It’s not a secret that the 2003 NHL entry draft is one of the strongest drafts in history. It is arguably the strongest. The first skater taken is just a fistful of games from his 1000th NHL game, the guy taken 205th is on track to play his 800th NHL game before the season expires. I’ve made the argument you could put together a team from this draft that would beat a team from any other draft class.

Goaltending is the only position you can say this class might have as a weakness. The goalies taken in 2003 to have played serious time in the NHL are; Brian Elliot, Jaroslav Halak, Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard, and Marc-Andre Fluery. All of these guys have played at minimum in the high three hundreds for games, and all have a sv% for their career in the teens. While I think Halak is capable of tremendous play, Crawford and Fluery are the guys I’d pick.

Defense is where it starts to get tough. Running quickly through the names draft, I came up with twelve defensemen who have played some really good hockey in their careers. My top four should surprise no one: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as the number one pair. Next over the boards would be Dustin Byfugelin and Dion Phanuef. The physicality, offensive, and defensive ability of this foursome makes it almost irrelevant who the other guys are.

Matt Carle, Tobias Enstrom, and Marc Methot could all be expected to play the 12-14 minutes left over from the top top pairings admirably, but didn’t make the cut. Mark Stuart who’s very good in his own zone if lacking offensively, is clearly, if sadly starting to break down after roughly a bajillion hits and blocked shots. Looking at the third pairing, or arguably the 1C pair, you have to ask what the players have the other guys don’t. One is a gimmie, and that’s championships which means Brent Seabrook. The other is a powerplay specialist, which brings us to Brent Burns. Seventh defenseman is a little tougher, but I can comfortably go with Kevin Klein and sleep well.

I honestly won’t even try and number the top three lines, there’s just no point. You have Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski who it can be argued could all be your number one center, and all of them are worth talking about. Ryan Kesler, David Backes, and Nate Thompson are three more guys you have to look at for penalty killing, three zone play. and unadulterated ability to get under people’s skin. There’s also some guy named Ryan Getzlaf, and that’s just guys who have played a largely top nine position in their careers. Brian Boyle is worth considering for a pure checking line or penalty kill line.

The first gimmie on right wing is Corey Perry, even if he is consistently erratic in his scoring. Dustin Brown would have to be ironed out in practice as to which side he’d play, but thanks to the versatility of the centers, one or more of them will slide to a wing to fill a void.

The left side gives us Zach Parise and Matt Moulson

L to R the lines could look something like this:

Moulson – Carter – Pavelski

Parise – Bergeron – Perry

Brown – Getzlaf – Kesler

Boyle – Staal – Eriksson

Extra: Backes

In a best of seven series, I can’t see any draft class matching this one.

There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.

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.

 

Game five brings us to a best of three scenario to decide this years champion. The two best teams in the world are squaring off and to the surprise of no one who knows hockey, the series is even after four games. Even in home wins. Even in road wins. Even in frustration.

Will The Real Defense Please Stand-up?

The defense in game three was awful. Chara and Seidenberg were bad. The Blackhawks penalty kill allowed not one but two powerplay goals to a Bruins man advantage that aspires to iffy most years. All of the players both teams count on to keep the puck out of the net, including the goaltenders were just bad. Both defensive systems are capable of imposing their will on a game.

Which Boy Bounces Best

We have two goalie who are playing in their first Stanley Cup Finals. Both gave up some soft goals in the last game. Rask gave up six and never held a lead. Crawford surrendered more than one lead. No one expected a 6-5 game at all in this round, and the first three games set the benchmark for the series. Which ever goalie can bring their performance back to the level of games two or three is the one whose team will win tonight and likely the series.

Top Six Top Cats

Game four saw Bergeron break free for two games, Lucic add his own, and Toews, Kane and Sharp all deliver on their top tier status as well. Both coaches were displeased with the way the game was played and have to be looking for a more structured affair. Which ever teams top lines manage to break through and contribute to containing their opposite number will go a long, long way towards winning the game.

Possession and Disruption
The Boston Bruins blocked just 11 shots in game four, the Blackhawks gaveaway only six pucks in game three. Both are a wide margin lower than previous games. If the Bruins can’t keep the Blackhawks from getting high percentage shots on goal, they have a good shot. The Blackhawks need to keep moving the puck to each other instead of shooting themselves in the foot every other rush up ice.

With three games in the history books, the Stanley Cup Finals reaches the halfway point of possible games tonight. Each team has seen the other throw the best they have out there, each team has had players head down the tunnel and not come back.

Puck Possession:

While faceoffs are a key part of this, they aren’t the only component. The Blackhawks are not winning enough battles along the boards. They have plenty of big strong guys who should be able to go get the puck from smaller Bruins players like Ference, Marchand or Seguin, but we haven’t seen that. If you lose both the board battles and the faceoff war, you’re not going to win many games unless the other team has a truly bad goalie.

Passion versus Control:

Halfway through the first Kaspars Daugavins may have taken the stupidest penalty of the Bruins post season with a flagrant elbow he’s lucky didn’t see him sent to the dressing room. At the end of the third period of game three the nasty climbed out of the alleyways and onto the ice. Zdeno Chara and Bryan Bickell locked up and exchanged some leather and lather. Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand went a little further and dropped the gloves before quickly joining them there.

Will we see a cleanly played series devolve into something where stupid penalties and reprisals break up the flow of the game. So far we’ve seen long periods of whistle free hockey, not just because of the abbreviated playoff rule book, but because both teams have played clean. If the emotional storm we saw in the fading minutes of game three continues, especially with frustration mounting for players like Toews who had a bit of a meltdown during the Red Wings series the penalty box could get quite cramped.

Rebounds and Follow Ups:

We’ve seen both goalies control a lot of the shots they face, when they haven’t that’s when we see goals. In game two, the first period goal on Rask was one that bounced off his glove twice in a sequence where he had to make five or six saves before allowing the goal. Game two didn’t see much in the way of rebounds, and even less of Blackhawks in the right spots to get to them.

Matchups:

As is often the case in the playoffs, it isn’t the star players doing most of the five on five scoring. This series has seen the Bruins new look third line of Paille-Kelly-Seguin has given the Blackhawks fit. It combines two of the Bruins three fastest forwards on the wings, and the solid passing, strong faceoff ability, and focused determination of Chris Kelly. If the Blackhawks have to pull Keith or Seabrook off of other duties to cover this line, it means they are likely opening up another can of worms.

At five on five, the Bergeron line has generated chances, but not much finish, likewise the Krejci line has had chances but little finish since Lucic’s two goals in game one. The Bruins need to take advantage of the Blackhawks relatively weak road game and perhaps send these two lines over the boards against different defensive pairs.

Injuries and Endurance:

We’ve seen Marian Hossa sit out a game, and Nathan Horton depart in overtime in this series. With thirteen periods of hard hitting, tight checking hockey played these two teams have already played more than four games of ice time against each other. We know neither of the two big bodied right wings is at 100%, we’ve also seen enough hits, bodies crashing into the boards or net, and simple fatigue to know there are likely to be two or three other players on each team who wouldn’t be playing if this were a regular season game.

The shell game Quenneville played with the Hossa injury and the Smith substitution can probably fill in one or two names for us there. For the Bruins, if we see Daugavins back in the lineup after some pretty poor play, you can’t help but wonder what type of shape Jordan Caron and the other black aces are in.

It’s time for the last drinking game of the season (unless I do one for the draft) time to empty out the closet, and make sure you remember the results of the drinking game and possibly the series until fall when hockey starts up again.

Take One Drink:

You wish your local announce team were doing the game.

More than two players go crashing into the net.

Someone finishes a game with more than five shots and no goals.

Gary Bettman is shown and booed.

In game interview questions are answered with a cliche.

The hometown of a player is mentioned.

When asked about scoring a goal or making a save a player references a teammate.

The Junior or College team of a player is mentioned.

An exterior shot of the arena is shown and it includes people who are clearly chemically altered.

At each mention of “Original Six” in game one or two.

Someone mentions the department of player safety.

Whenever Pierre or another talking head says something that makes people just a bit uncomfortable. s/t @ChrisWasselTHW #HockeyPorn

If a fight breaks out with more than 4 million dollars in salary involved.

Take Two Drinks

The Bochenski-Versteeg trade is brought up.

Every time someone is mentioned as a Conn-Smythe candidate. s/t @HockeyMand

A team scores two unanswered goals.

At any mention of someone named Espisito or Orr.

A save is called “brilliant”, “spectacular” or “larceny” when in fact it was pretty routine.

Special teams stats are mentioned.

Highlights from the teams past Cup wins are shown not counting the last one.

A former player for either team is shown.

The other teams goal song sucks.

Someone scoring drought is mentioned.

An exterior shot of an arena is shown and no one (except maybe the commentators) is

You’re so mad at your team you want them to win only so you don’t have to read their Puck Daddy Eulogy.

A ny time a side by side comparison of Tuukka and Corey Crawford is shown. s/t @RJGreenWood

An announce uses the words “good clean hit” to describe something that turned most of one fan base into frothing mouth breathers that sound like Foamy (NSFW) :

Take Three Drinks

Every time one of the keystone players is mentioned.

The officials call one side of an altercation that should be a both or neither situation.

Someone “speculates” about the NHL awards for this season.

A player is asked about their previous playoff experience.

Two players on the same team skate into each other.

Anytime the word “momentum” is used.

At any puck over the glass delay of game.

The past awards of a player are mentioned.

Someone discusses rule changes.

The captains not having touched the conference title trophies is shown.

Any top six forward finishes a game with zero shots.

At any too many men penalty.

Take Four Drinks

If there is a post whistle scrum that does not involve Marchand or Shaw.

If NHL.com fails to make a punny headline for their update in game.

Gary Bettman is shown and not booed.

Someone says the referees have “swallowed the whistles” or otherwise won’t be calling much.

A coach or player says “we just need to be better in our own end” after a bad period or game.

At each mention of Original Six in game three or later.

A faceoff is missed for yet more advertising.

You can hold your breath between the bad call and the makeup call.

The fourth lines are mentioned.

If the career records of either coach are mentioned.

Whenever a clip of a game winning or cup clinching goal is shown.

The handshake line in mentioned and it is not a close out game.

Chug

Either team goes more than four minutes without a shot on goal.

Either team is called for three or unmatched penalties in a row.

Each time an owner is shown or mentioned before the Cup is awarded.

A player gets a short handed shot on goal.

Someone specifically highlights one of the matchups in the Keystone Players article.

Either team scores two powerplay goals in the same game.

A player argues with a call that was clearly a penalty.

 

For maximum fun, enjoy a different beverage each period. Calling in sick for work for the next day is advisable in some cases. It might not hurt to have a handy bucket and or a pre arranged ride to the hospital. Maybe you can even pin a “please take me to the hospital, and put on the hockey game” note on your shirt ahead of time.

 

Disclaimer:

No one is responsible for the stupid act you commit in any chemical state. Nor is anyone but you responsible for the permanent damage you’re likely to do to your body if you follow this game faithfully.  This game might just be a spectacular way to end up on Tosh.O, Intervention or at least Texts From Last Night. If you really must blame someone, blame your parents they should have known better anyways. PuckSage, the NHL, NHLPA, The Bruins and Blackhawks take no responsibility for your actions, have a nice day.

There are four teams who have set themselves apart  from this season. They play different styles, are split in two different conferences and have accomplished their dominance in different ways. The real question is, can they keep it up, and are they legitimate contenders?

The Chicago BlackHawks:

The Chicago Blackhawks have had the most spectacular season to date, they’ve attacked the league and gotten even non-hockey fans and media to take notice.

Facts:

  • Fifth in goals for.
  • Second in goals against.
  • Sixth in penalty kill.
  • Fourteenth in powerplay.

How they can get better:

  • Powerplay is only mediocre.
  • Patrick Sharp is injured, when he returns at anything like his normal self the team is instantly deeper and instantly more dangerous.

How they can get worse:

  • Emery and Crawford are playing way outside the zone of their normal skill set. Emery’s career save percentages is .908%, and his only season over 910 with more than 30 games played was back in 2005-06. Currently He’s at .917% Crawford in his previous two seasons has had sv%’s of .917% and .903%, for a career number of .912%, this season, with most of his numbers coming prior to the injury he’s at a.925%.
  • No injuries to date on their defense.
  • They can regress to something like last years road record where they were a .500 team.

Are they contenders:

  • Yes, they’ve won with worse goaltending, the west is weaker now than it was then, and the short season means if they stay healthy they’ve got a better than 50% chance of being in the Western Conference Finals.

The Montreal Canadiens:

Many people are surprised the Canadiens are this good and that the Northeast Division is very good this season. On the first one they shouldn’t be, last season was the perfect storm of disasters for Montreal.

Facts:

  • Fourth in goals for.
  • Tenth in goals against.
  • Ninth in powerplay.
  • Fifteenth in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Special teams are only average.
  • They are quite bad at faceoffs at 23rd.
  • Prust, Bourque, Diaz, can come back and contribute.

How they can get worse:

  • Essentially a one goalie team with no real depth in the system, as goes Price goes the Habs.
  • They are getting solid contributions from rookies, if Galchenyuk and Gallagher hit the wall, particularly i it is at the same time the team could suffer more than some expect.
  • The NHL or officials could get serious about diving/embellishment and take a long hard look a the team that has had more than twice as many powerplay opportunities as their nearest rival in the division.

Are they Contenders?

  • Maybe, not many of these players have been deep into the playoffs. More importantly, the goalie who last took them deep is no longer on the roster.

The Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim has been mighty this season. They added defense, they pulled a goalie surprise out of their back pocket, and they’ve not been shy about playing hard and fast.

Facts:

  • Third in goals for.
  • Ninth in goals against.
  • First on the powerplay.
  • Twenty-Eighth on the penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Penalty kill, penalty kill, penalty kill.
  • Hiller needs to play better, a sub .900s% isn’t gonna cut it.
  • At 25th in faceoffs, they absolutely need to get closer to 50%.

How they can get worse:

  • Their scoring depth could vanish, they only have 1 player with 10 goals or more, but have eleven with more than five.
  • The league could finally put together a book on Victor Fasth.
  • Management/Ownership could panic on the Corey Perry front and drop him for little, no, or the wrong return.

Are they Contenders:

Probably, Selanne is awesome, Perry, Getzlaf, and Ryan together are more to handle than most teams have the blueline talent for. On the other hand, a lot of their team are either rookies or have no NHL playoff experience.

The Boston Bruins

New year but not much has changed in Boston, same coach, same top forward in Patrice Bergeron, same legitimate Norris contender in Zdeno Chara, and same physical, puck control style.

Facts:

  • Tenth in goals for.
  • Third in goals against.
  • Twenty-third in powerplay.
  • First in penalty kill.

How they can get better:

  • Milan Lucic and their third line could show up and start scoring.
  • Their powerplay could get better.
  • They need to get better when trailing.

How they can get worse:

  • They’ve been phenomenally lucky on the injury front.
  • Rask has not been the healthiest goaltender in team history.
  • Scoring could decay.

Are they Contenders:

Yes, the goaltending remains a question but there is very little difference between this team and the one that won the Cup not so long ago.

 

Most years in order to win a championship in the NHL you need to have a goalie play above average and contribute to the win. That isn’t the same as giving a team the chance to win, or simply not costing the team a win. There have been exceptions to this, namely belonging to the Red Wings teams of the last two or three cups.

16: Brayden Holtby. With only 21 NHL games to his credit, he’s got to be the best defense on a team who’s effort has been highly uneven all year. Realistically he’s got almost no pressure on him considering he’s third on the teams depth chart. (Alternates for the Capitals would be Neuvirth or possibly Vokoun)

15: Corey Crawford: He’s not had an impressive season, no goalie likely to start this post season had a worse save percentage this off season. Keeping that in mind, last year as a rookie he stepped up and improved both his save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs.(BlackHawks alternate Emery)

14: Scott Clemmensen: His next NHL playoff game will be his second. He does have the advantage of familiarity with his first round opponent. (Alternates for the Panthers Theodore or maybe Markstrom)

13: Marc-Andre Fleury: The flower has wilted in his last two playoff appearances with sub .900 save percentages. If he hadn’t been to the promised land he’d be lower. Even the year he was part of the Cup win, he gave up more goals than any other goalie. (Alternate for the Penguins is Johnson)

12: Ilya Bryzgalov: Not a playoff goalie thus far in his career. His last two post season have had worse numbers than the regular season. (Alternate for the Flyers Bobrovsky)

11: Anti Niemi: Yes he’s been there and done that, but not with this team. Further his post season numbers have dipped in comparison to the regular season in each post season appearance. (Alternate for the Sharks Greiss)

10: Jimmy Howard: Gamer. One of those guys who’s numbers improve in the post season. (Alternates for Red Wings Conklin, Macdonald)

9: Roberto Luongo: Despite the loss in the finals last year, he still had a better save percentage than the previous two winning goaltenders. (Alternate for the Canucks Schnieder)

8: Martin Brodeur: Been there, done that three times but the last trip to the post season was double plus ungood.  (Alternate for the Devils Hedberg)

7: Craig Anderson: One playoff series one save percentage of .933 on a team that only got into the playoffs because he could scramble. (Alternate for the Senators Bishop)

6: Pekka Rinne: Not great playoff numbers, and an off season but one of the best pure talents in the league. (Alternate for the Predators Lindback)

5: Henrik Lundquist: Whatever he’s done in the regular season over his career has been nearly undone by an aggressively mediocre playoff performance, but that’s bound to change right? (Alternate for the Rangers Biron)

4: Mike Smith: With a little more experience he might break the top three, on the other hand holding the eventual Stanley Cup champions to two goals in your first 120 minutes of NHL playoff experience isn’t a bad baptism by fire. Not a bad regular season this year either. (Alternate for the Coyotes Labarbera)

3: Jonathan Quick: Career year behind a team playing confidently, and ready to go far. (Alternate for the Kings Bernier.)

2: Brian Elliott & Jaroslav Halak: Either one is having a high end year, Halak has ripped the heart out of opponents as a duo, there’s not a better pairing this year in the NHL. (Alternate for the Blues would be whoever doesn’t start.)

1: Tim Thomas: Reigning Conn-Smyth winner, reigning Vezina trophy winner, defending Stanley Cup champion, he’s been there and done that recently. Looked sharp of late and has elevated his numbers every post season in the last three seasons. (Alternates fort he Bruins possibly Khudobin, Rask, Hutchinson….)

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

Teams:

  • the Saint Louis Blues would enter action on March 1st with a chance to go home first in the NHL.
  • the New York Rangers would have scored the least goals of any of the eight playoff teams in the east and still hold first in the Atlantic and the east…
  • the Colorado Avalanche would be in 9th place in the west and still hold a better road record than the Detroit Red Wings
  • the Phoenix Coyotes would sit atop the Pacific Division with more regulation wins in less games than the rest of the division
  • of the NHL’s top five penalty kills, two; Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings would belong to non playoff teams
  • the Big Bad Boston Bruins would be 24th in total hits
  • only one of the top five teams in blocked shots would be in playoff position, the New York Rangers

Players:

  • Mike Smith would win all 11 games in the month of February without anyone noticing
  • Jaroslav Halak could have a .925sv% a 1.94gaa and still have to fight for ice time.
  • Corey Crawford would make 46 appearances and be without a shutout.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury would lead the NHL in shootout wins
  • in 44 games Kari Lethonen would have given up no short handed goals
  • despite missing a rash of games to injury Dustin Byfugelien would be third in NHL scoring by defensemen
  • Nik Kronwall, Dennis Seidenberg, Francios Beauchemin, Brent Seabrook, would be the only defensemen with triple digits in shots, hits, and blocked shots