At some point in an athletes career, they realize their time is done. For some it is when they can no longer get a contract, in other cases they simply can’t making it onto the ice or playing field. When its time to say good-bye to their time as a player, many paths are taken. Some guys go into the broadcast booth having planned it out since junior hockey. Others just want to sit out porch and watch their kids play. A few will go with dramatic career changes that bring them someplace as far removed from athletic competition as the world of fashion or politics.

Having watched a lot of two particular players getting towards the end of their playing tenure, I wonder if the best use of their talents might be behind a bench. Having watched just about all of Hal Gill’s career, you can’t doubt for a minute he has a deep understanding of the game that allows him to take advantage of his average athleticism. He’s been invaluable in several systems under widely different coaches and playing philosophies. Given the number of coaches in the NHL now who were less gifted defensemen than he is, and who likely mentored less men along the way, a coaching position in the NHL, AHL or elsewhere might be the perfect occupation for the next twenty or so years for the towering Massachusetts native.

The other man is possibly even more interesting as a potential coach. Of limited finesse, and clearly a self-made player Shawn Thornton might just be the next Gordie Dwyer. As you no doubt know, Dwyer was a highly physical player who made the transition to major junior head coach. Along the way Dwyer more than double the number of wins his squad put up from first year to second. Thornton has proved a valuable asset to his teams over the years with his gloves on and off, demonstrating an understating of his teammates that allowed him to steer them in the teams best interest. During his professional career he’s played both wing and defense.

Both Thornton and Gill epitomize the adaptability needed to stay in the NHL long term, both have been a part of Stanley Cup wins, and seen all the changes the last decade or so have thrown at players, coaches, fans and the families of players. Either gentleman could be exactly the right cog to help an organizations move forward if they step behind the bench.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the most disappointing team in the NHL every year since they won the cup in the entire eastern conference. The Sharks arguably are worse, but then San Jose never actually won offering up the proof that they could, the Penguins did. Why is the new broom needed?

The problem isn’t lack of talent. Whatever else can be said of Crosby, Letang, and Fleury, they have not covered themselves with glory in the playoffs. When they did win the cup, Malkin was the Conn-Smyth winner, Fleury allowed more goals than any other goaltender in that post season. Crosby now has seventeen post season games with just one goal. In this years post season he generated zero points in six games. Letang was scoreless in ten games. In his case, he is coming back from a stroke and a lot of time off, but since being drafted he’s only crossed 75 games in one regular season. Whatever good Letang may do a team offensively, and that’s undeniable, defensively he leaves room for notable improvement.

If anyone needs explained to them why Marc-Andre Fleury needs to be ousted from the Pittsburgh crease, I really can’t help you. He’s a living blooper reel of post season gaffes. His ability to track the puck in pressure situations in almost non-existent. This years .915 sv% is by far his highest in five post seasons, last year he lost the starting job to a man who hadn’t played in the playoffs in about a decade.

Dan Bylsma has failed to keep this team focused in the playoffs every year since his first full season. Five playoff runs, all ending with him looking befuddled on his way to the handshake line after no visible attempts to camp the troubled waters on his bench in the previous several games. The last two years they’ve gotten through their first rounds not because they deserved to win based on the way they played, but because neither the Islanders nor Blue Jackets possessed any measure of playoff experience. This year with America’s best hockey players on his roster for the Olympics he did nothing. The team failed to medal because he is a one trick pony; put the two best offensive players together and pray. That’s it.

Ray Shero has been hunting a white whale for years. Year in, year out he goes out and looks for “someone to play with Crosby”, he brings someone in, they don’t gel, and that person gets shuffled to Malkin’s line where they normally produce at least at the level they did before arriving there. But the subtext to what Shero has done the past half decade is even more alarming when you realize who most of the players brought in were. Last year it was Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, both former team captains, in the past almost everyone brought in has worn a letter. Why? Whether he is willing to admit it or not, some part of him recognized the lack of leadership at ice level. And yet, he kept doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

For Pittsburgh to improve the changes need to be wholesale; Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma need to be given their walking papers. Sidney Crosby and at least one of Marc-Andre Fleury or Kris Letang need to go as well. Without changing the supposed leadership, and the actual faces of the team you can’t change its direction, mental composition or yearly fate.

The President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins are going to be watching the final two rounds of the playoffs from Slovakia, Finland, Toronto, and Michigan and points all over the world. What they won’t be doing is playing any more. For a number of reasons, and with the play of several players being disappointing, they didn’t have enough to get the job done.

Zdeno Chara:

At no point in the playoffs was Zdeno Chara a dominant player. Against Detroit he was effective, and at times in the Montreal series he was visible. Not one minute of the Montreal series did he look like a Norris trophy worthy defenseman. We know he had some sort of hand/wrist injury that limited him measurably. He had three games against Montreal with one or zero shots. He totaled ten shots in seven games against Montreal, and twelve shots in five games against Detroit. He seemed to skate at about his normal level, without any moments where he hustled up ice to beat a rushing attacker (this could be good or bad, as the number of rushes when he was on the ice was fairly low) as we’ve occasionally seen. Was he awful? Only in-comparison to his best, he was honestly average, aggressively average in this post season.

David Krejci:

If ever there was a player who wore their current mental state like a one man-band kit, it is Krejci. When he’s dialed in, his passes are crisp, he makes clever lateral moves, and he moves the puck either as a pass or a shot at exactly the right time. When the signal gets fuzzy, he’s ruinous, he dangles more than Tomas Kaberle, his passes are as deft as a walrus on stairs, and he just doesn’t shoot. For the first five games we got bad Krejci, Lucic and Iginla would have charged up ice and gotten to the net, he’d be almost into the zone. The light of good Krejci did strobe briefly across the ice in game six, but it was merely a cameo. When the center isn’t there to control the middle of the ice, the plug is pulled on the whole system. In Julien’s system this is arguably the most important skating position.

Tuukka Rask:

Let’s start with the numbers:

  • Game 1 4 goals allowed SV% of .879
  • Game 2 3 goals allowed SV% of .893
  • Game 3 3 goals allowed SV% of .880
  • Game 4 0 goals allowed SV% of 1.000
  • Game 5 2 goals allowed SV% of .935
  • Game 6 4 goals allowed SV% of .857
  • Game 7 3 goals allowed SV% of .833

Two of the series wins are pretty easy to pick out. The third win? You can’t look at those numbers and say “this one”, you just can’t. By comparison, Marc-Andre Fleury put up better numbers in his seven game series than Rask. Was the defense in front of Rask perfect? No, but he was not only below average for him, in this series he was below average for the the NHL. He wasn’t alone, but as a goalie, the last mistake was his to make, and he did. frequently. Best of all, there’s only three more years left on his $7,000,000.00 a year contract that have the full no movement clause.

The Rest:

Its pretty easy to go through the roster and find players not named Torey Krug or Patrice Bergeron or Dougie Hamilton, or Carl Soderberg and say they were a or the problem. Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski were on again off again good to bad. While Miller was making his playoff debut, and has a grand total of 11 playoff games and 47 regular season contests Bartkowski is a bit more experienced with last years 15 playoff games and a total of 84 NHL regular season events. Meszaros was a non factor. Marchand while not potting any goals on several pretty open cages, still created turnovers, made several key passes, and played hard. Eriksson was not what we hoped, but he wasn’t awful, like most of the rest he was pretty average.

The Fatal Flaw:

What killed the Bruins in this series was two things; trepidation and inexperience. The biggest regrets any player should have this summer is the things they didn’t do and they way they didn’t play. Against the Wings and for most of the regular season they were physical, rough men who who stood ready to win at any costs. Against the Habs they played terrified to step into the penalty box. That little corner of the arena looking back  at the team that several players were so familiar with, some how became taboo. Players didn’t commit to the system and they allowed the Canadiens to dictate the way the game was played.  When you’re in a bad matchup, you can’t play your opponents style and win. No matter what style you play, half your roster can’t be playing  like its a father son game full of 11 year olds. Not if you expect to win.

A compilation of improbably stats and situations from the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Teams

  • Five games into the divisional finals, the Minnesota Wild have still not lost at home, the path here included a seven game series against a team coached by a Jack Adams finalist, and being the lower ranked team in both series.
  • The Ducks have played thee different goaltenders, including a 20 year old American, a 24 year old Dane, and 32 year old from Switzerland.
  • The Minnesota Wild are the only team not to have been shutout this post season.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are the only team to have two players suspended this post season.
  • The Anaheim Ducks after being average in penalty minutes during the regular season at 10.9 minutes per game, are the most penalized team left in the playoffs at 20.4.
  • Of the three teams with more than one shutout during these playoffs, the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota Wild, the Wild have had two goalies produce one; Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgaloz
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins lead all remaining teams with three wins when trailing after the first period.

Players

  • Erik Haula leads all rookies in post season goals with 3.
  • Two rookies have shorthanded goals in this years playoffs, Ondrej Palat and Brian Gibbons.
  • Brad Richards leads all players in powerplay time on ice with 61:57, but has just 1 powerplay point.
  • Three defensemen are over a point per game in the playoffs; P.K. Subban 1.33, Brent Seabrook at 1.25, and Jack Johnson at 1.17.
  • With 11 even strength points in eleven games, Anze Kopitar leads all forwards in ESPPG.
  • Brothers Mikko Koivu 57.5% and Saku Koivu 56.9% rank 2nd and 3rd in faceoff winning percentage among players still active.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed more goals than any other goalie, as he did the year he and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
  • Jonathan Quick leads all goaltenders in penalty minutes with 4.
  • Sidney Crosby is 102nd in goal in the playoffs, well behind household names like Brendan Gallagher (4), Charlie Coyle (3), Nick Holden 3, Mathieu Perrault (2), and Raffi Torres (2).

We’re four games into the latest battle in a playoff war that stretches back to before the grandparents of several players on either side were born. We’ve seen one goaltender continue a career year, one defensemen further etch his name into league history, a call up redefine the series with a single shot, and a man who waited half a decade to make his NHL debut outshine his entire team. And someone still needs to win two games.

For the Montreal Canadiens, they came into the series and odd form of underdog. Yes the finished a distant third in the division, a long way down from the President’s Trophy Winning Boston Bruins. But they also won the season series between the teams and most of the last double handful of regular season games.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Carey Price has been spectacular. He’s got three games in this series with a sv% of .929 or better, and seems to be stopping everything.
  • Offensively, P.K. Subban has been top notch. He’s gotten timely goals on the powerplay and at even strength and has piled up six points in four games which is more than a little good.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Find a way to smother the third line. Carl Soderberg has been the most consistent Bruins forward this series, he’s been 1/4th of an inch from scoring or assisting on a goal a dozen times and they can’t get allowing that.
  • Keep Price’s lines of sight clear, when there have been any amount of bodies in front, goals are going in.
  • Spend more time in the offensive zone, the amount of shot, and shot attempts they’ve given up makes it shocking they are even in the series.

The Boston Bruins entered the post season prohibitive favorites. They were expected to run the board and have time to take a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas between rounds. After a gaffe against the Red Wings (who also won the season series against the Bruins) the Kings of Causeway laid rubber from Boston to Motown and back.

What’s gotten them this far:

  • Patrice Bergeron (four points), Zdeno Chara (+5), Brad Marchand (5pts +6) have been the stars they’re billed as.
  • Depth and balance, despite Krejci’s wasted minutes, others have been around to fill the void; Smith, Fraser, Paille have taken his ignored burden and spread it on their own shoulders.
  • Better coaching, Claude Julien, Doug Houda and company have outmaneuvered their opposite number.

What they need to do to win the series:

  • Get Lucic and Iginla some help, it doesn’t matter if they locate Krejci’s drive and hockey sense or put someone else between them, the number of times these two, one 240 or so and the the other a soon to be 37 year old have made it to the net or corners while Krejci is almost in the zone or just entering is staggering.
  • Prop up Rask’s confidence any way they can. He’s got exactly one game this series with a sv% over .894. No one expects him to be stellar all the time, but average isn’t something he should be looking up at.
  • Communicate better from the bench to the penalty box, they’ve had brain farts in front of the net, at the offensive blueline, and everywhere else.

There is no extreme advantage in this series. Head to head the Canadiens have produced better results, but against the league at large the Bruins are handily better. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup more recently, but there is a lot of playoff experience on the Montreal roster as well.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

The division finals begin tonight. Of the sixteen teams that started the big dance, eight have gone home. Left standing are an array of teams from the easily predictable to the somewhat surprising. Tonight we begin to separate the challengers from the true contenders.

In the west, the Los Angeles Kings will visit their nearest neighbors the Anaheim Ducks. The key point of interest in this series is the goaltenders. The Ducks have used both netminders already. The Kings have Jonathan Quick who has played like two different stoppers in this years playoffs.

The biggest difference between these two teams is age of players. Most of the Kings forwards are in the middle of their careers. Guys like Kopitar, Brown, and Carter are established veterans who can all look forward to another five or more productive seasons if they remain healthy. The Ducks have two key forwards in the same age bracket in Getzlav and Perry, and then some greybeards like Koivu and Selanne, and youngsters such as Beleskey, Smith-Pelly and Bonino who have yet to make their mark on the NHL.

The showdown for top honors in the Metropolitan Division is between the New York Rangers and regular season champion Pittsburgh Penguins. While neither team is the other’s top rival, that doesn’t mean they like each other. What’s also true is that it is entirely fair to say both teams escaped the first round minus a stretch or two of skin. The Rangers took seven games to eliminate the Flyers in a very close series. The Penguins coughed up leads right, left, and center to the Columbus Blue Jackets before moving on. Neither team should be proud of their first round performance, and both should have something to prove. The second biggest surprise in this series is who hasn’t scored a goal, and you know their names. The biggest surprise is how productive Paul Martin has been to date. This series could either be a fail fest or a ferocious battle of two skilled teams, its just a matter of which (if either) coach gets their team pulling together and aimed in the right direction, and keeps it that way.

The most historic rivalry in the NHL will begin forging a new chapter tonight. The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will square off for vengeance, bragging rights, and the right to move on. P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Alexie Emelin and Brendan Gallagher will square off with Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Torey Krug.

Behind those men, and across from each other will stand a pair of men with something to prove. The last time the Canadiens left the first round, Jaroslav Halak and not Carey Price was the backbone of the team. His record in Boston is not good. Price’s opposite number is in worse shape, he’s not yet beaten the teams most hated rival. Tuukka Rask is having a very good year in the NHL and has been nominated for the Vezina, while Price has an Olympic Gold Medal to comfort himself with. Something will give, or someone.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks will face the plucky Minnesota Wild. The pressure is all on the 2nd City squad. Not many expected Koivu, Scandella, Coyle, Suter and Parise to beat the Avalanche. Yet win they did with an Islander’s discard potting the series winner.

Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will look across the ice at Norris finalist snub Ryan Suter, and know they are expected to win. Charlie Coyle, Jason Pominville and their team will work their tales off, and could spark the Cinderella story of the year with a win. Hossa, Kane, Toews and Sharp stand in their way. For pure drama, this may be the most watchable series of the second round. The frosting on this icy drama is that the Blackhawks eliminated the Wild in the first round last year.

The first round of the playoffs may have been the best opening round as a whole in years. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded blows and goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Metropolitan division winners looking just a bit weak. The loss of David Backes due to a suspend-able hit by Brent Seabrook was clearly the tipping point of the series between the Saint Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks went from unmitigated domination of the Los Angeles Kings to going into the night with a whimper.

The Philadelphia Flyers played a pretty even series with the New York Rangers that came down to a memorable game seven decided by one goal; the series was also the coming out party for Steve Mason who put up a stellar 1.97 GAA and .939 sv%. The Alex Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff led Dallas Stars put a two game scare into the Anaheim Ducks before succumbing to a focused and superior team. In the battle between snowy Montreal and snowbird heaven Tampa Bay, the Lightning went down in the opening rounds only sweep, minus Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. In the opening round the Boston Bruins lost the opening game to their Original Six rivals, and then laid them in the dust in four straight wins.

Biggest surprises of the first round:

  • 169 players having more goals than Sidney Crosby, including Luke Schenn, Bryan Allen, Raffi Torres, Jordan Caron and Devante Smith-Pelly
  • How much Jonathan Quick struggled in the first few games, and that Sutter didn’t go to Jones full time.
  • Paul Stastny ending a playoff run with well deserved accolades like “heroic performance” being thrown his way, even around all the love for the shiny new rookie.
  • Paul Martin weighing in at over a point per game. Yes, that Paul Martin.
  • Alex Goligoski gaining zero attention while playing 28:30 a night, putting up 4 points and being a +7 in a six game losing series.
  • How well the very young Colorado Avalanche held together through some very tough games.

Top 3 series of the opening round:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins, the pure drama in this matchup was amazing to watch.
  2. Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche; There is so much young potential in this series it is staggering, Coyle, Neiderrietter, Brodin and Spurgeon we’ll see more of this year, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Hishon, and Duchene we’ll have ot wait until fall for more from.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Saint Louis Blues, as far as the best hockey played game in and game out this series wins, but the drama level wasn’t quiet as high as the other two series.