Calder Trophy Watch: Palat closes the gap on MacKinnon
By: Ryan Kennedy
Mar 28, 2014
Nathan MacKinnon is still on top, but can he hold off another charge from Ondrej Palat in our rookie race? Plus, Trouba and Maatta are crushing minutes lately.
There isn't much hockey to be played before the post-season takes over and the race for rookie of the year is tightening up. Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon appeared to put a hammer lock on the race with his big 13-game point streak, but Tampa's Ondrej Palat may have something to say about that. Here's how I see the race right now:
The Avs have defied odds and remained a viable playoff team in what was thought to be a learning year and having MacKinnon's skilled power game has contributed to the team's devastating balance up front. Nate Dogg still leads the rookie pack with 23 goals and 55 points in 73 games.
Palat has proven himself to be a great two-way forward this season, playing more than 20 minutes in four of his past five games. He also has five points in that stretch for the Bolts, who are more than happy to have his 51 points and plus-27 mark in the lineup every night.
The points haven't been coming for Maatta lately, but that's OK, because the big Finnish product has been contributing in other ways. The Pens still don't have Kris Letang in the lineup and Maatta has been stepping up, playing nearly 24 minutes in a loss to Los Angeles and logging more than 20 minutes in four of his past five games.
I know I'm going on a lot about ice time in this post, but Trouba has been crushing minutes like Godzilla stomping through Tokyo lately. He's coming off back-to-back games where he was on the ice for nearly 25 minutes and based on advanced stats, is getting the puck out of the defensive zone at an admirable rate.
If Palat loses votes in the Calder balloting, it may be because his Tampa buddy Johnson is also having a standout campaign. The undersized pivot has been hot of late with five points in his past five games, plus he ranks second in the NHL with four shorthanded goals.
The Ducks are resting some of their blueliners down the stretch, but still winning thanks in part to Lindholm, who continues to impress with his poise on the back end. The big Swede has played more than 20 minutes a night in his past four games and his plus-29 ranks eighth overall in the NHL.
Though his two points in his past five games isn't prolific, Jenner has earned his way onto Columbus' top line with Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton thanks to his excellent physical game. In fact, Jenner is second amongst rookies with 179 hits in 62 games and has more takeaways (20) than he does giveaways (18).
Krug's patented offensive contributions from the blueline have dried up lately, but the B's are winning, so it's not really an issue. He still leads all freshmen defenders with 37 points through 71 games and has been deadly on the power play with 18 points (also a rookie best).
Unfortunately for Kreider, he is joining the ranks of Tomas Hertl and Mark Scheifele as excellent rookies whose seasons have ended due to injury. Kreider still ranks sixth in freshmen scoring with 34 points, but a hand injury will stop his production there.
With so many injuries and players hitting an offensive wall, let's show some love for a guy who causes players to feel like they've hit a brick wall when they collide with him. Gudas leads all rookies with 245 hits and 124 blocked shots in 64 games, while also tending to one of the sweetest beards in the sport.
Pavelski not forgetting defeat, hopes experience aids return to Stanley Cup final
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 28, 2016
San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said he’s not sure if he’ll ever get over the Stanley Cup final defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When the NHL season starts, it will have been exactly four months since the culmination of the Stanley Cup final and four months since the San Jose Sharks skated off of SAP Center ice following the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup victory.
“I don’t know if you ever get over it,” Pavelski said. “Looking back, whether you’re done or you’re here right now, it’s still with you. But you try to learn from it. There are things you can take from it that maybe you do differently, maybe not. You always kind of have it.”
And while the emotion of dropping the Stanley Cup final will linger, Pavelski said it’s not something he’s going to let impact his play.
Pavelski, who captained Team USA at the World Cup, has started to get well-deserved recognition as one of the league’s premiere players. Since the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, only Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin have scored more goals than Pavelski’s 132 and the Sharks captain’s 258 points are the 11th-best total over that same span.
But Pavelski and the Sharks are going to need another brilliant year if they’re going to get back to the Stanley Cup final, a task that has become near impossible in the post-lockout NHL. The only teams to repeat as finalists since the 2004-05 lockout are the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, both of whom made it to consecutive finals in 2007-08 and 2008-09. In the seven seasons since, no team has made it to the finals in consecutive seasons, and prior to the Red Wings and Penguins repeating as finalists, no team had accomplished the feat in eight seasons.
Pavelski’s hope is that the learning experience from the past post-season’s Western Conference title and final appearance is that the Sharks enter the campaign knowing what’s required of them to make it all the way back.
“I think the biggest thing from that is you understand (what it takes) as a team,” Pavelski said. “You really need your team. A lot of guys step up along the way, and that’s the biggest thing you take out of that. You’re not going to get a shot next week at it. So there is that process. Let’s not look too far ahead, get back up to speed here with camp and get everyone on the same page.”
Rumor Roundup: Yakupov still on the outs with Oilers, but trade isn't imminent
By: Lyle Richardson
Sep 28, 2016
With their added wing depth, the Oilers can go into the season using Nail Yakupov as trade bait later this season to address a different roster issue.
Earlier in the off-season, there was considerable speculation the Edmonton Oilers would trade right winger Nail Yakupov. Selected first overall by the Oilers in the 2012 NHL draft, the 22-year-old struggled to meet lofty expectations.
It was anticipated Yakupov might be packaged for a defenseman, another struggling young player or a couple of draft picks. With training camps underway and the start of the upcoming season fast approaching, he's still on the Oilers roster.
The Edmonton Journal's David Staples cites TSN's Ryan Rishaug's belief the Oilers will part ways with Yakupov when the right opportunity presents itself. Staples also cites other local media insiders claiming Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli attempted to move Yakupov this summer, noting the young winger is on the outs with coach Todd McLellan.
With promising winger Jesse Puljujarvi standing a good chance to crack the lineup this season, Zack Kassian re-signed to a one-year deal and Kris Versteeg on a professional tryout offer, Chiarelli could have sufficient depth on the wing to replace Yakupov. The Oilers GM wouldn't necessarily have to get another winger back in return, using him instead as trade bait later this season to address a different roster issue.
Yakupov's struggles and his $2.5-million salary-cap hit for 2016-17 hurt his trade value this summer. Over the course of this season, however, a stronger performance in a contract year could make him more attractive to rival clubs.
HARTNELL RESCINDS TRADE REQUEST
Leading up to last season's NHL trade deadline, Columbus Blue Jackets left winger Scott Hartnell was the subject of considerable trade speculation. It was believed the Jackets hoped to move the 34-year-old and his $4.75-million annual cap hit in a cost-cutting deal.
Earlier this summer, Hartnell agreed to waive his no-movement clause and provided Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen a list of acceptable trade destinations. However, he's now changed his mind. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports Hartnell rescinded his trade request.
After two months without any news of a possible move, Hartnell said he didn't want uncertainty hanging over him during the upcoming season. He also said he still believes he can be a contributor for the Jackets.
While his cap hit remains on the Jackets' books, it won't cause any significant issues for them heading into 2016-17. They freed up some cap room by buying out Fedor Tyutin and Jarret Boll in June. With all their players under contract for this season, they have $3.8 million in cap space.
It'll be interesting to see how things play out for Hartnell and the Jackets over the course of the season. Should they fall out of playoff contention again by the deadline, maybe Kekalainen revisits moving the veteran winger.
SEIDENBERG DRAWING ATTENTION
Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg's performance for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey is garnering favorable reviews. An unrestricted free agent after the Boston Bruins bought out his contract in June, the 35-year-old blueliner is drawing the attention of clubs seeking experienced defensive depth.
Last week, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported the Senators “kicked the tires” on Seidenberg and fellow UFA blueliner Kris Russell. On Monday, TSN's Darren Dreger took to Twitter reporting the Ottawa Senators were among “a handful of teams” with interest in Seidenberg.
Dreger believes the first team to make the rearguard a competitive offer will get him. If not the Senators, one of them could be the New Jersey Devils. They still have a hole to fill on defense since trading away Adam Larsson to the Edmonton Oilers for left winger Taylor Hall. The Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs could also come calling.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Coaches making their big league debuts and those taking over in new homes will be expected to impress in their first seasons, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the ones facing the most pressure in 2016-17.
With pre-season action underway, it’s almost exactly two weeks until the NHL campaign begins, and with it a bevy of expectations.
From the past season’s standout rookies to struggling scorers, players are preparing to face the pressure of another season. After all, it’s their duty to perform when their number is called. But those partaking in the actual on-ice action aren’t the only ones who will have to perform in order to keep management — and fans — happy. In fact, some of those facing the highest expectations won’t be on the ice, but rather behind the bench.
New coaches, like Calgary Flames bench boss Glen Gulutzan and Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, will face the pressure of trying to turn around struggling clubs in the span of one short off-season, while veteran coaches in new locales, such as Bruce Boudreau with the Minnesota Wild and Randy Carlyle in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, will be attempting to take already competitive teams to the next level.
Those coaches entering their first season with their respective clubs won’t be the ones facing the toughest tests, however. Here are the five coaches who will be under the most pressure:
5. Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings
Given that Sutter has produced a .608 points percentage in the regular season and .609 win percentage in the post-season, it may seem odd that he’s in the five-spot on this list, but the Kings’ championship window is slowly closing and in the past two seasons the team has won a grand total of one playoff game.
Yes, Sutter has helped bring two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles in the past five seasons and yes, Sutter is arguably one of the best coaches in the league. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations for him to get a team as strong as the Kings deep into the post-season on a consistent basis.
Bruce Boudreau looked to have the Anaheim Ducks in line to contend for the Stanley Cup for years on end, and that resulted in his firing after consecutive playoff failures. Sutter is facing the pressure of another potential let down in the post-season.
4. Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Some coaches may face grand expectations stemming from their own success — take Sutter, for instance — while others have the unenviable task of rescuing a team from its own ineptitude. Blashill, though, faces the unfortunate pressure that comes with the Red Wings being so incredibly successful in regular season play over the past quarter-century.
It has been “The Year” for the Red Wings to miss the post-season for what feels like a half-decade, yet somehow Detroit has managed to get into the playoffs using the savvy of its veteran players mixed with free agent spare parts and a bit of young talent. That’s the same recipe the team will need in 2016-17 to get back to the post-season.
Already, the Red Wings are dealing with an ailing Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, and that’s not to mention the departure of long-time star Pavel Datsyuk. As such, young players are going to be what powers Detroit most this season, and Blashill no doubt wants to avoid his group being the first to miss the playoffs in 26 years.
3. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins
Julien is currently the longest-tenured coach in the league and he was behind the bench when the Bruins ended their 39-year Stanley Cup drought. That, paired with the fact he’s made the best of some mediocre rosters, has given Julien some rope after consecutive post-season misses. That said, missing the playoffs three years in a row — or even the threat of that happening — might be enough to send Julien packing.
The promising thing for Julien and the Bruins is that it’s not as if the playoff misses the past two seasons have been egregious. Boston missed the playoffs by a mere three points in 2014-15, which speaks to the importance of every single point over the course of a campaign, but 2015-16’s miss was even more heartbreaking. The Bruins finished the season tied with the Detroit Red Wings with 93 points, but were eliminated by way of the regulation-and-overtime wins tiebreaker rule.
Julien is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the history of a storied Bruins franchise, but, like most veteran-laden teams, the championship window is closing in Boston. Julien’s every move will be under scrutiny, especially if the Bruins get off to a slow start and a playoff appearance looks to be in peril early.
2. Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks
His first season was a success in Vancouver thanks to a post-season berth, but Desjardins’ second campaign behind the Canucks bench wasn’t nearly as pleasant. Not only did the Canucks miss the playoffs, but they finished as the third-worst team in the entire NHL. Only the lowly Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs were worse, and no playoff team from the year prior had a fall from grace quite like Desjardins’ Canucks.
Maybe under most circumstances, in most cities, last season’s playoff miss wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario. It hurts, sure, but sometimes a step backwards is needed for a step forward. But missing the post-season at this stage in the careers of Daniel and Henrik Sedin is a worst-case scenario for the Canucks.
The Sedins can still be solid contributors, but the years of 80-plus points are behind them. If there’s one team that has to worry about their opportunity slipping away, it’s the Canucks, and it’s Desjardins’ job to give Vancouver — and the Sedins — the chance to make playoff magic.
1. Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens
No coach in the league will be under a bigger microscope than Therrien, especially after the Canadiens shipped fan favorite and Norris Trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. While Therrien wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger on the deal, Subban’s playing style didn’t fit Therrien’s system and any struggles the team has — any maybe more specifically any struggles Shea Weber has under his new coach — will put Therrien in the spotlight.
Even though Therrien is facing the most pressure, though, he may be the coach on this list who ends up having the most success, all thanks to the return of all-world goaltender Carey Price. As the old adage goes: “Show me a good goaltender, and I’ll show you a good coach.” That rings true in Montreal. If the 2015-16 campaign proved anything, it’s that with Price, the Canadiens are a Stanley Cup contender. Without him? Well, not so much.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has given Therrien a vote of confidence a few times and didn’t blame him for Montreal’s struggles this past season, but the pressure is on Therrien this coming season. For Therrien’s sake, the Canadiens need to show vast improvement this season, especially because he’ll be the one bearing the brunt of the blame for any failure.
Down Goes Brown: Five times a team avenged a round robin loss at the World Cup
By: Sean McIndoe
Sep 21, 2016
The history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped, so don't worry just yet. Unless you're Team USA.
We're two games into the round robin portion of the World Cup, and we've already seen a handful of upsets, with favorites like Russia and the United States already tasting defeat, and in the case of the Americans, already being eliminated. With one game to go and some of the four playoff spots still up for grabs, fans around the world are no doubt panicking over the games their teams let get away.
But while the round robin is obviously important – you have to make the playoffs to win the whole thing – it's worth remembering that the results of individual games don't necessarily tell us much as much as we might think about what will happen in the playoff rounds.
In fact, the history of the World and Canada Cup tournament is filled with surprising round robin results that ended up getting flipped down the line. So in an effort to calm some nerves, here are five times that overreacting to a round robin result would have steered you wrong once the eliminations games began.
1976: Czechoslovakia 1 – Canada 0
In the first ever round robin game in Canada Cup history, Canada made a statement by crushing Finland 11-2. They went on the beat Sweden and the U.S., and they closed out the round with a win over their arch-rivals from the Soviet Union, winning those three games by a combined score of 11-3.
But in between, they dropped a surprising decision to Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Dzurilla outduelled Rogie Vachon at the Montreal Forum, turning aside all 29 shots he faced in a 1-0 win. The game was an instant classic, described at the time as one of the best ever played.
The two teams finished at the top of round robin standings, setting up a best-of-three final. But there was no repeat of Dzurilla's heroics – Team Canada blitzed him for four goals in the first period of the opening game, sending him to the bench and paving the way for a lopsided 6-0 win. Game 2 was more entertaining, with Canada jumping out to a 2-0 lead just three minutes in before a Czechoslovakian comeback set the stage for Darryl Sittler's tournament winner in overtime.
1981: Canada 7 – Soviet Union 3
By 1981, the Soviet Union was coming off a relatively rough stretch of international play. They'd won their usual Olympic gold in 1972 and 1976, but been upset by Team USA's Miracle on Ice squad in 1980, lost the 1972 Summit Series, and failed to even make the final of the 1976 Canada Cup.
When they met Canada in 1981 in the final game of the round robin, both teams were undefeated and battling for first place. The game was tied at 2-2 heading into the third, but Canada erupted for five straight goals in what ended up being a 7-3 laugher. Even with star goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sitting out due to illness, the result was an embarrassing one for the Soviets.
Both teams won their semifinal game to advance to a one-game winner-take-all final in Montreal. With Tretiak back in goal, most fans expected a closer game. Instead, they got an even bigger blowout. But this time, it was the Soviets who ran up the score, earning an 8-1 win and handing Canada what still stands to this day as its most embarrassing international loss.
1984: Soviet Union 6 – Canada 3
Three years after their impressive win, the Soviets looked even more dominant through the round robin portion of the 1984 tournament. Heading into a final game showdown against a struggling Team Canada, they were sporting a 4-0-0 record and looking to wrap up the tournament's top seed. They went on to smother their rivals in an impressive 6-3 win, finishing the round robin with a perfect record and dropping Canada down to fourth place.
That set up another meeting between the two nations in the tournament semi-final, held just three days later in Calgary. After being held to just 17 shots in the round robin, Canada exploded for 41 in the rematch. But Soviet goaltender Vladimir Myshkin stood on his head, and had his team in position to win with a 2-1 lead late in regulation. It took a late goal by Doug Wilson to set up overtime, where Paul Coffey's lunging breakup of a Soviet 2-on-1 set the stage of Mike Bossy's sudden death winner.
Canada went on to sweep Sweden in the final to claim the tournament. It marked the third straight time that the eventual Canada Cup champion had avenged a round robin loss on the way to their title.
1987: Czechoslovakia 4 – Canada 4; Sweden 5 – Soviet Union 3
The 1987 Canada Cup marked the first time that the eventual champion went undefeated through the round robin. That would be Canada, who beat the Soviets in a three-game classic punctuated by Mario Lemieux's historic winner.
But while Canada didn't have any losses to avenge on their way to the title, they weren't perfect in the round robin. And the first blemish came in their opening game, when a rusty Canadian squad blew a third period lead on their way to a 4-4 tie with Czechoslovakia. That was a disappointing result against a team that had gone 0-4-1 in the previous tournament, and raised questions as to whether Canada could defend their crown. Meanwhile, the tournament's other favorite had a disappointing opening of their own, as the Soviets gave up three goals in the first eight minutes while dropping a 5-3 decisions to Sweden.
Both powerhouses recovered well, with each winning three straight before facing each other in the round robin finale and skating to a 3-3 draw. That set up a pair of semifinal rematches, with Canada facing Czechoslovakia and the Soviets drawing Sweden.
This time, the favorites took care of business. Canada started slowly but pumped home four straight goals to take a 5-3 final, while the Soviets jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before eliminating Sweden by a 4-2 score. That set the stage for a final that still stands as perhaps the best international hockey series ever played.
As a side note, the Czechoslovakian goaltender for both of those games against Canada was a 22-year-old kid that most North Americans had never heard of. He eventually made it to the NHL three years later, and turned out to be pretty good. He even got some revenge against Canada at an international tournament over a decade later.
2004: Russia 3 – USA 1; Sweden 4 – Czech Republic 3
Canada didn't have to avenge any round robin losses on their way to the 1991 title, and the United States likewise was a perfect 3-0-0 under the new World Cup format before winning it all in 1996. Canada repeated that feat in 2004, making it four straight Canada/World Cups that have been won by a team that didn't suffer a loss during the round robin. Yes, that's right – it's now been 32 years and counting since a team lost a round robin game and still managed to win this tournament. Wait, this is supposed to be about giving teams that lost in the round robin hope. Forget everything I just mentioned.
But we can still find a couple of revenge games in the 2004 round robin, thanks to that year's, um, interesting format. The tournament featured eight teams, and the playoff round featured… eight teams. Yes, everyone made the playoffs in 2004, with the round robin settling the seeding and nothing else.
That format actually gave us a few interesting moments, like top-seeded Finland needing a goal in the dying minutes to edge winless Germany 2-1. And it also set up a pair of interesting rematches. In the round robin, the defending champion Team USA had dropped its first two games, to Canada and Russia. In the latter game, they fell 3-1 while being outshot 45-21. The 0-2 start didn't hurt their playoff hopes, because of the whole "everyone makes it" thing, but it certainly put a dent in their confidence.
Meanwhile, the Czechs dropped their opener 4-0 to Finland, then fell behind by the same score to Sweden. They came back to at least make that game a respectable 4-3 final, but other than running up the score on Germany in the finale, they didn't come out of the round robin with much room for optimism.
But in the opening round, both teams got a chance at payback, and both took it. The Czechs looked like a different team, shelling Mikael Tellqvist and Team Sweden in a 6-1 win. The Russia/Team USA rematch was a closer affair, with both teams going back and forth, but the Americans held on for a 5-3 win.
Both teams went on to lose in the semifinal, although the U.S. blew a late lead against Finland and the Czechs took Canada to overtime. Canada beat Finland in the one-game final, the year-long NHL lockout began the next day, and the World Cup hasn't been seen since. Twelve years later, we're finally getting another look at the tournament, and another chance to see a tough round robin loss avenged in the playoffs.
At least, that's what teams like Russia, Finland and North America are hoping.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.