At least two games have been played in every first round playoff series and I am going to take this opportunity to make my first pick of the early playoff MVP. Obviously it is extremely early in the playoffs and it is possible that the next game will significantly change my pick.
Today, I select Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins as the early playoff MVP. Rask has held back the Red Wings offence. He is posting a 1.02 GAA and a .966 saves percentage. Those are incredible numbers. Rask has been the best goalie in the NHL all season and given that he is just entering the prime years of his career, it is possible that he could establish himself as the best goalie in the NHL for years to come. This season may only be the start.
Last summer the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers effectively traded coaches. Alain Vigneault left Vancouver to coach the Rangers and John Tortorella left New York to coach the Canucks. This would be a pretty good opportunity to compare the two coaches with each other's teams.
A season has been played. The New York Rangers had a solid playoff season. They posted the fifth best record in the East Conference. This is a slight improvement from their sixth place finish in 2013. The Vancouver Canucks missed the playoffs. They finished 12th in the West Conference, missing the playoffs by eight points. In 2013 they had the fifth best record in the West Conference and won their division. Clearly based upon the season that just completed, Alain Vigneault won. He appears to be the better coach.
One of the most important rules that teams often violate regarding coaching is never fire your coach if he will immediately become the most sought after unemployed coach on the market. The Nashville Predators have broken this rule in firing Barry Trotz.
Trotz had been the only coach in Nashville Predator history and had done a good job with limited talent. The Predators didn't have the greatest season this year. They finished in tenth place in the West Conference. A significant reason for that was top goalie Pekka Rinne was injured much of the season and limited to 24 games played. Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec and Devan Dubnyk tried unsuccessfully to pick up the slack. Nevertheless the Predators only finished three points back of a playoff spot.
It is playoff time and time to make first round playoff predictions. As always, I expect to get some of these predictions wrong. If hockey was completely predictable, why would we bother to watch? I do expect that I will get more of these predictions correct than wrong and that it isn't possible to get them all right without an extreme amount of luck on your side.
Anaheim defeats Dallas. The Ducks probably overachieved to win the West Conference but they have a good team. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf may be the best healthy one-two punch in the game (given that Malkin's health in questionable). Jim Nill has done a lot to right the Dallas franchise and get them back into the playoffs, but that will likely be their high-water mark this season.
With the end of the regular season it is time for my annual if I had an award ballot post where I list my top three picks for the NHL awards that interest me.
Calder Trophy: 1. Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche 2. Torey Krug Boston Bruins 3. Ondrej Palat Tampa Bay Lightning I only recently picked MacKinnon to win this award. I think he is the runaway favorite among voters but he shouldn't be ranked too far ahead of Krug (though he will be). Palat is a more distant third candidate.
Selke Trophy: 1. Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins 2. Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings 3. Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks I have been picking Bergeron as the Selke Trophy leader for most of the season. He has won this award before and had a strong season. This gives him both the reputation and the results this season to win it. Toews was his top rival for most of the season until injuries dropped him into third below Kopitar.
Ryan Malone was once a good hockey player. He scored more than 20 goals six times. He represented the US in the Olympics in 2010. Things have not been so good lately. He is a five goal scorer this season. He is a prime candidate for Tampa Bay's second compliance buyout. He is signed through the end of next season with a $4.5 million salary cap hit.
To make matters worse on early Saturday morning he was arrested and charged for DUI and cocaine possession after a traffic stop in Tampa. At age 34, Malone's career looks like it is over and his personal life looks to be in a shambles.
This could create some interesting debate about the CBA this summer. You cannot buyout and injured player or a player in the NHL's substance abuse program. It is a good guess that Ryan Malone will be in the NHL's substance abuse program during the compliance buyout period. There will probably be an argument between the NHL and NHLPA over that.
For most of the season I have been picking Torey Krug as the Calder Trophy leader. He has been the top rookie defenceman this year. He has been the power play point man for the best team in the NHL. His problem in the Calder Trophy race is that he doesn't get the playing time of most top defencemen. This is in part because he plays on a team with workhorse Zdeno Chara taking the tough minutes. As a result, Krug has played some protected minutes.
I think he has been passed right at the end of the season by Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche. He was the first overall draft pick in 2013. He plays a top role on the Colorado Avalanche and leads all rookies in scoring with 63 points. He plays in the tougher conference. In fact the second highest scoring rookie in the West Conference is Alex Chiasson with 28 fewer points.
Nathan MacKinnon is both the most talented rookie in the NHL this season and the rookie who has had the best season. That said Torey Krug is a very good rookie of the year candidate. I think he has been underrated and will not come as close to winning the Calder Trophy as he should.
Riku Helenius is a goalie who was in the Tampa Bay Lightning system. He has only played one NHL game. It was back in 2008/09 and he only played seven minutes in it. He returned to Europe to play and the Tampa Bay Lightning convinced him to come, after he won the Swedish Elite League trophy as top goalie, with a two year contract he signed in 2012. The first year was a two-way deal and the second year offered him $650,000 whether he played in the NHL or in the minors. The problem was he wasn't an NHL goalie. He was playing in the AHL and he wasn't playing particularly well there. Tampa Bay wanted to send him down to the ECHL. The problem is according to the CBA, any player who is not on an entry level deal has the right to decline being assigned to the ECHL. Helenius did this. After some time he chose to report to the ECHL and play for the Florida Everblades. His mind wasn't into it. He played four games and then decided he didn't want to be there. Again he declined being sent to the ECHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning then terminated his contract claiming he breached it. Helenius claims that he has the right to decline demotion to the ECHL. The Tampa Bay Lightning claim that he abandoned his team. The NHLPA is now appealing the contract termination.
The question is can a player who has the right to decline an assignment to the ECHL decline the assignment after he has already accepted it. Does he only have the right to decline an assignment before he reports to the team?
In Tampa's case, they are happy to get out of paying Helenius. $650,000 for a player who isn't succeeding in the AHL is a large price to pay. It was a mistake to give him the contract. If they make his life miserable enough they can get him to breach the contract and thus not have to pay it. This will be an interesting test of the CBA as it is appealed.
Here is an article on this issue.
Yesterday the Vancouver Canucks fired general manager Mike Gillis. This is in response to the team missing the playoffs this year. The announcement was made just before the end of the season, which is somewhat pointless. Nothing can be done at this point in the season. Hot on the heels of firing the GM, the Canucks hired Trevor Linden as the new president. Linden was a popular player but he has no management experience in the NHL. He is a figurehead (hopefully) who will do little to improve the Canucks. These moves are done now because the Vancouver Canucks season ticket renewal date is here and the Canucks wanted to try to bring a sense of optimism to season ticket holders. At this point the move is window dressing. Until a new GM is hired it is not possible to decide if this move is a good one. If it is to work out, Linden cannot be making player personnel moves.
Gillis had been hired as GM of the Canucks in 2008. At that time the Canucks were a top team in the NHL. Gillis did little to improve the team and they went to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. When it came time that moves were needed, Gillis was unable to make the right ones. He is a former player agent and didn't have the skills to guide a team through tough times.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury. Despite that, they have won the Metropolitan Division quite easily. They currently lead the second place New York Rangers by 14 points. That is clearly a sign of a good deep team to succeed despite that adversity.
Pittsburgh's most significant two losses this season have probably been their top defenceman Kris Letang who suffered a stroke and goaltender Tomas Vokoun who has missed the entire season due to blood clots. Unfortunately these players may never fully recover from these medical issues. It is a significant loss to the Penguins. Significant players James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin and Pascal Dupuis have all missed large portions of the season.
Pittsburgh has done well despite the injuries because Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL. Chris Kunitz has had great chemistry with Crosby at left wing. Matt Niskanen has had a very good year on defence. Marc-Andre Fleury has been solid, though not spectacular, in goal. Pittsburgh has some very good depth. They probably would be a runaway first place team if they were healthy. The problem is two key players in Kris Letang and Tomas Vokoun are unlikely to regain full health. Pittsburgh has proven they can succeed without them, but they might have been the best team in the league if they could have full health.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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