Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?
After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)
The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.
For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.
According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.
For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.
And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more
As much as a story like the resurgent New York Islanders or the Andrew Hammond-led Ottawa Senators pleases us, there will always be teams or players that fail to meet expectations.
Be it simply a down year or a minor – or major, when it comes to a team – injury, no NHL season goes by without teams and players facing their fair share of difficulties. If they respond positively, they’re heralded for their efforts. But, if things go sideways in a hurry, we’re left wondering how exactly our predictions could have been so wrong.
And these are the predictions that were the farthest off — the teams and players still making us wonder how prognostications could have been so misguided. These are the 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15:
College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.
Despite considerable speculation this season over forward Ryan O’Reilly‘s future with the Colorado Avalanche, the 24-year-old was not among those on the move at the recent trade deadline. While he’ll finish this season with the Avalanche, it remains to be seen how long he’ll remain in Colorado.
O’Reilly’s $6-million annual cap hit and eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July 2016 makes him a frequent subject for trade rumors. The Denver Post’s Terry Frei praises O’Reilly as a well-respected and terrific two-way player who could be the final piece of the championship puzzle for an elite team but notes the decline in his production makes it difficult to justify his expensive salary. Read more
We’re a few months removed from the NHL holiday break, but the Calgary Flames just encountered two ghosts of Christmas past who can teach them a thing or two about their future.
Those ghosts came in the forms of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche, two teams that have fallen off precipitously after seasons very similar to the one Calgary is enjoying right now.
The Calgary Flames are this season’s statistical outlier, defying expectations and analytics as they battle for a playoff berth in a year many expected them to battle for the top pick instead. They’re getting career performances from several players in their lineup and they’re fighting through injuries thanks to a mix of intangibles like leadership, determination, coaching and pure luck.
But they’d be wise not to get too far ahead of themselves, because fortune’s wheel is not kind to teams like the Flames.
If the Colorado Avalanche have any shot at making the playoffs, they’re going to need Semyon Varlamov to be the goaltender he was last season. His glove save on Devils defenseman Jon Merrill in overtime should help inspire some confidence that he might be able to put the Avalanche into the postseason again.
With New Jersey and Colorado tied 1-1 with time winding down in the extra frame, Adam Henrique made a beautiful behind the back pass to Travis Zajac. Zajac saw Merrill breaking down the right wing and shuffled the puck over to the wing. Merrill had no defenders in front of him and a clear one-on-one with Varlamov, and with the puck sliding towards him he stepped into it, unloading a rocket of a slapshot. Varlamov was equal to the task: Read more
Minnesota Wild defenseman Mathew Dumba draws comparisons to Dion Phaneuf for many reasons. Both played junior with the Red Deer Rebels, both can dish out big hits…and both can hammer a puck.
Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov learned that the hard way Sunday night. A Dumba howitzer caught ‘Varly’ in the collarbone area during the second period: