The great injustice of the post season is that there are only two awards that count. The Stanley Cup for a team, and the Conn-Smyth for one individual. In most post seasons there are at least two people who could be given the latter. This season there are more. Given the dynamics of the post season, at least one of them will get to lift the Cup and the day I hear a NHL star say they’d rather have an individual award than a Stanley Cup, I’ll finally have seen a player I don’t even want to watch play any more.

Dan Girardi is a revelation this post season. He leads the post season scoring race among defensemen by two points. And he has done it with remarkably similar fashion to the quiet defense first style he plays with all season. Even more than Lundqvist the regular season and post season star of this team is Girardi.

Arguments for Ilya Kovalchuk to be on the Hart shortlist were met with scorn all season. This despite his leading the league in ice time for forwards by miles, having more short handed goals than anyone else in the top twenty point scorers, playing a lot of minutes on a top penalty killing unit, the post season hasn’t looked much less different. This despite his missing a game with an injury.

Dustin Brown has simply dominated the post season like no other forward. Skating, hitting, scoring drawing penalties and keeping coolly composed and not taking stupid penalties himself. He’s every bit the engine to his team that Toews is to the Blackhawks, Doan is to the Coyotes. You can make arguments that the Kings would be in the same position as they are now without him, but you’ll excuse me if I laugh in your face while you do so.

Mike Smith, hands down the most skilled individual on his team. You could swap out the other three goalies left for any other above average goaltender and that team would be in about the same place. Agent Smith has faced more shots than any goalie this post season. Despite having played one less game than Brodeur he’s made 129 more saves, Quick who has played two less games has had to make 158 fewer saves.

John Tortorella has made this a fun post season. Not only is he doing his job and helping his team win, he’s adjusting and not throwing his players under the bus. Muckrakers hate that last bit. He’s flat out refused to discuss any single player and stuck to very simple true answers.

The muckrakers hate that too. Either an answer ignores the question or faces it. Ignoring a question (even a moronic one) would actually be rude. Answering it, on the other hand is about all media members should expect from anyone. The only people in a sports organization paid to make nice with the media are the PR guys (whatever their title) not the players, not the coaches, no one cares what the equipment managers think, and even the general managers have a fair amount of room to be themselves.

But make no mistake about it, Tortorella is drawing on his Masshole roots and applying shoe leather with malice aforethought. No one is breaking down the teams style of play and calling it boring. Gaborik who can’t seem to defend the puck from the newest member of a brownie troop hasn’t grabbed a single deadline. Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto both being minus players in the series even though they had a three to zero win in game one hasn’t been mentioned. No one’s asked once if having Sean Avery around to potentially get in the head of Martin Brodeur might not help open the series up. Brandon Dubinsky? Who’s he?

Its shameful that the entitlement media can’t find a single story to work. Tortorella not being loquacious is about as Bettman being booed in any arena he steps in. The whiners should pop the pacifiers back in their mouths and at least pretend to be professionals and find something else to write about.

The John Tortorella press conference are kinda hilarious. Never known for wanting to breathe the same air as media members Tortorella takes it to a special place each post season. Complete sentences disappear faster than ice time for guys not living up to his expectations. The number of things he’s willing to discuss goes from nearly two teaspoons worth in March and the first week of April to just enough to see in the bottom of a single spoon by the middle of April. It’s clockwork, it might as well be tax day.

And yet the media is shocked and appalled it’s happening. This is when the laziest, most venal members of the media reveal themselves for what they truly are. It’s not the job of any athlete or organization to provide good copy and hand out stories in sippy cups with a side of goldfish crackers. Writers should write. If were in charge of a news organization and saw one of my staffers kvetching all over social media about someone “not giving them enough”, I know who’d be getting the warmest pink slip the next time layoffs rolled around.

***

Raffi Torres had his appeal hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman today. This is to appeal the hit that ended Marian Hossa’s post season. For those who missed it or need a refresher:

It was without a doubt a bad, brutal, unneeded and suspendable hit. It was a head shot, which last post season earned Rome a four post season game seat. Torres is a repeat offender so doubling that is still appropriate. If you want to tack on four additional games for leaving his feat again,  no problem.   Even 15 games would be acceptable, reasonable and in line with previous suspensions. 24 however is not. 24 games, especially given the number that are/could be playoff games is just absurd. It bares no resemblance to the suspensions given out even to other repeat offenders and puts this up there with players who have done unspeakably stupid things that don’t even marginally have a place in hockey, like for example Dale Hunter’s well documented suspension.

With the CBA negotiations looking more and more likely to vent heat from both sides, the possibility we will see a large number of high end UFA’s all at once is growing daily. In addition to those top UFA’s this season: Suter, Parise, Semin, Selanne, Whitney, Jagr, Parenteau, Holmstrom, Garrison and more if there is cancellation of this season, the next year the market gets even more mouthwatering. Add in some or all of: Crosby, Iginla, Staal, Quick, Alfredsson, Backstrom (goalie), Perry, Getzlaf, Thomas (goalie), Vishnovsky, Lupul, Streit, Hartnell, Clowe, Howard and well, you get the picture. Coming out of the last lockout we saw a number of players sign with friends to teams and go for it all. We also so the Avalanche load up with a who’s who of hockey in their last cup win.

Even going with just the players from this year, that’s more talent than most teams boast.  Even cup winning teams. If the labor negotiations stretch to a point where the season is shortened, say camp starting the week before (American) Thanksgiving, and the first real games being played on December first, organizations hungry for a championship might be willing to accommodate the wishes of a group of players who all wanted to play together for one (shortened) year for a reasonable sum.

Say for example the Coyotes sale does actually go through. They currently have 17 players signed for next season, and total cap hit of just under $35,000,000. If they somehow magically (wanted and got) all nine of the above, to sign one year deals for $3,300,000 they could trade a few other pieces for roster space and draft picks or assign players back to the AHL, and still have wiggle room under the cap for injuries, and or other additions. The nine would have a total cap hit of $29.7 million, and for a team in need of a shot in the arm that could be just what the accountant ordered. Even Nashville would be in position to make a similar move, they have only 12 players signed for next year and already have a solid goaltender.

Assuming the dispute did cancel next season, the possibility of one or more super-teams goes up. A team that could play a duo consisting of a combination of a well rested Quick, Thomas, and/or Howard in net is absolutely frightening. If they managed to push each other to still higher levels of performance the potential goaltending records for the year are absolutely mind-numbing. Forward lines that had Parise, Staal, Iginla, Afredson, Crosby, Semin, Selanne would be unlike anything the NHL has ever seen. We aren’t talking an All Star semi-competitive practice billed as a game, or even an Olympic campaign where the players practice together for a couple weeks. We’re looking at months of synergy building practice, play, and travel from some of the biggest talents in the game.

Most of the Bruins needs this year are depth needs, and none are the difference between the team making the playoffs next year and not. Long term they might be, and given the some of the players currently on the roster or in the system, they are still strong concerns.

1: Power Forward. If they can draft an NHL ready power forward that’s great. If they can pick one up at a reasonable price from another team, also good provided the player is under thirty, preferably under 25. The best of both worlds would be drafting one, and picking up an RFA or trading one for other prospects.

2: Two way defenseman. Dougie Hamilton has enormous gifts of reach, speed, size and shot. In two year of following his progress I’ve yet to see one person comment favorably on his defensive ability and that’s a problem the organization needs to address. At some point even athletes as well conditioned as Chara (age 35), Seidenberg (age 30) and Ference (age 33) either age out or price themselves out of the market. Without that defensive acumen the team would be back to the days when the best defenseman on the team would probably struggle to hold down the number four spot on a playoff team.

3: Size The two largest top nine forwards under contract for the Boston Bruins next season that finished this season healthy are Lucic and Bergeron. You can argue Caron’s place but even he’s not that large. The teams that are winning are all physically larger and more powerful than the Bruins. The defense isn’t much better off. Only three regular from last season are over 200lbs, and Torey Krug’s poise and speed aside he’s the smallest man on the team.

4: Hunger whoever is added, should have something to prove. Be it a scapegoat from another city, someone who fell short in the juniors or college, or maybe a long wayward prospect who’s finally ready to come over to North America to play. There’s entirely too many meek players on the team and not enough fire eaters.

5: Attitude no matter what the players brought in or promoted needs to be an every day player. Someone who will go out and play every game like ti might be their last. “Big game players” are a waste of 50+ games a year of ice time and money. The team has had those, and probably has at least one on the roster. Adding more turns the team into the Red Sox or something damn close to it.

The Western Conference has already kicked off it’s final round, and done so in style. The East has its time in the limelight now.

The Rangers and Devils will at least from the perspective of travel both get to play as many home games as it takes to finish the series. That rest could come into play for both teams. The Rangers while a much younger team overall, have had several overtime games including that triple overtime game against the large and physical Capitals. The Devils.

The Devils have the advantages of two less games, notably less overtime, and more rest since the end of a not very taxing series with the Flyers. They may need it. They have a much higher average age, but also have their own rookies in the lineup. In addition to a legend in goal who is playing some of his best hockey in a decade, they have the most skilled player left in the playoffs Ilya Kovalchuk.

The breakdown:

Goaltending:

  • Lundqvist is having hands-down the best post season of his career, one concern might be that the Devils take more shots per game than anyone the Rangers have faced, and part of his success is that the Rangers typically allow very few shots.
  • Brodeur looks more like the legend than we’ve seen in recent years. This could be a tipping point either way. If he reverts to the player of the last two or three post seasons that will be the death-knell for the team. If however he has two strong games to start the series he will be in the head of a team who mostly grew up watching him.

Forwards:

  • The Rangers forwards have been enough to get the job done, but not spectacular. How well they do will be determined by how well Gaborik and Hagelin use their speed, and players like Callahan and Stepan distribute the puck in a timely manner.
  • Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac need to push through a much better defense than they have seen this post season. I expect the adjustment to be harder for Clarkson and Henrique, which means it’s just about time for Ponikarovsky to come out of his coma and contribute.

Defense:

  • The Rangers defense is the most reliable component of the team. McDonagh and Girardi have been huge, Staal has rounded back into Norris-like form, and Del Zotto has been key figure, as a six man unit a defense doesn’t play much better. The question will be how well they handle some of the big, skilled, bodies of the Devils in a seven game series after all the hard play of the Caps, and extra time.
  • The Devils defense has seen its defensive defensemen earning the most ice time. It’s a formula that’s worked thus far. The Devils will need timely contributions from the more offensive minded defensemen in order to advance.

Intangibles:

Neither team has had to come back from being down 0-3 or run into a game they had to come back from four goal down to win or golf. But neither has had an easy post season, the Devils went the distance with the scrappy Panthers in the opening round, the Rangers will play their fifteenth game of the second season against the Devils. After health which becomes a huge drain this late, depth is going to be huge in deciding the series. Both teams have five players who have scored three or more goals in the post season. The Devils however who have played less games have gotten at least one goal from 15 players, while the the Rangers have had only 11 light the lamp.

These division rivals could also see the return of good scraps to the playoffs. 22 Fighting majors in six regular season games isn’t the type of emotion you can smother in the playoffs.

“Lazy Russian Count”*

  • Rangers: 1
  • Devils: 2

“Good Canadian Boy Count”*

  • Rangers: 10
  • Devils: 7

*Both counts taken from current rosters as displayed on team websites.

With the first two rounds of the playoffs gone and done, it’s time to look at the tenure of some people who might be gone and done where they are.

1: Brandon Dubinsky, has not had a good year. Injuries haven’t helped. But thanks to lower production of his own, and the surprising contributions of Hagelin and Kreider, it might be time for the Alaskan to find a good real estate agent and queue up some moving companies. The worst points total of his career is only marginally abated by the best plus/minus. His cap hit is manageable, and a change of scenery could reinvigorate him. The Rangers could use the cap space, and lots of teams could use his two way play.

2: George McPhee, this was to many a make or break season for the Capitals general manager. He’s fired a coach, shuffled players and still not managed to get the team a cup or even a finals appearance. Spotting talent isn’t the problem, stirring the pot appears to be.

3: Alex Semin, as has been rumored forever the pending UFA might just get an offer he can’t refuse from a KHL team. As little success as the Capitals have had in the playoffs, and as much of the blame as he gets it would be a surprise to see him back in a Capitals uniform next season, particularly if McPhee is not in the corner office.

4: Jason Garrison burst onto the scene this year and scored goals seemingly at will for the Panthers. He’s a UFA this summer. While Dale Tallon has shown a willingness to spend to get the guys he wants, if the GM goes big game hunting Garrison might be better served to sign elsewhere early before he gets left out in the cold.

5: Carlo Colaiacovo the Saint Louis Blues rearguard got just his second taste of the NHL playoffs this year picking up three points in seven games. With new ownership coming in it’s hard to imagine they won’t make upgrading the regular season’s 21st ranked offense a priority, which could squeeze out even valuable talent.

6: Dale Hunter, even if McPhee stays, its an open question as to if Hunter wants to come back. He was part of the most successful major junior franchise of our era, and took a job managing some misfits at the NHL level. He did as good a job as you could expect with that cast of characters, but still didn’t take them any place they haven’t been.

7: Keith Aucoin, as a career AHL player who finally got called up to the big dance and played respectably, he should get some calls from a few teams looking to sign him to an NHL deal next season. The Capitals could be that team, any franchise looking for some character depth guys could take a one or two year flyer on him too. Who could blame him if a team calls him and says “two years one way one and a half million”?

8: Dennis Wideman, it is of note that none of the NHL teams he’s played on has ever reached the conference finals, Boston, Washington, St Louis, Florida have all been halted in the second round or sooner with him on the roster. The pending UFA and All Star is part of a very crowded blueline, and looking to split the Caps available money with Mike Green, John Carlson, and others.

9: Sergei Kostitsyn probably managed to avoid any of the muck his brother splashed about, but his contract is up and Nashville will soon be doing whatever it can to retain at least one of it’s stud defensemen, that probably does not include extending large contracts to players who put up 17 goals in the regular season, and then collect just two points in ten post season games.

10: Brad Boyes someone looking for a rehab project should look no further. There are very few players in the NHL with a better wrist shot than Brad Boyes. There are also very few players in the NHL more inconsistent. Yes injuries have been a factor, but at some point it’s time to cowboy up.

11: Nail Yakupov the consensus number one pick is unlikely to end up back in juniors next season. Currently the Edmonton Oilers (again) hold the first overall pick. With their lack of true defensive power, will they decide to move the pick if it will land them one or more solid defenders?

The two best goaltenders left in the playoffs are squaring off in the west. The two teams have faced each other six times and split the W’s down the middle. There have been three shutouts. The Coyotes have the better powerplay, the Kings the better penalty kill.  What could make the series extremely interesting is the difference in penalties taken. Through the nine games it’s taken them to reach the third round the Kings have racked up 136 penalty minutes, in two more games the Phoenix Coyotes have just 104. That works out to almost six minutes in penalties less for the Phoenix.

The breakdown:

Defense:

  • The Kings have the single best defenseman playing in this series and that’s Drew Doughty.
  • The Coyotes have the better and more versatile depth. Klesla, Yandle, and Ekman-Larsson are at the top, but the others are more than solid.

Forwards:

  • The Coyotes seems to be able to squeeze goals out of whoever is in uniform, but there’s no denying they don’t peak as high as the Kings.
  • While Richards and Brown have been outstanding, Carter isn’t living up to the billing. They can expect to face a deep defense that is physical and good at not retaliating.

Goaltending:

  • The Coyotes have gotten a solid performance from their goaltender first to last. There is nothing to question here.
  • The Kings have gotten a solid performance from their goaltender first to last. There is nothing to question here.

Intangibles:

  • The Coyotes in facing the offensively minded BlackHawks and the smothering Nashville Predators have won consistently against two different but physical teams. They’ve faced effective goaltending and over come it.
  • The Kings have not faced consistent goaltending in this post season and that has the potential to be their Achillies heal The Canucks who they beat in the opening round didn’t manage consistent too well and like the Flyers against the Devils, when they had to face it they melted. It will be a big test of the Kings team character to face goaltending every bit as good as their own and keep their composure.

On paper this series could quite easily go seven over time games with seven goals. That said, both coaches are in a solid position since not many expected either team to be here. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for one or both coaches to say “I trust our goaltender, get at them boys.” and turn up the offensive tempo.

Interesting Vegas line: For this series it might be if there are more fighting majors than goals.

Oh yes:

“Lazy Russian Count”*

  • Kings 2, defenseman Slava Voynov and forward Andrei Loktionov
  • Coyotes 1, Maxim Goncharov

“Good Canadian Boy Count”*

  • Coyotes: 23
  • Kings: 15

*Both counts taken from current rosters as displayed on team websites.

With the Philadelphia Flyers out of the greatest sports tournament it all comes down to goaltending. We have a living legend in New Jersey. Martin Brodeur is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time. His statistical records hold records. Mike Smith was discarded by the Tampa Bay Lightning and seen by many in Phoenix as no more than a stand in until a “good goalie” could be found. Well, surprise surprise, Mike Smith is possibly the next best puck handler in the NHL among goaltenders after New Jersey’s juggernaut. The stand-in also has a modest .948sv% this post season. Either the King Henrik Lundqvist, or the baby of the bunch Braden Holtby will advance in the other series, neither has much to complain about this post season. And then there’s the hands down favorite to win the Conn-Smythe, the All American Jonathan Quick, the King of King’s owns the playoffs this year.

With the draft approaching and the resolution of ownership issues for several teams (Sabres, Jets, Blues, Stars, Devils and in theory the Coyotes), the trading action as teams attempt to clear space to go after this summers big fish could be the biggest we’ve seen in years. Parise and Suter will be the biggest fish on the market, but don’t expect Carlo Colaiacovo, Semin, Parenteau, and the rest of the second or even third tier to come cheap. If the market for skaters is shallow, the goalie market probably isn’t even deep enough to wet the whole tread on your average sneaker. Clemmensen, Harding, Vokoun and that’s about it.Vokoun ended the season on the shelf, Harding is injury prone, and Clemmensen has never managed to hold down a starting job.