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

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

What’s to like about him?

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

What should you worry about?

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

What won’t you see?

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

Projection:

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

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

What they should have learned:

Pittsburgh Penguins

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

Nashville Predators

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

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

Three to Watch:

Predators:

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

Penguins:

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

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

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

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

Nashville:

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

Pittsburgh

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

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

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

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

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

Predators final score: 43

Penguins final score: 42

 

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

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

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

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

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

With the NHL Expansion draft looming, it’s time to take a look at who the Boston Bruins must and should protect. Anyone with an active no movement clause, must be protected. Anyone who has played under a certain number of games or is on exempt, so McAvoy, Kuraly, JFK are all safe from being dragged off to the city of sin.

For the Boston Bruins the must protect list includes David Krejci, David Backes, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron. That’s a lot of salary, but it also includes a ton of minutes eaten every night. At least one goalie must be exposed, and three that count right now are Malcolm Subban, Anton Khudobin, and Tukka Rask. Of them Subban is due a contract sometime before games start to count, Rask has four more years with a cap hit of seven million, and Khudobin is entering the final year of his contract with $1,200,000.

I can’t see Rask not being protected, which means either Subban or Khudobin being taken is a real possibility. For youth, Subban might be the better pick for Vegas, but Khudobin has more experience and has played behind bad NHL defenses and still turned up solid numbers when healthy and focused.

At forward I can’t imagine anyone feeling the need to argue against protecting Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Further, any argument to the effect either is worth giving up for nothing is nonsensical. After that you need to weigh the risk and reward of protecting Beleskey, Spooner, Hayes, Nash, Schaller, Moore, and Stafford. It is hard to find a reward to protecting Hayes. Schaller and Nash are decent bottom six players, but either can be replaced by half a dozen guys in Providence or UFA’s. Moore will be 37 when camp opens this fall, and while he had a career year last year, that just means he’s even more likely to slump. Nice player, probably the best of the bottom six, but still I’m not sure I protect him.

This brings us to three players. Ryan Spooner a Bruins draft pick with extraordinary hands and feet but who has failed to thrive. Matt Beleskey who was hindered by injury and saddled with Hayes as a linemate much of last season, and career Bruins killer Drew Stafford who has had just one twenty goal year in his last five and is now 31. Of them I think I have to protect Beleskey. In limited action he still provided a great deal of physicality the team needed. Spooner is younger with a theoretically higher ceiling, but he has shown zero consistency year to year.

On defense Torey Krug is a must protect. You simply don’t give away a guy who finishes sixth in scoring among defensemen, ever. McPhee would snatch him in a heartbeat and the Bruins would be set back years. The blueliners to keep track of left after Krug and Chara are John Michael-Liles, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, and Adam McQuaid. Liles is aging and couldn’t crack the top six last year against very, very inexperienced competition, there’s no reason to protect him. Colin Miller has shown even less of the reasons he was acquired than Ryan Spooner.

In many ways Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are similar players. It isn’t until you look at the various stats you see the differences. McQuaid is simply better in his own zone, his on ice save percentage is better, his difference from team save percentage is better, and he plays more short handed time, and his even strength time is played against better opponents. Kevan Miller is noticeably better offensively (.20ppg vs .14ppg) but neither is anything to make note of, nor does it outweigh the other factors. Age, McQuaid is slightly more than a year older, and while both have health issues again it’s about even.

Unless Neely and Sweeney commit resume generating events in their protection list, I don’t expect the team will suffer anything from the expansion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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’.