Stanley Cup playoff preview: Round 1

Stanley Cup

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?


EASTERN CONFERENCE

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

Why your team will not win the 2014 Stanley Cup

Boston Bruins lose Cup

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

Rangers pull a fast one on fans in 1926-27

Stan Fischler
Chabot_644x518

When the legendary Marx Brothers comedy team was drawing laughs on Broadway in 1926, the New York Rangers were about to launch their first NHL season. And, strangely enough, there was a connection.

In their musical Cocoanuts, Chico Marx, while checking Florida real estate, turns to his brother Groucho and says, “Maybe it’s the house next door.” To which Groucho replies, “There is no house next door.” Chico: “That’s OK, boss, we’ll build one.”

When Johnny Bruno walked out of the theater showing Cocoanuts, the skit gave him an idea. Bruno happened to be press agent for the just-minted Rangers and he was worried about putting people in seats. The Blueshirts debut was coming exactly one year after the New York Americans had become Gotham’s first big-league hockey club. What’s more, the Amerks had already become a hit. Bruno needed something to grab attention away from the star-spangled rivals. But how?

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Why the New York Rangers will win the Stanley Cup

Ronnie Shuker
(Photo by Scott Levy/NHL)

In the summer I whittled my possible Stanley Cup winners down to four teams for our annual Yearbook predictions: the St. Louis Blues (THN’s pick), Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. I was tempted to go with the Ducks for sentimental reasons (Teemu Selanne), but in the end I opted for sound hockey reasons, as well as some sweet symmetry, and went with the Rangers.

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Top five compliance buyout candidates for 2014

Leino

It’s that time of year when fans prepare for playoff pushes and other fans go full Joffrey and demand heads on stakes.

By heads on stakes, I mean buyouts in this case. For any suffering supporter who can’t stand to look at an expensive star player’s face another second, there’s hope. Remember the compliance buyouts from last summer? They’re BACK, albeit not in Pog form.

The rules, per NHL.com:

Under the collective bargaining agreement signed last season, teams are allowed two compliance buyouts within designated time periods last summer and this summer. That’s two buyouts total, not two per summer, and the buyouts can be used at a team’s discretion. That means some teams can (and did) use both last summer, some used one and some saved both for this summer.

When using a compliance buyout, a team “must pay two-thirds of the remaining contract across twice the remaining term of the deal. The bought-out players become free agents July 5 (2013, and July 1, 2014) and can sign with any team, other than the one that bought out the player.”

A refresher of last year’s compliance buyouts can be found here. But here’s a short list of who does and does not have flexibility.

TWO BUYOUTS LEFT: Anaheim, Boston, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Florida, Los Angeles, Nashville, Ottawa, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Winnipeg

ONE BUYOUT LEFT: Detroit, Edmonton, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay, Vancouver, Washington

NO BUYOUTS LEFT: Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia, Toronto

Factoring that list in, I’ve ranked my top five compliance buyout candidates below. My key criteria: (a) No one would want any part of this player’s contract in a trade; (b) this player wasn’t signed last summer, as sheer pride would likely stop most GMs from admitting their mistakes after just one year; (c) this player is not suffering from a long-term injury.

1. Ville Leino, LW, Buffalo Sabres
(Three years left, $4.5-million cap hit)

He scored in his first game as a Sabre Oct. 7, 2011 and it was all downhill from there. In the 132 contests since, Leino has nine goals. He has zero in 54 games this season. Calling him a buyout candidate is a gross understatement.

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Vezina Trophy Watch: Rask pulling away

Tuukka-Rask3

With only a week and change left in the regular season, it’s crunch time for those players with their eyes on individual trophies. In the goaltending department, Boston’s Tuukka Rask managed to usurp Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop over the past month, but can he hang on for the final stretch? Here’s our ranking of the contenders.

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

With seven shutouts, Rask is the NHL leader in blankings and when you couple that with 34 wins, a 2.04 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, it goes without saying that he owns the pole position when it comes to the Vezina.

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20 things to love about Jaromir Jagr after 20 seasons

JJagr

Just when we thought Jaromir Jagr was out, he pulled us back in.

It appeared No. 68 was done being relevant when he petered out with 22 goal-free playoff games as a Boston Bruin last spring. Signing with the New Jersey Devils meant he’d toil in obscurity and fade away. Instead, he’s busted out his best season since his three-year Kontinental League vacation. Not only have his 24 goals and 64 points in 76 games at age 42 blown us away, they’ve clinched fantasy titles for plenty of poolies who scooped him in the final rounds of drafts.

Better yet, Jagr has tacked a few more memorable moments onto a Hall of Fame career. His latest: making his teammates look away when it was a Devil skater’s turn in last night’s shootout against Buffalo. Was it superstition or was Jagr sparing his mates from watching a team that is 0-11 in shootouts? Either way, it was awesome.

It inspired me to list 20 of the best things about Jaromir Jagr, in random order, inspired by his 20 amazing years in the NHL.

1. Those rosy cheeks. Don’t you just wanna pinch ‘em? He brings out the inner grandma in all of us.

 

jagr cheeks

2. He shepherded us through the worst of the dead puck era. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the NHL became molasses on ice, Jagr was still tossing up 120-point seasons and winning scoring titles by 20 points.

3. Game-winning goals. Gordie Howe lovers be damned, the recorded stats say ‘Jags’ has more clinchers than any player in history. And this is a Jagr list, not a Howe list, so Jagr deserves a tip of the cap. Actually, better yet…

4. The salute. Annoying if he did it after scoring on your team, but awesome whenever he was easing the dagger into any other squad’s heart.

5. A wild man behind the wheel. Remember that? When he was a teenager? He was a menace to the road, and it was somehow endearing at the time. Especially the glove box full of speeding tickets.

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The NHL’s top 5 “geriatric” rookies (a.k.a. who’s old & new)

Van Guilder

When, at 30 years and 72 days, Mark Van Guilder made his debut with the Nashville Predators Sunday, he became the oldest player to suit up for his first NHL game this season.

The NHL Network spoke to Van Guilder about his (long) road to the NHL and his first game. It’s worth a watch if for no other reason than his opening line: “First of all, 400 games (in the minors)? Holy crap!”

 

 

With Van Guilder at No. 1, here are the other four oldest NHL debuts from 2013-14:

Anton Belov, Edmonton, D, 27 years, 64 days
No player on this list has contributed more to his team than Belov, who spent nine years in the Russian/Kontinental League before signing with the Oilers in May. He’s had his ups and down – including several scratches both healthy and due to injury, but he’s logging more than 17 minutes a night in his 50 games played. He also suited up for Russia in Sochi.

Julien Brouillette, Washington, D, 27 years, 63 days
The undrafted Brouillette, who’s played more than 200 games in both the American League and ECHL, picked up an assist in his first game and a goal in his second during his first stint with the Capitals in early February. He was recalled Sunday and played his third NHL game, against Nashville.

Reto Berra, Calgary, G, 26 years, 304 days
Expectations were high for Berra after he came over from his native Switzerland. Following some early struggles, specifically with rebound control, the Flames dealt Berra to the Avalanche, who, somewhat questionably, gave him a three-year contract extension. Can goalie guru Francois Allaire work his magic with another big stopper?

Cam Talbot, Rangers, G, 26 years, 141 days
He’s seen just 20 games this season – he’s stuck behind some guy named Lundqvist after all – but when he has played he’s been phenomenal: his .940 save percentage is first in the league and his 1.67 goal-against average is second (behind Minnesota’s Josh Harding). Talbot toiled in the AHL from 2010 to 2013 after spending three years in college with Alabama-Huntsville. If the Rangers make a deep playoff run, Talbot will have played a huge part by allowing ‘The King’ to get his regular-season rest.

(a nod to the always-excellent hockey-reference.com for saving me a lot of time doing math.)

Edward Fraser, The Hockey News’ Managing Editor, joined THN in 2005 after covering the Jr. B Stratford Cullitons. The London, Ont., native graduated from the University of Western Ontario – where he did campus radio color commentary for both men’s and women’s hockey – with a Master’s in Journalism. He really, really hates the loser point.