The NHL Entry Draft is one of those annual “hope springs eternal” events. If the awards show bids farewell to a season gone by, the selection process for the latest prospect crop marks the league’s transition into next year.
Just like that, every club starts anew.
Just like that, the page is turned for all.
The Boston Bruins reign as Stanley Cup champions has just begun and yet, as of tonight, even they have work to do. 29 other teams are now gunning for what they have. And for some, reshaping their franchises to make a run at hockey’s iconic chalice will start with their first overall selection tonight.
Of course, it’s been said that there aren’t any immediate game-changers to be had among this crop – and certainly not beyond a half-dozen or so prospects atop most draft boards. But the draft itself has become such an integral aspect of building a championship-caliber team, even the late round selections will be a product of weeks and months of internal debate and study on the part of a team’s decision-making hierarchy.
For other clubs, the leap from 2010-11 to 2011-12 will be aided during draft weekend by trade. This year, with the Philadelphia Flyers kicking things off with a pair of earth-rattlers a day in advance, shipping key components Mike Richards and Jeff Carter out of town in separate deals yesterday, the expectation is that trade activity in St. Paul could be high. As teams gear up for free agency next week, some will look to get a jump on crazy season by filling holes and altering their salary scales with a deal or two and there is a wealth of big-name talent reportedly on the trade market already.
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The AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs began with three affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division and that number was destined to shrink by at least one with Hershey and Charlotte squaring off in the opening round.
Unfortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes are the lone remaining Southeast Division squad with an AHL affiliate still vying for the Calder Cup, as the Checkers bested the Hershey Bears four games to two, while the Norfolk Admirals also fell in six games, despite a 2-0 series lead, to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Here’s a stat line look at the games played since we last checked in and some heres and theres on the AHL playoffs thus far, as well as a look ahead at Charlotte’s schedule this week, as they get set to take on Wilkes-Barre in the East Division Final.
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 4/19/11: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2, Norfolk Admirals 1
Norfolk goal-scorers: Stefano Giliati (1)
Norfolk goaltenders (saves/shots): Dustin Tokarski (23/25)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bryan Lerg, WBS; 2 – Stefano Giliati, NOR; 3 – Dustin Tokarski, NOR
Playoff action at the AHL level kicked off last week as well and the top affiliates for the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals are all underway in their chase for the Calder Cup.
Charlotte (Carolina) and Hershey (Washington) are battling each other in the East Quarterfinals while Norfolk (Tampa Bay) takes on regular season stalwart, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh).
As we did throughout the regular season, let’s take a look at the games that have been played thus far, from a bottom-line, statistical point of view. Since this is the playoffs, however, we’ll toss in a little overview for each as well.
Click for individual box scores
Drayson Bowman’s goal just past the midway point of the third period proved to be the deciding factor, putting Charlotte ahead to stay in a back-and-forth affair with Hershey in game one. After Steve Pinizzotto opened the scoring just 1:10 into the game for the Bears, Zac Dalpe and Chris Terry each scored for the Checkers to give Charlotte a 2-1 lead. Keith Aucoin knotted things up for Hershey on the power play, late in the opening frame and the teams traded goals in the second period to head to the third tied at 3-3.
One final update from AHL regular season action before our weekly stats pack-style showcase of the NHL’s Southeast Division affiliates gets a bit more detailed, focusing on playoff action for the three clubs that qualified for Calder Cup contention, Charlotte, Hershey and Norfolk.
Until then, however, one last look at the week gone by:
Click for individual box scores
Monday, 4/4/11: Adirondack Phantoms 6, Rochester Americans 0
Rochester goal-scorers: none
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (29/35)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Denis Hamel, ADK; 2 – Michael Leighton, ADK; 3 – Matt Read, ADK
Monday, 4/4/11: Norfolk Admirals 5, Charlotte Checkers 2
Norfolk goal-scorers: Mattias Ritola 2 (7), Pierre-Cedric Labrie (6), Blair Jones 2 (23)
Charlotte goal-scorers: Chris Terry (33), Bobby Sanguinetti (3)
Norfolk goaltenders (saves/shots): Jaroslav Janus (24/26)
Charlotte goaltenders (saves/shots): Justin Pogge (21/26), Bobby Goepfert (10/10)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Blair Jones, NOR; 2 – Mattias Ritola, NOR; 3 – Marc-Antoine Pouliot, NOR
For a time, it looked like four teams from the Southeast Division would at least have a fighting chance at a playoff spot. As late as the end of January, while Tampa Bay and Washington remained comfortably among the top half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff-bound teams, both the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Hurricanes teeter-tottered in and around eighth place, making a quartet of Southeast clubs fighting to advance through the Stanley Cup playoffs a distinct possibility.
Alas, Atlanta was in freefall mode soon enough, winning just twice in the entire month of February, the Florida Panthers never contended, despite having a better showing this year than many expected, and Carolina’s impressive fight for the eighth and final playoff spot fell just short yesterday, though the final round of that battle last night left much to be desired, losing to Tampa Bay 6-2 at home in a win-and-in setting.
So, it will be the Capitals and the Lightning only representing the Southeast in the NHL postseason, which is about what most pundits put forth in preseason predictions. Flip-flop Atlanta and Carolina in the Southeast’s final standings, and the actual finish is exactly what I’d expected, though I won’t boast that as a feat deserving any sort of special recognition. By and large, the end result in these here parts was an easy call.
That being said, there were some twists and turns and surprises along the way.
Down to the wire, indeed.
Game 82 tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes, against visiting division rival Tampa Bay could very well be a “win-and-in” situation for the home squad, depending on what the New York Rangers end up doing in today’s home tilt against New Jersey (2-1 Devils early in the second, as I type this).
With the ‘Canes currently in eighth, thanks to a greater number of regulation wins (35 to New York’s 34) after an even point total of 91, a Ranger loss in regulation today renders tonight’s game irrelevant. If the Blueshirts earn a single point, Carolina must at least do the same to regain eighth. New York wins, so must the Hurricanes.
Essentially, it’s follow the leader (or the trailer, as it were, in this case).
‘Canes Still Alive (Here’s How They Get In) Plus, Bolts Players in Cut for a Cure & JJ’s “Beard-Off”
Now, it gets fun.
The hockey world thanks you, Carolina Hurricanes, for being one of the scrappiest damn teams in this league. Had you listened to the odds at any point during your playoff chase, you’d have bowed out, oh, eleven times or so by now.
With almost zero wiggle room, and in a home stretch that has them finishing their season on Friday and Saturday with their seventh set (seventh!) of back-to-back games since March 3rd, Carolina has managed a 9-5-2 record in that span to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
After last night’s gutty 3-0 shutout of the visiting Detroit Red Wings (you know, those perennial Western Conference doormats?), the ‘Canes live to fight another day or, at least two, to get all technical about it.
But until they hit Atlanta to tackle the Thrashers on Friday, nothing at all is in their hands and, even then, their fate is not totally their own to decide.
Usually, at this time of the season, I’m making off-season plans, soliciting reader responses for year-end fan polls and compiling the results, pondering summer changes for my primary team of focus, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and finalizing preparations to decrease the workload a bit or take some time away from writing altogether.
Can’t do any of that this year – not with the Bolts in the dance for the first time since 2007 – and the divisional focus is still alive as well, with the Washington Capitals not only Southeast champs for the fourth consecutive season but also in the driver’s seat for the Eastern Conference’s top seed, now leading Philadelphia by two points (and Pittsburgh three) after locking up the division with a shootout win in Toronto last night. Also, the Carolina Hurricanes are still clinging to life, though a home loss to Detroit tonight would kill their postseason dream outright.
So, with two Southeast clubs headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs (and maybe, maaaaayyyyybeeeeee three), I’m in business for a while longer than usual this year – at least in terms of sticking with my assigned beat and not having to look elsewhere for material, unless I so choose.
And along with remaining in work mode this year (hallelujah, by the way) comes the return of my very own playoff beard (and the tracking of progress with pictures, thereof).
If you want to play along, you have to abide by my simple rules:
The AHL’s regular season wraps up this coming weekend and the affiliates of the NHL’s Southeast Division teams should be well-represented when all is said and done.
The Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers have already clinched playoff berths and the Norfolk Admirals are on the doorstep, with five games left on the schedule and a magic number of three over Worcester. In the West, the Chicago Wolves are in a battle for a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs by way of the crossover rule, currently four points over the North Division’s Abbotsford Heat but trailing division rival Oklahoma City by a single point. Chicago and Oklahoma City each have three games remaining to Abbotsford’s five.
Only the Rochester Americans are sure to miss the AHL postseason this year, last in the North and well out of playoff contention.
With postseason berths at stake, the upcoming week is full of crucial games and once the playoff seeds are set, the focus of this weekly update will shift that way and include some more detailed recaps. Until then, let’s have a look back at the week gone by:
Click for individual box scores
Tuesday, 3/29/11: Manitoba Moose 3, Rochester Americans 2
Rochester goal-scorers: Eric Selleck (3), Bill Thomas (14)
Rochester goaltenders (saves/shots): Marc Cheverie (43/46)
Three stars of the game: 1 – Bill Sweatt, MTB; 2 – Marc Cheverie, RCH; 3 – Jason Jaffray, MTB
My initial plans for last night/this morning called for a Tampa Bay Lightning playoff-clinching column but, while the Bolts held up their end of the bargain, those pesky Carolina Hurricanes didn’t cooperate, toppling the Washington Capitals in a shootout.
Instead, I’ll toss out some quick food for thought today, stemming from a press box discussion last night as we sifted through every possible combination and computation related to clinching scenarios and tiebreakers and so on and so forth.
I’ve moaned about three-point games already this season but, as we subtracted a point from Tampa Bay’s magic number when Carolina and Washington were knotted after regulation, carried the one when the ‘Canes prevailed in the shootout, multiplied by six when the Lightning one and determined the square root of the product thereof (or, um, something), another angle of the ridiculousness of the loser point struck me.
This is just far too complicated.