Personal picks for the first round of the NHL playoffs or: How I stopped worrying and learned to love the unexpected

Sidney Crosby and Derick Brassard (Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are many perks that accompany being a hockey writer, and one of them is knowing that, despite not being invested emotionally in any franchise, you will be accused at one point in time or another of having it out for every NHL franchise. And I can assure you that working at an international publication such as THN only enhances the hilarity as the accusations stream in regularly.

Here at hockey’s magazine of record, we receive angry emails and letters screeching at us for virtually every conceivable bias: for some people, we’re part of the swarthy “Toronto media” and anti-Maple-Leafs; and for others – most of who reside (a) in Canada and (b) outside of Southern Ontario – we’re Leafs-obsessed and sleep under blue-and-white sheets every night; we hear from Americans who’d swear on a stack of hockey bibles we’re stridently cheering for Canadians and anything to do with the “Canadian game”, and we receive input from Canadians furious at our “obviously” blind allegiance to NHL Gary Bettman’s U.S. Sunbelt expansion strategy; we’re blasted by those who think we giddily cover Sidney Crosby’s every sneeze, and we’re ripped from others who think every member of our editorial team rues the day No. 87 became a star and do all they can to slight Crosby at every opportunity.

Much like the modern NHL player cannot absorb a clean-but-fair hit without four of his teammates rushing in to pummel the opponent who (I repeat, cleanly) hit him, many modern hockey fans are hypersensitive to any perceived slight. If you’re including a number of of teams in any positive list and you omit a particular franchise from that list for the sake of a palatable word count, you can rest assured you’ll hear from at least one fan from the omitted team pouting about it. And when you release your predictions for the first round of the NHL playoffs, as I did Sunday afternoon: Read more

Rumor Roundup: Big changes coming for Boston Bruins

Lyle Richardson
Lucic

The Boston Bruins missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007 is generating considerable speculation over their off-season plans. Many observers wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien could lose their jobs.

Regardless of who’s sitting in the Bruins GM chair this summer, roster changes are definitely expected. After years as a Stanley Cup contender, the Bruins were hampered by injuries this season, while several key players failed to play up to expectations. Limited cap space prevented them from suitably addressing their roster needs, forcing the unpopular trade of defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders as an early-season salary dump. Read more

New Leafs coach must be hired based on on-ice philosophy, not NHL resume or familiarity factor

Claude Julien (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

With interim coach Peter Horachek included in team president Brendan Shanahan’s housecleaning Sunday, the Maple Leafs are going to have their fourth bench boss in three years by the time the 2015-16 season begins. And although it’s tempting for Leafs fans to speculate on and salivate over some of the names expected to be available, Toronto’s next hire doesn’t have to have a familiarity factor with fans in order for it to be right. The next head coach of the Leafs just has to have the right on-ice philosophy – one based on teaching and patience – to put the franchise back on track.

It will be tempting for Shanahan and whomever he hires as GM (if he doesn’t take that role himself) to be dazzled by the slew of accomplished coaches who’ll apply for the position, but the problem with those types of coaches can be they’re far more interested in winning now than they are in developing the young talent Toronto will placing its organizational bets on in the years to come. Read more

Brandon Sutter helps Penguins clinch a playoff spot, eliminate Bruins

Josh Elliott
Brandon Sutter

Brandon Sutter scored both goals in Pittsburgh’s 2-0 win over Buffalo on Saturday, securing a playoff berth for the Penguins and simultaneously eliminating the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins hung in until the end with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but just imagine their disappointment when they looked up at the scoreboard in the middle of the third and saw the Pens had already won.

Sutter looked like a basketball player on his first goal, using his back to protect the puck from the Sabres’ defenders as he came out of the corner, cut across the hashmarks and backhanded it past Anders Lindback.
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Islanders push hard-luck Penguins to one deciding game

Josh Elliott
Ian Cole and Ryan Strome

Oh boy.

After 81 games of futility and losing, the Buffalo Sabres can suddenly play a huge role in shaping the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.

They can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Buffalo, and in doing so, they may help knock the Pens out of post-season contention.

The Sabres have already clinched worst overall in the league, but if anything can get this downtrodden squad up for a game, you’ve got to think this would be it.

The Penguins lost a huge home game to the New York Islanders 3-1 on Friday, blowing their chance to clinch a post-season berth and leaving them open to missing the playoffs if things go badly on Saturday.
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NHL’s SnapChamp Era begins: Flames, Jets make playoffs; defending-champ Kings – & maybe, Bruins or Pens – are out

Flames players celebrate a 3-1 home win over L.A. – and making the playoffs this year – in front of a raucous home crowd in Calgary. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.

Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more

Bruins pushed to the brink of elimination after falling to Florida; are big changes coming in Boston?

Boston's Milan Lucic (center) chases down Alex Petrovic  of the Panthers (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

With a 54-19-9 record, the Boston Bruins were the best regular-season team in the NHL last season. But one year later, and with one game to go in the 2014-15 campaign, they’re on the brink of elimination: if they win their final game in Tampa Bay Saturday, the Bruins still need the Senators to lose in regulation or the Penguins to lose their final two games (against the Islanders on the road Friday and in Buffalo Saturday) to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated from the post-season tournament.

If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, there’s an overwhelming sense a good deal of change will take place within the organization, and not just in terms of the roster. There have been persistent rumors all season that the job security of GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien would be jeopardized, with current team president Cam Neely perhaps replacing the former and choosing a new face to take over for the latter. And given that star defenseman Zdeno Chara just turned 38 years old, it’s difficult to not conclude the window with this current group of players is in the midst of closing.

But is widespread change the best move in this particular situation? It’s not as if we haven’t seen strong NHL teams fall off the map one season, and rebound the next. The Philadelphia Flyers made it to the second round in 2011-12, missed the playoffs by a hair in 2012-13, and were right back in the post-season mix last season. The New Jersey Devils made the playoffs 13 straight years, missed out on them in 2010-11, and then went to the Stanley Cup Final the following year. There’s not always a need to tear things down when you don’t have this minimal level of success as an organization.

However, the more you put this team under a microscope, the more it’s clear: cosmetic changes aren’t going to cut it. It doesn’t have to be a full-on rebuild involving every facet of the franchise, but in an Atlantic Division that now includes the up-and-coming Florida Panthers, the newly-energized Senators, and the already formidable Canadiens and Lightning, Boston cannot afford complacency and second chances for everyone. Read more

AHL All-Rookie team shows players to watch for next season

Viktor Arvidsson (John Russell/Getty Images)

If you don’t think AHL All-Rookie team honors mean much, consider that New York Islanders rookie Ryan Strome, who has scored 17 goals and 50 points this season, was named to the team just last season.

Strome isn’t the only rookie from the 2014 squad who has shown his skill in the NHL, either. Teemu Pulkkinen, the Detroit Red Wings prospect with a cannon for a slapshot, was named to last year’s list and has 34 goals in 46 games in the AHL this season to go along with five in 29 big league contests.

Wednesday afternoon, the AHL announced this season’s team and the list is full of promising stars. Maybe one day they will add to the list of present day standouts that once appeared on the team, including Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza, Thomas Vanek, Mike Green, John Carlson, P.K. Subban, Gustav Nyquist and Tyler Toffoli. Read more