HOW THEY WIN
DUCKS: Though it may sound counterintuitive, the Ducks win when players other than Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are scoring. That’s because it’s a given the dynamic duo will produce with regularity. But it takes more than two prolific offensive players to win against the big boys of the NHL. That’s what cost Anaheim in the second round against Los Angeles last spring – a lack of balanced scoring. The addition of Ryan Kesler is a big boost to the second line and Matt Beleskey moved north of 20 goals for the first time, though 12 of them came in the first 26 games of the season. Anaheim has one of the youngest, most mobile bluelines in the league, led by Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm. They’re adept at moving the puck efficiently and are crafty in the offensive zone. They’re also underrated defensively, as is veteran Francois Beauchemin.
JETS: The Jets make for a miserable opponent thanks to their grinding style under coach Paul Maurice. They’re a top-five SAT Close team, consistently the aggressor in generating shot attempts. Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler combine size and scoring touch on the wings, Mark Scheifele continues to develop as a two-way center and Michael Frolik excels in his checking role. The Jets ‘D’ corps, when healthy, is versatile and punishing. Dustin Byfuglien will earn a few Norris Trophy votes after a dominant return from playing forward last season. Towering Tyler Myers looks reborn after arriving from Buffalo in the Evander Kane trade. Jacob Trouba’s offense hasn’t sparkled like it did in his rookie year, but his bruising play suits the playoffs. And hey, goalies Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec have both had hot streaks. Who’s to say one won’t in the playoffs? Read more
Chris Kontos. Claude Lemieux. Jean Sebastien-Giguere. Fernando Pisani. Bryan Bickell. Justin Williams. It seems every year some player saves his best hockey for the post-season and becomes his team’s surprise hero. Who has a chance to do the same this year?
I present 10 players to consider. Some are cogs in Cup-contending machines. Others are standout performers with potential to elevate underdog squads.
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
As they battle St. Louis and Nashville for top spot in the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks dropped a hint of what could be terrific news over the weekend: Head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters he wouldn’t rule out injured star Patrick Kane’s return to action as soon as the first round of the playoffs. Now, that may turn out to be a perfect example of the garden-variety subterfuge coaches and organizations engage in from time to time close to or during the post-season. But if it’s not and Kane is back in the Hawks’ lineup long before doctors’ initial prognosis of late May/early June, everybody getting all excited about the L.A. Kings or New York Rangers as this year’s Stanley Cup champions should temper their expectations as long as Chicago is in the playoffs.
And you know what? Even if Kane can’t come back from a broken clavicle suffered in late February until the second or third round, I still like this Blackhawks team as much as any other team in the league this season. They were my pick to win it all before the season began, and they’re still my pick to win what would be their third championship in six seasons.
You can look at the Hawks and be deeply impressed – intimidated, even – by the winning pedigree of Chicago’s on-ice personnel. However, that’s not the only way they wow you. Read more
We completed our Stanley Cup power rankings for THN’s Playoff Preview magazine a couple weeks ago, and we didn’t devote much air time to the Washington Capitals at our table debates. We slotted the Caps 13th. Their hot-and-cold play wasn’t blowing us away. Amid a pile of wins in February and March, they had letdowns against non-playoff teams Philadelphia (twice) and Dallas.
I tweeted March 3 that the Eastern Conference parity was incredible, and that I could see any of Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Montreal, Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh reaching the Stanley Cup final. Apologies for including Pittsburgh in that group – yikes – but that’s not the point. As a reader named Angelos asked: where was Washington? I had deliberately omitted them.
And that looks more like an oversight every day. The Caps have quietly usurped the Pens and Isles to grab the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan division and look like a darn scary team to face in the post-season. Why?
We’re close enough to the end of the season that trends matter. Hot upstarts may stay hot through the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Teams showing sneaky flaws may not have time to rectify them.
Speaking of those flaws – which supposed elite teams have scary habits or weaknesses that will lead to rude spring awakenings? Here are three teams to consider.
The Hockey News this week revealed its collective pre-playoff pick to win the 2014-15 Stanley Cup (hint: team name rhymes with Grandpa Jay Whitening), but as an individual who was part of that process, I can tell you I wasn’t leading the charge for the team we selected (hint: my pick rhymes with…uh, to hell with it – I picked the Blackhawks). That said, I think this season’s playoffs will be like those that have preceded it in the salary cap era in that you can make excellent arguments for about two handfuls of teams, assuming each benefits from good health and solid chemistry at the right time of the year.
And that said, I think this post-season is particularly fascinating, because it’s the first playoffs in a long time in which the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming in as underdogs – or at least, as much of an underdog that any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on it can be. Read more
Forgive Steve Yzerman. He’s less impressed by his Tampa Bay Lightning than the rest of the world is. It takes more than a healthy run at the Presidents’ Trophy to elevate this GM’s heart rate. Call it the byproduct of three Stanley Cup rings, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Selke Trophy, a Ted Lindsay Award and three Olympic gold medals, one as a player and two as chief roster architect.
So when Yzerman learns in mid-March THN has chosen Tampa Bay as 2015 Stanley Cup champ, he doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t care if his team sits three points back of Montreal for the Eastern Conference’s best record. Bigger things to worry about? More like smaller things.
“We’re talking today, and we’ve yet to clinch a playoff spot,” Yzerman said. “You might be thinking Stanley Cup. We’re not. We’re just trying to make the playoffs.”
Yzerman has accomplished enough to never get ahead of himself, and the Bolts haven’t done much yet under his watch. He was hired in 2010 and they reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final a year later, but that wasn’t his team. He brought in aging goalie Dwayne Roloson for a Cinderella run, but most of the roster came from Jay Feaster and Brian Lawton.
The current Lightning incarnation is very much Yzerman’s, aside from pillars Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and anyone would’ve taken those two with the first and second overall pick in 2008 and 2009, respectively. The Yzerman regime drafted Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. It traded for Ben Bishop and Ryan Callahan. It discovered Tyler Johnson and signed Anton Stralman and Valtteri Filppula. Tampa is where it is today because of Yzerman’s handiwork.
And Yzerman’s Bolts aren’t yet where he wants them to be, having lost to Montreal in four straight games last spring after Bishop dislocated his elbow days before the playoffs, derailing a Vezina Trophy-caliber season. But just because Yzerman thinks Cup talk is premature doesn’t mean we have to agree. Instead we elect to accuse him of modesty – and build a case for Tampa Bay to win its second Stanley Cup.