Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

Prediction: Stanley Cup Finals

I am ready to post my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals.  You can look back at my earlier predictions for the first, second and third rounds.  In the semi-finals, i was correct in the East Conference but I picked Chicago in the West Conference.  The 1-1 record in this round brings my overall record to 10-4.  Each of the four series picked incorrectly went to seven games.  Here is my final prediction:

Los Angeles Kings defeat New York Rangers.  Unfortunately neither the Kings nor the Rangers are elite teams.  The NHL hasn't had one of those since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.  This is a direct consequence of the salary cap.  The liberalized free agency and increased player movement that came along with it has done what it was intended to do.  Big market teams have accumulated more talent at expense of the smaller markets.  We have Los Angeles playing New York in the finals.  These are the two biggest cities in the NHL.  If the NHL stays on this path we can look forward to a lot more finals just like this one.  Big market teams that have no claim to being elite playing in the finals.  This year the Rangers are a mid-level team that got through against mid-level opposition in the weaker East Conference.  The Kings are about as good as we seem to get in the current CBA (though hardly dominant) and are much better tested by having to beat better teams to get here.  Los Angeles is the better team and thus they should win.  The hope for the Rangers is that the Kings are beaten up by their tougher path to the finals, but I don't see much evidence of that right now.

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Los Angeles Kings Are Not An Elite Team

The Los Angeles Kings are bound for the Stanley Cup finals.  Like their opponents the New York Rangers they are not an elite team.  Los Angeles might be as good a team as can exist in today's NHL but their dominances pales in comparison to almost all of the Stanley Cup winners prior to the 2004/05 lockout season.  This might be as good as it gets.  Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012.  They did so despite only qualifying for the last playoff seed in the West Conference.  This year they managed to take the sixth seed in the West Conference.  These are not dominant regular seasons.  This is not what one would expect of an elite team.  There is no team that is good enough to transcend hockey and draw in casual viewers to see them. 

How does Los Angeles stack up to my necessary but not sufficient condition that an elite team has a group of elite players including a top goaltender?  Their goaltender in Jonathan Quick might be in the top goaltender group in the NHL.  In 2012 he certainly looked like he was when he posted a .929 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA.  He was a Vezina Trophy contender and won the Conn Smythe Trophy.  Since then he has not been able to match those numbers.  He posted a .902 saves percentage the year after his success and partially rebounded to a .915 saves percentage this year.  He is only posting a .906 saves percentage so far in the playoffs.  The argument that Jonathan Quick is a top NHL goalie was a very good one two years ago, but nothing he has done since is helping the argument.  Fr the sake of my argument today, I will accept him as a top NHL goalie, though I am beginning to wonder if this is a stretch.  At any rate, his Hall of Fame chances are not strong.  At age 28, he has one season that makes a strong case and there is little to show that he can match it.

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New York Rangers Are Not An Elite Team

The news from Thursday is the New York Rangers will be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.  I think it isn't too controversial to say that they are not an elite team.  The fact that they finished in 12th place in the regular season should be sufficient proof for anyone.  The salary cap has brought us an era where there are no elite teams so we consistently see Stanley Cup finals without them.  It is a significant loss to hockey fans. 

The CBA has worked.  The NHL has the situation they want.  The most important thing the last two CBAs brought in is increased player movement.  Liberalizing free agency by reducing the age of unrestricted free agents has led to more player movement.  The best players who become free will be able to wind up in the market of their choice.  Sure there is a salary cap to prevent one team from buying all of these players, but that is a smokescreen.  You only need to buy some of those players to make a team.  The bigger markets tend to get these players and the smaller markets tend to lose them.  The NHL has a dream Stanley Cup final.  The biggest city in the country will play against either the second or third biggest city in the country.  They couldn`t ask for better.

The fans lose out.  We have one Stanley Cup finalist who is clearly not an elite team in the New York Rangers.  Historically nobody will look back on the 2014 Rangers as one of the great NHL teams of all time.

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Vancouver Canucks Hiring Of Jim Benning As GM

Last week the Vancouver Canucks announced their hiring of Jim Benning as their new GM.  He replaces Mike Gillis who was showing that he wasn't up to the task of running the Canucks when the going got tough.

Jim Benning has worked his way up through the ranks of several teams to reach that position.  His NHL career was spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.  After he retired he served as an amateur scout for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1993/94.  The following season he joined the Buffalo Sabres scouting staff and by 1998 was named their director of amateur scouting.  He held that position until the 2004 lockout.  In 2006, he was hired by the Boston Bruins to be their assistant general manager.  In 2011 he won the Stanley Cup in that position.  While it is always hard for outsiders (and even insiders) to know exactly how much credit to give to individual members of the front office of a club, Jim Benning was an important part of the front office of a team that was built into the league's best.

Jim Benning has a good resume.  He looks like he could be a solid GM.  He is a good general manager prospect.  He has a chance to work out as an NHL GM.  Time will tell if he lives up to his potential and becomes as good as he might be.  In the meantime, the Vancouver Canucks fan expectations have been reset.

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Memorial Cup Playoffs

The Memorial Cup completed in London, Ontario over the weekend.  I wrote earlier about preliminary round.  Today I want to write about the playoffs.

SemiFinal:  Edmonton Oil Kings 4 Val d'Or Foreurs 3 (3 OT).  It is a credit to the Memorial Cup that they do not go to a shootout to decide games like these.  Tristan Jarry  (Pittsburgh prospect) played in the Edmonton goal and Antoine Bibeau (Toronto prospect) was in the Val d'Or goal.  Phil Pietroniro (undrafted) scored early for Val d'Or.  Edmonton took over with three straight goals from Mads Eller (2014 draft eligible), Mitchell Moroz (Edmonton prospect) and Edgars Kulda (undrafted).  Val d'Or fought back with a Randy Gazzola (undrafted) goal and tied it up in the last minute of regulation time with a Guillaume Gelinas (undrafted) goal.  Things were not decided until the third overtime when Curtis Lazar (Ottawa prospect) scored.  Val d'Or had beaten Edmonton in two overtimes in the preliminary round.  The fact that Edmonton won this time shows these two teams are pretty evenly matched.

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World Hockey Championships: Playoffs and Medal Round

The World Hockey Championships completed today in Minsk, Belarus.  I have already reported upon the preliminary round.  This is a report on the games since that point.  We start in the quarterfinals, which were single elimination.

Czech Republic 4 USA 3.  Alexander Salak was the Czech goalie.  Tim Thomas played for USA.  Brock Nelson opened the scoring for USA in the first period.  Tomas Rolinek soon tied up the game.  The Czechs too control in the second period with three goals.  Jiri Novotny provided two assists.  The Americans tried to even things up in the third period.  Tyler Johnson added two empty net goals in the last couple minutes, but it wasn't enough.  Peter Mueller had three assists in the game.  Seth Jones had two assists.  The Czechs move on to the medal round.

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AHL Playoffs: Second Round

The second round of the AHL playoffs was completed yesterday.  I will summarize them today.  First here is my first round summary:

St John's IceCaps defeat Norfolk Admirals four games to two.  St John's is Winnipeg's AHL affiliate and Norfolk belongs to Anaheim.  Eric O'Dell and Andrew Gordon led the St John's offence, Zach Redmond was their top defenceman and Michael Hutchinson has been their goaltender.  Norfolk was led by Andre Petersson and Max Friberg.  Brad Thieseen and John Gibson shared their goaltending as Gibson spent some time in the NHL during the series.

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Memorial Cup Preliminary Round

The Memorial Cup is underway.  This is the championship tournament for the Canadian Hockey Leagues.  The champions in the Western Hockey League (Edmonton Oil Kings), Ontario Hockey League (Guelph Storm) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Val d'Or Foreurs) play in the tournament along with the host London Knights. 

I have never liked the Memorial Cup format where a host team automatically qualifies regardless of their success.  Either you get an unqualified team that struggles in the Memorial Cup and finishes last (or near last) or worse you get a team that wins the tournament that only qualified for it based on their willingness to host a tournament.

The tournament begins with a round robin played between the four teams and here are the results:

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World Hockey Championships Preliminary Round

The World Hockey Championships preliminary round ended earlier today.  This tournament is being played in Minsk, Belarus this year.  It is a misnamed tournament in that it occurs during the Stanley Cup playoffs and many of the best players in the world are unavailable.  It is held at the end of the European league seasons.

The teams are split into two eight team preliminary round groups.  Each group plays a round robin with the top four finishers moving on to the quarterfinals.  Group A games were played in the Chizhovka Arena and Group B games in the Minsk Arena.

Here are the preliminary round results:

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The Unproven Playoff Goalie Trend

Tonight the Montreal Canadiens passed over their backup goalie Peter Budaj to play minor leaguer Dustin Tokarski in their losing playoff game against the New York Rangers.  When their second round playoff series was on the line against the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Ducks chose to play John Gibson in net instead of proven goalie Jonas Hiller.  They lost and pulled Gibson in the second period of game seven.  These are both examples of teams choosing to play unproven goalies instead of those with NHL experience in an important game.  The logic behind these moves is that the proven goalie is a proven entity.  We have a pretty good idea how good he is and how good he isn't.  We know that he will not likely steal the game, but he isn't likely to totally blow it either.  He is the "safe" choice.  The unproven goalie has a much bigger range of potential outcomes that may occur.  He isn't proven in the NHL and he may completely blow this game.  There is a chance he might steal the game - often because we haven't seen him in that situation enough to totally discount it.  Most likely he will not be as good as the proven goalie.  There is a good reason why the proven goalie has had the chance to play in front of the unproven goalie all season.  This is a case of the unlikely but not totally disproved chance of the unproven goalie being the next star getting more weight than the fact that the proven goalie is almost certainly a better goalie.  It is a poor move far more often than it is a good move.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com

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