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
A few thoughts after Night 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…
• Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson is a polarizing player.
On the one hand, he’s an offensive defenseman who is capable of hitting or approaching 40-point seasons. He led the Blue Jackets with 24:40 of average ice time this season, which is actually more than a minute less than he was pulling in a season ago. He’s a guy the emerging Blue Jackets lean on, even though he’s their third-highest paid defenseman at $4.357 million against the cap through 2017-18.
On the other, he can be a liability at times. His negative Corsi for relative percentage this season was worse than every Blue Jackets defenseman and second-worst to only R.J. Umberger on the team. The volatility in his game, especially this season, was a reason why he wasn’t included on Team USA’s Olympic roster this time around.
But Johnson is a competitor. And when it comes to the playoffs, he’s a scorer. Read more
Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. If the four teams in the Eastern Conference play throughout the playoffs the way they did on the first night of the post-season, none of them will be around beyond the second round.
It was a night where all the playoff rules were broken, but also one in a couple of hockey’s age-old axioms held true. The notion that defense and goaltending rule in the playoffs went out the window very early in both the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 overtime win over Tampa Bay and the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The age-old theory that scoring dries up in the playoffs also made a hasty retreat.
But, hey, it’s the Eastern Conference. If you’re looking for masterpiece games from a defensive standpoint, take your complaints to Dave King. If you seek actual entertainment, intensity and some pretty damn compelling hockey, don’t take your eyeballs off the screen for a second.
Seems Sidney Crosby is such as obvious choice for Most Valuable Player that the league didn’t see any point in waiting until June 24 in Vegas to announce it.
Thanks to long-time loyal THN reader Louis-Pierre Smith Lacroix who pointed out Crosby already has “Voted 2014 Most Valuable Player” listed under Sid’s 2013-14 regular season accomplishments on his nhl.com bio page.
We’re obviously huge fans of the NHL’s website and everyone makes mistakes (we know it referred to the team MVP award, not the league), but it gave us a chuckle nonetheless.
As I posted on Twitter Monday, I’m picking two series sweeps in Round 1. But there’s a chance two more go the minimum.
Sweeps are killjoys, though, so let’s hope for longer, and therefore much more exciting, series. But the possibility remains that at least one team, or more, will be on the links within a week.
Here are the most likely series sweeps in Round 1:
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