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.

 

The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

The NHL has seen a lot of things in its time. Full fledged bench emptying brawls, skates that cut necks and knees, changes to the rules for icing, and even the glowing puck. Each of those has come and gone, and some will be seen again. The NHL and how it is perceived in the world have survived all of those things pretty well. I’m not sure the hockey world is ready to embrace Patrice Bergeron as a frequent flier in the church of sin.

Sure Bergeron plays on every inch of the ice doing whatever is needed to push the team along towards success. He’s killed penalties, played in all possible spots on the power play and skated with some highly questionable “N”HL talent some years. What he’s never done is be among the Bruins PIM leaders. Of the currently active Boston Bruins just three guys sit ahead of him, two of them got their with a combined seven fights, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand got their partly on reputation and partly because he’s Brad Marchand being Brad Marchand.

Any one who’s watched Bergeron play over the years has seen him frequently enter a battle along the boards or at the blue line, engage full force and walk away with the puck. What we haven’t seen him do is take many penalties. His career high for penalty minutes was during the 2009-10 season when he racked up just 28 over the course of 73 games. This season in a slim 36 games he’s already up to 25, including his first regular season NHL fight. A fight which came only a little over six months after a playoff bout with Evgeni Malkin.

The operative question is: Why? He hadWhen you add up with the number of penalty plays that can be laid at the feet of frustration in the last year or so, you have to ask what is causing this?

Possibility A:

  • He’s unhappy with the effort one or more of his teammates are bringing to the game night in and night out.

If so, he’s in theory trying to spark the team to more emotion, or maybe make himself trade able in the eyes of fans and management.

Possibility B:

  • He’s underwhelmed with the skill he’s been put between and wants to make sure the organization’s leadership sees it for themselves.

If so, he is simply lobbying for the team to spend to the caps that will coming along down the line and is hoping to see either more talent acquired for his line, or a reshuffling of the roster that allows him to play a more offensive part.

Possibility C:

  • He’s got one or more off ice issues that are eating at him.

If this is the case, much as Ovechkin’s slump when his grandfather died, it will work itself out, eventually.

Possibility D:

  • At the ripe old age of 28 he’s having some sort of midlife crisis.

Odd as it may sound, this could be true. He’s won at the WJC, won a Stanley Cup, won Olympic Gold, won Gold at the Spengler Cup, won gold at the World Championship, was an NHL Young Star his rookie season, won MVP & All Star at WJC, the Selke Award and the King Clancy award. Realistically, what else is there for him to do in the NHL or hockey in general?

Possibility E:

  • He’s sick to death of blatant calls not being made by officials and is simply more willing to defend himself now.

At one point Joe Thornton who is a likely hall of fame inductee almost retired because of the amount of nonsense he had to endure, Jumbo Joe is a whole lot bigger than Bergeron. The current crop of NHL officials is suspect on good days, and their aren’t many of those.

Whatever the reason(s) he’s getting more familiar with the penalty box, it is slightly disturbing. At his current pace he’ll likely finish the season around 60 PIMs. That’s more than double his previous high, and not something the Bruins can afford long term in their most valuable skater.

October 1:

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will get the headlines, but if you want the best game of the night, it isn’t this one. It isn’t The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, it is the Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, you’ve got a banner raising, the return of Russian Olympic torchbearer Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, John Carlson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Brooks Laich all ready healthy and ready to go.

The star power on both sides is great, goaltending is about equal. This may be the best game of the week.

October 2:

With just three games on the docket, another easy choice. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers both underwent huge roster turnover since last spring. One was a playoff team and may manage it again, the other needs to get into the playoffs or heads will roll. James Van Riemsdyk and Luke Schenn will faceoff against their old teams, and it least one of roster will sport a different goaltender than the last time these two teams met.

October 3:

This is an almost impossible night of coverage to choose from. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning always put on a good show, and this will be the first night on the ice for the Bolts new captain. The Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings should be a good tilt, the jilted former champions versus the rising power looking to wash away the stain of being pushed out of the playoffs so easily. The Saint Louis Blues and Nashville Predators will square off with what could be two of the best backends in the NHL.  But the game of the night will be the San Jose Sharks and their playoff feast the Vancouver Canucks. The changes in the Canucks lineup and coaching will make the game even more compelling.

October 4:

Friday night will be a smorgasbord of NHL action. The game of the night is easily the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. These two division rivals will square off with both hoping to be in the top three in the new Atlantic division. With Boston and Montreal to compete with every point, every game, every shift counts and these teams know it. Ottawa was in the mix last year, but new captain Jason Spezza will want to bring the boys to the top of the standings from the starting pistol to the final horn.

October 5:

Saturday’s game of the night is easy: Original 6 action. The Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins were laid low by the Chicago Blackhawks last June. With the Red Wings playing as an eastern conference team for the first time in a generation, both fan bases will have to work overtime to get this rivalry to something with a bit of hate in it. Kronwall and Lucic will provide devastating open ice hits, Bergeron and Datsyuk will be on display as three zone aces, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard will be in the crease making their case for inclusion on their nation’s Olympic rosters for Sochi, and Zdeno Chara and Henrik Zetterberg will be captaining each ship in the first of five regular season battles.

Last season the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals despite an indifferent regular season. They had to fight like mad the last 20 minutes of playing time in game seven of the opening round to beat the Maple Leafs. In the second round laid the wood on the New York Rangers and beat them in five games. The Eastern Conference finals were almost a joke as the Penguins were taken to the wood shed and chastised. In the playoffs we saw two things that led to off season moves; the emergence of the young lions Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton and the waning of Tyler Seguin’s star. Gone are young forward Tyler Seguin and good guys Andrew Ference and Rich Peverley. In there place will be some combination of the young lions on the blueline and future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla and the return on Seguin, Loui Eriksson.

The Boston Bruins are starting the season with four out of five games at home. In that span they play their two home games against new division rivals the Detroit Red Wings, and also host the Tampa Bay Lighting and Colorado Avalanche. They will take to the road to visit the new look Columbus Blue Jackets who will still be without defector Nathan Horton.

Number of Days 1-5:  11

Number of Cities: 2

Best Opponent: Detroit Red Wings

Weakest Opponent: Avalanche

Home Games: 4

Projected points: 6

The revamped forward lines will need a longer shakedown cruise than the preseason can provide. They don’t know who will be on their third line or where. At this point the still don’t have a clue who their backup goalie will be. With their solid defense and top shelf coaching they can expect to be in the  playoffs and the second round is pretty much theirs for the taking. Exactly which of the young defensemen steps up and retains a position in the lineup. Gregory Campbell and Patrice Bergeron as the most notable injuries late last year both project to be in the lineup and 100% opening night.

All of the surprises for the Canadian roster fall under the heading of either oh wow he’s still being considered or hmm, so they finally stopped snubbing him.

In goal, there is no Martin Brodeur. The iconic New Jersey Devil’s goaltender isn’t a part of this team, and it probably comes as a limited surprise given his age. With the questions surprising the Canadian goaltending pipeline it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see him on the list at all. Mike Smith is there and that’s a genuine surprise, not based on talent, but just for the fact that he now 31 years old and never played a game of international hockey. Courtesy of the pipeline questions, Roberto Luongo, and Carey Price were invited, and given that the position is probably Crawford or Holtby’s to lose, inviting a younger goaltender like Jake Paterson, Malcolm Subban or one of the others who have competed at the World Junior Level for Canada.

At wing the included surprises include Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Both are high quality players who opponents disenjoy playing against, but Lucic even with his improvements in skating isn’t the fastest man in the NHL, even at left wing, Marchand occasionally looses his cool and takes dumb penalties. With their head coach on the staff, and Marchand’s usual center Bergeron a returning gold medalist I give both a higher chance of making the team than they otherwise might count.  While listed as a center in the NHL, Logan Couture has to be a bit of a surprise, as at center he’s not even in the top eight or nine, and the wing depth is strong, and contains players who have played with various centers likely to be on the final roster. Taylor Hall’s inclusion is a no surprise to anyone, but Rick Nash’s steadily declining productivity makes him worthy of at least a slightly raised eyebrow.

Jordan Staal is quite a valuable talent, but on the orientation roster he’s superfluous. Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Mike Richards are all more than equipped to play a shutdown roll, as can Eric Staal. One assumes the people putting together the roster value his ability to play both center and wing, which still doesn’t make him unique. John Tavares is a bit of a surprise for two reasons. Number one is the depth at center on the team, you can argue up and down where he’d sit in that list, but with a double digit list of players who take faceoffs, he’s not going to be in the top four or five on a lot of people’s depth charts. Second is foot speed, John Tavares has enormous passing ability that places him in the top 10 to 15 passers in the NHL, but his ability to get to pucks doesn’t keep company that is nearly as heady.

On defense, there’s a whole bunch of talent and while it is hard to argue that any of the names should be in the discussion, there are a good half dozen names many would place ahead of Dan Hamhuis. Mike Green however talented he may be is horribly injury prone. For a short tournament like the Olympics where everyone is running out flat, it just doesn’t make sense to include a guy who has only once in his 8 season NHL career. Alex Pietrangelo has to be a little bit of a surprise, especially with 8 previous Olympians on the roster just on the blueline, but he’s got a lot of talent and some playoff polish.

The outright snubs will come soon.

The Canadian Orientation Camp Roster.

Some teams have continued to have a strong off season, others have spiraled into irrelevence through the attrition of free agency.

Best:

Washington Capitals: Locking up Karl Alzner at a very club friendly price was one of GMGM’s best movies. Last year he was second in time on ice for the team, and in the playoffs he was the second leading blueline scorer.

New York Rangers: Familiar face Carl Hagelin was locked up at a reasonable price, and new comer Justin Falk was signed at a bargain basement rate. With Falk’s arrival and the departure of several pieces the Rangers blueline will be younger next season.

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin is pretty solid young defenseman, and the Kings locked him up for two years at rate that will have some questioning the quality of Muzzin’s agent.

Montreal Canadiens: Michael McCarron, from the scouting reports I’ve gotten, McCarron is desperately in need of a situation where he isn’t the biggest body on the ice and strength and size won’t get him by, if he lands in either the AHL or NHL this year and doesn’t slide into Juniors he’ll get that.

Boston Bruins: Extending Patrice Bergeron and saving the world 25,000 columns on what the team would do without him ought to be counted as a Nobel Prize level act of humanitarian behavior. The NMC is irrelevant, I’m not sure how many general managers or team presidents would be foolish enough to move a player that well regarded and that talented who wanted to stay in the city.

Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi has the potential to help transform the Coyotes offense, without being the type of defensive liability some of the players on the UFA market have historically been. If he lands in the NHL great, if he doesn’t he’s only played two years in the OHL and I’m sure the London Knights will welcome him back.

Worst:

Toronto Maple Leafs: Joe Colbourne? Why? This is a guy who hasn’t even excelled in the AHL.

Colorado Avalanche: Where is the defense?

Saint Louis Blues: Not getting Pietrangelo under lock and key or (much less desirably) traded for a stellar return is playing with fire, immediately after dipping your hands in gasoline.

New Jersey Devils: Arguably they can replace 27% of their offense from within and on the hopes that Ryder and Clowe can fill the production lost with Parise and Clarkson. I don’t happen to think they’ve own a productive enough offense, and they’ve left some quality hanging about on the free agent market.

The rumor mill insists that Peter Chiarelli is trying to move Brad Marchand. The Boston Bruins drafted Marchand 71st in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft. Taken ahead of him were Phil Kessel in the first round, Milan Lucic in the second, Yuri Alexandrov who has even sniffed the NHL. Kessel is second in scoring in that draft, Milan Lucic is sixth in scoring, and Marchand is 16th.

When looking at Marchand it is important to note he’s played about 190 less NHL games than Lucic and almost 300 less than Kessel. Kessel has recently been flipped for Eriksson, Smith, Knight, Hamilton. Lucic has turned into a solid two way player who’s skating is so improved over his first year in the NHL he’s almost unrecognizable. Lucic has also been put on the teams top offensive line for the past four seasons. Marchand started on the fourth line, and has worked his way to the teams premier two way line alongside Patrice Bergeron. In the past three years he’s played with the ‘still maturing’ Tyler Seguin, and two grey beards; Jaromir Jagr and Mark Recchi. Neither of whom managed even respectable speed two shifts in a month.

Pure points wise, there is so little reason to move Marchand it is absolutely silly to even discuss it.

Using the past three seasons his points per game start at .532 ppg over 77 games with 21 goals, 2 of them powerplay and five shorthanded. This is the season he spent the first 20 games or so on the fourth line.  Two season ago with regular time on Bergeron’s wing he jumped to .732 points per game, and 5 powerplay goals. In the lockout shortened season he again jumped up the points per game meter even though he spent the tail end of the season with Jagr and a couple games without Bergeron, this tail off left him with a slim and disturbing .8 points per game. This in a year where the compressed schedule brutalized players across the NHL.

Career wise, within the same system, Marchand handily beats Lucic. Lucic is a solid .59 ppg taking all regular season NHL games played into the measure, and Marchand is at .61. When you add in speed, the ability to play both shorthanded and on the powerplay, and a willingness to play physically clearly he has value. At 25, he’s in about the prime of his career, his .8ppg this year were probably among the most efficient in the NHL as he played just under 17 minutes a night.

Price wise he’s making a middling $4.5m. Other players in the range are Ryan Malone, David Legwand, Vincent Lecavalier, Erik Cole and Tomas Fleishmann

  • Marchand produced a point about every 21.19 minutes of ice time including over 57 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Malone produced a point about once every 47.125 minutes of ice time including 19 minutes of short handed time.
  • Lecavalier produced a point about every 21.78 minutes of ice time including over 7 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Cole produced a point about every 36.384 minutes of ice time including over 38 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Legwand produced a point about every 35.36 minutes of ice time including over 51 minutes of short handed ice time.
  • Fleishmann produced a point about every 25.586 minutes of ice time including over 41 minutes of short handed ice time.

Of the players perpetually rumored to be available, some just don’t make sense even if you take theoretical off ice issues into consideration:

  • Evander Kane; very talented but has a cap hit that’s three quarters of a million dollars higher, just is as good defensively. And then there’s the Winnipeg media’s ever expanding repertoire of maneuvers to discredit him or drive him out of town.
  • Bobby Ryan; he was just moved and it highly doubtful the Senators would trade him within the division. He’s also a right wing where as Marchand has played his NHL career at left.
  • Dustin Byfuglien; a unique talent who can impact the game from defense or right wing. He’s got a larger salary than Marchand, and I just don’t see Julien configuring the lineup to play him at both wing and defense.
  • Kris Versteeg; a solid NHL forward who seems to wear out his welcome in short order, his salary is $100k smaller than Marchand’s.
  • Sam Gagner; while still unsigned, and a solid NHL player, I don’t see the Bruins trading for a player who is due a larger raise and hasn’t played in a system with a viable defensive element.
  • Keith Yandle; with ownership and the arena nailed down it is unlikely they start moving central pieces, especially not with the teams heavy reliance on their blueline.
  • Thomas Vanek; if the Sabres are really going to push their rebuild, he’s a logical player to move, but with one season left on a contract worth more than $7million, he’d create almost as many problems as he’d solve with just his contract.
  • Matt Duchene/Paul Stastny: both are solid offensive centers but neither fits the Bruins system, both need new contracts next year and both have question marks.

Is it possible to move Marchand and remain a contender? Yes of course. Is the return on him likely to be better at the same price or less? No, certainly not in terms of immediate NHL impact. If he is to be moved, there are only about five or six reasonable return, but it is unlikely anyone parts with them. Wayne Simmonds plays hockey perfectly to fit in Boston, Ryan Kesler shifted to wing would do well but Kesler’s injury history is long and distinguished, the Los Angeles Kings Matt Greene would be an instant fan favorite, and Marchand would give the Kings some much needed speed.

Is this a stupid rumor? Probably yes. But hey, when the hockey rumor mill gets boring, and you’ve analyzed stats  until your eyes cross there’s always People of Walmart, it is no better or worse than (most of) the NHL rumors but it is different.

Its game six. For Chicago if they win they go home champions, for Boston if they win they go home hurt, hungry and still needing to win again.

Injury Front And Center

The Boston Bruins winning without Bergeron and Campbell is an unlikely proposition. A Toews-less Blackhawks team is something that should make any hockey fan a bit queasy to contemplate. If both guys sit out, are ineffective, or end up leaving due to whatever mystery ailment they are hiding worsening, its a paper win for the Bruins who are already down a key center. If Bergeron plays well and Toews is out or well below his normal standard this game likely goes back to Chicago. No Bergeron and an impact performance from Toews, the series almost certainly ends tonight. If Bergeron is out, expect Caron in, he’s faster than Pandolfo, might gain RFA trade value and kills penalties which might free Krejci or Marchand from doing so tonight.

First To Ten In The First Ten

This series has shown us the first team to get their game to the top of the meter and keep it there will win the game. The Blackhawks have trampled the Bruins in the opening ten and trotted to three victories. This late in the series, this late in the year I can’t see even these two teams having enough to get up off the mat and shake off the fearsome barrage the other is capable of bringing. The key then is not to get knocked down, not to get out worked. If the shot count is 12-2 or some similar spread with eleven minutes gone, you can safely pick the team with the shot lead to win.

Blueline Balance

We’ve seen bad pinches spoil games for teams for decades. We’ve seen teams strangle their own offense in its cradle by playing their defensemen two or even three steps behind the offensive zone blueline. Tonight Julien and Quennville need to find that balancing point and exploit their teams talent and their opponents weakness.

Love The Glove

Whichever coach goes into the locker room tonight satisfied with the glove work of their goalie is probably going to be the winner. In game five we saw another Rask glove bobble, this time with the puck landing feet in front of him after he failed to squeeze it closed. For Crawford, he can expect a rowdy TD Garden crowd to remind him of his last trip here. Either goalie is exploitable here, the one who compensates best laughs last.