Once again, I’m privileged enough to receive a ballot for the NHL’s annual individual player awards. It’s a huge honor for any hockey journalist and one I think deserves the respect of full transparency to the public. If we’re supposed to represent the fans, we owe it to them to reveal and stand behind our choices – choices I make after numerous discussions with NHL executives and players.
So here are my picks, along with some brief thoughts on why I chose the players I did for the five awards. You probably won’t agree with all of them, but the last thing these honors are about is pure consensus.
HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The Rationale: As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve come to see the Hart as a most valuable player award, if only because the concept of “value” is so nebulous. But certainly, Crosby’s value to the Penguins – especially during Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season – cannot be questioned. Nor can his status as the game’s best all-around individual force. Getzlaf was a very close second, while Giroux got the nod over Bergeron because he was the catalyst in Philadelphia’s remarkable season-saving turnaround. Read more
How early should you pull your goalie?
Almost every coach does it with about one minute left in a one-goal game, and maybe around 1:30 in a two-goal deficit. But not Patrick Roy.
The Avalanche coach is known as an aggressive individual and his coaching style is the same – he’s been known to pull his goalie earlier than is conventional. Once, when he still coached major junior in the QMJHL, his Quebec Remparts were in a semifinal series against the Shawinigan Cataractes. The series was tied 1-1 and Shawinigan led 3-0 in the third period, when they took two minor penalties less than a minute apart. So, with a 5-on-3 advantage already, Roy decided to go the extra mile and opted to pull his goalie for a 6-on-3 advantage.
There was more than 12 minutes left on the clock.
It didn’t work that time, as Shawinigan scored into the empty net and went on to win the series.
And it didn’t work just last month when Roy pulled Semyon Varlamov with five minutes left of a 2-0 game against Boston. Though the Bruins didn’t score, neither did the Avalanche. No harm, no foul.
It did work in early February against New Jersey, when Roy pulled his goalie with two-and-a-half minutes left in a 1-0 game. They tied it up with less than two minutes left and Ryan O’Reilly buried the overtime winner.
And it worked again in Game 1 of Colorado’s Stanley Cup playoff series against Minnesota. Read more
With all due respect to Andy Williams and, well Christmas, we all know that this really is the most wonderful time of the year. For hockey fans, there is no better two weeks on the calendar than the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The pace is frenetic. There are always a couple of shocking upsets. Overtime games abound. Pacing yourself and dealing with little sleep, particularly on the nights when the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings play, is paramount.
When the league came up with its current playoff format that puts more of an emphasis on divisional play and geographical rivalries, this is exactly what it had in mind. And I wouldn’t be surprised if NHL chief operating officer John Collins, the marketing genius who has transformed the league into a big-time, event-driven cash cow, wasn’t in on the planning.
Because what the NHL has done has taken a page from March Madness with its new playoff bracket system. Who had ever heard of a playoff bracket before this season? Prior to this spring, doing playoff brackets were too unwieldy because you always had to wait until the rounds were over to untangle the seedings and move on to the next round. Now it’s nice and tidy. We know that regardless of upsets, the winner of the Boston-Detroit series will play the winner of the Montreal-Tampa first round set, and so it goes.
Trainer Andy O’Brien has a murderers’ row of clients and every summer he puts them through their paces. Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are all on his roster and he makes sure his guys are ready for the season.
But now it’s playoff time, where the grind of 82 games – plus an Olympics-induced compressed schedule – gives way to the even harder road to the Stanley Cup. I caught up with O’Brien last week at the Gatorade High Performance Hockey Summit in Toronto to get a sense of how some of the NHL’s best are positioned for the playoffs.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby locked up the Art Ross Trophy with 104 points in 80 games, so he’s been healthy. But he also played in the Olympics for Canada, winning gold and therefore playing until the final game of the tourney. Here’s O’Brien’s take on The Kid:
“It’s a real difficult season because it was a condensed schedule. For the players who actually had to go over to Sochi, they put a lot of stress on their nervous system and immune system by just going over there, then playing until the final game and going back to that condensed schedule. He’s really been preparing by making smart decisions on how to recover and working with the staff in Pittsburgh to make sure his body is fresh and ready. That’s the key in the playoffs. He’s learning every year from different playoff scenarios and it’s really just about managing energy. He’s done a phenomenal job of that this year.”
Welcome to the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and the beginning of a new format. No longer will teams be seeded from 1-8 in their conference, but instead will have to play out of their division first. Teams are no longer re-seeded after the opening round and will face the other winner in their division in the second round.
THN gets you prepared for the action, which will start Wednesday, April 12. Below is our introduction to each series, insider analysis from CBC’s Kevin Weekes and TSN’s Jeff O’Neill, and THN’s prediction.
And be sure to vote on our poll: Who do you think will win the 2014 Stanley Cup?
BOSTON BRUINS vs. DETROIT RED WINGS
Introduction: A classic Original Six matchup welcomes the Detroit Red Wings to the East side of the playoff bracket and it won’t be a warm reception. The Bruins are the most complete team in the East and asserted their dominance by going through the East with a 12-4 record last playoff season. But the Wings are also an unfortunate draw for Boston. If any team, no matter its drawbacks, is capable of a shocking upset, it’s the experienced Red Wings machine. Just last season, Detroit upset Anaheim in the first round and took Chicago all the way to Game 7. This season, Gustav Nyquist should be even better for them. Read more
Just like the start of the regular season, any fan with a horse in the race starts the NHL playoffs with a giddy optimism. Even if you don’t believe your team will win it all, you’re surely thinking they can pull off an upset or two.
Well, sorry to break it to you, but you’re wrong. Your team isn’t as good or as complete as you believe it to be. They will not win the Stanley Cup.
And here’s why your favorite team will come up empty this spring:
Anaheim: Because the stats community says you’re doomed to fail. Your team’s 49.8 percent Corsi percentage is second-worst among Western playoff teams, which means you don’t possess the puck enough. You were upset last year and it’s going to happen again. Read more
Warning! The following video will make your eyes a little misty. Teemu Selanne ended his regular-season career last night as the Ducks beat Colorado 3-2 in a shootout, but the real fireworks came after the final buzzer when the Finnish Flash was named as all three stars in the game.
Selanne passed out three sticks to fans in the crowd and soaked in a wondrous ovation before being congratulated on an incredible career by the officials and then the Avalanche players. But Selanne had one more great moment left for the night, grabbing former Anaheim goalie J-S Giguere – who also looks to be retiring from Colorado – and taking him for one more spin around the ice:
Giguere, of course, has his own history with the Ducks.
With their 3-0 win over the suddenly slumping St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars are returning to the post-season, having eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes. It’ll be the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2007-08 when ‘Big D’ made it to the Western Conference final before bowing out in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
The 16 playoff teams are now set. All that’s to be decided now is positioning.
For the Stars, they could get any one of the Ducks, Avalanche or Blues in Round 1. They’re 2-1 against Anaheim, 1-3-1 versus Colorado and now 3-1-1 when facing St. Louis. Couple their success in Missouri with the Blues’ five-game losing streak, and the Stars might be hoping for first-round series against the Notes.