Why Las Vegas’ expansion team should be sneaky-competitive in Season 1

Matt Larkin
Bill Foley (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Any smug prognosticator convinced Las Vegas’ NHL franchise will be a laughing stock has a head start. It’s an expansion team, after all, and recent NHL history tells us brand-new franchises normally fall flat on their faces.

The San Jose Sharks joined the NHL 25 years ago and won a combined 28 games in their first two seasons. The Ottawa Senators arrived a year later and won 24 games over their first two years. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators… each of those franchises wobbled out of the womb like a baby calf. The 1993-94 Florida Panthers set the gold standard of modern expansion club respectability, and even they didn’t finish .500, going 33-34-17. None of those teams made the post-season in its first two tries.

It thus stands to reason Vegas, a market already inviting some skepticism of its ability to fill an NHL arena long term, is in trouble. History suggests teams take years to build their youth crop and field competitive clubs. If the Vegas fan base is as fickle as some perceive it to be, that’s a deadly combination of lack of winning and lack of interest.

But Vegas has something going for it no franchise has before upon its inception: the salary cap. Vegas is the cap era’s first expansion team, and it will have advantages every other new NHL franchise has lacked.

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Top 10 trade candidates at the 2016 NHL draft

Matt Larkin
Marc-Andre Fleury. (Getty Images)

Draft day has usurped trade deadline day and free agent day as the NHL’s most exciting off-ice event, and it’s not because of the drafting. The last weekend in June has become a lightning rod for blockbuster trades because, unlike at the trade deadline, almost every franchise is a theoretical suitor for any available player. The market doesn’t necessarily split between buyers and sellers. Every team has winning in mind, albeit some make moves for the short term and some trade for long-term assets.

Last June gave us the jaw-dropping Dougie Hamilton deal on draft day, and that was just the beginning. Milan Lucic, Martin Jones, Ryan O’Reilly and Carl Hagelin, among many others, also changed teams over the weekend. Phil Kessel, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad followed days later.

It’s a virtual guarantee some marquee names move next week in Buffalo, with all 30 GMs scurrying around the First Niagara Center’s floor. Who are the top 10 draft-day trade candidates? Ponder these players, ranked from least to most likely.

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Advanced stats vs. the eye test: models split on who will win Stanley Cup

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The long road to the Stanley Cup final is finally over and depending on your outlook, the two teams playing are either very surprising or exactly what you expected.

From the East we’ve got the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team with a sketchy D-corps and – at the start of the playoffs – an injured starting goalie. A team that has disappointed a few times in past playoff seasons despite their talent.

From the West we’ve got the San Jose Sharks, a team not many would believe could actually go far in the playoffs without actually seeing it for themselves first. A team that has choked year after year.

I can see why some people would be surprised.

Before the playoffs began, we here at THN previewed three different sets of predictions: one based on stats, one based on the eye test, and a combination of the two.

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The Hockey News Podcast: Stanley Cup final preview, and predictions

The Hockey News
Stanley Cup (Getty Images)

On this edition of the podcast, the THN gang breaks down the Stanley Cup final. We discuss who has the edge in five important categories — plus three bonus intangible categories.

It also features a special appearance by the office alarm. There was a fire drill during the recording of the podcast, but we decided to power through to bring you this episode. Enjoy.

Download and subscribe on iTunes, and on Soundcloud.

[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]

Five storylines that make the Lightning the off-season’s most interesting team

Jonathan Drouin and Steven Stamkos.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t quite match last year’s brilliance but, considering the obstacles they faced this spring, they should be darned proud of what they accomplished.

They won two playoff rounds and reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final without Steven Stamkos, their best player. They went 9-2 without their second-best defenseman, Anton Stralman, before getting him back in for Game 2 against Pittsburgh. They lost their franchise goalie, Ben Bishop, in Game 1 against the Penguins and still pushed them to the brink. With a little more luck on the health front, the Bolts easily could’ve matched last season’s Stanley Cup final appearance and maybe even won it all.

The 2015-16 season should thus be considered a resounding success. The Lightning also have a lot to look forward to going forward. Before we anoint them serious 2016-17 contenders, however, they have many problems to solve this off-season. Few if any GMs have a longer, more significant laundry list than Steve Yzerman. Tampa is the summer’s most interesting team. Here are five crucial storylines to watch.

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Five free agents who have spiked their dollar values in the 2016 playoffs

Matt Larkin
Troy Brouwer celebrates his goal (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Busting out with big performances in the playoffs can significantly impact players’ paycheques in seasons to come if they hit free agency directly after their spring heroics, small sample sizes be damned. Look at what Bryan Bickell got after the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013. The big fella scored nine goals in 23 playoff games. He was 27, and his career regular-season high at the time was 17 goals, but he was a big part of the 2013 championship run and thus earned himself a pretty penny. It cost Chicago four years at a $4-million cap hit to keep Bickell. He’s since become an albatross for GM Stan Bowman.

We’re seeing a similar bust-out effort from another hulking winger this season who happened to win a Stanley Cup of his own with Chicago in the past: Troy Brouwer of the St. Louis Blues. We know he’ll get a big payday as an unrestricted free agent this summer. Which other pending UFAs have earned extra dollars thanks to their playoff performances? Here are five names to consider. I’ve ruled out the restricted free agents, as there are too many soon-to-get-richer youngsters to count, from Nikita Kucherov to Jonathan Drouin to Jaden Schwartz. This also isn’t just a list of the best UFAs, period. Kyle Okposo, for example, played well in the post-season, but he was due a massive July payday anyway, and his strong effort in two rounds for the Isles didn’t change that.

Let’s focus on the UFAs who have increased their projected dollar figures specifically because of their work in these playoffs.

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2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs third-round preview: St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks

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stl-sj

SERIES STARTS: Sunday, 8 p.m. ET, in St. Louis.

THE BLUES WIN IF…

The backbone of the Blues’ run to the Western Conference final has been Brian Elliott, and barring his hiccup in Game 6 of the second round, Elliott has been fantastic. Through two seven-game series, he has a 2.29 goals-against average and .929 SP, but the sheer number of high-danger saves Elliott has had to make is incredible. He could easily have some of the worst numbers of any netminder in this post-season, and it wouldn’t be any fault of his own. Instead, he’s stepped up and dominated in nearly every game he has played.

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The Hockey News Podcast: Third-round playoff preview, plus what went wrong with the Capitals

The Hockey News
Joe Pavelski (Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

On this edition of the podcast, we break down the conference final series and make our predictions.

We also discuss what went wrong with the Washington Capitals and how they can improve. We also talk analytics and struggle mightily to pronounce our colleague Dominik Luszczyszyn‘s last name.

Download and subscribe on iTunes, and on Soundcloud.

[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]