Top five best-case-scenario first-round NHL playoff matchups

Brian Elliott, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. (Dilip Vishwanat/NHLI via Getty Images)

With the end of the NHL’s regular-season approximately two weeks away, attention has settled on the possible first-round playoff showdowns. Many, if not most of the specific post-season berths won’t be finalized until closer to the final games on Apr. 11, but it’s not too early to start crossing fingers in the hope that some teams will wind up facing particular opponents and provide viewers with maximum entertainment value right out of the gate. Here are the top five best-case scenario first-round matchups this year:

5. Montreal vs. Ottawa. There are a few ways the Senators can take on the Canadiens in the first round, and most of them involve the Habs fending off Tampa Bay to retain top spot in the Atlantic Division, while the Sens hold on to the final wild card berth. Both results are entirely possible, and if it does happen, Canadian TV executives will be shimmying down the avenue as they celebrate the massive ratings that are sure to ensue. Read more

Hockey Hall of Fame clears path for Chris Pronger’s immediate induction – and it’s about time

Chris Pronger signs autographs at the 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

According to an ESPN.com report, former NHL star defenseman Chris Pronger’s road to the Hockey Hall of Fame was cleared Thursday when the HHOF’s general voting members ratified changes to the induction eligibility criteria for players. The decision means it’s possible Pronger will be welcomed into the HHOF’s next group of honorees – and regardless of what you think of the process that led to this point, you can’t argue the 40-year-old doesn’t deserve to be acknowledged as one of the game’s all-time great blueliners and competitors.

The report states one of the HHOF’s new bylaws (No. 26, in this case) includes this section, which directly addresses Pronger’s situation: “a person is not eligible for election in the player category if he or she has played in a professional or international hockey game (which terms shall not be considered to include games played only or primarily for charitable or recreational purposes, or for any other limited purpose that the Chair of the Board of Directors determines, in his or her discretion, should not disqualify for nomination a person otherwise eligible) during any of the three (3) playing seasons immediately prior to his or her election.”

In effect, the new bylaw means that players such as Pronger – someone who everyone knows won’t play again because of injuries, yet who doesn’t file retirement papers because of salary cap issues – can be considered after the standard three-year period following their final game. Read more

Why bother winning a lot of games in the Western Conference?

Mark Scheifele and Tyler Myers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong has done a lot of roster building over the past few years and if the franchise is going to win its first-ever Stanley Cup, the window is open. Of course, the Blues could also get knocked out in the first round again and no one would bat an eye – the West is just that competitive.

Read more

Why Vladimir Tarasenko is the next great St. Louis Blue

Jared Clinton
Vladimir Tarasenko (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Vladimir Tarasenko couldn’t have started this season any hotter, busting out of the gate with two highlight-reel goals in the span of a week. Those goals were more than unbelievable tallies, though. They served to put the NHL on notice that this 23-year-old kid was about to become St. Louis’ next great scorer.

The Blues have had a number of tremendous talents in their lineup over the years – from Bernie Federko to Brett Hull, and even Keith Tkachuk – but they’ve never had a player quite like Tarasenko.

Tarasenko terrorizes opponents with finesse and skill, so much so he seems at times unstoppable with the puck on his stick. Hull had the shot, Tkachuk had the size and Federko the raw playmaking ability, but Tarasenko seems to be a combination of all the greatest attributes: gifted with the puck and equipped with a laser of a wrist shot, he also has the ability to make even the best defensemen miss. Read more

NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

Read more

Forward-thinking Ken Hitchcock is fourth coach to 700 wins. Who’s next?

Matt Larkin
Ken Hitchcock. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Ken Hitchcock won his 700th game as an NHL head coach Thursday night, and it was an easy milestone to root for. ‘Hitch’ is obviously one of the most successful bench bosses of his generation, but he’s also one of the quirkiest, most approachable and most adaptable.

Flash back to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, June 20, 2012. Hitchcock had just been handed his first Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after taking over the St. Louis Blues in November 2011, going 43-15-11 and pulling his team within two points of the Presidents’ Trophy. He took the backstage podium and turned what could’ve been a softball question into an insightful answer.

“Is this Blues team the best you’ve coached since winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Dallas?” I asked.

His goalies at the time, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, were in the room and within earshot, showing off their shiny new Jennings Trophy. Of course ‘Hitch’ would play it diplomatically with “yes, easily my best team since Dallas,” right?

Wrong.

Read more

Jets lose on a stinker of a goal on Ondrej Pavelec – which is why it’s Michael Hutchinson or bust for them

Adam Proteau
Ondrej Pavelec (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Winnipeg Jets had stormed back Tuesday from a 4-1 second period deficit to the St. Louis Blues to tie the game with less than six minutes left in regulation, but with 1:03 to go, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec allowed a brutal game-winner on a Barret Jackman shot just inside center ice. Read more

The Prospect Hot List: Captain of the undefeated

Jack McNeely (photo courtesy of Mark Hvidsten)

It’s getting down to crunch time in the prospect world, as the most wonderful time of year is upon us. College hockey has already entered the conference playoff stage while major junior is down to jockeying for berths in the post-season. The high schoolers in Minnesota are already finished and the story of the winners is pretty compelling. Meet the captain of that squad, plus nine other NHL prospects making noise in our weekly round-up.

Read more