The Anaheim Ducks have swept the Calgary Flames. The Ducks were the better team, and that’s the big story. They look to have all the tools to go into June playing hockey. John Gibson played well enough to win four games in a row against a tenacious opponent. Getzlaf and Bieksa had big offensive contributions. There’s nothing to complain about for the Ducks.

But Sean Monahan is the story. This guy is the real deal.

All due respect to Giordano, Getzlaf, Bieksa, and Gibson who made big time contributions to their teams, Monahan was better. Sean was anything but boring. Four goals, five points, faceoff percentage over 55%, scoring in all four games? Those are the types of numbers you usually don’t even see in Conn-Smyth winners. Those numbers are better than Justin Williams. They are better than Ovechkin or Matthews, and with far less support. Sam Bennett is the only other player on the team to score more than one goal, and only three defensemen even managed a point. p

It’s a shame no one will see him play in the NHL again until this fall. Six three, one-ninety-five, and twenty-two years old? Pass the man some shades. With luck Brad Treliving and Brian Burke have something up their sleeves for the off season to bring some depth to this team.

Last nights Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators was an exciting affair. Seven goals, some tussles, and even bonus hockey. Some people have thrown the young defensemen under the bus already. I’m not sure that’s useful or even viable. The Senators beat the Bruins soundly and consistently all season, and they did that with the Bruins top six defensemen intact. In Game 3, they went to overtime with four regular defensemen out of the lineup. Krug was the highest scoring defenseman on the team by more than a little, and one of the top scorers in the league. Adam McQuaid who owned an on ice save percentage higher than any other defenseman on the team. Brandon Carlo who has turned in a very, very solid year playing against the best of the NHL. And Colin Miller who has spelled Krug on the powerplay, and performed solidly.

What they got Charlie McAvoy who has now played nearly 100 NHL minutes total, Tommy Cross who has played all of four total NHL games, and Joe Morrow who now has two who playoff games to his name after playing just 20 total games all year. The Bruins defense, highlighted by Morrow in this regard blocked eight shots. They only allowed one more shot than the Senators season average, and that is even taking into consideration the overtime.

Some people have blamed the last goal of the night on Tommy Cross. It is almost a logical conclusion. But if you watch closely, Cross is doing everything he can not to take a penalty, and maintained contact with Bobby Ryan all the way in. If there are two guys in the AHL who can make the shot Ryan did I don’t know who they are, and I doubt most team scouts do either. In the NHL, there maybe 15 guys who are as good at shooting the puck as Ryan. That’s it. Without taking a penalty, there isn’t anything else he could have done.

Why did the Bruins really lose the game? If you don’t believe the Senators are a better team despite the regular season record and the series lead, then there are only two options to consider. The first is that Tuukka Rask turned in his second straight game with a SV% of .875 or lower.

The other option, may just be more palatable to many of the Rask’s defenders. A casual look at one of the stats mentioned above shows an even greater issue than any of the issues with the defensemen. The truth is the forwards were not good in this game. Only two forwards had more than one shot on net.  Riley Nash and Patrice Bergeron. That is it. Stafford and Moore didn’t even have shot attempts. Over 27 minutes of ice time and not even an attempt.  The team put just twenty shots on net in a game that went into overtime. Over the regular season they had more than 32 shots on net per game. You can’t get winning results on low effort.

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.

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:

NHL.com image of playoff matchups as of 4/1/17

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.

 

 

Of all the tired, inexcusable, and completely hackneyed talking points in sports in general and particularly the NHL, the most inane is clearly the “regular season collapse”. Do teams disintegrate in the post season; sure, absolutely they do. That’s a one round slugfest against an opponent who has the time, and presumably the wisdom and ability to scout you well. It’s enormous pressure, it’s pretty easy to fall down for three or four games and not be good enough now. And now is all the playoffs measure. It’s up to four rounds of winning or losing four fifty yard dashes before your opposition.

The regular season is a decathlon. It’s a compilation of how you stack up in numerous ways. All the physical skills of every guy on the opening night roster. What your coach does to compensate for players struggling. How both players and coaching staff deal with travel and practice. It’s a measure of how well management and scouting did their jobs. It’s about heart. It’s about health. Never doubt for a second that the chemistry of a team matters, not just the twenty guys who punch the clock for the opening game of the season, but injury fillins, extra guys carried, players brought in and moved out, trainers, travel staff and equipment gurus, doctors, the bench boss and the team chef.

The best and simplest way to look at the regular season is its building your retirement fund. You do it right, you play consistently well and you’ll go far after the regular season. Don’t do well and you work until you keel over. It is just that simple.

When a team finishes a season with 64 points they are a bad team. We know that because a playoff berth or greater than average odds in the draft lottery are based on how you did in the whole year. Likewise a team that ends the second week of April with 117 points had an incredible season. It doesn’t matter if they had seven points in the first twenty games and the other one hundred and ten in the last sixty two. If and where you place in the playoffs is about what you did all year. That’s why the season is so long, and teams play so much of the league. No flukes. Imbalance in divisions and conferences are minimized, but after 82 games your record is what it is. If you end with 94 points that’s the season you had, that’s who you are. If you end with 121, or 52, or 88 you had 82 games just like everyone else to show who and what you are. Points in October and April add up the same way, as do ones from December, March and every other month of the regular season.

So when a team has a six or eight game slide after the trade deadline; it doesn’t matter. If they finish outside the playoffs they are no better and no worse than a team with the same points who went on a 12-2-4 run to end the season. The regular season sorts the big dogs from the yappers, and then let’s them settle the pecking order without distractions. Your record is who you actually are. Collapses don’t exist over a season as long as the NHL plays, they are a pretty pure statistical constant. The middle of April tells us there are two types of teams:

  1. Good enough for the playoffs
  2. Not good enough for the playoffs

Anything else is a lie. We’ve seen cup winners who were very low ranked. Recent cup winners have had no power play to speak of, or no one superstar to build the offense around, none of it matters. They were good enough for the big stage where anything can happen.

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.

The Boston Bruins are one of the teams with the roughest salary cap position heading into the season. They’re going to have to move someone. Probably more than one someone. Why might the much respected Campbell be part of the departing parade? His value as a penalty killer, his leadership, and the fact that he does have a Stanley Cup right make him worth something. It might be a prospect with 2-3 years before they are NHL ready, or it could be a draft pick.

The most logical teams to land him are teams for whom the difference in their penalty kill last year might have meant either making the playoffs, or advancing once in. So which teams make the most sense? Here’s the short list:

  • Arizona Coyotes.
  • Minnesota Wild
  • New York Islanders
  • Nashville Predators
  • San Jose Sharks

The Coyotes finished last season just two points outside the playoffs with the 26th ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Even with their goaltending issues finding two to three more points with a penalty kill that didn’t suck would have put them in the playoffs.

The Minnesota Wild finished with 98 points and the first Wild Card position. As good as the rest of the team was, with Campbell taking penalty kill minutes from Koivu and Parise who were both playing over 20 minutes a night last season, where do they end up? Do they get enough more points to climb into the 3rd or even second slot in the ultra-competitive central division?

The Islanders are a conference rival, and made other moves to improve their team this off season. One more move that takes them from the second worst penalty kill to something respectable could be what it takes to make the last game in their current stadium a playoff game. There’s already been rumors of Johnny Boychuk going to Long Island, why not make it a package deal?

The Nashville Predators are desperate to get back to the playoffs. New head coach with a new attitude and a like of rugged players who play they game the right way, its a natural fit. The penalty kill prowess, and faceoff wins would almost be a bonus for Peter Laviolette. Maybe a prospect like Saku Maenalanen is the return?

For the San Jose Sharks who have little to no problems in the regular season, Campbell might just be able to help fix their postseason woes. Campbell played well in the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Run, and could help solidify both the locker room and the post season shorthanded play.

The Pacific division is probably the murkiest to forecast, you’ve got the defending champs last seasons top team in the western conference, an several teams that made changes that could add up to a better or worse finish.

Top Shelf

Anaheim Ducks

Last season they were one of two teams to finish with more than 50 regulation or overtime wins. They addressed the need for a second line center when they acquired Ryan Kesler, and solidified the third or fourth line by adding Nate Thompson. They did get a bit more questionable in goal moving on from Hiller and bringing John Gibson into the mix. One can ask how much of a distraction the absence or even the potential return of Sheldon Souray is, but it is impossible to know. They were handily the best regular season team in the league last year, if the coach can keep from jostling the elbow of the goaltenders, they might just finish with even more points this year.

San Jose Sharks

California’s only team not to win a Stanley Cup enters the season in a unique position among contenders; they have cap space. The only other major differences from this time last year are the departure of Boyle, the ‘lack’ of a captain, and Burns going back to defense full time. If the Sharks were to help themselves out in the early season by swindling one of the cap strapped teams like say Chicago out of Kris Versteeeg, they could be more than a handful in the regular season and still have cap space to work with when the trade deadline rolls over the horizon. At first look Boyle’s departure would appear to be a big loss to the Sharks powerplay, as it is, they were 20th in the NHL last year with the man advantage.

Wild Cards

Los Angeles Kings

The defending champs are returning a very high percentage of their Cup winning roster. Which is good in the sense that there’s a high level of ability to work together successfully and feed off each other emotionally. It is bad in the sense that you have to have something to feed off of. Most of this roster has now won two Stanley Cups. Many of them have played in the Olympics as well. That’s a lot of hockey, a lot of travel, and not a lot of rest. More good news is that this year they enter with Martin Jones ably backing up Quick. The two are a great one-two punch in net.

Arizona Coyotes

They were so close to making it into the playoffs last year. This despite a rather poor overall season by Mike Smith, and the distractions surrounding Mike Ribiero at the end of the year. If the team as a whole can turn three of the overtime losses from last year into wins (preferably in regulation) they make it in. If its five they are in comfortably. A full season of Sam Gagner and Tippet willing, Domi could add a lot more finesse than the roster has seen years.

The Rest

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have a new General Manager, a new goalie, and are almost certainly worse off than last season. No Kesler, and a cut rare replacement. The Sedins are past their prime. To put it in perspective, last year despite less games played Mikko Koivu finished with more points than either twin. While Ryan Miller is probably a better goalie than Roberto Luongo, it remains to be seen if he can catapult the team into the playoffs given how patchy the roster is. The good news I suppose, is that when the trade deadline rolls around they have some depth players who can be dealt for picks and young prospects.

Calgary Flames

This team has an inside lane to the draft lottery. They lost Mike Cammalleri to free agency. Even with the young, and talented players who may be added to the roster for the season this is not a good team. Between Giordano and Hiller they’ll likely stay in a lot of games. but beyond that there’s not a lot in the way of difference making talent on this team. There are some solid players like Hudler and Glencross who will be a help to younger players like Sean Monahan,  Johnny Gaudreau, and Lance Bouma.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers on paper are better than they were last year. Hockey is played on ice. I happen to consider Nikita Nikitin a bit under rated league wide. He’s a solid second pairing defenseman who finally got a tastes of the playoffs last year. I’m not quite as high on Aulie or Fayne, but they are at least serviceable. Benoit Pouliot joined them for the opportunity to become a highly paid third line winger who has never scored twenty goals. Not a great decision, especially he length of the contract. Even if you consider all the additions worth twelve points and the maturation of the core talent worth another five, come April they’ll still be looking up at more teams than they are looking down at.

For the second year in a row, the Metropolitan is the weakest division in hockey and it isn’t even close. Some teams are better than last year, others are worse, and anyone who tells you what the others will do is just a bit out of their mind.

Top shelf:

New York Rangers

The Rangers are a safe bet for the playoffs and likely for the division title as well. Lundqvist will be entering the season with a quality backup, and most of the key players in front of him healthy. Despite an injury to top center Stepan that will keep him until around Halloween, the Rangers have otherwise good health up and down the lineup, McDonaugh, Staal, Girardi on the backend, St. Louis, Nash, Brassard and Hagelin up front will do the heavy lifting for the team again.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Like the Rangers, the Blue Jackets have a high quality goalie, this one who just happens to be in a contract year. They also have an underrated defense group. Jack Johnson, Ryan Murphy, James Wisniewski and the rest will contribute at both ends of the ice. The forward group is unheralded as well, Brandon Dubinsky rarely gets the recognition he deserves, Scott Hartnell is a legitimate scoring threat who should be entering the season with something to prove. If Johansen can be signed, and retained, and Horton can have a healthy season, this team is going to be more than a handful.

Wild Cards

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have a lot of chaos factors to contend with this year. A new coach is one. Their putative number one goaltender is on an expiring contract and unlike Crosby, Malkin, and Letang was not extended early. They lost two of their top four defensemen from last year. Matt Niskanen was their top points producer and Brooks Orpik led the team in short handed time on ice. To replace them they brought in Christian Ehrhoff. Aside from the top 3-4 names, it would be hard for an observer to guess where the rest of the forward group sits as most of them look a lot like bottom line players.

New York Islanders

The Islanders actually made some smart moves this summer. They picked up and locked up Grabovski giving them a compelling one two punch at center. Their defense is a whole lot of young and learning with Visnovsky and Carkner for contrast. On the backend they have two goalies new to the system, the up, then down, then sideways Jaroslav Halak and the surprising Chad Johnson. I will be equally unsurprised if this team is in the playoffs, or in the bottom five in the league.

Washington Capitals

The Capitals are the east coast equivalent of the San Jose Sharks. On paper they’ve had the talent to win the Cup at lest once in the last decade, on ice, not so much. They too have a new coach, and possibly more importantly they have a coach who recognizes what he’s dealing with. Barry Trotz did what was probably the smartest thing a Capitals coach has done in several years and put Ovechkin back on left wing where he is most comfortable and had several pretty good seasons. The defense could shake out into pairings of Carlson-Greene, Niskanen-Orpik, and Alzner-Erskine, which as top six defense units go, is better than many can boast.

The Rest

Philadelphia Flyers

Even allowing for the Pronger/Timonen money once the season starts and he can be placed on LTIR, the Flyers are still in cap trouble. The roster genuinely looks like the team is trying to tank but just doesn’t know how. Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Jacob Voracek are all top end players, the rest of the forward group and much of the rest of the roster feels like the punchline to an inside joke that you’re not quite inside enough for. That said, this is largely the group that managed to make the playoffs last year.

New Jersey Devils

On the plus side the added Mike Cammalleri and finally admitted who their number one goaltender is. On the other side of the balance they added Martin Havlat who is generally good for one bizarre injury and twenty or more man games lost. The defense is rather bland, no one makes over Zajac’s $5.75m and yet they are still only three million from the cap, all without their seeming to have found a backup goalie.

Carolina Hurricanes

The season will kickoff on a sour note with Jordan Staal down-checked for an unknown amount of time with a broken leg. Even assuming Jordan Staal and he rest of the top six forwards were healthy and productive all season, Caniacs were still in for a long slog. The teams defense has high water marks that are merely average followed up by players who are at historical drought levels of talent. It would not be a surprise to see this team draft in the top three next June. The only real hope in season for this team is for the coach with the enthusiastic backing of management to go with whichever goalie is playing better and not with the one they’ve been trying to pass off a a franchise goalie for half a decade.