As the season begins to wind down, we’re starting to see some hardware handed out in the prospect ranks. Toronto Maple Leafs hopeful Mitch Marner, for example, just won the OHL’s Red Tilson Trophy as the league’s most outstanding player for his work with the London Knights. Another OHL award-winner is featured below in my weekly wrap-up. Elsewhere in the hockey world, the USHL is in the middle of its two-stage draft. During Phase 1 (for 2000 birthdays), Sioux Falls landed competitive center Gavin Hain with the No. 1 pick. Phase 2 (for 1999s and earlier) happened today. And speaking of the USHL, let’s get to this week’s round-up:
Finland is golden again thanks to the under-18s in North Dakota and all the international usual suspects came through at the tourney. Jesse Puljujarvi was huge, Clayton Keller took home MVP honors and Tyson Jost led the tourney in scoring. European scouts are basically done watching games now and the CHL playoffs are getting to the big stages, so you can feel the draft combine coming on the horizon. With the AHL starting Calder Cup proceedings, there is still a lot of good hockey left, though. So let’s take a trip around the prospect world again, shall we?
Pavel Datsyuk had said before the post-season that the 2015-16 season would be the last of his NHL career, but be it the urgings of fans in Detroit, the Red Wings’ front office or his own doubt about whether or not he wants to leave the NHL behind, Datsyuk said he’ll need more time to decide his future.
Datsyuk, 37, told media during the Red Wings’ breakup day that the short playoff run didn’t give him enough time to really think about his choice to retire, and he gave Red Wings fans the slightest glimmer of hope by saying he would take until after the World Championship to decide whether to hang up his skates or not.
“They’ve already asked me before if I made a decision,” Datsyuk said. “I said it’s not enough time now. I don’t want to rush. It’s a really tough decision for me, and I need more time. I’ll go back and play in the World Championship and think about it more. In June, I’ll meet again with Ken Holland and make a final decision.” Read more
The Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings were the first clubs eliminated from the opening round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. Their early exits have given rise to considerable speculation about their off-season plans.
Having rebounded from missing the 2015 post-season, the Kings entered this year’s playoffs considered among the Cup favorites. Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times cites a lack of blueline depth for why they fell in five games to the San Jose Sharks. It’s an issue she believes GM Dean Lombardi will have difficulty addressing this summer.
A lack of salary-cap space will hamper Lombardi’s effort to bolster his defense. The Kings currently have over $65.9 million invested in 20 players for 2016-17, though center Vincent Lecavalier’s anticipated retirement should free up an additional $2.25 million.
We may have witnessed the end of a Hall-of-Fame career Thursday night when Pavel Datsyuk’s Detroit Red Wings fell in Game 5 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, losing the Atlantic Division semifinal matchup four games to one.
Datsyuk, 37, is weighing whether to return to his native Russia and play there next season. Doing so would saddle Detroit with his $7.5-million cap hit for the final year of his contract, as players 35 or older stay on the cap even if they retire from the NHL. Nevertheless, he’s seriously considering the decision, though he said after Thursday’s defeat he wants to take some time to ponder it.
From a personal perspective, sure, it’s understandable. It’s common for European players to head home for a final season or two before fully retiring. Datsyuk has done everything he was ever going to do as an NHLer. He has two Stanley Cups, three (consecutive) Selke Trophies, four (consecutive) Lady Byng Trophies and three All-Star Game appearances. He spent a considerable chunk of his career as a top-five player in the game. He’s one of the best defensive forwards in hockey history. He’s a Hall of Famer, through and through.
The natural assumption is that, on Detroit’s end, Datsyuk staying to finish out his contract is the best-case scenario. Obviously, it would stink for Detroit to be on the hook for $7.5 million, though a trade partner needing to reach the salary floor could remedy that. Datsyuk can also still play. He’s a legit Selke candidate again this season. He had 49 points in 66 games. He’s still dynamite on faceoffs. He’s still Datsyuk, maybe not the 97-point Datsyuk of his early 30s, but more or less the great veteran player he’s been for the past half decade.
The Red Wings are going away — and so, too, could be Pavel Datsyuk — but don’t think they went away quietly. In what was possibly the most tightly played affair of the first-round series between playoff-made rivals Detroit and Tampa Bay, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop stole the show, ended the series and has his club moving on to the second round of the post-season as they attempt to fight their way back to the Stanley Cup final for a second consecutive season.
Bishop was nothing short of remarkable in Game 5 and his shutout, as much as Alex Killorn’s goal, is to thank for the Lightning becoming the first team to advance to Round Two. During no stretch of play was Bishop better than during a second period flurry that saw him stop Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm and Dylan Larkin on breakaways, as well as a left pad stop on a great chance by Larkin moments after he was stopped while in alone. The only threat the Red Wings made all night was a shot that clanked off the post in the first period. Outside of that, Detroit’s shooters were dominated by the 29-year-old netminder.
Bishop’s play is exactly what the Lightning needed in Game 5, too, because for the first time all series Tampa Bay looked outmatched by the Red Wings. Be it the desperation of the elimination game or that the Lightning were looking too far ahead, Tampa Bay appeared lackadaisical, more content to sit back in the early stages of the game than attack. That would have cost the Lightning were it not for the way Bishop played.
The way he and Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek battled, it seemed an inevitability that the game would come down to whichever netminder made the first mistake. It was Mrazek who cracked first. Read more
Before the post-season had even begun, the Tampa Bay Lightning knew their power play had to improve. And with Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman on the shelf, the Lightning had few options better than calling up Jonathan Drouin, who had walked away from Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate earlier in the season.
Drouin’s effectiveness on the power play was clear upon his return to the AHL. Only days before he was called up to the NHL, Syracuse Crunch coach Rob Zettler was singing the youngsters praises, pointing out Drouin’s skill with the man advantage and noting how he had the ability to put the puck into tight spaces. It makes sense then that with the Lightning power play struggling through three games to the tune of a 1-for-13, 7.7 percent clip that coach Jon Cooper would look to work on the man advantage ahead of Game 4 against the Detroit Red Wings. That included giving Drouin a look with the top unit.
“As these games go on, you need to score that power-play goal,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Bay Tribune’s Erik Erlendsson. “We’ve been trying to find our way there of late. Jonathan Drouin has come back up here, hasn’t had a ton of time to work on the power play with us, but he’s clearly an asset for us in that area, so this is clearly a chance to work on it and we did.’’
Well, that move by Cooper paid off, to say the least. Read more
While the Toronto Maple Leafs made progress in the first season of their rebuild, they still lack a quality starting goaltender. The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons notes the only reason for Jonathan Bernier’s return next season is the year remaining on his contract. He thinks the Leafs could accelerate their rebuild with an upgrade in the crease.
Finding a good goalie this summer won’t be easy. There are slim pickings via unrestricted free agency, with former Leaf James Reimer the best of the bunch. It’s unlikely they’ll bring him back.
Options are also few in the trade market. Last month, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello scouted Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks.
Andersen, 26, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’s a year away from UFA eligibility. If the Ducks are committed to John Gibson as their starter, Andersen could be shopped this summer. The Leafs could face competition for his services, as the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes could also come calling. Read more