Seven players who can turn a successful playoff performance into a contract for 2016-17

Mike Brophy
Steve Ott (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hockey is the ultimate team sport, or so we are lead to believe.

And yet we also know that the further a team goes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the more it can benefit the individuals that make up the teams. Let’s be honest, there are a number of players on the eight teams still standing who are playing for contracts next season.

A player like center Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, is in his 19th season in the NHL, on a one-year contract for $800,000 — quite a comedown for a guy who used to earn $4 million a year with the Nashville Predators. Still the 39-year-old native of Virginia, MN, is playing for the love of the game. Playing pretty well, too. In six games, Cullen has two goals – both game-winners – and three points while averaging 15:22 of dependable two-way play.

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The top 10 moments from the first round of the playoffs

Jared Clinton
John Tavares (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The first round of the post-season is officially over with the Nashville Predators moving on to the second round to face the San Jose Sharks. And while the second round has already begun thanks to an odd bit of scheduling with the Islanders winning Game 1 over the Lightning, that doesn’t mean we can’t look back on the round that was.

Every post-season has its share of surprises and memorable moments, and there was no shortage of those over the past two weeks. There was the yearly upset — if you can call it that — with the Sharks moving on past a Los Angeles Kings team that looked primed to chase their third Stanley Cup in five years, and there were some matchups that weren’t as close, like that between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers.

When we look back on the post-season, though, here are the 10 moments we’ll remember from the first round: Read more

Down Goes Brown: The five biggest first-round playoff upsets

Sean McIndoe
Jaroslav Halak shut the door on Alex Ovechkin in 2010. (Getty Images)

The Predators face the Ducks Wednesday night in Game 7 of their opening round series, with an opportunity to complete what would stand as the biggest upset of this year’s first round.

These days, of course, big upsets are relative. The Predators are a wildcard team facing a division winner, but they only finished seven points behind the Ducks in the standings. And the opening round’s other upsets were even closer – the Islanders were three points behind the Panthers, while the Sharks were four back of the Kings. Such is life in the age of parity, where the margin between average and elite is narrower than ever before.

So with all due respect to those plucky underdogs from Nashville, let’s take a moment today to look back at the real thing, by counting down five of the biggest first-round upsets of the 20+ team era.

No. 5 – 2000: Sharks over Blues

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Twenty thoughts and observations from the first round of the playoffs

Mike Brophy
Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane (John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

I know we’re not supposed to be watching hockey in Canada because there are no Canadian-based teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I just couldn’t resist. Here are 20 first round thoughts and observations:

-I was thinking that after winning the scoring race and setting himself up to be named the Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player, Patrick Kane was looking rather ordinary through his first four post-season games. Then he bags the game-winner in double overtime in Game 5 to keep the Chicago Blackhawks alive.

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Down Goes Brown: Five NHL rules you may not have heard of

Sean McIndoe
(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Well, if nothing else, the first round of the playoffs has been educational.

On Saturday, fans learned that a player can be offside even if his skate is clearly still over the blueline, because it has to be touching. That was news to some of us, and leads to some interesting philosophical questions. If a player jumps across the line with both skates in the air, is he onside? Offside? Both at the same time, like Schrödinger’s cat?

Then on Sunday, we found out that you can get an interference call for touching the puck from the penalty box. That one has come up before, but it’s rare enough that many fans were probably hearing about it for the first time. So that’s two new rules that at least some of us weren’t aware of in a single weekend – and that’s without even getting into whatever it was that happened on that Antoine Roussel goal.

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10 unsung heroes who could swing the balance of the playoffs

Matt Larkin
Jonathan Drouin (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

There’s one every year. Sometimes it’s a Bryan Bickell or Fernando Pisani, a grinder who blows up out of nowhere to becoming a massively influential playoff performer. Other times it’s a Justin Williams or Claude Lemieux, an established and effective veteran who elevates his already-strong play to unforeseen levels.

Who will it be in the 2015-16 playoffs? Bookmark these 10 players who could have sneaky-strong influences on one or more series.

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Ten burning questions for the Stanley Cup playoffs

Ryan Kennedy
(Harry How/Getty Images)

Get your armchairs ready. These will be the biggest talking points of the spring as the real season gets underway.

CAN TAMPA BAY BREAK THE RUNNER-UP CURSE?

Not since 2009, when Pittsburgh got revenge on Detroit, has a Stanley Cup runner-up managed to get back to the final the following year. Tampa Bay has a chance to do it this year but they’ll now have to likely do it without Steven Stamkos. But with a sturdy core of Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop and The Triplets, this is definitely the time for the Bolts to strike. It won’t be easy with Washington rising in the East, but Tampa Bay wouldn’t have to face the Caps until the conference final.

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Remembering the Top Three hockey cartoons ever

Sal Barry
(National Film Board of Canada)

There have been over a dozen cartoons featuring hockey, but sadly, most of them are not very good. Cartoons like The Raccoons on Ice (1981) and The Magic Hockey Skates (2012) are your typical children’s stories where the good guys come out on top no matter the odds. Others, like Hockey Homicide (1945) and an episode of South Park from 2006 entitled “Stanley’s Cup” play up the violent aspect of the sport without giving any of the game’s more graceful elements a second thought.

But among the clichés of heroes overcoming impossible odds or hockey really just being about the fights are three excellent cartoons that are required viewing for hockey fans, young and old.

No. 1 – The Sweater (1980)

What it is about: A Montreal Canadiens’ fan recalls his boyhood in Quebec during the 1940s, where every boy idolized Maurice (Rocket) Richard and owned a Habs sweater with No. 9 on the back. When the boy’s mother orders him a new Canadiens’ jersey from the Eaton’s mail order catalog, he receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey by mistake and is ridiculed by his friends and teammates.

Why it is awesome: No other hockey-themed cartoon comes close to The Sweater, written and narrated by Roch Carrier, and based on his book The Hockey Sweater. We know what it is like to be a kid in awe of an athlete — and what it is like to love a team and to hate that team’s rival. Carrier’s tale is as funny as it is relatable, regardless of your age, nationality or favorite team.

No. 2 – Shaybu! Shaybu! (1964)

What it is about: In this Russian cartoon, a young hockey player gets his shot on a local team during a championship game when a player is injured.

Why it is awesome: Shaybu! Shaybu! — Russian for “Puck! Puck!,” or more specifically, “Give me the puck!” — is your typical hero’s journey. Most who play hockey aspire to make it to the next level, to prove themselves and dream to be the hero of the game. The cartoon, by animation director Boris Dёzhkina, has virtually no dialog, meaning that anyone can appreciate this tale of rising to the challenge. Four years later, Dёzhkina created another hockey cartoon, aptly titled The Rematch, which is not as good but still fun to watch.

No. 3 – The Simpsons: Lisa on Ice (1994)

What it is about: In this episode from the sixth season of The Simpsons, Lisa is failing gym class. To get credit for gym, she joins a youth hockey team and plays goalie — much to the chagrin of her brother Bart, who is the star forward on another team.

Why it is awesome: Released back when The Simpsons was still at the height of its popularity, “Lisa on Ice” has many great hockey references. Lisa joining an all-boys team as their goalie is an obvious nod to Manon Rheaume, while Bart’s team — The Mighty Pigs — is clearly meant to riff on one of the NHL’s newest expansion teams at the time. Even Homer Simpson does a great job at being a stereotypically-bad hockey dad. The episode culminates in a championship game between the siblings, but in the end proves that the bonds of family are stronger than the thrill of competition.