Ken Hitchcock is right – playoffs are for guys who wear big-boy pants

Vladimir Tarasenko.

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has been around the game for a long time. He’s smart and experienced and there is almost nothing he hasn’t seen at the NHL level. That’s why when he spoke about the Blues’ struggles to score in the Western Conference final, it was, as usual, worth taking note.

After the Blues’ 3-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks that stretched their goalless streak in this series to 130 minutes and 45 seconds, Hitchcock was asked by reporters specifically about Vladimir Tarasenko, which is fair. He’s the centerpiece of the Blues offense and the player most likely to open the offensive floodgates.

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Kessel doing with Penguins what was impossible in Toronto and Boston

Phil Kessel. (Getty Images)

Should Phil Kessel continue his personal assault on the playoffs and be named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as tournament MVP, fans in Toronto and Boston should feel nothing but happiness for him. Wasting their time and emotional energy lamenting what might have been would be an exercise in futility.

And that’s largely because it never would have been. You see what Kessel is doing in the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins? Never would have happened in either Toronto or Boston. Fans in Boston can be thankful for what they got in return for Kessel – Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton for a while – then Jimmy Hayes and three prospects they got when they dealt the players they got for Kessel. Fans in Toronto can watch as Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington try to win a Calder Trophy for their minor league team and hope the first- and third-round picks turn into something nice.

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Penguins’ Rutherford, Capitals’ MacLellan, Stars’ Nill named finalists for GM of the Year

Jim Rutherford (Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Penguins took a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference final with a convincing Game 3 victory on Wednesday night, and that means GM Jim Rutherford’s bunch is only two wins shy of winning the Eastern Conference and six victories away from taking home the Stanley Cup. As the architect of this team, though, Rutherford could be in line for some additional hardware at season’s end.

It was announced Wednesday that Rutherford has been named one of three finalists for the GM of the Year Award along with Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan and Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. Unlike other awards, the GM of the Year was voted on by GMs, executives and media members at the conclusion of the second round of the post-season, which helps take into account the impact deadline deals may have had on a club.

But even though that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine Rutherford doesn’t take home the hardware given what he managed ahead of the deadline. Read more

Stars’ Benn says he wants to sign extension, could be the next $10-million man

Jared Clinton
Jamie Benn (Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Stars may not be celebrating a Stanley Cup victory this summer, but Dallas could be parading out Jamie Benn at some point over the next few months to mark the signing of a new, long-term deal with their captain.

Benn, 26, completed the fourth year of his five-year, $26.25-million contract this past season, and heading into the off-season he’ll become eligible to sign a contract extension with the Stars. And it sounds like Benn, who has blossomed into one of the league’s best scorers over the past four seasons of his deal, has every intention of coming back to Dallas and staying there for a long time.

“This is where I want to play,” Benn said. “This is where I want to be, and I don’t think it’s going to be a problem…Going into the last year of your contract, you don’t want it to be a distraction for your team.” Read more

Tyler Seguin says playoff injuries made for ‘toughest time’ of his career

Jared Clinton
Tyler Seguin (Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Dallas Stars came one win from advancing to the Western Conference final, but no one will ever know what could have been had star winger Tyler Seguin been healthy throughout the post-season.

Seguin, 24, battled back from an Achilles laceration before the post-season began and got back into the lineup in time for Game 2 of the first round series against the Minnesota Wild. However, after playing almost three full minutes less than his season average in that game, Seguin was back on the sideline with another lower-body injury, which was said to be unrelated to the Achilles. As the Stars met with media for the final time, it was revealed Seguin was battling through a calf injury.

“It was another fluke thing that happened,” Seguin said. “A weird step that made it go all fireworks in my leg…I’m a competitive athlete. I see my team working hard the last 10 games of the season with me hurt, and I get a chance for Game 2 against Minnesota, I’m not going to pass that up. It was unfortunate with what happened.” Read more

Rumor Roundup: Trading core player could help Oilers land top-pairing defenseman

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers need for a top-pairing defenseman remains a hot topic among the media. With their depth in young scoring forwards, it’s assumed one of them will be dealt to address the Oilers’ blueline needs.

Appearing last Friday on 630 CHED radio, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed with host Bob Stauffer what it might take for the Carolina Hurricanes to pry center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins out of Edmonton. Stauffer feels it’ll take more than defenseman Justin Faulk while Friedman countered it could take more than Nugent-Hopkins to land Faulk.

If the Oilers and Hurricanes are discussing Faulk, the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson points out Hurricanes assistant GM Rick Olczyk used to hold a similar position with the Oilers. He could help GM Ron Francis assess Oilers right winger Jordan Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Big decisions loom in Dallas as Stars seek goaltending upgrade

Kari Lehtonen (left) and Antti Niemi (Steven Ryan/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are the latest to join the list of playoff casualties. Their early exits from the postseason makes them fodder for offseason trade and free-agent speculation.

Shaky goaltending was the prime culprit in the Stars’ departure. The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi entered the playoffs with the worst combined regular-season goals-against average (2.78). They finished with a bloated combined GAA of 3.23.

ESPN.com’s Craig Custance recommends the Stars upgrade between the pipes, but that won’t be easy. The Stars have over $10 million invested in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18. Niemi carries a full no-trade for 2016-17 while Lehtonen holds a partial NTC.

Should GM Jim Nill trade or buy out Lehtonen or Niemi, the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika lists Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators as free-agent options. He also suggests Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks as trade targets. Read more

The Dallas Stars should pursue Henrik Lundqvist this summer. Here’s how to make it happen

Matt Larkin
Henrik Lundqvist (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

It was “Wow” and “It figures” rolled into one. Game 7 of the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars’ Central Division final matchup was surprising and unsurprising.

The Stars, eating a 6-1 drubbing at home after winning Game 6 on the road? Hm. Not sure anyone saw such a lopsided defeat coming. But the way they lost summed up their season, as a festering problem never got resolved. It came down to goaltending.

Kari Lehtonen was a nightmare in Game 7, allowing three goals on eight shots. One game earlier, he was sensational, stopping 35 of 37 Blues attempts and almost singlehandedly extending the series. Lehtonen appeared in 11 playoff games, posting a save percentage of .946 or higher in four and an SP below .900 in six. He got pulled mid-game twice.

Antti Niemi entered Wednesday’s Game 7 in relief after the first period and wasn’t much better, allowing two goals on 10 shots. He, too, was inconsistent in the post-season, posing a .933 SP or better twice and sitting below .800 in his three other appearances, two of which came in relief.

No one should act overly shocked to learn the Stars’ goaltending undid them when it mattered in the post-season. General manager Jim Nill believed it was prudent to spell Kari Lehtonen because of Dallas’ brutal travel schedule and committed a $4.5-million cap hit last summer for three years of Niemi’s services. Coupled with Lehtonen’s $5,9-million AAV, that meant a $10.2-million commitment for two goalies who weren’t top-15 commodities in the NHL. Lehtonen and Niemi ranked 38th and 40th in 2015-16 with SPs of .906 and .905, respectively. Among the 49 goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played 5-on-5 this year, Lehtonen was 47th, Niemi 29th. Poor regular-season play translated into unreliable post-season play in the end, and coach Lindy Ruff’s occasional wavering between starters from game to game couldn’t have helped either netminder’s confidence.

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