If the worst should happen and the Boston Bruins do get forced to trade the best young star the team has had in years not named Brad Marchand, then we need first need to stop blaming agents, stop blaming players, and go back to the truth; The Jacob’s family is not interested in retaining top talent. For some people that means dusting off the hate they carried around up until Tim Thomas and company won the Cup. For others it means finding a new team to cheer.

If you’re looking to see how David Pastrnak stacks up against Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, its pretty interesting to see. Kessel was on the deepest team at center in his first three years, and played opposite Milan Lucic in that time. Seguin rode some coattails to a Stanley Cup. Both of them had better defenses behind them than Pastrnak has seen. And of the three Pastrnak was the fastest to reach 70 points. Kessel has shown to be the best of the three in the post season (with more opportunities), Seguin appears to be the worst of the three. As far as three zone play Pastrnak outclasses the other two, even today, collectively or individually.

When it comes to trade value, not only are there more RFA years left for Pastrnak, he’s a more complete, more physical player who has shown coach-ability, not to mention both the physical ability, and the mental drive to get better. David Pastrnak may just be the most likable guy in the Boston Bruins locker room. That’s not something anyone has ever said about Kessel, or Seguin, or even Blake Wheeler who was also traded away young.

As it is beginning to look more and more like a suitable deal that will keep Pastrnak in the Black and Gold for the long term isn’t coming, you have to examine the potential return. Phil Kessel was traded for first round picks in consecutive drafts, and a second round pick. Tyler Sequin who has the key return for Kessel was part of an outgoing package that included Ryan Button (a late pick who has done nothing), and Rich Peverley a utility forward who played up and down the lineup. The return there was Loui Ericsson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser. Smith and Morrow were badly bungled, Fraser barely eclipsed Button.

I’m not sure even teflon coated owners like the Jacobs can get away with trading a popular, healthy, productive, two way, high scoring stud like Pastrnak without a hefty return without repercussions in ticket sales, merchandise, ratings, and public image. Three first, assuming someone would part with them might look good on paper, but you still have to draft and develop them, and that’s not something the Bruins have been noted for in the past decade. Two first and two seconds might be palatable, but how long will it take those prospects to fill a roster spot and contribute at a similar level?

For players with similar goal totals over the last two seasons you’ve got guys like Jonathan Toews, Adam Henrique, Nazim Kadri, Aleksander Barkov, Chris Krieder, Anders Lee, and Phil Kessel all putting up 49 goals in the last two seasons. Toews is a non starter for comparison, and a trade piece. Barkov is unlikely, Lee was just locked up for the Islanders. Henrique is a center, which the Bruins don’t need unless we’re talking something bigger than just Pastrnak leaving. Kessel will be thirty when the season starts and that’s nine years age difference with Pastrnak, even assuming Pittsburgh could fit Pastrnak into their cap situation, and they can’t.

The Columbus Blue Jackets own two comparables that equally interesting. The first is a pending UFA with just this season on his contract. The other is a RFA who will need a contract next year. The first would almost certainly mean more pieces going to Boston, and that’s the undersized dynamo Cam Atkinson. The second is the center/left wing Boone Jenner. Both are established NHL players who have put up similar numbers with lesser centers, if better defense. Both are older. Atkinson is seven years older, Jenner three. Jenner is riskier as he’s only had one season over 20 goals, and that was two years ago with 30, the other two full season have been 18 goals each. Atkinson’s consistency, and year over year improvement is worth noting as it has kept pace with, and likely pushed the team’s improvement over the last four years.

A player who is a good bet on availability, and will likely be less expensive than Pastrnak if he gets anything similar to Draisaitl is Evander Kane. I’ve discussed the value of Kane who was second to only Brad Marchand in even strength goals last year from his return to the end of the season. He’s older than either Pastrnak or Jenner, but younger, larger and more physical than Atkinson. There are downsides to an in division trade, but the Buffalo Sabres would almost certainly add more than just Kane to the return.

If a trade for prospects is on the table, the Florida Panthers need to make legitimate strides towards winning now. If they were to flip 10th overall pick in 2017 Owen Tippet and University of Denver standout Henrik Borgstrom to Boston, I can’t see much more being required for both sides to come out smiling.

Trading with someone out west makes sense in a lot of ways, and one of the teams that has transformed itself the most in the last year is the Arizona Coyotes. The have a wealth of young players, some interesting mid career players, and an arresting collection of prospects. The “you’re out of your mind” swinging for the fences is a straight up trade for Oliver Ekman-Larsson who would be a great successor to Zdeno Chara. A pairing of Pastrnak and Stepan gives you a line you can put up against anyone in the league if you’re behind the Coyotes bench.

But a more risky if completed, but also more likely is Pastrnak and one or more defensive prospects on the cusp of making Boston’s roster for Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun is injured right now, so picks coming back from Arizona would have to be conditional based on how many games he played in the 18-19 and maybe 19-20 seasons. But David Pastrnak and Matt Grzelcyk for Chychrun, Anthony Duclair, and a conditional pick in the 19-20 season might just work out great for everyone.

If Don Sweeney can exploit a team that has set itself up for massive cap problems, then the Edmonton Oilers are possibly the best trade partner of all. Slicing Ryan Strome and Darnell Nurse off the roster might be doable. Nurse is a fleet footed big man on the backend, Strome has yet to reach his potential and plays both right wing and center. Possibly the Bruins could unload Spooner in the same deal, Peter Chiarelli has demonstrated a fondness for players in his past organizations over and over again in his career.

If David Pastrnak is moved, many fans would say it’s time to impeach the president, this would after-all be the fourth big name youngster traded when his second or third contract was due. I think you could make an argument for moving the owners as well, and that’s even if the return is excellent.

You can find this week’s Two Man ForeCheck on the web, or on Facebook as well as iTunes, Google Play, and Tune IN.

Last season was a distinct retreat from the pre-lockout trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The injury report reads like a who’s who of New Jersey Devils players; Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Adam Henrique, Martin Brodeur, and more. Worse, the players on the ice didn’t execute. The Devils finished 28th in goals for, without a solid defense, the team would have finished even worse.

The off season was a very mixed bag. The NHL Entry Draft saw the Devil’s select blueliner Steven Santini with their second round pick, and forwards Ryan Kujawinski, Miles Wood and Myles Bell in the middle rounds. Draft day was highlighted in the hockey sense by Lou Lamoriello stunning NHL observes by uprooting Cory Schneider for a single first round pick (which the Canucks used on Bo Horvat). The emotional highlight was Lou Lamoriello acquiring a 7th round pick and passing off the microphone so that Martin Brodeur could make the call to draft his son Anthony into the Devil’s family.

With the ‘retirement’ of Ilya Kovalchuk, and Henrik Talinder, Johan Hedberg among others exiting the organization as well, there will certainly be some new jersey numbers on display this season. Continuing his tour of the old Atlantic division is Jaromir Jagr who enters on a one year deal, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe join the squad. If the roster currently on the Devils site is any indication they intend to make camp very competitive. Twenty-six forwards, sixteen defensemen and five goaltenders grace the roster.

The opening five games will be challenging. They contain two different back to backs, four road games and three teams who were in the playoffs last year. The New Jersey Devils challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road to open the season, then travel home the next night for the Brooklyn New York Islanders. Then they set out for an extended road trip that starts with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks back to back before a pair of off days and a date with the Calgary Flames.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 1

Projected points: 4+

The opening fistful of games will likely be rough. The schedule is as tight as last years compressed schedule, there are a lot of new players, and two back to back sets. If the Devils  win two of three against the Penguins, Islanders, and Canucks they are likely bound for the playoffs. On the other hand if there’s one thing decades of October hockey has taught us it is that the standings don’t much matter until late November.

The new Metropolitan division combines all five of the teams from the old Atlantic Division, two teams from the thoroughly shattered Southeast division, and one former central division team. After last season this will hands down be the hardest division to predict.

Carolina:We know that with a healthy backup the team is already better than it was last year. We know that adding Mike Komisarek (assuming he can stick to the NHL) will add a touch of belligerence. We know that the defense as a whole is suspect. We know it will be a lot of fun to watch a full season of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Semin as the teams nucleus.

Columbus: We know that they decided to take their move into the eastern conference seriously. With the addition of Nathan Horton and Marion Gaborik in the last several months, the team added to a solid defensive foundation. We know teams that underestimate them are in for a rough night. We know that even with the two year contract he signed that there is no certainty Bobrovsky will finish the deal in Columbus. We know if Ryan Murray makes the squad he’ll be in the perfect position to garner Calder consideration.

New Jersey:We know The Devils had the sort of negative off season attention that can sink the sales of a team. We know that the additions of Clowe, Jagr, and Ryder will give the team a different look than it had last season. We know that since Kovalchuk and Clarkson couldn’t drag the team into the playoffs this might not be a bad thing. We know someone has their head up their backside because Adam Henrique is still unsigned.

New York Islanders: We know this team made the playoffs last year, kept all its major components and added the physicality of one Cal Clutterbuck. We know that with defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart, Calvin De Hann, and Scott Mayfield waiting in the wings the guys currently on the roster should keep one eye on the puck and the other looking over their shoulder. We know the team really needs to figure out a long term solution in net.

New York Rangers: We know the Rangers will have new coach this year. We know the new coach has an entirely different persona than the last coach. We Brad Richards needs to have a banner year while there is still time. We know sooner or later someone will figure out you don’t go deep in the playoffs playing your starting goalie 65+ games a season.

Philadelphia: We know that with the injection of Lecavalier and possibly Laughton into the lineup fans might be excused an excess of hope. We know the defense is still without an impact player. We know Ray Emery will battle his heart out between the pipes. We know no one knows what to expect out of Steve Mason. We know the Flyers will likely miss the playoffs.

Pittsburgh: We know the team didn’t do anything to correct its playoff attitude issues; same coach, same captain, same mix of ‘leaders’. We know that having the goalie see a sports psychologist is a step, but we also know complete rebuilds of a persons psyche can take years if they occur at all.

Washington: We know the Capitals have a limited window to win with the current core of Ovechkin,  Backstrom, Laich, Greene, Alzner, and Carlson, We know some of them might not be in D.C. if/when the Cup is hoisted by the local boys. We know Adam Oates is still on a short leash because in any sane universe George McFee is on an even shorter one. We know that the Capitals (probably don’t operate in a sane universe.

Some of the biggest cities are really tight to the cap, the Bruins, Flyers, and Lightning could all use a touch more cap space to deal with. Both the Bruins and Flyers are likely to lose pieces to free agency. The Canadiens are in danger of losing Ryder and Armstrong. Boston is supposedly getting attention on Seguin, and the Lecavalier to Montreal rumors won’t die until he’s retired or the Canadiens move, unless of course he does sign there.

What We Know

(By New Divisions)

Division C

Boston: After a run to the finals with lots of injuries, and some key contracts that are due, the Bruins could be in for a bigger offseason makeover than expected. With Horton headed to free agency, questions about Seguin and a previous lack of depth at that position, the right wing position is an area of need.

Buffalo: Miller rumors persist, as do rumors of trading nearly everyone. With the eighth and sixteenth picks overall, the Sabres should be able to get at least one more building block that enters the lineup and contributes within two seasons. It is an open question if that time frame is enough to keep Regier in the general managers office.

Detroit: Moving back into the eastern conference might be an advantage in start times and travel for the Red Wings, but they are no better than the third best team in their new division. They are fortunate enough to have a solid goalie, and two stars at forward, not much else is worth noting about the team with the longest active playoff streak.

Florida: The Panthers have just about declared the starting job for Markstrom by putting Scott Clemmenson on the market. Taking home a 2nd round draft pick or solid NHL player for that trade would be great. With the 2nd pick they ought to be able to solidify one position on their team. Tallon has shown he isn’t afraid to spend on free agent so don’t be surprised by surprises in Sunrise.

Montreal: Having returned to the playoffs last year after an embarrassing hiatus they need to take a long hard look at who they expect to be the core of the team going forward. There are some clashes between players that are visible on TV, they may or may not be short-lived events. But, building around a hollow center isn’t the best of ideas. It may feel wrong to do it, but making a move to ship out a good soldier or two for more cap space, less conflict and younger picks or prospects might be the best thing to do. The Norris trophy winner also has just one year left on his contract.

Ottawa: The first two questions the Senators leadership should be asking about any player they want to sign or draft are: can they stay healthy, and are we sure about that? From there fitting them into the roster or the farm system is the next step. With a bit more health the Senators might just have knocked off the Penguins. Adding a veteran playoff competitor like Briere, or Horton might push this team to the next level.

Tampa Bay: With the expiration of the Southeast division, the Lightning find themselves more in need than ever of improving a threadbare defense. In the last three seasons they’ve finished 28th, 30th, and 21st. They’ll be drafting in the lottery forever at that rate. Swapping for defense with a team deep at the position like St Louis or adding veteran Andrew Ference would be a step in the right direction.

Toronto: They made one of the more interesting moves of the offseason by picking up Bernier. Some say there was no need and Reimer was good enough, neither Nonis nor I agree. They have a clutch of offensively gifted defenseman, a lot of roster space, and decisions to be made on Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and most the defense they iced last year. They are in a position of great flexibility but also a lot of vulnerability. The next two weeks will likely tell us how long it will be before the Maple Leafs next playoff appearance.

Division D

Carolina: With the Staal brother, Semin, Skinner, and Tlusty offense won’t be an issue for this team so long as Faulk and his henchmen can get the puck out of their own zone and away from the triage unit that served as goalies last season. Improving the defense could come at the cost of Ruutu or several draft picks. For the first time in recent memory the Hurricanes don’t have a huge amount of cap space either. With the new divisions configuration, they need to act and act smart.

Columbus: The Blue Jackets came within 2 points of getting into the playoffs last year. The most important thing they can do is to sign their goaltender Bobrovsky, after that getting some scoring and puck distributing touch up front will make them a much better team. With three first round picks 14, 19, and 27 as well as their own 44th pick, via trade or draft this should be a productive weekend for ‘Lumbus. If Lecavalier could be landed at a reasonable cap hit together with Dubinsky the team team could have a very strong 1-2 punch at center.

New Jersey: The Devils are rumored to have two suitors interested in buying the “financially stable” team. Its unknown what impact that will have on team activity over the next week to ten days, but the team has enough holes almost anything is a good move. A slick passing center to maximize Kovalchuk’s shot, an aggressive defender or two to keep Broduer from having to work to hard, a future goaltender so the team doesn’t experience its own Flyers like run of disasters in net going for stop gap after stop gap. It might just be a good idea to resign Henrique and Clarkson before to long too.

New York Islanders: The  Islanders really should reup with Hamonic, and if at all possible swing a deal for another blueliner with playoff experience. It also might not hurt to have an NHL worthy goaltender under contract. It is likely the empty forward roster spots will be filled with the return of some combination of Boyes, Bailey, Aucoin and prospects.  Hickey was a solid find too, his contract is up as well.

New York Rangers: A new coach is coming, and no one knows what he’ll bring to the roster. It is hoped he can perform some necromancy on the powerplay and get it to shamble along. Brad Richards is being given one more chance after playing less minutes and posting less points against the Bruins than their enforcer Shawn Thornton. Former coach John Torterella said the team wasn’t “stiff” enough. With most key position filled, the Rangers can afford to be picky with free agents, but might want to get a head start on locking up core players. Only one defenseman is signed beyond next season,  neither goalie is, and there are just three forwards who are.

Philadelphia: The bloodletting began with the Bryzgalov and Briere being bought out. It is unlikely to end any time soon as this team is a disaster cap wise and not much better on the ice. To make matters worse Coburn is one of the names most active on the rumor mill and their defense is not pretty even with him.

Pittsburgh: Kris Letang has the gratitude of Penguins scribes for giving them something to write about. He’s rejected long term huge money deals. I’ll be shocked if he’s a Penguin on opening night and even more shocked if he’s still there after the trade deadline. The Penguins still need to come to terms with the issues with Fleury, and there is something wrong with the mental makeup of this team when the playoffs arrive. They’ve lost composure and the ability to play at both ends of the ice in the same game over the last three post seasons. Maybe they should reacquire Gill and Scuderi?

Washington:  Oates had done solid work rehabilitating this team, but he can only work with what he’s given. A big roster shakeup is overdue for this team. Regardless of what they say to the media, there is too big a gap between their regular season scoring and their post season scoring for this team to believe in itself. Without that swagger you just can’t win in May or June.

Welcome to the Second Season, unlike most years, the second season for the best teams will run nearly half the length of the regular season.

#1 vs. #8

The Pittsburgh Penguins marched determinedly through the regular season, attempting to keep pace with the western powers. Malkin, Crosby, Letang and other key players all missed games due to injury. Crosby is out least for game one, and Jarome Iginla will be playing in the post season for the first time in almost half a decade.

The Islanders haven’t seen the post season in so long you have to wonder how many members of the staff at Nassau had vaction plans this week and next. Sixteen players will be making their playoff debut, including nearly all of their key forwards, and several of their battered blueliners. From the blueline, only three gentlemen appeared in all 48 games this season; Mark Streit age 35, Andrew MacDonald, and 22 year old Travis Hamonic who’s in his third season for the Islanders.

Players to watch:

With Crosby out, the cameras may actually grace other Penguins, Neal is a human highlight reel, Brandon Sutter is finally making himself comfortable in the NHL, and Chris Kunitz quietly led the team in goals in the regular season.

For the Islanders if you aren’t already a member of the United Temple of Taveres; get familiar. The 2009 #1 overall has outpaced his class across the board, he’s got 20 more goals than the second place goal scorer from his class, and almost three times as many as 4th place. On the backend Vishnovsky and Streit are more than capable of being momemtum changers in any zone.

Edge:

The Penguins should win this series. But that depends on Marc Andre Fleury turning in a useful playoff performence. In the last three years his sv% has been awful, despite reasonable regular season numbers, .834, .899, .891 are useful but only for making sure your team gets plenty of sun. The Islanders have a chance if Nabokov can out duel The Flower.

#2 vs. #7

The Montreal Canadiens had a wretched season last year, and reaped the draft rewards, American rookie Alex Galchenyuk made an instant impact, Vancouver Giants alumni Brendan Gallagher did as well. They’ve had a small downturn since Alexi Emelin injured himself, but they still held on to win the last Northeast division title.

The Ottawa Senators are probably glad they don’t have to make room on the plane for medical records. Overcoming injuries have defined this team this season. Jason Spezza is still out, Erik Karlsson is just back, and the list of who didn’t play all or most games is much longer than the list of those who did.

Players to watch:

P.K. Subban is the most electrifying player in this series, and possibly on all of the Canadian teams, Lars Eller has shown a willingness to get his nose dirty, and Michael Ryder still has one of the fastest releases in the NHL.

For the Senators, Alfredsson isn’t a player you should ever take your eyes off of, Kyle Turris led the team in goals and points, and Gonchar is still a consistent threat.

Edge:

Offensively the difference between these teams is night and day, the Canadiens had the fifth best offense in the regular season, and the Senators the fourth worst. On the other hand the Senators finished second in goals against, while the Canadiens were a pedestrian 14th. Craig Anderson has better post season numbers, and should be able to snatch a game or two, but the Habs should win it.

#3 vs. #6

When it comes to winning the Southeast Division, the Washington Capitals have had that locked down for most of its existance, it seems only fitting they should finish its last season on top. Unfortunately, that’s all they seem to be able to win. Maybe this year with a rejuvinated Ovechkin, a mature Carlson and Alzner, and most miraculously a healthy Green they can turn in a good performence.

Last year the New York Rangers went to the Eastern Conference finals, and but for the skill of Adam Henrique, might have gone further. Some might consider it a problem when their 12th best paid forward leads the team in scoring, especially when that player makes roughly 10% of their highest paid forward, for the Rangers, that’s just the way things are.

Players to watch:

The Caps bost a potent offense, and a bit more grit than they are given credit for, Troy Brouwer was second in goals this season, Chimera had a big season last year, and Backstrom has finally started to round back into All Star form.

While Stepan led the Rangers in scoring, Richards, Nash and Callahan have got to be due for an offensive explosion at some point, right?

#4 vs. #5

The Boston Bruins had a heap of distractions towards the end of the season with bombings, blizzards and forever long pregame ceremonies, which might excuse their poor play if it hadn’t been a season long occurance. The positives for the Bruins are that they are pretty healthy physically. The negative is that no one knows where their collective head is.

The Maple Leafs are making their return to the playoffs. Lots of this team hasn’t played in the playoffs at all, and some who have aren’t all that good in the second season. Lupul and Van Riemsdyk have the most playoff experience, Kessel is a point per game player in the playoffs, but he’ll have to get over his ineffectiveness against Chara and Boston in a hurry to keep that going.

Players to watch:

For the Bruins, everyone is waiting on Soderberg to make his impact felt, but he may well sit, watch Bergeron per usual, and see if Ference and Lucic can keep up their snarl.

The Maple Leafs have woefully underused Grabovski this season, and he might just be the key to winning this series, Kadri and Gunnarsson should also be in your crosshairs.

Edge:

The Bruins played poorly down the stretch, but the Leafs are new as a team to the playoffs, and have a bug in their heads about the Bruins. Expect a lot of physical play and for the team that wants it more to win.

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

 

Teams:

  • on April 17th the New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets would have a better chance of making the playoffs than last years eastern conference champions the New Jersey Devils.
  • the Los Angeles Kings would have a better offense than the Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, or Philadelphia Flyers.
  • only three of the top five powerplays would belong to playoff teams while five of five penalty kills would belong to playoff teams.
  • the Montreal Canadiens, and the Ottawa Senators would have more penalties per game than the Anaheim Ducks.
  • only two of the bottom five faceoff teams would be in playoff position, while all of the top five faceoff teams would be in.
  • zero of last years eastern conference division winners, The Panthers, The Rangers, and the Bruins would be in that position today.
  • zero of last years bottom five years teams would be there right now.

Players:

  • despite missing games with a concussion, Brad Marchand would still be tied for a top 20 position in goal scoring.
  • Alex Ovechkin would not only be the only player in double digits in powerplay goals, but also have a six goal cushion on those tied for second.
  • half of Adam Henrique’s ten goals would come on special teams, two short handed, and three on the powerplay.
  • the league leader in short handed assists would have three, and be Lee Stempniak.
  • the only defenseman in the NHL with more than one short handed assist would be, Jay Bouwmeester.
  • heading into the last handful of games of the season, Daniel Alfredsson would have almost twice the PIMS of Raffi Torres.
  • seven of the top ten defensemen in assists would be left handed shots, Mark Streit, Duncan Keith, Niklas Kronwall, Alex Goligoski, Sergei Gonchar, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Suter, but two of the top three would be right handed, Kris Letang and P.K. Subban.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky would be the only goaltender in the top five for sv% and the top five for shootout wins.
  • the top ten goalies by save percentage would combine for a cap hit o $23,875,000 with over a quarter of it belonging to Henrik Lundqvist, who’s team has the lowest point total.

I noticed a curious trend in the last decade. Few of the young players, say twenty five and under who won the Cup seemed to be major impact players later on. At the same time, players who won a bit later were contributing again and again to at least deep runs. Take Rob Scuderi and Mark Recchi as players who won the Cup towards later, and we’ll look at a few of the players who won young below.

While injuries have played a big part in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, its hard to argue that Marc-Andre Fleury is not playing well below the level he did when they last hoisted a banner. Oddly, the Cup win represents only a mediocre set of numbers for Fluery. The year before in a loss he finished with a save percentage of .933. In winning the cup he dipped to a pedestrian .908sv% and that represents the last time he was above .900sv% in the post season the trend in games played in the post season and overall performance is not pretty either, this season his save percentage was .834 and that’s about as unlovely as it gets.

Eric Staal was in his second NHL season when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. In that season he crushed out 100 points. On special teams he was magic, 19 powerplay goals and 4 short handed goals are more goals than most players will total in a season, the rest of his 45 goals that year came at even strength. In the playoffs he had 28 points in 25 games. Since then he’s only been in the playoffs once more, and has never again been over a point per game.

Patrick Kane peaked in the year the Chicago BlackHawks ended their drought. He had 30 regular season goals and 88 points in the regular season. In the post season on his way to sending the Philadelphia Flyers home with heads hung low he had an eye popping 28 points in 22 games. In the two seasons since he too has trended downwards. He didn’t score a single goal in this years playoffs, this isn’t what was expected when the Blackhawks brain trust drafted him.

For the Los Angeles Kings, the players who entered this season under twenty five are, Anze Kopitar, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Andrei Lokitinov, Kyle Clifford. New Jersey Devils fans may or may not want to be a bit more relaxed about the question, with just Mark Fayne, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson having entered the season under twenty five.

Am I 100% convinced that winning the Cup at a young age is bad for players? No, but it does factor in. And you really have to ask yourself how could it not sap the motivation at least a little? You aren’t even old enough to rent a car in some states or get good car insurance rates, all your friends are still in high school or college or maybe working some entry level job and you’ve just taken home the hardest trophy to win in sports. Having won a cup you’re assured of getting multimillion dollar contracts until at least two years past the point anyone else would have been forced to retire, and you’ll have a nice piece of bling for your hand to remind you of how great you were once.

Shocking as it is to hear after last years success with only one American based team in the Stanley Cup finals, this years ratings are lower than last years. There is a reason for this. Just one reason. The solution, is not so easy because it would require a long term change to the way the NHL does business.

The cause of the ratings faltering this year isn’t the style of hockey, it isn’t even that the two teams are expansion teams no one knows about. The ratings have slipped because the National Hockey League can’t market at the same level as a fifth rate used car salesman in some backwater where he’s the only game in town. When your advertisements contain egregious factual errors and you continue to air them (much to the disgust of your hard core fans) you just can’t be taken seriously as an organization.

When you only market two or at most three players across a thirty team league, you can’t expect the bandwagon to fill up when no one knows who any of the players are except those guys and their teammates. Both of these teams have more than enough talent, personality and human interest angles to fill a 24 hour infomercial network. But what does the casual fan from outside those two markets know about them? Almost nothing.

The “redemption” angle on Mike Richards and Jeff Carter alone should be a license to print money. They were the keystones of a Stanley Cup run for the Flyers not long ago, both were jettisoned just last summer, and here they are again right at the cusp of greatness. Dustin Brown is while far younger built very much in the mode of Gordie Howe. He does everything for his team, conducts himself in a flawless manner off the ice and is likely to spend the next ten years running opponents over. Even Dustin Penner is great marketing material, he’s one of the most engaging personalities in the entire NHL, and does it with the sort of humble bearing that can be appreciated by all ages.

On the other coast you’ve got the sensational story of Adam Henrique who could capture the Calder trophy and the Stanley Cup. He’s personable, he’s versatile, and like Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler or Patrice Bergeron he contributes on every inch of the ice. Ilya Kovalchuk signed one the longest and most controversial contracts in North America. Love it or hate it he’s going to be with the Devils for years to come. It’s time to make hay. The litany of ways to market this guy is as long as his goals scored video and is being fleshed out by his gutsy one legged performence of the last few weeks.

But the time to start marketing players isn’t when the chips are down in late May and early June. It needs to happen in July, and September, and November, like the players taking care of their bodies, and the teams taking care of their rosters for the present and future it has to be a year round commitment. Zach Parise is a pending UFA. Dangling the “where will he play next season?” carrot over the league and its fans is a sure fire way to get him, his current team, and if he moves on from New Jersey his new team more attention.

If anyone has to explain how to market players like Drew Doughty who has been compared to Bourque and Lidstrom and Leetch since before he laced up the skates in the NHL for the first time, my advice to them is: McDonald’s is hiring. If the marketing department can’t come up with ways to draw attention to Brodeur: Walmart needs greeters.

The NHL has no one to blame but itself if they are disappointed in the ratings. The marketing is bad enough, but when the veteran broadcasters start tossing random letters into the names of players and do it four games running in the Stanley Cup Final, that’s just unacceptable and off putting to the full gamut of fans.

It’s certainly too late to save this years numbers. But to borrow the tag line from another popular enterprise Winter is coming, one should prepare now.

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

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

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

The breakdown:

Goaltending:

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

Forwards:

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

Defense:

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

Intangibles:

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

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

“Lazy Russian Count”*

  • Rangers: 1
  • Devils: 2

“Good Canadian Boy Count”*

  • Rangers: 10
  • Devils: 7

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