This is a feature that will run about every two weeks (during the regular season)with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
The off season’s changes restack the decks for teams and make forecasting each season equal parts intriguing and infuriating. With the NHL draft and the bulk of NHL free agent signings done, we have a passable idea who 15 or more of the names penciled into the opening night lineup of each team will be.
Players:
  • … that Daniel Alfredsson would leave the Senators, and not go to one of the top contenders at the deadline but to the once again division rival Detroit Red Wings in free agency, even knowing Bobby Ryan was being traded to the Sens.
  • … that of Simon Gagne, Nathan Horton, and Rick Dipietro, right winger Nathan Horton would be the one set to begin their season late due to major injury.
  • … over two weeks into free agency Thomas Hickey and Dustin Penner would be signed to NHL deals and Mikhail Grabovski would not.
  • Matt Duchene who has won nothing, would sign a contract for more than Dustin Brown who has his name on the Cup.
  • … Tuukka Rask who coughed up a lead in the dying minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game seven would sign a contract making him the highest paid goalie in the NHL.
  • … Seth Jones would actually get passed on by three different general managers at the NHL entry draft.
  • Tyler Seguin‘s twitter problems and eviction from the Boston Bruins locker room to the Dallas Star’s would be eclipsed so quickly by the exit of Ilya Kovalchuk.
  • … Sam Gagner would be headed towards arbitration with the Edmonton Oilers who has only been their best center the last four seasons.

Teams:

  • … on July 22nd the Columbus Blue Jackets would have the 8th highest cap hit of an NHL team.
  • … after years of saying that Jonathan Bernier was a big part of their team for years and years the Los Angeles Kings would trade him for an unproven Ben Scrivens, and a fringe NHL’er in Matt Frattin.
  • … the Toronto Maple Leafs would be retaining portions of two salaries, and have bought out two new players in addition to the ones they entered the year having b
  • ought out recently and the general manager who did all four of those things would still have a job.
  • … the Colorado Avalanche’s off season accomplishments would include, passing on a consensus franchise defenseman at the draft, waiving the defenseman who lead their team in TOI last season, and only ‘improving’ their defense with the importation of Cory Sarich.
  • … The Winnipeg Jets, a Canadian team, who have the most cap space would also have the most players elect arbitration.
  • … that with the additions of Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov and the addition by subtraction of others the Edmonton Oilers would have the NHL’s most improved blueline.

The long term deals under the still drying CBA are rolling in. Some of them make great sense, some make no sense. But given how hard line some of the owners were on not signing anyone longer than five years just a few short months ago, the deals are a bit eye opening when taken en-mass.

Matt Duchene is among the newest names to ink a lengthy deal. His five year deal starting July 1, 2015 will be his third contact and see him an unrestricted free agent at age 28.  The second forward taken in 2009, and the third pick overall he is second in scoring only to John Tavares in his draft class. The soft spoken forward out of the Brampton Battalion and Haliburton Ontario has had an up and down career.

A six million dollar contract is certainly not outside the zone of similar players, but it is a bit high and perhaps risky. The two forwards nearest him in scoring from that 2009 draft will both make less when this contract kicks in. Evander Kane in five less games has only two less goals than Duchene, and plays a much more physical game on a team less rich with high draft picks at forward. John Tavares handily leads Duchene in goals, assists, points and has been notably healthier, missing just 3 games since both debuted in the 2009-10 season. In the playoffs Duchene mustered just three assist in what is his only playoff appearance to date. With a lack of consistency, a scary series of injuries that include games lost to knee, ankle, and groin issues, and an inability to separate himself from the pack, a five year six million a year contract before Duchene even enters the final year of his second deal seems poorly thought out by the front office.

Dustin Brown is one of the better know players in the Western Conference, and perhaps the NHL as a whole. Well known both for playing physically and an ability to draw penalties that has earned him a derisive soubriquet “Fall Down Brown” from fan bases other than that of the Los Angeles Kings. While not an explosive scorer, and playing on a defensive minded team Brown taken 13th in the 2003 draft is tenth in scoring, and second in games played eclipsing the next several skaters by more than forty games.

At twenty-eight years old we know who Dustin Brown is, and what to expect of him in any given season. 22-26 goals, 25-32 assists. Add to that more than 275 hits a season, about two minutes of short handed time on ice per night, and a durable body and the Kings captain’s 8 year signing is a bit less risky. It is unlikely. The new deal will keep him locked up until he’s 37, while some might argue he’s slightly overpaid in the early years of the contract that will about even out over the final two or three years. Overall, a reasonable deal. Offensive production might fade towards the end of his deal, but he does enough on the ice that his offense isn’t his primary contribution.

One of the most difficult positions in hockey, in fact the most difficult position to project is goaltender. They take longer to develop than even defensemen and aside from healthy in their teens and early twenties there is nothing that will indicate if a player will play a long time in the NHL or not. This makes signing a goalie to an eight year contract a risk that is hard to even grant “calculated” status. Recent history has shown us Dwayne Roloson go from All Star quality play one season to saying his NHL goodbyes the next year. Steve Mason broke into the NHL and won the Calder on the strength of a 61 game season with Columbus, and a .916sv%.

Tuukka Rask’s contract makes ties him for top paid NHL goalie with Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne. Rask was drafted the same year as Quick and has played less than half as many regular season games, and a third less playoff games. Quick has also notably won a Cup, and been his team key contributor in that crusade. Rask has also worked a very light workload in his NHL career serving mostly as a backup and being sidelined by break downs to a frame that can only be called “spindly”. For some reason the Boston Bruins front office saw fit to give an enormous contract to a goalie who has a serious groin injury on his resume, has tossed teammates under the bus, and had perhaps the most notable temper tantrum in the last decade of AHL hockey.

The normally shrewd Peter Chiarelli made a curious move here. The Bruins aren’t completely without goaltending. Svedberg has adjusted to the North American game quite well, even bringing a level of aggression that would do Ron Hextall proud with him, Malcolm Subban, Zane Gotherberg, and Adam Morrison are all part of the system. And the team has recently found itself to be rich in NHL quality defenseman with the emergence of Krug, Bartkowsi, and Hamilton, not to mention the acquisition of Morrow and other blueliners in the system. I’m a bit baffled by a contract that is about 20% high and long.

If goaltenders are the hardest to project even after they hit the NHL, defenseman are probably the easiest by their mid twenties. That makes the New York Rangers locking up Ryan McDonagh almost a no brainer. The 12th pick of the 2007 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, McDonagh never played for the Habs as he was traded to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez fleecing of the Canadiens.

Since breaking into the NHL in his first year out of college he’s played just about every game, and all three of his first seasons under a harsh and demanding coach. How well he’ll adjust to the new head coaches system is anyone’s guess, but head coaches are more easily replaced than star defensemen. The contact will leave him a UFA at age 30.With a cap hit of less than five million a year for defenseman who was averaged 25 minutes a night for each of the last two regular seasons and 26.5 in the last two post seasons, it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that Sather and company got a good deal.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Perron for Paarjarvi & a 2nd

Magnus Paarjarvi had trouble cracking the top six in Edmonton as Hall, Gagner, and others emerged. Perron has been a very solid contributor in a heavily defensive system, it’ll be interesting to see which of these men flourishes in their new home. If Paajarvi can live up to his draft year expectations, he should be at or near the top of the St. Louis Blues scoring charts. Where Perron fits will be interesting, unlike most of his new teammates he does have some playoff experience.

Coyotes Add Assistant CoachNewell Brown is the newest desert dog. Brown has been coaching quite some time starting off in the college ranks with time at Michigan State and Michigan Tech since that time he’s worked international tournaments, and spent time in the Red Wings, Ducks and Blue Jackets systems. Adding a veteran NHL coach is an interesting move, I’d thought a team likely to get younger might go with a CHL, USHL or recent college coach. Bruins Buy High On RaskTuukka Rask is now the highest paid goaltender in the NHL. Unlike the goalies he is tied with, he has never been a finalist for an individual award, never won the Stanley Cup, doesn’t routinely start 50 or more games a season, and isn’t the best player on his team. Given the soft tissue injury history, an 8 year contract is a little bit risky. This isn’t quite another Dipietro contract, but certainly suggests incautious behavior by the front office.

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.

Hockey is the ultimate team sport. You play together, you stand by each other in the locker room and on the ice. Good days, bad games, great plays and long days. And the veterans look after their younger, newer team mates. Especially the rookies. Or at least most guys do.

For goaltenders the most imporant players on the ice are there defensemen. These guys are the last line of defense before the the goaltender, and the first guys in line to get the puck out of the zone. A third pairing defenseman may see as much time a top nine forward. When it comes to guys goalies should want to keep happy, after the head coach, defensemen should head the list. Most goalies go out of their way to credit their defense when they have good games. But that’s not the case for Tuukka Rask.

We all remember the game he was pulled from a few years ago when he was berating the defense and slamming his stick after a puck deflected off a defender going out to block a shot. And who can forget Rask’s heroic tantrum in the AHL where he through milk crates all over the place and carried on, and on, and on. That at least was in the heat of the moment, and was a few years ago.

Tossing Krug under the bus like he did is inexcusable. The goal he’s talking about is the second of four goals that went by him. The OT goal was a double deflection. But Rask was clearly out of position on one goal, and one other went in the place anyone who has watched Rask play goal knows to put it. There were just twelve minutes left in regulation and the Bruins still had a lead after the turnover and goal.

If Chicago goes on to win the series, I’m not sure what we’ll be saying, we won’t be talking about superior speed as when they beat the Kings, we won’t be talking about them being notably more skilled as when they beat the Blues, but we could just be talking about one set of guys in uniform playing like a real team, and the other not.

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.

The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins will square off in a best of seven series for the right to earn those final four wins against a western conference foe.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Malkin, and Crosby will try and aid newcomer Neal, and grizzled veterans Iginla, and Morrow in earning there way into the history books. The offence of the Penguins is without a doubt the best left in the playoffs. The Penguins can ice three lines of players who on many teams would be the top threat. Iginla is likely a first ballot hall of fame inductee, and no one is going to name him first as the teams premiere offensive player.

The Boston Bruins are strongest at the other end of the ice. Zdeno Chara a former Norris trophy winner remains the NHL’s measuring stick for shutdown defense, and all others come up lacking. He’s aided by Seidenberg who’s journeyman career took the step up to mastery when he pulled on the spoked B. Behind them are rookie sensations Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton, and the often overlooked Masterson Nominee Adam McQuaid, and veteran Boychuk of the booming shot and shot blocking. The likely starting defense of Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid Bartkowski, and Krug is intimidating enough having dismantled the Rangers, behind them are Ference who one a Cup with the Bruins, and Reddem who was with Chara part of that smothering Senator’s defense a few years ago.

The point where both teams are likely to fail is in net. Neither netminder has played this deep in the playoffs. Last season, and the season before neither was a number one goaltender. Rask had a meltdown against the Flyers that will forever live in infamy. Vokouns previous most winning post season campaign had grand and sweeping total of two wins. Neither goalie has proven anything. If you are ranking each teams strengths from greatest to least the Penguins will have scoring, defense and goaltending in that order. The Bruins will list defense, offence and goaltending. Worse for each team is the unreliable nature of their backups. Khudobin has performed admirably as a backup for Rask, but the only reason Vokoun is playing at all is the goalie he normally backs up had a complete meltdown against the New York Islanders. The bottom line: don’t expect many 1-0, 2-1 games.

Oh what an off season. The surprise firing of Brian Burke, the lack of contract for P.K. Subban which will no doubt fuel the “Subban to Boston” rumor mill, and Chris Bourque son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque coming home to Boston.

Buffalo: This is Ryan Millers last change to prove his Vezina winning season wasn’t an aberration. Twenty five or twenty six wins out of thirty to thirty games would shut up all his critics. The rest of the team still has to help by doing little things like scoring goals and defending each other on a consistent basis, which will be harder without pivot Derek Roy, but Hodgson and Grigorenko are very capable of filling that hole.

Toronto: With Burke out, and Nonis in, every player and member of the coaching staff should consider this an extended audition. Goaltending is still a big question. Playing coherently as a team and not as a collection of individuals is still a complete unknown to this team. Getting it together will be a monumental, but hardly impossible task. They remain, as they have for over a decade, a work in progress.

Montreal: Last season was pretty much the perfect storm of a season. Everything that could go wrong did, sometimes twice. Injuries, coaching chaos, front office shenanigans, a divided locker room, and all under the benevolent eye of the Montreal hockey media. The good news for Habs fans is it would be nearly impossible to be that bad, that injured, that messed up and that chaotic two seasons in a row. American Galchenyuk and Armstrong of Saskatchewan bring new blood and loads of potential help to the team.

Ottawa: The Senators voted themselves into the playoffs last year and someone rewrote the definition of best defenseman so Karlsson could win, but last year they got in with a lot of help from Buffalo and Montreal who both filled their pants more often than they filled the net. The team itself likely isn’t worse than last year, but they will be playing against better competition.

Boston: While some area scribes think the whole season comes down to Rask for the Bruins, its not that simple. The Bruins have three defensemen they can rely on: Chara, Seidenberg, and Ference, and then bunches and bunches of questions. McQuaid has been steady when healthy, Boychuk is up and down, and the rest of the platoon aiming for the 4-7 slots all have big, big question marks. Warsovsky is not a gifted skater and by comparison even David Krejci is a hulking behemoth. Hamilton hasn’t played a single professional game, and was just a part of the Canadian meltdown at World Juniors. Aaron Johnson is now his sixth NHL stop (assuming he plays in the NHL here) at age 29, and has only crossed 50 games twice. Those are the best bets for those slots but anything can happen.

Top Dogs: Boston and Buffalo duke it out until the end, both Khudobin and Rask are capable of playing red hot for weeks, and the guys behind them are itching for them to fail.