Kings Stanley Cup run feels more real, and more difficult, this time

Kings

LOS ANGELES – Since the Los Angeles Kings went on their wild run to the Stanley Cup two years ago, they’ve played a total of 10 playoff series. They’ve had home ice advantage in exactly one of them.

Until now. The Kings start the Stanley Cup final at home Wednesday night and will host Game 7, if there is one June 18. Fans of the Kings are reminded to actually show up at the Staples Center for Games 1 and 2 of the series because these ones are at home for a change.

It’s never, ever easy to win a Stanley Cup, but the Kings made it look that way two years ago. They took a 3-0 lead in all four series, went 8-0 on the road and posted an overall record of 16-4. This spring, of course, has been the polar opposite. The Kings have already played one more game through three rounds than they played to win the Cup in 2012. They came back from a 3-0 and 3-2 series deficits and became the first team in history to go to the Stanley Cup after winning three consecutive Game 7s. They’ve played a whack of big, difficult teams. Read more

Top 10 perennial playoff contenders since the lockout

Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar

Earlier this week, THN’s Brian Costello raised a great question: What makes a dynasty in this salary cap era? Brian defined it as three titles in five years – at least, before the salary cap was instituted – but admitted maybe that standard needs to be relaxed in the face of today’s flattened NHL playing field.

It’s a timely discussion, what with the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks – Cup champs from the last two seasons – heading into Game 7 of the Western Conference final tonight. One team will go on to the Stanley Cup final as a favourite to win another championship. The other will have to deal with the sting of falling just short of dynasty-level success.

Both teams are as close as it gets to dynasty-calibre potential in the NHL right now, but we simply haven’t seen a team win three Cups in five years since the salary cap was imposed. With salaries spiking at a younger age now and roster turnover inevitable, teams simply can’t stay on top as long. In a league built on parity, staying at the top of the pile and consistently making the playoffs is an impressive feat in its own right.

So which teams have managed that best? Which teams have the most playoff appearances and Stanley Cup wins since the 2004-05 lockout?

These 10 teams have had the most post-season success, counting up the number of playoff rounds they’ve appeared in since 2005, and adding any Stanley Cups on top.
Read more

Rumor Roundup: Will the San Jose Sharks say ‘bye-bye’ to ‘Big Joe’?

Joe Thornton

As San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson considers possible roster moves this summer, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz suggests it might be time for the Sharks to part company with captain Joe Thornton.

Kurz doesn’t pin all the blame on Thornton for the Sharks’ divisional semifinal collapse against the Los Angeles Kings, but considers the club’s lack of leadership was largely responsible. He also believes the Sharks could strip Thornton of the captaincy, perhaps handing it to Joe Pavelski.

While Thornton’s consistently been the Sharks’ top forward for years, they’ve failed to win a championship during his tenure. As they begin turning toward their younger core players for leadership, Kurz feels Thornton’s best chance to hoist the Stanley Cup rests elsewhere.

It remains to be seen if Wilson starts fielding offers for Thornton. Earlier this season he re-signed the 34-year-old center to a three-year, $20-million extension with a no-movement clause. Read more

Top 5 single-game performances from 2013-14

TJ Oshie

1. T.J. Oshie’s Olympic shootout
When the St. Louis Blue was tabbed for the U.S. Olympic team, his shootout prowess was in mind. Of the 29 NHLers with at least 10 shootout attempts this season, Oshie’s 75 percent conversion rate was tops. Imagine what his totals would have been if the NHL let any player shoot any time after the third round, as is the case at the Olympics. Because, in Team USA’s Sochi quarterfinal match against the host Russians, Oshie went up against Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk in an incredibly entertaining skills competition. American coach Dan Bylsma kept putting Oshie on the ice to counter the two Russian stars and in six shootout attempts, he scored on four of them. ‘T.J. Sochi’ singlehandedly pushed the Americans into the semifinal, saving them from an early exit and earning public praise from U.S. president Barack Obama.

2. Ben Scrivens’ record-setting 59-save shutout against San Jose
In less than a year, Ben Scrivens was traded from Toronto to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to Edmonton, so you wouldn’t expect a nomadic player like that to set any positive NHL records. But on Jan. 29, Scrivens established an expansion era, regular season standard for saves in a shutout – and he did it against the mighty San Jose Sharks. Scrivens made 20 stops in the first period and turned aside all 59 shots for a 3-0 win. He surpassed Phoenix goalie Mike Smith’s record of 54 saves in a 2012 shutout and, obviously, Scrivens also set an Oilers record.

3. Kristers Gudlevskis, cinderella man
Speaking of things no one saw coming, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis almost led an upset for the ages when his underdog Latvian team scared all of Canada silly and threw a major fright into the nation’s Dream Team. A prospect of the Tampa Bay Lightning who toiled for Florida in the ECHL and Syracuse in the AHL for most of 2013-14, Gudlevskis made 55 exhausting saves that game and had the Latvians in a 1-1 lock deep into the third period. But a Shea Weber goal with seven minutes remaining  gave the Canadians a 2-1 edge from which they didn’t look back and a country breathed again. Two months later, Gudlevskis appeared in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for Tampa Bay.

4. Tomas Hertl’s four-goal magic
In just his third NHL game, San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl launched his campaign for the Calder Trophy, setting himself up as the early favorite. On Oct. 8 against the New York Rangers, the Czech scored four goals on seven shots in a 9-2 San Jose romp. But it wasn’t just the stats-packed night that got Hertl a ton of attention – it was the between-the-legs breakaway goal that put him in the spotlight. He scored it against Martin Biron, who retired less than two weeks later. If Hertl hadn’t have gotten injured, the Calder race between him and Nathan MacKinnon would have been ferocious.

5. Teemu Selanne’s bronze medal game
The ‘Finnish Flash’ had his ice time cut this season and his role has been less pronounced in his later years, but on the Olympic stage, Selanne remained the go-to guy for Finland. Selanne scored four goals and six points in six Sochi games, and saved his best for last against the Americans in the bronze medal game. Selanne scored twice in his final appearance to lead his country to a 5-0 win, which earned Finland its fourth men’s hockey medal in the past five Olympics. Though the Suomi has never captured gold, no country has medalled more in the NHL Olympic era – and Selanne was there for each one.

This article originally appeared in the May 26 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.

Rumor Roundup: Where will the Philadelphia Flyers find speed to add to the roster?

Victorious Flyers

If new Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall decides to boost his roster’s speed for next season, he’ll have to trade away a high-salaried player or two. That’s the opinion of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi, who noted the Flyers only have $4.5 million in cap space (assuming the salary cap rises to $69 million for next season) and that’s before re-signing key free agents like Kimmo Timonen (if he decides to continue playing) and Brayden Schenn.

The Flyers are allowed to spend over the cap during the off-season by 10 percent, but must be compliant before their season opener. They’ll also receive $4.9 million in cap relief by placing injured defenseman Chris Pronger on long-term injury reserve again next season. Still, that doesn’t provide much wiggle room to re-sign or replace key players.

They also used both their compliance buyouts last summer on Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere. Any buyouts going forward will count as two-thirds the remaining value of a contract for players 26 and older, or one-third if they’re younger than 26.

Carchidi suggests trading Vincent Lecavalier as one option. Noting that former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette is now the bench boss of the Nashville Predators, Carchidi wonders if Laviolette will pressure Predators management to make a pitch for Lecavalier, provided the center’s willing to waive his no-trade clause. Read more

Tomas Hertl, not a fan of Don Cherry – and why would he be?

Rory Boylen
hertlfpl-183676767

When Tomas Hertl capped off a four-goal game against the New York Rangers early in this season, he did it with a showtime between-the-legs breakaway goal that basically ended the career of Martin Biron.

The flashy goal made it 8-2 San Jose and sparked ridiculous outrage over whether or not it was so pretty it hurt the Rangers’ feelings.

Nevermind this is the entertainment business. Nevermind it was a home game for the Sharks. Nevermind the Rangers were brutal and laid an egg. And nevermind Hertl was early in his rookie season, trying to make an impression and do a job. The “debate,” if you can even call it that, was probably started by this Coach’s Corner segment from Don Cherry.

The Hertl segment begins at about the 6:20 mark: Read more

Top 10: 2014 unrestricted free agents with biggest cap hits

DanyHeatleyAllStar

It’s the new normal of the unrestricted free agency period: there’s not much talent on the market anymore. And the talent that is available? Veterans past their prime, many of whom hit the market after playing out massive deals.

There’s no way all 10 of the athletes on this list get a raise this summer. At least one will, and not surprisingly, it’s the player who’s a twentysomething and not a thirtysomething. However, they’ll all have numerous suitors. The insanity and desperation of GMs during UFA season is a certainty. Here’s the 10 players with the highest cap hits who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1.

10. Andrei Markov$5.75 million — age 35 (as of July 1)
If you have a few hours to kill, look up Markov’s injury history. Those knees have been through trench warfare. After scoring 64 points in 2008-09, the Mr. Bean lookalike played 45, then seven, then 13 games in the following three seasons. The Canadiens took a major risk by signing Markov to a three-year deal a season after he’d missed all but seven games, but the gamble paid — the Russian rearguard missed just one regular season game over the next two productive seasons. Despite his age and injury history, Markov should cash in with a deal that pays at least $4 million. Hard to see him signing anywhere but Montreal, but that’s how I felt about Sergei Gonchar before he left Pittsburgh for Ottawa as a 36-year-old. Read more

Ask Adam: Sharks blockbuster trades, advanced stats, and Alex Ovechkin in the KHL

Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau (Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

This is the latest THN mailbag. If you want to submit a question to be considered for the next one, send me one via this form. Thanks to those who’ve done so.

Adam,

What do you think the chances Sharks GM Doug Wilson moves either Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau before the start of next season?
Eric Semmelmayer, Pleasanton, Calif.

Eric,

I wouldn’t hold your breath on both players being dealt, but after San Jose’s stunning first round playoff collapse against L.A., I think the odds are very good that at least one of the two will be wearing a new uniform next season. I’ve spoken to Wilson often over the years and he’s made it clear his organization doesn’t react to one post-season series loss in a way that would hurt the organization over the long term. But his comments in the wake of the Sharks’ disastrous end to this season indicate he’s no longer interested in recommitting to the same core group.

It’s unlikely Wilson will deal a young star such as Logan Couture, but simply allowing Dan Boyle to leave as an unrestricted free agent and buying out or trading Martin Havlat isn’t enough of a change to that core. The cuts have to go deeper and it might be better for all involved if one of Marleau or Thornton moves on. Both players have no-trade clauses built into the three-year contract extensions that begin in 2014-15, but in his post-playoff news conference, Wilson spoke of “flexibilities and windows” he could take advantage of to make moves happen. So yes, I’d expect something major to take place with one of their veterans. Read more