This week we while away ninety-six minutes and seventeen seconds talking about the mucking out of the Los Angeles Kings, Gallant in as Golden Knights coach, The Blue Jackets, the shocking Predators/Blackhawks tilt, the future of Lindy Ruff, the issues with the Dallas Stars, the Boston Bruins injuries, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Ovechkins hair, and much, much more.
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.
- Blackhawks: Explosiveness
- Predators: Special teams
- 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.
- Senators: The ability to triple the gravity in the neutral zone
- Bruin: Team defense and penalty kill
- 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.
- Caps: Total package
- Leafs: Special teams
- Caps: Mental composure
- Leafs: Defense
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
Wednesday night the NHL playoffs will open. This year there will be five Canadian teams ready to dance when the puck drops, two California teams, and only one Original Six matchup.
The Montreal Canadiens vs The New York Rangers
Unlike last year the Canadiens have a playoff berth. Also unlike last year they now have Shea Weber, Carey Price, Alex Radulov, Andrew Shaw and a cup winning coach behind the bench in the person of Claude Julien, The edge in this series is going to belong to which ever team can force the other to play their game. The Canadiens allowed fewer goals, the Rangers scored more. The Rangers aren’t far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but no one is talking about them. The Rangers head into the playoffs remarkably healthy with no major players on the injury report. The Canadiens have the best pairing of top end number one defenseman and top flight goalie, and no one is talking about them either.
For the Canadiens it is really simple: Can Gallagher, Galchenyuk, and Radulov play in the Rangers end and score?
For the Rangers it is equally simple: Can they shore up the aging and infirm Lundqvist?
- Canadiens: Goaltending
- Rangers: depth of scoring
- Canadiens: goal scoring
- Rangers: coaching
Minnesota Wild vs Saint Louis Blues
This series will get written off by many as “low key” and “boring”, don’t believe it for a minute. Both teams are happy to have avoided the Blackhawks in the first round, and the two central division rivals have been going at it since the Twin Cities reentered the NHL.. Special teams could be where this series is decided. The Blues and Wild each finished the season at over 21% on the powerplay. Expect a good amount of physicality. Vlad Sobotka has returned to the NHL in time to play for the Blues, Charlie Coyle and Nino Neiderietter will be there to deliver hit for hit.
In pure stats, the Wild have a marked advantage on both sides of the puck. That may well be offset by the invigoration former Wild coach Yeo has brought to the Blues who had a strong run to the end of the season.
- Wild: balance
- Blues: momentum
- Wild: Iffy and arguably overplayed Dubnyk in the last six weeks of the season.
- Blues: Scoring depth
Edmonton Oilers vs San Jose Sharks
This series can be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The Oilers charged hard and climbed into a home ice advantage in the first round. The Sharks were grabbed by the undertow and yanked from a nine point lead in the division to making people doubt they’d see the second season with their skates on. The Sharks are built around an aging core, the Oilers are a team for whom the oldest members of the core are in their early twenties at the latest. The Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs in a very long time, and the Sharks were within reach of getting their names on the Cup last year.
For the Sharks to move on they have to find scoring. Their bottom six, their defense not named Burns will all need to pitch in.
For the Oilers, they will need to expand their core and learn how to play in the playoffs from the guys who have gone deep.
- Oilers: Offense
- Sharks: Experience
- Oilers: Penalty Kill
- Sharks: Depth
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus BlueJackets
This might just be the best, hardest fought series in the first round series this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins have to be considered the Columbus BlueJackets biggest rivals at this point, and I don’t think the Penguins like the Jackets very much either. It goes beyond Dubinsky versus Crosby. It’s going to be Bobrovski versus Murray, Seth Jones against Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson against Bryan Rust. This series will get personal, and will feature some of the best play in the NHL playoffs.
This is likely the the most evenly matched series in the east. The Penguins are better offensively, the Jackets defensively.
- Jackets: Defense and goaltending
- Penguins: Offense
- Jackets: Inconsistency.
- Penguins: Dinged up defense
Anaheim Ducks vs Calgary Flames
The Ducks and Flames both played strong at the end of the year. The Flames are highlighted by the dynamic Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano on the backend, and Johnny Gaudreau the Boston College alumni. The Flames are a pretty balanced team, they aren’t very good or very bad at anything. The Ducks team needs to find some offense from their best players. The Flames need to be consistent sixty minutes a game. This is likely to be the lowest scoring series in the first round.
- Ducks: John Gibson
- Flames: Balance
- Ducks: Scoring
- Flames: Netminding
Don’t forget to listen to this weeks Two Man ForeCheck and look for part two around noon eastern on Wednesday for the rest of the previews and some predictions for the first round.
Every year we look back at a team, bread down what their strengths and weaknesses were and how they can improve. The smallest component of any team is the player. Today each get’s graded.
Brad Marchand, A: Best goal scoring to date, led the team in scoring, still plays an unreal 200 foot game.
Patrice Bergeron B+: Leadership and defense were still there. Offensive production, and possibly engagement took a dip as well. Still the teams most important player, and likely to pick up his fourth Selke this summer.
David Krejci B: The good news is he managed to play in all 82 games, the bad news is he’s got a double digit drop in points with four years left on a contract that seems him taking up ten percent of the team’s salary cap space, and he will turn 31 in just a few more days. He seems to be healthy after early season woes, and that can’t do anything but help the team however long they last in the post-season.
David Pastrnak A: The jump in year over year production alone was exciting. The fact that he scored so much in a number of different ways is even more so. He did hit a flat spot around the beginning of March, but overall it’s hard to argue with what he did.
Ryan Spooner C-: Another double digit drop in production among the Bruins forward group. It’s arguable that he was held down by awful forwards in the second six, and I’ll listen to that, but he also didn’t step up when he got to play with better players.
David Backes C: While no one expected him to put up a 40 goal season in Boston, his offensive production was not good. He did lap the field in hits. His 226 made him 7th among NHL forwards who played 50 or more games. He did end up playing for three coaches in less than 12 months which I think contributed to the dip, I suspect he’ll be better next year.
Dominic Moore A-: About perfect for a fourth liner. When playing with guys who understand the role, he’s impressive, especially at 36.
Frank Vatrano C: Not the year we hoped for from Vatrano, starting with an injury, and continuing with a season full of all the mistakes young players make but should make less frequently as time goes on.
Riley Nash B: Riley Nash is just about the prototypical depth forward in the NHL. He’s a very solid penalty killer putting in the third most minutes among forwards on the team, and on a top penalty killing unit.
Tim Schaller C: Very uneven season with interruptions due to health. While he tossed up his best offensive numbers, he’s not yet a known commodity, still a pretty solid season for someone who is essentially an undrafted rookie.
Drew Stafford Incomplete: 18 games, starting during the honeymoon phase of a new coach is hard to judge. Yes he had better production than his time in Winnipeg, but not spectacular. For a full season of this production he’d get a C to C+.
Matt Beleskey C-: I really like his effort, his offense was non-existent this season, he didn’t look good at all paired with Hayes and unfortunately played with him a lot this year. Despite playing only 49 games and limited minutes he was still second on the team in hits.
Jimmy Hayes F: His contributions this year were largest from the pressbox and possibly at Cuts for A Cause.
Noel Acciari Incomplete: Fun to watch play hockey, may well have a roster spot to lose when camp opens this fall. He produced as much offense in 29 games as Hayes did in 58.
Sean Kuraly Incomplete: Just a few games, nothing really wrong with them, but nothing really right about them.
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson Incomplete: One game, a largely meaningless game in which most of the team was not doing well or feeling well. He played 8:25, had no shots, and was even.
Torey Krug A: Very near the top of the league in scoring, recovered well from his off season injury, eventually. He played more shifts than any other Bruins defesneman.
Adam McQuaid A: His best offensive season since 2011-12, and a career high in games played. Aside from his normal pairing with Krug at even strength and 2:23 of SHTOI a night, he’s also played a good number of minutes opposite Chara when Carlo was struggling.
Zdeno Chara A: There was a big dip in his powerplay time 1:33 last year to 0:33 this year that lead to a general reduction in his offensive numbers, despite having one more goal in five less games. His shorthanded time was tops among all NHL skaters, and at 3:46 was 1:10 more than the rest of the Bruins defensemen.
Kevan Miller C: He’s been unfortunate enough to play with genuinely awful players, but hasn’t shown the growth as a player one would hope for in the transition past the 200 game mark. He may or may not have peaked, but today he looks a lot like a career third pairing defensemen with decent speed and physicality.
Colin Miller F: He has a great demeanor, superior skating ability, top shelf shot and no signs of any understanding of how hockey at the NHL is played well.
John-Michael Liles F: I am entirely baffled how he still has an NHL contract. I saw nothing from him that couldn’t have been done at least as well by any defenseman in Providence. He is legitimately awful in his own zone, produced nothing offensively, and clearly made anyone he played with worse.
Brandon Carlo C: As a rookie he played with Chara against the best in the league on a regular basis. Overall he did pretty well, including playing a big part in the penalty kill. He had one major flatspot in his season, and he wasn’t alone in wretched play in that spot. Overall, I look forward to seeing how well he corrects the serial mistakes he made this year in future seasons.
Joe Morrow Incomplete: I would desperately love to know what he did or didn’t do that left him out of the lineup and has seen Liles and Miller play ahead of him.
Tuukka Rask D-: Rask is one of the most wildly inconsistent netminder to be considered a league star. He ended the year with 8 shutouts, he also ended the year with the year with a quality start number well under .500, and leading the NHL in starts with a sv% under .875 with 14. He undeniably has really good games, but this was his second year in a row leading the league in starts below .875 known as Really Bad Starts.
Anton Khudobin D: Not great numbers, but he played well down the stretch while Rask was ill, injured, and overworked. Unlike some goalies, he was willing to start games towards the end of the season where he was not feeling well and try to get the team a win.
Just days ago I wrote a piece on Torey Krug and how he should absolutely not be exposed at the expansion draft. Today we learn he is day to day heading into the playoffs. He is not expected to play in the season finale. Of the teams defensemen, no one does anywhere near as much to generate offense for the team. His penalty kill time this year is even contributing to better play in his own zone.
While the compact Michigan State alumni is hardly likely to turn to the dark side, his absence does indeed cast Vader’s shadow on a team where scoring among defensemen is pretty rare. At this point in the season Krug is tied for 5th in scoring among defensemen with 51 points, next is Zdeno Chara who with 29 points owns the 53rd rank. None of the other blueliners even make the top 100.
A next man up approach might slide Colin Miller into slot and bump him up a pairing. He’s a great skater, he’s a solid passer, a willing shooter, and already used to the NHL. Unfortunately those attributes haven’t combined to make him a good NHL player. He has less points than the other Miller who no one confuses with an offensive dynamo and who has played less games. For all his defensive prowess, Adam McQuaid has never gotten his point production into get close enough to his jersey number to be intimidating, so he’s probably not the answer. John Michael Liles has burned 52 games in a Bruins uniform, and racked up exactly the number of goals that the front office should spend in seconds deciding if they should offer him a net contract and giving him a line of 0-11-11 6PIM -6.
Joe Morrow has apparently been written off entirely by the organization. Which is sad, but not anything fans or writers will be able to do anything about. That brings us to guys currently in the AHL, and maybe players leaving college or aging out of juniors. Given the depth of defensemen in the system, I really can’t see an outsider being brought in. Sherman is unlikely to leave Harvard early, and isn’t an offensive guy. O’Gara did start the year with some time in the spoked B, but was eventually sent down for more minutes. Alex Grant is leading all Providence Bruins in scoring, but at 28 years old, the odds he’s even strongly considered are pretty slim.
Next up is Tommy Cross. At 27, he’s probably been consigned to the ranks of permanent AHL players. He did get a recall last year. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring for defensemen, with much of it at even strength. With 12 goals on the season and his well known mental acuity, even with less speed the Colin Miller, I can see him being at least as good offensively, and easily better defensively. Having played in the NHL already, I can see him handling playoff hockey better than most.
The player most similar to Krug in offensive abilities and projection is almost certainly Matt Grzelcyk who has 11 powerplay assists, perhals the area most likely to suffer without Krug. He’s speedy, he can handle the puck well in motion or holding a position, and can pass better than most. He’s nearing the end of this first professional season and aside from his offensive prowess can inject both speed and reasonable hockey sense into the backend.
While McAvoy is undeniably talented, even if you’ve been there before. Making the jump when you won’t have the practice time to get comfortable with how other players communicate and play, or adjust to the pace of the game, sounds like a recipe for disaster at the toughest position to play.
Earlier today we learned a little bit more about the NHL’s Department of Player Safety and their modus operandi. They handed Brad Marchand a two game suspension for his blatant spearing incident. We have to ask a couple key questions, and then look at the sum of them.
What does it mean for the Bruins?
What does it mean for Brad Marchand
How is this consistent for the NHL?
For the Boston Bruins it largely means that they got an enormous emotional boost in a game where they were flat, listless and maybe even disinterested before the incident. From the start of the penalty to the end of the game they played forty of the best minutes in a while. The five minute kill was spirited, deft, and smart. The team clearly wanted to win both for Marchand, and for themselves. When he comes back he’ll be rested and that’s always a good thing. There’s little to no chance of him being injured in the last two mostly meaningless games. The only thing they need to do is avoid the Capitals in the first round. Beyond that, there’s not much difference in their chances of success with or without home ice advantage, against the Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Ottawa Senators. What they’ll also get a look at one or two prospects, and returning injured players.
For Marchand it means the next time he’s punted from the lineup it is likely to be six to eight games. It also means he might get run a couple times in his next Tampa Bay Lightning. As above, it means he has two nights off to get rested, work on his stick handling and decompress. He may even have time to figure out a way to keep a leash on his temper. It also means he will have to wait until next year or later to join the forty goal club.
The NHL had two options with this situation. Go big, or do nothing. Marchand is a repeat offender. It was egregious. It was something Marchand didn’t even deny. The NHL chose to go small. They could have gone for two regular season and two playoff games. They could have done nothing and pronounced the game misconduct and five minute major sufficient, particularly since Dotchin was able to continue the game.
What’s worse is that the league once more enunciated to the furthest corners of the galaxy that there are two sets of rules in the NHL. One for most of the NHL. One set for Sidney Crosby. Of the two incidents Crosby’s is clearly worse to any objective observer. When Marchand committed his infraction he was engaged in a clear, close, and physical battle. He was crosschecked high on the back, and arguably on the base of the neck. Crosby was a full stick length away. He had to go out of his way to reach out with his arms and stick fully extended for his amateur attempt at sexual reassignment of Ryan O’Reilly.
Where is the censure here? No penalty was called. No league call. No fine. No suspension. It’s clear Sidney Crosby did a better job neutering the front office of the NHL than he did Ryan O’Reilly. The NHL Wheel Of Justice Spins on.
Don’t forget to check out this week’s Two Man ForeCheck
This week we actually got to discuss the Calder Trophy race with leaders Mitch Marner, Patrick Laine, Zach Werenski, and Auston Matthews, with a couple honorable mentions. We talk about which coaches are on the hotseat, and who will survive. We go into what makes an MVP. The show starts with a look at how the Kings and Calgary clash after Tkachuks suspension and what level of intensity the Kings should have played with that night and others. All this and more.
When the NHL announced they would be changing to the current playoff format, I honestly loved it. You’re going to get the best teams, and you’re going to have more teams fighting for their playoff life right down to the wire, frequently right down to the last shot, the last save, the last goal of the season. There is a lot to be said for eliminating the two softest divisions the old Southeast and worse the old Northwest divisions were terrible. There was bad hockey, and the owners were allowed to coast and knew they had a really solid chance of making the playoffs each year just for hitting the salary cap floor.
The six division format with thirty teams just made hockey worse. It was sloppy, there were teams that went half a decade without even backing into the playoffs. You were really only competing with four teams each year. This allowed the Sedin twins to skitter into the playoffs most of their career in a division that was rarely represented in the post season by more than one team. Because teams weren’t competing against more than a fistful of teams you saw the results everywhere. The Thrashers or other southeast teams could make the playoffs with ten less points than the third place team in other divisions, much less the winners of the other five. You saw it on the ice in teams that were bottom feeders every year having guys start fights not over a dirty play, but so that guys who knew the game was meaningless might wake up and pay attention.
The current playoff format, and divisional alignment changes a lot of that. But it got one thing wrong, this year it is manifesting in the east.
Take a look at the current matchups if the playoffs started today:
The west is currently aligned to give the highest level of appeal as all the teams are facing a divisional rival. Sure it’d be fun to see a Ducks vs Sharks and Oilers vs Flames matchups to open the playoffs, but there’s the potential for one of those to happen in the second round. In the east on the other hand, things are a mess. Sure, the Canadiens and Rangers are rivals in the sense that they’ve been around a very long time and had a few grimy matchups. Certainly the teams dislike each other more than they do at least half the rest of the league. Likewise, the Bruins and Capitals have had some fun, exciting and occasionally brutal games.
But is there anyone, anywhere who knows even a little about those four cities and hockey who thinks ratings wouldn’t be higher if Boston and New York were playing within their division? Even the pinkest of pinkhats knows the Bruins and Habs have an enormous rivalry. If you want to back to the early years of the rivalry, the Patrick Division playoff battles between the Rangers and Caps were fierce, but even more recently Washington has been bounced from the playoffs in three straight series by the blue shirts.
Here’s the fix:
- In years in which the two wild card slots are filled by a team from each division there shall be no cross over.