust players are the players who’s performance have the ability to tilt the series.

Hawks vs Preds

For the Predators to win they need to stay out of the box they were penalized almost 50% more than the Blackhawks, for Chicago its pretty much a case of stay calm and be the Blackhawks. – Chicago in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series: Ryan Johansen

Caps vs Leafs

The Caps have more playoff experience, at least as good a coach, better performance at almost every measure. – Caps in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series: Alex Ovechkin

Ducks vs Flames

Goaltending wins championships, and the difference between Gibson’s season and either Johnson or Elliot is noticeable, but the Flames are not going to go down easy. – Ducks in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. – Johnny Gaudreau

Penguins vs Jackets

Repeating is tough, if I were ever going to pick a team to do it, this might just be it. Jackets in 6

Boom or Bus player of the series. – Cam Atkinson

Oilers vs Sharks

This Oilers team is pretty compelling. How the defense of the Sharks is matched with McDavid and company will decide the series. – Oilers in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. Milan Lucic

Wild vs Blues

This series is not as even as some people would have you believe. Wild in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series. Alex Peitrangelo

Habs vs Rangers

These teams have recent history, but one team is on the rise, and one of them has crested. Canadiens in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series. Derek Stepan

Sens vs Bs

This series will come down to how consistently the coaches can impose their will on their team and get them to execute the system. Sens in 6