One of the great talents of Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin is finding role players who can contribute for Montreal at key moments; for example, Dale Weise has been a playoff hero for the Habs both this season and last. And Sunday in Game 2 of their second-round series against Tampa Bay, another trade acquisition – this time, veteran defenseman Jeff Petry – stepped up, scoring his first career NHL playoff goal for the first lead of the game.
Brought in from Edmonton at the trade deadline for a second-round and conditional fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, the 27-year-old Petry took a wrist shot from the blueline shortly after the seven-minute mark. As Hockey Night In Canada analyst Craig Simpson noted, Bishop was looking to his left for the shot, but the puck went to his right: Read more
The Ottawa Senators’ season came to an end Sunday when the Montreal Canadiens eliminated them from the first round of the playoffs in six games. It was a valiant run by the Sens just to make it to the post-season, and after nearly being swept, they fought tooth-and-nail to extend the series an additional two games. But in the end, they ran out of teeth and nails, and now the focus must turn to their summer plans to get better.
Almost certainly, Ottawa’s off-season will include the trading of a goalie. The late emergence of Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond has crowded the picture in the Sens’ net, and one of the three netminders with NHL experience on the roster will be moved to address the franchise’s needs. The goaltender they deal may be veteran Craig Anderson – who replaced Hammond in the Canadiens series and showed why he’s still got three years and $12.6 million left on his contract – or it may be 23-year-old Swede Robin Lehner, signed for another two years at a salary cap hit of $2.25 million. Heck, it could be the 27-year-old Hammond (an unrestricted free agent) they wind up shipping out. But at a time when many teams (including Edmonton and perhaps St. Louis, among others) are looking for a new option in net, it would be foolish for Ottawa to bring all three back and not get as much as they can for one of them.
And when they do trade one of their goalies, the Sens need the return to help improve their blueline corps, which, despite the presence of Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson, still needs a ton of work. Read more
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the highly rumored split between the Sharks and head coach Todd McLellan may happen as soon as Wednesday, with both sides announcing a “mutual agreement” to sever McLellan’s employment with the franchise and make him one of the most highly sought-after bench bosses on the market this summer.
McLellan – who was announced Tuesday as Team Canada’s head coach at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic – will be fine. But what about the Sharks? I’ve argued recently San Jose isn’t necessarily destined to continue sliding down the Western Conference standings, but some major roster move is likely – and I’m not just talking about another shocking signing like the Sharks adding one-dimensional John Scott. Read more
It has been exactly 25 years and one day since notorious tyrant, skinflint and former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard died. And you could argue that 9,131 days later, the franchise is in even more disastrous shape on the ice than it was a quarter century ago.
Ballard died 11 days after the Leafs posted a record of 38-38-4 and a goal differential of minus-21 and one day before they were knocked out of the playoffs by the St. Louis Blues in five games. This season’s edition of the Leafs just put a bow on a miserable 30-44-8 season with no hope of the post-season and a goal differential of minus-51. Read more
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
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
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff chances look grimmer by the day. They took a massive hit over the weekend with deflating losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.
A thought that has crossed my mind, watching Pittsburgh’s top-heavy squad take bad penalties and struggle to convert chances in recent weeks: these guys miss Jordan Staal. They were a different team with him as their third-line center. He was a big, strong, two-way presence who could break open a game with a shorthanded rush. Few teams in the league had that caliber of player that far down the depth chart.
The Pens had to move Staal in 2012 after he rejected Ray Shero’s 10-year offer, and they did well to land Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the pick that yielded Derrick Pouliot. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use Staal’s skill set right about now.
Interestingly, though, the Hurricanes would be far better off with Sutter, Dumoulin and Pouliot, wouldn’t they? Staal has been a disaster. He has 30 goals in 173 games as a Cane. He had 29 in his rookie season with the Pens alone. He only has, oh, eight years left on a 10-year deal carrying a $6-million cap hit. Woof. Is this a rare trade both GMs involved would admit they want reversed, if we gave them truth serum injections? Oddly enough, that would involve Jim Rutherford trading Staal again. He acquired Staal as Hurricanes GM and now serves as Penguins GM.
In being defeated 4-1 by the Blackhawks Monday in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings missed out on a golden opportunity to insert themselves back into the Western Conference’s final wild card slot. Had they won, L.A. would have pushed Winnipeg out of that slot (by virtue of their tiebreaker advantage over the Jets) and kept pace with the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames in the race for second and third place in the Pacific Division. Instead, they’re now: two points behind Winnipeg with no games in hand; three points behind Calgary (the Flames have played one more game, but will hold the tiebreaker over the Kings if it comes to that); and five points behind the Canucks with the same amount of games (six) remaining.
For weeks now – to be specific, since February, when they reeled off eight straight wins after an abysmal January – many have been talking as if the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings were going to be a low-seeded team potential playoff opponents needed to respect, if not fear. And who can blame them? The incredible manner in which L.A. won its second championship in the past three seasons, the team’s collective spine that showed astonishing bend and no break, represent sufficient evidence on which to base a healthy trepidation of squaring off against them at the most important time of the year.
But that charge back to the playoff race has obscured a question that was being asked of the Kings as they stumbled out to a 21-18-12 record, and that question should be asked again now: what happens to Los Angeles’ roster if they fail to make the post-season? Read more