One of the more surprising moves at the trade deadline this year was the Washington Capitals trading 2012 first round pick Filip Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and minor leaguer Michael Latta. I picked this as a good longterm move for Nashville and a bad longterm move for Washington. There are few players with Forsberg`s potential and you don`t give them up unless you get something significant in return. The only justification for the deal was that Martin Erat was a difference maker, but he hasn`t been. Erat has been a non-factor in his four playoff games so far. He hasn`t scored any points. He missed game five with an upper body injury and it isn`t clear if he will be back. Even if he is healthy, Washington may not want him back in the lineup and will use his injury status to help save face.
Including the regular season, Erat has played 13 games for Washington. In that time he has one goal and two assists. He hasn`t been a significant player for the Caps. He is signed for the next two seasons with a $4.5 million salary cap hit. That makes him look overpriced going into the future. The saving grace for Erat is that he isn`t actually paid $4.5 million in either of those seasons. He is to be paid $3.75 million next year and $2.25 million in the final year of his current front-laded contract.
The team with the worst regular season record that has qualified for the second round of the playoffs so far is the Ottawa Senators. They did so by defeating the Montreal Canadiens four games to one. While this result is not entirely a surprise, as the Sens finished seven points behind the Habs in an injury-filled season. With Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson back in the Sens line-up they are clearly a better team than they were through much of the regular season. There is another reason for the Sens improving over the course of this season that many have overlooked. They have a strong group of rookie forwards who are making a big impact with the team. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mika Zibanejad, Cory Conacher and Jakob Silfverberg all have three points or more in their five playoff games so far. Ottawa has developed new depth at forward during the course of this season and that is a strong reason they are better now than they were in the regular season. This clearly looks good for the future of the franchise.
When the playoffs began I made my predictions. While I was expecting to be surprised in a lot of the series and to have a reasonable number of my predictions proven wrong, there are certain things I was pretty certain about. I looked at the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders series and saw a mismatch. Pittsburgh is the team I think is most likely to win the Stanley Cup and the New York Islanders are just lucky to be there. The Islanders took a team with not much talent beyond John Tavares and slipped into the playoffs with a strong streak at the end of a shortened season.
Five games into the series Pittsburgh leads three games to two. Likely the Penguins will win this series but I am surprised it's not over yet. The Islanders have not had strong goaltending. Evgeni Nabokov is posting an .847 saves percentage. Those numbers sustained over any long period get players sent to the AHL. How can a team that barely made the playoffs have a number one goalie posting a .847 saves percentage and still not be eliminated? I suppose defence is an answer. The Isles have allowed the third fewest shots per game. That is despite the fact their defence doesn't scare anyone. Lubomir Visnovsky, Travis Hamonic and until he missed game five Andrew MacDonald lead their defence.
The first round of the AHL playoffs completed today. The first round is a best of five series in an attempt to keep the AHL season a reasonable length (something I don't imagine the NHL would consider). This makes the first round results in the AHL a little more unpredictable then the NHL first round that is a best of seven series. Here is a summary of the first round series:
Providence Bruins defeat Hershey Bears three games to two. This was the last first round series as it ended tonight. It was probably the closest of the first round series. Providence is the Boston Bruins minor league affiliate and Hershey belongs to the Washington Capitals. Carter Camper was the top scorer in this series for Providence with eight points. He had support from Chris Bourque and defenceman Mark Bartkowski. Niklas Svedberg was their goaltender but he did not play a strong series posting a .887 saves percentage. Hershey was led by Peter LeBlanc who also posted eight points and Joey Crabb, with Dmitry Orlov contributing from defence. Philipp Grubauer provided their goaltending.
I am very interested in the question of how early in the season/playoffs an eventual award winner establishes himself as the frontrunner and as such I try to pick winners as soon as I can and update my selection as a new player takes the lead. Yesterday I picked Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals as the Conn Smythe leader based on his first two games of the playoffs. His third game was not as strong. He allowed four goals on thirty shots in Washington's 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers. This knocks him out of the Conn Smythe lead but with a playoff leading 1.61 GAA and a .944 saves percentage he has to still be considered a contender if Washington makes a playoff run.
I think the new Conn Smythe leader is David Krejci of the Boston Bruins. He leads the playoffs with seven points and is tied for the lead with a +5 +/- rating. A lot of Boston's success against Toronto has come from their number one line and Krejci is its leader.
Krejci has a history of playoff success. He was the top scorer in the 2011 playoffs when his Boston team won the cup. If Boston makes a cup run this year, he would have to be a top contender. Will that happen?
It's still early in the playoffs but each team has played at least two games. It is probably too early to pick a meaningful MVP of the playoffs but I have always been interested in the question of when an award winner first emerges so it is helpful to make picks for awards early and see if those picks are still standing when the award is given out.
In most series the story has been how low scoring things have been. There have been four shutouts so far. No team has scored more than five goals in any given game. It is hard to pick an MVP because we are picking a best player from half a week of play. Nevertheless my pick right now is Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. Holtby has stopped 58 of 59 shots so far in two games with one going into overtime. While he hasn't really stolen either game his strong goaltending is a reason that Washington leads their series 2-0. It is hard to lose a series when you allow only one goal.
Holtby has a history of strong play in the first round of the playoffs. He played a strong first round series in 2012 beating then reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. It looks like he could do the same against reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist this year. Will he last as playoff MVP? Probably not, but if Washington has a strong playoff run it isn't impossible.
The Vancouver Canucks have played two games against the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs so far and lost them both. The second game was an overtime loss. While there are many reasons to explain their losses - luck being a major one - one significant reason that I haven't seen discussed is the lack of faith the Canucks have in their fourth line. Of all players who have two games played in the playoffs Andrew Ebbett and Dale Weise have the least playing time. They are Canucks fourth liners.
Ebbett has averaged less than four and a half minutes a game and Weise less than six minutes. This shortened bench forces the rest of the Canuck forwards to increase their playing time and is hard on their stamina. A team with stamina issues typically allows more goals at the end of games and that usually causes them to lose those games. Yesterday they allowed a tying goal in the final minute of regulation and then lost in overtime. In game one they lost with three unanswered goals in the second half of the game (two in the third period). These are symptoms of stamina issues brought on by a needlessly shortened bench. The Vancouver Canucks would be well advised to play their fourth line more - perhaps using players they can trust in more situations then Ebbett and Weise. It is a simple strategic move that will counteract some of the problems they have seen in the first two games of the series.
It is kind of a backhanded compliment to be the best team that missed the playoffs (it's a lot like being the prettiest fat girl in school). Nevertheless as I watch the playoffs there are a few teams that look like they have been lucky to make the playoffs. They managed to fluke their way in after 48 games, but I doubt they would make playoffs in a full length 82 game season. I look out at the teams the missed the playoffs and see a few that would probably do better than some of the teams that did make the playoffs. The non-playoff team that I think would have been the toughest playoff team is the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The finished second last in the East Conference. They only won 18 out of 48 games but I think they would be the best of the non-playoff teams if they made playoffs. Offensively this team is led by the two highest scorers in the NHL. Martin St Louis won the scoring title and Steve Stamkos was second. Never before has a team that missed the playoffs had the top two scorers in the league. When you shorten the benches in the playoffs the value of talented offensive stars increases. Tampa doesn't have great offensive depth but they do have further valuable offensive players including Vincent LeCavalier and Ted Purcell. In fact Tampa was the third highest scoring team in the league this season.
One significant story I haven't written about yet that occurred at the end of the regular season is the change in general managers in Dallas. Joe Nieuwendyk was fired. He was hired in 2009 and never managed to qualify for the playoffs. He was a prime example of a star player who was rushed into a position above his qualifications and struggled there. In fact when he was hired I wrote:
Joe Nieuwendyk will be the next GM of the Dallas Stars. He has a relatively short resume, which is common for an NHL star who gets that position. It is also common for somebody who was on the fast track to become an NHL executive as an ex-NHL star to never become a great NHL GM. That would not be a good thing for the Dallas Stars if Nieuwendyk follows that likely path.
That pretty much captured Nieuwendyk's reign as GM. He wasn't a great GM and he didn't have any real success with the Dallas Stars. Perhaps it was a learning experience and Nieuwendyk is now qualified to be an NHL GM if he ever gets a second chance.
Dallas is likely on the right track now with the signing of their new GM Jim Nill.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us after a shortened season. The shortened season has been somewhat unpredictable. Random chance has shuffled the standings a bit from the way it probably should have been. Random chance is more significant than in normal seasons because it was only 48 games long. The first round of the playoffs will be over in four to seven games so it should be clear that random chance is even more significant now than it was in the regular season and it was clearly visible in the final regular season statistics.
Here are my predictions for the eight first round series:
Pittsburgh Penguins defeat New York Islanders. The Islanders are the playoff team that is most likely to be there. They are the only playoff team that had a losing record at home in the regular season. They don't have what it takes to be a successful playoffs team. Pittsburgh is the most likely team to win the Stanley Cup playoffs. This shouldn't be a close series. Pittsburgh's biggest question mark is the health of Sidney Crosby, their best player, but with or without his presence, the pens should win this series.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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