Hockey is won by the men on the ice. Period. Last night Joel Ward took a penalty that was egregiously absent minded and left Carl Hagelin a little less pretty than his Momma remembers. That’s unfortunate. No one, starting with Joel Ward, wished it to happen.

Off the ice it triggered this:

@ do you think Joel Ward is in fact an alias for Joseph Kony?
@randallhanlan
Randall Hanlan

STUPID NIGGER I BLAME YOU. SKATE AWAY IN SHAME #WARD
@JayP1zzle
JP Kraus

Which are only slightly more blatantly stupid than tweets like this:

STUPID NIGGER I BLAME YOU. SKATE AWAY IN SHAME #WARD
@JayP1zzle
JP Kraus

Rewind to that first sentence of this story.


That video seems to show:

  1. A goaltender out of position.
  2. Defensemen who have allowed not one but two opposing forwards to the net unimpeded.
  3. Forwards who failed to block the shots and then didn’t recover very quickly. That’s the tying goal.

After 17 minutes of rest, three of those four skaters, and the goalie produce this:

This one is even easier to breakdown:

  1. Faceoff loss.
  2. Defense of the Rangers left wide open.
  3. Horrid shot blocking technique.
  4. The attempts to block the shot screening the shot so totally the goaltender had no look at it until it was past them.

In two minutes of ice time 19:52 of the 3rd and 1:35 of OT, Holtby, Carlson, Alzner, and Laich are on the ice for what may be two closest goals scored by a single team of the entire series. Yet somehow this is the fault of someone not on the ice? Joel Ward certainly screwed up, but these four failed.

While I can’t imagine the Penguins wanting to trade Jordan Staal within the division, it might be the best place to get a solid return. As a physical force, scoring threat, playoff veteran, and penalty kill guru there are a lot of teams in the east who need one or more of those abilities. The two major problems are pending realignment, and of course the idea of having to face him yearly in the playoffs.

I can’t see Brian Burke failing to go after Staal unless he’s specifically told “no, over my dead body” by Ray Shero and company. His teams is in desperate need of a center who can play on the top two lines, win faceoffs, be defensively responsible, show up and be effective any night there’s a game. The playoff experience would be a bonus. None of the Maple Leafs young nucleus of drafted or AHL promoted talent has any playoff experience, and there’s not a great deal of it in the elder trade pieces as well.

It’s unlikely the Boston Bruins would get in on the chase, unless it involved moving out Bergeron (NMC), Krejci (NTC) or they were working from the assumption Horton would not return and they wanted to put either Staal or Seguin (both?) permanently at right wing.

The Carolina Hurricanes would in theory be a great place for a family reunion, but that team is far more in need of spending 6+ million on a top defenseman than on even a high quality forward. The return would almost certainly be mostly in draft picks since the depth of the Canes farm system isn’t stellar. A plus for the Canes aside from the presumed chemistry of the two Staal brothers would be having two quality forwards who could play right win or center effectively depending on the needs of the team.

Both the Florida Panthes and Buffalo Sabres would make interesting destinations. Staal’s tenacity would be a nice compliment to either system, and each team has reason to beef up their center position. Each has also shown an increased willingness to pursue bigger contracts and names the last two seasons.

The Winnipeg Jets are still an enigma. Their coach made a heartfelt plea for offensive reinforcement during the season, and was ignored. We don’t know if this is because of the market prices that saw Paul Gaustad go for a 1st round pick, a lack of suitable pieces, or simply management and ownership having no desire to make changes. Arguably this is the team he could have the most positive impact on. As close as they came to making the playoffs, with a little good health and maturity from other members of the cast, the Jets could see themselves rather busy in the second half of April and later.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Teams:

  • none of the teams in last years conference finals would make it out of the first round, and one wouldn’t even make the playoffs
  • the Florida Panthers would not only make the playoffs but claim their first division title
  • the Phoenix Coyotes would also emerge from the regular season atop their division, and would go one further and make the second round
  • it would take until the fourth game of the second round for the St Louis Blues to get a goal from a defenseman (Shattenkirk)
  • the team that had the 29th best regular season offense in the regular season would have the best goal differential coming into action on 5/6/12 (LA Kings)
  • two teams in the second round, the Kings and the Flyers would be perfect when the other team scores first
  • the biggest question facing the Boston Bruins after a first round loss would be which UFA’s will be brought back
  • the Montreal Canadiens would pick a general manager the press didn’t hate

Players:

  • Andy McDonald would be the third leading scorer in the NHL playoffs going into play 5/6
  • in ten games with seven points Keith Yandle would lead all defensemen in scoring without a single goal.
  • of the 340 skaters to take a shift in the playoffs Zach Parise would lead the league in 1st goals
  • in the twenty (and counting) overtime games only one player would have more than one OT goal, and he’d be Danish winger Mikkeal Boedker
  • that Mike Richards who had just three fights in the regular season would pick up a Gordie Howe hat trick
  • that Dan Girardi would be outscoring Drew Doughty through 5/6
  • that Mike Smith would enter the playoffs a Vezina snub, and continue the playoffs a Conn-Smythe favorite
  • Vladimir Sobotka would have more game winning goals (1) than Claude Giroux (0)

If I were betting on things between now and the start of the Conference Finals:

  • I’d go with the Caps-Rangers series to go seven.
  • If anyone other than the Rangers wins the east, the Cup goes west for sure.
  • The Caps defense will cost them some games.
  • The Blues will rally hard in the next game.
  • Shane Doan does something inadvisable if the Coyotes come out flat.
  • there will be at least four shots of Laviolette staring into space and chewing gum in the next Devils-Flyers tilt.
  • At least two more overtime games in the second round..
  • One or more NHL coaches are removed before the start of the Conference finals.
  • At least five references to Marty Brodeur’s age per day by Liam Mchugh.
  • The Danny Briere playoff points count will continue, multiple times a period.
  • Whatever Barry Trotz does someone will question it.

The most surprising series in the NHL playoffs this series is the LA Kings vs the St Louis Blues. Not only is the series more high scoring than anyone expected but one team is up 3-0. Game one should be highlighted and underlined on every hockey lovers list of games where depth players make the difference. Slava Voynov was on some people’s Calder worthy list throughout the season, but it’s unlikely many people outside Orange County and Chelyabinsk Russia knew who he was  before he popped open the Kings scoring seven minutes after what proved to be the Blues only goal. Dustin ( @DustinPenner25 ) Penner would pick up a goal and an assist, while Matt Greene picked up a shorthanded goal. Since then the Kings have won two games outscoring the St Louis Blues 9-4 in a physical, grinding series. With no Halak to step out and shake up the vibe for the Blues, each player is going to step up or play golf.

The New York Rangers have only needed to score four goals to win two of their first three games against the Washington Capitals. The last game the two teams played was long enough the teams might as well have played two games. Some of the defensemen were approaching sixty minutes of ice time and forwards were in all up in to the 30 and 40 minute range. There’s a lot of people who expected this series to be interesting, but I don’t think anyone expected the Rangers and Capitals to combine for the lowest goal total this round.

Phoenix Coyotes have been impressive against the team many expected to represent the west in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nashville Predators have perhaps for the first time in their history made headlines for players behaving badly. The goaltending has been worth watching, some gaffes, but two exciting guys in grills to watch. The teams play solidly, but they haven’t created as much on ice drama as some of the other series.

The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers have danced the fandango up and down the ice and in both buildings. The New Jersey Devils have picked up the second and third games of the series after dropping the opener. The formula for winning has been pretty simple: 4 by 30. Four goals scored on Bryzgalov in each of the last two games. Parise, Kovalchuk and company have done the job, Giroux, Bryzgalov and company have not. The Flyers are clearly suffering Rival Elimination Syndrome and need to get over it posthaste or figure out where they are vacationing this summer. I’d be surprised if this one was over in five, but I think this series goes to the team whose goalie plays better.

What is Jordan Staal worth on the open market? Simply put, a lot. After Parise he’s potentially the most impactful forward on the market. As far as players under contract if he is moved this summer he is the most desirable player likely to become available. Because of his playoff success, offensive ability, and defensive prowess  there is a lot to like. Two important things to remember, without a no trade or no movement clause Staal doesn’t have a say in where he goes, and second if whoever picks him up doesn’t convince him to stay he’ll only be there a year.

Using the Kessel trade as a low end value, two first round picks or (or high end prospects) and one second round pick as the return isn’t really beyond the ability of any team to spend. Assuming there’s no extension and trade deal worked out between the clubs let’s take a look at who is most in need of him first.

Because of his defensive ability and offensive potential, the first team to step up for him in the western conference should be:

The Minnesota Wild. Mikko Koivu is one of the ten or so most underrated players in the league and carries the burdens of captain, defensive and offensive leaders on a team that has struggled since it it was founded. Adding Staal as the second top two center allows the team to retain it’s identity as a defensive first team, and both lower the burden on Koivu shorthanded and increase the teams five on five strength. A return of Coyle, a 1st round pick and second is reasonable, although if the Penguins are looking at a backup goaltender Matthew Hackett might end up in the mix.

Staying in the west, two teams that are young and strong but  would likely want as much in the way of offense out of Staal as defense are:

The St Louis Blues and Dallas Star, Pietrangelo and Backes highlight the first, while Benn and Eriksson lead the latter. The two teams finished back to back in the low twenties in offense this season. Adding Staal’s offensive production over anyone internal gives either team the chance to level up. For the Blues who have to be considered to be in “win now” mode given their high finish, he’s got the potential to put them over the top. For the Star’s, he represents the difference between breaking up in mid April and having to worry about arena availability through at least one round of the playoffs.

The biggest question for either team is what is ownership willing and able to spend to keep him long term.

Staying in the Central, one of the NHL’s longest snipe hunts might be concluded if this team were to pickup on Staal:

The Columbus Blue Jackets might just find the center to compliment Rick Nash. With Johnson and Wisniewski to patrol the blueline, and Nash, Staal, and Umberger up front all that’s needed to get out of the lottery is an average performance in net to lift the team out of the lottery. Arguably it could be done with the goaltending they’ve gotten if you factor in Staal’s penalty kill prowess. Having taken on Carter and then Johnson’s contracts after signing Wisniewski’s it’s doubtful they’d be unwilling to sign Staal long term if he decided he liked the move about three hours drive west of his current team. There isn’t a great deal on the Jackets roster that could be traded out that is something the Penguins would need currently, so straight draft picks are most likely.

Coming up a look at the eastern conference possibilities.

Jordan Staal is the new sexy. Since the idea was first kicked about that he might need to be moved to make it possible for the Penguins to extend Sidney Crosby and Evgani Malkin. But let’s not get excited over nothing. The salary cap could rise significantly over the next two off seasons. The Devils have restructured their ownership. The Stars have been bought, the Canes look like they’ll be opening their purse for company for Eric Staal. The Sabres are now spending to the Cap, and the Blues could have new ownership. On top of that the Coyotes are of course (again) near new ownership, and the Panthers and Lightning, not to mention the Winnipeg Jets have committed stable ownership and management.

If the salary cap goes up even four million in the next two years, the Penguins have all the space they need to keep all three. They can even keep other top components like Kris “Submarine” Letang, Zbynek Michalek, and some others. All of the current defense is 31 or younger, James Neal may have gotten a new deal this year but other players will need deals or to be replaced in the next two or three years as well.

Then there is the question of health. In the last two seasons, Jordan Staal has averaged 52 games played. That’s not great. His first four seasons he only missed one game, but the drop off is alarming. Then there is the health of his teammates. Crosby has missed extensive time. In three of his seven seasons Crosby has played less than sixty games, this season he played just twenty two games and with multiple concussions the question of how many more hits his career survives is always on the table. Evgani Malkin’s had injuries to both knees, his shoulder, feet and not played every game since the 08-09 season. Knee’s in particular don’t get better with time and wear.

The question has to be asked if it’s to the best option for trade is Jordan Staal. With the injuries to Malkin and Crosby he’s spent time as the number one and number two center. He’s also spent a reasonable amount of time at wing. As an excellent two way presence on a team decidedly lacking in a history of attention to defensive niceties, he might be more valuable than any return that could be reasonably acquired. Both Malkin and Crosby could be traded for an almost unlimited return. Using the trade of RFA 36 goal scorer Phil Kessel as a bench mark, or even Ilya Kovalchuk, the return for either star could be enormous and pay dividends for a decade or more.

10: They were looking for all the people lined up to buy the Coyotes.

9: The shock of falling behind Dustin Penner in playoff scoring caused them to doubt their sanity and seek counseling.

8: They were detained by the Arizona border patrol.

7:  Someone told them there was an Orthodox Easter Egg hunt for grownups.

6: Tyler Seguin loaned them his alarm clock.

5: Because in hockey their are two curfews.

4.7 The service at Denny’s is really slow.

4.6 Carey Price and some old friends were visiting from Montreal, and they were on Moscow time.

3: They were looking for a midnight showing of Avengers.

2: They were desperately looking for an excuse to make no impact on game three.

1: They were getting laminated picture books of all the Paulina Gretzky pictures for the whole team.

While motivation has its place in the legion of defects that ended the Bruins problems, there is another one that needs to be addressed. On the physical axis the Bruins are neither uncatchably swift nor menacing and hulking. Just two of the forwards who started the year in the teams top six are over two hundred pounds. Shawn Thornton is the only returning regular who is also over that mark. By comparison the Washington Capitals have just three players on their entire playoff roster who are less than two hundred pounds. They use their size not just offensively to outhit the Bruins, but defensively to protect the puck.

The Bruins had to match David Krejci who is neither swift nor physical, not hulking or menacing (except maybe to a Flame turned Hab turned Flame), Benoit Pouliot who has skates that seem to be stuffed with flubber, and the increasingly game but alarmingly spare Tyler Seguin against much larger players every shift. Not one of these guys can be counted on to regularly win pucks along the wall or standup (or layout) opponents coming across the blueline.

The prospect pool doesn’t look any better. Most of the Providence roster will probably never be regulars on an NHL team. Josh Hennessy of the incredible 2003 draft was a nice thought and has some size. But Max Suave makes Krejci look obese, and has durability issues. Jamie Arniel took two steps back this year and is about as bulky as Krejci. Zach Hamill is certainly game enough, it remains to be seen if he can stick at the NHL level.

Chiarelli and Neely have not drafted much other than “small, skilled forwards”. The team desperately needs another power forward. The attitude is a heavy burden to carry for one or two top six forwards for 82 games, the preseason and however much of the post season a team managers. Assuming the clock has really expired on this version of the San Jose Sharks, a perfect acquisition regardless of if Horton recovers or not is Ryane Clowe. He’s got one year left on his contract, he’s big, he’s hungry for success, and its not possible to be informed and doubt his heart. Twenty three fighting majors in the past two seasons says he’s not gonna back down easy, two hundred and sixty hits and 42 goals mean he’s constantly involved.  David Jones is another who fits the bill. And I’ll renew my plea for Chris Stewart’s addition, I think being added as a regular to a team with a bit more belligerence than the Blues, and hypothetically penciling him on Bergeron’s right next season with Marchand returning on the left gives a physicality, speed and skill to both top lines.

Physical players like Milan Lucic certainly need to contribute more contact and more on the score board. It is however the responsibility of coaching and management to make sure these heavy bodies are well rested in the last week of the season so that they can enter the playoffs ready to be impact players. It is the responsibility of the players to be fit, and to make sure they are both rested and motivated. More than a few players are guilty of two or more failings on that list.

The front office tried to get by on reputation this season. So far no signs point to them changing that stance. The presumption both Adam McQuaid and Nathan Horton will be healthy to start the season has a striking resemblance to the inertia that saw them expecting a full recovery for Marc Savard. The draft, trades and free agency should all be at the least explored to find more physical players who can play.